Decades-long private encroachment along Burke-Gilman Trail finally cleared to make small lakeside park

Before and after photos showing the new lake view from the trail.

Images courtesy of Stuart Strand.

For decades, a small public space along the Burke-Gilman Trail just north of the Seattle city limit has been hidden behind a private fence. But no more.

It took a remarkable amount of work to open this small space. Volunteers on a county advisory committee learned about the illegal fence and other private structures a decade ago when King County was preparing for its major 2011 remake of the trail from the Seattle border to Log Boom Park in Kenmore. Those volunteers — including Stuart Strand, who alerted me to the project and sent the photos — urged the county to take action to reclaim the space, resulting in a court battle that ultimately went in King County’s favor.

The space between the trail and Lake Washington just south of NE 151st Street became public property in the 1974 when the county acquired rights to the old railroad right of way from Burlington Northern. But it has been closed off from public access since 1979 when nearby property owners constructed a fence with a locked gate preventing public access to the space between the trail and the lake. They also built a shed and some stairs and maintained a lawn as though it were theirs.

But it wasn’t theirs. It belonged to all of us, as King County argued in court (counter-claim PDF):

“Plaintiffs have erected a fence across King County’s property, which blocks King County’s access to a portion of its property and prevents public enjoyment of a portion of that property.”

Continue reading

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Memorial ride for Max Kullaway August 29

Max holding a bike frame.

Max Kullaway. Photo from the event page.

Expert bike builder Max Kullaway passed away earlier this month after a long battle with cancer. Kullaway was the force behind 333fab bicycles. For years Max made bicycles in a Fremont shop alongside Bill Davidson before he and his spouse Tarrell (formerly a Cascade Bicycle Club staffer) moved to California. I highly recommend reading this 2012 interview in The Bicycle Story.

The morning after he passed away, the kid and I were listening to KEXP while biking to preschool, and the DJ read a long memorial note for Max. It was a reminder that a single life can touch so many others. We are sending our love to Tarrell and all Max’s loved ones.

Seattle friends are hosting a ride August 29 in his memory. Details from the event page: Continue reading

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Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board seeks 3 new members for pivotal term

The Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board is seeking three new members to start two-year terms in the fall. This term will cover some very important decisions for Seattle’s transportation future, including development of the next big Seattle transportation levy likely headed to the 2024 ballot. Apply online by August 27.

The volunteer board is purely advisory and does not have any direct authority, but their work does help the department of transportation craft planning documents and prioritize projects to some extent. This work is especially important in the run-up to a major levy because the department and city political leaders will be using these plans when setting the scope and funding priorities that will be sent to voters.

No professional expertise or transportation planning experience is required. In fact, the most effective board members tend to be people with a desire to learn and a willingness to ask down-to-earth questions that engineers may not have fully considered. You just need to be a Seattle resident who wants to help the city increase bicycling and bicycle safety.

The time commitment includes attending evening meetings the first Wednesday of every month as well as some time spent reading relevant documents or working with small task forces as needed. Meetings are currently held virtually online, but some day will go back to being in-person in Seattle City Hall or the Municipal Tower downtown. More details from SDOT: Continue reading

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U.S. Bike Route System grows in southeast Washington

Map of existing and proposed US Bike Routes in Washington.

Existing and proposed U.S. Bike Routes in Washington (PDF).

WSDOT has started four new U.S. Bicycle Routes in southeast Washington, establishing Clarkston along the Snake River and Tekoa along the Palouse to Cascades Trail as long-distance bike route nexuses.

The US Bike Route system is a vision for a connected network of bicycle routes spanning the nation, making it easier to travel by bike and encouraging economic activity in communities off the beaten path. Being designated a USBR is largely symbolic, though there are hopes it will someday be much more than that. Official designation does make them “eligible for national and global promotion,” according to the WSDOT press release. It also allows the state to install official USBR signage. But it doesn’t mean USDOT is sending money to upgrade their bike facilities.

The longest of the new stretches, USBR 81, connects Clarkston to Tekoa, passing through Pullman (and Washington State University) on the 104-mile segment. Riders can also take the alternative USBR 281 for a shorter route between Clarkston and Pullman. From Clarkston, just across the border from Lewiston, Idaho, people can head west on USBR 20, which will someday connect to the Tri-Cities, Kennewick and Columbia River routes toward Vancouver, Washington, and beyond. For now, it reaches Lewis and Clark Trail State Park about 77 miles west of the Idaho border.

The shortest of the four new routes is a 2-mile stretch of USBR 40 between Tekoa and the Idaho border. But this route is also one of the most exciting because the bulk of the planned 400-mile route in Washington follows the car-free Palouse to Cascades Trail. Long stretches of this rail-trail are very remote and rough currently, but the state is investing to rehabilitate key trestles and bridges. This work is worth a post of its own, but the next year should be very exciting for this trail and the future USBR 40. So while the USBR designation is not exactly a source of revenue, it does help add to the list of reasons the state should invest in them.

Washington State added its first route to the national network in 2014 with much fanfare. USBR 10 crosses the state along US Highway 20. The national network is also building out slowly, though Washington’s neighboring states do yet not seem in much of a hurry to link up. Oregon does have its own Scenic Bikeways, though they are often loops or short segments and are not in the USBR System.

More details from WSDOT: Continue reading

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Watch: Searching for the 125-year-old Interlaken bike path

In 1896, Seattle city crews and a group of volunteers worked together to build a bike path from downtown to Lake Washington. They made it quickly, following the terrain around the north end of Capitol Hill to find the easiest route. They cleared the skinny path and dug as needed to make it mostly flat, then they covered it with cinders and ash. For less than a decade, biking out on this path was a very popular activity, and it helped promote the city’s first major bike boom. But by 1905, most of the route had either vanished or was being developed into a boulevard.

One of the most iconic sections was through what is now Interlaken Park. It was not unheard of for people to encounter a bear while biking through the deep woods of Interlaken, and much of the route of the old path was immortalized when the Olmsted Brothers used it as the guide for Interlaken Boulevard.

But a path paved with ashes and often routed through private property did not last long. Property development closed some sections while nature took care of others. Still, I was curious if I could find any hints today that the old path ever existed. Jonathan, a Seattle Bike Blog reader, sent me an old hand-drawn plot city engineers used to construct the 1896 path. I traced that plot into a Google Map that I could follow on my phone, and then set out to follow it.

Did I find the old path? Watch the video to find out.

Old photo of a woman with a bike on a winding path.

Woman with bicycle on the Lake Washington bicycle path, 1899-1900. Photo by John P. Soule.

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Initial drop of primary results suggests very close races for Mayor, Council Position 9

Seattle’s November election for Mayor and City Council Position 9 are going to be very close.

King County Elections will drop more ballot results around 4:30 p.m. every weekday until they are all counted. Because later votes in Seattle tend to skew younger and more progressive, the final tally will likely bring both primary results much closer as more ballots are counted over the next week or so. So Tuesday’s count is probably as good as it gets for leading candidates Bruce Harrell and Sara Nelson. If past patterns hold true, Lorena González and Nikkita Oliver will close the gaps in their races to within a few percentage points.

Perhaps the most important data point won’t be the final vote leads themselves but voter turnout. As of Tuesday’s count, turnout was only 18%. That number will climb as more ballots are counted, but will it reach previous mayoral years? Turnout in 2017 was 19% on election night but grew to 41%, a high level that was likely a response to Trump’s election. But if turnout this year can’t even reach the 35% turnout in the 2013 mayoral primary, that’s probably not a good sign for the more progressive candidates. Older and more conservative voters vote earlier and more reliably, so a bigger turnout usually means more young people and a more progressive outcome.

One thing is almost certain: Teresa Mosqueda will keep her City Council seat. She had an overwhelming lead on election night of 55% that will likely grow further. Her leading opponent Kenneth Wilson, who owns a structural engineering firm that worked on the Northgate bike/walk bridge, is a far distant second with 18%. You can see updated results on the King County Elections website.

Position 8 results. Continue reading

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Vote! How to find a drop box, replace a missing ballot, register + More

Photo of the author, spouse and 3 year-old in front of a ballot box. The 3 year-old is holding a ballot.

Map of ballot box locations.

Look at all these ballot drop boxes! You can also mail it, but drop box will get there faster.

The primary election is tomorrow (August 3), and turnout in King County was sitting at a mere 13% as of Friday evening. That’s too low.

But you are a Seattle Bike Blog reader, so you are engaged and vote in every election already (you do, right?). So what we really need is for you to personally contact friends and family members to make sure they vote, too. And if they say something like, “Oh, I don’t know where my ballot is,” tell them they can still vote.

It’s not even too late to register. Just head to a voting center (including Lumen Field in Seattle) during open hours (King, Snohomish, Pierce). You can register and vote at the same time. You can also simply head to a voting center if you didn’t get your ballot and don’t feel like navigating the elections website to figure out how to print a replacement.

If you do have your ballot sitting around the house, don’t let it go to waste! Summer primaries have a way of sneaking up on people. But it’s a short ballot without many difficult decisions. There are a lot of really great people running for very important offices, and this is our chance to make sure the best possible slate of candidates are on the November general election ballot. Low-turnout elections tend to over-represent conservative voters, and your vote could easily be the one that decides who gets the second spot on the ballot. That’s a big deal.

And hey, biking to a drop box is a great excuse for a ride.

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Alert: Montlake Bridge east sidewalk closed Aug 2-6 + Weekend closures coming in the fall -UPDATED

Photo showing a cracked section of bridge decking.

Yeah, they should probably fix this. Photo from WSDOT.

The state is starting work on a significant Montlake Bridge repair project, which includes replacing all the metal roadway decking and maintaining the moving mechanism. This will lead to major closures for cars and buses. But because crews will keep the sidewalks open when the bridge deck is closed, there should only intermittent and limited closures for people walking and biking.

First, work crews “will restrict access on the east bridge sidewalk from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.” August 2–6. So plan for a little extra time in your trip to cross to the west sidewalk at the E Shelby Street signal. That sidewalk will likely also be more crowded than usual.

But it is great news that the sidewalks will remain open during the 26-day full closure to motor vehicles starting August 9. The bike detour options for the Montlake Bridge are really tough, especially because heavy traffic makes biking on Boyer Ave E to the U Bridge even worse than it usually is. So to whoever made sure the sidewalks were open during this work, thank you for making that a priority.

If you rely on any of the buses that cross the bridge, however, be ready for a major disruption and significant rerouting. Or bike if you can.

There will be a series of four full-weekend closures in September and October when the bridge will need to be held in the raised position so crews can maintain the mechanical components. From 11 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday during these weekends, people biking will unfortunately need to detour to the U Bridge:

  • Sept. 11-12 (UPDATE 9/10: WSDOT now says the west sidewalk will remain open during this work)
  • Oct. 9-10
  • Oct. 23-24
  • Oct. 30-31

The SR-520 project will take advantage of the closed Montlake Bridge in August by conducting a major soil rehab project at the location of the old gas station at Montlake Blvd and Lake Washington Blvd. This work will close the west sidewalk and all but two lanes of traffic there, but it appears the east sidewalk should remain open.

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Saturday: Celebrate the new Green Lake bike lanes with a community ride and scavenger hunt

Event poster. Details in the body text.Join local safe streets groups and SDOT Saturday for a community bike ride celebrating the opening of the Green Lake bike lanes.

Meet up 10:30 a.m. at the Flamingo parking lot of the Woodland Park Zoo to ride with the group to the Green Lake Community Center for “kids activities and refreshments” from 11 to 1. Also, project staff will be on hand to answer all your various questions, such as, “Why don’t the bike lanes connect to N 77th Street?” and “Can the bike lanes please connect to N 77th Street?”

You can get a preview of what it’s like to ride in the new bike lanes by watching Seattle Bike Blog’s video tour.

More details from SDOT:

Inaugural Bike Ride
Our week of fun begins with an Inaugural Bike Ride which will start on Saturday, July 31 at 10:30 AM. We are starting in the Flamingo parking lot of the Woodland Park Zoo located at the corner of N 50th St and Phinney Ave N. We’ll ride along the expanded bike lanes on N 50th St and then proceed north on Green Lake Way N to the new two-way bike lane!  We’ll end the ride at the Green Lake Community Center where there will be kids activities and snacks from 11am to 1pm.  Project staff will also be on hand to answer your questions about the new improvements.

Scavenger Hunt – Enter to Win!
In addition to the Inaugural Bike Ride, we are also hosting a week-long scavenger hunt to explore all the multi-modal improvements made around Green Lake and Wallingford, with items like our new rapid flashing beacons for pedestrian safety on the list!

To participate, post a photo of yourself completing any of the scavenger hunt activities with the hashtag #GreenLakeScavanger on Twitter or Instagram to be entered to win a gift card to one of our local participating businesses. Each activity post will give you one entry. Scavenger hunt is open from Saturday, July 31 to Sunday, August 8.

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Lee Lambert named Executive Director of Cascade and Washington Bikes

Lee Lambert headshot.

Lee Lambert. Photo courtesy of Cascade.

After more than a year since their last Executive Director resigned, Cascade Bicycle Club and its sister organization Washington Bikes have selected their new leader. Lee Lambert will take the reigns of one of the largest statewide bicycling organizations in the nation starting September 12.

Lambert has been the Executive Director of City Year Seattle/King County, a non-profit AmeriCorps organization working to help local students. Before that, he was the Director of the Washington STEM Network, founder of the Washington College Access Network and a staffer for Senator Maria Cantwell and Representative Adam Smith.

He grew up in Tacoma and has been biking his entire life, according to the Cascade press release. He will be the first Black Executive Director in the organization’s history.

Lambert takes over an organization that is rebounding from a year in which the pandemic forced them to cancel nearly all their major events and furlough a lot of staff members. Interim Executive Director Christopher Shainin has led the club through this time, which is still not over. The club’s biggest events like the Seattle to Portland Classic, the Ride from Seattle to Vancouver and Party, and the Emerald Ride will not happen in 2021.

Hopefully, Lambert will be able to oversee a 2022 in which the organization can finally get back to full-speed (though that may rely more on the state of the pandemic than on Lambert).

More details from the Cascade press release: Continue reading

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Dongho Chang leaving SDOT to be State Traffic Engineer at WSDOT

Chang is stopped with a bike in a group of people on bikes.

Chang (blue jacket in front) on a 2012 community bike ride discussing options for safer streets in Ballard.

Seattle is a better city because of Dongho Chang. There may not be another public servant working in our city in the past decade who has had a greater impact on so many people’s everyday lives. Since 2012, Chang has forever revolutionized what it means to be a traffic engineer in our city by bringing a level of personal care and genuine love for his community that has made him something of an unintentional local hero. He has had a direct impact not just on the physical shape of our streets but also on the culture of SDOT’s professional staff.

Chang is leaving SDOT to become State Traffic Engineer for WSDOT, the agency where he started his career before working in Everett and then Seattle. His last day at SDOT is September 15. This is wonderful news for Chang, WSDOT and communities around the state.

Many people may know Dongho Chang best from his Twitter feed, an oddly compelling tour of new and old transportation infrastructure around Seattle. But to me, it’s never been the content of the tweets that was impressive, it’s the reason he is visiting all these sites in the first place. Chang is constantly observing and learning, noting how people actually use the city’s infrastructure (regardless of the intent behind the design). As City Traffic Engineer, his job could technically be done almost entirely in an office by looking at plans and reviewing engineering manuals, yet he is seemingly everywhere. He takes the real world outcome of his work seriously and personally, and simply satisfying the rules in a dusty engineering manual is not good enough for him. The solution needs to actually work for people, and observing it in action from as many perspectives as possible is the only way to know if a design has succeeded. So when he posts a tweet about a new bike lane or signal or whatever, that’s probably what he’s doing.

Chang also genuinely listens to community feedback, and I have never once seen him assume the posture that he knows better because he is a high-level professional traffic engineer. He doesn’t get defensive, and he’s not too proud to take another look at a design to make it better. Perhaps the best example, and the story that first brought him national attention, was the way he responded to the Reasonably Polite Seattleites and their 2013 guerrilla bike lane on Cherry Street. He didn’t chide them for breaking the law by gluing plastic posts to the newly-painted bike lane. Instead, he thanked them, apologized that SDOT had to remove the posts, and then offered to return them. Then he made their design permanent just a few months later by installing officially-designed posts. Continue reading

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Saturday: Fairview Ave N Bridge reopens with a car-free celebration

Photo of the under-construction bridge with event details also in body text.Construction work is wrapping up on the new Fairview Ave N Bridge, finally bringing an end to a long closure of a major bike route between South Lake Union and Eastlake.

The bridge opens to all traffic Sunday, but people walking and biking will be able to cross starting Saturday. SDOT is hosting an opening celebration 9:30–11:30 a.m. Saturday.

The old bridge was closed back in September 2019. I suppose if this important route was going to be closed for so long, a pandemic was a good time for it. The detour via Aloha Street adds a significant amount of climbing to the route, so the bridge reopening will be very welcome.

Concept images showing the bike connections at both ends.

Concept images from an SDOT presentation.

The new bridge will have a two-way bikeway that operates similar to the old bridge, but the sidewalk will now be separate from the bikeway. Ideally, SDOT would have taken the long time they had during this closure to build a bike connection on Fairview between the bridge and Lake Union Park, but they did not. So for now, people biking on this wonderful new bike path will again have the no-win choice of either squeezing onto the west sidewalk or mixing with general traffic. Continue reading

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Endorsement: Lorena González for Mayor

Photo courtesy of the Lorena González campaign.

Leaders like Lorena González don’t come along often. She has been a stable, very progressive compass during a very tumultuous time in Seattle history, and the Council has shifted around her as voters continue to elect people who stand for bold changes. But the forces supporting the city’s inequitable and unsustainable status quo have managed to occupy enough power to hold back the progress voters want. Seattle has a big opportunity to finally change this dysfunctional dynamic by electing a mayor who will say Yes to change and has demonstrated the community-building and government executive skills to make it happen.

González is a potent mix of ambition and effectiveness, and she won citywide elections in 2015 and 2017 by large margins. It is still very difficult to win a mayoral election in Seattle if you are not the preferred candidate of the Seattle Times and big business interests. But González has already shown that she knows how to lead a worker-focused, progressive campaign that can win citywide.

Biking, walking and transit has never been González’s top issue, but she has always been on the right side with her Council votes. She even spoke to the 2019 protest at City Hall against Mayor Jenny Durkan’s bike plan and safe streets cuts (watch starting at 19:15 here). But perhaps just as importantly, she has demonstrated that she is a decision maker. That would be a huge breath of fresh air compared to our current indecisive mayor. González is also unafraid of asking direct and tough questions, drilling city department leadership if she senses rosy numbers or any other B.S. This is exactly what Seattle needs from a mayor who will craft our city’s next big transportation levy, which should be queued up for the 2024 ballot. González has what it takes to put a levy to voters that is bold, realistic and trustworthy. Continue reading

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Seattle’s next mayor will have an enormous impact on the future of biking and safe streets

NOTE: The 2021 primary election is August 3. The deadline to register or change your address online in King County is July 26, but you can register and vote in-person through Election Day. Don’t procrastinate! It’s summer, and August 3 is going to come up fast.

Map of proposed projects in the 2015 Move Seattle levy.

This map shows the ambition of the 2015 Move Seattle levy. All this was supposed to be funded, and it’s walk/bike/transit focus inspired strong voter approval. What will the next mayor’s vision look like?

The 2021 election is likely the most important Seattle election since 2015 for safe streets, bicycling and walking.

The next mayor will lead the development for whatever follows the Move Seattle transportation levy, which expires at the end of 2024. Developing the levy requires the mayor and the City Council Transportation Committee to work together with a shared vision, but the mayor will likely be the primary public-facing leader of the effort. Because the city has been following a 9-year transportation levy renewal system, the next levy vote happens to coincide with a very high turnout Presidential election. Seattle will have an incredible opportunity to pass a very bold and ambitious funding package, the kind of effort that sets a new standard for what local transportation funding can accomplish.

But the next mayor will have an enormous amount of work to do before the 2024 vote because they will be inheriting a heap of problems and public distrust. Mayor Jenny Durkan has squandered her time in office, failing to deliver the promises that Move Seattle made to voters back in 2015. Biking, walking and transit promises were dramatically scaled back, and a lot of the people that Seattle will depend on to pass another transportation measure are angry. At the same time, the West Seattle Bridge fiasco has understandably frustrated a lot of people.

So the next mayor will first need to restore public trust in the Department of Transportation and in the city leadership’s willingness and ability to maintain our infrastructure and follow through with its bold promises. They will have a couple years to turn things around before voters go to the polls, but they will need to get started immediately after taking office. This is no small feat, but it’s also very achievable. The next mayor will need to deliver some high quality and impactful projects from the Move Seattle levy plan that genuinely improve people’s everyday mobility. And they will need to be able to educate the public on the value of these investments.

In the years leading up to the next vote, the city will also need to reassess its transportation needs and priorities. This effort will help guide the creation of the levy. Before the 2015 vote SDOT and Mayor Ed Murray created what they called the Plan to Move Seattle. That plan was very exciting, but it has since proven to have been unrealistic without more funding than was available in the levy (partly because it did not predict an unfriendly Federal government). So Seattle’s next mayor needs to be both bold in ambition and realistic about cost forecasting. We will need a mayor that the voters will trust. Continue reading

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Alert 7/12-26: Snoqualmie Valley Trail closed south of Duvall Park

Map of the closure.

From King County Parks.

The Snoqualmie Valley Trail will be closed for two weeks just south of Duvall Park starting today, King County Parks announced. There is seemingly no alternative other than SR-203 (AKA Carnation-Duvall Rd NE), which has fairly skinny shoulders. And though looking at a map might suggest there is a road along the river, that is a private road with a gate. So you will most likely need to bike on SR-203 from NE 138th St to NE 124th St.

More details from King County Parks:

The trail will be closed from a half mile south of NE 138th St in Duvall to just north of the roundabout at NE 124th St. Heavy equipment will be in place on the trail and no visitors will be allowed through the work zone. The trail will be closed for repairs until Monday, July 26th.

For any questions or concerns email [email protected] or call 206-477-4527

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Georgetown to South Park trail reaches design milestone, scheduled to open in 2023

Drawing of people walking, rolling, biking and skateboarding between the two neighborhoods.

Duwamish Valley Safe Streets created this cool image to promote the concept.

The Georgetown to South Park Connection, a walking and biking trail concept promoted for years by the community-led group Duwamish Valley Safe Streets, is on schedule to begin construction in 2022 and open in 2023. Final design should be complete near the end of 2021.

The path will lead from near 12th and Bailey in Georgetown to the South Park Bridge, connecting the two often neglected mixed industrial and residential neighborhoods. Walking and biking in the neighborhoods today is often stressful or dangerous because there are many wide, dangerous streets like E Marginal Way S. This trail will create a continuous and separated pathway for people to get between the two neighboring communities and business districts.

Project map.The route follows 13th Ave S, S Albro Place, Ellis Ave S and S Myrtle Street before reaching a parcel of underutilized land owned by Seattle City Light. Called the “Flume Property” because it “was the historic site of the conveyance that transported water from the Duwamish River, to the Georgetown Steam Plant until it ended operation in 1975,” according to the project page for the park project. SDOT and Seattle Parks are partnering with City Light to turn it into a dog park and pathway, and City Light is paying for the environmental remediation required to make it a park. Continue reading

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City delays Stone Way bike lane upgrade, latest of many Wallingford paving project safety cuts

Side-by-side of the project maps from 2018 and 2021.

Many safety improvements were cut since the project first took shape in 2018.

Yes, the new bikeway around (half of) Green Lake is a big improvement. We made a whole video about it. But it is only one part of a major series of paving projects all grouped together into one very big “Green Lake and Wallingford Paving & Multi-Modal Improvements” project that aside from Green Lake Way has been almost entirely about cars.

It didn’t start that way. But as the project developed, many biking and walking safety improvements were cut short or removed completely. Recent news that the city won’t move forward with the planned improvements and protected bike lanes on Stone Way from N 45th Street to N 50th Street is just the latest cut to the project’s bike improvements plan. “A change of funding availability due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other competing needs led to construction at this location being paused,” SDOT wrote in a project update.

Initially, bike lanes were planned on N 40th Street as identified in the Bicycle Master Plan. The project was also going to make much needed improvements to the connection between the Burke-Gilman Trail and streets leading up the hill like 5th Ave NE. But then, as with 35th Ave NE, SDOT and Mayor Jenny Durkan did not stand by the goals of the bike plan and folded in the face of some complaints. So instead they repaved the whole street without making any significant safety improvements (beyond the accessible curb ramps they were legally required to update). In lieu of bike lanes, SDOT proposed a couple biking and walking safety “spot improvements” as a consolation prize for people hoping the busy east-west neighborhood street would become safer to navigate. These included improved crossings at Ashworth, Densmore, Bagley, 2nd Ave NE and Latona.

But then as COVID-19 threw city budgets into question, SDOT cancelled the spot improvements. As a result, they simply repaved the street and prioritized car parking over safety.

Photo of N 50th Street with the words "Seattle Car Master Plan" on it.

In 2019, I used N 50th Street as the cover image for an imagined “Seattle Car Master Plan.”

But at least most of 40th has a bus route that can benefit from the paving investment. That’s more than can be said for N 50th Street. I don’t understand how this street made it to the top of SDOT’s priority list for paving. It does not carry any bus routes, and the team did not even try to make any real safety improvements. There’s no equity benefit, no safety benefit, no transit benefit, and no neighborhood improvement benefit. They simply repaved a street through a neighborhood without making it any easier or safer to navigate. Unlike safety projects require years of planning and advocacy and long master plans with lengthy justifications, cars-first projects like N 50th Street don’t need to demonstrate any tie-in with the city’s stated goals. I wrote a slightly tongue-in-cheek argument back in 2019 arguing that the city needs a Car Master Plan, and I used N 50th Street for the imagined cover image:

Without a Car Master Plan, many of Seattle’s biggest transportation investments are being spent without a clear focus on how these public projects will help us reach our major climate change, race and social justice, public health, housing growth, and high-level transportation goals. All of the other modal master plans take these issues seriously, but those master plan projects are the exception to the rule at SDOT. The default mode of operation is that every inch of road space should go to cars unless an existing master plan says otherwise. And even then, those plans are only considered suggestions that can be ignored.

I’m particularly salty about this project because it’s near my house and I get angry every time I try to walk or bike along it or across it with my child because it’s terrifying. But there are streets exactly like this all over Seattle. The sidewalks are very skinny and right next to traffic, which is moving very quickly because there are multiple lanes in the same direction, a design SDOT knows is dangerous and leads to speeding. There are also long stretches without a safe crosswalk, which is frankly unethical for a transportation department to build. And after investing a lot of public money into this street, we still signs prohibiting people from crossing the street:

A four-lane street with a "no walking" sign.

Walking across SDOT’s brand new street is prohibited at 4th Ave NE near my home.

SDOT presentation slide with an illustration of how multiple lanes in the same direction are dangerous for people in crosswalks.

From an SDOT presentation about the NE 75th Street changes (same effect applies to N 50th Street). If the city knows this is dangerous, why didn’t they fix it when they repaved the street?

This project either should have received a safety update or the budget should have gone somewhere else. The task of achieving Vision Zero is far too vast to be investing in dangerous street designs like this.

And that brings us to the latest cut. SDOT just announced that they will not be repaving and redesigning Stone Way between 46th and 50th Streets due to “a change of funding availability due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other competing needs.” At least this time they are also cutting the paving project and not just the safety upgrades. But it’s more bike lane mileage that isn’t happening, adding to the city’s long list of bike plan cuts and delays. SDOT lists the work as “paused,” but there’s no timeline to resume.

But let me put on my infinite optimist hat for a second. In addition to cutting the bike lanes, the city also will not make improvements to the awful 5-way intersection at Stone, Green Lake Way and 50th. Maybe this is actually an opportunity for Seattle’s next mayor to do something really great. Because that intersection needs a very bold change, and it’s very clear that Mayor Durkan is not up to such a challenge.

Satelite map of the area around Green Lake Way between Aurora and Stone Way.

Idea: Delete Green Lake Way N between Aurora and Stone Way.

I gotta suggest my favorite idea, which comes from an old Seattle Bike Blog comment: Delete Green Lake Way between Aurora and Stone Way. The whole street, just gone. Then reconnect the neighborhood street grid and turn that awful 5-way intersection that absolutely everyone hates into a normal 4-way intersection. Do the same to the odd intersection with N 46th Street near Aurora. I am of course not a traffic engineer and don’t have the means to run all the traffic simulations and such, but I have a good feeling that this short diagonal street is causing a lot more traffic problems than it is solving. But I know for a fact it creates a lot of walkability and bikeability challenges. It’s so frustrating and stressful to cross, cutting off a lot of homes from easy access to neighborhood businesses, Woodland Park, and the nearby Rapidride E and Route 44 buses.

What’s really great about this idea is that even after reconnecting the neighborhood street grid, the city will have a lot of new developable land. This could be turned into park space, affordable housing, or sold to fund the road redesign project (or some mixture of these ideas).

This is all a long way of saying, We are getting a new mayor soon. We need a visionary leader who will stand up for our safety and climate goals and restore trust in SDOT’s ability to deliver on its promises. Rather than constantly looking for ways to scale back our city’s ambitions until they look like more of the same, our next mayor should challenge our city to think bigger and imagine a better world.

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Bad news for biking PNW travelers as BoltBus shuts down – UPDATED

MAJOR UPDATE: After posting yesterday and sending a question to FlixBus, the company announced that “ALL FlixBuses operating in the PNW are planned to have 🚲 racks available beginning July 14th!”

This is big news. FlixBus operates lines all over Washington and Oregon (and maybe to British Columbia when Canadian travel reopens?), even going places that BoltBus did not. Like Ellensburg, Spokane, Leavenworth and Wenatchee. For example, I can imagine FlixBusing to Ellensburg, then biking back to Seattle via the Palouse to Cascades Trail and camping along the way. This opens a lot of new opportunities for bike adventures.

You have to register a spot for your bike when you buy your ticket. No spots are available on the website yet, but hopefully that will change in the next few weeks.

Original post:

A bicycle in front of a BoltBus.

This old bike didn’t mind being shoved into the baggage compartment.

BoltBus was wonderful for three reasons: It was cheap. It ran multiple times a day. And they would let you shove your bike in the baggage compartment for free.

The bus service, owned by Greyhound, is apparently shutting down all its service across the continent, the Seattle Times reports. The official website says, “Effective 6/7/21 the BoltBus services are currently being operated by Greyhound in most markets while we undergo a few renovations.” But the Times reports that “Greyhound Lines, its parent company, has scuttled the BoltBus brand and has no plans to get it going again.”

As just a bus service, it wasn’t too remarkable. Greyhound, Amtrak and FlixBus also travel to many of the same destinations. But its lax attitude about bringing bicycles is what made it an amazing way to travel between major Pacific Northwest cities on a very low budget. So not only did you save some bucks on transporting a bike, but you also didn’t have to pay for transportation when you got there.

The Amtrak Cascades is still the best way to travel with your bike in the Pacific Northwest. They have bike storage in their baggage car, and you just have to pay a fee to reserve one of the spots. But the train schedule is limited, and tickets are a bit more expensive.

If you want to bring a bike on a Greyhound bus, they make you box it up and charge you a significant oversize baggage fee. The hassle plus the fee essentially make it impractical to bring your bike on the Greyhound, especially if your plan was to bike to the bus, then hop on your bike to get around your destination. Bike boxes are big and unwieldy, and many people don’t know how to disassemble and reassemble their bikes quickly on a downtown sidewalk. It’s an impractical limitation that essentially makes Greyhound buses off-limits for bike travel unless it’s truly the only option.

You can also take FlixBus, a service that sounds a lot like Boltbus and that even has an option you can check to bring a bike. The problem is that no trips seem to have an open bike space (suggesting that the Seattle-based buses don’t actually have bike racks). Former Mayor Mike McGinn and I had a Twitter exchange with FlixBus in 2019, and the company said it hoped to install bike racks on the Seattle-based buses in early 2020. But then, you know, some things happened that may have sidelined that work. Hopefully Flixbus does add those bike racks to the Seattle routes, because then it could be a great option. And since they also go to Ellensburg and Spokane, there are even more opportunities for FlixBus bike adventures.

But there was something great about just shoving your bike into the baggage area of a Boltbus. Sure, it was hardly the tender loving care many might prefer, but there was no extra fee and no need to reserve a spot. Just bike up, shove it in, and go. Then straighten out your bent fender when you get to your destination, and bike away. Sometimes you just don’t need to overthink these things.

Do you have a favorite way to travel to other big Pacific Northwest cities with a bike? Let us know in the comments below.

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Transit returns to full-capacity this week

Transit is back. Over the next couple days, agencies around the region will relax many of their COVID precautions as the bulk of Washington State’s restrictions end.

Like many of you, I’ve still been treating transit as an essential-trips-only service. I didn’t want to take a limited spot from someone who needed it more than I did. If biking was a practical option, I biked. I have taken the bus a handful of times, but it hasn’t been a regular part of my transportation mix like it was before the pandemic.

But now I am vaccinated, and so are more than 70% of eligible King County residents. It’s time for transit to reopen to full capacity and regain its place as the go-to way to get around town (well, other than biking and walking of course).

Riders will still have to wear masks and give the bus driver space (I mean, you should have been giving the bus driver space even before the pandemic), but the signs blocking off every other bus seat will be going away. Perhaps most importantly, buses will allow passengers until they reach normal capacity limits. This makes relying on transit much more practical for more people and more trips because it really sucks to get passed up by a full bus.

Many lines are still operating at reduced service levels compared to 2019, so if you haven’t been taking the bus since the pandemic started, you may find that your every-7-minutes bus is now a 15-minute bus (or your 15-minute bus is now every 30 minutes). So check the schedule.

I understand that many people probably still feel anxious about getting on a crowded bus. This has been a traumatic time, and feeling wary of crowds seems very natural. The good news it that studies have not found much evidence linking transit use with the spread of COVID even before vaccines. I hope these results hold as capacity increases, though the fact that the cities studied (like New York) have very high transit use gives me hope.

Chart shows no correlation between increasing bus ridership and COVID cases in New York.

Starting in mid-April, there is no apparent correlation between increasing bus ridership and COVID numbers in New York. Chart from “Public Transit and COVID-19 Pandemic: Global Research and Best Practices” by Sam Schwartz Consulting.

Continue reading

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Watch: Riding the new Green Lake bike lanes

Before and after photos at Green Lake Way and Ravenna Boulevard..Crews are nearly finished upgrading one of the most important bike routes in Seattle. East Green Lake Way N may have a terribly confusing name, but it forms a hub of sorts for north end bike routes. The Interurban North regional bike route and routes from Greenwood, Northgate, Ravenna, the U District, Wallingford and Fremont all lead to Green Lake. It’s also among the few flat options in the area.

I filmed a bike tour of the new lanes that walks through many of the changes and the history behind them. Watch above.

Before the upgrade, the street had a skinny paint-only bike lane that disappeared in many places. Especially when the lake was busy, biking northbound could be a stressful experience as people would often drive across the bike lane to turn or park. And the worst was when people would swerve into the bike lane to pass a car waiting to make a left turn. The bike lane also completely or mostly disappeared at bigger intersections like Ravenna Boulevard, Green Lake Drive N and West Green Lake Way N.

So when SDOT went to repave the street, they also fully reimagined how the bike route works. Three vital intersections got major remakes, and the northbound bike lane has shifted to the west side of the street to create a two-way bikeway. Though one-way bike lanes on either side of the street are typically preferred, this is a good example of an exception to that rule. Because the lake side of the street has far fewer driveways, placing both bike lanes on that side dramatically reduces the conflict points for people biking northbound. Continue reading

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