Seattle’s approach to building bicycle infrastructure often has the appearance of an earnest toddler desperately throwing spaghetti against the wall. That spaghetti isn’t nothing – SDOT has built well-designed and protected bike lanes with bright paint buffers or bollards, “cross-bikes” at tricky intersections, bike traffic signals, and other thoughtful applications of bicycle best practices. Though often unconnected to other bike infrastructure and seemingly randomly placed, these bits and pieces are now numerous enough in the city that each new installation is in itself unremarkable. A confident rider can now move about the city in a way that is often pleasant and safe, punctuated with rush of adrenaline when the painted lane suddenly disappears and you are plunged into into traffic. Lately, we’re even getting to the point where all those bits of spaghetti are starting to overlap.
One of the biggest gaps between our bike lane spaghetti is the gaping chasm between Capitol Hill and downtown. A handful of bridges span I-5 here and not one has an uphill bike lane. Even where bike lanes they are present on surface streets, as on Pine, they disappear on the approaches to the bridge. At Pine and Boren cyclists squeeze in between lanes of traffic, including buses, trucks, and highway bound motorists, while queueing for the stoplight.
Pine St & Boren Ave during the morning commute. Photo by the author.
The Basic Bike Network, proposed by bicycle advocates and included in the City’s Bicycle Master Plan, would bridge this gap with protected bike lanes (PBLs) connecting two of the best pieces of bike infrastructure in the city, the cycle tracks on 2nd Avenue and Broadway. The first segment of these protected lanes has in fact already been built, between 2nd and 6th Ave. However, as anyone who has used these lanes can attest, they thrust the rider right back into danger after a few peaceful blocks.
Existing protected bike lane at Pine & 5th Ave. Photo by the author.
On July 18th the City Council transportation committee passed a resolution calling for the completion of the Pike/Pine PBLs as far as Broadway. Theses new lanes would connect First Hill and Capitol Hill, two of Seattle’s densest neighborhoods, to downtown with safe, legible, comfortable cycling infrastructure. The lanes will create a safe place for cyclists of all ages (including the ever growing share of e-bike riders). They’ll also create a more peaceful street environment for pedestrians on adjacent sidewalks and a less stressful environment for drivers who’d rather not hit anybody. All these things are good for businesses and neighborhood residents too. Together they will mark the beginning of a transformational change in our City’s bicycle network in which a person can travel confidently from where they are to where they want to go by bike in a way that is safe, easy to understand, and fun. These are the ingredients that great cycling cities are made of.
The great news is that the lanes are funded (thanks to the Convention Center expansion public benefits package) and the SDOT has actually committed to building them! Interim lanes are to be implemented by December 2019, and they’ll be upgraded to permanent infrastructure along with the construction of the Pike/Pine Renaissance project after the convention center construction is complete (probably 2021).
We want to see these lanes built, the Council wants to see them built, and there are a lot of folks at SDOT who want to see them built too. They know quality infrastructure that connects people with places they actually want to go is how you make cycling a viable option in the city. Now it’s time for us to do our job and ensure the interim design is safe and logical. People who bike, walk, own businesses, and drive in the Pike/Pine corridor will all benefit from well-designed bike lanes.
In the next few months Central Seattle Greenways, Capitol Hill EcoDistrict, and other community partners will be conducting outreach to businesses and the public and communicating with SDOT. We’ll also be co-hosting a public design charrette with the EcoDistrict in late October to solicit input and sketch out ideas for how the bikelane design can best serve cyclists, pedestrians, businesses and drivers. We’d especially love to to hear from business owners and managers at the charrette to ensure the design works well for everyone.
If you want to learn more about how you can get involved contact Central Seattle Greenways. It’s time to transform our city!