Though they are allies in the war on cars, streetcar tracks and bicycles tires do not always get along. As Seattle prepares to build its newest streetcar line down the heart of Capitol Hill on Broadway, a project team is working to design a route that will be safe for cyclists. And according to Mia Birk, CEO of Alta Planning and Design, who is blogging about her experience with the team, the all-star design squad is going to have to get creative to develop a solution for Broadway’s busy roadway:
Of particular concern is bicyclist/motorist interaction at intersections and driveways, steep grades, bicyclists’ turning movements, and, of course, interaction with tracks. Every decision will involve trade-offs with motorist movement, parking, or access. To be sure, like Portland’s emerging streetcar lines, debate and design-tweaking will go on long after the project is supposedly complete.
Last June, we reported on the Seattle Department of Transportation’s study of streetcar/bicycle safety and the plan to develop a “cycle track” to safely separate bike riders, cars and the rails.
Birk writes that the planning process in Portland eventually came to the conclusion these parallel bikeways are the safest approach for streetcar roadway design:
Our process of working through the details with the affected neighborhood, user, and business groups led to a consensus, in the case of NW Lovejoy, that a parallel bikeway was a better approach. The already-constrained environment (on-street parking, narrow bike lanes, extruded sidewalks/platforms, and two narrow travel lanes) would be made even worse with additional angled tracks and a two-way to one-way shift. To make it acceptable from a bikeway standpoint, all the on-street parking would have to be removed, an unacceptable trade-off from a business standpoint. Now that the parallel bikeway has been implemented, a fair amount of debate is underway in Portland’s cycling community. Part of that has to do with driver behavior on tracks, part has to do with the symbolism of removing an official city bikeway from Lovejoy, but it’s also about the details of the design, which are far from perfect and continue to be tweaked. In another case, streetcar design was modified to place the tracks and platforms in the middle to allow for right-side bike lanes.
According to Birk, the working group is being headed by Mark Dorn of URS Corp., the company responsible for engineering the infrastructure of Seattle’s streetcar system.