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The current state of (not) biking on Broadway — and the coming-soon Broadway Bikeway

cyclistinsidePesky street-embedded rail tracks, especially wet ones, are a perennial hazard for bicyclists. But it hasn’t deterred many from riding up and down and in between the tracks of Broadway’s under-construction First Hill Streetcar.

That’s not so surprising considering Broadway is often where people want to go, and the city’s alternative route on 12th Ave is less than ideal. The traffic moves faster, parked car doors open closer to the bike line, and construction crews at three separate sites occasionally block designated bike lanes and gum up traffic. (If you spot trucks or cones in any bike lane, you can call SDOT at 684-ROAD.)

Nevertheless, 12th Ave was still the city’s best detour option during streetcar construction, said SDOT’s streetcar project manager Susan Byers. “We were looking for a parallel street close to Broadway. 12th Avenue has the same speed limit, and it wasn’t going to have the (street) construction like Broadway.”

Constructing the separated Broadway Bikeway ahead of the tracks would have meant closing one lane of traffic, something Byers said the city didn’t want.

“We were trying to keep a lane of traffic open in each direction.” The parking could have gone first, but local businesses wouldn’t have been keen on that option either. There’s also the Copenhagen strategy where “the Danes prioritize their cycle tracks over motor vehicle traffic lanes during construction.”

Broadway

According to Byers, the protected cycle track is scheduled to open in mid-October north of Madison. The section south of Madison is slated to open by the end of December.

Bike on tracks

Riding the rails on Broadway.

Byers said she is aware of at least three bicyclists who have wiped out on the Broadway tracks. Of course, as Byers points out, they shouldn’t have been riding there in the first place since SDOT closed Broadway to bicycles when streetcar construction started.

SDOT has the authority to set right of ways for city streets. SDOT spokesperson Rick Sheridan said that police could technically ticket cyclists for riding on Broadway, but said it’s unlikely. “We just want people to follow the detours.”

Detour signs rerouting bicyclists to 12th Ave should be posted on all streets leading into Broadway for the duration of the tracks. Here’s SDOT’s site for more on what cyclists can expect on Broadway during construction. If you do happen to be biking on Broadway, look out for spots where the tracks move in towards the curb squeezing you across the rails, like on the west side of the street near Seattle Central Community College.

Bikeportland.org has posted some ideas about how to improve streetcar track safety. One way is to install rubber flanges inside the rails that depress when trains roll over, but allow bicycle tires to smoothly traverse the tracks. SDOT has said it is researching the “flangeway” solution.

Once the separated Broadway Bikeway is in place, bicycle and streetcar should exist harmoniously, or at least more so than on Westlake Ave, where the South Lake Union streetcar tracks continue to be a significant hazard for cyclists. As seattlebikeblog.com explains:

Blue pins indicate solo crashes. (bikewise.org)

The Blue pins lining Westlake indicate solo crashes. (bikewise.org)

“The city saved some money in 2007 by installing the Westlake Ave streetcar tracks in the curb lane instead of the center, thus ruining the road for people cycling and creating one of our city’s worst bicycle hazards.”

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Gordon Werner
Gordon Werner
8 years ago

There are a number of solutions for dealing with street rail flange ways.

There is a german product known as VeloSTRAIL that was designed for bicycles that fills the flange way, depressing under the weight of the rail vehicle while otherwise keeping a flat surface.

The Streetcar is also using a similar method to make it easier for the elderly to cross the track that will be built down 8th ave to the car barn. I posted that info here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gordonwerner/8532145638/in/set-72157630154155804/

Kevin
Kevin
8 years ago

The best way to improve streetcar safety is to remove the streetcars and implement grade-separated transit. If are no rails, then it is impossible to wipe out on the rails.

Also, I’m curious how Southbound bikers are going to be expected to cross over to the cycle track.

Eric
Eric
8 years ago
Reply to  Kevin

How much more would it cost to grade-separate transit?

TWCB
TWCB
8 years ago
Reply to  Eric

Your proposal won’t work.

The best way is a way that will work with what they are currently building.

pragmatic
pragmatic
8 years ago

I love that you’re calling it a “Bikeway” and I hope SDOT adopts this terminology! Non-wonky people I talk to about “cycle tracks” at first think I’m talking about a velodrome or some other race-track type of thing. Bikeway is simple and perfectly compliments the new “greenway” term. Nice!

Joseph Singer
Joseph Singer
8 years ago

Why do the streetcar tracks meander all over the street?

pragmatic
pragmatic
8 years ago
Reply to  Joseph Singer

To accommodate cars (left turns, parking, etc.)

calhoun
calhoun
8 years ago

My prediction: With vehicles and streetcars sharing the same (single) lane, and with streetcars blocking the flow of traffic when they stop to load passengers, there’s going to be a lot of backup and angry/impatient drivers, with subsequently more vehicle-related accidents.

I hope I’m wrong.

Kelly
Kelly
8 years ago
Reply to  calhoun

I think the plan has streetcars moving into the ‘parking’ lane at stops to unload. It’s why the tracks weave all over the place (and are extra scary.)

James
James
7 years ago
Reply to  calhoun

There probably will be a lot of angry drivers at first. Once they find alternate routes I think things will run more smoothly.

Oscar
Oscar
8 years ago

Okay, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the city needs to suck it up and build a proper subway system. No more problems with bikes/cars/pedestrians…

Observant
Observant
8 years ago

That fellow isn’t wearing a helmet. He’s wearing a douchebag cap. I hope somebody informs him that a douchebag cap isn’t a substitute for a helmet.

Kelly
Kelly
8 years ago

Parallel rail tracks are a hazard to all two wheel traffic. At least there is going to eventually be a bike lane. The design is not safe for scooters and motorcycle traffic. I already know of one scooter accident caused by the tracks :( Due to the weight/mass of these vehicles, these crashes tend to be much worse than bicycle wrecks.

Of course, scooters and motorcycles can and will take the residential streets instead. I always feel a bit guilty driving with my loud pipes down these streets after 10 pm. Sorry folks. Broadway just isn’t safe anymore.

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