Pesky 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.”
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.
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:
“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.”