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‘Conceptual’ — SDOT says now is the time to shape E Union’s 2020 plan for protected bike lanes

E Union from above 18th Ave — just add PBLs (Image: CHS)

Tuesday night, Seattle Department of Transportation officials will be at Washington Hall as part of a series of “conversations” in neighborhoods across the city about — and, yes, we know the Seattle is Dying crowd loves this — the plan for implementing Seattle’s bike plan.

SDOT Bike Master Plan cafe-style conversation

One topic newly installed SDOT head Sam Zimbabwe’s crew knows will be on the minds of neighbors and business representatives in this plan for the plan is a pretty solid embodiment of Seattle’s increasingly modest bike projects circa 2019: new, semi-protected bike lanes on E Union hoped to be under construction by the end of the year and, some advocates say, disappointedly compromised by a City Hall unwilling to take on a serious commitment to new bike infrastructure.

First, SDOT wants you to know the whole bike riders can ride on the sidewalk thing at the busy intersections of E Union and 23rd and E Union and MLK is only an idea right now — one of many planners need to sort through, SDOT spokesperson Ethan Bergerson tells CHS.

“We realize because there is a gap, people could potentially ride on the sidewalk. One potential thing is widening the street but with all the development that probably isn’t possible,” Bergerson said.

“This is all conceptual.”

Bergerson said the ideas on the table are there to spark discussion and SDOT  is “starting to get feedback on it” as planners “take a fresh look.”

“We want to build a network that is safe,” Bergerson said. “What we’re hearing — on one side — is that there is a gap there where we’d like to see a more connected network.”

“To confirm what I said, everything we’ve shared so far about the Union protected bike lane is still conceptual, we have not yet begun the design process,” the spokesperson later said by e-mail. “So we are definitely very open to feedback and can still consider modifications.”

The project planned for opening in 2020 (hey, 20/20 Cycle, get in on this) and paid for by the Move Seattle levy would “upgrade the existing bike lane into a bi-directional parking protected bike lane (PBL) from 14th Ave to 22nd Ave and 24th Ave to 26th Ave” and “add an uphill PBL and a downhill shallow lane from 26th Ave to Martin Luther King Jr. Way.”

The gaps advocates worry about come at the 23rd and MLK intersections where, in the concept mapped out right now by SDOT, bikers would be directed to use the sidewalk and get out of the street.

“Benefits include improving the “travel experience for people biking, walking and driving, including bus and freight operators” and reducing collisions to help us achieve our Vision Zero goal,” SDOT writes.

A third goal listed by SDOT? “Fewer people riding on the sidewalk.”

The mushy logic of it all comes as the Seattle bike community is facing disappointment over the realities of the city’s commitment to transportation infrastructure that limits motor vehicle traffic. E Union might be an opportunity for Seattle to get its bike planning back on track. Seattle Bike Blog posted one possible recipe. Here’s what SBB likes:

First off, there is a good part to this design. Between 14th and 22nd Avenues, the city will add or upgrade bike lanes to be parking-protected. Getting the design right at each intersection and driveway will be very important, but this is a great starting point.

And here is what SDOT needs to fix:

But once the project gets to 22nd, it abandons these bike lanes entirely. E Union Street today is has two lanes (one in each direction) plus two parking and painted bike lanes at 22nd Ave, but then widens out to five lanes (two each direction and a left turn lane) plus a parking lane before reaching 23rd. There is no space constraint here. Traffic doesn’t suddenly double in that one block.

The Seattle Bike Blog’s fix? Drop a few lanes of traffic:

Tuesday night’s “cafe conversation” at Washington Hall, Bergerson says, is a chance for people who ride bikes and city officials to talk out Seattle’s Bike Plan implementation, not just E Union. SDOT is promising a “separate outreach meeting at a convenient location” specifically for the bike lane project. But they also know that Tuesday, the E Union project is more than likely to come up.

“You’ve got limited space,” Bergerson says. “It comes down to a very rapidly growing city, and a rapidly growing part of town,” and he says, “the same amount of space on the roadway.”

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29 thoughts on “‘Conceptual’ — SDOT says now is the time to shape E Union’s 2020 plan for protected bike lanes

  1. I was hit by a pickup truck as I biked downhill on Union, at 26th. Glad there will be some upgrades, but don’t love abandoning bike lanes at 22nd.

  2. Please stop…. bi-directional bike lanes are dangerous… a downhill bi-directional bike lane is asking for people to be hit. Even the Dutch admit they are a bad idea. The absolute safest place to ride a bike downhill (you can easily do the speed of traffic) is in the middle of the travel lane. It is the place where you will be the most visible and you will be able to see the other traffic. Not to mention that as this protected lane will suddenly end at 22nd, cyclists who are foolish enough to use it will suddenly be faced with an extraordinarily awkward transition to the correct side of the street… Just don’t. Sharrow the downhill side, leave out the stupid curbs and bollards – unobstructed bike lanes are fine for climbing.

      • I think you all mean different things by “bi-directional” – I think SDOT means “a bike lane in each direction” and mr. CD cyclist means “a broadway-style bike lane with both directions on one side of the street.”

        The diagrams seem closer to SDOT’s definition.

    • mea culpa – I was looking at this on a small screen, so the drawings weren’t clear. When they mentioned a bi-directional bike lane, I read it as one of those monstrosities that makes people ride on the wrong side of the road… Still, downhill bike lanes should be avoided *always* – uphill is fine, downhill should always be sharrows.

  3. The problem is that the city has been investing too heavily where there is no car-bike conflict and then neglecting all the hard parts. This seems to again be the plan for Union. There’s really no need for flashy separated bike lanes from 22nd to 14th. What’s needed is to deal with the hard spots — 23rd and MLK.

    A good example is Pike from 12th downtown. Fancy paint all the way to the overpass and then, when you finally encounter some traffic, nothing. Cyclist are all weaving between the cars backed up to turn on Boren.

    So, fix the hard stuff first — the intersections where conflict occurs — then move to the easy stuff.

    23rd and Union is actually easy as long as you don’t put bikes at the bottom of priority. 1) Get rid of the silly one-block right-hand lanes approaching 23rd (are these straight or right-turn lanes? I bet SDOT doesn’t actually know). 2) Green bike lane ending in a bike box in front of the cars. 3) No right on red to 23rd. Cars turning right on 23rd will just have to wait for the bikes to clear out first.

    • Originally made this comment on Ryan Packer’s blog, The Urbanist, so this may be a repeat comment for ya if you lurk around in their comment section like I do.

      “The WB right lane [around Union & 23rd] isn’t a bad option for cyclists to use prior to hitting that PBL just west of 22nd; the lane is mainly used by buses and less frequently by drivers who make right turns off of 23rd onto Union or off Union onto 22nd.

      Union St is a major E-W connector for people commuting from the CD/Madrona and removing that second WB lane around 23rd, a major N-S connector, to make way for a PBL would have a significant impact to both car and bus commuters.”

      Making it a no turn on red there would have even larger traffic impacts.

      • There are six lanes devoted to cars at that intersection, and about 12 feet total devoted to pedestrians (split between the two sidewalks). It’s not unreasonable to devote some street space to safe passage for vehicles smaller than cars.

        I don’t believe the 2 bus uses the right-hand lane at 23rd (and if you look at the google maps satellite image, you’ll conveniently see a bus crossing 23rd in the center lane, not the right lane).

        No turn on red is super unfriendly to pedestrians as well; people in cars block the crosswalk constantly and are focused away from pedestrians coming from their right as they look left toward traffic. I’ve nearly been hit many times crossing the street.

      • There are 5 lanes not 6 on Union at 23rd and one of them, the right most eastbound lane, is essentially just a bus pull-off.

        During peak morning commutes, WB Union backs up from 23rd down to MLK pretty quickly and that’s *with* a second lane around 23rd. That lane provides queue for busses and/or up to six cars looking to make right hand turns. Remove that lane and those cars/busses don’t disappear they just get stacked into the long line leading down to MLK. Also, all those right hand turners waiting for the crosswalk to clear will be preventing WB vehicles from moving forward… Sure you can see how removing that lane would create a pretty nasty mess.

      • You have to count the lane of parking (and associated curb bulb) on the south side of the street.

        2 each direction + 1 left turn + 1 parking = 6

      • Lol OK. Doesn’t really have impact on this transportation conversation unless you’re suggesting that the parking strip is removed and the bulb is reduced to make room a bike lane…

      • Anyway, your comments about the “nasty mess” is more proof that cars just don’t scale well in an urban environment, and it’s insane to devote 90% of the entire width between buildings to such an inefficient way of getting around.

        Don’t get me wrong, I actually love cars! But I’m tired of optimizing the street scape in my neighborhood so people can use a rural mode in a dense urban setting.

        Why does there need to be car storage right in this super contested space within a block of the intersection?

      • SDOT recently did a great job scaling the intersection to meet traffic needs and avoiding a “nasty mess.”

        To talk to your other point: I spent a year biking, busing, and driving from Madrona to Belltown and biking is hands down the most inefficient. Believe it or not, cars can be essential to enabling people’s freedom of mobility – it almost always gets people from point A to point B faster, doesn’t require a baseline fitness level, minimal impacts during inclement weather, and is a huge multiplier when say parents need to pick one kid up at daycare, drop another off at a practice, and run down some chores all in the span of 2 hrs.

      • Not saying that everyone has to bike, or that cars should be banned. Just that the weighting right now is way skewed toward cars, and there should be a small percentage of street space for people to get around other ways safely.

        The #2 bus gets from 34th and union to Belltown in 27 minutes, vs 21 by car. If it’s slower, it’s because there are too many cars in the way.

        my experience of time-efficiency is on a bike vs car is different from yours.

        Lastly: there’s a new generation of electric smaller-than-car vehicles (scooters, bikes, and other forms) making hills a non-issue and really changing the equation.

      • I’d argue there’s a small amount of space because it’s just not a reliable, practical form of day-to-day transportation. Don’t get me wrong, on sunny weekend days it’s great to hop on my bike and ride along Lake Washington, or into the arboretum, or up to 23rd and grab bite… However, tracking down a ride share e-bike, spend 20-30 min riding to the office, showering, and then changing into work clothes daily isn’t all that realistic.

        I would love to see SDOT come up with a solution that accommodates both cyclists and drivers/bus riders and think removing the north side parking between 22nd /23rd is an approach worth looking into.

      • I understand that you think that.

        When people are surveyed about the actual barriers to cycling as transportation, not recreation, the top one is consistently perceived safety.

        Weather and showering are definitely on the list! But not nearly as high.

        Personally, I’ve bike commuted for over 7 years, and started specifically because it was a more reliable and consistent way of getting around. Getting to ballard in a car from capitol hill and back takes somewhere between 21 minutes and 90 minutes, and I can never tell what it’s going to be. On a bike, it’s consistently 25-30 minutes, year round, no matter whether Sakura-con is in town, or a concert at Key Arena, etc.

      • PS, Brian – should have added: appreciate your open mind, the discussion, and your willingness to devote some street space for safety. genuinely. -dr

  4. This is a great opportunity for folks interested in providing a safe environment for people of all ages and abilities to get around by bike (i.e., not just those who feel comfortable “taking the lane”) to flip the dynamic from what occurred in Wedgwood on 35th Ave NE. Let’s be loud and vocal and tell the city that we want to prioritize safety over convenience for those driving cars! This is what Vision Zero is all about — let’s make the city walk the talk!

      • Nope, Brian, I would definitely not call myself a member of the “activist crowd.” More like a white middle class 40-something father of two kids professional who happens to ride his bike to work a lot and whose kids bike around the neighborhood and whose wife doesn’t bike as often because she would like to because she doesn’t feel safe enough but would if there was a true connected network of protected bike facilities in our city. And I drive a lot too, including getting my kids to soccer games and all that, but I don’t mind driving more slowly so that people riding bikes can get around safely. Even though I don’t live up in Wedgwood, I am very disappointed that the mayor decided to ignore the bike master plan and cancel the bike lanes planned for 35th Ave NE, because it sets a horrible precedent that a few loud people can complain about losing their parking and get their way.

    • The only problem is that a lot of the proposed ‘solutions’ are NOT safer, they only feel good to the inexperienced….. Just because you are not comfortable taking the lane does NOT make a separated bike lane any less dangerous. They hide cyclists from the other traffic and make every intersection a gamble. As a cyclist they block your view, they leave you few options for escape if you do run into a problem and more often that not abruptly dump users out into dangerous and awkward transitions into regular traffic. The ones with parking and bus stops on their left are the worst. Don’t use them – they make you invisible.

      If you actually value your safety you would also know to NEVER use a downhill bike lane – separated or not, especially one with parking on it’s right… it’s a trap of possible opening doors and cars that can pass, then abruptly turn right in front of you. Not long after the one was striped going down Union, a young woman nearly severed her foot when a car door was opened in front of her. I also doubt it’s any coincidence that the separated stretch of Roosevelt Way that heads down toward the U Bridge is currently one of the top spots in the city for cycling accidents – and it’s not even very steep.

      • CD Cyclist, I’m sure you’re a very confident and strong cyclist who can maintain a speed that makes sense for taking the lane, but please remember that not everyone is that kind of cyclist. There are folks who are younger or older and who are slower or not as confident and will simply not want to ride their bike to get to places if drivers are going to honk at them and drive too close to them as they pass. A network of protected bike lanes is for those folks (as well as folks like me who are more confident but don’t feel a need to go 20+ mph all the time on my bike).

      • Downhill *any* cyclist is likely to be at or near to the speed of traffic – it has nothing at all to do with your fitness… it’s gravity.

        And as I said actually *being* safe has little to do with what you feel confident or not about. A person may feel perfectly confident about riding in an unsafe bike lane, but it’s a false sense of security. In all likelihood they are at their most unsafe, because they lack the confidence and experience to make good judgments about traffic safety, but at the same time because they *feel* safe and believe they are riding somewhere safer they are less aware and paying less attention to hazards.