Even with a very rainy Sunday closing out the weekend, The Seattle Department of Transportation was able to put the finishing touches on the new bike lanes on Pike from downtown to Capitol Hill this weekend.
The new lanes, between Broadway and downtown, were mostly painted last weekend, and SDOT had been working to dot the I’s and cross the T’s last week, with the work “98%” done on Friday, said SDOT spokesperson Dan Anderson. Today, the bike lanes also have new stop bars, a new bike rack at Belmont and Pike, more reflectors and new parking signs designating loading zones.
The updated signage might be necessary. The new bike lane got off to a sputtering start last week, with Twitter users posting photos of cars and trucks parked in the bike lanes, including an SDOT vehicle and a delivery truck in front of sandwich shop Honey Hole.
I see Seattle is settling into the new Pike street bike lanes pic.twitter.com/wwu6vT2Sf1
— David Kroman (@KromanDavid) September 10, 2019
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“That was while we were still in the process of moving everything,” said Anderson. “We have a really nice load zone outside of Honey Hole [now]. We just got those signs up.”
Anderson said these types of glitches, including cars in the bike lane, are normal during install. “We try to be fair,” he said. “Towing cars is really expensive for people… We give people time to adjust to these things. We don’t want to be punitive.”
Usually, Anderson said, SDOT can paint around most cars. “We try to concentrate on installing the bike lane. There’s an adjustment period. Definitely the first couple of days, but people adjust for months afterward.”
CHS went to take a look. On Friday and Saturday, cars and bikers seemed already used to the new street order, though some cars and Uber drivers had apparently discovered that the diagonally painted “buffer zone” (where parking is prohibited at all times) were excellent right-turn lanes or drop-off zones.
City of Seattle: we’ve installed new bike lanes in Capitol Hill to improve bicyclist safety.
Uber/Lyft drivers: wow, so nice of the city to build us our own pickup and drop off zones!
— Dylan Babbs (@dbabbs) September 10, 2019
But delivery trucks parked in the designated spots. Bike riders zoomed by mostly eastwards toward Broadway. CHS spotted one e-scooter and one OneWheel, many bike messengers and mostly men on nice road bikes, with a bit more diversity among the group of riders on Jump or Lime bikes, roughly half of the riders CHS counted on Friday and Saturday.
“To be honest I haven’t seen bikers on it, at all, but it’s new,” said Michael Lee, owner of Saint John’s Bar & Eatery. He said the reduced parking, part of the new street design, would “impact people coming from a little bit farther out.” But, he added: “I generally like that it’s becoming a little bit more of a biking city.”
How will it impact his business? “TBD,” he said. As far as deliveries go, he’s more worried about the “new huge new condo behind us that breaks ground next year.”
“We’re losing our garbage and reclining area…That will be the real concern.”
CHS wrote about the latest plans for the Knights of Columbus development here.
Nearby, “James from Capitol Hill,” who did not give his last name, zoomed by St. John’s on a Jump bike during rush hour on Friday, and was just about to turn right on Harvard from the Pike lane when CHS flagged him down.
“I use [Pike] a lot more now that this bike lane has opened up,” James said, adding he’d used to walk or bike on Pine. “The next lane over on Pine is more difficult to get downtown, with this road you can stay on the same side of the road. I’m much happier with this bike lane than Pine; I use this exclusively now,” James said.
Brent Peek, another commuter who lives “on the top of Capitol Hill and the Central District,” commutes downtown daily for work as well.
“I like having designated pathways for bikes,” Peek said. “You can tell cars are still getting used to it, as far as taking right turns… but it feels more comfortable. I ride a bike a lot, so to me, it’s not that big of a deal, but for people [who] are just commuting or not as comfortable on a bike, it’s probably huge. The more, the merrier.”
SDOT doesn’t track ridership numbers or data during install, Anderson said, though the department does in-person observations and can tweak design based on what they see and hear “from the community.”
In general, however, data show that protected bike lanes increase ridership, usually dramatically. “The data tells us from other, comparable streets that biking is going to get more and more popular on Pike Street and we’re going to see a real increase in bikes.”
Still, Anderson stressed, it is a safety project. “The goal is to separate vulnerable users [from cars]. The goal is to calm the street, and we’ve done that by eliminating the center turn lane, which encouraged u-turns and faster speeds.”
That safety is still an issue on Pike was clear last week, when a student from The Northwest School was hit by a car near the corner of Pike and Summit (the student is back at school already, said Margie Combs, communications director for the Northwest School.)
The next day, new, brightly-colored crossing flags showed up on the utility poles near the intersection, an initiative of a couple of parents with kids at the school. Administrators of the school have also stepped up to help kids with crossing during afternoon rush hour.
— Julie Hubschman (@juliehubs) September 11, 2019
Combs said the school is “somewhat ambivalent” about the new street design. In general, “we’re thrilled, and we hugely support the bike lanes and the steps that the city is taking to facilitate safe travels for bikers. In fact, we have so many more teachers biking now to our school that we’ve had to expand on-site bike parking by half in the last couple of years,” she said.
In terms of drop-off, however, the new layout is still somewhat confusing for parents, Combs added. “They say when they are approaching [the new bike lane], it’s visually confusing, they feel sort of pressured to do it the right way and to be looking in very different directions. We are getting used to it ourselves,” she said. The school is considering pressing SDOT for more prominent signage and possibly street bumps.
As a driver, Candy Martinez, who commutes from West Seattle to Capitol Hill, is happy with the bike lanes. “It is actually much easier. I have worked up here for four years, having that bike lane is a really good idea. They [cyclists] are everywhere, and sometimes they weave in and out of traffic, and especially on these hills and at nights it’s dark, and you can’t really see.”
“Parking-wise,” she added, “I’m not too sure how it’s going to go, but parking has always been a pain, so you gotta deal with it, it’s the city.”
Kat Caro was walking down the street from Broadway on Saturday afternoon. As an occasional cyclist, Caro’s happy with the bike lanes — “safer than back in my country,” Colombia, “because it’s a wide lane,” she said. But she feels there is more to be done.
“A month ago, I saw an accident. An Uber driver stopped in a really reckless way, in front of Molly Moon’s, in the [travel] lane. One of the riders opened the door without looking, there was a Caviar rider, and he fell really bad.”
“So I was like: maybe it’s not safe enough for bicyclists, I think people driving cars should be more cautious… I think there should be a campaign where car riders should be more cautious with the bikes.”
The new bike lanes on Pike are positioned by SDOT as “temporary” infrastructure that could be part of larger, longterm changes to the Pike/Pine travel corridors. The Community Package Coalition, a group of local organizations working to ensure the Washington State Convention Center Addition project plans included a suite of public benefits in exchange for vacations of right of way required for the expansion, secured $10 million for protected bike lanes. A community outreach and planning process helped shape the design now implemented from the area of the convention center to Broadway.