City's Bike Work Plan Shows Promise and Problems

By Josh Cohen May 17, 2010

With the almost endless discussions of the Bike Master Plan's budget shortfall and political and legal impediments to it  progress, it sometimes feels like Seattle's bicycle infrastructure is frozen in time. But, despite its pitiful budget, SDOT is inching forward on the implementation of the BMP.

SDOT sent me a copy of the 2010 BMP work plan which calls for a little over 20 miles of new on-road facilities (roughly a 50-50 split between bike lanes and sharrows), 35 miles of signed routes, and some maintenance work on existing infrastructure. There are too many small projects to list (most of those 22 miles of facilities are projects less than a mile long). But, there are some that are worth mentioning and seem like intelligent investments.

A Few of the Good:

11th Ave (which becomes 12th above Ravenna Blvd) is getting 1.79 miles of bike lanes between Eastlake and 75th St. 11th is a major corridor because of the University bridge (and the University of Washington, for that matter) and because it's a fairly wide one way street, traffic is often fast. Bike lanes should help improve safety for cyclists (assuming the lanes don't put cyclists right in the door zone like the one on 2nd Ave through downtown). Paralleling 11th in the other direction, there are plans for bike lanes on Roosevelt Ave between Eastlake and 75th as well.

It isn't quite as good as getting a cycletrack, but 7th Ave is getting a buffered bike lane from Denny to Virginia. Buffered bike lanes, like their name indicates, have a painted buffer between the car-travel lane and the bike lane and as such, are generally safer than non-buffered lanes. It's a shamefully short stretch of buffered lane proposed for 7th (.38 miles), but it's also the most heavily traveled stretch of 7th since it connects Dexter to downtown.

SDOT has a few plans in South Seattle that are exciting from a multi-modal transportation standpoint.  S. Columbian Way is getting bike lanes from S. Oregon St to MLK as part of the Columbian Way road diet. Those lanes, along with planned lanes on S. Alaska St. and lanes and sharrows on 15th Ave S., will help facilitate multi-modal transportation by making it safer and easier to bike to the the Rainier Beach light rail station.

The (Potentially) Bad:

Almost half of the on-road facilities in the work plan are sharrows—short for "shared lane arrow." Streets with planned sharrows projects include Taylor Ave. and Boston St. in Queen Anne, Fremont Ave between 34th and 36th, and Western from Blanchard to Broad, all heavily traveled commuter routes.

I have mixed feelings about sharrows. When they're done well they help guide cyclists out of the door zone and help raise driver awareness of cyclists' rights to the road. A 2004 study done on San Francisco's (then) trial sharrows found that while placed and highly visible sharrows significantly reduced sidewalk riding and riding in the door zone and that drivers gave bikes more room when passing.

The key to that, of course, is the sharrows need to be well done. Seattle has some unfortunate examples of half-assed sharrows (the most glaring of which might be the ones on the Missing Link skirting the far-right side of Shilshole Ave. as Seattle Like's Bikes' Michael Synder points out).

If SDOT's planned sharrows are implemented correctly—i.e. the big, highly-visible chevron with bike symbols placed outside of the door zon—it will likely be money well spent.  If not, it will be money spent making Seattle look better (look how many miles of on-road facilities we have!), without any benefit to cyclists.
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