If you've been on Seventh Ave. downtown in the past few days, you've no doubt noticed white spray paint all over the road. The Seattle Department of Transportation painted preliminary mock-ups of the new Seventh Ave buffered bike lanes---so called because they're buffered by about two feet of additional lane space on either side of the lane itself, protecting cyclists from auto traffic.

According to SDOT spokesman Rick Sheridan, the department plans to install the lanes, which will require the removal of two lanes for auto traffic, sometime in the next two weeks.


7th Ave design drawing between Blanchard and Lenora Streets.

The six-foot-wide bike lanes will run in both directions between the travel and parking lanes from Denny Way to Virginia St., with a two-to-three-foot-wide painted buffer next to traffic. In order to accommodate the new bike lanes, Seventh Ave. will be restriped---from two 9.5-foot travel lanes with a 10-foot parking lane in either direction to one 11-foot travel lane with an eight-foot parking lane in each direction.

SDOT says about 8,000 vehicles per day use that stretch of Seventh Ave.  With one lane in each direction, the road will still have enough capacity to carry as many as 20,000 vehicles a day.

According to Sheridan, the bike lanes will cost the city about  $25,000, which includes planning, design, outreach, removing the old lanes, and installing the new lanes.  The funding will come from the city's bicycle master plan.

As a bicyclist, I'm excited about the new buffered lanes. Ideally, the lanes would be parking-protected (like the ones proposed for the Dexter Ave cycletrack), since cycletracks offer better protection from cars and the risk of being "doored." But buffered lanes are an improvement over traditional lanes, which don't offer any separation from cars.

There's still an equal risk of being doored by people getting out of parked cars, but in theory, the fact that drivers will have to cross a large, obvious bike lane to park will make them more aware of cyclists.

The Seventh Ave. buffered lanes are short, stretching just half a mile between Denny Way and Virginia St., but they're still a wise use of SDOT's scant (and soon to be reduced) funding. According to SDOT's 2009 SDOT downtown bicycle count, Seventh Ave. had the highest bicycle volume downtown, and funnels much of the bicycle traffic from north Seattle into the center city.