The Seattle Department of Transportation just finished painting traditional bike lanes on 11th Ave. NE from the University Bridge to NE 75th St (11th becomes 12th Ave. north of Ravenna Blvd). The 11th Ave. lanes, along with the traditional lanes SDOT installed on Roosevelt Ave. between 75th and the U bridge last week, are a welcome addition to the busy and often fast-paced north-south corridor. With almost four miles of new lanes, the couplet is one of the longest bike facilities SDOT's installed this year.

I had the chance to ride the new lanes this afternoon and overall, I'd say they're a success. Since they lack any real separation from cars, painted or otherwise, traditional lanes are ultimately a tool to increase driver awareness of bicyclists on the road (similar to what sharrows are supposed to accomplish). The new lanes are bright and obvious and, ideally, will let  drivers know they should be extra vigilant.

As with any bike facility, there are problem areas. At several intersections (such as the intersections of 45th and 65th Streets with 11th), cars have to merge across the bike lane to get into the dedicated right turn lane. This creates some risk of drivers sideswiping bikes as the merge into the turn lane.



The worst issue I noticed was a pinch point just north of the U bridge where there's a gap in the bike lane and bikes have to merge left for a bit (see the above picture). A raised cement median juts out into the road, preventing a contiguous bike lane. It's understandable that the cash-strapped SDOT bike program didn't pay to remove that strip of cement. But cars drive fast coming off the bridge and might not expect a bike to move left out of the lane.

Obviously, a buffered lane would be ideal, but that would've required removing much, if not all, of the parking on the bike-lane side of the road (something that's caused North Seattle residents to go apoplectic). The new lanes are nonetheless an improvement that makes bicycling more comfortable along that stretch.

Now if the city can just do something about narrow, fast, bike-facilityless Eastlake Ave south of the U bridge (and install those lanes on Roosevelt all the way to 115th St), they'll have a solid bike route connecting Maple Leaf, Ravenna, and east Greenlake all the way to downtown.
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