Queen Anne's Got A Connection Problem

By Josh Cohen October 21, 2010

This post has been updated with comments from SDOT spokesman Rick Sheridan.

As I reported yesterday, Queen Anne's inter-neighborhood connectivity is getting a boost this week thanks to a new bike lane and sharrows on Taylor Ave. However, if you want leave the neighborhood by bike and head towards downtown, your options for are limited. One of the main goals of the city's Bike Master Plan is to build a network of bike routes that creates viable routes throughout the city. As it stands now, lower Queen Anne (or Uptown, if you must), is not well connected to the downtown core. Given the neighborhood's density, it really should be.

As it stands, there are only two routes with good bike infrastructure leading out of lower Queen Anne: Dexter Ave. on the far east side of Queen Anne and Elliott Ave and the Elliott Bay Trail to the far west. Both are detours that take you too far east or west if your destination is in central downtown. Those in the Nicole Brodeur camp might accuse me of being a whiner and ask why bicyclists can't just make the detour, but an extra 10 or 15 minutes of biking might make or break someone's decision to ride.

Obviously, Seattle Center is a huge part of the problem. Massive and road-free as it is, it breaks the grid between 1st and 5th Aves. N. In theory, you could continue through the Center on 2nd Ave N., but biking doesn't mix well with the heavy foot traffic and it would be completely infeasible anytime there was a big event.

Fifth Ave. N seems like the next most logical place to build bike infrastructure. It's essentially flat, fairly central, two-way, and leads right to 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Aves. in Belltown The downside: It has heavy traffic and next to no shoulder, making for a somewhat harrowing riding experience.

For a while, Sixth Ave. N. looked like it would be the answer to Queen Anne's connection problem. The city has plans to extend Sixth up to Mercer as part of the Mercer West redesign. Unfortunately for bicyclists, the Seattle Department of Transportation is now leaning toward an extension that would break the street grid by curving around the new Gates Foundation building, eliminating Sixth Ave. N. as a viable biking route.

Instead of a regular full signal, the signal at Sixth and Mercer will only stop eastbound traffic on Mercer, making it next to impossible for bicycles to merge onto Mercer westbound toward Queen Anne. The curved alignment also eliminates pedestrian crossings at Sixth and Mercer. It becomes, in effect, yet another car-centric feeder for SR-99.

So, with more than half the avenues blocked by the Seattle Center, Fifth Ave a busy mess, and Sixth Ave likely serving as an on-ramp, what options does Queen Anne have?

SDOT spokesman Rick Sheridan says, "SDOT has made a commitment to the Bicycle Advisory Board to look for a way to connect bicycles from Denny to Roy Street between Aurora and the Seattle Center.  The Mercer West Project team is looking at how we can make this connection via Fifth Ave N or possibly a combination of Fifth and Sixth."

My take, as someone who bicycles this area daily (I live in lower Queen Anne), is that short of reconnecting the grid through the Seattle Center as Dan Bertolet once suggested, Fifth Ave. is our best hope.

It's possible that SDOT could narrow each travel lane enough to squeeze in some traditional bikes lanes on each side of Fifth, but I have another, more radical suggestion: Remove a soundbound lane from Fifth Ave and build a two-way cycle track between Mercer and Denny. I'm waiting on SDOT to give me the average daily traffic numbers, but in my experience, southbound Fifth doesn't have anywhere near the same congestion problems as northbound, there aren't very many driveways or intersections between Denny Way and Mercer St., and it's relatively flat (cycle tracks work best on flat roads where riders travel the same speed, more or less).

Lower Queen Anne is dense, has tourist draw, and is home to several large hotels and motels (one of which even offers free bikes to its guests). It's exactly the sort of neighborhood the city has targeted for better bike and pedestrian infrastructure. Making it easier to get from here to downtown is an obvious first step.
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