The design for upgraded bike lanes in Fremont have been released. In 2020, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) plans to install bike lanes with partial protection in both directions of N 34th St between Fremont Ave N and Stone Way N. The partial protection comes with very modest buffering from car lanes and flexible post delineators. Earlier design concepts had considered wider bike lanes in both directions and even a cycletrack on the south side of the street that would tie into the one west of Fremont Ave N.

Project Corridor

The project area is noted with the orange line. (City of Seattle)
The project area is noted with the orange line. (City of Seattle)

The project corridor is planned to be fairly narrow, from Fremont Ave N to Stone Way N. The street currently has a bike lane in each direction with no formal separation, but the bike lanes are marked. The bike lanes connect with existing facilities like the Burke-Gilman Trail at Stone Way N and a two-way cycletrack on the west side of N 34th St that leads to another Burke-Gilman Trail access point at Phinney Ave N.

The intersection with Fremont Ave N is a critical one because it is one block north of the Fremont Bridge and one block south of an awkward five-pronged intersection. As one of the busiest bascule bridges around, the Fremont Bridge often gets raised, creating inconsistent traffic flows and traffic bunching on nearby streets just north of it. People on bikes are forced on and off of a small sidewalk shared with people on foot along the bridge section. That can create stressful situations, especially when trying to avoid cars at certain conflict points.

Some of the sidewalks on the north side of N 34th St are too narrow for the traffic they get. (Doug Trumm)

Adding to the challenges are busy bus stops, which are located just north of the intersection in both directions. These stops often are associated with challenging movements for buses, particularly those turning to and from N 35th St and Fremont Pl N. And then on top all of this, there is an atypical concrete refuge island with a statue on the east side of the intersection.

At the eastern end of the corridor, the connection point to the Burke-Gilman Trail is awkward because the curb to the sidewalk and multiuse trail is so narrow. No specific space is identified for people biking and it is not clear how people biking to the westbound bike lane on N 34th St should move from the Burke-Gilman Trail.

The existing condition of N 34th St include bike lanes without protection and a narrow sidewalk. (Doug Trumm)

Another issue is sidewalks along N 34th St. The south side of the street has substandard sidewalks, which are no more than four feet in width and have no planter strip. This makes it difficult for multiple people to walk side-by-side or pass each other, particularly if they require assistance with a wheelchair. Crossing the street north-south is perhaps a surprisingly common occurrence along the street since there is mostly no buildings on the south, but there is no pedestrian crossings and minimal speed controls in place, making it a very uncomfortable stretch of road to walk along.

Substandard bike lanes proposed

Despite nearly half of all respondents surveyed supporting installing a two-way cycletrack on the south side of the street, SDOT says that the concept did not measure up to various criteria. One of those criteria is “traffic impact to people biking,” but SDOT’s materials do not explain what that would be. The only obvious “impact” of the two-way protected bike lane would be that westbound cyclists would cross the path of motorists using the right turn slip lane to merge onto N 34th St from the Fremont Bridge. With traffic calming this could be manageable, but SDOT may be concerned about keeping cars flowing across the bridge.

Evaluation criteria used to choose design. (City of Seattle)
Evaluation criteria used to choose design. (City of Seattle)

A narrow partially protected bike lane in both directions will continue to leave people biking through on N 34th St disjointed as they have to shuffle across a bike box in the westbound direction to set themselves in the right position to reach the cycletrack on the opposite side of N 34th St. This is not a challenge in the opposite direction.

What this really amounts to is that SDOT does not need to make a special light phase for people biking across the street on a cycletrack. The design also means that parking can be retained on the north side of the street, not rustling the feathers of local business owners who may believe that on-street parking is critical to business.

Comparison of current street design and proposed design concept. (City of Seattle)
Comparison of current street design and proposed design concept. (City of Seattle)

While overall design will result in a minor change for people biking on the corridor, as bike lanes are already stripped along the street, the proposed design concept introduces a serious challenge for planners to keep the bike lane on the north side consistent, as curb bulbs currently exist along the street. It seems inevitable that this will create unpleasant jockeying for people biking in the westbound direction several times and reduce partial protection.

The slip lane siphoning cars from the Fremont Bridge creates a big conflict point and SDOT not wanting to alter it may have sunk the 2-way protected bike lane design. A westbound bike lane going head-on into that car traffic would not have been pleasant or safe, calling into question the slip lane’s existence. (Google Maps)

As SDOT moves ahead with design, they will have a lot of hard choices about how to calm speeds and traffic along the corridor, shoehorn in substandard bike lane upgrades, and deal with the critical movements that people biking at the intersections with Fremont Ave N and Stone Way N need to make. The early design concepts do not shed light on how these issues might be dealt with. SDOT will also need to consider how to provide for people walking along the corridor, since that falls within the scope of the project, during the next phase of project development.

All of these issues could be greatly simplified if on-street parking were removed, but that does not appear to be the plan of action in this case.

SDOT is still offering an online survey of the proposed bike improvements.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I work on this block so I have a lot of experience with it. A few thoughts…

    – The light at 34th and Fremont already has a phase to let east bound cyclists cross, so I don’t think that is that big of a lift to make it work for a two way PBL on the south side of the street.

    – The sidewalk on the south side of 34th between Troll and Woodland Park Ave is terrifying. It’s narrow, and pedestrians are trapped between the traffic and a concrete wall. As you mentioned, people often have to walk in the bike lane when they are with others or when passing people coming the other direction. I haven’t read if this project could help fix that sidewalk but if it can, it should be a huge priority.

    – It would be great to remove parking between Albion Way and Troll way, use that extra space to buffer the sidewalk on the south side of the street.

    – While I’m asking for features that aren’t really in scope, a painted/lit crosswalk over 34th between Albion Way and Woodland Park Ave would be great, near where the walkway up from the Burke is. The distance between marked crosswalks at Stone Way and Troll Ave is too far.

    – The way the traffic lights at 34th and Fremont work when the bridge is going up is hostile to pedestrians. Normally when the bridge goes up, the lights turn red all directions except for showing green to NB traffic coming off the bridge. Often the traffic clears NB within a few seconds, and then all cars are stopped waiting for the bridge to close. During this time the pedestrians are blocked from crossing Fremont Ave, even though there all of the traffic is backed up.

    Overall, I’m not that hopeful for an awesome redesign. There is too much concrete in the way to be able to rearrange the street in favor of a world class solution. My gut is that SDOT wants to only make this project work using paint/posts so I’m not holding my breath.

  2. This is a bad design, IMO. Not only are the bike lanes narrow and have minimal protection, the eastbound bike lane doesn’t take into account the large number of people who turn left from N 34th onto Woodland or Stone. I currently merge with vehicular traffic as I see Fremont Brewery on my left and then enter the left-turn lane onto Stone. That will be very hard to do with the new design.

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