The bike infrastructure around the Seattle Center Arena is on track to get an upgrade by the time visitors start arriving at the new arena–currently in the middle of being renovated into a larger sports and event venue–in 2021. As a requirement of the remodel, the arena’s developer is contributing to a transportation revamp for the arena’s front door. But the current plans fall short of providing people biking in Uptown a full connection to surrounding neighborhoods, according to plans obtained from the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).

Queen Anne Avenue N and 1st Avenue N north of Denny Way operate as a couplet for vehicle traffic, with Queen Anne Ave carrying the southbound traffic and 1st Ave N carrying northbound. Currently the only bike infrastructure on Queen Anne Ave is a faded paint bike lane next to curbside parking. On 1st Avenue N a paint bike lane also ran along side Key Arena, prior to the start of construction on the arena itself. In order to protect bike riders from dozens of construction vehicles per hour, last year the 1st Avenue bike lane was upgraded to a protected lane for the duration of construction: that lane runs today from Denny all the way to Roy Street to the delight of Uptown bike riders.

However, once construction is complete and the arena opens, people wishing to bike from one end of the neighborhood to the other will have to make a jog at Thomas Street, with a two-way cycletrack planned north of Thomas on Queen Anne Ave N and south of Thomas on 1st Avenue N. The connection on Thomas will mostly include physical protection from the traffic lane, but a short segment will not.

Planned protected bike lanes north of Denny Way will make a jog at Thomas Street to accommodate vehicle traffic. Bike lanes south of Denny to connect to 2nd Ave are still in design.

Bike riders are being moved off 1st Avenue N to make way for what SDOT is calling a “flex lane”–a curbside parking lane that can be put into service as a travel lane if necessary. With a planned bus-only lane on 1st Ave N terminating at Republican Street (with a transit queue jump) that preserves three general purpose travel lanes north of Republican for traffic after events to get onto Mercer Street and out of the area.

1st Avenue N as planned north of Thomas Street, with two travel lanes, a bus lane and a "flex" lane. No room for bike lanes. (City of Seattle)
1st Avenue N as planned north of Thomas Street, with two travel lanes, a bus lane and a “flex” lane. No room for bike lanes. (City of Seattle)

1st Avenue N is currently a successful demonstration of how well a protected bike lane works on that street, and the dedicated bus lane will maintain transit capacity after events. Moving the bike lane off 1st Avenue N to add back car capacity doesn’t make sense. People of all ages and abilities can ride safely and feel comfortable in protected bike lanes. This opens up biking to a lot more people and convinces people to bike more often. But a protected bike lane need to connect to other safe biking facilities to create a highly useful network. If there’s a gap, some people will simply choose not to bike, and unfortunately SDOT is planning to create some gaps.

Seattle Greenways and Cascade Bicycle Club envisioned a Basic Bike Network in Seattle's downtown core. The Seattle Center Arena transportation plan was supposed to connect Uptown to it, but two key gaps will let riders down. The Broad Street jog is also a question mark. (Map credit: Seattle Greenways)
Seattle Greenways and Cascade Bicycle Club envisioned a Basic Bike Network in Seattle’s downtown core. The Seattle Center Arena transportation plan was supposed to connect Uptown to it, but two key gaps will let riders down. The Broad Street jog is also a question mark. (Map credit: Seattle Greenways)

A document obtained from SDOT via public records request shows how the need for travel lanes guided the location of the bike facility, with red arrows on the map designating the number of general purpose travel lanes:

This document, obtained from SDOT, shows the number of general purpose lanes in each segment of the 1st Ave/Queen Anne couplet with red arrows, and the proposed bike facility in blue. A bike lane on 1st Avenue N north of Thomas was crossed out of the map. (City of Seattle)
This document, obtained from SDOT, shows the number of general purpose lanes in each segment of the 1st Ave/Queen Anne couplet with red arrows, and the proposed bike facility in blue. A bike lane on 1st Avenue N north of Thomas was crossed out of the map. (City of Seattle)

Connection to the North

Roy Street currently features bike lanes stretching almost all the way from 5th Avenue to Queen Anne Avenue–the only east-west dedicated bike lane north of Denny Way. These bike lanes could use an upgrade (as a recently rejected Neighborhood Street Fund proposal would have done) but they are better than nothing. However, the bike lane planned for Queen Anne Avenue N would end a block short of Roy, not extending north of Mercer Street except in the form of a stub bike lane directing people on bikes around the line of parked cars into the traffic lane.

No protected bike lane is planned for a one-block connection of Queen Anne Ave N. (Photo by the author)
No protected bike lane is planned for a one-block connection of Queen Anne Ave N. (Photo by the author)

Getting into the two-way bike lane to head south will also be a challenge. People on bikes in mixed-traffic coming south on Queen Anne will need to get all the way over to the left to enter the protected bike lane, navigating buses entering the bus lane and drivers getting out of the bus lane.

The planned protected bike lane will run from Mercer Street to Thomas Street on Queen Anne Ave N on the east side of the street. (Photo by the author)
The planned protected bike lane will run from Mercer Street to Thomas Street on Queen Anne Ave N on the east side of the street. (Photo by the author)

Reached for comment about the one-block gap, SDOT’s Ethan Bergerson told The Urbanist: “We do not yet have funding identified for this connection. Going forward, we will continue to work to identify potential funding sources to complete a two-way protected bike lane on Queen Anne Ave N between Roy St and Mercer St.”

But the funding for bike lanes through the end of the Move Seattle levy has already been allocated to other projects, and the need to fund a one-block gap was not known at the time those projects were decided. The city council has already worked hard to find additional funds to build connections in Southeast Seattle.

Connection to the South

What about connections to the south of Uptown from these new bike lanes? The 2nd Avenue protected bike lane’s northern segment is getting deleted to accommodate more car traffic from arena garages, with bike riders directed to the sidewalk and no plans for a bicycle connection on 2nd Avenue N, so cross that off the list.

1st Avenue N passes by the busy construction site at Seattle Center Arena. A bus use the right lane, while the protected bike lane is on the left. (Photo by Doug Trumm)
1st Avenue N passes by the busy construction site at Seattle Center Arena. A bus use the right lane, while the protected bike lane is on the left. (Photo by Doug Trumm)

The bicycle master plan has funded a route that would utilize Broad Street and 1st Avenue to connect the planned lane on 1st Ave N to 2nd Avenue south of Broad St. But we don’t know what that looks like yet. In December, the bike advisory board was told that design for that segment was still in very early stages with essentially no information to share about how that route would connect. It is not known if the facility would be a two-way cycletrack or one-way bike lanes on either side of the street. What is known is that as planned the route would be another zigzag for people coming and going from Uptown in addition to the one happening at Thomas Street.

The bicycle master plan’s implementation plan through 2024, updated this past spring after much community process, showed facilities on both Queen Anne Ave and 1st Ave N all the way from Denny Way to Roy Street. When the update was released, Deputy Mayor Shefali Ranganathan told the bike board what the direction from the Mayor’s office was on the bike master plan: connecting hubs given the constrained resources and completing existing networks.

Planned bike facilities through 2024 (blue) as shown on the bicycle master plan's implementation schedule (City of Seattle)
Planned bike facilities through 2024 (blue) as shown on the bicycle master plan’s implementation schedule (City of Seattle)

The planned facility here fails that test on both counts, by dead ending at Mercer Street, a street not designed for anyone to bike on. The planned zigzags in the route to accommodate car traffic water down the project even more. It is not what the community was promised earlier this year, by a long shot.

The arena’s goals for bike mode share to events is set at a shameful 2%, and the concessions made here clearly illustrate why. The short-sighted decisions here to accommodate vehicles will likely end up pleasing no one, and squandering an opportunity for a people-focused multi-purpose arena built for all Seattle residents, not just those in cars.

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Ryan Packer lives in the Summit Slope neighborhood of Capitol Hill & has been writing for the blog since 2015. He reports on multimodal transportation issues, #visionzero, preservation, and local politics. He believes in using Seattle's history to help attain the vibrant, diverse city that we all wish to inhabit.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Re “people wishing to bike from one end of the neighborhood to the other will have to make a jog at Thomas Street”. Well not really, not northbound anyway — cyclists destined to the Coliseum or anywhere else at Seattle Center will just stay on 1st Ave. N. and risk riding in general traffic.

  2. I live on Warren avenue near John st and I am a daily bike rider. I sold my car when I moved here and have been hopeful that the arena builders would improve the area in meaningful ways. I am disappointed to say that every step they have taken since has been destructive to our quality of life. I am so grateful to have a safe bike lane on 2nd avenue to get to/from work everyday. It is fantastic! Instead of building upon that success they are working to increase car capacity and they are taking away the last block of the 2nd avenue cycle track with no good connection across Denny.

    Currently the 1st avenue pbl is great. I use it to go to the grocery store and other restaurants and businesses near Mercer. It added a safe way to navigate the neighborhood for everyday errands. It’s really frustrating to read that it will not be permanent and that lane will be zig zagging away from 1st.

    This does not just effect people commuting to events at the new arena. It will dictate how thousands of residents in the neighborhood move around as well as the thousands of daily visitors to Seattle Center not to mention commuters passing through the neighborhood. It’s not good enough.

    I’m curious what the best way to provide push back on these plans would be? The arena builders have bi-weekly meetings where city planners are present. I have gone to them to push back on certain elements of their work, but there are rarely any residents there. It would be great to organize a group to attend and give our feedback regarding their plans.

  3. plan for 2% and you will likely get 2%. Shoot higher and who knows where it might end up?

    but leaving aside the 2% issue there is no way they should handicap the bike system to accommodate an hour or two of cars attending events during winter nights.

    they should build the bike lane so that it is easily accessible 24/7 365 days a year! Many more people will be biking during the day at all times of the year and those are the citizens of Seattle that should be accommodated.

    An all day, convenient bike network that is well connected will generate bike ridership, and benefits to the city and environment that outweigh the minor inconvenience of cars taking an extra 15 minutes to find parking, or to get out of the area after an event.

    • I agree with the criticisms in this article. This is yet another example of bikes being last on the multi-modal planning agenda.

      I chair the Uptown Alliance Transportation Committee. We have great representation for transit, walking… and driving. Not so much for cycling. If you live or work in Uptown and are interested in being a part of our monthly committee meetings (typically on first Mondays, 7 PM at 16 W. Harrison) please consider attending. Send me your email address at uptownalliance@outlook.com and I’ll get you on the meeting notice list.

      Pushback from a neighborhood group is definitely stronger than an individual letter to SDOT.

  4. Ryan, this arena is not just being built for Seattle residents to enjoy, the hockey and women’s basketball matches/games held there will attract fans from across the region – most of whom will need to commute by car to get to the game, especially prior to the light rail station opening up in the next decade.

    Also take a look at the NHL’s regular season schedule, it runs from early October to early April, overlapping with our worst months to ride bikes in.

    Finally take a look at the fan experience and ask yourself this:

    How likely is that a group friends are going to ride their bikes several miles, coming from across the region on a work night, sit down at a bar to have a couple drinks while wet from the rain/sweat with no facilities available to change/shower, have a couple drinks, go to the match, and then start their slog home at 9-10 at night?

    How often are families going to get their kids to ride a bike several miles after a match at 9-10 at night?

    There’s a reason why bike transportation to/from these events is expected to be around 2% and building out a few protected lanes around the arena will not change these limiting factors.

    • Sorry, if you choose to drive to what is essentially downtown, then you are going to experience traffic. That is just the nature of driving. Just about every part of the city is connected to downtown via transit. The monorail makes an excellent connection with the train as well as other buses. There are also plenty of buses that go directly there, and likely more for each event. For example, I could easily see an express from Uptown through South Lake Union (over the new busway at Harrison) connecting right to the center. The advantage of the Seattle Center location (unlike some of the other proposals) is that it is very good from a transit perspective. It is nuts to bend over backwards accommodating the relatively small number of people who decide to ignore high quality transit and drive.

      In general, your argument misses the point. Events will be rare at the center — yet this effects the everyday experience of people in the area. If it is difficult to bike, fewer people bike, and more people drive.

      • My points in the comment above are (a) the events at the arena need to accommodate regional usage (b) biking at 2% is a reasonable usage target for these events.

        AEG/the City has to develop an effective midtown ingress/egress plan for 18.5k people during peak events. A large chunk of these event goers are going to be coming from outside the city where biking is not a practical commuting solution. Sorry, no matter what our bike network looks like around the arena there won’t be more than 400 people biking to watch NHL matches/listen to Taylor Swift concerts on cold, wet winter weeknights.

        Any fans that lived here during the Sonics’ heyday knows how challenging it was to get to their weeknight games – now there’s an Amazon campus competing for the same road space during peak times. Do we need robust transit solutions to get people safely and efficiently to/from these events? Yes. Are bikes a significant contributor to this solution? IMO, and the opinion of AEG/the City, no they are not.

        FWIW, the Council created this mess by refusing to vacate a street in SODO that would’ve led to an arena across the street from T-Mobile Park. Sporting/concert event ingress/egress is already well established down there and could have easily absorbed 18.5k event goers.

        Yes, we’re getting a new world class event facility on city owned property but it does come with some trade-offs.

        • My point is that events represents a tiny amount of human traffic. The vast majority of trips each year in the area do *not* involve an event at the Seattle Center. Focusing on the bike trips to the games is like Seattle being concerned about concerts at Benaroya.

          It just doesn’t make sense to screw up bike travel all year long so so that a few drivers can exit the arena just a little bit faster for a handful of nights. Just do the math. There are about 40 hockey home games, and about the same for basketball (if we are so lucky). Add in preseason, and the playoffs (again, if we are lucky) and you have maybe 100. Throw in the occasional concert, and we are about 120. That is about a third of the nights — and only for a relatively brief period. The vast majority of the trips in the area won’t involve the Seattle Center.

          Meanwhile, most of those that do attend the game will not drive. The Seattle Center is now essentially downtown — connected to the transit network quite well (which is why the arena is there, instead of SoDo). This is not a suburban ball park. The few that decide to drive will simply have to tough it out.

          You are building a straw man. It doesn’t matter if 0% of the arena traffic is by bike. That is meaningless. What matters is how most of the trips occur. Since this is a very urban area, bike trips represent a significant share. Since games don’t occur every night (and only occur once a night when they do) and because a relatively small number of people drive to the game, the number of potential bike trips exceed those driving to the game. Don’t screw up the bike trips that occur every day of the year just to favor the handful who drive.

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