Laying Down Paint, Seattle Catches Up on Making Room for People Biking

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Spot improvements along Bell Street Park have made it more clear that people biking can use the street in both directions. (Photo by the author)

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has been pretty busy lately, working to catch up on projects that weren’t able to happen in 2020 due to the impact of Covid-19. That includes adding protected bike lanes and neighborhood greenways, with a number of brand new bikeways either completed or nearly complete across the city in the past month. In fact, 2021 is set to see the most miles of protected bike lanes (PBLs) and neighborhood greenways installed since the Move Seattle levy was passed in 2015, with nearly seven miles of PBLs and over 11 miles of neighborhood greenways planned to be completed. Even more projects are starting construction this year to be fully wrapped up next year.

Thirty-four individual projects are planned to be completed this year, according to the updated to Seattle’s Bicycle Master Plan implementation schedule that SDOT submitted to the City Council last month. Some of those are spot improvements or upgrades to existing facilities but most of them are new facilities.

2021 is planned to be the most productive year by number of miles for Seattle's Bicycle Master Plan program since the Move Seattle levy was passed. (Graphic by author)
2021 is planned to be the most productive year by number of miles for Seattle’s Bicycle Master Plan program since the Move Seattle levy was passed. (Graphic by author)

Here are some of the higher impact projects that have already hit the streets so far this year:

12th Avenue S

The finishing touches are still waiting to go in on this short but pivotal segment of bike lane, connecting the Mountains-to-Sound Trail on the north end of Beacon Hill with Little Saigon across the 12th Ave S bridge. Recent weeks saw the completion of an intersection rebuild at 12th Ave S and S King St, the north end of the project, with large curb extensions added to bring people biking along S King St up onto the sidewalk on either side of 12th Ave S.

Curb extensions at S King St and 12th Ave S are intended to bring the bike lane onto the sidewalk on either side of the intersection. (Photo by the author)
Curb extensions at S King St and 12th Ave S are intended to bring the bike lane onto the sidewalk on either side of the intersection. (Photo by the author)

Will there be any plans to extend the lane north through the daunting intersections of Jackson, Boren, and Yesler? Maybe. That project was officially added to the Bicycle Master Plan in the “planning” stage, but geometry and funding will remain a hurdle.

East Green Lake

The most memorable 2021 bike project is almost certainly going to be the new protected bike lanes coming up the east side of Green Lake Park.

Finishing touches are still going into place here as well, but the lanes are already seeing a fair amount of use. For most of the route around the lake, the PBL hugs the park side of the street as a two-way facility. South of there, the connection to Stone Way transitions into one-way lanes on either side of the street, and the same goes for the northern connection to Aurora Ave N via N 83rd St.

Map showing the planned footprint of the bike improvements around Green Lake Park. (City of Seattle)
Map showing the planned footprint of the bike improvements around Green Lake Park. (City of Seattle)

Upgrades to N 50th St to connect to Phinney Ave N are only coming in the form of spot improvements, with the paint bike lane staying in place.

N 34th Street

This long-anticipated upgrade to a key connection between the Fremont Bridge and the Burke-Gilman Trail came together a few weekends ago. The final design sacrifices some key elements to accommodate parking spaces along N 34th St, which we highlighted back in 2019 when the options were being narrowed down. And the harrowing segment where people biking have to navigate between vehicle lanes westbound before the Fremont Ave N intersection still remains just as unpleasant at before.

People biking westbound on N 34th St at Fremont Ave N have to navigate between several different lanes. (Photo by the author)
People biking westbound on N 34th St at Fremont Ave N have to navigate between several different lanes. (Photo by the author)

It’s definitely an improvement over what was there before, but this feels like what should already have been in place at a minimum and that we should already be talking about how to make it better and more comfortable for people biking in one of the most bike-centric parts of the city.

E Union Street

This project, which was also delayed from 2020 due to work that had to be coordinated with King County Metro, was originally not going to bridge 23rd Avenue, with people biking being forced to choose between merging with traffic or biking on the sidewalk. Thankfully a second look prompted by the reaction to that design led to a continuous connection across that major intersection. The bike lane does disappointingly disappear eastbound right before MLK Way but the new separated connection here is a definite game-changer.

The new protected bike lane along E Union St took shape in May. (Photo by the author)
The new protected bike lane along E Union St took shape in May. (Photo by the author)

Protected Bike Lanes to Come in 2021

Some of the protected bike lane projects that are still planned by the end of the year include:

  • Extending the lane that was added to 4th Avenue in Downtown both north to Vine Street and south to Yesler Way (via an odd detour) and converting the entire facility to two-way operation.
  • Connecting the 2nd Avenue protected bike lane to Mercer Street and Climate Pledge Arena via a circuitous route. You may have already spotted the bike lane coming together along Queen Anne Ave N south of Mercer Street. At 2nd Avenue and Denny Way, the protected bike lane will make way for additional car lanes later this year.
  • A protected path along 1st Ave NE to connect to the soon-to-open Northgate Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge.
  • A bike lane in one direction along NE 43rd St connecting to U District Station, with people biking sharing space with a transit lane in the other direction. A proposal for a pedestrian street along NE 43rd St would have been more bike-friendly.
  • Already open: one more block of sidewalk-level bike lane on 7th Avenue in front of Amazon’s headquarters and a two-way protected bike lane along Bell Street connecting Denny Way to Bell Street Park.

Coming Neighborhood Greenway Improvements

In addition to the planned permanent upgrades to 20 miles of temporary Stay Healthy Streets, new neighborhood greenways are planned in quite a few neighborhoods this year:

SDOT is on track to have built around 70 miles of protected bike lanes and neighborhood greenways by the end of 2024 with the expiration of the current Move Seattle levy, about 40 miles fewer than were promised to voters when that levy was passed. But the important thing is that the connections we are creating are high quality ones that truly create a citywide network and don’t just exist to fill a quota of mileage. 2021 is going to be a memorable year, with a lot of those network gaps filled in. We should take that momentum and build on it.

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Ryan Packer lives in the Summit Slope neighborhood of Capitol Hill and has been writing for the blog since 2015. They report on multimodal transportation issues, #VisionZero, preservation, and local politics. They believe in using Seattle's history to help attain the vibrant, diverse city that we all wish to inhabit. In December 2020, Ryan started a three-month stint as editor of Seattle Bike Blog.

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David Madsen

Can someone tell me what is going to happen along West Green Lake Way North? At the present time it is blocked to vehicle traffic at the north end (near 62nd N), thereby cutting off access to several parking lots adjacent to and across from the Aqua Theater.

Robert Johnson

It’s slated to be a permanent drug encampment and RV dump site.