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Seattle’s plans for more downtown bike lanes

Bike lanes on Second Avenue. (SDOT)

Downtown Seattle drivers have likely noticed some road work on Second Avenue, extending the existing bike lanes north. It won’t be the last project to increase bicycle access into downtown before the year is out.

But it prompts many drivers to ask: Why do they put bike lanes on streets with heavy traffic? Can’t they put the lanes one block over?

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“Actually, we have,” said Dongho Chang, traffic engineer with the Seattle Department of Transportation. “The 23rd Avenue corridor, when that project was implemented last year, the street itself was too narrow to have a bicycle facility on 23rd.”

Chang notes that studies showed pedestrian and transit was more relied upon on that stretch of 23rd Avenue. It’s studies like this that SDOT uses when deciding if a street can handle bikes, buses, cars, etc.

“People taking transit became the primary need (on 23rd), so the bicycle facility was located one block over … ” he said.

The current Second Avenue project is an extension of the previous pilot bike lanes installed in 2014. The extension will run from Pike Street to Denny Way.

“What it proved was that it created a north-south pathway that increased ridership by almost 300 percent,” Chang said. “It really shows that if you create a facility that is comfortable, you get a larger number of people wanting to use it.”

Pike and Pine bike lanes

A similar process took place to determine how to handle Pike and Pine Streets — both are slated for bike lanes akin to Second Avenue. Chang said that the counts on Pike and Pine indicated that protected bike lanes should work with current traffic.

bike lanes

SDOT released this graphic to show the difference between protected bike lane projects and a typical roadway in Seattle. (SDOT)

“What we’ve also heard is that there is a need for east-west connectivity, as well, and Pike and Pine are two corridors that connect to Capitol Hill,” Chang said. “So we are making an initial connection on Pike and Pine just in the downtown area where the volumes are such that it will provide good connectivity and still have mobility for our transit and people who are driving.”

“Pike and Pine … is a major bicycle route already,” he said. “There isn’t a lot of different alternatives. And when we looked at the counts on Pike and Pine, it showed that both those corridors are the heaviest pedestrian corridors.”

A count this year showed that about 2,600 pedestrians crossed Pike Street at Fourth Avenue in one hour during peak commute times. A total of 445 vehicles, 81 bicycles, and 25 buses went by during that same time. For peak travel time on Pine, about 2,600 people crossed at Fourth Avenue, 283 drivers, 30 buses and 29 bikes.

“You can see really the amount of people using it are people who are walking,” Chang said. “Buses carry the majority of people on the street itself … so when we did our analysis, it showed we were able to have a place for bicycles and have a place to handle vehicle traffic.”

Upcoming Seattle bike lanes

bike lanes

Second Avenue bike lane extension. (SDOT)

  • Second Avenue: Bike lanes from Pike Street to Denny Way are currently under construction. The path is expected to open by December.
  • Pike and Pine: Lanes to be completed by end of September. Traffic signal changes will take into account the bike lanes. Loading zone parking will be preserved.
  • Seventh Avenue: Majority of bike riders come from the north, according to Chang, from Dexter to Seventh Avenue, and to Amazon. Construction on bike lanes will start later in 2017 and will end in mid-2018.
  • Fourth Avenue is being considered for a parallel bike route to 2nd Avenue. About 30 percent of bus traffic will be rerouted to Sixth Avenue to free up space for the new bike lanes. No timeline yet for this project.

Seattle is also looking to the south for additional bicycle lane projects and expects to add more pathways into downtown.

“We are beginning to see a connected grid into downtown and we are improving our pathway to the south; Dearborn is a critical connection from southeast Seattle so we currently have some temporary striping from Dearborn Avenue that connects from Rainier Avenue into the International District,” Chang said. “Next year, there will be a paving project that will put in new surfacing for vehicles and we will be putting in a new signal that will have better connectivity for the protected bike lane.”

The Dearborn project is expected to come together in 2018.

This article was originally published on Sept. 25, 2017 and updated on April 6, 2018.

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