Yes they do, court records show. And Seattle police urge cyclists to report drivers illegally parked or loitering in bike lanes.
Uber and Lyft drivers letting passengers in or out. Truck drivers doing deliveries. Motorists making right turns or simply parked.
Bike lanes are not meant for you.
We took a look at the city’s rules aimed at keeping vehicles out of designated bicycle lanes, and how Seattle police enforce them, after multiple cyclists contacted Traffic Lab recently about cars blocking their way.
Q: First, what is the rule?
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A: Bike lanes are for bikes, period.
According to Seattle Municipal Code, 11.72.415, “No person shall stop, stand, or park a vehicle, bicycle, or other device on or adjacent to a trail, path, lane or other facility or way which has been designated for the use of pedestrians, equestrians, or bicyclists … to obstruct or restrict the use of any portion thereof.”
Ben Lukes, 30, of Lower Queen Anne, first reached out to us, saying he sees numerous vehicles blocking bike lanes while riding to and from Lake City on his commute. Sometimes, police cars or metro buses are among them. He said he notices the most on Dexter Avenue North.
“Often, it’s just someone who could pull all the way over to the curb and they choose not to do it,” Lukes said.
Don’t get too worked up over the police cars: Emergency and maintenance vehicles dealing with a situation are exempt from the bike-lane rule.
But you’re not alone with your observations on Dexter.
One Reddit user late last year counted seven vehicles blocking the street’s bike lane during a ride. A video showing a tense exchange between a cyclist and driver who parked there generated buzz online in 2015. (The clip has since been removed.) And The Urbanist blog has spotlighted the stretch of Dexter between Republican Street and Denny for parking violations.
Jeff Flogel, of Seattle’s Leschi neighborhood, said recently he came across a “loitering” Lyft driver on Dexter’s northbound lanes while biking to Edmonds.
“Uber and Lyft drivers often pull over into bike lanes to drop off and pick up passengers, or just loiter checking their phones for new business,” he emailed. “This forces bicyclists out into traffic where they risk being hit from behind.”
As far as enforcing the bike-lane rule on Dexter, the Seattle police have said “parking enforcement is aware of and continue to focus on the area.”
Q: Why is this happening?
A: Take a look at Dexter Avenue.
It has a protected bike lane, with cyclists traveling next to the curb and drivers legally parking in a space between the bike lanes and the traffic lanes.
Streets across the city have the same setup, a design that aims to reduce collisions by keeping cyclists farther away from moving traffic. Some areas have physical barriers to separate the two.
(Cue a plug for our story and interactive map at seattletimes.com that shows where the most bike and pedestrian crashes have happened in Seattle over the past 10 years.)
But in the world of street design, these type of protected bike lanes, or “cycletracks,” are relatively new.
Just last year, an Associated Press report described cities across the country making the switch from striped lanes alongside vehicle traffic to protected paths for cyclists — mentioning Seattle’s new Westlake Cycle Track and Fremont’s bike lanes on North 34th Street.
Seattle police spokesman Patrick Michaud said there’s a learning curve for drivers understanding the parking rules.
“We certainly have seen some interesting parking in the protected bike lanes as people become acquainted with the new on-street parking situation,” he wrote in an email. “But as people become used to the new rules the issues seem to abate.”
Q: So, do police actually give out tickets for cars blocking bike lanes?
Seattle Municipal Court records show officers issued 484 tickets last year to drivers and others blocking bike paths and lanes, under city code 11.72.415, an average of about 40 per month.
Note: Other codes (11.72.040 and 11.72.035) could involve a bike-lane violation, too. It depends if the court determines a particular bike lane is part of a roadway, according to Michaud.
He said parking-enforcement officers (PEOs) watch for violators while on patrol and respond to blocking cars when someone calls 911 or the department’s nonemergency line, 206-625-5011.
Overall, officers issued 472,126 parking tickets last year, according to Seattle Municipal Court records. That’s roughly 37,100 more than the total number of cars on Seattle streets as of 2015.
Q: What is the fine for the violation?
A: Like many parking offenses in Seattle, the ticket is $47.
But if a vehicle is “causing an imminent safety issue,” Michaud said, officers could order it towed, too — costing the owner upward of hundreds of dollars.
“If you do see someone parking in an area they aren’t supposed to, please give us a call,” he said. “Our PEOs love to help out.”
Got a question for Traffic Lab?
If you have a question or idea for us, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We may feature it in an upcoming column.
Last week, we tackled questions about Metro Transit’s bus service and routine for cleaning stops, as well as the rules for Seattle’s traffic circles. The week before that, we described what happens to drivers who cut lines at Washington State Ferries terminals.