Seattle residents have new biking options for getting around the city.
Since the start of 2020 and the first half of 2021, the city has built almost 7 miles of protected bicycle lanes, focusing largely on connections in downtown and South Seattle.
Notable projects include new lanes on Fourth Avenue in downtown; on 12th Avenue South connecting Beacon Hill to the Chinatown International District; on Bell Street, providing a connection between downtown, Belltown, and South Lake Union; on East Union Street in the Central District; and on Southwest Avalon Way in West Seattle.
In September, the Seattle Department of Transportation will complete nearly three-quarters of a mile of protected bike lanes in Uptown near the new Climate Pledge Arena at Seattle Center.
The mileage — a projected 5.02 miles in 2021 alone — represents a surge for bicycle-lane construction, which fell quiet at the beginning of 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic emerged. And it comes as the popularity of bicycling — a socially distant form of recreation and transportation — has grown during the pandemic.
Several projects were pushed until this year or further into the future as a result of lockdown restrictions that limited work crews, changes in funding availability and pending legal battles over land use.
With the exception of 2019, this year will see the most mileage of protected bike lanes constructed in Seattle in the last five years.
SDOT spent almost $2 million from its bike budget on three projects in 2020 and has spent another $3.3 million on the 12th Avenue, East Union and Bell Street projects alone so far this year. Amazon paid for the construction of the lanes on Seventh Avenue between Bell Street and Blanchard Street.
The new protected bicycle lanes on 12th Avenue South “make me feel safer,” said Ketty Hsieh, 52, because they have plastic posts separating cyclists from fast-moving traffic. Hsieh travels the route almost every day to commute between Seward Park and the Polyclinic on Seventh Avenue.
Coming down the Dr. Jose P. Rizal Bridge, especially when it’s raining and water mixes with oil from cars, can be scary and easy to slip on, said Brandon Lehnerz, 41. Before the opening of the new lanes, he said he would either have to ride with drivers in general traffic or use the sidewalk and avoid hitting pedestrians.
Seattle has made other improvements for bikers, such as converting calm residential streets into neighborhood greenways with green bike-route signs and traffic-slowing road bumps, like along East Republican Street. Also, SDOT has added crossing signals and redesigned intersections to include bike lanes, like those around Green Lake, and reopened bike lanes on the new Fairview Avenue bridge.
Some bike facilities slated for West Seattle have been expedited to provide traffic relief during the closure of the West Seattle Bridge — “a huge benefit to the communities who’ve been impacted,” said Sarah Udelhofen, co-chair of the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board.
Although she said the bridge closure “felt like it took a lot of the city’s attention away from other projects,” she said she hopes to see the city “utilize the bike boom, and try and keep the momentum going so that people use bikes more as a form of transportation.”
Serena Lehman, a transportation planner who oversees Seattle’s Bicycle Master Plan, acknowledged the bridge closure shifted the SDOT staff’s attention and time.
“Because we dedicated a lot of our resources to the West Seattle Bridge and mitigation, we were not able to deliver as many projects as we had originally planned when the pandemic started,” she said.
However, she pointed to other efforts SDOT made to accommodate biking.
Last spring, during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Seattle made an ambitious push toward creating biking space by opening more than 20 miles of residential streets to people walking, rolling and biking and closing them for most vehicle traffic.
The city has also opened streets for pedestrians and bicyclists adjacent to lakes and waterfronts. Three miles of Lake Washington Boulevard, for example, will be closed to vehicle traffic on the weekends and holidays through at least September.
“It’s a big first step to making that street more accessible for pedestrians and for people to access the lake and really enjoy some of Seattle’s beautiful natural surroundings,” said Patrick Taylor, the other co-chair of the Bicycle Advisory Board.
But Taylor said the so-called Stay Healthy Streets had limitations and criticized the pace of bike-lane construction during the pandemic.
“The city did not use this time as well as it could have to transform our streets,” he said. “They got a few good projects done that had been on deck, and they made an effort with Stay Healthy Streets, but it seemed like it took them a very time long to do that.”
Taylor said the original Stay Healthy Street segments left out neighborhoods that could have benefited from more open space, such as downtown, the Chinatown International District, Pioneer Square and Belltown.
He said he’s most looking forward to the planned protected bike lanes on Eastlake Avenue East and Martin Luther King Jr. Way South between South Judkins Street and Rainier Avenue South — both projects a few years out.
Lehman said SDOT plans to study a connection between Georgetown and downtown. A connection between Georgetown and South Park is scheduled to be complete in 2023. The city will extend bike lanes from the Dr. Jose P. Rizal Bridge up through Beacon Hill, and in 2022, crews will build new bike lanes on West Marginal Way.
Later this year, SDOT will extend the new bike lanes along Fourth Avenue, which provide an alternative to biking on Second Avenue. The extension, toward Vine Street and near Sound Transit’s light-rail station in Pioneer Square, will add nearly three-quarters of a mile more protected bike lanes.
Often in Seattle, “bikers have to go out of our way if we want to be safe,” said Lisa Enns, 38, while riding from West Seattle toward the University District recently. By having designated space for cyclists, “it feels like the city is making room for us.”