Four speed humps will be added to the Second Avenue bike lane, to slow cyclists in locations where the lane mixes with pedestrians and parking-garage driveways.
Seattle’s downtown Second Avenue bicycle lane is being tricked out this month with speed humps, grasses in planter boxes, and simpler traffic lights as the city attempts to make the route more popular.
Yes, speed humps are needed to calm bicycle traffic.
They’re meant to reduce the risks posed by downhill riders, along a lane that becomes unsafe at speeds much beyond 15 mph.
And more changes are due along the 10-block bike lane, including a one-block extension to South Washington Street and a longer stretch next year north to Denny Way. Meanwhile, a west Lake Union bikeway also is under construction, as Mayor Ed Murray nudges the city toward a more urbanist future.
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Last year, an average 915 bicyclists per weekday used the Second Avenue lane, which opened in September 2014 at a price of $1.5 million. A high of 1,680 people rode there May 20, national Bike to Work Day.
“I would like to see the numbers higher. That does surprise me,” said City Councilmember Mike O’Brien, who bicycles to City Hall daily using Fifth Avenue.
“We will see greater usage once we see expansions up to Denny, and down at the ID (Chinatown International District),” said Kelli Refer, Seattle advocacy director for Cascade Bicycle Club. “To get to Second Avenue [right now] you have to be a fairly confident rider, to even reach the protected lanes.”
Contractors on Friday morning were marking and cutting the bike-lane pavement near Second Avenue and Cherry Street, to install a speed hump there. It’s designed to reduce conflicts at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel, where people arriving in cars and cabs walk across the bike lane. Another speed hump will be added nearby at the Metropolitan Grill.
Speed humps will help create well-marked “passenger load zones,” tweeted Dongho Chang, city traffic engineer, who noted that similar raised areas were built in the Broadway bike lane.
Unlike the abrupt speed bumps in parking lots, these typically extend 12 feet, so as not to toss a cyclist into the street.
Vancouver, B.C., has speed humps downtown on a protected bike lane, said Refer.
“It works really well,” she said. “It subconsciously slows people down. It’s meant to create awareness of people around you.”
Humps control cars at a pair of four-lane, midblock crosswalks of California Avenue Southwest, in the West Seattle Junction, and on a few roads near schools. They are common on low-speed greenways in Portland and many cities, instead of the landscaped traffic circles that calm Seattle’s residential roads.
In addition, 158 planter boxesare being installed between the parking lane and bicycle lane, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).
Overhead, new traffic lights will be installed that appear above the vehicle lanes, as in Chicago — a more intuitive display than multiple traffic lights mounted at the sidewalk.
Driveways at two parking garages will be raised, elongated and painted green, over the bike lane, in hopes drivers will slow before they turn onto driveways. The downside is that motorists emerging from the garage roll through the bike lane, using these extended driveways, without stopping first.
Construction is planned through April 15, forcing cyclists onto sidewalks or general traffic lanes. Many hard-core riders use the main street anyway, to flow with traffic at 25-30 mph.
This month’s retrofits, at a cost of $535,000, have been talked about since the day the lane opened to confusion among bicyclists and left-turning drivers about when they could proceed.
Heavy, plastic planters, filled with soil and grasses, will replace small plastic tubes. Besides giving cyclists a sense of protection, they might reassure motorists that a bicycle won’t dart out into traffic lanes mid-block, O’Brien said.
The city says it is seeking bids to extend the bikeway from Pike Street north to Denny Way, near Seattle Center. That will be funded by a $5 million federal grant, and $2 million in city money from the Move Seattle property-tax levy and the city’s car-tab fee, said spokesman Norm Mah.
More than 17,000 cars, trucks and buses per weekday use Second Avenue — and motorists often gripe about taking road space in a congested city for the sake of a bicycling minority.
That argument overlooks that pedestrians are benefiting, because the green bike signal (and a red left-turn car arrow) precludes cars from turning into gaps between people in crosswalks, SDOT Director Scott Kubly has noted.
In addition to the two Second Avenue extensions, the City Council last month also required SDOT to complete bikeways at Ninth Avenue North near downtown and on Dexter Avenue North near Mercer Street; and the west Lake Union trail, before it will spend $3.6 million to expand the underused Pronto bike-share system.
Seattle’s premier bike route, the Fremont Bridge, averaged 3,172 riders last year and carried 4,198 bicycles on Thursday. With a bicycle-commute rate of 3.7 percent, based on Census figures, Seattle was recently passed by Washington, D.C., and is tied with Oakland, Calif., for fifth place among big U.S. cities.