Some neighbors say the city promised a safe route for bicyclists and walkers along Westlake, but hasn’t provided enforcement or speed calming.
When children arrive for swim practice at a west Lake Union pool, their safety lessons begin outside.
Parents grab them, carry them and warn them as they walk toward the pool entrance, intent on keeping the kids safe while crossing a well-used bike path.
Cycle track numbers
Most cyclists between Fremont and downtown use the Westlake Cycle Track, built using $4.4 million local taxes and $1.7 million in federal grants. A six-day sampling in June found these counts:
• Saturday, June 3: 1,036 riders
• Sunday, June 4: 1,162 riders
• Monday, June 5: 2,791 riders
• Tuesday, June 6: 3,217 riders
• Wednesday, June 7: 3,001 riders
• Thursday, June 8: 1,427 riders
Source: Seattle Department of Transportation
“We’re in this incredibly hilly city, so when you find a flat spot, you really need it,” Scott Kubly, city transportation director, said in a video feature by Streetfilms. Even detractors say it works better than the old layout, where bicyclists dodged moving cars through a mile of parking lots.
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But some neighbors say the city promised a safe route, but hasn’t provided enforcement or speed calming. They suggest police patrols, more stop signs, or the kinds of traffic-slowing speed bumps the city deploys in motor vehicle lanes.
Westlake poses special challenges because of its open design, where people can freely walk anywhere between the parking zone, bikeway and sidewalk, not just at the 18 marked crosswalks.
Kyle Chapman, manager of Safe N Sound Swimming, has urged transportation staff and elected officials to act before next summer, when 1,000 children per week return for swim school and outdoor day camps.
“If it means we’re out there as crossing guards, with orange vests, flags and bullhorns, asking cyclists to yield to pedestrians, that’s what we’ll do,” he said last week.
Minutes before, Chris Canning looked both ways before stepping into the 10-foot-wide bike lane, holding hands with his 5-year-old son. A relatively slow cyclist pedaled through, before Canning’s pregnant wife and younger son crossed behind.
“I didn’t see her at all,” said Canning, who figures a kink in the trail put the cyclist out of view. “There she was. It wasn’t close to a collision, but there she was.”
The mom, Lindsay Canning, said, “We always watch our kids really closely. We’ve taught them to yield to the bikers, just for safety.”
To be sure, bicycles pose far less danger than cars, buses or even streetcar rails. Five pedestrians and three cyclists died last year on Seattle roads. Nationally, 5,987 pedestrians were killed by motor vehicles last year, the highest number since 1990.
Since the Westlake route opened in mid-September last year, electric bikes and skateboards have joined the mix, sometimes zipping around others at 25 mph. On the other hand, Seattleites are embracing dockless rental bikes, bringing a casual vibe as they lumber along at 12 to 15 mph.
No speed limit exists for city-owned bikeways and trails. Lake Forest Park and King County impose a 15-mph limit.
Seattle codes say “every person operating a bicycle upon any sidewalk or public path shall operate the same in a careful and prudent manner and a rate of speed no greater than is reasonable and proper under the conditions.”
“These are subjective terms. There’s no way you could cite anybody, based on these rules,” said Dick Schwartz, who lives along Westlake.
City measurements found that one of every seven bicyclists on the Westlake bikeway exceeded 18 mph while passing the AGC building. Multiple car crossings nearby slow some riders.
In a straighter stretch near the swim school, Schwartz found two of every five riders exceeded 18 mph, based on 80 readings from his handheld radar gun in June.
Seattle hasn’t needed speed limits for bikeways and trails because collision rates aren’t significant, said Mafara Hobson, spokeswoman for the Seattle Department of Transportation. SDOT has received no reports of injury crashes at the Westlake Cycle Track, she said.
But last Thursday afternoon, an ambulance responded to a woman hit in the 1800 block, on the bikeway. She suffered a minor hand injury, a Fire Department spokeswoman said.
She was walking north and stepped sideways off the sidewalk into the cycle track, where a bike knocked her down, said Paul Lee, owner of Boathouse Deli.
“It’s really dangerous,” Lee said. “Sometimes, people just don’t realize the bikers are coming.”
Just outside the deli on Friday, two bikes whooshed within 2 feet of a woman who walked into the 10-foot-wide path while looking at her phone.
Gordon Padelford, executive director of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, says the cycle track performs fairly well, based on his occasional trips.
“You need to be biking at a speed where you can yield to someone walking if they cross the path,” he said.
Amid tense relations between city bike staff and neighbors, the project took years to develop at a total cost of $6.1 million.
Doug McElroy, owner of ScanMarine Equipment, said that while the bikeway addition reduced parking and load-zone access for his customers, it turned out safer than he expected.
“It is what it is,” McElroy said. “You realign yourself, right?”
His main worry is being hit while crossing absent-mindedly. “I’ve had only a couple of close calls so far. I think the bike people are being as respectful as they can be,” he said.
SDOT ought to build some humps in the lane to prevent extreme bike speeds, Lee said. The city built such humps into its downhill Second Avenue bikeway last year, to protect pedestrians visiting a downtown Marriott Hotel and the Metropolitan Grill.