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Facelift for 2nd Avenue’s bike death trap

If all goes according to plan, Seattle’s worst bike lane will be one of its best by the end of the summer. The Seattle Department of Transportation released their proposed redesign for 2nd Avenue; a demonstration project that will transform the bike lane from a dangerous one-way bike lane sandwiched between parked cars and traffic to a two-way “cycle track” with a barrier separating it from traffic and no parking lane to deal with. 

Mayor Ed Murray announced plans for the protected bike lane at a Pronto! bike share press conference in May, promising the lane would be done in time for the bike share’s launch in September.

The current 2nd Ave bike lane is widely considered one of the city’s most dangerous.

According to SDOT, there have been 60 collisions involving bikes in the lane in the past four years — a mix of bicyclists getting doored by people exiting their parked cars, drivers pulling out of the parking lane across the bike lane and, in more than half the cases, bicyclists getting hit in intersections by drivers turning across the bike lane (known as a left hook).

Rutgers University Professor and noted bicycle researcher John Pucher called the 2nd Ave bike lane an “accident waiting to happen” and “more dangerous than nothing” after riding it last summer.

The new design largely mitigates all of those problems. The bike lane will run from Pike Street to Yesler Way adjacent to the east sidewalk. It will be divided into two 5-foot lanes for northbound and southbound bike traffic. A 3-foot painted divider with raised plastic bollards will separate it from cars. It will be very similar to the protected bike lane on Broadway in Capitol Hill, but because 2nd Ave is a demonstration project, the barriers will be less permanent for the time being than Broadway’s cement curb.

Design, implementation and outreach for the project is estimated to cost between $1.2 and 1.5 million, which will be paid by Seattle Bicycle Master Plan implementation funds.

The car lane adjacent to the bike lane will serve as both parking strip and left-turn lane. During off hours, cars will be able to parallel park in the lane. On blocks with left turns, the parking lane will serve as a left-turn lane from 6-9 a.m. and 3-7 p.m. on weekdays. The far right lane will be a bus-only lane at peak hours and parking and right-turn queue the rest of the time (its current configuration). There will be breaks in the barriers to accommodate the handful of parking garage entrances and exits along the stretch. 

Since left hooks at intersections are one of 2nd Ave’s biggest problems, a left-turn signal will control left turns off of 2nd after the redesign. Bicyclists will be required to obey the pedestrian signals at intersections.

“There’s always going to be nervousness around the unknown, but we’re hoping our demonstration project will show that this can be successful for everyone,” said Dawn Schellenberg, SDOT Community Engagement Liaison. “Being a demonstration project will allow us to modify the lane moving forward, to learn from it and make sure we’re doing it right for everyone.”

To help quell some of that nervousness, SDOT is planning on doing extensive outreach and education leading up to the changes and for a while after the new infrastructure has been installed. Schellenberg says they plan to talk to people in offices, residents and neighboring businesses along this stretch of 2nd Ave. Once the new lane is open, they’re creating an educational video showing how to walk and drive around and bike in the new infrastructure. They’re also installing new signage and might have ambassadors stand on corners along the lane when it opens.

Unsurprisingly, bike advocates are pleased with the impending change — particularly that it bucks the standard and lengthy Seattle Process.

“Overall we're really excited about it and glad to see SDOT being innovative. It’s great that they’re doing a demonstration project that’s taking four months instead of waiting for formal design process and build out,” said Jeff Aken, Cascade Bike Club’s Principal Planner. (Full disclosure: Aken and I were once colleagues at Forterra.)

If the 2nd Ave lane works well, its design will influence future bike infrastructure downtown, which is mostly lacking across the board. This year, SDOT will start work on a center city bike network. Schellenberg said the 2nd Ave protected lane will be, “the first of what we hope will be a bunch of world class bicycle facilities that help promote downtown and attract and retain talented workers.”

“If you weren’t already a comfortable cyclist, you wouldn’t ever ride downtown because of the bad infrastructure,” said Aken. 

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