Note to Second Ave: Green means go

Despite a learning curve, there are no big changes in store for Seattle's new bike lane.
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Riders on 2nd Avenue's new bike lane.

Despite a learning curve, there are no big changes in store for Seattle's new bike lane.

Despite befuddlement on the part of some cyclists and drivers, The Seattle Department of Transportation is not planning any immediate drastic changes to the newly opened Second Avenue bike lane.

But there are likely some tweaks on the way.

The two-way bike lane, which debuted on Monday, is separated from the one-way southbound traffic on Second Avenue by plastic posts or parked cars. There are also new traffic signals. Green traffic lights for cyclists are timed to coincide with red left turn arrows for drivers. The idea is to reduce the possibility of a left-turning vehicle hitting a cyclist in the lane.

On an otherwise straight stretch of city street, the new signals have introduced a learning curve.

"There's some confusion," said the city's traffic engineer, Dongho Chang on Tuesday evening. Drivers have been turning left off of Second Avenue even when the turn arrow lights are red and cyclists have cruised through stop signals in the bike lane.

On Monday, there were spotters stationed on the sidewalk that runs alongside the lane. If a cyclist seemed poised to bike through a red signal, a spotter would shout at them, pointing out the light and telling them to stop.

Based on feedback from drivers, Chang said that SDOT is considering some minor changes to the traffic signals and signage. Instead of a standard circular green light for traffic headed straight down Second Avenue, the city will install forward-pointing green arrow signals. The intent would be to further differentiate between the signals for traffic headed south and the left turn arrows for turning vehicles.

Signs indicating that left turns are only allowed when arrows are green will also likely be changed. 

"They'd rather us tell them not to turn," Chang said, as he discussed some of what SDOT had heard from drivers. Instead the signs would say that left turns are not allowed when the arrow is red.

A video posted Tuesday on YouTube shows at least 12 cars making illegal left turns off of Second Avenue at Seneca Street, disobeying traffic signals that were installed as part of the new Second Avenue bike lane project. Video: SeattleBike1

SDOT also plans to do some remarking on the pavement at Second Avenue and Pike Street, where the lane's northern end is located. The southern end of the separated lane is at Yesler Way. Currently, SDOT considers the bike lane a demonstration project.

Over the past four-and-a-half years, 61 bike-related collisions have been reported between Pine Street and South Jackson Street on Second Avenue, according to SDOT. About 30 of those have involved vehicles turning left, including a fatal incident that took place in late August.

By the end of the week, SDOT should have some numbers showing how many cyclists have used the lane.

"It's new, so it's going to take a little time for people to normalize," Chang said. "Once everybody pays attention and they see what they need to do," he added, "we'll have a very safe and efficient corridor."


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