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The Today File

Your guide to the latest news from around the Northwest

September 8, 2014 at 1:07 PM

Second Avenue entices cyclists, baffles motorists

In this view looking south from University Street on Monday, bicyclists, cars, and pedestrians maneuver on Second Avenue past the new signals. (Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

In this view looking south from University Street on Monday, bicyclists, cars and pedestrians maneuver on Second Avenue past new signals. (Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

City officials were right. Seattle’s new protected bike lane on Second Avenue, which opened Monday morning, is already a game changer.

Bike traffic appeared to be three or four times normal, though some gains can be attributed to the novelty of the project.  The Seattle Department of Transportation is expected to have numbers later today. Motorists made it through the corridor without delays, despite some confusing signals and abrupt merges.

Besides separating bikes from cars, the other main feature is a signal change — left-turning cars must wait for a green arrow, and they get a red arrow when a separate bike signal shows green.

“It’s definitely better than the previous bike lane was,” said Brennan Cohea of Belltown, who said he’s made four trips in the newly created lane.
bike_signals_2ndavenue

Here are some early observations, based on two hours riding and watching the lane:

  • The biggest revelation has been how easily bicyclists are shifting to Second Avenue, where the bike lane is bidirectional, to make northbound trips.  “It’s a great option,” said Cohea.  Because north is uphill, bicycle speeds of just over 10 mph are slow enough to reduce hazards at intersections.  Other riders said or tweeted they’re glad for a saner alternative to riding on Fourth Avenue.
  • Confusion reigns at the corner of Second and Pike Street, where the city hasn’t finished its job yet.  As of today, drivers in the far left lane get a green circle even though the pavement was just marked left-turn only. There’s no distinction there between car and bike signals yet.  Some drivers thought they could go straight, but then had to suddenly merge right. Dongho Chang, city traffic engineer, said SDOT bought all the arrows a local supplier had in stock, so he didn’t retrofit Pike yet. Chang said it will be fully signaled in two to three weeks.
  • Most drivers obeyed the red arrows, and waited for green arrows to turn left.  But some were confused and crept into the bike lane.  Volunteer “ambassadors” at the street corners were instructed to yell and point at the new turn arrows. Sometimes, a driver would stop for the red arrow, only to have angry drivers behind her honk their horns.
  • There were some near-hits.  Sometimes drivers were to blame. Another time, a fast-moving bicyclist didn’t see the red bike icon, and blew through while cars had a green arrow.
  • Fast cyclists often chose to ride in general traffic lanes, where car turns aren’t a threat. Peter Seitel, who tried the new bike lane, said SDOT’s array of signals and stripes is just too complicated for safety. “Tomorrow, I’m going to be in the car lanes and people are going to be mad at me and say, ‘Get over in the bike lane!'” he said. Chang said the city expects and actually hopes that bicyclists who can match car speeds in the general lanes of Second will continue to do so.
  • Hotel guests and valets at the Marriott Courtyard near Cherry Street must adapt quickly,  because bikes now travel between the sidewalk and the 3-minute loading zone.  It took only minutes for bellhops to learn the habit of warning out-of-towners to watch for bikes.
  • Loading-zone and parking signs are too small to read on the move. And sometimes, drivers would stop behind a parked car, thinking that it was waiting for a left-turn signal.
  • Users should slow for driveways, marked in green. Bob Brosinski, an engineer at Benaroya Hall, said a bike whipped around the front of his pickup after he had already entered the driveway crossing to the Benaroya parking garage Monday morning. “There’s no invisible shield. Just because they have taken the right of way, they’re no match for a 3/4-ton truck,” he said.
  • At the most basic level, Chang said he was glad to see nobody trying to park a car in the bicycle lane.

Anne-Marije Rook, spokeswoman for the Cascade Bicycle Club, said Monday morning’s commute shows the importance of education. And the city should consider changing its left-lane vehicle signs to a more emphatic “no left turns on red,” she said.

If you used Second Avenue this morning, either driving, bicycling or walking, post your observations….

Comments | More in Traffic & Transit | Topics: bike lanes, Second Avenue

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