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Bill moves forward to strengthen ‘Vulnerable User Law,’ revise road sharing rules

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 13:30

$42.

That’s the “unsafe lane change” ticket a teenager received for striking and killing John Przychodzen while he biked in the shoulder of Kirkland’s Juanita Drive in 2011. Authorities claimed that because they couldn’t prove he was driving recklessly, the $42 ticket was all they could give.

That $42 ticket became a rallying cry for a change in state law to increase penalties for negligent, but not criminal, driving that resulted in a serious injury or death of a “vulnerable road user,” such as people walking, biking, riding an animal, using farm equipment, etc. The $42 became a symbol of the slap on the wrist too often given to people responsible for death or injury on our roads. It also became a symbol for the slap in the face victims and/or loved ones feel when they have to watch those responsible receive few or no repercussions.

But in the seven years since the law passed, law enforcement and prosecutors have not been regularly using it as was intended. So advocates such as Washington Bikes and lawmakers are working this session to pass a revised version of the law that increases penalties and makes them mandatory, putting the increased fines into a new “vulnerable roadway user education account.”  In the process, the bill also revises the laws around various road use responsibilities, including many biking and driving interactions.

The Senate already passed SSB 5723 (sponsored by Senators Randall, Saldaña, Liias, Rolfes, Billig, and Nguyen) with a unanimous 48–0 vote (PDF). It is currently in the House Transportation Committee.

Currently, state law basically just says that someone driving a car must pass someone biking “at a safe distance.” The new bill would attempt to clarify that by stating:

  • “On a roadway with two lanes or more for traffic moving in the direction of travel, before passing and until safely clear of the individual, move completely into a lane to the left of the right lane when it is safe to do so
  • On a roadway with only one lane for traffic moving in the direction of travel:
    • (A) When there is sufficient room to the left of the individual in the lane for traffic moving in the direction of travel, before passing and until safely clear of the individual:
      • (I) Reduce speed to a safe speed for passing relative to the speed of the individual; and
      • (II) Pass at a safe distance, where practicable of at least three feet, to clearly avoid coming into contact with the individual or the individual’s vehicle or animal; or
    • (B) When there is insufficient room to the left of the individual in the lane for traffic moving in the direction of travel to comply with (a)(ii)(A) of this subsection, before passing and until safely clear of the individual, move completely into the lane for traffic moving in the opposite direction when it is safe to do so and in compliance with RCW 46.61.120 and 46.61.125.”

Existing law also requires people biking to ride “as near to the right side of the right through lane as is safe” except when making a turn or passing someone. This has always been very vague because “as is safe” opens a lot of room for disagreement. For example, someone driving might not notice the road debris, traffic condition or parked car door dangers the same way someone biking does. So whose perception of safe are we talking about here? The new bill attempts to clarify some exceptions to this rule, though I imagine there is still plenty of room for disagreement. Here are some of the new exceptions:

  • When approaching an intersection where right turns are permitted and there is a dedicated right turn lane, in which case a person may operate a bicycle in this lane even if the operator does not intend to turn right
  • When reasonably necessary to avoid unsafe conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, bicyclists, pedestrians, animals, and surface hazards
  • When the operator of a bicycle is using the travel lane of a roadway with only one lane for traffic moving in the direction of travel and it is wide enough for a bicyclist and a vehicle to travel safely side-by-side within it, the bicycle operator shall operate far enough to the right to facilitate the movement of an overtaking vehicle unless other conditions make it unsafe to do so or unless the bicyclist is preparing to make a turning movement or while making a turning movement.

The bill would also define a safe passing distance as “where practicable … at least three feet.” (NOTE: I corrected an earlier version in which I said the bill did not define a safe passing distance.) Close passing has always been a difficult infraction to enforce, and it’s not clear that defining the distance as three feet makes enforcement any easier than requiring the passing distance to be “safe” as Washington law currently states. And really, a “safe” passing distance changes according to the speed differential. Any closer than three feet is basically always too close. But if someone is driving, say, 35 miles per hour or faster, three feet still feels very close, especially if they are driving a large truck or bus.

There are just so many gray areas out on our state’s roadways, it’s hard to adequately codify every possible interaction and scenario. But the new bill at least attempts to address some common causes of serious collisions.

The bill also clarifies the legal rights and responsibilities of people walking and people with disabilities when sidewalks are not accessible:

In this bill text, strikethroughs show deletions and underlining shows additions. See full bill as passed by the Senate in this PDF.

Current law treats people walking on roadways without accessible sidewalks terribly, essentially telling them to jump in the bushes if a car is coming. The changes more or less recognize that a person walking along the side of a road without an accessible sidewalk has a right to exist. That’s a good step in the right direction.

I would love to see a state law that requires the provision of temporary sidewalks whenever public or private works displaces one, but that is probably the job of a different bill.

A brief history of the Vulnerable User Law

Leading up to the 2012 passage, safe streets advocates — including Cascade Bicycle Club and the former Bicycle Alliance of Washington — had already been working for years to pass a law that would increase non-criminal penalties for negligent driving that, while not reaching the standard of recklessness, caused immense harm or death to other road users. There were just too many cases where someone driving made a mistake while driving that killed or maimed another person and got off with no or little legal consequence. It is very painful for the victim and/or their loved ones when the person responsible is let go with essentially no consequences.

Something finally broke when that $42 ticket hit the news. Something about that number sparked outrage and became a rallying cry. It was so dramatically disproportionate to the loss of a community member’s life that people demanded a change to the law so future negligent (but not criminal) driving tragedies receive more appropriate consequences.

State lawmakers passed the “Vulnerable Road User” law the next session, codifying “negligent driving in the second degree.” The new offense would not be a criminal charge, and would not carry a prison sentence. This is one of the smart things about this law. If there were intent, intoxication, distraction or other forms of recklessness involved, there are existing criminal statutes authorities can pursue such as vehicular assault/homicide. But it makes little sense to lock up people for being bad drivers.

It also makes no sense to let people off with little to no consequences. They may not have intended to hurt or kill someone, but they are still responsible. So second degree negligent driving was designed to carry up to $5,000 in fines and a 90-day license suspension, though offenders could also be assigned to take traffic safety courses and relevant community service as the judge sees fit. These penalties are not commensurate with taking or injuring a life, but at least the person responsible would face more significant penalties and need to address their driving in some way.

But in the years since passage, the law just hasn’t been used as intended. Law enforcement may not cite infractions correctly or prosecutors may choose not to use it, perhaps because they don’t understand it. That’s why the changes not only make the penalties mandatory in relevant cases, it also creates an education fund designed to help authorities better understand how to use the law and to inform the public about their responsibilities on the road.

JUMP now reaches city limits, undercuts Lime by $1

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 14:41

Previous service areas are outlined in blue and red dashes. Image from JUMP.

After adding more bikes and changing its fare structure this week, JUMP’s red bikes now reach all of Seattle and cost $1 less to ride than Lime’s green and yellow bikes.

JUMP initially launched Seattle service in November with a limited coverage area that excluded most of South Seattle, but quickly expanded to reach most of the city south of Green Lake in December. Now the Uber-owned service has expanded to the city limits while also challenging Lime on price.

Both services charge $0.15 per minute to ride their e-assist bikes, but JUMP has removed the $1 unlock fee that Lime still charges.

Removing the unlocking fee is great news for a couple reasons. For one, it opens the next chapter in price competition for the free-floating shared bike services in Seattle. But it also removes a barrier to using the service for short trips or for chaining bike share and transit together.

While the $1 unlocking fee is not exorbitant, it does make very short rides make less sense. Bike share is very effective at turning 15-minute walks into five-minute bike rides, but paying $1 for every little five-minute bike ride really adds up when you get into the habit. Biking to and from a grocery store that is only five minutes away turns into a $2.75 round trip, same as a transit fare that is good for two hours. But without the $1 unlock fee, the same grocery store round-trip costs only $1.50, which feels more appropriate for a neighborhood grocery run.

Removing the $1 unlock fee also makes it more sensible to string bike share and transit together because you don’t have to pay that $1 twice for the same leg of a trip. With the unlock fee, biking five minutes to a bus then another five minutes to get from the bus to your destination costs as much as the bus fare itself. For a round trip, the bike costs would be $5.50. That really adds up if you are relying on these kinds of multimodal connections daily, even though your total time using the bikes is pretty short.

Paying by the minute is also just simpler. You pay for what you use no matter how you work the bikes into your trips. The $1 unlock fee feels sort of like an artifact from docked bike systems (like Pronto) that charge a fee by the half hour. There have been many times I have chosen not to take bike share because it didn’t make sense to pay that amount for such a short ride. I am lazy, and I would gladly bike to save a few minutes of walking. So while removing the $1 fee might mean companies take a hit on some trips, there are likely more trips to be gained elsewhere.

It will be interesting to see how Lime responds, since that company now has many different options that all cost $1 to unlock (bikes and cars in Seattle, but also scooters elsewhere).

Here’s the JUMP press release about the changes:

Starting [March 5], the JUMP service area in Seattle will reach to the city limits. JUMP, Uber’s all-electric dockless bike share offering, initially launched in Seattle in November with a limited service area, and then expanded to include all of South and West Seattle in January.

“Since initially launching in Seattle, our priority has been to make JUMP bikes available to as many people as possible as quickly as possible, while efficiently and sustainably operating our network of bikes,” said Alejandro Chouza. “I’m thrilled we’re able to expand our service area to the entire city earlier than expected. We decided to do this because of how well our bikes have been received by riders.”

Neighborhoods added to the JUMP service area with this most recent expansion include: Bitter Lake, Northgate, Lake City, Greenwood, Maple Leaf, Wedgwood, Magnolia and Madrona among others. Images of JUMP’s launch, January expansion, and citywide service area maps available here.

In order to encourage riders to leave bikes inside the service area, JUMP provides notice in-app and on its website of a $25 fee for locking the bike outside the service area. Although JUMP has issued warnings, no Seattle customers to date have been charged the $25 fee for ending trips outside the service area. However, starting today, riders will get a warning when they end a trip outside of the service area, then be charged the $25 fee for any subsequent infractions.

JUMP also offers a Boost Plan for qualified lower-income riders. Boost Plan participants receive 60 minutes of free ride time per day at a cost of $5 per month. Those who qualify for the ORCA Lift reduced-fare program or the Regional Reduced Fare Permit also qualify for the JUMP Boost Plan. Other plan details can be found at https://jump.com/cities/seattle/boost-plan/.

In addition to the service area expansion, JUMP is also updating its pricing in Seattle. At launch, baseline pricing was $1 to unlock a bike, then $0.10 per minute. Starting March 5, there will be no fee to unlock a bike and riding will be $0.15 per minute. Seattle was one of the first cities to receive JUMP’s next generation bikes, which feature integrated cable locks and a QR code unlocking mechanism.

Family of Derek Blaylock files suit against city, Sound Transit and contractors after 2016 death near Northgate Station

Wed, 03/06/2019 - 12:36

Derek and his sons at the Tour de France. Photo courtesy of Jane Blaylock.

Derek Blaylock drove his son to school the morning of September 21, 2016, then grabbed his bike and rode to Northgate Transit Center to catch a bus to work. On the way home, he was biking from the transit center along 1st Ave NE next to a construction barrier set up for work on the Northgate Station when Kevin Brewer struck and killed him. Brewer was sentenced to more than six years in prison for vehicular homicide.

I had the chance to sit down with Jane Blaylock a year after her husband’s death to learn more about him. She described a loving father of two who was quick with witty one-liners, was a master at cooking meat and usually preferred to avoid the spotlight. I encourage readers to read that profile if you haven’t already.

Blaylock’s death was devastating to his friends and family, of course. But making matters worse, the person who killed him should not have been on the road at all after a long history of dangerous driving that included killing one person.

Brewer had previously killed Nicole Cheek, a grandmother walking along the side of a road in Marysville, in 2008. He left Cheek on the side of the road, where she was not discovered for another hour. He later turned himself in a pleaded guilty, saying he fell asleep. He served three and a half years for Cheek’s death, but investigators found that “[b]etween 2007 and 2016, Brewer was responsible for at least 10 collisions in which the driving behavior was consistent with that of a driver impaired by alcohol or drugs, or by a fatigued/drowsy driver” according to court charging documents.

On that terrible day in 2016, Brewer was driving southbound on 1st Ave NE behind Blaylock when he veered off the road around NE 95th Street and up the side of the construction Jersey barrier. This is when he struck and killed Blaylock, who was trapped between the truck and the barrier.

Brewer is named in a wrongful death lawsuit filed recently by Blaylock’s estate, of course, but so are Sound Transit, the City of Seattle and a list of contractors working on the Northgate Station project (JCM Northlink, Jay Dee Contractors, Frank Coluccio Construction Company, Michels Corporation and North Star Seattle Runnel and Rail).

The lawsuit alleges that removal of the shoulder and placement of a concrete barrier and raised asphalt berm “degraded the safety of 1st Ave NE for southbound bicyclists in particular.” The suit also alleges that degrading an established bike route in this way “created a need for properly placed signs and reasonably safe detour routes for bicyclists.” The suit also alleges that a 2013 traffic control plan required bike detour signs away from southbound 1st Ave NE, but that those signs were not in place when the collision occurred.

The suit seeks unspecified “economic and non-economic damages.”

Chrystal Barber sentenced to 7.5 years for hit-and-run killing of Alex Hayden

Tue, 03/05/2019 - 12:16

Photo of Alex Hayden from a GoFundMe campaign set up to support his family.

Chrystal Barber, 51, was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison after she pleaded guilty to striking and killing Alex Hayden, 50, with her aunt’s red pickup truck on Rainier Ave S last July. After veering into the bike lane and hitting Hayden from behind, Barber kept driving, dragging his bike down the Skyway section of the street.

Hayden was a photographer and father of two. His wife Susan spoke about his last day during the sentencing hearing, Neal McNamara at Patch reported:

When it was Susan Hayden’s turn to address [King County Superior Court Judge Laura] Inveen, she talked about the day her husband went out on his last bike ride. He finished up some household chores and then announced he was going to enjoy the rest of that sunny day doing something he loved.

Reflecting on the possibility that Barber could spend almost a decade in a jail, she told Inveen that she would gladly wait that long if it meant Alex would come back.

“I would like to keep my community safe,” she said. “Maybe she can’t get better.”

As McNamara reported from the hearing, much of the discussion concerned Barber’s history of alcoholism and five previous DUIs. She also has four previous conviction for driving without a valid license and one for driving without a required ignition interlock device. Though Barber denies being under the influence when she killed Hayden, she was not supposed to be driving at all due to her previous convictions.

Barber turned herself in and pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide, which is sadly more than can be said for far too many people who injure or kill people on our streets and then flee the scene. Far too many victims and loved ones do not even get a chance to know the person responsible has faced any legal consequences for their actions.

But this conviction and prison sentence doesn’t fix what happened, and her history of DUIs and illegal driving highlights how ineffective our system is at preventing repeat intoxicated driving. A long prison sentence after a repeat offender has finally killed someone is too late.

Ninety months is about the middle of the normal sentencing range for vehicular homicide, a felony that could carry a sentence as high as ten years.

Our condolences to Alex’s friends and family.

CHS: City wants to install electric car charger in future path of Broadway bikeway

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 14:21

Base image: SDOT’s Broadway bikeway and streetcar extension plans. As noted, the proposed car charger would be directly in the path of the bikeway.

Seattle is about to invest to build a public car charger directly in the path of the on-hold Broadway Bikeway extension north or Denny Way.

Once complete, people biking northbound in the Broadway protected bike lane would need to merge into mixed traffic at Denny Way to go around a parked electric car using the city’s charging station. And neither Seattle City Light nor SDOT seem concerned about this conflict, as Capitol Hill Seattle reports:

“In the absence of a bike lane currently, we believe this is a great location for an electric vehicle charging station,” Scott Thomsen, spokesperson for City Light tells CHS. “Should there come a time, we will be able to move our infrastructure.”

The Seattle Department of Transportation describes the situation a little differently.

“We do not believe installation of a charging station would preclude future bike lanes,” a spokesperson tells CHS. “Assuming a charging station is installed on Broadway, we would work with our partners at SCL to determine how to design a (protected bike lane) around it or shift the charging station to accommodate when the time came.”

The Broadway Bikeway extension is at the 90 percent design phase, which is essentially shovel-ready. It was initially scheduled for 2016, but has been put on hold due to a lack of funding for the associated streetcar extension. The design does not have on-street parking next to the charger location, but it does have parking space across the street as shown in the image above.

You can learn more and provide feedback at an open house 6 p.m. March 6 at Seattle Central College’s Broadway Edison Building in Room 1110. If you can’t make the open house, you can also contact the project team:

Thanks for asking! Folks that can't make it are encouraged to email comments to SCL_ElectricVehicles@seattle.gov or call (206) 684-3800.

— Seattle City Light (@SEACityLight) February 27, 2019

As we have argued, the bikeway should go ahead with or without the streetcar because its current abrupt end at Denny Way does not work. The Denny Way terminus was supposed to be temporary, but installing a charging station in the planned bikeway path suggests that the city considers it permanent. And that’s frustrating not just for bike access and safety along the north end of Broadway, but it severely limits the usability of the existing stretch of the bikeway that reaches south to Yesler Way.

Context as part of the city’s Bicycle Master Plan.

On the other hand, completing the Broadway Bikeway as designated in the city’s Bicycle Master Plan sets up a connection that could reach all the way to the University and 520 Bridges. It would also create a consistent street design for all of Broadway and improve safety for everyone, especially people walking.

Even if the city truly is willing to spend more money moving the charger later when the bikeway is installed, that feels like an unnecessary expense. More likely, the cost of moving the station will be yet another barrier to completing the bikeway.

But the bigger issue here is that the city is apparently not considering its modal plans when choosing car charging locations. Either that or they see charging cars as more important than biking. If the argument for public funding of car chargers is to fight climate change (a questionable strategy), then blocking a bike lane is counterproductive. It would be much better to install the chargers in parking spaces with no plans to change.

I’m not necessarily against experiments in public funding for electric car chargers, though there are equity questions about charging stations that need to be addressed. After all, you need to be able to own an electric car to use these public stations. But such efforts definitely cannot impede known solutions like transit, walking and biking. And I mean that literally in this case but also financially as the city budgets its resources.

Learn about the future of Mercer Island’s Mountains to Sound Trail at Thursday open house

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 17:22

The Mercer Island Parks Department is creating a master plan for Aubrey Davis Park, including the Mountains to Sound Trail, and they are looking for public feedback.

Their open house got snowed out, so the rescheduled event is 6–8 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday) at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center (map) in Luther Burbank Park. You can also comment via their online open house through March 8. But be prepared, it’s pretty long.

The online open house shows a handful of potential trail design options depending on the location, and all of them would be 12 to 14 feet in width plus some gravel buffer:

Today, the trail is mostly lovely except for the stretch along the town center, where it crosses in front of driveways with poor visibility and crosses streets in crosswalks that could use improvement. Signals that separate trail and turn phases could be a good addition, as would better walk signal timing and bike detection. Elements of protected intersections could also work well here to make biking and walking more comfortable. The stretch of trail that passes through the transit center bus stops is also a bit awkward and could use more separation from the walking and waiting spaces.

More details on the open houses, from Mercer Island Parks:

The City’s Parks and Recreation Department is leading a master planning process in partnership with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to establish a shared community vision for the future of Aubrey Davis Park.

The in-person Open House is scheduled for Thursday, February 28, from 6:00-8:00pm at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center.

An online Open House will be taking place from Thursday, February 7 to March 8. Join us from the comfort of your home to take an interactive survey, learn more about opportunities for this park and give us your feedback.

We look forward to seeing you in-person on February 28!

Questions? Call 206-275-7609

Man killed biking across Rainier Ave, suspect in white sedan fled the scene

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 18:50

The 9200 block of Rainier includes this curve just south of the Safeway and Rainier Beach Branch Library. Image from Google Maps.

A man biking across Rainier Ave was killed Monday evening when someone driving a white sedan struck him and fled the scene, according to Seattle Police. The suspect is still on the loose.

The man’s identity and age have not been released. Our condolences to his friends and family.

Police said in a blotter post that the victim was riding his bike across Rainier Ave S in the 9200 block, which includes a wide curve in the busy and notoriously dangerous street just south of the Safeway and Rainier Beach Branch Library.

Police did not release any more specifics about the circumstances of the collision. Other media reports suggest it happened near Sturtevant Ave S near the south end of the curve. The suspect’s white sedan should have “extensive damage to the front end and windshield.” Anyone with information should call the SPD non-emergency line at 206-625-5011.

This is the same block where someone struck and killed Kao Saeteurn while he was trying to cross the street on foot just over a year ago. That suspect also fled the scene.

The south segment of the Rainier Ave safety project was originally scheduled for 2016. Now the city says maybe 2020. Original graphic from SDOT, edits by Seattle Bike Blog.

This stretch of Rainier Ave was supposed to receive a safety redesign in 2016, but city leaders have delayed that project for three years now despite consistent neighborhood outcry. Neighbors renewed their calls for the city to complete the Rainier Ave Road Safety Corridor Project last summer after someone driving struck and injured two kids at Rainier and Henderson, just a couple blocks north of Monday’s fatal collision.

Mayor Durkan did rush out a few small changes to that intersection after neighbors held a rally to demand safety changes to the street, but she and SDOT have continued to delay the full safety project.

Serious and fatal collisions were nearly eliminated after a wildly successful safety project on Rainier Ave between Columbia City and Hillman City, which makes it that much more infuriating that the city still has not completed the safety project. We can see that it works, yet the city still does not even plan to fix it for another year. And that’s assuming it doesn’t get pushed back again.

It’s way to early to know whether the city’s safety project could have prevented Monday’s collision. There just aren’t enough details. But we know that this stretch of Rainier is deadly, especially this block. And we know that we can redesign the street to reduce speeding, serious injuries and deaths. It is simply unethical for the city to ignore this safety problem the way they have. At this point, it’s a dereliction of the city’s basic duty to protect the well-being of its residents.

More details on Monday’s collision, from Seattle Police:

Detectives are investigating after a man was struck and killed in a hit and run while riding his bike in the Rainier Beach neighborhood Monday evening.

Officers were dispatched to the 9200 block of Rainier Avenue South at 4:50 p.m. Monday for a report of a white sedan that had struck a bicyclist and then fled the scene.

Seattle Fire Department Medics attempted life-saving measures but the man died at the scene.

Witnesses said the bicyclist was attempting to cross Rainier Avenue South when he was hit by the sedan which was traveling in the southbound lanes.

Traffic Collision Detectives are now investigating and are searching for a white sedan with extensive damage to the front end and windshield.  If you have any information please call the non-emergency line at 206-625-5011.

This remains an active scene and details may change as the investigation continues.

Ballard-Fremont Greenways launches Wednesday, and you’re invited

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 09:00

Ballard and Fremont have both had local chapters of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways in the past, but they have been quiet in recent years. So some neighbors are organizing to bring the neighborhoods together into a new supergroup, and you’re invited.

The group is hosting a launch party 6 p.m. Wednesday at Peddler Brewing.

From the event page:

Do you live, work, or play in Ballard or Fremont?
Do you want your neighborhood to be a great place for people to walk and ride bicycles?

Then join us in launching Ballard-Fremont Greenways! Come together to meet your neighbors and learn about local projects and people organizing for change.

Wednesday, February 27, 6:00 – 7:30 pm
Peddler Brewing Company

We’ll brainstorm & start to set our priorities for making Ballard and Fremont streets safe and more enjoyable for everyone who wants to walk and bike in our neighborhoods.

Peddler Brewing is kid and dog friendly, and wheelchair accessible. We’ll have some snacks to share, and there is also food for purchase. Please join us whether you’ll be having a beer or not. The location is easily accessible by transit, walking, or rolling, and has ample bike parking outside and inside.

See you there!

Proposed $738M King County Parks levy would fund Eastside, Lake Sammamish and Lake to Sound Trails

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 14:52

Map of proposed improvements, from King County.

About 80 percent of the King County Parks budget comes from a levy that goes to voters every six years, and King County Executive Dow Constantine is proposing an even bigger levy to send to voters this autumn for 2020–25.

The $738 million proposal would cost the average property owner about $7 per month, $2 more than they pay under the expiring levy according to a press release from King County.

Among many investments in Parks facilities and programming across the county, the next levy would complete regional trail connections that have been in the works for a long time. It would also close funding for some of the most difficult and iconic segments of the Eastside Trail like the Wilburton Trestle. Here are some highlights from the press release:

  • Opening to the public nearly 12 miles of the 16-mile-long Eastside Rail Corridor, making accessible the Wilburton Trestle and connecting the cities of Renton, Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, and Woodinville
  • Completing the Lake to Sound Trail, a 16-mile-long paved connection that extends from Lake Washington in Renton to Puget Sound in Des Moines
  • Paving the final segment of the East Lake Sammamish Trail to complete the 11-mile-long corridor and connect the cities of Redmond, Sammamish, and Issaquah

Renton in particular stands to see some major bike improvements from the Lake to Sound and Eastside Trails. After these projects are complete, Renton will have quality access west to the Green River and Interurban South Trails as well as north via the Eastside Trail connecting to the Mountains to Sound, and 520 Trails.

The levy map also shows a connection from the current north terminus of the Cross Kirkland Corridor (Eastside Trail) at Totem Lake to the Burke-Gilman and Sammamish River Trails. The Lake to Sound Trail will make connections in SeaTac, Tukwila and Des Moines. And the Green River Trail should finally connect to the Duwamish Trail in South Park.

Bike League suggests $74B ‘Bike New Deal’ + Why the Feds should dramatically increase bike funding

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 13:56

From a 2011 study (PDF) by Heidi Garrett-Peltier for the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Building walking, biking and safe streets infrastructure employs more people per dollar than a road-only project. In Seattle, building trails employs 25 percent more people per $1 million invested compared to building roads, according to a 2011 study (PDF) by Heidi Garrett-Peltier for the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The work is more hands-on, so more of the costs go to paying workers rather than buying raw materials and equipment.

And while this is hardly the best reason to build bike lanes and trails, it is an important fact to keep in mind as Congressional leaders craft a “Green New Deal” that attempts to both improve the nation and employ more people at the same time.

The League of American Bicyclists recently posted their concept for a $74 billion “Bike New Deal,” which would invest heavily in community bike networks, regional and national bike trails, child bike safety education, commuter benefits, and vehicle and road safety standards. And while I imagine that $74 billion price tag might seem like a pipe dream, an effort of that scale would be a great investment directly into communities big and small across the country that would pay off for generations to come.

So far, the Green New Deal is more of a statement of intent rather than a set of specific policies, so it seems like a good time to start thinking big and getting ideas out there. And while Seattle Bike Blog rarely focuses on national issues, our time covering the challenges of building local and regional bike infrastructure and safe streets projects could help shine a light on ways Federal funding could dramatically change the speed and scale of project delivery for these projects.

One lesson comes from, yes, the Netherlands. The Dutch only have their bicycle networks now because their national government stepped up and made those networks a national transportation priority decades ago:

A national government just works on a larger scale that can complete projects that would be impossibly-large for local governments.

Even in a wealthy city like Seattle, our Department of Transportation has trouble finding funding to go after the biggest road safety and bike network challenges, many of which were caused by big Federally-funded, car-centric projects like Interstates and rail corridors in the first place. For example, it costs an enormous sum of money to create or retrofit freeway crossings to make them safe for walking and biking, so Seattle typically chooses to ignore them and invest elsewhere instead. The result is that there are shockingly few I-5 crossings that are safe and comfortable for biking and walking.

So let’s look at a case study: The Northgate Walk/Bike Bridge. The city’s first try to get the project funded was to apply for an Obama-era TIGER grant from the Federal government to build an iconic span connecting North Seattle College to Northgate Station. Because I-5 is so wide at this location and would require a rather tall structure, creating this vital connection would cost vastly more money than the typical walk/bike project. So the city appealed to the Feds.

UW also applied for a TIGER grant around the same time to complete their total rebuild of the Burke-Gilman Trail through campus, which would be wider and have separate walking and biking spaces to accommodate the big increases in people traveling to and from UW Station.

But TIGER grants were extremely competitive because, as it turns out, communities across the nation have an enormous backlog of major non-freeway infrastructure needs that the Federal government has not been addressing. The result is that both of these Seattle projects lost, along with more than 9 in 10 TIGER applications. The TIGER acceptance rate is a good rough estimate of the nation’s need for such funding. It needs to be an order of magnitude larger.

A result of losing these grants was that UW dramatically scaled back its trail ambitions by only building out one phase of the trail redesign, and the City of Seattle, Sound Transit and Washington State all partnered to make a scaled back Northgate Bridge happen. It was great that leaders found ways to make the projects happen without Federal funding, but what would have been small projects for the Feds has become huge projects for multiple local agencies.

And remember that Seattle is a wealthy city in a wealthy region, and we barely made the Northgate Bridge happen. Communities across the nation don’t have a fallback option for projects of this scale. If the Feds or their states don’t fund major projects like this, they simply can’t happen.

But one bridge in Northgate is a drop in the bucket. What about people on Beacon Hill trying to get to Sodo? Or people on Capitol Hill trying to get to South Lake Union? Or people on Rainier Ave trying to safely get past all the I-90 ramps? This list could go on for a long time.

Or what about national biking and walking projects like the Great American Rail Trail or the US Bicycle Route system? State and local governments can work on them piecemeal, but the Federal government could make them happen in whole.

Of course Washington State also has a key role to play in fixing these major challenges that it is not fulfilling. But even the state would have trouble raising the funds needed to truly address the needs in Washington communities.

I don’t want this post to be seen as excusing Seattle, King County, Sound Transit, the Puget Sound Regional Council or Washington State from their responsibility to do better in prioritizing safe streets, walking, biking and transit improvements. But I am sick of writing off the Federal government as good for only a few relative pennies here or there for walking and biking projects. It’s a major need that needs major investment, including from the highest level.

Unfortunately, the U.S. is still obsessed with freeways, investing a fortune in impossibly-large interchanges and widening projects that only make traffic and our dependences on fossil fuels more dangerous and desperate. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Some trails still slick a week after the snow stopped + Lessons for future freezes

Mon, 02/18/2019 - 13:40

Even though most streets in the region are clear following the massive snow fall last week, trails that are far from salt-treated roads can still be icy in spots. Much like the wonderful people who have volunteered their time in recent weeks to clear bus stops and curb ramps, folks like Robert here are biking with shovels to clear trail sections that still have snow and ice:

This is a call to action for #SEAbikes : if you are able-bodied and have access to a snow shovel, head to your local trail and clear a path through the remaining snow/ice – I’ll be shoveling on the Green River Trail since there are still unrideable spots, will post pics after pic.twitter.com/pZ3OSf5FeL

— Robert Svercl (@bobco85) February 18, 2019

Of course, these trails are public property and are important transportation facilities, so it shouldn’t fall to kind, able-bodied individuals to do this work. When asked why Parks was not clearing trails, this was their disappointing response:

Unfortunately our staff and equipment for snow removal is on loan to King County Roads to assist in keeping roads clear as a top priority at this time.

— King County Parks

Trail Alert: Burke-Gilman blocked by downed tree in Bothell until Tuesday

Mon, 02/18/2019 - 13:03

Photo from King County Parks.

A large tree fell over the weekend and has blocked the Burke-Gilman Trail in Bothell, and King County Parks says it cannot remove the tree until Tuesday.

The tree is blocking the trail at about 91st Ave NE, a tricky spot in the trail route with no easy detour route. And Parks says no detour will be marked, so you’re on your own if you end up here.

The intrepid and able-bodied may be able to find a way to climb through the branches, though I’m guessing Parks would frown on this. There is also a sidewalk on the north side of Bothell Way, but the closest crosswalks are at 83rd and 96th Avenues NE. And the sidewalk does sort of disappear in a couple spots, so be prepared for that. You can ride on the highway, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Base image from Google Maps.

King County Parks said that the blockage much wait until Tuesday because the necessary equipment won’t be available until then.

Trail Alert: Burke-Gilman Trail detour along Seaview

Thu, 02/14/2019 - 16:29

Approximate work area. Image from Google Street View.

Work is starting on a Seattle Public Utilities project that will detour the Burke-Gilman Trail along a stretch of Seaview Ave NW in Ballard so crews can stage equipment.

Unfortunately, the detour plans currently say that people biking will be “encouraged to walk their bikes through the detour,” which should last a month.

Details from SPU:

Construction equipment for Seattle Public Utilities’ Pump Station 43 Emergency Sewer Force Main Replacement project will impact the 5500 block of Seaview Avenue Northwest and the Burke-Gilman Trail in Ballard as early as Feb. 14, 2019. A contractor will be drilling a new sewer force main underneath the waterway from Ballard to Magnolia, and the large drilling equipment will block portions of the trail and roadway.

  • Approximately 200 feet of the southbound lane of Seaview Avenue Northwest near the 5500 block will be closed. Two-way traffic will be maintained via an electronic traffic signal in the northbound lane.
  • The Burke-Gilman Trail will be detoured to the north side of Seaview Avenue Northwest. There will be an electronic signal for bicyclists and pedestrians to push when crossing the street. Bicyclists will be encouraged to walk their bikes through the detour.

These impacts are estimated to last approximately one month.

The Seattle Bike & Outdoor Show is this weekend at CenturyLink Field Event Center

Wed, 02/13/2019 - 12:09

The Seattle Bike & Outdoor Show is this weekend. So if you want to check out the latest wares or test ride some new bikes, head down to CenturyLink Field Event Center in Pioneer Square 9–6 Saturday or 9–5 Sunday.

The show is $12 (12 and under are free), though you can get a $3 discount if you use the promo code BIKE when buying tickets online.

The show is the latest form of what used to be Cascade Bicycle Club’s Seattle Bike Expo, which the club ended in 2014. The show has changed management since and combined the bikes with other outdoor equipment. Snow and slush won’t cancel the show.

More details from the show promoters:

It may feel like the season for winter recreation outdoors, but inside the CenturyLink Field Event Center, more than 25 bike manufacturers and over 75 bike and outdoor-recreation exhibitors are gearing up for the bike sale of the year — the 2019 Seattle Bike & Outdoor Show, taking place THIS WEEKEND!

This year’s show features the most bikes and the most manufacturers we’ve ever packed onto the show floor — and there’s no way we’re letting a little (or, OK, a lot of) rain or snow keep us from taking advantage of these terrific deals on bikes, bike accessories and more! Get out of the house and make plans to kick off the spring biking season with us!

Don’t miss the biggest bike sale of the year and the opportunity to speak with the experts themselves! For a complete list of hours, ticket prices, exhibitors and activities, visit www.SeattleBikeShow.com  and mention “BIKE” when purchasing your ticket online for a $3 discount.

Electric Lady’s Alex Kostelnik on why he’s closing the Central District e-bike shop

Mon, 02/11/2019 - 17:02

Kostelnik celebrates opening Electric Lady in spring 2016.

Alex Kostelnik is getting out of the e-bike showroom business. After nearly three years on the front lines of a volatile e-bike industry, selling shiny new bikes out of the Central District’s Electric Lady, he finds himself looking longingly up E Union Street where, just two blocks away, his first shop 20/20 Cycle is still grinding away to keep the neighborhood rolling.

“I’ll sit on the bench in front of 20/20, and within ten minutes I’m sharing a cookie with a neighbor and petting their dog, and they sat down to join us, and they’re going to be late to wherever they were going,” said Kostelnik during a long interview on the shop floor of his soon-to-be-closed shop at 23rd and Union. “That’s what I thought I would be doing with e-bikes, but it turns out the bike industry would have none of that. Which is too bad because I would argue that my system is actually a prescription for health for the e-bike industry, and that they are absolutely missing the boat in terms of investing in actual community.”

Founded in 2016 and staffed in recent years by Anthony Beauchemin and Lee Corbin, Electric Lady (a Seattle Bike Blog sponsor) is putting its stock of e-bikes and cargo bikes on sale and will close its doors in the coming months. Their retail space is already listed online.

Kostelnik says the business is doing well financially, but he is not enjoying the work needed to navigate what he sees as an unreliable industry where companies start up, go under, fire staff and get bought constantly. And Kostelnik’s proudly anti-corporate mentality was destined to butt heads with major players in the bike industry.

So with the used-bike-focused 20/20 Cycle up the street waiting for him to return, he is getting out. 20/20 will still sell some e-bikes, but they won’t have a showroom full of them ready to test ride.

“The bike industry is insane, in constant flux, does not know its ass from its elbow, is throwing so many spaghetti noodles at the wall to see what sticks that you’re in a room full of noodles that are sticking all over the place,” he said. “The cutting edge of the bike industry is about as sharp as a butter knife. They don’t know what they’re doing and it’s random insanity.”

He also had trouble connecting with a customer base that is very different than the customers at 20/20.

“The genesis of Electric Lady was to bring a vision of electric cycling to Seattle through my experience and my expertise and to deliver that to people, and that has worked about 30 percent of the time. The other 70 percent of people are endlessly lost in user groups and social media. They’re first time riders, but they’re not first time riders that are stepping up to the plate to hear about the community or join the community. They’re sort of strange outsider, know-it-all lonely people who aren’t really part of our community, and I don’t know where to begin with them.” The shop was open during this conversation, but the customer test riding bikes must have been part of the 30 percent because she seemed amused by Kostelnik’s trademark unfiltered candor.

“So basically, I’m just using so much energy to try to present the world of e-biking to my customers that I want to, and most of that energy is going into just trying to create status quo, and for how I see fit to do things, that’s just using up my energy. And we decided that a better way to serve our customers is to cut that overhead and be more direct with people and for our community who already get a lot of it. People who are commuting because they really well need to. That’s my people.”

Ultimately, it was “a delicious concoction that includes burnout as one of its spices” that led Kostelnik to realize he would be happier if the shop just closed. Plus he wants time to build a treehouse with his kid, he said.

He is not looking to sell because the shop is so close to 20/20, so closing the doors is the only option.

“We make money. It’s been a success. We have a beautiful shop. It’s a profitable business. I did all the heavy lifting. The non-union grocery store is coming soon across the street. The super-gentrified 30,000 square feet of retail is coming on the other side of the street. We’re poised, literally poised, for our golden year, and I’m out. Because what I didn’t factor into my business plan was me. I factored in the demographic and everything else, it was me. I ended up just endlessly being in these battles, and friends of mine would say, ‘Man, you look tired.’

“There is only so much time in the day, and I just choose not to spend it going, ‘No. What? No. Why? No. Why won’t you do that for my customer? This is entirely fair. Send that part.’ And then after like eight calls, they send the part.

The bike industry at large is going through some very tough times, and e-bikes represent a growing source of sales and profit. But selling and servicing them can be a challenge when companies boom and bust, leaving bikes on the streets without a source for replacement parts. And with many makers going with a direct-to-customers sales model, it’s hard for major traditional bike retailers to stay afloat. The major industry trade show Interbike has been cancelled, which is a pretty clear omen of how things are going for the industry at large. Performance Bikes went bankrupt in November, leading to the sudden closure of more than 100 locations including in the U District, for example. And though selling direct to customers online might make the bike cheaper up front because it skips over the local retail markup, direct sales companies rely on those same shops to service their bikes. So the industry is sort of eating itself from within.

Of course, Kostelnik hasn’t shed many tears for a corporate giant like Performance. “I couldn’t be more delighted. And I’m not surprised.

“I know that bike industry. You’ve got guys with cologne in Dockers mansplaining to women about cycling who have no innovations regarding cycling whatsoever. The bike is a toy. The bike is for sports. It is none of those things, and that’s Darwin at it’s best. That’s on you, bro. That’s on you, Performance.”

He then told a story about how he used dumpster dive bikes behind the North Carolina Performance Bikes headquarters, because of course he did.

UPDATE: Kostelnik added more thoughts in the comments below:

I have learned so much. I’ll miss my little E-Bike shop- the space is lovely. The sound system is to die for. On the other hand, 20/20 Cycle is a truly special business- more than even I realized. We have a very particular, unique clientele, and we have just the shop for them- it’s punk rock, it does a huge volume of business (it always has) and we are a community like Seattle had 15 years ago- it’s a pre-gentrification fortress of joy!

Picture the building 20/20 Cycle is in: who are our neighbors? Hollow Earth Radio, Dana’s Mind & Body pilates workshop, Communi-Tea Kombucha, Cory’s Polaroid camera shop: Rare Medium- Kevin’s Central Cinema (we went to Roosevelt High School together). Heck- Cory’s wife even reads astrology upstairs.

We are arguably the most concentrated “bullion-cube-of-old-school-quality-funk-&-integrity” on the West Coast.

I really had a great run- everything technically worked at Electric Lady and I love my friends at Gazelle, Xtracycle, Grin, Bike Swift and Tern. We build a good, strong, mutual relationship. I will keep these guys- and move it up the street. (Scaled down of course!)

People walk across street at crosswalk

Fri, 02/08/2019 - 08:00

There were zero pedestrians counted at this Ballard intersection on a Tuesday in January. It was built late last year as part of bus enhancement project. We counted again on Tuesday in January and usage meets the MUTCD threshold for a pedestrian signal per our Vision Zero Team. pic.twitter.com/C5THJUVkeU

— Dongho Chang (@dongho_chang) January 30, 2019

Here’s a story that will seem like common sense to everyone who isn’t a traffic engineer. Almost nobody used to try to cross 15th Ave NW at NW 53rd Street in Ballard because 15th is wide and busy and there was no crosswalk there. But now that SDOT has added a signal and crosswalk, lots of people cross the street there.

This should be the most boring story possible: “People walk across street at crosswalk.” How is this news? Well, because this result is only obvious to people who have not been trained in the standards of American traffic engineering.

The national “Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices” — essentially a guidebook for traffic engineers — tells professionals that unless there are already a lot people trying to cross the street, a signal is not warranted. Neighbors across the nation run into this answer all the time when pressing their cities for crosswalks and signals: “There is not enough pedestrian activity to warrant a signal.” Signals stop cars, and stopping cars is a sign of failure if you are a traditional American traffic engineer.

But SDOT tried a different approach: Build the signal first, then count to see if the resulting pedestrian volumes ended up justifying the signal after all. And they did.

There are many great traffic engineers, but the field has some gross negligence baked into its core. The best traffic engineers I’ve met had to purposefully unlearn stuff they were taught, and their ideas — like installing a crosswalk signal even if people aren’t currently running across the six-lane roadway — are often still seen as radical. Just this year, the advisory board behind the MUTCD decided against an effort to make installing walk signals best practices when installing a new traffic signal.

And in the end, the @ncutcd decided against changing the #MUTCD. Vote gets majority, but fails to get 2/3 majority to pass.

Engineers may continue to not install pedestrian signal heads….this our transportation profession. #Ethics https://t.co/8fc3QDkvRJ

— Bill Schultheiss (@schlthss) January 10, 2019

There are two outrageous bits of information here. 1: That wasn’t already in the guidebook? 2: With people walking representing a rising portion of the traffic deaths, these leaders of their profession don’t see it as their ethical duty to require something as basic as a walk signal? Here they are voting no in case you want to know what that looks like:

Very…the No votes pic.twitter.com/Tuvn28iYlE

— Bill Schultheiss (@schlthss) January 10, 2019

We are lucky in Seattle to have many great engineers working for SDOT who go far beyond what the MUTCD suggests and truly do care about safety for everyone more than moving cars. It’s one reason why Seattle has some of the safest streets in the nation, and why the NW 53rd Street crosswalk caught the eye of Angie Schmitt at StreetsBlog:

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices states that before communities can add a signalized crosswalk — a crosswalk with a traffic light — there must be at least 93 pedestrians that cross at the location every hour. If pedestrian traffic is insufficient, the manual will also allow a signalized crosswalk only if five pedestrians were struck by drivers (think about that) at that location within a year.

In recent years, some progressive transportation engineers have challenged this rule, noting it subordinates pedestrian safety to the speedy flow of car traffic. (Indeed, as transportation planners sometimes joke, you can’t determine the need for a bridge by measuring how many people are swimming across the river.)

SDOT has a lot of work to do to better prioritize and deliver safety improvements. But the U.S. traffic engineering field needs a damn renaissance.

Redesigned Northgate bike/walk bridge construction should start middle of this year

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 13:07

Crossing I-5 in Northgate is terrible today. The freeway divides the neighborhood, and the few places where crossing on foot or bike is possible are either far apart or very stressful. So as the region prepares to open a light rail station and Northgate Mall prepares for significant redevelopment, including a lot of new housing, we need to help people get across the freeway.

From its inception in 2011, the Northgate bike/walk bridge was focused on dramatically expanding access to the light rail station. Today, there is no crossing option for the 18 blocks between NE 92nd Street and NE Northgate Way, and the Northgate Way underpass is stressful and does not have bike lanes. North Seattle College and the nearby neighborhood would be within an easy walk of the station if there were a bridge, and the number of homes and destinations within an easy bike ride would be dramatically expanded.

It has been something of a half-decade roller coaster ride for the Northgate bike/walk bridge. The initial design, which included a striking and potentially iconic design, was likely only going to happen if the city could win a Federal TIGER grant. But SDOT failed twice — in 2014 on its own and 2015 as part of a Pronto bike share expansion — to win the grant. So SDOT, Sound Transit and Washington State partnered to fund a lower-cost version of the bridge instead. 

But despite the delays due to the 2017–18 bridge redesign, the project appears on track to open before light rail service begins. SDOT announced Tuesday that the project has finished environmental review and final design, and they are preparing to send it out for construction bids. If all goes according to schedule, construction should begin mid-year. Northgate Station is set to open in 2021.

Getting the bridge to this stage took an enormous amount of advocacy work from neighbors, transit and biking supporters, and organizations like Cascade Bicycle Club. It also required a local, regional and statewide partnership, which was very cool to watch. Even facing big challenges like missed grants and a need to redesign, folks kept their eyes on the goal of getting this thing ready before light rail. It’s cool to see what can happen when people work together from the grassroots all the way up to Olympia.

Here’s how the bridge will connect to other planned improvements in the area, from this PDF:

City advances plans for N 34th St redesign in Fremont + Take the survey

Tue, 02/05/2019 - 13:10

SDOT is moving forward with a plan to redesign N 34th Street between Stone Way and the Fremont Bridge, a major connection in the regional bike network linking the Burke-Gilman Trail to the Fremont Bridge.

Though the most popular option for the street during initial outreach was a two-way bike lane on the south side of 34th, the project team has decided after further study to prefer paint-and-post bike lanes on each side of the street.

You can learn more and share your thoughts via this online survey.

Today, the street has paint-only bike lanes, and the westbound lane is constantly blocked either by people double parking or by people queued up to turn right onto Fremont Ave. So a redesign that can remove these conflicts and keep the bike lanes clear would be a huge improvement.

Here are the concepts considered and how the team rated each idea:

The project is bookended by challenging and unusual intersections, and the online survey does not attempt to dive into solution for them.

Stone Way

The intersection at Stone Way is complicated for people on bikes because there are popular bike routes in essentially all directions. Stone is a popular bike route up the hill, 34th westbound heads to the Fremont Bridge, 34th eastbound heads into Wallingford, and the Burke-Gilman Trail awkwardly crosses through the south crosswalk. People biking from all directions want to go in all other directions.

Today, many of the movements are pretty strange and unintuitive. For example, what is the best way to get from westbound on the trail to westbound on 34th? There are at least four popular ways to make this connection that I can think of, and none of them are great. And how are people biking eastbound supposed to go left on Stone Way to head uphill? Having an easy and intuitive way to make these crossings will be vital for this project to work.

Fremont Ave

Fitting for a neighborhood with a famously strange street arrangement, 34th and Fremont Ave is one of the more unusual intersections in the whole city. Everyone comes together here, with busy bus stops, major bike routes, freight trucks and, of course, a bunch of cars. To complicate matters more, the Fremont Bridge opens for boats constantly, causing strange traffic patterns. There are even statues here waiting for a streetcar that no longer exists.

To make things even more complicated for people on bikes, there is no clear best way to get from N 34th Street to the Westlake bikeway. Some people take the east sidewalk across the bridge and follow the sidewalk all the way to the bikeway. Others take the west sidewalk and then try to cross at the Nickerson/Dexter signal. And others take the west sidewalk, then loop around the funeral home to the Ship Canal Trail, then cross back under the bridge to get to Westlake. None of these options is clearly the best, and they all share one thing in common: Squeezing across the bridge in a skinny sidewalk clearly not built to carry so many people biking and walking at the same time.

How the design team deals with this intersection is easily the most important detail in the whole project.

At some point, the city is going to need to dramatically redesign this intersection, Fremont Ave and possibly the bridge as well. But even making this N 34th Street project function will require some significant changes.

It’s snowy! Obviously, that means it’s time to look for ‘sneckdowns’ on streets near you

Mon, 02/04/2019 - 12:39

We don’t get the chance to do this often, Seattle, so don’t miss the chance to document some of the “sneckdowns” on streets near you.

What is a sneckdown, you ask? Well, mother nature has essentially painted the city’s streets with a valuable traffic calming and street design demonstration. It’s tactical urbanism falling like manna. When snow covers the lane markings and obscures the curbs, people driving create new and much narrower paths. The result is a very visual demonstration of how much space on our streets could be reclaimed for extended sidewalks, curb bulbs, crossing islands, bike lanes or even public plazas in the most dramatic cases.

Basically, when you are trudging to the sledding hill, imagine if the state or city built permanent sidewalks wherever the snow is untouched. A “neckdown” is more commonly referred to as a “curb bulb” in Seattle, an extension of the sidewalk to help make people waiting to cross the street more visible and to shorten the distance needed to walk from curb-to-curb. “Sneckdown” is a portmanteau of “snowy neckdown” coined in New York City.

Our streets have been designed to give an enormous amount of space to cars, especially at intersections. When sidewalks are cut back, people driving take turns much more quickly. This is extremely dangerous, and a major cause of injury and death. But when snow falls, one of the most common results is that people take slower and sharper turns, leaving snow near the curb untouched. A slower turn doesn’t stop people from getting where they’re going.

So why can’t it be this way even when it isn’t snowing? Nature has already taken care of the early design concept.

Have you noticed any sneckdowns near you? Let us know in the comments! If you have photos to share, email tom@seattlebikeblog.com.