I had the opportunity to attend the third and final open house hosted by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to discuss a multi-model transportation project happening in our Westlake Community: the new Westlake Cycle Track. The implementation of the Cycle Track will be an important step forward to make our streets bike-able, walk-able, drivable and safe for people of all ages and abilities.
Some have asked why here? Why does Westlake need a Cycle Track? Westlake Avenue North is a busy arterial with cars and trucks traveling 30-40 miles per hour. It is also a corridor that freight companies (think DHL or FedEx in addition to maritime and industrial freight) have told us is critical to their travel through the City.
As our population increases, geography feels like it is shrinking. We all want to walk, ride, and drive on the same roads.
Some have asked why bicyclists need to ride on Westlake. Didn’t we just complete a protected bike route on Dexter?
Yes, we did. And like Westlake, Dexter is also a fast moving street but with a significant grade change. With my electric-assist bike, Dexter is a snap. For those without the help of an electric battery pack, Dexter can be a challenge.
Because it is both scenic, relatively flat, Westlake is a preferred route for many including bicyclists and truck drivers. It provides a direct route from the Ship Canal trail to South Lake Union and downtown bike routes and also connects to Mercer and I-5 for those who want to go that way.
To avoid the fast moving traffic, many bicyclists choose to ride in the blocks-long parking lot on the west side of the street. Unfortunately, this path is almost as perilous as the street, with cars and trucks navigating the parking lot along with bikers and walkers. Confusion abounds for all who use this corridor. This is a serious safety hazard, which is why SDOT took up the charge to improve this corridor to make it safe for all users.
SDOT was presented with a huge conundrum here: how can we design the street so that bike commuters, marine business customers, walkers, Starbucks drive through go-ers, and may others can navigate this stretch in a safe and efficient way?
Through an inclusive stakeholder process, establishing a Cycle Track was chosen as the best route forward. The definition of a Cycle Track is a dedicated bike path that is separated from other traffic by a physical barrier. The Cycle Track is a model that has been implemented in other parts of the City (for example, our new 2nd Ave protected bike lane) and is meant to encourage all riders to use the path, whether they are a confident bike commuter or parents with young children on tricycles.
There are thousands of people every day who use this stretch of road, and a diversity of uses, so finding a solution was both complicated and critical. At Councilmember Rasmussen’s and my suggestion, last Spring the Mayor convened a Design Advisory Committee (DAC) to engage a broad variety of stakeholders—including business owners, bicyclists, traffic engineers, parking experts, freight representatives, Lake Union park users, house boat residents and others—to create a design that allows all users to be safe, whether we’re driving to a business or walking with our children to the Park, commuting downtown on a bicycle or hauling freight.
The DAC held ten meetings and three open houses, discussing everything from parking, to project constraints, to a business and resident survey, and more. This group brought a variety of concerns and ideas to SDOT, who worked to incorporate as much input into the final plan.
For example, one of the business owners along the corridor raised the fact that many of his customers had difficulty exiting the parking lot at the closest driveway to his business. SDOT agreed that this proved a difficulty for cars and installed a stop light in the intersection to facilitate car movement in and out.
Business owners and bicyclists continue to raise concerns with the DAC and SDOT. Meetings continue to discuss the issues that remain. I have been most impressed by how receptive SDOT is to the input of all stakeholders. I would like to see this Cycle Track treated like the 2nd Ave Bike Lane. This is a demonstration project, and if problems arise, SDOT may make adjustments to ensure safety and efficiency of the route. I encourage everyone who uses the trail to let SDOT know what they like and what they don’t. This project will only be successful if it maintains access for all of its users. And I mean all.
I hope the experience of the Westlake Cycle Track process can serve as a model for future cycle tracks being developed throughout the City. Only when we have adequate infrastructure for those of all ages and abilities while maintaining access for our neighborhood businesses will we truly be a City that works for all.
I applaud the hard work of everyone who has been involved in making what is currently a congested area a place that is safe and welcoming for all users.
For more information, see SDOT’s excellent project page at: http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/wct.htm