Seattle’s Bike Infrastructure Hamstrings Growth

Design standards that call for minimal road space allocated to bikes are limiting the growth of cycling in the city.

2 minute read

December 4, 2023, 12:00 PM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Green painted bike lane on street next to modern mid-rise apartment buildings in Seattle, Washington.

Seattle Department of Transportation / SW Avalon Way bike lane.

Seattle’s bike infrastructure isn’t keeping up with the city’s ambitious plan to double bicycling as part of its climate goals, writes Ryan Packer in The Urbanist. Packer provides examples of bike lane designs that limit the capacity of lanes, such as bike boxes at intersections that can only accommodate two to three bikes.

“But while the design of bike boxes will absolutely play a small role, there seems to be other, larger considerations looming that look to limit the true potential of the city’s bike network as it continues to grow.” Packer points out that the growing popularity of cargo bikes also signals a need for increased road capacity.

Yet city designs recommend minimum lane widths, putting cyclists in conflict with cars and pedestrians on some of Seattle’s busiest bikeways. “A bike route between Capitol Hill and Pike Place Market is one that clearly needs to accommodate a lot of riders. And yet the protected bike lane being installed right now on Pine Street varies quite a bit in terms of its width on different blocks downtown. Between 7th Avenue and 6th Avenue it narrows to about four-feet wide, raising questions about the city’s ability to maintain it with the electric bike lane sweeper.”

Packer suggests that updated design standards should “leave the idea of ‘minimum’ standard widths behind and push the city to be more forward-thinking about its bikeway (and sidewalk) width standards, with the goal of full alignment with lofty goals laid out in places like the Climate Change Response Framework.”

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