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« Ballard Bicycle Boulevards »

Amidst all the hubbub over the Missing Link lawsuit, I'd love to propose a broader bicycle strategy that I think would be ideally suited to Ballard, and might even be less divisive than completing the Burke-Gilman trail (which I support). Bicycle Boulevards!

A Berkeley Bike Boulevard - "Chicane", by Payton Chung

Ballard's grid layout, presence of low-traffic streets as alternatives to the busy arterials, frequent use of traffic circles rather than stop signs, abundance of parks and playgrounds, and proximity to shops and ice cream and the beach all make Ballard a potential family biking paradise, in many ways. Most of what you'd want to get to is within a 2-3 mile radius of your house, which is a distance that is very reasonable for even non-hardcore folks to bike. It's also (somewhat!) flatter than other big family neighborhoods in Seattle.

What would make Ballard even more ideal for cycling would be a network of bicycle boulevards, which are enjoying success (not just with cyclists, but also families and residents) in Portland, Berkeley, and other livable cities with similar street layouts to ours. To quote the BTA, Bicycle Boulevards are:

  • Low-traffic neighborhood streets that have been optimized for bicycling. They provide direct, attractive routes for bikes.
  • Quieter, prettier, and healthier than busy, car-filled streets.
  • Welcoming to kids, families and novice cyclists, and attractive for all kinds of cyclists.
  • Extremely safe (many have zero crashes over the last decade).
  • Healthy, with noticeably cleaner air than busy streets

Streets chosen for bike boulevards are often parallel to busier arterials, and benefit motorists by reducing bicycle traffic on those arterials, and benefit cyclists of all ability levels by offering traffic-calmed, direct, optimized routes with safe crossings of larger streets. Fast motor traffic is discouraged by various traffic calming devices and diversions, while preserving local access for residents and emergency vehicles. The streets are clearly labeled as bike-friendly, and cars expect to see bikes there, so less experienced cyclists feel comfortable "taking the lane" and avoiding the door zone.

What results is a more livable street for residents, where children can play more safely, where there's less exhaust, and where traffic speeds are lower, which makes accidents less likely and less lethal.

Potential routes that come to mind would be NW 77th Street (a lovely East-West route all the way to Greenlake, with traffic calming already present near the lake), NW 61st St or 57-58th St, and North-South routes like 28th Ave, maybe 17th? Anyone with suggestions, please chime in. The goal is not to take over busy arterials, but to promote safe, attractive bike routes near them. Yes, some through traffic does get diverted, some of that traffic may move to other routes (hopefully arterials), and local residents may have to alter their routes slightly. But folks that live on them seem happy to give that up for more livable streets, and higher property values.

To read more about these, see the BTA info page, StreetsWiki entry and Wikipedia entry ...

But to really get a feel for them, please watch these videos (love the purple in Berkeley!):

and StreetFilms: Portland's Bike Boulevards

Bike boulevards seem like a win-win, and well-suited to Ballard. They're cheaper than separate multi-use trails, and a drop in the bucket compared to big motorist projects like the Viaduct. Anyone up for helping promote this vision in Ballard? Or more widely in Seattle? I don't know why a network of bike boulevards isn't a more prominent feature of our Bicycle Master Plan (only 7 miles proposed short term, only one in Ballard) ... I'm not enamored of all the sharrows and door zone bike lanes.

And to my lucky Portland readers, or others that already have these, how are they working? What were the big obstacles to rolling them out? Anything you'd do differently?

Note: I posted an earlier version of this on the MyBallard forums, and am hoping for additional suggestions there. So far, supportive, but there's no shortage of car-bike antagonism on that forum, so we'll see ...

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Reader Comments (13)

Bicycle boulevards are GREAT tools to create more bikeable and livable communities! I lived in Berkeley right after they started installing them and was amazed at the impact they had, both on motorists and cyclist. More cyclists congregated on these roads (where before they might have been spread out on various side streets that ran parallel these concentrated us) and they tended to right outside of the door zone and in a more visable location on the roadway. There was also a lot more respect on these roads from motorists, I think it was greatly due to the HUGE painting on the steets that showed cyclists were more than welcome on these streets and that they were actually designed for them.

We have some Bike Boulevard "Light" streets here in Eugene that we are working to build out a bit more. Some traffic engineers don't fully grasp the idea while others, like Roger Geller in Portland not only embrace them but push for them.

I think BBs are an essential piece for American cities to become more bike friendly.

July 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterShane

I live in Portland and I live on Lincoln which is featured on the Streetfilms Portland video. As Shane states above, I think one of the big advantages of bicycle blvds. is that it pushes more bikes in the same corridor which translates into more awareness of cyclists when automobile drivers travel on these streets. There are a lot of cyclists in Portland, but I think there appears to be more than their are due to how cyclists are concentrated on certain streets, which in turn translates into even more riders.

Personally, I don't think I would be commuting to work everyday if it wasn't for the bike blvds that cover southeast Portland.

July 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterZoomzit

Bike Boulevards are great in Portland.

17th Ave NW would be a good choice (and not just because I live on it). It's a route that obviously parallels the busier 15th, and it goes all the way south to Shilshole Ave, so it's already an extremely popular cycling route. The only point of regular congestion is near the Ballard post office.

July 23, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterscotts

Exactly! We know that more riders = more visibility = drivers are more likely to expect/see us = more safety ... the concentrating effect of these bike facilities does that. Plus the morale factor - it's thrilling for me when I see more bikes than cars on roads.

I've been poring over the Seattle Bicycle Master Plan Map , and it appears if I've got the colors right that 17th ave is actually one of the few bike boulevards on the Master Plan. Woohoo! Here's hoping it's part of the 7.6 miles of short-term ('07-09' ... hmm, maybe not) BBs; 18 miles of BBs are planned longterm ('07-'16).

I'd rather have that than the 110 miles of sharrows they've got planned.

July 23, 2009 | Registered CommenterJulian / Totcycle

I can't speak to what it takes to get them, but I'll gladly echo the enthusiasm for bike boulevards in Portland. When I got here, I tried to navigate with a preference for streets with bike lanes, but after a couple months of riding in the city I've come to realize that the bike boulevards are significantly more pleasant, safe, and welcoming, and promote a sense of community in ways that the bike lanes on arterials do not.

A current issue in Portland is making the bike boulevards more visible, as they are currently marked with little circles on the roadway that are visible to bikes, but not so much to cars. The pilot for increased visibility is pretty great though: working with a pair of artists to create bike-boulevard identifying urban art!

July 23, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterinkandpen

Aha ... we have one in Seattle, and I've missed it each time I rode across it! It's in Greenwood, on Fremont Ave. I seem to recall some small green bikeway signs, and they did alter traffic across 80th and 85th so that only cyclists can cross straight through. Cool, but one of the big ideas here is to make a big visual impact, to attract cyclists and alert motorists, no?

So it seems we have a visibility issue too. Too bad, since this is the "test boulevard". From the Seattle PI :

"Seattle is experimenting with its first bike boulevard on Fremont Avenue North in Greenwood, though there's little signage indicating it.

On that already slow, leafy street with plenty of traffic circles, cars traveling in certain directions now must turn right or left onto North 80th and North 85th streets; only bicycles and pedestrians can go straight.

Seattle's plan envisions 18 miles of bicycle boulevards over the next decade. That compares with 140 miles of bike lanes and 110 miles of sharrows, or pavement markings encouraging bikes and cars to share the road.

That could shift as experimenting with bike boulevards pans out, said Pete Lagerwey, a senior planner and bicycle expert for the Seattle Department of Transportation.

"Putting in bike lanes was more of a known, and in terms of our ... stakeholders, that was clearly the next step," he said. "But we're doing one bike boulevard, and as we get more comfortable with it and figure it out, you're going to see more."

By the way, the Cathy Tuttle in the article applied for funding to make 44th St. in Wallingford a bike boulevard - a fantastic idea. Hope something works out there.

July 23, 2009 | Registered CommenterJulian / Totcycle

We've got a Bicycle Boulevard for Wallingford! SDOT and DON have approved our plan and we are awaiting funding for a boulevard on 43rd between I-5 and Fremont Ave. Read the plan at linktext

July 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Tuttle

That sounds like what we have in Vancouver (BC, not WA). We have designated bike streets that are usually just off the main road. I love them -- though they have their faults. In parts of the city the grid is interrupted and it leaves some large chunks of the city without good access. Also whoever chose some of the streets neglected to consider the hills. Some designated streets have huge hills while a nearby street has no hills, but no buttons to signal the traffic lights or traffic calming. I've heard from friends without kids (who still are out late enough for it to be an issue) that the bike streets are popular with drunk drivers at night because they're close to the main streets but have fewer cops. Overall, though, I like them. I feel quite safe on them.

July 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPippi

I don't know what to make of this. It looks a bit like 'shared Space' of the 'Spielstrasse' system in Germany where cars are slowed down to make way for bikes and people. There'S also something very similar where cars are considered 'guests' on a right of way for cycles. I think the idea is great: certainly where we have a 20 km/h limit I feel a lot safer. The ide of blocking roads is common too: I've come across bus lanes whjere the barrier drops down for busses. I wish our town would wake up to things like this.


July 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAndy in Germany

Can you hear this whoop of approval from the highest point in Seattle (High Point, West Seattle)?? Not the world's most bike-friendly neighborhood (unless you are Alberto Contador), but I ride a few streets on my commute that are designated by the city as "bike routes" on a map, and in no other way (like 34th Ave SW). I'd love to see us move more in this direction (marking them out with clear signage and visibility).

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July 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMarko

I lived in Berkeley for 20 some years and have to say the blvd.s are a good idea but could be improved. From the video you can see worn out "protected" bike lane lines, pickups seemingly bearing down on riders, and riders blowing through areas that require caution.

The sense of entitlemenet in Berkeley among its denizens is what drives the inherent tension there. Having moved, the common sense quotient has risen dramatically in the new community.

Bottom line: it's all about the demographic of a city's constituency that matters. Even amongst the highly educated, a good dose of civic common sense is in order for peaceful co-existence to thrive.

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