My family went on a bike ride to the zoo and back. We live near I-90 and Rainier Ave S (just barely in “southeast” Seattle) and the zoo is on Phinney ridge just north of N 50th St. Depending on route, it’s just over 6 miles to 7 or more. We chose to go through downtown because that allowed us to use the new Dearborn protected bike lane (PBL) and the 2nd Ave PBL. I’ll try to gloss jargon at least once! People who have been biking a while forget that a lot of this stuff is kind of mystifying.
First off, my partner was in an electric assist cargo bike with the kiddo in the child seat. I was in my newly electric pedal assist converted orange bike. So we were not worried about hills, though both of us prefer flatter routes most of the time, especially if we’re trying to get somewhere! I recently bought a relatively cheap “action camera” to mount on my bike. The model I got is a competitor to GoPro and it’s to be honest a bit rough for some things, but it’s workable! The pictures and videos in this post are from that camera. The battery only cut out fairly close to home on the way back so about two hours of battery life which seems pretty good.
Home to Downtown
First up, we wanted to get to the Dearborn PBL. The most flat route unfortunately has us going through the Judkins Park Link light rail construction detour. First we have to mount this curb:
Then navigate this narrow sidewalk shared with others not on bikes:
But it’s pretty okay and then we get to Hiawatha which is a short “greenway” segment that connects to the new Dearborn PBL! The new PBL has flex posts and but also importantly bike signals at major intersections, including Rainier and the I-5 ramp crossings (for east bound). Here’s Rainier:
Don’t mind the workers and construction. It’s lovely. That weird swing for the green “kermit” (officially I think “cross bike”) is because the signals are setup so that people on bikes get the green at the same time as cars and trucks going north and turning left onto Dearborn. Some of those trucks swing very wide!
A little further west on Dearborn, the city actually removed some street parking spaces that blocked sight lines right here:
South Downtown to the 2nd Ave PBL
The 2nd Ave PBL is a two way bike lane with pretty decent protection. But to get to it, you have to find some route through the International District and Pioneer Square. I prefer, if I’m not in a hurry, the nice slow route through Occidental Park. Approximately 6th Ave, to Jackson, to Occidental, to Yesler, to 2nd Ave. Here’s a picture of the nice pedestrianized park!
The only thing I wish we could change here is an official route for people on bikes with some sidewalk paint. Not so that I could go faster, but just so that we could be officially welcoming of people on bikes. Anyway, here’s the turn onto Yesler:
2nd Ave PBL!
The “crown jewel” of on-street bike infrastructure in Seattle is the 2nd Ave PBL which extends from Yesler to the north part of Belltown around Broad St. Here’s it near the south end, looking north, at James:
Check out the protection!
One issue with the 2nd Ave PBL is that is extremely high traffic and it’s just not comfortably wide enough for some larger bikes, including cargo bikes, alternate design bikes (trikes, recumbents) and pedicab bikes, especially when faster folks want to pass. You can see that here with this detour and after with the cargo box bike showing the scale.
2nd Ave PBL to Westlake Cycle Track
This is where it gets messy. I don’t know the official route. I’ve been trying lately each time I go through this area and keep failing, usually ending up on Battery and then I take some sidewalks to get to Dexter, then continue to wherever I’m going. This time, we turned right on Blanchard. At 6th I had us go left (north) because there seemed to be construction and no way to get to 8th where I’d hoped to turn left (so that we could turn right and get onto 9th). So here’s an intersection that had a door-zone paint bike lane with a lovely view of the Space Needle!
But we did get to Dexter which mostly has some decently wide bike lanes.
But like a lot of bike infrastructure in Seattle, you’ll find lanes either suddenly narrow or end. Like it does on Dexter:
Roy St is apparently the official route to get over to the Westlake Cycle Track from Dexter, but you can’t really tell here:
Westlake Cycle Track
The Westlake Cycle Track is part of the Cheshiahud Lake Union loop which is named after a Duwamish man who lived in the area in the late 1800s when white people were settling the area (and largely marginalizing and kicking out the folks already there). The loop itself looks lovely recreationally, but the Westlake side is also a heavily used commuter route. And I have concerns.
I used to bike through here a lot before they put it in. This is definitely better than what was there before which was essentially the sidewalk or weaving through parking (or both usually) or taking Westlake Ave proper where people routinely drive 45 mph. They were not great choices. This is obviously much better, but it has a lot of conflict points and places where a person on a bike, just trying to get home, is forced to slow or stop. I understand why someone just wanting to get home would get jaded and not slow or stop everywhere they should (as well as exceeding the official 15 mph speed limit). Imagine if regular city arterial blocks had crosswalks every 50 feet or so and every fourth or fifth was a stop sign.
But it IS better and fully lined with tactile strips so someone with low vision using a cane can hopefully tell if they’ve strayed into the bike lane.
Fremont Bridge and Avenue
The Fremont bridge is still absurdly narrow in places and then dumps a person on a bike into car traffic at the other side. Once heading up Fremont Ave, the minimal paint bike lane (and often in a door zone) usually disappears at intersections. This is the “best” street infrastructure we built in Seattle until maybe five years ago when we realized this wasn’t safe and would not encourage all but the most confident to bike.
The bridge itself is quite narrow. My partner apparently normally goes into the car lane on the bridge because the box is too big – the box is about as wide as a wheelchair – to allow a person on foot to pass.
Dumped into traffic:
You can see a little stub of a bike lane to the right of the car here, but there’s no bike lane on the other side. 😦
Instead of continuing even the paint bike lane, there are “sharrows” which just means “bikes can be here” but of course it’s legal for bikes to be on any city street.
As you continue up Fremont Ave, bike lanes come and go in a couple places, like this complicated intersection that connects back to Aurora / Highway 99:
Even where there is that paint bike lane, it doesn’t stop people from blocking it which happens often enough to be frustrating and feels very dangerous when trying to climb a hill and having to merge into much faster traffic:
Fremont to Phinney to the Zoo
We were meeting folks taking the bus which was likely to drop them off at the west “Penguin” entrance of the zoo, so we went left on 50th and then north no Phinney. Phinney also has paint door zone bike lanes on both sides. I ride the left line because I don’t want to get doored. Many cars along this section also don’t park tight to the curb either.
Ride home: 50th to Stone to 45th
Google Maps, which is fed partly by the city’s own bike map data, told us to take 50th to Stone Way to 45th to Roosevelt. I had never tried to take 50th through here on a bike and it’s utterly absurd this is allowed to remain on the bike map. First we got to experience more door zone bike lane:
But then we encountered this:
The “bike lane” is down to the left of that green sign pointed to the road that is coming up. That’s the underpass under Aurora. How do you get there? Well we just confidenced our way in and sort of just moved slowly into the car space as the light changed.
Here’s the view as you descend to the underpass. Note that I was trying to ride right on the paint line because the wall felt too close.
But then on the other side of the underpass, the lane just ends. Fortunately there’s a stop sign so most people in cars are slowing down.
I haven’t biked up this way in a long time and honestly if I had checked the route Google spat out, I would have realized the 50th route was going to be stupid. The turn onto Stone was hard to find and we missed it:
So we ended up just taking some side streets east of Stone/Greenlake and zig-zagged south to 45th.
45th to Roosevelt
45th is mostly just “sharrows” and no separated bike infrastructure, though it does appear on SDOT’s bike map. However, traffic is typically slow in my experience because Wallingford’s main street has lots of shops as well as a pretty frequent bus. I’d love more “official” space here as I think it would make for fewer conflicts and would encourage more people to try biking, but it is what it is. Mystifyingly for a single block in front of Dick’s Drive-in is a protected bike lane:
Roosevelt to Eastelake
Roosevelt is maybe the second best on-street bike route in Seattle. It has protected bike lanes with bus stops inside the route, turn pockets (spots to turn left from) and raised crosswalks (exactly what it sounds like). It’s lovely. Here’s a bus stop:
It connects pretty seamlessly with the University bridge which has a wider space for bikes than Fremont (which I believe has higher bike ridership):
Unfortunately once you hit the south side, there’s just a not very good paint bike lane and no clear direction on how to climb the hill to get up to Capitol Hill. So we just took the lane to turn left onto Harvard:
Havard to Capitol Hill and the Broadway PBL
The paint bike lane on Harvard started out about as bad as one expects with overgrown vegetation:
But after that, we mostly just climbed until we could turn onto a little section of neighborhood bike route that existed before the official greenways program. It’s very rough pavement in places but it’s pleasant otherwise:
This section has one of Seattle’s very few diverters!
But as usual, the connection to continue south on 10th is not great – a lengthy wait at a crosswalk and then another paint bike lane, only this time with parked cars.
We decided to stay on Broadway to use the PBL even though Adam’s preference is to just go to 12th (paint bike lane only and not always but less traffic overall). He didn’t know where to get onto the PBL which like 2nd Ave is two way on the east side of the street. You can see here why he had so much trouble:
But the Broadway PBL is good mostly!
At this point my camera battery ran out so you don’t get to see the awful lack of connection from the Yesler bike lane to 12th and the José Rizal Bridge! But it being a Saturday and sunny, it wasn’t too bad.
I don’t have a big conclusion here! This is the first time I’ve biked up near the zoo and back for a while. We’d biked home from G&O Cyclery in Greenwood which was nice with the Greenlake bike lanes, Ravenna PBL and then connecting to Roosevelt. The big issue everywhere is either lack of high quality routes that the less confident would feel comfortable in. Or, where those high quality routes do exist, they don’t connect well with anything. That is I expect exactly what most bike-experienced people in Seattle would tell you: “I have these routes that are good, but it’s dicey in this spot and this other spot.” That’s not going to get many folks out of their cars, sadly.