A Tour of Seattle's Best & Worse Bike Infra

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:

A curb cut onto a sidewalk at I-90 and Rainier

Then navigate this narrow sidewalk shared with others not on bikes:

The sidewalk available at I-90 and Rainier is quite narrow, little more than a wheelchair wide.

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:

Westbound at Dearborn Rainier are yellow curbs and flex posts for a diverter and green paint bike cross bikes going across the wide intersection.

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:

A white paint buffer on the left where cars would drive to the left before merging right into the bike lane.

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!

Occidental Park is brick and trees with many benches and places for people.

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:

Yesler east onto 2nd Ave is a paint bike lane on the left side of the street.

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:

Northbound at James we see a two way bike lane and a bike signal.

Check out the protection!

Further north on 2nd the bike lane has large rectangular planter boxes with plants between the southbound car travel lanes and the bike lane.

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.

Construction detour has many tall orange cones to separate two bike lanes separated from car traffic with large solid portable dividers.

A black cargo bike is passing a slower bike, taking up the entire two lanes of bike route.

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!

A wide intersection with many lanes for cars, including car parking and no visible bike markings. The Space Needle is visible in the distance.

But we did get to Dexter which mostly has some decently wide bike lanes.

A wide one way bike lane with paint buffer.

But like a lot of bike infrastructure in Seattle, you'll find lanes either suddenly narrow or end. Like it does on Dexter:

The wide lane narrows via paint into a 3-4 foot wide bike lane.

Roy St is apparently the official route to get over to the Westlake Cycle Track from Dexter, but you can't really tell here:

A bus stop shelter on the left and construction signs and roping obscures any sign of a bike lane going off to the east on Roy.

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.

The Westlake Cycle track is separated from the sidewalk proper with yellow tactile strips. The shops of the marina are to the right.

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.

Entering the Fremont bridge pedestrian bike lane is very narrow with tall blue metal girders and panels.

Dumped into traffic:

An open nearly unpainted expanse of pavement with no visible bike markings.

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. :(

Cars in front and two the right with a narrow strip of painted bike lane between a car and a curb.

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.

The road has pavement and a curb and only a bike sharrow marking.

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:

The intersection has roads coming in at an angle.  A curb to the right and unpainted space for a bike to squeeze into the car travel lane.

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:

A black sedan is parked to block the paint only bike lane.

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.

Cars are parked next to a curb but very close into the bike lane Even a small red car parked is a little into the bike lane.

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:

A truck parked with its door open which extends nearly across the entire bike lane.

But then we encountered this:

The intersection has cars coming up from a hill down on the left with a concrete fence and another road to the right.

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.

The person on the bike's shadow indicates tavel towards the downward narrow route

The bike lane on 50th going down the hill is now visible and is a 3 feet or less space with a single paint strip on the left and a concrete wall on the right

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.

The bicyclists shadow falls partly into the car lane with a car passing to the left.

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.

The bike lane paint suddenly ends with a stop sign visible.

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:

A messy unclear intersection with no visible bike wayfinding

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:

Flex posts and green paint appear for a bike lane in front of the camera.

The protected bike lane ends and a car has just turned into the adjacent business in front of the cyclist.

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:

A raised green painted bike lane next to a bus shelter on the let.

It connects pretty seamlessly with the University bridge which has a wider space for bikes than Fremont (which I believe has higher bike ridership):

The green university bridge shows a wide opening for bikes and a separated space for pedestrians.

This view of the university bridge shows the light green surface treatment of the bridge grate surface.

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:

Two wide car lanes with a paint bike lane on the right.

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:

A paint bike lane is overgrown with 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:

A shaded neighborhood street with cars parked on it

This section has one of Seattle's very few diverters!

A bit of concrete with some bushes and a short ramp in the middle. A bike is crossing via the ramp.

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.

A crosswalk over a street. Cars parked to the right a a bike climbs in a narrow paint bike lane.

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:

Construction is starting to rise to the left, many poles, pedestrians, cars and other distractions hide the presence of a two way bike lane.

But the Broadway PBL is good mostly!

A green painted section of bike lane.

Curbs on the right protecting the bike lane space.

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.

So, what?

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.