City responds to West Seattle bicyclist’s safety/signage concern

The recent “Viadoom” week put bicycle/pedestrian commuting in a brighter spotlight than it had had for a while – including one hazard along the way between West Seattle and downtown – a spot where non-motorized traffic is supposed to use a “roundabout,” which means they wouldn’t have to cross the road. You can see it at :57 into Seattle Times (WSB partner) reporter Mike Lindblom‘s helmet-cam video of his bicycle commute that week – his narration calls attention to it:

This is apparently the same vicinity in which West Seattle resident Tim Nelson was hit by a truck two weeks ago while running to work. West Seattle bicyclist Eric Shalit, who publishes Tubulocity, e-mailed us about it, saying the safe path is not well-marked; we suggested he contact City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who chairs the council’s Transportation Committee and commutes by bicycle on occasion. Eric’s letter has yielded positive responses from both Councilmember Rasmussen and SDOT leadership – read on to see the letter, and the replies:

First, Eric’s letter:

Hi Tom:
I originally wrote this to Tracy Record of the West Seattle Blog. She wrote back “If there is a signage problem, I would suggest a note to Councilmember Rasmussen, who is Transportation Cmte chair as well as a West Seattleite and a sometime bicyclist. Seems like signs are fairly cheap to put up!”

Here’s what I wrote:

I somehow only just saw the article about the runner who was nearly killed by a truck while crossing against the light at the east side of the WS Bridge.

There is a roundabout that should always be used instead of crossing that road. It’s a wonderful piece of infrastructure, but somehow is counter-intuitive and not well marked with signage. THERE IS NOT REASON TO CROSS THE ROAD AT THE EAST SIDE OF THE BRIDGE.

A good friend of mine led the Cascade Bicycle Club Bike Train to downtown and was initially unaware of the roundabout. I was unaware of it for a long time. She and I talked about the need for better signage there.

Here’s what it does.

Heading east toward downtown, at the foot of the bike/pedestrian path, continue right. The path loops under the bridge and puts you on the north side of the road. You NEVER have to cross the road. The bike/pedestrian path is a continuous loop.

This near fatality is evidence of the need for clear signage. Signage should be on a post as well as painted in orange directly on the path. It’s all that’s missing from an otherwise great piece of safety infrastructure.

I did not want to post this to the article about the injured runner.

Here’s a similar comment someone else made there:

“Yesterday I rode my bike through that intersection and noticed many bicyclists making that dangerous diagonal dash across traffic and ignoring the stoplights and crosswalks. Same again this morning. I think it would be beneficial if some of these roving SPD foot presence would station themselves at the bottom of the east portion of the low bridge to remind people that this is the safest option for crossing here. There is no good reason to not use the pedestrian / bicycle path that goes back under the bridge and avoids the need to make that dangerous diagonal crossing as many seem to want to do. I have no idea what the circumstances were for Tim’s accident, but I have been riding this section for many years now and have always felt there was a bad accident waiting to happen.”

Councilmember Rasmussen’s response:

Eric: I am familiar with the area you are describing. The roundabout path is much safer and when I bike I use it. It is a little longer ride and more circuitous but in my view much safer. I think that some people cross the road because it is more direct. But I find that route to be very daunting due to the traffic. However, it does look like the diagonal crossing is a legal and permissible crossing for pedestrians and bicyclists.

I will ask SDOT to install informational signs to point the way to the route under the bridge in case people are unaware of it.

SDOT director Peter Hahn was cc’d, and directed the letter to three of his managers, saying:

Here’s a suggestion for safer signage. Let’s look at this right away.

We’ll watch to see what transpires – let us know if you see signs before we do! P.S. While this doesn’t necessarily qualify as an emergency road hazard, if you do encounter one (tree falls onto a road, chuckhole so deep your wheel got stuck in it, etc.), or have something else you want to report to SDOT, make note of their hotline – 206-684-ROAD (online reporting of non-emergency problems is also available here).

25 Replies to "City responds to West Seattle bicyclist's safety/signage concern"

  • JAT November 7, 2011 (11:44 am)

    Not to be a whiny freeloader, but the accommodation for cyclists at both ends of the swing bridge are pretty nasty unintuitive, poorly signed shoehorned-in afterthoughts.

    The Chelan 5-way intersection is deplorable. the “roundabout” (more accurately described as a circuitous, dangerously narrow sidewalk-width, two-way trafficked un-lit backtracking underpass leading to a series of crosswalks with limited sight distance for the approaching speeding rarely yielding motorists) is not particularly safe either.

    I will say, for those who choose to go straight at the east end of the bridge (taking their arguably rightful position in the main travel lane) the rail crossing is a lot smoother than it used to be…

  • G$ November 7, 2011 (1:03 pm)

    Wait…there is a roundabout at the Chelan 5-way? I’ve been biking Spokane St. since April. I had no idea.

  • LWC November 7, 2011 (1:20 pm)

    I’m one of those who nearly always rides straight from the East side of the bridge in the travel lane, finally turning left at East Marginal, none of which involves the breaking of traffic laws. When I want to take it more easy, I loop around on the path. I’ve never understood why people feel the need to illegally and dangerously cut across the road there: it’s slower than going straight in the travel lane, and it’s more dangerous than either of the legal alternatives.

  • JAT November 7, 2011 (1:20 pm)

    No, the Chelean 5-way is just awfulness for cyclists; the so-called roundabout is on the Harbor Island side, and it’s not a roundabout in the traffic circle “mountains come out of the sky and they stand there” sense. Eric Shalit calls it one above, but it’s really a looping underpass.

    It is a round about way to go, but it’s not a roundabout, if you see what I mean…

  • D November 7, 2011 (1:21 pm)

    Neat-o! Thanks, Mike. That was cool, but it solidified my opinion that bicycling in this city is ridiculously dangerous. I will never bike communte in this city, and I will never let my child ride a bike on a city street, and I am completely amazed that bicyclists actually make it home alive more often than not.

  • lilithl November 7, 2011 (1:44 pm)

    I just have to throw out that while the roundabout is nice, perception of safety varies by person. I regularly opt not to take the roundabout if there are no other bicyclists around. It is very isolated under the bridge and I don’t feel safe there. There is a crosswalk button and while it takes a while to change the light, crossing the street feels safer to me.

  • JN November 7, 2011 (1:45 pm)

    While the loop under the bridge on the east end is unlit, I still much prefer it to crossing the extremely busy road there. SDOT or whoever trims the vegetatation has done a good job there at keeping the ivy and plants from overgrowing and creating dangerous near-blind turns. Better signage would be much-appreciated by new riders and pedestrians, and a wider path would also be an essential addition for the future.

  • Kelly November 7, 2011 (1:56 pm)

    Do that many people really just not know about the underpass? I get the sense that there are just a lot of CRAZY people who think their lives are worth risking to save 10 pleasant seconds of riding their bike.

    I disagree that the underpass is dangerously narrow, but there is a crosswalk (the first option you have, downtown-bound) that has terrible sight distances. It’s redundant with the one a few dozens yards away which is much better.

    In addition to better signage, I think the City should put in a bollard or something that makes it significantly more inconvenient for cyclists to cut through the intersection, or take the dangerous crosswalk.

    I ride safely and I don’t appreciate the crazies pissing off drivers I will soon be encountering. (My unscientific analysis suggests that craziness is correlated with the number of logos a cyclist wears).

  • austin November 7, 2011 (2:22 pm)

    I agree with the cyclist logos-to-craziness ratio. Unfortunately it doesn’t work the same for drivers – it only takes one logo – the brand of the car – for them to be an angry, lazy hazard.

  • Al November 7, 2011 (3:00 pm)

    A clarification first: “…a spot where non-motorized traffic is supposed to use a ’roundabout,’ which means they wouldn’t have to cross the road.” Correction: “…a spot where non-motorized traffic CAN use a…” There’s no requirement that we are supposed to do so.

    …Although this is officially what SDOT insinuates (I have had conversations with the Walk & Bike Seattle group ( about this location many times. The most recent was last October where they stated they were simply not going to upgrade the pedestrian crossings at the east end of the lower bridge/Spokane Street, i.e. zebra striping them like the other crossings that have recently been done, because cyclists should be using the under-bridge path.

    This completely neglects those cyclists who can choose to use the crossing legally and the pedestrians in the area.

    I pointed this out to SDOT and asked them to upgrade the signage then so that the route was clearly marked. At that point I got no further answers from them.

    I think that we all should email and get them to add basic signage (and not just signage stating “Alki Path” but “Downtown/SODO” or something useful AND upgrade the pedestrian crossing markings so drivers know where to stop for them. How many times have you had a hard time crossing even legally because a driver has blocked the crosswalk area?

  • Cowpie November 7, 2011 (3:16 pm)

    Kelly….I agree! I feel City needs to install a concrete curb down the center of the road to prevent the CRAZY and lazy people from cutting the intersection. I know of people that are very aware of the roundabout, but are to lazy to take it. I tell them, but they would rather one day be a Darwin Award winner

    I never thought about the unlit safety issue. That’s a good point for a female rider to be concerned about.

  • JAT November 7, 2011 (3:19 pm)

    Al, I totally agree. non-motorized traffic can use the underpass; they are not required to (and nor should they be). As for the number of times the crosswalks have been blocked? Many.

  • w.s. maverick November 7, 2011 (4:32 pm)

    maybe the mayor will dig a tunnel for the bikes

  • Josh W November 7, 2011 (5:22 pm)

    I have been riding to work for a couple years now and I never knew about this path until last week…

  • AJP November 7, 2011 (5:49 pm)

    I didn’t know about the path until I saw another cyclist go that way, and I hated crossing the street there, so I was glad to find the underpass.

  • ile November 7, 2011 (7:28 pm)

    I never knew about that path either! I rode through there a few weeks ago and nervously crossed the street dodging semi-trucks and angry motorists. Thanks for showing us the cutback and thanks for guiding us into town.

  • JN November 7, 2011 (7:51 pm)

    I don’t know if I have just grown accustomed to riding in the city, but it doesn’t seem all that dangerous to me. I don’t know the exact plans for the route downtown from W. Seattle when the tunnel goes in, but they have got to be making a high-quality, European-level cycle facility since they have more than enough room/funds for it. To not do so would be one of the many criminally idiotic errors the city has committed regarding bicycle infrastructure design.

  • bolo November 7, 2011 (11:35 pm)

    BOTH of these ways to cross (the round-and-under, AND the direct crossing at the light) are dangerous, unnecessarily so. They BOTH could be made safer. My perception is that these crossings (and MANY many others) were designed by non-cyclists. Having tried both, for MY riding style (prefer clear sightlines) the direct crossing at the east end of the bridge is safer. It is easier to clearly see approaching traffic in all directions and plan accordingly. NOTE: the traffic signal does not guarantee safe passage– I have seen loaded trucks barreling down the bridge and not stop for their red light.

  • Jim November 8, 2011 (12:33 am)

    Keep the bicycles off the traveled portion of the roadway and there will be no issues!!! Whoevewr thought it a good idea to merge the two were idiots!!!

  • mtnfreak November 8, 2011 (8:01 am)

    I’ve been riding Spokane since 2004 and I had no idea that Mike’s underpass loop existed, and no reason to go check it out. Lately I’ve simply been taking the road from the bridge to East Marginal.

    I’ve found Seattle to be – despite the recent accidents – pretty bike safe and friendly. I spent my first two years pedaling in Seattle without any incident. Then I moved to a small town (about 3500 people) and got hit the first day I went riding.

    And cyclists – do us all a favor and stop running the lights at the Spokane/Dellridge intersection (there at the Chelan Cafe) and the pedestrian crossing on the other side of the bridge. It makes us (the cyclists) look like asses and feeds the fire. I invite the SPD to start enforcing traffic laws on bicyclists, including me, who’s been known to break a few laws in a car and on a bike.

    @ Jim: Bicycles and cars have been sharing these streets since before WW2. Its time to figure out how we can work together and stop complaining about the inconvenience.

  • Al November 8, 2011 (8:29 am)

    Jim, the “idiots” would be car drivers. Bikes pre-dated the automobile and the first roads were actually built for bikes and were gradually taken over by automobile drivers. A little history and education about the issue can go a long way.

  • JAT November 8, 2011 (9:09 am)

    Al strikes again with knowledge, perspective, and comparative civility.

    Jim, in many jurisdictions it was deemed so dangerous to introduce automobiles into traffic with other vehicles that the cars were originally required to have walking escorts to ensure the path was clear for them to proceed.

    This corridor is a nightmare for everybody – from the rushed underpaid truck drivers to pedestrians (let us not forget that despite this story’s emphasis on cyclists, it was a pedestrian who was struck here during the viadoom week) to the occasional car drivers who use this area for illegal U-Turns to return to the Spokane St viaduct Eastbound (I’m sure you’ve seen them)

    Patience, predictability, visibility, and courtesy will get us all through it together. Calling people idiots, CRAZY and lazy (or angry and lazy) is not one of the recommended approaches.

  • Amalia November 8, 2011 (11:58 am)

    I too did not know the path exist until several years into my commuting.
    Just FYI, there is sporadically a homeless camp under the bridge at the loop. Adds a degree of uncertainty, as it’s very dark at night and you never know if someone’s going to walk onto the trail.

  • Paul November 8, 2011 (10:05 pm)

    I’m amazed at all the cyclists who ride this and say they didn’t know of the underpass route! Well a bigger sign at the east end of the bridge won’t hurt. Me, I prefer a separated path from cars & trucks. The go-round does slow you down a bit but not nearly as much as getting hit would.

    The homeless camp does also present another safety issue.

    As for the 5way Chelan intersection at the west end, it is crazy for any type of bike or vehicle. For cars going west they need to be in the far right lane to make a left onto Chelan St. Only one of the two lanes on the very short Chelan turns right to continue west on Spokane St. [even though there are two arrow lights for the one right turn lane]. On a bike I take the Delridge cut-off.

  • andrea November 14, 2011 (11:54 am)

    how about some signage for cars turning right onto harbor ave from spokane, who take that right at high speeds without ever bothering to yield to the crosswalk? it’s especially dangerous because the wall prevents bikers/pedestrians from seeing the cars from the entrance to the crosswalk. i end up waiting and trying to make eye contact with every driver and waiting until one actually stops, which can sometimes take more than one (long) light cycle.

Sorry, comment time is over.