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September 2, 2010 at 8:36 pm #596216
By David Preston
Although the term “road diet” is a misnomer—it’s actually the cars that are on a diet, and not the road—it refers to the process of channeling and/or slowing traffic on multi-lane roads by reassigning one or more car lanes to other purposes. These other purposes can include new or expanded left-turn lanes, parking lanes, bicycle lanes, or more pedestrian-friendly intersections.
During a discussion (on another thread) of the recently completed Fauntleroy Way SW diet, someone living in the area said that Fauntleroy has a “whole new vibe” as a result of the changes. Prompted by that comment, I decided to hop on my bike and go check out the new vibe from a bicyclist’s point of view. Starting at 3:45 PM on Monday, August 30, I pedaled my way slowly north on Fauntleroy from the south end of Lincoln Park to SW Alaska street. Here’s what I found:
Figure 1: Heading north on Fauntleroy Way SW at the north end of Lincoln Park.
This is an example of a dedicated bike lane. Ideally, for a bicyclist, this is what Fauntleroy would look like all along the way: a nice mellow road with unobstructed views, light traffic, and a few parked cars. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. In fact, this is one of the longer stretches of contiguous bike lane along Fauntleroy, and it only runs for a few hundred feet.
Figure 2: Intersection of Fauntleroy Way SW and California Ave SW, heading northeast toward downtown.
By now, just a couple of blocks beyond where the first photo was taken, the dedicated bike lane has been merged back into the street traffic (more on this later) and the road has expanded from one car lane to two thru lanes and a left turn lane.
If I had wanted to turn left (north) onto California Ave SW, I would have had to dash across two car-filled lanes into a turn lane that most drivers believe belongs to them. It’s not much consolation to me that the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has placed a Lilliputian decal inside the turn lane; the decal is tiny (about 12 inches high) and is all but invisible to motorists. Therefore, I advise dismounting and crossing at the crosswalk for any bicyclist who wants to turn left here.
Figure 3: Sexy new crosswalk at Fauntleroy Way SW and 40th Ave SW.
Note the casual way this pedestrian is making her way across the street with her luggage. This new crosswalk illustrates one of the main advantages of road diets for pedestrians: after a crosswalk upgrade, pedestrains are better able to see traffic coming from all sides, and traffic is better able to see them as well.
Figure 4: Sexy Crosswalk: the view-gle from Google.
Figure 5: Parking FAIL! (Vicinity of Fairmont Park.)
This is not a typical situation, but along the way I did encounter a number of parked cars, or parts thereof, sticking out into “my” lane. Some were wide-body vans that just couldn’t help themselves, but some were just sloppy parkers, like this person. In some cases, the main part of the car was in its own lane, but its mirror was sticking way out into mine, right about at the level of my head.
Did you know . . . natives of the remote island nation of Melapotamia believe that if you look into a mirror by accident, your face will be stuck there forever?
Even where parked cars give cyclists plenty of room, there’s still the danger of someone lurking in one of those cars opening his door into you as you ride by, which could be deadly. When this happens, you can take your choice of getting whacked by the door or being squashed by a semi as you veer away from the door and out into traffic.
Figure 6: “Sharrow” at the corner of SW Edmunds St. and Fauntleroy Way SW, heading north.
A “sharrow” (share + row) is a lane that is shared by bicycles and cars. What’s the difference between a sharrow and a regular traffic lane? —Not a damn thing, except that a sharrow has a bike decal on it. Big deal.
The car in the photo above has just made it through the intersection and is illegally cutting across lanes, probably getting ready to make a right onto SW Alaska. Good thing a there wasn’t some poor schmuck of a bicyclist there too, naively expecting the driver to “share.”
Sharrows on Fauntleroy are legion, and they pop up in the most unexpected places. On the northbound stretch alone, I counted at least six times when I had to transition, within seconds, from being in my own low-speed bike lane to sharing a lane with high-speed cars.
Figure 7: Mark & Oliver’s Semi-Permanent Hudson Street Yard Sale and Old-Fashioned Traffic Study Hoe Down.
I had just turned around at SW Alaska and was making my way home when I passed these two excellent gentlemen selling stuff in their yard near the corner of SW Hudson and Fauntleroy. They’re not actually as psychedelic as the photo makes them look, but I think the “Purple Haze” t-shirt Oliver was wearing may have affected the exposure. In any case, it’s a good photo, don’t you think?
Here’s a small sample of the cool stuff they were selling.
Figure 8: Cool stuff for sale. Check out the gorilla suit Mark and Oliver’s partner George is modeling. You just don’t see quality like that anymore.
When I asked Mark and Oliver about the “new vibe” that Fauntleroy had supposedly been resonating since the road diet, they said they’re feeling it. “It’s 100% better!” Mark said instantly. He described how, since the diet, he no longer feels that he’s taking his life in his hands every time he crosses the street. Before the diet, two lanes of car traffic each way meant that visibility was extremely poor for car and pedestrian alike. On the far side of the street, a driver in the first lane might stop and wait for you to cross, but maybe the driver coming up behind him in the second lane doesn’t see you because his vision was blocked. You could easily find yourself run down by that second drvier.
Now, with just one lane of traffic on each side of the street, it’s much safer for a pedestrian to cross at all points along the way.
I asked Mark and Oliver if they’d noticed more traffic jams on the road now and they said they hadn’t. They did note, however, that traffic now seems a bit less fraught. Before the diet, there was an average of one fender bender every two months at the Hudson intersection, as absent-minded drivers smacked into cars that had stopped and were waiting to make a left turn. But now, with dedicated left-turn lanes on both approaches, the accident rate has dropped to nil. (This is something SDOT could probably confirm.) Mark noted that a lot of drivers are still getting surprised when the road narrows just north of Hudson, and, as I stood there, I saw this happening with my own eyes. Southbound left-lane thru-driver’s who were not expecting their lane to end would trespass into the SW Hudson turn lane for a few seconds before making a hasty merge. However, while this maneuver is technically illegal, I’m guessing it is not a major safety issue.
Bottom line: Life is better for Mark and Oliver after the road diet.
Figure 9: Smoother moves. As the purple haze of early afternoon decays to a mellow shade of green, my new pal Mark explains how traffic used to act, before the road diet. Or maybe he’s just practicing for the big hula contest.
By now it was nearly 5:00 PM and the surging ferry traffic on Fauntleroy was making my spidey-cyclist sense tingle like a Mylar balloon caught in the power lines. Or something. I selected a VHS tape from the $1.00 bin (“America’s Sweethearts”), said my goodbyes to Mark and Oliver, and their silent partner George, and pedaled off to find the rest of America.
The Fauntleroy road diet is working for pedestrians and people who live along Fauntleroy. To a lesser extent, it also benefits drivers, by making left turns easier and safer. While traffic isn’t moving any faster, it’s not exactly being throttled either, and road stress appears to be down overall. Long live the new vibe!
For bicyclists, the benefit of the Fauntleroy road diet is marginal. While it has provided a few more miles of dedicated bike lanes, these new lanes are not continuous and they often end abruptly, forcing cyclists to merge back in with fast-moving traffic when it is not safe to do so. To my mind, the bike lanes are a wash.
And George thinks so too.
Don’t you, George?
Still, it’s progress.
David Preston is a freelance writer and editor living in West Seattle. You can contact him at: DP_Editor at Comcast dot net.September 2, 2010 at 9:13 pm #702670
Can you not merge into a sharrows lane? I thought they were to share. I’m missing something here.September 2, 2010 at 9:24 pm #702671
WorldCitizen! I’ve missed you, too. Where in the world have you been?
Yes, cars can merge into sharrows. Absolutely. If you are asking about the driver at Hudson, however, his crime was crossing directly from his turn lane into the far lane before fully making it through the turn. When turning out of an intersection, you have to stick to your own lane through the turn. After the turn, you can then merge into another. There are exceptions to this rule, such as when you have to make another turn immediately, but this case was not such an exception.
I’m using this photo mostly to illustrate the cavalier attitude many drivers take toward lane markings. Bike decal or no, many drivers still tend to act like it is they who own the road. This is why, IMHO, sharrows are not a good thing.September 2, 2010 at 9:56 pm #702672
Nice write up, DP. I ride that stretch to and from work 4-5 days a week and I can say without a doubt that I feel safer now than before the road diet. It is certainly not perfect (sharrows southbound from Alaska to the ferry?) but I believe that this is the kind of action we need to take for people to start getting out of their cars and onto their feet. And the congestion and backups that were predicted by the nay-sayers has not occured at all. I think we need to look at the success of this stretch of road and find other areas where this plan might also work.September 2, 2010 at 10:53 pm #702673
The casual pedestrian in crosswalk doesn’t even seem phased by the chupacabra lurking nearby!September 3, 2010 at 1:12 am #702674
David, thanks for the personal experience report!
SDOT reports more facts and numbers about the unfortunately-named “road diets”:September 3, 2010 at 1:21 am #702675
David, thanks for risking life, limb, bicycle, and camera to bring us this this in-depth, informative, and very entertaining look into the Fauntleroy Road Diet!
MikeSeptember 3, 2010 at 1:57 am #702676
Props for writing/illustrating this extensive post. I’ve ridden NB on Fauntleroy recently and it was nice having a bike lane. SB, take your chances.
I would appreciate your perspective on how this would apply to Admiral up/down hill from Olga. I seem to think Admiral is the orange to the Fauntleroy apple but if it is really a orange/lemon comparison, that would be great to hear/read.
I also believe that Sharrows are meant to be aiming devices…and I say that as a part-time cyclist. Especially on Admiral WB past Olga.September 3, 2010 at 7:42 pm #702677
Re: Proposed Admiral Way SW Road Diet
I got burned on this because, in a separate thread, I predicted it would be unpopular and many people told me where to get off.
So I got off. ;-)
I’m probably not going to bike ride on Admiral, but I might drop by to check out the traffic flow one of these days. A dedicated hobby bicyclist I know told me that she and her hubby rode up Admiral for the first time recently and it wasn’t nearly as much of a struggle as she thought it would be. As a result, I’ve changed my mind about this. I now believe that when the bike lane goes in there, the Admiral Hill may get “discovered” by lots of cyclists.
Again, I’m not a fan of sharrows, but on the other hand, any time you put a picture of a bike somewhere—on the street, on a sign, on a bumper sticker, on a billboard—you are raising the issue of bicycles generally, and that’s got to be a good thing. And the feedback I’ve gotten so far from other cyclists is that sharrows are better than nothing.
City cyclists, please chime in here . . .
Austin? Anybody?September 3, 2010 at 8:35 pm #702678
I’m on foot more than I’m on my bike really, but I guess I did interject a fairly random and unpopular opinion entirely without followup in the other thread.
I agree that the sharrows are better than nothing for the same reason, that they increase awareness that there are bikes on the road. It seems as if a lot of drivers have the “Road Is For Cars” mentality and the reminder that there are in fact bikes out there sharrowing the road with them will get some drivers to wake up from tunnel vision mode. Are they better than a dedicated hike/bike path that spans the city, connects all neighborhoods and doesn’t interact or interfere with automobile traffic at any point? No. While I think there are many other better alternatives to the sharrow, I also am not of the opinion that nothing should be done for cyclists just because there are better ideas or options that would probably be cost prohibitive and unpopular with the average taxpaying consumer.September 3, 2010 at 9:12 pm #702679
Thanks for the clarification. I was worried I was missing something big driving around the city carelessly merging into sharrow lanes.
Yeah, I’m in agreement that the sharrows are better than nothing. I Just wish we could get a Burke-Gillman type trail through West Seattle. Bikers deserve better than dealing with pissed off drivers who feel entitled to the entire road. I don’t think drivers will change enough to make a big difference in attitudes across the board, so the answer seems to be deal with them, bike like you’re invisible and push for dedicated lanes/trails as much as possible.
Any idea where a dedicated bike trail could run on the peninsula? That seems like an investment everyone can get behind…both bike haters (to get those damned bikes off the road!) as well as bikers/bike lovers (to keep away from those reckless entitled drivers!).September 3, 2010 at 9:38 pm #702680
Re: bike paths
You know, I think there could be a bike path up Admiral that loops under the bridge at Avalon—or maybe at some point north or there—and connects up with the Alki trail. Why the hell not? It seems like there’s already enough of a set-back on the west side of the Admiral Hill, but maybe not. In any case, it’s a conceptual leap from a road diet to a bike trail. Painting stripes on a street is much easier than carving a path out of the woods.
Anyway, that’s one of the things I’ll be looking at if I ever trot back out to Admiral.
Also re: bike paths
For practical purposes, there is really no such thing as an off-street “bike path” in Seattle. Burke-Gilman and similar trails are really bike/walk/fun/skate paths, and for pedestrians on these paths, bicycles are a terror, much as cars are a terror to bikers on the road. (I’m sure walkers on Burke-Gilman will bear me out on this.)
There’s really no solution to the problem of mixed traffic on paths and trails, other than to build more sidewalks and paths and trails everywhere, in order to drain some of the traffic off the existing high-usage ones.
The same principle holds true, I think, for off-leash parks and all kinds of other recreational amenities. The best way to keep everybody in Seattle happy is to create more open spaces, green spaces, and dedicated-use areas at the same time as we’re throwing up new condos.
As the population increases in Seattle, we are going to feel the squeeze on our infrastructure ever more acutely. To lessen that squeezed feeling, our city planners will need to create more and more places for people and their furry pals to play.September 4, 2010 at 3:11 am #702681
The decal at Fauntleroy and California shows where to position yourself to trigger the turn light. If you do not put your pedal over the decal you have to wait for a car to trip the signal.September 4, 2010 at 5:29 pm #702682
as a driver.. i am all for dedicated bike trails…
i am tired of following a bike doing 15mph in a 35mph zone while i wait for an opportunity to pass…
as a retired rider.. i don’t see what the fuss is about sharing bike trails.
I was lucky enough to do my time at Oregon State University where there was an extensive trail system that facilitated bike traffic. We shared with everyone including the occasional critter… and still managed to get where we where going.
a polite “behind you” when cycling, skating or running generally cleared the path..
if my experience on local paths is any indication .. that polite behind you seems to have gone out of style :(September 4, 2010 at 6:15 pm #702683
The road diet really benefits drivers trying to turn ON TO Fauntleroy also.
I live in an adjacent neighborhood and use Faunty as my way out of WS — getting onto it used to be a daring feat. Now it feels much safer.September 4, 2010 at 7:18 pm #702684
Drivers getting fed up at the couple of extra seconds it might take to pass a cyclist (but usually doesn’t) seems like a big part of the bikes on the road issue.September 4, 2010 at 8:01 pm #702685
austin…I don’t mind the extra seconds. I do mind the attitude that “I’m a biker, I’m gonna go 15 miles under the speed limit, and you can be damned” kinda thing. And sometimes it’s damned difficult to pass without putting yourself, the biker and other traffic in danger. I think that being aware of surroundings is something that some people just don’t have a clue about.
Sharing the road goes both ways, not just for drivers.September 4, 2010 at 8:32 pm #702686
While it is true that sharing the road goes both ways, it is more of the drivers’ responsibility to do so because they are the ones operating the more dangerous, more maneuverable, and more numerous vehicles. If a driver can’t pass a bike without putting themselves or others in danger, just waiting the few seconds until it is safe is not the end of the world. That is the problem. Most drivers think that it is in fact the end of the world. And the idea that cyclists are being selfish by not always going 30+ mph just because drivers think they should is ridiculous.September 4, 2010 at 8:33 pm #702687
JanS: I have yet to see a bicyclist with an “I own the road” attitude, although that might be how it appears to you, from behind the wheel of your car. Think about it, though . . . the bicyclist has to go a lot slower than you; it’s not like he really has a choice in the matter.
I have occasionally seen bicyclists trying to “own” their particular lane, but I suspect that’s more of a safey thing than a rudeness thing. In those cases, the bicyclist is probably just trying to make himself as visible as possible, thinking that if he cowers at the far edge of the lane, drivers will take advantage and whiz by him at speed.
Cars have all the advantages over both cyclists and pedestrians. That way, whenever there’s a collision between them, it’s always the body that’s NOT protected by a couple tons of sheet metal that gets the worst of it. Please try to remember that whenever you’re driving anywhere near one of these exposed and vulnerable creatures.
Thank you.September 4, 2010 at 8:52 pm #702688
come on guys… a few seconds?
i followed a cyclist nearly a mile on fauntleroy yesterday before i could pass them..
and at 15 miles an hour it takes longer than a few second to travel that far
the cyclist had lots of opportunities to pull over towards the right hand side of the road
i unfortunately wasn’t quite so lucky unless i used the turning lane to pass..
which i didn’t.
btw.. the cyclist i patiently followed glared at me when i was finally able to safely pull out and pass them…
what was that all about?September 4, 2010 at 9:50 pm #702689
That is truly weird, JoB. A cyclist would have to be highly dedicated to keep any driver behind him for a whole mile along Fauntleroy.
He would have either had to be travelling down the middle of the road(southbound) or travelling completely outside the dedicated bike lanes (northbound.) Where was it on Fauntleroy, and which direction were you headed?September 4, 2010 at 11:27 pm #702690
Why wouldn’t you use the turn lane? I can hear the tires of almost every car that passes me as they go over the little bumps on the stripes into the center turn lane. Unless there is a massive traffic jam in the center turn lane, I think that it’s okay. Maybe that’s why the cyclist was glaring at you, for not passing him.September 5, 2010 at 1:25 am #702691
Thanks DP for your reply. If I had to get to the top of the hill at Admiral and California, I’d ride to where Fairmount Ave meets Harbor Ave and go up there. Same diff, and you end up at the same place. Maybe it is a case of going where it is safe rather than jousting with cars. Which may be the point, but Admiral is a hill I don’t climb often.September 5, 2010 at 2:55 am #702692
using the turn lane a a passing lane turns it into a risking head on collison lane.
and yes.. that was one dedicated… but slow cyclist.September 6, 2010 at 1:08 am #702693
Ok, I’ll bite into this one since I do ride Fauntleroy via bike both before and after the road re-configuration…Before I used to take the sidewalk along the east side of the roadway both north and south. Now I feel much more confident on the road since I have some “preserved space” and vehicles are not traveling so fast and aggressively. THAT was my main fear as a cyclist. Speed + aggression = bad problem for cyclist.
Regarding merging with traffic when a lane ends is a matter of practice. Often, if a cyclist predicts (and rides with a rearview mirror which helps) when it’s possible to make a lane change (this is oftentimes several car lengths before the bike lane even ends!) and uses the proper hand signals it’s actually quite easy. If a cyclist is not experienced then your method of a sidewalk cross can be used.
Sharrows are problematic. If installed properly, mid-lane, they are more effective. Often in Seattle they are installed too far to the right, giving the impression that cyclists must ride over them and then placing themselves too far right into the door zone and running the risk of a vehicle “close passing” them. Riding in traffic a bit more to the left of the Sharrow lane on southbound Faunt is much safer, in spite of the feeling that it’s more dangerous.
As for the driver who didn’t want to pass the cyclist, that was her choice. The cyclist, at 15 mph, is going a pretty good pace. They had placed themselves accordingly so the driver couldn’t use the same lane At The Same Time to pass. She could have used part of the turn lane to pass the cyclist, a perfectly legal manouever. Instead she waited until she could pass – which is perfect. The cyclist was under no obligation to move to the right, because the person likely judged the option as not safe to do so (close pass and door zone).
In the end, driving from Alaska to roughly just south of Fairmount Park to pass, how many seconds of time are really “lost?” Does it matter? The book “Traffic” should be required reading for everyone who drives a car. JoB, you should pick it up and give it a read. It’ll give you some perspective and insight about driving and the use of roadways by multiple users.
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