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Seattle’s antidote to aggressive driving on neighborhood greenways

Posted by on May 22nd, 2015 at 2:44 pm

It works.

I’m in Seattle today joining the second leg of a study tour for a group from Indianapolis that’s visiting Portland and Seattle to study neighborhood greenways, the relatively low-cost, low-controversy bike infrastructure Portland imported from Vancouver BC and has built into a pretty solid network on its eastside grid.

As we’ve reported, our neighbors to the north are following suit even as funding for further expansion of Portland’s system remains frozen.

Indianapolis, short on cash but ambitious about bike infrastructure, is one of several cities around the country who are also following Portland’s lead.

Portland’s active transportation planners are trying to put the pieces in place for further greenway investment in the coming years, funding (but not yet releasing) an in-house, data-rich study of how the system is working. Meanwhile, neighborhood advocates have been using many tactics to raise awareness of a problem on some of the streets: heavy car traffic, in some cases from people who are cutting through the neighborhood on their way to somewhere else and seem distressed by the idea of getting stuck behind a 10 mph bicycle.

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Here in Seattle, the Indianapolis squad noticed something interesting: Seattle’s residential streets tend to be much narrower than Portland’s, especially huge expanses like those of Northeast Going, Northeast Alameda or (to a lesser extent) Southeast Clinton.

Add parking on each side and on some Seattle streets, like 58th Street in the Ballard neighborhood pictured above, you’ve got a single lane to carry traffic in both directions.

Say what you will for this setup — it definitely calms traffic. Bike traffic included.

After I took the photo above (and after she negotiated a face-to-face standoff with a car coming the opposite direction in which both driver and rider stopped and waved the other one to proceed), I jogged beside the woman biking for a moment and asked if conflicts like that were annoying, or whether it was worth it because of the slow speeds.

She seemed noncommittal.

“Part of living in a city, I guess,” she said.

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  • Spiffy May 22, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    as noted in the picture above, I hate how narrow streets invite people to park illegally on the wrong side facing the wrong way… enforcement is always complaint-driven and rarely even then…

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    • Zan May 22, 2015 at 2:50 pm

      It’s actually not illegal at all–Although the streets are narrow, they are for two-way traffic and so people can park facing either direction.

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      • Kyle May 22, 2015 at 2:54 pm

        I’m not sure about Seattle, but it’s illegal in Portland to park facing the wrong way on a street.

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        • caesar May 22, 2015 at 3:54 pm

          Indeed it is. I got ticketed for that exact same infraction this past summer.

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          • Dwaine Dibbly May 22, 2015 at 6:30 pm

            Where does it say that this is a one-way street? There’s only 1 lane, but from the article it sounds like it carries traffic both directions. People have to pull over to let each other pass.

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            • El Biciclero May 24, 2015 at 9:45 am

              It’s not a matter of being a one-way street. On any street, one may only park facing the normal direction of travel. I.e., on a two-way street, you may only pull over to the right to park; if you pull over to the left and park facing the “wrong way”, it is illegal.

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      • AP May 22, 2015 at 2:58 pm

        Actually, that’s incorrect for both Seattle and Portland.


        Portland City Code 16.20.110:
        “B. No person may park or stop a vehicle other than in the direction of traffic.”

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      • Adron @ Transit Sleuth May 26, 2015 at 11:28 am

        Best to not do that, it is indeed a ticketable offense. 🙂

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    • Champs May 22, 2015 at 3:10 pm

      People are not so brazen about this illegal practice in other parts of the country, but there is a strong regional tolerance of it.

      This used to be said of other things…

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    • Dan M. May 22, 2015 at 5:31 pm

      Of all the things that bother you, the one pedantically illegal but not actually dangerous to anyone or anything is the behavior you think we need to brow-beat out of drivers?

      Your priorities aren’t confusing. They’re wrong.

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      • Chris I May 22, 2015 at 10:39 pm

        You, apparently, have never had a driver come blazing out of a wrong-way spot directly at you. Parking the wrong way severely inhibits visibility when pulling out of the spot.

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      • Skid May 26, 2015 at 10:39 am

        How is it not dangerous to drive into the oncoming traffic lane to park? Ever had someone do this this while you were oncoming traffic? It looks like they are trying to run you over!

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  • Buzz May 22, 2015 at 2:55 pm

    Actually, I’m pretty sure it is illegal, but I don’t think it’s something to get your panties all bunched up about.

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    • AP May 22, 2015 at 3:55 pm

      Anything that reduces the overall safety of roads we should be against. For Vision Zero to take hold, we all need to take ownership over the small things that decrease road safety.

      If you are parked faced the wrong direction, you know have to pay attention to two lanes of traffic when pulling out. The far lane (the one you actually want to be in) is going to be right in your blind spot, increasing the likelihood that you may hit someone – especially a person riding a bike.

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    • resopmok May 22, 2015 at 3:57 pm

      It’s actually fairly dangerous when it comes time to pull out of that parking spot. Especially if there is another vehicle parked in front, the driver’s line of sight to oncoming traffic is virtually nonexistent since their seat is on the wrong side of the vehicle and their mirrors are facing the wrong direction. Maybe just cross your fingers and gun it hoping you don’t cause a head-on collision?

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      • Paul May 25, 2015 at 9:51 am

        That’s probably why it’s illegal.

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    • Ed May 27, 2015 at 12:57 pm

      I had a friend almost get hit by someone pulling out of a wrong-way parking job.

      How hard is it to park facing the right way? Even on a dead-end street you just make a U turn.

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  • Kyle May 22, 2015 at 2:55 pm

    Although this may work in Seattle, that street looks a little bit like SE 34th, a street frequently used by cyclists between Belmont and Division. On 34th, however, heavy car traffic is still an issue (albeit less so than on greenways like Clinton), and in my experience I’ve found drivers to take a dominant and aggressive attitude towards cyclists, driving down the middle of the street and literally making a blanket assumption that ALL cyclists will jump out of their way.

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    • Zan May 22, 2015 at 2:57 pm

      Actually my experience is that most cars will pull over even for cyclists to pass because the streets are that narrow.

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    • John Lascurettes May 22, 2015 at 3:21 pm

      I note that most of the time, a driver of a car coming at me on a narrow neighborhood street gives the parked cars on his right far more room than he gives me on his left while not tempering his speed at all. That is, he’s equidistant between cars and doesn’t seem to budge on that room.

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      • J_R May 22, 2015 at 3:33 pm

        That’s definitely been my experience, too. Many motorists have absolutely no idea where the right side of their car actually is.

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        • John Lascurettes May 22, 2015 at 4:24 pm

          Same deal on Oak/Stark downtown where drivers give the parked cars on their left way more room than the green bike lane on their right. The vast majority of drivers on these streets are either driving with their tires on the white line or straddling into the green of the special bike lane. I see very, very few drivers driving entirely within their own lane of travel on this couplet. I do not exaggerate; I have a meeting every week where the window of the room looks right onto Stark with a several block view, and I watch car after car after car not staying in their own lane.

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          • caesar May 22, 2015 at 8:38 pm

            Most people in boring meetings stare at their smart phone; you stare out the window and analyze bike lane dynamics. I like that.

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        • hotrodder May 22, 2015 at 5:57 pm

          Most Portland drivers have no idea where the left front corner of their car is, let alone the right front corner.

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      • Dan May 22, 2015 at 4:01 pm

        Agree, it’s easy and habitual for drivers to intimidate you out of the way.

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      • Chris Anderson May 22, 2015 at 6:47 pm

        This is why I ride left of center and pretend not to see them.

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        • Chris Anderson May 22, 2015 at 6:53 pm

          To clarify, my basic safety rule is, until an oncoming vehicle has slowed or changed course because of me, I assume they don’t see me. And from a block plus closing distance I’m more comfortable playing chicken for safety than riding over the sharrows on my side and not knowing if the driver sees me. If they were in a hurry they wouldn’t be on a neighborhood street.

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          • caesar May 23, 2015 at 10:15 am

            At what closing distance do you alter impact course and divert back onto the right side of the street – when you see the whites of their eyes? Bold you are.

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          • Chris Anderson May 23, 2015 at 2:50 pm

            Usually you know about a 1/2 block away if they are not paying attention aka crazy. It happens about once a year, except on Clinton St. where it happens almost every time I ride there.

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  • Todd Hudson May 22, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    On Wednesday, I was biking on NE Couch at ~Laurelhurst Pl. A car came roaring up behind me and laid on its horn because there was no room for them to pass. Speeding cars on this particular bike boulevard have really increased since the Burnside road diet.

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    • Dan May 22, 2015 at 4:01 pm

      I hope you know it was rude for you to be in their way. Ha ha.

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      • Todd Hudson May 26, 2015 at 3:05 pm

        My standard response is to do nothing, which is so much harder than reacting. But it’s rewarding.

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    • dan May 23, 2015 at 1:35 am

      I have been guilty of this when driving my wife home when she was having a bad shellfish reaction. A nice older lady was riding down the middle of the street…we were desperate to get home and call an ambulance. To my unending shame, I honked until she moved over. If you’re out there old lady, I’m sorry!

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      • Jen May 23, 2015 at 8:20 am

        If it was that much of an emergency, why not just pull over and call 911? The ambulance would reach you with less delay.

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  • Ben May 22, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    It depends on how much parking. On SE 72nd between Powell and Holgate this is the exact condition but you just get people speeding faster and swerving trying to outrun oncoming traffic competing for passing space in parking gaps. I love Sunday mornings when church traffic clogs the whole system up and no one can get anywhere. The honking and swearing from frustrated motorists is fairly entertaining. My favorite time to mow the lawn. Does make it much safer for the bicyclists.

    There must be a better way.

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  • LC May 22, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    Welcome to Seattle. I have mixed feelings about riding in various parts of this city thanks to the varying degrees of infrastructure coverage and misbehavior on the part of motor vehicle operators (admission, I ride ~40 miles a day daily in seattle city limits), but I have had consistently nice experiences on the greenways. Check out the Beacon Hill and Delridge greenways if you have a chance, I am a fan of both of those routes.

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  • Terry D-M May 22, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    This is the only type of “Calming” currently in place on 52nd-53rd over the mountain. I only think it works with diversion….frequent diversion.

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  • hat May 22, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    Diagonal parking on Clinton?

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  • Paul May 22, 2015 at 4:05 pm

    It’s funny, in Amsterdam no one slows when a car and bicycle are approaching each other on a narrow street—you just squeeze by. They’re so used to the constrained space. In Portland, cars would sometimes slow to a near stop when you could have had to room for 2 cars to slide past each other. I could never tell if it was consideration for the other user, or they really weren’t space aware.

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    • Dan M. May 22, 2015 at 5:32 pm

      Portland drivers are the most inept bunch of of people ever to occupy the driver’s seat. I’m glad I cut my teeth driving elsewhere where it’s expected and demanded that you can can confidently pilot and park an automobile.

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    • Chris Anderson May 22, 2015 at 6:55 pm

      In Amsterdam they are already slow.

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  • Amy Subach May 22, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    That’s not an antidote that we can use. We can’t make NE Going or SE Clinton magically narrower. We need planters (aka diverters) every 3-5 blocks on EVERY SINGLE neighborhood greenway.

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    • 9watts May 22, 2015 at 10:33 pm

      “We can’t make NE Going or SE Clinton magically narrower. ”

      Why not? I can think of a bunch of ways to do that. Not to take away from the idea of diverters, but why dump on street narrowing? We even had a statewide taskforce study this issue here some twenty years ago. An interesting report, btw.

      September 1, 2010 at 10:42 am
      Portland also has a little known ‘skinny streets ordinance’ which even folks at the City I’ve talked to don’t know about.
      And from a book “Streets and the Shaping of Towns and Cities” comes this quote: “Portland, Oregon is one of the few cities in the United states that is actively pursuing and changing their street standards. The Skinny Streets Program has been vigorously implemented in both established communities and new ones since 1991. [really?] By reducing local residential street with by as much as 12 feet (3.6m), skinny streets have become a cost effective way to preserve livability and neighborhood integrity. Most streets are designed to be no more than 20 to 26 feet (6-8m) wide depending on neighborhood parking needs.” (p. 134)Recommended 0

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      • Tait May 27, 2015 at 1:00 am

        “neighborhood parking needs” *snort*

        Residential parking needs should be addressed by creating parking areas on the residential property requiring it, not by publicly-funded, expensive, skinny parking lots alongside every street.

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  • Tom Hardy May 22, 2015 at 7:06 pm

    It really is starting to upset me with the number of bike lanes on the “””RIGHT!!!!””” side of one way streets. It is still in the motorists manual that cyclists are to ride in the left lane on 1 way streets. Some of the streets are starting to be marked correctly after over 20 years. Example! NE Williams Ave. Not Vancouver yet! NW Corbett is another. Now the rest can be done. Then we will see motorists taking mirrors off of parked cars:).

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  • Amy Subach May 22, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    Also, please, do not ride your bike in the gutter along the Neighborhood Greenways, do not weave in and out of the parking lane. Just, please stop.

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    • John Lascurettes May 23, 2015 at 11:41 pm

      Hear hear. Such a bad, dangerous habit that encourages motorists to gun it past you on a neighborhood street when you’re between parked cars. I cringe every time I see a rider not holding their own line on a street.

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      • Jeff May 25, 2015 at 10:59 am

        I agree that it’s a bad idea to go all the way over to the curb. But I do think it’s prudent to move from left of the door zone to equivalent to well within what would be the door zone (equivalent with the left side of what would be the parked car) when getting free of a line of parked cars. I like having the extra 3 feet. I don’t need an extra 10.

        That said, I have noticed that when you do pull over a bit to let someone driving pass you, most don’t notice you’re doing this until you’re approaching the next set of parked cars. THAT’S when they gun it.

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        • John Lascurettes May 25, 2015 at 9:27 pm

          Precisely why you shouldn’t do it on a neighborhood street.

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  • Dave McCabe May 22, 2015 at 9:56 pm

    You’d expect motorists to expect low speeds on narrow roadways, but I actually get more harassment on one-laners than on high streets. About a month ago I got explicit verbal death-threats three days in a row from three different men on Cleveland between Alberta and Killingsworth. Strange but true.

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  • Paul in the 'Couve May 23, 2015 at 2:23 am

    For what ever reason, Seattle neighborhoods, especially in the core of the city have very narrow side streets. This has a cumulative effect that you just don’t get in Portland. Drivers in Seattle are forced to learn that if they are on side streets, there will be parked cars, usually on both sides and there will seldom be room for two cars to pass without waiting. Some streets are even narrower. This is true everywhere on Queen Anne, Capital Hill, First Hill, and most of West Seattle and Magnolia. Further out there are some wider side streets, but even so, generally far more narrow streets than anywhere in Portland. The only places here that compare are the steep hill sides in NW and SW. In Laurelhurst and other east side neighborhoods, even the streets that are narrow, are still wider than the average street on Queen Anne in Seattle.

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    • Andres Salomon May 23, 2015 at 12:42 pm

      It’s because they were kept that way due to DOT policy:

      25 ft is standard. There are some places where misguided policies only allow parking on one side (UDistrict), but for the most part it’s 25ft with parking on both sides.

      The people above complaining about wrong-way parked cars are kind of missing the point. This is a narrow, residential street. *No one* goes “blazing” out into wrong-way traffic. Because of the narrowed width, you move slowly whether you’re on a bike or in a car.

      Some people dislike it for biking, but it works really well with proper arterial bike infrastructure and Seattle’s hills. For example, Seattle’s 39th Ave Greenway (aka Wedgwood Greenway) is a gentle slope up a big hill. Heading north, you can putter along at slow speeds up the hill. Heading south, you can either bike slowly on the greenway (useful if you’re biking with a kid or just not in a rush, for example), or you can bomb down the adjacent arterial (40th Ave NE) at car speeds. 40th doesn’t have any actual bike infrastructure, but it is a 2-way street with only two lanes and parking on both sides, so there’s very little opportunity for drivers to go faster than 25-30mph.

      We’re still figuring out our arterial bike infrastructure (see , for example), but I think we’re in a good place regarding greenways. If we could only get SDOT to make heavier use of real diverters..

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      • Paul in the 'Couve May 23, 2015 at 4:10 pm

        Andres, thank you for a great comment.

        Would you care to make any further observations about the overall effect of the many narrower streets on how traffic patterns developed, how congestion was impacted on neighborhood arterials and any contribution (positive or negative) that had on the development of transportation in Seattle? Will it make a difference going forward?

        My thought is that drivers in Portland are indeed pretty quick to start peeling off into neighborhood streets to avoid traffic on the arterials that is actually pretty minimal. My hypothesis is that the mostly wider streets with mostly enough room for two cars to pass in opposite directions encourage this behavior and the expectation that driving 30 mph on these streets to beet traffic is a successful strategy, some sort of right – like it isn’t bad manners at all.

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  • Cathy May 24, 2015 at 10:21 am

    Hey Michael,
    Next time you do a study tour of bike infra in Seattle, in addition to getting the DOT perspective, please be sure to talk to the advocacy group that is primarily responsible bringing the concept of greenways to Seattle and monitoring the system’s implementation.

    We’d be happy to find articulate and knowledgable locals for you to talk to!

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  • Skid May 26, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    The difference is that Seattle has major thoroughfares that move you quickly across the city, so there is less of a desire to try to save time by speeding down a sidestreet. Portland does not have that.

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  • Glenn June 12, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    The first rule for the coming decades should be courtesy, whether you are on a bike , in a car, or on foot. To kill some one or be killed should take second place to whatever the F… place you think you have the right or need to be next!

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