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CASE STUDY:  CITY OF SEATTLE BIKE LANE SOLUTIONS

The City of Seattle is the nationally recognized leader in the quest to provide their city’s bicycle community with the safest, most accessible facilities for the operation of their specific mode of transportation.


Much research was conducted by the City to determine the most effective means to accomplish their ambitious goals.  In assessing the many issues that exist that would affect their eventual solution, many considerations were addressed. 

They included:


• Seattle’s existing infrastructure is not expandable, and therefore needed to be reallocated to accommodate alternate forms of transportation, necessitating a “road diet” approach to getting people moving in the space available.

• The need to make changes to existing infrastructure presented them with a concern that the driving and biking public may have resistance to such a change, each with their own concerns about how proposed changes might affect the features of greatest importance to them.  Due to those concerns, there would be a need to develop a public information system that could get the word out to those special interest groups.

• The City’s thought process was that whatever design they may develop would need to be flexible in a couple of ways.

1. Flexibility in the physical makeup of the product utilized, in an effort to create a safe environment for the bicyclists.  If rigid structures or features were used to provide that environment, it would be important that they not have the opposite effect of creating a hazard for bicycles, the most delicate of vehicles to utilize those spaces.


2. Flexibility in application, which would enable the City’s engineers to modify the designs if they needed to be changed because they were found to either not be effective or not be widely accepted by both the motorists and the bicyclists.  If a design seemed to incur damage to the elements of the system, then perhaps they would need to relook at the application or design, and modify one or both components.
Seattle took a multi-layered approach to their bike lane development plan in an effort to accomplish and address the above concerns, and has learned many things as their solutions evolved.


It was first determined that a single solution to all of the infrastructure concerns was not practical.  The needs for bicycle accommodation on a major arterial or urban street were distinctly different than those in non-arterial, residential applications where tight spaces would necessitate a share road approach to allocating space for both modes of transportation.

For either solution, there was a constant; the need to let residents, business owners, the biking community and vehicular traffic know of the upcoming changes.  To accommodate that need, the City utilized several forums to spread the word and prepare the City’s residents for the changes.  Their goal was to provide a facility that all modes of transportation could feel comfortable in, especially the bicyclists, because of their special vulnerability.  It was felt that public forums and redundancy were the keys to acceptance of their new facilities.
Because of the effectiveness of bicycle blogs in their area they used that forum to spread the word, as well as door-to-door canvassing to prepare residents for the changes.  Additionally, in the first week after a facility was opened, they assigned ambassadors on the corners of all intersections to inform both drivers and bicycle operators of the new changes.  As a result, although 7% of all bikers are more comfortable in unprotected bike lanes, and 30% don’t really ride, a whopping 60% liked the new facilities, and as a result, Seattle has experienced a 60% growth in their ridership since installing the new facilities starting 2 years ago on Cherry Street.

While the City doesn’t feel a responsibility for the health costs that are escalating nationally, or climate changes that make getting people moving an asset for the city and its residents, it does feel that their increased ridership is an excellent bonus for their efforts to accommodate alternate forms of transportation.

In their search for a system to achieve their goals for a safe environment, they needed a product solution that would be forgiving and not create an unnecessary safety concern for bikers and motorists alike.  Their search led them to the Impact Recovery Systems spring activated, rebound-able post system, that could be customized to provide not only a lower height (28”) post to clear the handlebars of a bicycle, but post, base and reflectivity options that would allow them to accent the appropriate pavement marking colorations designated for vehicular traffic.  It was also found that the flexibility of the post prevented a loss of stability for the rider in the event of a pedal hit.  Another added benefit; the company’s low profile traffic lane separator curbing can be used if added visibility, reflectivity or separation should be needed in specific applications.

They found that the Impact Recovery Systems product provided them an unsurpassed level of durability, with a resultant reduction in maintenance for their facilities.   As an added bonus, the City has found that the vehicles that park in the buffered parking areas can still access those spaces, while Impact’s quick release feature allows for the rapid removal and redeployment of uprights to accommodate trucks and delivery vehicles that utilize the parking lanes.  Since their early installations, they have noticed that motorists are learning that the posts in the system are flexible and easily moved to allow for an opened car door; much preferable to a rigid post.

The system addresses one of their highest priorities, their desire to effect safety changes should they be found to be needed once installations are made.  Those modifications can be readily accomplished without a complete redesign of the facility.

According to Chris Eaves, the City’s Senior Design Engineer, in spite of the high performance of  their system, “I don’t care if they eventually get destroyed.  If there is a need for replacement, the post has performed its intended function, and/or saved a person from being injured or killed.  We would rather replace the upright and learn from the failures.  This system provides us that ability to learn from what we’ve tried”.
Since their earliest installation, they have added 66” information signposts with bands of retro reflectivity at the bottom of the post for enhanced visibility.  Those signs and signposts contain the same spring-activated rebound-ability to the signposts as those utilized for the separation of vehicular and bicycle traffic. 

They have also added bike corrals and rental bikes, called Pronto Bike Share to provide bicycle transportation options between two of their historic areas, Pioneer Square and Pike Place.  It’s no surprise that the rental bike program’s choice of green coloration is a reflection of Seattle’s green approach to the livability of its community.

UPDATE: While the city of Seattle has continued to grow their bike lanes solutions and have now begun to incorporate additional roadway systems they are still very pleased with the results from Impact Recovery Systems.