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Safety concerns grow on the Seattle street that scrapped bike lanes

caption: Tim Fliss pauses in his morning commute down 35th Avenue NE
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Tim Fliss pauses in his morning commute down 35th Avenue NE
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Since the 35th Avenue NE redesign, there’s already been a fatal motorcycle accident and a cyclist hit. Some locals have started calling it the "Durkan Speedway." That has the Seattle City Council raising questions about its safety.

We wondered how dangerous 35th is now, so we rode it ourselves.

I followed Tim Fliss, whose bike commute from Meadowbrook to South Lake Union takes him down 35th every day. There’s no bike lane, so we had to bike in traffic. “It’s the box trucks I always worry about,” Fliss warned me. “You go around a parked car, a door opens, you swerve a little bit and a box truck is right there. That’s a very dangerous spot for a cyclist.”

There’s a new center turn lane, so that cars can turn left into businesses like the Wedgwood Broiler. But frustrated drivers used the lane to pass us illegally. “When you don’t have the lane, you have a pile of cars behind you, all wanting to go more than 8 or 10 miles per hour," Fliss told me as we rode. "And the second they can get around you, it’s like vroom, vroom, vroom, right?”

It’s those dangerous passes that have city council members questioning the safety of this road design. The design was chosen after Mayor Jenny Durkan cancelled plans to include bike lanes, following criticism by businesses that feared losing parking for their customers.

Several city council members requested more information about the problem. In response, Seattle’s Department of Transportation said it will install some floppy plastic bollards in the turn lane to discourage passing and carve the lane up into "left turn pockets."

But for Fliss, that won’t make up for the cancellation of the bike lanes. He says those same plastic bollards used to address this problem could have been used to create a separated bike lane, such as the one on nearby NE 65th Street pictured below.

caption: A simple protected bike lane on NE 65th St
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A simple protected bike lane on NE 65th St
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

SDOT said the NE 35th Ave road design was not to blame for the recent accidents.

Fliss disagrees. “There’s no reason for people to get killed or injured," he said, at a pause in our ride. "The evidence is clear – when well-designed bike lanes go in, the roads get safer.”

The long running dispute about putting bike lanes on 35th has pit businesses against cyclists.

SDOT says it will continue monitoring the road for safety problems.

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