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The Puget Sound Regional Bicycle Network Study is a detailed assessment of bicycle routes in this region. A more balanced approach to transportation planning will ensure that both pedestrian and bicycle traffic are included as critical elements of the network.

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Puget Sound Regional Bicycle Network Study

With its temperate climate, breathtaking natural features, and extensive road network, the Puget Sound Region should be a first-class area for bicycle travel, whether for commuting, destination travel, or recreational purposes. Unfortunately, current conditions within the region do not foster bicycle travel and, in many cases, actually discourage it.

photo of bikers on road

One problem with shifting commuting away from automobiles may
simply be an inadequate supply of bicycle facilities

The benefits of bicycle use— both to the cyclist and to the community— have long been recognized. Improved personal fitness reduces health costs, reduced pollution from automobile emissions reduces respiratory distress, and diminished noise levels enhance quality of life. Bicycle traffic requires less than half the paved surface area that motorized traffic requires, and an increase in bicycle commuting reduces roadway congestion by motorized vehicles. However, despite these obvious advantages, transportation planning has largely failed to incorporate bicycle travel into state, regional, and local projects.

Key Findings:

• A 1,521-mile Regional Bicycle Network for Puget Sound is readily identifiable using mostly existing trails and roadways. This is promising; many parts of the system are up and running and need no more than maintenance and improved route signing. However, many needed improvements are necessary to turn this proposed Puget Sound Regional Bicycle Network into a true, working system.

• In the Puget Sound Region, 27 percent (404 of 1,521 miles) of the Network’s bicycle route mileage fails to meet the basic needs of bicyclists. This means that bicyclists attempting to navigate the region face severe safety hazards and sometimes insurmountable accessibility challenges—and there are no practical alternative routes.

• While we recommend completion of the Regional Bicycle Network over the next ten years, it should be noted that the recommended application of routine accommodation in transportation planning would remedy many of the deficient regional route segments.

photo of bike under bridge

The future success of bicycling relies on
improving on-street bicycle networks

Household Transportation Survey

The Household Transportation Survey shows that half of all automobile trips are shorter than five miles in length.3 Trips of this length are ideally suited for bicycle travel and would occur more frequently if proper facilities existed. If bicycle facilities such as on-road bike paths and off-road trails are provided, people will use them. Indeed, a report on the correlation between number of bicycling facilities and use of bicycling facilities, indicates “a positive association... between miles of bicycle pathways per 100,000 residents and the percentage of commuters using bicycles. It is speculated that one problem with shifting the mode of commuting away from automobiles may simply be an inadequate supply of bicycle facilities.”

Despite the presence of existing bicycle routes in the region, Puget Sound cyclists are often discouraged from riding because of safety and efficiency concerns. In many instances, bicycling routes have not been laid out from a multi-jurisdictional point of view nor have route segments been designed with an eye toward efficient and safe bicycle transportation. The lack of cooperative regional planning has led to a fragmented collection of routes in which bicyclists are frequently left by the side of the road due to poor road design, poor signage, and/or the absence of connector routes.

Furthermore, funding priorities consistently favor motor vehicles to the detriment of non-motorized travel. In the Household Transportation Survey, nearly 60 percent of respondents felt that the region and/or their community was not as pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly as it should be. Our region’s bicycling infrastructure lags far behind those of many other regions with regard to comparative mileage and equivalent bicycling infrastructure. In numerous cities and regions, including Portland, Chicago, the San Francisco Bay Area, and others, comprehensive strategies for accommodating bicycling in all surface transportation projects have already been adopted.

Objectives

Under the aegis of Cascade Bicycle Club, the Puget Sound Regional Bicycle Network Study committee surveyed more than 4,000 miles of potential bicycle routes within the region comprising King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap Counties from 2001 through 2004. Many individuals, including urban and regional planners, civil and traffic engineers, environmental and computer scientists, and professionals in related fields, participated in the exhaustive and comprehensive collection of data as well as in the interpretation and assessment of the findings.

The overarching purpose of the Study was to identify and promote the development, maintenance, and preservation of a regional network of bicycle routes within King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap Counties. A major objective of the Study was to serve all areas and key destinations of the region. Another major objective of the plan was to identify for bicyclists the safest, most direct, and most reasonable routes available to access those regional destinations by bicycle. The identification of a region-wide bicycle network will enable the PSRC and other jurisdictions to plan for and prioritize future improvements in the region. In order to accomplish this, four primary goals were established:

• Identify existing bicycle routes and assess their suitability for accommodating bicycle traffic;

• Identify missing links, deficient route segments, and other problems needing remediation in order to establish a viable regional network;

• Catalog and prioritize improvements necessary for completing and upgrading the system over the next ten years;

• Design a Regional Bicycle Network and promote its adoption and implementation by the agencies responsible for planning, design, construction, maintenance, and operation of bicycle routes and facilities.

photo of biker on trail

Few of the region’s bicycle trails and paths have sufficient signage
to aid bicyclists in navigation

Envisioning a Puget Sound Regional Bicycle Network

A regional bicycle network is a network of principal bicycle routes supported by and integrated with local bicycle routes. Such a network incorporates multi-modal transfer and interchange facilities (e.g., transit stops and transit centers) and provides bicycle parking and storage facilities at origins and destinations, such as schools and employment centers. Ideally, it favors on-street routes and route segments (over multipleuse trails that exclude motor vehicles) because such on-street routes already exist and serve these destinations.

Although useful and efficient bicycle transportation routes rely primarily on arterials, collector streets, and roads, many communities focus on improving bicycle routes by means of paved, multi-use paths or trails that exclude motor vehicles. However, the future success of regional bicycling relies on improving the on-street bicycle network because in the majority of cases, it readily connects to employment and retail centers, schools and colleges, and other primary destinations.

The system must:

• Safely serve the most important travel-demand corridors in King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap Counties. In most cases, these corridors are identical to or adjacent to major corridors accommodating motor vehicle and transit travel within the region.

• Link and serve major activity nodes such as centers of employment, education, commerce, and public services. These include (but are not limited to) ferry, bus, and rail terminals; transit centers; and airports. All cities and towns must be accessible by the system.

• Recognize the need for parallel or alternate bicycle routes or route segments in response to impediments posed by topography, freeways, and limited street density and/or connectivity.

• Access major outdoor recreational areas within the region as well as the gateways to such areas outside the region, such as the Olympic Peninsula, the Hood Canal, the San Juan Islands, and mountain passes to Eastern Washington.

• Include routes and route segments of statewide interest and provide access to other bicycle routes and networks throughout the state.

• Accommodate and promote current and future demand in accordance with standards for geometry and traffic control as described in the Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities.

Remediation and Policy Recommendations

The design and implementation of recommended facilities improvements lie outside the scope of this study. However, the principal improvements considered should include:

• Bike lanes
• Paved shoulders
• Outer (curbside) traffic lanes wide enough to accommodate bicyclists
• Paved multi-use bike trails or paths
• Adequate signage

All trails and on-street facilities should feature visible signage. Routine facility upgrades and maintenance are necessary to prevent minor deficits from becoming crises.

In addition to the following specific recommendations, we strongly urge road designers to abandon traditional centerline planning in favor of a new approach to designing streets and highways. Design should begin at the right-of-way limits and work its way in to the centerline. This “complete-the-streets” approach to roadway design ensures consideration of pedestrian traffic and bicycle traffic as critical elements in road design and results in a bicycle network congruent with the motorized route network.

Failed Routes or Route Segments in the Network

In all, 404 miles (27 percent) of the 1,521- mile Network were categorized as failed. These failed routes or route segments were retained within the proposed network when no viable alternative was available. As a result, some routes contain deficient segments as well as segments that meet or exceed criteria. Notable examples of included failed segments with no viable alternatives for the system are the Evergreen Point Bridge (SR-520) crossing Lake Washington, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (SR-16), the Hood Canal Bridge (SR-104), the Agate Pass Bridge (SR-305) to Bainbridge Island, and portions of SR-2 in King and Snohomish Counties.

High-priority Corridors

We identified up to five high-priority corridors within each of eight subregions that, left unimproved, jeopardize accessibility and bicyclist safety. These corridors should be given precedence for immediate improvement to complete the network and ensure bicyclists’ safety. These corridors represent nearly 50 percent of the failed miles included in the Network.

These improvements, when implemented, represent a huge step toward completion of the Network. We recommend:

Recommendations for Major Routes in the Network

Some of the major routes in the Network contain critical missing links already scheduled for construction. Other major routes contain segments that we recommend for geometric or traffic-engineering upgrades:

• Interurban Trail: Major planned but unconstructed gaps exist in south Seattle, north Seattle, Shoreline, and parts of Everett. The proposed regional network includes existing trail segments and street links that eliminate these gaps. We recommend completing these important links.

• Centennial Trail: We recommend completing the Arlington-to-Skagit County segment of the trail.

• I-90/Mountains-to-Sound Greenway: We recommend finishing the missing link connections for a Greenway bike and pedestrian trail corridor from the Seattle waterfront to the John Wayne Pioneer Trail near North Bend, as outlined by the Mountains-to-Sound Greenway Trust.

• Burke-Gilman Trail and Sammamish River Trail: We recommend completing the missing links of the Burke-Gilman Trail: NW 11th to the Locks and NW 60th to Golden Gardens. We recommend replacing stop signs with yield signs and installing stop signs on private driveways on the Burke-Gilman Trail in Lake Forest Park.

• Lake Washington Loop: The loop will be significantly enhanced by replacement of the SR-520 floating bridge. The new bridge is scheduled to include a non-motorized trail adjacent to the roadway. Until then, we recommend immediate implementation of supplemental bicycle service on the SR-520 bridge in the form of special roll-on/roll-off “bicycle buses” until the bridge replacement with its non-motorized trail is constructed and opened to use.

• Interbay Trail and Elliott Bay Trail: We recommend removing nighttime- use prohibitions on the Elliott Bay Trail and Centennial Trail and at the Chittenden Locks.

• Bridges: Special attention should be given to current and future users as they cross bridges. We recommend separating pedestrian and bicycle facilities in addition to lateral separation from vehicular traffic. We recommend appropriate “through bicycle” markings across free right turns and slip lanes.

Proposed New Trails for the Network

Several major routes throughout the Puget Sound Region cannot be adequately served by on-road accommodation. In these instances, traffic volume, traffic speed, interchange ramps, or other factors dictate the construction of new multiuse trail links. With this in mind, we recommend the following remediation measures be undertaken:

SR-522 Trail: Construction of a new trail segment along SR-522 in Snohomish County from the Fales Road/Echo Lake intersection to Tester Road just north of the river will complete the long-needed direct cycling corridor from the Woodinville urban fringe to Monroe and the SR-2/Stevens Pass corridor. This link should be incorporated into the scheduled SR-522 roadway dualization project that will feature a new, parallel span across the Snohomish River.

Sinclair Inlet Trail: This southwesterly route would run along SR-304 in Kitsap County from the southwest corner of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton to the interchange with SR-3, along SR-3 to SR-16 Gorst interchange, then east to the SR 166 Bay Street interchange. A segment of this trail should be located parallel to the water’s edge adjacent to the rail line or the highway or between them. Grade-separated pedestrian-bicycle connections should be included at SR-3/SR-304 to the Auto Center Way-Bayview Drive (SR-3) regional route link, at the Gorst interchange, and at the SR-16/SR-166 interchange.

Black River Connector Trail: This badly needed short trail link would directly connect the Lake Washington Loop at Renton with the Interurban (Duwamish) Trail at Fort Dent Park. The proposed 700-foot trail link would follow an existing fenced informal path extending west from Monster Road SW (an extension of the SW 7th Street link) and cross under low, wooden, railroad trestles to connect directly with the Interurban/Duwamish River Trail in Fort Dent Park.

Signage for the Network

Recommendations for sign geometry, materials, and text/symbols need to be developed. Features such as font type, colors, symbols, legends, and route numbers should be standardized throughout the four counties (see Figure, right). We recommend that the jurisdictions of the region join Cascade Bicycle Club in a Task Force to establish guidelines for Regional Bicycle Network sign design and installation. We recommend the task force also study methods and programs to promote funding and implementation of signage.

Suggested recommendations for early-action trail signing on six major corridors:

• Kitsap Peninsula Route
• Kingston-Stevens Pass Route
• Cascade Foothills Route
• Cross-Sound—Snoqualmie Pass Route
• Rainier-Chinook Route
• Puget Sound Route (East and West)

 

DISCUSSION

Although useful and efficient bicycle transportation routes rely primarily on arterials and collector-class streets, many communities focus on improving bicycle routes by means of paved, multi-use paths or trails that exclude motor vehicles. However, the future success of regional bicycling relies on improving the on-street bicycle network because in the majority of cases, it readily connects to employment and retail centers, schools and colleges, and other destinations.

The 1,521-mile regional bicycling route network for Puget Sound is readily identifiable using mostly existing trails and roadways. This is promising; many parts of the system are up and running and need nothing more than maintenance. However, a quick glance at Map 2 indicates that many needed improvements are necessary to turn this proposed Puget Sound Regional Bicycle Network into a true, working system.

Need for Improvements

The findings of the Study illuminate the deficiencies in a Regional Bicycle Network for the central Puget Sound Region. The human and environmental consequences of a deficient, non-intact, unsafe, and inefficient Regional Bicycle Network are significant. Deficiencies include incomplete “major” routes, lack of system connectivity, substandard roadways, and numerous safety concerns. By mileage, 404 miles (27 percent) of the identified Network fail to satisfy basic criteria for safe and efficient bicycle transportation.

Safety Concerns

Although concern for safety was among the highest-priority criteria in assessing routes and route segments, transportation professionals attempt to distinguish between documentable levels of safety and perceived levels of safety. Documentation of safety, risk, and hazard is typically provided by means of accident and road-use data. Perceived safety is more difficult to assess.

Because of real or perceived risk, countless cyclists are discouraged from using current or potential bicycling routes. Various factors on a given route affect bicyclist safety, and most of them derive from roadway design flaws, lack of planning for bicycle facilities, and/or underfunded construction projects that fail to include bicycle facilities in their planning. Factors such as narrow or unpaved road shoulders, roadside vehicle parking, uneven pavement, and hidden driveways all endanger bicyclists. Traffic volume, traffic flow, and pedestrian traffic volume can distract and endanger bicyclists; moreover, drivers in heavy traffic can easily miss spotting a cyclist. Improving safety for all users should be the highest priority of all planning departments.

“Centerline” Planning vs. Routine Accommodation

The limited progress in ensuring that our street network safely and efficiently accommodates bicycle and vehicular traffic arises largely from endemic lapses in traffic planning and engineering in the United States. Traditionally, transportation assets have been approached with one purpose: to build a system that is safe, convenient, and comfortable for motorists. In most instances, despite evidence of need, requests for inclusion of bicycle facilities are rejected as regressive, costly, or unnecessary.

This posture belies the fact that, according to the Household Transportation Survey,3 half of all automobile trips are shorter than five miles in length. Trips of this length are ideally suited for bicycle travel, and many more would likely be taken by bicycle if proper facilities existed. Traditional “centerline” planning favors motor vehicles over bicycles: highways and streets are designed from the centerline out, with the number of lanes determined by the projected number of vehicles using the roadway. Paved motor vehicle lanes have the highest priority in road design, and engineers try to provide enough paved lanes to accommodate anticipated increases in traffic volume. Not surprisingly, they frequently run out of space at the road shoulders; consequently, they repeatedly claim that there is not enough space to accommodate both pedestrian walkways and/or bicycle lanes. As a result, bicycle lanes are regularly excluded from new construction and reconstruction plans.

As an improvement to such planning, the U.S. Department of Transportation recently adopted a “routine accommodation” policy statement suggesting that bicycling and walking facilities be incorporated into all transportation projects— both new-construction and reconstruction projects—unless exceptional circumstances exist where non-motorized use is not permitted (e.g., in the case of some segments of urban freeways) or where the cost of non-motorized facilities would be excessively disproportionate to the need or probable use.14 Although the estimated cost of routine accommodation is low (typically between 1% and 4% of the project cost), there is no formal local or regional requirement to do so in the Puget Sound Region. A routine accommodation policy would remedy many of the deficient regional route segments over a period of 20–25 years.

Paved Multi-use Trail vs. Shared Roadway

In this Study, the choice of using a paved multi-use trail designed for pedestrians and non-motorized vehicles instead of using an existing road or highway was made on a case-by-case basis. In keeping with federal policy regarding accommodation of bicycles on streets used by motor vehicles, there was consensus to establish both multi-use trails and on-street facilities for bicyclists. In cases where future trails are constructed, we always advise maintaining the existing on-street facility unless dangerous or extenuating circumstances exist.

Signage Signage for navigating the system can be as much a necessity to the Network as a “pass” route designation. Basic sign types can be categorized as follows:

• Full-copy Sign: Displays the route name and/or number, major destinations on the route, connections to other corridors or to off-route destinations, and directional arrows. Full-copy signs are used at route origins, regional route junctions, and other access points and at suitable intervals along the route (see conceptual example on p. 29).

• Reduced-copy Sign: Gives limited but pertinent information as needed (e.g., “Route Turns Here”).

• Follow-up/Confirmation Sign: Reassures cyclists or confirms previous information. For example, a confirmation sign identifying the route name/number would appear shortly after a turn or a junction of routes, as is the custom with highway signage. If two routes merge, confirmation signs would identify both routes by name or number.

• Trailblazer Sign: Alerts cyclists of need to leave regional route in order to access another regional route. Trailblazer signs also guide cyclists to a regional route from key off-route locations. Costs In recent history, bicycle transportation has not comprehensively and routinely been a standard component of road engineering, construction, and maintenance in the Puget Sound Region. Consequently, we are faced with network deficits and must often implement their remediation via implementation of stand-alone projects.

Although as many as 21 percent of Washington residents choose to bike for reasons of recreation, running errands, or commuting less than one percent of the state transportation budget is allocated for bicycle improvements. In the Puget Sound Region, an average of about $1.7 billion is spent each year on all transportation improvements, whereas non-motorized (bicycle and pedestrian) spending in the region is estimated to be between $40 and $60 million per year. A mere two percent of transportation spending is currently allocated to both pedestrian and bicycle improvements. Given that this report does not attempt to stipulate how the recommended improvements should be carried out, it is difficult to estimate the associated costs. However, it should be noted that as many as 21 percent of residents currently choose to travel by bicycle—yet less than two percent of funding is currently allocated for bicycle improvements. If spending matched use more closely, there would be ample funds available to make the necessary improvements to the bicycle network over the next ten years.

CONCLUSION

Although the Study identified a Regional Bicycle Network for Puget Sound, it also uncovered two glaring failures with regard to local bicycle routes that connect cities, towns, and gateways throughout the four counties in the central Puget Sound Region. The first failure is acknowledged by the PSRC, albeit with no discernible action to date: there is little focus on cross-jurisdictional (regional) planning and development of bicycle travel facilities. With proper facilities, this region can become the first-class bicycling region that it should be.

Given safe and convenient conditions, many individuals would prefer a ten-minute bike commute to being stuck in traffic for 30 minutes, and many more would choose bicycling for recreational, economic, and health purposes. Yet under current conditions, too many people are unable to make that choice. It is time for state, regional, and local transportation departments to change their priorities and focus more resources on making local streets safe and friendly for bicyclists as well as for motorized vehicles and pedestrians. Second, agencies responsible for providing safe, comfortable bicycle transportation assets have not done so. The Study shows that more than one-quarter of the identified Regional Bicycle Network fails to meet bicyclists’ most basic needs.

The limited progress in ensuring that our street network safely and routinely accommodates bicycling in addition to vehicular transportation is due largely to endemic failures within our planning, transportation, and traffic engineering communities. For too long, we have approached transportation assets with one purpose: building a system that is safe, convenient, and and comfortable for motor vehicles only. Facilities for bicyclists, when requested, have routinely been rejected as unnecessary, costly, or regressive. The resulting environment discourages bicycling and reinforces the perceived lack of need for bicycling facilities. The deficits outlined in this report slow the growth of bicycle transportation, which in turn adds to the region’s air pollution, detracts from efforts to improve the health of the region’s inhabitants, squanders limited construction resources, and jeopardizes the safety of those individuals who travel by bicycle.

It is vitally important that the responsible agencies rise to the challenge of addressing these issues by prioritizing the implementation of this Regional Bicycle Network and by adopting the policy and practice of routinely accommodating bicycling in all phases of planning, design, construction, and maintenance of roadways. A more balanced approach to road design and maintenance is needed now to accommodate all forms of transportation. Roadway design that begins at the rightof- way limits and works its way in to the centerline will ensure that both pedestrian and bicycle traffic are included as critical elements in a network that is congruent with the motorized route network

Accommodation of bicycles on the region’s network of roads and highways requires that bicycling be safely and conveniently supported by roadway geometry and traffic controls. Furthermore, the network must be well maintained and provide reasonable access to most destinations. Although routine accommodation and connectivity pose slightly more difficult multi-jurisdictional coordination and funding challenges, transportation planners in the Puget Sound region must now bear responsibility for completing the streets by accommodating all modes of transportation. This approach, together with implementation of the specific improvements recommended in this report, will result in a well integrated, safe, and efficient network—rather than a haphazard collection of route segments. It will serve the needs of hundreds of thousands of current and future cyclists—commuters, bicycle tourists, and recreational cyclists. The cooperation of city, county, state, and federal agencies in all phases of research, development, and maintenance is vital to the success of this project. We look forward to helping make it happen.

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