If you've ever ridden a bike on the Burke Gilman trail through the University District, you've seen the giant stop signs with flashing lights warning you to stop before you cross Brooklyn Avenue. You're a law-abiding careful bike rider, so you probably stopped - while all the other reckless people on bikes whizzed on through. And then one block farther on, you've caught up with all those reckless people again, since they've dutifully stopped at the red light at University Way.
If you were riding the Burke last week, you may have even seen a friendly police officer give a kind but stern warning to one of those other bicyclists: next time, you'll get a ticket if you don't stop!
I rode the Burke Gilman again today, thinking about this intersection as I rode. The more I thought, the less I understood WHY there would be a stop sign there at Brooklyn.
Travelers on Brooklyn see this dramatic signage as they approach the trail:
Most people who drive along Brooklyn here seem to think this means they are supposed to yield to bicyclists - so when I actually stop at the big red stop sign, people approaching in cars impatiently wave me through.
Yesterday, as I rode east from Fremont, I passed through quite a number of other intersections - and at every other intersection between Stone Way and Brooklyn, the Burke Gilman has the right-of-way. Cars crossing the trail must stop at stop signs, even at the busy crossings by Dunn Lumber and the roads that give cars access to Gasworks Park.
I remembered hearing that the 2007 Bicycle Master Plan included something about intersections, so I went on line and looked it up. You can read the whole section for yourself if you like; it's Appendix H: Roadway Crossing Design for Bicycles.
The relevant section is titled "Mid-block Trail Crossings." This is a bit geeky, so bear with me. Bicycle trails and roadways are classified according to their importance for transportation. The Burke Gilman Trail falls in the category of "regional trail." Brooklyn Avenue is classified as a "minor arterial" - you can look that up for yourself, too if you want. Here's what the Bicycle Master Plan says about the mid-block crossing of a Regional Trail with a minor arterial:
Regional Trails are effectively principal arterials for bicyclists, but trail user speedDoesn't this mean that the Burke Gilman - Seattle's number one bicycle arterial - should be given priority over a dinky little "minor arterial" like Brooklyn? I haven't measured the traffic volume on Brooklyn, but every time I've been on the Burke Gilman, I've seen way more bikes at this intersection than cars.
is generally lower than that on Principal Arterial streets. Therefore, Regional
Trails should generally be given priority over Minor Arterials, Collector Arterials,
and Access Streets. However, if the traffic volume on the street being crossed
exceeds the traffic volume on the trail by 20% or more, the street should be given
Both the people driving cars who yield to trail users, and cyclists who ride across this quiet "minor arterial" without stopping, act AS IF the guidelines in the Bike Master Plan were being followed; that is, they act as if people traveling on the trail had priority over people driving on Brooklyn. Just one block farther on, the same people who rode on across Brooklyn without stopping wait patiently for the light to change at University and again at 15th.
Rather than ask Seattle Police to ticket people riding bikes across Brooklyn, it would make more sense - and be more in line with the guidelines of the Bicycle Master Plan - to redesign this intersection to give priority to travelers on the trail.
Meanwhile, there are a few people, both on bikes and driving cars, who recklessly roll through the stop lights at University and at 15th. Those are the folks who need to be reminded to share the road safely.