Little things make a big difference when your tires are less than an inch wide. In part 3 of our ongoing look at the Missing Link, we start at Shilshole and 20th and move back toward the Ballard Bridge.
Shilshole is a concrete road, but it is bordered by asphalt and gravel parking. All along the route there are hidden dangers where the asphalt sinks and creates a lip at the edge of the concrete road surface, right at the white line. Eventually these lips are going to catch a cyclist and throw them face first into the middle of the the travel lane, in the front of one of the Ballard Oil trucks or the Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel cement trucks. You can see both the lip in the foreground and Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel in the background of the picture below.
On the other side of the road, the dangers are occasionally more pronounced as it is just a dirt and gravel surface. This one for example, at 17th Ave NW, would crush the front wheel and throw the cyclist over the handlebars if it were to be hit at any significant speed. Hit it with a big truck and you’d feel it. Hit it with a car and you’d need to visit a nearby repair shop to fix your alignment, but hit it with a bicycle and you’d be lucky to avoid a trip to Swedish Medical where we hear that physical therapists frequently treat cyclists who have crashed along the Missing Link.
Looking more closely at the area where NW 46th Street and Shilshole merge, cyclists are faced with this fun set of hazards. First, the change from asphalt to concrete, forming another one of the lips that we mentioned earlier. Then, there is a white curb bulb that pushes cyclists toward that lip and closer to the 30-35 mph traffic. Car drivers frequently try to cut this corner, which is presumably the reason why the curb bulb was installed in the first place.
Despite all of the parking on the tracks, we are reminded that this is an active railroad. The engine barn is just two blocks away.
Just past this parking lot, the Sharrows do something odd. They take cyclists off of the road. These sharrows pull cyclists out of the travel lane, dumping them on the shoulder, and force them to merge once again into the travel lane.
It isn’t ideal, but it does allow cyclists to cross the tracks at a large angle of attack and saves the local businesses from needing to tend to multiple concussion victims as they have in the past.
As we described before, lateral cracks are a significant hazard to cyclists and these tracks have a significant gap, enough to hold a bicycle nearly upright. We want cyclists to be able to cross at an acute angle, and for motorists to expect the S-turn manuver, but pulling cyclists off of the road is a bit odd.
Despite the fact that it goes against the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices standards, it also isn’t unique in Seattle to have a sharrow that is not in the travel lane, as seen just a few hundred yards away on 45th where the white line is broken in order to place the sharrow as far as possible to the right without painting it on dirt.
At least we finally have a good use of Sharrows, otherwise known as Sharing Arrows to indicate that the travel lane is to narrow to split and must be shared, on the westbound side. Previously, novice cyclists would try to hug the right hand edge and cross where the cross-hatched curve is currently located.