Seattle - Home of Starbucks and superstar engineers

After enjoying a stunning conference, I had the highlight of my trip yesterday afternoon, which was spent with Dongho Chang, Seattle's chief traffic engineer. After all that I've seen here so far, I had a lot of questions about how they choose their various treatments and what the legal implications are. For example, I've been surprised to find that Seattle (and other places in the USA) operate filter-turning of motor vehicles across two-way protected bike lanes with filter turning, giving only a head-start to cyclists. That's something we've been advising against in NZ, due to the risks associated with cyclists in the contraflow direction. Apparently, it seems to be working here, although they're still not in a position to say where the thresholds between priority control, filter turning and fully protected turns lie. Although they definitely don't recommend 2-way protected bike facilities on 2-way streets, due to the inefficiency of operation, especially at locations where turns must be fully controlled.

My first 45 minutes with Dongho were gold, and I'd have been more than happy with just that, but when Google Maps decided to do a go-slow on us, he suggested we just visit the next site he wanted to talk about. We went to Roosevelt Way, where they've recently installed one-way protected bike lanes on each side of the street, with some in-lane bus stops that he's particularly pleased with. They think about the detail, right down to the policy of having bike racks near each bus stop so that people can leave their bikes there safely if the three bike racks on the bus are already full.

After that, going via the University District (where the students were preparing for the homecoming game) I tagged along to a meeting at Starbucks HQ (side note: Starbucks originated in Seattle, and there seems to be one on every block, if not every corner) where Dongho spoke to a group of staff who are interested in cycling, gave them an overview of what's going on in the city and listened to their concerns about their ride to work. He does this with a lot of commercial and community groups.

I've also enjoyed meeting some folk at the Alta office, talking about their projects and staying with a staff member for a couple of nights, which has been a great opportunity to learn more about the local culture. Like the fact that Seattle has a lot of micro-breweries and there seems to be a trend to associate beer and restaurants with bicycles. (Note to ViaStrada staff: I haven't been converted to beer, but did enjoy a cinnamon cider!).

A few other interesting things I've noticed in Seattle:

• It's super-hilly. But that doesn't seem to bother them. They adjust the signal timings at steep locations, but not other parameters like cycle facility width.
• They use 4-way stop controls a lot, at what seem to me to be rather busy intersections.
• I knew about the right turn on red rule, that's generally present in some form in most states, but it always strikes me as unusual.
• There's a lot of use of signs to remind people to obey traffic lights and apply the standard give-way rules etc.

I'm on the train now, heading up to Vancouver; I'm quite excited about what I'll be seeing there, as Dongho told the Starbucks crew that "Vancouver is light-years ahead of Seattle"!