The many varieties of bicycle facilities

As we continue developing Seattle’s system of bicycle facilities, we want to make sure folks are aware of the various kinds of facilities out there. 

We look at many factors when determining what type of facility to build in a specific location: the amount of space available, the type of street (such as arterial or residential), the amount of traffic, the type of traffic (such as transit) and the intended type of cyclists.

Here’s a brief overview of the various types:

Multi-Use Trail (aka Shared-Use Path)
A wide, usually paved path completely separated from motor vehicles.  They’re often built on former railroad corridors, so they have a gentle slope.  Seattle is rather famous for its many multi-use trails such as the Alki, Chief Sealth, and the granddaddy of all them all, the Burke-Gilman. 


Bike Lane
A four to five foot wide lane on the road separated from other traffic by a white line and marked by a cyclist symbol.  These are commonly found on arterials.  Examples abound, including 2nd Ave downtown,  Greenwood Ave N./Phinney Ave N. and Rainier Ave S.

Buffered bike lane on Dexter Ave N

Buffered Bike Lane
A bike lane further separated from the other traffic by a painted buffer on the road.  Examples include parts of the bike lane on E. Marginal Way S. in SODO and Dexter Ave N.

Cycle Track
A bike lane physically separated from other traffic by a curb, different paving materials and/or a lane of parked cars.  A cycle track will be built in along with the First Hill Streetcar.

Installing sharrows


Sharrows  (share the road symbols)
Where the road is too narrow to carve out bike lanes, we install sharrows, symbols with a chevron (upside-down V’s) and a cyclist.  Sharrows send the message to drivers that they should expect bicyclists to be sharing this road with them.  They also help bicyclists positions themselves in the roadway.   Just look anywhere around town for sharrows.

Climbing Lane / Sharrow Combo
Where space is too tight for bike lanes in both directions, we often create a bike lane on the uphill side of the road (where bicycles are much slower than other traffic) and sharrows on the downhill side (where cyclists’ speed is more comparable to other traffic.)  Examples include Stone Way N in Wallingford and Fauntleroy Way SW in West Seattle.

Bus/bike only lane on Avalon Way SW


Bus/Bike Only Roadways and Lanes
Transit-only lanes which also allow bicyclists.  These provide a space to bike free of cars and trucks.  The Third Ave transit spine downtown is a bus/bike only roadway and the bus lane on Avalon Way SW heading toward the West Seattle Bridge is bus/bike-only lane.

Bike Route / Connector
A route suggested for bicycles to get from one point to another, which could include any combination of bicycle facilities.  They are on the bike map and increasingly marked with on-street signs to guide you along the way.  

And don’t forget…

Any City Street or Sidewalk
Bicycles are vehicles, and they are allowed on any city street.  If you’re new to biking, you’ll probably want to start on quiet side streets and on bike facilities.  Use your good judgment.  Bicycles are also legal on sidewalks, but be sure to yield to pedestrians.

For more details, check out this list from Seattle’s Bicycle Master Plan and of course, the Seattle Bike Map.    We’re  looking forward to updating to the Bicycle Master Plan, which is likely to include updates to the definitions above, plus some new facility types such as neighborhood greenways.