#1 – Minimizing Roadway Surface Hazards for Bikes

Seattle, Washington

Peter Lagerwey, Pedestrian & Bicycle Program Coordinator, City of Seattle


The goals of the city of Seattle’s Bicycle Program are to get more people bicycling more often and to reduce the number of crashes involving bicyclists. To accomplish this, the city of Seattle has adopted two main objectives: 1) to complete a comprehensive urban trails system (rail-trails and other trail facilities); and 2) to make all streets and bridges bicycle-friendly. The second objective was developed with the knowledge that up to 80 percent of all bicycle trips within the city will always be on streets shared with motor vehicles, regardless of how many trails are completed. There is simply no way to build a trail to every residence and every place of business. Even bicycle trips that involve the use of a trail typically involve on-street elements getting to and from the trail.



Bicyclists riding on city streets often encounter road hazards that can cause them to suddenly weave, possibly causing a conflict with motor vehicles, or even fall. In other cases, it discourages people from even attempting to ride. Typical road hazards include drainage grates that can catch bicycle tires, drainage grates that are either above or below the road surface, gaps between pavement seams, gutter pans that are too wide, poorly placed or slippery utility covers, railroad tracks that cross streets at obtuse angles, textured crosswalks that are slippery or excessively bumpy, pot holes, bad pavement around utility patches, and broken pavement caused by tree roots.


Seattle’s solution has been to “institutionalize” good design practices into standard plans and specifications and to establish a “Bike Spot Safety Program.”

Institutionalize Good Initial Design

The intent of the program, to institutionalize good design practices into standard plans and specifications, is to make sure that as streets are re-built and maintained, the right designs happen automatically (typically referred to as “routine accommodation”). The following are examples of how the city has incorporated and adopted standard practices that benefit bicyclists by removing road hazards:


The effort to do an even better job of "routine accommodation" continues. Over the next three years, the "Cities Street Design Manual" will again be completely revised.

Bike Spot Safety Program

The intent of the Bike Spot Safety Program is to make low-cost repairs and improvements that enhance bicycle safety and access on Seattle’s streets. The program relies on citizens to identify problems that need attention. Utilizing citizen input is done with the recognition that the bicycling public is going to have the best knowledge and information as to where problems exist. Additionally, city staff simply does not have the time to spend riding the streets to identify all problems that need attention.

The city has developed a Citizen Bicycling Improvement Request form that is distributed to bike shops, community centers, and published in the local bicycle club newsletter. On one side is space for an individual to fill out the location and nature of the problem and their name, address and phone number. The other side has the address of the bicycle program and a place for a stamp, which allows the request form to be mailed without the use of an envelope. When the form is received by the bicycle program, a staff person makes a quick assessment of the request and calls the person who filled out the form to let them know that: a) the problem will be fixed; b) the problem needs further investigation; or c) the problem is something that the Bike Spot Safety Program cannot address. In all cases, the staff person makes sure to let the resident know about how long it will take to respond to their request. A pothole, for example, may be filled in 24 hours while a bike rack request might take six weeks to install. After the resident has been contacted, the next step is to determine whether a field check is needed. Typically, a field check is not needed on routine maintenance items such as a request to sweep a bike lane. Field checks, however, are required for requests involving other improvements such as the installation of signs and bike racks. Once the field investigation is completed and a determination is made to make an improvement, a work instruction is filled out and electronically sent to the appropriate city crew. The crews then do the work and electronically notify the bicycle program that the improvement has been completed. Bike Spot Safety Program staff then call the resident who originally made the request to complete the loop.

Evaluation and Results

Eliminating road hazards for bicyclists reduces the number of locations where bicyclists can fall or be diverted into the path of motor vehicles. However, Seattle has not been able to draw a direct cause and effect relationship between the Bike Spot Safety Program and institutionalization program and a reduction in crashes or an increase in bicycle ridership.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The Bike Spot Safety Program is the single most important program administered by the Seattle Bicycle Program to improve safety. Additionally, residents appreciate the quick turnaround on the initial phone call and don’t mind waiting a few months for an improvement as long as they know when it is coming. In many cases, they are delighted just to have someone who listens and responds to their concerns. The program has won many friends by making a special effort to give priority to requests from persons with disabilities. The program is also popular with elected officials and other decision-makers since it generates thank-you letters and phone calls. Something is always occuring on the street, which demonstrates that “something” is being done. Finally, it helps the city defend itself against liability claims since it can be demonstrated that there is a safety program which quickly responds to maintenance concerns.

The results of the program to institutionalize good design practices into standard plans and specifications, have been equally successful. In almost all cases, streets are being re-built in a more bicycle-friendly design as a matter of routine accommodation. This is true of both public and private projects. One of the keys to success is to make sure that on private projects the city inspectors know the design requirements and are willing to stay on top of the contractors to make sure they do it right.

Costs and Funding

One key to the Bike Spot Safety Program’s success has been to work with existing maintenance programs that pay for many of the bike spot projects. For example, Seattle has a “Pothole Ranger” program where a crew does nothing but respond to pothole requests. The bike spot program simply adds a few requests to this existing program. The Bike Spot Safety program spends a minimum of $200,000 per year. Since individual improvements are relatively cheap, the amount dedicated to the program is flexible. More money means more improvements. In lean years when funds are scarce, fewer improvements are completed.


Peter Lagerwey
Bicycle & Pedestrian Program Coordinator
Seattle Department of Transportation
700 5th Avenue, Suite 3900
P.O. Box 34996
Seattle, WA 98124-4996
(206) 684-5108