Ship Canal Trail extension now open (VIDEO)


The Ship Canal Trail now connects Fisherman’s Terminal with the Fremont Bridge and provides a long-needed biking, walking and accessible route through the mess of dangerous overpasses at the south end of the Ballard Bridge.

Of all the projects for biking and walking due for completion this year, this trail extension may be the most important. It’s less than a mile long, but it has been over a decade in the making. For people not driving, the south end of the Ballard Bridge has long been something of an at-your-own-risk endeavor, effectively splitting the neighborhood in two and isolating much of Magnolia.

Biking on the overpasses is a risky endeavor with expansion gaps that can grab a bike wheel and little elbow room for passing cars. Many people choose to simply ride many miles out of the way just to skip the stressful interchange.

I shot the video above yesterday (sorry about the stream of consciousness commentary). The new section of trail begins around the 6:00 mark.

SDOT held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday (which I missed due to Cranksgiving). The SunBreak was there to cover it, though.

What are your thoughts on the trail?

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18 Responses to Ship Canal Trail extension now open (VIDEO)

  1. Julian says:

    I love it! Scenic in all sorts of ways, from industrial, to maritime, to park.

    One issue, not enough to dampen my appreciation: I do wonder about what seems to be an unnecessarily complicated double switchback hairpin tracks crossing. It does seem as if it could have been much simpler. I’m probably missing some key design constraint. I wonder if some sort of ADA steepness criterion forced the current design, or not wanting to have any obliqueness to the tracks crossing, but sheesh. Quite unwieldy on a cargo bike. Some of our parents had to dismount.

    Which I’m sure sounds like whining but really, would motorists tolerate such a slow, ungainly, awkward crossing? This here is where you get out and push your car around the narrow traffic circle, one at time now …

    • LWC says:

      I think the zig-zag is a response to the kind of lawsuits the city has seen: people ride unsafely over train tracks, then get angry when they fall and sue the city. The configuration here is a way to assure the city is not responsible for any accidents. Over the top? Yes, but so are many lawsuits in a country where nobody wants to take responsibility for their own bad decisions.

      Cynical response. Sorry.

  2. Tom says:

    I commuted in the pouring rain yesterday morning along the Ship Canal Trail for the first time. After passing over the Fremont Bridge, I was surprised at how quickly and easily I was on the trail. It was a quiet morning which made the ride next to the water very pleasant. The short section crossing the tracks was annoying due to all of the switchbacks.

    Since I wanted to head south on Gilman Ave W, it felt a little out of my way to hit West Emerson. Was it worth it to avoid cars? Yes!

    One last note is that the western end of this trail feels rather abrupt. I was forced to wait for a while to cross West Emerson to continue to Gilman. Oh well…

  3. eldan says:

    I’m very pleased about this trail, for exactly the reasons you set out. In its own right I wish they hadn’t made the hairpins around the tracks quite so tight, and I wish it had fewer stop signs, but it’s a HUGE improvement in connectivity, and I’d be inclined to actually detour the Burke Gilman Trail over the Fremont Bridge & Ballard Locks to use this to escape the Missing Link section for now.

  4. Brian T says:

    thanks for video. I suspect that the switchbacks at the crossing were a condition imposed by the railroad (or possibly federal regs?) due to the crossing of (presumably) active tracks — trying to get people to slow down and look (or, more cynically, trying to set up a “not my fault you got hit by a train” defense in a lawsuit). Although since the approaches to and exits from the crossing parallel the tracks it is hard to imagine a cyclist overlooking or not hearing a sixty bajillion pound diesel engine approaching…

  5. Jay says:

    Looks sweet, looking forward to trying it soon!

    I noticed that the existing West end of the trail puts you on Emerson, a few blocks before the bridge. That looks like the direct way to get to Gilman, but it seems like it could get a bit stressful as you’re going uphill and Emerson can be a bit busy..

    If you’re going Northbound from there I guess you could use 21st then Commodore, and take the Fort street bridge. Would that be better, or just more of a hassle?

  6. Bryan Willman says:

    Good to see this, good to see this link finished.

    I am troubled by how long it took and how much it cost. (True of lots of other things too.) Hopefully we can collectively get smarter about how to do these things.

  7. Todd says:

    I went to the ribbon cutting deal and was one of the first people to “officially” ride down this baby. I think the cost of it is entirely outrageous and is a good lesson in what can happen with lacking and/or poor planning. In fact, the cost of this thing doesn’t really warrant it — but now that it’s laid and these costs are not coming out of my pocket — it kicks total ass. Riding from the waterfront to Woodinville just got a whole lot safer, a whole lot easier, and a lot more fun.

  8. Doug Bostrom says:

    It has the first and most marvelous virtue of existence. Hats off to the shifting, evolving cast of characters who had the persistence and attention span to make this happen! Taxpayers with faith in government despite some visible warts deserve thanks, too.

  9. Lauren Hartzell Nichols says:

    The new trail has greatly improved my commute! I am very happy this trail finally opened. I commute to UW from Magnolia and had previously gone through the Ballard Locks (mostly because of safety concerns but also because it was more pleasant than the other options). My new route is 10-15 minutes shorter and is more pleasant and safter than my old route (since I now avoid the “missing link” in Ballard).

    One thing I’ve noticed this week, especially this morning, is that there are some drainage issues along the new trail. There was one spot this morning that was completely covered with .5-3″ of water and many other places where large puddles covered more than half the trail. I would have thought they would have anticipated these problems in advance and designed accordingly, especially given all the impervious surfaces adjacent to the trail. While not horribly dangerous, given the lack of lighting along the trail, I worry these large puddles may sneak up on riders at night.

    All in all, though, I am quite pleased with the new trail.

    • John Pepys says:

      I believe the huge puddles you refer to are farther down along towards SPU, not on the newly opened section between fisherman’s terminal and 13th ave w. I commuted via this trail monday & wednesday and no significant puddles on the new section.

      • Lauren HN says:

        I think you’re right about that. I’m new to the ship canal trail, so I wasn’t sure where the newer section ends. Either way though, the puddles are something for new ship canal trail users to watch out for.

  10. John Pepys says:

    All in all, a major improvement for my commute. No more dravus or 15th ave w, with it’s funky interchange with nickerson. As many, including me, have noted, the switchbacks are more than overkill. Also, right after crossing the tracks (heading east,) there is a section that gets pretty narrow as you wend your way through the pillars and retaining wall area. It’s not too bad, but you definitely want to keep your eyes peeled, as it’s easy to be surprised by on-coming traffic because of the blind hill–in a spot with very little room to maneuver.

    These spots are annoying, but not particularly dangerous. However, there is one part of the new trail section that is an accident waiting to happen. I’m referring to the street crossing right by the net-sheds (#9, i believe.) (This is between fisherman’s terminal and the rail crossing.) The trail has a stop-sign, but the street does not. How many cyclists will pay heed? I noticed in the video, that you guys not only didn’t stop here, but didn’t really slow down. Now granted, heading west the visibility at this crossing is better, but it’s still pretty tight. And heading east, you absolutely cannot see past that net-shed building until your front wheel is practically out in the crosswalk. Likewise, motorists are not able to see approaching cyclists until they’re right on top of you–and i’ve already encoutered a couple of cars here treating this side street like the indy brickyard.

    If SDOT does not change this to require car traffic to stop here, and if cyclists insist on blowing the stop, it’s only a matter of time before tragedy strikes. (The only mitigating factor here is that the street isn’t heavily traveled most of the time, so odds are you won’t encounter a car. But that will be little comfort on the day when one comes flying out from behind the net-shed just as a cyclist rolls into the intersection.)

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