Representatives from the state’s 520 Bridge Replacement project presented at Wednesday’s Bicycle Advisory Board meeting, bravely unrolling a bridge concept map lacking a complete biking and walking path across Portage Bay. I say bravely because the presenters were very aware that the continued lack of said trail was not going to be received well. And it wasn’t.
Let’s rewind for those who have not been following. The state is piecing together a complete replacement of the 520 Bridge from Medina to I-5. The multibillion-dollar project is woefully underfunded, so the state is going piece-by-piece as they can scrounge up funding or loans to make it happen. First was the eastside end, then comes the floating portion across Lake Washington, then the north side of the Montlake portion (including the trail), then the completion of the bridge in Montlake, the bridge over Portage Bay to Delmar and I-5. Though the Seattle part remains unfunded, the state is moving forward with the design and community process so it is ready when those hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars suddenly appear.
The project is currently working through draft designs, and their proposed bridge design includes a 14-foot biking and walking trail (four feet wider than the I-90 Trail) from Medina to the new Montlake lid, which will include access to the Arboretum, the Montlake Bridge (and UW Station at Husky Stadium), the Burke-Gilman Trail, the Lake Washington Loop bike route and the Bill Dawson Trail to Montlake Playfield. WSDOT is looking to build a new paved biking and walking trail through the Arboretum and is looking to widen and improve sightlines on the Bill Dawson Trail under 520 between the new lid and the Montlake Playfield (great news!).
The Delmar lid includes a connection to Harvard Ave south of 520 toward Capitol Hill and downtown. A connection to Federal Ave is also on the list of potential options, opening up the possibility for a neighborhood greenway on the popular-though-poorly-paved road.
However, plans are inexplicably missing a biking and walking trail to connect trails in Montlake with trails on this new Delmar lid. Project planners say it is missing because many nearby residents requested that they make the bridge as skinny as possible to avoid casting extra shadows and obstructing views. In essence, WSDOT seems to want to pit people who want biking and walking access on the Portage Bay Bridge against people who are concerned about views.
We must reject this fight entirely. It is a false framework for a debate over the walking and biking path.
It is 2012, not 1960. Building a bridge like this through a neighborhood without biking and walking access is not an option, it is an integral part of the project. The bridge is 115 or so feet wide, and planners say the biking and walking trail would add about 10 feet to that width. I am sure if those ten extra feet are too much, they can find some other ways to find the space, like taking one foot of width off each travel lane (they want 45 mph speeds, anyway, and wide lanes encourage speeding). It’s like packing a suitcase so full of underwear you have no room for your one pair of socks, then saying, “Oops, it’s too full, I guess I’ll go barefoot.” Bad metaphors aside, we’re not asking for a luxury here, we’re asking for basic access.
But that’s WSDOT’s puzzle to solve. The fact they ever came to the public with a design that does not include a biking and walking facility across Portage Bay is insulting. It goes against stated city goals and legislation supporting complete streets, and it goes against the state’s goals of increasing biking and walking while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
And to try to pit residents concerned about views and shadows against people who want biking and walking access is even worse. It’s a potentially community-damaging distraction. They want those neighbors to lose focus and beat up on biking and walking advocates instead. I strongly urge them not to take the bait. Your beef is with WSDOT, not us (and by “us” I mean many of your neighbors who strongly support the trail). Don’t you want you and your neighbors to be able to walk and/or bike across the bridge, too?
Project planners are now looking to the City Council for guidance. I trust the Council will strongly support the biking/walking trail and hope they do not fall into the state’s trap pitting the two desires against each other. Central Seattle Greenways recently submitted a letter with signatures from over 300 community members and organizations suggesting more biking and walking improvements. It’s a great read for background on the issues. Stay tuned for more ways to get involved as the project moves to the Council for advice.
Here’s the full October progress report: