If you have ever walked or biked through Montlake at Highway 520, you know that the area is not friendly to people outside a motor vehicle. Well, if current plans go forward, the walking and biking environment would be worse.
Neighborhood residents and walk/bike boosters made the case to the City Council Monday for a more friendly Montlake Lid design. They also demonstrated near-unanimous support for a biking and walking trail across the Portage Bay segment of the bridge and a safe biking and walking connection across I-5 at Roanoke, connecting Eastlake and North Capitol Hill (see this previous post for background).
The Montlaker blog summed up the consensus:
- Portage Bay Bridge Trail: 1298 out of 1339 commenters in support continuing the 520 Bridge regional trail from Montlake to Roanoke and I-5 via the Portage Bay Bridge. That’s 97% consensus.
- Montlake Blvd: 1028 out of 1102 commenters support improvements to pedestrian, bicycle and transit improvements along both sides of Montlake Blvd. That’s 93% strong.
- Bike/Ped Crossing at I-5 & Roanoke: 1146 out of 1245 commenters favor a 30-foot wide pedestrian and bicycle bridge over Interstate 5. That’s 92%.
Those are three key improvements to the 520 plan that received over 90 percent of support in the state’s public feedback process. While this feedback process is obviously not completely scientific, it’s pretty hard to find 1,300 Seattleites who agree so strongly about almost anything.
The state has asked the City Council for guidance on local issues, and the Council plans to give that guidance in January. The Council also added $160,000 to the 2013-14 budget for a walking and biking study of Montlake to help lead project design, a strong sign that the Council’s opinions are likely to fall in line with the 90+ percent of respondents concerned about the state’s current design plans.
The beast underneath the debate may end up being the planned bridge expansion from four lanes to six. Recent traffic numbers on the bridge suggest that a wider highway may not be necessary. But what absolutely cannot happen is for off-ramps to be expanded along with the highway in a way that damages the biking and walking environment in our neighborhoods even further. Crossing one traffic lane on foot is dramatically safer and easier than crossing two—for example—and the state’s plans would turn three existing one-lane crossings into two-lane crossings.
Cascade Bicycle Club and Seattle Neighborhood Greenways have identified a whole slew of issues in the Montlake plans that would make the neighborhood more dangerous and less inviting to anyone outside a motor vehicle. They also pointed to the project as a unique opportunity to get things right:
“If we’re going to spend billions of dollars on a new 520 bridge, one that will stand long past our lifetimes, we have a responsibility to get it right,” said Gordon Padelford of Central Seattle Greenways. “The Seattle City Council should listen to the community and tell WSDOT to include a shared-use trail on the Portage Bay Bridge, redesign the North-South pedestrian and bicycle connections from the University of Washington to south of Lake Washington Blvd to make them work for people of all ages and abilities, and to collaborate with City agencies and stakeholder groups to improve the project design before it is finalized.”
“The public reviewed WSDOT’s plans for 520 and spoke loud and clear: better pedestrian and bicycle connections are needed as alternatives for getting through Montlake,” said Rainer Metzger of Montlake Greenways. “We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get this right – to build landscaped lids that reconnect neighborhoods, encourage walking and biking – and put Seattle’s natural beauty on display.”
“Now that we have a draft of a complete citywide bicycle and pedestrian network, Seattle is finally in a position to start integrating the proposed SR 520 in a way that connects not only the surrounding community, but also our region,” said Bob Edmiston of Madison Park Greenways. “Since this bicycle and pedestrian network vision did not exist even a year ago, a continuation of the design process is necessary in order to take full advantage of this unique multi-billion dollar opportunity.”
Here are a couple of the documents Cascade delivered to the City Council: