Business owner sends photos of people crashing on Missing Link, city (finally) finishes temporary bikeway

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Images taken amid midday on Sunday, so don’t show all the completed work.

IMG_0160(1)After five months in a state of partial completion, the city made substantial progress toward completing the temporary Burke-Gilman Missing Link improvements between Shilshole and Fred Meyer Sunday.

The two-way bikeway on NW 45th Street is an attempt to increase safety on a notoriously dangerous stretch of road that has resulted in a huge number of injuries over the years. Train tracks that can easily grab bike tires combined with high bike volumes have led to many broken bones and a lot of road rash.

Michael F. Marian owns Marian Built Fine Hardwoods and Furnishings, located near a particularly crash-prone area near the Ballard Bridge. At this point, people on bikes need to cross the tracks, and people who naturally head straight instead of making a sharp turn to cross perpendicular to the tracks unknowingly run a high risk of crashing.

After witnessing far too many injuries outside his business, Marian started documenting them. He sent a justifiably fiery email to the city and local media (including Seattle Bike Blog) that included his photos. It’s a reminder that while the trail remains held up in the courts, going through an endless number of studies (including a full Environmental Impact Study, happening now), people are getting hurt. It’s exciting to see any kind of improvement in the area, but this is far too high a price to pay for safe streets. It shouldn’t take this many injuries before something is finally done about them. And the Missing Link is still very far from complete.

Here’s what Marian sent:

image-2To anyone at the Seattle Department of Transportation concerned with public safety,

Shilshole Ave NW under the Ballard bridge is a very dangerous place for bicycles. SDOT has made Shilshole a one way street in an attempt to make it safer. They have installed islands, re-paved, and re-painted existing traffic lines. But they have done nothing, NOTHING to direct bicycles across the tracks perpendicularly. I would think some cones glued to the roadway to direct this, while still letting the train through, would be sufficient. Whatever the solution is, it needs to happen today.

I will be actively using social media to get the word out about this, as well as taking as many pictures and getting as many statements as possible. I have cc’d various contacts in the local media. To them I would say ‘bring your cameras down, you WILL see people fall and get hurt’. I will also be more than willing to be a witness to any lawsuits brought forth against the city.

This is so bad I just can’t believe it’s going on.

Yesterday a young lady broke her wrist and her face gushed blood onto the roadway as she was taken away by ambulance. The day before a seven year old boy hit the ground, hard. And that’s just two of the 5 accidents I personally witnessed in those two days.

I CAN NOT WATCH PEOPLE GET HURT AND SIT QUIETLY WHILE NO ONE DOES ANYTHING ABOUT IT!

Get down there and install cones to direct bicycle traffic across the tracks perpendicularly. You are costing the city a lot of money as well as allowing people to be SEVERELY INJURED!

DO IT NOW!!!!!!!

WHAT EXCUSE COULD YOU POSSIBLY HAVE?!

image-9 image-8   image-5 image-4  image-1image-3-2 image-7-2 image-6-2Here is Seattle Traffic Engineer Dongho Chang’s response:

Hello Michael,

Thank you for your time yesterday talking with me.  I definitely heard you loud and clear and am taking your concerns seriously.  Safety is SDOT’s highest priority and we have a goal of zero fatality and serious injury by 2030.  I sincerely understand your urgency and outrage about the bicycle riders who have difficulty and fall crossing the rail road tracks under the Ballard Bridge on NW 45th Street.  I am directly accountable for addressing this situation and am committed to doing exactly that.  I talked with our field crews and they confirmed that all riders were following the newly marked crossing that was completed yesterday afternoon.  This section of the NW 45th Street has been one of the highest bicycle fall locations in our city.  I am hoping that the interim changes that have been made will help our residents navigate this street safely and more easily as we continue to finalize the environmental review of the Burke Gilman Trail project.

UPDATE: A common question from readers is: Are they going to make the T-intersection of 46th and Shilshole into an all-way stop? It’s a difficult and dangerous to turn left from the new bikeway to access the central Ballard business district. Here’s Chang’s answer, via email:

There still needs to be some improvements along the Shilshole connection from the interim work.  We did not have the all way stop at this intersection, as we initially focused on 45th street.  Navigating this intersection easier and safer will be in our next steps.

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56 Responses to Business owner sends photos of people crashing on Missing Link, city (finally) finishes temporary bikeway

  1. Andres Salomon says:

    I tried this new section out yesterday; it’s a huge improvement.

    One thing that would be nice to see (and not just here, but other places as well) is more green paint at intersections to inform people on bikes where to go. When transitioning from sidewalk or Burke to protected lanes, it’s often not clear where a bicyclist should go, and the recommended way to get there. In the past, the city has used sharrows to direct bicycles. Even this would be an improvement, but I think the green paint would be more obvious to all modes in these conflict zones.

    • Jonathan says:

      Agree totally. A lot of us may know where to go from experience or talking to other cyclists but right now, hundreds of people new to cycling in Seattle are getting out there for the first time (or checking out a new area) and that is why we need clear and thoughtful direction in transitional areas. I’ll admit, I just tried the Montlake Bridge southbound for the first time and I did follow the sign directing me to use the Hec-Ed pedestrian bridge… but beyond that I was lost and guessing.

  2. Adron Hall says:

    It’s about bloody time! I used to ride that from Ballard all the time. It’s a little late for the improvements to keep me in Seattle though. Between this nasty unimproved stretch ( I lived at 24th & Market ) and the transit cuts (or whatever PR word they used) for 24th & Market in Ballard I ended up just moving back to Portland.

    However… I’ll definitely be biking out that way on one of my subsequent trips to Seattle!! :)

  3. Todd Haley says:

    Do you know if they plan on doing anything about that “T” intersection at the end of the bikeway? I was there yesterday there was a lot of fast moving traffic, making it a challenge to make a left turn there.

    • Matthew Snyder says:

      If they haven’t added a new stop sign by now, 18 months after this project was announced, then I think it’s safe to say they’re not going to. Find another route, is what the city is saying.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      Dongho Chang emailed me the following. I’m also updating the story to note it: “There still needs to be some improvements along the Shilshole connection from the interim work. We did not have the all way stop at this intersection, as we initially focused on 45th street. Navigating this intersection easier and safer will be in our next steps.”

      • BallardCommuter says:

        Re: “We did not have the all way stop at this intersection, as we initially focused on 45th street. Navigating this intersection easier and safer will be in our next steps.”

        What a slippery way to answer that question! The answer should either be: “Yes, there will be a four way stop at that intersection by .” Or, “No, we do not care about your safety enough to mildly inconvenience some drivers.”

        This whole episode has caused me to lose all confidence in Mr. Chang and SDOT. It took nearly 6 months from the time they started this work until this half-assed, poorly designed solution was actually finished. And it took photos of blood on the pavement – literally! – before they finally finished what should have been done in a week. It would appear that fear of lawsuits is the only thing that motivates Mr. Chang and the rest of SDOT to do their job! Duly noted.

        A huge thank you to Michael Marian for documenting the carnage putting the scare into some lazy bureaucrats. It’s really a shame that all these people had to be hurt in meantime, but it’s greatly appreciated.

      • BallardCommuter says:

        Typos! That’s what I get for typing angry.

      • Stay Angry says:

        Keep in mind that we have a new mayor who fired the SDOT director, Dongho’s boss, who initiated these changes but couldn’t be around to see them through. A light at this intersection is part of the plan for the Missing Link, but it has been held up by lawsuits for 5 1/2 YEARS. I don’t know the internal politics at SDOT, but one thing is clear: Mayor Murray is very sensitive to public pressure and that can lead to positive solutions. We shall see how this plays out in Ballard, Westlake, etc…

  4. Geronimo says:

    I rode through there this morning – the rail crossing pictured above is now divided into two lanes by plastic bollards. It felt like I was being asked to make a 90-degree durn into something about 18 inches wide. Beyond that, in the stretch between 11th and 14th, there was a wrong-way driver on the bike side who just shrugged when I swerved around him.

    I’m glad that this is only temporary and I don’t really thing that we have much to celebrate at this point – if it does anything it will be to reduce the city’s liability since anybody who rides it regularly will avoid the marked route and have their accident where the city can say it is their own fault.

    • Damon says:

      I’ll second this. The path they’re trying to direct us into over the tracks is far too narrow. I understand why they did that — if they make it wider, people will cut it diagonally and not go over the tracks at 90 degrees. But they made it so tight, with the lanes right next to each other, that I’d be really nervous about going through there at the same time as another rider in the other direction.

      Myself, I’ll probably be doing what seems to be the safer thing and avoiding that little chute altogether, as will the other commuter I talked to about the change. Which, of course, will make things less safe, if cyclists make different decisions in the same location and then try to merge back together.

      Might have been better if they’d separated the two lanes for the RR crossing.

      • Josh says:

        Possibly they’re trying to force people to slow to fast-pedestrian speeds, like the proposal for Westlake?

      • bill says:

        Because 45th is such a crowded pedestrian thoroughfare?

      • Josh says:

        I can certainly see wanting riders to take the crossing at a moderate pace, because taking the oblique crossing at speed increases the chance of slipping out on the rails. But substandard widths and hazardous obstacles in the sidepath are not the way to do that, any more than you’d slow car traffic by narrowing the lane with occasional Jersey barriers on the center stripe and fog lines.

    • Josh says:

      What is the actual lane width there?

      Looking at the rail lines, 4’8″ standard gauge, it doesn’t really look like the two bike lanes add up to adequate width for a turn with delineator posts.

      Should be a minimum of 5 feet per lane in straight sections, plus at least a foot of shy distance from vertical hazards like delineator posts, plus additional width in curves depending on the design speed.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        My phone camera has a wide-angle lens, so it may be hard to accurately tell the width from the photo (especially if you’re using the rail as a reference point). Here’s a top-down photo from Madi: https://twitter.com/familyride/status/473197116186046464

      • bill says:

        That photo confirms my suspicion the crossing angle is too oblique.

      • Josh says:

        Thanks — Madi’s photo makes it look like the lanes are barely 4 feet wide over the rails.

        5 feet each way is really a minimum for a sidepath except in extremely constrained conditions, and where there’s significant bike traffic, AASHTO would say to go up to 6-8 feet each way if conditions allow.

        Really wonder what the city was thinking there…

    • sdv says:

      I completely agree. The turn they have created is absurd and dangerous.

    • Kirk says:

      I rode through it all yesterday. The crossing of the tracks is ridiculous. This whole project has really illustrated for me that SDOT really doesn’t care and really doesn’t get it.
      I don’t see how a tandem, much less a cargo bike with a trailer full of kids, would make it through this mess. There is so much room to work with, it is amazing how they have needlessly jammed this simple crossing togther. I get it that a narrow path forces a 90 degree crossing, but the lanes should have been separated, and then narrowed only at the track crossing, allowing for large vehicles to safely make the turn.

  5. bill says:

    It seems like there are enough wrong-way drivers on the path to justify a the city deploying a motorcycle cop there until the locals get the idea.

    So Geronimo is saying the RR crossing is worse than it looks in the picture. It looks like the crossing angle is too oblique, especially when it’s raining. The path is not routed to swing wide and cross near to 90 degrees. Thanks SDOT, but eastbound I will continue crossing on the other side of the bridge where there is room for a proper maneuver. To boot, I will end up on the correct side of the intersection at 11th Ave. Why the city thinks a two-way cycletrack is appropriate here escapes me. Oh, I know — cycletracks are the solution to all bicycle right-of-way problems!

    • sdv says:

      Oh yes, the city could have made a fortune from this road during the past 6 months. I bet they didn’t issue a single citation.

  6. Jayne says:

    Good to see a business owner catch on to a problem many of us have known about for a long time. Too bad it took a business owner to spur change while the city ignores a different large group of citizens. Maybe more business owners would take notice if people joined me in not doing business of any kind in ballard until the infrastructure there isn’t designed to injure its users. And I mean BEFORE 2030, Mr. Chang.

    • RTK says:

      I know there have been suggestions in the past to boycott those businesses that are actively working to block the completion of the missing link. Seems reasonable to me. I can’t see shunning all Ballard businesses, and will personally seek out Mr. Marian in the future if I need any custom hardwood work.

    • Ballard Biker says:

      I’m with Jayne. Next time I need a tanker of fuel, I’ll go somewhere else. And next time I need to build a road, I’ll go somewhere else. And next time I need parts for a large diesel engine, I’ll go somewhere else. And next time I need to process 200,000 pounds of fish, I’ll go somewhere else. And next time I need to fuel a tug boat, I’ll go somewhere else. Etc. Etc.

      • Matthew Snyder says:

        The Ballard Chamber of Commerce also (inexplicably) opposes completion of the Missing Link, despite the clear benefits to the overwhelming majority of their members. You might not be able to boycott marine oil suppliers very effectively, but convincing the small businesses that make up the bulk of the CoC to support the Missing Link could be a more tractable target.

        For what it’s worth, I’ve written to the Ballard CoC repeatedly trying to get an explanation for their opposition to safe cycling and pedestrian infrastructure in a particularly dangerous area, and have never received a response.

      • bill says:

        Somehow or other Lakeside Industries survives despite being cut off from the entire world by the Burke. (Between 36th & 39th street ends.)

  7. Anthony says:

    That is absolutely atrocious, and by no means a solution. It never was a trail, period. These lines disappear after not so long, unfortunately. The City just won’t ever get it, each time they try it seems they compound the problem.

    I am so glad that I will never have to pick up another cyclist off the ground there again. That day I “found” him dazed and confused, well it wasn’t fun to say the least.

  8. Al Dimond says:

    The crossing angle is not too shallow. Crossing angle is important for crashes where your front wheel is steered into the track groove, which occurs at much shallower angles and almost always when the rider is unaware of the tracks. As long as you are aware the tracks are coming and follow the line of the trail you won’t crash here unless you’re leaning really hard and slide on top of a slippery rail. That can happen at any crossing angle, and again, it’s a problem that doesn’t happen when you’re aware of the rails and take reasonable precautions.

  9. NW46th says:

    I took the new bike route heading West when you get to NW 46th St you have to wait there a long time to be able to make a Left. It is far better to just go West on NW 46th Street and not stop and wait for the never ending cars. Make sure to bring a good rain coat and a cup of coffee while you are waiting. The city should put in a roofed stop area. As far as those train tracks, I almost bit it once. Not a good thing. The city should just make a trail right beside the water and do it by eminent domain. That way they can have their road and we can have a nice trail along the water.

    • Al Dimond says:

      Water access is needed by marine businesses. Taking that land would be incredibly unpopular, and for good reason.

      • NW46th says:

        And the reason is … ?

        If we can do it on Westlake we can do it there too. Or we can build a bike, pedestrian overpass like they have in Bangkok. I should add that the Ballard bridge redesign for friendly bike and pedestrian access still needs to happen. Lets cut it to one way in each direction and put in bike lanes. I know once they put a bike & pedestrian counter on the bridge and see the numbers they will have to do something. Did a past mayor say something about a transit bridge?
        We can not live by car alone.

      • Kirk says:

        NW46th, the actual plan is to put the Burke Gilman trail much closer to the water all the way up Shilshole. For a fairly complete overview of the project and of the saga, see the SDOT page about the project http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/missinglink.htm
        And you are so right about the Ballard Bridge. Despite SDOT’s own poll identifying it as the worst place to bicycle in Seattle and the number one crossing that people want to see improved, they have done NOTHING, absoultely nothing, not one thing, to improve the cycling experience of the Ballard Bridge…

      • Al Dimond says:

        From the eastern end of the temporary trail (at 11th), through its western end (at 17th) and on to where Shilshole and the railroad south of it diverge (just short of 24th), the permanent plan is to build the trail just south of the road instead of in its north lane. That’s closer to the water by maybe 30 feet — not all that much. The trail will then follow the railroad ROW to the locks. Both the land south of the road and the railroad ROW are already publicly owned (the railroad is railbanked).

        That’s somewhat similar to Westlake, where the city owns a wide stretch of land just inland from marine businesses (and, in that case, floating homes). It’s similar to the South Ship Canal Trail, where it runs just inland of marine industries. It’s very different from taking a bunch of waterfront land by eminent domain. Even in this situation the existing users feel they have a claim on the city’s use of the public land… in the Missing Link case it’s stronger largely due to railroad use.

        Marine industry is very important to Seattle’s economy. Shipping is a stable sector in a city full of boom-and-bust businesses (software, airplanes, retail). Marine industry serves the shipping sector and provides good jobs for lots of people.

  10. Kirk says:

    (in the two years after their poll)

  11. Jay says:

    I don’t understand why those tracks are even there. I have a hard time considering a 3 mile (more or less) line that operates a handful of times a week at walking speed a “real” railroad, but even if some do, what can it possibly serve East of 15 th. ? Well, except for the “railroad’s” own “engine yard”, but I’m sure Salmon bay, or Ballard oil or one of the other obstructionists can come up with a bit of space for that.

    • Kirk says:

      The railroad is completely superflous to the Missing Link Saga, except for continuing to be a safety hazard while the trail remains unfinished. The trail has been designed to accomodate the railroad.
      The problem at this point is the NIMBYism of Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel and Ballard Oil, as well as the inability of SDOT to anticipate the need for and complete an Environmental Impact Statement. For more information, check out the link to SDOTs page on the subject. http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/missinglink.htm

    • Grouchy Ballardite says:

      The tracks are there for the train that runs on top of them. No, it’s not a busy railroad, but it does still move a huge amount of cement between the main rail line above Seaview Ave and our friendly neighbors, Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel. East of 15th is their “rail yard” as you’d put it, where they store the “rail cars” that are awaiting “delivery”. The train isn’t the problem here. The problem is its biggest customer, Salmon Bay, and everyone else that has been blocking the Missing Link for over ten years now. There’s plenty of room for the rail line and a bike path to coexist without any silly, over-engineered crossings (think the one on 45th Street is bad? Take a look under the Ballard Bridge on the other side of Salmon Bay, on the South Ship Canal Trail). People suggest tearing out the railroad every time this issue is discussed. There’s no need for that, but there is a huge need for a well-designed trail through this neighborhood. We should’ve had one ten years ago.

      • Jay says:

        But Salmon bay is about half a mile NW of the carnage illustrated above. I get why they want the line north of there, but SE? compared to the harm done, how does it make sense to have that much hazard just to store a couple of little switch engines? again, let Salmon bay house them. At the south end of the bridge, it looks like Coastal Transportation is the major (maybe only?) user of the rail, and they keep a little engine right on the track next to their building. And while the approach to the trail crossing does have sharp turns, the actual crossing is at 90deg and is adequately wide. I can ride my Bullitt through it with little difficulty (as long as no one is coming the other direction at exactly the same time)

        And what is the point of that crossing at 41st/6th where the track only runs about another 100′, well, ok, at one time there was a spur towards White Cap and maneuvering room would have been needed to use it, but that spur has a pile of ecology blocks on it now, so I’m pretty sure it is abandoned.

  12. Grouchy Ballardite says:

    SE of Salmon Bay and the bridge, behind Fred Meyer, is the train yard where they store cement cars. I’ve seen them park 10 or more down there before; I doubt Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel has that kind of space. It’s still irrelevant; a well-engineered trail could stay on the south side of Shilshole Ave and not cross the tracks at all.

    I take back what I said about the crossing on the South Ship Canal Trail. I just rode through the new one on 45th St. last night; it’s worse. It’s so small, I opted to skip the whole thing, riding past it in the oncoming lane and crossing it in the same manner I have for the last 5 1/2 years without crashing. I saw another rider do the exact same thing in the opposite direction.

    As for that pointless crossing at 41st and 6th, you are 100% correct. There’s maybe 100ft of usable track past it, and I’ve never seen a train car parked on it. And I HAVE crashed on that one, back when it was slippery plastic that got icy in the winter. I can’t believe SDOT couldn’t talk the railroad into giving up that one.

    • P. Ackerman says:

      SDOT needs to not worry about a bunch of bicyclists there is more important people like motorists that don’t run red lights or cross streets and think its a right to use public roads. It is a privilege to drive not a right.

      • bill says:

        Indeed driving is a privilege which many drivers have confused with ownership of the road. You can kill a lot of people with a car by running a red light so we ought to have cameras at every intersection.

  13. Susan says:

    I rode through that stretch for the first time this afternoon, heading west. I was confused by the pylons and narrow pathway, and seeing an oncoming rider I made a quick adjustment to the right to stay in what I thought was the intended lane. Next thing I knew I was skidding across the asphalt and smacked my head into one of those “helpful” pylons. Ouch! Lucky for me I’m fine, just gave up a little flesh on the pavement – thank goodness for my helmet.

    • bill says:

      I hope you’re ok — the full extent of “minor” crashes sometimes takes a day or two to manifest. Be sure to complain to the city!

  14. Teresa says:

    I rode the new section yesterday evening and got caught in the rail track. The new turn structure on the new section under the bridge is too shallow heading eastbound. My road bike, with new tires, still got stuck and skidded out. I am a study in road rash on a good deal of my right side and the proud owner of bent handlebars and a cracked helmet. Sadly, this has never happened to me before and the new markings made me believe the odds would be reduced altogether. There is still more work to do on this piece. Be very careful folks.

    • Grouchy Ballardite says:

      Please sue the city. It’s probably the only way they’ll listen.

      • Teresa says:

        I am not sure that I have the stomach to sue but I will write letters. Does anyone know who best to contact? (WSDOT, City Council, etc?) I have no problem sending out to a mass list but want to sure I am targeting my communication correctly. Thank you!

    • bill says:

      I emailed a link to this page to SDOT 10 days ago (684-road@seattle.gov) specifically mentioning the crash reports. I’ve not gotten a response.

      • BallardCommuter says:

        Bill, they do not care. You should stop wasting your time.

      • bill says:

        I’ve had face-to-face interaction with one SDOT engineer who bikes and does care. If a lot of us raised a stink directly with the department the higher-ups might get a clue. If I’m the only one contacting SDOT then yes, I’m a crank wasting my time. If you sit on your hands you can be certain nothing will happen.

      • Andres says:

        Exactly. I bitch and moan at SDOT all of the time. Constantly. They’re probably so sick of me by now. Sometimes it gets results, sometimes it doesn’t. But if others bitch and moan with me, they notice and it helps focus their attention. That doesn’t mean they’ll get things fixed 100% correctly, of course, but that’s why we need to keep on top of them.

        Another added benefit – you find out what drives (no pun intended) decisions at SDOT by communicating with them. This helps *you* focus your bitching and moaning to be more effective. It also helps you figure out who to contact at SDOT to get things fixed.

        Be a squeaky wheel.

  15. bill says:

    I finally rode this today. SDOT could have done a worse job, but not by much. Going across the tracks I felt like I was a croquet ball threading a wicket. And I swung into the oncoming bike lane to get a safe angle for the crossing.

    Going east on Shilshole the eastbound car ahead of me just went straight in the bike lane to continue on Shilshole instead of snaking around the painted island (where the bike is on the left of the picture at the top of the page). SDOT should move the pylons from the RR crossing to this bike lane to keep the cars out of it. Police? Where are they?

  16. Teresa says:

    It appears that the WSDOT engineer leading the Burke Gilman trail efforts is Dongho Chang. He is referenced in multiple articles on this Blog and others as the responsible party for Seattle cycle specific designs for roadways. His email address is Dongho.chang@seattle.gov .

    I personally intend to email him directly. I am the same cyclist who commented earlier regards my 6/5/14 crash on the ‘newly improved’ section under the Ballard bridge. I am still recovering from my concussion, infected contusion on my right elbow, and various patches of road rash and cuts. I am very lucky that my arm was not broken. I am waiting until my story is more complete, and the full extent of injury potential complications known, before sending my email to him. I will also be including the members of the Seattle City Council and other WSDOT team members in this communication.

    I am doing this for me and all others who will be impacted by this unsafe section of trail. The city did not fix anything – they made it worse. I am sure that the injuries will continue until the safety issues are addressed.

  17. Pingback: Ever crash on the Burke-Gilman Missing Link? This awesome sticker is for you | Seattle Bike Blog

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