How you can get a taste of the future 520 Trail connecting the Eastside and Seattle

IMG_0629The 520 highway expansion project is a $4.47 billion investment mostly focused on car travel. The planned connections into Seattle remain unfunded by at least $1.6 billion, and the state’s Seattle designs still present a lot of walking and biking safety challenges in Montlake (more on that soon). But let’s ignore all that for a just a moment and focus on a truly awesome element of the megaproject: A wide, grade-separated 520 Trail.

As WSDOT wraps up major work on the Eastside 520 corridor, the new center-lane bus stops, park lids and trail connections are now open between Lake Washington and I-405. It’s a sea of concrete with a wide, grade-separated walking and biking path attached to it that feels more like a bicycle freeway than a trail.

Until planned connections to Seattle and the rest of the existing 520 trail east of I-405 are completed, the trail really serves mainly as a local access and recreation path. But it’s not hard to imagine a busy mix of commuters, school kids and folks just out for a stroll when this new trail becomes the most direct connection between Seattle, Kirkland, north Bellevue and Redmond.

Here’s a look at how the new trail works.

IMG_0625The trail is fully separated, sometimes separated from the freeway by a wall, sometimes by a fence. It’s not exactly a journey through nature, but what did you expect from a freeway trail? It is, however, direct and grade-separated from even relatively low-traffic cross-streets.

IMG_0627But don’t expect the ride to be as flat as a rail trail (like the Burke-Gilman or the Cross Kirkland Corridor). The grades are as gentle as possible given the hilly terrain, but you will still need those low gears for a couple climbs.

Since I biked east-to-west, you have to read the elevation graph backwards. Oops.

Since I biked east-to-west when capturing this data with my phone’s GPS, you have to read the elevation graph backwards. Oops.

If you don’t live in the area and want to try out the new trail, one easy way to get there is to throw your bike on any bus heading across the 520 Bridge. Get off at the first stop next to the lake (Evergreen Point) and take the elevator up to check out the new lid park and the overlook towards Seattle. From there, you can watch construction work on the new floating bridge that will someday include a half-century-overdue biking and walking connection.

IMG_0636-crop

UPDATE: WSDOT tweeted a photo of progress on the floating bridge trail:

The trail includes connections into Yarrow Point, Hunt’s Point, Evergreen Point, Medina and other neighborhoods along the 520 corridor. If you stay on the trail, it unceremoniously ends at 108th Ave NE, a couple blocks downhill from the South Kirkland Park-and-Ride and the start of the brand new Cross Kirkland Corridor Trail. After years (decades?) of imagining all these vague possible trail connections, they suddenly seem very close and real.

But today, the new section of trail does not connect to the rest of the 520 Trail between Redmond and I-405. There is about a mile gap that requires some uncomfortable biking on Northrup Way. The City of Bellevue has received funding for its plans to redesign the street and add skinny painted bike lanes connecting the two pieces of the 520 Trail (Crosscut reports you will have to wait until 2017 for the changes to be complete).

While the changes will certainly make the street more comfortable than it is today, they will fall short of creating a trail connection that is safe and comfortable for people of all ages and abilities. Makes me wonder if it is too late to add barriers to separate the planned bike lanes from the street’s busy traffic. Here’s what current plans will look like, from Bellevue’s project webpage:

P:W3X60801700CADD702CIVILPS&E SheetsFIGURES60801-COMM-RELAT-PROJ-OVER_11_20_13 SEG C (1)For more thoughts on the new 520 Trail section, check out posts from Crosscut’s Greg Shaw and Biking Bis.

Have you tried out the new trail? Let us know your thoughts.

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30 Responses to How you can get a taste of the future 520 Trail connecting the Eastside and Seattle

  1. rageofage says:

    Looks like the Israel/Palestine barrier. Yuck.

    • Cheif says:

      Its aesthetics are certainly reflective of the area it passes through.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        Actually, this was once an extremely beautiful area. It’s rather impressive, in a terrible way, that we were able to so fully destroy its natural beauty with such a large freeway.

      • Cheif says:

        When? A hundred years ago? You don’t need a freeway for the suburbs to be a perfect blend of pavement and chode. Granted it doesn’t help to have a highway there, but it’s pretty safe to say that the entire area in question is a masturbatory middle america shithole with or without 520.

      • asdf2 says:

        To be fair, most of the trees along the trail have just been planted and are barely 3 feet tall. The aesthetics will improve somewhat with time as the trees eventually grow bigger.

      • Al Dimond says:

        According to a not-very-detailed tourist map promoting travel on I-90 following the opening of the first floating bridge, the area was full of strawberry farms before the eastside really grew up.

        I have to say, having been through every permutation of construction detours between the Evergreen Point Freeway Station and Kirkland, it’s actually fairly scenic (and pleasant riding if you don’t mind some hills) for the most part… until you have to get on Bellevue Way/Lake Washington Boulevard and are jarred back to reality.

  2. Richard says:

    While it’s not overly pretty, it is exceptionally functional – I’ve used it a dozen or so times since completion (and numerous times in bits and pieces while construction was ongoing). I use it as my commute connection to Redmond – ride from home to montlake, hope the free bus to evergreen, then bike the rest.

    NORTHUP SUCKS, of course. But the rest of the trail is a brilliantly easy/safe ride.

    Oh, and by the way, want a preview of just how pathetically, horribly inadequate the bike lanes are? Bellevue just put in the lane on 1 block, just east of Bellevue way (1 block east of burgermaster). It’s the most ridiculously skinny bike lane… Truly pathetic. Maybe once it’s more than a block long, it might serve its purpose since there aren’t any parked cars – but for now, the one block that does exist puts you to the right of a high-traffic right-turn-only lane, and after you weave through the right-turning traffic you then have to be merged with through traffic on the other side of the intersection (jebus Bellevue, can’t you even get THAT right? apparently not).

    But the new 520 trail is extremely functional and safe. So that’s nice.

    • Al Dimond says:

      I think the deal with that westbound bike lane is that the the “official” 520 route is going to take the south sidewalk of Northup Way (which has been enlarged for the purpose) from where the trail breaks off to the left underneath the Bellevue Way viaduct. So the bike lane puts you over by the sidewalk so you can go up on the curb to cross in two crosswalks.

      Of course, this is incredibly badly broken for anyone continuing on to turn right on Lake Washington Blvd. I think I’d move the bike lanes left of the right-turn lane and put a turn box on the far (west) side, to serve continuing on the 520 route and left turns to SB 108th. Maybe Bellevue or WSDOT could be convinced to do this.

      In general the way Bellevue has laid out the on-street parts of its 520 route design eliminates vehicular lefts. I looked at the design a while ago and my recollection is that this intersection wasn’t in their design at that stage (because WSDOT was doing it) and that most of their intersections are not this big and better designed (with turn boxes where you’d expect ’em).

      • Richard says:

        Interesting… Right now there’s actually no sidewalk at all once you go another block eastward, throughout almost the remainder of this section. So I suppose they’re planning to significantly widen that portion? I suppose that would be required regardless of chosen solution.

      • Al Dimond says:

        East of 108th the designed route is an on-street bike lane (which I think will require some widening). It’s west of 108th where the route moves to the widened south sidewalk (I’m pretty sure this required widening over there, so the westbound bike lane approaching 108th is set up (not particularly well) for this transition, rather than for continuing along with traffic on Northup.

    • asdf2 says:

      Of course, there are no wayfinding signs telling how to get from Northup Way to the trail, but since you’re already taking the lane anyway as you approach 108th, the simplest option is to just get in the left turn lane as soon as it becomes available (there are two left-turns lanes; pick the one of the right), then use the left-turn arrow to cut over to the sidewalk at the traffic signal. After that, you’re home free.

    • Josh says:

      How skinny is ridiculously skinny?

      The “typical roadway section” above shows a 5-foot nominal bike lane. (Effectively a bit less than 5 feet if it’s built with concrete gutter and asphalt pavement, since there will inevitably be a hazardous seam between the two.) That’s the bare minimum allowed by AASHTO standards on streets with gutters. (If it’s a low-volume street with no gutter pan, AASHTO allows bike lanes as narrow as 4 feet if all other lanes of the street have been narrowed to their minimum allowable width. But I wouldn’t consider Northup low-volume.)

      Still, that’s better than many Seattle bike lanes… the lanes on Dearborn aren’t even a full 4 feet, and it’s definitely not low traffic.

      • Kirk says:

        How skinny is ridiculously skinny? The 3.5′ wide sidewalks on the Ballard Bridge are ridiculously skinny. 3.5’ includes the streetlight pilasters that stick out into the sidewalk and catch bicycle handle bars, throwing people on bicycles over the tall curb into 40 MPH traffic.

      • Josh says:

        Well, sure, the Ballard Bridge is designed for early-20th Century traffic speeds, with streetcars, horse-drawn wagons, fat-tired bicycles, and slow cars sharing the bridge deck.

        The sidewalks were designed only for pedestrian access, and pre-ADA pedestrian access at that.

      • Kirk says:

        The current sidewalks on the 15th Ave. Ballard Bridge are actually from the 1940 rebuild. Only the bascule was kept from the original 1917 Ballard Bridge. The 1958 Leary flyover completely eliminated sidewalks.
        The original 1917 structure had awesomely wide sidewalks. By 1940, this was considered obsolete.

      • Richard says:

        I’m not sure exactly how wide the lane is on that one block in specific measurements, I just know the subjective feeling of it being **WAY** too narrow to safely ride with what is, at that point, extremely high traffic volume – and that would be if the lane wasn’t on the right of a right turn lane. It felt like I was hugging the curb so close I had to watch to be sure I didn’t rub it , while still feeling like my left bar end was extending into the next lane. I mean, maybe it wasn’t, but it certainly felt like it.

        As it is, I wouldn’t touch that lane, period, even if we had a Portland-style “must use bike lane” law. Putting lanes this horrible in place are honestly worse than not putting them up at all. Less experienced cyclists (those that haven’t built up thick enough skin to ignore unreasonable demands from motorists) will use it in spite of being the ones most at risk when using substandard lanes, while the more experienced will reasonably ignore it, leading to more motorist anger about “you have that lane, why don’t you use it????”

    • Karl says:

      Sounds like they could at least put a bike box at the front of that intersection.
      :(

  3. kpt says:

    Oh, man that 1 mile gap on Northrup is such a lost opportunity. We’re so close to having a complete solution through there.

    I used to work at MS, on the main Redmond campus. The lack of a trail on the bridge kept me from riding much from Seattle, but the Northrup gap is the other reason I really didn’t like that trip. I would be impressed if MS stepped up with enough money to fix this properly, given how they’ve chipped in for car infra around their campus. It would complete (once the bridge is done) a great set of routes allowing their employees to bike right through the heart of campus. It would dramatically increase bikeability for their employees.

  4. Peri Hartman says:

    An alternative to the Northup gap is NE24th street. Admittedly, it has an extra 175′ of climbing. A number of years ago, I used to use the route. At the time, there was very little traffic on it and the downhills were marvelous! The bad part was crossing the 520 bridge (only one bus an hour back then) – so great to see a proper solution coming.

  5. asdf2 says:

    One potential all-ages-and-all-abilities solution to Northup Way would be to simply extend the cross-Kirkland trail another mile or so to where it intersects Northup Way just east of 405, then build a ramp to connect the trail to Northup Way itself. Restripe the existing shoulders into a 2-way cycletrack for about 900 feet. Then, you’re at 24th St., with its wide bike lanes going up the hill.

    That leaves only one gap remaining, around 108th Ave. itself. Again, with a little bit of construction, this gap is bridgable. For instance, Bellevue could install a crosswalk where the trail intersects Northup just east of Bellevue Way, then build a bike path through the parking lots of the office buildings on the other side of the street. That gets you to South Kirkland P&R. A slight widening of the sidewalk up the hill from the P&R to the railroad tracks and you’re done.

    • Al Dimond says:

      That idea has a bunch of problems. The most fundamental is grade. The CKC is at a much higher elevation than the 520 route around 108th; it doesn’t make sense to transition between the two at the steepest possible point like that unless you really have to. The part of 108th you’d use is really steep, to the extent that it’s hard to say whether it would be less “AAA” uphill or downhill. I think 108th would need to be widened to do this, and that would be expensive and somewhat disruptive (you’d have to move a lot more earth than to widen Northup). And then there’s the problem of adding a new, probably signalized, crossing of Northup Way. Ordinarily you’d want one anyway to facilitate crossing the street, but there’s nothing on the south side.

      A connection between the CKC and the 520 route in the vicinity of 116th Ave NE is a good idea for its own reasons, and they’re about equal in elevation there. The ramp up to Northup would be cool, but if it doesn’t pan out for whatever reason a short connection to 115th Ave NE underneath 405, along with improvements to 115th and its intersection with 116th could also work (currently 115th doesn’t have a sidewalk or even shoulders going under 405). Some kind of connection in this area should happen whenever King County gets around to developing their part of the corridor, though I really think Kirkland should just buy that stretch now and do it to fill in this connectivity gap…

      • Jack Nolan says:

        It isn’t that hard of a climb. One could easily turn onto 38th place NE, (old Keg Rest. on Corner) cut through the P&R and then up the hill via the sidewalk on the west side. Takes some of the steepness out. Not a kiddie ride for sure, but doable.

      • Richard says:

        It’s not that hard a climb for me, but I’m OK with traffic, too. The people that need a less traffic-heavy solution most are those less experienced riders -and those, coincidentally, would definitely disagree with calling clyde hill “not that hard” :)

      • Al Dimond says:

        Cutting through the P&R… on the road the buses use? Or through the crowds of people waiting for the 255 to Seattle? Neither is a AAA bike route, and north of the P&R entrance on 108th the road is at a higher level than P&R ground-level and separated by a retaining wall. I’m just really skeptical of this idea that if we get to the P&R we’re home free — none of the P&R entrances are great places to be on foot or bike considering the large amount of uncontrolled left-turning traffic using them. During its active hours it’s one of the most stressful places to bike past in Kirkland, and I think the major reasons for this, traffic, grades, and sightlines, can’t be readily fixed.

    • bidab says:

      Not many people know this but you can actually already get from 108th Ave to the I-405 underpass going through the interconnected parking lots on the northeast side of Northup Way. It’s slower but much safer than biking on Northup. Building a bike trail through THOSE parking lots would only take a bit of signage and some better speedbumps.

      • Al Dimond says:

        It will be interesting to see whether, as the 520 route (bike lanes along Northup) and ERC are developed, there’s a push in future building projects to reform those parking lots into a network of streets and paths providing comprehensive local access. That sort of thing has been part of several trail and redevelopment projects region-wide, and this little area, which has almost no block-level land use mixture (and probably still won’t in another generation) but quite a lot of mixture the next level or two up in granularity, could benefit from it.

  6. Jack Nolan says:

    I like the trail. Being a daily commuter from the west side, it’s been awesome to see it get finished. Beautiful it is not. But safe and smooth it is.

    I resolved to ride from near the P&R to Evergreen now that it’s done. I used to take the bus.

    True the Northup Section is desperately needed. For those who don’t mind the workout, you can ride up 108th past thePark and Ride, ( map it ou,t there is a way to make it more “switch back like”) cross the CKC and take the next right. Be warned, it’s mostly up-hill. But it dumps you out by 116th, where the street widens a bit

    The Northup plan will be a huge improvement.

    I also think extending the CKC would help as well. The tracks basically run the same route I just mentioned above, with a bit of a climb from Northup Way to the CKC, but the grade of the CKC is easy as it extends towards 405.

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  8. AP says:

    Thank you, Jack Nolan, for the constructive and balanced comment. The tone of these comments was set badly too early by some ridiculously immature Seattle bias. I’m happy I’ll never have to see at least one of the above commenters on this side of the lake.

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