The Fremont Bridge is Seattle’s busiest bike route pinch point. Routes from all over the region converge here to cross the Ship Canal, which is why the bridge’s bike counter registers the highest number of trips in the city. A record 1,187,146 bike trips crossed the bridge in 2019. It may the the region’s most important bike route, serving local trips and the Interurban North bike route that connects all the way to Everett.
But that 1.2 million bike trips have to squeeze by each other and all the people walking across the bridge on two skinny sidewalks. The crunch is not comfortable for anybody.
That’s why neighbors with Ballard-Fremont Greenways have put together a proposal and petition you can sign calling for bike lanes on the Fremont Bridge. The pandemic has made this need far more acute since social distancing is impossible on the skinny bridge sidewalks, but it’s a necessary improvement even without the threat of spreading a deadly virus.
The bridge is historic and, unlike with the Ballard Bridge, there is no plan to replace it any time soon. The sidewalks have been beyond their comfortable capacity for a long time now, and they will only get worse. There’s no reason to put off this improvement.
The biggest challenge is almost certainly transit. The bridge raises and lowers often, leading to a build-up of traffic that then needs to clear in a big and often scary rush. As it is now, buses that serve downtown Fremont (31, 32, 40 and 62) simply get in line with cars. So the key to making a bike lane work here is to also give buses priority, especially during the moments when the bridge reopens. This likely means bus lanes and queue jumps that get buses to get to the front of the line before they even reach the bridge. Signal changes could also give buses a head start before allowing cars.
Changes like this will impact drive times for people in cars, but most people with cars have other options. The Aurora Bridge is right overhead and they also have free reign on the Ballard Bridge. Sure, these are not the most direct routes for all trips, but at least there are options. For people walking, biking and taking Fremont buses, there is no other option. So walking, biking and transit should be the priority here. The group’s proposed design (or some other design that meets these needs) still provides car and freight access, it’s just not the top priority anymore. And that’s the way it should be.
I think another major advantage of creating bike lanes on the bridge deck is that the sidewalks can become the iconic spaces they should be. People walking across should be able to stop in the middle and take a moment to take in the incredible view down the Ship Canal or out to Lake Union. People should be able to take a selfie. I know that sounds like a silly reason, but the Fremont Bridge is so cool and should be the kind of space that belongs to the people on the ground living life. It’s so much more than yet another pipe funneling cars.