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Recently-fixed Burke-Gilman crossing in Frelard widened

A little more width has been added to the recently-fixed railroad crossing on the Burke-Gilman near NW 41st St in Frelard (between Fremont and Ballard). The changed crossing makes two sharp turns in order to cross the tracks at a 90 degree angle. Before, the trail crossed at a shallow angle, and a rubber pad was installed to prevent tires from getting caught in the tracks. However, that rubber pad gets very slippery in the rain (it’s Seattle, after all) or ice, and many crashes had been reported.

After the fix was completed, however, several people voiced concerns about how skinny the new trail section was, especially on the south part of the turn. I actually went out myself to measure:

At less than 10 feet, the trail width was far below standards (12-14 feet is the recommended standard width for a new trail, though that would clearly not apply to this section of the trail, which is less than ten on the south end or the crossing and about 11 on the north).

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The worry was that we had replaced a very substandard trail crossing with a slightly less substandard crossing. Indeed, the majority of people who stopped to talk to my friend Renee (pictured above) and I while we made our very scientific measurements expressed dislike for the crossing. However, much of the disdain is probably a combo of not liking change and not liking that you have to slow down so much to safely navigate it. In my opinion, the slowing down part is not a bad thing.

I do wonder if it would be particularly hard to navigate while pulling a trailer or riding a tandem. Oh, and inline skaters were definitely having a little trouble (I saw one go right off the trail, having misjudged the turn and approached too quickly).

Anyway, the added width will certainly help, and overall, the crossing is far better than the old one. Some signage should still be on the way, which will hopefully suggest slowing down and give people an idea of what is coming. From Rick Sheridan at SDOT:

Further work will add warning signs about the curve, a restriped crosswalk, flexible delineator posts, edge lines on the crossing and a solid center line to keep traffic separated at the crossing.

What are your thoughts on the new crossing? Have you had any collisions or near-collisions?

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12 responses to “Recently-fixed Burke-Gilman crossing in Frelard widened”

  1. Heading toward Fremont the inside corner is pretty sharp. I noticed lots of tire tracks in the gravel (where your tape measure is in the photo). Heading toward Ballard it seems less noticeable. Really they should just fill in the inside corners, in either direction, with asphalt.

  2. charles

    I like the new crossing. At first I thought it was a little too narrow for people going opposite directions to use it at the same time. After thinking about it, I assumed its width was intentional to keep cyclists from cutting the corner diagonally and forcing them to cross perpendicular. I would think the wider it is, the more of an angle cyclists would cross it.

  3. Sean

    Tom–Good point on trailers and tandems. I cross here at least twice daily; mostly on my single, but sometimes with a tandem, sometimes with a tandem and cargo trailer (about 6′ long). I am very glad to see the rubber pad of death gone (slicker than ice many days), but oh my goodness I take the entire trail width wobbling at slow speed with my single and cargo trailer, much less going to get groceries with my daughter on the tandem/cargo trailer combo. Between this and all the “yield” crossings my errands/commute have gotten so glacial I’m very tempted to switch to taking Leary. S

    1. i’ve taken the leary alternative before. it certainly is faster. and compared to all the blind crossings on the BG in frelard, visibility is better on leary, too. that said, that street sure is nerve-racking during the day–mingling with all those impatient, caffiene-addled motorists, many of whom seem to mistake the 30 mph speed limit for a suggested minimum.

  4. Andreas

    First I was told by SDOT that there would be no striping or signs, as they were considered unnecessary “obstacles” for cyclists. Then they tweeted that there would be center-line striping. And now they’re saying striping, signs, and delineators. And all with a sub-standard trail width. This is the caliber of planning SDOT puts into a high-traffic crossing on the premier mixed-use trail in the city and region? Bodes really well for the future of bike & ped facilities in Seattle…

    1. Jeremy

      Striping, signs, delineators, and a ruthless devotion to the Pope? Fetch the comfy cycle!

  5. Been riding back and forth to Freakymont a fair bit lately, in fact did the crossing twice today.

    Both posters above have it right in my book about widening the crossing, but at the same time one poster states cyclists will cut the corner given the chance.

    Guilty as charged. I wanted to at first but didn’t mean to, and ended up accidentally cutting across about four inches on the east side while going to Wright Bros. That’s the reason there is gravel due to me and a few others.

    I can see why the city put this in for safety, but I wish there was a way to make it a few mph faster. Other than that at least they finally took action.

  6. Charles

    I always rode reasonably carefully across that old rubber thing. It never bothered me and I liked it fine because there was plenty of room to maneuver throughout the crossing. On dry days, I used to be able to ride across it with no hands, because I wasn’t forced to turn so sharply. When it was wet out I of course used my common sense and slowed down before I crossed, I didn’t apply the brakes while on the wet surface, etc. I used the skills any moderately experienced biker would use to avoid falling. I rode across that rubber thing EVERY SINGLE WEEKDAY ALL YEAR LONG for OVER TEN YEARS. I never fell once. Now I have to squeeze through a narrow passage and turn much more sharply. How is that better? Why isn’t money being used to develop bike lanes elsewhere (Westlake, South Lake Union, etc.), or to fix actual dangerous RR crossings (Missing Link area, SLUT, etc.)?

    1. Andreas

      Amen. If people couldn’t be bothered to slow for the crossing before despite the clearly visible tracks, the crossbucks, and the “slippery when wet” signs, I don’t think they’ll slow enough to take this new, narrower turn safely. SDOT has taken a not-very-dangerous crossing and done very little or nothing to improve it, while countless other genuinely pressing infrastructure needs go unmet.

    2. charles

      I go across the RR crossing on the missing link every day and I’ve never crashed there, that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be fixed. I’ve seen people crash on the missing link and I’ve seen people crash on the rubber mat on the Burke-Gilman. Those areas aren’t as dangerous for people who are familiar with them but they are dangerous for rider’s first time crossing them. I think this change will decrease the high number of crashes that occur there.

    3. my thoughts exactly, Charles!

  7. i fail to see this new crossing as an improvement. i used to commute over this trail to and from fremont every day. while the old rubber mat crossing was far from ideal, i never perceived it as particularly dangerous, (compared to the missing link, say.) going to work @ 5 AM, i crossed it many times in icy weather (20-30 degrees,) with no problem whatsoever.

    while the angle was a little shallow, it wasn’t too bad (about 45 degrees.) and there were giant yellow & black waring signs reading “RR crossing–Slippery when wet” in both directions. those signs are gone now, but if riders were to take that warning seriously, and slow down to take the crossing safely, there was nothing to it.

    now, rather than having to use our judgement as to how fast to take the crossing, the decision has been made for us, and we are forced to slow to ridiculously low speed in order to navigate consecutive 90-degree turns–which is not only a pain in the arse, but also requires some real nifty maneuvering if you encounter other bikes and/or pedestrians there.) (granted, widening it out made it a little better than it was when they first repaved it, but still…)

    there are plenty of other trail improvements all over the city that could’ve taken priority over this one. (how about completing the ship canal trail under the ballard bridge to connect to fisherman’s terminal, so we don’t have to resort to using “dead man’s curve” and get out onto 15th Ave NW?!?) or better yet, how about re-surfacing the bikeways/sidewalks on the ballard bridge?!?–who ever heard tell of potholes in the sidewalk?!

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