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Final phase of Ship Canal Trail work to begin next month

Fifteen years after the first segment of the Ship Canal Trail was completed, the city is about to begin work on the final segment that will connect Fisherman’s Terminal to the Fremont Bridge and provide people walking and bicycling a way to bypass the horrendous mess of on-ramps and concrete at the south end of the Ballard Bridge.

Reader Jason sent us these photos of the future trail corridor. It will be a real game-changer for anyone living or working in Magnolia and increase access to the Elliott Bay Trail.

From SDOT:

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Construction on the long-awaited final segment of the Ship Canal Trail is expected to begin in early September and be complete by the end of the year.  This Seattle Department of Transportation project will connect the trail from 11th Avenue West to Emerson Street near Fisherman’s Terminal, eliminating a critical gap in Seattle’s Urban Trails System.

The Ship Canal Trail will connect the Elliott Bay Trail and the Interbay and Magnolia neighborhoods to bicycle routes at the Fremont Bridge, including the Interurban route on Fremont Avenue North, the Burke-Gilman Trail, and the Dexter Avenue route, and will make bike riding in the south canal area more comfortable for all levels of bicyclists.

This Ship Canal Trail work is the second contract in phase II of the project.  Phase II was split into two contracts so that construction could move forward on the section from 6th Avenue W to 11th Avenue W, completed in 2010, while hurdles were overcome on the remaining segment.  Those hurdles included negotiation of permits to move private utility lines to a new location, necessary before Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks could then also be relocated.  The relocation of those tracks is wrapping up this month.

Construction of the trail is funded in part by the voter-supported Bridging the Gap levy, passed   in 2006.

Phase I of the multi-use Ship Canal Trail stretches from the Fremont Bridge to 6th Ave W and was completed in 1996. 

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25 responses to “Final phase of Ship Canal Trail work to begin next month”

  1. Gary

    Hey Jason! Thank you for the most excellent photos!

    I was wondering with the “Nickerson Road” diet just parallel to this bit why we needed a trail here. But looking at the land & the map seems like a good use of a rail to trail conversion.

  2. Todd Holman

    I am SO eagerly awaiting this completion. As I work on the waterfront in downtown and commute to the greater Woodinville area, this connector is going to make for an ideal trip home. With this and the improvement of the BG trail through Lake Forrest Park (illuminated lights), I can’t think of a better Christmas gift. No more jockeying through the streets of Seattle!!

    1. Gary

      What? Don’t you just ride the BG to the University bridge, cross and stay along lake Union on the trail & side roads until you hit Dexter? This bit of trail only helps people going West from Freemont.

      1. Todd Holman

        No Gary I don’t mind the extra travel. For me, it’s not always about speed or the most direct path. Since I work down on the waterfront, I really like the idea of minimal street riding (particularly through the city) and this link will allow that. In short, I can almost ride dedicated path from Elliot Bay to Woodinville. If I ride an extra two miles or so, awesome. I could be at home sitting on the couch in front of the TV stuffing my pie hole with — well pie.

  3. Tom

    I cross the Fremont Bridge each morning, turn right on Nickerson, pass under 15th, merge onto 15th, then turn right onto Dravus. I have not really identified any problems with this except for the section under 15th that has no markings. Will this new trail section be a viable alternative for me?

    1. Charlie

      If you take the hard right from Florentia St onto 3rd Ave. N you’ll end up on the Ship Canal Trail (currently it ends at 11th Ave NW, so don’t bother to try and commute on it now).
      When this is complete, you’ll be able to take this under the Ballard Bridge and come out at the Fisherman’s Terminal. A short hill up to a 4-way stop and then a right on Gilman will put you in a bike lane that wraps around Magnolia and connects to the Pier 91 to Elliott Bay Trail to downtown which is where I assume you’re headed when you get onto Dravus. So yes, this will help.
      See this map:

      1. Todd Holman

        Or you can take a left on (officially 20th Ave SW) on Gilman and go down Thorndyke (Gilman becomes this) before catching up with 21st Ave. W — which then intersects with the Elliott Bay Trail after about a quarter mile or so. This way almost avoids Magnolia entirely but doesn’t have a bike lane. However, I find Thorndyke to be pretty wide and a decent road to be pedaling in city traffic. Regardless of the route, the point is the trail will eliminate a lot of the heavy and dangerous traffic.

    2. Unlike Charlie, I’m assuming you’re not going downtown; if you were going downtown through Fremont, Dexter would almost certainly be the best way to go.

      I’ve biked and run on Nickerson and the Ship Canal Trail, and I’ve used the ramp from Nickerson and merged onto 15th a few times to go to Magnolia. If you’re comfortable doing that, it’s probably the fastest and most direct way to get where you’re going, and it might even be safest if you’re riding fast. The Ship Canal trail is not great for biking unless you’re riding slow and prepared to stop at any time. It’s crossed by lots of little roads and driveways, doesn’t have the right-of-way through any of them, and has mediocre-to-poor visibility at them (both for you seeing cross-traffic, and for it seeing you) — that is, it has all the classic flaws of rails-to-trails projects (there’s a reason trains get signal gates on their rights-of-way). On Nickerson and 15th you’re exposed to more traffic and faster traffic, but at least it can see you.

      1. Tom

        Thanks Al. This is what I assumed. After merging on 15th I take a right on Dravus, then a left up Thorndyke. I find that Nickerson is a great route since there aren’t many lights, there are adaquate bike lanes, and it is direct. Since there is a slight downhill right before I pass under 15th, I have good speed to merge onto 15th.

        This new path will probably not be a good alternative for me.

  4. NWGuy

    It should help you out, Tom. I come the opposite direction, from downtown to Dravus. I take that over to 14th; cross Nickerson and then take the canal trail. That helps keep me out of traffic on 15th and Nickerson. The new trail may even cut out the Dravus leg.

    The offroad trails are really great for commuting.

    1. Todd Holman

      Agreed. I don’t mind the on road stuff but the mathematician in me knows my odds for automobile collisions are greatly reduced if I’m on a dedicated bike path… not to mention a more relaxed and enjoyable ride because I’m not in hyper vigilant mode.

  5. Charlie

    todd- I’m confused about your routing…. I think that you’re going about a block out of your way by staying on thorndyke to 21st. If you go straight (stay on 20th) where the road bends and gets re-named Thorndyke, you go right past the train yards. That street dead ends for cars but connects directly with the same trail. Or am I misunderstanding you?

    1. Todd Holman

      The origin I was using was heading west on Dravus and then taking a LEFT on 20th which turns into Thorndyke and then hanging a lazy left onto 21st. The better option may be to head straight through the light on Dravus and just take a turn left onto 21st? When coming from the Fisherman’s Terminal on Emerson, I usually just take that left onto Gilman and just follow it until I get to 21st and down to the train yards. In general, I find the Gilman/20th/Thorndyke option there either from Emerson or Dravus to be reasonable.

  6. Andreas

    The sad thing is that the road that runs under the bridge used to be open to the public and was a perfectly fine bike/ped route from the old Ship Canal Trail terminus to the other side of the bridge—it’s what the existing Emerson Trail used to link up to. It was a very low-traffic road, and I used to walk on it all the time. But it appears the road is on private property east of the bridge, and the Port put up a fence on its side to the west, and SDOT fenced up the stairs that led from the road to the bridge. Now they have to spend millions of dollars to build a trail that will be less connected to 15th than the road was. Instead of taking a single set of stairs, for example, westbound peds desiring safe passage to the bridge will either have to go 1/2 mile out of their way to take the Emerson ramp, or get off the trail at 11th so they can make SEVEN separate crossings to get to the east walkway of the bridge. (One can go up 13th, go right on the Nickerson underpass lane, and then cross and go up the stairs at the very south end of the bridge. But that route has no sidewalks, curb cuts, or marked crossings.)

    For East Magnolia, West QA, LQA and the north end of the waterfront, this will probably be pretty useful, especially once the Thomas St overpass opens and creates another access point to the Elliott Bay trail. But it looks like most folks headed to/from points north of the Ship Canal will still be better served by Fairview/Eastlake, Dravus/Westlake, 15th, or Gilman & the Locks.

    1. I didn’t know the history of it. It’s a real shame, as you say (though I can understand why, if it’s private land, the owner wouldn’t want people going through). As a runner I’ve explored this area quite a bit, encountering the sad end of the Emerson trail and all the confusing sidewalks and stairs. I used to be a little obsessed with trying to find the best way to get through this intersection from Nickerson to Emerson on sidewalks. Finding it ridiculously indirect and complicated, I settled on running the onramp from Nickerson toward 15th, and climbing the stairs up to the corner of 15th and Emerson.

    2. Todd Holman

      “Now they have to spend millions of dollars to build a trail…” Perhaps you found your answer??

      1. Andreas

        Heh, perhaps :)

        It’s interesting that much of Seattle’s non-vehicular infrastructure came about at another time when the gov’t was basically making up projects to spend money on. Over 70 years later and the WPA’s stairs, overpasses, comfort stations, etc, are still vital to the walkability and bikeability of the city. Sadly nowadays the gov’t don’t seem to care that the money it’s throwing out there is just going into contractors’ savings accounts rather than into laborors’ wallets where it would actually do some good. But that’s a rant for another blog, I suppose…

  7. Eric

    Now if only the cops will start ticketing the truckers blocking the trail and parking in the crosswalk at Gascoigne Lumber (Phase II stretch) in the mornings. Since there is plenty of room behind the trucks, there is absolutely no reason to block the trail except to spite bikers and peds. When I approached them to point out that they are blocking the right-of-way for unnecessarily and could back up 10 feet without problem, the trucker and two Gascoigne employees offered to kick my ass and grunted something about Nickerson’s road diet. I’ll send some photos next week if the trail is blocked again.

    1. Andreas

      If you haven’t, you should call Parking Enforcement at (206) 625-5011 the next time you see this. There’s always a pretty good chance the truck will be moved by the time an officer shows up, but you might get lucky and have an officer nearby.

      1. Andreas

        Whoops, sorry, the parking enforcement line is (206) 386-9012. That one is just the general non-emergency line.

      2. Brian

        I called the Seattle police to report a truck blocking the bike lane in Fremont, and I was told that it was legal for trucks to block the bike lane. It seems that enforcing right of way on bike lanes is a low or absent priority for them.

  8. Biliruben

    This will be awesome! I will finally be able to take my boy safely down to the waterfront.

  9. […] the way up to the street sign. So it’s not extremely useful for us right now, but when they complete it by the end of the year, it’ll be great! I like avoiding the Ballard Bridge and taking the scenic route through the […]

  10. Todd

    The SDOT is reporting the completion of this trail is most likely in November now. I just investigated the trail east to west and could see it paved all the way under 15th Ave. According to the website, all that remains now is 3 weeks of loose ends… which means finally after 10 years we get to use it. Personally I will be happy to eliminate that Emerson/Nickerson road segment from my commute.

  11. […] Work on the final segment of the Ship Canal Trail is moving along. Toby Wonder sent us a couple photos of the progress last week along with a note: Just thought I would drop you a couple pictures of the fresh new pavement they laid down on phase II of the ship canal trail today.  I did not get a pic from the west side of 15th (under west Nickerson) but when I left work they only had about 15 to 20 feet left to pave. Not sure how much work they have left to do with signage and what not but it is looking good! […]

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