Weir: New trail ends at dangerous spot

Willie Weir, a bicycling writer, speaker and Beacon Hill resident, is concerned about the where the new Mountains-to-Sound Trail extension ends.

The trail runs into a mid-hill point where Beacon Ave turns into the Holgate St Bridge. It’s very steep in either direction, there is no easily accessible sidewalk headed up the intimidating hill, and heading down Holgate into Sodo is very fast and could be dangerous for people not used to riding in fast traffic.

From Yellow Tent Adventures:

Holgate, which rises to and descends from Beacon Hill, is legendary on this side of the city. It is the type of road that even some seasoned cyclists choose to avoid. If you are descending it from the top of Beacon Hill, you can easily hit 40mph without a single pedal stroke. You just take the lane and fly. The road crosses I-5, and at this point as a cyclist, you need to be hyper-aware as you dump out onto the left lane of traffic. Cars turning from Airport Way S are speeding to make the light at 6th Ave S. Many motorists like to make a left hand turn across your path as they exit the Office Depot. And the road surface is a photo op for the “repave our streets” campaign.

Can you imagine parents riding their bikes along with their two young kids tackling any or all of this? It sounds rather nightmarish.

And yet it is a possibility. The Mountains-to-Sound Trail is a separated recreational path. The type of trail that is desirable for riders and walkers who aren’t comfortable in traffic. The recently opened extension expands the trail from 12th Ave S to Holgate. The path is a delight and offers beautiful vistas of downtown Seattle. I had a hard time wiping the grin off my face the first time I rode it.

My grin faded at Holgate. The sign simply reads, “End. Mt. to Sound Trail” That’s it. No more information.

You can see trail’s terminus at the end of this video I shot a few weeks ago:

We noted the lack of usefulness in our previous post about the new trail extension. As a recreational route or place to stroll and enjoy the scenery, it’s a stunning trail. But I doubt many people will find it useful as a transportation corridor as it is today.

There are plans for a second phase involving a circuitous switchback route cutting through the I-5/I-90 interchange to connect to Airport Way, which has bike lanes leading into downtown. A 2007 presentation on the MTS Trail also indicates plans for a bike route on Holgate.

The extension leaves us with more questions than solutions. If Airport Way were rechannelized to have a safe bicycle facility, then we would only need to figure out how to get the trail across I-5 to get a connection to Georgetown and downtown (not a small feat, but worthy). Holgate has plenty of space after the bridge for a safe facility to connect to the Sodo Trail, though that trail has safe connection problems of its own.

Getting up and down Beacon Ave should also be a city priority, and is an excellent opportunity to make a valuable walking and biking connection for the neighborhood. A sidewalk runs up much of the south side of Beacon Ave, but it is very skinny, in poor shape and there seems to be little room to widen it. There would need to be some way to safely cross Beacon Ave.

The 2007 Bicycle Master Plan calls for a climbing lane/sharrow combo on this section of Beacon Ave, but I would be interested to see if some kind of separated walking and biking facility could be installed on the north side of the street to connect the existing sidewalks on the Holgate St Bridge and at 13th Ave S.

If the city creates a safe facility from the trailhead to at least 14th Ave S (a proposed Beacon BIKES neighborhood greenway), then the new trail could be a useful walking and biking route for the neighborhood. It would also connect to the S College St stairway along the way (which currently lets out into a ditch on the north side of Beacon Ave).

So, there is promise for the trail to be useful and safe in the future. But as it is today, the trail is not much more than a recreational path or route for experienced bikers who are OK with climbing and descending steep grades with heavy car traffic.

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15 Responses to Weir: New trail ends at dangerous spot

  1. JAT says:

    I think Willie Weir gets it exactly right – everybody has their opinions about bike infrastructure, but in the end some family is going to be biking along the neat-o new trail, they’ll come its abrupt terminus and not know what to do. If they’re lucky it will end with them pushing their bikes back up the sidewalk and the kids in tears; they very well might not be so lucky.

    It seems like this could have and should have been a useful connecting link, but I suspect the extension of this trail was more about clearing the homeless out of the “jungle” than it was about providing non-motorized transportation alternatives.

    Of course if the “cycling community” complains when tax dollars are spent on us we look like the whiny freeloaders. I know this is overheated rhetoric, but my first reaction to the video you posted last week was that it brought to mind a decrepit drinking fountain below a sign reading “colored only.”

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      I don’t get your analogy. What is like a “colored only” drinking fountain?

      • JAT says:

        indifferently thought through and ineptly designed adn built bike infrastructure, (that we’re supposed to be grateful for) paralleling the extensive and complete interstate highway system.

        Lame analogy? maybe – sorry.

  2. Patrick says:

    In general I think South Seattle is lacking in ways to get across I5 east-west. Corson/Lucille has the nice ramp but the hill is merciless, and Swift Albro is almost as bad in steepness without any of the nice infrastructure. Connecting the MTS trail to downtown would be great. I live further south, so a real bike lane at Boeing Access Road across the freeway is on my wish list, as that’s one of the only opportunities to cross the freeway without a major hill in the way and could connect Green River / Interurban / Airport Way trails with light rail and the Lake Washington routes in appealing ways.

    As yet my calls for a series of East-West tunnels under Beacon hill have fallen on deaf ears….

  3. Gary says:

    Looking at Google maps it looks like we could continue the trail to the South all the way to S. Lucile street. (http://g.co/maps/xa329) at which point it could go under I-5 and dump you out in Georgetown.

    Plus we could build a few turn offs that go under I-5 for access to and from Airport Way.

    But crossing Holgate on the hill should have either an overpass or an underpass (my favorite)

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      That would definitely be a cool solution, and I know an extended trail makes the Beacon BIKES “planned” routes map. But I imagine the costs would be huge, including maybe some kind of overpass or expensive crossing at Columbian Way. That’s not to say that the city should not look into or pursue that, since it would be amazing to have a trail nearly all the way to Georgetown.

      But I was trying to find a solution that is cost effective enough to go in next year. A wide sidewalk/trail to 14th seems doable to me, especially since it also connects to an existing staircase. Seems like a cheap way to activate previous fairly large investments. And a 14th/13th Ave S neighborhood greenway would be an awesome way to get to Georgetown, too (though, again, how it crosses Columbian Way might be a challenge and/or require a jog a few blocks out of the way).

      I rode from the CD to Georgetown the other day only riding a couple blocks on busy streets. It was awesome. Went out of my way down through Judkins Park to the I-90 trail out to Beacon Ave. Then suffered the horrendous climb in traffic up Beacon to 14th, then 15th across Columbian, then back to 14th/13th all the way to lucile. It was a great ride.

      • Gary says:

        Well I’d rather they focused on going further South than doing that switchback down to the stadiums. There are other ways to get to the stadiums, ie Dearborn that are not that bad.

        Airport way South is terrible for bicyclists. It might be possible to run a bike trail on the outside of the fence along the Southern part of the airport. And if it connected to the ring road that goes along the North side, that would be better than riding out on Airport way, but still.

        As for expense, I don’t know who owns that greenbelt to the East of the freeway but it’s probably the state. Which reduces one part of the cost, land acquisition.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        Airport Way is a totally underutilized road that desperately needs a redesign. It carries about 15,000 vehicles per day, yet it’s designed to carry tens of thousands of cars more than that. It carries as many vehicles as Stone Way, but it is designed like state highway (5-lanes!). Even during the viaduct closure there was little traffic on Airport Way.

        It’s a chance for good, wide buffered or separated bike lanes, which could be installed without impacting traffic volumes or time one bit (except, of course, to reduce speeding).

      • Gary says:

        It’s only 4 lanes South of Georgetown, and people drive 55mph, and there are no shoulders. Suck is hardly sufficient to describe this road for a bicycle.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        South of Georgetown, it only carries about 10,000 vehicles per day. That’s nothing. A road diet, even one without a center turn lane, would easily make that street significantly safer and provide a completely missing bicycle connection.

      • psf says:

        Tom,
        There is an existing, usable path under I-5 where the old Bayview stairs used to go. The stairs continue up to Bayview and 14th, but aren’t maintained.
        The headroom is a bit low for some bikes, but fine for walking.
        I wish WSDOT/SDOT had at least considered this alternative.

        Gary: The path south doesn’t really continue past Forest. If you look at the terrain, it gets really steep somewhere in there, and the Columbian way exits block any path that might once have existed.

  4. Kashina says:

    Willie is right. I know the budget won’t allow for further trail expansion involving underpass/overpass solutions any time soon. Until then, why not extend the sidewalk on the north side of Holgate up to the Beacon & 14th intersection so that there is no dangerous road crossing? I’ve been using the new trail for jogging, and even with the speed and control of an able-bodied person in running shoes, darting across Holgate where the sidewalk ends is terrifying every time.

  5. Anthony says:

    Agreed, Airport Way sucks, big time. I would love to see a trail between the freeway and the RR tracks. I used to ride this route years ago until BNSF kicked me out. It was safer than Airport by miles.

    To bad to hear about the trail but I’m not surprised…..

    • RTK says:

      I reverse commute down Airport Way, riding south from the ID to the south end of Boeing Field early in the morning. This is great since there is almost no traffic heading that direction. In the afternoon if I go up Airport Way I come in at Ellis and ride north through Seattle. This section seems to be fine with the traffic volumes in that direction. I don’t like the section by Boeing Field in the afternoon, too narrow and busy.

      Airport Way is getting shut down for 14 months north of Georgetown where the bridge goes over the Argo RR yard. Shutdown starts 11/28/11. Here is the SDOT information:
      http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/bridgerehab_airportargo.htm

  6. Pingback: North Beacon Hill getting much-needed safety upgrades, new trail connection | Seattle Bike Blog

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