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.
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.