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Biking on the Ballard Bridge will suck even more for the next couple months

SDOT’s gotta paint the Ballard Bridge, and that means closing the sidewalks for the next couple month. One of the sidewalks will remain open at all times, but it will be extra crowded.

However, relief for many of you is neigh. The Ship Canal Trail is tantalizingly close to completion, making the trip from Fisherman’s Terminal to the Fremont Bridge far easier and more comfortable.

But if your trip takes you over the Ballard Bridge, get ready for more people packed into a single why-the-hell-did-they-make-it-so-skinny sidewalk. Be extra courteous and patient to all over sidewalk users.

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From SDOT:

A contractor working for the Seattle Department of Transportation began painting the Ballard Bridge today.  The contractor has closed the sidewalk on the east side of the Ballard Bridge to allow that side of the bridge to be painted. Starting Monday, November 21 the contractor plans to also close one northbound, general traffic lane of the bridge. These closures are expected to remain in place for up to six weeks. When the east side of the bridge is completed, the contractor will switch to the west side.

During the closure of the sidewalk on one side of the bridge, pedestrians may use the sidewalk on the other side of the bridge. Northbound bicyclists are detoured to the Fremont Bridge or the Ballard Locks when the eastern sidewalk and northbound traffic lane are closed.  The sidewalk is not wide enough for two-way bicycle traffic.

The Ballard Bascule Bridge project is the 2011 site for the Seattle Department of Transportation’s Annual Bridge Painting Program, an ongoing asset preservation effort that provides for the periodic painting of each of the city’s 20 structural steel bridges.  The painting will protect the steel bridge elements against corrosion and other weather deterioration.

For more information or to sign up for the project updates, visit the project website at:

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19 responses to “Biking on the Ballard Bridge will suck even more for the next couple months”

  1. Mike

    What’s not mentioned here is that if you want to go through the locks, you’ll need to dismount and walk your bike.

    I’d love to see a car detour that includes the suggestion that you get out of your car and push it for a few blocks.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      “Please exit vehicle and ghost ride the detour”…

  2. Didn’t they just finish painting it? This seems pretty ridiculous.

    And, the new section of the Ship Canal Trail? Why oh why did they make it a freaking maze to get through the railroad crossing, that, to the best of my knowledge, does not even get used by trains? Was this really necessary? For being such a “bike friendly” city, it sure seems like they’ve created many obstacles that aren’t, necessarily, necessary.

    Between these projects and the Thomas Street project along the waterfront of the Elliot Bay Trail, the commute downtown from Ballard/Crown Hill just plain sucks these days.

    …I think I’ll start driving my lifted Hummer. ; )

    1. For the record, trains do use that track segment. In fact, BNSF moved a bunch of track to make room for the new trail segment. If that segment of track weren’t used, they would have just torn it out, rather than going to the trouble of ripping it up and putting in new track 20 feet away. So I think we can put up with a little dipsy-doodle at the crossing.

      1. Thanks for clarifying, John. I wasn’t sure if trains used it or not, as I have never seen a train go through there!

        FWIW – Bike “salmoning” on the bridge at night really does suck, as the oncoming lights just plain blind anyone doing so.

  3. Paul in Vancouver (WA)

    I don’t live there, but I know that is a major biking corridor. Is it illegal to take the lane on the bridge? I swear I did that ages ago, really a long time ago.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Good question! It is totally legal to take the lane and ride with traffic. However, there is a metal grate section that is super slippery when even the littlest bit wet. Some people are okay with it, but be careful your first time. I find it fairly terrifying, myself, and I vowed to never do it again

      1. Paul in Vancouver (WA)

        Okay, I remember that. And it makes sense I rode it because I was young and stupid then. Now I’m just stupid so I’d do it again. I used to ride in snow and ice a lot and still do when I get the chance. I might have to bring my bike up, ride the new trail and take the lane on the bridge.

      2. May I re-phrase the question?

        How would one learn to ride this bridge?

        Frist, the metal grate. Think about a time/place you can set your bike out onto any bridge from the side walk and ride a short section of metal grate – when there’s no traffic. Build up (as you’re ready) to riding the grate and then the bridge. Then work your way into more traffic. Easier traffic may be when it’s congested and slow, or when traffic is thin and faster vehicles can easily switch lanes to pass. Ride center to center left so they can see way back there that they need to switch lanes.

        Even if you feel competent and skip all these steps, its always helpful to learn from others and think through all your options to handle the traffic before you go.

        I’ve done the Ballard bridge individually, two side by side, and groups many times, but not yet busy with high speed traffic so you’ll be slowing lots of traffic. But I found even a damp metal grating to be significantly more challenging, so I’m staying off when wet.

        Another approach would be to start a “ride to learn” including a “bike bus”. See: http://commuteorlando.com/bikebus/
        and check out the site for more information on lane positioning.

        I built my website and project with the idea of helping people get started learning bicycle driving skills, beginning with how you’re thinking.

        Take a look at my site and if I can help let me know.

        I just attended the bike summit at Bike Works last night partly because that gave me the opportunity to ride MLK/Rainier at night in heavy traffic, and with my preparation like I described above, I’m really happy with the cooperation I get now, and thats such an incredible relief for my bicycling.


      3. In Chicago they paint bike lanes across the metal grating of bridges.

        The surface is sort of OK when it’s dry if you’re used to it, and don’t go fast or make sudden movements, but, indeed, when they are wet you have essentially no traction. It also sort of depends what tires you have… my Armadillos are totally useless on metal surfaces. One winter I used some kind of Panaracer tires on the recommendation that they were good winter road tires, and they did much better on slick surfaces, but they were NOT BOMBPROOF ENOUGH.

        On dry days I’ll still ride the bridges in Seattle (especially the Montlake bridge), but not when it’s wet.

  4. This absolutely blows donkeys! I got caught out here this morning on my way to NSCC: had to detour through Fremont. First off, I swear we just went through a whole series of sidewalk closures in the spring for the very same reason: bridge painting! Am I crazy, or does this bridge require an inordinate amount of effing paint?!?

    Secondly, the new segment of the Ship Canal Trail (SCT) is ever so close to being done. Couldn’t they have waited a week or two to start this Ballard Bridge project so that we could have a decent route to go under the bridge? Apparently not, so we have to take our chances entering Nickerson in the left lane, merging with cars to our right, then making a left against on coming traffic, and heading down one of those notoriously rough and steep and gravelly industrial side roads! (The prescribed one is 11th ave w, but the clever rider will use the more easily navigable 13th ave w and do a little exploring to find ways through the fences and parking lots to get to the SCT.)

    And not only is the sidewalk shutting down, but one lane of street traffic, as well–for SIX weeks, in each direction?!? Any way you slice it, this is gonna make commuting in the ballard/interbay corridor a complete pain in the arse for the next 12 weeks or so.

    1. Doug Bostrom

      When the bridge reopens, after automobile drivers find that the globe is still in orbit around the Sun, SDOT should quietly and without fanfare reveal the closed traffic lane as a bike lane.

  5. Day two, and yes this sucks. I wish the city would get its act together and start expanding the Ballard Bridge, make it either wider in the sidewalk sections or just make every other section or so wide enough to permit easy passin. With the exception of one or tow pedestrians, most on the bridge are very friendly and accommodating.

    Sigh, we just went through this in the spring!!! I guess I’ll be riding over the locks now, adds an extra ten minutes, great………

  6. Maybe on wet days when the sidewalk is closed to bikes ride on the road up to the metal section, then get off and walk right down the middle of the lane?


    1. I think that’s what I’d do if I depended on the Ballard Bridge.

  7. Todd

    Extra patience and being courteous to pedestrians… are you kidding me? We are talking bikers here and that’s a lot to ask. They’ll treat peds just like they feel cars treat them. Many bikers are a bunch of self-righteous dumbasses.

  8. Kirk from Ballard

    It appears as if the closed lane is just to give an extra margin of safety for the workers painting the bridge. They aren’t actually doing any work in that lane. Why not let the bikes use the closed lane, riding inside the cones? And when they aren’t working, they are just using the sidewalk to store the cones. Can’t they remove the cones daily and reopen the sidewalk when they finish for the day?
    Additionally, Metro should offer free trips across the bridge to bikers. Let us get on at the stop right before the bridge, and let us get off on the stop right after the bridge. SDOT and METRO working together?

  9. Seth Howard

    It’s time to ask SDOT and the City Council’s Transportation Committee what the hell is going on with this painting project.

    I’ve also sent a heads-up to the chair and to Cascade’s head of advocacy. I suggest you do the same unless you want the present situation to continue indefinitely.

  10. […] you bike over the Ballard Bridge regularly, you are certainly well aware of the sidewalk closures that have been going on since November. Well, that work will not likely be done until early […]

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