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Tonight: Help save the waterfront

Remember when one of the biggest promises of the Alaskan Way Viaduct removal project was that it would reconnect downtown to the waterfront? Well, that’s not going to happen unless we speak up to make sure the walking and biking environment is not crushed by a massive, 100-foot-wide speedway.

Plans for the new surface boulevard to replace the viaduct and the current four-lane Alaskan Way could call for as many as 7 or 8 lanes of car and freight traffic (in addition to the four buried underground), requiring people to cross 100 feet of roadway to get between downtown and the new waterfront park. That’s twice as wide as the viaduct. Doesn’t sound very inviting to me.

On top of that, some of the lanes could be as wide as 12 feet. We know for a fact that wide lanes and excess road capacity encourage speeding. Plus, less road means more park!

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You have a chance to speak up for a safe, inviting waterfront tonight. From Cascade Bicycle Club:

Tell the design team to get it right from the start. There’s a workshop that’ll start with a brief presentation and finish with an open discussion and a chance to speak up.  It’s 5:30 to 7 p.m. this Wednesday, Feb. 8 at Town Hall (downstairs, 1119 8th Avenue).  RSVP for the workshop here.

Given that we are building a $2 billion tunnel for cars, the waterfront needs to be a human-scaled place. That means fewer and skinnier travel lanes with lots of pedestrian infrastructure making clear that people on foot are the priority. Even if (and that’s a big “if”) this means adding a couple minutes to vehicle travel times, that’s a tiny price for a welcoming and safe waterfront.

Cascade’s conditions for a waterfront boulevard are simple:

Safe means that the crossing distances should be shorter for bicycles and pedestrians, traffic speeds should be below 30 mph and intersections should be carefully designed and signalized.

Connected means that the bicycle facilities should be wide to accommodate the large numbers of anticipated riders, the facilities should work for all types of riders and there should be strong east-west connections for all modes.

As for bikes, it’s looking like we will create some kind of two-way cycle track on the west side of the new Alaskan Way, physically separated from the roadway (and hopefully the sidewalk, too). The facility would connect the new Alaskan Way Trail to the Elliott Bay Trail and, if done correctly, would be a family-friendly bike facility through downtown. Now, we just need to make sure there are some connections into downtown to make the trail really useful.

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21 responses to “Tonight: Help save the waterfront”

  1. Dave

    Personally, as long as a bike trail is built in a place that doesn’t involve too many traffic crossings, I don’t mind if a big wide road is built.

    1. I’m totally the other way about it. A bike route that goes some place useful will always have traffic issues of one sort or another. A big, wide road makes all traffic issues worse, increases pollution, and encourages sprawl; all of these things make cycling harder.

  2. Bruce Nourish

    I’ll be there…

    One other “missing link” we need to fill in, that no-one seems to be talking about: between the southern terminus of WSDOT’s new bike trail (west of Alaskan Way, down to Holgate St IIRC) and Spokane St. All this great new bike stuff to get riders (of all abilities and comfort levels) from north into and through the waterfront will be half-wasted if riders are dumped from a nice new bike trail onto the current East Marginal Way.

    Currently, E Marginal is a wasteland of crappy pavement (with rails randomly poking out), faded bike lanes and diesel fumes from the trucks and rail yard. I realize the rail yard and the trucks on E Marginal are essential parts of the economy, but that road is way too wide for its current traffic levels, and the roadway should be cut down with a separated cycle track on the east side to get bikes out of the traffic. Ideally, it might have some landscaping to make it a little less drab.

    E Marginal isn’t part of anyone’s waterfront maps, but it is directly related to the waterfront, and it’s a vital link to West Seattle and Delridge. No more missing links, PLEASE.

    1. LWC

      Don’t forget that when it rains hard, the bike lane floods and hides all the pot-holes! It really is a poor stretch of road, but the only alternative is to ride through SODO and risk getting stuck for half an hour behind a parked freight train. I’ll take the pot-holes.

      On this topic, I’m very disappointed that the short section of East Marginal north of the bridge was redone without adding any extension to the bridge path. It would have been so easy, and provided a way for cyclists to ride north without breaking the law! Currently I break the law on my bicycle exactly twice a day: when I go from the bridge path north onto East Marginal, and when I go from the bridge path south onto Delridge. The fact that no alternative exists in these locations is appalling.

      1. What requires you to break the law there? I bike through those areas occasionally (though not in high-traffic times) and I haven’t knowingly broken the law. If it’s about where you can cross roads, generally bike path intersections with roads are considered intersections, so unless there’s signage to the contrary you’re allowed to turn onto the road after yielding to whomever has right-of-way.

      2. LWC

        As far as I understand, it is against the law to bicycle on the wrong side of the street, even on a sidewalk. It is also against the law to cross double-yellow lines. Thus at both locations, cyclists can either choose to break the law in one of two ways, or dismount and walk their bike two blocks to a legal crossing. I have never seen a cyclist at either location choose the legal alternative.

      3. Tom Fucoloro

        It is legal (in Seattle) to ride either direction on the sidewalk. However, it’s not preferred to have a city where you have to.

        I dream of a day when we can make biking on sidewalks illegal because we have built safe bicycle facilities all over the city. But we are far away from that goal…

      4. LWC

        Looks like I’ve regained my status as a law-abiding citizen! Thanks for the info.

      5. I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to cross a double-yellow to pass someone, but not to make a turn in an intersection: see here.

        Places where bike trails meet roads are intersections (according to the excellent book Bicycling and the Law, and according to things I’ve read locally as well), so you can make a left turn onto the road without breaking the law.

    2. AiliL

      From meetings I sat in some time ago, showing the before/after plans for the area, say around 2016 or further on, the plan for E. Marginal is to be completely re-worked and re-designated as a “frontage” type roadway. In those plans, the intersections funneled traffic away from this roadway for the most part, and it was planned to be completed ripped up and re-done. Even the Port complains about it. Try riding in on a motorcycle, it’s like hazard avoidance practice. The rail areas to the east were planned as a “green area” too – bike lanes are planned on either side, like today.

      We’ll have to watch the flooding issue. That’s what really ticks me off…the newly paved section between Hanford/Spokane that floods very badly. When that happened on the re-pave of the Burke last year, it was fixed quickly. I’ve complained several times about it now to no avail…you get nothing but deaf ears from SDOT about E. Marginal (excluding the WSDOT construction area).

  3. Mike

    “it’s looking like we will create some kind of two-way cycle track on the west side of the new Alaskan Way”

    That’s great, but the drawing shows this as a multi-use path. Since there’s plenty of sidewalk space, the cycle track should be very clearly marked as bikes only. If you’ve ever tried to bike down the trail on the east side of Alaskan, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Tourists and bike paths don’t mix.

    1. Doug Bostrom

      Good point. Particularly given the number of cruise ship visits to Seattle it’s a fair bet the path will useless as a practical transportation resource for a large percentage of time unless stringent separation measures are employed. Locals regularly visiting the waterfront will become more or less attuned to protocol, “foreigners” won’t.

  4. Doug Bostrom

    This’ll drive a lot of people absolutely bonkers, but how about tolling the boulevard?

    Heck, for that matter why not do the Full London and toll -all- surface access into the core of Seattle? Once all the hyperventilation and shrieking was over, dire predictions of economic collapse in London did not pan out.

    See section 2.3 of this paper for helpful, hysteria-free post hoc analysis of what happened in London:


  5. Gary

    My beef is that there is “no room” for the waterfront trolley. That thing moved tourists and locals and is another reason not to have to drive the waterfront.

    But yeah 12 ft wide roads are necessary because the tunnel has to be closed to flammable liquid fuel trucks so the road must accommodate them.

    While I do find that wide roads do let cars and bicycles co-exist, when the road is straight and the lights are timed for cars, they do race from one to another without even thinking about it.

    A cycle track on the water side (West side) inside of a parked car lane would work because there are no cross streets for cars to whip through and hit us. (occasional breaks in the track for delivery trucks but they are going slow and it should be easy enough to not hit each other.) And it should be at a different level than the sidewalk that should keep us from whacking the tourists.

  6. AiliL

    What can I say that was good about that meeting? Lots and lots of cyclists showed up! Yay cyclists!

    Yes, they don’t know what to do about people on bikes. No, they don’t have any real “plans” for the “bike area/cycle-track/multi-use path” (yes, he did use all three terms). No, they haven’t looked at bike flow seriously. Hey, we can take escalators (they keep pushing this idea) up the hill…how about some good bike lanes, hm? More to say later…they needed a bigger space, BIKE PARKING, smaller discussion groups…

  7. basketlover

    The number of bicycles that are too long or wide for elevator use are increasing daily.

    What is the roadway configuration for the San Franciso waterfront?

  8. pqbuffington

    regarding last night’s (2/8 at Town Hall) meeting:

    Yes, it seemed they had no idea how to accommodate bicycle throughput…

    One of the better suggestions was to make the surface road speed limit 20 mph; this would allow bicycles to share the actual road (ha!), keep the multi-use path free of such cycle traffic, and keep everyone not in a car, truck, bus, or trolley that much safer. I do not believe it would seriously impact north-south / south/north travel times for the respective area of waterfront.

    On the escalator issue, I believe bicyclists should get behind those that will need something much more accommodating to ascend/descend the inclines. I spoke with someone wheelchair bound and she said that the escalator photo was, essentially, a no wheel-chairs allowed sign.

    She mentioned funiculars as a solution and I could not agree more…also, maybe a gondola from the ferry terminal up toward First Hill for medical access and the (possible) reduction of car traffic for such. The presenters mentioned this as an explicit need.

    In general, it seems this is the surface option all over again…was not the tunnel supposed to solve most of the problems being addressed now as “waterfront” requirements?

    1. AiliL

      Yes, I’m not against the escalator idea for those that need some help, but that’s all that was presented about how to get cyclists from the waterfront to 1st. I would have liked to have heard that several of the streets will have good bike lanes or other bike specific infrastructure in addition to the escalators. I really don’t believe the Waterfront group comprehends the fact that there’s a significant contingency of bike commuters that go through the area, not just tourists.

  9. […] I pointed out over at Seattle Bike Blog, whatever bike infrastructure we build on the waterfront has to go […]

  10. Yikes. What good is the tunnel then??????

  11. ODB

    I ride the northern part of current waterfront to work and I would hate to lose what is currently a pretty nice setup for bikes. The car traffic is light enough given the four lanes of capacity that I feel safe riding on the road–usually there is an entire available traffic lane for cars to pass. The annoyingly dense and unsynchronized traffic lights from the aquarium south can then be bypassed by switching to the bike path. But cyclists who prefer to avoid riding in the street can use the east-side sidewalk/bicycle path from the sculpture park all the way to downtown, or opt for the west-side sidewalk for better views. I see bicyclists using all three options every morning.

    I’m concerned that what is now a relatively peaceful and efficient stretch of my commute that has several good options for cyclists of different abilities is going to become noisy, crowded and polluted with heavy vehicle traffic and only one option for bicycles that may be tied up with clueless people and their luggage who just wandered off a cruise ship. I hope the planning team makes efficient bicycle traffic flow an important consideration realizing that they are dealing with one of the major bike commuter routes to downtown and not just sightseers on wheels.

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