As Missing Link goes back for even more studies, it’s time for an interim solution

Our proposed temporary solution. NW 45th Street, looking west from Fred Meyer.

It’s true. Apparently six years of studies on the Burke-Gilman Missing Link through Ballard is not enough, and the Hearing Examiner has ordered the city to produce a costly and time-consuming Environmental Impact Statement for the sorely-needed trail segment.

Meanwhile, people continue to get injured (one woman was even the victim of a hit and run last month) on the confusing and dangerous segment connecting two parts of the region’s most popular and important trail.

While the city goes back for studies, it’s time to take temporary action to protect the safety of people biking and walking along this stretch of unnecessarily unfriendly road. There are several options the city could pursue, but they should act swiftly to get a solution in place while the trail connection continues its seemingly endless and expensive legal fight.

One option would be to temporarily make NW 45th St/Shilshole Ave one-way for general traffic. Likely, eastbound would make the most sense, as many vehicles are headed to the Ballard Bridge or Leary Way. People can easily use Leary to accomplish most of the trips currently on Shilshole. The southern-most lane could then be turned into a two-way cycle track from the trail’s current terminus at Fred Meyer to Market Street.

Since traffic levels on Market St west of 24th Ave/Shilshole are significantly lower than the rest of the street, this four-lane highway-designed road is the perfect candidate for a road safety project. One option could be to continue the two-way cycle track (parking-separated this time) on the south side of Market all the way to the Burke-Gilman Trail re-start. There are relatively few streets and driveways on the south side of Market, and a two-way cycle track would save money since only one (maybe two) bus islands would be necessary.

And it would be a boon to the west end of the Market St commercial area, which would suddenly find a regional bike trail on its front doorstep. Remember, more customers in Fremont get there by bike than by car. The same could easily happen in Ballard (if it is not happening already). There would also be several good options for linking to the pending neighborhood greenway on NW 58th Street.

Certainly, making Shilshole/45th one-way would be a slight inconvenience to some of the businesses along the way (though not that much of one). But the Ballard Business Appellants agree that the safety of people on bikes is the most important thing (that was the argument they made to send the project back for more study). Safety is also the city’s top transportation priority, as was stated several times at Wednesday’s launch of the new Road Safety Action Plan (more on that soon). The missing link is a serious risk to the lives and health of Seattle residents. Once the trail is completed, we can review reopening two-way traffic on the roads.

Since this is a temporary measure and sticks entirely to existing roadways (no changes of use involved), the city can do this quickly (before the end of 2012 if we want to). We can reassess later via public meetings and decide what to keep, what to get rid of and what to improve once the trail is complete.

While Cascade Bicycle Club hasn’t seen or commented on the idea I just suggested, they agree that something must be done immediately in the interim. A safe Ballard cannot wait:

“We want to see fast action to bring all the stakeholders together to discuss our options. Something has to be done to improve the safety on the Missing Link segment until a trail is built,” said [Cascade Executive Director Chuck] Ayers. “We hope the City will do whatever is legally required to move the project forward.”

What do you think the city should do while we wait for another Missing Link study?

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42 Responses to As Missing Link goes back for even more studies, it’s time for an interim solution

  1. jitterbalm says:

    Being a cyclist (no car) and a driver in Ballard on the job, I would agree with the two-way cycle track on the south side of Market Street between NW 24th and 30th. Many cyclists use the sidewalk, which narrows eastbound to 24th. The hazard on the sidewalk is hitting a pedestrian. The hazard on the road cars hooking cyclists that are turning right (Southbound) onto Shilshole. The plan for this intersection needs more input in my opinion. There will be more entry/egress traffic coming from the new gigantic condo on 24th and Market (NE corner–they did not restrict parking spaces there…)

    Businesses need lanes in both directions on Shilshole. I will not advocate for that, having seen the industrial/commercial/residential traffic during the week and the messy and at times frantic Ballard Sunday Market traffic on Sundays. Wow. I feel like Moses parting the waters driving through there with my job hat on.

    Specific treatment to the places cyclists are breaking bones on the railroad track crossing and getting hit by cars would help. Shilshole + NW 46th intersection markings and signage at a minimum. Most of us know about the nefarious train track crossing at NW 45th. NW 45th itself could use some pavement street improvements to help both bikes and cars make it through the next few years unscathed. Perhaps the City could analyze that stretch for a pavement/marking project.

    I personally do not use Shilshole in its current state. Too dangerous for my family.

  2. Brad Hawkins says:

    I wouldn’t mind having the city respect the dangerous nature of Shilshole Ave as evidenced by the appelant’s arguments against the bike trail, by reducing the speed limit to 20 and placing caution signs and “bicyclists use full lane” signs on that street. If it’s really that congested, then special requirements need to be put in place.

    As for NW 45th that connects Fred Meyer to Ballard, I would recommend traffic diverters so that only bicycles can go through the entire stretch.

    These are things that the City of Seattle can do right now.

  3. Matthew says:

    One of the places that could really benefit from a trivial investment in traffic engineering is the spot where 45th St, 46th St, Shilshole, and 17th Ave all come together in a short span. Traffic on 46th typically moves way over the speed limit, which makes the unprotected westbound left turn from 45th onto Shilshole rather harrowing. Putting a light or an all-way stop at that intersection could really help to slow traffic down and make bikers more safe. I’m not sure if 46th is considered an arterial there, but it gets treated as one. We could easily try to change that.

    Let’s not forget that this isn’t just about bicycles. There’s really not a safe and pleasant way to walk to that part of Ballard from the east. Sidewalks just kind of disappear or turn into illegal parking spots on most of those streets. Addressing pedestrian needs is important as well.

    Sometimes I think this focus on the missing link, while important, is taking away some potential energy for a re-thinking of the major pedestrian and bike safety issues in that part of Ballard. I like the idea of thinking bigger. Leary is a nightmare. Shilshole needs to be re-imagined as it’s increasingly becoming the back door for Ballard Ave businesses in addition to its role as the front door for some heavy industry. Ballard Ave could become pedestrian-only, or pedestrian + cycle track, at least during the weekends. These are not ideas that are incompatible with the missing link being built, but ways we can try to fit the missing link into a broader vision for that area.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      Oh, or how about putting a parking-separated cycle track on Ballard Ave and reducing the travel space to the width typical of neighborhood streets (cars have to move over to let each other pass, like we are all already used to doing). This could create a woonerf-feeling roadway like in Pike Place Market, but with a cycle track. Plus, it wouldn’t require removing parking (which, while I am not necessarily against that, Ballard has enough road space to reclaim that parking removal could probably be minimal).

      And yes, the walking environment is horrendous. My photoshop image does a poor job of addressing the issues people walking on 45th face. It’s horrible. I have seen several people in wheelchairs going as fast as they can down the road, looking over their shoulders to see if cars are coming up behind. It’s an unacceptable state of things, especially with so much space, relatively low traffic flow and the money to fix it already in the bank.

      Safety? I can’t believe the Ballard Appellants are still trying to act like this is about safety. And that it’s working. Tell your favorite Ballard businesses to make a stink about the Ballard Chamber of Commerce’s opposition to the trail.

      • Eli says:

        I would, except I don’t actually do business in Ballard because it’s too hard to get there by bike. ;-)

  4. Anthony says:

    Sorry, but I disagree with you guys in several aspects.

    1) Please don’t ask the city to act fast, that’s a recipe for disaster. They already have eliminated a valuable street sign on the Ballard Bridge notifying drivers that they need to yield the ROW, so what next on 45th?

    2) People need to learn how to handle their bikes better on 45th, period. I don’t know why we excuse bad riding behavior but at the same time lament and blame drivers for their atrocious skills. I do agree that a sidewalk or lane on the south side of the road would be nice from where it splits at Shilshole until just before the maritime academy.

    3) 45th is mostly slow, but it sure can pick up with traffic at times, and we need to balance having a two-way street there for drivers.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      1) There are many good engineers at SDOT (though they often get muzzled by politics). However, there are certainly projects that make me scratch my head. Many of the worst ones are actually designed by King County Metro and signed off by SDOT. I’m not sure about the N 45th St bus stuff in Wallingford, but I know this was the case for the awful Howell project in South Lake Union.

      2) That’s not fair. How are people supposed to learn to handle their bikes better without practice? And where better to practice than the Burke-Gilman? MANY people crash on the Missing Link, not just dumb people. It is reasonable to expect the main link between a major regional trail and a popular commercial district to be safe. And the penalty for a slight riding error is extremely harsh in the Missing Link. It’s not helpful to simply blame the multitudes of people who crash there. One of two freak incidents might be user error. After enough people crash, it’s clearly a design problem.

      3) Trips on the section of 45th btwn Fred Meyer and Shilshole can easily be made on 46th instead. There is one business on 45th that would probably be a bit inconvenienced, but a one-way street would still allow them access to their driveway (even if they have to go a block out of the way to get there, a small price to pay for a dramatically safer stretch of roadway).

      • Al Dimond says:

        Howell is so weird. I’ve only ever used it during fairly light traffic, when drivers tend to go really fast. When traffic is heavier and slower-moving I might find the arrangement no worse than the average downtown street where I can just ride with traffic. I wouldn’t mind being out left with a bike lane there, and for the most part there isn’t parking on Howell so it wouldn’t even have to be a particularly wide bike lane. It would probably be left-hook city, though.

      • Mondoman says:

        Tom:
        Re: 2) Nobody who doesn’t already have good urban bike riding skills has any business riding along 45th/Shilshole, unless they’re on the paved sidewalk. There’s currently no trail there, which is of course why we all refer to that section as the Missing Link. If there were a Missing Bridge located on the Ship Canal, would non-experts be encouraged to ride their bikes into the water there? You see my point :)
        Re: 3) Completely agree with you, assuming you are talking about bikes and not cars. There’s nice pavement from the end of the B-G up 11th, then along 46th, where it merges into Shilshole. The only places you need to cross the street are at 45th/11th, 11th/46th, and once you get to Market St. These crossings all have stop signs or lights. Voila – no City action needed, except for some signs, and your interim, much safer Missing Link bypass route is good to go.

      • Brad Hawkins says:

        That’s just the point. A person should be able to get around this city and to any address in this city without massive urban biking skills. The laws need changing, the infrastructure needs changing, and level of awareness by those currently using our public rights of way need changing.

        Otherwise, everyone should have a minivan.

      • Mondoman says:

        I agree that it’s good to have goals!

  5. Anthony says:

    Forgot to add that the big blunder at 45th and Corliss in Wallingford is another recipe for disaster. Who in the hell thought it was a good idea to install an island ANd narrow the road at the same spot?! Damn dumb. A total cluster!2#* of an idea waiting to get people hurt. I have almost been squashed there a few times in the past month.

    Does anyone at the City actually get out and ride a real commute? If so, they must have some glorified idea of how the cycle paths and lanes are supposed to be, certainly not helping me any…

    • Al Dimond says:

      45th is an incoherent disaster for biking. It’s full of markings for cyclists suggesting that they should stay as far right as possible, repeatedly merging in and out of traffic, and even sharrows shoved over in the door zone where there’s no place for cars to pass, so that cyclists might as well just ride down the middle of the lane.

      If cyclists ride right down the middle like they should the islands are fine. If they follow the sharrows they’re put in undue danger. What 45th needs is (a) its sharrows moved a few feet left and (b) a sign pointing out the Wallingford Greenway a block to the south.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        Or remove the sharrows entirely, since they give the false impression that it’s a good choice of road for biking. If you are confident enough to bike on 45th, then you don’t need sharrows telling you where to be.

      • Al Dimond says:

        This might just be perception, but I feel like I get more respect on streets with sharrows than those without. 45th is still necessary for many trips, even those that use the greenway, since 45th has all the businesses and the bridge over I-5. I know I have a right to ride on 45th and I know how to do it safely, but (a) lots of drivers would take the removal of sharrows to be a sign that I don’t have that right and (b) lots of cyclists and drivers don’t know how to bike in traffic safely.

        Therefore, good sharrows on 45th, please. And move the damn buffered bike lane in front of Dick’s to the climb side and ban left turns out of the parking lot. For great justice.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        I think it’s time for Seattle to figure out what we want the sharrow to mean. Currently, they mean something different to different people, and they are used for all kinds of reasons. This would be a good topic for a future post!

        The Bicycle Master Plan Update is a great place to get on paper what the sharrow means, and could provide a guide for adding, updating and removing existing ones.

      • Al Dimond says:

        So can Seattle just decide what sharrows mean? For all 3 million or so Puget-Sounders plus all the tourists that see them?

        I don’t think Seattle (probably here meaning SDOT) can do that). So instead it needs to look at how people interpret sharrows and install them in ways that encourage good behavior. I think drivers interpret sharrows to mean, “Bicycles belong here.” And cyclists tend to interpret them as lane position directions — with a sharrow out in the middle of the lane cyclists are a lot more bold about taking the lane. The sharrows on 45th are clearly intended to mark horizontal position for cyclists, they just give cyclists really inconvenient and unsafe directions.

      • eldan says:

        If sharrows are supposed to mean “bikes belong here” then we’d better raise the money to put them on every block of road that isn’t a restricted access highway.

      • Mondoman says:

        I’m with Tom and eldan on this – dump all the sharrows. From what I can figure out, all they really mean is “we haven’t taken the time and money to figure out something that actually works here, so deal with it”.

  6. Anthony says:

    Tom, I agree that people need to practice. But using the BG or the missing link isn’t the place for new riders to be. It’s like practicing driving the car on the freeway or a major route like Pine Street. Start with a parking lot and other assorted places where one won’t cause chaos with regular everyday riders. Having rode the BGT everyday for a few years back in the mid 90s, I can attest that waiting or getting nearly taken out by any number of four year olds or other wayward cyclists who don’t ride regularly was very unpleasant.

    I support the fact that 45th/Shilshole needs to be safe, your point is something I support. But dang, people don’t seem to want to ride at either a 90 degree angle to the tracks, or just get off and walk. Maybe you remember the time I wrote about picking that one guy up after he crashed and was so disoriented that he didn’t know who he was. Never want to see that again.

    Last,as always you do a great job at this blog, no joke. Thanks for listening and I look forward to many more threads here for years to come!

    Sincerely, Tony

  7. Nigel says:

    I have always thought that running the trail along the south side of Shilshole was a bad idea. Why are we even continuing this fight? What is wrong with the north side of the street where there are hardly any driveways? What about making Ballard Ave a greenway?

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      There is more activity on the north side of shilshole than the south side. Contrary to what the opponents say, driveways are not all the dangerous for trails. There are tons of them along the trail already, and it works fine.

      Ballard ave could use some work, I agree. It probably wouldn’t be a candidate for a greenway due to it’s commercial nature and parking/delivery activity, but maybe another design would work well (we discussed a cycle track idea above)

  8. Brad Hawkins says:

    So the comments featured a fun little diversion into Wallingford but the point of the decision is that a defunct rail line that is owned by the city and is railbanked for use as Multi Use Path has been expropriated by an oil wholesaler, a tool company, and a cement company. They are using this city property as employee parking and truck staging.

    The land belongs to you and is being held by a couple of business interests who think that if they can scare the bikes away on the flattest part of Ballard and the direct route to Puget Sound that they will have the legal impetus to take the whole thing.

    What we need is critical mass from 7-9 AM every morning of the week riding up and down Shilshole, riding standard CM pace. The trick? You have to convince a bunch of politically interested cyclists to wake up early and brave the ribbing from the spandex commuter crowd. Can we do it? I have two kids I would have to cart there. Everybody has an excuse.

    Another option is to go into these businesses, order something big, have it delivered to the front, and then explain that you are taking your money elsewhere and why.

    • Matthew says:

      Or even recruiting some of the businesses on the other side of the street, those who DO want the missing link built, to hang banners or signs in their windows shaming the small number of heavy industries opposed to the trail.

      Or a coordinated effort to take over the illegally annexed truck parking spots, parklet-style. Maybe set up some temporary information booths in those “parking spots”, staffed by people explaining the problem. That would require fewer people than a critical mass-style ride, but could possibly be even more effective.

      I would definitely be willing to participate. I’m not sure I’m well connected enough to take on a leadership role in this kind of project, but Brad, if you’re serious, I’m on board, and I live really close by.

    • Mondoman says:

      Brad, just wanted to note that it’s an active rail segment; I’ve seen the red little engine in action on it a number of times, and you can often hear it if you live anywhere near downtown Ballard. It’s the engine with the “ding-ding” bell rather than the long horn.

      As for in-your-face activism, I’ve always thought it would be funny to gather together a bunch of peds and span a road/trail just in front of CM, just hanging out and chatting to let the cyclists gain some appreciation for peds.

      • Brad Hawkins says:

        It’s not that active. The law states that a rail line is active if it’s used by a train once every six months. The train is owned by one of the appellants. They would have to let everyone who parks on the track before hand that they are taking the little train out of storage and on a trip up the track, ringing that bell as you say. It’s a charade.

      • Mondoman says:

        It runs at least a few times a week, pulling/pushing big bulk goods cars. They seem to usually run it pretty late at night, which eliminates most of the car-parked-on-tracks problems. They do send someone out ahead to scout the tracks and deal with any stray parked cars (towing?). If you are up late in the area and hear the ding-ding-ding, go check it out. It’s pretty interesting to watch, if you like trains.

  9. jitterbalm says:

    Hi, Anthony, your comment “People need to learn how to handle their bikes better on 45th, period. I don’t know why we excuse bad riding behavior but at the same time lament and blame drivers for their atrocious skills,” brought up alot for me today.

    Just this week in downtown, a cyclist on a sidewalk going against my green light came within 6 inches of getting hit by my van. He was going fast against the light, on a sidewalk, with earbuds in, not looking! I could not sleep a couple of nights this week. That same morning I witnessed a cyclist going 8 mph down Marion Street, no helmut, head down, studying a hand held device, only one hand on the handle bars. Let’s hope we all survive this aggressive, I’m-entitled-because-I’m-young-and-strong, type of riding behavior.

    I ride my bike every day of the year. Conservatively, with knowledge and respect for the right-of-way and thinking hard about what drivers are experiencing inside their 2-ton projectiles. Is the light in their eyes? Is the pavement newly wet? Can they see me? Are they talking on their cell or distracted in other ways? As a cyclist, a motorist, and a pedestrian, I also have to deal with cyclists who are unsure, less strong, or unpredictable. But the close calls have come from strong, aggressive riders who blow off stop signs and assume I’ll get out of their way. It is rampant.

    It has been a tough week for me. Last Sunday, a tandem came within inches of hitting an 85-year-old who was within arms-length (at Centennial Park.) She was slowly crossing the cycle track to get to a vehicle. Why did you not see her 30 yards off, tandem captain? God help an old person if they fall.

    I’m *so* glad not to have to drive today–it’s grueling to have to protect the lives of aggressive, inattentive cyclists. Please, cycling community. Respect all modes of transport and give a nod to right of way!

  10. Jeremy says:

    And where is the modern-day Norman Rockwell to paint “Rosie the Reviewer,” symbolizing the can’t-do complacency of a we-bet-all-the-chips on cars culture?

  11. Kirk from Ballard says:

    Did I miss something? Was there another ruling? As far as I can tell, we are still waiting to see if anyone appealed the April 30, 2012 Reissued Revised DNS, right?
    But I do like the idea of making the missing link section one way and installing a cycle track. Genius. Take that, Ballard Business Appelants.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      Yes: the Hearing Examiner has ordered the city to produce a costly and time-consuming Environmental Impact Statement for the sorely-needed trail segment.

      So, in essence, the HE called bullshit on the city’s DNS, saying there’s a good chance the changes would, indeed, be significant and it needs study (and that they city needs to study “alternatives”).

      The most frustrating part of this to me is the “alternatives” part. A cycle track on Leary and Market is a needed safe streets project. But it’s not a trail. The fact that the opposition was able to sell this plan as an “alternative” is very annoying. It should happen, I agree with them on that. But it’s not a trail, and it’s not safer than the city’s designed and funded trail. It’s a different project altogether.

      • Kirk from Ballard says:

        AHA! OK, I found a PI article. So frustrating. The thing is, no matter where the trail is built, the trucks will have to cross it at some point. So the next step is studying other options, again? What a joke, as if that hasn’t already been done. I like your suggestion above; I hope the SDOT seriously considers studying it as one of the options.

      • Matthew says:

        My concerns are that the alternatives being presented in this thread are largely bike-only. That’s understandable, this being a bike blog, but I think we HAVE to keep in mind that the missing link is intended to be a multi-use path, providing a critical walking link between Ballard and points east/southeast. Providing short-term alternatives that are great for bikers would probably increase safety for bikers, but what good does a cycle-track do for people trying to walk along the water to Ballard?

        I live well within easy walking distance of Ballard Ave shops. I just rarely choose to walk because I feel much less safe on foot than I do on my bike, on the same route, even factoring in the unfortunate number of accidents involving cyclists in that area. I know where the problem areas for bikes are. Not to repeat myself, but basically the entire way is a problem area for a pedestrian.

    • Mondoman says:

      Things like voting are costly and time-consuming, too. Doesn’t mean they’re bad things :)
      It’ll be nice to finally see some real alternative routes evaluated, assuming SDOT does a proper analysis.

      • Kirk From Ballard says:

        One more thought, on the note of protest to the Ballard Business Appelants. The Ballard Chamber of Commerece is one of the BBA, and they sponsor the Ballard Seafood Fest. Riding through the Seafood Fest last year, I noticed the BBQ Salmon booth, chaired every year by Warren Aakervik of Ballard Oil, the BBA spokesman. It occured to me that this would have been a prime chance to protest, or just to inform, with informational picketing at both the Seafood Fest and particularly Mr. Aakervik’s BBQ Salmon Booth. Let the Seafood Fest attendees know that the Ballard C of C and the man behind the BBQ Salmon Booth is anti-bike and anti-progress for Ballard; that both are against finishing the Burke-Gilman Trail’s missing link.

  12. Todd says:

    At this point, it’s beginning to feel like a Republican/Democratic debate. Perhaps it’s time to find a different route??

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