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City Council committee talks 520 Bridge design

A City Council committee will hear a briefing on the 520 Bridge Replacement Project design Monday morning, including discussion about the proposed second Montlake Bridge and the Portage Bay Bridge starting at 10:40 10:50 a.m. or so (it was originally scheduled for 10:30, but they are running behind schedule).

You can watch live online here. We will have more updates during the briefing. UPDATE: See updates from the meeting below.

There is a strong community-led initiative to make sure biking and walking access is a priority in the project. Unfortunately, the common sense inclusion of biking and walking access to the Portage Bay section of the project is currently missing from the state’s design. Central Seattle Greenways has taken a leadership role in pushing for this and other improvements, such as an improved I-5 crossing and better connections in Montlake and North Capitol Hill.

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Cascade Bicycle Club has also formed a policy document that contains many of the community concerns brought by CSG and others:

SR520 CBC PublicComments 9212012

We’ll update this post during the briefing. Stay tuned, and feel free to comment below if you are watching along.


Councilmember Richard Conlin says recommendations about Portage Bay, other design elements will be later this year.

Nancy Brainard, North Capitol Hill Neighborhood Association opposed the trail:

1. Would add 14 feet

2. Trail would have to be on the south side, cross would be awkward

3. There are already “regular land routes” in the plan.

My retorts to these points (also part of the “Sustainable 520” letter of opposition to the trail):

1. It would actually add ten feet, since four feet can be reclaimed by removing the planted median. That ten feet is almost nothing compared to the total width of the bridge, which is 160+ feet (depending on the section), and benefits are immense.

2. We have yet to see a design for this, and I’m sure it’s a goal that can be achieved.

3. These routes are important for neighborhood access to the bridge, commercial areas and transit stops, and I’m in total support of them. But they are not an “alternative” to a direct route. They are steep and twice as long: For people on foot, this route would add as much as a half hour.

Second Montlake Bridge

A consultant recently determined a second Montlake Bridge would not be worth the $100 million. However, several speakers argued against the city abandoning the idea without looking any further into it. The benefits to biking, walking and transit could be huge, they say.

The report says that there may be more affordable ways to move transit and people biking and walking across the Ship Canal. Widening the sidewalks of the existing Montlake Bridge is an option.

Neighborhood Greenways

Biking and walking across the Montlake Bridge gets a failing grade. “Nobody wants this situation to continue to deteriorate for the next 50 years,” said Bob Edminston.

Gordon Padelford of CSG: Puget Sound Regional Council considers the corridor a Priority 1 bicycle and walking corridor, Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board, S Pedestrian Advisory Board, Bicycle Master Plan, Seattle Design Commission plus hundreds of supporters who have signed a petition support the project. The Portage Bay trail has regional, city-wide and neighborhood support.

WSDOT design presentation

Councilmember Mike O’Brien supports studying a four-lane Portage Bay Bridge, considering recent tolling traffic numbers. This would address neighbors’ widening concerns and needs for biking and walking access. WSDOT says this is off-the-table, citing transit concerns. O’Brien pushed the issue, suggests transit can still move with a four-lane bridge and adjusting pricing. If WSDOT isn’t interested in pursuing this cost-saving idea, maybe the city should hire a consultant for a second opinion.

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16 responses to “City Council committee talks 520 Bridge design”

  1. […] key elements of the SR 520 corridor, and today at 10:30 a.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall, the Seattle City Council was briefed on the results of this process. Ultimately, the City Council will make recommendations to WSDOT specific to the proposed designs […]

  2. AlyCatNat

    I can understand how people who live in the Montlake area are worried and upset by all the traffic and construction that will be coming their way, I’m sure people who moved there 20 years ago never foresaw how busy and congested it would become in that area. I just have to wonder why they wouldn’t conclude that X number of people are going to have to cross 520 every day, and it would be so much quieter and safer for the neighborhood if a higher percentage of those people were crossing on bikes or in busses; there surely is no motivation to walk or bike if it will be add a substantial amount of time and inconvenience to the commute.

  3. I personally can’t imagine how a second Montlake Bridge as big as the existing one would be worth the expense and disruption. For transit, the analysis suggests that as long as bus lanes are built up to the south part of the bridge the benefit of bus lanes all the way across is minimal. For driving, well, you’re going between the U District and Montlake, and there’s no capacity in either of those places to spare.

    For biking and walking, however, there are real problems that could be solved by a second bridge. The existing bridge is fine for walking except that there are tons of commuting cyclists using the sidewalk, and really pretty lousy for biking. The solution is to build a second span for bikes (and, I suppose, pedestrians headed toward the 520 trail and the Arboretum, but I think most of the pedestrians will have more direct routes on the existing span). That bridge can be small and cheap with much less construction and environmental impact than another big bridge with wide traffic lanes.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      I’m also interested to hear more about the potential of widening the existing sidewalks, especially if that could involve modern widths and separation of modes. For multi-use, modern standards say 12-14 feet. Now it is sevenish.

      1. That would be cool, too… a huge chunk of the bike traffic is going to be from the BGT to the Lake Washington Loop and 520 bike path, and should mostly be OK on the east side. Pedestrian traffic today, I think, is largely between the Montlake Flyer Stop and various UW locations, especially UWMC; how much this pattern persists depends on how many buses going in the forward commute direction stop up on the lid… if the answer is, “none,” some eastsiders lose a transit connection to the U District. Anyway, the lid stops should allow most foot traffic to use the west sidewalk (unlike the current flyer stop).

        But it’s not just about width. The sidewalks on the Fremont Bridge aren’t any wider, carry a lot of foot and bike traffic (especially in the summer), and handle it better because the sightlines, road markings, and curbs are designed better (though still not very well). We need more width but we need better design more.

      2. Steve

        How are they going to widen sidewalks on an historic structure? Even if the lifting mechanism can take the extra weight, the Montlake Bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is designated as a City of Seattle Landmark.

      3. Steve

        Forgot to add this, even if you could widen the sidewalks, the bridge towers at both ends are still the choke point limiting the width to the current seven feet. Only a second bridge (maybe bike/ped only?) is going to get you modern biking and walking lanes.

  4. Fifty years is long enough for non-motorized road users to wait dor a direct route from Kirkland to the University District. Just because they messed up back in 1962 is no reason to perpetuate the folly. I’m willing to share without making motorists wait another 50 years for their turn to come around again.

    1. What exactly are you advocating here? A second Montlake Bridge with extra general-purpose lanes? I’m pretty sure none of the plans involve more general-purpose lanes over the ship canal because that would be pointless (there isn’t extra road capacity on either side of the bridge). All the “second Montlake Bridge” plans are just overengineered ways to extend transit priority to the U District without pissing off entitled SOV commuters.

      1. I was talking about the floating bridge, as well as the stuff at the west end of that bridge.

      2. What are motorists going to have to “wait another 50 years” for exactly? Motorists are pretty well taken care of in every proposal.

  5. OK, so also… why would the bike path on the Portage Bay Bridge have to be on the south side?

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      WSDOT folks said this at the SBAB meeting, and I forget the reasons. Some engineering issue, though (not political, I don’t think). Good question, though. I’ll make sure to find out more about it.

      This would likely mean a trip on an improved Bill Dawson Trail, which totally sucks now. But they say they’re gonna widen it, regrade it to ADA grades and improve the horrible sightlines. Add to that some good lighting and the improved access and signage, and I could see it being reasonable.

      1. It just seems really unlikely to me that there’s a real engineering reason that doesn’t come down to, “We designed this big-ass road and now we’re trying to bolt on a bike path.” Why not, “We designed this as a transportation facility that works for all its users.”

        I mean, they came up with some bullshit reason they had to get rid of the Montlake Flyer Stop, but come on. If WSDOT really cared about anything except moving max number of cars across that bridge they’d have found a way to keep something allowing equivalent transit service patterns with minimal delay.

  6. John

    I live on Delmar Drive. Did Nancy Brainard really say there are “regular land routes” between Roanoke and Montlake? Does she mean Delmar Drive? Does she mean Edgar Street? Does she mean the stairs at Roanoke Street? Because ALL THREE ROUTES ARE DANGEROUS. Nancy, would you let your grandma walk any of these three land routes?

    And what about the UW light rail? Much larger numbers of people ON FOOT AND BIKES ONLY will emerge there… and walk up Delmar Drive? Are you joking? It is a SINGLE FILE PATH made treacherous by leaves and rain half the year.

    I’d like to walk around my neighborhood with anyone who says straight-faced that “regular land routes” are appropriate for this area. It’s a geographically challenging area that gets a flood of confused tourists. A foot path from Roanoke park to the Montlake area would be a great connector.

    And guess what: I look straight at the 520 bridge. Am I gonna care about my view over the liveability of my neighborhood? NO WAY. Noisy, stinky CARS, not bridges, are the pain. Gosh, how could we make CARS less requisit for city living. I wonder…

  7. […] and walking connection across I-5 at Roanoke, connecting Eastlake and North Capitol Hill (see this previous post for […]

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