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Temporary Mercer walk/bike path under Aurora finally connects Dexter to Lower Queen Anne

Photo from Peri Hartman
Photo from reader Peri Hartman

After decades of being isolated from the city’s bicycle network, Lower Queen Anne is on the verge of a bike revolution. And a new temporary walk/bike path on Mercer under Aurora gives a preview of what it will be like to finally have a comfortable way to cross into the neighborhood from Dexter Ave.

Marked off with construction cones, the temporary path is significantly wider than the previous super-skinny sidewalk squeezed onto the side of the old Aurora underpass, which was extremely uncomfortable for people on bikes and foot alike. And there will be a temporary path of comparable size throughout the rest of construction, according to SDOT:

The current pathway on the north side of Mercer will be available for use for the next four to five months.  After that, we will either have the current pathway on the north open or a comparably sized path/sidewalk on the south side open.

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People who bike to Lower Queen Anne are already ecstatic to finally have a comfortable way to cross into one of the city center’s biggest bike route black holes. Reader Peri Hartman sent us the photo above, asking me to thank whoever is responsible:

I don’t know who to thank, but “thanks” for the new, temporary bike & ped lane on Mercer St. under Aurora.  It’s significantly wider and safer than the old 4′ sidewalk.  I used it today for the first time!

Those thanks go to the city’s Mercer Project team. In fact, it’s among the few significant benefits people on bikes will notice from the massive, $260M+ remake of the 1.4-mile-long street, which is largely focused on simplifying car movement through Lower Queen Anne and South Lake Union (see our previous post on how bike connections into Lower Queen Anne could work).

To put this cost in perspective, the low-end estimate for building the entire 20-year Bike Master Plan is $390M for 474 miles of trails, protected bike lanes and neighborhood greenways.

Lower Queen Anne is one of the city’s densest neighborhoods, but it has been bound by dangerous busy streets, highways and train lines for at least a generation, isolating this central neighborhood from the rest of the city.

In 2012, the Thomas St biking and walking bridge opened, providing a key connection between the neighborhood and the Elliott Bay Trail.

In the next couple years (assuming no huge delays), the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Project will see the closing of the Battery Street Tunnel and will reconnect John, Thomas and Harrison Streets across Aurora.

From a 2010 document showing how streets could reconnect after the closing of the Battery Street Tunnel
From a 2010 document showing how streets could reconnect after the closing of the Battery Street Tunnel

The Mercer Project is in the process of widening that street’s Aurora underpass and, once completed, will include a separate protected bikeway and sidewalks.

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 11.31.59 AMPlans for a downtown protected bike lane will almost certainly include either 2nd or 4th Avenues (or both), and the draft Bike Master Plan calls for these to be connected into Lower Queen Anne via protected bike lanes on 1st/Queen Anne Avenue and 5th Avenue.

It’s exciting to imagine what these bike access changes could mean for Lower Queen Anne. Long essentially an island of bikeability, it is on the verge of rejoining the city. This means a boost for businesses and another transportation choice for neighborhood residents. And, of course, it makes it much easier for people to get to Seattle Center events without driving.

Here’s more on the project, from a 2013 presentation:

2013 April MWest Presentation by tfooq

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14 responses to “Temporary Mercer walk/bike path under Aurora finally connects Dexter to Lower Queen Anne”

  1. Bruce Nourish

    Has SDOT figured out how to get SPS to sell a sliver of their surface parking lot on the west side of 5th Ave N? If that doesn’t happen, there’s not going to be a usable bike trail on 5th.

    1. According to this monster PDF the path along 5th Ave N is going to end north of the parking lot, as least as far as the Mercer project goes. That’s a block short of a real entrance to Seattle Center, and doesn’t come close to a downtown connection. Maybe it will change in the future if people bike through the parking lot.

      If you’re biking to Seattle Center from the north you’ll also have the option of Thomas, after it’s connected across Aurora. I’m sure the signal cycle at Aurora will be brutal, but according to the plan they’re going to ditch all the street parking and put in bike lanes all the way from Dexter to 5th. I’ll believe it when I see it, but it is in the plan. Thomas is also a pretty decent way through Seattle Center east-to-west, and you end up near the overpass to the waterfront.

      North of Mercer it looks like they might have to knock down a parking garage to expand a block 5th Ave N? Not quite sure. For better or worse the focus seems to be on Roy as an east-west bike route, with a jog to Mercer to get across Aurora and no other north-south improvements.

  2. Brian

    This is progress. I only biked that eastbound, obviously, and did it only rarely. Not a, uh, favorite route of mine. I look forward to seeing and trying the final result.

  3. SashaBikes

    Oh! That’s fantastic! Much gratitude to the Mercer Project Team!!

  4. gene balk

    That is really great news.

  5. John

    Wow, this is great!

    I live in Cascade and shop at the QFC on Mercer, just west of Aurora. I tend to just walk to QFC instead of biking due to having no good way to get across Aurora on a bike, though walking on that little 2.5 foot sidewalk next to busy traffic isn’t much better.

    Now we just need to get Puget Sound Bike Share up and running with a dock next to QFC, and I’ll be one happy camper!

  6. Tasting notes:

    – On the east end, at Taylor, turning off the path is easy. If you’re coming south to turn left onto the path, you have a problem that’s common when turning left from a street onto a near-side path: traffic turning off of Mercer (here, turning left, eastbound to northbound) is required to yield to you once you’re on the path (in the crosswalk), but this is weird because a car in your position would be required to yield to traffic on Mercer before making a left, so drivers are used to ignoring traffic coming from your position. This is one of my least favorite traffic situations.

    For now, given the visibility issues at this intersection, probably the best solution for now is to get left onto the east sidewalk at least a half-block north of the intersection, so you don’t run into conflicts at the intersection itself. Alternately, approach like a car making a left and wait for a gap in traffic even though you’re not turning across anyone in the traditional sense.

    – At the west end, at Dexter, getting onto the path is fairly easy from the southbound bike lane or the north crosswalk. Getting off is easy, too, but going across Dexter with the walk sign to turn left is a little unsettling. I guess you’ve just gotta keep your head on a swivel (to the right for left-turning traffic)?

    – Decent number of pedestrians crossing under. The path isn’t super wide. High speed down the hill is inadvisable. Climb is not a problem on either end.

  7. It is about time – I think, drivers cyclists, and pedestrians are much happier with a better space for cyclists as opposed to cruising down the center line, trying to squeeze by on the right, or struggling to fit on the sidewalk with pedestrians. Al Diamond has a reasonable point but I think given the construction cyclists just need to be smart about it and there should be no problems. It is honestly no different than a pedestrian – use the crosswalk if you feel more comfortable.

  8. […] safety hazard for cyclists and thus drivers and pedestrians as well. For more information, see this post on the Seattle Bike […]

  9. […] Temporary Mercer walk/bike path under Aurora finally connects Dexter to Lower Queen Anne | Seattle B…. […]

  10. […] five-mile route will utilize the new temporary Mercer walk/bike path under Aurora, cut through the Seattle Center, and use the West Thomas Street Overpass to get to the beautiful […]

  11. […] ride had planned to use the new temporary Mercer walk/bike path under Aurora, but the Hot Chocolate 15K/5K Run was taking place (and was nearly done, it appeared) so the street […]

  12. […] passed off as “sidewalks” on Mercer and Broad Streets as they pass under Aurora, the temporary bike/walk path created on Mercer in February was actually an improvement. But that’s a pretty low bar to […]

  13. […] the street down to one lane. These may not be my favorite projects in Seattle (though yes, the new bike lanes under Aurora will be nice), but kudos to the two agencies for planning these major Dexter closures at the same time. […]

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