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The Northgate bike/walk bridge designs are stunning, could be a neighborhood icon

Concept image of the tube truss option. From SDOT.
Concept image of the tube truss option. From SDOT.

So we’ve already established that the Northgate bike/walk bridge is a good idea from a neighborhood connectivity perspective. But another important benefit of the bridge is the chance to create a truly spectacular and maybe even iconic piece of infrastructure for Northgate.

In a neighborhood known best for its mall, one of the first post-war indoor malls built in the United States, increasing density and changing shopping trends set the stage for a future where Northgate Mall and the light rail station are more of a neighborhood center than merely a driving destination for people who live somewhere else.

The mall was built next to a freeway that cuts the neighborhood in half, and is surrounded by big surface parking lots. Even after recent remodeling projects, much of the mall area reflects 1950s thinking that does not fit in today’s Seattle.

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Since indoor malls across the nation have been failing, Northgate could be an example of how a mall can stay vibrant and relevant in the 21st Century. Rather than seas of surface parking lots, people want culture and street life. And the bike/walk bridge could be one eye-catching example of the effort.

The city held an open house recently to show off some design ideas for the bridge and gather feedback. The project still needs to find $15 million, and the city and Sound Transit have applied for a competitive federal TIGER grant to fill the gap. But if they do not receive the grant, they should be developing a backup plan to make sure funding is found before the July 2015 deadline set by Sound Transit. You can let them know you support finding funding for the bridge and give your other thoughts by emailing [email protected].

Below are some highlights from the city’s presentation on the bridge concepts.

The problem

Today, biking or walking from the upcoming Northgate Station site to College Way requires a 1.2-mile route.


And along those 1.2 miles, people have to traverse some very unfriendly and outdated roads, bridges and underpasses. These might as well have come straight from Smart Growth America’s Dangerous By Design report:


How the bridge reconnects the neighborhood

No matter which alignment option is chosen, the bike/walk bridge would turn that miserable 1.2 miles into 0.25 miles, and would create new safe and comfortable bike route options.


Turning an engineering challenge into a neighborhood icon

Because I-5 is somewhat elevated in this area and freeway standards require a lot of clearance, the bridge will require 45 feet of elevation gain from 1st Ave NE in front of the light rail station. It needs both access directly to the elevated station platform and access to the street level. On one hand, these are significant engineering challenges. But on the other hand, they are opportunities to create a stunning structure.


The designs

Indeed, the designers are going for stunning. Planners presented three span designs at the open house. Here is the awesome bike/walk bridge design porn they put together:

11_BOARD_Cable_Stay_Span8_BOARD_Cable_Stay1 8_BOARD_Cable_Stay210_BOARD_Tied_Arch_Span 7_BOARD_Tied Arch17_BOARD_Tied Arch212_BOARD_Tube_Truss_Span 9_BOARD_Tube_Truss1 9_BOARD_Tube_Truss2The city will pick their preferred design by this fall. If funding is found, construction could begin in 2016 and the bridge could be completed by the end of 2018, several years before the station begins operation in 2021. Here’s the timeline:

Final_OPEN HOUSE PRESENTATION-timelineFor more on the bridge, see posts at The Urbanist and Seattle Transit Blog.

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36 responses to “The Northgate bike/walk bridge designs are stunning, could be a neighborhood icon”

  1. […] The Seattle Bike Blog has a very good update on plans for building a pedestrian/bike bridge across I-5 at Northgate.  Read the blog’s report from a recent city presentation, and see some illustrations of possible bridge designs here. […]

  2. NSC student

    Why not make a pedestrian underpass. The path would be shorter for pedestrians and would involve a 5 foot drop rather than a 45 foot climb for bikes. It would also mean a nice walk through the shady trees by the wetland rather than above in the sun. Most people like nature walks, 1000+ feet long open bridges, not so much. If crossing the bridge isn’t natural and doesn’t feel enjoyable, only people who need to will do it.

    I don’t know about this notion that this bridge is going to revitalize anything. On one side you have a wetland which can’t be developed and on the other side you have a sea of parking.

    The only thing I agreed with is the importance of this connection. Without it the station is cut off from half it’s potential riders. Students have long not frequented businesses on the other side due to the impassibility of the Northgate way underpass and the long walk and hill involved with 92.

    1. Gary

      “Why not build an underpass?”

      Terrible sight lines, and it’s too sheltered, ie a perfect place for transients to take up residence. Smaller people won’t want to use it if it feels “unsafe,” heck I don’t like long tunnels in the city. They feel like once you are in them, you are trapped.

      1. NSC student

        I think the ped underpass for the 520 by Foster island is nice. I-5 is significantly wider, but an underpass at 100th would have breaks. The longest stretch would go under the southbound and express lanes. There would be a small break before going under an offramp and then a bigger break before going under the northbound lanes. What is the prevalence of claustrophobia? Is it enough that people just coming from a train in a tunnel would avoid the underpass?

        As far as it attracting transients, I’ve never noticed transients in other ped tunnels, for example, I-90 trail or that silly tunnel under 96th where the Burk meets the Sammamish river trail.

        I see your point about feeling unsafe. Being a young strong aggressive male who carries a heavy chain (don’t worry, for locking the bike, mostly), danger of people or places is simply not on my mind. Once I think about it though, I know a lot of people would prudently avoid such an underpass late at night.

      2. Josh

        The I-90 Trail tunnel has at least one regular resident, usually sleeps near the east end of the tunnel, keeps himself out of the way sleeping up against the wall, parallel to traffic.

      3. Gary

        There has been at least one other transient who sleeps under the deck at the entrance to the bike tunnel.

        There are often as many as 6 folks up under the I-5 bridge on Dearborn.

        There have been one or two under 405 at Factoria, and there appears to be a camoflauged encampment just to the South of the trail East of 405 before the Factoria intersection. The gate has had a bike lock on it, and there is a trail with what looks like a tarp/yurt construction to the South.

        These folks have done no one any harm that I know of which is why they are still there. But a long enclosed tunnel under I-5 would not make me want to enter it late at night, and occasionally I have for work, stayed out way to late.

    2. Fulano Sanchez

      The South Fork Thornton Creek headwaters might be a reason.

    3. stevesliva

      I prefer tunnels while on a bike, but this isn’t just for bikes. And the above-grade connection right to the elevated rail station will be great.

      And like the W Thomas St Overpass, the loop on the end will likely have stairs for pedestrians to shortcut where it makes sense. Avoiding foot traffic at any tight turns is ideal.

  3. Gary

    The only thing missing from these wonderful renderings is the chainlink fence which seems to appear on all overpasses….

  4. Anthony

    I really, really like this illustration. It highlights the impossibility of getting motorists/walkers to adhere to safety rules that benefit all of us.

    I this were a “bikes share with cars” poster, the car nuts would be all over this. And who could blame them?

    So, once again this highlights a City which proposes half-ass solutions and won’t ever take the real path to establishing safe bike routes; it is just too politically inconvenient with the auto crowd and the ramifications at the voting booth take precedence.

  5. jay

    Who did these renderings, and why? did anyone notice that in the renderings showing the overpass from 1st (at 100th. and 103rd.) bicyclists are crossing 1st against the light? And in one or two of the renderings pedestrians are in what seems to be an implied bike lane. Realism is all well and good, but when drawing fantasy why not go all the way? Yes, fantasy, note Gary’s comment about the missing chain-link fencing. Well, sure it might be something more stylish than traditional galvanized chain link (e.g. Amgen bridge) but there will have to be something to keep people from throwing their beer bottles (or themselves e.g. Aurora bridge) at the cars.

    For rather less than the 36 plus million (a significant fraction of which they don’t have) I’d think that significant improvements could be made at Northgate way and 92nd, well, that would still suck for pedestrians, but a mile or so on a bike is no big deal, and who knows, by 2018-2021 Seattle might have bike share.

    I’m not so sure “stunning design” and “still need to find 15 million” are completely compatible, they might be, it might be “stunningly efficient”, but I think “stunning design” frequently turns out to be stunning cost overruns.

  6. Mark

    I wonder if they addressed the issue of people getting injured or needing help and Police/EMT’s actually being able to get to them with out having to climb through or over this.

    1. Gary

      EMTs have these wheelie carts to go pick people up. And I doubt that it would be all that frequently needed. Other than a heart attack or bike collision just why would people get so injuries that they need to be scraped up off the pave?

      1. Anthony

        Gary, frequently enough? Gosh, I can equivocally tell you that after breaking my leg on the bike having good access for medical staff like EMT’s and such is paramount. Fortunately I was in a spot where they were able to pick me up w/o any major obstacles.

        The howls and screams if someone does die or is seriously compromised just because the City once again didn’t (or most likely won’t) design a bicycling route with safety in mind for us cyclists would be deafening.

        Unfortunately you just gave the City fodder to NOT put an emphasis on our safety, and worse using frequency as an example is the perfect scenario for those auto nuts to justify in their own mind (and their local politicians) that us cyclists don’t frequent our own paths and the numbers are too small to justify the investment.

        What I can’t understand is why ANYONE in their right mind would support ANYTHING the City of Seattle does cycling-wise. Lets face it, this must be a joke on us cyclists. This City doesn’t have the guts to take real action, and the their solution is to try and put us into seriously compromised paths like the new BS down underneath the Ballard Bridge for example.

        This city discourages cycling, that is very, very clear. It is the will of certain people who make the great elementary school rides happen, and so many other positive aspects of cycling in our area.

        The City like any good politician just likes to take credit if they can get away with it, but won’t own up to their mistakes when the time come and another rider bites the pavement since the City won’t produce tangible results that actually help the overall cycling public in town.

        I don’t mind paying taxes, but I am tired of supporting politicians who don’t ride bikes and make the decisions for us even though they don’t have a clue.

      2. Gary

        Shessh, my point was that if the trail is as depicted, it won’t be that hard to come get you. We don’t have to provide ambulance wide access.

      3. Anthony

        One doesn’t know when an ambulance is needed, so why not make it wide enough? It really isn’t that hard after all. This is a case of a govt. entity that only wants to provide as little as possible for us as a group.

      4. Orv

        Am I right that what you’re proposing is that an ambulance be able to drive up onto the bridge?

      5. Anthony

        Orv, absolutely. Need to have full access for medial staff able to get their vehicle to you.

  7. Andres Salomon

    I’m less concerned about people throwing beer bottles and themselves off the bridge, and more concerned about toddlers falling off. Rather than chainlink fence, I’d prefer to see the lip of the bridge rise at 3ft up or so.

    As far as how the bridge would feel, I’d encourage the designers to take a walk over existing bridges that go over I-5 (such as the one at NE 70th/NE 71st). Lack of shade, lack of windbreaks, and lack of noise protection make it pretty unpleasant. These things should be addressed in any design proposals.

    1. Jeffrey J. Early

      Here, here! There are several over I-405 in Kirkland that they should walk over as well. Sound was the first thing that crossed my mind… Those overpasses are unbelievably noisy, windy, and unpleasant. Anything to to provide a little sound and/or wind protection would be great, especially for a crossing as long as this one will be.

    2. Gary

      The overpass in Bellevue from the mall to Lincoln plaza is an example of a good overpass. Open yet covered.

      1. Of course, the bridge over Bellevue Way has nowhere near the challenge that a bridge over a full-size freeway does with noise and pollution. Noise comes largely from friction, and probably overall is approximately directly related to traffic volume and the square of speed. An old, simple bridge over a somewhat slower road (like the 41st St. staircase bridge over Aurora) is more pleasant than almost any I-5 crossing from Blaine to San Ysidro.

        The 705 bridge jeik mentions is one nice example. Bridges at Mountlake Terrace and Canyon Park P&Rs are more utilitarian but also provide more shelter. Even so, pleasantness is limited by such a big, fast road.

    3. jeik

      The overpass in Tacoma from downtown to the waterfront over 705 is nice in this regard. The bridge itself is pretty plain, but collection of Chihuly sculptures are displayed in cases along either side of the bridge. They do quite a good job of providing noise/wind barriers, while giving pedestrians something nice to look at, and even a reason to visit the bridge. The “rock candy” sculptures (I won’t even tell you what my husband calls them) visible from the highway are not my favorite, but they are distinctive.

  8. […] a US Bike Route in Washington state. And, the Seattle Bike Blog sheds a little more light on the Northgate Pedestrian Bridge options in addition to our own […]

  9. Josh

    The tied arch is the most extreme, but all three versions appear to feature slopes that will allow cyclists to coast significantly faster than the apparent design speed of the bridge. Yes, bikes have brakes, but note the illustration of lane encroachment by a kid on a BMX bike, a pedestrian meandering sideways through the bike lanes, etc. The design should anticipate real-world use by irresponsible children and inattentive adults. Not spandex warriors, but at least kids coasting down hill.

    Oh, and if the center line is supposed to separate travel in opposing directions, it’s supposed to be yellow; white separates same-direction travel lanes.

    1. Josh

      Also, what will skateboarders do?

    2. ChefJoe

      Sounds like it needs bike speed bumps and dividing posts.

  10. Leif Espelund

    It is absolutely mind boggling that a bridge wasn’t part of the plan to begin with. The Northgate Link Extension is a $2.1 billion dollar project with only 4 stations. Spending a paltry (in the scheme of things) $36 million to almost double the catchment area is a no brainer. Sound Transit better make this happen, regardless of what federal grants we are able to get.

    As for the design, I prefer the suspension look of the first option, though what I really would like to see is an option that somehow protected users from the elements (weather, pollution, noise).

    1. The “to begin with” is I-5 itself. We never should have let freeway projects cut apart the local street network like this. It’s really WSDOT’s responsibility to fix it, but that would require car culture taking responsibility for its effects on others.

  11. […] – The Northgate bike/walk bridge designs are stunning, could be a neighborhood icon […]

  12. Leif Espelund

    I don’t believe pedestrian bridges are ever built for emergency vehicles. The Thomas Street Overpass and the other pedestrian bridge right near there from 15th over to Myrtle Edwards certainly aren’t. Neither is the I-90 pedestrian tunnel. Not sure why you think that is needed in this case.

    1. Leif Espelund

      That comment was meant for Anthony up above. Not sure why it stuck it to the bottom.

      1. anthony

        Leif, my apologies for getting back so late on this.

        Yes, ambulances on all of them, period. We have discussed the Thomas bridge to death previously, but lets use it as an example again as in what is wrong with it.

        The City should have made this waaaay wider, enough not only for an ambulance, but enough for that and a bike to pass by. The turn over the park should be smoother and more curved. The bottom approach to the park needs work too. Plus, it should NEVER be closed, especially for that stupid festival they have there when they close everything down.

        The QA side of the bridge is abysmyll. The whole section of the street alongside the bridge should be closed to cars and the bridge approach made so it is safe and easy to access. Maybe they have changed it in the last two years, but I can’t beleive that is the approach they think that best serves the riders in Seattle.

        We need to quit lauding the City when a bike project is completed, because like so many other projects here the original purpose and design either gets watered down or isn’t really helping the general public.

        I could go on and on, but lets face reality, the City is more focused on getting cars to theirf rspective designations and the end result are more obstacles to cycling so that we don’t get in their way. These cycling projects are filler material in so many ways and won’t acheive the goal of making people safer.

      2. Leif Espelund

        I totally agree that in general automotive traffic is prioritized over any other form of transportation. And many times when we do invest in cycling infrastructure corners get cut. Also, since so many of the cycling projects we do are in areas with no other cycling infrastructure, the connections on either end of a given project can suck (and more starkly so since the new infrastructure is so much better than everything around it).

        And I’m not saying that these bridges shouldn’t be wider if the current widths aren’t enough to allow cyclists and pedestrians to use the spaces safely at the same time. I just disagree that you need to provide emergency vehicle access on the bridge itself. I’m not an engineer, but I assume that would require different standards that would inflate the cost and I’d rather spend our limited cycling dollars on other projects than plan for the very rare occasion when an ambulance needs to get to someone on the bridge.

        Finally, I think it is important to express our appreciation when a project is completed. Positive reinforcement can help make more of it happen in the future. Nobody wants to help people who constantly complain no matter what you do. Of course constructive criticism can go along with that.

  13. […] Northgate biking and walking bridge would connect North Seattle Community College and its surrounding neighborhood to Sound […]

  14. […] reported on the Northgate bridge several times, and the details have not changed significantly. See our report from last year for […]

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