The Fremont Bridge is one of the busiest bike routes in the city with about 5,000 bike trips recorded on summer weekdays. But using the bridge can be uncomfortable for people walking and biking because the bridge’s sidewalks are too narrow to handle the volume of people trying to get across.
And starting September 2, the problem is going to get so much worse.
We reported weeks ago that the city is repainting the historic draw bridge, a complicated process needed to prevent corrosion and keep it in good working order for a long time to come. In order to do the work, a traffic lane and sidewalk will need to be closed weekdays from 7 a.m to 3 p.m.
One sidewalk will remain open at all times, but be ready to be patient and go slowly because it’s gonna be packed well beyond capacity, especially if they close it promptly at 7. Even pushing it back to 8:30 or 9 would help avoid the morning rush. Bike counter data shows that the 8 o’clock hour is the busiest weekday hour.
The city also says there will be full overnight (midnight – 7 a.m.) closures September 6, 7, 13 and 14. Workers will offer two five-minute openings just for people walking and biking (at 1:20 a.m. and 2:20 a.m.), but this could create some serious problems for people who don’t know of another way to bike across the ship canal.
Bike counter data shows that more than 100 people bike across the bridge early weekend mornings between midnight and 7 a.m., the hours workers plan to close the bridge. July 12 actually recorded 226 trips during those hours. It’s not clear how many people walk across the bridge during these hours, but it might be about as many. That’s a lot of people to strand without a clear and safe way across the ship canal.
The city might want to at least add a couple more crossing chances throughout the night and be prepared to help people get across the canal.
The most direct alternative route is to take the sidewalk over the Aurora Bridge. This isn’t so bad if you can find it, but it’s not obvious to many people how to get onto the sidewalk from the Fremont Bridge.
My suggestion (here’s a map) is to bike all the way to the top of the hill on Dexter, then make a right on 6th Ave N. Follow that under Aurora, then make a sharp left turn and get on the sidewalk at Raye St. That sidewalk will lead you onto the west sidewalk across Aurora. Be careful crossing N 38th/Fremont Way once you get across. It can be hard to see cars, and they sometimes come flying around the turns.
More details of the upcoming closures from SDOT:
Beginning September 2nd, just after Labor Day, the northbound curbside lane will be closed to traffic between 7 AM and 3 PM, Monday through Friday. The walkway on the east side of the bridge will also be closed at these times, so all pedestrian and bicycle traffic will need to share the walkway on the west side. Please, please be considerate of your fellow travelers, particularly on the narrow center section of the walkway.
There will also be full closures of the bridge to all traffic between 12AM (midnight) to 7AM on Saturday and Sunday mornings on September 6, 7, 13 and 14. During these closures, two five-minute bridge crossing opportunities will be offered to pedestrians and bicycle riders (but not for vehicles, who will have a signed detour instead) at 1:20 AM and 2:20 AM.
If the Ballard Bridge had usable bicycle infrastructure, or if a 3rd Ave N/NW bridge with such a thing existed, it would really be a boon for north and northwest Seattle.
The Ballard Bridge was identified by SDOT’s own poll in 2012 as being the number one crossing that the citizens of Seattle would like to have improved. Since that time the SDOT has done nothing, not one thing, to improve the bicycle crossing experience of the Ballard Bridge. Perhaps the new Director, Scott Kubly can finally make something happen. I guess I wonder why does the SDOT spend so much time and money on these polls, and then ignore their findings.
There is not much they can do as they’re limited by the concrete structure itself. In order to actually “improve the experience”, SDOT would have to remove the concrete barrier on either side of the bridge and add some sort of cantilevered sidewalk. That wouldn’t be cheap or easy. It might not even be possible considering the bridge isn’t in great shape and, depending on the design, might add too much weight. Something like that would likely be in the tens-of-millions. Slowing down vehicle traffic might be an idea, but the bridge is already a significant choke point and reducing speed would reduce capacity (there are tens-of-thousands of bus commuters on this bridge too; not just SOV’s). Adding a bigger wall between cars and the sidewalk would kinda suck. A parallel HCT+ped+bike bridge is another option and could be built as part of Ballard Link (this is highly unlikely). The final option is tearing it down and building a new span, but that’s easily $200M-$300M.
Slowing motor traffic would bring absolutely no benefit.
I used to ride in the traffic lanes in the early morning (about 04:00), but then one indignant and entitled motorist kept honking at me and told me to ride in the ‘bike lane’ (sidewalk). I’ve since never made use of that bridge.
“Adding a bigger wall between cars and the sidewalk would kinda suck”
Well, I’ll agree it would not be ideal, but IMHO it would be a lot better than nothing and maybe even possible to do. Here is a bridge that was modified relatively recently (within the last decade or so)
While it is still a rather narrow side walk, I don’t find it too unpleasant to ride my huge cargo bike across, I certainly don’t feel as though there is any possibility of falling into traffic or the water.
I do find the Ballard bridge too unpleasant to ride across, and too long to want to walk across . Of course detouring to the Fremont bridge takes longer than walking across the Ballard bridge, but: “I want to ride my bicycle bicycle bicycle”
I also agree with Ballard_Biker on crossing W Emerson Pl. Southbound, the other 3 I’m not sure are all that horrible (not that they aren’t also bad, but I’d say Emerson is super bad). I wonder how hard it would be to run a ramp off the bridge to that walk way under Emerson? Said walkway goes to a bus stop, so there would be incentive to have a safe route from there to 15th, maybe they could at least replace the light under the W Nickerson overpass? and perhaps RRFB at the cross walk? But, seriously, why is that bus stop there? do they really want people running across 15th?
At least the Fremont bridge is relatively short, so even if it is crowded and one needs to walk one’s bike, it’s not far. If it is really crowded, probably everybody (including you) will get across faster if you do walk. When it is completely closed, I’d take the university Bridge myself, but the only reason I’d be crossing the Fremont bridge at those hours would be if I was going downtown, so YMMV
All true Mike B, however unsafe and difficult the current sidewalks are for pedestrian/bike dual use, the more dangerous issue is getting on and off the bridge. All four entry/exit points are very dangerous for bicycles. In decreasing order of pucker factor: Extra Tall Double Clinch – Northbound exit (right hook cars refusing to yield to cyclists heading north across NW 46th), Double Tall Clinch – Southbound exit onto 15th Ave W (again right hook from cars turning onto W Emerson Pl and then doubled up with cars refusing to yield as the accelerate onto 15th from Emerson, oh yes then vehicles going really fast and accelerating onto 15th from Nickerson bypass street), Double Short Clinch – Northbound entry to bridge at Nickerson/15th/Bus tangle (multiple merging cars again not stopping or yielding to cyclists per signage), Single Clinch at Southbound entry to bridge at 15th Ave NW and NW 46th (Usually vehicles stop at the stop sign so they don’t get leveled by a Metro bus).
While addressing the sidewalk issues may be a long term goal, SDOT should at least prioritize improvements to the access points to the bridge. Signage, yields, bollards, closing off right hook turns onto NW 46th, flashing signals all would be improvements that would help and would cost nowhere near the millions needed to improve the bridge itself. Unfortunately SDOT ignores relatively simple safety improvements to get to the bridge. I only hope it does not take a major accident or death to get them to act.
The sidewalks are too narrow to be safe, especially with the railings on both sides on the non-draw portions of the bridge.
Has anyone considered suggesting some cyclist just merge with traffic to cross on the grated roadway?
I realize many won’t be comfortable with that but I’m willing to bet a majority of cyclists won’t mind interacting with cars for a moment considering we need to do it on most roadways constantly anyways. I anticipate many will be opposed simply based on road surface quality but it isn’t as horrible as you would expect.
Agreed. I generally take a lane when crossing the bridge, and it really isn’t all that bad. Unless SDOT forces cyclists to dismount during busy crossing times, the narrow chokepoints on the one open sidewalk sound like they will be less safe for cyclists (and pedestrians) than taking the lane would be.
I do that often… when it’s dry. It can be treacherous on skinny tires when it’s wet out. I learned that the hard way the first time I tried the gratings in the rain: I wiped out on the slick metal and had some nasty road rash (grate rash?). Thankfully nothing worse.
I still routinely take the lane across the bridge when it’s not backed-up, and when the pavement is dry. I do feel kind of guilty, though, because that bypasses the bike counter :)
It would be handy if they put up some signs that say something to the effect of “common courtesy is to let bicyclists go first after a bridge opening” or something. It’s not something a casual bridge user would really think of, but after walking the bridge 4x a day for a few years, as a pedestrian, I understand how much easier it is for all the bikes to go first after a boat goes through.
I think if everybody just chills and goes single file, it will be fine. Slow, but fine. I actually think dismounting would be worse because I take up more room walking BESIDE my bike than I do ON it.
Share the pain with motorists for a change. When the west sidewalk is closed, close one of the two travel lanes on the west, cone it off well, and lay an 8-foot-wide roll of bright green astroturf over the steel grating — instant temporary walk and bike path.
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