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City moves dangerous Ballard Bridge sign + Peddler Brewing tells KIRO 7 why a change is needed

Photo from Seattle Traffic Engineer Dongho Chang
Photo of fixed sign placement from Seattle Traffic Engineer Dongho Chang

Biking over the Ballard Bridge can be a stressful and squished experience. The sidewalks are far too skinny to squeeze by others as it is. So when road crews installed a sign warning drivers of changes dues to the W Emerson Overpass Repair Project in such a way that it blocked part of the already-too-skinny sidewalk, several of you emailed me and the city to voice your frustration.

Auden Kaehler put it this way:

As one of many cyclists who depend on the Ballard Bridge to commute to/from work I, and my fellow cyclists, were shocked yesterday morning to see city workers installing traffic detour posts on the West side approach sidewalk, which is already unacceptably narrow.

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The city listened to Kaehler and moved the sign to get it out of the way of the sidewalk. City Traffic Engineer then sent the photo above to Kaehler and Seattle Bike Blog. Road workers placing signs in bike lanes and sidewalks is a pervasive issue, but it’s great to see the city respond so quickly.

Haley from Peddler Brewing talks Ballard Bridge with KIRO 7

In other Ballard Bridge news, KIRO 7 followed up on the city’s recent Ballard Bridge sidewalk widening study recently by asking Haley Woods from nearby Peddler Brewing to explain the problem (see our report here). She did a great job.

There’s still no clear best way forward to fixing the bridge. But whether widening the sidewalks, building a new bike/walk bridge, redesigning the bridge traffic lanes or some other solution is the best way forward, the city’s gotta come up with a solution and start working on it soon. The sidewalks aren’t getting any safer.

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28 responses to “City moves dangerous Ballard Bridge sign + Peddler Brewing tells KIRO 7 why a change is needed”

  1. Karl

    It blows my mind that they set up the sign that way to begin with. What were they thinking?

    1. Kirk

      Karl, SDOT doesn’t think. Obviously. It’s mind boggling that the only thing they have ever done to improve the Ballard bridge for cycling was this- to fix their stupid mistake. When will they fix the heaved sidewalks, none jarring potholes, poor yield signs? When will they put in a bike lane from the Ship Canal trail up Nickerson? This has been identified as the most dangerous place to ride a bike in Seattle, and none of these cheap and easy fixes have been made.

      Then there are the not so cheap and easy fixes. It’s not all about the width of the lanes. The stanchions on the railings are the most dangerous part. Catch a handlebar, and you fall into 40 MPH traffic. Those could be shaved off with no structural effect on the bridge. SDOT priced an Emmerson underpass T $900k in 2009. Why hasn’t this been done? The Ballard Way intersection on the southbound approach is dangerous. Why not close the useless parallel street to 46th and turn it into a bicycle approach to the bridge?

      When will SDOT stop these idiotic moves and do something right for the Ballard Bridge?

  2. Lisa

    I like the guy who says “send them to the next bridge over.” I’d like to take that guy for a bike ride all the way to the Fremont bridge and then back again. How about we send 1/3 of the cars to the next bridge over and then take a lane for biking and walking?

    1. Cheif

      Right? Maybe instead we should only let cars cross the ship canal on the I-5 bridge, since it was built just for them.

    2. Clark in Vancouver

      Yeah, as if that would ever work. Every single bridge should have generous cycling and walking facilities on it. Unlike a street where it might be difficult to include cycling infrastructure but there’s a parallel street a block over, on bridges there is nothing. It should just be standard for all new bridges and a program to include it on all the old ones over time.
      And did you see how super wide the driving lanes are on this bridge? Crazy wide. You don’t need to hang something off the edge to find room. Just narrow the general travel lanes and take some of that room to do it.

      1. Greg

        As a cyclist who used to drive regularly over the Ballard Bridge, I can say confidently there’s not enough room to take away space from the car lanes to widen the sidewalks. You’d have to reduce the lanes down to one going each way, and then backups would be cripplingly severe. It’s important for cyclists – and I’m a daily cyclist – to not get greedy and put our own unique needs over that of others, whether pedestrians (who really don’t need a sidewalk widening) or drivers. Widening is an expensive fix with few benefits to anyone other than us, and it will create a year of resentment. Better to make simpler fixes – slower speed limits and shared bike use of car lanes seem fine to me.

      2. Lisa

        Oh, I’m not meaning to be greedy- I agree that traffic is pretty bad on the bridge. I meant to turn the tables and illustrate that it should be just as absurd to say “have bikes go out of the way” than it is to say “have cars go out of the way.”

  3. sdv

    There are a bunch on construction signs blocking the bike lane on 24th Ave NW. It’s not a dire as the Ballard Bridge, but dangerous and thoughtless nonetheless. I’ve contacted the city about it a few times and they don’t give a rat’s ass. Any help?

    1. Matthew Snyder

      If I ever encounter construction signs blocking a bike lane, I just get off my bike and move them — assuming, that is, that they’re not bolted to the street. It’s certainly the quickest way to address what is often a safety issue.

      If it’s a contractor’s sign, make sure you get the permit number (which should be posted on the sign) and write to SDOT about it later.

      1. Kirk

        Exactly. I do the same.

      2. Bob Hall

        I tried doing that today with some signs blocking Fremont Ave southbound, and then I got yelled at! :)

      3. Gary

        “got yelled at”… ride over and politely explain that you have no wish to die, nor sue the contractor or the city. But these signs need to be moved.

      4. sdv

        I’ve done both – moving the signs and contacting SDOT. I’ve been yelled at for moving the signs. I don’t mind, but it’s not very nice. And SDOT doesn’t care. And everyday the signs are back.

    2. Cheif

      Is Find It Fix It applicable in this situation?

  4. Rick

    Yesterday myself and another cyclist were almost hit between the Notch and Dravus exit, by a driver that clearly doesn’t think cyclist should be there. The car had to be going 40-45mph, and came about 4 inches from hitting me. I’ve been hit twice, and had a several near misses, but this was the scariest I’ve ever experienced, and is seriously making me consider whether commuting by bike is worth the risk or not.

    There’s all this talk about spending millions to widen the sidewalks or make a new path, but how about a quick, cheap fix for now:
    1) Lower the speed limit to 25-30mph all the way past the Dravus exit, to the bus lane. The current 40mph just makes drivers think they can go 45-50mph. That’s the most unsafe aspect of the bridge in my opinion.

    2) Install a green lane out of the notch, repaint the current sharrows and add more sharrows all the way to the bus lane past Dravus. The current sharrows are so faded, I doubt drivers even notice them.

    3) Add better signage before the notch, indicating to drivers that the are supposed to yield to cyclists. Maybe even a blinking light. It’s very clear that the majority of drivers don’t know or care that they need to let cyclist out there. The current signs are a joke; one is covered in graffiti , the other one is obviously ignored completely.

    These fixes could happen right away and cost very little, especially compared to the fixes the study revealed. This is certainly not going to fix the horrible bridge commute, but SDOT’s doing studies and making no changes isn’t either, and is completely unacceptable. Sadly it will probably take a cyclist getting killed for SDOT to really do something about it…and two almost did yesterday.

    1. Mike

      Please send this to [email protected]

      1. Rick

        Yeah, sent it there already, and to a bunch of other SDOT emails. Also CCed Washington Bikes and Cascade. Haha, I really don’t expect any responses beyond a form email telling me how to “get involved” and a link to the SDOT Bicycle Program web page.

    2. Rick

      I got this response from Dongho Chang, a City Traffic Engineer at SDOT:

      The speed limit on 15th was changed to 30 mph on October 11th.
      Here is a poor photo of the change. Speed limit is now 30 to downtown.

      The phot0 does show 30mph signs. Of course nobody know this yet. I certainly didn’t, and I cross the bridge daily. It’s a start I guess, but was probably only done because of the construction.

      1. Andres Salomon

        Your next steps: thank Dongho for lowering the speed limit, ask if the speed limit changes are permanent, and ask if there will be additional traffic calming measures done to ensure cars comply with the new speed limit (whether physical road changes, speed cameras, whatever).

        Regarding that last bit, I suspect that they will do a study to see if motorists are complying with the new limit before taking further action. That data (average and 85 percentile speeds) is useful to you for convincing people (politicians, SDOT, local community councils, other groups) to fund and implement improvements. Try and get it if it exists.

    3. Kirk

      What they need to do is put a stop line before the notch, and a sign instructing the curb lane to stop for cyclists entering the roadway. There are many similar installations at crosswalks. I don’t like cars “yielding” here. They need to stop.

    4. Kirk

      ” Sadly it will probably take a cyclist getting killed for SDOT to really do something about it…”
      Terry McMacken has already died in a bicycle accident on the Ballard Bridge. His bicycle hit the bridge, he fell into traffic and died as a result. And SDOT continues to ignore the Ballard Bridge’s serious safety defects. Oh, except to install signs in the middle of the sidewalk. Because at SDOT “Safety is our top priority”. Because “Seattle is Super Safe.” Sorry SDOT, based upon your performance, these are empty, meaningless phrases.

  5. Joel S.

    I think there should be more discussion as to why the streets and bridges were built like this in the first place. Clearly we can see now that it is our responsibility to the future generations to build things right the first time.

    1. jay

      “why the streets and bridges were built like this in the first place”

      In this particular case, the bridge was built about 9 years after the first model T Ford. I imagine at the time it was thought bicyclists could share the lane with the horse drawn carriages (very few of which could manage 45mph)

      1. Josh

        Exactly. The bridge was built right the first time, we’re just using it wrong.

        If we could lower the speed limit and enforce reasonable driving behavior, the travel lanes of the bridge would be quite safe for bicycling still today.

      2. Cheif

        Just like my house – built in 1909 – that has a garage and driveway that no car today could fit in. But the garage is perfect for storing bikes and driveway is a great place for my compost tubs, and gives me a ramp to the street for bikes exiting the garage. But not so ideal for a pair of suv’s. Who would try to put a pair of suv’s there and complain there was no space to do anything else? Only mentally deranged monkeys..

      3. The fact that cars today are so big that garages of yesteryear aren’t big enough is part of why I consider today’s cars to be themselves ‘obese.’

  6. Whenever I ride across that bridge on my bike, I remember a woman who was killed while walking across it. This was in 1988 and she was on a lot of local Safeway television commercials. A ladder on a truck hit her in the head as she was walking.

    1. Josh

      I’ve seen some very close calls with wide side-view mirrors on trucks, too — they can hang over the sidewalk if the truck is hugging the curb.

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