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How amazing would this West Seattle flyover trail be?

It’s one of the most infamous intersections in West Seattle. It sucks for everyone, whether you’re driving a freight truck to the Port or driving a car home from work. But it especially sucks for anyone walking or biking (remember that video of a bike commuter cooking a breakfast burrito in the time it took for the light to change?).

I’m talking about the five-way intersection at W Marginal Way, SW Spokane St, Delridge Way SW, Chelan Ave SW and the Port of Seattle Terminal 5 access road. In addition to all those streets, this is also the location of the West Seattle bike route brain stem. All trails lead here.

There are no easy solutions, but there is an awesome one: SDOT is in the early stages of a design concept for an elevated trail connecting the west end of the lower West Seattle Bridge/Duwamish Trail/Delridge Trail to the Alki Trail.

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By cantilevering a trail onto the side of an existing bridge structure, the trail would allow people walking or biking to completely bypass the giant intersection via a gradually-graded and direct connection:

15 1 7 SBAB WS5Way-flyover
Images from an SDOT presentation to the Bike Advisory Board

Now, before you get too excited, this idea is identified as a “long-term” solution to the problem. It has no funding. In fact, it doesn’t even have a price tag yet, since planners are still in the process of figuring that out. But it won’t be cheap. New elevated structures never are.

In the meantime, SDOT has also come up with some short-term upgrades to at least make the intersections a bit more comfortable for people walking and biking. Basically, planners would improve skinny curb cuts (this also improves accessibility), improve visibility for crosswalks and paint some bike markings and bike boxes in order to allow people on bikes to make a direct crossing through the intersection rather than hopping from pedestrian island to pedestrian island to pedestrian island.

These short-term improvements won’t make the intersection comfortable for people of all ages and abilities (the ultimate goal of the city’s Bike Master Plan), but they should make things safer and more clear to all users. They are scheduled to go in place this summer.

15 1 7 SBAB WS5Way-shorttermSDOT also has an idea for what they call a “mid-term” option. This would basically be a ground-level trail that wraps way around the intersection and loops back up to the bridge. This idea received fairly lukewarm response at Wednesday’s meeting of the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board, who suggested efforts would be better used to develop the more ambitious flyover trail. Here’s a look at that option:

15 1 7 SBAB WS5Way-midYou can check out the presentation slides in this PDF.

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41 responses to “How amazing would this West Seattle flyover trail be?”

  1. JG

    Oh please do this. My daily bike commute goes through this intersection, and it is just awful. Even the interim improvements will be great, but the overpass will be a game changer.

  2. Kirk

    Wow. SDOT’s own poll has shown that the citizens of Seattle would most like to have the Ballard Bridge improved and that it is the worst place to bicycle in the city. That was three years ago. Since then, they have done nothing to improve the Ballard Bridge, and have nothing planned for the next five years in the Bicycle Master Plan. The Ballard Bridge is one of only four bridges crossing the ship canal.

    But they are designing this. Awesome.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      The Ballard Bridge sucking doesn’t mean this intersection doesn’t suck, too. They’re not mutually exclusive!

      But I hear ya. The silence on Ballard Bridge plans is deafening. That study came out quietly, and nobody seems to be in much of a rush to do any of it. I get your frustration.

      Background on Ballard, for those interested: http://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2014/09/29/study-widening-ballard-bridge-sidewalks-possible-but-it-wont-be-cheap-is-there-an-easier-way/

      1. jay

        Thing is, this IS a zero sum game, and since the sum itself is pretty darn close to zero, even the already approved bicycle master plan does not seem to be fully funded, special projects are not going much farther than the PowerPoint(tm) presentations anytime soon.

        A little paint would be of little help around the Ballard bridge, even at Emerson it would mostly be ignored, but here, since there are already lights, a little paint can be a big help. Again, the megabucks ramp idea is not taking anything away from any Ballard bridge megabucks project, neither one is happening. (though, I bet they could have filled a number of potholes for what they spent making that presentation)

      2. Josh

        I still think the city could largely fix the Ballard bridge with two signs and a couple of police officers.

        The bridge was designed and built in 1917 for traffic moving slowly enough that bicycles were in the traffic lanes and the sidewalks were for walking.

        As long as the sidewalks are only really safe for walking, SDOT should restore a reasonable speed limit on the bridge, say 20-25 mph, post it clearly, maybe add sharrows every 50 feet, and have SPD enforce it vigorously, 24/7. (You could get years of 24/7 enforcement for even the least expensive of the proposed bicycle upgrades.)

        Motorists who need to drive fast can detour to other routes, or lobby for a new motorist-only bridge.

    2. Alkibkr

      Kirk, this is an important project for West Seattle. If a biker feels threatened by the lack of safety in the Chelan/Spokane intersection, their alternative is to detour 3.4 miles south to the 1st Avenue Bridge and then, if heading downtown, they must backtrack another 3.2 miles to Spokane Street via 1st Avenue South or East Marginal Way South. Neither of these high-speed 4 lane arterials has any bike infrastructure. I know crossing Ballard Bridge by bike is daunting, but the alternative routes when heading downtown from points north (Fremont Bridge, Ballard Locks) are significantly more convenient and friendlier than what we have available on the West Seattle peninsula.

    3. JG

      Kirk, because the project you want isn’t the first one being built and is not right in your back yard, you feel the need to criticize other projects that will make cycling safer for a lot of other people in our city? Pretty selfish, man.

      1. Kirk

        Actually, I ride over to West Seattle two or three times a week too, so this is very familiar territory to me, and sure, I love to see any new bike infrastructure anywhere. However, if a bicycle driver feels threatened by this intersection, they can always use the sidewalks and crosswalks.

        But I’m questioning how SDOT does its prioritizations. Why did they even bother to take a poll and publish the results if they weren’t going to pay attention to the results? Why ask the citizens of all of Seattle which areas needed to be improved?
        And BTW, since I regularly ride through both of these locations, I can tell you that the Ballard Bridge is FAR worse than this, or any other place I have ridden in Seattle. It is by far the least safe place to ride. And with SDOT’s stated goal of safety as their number one priority, why isn’t improving improving the bicycle experience their number one bicycle priority?

      2. bill

        I live in West Seattle and ride to Ballard frequently. I just got home from Ballard as a matter of fact. I detoured to the Fremont bridge because going southbound at the south end of the Ballard bridge is just too scary in the dark. I understand your dismay.

        But the short-term fix for the Chelan intersection just requires paint. (And at least three years’ planning, but let’s not quibble.) Paint is cheap! Whatever finally gets done to the Ballard bridge will be expensive. Maybe we will even build a separate bridge instead of re-engineering the Ballard bridge. Whatever is built will be a huge project in terms of bicycle funding. It will dwarf the proposed Chelan flyover. SDOT is probably doing what it can with the funds it has.

        Tom, it would be interesting to hear how the Chelan intersection finally rose to the top of SDOT’s priorities. Did pressure from council members or the mayor play a role? Are there any lessons for advocates of the Ballard bridge?

      3. Peri Hartman

        Speaking of the Ballard bridge, there are two major flaws. One is the low railing separating the sidewalk from traffic lanes. If the railing were taller, similar to the Aurora bridge, I think people would be & feel safer.

        The second is, as Bill points out, is the south exit from the sidewalk to the lanes. It’s like a 1950 industrial discharge into the Duwamish. You get thrown out at a blind spot, a 9″ drop, into 40mph traffic. There are plenty of ways to fix this, not even expensive.

        I don’t want to take away from other projects, such as this West Seattle flyover or Rainier ave S. But, yes, let’s get SDOT to do a few simple improvments to Ballard along the way.

      4. I obviously don’t speak for SDOT, but I have a hard time seeing them doing anything that might be construed as an endorsement of biking on the Ballard Bridge until they can add some width (at least on the approaches, even if it still has to narrow for the drawspan). This isn’t like the Fremont or Montlake Bridges where, though the sidewalks can get cramped, they’re cramped for a short, flat distance. Short enough that during the current bridge painting situation most people walk across, and otherwise most people biking slow down a lot. The approaches to the drawspan of the Ballard Bridge aren’t just narrow, they’re long and on an incline. People will ride at speeds that feel reasonable to themselves but will be threatening and sometimes dangerous to pedestrians and themselves. I think the city would rather say, essentially, that biking is all but unsupported on this bridge, than try to support it in a way that it knows can never reach some minimum standard of adequacy.

        Meanwhile, there are alternatives to the Ballard Bridge. They aren’t ideal for some kinds of trips, but they’re not so bad for most. An improvement at the Ballard Bridge is sort of like the Westlake cycletrack — it will get some people riding, but mostly shift people’s routes around. The West Seattle Bridge is an absolutely necessary route for people going that way. It’s worth improving beyond the bare minimum. The same thing is true of the Airport Way S corridor that’s being planned — it’s going to be an essential route in a corridor without many alternatives. It’s reasonable for a route in such a key position in the region’s overall bike network to be prioritized over the Ballard Bridge even if the Ballard Bridge is more popular. A poll is one input, not an entire prioritization and planning exercise!

      5. Cheif

        Detouring to Fremont is a maybe twenty minute ride through posh bike trails. Nobody cares.

    4. Matt

      I would agree that this project would be amazing and have a huge impact on the cycling community. I would also agree with Kirk’s opinion about the Ballard Bridge when comparing the largest cycling bottlenecks in our city.

      The Ballard Bridge is a scar on our city and holds back so many potential riders. Ballard is growing out of control and it seems like it is attracting a lot of downtown commuters since the eastside is too far away. I know simply way too many people that live in Ballard, want to bike to work but don’t because of the bridge. If we want to get well beyond the 3-4% bike commuters we need to fix the ballard bridge and improve conditions in South Seattle. I’m not saying we should bring all other projects to a halt, but if we are going to fund a “catalyst” project it just seems wrong to fund anything else but the bridge.

    5. Law Abider

      Hell, I’d even take a direct connection from northbound Dexter/Westlake Trail to the Burke-Gilman trail in the interim.

      If we can spend $10 million on the Thomas Street Overpass, we could throw a million or two at a nice ramp from the Fremont Bridge to the BGT.

  3. bill

    The short-term option is way overdue given how simple it is. The mid-term option is stupid and won’t be used, so let’s hope it’s never heard of again.

    The Very. First. Thing. that should be done is to remove the turn signs from the signals controlling SW Spokane St. Those signs are visible to drivers on Delridge and frequently mislead unfamiliar drivers into turning left from the right lane — which causes havoc with bicycles and cars turning correctly from the left lane. I have been complaining to SDOT for years about those signs.

    The flyover will be great if it is done properly. I hope the drawing is merely a concept sketch. Given the required height to cross W Marginal Way SW (the road at the bottom of the map) the short distance to the landing point implies a pretty steep grade. We don’t need a copy of the Interbay overpass.

  4. meanie

    Just fixing the useless light timing would be a huge improvement.

  5. Peri Hartman

    Just to the west is the low level bridge crossing. Does anyone besides me ride in the shoulder going westbound over the bridge (grant it, I don’t do this in heavy traffic)?

    I’d like to make sure the flyover solution incorporate an approach from the bridge.

    To make the bridge shoulder more encouraging, I recommend taking 1 foot off the south (eastbound) shoulder and adding it to the north (westbound). Then, I think, there would be a 5′ bike lane. Of course, the sidewalk would still be available for those who prefer that route.

    The advantage of the shoulder is it is a much more direct route going westbound.

    1. bill

      I have often looked at that shoulder and wondered why it is not a bike lane. I’m going to give it a try.

      1. Just make sure you know what to do at the end of it!

        A lot of the weekday traffic on that is trucks — wider and less maneuverable than typical cars — and that shoulder is really narrow. I’m sure the truckers that make up so much of the weekday traffic on the road don’t want anything to do with people next to them in such tight quarters, and I’m willing to oblige when there’s a barrier-separated path on the other side. Maybe on a weekend, though…

      2. Peri Hartman

        That is absolutely true. Fortunately, they’re all going about 10mph because they need to stop for a 5 minute traffic light.

    2. bill

      I rode the westbound shoulder twice this weekend. I agree it is a bit skinny as presently striped. There is a fair amount of debris. Without a sidewalk to escape to it is not a good place to have a flat tire or mechanical breakdown. Not having to negotiate the blind crossing of the Delridge slip lane is a big plus.

  6. Cheif

    This would be such a great improvement for connecting west seattle with the rest of the city. Especially considering that the junction area developments are going to bring more and more people into a part of town that is already a nightmare to try and drive in and out of during commuting times, the bike connections are going to be more important than ever.

  7. Marge Evans

    unfortunately the light time is a full capacity.

  8. Gordon

    I was very confused about the schematic until I realize that north is down!

    1. Gordon


    2. Tom Fucoloro

      Yes! Important detail.

    3. Roger

      Yes that compass facing North is not correct in the first figure, needs to be rotated 180°.

  9. Dan

    If the flyover meant you could join the alki trail without losing speed from descending the hill, it would be a huge win and would get used.

    I’d like to see a flyover first on the east side of the bridge to avoid the road crossings, which make that side of the bridge particularly dangerous, more so I think than the west side of it.

    A huge hazard right now for cyclists is the bad road surface quality (particularly on the east side of the bridge). Simply re-surfacing the road would make it a good bit safer for cyclists, and drivers would be happy with that as well.

    1. Peri Hartman

      How about aerial gondolas from Admiral Way to E. Marginal Way :)

      1. Unless it runs 24/7, it’ll never be as useful as street/trail improvements. The Ballard Locks are closed whenever I need to get across the Ship Canal, which is why they’re useless to me.

      2. Peri Hartman

        That was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek comment. It would be cool, though.

    2. What’s convenient about the west side is that the viaducts already exist at sufficient clearance for all the road crossings. That isn’t close to true on the east side!

      1. Dan

        The east side is the more dangerous one (the whole section is dangerous, so it’s no wonder the bike counter barely breaks 1000).

        My first preference probably would be for the wall between the road and sidewalk to be removed on the east side of the bridge, give bikes the option to merge with traffic as you descend the hill (something similar to the traffic merge when traveling north bound over the Fremont bridge). It would be easy finally to get to Spokane street (my daily route), and those heading down East Marginal wouldn’t have to cross that road anymore. https://www.google.com/maps/dir/47.571777,-122.363464/47.5747555,-122.3399767/@47.5715529,-122.3434018,17z/data=!4m9!4m8!1m5!3m4!1m2!1d-122.3403799!2d47.5709609!3s0x54904033bce7f2fd:0x8a135fd8f654f762!1m0!3e1

        Heading west bound is pretty simple, convert the shoulder into a bike lane, and you would no longer have to cross across four lanes of traffic.

      2. Peri Hartman

        Tom, what can we do to get these simple suggestions implemented. Both are incredibly inexpensive!

      3. Dan

        Summarizing, anything to improve the east side plus this west side flyover would be really amazing (and will save a lot of people road rash and possibly a few lives).

    3. Alkibkr

      I believe at the same SBAB meeting SDOT briefed a proposed resurfacing project on Spokane Street between E. Marginal Way South and Klickitat (east end of the Spokane Street Bridge). But not until 2016 and not unless funding is secured.


      Meanwhile, keep reporting those potholes.


  10. SGG

    This is so overdue and has been completely ignored for many, many years. The interim solution is a good first step, although it is unclear that they intend to readjust the signal timing. For cyclists who use the sidewalks and crosswalks, these signal delay can last almost 10 minutes depending on when the trains trigger the signals. The trains don’t block the pedestrian crosswalks, nor would they prevent a safe left turn, but for some reason, when the trains get involved, it just completely shuts the signal down in a way that prevents that key east-west crossing. Anyone who actually rides this with any regularity, knows that the signals here are completely unpredictable, and can feel very arbitrary. When the signal doesn’t change in your favor for 2 or more cycles, people end up just crossing anywhere they can, which is dangerous for everyone. I am always surprised that I have never seen a serious accident in this location.

    For West Seattle cyclists, this is truly the bottleneck of all bottlenecks. As per SDOT’s new bike counters, you can see that this location sees about 1/3 of the traffic as the Fremont Bridge and is certainly one of the highest choke points in the city. It’s time to make this work.

    As for all the whiners that are jumping on here trying to belittle the importance of this project, because their project seems more important, this is a pretty selfish approach. Indeed the Ballard Bridge is a gaping hole in the system. It’s also a gaping hole because it is expensive and would be tied to a virtual bridge replacement. Locations such as this Chelan 5 way, and the Ballard Bridge are still problems because they are tough to solve. But when we do, you will see many, many new riders emerge who feel safer to choose bicycling. It’s about creating a system, not demanding improvements to your neighborhood at the exclusion of others.

  11. Kevin

    Calling all Seattle multimillionaires: where are you? Want to do something that will ‘make a difference?’ I am so surprised that more philanthropists have not bubbled up in this city of incredible wealth, and stepped up to make big ticket items happen…Northgate-I5 bridge? Done. Fix the UW BGT, which can’t seem to score the TIGER grants? Done. (Surely there there are UW alums among our nouveau riche who have the resources, individually or collectively, to make a difference). Where are the latter day Carnegies, DuPonts, and Rockefellers….. Surely the bicycling community in this town has enough well-heeled members to make some of this happen? It’s pretty clear we can’t count on our state or federal government (at this time) to step up. Any thoughts? We can name it after you if you want….

  12. Allan

    I just dream of bicycle freeways where cars cannot go.

    1. Cheif

      Or just restrict private auto traffic to the interstates..

  13. […] of the worst spots in the worst section of the trail (other than that one crazy intersection) is getting a facelift, though. A blind crossing in front of the ActivSpace parking lot on Harbor […]

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