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Seattle-side 520 Bridge plan getting closer, but still needs better bike/walk connections

Images from January 520 Bridge design report. Click to embiggen.

You have to hand it to the SR 520 Bridge design team. Their designs for bike/walk connections in Seattle have come really far since we first saw them. What was once looked like a doomsday neighborhood highway expansion interchange is getting much closer to having complete walking and biking connections.

But it’s not there yet. This post will lay out how people walking and biking will get around under the most recent design concept (see this large PDF) and will include suggestions for further improvements.

WSDOT is currently collecting thoughts on the Seattle design. Definitely complete this online survey by Friday.

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This detailed letter from a long list of neighbors and safe streets leaders (including people from Washington Bikes, Madison Park Greenways, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, Montlake Greenways, Cascade Bicycle Club, University Greenways, Arboretum Neighbors for Safer Streets, Montlake Community Club, Feet First, Capitol Hill Community Council, Transportation Choices Coalition) sums up the needed biking and walking goals this way:

This $1.5 billion project will be set in concrete for the next eighty years. It must work for kids walking to Montlake Elementary, elders walking from the Husky Light Rail Station to the Arboretum, or a physician in scrubs biking from the Central District to the UW Medical Center.

WSDOT created this handy video showing a lot of the bike/walk connections:

Delmar Lid and Portage Bay Bridge

2015_0116_SR520DesignReport_11x17-roanoke2015_0116_SR520DesignReport_11x17-pbtrailFirst, let’s start with the easier stuff. The Portage Bay Bridge will, indeed, have a biking and walking trail connecting North Capitol Hill and Eastlake to Montlake and the new 520 Trail to the Eastside. This is gonna be awesome.

The Delmar Lid near Roanoke Park is very close to being great. The proposed design will include links to Federal Ave (a great potential neighborhood greenway up Capitol Hill) and a wide biking and walking path on the Roanoke Street crossing of I-5 connecting to Eastlake and bike routes to downtown. This is a chance to build consistent and complete bike and walk facilities from Interlaken Drive to Tops K-8 School.

A vital connection to Broadway (a residential street and popular bike route north of Roanoke St) would help people biking get to and from the University Bridge.

Montlake Boulevard and Bridge

2015_0116_SR520DesignReport_11x17-walkstuff2015_0116_SR520DesignReport_11x17-montlakebrglossIt’s still going to take public support to make sure a bike/walk bridge across the Montlake Cut is included in the final plans. Studies have shown there is no need for a more expensive second bridge with extra general vehicle lanes as previously planned, but there is a huge need for expanded space for people biking and walking. The current sidewalks cannot be widened, but they are too skinny to handle biking and walking volumes. This problem will only get worse when UW Station opens next year.

Plans for Montlake Boulevard itself have gotten better since original plans, but walking and biking crossing distances are still to wide, and freeway ramps need work. The previously mentioned letter put it this way:

[I]t is incumbent upon WSDOT to create the safest possible surface crossings along both sides of Montlake Blvd for people of all ages and abilities. To accomplish this, all on-ramp and off-ramp crossings should be raised to provide speed reduction at crosswalks. Crossing distances should be shortened further by reducing the number of excess on-ramp storage lanes at the junctions with Montlake Blvd.

2015_0116_SR520DesignReport_11x17-montlakepblThere are still a ton of lanes planned for Montlake Boulevard (nine lanes at its widest) even though Montlake Bridge will still only have four lanes and 24th Ave E will have either four or three lanes. Today’s six-lane Montlake Boulevard already feels way too wide and uncomfortable.

One design option would include a protected bike lane on Montlake Boulevard connecting the new walk/bike bridge to Roanoke Street, which would create a more direct connection to the Lake Washington Loop bike route and potential protected bike lanes on 24th Ave to Montlake businesses and North Capitol Hill. It would also allow people biking to skip the weird part of the Lake Washington Loop that travels down that alley to get from 25th Ave E to Lake Washington Boulevard.

This improved connection is also important because the current connection to the Lake Washington Loop will likely be degraded due to the planned 24th Ave E freeway connections:

2015_0116_SR520DesignReport_11x17-lakewashloopflowBut the planned bike/walk land bridge across the freeway connecting to the Arboretum and the planned trail there is pretty awesome, as shown by this concept porn:

2015_0116_SR520DesignReport_11x17-landbridge2015_0116_SR520DesignReport_11x17-shelby2015_0116_SR520DesignReport_11x17-lidWhen you put all this together with the new 520 Trail connection on the Eastside and the new bike/walk bridge connecting UW Station to the Burke-Gilman Trail (opening within the next year), this project may just revolutionize biking in the region. That is, of course, if the legislature approves the $1.57 billion or so needed for final design and construction of the Seattle elements of this $4.47 billion highway megaproject.

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16 responses to “Seattle-side 520 Bridge plan getting closer, but still needs better bike/walk connections”

  1. Guy

    I’m not a chicken little, but considering that it is a city street, the included _nine lane_ Montlake Boulevard graphic is terrifying.

    1. The highway expansion people are tricksy. Sold the public on no general-purpose lane expansion on the bridge, only to put all the expansion in local streets, at the expense of all people walking or biking in the area, in the name of interchange capacity.

      There truly is no livable freeway, no matter how much greenwash WSDOT slops on.

    2. Harrison Davignon

      Al Dimond I agree with you. The city and who is ever in charge of this project, seems to be ignoring the trend as usual. Now back in the 19th century, when the car ruled the road, I would understand this design. In the 21st century more people then ever are bicycle riding, walking and taking public transit. If in fact these methods of transportation were safer and more reliable, even more people would drive less and live car free. The last thing we need is more incomplete bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. It is not common sense to make 9 car lanes and then have the road narrow down to half that width, talk about traffic disaster. A lot of people in Seattle don’t own a car, and rely of Bicycle riding walking and public transit, including me in Burien. So we need solid bicycle infrastructure, with connections to places like the Berk Gillmen trial and Mary More park. I hope the department of transportation finds a way to balance, walking, bicycle ridding, transit riders and people who drive.

  2. LWC

    A nine-lane-wide “people’s Montlake” to match the nine-lane-wide “people’s waterfront”. Sounds like par for the course for WSDOT. Why do we let them do anything in the city, again?

  3. AW

    I couldn’t see any real improvements to go from Montlake to the BG trail. Are they expecting people to just avoid Montlake blvd and use the Portage bay bridge if going west and the land bridge if going east ?

  4. Local

    It is also worth noting that the portage bay section is twice as wide as today – approx. 100ft wider. With far fewer cars on the bridge because of the higher tolls its worth asking who 520 is being built for.

  5. […] 520 replacement projects including a new Portage Bay bridge and a Montlake lid. SBB has details on the biking and walking elements of the proposals here. You might want to take a look before taking the […]

  6. TrickyP

    The plan seems to be improved for people moving through the interchange; kudos. It is still a disaster for anyone who lives in Montlake. That poor neighborhood hasn’t been this screwed over since the 60’s when they built the first 520.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Yeah, widening freeways is not what our neighborhoods need. All this is just trying to minimize the impacts and fix some gross errors the freeway caused in the first place.

  7. […] Rebuilding 520: Tom at Seattle Bike Blog takes a close look at the current plans for the Seattle rebuild of SR-520. […]

  8. RossB

    With or without a new bridge, new general purpose lanes would be pointless. Those cars would simply encounter traffic later. So, that isn’t even an issue.

    If there is a new bridge, it should be focused on buses and bikes. The biggest need is for buses, as Sound Transit forgot to put in a station to serve 520, and thus it makes sense to connect the with Husky Stadium Station (where a transfer could be made quite easily, as sketched out here: http://seattletransitblog.com/2015/01/30/improving-bus-rail-integration-at-uw-station/).

    If we build a new bridge, we could build it next to the existing one or build it to the east, lined up with East Park Drive. That would take out some nice parkland, but no houses. You could still access the park, it’s just that you would be underneath (or next to) a bridge. If done right, this would be a decent bike route. Unlike most (if not all) of the bridges we have built, it would be designed from the beginning to handle bike and bus traffic (not general purpose cars) so the separation between the two would be a good one. If that bridges is built, then the general purpose lanes should be no different than today (two on each side). Some of the space for merging could be cut down, thus shrinking the distance from each side. You might as well add wide sidewalks, and call it a day.

    If the extra bridge is not built, things get a little trickier. Westbound 520 to Northbound Montlake Boulevard is not much of a problem for a bus. The current plans call for two exit lanes and a new stoplight at the end of the lane. The right lane should be HOV only. That way, a bus takes the exit, waits for a light, then proceeds a few hundred feet to the Husky Stadium Station (taking a right into the area). This should be fairly painless. The right lane doesn’t get as congested as the left lane, since there is little to slow it down (except for a ball game, but traffic cops handle that well). If the bridge is up, then traffic is stopped, but because a bus is close to the bridge after the exit (being in an HOV or bus only lane) it doesn’t back up very far (the bus, essentially skips to the front of the line).

    Heading the other direction (southbound Montlake Boulevard to eastbound 520) is a lot more problematic. This is where one additional, bus only lane, might be justified. But this would be tricky. Current plans for the HOV ramp to eastbound 520 are designed exactly like they are today — you have to go past the general purpose on ramp, then take a hard right. I don’t see an easy solution. I have some thoughts about it (with or without a new lane) but WSDOT should really be researching this aspect of the situation (in cooperation with other entities). This is, by far the most important part of this entire project (a new 520 bridge). If buses can easily get to Link, then the bridge, as messy as it is for bikers, will not have huge amounts of pedestrians. Some work on the streets to make biking nicer makes sense, but huge amounts of work are probably not needed (correct me if I’m wrong — I often walk across the bridge, but rarely bike).

  9. Clearly Seeing

    Just want to get a comment on the Seattle Bike Blog. Do any of you bike all the way through Kenmore onto Woodinville. and on. If you do you then you know that Kenmore is plagued with a Cement and Asphalt Plant right on the Burke Gilman Trail. We have been the collateral damage for the 520 project Bridge anchors and segments being manufactured here and a high intensity of use by Cal-Portland and Cemex. We are dying breathing the fumes from the ancient asphalt and cement plant that have been grandfathered into our city limits, with no upgrades to control the toxic air pumped out daily. If any of you take this ride and stop to smell the roses(NOT) in Kenmore any shout out on this website about concerns riding through the fumes would be so much appreciated by the people fighting in Kenmore to breath. Your input would be taken much more seriously than the community”s, who complaints daily to our council,fall on deaf ears. We love the Burke Gilman. We love that you use it. Please support us with your voice.

  10. […] looking at an even bigger picture, businesses on Eastlake should take note of the upcoming bike trail on the new 520 and Portage Bay Bridges. That bike route will create a brand new regional […]

  11. Jean A

    Ross B correct. Southbound buses from UW and hospital across Montlake Bridge should stay on outside lane and slip into 520 eastbound easily. Not get stuck in SOV/GP lane.

  12. […] of course, the exciting bike/walk connections pasted onto the 520 Bridge replacement and expansion project are now funded as part of that $4.47 […]

  13. […] case you haven’t noticed, the state is building a new 520 Bridge. And as we noted back in February, the biking and walking elements of their Seattle-side plans have come a long way since the initial […]

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