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Here’s how to make the Ballard Bridge safer now without spending a fortune

The Ballard Bridge is awful for biking and walking. That’s been well documented. And the solutions studied to retrofit the bridge to make it better for biking and walking carried one hell of a price tag, perhaps somewhere in the $20–$40 million range. That price means that even if the city finds the cash, those changes aren’t happening any time soon. And this bridge needs to be bikeable and walkable now.

We asked in our original post: Is there an easier way? Well, the Cascade Bicycle Club-organized Connect Ballard team has answered, producing an excellent video and document (PDF) outlining some easier and cheaper fixes, as well as a brilliant funding mechanism for major bridge investment. Some of these fixes could happen tomorrow, while others would need some more serious planning.

I’ll go into the ideas below, or you can just listen to Haley Woods from Peddler Brewing explain it:

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First, the short wall separating the sidewalk from the general traffic lanes is incredibly dangerous. People have fallen over the rail trying to navigate the very skinny sidewalk. Terry McMacken died in 2008 after a long struggle to fight injuries he sustained more than a year earlier when he fell over the short wall and was struck by a car.

Connect Ballard research shows this curb height was designed in 1937, when the bridge was made of wood and cars were smaller and slower. Needless to say, transportation has changed a whole lot since then, but this tripping hazard of a barrier has not.

Their solution would push the barrier out one foot and add a full railing to separate people on the sidewalk from the roadway. They also suggest shaving off the outer concrete wall and the concrete pillars that jut out into the sidewalk space. The city’s original study priced similar work at more than $22 million, though that just seems so high. Is there really no cheaper way to do this?

Ballard Bridge recommendations 2 spread final draft-spaceBallard Bridge recommendations 2 spread final draft-railcrop

While we’re at it, there is a maintenance access stairwell that is caged off on the bascule (draw bridge) part of the bridge that creates a significant pinch point. Their simple solution: Make that a trap door instead.

Ballard Bridge recommendations 2 spread final draft-trapThe next key piece is to fix the bridge access points. The north end changes appear relatively easy:

Ballard Bridge recommendations 2 spread final draft-north1crop

Ballard Bridge recommendations 2 spread final draft-north2The south end requires a little more work. Basically, Connect Ballard suggests turning the south end of the bridge into a regular signalized four-way intersection at Emerson. Square it all off like a regular intersection, too, installing much-needed crosswalks.

There is already room on 15th for protected bike lanes from the bridge sidewalks to Dravus Street, which is a good connection into the neighborhood and to citywide and regional bike routes like the Elliott Bay Trail.

But this work wouldn’t be cheap, so they also have an idea of how to fund it: Remove the freeway-style Emerson/Nickerson overpass, which would no longer be needed thanks to the new signal. That overpass is also low enough over 15th that oversize trucks keep hitting it (Connect Ballard says a 2014 hit required a $5 million repair). Then that giant parcel of land currently wasted thanks to the off-ramp could be sold to finance these major improvements to the Ballard Bridge or a new transit/bike/walk crossing of the Ship Canal.

The signal would also reduce the need for the long access ramp from westbound Nickerson to southbound 15th, which could be repurposed as a trail connection to the Ship Canal Trail, saving about $18 million that the city’s study estimated a new trail connection would cost.

Ballard Bridge recommendations 2 spread final draft-southcrop

With the traffic signal in place, the city could then make each sidewalk one-way for bikes, eliminating the very problematic situation where two people on bikes approach each other head-on. There simply isn’t room to pass each other. This would also simplify the experience for people on foot, since bikes would only be coming from one direction.

Until the traffic signal and intersection redesign happens on the south end, flashing beacons (activated by a push button and maybe also bike detector) could be installed at the existing crossings to increase visibility of people on foot or bike at the so-called “Merge of Death” where the sidewalk ends and people on bikes get spit out into a fast-moving lane of traffic.

This is really great work by the Connect Ballard team, which is simply not willing to accept “we’ll fix it in the next decade or two” as an acceptable answer to the walk/bike problems on the Ballard Bridge. This bridge is a vital connection in an area that is growing quickly with no signs of slowing down.

Sean Cryan deserves a special call-out. No only did he put hard work into this project (including making the renderings), but he has been pushing hard for changes on the Ballard Bridge for longer than I have been writing this blog. He was on the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board when I first started Seattle Bike Blog in 2010, and he was pushing hard for changes then, too (SDOT staff started referring to him as “The Ballard Bridge Guy”). And he hasn’t given up in the face of endless inaction. If the Ballard Bridge is ever safe for cycling, we will all owe Sean a huge thanks.

UPDATE: Here’s the full report (PDF).

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75 responses to “Here’s how to make the Ballard Bridge safer now without spending a fortune”

  1. Todd

    I’ll tell you how to make it safer without spending a cent on it. You make it illegal for bikes to ride on it and force them to get off their lazy asses and walk their bikes across the locks or better yet, ride an additional mile or so down to the Freemont bridge. Ride the missing link and put pressure on the businesses.

    1. meanie

      TIL: bicyclists are lazy, and laws fix infrastructure!

      We should make traffic illegal, and hurt feelings.

    2. jay

      Actually that is not as easy as it sounds, it would requiring passing a law (ordinance?) and likely fighting a court battle over it. Though any sane person will walk their bike.
      One thing they could do using existing laws and for little cost, is enforce the speed limit on 15th. I’ve read that traffic tickets are not really a net revenue source after all the costs are accounted for, but still the fine has got to help, so I imagine the net cost is not so high. Well, as long as it is just a fine, but if they start putting drivers in jail for “up to 354 days” (RCW 46.61.465 and RCW 46.61.500) costs could get pretty high.

    3. Jeff Dubrule

      Obvious troll is obvious.

      1. Todd


    4. Todd

      Actually, it’s a troll reply and a serious reply too. Riding a couple miles around is not a big deal. We do it riding out of Elliott Bay and go over the locks just to get the extra miles in and then ride to Woodinville. I don’t have any crying towels for you Ballard or North Seattle guys. Why do you clowns insist on having every right as an automobile does? There’s no reason to spend a cent on this. And I couldn’t be more serious when I say ride the missing link all the time and ride it hard. Bring your friends.

      1. J-Lon

        Fwiw, the Locks close at like 9pm. So not a great option a lot of the time.

        It’s a shame the bridge isn’t better for bikes, because the ride through Interbay is really nice, flat, easy, etc. So a lot more people would probably make this ride, if the Ballard Bridge weren’t a part of it.

        Not everybody on a bike is somebody who is going to ride to Woodenville on a bike. I’m not a super hardcore cyclist, but I have taken my bike from Beacon Hill to Ballard through the Locks. But that doesn’t work riding home from Hattie’s Hat at 1:00am.

        Ballard Bridge is one of the worst choke points for Bikes in the city. That’s why it deserves attention imho.

        Think about it: Pronto would be a viable option for commuting between Ballard and downtown, if it was safer to get across the Ballard Bridge on a bike. That would be good on so many levels.

    5. Harrison Davignon

      Not ALL People don’t have time for that. Even if people walked bikes, the sidewalks are still to narrow and the barrier between the side walk and road is still to short, too be safe.

    6. Harrison

      Us cyclests are not lazy. If some is new to the area, taking a detour around the balared bridge would mean possibly getting lost and wasting time. Some of us have limited time and a detour would take too long. Maybe people who are bicycle commuting, are just starting out or have not bicycle rode for a long time and are trying to get back in shape and in some cases enjoy short bicycle rides. I would say make a 14 foot or 15 foot wide non motorized path, with a solid concrete bariar and fence like the i 90 bike trail. Keep the traffic lanes the same and that will make it much safer for non motorized use. Maybe take out one of the skinny sidewalks and widden the road a little. This will make it safer for everyone. And connect the widdend path safely to the north and South bound lanes on eather side of the bridge

  2. beardrink

    Or… make lazy drivers stop driving and take a bike?

    1. Guy

      Your solution is to remove an existing crossing and leave a three mile gap between the two remaining crossings, where one is usually swarming with tourists and the other of which is already close to capacity?

      1. Guy

        Sorry beardrink, that was meant for Todd.

  3. Peri Hartman

    Overall, I like the plan. The only part I’m not sure about is putting in a stop light at the south end of the bridge. I think that would have more drawbacks than benefits.

    Consider that the volume of traffic on 15th is high enough that the city puts in very long duty cycles. For example, look at the lights further south, particularly at Mercer Place (the diagonal chute ramping up QA to Mercer). The cycle is somewhere close to 3 minutes.

    SDOT, rightly or wrongly, likes to have long cycles on heavy streets. Same would likely be true at the south end of the bridge. That means substantially longer waits for people going east and west.

    I think there are other ways to make the transition for bikes and peds safer. First, going northbound, it’s already pretty good. Southbound is the only horrible case. It can be solved by putting in a 3-way stop signs at the T going to the overpass. So, bikes and peds would go around the corner, safely cross at a cross walk, and then easily continue.

    Finally, I think we should have an incredibly strong reason to tear down existing infrastructure. Leave the flyovers (unders) unless we can prove we’re generally better off without them.

    1. Ben P

      I think sdot would agree to shorter light cycles there before they would agree to a three way stop. As far as the overpass, to me it’s obvious it needs to go. What confuses me is how it got there in the first place. Seattle is littered with bizarre street additions which, as far as I can tell, make traffic worse and are definitely confusing if you’re new to the particular street. Like how green lake way cuts diagonally and 45th jogs over a block by stone way and aroura. They simplified the wacko intersections by the mercer aroura area, but that used to be a spectacularly muddled mess as well. I can’t fathom what the initial designer was thinking, but trying to preserve it sounds like the sunken cost fallacy.

      1. Peri Hartman

        Why do you think SDOT would agree to shorter light cycles? They’ve been moving the opposite direction and it will take a groundswell of opposition to change that. Mercer & 5th N used to 60 seconds. Now it’s 2-3 minutes. Fairview & Mercer (freeway ramps): ditto. Mercer Place & 15th NW used to 60 seconds, now 2-3 minutes. Same with 45th through the U District.

        Waiting 3 minutes at a light is a very, very long time when you’re on a bicycle or a ped.

        Look at the traffic flow at that intersection and I think you’ll see that a 3-way stop sign would easily work. And it would give a much safer place to cross.


    2. Law Abider

      I agree. I was with Haley 110% until I got to the part about removing the overpass and making it a signalized intersection. That would just be a terrible idea.

      The north end of the bridge is on a nice grid, with plenty of options to go around or under 15th in the event of the bridge opening and traffic getting snarled.

      The south end of the bridge is not gridded in any way and is constrained by hills, water and railroad tracks. The overpass allows non-bridge traffic to maintain some sense of normalcy when the bridge is open and 15th becomes a parking lot.

      It’d make much more sense and be much more pleasant to send cyclists over or under Emerson/Nickerson, since the existing grades somewhat allow it (west side, not so much east). And while a signalized intersection may be somewhat safer, it’d still likely have slip lanes and cars that run red lights. Let the cars keep their crappy interchange of death.

  4. Steve Campbell

    $22 million for the work on the outer wall sounds about right. The street lights for the bridge are supported by the concrete pillars you want to “shave off”, if there was even a way to do that. You’re really talking about demolishing the concrete railing, completely replacing it with some sort of new railing, finding a new way to attach street lights to the bridge, and then rewiring every light on the bridge.

    Just take a few more inches for the widened sidewalks, leave the existing concrete railings alone and save the money.

  5. meanie

    You don’t just cut concrete on a bridge, especially a drawbridge. Its most likely structural, hence the huge cost for re-engineering.

    The rest of the ideas make a fair amount of sense, but they might clash with codes ( like the trapdoor ) and be similarly unfeasible.

    1. Brock

      The concrete wall on the outside is non-structural. We asked the SDOT bridge engineer. In fact, removing the concrete would increase the life of the bridge because there would be less load.

      The concrete wall to the inside is also non-structural, but is necessary to prevent cars from careening off the bridge. The current inside wall is actually not up to national engineering standards, at least for a 30mph street, high-volume truck street. So, improving the inside wall and reducing traffic speeds to 25mph would actually be a win from a car safety perspective

    2. Brock

      Each of the ideas came from a team of experts and have been vetted by SDOT. The feasibility isn’t engineering or codes, it’s politics. We need people to show support so we can get funding prioritized to the proposal in the Move Seattle Levy.

  6. Gary

    Or pass out free alcohol and MJ at the locks to tug boat captains. Let them hit the bridge supports with a barge and we sue their insurance companies for a replacement bridge… :)

    1. Brock

      I’ll admit, I’ve pondered similar scenarios.

      1. Gary

        It “worked” for the West Seattle bridge… it’s only a matter of time anyway.

  7. Kirk

    These are fine ideas, but I find many are unrealistic for the near term. People get very focused on the narrow lanes of the Ballard Bridge, and believe that the first thing that needs to be done is widen the lanes. While wider lanes would be awesome, it would be really, really expensive, and take a long, long time to complete. Widening the lanes should be a long range plan. In fact the bridge approaches are near the end of their lifespan and will need to be rebuilt at some point. I can deal with the narrow lanes; when approaching anyone else, we both stop and then we pass. But there are many low cost improvements that could be done now.

    Take the southwest end’s Merge of Death. The sidewalks are horribly heaved and potholed right before this Merge of Death. A person riding a bicycle should be signalling their intention to merge, but the unsafe sidewalk conditions make this very hazardous. And while they are at it, SDOT could fix the heavily potholed sidewalk opposite the Merge of Death.

    While a stoplight at the Merge of Death would be awesome, again, I don’t see that as realistic. It would be much more efficient to have a demand activated flashing yellow beacon, a stop line and “Stop for Bicycles Entering Roadway” sign. This would be similar to the 58th Street Greenway crossing of 24th Ave.

    Then again, about that Merge of Death. There is already an existing underpass of Emerson Street. SDOT could easily grade a trail down to the underpass and completely eliminate the Merge of Death.

    SDOT did a study on a barrier between the sidewalk and the street. It was something like TWO MILLION dollars. I’m sure the barrier they specified would stop a cement truck from going over into the sidewalk. All that’s really needed is a chain link fence to keep people from riding bicycles from falling into traffic. I have twice been behind people riding bikes that have hit the outside railing stanchions and fallen into traffic. Both times I thought they would be dead, but luckily, they weren’t hit by the cars racing by at 50 MPH. Terry McMacken wasn’t so lucky; he went over the curb and died as result of his injuries. Seriously, how much would it cost to put up a chain link fence? Can’t this be done now? Do we need to wait until someone else dies?

    So many other realistic low cost improvements could be done. Here are a few more.

    A bike lane could easily be added from the Ship Canal Trail up Nickerson to the bridge to improve access to the southeast approach.

    Cars routinely run the stop sign at Ballard Way on the northwest approach. I nearly get hit there every single morning. This intersection needs to be fixed by eliminating the redundant side roads down to 46th street. These side roads should then be turned into bicycle access for the Burke Gilman Trail, which is just two blocks away. Again, pretty low cost. Move the stop sign up and close the side road to motor vehicles.

    The third lanes from the bridge to Dravus, both northbound and southbound should be made into BAT lanes, if not dedicated bicycle lanes. The extra lanes only encourage speeding. The speed limit on 15th was reduced from 40 MPH on the Ballard Bridge to 30 MPH all the way through Ballard to Downtown, yet people driving cars still drive 50 MPH. Where is the SPD? I rarely drive, but when I do, I drive the speed limit of 30 MPH in the left lane. OMG, people sure do get upset with that! Then inevitably we all get stopped in traffic or at a light just a little farther south.

    I think ultimately, before the bridge approaches can be rebuilt, with the incredible surge of bicycles used for transportation, SDOT will need to find a solution to the narrow sidewalks on the Ballard Bridge. It might involve three motor vehicle lanes with a reversible center lane, with protected bicycle lanes on each side of the bridge.

    1. Kirk

      …sidewalks… not lanes…

    2. Josh

      I agree a low-cost barrier to keep cyclists from tipping into traffic should be a relatively inexpensive temporary solution, but please, not chain link. It can cause nasty finger injuries (even amputation) when cyclists crash into it.

      (I’m not saying it’s razor wire, just that there are better alternatives where you know you’re dealing with bicycles passing with minimal clearance.)

      1. Brock

        I agree. No chain link fence. That’d be terrible.

      2. Kirk

        Well, not chain link, but something similar. Orange construction netting? Anything to keep people riding bicycles from falling into the 50 MPH traffic that speeds along the Ballard Bridge.

    3. Brock

      Seems like Kirk came full circle in his comment — from hating on widening sidewalks to saying ultimately sidewalks must be widened. Happy to have Kirk contact me so I can explain the proposal in more detail.

      1. Kirk

        Brock, I’ll be in touch to explain my comments and thoughts on the Ballard Bridge, hopefully at the next Connect Ballard meeting. No hating on widening the sidewalks, I just realize it is not realistic at this time to push for widening the sidewalks. There are many realistic improvements that can and should be done now to improve safety, and this is what we should be pushing for, as well as a long term plan to correctly fix the Ballard Bridge.

    4. jay

      “SDOT could easily grade a trail down to the underpass and completely eliminate the Merge of Death.”

      I’m not so sure about that, I seem to recall the price tag as being something like $17 million, ADA I assume, (but maybe the contractor welfare program). Of course the City and Sate usually have no problem telling the Feds to stuff it, but there is probably a limit somewhere.
      It does seems a little backwards, I imagine few wheelchair users would cross the bridge on their chair (since they have a handicap parking permit, I’d expect them to drive) but if say, that Paralympics rugby player from the PSAs wanted to, I’d bet he could get up a ramp I’d be walking up with my bicycle, on the other hand I could probably drag my cargo bike up a flight of stairs with less difficulty than he could get his chair up them.
      While I haven’t found runnels to be too useful for my cargo bikes, they would help people on “normal” bikes and don’t seem like they’d be too expensive.

      On the other hand, someone in these comments once speculated that minor improvements to the bridge crossing might increase the city’s liability, since it could be seen as encouraging use of a facility that, even if less horrible, would still remain pretty bad.

      ” I’m sure the barrier they specified would stop a cement truck from going over into the sidewalk.”
      That might be a bit of hyperbole, but stopping a Jeep (or any passenger car) I’d believe, my understanding (could be wrong) is that the section of railing at the north was put in in response to the woman who drove her Jeep off the bridge. Why they didn’t do the whole bridge at the same time I don’t understand.

      1. Josh

        A genuine question: ADA applies to multi-use paths, but what if the connection were a genuine bicycle path, not officially open to pedestrians?

      2. Is there a way to grade a trail that’s suitable for bikes but not for wheelchairs?

      3. jay

        Josh; I have no idea what the political and legal ramifications of that would be, but if built at public expense I don’t think it would go over very well (unless the bicyclist were paying for it by their license tabs cough, initiative- 695, cough) . On the other hand, I-5 Colonnade is pretty much inaccessible to me, so there is precedent for limited accessibility facilities, but in that case funded to a significant extent by private donation and its nature is recreational (i.e. optional) not transportation.
        I have thought (riding past on the road below) that a couple of people with brush cutters and shovels could build a technical single track there in an afternoon (or one dark overcast night). But if one can ride a technical single track, one can probably handle walking the stairs too.

        Morgan; the ADA ramp requirements are fairly strict, about 8% maximum grade, level rest areas for every 30″ of rise, and handrails. The handrails can actually be a problem for bikes as the shy distance technically requires a wider trail, and the wider trail requires more room and more money for more extensive grading and grade retention structures in order to get the room on a steep slope. Ironically one could build an ADA compliant ramp that would totally suck for bicyclists, particularly with switchbacks.

      4. @jay: Indeed, if you look at the relatively recent NE 100th St bridge over 405 in Kirkland they have built an ADA path that’s essentially unrideable, next to a gated-off road (for emergency vehicle use only) that’s merely steep. I’d love to be able to ride the road! I could probably jump the gate faster than I could weave through the ADA maze!

        Laws like ADA are important when they increase the opportunities of people that have trouble getting around, but they occasionally make things worse, especially when applied to transportation projects by engineers and officials that never actually get around without cars.

      5. Peri Hartman

        That is a very different type of location. At 15th, I believe ADA could be accommodated by a button-activated stop light for direct crossing. Bikes could have a separate route. As long as there’s an ADA route available, other equivalent connections don’t have to be ADA as far as I know.

  8. scott t

    pass out free alcohol and MJ at the locks to tug boat captains…………

    and tie the footage of it into a new movie in seattle about eco-terrorists or such and put some of the revenues back into infrastructure.

    1. Gary

      If we had only spent our homeland security money on upgrading the bridge against “terrrrrrists” we’d be actually safer.

  9. scott t

    if the sidewalk/bike path along the edge can be widened and if doing so would put pressure on bus and freight vehicles is there sdot reg that prevents passing of these vehicles…signs in washington that state narow bridge, no passing??

    1. Brock

      Not a bad idea to have no-passing for the length of the bridge or at least for a longer span than the currently. The current no-pass requirement is just the bascule portion of the bridge and 200 or so feet on either side of it.

  10. ronp

    We need an automated gating/fencing system that shuts down one lane when bike riders want to cross this damn horrific bridge. Something similar to the automated bollards you see in Europe — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rUAwG9icsc . This is the land of high tech. We can do it. Also, Haley W. and others working on this, you are awesome.

    1. ronp

      My other idea is a parallel gondola alignment for bike riders and walkers. Construction cost is $10 million per mile (apparently in non-urban areas), operating cost would be a bit of a problem though. Could be a nice tourist draw though?

      1. asdf2

        That starts down the slippery slope which ultimately leads to the SR-520 approach – everyone walking or biking across must hop on a bus.

      2. Brock

        I’m a big fan of gondolas in certain situations. I’d love one from West Seattle to the SoDo light rail station, and one from the Seattle Center (or Uptown) to the Capitol Hill light rail station. Both would provide a real transit solution on the cheap — much cheaper than building light rail WS-SoDo or Uptown-CH, both of which would require bridges, elevated structures and tunnels.

      3. Gary

        How about a Venice style gondola and an outboard motor. For this kind of money we could pave a path down to the water and hire someone to ferry people across for less money.

      4. Tom Fucoloro

        Gary, a small roll-on bike/walk ferry might actually be totally awesome. Like the little Aquabuses in Vancouver (the best way to get to Granville Island).

        Imagine a Fisherman’s Terminal to Ballard Center route! It wold be so cool, and would likely be a boon to Fisherman’s Terminal: https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/edit?mid=z0xXa0ZjM3qM.kpf5x9uwX3Mc

        A free ride would be amazing, but I would definitely pay a few bucks (especially if I could just beep my ORCA Card)

      5. Gary

        London has river ferries as well… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_River_Services

        I mean if we are talking about $17Million it shouldn’t cost that much to get a small boat capable of holding 10 people or 5 with bikes and run them back and forth.

      6. ronp

        I like the idea of an autonomous (Google?) robot ferry running in the alignment suggested by Tom plus maybe an optional run to South Lake Union? We are the land of Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Boeing, Spacex. This must be done. Here is a possible model to build on – http://directboats.com/vego.html

      7. Peri Hartman

        The idea is inspiring. But practically speaking, I think fixing the bridge is better.
        – too much liability for autonomous craft
        – need docks at both ends suitable for easy bike acesss
        – need protection to keep cyclists from falling in the water
        – too much waiting time, even if boats were to cross every 10 minutes
        – what if it’s too stormy for a small craft?
        – what if there are unsavory people hanging about the docks at night?

        I’m sorry, but it just sounds impractical. Unless I’m a tourist on a Pronto bike, why would I wait, possibly 15 minutes, to catch a boat? Even if the sidewalk is currently narrow on the bridge, I just wouldn’t wait. Would you?

      8. Tom Fucoloro

        I’m definitely not saying this is better than or an alternative to fixing the bridge. I’m just saying it would be awesome.

      9. ronp

        Yeah, a bit of a pipe dream, but I am imagining the Venetian style robot controlled electric boats playing Disney’s “It’s a Small World” as we cross the ship canal and Lake Union with our bikes…

        There is just one moon and one golden sun
        And a smile means friendship to everyone
        Though the mountains divide
        And the oceans are wide
        It’s a small world after all

    2. Brock

      We thought a lot about a reversible, but ultimately we think the traffic volume patterns are different than in other cities where there’s a reversible lane. The traffic volume is actually pretty steady (& equal) in both directions all day on the bridge. So while the zipper barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge and the two Vancouver BC reversible lane bridges are all awesome, it’s probably not practical.

      And more importantly, not the reversible lane is politically feasible considering that 15th Avenue is a heavy transit and freight corridor, prioritized for both.

  11. juliette

    wow! So impressed by the proposals and work that went into this.

    I both drive and very occasionally walk this bridge. I don’t ride it ‘cuz it sucks, but then I don’t live in Ballard or to the west of 3rd, so alternative routes are not a big deal.

    As a driver of this route I have no objections to the above. In fact, would so much appreciate the calming effect it might have on this frenetic route. What creatures we are to be so fearful of any change, let alone ones that benefit so many. Maybe it’s possible to test some of the ‘concerns’?

  12. ryan

    here is the most realistic fix: have another city bond say $800,000,000-$1,000,000,000 and replace the ballard bridge. will need replacing at some point anyway.

    1. Kirk

      Exactly. Many bridges have been rebuilt in Seattle; this is the next one that should be. Get a full plan for a rebuild on the drawing board.

      And in the meantime, fix the heaved sidewalks and potholes, put up a fence so people don’t fall into traffic, and improve the safety of the approaches.

      1. Josh

        A compromise: to extend the life of the existing bridge until a replacement can be funded, lower its speed limit to 20 mph, and require large vehicles to use the inner lanes on the span.

        Coincidentally, while reducing the dynamic loads on an obsolescent bridge, this would also restore the way the bridge was originally intended to function — it was built for traffic slow enough that bicycles used the travel lanes and the sidewalks were for walking.

      2. @Josh: … and put something with some grip over the metal grating in the outside lane?

        When I lived in Chicago I rode on metal grating in the rain, snow, and ice, but I was younger and stupider then.

  13. Jonathan Fischbein

    The cheap solutions will yield cheap results that we’ll just have to rebuild in 10 or 20 years. Time for both the taxpayers and the politicians to cowboy up and pay what it will take. Tolls could help fund it.

    I bicycle the Ballard Bridge’s sidewalk ca. 2 times a week, year ’round. Drive it several times a month. Reminds me very much of the sidewalk on the old US10 bridge across Lake Washington, rebuilt back in ’89 or so.

    1. Gary

      I rode that I-90 bridge sidewalk exactly once. Being on the outside of the curve where the bridge bulged to allow the mid section to come in was terrifying even it if was only a few seconds.

      When the I-90 bridge sank money was found instantly. It makes one think that the lack of maintenance on infrastructure is cravenly planned to let a few folks die then the money won’t be an issue.

    2. Kirk

      Growing up on Mercer Island, I rode over the old Lacey V. Murrow Bridge into Seattle many times. It had sidewalks similar to the Ballard Bridge, but I recall the sidewalks were a little bit wider, and I don’t recall pilasters sticking out like they do on the Ballard Bridge.
      Then there was the Mount Baker Tunnel to navigate, even more terrifying. The sidewalks were actually elevated above the traffic lanes, farther up the curve of the tunnel bore. They were super narrow with a tiny short railing, and it was always really dark with heavy exhaust fumes.

      Here is a link to a photo of the bulge taken before 1960 that shows the sidewalks. http://cdn.app.compendium.com/uploads/user/e0c8a1f0-2bb7-4e8a-b8e6-2691dc288796/e708661f-e3ee-42ec-8614-5fc6f29915d5/Image/9c2ea9376934490dcf5556167a73b8d2/the_bulge_on_i_90_bridge_seattle_municipal_archivesf.jpg

    3. JonathanFischbein

      Cool–other old phart bikers out there! Nice pic by the way, just looking at it elicits the pucker effect. BTW, I always rode up and over the hill and then, when EB, onto the sidewalk adjacent to the on ramp for cars just a terrifyingly short distance from the eastern portal of the tunnel.

  14. scott t

    has sdot really determined that a sidewalk widening-slash-lower volume bike path-slash-trap door ride over is feasable? if so, it seems the peak load would have cyclists able to cross at Nearballard and pedestrains (at the times they would normaly walk the bridge…not at morning and 5pm-ish rush hours) accommodated properly??? making the proposal work?????

  15. scott t

    you know …..for small millions rather than big millions?

  16. scott t

    iow, is there a cheap way to make noone have to hop off a bike or wheelchair or stap onto a rail to dodge someone else of some sort on ballard bridge until the thing is rebuilt (big millions) in some way…does this plan do that?

  17. Harrison Davignon

    We should do something that will not cost to much and still work well. Put in one solid, non motorized path, like the i 90 bike trail. The i 90 bike trail is very wide and plenty of room for everyone to use, plus a big barrier between cars and trial users. If we put one path like that instead of two across the ballard bridge, we could cut cost in half. A lot pf people are giving up their cars in Seattle, which can lead to a greener, healthier community, possible less traffic problems. We should not be to upset over the current bridge. The the love of the automobile took off and dominated transportation from when the bridge was built, until the recent switch from cars, to alternative transportation. The path does not have to be fancy, just functional. Some people don’t have time for detours.

    1. Peri Hartman

      I think everyone (at least cyclists) want that. Are you suggesting taking one of the vehicle lanes? If so, that’s been brought up in this thread and it’s a no-go. SDOT has designated 15th NW and the bridge as a truck route and has to balance that use with “our” needs. If a lane is taken out, it will not function as a truck route.

      That would lead to other solutions such as building a cantilever to extend the width of the sidewalks. And with that comes the expenses.


      1. Harrison Davignon

        No i;m saying we build a new bridge, still make it 4 lanes and a 8 to 10 foot wide non motorized path.

  18. Gary

    Since bicycle traffic is low on this bridge, what if we put in a ped/bike only bridge that gets out of the way for boat traffic?


    Just pick a narrow spot and put one of these in. Then when SDOT goes to replace the ballard bridge this thing would already be there to take the ped/bike traffic.

    1. Peri Hartman

      I like that idea. Would it work?

      Let’s assume it would need to meet ADA at 6% grade. I’m going to hypothesize that the middle are needs about a 45′ clearance for boats (see
      https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/05/22/2015-12435/drawbridge-operation-regulation-lake-washington-ship-canal-seattle-wa for your own guess).

      That comes to about 750′ of ramp on both ends plus a middle flat section. That makes for a 1/4 mile bridge. Certainly doable but not cheap.

  19. Gary

    Or this folding bridge… $16M well within the rebuild budget.


    1. ChefJoe

      The folding bridge has had so many technical difficulties that shut it down to the point they built a backup bridge. seems like the budget should include that too.

  20. […] and King of the Stroad: Tom at Seattle Bike Blog explains how the Ballard Bridge could be improved and says that Mercer Street is one big stroad (street […]

  21. Doug Nichols

    So I both drive and bike to work from Ballard, depending on my daily needs. I think there is a few items to consider in this proposal, but over all it has more flaws that would, in the end, complicate the issue.


    Widening the path seems obvious. The sidewalk is barely useable as a single person walking – set aside the fast moving cars just next to you. I still remember the ladder and the lady from Safeway.

    *traffic light/stop sign – it is already way congested on that bridge and with the continued growth in Ballard, it is just going to increase – complicating the issue.

    *narrowing the lanes – bad idea, see above. Already buses and large trucks do not seem to use one lane while crossing the bridge.

    * Any of the other modifications – This bridge was built when cars ruled it was built for cars. Any modifications to the ends of the bridge would not only be costly, but increase the congestion on the bridge approach.

    The real solution, IMHO, is to provide a new pedestrian/bike walkway separate from the existing bridge. After which leave the bridge as is until it can be replaced as a separate budget item.

  22. […] The Seattle Department of Transportation is reluctant to spend money on fixes to the Ballard Bridge since they’re likely to replace the whole 97-year-old structure at some point in the future, O’Brien says, so he’s trying to figure out how much widening the sidewalk would actually cost in hopes of persuading the city to do something sooner than a full bridge replacement. (Much more about this from Seattle Bike Blog here.) […]

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