Ride the Ducks plans to use scary Fremont bike merge lane starting Friday

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If you bike across the Fremont Bridge regularly, then you know this terrible merge lane well. People biking are routed down a ramp into what becomes a shared bike and right turn lane. You have to be extremely on guard, but there’s also an element of simply hoping that anyone merging to go right sees you.

Well starting tomorrow (Friday), the city and Ride the Ducks have made plans (PDF) to route the notoriously-dangerous amphibious vehicles onto the Fremont Bridge, using this turn lane to access 34th Ave N en route to Lake Union. The route also has them turning right from 34th at Stone Way, turning across a bike lane and crossing a sometimes sketchy intersection with the Burke-Gilman Trail.

The vehicles have huge blind spot challenges in large part due to their very long front ends. This is perhaps highlighted best by a terrifying collision where the Duck driver didn’t see a man on a motorcycle downtown and ran over him at a traffic signal. The company says they have installed cameras to help drivers see.

But even with cameras, it feels very worrying to route these things into an already-dangerous bike merge lane.

I’m not sure why we are allowing the Ducks back on Seattle streets at all after the immense amount of death and injury they caused just months ago on the Aurora Bridge. The bridge didn’t cause that wreck, the Duck vehicle did. And since it’s designed as a military vehicle, not for traffic, it caused immense damage. That should have been the final straw.

But if we are going to allow them on our streets, then we need to make sure we aren’t setting them up to hurt more people. As it is, it doesn’t feel like a matter of “if” but “when” the Ducks hurt another person.

This merge should be fixed anyway, Ducks or no Ducks. It’s terrible. But before the Ducks start operations, this area needs some serious safety upgrades. And maybe Ride the Ducks should also help pay for the changes. We should also make some upgrades to the Burke-Gilman Trail crossing at Stone Way.

Here’s the planned route map from the city:


About Tom Fucoloro

Founder and Editor of Seattle Bike Blog.
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44 Responses to Ride the Ducks plans to use scary Fremont bike merge lane starting Friday

  1. Peri Hartman says:

    One fix, not without contention, is to eliminate the need to cross the ship canal for that segment of the tour. At one time, fairly recently, the Ducks had proposed and requested permission to enter Lake Union somewhere near the NOAA buildings. It was opposed and, I guess, rejected. However, if they were to enter the lake there and exit at the NE Pacific Street location, the Fremont bridge and Aurora bridge could be eliminated from their route.

    • Brian says:

      I think they’re still planning to build a launch there but that will have its own problems. Fairview Ave along the proposed route is really narrow with parking on both sides as well as having heavy pedestrian and bicycle traffic – you’ve got to be really careful driving there even in a small car. Next to the proposed launch point is Terry Pettus park which is packed with swimmers and kayakers all summer. Either way I don’t think it’ll be long until someone gets seriously hurt.

  2. BB says:

    I would add that, after the turn on 34th street there is a narrow lane and narrow bike lane.

    I can’t for the life of me see how this duck boat is going to pass any cyclist on that road safely, if they can’t use the oncoming lane to do so.

    Buses don’t go down that route and I think its for a good reason. They go one block north on 35th.

    • J says:

      There’s also a high curb to the sidewalk, so there is nowhere for bikes to try to move right to avoid a collision. If you try it, you’re going to be thrown from your bike right into the wall on the other side of the incredibly narrow sidewalk.

    • Al Dimond says:

      I doubt the buses’ use of 35th has anything to do with bikes. I think it’s more about being able to use the bus stop on Fremont Ave between 34th and 35th.

      35th itself is not a great street for buses, either. The turn that the 26, 31, and 32 make between Fremont Ave and 35th is slow and challenging in both directions. 35th gets some bike traffic too (it’s the most straightforward way to get from southbound Fremont Avenue to the Burke-Gilman eastbound — it has problems, but when I lived up there I tried every route I could think of, and they all have problems); no four-wheeled vehicle is going to pass a bike on 35th without going into oncoming traffic. A bit to the east, 35th between Stone and Wallingford Avenues can barely handle oncoming cars passing by eachother; two buses is a really tight squeeze.

  3. Michael Francisco says:

    Ride the Ducks still has plans to build a ramp at 1949 Fairview E, as far as I know. Sure, it could remove the necessity for them to go through Fremont- but it will put them on Fairview E and Fairview N- which are also major bike and pedestrian routes.

  4. Rich Knox says:

    I would love to see the Ducks banned from Seattle streets. I used to live in Fremont, and they are incredibly annoying. Noisy and dangerous.

  5. J says:

    This is going to end with someone being horribly maimed or killed.

    Overall, is it safer for the Ducks to use the Fremont bridge more frequently instead of the Aurora bridge? I wonder if city officials are being too reactionary by banning the Ducks from the Aurora bridge because of this one (horrible) crash. They’re not much safer on surface streets, and more heavy use of the Fremont bridge seems like a real bad idea.

    Personally, I just really hate those annoying Ducks and I’d like to see them go away permanently. They already use the Fremont bridge southbound, and frequently keep blaring their music while waiting. They’re so obnoxious.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      Them being annoying (and I agree) isn’t a great reason to ban them. I mean, to each their own, I suppose. It’s the history of injury and death that concerns me.

      • J says:

        They’re both incredibly unsafe and do not bring value to the people living in the neighborhoods they visit on their route. The annoyance is not as important, I agree, but it’s another big reason to get rid of them.

        One good thing that came out of this plan is the requirement to split the tour guide and driver into two separate roles and require two people. I can’t believe they got away with only one crew member for so long—that’s distracted driving and incredibly unsafe.

  6. Bill says:

    A Duck passed me northbound on Dexter a few days ago. The driver crossed the centerline to give me lots of room, but I was not pleased to see it on Dexter. I’m glad the official route is on Westlake but I wonder why it was on Dexter.

    I don’t much mind the merge from the bridge with ordinary cars. Having Ducks mix with bikes there and on the turn to 34th will not be good. I rode alongside Ducks frequently on Alaskan Way. The noise, size, and brutal aspect of those vehicles is terrifying. I am dismayed the company is being allowed to resume operation.

    • Jeff Dubrule says:

      They may have been testing out different routes. Westlake vs. Dexter to get to the Fremont bridge.

  7. Andrew Squirrel says:

    This is news to me, I didn’t realize anyone felt unsafe with that benign merge.
    I’ve never had an issue with vehicles there and I usually feel more on-edge about sharing the bridge with oblivious pedestrians/dogs/salmon cyclists that could knock me into bridge I-beams or, god forbid, the canal.
    There are so many other spots to feel unsafe as a cyclist in this city but this doesn’t even make the top 100.
    I do agree that it will suck to share that area with the Ducks but i’m sure the drivers will be exceptionally diligent now that the duck poop has hit the fan.

    • Gary Anderson says:

      I agree with the blind merge from the bridge onto Fremont Ave. It’s never been a problem for me either with cars or trucks.

      I’m more concerned with the Ducks turning right from N. 34th St. to Stone Way especially in the summer months with all the pedestrian and bicycle traffic on the BGT. They really will need separate bike and vehicle right turn traffic signals. These signals have helped a lot where the BGT crosses 25th Ave north of U-Village.

      • Lisa says:

        I definitely do not like that merge. I think most of my issue is that I expect drivers to be idiots and merge right into me, and I can’t control it. At least with pedestrians/dogs on the bridge I can STFD, so even if we crash, much safer than a car slamming into me at 30 mph. The issue with the Ducks is that they can’t even see to merge over, the right side blind spot is likely huge.

    • Conrad says:

      Totally agree. If that merge is a problem, it is only because the driver is being an asshole. The road design is actually okay and it wouldn’t make my top 100 problem spots either. Also: the ducks are big, but so are semi trucks. I have never once had a duck do something intentionally stupid or mean to me while riding. Especially now, I think safety is going to be a big priority for them. Just remember they have a big blind spot, like any other big truck.

  8. Southeasterner says:

    So this actually isn’t a new problem for many of us Ballard Bridge users.


    The Ducks cross the Ballard Bridge and take the Leary exit on their maintenance run (doesn’t appear this is changing in the map above). This is the Northbound merge of death for us frequent users that is much worse than the Fremont merge as there are no signs, no bike markings, and no shoulder for cyclists going straight to Leary after exiting the bridge (which you are forced to do by the sidewalk configuration and exit ramp). In addition there is a small street that runs parallel along the Ballard Blocks (also called 15th ave) where there is a right turn only sign. Cars routinely ignore it and I have been almost nailed on multiple occasions by vehicles not looking out for cyclists.

    So word of advise from someone who deals with Ducks on an almost daily basis (at least when they were running). Before you merge look back and check to see if any Ducks are coming. If they are wait it out because they won’t see you.

  9. AJL says:

    I do not like riding anywhere near them when I am navigating the waterfront on my route home. The distraction they cause (yelling/clapping/music) distracts other drivers and pedestrians – who are then looking at the Duck vehicle and not the road as well as ensuring the driver of the Duck is not fully paying attention to the road or other users of the street/sidewalks. I’ve seen them, numerous times, run red lights, make dangerous turns and lane changes and PURPOSEFULLY cut off cyclists/pedestrians who had the right of way (full disclosure, one driver did this to me near the Colman Dock and then laughed about it to the people in the vehicle).

    I’m fully against this and can’t believe they are still going to use the waterfront with it’s narrow lanes and awful road situation in general.

    • jay says:

      First of all, who the heck is insuring those things and how can Brian afford the premiums? Somebody is eventually going to be out, what, 10 million or so? and they will want to get it back from somewhere.

      “kick ’em when they’re up, kick ’em when they’re down”

      Considering the popularity of things like BASE jumping, NASCAR and climbing Everest, I can see how riding the DUCK would have some attraction to some people, but is it really enough for a viable business?

      “it’s interesting when people die”
      OMG, Henley’s “Dirty laundry” is 34 years old! Oh well, “I just have to look good, I don’t have to be clear”

      AJL wrote: ” can’t believe they are still going to use the waterfront with it’s narrow lanes ”
      Especially now that the sea wall project has created that chicane by the aquarium, that has got to be a lot worse than the merge at the Fremont bridge.

  10. Matt says:

    I share the same sentiment about the Ducks returning to our streets. Coming from Philadelphia where they also caused a fatal accident, I was already unhappy about their presence. Besides being a bike commuter over the Fremont Bridge, I have the pleasure of working on 34th and Stone Way in the middle of their route. Every time I set foot outside or go for a run at lunch I encounter them and have to listen to their obnoxious tour guides. It makes matters worse that 34th and Stone Way is one of the worst timed intersections in the entire city. It’s full of pedestrians and cyclists yet you end up waiting there forever waiting for the light to change. I wish the city would just ban these vehicles before another accident occurs.

  11. Welcome to Seattle - get out your wallet says:

    I don’t believe that amphibious assault vehicles were designed to be traffic friendly. This may explain the number of fatalities in the Aurora crash, at a relatively slow speed collision.
    Why not ban them entirely in the name of safety ?
    Oh right, they pay the city a fee to operate.

    • Karl says:

      ” amphibious assault vehicles “, oh come on now. Their trucks. Amphibious trucks. They weren’t armored or armed, they weren’t for assaults, they were for delivering cargo across a beach.

      Most of the folks here would benefit their cause by dialing it back a bit, everyone is coming across as hysterical.

  12. JAT says:

    The DUKWs are annoying and dangerous, yes, but what’s wrong with that “scary” merge lane? Seems fine to me. You have to be on guard, yes, but at least those annoying, constraining, and (to my way of thinking) dangerous plastic pylons don’t go on very far.

    It’s riding in traffic. Don’t like it, stay on the sidewalk and cross (at pedestrian speed) at the crosswalk. We cannot have (and shouldn’t expect) kid glove grade-separated infrastructure at every single instance.

    But please let’s do get the aging military surplus amphibious for-profit death traps off the public thoroughfares to be sure!

  13. bill says:

    What else I dislike about the Ducks: Ever ridden in one’s exhaust plume? DUKWs are so old they are allowed to drive around with no emissions controls whatsoever.

    • Gary Anderson says:

      They are also one of the noisiest vehicles on the road. Much worse than concrete trucks, garbage trucks, you name it. They frequently came up 40th St in Wallingford and you could hear them coming blocks away. Heh, maybe that’s a good thing?

  14. Tory says:

    This is not okay. I ride the Fremont bridge everyday and I know the north end merge with ducks and bikes is an accident waiting to happen. What can we do to get these ducks rerouted (or gone for good!)?

  15. jojo says:

    Thanks for the info. For this merge section, I’m going to start using the wide sidewalk instead now and merge with the bike land on 34th.

  16. Mark says:

    This piece is clear-cut yellow journalism. I’m no advocate for the ducks, nor do I support allowing them to operate so soon after their tragic accident on Aurora Bride, however, this article is pushing a biased agenda, skipping facts and installing fear into the public using sensationalism.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      Such as?

      • Stan Lee says:

        Not sure how you’re “skipping facts” or “installing [sic] fear”, but do agree a bit with the sensationalist headline. I’ve always felt much more on edge exiting the bridge to get *to* the merge lane (oncoming bikes, pedestrians, etc.) than when I’m in that lane itself.

  17. keven ruf says:

    I prefer to ride over the bridge with traffic instead of using the sidewalk. The same for the Ballard Bridge. That grating sounds unsafe but it is not. Bikes are traffic, not pedestrians.

    • Law Abider says:

      To each their own. I group you in with the people that ride on the actual Westlake roadway. It’s in your rights, but you’re crazy for doing it.

  18. Gary says:

    I used to encounter the Duck’s on Western when I was riding that route and a few toots from my Air Horn seemed to be enough to get the drivers attention and not have any issues with them.

    But then I use that horn for passing buses as well, and it’s just as dangerous going around a bus on Pike as those Ducks.

  19. Law Abider says:

    I never understood why there’s no direct access ramp from the northbound mixed use path across the bridge to the Burke Gilman trail, similar to the Magnolia Bridge ped/bike ramp. It was actually an additive alternate in the additive alternate for the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop trail master plan. Naturally, it didn’t get built.

    Since then, we’ve built things like the $10 million West Thomas Street “Bridge to Nowhere” in Lower Queen Anne (yeah, yeah, I know, federal funding), why not something that will be used by a magnitude more of people and will cost a fraction of that? It wouldn’t solve the Duck problem, but it’d greatly reduce the amount of cyclists that would have to deal with them.

    • Matt says:

      “Bridge to Nowhere” meaning the Puget Sound?? It used to take me an additional 30 min just to walk to the waterfront and I feared for my life having to ride on Elliott to work everyday until that bridge was built. It’s highly used and beyond essential. Shame on you.

  20. JRD says:

    Undoubtedly the Ducks are incredibly dangerous and have no place on city streets.

    I recommend writing your reps about it, and calling SPD on them every time they fail to properly yield right-of-way (seems to happen quite often as they can’t see anything around them).

  21. ronp says:

    I hate the ducks and hope they go away ASAP. I have no idea what legally can prevent them from running. Maybe an ordinance requiring modern safe vehicles or perhaps a ban on amphibious vehicles overall? Or maybe they would be OK if a modern and safe replacement amphibious vehicle could be used instead?

  22. William says:

    Ducks went out of business in San Francisco because the city required a driver and a narrator. Hopefully, the same requirement here will put them out of business in Seattle.

  23. a different Eric says:

    Does anybody have any data to support the claim that these are more dangerous than, say, delivery trucks or other large vehicles that use the streets the same amount? The wreck on the Aurora bridge was certainly horrific, and it sounds like there was a very serious failure on the part of the operator and/or manufacturer. That said, delivery trucks, postal vehicles, buses, taxis, etc are out using the roads and sometimes have (sometimes quite tragic) collisions. I don’t really know if the ducks are statistically any more or less dangerous than similarly sized vehicles. It is not my desire here to claim that they are safe, but I would like to see some actual data before drawing any conclusions about where or whether they should operate.

  24. Casey says:

    Are there any proposed designs for an alternative to a merge (with any type of vehicle)? While I’ve never encountered an issue, I really do not like this merge. I have to completely trust that drivers see me, and in this day and age when a significant percentage of drivers are distracted in some way or another, this is a scary risk I don’t enjoy taking.

  25. toby says:

    They have made changes to the ride the duck to mandate the driver operate only and have a second person do the narration. It is gravely unfortunate about the aurora bridge accident, but I would not allow that to say ban them period. My fear are the impaired or distracted (cell, makeup, kids, etc) drivers hitting me on my bike, not a duck.

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