SDOT is “microsurfacing” notorious stretch of the Missing Link

Don’t worry, the city isn’t removing the two-way bike lane on the Ballard Missing Link.

Readers have been asking why the bikeway stripes on NW 45th Street between Fred Meyer and the Ballard Bridge have been removed, as shown in this photo from Peddler Brewing:

At first it was a mystery. No bike or trail advocates I asked knew anything about it. But then Kevin from the Friends of the Burke-Gilman Trail dug this up: It’s part of the city’s ongoing microsurfacing work (more info in this PDF).

Microsurfacing is a method for adding an estimated ten years to a road surface before it needs to be fully repaved. Unlike chip sealing, a method that leaves behind lots of bumpy, loose gravel, microsurfacing should be bike-safe.

I’ve asked SDOT for info on expected closure times and detours, and I’ll update when I hear back (though I’m traveling with family today, so I may be slow).

Here’s a map of streets in the area getting the microsealing treatment this summer:


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19 Responses to SDOT is “microsurfacing” notorious stretch of the Missing Link

  1. Josh says:

    Microsurfacing is great stuff for bikes — excellent traction as long as the underlying pavement is good.

    If they accidentally spray it onto the railroad tracks, I wonder how long it would take for the extremely infrequent trains to wear away the non-skid surface?

    • Anthony says:

      Not long, about a minute or two. I would like to see it happen. Maybe SDOT is actually onto something for once, it would be nice to give them praise for a change.

  2. Paul Johnson says:

    Minor nitpick SDOT should be aware of…even if the bike lane the same direction is left of the general access lanes is to the left, the divider line between the two needs to be white, not yellow. Yellow lane lines are only to delineate lanes in *opposite* directions. Alternatively, if they’re establishing it as a separate roadway on the same surface, then double yellow on the general access side and white on the bicycle side (three stripes total) would be the way to do it; this also bans lane changes between the two roadways as well as turns crossing the other roadway.

    I hope that gets fixed as well.

    • Law Abider says:

      I follow your logic, and in a perfect world, it would be be two white lines with a white, diagonal crosshatch (,-122.2702648,54m/data=!3m1!1e3), but there’s just not enough room. I think the double yellow, while not per MUTCD standards, conveys the appropriate information to drivers and cyclists here.

      • Paul Johnson says:

        Doesn’t even need the diagonal crosshatch, double-white lines already means no lane changes. You’re describing a flush median. Double orange lines means a lanes on either side travel in opposite directions with no passing allowed on either side.

        Though that’s probably also not the intended message; a thick, solid white line (lane changes between restricted lane and open lane is permitted with added caution) is probably the appropriate treatment, and is most likely what SDOT meant (since I doubt they intended to restrict bikes from making a safe lane change to turn right or to turn into the nearest lane from a side street and merge over).

    • Josh says:

      It’s hard to say what marking they’re “supposed” to have when essentially all the engineering and standards say not to do this — don’t create a 2-way sidepath separated from general travel lanes only by painted stripes.

      That said, SDOT is often rather casual about MUTCD compliance for bicycle facilities, but a bike lane is a preferential-use lane, so if it’s a bike lane on the left side of a street, markings between the travel lane and the bike lane should be as shown in

      • Paul Johnson says:

        They’re not creating a two-way sidepath in this case, though; just a roadway which is two lanes by one lane, and that one lane side just happens to be a diamond lane.

        You did reference the same standard I was going for, though, you are incorrect as categorizing the general access as “the” travel lane, since all three lanes are travel lanes…

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  4. Damon says:

    Will this whole street be resurfaced if/when the Missing Link (Shilshole South Alternative) is built?

    It’s hard for me not to read any work in this area like tea leaves, trying to predict the future of the Missing Link. Is SDOT signaling that they expect it to be several more years before construction begins? Or are they just microsurfacing because microsurfacers gotta microsurface?

  5. Chrispy says:

    With the new environmental review complete and unequivocal, shouldn’t construction on the Missing Link be starting soon? Like Damon, I wonder what the microsurfacing says about the prospects for completing this any time soon. Microsurfacing this stretch seems like a big waste of money.

  6. Michael Wolf says:

    Remove the rump rumble strips.

    We’ve got a great opportunity to not only make the trail smoother, but also to make the crosswalks smoother, too.

    The white cross “paint” that marks the cross walks is so thick that it acts like a rumble strip, so much so that I see the majority of experienced riders leave the trail to avoid them. Here are two notorious examples, where the BGT crosses NW Bowdoin Pl and NW 39th St. Cyclists will swing wide to the right to avoid riding on the thick paint, then rejoin the trail at the far end of the crosswalk. In effect, all the traffic is funneled off the trail, and joins in one section that’s only 3 inches wide.,-122.3617955,384a,20y,0.13t/data=!3m1!1e3

    I’d suggest thinner paint, or some kind of surface that does not produce this rumble strip effect.

    Who can I make this recommendation to? I’ve often wanted to improve this problem, but knew that the remedy would be expensive. That’s not the case now that the rumble strip has been ground off, and before it’s replaced.

    • Paul Johnson says:

      USDOT. Stop bars and crosswalk markings are supposed to be raised. Given that this is a known universal constant and appear everywhere in America, seems like the problem is more with the folks who can’t handle a standard pavement marking.

      • Michael Wolf says:


        Why do you assume the system is correct and that the users are wrong?

        Do you know why USDOT requires markings to be raised? Could it have been based on a use case that’s serves walkers instead of cyclists, and is therefore not as relevant here?

        For me, there is a SIGNIFICANT usability issue with how this surface affects my riding experience. My riding experience is degraded. Field research indicates I am not alone in preferring a smooth crossing over a bumpy one.

      • Paul Johnson says:

        I’m not suggesting that a zebra crossing (or even a crosswalk, as opposed to a more vehicular intersection) is correct for a cycleway lacking pedestrian facilities (it’s not). Just that raised pavement markings are preferred because they stand out more, particularly in low light or wet conditions, and provide a tactile feedback to wheeled vehicles.

      • Michael Wolf says:


        Thanks for the reply. I’m kind a new to the *design* of trails, but a long-time *user* of them. I appreciate that engineers know a lot about these kinds of things, but users also know a lot. In my day job, I try to get a bigger perspective because I find that neither side has the Whole Truth(tm). ;-) But, together, a better solution prevails.

        This particular project presents a rare opportunity to improve the treatment at an intersection, not merely to replicate it.

        Do you (or anyone else) have a contact at SDOT that I could discuss this with?


      • Paul Johnson says:

        Is it even in SDOT’s jurisdiction? The pacific northwest is prone to putting this in parks & rec’s jurisdiction, and if it doesn’t meet their architectural (not engineering) plan, It Won’t Change™. Portland suffers from this severely, as anyone who uses the Springwater Corridor can attest.

        Less often but more obviously pronounced in the midwest, such as the Riverparks East Cycleway (under the jurisdiction of the Riverparks Authority instead of the county, city streets, or either state highway system; something unique to that cycleway), where it’s hard to tell which lanes go which direction in places due to multiple lanes, all separated by white markings instead of the correct patterns, unique to that cycleway.

      • MichaelRWolf says:

        Thanks, Paul, for your analysis of traffic design. It’s way beyond me as an engineer, but as a user, it’s important to find a solution that works for users and has good engineering rigor behind it (including the ability to break the rules if we find that they don’t really work in this context).

        I found a project update on the trail yesterday —

        It contained contact information for Art Brochet at SDOT. The number I called was for a shared project voice mail box. I will share that conversation in this discussion thread when I get a return call.

      • Michael Wolf says:

        I spoke today with Art Brochet. His name is on the project update that I found on the path. Here’s a copy of my email to Kyle Rowe in follow-up to that conversation.



        I just finished a phone conversation with Art Brochet about crosswalk treatment as part of the microsurfacing project, and he suggested I contact you. I was happy to learn that the rumble strip effect is well known, and was sorely disappointed (pun intended) to learn that rider rump rumble strips will be reinstalled with thick thermoplastic.

        I do understand that you know about the issue and are looking for a better alternative, but are still planning to reproduce the problem by reinstalling a similar treatment. Perhaps I have a better solution….!!!!

        I know that this plastic comes in multiple colors because I have seen a rainbow crosswalk. Well… *black* is just another color! Could we surround the white thermoplastic crosswalk pattern with black thermoplastic to make a (nearly) seamless surface, similar to what’s done with white/green in other bike lanes?

        If you can make this black/white work, my butt will thank you every time I do *not* get rumbled as I commute to work! And, I’m sure that dozens of other commuters will be pleased, too, as I’ve observed that they swing wide to avoid the current treatment.


        P.S. If we did this, I would love to be part of a music video that pays homage to The Beatles or “Ebony and Ivory”! I even know some folks who have gone all “guerrilla artist” and painted a cross-walk to look like a piano keyboard! ;-)

      • Michael R Wolf says:

        Just spoke with Kyle Rowe at SDOT. He’s not on this project, but did forward my black/white idea to the Engineering team. It’s not in budget, but was seriously considered, especially since it was an out-of-the-box solution to a problem that they are taking seriouisly. There have been many complaints (comments?) about the user experience of crosswalks as rumble strips.

        The bad news is that the same material will be used to replace the cross walks. The good news is that only 1 layer will be used, and that will be less severe than the multiple layers that were previously on the road.

        Here’s a follow-up letter I sent to Kyle Rowe (and Art Brochet) at SDOT:


        Good to connect this morning on the phone.  Thanks for taking the rumble strip effect into consideration, even though there are no appropriate technical solutions now that would look like a crosswalk to vehicles on the road, wear well (especially with the heavy industrial traffic), but not act like a rumble strip to trail users.

        At least we now know that it’s a technology problem to be solved on future projects instead of a user experience issue that’s being ignored.  You mentioned MMA as a possible solution (especially if a contractor can do it and has the storage facilities for the product).  And… if future budgets allow, a black-colored filler in between the white-colored treatment could create a smooth surface to trail users, wear identically to the “rumble strip” treatment, and appear as a cross walk to vehicle traffic.

        Thanks for keeping track of this as a real issue, proposing the black/white issue, and prompting the engineering staff to pursue solutions to the “rump rumble strip” issue.

        Please feel free to forward this message to folks on the engineering team or others who may be on the project so that they may contact me regarding future projects.


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