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Lander Street overpass plan needs better biking and walking access

The plan includes a trail on the north side, but what about people heading east?
The plan includes a trail on the north side, but what about people heading east? This looks like a dinosaur design from the 1950s, not a modern urban bridge.

doc_slanderst_ohboards_final-mapThe $140 million Lander Street Overpass in Sodo could be a big improvement for biking and walking in Sodo, but only if it done right.

The city has compiled $100 million in grants, partnerships and city funds to put the project on track after many years of pushing by freight interests in the city’s biggest industrial area. And while changes in bridge scale have helped put the price tag a little closer to within reach, those savings came largely by eliminating the bike lanes and moving all biking and walking access to one side.

We can do better.

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There is an open house today (sorry for the late notice) 4 – 6:30 p.m. (presentation at 5:15) at Metropolist. You can also visit this online open house or send comments to [email protected].

The current plan. There’s no sidewalk or bike lane on the south (left) side.

Lander Street carries only 12,540 vehicles per day (down 24 percent since 2007), but many of those trips are freight trucks. And for freight, time is money. That’s why industrial interests have been pushing for an overpass to get around constant train traffic that stops traffic on Lander for nearly 5 hours cumulatively in an average day (though many of these hours are outside working hours, it’s still a lot of waiting).

But Lander is also one of very few east-west options for people biking and walking in and through Sodo, and it is especially necessary for West Seattle and Duwamish Valley residents. Any major investment in this crossing must prioritize safety and the city’s goals to encourage biking and walking.

“The 2016 Lander Bridge design options as presently proposed, while eliminating conflicts with railroad trains, appear to increase conflicts between bike and motorized vehicles traffic, or between people biking and people walking,” West Seattle Bike Connections’ Don Brubeck wrote in a letter following the first open house on the project (PDF).

proposed_landscapingPeople traveling on the south side of the street should not be required to cross Lander twice in order to cross the bridge. Not only do these extra crossings add lots of time to every walking and biking trip, but they needlessly expose people to two additional busy and potentially dangerous crossings. In reality, this design would lead to people walking and biking on the south side of the bridge anyway, an outcome that isn’t good for anyone.

If the city and its partners are investing this much money (the budget for this one bridge is comparable to a decade or so of total bike investments at recent rates), there needs to be a sidewalk and space to bike on each side of the bridge like a normal street. Alternatively, if the city committed to building a protected two-way bike lane on the north side of Lander from 1st Ave S to Airport Way, then all they would need to add is a sidewalk on the south side of the bridge.

The good news is that a better bridge would be very easy to design and might even save money. With only 12,540 vehicles per day and the need to stop for trains eliminated, there’s no reason this bridge needs to have four to five lanes for traffic. Extra lanes might be helpful today to clear backups after train crossings, but things would easily (and safely) flow with one lane in each direction if those train backups are eliminated.

But no matter how they make it happen, walking and biking safety is not negotiable. And the plans as presented aren’t quite there yet.

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33 responses to “Lander Street overpass plan needs better biking and walking access”

  1. Andrew Squirrel

    We really need to start being logical about where we suggest putting two-way protected bike lanes. This area is not a good fit for that sort of infrastructure in my opinion. In a nearby scenario, sure, it would make sense to put one going N/S on the East side of Airport Way because of the minimal crossings and the way it follows the impenetrable I5 corridor. There is no reason there needs to be a two way protected bike lane along Lander St where there are gigantic intersections and, if implemented, dozens of new conflict points to deal with.
    I fully agree that we need some normal bike lanes across this new bridge. Thanks for stressing that.

  2. Southeasterner

    Once the Lander overpass is built I’m guessing the at-grade Holgate will be closed which will likely ramp-up traffic on Lander significantly, probably justifying the four lanes.

    The North side path makes perfect sense in terms of ped traffic as that is the side most commuters/residents will be on when they exit/enter the SODO Link station and various bus stops and walk over to Starbucks HQ…this is essentially the Starbucks bridge.

    For cyclists and everyone else it’s less clear. The current SDOT seems to be fully on board with two-way protected bike lanes with absolutely no connectivity which has the nasty side effect of dumping cyclists on the wrong side of the street facing traffic where the bike lanes end. If they could find a way to make this less awful (maybe dedicated lights/signals at intersections) then maybe the Lander configuration would be a bit easier to accept? However, given the recent track record I’m not optimistic.

    1. Andres Salomon

      Nope. According to SDOT’s own grant proposal, their models show traffic volumes increasing by only 2,000 vehicles per day. 15k veh/day is well below the need for 4 lanes.


  3. bill

    Great post, Tom.

    This bridge will dictate traffic patterns in SODO for a generation or more. It needs a forward- thinking design for all users. SODO is and will continue to change as the land becomes more valuable. A dependable east-west crossing will improve biking in SODO.

    Upgrading the Holgate crossing is not adequate, as anyone knows who has waited 20 minutes or more for a train, wondering whether to ride the extra distance to the Atlantic crossing or see if the train moves off in the minute.

  4. Are you kidding?

    Sure. Let’s delay a project that is 20 years behind, a project that was designed to mitigate traffic from SafeCo Field, and whose original funding was redirected to “fix” the Mercer Mess. If the advocacy community for biking wants any hope of collaboration from anyone in SoDo now or in the future, maybe you might consider that getting trucks off the surface grade means you have tons of room underneath.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Who said anything about delaying it? All they need to do is adjust the biking and walking spaces. This is the design phase, so we have some suggestions for improvement. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

    2. Alkibkr

      Lots of non motorized traffic goes through this corridor and there will be more in the future. Let them design it to be safe for everyone, not just motorized traffic. I think people walking and biking should still have the option to cross at grade, so they would only have to worry about trains and not cars, trucks and buses, and they wouldn’t have to climb a mountain to get across. Design crossing guards for the trains that can’t be surmounted when closed.

  5. Adam

    Thanks for the update Tom.

    I submitted a comment about the one-sided path. I also brought up providing a smaller walk/bike path through the Occidental section that’s going to be dead-ended. If they cut that street off it will force people walking and biking to go around to the intersection and wait for the light. It would be much better to build a small pass-through so non-motorized users can get through easier.

  6. taggart

    Isn’t SODO the “land of big trucks that will squash you”? I don’t even feel safe driving there in my _car_. I can see doing ped/bike stuff around the stadiums/lightrail, but maybe the rest should be written off as unsafe at any speed?

    1. Jonathan

      The area in question is around the light rail: there is a Link station at Lander Street.

      Don’t worry, you can drive around SoDo just fine, just understand and follow the traffic laws. Others may not be driving and may be doing ped/bike stuff by choice or necessity. They too deserve to be able to travel home, to work, or wherever else they need to go.

      1. taggart

        Sorry, I should explain more… I’m not a pro-car person advocating for more roads for driving, I’m a pro-bike person saying it might be _impossible_ to make that area safe for bikers as long as it’s an industrial area with huge trucks, trains, and other things not friendly to living things. Is building bike infrastructure in a dangerous area actually a good thing? Sure it makes things safer for people that already bike, but does it encourage people to bike in a dangerous situation? I don’t know the answer. I know _I_ wouldn’t bike there and I am comfortable biking in traffic on arterials. Just as there is currently discussion about lowering speed limits help survivability, I think vehicle weight plays a big factor too.
        Those of you that do bike in that area, where are you going from/to?

      2. Peri Hartman

        It may not be easy to build a bike infrastructure there, but it’s essential. How do you get from downtown to georgetown, for example? What about the people who work in sodo? Should they be forced to drive?

        Currently, it’s pretty miserable riding through there, once you get south of Spokane Street. If east marginal way is in the scope of your route, that is the one exception.

        Ignoring the need will reinforce the status quo – cars only. Time to get to work !

      3. I see bikes in the area all the time when running errands through SODO. We make weekly runs to this area on our cargo bike headed to Dick’s Restaurant Supply, Fieldroast, Young’s Market, 3R Computers, Georgetown Brewing, Cash & Carry, etc. The bike lane along the light-rail is great but the connections are terrible, both ends just disappear. All of the connections between 4th Ave and 1st Ave are terrible. The overpasses all built so far have been geared towards cars, such as the streets by the stadiums and the recently rebuilt Airport way bridge over the UP yard. Getting South to Georgetown is one of my frustrations. Spokane street was also rebuilt with barely any ped/bike access when the West Seattle Bridge was widened, yet it is the only non-motorized access to West Seattle. There are bikers and bike couriers that use the Lander area constantly. The area has been evolving beyond the truck culture as the light industrial base has been moving to the Kent valley and companies such as Starbucks expand their offices. The streets need to evolve for everyone, not just trucks.

    2. Sue

      It is definitely not a great place for biking, but we surely shouldn’t write it off. I do bike there to get to a couple stores, breweries, or Georgetown. I take the lane to make myself very visible, and if I feel lazy and slow or traffic is really bad, I ride slowly on the sidewalk and assume people will not see me when they turn in/out of driveways. One important rule I set for myself is to never pass a truck on the right, unless it’s very, very clear that the driver can’t move the truck (stuck at train, for example).

  7. Peri Hartman

    My first observation with this design is why Lander Street? I would like to hear why Hanford Street isn’t the desired location. My reasoning:
    1. Hanford connects to E. Marginal way, which has heavy truck traffic.
    2. Hanford is already used by trucks accessing rail yards to the north.
    3. Lander has significant traffic going to Home Depot and Starbucks Center. I see a potentialy traffic nightmare.

    The second observation is about mixing bikes and peds. If bike and ped usage is low, that’s probably ok. If not, bikes will be in the traffic lanes and Port of Seattle won’t be too happy. They may be setting up their own demise.

    The third observation is a Tom already stated. Why just one side? Make more people cross the street twice? Very unfriendly and will also cause longer walk times at intersections, further slowing down traffic.

    All may be justified but from the info provided by SDOT, I don’t see it.

    1. Southeasterner

      I believe Hanford was also studied but there isn’t enough distance from 1st to the West track to clear it at an acceptable gradient.

  8. Kirk

    How does this get prioritized over replacing the Ballard Bridge?

    1. Southeasterner

      Because people are getting killed and it’s one of the busiest at-grade crossings in the country. The question is why did it take so long…even longer than the Missing Link (*to date).

      1. Kirk

        Many people have died on the Ballard Bridge too, including cyclists. And the Ballard Bridge easily carries much more traffic than Lander Street’s 12,540 vehicles per day. SDOT identified the Ballard Bridge as the worst place in the city to bicycle, yet they continue to do nothing to improve it.

      2. bill

        There is no powerful business lobby behind a Ballard bike bridge.

      3. Kirk

        There isn’t a powerful business lobby behind any bike bridge. The last bike bridge built I think was the West Thomas Street Overpass. Powerful Queen Anne lobby I guess. A Ballard Bridge replacement would only have a side benefit for bikes, it is sorely needed for transit and freight.

    2. R

      I ride across the Ballard Bridge several times a week and don’t understand why so many people perceive it to be such a death defying act. It certainly isn’t my favorite part of the ride and I’m mystified as to why cyclists are willing to make the Southbound merge on to 15th but if you can walk and chew gum riding across the bridge isn’t a big deal if you don’t insist on riding 20mph and ignoring pedestrians.

  9. fred

    The City of Winnipeg is replacing a 100 year old bridge over a massive rail yard with a new bridge that includes a 6.5ft PBL and an 8ft sidewalk on either side.
    A view of the bridge: https://www.google.com/maps/@49.9143675,-97.1602427,3a,60y,10.83h,71.33t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sw7MRFovQobBjp2n2iEYvXQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656
    The functional design documents: http://www.winnipeg.ca/publicworks/construction/pdf/CPRyards/FunctionalDesign-CPRyardsCrossingStudy-2016-06-28.pdf
    Did I mention this is Winnipeg? A city not necessarily known for innovation, though they do have a great active transportation plan: http://winnipeg.ca/publicworks/pedestriansCycling/strategiesActionPlan/background.stm

  10. J

    Even more important is the fact that the combined ped-bike sidewalk (really, that’s all it is) is only 12 feet wide. At the ends, where there are markings separating the “lanes”, that works out to 2 4-foot bike lanes and a 6 foot sidewalk. That really doesn’t seem adequate to me…

    1. Jonathan

      Yes, quite true. They even seem to acknowledge this (perhaps unintentionally) in the diagram at the end of this page which suggests that the multi-use path isn’t wide enough for its multiple uses:


      Maybe they are just trying to set low expectations.

  11. scott t

    there seems to be a dense neighborhood east of i- 5…..i don tknow what type of connectivity there is under the interstate to the industrial area near lander st. there appeared to be a brewery and coffe shop neat forest and airport…..i suppose some bicylist would commute to this area from the neighborhood just east if i5 if the could get there easy.?

    1. The connectivity under I-5 at Forest is great if you’re into cuts and bruises.

  12. Law Abider

    The alternate would be 6′ sidewalks either side and a slightly wider outside lane with sharrows, which personally I don’t think would be a terrible design. Doing anything more is going to require a wider bridge and add millions to a project already under scrutiny. Then you have to justify that the ped/bike will even get used enough to make it worthwhile, which I would highly doubt.

  13. Frederico Chamois

    Lander is a pretty crucial street. It has a light rail station (SODO), Starbux HQ and many fine pot shops nearby. Importantly, between the West Seattle Bridge and the Stadiums it’s one of only two streets that traverses SODO E-W (and Holgate is a cluster on a bike).

    Lander crosses the half-finished SODO Bike Trail. If SODO is ever going to be ‘All Ages and Abilities’ bikeable, both Lander and Holgate need improved.

    I could live w/ the one-sided bike/ped path on Lander Overpass if there were any bike infrastructure on either end of the bridge, which, of course, there’s not.

  14. Thanks for posting this and starting the great discussion, Tom.

    We had several people from West Seattle Bike Connections at the open house. I was late because I got stuck waiting for a train, which is exactly why the bridge is needed to keep freight moving. Should work for bikes, too.

    SDOT PM Jessica Murphy says they are constrained by funding, but “tell us what you want”. So it’s time to formulate a good “ask”. Probably, as Frederico Chamois and others above note, it will be about the adjacent connections to/from the bridge to make it work safely and intuitively and efficiently for people to get to it by bike from East Marginal and the SODO Busway Trail and light rail station. Lander east to the light rail station/ trail could be improved, and Lander west to Colorado S and repaving cratered Colorado to S Hanford would be reasonable and low cost mitigation for the millions in savings to the bridge cost that they propose to achieve by not doing full protected bike lanes each side on the bridge. This area is a major employment center and West Seattle’s nearest connection to light rail. It should be easy to ride a bike there.

  15. Frederico Chamois

    It’s touching to see all the concern over this two-block stretch of SODO. But gold-plated protected bike lanes on both sides of the Lander overpass are irrelevant if the overpass isn’t connected to meaningful bike infrastructure in the rest of the neighborhood.

    If such infrastructure existed, one side would be fine. It doesn’t and SDOT won’t ever build it on the south end.

    So fuck it, build a rope ladder and tightrope for bikes on Lander. That would at least be consistent with the rest of the infrastructure in SODO.

  16. The bridge will be on the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board meeting agenda October 5, if you are interested in hearing more about it from SDOT’s project manager.

    1. Andres Salomon

      Thanks for the heads-up, Don.

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