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Parks District detours Burke-Gilman users onto very busy street – UPDATED

Detour route map from Seattle Parks.
Detour route map from Seattle Parks District.

UPDATE 11/30: The trail is now open, according to Project Manager Sandi Albertsen. Thanks to friendly weather, crews were able to complete the majority of work two days ahead of schedule. There is still some shoulder work to finish, but they should not impact trail use significantly. Be patient if crews are working, of course.

When the Seattle Parks District announced work to repave some very bumpy sections of the state’s busiest biking and walking trail, I said the news “will surely come as a huge relief to the many people who battle abrupt tree root heaves on the Burke-Gilman Trail.” The investment seemed to finally catch up with the reality that the Burke-Gilman Trail is a vital transportation connection in addition to being a linear park.

So like the many readers who contacted us in recent days, I was dismayed to see that the detour for a tricky section of trail just west of U Village sent trail users onto busy five-lane 25th Ave NE for about a half mile. This street has no bike lanes, and crews did not create a temporary bikeway on the street to help trail users make the trip safely and comfortably.

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The Burke-Gilman Trail is a very important non-motorized transportation connection. At peak hours, sections of the trail near UW move about as many people as a lane of a traffic-clogged freeway (though volumes are lower in the fall and winter). The trail attracts people of all ages, abilities and confidence levels, many of whom do not feel safe or comfortable biking in busy traffic (really, very few people do).

This detour not only puts these users in danger, but it also tells them that the city does not take their needs or safety seriously. If the current detour selection and approval process allows this huge oversight to happen, then Seattle needs to fix the process.

I have questions out to Seattle Parks and will update when I hear back.

UPDATE: Project Manager Sandi Albertsen says the 25th Ave NE route was chosen because “there weren’t any good alternatives.” The work should be complete by Friday.

There was a concept for a different detour, but it would have required two weeks to create since it needed some new ramps and other work. Since the work timeframe is relatively short at two weeks, Parks, the contractor and SDOT’s street use team determined 25th to be the best option.

“As soon as we can, we’re going to open that section of trail back up,” Albertsen said. However, no detour improvements are planned beyond some better signage.

“I realize that [the Burke-Gilman Trail] is like the I-5 for bicycle commuters,” she said. All they can do is “apologize and ask for patience … We’ll be out of there before you even know it.”

Frustratingly, this is just the latest case of such an oversight (remember the Wallingford fiasco?). There is no standard practice at the city for making sure a comparably-safe detour is provided during trail work, leaving it up to concerned residents and advocates to lobby the city for basic accommodations every time a new construction project is started. Sometimes poor detour plans can be fixed before they go into action, but not this time.

UPDATE: Seattle Parks confirms that this detour plan was approved by SDOT’s Street Use Department, which granted the permit November 3. While it would be great in a perfect world if every contractor and department that works in the city fully understood the need for proper trail and bike lane detours, the Street Use Permit process is the best place for issues like this one to get caught and fixed.

In this case, for example, the Street Use team could have flagged the difference between the existing facility type (a trail) and the detour’s planned route on a busy street with no bike lanes. They could then be ready to suggest ways to temporarily provide a comparable level of protection, such as a temporary trail on 25th Ave NE (an idea Albertsen said never came up in the detour discussions). Or at least, they can direct the applicants to expert resources they may need to find a solution.

Nobody wants to endanger people, but not everyone is going to be well-versed in the options for non-motorized detours. If there is a place in the city’s process that can prevent this from happening again, it’s the Street Use Permit process. SDOT leaders should make this a short-term priority.

The solution could be rather simple. If there is no way to provide a safe way through the construction site itself, crews could line the westernmost lane of 25th Ave NE with cones or a barrier to create a temporary bikeway. This would leave the sidewalks open for people walking and provide a mostly-separated space for people biking. This detour would have the interesting positive side-effect of improving biking and walking access to U Village during the holiday shopping season.

Rough outline of where a temporary trail on 25th Ave NE could go (not an actual design). Base image: Google Street View.
Rough outline of where a temporary trail on 25th Ave NE could go (not an actual design). Base image: Google Street View.

People using trails don’t simply disappear when trail work happens. They need a safe way to get around the work area. Safety must be the top priority when creating a detour plan. Right now, it isn’t. It should not require public outrage to get safe trail detours. It should just be standard practice.

For more, see this KOMO report featuring NE Greenways’ Andres Salomon (an occasional Seattle Bike Blog contributor):

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51 responses to “Parks District detours Burke-Gilman users onto very busy street – UPDATED”

  1. Davepar

    I rode the detour this morning in the dark, and can confirm it sucks. The only thing that made me feel better is that I was able to pass 2 other bikers. I figured the cars would hit them first.

    On top of that, there is no detour sign directing people off 25th and back to the trail. At least I never saw it.

    I’m super excited that this awful section of the trail will be repaired, but there is no excuse for why a “bike friendly” city can’t figure out how to do a decent detour for a major biking arterial.

    Looking on Google Maps, the detour only needs to spend 1 block on 25th. Bikes could have been diverted onto NE 49th St, 24th Ave NE, and then Pend Oreille Road (the route I plan to take tomorrow).

    1. Davepar

      This is a pretty good alternate route on quiet roads and parking lots. It’s shorter and I think actually faster than the trail. The crosswalk light across 45th is pretty quick.

      1. ronp

        Yes, I use that route a lot, but some people are not headed that far north.

  2. ghjkl

    Can anyone provide a recommendation for SDOT contacts to lobby for some kind of improvement? (I think even signs alerting drivers that they are on a bike trail detour would be helpful).

    Does anyone know how long they are expected to take to complete this section?

  3. Andres Salomon

    Some things to note:

    This was closed all through Thanksgiving weekend, when instances of drinking & driving are particularly high. That’s not okay to be sending people biking onto 25th Ave NE during that.

    Speeds on 25th Ave NE are really high. There was recently a 7-car collision on 25th Ave: http://www.kiro7.com/news/local/2-hurt-after-multiple-car-collision-near-ravenna-park/459795687
    There’s no excuse for this. This road is unsafe.

    Traffic volumes on this stretch of 25th (despite being 5 lanes) are less than 12k veh/day: http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/docs/tfdm/2014_Traffic_Flow.pdf
    NE 75th is around 22k veh/day, and yet was successfully transitioned to a 3-lane roadway. There’s no need for 4-5 lanes on 25th Ave NE.

    25th Ave NE is being repaved next year. I’ve already argued with SDOT that they should be including safety improvements (which would likely be paint-only, but still). This would be a fantastic opportunity to remove a lane or two from 25th Ave NE for a week to see how well traffic flows with a reduced roadway.

    1. Stuart Strand

      U village could care less about bicyclists. No marked access from south west or north. No lanes in the shopping center itself. U village doesn’t want our business.

      1. Andy

        Why would you need or want a bicycle lane in U Village? Cars go like 5 mph and people walk every whichway – it’s the perfect example of a place where bike lanes would be a complete waste.

        Now, bike parking – that would be nice!

  4. Gary Yngve

    For those heading to 35th Ave or east, I recommend cutting through east campus (access road between stadium and hec ed pavilion to parking lots to Clark Rd). Then either 35th St intersection or cut through UW family housing to 37th Ave light and easy BGT access. If in the mood for nice views/nature, Union Bay trail to Urban Horticulture.

    1. Davepar

      I tried cutting through the UW campus instead this morning. Unfortunately the ramps at the Hec-Ed overpass are closed. I’m glad to see they’re improving the terrible ramp there, but carrying my bike up a bunch of stairs wasn’t fun.

      1. Gary Yngve

        Crossing the overpass to the Montlake transit station should be pretty smooth.

      2. Chamois Davis Jr.

        While the work is being done on the ramp, a temporary ramp is located on the north side of the ped overpass

  5. Gary Yngve

    What sucks even more is there exists no friendly east-west route across 25th to 35th north of the BGT. Car drivers speed on 65th and 75th, and the side streets lack stop signs on cross streets as well as traffic lights with ped priority signals for the arterial crossings. The arterial are too wide for a crosswalk without a signal to be safe for kids to cross.

  6. asdf2

    I have long been disappointed by 25th Ave. being treated as a car sewer, without much regard for non-motorized users in the area. The gap between 47th Ave. and Blakely St. is too far to not have a crosswalk, and 47th Ave. itself only has a crosswalk on one side of the street. The lights are also timed so that crossing 25th requires too long of a wait, along the recent signal upgrades at the Burke-Gilman trail have improved this somewhat (at least at that one intersection).

    Andres Soloman is right – there is absolutely no reason for 25th Ave. to be a 4-lane roadway. I really hope SDOT road-diets it when the re-pave it.

    That said, if you’re looking for a Burke-Gilman detour that doesn’t involve 25th, here is the route I currently use. At the intersection of Blakely/51st St., head west on 51st for half a block, then south on Ravenna Ave. (a tiny, dead-end residential street). Just before Ravenna Ave. passes underneath the 45th St. viaduct, you will see a dirt path that switchbacks down to the Burke-Gilman trail. At this point, you’re already south of the construction area, so just head south on the trail, squeezing around the “Trail closed” sign at Pend Orielle Road.

    Note: the dirt path that switchbacks down to the trail is steep enough that if you have a bike you’ll probably want to walk it, and is probably too bumpy to take a stroller on with a child inside. But, if you’re a jogger, this is absolutely the way to go.

    1. I’ve gone this way a few times. I’d qualify the last sentence a little more: if you’re a jogger and pretty sure-footed and the trail isn’t too sloppy and it’s light out…

  7. bill

    This route crosses the arterials at traffic lights: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/17829090

    Let the mayor know what you think about the Parks Department: http://www.seattle.gov/mayor/get-involved/contact-the-mayor

    1. ronp

      You can politely cut through Laurel Village as well.

  8. Doug Bostrom

    I had a looongg time to observe cyclists having to use this detour, after dark in heavy rainfall and during rush hour. It made me cringe; 25th is a magnet for motorists trying to repair their broken schedules by speeding (please just do the arithmetic on that, quantify the futility and then slow down) and seeing this mixture was pretty horrific.

    Even waiting a few weeks until UW winter break would have made more sense in terms of making better luck for everybody concerned.

    And as was pointed out elsewhere on SBB, this work isn’t being done properly given that no trenching and geotextile installation for root barrier is happening at the margins of the trail. It’s a hamburger with no patty.

    1. Joseph

      “no trenching and geotextile installation for root barrier is happening at the margins of the trail”

      I don’t know the technical details of how to fix trails right, but I do know that if they don’t do this right it will be about 18-24 months before roots return and we’re back where we started. Seems like a wasted opportunity for a longer-term fix.

  9. Ben P

    People making bike tours should also commute by bike. I have hard time imagining someone who commutes just being, sorry for the inconvenience, but there is nothing we can do. I don’t think making a lane from cones is something outlandish. The fact they don’t even acknowledge better options shows either great ignorance or shameful apathy

    1. LetsGo

      Good call. I wonder if anyone at SDOT actually commutes by bicycle.

  10. NoSpin

    There shouldn’t need to be a special ‘process’ for SDOT, WSDOT, Parks and other organizations to incorporate common sense into their decision-making processes. Unfortunately, this entire episode is yet another example of SDOT being a 100% auto-centric organization and unable to think of ‘transportation’ in a holistic way. It’s also disappointing that Rob Johnson, who should be leading on things like this, is MIA. A true transportation advocate on the City Council would be reading SDOT the riot act for this kind of poor performance.

    1. Andres Salomon

      I will speak up for Rob. I mentioned above that 25th is being repaved and that I’ve been arguing with SDOT for a road diet. SDOT is actually looking into it*, and I believe that the only reason that’s happening is because Rob put some additional pressure on them to do it.

      I know there are certain Councilmembers who feel like SDOT doesn’t take them seriously. SDOT is run by the Mayor; Council has leverage over them through the budget. There’s really only so much Council can do, especially for short-term things like this.

      I don’t know if Rob’s aware of the detour. I haven’t spoken with him about it.

      * Of course, “looking into it” doesn’t mean anything yet. They need to work with UW and SPD on a plan first. They said they’ll be getting back to me in January.

      1. NoSpin

        ” SDOT is run by the Mayor; Council has leverage over them through the budget.”

        WSDOT is run by the Governor, but that doesn’t stop legislators from holding them accountable in a number of ways beyond their budget-writing authority.

        If a WSF ferry has a recurring problem, you can bet every legislator in Kitsap county calls the director, the governor, and the editors of the Kitsap Sun to complain loudly; they hold legislative hearings and work-sessions to call WSF on the carpet to hold them accountable and at least try to get to the root of the problem.

        What happened when eastside commuters were furious about traffic disruptions related to the tolling of 405 HOV lanes? The WSDOT chief was ousted by Senate Republicans! True, it was an unusual situation – the WSDOT chief had been on the job three years, but never confirmed by the Senate – so legislators had more muscle than they otherwise would. But they used what muscle they had.

        It’s great that Rob may have used some influence to get SDOT to consider a road diet on 25th, but maybe certain Councilmembers feel like SDOT doesn’t take them seriously because there isn’t any reason for SDOT to do so? We need LEADERS, not timid councilmembers who will ask SDOT to look into something and take whatever answer they’re given.

      2. William

        I totally agree that the Seattle Council is far too passive – by any objective measure that looked at qualifications and experience (rather than politics) the current head of SDOT should have had difficulty being confirmed (a council power that extends beyond the budget). However, the move to districts is very new, the Council needs to adjust and will always lack the perspective that will come from representing a broad range of political perspectives. Furthermore, there would be a large liberal backlash in Rob Johnson’s own district if he represented his constituents too well at the expense of poorer parts of the city, although working locally and then replicating good practices city-wide is arguably the best way to reform an agency like SDOT

  11. Stuart Strand

    University Village doesn’t care about bicyclists. No marked bike access from south west or north. No lanes in the shopping center itself. U village doesn’t want our business.

    1. bill

      That is just a bizarre thing to say. I go to U Village pretty often by bike. It is easy to access from the Burke via Union Bay Pl. There are bike racks scattered through the complex. A lot more would be nice, but you can always lock your bike to a chair at one of the numerous Starbuckses. (Certainly the rack by Ibex is comical. It is too close to a concrete planter to fit a bike.)

      But why pick on U Village? They are not responsible for incompetent planning by Parks and SDOT.

      1. Stuart Strand

        Access to U Village was mentioned in the article. And I’d bet that the owners have more influence over planning of 25th than the bicyclist community.

        I ride into U Village when I have to (it’s on my commute route) and it feels very dangerous to me. Providing a few bike racks is so 90s and does nothing to improve safety of cyclists in their crowded car centered faux happy days “village.”

    2. biliruben

      You should qualify that and say it’s easy to access if you don’t mind riding in car traffic. With a little bit of coordination with UW and SDOT, it could be made MUCH more readily accessible to bikes and peds from all direction than it currently is.

      They don’t appear to have made any effort to create the obvious bike and ped connection crossing 45th from the golfing range.

      They don’t appear to have made any effort to improve the connection to the Burke near Chase.

      They don’t appear to have made any effort to improve the connection via Pend Orielle.

      They don’t appear to have made any effort to provide even the vaguest hint of a bike lane on 49th off of Union Bay.

      They don’t appear to have made any effort to connect the Burke through Blakely Village or Nordhiem Court.

      This is all low-hanging fruit to connect 10s of thousands of customers at UW less than a mile away with the major shopping district that has massive parking and traffic problems.

      And they let that fruit rot.

  12. Breadbaker

    Ironically, just before I read this I heard a radio ad talking about Seattle’s support for Vision Zero. Is Greg Nickels still mayor? You can’t talk the game of “zero traffic fatalities” and then put people on this stretch of road unprotected in the dark.

    I suggest we all challenge Ed Murray to bike it at 8 am next Monday.

  13. Dave F

    It’s a different area, but speaking of SDOT detours, I rode my bike to work downtown along 2nd Ave after taking last week off. There is a new, temporary, bike lane painted for 1 block adjacent to the construction site between what I believe is Stewart and Pine (I could be off for a block or two). It looks like SDOT finally realized cyclists need a better detour than unexpected signs saying “bikes merge with traffic.” The new bike lane is painted across the intersection, no less! It’s a great step, but it’s too bad SDOT didn’t add that lane a year ago, or institute better detours in other areas, like 25th.

    In my opinion, the city needs a complete streets policy stating that no bike lane or trail can be closed unless/until the city builds a safe, protected detour around the closure. The new facilities built as detours should then stay open, permanently, after the original lanes reopen.

    1. ronp

      We will get this when more protected bike lanes are open and more people are riding. Hopefully sooner though. Good idea.

  14. Bill’s alternative detour route looks good. This is on Parks to do better.
    SDOT is doing a nice job right now on the West Seattle Bridge Trail while repaving concrete panels that have been heaved and cracked between East Marginal Way S and the fishing pier over the Duwamish east channel. They divide the trail in half, separate it with barriers and pylons, and keep half of it open for bike/ped traffic while working on the other half of each section. Worth the extra cost where there are not good detour options.
    Photo here – http://www.facebook.com/WestSeattleBikeConnections

  15. Pedro

    Bummer about 2-week trail reroute.

    On the bright side, now you sheltered Northsiders get to experience what it’s like to ride in South Seattle every day of the year.

    1. Andres Salomon

      Don’t be a dick. Putting people in harm’s way is not a “bright side”.

      Some of us sheltered Northsiders have been advocating for things like a road diet and PBL on Rainier. We’re not your enemy.

      1. Pedro

        Fair point, Andres, A momentary inconvenience feels like equality. I believe they call that spite, an unattractive quality, for sure.

        Besides, it’s not y’all’s fault they don’t build down here, it’s my neighbors who fight bike lanes tooth and nail. They can’t stop rents going up, can’t stop their neighbors moving to Kent. But they can stop bike lanes.

        Brings me down.

        I’m sure you’d prefer a PBL on Rainier and lovely infrastructure in SODO. But it doesn’t matter. None of that will ever happen.

  16. Don Brubeck

    In addition to hijacking the thread, I think you are exaggerating just a tad, and could find reason for hope, looking out the next few years. Not that it’s all wonderful, but projects actually are in design or underway or built in South Seattle. Of the 60 miles of protected bike lanes and neighborhood greenways for the next 5 years of BMP implementation, a third are in S and SW Seattle, and most of those miles are in South, not SW. The city could do better in all geographic areas if more was budgeted, but a good share of the budgeted funds are going to the south end. Examples:
    Dearborn from Seattle Blvd to Rainer.
    Columbian Way PBL’s, combined with 2018 paving project, from Beacon to MLK
    12th Ave S PBL’s from E Yesler to S Charles
    Rainier from 50th S to Ithaca Pl S.
    Rainier Valley (and ridges) greenways
    Cheasty neighborhood greenway
    So, south enders, get ready to insist on good detour routes!

    1. Pedro

      No offense, don’t mean to ‘hijack’. But this blog doesn’t really cover bike issues in SE Seattle. So, I do in the comments section.

      SE Seattle is a very dangerous place to ride. And with the exception of the long-delayed NS Greenway, none of the crappy projects that SDOT has planned for SE Seattle will improve it.

      Your list:

      Dearborn from Seattle Blvd to Rainer. – Irrelevant to SE Seattle if you can’t get there on Rainier (Nice for Bellevue riders though)

      Columbian Way PBL’s, combined with 2018 paving project, from Beacon to MLK — Nobody will use this – it’s a 160 ft climb, twice as high as Dexter. They had to fix Westlake because people avoided the Dexter climb.

      12th Ave S PBL’s from E Yesler to S Charles — I think it’s Yesler to Jackson, right? Not SE Seattle

      Rainier from 50th S to Ithaca Pl S. — This is a beautiful bike lane… to Renton. They also built a lane on Renton Ave S from Rainier Beach south to Skyway. RV Valley is in S Seattle, we need to get north to downtown, not south.

      Rainier Valley (and ridges) greenways — Yes! One project that will make a difference in RV. I’m excited for it.

      Cheasty neighborhood greenway — A bike climb up a 250ft hill. Glad it’s there, great for a Sunday pedal. But RV doesn’t need another way to get to the top of Beacon Hill.

      SDOT’s SE Seattle bike projects are simply not addressing the problems down here. I know they have smart people working there, they must know that.

      But I think anti-bike political pressures make it impossible to the 2 or 3 projects that would make a real difference. And there are so few bikers down here (largely because it’s unsafe to ride) that there’s no juice to push back.

      I’m not trying to pick a fight with anybody – feel free not to respond. But please don’t suggest SDOT is helping cyclists down here. It’s just not true.

      1. Crossing I-90 on Rainier is critical to connecting the bike routes that should come from “Accessible Mount Baker” to Dearborn and downtown. It’s also one of the harder things we’ll have to do (because of ramp crossings, underpass geometry, light rail station interaction).

        The approach of many agencies around here is to define projects they can do and defer the hard stuff. It would be better if they started working on the hard stuff early! Here it’s particularly bad because there will already be work going on for the light rail station… at the very least, improvements for crossing some of the ramps should be looked at! If not we’re going to have to re-do a lot of the street-level work for the light-rail station later.

  17. Tim F

    I had a friendly but frustrated talk with someone who was walking on 25th this morning. She was upset at people biking on the sidewalk, but she understood completely when I pointed out the trail was closed. While some people were riding in the street, it was a very busy day and the safety issues were obvious. I don’t feel I can “control the lane”, especially on rainy days at rush hour in the dark and uphill. She pointed out that an elderly pedestrian was having trouble with the additional bicycle traffic on the sidewalk. I’ve had issues with the many busy driveways and well-attended bus stops as well. It’s not like this kind of maintenance is at all uncommon. The city needs a toolbox that can better meet the needs of everyone. That includes better detours, as in a temporary lane on 25th as well as multiple safe routes (in my case, protected lanes on 65th would have allowed me to get to Roosevelt safely).

    1. bill

      Tim — You should copy this comment to SDOT and the mayor. It is important to point out collateral problems like this.

      FWIW, I think you would find the detour I offered (above) unstressful even if you have to go out of your way to reach it. Its only demerit is the very slow traffic lights crossing Montlake.

  18. Ben

    >>UPDATE: Project Manager Sandi Albertsen says the 25th Ave NE route was chosen because “there weren’t any good alternatives.” The work should be complete by Friday.

    Why don’t they say, SDOT sucks and doesn’t have enough cycling infrastructure.

  19. S. Rose

    On the upside, Calvary Cemetery is convenient to the… ah… crash zone.

    This plan was approved on 3 November, but nobody in the affected community noticed until it was implemented. Is there something like a feed of permits issued by the Street Use Department that could be monitored so that feces can be diverted before they hit fan blades? Because the process is clearly broken, but maybe needn’t be.

  20. Chris G

    Road it last night, they got rid of the big bumps that went across the trail (I think there were 3, and the pavement is nice, but slightly bumpy for some reason. Also, they didn’t even fix the giant 3 dips in the trail that are directly under the part that goes under the 45th bridge. Happy it’s over, but pretty disappointed with what they decided to fix. (Had a huge freakin section closed, why wouldn’t you just fix everything in there!!!!!)

    1. Robert Norheim

      Because those dips are on the part owned and maintained by UW, not the city…

      1. Chris G

        So they only fixed parts that are only owned by the city?

        Did UW do the repairs south of the closure region or was that the city?

      2. Robert Norheim

        Obviously the same contractor did the work at the very north end of the UW section. I don’t know whether UW kicked in some money for the project or Seattle Parks did it out of the goodness of their hearts. Since it was contiguous with the work that Seattle was responsible for, it could all be done in one go and no extra time. The dips under 45th would probably need to have been done separately, lengthening the duration of the detour.

  21. Jack Nolan

    That detour lasted 3 days!

    What a hassle. They should have totally spent another couple hundred thousand just to make a bike lane.


    1. Andres Salomon

      It was longer than 3 days. I noticed the detour on Nov 23rd; since I don’t go that way often, I might’ve been closed earlier. The original plan had it opening back up on the Dec 2nd.

      A road diet that grinds off paint and re-stripes the road costs a couple hundred thousand. I’m pretty sure just temporarily dropping cones would’ve been pretty darned cheap. SDOT certainly already has the cones!

      1. S. Rose

        You see that little man under the bridge? That’s a troll. He isn’t your friend.

  22. Stuart Strand

    All done and I think it’s great. Smooth as a baby’s bottom for the most part. Good for few years I hope. But that long oblique linear feature of little potholes will be back. May be a leaking pipe under there somewhere. Anyway, the crew did a great deal of good work very quickly. Good job by the field crews; it was the planning folks in the office that let us down.

  23. […] the Burke-Gilman Trail was closed for repaving this fall, users found that the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT)-approved detour sent them onto a […]

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