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First section of new Arboretum Trail opens near Madison Valley

A construction map showing the area completed
A construction map showing the basic area completed (mostly finished trail stretches further, but is blocked just north of Arboretum Drive)

A key section of the new WSDOT-funded Arboretum Trail opened late last week, connecting Madison Street to the car-free Arboretum Drive.

The segment is fairly short, but it is one of the most important stretches of the whole plan for people biking. The trail gives people a way to get to Arboretum Drive without needing to bike on one of the busier sections of Lake Washington Blvd. Arboretum Drive is a beautiful, hilly route through the Arboretum that provides a lovely route for people heading to Montlake.

This connection will be even more important later this year when the 520 Trail touches down in Montlake, creating a direct biking and walking link between Seattle and Medina for the first time ever.

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The full Arboretum Trail is scheduled to be complete late this year. Connections at the north end won’t truly be finished until the 520 Bridge project completes construction of its massive makeover of the Montlake area.

I biked down to check out the new section of trail and put together this video:

Some notes:

  • For people heading north on Lake Washington Blvd or turning left from Madison Street may miss the start of the trail, especially if they are focusing on traffic and avoiding all the bumps in the road. Some green paint marking could both guide people to the trail and alert people turning right from Madison to northbound Lake Washington Blvd to expect people on bikes.
  • Or better yet, improve the channelized right turn from westbound Madison to northbound Lake Washington Blvd so turning traffic moves slower and can be prepared for people on bikes heading to the trail entrance. As it is, people biking need to cross the path of people turning right, which feels dangerous (my biking danger spidey sense went off when I was trying it, which is usually a bad sign).
  • The connection to southbound Lake Washington Blvd and Madison Street needs work better for people heading north on the trail. Especially when the street is busy, it is very difficult and potentially dangerous to make a left from 31st Ave E to Lake Washington Blvd. I rerouted to use the crosswalk instead, but it is not designed to handle bike maneuvers for people heading south on Lake Washington Blvd. This may be the most common direction trail users will be trying to go, so this is a big need. A cheap and easy short-term solution would be to add a bike turn box on southbound Lake Washington Blvd at the Madison intersection. But this intersection needs serious help.
  • The trail has an odd 10 mph speed limit for people biking. I say “odd” because most people naturally and safely cruise somewhere between 10 and 15 mph. While trail speed limits in general can be problematic (bikes typically don’t have speedometers, so most people don’t know the exact speed they are going), a limit of 10 is going to make nearly everyone biking into a rule-breaker. King County uses 15 mph on trails, which is at least more reasonable. And I agree with the point of the speed limit, which is to say that this trail is not designed for people to push their limits or go on fast training rides. If you want to go fast, then stick to the road. There may be a better way to get that message across than an arbitrarily low speed limit that most people can’t measure anyway.
  • At the end of the video, note the need for the traffic signal to #GivePedsTheGreen.

More details on the new section of trail from Seattle Parks:

Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR), the University of Washington Botanic Gardens and the Arboretum Foundation are excited to announce that on Thursday, March 23, 2017, the first section of the new Arboretum Loop Trail in the Washington Park Arboretum opened to visitors.

The new path from 31st Ave. E and E Madison connects Arboretum visitors to Arboretum Dr. via the new paved asphalt path. Additionally, a short section of trail on the west side of Arboretum Dr. is open to pedestrians, connecting access up to the Pacific Connections Garden. The path is ready for use; landscape and other work elements will continue into the spring.

The Arboretum Loop Trail is a multi-use path open to pedestrians and bicycles. Bicycles in the Arboretum are welcome on asphalt trails only; they must yield to pedestrians and follow the maximum speed limit of 10 mph.

The Arboretum remains open during construction and visitors are asked to follow detour routes as construction progresses to the north. SPR and the contractor appreciate your patience and cooperation as we work on this project. We anticipate completion of the trail by early 2018.

The Arboretum Loop Trail is a 1.2-mile trail that will connect to Arboretum Dr., creating a 2.5-mile path through the Arboretum and provide improved access to the flagship public garden.

SPR is happy to open this key section of the trail. Safety for visitors, contractors, volunteers and staff continue to be the priority during construction of the Arboretum Loop Trail. To receive construction updates please visit LoopTrail.seattle.gov.

In June 2013, City Council approved $7.8 million from WSDOT to fund implementation of the Arboretum Loop. This project, as outlined in the Arboretum’s Master Plan, is a key component of mitigation work being done as part of the SR 520 Bridge replacement. The Loop Trail fulfills the Master Plan’s three primary goals: conservation, recreation and education. It will also improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists visiting the Arboretum. Additionally, the project restores portions of Arboretum Creek and nearby wetlands.

For more information about the project visit http://www.seattle.gov/parks/about-us/current-projects/washington-park-arboretum-loop-trail For additional questions please contact project manager Garrett Farrell at [email protected] or 206-233-7921.

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10 responses to “First section of new Arboretum Trail opens near Madison Valley”

  1. R

    An asphalt trail, I hope somebody installed some sort or root barrier or the 10mph speed limit will become engineered traffic management in a few years.

    1. jaded-wheels

      Seattle Parks & Rec made this trail…same folks who bring us the Burke-Gilman. Their root management on the B-G isn’t an encouraging example.

      1. William

        But if you look at the long timeline, the amount of space occupied by construction, the amount of equipment on site, and the mess they are making in the process, you had better hope that they dealing with roots.

  2. ronp

    great video, trail looks excellent

  3. Ray

    I used the trail southbound on Friday, and for that little section, it’s much more pleasant than squeezing alongside cars (or crawling behind them) leading to the lights at Madison. But as you note, safely getting back onto southbound Lake Washington Blvd is challenging. I didn’t take the crosswalk, and had to deal with busy southbound traffic heading through the Madison intersection, and a car turning onto northbound Lake Washington Blvd from 31st. I only got across thanks to the courtesy of drivers in both directions, who stopped and waved me through. I can’t expect that to happen every time, and I agree the whole intersection needs a re-design to accommodate this trail. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll probably skip using it southbound.

  4. Janet Heineck

    Great video and thanks. Hope I live long enough to see this safe trail connection finished between Montlake and the Japanese Garden.

  5. Jack


    Although I bet the Freds continue on the road since they look cool and think they are fast.

    1. Build a trail covering a key bike-network gap. Set a speed limit or build with a design speed below beach-cruiser-dawdling speed. If people ride normal-transportation-cycling speed on it, complain that cyclists are menacing pedestrians. If people ride in the road to avoid these predictable conflicts and complaints, complain that they’re blocking traffic. Call them all Freds, yeah.

      Rinse. Repeat. Rinse. Repeat.

      FWIW I wouldn’t commute on Arboretum Drive unless I was going really slow. I don’t even run fast on Arboretum Drive. It’s a quiet, contemplative space, and it should stay that way. The “Freds” should stay out on the main road, and for now commuters will probably continue to do better there, or on the Lake Washington Loop route to the west, because Arboretum Drive just isn’t a good or appropriate commute route. But when this trail is truly finished, it will become an important transportation link. Not an appropriate place to set up a paceline, but a path that’s used by cyclists riding through, just as the road is used by drivers. If we want to make sure inner paths like Arboretum Drive stay quiet and contemplative, this path has got to be the path of least resistance for everyday transportation.

      1. ODB

        Here’s a donut-hole theory of bike infrastructure: planners have design templates that are suited only for slow and timid riders. These inform designs like Westlake and the new super-narrow bike lanes separated from traffic with posts that preclude passing slower riders. The older-generation minimalist treatments (e.g. sharrows and paint) are ok for faster riders. But for the in-between speed riders who want more separation from fast-moving traffic, there is a lack of good designs. I guess greenways may be the best. The closer bikes get to car speeds, the more bike lanes should probably look like car lanes, which requires more space and separation from pedestrians. Until bikes become much more prevalent, it will be hard to justify taking that much width, which means for now we’re stuck with designs suited to the two extremes of the speed spectrum.

  6. bill

    I used the new trail southbound yesterday. It is much nicer than riding on the road or the sad excuse for a sidewalk on the other side.

    Continuing south on Lake Washington Blvd is not hard. Go left through the gas station to the farthest driveway. Turn right on Madison and get in the left turn lane.

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