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Work underway to replace S Holgate bridge staircase with ramp

Map from SDOT
The only sidewalk on the Holgate Bridge currently turns into stairs. SDOT is replacing the stairs with a ramp. Photo from SDOT.

The S Holgate Street Bridge is far from the friendliest bike route between Sodo and North Beacon Hill, but it is definitely the most direct. But because the only sidewalk on the bridge turns into a staircase at the Sodo end, people biking have to take the steep and often scary roadway. Worse, the bridge is not accessible at all to people who can’t navigate stairs.

But there’s some good news. The city is making some key changes to at least make the sidewalk accessible and provide an option for people biking who don’t feel comfortable or safe on the steep roadway. The project will also make some improvements to help people cross to the north sidewalk at the Sodo end of the ramp.

Work is already underway and will continue into September.

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The project will not make Holgate a great route for biking and walking, but it will address the most basic accessibility needs. And that’s a good thing.

Since opening a 2011 extension of the Mountains-to-Sound Trail that connects from the south side of the Jose Rizal Bridge to Holgate, the bridge has become an even more important part of the city’s bike network. For a huge number of homes, it’s simply the fastest way to get to jobs and other destinations in Sodo.

Shortly after the trail extension opened, however, the shortcomings of the Holgate Bridge became clear. Bicycle adventurer, writer, speaker, Beacon Hill resident and all-around hero Willie Weir wrote about his concerns with the bridge back in 2011:

Holgate, which rises to and descends from Beacon Hill, is legendary on this side of the city. It is the type of road that even some seasoned cyclists choose to avoid. If you are descending it from the top of Beacon Hill, you can easily hit 40mph without a single pedal stroke. You just take the lane and fly. The road crosses I-5, and at this point as a cyclist, you need to be hyper-aware as you dump out onto the left lane of traffic. Cars turning from Airport Way S are speeding to make the light at 6th Ave S. Many motorists like to make a left hand turn across your path as they exit the Office Depot. And the road surface is a photo op for the “repave our streets” campaign.

Can you imagine parents riding their bikes along with their two young kids tackling any or all of this? It sounds rather nightmarish.

With the stairs turned into a ramp, people will be able to take the sidewalk to get between the trail and Sodo. I’m sure people who feel comfortable going fast will stick to the roadway, but anyone who doesn’t will at least have another option.

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9 responses to “Work underway to replace S Holgate bridge staircase with ramp”

  1. Kirk

    This is exactly what they need to do to fix the Merge of Death on the Ballard Bridge. There are stairs leading to the underpass of Emerson, but SDOT won’t replace them with a ramp, even though it’s been suggested for decades.

  2. steve uglesich

    This ramp is much needed to compliment new side walk and new trail which used to be the jungle.

  3. Pedro

    That’s fantastic! There are only 4 ways down off Beacon Hill into SoDo: Holgate, Columbia/Spokane, Lucile and Albo.

    Lucile and Albro in Georgetown are safe, but really far south – way outside most people’s routes.

    Columbia is a deathtrap – you are basically riding on a freeway ramp where car-people accelerate to highway speeds.

    Holgate is the safest option… until you reach the bottom of the hill, at which point – deathtrap. This will help. Too bad it’s so steep…

  4. Skylar

    The first and only time I’ve biked off Beacon Hill to the west, I took Holgate and used the sidewalk because it looked safe. I had an OH SH*T moment when I saw the ramp, fortunately wasn’t going so fast that I couldn’t brake in time, and had a break in traffic so I could just hop of the curb.

    It amazes me that SDOT still needs so much poking to implement solutions that dramatically improve safety.

    1. Dan

      I totally agree. A couple weeks ago a friend and I were biking to Georgetown from the Mountains to Sound Greenway, and I took the sidewalk rather than the road when heading down Holgate. As I picked up speed, I looked for the stairs warning, but didn’t see anything, and proceeded at a fast pace, then had my oh shi*t moment as well. Unfortunately, it was a split second before the stairs, and I flew off at 20 mph plus. Thankfully, and rather miraculously, I hit midway on the second set of stairs, and then did a half somersault and landed at the bottom of the second set with no major injuries, although my neck and shoulder are still a little sore.

  5. Dolyn

    Long overdue but so glad it’s finally happening. Anyone know how wide the sidewalk will be? While not ideal due to the grade, it would be nice if the sidewalk were wide enough to safely accommodate two-way bike/ ped traffic.

  6. ks

    This is great for going uphill (no more carrying your bike up the stairs), but not really an improvement going downhill since the sidewalk is too narrow.

    1. Patrick

      It’s a gigantic improvement going downhill, because otherwise it was only a matter of time until someone flew down the stairs and died. The sign SDOT posted is tiny and easily missed, and even for those not ‘brave’ enough to bike in the street you can easily reach 20+ mph on the sidewalk just by not burning up your brakes. The slope hides the stairs until the very last minute. Honestly I thought it was negligent of them not to put a simple push gate or the like to make the end of the sidewalk visually obvious.

  7. This should be a valuable improvement for safety and access. It’s another piece of making the “Mountains to Sound Trail” actually go to the Sound, instead of being the “mountains to Beacon Hill” trail.
    Holgate is fine westbound in the roadway for riders comfortable at speed in the street. But it’s pretty steep, and it’s not possible to keep up with traffic going east uphill. Carrying a bike up those steps is hard, and getting to the steps from below is super treacherous.

    I hope the ramp grade is reasonable (ADA compliant?) and the bottom entry point will be well designed.

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