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New Interbay bikeway connects the Locks, Discovery Park, Ship Canal Trail and the downtown waterfront

A new protected bikeway under construction in Interbay and Magnolia is about to fill a major gap in the region’s trail network and plug the neighborhood into one of the best trail networks in the nation.

A new two-way bikeway connects the Ship Canal Trail at Fishermen’s Terminal to Government Way (and Discovery Park) to the north and the Elliott Bay Trail to the south.

Once complete people will be able to bike from the downtown waterfront to Discovery Park and the Ballard Locks almost entirely separated from car traffic. The project also makes a vital improvement to the western terminus of the Ship Canal Trail, which until now ended just a couple very stressful blocks away from reaching Gilman Ave W. This improvement makes the whole Ship Canal Trail vastly more useful and comfortable.

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This project is a slam dunk because it makes so many high-quality connections, which is the biggest challenge to biking in Seattle. Our city has many great stretches of bike infrastructure, but most of them end abruptly without making a meaningful link to another quality route. A bike route is only as comfortable as its least-comfortable segment, and both the Ship Canal and Elliott Bay Trails have been held back by their poor connections to and along Gilman Ave W. 

The new bikeway replaces a set of very outdated and inadequate bike lanes formerly painted on Gilman Ave W, which were located far too close to parked cars to be safe or useful. The result was that people driving used the center turn lane to pass people biking, which is not a good solution for anyone.

The new design moves both bike lanes to the east side of the street, which has very few driveways and street crossings due to the train yard and major industry uses. This means people biking only have one busy street crossing between the Elliott Bay Trail and the Ship Canal Trail: W Dravus Street. The signals at Dravus are getting a new bike signal, which should separate the times when people biking cross the street from times when people driving make turns.

The W Emerson Bridge where it meets Gilman Ave W.

Locating the bikeway on the east side of Gilman Ave W also makes the connection over the W Emerson bridge to the Ship Canal Trail possible without ever crossing car traffic at the busy all-way stop. This is good for all users, but the removal of a left turn lane at the intersection has upset some residents (Side note to the petition author: This project helps people of all ages bike in safety and comfort, a major benefit you seem to have overlooked).

There may be ways to improve this intersection for everyone, but it’s important that all changes put safety first.

Construction is getting close to completion, and there are some interesting elements to the design. For one, buses on Gilman will now stop in-lane and board passengers in the buffer area between the street and the bikeway. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that SDOT is trying out this very low-cost solution for accommodating bus stops along a protected bike lane. The stops impacted have low ridership (the train tracks cut off that side of the street, greatly reducing the number of homes and businesses served by these stops), so this solution might not work in busier areas. SDOT has worked with Metro to come up with this solution, and I hope the agencies keep an eye on how it goes.

SDOT has also repurposed a heavy barrier to protect the bikeway across the Emerson Bridge, which curves in a way that anyone cutting the corner would encroach on the bikeway. Gotta love a smart solution that improves safety and reuses materials.

Now, if only the Ballard Bridge were safe and comfortable for people biking…

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26 responses to “New Interbay bikeway connects the Locks, Discovery Park, Ship Canal Trail and the downtown waterfront”

  1. Gary Yngve

    Hopefully increased usage here would encourage them to widen the fenced-in railyard trail, which they seem to be narrowing as a means to slow down cyclists, but is so narrow now that if two cargo bikes passing, one probably has to come to complete stop and pull as far aside as possible.

    1. Nick v

      I always thought it was a land constraint?

    2. AndrewS

      If you’re referring to the crazy tight spots on the Elliott Bay Trail south of the work mentioned in this post then good news:
      Page 23 of this pdf describes planned improvements:
      “The goal of the trail improvements will be to remove the bridge over the railroad tracks, widen the trail to 10 feet where possible, and meet AASHTO standards to the maximum extent feasible. ”

    3. Ballard Resident

      The sign says to walk your bike.

      1. Gary Yngve

        Yeah, that sign is stupid and offensive, almost as bad as the 5 mph speed limit sign on the Myrtle-Edwards trail. Let’s make the trail so narrow to force people to walk the bike, because they are just hipster rich kids joy-riding on their toys, not because they are actually commuting to work in the rain.

      2. Ray

        That sign is universally ignored, as it should be. I assumed it went up to absolve the Port of liability if there was an accident, but the majority of cyclists are careful and courteous on that stretch, and I’ve seen no collisions in 7 years of commuting on that trail. However, I can understand pedestrians feeling uncomfortable there when cyclists pass. I’ll be delighted if this part of the trail is going to be improved.

        As for the 5mph sign, I assume it applies to motor vehicles (port, parks, and events vehicles), even though it doesn’t say so. A completely separated bike path with a 5mph speed limit makes no sense at all.

      3. Ballard Resident

        I almost got hit by a bike riding the opposite way. Not sure why she swerved at me so that I had to grab the fence. That’s when I started thinking that perhaps cyclists should dismount.

  2. Damon

    This is amazing! How did I not know about this until now?

    Just one question: from the map, it looks like the path from the locks goes up that extremely-steep wooden-bridge path through Kiwanis Park. Have I got that right? That’s not exactly high-throughput — it’ll require dismounting and walking for most users, and edging past pedestrians and each other on the narrow bridge.

    I expect a lot of people will just take Commodore Way to the Fort Street Bridge and then link up with the new route there. Still a big improvement, but it’s too bad they didn’t enhance that part of Commodore Way instead.

    1. Damon

      (or in addition, rather, since I guess the locks use case is probably lower-volume than the Discovery Park use case)

    2. Ballard Resident

      Yeah, I use Fort Street and Commodore. The pavement portion of that trail in the tiny park is really bad.

    3. R

      The wood bridge over the R/R tracks isn’t steep but is slippery when wet or frost covered. I ride it but am mindful of my speed.

      Then half block uphill from the locks is fairly steep but not a big deal to walk if necessary.

      Unfortunately the biggest obstacle to crossing the locks is the Corps of Engineers absolute insistence that bikes always be walked under all circumstances on the property. Closing from 9:00PM to 7:00AM and forcing people miles out of their way to the Ballard or Fremont Bridges isn’t helpful either. I’m not sure how to change these policies but they are at the discretion of the facility manager and not codified in federal law.

      1. Eric

        Exactly. No true “bike route” forces you to dismount and walk your bike for 1/2 of a mile. I hate that this is seen as a bike route by the city, for no other reason than the dictatorial oversight by government engineering branch.

        (Across the locks themselves makes safety sense… but the entirety of the grounds is absurd. )

  3. Fish

    As a Magnolia resident, I’ve been waiting forever for this bike project and it’s really great. Since Magnolia is virtually an island, it has very little car traffic relative to the rest of the city but a disproportionate amount of bikes pass through. The bike ride up Emerson from the ship canal trail was the most needed improvement. Crossing what was 2 lanes of traffic while going uphill to get into the left turn lane towards downtown was horrific. My only hope is that they fix that intersection for cars and buses at Emerson and Gov’t way so that it’s not a 4 way intersection. Not sure the best solution–maybe a traffic circle? I just don’t want cyclists to get the blame for an intersection that the city could easily fix to make run more smoothly for cars.

    1. If you like this project make sure you let [email protected] and [email protected] know! They are getting an earful from grumpy neighbors – have they heard from you?

      1. Fisher

        Great advice. I’ll email them!

  4. SDOT’s graphic shows a line continuing from the northwest end of the path up toward the locks… and they really meant it! At least as of when I was there last week it didn’t look like much thought was put into how people riding east out of Discovery Park would get to the path. The bike lanes on the 32nd Ave curve have always been a bad joke, with cars parked across essentially the entire lane most of the time; now they’re even worse! I guess if the parked cars on the curve force you to take the lane you’ll be in position to merge into the median to turn left… this is sadly incongruous with a design that otherwise invites riders that don’t want to merge into arterial traffic.

  5. Ballard Resident

    Cyclists please stop at the red light at Dravus before turning right I’ve been nearly hit by two cyclists when I stepped off the curb to walk with the walk sign on!

  6. The Big E

    Great improvement for cyclists. Now that the construction has been finished for more than a month, the city needs to stop putting up barriers and signs saying “Bike Trail Closed” at every intersection. The new trail is now the only feasible place for cyclists to ride, since the roadway has no shoulders at all. Unfortunately, every day the signs and barriers reappear and block the bikeway. This forces cyclists to either ignore the “closed” signs or ride on a dangerously narrow, shoulderless and busy road. If Dongho Chang reads the BikeBlog, maybe he can intervene to officially open the bikeway.

    Also, city needs to provide a safe solution for getting on the southbound trail for cyclists traveling westbound on Dravus. The new signals now provide a green right-turn arrow onto Dravus for northbound vehicles simultaneously with a green light on westbound Dravus. Saw SDOT putting a sign saying no left turn to the bike trail today, but still not addressing the problem that numerous cyclists commuting from Ballard to downtown need to make that turn to access the new bike way and onward to the Elliott Bay Trail. Could be a good opportunity for a bike box…

    1. L

      Construction is not finished, and the ongoing activities sometimes force a southbound cyclist into oncoming traffic.

  7. eddiew

    how did SDOT provide for the bus stops on Government and Gilman?

  8. OrangeWheels

    I am more optimistic about this project than others, but I am still dismayed that SDOT continues to design and implement 2-way on-street bike lanes. My optimism for this project comes from the limited number of crossings and the fact that much of it is 12+ feet wide, but there are still a lot of 10′ wide sections that will be uncomfortable if bike traffic is more than a trickle.

    A course on bike/ped design put out by the FHWA specifically calls out 2-way bike lanes as a “practice to avoid.” The addition of a buffer certainly helps the conflict with traffic, but anyone who has ridden the 2nd ave bike lane knows that the issues with two-way lanes are still very real. All it takes is a pothole, pushy driver/taxi, or even a very slow cyclist to throw a wrench into the whole thing. I’m getting really tired of praising SDOT for making sub-par infrastructure.

    (The section on “practices to avoid” is all the way at the bottom)

    If anyone has more current resources on facility design, I would be very interested to see them.

    1. eddiew

      orangewheels: yes!

  9. Robert

    I happen to live right across the street from the new protected bike lanes. My feelings are a little mixed about the project. The new lanes on the Emerson bridge are awesome. Crossing that narrow bridge (especially going west bound toward Magnolia) was a royal pain, especially with that steep grade you have to negotiate. No more hair-raising merging to the left, which is nice. What people are grousing about, however, is the massive loss of parking spaces on 20th Ave W, south of Dravus. I heard that the bike lane in that spot will be eventually set up so there will be parking parallel to the bike lane (as it’s set up north of Dravus), but I’m not sure why that wasn’t set up in the first place.

    I don’t actually own a car and don’t have a dog in this fight, but I do lament the loss of easy parking for my driving neighbors, not to mention my friends who come drop by.

    All in all, it’s a great lane. And believe me you, 20th Ave W gets HEAVY bicycle traffic. It looks like Amsterdam down there. Well, not really, but by Seattle standards, 20th Ave W is a major bicycle arterial.

    1. Fish

      The removal of that parking space south of Dravus is a huge win. I also live in Magnolia and I can’t tell you how many local stories I read about residents complaining about people sleeping in their cars there and the number of needles that were found littered all over the area. Now you have a safe connection for cyclists and pedestrians and don’t have to worry about the RVs anymore. There’s enough parking in Magnolia for every person to have multiple cars.

    2. L

      I love the idea of the separated bike lane on the Emerson bridge, but I am concerned about the safety of fast downhill cyclists being shoved so close to the slow climbing cyclists (even closer than it looks because there is a vertical groove in the pavement in the westbound lane). Especially with that little bend reducing site lines. Cyclists are going to have to be extra careful there, and it will be risky to pass a slower climber up the hill.

      1. Gary Yngve

        Faster downhill cyclists should ride in the general purpose lane. Would be great for the city to post BMUFL signs to discourage harassment of cyclists opting not to use the cycletrack.

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