Lower West Seattle Bridge reopens, but closure highlighted major need for Sodo bike lanes

Map of trip starts from an SDOT presentation on the bike share pilot. Sodo is a major source of bike share trips.

The lower West Seattle Bridge has reopened following a more than five-day emergency repair of the vital biking and walking connection between West Seattle and the city center. The swing-style bridge was closed in the “open” position for maritime traffic during the work, forcing people biking to follow a miles-long detour to the 1st Avenue Bridge that required navigating industrial streets through Sodo that were in no shape to serve as a trail detour.

SDOT did run commute-time shuttles during the weekdays to help some people get around the closed bridge. But a shuttle is no replacement for a bridge, and people traveling outside commute times (or who did not know about the shuttle) were left with few good options for crossing the Duwamish River. And people who have never biked through Sodo before discovered just how neglected the bike network is in that major job center.

Of course, none of this is news to people who bike to work in Sodo or live in Georgetown, South Park, Allentown or many other South Seattle and South King County neighborhoods that require them to bike through the area regularly. And early bike share trip data highlights Sodo as a major source of rides. This data points to a big blind spot in local bike advocacy, which tends to focus on office job centers, retail businesses and neighborhoods rather than industrial areas. A ton of people are biking in Sodo despite the lack of safe routes.

The official bike detour for the bridge closure sent people down 1st Ave S, a very wide street with no bike lanes. To get a taste of how uncomfortable that route is for people biking, Robert Svercl made a little video:

And 1st Ave doesn’t just feel dangerous, it is deadly. Celso Diaz was killed at 1st and Andover while biking to work in November.

We argued during the development of the 2014 Bicycle Master Plan that 1st Ave S is a vital bike connection. A protected bike lane there was included in the first draft, but was deleted in the second. At the time, we called this omission “a huge mistake”:

Sodo’s most glaring change compared to the first draft of the plan is deletion of 1st Ave S. This is a huge mistake and missed opportunity. 1st Ave S is incredibly wide, and it would really not be difficult or intrusive to freight to build a safe bike facility there. It connects to a ton of jobs and destinations even without the planned arena south of Safeco Field.

The Bicycle Master Plan calls for a trail and protected bike lane connection along E Marginal Way in lieu of any changes to 1st Ave S. While the two streets appear interchangeable on a map, there are very few opportunities to cross the train tracks that separate them. If you are a bird, they are very close together. But on a bike, they might as well be opposite sides of the neighborhood.

But to make matters worse, an under-developement project on E Marginal Way does not include plans for the trail suggested in the Bicycle Master Plan connecting Diagonal Ave to the 1st Ave Bridge. This omission is unacceptable, and I hope Seattle’s elected leaders direct SDOT to make sure this trail is included in the project.

If the city really doesn’t add this E Marginal Trail connection, then that’s all the more reason to add and fund 1st Ave S bike lanes in its place.

The recent bridge closure happened too fast to mount a serious campaign to pilot protected bike lanes on 1st Ave S. But the idea is still good. SDOT could try out protected bike lanes on the street using low-cost materials like paint, posts and maybe some parking stops or planter boxes (which would dramatically increase the amount of greenery in the area). The bike lane could also demonstrate how smart street design reduces conflicts with freight, creating a win for everyone.

And I mean, just look how much space there is on this street:

A group of neighbors organizing under the name Duwamish Valley Safe Streets have done amazing work to advocate for a trail that would connect Georgetown and South Park. The city should support these neighbors by also connecting their local streets to downtown and the rest of the city’s bike network.

It’s well past time to stop neglecting bike routes in Sodo. We can do this.

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13 Responses to Lower West Seattle Bridge reopens, but closure highlighted major need for Sodo bike lanes

  1. Antonio Dos Ruedas says:

    The West Seattle bridge closure made some see for the first time how bad conditions are I. SODO (and RV too). So bad are the streets, the city arranged free shuttles to protect W Seattlites from them.

    1st Ave PBL would be great. But there are other, much cheaper ideas that would make a huge difference too.

    But it’s hard to see any indication that those projects -or any worthwhile projects- are under consideration in SE Seattle.

    The shuttle buses for West Seattlites were symbolic. Take care of those who matter. Let those down South fend for themselves.

  2. SMS says:

    Yes. This.

    I took the 1st Ave detour during the bridge closure. I bike from White Center to SLU so the overall distance was unchanged, but the ride up 1st Ave was unbelievably unpleasant. It took much longer despite being the same distance due to a combination of long stoplights and having to majorly slow down to bike over rough / pitted / gravelly / obstructed sidewalks, which I was using because I didn’t feel safe biking in the roadway.

    This was my first time biking in SODO. I hope we get some better bike infrastructure there to support folks who bike there regularly.

  3. Peri Hartman says:

    Even for the hardy, the streets south of Pioneer Square are unacceptable for biking. The traffic is simply too fast.

    Fortunately, the E. Marginal route from P.S. to Spokane street is pretty good. But once you get to Spokane street, you have to go through 3 blocks of gravel, parking lots, and truck lanes. No sidewalks, even.

    After that, you are dumped in traffic again or you can wind your way around through the north georgetown area. I’ve done this. Possible, but not practical and still not very safe.

    What is the city’s resistance to doing at least some paint? Want more cyclists? This is a flat area that could conducive to bike commuting. This, and Rainier S, ought to be the top two priorities for this scale of project. What is the city waiting for?

  4. Alkibkr says:

    When the 1st Avenue South Bridge was rebuilt over two decades ago, a safe crossing with fancy ramps was provided for people walking and biking, but on the north end, it dumps them out into a neighborhood that is nothing short of a disaster for people walking and biking. Not only must you navigate through this area to connect between Southwest Seattle and destinations to the north, this neighborhood has a South Seattle College campus, many industrial workers commuting to jobs there, and it is the home of the winner of the “Sorriest Bus Stop in the U.S.A.” competition.
    https://usa.streetsblog.org/2017/09/22/congrats-seattle-you-have-the-sorriest-bus-stop-in-america/

    This area desperately needs improvements for people walking and biking.

    Everyone in Seattle can vote for three Your Voice Your Choice street safety projects in District 2. I suggest you vote for this District 2 project (2A) to help make this neighborhood safer:

    https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.seattle.gov%2FDocuments%2FDepartments%2FNeighborhoods%2FParticipatoryBudgeting%2F2A.%252017-235%2C%25204th%2520Ave%2520S%2520between%2520East%2520Marginal%2520Way%2520and%2520Michigan.pdf

  5. Matthew Snyder says:

    Paint and posts on 1st Ave S would last about, what, 30 minutes? And somehow still manage to cost $42 million. If we’re going to actually do a 1st Ave S protected bike lane, let’s do it properly — not sure why we’d need to “pilot” infrastructure like this.

    Is there an updated BMP implementation plan for 2018, 2019, 2020? What I’ve gathered from SBAB meetings is that everything is basically on hold because everything costs too much, and SDOT wants SBAB to provide it with the cover to cut or punt projects that were on the previous near-term implementation schedule. The buffered bike lane on Columbian Way is supposed to start construction soon (BTW, what’s the planned bike detour for that project going to look like?), as is Swift/Myrtle, but I haven’t heard any updates about the timing, and neither had anyone else at the last RV Greenways meeting.

  6. bobco85 says:

    1st Ave has the space for PBL’s to be installed on both sides. Having only lived here for about a year, I had no idea how long this struggle to get safer biking through SODO has been going on until I made the video linked in this article. I’m glad it has contributed to the conversation.

    Since 1st Ave is part of my bike commute, I have gotten used to the need to take the lane however fast traffic may be going because I am a confident and skilled rider. Problem is, that doesn’t work for most people, and it still isn’t very safe. A few months ago, I posted a video of being passed in the same lane by someone who was clearly going around 60 mph in the 35 mph zone because the lanes are big and wide, turning a 2 lane road into a virtual speedway. I really hope they can get at the very least a pilot project going to show how badly bicycle infrastructure is needed.

    • Conrad says:

      Very well said. I did the detour all week. Asking the average bike commuter to mix it up in 45 mph traffic is not realistic I think. The bridge closure makes it very obvious that a better bike infrastructure is needed through SODO.

      • Conrad says:

        On the other hand. Realized that scuttlebutt, Georgetown, counterbalance, seapine, and no doubt some others are on the way home!

  7. skidog says:

    I was hit by a small mini van (delivery driver) on 6th ave commuting from North Beacon Hill to the Admiral District on Tuesday. I was avoiding first avenue as 6th seemed safer. I was not hurt (just lucky) The driver made a right turn with no signal as I was riding by on the shoulder. Am so happy the bridge is open again as the commute on the east marginal bike lane seems so safe despite all the semi truck traffic to the port. We will never increase bike commuter rates until the city enacts measures similar to Vancouver. Dedicated,protected bike lanes are the only answer.

  8. BillN says:

    North of Spokane St, I am not sure if lanes on 1st are the answer. Utah, Colorado or Occidental could be repaved and bike lanes added. I think most people would rather ride on a shared alley than next to the freeway that 1st ave has become. Unfortunately, you still have to go over the railyard and there isn’t many options for that besides 1st or 4th. I would hope someone at a holistic South end plan but it sure doesn’t seem like it. These lanes should be way cheaper than downtown, we just need for them to be given priority in the planning process.

  9. Ben says:

    The small section of trail that is intact in this area (SODO trail between the SODO light rail stop and the Stadium Station) is being taken over by the homeless. In most areas of the city, I do not feel any threat to my personal safety from the homeless camps, but this area is fairly isolated with a fence on one side of the trail and the back of buildings on the other. It is sometimes difficult to get through people and tents without walking and there is a lot of drug use. What to do to solve the homelessness crisis is a whole other issue, but it would be nice if the one bike path in the area remained usable.

  10. Meredith says:

    Thanks for advocating for a safe SoDo and the great work of Duwamish Valley Safe Streets! You’ve called out exactly the problem DVSS is trying to address. A TON of Seattleites do bike in SoDo, and more WOULD, but as it’s not a residential neighborhood, the advocacy for bike infrastructure hasn’t been focused there. The industrial businesses have, in the past, felt bikes were a threat to their trucking needs — I believe this is why First Ave PBLs were squashed. (Industrial jobs are pretty sacred to our elected officials.)

    I’ve lived in South Park for ten years now and used to bike 1st Ave to Pioneer Square regularly, but as the traffic has gotten worse everywhere, First is no longer pleasant or safe. I take it when I’m running late — it saves me miles and many minutes — but now that I’m biking with a kid regularly, I stick to the Duwamish Trail and the lower West Seattle Bridge: my life is worth more than a few minutes at work.

    A PBL on 1st or 4th or 6th would be great — as would a nicely paved and signed greenway up Utah/Colorado/Occidental. Or a real path on East Marginal connecting beyond Spokane! As would actually connecting the SoDo trail to parts south (!!). Something needs to actually happen. Businesses need to see that their employees are not a monolith of truck drivers and their customers are not a monolith of folks who need street parking. Lives count more than cars.

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