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West Seattle Link might destroy the Sodo Trail, but that could be a good thing

The Sodo Trial in Bike Master Plan. The planned extension is marked “17.”

SDOT has been planning an extension of the Sodo Trail to reach Spokane St under the West Seattle Bridge for a while now, but that work could take a major turn if Sound Transit chooses a West Seattle light rail alignment that displaces some or all of the existing trail.

At this point, the project team is still proceeding with design for a trail along the busway and light rail tracks assuming Sound Transit projects won’t change the area, according to an SDOT staff update to the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board.

However, there is a chance that Sound Transit will decide to use the existing trail right of way. If that happens, design changes or even an entirely new route may be needed. The Board expressed the need for a connection, and SDOT Liason to the Board Serena Lehman said the department would work with Sound Transit to identify an alternative option if the trail is removed or impeded.

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And trading the Sodo Trail for a different nearby connection might not be such a bad thing.

The Sodo Trail is a little oasis of low-stress biking surrounded by wide and often scary industrial streets. But access to the trail is awful from just about every direction. And the prospects for connecting bike routes to it are a bit difficult. It directly serves Sodo and Stadium Stations, but that’s really the only thing it does well. The connections to nearby businesses, the International District, West Seattle and Georgetown are all pretty rough.

4th or 6th Ave S, on the other hand, have much more complete connections. They serve more destinations and workplaces than the trail and have great potential for connectivity at their north and south ends.

Today, both these streets are very stressful for people biking and walking. But if SDOT and Sound Transit partnered to build a high-quality protected bike connection and walking upgrades to one or both these streets, the result could revolutionize biking and walking access in Sodo to a greater extent than the Sodo Trail ever could.

And protected bike routes and improved walkways are good for freight mobility because they separate the modes and remove conflicts. People already bike and walk a lot on both 4th and 6th, but they do so without safe infrastructure and proper separation from big trucks.

As we have learned from the bike share pilot data, Sodo is a major bike destination that has been largely ignored by city bike planning to date. But of course people are biking there. There are lots of jobs near downtown that are poorly served by transit. That’s the perfect recipe for biking, even if the bike lanes and trails are lacking.

The Bicycle Master Plan calls for the Sodo Trail to be extended and for new protected bike lanes on Airport Way. But WSDOT has reportedly pushed back on the Airport Way plans because that road is the I-5 alternative in case of major shutdowns or construction. This is an awful excuse for blocking a desperately-needed bike route, but so far the city has not pursued these lanes.

So with both major Bike Plan connections in jeopardy, 4th and 6th Avenues seem like the only options left. 4th Ave S is an enormously wide street with lots of potential for a more efficient redesign. 6th Ave S is less busy than 4th, but it would likely need a lot of work to create complete biking and walking paths.

But especially if light rail options using the existing trail right of way save Sound Transit a lot of money compared to other alternatives, it would make a ton of sense to invest some of those savings in biking and walking access on nearby streets.

Final Sound Transit alignment decision should come in early 2019, so we’ll know then whether the Sodo Trail will be displaced. So, readers, start dreaming about what you’d really like to see in Sodo.

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19 responses to “West Seattle Link might destroy the Sodo Trail, but that could be a good thing”

  1. Sam

    Cliff Notes Version of this post:

    Depending on the whims of the Public Train Monopoly, the only existing bike infrastructure in SODO will probably be destroyed.

    But that’s cool, b/c when it is destroyed, we can all dream about other bike projects unlikely to ever be built in SODO, while thanking our lucky stars we don’t live in South Seattle.

    I get that about right?

    1. Rich Knox


    2. Alkibkr

      Agree 100%, I don’t like to see a headline like that on the Seattle Bike Blog.

    3. Conrad

      Nailed it!

  2. Peri Hartman

    2nd Ave S would probably be the nicest option. It also connects nicely to the existing 2nd Ave bike way. But, logistically, it’s more difficult with the high level of traffic. 4th is even more difficult in that regard.

    So, I pick 6th. Not much traffic, mostly underused wide lanes. Yes, it has trucks and driveways, but they are relatively lightly used. Along with 6th, keep the elliot bay trail. With the two routes, both sides of the tracks and hwy 99 are served. Both can connect to existing bike infrastructure.

    1. Peri Hartman

      I meant 1st S, not 2nd S.

  3. ChuDlife

    Or, the SODO trail could be extended along side of the new track right of way actually connecting it to West Seattle. Currently the options for biking from SODO to the low bridge are all pretty horrible, and the SODO trail just dead ends. If the visioning is done correctly for a multi-modal corridor (rail, buses, and bikes) then it would be simple to install a bicycling backbone route through SODO. but it is going to take a fresh outlook by the infrastructure designers to connect these things together so that they go somewhere.

    1. Paulish

      I’ve always thought this idea could work. The rail bridge will presumably need a path adjacent to the track for Maintence access and emergency evacuations. If this path was designed as a 12’ pathway it could also serve bike commuters. Such a route would be stress free and offer incredible views.

      On the Arata side, it would climb at a roughly 5-6% grade, because light rail can’t go up steep hills. The climb would feel pretty flat for people on bikes. On the west side, it would deposit bikers at a similar elevation to the West Seattle bridge touchdown, thus eliminating a steep climb from Delridge.

      You could even throw in an elevator connection at East Marginsl Way to allow people to skip the climb from downtown and connect to the waterfront trail. (San Francisco is planning for a similar elevator to connect its waterfront to a future Bay Bridge bike path).

      At first glance, this might seem like an insanely expensive example of scope creep to the West Seattle light rail expansion, but since the bridge will likely need the pathway anyway, it should be feasible to include it in the design if it’s plannef from the outset without adding too much to the cost. Itseems worth exploring anyway.

      In removing the hills and traffic crossings to and from West Seattle, the City could probably significantly increase bike mode shsre in the West Seattle to Downtown Corridor.

      1. Paulish

        *Apologies for the typos, I wrote this on my phone

  4. Andres Salomon


  5. Pedro

    There’s literally no 2nd or 5th in SODO and 3rd doesn’t go thru. Our choices are 1st, 4th, 6th or Airport.
    — Airport would be ‘easiest’ (few businesses/driveways) to disrupt. But it’s really far from where people need to get (the only NS street w/out a pot shop, ha!).
    — 1st and 4th would be ideal (in the heart of the biz district, jobs, shops) but are veritable drag strips and would require serious protection and face huge political challenges from businesses.

    Here’s an idea – open up the busway to bikes. The busway already stretches from the Greyhound station to W-SEA Bridge. Connect busway northbound to Dearborn and southbound to Georgetown via 6th.

    Build E-W bike lanes on Industrial Way, Spokane, Lander, Holgate and Royal Burgington(?). BOOM, SODO is complete!

    Ha! While we’re at it, I’d like a pony and a car that flies.

  6. Alkibkr

    Just build the SODO trail extension already. For people commuting between West Seattle and Beacon Hill this is a critical piece of infrastructure that is already built except for the extension. Fourth Ave South was a total fail where they recently paved 7 lanes of general traffic between Spokane and Lander, without adding even a painted bike lane or patching the sidewalks. It is worth your life to bike on it. We already have a very wide sidewalk on the north side of Spokane Street that was built not too long ago and intended as a multi use trail complete with artwork. It just needs to be connected to the existing infrastructure. Build it and then let Sound Transit replace it with an alternative facility if they need to. Starting to dream about alternative routes might be good for you young folks, but I have been bike commuting for 22 years on unsafe routes through these areas, I don’t have that much time left, and frankly, I am tired of waiting for action from the city to connect existing infrastructure that they point to and brag about but is virtually useless because it doesn’t connect you to anything.

  7. Not safe or wise to tear up a good mult-use trail to build less-safe bike lanes on major truck streets. We have so many other needs in S and SW Seattle! Preservimg the SODO Busway multi-use trail, along with the planned improvements to East Marginal Way S on the other side of the railroad tracks, is essential for safe through-bike routes from Georgetown, South Park and West Seattle, and local access to the SODO station that safety separates pedestrian and bike traffic from truck and train traffic.

    SoDo is by design an area that gives priority to freight movement. It is the intermodal freight transfer point for our deepwater seaport. Its transportation efficiency is essential to the region’s economic vitality. However, the priority for movement of ships, large trucks, and trains presents safety risks, especially for people on bikes. Separated off-street paths or solid-barrier-protected bike lanes are needed to separate bike traffic from heavy truck traffic for the major routes through SODO and to the SODO station.

    The SODO Busway trail already meets the safety and mobility goals of the Bicycle Master Plan and the Freight Master Plan. Completing the trail from S Forest to S Spokane Street was the #2 recommendation for SODO of the StreetSmart Report in 2012. This was incorporated into the Bicycle Master Plan in 2014, and is finally in the current bike program Implementation Plan. Better north and south end connections are in the BMP. An equivalent replacement would be exceedingly difficult to come by, even if funding was available. The nearby avenues are designated Major Truck Streets with heavy volumes of vehicle traffic, including heavy trucks; and function as alternate routes from I-5; or, they are unpaved, severely potholed, and discontinuous. They serve industrial uses with many driveways, railroad tracks, and intersection and rail crossing conflicts between freight movement and bike traffic. Bike lanes could be moved onto the busway itself, leaving out pedestrians, if Seattle, Metro, Sound Transit and WA state could agree. How likely is that?

    People commuting to and through SODO rely on the SODO Busway Trail. Preserving it will benefit walking, biking, light rail use, freight mobility, and Seattle’s progress in meeting goals for congestion relief, public health, air quality, and equitable access to transportation.

  8. In terms of building a bicycle network that offers a low enough level of stress and protection to encourage the 60% of willing but wary to join the 8% of us who have built a tolerance for higher stress and ‘close calls’, off-street trails that connect to equally low-stress facilities to form a network is absolutely essential. The Sodo trail is the spine of a recommended network yet completed that forms a fully connected low-stress off-street facility from the stadiums southward across the argo train yard. If we are even half serious about reaching Vision Zero by 2030, we must regard our built off-street trails as the very valuable (and essentially un-replaceable) public asset they are, defend them from destruction, and extend them to form a connected AAA network.

  9. For the record, I am in full support of building high-quality protected bike connections and walking upgrades to mixed mode streets like 1st, 4th, 6th. But, for me to willingly support trading one of our off-street trails for those improvements would take some convincing architectural renderings connected to funding and a deliverable project timeline. AAA infrastructure for people in the Duwamish Valley is slow and difficult to come by.

  10. Dylan Oldenburg

    So are they planning a replacement? If not, removing the trail is utterly idiotic

  11. Erica Bush

    Often these projects forget to include basic factors such as that not all people feel comfortable riding bicycles adjacent to 18 wheelers flying by at 40 miles an hour no matter what width the buffer is. Semi’s don’t even respect curbs, which you’ll notice if you look around Sodo, so why should we expect them to respect some flimsy plastic posts?

    There are those of us who have sadly adjusted to swerving between massive trucks but if we want to actually increase bike ridership in our most auto dependent sections of our city we need to create bike facilities that are accessible to all – not just those of us who like living on the edge… The Sodo trail may be disconnected but it is the only space in Sodo where you could actually imagine someone new to cycling, a child or elderly person riding, and it’s the only space that protects riders from the noxious fumes of riding adjacent to heavy traffic.

    Also, no one has mentioned that one of the largest art projects in the world has just been installed along this trail, if the bike path is removed cyclists no longer get a view of one of the only aesthetic improvements in the south end.

    I’m all for being smart about public dollars, but I have very little trust in the city’s ability remake one of the only spaces in South Seattle that actually feels safe to be a cyclist without lifting us up in the sky or building us a new walled safety bubble- an unlikely occurrence.

    1. Briana L

      Completely agree Erica! :)
      I do wish the SODO trail felt a little safer for walking/running, but I haven’t seen Seattle build anything on-street that comes anywhere close to the safety and comfort of a trail.

  12. […] SBB is cool with Link destroying the Sodo trail, so am […]

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