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.
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.