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Bike Route Alert 1/27: Awful 2-week sidewalk detour on Montlake Blvd near SR 520 starts Monday

Map of the sidewalk closure and detour route. The sidewalk is closed on the east side of Montlake Blvd between East North Street and East Lake Washington Blvd and on East Lake Washington Blvd from Montlake Blvd to 24th Avenue East. The detour crosses Montlake Blvd at signalized intersections at East Lake Washington Blvd and just north of East Roanoke Street, and poeple walking and biking are to use the west sidewalk between those streets..So you finally got used to biking around the SR 520 construction in Montlake, eh? I have bad news. It’s about to get way worse for two weeks.

Starting as soon as Monday, people walking and biking on the east sidewalk, the current designated route, will have to cross Montlake Blvd twice to use the west sidewalk to get around a closure of the sidewalk between E Lake Washington Blvd and E North Street.

This is especially rough because using the east sidewalk was already a poor bike detour ever since the state closed biking and walking access across the 24th Ave E bridge in September. The signal at Lake Washington Blvd only has a crosswalk on the south side and there’s a slip lane for traffic to turn right from Montlake Blvd to Lake Washington Blvd. So everyone will need to squeeze into this tiny little triangle surrounded on all sides by traffic and wait for the walk signal:

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Photo of a small triangle of space in the intersection where crosswalks meet. Two people on bike share bikes are crossing.
Once this is the only biking and walking option, is everyone going to fit in the little triangle?

This is not a good detour. People biking and walking are already squeezed too much in this area, and this just makes it ridiculous. The triangle problem aside, there’s a good chance that everyone walking and biking will need to wait for three long signals now instead of just one, which could add several minutes to your one-block journey across Lake Washington Blvd, depending on your signal luck. And that’s the best case scenario: That you waste a significant amount of time.

A worse case is that it might be annoying enough that some people will just risk walking or biking around the construction instead, a dangerous but entirely predictable result of an inadequate detour. The 520 team needs to do better than this. This is a situation the screams out for a temporary path in the street around the construction zone. The right thing to do would be to reduce the number of traffic lanes from five to four rather than put everyone biking and walking in this possibly precarious position.

If this is really how the detour works come Monday, then folks who are willing and able may do better to just take the lane on Lake Washington Blvd for the block between 24th Ave E and Montlake Blvd. Once on 24th, follow the signs for the Lake Washington Loop. It’s odd and takes you down an alley, but it works. This is obviously not a solution for everyone, but is it much worse than squeezing into that triangle if there are a bunch of people already there? The state is forcing you to choose between two bad options here.

I’m sure people will figure it out and make it work because anyone who walks or bikes in this town is used to awful construction detours by now. But that doesn’t make it OK. This is part of a $4.6 billion publicly-funded project. Washingtonians deserve better than this.

WSDOT notes that even after this two-week closure, work on this water line will require periodic closures for the next couple years. More planning and care needs to go into those future detours.

Details from WSDOT:

As early as next Monday, Jan. 27, crews will begin work on an access pit at the corner of East North Street and Montlake Boulevard. This work requires a closure of a portion of East North Street and sidewalk closures along Montlake and Lake Washington boulevards. These closures will be in place 24 hours a day for approximately two weeks. Local residents will have access to their homes via 24th Avenue East. For your safety, please follow the signed detour routes.

This closure is the first of several intermittent closures crews will implement to replace a 54-inch-diameter city water line that runs beneath the highway. The water-line installation work will take place in stages, requiring periodic detours throughout 2020 and potentially into 2021.

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18 responses to “Bike Route Alert 1/27: Awful 2-week sidewalk detour on Montlake Blvd near SR 520 starts Monday”

  1. Julie V.

    Bicyclists and pedestrians should use caution around the now fenced 76 gas station. The footings of the temporary fencing stick out into the sidewalk posing a hazard. The black mesh covering the fence combined with the unfortunate angles of the whole situation make it difficult to see what might be coming towards you.

  2. Nicole

    Wow, this is especially terrible since I’ve been using my biking as a way to avoid Connect 2020 delays and construction with transit. It seems like SDOT should enforce their rules about sidewalk closures and make construction create good plans for pedestrians before giving out a permit to close city streets and sidewalks. Isn’t that what the rule you linked to says is supposed to happen?

  3. Ballard Kirk

    I haven’t been down there for awhile but isn’t the Bill Dawson Trail a viable detour, especially on bike? That’s what I took last time I was down there in the fall.

    1. Lynne

      This would be a good detour, if you’re headed away from Montlake itself (such as up to Capitol Hill via Delmar). If you’re trying to go from anywhere east of Montlake Ave to the Burke Gilman, that would be a looong way out of the way, and you still have to cross Montlake Ave (probably in about the same place that the detour suggests).
      They’re not really equivalent.

      1. Ballard Kirk

        I would go from the arboreteum trail to E Lynn, up to the Bill Dawson Trail, up the north sidewalk over the bridge and hit the Burke from there, either crossing at the light or farther along Pacific.

      2. Lynne

        Wow! You are much tougher than I am :) The hill on E. Lynn over 20th/22th is pretty steep (next to Montlake Cycle Shop, right?) for me.

        Happily, they haven’t closed the Montlake Ave part of the sidewalk (yet? ever? hard to tell though I asked the construction workers), so I’m still going E. North St -> Montlake Ave sidewalk (east side) -> BGT.

  4. Why isn’t the 520 trail marked on this map? That seems like the most viable detour (besides taking a lane).

    1. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the trail access bridge going north at 24th Ave/Lake Washington Blvd is still closed under a construction detour that forces 520 Trail users/seekers onto Montlake Blvd.

      So, basically we’re getting a detour on top of a detour.

      1. You’re not wrong. That bridge is closed so the only way to access the 520 trail is to get north of Montlake.

      2. Yikes! I haven’t been down there in several months. That ain’t good.

  5. asdf2

    In practice, I think the best solution is to just ride on the road and take the lane for one block. The cars on Lake Washington Blvd. aren’t going that fast. And, it’s only block, which is short enough to prevent drivers from getting *too* impatient.

    Another option, depending where one is coming from and going to, is to use the Bill Dawson Trail to bypass the Montlake/520 interchange altogether. In some cases, avoiding the Montlake bridge area entirely and switching to Eastlake might be an option, for example, traveling from UW to Capitol Hill.

    1. Skylar

      I agree, that’s what I’ve been doing on weekends. Going north, there’s the bus lane one can take all the way from 520 to the Montlake Bridge, which I do to give southbound cyclists more room in the sidewalk.

      For those coming from further south, another option is Boyer to the University Bridge. I started taking that back when Sound Transit had the UW Stadium area torn up for light rail construction, and it still saves a lot of stress.

  6. Dave

    In early September ‘19, WSDOT announced “Later this year, a temporary trail will be built to connect the SR 520 Trail directly to E Lake Washington Blvd during Montlake Project construction” seems like that would have been the viable detour for anyone biking from the south. Does anyone know why this connector seems to be delayed?

    1. That comment refers to the trail happening after a temporary ramp opens – that ramp opened Dec 26 or so. Maybe even later, I can’t remember for sure. So they may be building it now.

      1. Lynne

        They are working on the temporary ped/bike route under 520 but it’s got a long way to go. The access is not paved, the crosswalk to get to that access is terrifying, and the construction team are still crossing the future path pretty heavily from what I can tell (not sure if that is part of the intended plan though).
        The information office told me the access path (basically a new sidewalk along part of the east side of LkWaBlvd) should be paved sometime this month, but most likely after this particular two week closure.

  7. Ellemhmkay

    The trail under 520 is great if you’re a dude riding a single bike. But coming around a blind corner going uphill with a cargo bike is almost impossible. I scrape the fencing EVERY SINGLE TIME with things in my bags. Not to mention that it’s an unlit (seriously are there lights? I can’t see them) blind corner where ANYONE can be standing on the other side. I have been hit there head-on by people bombing down the hill and taking the turn wide. So while I’ll ride this way heading south during the day Id never take it at night and avoid in the uphill direction. Plus the trail is narrow AF between 2 fences with loud road noise and no way out. Just like no.

  8. Steve Campbell

    Still open as of this morning (Thurs 1/30), but equipment is on site.

    1. Lynne

      A construction worker told me they were going to start drilling inside the fenced lot area today (although I didn’t see anything yet), so it would get loud .. but wasn’t sure if/when they were going to close the Montlake Ave sidewalk section. The LkWaBlvd sidewalk has been closed at the corner since 1/27, but is not really part of the typical bike route.

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