SDOT will try again to make rail crossing under the Ballard Bridge safer

Illustrated map showing the new gravel sections with bike channels for crossing the tracks.

From SDOT :”We will be replacing unused pavement with gravel to make the it more obvious how to follow the bike lanes and cross the train tracks at a safe angle.”

SDOT is set to start work as soon as Monday on another fix to hopefully prevent people from crashing while biking across the train tracks under the Ballard Bridge as they navigate the notorious Burke-Gilman Trail Missing Link.

Crews will tear out sections of the roadway and replace it with gravel in hopes that this will “add more visual and physical cues for bike riders to follow the correct path across the train tracks,” according an SDOT blog post.

The biggest issue here is that the train tracks cut across the roadway at an unusual and shallow angle, and the gaps between the road and the rails can easily grab bike wheels if riders do not cross at a 90-degree angle. The city has tried multiple times to use paint and plastic posts to encourage riders to cross at a sharp angle, but people continue to crash and get injured here.

SDOT says this fix is not part of the Missing Link project, which remains held up in court. That design would move the bike path to the south side of NW 45th Street, bypassing this crossing area entirely in favor of an easier crossing location to the west of the Ballard Bridge. But as legal delays keep delaying that work, people are still getting hurt.

Riders in the area will need to detour around the work zone via 14th Ave NW and NW 46th Street. The work is expected to last up to three days. A safer track crossing would be an incredible Christmas present.

SDOT also plans to return to the location in 2023 to make more improvements, including rerouting the bike lanes around the south side of the bridge supports. Here’s what that could look like:

Ilustrated map of the phase two design, with the same gravel areas but with the bike lanes and general traffic lane shifted south.More details from SDOT:

Next week, we will be building safety enhancements to the bike lanes on Shilshole Ave NW beneath the Ballard Bridge. These changes will enhance navigation for people who bike across the train tracks. Depending on the weather, we expect work to last up to three days starting as soon as Monday, December 19.

A detour for people driving and riding bikes may be in place for up to three days while construction is occurring. During that time, this section of Shilshole Ave NW will be local access only. All other people driving or biking through the area should follow detour signs one block north to NW 46th St.

This work is separate and independent from the Burke-Gilman Trail Missing Link project which would build a 1.4 mile connection along Salmon Bay from 11th Ave NW to the Ballard Locks. This is an opportunity for a quick adjustment that makes the existing bike lanes more clear for people biking.

Enhancements will make it more intuitive for bike riders to navigate across railroad tracks safely.

This work will be the first phase of a safety project to add more visual and physical cues for bike riders to follow the correct path across the train tracks. This is important because the bike lanes direct riders to cross the train tracks at a right-angle so that bike wheels do not get stuck in the rails.

While the current bike lanes direct bike riders to cross the train tracks at the right angle, we see a good opportunity to make this guidance more clear for bike riders.

As a first step, we will be replacing some of the pavement next to the bicycle lanes with gravel in order to make the correct route even more apparent.

More safety enhancements coming next year

In 2023, we will return to this area to make the route even easier for people on bikes and in cars.

This will include realigning the bicycle lanes to the south of the bridge support columns. This will be a more comfortable and intuitive layout for people riding bikes, guiding them to cross the train tracks at a safe angle.

We will also add new fencing along the train tracks and new overhead lighting under the bridge.

The eastbound general traffic lane of Shilshole Ave NW will shift south for a short distance under the bridge to make room for the bike lane realignment. About 5 on-street parking spaces will be removed to accommodate the new bike lane design.

About Tom Fucoloro

Founder and Editor of Seattle Bike Blog.
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9 Responses to SDOT will try again to make rail crossing under the Ballard Bridge safer

  1. Damon says:

    Being forced into a slow 90-degree crossing will annoy me every time I go through there. But if it actually prevents a bunch of injuries, great!

  2. Jason says:

    Totally worthy project. But it’s yet another bike thing prioritizing N Seattle. Give some love to S Seattle, SDOT.

  3. Bradley Hawkins says:

    Redi Mix Cement should do the trick

  4. Steve Campbell says:

    I hope it works but the right angle turn looks too tight for the lane width shown in the drawings to my eye. It could be OK in real life it’s hard to get a sense of scale in the drawings without a bike shown for reference.

  5. Al Dimond says:

    Sorta seems like if they don’t improve the visibility and … obviousness of which way to turn … they’ll just be creating a new way for people to crash, on the gravel. Or for people that aren’t going to crash, it’s one of those “biking here sucks, that’s how you know it’s safe,” strategies that we see all over our bike network (but rarely on major car routes even though it’s by far the best car-safety strategy going). As I approach a year anniversary of taking a nasty crash on one of our newest and best bike routes, maybe I should support this kind of thing — just make every bike path suck so much that even if you crash you’ll do it at walking speed. Seems more likely than actually solving the problems.

    You’d never get the city to admit this but I suspect half the idea of the interim missing link project was a basically good idea we should do more of: making an interim project that sucks for the people blocking the permanent project so they’ll prefer to get the real one over with rather than continuing to block it. Continuing in this vein… close Shilshole to motor-vehicle traffic under the Ballard Bridge to make room for a track crossing that’s actually good.

  6. Bob Anderton says:

    Washington Bike Law has been negotiating with the City to make the Missing Link Crash Zone safer as part of our ongoing litigation on behalf of some of the many people who have been injured there.

    We are still working on finalizing the settlement, so were not part of the city’s announcement of the safety improvements. The settlement is expected to include deadlines for completing safety improvements in the Crash Zone and the ability for our office to sue for enforcement if the announced improvements (as well as further improvements) do not occur by those deadlines.

    Too many people have crashed on the Missing Link for too long. We also support completing the Burke-Gilman Trail, but we can’t keep waiting for its completion. We hope that this important transportation link will become reasonably safe for people riding bicycles soon.

  7. asdf2 says:

    And, the irony of all this is, is this short spur of track that doesn’t even connect to anything anymore even needed?

    My understanding is that Ballard Terminal Railroad runs only a token train on it, once a year, the bare minimum to keep the railroad technically “active” under the law, just in case they decide to do something with it later. Any real freight transport over there happens by truck.

    Ideally, these tracks which causing all of these problems would just be ripped out.

  8. Louisa says:

    I rode though your gravel today and I hate it! Black gravel on a black trail. You don’t think this is going to cause accidents?? Really a stupid idea, please return the pavement.

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