The Port of Seattle’s Interbay detour ended up lasting less than one day rather than the originally-announced 5-day closure. And the result is a much smoother trail surface. Tree roots poking up from below had made the stretch of the Elliott Bay Trail through the Interbay rail yard very bumpy and jarring.
As we reported in our previous post, the trail detour exposed Interbay’s serious lack of safe walking and biking options. The Port responded to concerns about the detour by making the closure as short as possible, which was great. But Seattle needs to take a serious look at Interbay’s dangerous and uncomfortable streets as the area becomes more and more of a destination rather than only an industrial area with a highway-style road through it. Sound Transit’s light rail line to Ballard will serve Interbay, and the streets need to be friendly for people outside of cars before that happens. And it is going to take a lot of work to get there.
The effort is also tied into two other big looming projects as the city tries to figure out what to do with the Magnolia and Ballard Bridges. 15th Ave W is currently designed like a faux-freeway, a design that will be incompatible with increased foot traffic and transit-oriented development. Rethinking the role of 15th Ave W to make it more like a commercial boulevard also means rethinking the roles of the two aging bridges. The Ballard Bridge could have more of a neighborhood scale and feel, ditching the current highway-style ramps and viaducts. And the Magnolia Bridge, well, maybe it just doesn’t make sense the way it is at all. It was constructed back when the area underneath was water, and it serves far fewer homes than would ever need such a huge highway-style bridge. It is also designed as through it assumes 15th Ave W is a street you’d want to avoid crossing on foot or bike. But what if that were not the case? What if whatever replaces the Magnolia Bridge was as much about connecting Magnolia to Interbay destinations as it is about longer vehicle and transit routes?
The Interbay section of the Elliott Bay Trail is awesome despite its skinny squeezes in places. But it doesn’t serve 15th Ave businesses and is not a replacement for safe walking and biking infrastructure on the main commercial corridor. The one thing Interbay is not lacking is right of way and pavement. Right now, it is nearly all dedicated to making the street feel as much like a highway as possible, but Seattle can and must do better.