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Alert 10/7–14: Spokane Street Swing Bridge to West Seattle will be closed again

Top-down diagram of the swing bridge mechanism, which includes two turn cylinders next to a larger central lift cylinder.
The upcoming closure is to install a repaired turn cylinder. Image from SDOT.

Seattle’s least reliable bridge will be unusable for a week from October 7 through 14, creating a major headache for people who walk or bike between West Seattle and mainland Seattle.

The bridge will need to remain in the open-to-sea configuration while crews replace the faulty turn cylinder that was removed during the previous unexpected closure at the start of the year. Unfortunately, the other three turn cylinders and the control system will also need maintenance soon, so more closures are on the horizon over the next two years but are not yet scheduled.

The King County Water Taxi is running on a 7-day schedule, and the vessel can hold up to 26 bikes. Seattle is covering one round trip on the water taxi per day during the bridge closure if you buy your ticket on the Transit Go app using the rewards code LOWBRIDGE. Learn more in the SDOT Blog post about the closure.

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A truck passes a line of cones. Downtown Seattle is in the background.
1st Ave S on January 5, 2023. SDOT is not planning a similar temporary bike lane this time.

Unlike the previous emergency bridge closure, the city does not currently plan on creating temporary bike lanes on 1st Avenue South in SoDo and Georgetown to help folks safely access the 1st Avenue Bridge, SDOT told Ryan Packer. This is a shame, because those temporary bike lanes were glorious, dramatically improving bikeability through the notoriously dangerous industrial streets between Spokane Street and Georgetown without having a significant impact on traffic or freight mobility. 1st Avenue S is much wider than it needs to be, and the bike lanes mostly occupied space used for on-street parking in an area with plenty of parking available elsewhere. Creating the temporary route would be even easier this time because SDOT has since created a permanent bikeway on W Marginal Way to connect the Duwamish Trail to Spokane Street and the Alki Trail, so only the 1st Avenue S bike lanes would be needed.

Without a temporary SoDo bike connection, there is no quality bike detour for people who usually take the Spokane Street Bridge. As people who live in Georgetown know all too well, there’s no great way to bike from there to the city center. SDOT is in the planning phase for a Georgetown to Downtown Safety Project, but construction is not set to start until 2024. And even when it is complete, it will serve the eastern part of SoDo and Georgetown rather than the 1st Avenue corridor.

Built in 1991, the Spokane Street Swing Bridge has been plagued with both planned and unplanned closures in recent years. It also took a beating during the upper West Seattle Bridge closure, which did not help. But even before that, people who rely on the bridge know it sometimes gets stuck. With more planned closures on the horizon and surely some unplanned ones as well, SDOT should consider permanent 1st Avenue South bike lanes, or at least a pilot project using low-cost temporary materials like paint and plastic posts. Such a project would complement the in-design Georgetown to Downtown Safety Project while also giving the department a chance to work with industrial businesses to iterate on the design so everyone can get around safely whether they are walking, riding a bicycle or moving freight. Ultimately, streets with lots of freight movement like 1st Ave S should also have more significant bike lane barriers, but the January emergency bike lanes showed us that even a line of cones can go a long way. At least until they are bumped or destroyed.

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