City 520 Resolution Passes! Charts New Course

If you haven’t heard, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution directing the City and WSDOT to work together to fix the SR-520 design flaws for people who walk and bike (see our discussion of the resolution here). Thank you to everyone who made this happen! Together we must ensure the resolution is carried out faithfully so that the new SR-520 connects our neighborhoods for people of all-ages-and-abilities: for kids biking to school and grandmothers walking to the Arboretum. Take action and thank your City Councilmembers (via Cascade Bicycle Club). Rest assured, Central Seattle Greenways, Montlake Greenways, and Seattle Neighborhood Greenways will continue to work on this issue until the final design includes family-friendly connections.

A big shout out is in order to our partners at Cascade Bicycle Club as well as our supporters that saw both the threat and opportunity that 520 poses, notably the Capitol Hill Community Council, Montlake Community Club, Madison Park Community Council, and Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce (click for a complete list). Perhaps most importantly, this is a quintessential Seattle story about the potency of neighborhoods organizing themselves to fight for a better future.

Eight months ago this victory was a mere flickering hope. Last July, spurred by excellent reporting from Seattle Bike Blog, neighbors flying the flags of Central Seattle Greenways, Montlake Greenways, and Madison Park Greenways mobilized in a last ditch effort to fix the deep flaws in WSDOT’s SR-520 design and seize the opportunity that such a mega project presents.

This coalition of Seattle Neighborhood Greenway groups quickly collected 350 community member signatures for a petition to WSDOT asking them to reexamine the lack of family-friendly connections through the 520 project area. This petition lent our coalition enough community support and credibility to open doors at WSDOT and City Hall.

We quickly learned that WSDOT, despite the many opportunities for input in the Seattle Community Design Process, was more interested in what the City Council wanted than what the 350 of us had to say. Redirecting our efforts, our coalition of Neighborhood Greenway groups rapidly met with numerous community organizations and institutions in order to educate them on the problems and opportunities that the new highway presents. We received support from every group that we met with, which greatly strengthened our neighborhood based message we planned to take to the City Council.

In addition, our coalition of Neighborhood Greenway groups successfully refocused the discussion surrounding SR-520 to a narrative about safely moving all people, regardless of their means of transportation. This was accomplished by timely reporting from neighborhood media sources (CHS Blog, the Montlaker, Seattle Bike Blog), our blogging, compelling graphics, a focus on connecting people to destinations, and an easy to understand urban design review.

We had authentic community support and a resonating message, but we lacked political expertise to navigate the halls of City Government. Luckily, the hardworking people at Cascade Bicycle Club were more than happy to work with us to get the job done (they had also been working on the issue). Together we created a compelling campaign: combining Cascade’s political savvy and active membership with our grassroots organizing and in-depth knowledge of the project. The campaign was able to effectively demonstrate overwhelming community demand for corrective City Council action, resulting in the Mayor and City Council crafting and passing a forward-thinking resolution.

Discussion at the City Council 520 Committee Meeting on 2/4/13 demonstrated that the City and the State finally “got it.” In response to a question about the need to address the scary and unsafe under-bridge areas, WSDOT project manager Daniel Babuca said

We recognize that that is a key area of interest and concern from the communities and we heard that loud and clear through the comments expressed during the Community Design Process, as it relates to the ultimate vision I think that is where we have more work to do frankly, in terms of what the ultimate connections are across the lid underneath Montlake Blvd – are there surface options that are more preferred or safer as opposed to taking them underneath. So that is still something that we will continue to work on, we will continue to consult on with the communities and the stakeholders as the lid conversations progress and the interchange conversations progress. (Seattle Channel Video, 49:55)

City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw succinctly explained that success for the design will now be judged against whether or not the connections are safe enough that “you would let your 8 year old walk or ride her bike unescorted.”

While the resolution does not legally bind WSDOT to do the right thing, it clearly lays out a new course that the SR 520 design should follow. We sincerely hope the good working relationships between the City, WSDOT, and State Legislature will ensure that the spirit of the resolution is carried out before the design is finalized. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for a major highway project (of all things!) to better connect our neighborhoods to each other and our kids to their schools, and to create a Seattle that we can all enjoy getting around regardless of our means of transportation.

City Council Poised to Make New SR 520 Right

Update: The council did not vote on the resolution January 22nd and will instead be voting on February 11th.

This Tuesday (January 22nd) at 2:30 PM in the Council Chamber, the 520 Committee of the Seattle City Council will hopefully pass a resolution that finally gives WSDOT and city staff the authority to begin to fix the pedestrian and bicycle design flaws in the current plans. Most importantly, the resolution calls for

  1. Fixing the Montlake mess and creating a hub of family friendly connections. It is necessary to completely rethink the design of the Montlake area to make it safe for people of all ages and abilities. The standard for success must be that Montlake children are able to walk and bike around their neighborhood to school, to friends’ houses, to the library, and for the sheer joy of being able to explore your neighborhood as a kid. It is likely that a new design would also make the project cheaper while providing more value for nearby residents and the city.
  2. Continuing the SR 520 Trail to Capitol Hill. The design moving forward must examine how a trail can be incorporated into the Portage Bay Bridge design. The utilitarian needs for quality bicycle and pedestrian access to Capitol Hill and beyond should be paramount. There are still a few residents in the immediate proximity of the bridge who desire it to be as narrow as possible even at the expense of the trail, but the vast majority of Seattle residents would like to see the bridge have as little a visual impact as possible, while still providing connections for everyone whether they drive, take transit, walk, or bike.
  3. Designating a 520 champion. This is a common sense idea that originates from the Seattle Design Commission which allows one person at the city to keep track of the complicated design process. Currently such a unified response is lacking.

This resolution, if passed, would be a huge step forward. Please don’t leave this to chance! Please show up at 2:20 to give a short (2 minutes or less) public comment in support of the resolution, or jot your city councilmembers a quick email letting them know they have your support:

sally.clark@seattle.gov
sally.bagshaw@seattle.gov
tim.burgess@seattle.gov
richard.conlin@seattle.gov
jean.godden@seattle.gov
bruce.harrell@seattle.gov
nick.licata@seattle.gov
mike.obrien@seattle.gov
tom.rasmussen@seattle.gov

By supporting these common sense improvements to the current design, you join the ranks of many other Seattlites seeking a fair deal out of the new SR 520. Let’s recap who supports making the design better for people who walk and bike:

Thank you for your help in making sure that the new SR 520 reconnects our neighborhoods to each other, our kids to their schools, and creates a Seattle that we can all enjoy getting around regardless of our means of transportation!

Bridging the Topographic Fortress with a Trail

As promised in the “SR-520 Design Will Discourage Walking and Biking to the UW and University Link” post, here is some further elaboration on the value of a Portage Bay Bridge Trail. Currently the idea is bouncing around the halls of Seattle City government – stayed tuned to see if the trail makes it into an official recommendation to WSDOT.  

The glaciers did not have walking and biking in mind when they sculpted Seattle, and north Capitol Hill in particular. This geological heritage is part of what gives Seattle its character. North-South elongated hills, hidden valleys, and numerous glacially carved bodies of water. As beautiful as it is, this natural character poses serious challenges to creating an interconnected system of family-friendly walking and biking infrastructure.

It would not be hyperbole to think of north Capitol Hill as a topographic fortress. It is surrounded to the east, north, and west by very steep slopes. To the best of our knowledge, there is no ADA accessible route for walking or biking off of north Capitol Hill (check out the map below – compiled from city data and our measurements). Complicating the situation, the streets that were slightly less steep were cherry picked to be arterials for car traffic. As a result, creating an all-ages-and-abilities friendly route between the “urban centers” of Capitol Hill and the University District, and further to neighborhoods in N.E. Seattle and to the Central District, is quite a challenge.

A Portage Bay Bridge Trail would bridge this topographic fortress. According to WSDOT, the Portage Bay Bridge Trail (PBBT) would have less than a 5% grade, be well lit, and be considerably more direct in getting to the “Montlake Hub” of regional trails and to Husky Stadium side of the UW campus. It would be the most direct and family-friendly route from the Montlake Hub to Capitol Hill by far.

Even in terms of getting between Capitol Hill and the East UW Campus, taking the PBBT would only be slightly longer than a Harvard Ave E route (1.89 versus 1.63 miles), but would be significantly less steep (4.5% versus 8.7% grade), and much better protected from traffic. Even amongst experienced cyclists, research has found that “cyclists are willing to go considerably out of their way to use a bike boulevard or bike path rather than an arterial bike lane,” and that people will go over three times more out of their way to avoid routes with slopes of over 6% grade compared to those with 4-6% grade (click here find the full article). This effect would likely be more pronounced in people who are willing-but-wary. In other words, since the PBBT will be better separated and less steep than other options, people will choose to use it over routes that currently exist even if they are shorter. Let’s look at a few of the existing alternatives.

What about alternative streets?

Currently many people cross the notoriously dangerous Eastlake Ave E at/to Harvard Ave E, crossing 4 very busy arterial lanes. Harvard Ave E has a 8.7% grade and also serves bus routes and is used by I-5 and 520 traffic. Creating a family-friendly connection across the extremely busy Eastlake Ave E and up the very steep Harvard Ave E to E Shelby St is no small task. Eastlake Greenways and Central Seattle Greenways are working together to determine whether this connection could ever be made accessible for people of all-ages-and-abilities. Don’t hold your breath.

Another route that people sometimes use if they are coming from NE Seattle is Delmar Drive East. Delmar has a number of problems:

  1. Its arterial designation combined with the lack of separation for the bike lanes mean that according to Seattle Neighborhood Greenway guidelines (drawn from the Mineta report) it is not suitable for people of all-ages-and-abilities.
  2. It’s 8.5% grade means that it is very steep.
  3. The bike lanes are narrow and act as gutters due to the large amount of debris that collects in the roadway.
  4. A curvy road and numerous driveways create the very real possibility for conflicts.
  5. In order to access Delmar, it is necessarily to wind your way through the non-intuitive and disjointed Montlake street grid.

What about bridge width?

Even though the vast majority of community members and groups (including the Montlake Community Club and the Capitol Hill Community Council) support a Portage Bay Bridge Trail regardless of how the bridge is built, there is still interest in making the bridge as narrow as it can be without sacrificing its utility. Here are a few ideas that have been floating around:

  • Use steel rather than concrete for the bridge – this allows the bridge to have less visual bulk
  • Remove the planted median from the middle of the bridge
  • Reduce any unnecessary gusset space (the concrete webbing between lanes)
  • Decrease the lane width – the bridge is slated to be restricted to 45 mph, meaning that lanes can be an urban width rather than suburban freeway sized.
  • Finally it may be worth considering how hanging the Portage Bay Bridge Trail in different manners (underneath, partially offset, raised, etc) affects the light situation.

How will the PBBT connect through the Montlake 520 interchange?

In short, the Montlake interchange needs to be redesigned to make it functional for people of all-ages-and-abilities. Click the PDF below for a quick visual rundown of the top issues:

Toward a Connected Montlake Lid

SR-520 Design will discourage walking and biking to the UW and University Link

The new SR-520 will serve as a barrier to people trying to walk and bike from the Montlake area and neighborhoods further south to the University of Washington and the new University Link station. As currently designed, the project will essentially destroy the walkshed and bikeshed south of the Montlake Bridge.

Over the summer, WSDOT has (in good faith) attempted to make tweaks to the plans to better incorporate walking and biking, but the plans still fall short of acceptable levels of service. Simply put, the new SR-520 will make things worse.

The solution: WSDOT and SDOT must work together to refine the plans (which are still actually in a fairly conceptual stage) before the legislature funds a multi-billion dollar budget that fails to connect people who walk and bike to places they need to be such as the UW, transit stations, schools, parks, workplaces, and other parts of the City.

The map below illustrates where Neighborhood Greenway groups forsee family-friendly biking and walking corridors in the near future. It is worth noting that, with the exception of the trans Lake Washington trail, the WSDOT project area currently acts as a barrier to interconnecting this system, and thereby preventing folks from getting to the UW and the University Link. If done properly, the project could operate as a world class hub interconnecting all users to where they need to go! Let’s look as these failings in further detail.

 
Figure 1. Current or planned family-friendly bicycle and pedestrian routes (PDF version: Montlake Hub’s Missing Connections).

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tl;dr – 5 Minutes to Support the Portage Bay Bridge Multi-Use Trail!

This is the difference between the width of a bridge with and without the bike and pedestrian trail that we support. This is to scale.

Yesterday, we posted a monster post that went over the WSDOT’s 520 Online Survey with a fine-tooth comb. We know that that is a lot to go through, so we are offering today the “too long, didn’t read (tl;dr)” version of what we posted yesterday.

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30 Seconds to Support a Portage Bay Trail!

 

If you only have 30 seconds to spare please ask WSDOT to do two things (feel free to copy and past, but the strongest comments are those that reflect your own personal views, experience, and values):

  1. Please study, design, and build a Portage Bay Bridge multi-use trail. This trail would be an enormous asset to people who walk, bike, and simply enjoy recreating on trails. It would interconnect our neighborhoods, better connect the UW area to Capitol Hill, and serve as a critical regional link.
  2. Redesign the Montlake lid area to incorporate bicycle and pedestrian needs from the ground up. This area serves as a hub for multimodal and regional connections and must be designed to seamlessly, safely, efficiently, and comfortably create paths for people of all ages and abilities to travel to and form home, work, school, and businesses.

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We need your help – SR520 Portage Bay Bridge Trail

Is this post a little too long? Check out the shorter, easier to read version here and here

WSDOT needs to hear from us by this Friday – October 5th – about their proposed design preferences for the new SR-520 bridge design (click here for more information on these design preferences). Currently the design does not include a multi-use trail on the Portage Bay Bridge. The trail comes all the way from Redmond and then dead ends in Montlake rather than continuing to Capitol Hill and beyond.

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What 10 more Feet Gives Us

A new Portage Bay bridge is coming as part of the 520 replacement project. The bridges that we build today will shape how people get around the region and our city for the next 60-75 years. When we built the I-90 bridge, we created brand new links across the lake and enabled people to get from one side to the other on foot or bike. The success of that link is partly because we made the choice to maximize the benefit of that investment by building bike and pedestrian tunnels that made getting to downtown and the central Seattle neighborhoods easy and direct. Today, we are in the process of deciding whether or not we want to maximize the investment being made in the new link across the lake  on the 520 bridge by connecting it with the rest of Seattle with a multi-use trail on the new Portage Bay bridge.

Recently, we asked for your support in asking the city to ask WSDOT to include the multi-use trail as part of the Portage Bay Replacement. We quickly collected 346 signatures from regular people all across the city, including long time residents of Montlake who will be neighbors to the new bridge and are interested in what is best for their community and for Seattle. Since then, the Seattle Design Commission has come out in support of the multi-use trail and the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board is expected to follow suit. While we have had broad support, we have also seen concerns from some members of the community who are concerned about the additional width of the bridge that the multi-use trail would cause.

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Add your name to our 520 letter!

If you want a bike and pedestrian shared use path on the Portage Bay bridge, add your name to our letter to WSDOT and SDOT!

The multi-use trail on the 520 bridge is a new, important link in the regional bike and pedestrian network, but the current plan is for the trail to end in Montlake. We see this as a half-built trail and have, along with other greenway and community advocates, been active in pushing for WSDOT to complete the trail by building the final link on the Portage Bay bridge. We believe that the neighborhoods of Seattle would be best served by a simple, safe and direct connection between Montlake and the Delmar lid (where I-5 and 520 meet), and are happy that we have been able to help put this back in the spotlight where it needs to be.

The current plan calls for people trying to reach Downtown, Capitol Hill, or Eastlake to wind through the neighborhood after the trail ends by Montlake Blvd. The problem is that these routes all have either steep hills, busy streets with high-speed traffic, or circuitous routes that can be up to double the length that the portage bay multi-use trail would be. While these routes serve local connections inside Montlake well, they don’t foster inter-neighborhood connections that are dramatically different from what we have today. A multi-use trail on Portage Bay would do that and if it is going to be done, now is the time to do it. If it is not built with the replacement now, the cost and hassle of jury rigging something later is going to make sure it never happens.

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We need you next week at the 520 meeting!

 

Next week is the last Community Design Process public meeting for the 520 bridge project. We need your help to ensure that the project links our communities together with high-quality and family-friendly pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. If done poorly, this massive construction project could make it even more difficult for people ages 8-80 to get around on foot or on bike. Our largest ask of WSDOT is the continuation of the multi-use trail from Montlake to Roanoake. Building this trail will better connect all of the surrounding neighborhoods and the region.

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