Boyer Avenue road improvements to connect bicycle route ‘missing link’ — Work begins Friday

Image: Montlaker

Road improvements are coming to the Boyer Avenue arterial starting this Friday. SDOT plans to resurface parts of the street between East Lynn and 24th and add new lane markings and bicycle sharrows. This work will connect a missing link in Montlake’s bicycle route network, between Boyer west of Lynn (with existing parking lane line and sharrows) and the signed Lake Washington bike route east of 24th. These are welcomed improvements for Boyer, a popular route for commuters going between the University Bridge and the Arboretum 520 ramps.

From SDOT:

The project includes two 12′ x 50′ and one 12′ x 150′ sections of street in separate locations that will be resurfaced. Because the paving is limited to small areas, the operation will move very quickly…

During the project, crews will work with residents in the area to ensure they have the greatest access possible to their homes and driveways. For safety reasons there will be brief periods of time in which access will be restricted when machinery is blocking a driveway, or hot asphalt is cooling down. As a result it is possible this work could inconvenience some residents for up to an hour or so.

After the paving work is complete, SDOT will paint a parking line along both sides of the street to clearly define the parking and travel lanes. Bicycle sharrows will be installed to remind drivers and cyclists to share the road.

While these ‘visual barriers’ may help slow traffic a bit on this notoriously speedy street, anecdotal tales of Boyer traffic accidents lit up the Montlake Forum upon news of this project. Many residents feel that further measures are needed to reduce speeds and provide safe crossings for pedestrians.

RERUNS: As Seattle Prep property talks break down, attention turns to green space advocates

Image: Montlaker

Since property talks broke off between WSDOT and Seattle Prep regarding the school’s 2 acres of forested land next to 520, efforts to transfer the land into the public domain have turned to green space conservation groups. While Prep has expressed an interest in developing the land into a public park and safe-route-to-school, they make clear they don’t have the resources to do it alone – nor do they intend to give the property away for nothing.
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In a comment on this blog, School President Kent Hickey said:
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… the discussions never approached the level of a potential deal. At one point the state did include a swap of our property for the mostly useless land under the 520 in one of its drawings. We immediately informed the state that we had no interest in such a swap; the relative values of these properties are not comparable and useless land under a freeway is of no value to us.

We are disappointed in the state’s most recent vision for the west side of the 520 because its short-sightedness evinces a profound lack of vision. Our property is a significant undeveloped green space that could carry wonderful benefits for the community and support alternative means of transportation through incorporation of the bike spur…

We appreciated the state’s candor and clear communication that it has no interest in our property and the uses we had proposed. Our plan is to now go back to where we were before our informal discussions with the state; we are exploring potential uses for our Delmar property.

[Summarized, read full comment here. Referenced "useless land" drawings here. -Ed.]

While it seems strange for WSDOT to design a whole “Portage Bay Underbridge Area Option B” for uninterested partners, the upside of doing so was raising the land conservation issue through the Community Design Process. It is now clear that no one party wants full responsibility for the land — and a public deal will likely have to include other mutually interested groups: Seattle Parks, Friends of Interlaken Park, and neighboring community councils and clubs. Forterra has been mentioned as a possible partner.

The Seattle Parks Opportunity Fund may also be a possibility – but this is intended for land acquisition – development and maintenance costs will need other funding sources and partners.

The property is a missing link for pedestrian mobility between North Capitol hill, the future Roanoke Lid, and the future Montlake Waterfront Trail. This trail plans to connect Everett Ave near Boyer — and the downhill side of the unused Prep property — with Montlake Playfield, the Bill Dawson Trail and future Montlake Lid.

Image: Montlake Waterfront Master Plan

The property issue also sits right in the middle of Seattle’s green space versus urban development debates. Seattle Prep estimates the land use code would allow 16-24 residential units, should a developer be interested in the steep slope site (with minimal existing utilities). Green space conservation advocates argue the property is a critical corridor between the Olmsted Interlaken Park and the Portage Bay wetland waterfront.

Despite WSDOT turning down acquiring the property, its role in developing it is still needed for making the adjacent underbridge area something other than unintended social housing policy. Last year, capitolhillseattle.com posted a Seattle Police report describing a similar space under I-5:

This area is below street level and any activities or incidents would be completely out of view. This area is a no man’s land populated by the homeless, mental cases, drug addicts and sundry criminals. The area is littered with garbage, feces, narcotics paraphernalia, grafitti and slumbering drunks.

This description will sound familiar to anyone who has ventured under 52o above Boyer. WSDOT’s attempt to give the area volleyball courts in their latest community design drawings was a less-than-convincing solution. The best way to put “eyes in the park”, increase safety and increase use is to expand their ADA pedestrian-bike path into the open green space of the Prep property. WSDOT needs to return to the negotiating table as part of a solution so as to not create another generation of urban freeway blight.

Image: Montlaker

Originally published July 30, 2012

RERUNS: WSDOT updates Montlake Lid preferred alternatives

Montlake Lid preferred alternative (click for high-resolution view). Image: WSDOT

WSDOT has posted the latest 520 drawings presented at the Seattle Community Design Meeting on Monday at Saint Demetrios Church. The drawings include design updates for WSDOT’s preferred alternatives, including the Montlake and Roanoke Lids, and the West Approach and Portage Bay Bridges. So what’s new for Montlake?

East Montlake Lid: The preferred alternative (pictured above) includes the “Option B Lowered Transit/HOV” plan. This option reduces the visual impact of off-ramps by putting them in a trench through the eastern lid. The trade off is less usable park space (a non-starter?) but a raised viewpoint near the eastern edge seems to be a step in the right direction. More work is needed on the abrupt edge (~30 ft high wall) overlooking East Montlake (McCurdy) Park:

Lid model at East Montlake Park. Image: Montlaker

A multi-use trail connecting to the Arboretum along the eastern shoreline is included in the preferred alternative design — but there were no new design updates of its greatest liability: the trail passes underneath 14 lanes and 6 shoulders of freeway-width. More attention is needed here.

Only the mechanical engineer thought it a good idea to put the Operations & Maintenance Facility on top the lid. Overwhelming public feedback favored putting it next to the lid on the SE side. A no brainer.

East Montlake Park stormwater treatment area: This facility will treat the runoff from the 520 west highrise to the Montlake Lid. The design is a “constructed wetland” with parking (@1) and a boat launch (@3). Here is the preferred alternative:

East Montlake Park stormwater treatment area. Image: WSDOT

Lake Washington Blvd: Feedback favored shifting LW Blvd north away from adjacent homes and keeping it a simple two-lane road with no median (per original Olmsted design). Here is the preferred alternative:

Lake Washington Blvd (click for high-resoluiton view). Image: WSDOT

Montlake Blvd Pedestrian Access: Since the Arboretum access ramps are not being replaced in the new era of 520, even more vehicles will be funneled through Montlake Blvd. To account for the increase in traffic, Montlake Blvd will grow to be 9 lanes wide. This creates additional challenges for bikes and pedestrians commuting to and from UW/Station, fans going to Husky Stadium, cyclists riding to the Burke-Gilman Trail and school kids walking from Shelby-Hamlin to Montlake Elementary. WSDOT’s attempts so far to address these issues have been… well, judge for yourself:

Montlake Blvd and west lid area. Image: WSDOT

The bike-ped tunnel under Montlake Blvd (northern edge of 520) connecting to the Bill Dawson Trail is a positive step forward, although the connections to it seem awkward and potentially dangerous with stairs next to bike traffic — at each ends of the tunnel. For north-south access, there isn’t much. Bikes and pedestrians are forced to do battle with increased surface traffic. Expect longer wait times at crosswalks, more concrete expanses to traverse and more bicyle-pedestrian conflicts on the restricted sidewalk space leading to the Montlake Bridge. Also note: the existing Lake Washington Bike Route using the 24th Ave overpass (near ex-MOHAI) — that is now a freeway access ramp.

Is this progress? Or is this lid just one big interchange?

To let WSDOT know what you think regarding these issues or the 520 Replacement in general, email: SR520CommunityDesign@wsdot.wa.gov. Learn more about the Montlake Lid here, other 520 Seattle projects here.

Originally published July 20, 2012

RERUNS: 520@50: Garbage, time and habitat

Image: Montlaker via Seattle Municipal Archives #30545 – 30549

The recent news that Eva, Eddie the Eagle’s widow, has new eaglets in her nest was happily received by 520 commuters, park-goers and residents alike. The habitat around the freeway has come a long way since it was drained, dredged and regraded fifty years ago — and before that abused during its days as the Miller Street garbage dump.

When the Olmsted Brothers redesigned Washington Park into botanical gardens and an arboretum during the 1930s, someone from the firm went to the neighboring Miller Street dump and took this sequence of photos to document the wider panorama of the site (above, click for a larger view). Capitol Hill rises to the left on the horizon and the UW campus skyline sits just to the right of center. In the left foreground, you can see the garbage dump literally growing before your eyes:

Image: Seattle Municipal Archives #30545

Two trucks are unloading debris over the edge of the dump. A fire burns to the right. This process of dumping, lasting from the early 1900’s until 1936, created the landmass for what eventually became the WSDOT Peninsula. Because garbage and gardens generally don’t mix well, the Olmsted Brothers recommended the dump be closed — and the city then agreed.

Now for the freeway. The following two images show this same area before and after construction of 520; in 1961 and 1965 respectively:

Images: Pacific Aerial Survey via UW Map Collection

The before-image shows the scablands of the old Miller Street dump wedged between the Montlake neighborhood on the left, and Foster Island on the right. The paths of freeway ramps are just beginning to appear through the wetlands. The after-image shows the full extent of 520, completed in 1963. More interestingly, it shows the lagoons carved around the landmass of the dump – today’s WSDOT Peninsula – bounded by the Arboretum ramps.

That eagles and ospreys and turtles, herons, beavers and crows have returned to this area is testament to two things: time and a strong will to not mess things up.

This article was originally published June 7, 2012

RERUNS: The agony and ecstasy of 520 Bridge closures

Image: Stephan Gray

The recent 520 Bridge drawspan openings have created a game of chicken for commuters hustling across Lake Wasington before the scheduled 30-minute road closures. With WSDOT’s email and text alerts giving fair warning, drivers can choose wisely: go early, go late — or attempt to cross at the very last minute.

However, last night’s race to beat the bridge wasn’t much of a contest. Traffic along 520 had been crawling for hours when an unfortunately timed drawspan opening at 7pm made a rough evening commute even worse. Not surprisingly, frustrated voices took to Twitter:

Why did @wsdot decide to schedule a 520 draw bridge opening for 7PM on a workday???

@wsdot I’m parked on 520 with many other frustrated motorists. Why is the bridge allowed to open for boat traffic at this time of night?

@520_bridge, angry boyfriend just called me. he’s not impressed with you.

Two words: Coast Guard. Yet, not everyone was unhappy:

have to say, kind of love getting stuck on the 520bridge closures. Always has a good vibe, people getting out of their cars and socializing

For those less hurried (or resigned to fate) sitting under the solstice sun while floating on Lake Washington became an unexpected joy. People took pictures and looked for eagles, while @520_bridge — bless its heart — led Microsoft workers in song.

In 2014 the old bridge will be towed away and recycled or reused elsewhere. With all these drawspan openings in its last two years, it might also become something more than just a freeway — 30 minutes at a time.

Image: via @moohaha

Originally published June 22, 2012

RERUNS: Breakdancing on the Ramp-to-Nowhere

Images: Montlaker

The Ramp-to-Nowhere has always been used in creative ways – from jumping off of it to living under it to declaring one’s love for Gina on top of it. On a recent spring day, a film crew used the ramp for a breakdancing video shoot. While waiting for edited tape to emerge from the studio, here are few pics:

All images: Montlaker

Originally published July 3, 2012

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