The Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board is set to review WSDOT’s plans for the Montlake Lid at its next meeting on Wednesday, September 5th. The Board’s response to bicycle access provided by the design will be passed on to the Mayor and City Council and could end up in WSDOT’s Community Design final report due to the state legislature later this year. Expect the agenda of political issues for bicycles moving along 520 to be set this week.
Here are three problem areas for bicycle connectivity in WSDOT’s Montlake Lid design:
1. The 24th Ave overpass mixes bikes with added freeway traffic
The overpass at 24th Ave is currently a bicycle lifeline connecting the Montlake Bridge and the city’s signed Lake Washington bike route (along 25th Ave E). It is the only safe way to bypass the craziness of Montlake Blvd. The new 520 interchange, however, turns this overpass into a freeway access road forcing cyclists to mix with freeway traffic and cross an extra intersection mid-lid. The safest and most popular bicycle route through the neighborhood is made worse by this lid design, not better.
2. The Montlake Blvd bicycle/pedestrian underpass is dangerous
This underpass is a welcome addition for cyclists and pedestrians, so long as it is made safe for both. On the west side, the underpass is accessed by a long U-turn ramp with a downhill slope that ends 1) at a concrete wall, 2) at a stair landing, 3) at the edge of the tunnel’s dark shadow and 4) at a fork in the bike lane requiring turns across traffic. A similar situation exists on the east side of the underpass.
It’s not hard to imagine pedestrians hustling down the stairs and turning into bicycles emerging from the dark tunnel going 20mph.
As designed, the underpass is 14 feet wide, the same width as the new regional path across the 520 Bridge. A possible solution would be to widen the tunnel path and physically separate fast moving bikes from pedestrians trying to cross under the street. A pedestrian lane on the north side would prevent the stair landing areas from mixing with bike traffic.
3. The 520 regional path does not continue over Portage Bay to the Roanoke Lid, Capitol Hill and Eastlake.
WSDOT has not adopted the Portage Bay regional path into the project, acknowledging it only as “community requested.” The Seattle Design Commission strongly supports it, and the SBAB likely will as well. Its benefits are obvious: it helps sustainable modes of transportation, it connects neighborhoods, it creates a direct and gently-sloped route up a big-ass hill. It just makes sense.
It would make more sense, however, to connect the path to the Bill Dawson Trail (as shown above) and continue it to Roanoke St behind the Montlake Blvd Market (Hop-In). This would make for a faster, easier and more direct route to UW and the light rail station since it doesn’t force walkers and riders down to lake level and back up to Montlake Blvd (via the Dawson Trail, with double long U-turn for bikes). It would also directly connect the central Montlake “plateau” and to potential neighborhood greenways (20th/22nd) passing by Montlake Elementary School.
The 520 Seattle Community Design Process has yet to yield good results for pedestrians and cyclists. Tomorrow’s Seattle Bike Advisory Board meeting is a chance to put pressure on WSDOT to humanize 520 in these small but important ways. Public comments are accepted and encouraged.
Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board meeting — Wednesday, September 5th — 6-8pm — Seattle City Hall, room L280 (note: entry doors to City Hall lock at 6pm so plan to arrive a few minutes early)