520 Bridge turns 50 years old

Image: PEMCO Webster & Stevens Collection, MOHAI

Image: PEMCO Webster & Stevens Collection, MOHAI

Happy birthday ol’ floater! The 520 Bridge opened 50 years ago today — August 28, 1963. On the same day that local dignitaries gathered for a ribbon cutting ceremony on Lake Washington, Martin Luther King led millions in the March on Washington in DC. Unrelated facts? Not in the least.

But before getting to that, WSDOT has been celebrating 50 years of floating across State Route 520 by collecting stories about the highway. Their “520at50 Memory Lane” website and Twitter campaign allows people to write their own bits of local history:

My friends and I rode our bikes from our Ravenna homes to be a part of the festivities. We got there well before the crowds arrived and stationed ourselves in position to see the cutting close up… I do remember that my friends and I broke the ribbons before they were cut and we held them together until after the official cutting took place. Each of us had a bit of those pieces of plastic in our pockets as we rode our bikes back home that day. — David Oehler

… when my girlfriends mom let me user her Vespa scooter while my car was being repaired. I would then drive across the bridge, under construction on the Vespa. The first time the construction guys said I couldn’t go but I told them I had to get to class after visiting my girlfriend. They recognized a true romance in the making and let me cross every day for about a month until the bridge opened when I had to pay tolls like everyone else, 25 cents. — Chris Warner

Looking back, we joke that our early years at Seward School dealing with constant SR 520 and I-5 construction noise is the reason we were stunted intellectually. — Anonymous

The site has a bunch of historical photos, documents and vintage video showing the bridge under construction in the early 60s. The silent footage is worth watching for scenes of workers throwing hot rivets, burning tree stumps (is that the Arboretum?) and a cable safety gate stopping a charging dump truck before the drawspan. The gate wins. Sort of.

WSDOT has also published a more substantial history website of the corridor as part of the 520 highway replacement project: 520history.org. The site, developed in partnership with HistoryLink, broadly covers the tribes that once lived between Portage and Union Bays, the industrialization of Lake Washington and tells the more “official” history of the 1960s floating bridge construction. Lots of interesting new material there.

As commendable as these efforts to record history are, there are many stones left unturned. While there is mention of the freeway politics behind the Montlake-Medina route choice for 520 over Kirkland-Sandpoint — (Montlake’s wetlands and garbage dumps were easier obstacles to overcome) — there is nothing about the discourse of those debates including “white flight” fears of diminished property values and “social change.” And most glaringly missing from the story: the grass-roots citizens’ protest that later defeated 520’s planned successor, the R.H. Thomson Expressway through the Arboretum and Central District. Eugene Smith’s 2004 book Montlake: An Urban Eden touches on this, noting how Seattle Mayor Gordon Clinton framed the city’s preferred Thomson route:

[Clinton] wrote Senator Warren Magnuson in November, 1960, to … “preserve the Arboretum as a priceless asset to the City and the State.” He acknowledged that condemnation of private property was necessary and that it would cost half a million dollars more than Plan A, as determined by city-appointed appraisers. Their report had observed that, if the right-of-way left the homes on the east side of 26th Avenue, “the present owners will tend to move elsewhere . . . [and] their replacements are apt, and almost certain, to be of a lower social stratum and will drop the quality and, hence, the value of the whole Montlake Peninsula.” Plan B, on the other hand, would produce a “very minor reduction of values in the total Montlake Peninsula [and] would more than offset the added cost of the private property acquisition.”

With Plan B, the city then demolished about a dozen homes on 26th Ave E. Hard to imagine that happening today.

Anyways — happy birthday, Bridge!

Obliteride spins through Montlake on Sunday

20130809-184147.jpgImage and post by Amy Anderson

Have you seen the bright orange Obliteride signs (like the one above) around town? They’re even a few in Montlake announcing the inaugural ride organized by Fred Hutch to obliterate cancer.

The first-ever Obliteride spins through Montlake this Sunday as the 180-mile riders head toward the finish line at Magnuson Park mid-day. No roads will be closed but organizers are asking people to look out for riders in bright orange Obliteride jerseys and cheer them on as they ride to end cancer.

Around 100 cyclists are participating in the 180-mile ride, the longest of the four Obliteride routes which also includes 25-,50- and 100-mile options. On Day 2, Sunday, August 11, the 180-mile Obliteride route starts at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma and finishes in Magnuson Park in North Seattle.

Look for cyclists in Montlake starting around 11 a.m. on Lake Washington Boulevard E., 24th Avenue E., E. Park Dr. East, East Shelby St., and Montlake Boulevard enroute to the Burke Gilman Trail.

Community Festival—More than a Bike Ride…

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Group purchase for rooftop solar systems offers steep discounts + Free PV for community orgs


Image: sustainableseattle.blogspot.com

Two great opportunities for converting all this glorious sunshine into usable electricity have popped up this summer, making it easier than ever to go solar. Solarize Seattle, a group purchasing program that is making solar panels mainstream one neighborhood at a time, is now coming to Central and Southeast Seattle:

Solar energy is currently powering hundreds of Seattle homes, and residents of  Montlake, Capitol Hill, the Central District, Beacon Hill, Rainier Valley, and other central and southeast Seattle neighborhoods are about to get a special opportunity to add their rooftops to our city’s growing solar array. Through a nonprofit-led program called Solarize Seattle, homes and small businesses can qualify for special pricing and take advantage of many incentives that make solar installations more affordable than ever.

Northwest Sustainable Energy for Economic Development (Northwest SEED) and Seattle City Light are working with several community groups to launch Solarize Seattle: Central/Southeast, a solar energy education and installation program that starts today and runs through October.  The program will be co-led by a community coalition of local volunteers, which will spearhead neighborhood outreach. Supporting organizations include Sustainable Seattle, Sustainable Capitol Hill, and Sustainable Central District.

The campaign features a group-buy program that provides a streamlined process for residents and small businesses to purchase solar systems for a discounted price. Participants learn how solar works in Seattle, how it is installed, what tax and production incentives are available to bring the price down, and how low-interest financing can spread out the cost.  The limited-time campaign intends to install over 200 kilowatts of solar energy in central and southeast Seattle by the end of 2013.

Through a competitive bidding process, the Solarize Seattle: Central/Southeast Community Coalition selected Puget Sound Solar and Artisan Electric as the project’s solar installation team.  These contractors will offer solar systems at discounted rates to project participants.

Solarize Seattle: Central/Southeast will be the seventh campaign of Northwest SEED’s Solarize Washington program (www.solarizewa.org).  Northwest SEED’s four campaigns in Seattle have resulted in over 1 MW of solar added to the city’s electric grid.  To date, Solarize Washington campaigns have educated over 1,750 people at public workshops, encouraged nearly 300 residents to install solar on their homes, and injected more than $7.5 million into the local solar economy.

Registration for Solarize Seattle: Central/Southeast opens Monday, July 8.  Registration is open to Seattle residents who live in the geographic area bordered by the Montlake cut to the north, I-5 to the west, Lake Washington to the east, and the City of Seattle boundary to the south.  Free educational workshops will be held on Jul. 23, Aug. 15, Aug. 27, and Sep. 18.  For more information, visit www.solarizewa.org.

Better than discounted solar panels are free solar panels, which the Solarize Seattle program is offering to community organizations with an available facility:

Qualifying community organizations must be located in central or southeast Seattle neighborhoods, must own their building or have a minimum 10-year lease, must be open and inclusive in engaging diverse community members, and provide a highly visible site with good access for the public to see and learn about the solar energy system.

The donated solar electric system will be rated at 3 kilowatts (kW) and will include all equipment and labor required for a rooftop installation, in addition to 10 years of maintenance service (the system itself has a life expectancy of at least 25 years).  The award of a 3 kW solar installation is approximately a $15,000 value for the installation and an additional value of up to $750 per year in electricity savings and Washington State production incentive payments.

The Request for Applications can be found at www.solarizewa.org.  The deadline for submitting an application is August 15, 2013.

City seeks 80 Montlake homes to join “Rainwise” program: Community meeting planned for Sept 19th

Image: Seattle Rainwise

By Julee Neuhart

​On Tuesday, July 30, Susan Harper, from Seattle Public Utilities spoke to a small group of Montlake residents at the Montlake Library. Susan reported the city wants 80 neighborhood home owners become “rainwise” to cut the amount of rainwater that overflows the city’s containment system in heavy rain storms, dumping polluted water into Portage Bay and the ship canal. Properties that are eligible for the program are:

  • the Shelby-Hamlin area
  • along 25th Avenue E. and 26th Avenue E. near the Arboretum
  • homes between Boyer Avenue and Portage Bay, west of 19th Avenue E..

To encourage participation, the city is offering rebates to help cover the cost of rainwise landscaping and/or rain collector cisterns. The rebate is $3.50 per square foot of roof that will direct rainwater into these features. Home owners can find out if their property is eligible for the program and if so, what projects are possible in their yard, by clicking here. This project does not cover modifications to the parking strip areas between the street and sidewalk.

​Susan reported that many homes in the Ballard and Broadview neighborhoods have installed rain gardens and or other features. The rebates have varied from $1000 to $4000, usually covering approximately 75% of the total cost. The website also has detailed information about the program and photos of rain gardens and cisterns used in Seattle. The utility has trained about 50 landscaper from many Seattle area firms. Their names and contact information is also included.

​A Rainwise Open House is scheduled for Thursday evening, September 19, 2013, at the Montlake Community Center. This event will provide interested home owners with more information. Representatives from Seattle Public Utilities will be on hand to answer questions and landscape firms will be displaying projects they have created and can answer questions specific to residents’ property.

520 Bridge pontoon overruns hit $81 million, more to come

WSDOT has released cost figures for repairs and design changes to the first pontoons built for the new 520 Bridge. The bill? $81 million. So far.

From The Seattle Times:

The state’s costs are $9.9 million to fix damage to the first batch, when a poorly designed corner section broke apart at Grays Harbor; another $48.8 million to seal cracks in the first batch, including the drydock work; and $22.4 million for extra work needed to strengthen the second batch. Construction is now under way on the third of six batches at Grays Harbor.

The overruns will be paid to contractor Kiewit-General through the project’s risk reserve fund (a sort of rainy day budget provision) which currently stands at $100 million after the charges announced today. Given that the change orders for the cycle 2 pontoons in the Aberdeen casting basin were $22 million, adding similar work for cycles 3-6 could approach draining the remaining reserve. Those cost figures will be finalized later this year.

With the pontoon repairs now well under way, WSDOT expects the new floating bridge to open in late-2015 or early-2016.

Photo roundup: Pontoon W heads back out to sea

Image: @bertandpatty

Image: @bertandpatty

The new 520 Bridge is on the move again. Tugboats Westrac and West Point towed the east end “Pontoon W” back out to Elliot Bay last night, on its way to a Harbor Island dry dock for structural repairs. Of all the recent pontoon movements through the Lake Washington Ship Canal, W’s retreat made for an awkward, if not surreal, scene.

Image: @HeatherGrafK5

Image: @HeatherGrafK5

Image: @andrewbernathy

Image: @andrewbernathy

Image: @stefgg

Image: @stefgg

Also surreal, this time-lapse video showing crews digging a 25′ trench and installing a fish culvert under 520 during last weekend’s closure:







City Council approves employee permits within Restricted Parking Zones

The Seattle City Council voted unanimously today to allow the Director of Transportation to grant parking permits to employees working within Restricted Parking Zones (RPZ). The legislation will allow employees, under certain conditions, to have parking privileges similar to residents living near commercial districts and light rail stations.

The legislation was proposed by Transportation Committee Chair Tom Rasmussen after local residents asked the city to give Montlake Elementary School teachers RPZ 1 permits, allowing them all-day access to on-street parking near the school. In recent years, as RPZ 1 has expanded throughout Montlake, school teachers were forced to park farther and farther away, or move their cars every 2 hours. To reduce the burden, some residents donated their guest parking passes to the school. This new legislation could change all of that…

This is where “under certain conditions” come into play. The new rules intend to allow permits for employees without good alternatives for parking, as determined by the director of SDOT. The Council adopted the following guidelines to inform each judgement call:

Among the criteria the Director shall consider in determining whether to grant requests for employee RPZ permits are:

1. Availability of on-street parking on non-RPZ- signed blocks that is within a reasonable walking distance of the employer;

2. Availability of alternate modes of transportation within a reasonable distance;

3. Availability of off-street parking within a reasonable distance;

4. Availability of on-street parking in the RPZ;

5. Time of day that employees work;

6. Number of permits requested by the employer;

7. Existence of other employers within the RPZ that could potentially also request employee permits; and

8. Other hardships that may exist.

For many Montlake residents the call is clear — teachers should be able to park near their school. Whether local businesses should also have the same privileges for their employees is perhaps not as clear. Implementing these new rules is now the pleasure of Seattle’s Director of Transportation.

520 weekend closure comes with wicked I-405 twist + Falcon maintenance

20130712-065401.jpgImages: WSDOT Flickr stream

The 520 Bridge will close this weekend for its annual inspection and maintenance, from 11pm Friday to 5am Monday, as has become routine during 520 replacement construction over the past few years. But this won’t be a typical weekend shutdown. Crews will also close the northbound lanes of I-405 through Bellevue, complicating things for drivers detouring around Lake Washington.

Ouch. You’ve been warned.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” said WSDOT Northwest Regional Administrator Lorena Eng. “But combining it in one weekend helps reduce the number of closures we need this summer. We also want to avoid conflicts with special events like Seafair, the Bite of Seattle and the Bellevue Arts Festival.”

On northbound I-405, crews will replace all the concrete panels in the two left lanes between Southeast Eighth and Main streets. These panels – which stretch the length of a dozen football fields – are failing. Crews will also tear out and replace panels in many other locations. Panels in the two right lanes will be repaired later this summer.

On SR 520, bridge maintenance crews will inspect the floating bridge. This annual inspection includes checks of the electrical system and drawspan machinery. Crews will also tackle repair and maintenance tasks such as concrete and expansion joint repair. Eastside Transit and HOV project construction crews will take advantage of the closure to install an 11-foot-diameter, fish-friendly culvert beneath all lanes of SR 520 just west of I-405 and requires a multi-day closure to complete.

In other bridge news, state biologists recently climbed onto the I-5 Ship Canal Bridge to visit the peregrine falcon nest and tag this year’s babies. The falcons keep away pigeons and their paint eating poop which saves maintenance costs, so there.


More freeway falcon photos here.

Nighttime rail deliveries to UW Station set for July 8th-14th

Images: Sound Transit Flickr feed

Sound Transit construction crews are ready to lay tracks through the U-Link light rail tunnel under Montlake after installing rails from Capitol Hill Station to Downtown over the spring. Starting Monday, July 8th trucks carrying 60′ steel rails will begin a week of nighttime deliveries to UW Station. Sound Transit says to expect a bit more activity and noise around the job site than usual, as the rails are off-loaded and lowered into the station pit. From ST:

The trucks carrying 60’ lengths of rail will approach the construction site from the south via I-5 north, to SR520 and then to Montlake Blvd. After the delivery is complete, the rail will be lowered by crane into the station box where it will be welded and then installed in each tunnel.

To minimize traffic impacts from these large vehicles, delivery will take place during the nighttime hours of 8:00 pm and 6:00 am. Sound Transit’s contractor has obtained a temporary noise variance from the City of Seattle in order to deliver and unload the rail. What to expect during this work:

  • Increased truck activity near the site. There will be approximately 6 trucks delivering rail to the site per hour.
  • Intermittent noise from trucks entering the site and from crane operations.
  • Flashing lights from trucks.

You are always invited to contact me with any questions at 206-398-5300 or ulink@soundtransit.org. For issues that need immediate attention after normal business hours, call Sound Transit’s 24-hour Construction Hotline at (888) 298-2395.

The $1.9 billion U-Link light rail project remains under budget and on time for its scheduled opening in late-2016. Here’s to hoping crews take care and grind those welded rail joints nice and smooth

Candidates for Mayor talk livable streets


Candidates for Mayor (L to R): Bruce Harrell, Kate Martin, Ed Murray, Joey Gray, Charlie Staadecker, Mary Martin, Mike McGinn and Peter Steinbrueck. Image: Montlaker

Eight candidates for mayor attended last night’s Livable Streets Forum, squaring off in a fierce battle of friendliness. The Seattle Neighborhood Greenways sponsored event drew a crowd of about 150 people, all presumably curious to hear how each candidate plans to make our streets more walk and bike friendly. Who can argue with safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists? Well, Mary Martin can…

Notable, quotable moments from the forum:

Steinbrueck: Wants to return to a time when kids can safely ride bikes to school. Suggests folks might be able to cross through private easements, even backyards.

McGinn: Reminds crowd he built sidewalks, implemented “Complete Streets” design guidelines, put up speed cameras near schools.

Staadecker: Wants to paint wildebeests in crosswalks to appeal to kids. More seriously, encourage schools and neighborhoods to fund their own crossing guards.

Gray: A life-long bike advocate. As Mayor, would build information system to leverage existing safe-routes-to-school research.

Murray: Funded safe routes to school program as a state legislator. Supports the Bridging the Gap levy to fund local improvement projects. Is big into chicanes.

Kate Martin: A strong Neighborhood Greenways advocate. In contrast to McGinn’s “400-year plan” to fund greenways, Martin has a 10-year plan. Says McGinn hasn’t done enough.

Harrell: Important to enrich the safety around schools, not just routes to them. Would fund Community Service Officers to help walk students to school.

McGinn: Hopes to see a total transformation of city streets by the time he’s 85.

Mary Martin: The capitalist system is in collapse. Need to free “Cuban Five” political prisoners.

Staadecker: All candidates will make great promises about improving streets, but it costs money. As mayor, would work faster than McGinn.

Gray: We need extreme action to end climate change now. Supports ADA.

Murray: Once tripped on a broken sidewalk, tore rotator cuff. We need better funding and planning.

Harrell: Suggests looking at a vehicle licensing fee and really “selling” it to the voters to raise funds, improve streets.

Steinbrueck: Mother-in-law killed at a Seattle intersection a few years ago. Would like to eliminate all bicycle and pedestrian fatalities on city streets. Neighborhood Greenways is the antidote.

Moderator: How would you allocate $100 to road repair, sidewalks, bike lanes, street trees and transit service? All candidates prioritized road repair first, except Mary Martin who dismissed the premise of the question, suggesting a public jobs program instead.

McGinn: “Stop wasting money on massive new highways.” Dings Murray: Olympia failed us by not passing a transportation package this year.

While Steinbrueck and McGinn vied for shortest pledge to complete Seattle’s Pedestrian Master Plan (8 and 7 years respectively), Harrell went for the cold-hard-truth approach — 25 years — suggesting it would take many hundreds of millions of dollars to complete.

Moderator: Do you support 2015 levy to fund Seattle’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plans? All candidates: Yes, except Mary Martin, who wants jobs.

Moderator: Should kids play in the street? Staadecker: yes, if closed off.

Steinbrueck: We should prioritize our streets for pedestrians, bikes, transit and vehicles. In that order.

Moderator: What other cities inspire you? Gray likes nifty bicycle uphill assist things in Norway. Murray likes Amsterdam, Barcelona cycle tracks and Grafton Street in Dublin. Harrell: “Well, I’ve never been to Amsterdam and Barcelona, but I have been to Portland.”

Murray: McGinn criticizes Olympia — we need to work with Olympia.

Kate Martin: Retrofit the Viaduct and turn top deck into a park, watch sunsets.

Harrell: Portland has done a good job of driving pedestrian project costs down with efficiencies.

Steinbrueck: A student of cities all over the world, but likes New York City, San Francisco and Cambridge.

Mary Martin: “We can’t bike our way to power.” Envisions a Seattle that looks like Cuba. “We need a class revolution.”