Montlake Lid community design: Bicycles, transit and the Canal Reserve

Last week the Montlake Community Club hosted a public workshop with WSDOT’s 520 design team for the Montlake Lid options under consideration. Volunteers from the Club were on hand to survey residents and better understand which issues are most important to the people who will live next to this mega-project. To be clear, the major consensus among attendees was distaste for the rat’s nest of ramps that render the lid’s open space unusable. This is not a lid but a massive interchange’ was a common sentiment, but that said, people came to the workshop to have a voice in making the project better.

Two issues emerged with general consensus: the location of the westbound HOV off-ramp and the Canal Reserve area.

Over 90% of attendees preferred keeping the westbound HOV off-ramp low at the east Montlake shoreline and bringing it to 24th Ave E in a trench in the eastern half of the lid, as shown here:

East Montlake Shoreline “Option A” plan. Image: WSDOT

From the traffic impact perspective, this option makes for a somewhat smaller and quieter interchange. From the usable park space perspective, this option is a trade-off because it divides the eastern half of the lid with a trench — but since all options are considered bad for park space, this option is the lesser of all evils.

The Canal Reserve area on the north side of the lid between Montlake Blvd and 24th is the buffer between homes on Hamlin Street and the westbound off-ramps, transit stop and regional bicycle-pedestrian path. Following the preference for the “low” HOV off-ramps above, there are two design options for the Canal Reserve:

Canal Reserve Option A. Image: WSDOT

Canal Reserve Option B. Image: WSDOT

The differences between these options are primarily in the regional path and transit stop:

  • Option A has the regional path on the north side, where it splits in two: one lane goes to Montlake Blvd & Bridge, the other ramps down into a tunnel under the Boulevard to the Bill Dawson Trail and Montlake Playfield. The transit stop waiting area is wedged between the HOV & general purpose off-ramps.
  • Option B splits the regional path at 24th (above the westbound general purpose off-ramp) so that the tunnel trench to the Bill Dawson trail is in the median next to the transit stop. This option gives more space to the median and the Canal Reserve buffer by shifting the off-ramp lanes south onto the lid. For bicyclists and pedestrians, this option improves the sight lines for the tunnel under the Boulevard (compare with the sharp turn into the tunnel in Option A – a potential hazard).

Option B was preferred by 75% of workshop attendees for its friendlier green space and regional path alignment. The consequence is less space on the lid proper, but since the lid is fully surrounded by heavy traffic, there is little desire to preserve it as usable park space.

These two consensus choices are timely given the politics of WSDOT’s Lake-to-Land plan that would build the northern half of the west approach from 520 to Montlake Blvd starting in 2014. These design options would be part of that project, should it proceed.

WSDOT has announced its next and final community design meeting for Monday, July 16th, 4:30-7:30pm at St. Demetrios Church. There will be new design drawings for the Seattle 520 corridor and a physical model. In September, the design team will issue a report to the legislature based on feedback from this meeting.

Then we wait for a decision on the federal loan that would fund the Lake-to-Land plan and for the political cares of our new governor.