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Locals ask the city to improve bike lanes on Ballard Bridge

Posted by Meghan Walker on May 27th, 2015

A group of Ballardites is urging the city to make safety improvements to the Ballard Bridge. Spearheaded by Haley Woods from the Peddler Brewing Company, the group asks that the city use funds from a city transportation levy to widen the sidewalks, improve the barriers to reduce the risk of injury, and adjust the north and south exits to make the bridge safer for pedestrians and cyclists.”As we all know the sidewalk is too narrow and dangerous, and therefore not many people can or do use the bridge as a crossing between Ballard and Interbay,” Woods says.

Woods recommends the following improvements:
1. Make the sidewalks wider. Woods recommends that the sidewalks be widened from 3.5 feet to 6-feet wide. She says this can be accomplished by taking one foot of lane width from the outside lane by removing the curb, and removing the current bulky outer railing and attaching a new railing on the outside of the bridge. Woods also recommends removing the cages around the stairwells in order to make space for cyclists.

2. Reduce the risk of injury. Woods recommends that the city install a higher railing to separate the outer lanes from the bike/pedestrian lane. She also says the speed limit should be reduced to 25 miles-per-hour, and painting designated lanes for bikes and pedestrians in each direction.

3. Make the north-end exit safer. Woods says the current 18-foot-wide exit lane off the bridge should be reduced to make more space for the bike lanes. She also recommends painting crossings on the roads directly after the exit lane, especially on NW 46th St. next to the Ballard Blocks.

4. Make the south-end exit safer. Woods recommends a number of changes to the south-end exit. Firstly, she suggests squaring up the interchange and adding a stop light to slow traffic. Additionally, she says the city should add protected bike lanes to Dravus Street and connect the bike path to the Ship Canal Trail. Lastly, she recommends removing the Emerson Street overpass because it poses a large safety hazard to trucks passing underneath, citing a 2014 accident that cost the city $5 million to repair. Recognizing the costs involved in the changes, Woods says the city could sell an adjacent parcel of land (shown in the video) in order to help pay for the safety improvements.

Woods says the improvements to the bridge could be made by using funds from the $900 million Transportation Levy to Move Seattle. “The levy needs to include investment to short-term improvements to the Ballard Bridge,” Woods says in her proposal. “Now that you know how to make it safer, let’s do it.”

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25 reader comments so far ↓

  • 1 Social Justice Warrior! // May 27, 2015 at 10:29 am

    Install tolls for cyclists to pay, and I’m in!

  • 2 astlly // May 27, 2015 at 10:33 am

    I’m somewhere between an ambivilant meh and unsupportive about bike lanes but god does this bridge need something

  • 3 Profile photo of Salmon Bay Salmon Bay // May 27, 2015 at 10:52 am

    These are fine ideas, but I find many are unrealistic for the near term. People get very focused on the narrow lanes of the Ballard Bridge, and believe that the first thing that needs to be done is widen the lanes. While wider lanes would be awesome, it would be really, really expensive, and take a long, long time to complete. Widening the lanes should be a long range plan. In fact the bridge approaches are near the end of their lifespan and will need to be rebuilt at some point. I can deal with the narrow lanes; when approaching anyone else, we both stop and then we pass. But there are many low cost improvements that could be done now.

    Take the southwest end’s Merge of Death. The sidewalks are horribly heaved and potholed right before this Merge of Death. A person riding a bicycle should be signalling their intention to merge, but the unsafe sidewalk conditions make this very hazardous. And while they are at it, SDOT could fix the heavily potholed sidewalk opposite the Merge of Death.

    While a stoplight at the Merge of Death would be awesome, again, I don’t see that as realistic. It would be much more efficient to have a demand activated flashing yellow beacon, a stop line and “Stop for Bicycles Entering Roadway” sign. This would be similar to the 58th Street Greenway crossing of 24th Ave.

    Then again, about that Merge of Death. There is already an existing underpass of Emerson Street. SDOT could easily grade a trail down to the underpass and completely eliminate the Merge of Death.

    SDOT did a study on a barrier between the sidewalk and the street. It was something like TWO MILLION dollars. I’m sure the barrier they specified would stop a cement truck from going over into the sidewalk. All that’s really needed is a chain link fence to keep people from riding bicycles from falling into traffic. I have twice been behind people riding bikes that have hit the outside railing stanchions and fallen into traffic. Both times I thought they would be dead, but luckily, they weren’t hit by the cars racing by at 50 MPH. Terry McMacken wasn’t so lucky; he went over the curb and died as result of his injuries. Seriously, how much would it cost to put up a chain link fence? Can’t this be done now? Do we need to wait until someone else dies?

    So many other realistic low cost improvements could be done. Here are a few more.

    A bike lane could easily be added from the Ship Canal Trail up Nickerson to the bridge to improve access to the southeast approach.

    Cars routinely run the stop sign at Ballard Way on the northwest approach. I nearly get hit there every single morning. This intersection needs to be fixed by eliminating the redundant side roads down to 46th street. These side roads should then be turned into bicycle access for the Burke Gilman Trail, which is just two blocks away. Again, pretty low cost. Move the stop sign up and close the side road to motor vehicles.

    The third lanes from the bridge to Dravus, both northbound and southbound should be made into BAT lanes, if not dedicated bicycle lanes. The extra lanes only encourage speeding. The speed limit on 15th was reduced from 40 MPH on the Ballard Bridge to 30 MPH all the way through Ballard to Downtown, yet people driving cars still drive 50 MPH. Where is the SPD? I rarely drive, but when I do, I drive the speed limit of 30 MPH in the left lane. OMG, people sure do get upset with that! Then inevitably we all get stopped in traffic or at a light just a little farther south.

    I think ultimately, before the bridge approaches can be rebuilt, with the incredible surge of bicycles used for transportation, SDOT will need to find a solution to the narrow sidewalks on the Ballard Bridge. It might involve three motor vehicle lanes with a reversible center lane, with protected bicycle lanes on each side of the bridge.

  • 4 Jon // May 27, 2015 at 11:27 am

    While I agree that safety is key for bikers crossing the bridge, the best cost/benefit option is for bikers to walk their bikes across the bridge. Problem solved. Vehicle lanes are too narrow as is.

  • 5 Jeff // May 27, 2015 at 11:58 am

    Maybe the idiots should take their headphones out, get off the phone and pay attention to what is going on around them. A little common sense would make them safer.

  • 6 Bob // May 27, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    @Jeff, you’re right — the idiots (I’m assuming you mean car drivers) should totally pay more attention!

  • 7 Profile photo of SEdholm SEdholm // May 27, 2015 at 12:18 pm

    I avoid the bridge like all hell. I hate stopping all the time for bikers, as a walker I have been hit by things kicked up by cars (ice/snow). It is too narrow for a bike and any person on foot to be moving at the same time.

  • 8 Ebra // May 27, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    Walking one’s bike across the bridge means taking up even more space on the narrow walkway than cycling. A pedestrian and cyclist can only realistically pass if the cyclist is mounted. Otherwise the pedestrian has to cling to the railing, and the cyclist scrapes the barrier. Cycling across with the cars is only for the most experienced, confident cyclist. The gratings grab the wheels (not to mention they’re very, very bumpy).
    In an ideal world, the cyclists would have their own crossing, leading down to the ship canal trail, thus avoiding the merge of death

  • 9 joyce // May 27, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    Has anyone suggested making the pedestrian paths “one-way” only?

  • 10 Doug Grundfossen // May 27, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    This bridge has long surpassed it’s usefulness. Just replace the entire bridge. Don’t waste the time and money trying to fix something that needs to be replaced.

  • 11 Profile photo of Mondoman Mondoman // May 27, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    If this story correctly portrays Woods’ views, he/she seems shockingly uninformed about some aspects of the current situation.

    Starting with the positive aspects, I think just about everyone agrees that the sidewalks should be widened, and a thin, taller barrier installed between the traffic lanes and sidewalk. However, it’s important that barrier not be so tall that bike handlebars can’t fit over it — maybe 2.5 feet tall? Money is another big issue. It’s probably better to just rebuild the whole bridge into a proper 3+3 lane bridge with proper sidewalk(s)/path rather than spend millions for a stopgap inferior solution.

    The bad: Mostly south end stuff: a stoplight on 15th at the south end???!? Removing the Emerson overpass???!? Asking that the bridge bike path be connected to the Ship Canal Trail when it has already been connected for more than 2 years???!? These just make the proposal seem uninformed and half-baked.

  • 12 Simon // May 27, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    “the incredible surge of bicycles used for transportation”

    Horse pucky.

  • 13 Earendil // May 27, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    Some of those are fine ideas, and others just seem ill-informed. I’ll only comment on the one that seems the least informed though; the removal of the over/under pass and turning the south end into an intersection.

    Currently, when the bridge goes up, it is possible for drivers on Emerson and Nickerson to approach 15th and, if they don’t want to cross the bridge, to be on their way. If you make it a 4 way intersection with traffic light, it will not only take longer for traffic to clear (causing even further back ups, and inconveniencing more people), but it will increase the number of bridge raising that cause a backup. You can have turn lanes, but turn lanes can only accommodate so many motorists before they halt traffic. If your turn late accommodates 10 cars, then 11 cars in the non-turn lane will block motorists desiring to turn.

    Now, the above scenario still happens to some extent. But curcially, it currently takes a significant number of cars to block Emerson drivers heading south, and an almost equal number to back Nickson drivers heading south. It’s no accident that the underpass starts back at 13th street. For reference, here is a map:

    There is also the aspect of car safety. On ramps are inherently more safe as there is no possibility for a T-bone or head on wreck. By installing an intersection there you have increased the amount of traffic there (no way for cars to go around) and increased the likelihood for a deadly wreck.

    Now, that area is highly unfriendly to bikers and pedestrians, but it seems the better solution would be to route bike/foot traffic around or over that area, rather than through it via the use of traffic lights and cross walks. It doesn’t serve the general public to trade safety in one area for safety in another. But if you route bikers down to the canal trail and through the area via a pedestrian bridge, than everyone wins. It also has to cost less than removing an overpass and reworking the entire intersection.

  • 14 Darlene // May 27, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    “However, it’s important that barrier not be so tall that bike handlebars can’t fit over it — maybe 2.5 feet tall?”

    Mondoman, what you are proposing sounds extremely dangerous.

    If it was only 30″ tall, you would see bicyclists flipping over the barrier into oncoming traffic.

    Salmon Bay’s proposal for a chain link fence seems more reasonable. I would want a 6′ tall fence myself and can’t imagine I’d bike so close to it that my handlebars would need to extend over the top.

  • 15 Fred // May 27, 2015 at 9:05 pm

    “I drive the speed limit of 30 MPH in the left lane.”

    Congratulations! You win the Seattle Smug Self righteous A$$h*** award. Be sure to wear it when you step out in sandals and socks.

    By the way, you’re wrong. From Ballard traveling southbound, it’s 30 MPH to the middle of the bridge, where it increases to 40. Just south of Dravus Street is drops to 35 MPH and stays that speed all the way to West Harrison Street (Shanty Cafe), where it decreases to 30 MPH. Or as I call it, 45mph on I15 until I hit a light.

  • 16 David Robison // May 27, 2015 at 9:28 pm

    Replace the bridge with a modern that includes with light rail tracks.

  • 17 Profile photo of Mondoman Mondoman // May 28, 2015 at 1:25 am

    Darlene, I appreciate your concern. However, I think a 30″ barrier would be better than the 1 foot(?) barrier there now.

    The chain-link fence sounds very dangerous to me — I ride a mountain bike with handlebars about 26″ wide and about 40″ off the ground. The handlebar ends are small enough in diameter that they would easily fit through the holes in a chain-link fence, causing a sudden bike crash if that happened. On a wider path, that wouldn’t be as much of an issue, but even with the proposal’s slight width increase, many cyclists would end up riding down the middle of the path to avoid fence-caused crashes.

  • 18 gilman gal // May 28, 2015 at 7:18 am

    Anyone else remember Lucy the Safeway lady on tv that was killed by a ladder from a truck on the Ballard Bridge?

  • 19 Darlene // May 28, 2015 at 8:30 am

    If your handlebars are 26″ wide, then only 13″ protrudes from the center of the bike in either direction.

    I have a hard time imagining someone riding that close to any barrier. If you’re only a bit over a foot away, you’d risk smacking your knees or getting your pedals caught.

    Maybe the chain link fence is not the proper material. A solid surface would seem better, perhaps some polycarbonate panels or hockey boards/glass arrangement.

    Regardless, I still believe it should be tall enough that there’s no chance a rider could fall into vehicle traffic.

    A bonus for the ‘solid barrier’ would be not having to breathe the car & truck fumes when you ride/run/walk across that bridge!

  • 20 Anon // May 28, 2015 at 8:31 am

    @Social Justice Warrior!:

    I do pay tolls. It’s called property and sales tax, you mountebank.

  • 21 Lynne // May 28, 2015 at 9:28 am

    re: speed limit on 15th/Elliot. The limit for the whole length of that road is now 30mph. It does not change to 40mph after the bridge.

  • 22 Jane // May 28, 2015 at 9:29 am

    Honestly? This bridge is going to collapse if we get The Big One. Bike lanes are the least of our worries. We need to replace this decimated and crumbling relic.

  • 23 Profile photo of Salmon Bay Salmon Bay // May 28, 2015 at 9:34 am

    Fred: “By the way, you’re wrong. ” Um, no. Please make sure you check the posted speed limits and obey them. The speed limit for the entire length of 15th Avenue NW from Holman Road to Elliot Avenue is 30 MPH.
    As for the barrier, the existing railing mid-span on both sides of the bascule is shoulder high when riding through it, well above the handlebars. While chain link may not be the proper material, I mentioned it as an obviously cheap alternative to whatever the $2 MILLION barrier SDOT specified. The purpose of this fencing is to keep people using the sidewalk from falling into the path of speeding motor vehicles.
    This fence really must be erected now, or it will be another Second Avenue bike lane situation where a person riding a bicycle is killed due to a known very dangerous situation. SDOT will once again have blood on their hands due to their inaction. But remember, Safety Is The Number One Priority At SDOT!

  • 24 Fred // May 28, 2015 at 8:45 pm

    “Please make sure you check the posted speed limits and obey them. ”

    What, are you going to call your mommy?

    ….. I can’t drive 55!

  • 25 Sandals and socks // May 29, 2015 at 7:10 am

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