Bike lane changes proposed for Ballard Bridge

Updated: The Seattle Department of Transportation is preparing to make some changes to the bike lane along the south end of the Ballard Bridge.

The bike path currently curves along the exit at West Emerson but SDOT is proposing several options improve both bike access and truck turning movements. Michael Snyder emailed us, “Cyclists have long complained about how horrible the Ballard Bridge is to cross. This is SDOT’s attempt to make it easier to merge in and continue south on 15th.” Aaron also emailed us, “Personally, I’m a little concerned by this. Drivers for the most part are accustomed to being able to make that right hand turn onto Emerson without yielding to crossing pedestrians or cyclists.”

SDOT met with a 15 member committee consisting of freight, bicycle and pedestrian advocates, to develop this plan. Dawn Schellenberg with SDOT says that they’re looking for input. You can leave comments here until August 12 so the changes can be made by the beginning of September. (Copyright photo by Michael Snyder is republished with permission. More photos here.)

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81 thoughts to “Bike lane changes proposed for Ballard Bridge”

  1. I'm hoping they will put up much better and larger signage and make the lane crossing the intersection out of that green material that is being used downtown to alert drivers to crossing bicyclists.

    A pushbutton stop light would be even better.

  2. I think there is a problem but am a bit concerned about their supposed solution. I think there should be an easy ramp under or over but there are going to be deaths with the lane headed straight into turning vehicles.

  3. Nice catch and photo Michael. This doesn't look like a very safe fix as it's laid out. I'm surprised they don't have a biker silhouette chalked out as well…

  4. My God, do they really think this is a solution? Yeah, let's lead the bicyclists straight into the path of a car turnoff. News flash: cars don't usually slow down when they're turning off.

  5. Just to show how long it takes for something to happen, here is a link to a Stranger article written in 2005 about this exact location.

    This is not a change to the current bike path that goes down Emerson, it is an improvement to the frightening curb cut that allows cyclist to continue down 15th.

    I ride this exact route up to 3 days a week and I'm scared to death everytime I have to merge into traffic at this location. To me, this will be a major improvement, but it still will remain a dangerous intersection that all cyclist will have to take great care at. The photo does not show the existing curb cut that cyclist have to use, nor does it show the recent sign that was put in place to attempt to alert drivers of merging cyclists.

    Now we just need the bridge itself to have proper bike lanes.

  6. I ride to that spot every weekday across the bridge. I always take the stairs. Rarely is there a gap in traffic big enough to get across safely. This is just SDOT window dressing, it is not a solution to this problem.

    A real solution would be to widen the sidewalk on the bridge to 6-8 feet with a high rail guard along the entire length. Then install a ramp system to glide under the bridge at the south end there.

  7. First, thanks to MS for spotting and reporting this!

    Second, I agree with Jeff and the others about a “real” solution, but what about this in the interim: install bright yellow speed bumps on either side of this proposed “bike crosswalk”. If drivers turning right (west) down the ramp and drivers coming up the ramp to merge into 15th knew they would have to cross 2 speed bumps right next to each other, they would naturally slow down.

    What do you all think about this proposed improvement?

  8. I ride this every day as well, and now wait for a break in the traffic going straight and turning at the current ridiculous curb opening. I think this will be a fine solution, because it will allow me to go for sure when there are cars going straight and to attempt to assert my right of way over turning cars. I don't plan to charge blindly into the path of a turning car, assuming it will stop, however.

  9. What a nightmare. This is going to be so dangerous. Bicyclists and the city government won't be happy until every roadway in this city is made wretched and treacherous to traffic.

    It creates a huge hazard as people turning in fast traffic have to watch for pedestrians and cyclists too. It is already a dangerous turnoff just from having people slow down to make the turn, much less stop.

    And where are the bike lanes going to go on the Ballard bridge? Are you going to leave one lane of traffic going either way in order to allow bike riders to lollygag down 15th in their own lane? Ride in the pedestrian lane. Or walk your bike. Do you think I care if you have to slow down for five minutes?

  10. I guess it’s the best they can do at the moment, but it looks like disaster waiting to happen.

    Bottom line is the Ballard Bridge is bad news for pedestrians and cyclists. Its an old system that does not apply to our new solutions.

  11. A step in the right direction. Something needs to be done to get drivers to slow down sooner if they're going to make that right turn, so that they're not slamming on the brakes at the last minute to avoid hitting a cyclist (who, of course, has right-of-way).

    Mondoman's suggestion of speed bumps seems like a good idea. Maybe a big flashing light or two.

  12. This is ridiculous. After all the 'missing link' talk the city is going to willfully build a bike path that is ten times as dangerous? You've got to be kidding me. What I worry about here is not the handful of folks who navigate this section today and know how to handle it but rather the newer cyclists who will go charging into this path.

    I would rather see it left as it is today because now every cyclist has to dismount and wait for a gap in traffic to cross or take the stairs. I do not feel bad for folks having to take an extra few minutes to cross over. At least they have to consciously make sure it is safe. No amount of signage or traffic lights will stop high speed traffic from making the right turn at speed.

    I'll say it again, the 'missing link' is nothing compared to this disaster.

  13. I may have misunderstood Mondoman, but I interpreted his suggestion to be speed bumps that only the right-turners would have to cross. Since that's a big commute route, most people making that turn would be aware of the speedbumps and would slow down ahead of time, but people going straight through wouldn't have to, unless someone slowed down ahead of them.

    With the laudable goal of, you know, not killing people.

  14. I don't buy it. With or without this change, the Ballard Bridge is still a cyclist's nightmare. The bike lane is way too narrow and flanked by concrete at exactly the wrong height. This isn't any kind of “bike path”… people aren't going to be rushing to this route just because it's slightly less deadly now.

  15. Laudable goals indeed.

    I take on look at the bridge it is now, and think people are gonna die. I take one look at this solution, and think people are gonna die.

    Sigh…………. probably in 20 or 30 years it will be rebuilt into the super bridge of the future, but until then…………….

  16. Wow. So to not cost you 15 seconds and to not inconvenience you by making you actually look before you make a high speed right turn (your words), many other people need to be inconvenienced.

    I do not feel bad that you will be inconvenienced and should have to look before barreling around a corner. I do feel bad about your obviously self-centered view.

  17. Easy dude. I have driven a car three times this summer and have never made that righthand turn at that corner. I also commute 200 mile a week to work so I have the opportunity to experience a lot of crossing on a bike. I can tell you this would be the most dangerous crossing I have seen. Cars have been making that turn for years and years and some will slow down and a lot will continue to be oblivious.

    I think the folks who jump over the barrier and cross on a regular basis would be fine. It's the 'weekend rider' I worry about. I actually like riding the bridge on the weekend and I see newish riders all the time on it. It's these people I fear would see that crossing and not have the experience and ability to cross it.

    I agree with gurple that this does not open up a new popular route but I feel it creates a dangerous situation nonetheless.

  18. Here's the comment I left:

    I am very glad to see the bike crossing at the South end of the Ballard bridge finally being addressed. I am concerned, however, about bike safety (although in that location I’m usually driving a car).

    I think the green bike lane strip will certainly help, but I also suggest the following measures:
    1. clear signage for cars and trucks warning them of the crossing; perhaps flashing lights could “ignite” when a bike crosses a sensor?
    2. clarify for drivers the yield as they ENTER 15th from the west (from W Emerson); this yield has always been confusing since it’s a new lane.

  19. Thanks, Allie! Wow, those concept options are great. If the SDOT had money falling from the sky, any one of those would be wonderful.

    Sounds like there will be “turtles” and line markings to encourage drivers to slow down before the turn. Good stuff.

  20. To be honest, i don't see very many cyclists dismounting at all. In fact I watched one yesterday catch a pedal and swerve into a path of a car who very fortunately was paying attention and missed him. I felt sick over the sight of it.

    this one spot isn't the reason I don't ride on the bridge and fixing it won't encourage me to either.

  21. Edog – gurple has my meaning right. Essentially, there would be speed bump “walls” on both sides of that “bike crosswalk”. The speed bumps would be there 100% of the time (unlike crossing bicyclists) and would appeal to the motorists' own well-being, two factors which I see as making them much more effective than the current plan.

  22. I did as well. I'm not saying that it couldn't be an overall improvement, but without adequate signage and warning for both the two and four wheel uses, it could be tragic. There are also pedestrian issues that shouldn't be neglected in the process, Metro Bus uses, etc.
    Everyone should chime in, and make certain that the issue is safety, not some SDOT pet project designed to pander to a select group.
    (gee, am I always this jaded? Pretty much…)

  23. Allie, thanks to you and SDOT for being so responsive and for setting up a very clear description and comment forum.

    One quick question: what are the dimensions of these “Turtles”? I haven't been able to find a description online with a bit of Googling.

  24. Thanks SDOT for rolling this out. It is true that this has been bandied about at the SDOT ad hoc group meetings, which includes ballard area business owners and industrialists.

    Most cyclists agree that this is a terrible intersection — my feeling is that this will improve safety for bicycles and pedestrians as they cross Emerson.

    Slow Down…You're in Ballard!

  25. Why not put a stop sign there for cyclists. Make them stop and wait for a break?

    Oh that's right, bikes can never be held responsible.

  26. Why not put a stop sign there for cyclists. Make them stop and wait for a break?

    Oh that's right, bikes can never be held responsible.

  27. I agree with JohnF completely. I ride thru this daily on my daily commute to downtown. The current configuration is bad, but the proposed configuration is worse for the reasons you state.

    New or unfamiliar riders with a false sense of security are going to speed thru this intersection without waiting for a gap/stop in the traffic.

  28. Terrible “solution” that presents a great deal of danger to cyclists and motorists.

    Someone WILL get injured or killed because of this. 15th is a major north/south arterial and bus route … holding up southbound traffic at Emerson to yield to bicycles is an accident waiting to happen. regardless of what you feel the inconvienence factor is, this is one road where cars & bikes shouldn't mix.

  29. Hey Mondoman

    I asked around and was told that they will be standard size turtles – like the ones you see in lane stripes – so about 4 inches in diameter.

    Thanks to all for all the constructive feedback we are getting.

  30. Rumor has it that this design was the choice of a tri-party group of Pedestrian, Bicycle, and Freight representatives meeting with SDOT.

    It is interesting that pedestrians are still routed down and back up the stairs, heaven help you if you are in a wheelchair. I'd say that there are probably some safety issues here too. I've bumped into several homeless people sleeping under and around this area a few times when I've walked my bike down and up the stairs.

    Also, note that the Ship Canal Trail Phase II project should finish this year or early next year connecting along the rail rightaway near here too.

  31. When I did a bicycle count here last year, I saw several cyclists give up after waiting 1-2 minutes without finding a break and they used the stairs.

    I also saw one girl who didn't see the stairs and tried to cross all 5 lanes of traffic before a couple of us stopped her!

    A couple times when traffic was particularly heavy, I've continued around the corner to the stop sign and traffic was light enough that I lifted my bike over the little green fence, remounted the bike, and continued my ride from there.

  32. just put a yield sign there for the cyclists.

    this idea, while not ideal, is an improvement over that 18″ curb. bikes become more conspicuous to drivers also, who aren't ticked off since they'd get the right-of-way.

  33. My thoughts exactly. It's luring people into a very dangerous situation and giving them a false sense of security because there's a white line painted there. If cyclists are already riding through there then perhaps it does offer a little more awareness to motorists but I sure hope nobody gets hurt because they thought this was suddenly safer because of a white line or two.

  34. Cyclists currently have to stop there and wait for a break. Last year I did a bicycle count one morning for a few hours and counted over 100 cyclists crossing the bridge in that time. At least 5 of them gave up after waiting for a gap for several minutes, threw their bike on their shoulder and hiked down the stairs, over to the other side, and back up the stairs.

    If a stop light didn't change for 2 full minutes, you'd run the red light in your car. Now think about being on a bicycle in that situation.

    For about a third of the cyclists that I saw, the only reason they were able to get through is because the right-turning traffic had gotten gridlocked and backed up that morning.

  35. I would like to know the breakdown of this 15 member ad hoc committee. I want to know how many representatives from each group and how many would have their kids ride across this intersection in the proposed way.

  36. i drive this route to work – and bike also sometimes (not as much as i should but thats another story) and that is a very sketchy area. as a driver, if you slow down too much or god forbid stop to allow a cyclist through, it could cause an accident.

    of course, a cyclist just wants to get where they are going to.

    just about every car in the right southbound lane is turning right on emerson making for a “natural” hazard for any cyclist trying to cross there.

    i think the only solution is a cool jump where the bikes can launch over emerson and continue on near the bus stop.

  37. “Do you think I care if you have to slow down for five minutes?”

    but everyone else should care if you have to slow down and use caution for 5 SECONDS?

  38. “It creates a huge hazard as people turning in fast traffic”

    i believe the speed limit on the bridge is 30. it's not a freeway like many people treat it.

  39. I stop, or slow dramatically there all the time to let cyclists out of the little notch. If people behind me don't like it, to bad. As noted several times above, bikers have to wait FOREVER to get out of there.

    I'm not sure how I feel about this idea. I think it will definitely make it easier for an experienced cyclist to cross because the notch further around the bend will allow them to judge which cars are going straight and which are turning, but on the other hand they will be crossing what is essentially a freeway offramp and I think that an accident there will have the potential to be really horrible.

    I would be cool with the jump idea too.

  40. Representatives from BINMIC, North Seattle Industrial Assn., Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Boards, SDOT Traffic Engineers, SDOT staffers, Manufacturing and Industrial Council reps. The full gamut of freight, ped, bike community.

    No one has been asked to send their kids down this route. It is recognized that the sidewalks are narrow, and negotiating this crossing is not for the faint of heart. This was identified early on in the process as a real 'conflict' zone between ped/bikes and vehicles, so folks talked through a bunch of low cost solutions, and it appears SDOT has costed out some high end big ticket options as well.

    My hats off to SDOT for this slow, vetted process of improvement.

    Slow Down…You're in Ballard

  41. i know the jump may not work for everybody, but i think its worth a shot.

    couple hundred bucks for supplies – badda bing badda boom, problem solved.

  42. THE best and 2nd-coolest solution (coolest is the bike jump over Emerson):

    Get a few of the tiny double-ended ped/bike ferries that Vancouver BC uses in False Creek and run them as a water shuttle between the 14th Ave boat ramp (Ballard) and Fisherman's Terminal (Interbay). The former should (eventually) be easily accessible from the BG “Missing Link”, and the latter provides decent connections to the Interbay bike trail and onward along Elliott Bay *without* having to ride on 15th.

  43. Ok, I rode home tonight from Bellevue and thought a lot about this issue and then went the extra mile to check this section out. Here are my thoughts:

    1. One of the hardest things to do riding a bike is to look behind you and judge the distance and approaching speed of oncoming traffic. I've been riding for years and I am still not great at this. The proposed curb cutout makes everyone perform this action and while there are surely some of you here that can judge perfectly each and every time most of us cannot.

    2. Another difficult thing for many cyclists is starting from a dead stop, which is what they will have to do at this intersection. With what I mentioned in #1 and the general speed of traffic this is very dicey.

    3. I also walked down the stairs and across and up the other side of Emerson. While the steps are steep this is not impossible. A decent solution would be to pave a ramp in the middle of the steps so cyclists can walk their bikes. I thought of this because a few people mentioned that it's a pain to carry their bikes up and down the steps. I agree with you and I bet paving a ramp would cost less than cutting the barrier and installing turtles and lights to try and slow down cars.

    4. I also am sympathetic to the median problem for trucks. I've been on the 17 bus when it's had troubles making the turn. Please go ahead and make that median smaller so traffic can get through.

    5. It also wouldn't hurt to install a couple of lights in the underpass to make people feel safer walking through it.

    6. As for pedestrians I feel if they can walk across the bridge they can take the stairs and use the underpass. This is a common solution in most cities for this scenario.

    I hope you will see this as thoughtful input for the safety of everyone. I love Ballard and plan to live, cycle, walk and occasionally drive here for a long time.

    Have a good night everyone,

  44. It's not perfect but at least it will be better that what's there currently. I ride there everyday and half the time people don't yield. It doesn't matter how the signage is people are either impatient for the few seconds it takes to clear the gap, texting, applying make-up, too dumb to read the sign or they just want to intimidate bikers.

    Regarding the actual photos, the slot in the wall looks too short, it needs to be longer by a few feet to the north. I can see someone snagging a pedal because of the way you turn to get through the slot.

  45. xtev the right of way is not changing, drivers are already supposed to be yielding to cyclist entering the road from the bridge.
    Do you even live in Ballard? Despite your inconvenience bikes are allowed on almost every road in the state. Bikes and cars can use the same roads so long as drivers remember it's not a video game and there are lives at stake.

  46. That is incorrect, currently cars are supposed to yield, the current configuration makes many cyclist not want to use thier right of way because drivers are awful at merging. I signal, make eyecontact and keep moving. The speed limit is 30 on the bridge and most cars are slowing down to make the right. The worst problem I've had is from the folks who are not turning, they charge up to 60 miles an hour.

  47. I see 30 mph at the bridge itself, but heading southbound, just past the bridge and about halfway down the approach, the speed limit changes to 40.

    With the previous design, before they added a new sign (I think earlier this year), there was nothing to indicate to drivers that they need to yield to cyclists.

    Also, in the few hours that I was doing the bike count, I only saw two cars yield to cyclists, and they were already nearly stopped for the gridlock of turning traffic headed over to SPU.

  48. There is some (hard to find) signage for pedestrians on the east side and on the south side, but I don't remember seeing any signs (even for pedestrians) about the stairs at this corner.

    …and stairs usually aren't considered a bicycling facility. There are some bikes (hand crank bikes for parapylegics, or electric bikes with 50 pounds of batteries for example) which aren't practical or physically possible for their operator to carry down the stairs.

  49. That's because it is NOT meant for bicyclist. It was built for pedestrians, bicyclist have appropriated it and caused no end of headaches and created a very dangerous situation. Bicyclist have to accept that some older bridges were simply not designed for bicycles. It should be illegal for them to ride on the sidewalks on that bridge.

    If you want to rebuild the bridge, I'm all for it, but what you've done is made an old bridge very very dangerous for bikes and pedestrians.

  50. Interesting thought — I wonder if the city /could/ make it illegal for bicyclists to ride on Ballard Bridge. I don't think they should, but it would be interesting to know if there's any legal way to do that.

    Barring such an extreme “solution”, it seems like what needs to be done is to make the bridge as safe as possible. I think these changes help.

  51. Interesting. So for persons in Ballard who want to get south, they would cross at the Locks (not possible after dusk) or go to the Fremont Bridge (or the new bug ferry!).

    Alternative is to ride in motor vehicle lanes of course, but very narrow and sure to induce anger on driver's part.

    Ballard Curmudgeon – what do you propose? Fremont Bridge, or can the bicyclers go on the roadway?

  52. Personally it's never been an issue for me. When I ride downtown I turn right and continue on Emerson over to Gilman and then to the bike path along the waterfront. It's a far more scenic and relaxing ride and adds less than 5 minutes to my commute (fewer traffic lights to wait at). I can't understand why anyone riding downtown from Ballard would want to ride all the way down 15th/Elliott after the bridge. If I were heading to Queen Anne I'd go over the Fremont bridge.

    It's like people who whine about the tracks on the missing link/45th while ignoring the fact that there is a perfectly safe, track-free route a whopping one block away. I think it's because most cyclists are also drivers and when they're on the bike they tend to navigate as if they were in a car ignoring that cars and bikes are not the same in traffic. Roads that are slower for a car are often faster for a cyclist – amazing how many cyclists fail to grasp this concept!

    It's an old bridge and I'm hard pressed to think of any solutions that would actually be cost effective. In a more perfect world they tear the bridge down and replace it with a new bridge featuring wider sidewalks for cycling, light rail lines, and no loss of car lanes. Sadly, this is Seattle and that would involve numerous elections, community meetings, lawsuits and take at least two decades!!!

  53. couple hundred bucks? in my day we scavenged for ramp making items! all you need are random boards and some junk to prop them up on! :)

  54. What would it take to get a new pedestrian bridge across the canal? Could it be cheaper than doing a major retrofit on the Ballard Bridge? There are plenty of precedents for well-designed pedestrian drawbridges.

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