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Bikes and Commerce Can Coexist

Nov 02, 2023

For the safety, sustainability, and economy of our city, we need to find ways for cyclists and commerce to safely coexist. It just requires that we work together to understand the needs of both. As a Ballard resident I’m committed to avoiding the years of lawsuits associated with the “missing link” along the Burke–Gilman Trail. Finding mutual solutions is a matter of thoughtful discussions and clever ideas, which I’m proud to say are underway.

You may have heard about three new projects that will vastly improve the bike commute through industrial lands and our working waterfront between the Ship Canal and downtown. This has been a priority of mine for more than seven years, so I’m delighted to report that the hard work of bike advocates, the City, and Port staff is coming to fruition.

Interbay Trail Pinch Points

Earlier this month, my colleagues on the Port of Seattle Commission and I unanimously voted to fund the removal of a narrow, dangerous bridge on the Interbay Trail and to widen another portion so that oncoming cyclists can safely pass each other without having to stop.

The narrow bike bridge through industrial lands in Interbay will be replaced with a wider surface-level path. Source: Port of Seattle.

The Port built the trail through the uplands of Terminal 91 in 1987 so that cyclists wouldn’t have to ride on 15th Avenue West. It had a bridge that enabled import cars from ships to pass underneath in order to load on trains. Back then, the City of Seattle’s Bicycle Planning Coordinator, Pete Lagerwey, told the Seattle Times: “Ten years ago, the Port would not have been involved in building a new bike path. This represents a new openness, a new vision.” Now we’re making it even better to enhance the cyclist’s experience and encourage this healthy form of commuting. Construction and completion are scheduled for late 2024.

The pinch point on the Interbay bike trail will be widened so that cyclists can pass each other comfortably. Source: Port of Seattle.

I appreciate Seattle Neighborhood Greenways Executive Director Gordon Padelford’s support for the project, too. He wrote to me, saying: "The Interbay trail is a key piece of the Seattle and regional multimodal trail network. Improving the safety and comfort of this trail will help thousands of people safely walk, bike, run, scoot, and roll to where they need to go. We thank the Port of Seattle Commissioners for their leadership in fixing these problem spots."

Alaskan Way Bike Lane

We are grateful to the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), Cascade Bicycle Club, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, cruise lines, labor unions, business owners, and residents along the path who are all providing feedback and carefully considering each other’s needs as SDOT designs a protected bike path along the north end of Alaskan Way between piers 62 and 70.

The challenge is that when the cruise ships are loading and unloading, thousands of people and dozens of trucks cross the curb on the west side of the street, which is the most obvious location for a commuter bike path. We believe we have found a solution by adding a second path on the east side of the street so that cyclists have an easy detour around the crowds when the west path is filled with cruise traffic.

Designing this dual-use system is complicated and will require cooperation of many parties, but it’s the kind of effort we need to ensure the future of our working waterfront and that we have safe streets. SDOT is doing a good job keeping the community informed, providing updates on its website, but it’s critical that the department coordinate with other efforts to improve this situation that are also underway.

A cyclist attempts to weave through cruise ship traffic and passenger loading on Alaskan Way at Pier 66. Source: Port of Seattle.

Elliott Bay Connections

And, as they say, when it rains it pours. The Port, the City of Seattle, and a handful of civic-minded philanthropists recently announced that they’ll collaborate with the Downtown Seattle Association to build a recreational bike trail where the old streetcar tracks are on Alaskan Way between piers 62 and 70 (Virginia Street to Broad Street). The Elliott Bay Connections project will also vastly improve the bike path through Myrtle Edwards Park and Centennial Park. The goal is to have these improvements, as well as several other park amenities completed before thousands of tourists visit for the FIFA World Cup matches played here in 2026.

The old, unused George Benson trolley tracks on Alaskan Way go right by the Port’s Headquarters on Pier 69, so I see them every time I go into the office. I’ve often thought that not using that right-of-way was a huge missed opportunity: Where else can you find a long ribbon of land on the downtown waterfront that can connect people to parks? In my conversations with SDOT and biking advocates, I’ve promoted the idea of thinking big, removing the tracks, and replacing them with a protected path connecting Alaskan Way to Myrtle Edwards Park, Centennial Park, and the improved Terminal 91 path described above.

Fortunately, Melinda French Gates, MacKenzie Scott, The Diller-Von Furstenberg Family Foundation, and the Expedia Group saw the same opportunity. I’d like to thank them for their vision and generous contributions that are making this project come to life.

Let’s get rolling....

More info:

  1. Port of Seattle To Upgrade Interbay Bike Trail, Removing Major Pinch Points, The Urbanist
  2. Port finished trail work in less than one day, Seattle Bike Blog
  3. Latest Alaskan Way design includes continuous waterfront bike lane with plan for cruise detours, Seattle Bike Blog

Above photo credit: Juxtaposition of (top) a photograph of the trolley tracks along Alaskan Way near the north end of the Downtown Seattle Waterfront (Source: Downtown Seattle Association); and (bottom) a rendering illustrating how bikes and commerce can coexist on Alaskan Way near Port of Seattle Headquarters at Pier 69 (Source: Elliott Bay Connections/Downtown Seattle Association; Credit: Walker Macy).

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