3rd Ave N/NW Bridge Concept Map

As SDOT and Sound Transit have begun to study the possibilities for improving transit between downtown Seattle and Ballard, the idea of a new Ship Canal crossing in the vicinity of Fremont has lately been discussed extensively but informally in transit circles. That discussion became a little more public on Wednesday, when the Mayor’s office, along with transit, freight and bicycle advocates, held a press conference asking the City Council to fund a proposed study of the idea. The concept has been around for a while, making its most recent public debut in the 2012 update of the Transit Master Plan.

Like several of the capital projects in the TMP, the Ship Canal crossing idea seems rather obviously inspired by our neighbors to the south, in Portland. As part of the the MAX Orange Line, TriMet is currently constructing a crossing of the Willamette river that will carry light rail trains, buses, emergency vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians, and (eventually) streetcars. Perhaps for that reason, most thought and discussion of a crossing (including mine) defaulted to the assumption that it would be a transit, pedestrian and bike crossing, west of the current Fremont Bridge. Then, late last year, someone relayed to me a better idea that, once I heard it, seemed absurdly obvious and considerably superior.

It begins with the quite pedestrian observation that minimizing travel distances is much more important for people walking and biking than any other mode. Asking someone to take a quarter- or half-mile detour in a car just means they would have to watch the world scroll by for an extra minute or two, but asking someone to walk that distance is maybe five to ten minutes of their time. As almost all transit riders are also pedestrians when they’re getting to or from the service, it’s thus much more important for transit to directly access the heart of ridership centers and transfer points than for cars; and similarly for bicyclists.

The chronically congested Fremont Bridge is perfectly located to maximize access to Fremont, and to minimize travel distances between almost any point on the west or south side of Lake Union and any point north or northwest of the lake (without building an extremely long bridge). Perhaps rather than looking to take transit, bikes and pedestrians out of Fremont, we should be looking to prioritize them on the Fremont Bridge, and find a way to get the cars out of Fremont. We could turn the original idea on its head: build a new road bridge west of Fremont (complete with excellent bike and pedestrian infrastructure) and reconfigure the Fremont Bridge to primarily move people, not cars.

The map and diagram above, by Oran, illustrate one possible implementation of this idea. After the jump, I’ll discuss all the components in detail.

  • New four-lane road crossing the Ship Canal between 3rd Ave W & Nickerson and 3rd Ave NW & Leary, including excellent bike/pedestrian facilities that would connect to the Ship Canal and Burke-Gilman trails. This bridge, like any bridge with less clearance than the Aurora Bridge, would have to be a drawbridge.
  • Right turn from Westlake to the Fremont Bridge made transit-only; left turn from Nickerson to the Fremont Bridge made transit-only and transit-activated. These turns are responsible for the lion’s share of northbound car traffic (and thus congestion) on the Fremont Bridge; eliminating them would radically improve northbound transit speed and reliability. The intersection would be reconfigured to eliminate turn lanes and pump cars to and from the new bridge.
  • Left turn from 34th to the Fremont Bridge prohibited. Similarly, this turn accounts for most of the southbound transit-impacting traffic. Cars would travel to the new bridge via Leary and 36th, or use the Aurora Bridge.
  • Outside travel lanes on the Fremont Bridge eliminated and replaced with two-way protected cycletracks; center lanes widened. The current lanes were made for Model Ts, and are too narrow for modern vehicles (buses and trucks have to straddle the lanes). By dramatically reducing traffic volumes, we can eliminate the outer lanes and make the remaining lanes wider for buses trucks, while dramatically improving connectivity for cyclists.
  • West-side cycletrack connected to the Ship Canal trail via Florentia, and to a new cycletrack (in place of the current bike-only contraflow lane) on the south side of 34th. East-side cycletrack connects to Westlake Trail (one of the current right-turn lanes would be removed to make room) on the south; on the north, the 34th St bike lanes are removed and replaced with a cycletrack on the south side of the street, which would connect to the Burke-Gilman at Stone Way.
  • Queue-jumps would be installed northbound on Dexter at Nickerson, and southbound on Fremont at 34th, to get transit vehicles ahead of the remaining bridge traffic.
  • Potentially, Queen Anne trolleybuses could be extended from Seattle Pacific to Fremont, probably laying over on 39th St. This would dramatically improve connectivity for Queen Anne riders.

Under this proposal, transit speed and reliability through Fremont would significantly improve, with congestion-related delays likely eliminated; transit riders would retain access to the heart of the neighborhood. For bicyclists, the Fremont Bridge would become almost like a four-leaf clover interchange, where it would be possible to connect between the Burke-Gilman, Ship Canal and Westlake trails, at their easternmost nearby point, without interacting with traffic in the roadway, or pedestrians on the sidewalk. These are not things that can be done with just a new transit/bike/pedestrian bridge further west.

Drivers from the south headed to Ballard would not be inconvenienced by using the new bridge; to Wallingford, they could use the Aurora Bridge; and to Fremont they could approach via Dexter, or via Westlake then backtrack down Leary. The total number of general purpose lanes across the Ship Canal would increase, and the new bridge could be built with steeper approaches and an arched profile that provides more water clearance, which would mean fewer openings. The new bridge would undoubtedly be a highway purpose, as defined in the state constitution, and thus could be paid for with gas tax money. That it could straightforwardly be claimed to benefit drivers as well at other modes potentially broadens its political support.

That’s the case for what I think is a better Ship Canal crossing. What do readers think? What have I missed?

To avoid being sidetracked into tangentially-related arguments about the TMP (streetcar vs. subway vs. bus; Interbay vs. Westlake; etc.), let’s keep the discussion focused on the following question: if we’re going to build an at-grade (drawbridge) Ship Canal crossing, where should it be, and what should run on it?

90 Replies to “A Better Ship Canal Crossing”

  1. Wouldn’t the existing Fremont Bridge still open a gazillion times a day? How much less would that affect transit reliability with reduced car volumes?

    1. It already doesn’t open during peak times. But any bridge across the ship canal has to open unless it’s as high (and I’ve heard from SDOT that a new bridge would have to be *higher* than) the Aurora bridge.

      That’s why this study will also consider feasibility and location of a tunnel.

    2. Ya, boats still have the right-of-way and the “old” Fremont Bridge would still need to open a zillion times. The only concession to cars that has been made so far is a prohibition on bridge openings during the core of rush hour, but even this is just a “policy” and can be violated on a conditional basis.

      The difference between the new Portland Bridge and the new proposed Ship Canal Crossing is that the Portland span is not a drawbridge. Making our new bridge a drawbridge is to build in a very large flaw that will impact traffic for the next 70 years or so (how old is the Fremont Span?).

      Na, if you build a new crossing do it right and make it an undercrossing. There is no excuse for building low quality projects.

      And how do we explain our support for a new Ship Canal Crossing which is a mixed cars/transit project, when we supposedly are so against the Columbia River Crossing which is a….mixed cars/transit project? Some will claim that our hypocrisy is showing.

      1. A new ship canal crossing could be car only, and I’d support it – if it removes as many car lanes from the Fremont bridge as it adds. The issue with the CRC, in large part, is because it adds lanes. It’s not whether it’s a mixed cars/transit project, it’s that it adds a huge amount of car capacity.

      2. I could care less if we add car capacity if it’s a byproduct of improving transit. Here we’d be adding a bit (replacing four narrow GP lanes with four larger GP lanes and two partial-use lanes), but I’m fine with that.

      3. Shades of distinction that you will have a hard time selling. After all, the CRC really only adds 1 GP lane in each direction — everything else is increased HOV/Transit/LR/bike/ped.

        And I doubt very much that kicking cars off the old Fremont Bridge will every happen — it’s a political non-starter no matter how much sense some people might think it makes.

        So this plan for the Ship Canal will end up being increased car capacity plus increased HOV/Street Car/bike/ped.

        Seems pretty much the same to me.

      4. Well first off, we’re talking orders of magnitue different costs.

        Secondly, the CRC is a Highway project masquerading as a bridge project. This is a transit improvement project masquerading as a car improvement project.

        And lastly, hard to sell to who (whom?)? Who out there is in tune enough to be following the CRC and the Ship Canal Crossing but not capable of understanding the differences?

      5. Dexter traffic would still be able to use the old bridge, and traffic from the west (SPU, Fisherman’s Terminal, Ballard) would be able to cross sooner. The downside would be traffic coming from the east; we might as well make Westlake a super-transit/bike/ped-friendly street, because any car traffic from Fremont will desert it – but will probably clog Dexter and 3rd. I’d expect a lot of calls to expand 3rd Ave W if you went with this plan.

      6. There are a couple of misapprehensions here about marine traffic and the bridges. To begin with, the bridges are closed twice daily during peak traffic times, 7-9 AM and 4-6 PM. Second, these bridges do not open more than once every half hour. Third, the average opening time is 4 minutes. Fourth, it’s federal law that states that marine traffic takes priority over car traffic, not Seattle “policy”.

        You can learn more about the bridges here http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/bridgeopenings.htm.

      7. Exactly. Seattle law has nothing to do with when the moratoriums on openings occur. Federal law gives maritime traffic priority over road traffic, and the moratoriums that do exist are policy and not law. And these moratoriums can be violated under certain circumstances, but the Feds (Coast Guard) are always the gate keepers.

        I’ve opened those bridges many a time, and there is nothing more annoying than getting 5 beeps when it is nowhere near either rush hour and the surface traffic is nil. They do a good job trying to balance demands, but it isn’t always pretty. And marine traffic always has priority.

      8. Realized that this would also effectively kill 34th in its current form as a feeder to the Fremont Bridge, dumping that traffic onto 35th and 36th, as well as forcing a lot of them to suck up and take Aurora. We might as well greenwayize 34th from Stone Way to where there’s a little connecting trail to the Burke a few blocks west of Fremont Ave.

  2. Very creative, innovative idea. And am curious what freight/ delivery businesses would think of it. tunnel would probably be prohibitively expensive.

    1. A tunnel wasn’t prohibitively expensive for Sound Transit under Montlake – and the local money for that project is all Seattle.

  3. I would fully support this idea. OF course as long as you make the same changes to the Ballard Bridge :-)

  4. I love this. Diffuse the “War on Cars” crowd, by saying we are building them a brand-spanking new bridge.

    Their will be concerns from businesses in central Fremont worried that people won’t be able to get to them as easily by cars, but few cars can park in that area anyway, so it’s a silly fear.

    3rd Ave through Ballard will worry they will become a much more major N-S route, and they will be right to be concerned. We would likely need to beef up either the infrastructure or the calming on the 3rd.

    1. If they set up something to make the turns between 3rd Avenue and 39th Street exceedingly convenient, I doubt this’ll be an issue.

      1. 39th would help to get to downtown Fremont, but ideally you’d want to make it as easy as possible to get from 3rd to Phinney. Unfortunately, there’s a heck of a hill, steep enough to break up the street grid, in between the two for a good distance pretty much as soon as you get past 39th, and Phinney doesn’t really become an arterial until 43rd, although I suppose you could make it one down to 39th or even 36th. The next direct through connection to Phinney isn’t until 49th, despite some oh-so-close discontinuities at 42nd and 48th, and at that point you might as well dump people onto 56th.

  5. Overall, this idea has so much merit it almost hurts. Like most great ideas, it seems glaringly obvious in retrospect.

    And I also understand the attraction of having the original bridge open to GP traffic. However, I wonder if it also has some risks. In particular, I fear that while keeping the total number of GP lanes over the canal is viable, taking them away is not; and if it turns out there’s a lot of latent demand over the Fremont Bridge notwithstanding the turn restrictions, I think it will be very hard to do the right thing and close it to GP traffic.

    BTW Bruce, when you say you’re restricting the various turns to enter the Fremont Bridge, are you also restricting the turns off it. For example, could SB cars turn onto Nickerson or Westlake?

    1. It’s a fantastic idea. Preserve the number of GP lanes across the ship canal, build a new crossing for cars (it’s hard to have a war on cars when suggesting that), and make transit work better. Win-win-win.

    2. I think the best solution to the Fremont Bridge GP issue is tolls – cars could still drive over it but they could price it so that they never create congestion that delays transit.

    3. As much as I like the overall plan and think the diagrammed turn/access-route restrictions are incisive and will be effective, I would echo Martin’s “what if?”.

      Inertial behavior is strong in this city. What if remaining demand invalidates transit priority by stretching automobile queues past the ends of the transit queue jumps, especially after a bridge opening? What if 36th fills with cars bypassing the 39th/Fremont mess, slowing or blocking transit despite heading toward a different bridge? That the only remaining traffic would be shared-use has the potential to go horribly awry.

      I think this plan should be fully explored, but [ot].

      1. Case in point: At this very moment, westbound traffic on the 44’s route is backed up all the way from Aurora to Stone Way. The bus can’t get to its own “queue jump”.

  6. For as long as we’ve been discussing a new Fremont crossing this has seemed to me like the way to do it. Transit has to stay on the existing Fremont Bridge or it will be useless. Cars can cross at 3rd W/NW just fine.

    I think the two-lane idea for the existing bridge has a lot of merit, although you’re exaggerating the narrowness problem — it’s quite possible to keep a bus within one of the existing lanes.

    As a concession to make continuing to the new bridge even more attractive to car drivers, perhaps we could restore the second GP lane on westbound Nickerson while also restricting the turn off Westlake onto the existing bridge.

    We are going to have traffic concerns from residents of both 3rd Ave W in Queen Anne and 3rd Ave NW in Freelard/Phinney. On the north end, perhaps the solution is to forbid those crossing the bridge from going straight, forcing them either to turn left onto Leary or to turn right onto Leary or 39th. On the south end, I don’t think there is a really good solution, and the problem won’t be as severe because 3rd W doesn’t go all the way through.

    1. I like this idea but my biggest questions are about how it ties into 3rd on both sides of the Ship Canal, and how that would change traffic patterns for good or bad. (My hunch is that you want to direct traffic in the north to Leary and 39th.) Officially studying this option should provide enough data to make an informed decision, and even provide ammunition to convince skeptics (for example, if you could show shorter drive times with the new bridge).

    2. 3rd Ave NW is a minor arterial from Leary/39th all the way to 145th. Forbidding people from going straight at all there seems to me too punitive. If we don’t make any other improvements, my hunch is that most people would use Leary and 8th anyway (if their northern endpoint isn’t on or east of Phinney/Greenwood), and striping the road such as to assume they will would help tremendously. People heading northeast are a bigger problem, though, because if they’re using this new bridge they’re probably trying to get to Phinney, and that’s very difficult as it stands.

      I agree, most people on the south end are probably going to stop right there at SPU or turn onto Nickerson, with most of the people using 3rd Ave W coming from Queen Anne Hill itself. It’s not really worth it to head up Queen Anne Ave, slog through the business district, and come out on 3rd when 15th, Dexter, and even Westlake would be so much faster.

  7. Overall it’s a very good idea, but as Morgan and lazarus noted, it doesn’t ameliorate the bridge opening problem.

    One thing you didn’t mention either pro or con is that because there’s apparently no restriction from the “straight through” movement from Dexter to the existing bridge, you will see traffic from the south headed for central Fremont divert to Dexter. That may not be the end of the world, but folks on the hill are going to object that it might be.

    1. Good point. If I’m driving north on Dexter from downtown, though, wouldn’t I just jump on the Aurora bridge at the top of the hill? This way I guarantee I don’t get caught with the bridge opening. Unless my destination is right in downtown Fremont, of course. But even then it’s often faster to get off Aurora at 39th and circle back into central Fremont.

    2. We don’t have to eliminate all bridge openings to make a significant improvement. Minimizing car-caused congestion at the bridge would remove maybe 50% or 75% of the delays. Because car congestion happens all the time, while the bridge opens a few times an hour at most. If a bus or train gets caught behind a bridge opening a few times a day, it’s not the end of the world. You also have to look at it relative to the status quo, not just absolutely. Whittling down bottlenecks is worthwhile even if you can’t eliminate them entirely.

      1. Attempting to restrict the use of a bridge by prohibiting certain types of turns at either end is never going to work. There is a plethora of ways to adjust travel routes to approach the bridge from either end in the proper (allowed) manner, and all these adjustments put additional traffic pressure on existing streets that don’t see it now.

        Politically this (restricting car access to the existing bridge) will never work. Users will complain about being forced to take circuitous routes, local businesses will complain about reduced accessibility, and local neighborhood activists will complain about increased traffic on adjacent (often residential streets). It aint going to happen.

        But a new crossing at 3rd? Who knows, but if you build it it will only happy as a stand-alone project — it won’t happen with any significant restrictions on the existing bridges.

      2. lazarus, in this particular case, I disagree. The only streets that will see a lot of extra traffic under this proposal are Dexter and Nickerson. Neither one is exactly residential. There will be complaints, but I think they can be overcome with the two-pronged attack of 1) car users get a whole new bridge all to themselves and 2) this will radically improve Fremont transit.

    3. there are two parts to the current bridge openings problem for transit: the openings themseles, that are usually short; and, the traffic jams resulting from the opening; the concept in this post may greatly reduce the second problem.

  8. Is there really enough room on the Freemont Bridge to accomodate this proposal? Two 2-way protected cycletracks plus two wider GP lanes will take a lot of width, something like 6+6+11+11+6+6 = 46 feet. Does anyone know the width of the bridge? Do bikes currently use the sidewalk, or are there bike lanes?

    For the new crossing, it seems to me that having it higher than the current bridge would help a lot in reducing the number of openings. For that reason, it makes sense that it would cross over Nickerson. A streetcar could access that bridge by elevating the tracks along Westlake over Freemont Ave and connecting to the new bridge. I don’t know the topography around there well, so it’s unclear to me if the landing on the north would be able to connect with Leary and NW 39th. I assume there is enough grade difference on 3rd W at around Florentia St. to easily clear Nickerson. Depending on where they’re headed, it might make sense to have QA buses on 3rd W use the new crossing.

    1. Bikes use the sidewalk, but the sidewalk is a decent width and there are bike lanes that come as close to the bridge as they can before dumping onto the sidewalk.

      Pulled up the area in Google Earth. The Leary/3rd intersection is at elevation 41 ft. The Nickerson intersection is at 32 ft; a 41-ft bridge would start just south of Cremona St. The bridge would probably have to be raised to provide more than nine feet of clearance over Nickerson; the Burke-Gilman crosses 3rd at elevation 35 ft, so it would only have six feet of clearance if the bridge wasn’t arched. The cincher is that the 4th/Florentia intersection right before the current bridge is 54-55 ft, so the Fremont Bridge is actually taller than the Leary/3rd intersection.

      Maybe the bridge could start at Dravus St for an elevation of 60 ft? That wouldn’t end in the north until 41st St and would need a ramp to connect with Leary Way anyway, but it would touch down on 39th right about at 2nd Ave NW.

    2. I think there’s plenty of horizontal space on the Fremont Bridge for two vehicle lanes and two bike lanes. The question I would have is whether the bike lanes could be surfaced with an appropriate material. Currently the bridge surface is made of metal grating, which I doubt is very pleasant to bike on…but it’s also probably a lot lighter than concrete or asphalt would be, which matters because the bridge needs to be able to go up and down easily.

      My preference would be to make the Fremont Bridge have two general purpose lanes and two transit only lanes. The new bridge should have a great bike lane that would absorb many of the trips that currently use the Fremont Bridge, and the remaining local traffic could continue to use the sidewalk as they do today. The current lanes are not that narrow. I wait in Fremont for a bus almost every day and I really can’t recall seeing buses straddle the lanes more than a handful of times (unlike the Aurora Bridge which really does have extremely narrow lanes for the speed of traffic). I’m also concerned that cutting the bridge down to two vehicle lanes but not making those lanes reserved exclusively for transit would not lead to any meaningful improvement in transit speed, and may in fact slow buses down.

      1. “The question I would have is whether the bike lanes could be surfaced with an appropriate material”

        In Portland, they surfaced the cycle lanes on the Morrisson Bridge drawspan with metal (probably steel, but possibly aluminum) plates coated with a non-slip surface.

  9. The reason this makes sense despite having a drawbridge is that the backups behind which the buses crossing the Fremont Bridge now get tied up in will be significantly lessened. It’s not so much the drawbridge time that is the thing that destroys the schedule, it’s waiting for all the other traffic to clear. If SOV drivers are able to figure that the new bridge will open less frequently (because higher) and more rapidly (because not engineered about a century ago), they will change their driving patterns pronto. As someone who buses or bikes over the Fremont Bridge every day, I say bravo!

    1. Yeah… I think the issue is whether the traffic that still uses the Fremont Bridge will be enough to back up transit during bridge openings.

      When I picture changes in this area after a new bridge I picture turning the right lane on the bridge and its approach (as far west as the other bridge) into a bus lane but keeping it two-lane.

  10. Bruce, would you also restrict right turns onto Florentia from the bridge southbound? That area is tricky because bike riders are still on the sidewalk at that point, so there’s always a lot of pedestrian/bike traffic which makes the right lane back up.

    1. I’m not Bruce, but I would ban that right turn. Folks headed in that direction by car could use the new bridge without a problem. For the sake of cycle simplicity, I’d have all car movements southbound on the bridge be required to continue on Dexter. That would allow for a two-phase signal (plus a third phase for left-turning transit only) that would clear traffic off the bridge quickly.

  11. I live in Ballard and get stopped at the Ballard Bridge about twice a day so some asshole can move his sailboat. Its great.

    1. And you get stopped at other places (like red lights?) so other assholes can move their cars. Boats are transportation too. We don’t ask car drivers how much money they make, how nice their car is, or whether they’re travelling for business or pleasure.

      1. I can probably count the number of people using boats on the Ship Canal to commute on one hand. Hell, I can probably count the number of boats using the Ship Canal for non-recreational purposes on both hands.

      2. The difference is that one single car driver rarely inconveniences hundreds of people for his pleasure trip, whereas that happens pretty much every day with boat drivers.

      3. Be careful what you wish for. Saying boats shouldn’t be allowed to get through to avoid inconvenience to motorists is very similar to arguments people make that pedestrians should not be allowed to cross busy roads to avoid inconvenience to motorists either.

        In particular, I am thinking of crosswalks like 68th and Aurora. We do not want to be setting a precedent for arguments that motorist’s desire to travel fast and uninterrupted down Aurora trumps people’s ability to cross the street for their “pleasure trips” to green lake.

      4. A pedestrian crossing delays a few motorists for a minute or two. A boat crossing at the edge of rush hour or on a busy weekend afternoon delays a few hundred motorists and bus riders for as much as 10-15 minutes. I’m not worried that by arguing for further limits on bridge openings I’m getting anywhere close to a slippery slope.

  12. P.S. those bridges going up also effect the schools in the area, Adams doesnt start until 9:25am and that bridge often goes up before then screwing up morning traffic and delivery of children to school.

  13. Is there a practical way to make the Fremont bridge *not* open to cars? I’m all for this swap idea (see Martin: ‘Like most great ideas, it seems glaringly obvious in retrospect’), but it seems like we are giving cars an unnecessarily big concession: instead of building a transit/bike/ped -only bridge on 3rd, we will build a car-only bridge there and continue to allow cars on the new-old transit/bike/ped Fremont bridge. Do Nickerson / 36th / Leary just not have the car capacity? What am I missing?

    1. Politics. The same people who think they should be able to park downtown for free, or that Link can only succeed if it has a P&R at every station, also think they should be able to drive to downtown Fremont on all the traditional streets and general-purpose lanes should only be added, never deleted. A significant number of Fremont and Queen Anne voters think that way, and they’ll tell politicians to keep their hands off Fremont’s automobile lanes, or they’ll vote against them. So we need to think about both what’s absolutely best for transit, and about what can succeed over this opposition.

      1. Boo. You’re right. I was really hoping it’d be an infrastructure problem though, if only to let me keep believing that people who live in cities can see beyond their own interests. Naive, aren’t I!

      2. What, your experiences with every change in transit around here since this blog started hasn’t shown you that’s not the case for people who live in this city, at least?

  14. It begins with the quite pedestrian observation that minimizing travel distances is much more important for people walking…

    Pun intended?

    But seriously, this is an awesome idea. It’s not without a few cons, but overall, I think the pros have it. Letting cars have (albeit limited) access to the existing Fremont Bridge, and be the primary mode on the new bridge really beefs up the political feasibility. I mean, personally, I’d be all for kicking cars off the Fremont Bridge entirely, but I realize that that’s never going to happen until I (or Bruce) get to be Transportation Dictator of the Greater Seattle Area.

  15. But what would we call it?

    My vote is “High Voltage Power Lines Bridge.”

  16. Why not make it an underpass? Not a tunnel. Odds are, we have all seen pictures of roads going under canals in Europe. Probably a lot cheaper then a full blown tunnel, or a bridge. And unlike a bridge, all traffic can move through 24-7.

  17. I like shifting car traffic to a new bridge. New bridge could be 4 lanes + sidewalks + 2 one-way cycle tracks. Fremont bridge could be converted to 2 transit priority lanes (possibly HOT lanes?) + existing sidewalks + 2 one-way cycle tracks.

    This should be a win for everyone. 50% more vehicle lanes, double the amount of bicycle and pedestrian crossing paths. Better circulation, less auto congestion in Fremont center, with a faster and more reliable transit connection to SLU and downtown.

    I don’t like the 2 two-way cycle tracks. I think there will be operational issues with doubling the number of conflict points and creating queues for crossover traffic (someone will invariably decide they want to be on the other side from where they are). Instead, bicycle traffic should cross in the direction of traffic, then cross over at the landing on a cycle track connection. That will distribute cyclists better.

    1. I agree on the two-way cycle tracks. The space is really too narrow for two of them, and there will be good crossing opportunities on both ends. There’s plenty of room for nice wide one-way bike lanes on both sides, possibly separated by plastic posts.

      1. Really, I’m not sure you can improve on the existing sidewalks, given the grating on the car portion of the bridge. I imagine that would be a nightmare for bicyclists without improvements.

      2. The U Bridge bike lanes (which were once vehicular lanes) have grating when they cross the leaves, but it’s been filled in with concrete, presumably to make it safer to bike on. Assuming the increased weight of the concrete isn’t a problem, presumably the same could be done on the Fremont Bridge.

      1. Thanks for digging up the stats and that picture! Anyone want to do the math on what a reasonable approach distance would be on either side? Looks like there is a lot of room to work with but I’m not sure how steep this would need to be to clear the canal.

      1. I know what you mean. Why put up with bridge lifts, when you can avoid it. Building a movable bridge costs quite a bit. Odds are an underpass would be cheaper.

      2. @jory: I doubt an underpass would be cheaper. If it was so inexpensive to avoid building drawbridges, hardly any would have ever been built in the first place.

        For one, there’s the expense of excavating the tunnel/underpass through saturated soil below the water table while keeping the canal open. Then the subsurface areas must be kept from flooding by pumping.

        It’s all possible, of course, but inexpensive and easy it is not.

  18. A bike question: how easy would it be to get from one cycletrack to the other? I’d imagine a large number of people coming from the Burke-Gilman from the east would want to get to the Ship Canal Trail. 34th to the west is low-traffic enough (34th to the east basically being a Fremont Bridge feeder) that I’d almost rather continue the west cycletrack right up Fremont, as downtown Fremont is a bit of a weak point in the Interurban Trail.

    1. I believe Bruce’s idea is that if you’re coming on the BG from the east and heading across the bridge to the south, you’d make a “cloverleaf” by going under the bridge then turning right at the plaza at Evanston, go up to 34th and then east to the bridge.

      Many people probably wouldn’t go that far out of the way, but it would keep bikes out of traffic.

    2. Presumably the east-west pedestrian crosswalk on the south side of 34th would still be there, and a cyclist could use that to cross from one cycletrack to the other.

      Personally the connections to Dexter seem more problematic, as they’d now seem to involve cycletrack-to-vehicular-lane merges, or dealing with multiple pedestrian signals. Though perhaps we’re to assume that this “Westlake Trail” Bruce speaks of goes all the way Downtown or has good connections to Belltown, LQA, etc, so the vast majority of cyclists won’t bother with Dexter.

  19. [ot]

    The advantage of this route should be using Dexter and climbing up along the hill to build a new — and relatively short — high-level transit crossing that would either not open at all, or open far less frequently.

    This is the whole point of high-capacity, grade-separated transit. And why I hate streetcars running on city streets.

  20. As mentioned before in previous threads, this approach makes a lot of sense. Thank you for laying out it there so we can discuss it. I see two problems. The first has already been mentioned. People who are used to driving over the Fremont bridge will not like having to go a different way.

    The second is that this reminds me of the Mercer Street project. It would cost a lot of money but not really change much. To be fair, this adds a couple of lanes for crossing, so it is better than the Mercer project, but not much. Consider the following:

    Pretty soon, highway 99 will undergo a major change. The on ramps and exits from Western will be gone. This means that anyone who wants to drive from Ballard to West Seattle (or similar locations) will not drive 15th. They will instead get on Aurora at Market or 39th. Market can be a mess (either direction) so my guess is that people will go on 39th (which is already pretty busy). To get to 39th, you can go on Leary Way or 3rd Avenue. With this change, people will be coming the other direction and trying to make a left on 3rd. Then there will more people coming from the other side who decide it makes more sense to take Aurora. These people (you guessed it) will try to get on 39th (technically it isn’t 39th, but rather Fremont Way North). All of this adds up, in my opinion to major traffic jams south bound on the on-ramp to Aurora (at the north end of the Aurora bridge) as well as on the north side of 3rd. Of course, this is why they do studies. Hopefully when they study this, they will take into account the changes to 99 along with current traffic patterns.

    In general I’m just not sure if this will pay for itself. I would love to see how much this costs as opposed to other improvements (such as gondolas). There is just no substitute for grade separated systems, especially when the roads are fairly close to capacity most of the time.

  21. Major concerns for SPU student safety. Already dangerous enough down there on 3rd Ave. W & Nickerson when classes are getting out. Don’t need a four lane bridge with increased speeds in both directions.

    1. There will presumably be a traffic signal just like there is now. Design the intersection with pedestrian safety in mind, and it shouldn’t be a problem. If UW students can handle 15th NE/NE 40th (far busier with both pedestrians and vehicles than 3rd W/Nickerson ever would be) then even SPU students could handle a bit more traffic.

  22. I’ve been pondering this basic idea for some time and find it compelling. With such a big change in the street topology, plus the new SR 99 configuration and all the growth and other changes underway, it’s hard to intuit what the new transportation equilibrium would be. But between the increase in GP capacity across the ship canal plus additional transit plus ped/bike improvements, there’s a lot to work with.

    I’m not sure how the suggested turn restrictions would help matters. They might just increase the local circulation in an attempt to subvert the restrictions. As long as there’s one approach to the bridge and ways to circulate around the neighborhood, traffic will find a way to it. I’d like to see analysis of this configuration as well as some variations on the theme.

    Any 3rd Ave. bridge would be a great detour during any reconfiguration of the Ballard Bridge or Fremont Bridge, and would start to mitigate the fact that the Ballard Bridge is awful for bikes and there isn’t a good alternative closer than Fremont. I can see SPU and folks who live along 3rd Ave. being concerned about traffic impacts, the fisheries folks raising issues about shading salmon habitat, etc. Maybe there’s a way to coordinate with the CSO projects.

  23. As I rode through the area on Friday, I thought about some additional ramifications. The key one is that there need to be restrictions on turns onto Fremont from 35th Street. The five bus lines that use that intersection are often backed up forever, particularly the three lines making left turns from westbound 35th. A left turn transit only signal there, plus stopping turns in either direction onto southbound Fremont would clear this up significantly. Basically, the only way onto the Fremont Bridge for passenger vehicles and trucks would be southbound on Fremont from north of 35th.

    There is a precedent for this kind of traffic engineering, which was the complete rerouting of ferry traffic near Colman Dock some years ago. People bitched but got used to it.

    1. Now we’re talking about backing up traffic on 36th, which might be enough to get some people to up and take the Aurora Bridge. Leary and 36th east of 3rd, moreover, now pretty much becomes a through corridor for cars stitched together with 35th, since 36th dumps cars onto Fremont Pl. At that point, I’d support narrowing the profile of Leary, 36th, and Fremont Pl to one lane in each direction east of wherever Leary’s new-bridge access point is (perhaps with bike or bus-only lanes), and Fremont Pl would need to be dramatically reconfigured to default onto 35th, since it’s basically the western equivalent Fremont Bridge feeder that 34th is to the east.

  24. No underpass is available. There are already tunnels there. As posted above there is a current sewer tunnel and a new sewer tunnel being built.


    Though there may be a possibility of expanding the old sewer tunnel into a new underpass. Not sure how that thought would go over.

    Agree with others that I would love to see the Fremont Bridge become a transit/bike only bridge. “The bridge would be dedicated to transit, bikes and pedestrians only. The mayor says it will improve mobility.” Keep with the original plan and make one bridge for transit only. The other bridge for cars only. This makes the idea of Fremont as the transit bridge the best choice.


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