The 520 bike and pedestrian path under construction. Credit: Lizz Giordano

Over a year and a half after the new State Road 520 bridge opened to car traffic, pedestrians and cyclists will finally be able to cross Lake Washington using the floating bridge. The new 2.7-mile 520 bridge shared-use path, linking Seattle and the Eastside, is set to open at 3pm on December 20.  

Not only will this expand commute options, the new SR 520 path will also add to the 60-mile Lake Washington Loop Trail. Cascade Bicycle Club is planning several inaugural rides starting on both sides of the bridge to celebrate the grand opening.

On Cascade’s blog, Vicky Clarke, a policy manager for the group wrote that “For the region, the bridge trail represents a step toward our future: transportation infrastructure that’s accessible to all, and the ability to get more places by bike.”

An “out and back” version of the trail, which extended from Medina about 1.3 miles across the bridge leaving Seattle just out of reach, has teased bike commuters and pedestrians since it opened in summer 2016.

On the Seattle side, the complete trail set to open Wednesday starts at Montlake Park near the Arboretum and runs along the north side of the rebuilt bridge, ending in Medina.

WSDOT’s specialized sweeper Broom Hilda. Credit: WSDOT
 A concrete barrier separates the 14-foot wide multi-use path which has 11 viewpoints and resting areas dotting the trail. WSDOT said a specially designed railing will provide views of the lake while keeping non-motorized travelers safe. The path has a 15 mph speed limit and bicyclists and pedestrians are not required to pay the toll. A specialized sweeper, nicknamed Broom Hilda, will be used to keep the shared-use path clean.

Eventually, the path will extend to Interstate 5, passing under Montlake Boulevard and 24th Avenue, then crossing over SR520 to the south side of the highway, and there connecting into the bike network, including the Burke-Gilman Trail and the Washington Park Arboretum Waterfront Trail. Work will continue in that area as crews build a freeway lid and interchange around Montlake.

Now that the bridge accommodates both vehicles and non-motorized traffic, could light rail be next? According to WSDOT, the new floating bridge is “engineered to accommodate light rail in the future.” The bridge was designed in a way that additional supplemental pontoons could be added to support the weight of light rail. A white paper on the subject was released in 2010.

Credit: WSDOT

The agency said adding light rail could be done by converting the bridge’s existing HOV lanes to light rail or adding width to the bridge to make room for light rail in both directions. WSDOT estimates either option would come at a hefty price, costing at least $150- $200m to add the additional 30 pontoons needed to support the weight of the trains.

73 Replies to “SR520 Bicycle and Pedestrian Path Opens Today”

  1. Dreaming about trains is always fun, but it is a lot more important in the next thirty years (if not the next eighty) to figure out how the buses are going to get to Husky Stadium (and the Link station there). What are the plans, and timeline for all that? Is it all settled, or are they still considering various options? There was talk of a new bridge, but that seems unlikely. What about new lanes? If so, how far will they go?

    1. “Dreaming about trains is always fun, but it is a lot more important in the next thirty years (if not the next eighty) to figure out how the buses are going to get to Husky Stadium”

      Ah, no, the most important thing for the next 30 years is to expand rail in the PS region, primarily to expand LR. If the previous 30 years of experience have taught us anything it is that a 100% bus based system is not up to the task.

      Yes, buses will have a role, but it certainly won’t be as central as it is now.

      And certainly Metro, with all its vast bus experience, can figure out how to adjust bus routings to produce a reasonable transfer, can’t they? It shouldn’t take huge investments in infrastructure to produce a reasonable bus transfer.

      And Husky Stadium wont’ always be the terminus anyhow.

      1. “And Husky Stadium wont’ always be the terminus anyhow.”

        Growing the light rail spine northward will only increase the gravity well of UW Station as the transfer point for SR 520 buses. The buses might all be re-routed to UW Station anyway when buses get kicked out of the downtown tunnel.

        East Link could conceivably reduce bus traffic across SR 520, but would be unlikely to eliminate it.

        If not for that 15 mph speed limit on the bridge, I could foresee commuting by bike being competitive with commuting by train/connecting-bus. I’m glad there is pedestrian access, and that the pedestrian path doesn’t swirl back and forth, but the planners still don’t seem to get it that people ride bikes for commuting, not just recreation. But I digress.

        Metro was AWOL during the process where lanes on Montlake were designed. Or they had already decided the buses would turn onto Pacific before the public input process on lane design. Either way, I still don’t see the state being interested in re-doing a much-processed lane alignment just because Metro suddenly dithers on where they really want the buses to go. Many wanted the buses to stop in front of UW Station over a decade ago. All we got from Metro was that they would look at the issue the last few months before UW Station opens. I think Metro’s culture of letting other entities decide their available bus paths has matured since then, but it is pretty much too late to make affordable changes at UW Station.

        At any rate, the time killer appears to be getting on and off SR 520, not whether the buses stop in front of the station or on Pacific.

        And then, as soon as the buses leave the tunnel, many SR 520 riders will start clamoring for doubling the frequency between UW and IDS, focusing on that instead of bus stop location (since the difference is essentially the time to wait for a crossing light), and without concern to what impact that desire will have on south-end Link capacity. OR they will be begging to get their route to revert back to going downtown or to SLU.

        If bizarre social justice arguments prevail in the mayor’s office for more one-seat rides downtown, those arguments had better be backed up with painting 3rd Ave red.

      2. @ Lazarus Ah, no, the most important thing for the next 30 years is to expand rail in the PS region, primarily to expand LR. If the previous 30 years of experience have taught us anything it is that a 100% bus based system is not up to the task.

        Are you a troll? Sometimes I wonder. Comments like this just don’t seem to be written by someone who is interested in serious dialogue. The comments seem to be aimed either to incite meaningless arguments (i. e. trolling) or by someone who didn’t bother to read the full context of a very short paragraph.

        100% bus based system? Seriously? What a ridiculous straw man argument. I never said anything about a 100% bus based system. In fact, I said the opposite. I was talking about connecting buses to OUR LIGHT RAIL SYSTEM. I even explicitly wrote that, in case someone (who knew nothing about our OUR LIGHT RAIL SYSTEM) was wondering why you would send buses to Husky Stadium. That means that you didn’t bother to read the entire paragraph AND know nothing about OUR LIGHT RAIL SYSTEM, or you are trolling.

        Oh, and here are some more facts for you. I never said anything about Husky Stadium being the terminus. So again, another straw man. In fact, Husky Stadium being the terminus has absolutely nothing to do with what I wrote. Why on earth would it?

        I mentioned Husky Stadium because it is the closest station to State Route 520, which is the focus of this article. It makes sense as the connection point for buses coming from 520, for that reason.

        The rest of your comments aren’t quite as bad, but they still sound like trolling:

        And certainly Metro, with all its vast bus experience, can figure out how to adjust bus routings to produce a reasonable transfer, can’t they? It shouldn’t take huge investments in infrastructure to produce a reasonable bus transfer.

        Again, what??? How is Metro supposed to get the bus there QUICKLY, without spending money on infrastructure. Do you really think the problem is that Metro can’t figure out a routing? Routing is easy. Routing is simple. But having a bus avoid congestion is not. Having any form of transit avoid congestion is not, which is why we have literally spent billions on the process. But spending billions without considering how buses are supposed to connect with trains leaves us with a terrible transfer.

        Look, I hate to break it to you, but there is no Link light rail station in Montlake, underneath the 520 bridge. I sure wish there was. Then buses could stop there, people could quickly get to their train, and go on there way. If that station existed, Metro would easily reroute several bus routes, and would have done so already. But there isn’t. That is the fault of Sound Transit, not Metro (Metro doesn’t build train stations). But what is done is done. Like the First Hill Station, it isn’t going to be built anytime soon. There are no plans, or even studies to build it.

        The question, then, for the foreseeable future, is how we are supposed to get the buses to connect QUICKLY with the trains. It isn’t about scheduling or routing (which Metro can do easily). It isn’t about moving or adding stations (which would be extremely expensive). It about taking advantage of this once in a generation rebuild of 520, so that buses aren’t stuck every day trying to get from 520 to Husky Stadium.

      3. “certainly Metro, with all its vast bus experience, can figure out how to adjust bus routings to produce a reasonable transfer, can’t they?”

        If there were lanes and layover spaces for the buses to go on. Metro can’t just fix this by rerouting, nor does it have the authority to condemn UW property to build them. That requires UW and WSDOT decisions with pressure from all the politicians. They said they’ll do “something”. It remains to be seen whether it will have any effect on the buses.

        “And Husky Stadium wont’ always be the terminus anyhow.”

        This is for the 520 buses to access the Seattle transit network. That will still be relevant even after Link is extended. People from the Eastside go to the U-District, Greenlake,. Northgate, and Lynnwood as well as to downtown.

      4. I and other activists worked the UW bus-rail connection problem for over a decade with citizens and politicians around the region, all the way up to the Governor’s office. We got both city and state legislation passed to mandate a good transit connection at UW but without real leadership from the executive levels at the city and state, it didn’t happen.

        The next phase of the WSDOT project will build HOV direct-access ramps to a new bus station on a lid over 520 in Montlake, which will improve matters somewhat, but that will address neither the epic backups on Montlake Blvd. (which were predicted, and are now unsolvable) nor the transfer situation at UW; that ship sailed when WSDOT punted on solving that problem under Governor Gregoire.

        Metro was at the table in the planning process but mostly powerless. UW (a state entity) was territorial, actively worked against improving the connection, ultimately more concerned with preserving surface parking space for tailgating at Husky games, which they now intend to build on. Sound Transit was obsessed with opening ULink on time and budget and at least passively opposed to improving bus connections at UW Station; we suspected this was at least partly because it might weaken the case for East Link. Leadership has since improved on the Eastside but at the time were not invested in bus-Link connections and were mostly concerned with enlarging the highway and building beautiful lids out there.

        In the City of Seattle, Mayor Nickels and Councilmember Richard Conlin sold out 520 to get the SR 99 / Alaskan Way Viaduct plan approved and funded. They were done deals by the time Mayor McGinn arrived. The deep relationship between those two projects is the untold story of that era.

        Our efforts did play a key role in creating the conditions for the relevant agencies and jurisdictions to contribute to the award-winning Montlake Triangle project at UW station, which is a big upgrade (and looks surprisingly like a less-ambitious version of what we submitted in 2006), but still doesn’t address the bus-rail transfer issue, which I personally raised as early as 1999 to the ST Project Review Committee before UW station was even sited.

        All we can do now is try and carve out room for protected bike lanes on the boulevard, and keep raising the issue of the bus-rail connection, hoping that each successive generation of civic leadership will prove more enlightened than the last and that the forces of reason will eventually prevail – which takes a lot of faith these days. This blog has contributed greatly to the dialogue:

        The bike crossing of 520 opening today is possibly the best thing to come of the entire $5 billion project. That, and the bridge not sinking. Hopefully no earthquake takes out the Portage Bay bridge before 2027; in the meantime, I’ll see you on the trail to that beautiful lid in Medina.

      5. @Mike — I agree, but it goes beyond that. Metro can just send buses *by* the station, even if the buses then spend an extra five minutes turning around or through route with some other bus. Metro does that right now, with the buses from the north end. It is obviously less than ideal, but it still works reasonably well.

        The problem is just getting to the station from 520 (or the reverse). Someone who is forced to transfer will not be too happy if it turns out they spend almost as much time getting to the station than they did slogging to downtown. Increased headways always helps ease the pain, but a lot of those routes have decent headways right now, especially during rush hour.

      6. Great summary, Jonathan. This is the tradeoff with any infrastructure improvement, which we’re now facing with housing. Parking minimums force developers to build wide shallow storefronts because the garage is behind them, even though narrow deep storefronts generate a more robust pedestrian enviroment, put more businesses within walking distance (one per block is really substandard), and attract more local shops rather than large chain stores and banks (if we wanted those we’d live in the suburbs). The parking minimums have been relaxed somewhat but it’s too late for the buildings built in the 00’s, and they won’t be rebuilt for decades. So building earlier gets more housing sooner, but building later gets a better long-term urban environment. If the current political climate had existed during the ST1 and 2 votes, Link would be significantly better now. And if it had existed in 1970 Forward Thrust would have gotten its supermajority. Then we’d now simply be refurbishing/adding to it rater than building it from scratch, growth would be more King County focused rather than sprawled over three counties, and there would probably be more non-single-family land around stations.

      7. Arteries and capillaries, Lazarus. Equally important. Blocked capillary can cost you a hand. As a down-payment.

        Also, different vehicles for different stages of development. First regional rail consist was a dual-power bus. Without which LINK would still be lines and dots in a whatever replaced PowerPoint.

        Mike, like I’ve said, my own take on Forward Thrust is that neither Seattle nor the rest of our region had yet developed either the population or its tax base to either justify or demand what Forward Thrust promised.

        Likewise, though,seriously doubt that five years ago, anybody foresaw the last three, which are going to require some unprecedented speed and flexibility in transit. Planning, building, operating and constantly rerouting. But opportunity as well as hardship:

        Getting ahead of the fifty years of sprawl now screaming off the mark in all four directions- Hoodsport’s got brand new suburbs- could be good practice for de-sprawling the last fifty years in King, Pierce, and Snohomish.

        But promise one thing: Being the Seattle area no matter how sprawled, there’ll still be a sacred “If Only We’d!”


      8. “my own take on Forward Thrust is that neither Seattle nor the rest of our region had yet developed either the population or its tax base to either justify or demand what Forward Thrust promised”

        Do you think any region deserves 30-60 minute buses with entire neighborhoods having only peak-hour service to downtown or no service at all? That’s what we got instead of Forward Thrust, and it was a pretty bad thirty years to live through, where not having a car really limited where you could work, and put most of the high-paying office-park jobs out of reach. The powers that be offered no intermediate alternative: just Forward Thrust or Milk-Run Metro. What do you think an adequate network for 1970 King County would have been?

        “seriously doubt that five years ago, anybody foresaw the last three”

        The last six years were unprecedented. But for crying out loud, light rail to Northgate and Bellevue was already justified in the 1980s, and I lost months of my life in waiting for buses and traveling slowly because of it. Duesseldorf is the size of Seattle and it had half-hourly S-Bahns for decades and light rail by 1998 when I visited. In college I had a friend from Bielefeld, population 330K currently, and he told me proudly in the 90s, “Bielefeld has a subway now!” He meant light rail with a downtown tunnel. And Karlsruhe, population 307K, has a recent surface train for it and its suburbs. If we had built Forward Thrust, or something in the 80s, or something in the 90s, then we would have been prepared for Seattle’s population rebound and Bellevue’s population growth, and even if it were overcapacity now it would do more of the heavy lifting that Link only started doing in 2016 with U-Link.

    2. I agree. I sat on the Montlake exit ramp for about fifteen minutes Wednesday, wishing I’d just taken the 545 and gotten off at the freeway station. The exit ramp design is not working; Metro and ST should immediately reroute the 541, 542, and 271 to the freeway station during peak hours until things are fixed.

      1. SoundTransit and KCMetro and SDOT and mayors/councils of Kirkland/Redmond/Bellevue need to provide serious pressure to WSDOT to make a lane of the Montlake exit ramp be a transit lane. It is nonsensical that it isn’t. Even if nothing is done on Montlake, this alone will shave minutes off every peak bus trip that exits there.

      2. They can’t do that, or else traffic would back up on to the freeway. Although it might be possible to carve out a bus lane from the ramp by eliminating shoulder space.

        Fortunately, the planned lid includes an HOV only new exit ramp, which should mostly solve the problem.

      3. @asdf2 — The HOV only ramp should help a lot, but then what? Does a bus just slog it’s way over to the other side of the bridge? Maybe that isn’t a huge problem.

        Going the other direction, will anything be done? Buses can get very close to the bridge, but then slog their way from there to 520. It seems like in both these cases, they can so some extra work, even if the original idea (building another bridge) was rejected. A bike and transit only bridge, to the east of the existing bridge, would have probably solved all of the problems, but neighbors wouldn’t be too happy.

      4. @Brent, yes they are, thank goodness. I was planning on taking a 545 and getting off there, but there wasn’t enough room for my bike, so I took the 541 coming right after. In retrospect, I should’ve waited for the next 545.

        @RossB, it’ll help a lot. Really. The worst choke point northbound isn’t the bridge; it’s the exit ramp. Once you’re off the ramp, you don’t have any more lanes feeding together till the Husky Stadium stoplight.

      5. The Montlake Bridge itself really isn’t a problem, and northbound Montlake already has a bus lane leading up to the bridge. The only big problem is really the exit ramp and, even that, only during afternoon rush hour. Even morning rush hour, I go by there everyday and it’s fine.

        The one occasion where I can envision the hov ramp being problematic is Husky football games, and only because people usually go to football games in groups, so most of the cars have the requisite number of people. Even then, it’s only 6 times a year, and those headed downtown can always avoid it by detouring to I90 and riding East Link.

      6. The WSDOT “Rest of the West” plan calls for a second Montlake drawbridge over the cut. Any chance that would allow transit-only lanes?

      7. RossB, the transit lane on Montlake really is sufficient even at peak times, except when WSDOT/SDOT have abandoned equipment or signs in it, which is generally only problematic around football games when SDOT decides that it’s more important for motorists to know that parking will be a problem than keeping buses moving. Once the bus is in the transit lane, it can use the queue jump at the last intersection before the bridge to get in front of traffic.

        Like others I’ve spent 15+ minutes on the off-ramp, but only a few minutes to get from the off-ramp to the UWMC stop.

      8. Ideally UW and WSDOT would prioritize transit movements between 520 and Husky Stadium, but that doesn’t seem likely. The 2nd Montlake bridge is still very much alive and funded, though for revenue reasons the money for it won’t come until the late 2020s (unless the city wants to build it earlier). It could support bus only lanes.

        As others have said the main problem is not the Montlake bridge, it’s the offramp off 520. Barring a major change of priorities at UW/WSDOT, the first real improvements will come in 2023 at the earliest, when the Montlake lid is complete and there is a dedicated HOV offramp from 520 to Montlake Blvd. Add in a 2nd bridge + HOV lanes across the cut and the transfer from 520-UW will actually be pretty decent. It’s not gonna take 30 years. More like 5-10.

      9. Yeah, that makes sense. Once you add the HOV ramp, northbound (towards UW) should be fine.

        I am more concerned about southbound. From the bridge to 520, I would assume that things back up. You have to slog through slow moving traffic for a while before you can get into the lane which feeds to the eastbound HOV ramp. A new bridge won’t be built, but I could see adding a new bus lane south of there. Just south of the bridge (in the southbound direction only) split into three lanes. The left lane is for 520 (east or west). The middle lane is bus only. The right lane is for southbound through traffic (Montlake, 24th, 23rd). That isn’t perfect, but it seems like it would be a lot better. When traffic is light, the bus driver just stays to the right (the SR 520 lane). But when that backs up, they move over into the bus lane. It is likely there will be the occasional person “blocking the box” but at least you have a completely new lane available. It also makes it clear — after the bridge, you have to be in the right lane if you want to get on 520. The far left lane (the one heading to Montlake/Central Area) should be moving freely. That means that if a scofflaw crossed over into the bus lane, is partially merged into the right (520) lane, but is sticking out into the bus lane, a bus driver can swerve around them to the left.

        Anyway, that is the type of thing I think would make a lot of sense, but I have no idea if that is actually what they are planning on building. I know the plans have gone back and forth. WSDOT wanted a lot of lanes (including HOV lanes) and a new bridge, but the community objected. Now I don’t know if the plan is to basically keep things the way they are now (with the exception of the new westbound 520 to northbound Montlake Boulevard ramp).

        Once we get the buses to the north side of the Montlake bridge, all improvements have to go through the UW. That could happen later, but it would take a lot more leadership. Pressure needs to be put on the powers that be. The UW is basically run like a giant corporation, and someone (the person in parking) is basically protecting their little fiefdom. They make a ton of money charging patients, doctors and nurses to park there, so they aren’t going to give that up easily. But if the city, the state and the public can put pressure on the university, someone up high will go over their head, and they can make the necessary changes. Right now it is an issue that is only covered in this blog, and even then, mostly in the comments. Like ORCA card support for the monorail, it is easy to assume that the powers that be won’t do the right thing. But with enough public pressure, maybe they will.

      10. Right, and that’s sort of what happens now: the buses stay in the left lane (left from the driver’s perspective) until they swing around the backup getting on to EB 520, and then pull in front of the stop. Sometimes it gets really backed up and that keeps the buses from even getting on the bridge.

        But again, when the lid is complete this is a non-issue, because the bus will actually make a left into a special bus/HOV onramp to the EB HOV lanes. The bus stop will move onto the lid, so you can make a crosswalk-free transfer from a NB 48 to an EB 541 or 271.

        See here:

      11. I’ve idly wondered if a two-lane roundabout would be superior to the tangle of intersections on the Montlake lid. It might get snarled if the bridge opens, but otherwise it’s an interesting concept to play with.

      12. @Frank — Oh, that’s awesome. That will be much better. Based on the picture, there are three lanes and then a left turn lane is added. The problem right now is that while the bus can travel in the left lane, for a large stretch, so does regular traffic. The “good” (non-HOV) driver will get in the right lane immediately, since that is where they are headed. But the aggressive driver will wait until at least the westbound drivers have left, if not later. There is no disincentive to wait until the last second, and it is perfectly legal. With my idea, it would not be (you would have to merge to the left lane before the end of the bridge). But with WSDOT’s approach, it is even better, since all the bus does is move to the far left (which presumably would be an HOV lane). That would mean that the only congested section would be the bridge itself. Buses get a jump ahead to the north end of the bridge (as they do know) then work their way over to the far left lane immediately south of the bridge.

        The diagram also implies that there are three lanes the other direction. That means that not only would a bus get in its own ramp, but right after it, its own lane (why else would there be three lanes there?). That means that after the bridge is open (when there is congestion) the bus would jump to the front of the line.

  2. This will also reduce delays for buses caused by bikes getting on and off. I also assume that the out of service buses won’t stop at Montlake anymore. Correct?

    1. My understanding is that off service buses will continue to stop for riders. Honestly, loading bikes has rarely added significant time to loading unless the bicyclist was the only one getting on. There’s still a need to get bikes further east, so I see this service continuing for awhile.

      1. In addition to distance for Redmond commuters, rain conditions can also make riding next to the freeway a pretty miserable experience. I’ve taken the I-90 path on a rainy day when the surface streets weren’t too bad and been drenched by every passing car… it was pretty gross. And in the rain the expansion joints will be extra treacherous. It’s easy to imagine lots of riders preferring the “bus bridge” in case of rain.

        Of course it’s hard to build a real mass-commuting solution based on taking bikes on buses; if that many people need to make these sorts of trips we probably need to look hard at our bus routes and bike parking! But it’s good to have the option for those marginal cases.

      2. OK, so you’re the bus agency, and you’re asking yourself the critical question: should we run buses full of bike racks? During rush-hour, when we’re putting the maximum possible number of buses and drivers on the road and running much of the system at the limits of capacity, should we run trips full of bikes, with a passenger capacity of maybe half or a third of what those trips would otherwise carry?

        The places this would be most justified are reverse-commute freeway trips, for the same reasons the bus bridge makes sense on 520 today: lots of car-free or car-light households Seattle, Seattle-side pick-ups in high bike-theft areas, suburban employers spread out beyond walking distance from regional bus stops, lots of extra capacity in the reverse-commute direction because the forward-commute requires so many buses. But having entire buses designed to carry bikes would thwart this: these buses wouldn’t be very good for forward-commute use on the freeway, where you’re trying to get passengers seated as much as possible for comfort and safety.

        If we’re going to put extra buses and extra drivers into carting people’s bikes around during peak hours… we’d better have solved just about all the simple passenger pass-up problems first! I’ve been passed up for lack of bike rack capacity more often than for lack of passenger capacity, but I seriously doubt that’s true system-wide. I truly believe that improving the bike-parking security situation at important stops in Seattle, Montlake foremost among them, is the most efficient and practical way to get the most out of our fleet and drivers during peak hours.

      3. Totally agree that the bikes being carried on the 545 won’t stop. But, with the path open, there’s not much utility in loading a bike on a deadhead bus just to go across the bridge. More often that not, pedaling across will be just as fast, after factoring the wait time, plus the overhead of dismounting the bike and getting between the trail and the actual bus stop, which requires carrying the bike down a flight of stairs (eastbound), or waiting for an elevator (westbound).

        That said, WSDOT did indicate that the bike path would have a few intermittent closures for maintenance issue, and the bus option will be very useful to have during those times.

      4. Right, people who have a bike want to ride it, and the only reason they put it on a bus is they’re not allowed to ride it on the bridge. Most of the pieces for a trail from UW to Redmond are coming into place, and that will be a nice bike ride. (There already is a trail from UW to Redmond around the north end of the lake, but it’s 2 hours each way.)

      5. Two hours seems long :)

        But the Sammamish River Trail/Burke Gilman Trail isn’t appropriate for commuting. It’s a 20-ish mile ride from the UW to Redmond. In “car terms” that’s a freeway commute. It’s only feasible if you can go freeway speeds.

        Translating back to bikes, this means you can only commute the SRT/BGT if you can maintain 20+ MPH. But you can’t go that fast because in the mornings there are drivers crossing their driveways all along the Laurelhurst-Magnuson Park bit of the BGT and in the evenings there are kids on scooters all along the SRT.

        The car equivalent of this is telling Lynnwood-Renton commuters to take the side streets.

        So it’s not just that the 520 bridge is another option. It’s the only option! (And it took 54 years to get here.)

  3. “WSDOT estimates either option would come at a hefty price, costing at least $150- $200m to add the additional 30 pontoons needed to support the weight of the trains.”

    That seem at least an order of magnitude less than building a new light rail bridge across the lake.

    1. Agreed, but also a small part of the project. Somehow the train line on the bridge has to connect on either end — that is where it would get really expensive.

      1. It’s hard to glean how much a floating bridge would cost. The 520 bridge was given $4.5 billion, but that includes the bridge, plus demolition of the old bridge and all the currently constructed portions between Montlake (including West Approach) and I-405. The “Rest of the West” is still unfunded.

        I would guess that the bridge itself was $2 – 2.5 billion of that (assume the cost of laying tracks on either bridge is the same), not including approaches, and the floating portion appears the be an approximate length of Sand Point to Kirkland, depending on where they put it. While Sand Point to Kirkland seems optimal, service-wise, that extra $1.5 to 2 billion could be used for the 520 route and figure out how to get light rail to Kirkland.

        I just can’t see the public swallowing an extra $2 billion just for a new bridge to serve Kirkland (which alone could probably fund a huge chunk of BallardUW). Also, if you think getting light rail through Medina is an impossible battle, try getting it through Laurelhurst and Windermere.

      2. But Sand Point to Kirkland would be a narrow bridge, supporting only train and pedestrian/bike traffic. It certainly won’t be cheap, but I don’t think it’ll cost nearly as much as the 520 rebuild.

        While Laurelhurst is a neighborhood to reckon with, Sand Point has a wide right-of-way and a median, so I don’t think the west side would be an insurmountable challenge. Kirkland would likely require a tunnel through its downtown, which is another point in favor of the submerged floating bridge concept:

        Even though I support this bridge, I don’t think it makes sense in ST4, since more density would be required on both ends for it to be worthwhile. In the meantime, Seattle/UDistrict/Kirkland BRT makes more sense.

      3. … more density would be required on both ends for it to be worthwhile …

        Yep, that’s the problem. It is the problem with any plan that goes east of the UW. Population density both in Seattle and in Kirkland is just not good. Even if you go via 520, it isn’t good. Nor is it cheap. If you go via 520, you have to get from the U-District to SR 520. Which means what, exactly? Share the tunnel, and cut headways between our most popular section in half? That is ridiculous, and just won’t happen. That means you are building a second tunnel, right next to the existing one, if you go via 520. That is roughly a third of the distance of a UW to Ballard line. You don’t have to build stations (saving some money) but you do have to connect the existing stations to the new tunnel, and that isn’t cheap. Then what? Pop up where? In the swamp? That costs even more money, and you haven’t even added a single station in Seattle.

        I’m not saying the Sand Point idea makes sense either. That would involve a tremendous amount of tunneling. Just to get to the shores of Montlake from the U-District Station is 5 miles. That is almost twice the distance of the UW to Ballard line! Much of that is under water, where you have no stations at all. Do you think it is cheaper to build a line under Lake Washington (or 100 feet below the surface)? Ridiculous. The Seattle stations in that scenario are terrible. Only one census block barely gets above 10,000 people per square mile (and no, it hasn’t grown). You might as well run a line to West Magnolia (not to be confused with East Magnolia, which has many times the number of people that this line would). When ST ran the line down to the airport, they didn’t add any stations between Rainier Beach and Tukwila — this is that type of land. Oh, I don’t doubt that folks want stations there, I’m just saying very few people will use that station, because very few people actually live there.

        Who is going to pay for that? There just aren’t that many people in Kirkland, and who in Seattle wants to pay for that, before they pay for a Metro 8 subway (or anything, really). Seriously, if you are in the Central Area, and you have been living with bus rides that take 20, 25 minutes just to get a mere mile or two to downtown, why on earth would you want to chip is so that someone can get to Kirkland faster. The bus actually gets you there reasonably fast, and besides, how many times are we supposed to play this game. You were already stepped over for West Seattle, despite the fact that your buses average speeds are much slower, you live in an area much more densely populated, and the distances involved are much smaller. Now you are supposed to pass the hat so that we can all get to Kirkland by train, or so that folks in Laurelhurst can get a subway station?

        No matter how you cut it, it just seems like a crazy idea. It is transit based on looking at a road map, not looking at a census map. It ignores every lesson we’ve learned over the past fifty years so that we can connect stops next to a freeway where buses travel at speeds that every other community would dream of. It is just silly.

        Stop trying to build lines with empty trains running every twenty minutes and actually address the transit issues at hand. How does someone in Kirkland get to Seattle? The answer is simple: By bus. Now figure out how to get that bus to the nearest Link station as quickly as possible. State Route 520, with it’s brand new pavement (and bike path) is obviously part of that. You just need to get it to the station and the various communities to the east.

    2. Possibly, though the shorter distance between Sand Point and Kirkland might help make up for it. Also, if such a train were to connect to the Ballard-UDistrict line, then an expensive new bridge across Montlake would be required.

    3. There’s also the issue of the low-density nothingness between the Median shore and either Houghton or Overlake. Not an area that can effectively use a train. In contrast, a Sand Point Kirkland crossing could have stations in U-Village, Children’s, and Magnuson Park, and downtown Kirkland is right on the shore.

      1. Yes, but U-Village, Children’s, and Magnuson Park are all terrible stations. OK, the hospital has employees, but way less than First Hill. U-Village is merely a mall, and Magnuson Park is just a park. All of them are way below average for population density in Seattle. Not average — but below average! Downtown Kirkland (as charming as it is) also lacks people. Way more people live in Juanita. But even then, it pales in comparison to places like Greenwood, which last time I checked, isn’t even being considered for a rail line. From the U-District, a line just to the shores of Kirkland would be substantially farther, and of course more expensive than a line to Ballard. It would have only four stations, none of which are as good as any of the stations to Ballard. Nor would any of the stations be as good as those on the Metro 8, nor as good as the one I just imagined by throwing a dart at a map of Seattle. Seriously. Run a a line from the Ballard station (15th and Market), over to 24th, then head north to 85th, then east, crossing under Aurora and I-5, but curving southeast, ending at the 65th station. Ridiculous right? Yet it is the same distance, and probably cheaper than the U-District to Kirkland line. More importantly, it would have way more riders, because it actually serves areas that have large numbers of people. The weakest station on that route would have more riders than the strongest station on the underwater mess that people are proposing.

        The Kirkland to Sand Point line just has monorail written all over it. Sure, it sounds cool. Everyone wants it. But when you actually look at what it would cost, and how many people would actually ride it, there are much better options.

    4. Then there’s the four-million-dollar houses in Medina: it would cost a lot if it has to displace any of those, not to mention running into powerful political opposition.

  4. Support investing in rail as much as anyone, but just not sure 520 light rail pencils out. McGinn asked SDOT to study the feasibility back when he was pushing for it. Haven’t read the report since it came out, but even working on behalf of a mayor who clearly wanted a certain answer, SDOT concluded there just wasn’t enough “there” there on the east side of the bridge to justify the investment.

    1. A line going to Redmond would put it too close to East Link and cannibalize riders from it. A line going to Kirkland would serve more areas but get less ridership, partly because Kirkland is so upzone-adverse. It would be more cost-effective to put a north-south line in the Eastside and stick to buses on 520. The reason the bridge was built to light-rail specs was because that’s where the bridge was, not because it was the best route for a rail line. It’s akin to building the yet-to-be-named tunnel downtown because an existing viaduct was in that approximate location, regardless of how effective or used the tunnel will be.

      1. I didn’t realize it didn’t have a name. How can it not be named Bertha? After the boring machine or the mayor…I don’t care.

      2. If we don’t get a better name soon the common name will default to Deep-Bore Tunnel, Alaskan Way Viaduct Tunnel, Viaduct Replacement Tunnel, or something lame like that.

        I guess my favorite name is Downtown Bypass Tunnel. That’s self-descriptive and tells you where it is. It would be a small step from there to Bertha Downtown Bypass.

      3. Most call the bridges over Lake Washington just “520 bridge” and “I-90 bridge” even though they do have official names. Following that pattern you’d get “99 tunnel”.

      4. “Most call the bridges over Lake Washington just “520 bridge” and “I-90 bridge” even though they do have official names.”

        That was a change in the 1990s or 2000s. Before that people called them “the Evergreen Bridge” and “the Mercer Island Bridge”. It seems that so many newcomers came from places where bridges were called by their highway numbers or didnt’ recognize the names when they heard them that the general nomenclature changed. There was also the confusion of which bridge was the new Mercer Island bridge because the Hadley bridge was built from scratch in the 80s and was called “the new Mercer Island Bridge” and the Murrow bridge was called “the old Mercer Island bridge”, but then the Murrow bridge sank and was rebuilt so was it the new bridge now? That may have hastened the switch to “the I-90 bridge” (meaning both bridges together). I also revolted over “Governor Albert D Rosselini Bridge” and refuse to say it.

        Or it may be part of a larger nationwide trend because people in California are now saying “the 101” or “the 5” when they used to say “the Bayshore Freeway”, “the Hollywood Freeway””, “the Santa Ana Freeway”, etc. But I’ve only sporadically visited there over the years so i don’t precisely know the proportion of numbers vs names or how much it’s changed.

      5. My gut instinct would say that “Alaskan Way Viaduct” would naturally evolve to “Alaskan Way Tunnel”.

        Further contemplating makes me believe that people will say “99 Tunnel”, per Oran.

        In the end, I would put a good chunk of money on people just calling it “The Tunnel”, until we get a second one. “I think I’m going to take the Tunnel to get there”.

        *An additional thought: people still call them the “Aurora Bridge”, “Hood Canal Bridge” and “Ship Canal Bridge” and not the “99 Bridge”, “104 Bridge” or “I-5 Bridge”. I blame the Californians that flooded the East Side for renaming the 3 Lake Washington floating bridges, since it only seems to be those cross-lake routes.

      6. People will drive “the tunnel” much they drive “the viaduct” today if they wanted the shortest name where the context is understood although we already have two tunnels under downtown for trains and transit.

        Probably because people call that section of road Aurora and not SR 99 even though it is both and never “George Washington Memorial Bridge”. I-5 bridge is too vague as much of I-5 through town is elevated. My feeling is that people call them 520 and I-90 bridges because they for the most part they refer to highways as in taking 520 to Redmond or I-90 to Seattle and just slap “bridge” at the end when they specifically refer to the only bridges on those routes.

  5. I wonder if Broom Hilda would be interested in sucking up some of our other trails around Seattle and King County. Many need it right now.

    1. Hear, hear. Conventional street sweepers can’t service the new separated bikeways. Their gutters are filling with debris. Does the City have a plan on how to clean them? If so, when will it be activated?

  6. I think it’s kind of a stretch to say that the bridge has been engineered to support light rail. More accurate to say that it is theoretically possible to rebuild the bridge to support light rail at great cost.

    I suspect WSDOT didn’t really believe that it would ever carry light rail, so they just punted. Maybe I’m just cynical.

    1. The bridge really is not engineered to LR specs. All they are saying is that it would be theoretically possible to sister-up some traditional pontoons to the current (new) bridge and then re-jigger the lane configuration to put LR on the deck. No real cost estimate with any vetting is available.

      The supposed idea of adding pontoons so you could add LR was just something the State threw out there so McGinn would have some political cover to give up his crusade for LR on SR520. McGinn eventually figured out that he wasn’t going to win, so the State through something out there so he would go away. He took it and he did.

      McGinn basically gave up on LR on SR520, and it was the right thing for him to do.

    2. I assume it was built for light rail the way I-90 was built for light rail. Anything less would be misleading advertising.

  7. Will it be pedestrian-friendly as well?
    Have been waiting since ‘89, when I lived in Kirkland, for this type of acess to happen.

  8. The 520 trail in conjunction with the Eastside Rail Corridor trail is going to open up a lot of cross lake bike commuting options. And the proximity of these trail systems to husky stadium and many of the eastlink stations will give a large number of people 2 complementary non motorized options. I look forward to mixed mode trips myself between the two systems and the the next generation of urbanists this will cultivate on the eastside.

  9. I live in Seattle, work in Kirkland, and have recently contemplated moving to Kirkland to be close to work.

    While the part of Kirkland I’m looking at is right in the middle of downtown, and within walking distance of work, the poor evening/weekend frequency of virtually every bus route on the Eastside is giving me considerable pause – basically, Metro is forcing me to make a tradeoff. I can have an easy walk to work, yet put up with half-hourly or hourly buses if I want to get to Seattle on an evening or weekend. Or, I can live in Seattle, which much more frequent buses, 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, yet have to ride the bus across the bridge twice a day, five days a week (but, during commute hours, when the bus has decent frequency).

    1. This is exactly who so many Microsofties live in Seattle. They’ve voted with their feet, and decided that ten long commute trips per week is less important than twenty other trips per week, plus the opportunity to live in a more pedestrian neighborhood with more walkable destinations and a wider variety of nightlife and cultural activities nearby.

      Still, there are many people for whom Seattle to Kirkland will be a nice-sized bike commute, especially on the woodsy Cross-Kirkland Connector.

      The longest bike commute I’ve ever seen was a colleague and rode from Poulsbo to Ballard in the summer. He was in the army reserve and liked to keep active.

      1. I tried bike commuting this morning, and door to door, it took essentially the same amount of time as my regular bus commute. Which is pretty incredible considering that there’s normally light traffic going east in the morning.

        The biggest reason is no wait time. I was 3/4 of the way across the bridge before the 255 I would have been waiting for finally passed me, and this was on a day with zero traffic, biking against a headwind.

        Going back to the topic of housing, it is unfortunate that even in the most walkable neighborhoods on the Eastside, even if both work and the grocery store are within easy walking distance, you still effectively need to have a car (or a big Uber budget) to get out on the weekends. Doing the 520 service restructure would help a lot by finally providing frequent service to Seattle on evenings and weekends, while providing more connections to the north half of the city that don’t involve detouring to downtown. Car2Go on the Eastside would also help a ton, as would more investment by the cities in pedestrian infrastructure. Someday, I may put together a page 2 post on what it would take to make carfree living on the Eastside (or at least the urban centers of the Eastside) a true, viable option.

      2. But on the other hand, right now the 520 restructure will relegate us all to 15+ minute waits inching up the Montlake exit ramp in the evening rush hour. Please, restructure things on weekends – but not on weekdays till that one exit ramp is fixed!

      3. Sure, doing the restructure during the off-peak hours until the lid is finished seems like a reasonable compromise for now. (Although, even during morning peak, the Montlake exit ramp doesn’t really back up; it’s only a problem during the afternoon peak). The main thing is to have a bus on evenings and weekends that runs more often than every half hour (dropping to every hour as early as 7 PM on weekends).

    2. On the Eastside, people live car-light, not car-free. Generally, people take the bus to work or for big events, and drive otherwise. Outside of downtown Bellevue and a few other spots, parking is free, and traffic is usually pretty light on the weekends.

      1. Yes. But the way car ownership works, living car-lite is surprisingly expensive because so many of the car ownership costs are fixed, including car tabs, insurance, and, of course, the cost of the car, itself. This directly relates to housing affordability, as you have a ton more money available to spend on housing if you don’t have to deal with car expenses.

  10. Mike, sorry to take so long to get back to you. I didn’t say Seattle didn’t deserve a good rail system. More or less, I was saying that in 1972, we didn’t yet have enough who were both able and finally willing to pay for it. And a business community usually very quietly saying it was time.

    When I got here first time in 1974, average rush hour your car was at least in motion. Remember also that compared to everyplace else on Earth except for some hill towns in Portugal, Seattle inherited the shortest amount old industrial railroad.

    Also, from direct infuriating passenger-carrying experience, least possible cooperation in reserving lanes, removing parking, and setting signals from every local authority, and its merchants and their customers. None major cost items to them. But huge well-fortified and financed obstacles to transit. So trains weren’t the only “Could Haves” we didn’t get.

    It’s not like we mistakenly chose our step-by-step method of building a regional electric rail system from the buses up, rather than all at once. Took a lot of luck, effort, and skill to get the absolutely critical part of our rail system at the last minute, a full-bore light rail tunnel designed to provide service with buses as trains were phased in.

    And main evidence we got it right is that suburbs who swore they’d never pay for a transit tunnel their voters couldn’t get a single seat ride into decided bus seats would be good enough for awhile. None of them has bailed yet.

    So lesson for the future, which is really next flight of steps in the work that started in 1983, is that as much as possible, we stage our work so where necessary rail can’t be built immediately, we design bus service that transitions smoothly as possible into rail as time comes.



  11. $200M isn’t very much. I wonder what the total cost of light rail across 520 would be. Probably more like $2B at least.

  12. I don’t know if anyone has yet done the calculations, but $200 million for 30 pontoons comes to $6,666,666.66. ?

    If word gets out, I apologize, but the devil in me just finds that hysterical. The anti-transit people will claim for sure that light rail over this bridge is the work of the Devil!

    In all seriousness, I think it would be cool to see trains running over this bridge one day. Perhaps it could be an eastward extension of the Ballard-UW subway as the bridge isn’t too far away from Husky Stsdium. Ballard is a cool neighborhood, and having such easy and rapid access from Kirkland or Bellevue would surely be popular, never mind all the other destinations along the line.

    Oh, and… Hail Satan! ?

    The stops on NE Pacific Street are adequate for the SR-520 transfers; they are long and have real time information and four large shelters. The agencies are considering improvements. Brent: it is not due to changes in downtown; the current pathway is already worse than transferring to and from Link; the I-5 general-purpose lanes are slow and unreliable; same with the downtown surface streets; if the SR-520 were shorter, they could be more frequent and have shorter waits. Consider the Mercer Island walks in 2023; I bet they will be longer, thanks to the bilateral agreement between ST and MI. the Dubman comments were good history.

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