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520 Trail: Capitol Hill Eastside commuters can now walk, skate, and bike to work

Good news Capitol Hill commuters headed to the Eastside: You can get to work without a car or a bus. Wednesday, the SR 520 Trail finally opened to pedestrians and cyclists and everything in between along the northside rail of the Lake Washington floating bridge:

The full length of the State Route 520 bicycle and pedestrian trail across Lake Washington is now open. Part of the West Approach Bridge North Project that built new westbound SR 520 lanes and off-ramps, the new 14-foot-wide trail is the final piece that connects about a dozen miles of trail along SR 520 between Redmond and the Montlake neighborhood in Seattle. The new path connects users to over 60 miles of regional trails.

Officials expect around 1,000 people a day to use the path. We’ll know for sure. Federal grants paid for a new bicycle and pedestrian counter at the trailhead in Montlake. “The counter will track bicyclist and pedestrian use in the 520 corridor, allowing WSDOT to better support these communities,” the agency said.

Wednesday’s grand opening gave the counter plenty of work to do.

Many of the trail’s users will get there via the new Arboretum Loop Trail, a 12-foot-wide paved path for walkers, wheelchairs, slow bikes, and strollers that now winds through the leafy greenspace thanks to  $7.8 million in 520 construction mitigation funds from WSDOT.

The 520 Trail, meanwhile, debuts more than a year and a half after the new 520 — the longest floating bridge in the world, at the time at least — opened to motor vehicle traffic with a day of pedestrian traffic to break it in.

The project to remake 520 continues as components of Seattle’s western end of the project with “a box girder style bridge including a bike and pedestrian path over Portage Bay, redesigned highway lids with a new land bridge, and multimodal connectivity improvements” are either still in planning or just beginning construction. 23rd Ave corridor “Vision Zero” work is also slated to continue in 2018.

Meanwhile, the first three phases of the Central Area Neighborhood Greenway are considered complete and the city has said it would be studying the impact on creating safer, calmer streets for biking and walking in the area this year. The greenway’s network of side streets and paths runs on adjacent to 23rd Ave between E Roanoke on the north end and Rainier Ave S to the south. Planning for how best to connect the greenway to safer routes around Montlake  and the 520 Trail was still underway as of this fall, SDOT said.

WSDOT says future phases of 520 construction will eventually connect the SR 520 Trail “all the way to I-5.” The next phase of construction to create a lid over the Montlake interchange “with improved bicycle, pedestrian, and transit facilities,” is set to break ground in late 2018.

All that and the neighborhood is also now home to former Capitol Hill gay bar Purr? Things are looking up in Montlake.

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8 thoughts on “520 Trail: Capitol Hill Eastside commuters can now walk, skate, and bike to work

    • There is no separation in part because that costs money. Money that probably went to pay for wider car travel lanes somewhere else, which is considered all-important. So bike and ped funding gets crumbs, even though on average it costs far, far less per mile to build.

      I too would prefer grade separation on trails like this — it makes for better biking and walking. I’ve yet to see a bike on ped crash (knock wood). But, IMO the main thing is that even someone riding a bike relatively slowly can *feel intimidating* to someone walking, especially if they have pets or small children in tow and the person riding passes too closely or only rings their bell once they are right up behind someone. I speak from experience as both a frequent walker and riders of bikes. This lack of consideration is a problem of shared public space, and not unique to multi-use trails or those who use them.

      As for this particular trail, I believe there are small gaps in the concrete segments that will act as natural speed bumps to prevent most riders from going above 10 or 15 mph.

  1. After the initial gee whiz wears off I would expect few people to actually want to walk across the bridge on any sort of regular basis… very few people walk (or even run) across I-90. It’s unpleasant – extremely loud, often cold, usually windy and in one direction you’ll usually get a face full of grit kicked up by vehicles, even with the barrier. There might be a few crowded days when it’s particularly nice and people wander out as far as the arboretum extends or people want to go out and do a SeaFair lookie-loo, but I’ll bet in general people don’t go out there much simply for fun.

    In any case, as much as some people like to talk them up incidents between cyclists and pedestrians are few and far between… Incidents between them on the long existing I-90 bridge are nearly if not actually, non existent (does anyone even know of one? – bike-bike yes, though also very rarely, but bike-ped on 90?), and it’s probably 1/2 of the width of the new 520 lane.

    • I rode my bike over today and it’s a great improvement over the I-90 version. It seems quieter too. Quite a few folks out enjoying the new path even on a cold and blustery day.

    • Oh – I don’t doubt people will walk out on it for a while – while it’s a new and neat thing, but I predict the blush will likely wear off…

      I really doubt no matter how popular it remains, that there will be many walkers during the peak commute hours – especially in the months when it’s dark going and coming.

      I won’t be working in Bellevue again for a week or two, but I’m up for giving it a whirl. I’m pretty much midway between the bridges to start out and maybe just a touch further north where I end up, so it may be a toss up as if it’s better/faster than 90 – I’m guessing it will be as it there be a long straight shot with pretty much no lights or stops, rather than crossing MI.

    • @CD cyclist: I think your prediction will prove to be true. For one thing, the legions of Microsoft employees who commute to Redmond prefer The Connector bus because they can get some work done there. But at least the fact that it will be little-used will make it safer for those who do use it, and perhaps make lane-separation less needed.

  2. “the first three phases of the Central Area Neighborhood Greenway are considered complete”

    LOL at the city. It currently dead ends in a muddy staircase in Montlake. Not sure how I should bike that (unless you’re into cyclocross). The city needs to stop building bike routes that dead end.