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Improving the Ballard Bridge for Non-Motorists

The narrow width of the Ballard Bridge sidewalks is an impediment to bicyclists and pedestrians crossing the bridge.

Ranked in the top five cities for both “Cycling to Work” and “Walking to Work,” in the Alliance for Biking & Walking Bicycling and Walking in the United States: 2012 Benchmarking Report, the City of Seattle encourages residents to embrace alternative transportation methods by continually looking to improve bicycle lanes and greenway conditions. One such improvement project is the current study to assess the alternatives and feasibility of widening the Ballard Bridge approaches for bicyclists and pedestrians.

One of only five general-purpose crossings of the 8.6-mile-long Lake Washington Ship Canal, the Ballard Bridge serves as a significant link between northwest and downtown Seattle. Constructed in 1938, the access across the bridge for bicyclists and pedestrians is known to be quite treacherous. The bridge’s sidewalks are a narrow 3.5 feet in width, concrete pillars protrude into the pathway, the grated bridge deck surface is not suitable for cycling, and bicyclists traveling southbound must come to a complete stop before merging into traffic at a dangerous 90-degree angle.

Improving the bridge for non-motorized use has been a goal of the City for some time. The project is specifically mentioned in Seattle’s 2007 Bicycle Master Plan and implements goals outlined in Vision 2040 and Transportation 2040. In addition, residents and advocacy groups have frequently requested improvements to the bridge for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The study assesses the possibility of doubling the width of the sidewalk and improving transitions on the bridge approaches. Structural limitations, along with bridge length, have made it difficult to determine a cost-effective solution. Options currently under review include modifications to the current walls and railings to determine the extent that the sidewalks can be widened within the existing space and determining how much additional sidewalk can be cantilevered off the side of the bridge. Once complete, the study will provide the City with a feasibility report and allow the City to pursue grants to fund the project.