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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Ballard Bridge and Bikers

posted by on July 10 at 11:35 AM

No one is satisfied with the bike paths over the Ballard Bridge. I wrote about the problem back in 2005:

The Ballard Bridge is a special kind of nightmare.

At the southwest corner of the bridge, where Hiller and I are straddling our bikes, waiting for the car to pass, there is a small cut in the low curb that separates the bridge’s bike path from car traffic. “Bike path” is a bit of a misnomer on the Ballard Bridge. The path is so narrow and so close to the rushing traffic that if feels more like a gangplank. On one side is speeding traffic, on the other side a long drop into the ship canal. Two bikers, headed toward each other along this path, wouldn’t have room to pass without colliding, with one likely ending up in traffic, the other perhaps in the water.

Last week, when the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that a man was in critical condition after falling into oncoming traffic on the Ballard Bridge, it used the accident as an occasion to remind readers that the city’s Bicycle Master Plan calls for serious bike improvements to the structure.

It’s unclear when those improvements will come. It’s also unclear whether the man’s fall last week was actually due to the design of the bridge’s bike lanes. The man is 60 years old. And the P-I noted that before his accident, there had been no car-biker accidents on the Ballard Bridge since 2004—which is actually a pretty good record for a bridge with universally-derided bike lanes.

But if it turns out that the man’s accident was due to bad bike paths (and not biker error or some other factor), look for him to become the new poster child for efforts to make the city feel a greater sense of urgency about improving the Ballard Bridge bike lanes.

RSS icon Comments

1

Yeah, because if you're SIXTY you should just stay indoors and gum your food until death takes you. There's no way someone as old as SIXTY should be allowed out on the public streets. Only the young are worth protecting.

You couldn't pay me to ride across the Ballard Bridge, though. Your description is accurate. And traffic on that bridge is usually going about 50 MPH, give or take a couple (I'll bet someone has touched 60 MPH on it within the past 24 hours).

Posted by Fnarf | July 10, 2007 11:49 AM
2

There probably weren't any accidents for 2.5 years (which doesn't sound like a great record for such a small piece of road) because everyone's afraid of it. I've only been on it once, when I'm going that way I take the Fremont Bridge or the locks.

Posted by Laurel | July 10, 2007 11:58 AM
3

Many times I've seen some poor cyclist grinding away as hard as he can (usually in a wrong gear, but that's a different story) with three or four cars following behind him about three feet distant. They can't change lanes because the traffic's so stiff, and they can't slack off and give the poor guy some breathing room because they have such a hard on for the gas pedal. No thank you.

Posted by Fnarf | July 10, 2007 12:07 PM
4

I think the point is: Open Season on bicyclists on Ballard Bridge! Sweet!

Posted by spandex | July 10, 2007 12:08 PM
5

Where you are straddling: are you referring to W. Emerson Place? It is a pain to have to use the stairway underneath as a cyclist, but for what it is worth, it's there.

One more vexing frustration about bike paths around Fishermen's Terminal and the Ballard Bridge: If you are travelling eastbound on W. Emerson Pl. from Gilman Ave., past Fishermen's Terminal, the (advertised) bike lane ends 500 feet after it begins. This omitted part would otherwise link up with the ship canal trail behind Nickerson and take cyclists under the Ballard Bridge from west to east and on through to the Burke-Gilman.

Or, the Paul Allen Streetcar could have been financed up Nickerson and into Interbay, flanked by a bike/pedestrian path and would eventually join the Waterfront Streetcar. That of course is a real transit dream. Imagine: a streetcar from one Whole Foods to the other. What an idea.

As for the Ballard Bridge: heinous as a pedestrian or a cyclist. I will take the Aurora Bridge as a pedestrian any day of the week.


Posted by Miss Stereo | July 10, 2007 12:12 PM
6

Just tried the Ballard Bridge for the first time on Sunday... what really made me sad about it was constantly forcing pedestrians to squeeze against the railing to let me by.

Posted by Cale | July 10, 2007 12:20 PM
7

just last night i ran into a few friends walking their bikes across the bridge, and i slowed down to discuss the scary-ness of the narrow little strip there. not that i advocate drunk biking, but the bridge goes from scary to totally impossible after like, three beers.

Posted by erin | July 10, 2007 12:22 PM
8

I HATE biking across the BB.

I've noticed it's trucks traveling too swiftly (45 MPH+) that cause the worst push/pull draft as there is only about 12-18" between the trucks/cars and bikes. In the sudden gust of wind/draft you become quite unstable as it pushes you around. And the weird 20" high "curb" makes it much more dangerous as well. Given correct conditions (a speeding semi) the draft could be enough to shove a biker's pedal into that curb/wall, or cause them to over correct and run into the wall, tossing the rider into traffic in a second.

ug...and I ain't even gonna mention that awful thread the needle cut out "on ramp".

Posted by nipper | July 10, 2007 12:32 PM
9

Sixty isn't old. That means he might have more experience as a cyclist than someone younger.

Posted by go | July 10, 2007 12:46 PM
10

I bike-commute over the Ballard bridge. The sidewalk doubles as the bike path and is signed accordingly. Riding in the car lanes would be suicide, in my opinion (not a single car travels at the speed limit of 30 mph over the bridge, and it is very narrow).

As has been mentioned, the sidewalk/bike path isn't wide enough for more than one person, so I must constantly say "Excuse me, on your left ... EXCUSE ME! ON YOUR LEFT!" whenever I need to pass someone in the din of the traffic. If they are wearing headphones, then a tap on the shoulder is required.

But, overall, I find the trip over the bridge pleasant. I feel pretty safe on the sidewalk because I'm out of traffic. I wouldn't want to fall (left into traffic, right over the railing), but I wouldn't want to fall anywhere else either.

I think the problems I mentioned are more annoyances than safety hazards. It would be nice if bikers rode on the right side and pedestrians walked on the left side to avoid the awkward passing situations. But, as with most things that "would be nice", it's probably not realistic to think it will ever happen. (am I cynical, or what?)

Posted by SteveR | July 10, 2007 12:57 PM
11

Originally, bridges were built for bikes.

Not for cars and trucks.

And adding special bike paths to the outside of a bridge is an easy retrofit that has very very little effect on the bridge load capability.

But, hey, what do I know, I spent YEARS building bridges in all sorts of places.

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 10, 2007 1:04 PM
12

try riding over the AURORA BRIDGE, bitches. that's scary - the rail is at cross-bar height.

does anyone remember this lady who used to do Safewa's TV commercials & was walking over the BB when she got brained by a ladder falling off a truck? it killed her. this would have bewen '93, '94. i think about it every time i cross that thing.

Posted by maxsolomon | July 10, 2007 3:06 PM
13

ey caint spel cuz itz hawt

Posted by maxsolomon | July 10, 2007 3:09 PM
14

"Originally, bridges were built for bikes."

Like fuck they were. Name me one bridge anywhere that was built for cyclists.

The first bridges -- ropes, really, or tree trunks -- were built for foot traffic, then livestock, then vehicles -- carts and wagons, thousands of years before the bicycle was invented. Aqueducts. Later, trains. Now, cars and buses and trucks.

Posted by Fnarf | July 10, 2007 3:46 PM
15

Why would anyone want to go to Ballard?

Posted by catalina vel-duray | July 10, 2007 10:33 PM
16

now, now, Fnarf.

Just because you never grew up travelling around the world, and have no idea where China and India are, doesn't mean everywhere is like you post-WW II version of the US.

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 11, 2007 1:02 AM
17

The man cyclists is a member of my family, he is NOT 60...not even 50...just prematurely gray, and in top physical condition, it was the reason he has survived a most horrific accident, nearly every bone in his body is broken. It has been devatating for his family...and I can't imagine why all of you are so crass. It's disgusting how you all have no feelings whatsoever for your fellow humans...you are no better than animals that pick off thier wounded.

Posted by Clarify | July 11, 2007 9:23 AM
18

The man cyclists is a member of my family, he is NOT 60...not even 50...just prematurely gray, and in top physical condition, it was the reason he has survived a most horrific accident, nearly every bone in his body is broken. It has been devatating for his family...and I can't imagine why all of you are so crass. It's disgusting how you all have no feelings whatsoever for your fellow humans...you are no better than animals that pick off thier wounded.

Posted by Clarify | July 11, 2007 9:24 AM
19

I'm riding up Elliot Bay through Magnolia and want to cross over the locks to get on the BGT via Shilshole Ave. Is it a pain to cross over the locks? Never been that way.

Thanks

Posted by jake | July 11, 2007 1:44 PM

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