A new cross-lake trail opened Wednesday on SR-520, making it easier to walk, bike, and skate across Lake Washington. The trail was years in the making. It now connects to over 100 miles of regional trails, threading together more than dozen communities in the process. In Seattle, the trail terminates just blocks from the Burke-Gilman Trail and Lake Washington Boulevard–key bikeways–as well as the University of Washington.

The cross-lake trail was opened to much fanfare with dozens of bike riders clad in Lycra. Casual riders and people on foot were also present for the first day. Much work still remains to fully integrate the trail on the Seattle side. A trail extension is planned shared use path (at least 14 feet wide) on a new Portage Bay Bridge, improvements to the Bill Dawson Trail southwest of the Montlake Interchange, and a new separated bicycle facility on Montlake Boulevard. Future pedestrian and transit improvements are still forthcoming to Montlake Boulevard and the interchange, too.

Future transit facilities and lid at the Montlake Interchange. (WSDOT)
Future transit facilities and lid at the Montlake Interchange. (WSDOT)
Future trail facility in the arboretum area. (WSDOT)
Future trail facility in the arboretum area. (WSDOT)

Construction on SR-520 improvements near Montlake are slated to begin in the new year. Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) anticipates completing that part of the SR-520 program by 2023, but improvements will be gradually rolled out. A key project element for people on foot and bike will be a new landbridge connecting with Lake Washington Boulevard and a lid and transit transfer area near the Montlake Interchange. Those aspects of the project will likely be delivered closer to project closeout in 2023. Looking further ahead, construction on the Portage Bay and Montlake Cut Crossing projects are slated to begin in 2020 and 2024, respectively.

Despite the trail opening, an existing program geared toward bike riders is planned to remain in place. For years, King County Metro Transit has operated a cross-bridge shuttle service for bike riders. Out-of-service buses stop at the Montlake and Evergreen Point freeway stops for bike riders allowing them to put their bikes on open rack space and hop on board to the next stop. Alternatively, bike riders can use in-service buses at standard fare. That program has been highly successful and will continue so long as demand remains, the agency says.

The new trail is certainly a vast improvement over just a few days ago, but that doesn’t mean that bicyclists and pedestrians must content themselves with the new status quo. WSDOT would be wise to track the trail’s performance to understand how people are using it, such as using data from the bike and pedestrian counter on the trail. Ongoing spot improvements may be necessary to ensure that people want to the use the facility regularly as a means for commuting, recreation, and general travel.

Title image courtesy of WSDOT.

Meet Your New Montlake Boulevard


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Stephen is an urban planner with a passion for promoting sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He advocates for smart policies, regulations, and implementation programs that enhance urban environments by committing to quality design, accommodating growth, providing a diversity of housing choices, and adequately providing public services. Stephen primarily writes about land use and transportation issues.