It’s hard to believe that before 2012, there wasn’t a way to get from Uptown to Seattle’s world-class waterfront walking and biking trail without backtracking nearly to Belltown. The Thomas Street Overpass today is a key part of Seattle’s transportation network today, bridging the gap over both the BNSF railway tracks and the car sewer that is Elliott Avenue W, connecting 3rd Avenue W with the Elliott Bay Trail.

Yet the Uptown side of the bridge has always dropped people off at a narrow sidewalk or on a narrow two-lane road that many drivers tend to zoom down after exiting Elliott Avenue. As the logical destination-point of someone biking east-west in Uptown, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is planning an upgrade to the 3rd Avenue side of the bridge to coincide with the upgrades to Thomas Street planned in conjunction with the renovation to the Seattle Center Arena. We covered the improvements planned for Thomas Street on the east side of Seattle Center last year.

The planned changes near Seattle Center. (City of Seattle)
The planned changes near Seattle Center. (City of Seattle)

SDOT is considering three different options, which all essentially ramp up how much space is taken from the roadway. Here are bird’s eye views of the three designs side-by-side so you can compare them.

Option 1: "An extended multi-use area at sidewalk level that would extend approximately 20 feet north of the existing curb bulb by the Thomas Street Overpass entrance." (City of Seattle)
Option 1: “An extended multi-use area at sidewalk level that would extend approximately 20 feet north of the existing curb bulb by the Thomas Street Overpass entrance.” (City of Seattle)
Option 2: "A raised protected bike lane and pedestrian sidewalk that would extend from the existing curb bulb by the Thomas St Overpass entrance to the 3rd Ave W and W Harrison St intersection." (City of Seattle)
Option 2: “A raised protected bike lane and pedestrian sidewalk that would extend from the existing curb bulb by the Thomas St Overpass entrance to the 3rd Ave W and W Harrison St intersection.” (City of Seattle)
Option 3: "A multi-use trail at sidewalk level that would extend from the existing curb bulb by the Thomas St Overpass entrance to the 3rd Ave W and W Harrison St intersection, expanding the trail to the current center line of 3rd Ave W. This option would turn a majority of 3rd Ave W into a one-way street between W Thomas St and W Harrison St."  
(City of Seattle)
Option 3: “A multi-use trail at sidewalk level that would extend from the existing curb bulb by the Thomas St Overpass entrance to the 3rd Ave W and W Harrison St intersection, expanding the trail to the current center line of 3rd Ave W. This option would turn a majority of 3rd Ave W into a one-way street between W Thomas St and W Harrison St.”
(City of Seattle)

Option 1 assumes people biking will still take the lane on 3rd Ave W. The only changes would be an extended curb bulb and bike ramp for people coming south on bikes and getting on the bridge. Some speed cushions would be added north and south of the midblock crosswalk to slow traffic, but that’s it. This option would retain the most parking on the street.

Arial drawing of Option 1 as described above. (City of Seattle)
Arial drawing of Option 1 as described above. (City of Seattle)

Option 2 would add a dedicated place for people to bike, both north and southbound, on 3rd Avenue W north of the overpass but not provide much additional space for people walking apart from the current narrow sidewalk. A two-way cycletrack would take the place of the parking lane on the west side of 3rd Avenue W, with two-way vehicle traffic still allowed. Green “crossbike” markings on the pavement would indicate that people biking will be travelling diagonally across the intersection, where there is already an all-way stop.

This option drops a piece of infrastructure in that doesn’t match anything on any surrounding blocks, and isn’t entirely intuitive.

Arial view of Option 2 as described above. (City of Seattle)
Arial view of Option 2 as described above. (City of Seattle)

Option 3 is the one that obviously needs to happen. Instead of a cycletrack, the entire sidewalk would be widened north of the overpass entrance, with the parking lane and the west travel lane converted to multipurpose trail, a natural extension of the mixing space that already exists on the overpass itself.

This option makes 3rd Avenue W a one-way street, but it’s worth nothing that it essentially already is one. Standing on the street at any given time, you will notice much more northbound traffic than southbound, and for obvious reasons. Drivers cannot turn left onto Elliott Avenue W by heading south on 3rd Avenue W, they can only turn right. And yet since Elliott Avenue is at an angle to the street grid, heading down W Harrison Street instead of 3rd Avenue W gets you to Elliott Avenue W as well, where you can turn right. Turning 3rd Avenue W into a one-way officially makes a lot of sense.

Traffic will be calmed by the narrowing of the roadway for general traffic, and people walking, biking and rolling are given a majority of the roadway space on a main connector to one of Seattle’s best pedestrian bridges. It truly is a great option for everyone.

An arial drawing of Option 3 as described above. (City of Seattle)

An arial drawing of Option 3 as described above. (City of Seattle)

SDOT has a survey that you can take to vote for Option 3–or whichever option you prefer–and is open until February 26. You can read more about the overall plan for Thomas Street west of Seattle Center on SDOT’s webpage for the project.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Ryan…agreed that the narrow lane isn’t a good idea. Am glad to see that improvements are under consideration. I’d vote for option 3.

  2. Would option 2 be safer by more clearly separating bikes from pedestrians? Given the slopes on both the ramp and 3rd, bikes tend to be moving fast … And extended curb is nice but might increase risk of pedestrians wandering into a fast moving cyclist.

    Maybe incorporate the removal of southbound traffice in option 3 with the cycletrack from option 2?

    • Bikes are not separated from pedestrians on the overpass- I think it’s folly to ask bikes to get into a narrow lane for half a block and that would end up frustrating a lot of people.

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