Late last year, a four block stretch of bike trail opened on the central Seattle waterfront, extending the existing Portside trail connecting to West Seattle north from King Street to Yesler Way, just south of Colman Dock ferry terminal. The opening marked the first taste of a long promised waterfront bike connection as part of the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement project.
The new trail segment came at the same time that additional vehicle lanes were opened on Alaskan Way, including a new southbound bus only lane. But while the next section of vehicle lanes on Alaskan Way opens south of Union Street, currently planned for later this year, people riding bikes and scooters will have a much longer wait for a fully separated bike connection between the north and south ends of the newly remade waterfront.
Work will start in earnest this year on the waterfront promenade — the linear park that will extend along the waterfront between Pioneer Square and the Seattle Aquarium. Construction on the promenade is expected to continue until spring of 2024, and the full bike trail is not expected to open sooner than that, according to Jeanette Ordoñez Baker, a consultant working on behalf of Waterfront Seattle. That is another two years without this game-changing section in Seattle’s citywide bike network, many years after viaduct demolition closed the multiuse trail that provided people biking a safe way through the neighborhood.
Meanwhile, on the north end of downtown, work is well underway to construct a new elevated roadway between Alaskan Way and Belltown below Pike Place Market. Elliott Way, which is just a placeholder name until a new street name can formally be chosen, will include separated bike lanes on either side of the two vehicle lanes in either direction. That new roadway is scheduled to open later this year, Ordoñez Baker said, absent any delays caused by the current concrete worker strike that could push completion into 2023. A new bike facility between Belltown and the waterfront will fill a gap in the street network that has never really existed before, absent taking the elevator at the Bell Street pedestrian bridge.
The Elliott Way bike lanes and the Alaskan Way trail will converge underneath the Overlook Walk, which is also planned to start construction this year. That new elevated structure over Alaskan Way will connect Pike Place Market to the waterfront much more directly than it is now, with the roof of the new Seattle Aquarium expansion transitioning to a hill climb down to the water. It remains to be seen how pleasant it will be under the Overlook Walk, though, with even the renderings not looking particularly welcoming. Regardless, a fully separated bike connection from Belltown to SoDo will change the dynamics of the city’s bike network.
As for the connection between the Elliott Bay Trail at the Olympic Sculpture Park and these new section of the bike network, that part wasn’t included in the original plan for the waterfront. But SDOT does have a plan to fund that final piece using some unanticipated funding, though the city council could decide to divert that money. Later this year we should see more details on what exactly the design of that section looks like, as any trail design will have to contend with the Port of Seattle’s cruise terminal at Bell Street and the heavy demands on vehicle loading space that are generated there.
Elsewhere on the waterfront, other pieces of the overall waterfront revamp continue this year. The new stairway and elevator connecting Western Ave and Alaskan Way at Union Street is expected to open in 2022. And construction starts on the transformation of Pike and Pine Streets between Pike Place Market and Capitol Hill, with permanent bike facilities and expanded sidewalks.
Work also starts on a newly rebuilt Pier 58, a compliment to the recently reopened Pier 62, with a brand new playground.
And in a city sorely lacking in public restrooms, the new staffed restroom located across from Pier 58 will be another welcome addition to the waterfront.
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is also expected to wrap up work on its $467 million revamp of Colman Dock in 2023, with a brand new pedestrian bridge across Alaskan Way at Marion Street. Nearby, a WSDOT contractor is proceeding with the creation of a new pedestrian promenade between King Street and Lumen Field, adjacent to their tunnel operations building.
And finally, work starts next year on a remake of several east-west streets in Pioneer Square, expanding space for pedestrians around Occidental Park.
2022 will primarily be another year of construction and detours along the waterfront. The news that the full waterfront bike trail will not be opening with other vehicle lanes on Alaskan Way is discouraging but perhaps predictable representation of how the city prioritizes different modes. But even as that news underscores just how much of the new waterfront is devoted to road space, there are plenty of bright spots to look forward to as the seemingly interminable waterfront project gets a little closer to final completion.
Ryan Packer lives in the Summit Slope neighborhood of Capitol Hill and has been writing for the The Urbanist since 2015. They report on multimodal transportation issues, #VisionZero, preservation, and local politics. They believe in using Seattle's history to help attain the vibrant, diverse city that we all wish to inhabit. Ryan's writing has appeared in Capitol Hill Seattle Blog, Bike Portland, and Seattle Bike Blog, where they also did a four-month stint as temporary editor.