Jen Nance, Mayor's Office
Ben Schiendelman of Seattle Subway was one of the speakers in support of the Ship Canal crossing study at the press announcement today. Mayor Mike McGinn, left, and University District Chamber of Commerce President Andrew McMasters, also spoke in favor.

Mayor announces proposal to fund study for Ship Canal crossing

No doubt about it, there are a lot of problems crossing the Ship Canal.

It's why Mayor Mike McGinn is proposing in a supplemental budget request to start a study for a new Ship Canal crossing. It would be a possible remedy to relieve two of the biggest choke points in the city, the Ballard and Fremont bridges.

The Ship Canal crossing, which would be dedicated to transit (in anticipation of light rail coming to Ballard), bicycling and pedestrians, would come with the pricetag of $500,000. McGinn is also requesting to advance the study for the South Lake Union-University District corridor to this year.

"It's hard to get around Seattle on a bike, especially if your trip requires you to cross the Ship Canal as your options are either intimidating, inconvenient or not safe. It doesn't have to be this way," said Craig Benjamin of the Cascade Bicycle Club. "Another crossing would make it safe and faster for everyone to get around Seattle, whether you drive, ride transit, bike or walk."

Speakers were quick to name the problems with the current bridges:

Fremont Bridge is low to the water and is the most frequently opening bridge in the nation. Ballard Bridge also opens a lot and serves as both a major commuting thoroughfare to downtown and an industrial corridor.

When it comes to bicycling, Fremont bridge is the more accommodating, but as the busiest bridge in the city, crossing can be awkward, uncomfortable and slow. Ballard Bridge, as anyone who has ridden across it knows, has much too narrow pathways with a whopping 4-5 foot width, and the only protection offered is a low concrete slab. Benjamin said bicyclists and pedestrians can feel the wind of the cars passing by right next to them.

Both bridges do not meet the minimum design standard of 10 feet for mixed use (as in, bicycling and walking). Fremont, though better, is only up to 8 feet wide.

Eugene Wasserman of the North Seattle Industrial Association was present at the announcement and gave his support for the proposal. He cited concerns for both the mobility of freight and public safety with the Ballard Bridge.

"More space for transit, bicyclists and pedestrians on a separate crossing will help ease congestion for freight mobility and make it easier for people to travel north-south," he said.

He added that it wasn't just a matter of the bridges going up and down, but the huge traffic backups that happen during rush hour on streets like Nickerson.

On the City Council side of things, Richard Conlin, who is chair of the land use committee, seems supportive according to a statement.

"We all want more transit but expanding our transit system -- no matter what the mode -- doesn't just happen on its own. It requires careful study, planning, and construction to ensure the best use of public dollars," he said.

People who have been tracking progress on high capacity transit to Ballard will note that Sound Transit has already started a study on a Ballard-Downtown corridor. While the Mayor's proposal is a separate study, he hopes that the two studies can share resources and consultation.

McGinn also hopes that the Ship Canal crossing study will help speed things up and make Seattle more competitive for federal funding.

"We have the money, let's follow through with our plans," he said. "Let's not draw up plans and set them on the shelves."

Zachariah Bryan can be reached at zachb@robinsonnews.com

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