Seattle Prep, on Capitol Hill, is suggesting that a slice of its land could be perfect for a ramp for bikes merging onto the future Highway 520 bridge.
It’s not every day a property owner tells the government, “Please take over some of our land and construct a bike trail.”
But that’s exactly what Seattle Preparatory School is doing. School officials want an elevated bike trail on the greenbelt between its north Capitol Hill campus and the future Highway 520 replacement bridge.
The school proposes a merge ramp for bikes. It would be shaped like an S-curve, elevated on columns. The bicycle viaduct would connect to the walk-bike trail already planned for the south flank of the state bridge.
More research is needed, but a ramp might ease bike access to the bridge for a large section of north-central Capitol Hill and beyond. This segment of the Lake Washington crossing, and its walk-bike trail that could help transform travel between Seattle and the Eastside, aren’t expected to open until 2027.
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School President Kent Hickey said he can envision a bicycle barn on the greenbelt, where riders could park and walk onto an express or downtown bus.
Or a nearby train. What if the new First Hill Streetcar someday continued north, as in the early 20th century when streetcars reached Roanoke Park? That would increase the connections to the 520 lid and bikeways, Hickey said.
“As a stand-alone, that bike spur would be good, but with some foresight that incorporates a mass-transit connection, it would be incredible,” he said.
Daydreams like these show a change in transportation thinking.
Seattle is evolving toward reliance on transit. At the same time, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) heeded public requests to stretch the future 520 walk-bike lane all the way across Portage Bay, instead of halting it at Montlake, said Kerry Pihlstrom, engineering manager for the bridge’s west end.
So there are more modes to serve than cars, and more to think about.
A concrete-girder Portage Bay bridge is the final piece of the $4.6 billion, six-lane crossing of Lake Washington. The west end was not funded until last summer, when state lawmakers gave the 520 west end $1.6 billion from an 11.9 cent gas-tax increase. Construction from Montlake to I-5 is to be done in phases through 2027. The floating segment of the new 520 is nearly done and will carry traffic in April.
If the state develops an interest in the bike-ramp idea, the school might seek payment for the land, or maybe trade access rights with the state, avoiding a cash transaction.
“We aren’t at the point of actually making offers, but rather just want to work together to come up with a really good plan that looks decades ahead, instead of days ahead,” Hickey said.
Hillside bike route
On a tour last week, Hickey and Facilities Director John O’Neil strolled a thorny slope, owned by Prep since the 1930s. It’s part of a 2½- acre parcel between Delmar Drive East and the highway.
Their bicycle viaduct would reach the new bridge directly from hillside Delmar Drive East, a common bike route that connects to sylvan Interlaken Boulevard East.
“As a biker and a representative of Prep, I just want to be able to get from Delmar to the bridge in some fashion that’s reasonable,” O’Neil said afterward. “And if that means take some of our property, that’s great.”
Construction could require a few million dollars.
But it might be no more challenging than two of the state’s own options — an uphill bike-exit lane over the bridge itself that ends atop a nearby lid; or some bike tunnel through the lid.
Pihlstrom said Prep’s ideas will be added to the mix. “These are absolutely things WSDOT’s going to study,” she said.
Officials will also consider how to serve cyclists traveling beyond the lid, toward Lake Union, and whether bicycles could transition safely between the greenbelt and Delmar Drive.
“It’s really a question of what does the city of Seattle want,” Pihlstrom said.
Already, the state was eyeing some of Prep’s land for a hillside trail to the lakefront. It would include stairs plus 15 switchbacks for wheelchair access — a feature the Prep leaders predict few people would use, compared with a bikeway through the same land.
Hickey said a small number of staff and students would bike-commute on 520. Hundreds could benefit if safer crosswalks and sidewalks are added to the deal, so athletes could more safely walk to practice at Montlake-area ballfields, he said.
The land itself has been unstable. Part of Capitol Hill’s north slope slid during construction of the original highway in 1963.
The politically influential Cascade Bicycle Club said Prep’s bike-merge concept is so new its staff hasn’t evaluated it yet.
“It’s great that more folks are looking for ways to make more connections to an important regional corridor,” said Blake Trask, senior policy director. “That alone is really encouraging news.”
There’s time to find a solution that benefits everyone, since the state has finished only 10 percent of the design, said Pete DeLaunay, president of the Portage Bay/Roanoke Park Community Council.
“We have a long way to go,” he said.