Happy Winter Solstice + Year in review

Happy Winter Solstice! Here’s a look back at the most viewed stories on Montlaker in 2012:


10. WSDOT: Obama motorcade pays 520 Bridge toll — CALTRANS: no toll over SF Bay Bridge

President Obama is scheduled to arrive at Boeing Field tonight shortly before 6pm and travel by motorcade up I-5 and across the 520 Bridge to a fundraiser event in Medina. King5 News reports 520 will shut down to allow the motorcade to pass. Hopefully, given all the drawspan openings recently this closure will seem somewhat routine — but be warned 520 commuters! — and follow live traffic cams here.

This bit of bridge news, inevitably, brings up the $4.41 question: will POTUS Barack Obama have to pay the 520 toll?

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9. Summer Dog boat brings hot dogs and bikinis to the waterways of Lake Washington

Image: Montlaker

First there were food carts, then food trucks and now food boats. Summer Dog, a new floating food venture combining a “love for hot dogs, bikinis, boating and kick ass fun times,” appeared east of the Montlake Cut on Sunday just in time for Seafair.

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8. Election maps for Central Seattle precincts

Governor: Inslee vs McKenna

Governor: Inslee vs McKenna

Courtesy The Seattle Times, here are the 2012 election results mapped precinct by precinct for Governor, charter schools, marraige equality and marijuana.

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7. Union Bay Watch: 520 Eaglets spread their wings, expected to fledge soon

Image: Union Bay Watch / © Larry Hubbell

The 520 eaglets are growing up fast. Union Bay Watch has new pictures showing how much their wings grew during the month of June. The image above shows a wee little eaglet spreading its wings (halfway it appears) on June 10th. Compare that with this image taken just two weeks later on June 24th:

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6. No deal: Talks end for Seattle Prep land swap near 520 Roanoke Lid

Image: Montlaker via WSDOT

Neighborhood green space and pedestrian safety advocates were encouraged in June when WSDOT released drawings of a potential park near the future Roanoke Lid that incorporated a little-used and overgrown Seattle Prep property adjacent to 520. The idea was based on a land deal allowing WSDOT to develop a landscaped path connecting Delmar Drive to Boyer Avenue, and Prep to use the freeway “underbridge” area for parking and sports facilities. Despite WSDOT getting community “support of pedestrian connection/Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) path on south side of the [Portage Bay] bridge,” a favorable deal could not be reached as both parties ran into complications.

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5. Seattle Design Commission strongly supports 520 Portage Bay bike lane

The Portage Bay bike lane along the future 520 replacement got a strong endorsement from the Seattle Design Commission, getting unanimous support as “an inherent part of the 520 project vision” ofreconnecting neighborhoods.

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4. Fate of 520 rests with federal judge after Coalition lawsuit gets its day in court

Signs of uncertainty for 520 pontoons under construction in Aberdeen, WA. Image: Montlaker tipster

Oral arguments for the Sustainable 520 lawsuit were heard Tuesday by US District Court Judge Ricardo S. Martinez and a standing-room-only gallery of observers. The suit challenges whether reasonable alternatives were studied in the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the S.R. 520 Replacement. A ruling in favor could require further environmental impact review and possibly push the project toward a more ‘sustainable’ — and affordable design.

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3. Seattle Police: Log-throwing renegade gardener arrested near Arboretum

The Seattle Police arrested a man-on-a-rampage late Monday night near the Arboretum, for throwing a log at a moving car and then… doing some renegade gardening.

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2. How Sound Transit plans to quiet light rail noise in Montlake and Capitol Hill

A high-compliance rail fastener. Image: Montlaker

Following months of noise and vibration complaints during tunnel construction under Montlake and Capitol Hill, Sound Transit has announced its plan for controlling noise and vibration once light rail trains start running in 2015.

The noise problem was traced last fall to the contractor’s supply trains running on temporary steel tracks bolted to the concrete tunnel lining. As supply trains shuttled equipment through the tunnel, they traveled on poorly built track causing vibrations to propagate through the earth and shake houses at the surface.

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1. Born on I-5 Ship Canal Bridge, peregrine falcon “69-Z” identified in fierce pigeon hunt

“69-Z” carries away its catch. Image: © Larry Hubbell

To keep up with local birds of prey, the Union Bay Watch blog occasionally ventures beyond the shores of Union Bay. After photographing a young peregrine falcon take down a pigeon and fly away with it last September [2011], UBW birder Larry Hubbell just recently tracked down the falcon’s baby pictures. Turns out, biologists monitoring the Interstate-5 Ship Canal Bridge tagged the bird’s ankle “69-Z” in May of 2011. In just four short months, the peregrine grew from fuzzy chick to fierce predator and eventually one of the fastest creatures on Earth. Here is lil’ 69-Z’s nest (unclear which one might be her) with mama falcon during the tagging expedition last year:

Peregrine falcon nest on I-5 Ship Canal Bridge. Image: WSDOT Flickr stream

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Cascade doubles down on safe 520 routes

Help Cascade help us do better than this. Image: Montlaker + Cascade

Help Cascade help us do better than this. Image: Montlaker + Cascade

Cascade Bicycle Club is doubling down on efforts to improve the 520 replacement design for people moving through Montlake under the power of their own two feet. They’re asking folks to email Mayor McGinn and the Seattle City Council to require that WSDOT design pedestrian routes over 520 that are safe for 8-year-old kids and 80-year-old grandparents. Want to join their efforts? Read on and follow their ready-made-letter link below…

When asked at a City Council meeting how they would work to make the Seattle side of the SR 520 corridor safe for people of all ages and abilities to walk and bike, Julie Meredith, the SR 520 Program Director for WSDOT, explained that their main focus is moving cars and admitted when it comes to walking and bicycling, “We don’t excel at that.” 

All you have to do is look at the dark, scary and dangerous trail under the Portage Bay Bridge to know WSDOT has a serious problem when it comes to making it safe for people to walk and bike.

But they did more than admit their problem; WSDOT asked the City of Seattle for help. Fortunately, the City of Seattle has the ability to help WSDOT get this project done right – but they need to hear from you today.

Thanks to “overwhelming support” from the community and nearly 800 people like you writing the City Council telling them to get SR 520 rightthe Council is already working on a Resolution that will call for the City working with WSDOT to improve walking and biking connections in Montlake and build a shared use trail on the Portage Bay Bridge.  

But there’s no guarantee that the Council will pass this Resolution. They need to hear loud and clear that everyone, from an 8-year old child to his 80-year old grandmother, should have the freedom to safely walk and bike in and through the Seattle side of the SR 520 corridor.

Tell the Seattle City Council and Mayor McGinn to help WSDOT make critical biking and walking connections with the SR 520 replacement project >>

Sound Transit to study light rail on 520?

Seattle Transit Blog reports that Sound Transit is set to spend $9.76 million in 2013 to study new light rail lines for their long range plans. While not yet confirmed, Sound Transit staff say three corridors will be studied as part of “ST3”, including a line from Ballard to UW to Kirkland with options for continuing to Redmond, Bellevue or Issaquah. Presumably, crossing Lake Washington via the new 520 Bridge would be part of the study, an idea that would have significant impacts for Montlake.

To review, the current design for the new floating bridge is “light rail ready.” That means with additional pontoons attached to its sides, trains can claim the center HOV lanes — or — an additional two lanes can be built to effectively make an 8-lane bridge. That’s the easy part.

The hard part is getting the trains between the floating bridge and UW Station. A tunnel would have to transition through water — not an easy nor inexpensive proposition. An above ground solution would have to bridge over the Montlake Cut only to arrive at UW on the surface, leaving no good options to go from there. So then, how to tunnel through and then under Union Bay?

A similar idea was once planned for the never-built R.H. Thomson Expressway, as part of its interchange with SR-520 (seen at the end of this post) in the 1960s. The plan was for a vehicle tunnel under Union Bay via a massive, man-made berm:


Images from: Roy W. Morse, Worthington Christiani Fenco, 1967.

Yes, that is an artificial peninsula with a trench leading to a submerged tunnel under the shipping channel (note Husky Stadium in the upper right). Here’s a closer view:


A man-made berm, trench and submerged tunnel under Union Bay, proposed for the ill-fated R.H. Thomson Expressway. Arboretum 520 ramps in background.

Hard to imagine these days, but apparently this was possible before there was, you know, an environment (and irony) to consider. Are we prepared to do something similar to run light rail over 520? Got a better way to get Eastside light rail to UW Station?

As Seattle Transit Blog notes, Sound Transit is moving forward with this study because Seattle keeps making noises about funding and building its own in-city light rail. ST wants to preempt the go-it-alone strategy for fear it would then loose Seattle’s tax-happy appetite for regional light rail (e.g. to Issaquah). So then, if buses using 520’s HOV lanes can get to Microsoft just as fast as light rail, is it worth the expense and possible environmental disruption to run rail through Union Bay? With Sound Transit having to balance its regional mandate, don’t be surprised if they answer “yes.”

For more on the new light rail studies, see the STB post here. See also this Slog post from 2010, and its drawing of a light rail route using the Montlake Lid and a second bascule bridge to reach UW Station. This is a non-starter, not necessarily because the City delayed the bascule bridge “for the foreseeable future,” but because it uses NE Pacific Street, which UW will never allow.

Thursday 520 Bridge drawspan openings + overnight closure for re-buttoning

Image: WSDOT Flickr stream

Plan on avoiding the 520 Bridge Thursday night. WSDOT will stop traffic on the bridge to open the drawspan at 7:30pm, 8:30pm and 9:30pm and 9pm — with each opening taking about 30 minutes start to finish. Then the 520 corridor, from Montlake Blvd to I-405 in Bellevue, will close at 11pm and reopen at 5am Friday morning. Crews will repaint temporary lane lines and replace reflective buttons that recently washed away with winter weather.

“As we get ready for a major holiday travel weekend, we want to make sure the highway visibility is clear and bright,” said Brian Dobbins, construction manager for the Washington State Department of Transportation. “Thursday night is our best bet for favorable weather before the holiday.”

Update Thursday 9am: WSDOT has updated tonight’s drawspan schedule — there are now just two openings on tap, after Argosy and a sailboat agreed to go through together at 9pm.

Wednesday walk in the rain


All images: Montlaker

Accidents on Montlake Blvd have partially closed the Montlake Bridge and caused traffic to back up. Way up. Metro busses are rerouting along Boyer to the University Bridge and cars are cutting through neighborhood streets.

12:30: Northbound traffic being turned around at Hamlin. Bad news for buses and dump trucks that can’t make the U-turn:

12:40pm: Hope everyone is okay…

12:45pm: Tow-truck on the scene; should be cleared soon.


12:50: A few southbound Metro buses plowing through the backups:

1:00: Northbound lanes back open. All returned to wet.

New HistoryLink article details economic, cultural impacts of the Montlake Cut


The Montlake Cut, sometime between 1916 and 1925. Image: unknown print.

A new HistoryLink article on the Montlake Cut dives into the marshy beginnings of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, arguing the Montlake isthmus was ground zero in reversing the natural drainage of the Cedar-Duwamish River basin in the name of economic prosperity.

The article also discusses the human and environmental costs of building the canal and is a great read for its many wonderful details — Montlake’s native place name, Swa’tsugwlL translates to “carry a canoe” — the coal trains that preceded the canal — the Chinese labor that dug the first ditch — an Army Captain’s blind eye to lawsuits as he blew up earthen dams holding back Lake Washington — The Seattle Times boasting in 1917 that “every thinking person” knew the Ship Canal would bring Seattle “undisputed Pacific Coast supremacy.”

While the article focuses on the Montlake Cut’s economic intentions, it notes that industrial “supremacy” never really came (Boeing at Renton and the Navy at Sand Point notwithstanding) and instead it gave the city recreational benefits. There is more to this point: the Cut, in moving people and goods between ‘monts’ and lakes, connected people to the landscape of Lake Washington in a powerful way, through recreation, which helped shape Seattle’s contemporary environmental values. Shoreline parks, wetland lagoons, boating, Seafair — even Montlake’s later right-of-way for a floating freeway — all connected people to Seattle’s landscape of mountains, water and weather.

In connecting this history to the present, it’s clear that Montlake is still very much a place to “carry a canoe,” whether that canoe is a UW rental, a bicycle, the 545 bus or a Seattle-standard-issue silver Toyota Prius. And with big new infrastructure projects underway — light rail, 520, a possible second bascule bridge, and the planners of each now selling environmental as well as economic benefits — one wonders what unintentional consequences these projects will bring next.

Montlake Cut (Seattle) — HistoryLink.org Eassay #10221 — by Jennifer Ott

WSDOT: More construction quality problems for ‘Pontoon W’

Image: WSDOT Flickr stream

A Friday afternoon WSDOT press release has more “breaking” news regarding construction issues out on Lake Washington. Let’s remind ourselves of the quality assurance program that guarantees successful delivery of a new 520 floating bridge… and read on:

In October, crews began construction on 10 58-foot-tall concrete columns on top of Pontoon W, one of two cross pontoons that will be installed on the east and west ends of the new floating bridge. This column work requires careful coordination to install reinforcing steel the height of the column, properly align iron forms, and guide concrete into the columns.

As part of its quality assurance process, KGM inspectors discovered that one of these concrete columns had too little buffer between the outer layer of concrete and reinforcing steel inside. This reinforcing steel helps provide resistance to earthquakes and provides strength to support the highway.

KGM project managers determined the column should be removed and replaced in order to meet the project quality requirements. The column will be removed, as early as today, so the replacement work can begin. The removed column will be dismantled and the concrete and steel rebar will be recycled.

“KGM’s decision to replace this column at their expense is the appropriate action. KGM is implementing the quality assurance program that is a key component of our contract,” said Julie Meredith, SR 520 program director.