An Afternoon Bike Ride on Seattle Streets and Rail Trails

I was up for a good urban adventure last Wednesday, so I loaded up the bike and took off for a loop through downtown Seattle using as many rail trails as possible. I live in the northeast quadrant of Seattle and it is about 7 miles to the downtown area by the most direct route, but using rail trails and some connecting streets, I made a trip to the west side of the city, along the waterfront, back through the city center and back home in a 27 mile loop.

The Burke-Gilman Trail loops around my neighborhood to the east and south, so all I need to do is coast 200′ downhill south about 2 miles and I connect with the trail. That route takes me along a north-south city bicycle “greenway” on 39th Avenue NE.  It was one of the first in city, creating a safer path for bicycle commuters, using a less busy side street, changing stop signs to favor the bike route and installing crosswalks,  islands and traffic markers where the route crosses the main east-west arterials . Those features aid pedestrian traffic safety as well.

Once I’m on the trail, I have a 10-12 foot wide asphalt path that runs 27 miles from the city of Bothell, Washington north of Seattle to Puget Sound in the Ballard neighborhood. The path goes through the University of Washington campus to the north shore of Lake Union, along the Fremont Cut section of the ship canal and on into the Ballard area.

A quiet section of the trail near the University of Washington
A quiet section of the Burke-Gilman Trail near the University of Washington

For this trip I veered off at the Fremont Bridge and a took short surface street connection with the Ship Canal Trail that runs past the Seattle Pacific University campus, and through the industrial areas along the south side of the canal and ends at Fisherman’s Terminal marina. If you are a fan of the Deadliest Catch television series, this is where the crab fishing fleet moors off season and much of the North Pacific fishing fleet headquarters there.

The bike counter at the Fremont Bridge
The bike counter at the Fremont Bridge
The Fremont Bridge opening for a large yacht, viewed from the Ship Canal Trail
The Fremont Bridge opening for a large yacht, viewed from the Ship Canal Trail
Ship Canal Trail start
The ship Canal Trail starts in a park-like setting
And continues in an industrial area with shipyards, warehouses and working docks
And continues in an industrial area with shipyards, warehouses and working docks

 

Fisherman's Terminal
Fisherman’s Terminal

 

 

From Fisherman’s Terminal, there is a surface street connection to the Elliot Bay Trail, going past Balmer railroad yards. The Elliot Bay Trail is narrow in spots and has an interesting overpass, past Pier 99 and the car import yards, and finally leading to the Elliot Bay shoreline and passing through Centennial and Myrtle Edwards parks and ending at the Seattle Art Museum Olympic Sculpture Park and Pier 70. At that point, you can go east up the hill on Broad Street for a few blocks, you will find yourself at the Seattle Center and the Space Needle.  A rain squall moved through and I didn’t get photos of the section between Fisherman’s Terminal and Elliot Bay.

Looking south into Elliot Bay, with West Seattle to the right and downtown Seattle to the left. That is a fishing pier in the foreground with a grain ship loading terminal behind. Wheat from Eastern Washington farms is loaded from rail cars into ships headed for China, Russia and elsewhere.
Looking south into Elliot Bay, with West Seattle to the right and downtown Seattle to the left. That is a fishing pier in the foreground with a grain ship loading terminal behind. Wheat from Eastern Washington farms is loaded from rail cars into ships headed for China, Russia and elsewhere.

I continued south along Alaskan Way and on down the touristy section of the Seattle waterfront. It passes a cruise ship terminal, the Seattle Aquarium and a plethora of restaurants and tourist shops on the old piers. The tourist section ends at the Washington State Ferry terminal at Colman Dock. Most of the area south of that is container ship terminals. It is possible to continue on and connect with bike paths leasing to West Seattle and Alki Beach. The area is in the middle of several major construction projects, with a large pedestrian tourist load, so I walked my bike through the worst of it.

The sea wall is being replaced all along the waterfront paralleling downtown Seattle. This trench is normally part of a busy street and the sidewalk in front of the piers.
The sea wall is being replaced all along the waterfront paralleling downtown Seattle. This trench is normally part of a busy street and the sidewalk in front of the piers.

I stopped and had a lunch of clams and chips at Ivar’s Fish Bar restaurant. I went a few blocks farther south and used the Pioneer Square district as my turn-round point. I crossed over to Second Avenue and made my first northerly trip on the Second Avenue Protected Bike Lane. I zig-zagged through the city center and made my way to the South Lake Union area were Amazon is populating new buildings like the Borg. This was all city street riding with lots of intersections, busy traffic and a some trolley tracks that need 110% attention. Trying to cross trolley tracks at anything but a 90° angle will dump you on your face: I watched it happen about two days after the tracks were installed!

The iconic sign at Ivars Fish Bar. I've been eating fish and chips here since the late 1950's!
The iconic sign at Ivar’s Fish Bar. I’ve been eating fish and chips here since the late 1950’s!
The new protected bike lane on Second Avenue
The new protected bike lane on Second Avenue, looking north

There is a park at the south end of Lake Union, with the Museum of History and Industry and the Center for Wooden Boats. The railroad right of way on the west shore of the lake has been turned into a long series of parking lots. This is the flattest route back to the Fremont Bridge and on to the Burke-Gilman and Ship Canal Trails. There’s nothing like a dedicated bike lane and you need to watch for cars backing out of parking spaces. There is a bike lane on Dexter Avenue paralleling this route up the hill to the west. Most of the bike commuters from downtown use that lane and it looks like a bike freeway at rush hour. There is a long gentle hill, with a fast drop to the Fremont Bridge approach. On a dark rainy night, it is probably safer than surfing the parking lots on the lake, but a little more of a workout.

Lake Union Park and the Museum of History and Industry in the remodeled Naval Reserve Center. My grandfather taught wrestling there as a CPO in the US Navy.
Lake Union Park and the Museum of History and Industry in the remodeled Naval Reserve Center. My grandfather taught wrestling there as a CPO in the US Navy. The Center for Wooden Boats is behind and right.

I made my way back across the Fremont Bridge and back to the Burke-Gilman Trail. I stopped at Gasworks Park for a rest and some photos along the way. From there it was another 5 miles and a 331 foot climb back home on top of the hill.

Lake Union from Gasworks Park, looking south into downtown Seattle.
Lake Union from Gasworks Park, looking south into downtown Seattle.
Part of the old coal gassification plant that the park is named for.
Part of the old coal gasification plant that the park is named for.

 

 

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