City mulls pedestrian access for waterfront

WSDOT option closest to allotted current budget
By Brandon Gustafson | Jan 24, 2018
Photo by: Brandon Gustafson The city will either add a pedestrian bridge to the right of the current 525 bridge, or widen the sidewalks on the 525 bridge.

With the ferry terminal project underway, questions of public safety near the waterfront that have come up time and again by the city as well as the citizens of Mukilteo are back on the front burner.

At last Tuesday’s Mukilteo City Council meeting, Andrea Swisstack, an assistant city engineer, presented the council some options for either building a pedestrian bridge parallel to the 525 bridge or doing a bridge deck reconfiguration, which would widen the sidewalks on the bridge.

“The area where we’re focusing is right here, the crossing of the existing 525 bridge over the BNSF railroad tracks,” Swisstack told the council during her PowerPoint presentation. “What problem are we trying to solve here? If anyone’s walked down there, you know that it’s not a safe and accessible way to get to the waterfront.

“So back in 2016, Mukilteo City Council created this vision for this project, and the vision was to construct a safe public access across the BNSF railroad tracks at the 525 crossing. The access was meant to be provided to all modes of travel and to all ages, 8 through 80, including pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles. So we’re trying to keep that vision in mind as we work through this project.”

Swisstack presented the council with two options for building a pedestrian bridge, but was clear the funding wasn’t available for either option.

“The biggest thing is, at this time, we don’t have the funding to construct the pedestrian bridge,” Swisstack said. “So not knowing when that would come through has led to some challenges.”

The first option was referred to as the “switch-back design,” which would have ramps at a 5 percent slope, and would include a stairs option as well as having a plaza and rail seating.

The second pedestrian bridge option is the “circular switch-back design with pedestrian underpass,” which would have multiple stairs, access to Lighthouse Park, a plaza and circular rail seating.

Both options would cost roughly $4.5 million.

“We’ve vetted these through various committees, and we’re at a point where we’re getting ready to send these out to the public for input,” Swisstack said.

If a pedestrian bridge isn’t viable, the other option would be to reconfigure the existing bridge deck by widening the sidewalks and narrowing the driving lanes.

“What WSDOT came up with was a different option we never considered,” Swisstack said. “It’s to use the savings in lane width to make sidewalks wider. This option would maintain all four vehicle lanes.”

Swisstack, who referred to this as the “bridge deck reconfiguration,” said they would do this by reducing the two southbound lanes to 11 feet, reducing the northbound lane to 11 feet and making the ferry’s holding lane 10 feet.

This would give them two options of either putting all the extra space on the east sidewalk, making it 7.5 feet wide and leaving the west sidewalk at 3.5 feet, or giving some of the extra space to both sides and having the east sidewalk at 6 feet and the west sidewalk at 5 feet.

“We’d maintain all travel lanes and narrow lanes in a way where we can widen sidewalks to make a safer pedestrian crossing,” Swisstack said. She said ADA requirements would be met by both of these bridge deck options.

Both the pedestrian bridge and the deck bridge reconfiguration options are over the current funding level, but Swisstack said the cheaper option would be reducing the lane’s widths and widening the sidewalks, which is estimated at $2.8 million.

According to Swisstack, the city has $2.3 million in grant money for this project, whether it goes toward widening the sidewalks or building a pedestrian bridge. There are also “mid-term projects” the city could have added as funds permit, which include syncing traffic lights along 525, improvements to the 5th Street intersection, and a sidewalk along 525 from 2nd to 3rd Street among other improvements.

In total, the mid-term projects cometo $1.495 million.

Kevin Stoltz, a former Mukilteo City councilmember and a current member of the city’s ferry advisory committee, lives in Old Town and wants to see the pedestrian bridge built with an underpass in addition to widening the sidewalks on the 525 bridge.

“In the short-term, do the sidewalk widening and fix that deficit,” Stoltz said. “With the new ferry, the city needs to apply for grants so we can get the pedestrian bridge built with the underpass.”

Stoltz believes widening the sidewalks is a good start, but it should have been done more than a decade ago, and it still puts people at risk because as the lanes get narrower, there’s a possibility of cars and trucks’ mirrors overlapping onto the sidewalk.

“I like it (bridge deck reconfiguration) to a certain extent,” Stoltz said. “But it’s not a replacement for the pedestrian bridge. It’s really not a long-term solution.”

Stoltz said the pedestrian bridge with an underpass is the best option, and should be the city’s top priority because it would allow people to get to Lighthouse Park without having to cross four lanes of traffic.

After attending last Tuesday’s council meeting, Stoltz also said he felt the city was hesitant to apply for grants, and the staff appeared to be settling on widening the sidewalks on the bridge and not pursuing construction of the pedestrian bridge.

“The staff seeming to push for the bridge reconfiguration is a scary thought in my opinion,” Stoltz said.

Kendall Harr, another member of the ferry advisory committee, offered her thoughts on the decision at the Jan. 16 meeting.

“I think the whole purpose of this is to get people from Old Town and enable people from Old Town to be able to send their 10-year-old kids over to the park without crossing ferry lanes,” Harr said. “So if you have a crosswalk that crosses ferry lanes, that’s unsatisfactory.”

Harr echoed Stoltz in saying she felt pedestrians walking on the bridge could be hit by mirrors if all the city does is expand the sidewalks by reducing the lanes.

“You’re going to have mirrors coming across these sidewalks,” Harr said. “So you’ve now narrowed the travel lanes, and I think anyone who drives realizes when you get in some of these narrow lanes for the ferries, you feel enclosed, and you’re going to increase accidents with this option. I don’t doubt that at all considering the increases I’m hearing coming down the pipe from WSF and traffic.”

Patricia Love, the city’s community development director, said they will put the options for the pedestrian bridge and the bridge deck configuration online for public feedback.

Love said they will be online for two to three weeks before presenting that feedback to the council, and said they should be online very soon.

Councilmember Scott Whelpley, who had actually suggested widening the sidewalks in 2016 before the city focused on plans for a pedestrian bridge, wanted to know when they would need to make a decision regarding whether to move forward with widening the lanes or building the pedestrian bridge.

Love told him that, conservatively, it would likely be three months from now so they can get appropriate information out to the public as well as designs from WSDOT.

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