Bulletin: Coast Guard says no to low-bridge rush-hour restrictions


(photo by WSB contributing photojournalist Christopher Boffoli)
Just in from the U.S. Coast Guard: They’ve turned thumbs down on the City of Seattle request to restrict openings of the “low bridge” during peak commute hours (comments were taken May-July; WSB coverage here). We will keep expanding this report with more details over the next hour or so, but for starters, Austin Pratt of the Coast Guard told WSB by phone that the reasons include “massive” opposition by the Port of Seattle and local maritime concerns, as well as not enough traffic volume using the bridge to justify the change. Here’s the official document (published today in the Federal Register); technically, the action taken by the USCG was to “withdraw” the proposal to change the bridge rules. Read on for the key excerpt from the federal document explaining why this proposal isn’t going forward – as well as additional information we’ll continue to add:

From the official document:

The notice of proposed rulemaking is being withdrawn because the Spokane Street Bridge draw records along with road traffic counts conducted after the notice of proposed rulemaking was published indicate that the number of draw openings and amount of traffic using the Spokane Street Bridge are not sufficient to warrant the negative impact that the proposed rule would have on commercial maritime traffic using the waterway under the bridge. Specifically, draw records indicate that the Spokane Street Bridge is opened an average of only two to three times per week during each of the proposed closed periods. While these openings halt traffic, the amount of traffic affected is much lower than other drawbridges in Seattle. Traffic counts on Spokane Street during the subject periods were also much lower than arterials like 15th Avenue and Montlake Avenue, which also cross drawbridges in Seattle.

We’re seeking reaction from the city – specifically, from West Seattle-residing Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who had been a primary advocate of the proposal (here’s our article from March), and from SDOT. Meantime, another excerpt about the comments received (we had published several reports with information on how to comment, and dozens of West Seattleites did indeed do so):

The Coast Guard received 80 total responses to the notice of proposed rulemaking. 18 were from commercial maritime entities with an interest in using the waterway under the bridge. All of these responses rejected the proposed change due to delays in the movement of maritime traffic that would result from the proposed rule. The remaining responses were from individual commuters, many of which were bicyclists, with an interest in using the Spokane Street Bridge itself. All of these responses endorsed the proposal in order to facilitate commuting to and from downtown Seattle. At least one response objected to the exemption for vessels of 5000 gross tons or greater and another suggested that the closure proposed for the morning hours was more vital than the afternoon.

21 Replies to "Bulletin: Coast Guard says no to low-bridge rush-hour restrictions"

  • Minoru October 21, 2008 (10:53 am)


  • RobertSeattle October 21, 2008 (10:57 am)

    OK – but how about opening up the HOV-Bus Only lanes to all HOV vechicles on the high bridge? The Bus Lane is under utlized and there is no incentive for HOV vehicles currently.

  • CMP October 21, 2008 (10:58 am)

    I’d like for the city to do a second study on traffic counts once work commences on the Spokane Street viaduct next year. I bet you’ll see an increase in lower bridge use then.

  • Al October 21, 2008 (11:54 am)

    Exactly CMP – the review was for current traffic only, no projection into the future construction and the reason why the closure restrictions were requested in the first place.

  • Al October 21, 2008 (11:57 am)

    Interesting, if you read the document, they say that the high bridge is your alternate bridge if the lower bridge is open until it’s too late (esp. coming from downtown) to gain access to the upper bridge. And with the upcoming construction, the access to alternate routes will be even more restricted…ah well, those of us who tried, tried. At least my bike will get me through the traffic back up as usual.

  • Dartanyon October 21, 2008 (11:57 am)

    I’m sorry, but this is absolutely the wrong decision. From the standpoint of one of West Seattle’s hundreds (if not thousands) of bicycle commuters. This bridge is the only way off of West Seattle, and to add another obstacle to people trying to change their commuting habits, is inexcusable.

  • Al October 21, 2008 (11:58 am)

    Edit for nonsense sentence: Interesting, if you read the document, they say that the high bridge is your alternate bridge. But if the lower bridge is open you don’t often know until it’s too late (esp. coming from downtown) to gain access to the upper bridge.

  • d October 21, 2008 (12:15 pm)

    Only 80 responses?

    Whoa! That is seriously TERRIBLE!

    Shaking my head in disbelief! How many thousands upon thousands of people read these pages who also use those roads every day? And, 80 is what the response rate is? What is with THAT?

  • Jeffro October 21, 2008 (12:26 pm)

    Al, that’s some bike you’ve got there! My bike still has to stop when the bridge is open. I didn’t like the proposal since I’m more likely to ride after nine than I am during rush hour, and I’d rather have the randomness we have now than an almost certain opening every day at nine. I didn’t feel strongly enough about it to write in opposition, though.

  • ivan October 21, 2008 (12:47 pm)

    The port was there first, and any municipality in the country that makes this request of the Coast Guard will get the same response. I don’t know why the city bothered.

    All the king’s horses and all the king’s men will not get the Coast Guard to change its position. This is a port. Get used to it.

  • herongrrrl October 21, 2008 (1:04 pm)

    Thank you, ivan. Exactly.

  • CMP October 21, 2008 (1:21 pm)

    I don’t care who was there first. Bottom line is that when the bridge is open, there have to be far more commuters (by car, truck, bus, bike or peds) being affected compared to maritime traffic. I will say, when I’m on my bike it’s a nice 15 minute or so break to rest, but those 15 minutes will cause a much longer backup for commuters. Nice to see there’s no attempt to compromise either.

  • JumboJim October 21, 2008 (1:45 pm)

    Don’t tell the Duwamish the port was there first and whoever was there first gets to decide everything or the port may find itself in Native hands. Maybe they would make a more sensible and reasoned decision. Ignoring the impacts the upcoming viaduct work will have is ridiculous.

  • Al October 21, 2008 (3:55 pm)

    Hey Jeffro, I was commenting in general re: the published document which was tailored to auto traffic (which is affected by the inadequate “bridge open use alternate route” signage). And yep, I’m caught at that bridge too, on my bike, twice in the past week at about 4:30pm.

    I actually took the time to respond and at least bicyclists registered on the radar due to many comments. But all those automobile drivers? Almost no one wrote in (I read the comments for/against). 80 comments is a pretty poor showing for people who will soon be caught up in the mess.

  • KSJ October 21, 2008 (4:08 pm)

    I wonder why it’s the coast guard who has the ultimate say in this? Common sense makes me ask – Did coast guard funds pay for construction of the bridge? Seems to me the bridge belongs to the taxpayers and we should be able to have a say in how it’s operated.

  • BobLoblaw October 21, 2008 (5:41 pm)

    With the coming work (tear-down?) on the viaduct and all other projects this will be a very important route. Hopefully the city will do the right thing and clear room for an espresso stand with free Wi-Fi on the West side of the lower bridge.

  • KJBC October 21, 2008 (6:29 pm)

    The Coast Guard’s response to this issue is INSULTING. Couldn’t they apply a little common sense and not rely entirely on input from the public? They’re behaving like elected officials.

    The bridge is only open two to three times a week during this time frame – by their own admission!!! Make it zero times per week during this time frame AND THEN DETERMINE HOW MANY PEOPLE USE THE LOW BRIDGE. Nobody uses it because they don’t want to risk getting trapped.

    The maritime traffic is not on the same inflexible schedule we commuters are on. That barge headed for Alaska can leave an hour earlier or wait an extra hour.


  • herongrrrl October 21, 2008 (9:04 pm)

    Actually, maritime traffic can have very inflexible schedules depending on tides, weather, commerce, availability of slips for boats with whatever facilities are needed for that particular boat/cargo, etc. I grew up in WS, but had no idea how the maritime industry really worked until I married into it and I’ve really had my eyes opened about the reality of how it functions.

    One small example: a big ship can’t just come up to the bridge and stop to wait for a designated opening time like a car can. Inertia makes that impossible. Add in the currents in the Duwamish (which is, after all, a river, not just a waterway) and trying to get boats to wait for bridges to open becomes a serious safety issue–which is why the Coast Guard, whose job it is to regulate maritime safety, gets to call the shots here. So if a boat can’t wait in the channel, it has to wait somewhere else–at anchor in Elliott Bay, where there are only so many places to anchor because of the way the currents swing the boats around as the tides change and ferry routes demand a wide right of way, or in a slip somewhere upriver where it is taking the space some other incoming ship needs to tie up (so THAT ship needs to wait in Elliott Bay, etc. etc.).

    I’m afraid, folks, that if you live in WS and like having easy access to cheap stuff made overseas and shipped here for sale, you’re going to have to accept that part of the hidden cost is waiting for drawbridges on the Duwamish from time to time. (And as it happens, my husband’s job is driving a boat moored at Harbor Island to tend the big ships up the river and in Elliott Bay. His boat doesn’t need the bridge to open for him to go through, but he does have to deal with the bridge being open when he’s trying to commute to the marina by car or bike.)

  • La October 21, 2008 (9:27 pm)

    Mea culpa – I was careless/lazy/apathetic/all of the above and didn’t submit a comment when I had the chance. If only I and a fraction of my compadres trapped at rush hour had gotten off of our asses to speak up.

    Is there any chance of another ‘open comment’ period in the future?

  • WSB October 21, 2008 (9:45 pm)

    Nope. That was it. As Austin Pratt of the Coast Guard put it, maybe YEARS in the future, if the city has significantly higher traffic volumes to present, the issue might be a candidate for revisitation. This is my soapbox of the month but everyone HAS TO speak up and out when the chance is presented. Go to meetings, send comments. May not in the end deliver the result you want, but I’ve seen comments and protests make a difference. And at least you have the satisfaction of knowing you tried. This is why we drone on about all these things, open comment periods, public meetings, etc. etc. etc. Just so at least a few thousand more people KNOW. What you do with that knowledge … up to you.

  • Chris December 19, 2008 (9:54 pm)

    “While these openings halt traffic, the amount of traffic affected is much lower than other drawbridges in Seattle.”

    What they completely ignore in this statement, is the fact that this “lower” amount of traffic is delayed MUCH LONGER than any other drawbridges in Seattle.” I have never been delayed at any other drawbridge in Seattle for even HALF the time I’ve been delayed at this drawbridge. Usually, people start getting out of their cars and looking incredulously at the stupid blinking red lights. It’s never taken any less than 15 minutes when I’ve gotten stopped at this bridge, and I was delayed approximately 25 minutes just this week.

Sorry, comment time is over.