Why isn’t low-bridge access increasing more quickly? It’s ‘complicated,’ West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force told

(SDOT camera view of low bridge earlier this evening)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Two months after enforcement cameras switched on, and one month after the port’s announcement that Terminal 5 won’t open until next year, SDOT is still keeping West Seattle low-bridge access tightly restricted.

There’s been only one recent change – allowing on-call health-care providers to use it. A few other loosenings are under consideration, but still at least a month away, the West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force was told today, at a meeting that began with news of a high-bridge repair-planning milestone (we covered that separately here). An intense discussion ensued (see it here on video), with some members of the task force telling SDOT staff that changes should be made sooner.

First, SDOT’s bridge-project leader Heather Marx< showed traffic-volume changes on the low bridge since enforcement began:

She hailed “a consistent decline” since implementing enforcement, declaring it was “exactly the kind of volume trend we were hoping to see.” Overall, even factoring in the traffic they expect once Terminal 5 reopens for cargo next year, most dayparts are nowhere near maxing out the low bridge. Below, for example, are westbound volumes – the red line represents maximum capacity, the gray parts of the bars show expected T-5 traffic, and the rest of the bars show actual current use.


Eastbound, though, had a few maxed-out areas, when the future T-5 traffic is added:

Right now, Marx said, they’re still currently gathering information from “community members that we haven’t heard from” and expect an update at next month’s CTF meeting. Once they announce changes, Marx said, they hope not to change again until T-5 is ready to open, feeling that would “confuse people.”

The major change for which task-force members are, and have been, advocating, would be granting access to people who have to cross the river for life-saving medical treatment. County Councilmember Joe McDermott spoke passionately about it at last month’s WSBCTF meeting and did so again today. The city has addressed business/organization needs, but also needs to address individuals’ needs too.

Marx said one thing getting in the way is trying to get information from medical institutions that are also currently caught up in the pandemic.

Task-force member Deb Barker from the West Seattle Transportation Coalition added her support but said that April isn’t soon enough. Maybe it could be announced by the one-year anniversary of the bridge closure on March 23rd, she suggested: “People are dying out there, and it would be nice to get them to their treatment quicker.”

Dan Austin from the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce, who is on the task force’s low-bridge subcommittee, said, “We have been working on this” but also agrees the pace of change needs to be faster. He noted that with the traffic-volume data showing low-bridge usage is down thousands of trips available daily, this change should be possible.

City Councilmember Lisa Herbold wanted to know more about the barriers to allowing patients the same access as providers, getting citations canceled. Also, she said, the bridge has capacity Saturday and Sunday mornings, so why not open it up to everyone then? She said SDOT’s been telling people they’re considering weekend-morning access (though it hadn’t been mentioned at this meeting until she brought it up), so what’s the status for that change? Marx repeated that they’re looking for “input from community members we don’t often hear from.” Herbold pressed, what does that mean? Who do you need to talk to who you havent already spoken with? Marx didnt answer that directly but replied, “We’ve heard from the community that it’s confusing when we make too many changes” so they’re hoping to bundle those changes. What they’re seeking from the medical community is, “some kind of a way to understand the size of the population we’re taking about.” The system they have set up for the on-call medical providers to get citations canceled doesn’t work so well, she added. “We have to administer this and it’s much more complicated than one might imagine. … Is it 10 people? Is it 10,000 people? … We are working as quickly and diligently as we can.”

Georgetown’s John Persak said he’s disturbed by the concept of “pitting community members against each other for a finite resource.” He said SDOT’s estimates of low-bridge capacity are “conservative” and would like to see that evaluated and potentially adjusted: “I think everybody can be accommodated.” Marx retorted, “It’s a finite resource and shaving around the ages isn’t going to change that.”

Task-force member and advocate for visually challenged people Marci Carpenter noted that life-saving treatments can include mental health as well as physical health, so SDOT would have to be careful about defining who would be eligible for that access.

Seattle Port Commissioner Peter Steinbrueck echoed that they should be able to accommodate more weekend traffic on the bridge. Maybe some shift schedules at the port could be shifted. (Persak later said that terminal operators have flexibility for weekend operations, to “open the gate,” so perhaps the city could talk to terminal operators and create some relief on bridge traffic.)

Task-force member Anne Higuera of Ventana Construction (WSB sponsor) noted that Washington State Ferries already has a protocol for medical boardings, suggesting that SDOT could confer with WSF.

Diane Sosne from SEIU Healthcare 1199 said perhaps a public announcement of patient access for iife-saving treatment could be made and the city could wait to see how many people take advantage of that access: “I think realistically that’s the only way we’re going to know, put a call out.”

Lora Radford of the West Seattle Junction Association, who’s also on the low-bridge subcommittee, suggested just creating a limited number of spots for the access, and once they’re filled up, that’s it, rather than trying first to figure out how many people might be eligible and working backward from there.

SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe said they’re working to be sure they can balance everything. But he echoed Marx in saying that the city has heard a “lot of confusion” and wants to be respectful of that. “It’s just very, very challenging” to create and maintain the policy while ensuring that emergency access is not compromised.

In the end, it did not appear likely that anything will change before the task force’s next meeting, 4 pm April 8th.

49 Replies to "Why isn't low-bridge access increasing more quickly? It's 'complicated,' West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force told"

  • Al March 10, 2021 (8:46 pm)

    Holy cow, the data shows there were ~2000 entitled jerks per day ignoring the law on that bridge? Is it possible to go back to camera footage from before enforcement began to identify who they are, and banish them from west Seattle permanently? I’m certain they wouldn’t be missed. 

    • Ernesto March 10, 2021 (10:06 pm)

      You seem like a very reasonable person. 

    • c March 10, 2021 (11:05 pm)

      that’s a pretty bold statement. you should worry about your own driving not the driving of others. Every time someone who is unauthorized crosses the bridge the city brings in $75 (not all of that goes directly to the city), and that goes to things such as road repairs and cameras. if you’re so worried and distraught by people making their own decisions maybe you should be banished to west Seattle.

  • ADB March 10, 2021 (8:50 pm)

    Great. So the low bridge sits empty most of the time for the next month while everything else is backed up. Seems like typical Seattle bureaucracy at it’s finest.

    • Bill March 11, 2021 (6:02 am)

      Wait until YOU need the ambulance trip!

      • Smittytheclown March 11, 2021 (12:52 pm)

        Huh?  Ambulances navigate across crowded spaces all the time.  Both lanes pull to the side.  Plenty of room.  If they can get through the mess that is the Chelan intersection they can certainly get over the bridge.

  • Joe Z March 10, 2021 (9:39 pm)

    The detour really isn’t that bad. When the bridge first closed I feared it would be a 30-45 minute detour but it rarely takes more than 20 minutes to go around the long way. Plus there’s the benefits—so much quieter and peaceful in the triangle area without all the traffic. I’m glad they are taking their time fixing the bridge, I’m looking forward to having my windows open again for one more summer before the noise returns. Although it is quite funny that they have not expedited the repair process in any way, going through the whole design and bidding process at normal speed with zero urgency whatsoever. LOL.  

    • Matt P March 10, 2021 (10:53 pm)

      You’re not going to feel that way once WFH starts to wind down.

      • Joe Z March 11, 2021 (8:26 am)

        Meh…thanks to the COVID conversion to remote work (which is permanent for my household) there isn’t a need to leave much anymore. Things are not going back to the way they were before. 

    • That guy March 11, 2021 (12:25 am)

      When are you driving the detour, because I needed to get to Harborview and I live near Alaska Junc and it took me an hour of driving the detour to get there. You have to travel damn near out of the city, and then turn around and double back if you need to get anywhere north of South Park. That intersection at the bottom of Highland Park way is a packed mess all of the time. 

      • Vic March 11, 2021 (8:58 am)

        The Highland Park route of which you speak and the on ramp to 509 there has always been awful. Go down 35th to Roxbury and enter 509 N that way. Cuts the detour time down a lot.

  • Auntie March 10, 2021 (9:44 pm)

    How would one apply for a permit to cross the bridge to get life-saving treatment? Seems to me if I am having a heart attack and my husband decided not to wait for an ambulance, it would be too late to apply for a permit. It’s not the kind of thing you can plan for, is it?

    • WSB March 10, 2021 (10:18 pm)

      That would be an emergency and those are already covered (I would hope your husband would be calling 911 – the medic unit will get there fast and can start treatment immediately). This is, per one example that’s been brought up repeatedly, someone who is getting ongoing treatments such as radiation therapy for cancer.

      • Joe Z March 11, 2021 (8:21 am)

        We had an emergency and took the low bridge to the hospital. They sent me a ‘warning’ ticket in the mail a few weeks later. 

    • Vincent March 11, 2021 (8:55 am)

      Who stops in an emergency to consider a fee? Aside from the fact actual emergencies are exempt after the fact, this is terrible hyperbole and FUD.

  • Cass March 10, 2021 (10:01 pm)

    What makes the threshold for the bridge lower between 10 am and 8 pm than it is between 5 am and 10 am? I understand that there will be might be higher demand during those hours, but no hypothesis I can think of makes sense for a reduction in capacity – lanes don’t go away, I don’t think openings are limited to those hours, I don’t think it would be from subtracting buses volume to calculate threshold, etc.

    • AA March 10, 2021 (10:28 pm)

      I don’t know, but I’ve been wondering the same thing. They have been showing that capacity reduction in mid-day on all their graphs for months and I have never seen an explanation for it.

  • Fed Up March 10, 2021 (10:12 pm)

    I’d like to know why a vital medical services permit program has not been implemented, so residents who need to travel to Seattle / Eastside DAILY for vital medical treatment, such as radiation are able to succinctly and swiftly travel out of and back into West Seattle.  This is NOT a difficult program to implement. It’s shameful that this topic was brought up several months ago by King County Councilman Joe McDermott, and still SDOT has implemented nothing! This should have been one of the top priorities within weeks of the bridge being closed. I, and several other West Seattle cancer patients trying to save their lives, will be waiting right here for your answer. An answer, NOT an excuse.

  • Alex March 10, 2021 (11:28 pm)

    Still no word on allowing motorcycles.

  • jerrold March 11, 2021 (12:22 am)

    so they wont open the bridge weekend mornings even though it would make som peoples lives alot easier because were too stupid and may get confused about it… such bs

    • Dawson March 11, 2021 (9:04 am)

      Calendars are difficult to comprehend, all that repetition and predictably.

  • Lisa March 11, 2021 (1:31 am)

    Weekend access would be great! I wish the 5am time would extend to 6ish. Just a hope.

  • Don_Brubeck March 11, 2021 (7:36 am)

    The traffic counts listed here do not include bikes using the ped/bike lane.  Yesterday the bike count was 850.  About 15 percent of the day’s total bridge crossings were  by bike.  Encouraging bike commuting makes a difference for traffic volumes and freeing up bridge capacity for other people. 

  • Concerned Citizen March 11, 2021 (8:26 am)

    So a West Seattle resident dying of cancer must spend precious hours of their time in needless hours of traffic jam because the alternative is that they would be too confused if the rules for the low bridge kept changing? Am I missing something? The fact that these are the same people making the decisions does not make me hopeful for the safety of the reopened high bridge. #RECALL SDOT

    • reed March 11, 2021 (9:58 am)

      “The city has addressed business/organization needs, but also needs to address individuals’ needs too.”

      This is the problem, not SDOT delicately balancing the integrity of a bridge with the needs of the community . West Seattle businesses have commandeered the available capacity on the lower bridge; perhaps they should share that privilege who West Seattle residents  who  absolutely MUST receive daily cancer treatments or other medical care. What is more important: a restaurant owner making a Costco/Cash and Carry run 20 minutes faster, or someone needing to be on time for their daily chemo appointment?

    • Chemist March 11, 2021 (10:34 am)

      Marx’s slide was talking about outreach to groups normally not heard from as an ongoing thing they were doing before a decision.  Then Herbold asked pretty point blank “what outside groups” and Marx didn’t answer that and talked about creating any new access policies as a package group because they’ve heard about bridge policy changes being confusing.  

    • Mark47n March 11, 2021 (10:36 am)

      I’ll say it…just as before the bridge was closed and access to the lower bridge was limited those with cancer still had to follow all of the rules that everyone else did, even on your way to chemo. Those with medical emergencies can call 911 or if the cruise across the bridge with said emergency maybe you’ll get a pass on it and if you don’t and you grouse about the ticket perhaps you should ask your self just how big of an emergency was it really. There is no one her in WS that is so special that they cannot be as inconvenienced as the rest of us. It’s a drag but it beats having another failed bridge either the lower bridge or the 1st Ave S bridge.

    • Beth March 12, 2021 (12:11 am)

      Yes. That’s correct! People with cancer needing vital treatment (some on a daily basis) are not allowed permits to use the lower bridge; this issue was brought up MONTHS ago by concerned citizens and KC Councilman Joe McDermott. But this city says it needs a “committee” to decide! Appalling! This is a decision that could have and should have been made in the very beginning of this debacle by SDOT management in cooperation with UW, SCCA, Swedish, and other medical leaders in the city. But that would take forethought and no self aggrandizing bureaucracy. Inexcusable!

      I am one of those people striving toward saving my life. 

      I am ashamed of SDOT and the city. And everyday I sit in that traffic, sieving stress and away from work, increasing my time loss, gauging whether I need a half hour or an hour and a half to travel to SCCA, I will curse every single one of them. NO MORE EXCUSES!

  • Enough March 11, 2021 (9:32 am)

    Please please everyone. Put some more pressure on sdot. This is not the most complicated thing in the world and does not have to be done slowly.They are taking their time and clearly not listening to anyone at any level.  When will Inslee step in?I am literally writing this from a hospital bed at a pill hill hospital.  I had to go to the hospital in a hurry and was forced to drive through SeaTac. No Jort. I couldn’t ride my bike to the hospital. 

  • Dave March 11, 2021 (9:46 am)

    Why can’t SDOT get creative, as well as a sense of urgency, to address an obvious issue – excess capacity on the low bridge and strangled capacity on all the alternate routes?

  • Michele March 11, 2021 (10:15 am)

    These are just a few suggestions being that I’ve been here since the first Bridge incident. I think what would be only fair is that we split West Seattle from north of Alaska and south of Alaska. Basically those cars would have go passes on them and be allowed on the lower bridge with the monitor cameras .  The rest of us that are South would go the other route. This will alleviate  some congestion.we also need to put some left turn lights on Delridge. With all the construction this has been a nightmare for everyone.

    • Rumbles March 11, 2021 (11:52 am)

      Let me guess, you live north of Alaska?

    • Chemist March 11, 2021 (12:50 pm)

      As someone in the zone between the Alaska Junction and Morgan Junction, I really, really think your dividing line stinks.

  • Mj March 11, 2021 (10:54 am)

    The low bridge has far more capacity than is being used, the emergency vehicle is a red herring excuse.  I’ve been at Montlake bridge during the PM peak congestion and they get through.  

    Why not allocate WS registered drivers passes to use the bridge, say 20 passes each for residents in the north end and fewer in the south end.  Fewer passes for south end residents who are less impacted by the closure since the 1st Ave bridge was the route they used anyway.  When I lived in Highland Park I rarely used the WSB!  This would benefit all WS residents via reducing traffic a bit on the alternative routes and better utilize the capacity on the low level bridge.

  • James March 11, 2021 (11:37 am)

    why not use technology and have a system where folks are allowed some number of uses per month etc based on their license plate #. You would be given a time slot where you can pass without a fine and this can be managed in real time based on data gathered.

  • JenT March 11, 2021 (11:49 am)

    Meanwhile, City employees are now the worse offenders of misusing the lower Bridge per this report

    “During the second week of photo enforcement from Feb. 11 to Feb. 14, SDOT data shows the only group exceeding its daily limit of trips were city government vehiclesOn Feb. 11, cameras caught 415 government cars crossing the bridge, which is 10 times the allocated limit of 40. All the other permitted groups stayed below their limit, according to city data.”

  • Concerned Citizen March 11, 2021 (12:30 pm)

    The most disappointing thing time and time again is that they continue to have these “open forums” and ask us to fill out surveys, forms, you name it; yet no one at SDOT appears to be really listening to the public who is affected by their actions. #RECALLSDOT

  • KT March 11, 2021 (1:05 pm)

    I don’t feel passionately about one side or the other of this issue but come on, one year later and this whole topic is still be looked at by the City of Seattle.  Heather Marx appears to be over her head.  Just read what she said ….. “they’re still currently gathering information from “community members that we haven’t heard from” (who haven’t you heard from and how do you know you haven’t heard from someone who has an opinion)  ….. “one thing getting in the way is trying to get information from medical institutions that are also currently caught up in the pandemic (um, that’s not gonna end any time soon) ….. “We’ve heard from the community that it’s confusing when we make too many changes” (bull).  If we are actually to believe your timelines it won’t be until June 2022 that the bridge opens in some fashion again.  Twelve months down and fourteen months to go (allegedly) and still having discussions.  

  • CarDriver March 11, 2021 (1:50 pm)

    KT. AMEN.  Sad truth is that NOBODY at SDOT or the city council/mayor care to hold anybody accountable. They’ve only been able to play “spin spin spin and hope nobody notices” SIGH.

  • Admiral March 11, 2021 (2:00 pm)

    This bridge crisis requires creative thinking, and we now have data that shows that the high bridge performed just fine with all of the snow. It also had multiple platforms hanging off of it for months, and there are often construction trucks parked up there. Stabilization work is complete. 

    Therefore, why can ambulances and other emergency vehicles not use the high bridge? This would alleviate a major reason for limiting capacity on the low bridge, in addition to buying ambulances lifesaving minutes for emergencies that require the use of Fauntleroy. There would never be traffic to contend with. If a few ambulance trips per day is going to take the thing down, then the city lied to us about the success of stabilization work.

    The city just invested $250k in automated speed signs, so they should have the funds to allocate to building gates opened by sensors in the ambulances at the bridge entrances, similar to what exist in express lanes, bus lanes, and rental car centers all across the country. 

    Yes, I’ve passed this feedback along to Cm. Herbold and SDOT – waiting to hear back. 

  • Reed March 11, 2021 (2:19 pm)

    Businesses should be sharing the access privileges with citizens who have critical medical needs (eg cancer treatment), period.

  • Jort March 11, 2021 (3:30 pm)

    Another option is for people to stop driving and start biking or taking the bus. It’s not complicated, and it can be done. If you are disabled, Metro offers disabled services for you. There is no requirement that you drive. Make your personal adaptations to the new reality in which you do not get everything you always want. 

  • Use your eyes not your ears March 11, 2021 (5:06 pm)

    [snip] Marx didn’t answer that directly but replied, “We’ve heard from the community that it’s confusing when we make too many changes”  [/snip] Thanks for that quote, which seems to indicate SDOT is listening to complaints more than looking at their own data.   Week over week traffic volumes continue to decline on the lower bridge. The capacity red line is not being touched.  Who exactly is confused about the regulations?  The data indicate that it is not the vast majority of drivers. Trust the data not the complainers.

  • Gatewood March 11, 2021 (8:26 pm)

    Seems it might be fairly easy for medical patients that need to receive critical treatments could get documentation from their Dr. Then they should be able to send that to the city and receive something similar to a disabled parking pass or good-to-go pass, but it would be authorization to use the low bridge.Maybe everyone commenting here should be sending these comments to the City, and cc the Grovener. Having the high bridge down, the construction on Delridge and repairs to the 1st So bridge all at one time is more than any neighborhood who pays property taxes should have to put up with.BTW why aren’t the street repairs done well when they are opened for new construction to hook up to the sewer lines? Jort, not everyone who can’t ride a bike or take a bus to work are disabled. Between the the hills and Seattle weather I don’t think those 2 options work for everyone.

  • Alki resident March 11, 2021 (11:55 pm)

    SDOT is full of excuses, making too many changes is complete BS. The WS community has plenty of avenues to get the word out. I suggest the Task Force demand meetings every 2 weeks, a month is too long for them to sit around doing nothing. They need constant pressure to give us answers. 

  • Mark47n March 12, 2021 (8:17 am)

    I think we need more meetings, committees and oversight bodies. No one here knows what they’re dong and their not being held accountable! Do it my way! You’re stupid!No, you’re stupid!Honestly, y’all! you believe that building, or repairing a bridge that is 140′ in the air is a simple task and don’t understand that the stabilization is to prevent catastrophic collapse, not the repair. Tell me, how do you create a repair plan without know the extent of the damage and without stabilizing the structure first? Without a real engineered plan for repair, how to figure out what it’ll cost (a crucial step to obtain funding) and then hire a  contractor who can not only do the repair but also shoulder the liability that goes with it? This isn’t a few cinderblocks with a plank across it, it’s a complex structure 140′ high that relies on post tension cable to hold everything together, bearings to attenuate movement and vibration, expansion joints to accommodate expansion and contraction and more. As for the lower bridge, well, the choke point isn’t the bridge, it’s the point E. of the bridge that will choke traffic to a standstill, such as that weird bridge.  And you folks that have cancer, I’ truly sorry that you have to suffer with that burden but, unless you’re in an ambulance, you’re stuck with the rest of us. What makes you so special that you get to move to the front of the line? Who would be next? Those with other illnesses?, I’m bipolar and heavily medicated, do I get Cadillac treatment? How about migraine sufferers or those with a stubbed toe?My point isn’t to minimize the suffering of those with serious illnesses so much as to point out that it’s not an emergency and that to allow one group then what’s to stop another group from demanding the same access? West Seattle is a fascinating collection of  self important blowhards who believe that their problems should come first and is not unlike Mercer Island, AKA Poverty Rock, in that. Someday I’ll get out of here, but not yet, and never look back.

    • Beth March 13, 2021 (11:58 pm)

      @mark47n Shame on you! when you get cancer and need daily treatment to save your life, then we’ll chat. In meantime, don’t be so arrogant to think that people who HAVE TO travel that route everyday aren’t in need of concession. There is NOTHING “special” about that need.

Sorry, comment time is over.