Escape to Elliott Bay

It’s the late 1980s. A Lower Queen Anne resident is in the habit of scaling the fence to get to Myrtle Edwards Park, sometimes even climbing over slow-moving trains to get there. He hadn’t heard the Blue Scholars song posted on SeattleScape October 11th.

Myrtle Edwards is a heck of a park, and a great route north and south. But it’s always been (nearly) impossible to get to for thousands of nearby residents and workers without going the long way around. Thankfully the temptation to risk fate just went away.

On Friday, the West Thomas Street Pedestrian and Bicycle Overpass opened! Based upon a visit Sunday morning, it already seems popular. A steady stream of people wandered across in both directions, despite the wet streets and ominous clouds, looking very pleased. It’s a good bet that nearby office workers will do the same on work days.

The bridge is a major boost to Seattle’s bike and pedestrian network, including a lot of commuters. In one of the busiest parts of town, and a crossroads, getting anywhere has meant using major, unfriendly roads to get past the tracks. Now, someone working near the Seattle Center and living in Ballard finally has a direct bike route home entirely on the trail and minor streets, assuming he or she goes over the Locks. In a few years even South Lake Union will be have a highway-free route to Elliott Bay.

Of course, having great parks is important by itself, whether for quality of life or economic development, if the former is too namby-pamby for you. Cities that prosper tend to be places people want to live in. People that prosper, in any sense, are often the ones who like where they are, or get inspired by where they are, with plenty of opportunity for both exercise and relaxation. A short walk to have lunch with the waves lapping at the rocks while watching ships pass the snow-capped Olympics…that’ll do it.

It’s not perfect yet. The middle section of the park could use minor upgrades as more people visit and linger near the bridge. A few more benches would be the minimum. Eventually a larger hardscape area would make sense, maybe with a water feature. Lighting that small area at night would also encourage more use, including winter pedestrian and bike commuting.

Here are two more needs going forward: One is a direct stairway from the Magnolia Bridge to the Elliott Bay Trail (the existing one requires walking over the tracks and is sometimes blocked off). Most important of all is continuing the Thomas (or thereabouts) connection east with a skybridge to Capitol Hill, connecting our densest census tracts with our fastest growing employment center.