Opinion: Mountains-to-Sound Trail doesn’t end well

Amazing views greet cyclists on the Mountains-to-Sound Trail. Photo by Willie Weir.
by Willie Weir

(This article is cross-posted, with permission, from the blog Yellow Tent Adventures. — Ed.)

Recently ribbons were cut and speeches were made at the opening of the new segment of the Mountains-to-Sound Trail. Any additional trail miles that provide needed access for bikes and pedestrians is cause for celebration. Except that the Mountains-to-Sound Trail now officially ends at a blind corner of a very steep hill.

Holgate, which rises to and descends from Beacon Hill, is legendary on this side of the city. It is the type of road that even some seasoned cyclists choose to avoid. If you are descending it from the top of Beacon Hill, you can easily hit 40mph without a single pedal stroke. You just take the lane and fly. The road crosses I-5, and at this point as a cyclist, you need to be hyper-aware as you dump out onto the left lane of traffic. Cars turning from Airport Way S. are speeding to make the light at 6th Ave. S. Many motorists like to make a left hand turn across your path as they exit the Office Depot. And the road surface is a photo op for the “repave our streets” campaign.

On the way up Holgate you are in a narrow lane with a high curb on your right as you climb over I-5. The thought that a car clipping you could send you catapulting onto the freeway is enough to have many cyclists choose to ride on the left hand sidewalk and then cross over at the blind corner as the sidewalk ends. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

Can you imagine parents riding their bikes along with their two young kids tackling any or all of this? It sounds rather nightmarish.

And yet it is a possibility. The Mountains-to-Sound Trail is a separated recreational path. The type of trail that is desirable for riders and walkers who aren’t comfortable in traffic. The recently opened extension expands the trail from 12th Ave. S. to Holgate. The path is a delight and offers beautiful vistas of downtown Seattle. I had a hard time wiping the grin off my face the first time I rode it.

The end of the Mountains to Sound Trail at the blind corner of Holgate and Beacon Ave. S. Photo by Willie Weir.
My grin faded at Holgate. The sign simply reads, “End. Mt. to Sound Trail” That’s it. No more information.

What is the family with their two kids going to do? They’ll look at the option of crossing the road at the blind intersection and climbing the steep hill to their left. But what’s up there? They don’t know, because they are visiting from Spokane or Missoula and they don’t know that at the top is the business district of Beacon Hill with a light rail station, bus connections, stores, restaurants, a library, and a huge park. No, to them it’s just a big scary hill to destinations unknown.

Then they’ll look down the hill and think, “The Sound is that way.” They’ll opt to walk their bikes down the sidewalk because the hill is steep and their kids are scared. This is good. Because that sidewalk ends in a flight of stairs. To their credit, SDOT has posted a sign regarding this about 200 feet before impact.

The sidewalk down Holgate quickly becomes a stairway, dangerous for bikes. Photo by Willie Weir.
Now our visiting family is stuck. Because to continue forward means having to lift their bikes onto a narrow road with speeding traffic and “take the lane, kids.” Beyond this dangerous move there is no signage letting them know that they are three blocks away from the bike path that runs parallel to light rail.

But I’m guessing at this point our family will opt to turn around and push their bikes back up the sidewalk. The kids will be crying and Mom and Dad will think, “This is unsafe and crazy.” They will finally reach the trail and backtrack from whence they came.

What the family doesn’t know is that the Mountains-to-Sound Trail will eventually be completed. There will be a switchback trail that crosses under the freeway and connects to the bike trail and light rail station at Royal Brougham. But construction of that section isn’t even scheduled yet… so it’s years away.

In the meantime, information needs to be posted that gives everyone an option. Experienced city traffic cyclists can take a right at Holgate and shoot into the Sodo District or take a cautious left and climb to the Beacon Hill business district. Others can backtrack and follow the bike route signs to downtown, or be routed that way to begin with.

The dangerous conditions at the blind curve where Holgate becomes Beacon Ave. S. need to be addressed. This is now more important than ever! This is one of the few accessible routes up to Beacon Hill and it should be made safe for everyone.

The Mountain-to-Sound Trail extension is great! It will be better when it is finished (South Seattle’s missing link?). But until then, we need signage that explains the current conditions, and improvements that give everyone safe options. Without them, the ride doesn’t end well.

8 thoughts on “Opinion: Mountains-to-Sound Trail doesn’t end well”

  1. I think a map of the area once you cross over Rainier would be best. Especially if the grade and traffic on roads were indicated on the map. For example riders could be directed up 18th if their goal is the Beacon Hill business district or to catch the Link to downtown or SoDo.

    With a map riders could see that the rest of the trail offers a nice extension to their ride but doesn’t really get you anywhere useful…yet.

  2. The end of the trail is dangerous for experienced riders. The trees on the south side of Holgate need to be thinned and pruned to open up the sight lines so that eastbound and westbound drivers, riders, and pedestrians can see around that bend in the road. The trees are located on Seattle Parks and WSDOT right-of-way, so this is the kind of work that could be done in short order and without capital project funds.

  3. And trimming of a private hedge that is crowding the “sidewalk” on the south (right) side of Holgate as you pedal uphill from MTS is also needed. If a cyclist wants to head uphill and successfully makes the scary Holgate crossing and finds the safety of this small sidewalk (seperated from the roadway with a small berm), they get pinched with this hedge.

    I think making a marked crossing of Holgate (like a crosswalk) for bikes would help.

    Love the new addition but it definitely has a really weird ending now.

  4. Completely agree on the Holgate sidewalk issue. Even with the sign someone is going to get distracted and go flying.

    Long term (lower priority than the SODO connection) I’d love to see the trail continue contouring the Hill south and connect up to an extended Chief Sealth trail. Getting across Columbian might be an issue though. King County has so many great trails that are missing relatively short gaps to connect them.

  5. Mr Weir it is obvious that you are very anti-car by the statements and exagerations you have made in your article. Cars do not “speed” from Airport Way just to catch the light at 6th Ave and cars pulling out of Office Depot usually use 8th Ave which gives you clear vision all the way up the hill, well over 100 yards. Yes there are a set of stairs and yes it can be a hassle but not such an obstacle that it can’t be over come and at the bottom of that stair case is a marked cross walk so the family can cross at this local.

    As for the blind turn making it extremely dangerous for bike riders coming off the trail. Please, state the facts! The end of the trail is on the outside bend of the turn while the brush you are mentioning is on the inside of the turn. The end of the MTS trail can be seen by cars coming up or down the hill.

    All the bike riders I know who ride to commute or for sport avoid this hill because it is just too steep of a climb and prefer to travel up through the International District.

    I am personally very frustrated with the way DOT is clogging our streets to make “improvements” for bike lanes that really do not get as much use as many believe. A dozen bikes in a 24 hour period is not a good use of tax payers dollars. But to take away parking in front of someones home to make way for a bike lane? Totally wrong! They pay taxes yet can’t park in front of their own house. But why not, this is Beacon Hill where for many english is a second language. DOT realizes there will be less resistances here as there would be say somewhere like North Seattle.

    There are many ways to make it work for both cars and bikes but as long as Cascade Bike Club has Mayor McSchwinn in their pocket they will continue to create congestion by reducing car lanes, taking away residences parking and adding more bike lanes. These type of actions build resentment amongst all.

    And let’s not even start with the spandix loving bikers that ride 2, 3 or even 4 abreast…..

  6. Hmmph. Maybe tying Beacon/Holgate into other paths will eventually make it accessible? I live on Beacon Hill and work in Sodo. There is literally no other way for me to go except down/up that hill. Luckily I’m not at the peak of traffic either direction, and downhill I’m so fast that cars don’t get mad. Uphill I walk, mostly cause biking is too hard, partly for safety.

    Needs more sidewalks. Most of Seattle, incl this part.

  7. Thanks, Willie Weir, for the best information I have read about that trail and the future plans concerning it. My husband and I are happy to use the trail for walking (he commutes on foot to SODO from Sturgus Avenue and it cuts 10 minutes off his trip each way). The first time we walked on the trail, we were totally confused as to how it would be useful for cyclists since, as you discuss, it ends at a dangerous place. We have not seen many people on the trail yet and I’m sure there would be much more use if it ended in a better way. We both feel that because there aren’t many people on the trail it is potentially dangerous for walkers. Thanks for providing some hope for a better ending some time in the distant future.

  8. I’ve been involved in this project for over eight years now. A couple of thoughts.

    WSDOT, SDOT, Parks & Recreation, and other agencies would welcome a proposal to continue the trail south of Holgate. The WSDOT administrator I’ve dealt with has told me this won’t happen until people who live south of Beacon Avenue and Holgate become actively involved in the area to make a positive “boots on the ground” contribution. This includes members of our business community, as what affects the Bayview corridor – the likely connection to a trail – affects our little downtown.

    So, pointing out a problem isn’t enough: you need to help make it happen through commitment.

    This applies to the trees and other vegetation around the entrance and across the road, too. If someone would come forward to become actively involved, there would be people on the government side who would be there to help. They’re already there. Parks & Recreation – as part of the Seattle Green Partnership – would like to see someone step forward as a steward of that area. Is there someone reading this who would come forward?

    The trail is being used during the day, by walkers, joggers, and bicyclists. Since I’ve been down there for hours at a time, I see people on the trail regularly, just regular people. The three volunteer events I’ve organized in the past eight days drew a total of 200 people. While working in the woods along the trail – we now have a permit from WSDOT for work on their land north of Holgate – I saw dozens of people using the trail, just regular people.

    If you really care, then help out. Put in a couple of hours of volunteer time along the trail every month. Start working on a realizable plan. There are resources available, just reach out and do something.

    Willie, will you walk that trail with me?

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