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A new 520 bike trail is re-shaping the Eastside

The bridge may be complete before the trail is, but the emerging picture is of a greener, safer alternative to clogged Eastside roads.
The bridge may be complete before the trail is, but the emerging picture is of a greener, safer alternative to clogged Eastside roads.
On a recent cloudy Sunday afternoon, I set off by bike from my home in Seattle’s Eastside neighborhood of Clyde Hill.
 
Though not very well defined, my objective was casually to navigate the growing bits and pieces of a bicycle trail that is slowly emerging as part of the state route 520 bridge project. I had been noticing bike-friendly signposts popping up in the neighborhood along Bellevue’s crowded 520 corridor, and I wanted to investigate for myself.
 
What I discovered is the emergence of a lovely path that takes bicycle commuters from Medina’s shiny new bus terminal at the Evergreen Point bridge, past Hunts Point, Yarrow Point and Clyde Hill to Bellevue Way and eventually to the long-completed 520 bike trail, which runs from North Bellevue to the Burke Gilman Trail and Route 202 in Redmond.

Image: Google Maps

Unfortunately, the new Points community trail takes riders just to the intersection of Northup Way and 108th. After that you’re on your own.
 
The bike trail disappears and you are left on a scary, hilly, narrow, dark stretch of Northup Way just past the popular Burgermaster drive-in before you find the safety and security of the long 520 Bike Trail east of I-405 off 24th Street. During my ride I observed careless drivers veering into the marked bike lane on Northup.
 
Above right: There are signs that the 520 bike trail will one day connect Seattle, the Eastside and beyond. Photo: Ella Shaw
 
So what’s preventing this one-mile missing link from getting linked?
 
According to Tresa Berg with the City of Bellevue’s transportation department, construction on the Northup Way stretch between the Evergreen Points community trail and the 520 Bike Trail will begin this spring and will be completed in early 2017. That's after the 520 bridge is expected to open, which will of course link Seattle to Bellevue and Redmond. She said designs for the project, which also include sidewalks and pedestrian crossings, are complete but certain private utility upgrades are necessary, and require orchestration. Bellevue published its original plan for this section of the Northup corridor in 2008 and funding was approved in 2013.
 
Until 2017, it’s highway 520 cyclists beware.
 
Of course, Eastside and Seattle bike riders are quite familiar with the I-90 bike trail, connecting Beacon Hill to Mercer Island and South Bellevue. And many riders are familiar with the scenic tour from Old Bellevue through Medina on Evergreen Point Road. Cycling pelotons and touring groups are often seen passing through these backroads.
 
As a 20-year resident, rider and runner of these parts, what surprised me about this new, emerging trail is the sudden and unexpected openness in this long-cloistered community of Eastside wealth and influence. One prominent community resident jokingly told me several years ago as the 520 project was launching that the community had taken on the look and feel of a war zone — lots of noise, barricades and bright construction lights.
 
But as the new pavement dries and construction barriers come down, riders are now invited to pass along backyards and through little housing subdivisions. Nature, not congestion, takes center stage. There are beautiful little parks like the Fairweather Nature Preserve, the Yarrow wetlands and small streams that connect to Lake Washington. I noticed a variety of old growth trees, and the DOT has set out acres of plants for landscaping that will make for a gorgeous spring ride.
 
I found sections with smooth new pavement and other sections that are not yet paved. There are helpful signs that point to Kirkland, Bellevue and points beyond. On this particular day, I saw just one other cyclist in the Northup area.
 
At right: A glimmering new transit structure at Medina's Evergreen Point on the 520 offers a peaceful place to wait, and the beginning of a new bike trail. Photo: Ella Shaw
 
The Seattle Bike Blog has done some good reporting on how the 520 experience will look on the Seattle side, and the Seattle Transit blog has provided a good overview of the new 520 freeway stations. The Cascade Bicycle Club also has provided some reports on the project.
 
This is all good news for the 520 corridor, which sees substantial corporate and other commuter traffic spilling onto side streets, especially in the evenings.
 
The new trail system increasingly reminds me of the stunningly good trail system I used in the 1980s and 1990s in Northern Virginia. Washington, D.C. car commuters clogged Route 50 and I-66 for extended hours in the morning and evening, even with a great Metro system. I often avoided the roads and the Metro by riding the Custis Trail, which felt then like my own private bike highway.
 
Bikes are clearly re-shaping Seattle. Perhaps the same will be true for Bellevue. A Seattle Times front page article this month reported that downtown Bellevue is getting younger in a hurry.
 
The implications are not only for restaurants and bars, but bike paths as well.
  

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A new 520 bike trail is re-shaping the Eastside