They say a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If so, the network of streets and pathways for walking and bicycling around Lake Union, the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop, could be made a lot stronger. Its weakest link seems to be right here in Eastlake, on the shoreline between E. Edgar and E. Hamlin Streets.
It’s more of a detour than part of the Loop. You’ve probably come across it:
Walk or bicycle north along Fairview Ave. E. following the Cheshiahud Loop, turn right onto E. Roanoke St. and left onto Yale Ave. E. When you reach Edgar St., you expect to be able to go back downhill to be close to the lake. Instead, you find a dead end.
That dead end was highlighted by Gabriel Campanario, the Seattle Times sketch artist, in Pacific Northwest Magazine (July 5, 2020). His sketch and title summed up the issue with this street-end: “There’s no sitting on the shoreline at this designated public right of way in Eastlake – just signs and brambles.”
And no walking through it either. To get back to the shoreline, it’s necessary to go away from the lake, take a left onto the steep down-up-down Yale Terrace E. (a “named alley”) and then another left down Hamlin St. back to Fairview Ave. E.
Walking or bicycling south from the University Bridge on Fairview Ave. E., this stretch is even more frustrating. You intuitively expect to continue south past Hamlin St., but instead of finding a pathway, there’s a locked gate to a private marina and parking lot, another dead end. Time to backtrack, then turn away from the lake up the cliff-like grade of Hamlin St., then up-down-up Yale Terrace E. to reach Edgar St., with its street-end of signs and brambles.
Whether from the north or south, it’s a long, unsafe detour for bicyclists and pedestrians, especially the disabled. Between Hamlin and Edgar streets, Yale Terrace E. lacks sidewalks, has blind driveways, and its roller coaster grade puts driver visibility at zero in places. On an official City route, this pathway has some of Seattle’s worst pedestrian and bicycle barriers and dangers.
It’s not just a weak link; it’s a broken link, a missing link, and a hazardous one. And it doesn’t have to be so.
It was not always that way. For many decades there was a pathway along the lake at this site, but the City government abruptly broke it in 1957 by issuing a land use permit to build the current north-side apartment building at 100 E. Edgar St. and a street-use permit for the building’s private marina on parts of the City-owned Edgar and Fairview rights-of-way.
Public officials and the public interest community soon recognized the City’s mistake, triggering decades of discussions and efforts to reestablish the pathway connection. Ordinance 119673 (passed in 1999) requires that SDOT, in considering permits for private use, recognize “shoreline street-ends,” and “their purpose to provide the public with visual or physical access to the water and the shoreline.” But just as it did in 1957 in originally granting the 100 E. Edgar St. permit for a private marina on the E. Edgar St. and Fairview Ave. E. rights-of-way, SDOT in its 63 years of annual renewals of this permit does not seem to have considered public access. In 2009, SDOT even allowed remodeling of the marina.
In adopting the 1999 Eastlake Neighborhood Plan, the City Council directed that “particular attention should be given to the gap in the Lake Union Trail extending from the Edgar Street-end north to Hamlin Street along the Fairview Avenue East right-of-way.”
The 2009 master plan for the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop recommends for the area (which the plan calls the “Mallard Cove Missing Link”) that SDOT and the Parks Departments “create a stakeholder group including the city, surrounding residents and Eastlake Community Council…to reach consensus on the preferred alternative…”
The Eastlake Community Council supports reestablishing a pathway connection here that addresses adjoining neighbors’ privacy concerns and preserves native shoreline habitat. Eastlake has many neighborhood parks and will be getting more with the expansion of Terry Pettus Park and the coming East Howe Steps Plaza, both of which connect to (or will) the Cheshiahud Loop. What’s needed are more green spaces for native plants and habitat. The E. Edgar Street-end is ripe for fitting this bill.
Currently the area, at least from street view, is full of invasive plants. This street-end could be reestablished with native shoreline plants and wetlands with a raised pedestrian walkway through it (bicyclists would have to dismount as they must do in many sensitive park areas). Many Seattle parks have raised walkways or boardwalks in aquatic areas (think parts of Ravenna, Golden Gardens, and Carkeek parks).
A pathway through the parking lot and private marina could be achieved with a City easement.
An easement would substantially reduce the City’s costs for a new pathway because it would reduce or eliminate the need for aquatic construction, which is considerably more expensive than land construction. A shoreline regulatory permit would be needed in either case, but would be less complicated for construction on land. Locked gates could still protect the private marina and parking.
Rather than the Edgar street-end being one of the weakest links around the lake, re-establishing a pathway through a restored native vegetation shoreline here would make it one of the strongest and greenest.
The above are just preliminary ideas. A lot more work will be needed to make this happen. Public support and SDOT and Parks Department involvement are essential.
Funding will also be essential. Several times over the years, SDOT and the Parks Department have considered funding this shoreline reconnection. In 2019, it was among the most popular projects nominated for the Neighborhood Street Fund but was belatedly disqualified by SDOT because the need for a shoreline permit meant that construction could not be completed within a year. A project that greatly enhances public enjoyment of the shoreline is worth the wait, and fortunately such a short timeline is not a part of most other funding sources.
To become involved with this project, or if you have questions or comments, please let the Eastlake Community Council know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Chris Leman and Judy Smith