Seattle Writing Prompts: The Thomas Street Overpass

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So, I have a thing for pedestrian bridges. I've written about them before, here, in the form of skybridges. But there is one pedestrian bridge in Seattle that is so well placed, so elegantly executed, and so fun to cross, that it deserves special attention. It's the Thomas Street Overpass.

The overpass crosses Elliott Ave W, and the train tracks that run the length of Myrtle Edwards park. If you entered further south — let's say before the overpass was built — down by the sculpture park, then you would have to go all the way past the grain terminal to the Helix pedestrian bridge at W Prospect Street. Before that was built in 2004, you'd have to hike it further north to the Galer Street Flyover to cross those tracks. They cleaved the waterfront from this former industrial area for years, until the bridges were built.

The Helix pedestrian bridge — built for Amgen when they built headquarters, and where, after expansion, Expedia is slated to move — is also a lovely piece of work, and includes elevators for getting your bike up and down, but its use is limited by its isolation. It's primarily built to move commuters to the bus lines on Elliott.

And, before we get back to the actual topic of this piece, did you know that when you travel that far north in Myrtle Edwards park that you're not actually in Myrtle Edwards Park anymore? At a certain point, it turns into Centennial Park, operated by the Port of Seattle, as opposed to the Seattle Parks Department that oversees Myrtle Edwards.

So here, in this beautiful isolated strip of land, we needed an easier way to get there. A bike bridge, that would connect Queen Anne to Downtown and the waterfront in a heavy trail-use way. The bridge, which was originally designed in 2004, was built in 2011 and 2012, opening many months late due to delays from a railing contractor. At the time, the waiting was torture, but now, it's worth it. The design of the railings, that fly away from the bridge like wings, evocative and active.

If you join the bridge on the east side of Elliott, you pass through Robert Fernandes' amazing Snoqual/Moon the Transformer gateway. Heading south, a gentle slope brings you to the height of the overpass, and when you turn due west, you see a framed view of the bay, West Seattle, and the Olympic Mountains, on a clear day.

It's breathtaking to cross, on bike or foot. At the westernmost end, after you've crossed the tracks, the bridge turns to the left to slope down into Myrtle Edwards, but if you are so inclined, you can grab a rail and stand on a balcony overlooking one of Seattle's most stunning view.

It's a great destination bridge if you don't spend time in the area, but if you do live nearby, it's an experience that is hard to take for granted, and one that is sure to be the highlight of any daily commute.

And with all those people crossing each day, surely there have to be places where people collide and stories emerge.

Today's prompts
  1. All he wanted to see was the train from the bridge. They brought him over, unstable on his little legs, one hand holding each parent, his zipped up puffy suit tight against the rain and cold. They walked out across the bridge until they were above the tracks. They could see a train coming — a Sounder commuter rail going north. He pressed his little face against the railing, the train coming directly under him, and then, when the train passed and the sound of the engine hit full on, the little guy started to scream at the top of his lungs.

  2. The Poodle entered the bridge from the park, the Shar Pei from the east side. They would meet half way across, and there would be three distinct outcomes: 1. A concussion for one of the walkers. 2. A coordinated break for freedom. 3. Puppies.

  3. The agent sat, crouching off to the side of the stairs that led up to the bridge on the west side of Elliott Way. He crouched, and fingered the long wooden drumstick in his hand. The target approached, on his bike, as he did every morning. He would have one throw. He had to stick it between the spokes exactly right to flip the rider out of his saddle. During practice, he nailed it 60% of the time, but here in the field, there was no room for failure.

  4. They did their best talking in the park. At least once a week they spent an hour together walking down the hill and around the waterfront. You couldn't maintain friendships this close without effort, and they were both dedicated to being there for each other like nobody else could be. So it had been since college, since first jobs, since marriages, since kids. So it was now. Until, on the bridge, standing at the rail looking out on a choppy bay, one of them said to the other, "I have something I need to tell you."

  5. Nobody approached her in front of the supermarket. Nobody paid her any attention when she was waiting by the on-ramp. Sitting with her hand out gave her a sore arm, but no money. So crossing the bridge, what was it that made her look up and see the young man looking sideways, as if curious, at her? She took a step back, but he took one forward. "It's okay," he said. "I didn't mean to startle you, but I think you need help. Do you need help?"