18 Missing Link victims will go to the hospital by the time the trail study is complete

Image from Michael Marian, who works near the Missing Link.

Image from Michael Marian, who works near the Missing Link.

Hours before a public meeting Thursday to discuss the missing 1.4 miles of the Burke-Gilman Trail in Ballard, an ambulance pulled away from NW 45th Street under the Ballard Bridge to take another injured person to the hospital.

By the time the environmental study is complete, eighteen people will crash so badly while biking through the area that they will need to be hauled to the hospital in an ambulance. Many times that many people will crash and get less serious injuries. With a lot of luck, nobody will be left with permanent injuries or killed.

We know that about 18 people will go to the hospital because that’s the rate of hospital trips in this short stretch of industrial street separating the two ends of the Burke-Gilman Trail between Fred Meyer and the Ballard Locks: About one person a month. And even though we know how to fix the problem, the city can’t build the short section of missing trail until this environmental study is complete. The expected completion date: Autumn or winter of 2016.

The questions on the tongues of just about everyone at the Burke-Gilman Trail Ballard Missing Link open house Thursday night were: How could this study possibly take a year and a half longer to complete? How can we speed this process up? And how can we make this area safer now while the study is developed?

Time to get out the ruler and add a couple more year dashes...

Time to get out the ruler and add a couple more year dashes…

Before starting work on this environmental study, the city has already created at least 1,848 pages of studies just of this section of trail. To make things even more absurd, the first meeting about this one study was held in August of 2013. So from start to finish, this one study will have taken more than three years at a cost of $2 million. That’s less than 7 feet of trail studied per day at a cost of $271 per foot. And that doesn’t include any construction.

This is a parody of the environmental review process, and it would be funny if friends, co-workers, mothers and grandparents weren’t getting injured as the delays continue.

The city first identified this route for the trail in the mid-90s. A decade later, the Seattle City Council officially approved the Shilshole alignment for completing the trail. By 2008, the project was pretty much ready for final design and funding. It was on track to be constructed and open by the end of the decade — five years ago.

But then a group of businesses led by the Ballard Chamber of Commerce (suing to stop a flow of new customers nominates them for the title of Worst Ever Chamber of Commerce), Salmon Bay Sand & Gravel, Ballard Oil and some industry groups. And then they sued some more. And then they sued some more. Basically, any time there was a chance to sue or delay, they have done so. And the vow to keep going, wasting more time and money (the city’s and their own).

Meanwhile, the real cost is borne by innocent people who unknowingly bike into this ridiculous legal battle and crash as a direct result of the inaction.

So in 2012, the city gave up on the normal process for building a trail and decided that with such unrelenting legal delay tactics the only option is to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement, an expensive study usually reserved for major planning documents (like the city’s Comprehensive Plan) or for transportation mega-projects (like light rail or freeways). But remember, this study is about 1.4 miles of walking and bike trail.

BGT_Alternatives Map Board_V2The city will study three options in addition to a “no build” option, (AKA the “one person to the hospital every month” option). The way the process works, they must take all options seriously even though the other two options would do nothing to address the very real hazards and dangers on Shilshole. They are distractions that almost nobody except a couple sue-happy business people want, as shown by the overwhelming results from the 2013 outreach process:

2015_6_16_BGT_consolidated-graphs

Packed room listens to presentation of the EIS process.

Packed room listens to presentation of the EIS process.

In a sane world, we would look at this graph and say, “Well, it appears we have a winner!” Skip the study and just build the damn trail already! But that’s not the world we live in. Just wait until you hear about the Westlake lawsuit! Stay tuned…

Part of the Environmental Impact Statement will be an economic impact study. But presenters at the open house Thursday repeatedly said that the study will only look at the costs of the trail, not the benefits. That seems like a pretty pointless study (Imagine I offered you a deal where you could give me $1 now, and I’d give you $10 back. Under this study’s methodology, you’d say no because it would cost you $1!). But it’s also discouraging that for $2 million and a year and a half of work we can’t possibly work in an economic benefits study.

I’d also hope that the costs analysis includes health costs related to not building the trail. How much money does one hospital visit per month plus time off work for the bad injuries add up to? What if someone dies, how much money does that cost?

This process becomes more and more absurd the deeper you go.

Stop signs at Shilshole

This intersection should be an all-way stop.

This intersection should be an all-way stop.

One idea I heard over and over from people at the meeting was the need to stop signs at the intersection where the bikeway meets Shilshole/NW 46th Street. By turning this intersection into an all-way stop, people in the bike lanes will be able to at least get to the Ballard business district a little easier.

This is an extremely easy safety win, and the city shouldn’t wait a day longer to make it happen.

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59 Responses to 18 Missing Link victims will go to the hospital by the time the trail study is complete

  1. Andres Salomon says:

    Can we just close the road down?

    If this was anything other than a road, and people were getting seriously hurt at a rate of 1 per month, we’d shut it down. But because it’s a road, we look the other way?

    No. Shut it down, and if people complain.. well, they can complain to the businesses who keep suing to stop the city from coming up with a safe solution that allows people to also drive on it.

    C’mon Seattle, play hardball. This is ridiculous.

    • Brian Bothomley says:

      Andres – this is not about one road, it is actually three separate sections of three different roads and closing them down can’t be done and is not a solution.
      The “Missing Link” can be completed as has been presented over and over again by using the property that the City of Seattle owns and will not impact any road, just the traffic on those roads and some parking. The trail will be completed by using existing rights of way and will enhance the quality of life along this section of land in Ballard.

      • Andres Salomon says:

        “Can’t be done?” They’re city roads, not state highways. Heck, they’re not even principal arterials, they’re classified as minor arterials!

        Maybe you can explain why it would be impossible for Seattle to close the road (yes, I know there are multiple, but I’m referring to them as a single route adjacent to the missing link), opening them up to people walking and biking? Is it because we value the movement of freight more than we value the health and well-being of people who live in Seattle? If that’s the case, then we haven’t really adopted Vision Zero.

      • Josh says:

        If the closure of a road results in elimination of commercially-viable access to a parcel, the jurisdiction closing the road may be required to compensate the property owner for “diminution of access.” That is, the City could be forced to pay most or all of the lost value of the commercial properties to which it eliminated vehicular access.

        Compared to that, the cost of the EIS is nothing.

  2. Kirk says:

    Enough is enough. Political pressure needs to be applied to the Ballard Business Appelants to discontinue their legal actions.

    • Brian Bothomley says:

      Kirk – right on! If this was in the country of Columbia it would have been completed years ago!

  3. daihard says:

    I must be naïve, but what’s in it for those businesses to stop the city from filling the missing link? Do they seriously think the completed bike path would hamper their businesses? They can’t be that stupid, can they?

    • meanie says:

      yes, they seriously think that, they have spent the better part of a decade, and lots of their own money to successfully delay this project into extinction.

    • Orv says:

      Last I heard their argument was that bikes and truck traffic don’t mix, and that the presence of a bike trail that their trucks would have to cross to exit their driveways will cause them to lose their insurance.

      • Kirk says:

        Sure. Except Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel has operated a facility in Fremont adjacent to the Burke Gilman Trail for decades. And that trucks and trail peacefully coexist along the entire length of the trail, from Ballard to Kenmore.

  4. Brian Bothomley says:

    daihard – I would hate to call you “naïve” but you will have to read all the information on this issue going back to 2007 and beyond to fully understand what it is all about. These businesses have been on a mission to stop the completion of the trail for a long time, they have reasons that as stated sound valid and possibly could be for a while but as you can discover there are trails in Seattle that have been completed in situations very much like this and often in heavier traffic locations that work with very little or no problems so “can’t be that stupid, can they?” well so far they keep blocking the completion of this trail.

    • daihard says:

      Thanks, Brian. No, I don’t mind people calling a spade a spade. I will try to find more information about the battle tonight. I’ve got plenty of time to read up on stuff this weekend as I’m recovering from a minor surgery and won’t be able to ride for another week. :)

  5. Brian Bothomley says:

    Andres – somehow I can’t reply to your post? However here is my reply to this post
    ““Can’t be done?” They’re city roads, not state highways. Heck, they’re not even principal arterials, they’re classified as minor arterials!

    Maybe you can explain why it would be impossible for Seattle to close the road (yes, I know there are multiple, but I’m referring to them as a single route adjacent to the missing link), opening them up to people walking and biking? Is it because we value the movement of freight more than we value the health and well-being of people who live in Seattle? If that’s the case, then we haven’t really adopted Vision Zero.

    It can’t be done because Shilshole and NW 46th are arterials and there is no way that SDOT will close them down and convert them into non-vehicular roads. There are businesses on those roads that rely on traffic! Sorry but read up on this and get yourself aware of the situation and support what is going on.

  6. Brian Bothomley says:

    Andres – I think I just talked to you at the meeting at Ballard High School! Do you really think that SDOT would ever close any streets in Ballard to traffic?.. Come on….

    • Andres Salomon says:

      I wasn’t at the meeting. As to whether SDOT would close the street – in theory, they have adopted goals for Vision Zero. Letting people continue to be hurt on the missing link is incompatible with those goals.

      • Brian Bothomley says:

        Sorry my mistake – I just google your name and came up with an image that looked like someone I spoke to at that meeting but my mistake, sorry.
        Anyway, if you think that SDOT will close down traffic on any of these streets… dream on, not going to happen. And that is not what completing the tail is all about. The City of Seattle owns the right of way along NW 45th Street, Shilshole Ave NW and NW 54th Street! That is what we are all talking about.. “THE MISSING LINK” !

      • Andres Salomon says:

        No problem.

        I’m a dreamer, I guess.. :)

      • Brian Bothomley says:

        No problem.. I am also a dreamer and I dream an old mans dream of being able to leave my house, ride down 28th NW and cross Market and turn left onto the trail and ride on a trail to Fremont and beyond! I hope I will still be alive when this is possible….

  7. Ballard Resident says:

    So is the Ballard Chamber of Commerce still involved in the lawsuits? I was surprised to find the names of several businesses that I can’t imagine would be against the completing the trail. Has there been an effort to let these businesses know that they should put pressure on the Ballard Chamber of Commerce stop getting involved with this mess?

    • Brian Bothomley says:

      Ballard Resident – I have been a Ballard Resident for over 30 years and I can tell you since the early 90s people have been talking to Ballard businesses about this issue. Why the BCC became involved is suspicious to say the least..

      • Ballard Resident says:

        Interesting. I’ve purchased items from some of those businesses over the years but will now stay away from businesses that are members of BCC.

        I recently starting riding again. I had given it up after falling on those tracks 25 years ago when I first move here. I didn’t want to put my bike in the car to find a safe place to ride. Lately I’ve pushed my fears aside and hopped on. Too bad it’s taken so long.

      • Douglas says:

        I think the issue is that a couple of certain big light-industrial businesses (read: “old Ballard”) have a lot more pull in the chamber than the motley collection of cute tchotchke peddlers along Ballard Ave.

      • Jonathan says:

        Many members are restaurants and bars too: Sunset Tavern, Hattie’s Hat, Bastille, Dante’s Inferno Dogs, etc.

        Look them up at:
        Ballard Chamber of Commerce – Directory

      • Ballard Resident says:

        Second Ascent is on BCC member list. I bought a pair of bike shoes there one time. I remember seeing guys working on bikes. Seems odd they’d be a member.

        Kavu is also on it.

    • Kirk says:

      The Ballard CofC is involved because of Michelle Ulick Rosenthal, who is currently an Ex Officio Director and former President of the Ballard CofC. Michelle is also a principal with Veris Law Group, whose Josh Brower files all of the actions for the Ballard Business Appellants. Michelle’s company is raking in all the dollars the BBA have spent on their obstructionism.
      Is the Peddler a member of the Ballard CofC? Can they organize members against this action?

  8. Peri Hartman says:

    Maybe it’s time for CBC and some probono lawyers to get in a huddle and start action against the city. The goal doesn’t have to be to drain city money but just to put pressure on the city to act in the general peoples’ interests.

    It seems, when the City decides to enable a project, it finds ways to overcome legal barriers. There are countless cases where developers have gone to the city asking for zoning exceptions or bonus options and received them, in spite of public opposition. I’m not intending to make an argument about whether this is right or wrong, just that it happens.

    In this case, the City can take action on behalf of its citizens instead of business and simply move forward.

  9. Gary Yngve says:

    46th St and Shilshole is awful. The only saving grace is the crosswalk. The way to cross there is to dismount the bicycle (even though not legally necessary), step into the crosswalk, staring down the cars, step further into the crosswalk staring down the cars in the other direction, standing in the middle of the road to help any cyclists cross while you are stopping traffic, and then complete the crossing. It is an embarrassment to our society that this is the only way to safely cross, and the only reasonable way to connect Fremont to Ballard by foot or bike south of 58th St.

  10. Vida Cassara says:

    I am sorry to say that That is a STUPID thing and narrow thoughts. They should aware those thinking.

  11. Lynn says:

    Assuming it does actually take 18 months for action to happen with the trail, do you know if the city is taking additional steps to make the railroad crossing at NW 45th Street under the Ballard Bridge better? I found an old BikePortland.org post that included a discussion of rubber fill that fits on either side of the rail: http://bikeportland.org/2011/09/01/a-few-ideas-on-how-to-improve-streetcar-track-safety-58408 Here’s a link to a drawing of how something like that might work: http://armytransportation.tpub.com/TI-850-02/TI-850-020102.htm I have no idea if this is feasible to install or how expensive it would be.

    I’m all for getting the Missing Link done ASAP and think this process is insane. I also think that the city can help ease the pain of bikers (literally and figuratively) who use that route by doing something about the worst tracks section in the mean time.

  12. Harrison Davignon says:

    What do mean environmental impact? There is already nothing but pavement and buildings in the area anyway, so I don’t see the impact on the environment, oh yah the fact people are forced to drive because there to scared to ride the missing link. I thought the war on cars was over but i’m wrong. Bicycle riders like me should be able to enjoy a safe rout to ride and not have to risk our lives during rides. We need a balance so people can drive if they want or bicycle ride. A lot of potential riders don’t ride because of safety reasons and if those people replaced some vehicle trips with bicycle trips, we would have a healthier and happier community.

    • RossB says:

      EIS law has been used to stop all sorts of development. In this case (as in many cases) it is simply a delaying tactic. There is no way a judge would rule in favor of the plaintiff (against development) but the defendant (in this case the city) has to spend a bundle on legal briefs and costly reviews (which also take a long time to be processed).

  13. Sven Tice says:

    I too have taken a tumble on the Missing Link, and destroyed a bicycle in the process, in addition to hurting myself a bit. But I don’t blame the missing bike path; I blame my temporary ineptness with railroad tracks. I susect that most injuries on this stretch are also due to the tracks.

    On another, more serious note, why do local industrial businesses object so fiercely to the completion of the trail? Maybe some of their objections are rational. I suspect that liability is one thing, but that a more visceral fear is of vampire-like developers. Once you complete the trail, there will be even more reason for very rich outsiders to try to wrest this “waterfront” from its cuurent light-industrial inhabitants. I think that if the industrial people saw bicyclists as their allies rather that part of the threat, they’d stop suing people. Maybe it’s time to reach out.

    • RossB says:

      The area is zoned industrial — legally you can’t build anything there but industrial. Besides, it doesn’t work that way. You have to sell before someone can build. It really doesn’t matter what area you are talking about. No one is ever “forced out”. They simply sell because their land is worth a lot (for the land, not the house).

      • Orv says:

        True, although to be fair it does depend on whether they own the land they’re on. Businesses are often renters too, and can be forced out by rent increases or the owner’s desire to develop.

        I think this is pretty much all about liability, though. Bicycles are very vulnerable around trucks and if I were running a business there I’d be worried about being sued into oblivion the first time a biker collided with a truck as it exited a driveway.

      • Peri Hartman says:

        Is there a difference in liability if a truck hits a cyclist while entering the roadway versus crossing a bikeway?

      • Orv says:

        Peri – I don’t think so, but I think everyone anticipates that putting an official bike corridor there will greatly increase bicycle traffic, and possibly make bicyclists more complacent. (I always stop before crossing the Burke-Gillman trail on the UW Campus, because the bicyclists sure don’t.)

      • Kirk says:

        But Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel already operates a facility in Fremont adjacent to the Burke Gilman Trail. They’ve been there for decades. Industry exists on the Burke Gilman Trail from Ballard to Kenmore. What makes this situation any different?

  14. RossB says:

    I don’t think we can close the road down, but I think the city is well within its legal right to add stop signs everywhere. If there is one thing a very big truck hates more than a bike rider, it is a stop sign. I also see no reason why the police can’t check to make sure that every truck in the area is making a complete stop. Not only is this a legal policy, but it is a reasonable one. People are getting seriously hurt, and the city has made it clear that safety is a high priority. So stop signs everywhere are in order. For example, right now there are no stops on Shilshole Avenue between Market and 14th. That is 7 intersections, which means 7 new stop signs. It shouldn’t stop there, of course. 46th and 14th needs one (making it a four way stop). Also add one at 9th (for both 45th and 46th.).

    There may be more, but I think that ought to do it. Simply state (publicly) that we are tired of the accidents, concerned about safety, and will slow the speed down to 10 MPH if necessary until this gets resolved by the courts. Andres is wrong in suggesting we can close down the street, but he is absolutely right that we can play hardball. It is well within our legal limit to set the speed limit to ridiculous levels and put in traffic lights with horrible light cycles if we want until this is resolve (not that I’m recommending that — stop signs are cheap, traffic lights aren’t). See how the neighborhood likes all the stop signs (and traffic that they bring). Sorry to break it to the gravel company, but you don’t own the roads. If we want to slow that street down to a speed that we all can handle, then we are well within out legal rights in doing so.

    • Kirk says:

      Shilshole Ave. is designated as a Major Truck Street. I think that SDOT is very hesitant to make any type of change whatsoever due to this designation. Adding even one stop sign at the most obvious and clearly needed location (Shilshole and NW 46th) seems beyond their capability.

      • rossbleakney says:

        That being the case, then the city is to blame, not the lawsuit. I think it is very clear to me — put up stop signs until the lawsuit is settled. Of course SDOT is very hesitant to put up stop signs. No one wants stop signs everywhere, but if the lawsuit is dropped, the stop signs go away. If that happened, then it would be clear that the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the ones screwing up traffic (slowing down truck traffic) not the city.

        The city needs to be more aggressive and stop hiding behind the lawsuit. We know they want to complete the bike path, but until that happens, the street needs to be made more safe.

      • AW says:

        Is it also within the city’s right to ban parking along Shilshole and make that space into a shoulder on the road ? That and stop signs ought to send a message to the business owners that the city is serious about keeping people on bicycles safe.

    • sdv says:

      This assumes the city *wants* to do any enforcing. They could enforce the speed limit on Shilshole. They could also enforce the Washington State Safe Passing Law. Heck, they could even enforce the dedicated bike lane on 45th. But they don’t. So why would the show up and enforce stop signs suddenly?

  15. Gail Riebeling says:

    I fell off my bike at this very spot and still have the scars on my arm and leg. The fireman who came to care for me said that as soon as they get the call to this address, they know some one has fallen off their bike. Please try to expedite the repair of this section of the trail. Thank you!

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  17. Damon May says:

    This is my daily route. The crossing at 46th and Shilshole is the most dangerous thing I do in most months, and I do it twice a day. I’ve never used the crosswalk there, even though it’s perfectly legal, because I don’t like to do the I’m-a-vehicle-no-I’m-a-pedestrian-no-I’m-a-vehicle thing.

    But what if everyone started using the crosswalk? What if we put up signs advising cyclists to dismount and use the crosswalk? Replaced them when they disappeared?

    On the one hand, I don’t like tension between people on bikes and people in cars, and that would create a lot of tension. On the other hand, with the crosswalk, technically that intersection is currently more favorable to people on bikes than a 4-way stop would be; maybe making that clear would help drive a change. That intersection needs to change before someone gets killed.

    • Josh says:

      No need to dismount, Washington law is quite clear that crosswalk protections extend to people riding bicycles, and the State Supreme Court agrees.

      Feel free to ride your bike through a crosswalk, you’re not switching between being a pedestrian and being a vehicle, you’re driving a bicycle, which is a class of vehicle legally allowed to use crosswalks.

      • Peri Hartman says:

        Yes, but the law – and certainly people’s interpretaion – is grey about stopping for bicycles waiting to use a crosswalk. If you’re on foot, it’s very clear: drivers must stop. And most will stop if you put one foot on the pavement. If you’re on a bike, you’re allowed to use the crosswalk with all the rights of a ped. But I’m not sure you’ll get the same effect of people stopping for you.

      • Damon May says:

        You’re right, of course, legally. However, I think cars would be more likely to stop for someone walking a bike than sitting on a bike at the crosswalk looking hopeful. And I would never suggest that anyone just nose out into that intersection and hope for the best, right-of-way or no.

      • Damon May says:

        Er, jinx. :)

      • daihard says:

        Peri,

        I agree on people’s interpretation being grey, but not the law. RCW 46.61.755 says:

        “Every person riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk or crosswalk must be granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to a pedestrian by this chapter.”

        If motor vehicles must stop for a person on foot on a crosswalk (marked or not, btw), then they must stop for a person on a bike on a crosswalk.

    • sdv says:

      My issue with the intersection isn’t the lack of stop sign – that’s annoying, sure – but it’s the rut in the pavement where 46th and Shilshole literally intersect. The rut acts just like a railway track: it is just the width of a bicycle tire, and it is aligned with Shilshole. It occurs in the middle of the turn, so to avoid aligning your wheel with the rut, you need to jut into the middle of the lane – but the cars speeding past you don’t leave enough room for that. I’ve contacted SDOT about this, reminding them of their Vision Zero commitment, and they don’t care at all.

      • Peri Hartman says:

        That’s a chronic problem all over. There are so many places with gaps between pavement sections and a number of them just as bad as tracks.

        Part of making riding in traffic safer is to allow the rider to divert attention from the road surface and actually pay attention to the traffic. Fixing surface hazards is directly a vision zero technique.

  18. Kimberly Kinchen says:

    Since all these business interests are so lawsuit happy, maybe it’s time for all the folks who’ve been injured on the Missing Link to get together and file a class action against the businesses who are blocking completion, to get compensation for pain and suffering.

    • Courtney says:

      I am a recent victim of the railroad tracks and know two other people who have more serious injuries than mine—broken bones and steel plates in their arm. I also thought a class action lawsuit would be the way to go–can we make this happen?

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