UPDATE: Construction on the Ballard Missing Link of the Burke-Gilman Trail will break ground by winter 2018, Mayor Ed Murray announced Tuesday during a press conference flanked by both longtime trail supporters and business owners who have fought the trail for decades.
“I’m kinda all smiles,” said Councilmember Mike O’Brien, who in addition to representing Ballard’s district on the Council has been a longtime supporter of completing the trail. “I gotta check myself a little bit, because it’s not done yet,” O’Brien continued. “I know there are advocates who will say, ‘We’ve been here before.'”
But at the press conference, anyway, Cascade Bicycle Club and other longtime trail advocates were smiling, too. After decades of delays, lawsuits, big public meetings and a horrible number of broken bones, the path to building the trail finally seems free of major opposition.
“When designed properly, [the city] will create a safe facility next to a major truck street,” said Warren Aakervik, the owner of Ballard Oil and one of the longtime trail opponents who sued to delay the project to this point. “Hopefully we can move forward and make something safe.”
“I too have been working in this project for a decade, so it’s nice to see that soon I’ll be able move onto something else,” said Eugene Wasserman, President of the North Seattle Industrial Association, another party to the lawsuits.
Mayor Murray hailed the agreement as an end to the project’s endless limbo.
“Today’s major announcement ends 20 years of lawsuits, studies and counter studies,” he said. The final work on the massive court-mandated Environmental Impact Study for the trail connection is due out in May, but a new community design group will begin working sooner than that with the hopes of having a completed design plan ready in the fall so construction can start in early 2018.
The community design group will work “much in the way we worked collaboratively on the Westlake bike trail,” said Mayor Murray. Following that basic model, a stakeholder group will meet regularly to go essentially foot-by-foot through the design plans and provide detailed feedback. The final decision is ultimately up to the city, but the design group is a way to get very specific concerns addressed and make sure as many people are on board with the final product as possible.
But the situation in Ballard is much different than Westlake. For one, the Westlake process was created to find a way to avoid going to court over the bikeway plans. In this case, nearly all legal appeal routes have been exhausted over more than a decade of battles and great cost to both the appellant group, Cascade Bicycle Club and the city (not to mention all the people who crashed and paid their part in pain, blood and broken bones). The appellants could sue the final EIS, but their chances of winning would likely be slim.
I asked Mayor Murray whether this agreement means everyone involved has agreed not to sue. After all, if Westlake is the model, then it’s really a possible warning. After lots of delay and community design meetings, super-yacht marina Nautical Landing sued anyway. They only dropped their lawsuit after the city redesigned the trail to give more space for parking, creating a short pinch point where the bikeway narrows to eight feet.
But the bikeway opened.
“I feel pretty good that we have a track record [of getting lawsuits dropped],” Mayor Murray said of previous stakeholder processes like this one.
The agreed-upon route mostly follows the South Shilshole route that has drawn overwhelming public support in every public feedback round over many years. This route would follow alongside the rail line as the trail currently does through much of the Frelard industrial area.
The biggest change, which seems to be the compromise that allowed this deal to go through, is to curve the trail up 24th Ave NW to Market Street instead of following along the rail line next to Ballard Oil and other businesses. The trail will then go along the south side of Market until it reaches the current trail terminus at the Ballard Locks.
The result is a slight extra climb up to Market and a slightly longer route, but it has its own benefits and may avoid some tricky spots along the rail corridor. Maybe someday the rail corridor will gets its own makeover (which could be amazing all on its own), but for now it stays the way it is.
This route option includes a redesign of Market Street west of 24th, which currently has two general purpose lanes in each direction. This stretch is in great need of a safety redesign, so that’s a wonderful side-effect of this choice. The project could make the street safer for everyone and make it much easier to cross on foot. But as with other safety projects in the city, it has the potential to draw new opposition.
The details of the route still have a long way to go, especially now that there’s a community design element to add to the process. And the devil’s in the details with projects like this. It’s not over yet.
You can read more details on the announcement in this press release from the Mayor’s Office.
Mayor Ed Murray will “unveil a framework” to complete the Ballard Missing Link of the Burke-Gilman Trail during a 2:30 p.m. press event today (Tuesday) at the Ballard Locks with Councilmembers Mike O’Brien and Rob Johnson, Blake Trask of Cascade Bicycle Club and unnamed business owners and community advocates.
The Seattle Department of Transportation has narrowed the route options down to either the South Shilshole route — which the public prefers overwhelmingly, drawing over 90 percent of the thousands of public responses received during recent years of outreach — or a hybrid route that would include sections of the North Shilshole route — an option that has so far received neither strong public support nor support from some business appellants who have worked for many years to stop this trail by political and legal means.
Councilmember O’Brien recently held a press event calling on the mayor to make a decision on the preferred route for the trail, saying he prefers the South Shilshole route and hopes the city could finish design and break ground by the end of 2017.
Following O’Brien’s push, SDOT presented their latest concepts to the Council’s Transportation Committee (watch). Officials said a route decision was imminent.
On average, two people biking are hospitalized due to crashes every month along the Ballard Missing Link. The City Council first approved the South Shilshole route in 2003, but it has been tied up in pubic outreach, courts and environmental review ever since.
We will be at the press event and will update this post later today. Stay tuned.
Details from the mayor’s office:
Tomorrow, Mayor Ed Murray will be joined by City Council, business owners, bicycle and pedestrian advocates, and community leaders to unveil a framework to move forward on completing the “missing link” of the Burke-Gilman Trail.
Mayor Ed Murray
Councilmember Mike O’Brien
Councilmember Rob Johnson
Blake Trask, Cascade Bicycle Club
Tuesday, February 28
Ballard Locks (Eastern section of parking lot)
3015 Northwest 54th Street
Seattle, WA 98107