If you have been in denial about the upcoming closure of the Burke-Gilman Trail from the Seattle city limits all the way to Log Boom Park in Kenmore, it’s soul-searching time. The closure is real, and it starts June 15.
The official bicycle detour route has still not been finalized or released pending approval by the city of Lake Forest Park, but Cascade Bicycle Club posted this unofficial detour route (thanks Jonathan for making it into a Google Map):
View Burke-Gilman Proposed Detour in a larger map
For those who are not yet aware, King County is going to renovate several miles of the Burke-Gilman Trail from the Seattle border to Log Boom Park in Kenmore this summer. This is one of the oldest sections of the trail, and it requires significant foundation work in order to be repaved and brought back up to standards. Due to limited access points for work trucks, the county’s only option is to close this section of the trail entirely. It is not scheduled to open again until November.
In a press release, the county cautioned against riding on 522 (Bothell Way) as a detour route.
“Bicycle commuters are strongly discouraged from riding along State Route 522,” says the release. “This poses a major public safety concern and is not recommended.” In fact, the county is urging people who bike to “use alternative modes of transportation” during the closure.
“I know that’s a hard pill for a lot of people to swallow,” said Doug Williams, Media Relations Coordinator for King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks. He noted that there are several buses that go down 522, but acknowledged that only a couple bikes can fit on each bus. But he cautions that riding on 522 is “a recipe for disaster.”
“It’s not your average road, it’s a state highway,” said Williams. “We just want everybody to be safe and get through this.”
Looking at Cascade’s detour route above, the most tempting section to ride on 522 is between NE 165th and NE 145th. There is a bus-only lane in the southbound direction, but the shoulders are not wide and car traffic will be moving quickly. It is legal for you to ride on 522, but the state and county are basically saying that you’re on your own should you choose that route
(I am not sure if it is legal for you to ride in the bus only lane, but I am working on finding that out and will update when I have an answer).
UPDATE: Jamie Holter at WSDOT said it is legal to ride in the bus lane, though discouraged: “Today it is legal to ride in the bus lane but strongly discouraged. We will closely monitor SR 522 and make a determination whether to keep it open for bicyclists.”
Even riding the detour will require crossing 522 at “a signed intersection” and riding several blocks on 145th (not the friendliest street for biking). It would turn a 5-mile, flat bike ride into a 6.7-mile, far hillier ride with traffic stops and highway crossings.
A safe, temporary bicycle space on 522, even if it is just for this 0.8 mile stretch, would have made this detour far more practical for the thousands of people who use this section of the trail every day. The unofficial detour would route people riding bikes 12 or so blocks out of the way (six there, six back) to go around Acacia Memorial Park. That’s 0.7 miles longer than simply hopping on 522. While I personally would take the longer route to avoid stress, there will likely be plenty of people who take to the highway. Instead of providing a far-out-of-the-way detour, then giving cyclists a warning not to use this straight, legal roadway just because its design is dangerously motor-vehicle-centric is not a safe or realistic way to approach this problem.
The county did consider a bicycle route on 522, but “it was met with some some fairly significant opposition” from the state, said Williams. This lack of accommodation is not really the kind of thing you would expect from the most bike-friendly state in the union.
This 0.8-mile stretch of Bothell Way has six lanes of motor vehicle traffic (two general purpose lanes in each direction, a center turn lane and a southbound bus/right turn lane). Surely a temporary reconfiguration could have provided either bike lanes on each side or a protected two-way facility on one side without causing much headache. Since there is very little traffic making turns towards the Lake from 522, perhaps something a barrier-separated two-way bicycle facility on the east side of 522 would have been a way to fix this whole mess.
There was also talk at one time of running shuttles with bike racks during commute times, but that option is also no longer on the table.
“The shuttle is a no-go,” said Williams.
Considering the project bid came in about $500,000 less than the engineer’s estimate (bid estimate was $3.2 – $3.7 million in January, but the contractor is doing it for $2.69 million), there would seem to be plenty of money to fund a more ambitious detour accommodation to make life easier for those who currently depend on this vital trail for transportation. Urging those who ride to “use alternative modes of transportation” is not appropriate for a region and a state supposedly dedicated to increasing the bicycle mode share, promoting healthy living and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Any alternative mode of transportation will also be a significant financial burden on any daily bicycle commuter. Taking the bus will cost each daily peak-time bike commuter $500 over the course of the closure ($5 round trip at peak rates five days a week for 20 weeks). That is more money than I and many low-budget bicyclists have ever spent on their bicycles. Driving, if the commuter happens to already own and insure a car, is even more expensive and will increase congestion on 522 (ostensibly the reason the state did not want to allow a bicycle facility on the road in the first place).
It’s time for a change in our region’s construction-mitigation culture. Bicycles are a serious mode of transportation, not an afterthought. The state would never even consider a road project that would cost every daily driver $500 extra for one summer, so why would they consider the same for people riding bicycles?
I am awaiting a response from the state and will update.
From King County:
Work is about to get under way on a much-needed project to improve public safety along the oldest and narrowest stretch of King County’s Burke-Gilman Trail through Lake Forest Park.
A two-mile-long stretch of the trail will be closed for construction beginning June 15, from Northeast 145th Street to Logboom Park in Kenmore. King County has established a 24-hour hotline – 206-462-6348 – to provide updated information and to answer any questions about the construction project.
“We are working with the contractor to ensure that the project is completed quickly and the trail is reopened as soon as possible,” said Kevin Brown, King County Parks Director. “Closing the trail to all users is unavoidable, but the work will result in a better and safer trail.”
This major trail redevelopment project has been in planning and design for more than five years, and has received significant input from a Citizens Advisory Group that has broad representation from trail user groups, and local and state governments.
The redevelopment project will improve trail safety, with a new, 12-foot-wide asphalt surface and soft-surface shoulders, enhanced traffic controls, improved sight distances and better drainage. This portion of the trail currently has cracked and uneven asphalt and standing water that can create dangerous conditions for some trail users.
Finding a reasonable detour around the construction zone has been challenging. The trail corridor runs along Lake Washington, with steep hills, a fragmented road and sidewalk system and busy State Route 522 on the upland side.
A detour has been identified, but not yet finalized. The detour route is approximately 6.7 miles long and requires crossing State Route 522 at a signed intersection. Signs identifying the detour are being installed, and a detailed description of the detour route will be posted at www.kingcounty.gov/burkegilmantrail as soon as it is available.
Bicyclists who use this portion of the Burke-Gilman Trail as part of their daily commute are encouraged to use alternate modes of transportation during the trail closure period.
Three Metro and one Sound Transit bus routes provide service along this corridor every three minutes during commute times; all with triple bike racks.
Bicycle commuters are strongly discouraged from riding along State Route 522. This poses a major public safety concern and is not recommended.
Contractor J.R. Hayes and Sons, Inc. will do the trail redevelopment work at a cost of $2.69 million. The project is funded by the 2008-2013, voter-approved Proposition 2 Parks Expansion Levy and Real Estate Excise Tax funds.