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SDOT and Ballard railroad will fix slippery Burke-Gilman crossing

Photo courtesy of Michael Snyder

The slippery rubber Burke-Gilman Trail railroad crossing that has made headlines recently is going to be fixed, according to SDOT. Many people, including experienced riders, have reported nasty falls on the crossing.

One problem with the crossing near NW 41st St is that the rubber mat installed to keep bicycle tires from getting caught in the tracks can be extremely slippery when wet. If a rider applies the brakes or leans too hard while on the mat, their bicycles can slip, sending the rider falling. The second problem is that the trail currently crosses the tracks at a shallow angle, which increases the chance a wheel will get snagged by the tracks.

SDOT and the Ballard Terminal Railroad are teaming up to fix both problems. The railroad is responsible for trail crossings of its tracks. The new crossing will swing out wider so trail users will cross the tracks at an angle closer to 90 degrees. The rubber mat will be removed and an asphalt crossing will be created instead.

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The project should be completed next month.

Much of the new concern about the crossing started with a Seattle Times guest column by Stefanie Frease. She said she fell on the crossing in Easter Sunday this year and broke her pelvis. She vowed to have the problem fixed after learning that many others had wrecked in the same location and that SDOT knew the crossing was a safety issue.

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17 responses to “SDOT and Ballard railroad will fix slippery Burke-Gilman crossing”

  1. Julian

    Or they could pave over the tracks, since there’s only about 20 ft of them remaining east of that crossing, which never sees rolling stock. FFS.

    1. Jeremy

      I saw a train on those tracks for the second time ever on Sunday! It was moving like some 113-year-old inching along with their walker. Except maybe slower.

      1. Charlie

        I saw the train too, for the first time ever. I can’t believe the guy who owns this little toy and is such a big blocker of the Missing Link is stepping up to his responsibility. Last I heard he wouldn’t fix the pavement issues where tracks cross under the Ballard Bridge because business was bad and he had no money.

  2. Leif

    I was really happy to see the new markings the other day at this crossing. I love when activism works! Now if only we could get that pesky missing link completed…

  3. Eddie

    Isn’t this near NW 41st St, not 41st Ave NW?

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      You are right. My bad. Changed.

  4. Andreas

    Personally I think the problem is more speed than rubber. While the new orientation will surely force riders to slow down, I doubt they’ll slow down enough. I posted the following over at SDOT blog’s entry on this.

    The only problem I can see with the new orientation is that the two consecutive right-angle turns will virtually encourage users to cut corners, putting them into the path of oncoming traffic.

    A pretty much identical intersection exists—for vehicles, not bikes—a few blocks away at 43rd & 8th. SDOT recently added center-line striping to that intersection to remind drivers to stay in their lane through the turns.

    Will SDOT please consider adding similar striping to this crossing when completed, perhaps along with signage like “Stay In Lane – Reduce Speed”? Otherwise I worry we’ll be eliminating solo bike crashes but gaining bike-on-bike accidents, and that doesn’t seem like a good tradeoff to me.

    I look forward to hearing what SDOT has to say. Personally I think the BGT could use a hell of a lot more center-line striping throughout this area, but I’d settle for just this intersection.

  5. I’m curious about the city all of a sudden deciding that this crossing gets replaced; does this have anything to do with the fact that it was a intl./fed. inspector of some sort that took the most recent fall, and within a short period of time we have the city rushing out to fix it?

    Since my first fall at this location occurred back in 2000, I’ve had plenty of time to reminisce, and simultaneously I’m glad that they are fixing it, if it works out correctly.

    As for the ridiculous statements about paving over the tracks, I’ d be careful about spouting stupid remarks like that. The RR actually helps to relieve congestion by taking trucks off the road; when ever I hear someone whine about the trains because it interferes with their silly little bike ride I know immediately they don’t have a clue, and are for sure NOT real cyclists and are actually anti-transit. Please do your best to inform your friends and fellow cyclists that rail is a much better friend to cycling than cars ever will be.

    1. Jeremy

      These rails are a glaring embarrassment, where the rare locomotive gingerly inches along the bad track under the worried escort of engineers on foot. Pave them over, or develop and fund a viable railway, as the current line is deader than a parrot in a Monty Python skit.

    2. Tom Fucoloro

      One point about the railroad: They are paying for this project to fix a crossing of their tracks. SDOT is handling design costs.

  6. Actually, the glaring embarrassment are cyclists who can’t manage to learn how to cross the tracks safely, and then turn around and blame the railroad for their own ineptitude.

    After my first crash there at that crossing back in circa 2000, I purposely went back to try and create the conditions all over again, minus the crash of course. Twice I sent my bike into a controlled(barely) slide while trying to cross the rubber mats. As we all know now, they are extremely slippery and I knew then in short order what the proper technique was needed to navigate my ride safely.

    Funny thing is that if any of the other posters here knew what they were talking about, they’d realize that the extra section of track is needed to help the locomotive “run around” a cut of cars when they pull them into the siding.
    So as everyone here bashes the Ballard Terminal for its old SW1 engine from 1939 approx., they are also bashing the pro-environmental movement. Do you know how much energy it takes to produce a modern diesel locomotive from the factory line to start-up?

    I doubt it.

    If you want real solutions to fixing the BGT, quit whining about the railroad, Its only going to hurt the cause, and I guarantee I will vote/rally against any plan that doesn’t take into consideration all users. The RR was the basis for this trail, funny how people get snooty and want their way but forget all about history and how they got their in the first place. Its like a bunch of spoiled kids, yeesh.

    Maybe the best solution is to kick cyclists off the trail if they can’t work with other groups. I’ll gladly support such a measure even it means a certain amount of added time to my commute.

    1. biliruben

      Wow. Someone’s got ants in their Lycra.

      I like trains as much as the next guy, but rants like this aren’t going to win any to friends of rail.

      Your suggestion is for every new user to ride the rubber matt until they crash, then try to crash a few more times, then if they aren’t in the hospital, they are good!

      Because you have a hard-on for geriatric diesels. Okay.

  7. biliruben, maybe some history of my cycling will help clear the air some. I don’t mean to be offensive or rude to you, but your comment is indeed off base and worse yet, you misconstrue my words to mean their exact opposite.

    I have twenty-three screws and five rods holding my left leg together, once from a car crash, and one year later I fell off my Ibis TrialsComp and re-broke it. I won’t go into further details except to say if you don’t believe me just visit my gallery “the real deal”, those are bonafide screws and partial rod from my leg after broke it the second time.

    I never want anyone to experience the pain of a crash that’s debilitating in almost any form, be it emotional, physical, etc. To even suggest I’m for that is so ridiculous and absurd that your statement is off base, period.

    Whether it was circa 2000 or now, I don’t like seeing the amount of crashes that have happened here at this spot. but the first thing I did after eatin’ it here was to figure out WHY.

    So I did just that, and quickly learned how I made my mistake. Others here decided it must be the city’s fault, how they came to that conclusion I do not know…My suggestion to others is that they take personal responsibility for their own actions, do you agree or disagree?

    What really stinks about this, and everyone seems to miss, is that from appearances sake the city is only now putting this crossing on a higher priority due to one possibly influential person crashing there. So it goes to show the city doesn’t give a crap about regular everyday bike commuters, but when you’re working up near the top all of a sudden things get moving.

    Am I glad it’s going to be fixed? Hell yes. But the bigger lesson from this is that if a rider has a problem at an crossing or some other bike unfriendly obstacle, the first thing they need to do is learn how to navigate it safely, agreed?

    Sure, notify the city but don’t hold your breath.

    Last, sorry to burst your bubble, but I’m not a fan of the old stuff, maybe in bikes since my most modern off road machine is a 1989 Team Stumpie. Modern diesels are more my style, like the three year old SD70ACe I saw today on the back of a loaded soy bean train into Terminal 86. I also have absolutely zero affiliation with the Ballard Terminal; I try to equally represent both pedal power and the needed blue-collar industrial aspect this society runs on, we need bikes and trains to keep going. I guess there are quite a few here who a strictly bike only and don’t have a clue, that part is obvious.

    1. biliruben

      Your retort is long on rhetoric, but short on common sense.

      Sure, I believe in personal responsibility, but I also think an obvious hazard should be fixed. Personally, I have ridden this spot a thousand times and never had even a close call, but that’s besides the point.

      Let’s take a hypothetical:

      You finally convince your mom to take up riding. She’s been toodling around the Burke for a few weeks, and she finally decides to get ambitious. She figures she’ll head over to Freddies and buy some paper towels and bag of onions. It’s starting to sprinkle, but you bought her a nice rain slicker, so no problems. She heads out, her glasses a bit fogged, but this is a major biking trail with little in the way of hazards, so what’s the worry? She vaguely sees an s-curve coming up, and it’s a bit sharper than she thinks, upon first seeing it. She hits her brakes to slow down just as she hits that matt, and Bammo! Broken hip, 30K in doctors bills and more personal responsibility than she could have dreamed of.

      She never dreams of touching a bike again, and walks with a cane the rest of her life.

      You think this is the proper result?

  8. You have it backwards, using a hypothetical example vs. my real world application shows that rhetoric is your dept,, and common sense seems to be elusive in your prose.

    What’s most appalling is that since you’ve ridden this part of the trail numerous times w/o incident unlike many others here, you fail to even propose one single tangible action the bike rider could use to improve her/his skill level and more importantly learn how to avoid another scenario like this one. So exactly what are you proposing that helps the everyday cyclist since most likely whatever obstacle they just encountered is going to be there years down the road as well?

    Instead you delve into an example that’s superfluous and wishy-washy at best when used as an analogy for this particular crossing, I’ll expound more on that in a minute.

    What I can take away from this in a positive note is that I guess we’re in agreement about the crossing finally getting replaced, I admit to being miffed that it takes someone with clout to get the city off its ass, but at least the beneficial aspect is that safety is increased across the board for trail users.

    Back to your hypothetical example: I think I understand what you’re saying, but since I advocate off-road riding first over pavement it’s hard for me to be sympathetic. Let me explain.

    Yes, I agree that one’s Mom should be able to ride comfortably and safely, but you and I both know that everyday hazards on our particular route of choice are well, almost semi-permanent. So, it takes a coordinated effort upon the rider FIRST to know what they are dealing with, and unfortunately anything that includes hard surfaces(i.e., pavement, cement) are subject to the laws of gravity like soft surfaces, but the end result is always more painful. I advocate that any new rider become oriented with cycling by staying on softer singletrack and dirt roads, where a spill can have less disasterous consequences. Simple fact is that there is a certain amount of danger by even riding a bike, heck I broke my leg at 4mph while riding!

    I see your point earlier about my rabidness of rail possibly turning people the other direction, well the same can be pushed back in your direction. None here seem to recognize the fact that Ballard Terminal has ponyed up the money to work on the crossing; talk about going into hiding all of a sudden from the other posters besides you.

    Last, thanks for the banter, seriously. I see the latest thread about the trail has moved on up to just near my work, and I’ll post something there as well about an experience I had. I guess I’ll take away from this the fact that though we may disagree here, we both ride the same trails/paths literally so the end result is that we can work together out on the road.

    1. biliruben


      Rhetorical arguments aside, I think we just have a different focus. I’m geared, so to speak, towards urban riding, and I think our city and transportation impacts would be vastly improved if we can convince the wary, be it kids, parents or your gear-head mountain biker, that riding in-city is a safe, reasonable mode of transportation.

      I already know based on statisticis that it’s 2-4 times safer than piling into my pickup (beyond all the other added benefits), but the reality and the perception are very different. People perceive it is a dangerous activity, and spots like this, along our center-piece urban trail, add to that perception.

      Happy riding to you.

  9. […] Not surprisingly, this has been the site of many accidents (well covered by the Seattle Times and SeattleBikeBlog) and I’m happy to hear that SDOT is fixing it. The response to the story has been […]

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