“There goes my bike support,” Seattle mayoral candidate joked to the Seattle Times’ Jonathan Martin after coming out against completing the Ballard Missing Link of the Burke-Gilman Trail.
I’m guessing that the hundreds — maybe thousands — of Seattle residents and visitors who have crashed and injured themselves on this stretch of notoriously dangerous road did not find his joke to be very funny.
I’m not just talking about hardcore people cycling long distances or training for races. I’m talking about everyday neighbors just trying to pedal to Ballard’s Farmers Market and central retail district or to the park or to work.
The Burke-Gilman Trail attracts people from all walks of life, and the Missing Link clearly poses an unacceptable danger. It’s so bad that crash victims have even offered to help pay out of their own pockets to make it safer.
Completing the Missing Link has nearly unanimous support, both from the public and in city leadership. It was
unanimously approved by strong majority of the Seattle City Council in 2003 and has had the support of many mayors in a row, but it has been held up in legal limbo as opponents follow whatever legal obstructions they can muster to stop the trail from being installed on city-owned land between Fred Meyer and the Ballard Locks.
From Golden Gardens Park to the City of Redmond, this 1.5 miles is the final stretch of the railway’s right-of-way that does not have a safe biking and walking trail.
Families, commuters and many other people who ride bikes took the streets in 2010, holding hands along the Missing Link to form a human chain of support for completing the trail.
Without the trail, huge numbers of people are diverted onto a street without any sidewalks or safe bike lanes. Train tracks cross the street at a dangerous angle, catching bike wheels and sending people plummeting to the pavement. Workers nearby keep First Aid kits handy to help the endless stream of people who get injured trying to bike through the area.
After the tracks, people biking need to ride mixed with heavy traffic, including many trucks. People on foot or who depend on mobility devices to get around are abandoned, left to walk down the edge of busy industrial streets.
People crash nearly every day that the trail is not completed. Considering the trail would have been completed many years ago if not for the legal obstruction, that’s a lot of broken bones and blood spilled due to inaction.
It appears Ed Murray has taken the wrong advice and has now come out in favor of more inaction. He has decided to reopen a debate that was tediously decided years ago. Make no mistake, there is no real debate on completing the Missing Link (though Josh Brower, lawyer for the trail opponents, is clearly awesome at what he does. His impressive legal Olympics have been keeping alive a fight that should have ended years ago).
The debate about the Missing Link is over. The people have spoken. Every survey of road safety concerns shows that the Missing Link is by far the biggest issue among people who ride bikes in Seattle. But Murray’s statement says that he thinks he knows better.
But he clearly does not. As has been a recurring theme in this election, Murray’s knowledge of current Seattle issues is sorely lacking. This is especially apparent when he stands next to Mike McGinn, who is extremely well-versed in cutting edge urban ideas and where he sees Seattle adopting and innovating them.
This is one big reason why Seattle Bike Blog endorsed Mike McGinn.
So far Murray has taken the tact of keeping tight-lipped about bike-related specifics, choosing to broadly support ideas like bike lanes, neighborhood greenways and cycle tracks. This is a good thing, and it would not necessarily be accurate to label Murray as “anti-bike.” But what we don’t know is how hard he will push for them, especially if some of the projects inevitably become controversial.
His reasons for opposing the Missing Link, however, point out that when it comes to current issues facing biking and walking safety in Seattle, Murray is out of the loop. From Martin’s column:
“I took a look at it, and it seems potentially dangerous,” Murray told me last week. “I think it needs a second look.”
A second look? There is very likely no other mile of trail in the entire world that has been studied more than the Ballard Missing Link. We have joked that the city could probably pave the entire 1.5 miles using just the paperwork from their exhaustive studies. The project’s second look came back around the turn of the century. At this point, it would be more accurate to call it something like a 20th look.
The city has spent piles of money on studying the trail, and every time they do so, the city’s traffic engineers determine that the project will be safe. The delays have lasted so long that multiple traffic engineers — each of them among the top urban traffic engineers in the nation — have now signed off on the trail.
But Ed Murray apparently thinks he knows better than they do.
No, that’s not fair. His reasons for opposing the trail are just talking points developed by the trail’s legal team, and Murray has decided for some reason to repeat them. He certainly did not speak with any of the city’s current or past traffic engineers who have spent countless hours studying the trail.
It’s a biking and walking trail built on a former rail line. As such, it passes through many industrial areas on it’s route, and it does so safely. Two decades ago, the trail was built through industrial parts of Fremont and “Frelard,” for example. Businesses worked with the city to make sure the crossings were designed safely and worked for everyone, and there have been very few if any serious incidents. So why does Ed Murray now believe Seattle can’t repeat its own successes?
Politically, it seems a strange move on Murray’s part. If he is trying to show that he is willing to stand up to the “bike lobby” or something, the Missing Link is a weird target. Because the message this statement really sends is that he is not even willing to fully back a project that has politically already been decided. So how are we supposed to trust that he will support forward-thinking projects like safe bikeways downtown or increasing our investments in neighborhood greenways when he seems willing to send safe streets in Ballard back to the year 2000?
We requested comments on the Missing Link, downtown cycle tracks and some other bike-related issues last week and have yet to hear back. We will update if we hear from the Murray campaign with clarifications.
UPDATE: We posted a statement from the Murray campaign here.