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?
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.
The 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:
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
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.