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King County will remove old rails on the Eastside Trail + Kirkland plans rapid bus along the trail

KCP_trifold_051215-map-1King County will remove the rails on the Eastside Trail, a vital step toward creating a walkable and bikeable trail from Woodinville to Renton.

The work was proposed by King County Executive Dow Constantine and approved by the King County Council. The rails are defunct and abandoned, and the scrap value of the rails should fund the work.

Once the rails are out, the rough and rocky railbed will still not be easily bikeable. It will take more work to create a bikeable soft surface trail and intersection improvements like the section Kirkland opened earlier this year.

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Constantine hopes the first sections of usable interim trail will open in two years.

Sound Transit will also remove the rails in the relatively short section that agency owns in Bellevue (blue on the map) as the agency has planned as part of the East Link light rail project. The corridor will support both the rail line and the trail.

There’s also a disagreement breaking out in Kirkland over city plans to work with Sound Transit on rebuilding their section of the corridor to include both a permanent trail and a rapid transit corridor in the Sound Transit 3 funding package. Seattle Transit Blog outlines the bus rapid transit (“BRT”) plans well. Transit alongside the trail could much better access neighborhood centers in Kirkland than relying only on I-405.

On the flip side, a neighborhood group has created a campaign to fight the BRT idea under the name Save Our Trail. They argue against the BRT because it would make the trail less serene, which is true. You can read a recent letter outlining their concerns in Kirkland Views.

Kirkland needs both better transit and better biking and walking access. A complete and safe trail is vital to any corridor development plans. But that doesn’t mean transit and a trail cannot exist side-by-side. In fact, a project done well could allow the two elements complement each other, especially when linked to planned bike share expansion in Kirkland.

We will follow this debate as it develops.

Here is the King County press release about removing the rails:

“After nearly a decade of working to preserve this unique corridor, we can now look ahead to the day people can get out and enjoy it,” said Executive Constantine. “With phased removal of unusable tracks, we could be opening the first interim trail segment in two years.”

“It has been my privilege to lead not only on the work it took to acquire the corridor, but also today’s action which begins to realize its multiple uses,” said Council Vice Chair Jane Hague. “It is my intention to remain engaged in the vision for full development of this corridor of connecting recreational opportunities, cities, our trail network and people with jobs and services throughout the Eastside.”

“Seeing the Eastside Rail Corridor preserved in public ownership to help connect vibrant, prosperous, and sustainable communities is the culmination of years of collaborative work in the region,” said Council Chair Larry Phillips. “The corridor is a tremendous multi-use regional asset safeguarding and enhancing mobility in King County, as well as protecting our natural resources and environment.”

A 42-mile corridor running from Renton to Snohomish, through Woodinville, Kirkland, Redmond and Bellevue, and parts of unincorporated Snohomish and King counties, the ERC is owned and managed by King County, the cities of Kirkland and Redmond, Sound Transit, and Puget Sound Energy. The ERC was purchased with the goal of developing a shared, uninterrupted multi-use corridor through the spine of east King County.

The current rail tracks along the ERC are outdated and are no longer usable for rail service. Since there is no current use of the rail line, and in line with the policy related to the development of the ERC, Executive Constantine proposed removing the rails to improve operational efficiency and safety and enhance the corridor’s recreational function and value.

The County’s removal project would more than double the area of the corridor that is free of the old rails.

“We’ve witnessed the success of the interim trail improvements made by the city of Kirkland to their portion of the rail corridor, and the warm reception the improvements have received from residents and businesses in the community,” said Councilmember Rod Dembowski. “I am excited about making the corridor more accessible to other communities as quickly as possible, so that more folks can take advantage of this tremendous regional asset. Full Steam Ahead!”

The cities of Redmond and Kirkland have removed and salvaged the rail tracks in their portions of the corridor; and Sound Transit has indicated that it will remove the rails on its portion in preparation for the construction of the East Link Wilburton Station and the Link Operations and Maintenance Satellite Facility.

The 2012 legislation adopted by the Council when the County purchased a portion of the ERC said the County Executive could not proceed with any rail track removal without coordinating with Sound Transit and obtaining approval by motion of the County Council. The salvage value of the rails should cover the cost of removing the rails.

Freight and other rail use were discontinued several years before the County’s acquisition. The condition of the old rails, ties, ballast, drainage structures, and other equipment is poor and requires costly maintenance. Salvaging the removed rails would generate revenue that could help offset the cost of removal or support other corridor development activities. Market prices for steel at the time of removal will determine the actual revenue amount.

Along with King County, the ERC is owned and managed by the cities of Kirkland and Redmond, Sound Transit, and Puget Sound Energy. Through an ERC Regional Advisory Council, the partners envision a future backbone to connect a world-class regional trail system that also preserves Eastside commuter rail options and supports an array of utility services.

The King County Parks and Recreation Division is currently working on an Eastside Rail Corridor Regional Trail Master Plan for the new trail, extending from Renton to Woodinville, that would serve the region’s non-motorized transportation needs, provide expanded recreational opportunities, and connect communities like never before.

It is expected rail removal would begin at a 1.3-mile segment south of Kirkland, which has already removed rail and developed a trail through its portion of the corridor. It is likely King County would begin developing an interim gravel trail at that location, extending the length of usable trail within the ERC.

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12 responses to “King County will remove old rails on the Eastside Trail + Kirkland plans rapid bus along the trail”

  1. Really?

    “But that does mean transit and a trail cannot exist side-by-side. In fact, a project done well could allow the two elements complement each other, ….”

    Yes, everyone wants to ride on a trail right next to a dedicate bus line. They smell so good, and are hardly noticeable.

    Don’t kid yourself. What it would take to make the CKC suitable for transit will be multiple millions of dollars, most likely it would be tied up in court by the local NIMBYs.

    Your tone of cooperation is noted, but I would be very suspicious of a plan for transit that includes something for pedestrians and cyclists.

  2. Josh

    This really gets to a divide that’s often overlooked in regional trail planning — is the trail a linear park, or a transportation facility?

    The City’s purchase of the right-of-way was premised on using it for transit as well as trail; if the City attempts to back out of that commitment, Sound Transit could play hardball since their transit easements predate the purchase.

    Sound Transit’s long-range plans include potentially returning rails to the corridor for light rail service — again, that was part of the package when the city acquired the right of way. It’s legally railbanked right-of-way, the potential for rail and transit was part of the package when the City bought the corridor.

    I’m not local to the corridor, but if I were, I’d be more inclined to have transit access designed under local control rather than imposed by a regional body that’s more concerned with transit efficiency and less with providing a park-like setting in an official transit corridor.

    If it’s a transportation corridor, having bus traffic buffered and grade separated is a minor issue.

  3. Kirk

    While a quiet and calm trail would be nice, I do like the idea of the BRT running alongside it. Because it underscores that this is to be a transportation corridor. I count myself as someone whose main use for a bicycle is transportation, not recreation. Statements like this from the Kirkland Views article make me cringe: “The Burke-Gilman Sammamish Trail is a successful example of a former railroad right-of-way that was converted into a multi-use recreational trail.” I haven’t seen data, but on a yearly basis, I would guess the majority of the users of the BGT use it for transportation.

    I think if you develop bicycle facilities for transportation, the recreational users will be just fine. If bicycle facilities are designed for recreation (see the current Westlake Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop and future plans) the transportation functionality will be questionable.

  4. Todd

    I could live with transit co-existing with bike/walk trail. It so makes sense to reuse this defunct rail line and put it to good use for the community. I also could live with a paved trail without the transit line as it basically interweaves through the communities and hits key transit points anyway. In my myopic view, it’s a win-win either way.

  5. There is a very particular kind of trail experience which will be reduced by BRT: a quiet stroll up the trail in the lowest density neighborhoods where there’s hardly anybody around. By definition, that’s a minority experience. It goes away once there are more people, never mind buses.

    It goes away anyway once the interim trail in Kirkland is better connected to other trails and to more local activity centers. There will be more bikers and walkers out there over time, with or without transit. That’s fine with most trail users, but some prefer it uncrowded.

    There is an attempt by the anti-transit crowd in Kirkland to portray themselves as pro-bike. It’s not working locally. Everybody knows the same people are thoroughly unsupportive of bike and walking infrastructure everywhere else (case in point, the meltdown only the week before after reports the City might be making space for bikes on Central Way). To Kirk’s point, they only want a park with a quiet walking trail in the woods.

    The City (and County etc) made a bet a few years ago that they could build an interim trail to get the Corridor into use before decisions were made about transit. They knew ST3 was coming, but figured that transit on the corridor is 10 years away anyway. So let’s get the corridor into city ownership, they figured, and accelerate building an interim trail, and get the city in a stronger position to negotiate its own future interests on the corridor.

    The risk they took on, which I hope they’re not regretting, is that some people would say “I have a trail that meets my needs and I’m not going to share”.

    For anybody who wants to use a bike to get around, the BRT is good news. It’s part of a program to connect the corridor with non-car connections to everywhere. For anybody who wants to use a bike or walk to get to transit, it’s good news too. Not only is the transit more accessible, but it’ll be better when you get there.

    The one twist is this: it’s important that Sound Transit take on board the City’s suggestion that transit be as near to the east edge of the corridor as possible. It wouldn’t be the end of the trail if transit did run down the center, but it would diminish the experience. Sound Transit has made enough compromises over the years to protect strip malls and other undeserving causes. They ought to protect a trail.

  6. Incidentally, if you’re interested in the Kirkland BRT/trail issue, there are a few things you could do. And probably should.

    First, there is an Open House and Community Update on November 19 (6.30-9PM at the Kirkland Performance Center). Second, write your Kirkland City Councilmember ([email protected]) or Sound Transit Board member ([email protected]). If you know individual members of either body, so much the better.

    There are a lot of people out there using superficially pro-bike language to advance a position. It wouldn’t hurt if they hear from people who really do bike or bus in Kirkland.

  7. asdf2

    Here’s a copy of the comment I submitted to Save Our Trail:

    As a strong supporter of walking, biking and transit, I am very disappointed at the city’s plan to sell out our trail. The Cross-Kirkland trail is a real gem, and is one of a very few places to walk that has virtually no traffic noise.

    While the right-of-way may physically exist to run buses alongside the trail, it is impossible to do so without completely destroying the aesthetics. The construction of the busway would replace trees and greenery with concrete, as well as force the permanent closure of many trail access points in the name of “safety”. It would also subject trail users to constant noise of diesel engines, especially during rush hour, with buses running every 2-3 minutes. The SODO busway trail is a good indicator of what the ultimate result would be – technically usable, yes, pleasant, no.

    And all this for a bus corridor that is not even really necessary. Curves and safety considerations would limit buses to around 35 mph, so, even from a transit perspective, the Cross-Kirkland Trail would not be a viable replacement for buses down I-405, especially with the newly opened express toll lanes available. For local bus service, parallel roads, such as 108th Ave. and Lake Washington Blvd. receive only light to moderate traffic, even during rush hour, so it is not necessary to take over the trail to achieve quality bus service. If money is available to improve the quality of bus service in Kirkland, it should be spent on running existing bus routes more frequently, instead.

    I hope the city will listen to us and not sell out our unique asset for a bus corridor that is not necessary.

    1. Phil

      This trail acquisition DOES NOT HAPPEN without the regional agreement that this is a rail with trail. We really can’t rewrite history save to discuss the type of transit best suited to the corridor. It is a bit disingenuous to start excluding corridor benefits that would accrue to the entire community when talking about this. We forget that in the I-405 Corridor Study this was considered as a truck bypass route…

      While its great that the argument has evolved from the bad old days of East Lake Sammamish to the point where adjacent property owners will consider a trail as a benefit, we need to remember that this deal involves a variety of transportation goals and initiatives. Kirkland is doing the right thing.

  8. RossB

    As someone who has done his share of biking and walking along the Burke, I must say the part of this that is greatly underrated is this: http://stb-wp.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/08184051/CKC_Corridor.png

    Yes, it is a bit annoying if big buses are running above you. But holy smokes, that dog on the leash or that kid holding his parent’s hand might as well be on another planet! When it comes to biking, you just bike. Imagine a nice summer day, when everyone is out in force, and the only thing you have to worry about is some guy biking along a bit too slow. Who cares. Compare that to a regular commute from Fremont to the UW, where guys walk four abreast or old teenagers stare at their phones and just wander around.

    As for pedestrians, it works the same way. No more constantly looking over your shoulder, wondering if the slightest space-out maneuver will result in some poor guy squeaking his breaks and cursing. You just walk.

  9. Mark

    It seems there are plenty of roads around to take over for brt. Buses destroy roads in short order. So either the road surface would need to be 24 inches of concrete ..or the bike riders and walkers would need to deal with yearly construction.

    Seems to me that a 14 foot road would actually serve folks who want to ride, walk or jog.

  10. Ed B-W

    If one wants to put buses in this environment, this is probably the best way to do it:


  11. […] As we reported previously, King County will remove the rails from about 1.3 miles of the corridor stretching from the existing Cross Kirkland Corridor southern terminus into the heart of Bellevue. […]

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