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Missing Link megastudy confirms: Build the trail already!


829 pages have been added to the already-towering mountain of documents studying the 1.2-mile Ballard Missing Link of the Burke-Gilman Trail.

An estimated 22 people have gone to the hospital due to crashes on this dangerous stretch just since work on this study began one year ago. More will go to the hospital before it is finished, and even more will go to the hospital before this safety hazard is finally fixed.

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The draft environmental impact statement (“DEIS”) is an exhaustive study of the project’s alternatives. It’s the same study you would need to build a freeway, which is total overkill for a short extension of a biking and walking trail. But project opponents have been able to successfully sue and delay the project long enough that completing the costly and time-consuming study was the city’s only option.

So what did it find? In short: Just build the damn trail already!

“Completing this section of the BGT has been discussed and analyzed since the late 1980s,” the study notes. It is beyond embarrassing that this has taken so long.

You have yet another chance to comment on the Missing Link. The EIS team will host two open houses in July: 6 – 9 p.m. July 14 and 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. July 16, both at Leif Erikson Hall. You can also email comments to [email protected].

Hopefully, this will be among the last times you will need to weight in on this project, but nothing can be taken for granted with this trail. From the DEIS, it seems that whatever public debate may have once existed has long solidified in favor of a trail following the rail line just like the rest of the Burke-Gilman.

“Two themes were dominant in the comment letters: trail location and safety,” according to the document. “Shilshole Ave NW was the location most often indicated as preferred for the trail. When reasons were given for this preference, the most common reason was that it is the most direct route between the two ends of the existing BGT.”

That’s it. This isn’t hard, and it should not have required this exhaustive study. Make it direct, continuous and safe. That’s all the people want. But most importantly, stop talking and just build it already!

BGTDraftEISJune2016-incidentsAs is the standard process for an EIS, various alternatives are compared to a no-build option. And as we know all too horribly well, not building the trail would lead to completely unacceptable injury and possible death, mostly to people on bikes.

The map above notes only emergency responses to traffic incidents that did not involve a collision with another vehicle (there are plenty of those, too). And as you can see, the notoriously dangerous train tracks between the trail’s abrupt end near Fred Meyer and the Ballard historic district have claimed an enormous number of victims.

“Between January 2012 and December 2014, there were 45 incidents … along NW 45th St and Shilshole Ave NW, and at the intersections of NW 45th St/14th Ave NW and under the Ballard Bridge,” the study notes. “However, it is likely that additional incidents caused by roadway conditions occurred but were not recorded.”

So when we wrote one year ago that 18 people would go to the hospital by the time this study was complete, we were using inadequate data. The number is nearly double that at 34, plus an unknown number of unreported injuries.

Since the Seattle City Council first approved the Missing Link back in 2003, we have allowed an estimated 293 people to go to the hospital in just these couple blocks, some of whom have been left with lifelong injuries.

And the problem will only get worse the longer we wait, the study notes.

“If dedicated bicycle facilities are not provided to allow bicyclists to avoid or safely traverse areas with obstacles such as railroad tracks, the number of nonmotorized incidents is expected to increase as nonmotorized volumes increase in the study area.”

Just build the trail already! There is no debate left to have. This endless process is hurting people.

Build the Shilshole South Alternative


Example cross-section from the Shilshole South Alternative

The basic Missing Link plan that has been under debate this whole time is now called the “Shilshole South Alternative.” Just build that one. It’s what we’ve already debated to death, and it remains the obvious choice.

But since planners went through all the hard work to study several options, let’s take a look at what they found (emphasis mine):

The Missing Link would improve safety for nonmotorized users and motor vehicles in the study area. A dedicated bicycle facility would improve the predictability of conflict points between motor vehicles and cyclists and reduce the likelihood of collisions because potential conflict points would be clearly identifiable by both motor vehicle drivers and trail users. Potential conflict points would be clearly organized and delineated, which would allow motor vehicle drivers and trail users to be aware of where to travel cautiously. A dedicated facility would also reduce the likelihood of nonmotorized injury incidents by providing a facility that safely traverses or avoids obstacles in the study area such as the railroad tracks. The Missing Link would be designed to clearly delineate trail user space from the roadway, and would include safety features such as buffers, pavement markings, raised crosswalks, curb treatments, signage, and lighting.

Shilshole South is also the only alternative that actually addressed the crash-prone area along NW 45th Street and under the Ballard Bridge.

Again, just build it already.

But what about industrial businesses who have sued to prevent the trail’s impact on their truck movements?

Freight mobility at the intersections of 11th Ave NW and NW 46th St would be improved under the Shilshole South Alternative compared to the No Build Alternative. This is because NW 45th St would be restored to a two-way roadway, which would redistribute traffic in this part of the study area. Freight mobility at the intersection of Shilshole Ave NW and 17th Ave NW would also be improved under the Shilshole South Alternative because a signal would be provided.”

That’s right, the trail would even help nearby businesses, some of which have been throwing big sums of money to delay this project in court. However, there is a catch:

At driveways, freight vehicles could be delayed from zero to 11 seconds.

Zero to 11 seconds to prevent two dozen injuries a year. That’s an obvious trade.

Please, just build it already!

Shilshole North Alternative

BGTDraftEISJune2016-shilsholenBGTDraftEISJune2016-sholsholencrossAnother option studied would travel along the north side of Shilshole, then turn down Market St before connecting with the west end of the trail at the Locks. It’s not awful, but it’s also not better than the south option.

It has more intersections to cross, all of which are places for potential conflicts. It also goes a bit out of the way by traveling on Market instead of following the rail line to the Locks. And by going out of the way to bypass the track dangers on NW 45th Street, this route would leave that area dangerous as it is today.

The Shilshole North route has gone through essentially no public outreach, so who knows what opposition or concerns will arise. And though it may technically complete the trail connection, it feels like a different project more about redesigning and better activating Market Street than being the Burke-Gilman Trail.

Here is the study’s summary of the option:

The Shilshole North Alternative would provide a similar recreational experience to the Shilshole South Alternative (Section 5.2.3), but trail users who want to access shoreline street end parks would need to cross Shilshole Ave NW, a busy road with only one dedicated crossing point (at NW Vernon Pl). Therefore, this alternative would not provide as much connectivity to existing recreational sites as the Shilshole South Alternative. The route would also run through three or four signalized intersections (24th Ave NW and NW Market St; 28th Ave NW and NW Market St; NW 46th St and 11th Ave NW; and potentially a new signal at 17th Ave NW and Shilshole Ave NW), which could affect the recreational experience of the trail for bicyclists.

Ballard Ave, WTF?


Maybe this isn't the best place for a trail. Image: HMPinnsvinet via WikiMedia Commons.
Maybe this isn’t the best place for a trail. Image: HMPinnsvinet via WikiMedia Commons.

The Ballard Ave option is definitely the strangest of the alternatives. While it would be the option that passes closest to the most businesses, Ballard Ave is already a slow, historic street with sections paved in brick. It is less direct than Shilshole and goes up a hill. It may not look like much on a map, but it would likely be enough to lead many people on bikes to just stick with dangerous Shilshole Ave instead.

In other works, it likely wouldn’t fix the problem.

Ballard Ave is also the home of various annual street festivals and a weekly, year-round farmers market, as the plan notes:

“The conflict between the BGT and the Farmers Market would be likely to decrease the recreational experience of both.”

Safe and easy access from the trail to Ballard Ave is vital. But Ballard Ave itself is just not the right place for the trail.

Leary and Market a great idea for a different project

BGTDraftEISJune2016-learyBGTDraftEISJune2016-learycrossThe final alternative was pushed by some of the longtime trail appellants. This is basically the “build it somewhere else” alternative. And, as such, it’s not a realistic alternative. No matter how safe the city makes Leary (a noble goal of its own), Shilshole and NW 45th Street will remain the most direct route, and the train tracks and freight conflicts will remain dangerous to the people who will inevitably choose to go that way.

That said, Leary Way and Market do need safety improvements. A complete streets project focused on serving everybody using these streets is a great idea. But that’s a totally different project than the Burke-Gilman Trail.

The Leary alternative would pass by 33 driveways and 13 intersections, far more than the Shilshole South alternative. The more delays and points of conflict, the more incentive people will have to just stick with navigating Shilshole as it is:

“While eight of these intersections are signalized, it is still possible that some trail users would find the route undesirable due to a perceived lack of safety when crossing these intersections,” the study says. “There may be increased trail user conflicts on the portions of the route adjacent to NW Market St as more pedestrians use the trail.”

Why not just tear up the tracks?

I get this question a lot. The tracks are almost abandoned, carrying about three trains per week a very short distance to Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel (one of the appellants). For good reason, Federal law protects rail use so long as there is some use of them. It would be pretty problematic if a single jurisdiction could take out the rails in the middle of line. A rail line that is missing a section is no longer a rail line.

So even though the trail use so obviously outweighs the very limited use of this stub rail line, it’s not within the city’s purview to tear out the tracks.

The Shilshole South alternative basically follows alongside the rail line like the the section in Frelard already does. It would be easier and cheaper to build on the rail line, but that’s not on the table.

In conclusion, just build the trail. Seriously.

This Seattle Process joke isn’t funny. People are getting hurt the longer we wait.

The appellants have made it clear they don’t like the trail idea. But the vast majority of people want it. The appellants have won delays and now ever have their Leary/Market concept studied and on the record. Yet after all these years of delays, debates and studies, it’s still obvious that we should just build the trail along the rail line like the rest of the trail.

The study even shows that with the Shilshole South Alternative, freight delays would be either negligible or less than they are today. It would improve bike access to and from Ballard, which is good for Ballard businesses and residents. And it would prevent dozens of hospital-bound injuries every year.

No more talk. Build the damn trail.

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36 responses to “Missing Link megastudy confirms: Build the trail already!”

  1. Southeasterner

    Do we have proof that this is now the longest and most expensive bike infrastructure study on a per mile basis that has ever been conducted (but not actually completed)? I would have to think if not the most expensive it is in the top three.

    Think of how many miles of bike lanes we could have now had the money been invested in other projects.

  2. MK

    Makes me wish someone could recapture all that wasted time and money and use it to build a sweet, elevated bike causeway through Ballard, a la Copenhagen’s Bicycle Snake.

  3. Ballard Biker

    I know Warren, and guarantee they will sue.

  4. Damon

    So, what happens next? Two public hearings and public comment, and then the DEIS becomes an EIS, sometime after Aug 1?

    After that, will the city announce that it’s planning to build one of the options? Will the appellants have another chance to stop things again, somehow? You don’t have to be a cynic, at this point, to worry that this isn’t the end of the delays.

  5. Eli

    I pity the person who had to waste their time writing this tomb in order to check a legal box.

    “Today, soils mapped in the project vicinity consist of Alderwood series soils that formed on uplands and terraces in glacial till (Snyder et al., 1973). The study area, however, does not include intact Alderwood soils because it has been fully developed and most of the area includes a considerable amount of fill. Borings completed during previous geotechnical investigations for other projects found 1 to 17 feet of mixed clayey, gravelly, silty, sandy fill across the surface of the study area. The fill is thickest along the Shilshole North and South Alternatives at the historical shoreline.”

    1. Tom Fucoloro


    2. Breadbaker

      “Clayey” should not be a word.

      1. Law Abider

        I work with geotechs all the time. Clayey is one of the least strange things that comes out of their studies.

  6. Gary

    You all realize that we have been just dam lucky that no one who fell, has fallen terribly badly. The falls from the tracks on the current route are no less of a problem than the falls on the street from the street car tracks which did just contribute to the the death of Desiree McCloud.

  7. Chris Warner

    Make Leary and Market happen. Get all bikes off Shilshole Ave. Sorry bikers but there are just a couple of thousand of you and 60-70 thousand in cars who use Shilshole Ave, not to mention is is a heavy industrial area. Enough bikers there are just too few of you to inconvenience tens of thousands of other residents.

    Any biker caught using Shilshole Ave after the Leary and Market alternative is in gets hit with a $1,000 fine and confection of the bike.

    BTW I use to be a biker prior to becoming disabled due to a back surgery. I understand perfectly and was never stupid enough to ride along Shilshole.

    1. Ballard Resident (25+ years)

      Cars have more alternatives. Just choose another road to drive on if you don’t like sharing it with bikes. I spend plenty of money on roads and I want the chance to safely ride my bike from Golden Gardens to Fremont.

      BTW, those Salmon Bay trucks speed down those roads every day. The city should put in speed traps down there. Might be able to fund the studies that way.

      I was surprised at how many people live around the trail. They need safe alternatives for walking and jogging as well.

      Who knows how long those old business will survive anyways. Why can’t they compromise and be better neighbors?

    2. Peri Hartman

      Wow, inconvenience? You’ll have less inconvenience with a bikeway. Right now, bikes occupy the roadway and normally go slower than 25mph. If bikes are in a bike lane, you get a clear roadway !

      Or, let’s build the bikeway somewhere else. In this scenario, the most convenient route is still Shilshole Ave and a lot of cyclists will continue to use it instead of making a detour to some longer, hillier route. So you’ll still have inconvenience.

      Support us with the Shilshole choice.

    3. jay

      Sounds reasonable Chris, however, to be fair, drivers exceeding the speed limit (RCW 46.61.465 ) will spend 364 days in jail (RCW 46.61.500 ) and have their vehicle covered in chocolate! (cheap milk chocolate)

      Of course the Market/Leary option is a megabuck project, but if getting the bikes off Shilshole is a big benefit then I’m sure a LID can be established and Salmon Bay and Ballard oil et al can pay for it.

      1. Kirk

        Um, Chris, you must not realize what the design is. The Shilshole segment would completely take the bicycles off of the street and put them on a totally separated multi use pathway, along with the walkers, runners, skateboarders and unicyclists. BTW, your made up traffic volumes aren’t even close.

    4. People biking have a right to use the public roads, so, no, nobody’s getting fined one damn cent for doing so.

      I don’t care about access to a bunch of street-end parks nobody’s ever heard of along Shilshole, and I’d even have been open to supporting a Leary/Market alternative if it had been proposed at an appropriate time (decades ago), with support from relevant stakeholders (i.e. along Leary and Market), in something resembling good faith. But the suggestion that after the Burke-Gilman gap is filled, that anyone using a street a few blocks away ought to be subject to a fine and confiscation is draconian nonsense, offensive to all that love freedom. It gives cover and comfort to those that use their cars as weapons to intimidate on the streets. It’s the kind of rhetoric that lets the woman that ran me off the road in Ballard, in a Prius with a child seat next to her, feel justified in her assault against a purported invader into her road space, rather than realize the base criminality of her action, the extremity of her position and tactics. That suggestion has no place here or anywhere else, and anyone that voices it ought to be ashamed.

    5. Law Abider

      As people above me have pointed out, your 60 to 70k cars is probably close to two orders of magnitude off. Someone above mentioned 10k, which is probably still close to an order of magnitude off. Plus who cares how many cars vs. bikes. The best alternate not only provide routes for both, it also restores 2-way car traffic between 17th and 11th. It’s a win-win for everybody. The only people that don’t necessarily win is industry and for them, it’s a neutral outcome.

      But I am really interested in your proposal to confection my bike.

      1. Davepar

        Ditto on the confection thing. Sounds like our bikes would be turned into tasty desserts.

    6. Skylar

      Where the heck do you get 60-70k cars per day? Shilshole doesn’t even hit the 2500 cars/day mark that NW 54th and Seaview somehow manage, so isn’t on the SDOT traffic flow map[1].

      Regardless of that, it’s perfectly legal for cyclists to ride on public streets. If you have to wait for us, then I urge you to get behind this plan to give us a real bike facility!

      [1] http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/tfdmaps.htm

    7. Ben

      Motorists want to improve their incovineces.

      Bicyclists and pedestrians want to improve their safety.

      Who should win and who should die?

  8. Tom Fucoloro

    60-70K cars? Not even close. That’s more traffic than the Ballard Bridge. Shilshole sees a small fraction of that.

    Bike traffic would be higher if it weren’t so scary and dangerous. The trail’s pretty popular as it is.

    And this plan in no way impacts traffic on Shilshole. In fact, the study suggests it will improve if anything due to new traffic signals. If you want bikes “off shilshole,” then you should be in favor of the trail.

    And fining people for biking on a city street doesn’t sound legal to me. Though a confection bicycle sounds delicious.

  9. bill

    Traffic counts are pretty easy to look up. Here: http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/tfdmaps.htm

    Aurora is the only road in the city that carries 60-70k cars daily. Shilshole isn’t counted. It probably carries about 10,000 cars a day or less.

    Bikes are slow, even for a fast rider. I’m not going to ride uphill, wait for numerous stoplights, and go blocks out of my way when Shilshole is the most direct route. If you want bikes off of Shilshole, then build the trail on the most sensible route. But know that when bikes aren’t in your way anymore, lots of cars still will be!

  10. ronp

    Well at least the EIS can be used to legally support building the trail. Is the Ballard Chamber of Commerce still a retrograde dinosaur on this issue or have they seen the light?

    I was happy to see the Eastlake community council newsletter showing support for protected bike lanes the other day. page 14 — http://www.eastlakeseattle.org/fp-content/attachs/spring-2016-final-web.pdf

  11. Matthew Snyder

    Looking back to the beginning of this saga, has there ever been a sustained effort at direct action targeting the obstructionists? Parades of bicyclists circling back and forth in front of the businesses at key times for several weeks in a row? A “die in” along Shilshole? Dumpsters blocking the tracks? Maybe it’s just the “east coast” attitude in me, but I’m surprised at how… polite? the Seattle cycling community is about this issue, especially considering the wanton waste of tax dollars — and particularly when the trail opponents are so obvious and so few.

  12. Ballard Resident

    I just found a link to Friends of the Burke-Gilman Trail. Looks like they’re holding a meeting on June 28.


  13. Azimuth

    Salmon Bay has a storage yard for trucks on 6th & 42nd. They have to cross the BGT daily with who knows how many trucks and, as far as I know, have managed to not hit a trail user, so I know it can be done, even by their drivers!

  14. […] Link it: A draft environmental impact statement on the “Missing Link”–a stretch of the Burke-Gilman Trail–has been released evaluating a variety of alternatives and endorsing a direct connection. […]

  15. weaksauce

    Lets just go rogue and make our own bike trail. Been doing that for years in the mountains.

  16. sdv

    I’m curious about your claim that the track are used 3 times a week. I bike through here twice a day for several years and have seen the tracks in use only twice. Usually, the tracks are used for parking and storage. In fact, for the past week the tracks have been covered with piles of dirt and gravel and a bunch of construction equipment. They are hardly useable as railroad tracks in this condition

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      It’s not my claim. That figure comes from the study, which I assume was self-reported by Ballard Terminal Railroad.

      That said, if the railroad is not being used, there are ways to condemn it after so many days without a train I believe. Someone should be tracking this…

      1. Orv

        If it were possible for the railroad to abandon it, they probably would have. Track that lightly used is not economical to maintain, but they have to get permission from the Federal Railroad Administration to abandon it.

      2. bill

        The Ballard Toy Railroad is run by a gang of passive-aggressive anti-cyclist businessmen. This is the same bunch that tried to gain control of the abandoned eastside rail corridor just before the rails were pulled up. The feds – or was a judge – called their bluff, determining that BTR did not have the financial wherewithal to operate the corridor. The BTR’s hands are definitely not tied by the feds if BTR wants to abandon the tracks. The fundamental problem Seattle is having with BTR, and the other railroad companies (think SODO), is that railroads are under Federal jurisdiction. No lesser governments can touch railroads.

  17. […] for both trail users and industrial workers. According to the Seattle Bike Blog, an estimated 293 people have gone to the hospital since the city first voted to finish the trail in […]

  18. […] as we’ve seen with the Missing Link in Ballard or the East Lake Sammamish Trail, lawsuits like these can delay progress on […]

  19. […] the Interstate Highway System, today owe us no mitigation. But a 10-foot zero emission bike trail can be set back decades by environmental […]

  20. […] get around. Turns out the impact is positive! Let’s build the darn thing already, to quote the Seattle Bike Blog. The Shilshole South alignment is the best […]

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