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City of Sammamish, stop fighting King County over four trail stop signs

Completed in 2013, this section of the trail includes stop signs facing the street rather than the trail. This is best practices and works well. This is why the City of Sammamish is fighting?

The City of Sammamish and King County are fighting in court over four proposed stop signs on two very low-traffic streets serving a handful of wealthy lakefront homes, and that fight is further delaying construction on the E Lake Sammamish Trail.

The good news is that the County is winning so far. But the final outcome is still uncertain. From Cascade Bicycle Club’s Vicky Clarke:

Early this summer, the city of Sammamish ordered King County to stop construction of the East Lake Sammamish Trail (ELST), just as King County crews neared completion of the penultimate segment of the 11-mile trail. At issue was placement of stop signs in two locations on the trail. To resolve the dispute and complete the trail, King County asked the Federal District Court to step in and make a decision on the case. That decision came on August 8th when the Federal District Court ruled in favor of King County, meaning that construction can resume and the region is one step closer to realizing its vision of the Locks to Lakes corridorfor all to enjoy.

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The rail trail connecting Issaquah to Redmond is already complete on the north and south ends, and the central connection through the City of Sammamish is funded and ready for construction. But Sammamish has decided to fight King County over a couple measly stop signs.

The County’s engineers, following best safety practices for multi-use trails, designed the signs to point towards the low-traffic streets. But Sammamish wants the stop signs to point towards the trail instead, and they are willing to delay the project and go to court over it.

What’s particularly frustrating about this lawsuit is that, as we pointed out in 2015 when the section to Redmond opened, the already-completed sections of the trail demonstrate in real life how the County’s design works. And it’s a vast improvement over many other trail crossings in Seattle and King County where stop signs facing the trail cause confusion. Here’s what we wrote in 2015 having no idea that such stop signs would prove controversial:

There are also significant safety improvements at driveways and street crossings. In fact, our other regional trails can learn a lot from the way these crossings are handled (I’m looking at you, Burke-Gilman Trail through UW, near U Village and in Kenmore).

Stop signs point to the streets and driveways, not the trail. This gives clear priority to people walking and biking without confusing anyone about who goes and who waits. Just like at any other crosswalk, people driving must stop and yield.

Trail crossings are crosswalks, and people biking or walking in crosswalks have the right of way. So when a trail user and someone driving approach a crossing at the same time, the trail user has the right of way. But when you point a stop sign at the trail, things get very confusing. People biking are supposed to stop, but they still have the right of way because of the crosswalk. So the person driving must stop and stay stopped, but the person biking must also stop even though they are supposed to go first?

In practice, people biking just rarely stop. They approach with caution, make sure the person driving is stopping at the crosswalk, then cross. They aren’t being lawless when they don’t stop, the laws just don’t make sense. It’s easier and quicker for everyone if the user with the right of way just goes. Pointing a stop sign at the trail sounds like it would help safety, but it makes things worse. The worst case happens when someone driving sees the stop sign facing the trail and assumes that means they don’t need to stop for the crosswalk. That’s how people get hurt.

When a trail is crossing a busy arterial street, the crossing design best practices change. But these streets are very low traffic, serving a handful of lakefront homes. In fact, one of the arguments made by City of Sammamish Public Works Director Steve Leniszewski is actually a perfect argument for stop signs facing the road instead of the trail.

“[F]rom the lakefront homes, he noted that the road curves just before the trail crossing, limiting the sightline and the distance a car has to stop,” the Seattle Times reports. Sight lines are bad for people driving, so Leniszewski wants them to continue across the trail without stopping? That’s definitely not safe.

So come on, City of Sammamish, drop your legal fight. You’re wrong on this stop sign issue, and your delays are costing the public money and delaying the creation of what will be an amazing regional trail and an incredible asset to the City of Sammamish. The County is following trail engineering best practices. And all you have to do to see how well it works is walk, bike or drive a mile or so up the lake to see it in action for yourself on the completed section of trail.

Of course, this stop sign legal action is just the latest in a long line of challenges from people fighting this trail over many years. This likely isn’t about the stop signs at all, it’s just an attempt to find a technicality to further delay the project. In which case, please stop. There are so many issues in our region that you could invest your legal funds and energy into. Stopping a regional biking and walking trail along an old rail line shouldn’t be the one you focus on.

If you want to stay up to date or get engaged on advocacy for the trail, Cascade created this action alert signup:

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22 responses to “City of Sammamish, stop fighting King County over four trail stop signs”

  1. Brian

    It’s like Lake Forest Park with the B-G, where of course the stop signs face the trail users in essentially the same situation. Only I don’t think it would take a traffic study to tell you that more people use the B-G than those street crossings north of 145th.

  2. Stuart Strand

    We fought for rational stop signs on the BGT in Lake Forest Park for years in the 00’s. I remember one lake side owner telling me that he wanted protection in court if there was an accident. Never mind equal protection under the law. Finally the County gave up and accepted a “compromise” with yield signs (little ones) facing the trail at those private driveways. LFP spent more than $300K in legal fees to get that result; the rights of cyclists be damned. I hope the Sammamish outcome is fairer.

    1. Josh

      The outcome in LFP relied on a faulty ruling about the technicalities of trails and crosswalks, a position that the State Supreme Court had already described as absurd.

      But the County decided it was better to build the compromise than spend years more in court. Judging by the history of the Missing Link, they had good reason to fear endless process.

  3. Josh

    Not mentioned, but significant: stop signs only apply to one class of trail users, bicyclists. Walkers, joggers, scooters, roller bladders, and other non-vehicular users are regulated as pedestrians, not vehicles.

    Even if there’s a stop sign facing the trail, drivers must legally be prepared to stop and remain stopped for any of those users.

    Even with a stop sign, pedestrians remain free to enter the crosswalk unless a vehicle is so close that it’s impossible for the driver to stop.

    1. Josh

      Stupid autocorrect… roller bladers, not bladders :-)

      1. BB

        An easy way to protest this on bike is dismount and walk across. Stop sign or not.

        The easiest way to get your message across is be legal and slow.

  4. Jim

    I think at least one council members lives down there near the crossings and as a resident, I am furious with my city.

    1. Jim

      Clarify, I am furious that they are fighting this in court.

      1. Bikes

        Councilmember Tom Hornish lives on the trail. In 2015, he sued King County in a different lawsuit to stop construction of the trail.

    2. He also suggested a change in code related to wetlands. Previously, they read:
      Streams – Development standards section 21A.50.330 (1) (a), (b).
      (a) Where a legally established and constructed street or the East Lake Sammamish Trail transects a stream buffer, the department may approve a modification of the standard buffer width to the edge of the street or the East Lake Sammamish Trail if the isolated part of the buffer does not provide additional protection of the stream and provides insignificant biological, geological or hydrological buffer functions relating to the stream. If the resulting buffer distance is less than 50 percent of the standard buffer, no further reduction shall be allowed.

      Wish I understood these codes better but it appeared it gave some leeway if the isolated buffer provided little function but he recommended this part be removed, and it passed by one vote. One of our group contacted the city and noted it appeared to be a conflict of interest since he also has represented the trailside residents. But we were told by the city manager that it was not.

      Thanks Tom for the article. We are trying to keep folks updated as we hear things about the trail via our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/FriendsofELST/

  5. Bryce Ulrich

    When the railroad was active you know the stop signs faced the cars. The same short site lines were acceptable at the time.

  6. Eastside Trail Lover

    The assholes in Sammamish refuse to give in. I read recently that Sammamish will appeal the ruling to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. I have no doubt that they will appeal to the Supreme Court if they lose. And lose they will – this is a railbanked trail, meaning that the laws favor the railroad – and have for 150 years. When was the last time a train had to stop to accommodate vehicular traffic? All of this delay and obstruction to placate a few disgruntled and over-entitled lakefront property owners…disgusting.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      I fully understand this is a very frustrating situation. But let’s try to avoid name-calling, which shuts down the conversation entirely. I am hopeful Sammamish will see they are wrong here and do the sensible thing: Focus their resources and energy on more pressing issues. Name calling is a fine way to blow off steam away from the keyboard, but let’s keep the conversation focused on the issues. Thanks!

  7. Ben P

    I’m a little confused about how easy it is to sue around here. In a sensible world, would think a suit like this would require Sammamish to demonstrate real harm. I don’t understand why the court wouldn’t just throw this out. County picked a direction for signs on it’s trail which you dislike. How is this a suable thing? Did Sammamish bring some evidence not mentioned in this article, or is our legal system really silly?

    1. Josh

      As a city, Sammamish can claim the “harm” is failure to obey the municipal code, if, as they claim, the city’s jurisdiction over the streets is superior to the County’s ownership of the railroad right-of-way. It’s the same argument the city would make if a private developer refused to follow City code where a private road crosses a public one.

      It’s their underlying claim that is bunk — that their municipal regulations are superior to a Federal railroad grant. That’s why they can appeal to Federal courts.

  8. Eastside Trail Lover

    I apologize for the inflammatory language. After watching and being involved in the development of this trail since about 1998 (almost 20 years!), I let my emotions dictate some poor word choices. I will be more careful in the future.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Thanks for participating. I’ve called people names on this blog before, too. It’s hard not to sometimes. But trying to be a positive force on the internet.

  9. Clint

    In cases like this, would it not be possible for the county to countersue the city for monetary damages caused by the delay? Seems like that would really cut down on the number of lawsuits and subsequent appeals that hold these things up.

  10. Alexander Batishchev

    The public interest vs. the interest of the reach

  11. Charlie

    I’ve long wondered about those dumb stop signs on the B-G between Ballard and Fremont. I’ve never seen someone make a full stop there on a bike, but always be careful. Is there any hope of ever changing their orientation?

  12. Sammamish resident

    I just returned from Amsterdam … What a shame Sammamish!

  13. Yield signs at this location would have made more sense. That would have given priority to trail users, without unnecessary inconvenience to residents when no trail traffic is present. After all, it is the yielding that is important, not the presence of yet another stop sign where no real stop is necessary except on rare occasions. It’s no wonder that B-G trail users complain when the situation favors the motorists even when they aren’t crossing. Either way – DUMB, DUMB, DUMB!

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