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The community-advised Missing Link design keeps getting better for everyone

The project includes a bunch of new and upgraded traffic signals, which help everyone.

The Ballard Missing Link of the Burke-Gilman Trail has been debated and challenged in court for two decades, and sometimes it’s hard in such a long, frustrating process to remember what this thing is really about.

On average, about two people crash badly enough every month along the Missing Link that they need emergency medical help. And this will not stop until the trail is complete. If work goes smoothly and legal challenges fail (the weeklong hearing is scheduled to begin November 27), construction will break ground in May 2018, and the final section of the Burke-Gilman Trail will open in May 2019, 41 years after the first section opened between Gas Works Park and Kenmore.

The Burke-Gilman Trail is a gem of our city and carries a major transportation load for the region. Some stretches move as many people during peak rush hour as a lane of a major freeway. And it does it with healthy, fun and safe biking and walking. It’s a beautiful success story we should never forget to celebrate and work to repeat and grow.

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Plans for the Missing Link have reached 60 percent design (see updated designs in this PDF slideshow presented to the Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board), developed through an intense stakeholder process where nearby businesses and people who live and work in the area have scoured every inch of the trail route to make sure business needs are addressed and safety is a priority.

Below is a look at the latest version of the trail plans, starting at the Locks and heading east:

Today, the trail from Golden Gardens ends abruptly at the parking lot for the Ballard Locks. The compromise plan would route the trail up NW 54th Street toward Market Street instead of following the rail line. One major benefit of this design is that the redesigned parking lot access should help calm a sometimes chaotic driveway where people are trying to enter, exit and wait for their fish and chips all in the same spot. Instead, people turning left into the parking area will be directed to a new turn lane at the west end of the lot.

The trail curves onto Market, where a new safe street project will realign the lanes to create a new center turn lane. This stretch of Market is far less busy than the section east of 24th Ave NW, so a road safety project like this is a no-brainer. It will reduce collisions and injuries while also making the street much easier and less stressful to cross on foot. The original plan for the trail would not have been routed on Market, but this street safety upgrade is one of the best side benefits of the compromise trail route.

As we reported ahead of some public meetings last month, the trickiest part of the compromise route is the Market/24th Ave NW intersection. Businesses are located close to the corner, and some of them currently have sidewalk cafés. The trail plan basically calls for a big mixing zone, where trail users and people on the sidewalk will all come together and navigate around each other.

Perhaps the coolest solution the project team has developed for this corner is a mountable truck apron, which is basically an inclined bump-out designed to encourage slower, safer turns and to create a buffer between people turning and people on the sidewalk. For every car and many trucks, driving around the bump-out is easy. But for really big trucks that make wide turns, the bump is designed to be driven over. So you get many of the safety and comfort benefits of an extended sidewalk while still supporting industry. It’s a win-win.

Here’s an example, from a recent SDOT presentation to the Pedestrian Advisory Board:

Once south of Market, the latest designs get pretty interesting. The current proposal is to close access to 24th Ave NW south of Shilshole. You can see int he map above that the trail will close this entrance, creating a dead-end parking area. Here’s the driveway today:

So instead of accessing that area from that wide, uncomfortable intersection, the city will build a new road access further down Shilshole adjacent to the rail line:

That’s right, the Missing Link is building a new road for business access. People are still trying to pit this project as people biking against industry, but the collaborative design process is shaping up to include benefits for everyone.

The Shilshole design is mostly familiar to those following this project, but it’s always exciting to see new concept images. The geometry of the industrial driveways has been closely scrutinized, and driveways will now include flashing LED warning signs to help avoid any conflicts. This project is going to be truly amazing.

The rail crossing will now happen before the turn onto NW 45th Street. Today, the bike route crosses the rails under the Ballard Bridge, and that crossing is the epicenter of injuries. The new crossing will cross a rebuilt rail line at a much safer angle, which should make it much less common for people’s wheels to get caught in the rail gaps.

NW 45th Street will be essentially rebuilt. The trail will be on the south side of the street, and a new road will be constructed on top of the orphaned rails (which will remain technically active, though barely ever used).

And that’s it! The trail meets up with the current terminus near Fred Meyer. And because it’s on the south side of the street, that confusing intersection will be much simpler. And two-way traffic will be restored on NW 45th Street when the current bikeway is removed. So that’s another significant benefit for people driving cars and trucks.

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23 responses to “The community-advised Missing Link design keeps getting better for everyone”

  1. Bruce Nourish

    Love it. Especially love the closure/realignment of 24th Ave, that intersection is currently terribly for everyone.

  2. Damon

    There’s one aspect of the 24th and Market design that needs to change. Currently, westbound Missing Link cyclists transferring to the northbound bike lanes on 24th are supposed to cross EB with the light, then wait in the turn box for the northbound signal.

    Frankly, that’s begging for scofflaw behavior. Anyone who gets to that intersection having just missed that EB signal will know they’ve got to wait through a signal cycle and a half. Plus, I don’t think the turn box is big enough for many people to wait safely. People will go against the light, or they’ll avoid the intersection and cut up Ballard Ave earlier, making the trail less useful.

    There’s a website for providing feedback on the design:

    I wrote my concerns out there and suggested a pedestrian-and-cycle-only signal phase to let cyclists (and pedestrians) cut diagonally across the intersection.

    1. Ross M

      Another advantage of having a pedestrian-only signal phase is that it greatly reduces the delay that would otherwise be incurred by eastbound traffic turning right onto Shilshole. This reduction may indeed be significant enough that a right-turn lane on Market would no longer be necessary, which would allow the southwest corner’s sidewalk to be expanded, reducing the need for an extensive mixing zone in an area where bicyclists would be disinclined to stop.

    2. AW

      I agree 100% percent and have left a comment. I will not be waiting for the 2 lights but instead will be crossing Shilshole to be on the north side by the time I get to 24th Ave. This is the same setup as how the trail crosses Stone way at 34th street.

    3. RossB

      >> This is the same setup as how the trail crosses Stone way at 34th street.

      Which is an argument for leaving it like it is, except that I think it is worse. With Stone Way, the situation is quite similar, but there are differences. To begin with, you are making a change in direction. You are headed east, then north. Unless you are willing to break the law, you rarely save any time by using the streets, not the crosswalks. If you arrive at the corner and the light is east-west, then you simply cross Stone Way on the Burke and pull to the side. If the light is headed north-south, you have a tough decision. Either you cross at the western crosswalk, and wait (the safest way) or you try to work your way into the northbound lane of Stone. But doing that isn’t easy (or necessarily legal). You can take a right, then do a U-Turn, but by the time you finish that maneuver, the light may have changed. If you simply cut across (and then head north) you are clearly breaking the law (even though, chances are, it is a fairly safe maneuver). It sucks to wait for an extra light, but you are, after all, making a left turn, and left turns always take time, so fewer people will feel justified in breaking the law.

      It is considerably different at 24th and Market. You are trying to head the same way, which means that there is ample opportunity to leave the Burke, and cross over, heading up the hill. There is no weird U-Turn required, nor do you have to cross the crosswalk on a red light. This means that a lot of people will cut over, not only because it is legal, but because it seems appropriate. You are, after all, just trying to head the same direction — why should you have to wait for an extra light just to go straight (drivers don’t have to do that). Since you are headed the same direction, and the maneuver is clearly legal, it is likely to be a lot faster. This means that a lot more people will do that, which means that there is a much bigger danger there than at Stone Way.

      1. Scott Anderson

        55 unmarked industrial drive ways on Shilshole ave. All intersection on Leary are marked with way less traffic. They call Shilshole ave the Ballard freeway for a reason. How about yes on Leary.

  3. Southeasterner

    The 54th and Market improvements look good and may actually prevent drivers on the Market Motor Speedway from plowing into Taco Time. A fairly regular occurrence.


    I do wish SDOT would figure out how bikes and peds are supposed to interact. They seem to be moving towards segregating peds and bikes on the BGT East of Fred Meyer so it seems strange that West of Fred Meyer they are going back to a blended concept.

  4. Ballard Resident

    The engineer for BTR had the engine out near Salmon Bay S&G Sunday evening. He took out a shovel and was digging around the second set of tracks. While doing so the shovel head fell off. A tow truck was out towing some cars. I asked why he was clearing the second track and he said they need to do it in case they get more customers. Obviously it hadn’t been used for some time. He also mentioned that they would only tow cars that were on the track he was using. Once the engine got to Market Arms he was going in there to let people know they need to move off the tracks. He also mention it was illegal to park within 15 feet of a track but that it isn’t enforced down there.

    As usual there were cars parked a few inches from the south side making it difficult for bikes and joggers to navigate.

    That area needs to be redeveloped even if the trail doesn’t get built. It’s a mess.

  5. Justin

    Interesting to see the change in the location of the south driveway into the Salmon Bay Center parking lot. It is moving north to align with the Vernon intersection. This done in conjunction with the new traffic signal at that intersection seems to make a lot of sense at first glance.

  6. liam

    Has there been any talk about flange fillers on the new railway? I would imagine cyclists from the trail will still need to turn up to get to ballard way etc. If they’re rebuilding the rail line, this should be an easy addition.

    for example:

    (it seems these should be in all the streetcar crossings downtown too, but I suppose that’s another issue)

    1. Nat

      Very interesting link. Unfortunately this system is no different that common concrete panels used on many railroad crossings in the Untied States and is not a flange filler. http://www.centurygrp.com/products/Railroad-Grade-Crossings

      I did my research a few years ago and all that were in the current market place were for a shallower European flange depth than what is required in the United States.


  7. Davepar

    This is really heartening news to read on a Friday morning. Glad the design is moving forward and solving some long-standing issues in that area (Market St freeway west of 24th, and the awkward intersection at 24th heading south).

    I thought the railroad company was just a sham set up by the businesses to stop the trail. Now that the trail is going forward regardless, can’t the city get them to abandon the rail line? Seems like a lot of effort to support a fake railway. Plus that space could be put to much better use for parking for the businesses. That area is a nightmare down there on the weekends.

    1. Ballard Resident

      Cars currently use the tracks for parking. I can show you plenty of photos.

      According to the project team, that will not change. Of course cars can get towed if BTR decides to do that. It happened last Sunday evening when the engine was in front of SBS&G. He didn’t have everyone towed, just the ones on the track he was using. So, the tracks are used for parking vehicles and railroad cars. Sometimes the engine picks up deliveries from the main line. Rumor has it that it happens during the night.

      BTR has a lease from the city for 8 more years.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        As I understand the law, it is very easy to renew the lease, and the city has little power to deny it. Federal law rightly protects rail corridors. In fact, much of the Burke-Gilman Trail exists in part due to “rail-banking” laws. Just like a rail line, a trail isn’t all that useful if there is a section missing…

  8. Matthew Snyder

    Is there an updated price tag for this project?

    The city’s Missing Link webpage says that the project is estimated to cost $12.5M for design and construction (plus another $2.5M for the EIS). That number seems… impossibly low? Building just a basic sidewalk costs something like $300k per block. Here, we’re talking about building a new road for business access, basically rebuilding NW 45th St, plus all of the asphalt and paving for the trail, arterial rechannelizations, etc. Where’s the money going to come from?

  9. scott Anderson

    Please do what is the right thing. Finish the Missing Link on Leary and Market. Shilshole is to dangerous. You will kill someone.
    There are no parking signs on Shilshole Ave. The date is Saturday the 14th. Saturday really. This is another way to fool the citizens that Shilshole is OK. There is no workers on Shilshole on Saturday. Do your walk during the business day so people can see the truth. Why do we pay tax’s to city employees that lie to us. 31 million dollars to put in 1.4 miles of bike path. Use that money in areas that don’t even have sidewalks for the kids.

    1. Ballard Resident

      South Shilshole doesn’t have sidewalks and needs them. Also the ones on the north side need to be improved. I imagine it’s difficult for wheelchairs to get around down there.

      Seems to me that the trail is more heavily used on week nights and weekends. Not so many trucks or cars then. Why not improve the area so it can be safely used by all? I live and pay property tax there. I want a safe place to walk, ride or skate.

      See you Saturday!

    2. Ballard Resident

      Too bad the businesses (like CSR Marine) are making it so expensive by suing the city over this. Just think of how many sidewalks money spent on the lawsuit could have bought.

    3. Ballard Resident

      That’s 31 million for the trail from Golden Gardens to 11th and not just the Missing Link segment. You’d see this if you read page 230 of 2018-2022 Capital Improvements Program document.

    4. Leary, with its greater volume of car traffic? Leary, with its huge off-angle intersections? Leary, with its interchange-style crossing of 15th and all those turns with limited visibility?

      How about no.

  10. eddiew

    With the 12-foot width of the BGT between 17th and 24th avenues NW be overwhelmed by high demand from users of several modes with vastly different speeds? So, will faster cyclists use Shilshole Avenue NW any way? Note that the north side of Shilshole Avenue NE still has no pedestrian infrastructure and parking.

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