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King County Parks closure includes County-run trails, though they remain open for essential transportation only

An empty trail with empty park benches.
The Burke-Gilman Trail north of Seattle is a King County Parks trail. Image from King County Parks.

King County Parks took an extraordinary step this week to close all its parks in an attempt to further discourage people from crowding or gathering as we fight the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. And unless you are an essential worker or are accomplishing an essential task (like going to the grocery store or a doctor’s appointment), that means county-run trails are closed, too.

While Governor Jay Inslee did say that getting outside for exercise is still allowed so long as you practice social distancing, the County does not want to you do so on its trail network. This includes about half of the 300+ miles of regional trails in the county, including sections of the Burke-Gilman, Sammamish River, Interurban South, Green River, Cedar River, Eastrail and Snoqualmie Valley Trails to name a few. It does not include any trails within the Seattle city limits or trails operated by WSDOT (like most of the I-90 and 520 Trails). There are also sections of regional trails under the control of local municipalities (like the Cross-Kirkland Corridor stretch of the Eastrail) that are not affected.

So yes, it’s a little confusing. The average user probably has no idea when they’ve crossed from a municipally-managed trail segment to a County one (sometimes there will be a King county branded sign letting you know, but not always). But we’re in an emergency, so do your best to follow official public health guidance and forgive some sloppiness in the rules.

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And regardless of who operates a trail, the spirit of the King County ban should be on your mind. We talked about this a bit in our post: Let’s talk about responsible biking during this pandemic. Even if a trail is open and the governor says its OK to bike for recreation, you have to avoid bunching or crowding. If that means exiting the trail, waiting or turning around, then that’s what you’ve got to do. Residential streets are your friend right now, since they are typically wide open. Some stretches of trail have plenty of space, but others get crowded. It would be great if folks had more space to spread out, but that’s no excuse for joining a crowd right now. Six feet of separation is a minimum.

Here’s the official trail use guidance from King County Parks:

If an individual is part of the essential workforce and needs to commute for work or needs to accomplish essential tasks by using the King County Parks regional trail network (i.e. grocery store, doctors appointment, etc.) they are allowed to do so. Individuals who use trails for these purposes should follow social distancing guidelines and our standard trail rules and etiquette.

Non-essential use of the RTS remains closed as part of the ongoing efforts to protect public health and curb transmission of COVID-19.

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15 responses to “King County Parks closure includes County-run trails, though they remain open for essential transportation only”

  1. Wilson

    Really hoping we get through this dumb knee-jerk phase soon, and start making these decisions based on actual evidence.

    1. Ballard Biker

      If you’ve been on a trail recently when the weather is nice, they are jam packed with people making social distancing impossible.

      Definitely not knee-jerk.

  2. jay

    Tom say’s streets are “typically wide open”, but one should use caution because that means drivers (few though they may be) can exceed the speed limit by an even larger margin that they normally do. Well, ok, he did write “residential streets” which may indeed be better since there will be less cut through when there is no congestion on the arterials, but still….

    I work at a “critical supplier” so I’m still commuting to work and I have experienced more drivers passing way too close than usual,(sample is probably much too small to impress a statistician, but when a car going way too fast is 2 feet away it seems significant to me) why? when there is so little traffic? So, be careful, you can’t trust other people to be.

  3. bill

    Right… it will be so much safer to ride on the roads. Speed limits have always been notional at best in Washington. Now it seems they are completely suspended.

    I can see clamping down on the Burke and Sammamish trails; from what I’ve heard the situation was out of hand. But I was on the southern trails – Green River, Interurban – and while they were exceptionally busy compared to normal, that meant encountering people every two minutes instead of every half hour. A little nuance would help the government’s credibility.

  4. Alistair Spence

    One thing I’ve experienced recently is unexpectedly and suddenly coming across people walking/hiking in the actual road, presumably because they haven’t seen much or any car traffic on it for while and figure it’s ok to do so. Coming around a blind corner to be confronted by people walking two or three abreast has caught me a out a few times in recent days.

    Interestingly, in several of these cases, I’ve gotten looks that suggest that I’m in the wrong, as a cyclist, and that I should be “more careful”.

    Of course, pedestrians have the right of way, but these people are putting themselves in potentially dangerous situations by not giving regular road traffic a chance to see them in time. They are walking in the middle of the road in a way that suggests that they think it has been closed to vehicular traffic. Quite odd.

    1. asdf2

      It could be social distancing. When you’re passing somebody on the sidewalk, it is often necessary to walk in the middle of the road to maintain a 6-foot separation distance.

      1. Alistair Spence

        Good point, but that’s not what was happening in this case. These were roads in and around the Leschi area, and mostly didn’t have sidewalks. I’ve ridden these roads for years and can’t remember ever seeing people walking in these sections, even in the margins of the road.

    2. Al Dimond

      Whenever I approach a blind corner, whether I’m driving, biking, or running, I think, “If there’s something or someone stopped in the middle of the road just past where I can see, could I stop in time?” If not, I slow down.

      1. Alistair D Spence

        Agreed. I do the same, and that’s why I didn’t hit anyone. They weren’t even close calls. I was just surprised to see people in the road like that, and I was surprised that they seemed surprised to see me. I was just riding along on my grocery getting bike, not at high speed, but was made to feel like I was in the wrong somehow.

      2. Al Dimond

        Ah, yeah, that’s such a thing. People giving looks when they’re surprised by things, especially in groups… sorry to insinuate you were out there scorching.

  5. Hopefully all this mess will be behind us very soon. It began to be crazy out there. Be Safe !

  6. Art Valla

    So, are they policing the trail? Are they actually stopping people on the trail and checking to see who is and who is not an allowed user?

    If a cop stops you, will she keep her 6 foot distance? If you turn and run from a cop as she tries to hand you a ticket, will she shoot you (assume for a min. that the long arm of the law is not 6 feet).

    Or is this another one of Dow Constantine’s silly rules with no enforcement?

    1. William

      King County have also announced that they do not have the resources to enforce this so it is essentially voluntary. Like all social distancing, to be effective people have to buy in and follow the rules. Whoever in King County who came up with this medically unnecessary blanket rule ought to join the large number of fellow citizens filing for unemployment. This just make it more likely that people will ignore sensible social distancing policies and takes the focus off improving social distancing indoors and immediately outside busy businesses which is where the real gains are to be made.

      1. Art Valla

        That is my feeling toward a lot of the bicycle rules on the BG. If you make a “rule” and then don’t do enforcement, it leads to all rules being disregarded.

        For example, there are a number of stop signs on the trail between Lake City and Lake Forest Park. Now, a federal judge has ruled the stop signs illegal. Traffic control must favor the highest traffic load. Obviously, more bicyclists crossing the intersection than cars, but there are very rich people that live along the lake. So the controlling municipality (Lake Forest Park) refuses to follow the judge’s order.

        So, many bicyclists just get in the habit of blowing right through the stop signs. Let’s go a little further down the trail into Lake Forest Park. There are two traffic lights controlling the crossing of the trail and side streets. Of course, bicyclists just blow right through those traffic controls, too.

        The difference is the large number of cars crossing the trail at those points. And I have seen a number of collisions and near misses.

        So, In my opinion, putting up silly signs that everybody ignores is much worse than no sign at all. In the above example, people really do get hurt.

  7. [Another] Alex

    The Ballard Bridge was extremely busy yesterday (Sunday) afternoon with cyclists and pedestrians. As crowded as I’ve ever seen it.

    It is impossible to social distance on the sidewalks there and with the Locks closed it is even more of a chokepoint.

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