Seattle Parks announces week-long, very steep Burke-Gilman Trail detour for … mowing?

Map of the detour route with a graph showing the elevation change, including 174 feet of climbing.

The detour route, from Google Maps.

People who bike or walk on the Burke-Gilman Trail in northeast Seattle have dealt with a lot of tough detours in recent years. But the detours are always for a good reason, such as the city or county rebuilding or repaving the trail, or because a landslide has washed out a section of the trail.

But the closure planned to start Monday is different. The trail will be closed for the morning commute until the afternoon so Seattle Parks can mow the slope next to the trail between NE 125th St and 42nd Pl NE. And because the slope is so steep, they are planning to use heavy machinery and must close the trail from 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. for a week.

Of course, the same steep slopes that make mowing difficult also make the detour difficult. The 900 or so feet of NE 125th Street climbs a stunning 138 feet. That’s a 15 percent grade climb for 900 feet, which is grueling even for strong and fit riders. I know slope grades are difficult numbers to understand, so I was trying to figure out a way to demonstrate just how steep that is. But then Google Street View did it for me:

Photo showing a steep road to the left and a flat trail to the right. A person is walking their bike up the hill.

The detour is so steep, this person randomly captured by Google Street View decided to walk their bike rather than ride. And to be clear, it is also difficult to walk your bike up this hill.

I cannot remember another time that Seattle Parks has closed the trail for mowing in this location (I searched my decade-worth of emails and news releases and couldn’t find any significant trail closures for mowing anywhere in the region). A detour like this is a major reduction in service for trail users. There are a lot of users who simply cannot climb these hills and who may be on the trail specifically because it is an old railroad bed and is therefore very flat.

Sometimes trail closures are unavoidable. But is this one of those times? I have questions out to Seattle Parks and will update this post when I hear back.

The Burke-Gilman Trial is a vital transportation corridor, and it needs to be treated as such. Usable detours in this area are especially difficult to find because the only good option, Riviera Place NE, disappears for a short stretch just north of NE 125th Street. Maybe crews could create a detour along Riviera except when working on the short section near 125th where it’s not an option?

Map of an alternate detour via Riviera Place NE.

Map of a possible detour option along Riviera Pl NE. The only time this wouldn’t work is when crews are working in the short stretch of trail directly north of NE 125th St. Via Google Maps.

Parks also notes that this is only phase one of their mowing work. They do not yet have details on phase two.

From Seattle Parks:

Starting Monday, August 17, 2020, Seattle Parks and Recreation maintenance crews will begin Phase 1 of a two-phase slope mowing project with heavy machinery that requires partial closure of the Burke-Gilman trail. The closure will be in effect each day from 7am to 1:30pm between 145th St. NE and 125th Ave NE. At the end of each day’s work, signs and barricades will be removed so users can proceed normally. As the mowing proceeds, completed sections will re-open to trail users. Phase 1 is expected to take about one week to complete.

For trail users heading south or northbound: Depending on mowing progress, the trail’s intersection with 42nd Pl NE may have barricades and signage directing trail users to turn onto this street and continue up the hill. The detour then connects with 42nd Ave NE, which connects with NE 125th. From there, users can go east for a few blocks and intersect with the Burke-Gilman trail again. (See map below for outline of detour.)

The stairs at NE 130th  St. that intersect with the Burke-Gilman trail will remain open, but barricades will close off access to the trail north and south of this location.  Signage will also be posted along Riviera Pl NE, which parallels part of the Burke-Gilman, to prevent accessing the trail except at 130th NE.

Details for Phase 2 will be added here once crews have confirmed the completion of the first phase.

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24 Responses to Seattle Parks announces week-long, very steep Burke-Gilman Trail detour for … mowing?

  1. Sb says:

    Could goats have been used there?

  2. asdf2 says:

    I remember using 125th to get from the Burke Gilman up the hill to Lake City and Northgate, coming from Kenmore. It’s steep, as in, most people will be walking their bike.

    I think my e-bike could make it up slowly, using the full 750 watts.

  3. Joseph R says:

    Stunning. With only the weekend as notice, they announce a WEEK LONG CLOSURE with NO REALISTIC DETOUR OFFERED.

    There is zero chance they cooked up this plan, booked the crews, scheduled the equipment, etc, on such short notice. So they must have known this was in the works, yet chose to say nothing.

    They list a general info line for compliments, complaints, etc at (206)684-4075. If you don’t want to wait until Monday, you can email them at [email protected].

    I would URGE readers to contact them to pass along your compliments on their excellent scheduling and wonderful customer service here. Congratulate them on their solicitude and recognition that this is an essential travel corridor.

    You may want to ask if they have tried riding bikes on their suggested detour and if so, how they enjoyed it? And if not, why they offer a detour they haven’t tested?

  4. Cam Solomon says:

    I lived at the top of that hill for 7 years. I rode nearly every day, and my goal was to someday ride up the whole thing. Never made it even half way. A third ring might have helped, but it’s an insane hill.

    • Cam Solomon says:

      For non-super-humans without power assist, I recommend 105th or 110th, then ride something parallel to Sandpoint, unless they finally gave that deathtrap a bike lane that’s been promised forever. Bartlett’s nice.

      • Cam Solomon says:

        Also, riviera’s still there. Some friendly neighbors decided putting a chain across the road was reasonable, but you can lift your bike over it.

      • Cam Solomon says:

        Actually, my memory is failing. It does disappear into the coastline for a few houses.

  5. Stuart E Strand says:

    The heavy machinery will cause further avoidable deterioration of the trail surface and increased future maintenance costs.In the 30 years i have ridden the trail this detour was never needed or required. Seattle Parks is increasingly incompetent and out of touch with its constituents. It needs reform.

    • Joseph R says:

      @stuart: so phone or email them at [email protected] and let them know your “compliments”. I did.

    • Harry H. says:

      “out of touch with its constituents” ????

      Who do you think their constituents are? remember the chair thief’s $30 tabs passed!
      “Bikes are bad m’kay”

      I hear there a number of people currently unemployed, since this is outdoor work, perhaps the WPA could send some crews to hand clear the area?

  6. Rick Sullivan says:

    I remember the 2011 detour very well. After the third day, I developed acute tendinitis and spent ten weeks out of the saddle and in physical therapy. This time I’m riding the shoulder of 522 to Forest Park.

  7. SuperSteve says:

    This is typical of the all-too-common disrespect government has for cyclists – there is absolutely NO WAY that SDOT or WSDOT would close a major arterial at peak usage time for something as trivial as landscape maintenance… let alone do so with virtually no notice.

    I saw them putting warning signs in place yesterday – ‘trail closed’ in big letters, but the effective dates/times listed in font too small for a passing cyclist to read without stopping and dismounting.

  8. Dave Schuldt says:

    There’s a red flag warning, one spark could start a nice brush fire.

  9. asdf2 says:

    I think we’re being a little to hard on SDOT.

    Any street with a traffic volume similar to the Burke-Gilman trail would be much wider than the trail. This is simply a consequence of cars being much wider than bikes. Assuming the mowing machinery takes about the width of a car, similar work on a street would only require closing one lane at a time, not the entire street. In some cases, they could even put the mower in the shoulder and not have to close any lanes. Worst case, it’s a two lane road, and the work crew takes over one lane while flaggers direct traffic through the other lane. Unfortunately, when the entire trail is just the width of one car, it is simply not possible to do a lane closure without closing the entire trail. So, it’s not really about cars vs. bikes. It’s simply the reality of streets, the trail, and the mowing machinery all being a certain width.

    Also, if they’re going to do it, they probably figured they may as well take advantage of COVID-19, when fewer people are commuting, under the assumption people can always reschedule their discretionary trips to avoid the closure. I do give them credit for at least limiting the closure to mornings only, allowing the trail to open in the afternoons (vs. force people to make the detour all day, when nobody is working, just because they’re too cheap to move the fence).

    Are there things SDOT could have done better, sure. They probably could have given more notice. They probably could have also scheduled this work for the winter, when fewer people would be out riding. But, overall, it’s work that’s got to be done.

    • Joseph R says:

      @asdf2 I agree it needs mowing. However: (1) 1 weekend’s notice?! (2) this needs doing every year, and isn’t a surprise. A pickup truck fits just fine on the trail. Heavier equipment is likely needed because the task has been deferred too long. (3) most of the closure seems unnecessary as Riviera is available as a detour. The short segment where Riviera doesn’t exist doesn’t take an entire week of mornings to mow.

      It seems that rather than think through a way to minimize disruption, an easy “let’s just close it” option was chosen. That’s what the criticism is about. Anyone who has ridden it lately would agree it’s an overgrown mess and needs mowing.

      • Dan says:

        Agree on overly harsh reaction to closure. If you had to pause mowing (flying debris) for every passing cyclist while heavy machinery is taking up the whole trail, it’d never get done.

        We do want this as overgrowth creates problems too.

        On the other side, the lack of planning is yet another in a series of hundreds if slapd to the face of those that use bikes for transport. A stroll on the burke? Just turnaround.. For mental sanity it’s best to not get worked up when SDOT treats trails and bikes as toys, not for serious transport. It’s basically the same thing repeated, “go on the sidewalk”, “walk your bike for 500 feet”, “oh, you wanted notice the lower west seattle bridge was going to be closed and now you need to do an 8 mile detour?”

  10. Rick Sullivan says:

    I notified Seattle P&R when this part of the trail was a problem in early June. I got a reply saying it would be taken care of. At that time it could have been handled by Park dept. crews. Since then, it’s gotten out of control. Now they have to shut the trail and hire expensive heavy equipment for a week to fix it.

    • Janine says:

      Agreed, I have also contacted Parks about the vegetation in this area as well as just north of Matthews Beach Park. It has really narrowed the trail, and could have been tackled far earlier. 125th is something I use for a very, very hard workout–most people will find it daunting, as do I. But in addition, since Covid there has been a huge increase in traffic on the Burke, presumably consisting of day riders who are working at home and taking a break, as well as the many family and children riders–I wonder if PaP
      even realizes how the trail is being used at this point.

  11. rick seattle says:

    Whine much? Y’all are ridiculous… “After the third day, I developed acute tendinitis and spent ten weeks out of the saddle and in physical therapy..”…Yo liar, blame who for such an obvious lie that we will ignore you henceforth? Seriously, POST UR PT RECORDS! Oh wait, you can’t, can you???????

    The issue is you being a liar… I have no problems with trail maintenance DURING A FREAKING VIRUS OURBREAK.

    self-centered much, all of you

  12. Rick Seattle says:

    Couldn’t ride for 2.5 MONTHS… what a fib!!!

  13. Rob Fetty says:

    As a regular trail rider for quite a few years – It appears since Covid came upon us the trail is actually much busier than in years past. Why not do the maintenance late at night or very early in the morning like they do with many traffic projects? Why not wait til October or November when the weather is not so nice and there are less users?

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