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CM Strauss asks mayor to study Market and Leary for Missing Link

Map of Councilmember Strauss's proposed route on 17th, Leary and Market.Councilmember Dan Strauss sent a letter (PDF) to Mayor Bruce Harrell asking him to shift SDOT’s Missing Link efforts to focus on designing and building a Burke-Gilman Trail connection on Market Street and Leary Way in Ballard.

“I see a lot of positive attributes to bringing this trail into our businesses and multi-use core,” said Strauss in an interview. “The trail on Shilshole requires people to cross Shilshole.”

His letter comes as new legal losses have put the city’s plans for a Shilshole Avenue trail back on ice. The state’s Shorelines Hearings Board issued a “courtesy” letter (PDF) to the city and Cascade Bicycle Club letting them know that they sided with the Ballard business coalition suing to stop the trail. The letter did not specify reasons or the options for appeal, but it’s bad news for the city’s plan to build a scaled-back version of the trail connection. With the Move Seattle Levy expiring at the end of 2024, there is a sense of urgency to invest the public’s money in a timely manor rather than continue to hold the funds for an unknown period of time. So even if the Board’s decision could be successfully appealed, it would mean further delay and further court battles. It’s not clear how long the city’s elected leaders would be willing to hold that funding for the trail when there are so many other uses for it.

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This is the biggest development in the Missing Link saga in years. If Strauss’s request gathers enough political momentum and favor from Mayor Harrell’s office, it could mean a brand new design process for a legitimately exciting biking and safe streets project through the commercial core of Ballard. But it may also spell doom for a trail connection on Shilshole, which is the most direct and by far the most preferred route according to feedback collected in the city’s environmental megastudy back in 2017.

Rough design concept from Strauss showing a 12 foot trail plus a 5-foot buffer and and sidewalk.Strauss’s letter essentially calls for an extension of the trail design already on Market Street (though not technically open as a trail yet) between 24th Ave NW and the Locks. That 12-foot walking and biking trail would continue on Market, then turn down Leary and 17th Ave NW to meet back up with the Burke-Gilman Trial.

The letter itself does not officially change anything. One councilmember does not have such power. But it has a lot going for it in terms of timing and public benefit. Leary absolutely needs a safe streets update because it is a very wide and fast street through what has become a dense neighborhood. Market also needs safety improvements. In a vacuum, there is no question that this project would be great for biking and bike access to these homes and businesses. So with the city’s Shilshole trail plan somehow still not having a legal path forward, the Strauss route presents a chance for a reset. But it would be a bitter pill to swallow for many people who have fought for the Shilshole route for decades.

Cascade Bicycle Club is currently in a somewhat awkward spot. Because the Shorelines Hearings Board has yet to make their final decision, it’s not yet clear what sort of appeal options there are in that case and what the chances are of winning. It doesn’t make sense to abandon that effort unless it’s a clear loser, especially when that final decision should be coming soon. But they are generally positive on Dan Strauss’s plan, with some hesitancy.

“We’re not opposed to this option so long as it doesn’t cause any unnecessary delay to the Missing Link Shilshole route,” said Cascade Executive Director Lee Lambert.

Even if the Strauss plan does gain favor with the mayor and SDOT, there are still a ton of questions and challenges ahead. Will any business owners sue to stop it as was done on Shilshole? The city has been double-crossed on this project before, so this is a legitimate concern. Because the Leary/Market option was studied and ruled out during the environmental megastudy, does that have an impact on the city being able to build it now? And even if the trail is completed on Leary and Market, Shilshole will still be dangerous to the public and in need to safety improvements.

Two people shake hands near a podium. A group of people stand behind them.
Former Councilmember Mike O’Brien, a longtime trail supporter, and Warren Aakervik, the retired owner of Ballard Oil, shook hands during a 2017 press conference announcing a compromise deal.

Many Seattle politicians have tried to be the one who finally brings people together to solve the Missing Link. Mayor Ed Murray was able to get trail opponents together to shake hands and smile back in 2017, but then the opponents went back on the deal and sued anyway. At this point, I think anything that is genuinely good and has momentum is worth considering. I think it makes sense for city leaders and bike advocates to wait for ongoing legal decisions to be finalized, assess the feasibility of the options, then move forward with something that can actually get done.

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16 responses to “CM Strauss asks mayor to study Market and Leary for Missing Link”

  1. Gary Yngve

    Strauss is obviously not a cyclist. He can STFU. Vote that slimeball out!

  2. bill

    This is stupid. Cyclists will continue using the fastest route, which is Shilshole. Slowing down bikes by routing them through at least three more signalized intersections is stupid. And who knows what crazy bike routing SDOT will come up with at some of those intersections. The prime example is the current obscure westbound left at Shilshole/24th and Market where you are supposed to get on the right-hand sidewalk on Shilshole, then wait for the green light on Market. Easily more than half of cyclists make an unprotected left from Shilshole across southbound traffic from 24th and right turns from Market.

  3. Damon

    Is there any legal reason the city couldn’t make Shilshole one-way, and put protected bike lanes in the other lane?

    Shilshole is a heavy-use car corridor in both directions. Making it one-way for a while would transfer the pain from people cycling to people driving. If the alternative to a Shilshole Missing Link were a one-way Shilshole, I bet we’d have a Shilshole Missing Link pretty quick.

    I know, I know. I’m just dreaming.

    1. RossB

      I’ve been thinking the same thing. For that matter, just add stop signs at every single intersection. Annoying for drivers, bikes can legally go through without stopping. Then start handing out tickets (to the drivers).

      They need to start playing hardball. That has been the problem all along. They keep thinking the other side is going to like some compromise. They won’t. They have shown again and again that they have no interest in a compromise. Time to play tough and build the thing.

  4. Lee Bruch

    Thanks to the State’s Shoreline Hearings Board

    “The state’s Shorelines Hearings Board issued a “courtesy” letter (PDF) to the city and Cascade Bicycle Club letting them know that they sided with the Ballard business coalition suing to stop the trail.”

  5. Gary Anderson

    Agree with Bill. I wonder why the Shorelines Hearing Board objects to the Shilshole route. I’ll be dead before the missing link is complete but until then I’ll continue to ride the Shilshole route. If the missing link is built on Leary/Market, I’ll continue to ride the Shilshole route.

    1. bill

      Gary, you and I might both be dead if we continue riding Shilshole.

  6. Ballard Biker

    ¿Porque no los dos? It would be great to have a through route on Shilshole and a local business access route on Leary.

    If not, keep it on Shilshole like the people have demanded for decades. If anything from his proposal, eliminate the Dock St diversion (since nearly every cyclist continues south on 17th) and create a safe crossing at 17th/Leary and 17th/Shilshole.

  7. asdf2

    I think which route is better ultimately depends on where you’re trying to go. Leary is better if you’re trying to access any of the Ballard homes or businesses. Shilshole is better if your destination is the Ballard locks or Golden Gardens. So, your answer probably depends on whether you’re using the trail for real transportation or just recreational loops.

    I don’t personally have too strong of a preference between the two routes (although in an ideal world, we’d have both), but I can say that a Leary route that actually gets built is far superior to a Shilshole route that gets endlessly tied up in courts, and never exists outside of a computer screen.

    That said, I really don’t like setting the precedent that those willing to pour enough money into lawsuit after frivolous lawsuit can eventually exhaust the city into doing what they want. Once that precedent is set, it will be used relentlessly, and it will have consequences.

    1. Skylar

      I totally agree. Would be nice to get both but personally I think a well-done Leary+Market route is an acceptable compromise, especially because there’s more destinations than Shilshole. My guess is that even for those going to the Locks or Golden Gardens, the time differential is minimal. Also, those going to Golden Gardens have the option of going via the NW 58th Greenway and then continuing across 32nd where there’s decent crossing support, and over the railroad overpass to the part of the Burke along Seaview. That route is probably about the same distance and generally more relaxing than the industrial area the BGT/Missing Link goes through in Ballard.

      1. Gary Yngve

        “a well-done Leary+Market route is an acceptable compromise”

        It just won’t be well-done. There are too many intersections, driveways, and other conflicts for there to be an acceptable compromise there; I’m assuming they won’t want to further calm car traffic. For a comparison, Westlake cycletrack vs Dexter Ave. Ask any cyclist, and they will say that the Westlake cycletrack is far lower stress, whether they ride the Dexter “protected” bike lane and have to dodge right hooks and driveouts, or they ride the general-purpose lane and get honked at for “being in the way”.

  8. DB

    This seems likely to end up like the section of the Burke in front of Gas Works Park, where many cyclists go into the street to avoid the more pedestrian crowded section in front of the apartment buildings there. Plenty of people will keep using Shilshole…

    Does anybody keep a list somewhere of all the companies that have pushed back against completing the missing link? Would be nice to post that link online in a few places and encourage people to skip those businesses.

    1. Gary Anderson

      Yup, I use the road by Gasworks to avoid the pedestrian use of the sidewalk in front of the condominiums.

  9. Lee Bruch

    One of the largest concrete plants in Vancouver, BC *much* larger than Salmon Bay Sand & Gravel, is in the middle of Granville Island, Vancouver’s #1 tourist mecca with FAR MORE PEDESTRIANS & BIKES than the missing link will ever see.

    Remember the EIS that summarized (in 299 pages) & analyzed 5 alternatives? https://www.seattle.gov/documents/Departments/SDOT/BikeProgram/BGT/Vol%201_BGT_FEIS_web_lowrez.pdf The maps of each alternative were on its pdf sheets. 167, 173, 178, 184, 189. It laid out the reasons that Leary and Ballard were NOT good choices

  10. eddiew

    Leary-Market was suggested and rejected during the Nickels terms. Leary-Market carries heavy transit volumes. West of 24th Avenue NW, SDOT reduced Market to three lanes; that would not work well between 24th Avenue NW and Leary. SDOT will be asked to study the Strauss option. Note SDOT has projects to speed up routes 40 and 44. It is difficult to provide priority to both transit and cycling on the same arterial. NE 65th Street and Broadway are examples. Many SDOT bike facilities have awkward end points.

    There are many types of cyclists. Strong ones use Shilshole and would use it in the SDOT future as its narrow mixed use trail filled up with slower users on nice days. Shilshole Avenue NW needs many improvements; the SDOT mixed use trail is not enough; it has no sidewalks; it has undisciplined parking.

  11. eddiew

    Note 2017 picture. Scott Kubly, SDOT, Eugene Wasserman, and Kelsey Mesher, TCC, are pictured. At the time, I expected that the Ballard Terminal RR was not at the table. Note that Joshua Brower, attorney representing the opponents, once chaired the Seattle planning commission.

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