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SDOT begins study of CM Strauss’s Leary Way concept for the Missing Link + Legal update on Shilshole

Map comparing the Shilshole route to the 17th/Leary/Market route.

At the urging of Councilmember Dan Strauss and with Mayor Bruce Harrell’s support, SDOT is beginning early design work on a potential alternative for the Burke-Gilman Trail Missing Link in Ballard. Though the city has a design fully completed and ready for construction along Shilshole Ave NW, the construction permits are held up in court as opponents continue their decades-long campaign to stop the project. The latest delays spurred CM Strauss to ask SDOT to study an alternative he hopes can avoid further lawsuits and get a walking and biking connection built.

SDOT has not abandoned the Shilshole plan, but they are developing a Leary plan in addition to it. They hope to have the design up to the 30% mark by the end of 2023. They even have a very simple online feedback form you can complete that includes one open-ended prompt: “Tell us your feedback.”

Trail advocates are sort of in a position of limbo. The Shilshole plan is fully designed and was the preference of the vast majority of people during the drawn-out design and environmental review process. But Leary Way and Market both need big safety upgrades, and a protected bike route along there would be genuinely awesome. But it also feels like a different project than the trail. Then again, there’s funding to make improvements now, and we don’t know how long these court battles will last. But also, how do we know this project won’t also get sued into oblivion? If we’re basing that assumption on the word of the appellants, well, we’ve fallen for that trick before. So keeping both options open seems like a good strategy. ¿Por qué no los dos?


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“We’re open to the Leary/Market study as long as it doesn’t add any delay to Shilshole,” Cascade Bicycle Club Executive Director Lee Lambert told Seattle Bike Blog.

Pie chart showing 77% support for the Shilshole South route for the trail and 5% for Leary.
From the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (AKA the Missing Link Mega Study).

Latest legal challenge

We reported earlier this year that the Shorelines Hearings Board decided against the city, though the full text of the decision was not yet complete so we did not know exactly why. The Board recently released its full decision (PDF), and it has nothing to do with the Shilshole trail’s design or safety or anything non-lawyers care about. It’s just more wrangling over technicalities, like whether the project is exempt from the State Environmental Policy Act and whether the appellant group has standing to make these legal challenges. Though the city remains just a small step away from having the permits they need to construct the Shilshole trail, the appellants have once again found a legal tactic to keep delaying those permits. The city and Cascade are planning to seek reconsideration, and the case could end up back in King County Superior Court eventually. But all this will likely take more than a year.

More details on the Leary-Market design work from SDOT:

We’re launching a design and public engagement process to study what an alternative “Missing Link” connection using 17th Ave NW, Leary Ave NW, and NW Market St would look like and mean for community members and businesses. This early design will result in an initial concept only (30% Design) at this point, and will be refined with community input. We’ll share this work with the public and take feedback on how to best design this route. 

We’re in the early stages for this potential route and expect to be able to share more details about this design this summer. We’re also beginning to collect community feedback and are contacting businesses and property owners near the route, presenting to community groups, conducting field research, and launching a community survey. 

In the meantime, we encourage everyone to sign up for the project email list to get regular updates.

Councilmember Dan Strauss and Mayor Bruce Harrell requested that SDOT study this route as an option for connecting the Burke-Gilman Missing Link with an all ages and abilities bicycle facility through Ballard along NW Market St, Leary Ave NW, and 17th Ave NW. More details about this request can be found here and here.

The Burke-Gilman Trail Missing Link is the long-planned multi-use trail safety improvements along 1.4 miles of Salmon Bay east of the Ballard Locks connecting the two existing sections of the Burke-Gilman Trail in Ballard.

SDOT has a 100% design for a proposed route along Shilshole Ave NW, however construction along this route has been paused due to ongoing litigation for over 25 years. This route remains an option if these legal challenges are resolved. Please see this website for more information on the Shilshole alignment.

Moving forward with designs for the Market/Leary/17th route will help us understand how this project will improve connectivity in the bike network, as well as potential impacts.


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7 responses to “SDOT begins study of CM Strauss’s Leary Way concept for the Missing Link + Legal update on Shilshole”

  1. Rich Knox

    The bike/ped path along Market St between the locks and 24th Ave is for me one of the least comfortable pieces of Seattle bicycle infrastructure. Even more uncomfortable is the section between 17th Ave and Fred Meyer. Coming from either direction, I’m relieved to be on Shilshole as it is today. Hopefully we’ll get a better experience between 17th and Fred Meyer when the utility construction is finished. Market St needs better separation between bicycles and pedestrians. It’s a wide path, but it manages to meander a bit, and it’s not always clear which part is for bikes and which part is for pedestrians. I would hate to see another two blocks of this. I’m 72. Whatever happens with Shilshole, Leary Way, etc., probably won’t come in my lifetime. In the meantime can we at least fix the parts east of 17th and west of 24th?

  2. eddiew

    SDOT should have added controls to the intersection of 17th Avenue NW and Shilshole Avenue NW 20 years ago. That would help the safety of all modes.

    It is odd that SDOT released 60 percent design on its Route 40 project that touches Leary Avenue NW while also studying the suggestion of Councilmember Strauss. The right of way, though wide, is fixed. The notion of the BGT is a mixed used trail. That will difficult to do on NW Market Street and Leary Avenue NW with transit routes 40, 44, 17, 18, 29 (routes 18 and 29 will be suspended in fall 2023). The Strauss notion continues the SDOT treatment west of 24th Avenue NW to the segment east of 24th Avenue NW. The issue will be more transit, more pedestrians, more intending bus riders in the fixed right of way. Even if the westbound left turn lane is deleted, will there be enough for all the users on the south side of NW Market Street?

    The cycling community is pretty solidly behind the SDOT project of the BGT mixed use trail on Shilshole Avenue NW. It has its limitations: it will be too narrow at high demand times, so faster cyclists will divert to the regular lanes; it does nothing for the pedestrian infrastructure on the north side.

    https://www.seattle.gov/transportation/projects-and-programs/programs/transit-program/transit-plus-multimodal-corridor-program/route-40—transit-plus

    1. Al Dimond

      Yeah, 17th/Shilshole is one of several intersections in the area where they just need a 4-way stop to make interactions with turning traffic slower and less chaotic. There, 46th/9th, 48th/8th…

  3. eddiew

    to the Knox point of the mixing of pedestrians and cyclists west of 24th Avenue NW. Please see what the UW did to its wider BGT east of 15th Avenue NW.

  4. Eric Norberg

    Please do SOMETHING. Cyclists are getting, and will continue to get, hurt. Leary looks way more appealing to me as a solution than continuing to dither with the bullies on Shilshole.

  5. Al Dimond

    I just want Dan Strauss — my district representative on the council mostly because the previous one was bullied out of his job by reactionaries — to explain where that space is supposed to come from on the critical blocks of Market between 24th and Leary. These are the blocks where the 40 and 44 buses overlap. How is this idea supposed to square with efforts to improve the reliability of those routes? I get that Dan has to stand up for the reactionary bullies that got him his job but he should at least explain himself in the level of detail that the average poster would.

    1. AW

      Dan Strauss supports the businesses on Shilshole and not people who would use the trail there. Anything else is a detail that is someone else’s problem to solve or live with. I won’t be voting for him and I expect the same reactionaries to gang up on him too.

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