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Cascade, Appellants issue dueling press statements as Missing Link continues to be tied in legal knots

A group of people with bikes in a mock crosswalk as seen from the driver's seat of a large truck.
Ballard Oil parked a truck near a planned trail crossing so people could see what it would look like from a driver’s perspective as part of the trail design process in 2017. After a long collaborative design process that included representatives from appellant businesses, a group decided to sue anyway.

Josh Brower, attorney for the appellant group fighting the Ballard Missing Link of the Burke-Gilman Trail in court, put out a lengthy press release claiming victory (see full statement below). Cascade responded, likening the statement to “a baseball team quitting before the 9th inning.”

My main squabble with the Cascade statement is that we are far beyond the 9th inning. It’s more like the 90th inning, and all the fans are asleep because the game should have ended a very long time ago. Or perhaps it is the 9th inning, but the officials have spent an entire decade stuck conducting a video review. And also 80% of people are rooting for the Shilshole team. And also it’s not baseball but some other game that nobody enjoys watching.

The legal fighting is about technicalities, not about the safety of the design or anything else that regular people actually care about. The location and the design of the trail was decided many years ago following an enormous amount of public input, which was clearly in favor of building it on Shilshole Avenue NW because it had the most direct route and the fewest driveways and crossings. All the city needs is the final construction permit before work can begin. But Brower has successfully stalled progress using legal maneuvers, challenging it on any grounds possible and finding ways to keep delaying that permit.

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The latest July decisions in Superior Court are fallout from the Shoreline Hearings Board decision we reported about previously. But now the City of Seattle and Cascade are in the process of appealing over the legal standing of the Appellant group, so more arguing over technicalities that have nothing to do with building a safe trail so people stop getting injured just for trying to bike through Ballard.

Pie chart showing public preferences for different Missing Link route options. Shilshole has 80% and Leary has 5%.
Summary of survey respondents’ route preferences from the Environmental Impact Statement for the Missing Link.

The larger question surrounding the Missing Link is about how much longer people are going to put up with the seemingly neverending court cases. In real life, people continue to crash and get injured trying to bike through the area. SDOT has begun to study Councilmember Dan Strauss’s concept for a trail “alternative” that follows 17th Ave NW, Leary Way and Market Street instead of Shilshole. During public outreach for the Missing Link’s environmental megastudy, only 5% of respondents were in favor of a Leary/Market route compared to 80% in favor of Shilshole. But Strauss and Brower are both pushing the idea that Leary/Market can happen now while the Shilshole route will be tied up in court for an indeterminable amount of time.

Of course, we have not even begun studying the Leary/Market route yet, so we’ll see if it really does avoid lawsuits. The Ballard Appellant group has gone back on their word before, so it would not be wise to trust that they won’t also sue to stop this one once the city has invested resources into it. The Market Street segment in particular will be tight, and tradeoffs will be necessary. Cascade has voiced support for the Leary/Market project “as long as it doesn’t add any delay to Shilshole,” Cascade Bicycle Club Executive Director Lee Lambert told Seattle Bike Blog in early July.

“The courts, the [Shoreline Hearings] Board, the community, all agree that Leary Avenue is the right place.” Brower said in the press release. I think that is overstating things a bit. I’m pretty sure if the city polled people again, they would get the same response they always get: Shilshole. But hey, Leary and Market could use safety improvements and bike lanes for sure.

Here is the full press release from Brower:

As legal losses continue to pile up against the plan to build the Burke-Gilman Trail Missing Link on Shilshole Avenue,  the Seattle Department of Transportation has launched a public engagement process, the first step toward finishing the trail on Leary Avenue as directed by Mayor Bruce Harrell and Councilmember Dan Strauss in March.

In the latest rulings against the City, King County Superior Court Judge Karen Donohue entered three orders on July 5 directing SDOT to comply with SEPA in the design and construction of the Missing Link on Shilshole, and ordering SDOT to either revise and reissue the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or withdraw it and issue a new EIS. The ruling essentially sends SDOT back to square one.

“The City of Seattle just wasted the last two years and $2.5 million more of taxpayers’ money trying to avoid complying with SEPA by ‘redesigning’ the Missing Link and claiming it was exempt from SEPA on the advice of the Cascade Bicycle Club’s lawyers,” said Ballard Coalition Attorney Josh Brower.  “Earlier this year the State Shorelines Hearings Board rejected Seattle’s claim that the Missing Link is exempt from SEPA, revoked the shoreline permit and ordered Seattle to comply with SEPA.  And now Judge Donohue has reinforced the Board’s ruling, ordering Seattle to comply with SEPA.”

In a series of meetings in January, Strauss said he heard strong community support for moving the Missing Link two blocks over from Shilshole onto Leary and finally finishing the trail.

“It has become apparent to me that Market Street, Leary Avenue, and 17th Avenue provide us a real opportunity to complete the ‘Missing Link’ and connect the trail to the housing and commercial core of Ballard,” Strauss wrote in March.

Since January, the courts and hearings boards have continued to rule against the city’s plans to build the bike trail on Shilshole.

·      On January 31, 2023, the Shorelines Hearings Board revoked Seattle’s shoreline permit for the Missing Link. Without a shoreline permit, Seattle cannot build the Missing Link on Shilshole. At that time, the SHB said it would issue a “formal” decision explaining its reasoning.

·      March 3, the Coalition won all three pending King County Superior Court (KCSC) cases.  Judge Donohue denied Seattle’s and Cascade’s Motion to dismiss the KCSC cases and said she was granting the Coalition’s Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment on all issues pending in those cases by ruling SDOT violated SEPA. Judge Donohue issued a decision denying Seattle’s and Cascade’s Summary Judgment motions, she didn’t immediately issue a decision in favor of the Coalition’s motions because she was waiting for the Board’s formal decision. 

·      On June 22, the Shorelines Hearings Board ruled that Seattle had violated SEPA by incorrectly claiming the Missing Link, as “redesigned,” is categorically exempt. 

·      On June 27, Ballard Terminal Railroad won its case before the Surface Transportation Board, confirming that the City of Seattle can’t force the railroad to remove and relocate its tracks to accommodate the Missing Link. 

·      On July 5, the Coalition officially won all three King County cases when Judge Donohue entered Orders requiring Seattle to comply with SEPA in the design and construction of the Missing Link and ordering Seattle to revise and reissue the EIS for the Missing Link or withdraw it and issue a new EIS.

“Since 2008, the City has lost 16 times yet continues trying to avoid SEPA and shoehorn the trail onto Shilshole. All of the recent decisions continue to confirm exactly what the Ballard Coalition has been saying since 2008: Shilshole is the wrong place for a bike trail. The courts, the Board, the community, all agree that Leary Avenue is the right place.” Brower said. “It’s time for SDOT to understand that as well.”

Response from Cascade:

To say that the legal battle for the completion of the Missing Link is over is like a baseball team quitting before the 9th inning. Cascade has recently signed on to another lawsuit with the City of Seattle to ensure the Burke-Gilman Trail Missing Link is on the most safe, simple, and direct route — Shilshole Ave NW.

Right now, Shilshole Avenue NW is a failed street that is dangerous for all users — not just people on bikes. To make sure everyone can get around safely, Cascade Bicycle Club will continue advocating for improvements to Shilshole such as the completion of the ‘Missing Link’ gap in the Burke-Gilman Trail.

In a press release on July 18, Ballard Coalition lawyer Josh Brower falsely claimed that Cascade Bicycle Club attorneys advised the city to redesign the Missing Link trail segment to avoid complying with SEPA. This is false and absurd. Cascade lawyers do not advise SDOT on trail design.

We are not surprised Brower and the small group of wealthy special interests he represents are pushing this false narrative. By exploiting legal technicalities and fighting to maintain the dangerous conditions on Shilshole Avenue, these deep-pocketed opponents are stalling progress to make Seattle safer for people bicycling–and for all users of Shilshole Avenue.

Cascade Bicycle Club will continue to advocate for a safe bike connection through Ballard on Shilshole Avenue because it is the most logical and direct route–and most importantly, it is the route chosen by the people of Seattle.

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5 responses to “Cascade, Appellants issue dueling press statements as Missing Link continues to be tied in legal knots”

  1. dave

    Imagine being a lawyer and spending your whole career fighting a bike lane.

  2. asdf2

    The city is learning the hard way – do not mess with big money interests.

    Hopefully, no other big-monied interest will come forward to sue over Leary. If they do, I guess the only legal remedy is to just give up on building a safe bike facility through Ballard at all.

  3. RossB

    I’ve said it before — the city should play hard ball. Just put stops signs everywhere. Put cops by the stop signs. Those big trucks won’t want to make a full stop at every block. Do it all “for safety” (vision zero and all that). Make it clear that this will continue unless bikes have a safe way to go through.

    1. Jenna

      Love this.

  4. eddiew

    Note that SDOT released sixty percent designs for its Route 40 project before saying it would study the Councilmember Strauss option. I expect the two would treat both NW Market Street and Leary Avenue NW differently. SDOT should control the intersection of 17th Avenue NW and Shilshole Avenue NW quickly; it is needed for safety and any plan.

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