Seattle officials are proposing a full-blown environmental impact statement to study the effects of completing the Burke-Gilman Trail in a section of the city where several property owners have blocked the project for a decade.
While the study could take several years to complete, Mayor Mike McGinn and Councilmember Tom Rasmussen said Thursday that an extensive environmental review would be more difficult to challenge in court.
In the meantime, the two announced some improvements that will be constructed in 2013 and 2014 to make the area safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.
The battle over the so-called Missing Link shows how even a gold-level Bicycle Friendly Community run by a pro-bicycle mayor nicknamed “Mayor McSchwinn” can be hampered in its efforts to complete a bike trail.
In the case of the Burke Gilman trail, included on the Rails to Trail Conservancy’s Hall of Fame, the 2 miles of unfinished trail is in a maritime industrial area of the Ballard neighborhood. Opponents worry about access to their businesses should the trail be completed.
Warren Aakervik, owner of Ballard Oil, which is along the planned route, told the Seattle Times:
“You can have an industrial area there or you can have a recreational trail, but you can’t have both. If you put people and bicycles on a major truck street, you’re going to have injuries.”
The first section of the Burke Gilman Trail, between Gas Works Park and Kenmore, was completed in 1978. Efforts to close the final gap have been ongoing since 2003.
A limited environmental review was undertaken in 2008, but has faced legal roadblocks and has been hung up in court for four years.
The new Environmental Impact Statement will begin in 2013, “but will take several more years to reach its conclusion due to the likelihood of further legal appeals over adequacy of any new EIS,” according to the city’s press release.
Meanwhile, the city reports police or emergency crews responded to 45 bicycle crashes on the “missing link” in a 4-year-period ending in 2011. The area has the highest bicycle collision rate in the city.
According to a prepared remarks at Thursday’s announcement, McGinn said:
“We are eager to complete the Missing Link, and conducting a full EIS is the best way to break the legal log jam on this project. We are also moving ahead on safety improvements on the street that can be implemented quickly to help everyone share the road.”
Here are the improvements the city is proposing in the area of the Missing Link:
- Advisory bicycle lanes on NW 45th Street and other safety improvements on that section of roadway
- Installation of striping and signage to create a traffic island and a 4-way stop at Ballard Avenue NW and 17th Avenue NW
- Striping and signage at NW 48th Street and Ballard Avenue NW to improve vehicular line of sight and slow speeds.
- Shoulder maintenance and replacement along degraded sections of the shoulder along Shilshole Avenue NW.
- Installation of a curb ramp to allow bicycles access to the sidewalk to queue for the existing bike lane headed north on 24th Avenue NW at the intersection of Shilshole Avenue NW / 24th Avenue NW and NW Market Street. Current conditions provide very limited queuing space for bicycles.
The Cascade Bicycle Club, which has been a long-time champion of the city’s attempts to close the bike path gap, was one of the first to carry the story on its blog: “McGinn eager to complete Missing Link.”
One of the early commenters noted that, at the moment, he or she would be happy if the Seattle Department of Transportation just filled the potholes on the missing link.