How a rail line might become a major bike trail in Washington state

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Can you imagine riding your bicycle in the future along this corridor where these railroad tracks run today? I can.

This is a very short stretch of a 47-mile railroad right-of-way that runs north-south about two miles from my home in the growing communities just east of Seattle.

The current owner, the BNSF Railway, wants to sell the 100-foot right-of-way. A deal currently in the works calls for the Port of Seattle to buy it for $100 million to $180 million and turn it over to King County along with the funds to build a bike and hike trail on it. In return, the Port gets the King County-owned 625-acre airfield just south of Seattle.

If the land swap deal happens — we'll probably know next year — the old rail line could become the backbone for a network of existing bike trails.

In the north, it could connect with the Centennial Trail (currently 17.5 miles) between Snohomish and Arlington and in the south it would hook into the Cedar River Trail (16 miles). In between it intersects the Burke-Gilman Trail – Sammamish River Trail (27 miles) that runs between Redmond and Seattle and the East Lake Sammamish Trail (11 miles) that connects Redmond and Issaquah.

Those are all old rail lines. The list don't include the short neighborhood trails, bike lanes, and freeway-adjacent bike paths that criss-cross the area.


The Seattle Times says if the deal works, it would increase the county's bike trail mileage by about 30%.

Despite the sylvan image above, the rail line doesn't pass through the woods its entire length. It passes right through an area where hundreds of thousands work and live.

It leaves from downtown Renton, passes the Boeing plant and heads along the shore of Lake Washington through Bellevue, Redmond (HQ of Microsoft) and Bothell. It would be ideal for the bicycling commuter.

The highlight of the trip is the 102-foot high, 975-foot long Wilburton trestle (right) in Bellevue. Built in 1904, the trestle is used almost daily by trains today.

While the actual paving for a bike path might be five to seven years away, it might share that corridor with a mass transit line in the distant future. The King County Journal reminds that the corridor runs parallel with the state's most crowded interstate — I-405. The corridor is about 100 feet wide throughout most (but not all) of its length; leaving room for a passenger rail line alongside a bike path.

See the Rails to Trails Conservancy website and the Great Bicycle Trails & City Rides Worldwide blog for more about rails-to-trails.

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