The first section of rail-trail on the main stem of the old BNSF railroad corridor east of Seattle opens in Kirkland on Saturday as the city hosts a “Seahawks-style” celebration.
The official opening of the Cross Kirkland Corridor (see map) puts the city of Kirkland way ahead of its neighboring jurisdictions — King County, Bellevue, and Woodinville — in putting to use the 28 miles of old railroad right-of-way that stretches from Renton into Snohomish County.
Redmond also has converted a 1.3-mile portion of a 7-mile spur off the main line into a trail.
When I visited the Cross Kirkland Corridor last weekend, I was surprised at how many people were on the trail. There were hundreds — kids walking and on bikes with their parents, folks walking their dogs, and adults just out for a ride or a stroll. Of course it was beautiful weather, with blue skies and temperatures in the high 50s or low 60s, but it was clear that this trail is a big draw.
The 5.75 miles of trail is packed gravel, easy enough for a fat tires or even those running 28mm tires. It runs from 108th Avenue in the south, next to the South Kirkland Park and Ride, northward to Slater Avenue NE.
All the street crossings (except the one at Totem Lake Boulevard and NE 124th Street) are improved with crosswalks and flashing crossing signals. They all have paved approaches.
A 0.3 mile section near the Google facility is the only detour while improvements are made to the property.
It’s very heartening to see a city jump out ahead to offer a transportation and recreation corridor to its residents.
After years of negotiations, the Port of Seattle acquired the railroad from BNSF in 2008. By the time King County’s agreement for the land with Port of Seattle came to fruition in 2012, Kirkland city officials already had finalized all the terms it needed to buy the section of railroad through its city.
The city removed the tracks and ballast that had been in use since 1904 and began upgrading the corridor to a trail. That work includes paving with compacted gravel, as well as landscaping, drainage, fences and improvements at street crossings. There even are two bridges. Reports say that most of the trail has been open to use for the past couple of months.
The trail passes through six neighborhoods, and four business districts. It passes close to several schools and the city’s largest employer — the Evergreen Hospital and Medical Center.
Especially on the southern stretch in the wintertime, when leaves are off many trees, there are a few clear views across Lake Washington with the Olympic Mountains visible on the horizon. In the north, the snow-capped Cascades are visible in a few places from the trail.
At either end of the trail, you can look ahead and see the tracks running into the distance. The scenes are unchanged since the railroad sold out in 2008.
Let’s hope the other stakeholders in the Eastside Railroad Corridor can move a little faster in converting other sections into trail.
We’re talking about connections to the Sammamish River Trail and the Burke-Gilman Trail, the I-90 (Mountains to Sound) trail along Interstate 90 across Lake Washington, the future State Route 520 trail across the under construction 520 Bridge, and eventually hooking up to the Centennial Trail in Snohomish County.