The University of Washington wants to stretch the feds’ traditionally narrow definition of transportation infrastructure to include the bike and pedestrian super-highway of the Burke-Gilman trail.
The UW’s application for a $12 million federal TIGER grant, submitted last month, would create separate pedestrian, running and bike lanes on the the 1.7-mile stretch of trail through the campus. The intent is to respond to already-crowded conditions on the trial, and to prepare for projected growth in use of the trail when the Link light rail station opens in 2016, said Josh Kavanagh, UW’s transportation director.
“If we don’t so something, the conditions would be unsafe,” he said.
What’s innovative here is the reach for a TIGER grant. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER grants, which are highly competitive, usually go to “road, rail, transit and port projects that promise to achieve critical national objectives.” The state won a $10 million grant for a rail project in Spokane in 2012 and $15 million for Interstate 5 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in 2011.
Seizing a TIGER grant for a bike project is rare but not without precedent. At the National Bike Summit in April, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said $130 million in TIGER grants had been previously awarded nationwide to bike-pedestrian projects, although most went to help seed bike-share projects. And with $500 million or so granted a year, bike projects have taken a back seat.
Using precious transportation dollars for bike infrastructure, of course, is red meat for the carbon-fuel loving crowd. To those folks I say, hope you’re enjoying your climate change. Reducing carbon fuels, and building denser cities of the future, requires full embrace of bike infrastructure.
The future is already here for the Burke-Gilman. About 1,000 pedestrians and bikers use the Burke-Gilman during evening rush hour right now, making it a carbon-free highway. By 2030, about 1,000 pedestrians and 1,600 bikers are projected to be on the trail at rush hour, Kavanagh said.
The projected re-build would add an underpass at the busy UW entrance off Montlake Boulevard (photo to the right), would widen the trail for walkers and runners, and add an elevated cycle track on a slight berm. Overall, it would cost about $26 million, and could be finished before the Link station opening in 2016.
The state Congressional delegation, including Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, have signed on in support. Sen. Patty Murray sent a letter to LaHood. Kavanagh acknowledges the rarity of getting TIGER dollars for bikes, but thinks the UW has a good case. “What’s unique about the Burke-Gilman is, this is not your father’s trail. It’s a major piece of transportation infrastructure. It’s not just a recreation corridor. It’s a travel corridor first.”
A decision is expected in September.