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September 30, 2014 at 1:18 PM

Another delay for the Burke-Gilman’s ‘missing link,’ and an alternative

The long-delayed end to the Burke-Gilman Trail’s “missing link” will be delayed again.

The Seattle Department of Transportation has pushed back the timeline by “eight or nine months” for completion of an environmental impact statement (EIS) on route options for the recreation trail superhighway through Ballard, according to SDOT spokesperson Rick Sheridan. The draft EIS will be published in 2015, the final version in 2016, because the city switched consultants.

That means the planning alone for the missing link will finally be done nearly three years after the city began the EIS process back in 2013. That means that, for years to come, cyclists in Ballard will continue playing chicken with 50,000-pound dump trucks.

Why the city switched is — like everything else with the missing link — in dispute.

SDOT says the Ballard maritime and industrial businesses who’ve sued to block the city’s preferred route option — a trail running across their driveways along Shilshole Avenue Northwest — objected to the initial consultant SvR because they had done design work on the preferred route. Josh Brower, the businesses’ attorney, disputed that, saying they’d lodged no formal protest.

A rendering of what the Ballard business appellant's Plan B could look like, on Northwest Market. (Source: Ballard Business Appellants)

A rendering of what the Ballard business appellant’s Plan B could look like, on Northwest Market. (Source: Ballard Business Appellants)

The reasons for the delay are less interesting to me than the options going forward.

Quick background: The missing link is the 1.5-mile gap in the Burke-Gilman, roughly from the Ballard Locks to the Ballard Fred Meyer (SDOT history is here). The Seattle City Council in 2003 opted for a route along Shilshole Avenue, through the Ballard industrial zone. Businesses (including the Ballard Chamber of Commerce, Ballard Oil, Salmon Bay Sand & Gravel and others) sued, claiming the route, which crosses 55 driveways, would put bicycles in direct conflict with trucks.

The businesses won in 2012, and the city started the EIS process, which includes looking at alternatives.

I wrote about a “Plan B” alternative proposed by the businesses, which would put a protected bike lane along Leary Way Northwest and Northwest Market Street. The group submitted a letter to SDOT on its plan, and now has a website. That route makes even more sense today than it did then. Brower points out that its Plan B mirrors the design of new protected lanes on Broadway Avenue East and Second Avenue.

“It’s pure Copenhagen style,” said Brower. “It’s what they’re putting everywhere else in the city.”

The route isn’t perfect; it is not the dedicated recreational trail design that makes the Burke-Gilman so well-used, and loved. Some Ballard businesses would object, undoubtedly.

But it has the best chance of being built in the near future. If the city wants the Shilshole route after the whole planning process, Brower said his clients go back to court. “You could add another three to five years of appeals,” said Brower. “Now we’re looking at 2021-22.”

As I suggested last year, solving the mess of the missing link with a Plan B could be a win-win-win.

Cyclists get a far safer route that doesn’t require playing chicken with dump trucks. Ballard retailers would get a boost from tons of bicycle and pedestrian traffic outside their doors. And old Ballard industrial and maritime businesses — the ones that every mayor and City Council member say they value — could feel like they’re not being slowly pushed out of the city.

Mayor Ed Murray has proven adept at deal-making. How about taking on the missing link, Mr. Mayor?

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