Controversy continues over completing the Missing Link of the Burke-Gilman Trail, as opponents of the planned and funded trail released an idea for an alternative cycletrack down busy Leary Way and Market Street.
While improvements to Market and Leary should be explored, there are several challenges that make Leary-Market a poor substitute for the plan approved by the city council, funded, designed and exhaustively studied over the past decade. For guidance, let’s turn to the Ballard Corridor Study, performed in 2002-2003 while the city was trying to find best route to place the trail. A full PDF is here, and you can read a wealth of other information about the project at SDOT’s Burke-Gilman Trail Extension Projects page.
SDOT looked at three possible routes for the trail – the “Green Route” is the permanent route currently proposed, while the Red route travels mostly on Ballard Avenue and Market Street and the Blue route is a more circuitous one through the neighborhood. The map does not do a good job of showing that there are limited crossings of 15th Ave NW underneath and north of the Ballard Bridge – this constrains the choice of alternatives.
First, a couple of facts to be aware of. Collisions are much more likely to occur at intersections, and the biggest factor in crash severity is speed. While a pedestrian struck by a car traveling 20mph will likely survive, but higher speeds are exponentially dangerous. By 40 mph, a car will be deadly to a vulnerable road user 90% of the time.
SDOT studied factors including vehicle speeds, the number of vehicles, and the number of intersections and driveway crossings for each route. The Green Route won on all these criteria.
First, the planned route travels along the rail right of way near the shoreline, rather than on arterial streets. This reduced the number of driveways and intersections by an order of magnitude over any other alternative. But the Green Route still does cross several industrial driveways, so studies were performed on two where the business owners were most concerned. SDOT found that for businesses like Ballard Oil that cross the rail alignment, more design work was warranted, and has been completed for the section of trail closest to the Locks. Along Shilshole, the about 16 trucks per hour were entering and leaving Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel between 7 and 9am on weekdays, and ultimately the department recommended an interim detour to Ballard Avenue along their operations until the permanent route could be designed in a context-sensitive way.
As for vehicle volumes and speeds, the Green Route again was the alternative that minimized those challenges. Along NW 45th Street (near the Fred Meyer), speeds and volumes are much lower than the parallel arterial on 46th that now hosts the Ballard Blocks development (Trader Joes, LA Fitness, etc.). Likewise, Leary Way, Market St. , and 15th Ave NW are streets to avoid because of average speeds around 35mph and much higher vehicle volumes. The Red Route, Blue Route and now the Leary-Market cycletrack proposed by the appellants against the city’s plan are all problematic for these reasons.
The Burke-Gilman Trail serves a variety of users, of all ages and abilities, and even their pets. The city planned and designed its solution for the “Missing Link” over many years, and considering safety for all users through this corridor as its top priority. In addition to safety considerations, the Green Route also was the most continuous, most closely resembled other parts of the existing trail, and is the shortest one possible since it hugs the rail line. For instance, the blue route would add another mile to what is only a 1.5-mile gap. Thus, the Green Route is likely to draw many more users than any other alternative.
Judge Jim Rogers ruled recently that for the parts of the trail the city has designed, they have done due diligence in their environmental analysis . However, SDOT did not study the portion of what’s defined as the “permanent” Green Route that travels past its most prominent opponent. Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel was not satisfied with the Ballard Avenue compromise. Rogers ruled that the city must do this planning now, although there is currently no timeline for constructing a trail there.
Despite this protracted legal challenge, we see a light at the end of the tunnel. SDOT is performing the required environmental checklist along the undesigned portion of the “permanent” route over the next several weeks. If they do not find that there are likely significant environmental impacts, they will be able to go to bid on the trail project.