“About this time next year, we will break ground and make this trail a reality,” said Mayor Ed Murray this afternoon. He was referring to the “missing link” of the Burke-Gilman Trail, the completion of which owners of nearby businesses have been fighting for more than a decade. Taken east to west, the 20 mile trail skirts the shores of Lakes Washington and Union to connect the Sammamish River Trail in Bothell with Golden Gardens in Seattle. But while most of the trail consists of clearly-marked bike paths, a 1.5 mile stretch in Ballard remains unprotected roadway to this day.
Today’s agreement, if it holds, will finally change that fact. From east to west, the agreed-upon compromise route proceeds along the southern side of Shilshole Ave NW until—as a concession to local businesses who’ve opposed the trail—it takes a slight uphill detour to avoid three blocks of waterfront industrial operations, including Ballard Oil, before rejoining the waterfront at Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden. The agreement is only a “framework,” as Murray put it in a press release. “Stakeholders” still have to “work together on the design elements of a preferred alternative route that would complete the ‘missing link’ with a marked, dedicated trail for pedestrians and cyclists,” he said.
The fight over this particular section of trail is old. The Seattle Times wrote in 2003, “The dispute over closing the link pits the area’s powerful bicycle lobby against the equally powerful waterfront businesses in Ballard’s industrial area. The business owners oppose the route the bicyclists favor.”
“It won’t work and make the trail safe,” Ballard Terminal Railroad manager Byron Cole told the Times at the time, referring to a plan that would have sent cyclists through the aforementioned three block stretch of industrial areas. “This is the Ballard industrial area. There is no safe place to mix the trail with forklifts and pallets of fish.” Ballard Oil owner Warren Aakervik agreed. “If it goes in, it will be the end of the manufacturing and fishing industry in this part of the city. There’s no question the trail and the industrial section can’t co-exist.”
Today, Aakervik signed on to the planned compromise route, according to the mayor’s press release. “This is a great announcement for people who use the Burke-Gilman Trail and for nearby businesses,” said Aakervik. “The City of Seattle, businesses, and all the stakeholders are committed to a trail that is safe for recreation and commuting and allows for predictable access for trucks using the corridor. Our maritime businesses are dependent on easy access to the water and roads, and this agreement gets us that. This is a win for everyone.”
“After years of disagreement, we have a path forward to finally complete the ‘missing link’ of the Burke-Gilman Trail,” said Murray, according to the release. “Bicyclists and pedestrians will no longer need to weave, dodge, or hold their breath while navigating through Ballard and maritime businesses along the water will maintain access to the roads they depend on. Today’s announcement highlights our collaborative effort to complete the trail, making the Burke-Gilman safer and more accessible for all.”
City councilmembers and consumate urbanists Rob Johnson and Mike O’Brien also applauded the deal, as did cyclist advocates. “To say we are elated is a vast understatement,” said Blake Trask, Senior Policy Director of the Cascade Bicycle Club, according to the mayor’s press release. “This project will benefit generations. We are grateful to the many parties, including local Ballard businesses, for coming together, listening to one another, and committing to building a trail that is safe and predictable for everyone.”
Tom Fucoloro, journalist for SeattleBikeBlog.com, says that as far as he can tell, that super-elation is shared by other cyclist advocates. “I’m literally at a champagne toast right now,” he said over the phone, “so I’d say they’re pretty happy about it.”