A summer ruling has again stalled Ballard’s missing link, the 1.4-mile section of the Burke-Gilman Trail that has been delayed since the ’90s. A handful of waterfront businesses are using the courts to block the trail. Their economic self-interest is derailing a public-safety project that the city of Seattle has been trying to complete for more than 20 years.
For about the past year, a waterfront billboard has read: “Save working-class Ballard: Don’t build the missing link.” I pass this sign each day bicycling to and from work, and it perfectly sums up the hypocrisy of these businesses’ efforts to keep the trail in its current, appallingly dangerous condition.
Who is working-class Ballard, anyway? For 14 years I’ve lived in Ballard and biked to work nearly every day. When our second child was born, my husband and I were both working full time and could barely pay our mortgage and two child-care bills. We couldn’t afford a second car, and buses were too unreliable to make it back to Ballard for the day care’s pickup deadline. We biked, rain or shine.
I still ride to work because it’s good for my health, for a city that’s getting busier every day and for the planet. But the current situation on the missing link is dangerous enough to make me reconsider. Between chaotic road crossings, train tracks, construction projects and commuter traffic, this short section is harrowing even for experienced cyclists.
On a recent evening, the combination of train tracks, detour and construction caught me for the first time. I was distracted by a car idling right next to the trail, waiting to enter a construction site, and didn’t notice the plastic bike lane divider under my front wheel. It catapulted me off my seat. I landed on my feet, shaken but unharmed.
Bicycles have no seat belts, no air bags, no bumpers. Any collision is likely to end in injury. The point of building this trail is to help every person who is walking or bicycling arrive home in one piece.
One of Ballard’s initial charms, for me, was its connection to its maritime history and the industrial waterfront. But that appeal has worn off with the response of a few businesses, notably Ballard Oil and Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel, to the completion of this trail on the public land next to their property.
It feels like the waterfront businesses are literally willing to throw their neighbors under the bus, or the ride share, or the commuter car, in order to have easier access to their driveways.
The “Ballard Coalition,” as it’s known in court, has already negotiated significant compromises with the city, but then pocketed them and headed back to court. A section of trail was originally planned to run one block south of Market Street, but now will run along the main street. With new apartments slated for that stretch, all traffic in or out of those buildings will have to cross a bicycle path, just because the waterfront businesses negotiated to push the trail one block farther from their properties.
The current lawsuit is regarding an insufficient review of potential economic impacts to these businesses from an environmental-impact statement that was done as a result of previous lawsuits. As I ride to and from work, I wonder: Why are businesses with lawyers being heard louder than working families who are too busy to show up to public meetings? Why is the economic impact for these businesses being weighed against public safety?
I have tried to talk directly with these businesses, as neighbors, about safety. I would much rather encounter a few trucks, driven at low speeds by professional drivers, than get pushed into the Russian roulette of Ballard traffic. Other cities, and even other parts of Seattle, have successfully combined a bike path and industry businesses. We can coexist.
Workers who ride bikes will benefit from a safer route through Ballard, and studies show that route is along the waterfront. As the apartments and offices now under construction fill up, these people will need to get around, too. We’ll all be better off if these people are not driving their cars.
The historic businesses need to recognize the legitimate concerns of people who ride bikes. They need to allow a safe, direct route for current and future Ballard workers to commute by bicycle. It’s time to come together and complete the Shilshole section of the missing link.