The city of Seattle is trying to build a trail to connect the 17 miles of Burke-Gilman Trail running from Ballard to Bothell and the segment of about 1 mile that runs north from the locks to Golden Gardens Park. Now area business owners have filed a lawsuit challenging the project: They say transportation officials...
Two cyclists pedaling along the docks in Ballard stop and ask two maritime-industry workers leaning against a truck for directions to the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks.
The workers nod toward the road ahead of them — Northwest 54th Street west of 26th Avenue Northwest — and laugh. The road will take them, the workers say, but it’s unpaved, covered in rocks the size of golf balls and lined by railroad tracks that easily topple inexperienced riders.
The city is trying to build a trail there, connecting the 17 miles of Burke-Gilman Trail running from Ballard to Bothell and the about 1-mile segment running north from the locks to Golden Gardens Park.
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But last week, area business owners filed a lawsuit challenging the project. They say transportation officials failed to thoroughly investigate how local industries would be affected by the trail, which would run along roads used by heavy trucks making deliveries to and from the docks.
“With the amount of industry that’s here, there’s no safe way to build it,” said Warren Aakervik, owner of Ballard Oil. “I don’t want anyone to get killed here.”
The proposed trail would run directly in front of Aakervik’s company, one of the two maritime-fueling facilities that service the North Pacific fishing fleet, including the ships featured on the Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch.”
Tanker trucks each carrying about 9,000 gallons of fuel, lube oil or waste oil would cross the trail between eight and 40 times per day, six days per week, according to the lawsuit.
In 2003, Aakervik received a letter from his insurance company stating that his company “could literally become effectively uninsurable” if the trail is built and a truck driver accidentally strikes a cyclist.
“If you can’t get insurance, it’s over,” said Edd Hajek, skipper at Ballard Inflatables.
Cycling advocates say the danger to riders lies not with a trail, but with leaving things the way they are.
“To say we have to leave this a dirty and dangerous place to support those businesses just isn’t supported by the facts,” said David Hiller, advocacy director for Cascade Bicycle Club.
About 40 people a year report injury crashes near the railroad tracks under the Ballard Bridge, just blocks west of where the trail now ends, Hiller said.
Safety concerns are a routine part of Seattle Transportation Department environmental reviews, but a review was never conducted because the trail’s impact was determined to be “nonsignificant” to the area.
“To say it’s ‘nonsignificant’ is not good enough,” Aakervik said. “You need to tell me that it’s safe, not that you think it’s safe.”
The bicycle club is named in the lawsuit, as well as the city and its Transportation Department, which declined to comment on the proposed trail because of the pending litigation.
Aakervik said if the city conducts an environmental review and cyclists still want a trail through the area, “that’s fine. I’m willing to step aside.
“If they feel its their manifest destiny to have it and the price isn’t too high,” Aakervik said, waving his hand and shrugging, indicating he’d go along with the idea. “But one death is too high. That’s the problem.”
Lindsay Toler: 206-464-2463 or email@example.com