To break through a quarter-century of political gridlock, Seattle Councilmember Dan Strauss proposes to abandon the city’s disputed bike trail route alongside Ballard’s waterfront industries, and move the future path two blocks inland.

His concept would reshape Leary Avenue Northwest and a couple blocks of 17th Avenue Northwest, to fill the 1.4-mile “missing link” of the Burke-Gilman Trail. Since the early 2000s, maritime interests have sued to thwart the city’s attempt to build a trail along Shilshole Avenue Northwest, across industrial driveways.

The new problem-solving effort by an elected official brings a sign of hope that the stalemate can end soon, after more than $6.5 million was spent on city outreach and engineering to advance the Shilshole option.

A Ballard project would finally complete the 20-mile regional Burke-Gilman Trail, a half-century in the making. It stretches crosstown from Golden Gardens Park to the University of Washington, Kenmore and Bothell. From there, it connects with King County’s 10-mile Sammamish River Trail to Redmond and Marymoor Park.

A future Leary segment ought to resemble the stretch the Seattle Department of Transportation built in 2020 alongside the National Nordic Museum, on Northwest Market Street, Strauss said. There should also be raised crosswalks at intersections to calm local motor traffic, he said.

Motor vehicle space would be reduced on Leary, which now provides as many as six lanes to drive and park.


Strauss, elected in 2019 to serve District 6 encompassing Ballard, promoted the Leary route in a letter to other city government leaders Friday, and shared online with constituents. He requests a six-month feasibility study to include public outreach, and partial engineering design.

Until now, SDOT and walk-bike activists have insisted on a trail parallel to Shilshole Avenue Northwest, since it’s the most direct diagonal route from Ballard to Fremont, and there’s undeveloped dirt next to the two-lane street for trail conversion.

Strauss wrote that the Leary route, though likely more expensive, could provide a 12-foot-wide bike trail, instead of the confined 8-foot width available at Shilshole.

Industrial companies between Shilshole and the working waterfront have resisted for two decades, saying a trail along Shilshole Avenue would cause crashes and delays for deliveries, especially mixer trucks at Salmon Bay Sand & Gravel. Drivers park in the dirt.

City plans have stalled amid lawsuits and environmental permit appeals, as each side dug in its heels. A few years ago, SDOT hit a legal roadblock with designs that required moving train tracks, a difficult feat under federal commerce codes. The city narrowed part of the proposed trail in 2021 in an attempted compromise. As recently as this January, the city’s shoreline development permit was invalidated by a state board, a move likely to prolong litigation.

Scores of people have been injured on the narrow two-lane Shilshole route, which crosses train tracks near the Lake Washington Ship Canal. Washington Bike Law sued the city last year and says it obtained settlements for eight injured bicyclists.


“What I want is safe infrastructure now,” Strauss said in an interview. “Every year I’ve been in office, they’ve told me ‘Shilshole will be built next year.’ It hasn’t happened for 30 years. It’s time to take another look at this.”

Eugene Wasserman, president of the North Seattle Industrial Association, praised Strauss’ plan Friday.

“Leary Avenue is an underutilized arterial that has less heavy trucks than Shilshole. They can get it built sooner, because they can reach a deal with the litigants,” Wasserman said.

Strauss described Shilshole Avenue as a busy arterial needed for industries in the daytime and for people driving to Ballard nightlife — and it will also need safety improvements including walkways, he wrote.

“Litigation aside, we are at a turning point in Ballard with increased density, increased use of electric bikes and scooters, and a bustling community. We cannot afford to miss the opportunity to connect the Burke-Gilman Trail to our commercial and residential core,” he wrote.

Seattle DOT replied through a spokesperson Friday: “We have received Councilmember Strauss’ request and will review it carefully.”


Since January, Strauss has engaged in shuttle diplomacy with not only the industries, but walk-bike supporters such as Seattle Neighborhood Greenways.

Seattle Bike Blog, which has intensively covered the trail saga, called Strauss’ concept a “legitimately exciting safe-streets project” and “the biggest development in the Missing Link saga in years,” yet also encouraged SDOT to continue its effort to prevail in court for the Shilshole version.

Lee Lambert, executive director of the Cascade Bicycle Club, said, “This is a great idea, as long as it doesn’t delay the building of a route along Shilshole. … We’re not going to give up on Shilshole, and we’re not going to get in the way of Leary/Market.”

He said even if Strauss’ proposed route is built, some people will still bike on Shilshole and the city must make it safer, not only for cycling but truck drivers jolted by old concrete. “In its current state, it is not serving any users.”