Seattle’s efforts to move forward with a trimmed-down bike lane in Ballard are being challenged in King County Superior Court by members of the neighborhood’s maritime and industrial community, extending yet again the decadeslong battle over the Burke-Gilman Trail’s so-called missing link.
The appeal comes just over a month after the Seattle Department of Transportation unveiled a revised pitch for connecting the 1.4-mile gap in the storied bike route. The proposed plans are a slimmer version of the city’s preferred design and represent an attempt to finally break ground on one of Seattle’s most litigated projects.
But the city’s efforts have not satisfied opponents of the missing link — including the Teamsters Union Local 174, Ballard Terminal Railroad and other Ballard businesses — who argue that inserting the route along Shilshole Avenue Northwest will create an unsafe environment for businesses, truck drivers and riders and will disrupt commerce in the area.
Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel says its concrete and delivery trucks will pass over the bike lane 200 to 300 times a day. In its appeal, filed Tuesday, the coalition contends the city has not obtained the necessary permits to move forward with its new plans and has not taken the necessary steps to comply with the State Environmental Policy Act.
They ask the court to bar the project from proceeding and to order the city to obtain permitting and more environmental review.
“The Project will be in almost constant conflict with heavy trucks, an active railroad, forklift traffic, maritime and industrial traffic and activities, loading docks, commercial parking, and busy arterial streets along its entire alignment,” the appeal reads.
The fight over the Burke-Gilman’s missing link dates to the 1990s. The existing Burke-Gilman Trail suddenly ends at Shilshole Avenue Northwest, placing cyclists into tight proximity to cars and train tracks.
Bike advocates and the city have pushed for extending the trail along Shilshole Avenue Northwest, near the water, thereby connecting the pieces of the trail in a nearly straight line.
But businesses along the water have pushed for rerouting the trail onto Leary Way, to the northeast of where the trail currently sits.
The fight between the two interests has dragged on, as the trail’s opponents have fought the city in court and before hearing examiners at every turn.
In its most recent plans, the city cut down on its previous aspirations as an attempt to exempt the project from lengthy review and complete it before funding from the 2015 Move Seattle levy expires in 2024. While still running along Shilshole Avenue, the project would not require any railroad tracks to be relocated. It would also constitute a narrower design — 10 feet wide instead of 12 — and cut down on materials cost. Construction would begin in late 2022 or early 2023 and take roughly seven months, the city said.
In a statement, Ethan Bergerson, spokesperson for the Seattle Department of Transportation, said the city anticipated an appeal in planning the project’s schedule.
“It is unfortunate that legal challenges from special interest groups have delayed this important safety project for so many years, and we believe this new plan will resolve this issue in court so we can finally move forward and give the bike, walking and rolling community a safe route to enjoy the treasure that is the Burke-Gilman trail,” Bergerson said.
Vicky Clarke, policy director of the Cascade Bicycle Club, said the appeal recycles the same arguments that have been litigated for decades now.
“Contrary to the opponents’ age-old arguments, upgrading our streets so that they create designated spaces for people biking and walking makes our streets safer for everyone — and completing the missing link along [Shilshole] will create those same results,” she said in an email.
But the project’s appellants argue the new proposal is “in the same location and just slimmed down” and does not address their concerns about safety and interference with daily business.
The project’s budget remains at $26.4 million, which includes some previous work already done.