Seattle has drawn a leaner design for the city’s unbuilt 1.4-mile bike trail in Ballard, in hopes to break through two decades of disputes with industrial and maritime companies nearby.
The project has been under discussion since the 1990s, to fill the last “missing link” of the Burke-Gilman Trail from Bothell to Golden Gardens Park in Ballard.
The latest version still runs alongside Shilshole Avenue Northwest, but avoids relocating a half-mile of tracks owned by the Ballard Terminal Railroad Co. Federal commerce law gives railroads the power to resist land takings, and a 2020 court ruling blocked the city’s goal to break ground last winter.
Construction could start in late 2022 or early 2023, for an estimated seven months, Mayor Jenny Durkan and the Seattle Department of Transportation announced Monday.
The shared walk-bike trail will be 10 feet wide, rather than the previous 12-foot design. The city will rely on cheaper paint and plastic posts for two intersections, instead of concrete curbs and sidewalks.
Currently, bicycling is hazardous amid traffic on narrow Shilshole Avenue Northwest, and train tracks where the arterial curves into Northwest 45th Street. Riders have broken bones and scraped skin in falls.
Vicky Clarke, policy director for the Cascade Bicycle Club, called the road treacherous.
“At this point, the design they have out there is much greater than what’s on the street. Given the resistance of a few deep pocketed people and businesses, it’s the best we can do for now.”
Opponents argue a trail would interfere with trucks to the industrial waterfront, creating danger where pedestrians and cyclists cross driveways. They advocate shifting the trail inland to Leary Way Northwest.
Monday’s announcement might not end legal disputes, said Eugene Wasserman, president of the North Seattle Industrial Association, which has opposed any trail along Shilshole Avenue. The city didn’t contact his side about the new design, Wasserman said.
“No matter what they do, it’s an unsafe trail,” Wasserman said. “Trucks hitting bicyclists kill them.”
New diagrams show motor-vehicle driveways and roadside parking maintained, and flashing “TRUCK CROSSING” signs to be added.
SDOT says it will keep traffic on 45th Street one-way, eastbound, instead of both ways, allowing extra space for railroad tracks to stay in the street, SDOT project manager Louisa Miller said. That allows significant time and cost savings, she said.
City Councilmember Dan Strauss, whose district includes Ballard, said the new version likely doesn’t require a Council vote, because the trail was promised in the Move Seattle levy citizen voters approved in 2015.
“I need to make sure SDOT is using best practices to build a new trail, that promotes safety rather than trying to shoehorn into the right of way,” he said.
A short distance west, the city opened a Ballard trail segment last year next to the National Nordic Museum, during its rebuild of Northwest Market Street.
The overall budget is still $26.4 million, Miller said. That covers construction, drainage, legal fees, roughly $6.5 million in past studies and engineering, and the 2020 street improvements on Market. Upcoming trail construction along Shilshole would use up the $7.4 million remaining in the project fund.