The Seattle Department of Transportation has chosen Shilshole Avenue as the site for the missing link of the Burke-Gilman Trail, siding with the biking community in a decades-long dispute with Ballard’s maritime industry. But SDOT still hasn’t settled on a final route.
The Seattle Department of Transportation has chosen to build the missing link of the Burke-Gilman Trail on Shilshole Avenue in Ballard, a victory for the biking community in a decades-long dispute with Ballard marine and industrial businesses.
The Burke-Gilman, a protected biking and walking trail, runs from the north end of Lake Washington for 18 miles to 11th Avenue Northwest in Ballard. There, at the Fred Meyer, it abruptly stops, pushing bikers onto narrow, trafficked streets veined with railroad tracks for about 1.4 miles — until the trail reappears at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks.
SDOT, in a presentation Wednesday to the City Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee, did not settle on final route for the missing-link bike path, but rather ruled out two alternate routes — ones that would have traveled along Ballard Avenue or Leary Avenue.
“It comes down to the fact that the Shilshole alignment serves the purpose and need of the project,” said Mark Mazzola, SDOT’s environmental manager. “It’s the flattest, most direct route, least number of intersection crossings.”
In 2010, the city estimated the cost of the missing-link bike path at about $14 million, but it has not revisited that estimate since, Mazzola said.
The dispute over the missing link stretches back more than 20 years, to at least 1996. Bicyclists argue that a route along Shilshole Avenue is the simplest, most direct route to complete the trail.
Industries along Shilshole, led by Ballard Oil and Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel, have objected, worried that their fuel and gravel trucks could hit a cyclist, driving up insurance costs and jeopardizing their businesses.
The city first settled on a Shilshole Avenue route back in 2003, but legal challenges have continuously stalled the plan since then.
A 2008 environmental review by the city concluded that filling in the missing link wouldn’t have significant environmental impacts.
But, in 2010, a judge ruled for legal challengers and ordered a more extensive review. Following more appeals, the city began work on an extensive environmental impact statement, a draft of which was published last summer and has since received 4,100 public comments.
Still, the city has not chosen a final route.
It has settled on two Shilshole Avenue choices for the 10- to 12-foot-wide trail — one along the north side of the street that borders buildings and existing businesses, and one along the south side of the street, bordering businesses that sit on Salmon Bay.
The two routes diverge at 24th Avenue Northwest, where the north route would join Northwest Market Street for four blocks, while the south route would travel along Northwest 54th Street.
Kelsey Mesher, Puget Sound policy director for the Cascade Bicycle Club, said they favor the south route, calling it the safest, simplest and most direct.
Scott Kubly, director of SDOT, said the city is committed to beginning construction sometime in 2018 and that the lack of current consensus on an exact route shouldn’t disrupt that timeline.
“Getting this trail completed and completed quickly is one of our top priorities,” Kubly said. “The mayor is likewise very committed to getting this done.”