Seattle’s transportation department just cleared another legal hurdle to break ground on the “missing link” of the Burke-Gilman trail.
A hearing examiner ruled on Wednesday that the city did enough review of the environmental impacts of constructing a bike and pedestrian trail along an industrial stretch of Shilshole Avenue and a segment Market Street.
The 1.4 mile segment would complete the 20-mile long trail, which runs from Golden Gardens Park in Ballard to the Sammamish River Trail in Bothell. Dating back to the late '90s, the debate over the missing link counts as one of Seattle's longest-running land use controversies.
But it’s not time to break out the shovels just yet. Josh Brower, an attorney representing opponents of the proposed route, has previously said they are likely to appeal the ruling to the King County Superior Court. A superior court judge has already twice ordered the city to conduct more environmental review before beginning work on completing the trail.
"In light of today’s decision, the Coalition will exercise and pursue all of its options, political and legal, including continuing to work with the new mayor and her administration to find a compromise solution that works for all of Seattle, not just a handful of cyclists,” Brower said in a statement.
Nothing moves forward without Mayor Jenny Durkan's green light. When asked about the “missing link” during the campaign season, Durkan did not say whether she supports the city’s current plan. Today, she did not offer a definitive answer, but expressed eagerness to move forward with a trail project.
"As Mayor, I’m committed to finishing the final link of the Burke Gilman trail. My office has been and will continue working closely with cyclists, industrial businesses, residents, trail advocates, and local businesses to move forward on this essential transportation corridor. It is time to move out of litigation mode and finish a safe and vibrant connection for Seattle,” she told The Stranger in an email.
Council Member Mike O’Brien, the city council's most ardent supporter of the city’s proposal, released a celebratory statement shortly after the announcement.
"I’m excited to finally see this project through to fruition with an alignment that makes sense for pedestrians, bicyclists, cars and trucks,” he said. "I look forward to Mayor Durkan and SDOT taking quick action to complete the Burke-Gilman, providing a safer pedestrian and bicycle connector between Fremont and the Ballard Locks.”
Few argue against completing the Burke-Gilman trail. It’s the question of “where" that brings out decades of bad blood.
Supporters of the city’s proposal—including the Cascade Bicycle Club, the Ballard Farmers Market and Olympic Athletic Club—say Shilshole Avenue offers a safe and direct path to connect the trail. They also note that the route is close to the path that most cyclists use anyway.
Supporters originally advocated for a trail that would run from Shilshole Avenue through 54th street, which directly faces Salmon Bay, but last year accepted a compromise that finished the segment on Market Street, a block away from maritime industries.
Ballard Oil Company, one of the biggest companies affected, did not sign onto the newest appeal after the city announced its compromised route.
Two remaining businesses argue that frequent truck traffic on Shilshole Avenue actually makes the road more dangerous for cyclists, preferring the city develop the trail along Leary Way or Ballard Way instead.
Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel has spent heavily on attorneys and lobbyists to argue that higher insurance rates associated with bike traffic and a loss of parking spaces could lead to the business shutting down. Jobs would follow, so the Martin Luther King County Labor Council and Teamsters 174 also oppose building the trail on Shilshole.
This post has been updated with new information.