A full decade in, debate on Burke-Gilman Missing Link continues
A full decade ago, in 2003, the Seattle City Council adopted a plan to close the Missing Link, the nonexistent section of the Burke-Gilman Trail stretching from the Ballard Fred Meyer on 11th Ave NW and 45th to the Ballard Locks on 30th Ave NW.
Now, in August of 2013 -- after much debate, a traffic study and litigation -- the city is going through with a full environmental impact study. The EIS will have a much larger scope than the previous study, which only looked at traffic, reviewing the full gamut of impacts: transportation, land and shoreline use, environmental, historic and cultural, economical and others based on comments received.
Last night, the Seattle Department of Transportation held an open house for the scoping process of the EIS. While some complained that there was too little notice for the open house -- information about it went out just earlier this week -- there was still a fair mix of opinion in the less-than-a-hundred crowd.
The main point of contention has come down to the proposed route, which would run along Shilshole Ave and go through the driveways of several industrial businesses, many of which use semi-trucks. Retired Ballard Oil Owner Warren Aakervik, who along with Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel has been one of the main litigators, said his opposition is a matter of safety.
"Nobody needs to get killed here," Aakervik said. "Bike riders need to realize this isn't a perfect world."
Aakervik said he isn't opposed to completing the Burke-Gilman, but rather he thinks having it go down Shilshole is a poor decision. As for his ideal route, he has a list of criteria ready: "Is it effective? Will people use it? Is it safe? And will it have minimal impact for the maritime industry? It's simple. Isn't it the route we all want?"
Ron Hildebrandt of Trident Seafoods, who is a bicycle commuter, said he thinks there are better options than Shilshole. He supported the idea of a route going down Ballard Ave, which he thinks is much safer.
"We support having a bicycle trail, we have a lot of bicyclists. We just think Shilshole is too dangerous," he said.
However, others believe there is no other option. David Keller of the bicycle-themed Ballard brewery, Peddler Brewing, said he thinks Shilshole is perfect.
"I think having traveled it so often that there's enough room for bikes, cars and trains ... this process is supposed to look at alternatives, but I don't think there's any alternative. (Shilshole) is already a great route. It's a no brainer," he said.
Keller said that on Shilshole, the roads are wide enough to support a trail and that parking could be modified to accommodate everybody.
As for the Ballard Ave suggestion?
"Ballard Ave is pretty much packed as it is. There's no real space to give, as opposed to Shilshole (which has space to give). There's just so much potential there."
Brock Howell, Policy and Government Affairs Manager at Cascade Bicycle Club, agreed. For him, the debate is about completing the Burke-Gilman Trail, not painting lanes on a road or creating another half-measure.
"The (original) vision was to have a trail on this alignment (along Shilshole). That's what people need. That's where a lot of crashes happen," he said. "We're not really interested in other routes. Clearly the other routes need to be improved, but it won't be the Burke-Gilman Trail."
Other routes like one down Ballard Ave, Howell contended, would not be a dedicated lane like the rest of the Burke-Gilman. While he agreed that the route alternatives need to have bicycle infrastructure improvement anyway, in the end they won't complete what the Burke-Gilman is supposed to be.
Howell also noted that it was a very small but very vocal and litigious minority that are against the Missing Link being completed through Shilshole Ave.
Some attendees of the open house are no longer so adamant. At this point, they just want something that would help prevent bicycle crashes. In a four year period, from 2008 to 2011, emergency vehicles responded to 45 bicycle crashes within the Missing Link segment between 11th Ave NW and Shilshole Ave NW, making it the highest bicycle collision location in the city. Other bicycle accidents, such as commonplace spills on the railroad tracks, are not included in this.
"I think it could be good to put (the trail) wherever we can reach the best consensus, because right now we just seem to be frozen," said Shannon Perry, a bicycle commuter. "I would like a safer route."
The Environmental Impact Statement will take about one year to be completed. Public comment can still be submitted through Friday, August 16, either by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to:
Peter Hahn, Director
Seattle Department of Transportation
c/o Mark Mazzola, Environmental Manager
700 5th Avenue, Suite 3900
Seattle, WA 98104
For more info, visit http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/missinglink.htm
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