Despite ongoing legal woes, the City’s current Preferred Alternative for completing the Burke-Gilman Trail remains the most feasible option for getting the job (finally) done.
Update: Since this post was originally published on July 10th, Dan Strauss reached out to The Urbanist and provided some additional details on his concept for a Leary Way NW alternative for the “Missing Link.” Those details are now included in the post.
On the surface it might appear to be an ingenious solution to a problem that has belabored Seattle politics for over three decades. Construct an elevated trail over the infamous “Missing Link” of the Burke-Gilman Trail, where pedestrians, cyclists, and freight trucks currently compete in a mad scramble on the right of way for nearly a mile and a half. To proponents of the so-called “Ballard High Line,” one of whom is District 6 City Council candidate (and former councilmember) Heidi Wills, an elevated trail promoted by Ballard resident Russell Bennet offers a novel solution.
Unfortunately, there’s a catch. A big one.
When the City published its Burke Gilman Trail Missing Link Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in 2017, the concept of an elevated trail was specifically addressed:
This [elevated] alternative was eliminated from further consideration as there is insufficient space to construct a facility that would meet fire code and ADA requirements due to existing development. Additionally, the ramps (at a 5% maximum grade) needed to access an elevated trail would be a minimum of 75 feet long and would require additional right-of-way, greatly reducing the advantages of elevating the trail in proportion to making it accessible to users. Furthermore, the cost estimate to construct an elevated structure of sufficient length to avoid potential conflicts along Shilshole Ave NW or other segments would be 400 to 500% higher than an at-grade structure. Burke-Gilman Trail Missing Link EIS, SDOT, May 2017
Now for the supporters of the Ballard Highline, including Wills, the fact that the EIS excluded an elevated alternative from consideration is not a reason to step away from the concept. In fact according to a post by the page author, presumably Bennett, on the Ballard Highline Facebook page, a flaw in SDOT’s EIS is that “…it looks at the effects on existing users [freight drivers] and not on those of prospective users [trail users] as well.” According to their line of thought, freight traffic from the three business driveways that intersect with the Preferred Alternative route will be disruptive and frustrating to trail users, something that was not taken into consideration by the EIS, which likely assumed that trail users would be happier on designated multi-use trail than weaving between freight vehicles on a No Build alternative.
“I can easily imagine the fist shaking and cursing confrontations between bicyclists and ‘existing users’ entering/exiting their properties. Is that really the solution we want? I would much rather hear elevated pathway users grousing about diesel fumes from trucks that haven’t yet converted to electric power,” Ballard Highline posted.
Such a response completely ignores the fact that site simply lacks the necessary space to build an elevated trail.