By Michael McDonald
Nearly two years after a city proposal to finish the Burke-Gilman Trail, bicyclists and drivers in Ballard still have to dodge each other on the road. In a lawsuit filed against the city, a coalition of Ballard industrial businesses, associations and the Ballard Chamber of Commerce allege that an environmental review conducted by the city to determine the impact of a completed trail did not take businesses into account.
The portion of missing trail in question is a mile and a half stretch of from 11th Avenue Northwest to 28th Avenue Northwest. Starting from the Fred Meyer on Northwest 45th Street, the trail morphs into a small, two-lane road littered with rarely-used railroad tracks. Sidewalks are non-existent and bicyclists have to share the road with trucks used for local industries.
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Warren Aakervik, owner of Ballard Oil Company, says that the construction and completion of the trail would hurt his business and other businesses in the area.
“I have nothing against bicyclists,” said Aakervik, speaking about the trail. “The problem is safety, and that because of the way a lot of people ride bicycles and because of the way the trail will have to be built in this area, it becomes very unsafe. It is only a matter of time before someone is killed.” On this point, bicyclists agree with Aakervik.
“I think the dilemma seems to be the conflict between bikers and pedestrians and cars and trucks and just the industry around here,” said Kathy Collins, a bicyclist on the trail. “It should stay, but I think we need a better designated path.”
Five bikers have filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming that the city’s lack of action to complete the trail resulted in accidents and injuries, from cuts and bruises to a broken hip. The Seattle Department of Transportation stated that the plan to finish the trail is on hold due to the ongoing lawsuit.
Watch one bicyclist’s account of an accident on the missing link
Some bicyclists, though, have no issue with the missing portion of trail. “I come from a city where biking is terrible, and this is paradise for bikers, so it doesn’t bother me that much at all,” said Jay Smith, an avid biker. “A lot of folks are spoiled because they have always had it. I’m not the least bit bothered by it; really, it just means you have to look out for a little stretch.”
Mayor Mike McGinn has said in the past that he wants the missing link of the trail to be completed. During his campaign, McGinn stated that “we need to complete the trail as planned, as approved and as funded.”
The litigation blocking that may not be over for a while. The Ballard Chamber of Commerce points to trail extensions in Fremont leading to businesses having to close their doors, something Aakervik does not think can be allowed to happen to his company.
“This is an industry that you will not replicate any place in Washington or in the United States of America,” said Aakervik, talking about the importance of his business. “This is a stepping off point for all the North Pacific fishing industries.”
Despite the ongoing legal battles, there are some people who simply want to see a solution that will appease all parties involved.
“There must be some way to compromise so the businesses and the bikers can share the space,” said Suzanne Haggard, a member of the Cascade Bicycle Club.