The Missing Link

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.

Click icons in the map for information and photos. View in a larger map.

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.

Seattle resident rides the Burke-Gilman Trail’s missing link from Nicole Ciridon on Vimeo.

25 thoughts to “The Missing Link”

  1. Of course Ballard Oil's Aakervik has “nothing against bicyclists” , but his use of the code words, “because of the way a lot of people ride bicycles” shows his bias. It's never the driver's fault is it now?

  2. I predict:

    – The trail gets built.

    – There will be slightly less parking for some businesses, and some truck and loading vehicles will find they have slightly less room to maneuver in because they can't just back straight out onto the shoulder or even into the street without looking, so they'll find other ways to turn around.

    – Cyclists will be pleased and disappointed, pleased because they'll be less afraid of getting killed by a truck but disappointed because with a designated trail they're expected to behave and share the trail (“If I can't keep my speed over 23 mph it's not training it's junk miles! And all these little kids! I suppose they expect me to stop at the stop sign too. Arrgh!”)

    – SDOT actually cleans up the road surface a little, so it's not such an ugly pit. After a year everyone forgets what the fight was about and screams about how bad and inefficient government is cause it took them so long to fix a tiny bit of trail.

  3. john is one of the more courteous bikers. thank you for that. my real concern is for families that bike down here. you can be an avid cyclist and avoid serious injury, but novices don't have that luxury.

    it's going to take someone's life before this will be taken seriously. and to warren. has he ever seen how he's employees drive his trucks? he's one to talk about safety. these guys literally think they own the road. also, the *owner* of the brr is a jerk. ask him to maintain the lines/get rid of potholes, he pitches a fit and says it's soooo expensive to do so. well buddy, suck it up or sell.

    is there a link that can support bcc claims of what happened in fremont? curious….

  4. I believe that a business near Gas Works may have chosen to relocate once the trail was built.

    It should be noted, on the flip side, that AFTER the trail was built between 3rd NW and 8th NW, Kvichak Marine (a major employeer in BINMIC, boat building) AND Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel moved operations on the canal side, adjacent to the trail. So, with full knowledge of hundreds of trail users crossing their driveway every day (Kvichak), and SBSG, with this site as their main truck depot, and every truck crossing the trail in and out several times daily, these two businesses, along with Ferguson Terminal (shipper of products to Alaska), moved in, after the trail was in place. Apparently their insurer didn't have any qualms about it, and to my knowledge, in the nearly two decades that section of trail has been actively used, there've been no claims against either company related to trail users and their vehicles.

    So, go figure –

  5. Its easy…Biker need to have insurance and a license to be on the streets. Then they can pay to have their new trails and for the upkeep. Also, in case of an accident they will be covered. To me it is simple I can share the road and do it in a safe way we just need to direct to cost and liability. I am not a smoker so when they raise taxes on tobacco I don't really care but the taxes are directed to the individuals using them.. Thats all I am saying…

  6. Interesting…You pay car registration to pay for street maintenence, so bike registration to pay for bike paths. Yeah the chance of that happening in this city is low, maybe you should move.

  7. That assumes that car insurance (goes to insurance companies, not governments), licenses, registration, and gas taxes actually pay for the full cost of roads.

    It doesn't.

    All of that combined pays for 40%-80% of upkeep depending on if it is a highway, interstate, city, or county road. The initial construction costs dwarf the upkeep costs.

    Or put it another way, all of that combined pays for about 10 feet of road per year per car. In 100 years, you just paid for 1000 feet of road. That doesn't even cover a full block let alone your route to work. Oh, and roads decay more quicly than that, so make it 800 feet.

    Instead of car drivers subsidizing cyclists, it is the other way around. Anyone who doesn't own a car is subsidizing car drivers.

    Our roads are really paid through a combination of property, sales, income, gas, registration, licensing, and other taxes. Seattle Likes Bikes did a story on that recently too. For just one example, the Bridging The Gap property tax levy is funding the current repair work on most of our arterial streets (gas taxes weren't enough).

  8. I also pay gas tax for street maintenance. Maybe a separate tax on road bike parts to pay for paths? And really “I should move??” so to you if people don'e believe the way you do they need to move. I ride to work everyday and use the BG for a small part of that Daily from Magnolia to Fremont. I also use it for conditioning and every time a friend from out of state is here. So I am not going to move and besides not really the market to sell my house if I wanted to and I have a family of six so no maybe you need to think about a new place to settle…

  9. 90% of SDOT's budget comes from sources other than the gas tax. Most of the funding for roads in this city comes from property and sales taxes.

  10. Thanks for this clip. Although I no longer live in the Seattle, I rode this section often, and once wrecked my bicycle while crossing the tracks going under the underpass where the tracks and road diverge at a weird angle. Although the spill happened while going 3 mph, I badly fractured my ankle, and required surgery, etc.

  11. I'm not sure Ballard Ave is that much safer but I do often take that route instead of Shilshole as do many others. One problem with using Ballard Ave is that you have to get back on Shilshole at 17 Ave when going east bound. It is difficult to enter Shilshole because of the amount of traffic and the speed of traffic. Another problem with taking Ballard Ave is that people often don't stop at the intersections when crossing Ballard Ave. I've had to slam on my breaks several times to avoid a car that didn't wait at a stop sign. I guess people sometimes think the intersections are 4 way stops. Some cyclists feel safer taking Leary instead of Shilshole because it has two lanes. It may be safer but it doesn't feel that safe to me because drivers treat it as a high speed road (much like Shilshole). There really is no 'good' route to take.

  12. I've read that claim a few times that the Burke-Gilman caused business in Fremont to go out of business, yet no one knows which businesses these are. Do the people who report and repeat this statement not asking?

  13. I am a property owner on the missing link, no one asked me about the impact. It would be disaster to bikes and business. We have 10 to 12 trucks a day , at least, at our door…. This is a dumb idea, kill it now.

  14. The plan is actually to direct bicyclists up to Ballard between 17th and Vernon. But it's not necessarily “safer” because there's not enough space to separate bikes completely from traffic and there are a lot more driveways.

  15. Feel free to correct me, and try to be polite about it (can't find the flame-retardant suit right now), but aren't there other parts of the Burke Gilman trail that intersect with streets that have automobile traffic? How did they deal with the safety concerns at those locations?

    If safety is truly the paramount concern, then it seems the cheapest way to resolve this is to skip the lawsuits and install some stop signs so there's a 4-way stop at the point where the bike path intersects with the automobile traffic. It seems to work everyplace else.

  16. Name, yes there are quite a few streets that cross the trail.

    In Fremont:
    8th Ave NW
    NW 43rd Street
    7th Ave NW
    NW 42nd Street
    6th Ave NW
    NW 41st Street
    NW 40th Street
    NW Bowdoin Pl
    N Northlake Way
    Stone Way

    N Northlake Pl
    Densmore Ave N
    Burke Ave N
    Meridian Ave N
    N 36th St / N Northlake Way
    Latona Ave NE

    Adams Ln
    Brooklyn Ave NE
    University Way NE
    15th Ave NE
    Pende Orelle Rd

    25th Ave NE
    30th Ave NE
    40th Ave NE

    NE 65th St
    NE 70th St
    NE 77th St
    Fairway Estates
    Inverness Dr NE
    NE 97th St
    NE 100th St
    2 short unnamed crossings
    Lakeside Pl NE
    NE 125th St
    42nd Pl NE
    40th Ave NE

    Near Lake Forest Park:
    NE 151st St
    NE 153rd St
    NE 155th St
    NE 157th Ln
    NE 165th St
    45th Ave NE
    Ballinger Way NE
    61st Ave NE
    73rd Ave NE
    102nd Ave NE

    …and on and on…

  17. Yes, the crossings at 65th and 70th, at least two in the U-district, and 5 or more in Lake Forest Park all have 2-way stops.

    Several like Stone Way and two in the U-district have stop lights.

    The intersection at Fred Meyer in Ballard is the kind-of a 4-way or 5-way, but no others are coming to mind as 4-way stops with stop signs at the moment.

  18. Great information, and thanks for passing it along.

    I see that you're associated with a bicyclists association. Since your organization may have collected information about the incidence of accidents on the BG trail, perhaps you could tell me if there are fewer accidents at the “signed” intersections than at the “un-signed” ones? I'm guessing yes, but it's purely a guess, and if it's wrong, I'd be happy to know that too.

    Also, from your viewpoint, and perhaps that of your association as well, would it make any sense to put in some stop signs in the missing link area as an interim step? I'm not saying it should be the final solution (whatever that will be), but if it reduces the number of injuries in the interim, that's gotta be something everyone could get behind, and perhaps be the start of a less-contentious dialog among the interested parties.

    For what it's worth, I don't own a car, and I do own a bicycle but I haven't ridden it in quite a while. When I need to go somewhere, I usually walk or take the bus. I only say this to indicate that I'm not rooting for a particular side or solution – I'm just trying to figure out why the stop signs wouldn't work (I'm sure someone else must have already suggested it, and I'm curious why it wasn't implemented).

    Thanks again for the conversation.

  19. I live in Fremont a block off of the BG it's one of the main reasons I moved to the neighborhood. It's been a saving grace with my two dogs and both my and my boyfriends commute. Having said that I was also pretty shocked after biking the “missing link” over the past couple of months. There is no way that section is safe for children, weaker cyclists, skateboarders, scooters, rollerbladers… no one is taking into account people who aren't “conditioning” and simply would like to have a healthy means of visiting the beach, or getting some fish and chips, or going to the market… The missing area of the BG greatly devalues the remaining part of the path in route to Golden Gardens being a huge waste of tax payer money. For many it makes the ride inaccesible which is so sad since Golden Gardens and Ballard are two of Seattle's most well known areas. I just can't imagine building the BG with such an enormous obvious flaw to begin with.

  20. I wiped out really hard crossing the train tracks under the Ballard bridge. I was a new cyclist and I misjudged the angle I had to take the tracks at. Luckily, no broken bones or teeth or need for stiches, but I had terrible road rash all over the right side of my body. It took weeks and weeks to heal and I will have scars forever. I consider myself lucky that it wasn't worse.

    When I told people of my fall, I was not surprised to hear about how many people have wiped out in the same spot.

    Someone may have already made this point, but *it's ALREADY only a matter of time before somebody gets killed.* I fail to comprehend how an improved, safer path is going to lead to a higher chance of people getting killed.

  21. The same thing happened to me. I was new to the city but an experienced cyclist from Chicago (I commuted every day from the city to a 'burb). I was not aware of how deep the same train tracks would be and misjudged the angle crossing over them, as well. My tires got wedged in the track, which threw me off my bike. My jaw slammed onto the ground and my hands and side were pretty hurt. If anything, we need to have those tracks filled or the path needs to be re-routed away from them.

  22. After a circus trapeze-like wobble at the same train track many have been injured upon, I don't ride that route.

    I live close by and have selected a complex series of streets and sidewalks that I feel from first-hand experience offer less risk to me as a cyclist..

    I have chosen NW Leary Way for passage under the Ballard Bridge. It's not safe–car drivers missread both lights under the Ballard Bridge, particularly Westbound, and often westbound car traffic will cut off east bound traffic in their hurry to get onto the Ballard Bridge going Southbound. I've seen near misses at this intersection (about every 10 minutes in rush hour.)

    That being said, I find this route, near misses and all, to be safer than the Missing Link at this time.

    Can anyone help me with a Missing Link question regarding parking? I understand that a couple of areas along the missing link require further study (an ESA, which does not take years, by the way) with respect to entry, egress, and parking. Can anyone point me in the direction of a survey or study that has been conducted thus far regarding parking along the Missing Link? I would like to understand the differences of opinion between heavy industries (entry, egress, staff parking), standard storefront-type businesses (customer and staff parking), and the bicycle users of the Burke Gilman Trail. I'm new to the process, so be gentle with me, thanks.

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