Missing trail link planned

The city has released design plans for the much anticipated, and in some cases dreaded, "missing link" portion of the Burke Gilman Trail from 11th Avenue Northwest to the Ballard Locks.

The 1.5-mile gap has been the source of great contention among industrial business owners, the city and bicycle advocates for years. The history of controversy continues as some business owners maintain their objection to the trail, saying it's unsafe to have both bicyclists and pedestrians next to their driveways in the line of traffic of dozens of 18-wheel trucks that cross the trail daily.

Last week, the city released its basic design plans, which includes an interim route up Ballard Avenue to avoid the highly contested segment along Shilshole Avenue. But permanent trail plans show it eventually will continue along the tracks and businesses on Shilshole.

Ballard Terminal Railroad operates a 3-mile freight line along the proposed trail segment. The new trail will take up about a 15-foot portion on the south edge of the right of way between 15th and 17th currently used by the railroad for loading rail cars.

There won't be enough space for trucks and forklifts to unload from the rail after if the trail is built there, said Byron Cole, general manager of Ballard Terminal Railroad.

"It's really all about converting railroad to trails," Cole said.

The rail line and others in the state are doing well, and Cole has hopes of growing his customer base, but if the trail is built as planned the railroad will be "severely economically impacted," he said.

"It's all about boats, industry and construction," said Cole. "They are growing faster than the retail segment. "

For most of the planned segment, there's space to move the tracks and make room for the trail without "any beef," he said. Cole hopes he can reach some kind of compromise with the city for the 900-foot portion between 15th and 17th before his business is impacted.

"This is a three-legged stool," said Cole. "You take away one leg and what happens to the stool?"

When Ballard Terminal Railroad formed in the late 1990's, it entered into a franchise agreement with the city to continue operating the line when Burlington Northern Railroad abandoned it. The contract stipulated the city could build the trail with the rail when it wanted to.

But Cole said taking up his rail space, possibly jeopardizing his company, goes against the city's stated goal to preserve and support railroad in Seattle.

He wants the plan changed to one that was recommend in the Ballard Corridor Design Study in 2003; convert Northwest 45th into a one-way street to avoid unsafe railroad crossings and avoid taking up rail space by cutting to the north side of the street before 15th.

The Seattle City Council adopted a resolution in 2003 to extend the trail, a popular route for Ballard and Fremont residents who commute to the University of Washington. The city studied several alternative routes.

The preferred design follows the south side of 45th Avenue Northwest and Shilshole Avenue between 11th and 17th. A new pedestrian/traffic signal and left hand turn lane are proposed at 17th and Shilshole.

Trail users would cross the street there, go up 17th to take a left on Ballard Avenue and another left on Vernon Place Northwest. This is an interim route with no bike lanes.

The new trail will continue on the south side of Shilshole along the rail line from Vernon to 24th. From there, an interim route stays on the south side of Market Street from 24th to the Locks. In most cases the trail will be about 12-feet wide.

West of the Locks, Seattle Department of Transportation crews are already constructing the trail to Golden Gardens.

The city is proposing a trail segment paralleling the Shilshole roadway from the old Yankee Diner driveway to 24th that would connect to a segment against the tracks south of Market Street on 54th. Negotiations to purchase about 600 feet of right of way from area business and property owners for the permanent trail is still ongoing, said Kirk T. Jones, a project manager with the transportation department.

John Lo, a transportation planner, said the city expects further issues with businesses in that area that have said the bike-truck collision risk could put them out of business.

"It's going to be challenging," said Lo. "(Most of Shilshole) is off the table right now because of all the conflicts in that area."

About 150 parking spaces will be removed within the 1.5-mile segment. At an open house last week, several people said that would be a huge loss in the area where parking is already tight for businesses.

But all the worry might be premature, since so far the city has only secured $3.5 million of the estimated $11 million it will cost to construct the trail. Some of that comes from the Bridging the Gap levy passed last fall.

Kevin Carrabine, a Ballard resident and long-time supporter of the completion of the missing link, understands the safety concerns some business owners have, but he balks at the notion that industry and a multi-use trail can't live in harmony.

"People say industry and the trail can't mix, but it can and it does," said Carrabine, who commutes on the trail often.

On a recent tour of a portion of the Burke Gilman Trail just before the legendary missing link, Carrabine pointed out existing heavy industrial businesses that have already been interacting with the trail for several years - and none have been forced out of business because of it. Some moved in after the trail was built.

Starting at Northwest 40th Street and 6th Avenue Northwest going west, there's an asphalt plant and several marine related companies with driveways that dump right onto the busy trail.

Plus, said Carrabine, liability and safety issues already exist in the gap, because that portion is used daily by bikers who consider it part of the regular route.

"The reality is people are biking and walking here so everyone has to look for them anyways and having it organized makes sense in my view," he said.

Carrabine is looking forward to improvements in one particularly "chaotic" area under the Ballard Bridge that has been the scene of hundreds of accidents as bikers try to cross the railroad tracks. It's where "you switch to your orange shirt and take your life in your hands."

The city's plan is to reroute the trail so that bikers cross the tracks at a much safer 90-degree angle.

Rebekah Schilperoort may be reached at 783.1244 or rebekahs@robinsonnews.com

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