Cyclists file claims against Seattle, seek improvements on ‘Missing Link’ of Burke-Gilman Trail
Aug 8, 2023, 11:14 AM
(Flickr Creative Commons/ Seattle Parks and Recreation)
Ten people who crashed their bicycles on an unfinished portion of the Burke Gilman trail are making claims against the city of Seattle, setting up a possible lawsuit against the city.
Their attorneys say that the city failed to make a portion of the 1.4-mile “missing link” stretch of trail where safety infrastructure does not exist. The trail runs 27 miles from Golden Gardens Park to Bothell but has a gap where the trail runs over railroad tracks in Ballard.
The city has plans to make safety changes but is indicating that lawsuits are holding up the completion of the Burke-Gilman Trail near 15th Avenue Northwest and Northwest 45th Street.
The decades-long fight over the missing link has been a fight between the Seattle Department of Transportation and Ballard Terminal Railroad Company (BTRC), which primarily services Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel. The railroad operates a track from 11th NW to the Ballard Locks, delivering concrete for use in hundreds of daily truck shipments through that area.
Original plans for the missing link back in 2022 involved the removal of BTRC’s track along NW 45th St. and Shilshole Ave, but that removal was vehemently opposed by the BTRC — in conjunction with unions and businesses under the umbrella moniker of the Ballard Coalition (BC).
In May 2022, a Washington State Court of Appeals ruled in the BTRC’s favor, deeming that the City does not have the authority to relocate the track.
Attorney Bob Anderton with Washington Bike Law said that the trail does not have to be completed in order to make the necessary safety improvements.
“It’s just that I think the city has always thought, well, once we finish the Burke Gilman trail, then this problem will be resolved. But you know, how long do you want to wait? How many people is it okay to seriously injure, maybe even kill, in this known unsafe area?”
As a compromise, SDOT made safety improvements along Shilshole Avenue Northwest, with the first phase being complete in early 2023 and adding more visual and physical cues for bike riders to follow the correct path across the train tracks. A second phase is planned for late 2023 that will add fencing along the train tracks and new overhead lighting under the bridge.
“We have an agreement with the city to make these changes by the end of the year. And if they fail to do that, our clients have the right to sue to try to enforce that agreement,” Anderton said. “That has to do with the street, which the city has the right to control, and the missing link litigation. To prevent the city from completing the Burke Gilman trail doesn’t affect this.”
The Seattle Department of Transportation said that they are working on multiple projects to address the legal issues of the trail but says completing the trail remains a high priority for the city.