Seattle approves changes that allow them to pave Burke-Gilman’s ‘missing link’

Oct 26, 2023, 7:13 AM | Updated: Nov 7, 2023, 1:45 pm

Missing Link...

The bicycle route on NW 45th St. and Shilshole Ave, part of the Burke-Gilman's "Missing Link" (Credit Rob Levin)

(Credit Rob Levin)

Riders and cycling organizations have been trying to get the so-called “missing link” of the Burke-Gilman trail repaired for years, but now the Seattle City Council is putting the bike wheels in motion to change that.

That term refers to a section of the biking and walking path near the Ballard Bridge, where some railroad tracks cross the trail, causing many riders to swerve and crash over the years.

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 Avenue 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.

Now, the city has reached terms with Ballard Terminal Rail to agree to pave over the tracks and complete the trail. And on Tuesday, the Seattle City Council voted 8-0 to put the wheels in motion and approve an agreement that will ultimately allow the city it to pave over the tracks and complete the trail.

The legislation proposed by Councilmember Dan Strauss, who represents Ballard, that will transfer the stretch of trail controlled by Ballard Terminal Railroad to Meeker Southern Railroad and can be paved over.

“I am excited we can finally make one of the most dangerous railroad crossings in our city safe for people riding bikes. When I was in grade-school I watched someone crash on these tracks the very first time I rode my bike on this section of the Missing Link and I am glad we can finally put a stop to this,” Strauss said in a statement. “I am proud to deliver this outcome for District 6 and our City by bringing people together to find common ground.”

Crashes on the tracks over the years have caused many injuries, including concussions, broken bones, and in at least one instance, death.

Multiple lawsuits have been filed by law firms representing some of the injured riders. Ten people who crashed their bicycles on an unfinished portion are suing the city to make changes. Their attorneys say that the city failed to adequately make the 1.4-mile “missing link” stretch of trail safe enough for use by the public.

Their lawsuit required the city to make changes by the end of the year.

Seattle Department of Transportation  Senior Deputy Director Francisca Stefan said that the department is ready to make the necessary safety improvements now that the red tape has been cleared with the city.

“We’re thrilled to improve the paving and enhance safety for people riding bikes under the Ballard Bridge and we are moving forward immediately to do so,” Stefan wrote in a statement. “Our dedication to improving safety and accessibility for all members of our community remains steadfast, and we eagerly anticipate the positive transformation these changes will bring to our city’s cycling network.”

And, if the weather cooperates, SDOT says the paving could happen as early as this week, with the paving work scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

In the meantime, riders will have to detour around the work zone and use 14th Avenue NW and NW 46th Street while the repairs are underway, SDOT added.

L.B. Gilbert is an editor at MyNorthwest. Lisa Brooks is an editor and anchor at KIRO Newsradio.

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