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New lawsuit opens up old wounds on ‘missing link’ of Burke-Gilman Trail

The Burke-Gilman Trail, a 29-mile recreational trail that connects Seattle to Bothell, has long been incomplete. A section dubbed the “Missing Link,” spanning 1.4 miles of trail in Ballard, requires cyclists to share the road with vehicle traffic and cross train tracks.

People Power created Seattle’s Burke-Gilman Trail

This missing link intersects with a section of track operated by the Ballard Terminal Railroad (BTR). The track poses a safety hazard to cyclists forced to cross at a steep angle. As such, a local law firm is suing the City of Seattle and the BTR on behalf of eight cyclists who suffered injuries attempting to cross the tracks.

Completing the missing link of the Burke-Gilman Trail is nothing new for the City. In November, the Seattle Department of Transportation announced that it would complete the project in accordance with a deadline to raise the funds made available through the levy to move Seattle. The original draft plans for this project date back several years, which include the movement of BTR tracks along Northwest Shilshole Ave and Northwest 45th Street. These plans have since been adapted in response to the legal intervention filed on behalf of BTR, and they no longer mentions moving rails.

According to public information requests filed by Washington Bike Law, the company that plans to sue BTR and the city in March for damages on behalf of injured cyclists, the Seattle Fire Department has responded to 39 incidents involving injured cyclists. on the tracks in question between 2015 and 2020. Information obtained by MyNorthwest indicates that the injuries suffered by the accident victims include bone fractures and concussions, requiring hospital treatment.

The City of Seattle has made a number of changes to the Missing Link over the years. Between 2001 and 2013, the City painted identification marks on the trail to direct crossing at a perpendicular angle. The lawsuit alleges the city received more than a dozen injury claims from those who crashed on this stretch of trail in the mid-years.

He further claims that after a two-way bike lane was installed in 2013, the City failed to maintain warning signs, flexible poles and markings to guide travel on the lanes. Plans to revamp these security measures have been delayed in response to the pandemic, among other reasons. The lawsuit suggests that the city’s hope that the Burke Gilman Trail could be completed sooner led to inaction.

The city has since reworked the signage and markings to improve the crossing, but in an email to MyNorthwest, cycling advocates who frequent the Missing Link called the markings ‘absurd’ in this regard. meaning that they require cyclists to make two 90 degree turns in a short space.

The crux of the matter, as far as Washington Bike Law attorney Rob Levin is concerned, is the long-awaited improvements to the missing link. Washington Bike Law argues that the missing link needs improvement as Seattle waits for the completion project currently scheduled to resume this year and be complete by the end of 2024, when the levy to move Seattle expires.

“As the community continues to await the completion of the Burke-Gilman Trail, the bike path on NW 45th St. and Shilshole Ave. NW remains the primary travel route for cyclists traveling the Missing Link,” Levin wrote. at MyNorthwest.

“The infrastructure currently in place at the crossing of the tracks under the Ballard Bridge is simply not sufficient to make the crossing reasonably safe for ordinary bicycle travel. The City and/or the railway should take immediate action to make the area safe. These steps could include better channeling, clearer warnings, and/or installing hardware to fill the rut gap to prevent tires from being trapped or deflected by a track rail.

Although the City technically owns the tracks, they are operated by the Ballard Terminal Railroad. This line largely serves one customer: Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel.

In 2017, Paul Nerdrum, now president of Salmon Bay, expressed his “deep disappointment” at the Burke-Gilman Trail Advisory Committee’s since-reneged plans to relocate the train tracks.

“Instead of focusing on how to truly protect and preserve the heavy industrial, freight-based nature of this area and the men and women who depend on this area for employment, SDOT remains more interested in finding ways for people to recreate (play) in the Ballard industry and have the cycling and walking communities dictate this process,” reads Nerdrum’s letter to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.