Trails boost crime, reduce value

Copyright © 1999 The Seattle Times Company
Opinion/Editorials : Monday, October 05, 1998

Editorial by Richard Welsh
Special to The Times

THE Seattle Times' main editorial of Sept. 24, 1999 "East Lake Sammamish's rocky rail-to-trail ride" made a few bold statements with absolutely no factual basis for the statements. The editorial states that property values will be enhanced by having a trail next to the properties and "Peeping Toms" and crimes will not occur because of the trail's proximity.

Both of these statements are patently false.

The National Association of Reversionary Property Owners (NARPO), a nationwide nonprofit foundation dedicated to preserving property rights and land values, conducted a 20-year comprehensive study on the property values of the 330 pieces of property bordering the Burke-Gilman Trail. Property values from King County assessment records in the years 1978, 1988 and 1997 were used to see if there was a correlation between the assessed values on the properties bordering the Burke-Gilman Trail, the properties nearby, as well as other similar non-trail properties on Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish.

The studies show the values of the properties bordering the Burke-Gilman trail only increased 26 percent between 1978 and 1988, while the average properties in King County went up 325 percent. The other properties on Lake Washington and those on Lake Sammamish rose an average of 210 percent. Between 1988 and 1997, the properties bordering the Burke-Gilman Trail only increased 99 percent while the average King County assessment increased 105 percent and the other properties on Lake Washington and those on Lake Sammamish went up 140 percent. Meanwhile, the properties just uphill from the trail rose 113 percent and 137 percent, respectively.

What the slower growth of assessed property value along the Burke-Gilman Trail has cost the city and county taxpayers these past 20 years is substantial. It appears that $50 million a year in assessed value is reduced from the tax rolls due to the property value reduction caused by the trail. This equates to $750,000 in actual taxes other King County taxpayers are picking up each year to keep the bike trail open to the 0.3 of 1 percent of citizens who use the trail. The numbers will be the same or greater along the proposed Lake Sammamish bike trail because there are more homes along Lake Sammamish.

The correlation is quite clear that being next to the Burke-Gilman Trail severely reduces the property values of the unfortunate 330 property owners along the trail. The question, then, is why property values are reduced or increase less than other properties nearby. Two issues stand out that reduce the property values: crime and having to cross the trail to get to the homes.

The crime rate is certainly a valid concern. Earlier this year, Sgt. Dick Hume of the Seattle Police Department testified before the Kirkland Planning Department on a proposed bike trail along the railroad tracks going through Kirkland. Sgt. Hume's job is to analyze crime records as they come into the police department. Sgt. Hume stated at the Kirkland hearing: "There are higher rates of theft and vandalism along the Burke-Gilman Trail." Sgt. Hume also testified at the hearing that the area along the Burke-Gilman Trail experienced a higher crime rate than other comparable neighborhoods.

A quick search of The Seattle Times and Eastside Journal reveals four murders and two attempted murders along the trail, numerous sexual exposure incidents, two rapes, three body-dumping cases, and numerous other thefts, vandalism and scrapes between property owners and bikers. And this is only since 1989.

It got so bad that in 1991, King County and Seattle had to institute 24-hour police bicycle patrols along the Burke-Gilman Trail; yet, since 1991, there have been three murders and hundreds of other reported crimes along the trail.

The Seattle Times reported on June 29, 1991, regarding the need for the bicycle patrols: "Burglars are suspected of using the trail to approach targeted homes and women. . . ."

There is a good chance that if the Burke-Gilman was not there, the four people murdered on the trail would be alive today.

Just last week, a transient riding on a bike trail came off the trail next to Newport Shores in Bellevue, broke into a home and used a baseball bat to severely assault a woman in her home. He was caught while riding away with her jewelry hanging out of his pockets.

And let us not forget the needless death last fall of a woman using the Cedar River Trail in Maple Valley. A transient stalked women using the trail; after making two unsuccessful attempts at rape and murder, he encountered a woman who could not get away. It appears she was raped and then her throat was slit.

The Seattle Times editorial staff needs to recognize family safety, privacy and property values are valid and important issues regarding the proposed bike trail along East Lake Sammamish. You do your readers a great disservice by dismissing these issues as nonexistent.

Richard Welsh is executive director of the Bellevue-based National Association of Reversionary Property Owners (NARPO).