Hot debate over extending bicycle route

By Susan Gilmore
Seattle Times staff reporter


3/25/03


Ballard, WA - Like families at a wedding, they sat on opposite sides of the Whitman Middle School auditorium in Crown Hill, the bikers in neon spandex and the workers from the Ballard industrial area in baseball caps.

One by one, they took turns at the microphone yesterday evening, telling the City Council's Transportation Committee why the Burke-Gilman Trail should or should not be extended along Shilshole Avenue Northwest.

The nearly 600 in attendance waved signs "Go Green" or "No Green."

For months, the route of the 1.5-mile "missing link" has been contentious, with bicyclists favoring the "green route" along Shilshole Boulevard and several Ballard business owners complaining that bikes and heavy equipment don't mix.

Under a modified version of the green route sent by Mayor Greg Nickels to the City Council, the trail would follow Shilshole Avenue to 17th Avenue Northwest, where it would connect to Ballard Avenue Northwest. Bikers would share the roads with cars.

The trail would reconnect with Shilshole Avenue at Northwest Vernon Place and detour to a sidewalk on Northwest Market Street between 24th and 28th avenues Northwest before returning to Shilshole Avenue near the Ballard Locks.

The detours would remove the trail from the most contentious sections, the areas near the Ballard Terminal Railroad and Ballard Oil, whose owner, Warren Aakervik, opposes the green route.

Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis said the entire Burke-Gilman Trail in Ballard eventually will follow the Shilshole Avenue route supported by bikers, but that could be 15 years away.

Last night dozens of people argued that the green route is unsafe.

"Bikers don't belong along a railroad track," said Andy Pishue, who works for Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel. "It's like putting chocolate sauce on a hot dog the two don't go together."

But Barbara Culp, executive director of the Bicycle Alliance, said this route has long been the community vision. "Build it and they will come," she said.

The interim trail is expected to cost about $6.7 million. The final cost for the entire green route could be as much as $15 million.

The green route is one of three options. It is the shortest and the only one with a dedicated bike trail. While it's the route favored by bikers, industries in Ballard say it's dangerous to mix bikes with trucks crossing Shilshole Avenue.

"The railroad has a five-year accident-free record," said James Forgette, who manages the Ballard Terminal Railroad. "We are all scared. Build it and they will come."

Opponents say the route crosses more than 50 industrial driveways and many of the truck drivers can't see the bikers. They also argue that the route is inconsistent with land-use policies that require the city to preserve land for industrial activity and protect marine and rail-related industries.

But bicyclist Doug Brusig said, "There's not been one inch of trail that's not protested by residents. It took three years to put the trail through Bothell."

Many business owners favor the so-called "blue route," which would follow Northwest 57th Street. But bikers say that's too far north, and bicyclists already ride the Shilshole route.

The council's Transportation Committee is expected to vote on Nickels' proposal next Tuesday.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054

 

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