The recent decision by the city of Seattle to extend the Burke-Gilman Trail from 11th Ave NW to the Ballard locks is great news for bicyclists. Currently, cyclists traveling from Fremont to Ballard are forced to cross in front of fast-moving traffic at Shilshole Ave and 20th Ave NW and to make two dangerous railroad track crossings just east of the Ballard Bridge. Filling in the Burke-Gilman's missing link will address these hazards and it will be an important improvement to Seattle's bike infrastructure.
Some local interest groups, however, argue that the new stretch of trail will be a nuisance, not a benefit. A group of Ballard businesses and the Ballard Chamber of Commerce are suing to block completion of the trail. The suit claims that the proposed trail will create traffic hazards because of conflict between trail users and the many large trucks that service the industrial businesses located along Shilshole Avenue.
In response, the Cascade Bicycle Club, co-defendant with the city of Seattle in the lawsuit, argues that the project is not a simple extension of the trail but rather will be an overall improvement in safety and access for all users -- cars and trucks as well as bicyclists and pedestrians.
One criticism that has been voiced by the Ballard Chamber of Commerce and others who are working to stop completion of the missing link is that business needs are being sacrificed for recreation. However, statistics provided by David Hiller of the Cascade Bicycle Club show that the trail is an important route for bicycle commuters traveling from Ballard and Northwest Seattle. A bicyclist count performed last September at 8th Ave Northwest and the Burke-Gilman Trail recorded 454 riders between 6:30 and 9:00 am, leading to an estimate of nearly 1200 riders passing through this part of the trail every day. Of the 454 riders counted, 375 were eastbound, implying that many riders were commuters headed towards downtown.
It's unfortunate that so many businesses don't recognize that for many people –- maybe even their own employees -– bicycling is an important mode of transportation. Seattle is lucky to have a strong bicycle advocacy community that's working to rebut these arguments, and completion of the Burke-Gilman would be a sign of the city's commitment to bicycling as a transportation option, and an important change to the car-centric status quo.
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