Cyclists get one for the win column: Burke-Gilman ruling favors Missing Link completion

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Fixing what's broke
Fixing what's broke

The Cascade Bicycle Club’s victory in the Burke-Gilman “missing link” case today represents something big for the cycling community.

Cyclists are used to losing in cases like this. Used to losing in court when it comes to a motorist’s or cop’s word against theirs. Used to losing bike lanes, as on Stone Way North, in deference to truck traffic and “business concerns.” Used to losing on bills in the state legislature enforcing vehicular assault in bike accidents, 3-feet-please traffic buffers and bike-friendly transit stations.

But in the post-Obama electoral climate, where change is something you can believe in, hope still reigns. And as much as bike access through Ballard, hope is what won in Hearing Examiner Sue Tanner’s decision rejecting business interests seeking to block trail completion. Hope that the tide has shifted in favor of diverse forms of transportation, in favor of bicycling for human health, well-being and environmental protection, and in favor of cyclists as more than second-class, fringe citizens.

If you ride the Burke-Gilman northward from Fremont roughly paralleling Leary Way, you eventually find yourself dumped into a brutal no man’s land of storefronts, potholes and crowded streets in Ballard. There are maybe 15 different ways to proceed, none of them particularly efficient or safe. For bike commuters and recreational riders alike, a major conduit through the city terminates in chaos.

Assuming no further court appeals, the go-ahead gives a green light to work on removing railroad track hazards under the Ballard Bridge and configuring Shilshole intersections at 17th Avenue and NW Vernon Place for safer crossing. Signs and a safe route also will be designated through the Ballard business district.

For the past 20 years, fixing the notorious Missing Link has been on the city’s to-do list after it began plans to take over rail right-of-way from Burlington Northern. When the moment came to begin actual work, a coalition of business interests including the Ballard Chamber of Commerce, Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel and Ballard Oil, filed a permit appeal last December seeking to stop the project.

Hearing Examiner Tanner discounted several appellant arguments, the most noxiously contradictory being the claim that improving the trail would create a “traffic hazard.” The whole point of connecting the Missing Link is to reduce traffic hazards created by bikes and cars forced into incompatible configurations.

“After reading the 20 point (Examiner’s) conclusion, it’s clear that the appellant’s ‘kitchen sink’ appeal was found to be meritless,” said David Hiller, advocacy director of the Cascade Bicycle Club, in a press statement. “We hope this is the point at which trail opponents recognize that this project is going to improve safety and mobility for everyone in the community.”

The trail has widespread support not just in Seattle and King County but throughout Ballard, where Friends of the Burke-Gilman Trail collected more than 460 signatures supporting safety improvements on Bike to Work Day May 15. Over the years Cascade has spent more than $20,000 in legal fees to keep viable the Burke-Gilman Trail.

There’s still lots to be done to put cycling on equal footing with other forms of transportation in the city. Wins like today’s are going to be the exception rather than the rule for the near term. But the trends are favorable, a new order is in motion and a more open consciousness is signaled in everything from stimulus funding to workplace regulations.

Completion of the Missing Link represents the kind of symbolism we’ve been waiting for. Cyclists can be forgiven for savoring this one.

Cascade’s press release

Ballard News Tribune story

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