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Battle over Burke-Gilman Trail 'missing link' drags on after court rulings

Paula Wissel
Shilshole Ave. in Ballard is where Seattle wants Burke Gilman trail to go.

The decades-long battle over the missing link on the popular Burke-Gilman Trail will drag on even longer. Because of the City of Seattle’s loss in several recent court cases, the completion of a stretch of the trail in the Ballard neighborhood likely won’t happen next year as planned. 

Bicycles can travel the Burke-Gilman Trail all the way from Bothell to Golden Gardens Park in Seattle. But there is a missing link. Before you get to Golden Gardens, when you reach the industrial waterfront near the Ballard Bridge, the trail goes away, and for a little over one mile, trail users are competing with cars in traffic.


Everyone agrees it’s dangerous. The debate has been over how to fix the problem. 


The City of Seattle’s plan is to continue the trail along industrial Shilshole Avenue. However, the Ballard Coalition, made up of maritime businesses and unions, has fought the plan for years, saying it’s too dangerous, what with cement mixers, trucks and a train using the same area.


The coalition favors an alternative that would divert the trail a few blocks away to Leary Avenue, a retail and commercial street. 


“We’re not talking no trail. Absolutely not. What we’re saying is build the trail in the right location and in a safer location,” said Josh Brower, an attorney representing the Ballard Coalition in court.


But Seattle and bike advocates opposed the Leary Avenue option when it was one of the alternatives being considered. They say it’s too dangerous because of the number of intersections bikes would have to cross. The city insists the trail on Shilshole is the best alternative and is designed for safety.



The two sides have spent years in court. Lately, the business interests have been winning.


Recently, the Washington State Court of Appeals ruledthat a city hearing examiner reviewing an environmental impact statement on the trail had not disclosed a possible conflict of interest. That could mean the city has to go through the hearing process again. 


Last July, a King County Superior Court Judge ruled against the city, saying Seattle doesn’t have the authority to move a section of tracks belonging to the Ballard Terminal Railroad, something the city needs to do to complete the trail on Shilshole Avenue. 


The city vows to fight on in court, but in a statement also says it’s “looking at all options available to move forward expediently.” 


Bicycle groups tend to support the city’s plan and say the lawsuits filed by the Ballard Coalition are just “delay tactics.” 


Sara Kiesler with the Cascade Bicycle Club blames “deep-pocketed special interests” for the lack of progress on completing the missing link.


“I believe this is just another roadblock, but we won’t be deterred in making sure the trail gets done,” she said. She points out the club has advocated for the trail since the 1970s when the first section of the Burke-Gilman Trail opened.


Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.