recreational corridor for cyclists, pedestrians and joggers. Over ten thousand people use the trail each day, with roughly a thousand cyclists an hour passing through the University of Washington portion during afternoon rush hour. It is Seattle's bicycle superhighway.
I have commuted to the UW along the trail for several decades and NEVER has it been in worse shape.
To put it bluntly, this is a disgrace for a great city. And a double disgrace for a city that likes to think of itself as environmentally forward thinking and concerned about reducing the carbon footprint of its citizens.
But don't take my word for it, let me give you a sample of the current state of the trail (I took my camera with me this week)
Here is a section just north of my home. Huge dangerous bump. So bad they painted the crack and put some cones up. A few years ago, a cyclist hit a bump at this spot was thrown off his bike and seriously injured (taken away in an aide car!). The city did a very poor fix and the bump was back a few years later (as shown below).
A bit further down the trail, a big hole, more root heaves, and more cones
Want to take a dip? Several "holes" a few inches deep. Hit that at night and see what happens.
Large section have cracked and degraded asphalt, with edges broken and yielding to invading plants. You what happens to your bike when you hit abrupt edges? You fall.
The bridge over 35th Ave. NE used to be fixed properly with new wood slats. Now they just put odd pieces of wood over holes.
I have a dozen other pictures of huge bumps, cracks, falling edges, undulations, and other major problems with the trail. But you get the message. When the city has tried to fix sections, they generally did a superficial job (not going down deep enough to deal with the roots); thus, the "repaired" sections quickly degraded.
It simply does have to be this way. Want proof? Take a trip on the trail across the city's northern boundary into Lake Forest Park and you will be in trail heaven. Let's take the trip!
We are just about to cross the northern limits of Seattle!
Mama Mia! Bicycle nirvana. Wide trail. Smooth as silk. No abrupt edges. No root heaves. Nice benches and garbage cans.
Street crossings are beautiful. Clearly marked with warning strips.
Wow...this trail is good enough to be added to the rail-trail hall of fame!
Every Seattle Council member, the mayor, and the heads of the transportation and parks departments should visit the Lake Forest Park portion of the trail. They should hang their heads low in shame. Shame for needlessly endangering the lives of so many Seattle residents.
But it is worse that this. While the trail is rotting, large amounts of money has been wasted on other "sexier" bicycle projects. For example, the city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to change 125th St. NE from two to one lanes, with a bicycle lane on both sides. Total waste of money since few cyclists want to travel up the very steep grade of 125th. And it has caused traffic jams on 125th. Great idea.
And the latest waste of money is the 4.4 million dollars being spent in putting bicycle rental kiosks around parts of the city. Does someone really think this is a solution to anything?
So it appears there is a lot of money available, but no one in the city bureaucracy gives much priority to maintaining the trail. Or in creating an absolutely protected bike route into the city. Ironically, Mayor McGinn, supposedly the "bicycle mayor", did very little to improve the trail or city bike lanes in general. Hopefully, Mayor Murray will do better. I wonder how many lawsuits there have been regarding crashes caused by poor trail conditions. How many will it take before the city takes maintaining the trail seriously? Better to invest in fixing the trail then payouts for expensive lawsuits.
The importance of the trail is only going to increase as light rail reaches the University of Washington. Best estimates suggest that bike traffic will radically increase as folks cycle to the train station to catch rail to downtown Seattle and elsewhere (see graphic).
The University of Washington transportation department has drawn up plans to improve the Burke-Gilman trail on campus, but lacks sufficient funding to initiate the plan. Considering that the trail serves the entire city, why aren't local governments footing the bill?
One also wonders why the city is not trying relatively inexpensive approaches to dealing temporarily with the root heaves and undulations, such as asphalt grinders (see picture below). They are not expensive. And there are a number of local companies that specialize in such work.
It seems amazing that a city that is so concerned about global warming and environmental issues is doing little to facilitate a no-carbon form of travel. And that city bureaucrats have little interest in maintaining their bicycle superhighway.
Welcome to the University of Washington portion of the Burke-Gilman Trial
But lack of vision and leadership in city/county government does not stop there. Just consider the deplorable state of our bus transportation. Virtually every time I try to travel northward out of downtown during rush hour, I find packed buses--with frequent wait of 2-3 buses before there is a space for me. Bus service out of south Lake Union is the same. Instead of adding bus service to facilitate rush hour commuters and attract more users, Metro has been talking about bus cutbacks. This is failed leadership. Unworthy of a forward looking, progressive city.
An initiative will be placed before Seattle voters to provide money for more bus routes. Pass it and use the funds to radically improve commuter bus service.
I think the citizens of Seattle have to make it clear to our political leadership that we expect a different approach, with rapid action to repair the trail, build a protected bike lane into downtown, and fix the inadequate bus service. The current situation is an embarrassment of a supposedly world-class city.
Personally, I am worried for my own safety as a bicycle commuter. Commuting home on dark, wet nights will soon be made much more dangerous due to the bumps and sharp trail edges. Many of them will invisible under the fall leaves. I have taken several tumbles in my years of commuting, and hope I won't be seriously injured this year by another. But I will keep on commuting by bike. It is a wonderful way to get some exercise, saves lots of money, reduces my carbon footprint, and allows a relaxing commune with nature. Many of us love the trail. But it is endangered and needs our attention.
The Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle is the responsibility of Seattle Parks and Recreation
The acting superintendent is Christopher Williams. Perhaps you might want to let him know your feelings about the trail:
There has been quite a bit of push back regarding my comments about the 125th St. road "diet." My point is that money is limited. The same amount of funding could have fixed the trail I suspect, with far more positive impact for cyclists. My more general point is that there are a lot of expensive pet projects funded (e.g., the south lake union trolley), but no comprehensive view of what is needed and no real prioritization for the high-impact projects