October 08, 2014

Seattle's Bicycle Superhighway Disintegrates: Why Doesn't the City Care?

One of Seattle's jewels is the Burke-Gilman trail, a bike and pedestrian trail that stretches across northeast Seattle for many miles (see map).  Originally the path of regional freight rail lines, the Burke-Gilman is now a major commuting route for thousands of individuals,and an important

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.

But now the bad news.  The city has allowed the Burke-Gilman to deteriorate to a point that it is no long safe.   Tree roots have created severe undulations and major cracks in the asphalt surface, the edges are sinking or breaking away, hole and hollows have formed, and I am just warming up describing the dangers.   Bicyclists are not only experiencing unpleasant rides, with broken spokes and tires, but the decline has resulted in accidents, some with major injuries.  I have been hurt myself.

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

And another.

And another
And another

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!

I turn around and return to Seattle and back to this.

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.

Then the city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars putting bicycle symbols all over the roads (called sharrows), as if they were going to make cycling any safer (see below).   I bet some bureaucrat is proud of this "innovation."

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:


Further Comment:

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


  1. RIGHT ON! Huge amounts of money wasted splashing paint on NE 75th, NE 125th for "bike lanes" nobody in their right mind will use while ruining great rush-hour arterials. The whole traffic stream now has to stop every time a bus stops, at every stop. Brilliant! Let's admit our stupidity and spend the money to reverse McGinn's mistakes. Spend bike money as Cliff suggests, on cheap solutions that make sense.

  2. When these asphalt trails run through forested areas, they will eventually succumb to buckling from root protrusion and slumping from drainage issues.

    I used to live in Marysville and would run or bike the Centennial Trail, especially the newest portions running from Lake Stevens to 67th in the Smokey Point area. Even on this newest section you could start to see evidence of some buckling and upheaving due to roots.

    At some point you can't just keep grinding the asphalt and refilling. The roots themselves have to be treated as a long term fix. Over time, drainage will pose new issues which may necessitate placement of new tubing/culverts to help prevent the slumping and hole formations.

    To continue as a viable commuting option for the metro area though, it needs to be fixed, just in a proper manner.

  3. I live just off 125th and do not see many bikes on it. But I do think the changes made to it are a success in other ways. It has cut speeding down significantly and greatly improved the safety of intersections there. See this write-up from the SDOT Blog.

  4. Good call Dr. Mass. I ride that trail to work everyday and the Seattle section is an embarrassment. Look at the Sammamish River Trail - it's beautiful! How is it that King County is able to keep this section of trail maintained - including a full resurface of a section of trail in Redmond that was not nearly as bad as the Burke - and Seattle cannot?

  5. Interesting! But there is no info if you/ anyone has contacted the city and their response? Have they ignored the requests for repairs, or is it on a "list to fix"? I have no idea, I do not ride a bike, but wondering for the balance of the post, what the city has plans to do or if there are really just ignoring this?

  6. Update, I just sent this post and a question regarding action to the mayors office, please consider posting contact info for the correct officials to ask about the plan, once people are riled up, provide ACTION steps if possible?
    Thanks for reporting!

  7. I used to live in Newcastle and rode on the Lake Washington trail. There were similar very rough sections between Bellevue and Renton. One day a bicyclist was injured because of the rough trail and sued the City of Bellevue, and won. Soon after the trail was greatly improved.

  8. Cliff,
    The trail from about 75th st south, especially the section into campus is in horrible shape and needs to be fixed. This should not come at the expense of other bike projects, we need a much bigger transportation fund in general, including buses and street maintenance. I live off of 75th and the new layout is much better for everything except speeding in your car to hit someone, road diets are great and should be expanded.

  9. I grew up around Lake Forest Park (actually Ballinger Terrace but most folks aren't aware of this area) and used to go on the Burke Gilman trail all the time. Biking was the one way (outside of Metro) that I could get anywhere until I got my license. I remember that the Seattle side of it was always a bit worse than the Lake Forest Park part of it (the tree roots were more like 'gentle' speed bumps) but it really makes me sad to see that this trail is in such disrepair.

    My brother is an avid biker and I know he uses that trail a lot when he bikes over to visit me. I had no idea that it was in such bad shape and him wanting to head home before dark really makes a lot more sense now that I've seen the shape of this trail.

    I've been living in Redmond for quite awhile and I love the Sammamish River Trail and I don't even bike on it. It's great as a walking trail and I imagine it's a fantastic trail for bikes. I would love to see the Burke Gilman trail repaired for folks on the Seattle side to use especially since the shape of it is clearly a safety issue.

  10. You might also notice that the city didn't put loop counters in the trail near the UW...why not? Because they don't really want to know how many people use that trail. Otherwise SDOT would have to reallocate their spending to accommodate the greatest use.

  11. Thanks for posting this Cliff. My girlfriend and I live on the south end but did a Cascade Bike Club ride north and were shocked at how, well, shocking the ride on the Burke-Gilman was around UW and up past Magnuson Park. It was utterly agonizing and made me take note not to ride that trail north again. It's a great corridor but should be given a maintenance budget to keep those thousands of cars off local roads.

  12. Amen! I bike that same section of trail for a good chunk of the year, and it is getting worse by the day.

    I would love to see some money going to repair the BG instead of the atrocity that was "fixing" 2nd AVE downtown which is twice the cluster F now than it was before.

  13. You just don't understand priorities. Would you rather have a safe bike path or missiles and bombs to rain down on people you don't know half the world away? Our country has clearly made a choice, we would rather kill people than provide a safe happy experience.

  14. Definitely looks worse than it did when I lived in Seattle 20+ years ago! But I've gotta agree with Tim Lofton's comment above: temporary fixes are a short-term solution. The problems will keep cropping up (e.g. tree roots will keep thrusting the pavement) until and unless a more intensive, long-term fix is applied.

    Either way, of course, attention is required. As JM/Jennifer implied, complaining is one thing, demanding action is another. So put the energy of frustration to good use and collectively raise a cry. It's a sad state of affairs but not terribly surprising, unfortunately.

  15. Cliff, thanks for writing about this bad situation on the BGT. The trail is the backbone of Seattle's bicycle infrastructure and needs to be maintained.

    However, here are some quibbles:

    1) As others have noted, the bike lanes on 125th were not put there for the sake of cyclists. 125th was put on a road diet to slow down cars. The bike lanes were added merely to take up space. The same treatment was given to 75th St. You can agree or disagree with whether road diets are desirable, but I would not count this as bicycle infrastructure.

    2) Pronto Bikeshare is funded by some government grants, private grants, and user fees. You made it sound like SDOT plunked down $4.4M, which is not the case.

    3) The complaint about Sharrows has merit, but the city is not currently painting tons of them like they did 4-5 years ago. Sharrows are still being put down in new places like neighborhood Greenways, but they are not being put on arterials en masse any longer.

    Otherwise, I agree with your broader point whole-heartedly. Seattle needs to start putting its money where its mouth is by prioritizing walking, biking, and transit if we're ever going to reduce carbon emissions enough.

  16. I have contacted the UW facilities group numerous times via email to request fixes to roots and holes in their section of the trail. They did go out and identify the areas with white paint (not enough to warn riders of the problem areas) but haven't done any repairs. The plan to replace the trail through the UW is great but years away.

    It seems to be easier to get $$ for new projects than to maintain old infrastructure.

  17. Of course we don't have the money to do bike transit right, we spent a billion dollars on a short tunnel that will never be finished and no one will ever use.

    We have buses. REAL first-class cities have light rail, subway, and streetcars. Like, for example, Portland.

  18. BG trail is maintained by Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, not SDOT. Voters approved a significant funding increase for SDPR a few months ago, comments like those above should be directed to the SDPR for action, they've got the money now to address their backlog of many years of neglect/deferred maintenance....

  19. I live in Wallingford and work in Totem thrice a week - but many times I just drive to Lake Forest Park and join the trail on the good suburban parts because the Seattle part is so dangerous. Entering Seattle is an embarrassment and shakes your wrists off.

  20. You get what you vote for... and pay for !
    I would have thought the trail would have connected West Seattle by now. I am wondering if a bed of crushed rock compacted the length would be easier and cheaper to maintain. Gentle graded sloping over the most offending roots would be easier maintenance and the water woud perc right through...?

    Maybe if scooters and golf carts were allowed to use it you could generate plenty of user fees.

  21. I've given up on bicycling in Seattle. The problems on the Burke-Gilman are only the tip of the iceberg; trying to get to/from the ferry terminals has gotten ridiculously dangerous with the seawall and tunnel construction.

    Fortunately, I have the option of telecommuting from home. When I do go in, I either walk or take a car.

  22. Yes. The life cycle cost of asphalt is tremendous. Cheap to install and very expensive to maintain. Asphalt is not a structural pavement, so it has no strength. When trees or even larger shrubs are planted near asphalt paving, they just heave it up with their roots. To maintain the trail without slapdashery, they'd need to go back and prune the roots so that they don't run under the asphalt. Also, asphalt needs an edge to contain it or else it falls apart. Edges can be concrete bands or metal edges specifically designed to contain asphalt. Perhaps these trails should be concrete or concrete with an asphalt overlayment. It's a bigger dollar to do it - $7/sf versus $2/sf, but the maintenance is nothing compared to asphalt. If it is concrete, it should be reinforced so that if a tree root wants to heave it, it will gently warp a big section not push up a panel like the sidewalks that are unreinforced, so it will be safer.

  23. I wholeheartedly agree! I'm looking forward to joining the throngs of new bicycle commuters once Link reaches Husky Stadium. Thanks for providing the contact information!

  24. In Vancouver, BC, in Pacific Spirit Park, there are some places where the trails are paved. The tree roots always try to move up the pavement, I guess they are looking for air. The solution is to convert it to gravel. They are doing it -- cheap solution and it is still bike-able and the roots are happy.

  25. Agreed, 100%. A huge part of the problem is that Seattle Parks has had no funding (or has wasted its funding, depending on who you ask). Now that we have a Metropolitan Parks District, maybe it will get better. Honestly, I think turning it over to SDOT might actually be better, given how much work they've done elsewhere.

  26. Another example of failed priorities is the inability to replace the pedestrian/bike overpass connecting the Burke Gilman trail with the IMA Building east of Montlake Boulevard on the UW campus. The overpass is dangerous for pedestrians with the ever present danger of trucks striking the underside of the overpass and also dangerous for bicycles with the metal plate covered expansion joint often coming loose which has led to at least one serious bike accident in the past two years. I know first hand of the danger because I was almost "taken out" while crossing the overpass by a crashing bicyclist who was pitched forward off his bike. He landed head first coming to rest at my feet! Astonishingly, due to wearing a helmut, he was not seriously hurt but it was terrifying to watch this crash unfold at close range.

  27. I just rode home from downtown Seattle to Bothell after dark on the Burke - Gilman tonite. It was indeed a relief to get to Lake Forest Park's new section of the trail and away from the root heaves and pot holes of Seattle ' s section.
    But don't forget the section in Lake Forest was even worse than Seattle's before its replacement a couple of years ago. I remember the opposite experience of leaving Seattle's smoother sections after dark and having to hang on even tighter to the handlebars to keep from being thrown off when I hit the bumps in Lake Forest Park.
    Lake Forest removed a LOT of trees and their roots and built all new drainage to create the trail they have now and, if I remember right, the project closed the section of the trail from Log Boom Park to 145th from April to January. It stopped a lot of commuters from the north end for months.
    The Burke - Gilman is truly an integral section of the commuting pattern into and out of Seattle and probably is the only commuting option here that comes close to what real bike - friendly cities have. If Seattle is serious about green commuting options they need a plan to replace short sections of it at a time. A few bumps and dips are to be expected with our soggy rainforest, but it's really time to do it before someone gets hurt.
    If we do actually count the users, we should try to count how many of the bikes doing the longer distances are road bikes before any serious consideration is given to a gravel surface. The January commuters I see are all on skinny - tired road bikes!
    Lots of comments about UW ' s inaction on their section of the trail here, but the trail is presently closed and torn to shreds for reconstruction between Brooklyn and University, and on campus near the Health Sciences building I was zig - zagging around construction zones and ended up carrying my bike up a set of stairs to avoid riding a detour route onto 25th. I'd say they're starting work on their section!
    Thanks for the post, Cliff. I'm guessing many of your readers use the trail!

  28. It is sad. The Chehalis-Western near Olympia has similar problems. The root causes (pun) are lack of a civil society in which nearly all people are willing to contribute to the common good, militarism in which all priorities go to miitary concerns and overseas adventurism, and multinational corporate capitalism that allows avoidance of taxes, promotes lowest denominator wages globally, and promotes foreign interventionism to secure markets and allow them to be dominated by a few monopolists.

  29. Don't forget us folks in Ballard, another rapidly growing area. Extending the BG out up to 24th and Market (and beyond) has been under discussion for ages it seems.

    It's a tricky and expensive propopsition, with a lot of opposition from waterfront businessess -- but the City has to find the money and will to do it to reduce congestion. There's a lot of us that would bike to work if they could figure out the Shilshole mess.

    -- Douglas

  30. Nice to read this as I've been thinking about this a lot recently (ever time I ride down that stretch of trail). Sent an email to the Parks & Rec guy and will ask others to do the same. Let us know if you get a response!

  31. I've been commuting between Shoreline (160th) and the UW for a decade now. While I appreciate Cliff's comments, I guess I'm not convinced that making a "safer" path is actually a safe path. People ride way to fast on smooth sections of the trail, draft strangers through uncontrolled intersections, and blind each other at night with their crazy bright lights. As for me, I commute this trail on a crappy mountain bike (24 miles a day)and consider bugs, squirrels and inconsiderate cyclists more of a menace than a few bumps. If you disagree, try riding the smooth 'n safe trail between the UW and Fremont at 5:15 on a summer evening. Yikes people.

  32. I wish it was a light rail transit route.

  33. Motorists pay a gas tax of 15%, and people with diesel engines pay even more. The highest taxes, though, are reserved for the owners of electric vehicles. My Washingtin State EV tax is more than 40% of the cost of the electricity that runs the car.

    For all this money, we get a state highway network that's grossly inadequate. Within the city, we get a city administration that is fighting an increasingly aggressive war on car drivers in myriad ways, including terrible street maintenance, no timing of traffic signals, and an ongoing effort to remove traffic lanes.

    So, you'll have to forgive me for not crying too many tears for the bicyclists, who are the only street legal vehicle users who don't have to be licensed or pay a street use fee for their bikes.

    If you want to fix the Burke-Gilman trail, hold a bake sale. I'm sure every yuppie in the city will be happy to buy a pot-laced brownie to help the cause.

  34. Thanks Cliff! I commute to downtown Seattle from Redmond on the BG four days a week, and the Seattle section of trail that I ride to the University Bridge is in terrible disrepair. I know every foot of the trail and can negotiate it safely as long as I pay close attention, but someone will be badly injured or killed as a result of a crash caused by a root heave or pothole.

    The trail is a gem, used by many, many people each day and needs to be fixed before someone is hurt.

  35. It was a similar situation for Greater Vancouver's BC Parkway which follows the Expo Line skytrain line. Conditions were so bad that cyclists got together and voted for it in the annual survey of worst roads in BC. It ended up placing 2nd and it isn't even a road. Well the government listened and now for the past year the trail has been repaired in sections. Urban pathways need upkeep just the same as roadways. http://www.translink.ca/en/About-Us/Media/2014/September/Safety-and-accessibility-improvements-coming-to-BC-Parkway.aspx

  36. I disagree though that roadways like the one's you describe shouldn't be changed to the configuration shown. 4 lane roadways with no center turn lanes are pretty much just as efficient as the 2 lane road with bidirectional turn lanes and the bonus is there are now bike lanes. I bet there are cyclists that use it, just not as much as the trail. Sharrows on the otherhand are pretty useless.

  37. p.s.: Seeing as how the Burke-Gilman is a parks department baby, I'm sure we can expect the powers that be to use those higher taxes to fix it. We all know that the parks levy was never about the parks.

  38. Great news from the City via Twitter on this topic: https://twitter.com/kevinfreitas/status/520244037601615872

    "The @CityofSeattle will begin repairs on this section this fall that will continue into the spring of 2015."

    "There is a plan to upgrade the entire trail as well. Planning for that upgrade begins next year."

  39. I agree with your post that the Burke Gilman needs serious work. However, I don't think attacking NE 125th as wasted money is the way to go. NE 125th was a road diet - primarily a safety improvement for EVERYONE, but it especially benefits drivers. It slows traffic, decreasing collisions. The bike lanes are an afterthought.

    I live next to NE 75th, which had a similar road diet done. Not a lot of people bike on it, but it was never meant to be a bike route. However, traffic is much calmer, and the bike lane provides a wonderful buffer for the sidewalk. I would never let my 2 year old walk on the sidewalk without it, but with the buffer cars keep their distance. That's important, and makes it much more comfortable to walk on. Just don't view it as bike infrastructure; it's more like a shoulder.

  40. Thanks for the post. I totally agree.

    The City can't even keep the BGT in decent shape. It's ridiculous.

    Alas, anything transportation infrastructure-related and we are cursed with mediocrity. Any longer, it's unacceptable.

  41. I don't ride the BG regularly, but did the other day from Kenmore to Ballard. Yes, there were rough spots, this is a legitimate complaint, and by all means, users should report these if they appear to be dangerous. But an experienced and careful cyclist riding at a safe speed will not have an accident because of them. On a multi-use trail speeding cyclists can threaten more vulnerable users and may also put themselves at risk. As for bike share being a waste of money - bikers in the areas where bike share is being implemented do not all have the luxury of many miles of dedicated path like the BG trail has provided to some for years. Turning all those slow bikers loose on the streets of the Central Business District, U District, Waterfront, Seattle Center, Belltown, Capitol Hill, International District and Pioneer Square will quickly and dramatically demonstrate the need to redress the critical lack of bike infrastructure that has plagued those areas. Bike share in Seattle will provide another carbon neutral option for visitors and locals alike to travel between major destinations and even supplement our challenged bus system. A bike share station in a neighborhood with limited off peak transit service could be a very cost effective means of improving transportation in the city.

  42. Placeholder, you couldn't be more wrong about taxes. You actually think that those meager taxes pay for the true cost of driving an automobile? That mode of transportation is outrageously subsidized. Parking, runoff, pollution, national defense to keep the oil flowing, etc…If the true costs were actually considered it would make economic sense to PAY people to bike or walk, not tax them to do so.

  43. Unknown, great then. Let's repeal all vehicle taxes, including on my car. If bicyclists ride free, then so should cars. And if you don't like cars, by the way, then let's hope you'll agree to forego any of their benefits.

    Seattle's bicyclists are, to my way of thinking, not only reckless and lawbreaking when they ride, but highly smug and hypocritical about themselves and their superiority.

  44. Neglecting the B-G is penny wise, pound foolish transportation planning. It clearly should receive more than window dressing or trafic cones to "warn" users of failing infrastructure. It appears to be suffering in the same way as many other pieces of infrastructure (roads, bridges, sewer and water lines, etc) which are not being proactively maintained.

    However, bashing investments in other active transportation projects serving less well serviced portions of the city seems undeserved. Maintaining the B-G should not prevent the city from making improvements elsewhere. Unless you are referencing research, I also think the belittling comments about projects such as the 125th St "road diet" and "sharrows" detracts from your point. Research seems fairly clear that well-placed "sharrow" projects both increase cycling and improve cycler safety. Sean Sullivan posted a link to actual research findings about 125th St (less accidents, less speeding, more vehicle use, double bicycle use).

    If Seattle is going to serve all its residents with a transportation system that offers options and alternatives to cars it needs to both invest in maintaining what it has and investing in improving options throughout the city.

    In terms of the original 12.1 miles of the B-G in Seattle, it would cost over $19 million to make the same level of repair as King County made to the $2 mile Lake Forest Park segment in 2011/12.

  45. Okay, so if there are 100,000 bicycle in Seattle, and they each pay a license fee of $40 a year plus administrative costs -- use the WA Dept. of Licensing system -- that should be able to service the bonds for repairing your favorite trail.

    Not only that, but bicyclists would be seen as (for once) actually chipping in. It would be a radical departure from the usual pattern of making demands at the expense of everyone else.

    Come on, bicyclists, step up to the plate. This is Washington State, where there is a fee for everything. It's time that you assumed the position along with everyone else. You're not nearly as special as you think.

  46. Your points about the Burke Gilman are well-taken. However, you are mistaken about 125th. This project was primarily about safety, reducing speeding and reducing collisions. According to this analysis by SDOT, it has been very successful. http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/docs/13%2004%2015%20ne%20125th%20st%20rechannel%20report%20final.pdf

  47. Gas taxes and other user fees don't begin to pay for the costs of running a road network.

    Anything other than highways (i.e. streets and side roads) is mostly paid out of property taxes. Taxes which bicyclists, like everyone else, pay. (Including renters, because landlords pass on tax costs in the rent they charge.)

    Most bicycle rides are on those streets and side roads and not on major highways. And bicycles impose *much* less wear and tear on the pavement than motor vehicles, because they are so much lighter.

    Studies have been done comparing the costs various modes impose, and they almost always show that cyclists end up paying for cars (because bicycles wear out streets so little), not the other way 'round.

  48. I keep hoping the BNSF will rebuild that old Northern Pacific Railway right-of-way and send the oil trains through Bothell and Woodinville. They could build a huge oil refinery in Redmond...those are the folks that need the fuel...Range Rovers and soccer moms...yeah, you betcha...uff da, all ready.

  49. I agree about maintaining the BG. Painting around the heaves and holes doesn't help at all when the trail is covered with leaves, and the city makes no effort to clean the leaves.

    I don't agree about the 75th St. and 125th road diets, though. My impression is that traffic flows along them as well as it did when they were 4-lane roads. When they were 4 lanes, there was no left turn lane, so traffic was dodging in and out to go around drivers in the left lane waiting to turn left. Now the through traffic flows in a single lane, but that lane flows well.

    And Metro's cuts have been appalling. The major cuts made this fall are only the last in a long line. There have been rounds of cuts for the last 4 years that have no hope of reversal. Metro used to have bus drivers radio when they were too full to let passengers board, now they don't even track the problem anymore.

  50. Folks:
    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

  51. How about some or all of the sales tax revenue from Washington state bicycle stores being used for bike paths?

  52. And bicycles impose *much* less wear and tear on the pavement than motor vehicles, because they are so much lighter.

    Seeing as how Cliff Mass is a professor, and that he writes from fact and logic, I thought it might be appropriate to point out that the engineering science shows your claim to be flatly wrong.

    Of course, I don't expect this to change your view. In fact, I expect that you'll keep repeating the falsehood about weight and pavement damage.

    Ideology and magical thinking always trump facts, especially when it comes to the privileged and ever so self-satisfied bicyclists of Seattle, who have long since elevated themselves to sainthood, at least in their own eyes.


  53. How about some or all of the sales tax revenue from Washington state bicycle stores being used for bike paths?

  54. Thank you Cliff for bringing this up. The bumpy Burke Gilman has been sticking in my craw for years, and my cycling friends all concur.

    I've been a regular trail user for 30 years, and have watched it evolve. Many repairs have been done, and whole sections have been replaced in that time, but the root-caused bumps have always been there. What to do?

    I propose a two part solution. First, by making the road bed unappealing to roots, keep them from propagating. By applying several inches of 1 1/2" diameter or larger washed rock, followed by heavy road-construction fabric, followed by asphalt pavement, roots wouldn't have a place to grow. Roots are attracted to the underside of pavement because it's moist there. On cold nights, the underside of pavement condenses the water vapor coming up through the soil like a cold drink on a humid day. This moisture accumulates, as with an impermeable cap above, it has nowhere to go - perfect for roots!
    But sizable chunks of gravel wouldn't allow for moisture to accumulate, as well as being inhospitable for root hairs, which are the precursors to larger roots.

    The second part is to deter roots from getting under the trail to begin with. By installing sheet metal or thick plastic to a depth of 2 to 3 feet along both sides of the trail during construction, roots would be discouraged from getting under the asphalt. In my years in construction, I have found that when roots encounter any solid object, they will turn to the side and parallel it, instead of diving down and trying to grow under it.

    This type of construction would be more expensive up front, but would probably more than pay for itself over the years, as it would be far more durable, and require much less ongoing maintenance.

    Sections of the Sammamish River Trail, where there are no trees, have stood up for decades, proving that without roots, the trail endures. On the other hand, that beautiful new section through Lake Forest Park? I can already see several spots where roots are starting to make their dreaded incursions!

    Steve Rankin
    Green Lake

  55. Interesting point.

    However, the section of the BGT that was improved in LFP, was done by the County, and ONLY after a very long, expensive, legal battle with the locals.

    Has anyone paid attention to the flack the city has gotten in Ballard for trying to improve the trail there? More lawyers.

    The bike program may be expensive, but I bet no one filed a lawsuit. So as far as "bang for your buck", it's a good deal.

    Improving the trial would cost way more than $4 million, and that's AFTER the lawsuits.

  56. jno62
    Do you REALLY think it would cost millions of dollar to go over the trail with an asphalt grinding machine and filling in the worst holes? I bet this could done for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars...cliff

  57. Do you REALLY think it would cost millions of dollar to go over the trail with an asphalt grinding machine and filling in the worst holes? I bet this could done for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars

    Cliff, please. We live in a city whose government wouldn't be caght dead maintaining anything. It's beneath them. It's not world class.

    Go over it with an asphalt grinding machine? For tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars? No, no, no, no, a thousand times no!

    Get with the program. First we do a two-years study. Then we take comments from all the "stakeholders." Then we "build a coalition." And then we do what we were always going to do: pay a California architect to design a new, $20 million Burke Gilman trail.

    Never forget where you are, Cliff.

  58. Placeholder, I see no evidence in the article you linked, but only speculation. This: AASHO, 1962. The American Association of State Highway Of´Čücials, The AASHO road test, Proceedings of a Conference held May 16–18, National Academy of Sciences, St Louis, MO, National Research Council. Publication; 1012, or in Special report/Highway Research Board, ISSN 0077-5622, p. 73 actually explains what causes road damage, and in summary it is axle weight. This research is still used today to do such things as determine additional taxes trucks pay. The damage to a road surface rises non-linearly as the weight increases; at a power of four. PSI at the contact patch is not useful, and you can see it for yourself by riding on the trail. Do you see ruts from bicycle traffic? Do you see broken pavement where bikes are accelerating and breaking? I don't, and that's on a very thin asphalt road surface that has actually aged better than the neighboring roads that experience car and truck traffic (garbage trucks especially). If we could keep the roots under control, the trail would last several human lifespans before needing resurfacing.

  59. Cliff,

    Perhaps it is time that you consult with Ciscoe Morris. I don't think your expertise is Western Washington flora and fauna...

  60. I think you should get Cisco Morris involved in this discussion. Current range for 2" lift of asphalt is $3-$6 SF. The BGT would not be a "run-of-the-mill" pave job because of access. I don't think you can just grind down the ridges and pave over what's left over. I'm guessing a majority of the grinding will wind up in root wood. The roots need to be removed or else you'll be looking at new ridges almost immediately. I get the feeling you hit the BGT around Matthews Beach. Ideally you could run a trencher along the edged of the tail severing roots running beneath the trail on either side and the rip the root out. If you leave the dead root it will rot and the you'll have divots instead. I would venture to guess $300k per mile to pave doing the necessary work to make it last for decades.
    Sound reasonable? The 2 mile stretch of trail that was closed through LFP a couple of years ago cost $2.5 million a mile for a 12' wide trail with soft shoulders.it was 100% over budget when it was completed. This info was in the Seattle Times published December 17, 2011

  61. What SDOT did to NE 125th St is appalling, comments on this blog and the official line from SDOT notwithstanding. They significantly reduced capacity on one of the precious east-west routes within the city.

    To supporters parroting the line about safety, tell me why exactly that it made sense to reduce the westbound (uphill) traffic to one lane. Before the diet, few motorists were able to ascend the hill at the speed limit. Now, all motorists are required to travel at the speed of the slowest car. In Seattle, you can usually count on climbing that hill behind a car crawling up at 19 mph, trailing a fug of skunk.

    People who live in the immediate vicinity of 125th like the change because much of the previous traffic has diverted to different routes out of frustration. Bully for them. But for anyone else trying to get around in this city, it sucks.

  62. As a year-round bike commuter, it made me happy to see your post. I do have to disagree with some of your points though. What this city needs in order to fix the BG trail is simply more cyclists which leads to more funding. I have yet to hear a single person say "I would bike to work if there were less bumps on the BG trail." The catalyst to increasing the number of riders is increased safe bike facilities in areas that are completely lacking them. You cannot honestly say that you would feel safer biking on Rainier Ave or any street other than 2nd ave downtown than you do on a bumpy trail, right? I own 3 bikes and will not be a regular bike share user but I could not be happier about this program. It makes bikes more accessible to people that are hesitant about buying a bike, it compliments our pathetic public transit system and simply makes biking more mainstream. If you want the BG trail to be fixed then you need to get behind these other projects that might not service your individual commute.

  63. I think the City's bike policy is quite frankly misguided and for the most part provides little benefit to cyclists while spending lots of money. As Cliff points out, the BGT is a gem that cyclist love. The sharrows and he bike lanes on 75th and 125th are essentially unused--although the city proudly trumpets the number of miles of bike lanes that are added each year.

    I humbly submit the correct metric is not the number of miles of bike lanes, but the number of miles of usable bike lanes. 75th and 125th don't qualify. However, there are lots of opportunities for bike lanes that would be usable. Lots of areas of north and south Seattle still have no curb and gutter. Certainly some of these streets could be paved to incorporate a bike lane. Obvious logical examples including connecting North Seattle Community College with the Northgate transit center. This would obviously cost more than slapping down some paint, but it would also create usable bike lanes.

  64. The Seattle BGT is much neglected it is true. It's been several years since grinders were used to smooth the trial in the UW area, in the south at Pacific and University. The root heaves in the north section should be addressed with grinders immediately. After the regrettable failure of the TIGRE grant applications for major rebuilding of the BGT in the UW, those in charge of transportation safety at the UW have an obligation to UW commuters to improve trail conditions in the UW area on an expedited basis. These unsafe conditions have been tolerated for too long.

    North of the UW the worst conditions on the BGT are between 125th and 42 Pl NE. the uphill side of the trail is thoroughly eaten out, but especially the longitudinal tire trap at the private drive in this section.

    Zombie rail lines from underground!

    Lets not forget the efforts under Mcginn to repave a few sections of the BGT, around Matthews beach, and the 4 way stop at 65th that is an amazing exception to the implicit traffic rule that bikes must always yield to all kinds of traffic. There has been progress but the backlog of deterioration of this biking gem is a sad rebuke to the claims of Seattle as a bike friendly city.

  65. I get the gist of your rant. The short answer is that the Burke Gilman is managed by King County in cooperation with various municipalities. So the budget you see from the city for things like Bike Share isn't the same budget as the one for the trail which comes from a different entity. The slightly longer answer is that Lake Forest Park has functionally sucked up resources that could be spent on the trail by forcing the county to constantly defend against LFP's hostile take over of the trail. A lot of the upgrades along the trail along LFP where compromises that took a decade in exchanged for LFP allow the county to do the upgrades and stop placing stop signs (which where not approved by the county and violated the county's jurisdiction). There have been lawsuits, court orders. Lot of fun stuff.


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