Walking the Burke Gilman Trail

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On one of our unseasonably sunny days last week, I walked along the Burke-Gilman with one of the trail’s most avid users – weather guru and bike commuter Cliff Mass. The pavement conditions of the trail need improvement: full of potholes and crisscrossed with bumpy roots, it’s even crumbling along the edges in places. Walking along with us, as we inspected some of the worst hazards, was Seattle Parks’ Kathleen Conner and Seattle Department of Transportation’s Monica Dewald. Burke 1

 “People are getting really hurt on the trail every day,” Mass emphasized, pointing to a break in the pavement that might particularly trip up people who ride bicycles.  Mass is one of many people I’ve heard from about paving safety concerns along the Burke Gilman Trail. I live along and walk the trail and know a neighbor who had an accident near the University of Washington. Although an experienced cyclist, my neighbor ended up with a shattered hip and a lengthy hospital stay.

Once a railroad right-of-way, the trail was developed in 1978 with recreation in mind and has only had spot repairs since. What first came to my mind as I crossed Sand Point Way to the trail was that it is high time paved trails are managed as the pedestrian and cycling arterials that they are used for. It seemed Mass agreed. “You should have someone riding the length of the trail, inspecting it, once a week,” he insisted.

Monica pointed out some of the city’s bicycle trail maintenance challenges: the lack of sufficient funds and thus the need to resort to spot repairs, rather than more permanent fixes. In response to constituent concerns over pavement safety on the Burke, Parks and I have worked together this year to complete pavement restoration at 35th Avenue Northeast, Northeast 65th Street, and Northeast 100th Street. This year’s repairs to some of the worst patches have all but exhausted Parks’ annual allotted $11,000 budget for Burke Gilman Trail Burke 2maintenance. 

This is not the budget needed to manage a bicycle and pedestrian corridor that carries  545,000 users per year The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has set aside some spot funding to assist Parks with repairing some of the worst of the damaged locations.  But the City needs a longer-term approach to bicycle trail maintenance.

We have a start, thanks to a City Council addition to the Parks budget that I sponsored this past Fall—there is an over-all assessment underway of city bike and pedestrian trail pavement conditions. The assessment will highlight the most pressing trail pavement safety concerns in time for the budget process this Fall.  And the Seattle Department of Transportation & Parks Department are currently working on a Trails Upgrade Plan that will, among other things, establish a methodology for maintaining the Trail network. . This is just what the doctor ordered—a protocol and plan for the operations and maintenance of Seattle’s bicycle trail arterials throughout the city.

It is clear that the Burke needs the attention a major arterial deserves and we are well on our way to delivering. But in the meantime, it is important that people who bike keep the City updated on areas in need of spot repairs, much like Cliff Mass does. Use the Mayor’s “find it, fix it” app initiative—where Seattleites take pictures of a problem, identify the location and send it to the city—to see emergency repairs where hazards exist. This will help us keep paved trails safe and usable until we reach the ultimate goal of a network of well-kept trails, the hallmark of a healthy city.