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Cyclists: Ballard section of Burke-Gilman dangerous

Seattle post Intelligencer: Cyclists: Ballard section of Burke-Gilman dangerous

Industrial landowners sue to block 'missing link;' cyclists respond with suit

By LEVI PULKKINEN
SEATTLEPI.COM STAFF

For a pathway that doesn't exist, the "missing link" of the Burke-Gilman Trail sure draws lawsuits.

Months after industrial landowners sued the City of Seattle to block a proposed extension of the trail in Ballard, the city is again taking legal fire -- this time from cyclists who fault the city for failing to connect the "missing link."

At issue in both suits is an industrial area of Ballard situated between two sections of the popular bicycling and running trail.

Beginning near Golden Gardens Park, the Burke-Gilman runs along the Lake Washington Ship Canal before cutting north at the University and continuing to Kenmore. The "missing link" -- a section between 28th Avenue Northwest and 11th Avenue Northwest -- is the single large break in that trail.

In July, a collection of businesses and industrial organizations sued the city in an effort to stop a proposed connection they contend would cut off the maritime corridor and endanger those using the trail.

Now, five cyclists filed a second lawsuit claiming the city's inaction caused them to crash while riding in the area. While failing to complete the trail, the cyclists assert the city also ignored the hazard presented by decades-old railroad tracks crossing the roadway.

"Hundreds of bicycle crashes have occurred on Shilshole Avenue Northwest under the Ballard Bridge since 1999 as bicyclists have attempted to cross the railroad tracks," Attorney David Middaugh said in the complaint. "The city has known that the railroad crossing … is not reasonably safe for ordinary travel by bicyclists for many years."

Middaugh continues, listing several witness and press reports while citing Seattle Fire Department statistics he contends support his claim.

In the lawsuit, each plaintiff reported a variety of injuries ranging from a broken hip to severe cuts to the face to broken teeth. They've requested they be compensated for their injuries.

Contacted for comment, Seattle Department of Transportation spokeswoman Marybeth Turner declined to do so as the litigation remains ongoing.

Turner said the effort to close the "missing link" remains on hold pending the resolution of the earlier lawsuit. The plaintiffs in that suit, among the Ballard Chamber of Commerce, claim a city environmental review was failed to account for the impact an expansion of the trail would have on businesses in the area.

"The 'missing link" project is on hold pending an appeal to the King County Superior Court," Turner said via e-mail. "The city is waiting on the court's decision before proceeding further, to include advertising for bids."

The proposal, unveiled by the city in June 2008, would see the "missing link" closed with a pedestrian-bicycle path alongside Shilshole Avenue Northwest.

That proposal presents a problem for businesses along the Ship Canal in Ballard's industrial district. Among the businesses joining the suit is Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel, which, according to the complaint, would send up to 400 trucks over the proposed trail each day during summer months.

"This portion of Ballard -- from 11th (Avenue) Northwest to the Ballard Locks -- is a critical corridor and an integral part of the maritime and industrial business community in Seattle," attorney Patrick Schneider said in the July complaint. "The project, as currently proposed, will have substantial adverse impacts to this maritime and industrial community, and it is very likely a trail user will be hurt or killed by a vehicle serving this maritime-industrial community."

In the complaint, Salmon Bay Gravel, Ballard Oil Co. and several business associations claim the trail would make it nearly impossible for industries requiring water access to continue to operate. The plaintiffs allege that similar businesses in Fremont were forced to close after a trail extension there blocked access to loading docks there.

The action follows a series of administrative reviews of the city proposal. In each case, reviewers have found the proposal passes muster under state environmental rules now cited by the plaintiffs.

Responding to the suit, in which the club is named as a defendant, a Cascade Bicycle Club spokesperson objected to the Ballard Chamber of Commerce's participation in the suit as a plaintiff.

"We are deeply disappointed that the appeal has been filed, particularly since the prior decision was clearly in our favor," the statement reads. "While that the Ballard Chamber of Commerce wastes its members' dues, improved safety in the community is once again stalled."

Responding to the suit, attorneys for the city denied the plaintiffs' allegations and argued that lack standing to bring the suit. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Feb. 22 in King County Superior Court.