Burke-Gilman Trail Reopening Contrasts with Growing Greenway Interest


Map of the bike trail system (Photo: MvB)

The winding Sammamish River accompanies cyclists on the trail's 10-mile stretch (Photo: MvB)

A Sammamish River Trail rider (Photo: MvB)

Newly renovated northern stretch of the Burke-Gilman Trail (Photo: MvB)

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Tipped off by Seattle Bike Blog to the Burke-Gilman Trail reopening–a northern segment was completely repaved up by Kenmore–The SunBreak’s bicycling correspondents spent Sunday pedaling out to Woodinville on the regional trail system. (At Bothell, the Burke-Gilman becomes the Sammamish River Trail, which will take you to Redmond, if your legs are so inclined, making a total of 28 miles, end to end.)

Despite the Burke-Gilman operating as a sort of I-5 for bike commuters, the hilly detour suggested seemed not to have cyclists in mind, the renovation took longer than expected–eight months–and the budget almost doubled in size to $4.9 million: “Construction hit some snags regarding soil condition, utility work and trees, and much of the work had to be redesigned,” Seattle Bike Blog summarizes. The budget overage was largely paid for by savings on work on the East Lake Sammamish Trail, and from open spaces and parks funds.

Besides a wider trail, you’ll also see a few speed limit signs announcing a top speed of 15 mph regularly flouted by teams of cyclists out training in professional apparel. Because Burke-Gilman is a multi-use trail, frequented by pedestrians, joggers, roller-bladers, and skateboarders, the Seattle Parks Department advises that: “All riders should ride at a safe speed and avoid pacelines and pack riding. Fast cyclists should use alternative routes.” This also is generally ignored.

Major biking infrastructure is expensive and takes significant time to implement–the original 12 miles of the Burke-Gilman were dedicated in 1978, and work has not really stopped on it since. But the Seattle Times has a story on greenways that points up how cyclists are foregoing new construction when there is plenty of residential street just sitting there. Since most cyclists consider themselves “flying” when traveling between 15 and 20 mph, it’s often true that the best place for them is not on arterials, which are often posted at an (exceeded) 30 mph for car traffic.

Residential streets, reconfigured to allow bike traffic better flow, work just fine, without so much stomping on brakes and cursing. And, in comparison to the justifiable but still pricy costs for stand-alone trails, greenways win going away. The Times reports: “This year, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) will build seven miles of greenways — mostly funded by the 2006 Bridging the Gap levy — in Wallingford, Beacon Hill, Ballard and Delridge at a cost of $150,000 per mile.”