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Feb192009

« Bikes, Business, and the Burke-Gilman Trail  »

And now, for a wag of the finger. The Burke Gilman Missing Link compromise is in a new kerfuffle (now it's the Ballard Chamber of Commerce plus the usual suspects making noise about loss of parking, while Cascade weighs in for the trail). This saga deserves a longer post, but briefly, a few long-standing Ballard businesses (Salmon Bay Sand & Gravel, Ballard Oil, etc) continue to oppose completing the "missing link" of the Burke Gilman Trail, from Fred Meyer to the Locks. This often gets reduced to "bikes versus business", or "New Ballard vs Old Ballard". There's some truth to those stereotypes, at least as far as the vocal participants in the debate, but then again, who says you can't be in more than one of those categories?

But unfortunately, the businesses are guilty of a lot of overheated, disingenuous nonsense, and us bikey folks often seem fairly callous about the potential impact on said businesses and local jobs. Emphasis on potential impact, since I haven't heard anything specifically convincing from the businesses yet. Pretending to care about the environmental impact won't cut it. But they are in low margin businesses, so it is possible that a trail, if it does actually raise their costs in some way, could impact them substantially. And I'd be sad to see them go - I'd like to live in a Ballard where Mr. Kombucha can peacefully coexist with Mr. Sand & Gravel.

The Tooth Fairy's Favorite IntersectionSo here's my take. The current situation is dangerous. I have a friend that lost two teeth on the oblique rail crossing under the Ballard Bridge; this is a common occurrence, even for cyclists who know better but get crowded by west-bound traffic. Perhaps this is part of the stimulus plan for local dentists and ERs in these tough times? Simple fix #1 would be to make that stretch of 45th from the bridge to Fred Meyer one-way east-bound for cars, with a curb protected both-way cycletrack. It seems silly to drive west on 45th anyway, hoping to skip a traffic light, but ending up waiting at the stop sign for the left turn onto busy Shilshole Ave. Which my father, ever the sailor, pronounces "Shill's Hole". Which has a certain ring to it.

Shilshole itself remains a sketchy route to ride, yet for many is the most direct commute. The businesses say that routing a multiuse trail across their driveways will lead to someone being hit, loss of their insurance, and loss of local jobs. As for me, I'd feel a lot safer biking past their businesses on separated trail, with properly designed trail/driveway intersections, interacting with their professional drivers, than I would "sharing" Shilshole with the current batch of inattentive, erratic single-occupant car commuters. For all the noise the businesses are making, they represent a minority of the traffic on that road. And the current interim plan of routing bikes up onto Ballard Ave and then back to Shilshole a few blocks later, with two new lights on Shilshole, is making no one happy (oft-said to be the sign of a good compromise, but in this case, not so much).

I think that a multi-use trail can be compatible with industry (it is in Fremont/"Frelard", where it runs past multiple similar industries, in Kenmore, and in Interbay with the railroad terminal). And that free long-term parking in a downtown area is not a Constitutional right, and that other places to park could be found. So build the Missing Link already, but find a parking solution for impacted businesses. It's hard to miss the big abandoned Yankee Diner parking lot. Even with a hotel going in there, there's plenty of room.

But in the meantime, what do I do, as a current customer of Ballard Oil, and frequenter of Snoose Junction, whose owner is on the Chamber of Commerce's Board? Snoose gets a pass due to afore-mentioned bikey-ness, but Ballard Oil may not long have me as a customer. I'll try to attend the hearing on March 23rd before I make up my mind though. Other than repeatedly delivering non-winter oil that freezes in our lines in early winter (argggh), they've been good to us. As for interim biking, I'll continue to be paranoid on the track crossings, and I'll take Old Ballard Ave over Shilshole, especially with kids on board.

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