[Update 12/14 The city council voted unanimously to acquire the corridor despite some concerns about how to fund that purchase.]
The Seattle Times reports that tonight starting at 6 pm the Kirkland City Council will determine whether to buy a 5 and 3/4 mile segment of the Eastside BNSF rail corridor stretching from the South Kirkland P&R at 108th Ave NE to 132nd Ave NE, less than a block away from where Bradley Nakatani was killed while riding his bike last Friday.
The corridor is currently owned by the Port of Seattle, with ownership transitioning to King County sometime next year. However, due to King County’s ongoing financial tightness, ownership by the City of Kirkland would likely lead to faster development of a multi-use trail in the corridor. This type of agreement is not without precedent. In 2002 Juanita Beach Park was transfer from the ownership of King County (which had close the park in 2001 due to lack of funding) to Kirkland, which has since spent millions of dollar on improving the park. Purchase of the BNSF trail by Kirkland would likely allow Kirkland to do the same thing.
While no official plans for how the corridor would be developed have been made, it will certainly involved a multi-use trail of some sort and could include transit along some or all of the corridor in the future. As part of the purchase agreement Sound Transit will have a standing easement on the corridor for future high capacity transit, which will be negotiate between the City of Kirkland and Sound Transit when plans for transit service are developed. The corridor would need to conform to the national Raibanking standards that often makes development of transit in the corridor more expensive than many might think.
In my opinion this corridor is a game changer for bicycling in Kirkland, especially between SR-520 (and the future regional trail across the bridge), Downtown Kirkland and Totem Lake. The trail will provide a flat, high-quality north/south spine, which it currently lacks, and could eventually tie well into the Burke Gilman trail on the north, and the future Bell-Red corridor TOD on the south. For transit the corridor has potential although not as much since the corridor skirts the eastern edge of downtown Kirkland, requiring any future transit on the corridor to leave it to serve downtown. The corridor could however greatly improve the connection between Downtown Kirkland and Totem Lake via transit, which are the cities designated growth centers and important transit demand generators.