Proposed Burke-Gilman Connections
Proposed Burke-Gilman Improved Connections

The University of Washington has released a proposal for a major upgrade to the section of the Burke-Gilman trail that runs through its campus, for which it is seeking federal funding through the TIGER program. Of all the parts of the current Burke-Gilman trail, this is possibly the most important, as it provides access to the UW — a massive source of demand — as well as the primary connection between downtown Seattle and northeast Seattle, and the suburbs to the northeast. It’s tremendously busy, and it shows its age in some ways, being basically the same trail today was it was when the Burke first opened in 1978, despite decades of growth in population and ridership.

By way of explanation, the university has released a one-pager and a slick conceptual design booklet that’s full of statistics, maps and beautiful renderings, along with quite a bit of jargon and flowery prose (“eddies of open space” being perhaps my favorite marriage of the two). The first third of the booklet is background; the meat of the design begins at PDF page 36. Tom over at Seattle Bike Blog has gone into detail on how the trail will look and work, with lots of visuals taken from that section, and I recommend reading his post. Briefly, there are three major components to the new design:

  • The trail will be rebuilt with separate bike and pedestrian sections, separated by a ramped curb. At every place where the trail intersects a trail or overlook, a “mixing zone” will be created; this is an area where the demarcating curb will disappear, and pavement and striping pattern will signal to all users to expect crossing traffic. These two features should make the trail much less stressful for all users.
  • Bike and pedestrian connections to the Burke will be rebuilt, reorganized, and made wheelchair-accessible where possible. Current connections to the Burke are mostly ad hoc, unmarked, of wildly varying quality, and, in many places, spaced very close together.  The new design consolidates them down to a much smaller number, evenly-spaced and clearly-marked. These changes will improve matters both for cyclists passing by campus and accessing campus.
  • At one of the road crossings — Brooklyn Ave — the crossing will be “tabled”; i.e. the road will be raised up to the level of the trail, which should calm traffic and improve safety.

Overall, the finished product looks to me like it would be a dramatic improvement over the status quo. Paving and wheelchair-accessibility work is always expensive, and these improvements don’t come cheap — the total price tag is $12 million — but it seems worth it. My only complaint is that this plan does not address the scary and substandard connection between the University Bridge and the Burke, although I suspect it is primarily an issue of jurisdiction and scope, and the city will be the agency responsible for improving that connection.

TIGER projects consider community support as part of their funding criteria. If you support this project, you should click here and fill out the form to endorse it. Unless some major objection to the design appears, STB will likely editorialize in favor of this project, so if you’re a regular rider of this segment, we’re interested in your opinions.

30 Replies to “UW Proposes Major Upgrade to Burke-Gilman Trail”

  1. What do the the black dots on the blue line (BG) and the red dotted line represent?

  2. Please please please let them put in a proper roadbed so we don’t deal with shallow roots bumping up the surface after a few years…

  3. Having ridden on the newly-rebuilt segment just East of the U-bridge a couple of times, now, I’m not sure how I feel about the new design… The “sidewalk” is underused, with westbound walkers split between the sidewalk and the asphalt, and all eastbound walkers on the right side of the asphalt. If nobody uses it, the effect is just a narrower path, which isn’t great.

    I get that this is new, and people have habits to adjust, and a small segment of a larger effort, so all this may turn around when we had a couple of miles of this continuously, instead of a couple hundred feet…

    1. I don’t know. We have a pretty strong tendency to separate by direction of travel only and have peds and bikes always share the same space. The one case I know of where peds and bikes are expressly physically separated (as opposed to with paint alone), on the Burke east of Gasworks, most people use the bike path anyway, though peds are treated as second-class citizens there and dumped onto a glorified sidewalk. Maybe the sheer volume of traffic once the Link station opens will change habits, but there’s a discussion on the bike blog about runners preferring to use the asphalt because the concrete is harder on their knees, and a lot of the new traffic is likely to be walking.

      1. I feel a little uneasy when I bike on the new section because I don’t trust peds to stay on the sidewalk. I would have loved to have seen some vegetation separating the sidewalk and the asphalt here — just one foot of ferns, say, to separate bikes and peds.

  4. The underpass at Pend Oreille Road (up in the northeast corner of campus) would be a huge improvement. It’s not on my bike commute anymore, but I had a few close calls there, despite being an experienced and fairly cautious cyclist.

    It’ll be a big benefit for transit riders, too; since it’s a crosswalk now, peds have right of way, and if there’s a steady stream the frequent buses through there can spend a bit of time waiting for it to clear.

    1. The Pend Oreille Road and Brooklyn Avenue crossings are definitely the two that are most in need of improvement. I am a frequent bike commuter and it will probably become even more frequent once U-Link opens, so improvements from both directions are going to be helpful for everybody.

    2. It’s an issue for both modes of transportation, since cars waiting for bikers at that crossing often back traffic up into the intersection with 25th, in the morning.

      1. Buses too. A lot of the Pend Oreille road cross traffic is buses, many of which are packed.

  5. I’m still not sold on this. I really don’t like mode separation. In particular, I don’t like mode separation that changes when you migrate to a new section of the trail. As soon as this is done, it’s back to the (sensible, IMO) “everybody keep to the right” that’s easy to understand. These transitions are always filled with people doing the “wrong” thing, as they’re confused. It’s silly.

    I understand that it’s really crowded during commute hours, and I like spending 12M on bike/ped infra. But, how much of a connecting trail could 12M build, thus dramatically increasing the walk/bike-shed of the trail, connecting to the light rail station?

  6. I used to rollerblade on the Burke quite a bit, but it’s been a while. I assume the expectation is that rollerbladers would use the portion of the trail intended for cyclists? Does this new design provide enough width for that?

    1. If I understand it correctly, it wouldn’t make it any narrower than it currently is, and would theoretically get the walkers out of your way so that you would not have to be crossing into oncoming traffic to pass them.

    2. I hope the pavement in the mixing zones will be smooth enough to rollerblade on.

      1. you can test out the one they’ve already built just east of the University Bridge. I think the lines in the pavement are annoying on a bike, but not terrible. I would definitely prefer a smoother surface.

  7. – Work on the NE 40th st & 7th ave NE intersection is happening, so I don’t see why they can’t do something about access to the University bridge, which is, as you say, very dangerous, esp. getting on the bridge southbound.
    – The Pend Oreille rd. underpass is a huge safety improvement. This should be applauded. No one stops at that intersection, despite large, flashing stop signs. It’s also the most expensive piece.
    – Roots! Is there a plan to avoid tree roots? They’re the worst.
    – In general, the safety upgrades (Brooklyn, pend oreille rd, separated bike/ped, larger intersections at the bridges over 25th ave) are much more important than all the cosmetic “branding” and “eddies” and “mixing zones”. Funds should go to improving safety as much as possible before worrying about presenting UW in a pretty light.

    Thanks for covering this and presenting the information to the public!

    1. My impression is that the “mixing zones” _are_ a safety feature.

    2. Presenting UW in a pretty light is also important if UW is paying for a significant chunk of it.

  8. Burke first opened in 1978, despite decades of growth in population and ridership.

    Some runnership, too, I think.

  9. I’m confused why more trails in Seattle don’t have dashed yellow lines down the center of the path. After being in Madison for the last couple years, the center stripe seems to balance keeping bike and pedestrian traffic moving with safe movements across intersections. I wonder how something like that would perform in the path, like say just the bike path was marked with this yellow line…

    1. I can’t give you a reason, but it’s not just trails… Seattle has an unusual number of streets without center lines, too, and even more multi-lane streets without white striping between the lanes. The whole infrastructure seems to be paint-averse. Perhaps driven by the same minimalist aesthetic that makes Seattle street sign lettering unusually small, and prevents advanced signage of major intersections?

      1. I’m pretty sure all the arterials have center lines. Do you live up on the north end? There are a decent number of streets on the north end that aren’t arterials but get a lot of through traffic.

        Advance signage of major intersections is only necessary on major highways where you’re going over 40 MPH. Aurora has some, and 1st and 4th Aves S have some. I’m not sure I’d want more anywhere I can think of.

      2. Blanchard St between 1st and 7th comes to mind as one multi-lane street without white stripes. Drivers always make two lanes, but there aren’t any stripes for some reason, and there haven’t been in the year and a half that I’ve lived down here.

      3. I think a dashed line makes it an arterial, so doing it on non-arterial streets sends the wrong message and may bring more traffic than the street can handle.

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