Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Dose of Sanity

With some trepidation, I checked out the details of the Burke Gilman Trail capital improvement project set to begin construction next month. The project summary says all the right things: twelve-foot-wide asphalt surface, a gravel side path, improved sight distances. The descriptors that I wasn't sure how to interpret were "improved intersection and crossing treatments" and "new signage."

As a resident of Lake Forest Park I've long suffered the ignominy of residing in one of the most backward-looking communities of the trail system. Six stop signs dot a half-mile section of the trail between 147th and about 155th, some of them protecting nothing more than driveways. 1300 - 2200 bicycles per day are expected to stop for a dozen or two cars per day? Insanity! Welcome to Lake Forest Park.

King County has long wanted to bring the LFP section of the trail into conformance with the rest of it, but has been strenuously resisted. In 2006, after lengthy discussions and debates with residents, the Lake Forest Park city council passed Ordinance 951, which attempted to regulate the section of the Burke-Gilman trail that passes through the city as a "conditional-use" trail, subject to restrictive local regulations such as:
  • A speed limit of 10 mph (the trail standard is 15 mph)
  • Yield or stop signs for bike traffic at street crossings, even if the crossings were no more than driveways
  • Setback standards from adjacent property, even if that meant narrow trails and poor sight distances
To legal arguments that the Burke-Gilman trail was an "essential public facility," giving it enhanced standing over purely local pathways, the council gave a collective shrug. It was as if the city of Lake Forest Park decided to take control of a section of Interstate 5 and impose a 40-mph speed limit, traffic signals, and lane restrictions.

I participated in a public hearing prior to its passing, in which roughly three-quarters of the public comments were vehemently against the ordinance. Nearly everyone who spoke in favor of the ordinance resided along the trail and presented classic NIMBY arguments. A lawyer assured the council that the ordinance would be challenged and almost certainly overturned (it was); a traffic expert pointed out that the proposed signage was contrary to common practice and common sense.  Nevertheless the council (one of whose members actually lives adjacent to the trail) passed the resolution.

Shortly after its passing, the Cascade Bicycle Club joined King County in challenging the ordinance, and in 2007 it was overturned by the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board. King County subsequently embarked on the improvement project, and four years later they're ready to break ground.

So what about the "improved intersection and crossing treatments" and "new signage"? The future state is specified in great detail in the project documents, and after looking them over in detail I can report that the future is bright, indeed:
  • All trail-facing stop signs will be removed from 147th through 165th (I hadn't dared hope for 165th), to be replaced by "Look" warning signs.
  • All roads and driveways crossing the trail from 147th through 165th will have stop signs and improved visibility of the trail.
Score one for common sense!

Now if someone could just help Shoreline out a little...