Eastside Trail Advocates push for commuter trail idea for old BNSF rail line
By MATT PHELPS
Kirkland Reporter Regional Assistant Editor
February 17, 2010 · Updated 5:35 PM
The group Eastside Trail Advocates (ETA) held their first informational meeting Wednesday in Kirkland to express their ideas for the rail line formerly owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF). And while the group stresses it is not opposed to a commuter train, or Light Rail, on the line, they would like a paved commuter trail be considered in the corridor as well.
"The politicians need to know that we want it," said Lisa McConnell of the ETA. "They both need to be planned for at the same time."
The meeting, which drew nearly 50 people, was designed not only to educate the public on the trail idea, but to answer questions and get citizens involved.
"We need to be considered now, in the planning," said McConnell during her presentation. "The time for serious talk about a trail is now. We support the findings of the Puget Sound Regional Council’s feasibility studies done on this very corridor, stating that commuter rail is not feasible in the short to midterm future. A pathway, with much lower investment, makes sense now and in the future, whether a rail is in place or not."
Some estimates by the ETA state that Light Rail will be upwards of a $1 billion investment for a line with 16 stops, while a trail will cost between $128-166 million for a 12-foot paved trail with a five-foot vegetated buffer from the rail line.
ETA's urgency comes from the fact that the Port of Seattle recently purchased the rail line from BNSF and is in the preliminary stages of planning. McConnell told the group that the trail needs to be considered now because trying to add it after the commuter rail is in place will not work.
"There is not room all the way down the line for both," said McConnell. "There are about 52 pinch points."
McConnell said that those pinch points could be resolved if both projects were planned for at the same time.
The purchased BNSF line runs 42 miles, from Renton, near the new Landing shopping area and Boeing Co., through downtown Bellevue and Kirkland near the new Google complex, has a shoot off into Redmond and continues up to the City of Snohomish.
Ideally, ETA would like to see a trail, much like the Burke-Gilman trail that runs from Freemont, through the University District, and up to the north end of Lake Washington. At Blyth Park in Bothell, the trail becomes the Sammamish River Trail and intersects with the BNSF rail line, where it continues to Marymoor Park in Redmond. The trail also hooks up with other smaller trails to link it up with other areas.
McConnell sighted that the Burke Gilman trail alone has 1,440 commute trips each week day. Among Metro Bus routes and ridership, that exceeds 23 local bus routes.
"And we haven’t included local pedestrian numbers to add into the 'ridership' of a trail," said McConnell.
The benefits, according to McConnell, would have a broad impact from commuting to the economy to quality of life.
"The reason this path will really work is local dollars spent on local business," said McConnell. "This path will provide safe and enjoyable access, free of traffic and driveways, to 51 or more businesses in this small suburban business center (in downtown Houghton in Kirkland) alone."
McConnell went on to show how trails have impacted economic revenue in other parts of the country such as The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) in Pennsylvania, which according to ETA covers 204 miles, of which 125 miles are constructed and heavily used. The GAP economic impact study in 2007-2008 showed trail-attributed revenue in 2007 was $32.6 million dollars and businesses distributed $6.27 million dollars in wages that year.
"Despite the tough economic times, in 2008 these figures actually increased to revenue of over $40.6 million dollars and $7.5 million dollars in wages," said McConnell.
Other impacts of a trail are environmental, such as less pollution, more available ways to exercise and safe school routes.
"Only about 14 percent of children’s trips to school are made on foot," said McConnell, citing that there are three schools along the rail line in Kirkland alone. "Forty percent of parents asked about the barriers to children walking to school cited traffic as a major concern and 21 to 27 percent of local traffic results from parents driving children to school."
McConnell suggested that grants and funds raisers could be used to acquire the money to construct the trail.
"We need to get the word out," said McConnell. "Tell your friends and neighbors and contact your representatives."
ETA members said that they plan to address the different city councils along the rail line, along with the King County Council with their ideas and would like more groups to join the effort.
To learn more about the ETA or the trail, visit www.eastsidetrailadvocates.org.Contact Kirkland Reporter Regional Assistant Editor Matt Phelps at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-822-9166 ext. 5052.