State of Good Repair

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Trail root upheaval
Dangerous root heaves can be found throughout the entire project corridor – the busiest section of Washington’s most popular bicycle and pedestrian trail.

Burke-Gilman Trail Surface Distress

  •  Root Heaves
  •  Transverse Cracks
  •  Longitudinal Cracks
  •  Alligator Cracks
  •  Patching/Potholes
  •  Rutting

The Burke-Gilman Trail’s asphalt edges are unraveling and the presence of root heaves, overgrown and invasive vegetation, blind intersections and conflicts between modes have made travelling on the trail treacherous, particularly during peak commute periods when over 460 peak hour pedestrians and 500 peak hour bicyclists (7,000 total daily users) travel along and across the trail. Since 2009, the University of Washington (UW) has invested nearly $250,000 in maintenance and repairs. Despite fixes to maintain a functioning corridor, the trail continues to deteriorate and demands more comprehensive rehabilitation.

The Burke-Gilman Multimodal Connector (BGMC) is supported by the UW’s existing Campus Master Plan and the City’s Bicycle Master Plan and Pedestrian Master Plan, which call for building high-quality pedestrian and bicycle facilities and maintaining them in a state of good repair. These documents direct the UW to maintain a network of campus pedestrian and bicycle paths and improve ADA accessibility as a condition of development; maintain adequate pathways for unimpeded passage during peak pedestrian volumes; improve the quality and quantity of bicycle facilities; and, accommodate pedestrian circulation needs resulting from increases in transit.

The BGC has specifically been identified in the Seattle Bike Master Plan as critical to accommodating growth in trail use associated with the trail-adjacent SR 520 multi-use path, Link light rail stations (2016 and 2021) and 2,500 new UW housing beds (2015).

Urgent Investment Required

With the underlying rail infrastructure dating back to the early 1900s and much of the current asphalt trail infrastructure dating back to the 1970s, the trail is in critical need of significant reinvestment. The trail’s asphalt edges are unraveling and the presence of root heaves, pavement deterioration, invasive vegetation, blind intersections and conflicts between modes have made travelling on the trail treacherous, particularly during peak commute periods when over 500 peak hour pedestrians and 900 peak hour bicyclists (11, 700 total daily users) travel along and across the trail.

Despite fixes to maintain a functioning corridor, the trail continues to deteriorate and demands more comprehensive rehabilitation to safely and effectively serve current users and accommodate projected volumes of travel associated with light rail and rapid densification of the University Community Urban Center (UCUC). Within the BGC, not only is the trail surface in a state of disrepair, but so is other public infrastructure. Sidewalks and trail spurs are in poor condition, signage and signal equipment are obsolete and connections to other transportation options and key destinations are inadequate. The BGC improves or replaces all connecting sidewalks and trail spurs, updates signage and signals, and creates high quality connections to two multi-bay bus transit stations and the Link light rail station.


quotation mark

The deteriorating condition of the trail combined with increased usage by both pedestrians and bicyclists contribute to the growing risk of collisions between transit vehicles and trail users.”

— Neal Safrin, Vice President, ATU Local 587


A 2011 performance analysis using the FHWA SUPLOS calculator found that the trail currently operates at levels of service E and F. With the BGC, expanded right of way and mode separation will increase levels of service to LOS A for pedestrians and LOS C for bicyclists and sustain those levels well beyond 2030 by which time peak-period bicycle traffic on the trail will have increased 242% and pedestrian traffic will have increased 58%. Separating the trail into dedicated bicycle and pedestrian facilities will minimize conflicts between the modes, improve flow, and create infrastructure that is safe, comfortable and convenient to use, encouraging more commuters to travel by foot, bike and transit.

Replacing the aging and deteriorating mixed mode asphalt trail with an asphalt cycle track and a separate concrete pedestrian sidewalk will lengthen the useful lifespan and integrate more durable surface and subgrade materials. At intersections with arterials, improving sightlines, optimizing signal timing, narrowing crossing distances, implementing grade separation, and reassessing right-of-way assignments will reduce the risk of collisions between pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists, ensuring the BGC meets the transportation needs of people of all ages, abilities and modes.

Current Condition Future Condition
Level of Service: E/F Level of Service: A/C
Demand: 11,700/day Demand(2030): 26,400/day

E: Very poor.

Given trail width, volume and user mix, the trail has reached its functional capacity. Peak period travel speeds are likely reduced by levels of crowding. The trail may enjoy strong community support because of its high usage rate; however, many bicyclists are likely to adjust their experience expectations, or avoid peak period use.

F: Failing.

Trail significantly diminishes the experience for at least one and most likely for all user groups. It does not effectively serve most bicyclists; significant user conflicts should be expected.

Status quo threatens the network

If left unimproved the trail will continue to deteriorate, compounding the costs of maintenance and repair. Without improvements, users will continue to experience travel time delays, particularly during peak commute periods when light rail passengers flood onto the trail at seven minute intervals. If the improvements are not completed, the resulting delay is expected to total $5,214,000 (7% discount rate) or $8,941,000 (3% discount rate) in cost-equivalent losses over 20 years. Inadequacy of first and last mile connections will adversely impact the functioning of Link light rail, diminishing the public benefit of this substantial federal and regional investment. The added congestion and increased crossing conflict will also lead to an increased number of collisions along and across the trail and on adjacent streets where bicyclists and pedestrians will spill over – an unacceptable public health outcome.

The poor condition of the trail threatens the continued smooth functioning of the UW, a critical economic growth engine in this region and center of opportunity for both employees and students who are preparing to enter the workforce. Eighty-six percent of students and 50 percent of employees commute on foot, bike or by transit, many of whom use the trail every day.

Timeline of projects impacting the trail

Complete capital funding

With the TIGER program providing the last-dollar-in, the BGC is fully funded. Local match dollars are fully secured and have been placed in the project account. Additional fungible capital dollars are available to address bid variability or unexpected conditions encountered by the contractor. With TIGER funding in place, the UW will be prepared to deliver the project in its entirety in time for the early opening of Link light rail in the first quarter of 2016.

Sustainable O&M funding

The UW has granted multiple easements permitting the routing of utilities in the trail corridor. The majority of these agreements will be renewed in the next year and the University will use payments received in association with those easements to establish a trust for the ongoing operations and maintenance of the BGC. Maintenance and repairs of the trail will be performed largely in-house by UW Facilities Services.

Improved system resiliency

Improved stormwater management, hillside retention, and a deliberate planting strategy will improve trail resiliency by reducing undermining at the trail’s edge and reducing slide risk associated with heavy rain and seismic events. Subgrade improvements, root barriers, and concrete pedestrian zones will provide a more resilient surface. The project enhances resiliency of the Link light rail system and adjacent UW Medical Center by creating a north-south connection significantly above SR 513, portions of which currently flood in heavy rain events and rest on seismically vulnerable fill and by providing an alternate connection that bypasses to the severe congestion on SR 513 and Pacific St. during both weather and public events


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I think we need to make it bigger, safer and take out all the tree root bumps. Do that, and more people will use it than ever, which is good for everyone!”

— Andy Strickland