Environmental Sustainability

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The BGC, by providing safe and reliable bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure that is cutting edge in design, by definition improves energy efficiency, reduces dependence on oil, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and addresses stormwater naturally. Moreover, as a model project, the BGC will demonstrate the effectiveness of an innovative combination of trail treatments and will promote replication of those treatments in other corridors, multiplying the environmental benefits.

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The improvements to the 1.7 mile section of the Burke-Gilman Trail along the University of Washington will result in fewer cars on adjacent roadways which will significantly reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality in the area.”

— Craig Kenworth, Executive Director, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency

Reduced emissions from BGC by 2020

  • 20 million pounds of carbon dioxide
  • 685 thousand pound of carbon monoxide
  • 52 thousand pounds of nitrous oxides
  • 75 thousand pounds of hydrocarbons

Reducing energy use and air/water pollution

The BGC is one of the single most significant transportation investments left to be made on the UW Seattle campus to reduce energy use, air pollution and water pollution associated with vehicle transportation. This project builds on a long legacy of nationally recognized environmental leadership by the UW and the City of Seattle, including commitments by both to aggressive Climate Action Plans and focused on achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Since 1989, single occupancy vehicle travel mode share for UW’s population of nearly 70,000 people has declined from 33% to 20% due to aggressive TDM and student and employee shifts to transit, walking and bicycling. UW Seattle commuters emit 7,318 fewer metric tons of CO2e per year as a result of UW’s transportation demand management programs, of which the BGC is a critical component. Since 2008, UW has reduced the vehicle miles traveled per employee from 5.54 miles/day to 4.03 miles/day – eliminating more than 40,000 daily vehicle-miles traveled by UW employees alone. Moreover, the average UW Seattle commuter emits 57% less CO2e than commuters of other large employers in King County, contributing to a decrease in CO2e emissions to nearly 11% from 2008 to 2012.

Since 2000, the number of individuals commuting to UW by bicycle has more than doubled and pedestrian commuting has increased by 20%. In 2012, nearly 20,000 daily commuters walked or bicycled to campus. However, additional increases in walking and bicycling trips – including those linked to transit trips – cannot be accommodated on today’s Burke-Gilman Trail unless the BGC is rapidly implemented

In addition to furthering the UW’s aggressive goals for reducing the environmental impacts of student, faculty, and staff commuting, more than 50% of current trail volumes and as much as 75% of future trail volumes are unaffiliated with the UW. With TIGER funds leveraging a significant UW investment in a regional transportation asset, the environmental benefits will be far above those attributable to changes in travel by University-affiliated individuals alone.

Avoid adverse environmental impacts

This project responds to increased demand for more sustainable transportation choices with an accessible, quality, low carbon multimodal corridor within one of the largest urban centers in Seattle. The BGC will further stimulate growth in travel modes that generate fewer or no greenhouse gas emissions and will reduce vehicle miles traveled by shortening travel distances and better connecting the places we live, work and play. The monetized benefit of lower congestion and emissions is between $335,000 and $577,000 over the life of the project. By increasing capacity for travel by foot and bicycle and facilitating improved connections to transit, the BGC reduces the amount of impermeable surface required for motor vehicle travel and the associated pollutants that make their way into project adjacent waterways, including Ravenna Creek, Lake Washington, and Lake Union. These waterways are critical components of the regional salmon fishery in addition to supporting a host of other wildlife, recreational activity, and commerce.

Provide environmental benefits

The BGC not only avoids impacts but it will directly mitigate existing impacts by deliberately addressing stormwater along the trail corridor. The stormwater management approach for the length of the trail is guided by the overarching principle to treat and manage runoff locally where both meaningful and feasible using the best practices available. Along both the western and eastern segments, stormwater planting areas are designed in key locations to slow down and cleanse water before it enters the stormwater system, as well as allowing runoff to maintain its current overland flow trajectory in areas where slopes are too steep for retention. The most significant intervention occurs at the Pend Oreille undercrossing where the runoff from Pend Oreille Rd. will be harvested. Through this treatment, polluted stormwater originating outside of the project boundary will be slowed and cleansed before it reconnects to the stormwater system and finally exits into neighboring Lake Washington.

The Burke-Gilman Trail passes through several distinct habitats during its 1.7 mile journey through campus, including an arching native tree canopy, eddies of open space and lush public gardens, and more industrial open spaces. Bicycling or walking on the trail provides users with an opportunity to experience nature amidst an urban enclave.

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As a region, we recognize that supporting and prioritizing viable, alternative modes of transportation (such as walking and cycling) is a critical component of sustainable land use planning.”

— Kerry Nicholson, Chair, Urban Land Institute Northwest

The UW is committed to environmentally sustainable landscapes throughout its campus and the BGC corridor. In February 2011, the UW was certified as Salmon-Safe, becoming the largest Salmon-Safe certified institution in the state. The award recognized the UW’s years of hard work to put in place practices that contribute to salmon protection, including a campus-wide stormwater management program, innovative irrigation systems, and commitments to drought tolerant landscaping and integrated pest management.

As part of the BGC, the UW will preserve mature and specimen trees wherever possible. Corridor planting design will be rooted in the particulars of the Pacific Northwest landscape, with site-specific, regionally appropriate and climate-adaptive plantings that require minimal maintenance and pose no risk to pedestrians and bicyclists. Invasive plants will be purged, allowing native pioneer species to thrive. Trail-adjacent open space will be embraced in an environmentally sensitive design that maintains significant trees while thinning the dense understory to improve sightlines for pedestrians and bicyclists on the trail.

Reducing energy use and air/water pollutionImproved resilience

Continued investment in the BGC represents a longstanding commitment to resilient and sustainable infrastructure and truly multimodal transportation systems. Modernizing the BGC lengthens the lifespan of an important low-impact connector through the use of durable surface and subgrade materials. The upgrade recognizes the increase in future demand, and cultivates new users through attractive, long-lasting facilities.

By reducing the need for automobile traffic, the BGC supports UW mode-shift goals as part of a resilient and multimodal transportation network. By enabling more people to commute by green transportation modes, UW has avoided building 7,200 new parking space and eliminated the need for more pavement. Unlike automobile traffic, which is susceptible to gridlock and reliant on fossil fuels, trail traffic is carbon-neutral and includes a mix of speeds and conveyances. The BGC’s adjacency to arterial corridors and highway bottlenecks offers a prominently visible reminder of the safe, comfortable, and convenient pedestrian and bicycle alternatives to SOV travel