June 22, 2007
With all of the talk about the urgency of spending tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money to scrap the Eastside railroad and build a bicycle trail on its roadbed, something that almost always gets conveniently overlooked is the fact that the Eastside already has an extensive network of bicycle trails, and it is part of what is one of the largest such networks in the entire U.S.
But the Eastside has only has one operating railroad. And, in stark contrast to most rapidly growing and increasingly congested urban areas, it has no rail transit.
Moreover, these trails parallel much of the railroad. One such trail runs near the railroad most of the distance from Renton to the South Bellevue park and ride lot. Although there is a gap, trail users can easily navigate it using a pleasant, tree-lined street which has very little automobile traffic. There is also a trail which runs between Redmond and Woodinville, roughly parallel to the Redmond branch line.
The Eastside railroad runs roughly parallel to I-405, the most congested freeway in the entire Northwest. Its existence would make it possible to launch a pilot rail transit service at a nominal cost within a matter of months. (This is in sharp contrast to the many billions of dollars and two decades or so that would be needed for Sound Transit's proposed East Link light rail line.) The track could then be upgraded in stages to offer a smoother and faster ride and to increase the frequency of train service. The upgrading of tracks while a railroad is in use has long been a standard practice on railroads in the U.S. and abroad; in fact, it is the rule rather than the exception.
The transit service would likely be used by thousands of people daily, and eventually tens of thousands per day. These are people who hate sitting stuck in traffic and do not really enjoy riding busses. This has been the experience elsewhere in the U.S., even in considerably less densely populated and congested areas. The bicycle trail might be used by a few hundred bicycle riders per day, at least when it is not raining.
Yet, the small but powerful and persistent minority advocating the bicycle trail insists that the tracks should be removed as quickly as possible and "can then be put back in when funds become available." Why can't the tracks just be kept in place and the bicycle trail be added to the spacious 100 foot right of way when funds become available? Removing the tracks and then replacing them years or decades later, even if it were politically possible, would cost many hundreds of millions, or perhaps billions, of dollars. All for a few hundred bicycle riders per day?
There are frequent complaints that King County is doing a poor job of maintaining even its existing trails. King County says that it does not have enough money and has proposed a property tax (yes, it would affect renters, too) for bicycle trail and parks maintenance. Yet it wants to spend an estimated (by King County) $66 million immediately to construct new trails near existing trails!
It makes one wonder whether bicycle trails are the real reason for all of the pressure to scrap the railroad. Or is something else going on? What do you think?
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