Creating the Burke-Gilman Trail

Jim Todd

11 a.m., April 11, 2021

At this Sunday’s Humanist Forum, Jim Todd will discuss “Creating the Burke-Gilman Trail”.

Jim Todd was a resident of Seattle and lived only three doors from the railroad right-of-way at its midpoint in Seattle. He was also on the faculty of the Political Science Department of the University of Washington and his office on campus was immediately adjacent to the railroad right-of-way. He would get to and from the campus than bicycling down a trail on the abandoned railroad right-of-way! Jim says that he likes to think that he was fundamentally motivated by the larger public interest to convert the right-of-way into a public hiking and biking trail, but he feels a need to disclose his personal interest as well.

Jim Todd will discuss how the Burke-Gilman Trail came to be. In the fall of 1970 the Burlington Northern Railroad announced that it planned to abandon its right-of-way running through Seattle and into suburbs north and east of the city. The right-of-way closely follows the shorelines of two lakes and links a dazzling array of major attractions including several large city parks, a major shopping center, and the University of Washington campus. Its conversion to a public hiking and biking trail promised to offer a route to a variety of destinations, as well as recreational and commuting benefits.

Despite the obvious attractiveness of the idea of converting the about to be abandoned railroad right-of-way to a hiking and biking trail, it almost immediately became clear that the idea would not implement itself, that opposition to the idea would emerge, that the BN had its own plans, and that other ideas about how the right-of-way should be used would be proposed. The City of Seattle and King County each had jurisdiction over different portions of the right-of-way. They would inevitably have a major say on what would become of the right-of-way. They had planning and development capabilities as well as funding abilities and limitations to consider. They also had to take into consideration the politics of choosing whatever course of action they might decide to take.

Jim will describe how all of these factors played out and ultimately resulted in the creation of the Burke-Gilman Trail.


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