The Interstate 90 trail has recently been at the center of discussion in the Aubrey Davis Park Master Plan process. Most park users see this as an opportunity to make the park and trail safer for all users, yet are challenged to reach a common view as to how this is best done. In the process several misconceptions and misunderstandings about the park, the trail and its users have seeped into the discussions. Mercer Island’s current master plan process is an opportunity to plan for the trail’s next 30 years, and we should ensure we rely on accurate information to plan for the safety of all users.
First, it’s important to know the history and ownership of the trail. The I-90 trail was designed and built three decades ago by WSDOT on WSDOT property as a regional bicycle traffic corridor to connect Seattle, Mercer Island and the Eastside. It has seen no significant changes since then. While WSDOT expected some pedestrians would use the trail, the trail was primarily designed and built as a bike trail. The funding came from transportation funds, not from recreation funding spent for the surrounding park. Since then WSDOT has continued to pay the city to maintain the trail, and recently the state gave the city a $500,000 grant to make the trails safer. WSDOT retains final approval over the master plan.
Second, regional growth and changing commuting patterns will cause traffic on the trail to increase. In addition to population growth, REI, Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and others, which are adding thousands of jobs to the Eastside and Seattle, all actively encourage bicycle commuting. Eastside communities and Seattle are spending more than $250 million on improved bike infrastructure to encourage both bike and multi-modal commuting and recreation. These changes will impact trail usage and need to be considered in the planning.
How will the trail safely absorb this traffic? Although the paved surface of the trail across the lid largely meets WSDOT’s and King County’s old standard for a high volume, shared use trail, we now have both the opportunity and state funding to upgrade the entire trail to the safer standards repeatedly recommended by WSDOT.
Third, with safety in mind, let’s look at various types of cyclists. While experienced cyclists may prefer riding on North Mercer Way, children and many recreational cyclists and commuters prefer a safer option away from traffic on the designated trail through the park. There have been suggestions to narrow or eliminate the current trail and upgrade North Mercer Way with bicycle lanes, forcing cyclists onto the often busy roadway. This is not a realistic alternative, because insufficient property is available for a through bike lane across the island, and such an idea would be prohibitively expensive with Mercer Island taxpayers footing the bill.
As we all share the goal of making the park and its trails safer for all users, we should consider the following:
• Create separate bike and pedestrian trails where ever possible. This is especially needed around the toilets and ballfields.
• Widen the existing trail to current WSDOT/King County standards where possible and eliminate bottlenecks to reduce conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians.
• Use traffic calming elements such as signage and trail surfaces to guide traffic in congested areas.
• Add lighting between Island Crest Way and Shorewood where the trail is dark, particularly in the winter.
• Revise the Island Crest Way/North Mercer Way intersection by replacing the right turn yield sign for cars exiting I-90 with a stop sign.
The Aubrey Davis Park Master Plan process and the state grant create a rare opportunity to improve safety for everyone who uses the park. Let’s work together and focus on making improvements that will allow the park and trail to be used safely and happily for the next 30 years.
Jim Stanton, Neighbors in Motion, Volunteers for Safer Roads and Trails on Mercer Island.