Call it the I-5 of bike paths. The Burke-Gilman cycle route is often jam-packed along its 18.8 paved miles curling from Ballard to Bothell. First born as a railroad run by a Judge Thomas Burke and a Mr. Daniel Gilman, the original 12.1 miles of the trail were first paved in 1978. For the 2.2-mile stretch around the northern tip of Lake Washington, nothing changed until King County completed a $4.9 million overhaul this winter.
The thoroughfare wasn’t prettified with a mere face-lift—it got a teardown. The tree-root-mangled asphalt was dug up and a new stormwater drainage system installed. Widened and with a soft shoulder added for pedestrians, the trail should be safer for its throng of daily users. Between route lighting and traffic control at street intersections, the only unsafe activity comes when you fall off and eat blacktop (that’s always going to hurt).
Some old, rooty trees were removed, replaced with dozens of poplars, alder, fir, and cedars. Other sections may get similar spruce-ups in coming years, but don’t hold your breath for the construction of the trail’s long-disputed missing link in Ballard—the city’s still mired in the bog of environmental impact checklists and superior court appeals.
The only complaint about the shiny new section thus far? It’s almost too easy for speed demons to break the 15-mile-per-hour limit on the smooth, wide trail. Maybe that makes the Burke-Gilman better than I-5. Start Pedaling Here: Golden Gardens Park at NE 80th St and Seaview Ave NW
EAST LAKE SAMMAMISH TRAIL
Tracing the entire mountainside length of Lake Sammamish, this sometimes-paved byway links Redmond to Issaquah. It’ll get an upgrade like the Burke-Gilman’s soon, but until then the hard-packed rock is suitable for everyone but Lance Armstrong wannabes on racing-style bicycles. Start Pedaling Here: NE 70th St and 176th Ave NE, Redmond
EAST MARGINAL WAY TRAIL
Thank the WSDOT (really!) for this new stretch of biking through SoDo, which separates cyclists from cars and the endless Highway 99 construction. It’s short, but since it insulates riders coming up from West Seattle, it’s oh so sweet. Start Pedaling Here: S King St and First Ave S
It’s the comeliest travel route to Bellevue, running across the I-90 floating bridge and Mercer Island; hook up with the Lake to Lake Trail to trade Lake Washington for Sammamish. A new extension on the westbound side heads down from the Jose Rizal Bridge from 12th Avenue South to Beacon Avenue. Start Pedaling Here: S Holgate St just east of I-5
A century ago, one could travel from Seattle to Everett via trolley on the Interurban Rail. Now the corridor is a bike trail, though in some spurts bike riders are deposited onto car-heavy streets. The newest bikes-only section hugs the Evergreen-Washelli Cemetery from North 110th to North 128th Streets and is notable for having lots of elbow room on weekends. Start Pedaling Here: N 110th St and Fremont Ave N
SHIP CANAL TRAIL
Wave across the ship canal to the Burke-Gilman—or the lack thereof, at its Ballard missing link—from a three-quarter-mile section completed just last November. From the Ballard Bridge, it’s an easy pedal to reach the path around the south lip of Lake Union. Start Pedaling Here: Emerson St and 15th Ave
Find other access points and route maps online:
King County Bike Maps kingcounty.gov/transportation/kcdot/roads/bicycling.aspx
Seattle Bike Program seattle.gov/transportation/bikeprogram.htm
Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance evergreenmtb.org
Cascade Bicycle Club cascade.org