Burke-Gilman Trail

Seattle, WA

Contributed by Project for Public Spaces

A multi-use, approximately 25-mile trail bisecting the University of Washington campus, drawing over 750,000 users a year.


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Why It Works

Burke-Gilman is a public place for both commuting and recreation - a path for cycling, jogging, walking, and blackberry picking, sheltered from the rest of the city by its park-like corridor. Initially resisted by residents, the trail is now a drawing point, as it connects many communities and even integrates the neighborhoods it bisects. Rather than linking a single community to a commercial hub, users can start out in a neighborhood park along the trail and stroll the trail into another neighborhood. Moreover, pedestrians and cyclists don't have to struggle against cars to get from one part of the city to another.

Special events centered around the trail are frequent and draw local as well as statewide residents. The Cascade Bicycle Club is a strong and active partner in making the trail a success. A citywide trail map lists a range of amenities and services available in the surrounding areas. Overall, this well-used public place shows how valuable rails-to-trails development can be in an urban area.

History & Background

Much research has been conducted and published on the roles, values and uses of the Burke-Gilman Trail System. The Burke-Gilman Trail has served as a model for cities nationwide and the research has been used to inform and support long term planning of recreational open spaces.

It's considered a primary transportation corridor by many, including a large body of university students. While the trail bisects the University of Washington campus, it does not extend into downtown Seattle, although some downtown streets connect segments of the trail.

When it was dedicated in 1978, the trail encompassed 12 miles and has since incorporated numerous links and extensions as part of an effort to meet the needs of all users. Accordingly, trail usage has increased greatly, according to the 5-year surveys conducted since 1980 as part of the process of assessing user needs and trail planning. For example, observations at two trail segments found 40% and 24% increases in usage between May 1990 and in May 1995. A breakdown of user types included bicyclists (76%), pedestrians (20%), and other (5%). Trail users of these segments seemed to reflect the demographics of the communities to which they were adjacent.

Other studies have indicated that accessibility to the Burke-Gilman Trail System has had a positive increase on adjacent property values. Many commercial and residential developments along the trail have been and continue to be implemented since the completion of the trail.

Contact Info:

Mark Mead, mark.mead@ci.seattle.wa.us, 206 684-4113
Cascade Bicycle Club, 206-522-2153 (sponsors special events and political support)

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