Reading comments on this blog about the latest East Lake Sammamish Trail events, prompted by a mass email campaign generated by the Cascade Bicycle Club, displays a real lack of understanding about the issues involved.
The emails created by the Club don’t surprise me: all they care about is bicycling and nothing else. Some of their members don’t even follow the Rules of the Road while biking on streets, let alone respect the unique issues involved in developing the ELST. Their self-centered myopia is long-standing.
The Club strikes me as particularly hypocritical because most of the time, the bicyclists prefer the streets and roads to the trails.
But the comments from some of those who live in Sammamish and who otherwise are concerned about local development surprise me. Many use the ELST and should see first hand some of the issues involved.
Let’s look at these unique issues.
First, most of the homes were built before the county purchased the right of way.
Second: Many of the homes were permitted and approved by the County before Sammamish became a city. The County allowed many of these homes to be built within the railroad right of way, creating the problem it now complains about and which are now in the lap of the Sammamish City Council and Administration.
Third: There are a couple of cases, which are most egregious, where the right of way now is staked by the County as going literally through the middle of a house–a house the County permitted.This destroys the ability of the homeowners of quiet enjoyment and value of the home.
Fourth: The County is unwilling to be flexible in the design of the trail, to weave it or narrow it around some of these problems. The County insists on 18-foot wide trail development when in some cases 12 or 14 ft wide in these special circumstances will work; and is unwilling to move the trail off the rail bed elsewhere within the ROW. There are solutions to which the County is unwilling to take.
Furthermore, the County can’t even be trusted to stick to the 18 ft wide design. In portions of the Northern section, the County went to 24 ft.
Fifth: there are environmental concerns that none of the people commenting are paying attention to: you all are focusing only on the property owner disputes. As has been noted by this column many times, large, mature trees are being taken out under the County’s plan and wetlands and buffers are at risk. The County’s inflexibility above comes into play on these issues, too. If the County was flexible, these problems could be solved.
Sixth, in Section 2B there are physical constraints where the trail can’t be wider than 10 or 12 feet because the County approved homes right up to the rail bed or because of topographic issues. Concerning the latter, the County proposes massive amounts of fill rather than sticking only to the 10-12 ft wide rail bed. This is ridiculous.
Environmental issues at stake
I do not understand the position of Sammamish residents who urge approval of the trail as proposed by the County when these environmental issues in particular are at stake. You especially freak out over developers removing trees, yet turn a blind eye to the County (which is nothing more than a developer in this case) unnecessarily taking out trees when there are easy solutions to preserving them.
You cite wetlands and buffers to oppose housing development yet turn the same blind eye to this for development of ELST. You demand that the City use these rules to prevent development of more homes yet ignore these issues for the trail.
This position by Mark Cross in the 2015 City Council election, and by one or two of the sitting Council Members, all of whom described themselves as environmentalists, was mind-boggling. Cross and one of the Council Members in particular, bona fide environmentalists, were adamant that the trail design shouldn’t be varied in Section 2A. Cross maintained the same position for 2B, citing federal design standards. I could only shake my head in wonderment and dismay at this position taken by Cross and the Council Member.
All but perhaps a very few of the property owners and Sammamish Home Owners do not want to stop the trail. They want the County to be flexible and respectful of their properties and of the environment.
Enjoying the trail
For the 20 years I lived in Sammamish, my wife, our dogs and I enjoyed the trail. In the summer, we used it just about every day. I absolutely support the trail, but there needs to be a balance with the environment, the trees and with the property owners for the problems the County itself created in many cases.
This is not about stopping the trail. This is about recognizing reality on the ground. This is about the environment. This is about King County being a bullying government. This is about protecting the rights of Sammamish citizens.
Sammamish government is doing the right thing in this case.
By Scott Hamilton
I think it would be prudent to learn about which of the homeowners that are having problems actually had their lot surveyed at the time of construction of their homes. They may have found that they were building their house across their property line.
Funny thing is that there has been no requirement for a boundary survey to be done prior to construction of a home in the past (not usually a requirement even today with land prices so high). The permitting agency generally trusts the applicants report on where those boundaries are. With no survey no one really knows for sure. This is an issue that exists many older (even newer) properties in the Puget Sound region, whether or not you’re property lies adjacent to a railroad right away or not. Many of the lots along the lake were never part of a subdivision and simply described as a meets and bounds tracts defined loosely by monuments that could be more than a mile away.
Permitting agencies are most always indemnified from decisions they make (permit applications often have such a disclaimer). And an agency decision based on inaccurate boundary information supplied by the applicant reduces the possibility of responsibility even more.
The trail project may highlight a bigger issue we have in our state. That is a requirement for a boundary survey for a piece of real estate at the time of purchase…a requirement which is in place in states such as Wyoming, where land costs are $1000 per acre.
Another thing to keep in mind was that the intent of the creation of the little lots along the lake nearly 100 years ago was for recreation and little cabins, not for getting multiple relaxations of setbacks to build a 5000 square-foot mansions. This activity is slowly blocking the view of the water for all but the occupants of these houses.
re: “the intent of the creation of the little lots along the lake nearly 100 years ago was for recreation and little cabins”
How do you know? What difference does that make? How many square feet defines a “mansion” in your mind? “And another thing to keep in mind”, as the author notes, the most egregious issues pertain to very small houses, not “mansions,” the owners are not wealthy, and the cost to them as a consequence of the County’s inflexibility is painful. Assuming you are a Sammamish resident, I ask you to take a step back and find some compassion for serious issues that are affecting your neighbors, and have a little patience. We all look forward to a beautiful trail.
Good post. FYI there’s a term in engineering which is sometimes used called “contextual design standards”. In other words, one size does not fit all………….only government bureaucrats have a hard time understanding it:)
I’m curious why you feel the need to preface your article by making assumptions and generalizations about cyclists and their motives. It only makes the rest of your piece sound even more skewed.
And part of your “clarification” can be turned on its head – “Why does the City, which has shown no previous interest in getting in the way of large swathes of clear-cutting on large acreage, seem so intent on claiming ‘Environmental Impact’ as a reason to save a few trees here and there along the trail?” The trail provides a common good for residents of Sammamish and neighboring cities. The clear-cutting developments all over the rest of the city create a benefit for a single developer. Yet the trail is currently closed in a large segment while we await the results of the cat-fight the City took on behalf of a few shoreline property owners. And where is the documentation detailing the adverse environmental impacts? Funny that trail-side property owners are so often leading the charge against stricter guidelines of shoreline use but are suddenly getting concerned about it over this issue.
@David: I’ve read the bike club emails to the City, watched the number of bicyclists on the roads vs the trail, seen the ignored rules of the road that would get auto drivers ticketed, observed the clout and influence in Seattle and can draw my own conclusions. If my conclusions don’t align with yours, so be it. And insofar as I labeled this column “Commentary,” of course the opinion is skewed. That’s self-evident.
The only section of ELST that’s closed now is, I believe, 2A, which is under construction. S.O.P.
The City Council closed its eyes to development. As this column well documented during the 2015 election campaign, the City became “variances-r-us” in the years prior. New faces, new policies.
The documentation is in the City files. Go file a Public Records Request and read them for yourself.
David, please note that the trail closure is unrelated to legal resolutions…it’s closed because of ongoing construction of the trail that so many residents desperately want. I fail to see the merits of your complaint.
re: “while we await the results of the cat-fight the City took on behalf of a few shoreline property owners.”
I wish it was possible for you to understand the naivety of this statement, but if you didn’t “get it” from the author’s post, I have to conclude there’s no hope.
A few other things to consider as people inform themselves about ELST:
1. The Federal Government lost a court case in which the United States Court of Federal Claims ruled the government illegally took the property of homeowners along ELST as BNSF had no ownership interest to sell. So, in essence, these homeowners have had their land confiscated without due process. Don’t believe me? See Beres v. United States. Basically it was ruled that the railroad had an easement for rail traffic only. They did not own the Right-Of-Way. They could have sold the railroad easement to another railroad, but otherwise, it was illegal. So consider that, as you empathize (or not) with homeowners along the trail. Perhaps your perspective might be a little different if the government took your land away without due process (and illegally).
2. Why does the county insist they own 50 feet on either side of the trail, when they only need 20 ft total to build the trail (especially in light of the court case mentioned in #1 above)?
2.1 Why is it that the county negotiated and came to agreements with several homeowners along segment 2B (at least 3 homeowners that I know of) where the county acknowledged that they don’t have ownership interest in the trail and instead only received an easement for 20 ft to build the trail – yet today, they are not at all willing to extend the same terms to dozens of other homeowners in the same position?
3. The trail exists today and seems to work.
4. The county expansion plans will rip out fences, stairways, retaining walls, driveways, and other improvements with no plans or indication from the county that they will mitigate or otherwise help deal with the hardship. I’m glad the City of Sammamish is asking the County for clarification here.
This country was founded, in a significant way, on property rights. At the time of the founding of this country in Europe, common folks did not own the land. They rented it as Serfs, from the local rulers – at terms meant to keep them destitute and indentured. Our founding fathers helped build a country that was meant to protect the rights of land owners. And the People’s Republic of King County seems to have lost sight of this principle……because there are so many options that appear to be win-win, but the county is going straight down the I win – You lose path despite the fact that they represent these homeowners as much as anyone else in the county. It’s incompetent bordering on immoral. It is the tyranny of the majority that our founding fathers specifically warned against. I hope that reason and rational solutions prevail in the long run……
Lets clear up the errors at the beginning of your blog about Cascade Bike Club. CBC has an extensive campaign and reinforces rules of the road on all its rides. It continually hammers out the message on how to be safe in traffic. It conducts courses to this effect. Its concern for safety is why they support the full width of the trail. It places a fleet of over 650 bikes into the grade schools to teach the students how to ride safely. It has a Vision Zero plan to reduce bicycle traffic deaths because it sees the hurt caused by these deaths and understands how they can be prevented. Sure some cyclists don’t follow the rules, but neither to drivers. Drivers get cited as do cyclists. CBC consults with all regional transportation planners on how to incorporate pedestrian and cycling into the designs. Greater Seattle has build a tremendous network of trails, many of which were decades in planning to ensure that they were designed along with the road and not an expensive after thought. For every cyclist that uses a trail, there is one less on the road and one less car on the road. Sure, the experienced cyclists will use the shoulder of ELS Parkway, but the mother and child will not. Spend time on the Burke on a weekend during the nice weather and tell me that trails are not used. Even in the bad weather, commuters ride the trail, one less car on the road. Cascade has 15,700 member and 443 of which live in Sammamish with a Sammamish based supporter group of 1046, so CBC has standing to comment on the trail both at the regional and City of Sammamish level. CBC has passionate and dedicated people who are trying to make the region better, Better through Cycling. To say that they are hypocritical, self serving and don’t understand the issues just means that you do not understand what CBC has done for this region.
Hey Pete, nice post! I appreciate the additional information about your group, and the initiatives the Club supports.
As a frequent walker on the trail, and as a driver on the the road, I would like to make a couple of observations and suggestions. I have no where else to turn, so I’m taking this opportunity.
Would it be possible for the club to initiate good signage along the trail to educate all bicyclists of their responsibilities. Speed is clearly a top subject, but it would also be very helpful if bikers rang a bell long before passing pedestrians from behind. I can’t count the number of times that a bicyclist has whipped past me (with dogs on a leash) with absolutely no warning. Not good.
It’s not unusual for bikers to ride double-up and cross the biking lane line on the pkwy. My boat trailer has about 6″ on each side of the lines, and if you’ve ever pulled a boat you know 6″ isn’t a lot of room, and it’s not computer guided. Riding on or outside the biking lane line can be VERY VERY dangerous. I have occasionally had to completely stop for no reason other than to wait for bikers to get back to their biking lane. A few times I’ve slowed down and tapped my horn a couple of times to make the bikers aware of my wide load, only to be flipped off or yelled at. Perhaps experiences like this are what the author was eluding to in his comments.
I’m a bicyclist too, but I prioritize my safety over asserting my rights, and I try to be as considerate as I can to others on the trail. I’m not blaming your Club, I’m asking if it’s possible for the club to understand these issues, and possibly to help mitigate the risks for all involved.
Thanks for your comments and questions. CBC reiterates that cyclists use a voice or bell when approaching pedestrians. I always call out, “on your left” but I have found many times that the walker has ear buds in and couldn’t “hear a dump truck driving through a nitro glycerin plant”. Signage on trails is governed by the trail standards. They are usually set for 15 mph. Some people want it set to 10 mph but a runner goes faster than that. Also, signage says to use a bell or voice when passing. This is the trail standard, not controlled by CBC, but supported. Of course you have seen the time trial guys on aero bars going down the trail looking for a land speed record and he can call out all he wants, but he is coming up so fast on the walkers that by the time they hear him and then react, he is long past. Those guys have no business on trails. It is hard to regulate against stupidity, but radar traps on the trail has caught some of these guys. But the large percentage of cyclists on the trail do call out or use a bell and are reasonable in speed. The doubling up of riders is an interesting point. Washington traffic laws allow cyclists to ride two abreast. CBC encourages riding single file because if another rider wants to over take, then he would be three abreast. Unreasonably holding up traffic is probably also against the law, but definitely inconsiderate. CBC does teach and promote the considerate approach. CBC places riders in organized rides that encourage participants to ride safely and considerately.
Also, it should be noted that just because there is a bike lane the law does not require that the cyclist be in that lane. They are allowed to take the road if there are hazards in the lane or if they are going about the same speed as the traffic. Otherwise, they are to be over to the right. Normally, you are not allowed to drive on shoulder, but bikes are an exception, but otherwise, a bike is a vehicle and should act like one. CBC is singular in that message, “on the road, act like a car”. As you are cyclist, you know that when you are riding you very well know if a vehicle is coming up and a polite cyclist will keep to the right when it is safe to do so. I was yelled at when I took the lane and the driver felt inconvenienced. He did not understand that the intermittent parked cars to my right caused me to be a car door length out in the traffic lane. CBC advises riders to do just that to prevent being “doored”. The law is on my side as it is unsafe to ride further right. Bike lanes and bike path solve many of these conflict areas by providing a known place for them to ride. All the more reason to have the trail, built to standards (including the signage). But consideration for others is something everybody should have learned in Kindergarten and is hard regulate.
@Peter: You might always call out “on your left,” but in my experience of walking the trail ever since it opened, you’d be in the minority. How about including common courtesy to warn walkers on the trail when bikers are overtaking them? All too often the first I knew they were there was when they wizz by at high speed, surprising me, my wife and my dog. On the graveled interim trail, there was at least a shot at hearing them. On the paved trail, there’s no chance.
I took to walking the trail against traffic (just like on a road) in order to protect myself against this irresponsible bicyclists.
I’d also have a far better opinion toward CBC if y’all recognize there are unique and especially challenging issues in Section 2B, rather than slamming the City with form letters advocating federal standard-design when this simply doesn’t work.
Calling out is something CBC always promotes and encourages. Signs on the trails do the same, but even drivers don’t signal. I agree, not calling is dangerous as is excess speed. But like distracted driving, this is an enforcement issue, not more regulation. As to CBC commenting on environmental issues… I, for one, advised that CBC not comment on environmental aspects of the trail. CBC has no expertise in that area. There are standards and regulations and permits and Army Corps of Engineers and … who knows who else, all well versed in what needs to be done for environmental compliance. CBC knows bike and pedestrian safety issues and that is the focus of their comments. If all interested parties would just get together, each of these issues can be addressed, but I will not support CBC in allowing any piecemeal acceptance of trail compromises. Let’s have everybody’s “wants” on the table, one table, one room and lets have reasonable people make reasonable decisions. Everything I have seen is that the county is complying with and in some cases improving the environmental impact over what is there today. But you can’t save every tree and Sammamish only requires that 35% of significant trees be maintained by a developer and the county is keeping 65% along the trail. Invasive plants are being replaced with native species. Dead trees are being removed. From an environmental view, it really seems to me that the plans will improve things. You can see on the completed parts that the home owners have stairs and gates interfacing the trail fixed up. If something like that is still a concern it can be addressed in the final design phase. It seems to me that whole gating issue is ownership and control of the land between the clearing and grubbing lines and the right of way. That looks like a mess 100 years in the making, but should be dealt with. It is only going to get worse, but that discussion is not material to permitting which should be based on design standards. As somebody said in another post, permits still require the owner to have proper rights and the permit does not confer ownership.
“If all interested parties would just get together, each of these issues can be addressed”
Couldn’t agree more. The problem is, the County refuses to do so. The State Hearings Board examiner had to order the County to the table on Section 2A, which did result in resolving all but a couple of issues that he finally ruled upon. The County made it clear it would not sit down with City officials on Section 2B without its attorney present. (I think pressure from the County Exec’s office may have broken this logjam, but I am waiting to hear.) County Council Member Kathy Lambert also has been pressuring Parks to get with negotiation, with limited success.
Perhaps CBC should throw its weight at the County to get to the bargaining table.
“but I will not support CBC in allowing any piecemeal acceptance of trail compromises.”
I don’t know what this means. Are you saying you do not support weaving the trail where necessary (as was done in Issaquah parallel to East Lake Sammamish Parkway) or narrowing the trail when necessary (as was done in Issaquah over the narrow bridge at 62nd St)? If it’s acceptable in Issaquah, why not Sammamish?
“Let’s have everybody’s “wants” on the table, one table, one room and lets have reasonable people make reasonable decisions.”
Concur. Throw CBC’s weight against the County to get them to see the light.
“Everything I have seen is that the county is complying with”
You are misinformed.
“and in some cases improving the environmental impact”
Regarding the piecemeal approach – I would support reasonable decisions to close the deal.
On environment – “it seems to me” but I’m a biker not environmental expert. The only “environmental” issue raised in this thread is the preservation of trees and the county is well above what any other developer is held to.
I’ll talk to CBC about getting people to the table.
Wetlands and buffers were also raised in the post itself.
@Pete Hartmaier. ” It is hard to regulate against stupidity”.
Amen to that, brother.
“many times that the walker has ear buds in and couldn’t “hear a dump truck driving through a nitro glycerin plant”
These people have no right to complain…though I do.
“Some people want it set to 10 mph but a runner goes faster than that”
I’m a proponent of 10MPH…12 tops. The mom and kid and casual rider you’ve referred to by example would be fine with that. Faster speeds can be achieved on the PKWY. You and I have different experiences, I don’t think I’ve seen a jogger yet moving at or above 10MPH.
“the large percentage of cyclists on the trail do call out or use a bell and are reasonable in speed”
I walk on the trail a couple of times daily during decent weather. My experience does not support your assumption of “large percentage.” I would go as far as to say “occasionally.” But many do ride at a reasonable speed.
“CBC is singular in that message, “on the road, act like a car”
I’ve noticed that you write a lot more about law than you do courtesy. Legally, you are obviously right. But the unconditional application of those rights are part of the problem. For example, bikers have no problem with the idea that a vehicle must sometimes wait for them, but when should a bicyclist stop or yield (perhaps because of a hazard or narrowing lane) and let cars go by before proceeding? I believe your mantra, while legally correct, leads some to become “aggressive bikers,” behaving in a way that says screw you to drivers…if you hit me it’ll be your fault.
As an aside, in the doubling up examples I described previously, there were no hazards, just a desire to ride side by side and gab, regardless of heavy traffic and risk to their safety.
My final thought on this topic is that I haven’t heard anyone refer to the Green Lake path as an example for how to mitigate the varying uses of the trail. That system seems to work fairly well. I don’t know if it’s a good model for ELST, but maybe worth consideration.
“That looks like a mess 100 years in the making, but should be dealt with”
You couldn’t be more right, and it is. As the author has pointed out numerous times, the process is taking a long time mostly because the County is behaving like a bully, and it rejects attempts by owners to discuss and negotiate outside of the legal system.
The County, sharing a property line with owners along the trail, is a neighbor. If you and I had a joint property line, I’m betting we could put our concerns on the table and find a solution that works for both of us. Unfortunately, the County isn’t being a good neighbor.
This blog article is about the lack of empathy that many have expressed given the complexity of the situation. The author, like me, appears to have been surprised that so many residents are blaming homeowners and the City of Sammamish for hold ups, instead of placing blame where it belongs…i.e. the County and it’s bullying representatives.
Every King County incumbent should be voted out at the next election.
Thanks for participating in this thread in a respectful way…it has offered some new insight about the club. Although I have more respect for the club, I still agree with the author’s perspective for all the reasons he’s explained.
I share your frustrations about cyclist’s attitudes. There is no need to be as aggressive as I have seen from my fellow cyclists. I guess they need to repeat Kindergarten. CBC is doing what it can to change that. Any ideas that you have should be forwarded to them.
I have found that a blame game is non-productive. I’m an engineer by training. Stuff happens and there is a root cause. An airline crash investigator told me once (while we were flying no less) that on average 8 things have to go wrong for a plane to crash. If one of those things did not happen, the plane would not have crashed. I think we have a similar situation here. Multiple miss-steps. My working theory right now is that if the activity within the clearing and grubbing lines can be agreed to independently of the ownership within the whole right of way, it would be a good start in getting resolution and resolving the root cause here. What do you think?
@Peter: As noted, homeowners and city have been trying for years to work with the county to resolve issues. County wants an 18 ft wide trail, period, and everyone else be damned. CBC needs to pressure county to come to table in good faith.
KOMO TV to have a segment on the trail issues at 5pm today (March 2).
The problem with your working theory is that it makes too much sense:-)
By appearance, some property issues look like they can be disconnected from the trail project, and some seem like they could be resolved easily by rational people acting in goodwill. Every time I take a step back and attempt to simplify that like, details creep in one at a time, and eventually lead me back to where we are. I don’t know your engineering background, but you obviously understand how seemingly simple devices are usually comprised of numerous, dependent components of varying complexity. Remove one tiny part with the simplest of function and the whole thing fails to work correctly.
I think this situation is similar to that. We naturally focus on the simplicity of the device (aka the trail), because that’s what we want and what we can see, without respecting the complexity of dependent parts that aren’t visible to us.
This is probably an unsatisfactory answer to your question, but without stepping into the mud I can’t articulate my thoughts any better than this.
Calling out the environmental impact is quite hypocritical in my opinion.
@abatishchev: How so?
The first and the main issue here is the property owners interest means comfort and money. Who really cares about the environment in this case?
Come on Scott, you have to admit the optics here look bad.
The city goes to bat for wealthy landowners living on the lake, who purchased homes within a railroad right of way who are now upset that their privacy is being infringed on, and that trees are being removed in their neighborhood. Those homeowners took a risk by purchasing land with a questionable right-of-way because they wanted to enjoy views of Lake Sammamish. There’s nothing wrong with that, but at the same time, they should have expected problems like this.
Meanwhile, the rest of the city has had to deal with developers encroaching on their property lines and removing surrounding trees for years. The tree ordinance isn’t worth the paper it is written on – developers have found a loophole by hiring arborists who label inconvenient trees as “diseased” even if they are perfectly healthy, while the planning department rubber stamps these because they don’t actually verify this is the case. If you don’t believe me on this, make the public records request and see for yourself. You have rightfully labeled city government as “Variances-R-Us” in the past and I’ve seen no evidence that this has ended.
So yes, when I see the city paying for lawyers to fight the unreasonable requests of the county on behalf of lakeside homeowners, and I see their staff turning blind eyes to similar unreasonable requests from developers who are building in critical areas near more modest homes… I get a little cynical. I think most other residents of Sammamish feel the same way.
@Concerned: Never said the optics were good. This has been a mess since before Sammamish was incorporated.
@Concerned Citizen. C’mon. Are you seriously trying to equate the two circumstances: i.e. trees being removed on property that is owned and paid for by a developer, vs. the government deciding to claim for itself half the property holding up several people’s homes…property that these owners paid for and pay taxes on? Are you trying to say that it’s wrong for the City, receiver of said taxes, to do what it can to represent in some small way their residents? Do you understand that the City tried to stay out of this legal entanglement, but was drawn-in because the County started to bully it too?
“…when I see the city paying for lawyers to fight the unreasonable requests of the county on behalf of lakeside homeowners…”
Q: Enlighten me, I’m curious. What unreasonable requests by homeowners are being fought by City lawyers?
I’m perplexed about a prevailing attitude on this blog, and a theme of your comment, that basically comes down to “screw the rich people.” For the record, not even my dreams are as big as some of their houses, but I see no reason to believe that a paved trail, as much as I will enjoy it, is more important than their rights.
My main complaint about the attitude is that it’s premised on the notion that only wealthy people live on the lake, and that the property rights issues with the County mainly pertain to big houses. This is factually incorrect on both points, IMHO, but I concede that the term “wealthy” is relative. Somewhere along the way we’ve decided to demonize the financially successful among us. Why? Most of us wish we were one of them. Most of them work (or are retired), they have goals, they spoil themselves in different ways than the rest of us, but most of them worry about their security, the future of health care, and the prospects of retirement just like you and me.