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The Sound to Olympics Trail has been in the Bainbridge Island and Kitsap County plans for several years, but many people lack knowledge about the plans for the trail and its potential benefits to the island community. This fact sheet is intended to answer several questions that keep coming up about the trail.
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The Sound to Olympics Trail is envisioned as a regional trail system that will connect the Bainbridge ferry terminal with the Olympic Peninsula. On Bainbridge, it will generally follow the Highway 305 right-of-way for the seven miles from the ferry terminal to Agate Pass Bridge. It is a shared-use path, meaning it is intended to be shared by people biking, walking, running, skating and pushing strollers, as well as people in wheelchairs and using other assistive devices, moving in both directions.
This is one of the biggest misperceptions about the trail. The answer to the first question is that it’s quite literally for everyone. We anticipate that the trail when completed will serve a very wide range of users walking and biking for a range of purposes, and that the vast majority of the users will be island residents. Examples of potential users include the following:
The STO Trail is not just a bike path. It’s intended to be used by various different types of users going in both directions. The widely accepted design standard for shared-use paths of this kind calls for a minimum width of 10 feet, with greater width in areas expected to see particularly heavy use; trail width can be dropped to 8 feet for short distances where physical constraints exist or where use is expected to be light.
No, that’s not correct. Regardless of funding source, the accepted design standard for shared-use paths of this kind calls for a 10-foot minimum width. In addition, a trail built within the State highway right-of-way must meet State requirements for a shared facility, which require compliance with the accepted design standard. It is true that federal grant requirements include accessibility standards based on the Americans with Disabilities Act, but that standard applies more to trail steepness and surface than trail width.
There are very good reasons to build the trail in the highway right-of way. The main ones are grade (steepness) and availability of land. The Highway 305 right-of-way follows the longest contiguous “hill-free” stretch of land on Bainbridge Island; while it’s not entirely flat, it is relatively flat compared to any other seven-mile stretch on the island. More important is the fact that the public already owns the space, and we don’t have to seek easements through private property. There is no other place on the island where building a trail of this length is possible without acquiring rights from private landowners, some of whom might not be willing to voluntarily provide a trail easement. These are the same reasons trails of this kind are often built in abandoned railway rights-of-way, but we don’t have that option on Bainbridge. Other highly-successful shared-use paths have been built along highways in other places.
We are very aware of the need to minimize impacts on trees and vegetation as the trail is extended to the north. The main reason for the visual impacts at the beginning of the trail is that the steep slopes there required significant regrading to accommodate the trail. That issue will not exist along most of the intended course of the trail. While some trees will need to be removed to build the trail, we will adjust the route to minimize impacts as much as possible, and will continue to plant many more trees than are removed. Most areas along the route have a significant planting buffer so that trees and other vegetation will remain in areas where the trail is built, often on both sides of the trail. In addition, we can plan for future construction of the trail by planting additional trees and native plants now in anticipation of future trail construction, further minimizing the near-term visual impacts of construction.
This is an important question. It is true that there are pressing needs to improve conditions for walking and biking along many island roads, and addressing those gaps should be a top priority. And it is also true that the STO Trail is part of a regional trail system that can attract grant money for which many local projects would not be eligible. For that reason, the City intends to rely almost entirely on grant programs having a 13.5% City match for construction of the STO Trail, at least until other major local safety priorities have been adequately addressed.
Only a very small portion of the trail has been built at this point, and it is being well used. The utility of the trail will continue to grow as it is extended to the north and pathways and other facilities for walking and biking are completed to connect it to residential areas, commercial areas, schools, parks, and other destinations along its route. Evaluating the use of the trail at this point is premature; it’s like evaluating the use of a subway system when only two or three stations have been completed. We need to envision what the trail will be like when it is completed and connected to the residential areas and destinations along its route. Once the trail becomes part of a connected network of safe facilities for walking and biking across the island, it will be heavily utilized.
Very few people feel safe or comfortable riding bikes along the highway next to cars traveling at 50-60 miles-per-hour. Several people have been seriously injured or killed riding bikes along the highway on Bainbridge or in Poulsbo when they were struck by vehicles. Most people would choose a safer option to travel in the vicinity of the highway if it existed.