The people who were there still remember it vividly--- the
passionate, inspirational speech given by Ron Sims, then executive of King
County, Wash., at Portland University in 2007.
Speaking before a large crowd of trail advocates, planners
and regional officials gathered for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) TrailLink 2007 conference on active
transportation, Sims announced his grand vision for the role trails, biking
and walking would play in his county, and across America in the near future.
"Will we be the generation that fails the next by providing
them less of a quality of life?" he asked. "Or will we give them a better
quality of life than they have today? Trail systems are going to be integral to
that quality of life. They're going to be important in every facet of the next
generation--they will not be able to escape their benefits. And we must put
them in place, to provide options, and choices."
A few moments later he made a firm promise, that King County
would one day oversee the completion of what was at that point a public project
with a decidedly uncertain future: to build a multi-use trail along the
out-of-service 42-mile Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway line running north-south through the heart of the county.
"We are going to have our corridor," Sims said. "We are going
to make it work, because this trail is important to our region's future."
With the proposed Eastside Rail Trail (ERT) at that time
facing stern opposition from some camps, and apathy in others, Sims' battle
cry may have seemed somewhat optimistic.
Five years later, however, it looks as if the old saying
is true-- where there's a will, there's a way.
Last week the elected council of Kirkland, a key city along
the ERT route, authorized the purchase of 5.75 miles of the corridor, an
important step in transforming the former rail line into a transportation and
recreation resource for King County's growing population.
RTC's Western Regional Office has been keeping a close eye on
the ERT's progress, which, since about 2005, has advanced in fits and starts.
"We are cheering on Kirkland's vision and leadership in advancing this project," says Laura Cohen, director of the
Western Regional Office. "Their neighbor to the east, Redmond, is moving full steam ahead with a
plan to develop their section of the trail, also. This is shaping up to be a tremendous resource for the whole region."
When complete, the ERT will pass within a half-mile of more
than 500,000 people, and some of the country's fastest growing cities, as well
as Google's growing Kirkland campus, and a future high-density urban center in
Totem Lake. It will also connect to 125 miles of existing trails.
Photo and map of ERT corridor courtesy of Eastside Trail Advocates.