Transcription: 2021-11-22 KCC/HCC: Possible sunsetting of Houghton Community Council

On November 22nd, 2021, the Kirkland City Council and the Houghton Community Council held a joint meeting to discuss the possibility of the city adding the sunsetting of the Houghton Community Council to the city’s legislative agenda.  Marilynne Beard, a former deputy city manager, was brought in as a neutral facilitator.  This is a partial transcript of that meeting, focusing on HCC comments.

Kurt Triplett, City Manager, announced that a lot of staff would be available as resources only.  He gave a timeline, mostly skipped here:

  • 8/2020 R-5434 “to ensure the safety and respect of Black people and dismantle structural racism in Kirkland”
  • 5/2021 Chanin Kelly-Rae Consulting: equity gap assessment, roadmap includes “sunsetting the Houghton Community Council”

The main part of the meeting was an intended 5 minutes per person, alternating between KCC and HCC, but it was not timed.  A few of Mayor Sweet’s comments and almost all of the HCC comments are transcribed here with very minor modifications such as eliminating “umm”s.  Errors in transcription, of course, are mine.  Most complaints about the timeline and procedure are omitted.  Most praising of others and statements of gratitude are omitted.  Some of the HCC comments are in response to comments made by KCC members.  City video is at City Council Special Joint Meeting with Houghton Community Council (granicus.com) and timestamps are given into that video.

Penny Sweet, Kirkland Mayor – 15:40-18:42

“What I question is the fairness of the system that advantages 10% of our community over the whole population.  Kirkland needs to be one Kirkland.”

“We have 14 neighborhoods in the city of Kirkland, and each one has a neighborhood association.  Only Houghton has a neighborhood association and a community council.  That’s a clear structural inequity.  As most of you know, I have never supported the existence of the HCC.  When I was made aware of it 20+ years ago, I considered the fact that the Houghton community had this extra level of representation to be unfair to the greater Kirkland population.”

“In two weeks, I hope that we will adjust our legislative agenda to include the original language about sunsetting Community Councils.”

“I truly believe that we must follow through with our commitment to eliminate systems that are inequitable in our community as this one surely is.”

Rick Whitney, Chair, HCC – 19:30-28:50

Explanation why HCC continuation vote wasn’t delayed

Complaint about communication

Timeline of recent events

“Blindsided by letter by Representative Walen” recommending sunsetting of HCC

27:20

“We have worked with great dedication and collaboration in the best interests of the entire Kirkland community, not just Houghton.”

“We challenge the assertion that our very existence makes Kirkland less equitable, just, and inclusive.  Our actions and the outcomes contradict that assertion, and how can the Kirkland City Council profess inclusivity and not have the decency to include us in the discussion of the equity assessment, its conclusions, recommendations, and especially when it recommends our termination.  We believe there needs to be an open, honest, fair process for that discussion and action.  Anything of this import deserves our full participation.”

“We don’t understand the urgency of the action, particularly when our state, county, and city have such greater concerns to address.  I’ve very disappointed in how heavy-handed the city council has been in this.”

Jay Arnold, Kirkland Deputy Mayor – 31:25-35:18

John Kappler, Vice Chair, HCC – 37:18-45:42

37:50

“… the equity report come out in its final draft, and in an early meeting to the City Council, and in their regular meeting some two and a half hours later there was already a resolution that included the city council working with the state legislature to sunset the Houghton Community Council.  It happened very very quickly during that one evening.  So I believe that this is really at the forefront of the Kirkland City Council’s agenda because of the equity study that came out.

The equity study was done by a single person.   It was not done by a committee or a group, one person really had made the entire comments for a city the size of Kirkland.  I found it very very interesting that in that report with many of the items that were listed as inequities that should be focused on, there’s only one place where the equity officer wrote that she directed the city council, the city staff, the city manager to work expeditiously with the state legislature to eliminate a community organization that serves thousands.  That does not seem to me to be the words of an equity officer.  Those words really should have been, even as Jay said, they should have been to review, to understand, to study.  That’s what an equity officer does.  It does not eliminate the voice of a community organization.

I believe this is somehow preordained or somehow.  I actually feel set up by this, and I think even so much by the words of the city council when I listen to them talk about agreeing to meet with us, again after we asked, and for everyone to make the comment that this is not, we’re not being branded as some sort of racial issue.  Make no mistake, this report was set up as a racial report.  It’s a black and white report.  And I think this is a horrible thing that has happened to us. 

A couple of the things that Jay said about the actual inequities themselves.  He listed essentially our veto vote on the Houghton marketplace area because we did not allow higher density.  He mentioned the inequity mentioned in the report by us not adopting the missing middle housing.  He also mentioned solar panels, and maybe one other thing that I didn’t quite get written down.  I don’t understand how solar panels makes us inequitable.  Specifically, regarding the metropolitan market area, when our group studied the possibility of increasing the metropolitan market, we were given a traffic study of the intersection only.  The traffic study showed that that intersection failed.  It was given an F.  We were not given any of the traffic information north from Kirkland urban area or from the Google site area because the city was working on it and had not concluded it.  We were not given any information on the traffic studies south of the metropolitan market area because it was part of the college which was going to be a quasi-judicial process coming before us.  I don’t know if the studies were done or just not given to us but we couldn’t see them anyway.  All we had was the intersection where the Houghton market area is that was failing, and the request was to increase the density to a point to make it fail worse.  We had testimony by the developer on the Houghton Community jurisdiction side that they had a long-term contract, and nothing would happen for 20 years.  So we felt no pressure to create a carte blanche system where we did not understand how the systems could be fixed to allow for a more intensified use.  The state department of transportation didn’t give us any information about the road.  The transit people didn’t give any information about how they might change transit.  We really had nothing, and it was really that decision that drove us to keep the density down in that area.

Specifically with regard to missing middle, missing middle is essentially a document prepared to densify neighborhoods, almost eliminate single family neighborhoods.  In that document, they essentially want to infill neighborhoods with cottages, carriage [house]s, accessory dwelling units, small apartment buildings, and small commercial buildings.  Houghton Community Council discussed this, and one of our charges early on, what Houghton is really all about is single family neighborhoods, and we’re supposed to protect those.  So we felt that allowing small apartment buildings in terms of two-plexes and three-plexes that each could allow two accessory dwelling units each, so a three-plex could become a nine-plex apartment building.  We didn’t think that was appropriate.  We reached out to City Council and said if we remove the two-plex and three-plex with the ADUs, we would go along with this initiative, and we were told by you all, the City Council, it’s all or nothing.  You gave us no choice because of how we wanted to protect our neighborhood but to veto that legislation, or that code.  And I think that if weren’t there, our neighborhood would have gotten run over.  I think so much so that over 75% of the constituents in our area have voted to renew us.  They feel a need for us.  If they really trusted that the City Council would follow through with what they desired, what was part of the neighborhood plan got pulled forward into the Comprehensive Plan, that they wouldn’t feel a need for our council. 

And so with all of that, I think that the last thing is that this legislative session is very short.  There’s a lot of very important things identified in this equity study going on in the city with staff, at the police department level, including sexual harassment that’s identified in the report.  There is nothing really in this report that rises to the level that it does with the Houghton Community Council “I direct the City Council to”.  That’s not the case on all these other issues.  I do not understand why, and I’d really like to hear why, and I’d appreciate a response.”

Jon Pascal, KCC – 47:32-52:00

Betsy Pringle, HCC – 54:00-56:05

54:55

“There’s a lot of solar panels in Houghton.  We did not outlaw solar panels.  You will find many of them in Houghton; it was a specific measurement.  The other thing is because there’s been a lot of streamlining over the last ten to twenty years on public process, right now we are the only elected body that listens to public testimony on land use public hearings, and that’s something that is of great concern to me, so it’s important to me that elected officials listen to people in their jurisdiction whether it’s the whole city or Houghton, that there is somebody who is an elected official listening to people’s concerns about land use, so that’s one of my concerns about sunsetting the council is losing that because we streamlined the public hearing process so much.”

57:00-57:50

Question about streamlined process

“Yes, process 1 is the planning official.  Process 2 is the hearing examiner.  2b is planning commission and Houghton Community Council.  And then it goes hearing examiner and then nope, no official.  So yeah, I think we are the only ones who are elected that listen to public testimony and really are able to talk to both the developer and the people in the community on what these repercussions might be for this land use decision, so I feel like we have some very deep discussions that end up, as Jon said, sometimes creating meaningful and better solutions maybe than somebody walked into the room with.”

Amy Falcone, KCC – 58:25-1:02:57

Larry Toedtli, HCC – 1:04:34-1:12:35

1:05:10

“Marilynne asked the question earlier, “what is my understanding of what the Kirkland City Council wants”, basically to sunset the Houghton Community Council primarily based on the recommendations of the equity consultant.  I don’t think that’s been well-documented in the equity consultant.  So my focus tonight has really been to listen, to understand, on the proposal to sunset it even though we’ve had a fair and democratic election with 76% of the votes cast.” …

1:07:00

“So far, I’ve been able to hear how it came about, but not why – the basis of the equity consultant’s report findings and recommendations on sunsetting the Houghton Community Council and the urgency of this action in the state legislative process.  I won’t go into a lot of detail on the communication process because it’s been discussed quite a bit, but its history does not come across as transparent or welcoming in the city that says it prides itself for many years now to be a welcoming community.  The basis for the equity consultant’s finding, as Deputy Mayor Arnold said, “hey we all had access to it at the same time”.  Having access to it is not the same as being at the table and getting a presentation and being able to have a discussion with it.  I read those reports.  I write many letters and emails to the city council, as many of you know.  I get very little response back, like next to none except for maybe one or two councilmembers depending on the issue, and it’s not able to sit there and ask questions and/or ask for additional information.  It’s just not allowed for somebody 3 minutes item from the audience or an email.

So we’ve talked about how it’s inequitable for the Houghton Community, which is really two and a half neighborhoods, to here and how the city came about.  In 1968 there was the original city of Kirkland.  They chose to merge with the original town of Houghton.  There was an agreement.  Both parties, both councils and communities voted to bring together with the rules in place.  The other annexation areas such as Juanita, Finn Hill, North Kirkland, Rose Hill, others that have come on have all done it under rules that were in places for them.  Those rules sunset in some of those areas sooner than others.  They were very specific.  People still voted to say “yes, we want to be annexed, be part of Kirkland under these rules”.  So I think there is a difference between the area covered by the Houghton Community Council and the rest of Kirkland.  Hasn’t been discussed at all in the equity report.  It’s discussed how Houghton came about, how the Houghton Community Council came about, but not how it compares to the other parts of the city, and why it’s different. 

I also believe the equity consultant’s reports could have, should have at least tried to show the specifics on how the Houghton Community Council’s actions have resulted in actual equity issues and concerns vs simply proceed that I’ve heard about tonight.  Duplex, triplex data.  That very same meeting, October 19th, that the equity consultant presented at, the staff presented at the study session, the executive summary, that same meeting, the City Council received a packet on missing middle housing, how many units there were.  There’s very few actually applied over 18 months city-wide.  Three units have building permits.  Doesn’t say there won’t be more later.  Only two have ADUs on them, but there’s no trying to actually show the impact.  Census data, 2010 and 2020 census readily available to be able to show housing type, income, population, race, diversity, within both the Houghton Community Council and the rest of the city.  Show us the data, and if it shows there’s inequity in Houghton’s … getting away from being more equitable on some of those factors, I’ll be the first to say, “hey this isn’t right”.  There’s nothing been shown.  Nothing’s been tried to been shown.

Then the urgency.  The state legislature meets every year, yet this rose to the top as the directive from the equity consultant.  The continuance of the Houghton Community Council passed with a 76% yes vote.  This was a fair and democratic election.  Are you guys saying you are looking to overturn the vote by having the state legislature erase the Houghton Community Council out of existence?  That’s part of the message that I’ve been hearing from the community.  So, I really want to understand those types of items.  To me, the question should be how does the city propose to increase the input from the broader community and actually implement those in their neighborhoods instead of trying to disenfranchise this last vote?”

Toby Nixon, KCC – 1:14:44-1:20:08

Bill Goggin, HCC – 1:21:53-1:26:22

“I appreciate the dialog, but I feel like we’re going through the motions here.  The City Council’s already decided what they’re going to do, and just throwing us a bone by letting us have this meeting, and you know that’s something I do appreciate that.  I feel like we are one city, and I think that what Houghton brings to the table is making Kirkland a better city.  Our collaboration with the planning commission, the hearing examiner always is very productive, and I think there’s better outcomes from the recommendations that are made to City Council as a result.

You want to talk about inequity?  Let’s talk about neighborhood plans.  We have these neighborhood plans.  We have three neighborhoods in Houghton, and the City Council comes in, and they just want to forget what’s in the neighborhood plans, forget that the neighborhood plans basically state that our neighborhoods are single family in character, and they want to make these radical changes by having nine units on a lot if you have a triplex with two ADUs per unit, you basically have nine units on a 8500 square foot lot, and the people of Houghton have said “no, we don’t want that”, and the city doesn’t listen to their own neighborhood plans.  So the Houghton Council’s providing a valuable service in showing the city how governance really works.  Governance is when you listen to people and follow what’s been documented by listening to those people via the neighborhood plans.  That’s a part of the Comprehensive Plan.  That’s not happening here.

If you want equity for the rest of the city, I suggest you take those 13 other neighborhoods, and give them the same power that the Houghton Community Council has.  Allow them to veto decisions that you make in their neighborhoods.  What we’re hearing is that you guys don’t listen at all to them, is what they’re saying.  I’m hearing from the Everest neighborhood that decisions that you make in the Everest neighborhood, the comments that they make just you don’t pay any attention at all.  Talk about the Houghton Everest Neighborhood Center.  We had 300 comments from people on that.  We had hearings with 100 people in the room, and the vast majority were for keeping three stories, so as a result, the Houghton side kept the three stories, but on the Everest side they got five stories, and they’re very unhappy about it.  This is good governance.  This is listening to the citizens.  The Houghton Council provides a valuable service and leadership to the neighborhood of Houghton.  It’s just a crime what you guys are trying to do here.

The five original community councils in the state of Washington, there’s only two remaining: Houghton Council and East Bellevue Community Council.  The other three were voted out by their residents.  Their residents no longer saw value.  This is what was envisioned in that agreement in 1968.  The residents of those neighborhoods got to decide when it was time to sunset.  It isn’t the City Council that oversees these community councils.  It isn’t the state legislature that should be making the decision.  It’s that area that decided it in the first place of merging with the city of Kirkland, the Houghton Community Council.  If I was a cynic, I would say that identity politics in this equity study are being used to rapidly dismantle a popularly elected body in the Houghton area that was clearly voted with a majority of 76%.  This is just outrageous.

In my eyes, Kirkland City Council has been deceptive, opaque, untruthful, uncollaborative, uninclusive, disrespectful to the Houghton Community Council members, and to the residents of Houghton.  You know, we take great pride whenever we have a meeting where there’s stuff that’s involving the public, we always ask the question, “Was the public noticed?  Did the public have notice to this before we start talking about it?”  None of that’s followed by the city council in trying to dismantle the Houghton Community Council.

My position goes back to Winston Churchill, 1940, in his speech to the House of Commons, he said, “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets.  We shall fight in the hills.  We shall never surrender.  That’s my position on the Houghton Community Council.”

Kelli Curtis, KCC – 1:27:20-1:31:50

Ruth Wright, HCC – 1:33:02-1:33:35

Happy with others’ statements

“I’ve very curious why the Kirkland City Council wants to sunset the HCC because Kirkland residents voted overwhelmingly for the HCC for another 4 years.  So why are you trying to undo the will of the voters who are also your constituents?”

Neal Black, KCC – 1:34:20-1:45:23

Brian Gawthrop, HCC – 1:46:47-1:56:20

1:47:20

I’d like to state, first of all, that this, that I will no longer be a Houghton Community Council member as of the end of the year.  I have decided to not run and of course I have, in the election there is a replacement that will be coming.  The reason I say that is I think this is such a hot topic because it is human nature to vote towards self-preservation, whether that is for yourself, for your family, your loved ones, for any power you may hold, in whatever way you hold it.  I see that in my children, you know, if they get some kind of edge, they want to hold it.  I see that in adults as well.  I see it in organizations.  I think we’re seeing it here.

When I was appointed to the Houghton Community Council 9 years ago, I had never been involved in politics.  I’d always wanted to do something, but I didn’t have the energy or the knowhow or the time to run a campaign, to start and get into city council.  I’ve since learned that it probably takes roughly $40,000-$50,000 just to be elected to the Kirkland City Council, which, in my opinion, definitely is not equitable.  I think many citizens that were so concerned about being represented, that’s out of their reach, and that’s something we should consider in a city as a whole.  I think that many, at least two, councilmembers on the Kirkland City Council got their start in politics on the Houghton Community Council, and there’s been many others that have done the same thing.  It’s been kind of like training wheels for many politicians that have risen all the way up to the state legislature.  I think it has really served, aside from representing the citizens of Houghton, it served a valuable springboard for many people.

That being said, I can understand why some people outside of Houghton, and even inside of Houghton, feel like the community council should not exist.  I can see their perspective, but I can also see the perspective of keeping it and how that, we’ve heard several people comment on the timing just seemed suspicious.  Now, I’m not saying that it was contrived beforehand, and that the stars were aligned, and so it’s the perfect time to do it, but that’s what it felt like for some, and I think everyone can appreciate that.  Again, referring to my kids, they often say “why didn’t you give us a warning before sending us to bed”, and I tell them, “I told you three times, for the past hour”, but they didn’t hear me.  Someone made a comment that it was in the packets.  Well those packets are hundreds of pages, and we have a hard enough time I think reading our own packets and our full-time jobs and leading our families.  So I think everyone has the best intentions here, and again I think it’s a self-preservation instinct as to why this is such a hot issue.

To that end, though, I would, again, I don’t have skin in the game now because I am going to be exiting the Houghton Community Council.  I do live in the former city of Houghton within the boundaries, so obviously it impacts me, but I would challenge everyone here on this call to think about what sunsetting means for the Houghton Community Council and how that impacts equity.  Think about that and why the Houghton Community Council you feel shouldn’t exist because it happened a long time ago, and it’s not fair to the others.  Now think about term limits.  Term limits for the Houghton Community Council, term limits for Kirkland City Council, and think how that impacts equity as well.  If you get on a seat, it’s pretty hard to dethrone that incumbent, right, but if you have term limits, you can give more people a chance.  Something to consider.  I don’t know that it would be perfect, but it goes in line with the sunsetting idea and the arguments that I’ve heard this evening.  So I would just really urge everyone to consider that.

Also, I wanted to just comment.  I realize that many of you had this idea before the report that Chanin Kelly-Rae came out with.  I appreciate those of you who actually said that.  I think most people had that idea already.  One thing I would like to put on the record.  I was disappointed.  I really had high hopes in my interview with her, and she actually told me during our interview that going into the interview that she thought that the Houghton Community Council should be eliminated before even getting my opinion.  By the end of our conversation, she said that I completely changed her mind.  She thought it was a great idea for the city of Kirkland, yet it didn’t show up in the report.  So I would just like to add that, that I think she has the best intentions, but I also think that she’s doing a lot for a lot of cities, a lot of companies, and that it should be taken, I don’t think it should have the weight that it actually seems to be carrying.

And then, lastly, what I wanted to comment on, is my understanding is there’s other places in Kirkland that also have limitations.  I believe that Kingsgate 3 and 4 requires single-family homes, which seems to be limiting to me.  I believe there’s an overlay in Holmes Point maybe.  I could be wrong; it’s out of my jurisdiction so I’m not an expert.  But maybe, I don’t know if this could happen or not, but maybe a way to solve this would be to put it to a vote for all of the city of Kirkland.  So, of course people in Houghton are going to vote to keep the Houghton Community Council.  It’s in their interest.  It’s self-preservation.  Why not put it to all of the citizens of Kirkland, and let both sides campaign on the pros and cons, and have time to build their cases and illustrate the advantages and disadvantages.  Like Jon Pascal said, there’s a lot of things that Houghton Community Council has added value to in the process.  Lots of things even in the nine years that I’ve been on the council where we made impact on Kirkland in a very positive way.  I can recall many many times that Neal Black, when he was on the community council, it was almost 20 minutes, almost every session, of him finding things that “Well, did you mean to say it this way or that way?  Well, the way that it’s written, let’s change it a little bit, and that’s what we really meant to say it for the city.  Otherwise, it means something different.  Or a comma should be different; it changes the whole meaning of the sentence.”  So it really helped the city of Kirkland, all of Kirkland”.

Last comments

Mayor/Chair were asked to give a few keys points from the other group. Omitted here.

Larry Toedtli, HCC – 2:03:46-2:05:24

2:04:48

“… that’s the process that I’m most concerned about in this dialog is that the neighborhoods, and the existing people here are also welcomed, not just the future people coming in.  I really do believe that the existing people, who have made this city what it is through our taxes, our participation, through our volunteer work, through other types of stuff, is what makes Kirkland Kirkland.  We can be welcoming to new people, but we also have to be welcoming to the people that still are here.”

John Kappler, Vice Chair, HCC – 2:07:44-2:09:39

I think my parting comment is, we heard an awful lot about the pros and cons about should we or should we not have a neighborhood council.  We’ve also heard a lot of comments about neighborhood planning and densification to meet growth management goals and objectives.  For all the years that I’ve lived in Kirkland and been on this council, it’s been the position of the city of Kirkland that we have the capacity to meet the requirements of the Growth Management Act, in terms of infill of housing, that’s never been a question.  Kirkland has the capacity to meet its fiduciary responsibility to meet the goals of Growth Management Act.  I think the real question is, and as a practicing architect, owning an architectural firm, participating in housing projects, we need to ask with the densification of the existing neighborhoods that we all live in, do we want our neighborhoods to become so dense that they turn into Green Lake?  I really think that’s the question.  And we can say this is about equity and adding lower income housing and that sort of thing in our neighborhood.  Kirkland is a very expensive place to live, some places more expensive than others, but I think to simply allow the state to make legislation at a local level, which is what the state wants to do, that’s what they’re pushing, we heard Neal Black talk about it, that the state wants state legislation and regional planning, not at the city level, and I think this might be the first eroding of local representation of all of the citizens in Kirkland.  If you allow one thing to happen, then pretty soon the state is going to take over regional and local planning, and I think that would be a shame for all of us.”

Neal Black, KCC – 2:09:43-2:12:09

My comments (again) to Kirkland City Council on Vision Zero

Thank you Mayor and Council.

On September 15th, Kyle Warnick was tragically killed by a driver of a car while walking in the Kingsgate neighborhood.

 

I already did that one in 2014. Unfortunately, it’s still applicable today. On Friday, a 78-year-old woman was hit by a driver on NE 68th St. She died on Saturday.

 

In the aftermath of the 2014 tragedy, I wrote to David Godfrey, then transportation manager:

“… what are we doing to prevent the next Warnick case? Sadly, it’s coming. We don’t know how long it will be until the next, or if it will be in similar locations in Redmond, Bellevue, etc., rather than Kirkland, but right now it still seems inevitable.”

Then, 2015: Drivers crash in Bellevue and kill a toddler in a stroller on a street corner.

Last December: A 70-year-old woman on Avondale in Redmond

Last February: A 44-year-old man with a street sweeper in Bellevue ($)

Now back to Kirkland

Sadly, it’s coming.

But, here’s the thing: the primary claim of Vision Zero is that these “accidents” aren’t accidents but a predictable result of a transportation system designed to move cars at speed. We don’t need to accept death as a byproduct of mobility. Other places have shown us how to make our streets safer. Even without sacrificing mobility. The Netherlands is one of the safest places in the world to walk and bike, and they also have the happiest drivers in the world. New York City is no Amsterdam, but its pedestrian death rate is the lowest it’s been since they started measuring ($).

There are lots of engineering solutions, but we don’t have an engineering problem. We haven’t embraced Vision Zero. We don’t put safety at the top of every project, every policy, every day. So we accept death, injury, and damage. Later tonight, you’ll continue to discuss the widening of the intersection at Juanita High School.

[ed: I misread the council packet. The detail about Juanita HS was in the consent calendar so there was no discussion.]

Sadly, it’s coming.

I encourage you, no I beg you, to stop accepting death. I would like to propose a Vision Zero task force. I’ll gladly serve on it. Let’s fix this. Thank you.

The Mistake of Trying to Bike-Commute Again

I haven’t commuted by bike in quite some time, but I’m taking a few days off from running so I gave it another try.  And what a terrible experience it was.

Overlake Transit Center is a complete joke right now.  All pedestrian and bicycle traffic going between 156th Ave (i.e., most of Microsoft) and the 520 trail (including a very busy  bus stop) has apparently been funneled into the small sidewalk on the south side of 40th that has been made narrower by a Sound Transit construction fence sticking into the middle of it.  It wasn’t comfortable to ride alone in the middle of the day, and it’s a downright disaster during busy times.  And apparently my waiting behind someone walking wasn’t acceptable to the workout warrior behind me who had to blast past us both through the grass median.

The 520 trail crossings at 51st and 40th are just as bad as ever, but I lucked out and no one tried to kill me yesterday.

The trail itself, however, is quite a mess.  It’s still unlit in most places except for the headlights from 520 that blind you, but it doesn’t matter anyway because any obstructions on the ground are covered by leaves everywhere anyway.  The plentiful bumps are rather unpleasant.

Somehow the sharrows near Ben Rush Elementary still work.  (Well, it’s not the sharrows.  You can get lucky and have the street to yourself.)

Old Redmond Road is still the mess it’s always been.  No one likes riding right next to fast moving traffic, and that’s why you pretty much only see spandex in the bike lane.  And if you don’t cross an intersection fast enough for that spandex, you’ll get passed and cut off, which is doubly annoying when you’re then waiting behind that spandex all the way up the hill.  Thanks.

And when it’s finally time to turn left off of Old Redmond Road, then you get to play with cars in two lanes.  Or you can make a two stage left and wait for the light twice.

Redmond, Sound Transit, and those two bicyclists have made driving a better choice than biking.

We are more than our trip generation: urbanism and the dignity of the human person

It is easy to begin to think of other people as burdens. Our society that so values individual freedoms does not like to be tied down. You hear it when people talk of children, or the elderly or disabled. 

Why would you want to have another child? Don’t you want to be free to pursue your career? Why would you want to take in an aging relative? Why would you want a child with special needs? Don’t you want to be able to do what you want?

Freedom is more than the ability to choose to do what we like. Freedom is the ability to choose the good.

Freedom is not about not having anybody to tie us down, but about loving fully. The most important thing we are called to do is love.

We are all connected. We all have parents. We all have (or had) friends and mentors. All people have dignity imparted to them at the moment of creation by the creator who loves them. This dignity does not depend on what someone can do for society, it is inherent in being human.

Our actions impact our society and the land where we live. None of us have the ability to do what we wish. We are all constrained. Yet we all can seek freedom. We can all choose the good.

Which brings me to the new burdens on society: newcomers and their trip generation.

As car-dependent regions grow, new people bring their cars, and traffic gets heavier. Parking gets scarcer. Eventually the residents cry “enough!” and start to oppose any new development. This is understandable, if unacceptable. More cars interfere with free-flowing driving and abundant parking, and if that is what one expects, then of course keeping people out is the obvious answer.

We’ve said before that in driving, those outside one’s car cease to be people. This is the end result: people aren’t people, but car trips.

Seeing people solely as car trips does not respect their inherent dignity as people. Housing is a basic human need and right, and it is better for everybody if that housing does not involve a lengthy driving trip from the hinterlands. It is better for the individual, as lengthy commutes have health impacts. It is better for the family, so that children can have more time with their parents and less time sitting in the car. It is better for the community, as less driving means less congestion. It is better for the planet, as less driving means less carbon output.

These trip generators are people: people with families, hobbies, interests, needs. Thy are not burdens to be eliminated.

Driving is the most inefficient means of transport we have, and as development gets denser, we run out of space for cars. The problem is not that there are too many people, but that there are too many cars.

How can we expect people to get around without a car, if the walkable neighborhoods have only single-family detached housing? Only a lucky few who happen to be very well employed or bought in early will get to live in the walkable neighborhood, and the rest will be driving in from the hinterlands.

We cannot call ourselves an inclusive community if we do not welcome all of those who want to live there. How can we welcome refugees, if there is no affordable housing?

Welcome new neighbors. Welcome density. We are more than our trip generation.

Michelle’s 2017 Errandonnee part 1

My errands, last week, in all their great detail.

Day 1, Monday 3/20: we walked to the hardware store, drug store, and grocery store

Day 3, Tuesday 3/21: 9 miles. I rode my bike to ride my horse (personal care), then at lunchtime rode down to City Hall for a Greenways meeting (work). City hall has been under renovation for the past year or so, and the bike rack at the main entrance has been unavailable. This day it was there, but unattached, so I went to the rack in the back of the building (which turned out to be closer to my meeting anyway), which is located in the small gap between roofs. My cargo bike is long enough that the back end stays dry.


note the wet spot around the bike

In the evening, I rode to the neighborhood pub to meet some friends for a birthday celebration (social call), where my bike attracted lots of interest, even without kids.

Day 3, Wednesday 3/22: 3 miles. We walked to the grocery store and to pick up our CSA box.


somebody only falls asleep if we’re out with the stroller in the late afternoon

In the evening I biked with my daughter to the church for our American Heritage Girls meeting (social call). It’s nice to be able to do that ride in the daylight now.

Day 4, Thursday 3/23: 15 miles. We rode to the church, where I teach a preschool catechism class on Thursday mornings (work), first stopping to drop off an empty CSA box and a bag of smoke detectors (you carried what?).

The older two stay in the nursery, and the younger two are in the class. In the afternoon I took my older two to their catechism class (work), then rode down to the library with the younger two (non-store errand).

On the way home we stopped at the hardware store for electric fencing supplies (you carried what?).

In the evening I had a meeting in downtown Kirkland (work) at 6:30pm, a nice heavy-traffic time of day. I rode with traffic straight down to the water, which I am getting more comfortable doing. Even the cars go slowly on downtown Kirkland streets because there’s so much traffic. The last intersection before the water I waited at the light behind a few cars, but when it turned green, both the left-turning cars and the right-turning car were blocked by people walking, so I scooted between them to go straight. It’s nice to have a small vehicle.


waited long enough at the light in question to take pictures of it


only bike parked at the rack

Day 6, Saturday 3/25: 5 miles. When we got to the afternoon everybody was out-of-sorts, so for a change of pace, I took the older two to ride my horse (wild card). We rode my not-so-favorite 60th St, and did not have any issues. I’ve been riding the electric cargo bike there more often, and I think people driving get less mad when the bike is going 19mph than when it’s going 10mph.

Then it was home just long enough to finish dinner and take it to some friends with a new baby (social call).

Day 7, Sunday 3/26: 3 miles. Was a trip to Mass with two boys (personal care). It was raining, and with all the rain we’ve gotten in the last few months, I discovered that my rain pants had failed. They worked with wool and fleece underneath, but that’s not what I was wearing on this day. Somehow it occurred to me that in previous winters I’d had a baby seat in front that kept rain off of my lap and knees, so I put the baby seat back up and managed to get to Mass dry enough. Win.

That’s the first week! More later.

2017 Errundonnee Day 1 and I have no furniture

It’s here!  The annual what-can-I-stuff-in-my-backpack-or-on-a-stroller adventure.  Alas, I have no broken furniture this year.  And no pressure to come up with something good because that would violate rule #9.

I mean, err,

something good would be fun, not stressful.  So for one of these 12 days, I need a plan, but you don’t get to read about it this time because today is not that day.  And it’s not competitive because if you put two chairs on a stroller it will be awesome and I totally won’t try to do three.

Anyways, here we go.

Day 1 (March 21), Trip #1: Track, groceries, commute: 9.6 miles

The running schedule, which I’m not a slave to – must… run… workout – put me on the track today for 400s.  This is a bit of a problem for an Errundonnee because it forces a destination and then leaves my legs toasted.  How does an errundonneur get to the track?  On foot of course (personal care?).

I was very pleased to learn that these legs still have some good 400s in them.

Anyways, the track isn’t far from a grocery store, so that was stop #2 (store) with photo evidence:

That put me on 85th, which is our nearby should-be-an-awesome-commercial-area-but-instead-is-a-highway.  I don’t run there very often because it and especially the crossings are fairly miserable:

I learned that one of the restaurants on the street (the Pegasus and then renamed Omega for anyone local) shut down, and the space has now been occupied by a pawn shop and a liquor store.  I don’t think the street is doing very well.

I also learned that sometimes nothing happens when I press the button to take a picture, so you are spared a picture of a pawn shop.

From there I saw that the nearby bus was a 20 minute wait, ran towards another line, realized I had no chance, ran towards a third line that I could make, missed that too, ran towards that second line again, and waited a bit for the next one.  So my commute was halfway (see exhibit A: toasted legs).

Day 1 (March 21), Trip #2: Commute: 2.7 miles (12.3 total)

Nothing much to see here.  I ran home, but I can make some stuff up.

I took a picture of a truck parked on a sidewalk, but there was car parked on a sidewalk in the way:

I learned that it’s actually possible for me to get home without having to stop because of cars.  This is no small feat.  First there’s an intersection of two 5-lane roads, and for each cycle there’s a 3 second or so green pedestrian signal.  Well, hitting that would be too much to ask, but the countdown timer is long.  Then there are side streets and another not-quite-as-large intersection.  Nobody had hit the beg button there, but the light was green.  I’ll take it.  Then I have a half mile to find a break in traffic on an arterial-residential street for a mid-block crossing.  That’s pretty easy (waiting for the crosswalk at the end probably means waiting to avoid getting run over in the crosswalk).  By this point I’d realized that I hadn’t stopped, so I was thinking about the two remaining crossings.  The first has a nearly instantaneous beg button (it’s mid-block), but waiting for the light to finish going through the yellow still counts as a stop.  But then someone had hit it on the other side with perfect timing (rare but occasionally happens).  Last is another mid-block crosswalk with no signal.  This one is tough because no one stops, but I hit a break in traffic.  As did a driver turning out of a nearby driveway which was not pleasant.  That’s easily the first time it all worked like that.

Ok, more seriously, as I was carrying those three boxes of granola home, I was thinking about past Errundonnees and trying new things.  It dawned on me how normal all of this transportation running has become.  For me, that is – I’m still the crazy guy that actually runs places.  I’ll still try to find something new, and while I might get lucky and figure out something ridiculous and new to haul, it will probably be something that I’d be tempted to try even without the Errundonnee now.  Like last month with the stroller to take one of the 3 year olds to a swimming lesson, then a brief workout down the Cross Kirkland Corridor trail, and then picking up a light fixture and other odds and ends at a hardware store.  No big deal.

Reasons to ride that are not compelling

1. It’s fun! Yes, it is fun, and indeed we bike for the joy of it. You know what’s not fun? Getting yelled at to get off the street by a person driving a car (especially if that person is a police officer). A near-miss at an intersection and the “so sorry I almost killed you” wave. Calmly talking your seven-year-old through her quarter-mile of arterial bike lane between sections of quiet neighborhood streets.
2. It saves money! Yes, it does. But a bike is a consolation prize. As soon as finances improve, people will buy a car if driving is more convenient.
3. Climate change! Yes, we should all bike instead of drive so that we can save the planet. But virtue is hard, so we talk about electric vehicles and self-driving cars instead and continue to build huge houses out in the hinterlands.
4. It’s exercise! Yes, it’s more exercise than driving a car, that’s for sure. But while biking is active, if your goal is to get to your destination without sweating, it’s not much of a workout. Also, virtue is hard, and if you are tired, the last thing you want is more exercise.

While these may not be compelling reasons to bike for an individual, they are highly compelling on a population basis.
1. Biking makes people happy and connects them to their communities. Cars make people grumpy and lonely. It doesn’t take much exercise to improve mental health, and building exercise into our lifestyle is the best way to make sure it happens. Outside of a car people become people again, not just obstacles. There’s a whole lot more life that can happen at 10mph rather than 30mph. People on bikes can stop to talk, or stop at shops, or stop at the neighborhood Poem Post. Bikes build community, cars tear it apart.
2. Biking costs less than driving. This important both for households and for infrastructure-builders. Owning and operating a car costs on average $9000 per year. You can afford a whole lot more apartment with an extra $9000 per year. Then there’s the cost of the required parking for housing. On the streets, bike infrastructure costs peanuts compared the billions we spend on freeways because bikes are smaller than cars.
3. Biking has minimal impact on the climate. If we are to do something about climate change, having biking as only 1% of trips is not enough. We need the entire population to take up biking for transportation. Changing to LED light bulbs and electric cars is not going to do it.
4. Biking improves health. A large portion of the US population is overweight or obese because we don’t get enough exercise, because who actually wants to go to the gym? In order to get enough exercise, exercise needs to be a hobby or have another purpose, like biking to the store. The impacts of the obesity epidemic are far-reaching: the US is one of only a few countries with an increasing maternal mortality rate, largely due to poor maternal health.
5. Biking is significantly safer than driving. Cars killed 40,000 people per year in the US last year.

Biking in our region takes skill, bravery, and a whole lot of motivation. People like things that are easy, and driving is easier than biking. Driving takes less skill, bravery, and energy than biking. If we want people to drive instead of bike we need to make it easy and comfortable.

1. Biking must be safe. It should not take skill and bravery to ride a bike, any more than it does to drive a car or walk. We need all of the small streets to be quiet enough for families, and separated infrastructure on busy streets and intersections so that people feel comfortable riding them.
2. Biking must be possible. We need housing for families that is biking distance (or better yet, walking distance) to what they need: work, school, shopping, church, activities. My house should not be a house, it should be an apartment building or a row of townhouses so that more families can bike to where they need to go.
3. Biking must be convenient. It must be MORE convenient than driving, or people will choose to drive. Bike parking should be plentiful, right next to the doors, and in our climate, covered. Take over car parking spaces if necessary. The direct route should be given to people walking and biking, not cars and trucks. Going around the block is no big deal in a car, but a circuitous route can turn a biking-distance trip into a not-biking-distance trip.

Do you know what will happen if we do all of this? Driving will become more pleasant too! Granted, you might have to drive a little out of the way, and you might have to pay for parking, but if biking and walking are the most convenient way to get somewhere, people will actually choose to do it. This will free up space on the streets for those who must drive, or for freight or buses, all of which are currently stuck in traffic behind a line of mostly-empty metal boxes.

(find the citations for most claims in this post)

 

An outing on two bikes

Our older kids ride their own bikes in our neighborhood, but longer outings on their own bikes are usually saved for the weekend when there are two parents around. Our 8yo had an opportunity to ride her own bike for a recent outing.

First up: the swimming pool. 3.2 miles, 150 feet up, 250 feet down

One of the little boys had a makeup swimming lesson. I’ve always toted 8yo on my bike to the pool, because she usually needs to swim when she’s there. This time she was game to ride her own bike.

The route was mostly the Proposed Rose Hill greenway, which is quiet and pleasant. Then we climbed up to the 100th St bike/pedestrian/emergency vehicle bridge over I-405. The switchbacks to the bridge are difficult with a cargo bike or trailer (or both) but no problem for this girl on her little bike. She waited for me at the top, then chugged up the steep hill to the pool. So far so good.


switchback ramp is a real pain with a cargo bike

Next: downtown Kirkland. 1.9 miles, 320 ft down

First we had to get to the Cross Kirkland Corridor. There’s a super super steep downhill to meet the trail at 12th, or a less steep but busier downhill to meet the trail at 7th. I chose the less steep, because I don’t like riding down that steep hill. And we didn’t meet a single car, so it was definitely the right choice today. From the trail we had to get into Kirkland. Once we got to Kirkland Way, we rode side-by-side in the car lane because I don’t like the door zone bike lane. Then a short stretch of sidewalk to the bike shop where we dropped off the bikes and walked for the rest of our errands.

She also tried out this sweet little Giant city bike. She hasn’t completely outgrown her current bike, but she’s getting there, and this was a nice fit. I’m not sure I want to jump on it yet – she’s just gotten to where she can ride all of our hills, and this bike is heavier because it’s bigger. We’ll see.

Finally: home. 3.1 miles, 450 feet up, 50 feet down

The ride home is a serious climb. Part of it is known as the Kirkland Kicker on Strava. She did the climb from the CKC to home a few weeks ago, but this was the first time she rode the whole way from downtown Kirkland. The climb is mostly straight up Kirkland Ave, and at the end of that there’s a corkscrew ramp to climb to the 80th St bike/pedestrian bridge. After crossing I-405, most of the climbing is done, which is good because she was D-O-N-E.

8.2 miles. 600 feet up and down. I’m excited that she’s able to ride more and more on her own.

Drive Like Your Family Lives Here

You’ve probably seen campaigns like it.  New York City ran one aimed at cab drivers and city workers.  Their video is heart-wrenching.  Or another one: Slow Down – My Mommy/Daddy Works Here.

Tragedies occur daily on our streets.  And collectively we try to ignore them.  They’re just numbers.  If we think about them too much, we find our way of life attacked, so we avoid doing so.  These campaigns force us to think about them.  They (re-)humanize the tragedies.

What if you were about the drive a route and you absolutely knew that you would be crossing paths with your family?  What would you do?  Would it be different than if you knew you would be crossing paths with someone outside of your family?

I recently had this “opportunity”.  Michelle and the kids were coming back from the store, and I was heading out.  I didn’t know if they were on foot or bike, but they were coming.  It wasn’t just a “maybe”; we had exchanged texts before I left and they had left the store.  Maybe this is more common for those with different travel patterns, but the certainty of it struck me.  And so I was confronted with the questions:  What would I do?   Would it be different from normal?

The biggest thing was that I was confronted by the power of the motor vehicle.  We talk about it, but here it was.  If I made one stupid mistake…  Such power just shouldn’t be wielded haphazardly, yet how often it is.  I’d be lying if I said this situation had absolutely no effect on my driving, but I was happy to find that the effect was pretty small.  The route has a curve that puts the left A-pillar in a terrible spot.  That freaked me out, but I usually peak around it constantly.  I went slowly, maybe a MPH or two slower than usual, but not a huge amount.

It was a good educational experience.  I darn well should continue looking around that curve.  I can slow down more than usual.  Even when I’m in a hurry.  And on other streets too.  And I can continue to minimize the trips that I take by car.  It’s worth it.

The toddlers waved from the bike.  My family was behind me, but others were ahead.

What if we protested cars like we protest everything else?

Car hearing January 30

A group called Citizens for a Livable Waterfront (CLW) has formed to oppose a vehicle operation proposed at Carillon Point in Kirkland, and has hired a noise consultant to testify at a public hearing to be held on January 30 at Kirkland City Hall.

The group is concerned about the noise disturbance to homes, parks, and businesses along the driving path. Although a noise study has not been conducted, the City of Kirkland’s Planning Department recently issued an environmental “determination of non-significance,” which CLW has appealed. At the public hearing in January, the hearing examiner will consider both the appeal and the permit application. CLW is asking that the permit applicant, Carillon Properties, be required to conduct a noise study.

Carillon Properties is requesting that Seattle-based Diamond Parking Services be allowed to offer car storage year-round from 9 am to dusk. The initial request is for one lane to access the storage location: a batch of arrivals in the morning, a batch of departures in the evening, and some passes along the lakefront during the day. The parking operation would require a Shoreline Conditional Use Permit.

Shoreline regulations are intended to protect human health as well as the natural environment. Local governments define conditional uses that are not preferred or allowed outright but may be permitted when specified conditions are met. The State Department of Ecology has the final say.

A CLW member says, “The waterfront is what makes Kirkland special. People come here to enjoy the parks, trails, restaurants, and waterfront activities. Car noise is intrusive. Once we allow a car operation, we can never go back. We are asking that the city put the brakes on and allow time for a thorough noise review and community conversation.”

The group points out that there are already parking operations in nearby Kenmore, and in Seattle. They are also concerned that if a permit is issued, the number of trips could increase over time. The President of the Bellevue Downtown Association says that is exactly what has happened there, and adds, “Once the cars are in, they are almost impossible to get out.”

Before it was shut down in late 2016, the cars were operating without a permit. The city received over 100 letters opposing the car operation, many from residents stating that the noise made it impossible to have conversations inside their homes even with the windows closed.

Numerous studies indicate the harmful effects of noise in our daily lives. Former U.S. Surgeon General William H. Stewart said in 1978, “Calling noise a nuisance is like calling smog an inconvenience. Noise must be considered a hazard to the health of people everywhere.”

One study in the Southern Medical Journal stated: “The potential health effects of noise pollution are numerous, pervasive, persistent, and medically and socially significant. The aim of enlightened governmental controls should be to protect citizens from the adverse effects of [noise] pollution.” Kirkland Councilmember Toby Nixon believes that “A fundamental purpose of government is to protect people’s right to be able to peacefully enjoy the use of their own property.”

Noise is not the only concern. The owner of Perfect Roll, which rents bicycles and skateboards at Houghton Beach Park, just north of Carillon Point, is concerned about safety, and losing business due to the cars. “I had a couple of close calls personally,” he said, “and I’m good at maneuvering. If customers are afraid to go on the roads, it affects my bottom line. One mom said, ‘Would you let your kids play on a road? Shouldn’t everyone get off of the road when the cars are driving?’”

In a letter to the City of Kirkland, Eastside Audubon Society stated that the organization is opposed to the parking operation because of the danger to protected wildlife. “The cars would be too disruptive to birds resting and feeding along the shore, especially over the winter months. This area of Lake Washington is a major wintering ground for many species such as dark-eyed juncos.”

[based on https://kirklandviews.com/opinion/seaplane-hearing-january-30/]