Walking Routes to Bellevue Have Gone from Bad to Nonexistent

I ran down to Bellevue today with the stroller as a cargo hauler for stops at Uwajimaya and Total Wine, and wow are things in bad shape.  I don’t think I can make this trip anymore until things settle down.

Here are the blockages that I know about from this trip:

bmap1

120th Ave (location “A”) is completely closed to cars and people.  It’s a giant construction site with machinery everywhere.

124th Ave (location “B”) is a pretty terrible street to begin with.  Sidewalks are mostly missing.  It has large shoulders that one might use, but a lot of them are taken up by trucks.  And some of the few stretches of sidewalk are closed (in the distance you can see a truck blocking the right-side shoulder):

I don’t have a lot of optimism for the Spring District’s transit/bike/walk friendliness.  One of the exits is mostly complete:

The fence is at the existing sidewalk location, so the intersection is going to be huge.  Multiple exit lanes will help ensure car dependence in the area.  And it doesn’t look very good for bike infrastructure.  But I suppose I digress…

116th Ave has no access at all from the north or east because of the intersection at Northup and the other 116th Ave (location “C”).  Zooming in:

bmap2

The northwest corner of the intersection is completely closed to pedestrians as well as the sidewalks leading to it.  This means the crosswalks along the north and west sides of the intersection are unusable.  There isn’t a crosswalk or a signal along the east side of the intersection.  And if you try to go an intersection to the east, you’ll then discover that the south side of Northup doesn’t have a sidewalk.  You might be able to stumble through construction cones and gravel.  (It eventually will have a sidewalk, but a future sidewalk doesn’t make for a very good detour today.)

[Update: September 14th, 2016:

I went back and looked at that south side of Northup again.  There is a temporary path on the shoulder that is guarded by traffic pylons.  One could walk through here.  When I looked during my previous trip, it didn’t register as a possible route.  One could probably get a single stroller through, but a double or a wheelchair would be difficult.  Here are some pictures:

If you come down 24th, then there is a detour sign pointing this way, but if you come down 116th from Kirkland, then you get this confusing sign:

The busy intersection doesn’t have a crosswalk to the left of the picture, and to the right is the wrong direction.

]

The end result of this is that 116th, 120th, and 124th are unusable.  The next crossing to the west is at 108th (a half mile west and you have to backtrack north).  The next crossings to the east are at 130th and 132nd (almost a half mile east), which also have intermittent sidewalks but hopefully no construction.

The hope for the area is supposed to be the ERC (Eastside Rail Corridor), which Kirkland, Bellevue, and King County have all shown interest in opening to people (especially Kirkland with the CKC (Cross Kirkland Corridor)).  However, at this point it looks like this stretch is going to be held hostage by Sound Transit for years or decades.

In other words, don’t try to walk in Bellevue.

 

Tales from 60th

I try to focus on the good things that happen when we are out on foot and bike, because I want to remember the joy in our lifestyle. I don’t want to be an angry cyclist. But there’s this one street that I ride regularly that is just soul-sucking. There’s no bike lane, but it’s busy enough that people driving get angry at me for riding in the road.

Most of the summer it wasn’t so bad to ride, but this week I got honked at again. I kept riding, because there was nothing else I could do – the street has no shoulder, no bike lane, no parking lane, no sidewalk, just a narrow gravel path on the opposite side from where I was riding. Then after the traffic going the other way (a whole three cars) had cleared, the driver passed, mostly safely, if maybe with some excessive acceleration.

This was less than a quarter mile. I delayed her (making assumptions here because white Lexus SUV) maybe 20 seconds.

Obviously this person was in a hurry. I can just imagine the conversation when she got to her destination. “I’m sorry I’m late. There was this CYCLIST in front of me!”

 

A bikey week

I get lots of comments on my bike and my lifestyle when I’m out with the kids and the bike. One common comment is “I don’t know how you do it.” But really, I don’t know how they do it, driving everywhere with their kids. I go crazy.

There was a week earlier this summer when our oldest was with her grandparents, so we signed up the 5yo for chess camp so he’d have something special too.

Chess camp in Bellevue.

We’ve written about Bellevue before.

I spent all week driving.

The next week I was so very glad to be back on the bike.

Monday: I took both big kids to visit the eye doctor in Redmond. 8yo’s bike was having trouble with the front brake rubbing, so I towed it down and we stopped at a bike shop first. Bike fixed, she got to ride around Redmond.

Downtown Redmond is pretty kid-friendly, but there’s such a big climb to get home that we don’t usually bring their bikes along. It was a beautiful day and we had a nice ride aside from the dicey crossing of Avondale. We stopped at a donut shop for lunch and then I toted kids and bike back up the hill to home.

Tuesday: we biked to Crossroads. I biked the boys down to the library while the oldest was at her appointment.

Then we picked up a half flat of berries at the farmers market, picked up the oldest, and met some friends at the splash park before biking home.

Thursday: I biked to afternoon tea at a friend’s house. It was hot! And I’d forgotten how much uphill there was to get there. But then it cooled down as evening approached and I was able to get a tip on a bike shortcut that involved less climbing.

Friday: we biked to swimming lessons. We’re at a sweet spot where I can fit all four kids on the bike at once for short trips, so I’m milking it as much as I can.

Then later in the afternoon we biked about a half mile to tour a potential new house.

After a week of driving, I was especially grateful that most of the time I don’t have to. Our infrastructure might be lacking, but for our most important destinations, there is enough that I can get there

I Quit Bike-Commuting

In fact, I’ve quit riding pretty much anywhere with the exception of our church and family outings. There are a variety of reasons, but I’ll be blunt with the main one. Bike infrastructure on the east side is terrible, and I don’t want to deal with it anymore at commute times. WSDOT, Redmond, Kirkland, and Bellevue are all part of this. WSDOT and Redmond make my commute miserable, which would be a common ride. Kirkland is puttering along with their Transportation Master Plan which says that biking is important unless it involves doing anything involving traffic (but maybe, just maybe, I’m hearing baby steps – the 100th Ave project is a big test). And Bellevue is Bellevue (though surprisingly there is some hope that Bellevue doesn’t want to be Bellevue anymore).

On the bright side, I’m running to most places that I need to be. Pedestrian infrastructure, while not very good, isn’t as bad as bicycle infrastructure. Plus, of course, running is my hobby. So I can understand why almost all east side bicyclists are hobbyists, which is an almost insignificant group as far as trip mode share is concerned. I can also take Metro 245 to a number of places, but that’s about it for reasonable transit.

The Route Itself

Anyways, let’s go back to the bike commute. It’s a bit under 4 miles in each direction: Old Redmond Rd to 152nd Ave to the 520 trail. There’s about 150 feet of climbing to work and 300 feet to get back home. I’m not going to discuss other deterrents in this post, but relevant to the infrastructure complaint is that there would be less climbing if the best route topographically didn’t consist of arterials with no bike infrastructure. 148th Ave is more direct and much flatter than 152nd/520 trail, but it’s a five lane 40 mph arterial. Here’s the route:

There are 3 major intersections going down Old Redmond Road (132nd, 140th, 148th). They provide three different examples of unprotected intersections, none of which work. 132nd maintains paint-only bike lanes through the intersection; here you can get right-hooked (just came across this today).

140th ends the bike lane before the intersection; here you get to play with cars.

148th has a slip lane (a.k.a. freeway onramp); here you get run over by moving in a blind spot (but at least the main intersection doesn’t have any right turns).

Outside of the intersections, Old Redmond Road is still fairly stressful. I think I would probably be ok riding by myself (but definitely not with the kids) if it actually had 5 foot painted bike lanes. However, it doesn’t. At best it reaches 5 feet counting the gutter, and in a lot of places it is narrower. There is also a manhole cover gauntlet. The car lane is better, but there are strategically placed covers to get you there too. Switching back and forth between the bike lane and the car lane would be best but only if you get the right breaks in traffic. Or you can ride the brakes and hope you don’t wipe out on them.

This is just between 132nd and 140th:







and coming back up the hill isn’t a whole lot better. The second one is particularly problematic because the road dips steeply from the white line to the cover.


Of course it continues after 140th (the third has been improved but not moved):


After 148th, the lane is so narrow that the bike stencil doesn’t fit!



The neighborhood streets between Old Redmond Road and the 520 trail work well. They are fairly quiet, and Redmond recently painted sharrows. This is a case where sharrows “work” because they provide a reminder on a street that already works. While the streets are too wide, as pretty much all of our residential streets are, the stop sign and turn seem to be enough to keep car traffic over on 154th (which sadly is a classic “residential arterial”).



The 520 trail is nice, though on the narrow side when the racers are blasting down the hill (the direction of these pictures is the reverse of how I’ve been describing the route):



However, it is also plagued by terrible intersections at 51st and 40th. These are the scariest part of the commute and why I can’t take WSDOT or Redmond seriously when they talk about bicycling. These are easily the biggest reasons why I avoid bike-commuting.

51st:

40th:

I counted 11 near misses in 2 hours when I did the pedestrian/bicycle count last year. I wrote a lot about the details of 40th back here (note that 51st is a copy of the geometry of 40th though not as busy). There have been minor changes since then. The order of the signal phases at 40th was changed with a positive effect. The right turn pocket to the 520 on-ramp is now cleared right before the trail signal. Previously the trail signal would provide the first “opening” for right-turns-on-red. Also, at some expense, the curbs on the corners for the trail were slightly adjusted to improve angles. This has had fairly little effect as far as I can tell.

There are some obvious real improvements that could be made here. A real curb bulb on the on-ramp (since the on-ramp is two lanes wide, maybe the opening could be reduced to two lanes wide too) is what the previous curb adjustment should have been. There is no reasonable excuse for allowing either right-turn-on-red across the trail. Allowing right-turn-on-green across a trail green is equally inexcusable. But time and time again, we are told that car traffic is more important. How many people avoid biking because of these decisions?

The magic solution for 40th is a state-funded tunnel (and a separately funded bridge across 520).  These will be huge improvements, but there are three problems. (1) There are no plans for improving safety before the tunnel project is finished. We know how to make improvements today. (2) There are no plans for improving 51st. I can’t get to the tunnel at 40th if I can’t get past 51st. (3) The funding story for ped/bike improvements is so broken that a tunnel is a huge amount of money to spend.  We know how to fix this intersection and every other, and it would take very little money to do so. Paint, planters, and posts, and a willingness to slow down the cars would significantly improve safety at a price of some car throughput. How many intersections could we fix for the cost of this tunnel?

These intersections are unsafe because of cars, not people biking and walking. The funding for making the intersection safer should not come out of ped/bike funding, it should come out of general transportation funding. If we really cannot impact car throughput for safety, then the tunnel is a car throughput project, not a safety project. A tunnel isn’t the only way to improve this intersection, but it is the one that doesn’t impact car throughput.

I don’t believe that WSDOT and Redmond are serious about road safety at all.  The evidence at places like 51st simply doesn’t allow it. Instead the tunnel was a single project aimed at shutting up the safety advocates – or just another piece of pork – so that a massive roads package could be passed.

How to walk for your groceries with kids

Shopping, unencumbered by children, for one or two people is no problem. You may have done it yourself in college (I did). You can take a backpack and carry a few grocery bags and it works without too much extra planning. If you also need to take a child or two or four with you, grocery shopping gets more complicated. I’ve shopped with most combinations of small children, and can tell you how to do it.

If you have one baby.

Grocery shopping with one baby is easy now, but in the early days it certainly was not. With one baby everything is new and everything takes adjustment. But you can do it! I have always worn the baby, as worn babies are generally happy. At first I wore my daughter on my front and a backpack on my back, but as she got bigger that needed to change. One day I realized that I just didn’t have it in me to carry her and a gallon of milk. So I bought a wire grocery cart at the hardware store across the street, and then realized that I couldn’t carry her, the unassembled grocery cart AND the groceries all at once. The groceries waited until the next day.

Let me tell you, that grocery cart was life-changing. I’d always walked to the store, but now I could see how I’d feed my family as it grew. Going to the store is not (usually) a chore, it’s an outing, a little exercise, and a change of scenery on cranky days. It’s something I don’t have to save for when there’s somebody else to watch the kids. I can get the grocery shopping done with them. On good days I teach them how I choose things in preparation for them doing the shopping themselves. On busy days we just get our things and go.

We have no pictures from those early pre-smartphone days when we didn’t obsessively document the minutiae of everyday life. Here’s a more recent one.

We’ve lined our shopping cart with a piece of foam camping sleeping pad – it’s waterproof and dries quickly. We have a couple of bags that fit nicely side-by-side in the space. They are very worn, but I haven’t found anything else that fits so nicely! We bag heavy things in the lower bags and pile lighter things on top. Sometimes it takes a little rearranging after the bagger loads the bags.

One baby and one toddler.

After the birth of our second child, our oldest was two-and-a-half when Mark went back to work and I had to do the shopping by myself with both of them. She walked to the store and I wore the baby, holding her by one hand and the grocery cart in the other. At the store I put her in the seat of the store cart and left mine stashed out of the way near the checkout area. If your toddler doesn’t walk or can’t be trusted, see “two non-walking children,” below.

Toddlers and up of whatever number.

Once the kids are able to walk with you and behave in the store, it really doesn’t matter how many you have. A wire grocery cart is still essential, and they might pull it for you (at least when it’s empty). They also might fight over who gets to pull it. I’m really looking forward to sending my kids to the store when we are out of yogurt, and it doesn’t have to wait until they are 16 and can drive!

Two newborns.

This is the trickiest situation I’ve had to handle, but it can be done. I wore one and used a stroller for the other. The best situation would be a city stroller with an enormous storage basket, but I didn’t have one, I just had a stroller that took the infant carseat. I put as much as I could in the small storage basket and tied a couple of bags to the handle. We shopped often because it was something to do.

We were quite a sight in those days. I frequently wore one, held one in one arm, and pushed the empty stroller around the store with the other hand. My big kids (aged three and five at the time) pulled our groceries as we shopped with small shopping baskets on wheels.

Two non-walking (either by your choice or their ability) children.


Bonus: nap-fighting toddler sleeps while you get your work done!

I learned this tip from a friend who oldest two are close in age, and we’ve used it extensively with twins. I wear one baby and push a double stroller with the other baby in one seat. After shopping, we fill the other seat of the stroller with groceries. I frequently stash the stroller out of the way in the front of the store and use a shopping cart with the second baby in the seat while we are in the store.


also works for paint


and pumpkins

Our twins are now toddlers, and they love to walk to the store. I only walk with one at a time because I can’t hold both and the shopping cart all at once. The other still rides on my back. We use the “one baby and one toddler” method as described above, and the big kids can be trusted (with reminders) to stay nearby while we walk across the street and across the parking lot.

“I want to walk on the lellow!” (curb in the parking lot on the way to the store)

Why we ride

Recently I was asked why I do this. Why I bike with my kids. I didn’t answer the question very well, so I’m going to try again.

First things first. Biking four little kids (including twins) looks absolutely totally crazy. It is absolutely totally crazy. Taking four little kids (including twins) in a car is just as chaotic, I’m just different and more visible because I’m on a bike. Taking one or two kids on an electric cargo bike is a piece of cake. Seriously, it’s super easy, once you have a routine. Note also that you need a routine to drive, you just already have it.

Next. Every mode of transport has its hassles. On a bus you are limited to the routes and schedules of the bus. If you walk, you are limited by distance, unless you run, in which case you are limited by fitness and the availability of a shower. If you drive you are limited by traffic and parking and actually, you know, owning and maintaining a large expensive inefficient vehicle. The hassles of biking are mostly in hills, weather, and the danger from cars.

We have a decent network of on-street bike lanes, quiet neighborhood streets, and a few trails, so we can mostly avoid the danger from cars. We also avoid going out of our neighborhood when traffic is heaviest. For the hills we have electric assist, and we have rain gear for the weather that just isn’t that bad most of the time.

I prefer the hassles of biking over the hassles of driving. I don’t like sitting in traffic, I don’t like circling the lot looking for a spot, and I find it all very stressful. Because I choose the hassles of biking over the hassles of driving, we don’t contribute to pollution, we don’t contribute to congestion, and we don’t take up a parking space. We also don’t contribute to the demand for a car-centric society.

Demand for parking spreads destinations apart, lengthening commutes, eating up open space, and making the walk harder. Demand for congestion-free travel makes intersections bigger, crossings longer, and puts people in danger. Requiring a car to travel puts a great hardship on those who cannot drive due to age (either too old or too young), physical ability (permanent or temporary (also)), or finances. When we drive we are isolated in metal boxes and the people around us cease to be people but become others: the jerk who cut me off or took my parking spot, the biker in the way, the pedestrian I had to stop for. We are isolated from our communities, traveling through places rather than to places. Demand for driving kills more than 30,000 people per year in the United States alone.

Cars give the illusion of freedom, but it’s all a big lie. We are “stuck in traffic.” We are shackled to the school run because cars make it not safe for kids to walk or bike on their own. We struggle to afford the car that’s necessary to get around – maybe we even need a second job to afford it. The fights over parking are so desperate because we can’t even get out of our cars unless we have a place to put them. Cars make us fat, grumpy, and lonely. This isn’t freedom.

This isn’t meant as a judgement on you, dear reader. Most likely you live where you truly don’t have any other options, because that’s what we’ve built in the last half-century or so because that’s what our government policies encourage. For our family, we live where we live because we really really really wanted to be able to walk to the grocery store. (Also we wanted Mark to have a short commute.) We drove everywhere else in those days. It turns out that this is one of the most bikable locations in the region. But there are only a few dozen houses in our neighborhood for which the store is easily walkable. To do this right, our house would not be a house, but an apartment building. More than one family could live on this lot, and then more families would be able to walk. We live in a house because that’s what’s available across the street from the store.

This may be one of the most bikable areas in the region, but it still requires skill and bravery to bike here, especially if you need to travel when traffic is heavy. Paint-only bike lanes on busy streets are not comfortable for most people, so most people don’t bike. Intersections are particularly exposed: bike lanes disappear, cars turn in front of bikes, people driving don’t yield as required, people are distracted. I don’t blame you if you don’t bike.

Even if you can’t bike, there are things you can do. Advocate for safe infrastructure for walking and biking. Advocate for density in the areas that are walkable and bikeable. Don’t fight against apartment buildings. Don’t ask for more parking, especially free parking. If there’s anywhere you can walk or bike, do it. Be creative. Understand the costs of parking. Understand the costs of road building. Understand induced demand. Hold the line on no new roads. Understand that if your neighborhood doesn’t build more housing, people will drive through it from farther away. Understand the power you wield when driving a car, and take commensurate care.

Most of all, I do what I do in the hopes that others will do it too. I want to live in a place that’s not ruined by cars, so I bike.

Bikes for kids who go places

A long time ago, I wrote about the search for our then-6yo’s next bike. Now that she’s had it for a year, and her brother has also gotten a new bike (ahem, six months ago), I should finish the story.

Our now-7yo rides a 20″ Specialized Hot Rock Street. That’s the version with no suspension, which means you probably need to special order it. We really wanted our daughter to have gears available to expand her range beyond the top of our hill, and this was the best option we could find at a bike shop. We considered the single-speed 20″ Cleary, but we’re really glad we went with the gears. She really doesn’t need all six, though, two or three would be enough. She uses the lowest gear when climbing (and has even done the climb all the way from Redmond! 450 feet in 3 miles) and usually 2 for riding on the flat. If we are in a hurry, I can sometimes convince her to use 3. The days she insists on staying in 1 are really, really slow.

The brakes and twist shift are easy enough for her to use. We did have to take the bike back in to the shop after a few weeks to adjust the shifter so she could get it back into 1 on her own. She is much faster on this bike than her old bike. Even riding in her low gears, the bigger wheels and longer cranks make a difference. Our 15 minute ride to church has been cut in half. She has far more confidence controlling her speed while riding down hills than she did with the coaster brakes on her old bike.

The shop fit recumbent fenders and mud flaps to her bike. It’s really slick. We added a basket to the front, and a bell, and the bike itself comes with a kickstand.

We thought about cutting down the handlebars to make them narrower, but decided to see how she did with them first, and she’s been fine. Her positioning on this bike is much farther forward compared to the upright position on her last bike, and that took some getting used to for her.

Cleary for the 5-year-old

Our now-5yo had been riding on two wheels since shortly after he turned 4. We planned to keep him in the driveway until he figured out how to use the (coaster) brakes on his bike. After nearly a year he still wasn’t braking well, so we decided this was ridiculous and we needed a different solution. He would slam on the brakes until he was halfway stopped and then put his feet down. That won’t work on any sort of hill! Coaster brakes aren’t really a long-term skill anyway, and he’d grown since we’d last put him on the 16″ Cleary, so we went back to the shop to see if he fit.

And he did! We did need to have the seat post cut down so it could be lowered all the way. He figured out the hand brakes almost instantly so we are now out of the driveway and on the roads. He is thrilled to be able to ride his own bike to church, and pretty easily keeps up with his older sister on her bigger bike. We haven’t taken him beyond the top of the hill yet, so we don’t know how well he climbs on it.

Mark made fenders for the bike from coroplast (campaign signs) and duct tape. They were tricky to fit under the rim brakes. We had a kickstand cut down and installed, and we recently got him a basket and a bell.

And now a note about colors.

When we test rode the Hot Rock, they only had the model with the suspension in stock. She rode a nice purple and white bike that I thought would be perfect because her next younger brother’s favorite color is purple. But when we went back to order it we found out that the Street version only comes in green and dark pink. I vetoed the pink because she has three younger brothers, and she was fine with this. She may have picked the green on her own anyway. Six months later we went to buy a bike for the purple-loving 5yo. His color options were cream, pale blue, pale green, and dark pink. He insisted on the pink, absolutely insisted. It’s a very similar pink to the one I’d vetoed six months earlier, and now I’m feeling a little guilty about that decision. At any rate, I am glad that neither of these bikes suffers from the overly-gendered decorations of many kids bikes.

I am pleased with our bike choices, and thrilled with how well our big kids are doing on their bikes.