Kirkland Neighborhood Safety Program is Poor Substitute for Real Action

The Kirkland Neighborhood Safety Program is a good idea in theory and one that should continue, but it is not a substitute for the city fully supporting transportation by foot or bicycle.  The South Rose Hill experience was (and is) a frustrating one for me, and I only provided a bit of feedback (so I can’t imagine how Rodney Rutherford and the others, who actually worked on the submission, feel about it).

Seattle seems to have a decent process with its PARK(ing) Day, where residents provide ideas for improving the city.  The focus is on transforming parking spaces into useful city space, though the projects have moved beyond parklets into things like protected bike lanes.  Ideas can be detailed or vague, partly because Seattle Neighborhood Greenways steps in and assists with some of the designs.  However, there are two key things about the city’s involvement.  First, Seattle has embraced Vision Zero and is making real safety improvements.  Second, Seattle supports PARK(ing) Day, and while there may still be obstacles to overcome, they encourage submissions and want them to succeed.

An aside: This isn’t to say that Seattle is perfect.  There are certainly complaints about aspects of the safety progress.  PARK(ing) Day itself is limited to parking spaces and projects that do not affect the flow of traffic.  Sort of.  Last year there were successful projects of this type, but this year it seems that the traffic folks were not involved.  I submitted a median at Dexter/Thomas based on my Examples of Turns post, but it had to be rejected from Seattle Neighborhood Greenways’ contest for their support because the parking folks said no.  While it might still have had a chance if I pushed on it myself and met with the city’s traffic folks, that was beyond what I was able to do.  Another way of stating the problem is that there isn’t an equivalent program for transportation, so people try to force these kinds of projects into PARK(ing) day.

Kirkland, on the other hand, is missing these two things.  While the city seems to recognize in its 2035 documents that automobile travel isn’t efficient enough to scale to meet transportation needs, it doesn’t seem to understand what this means, continuing on mostly car-centric designs with money occasionally spent on pedestrian/bicycle projects that don’t interfere (and more often asking for funding for them).  This then leads to opposition from staff for neighborhood safety grants that might infringe on the car culture.  Furthermore, because of this, submissions need to be somewhat complete engineering-wise since the city is pushing back against them rather than helping to complete them.

It comes as no surprise that things like staircases to the CKC lead the way on the project list.  These are, in fact, good connections to make, but they have the added bonus of being out of the way.  Things that don’t really affect driving show up as well: plain crosswalks, a radar speed sign, and pedestrian flags.  Yes, Kirkland is getting more pedestrian flags, ensuring more years of mockery from the rest of the world.  I suppose the only bright side is that those that requested them will feel safer and more likely to walk.  The most intrusive provisions are a traffic circle (in Norkirk, and I’m familiar with the details of this project) and Rapid Flashing Beacons (in Finn Hill and South Rose Hill/Bridle Trails).

The project lists can be seen on the city’s web page or in the Kirkland Reporter.

The South Rose Hill/Bridle Trails group was looking for safety at two intersections.  The first was NE 70th St/130th Ave NE, which is the crossing used by a large portion of the South Rose Hill Neighborhood to access the shopping center there.  There are also reasonably popular bus stops on both sides of the intersections (it and others serve the same neighborhood and these ones specifically serve the apartment buildings near the shopping center).  All four of the pedestrian crossings are much too wide, to the point where I usually walk a section of 130th without a sidewalk rather than attempt the crossing (also discussed in Examples of Turns).  However staff was highly resistant to reducing the turning radii or adding any medians for fear of affecting the car flow.  We will actually get a painted crosswalk and beacon for one of the four crossings, which will still be a scary, wide crossing with the possibility of getting run over in the center turn lane.  The other three crossings will be unchanged.  We’re also still waiting for the work (most of the projects are in this state), which currently is supposed to happen “late 2015 or early 2016”.  In the meantime, the crossing is terrible.

The second was at NE 80th St and 124th Ave NE, which is one block from Lake Washington High School and also within walking distance of Rose Hill Elementary School.  It’s a disaster of an intersection.  Even alone and running I will cross midblock or use another route to avoid any of its crossings.  All suggestions of medians or calmer turns were rejected with “needs more study”, which I believe simply ends the discussion since I haven’t heard of any such study occurring.

The Kirkland Reporter article included a quote from Mayor Walen: “This is responsive government solving problems.”  I wish, Mayor, I wish.

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