Connecting the Eastside Rail Corridor part 1: a bicycle freeway

There is much excitement about the trail in progress on the Eastside Rail Corridor and its potential to transform Seattle’s Eastside Suburbs.

What we are building is a bike freeway, and it’s usefulness will be only as good as the connections to it. In the same way that I-405 would not be useful without city streets so people can get to it, the ERC needs safe, complete connections so everybody can use it. Every household should be able to safely and comfortably get to the trail.

The ERC as a regional connection is outstanding: it goes from Renton to the Snohomish county line, 42 miles. It connects to the I-90 trail. It connects to the Sammamish River Trail and from there to the Burke-Gilman Trail and Seattle. I’ve heard excitement about being able to ride around Lake Washington.

But in the same way that a freeway can be used to drive to Bellingham or simply two exits down the road to the other end of Kirkland, a regional bike trail can be used for a 15-mile commute or a 2-mile jaunt to the store. It is the latter that really has the ability to transform the region. There are only so many people willing to take the time for a 15-mile bike commute, and I’d guess that most of them are already doing it. It is the short trips that we must capture. Even in the Netherlands, bike mode share drops significantly after 3 miles, and plummets after 6. I find that those are my practical limits as well: 3 miles easily fits into my life, 6 can be done occasionally, and longer than that I drive.

Can the ERC be used for those 2-mile jaunts to the store? Well, no. Not yet. There is only trail in Kirkland so far, the Cross Kirkland Corridor, and even in Kirkland the trail doesn’t go much of anywhere that people might actually want to go. The trail passes through old industrial land and low-density residential land. By design, it bypasses the places where people actually want to be. The connections are mostly busy arterials: scary to cross, and scary to ride. There are frustrating gaps to get to the places that the trail goes near.

We are very pleased with the trail work Kirkland has done. The trail is very rideable hard-packed gravel, and the few street crossings are, for the most part, very well done.  The CKC is outstanding for recreational use. Once you are on it, it’s a lovely, pleasant ride. I find that I don’t use it much because it doesn’t go where I want to go. I cross the trail to get to downtown Kirkland. I’d like to be able to go to Houghton. When the trail is finished to Bellevue, I will likely use it to get to the Wilburton area there, and when the new mall is finished at Totem Lake, I may find useful destinations there.

Part 2: connecting the ERC/CKC to downtown Kirkland.

Part 3: Houghton (Kirkland)

Part 4: Totem Lake (Kirkland)

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