Our new floating bridge had a grand opening party a few weekends ago, with a run, a bike ride, and a family event. I like these sorts of civic events, so we made plans to do something. Mark would obviously do the run: a 10k made for a nice run across the bridge and back. We first thought about doing the bike ride, as they were also opening the I-5 express lanes, and that sounded really fun too. But I wasn’t up for riding 20 miles towing kids unassisted, and the logistics for getting our big bike to the start were too complicated. And once they announced engineering activities for kids at the family event I was sold.
Checking out the construction equipment
They planned to shuttle people to the bridge from off-site parking areas, but there was an opportunity to walk on to the bridge from the East side. We could get there reasonably enough with neighborhood streets, the Cross Kirkland Corridor, the new 520 trail, and a bit of sidewalk. I was interested in checking out the new 520 trail by using it to actually get somewhere. Getting back would be trickier with the hill. There was also a shuttle from our neighborhood, and given the ease of that, we decided that would be the plan.
This still wasn’t a perfect solution: there was a short stretch of arterial to ride to get to the park & ride, and there was a question as to how much bike parking was available. Also I was going to have to get the kids there myself because Mark was doing the race. The shuttles weren’t going to start running until 10, so at least it was a reasonable time of day.
We arrived at the Houghton park & ride at about 10:30 by bike. There was a long line to get on the bus and a long queue of empty buses. The parking lot was mostly full and there were no other bikes. In the time I spent unloading kids and locking the bikes, three buses loaded and left, and then there was no line. We walked straight on to a bus. It filled to about 1/3 full in a few minutes, and then we left.
We rode down to the South Kirkland Park & Ride where we got caught in a nasty traffic jam of cars trying to get into the mostly full lot. The line to get on the bus wrapped around the parking lot. We filled our bus and left for the bridge.
There was plenty of space to get off the bus and onto the bridge on the east side where we met Mark and a friend coming from the west side. Most people on our bus (and theirs) rode to the west side. The ribbon cutting was taking place there, but I didn’t care about the ribbon cutting.
Eastside shuttle stop
First we walked past the food trucks, but it was only 11am and the kids and I weren’t hungry yet. Mark and Paul who had run the race earlier that morning got sandwiches. After walking down the bridge I realized that we wouldn’t get another opportunity for food until we walked all the way across. Good thing I’d brought some snacks.
The engineering activities, especially the ones towards the east side (where we started) were fantastic. Our kids built an arch bridge out of soft blocks. They built lego cars to place on the lego model of the bridge. They played with toy fish in model culverts. They explored the different kinds of anchors in the different kinds of soil at the bottom of the lake. They marveled at the size of the cables holding the bridge in place. (so did I, all of that. I am, after all, an engineer by training, and I still find all of this really fun.) There were also booths by the event sponsors, and all of those were lame. (I am still grateful for the sponsorship!)
After the lego booth we passed out some snacks to the kids and kept walking. Eventually we found the west side food truck pod and the lines looked to be at least an hour long. Some of the trucks had stopped serving. We figured we could get to Capitol Hill in that amount of time, so we passed out the rest of the food that I’d brought along (not much) and continued walking… not very far until we found a line. A line that turned out to be the line for the Seattle-bound bus. I left the rest of the group in the line and walked to the front to scout, and found no line at all for East-bound buses. The Seattle line was the better part of a mile long (I heard later that people waited up to 90 minutes!), so at that point we figured we’d just go home.
We brought our friend from Capitol Hill with us, promising that we’d get him home. We walked straight to the front of the Kirkland line, but it turned out we’d just missed a bus. The line quickly filled in behind us. I think we waited about 20 minutes, and were the first ones on our bus. The bus was mostly full when we left, and we filled up the rest of the way on the east side. Our bus drove straight to our parking lot where we found the surrounding neighborhoods full of cars. I’m so glad I didn’t need to hunt for parking.
Our kids were real troopers. We ordered a pizza that was ready by the time we got home and ate lunch at 3:45.
In hindsight, we really lucked into our fantastic day. We planned to go early, so we actually made it onto the bridge. We caught our bus at the beginning of the line where there was plenty of space. We took bikes to get there instead of the car and found plenty of parking. We went from west to east, so we got the good exhibits early, and fewer crowds. We brought our own food and water, though we didn’t actually have enough of either.
It was so, so fun to enjoy, and see so many other people enjoying, our new bridge! This is a place where people won’t get to go in typical use. We got to see the surface up close and feel the texture of the paint for the lines. We also got to see just how big it is and how inefficient it is that we depend on cars for transportation. This new bridge has two general purpose lanes and one HOV lane. That’s four people across, plus tens of feet between them for the car and the safe following distance, and these people will most likely be grumpy, because they are in cars.
As designed, this space fits four people across, plus their cars.
There were more people on the bridge than there ever will be again.
As for the transportation fiasco, there were inefficiencies in the loading, and it’s obvious that the shuttle plan didn’t scale well enough for the numbers of people that came. I’m glad so many people got to experience the car-free bridge. Thousands more would have but were turned away. Having the option to walk onto the bridge from the west side would have been a big help. I hope we are able to do it again.