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.

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10 thoughts on “I Quit Bike-Commuting

  1. Mark, do you share these posts with the City of Redmond at all? I ask because if you do I’d love to know who it is you make contact with. How do we give input to our cities to try to bring about better infrastructure?
    I completely agree with much of what you’ve written. I love biking as a sole mode of transportation in downtown Redmond but I can think of several places where these same complaints can be laid. I feel like Redmond wants to try to live up to its title of “Bicycling Capital of the Northwest” but really needs to do more research into truly effective bicycle infrastructure. I feel like more effort has been put into trails for the hobbyists (and the trails are great!) but more needs to go into connecting those trails to neighborhoods.
    For me, one area that really needs to be looked at is around SR-520 at both Redmond Way and Union Hill Rd. At Redmond way the 520 creates a division between the Bear Creek Trail and the East Lake Sammamish Trail. To connect from one to the other you have to use the sidewalk for a bit and then Redmond Way has a bike lane east of the 520 but it’s rather scary to use with kids.
    At Union Hill there is a bike lane leading up to the 520 intersection but it ends before the intersection. Sometimes I go to the sidewalk to cross, sometimes I take my place in line with the cars and a time or two I’ve just ridden to the front of the line since the space is still there, just no painted line. In that last instance, crossing the intersection is a little scary because the curb/sidewalk on the east side widens rather than leaving space for where a bike lane could be. Then to go straight you have a right turn lane appear but no slip lane for the bikes before the bike lane paint returns. Then coming back the other way the bike lane ends all the way back at the 178th Pl intersection so you’re left to navigate traffic until the other side of the 520 intersection where the bike lane returns. I know it’s just a line of paint but that line signifies a deliberate consideration was put toward bicyclists. So it really bugs me when they just end a bike lane at an intersection like that rather than providing at least the small amount of space and paint to show that we have a place too.
    Sorry, I didn’t mean to get on a rant. My trip out to Swedish earlier this week was a little nerve racking and your post reminded me of it. There are so many little spots I could continue to rant about but overall biking in downtown Redmond is very enjoyable.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for the great reply! Trying to go somewhere just shouldn’t be nerve-racking, and if it is then we have good reason to rant.

      I might not be the best person to ask about communicating with Redmond as I have been rather ineffective at doing so. The Redmond bicycle site (https://www.redmond.gov/Transportation/Programs/bicycleprogram) and Ped-Bike Advisory Committee page (https://www.redmond.gov/Transportation/GettingAroundRedmond/Bicycling/PedestrianBicycleAdvisoryCommittee/) have contact information for their pedestrian/bicycle planner, Peter Dane. If you want to feel a little better, there was just a city council study session and there are lots of projects being discussed (see https://redmond.siretechnologies.com/sirepub/pubmtgframe.aspx?meetid=267&doctype=agenda). However, I didn’t watch the meeting, and a lot of those things are unfunded.

      The 520 stuff is going to be under the jurisdiction of WSDOT. The minor changes at 40th were done by Redmond with WSDOT’s approval. A start for state info is at http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/bike/bike_plan.htm.

      Cascade is active in a lot of this, though they are limited in how many things they can do. Their big focus right now is the Eastside Rail Corridor. See https://www.cascade.org/advocate/connect-eastside for a little information and contact information.

      Downtown Redmond works surprisingly well. The streets are wide, but something (maybe the short blocks) keeps a lot of traffic in check. The upcoming conversion of Redmond Way and Cleveland St to two-way will hopefully make them much more reasonable. And the big widths mean space is available for protected bike lanes someday. That area by the end of 520 is terrible, but that’s getting a bit far for us so it’s easier for us to avoid it. Depending on where you are, you might try Bear Creek Trail -> Sammamish River Trail -> Marymoor Connector Trail -> East Lake Sammamish Trail, but if you’re close to the end of 520 then it’s going to be a long way.

      I completely agree with your general idea that we need neighborhood access, not just the large regional trails. It’s hard to get to those trails, and they often don’t enable the shorter trips. Of course they aren’t bad to have, but they don’t excite me as much as, say, an easier crossing to get to the store.

      The idea behind ending bike lanes at intersections is to try to force the merge so that there won’t be any right hooks. But most people don’t like playing with cars. There are better ways (see “protected intersections”, basically the standard in the Netherlands, etc), but they require moving past the “bikes in traffic” mentality.

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  3. Cycling in traffic is mentally exhausting, which is not something I realized when I started in earnest two years ago. I used to look at people in the bicycle lane and see them as carefree commuters. But I’m increasingly wondering whether the moments of joy I have en route outweigh the near-constant state of enraging anxiety. Twice each day I strap on my body armor — my helmet, hi-viz vest, face mask, gloves — and turn on my blinkies in a feeble attempt at protection, even as I realize they are no match to road challenges. I wonder instead why I don’t crawl into the warm embrace of my automobile, with all of its comforts, its power, its prestige, and — yes — its normalcy. I will continue riding for the moment, but I empathize with you and wonder how long it will be before I come to the same conclusion.

    Liked by 2 people

    • “mentally exhausting” – That nails it. I had days where I’d leave the bike locked at work and take a bus home because I just couldn’t (or didn’t want to) handle it. It’s really a pity since it’s such a pleasant form of transportation without the cars.

      I am fortunate to have the running hobby (and sidewalks – separated infrastructure for pedestrians!) and the bus as backup. It’s important to me to not contribute to the normalcy of cars, and I can still avoid doing so.

      Like

    • Bike advocates tell us to bike because it’s fun, but biking with cars is really Not Fun. However there are huge benefits to the individual, family, and community, so it’s worth it if you can bear it. I bike our kids down the same streets Mark was describing here. I don’t like it, but I don’t like it in my car either. I encourage you to keep biking as much as you can, and know that it doesn’t have to be this way.

      More inspiration:
      https://fromthecrosswalk.wordpress.com/2016/05/18/why-we-ride/

      Like

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    • I’ve wanted to reply to this but struggled to figure out what to say, and the best I’ve been able to come up with is that I’m sorry that such conditions exist.

      It’s true that we have some good things. Outside of rush hour, these are pretty manageable (and Michelle does so). I’m fortunate that my running hobby (and house location) then gives me a great transportation option at rush hour. But these conditions only help the highly motivated and don’t support mass cycling. I had days where after a long day of work I simply couldn’t handle the stress of navigating my way home and found another mode. We can do better.

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