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.
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.