My comments (again) to Kirkland City Council on Vision Zero

Thank you Mayor and Council.

On September 15th, Kyle Warnick was tragically killed by a driver of a car while walking in the Kingsgate neighborhood.

 

I already did that one in 2014. Unfortunately, it’s still applicable today. On Friday, a 78-year-old woman was hit by a driver on NE 68th St. She died on Saturday.

 

In the aftermath of the 2014 tragedy, I wrote to David Godfrey, then transportation manager:

“… what are we doing to prevent the next Warnick case? Sadly, it’s coming. We don’t know how long it will be until the next, or if it will be in similar locations in Redmond, Bellevue, etc., rather than Kirkland, but right now it still seems inevitable.”

Then, 2015: Drivers crash in Bellevue and kill a toddler in a stroller on a street corner.

Last December: A 70-year-old woman on Avondale in Redmond

Last February: A 44-year-old man with a street sweeper in Bellevue ($)

Now back to Kirkland

Sadly, it’s coming.

But, here’s the thing: the primary claim of Vision Zero is that these “accidents” aren’t accidents but a predictable result of a transportation system designed to move cars at speed. We don’t need to accept death as a byproduct of mobility. Other places have shown us how to make our streets safer. Even without sacrificing mobility. The Netherlands is one of the safest places in the world to walk and bike, and they also have the happiest drivers in the world. New York City is no Amsterdam, but its pedestrian death rate is the lowest it’s been since they started measuring ($).

There are lots of engineering solutions, but we don’t have an engineering problem. We haven’t embraced Vision Zero. We don’t put safety at the top of every project, every policy, every day. So we accept death, injury, and damage. Later tonight, you’ll continue to discuss the widening of the intersection at Juanita High School.

[ed: I misread the council packet. The detail about Juanita HS was in the consent calendar so there was no discussion.]

Sadly, it’s coming.

I encourage you, no I beg you, to stop accepting death. I would like to propose a Vision Zero task force. I’ll gladly serve on it. Let’s fix this. Thank you.

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The Mistake of Trying to Bike-Commute Again

I haven’t commuted by bike in quite some time, but I’m taking a few days off from running so I gave it another try.  And what a terrible experience it was.

Overlake Transit Center is a complete joke right now.  All pedestrian and bicycle traffic going between 156th Ave (i.e., most of Microsoft) and the 520 trail (including a very busy  bus stop) has apparently been funneled into the small sidewalk on the south side of 40th that has been made narrower by a Sound Transit construction fence sticking into the middle of it.  It wasn’t comfortable to ride alone in the middle of the day, and it’s a downright disaster during busy times.  And apparently my waiting behind someone walking wasn’t acceptable to the workout warrior behind me who had to blast past us both through the grass median.

The 520 trail crossings at 51st and 40th are just as bad as ever, but I lucked out and no one tried to kill me yesterday.

The trail itself, however, is quite a mess.  It’s still unlit in most places except for the headlights from 520 that blind you, but it doesn’t matter anyway because any obstructions on the ground are covered by leaves everywhere anyway.  The plentiful bumps are rather unpleasant.

Somehow the sharrows near Ben Rush Elementary still work.  (Well, it’s not the sharrows.  You can get lucky and have the street to yourself.)

Old Redmond Road is still the mess it’s always been.  No one likes riding right next to fast moving traffic, and that’s why you pretty much only see spandex in the bike lane.  And if you don’t cross an intersection fast enough for that spandex, you’ll get passed and cut off, which is doubly annoying when you’re then waiting behind that spandex all the way up the hill.  Thanks.

And when it’s finally time to turn left off of Old Redmond Road, then you get to play with cars in two lanes.  Or you can make a two stage left and wait for the light twice.

Redmond, Sound Transit, and those two bicyclists have made driving a better choice than biking.

2017 Errundonnee Day 1 and I have no furniture

It’s here!  The annual what-can-I-stuff-in-my-backpack-or-on-a-stroller adventure.  Alas, I have no broken furniture this year.  And no pressure to come up with something good because that would violate rule #9.

I mean, err,

something good would be fun, not stressful.  So for one of these 12 days, I need a plan, but you don’t get to read about it this time because today is not that day.  And it’s not competitive because if you put two chairs on a stroller it will be awesome and I totally won’t try to do three.

Anyways, here we go.

Day 1 (March 21), Trip #1: Track, groceries, commute: 9.6 miles

The running schedule, which I’m not a slave to – must… run… workout – put me on the track today for 400s.  This is a bit of a problem for an Errundonnee because it forces a destination and then leaves my legs toasted.  How does an errundonneur get to the track?  On foot of course (personal care?).

I was very pleased to learn that these legs still have some good 400s in them.

Anyways, the track isn’t far from a grocery store, so that was stop #2 (store) with photo evidence:

That put me on 85th, which is our nearby should-be-an-awesome-commercial-area-but-instead-is-a-highway.  I don’t run there very often because it and especially the crossings are fairly miserable:

I learned that one of the restaurants on the street (the Pegasus and then renamed Omega for anyone local) shut down, and the space has now been occupied by a pawn shop and a liquor store.  I don’t think the street is doing very well.

I also learned that sometimes nothing happens when I press the button to take a picture, so you are spared a picture of a pawn shop.

From there I saw that the nearby bus was a 20 minute wait, ran towards another line, realized I had no chance, ran towards a third line that I could make, missed that too, ran towards that second line again, and waited a bit for the next one.  So my commute was halfway (see exhibit A: toasted legs).

Day 1 (March 21), Trip #2: Commute: 2.7 miles (12.3 total)

Nothing much to see here.  I ran home, but I can make some stuff up.

I took a picture of a truck parked on a sidewalk, but there was car parked on a sidewalk in the way:

I learned that it’s actually possible for me to get home without having to stop because of cars.  This is no small feat.  First there’s an intersection of two 5-lane roads, and for each cycle there’s a 3 second or so green pedestrian signal.  Well, hitting that would be too much to ask, but the countdown timer is long.  Then there are side streets and another not-quite-as-large intersection.  Nobody had hit the beg button there, but the light was green.  I’ll take it.  Then I have a half mile to find a break in traffic on an arterial-residential street for a mid-block crossing.  That’s pretty easy (waiting for the crosswalk at the end probably means waiting to avoid getting run over in the crosswalk).  By this point I’d realized that I hadn’t stopped, so I was thinking about the two remaining crossings.  The first has a nearly instantaneous beg button (it’s mid-block), but waiting for the light to finish going through the yellow still counts as a stop.  But then someone had hit it on the other side with perfect timing (rare but occasionally happens).  Last is another mid-block crosswalk with no signal.  This one is tough because no one stops, but I hit a break in traffic.  As did a driver turning out of a nearby driveway which was not pleasant.  That’s easily the first time it all worked like that.

Ok, more seriously, as I was carrying those three boxes of granola home, I was thinking about past Errundonnees and trying new things.  It dawned on me how normal all of this transportation running has become.  For me, that is – I’m still the crazy guy that actually runs places.  I’ll still try to find something new, and while I might get lucky and figure out something ridiculous and new to haul, it will probably be something that I’d be tempted to try even without the Errundonnee now.  Like last month with the stroller to take one of the 3 year olds to a swimming lesson, then a brief workout down the Cross Kirkland Corridor trail, and then picking up a light fixture and other odds and ends at a hardware store.  No big deal.

Drive Like Your Family Lives Here

You’ve probably seen campaigns like it.  New York City ran one aimed at cab drivers and city workers.  Their video is heart-wrenching.  Or another one: Slow Down – My Mommy/Daddy Works Here.

Tragedies occur daily on our streets.  And collectively we try to ignore them.  They’re just numbers.  If we think about them too much, we find our way of life attacked, so we avoid doing so.  These campaigns force us to think about them.  They (re-)humanize the tragedies.

What if you were about the drive a route and you absolutely knew that you would be crossing paths with your family?  What would you do?  Would it be different than if you knew you would be crossing paths with someone outside of your family?

I recently had this “opportunity”.  Michelle and the kids were coming back from the store, and I was heading out.  I didn’t know if they were on foot or bike, but they were coming.  It wasn’t just a “maybe”; we had exchanged texts before I left and they had left the store.  Maybe this is more common for those with different travel patterns, but the certainty of it struck me.  And so I was confronted with the questions:  What would I do?   Would it be different from normal?

The biggest thing was that I was confronted by the power of the motor vehicle.  We talk about it, but here it was.  If I made one stupid mistake…  Such power just shouldn’t be wielded haphazardly, yet how often it is.  I’d be lying if I said this situation had absolutely no effect on my driving, but I was happy to find that the effect was pretty small.  The route has a curve that puts the left A-pillar in a terrible spot.  That freaked me out, but I usually peak around it constantly.  I went slowly, maybe a MPH or two slower than usual, but not a huge amount.

It was a good educational experience.  I darn well should continue looking around that curve.  I can slow down more than usual.  Even when I’m in a hurry.  And on other streets too.  And I can continue to minimize the trips that I take by car.  It’s worth it.

The toddlers waved from the bike.  My family was behind me, but others were ahead.

What if we protested cars like we protest everything else?

Car hearing January 30

A group called Citizens for a Livable Waterfront (CLW) has formed to oppose a vehicle operation proposed at Carillon Point in Kirkland, and has hired a noise consultant to testify at a public hearing to be held on January 30 at Kirkland City Hall.

The group is concerned about the noise disturbance to homes, parks, and businesses along the driving path. Although a noise study has not been conducted, the City of Kirkland’s Planning Department recently issued an environmental “determination of non-significance,” which CLW has appealed. At the public hearing in January, the hearing examiner will consider both the appeal and the permit application. CLW is asking that the permit applicant, Carillon Properties, be required to conduct a noise study.

Carillon Properties is requesting that Seattle-based Diamond Parking Services be allowed to offer car storage year-round from 9 am to dusk. The initial request is for one lane to access the storage location: a batch of arrivals in the morning, a batch of departures in the evening, and some passes along the lakefront during the day. The parking operation would require a Shoreline Conditional Use Permit.

Shoreline regulations are intended to protect human health as well as the natural environment. Local governments define conditional uses that are not preferred or allowed outright but may be permitted when specified conditions are met. The State Department of Ecology has the final say.

A CLW member says, “The waterfront is what makes Kirkland special. People come here to enjoy the parks, trails, restaurants, and waterfront activities. Car noise is intrusive. Once we allow a car operation, we can never go back. We are asking that the city put the brakes on and allow time for a thorough noise review and community conversation.”

The group points out that there are already parking operations in nearby Kenmore, and in Seattle. They are also concerned that if a permit is issued, the number of trips could increase over time. The President of the Bellevue Downtown Association says that is exactly what has happened there, and adds, “Once the cars are in, they are almost impossible to get out.”

Before it was shut down in late 2016, the cars were operating without a permit. The city received over 100 letters opposing the car operation, many from residents stating that the noise made it impossible to have conversations inside their homes even with the windows closed.

Numerous studies indicate the harmful effects of noise in our daily lives. Former U.S. Surgeon General William H. Stewart said in 1978, “Calling noise a nuisance is like calling smog an inconvenience. Noise must be considered a hazard to the health of people everywhere.”

One study in the Southern Medical Journal stated: “The potential health effects of noise pollution are numerous, pervasive, persistent, and medically and socially significant. The aim of enlightened governmental controls should be to protect citizens from the adverse effects of [noise] pollution.” Kirkland Councilmember Toby Nixon believes that “A fundamental purpose of government is to protect people’s right to be able to peacefully enjoy the use of their own property.”

Noise is not the only concern. The owner of Perfect Roll, which rents bicycles and skateboards at Houghton Beach Park, just north of Carillon Point, is concerned about safety, and losing business due to the cars. “I had a couple of close calls personally,” he said, “and I’m good at maneuvering. If customers are afraid to go on the roads, it affects my bottom line. One mom said, ‘Would you let your kids play on a road? Shouldn’t everyone get off of the road when the cars are driving?’”

In a letter to the City of Kirkland, Eastside Audubon Society stated that the organization is opposed to the parking operation because of the danger to protected wildlife. “The cars would be too disruptive to birds resting and feeding along the shore, especially over the winter months. This area of Lake Washington is a major wintering ground for many species such as dark-eyed juncos.”

[based on https://kirklandviews.com/opinion/seaplane-hearing-january-30/]

Dear Signals People: Pedestrian movements don’t conflict with each other

And this isn’t even about scrambles (a.k.a. the Barnes Dance) and diagonal crosswalks.

No, it’s simpler.  People walking in different crosswalks aren’t going to crash into each other and hurt or kill themselves.  They’re not cars.

However, we treat them that way because people are an afterthought in signal design.  Here are two examples from Redmond, WA.

#1: NE 51st St. and 156 Ave NE

A little context: North is up in the image.  SR 520 is to the west (hence the slip lane to keep it highway-like), Microsoft and low-rise apartments are to the south, single-family housing and a minor arterial are to the east, and single-family homes and lots of rat running (a story for another time) are to the north.

51st-base

We’ll concentrate on traffic from the north and south.  For car reasons, these are separated into two straight-and-left signals.  Traffic from the north goes first, then from the south, and then the east/west phases.  Pedestrians are given a green when they can be hit by right-turning but not left-turning cars.

During PM rush hour, there isn’t a lot of car traffic from the north, but sometimes people want to use the crosswalk on the west side of the intersection.  When this happens, the car traffic, if it even exists, clears out quickly, but of course there is a long pedestrian count because the intersection is large.  During this time, people driving figure out that no cars are moving, and the right-turns-on-red heading to the east begin:

51st-from-n-x

Now there’s a stream of cars making that turn (generally without stopping) when the signal changes, which means that if you’re a person trying to cross on the east side of the intersection, there are cars moving across the crosswalk when you get a green.  Or effectively a leading car interval.

Better would be to end the useless car green during the pedestrian crossing is occurring.  Then the eastside crossing could overlap with the west side:

51st-ped-n-s

Then when the west side crossing is done, the intersection can transition into the normal phase that allows traffic from the south to go.  And you get a leading pedestrian interval for free.

#2 W Lake Sammamish Pkwy NE and NE Marymoor Way (Sammamish River Trail crossing)

marymoor-base

A little context: North is up in the image.  I’ll refer to northwest as north (and so on).  North/south is a major arterial.  To the east is Marymoor Park, which has light traffic unless there is an event.

There isn’t a marked crosswalk or pedestrian signal across the north side.  The south side is matched with turns (but no conflicts!).  The east side gets the usual conflict with right turns.

As before, the turn pockets are exhausted before the pedestrian phase is finished (5 lane crossing!), so everyone else sits idle:

marymoor-ped-ew-x

Instead, the east side crosswalk could be activated, and again this would give a leading pedestrian interval before the turning traffic starts:

marymoor-all-ped

And shouldn’t the major trail be getting priority here anyway?

Walking Routes to Bellevue Have Gone from Bad to Nonexistent

I ran down to Bellevue today with the stroller as a cargo hauler for stops at Uwajimaya and Total Wine, and wow are things in bad shape.  I don’t think I can make this trip anymore until things settle down.

Here are the blockages that I know about from this trip:

bmap1

120th Ave (location “A”) is completely closed to cars and people.  It’s a giant construction site with machinery everywhere.

124th Ave (location “B”) is a pretty terrible street to begin with.  Sidewalks are mostly missing.  It has large shoulders that one might use, but a lot of them are taken up by trucks.  And some of the few stretches of sidewalk are closed (in the distance you can see a truck blocking the right-side shoulder):

I don’t have a lot of optimism for the Spring District’s transit/bike/walk friendliness.  One of the exits is mostly complete:

The fence is at the existing sidewalk location, so the intersection is going to be huge.  Multiple exit lanes will help ensure car dependence in the area.  And it doesn’t look very good for bike infrastructure.  But I suppose I digress…

116th Ave has no access at all from the north or east because of the intersection at Northup and the other 116th Ave (location “C”).  Zooming in:

bmap2

The northwest corner of the intersection is completely closed to pedestrians as well as the sidewalks leading to it.  This means the crosswalks along the north and west sides of the intersection are unusable.  There isn’t a crosswalk or a signal along the east side of the intersection.  And if you try to go an intersection to the east, you’ll then discover that the south side of Northup doesn’t have a sidewalk.  You might be able to stumble through construction cones and gravel.  (It eventually will have a sidewalk, but a future sidewalk doesn’t make for a very good detour today.)

[Update: September 14th, 2016:

I went back and looked at that south side of Northup again.  There is a temporary path on the shoulder that is guarded by traffic pylons.  One could walk through here.  When I looked during my previous trip, it didn’t register as a possible route.  One could probably get a single stroller through, but a double or a wheelchair would be difficult.  Here are some pictures:

If you come down 24th, then there is a detour sign pointing this way, but if you come down 116th from Kirkland, then you get this confusing sign:

The busy intersection doesn’t have a crosswalk to the left of the picture, and to the right is the wrong direction.

]

The end result of this is that 116th, 120th, and 124th are unusable.  The next crossing to the west is at 108th (a half mile west and you have to backtrack north).  The next crossings to the east are at 130th and 132nd (almost a half mile east), which also have intermittent sidewalks but hopefully no construction.

The hope for the area is supposed to be the ERC (Eastside Rail Corridor), which Kirkland, Bellevue, and King County have all shown interest in opening to people (especially Kirkland with the CKC (Cross Kirkland Corridor)).  However, at this point it looks like this stretch is going to be held hostage by Sound Transit for years or decades.

In other words, don’t try to walk in Bellevue.