Michelle’s 2017 Errandonnee part 1

My errands, last week, in all their great detail.

Day 1, Monday 3/20: we walked to the hardware store, drug store, and grocery store

Day 3, Tuesday 3/21: 9 miles. I rode my bike to ride my horse (personal care), then at lunchtime rode down to City Hall for a Greenways meeting (work). City hall has been under renovation for the past year or so, and the bike rack at the main entrance has been unavailable. This day it was there, but unattached, so I went to the rack in the back of the building (which turned out to be closer to my meeting anyway), which is located in the small gap between roofs. My cargo bike is long enough that the back end stays dry.


note the wet spot around the bike

In the evening, I rode to the neighborhood pub to meet some friends for a birthday celebration (social call), where my bike attracted lots of interest, even without kids.

Day 3, Wednesday 3/22: 3 miles. We walked to the grocery store and to pick up our CSA box.


somebody only falls asleep if we’re out with the stroller in the late afternoon

In the evening I biked with my daughter to the church for our American Heritage Girls meeting (social call). It’s nice to be able to do that ride in the daylight now.

Day 4, Thursday 3/23: 15 miles. We rode to the church, where I teach a preschool catechism class on Thursday mornings (work), first stopping to drop off an empty CSA box and a bag of smoke detectors (you carried what?).

The older two stay in the nursery, and the younger two are in the class. In the afternoon I took my older two to their catechism class (work), then rode down to the library with the younger two (non-store errand).

On the way home we stopped at the hardware store for electric fencing supplies (you carried what?).

In the evening I had a meeting in downtown Kirkland (work) at 6:30pm, a nice heavy-traffic time of day. I rode with traffic straight down to the water, which I am getting more comfortable doing. Even the cars go slowly on downtown Kirkland streets because there’s so much traffic. The last intersection before the water I waited at the light behind a few cars, but when it turned green, both the left-turning cars and the right-turning car were blocked by people walking, so I scooted between them to go straight. It’s nice to have a small vehicle.


waited long enough at the light in question to take pictures of it


only bike parked at the rack

Day 6, Saturday 3/25: 5 miles. When we got to the afternoon everybody was out-of-sorts, so for a change of pace, I took the older two to ride my horse (wild card). We rode my not-so-favorite 60th St, and did not have any issues. I’ve been riding the electric cargo bike there more often, and I think people driving get less mad when the bike is going 19mph than when it’s going 10mph.

Then it was home just long enough to finish dinner and take it to some friends with a new baby (social call).

Day 7, Sunday 3/26: 3 miles. Was a trip to Mass with two boys (personal care). It was raining, and with all the rain we’ve gotten in the last few months, I discovered that my rain pants had failed. They worked with wool and fleece underneath, but that’s not what I was wearing on this day. Somehow it occurred to me that in previous winters I’d had a baby seat in front that kept rain off of my lap and knees, so I put the baby seat back up and managed to get to Mass dry enough. Win.

That’s the first week! More later.

Reasons to ride that are not compelling

1. It’s fun! Yes, it is fun, and indeed we bike for the joy of it. You know what’s not fun? Getting yelled at to get off the street by a person driving a car (especially if that person is a police officer). A near-miss at an intersection and the “so sorry I almost killed you” wave. Calmly talking your seven-year-old through her quarter-mile of arterial bike lane between sections of quiet neighborhood streets.
2. It saves money! Yes, it does. But a bike is a consolation prize. As soon as finances improve, people will buy a car if driving is more convenient.
3. Climate change! Yes, we should all bike instead of drive so that we can save the planet. But virtue is hard, so we talk about electric vehicles and self-driving cars instead and continue to build huge houses out in the hinterlands.
4. It’s exercise! Yes, it’s more exercise than driving a car, that’s for sure. But while biking is active, if your goal is to get to your destination without sweating, it’s not much of a workout. Also, virtue is hard, and if you are tired, the last thing you want is more exercise.

While these may not be compelling reasons to bike for an individual, they are highly compelling on a population basis.
1. Biking makes people happy and connects them to their communities. Cars make people grumpy and lonely. It doesn’t take much exercise to improve mental health, and building exercise into our lifestyle is the best way to make sure it happens. Outside of a car people become people again, not just obstacles. There’s a whole lot more life that can happen at 10mph rather than 30mph. People on bikes can stop to talk, or stop at shops, or stop at the neighborhood Poem Post. Bikes build community, cars tear it apart.
2. Biking costs less than driving. This important both for households and for infrastructure-builders. Owning and operating a car costs on average $9000 per year. You can afford a whole lot more apartment with an extra $9000 per year. Then there’s the cost of the required parking for housing. On the streets, bike infrastructure costs peanuts compared the billions we spend on freeways because bikes are smaller than cars.
3. Biking has minimal impact on the climate. If we are to do something about climate change, having biking as only 1% of trips is not enough. We need the entire population to take up biking for transportation. Changing to LED light bulbs and electric cars is not going to do it.
4. Biking improves health. A large portion of the US population is overweight or obese because we don’t get enough exercise, because who actually wants to go to the gym? In order to get enough exercise, exercise needs to be a hobby or have another purpose, like biking to the store. The impacts of the obesity epidemic are far-reaching: the US is one of only a few countries with an increasing maternal mortality rate, largely due to poor maternal health.
5. Biking is significantly safer than driving. Cars killed 40,000 people per year in the US last year.

Biking in our region takes skill, bravery, and a whole lot of motivation. People like things that are easy, and driving is easier than biking. Driving takes less skill, bravery, and energy than biking. If we want people to drive instead of bike we need to make it easy and comfortable.

1. Biking must be safe. It should not take skill and bravery to ride a bike, any more than it does to drive a car or walk. We need all of the small streets to be quiet enough for families, and separated infrastructure on busy streets and intersections so that people feel comfortable riding them.
2. Biking must be possible. We need housing for families that is biking distance (or better yet, walking distance) to what they need: work, school, shopping, church, activities. My house should not be a house, it should be an apartment building or a row of townhouses so that more families can bike to where they need to go.
3. Biking must be convenient. It must be MORE convenient than driving, or people will choose to drive. Bike parking should be plentiful, right next to the doors, and in our climate, covered. Take over car parking spaces if necessary. The direct route should be given to people walking and biking, not cars and trucks. Going around the block is no big deal in a car, but a circuitous route can turn a biking-distance trip into a not-biking-distance trip.

Do you know what will happen if we do all of this? Driving will become more pleasant too! Granted, you might have to drive a little out of the way, and you might have to pay for parking, but if biking and walking are the most convenient way to get somewhere, people will actually choose to do it. This will free up space on the streets for those who must drive, or for freight or buses, all of which are currently stuck in traffic behind a line of mostly-empty metal boxes.

(find the citations for most claims in this post)

 

An outing on two bikes

Our older kids ride their own bikes in our neighborhood, but longer outings on their own bikes are usually saved for the weekend when there are two parents around. Our 8yo had an opportunity to ride her own bike for a recent outing.

First up: the swimming pool. 3.2 miles, 150 feet up, 250 feet down

One of the little boys had a makeup swimming lesson. I’ve always toted 8yo on my bike to the pool, because she usually needs to swim when she’s there. This time she was game to ride her own bike.

The route was mostly the Proposed Rose Hill greenway, which is quiet and pleasant. Then we climbed up to the 100th St bike/pedestrian/emergency vehicle bridge over I-405. The switchbacks to the bridge are difficult with a cargo bike or trailer (or both) but no problem for this girl on her little bike. She waited for me at the top, then chugged up the steep hill to the pool. So far so good.


switchback ramp is a real pain with a cargo bike

Next: downtown Kirkland. 1.9 miles, 320 ft down

First we had to get to the Cross Kirkland Corridor. There’s a super super steep downhill to meet the trail at 12th, or a less steep but busier downhill to meet the trail at 7th. I chose the less steep, because I don’t like riding down that steep hill. And we didn’t meet a single car, so it was definitely the right choice today. From the trail we had to get into Kirkland. Once we got to Kirkland Way, we rode side-by-side in the car lane because I don’t like the door zone bike lane. Then a short stretch of sidewalk to the bike shop where we dropped off the bikes and walked for the rest of our errands.

She also tried out this sweet little Giant city bike. She hasn’t completely outgrown her current bike, but she’s getting there, and this was a nice fit. I’m not sure I want to jump on it yet – she’s just gotten to where she can ride all of our hills, and this bike is heavier because it’s bigger. We’ll see.

Finally: home. 3.1 miles, 450 feet up, 50 feet down

The ride home is a serious climb. Part of it is known as the Kirkland Kicker on Strava. She did the climb from the CKC to home a few weeks ago, but this was the first time she rode the whole way from downtown Kirkland. The climb is mostly straight up Kirkland Ave, and at the end of that there’s a corkscrew ramp to climb to the 80th St bike/pedestrian bridge. After crossing I-405, most of the climbing is done, which is good because she was D-O-N-E.

8.2 miles. 600 feet up and down. I’m excited that she’s able to ride more and more on her own.

Halloween in our neighborhood

Halloween has come and gone, and I took my two big kids out around the neighborhood in search of candy and community. We walked the length of our street and visited every house, but rather than go down to the next street and do the same, as we did last year, we went back home and picked up the bike so that we could go a little farther.

 
All-black costumes

Over the last few weeks, as we’ve biked around the neighborhood, the kids had noticed some houses where the residents obviously get really into Halloween. Not unsurprisingly, they were interested in visiting those houses on Halloween night. They were too far for us to go to every house along the way, so we decided to take the bike, and visit a few spots in our neighborhood.

I was a little sad, picking and choosing to go only to the houses with the great Halloween decorations. What I love about Halloween is the community, the way every kid in the neighborhood is out and about, and most of the parents as well. It’s an excuse to knock on every door and exchange a few pleasantries. You don’t even need a costume or a pumpkin to participate – just a bowl of candy and a welcoming porch light. Perhaps those undecorated houses are the most important to visit. That might be the lonely person who would love to admire children in costume.

We get some trick-or-treaters at our house, but not many. We live at the end of the block, and around the corner is a slightly busier street that has very few street-facing houses. Perhaps the door density on our corner isn’t high enough to attract kids for efficient candy gathering. The street we went to visit, only a few blocks away, has a consistent, continuous density of doors, and there were lots of groups of kids out and about.

This street has no sidewalks, but the street is narrow, and mostly quiet, so we are comfortable walking and biking on in the street every day, not just Halloween. We saw only a couple of cars while we were out tonight.

The bike was a good solution to the problem of wanting to go a little farther and a little faster than we would walking. It would have been easier if we didn’t need to wear helmets: each stop meant gloves off, helmet off, hat on, so we ended up walking more. The bike itself didn’t interfere with the magic of the night the way a car would. We could still greet our neighbors and slip in and out of driveways as needed.

Then we rode back on the arterial because we needed to get back for dinner, and we saw lots of cars and no people. Not surprising; that street is toxic every day of the year.

Don’t widen 124th Ave: my remarks to Kirkland City Council

I spoke to the Kirkland City Council as part of the budget hearing tonight. Here are my remarks:

Good evening council, Mayor, staff. My name is Michelle Plesko. I’m here tonight to ask you for something a little bit unusual. I’m asking you to take something out of the budget. I live in Kirkland. We are a single-car family with four kids. To get around we mostly bike, walk, or take the bus. My priorities in the budget are safe, convenient, comfortable streets for people walking and biking, and efficient transit. I thank you for all of the bike and pedestrian safety projects that are in the budget. I would like other families to be able to live like we do, for all of its many benefits to the individual, family, and community. I would also like to ease the burden on those who cannot or do not drive.

In particular, I am concerned about the plan to widen 124th Ave from 3 lanes to 5, and the intersections in the area that are planned to be expanded. I would like to see these projects removed from the budget. This is not an effective use of money. Even if it were free, it would make the city worse.

When the city embarked on the Kirkland 2035 process, you got feedback that people wanted to city to be “green,” “sustainable,” and “walkable.” The Transportation Master Plan has a hierarchy of transportation modes: first people walking, then biking, then transit, freight, and last of all cars. It also embraces Vision Zero: a goal of zero deaths or serious injuries due to transportation in Kirkland. Widening 124th Ave is contrary to ALL of these goals. It will not make Totem Lake walkable. It will not make it safer, and by encouraging more car traffic and discouraging other modes, it will make Kirkland less green and sustainable. This neighborhood is right next to the CKC (Cross Kirkland Corridor). It has potential! This could be a very walk- and bike-friendly destination. Widening the street will ruin that.

Let’s think about characteristics of walkable neighborhoods. The streets are narrow. The crossings are short. Motor vehicles move slowly and carefully, and there aren’t too many of them. A five-lane street is the antithesis of this. When there are five lanes for cars, people get the message that “this street is for cars” and they don’t go there in any other mode. Worse, people driving get this message, and expect to have the highest priority on the street. Then they neglect to look for and yield to other users.

Five lane streets in cities mean that the transportation system has failed, and it’s time to find more efficient ways of moving people. Just look at Bellevue. A congested street needs improvements to walking, biking and transit, not more space for cars. The phenomenon of induced demand means that any extra car space will fill up, and then we’ll have a street that is not only congested, but also bigger, more dangerous, and less pleasant for everybody. When you design a street for cars, it fails for all users. When you design it for people, it works for all users. This is the paradox that needs to inform our budgeting.

On a five lane-street, it doesn’t matter how nice the sidewalks are, or even if the bike lanes are protected. The intersections are wide, and people walking and biking are exposed at intersections. Wider streets are more dangerous for all users. Side-impact crashes double when you go from one approaching lane to two.

Doing nothing to 124th Ave would be an improvement over the current plan. If you’d like to do something, start with a statement of the real problem: how do we move this number of people through this area in the most efficient way? By starting with a plan to widen the street, you are imposing a design that won’t solve any of the problems you are trying to solve, and is working contrary to the goals of the city and the community.

Here is the question: when you adopted Vision Zero, did you mean it? When you adopted the Transportation Master Plan with its hierarchy of modes, were you serious? If you widen these roads and intersections, it will be clear that this was all about a veneer of green.

A sad no vote on ST3 part 2: the region

In the previous post we addressed the Eastside projects. This post we’ll give a few reasons why the regional package is not worthwhile.

The main argument for building trains seems to be that we can’t do buses right. We need to do buses right. If we can’t, we’ve already failed, because the train is only walking distance for a few people. In the suburbs, the train is walking distance for even fewer people. Doing buses right doesn’t even mean Bus Rapid Transit vs. Light Rail – it also means getting the feeder buses right. Buses get caught in traffic accessing the South Kirkland Park & Ride. The 245 regularly gets stuck in a sea of cars on 148th Ave, and the B on 40th St. We need to find a way to get buses out of traffic so that they become a reasonable option. If we don’t solve local trips like going to the store, then using transit remains a special case for the commute or an event in Seattle and not the default (or even a considered) choice for arbitrary trips.

Commute times on I-5 from Everett to Seattle regularly get to two hours. Link from Everett to Seattle is planned to take 60 minutes. Great, right? Save an hour even when traffic is terrible? But by building the train to Everett, we are encouraging more building of housing in Everett, and more families to live in Everett, shackling them to a soul-sucking 90-minute commute (because you’d need to get to the train, and then from the train, either or both of which may require a bus transfer, a bike ride, or a lengthy walk), and an otherwise car-centric lifestyle. We need to build housing targeting 30-minute commutes, not 90. Seattle, Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond: you all need to buck up and build the housing the region desperately needs. We don’t have space for more cars. Build housing where people don’t need cars. The suburbs want to grow because growth, but that’s stupid and unsustainable. Every unit of housing we decline to build in our close-in walkable neighborhoods is one more family stuck in the suburbs, driving thorough the close-in walkable neighborhood.

The stronger way of saying this is that high-capacity regional transit (ST’s charter) is the wrong problem to solve. Sure, there will still be people who choose to live in the hinterlands and commute to the city, but lets make that an actual choice, and not force people out there because there is no suitable housing in the city.

The new Angle Lake station actively makes the current system worse than before. It doesn’t serve anything but a park & ride garage, and now the system has less flexibility because it needs an additional train on the tracks. The reasons to take the train to Angle Lake are not compelling reasons to build a rail line there. ST3 is more of the same – many more miles of the same.

Here are more arguments in note form because I’m tired of writing:

Capacity of train vs capacity of parking lot. If there is no car-first future, don’t build more parking lots. Eastgate shows us what a “high-capacity” park & ride is, and it’s terrible.

“serving” Issaquah with one stop on the SW corner. “serving” Kirkland with one stop on the far south. “serving” West Seattle with one stop, granted in the densest part.

We traded a massive road package in order to now trade stupid lines to the north, south, east, and west in order to build the second best line to Ballard.

Renton is actively getting worse replacing their downtown transit center with a parking lot on the edge of town.

The spine is not an outcome.

 

Arguments for the pro side:

“transit!” – We oppose this exactly because it blocks good transit.

We can’t do buses. – We need to do buses or it doesn’t matter.

Politics – This isn’t an excuse for actively continuing down the car path and making the region worse.

 

Arguments for the con side:

“no transit!” – Sorry, geometry.

“cars!” – Sorry, geometry.

“taxes!” – Yes, stuff costs money, but overstating the costs isn’t helpful. And if you insist on low-density, car-centric development, this isn’t even close to covering the costs you’re putting on the region.

 

And that’s that. We’re sad for the lost opportunity to do something great.

A sad no vote on ST3

It is with heavy hearts that we announce our “no” votes for ST3.

There are a few projects that are indeed worthy, and if ST3 included only those projects, we would joyfully vote “yes.” But in the ST system, each subarea has its own projects, and the suburban projects, with few exceptions, will make the region worse, not better.

In theory, the suburban projects are “what the suburbs want,” so Seattle voters will vote for ST3 in large numbers because their own projects are worthwhile and the suburbs are welcome to waste their own money.

We live in the East King subarea, so the East King projects are what we’d be voting for. What are those projects?

  1. Light rail from South Kirkland to Issaquah via Bellevue. This rail line is a series of Park & Rides with nothing at either end. The South Kirkland Park & Ride is right next to the freeway, and has absolutely nothing within walking distance aside from the TOD built on site. The Issaquah end is on the west edge of Issaquah, next to a freeway, in a “Regional Growth Center.” The land is currently low-density car-oriented strip malls with a population of zero. This line is entirely dependent on Park and Rides for ridership, and cars don’t scale.
  2. I-405 BRT from Lynnwood to Renton via Kirkland and Bellevue. This is a minimally upgraded bus running mostly in freeway traffic. There are proposals for shoulder-running, and it does have access to the already heavily watered-down Express Toll Lanes. There’s no way this will be transformational in the way High-Capacity transit should be.
  3. Lots of Park and Ride lots. This increases local traffic, prevents more useful uses of the land next to high quality transit stops, and makes it harder to bike, walk, or bus to a transit center.
  4. Light Rail to downtown Redmond. This is the one worthwhile East King project, but even it has a detour to a large new Park & Ride that will make its vicinity worse.

 

Specifically, what does Kirkland get?

  1. I-405 BRT at Totem Lake. I have little to say about this except that there are already express buses from Totem Lake to Bellevue.
  2. Light Rail at the South Kirkland Park and Ride. SK P&R is so far south in Kirkland that it’s actually in Bellevue. This is a meaningless gesture to mollify the Kirkland City Council after ST declined to build actual transit in Kirkland.
  3. I-405 BRT at 85th St. If the BRT station were a catalyst for redeveloping the area around 85th & I-405 and taming 85th St, maybe it would be worthwhile. But the only proposed access to this station is bus lanes to downtown Kirkland. So we can take a bus to Downtown Kirkland, then another bus the mile uphill to I-405, then another bus to one of a number of park & rides, or downtown Bellevue. Who exactly is going to take this mess? What problem would be solved with a stop at I-405 and 85th St?
  4. More parking! South Kirkland Park & Ride and Kingsgate Park & Ride will both be expanded.

 

Back to the light rail line.

If your train is dependent on Park & Rides for ridership, your train has failed. A train is high-capacity. A parking lot simply can’t be high capacity – geometry doesn’t allow for it, cars are too big. A train should serve high-density places. It can serve high-density places that already exist, or it can induce the development of high-density places. A parking lot is neither. Even a parking garage is not high density.

The “Central” Issaquah stop is next to a freeway interchange. Even if we can somehow get enough people to the stop by foot or bike, why should we be encouraging people to live in Issaquah, 10 miles from anywhere?

The Eastgate stop is between the Park & Ride and the freeway, discouraging anybody from walking there.

The Richards road stop is on the opposite side of I-90 from Factoria!

There are stops in Bellevue shared with Eastlink, increasing frequency on that segment. That’s good, but not worth building the ends.

The South Kirkland stop is not even in Kirkland, is next to a freeway interchange, and is completely car-oriented. Granted, there is great access from the Cross Kirkland Corridor, if you can get to that. People don’t come to the South Kirkland P&R to go to Bellevue. They come there to go to Seattle. At best, the Seattle buses will continue, and we’ll run empty trains every six minutes. There are few people for whom a trip to Bellevue via a train at South Kirkland would be more convenient than driving. Who are they planning to serve here?

We worry about the temptation to truncate the Kirkland buses, forcing even more transfers. Currently we have a two-seat ride to Seattle. We can take the 245 to Downtown Kirkland (a useful destination on its own) and transfer to the 255 to Seattle via South Kirkland and 520. If the 255 is eliminated, we’d have a four seat ride to Seattle: we’d take a bus to Downtown Kirkland where we’d catch a bus to South Kirkland, then a train to Bellevue, and another train to Seattle. With or without ST3, we’d be more likely to get on our bus the other direction, and transfer to the train in Redmond: still a two-seat ride.

{updated} The train will run on the Eastside Rail Corridor between Bellevue and Kirkland. King County is pursuing a trail on the corridor, which will greatly expand the biking/walking access to Bellevue. Sound Transit owns a key piece on the north end of Bellevue, and does not plan to give access to it until they are done building rail on it. Without ST3, that’s 2023 (possibly as early as 2021 though given the history of ERC trail projects we aren’t so confident). With ST3, the trail may open for a few years, but we expect it then to close until 2041. This means that, aside from those few years, we won’t be able to bike to Bellevue for twenty-five years, all for a train that’s not very useful.

What is good transit for Kirkland? The Metro long-range plan is very exciting for Kirkland. Since there isn’t anything worthwhile in ST3 for Kirkland, not passing ST3 won’t change that plan much.

Also this. Do this.

It’s been argued that given political realities, we won’t get anything better if we turn the package down and wait. If the next try does not have a train to Issaquah and South Kirkland, waiting will be worthwhile.

Even if they were free, the ST3 projects would not be worthwhile. So we are voting “no” on ST3.

part 2