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

Tales from 60th

I try to focus on the good things that happen when we are out on foot and bike, because I want to remember the joy in our lifestyle. I don’t want to be an angry cyclist. But there’s this one street that I ride regularly that is just soul-sucking. There’s no bike lane, but it’s busy enough that people driving get angry at me for riding in the road.

Most of the summer it wasn’t so bad to ride, but this week I got honked at again. I kept riding, because there was nothing else I could do – the street has no shoulder, no bike lane, no parking lane, no sidewalk, just a narrow gravel path on the opposite side from where I was riding. Then after the traffic going the other way (a whole three cars) had cleared, the driver passed, mostly safely, if maybe with some excessive acceleration.

This was less than a quarter mile. I delayed her (making assumptions here because white Lexus SUV) maybe 20 seconds.

Obviously this person was in a hurry. I can just imagine the conversation when she got to her destination. “I’m sorry I’m late. There was this CYCLIST in front of me!”

 

A bikey week

I get lots of comments on my bike and my lifestyle when I’m out with the kids and the bike. One common comment is “I don’t know how you do it.” But really, I don’t know how they do it, driving everywhere with their kids. I go crazy.

There was a week earlier this summer when our oldest was with her grandparents, so we signed up the 5yo for chess camp so he’d have something special too.

Chess camp in Bellevue.

We’ve written about Bellevue before.

I spent all week driving.

The next week I was so very glad to be back on the bike.

Monday: I took both big kids to visit the eye doctor in Redmond. 8yo’s bike was having trouble with the front brake rubbing, so I towed it down and we stopped at a bike shop first. Bike fixed, she got to ride around Redmond.

Downtown Redmond is pretty kid-friendly, but there’s such a big climb to get home that we don’t usually bring their bikes along. It was a beautiful day and we had a nice ride aside from the dicey crossing of Avondale. We stopped at a donut shop for lunch and then I toted kids and bike back up the hill to home.

Tuesday: we biked to Crossroads. I biked the boys down to the library while the oldest was at her appointment.

Then we picked up a half flat of berries at the farmers market, picked up the oldest, and met some friends at the splash park before biking home.

Thursday: I biked to afternoon tea at a friend’s house. It was hot! And I’d forgotten how much uphill there was to get there. But then it cooled down as evening approached and I was able to get a tip on a bike shortcut that involved less climbing.

Friday: we biked to swimming lessons. We’re at a sweet spot where I can fit all four kids on the bike at once for short trips, so I’m milking it as much as I can.

Then later in the afternoon we biked about a half mile to tour a potential new house.

After a week of driving, I was especially grateful that most of the time I don’t have to. Our infrastructure might be lacking, but for our most important destinations, there is enough that I can get there

How to walk for your groceries with kids

Shopping, unencumbered by children, for one or two people is no problem. You may have done it yourself in college (I did). You can take a backpack and carry a few grocery bags and it works without too much extra planning. If you also need to take a child or two or four with you, grocery shopping gets more complicated. I’ve shopped with most combinations of small children, and can tell you how to do it.

If you have one baby.

Grocery shopping with one baby is easy now, but in the early days it certainly was not. With one baby everything is new and everything takes adjustment. But you can do it! I have always worn the baby, as worn babies are generally happy. At first I wore my daughter on my front and a backpack on my back, but as she got bigger that needed to change. One day I realized that I just didn’t have it in me to carry her and a gallon of milk. So I bought a wire grocery cart at the hardware store across the street, and then realized that I couldn’t carry her, the unassembled grocery cart AND the groceries all at once. The groceries waited until the next day.

Let me tell you, that grocery cart was life-changing. I’d always walked to the store, but now I could see how I’d feed my family as it grew. Going to the store is not (usually) a chore, it’s an outing, a little exercise, and a change of scenery on cranky days. It’s something I don’t have to save for when there’s somebody else to watch the kids. I can get the grocery shopping done with them. On good days I teach them how I choose things in preparation for them doing the shopping themselves. On busy days we just get our things and go.

We have no pictures from those early pre-smartphone days when we didn’t obsessively document the minutiae of everyday life. Here’s a more recent one.

We’ve lined our shopping cart with a piece of foam camping sleeping pad – it’s waterproof and dries quickly. We have a couple of bags that fit nicely side-by-side in the space. They are very worn, but I haven’t found anything else that fits so nicely! We bag heavy things in the lower bags and pile lighter things on top. Sometimes it takes a little rearranging after the bagger loads the bags.

One baby and one toddler.

After the birth of our second child, our oldest was two-and-a-half when Mark went back to work and I had to do the shopping by myself with both of them. She walked to the store and I wore the baby, holding her by one hand and the grocery cart in the other. At the store I put her in the seat of the store cart and left mine stashed out of the way near the checkout area. If your toddler doesn’t walk or can’t be trusted, see “two non-walking children,” below.

Toddlers and up of whatever number.

Once the kids are able to walk with you and behave in the store, it really doesn’t matter how many you have. A wire grocery cart is still essential, and they might pull it for you (at least when it’s empty). They also might fight over who gets to pull it. I’m really looking forward to sending my kids to the store when we are out of yogurt, and it doesn’t have to wait until they are 16 and can drive!

Two newborns.

This is the trickiest situation I’ve had to handle, but it can be done. I wore one and used a stroller for the other. The best situation would be a city stroller with an enormous storage basket, but I didn’t have one, I just had a stroller that took the infant carseat. I put as much as I could in the small storage basket and tied a couple of bags to the handle. We shopped often because it was something to do.

We were quite a sight in those days. I frequently wore one, held one in one arm, and pushed the empty stroller around the store with the other hand. My big kids (aged three and five at the time) pulled our groceries as we shopped with small shopping baskets on wheels.

Two non-walking (either by your choice or their ability) children.


Bonus: nap-fighting toddler sleeps while you get your work done!

I learned this tip from a friend who oldest two are close in age, and we’ve used it extensively with twins. I wear one baby and push a double stroller with the other baby in one seat. After shopping, we fill the other seat of the stroller with groceries. I frequently stash the stroller out of the way in the front of the store and use a shopping cart with the second baby in the seat while we are in the store.


also works for paint


and pumpkins

Our twins are now toddlers, and they love to walk to the store. I only walk with one at a time because I can’t hold both and the shopping cart all at once. The other still rides on my back. We use the “one baby and one toddler” method as described above, and the big kids can be trusted (with reminders) to stay nearby while we walk across the street and across the parking lot.

“I want to walk on the lellow!” (curb in the parking lot on the way to the store)