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.

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.

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!”

 

Michelle’s 2016 Errandonnee wrap-up

Mark likes to say that the Errandonnee is a chance to do things on foot or bike that you wouldn’t usually do, and maybe even make those errands part of your regular life. For me, it’s more a celebration of what we already do.

Personal care: riding my horse (#1), riding my horse (#5)

Personal business: double appointments (#6)

You carried what?: four kids, lunch, library books, and the rest of the gear for a day out (#7)

Arts & entertainment: none

Non-store errand: church (#4), church (#11)

Social call: greenway ride & coffee (#2), dinner & book talk (#12)

Work/volunteering: catechism class (#8), catechism dropoff (#9)

Store: thrift store (#3)

Wild card: a walk in the park (#10)

Part 1, errands 1-7

Part 2, errands 8-12

Total mileage: 45

 

The bikes

The little bike: a Trek mountain bike, circa 1996. This was my sister’s first (and only) grown-up bike that I claimed when I graduated from college and moved back to our hometown, and she left for college. I outfitted it for city riding a few years ago (fenders, slicker tires, kickstand), and used it to tow the child trailer. Now it mostly stays on top of our hill – if I’m going down the hill, I take the electric cargo bike to get back up it.

The big bike: an Xtracycle Edgerunner with Stokemonkey electric assist. It also has a custom frame-mounted front rack, and a custom, integrated trailer hitch. The headlight and taillights on both bike and trailer are powered by a dynamo hub, and it has chain guards on both chains. Yepp seats on front and back when needed, and we tow an older Burley d’Lite double child trailer. Custom painted a deep sparkly purple. AKA the awesomest bike in town. More here.

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And that’s it! Thanks so much to Mary for organizing! We love living our life on foot and bike, and it’s so fun to really celebrate it.

Michelle’s 2016 Errandonnee part 2

The first errands are described here.

 

Errand #8: catechism class

I teach a small catechism class at church on Wednesday mornings. Four of the students are my own kids!

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Possible category: work or volunteering
Distance: 2 miles
Cumulative distance: 35
Kids toted: 2 on board, plus two bikelings
Cargo: diaper bag, catechist album (for me) and school books (for the 7yo), huge bag of raingear (that we didn’t need!)

 

Errand #9: taking 7yo to her catechism class

Our 7yo has her own catechism class in the afternoon that’s geared to her age group rather than her younger brothers. It was pouring, but Mark was working from home, so I didn’t have to take the boys out in the rain. I managed to bump into a couple of people that I needed to talk to, so maybe this one will count as social?

Possible category: work or volunteering, social
Distance: 2 miles
Cumulative distance: 37 miles
Kids toted: zero, one bikeling
Cargo: nothing extra

 

Errand #10: walk/hike in Bridle Trails

We live a half mile from Bridle Trails State Park, with its lovely forested trails. I’m out there three times a week on my horse, but the kids don’t go there because it’s just a little too far for them to walk here and do any walking while we’re there. I’m determined to change this now, and we can do it because we have bikes! We invited some friends to join us in the mud.

Possible categories: arts/entertainment, social, wild card
Distance: 1 mile
Cumulative distance: 38 miles
Kids toted: 2, plus two bikelings
Cargo: diaper bag, camera, towels, baby carrier (in which I carried my friend’s toddler, because I don’t have enough babies of my own)

 

Errand #11: church

It was raining, really raining when we got ready for Mass this week. Usually we drive in the rain because I don’t want to arrive at church bedraggled, but the 7yo had choir practice right afterward, and the logistics for driving looked more complicated than rain gear for six. So we biked, and I realized that 10 minutes of biking in rain gear is an improvement over 5 minutes of walking from the parking lot without rain gear. Biking wins again.

 

Possible category: non-store errand
Distance: 2 miles
Cumulative distance: 40 miles
Kids toted: 2, plus two bikelings
Cargo: diaper bag. All the rain gear was worn this time.

 

Errand #12: dinner and book talk

The plan was for Mark to take the bus and meet us in Kirkland before Madi’s Urban Cycling talk at the Kirkland Library, and then he would take the 7yo and her bike home on the bus. But kids love the bus, so they all wanted to take the bus home, and the timing worked out that taking the bus would get them home faster, so Mark got to take the bus with all four, and I rode home towing the extra bike.


Blurry picture in the dark of the bike ready to ride home.

 

Possible category: social, you carried what
Distance: 5 miles
Cumulative distance: 45 miles
Kids toted: 3 on board and one bikeling, then zero
Cargo: diaper bag, bag of toys and books for the restaurant, baby carrier (both ways), four extra bike helmets, bag of rain gear, bike (coming home)

 

And that’s it! Perhaps I will describe the walking errands of the past twelve days also.

Control card

 

Michelle’s 2016 Errandonnee part 1

My Errandonnee started this year not with an epic trip like Mark’s, but with our usual routine.

 

Errand #1: a trip to ride my horse

On Friday morning, before anything else, I rode my bike to ride my horse. Then I rode home, and when I got home I put my helmet in the helmet basket and discovered that it was my helmet for riding my horse, not my bike. Fortunately, we have an extra adult-sized helmet around, so I didn’t need to go back right then.

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Possible category: personal care

Distance: 2 miles

Kids toted: zero, because personal care

 

 

Errand #2: greenway ride and coffee

 

We met with some fellow bike advocates to show them the proposed greenway in our neighborhood, then rode into Kirkland for “coffee.” Our 7yo rode where she could, and she rode onboard while I towed her bike where it wasn’t safe for her to ride.

 

bikes-greenway

Photo by Blake Trask

 

Possible category: social

Distance: 5 miles

Cumulative distance: 7 miles

Kids toted: 2, then 3

Cargo: diaper bag, entertainment for kids in the coffee shop, and a bike, part of the way

 

 

 

Errand #3: thrift store shopping

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Possible category: store

Distance: 8 miles

Cumulative distance: 15 miles

Kids toted: zero, I got to shop by myself

Cargo: large bag of purchases

 

 

Errand #4: church

 

This is our favorite ride. It’s low-stress, flat, and we have covered parking right on the plaza in front of the church. This was key this week as it was pouring while we were loading to go home. Then the sun came out on the way home, so we totally could have had a donut and waited it out.

 

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Blurry photo by Mark while riding

 

Possible category: non-store errand

Distance: 2 miles

Cumulative distance: 17 miles

Kids toted: 3

 

 

Errand #5: back to the barn

 

I wore my riding helmet back to the barn and retrieved my bike helmet after my ride.

 

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Possible category: Personal care

Distance: 2 miles

Cumulative distance: 19 miles

Kids toted: zero

 

 

Errand #6: double appointments

 

Two kids have weekly appointments in the Crossroads area of Bellevue. I am so glad that they overlap. Sometimes we bike, sometimes we bus (occasionally we drive and that stinks), and this is Errandonnee week, so the bike it was.

 

Possible category: Personal business, non-store errand

 

 

Errand #7: library

 

We do the weekly library drop off/pick up while in Crossroads. We also eat lunch in the food court, and this time some of the kids rode the kiddie carousel. Then we went to the bookstore for a birthday gift, but I’m only counting the library.

 

Possible category: Personal business, non-store errand, you carried what?!

Distance: the whole trip is about 14 miles

Cumulative distance: 33 miles

Kids toted: 4! Two on board, two in the trailer

Cargo: library books, lunch, diaper bag, school books, books and toys for kids while waiting, huge bag of rain gear just in case, two stuffed animals, baby carrier (so glad I had it)

 

More to come!

Our Bikey Week

Shirley wrote about her bikey week, and I thought that was such a good idea that I’m going to do it myself.

Sunday started with a bike ride to church and another in the afternoon to ride my horse. I rode down to the library to pick up holds and drop off due books, and rode back to the barn partially via the Cross Kirkland Corridor. It was such a lovely day!

Monday was errand-day in Redmond after we finished our school work. We rode the Bear Creek Trail to the print shop to pick up a new math book for our 7yo.

There’s a point where the trail ducks behind the big-box businesses there, so we stayed on the sidewalk. There’s a beg button positioned perfectly to go straight.

And another that was really awkward to use to turn left.

Then we rode to our next destination via the Redmond Central Connector. At Leary, I unloaded the kids so they could play in the open area there, and walked the bike the next block. They played in the bushes and on the bench-like structures and the staple racks.

We rode to the kids consignment store and then across the parking lot to Trader Joe’s. 7yo decided she wanted to walk across the parking lot, so instead of putting a 2yo back in the trailer, he got to ride in the Hooptie! That may have been a mistake, since both 2yo’s have been asking to do it again since then.

Tuesday we had a rainy ride to Crossroads, for what was supped to be double appointments. I missed the cancellation phone call because I was loading the bike in a hurry so we could get there on time. So instead we visited the library and had piroshky for lunch at Crossroads Mall before the second appointment. At 6.5 miles, Crossroads is a long ride for us, but it’s totally worth having the bike there with us when we are back and forth to the mall.

Wednesday we were pedestrians in the morning, walking to our neighborhood shopping center to drop off a package and letters, and shop at the hardware and grocery stores. In the afternoon we biked the 7yo to her catechism class at church.

Thursday was another rainy ride to fetch the 5yo home from his catechism class at church, and that was the end of our biking last week.

But then Monday, yesterday, we biked the proposed Rose Hill Greenway to the CKC to have a St. Bridget playdate on another lovely day.

The car did come out last week, for a trip to Evan’s Creek (our favorite kid-hiking spot) and then to tow the horse trailer. Mark would like to know when I’m going to try to hitch the Edgerunner up to it.

 

Connecting the Eastside Rail Corridor part 1: a bicycle freeway

There is much excitement about the trail in progress on the Eastside Rail Corridor and its potential to transform Seattle’s Eastside Suburbs.

What we are building is a bike freeway, and it’s usefulness will be only as good as the connections to it. In the same way that I-405 would not be useful without city streets so people can get to it, the ERC needs safe, complete connections so everybody can use it. Every household should be able to safely and comfortably get to the trail.

The ERC as a regional connection is outstanding: it goes from Renton to the Snohomish county line, 42 miles. It connects to the I-90 trail. It connects to the Sammamish River Trail and from there to the Burke-Gilman Trail and Seattle. I’ve heard excitement about being able to ride around Lake Washington.

But in the same way that a freeway can be used to drive to Bellingham or simply two exits down the road to the other end of Kirkland, a regional bike trail can be used for a 15-mile commute or a 2-mile jaunt to the store. It is the latter that really has the ability to transform the region. There are only so many people willing to take the time for a 15-mile bike commute, and I’d guess that most of them are already doing it. It is the short trips that we must capture. Even in the Netherlands, bike mode share drops significantly after 3 miles, and plummets after 6. I find that those are my practical limits as well: 3 miles easily fits into my life, 6 can be done occasionally, and longer than that I drive.

Can the ERC be used for those 2-mile jaunts to the store? Well, no. Not yet. There is only trail in Kirkland so far, the Cross Kirkland Corridor, and even in Kirkland the trail doesn’t go much of anywhere that people might actually want to go. The trail passes through old industrial land and low-density residential land. By design, it bypasses the places where people actually want to be. The connections are mostly busy arterials: scary to cross, and scary to ride. There are frustrating gaps to get to the places that the trail goes near.

We are very pleased with the trail work Kirkland has done. The trail is very rideable hard-packed gravel, and the few street crossings are, for the most part, very well done.  The CKC is outstanding for recreational use. Once you are on it, it’s a lovely, pleasant ride. I find that I don’t use it much because it doesn’t go where I want to go. I cross the trail to get to downtown Kirkland. I’d like to be able to go to Houghton. When the trail is finished to Bellevue, I will likely use it to get to the Wilburton area there, and when the new mall is finished at Totem Lake, I may find useful destinations there.

Part 2: connecting the ERC/CKC to downtown Kirkland.

Part 3: Houghton (Kirkland)

Part 4: Totem Lake (Kirkland)

Transportation decision-making: a mish-mash of holiday notes

After my finger injury I didn’t drive for two weeks or bike for three. Between that and having lots of family around for Christmas I have many many thoughts about how we make transportation decisions.

One of my favorite things about biking errands last year was biking for Christmas shopping. This year I couldn’t bike and didn’t want to park at the mall, so I put off Christmas shopping until three days before, and parking at the mall stunk just as much as I thought it would.

I was so glad to be back to biking by the time Christmas Eve rolled around. Our 7-year-old was singing with the Children’s Choir at the Vigil Mass, and I wanted nothing to do with the zoo that is parking for Christmas. Attendance at the Vigil is about double that of a usual Sunday Mass, and those are already full! So we biked, even though it was raining, and our usual policy is not to bike if it’s raining on the way to Mass. Turns out rain pants fit fine over a dress, as long as the dress isn’t too long.

With my finger injury I’ve had some solo medical appointments, and I’m so thankful to six-months-ago me that our new doctor is the one that’s an easy bus ride away. A solo bus ride is remarkably easy, even when one is not totally well. I was able to get myself to my appointment while Mark took the kids to class. Medical facilities may not be great foot-traffic generators, but it’s vitally important that they be accessible to those who cannot drive, for whatever reason. It’s also vitally important that medical establishments offer bike parking and give transit directions on their websites.

That said, with more than one person, there’s no good reason not to drive to Kirkland. There’s a wonderful new fabric store (seriously, it’s like the craft blog world come alive) in the same building as our doctor, and for a shopping trip with my mom and sister on a Saturday morning, we took the car, even though the bus is about as convenient as it can get. With a half-hourly bus and free parking, why not drive?

Then we took some family to downtown Seattle to go to the Aquarium and Pike Place Market. Five round trip bus tickets, driving to the park & ride, half-hourly bus, vs. tolls and parking, but a direct route home (and then we got lost getting to the freeway…).

We never made it out to look at the neighborhood lights, but the dark bike rides home from class at 5:30 were plenty enjoyable. Viewing lights from a bike is much nicer than peering through a car window, even if the car is warmer.

The comments we get about biking in the winter are usually along the lines of “you sure are bundled up well for biking in the cold” or “good for you for biking in this weather.” Biking to church is about a ten-minute ride. 1. You could bike that naked and be fine in our climate. 2. The car doesn’t warm up in the time it takes to get to church, so we can sit there and shiver or keep warm pedaling.

We have about the perfect climate for year-round cycling – it rarely gets that hot, it rarely gets cold, it rarely snows, and it rarely rains more than a drizzle. It’s often grey and chilly this time of year, and there aren’t that many hours of daylight, so getting fresh air and natural light can be tricky in the winter when nobody actually wants to go outside. If we get a bike ride in, I feel fine holing up the rest of the day inside where it’s warm and dry and there are Legos and train tracks.

Happy New Year to all of you! Thanks for joining us!

(photo by my Dad)

Coffeeneuring #5, Caffe Ladro, Kirkland

I don’t often venture deep into downtown Kirkland by bike, which means that I mostly don’t go there at all. I had an errand there, so we went to find a bakery at the same time.

Kirkland has a lovely location on the lake, with a small lakefront park. There is more space devoted to parking than park at the waterfront, and the nearest bike rack to our destination was in the middle of the parking lot. Worse, the bike rack isn’t easy to get to with obstacles in the path.

It’s not too surprising that the rack was empty.

Then it was a somewhat annoying walk around the buildings surrounding the parking lot to find a stroller-friendly route.

But the coffeeneuring? We went to Caffe Ladro where we got three fantastic chocolate chip cookies and a cup of spicy chai that I actually got to finish. A fun outing with my boys.

We ended up later than intended so I got to see the mess that is Kirkland traffic at 5pm. Downtown Kirkland is small, with only a few streets that serve as through routes for many commuters. It’s hard to get to downtown Kirkland because of all the traffic trying to go through downtown Kirkland. I’m surprised the awful traffic hasn’t convinced more people to take other routes. I’d like to see the city do something to discourage the through traffic. It would make Kirkland a much more pleasant place to go.

All this traffic ruins Kirkland as a destination, but is it an effective through route at least? No. I waited minutes at this light here:

and watched exactly seven cars pass through the intersection northbound. Seven! Carrying presumably seven people. You can’t tell me that allowing SOV travel through Kirkland at 5pm does anything good for the city.