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)

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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.

Coffeeneuring, #2 and #3

Our bakery tour continues.

Bakery #2: Kringles Bakery, Redmond.

We love this bakery! Sadly, we rarely go there because it’s really awkward to get to. Only a block or so from a nice trail, but in between two very busy streets.

We rode through the Value Village parking lot, then onto the sidewalk

and walked the bike across the crosswalk. Here’s a better picture of the crosswalk. The bakery is in the yellow house in the middle of the picture.

No bike rack, though there was this interesting feature protecting the gas meter that looked an awful lot like a staple… so I locked up to it.

Our haul: one lemon curd kringle, two chocolate chip cookies, one chocolate croissant (split between two big kids), one chocolate muffin (for Daddy), and a cup of jasmine green tea that was still too hot to drink when the kids were done eating.

We also went to the thrift store on this trip, for Halloween costumes and other things, but ran out of time for the errands I’d intended to do.

Bakery #3: Hoffman’s Fine Pastries, Kirkland

Hoffman’s is currently in downtown Kirkland, in the Park Place area, but will be moving soon as their area will be redeveloped. Park Place is actually a fine place to ride a bike. There are many cars milling about, but they mostly move slowly. The street is narrow and there are lots of people walking around.

No bike rack anywhere nearby that I know of. I wheel locked the bike on the sidewalk outside.

Our haul: one chocolate croissant (split between two big kids), one blueberry muffin (split between two babies), one more chocolate croissant (for Daddy), one cinnamon roll, and one cup of chai tea.

We also went to the park and the library on this trip.

More to come…

Napping on the bike

As parents, we love and hate naps. Love them, because the baby is sleeping and shouldn’t need tending. Hate them, because the whole day revolves around making sure the baby falls asleep at the right time, not the wrong time, so as to sleep the right amount.

When the baby is small, it’s easy. They can nap on the go, and if a nap is cut short for scheduling reasons, you figure he’ll make it up eventually. But then they are toddlers, and you spend your whole day every day avoiding the dreaded 10-minute nap, lest the toddler make the whole family cranky in the evening.

And where is the dreaded 10-minute nap most likely to happen? In the car! So you schedule your day around not driving when the baby will fall asleep, which means you are stuck at home from about noon until the nap is done. I’ve been known to leave a sleeping baby in the car in the garage with a baby monitor, but the summer is too hot for that. But also sometimes we just run out of mornings for running errands, and I have late nappers so there’s no time afterwards. What to do?

How about a bike nap? Occasionally I’ve had the babies nap in the bike trailer while we went to the library. This also solves the problem of babies wreaking havoc in the library. I’m already out with a trailer when I’m out with all four, so it’s a matter of putting both of them in it and the big kids on the deck of the bike (no complaints from them).

We have a stroller wheel for our trailer. The usual installation interferes with the running boards on the bike, so we had another hole drilled farther up the tow bar. The bike trailer is large and cumbersome as a stroller, but when I arrive at the library with sleeping babies, I can disconnect the trailer and bring them inside. Of course the last time we were at the library, there was a kid making very loud, happy toddler noises and woke up one of my toddlers. Then when I took him out of the trailer, the other one woke up. So it doesn’t always work.

Better is when we come home. I have one who is more likely to fall asleep while biking, so I put him in the trailer. When we get home, I disconnect the trailer and park him in the shade. It doesn’t get hot the way the car does.

What if they fall asleep on the way out? That doesn’t happen to us very much anymore (or I plan for it and put them in the trailer). I’ve heard of people just wheeling the bike into the store with sleeping toddler aboard. Can’t do that with a car! One day last summer I arrived at the grocery store with two sleeping babies, and managed to transfer one to the shopping cart and one to my back. #winning

 

But you don’t tow a trailer because you have not quite so many kids? Strap a carrier around him and the seat to support the head. Waistband up works best. The other way is cuter but doesn’t work so well. Then when you get home, park him in the shade until he wakes up, and in the meantime you can knit, read, garden, blog, surf facebook, or read with your big kids (my first order of business at naptime).

 

The carrier method works with the Yepp mini also (don’t worry, he moved his head so he could breathe).

Going to the park by bike

We go to the park often, and have many parks that we love that are within biking distance of our house.

Here is a recent trip to the castle park. We were meeting some friends there around 11, and planning to have lunch there. This park is close enough that the 7yo is on her own bike, so I didn’t have a trailer for cargo. Here’s how I packed the bike:

In the basket: three soccer balls, two baseballs, five sun hats, two locks, two baby carriers (because two babies, natch), purse, item to return to friends, plus the summer accumulation at the bottom of the basket.

Left bag: knitting bag, picnic blanket, portable folding potty (not visible)

Right bag: diaper bag (that did not contain sun screen.. I wonder where that went), lunch bag. Also pictured: hand and left handlebar of 7yo and her bike.

And here we are at the park!

So I dumped the bike over and spilled my kids on the ground.

Here’s a question I occasionally get: is it easy to balance? Answer: yes, once it’s in motion. It’s the getting started and the stopping that’s tricky. When I started riding this bike, I was really worried about tipping it over, and then it happened. And we are all okay. Learn from me, but you’ll do it too.

1. The gutter is a bad place to stop (also a bad place to ride). Roads are “crowned,” meaning they slope down from the middle to the edge. They are not flat. I don’t know this, but it really seems like the edge is the steepest. The first time I dumped the bike, I had pulled over to the side of the road so I could help a sleeping baby whose head was lolling. I got off the bike just fine, but while I was putting the center stand down, the bike tipped away from me (the direction of the crown) and then it was gone, the kids were on the ground, and the baby was awake.

2. A heavy load gets squirrelly on under-inflated tires. We were leaving the park, where the first thing I had to do was make a 90-degree corner onto a narrow sidewalk. The bike was swerving all over, so I missed the turn, overcorrected, and spilled the kids in front of a bunch of people who had been asking me about my bike. I made the kids walk until we got to where I’d have more room to maneuver, and two miles later, a half mile from home, I had a flat and we walked the rest of the way.

3. It’s more damaging to the ego than anything else. We stopped for a 1000-mile selfie on a little hill. I rocked the bike off of the center stand, and lost control of it, and there were kids on the ground again.

Which brings me to our most recent incident, last Saturday. First I got a wobble I couldn’t control, for our first fall while moving (slowly, we were going around a corner). Then, about a half mile later, I pulled over in front of the parish rectory, which happens to be at the top of the hill, to disconnect the bike I was towing so our now-7yo could bike the rest of the way home. I stopped right there next to the gutter, and, well, see #1.

And then our parish priest worked me into the homily. Humility. It’s good for you.