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.

Off-season training for the Errundonnee

Yesterday we decided the car’s battery needed a drive that was longer than a mile so I took it to work.  Things were busy, and it does end up being the fastest mode (rush hour sometimes proving this wrong).  The original plan was to get the car back home for today, but things worked out so that it wouldn’t be needed.  On top of that, yesterday’s wind storm opened the possibility of a disastrous commute, and I would sure feel stupid to be driving on a day when it wasn’t the fastest mode.  So I decided to leave the car and run home.

The problem was that I needed to get our daughter’s booster seat home.  And keep it dry.  And I had no running gear except that I had fortuitously left lights in my office.  I did have a duffel bag, which I’ve run with as a backpack before, but the seat didn’t fit in it.  In retrospect I wish I had tried to use the shoulder strap to attach the seat to my back.  Instead I simply carried it under an arm, alternating every half mile or so.  The seat pad is removable, and I put it in a plastic bag.  I keep emergency shorts and t-shirts in my office, and normal shorts have huge pockets.  The seat pad went in one, and my phone, keys, and other stuff went in the other.  My everyday shoes are actually ultra-minimal Soft Star running shoes, so I can handle some running in them.

It went surprisingly well.  I used to be picky about running with stuff.  I couldn’t imagine how anyone used those handheld water bottles.  Packs annoyed me.  I run with various packs a lot now in order to bring supplies to the office, and sometime I’ll stuff things in pockets or my hands to avoid the pack (especially if it’s a drop-off or pick-up where I’ll only have the cargo for part of the run).  Now I’ve gotten used to it to the point where running home one-armed didn’t bother me.

Obligatory horrible picture:



Thoughts on Ped/Bike Counting at SR-520 Trail and NE 40th St.

I (and likely anyone else biking, walking, or running) have long disliked (understatement) the crossing at 40th on the 520 trail.  The statewide bicycle and pedestrian count gave me an excuse to watch it for two hours as opposed to the occasional first-person crossing view.  Of course it was also good to be able to provide counts for this important intersection.

But first I had to set up.  Since my bike round-trips to work generally span multiple days (around run commutes) and I can’t take the big bike away from Michelle and the kids for that long, I was left to bring things with my normal bike.  I had thoughts of setting up something over the top, but laziness won so the only interesting thing to transport was a chair.  This was my first attempt:

This didn’t turn out so well.  Mainly, it’s not so clever to ignore the fact that a folding chair fold, or more relevantly unfold, and it also started sliding backwards.  A few more cords did the trick.  This picture was from the return trip:

The panniers turned out to be an integral part, blocking the chair from falling off either side of the rack.  Michelle asked why I didn’t just toss a collapsing camp chair into a pannier, and I’m going to stick with the reason that I wasn’t going camping.  Having this large thing strapped to the back of the bike turned out to be a fascinating (and wonderful) experiment.  I’m not sure whether it was different enough to actually get the attention of drivers or if they were worried it would fall off and scratch their cars, but I’ve never had anywhere near that much room while using the bike lanes on Old Redmond Road.  I would estimate an extra 3-4 feet.  In fact, I started to worry that someone would hit the center median and bounce back towards me.  Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

The thing that I was mainly interested in was whether my perception of danger was something specific to me (and, err, anyone else I’ve ever talked to about it).  And the answer is clearly no.  This intersection is terrible for people walking and biking.  Luckily there were no collisions.

In two hours, I witnessed 11 scary incidents.  At the time, I broke them down into what I called “near misses” and “uncomfortable” moments.  I didn’t have a strict definition, but the former were more “oh no” moments and the latter were “whoa, ok”.  In retrospect, I’m pretty sure in the “near miss” cases the person walking or biking had to stop because a car blew by, whereas in the “uncomfortable” cases, the driver stopped after starting on a collision path.  For example, Glen biked by:

If memory serves me correctly, the car actually was stopped.  It was the moment when the ped/bike signal changes.  All is calm in the intersection for a moment, so often drivers start right turns on red.  And one nearly did but then stopped.  My guess from the movement is that the driver took his/her foot off the brake but saw Glen before hitting the accelerator and stopped.  The car ended up slightly in the crosswalk.  I think my original terminology not calling this a “near miss” was incorrect; it was just a “near miss” with the collision avoided in a different way.

I didn’t have a lot of time to take pictures or videos, but I took a few.

Here’s a driver typing on a phone while partially in the sidewalk and considering a right turn:


For bonus points, she was then talking on the phone while driving around pedestrians in the crosswalk on the onramp.

Here’s a typical example of “stops” before right turns on red:

Here’s blocking the box:

The bus was actually turning left, though it had to swing out so far that it looks like it is going straight.

And here’s a tandem riding in the lane on 40th:

I don’t like driving in that lane!

The other main thing I noticed is how inefficient the intersection is.  It’s bad enough that each person (and almost always one person) is surrounded by a vehicle taking a lot of space (“mostly empty metal boxes” as we call them) as well as buffer space between them, but the signal timings are terrible.  The transitions take a really long time, which of course are what lead to really long phases and a miserable experience for those on foot or bike.  I didn’t have time to do measurements while counting, but the next day in the morning I saw two cars go through the intersection in the last 25 seconds of a phase.  That’s the same utilization as the two of us that went through on the ped/bike signal.  The ped/bike phase only looks less utilized because we weren’t dragging 1-2 ton vehicles with us.

All done!


Crossing NE 40th St on the 520 trail in Redmond

To be honest, I don’t recommend it.  This intersection is not designed for people despite the large number that walk and bike through it, and it’s only a matter of time before someone is hurt or killed.  But here’s what you’ll find.

First, let’s orient ourselves:

Yes, that’s a lot of road.  The north side of the intersection is a 520 off-ramp.  The south side is a 520 on-ramp.  The trail runs along the west side of the intersection.  Many are going to Microsoft, which often means heading east along 40th.  The south side of the bridge has a fairly wide ped/bike path.  The north side has a narrow sidewalk.  The bridge at 36th is much nicer to use since there isn’t a highway interchange.  The bridge at 51st has no bike facilities.  That intersection has most of the same problems as at 40th.  However, it can be used to access the northern reaches of the main Microsoft campus.

The (north-south) trail crossing is given an approximately 3 second green signal at the beginning of the off-ramp (facing south) vehicular traffic’s green light.  There is then a 30 second countdown where it is illegal to enter the intersection on foot or bike, but then it’s an entire cycle until the next 3 second chance.  Most ignore this law.  Drivers often assume it is followed.

There is no north-south crossing on the east side of the intersection.

The east-west crossing on the south side is given a slightly longer green signal while the east-west vehicular traffic also has green.  The green and ensuing countdown are shorter than the east-west vehicular green light.  There is also a period where the eastbound traffic is stopped and a left arrow is given for westbound traffic to turn onto the on-ramp.

The east-west crossing on the north side is given a green signal during the entire east-west vehicular green light.  However, this is only really useful on foot.

Right-turn-on-red is allowed for both of the possible right turns and is the biggest problem.  Drivers turning right onto the on-ramp often stop on the crosswalk rather than the stop line, assuming they stop at all, before looking for vehicular traffic blocking their turn.  Drivers turning right off of the off-ramp will pull far enough forward that they no longer can see people waiting on the corner.  Then when the light turns green this right turn conflicts with the trail crossing.

Crossing southbound:

There is usually a driver waiting for an opportunity to turn right on red when the cycle changes to green for the off-ramp and trail.  This driver often won’t look and would run over anyone entering the intersection immediately.  Unfortunately, once this car has cleared, the trail will already be on the countdown timer, so legally it is impossible to cross.  The next car will be in a better position to see the trail traffic and usually, but not always, will wait.  After this, the issue is traffic that is approaching the intersection during the green light.  They will be moving at highway speeds and since 40th is so wide they can physically navigate the turn at high speed as well, and some do.

At the median, there might be a car blocking the crosswalk in the first lane of eastbound traffic.

Lastly, it is common for a driver in the right-turn lane (so, the last lane to cross for southbound pedestrians and bicyclists) to blindly pull through the crosswalk before looking for anything.  Always slow and peek around the cars in the next-to-last lane.

Crossing northbound:

Of course northbound has the same set of obstacles as southbound, though they present themselves a bit differently.  When the crosswalk signal turns green, cars in the right turn lane will be seeing the first break in traffic from the cars turning left onto the on-ramp (since the light has just turned red), so expect one to make this turn without looking for trail traffic.  On the other side, cars may be moving after the southbound trail traffic has cleared, and the drivers will be eager to go.

[Edit: The signal phasing has changed so that the left turn onto the 520 on-ramp is now at the beginning of the east-west phase rather than the end.  In practice this means the right-turn lane onto 520 might be empty at the beginning of the north-sound phase, so it sometimes removes a conflict.]

Crossing east-west:

If you are a pedestrian going between the northwest and southeast corners of the highway exchange, you can avoid the two miserable crossings by using the north side of the bridge.  The crosswalks at 156th are much more pleasant.

The south side’s east-west crossing has the problem of conflicting with right-turning traffic onto the on-ramp.  (“Conflicting” here means both groups have green lights at the same time.)  So the green pedestrian signal is hardly a promise of safety.  On top of this, drivers find all sorts of ways to abuse the left turn onto the on-ramp.  A lot of it stems from them getting blocked from making the turn while they have the green and then just doing it whenever the blockage clears.


It’s a complete embarrassment that WSDOT allows right-turn-on-red at this busy intersection.  I can’t take anything any of their officials say about safety seriously while they let this abomination continue.  The city of Redmond should be pushing hard for this as well but does not.  Stopping right-turn-on-red wouldn’t be a complete fix, but it would help a lot.  Stronger measures should probably also be taken (e.g., raised crosswalks, separate phase for pedestrians/bicycles), but they will never happen because WSDOT prioritizes the movement of cars to the meter on the on-ramp or the next intersection where they will need to stop again anyway.

There were recent small modifications to the intersection.  The turning radii for the problematic right turns were slightly reduced.  However, both right turns end on such wide roadways that it hardly matters.  Some bicyclists have reported that the geometry is somewhat improved so that they are in a better position to be seen before entering the intersection.  This isn’t something that I’ve noticed, but hopefully it’s a little better.  The new median seems to only provide a chokepoint for the trail traffic as well as confusing a few drivers about where the stop line is.

The long-term hope is a tunnel under the intersection for the trail and a separate bridge over 520 for access to Microsoft.  These are expensive but probably the most realistic option.  And they should be quite nice to use.  Unfortunately they will result in this intersection getting even crazier, so pedestrians will be forced to the tunnel or 152nd and vehicle collisions will probably increase.

Mark’s #errundonnee Day 5

(no running on day 4)

Today was a short run home from work – barely above the shortest possible trip at 4 miles.  My legs were still pretty tired from Saturday (or more likely the entire week), or perhaps more so from an overall feeling of blah after sitting in some training all day.

I did stop at the NE 40th St. and WA 520 bike path intersection again.  I had stopped here on my bike on day 1.  Some combination of Washington, Redmond, and Microsoft is paying for some kind of improvement here – a topic for another time – but the temporary path is pretty poor.  We’re not convinced the Edgerunner and trailer will be able to navigate it.  Even better is that if you give up and go a block down the street, there is no crosswalk for the direct crossing so instead you’d have to do 3 crossings if you wanted printed crosswalks.  And even if crossing the direct way is legal (I don’t recall if there is a sign forbidding it or if it is an WA state implied crosswalk), the street is already unsafe enough in the designated areas.  Anyways, I tried tweeting WA and Redmond, and WA pointed at Redmond, which I then figured out doesn’t monitor its account.  I left a phone message and never heard back, but today the temporary crossing had been rerouted through the dirt:

It might be wider; I’m not sure.  It certainly still looks iffy, and the dirt ramp back up to the street no longer supports the entire temporary path.  Unfortunately, the base of the pictured pole sticks out into the temporary path.  If you look carefully you’ll see that the width there is pretty close to one running belt, which I’m sure was the unit of measure used to create it!  The trailer is less than one running belt wide, but probably only by 6-8 inches, so it will be tricky.

For what it’s worth, road cyclists are having all kinds of trouble with the path too.

After I finished my run, my Garmin crashed.  Again.  That’s also another post, but non-Garmin GPS watch recommendations are welcome.  I don’t care about advanced GPS features like the Garmin virtual racer.  I do care about the watch working, the band not falling apart, GPS accuracy, and ANT+ (or perhaps Bluetooth) because an optical heart rate sensor is probably in my future (I’ve never gotten any band to consistently work).

Mark’s #errundonnee Day 2

Today started with an easy run commute into work.  I didn’t have a lot of time, so I couldn’t add much distance, which doesn’t leave all that many options.  I basically reversed the route that I used to get home last night except that I ran on the trail along the edge of Bridle Trails Park rather than on the paved path next to the road.  So this is another 5 miles.

Things learned:

  • I don’t actually run all that much in the park because I don’t usually want to deal with the equestrian traffic (especially if I’m doing something faster).  However, it sure is nicer than running down a road:
  • Similarly, I don’t run that much through the Cherry Crest neighborhood, but I’ve been using this southern route to/from work more often and it’s nice to cut out more of the busier road.  Yesterday I remarked that the southern entrance (130th Ave) seems to be done well enough to calm the traffic.  I don’t think I can say the same about the eastern entrance (36th St).  It’s much wider, which you can kind of see here:

    There’s also the telltale sign of paint being the only calming “infrastructure”.

Part of the reason I didn’t have much time was that my group was going out for lunch.  Through some convoluted reasoning, it made sense to run to work, shower, and then ride with them for the less than a mile to the restaurant – the main reason being that my bike was parked at the office waiting for tonight’s commute.  However, then I realized I could take advantage of already being near the Safeway to pick up a few things.  It would have made more sense to just walk back, but I backed myself into a corner with #errundonnee, so I jogged back up the hill.  I was totally dressed for running:

(Actually, in fairness, those shoes are the Dash RunAmoc from Soft Star Shoes, who make great kids’ shoes too.  I’ve run almost 300 miles in them, but I’ve never quite felt comfortable at speed in them.  I love them as casual shoes though – a solid brown pair without the perforations to be a little more formal – the Moc3 for a sock-like feel.)

So now I’ve got a store errand and a “you carried WHAT while running?!” with a bag of groceries (Cheerios, chips, bread, and peanut butter).  Hopefully I’ll find two better ones before this is done.

Tonight I will bike commute home, and I will hope to not learn anything.

#errundonnee Day 1

The Errandonnee is a challenge from Chasing Mailboxes.  The premise is pretty simple: 12 errands by bike in 12 days.  There are a few things to make it a bit harder and more interesting: cover at least 30 miles and distribute the errands across a list of categories.  You can see the categories and other rules through the link above.

The term errandonnee was created and is a combination of errands and randonnée, the latter being defined as “a long ramble in the countryside, by foot or bicycle”.  Now while I use my bike a fair bit, one could probably gather (from here and here) that riding my bike for the purpose a riding my bike challenge isn’t something I would do.  Conveniently, that definition includes “by foot”, so now I’m ready to go.

Other than switching out biking for running, I’ll follow the same rules.  I do enough running that the distance requirement shouldn’t be a problem.  The categories perhaps will be.  I’ll certainly carry some things that runners don’t typically carry, and going to the store is easy, but the ones where I wouldn’t want to be sweaty are going to be more difficult.  Two trips in one day is also more demanding.  We shall see.  I’m already wondering if a weekend long run that doesn’t have an actual destination counts as “personal care”.

Each trip is to be documented with a picture and something learned or observed.  So here we go with day 1:

Continue reading

“I am not a bike person” – part 1

I hear this a lot.  Usually it’s part of a discussion about Michelle biking with the kids, and other person thinks it looks fun but then “but I’m not a bike person”.  It can come up when talking about solo commuting, but those conversations are a little harder to start.  And I’ve never gotten to “I am not a runner” when discussing errands on foot because that would involve getting past the blank stare.

Anyways, here is my thought on the topic:

I am not a bike person either.

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Four Incident-Free Bike Commutes in a Row!

Sadly, this is noteworthy.  Before this mini-streak, I can’t actually remember a commute without excitement of the bad kind.  I don’t have an exact definition for an incident, but I would roughly describe it as needing to do something other than just riding (and following signals) to not hit or be hit by a car.  It’s almost always trying to cross NE 40th St. on the 520 trail and watching someone blast a car through the crosswalk.  That crossing makes me not want to bike to work.

But the last week or so has been different.  Continue reading