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)

I-405 tolling and reliable travel

There was a huge amount of backlash (and here) at the Washington State Traffic Commission meeting to set tolls on the I-405 HOV lanes.  Unfortunately it seems like most of the conversation skips over the actual purpose of these lanes: a reliable transportation option.

Before going into that, it seems quite reasonable to question whether or not additional lanes should even be built.  There’s a pretty strong case to be made that any increased road infrastructure simply feeds more sprawl.  The infrastructure to support this sprawl isn’t sustainable, so at the least we had better stop making things worse.  But I’ll ignore that today because the road is already being built.

Related, of course, to whether or not we should build something is its direct cost (ignoring the future maintenance and potential sprawl costs) and how we would pay for it.  We’ve long accepted that we’ll use general funding to support things for the public good.  It will come as no surprise that this blog supports public investment in pedestrian, bicycle, and transit infrastructure.  And while we’re not happy with the amounts and types of investments made for car travel, perhaps it is going too far to demand that tolls fully fund a project like this.  Or more importantly, we need to remember the other reasons for the new lanes and a toll.

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desperation in Bellevue

Our bike is still in the shop, so there’s more driving than usual. Sunday afternoon I went by car to drop off a load of goods at Goodwill in Bellevue. I arrived to a completely full parking lot and a line of cars at the dropoff. There must have been a hundred cars circling the lot like buzzards. Every aisle was completely lined with cars. I do not do well with chaotic parking situations (who does?) so when I realized what was going on, I started looking for a way out. I found the back way out of the lot, and was glad to get out of there without any further wasting of time or stress.

What I sensed in that lot was desperation. All these people drove there, because they don’t have other options. They need to find a place to stash their enormous beast vehicles in order to do their errands, but there isn’t enough space to do that. They are faced with circling the lot until they find space, or leaving with the errands undone. I left, because I do have options: I can come back during the week, or I can suck it up and bike there even if I am uncomfortable doing so (I might be scared to take the lane but I’m not likely to actually get hit by a car or I could ride on the sidewalk). I suppose having too many customers is better than the alternative for the establishments in this shopping center, but I don’t think this situation is actually good for anybody. Ask anybody there if driving was worth it, and if they would have rather walked, if they could.

But this is Bellevue! Nobody can walk or bike anywhere!

Here is the parking lot in question:

Here is the street at the driveway for Goodwill:

Five lanes, no bike lanes, 35+ mph traffic. At least there’s a decent sidewalk.

What else is in the neighborhood?

There appears to be housing south of Bel-Red Road, which is not too far to walk to this shopping center. But Bel-Red is another one of these poisonous 4-lane semi-highways. With the way Bellevue’s super blocks are laid out, there are few safe places to cross the street, so everybody is isolated in their enclave, and can only get out by car.

What’s the solution? I don’t know, but it’s not easy. The first solution that comes to mind is more parking, but that would require a garage at this point. I would say that the first step is to make it reasonable and pleasant to bike and walk there and provide plentiful, obvious bike parking. There are lots of people within reasonable biking distance. Driving is a hassle, and it’s far more expensive to make it not a hassle than it is to make biking pleasant.

Car-free week!

The week before Christmas I had an appointment on Monday evening in a bike-unfriendly part of town. I went out to the garage to get in our family-hauler truck only to discover a dead battery. Fortunately, we had not yet sold our other car (anybody want a Honda Accord? Low miles!), so I had a backup means of transportation. I’m not sure what I would have done otherwise – bike anyway? Reschedule the appointment?

When I got back, Mark and I looked at the schedule for the week to figure out what to do about it. Now, many weeks we don’t drive, but we always have the truck as backup. This particular week I had no plans to go anywhere by car, and wasn’t really interested in jump-starting the truck only to take a special car-trip to charge the battery. So we arranged to borrow a car battery charger over the weekend, and went on with our week.

How did we do?

Tuesday: I walked to the grocery store (by myself!)

Wednesday: We took our usual two bike trips to the church for catechism, then I took the boys Christmas shopping in Redmond.

Thursday: We did more errands in Redmond (I felt like I was constantly in Redmond in the days before Christmas).

Friday: We visited friends in Kirkland.

Saturday: I don’t want to talk about it. I went out with only the oldest (to Redmond, of course) and we took the car (doable with only one child, but not all four) because of rain and laziness and I regretted it.

Sunday: We biked to church and then (battery charged!) drove to Seattle in the afternoon.

Our carless week went as normal. We wouldn’t even have noticed the beached whale in the garage except that it was under the attic access where the Christmas supplies were stored so we couldn’t get at them!

why we drive

Last week we were meeting some friends at Pump it Up, one of those play places with lots of inflatables for kids to jump on. It’s in the north part of Kirkland, on the other side of I-405. It’s only 3.5 miles away, but I’ve been automatically driving for (our infrequent) trips to this part of town. On our way over there, I was thinking too myself, “it couldn’t be that much worse than Old Redmond Road, could it?”

hoo, boy, yes it could be.

Old Redmond Road doesn’t cross a freeway.

at least the bike lane goes all the way through the intersection

at least the bike lane goes all the way through the intersection

I pulled off the freeway at NE 116th St, and as soon as I saw the intersection, I knew that I wouldn’t be coming this way by bike. There are three intersections in a short span – both sides of the freeway, and then an intersection with 120th Ave NE. Traffic is heavy, the intersections themselves feel chaotic, and then there’s a right turn lane that crosses the bike lane. In the chaos of this intersection, that’s a dealbreaker right there.

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that car is why I won’t bike here.

This is even only half of an interchange – the ramps are only to the south (southbound onramp, northbound offramp). Sadly this intersection was rebuilt only a year or so ago. I’m not sure there’s a way to do it right. Freeways are inhospitable places for people, and yet we’ve chosen to build them in our cities.

Will I ever be able to bike here? The Cross Kirkland Corridor approaches very near. It looks like there is access through the parking lots and truck lanes of the nearby industrial areas. So maybe – but parking lots aren’t really places for people either.