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.

Walking Routes to Bellevue Have Gone from Bad to Nonexistent

I ran down to Bellevue today with the stroller as a cargo hauler for stops at Uwajimaya and Total Wine, and wow are things in bad shape.  I don’t think I can make this trip anymore until things settle down.

Here are the blockages that I know about from this trip:

bmap1

120th Ave (location “A”) is completely closed to cars and people.  It’s a giant construction site with machinery everywhere.

124th Ave (location “B”) is a pretty terrible street to begin with.  Sidewalks are mostly missing.  It has large shoulders that one might use, but a lot of them are taken up by trucks.  And some of the few stretches of sidewalk are closed (in the distance you can see a truck blocking the right-side shoulder):

I don’t have a lot of optimism for the Spring District’s transit/bike/walk friendliness.  One of the exits is mostly complete:

The fence is at the existing sidewalk location, so the intersection is going to be huge.  Multiple exit lanes will help ensure car dependence in the area.  And it doesn’t look very good for bike infrastructure.  But I suppose I digress…

116th Ave has no access at all from the north or east because of the intersection at Northup and the other 116th Ave (location “C”).  Zooming in:

bmap2

The northwest corner of the intersection is completely closed to pedestrians as well as the sidewalks leading to it.  This means the crosswalks along the north and west sides of the intersection are unusable.  There isn’t a crosswalk or a signal along the east side of the intersection.  And if you try to go an intersection to the east, you’ll then discover that the south side of Northup doesn’t have a sidewalk.  You might be able to stumble through construction cones and gravel.  (It eventually will have a sidewalk, but a future sidewalk doesn’t make for a very good detour today.)

[Update: September 14th, 2016:

I went back and looked at that south side of Northup again.  There is a temporary path on the shoulder that is guarded by traffic pylons.  One could walk through here.  When I looked during my previous trip, it didn’t register as a possible route.  One could probably get a single stroller through, but a double or a wheelchair would be difficult.  Here are some pictures:

If you come down 24th, then there is a detour sign pointing this way, but if you come down 116th from Kirkland, then you get this confusing sign:

The busy intersection doesn’t have a crosswalk to the left of the picture, and to the right is the wrong direction.

]

The end result of this is that 116th, 120th, and 124th are unusable.  The next crossing to the west is at 108th (a half mile west and you have to backtrack north).  The next crossings to the east are at 130th and 132nd (almost a half mile east), which also have intermittent sidewalks but hopefully no construction.

The hope for the area is supposed to be the ERC (Eastside Rail Corridor), which Kirkland, Bellevue, and King County have all shown interest in opening to people (especially Kirkland with the CKC (Cross Kirkland Corridor)).  However, at this point it looks like this stretch is going to be held hostage by Sound Transit for years or decades.

In other words, don’t try to walk in Bellevue.

 

Connecting the Eastside Rail Corridor part 4: Totem Lake

Today I am back to the series on Connecting the Eastside Rail Corridor by discussing the connection to Totem Lake.

Totem Lake is an area of Kirkland that will soon be redeveloped with a new mall and eventually housing. The park will be rebuilt to feature the lake itself. The city of Kirkland is counting on a revitalized Totem Lake to boost tax receipts and the area features prominently in upcoming potential transit plans. Just to the north of the mall site is Evergreen Hospital and many other medical offices.

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One of the trail’s (blue line) great selling points is supposedly the great connection to Totem Lake, but it doesn’t really serve it any better than it does downtown Kirkland or Houghton. It’s 1/3 mile of arterial unpleasantness (red line) to the nearest corner of the current mall. You need to cross both 124th St and 124th Ave. The only place to do so is at their intersection which is huge and has terrible pedestrian level-of-service and typical narrow sidewalks.

Note the trail coming in from the right in this picture. You’d turn on the sidewalk to cross at the next light.

And here is the intersection in question

Then you ride on 124th Ave/Totem Lake Blvd. I rode that once and it was one of my most terrifying family biking moments (though I got a “you go girl! You got this!” from an angel driving a car).

Note the trail continuing to the right. You don’t continue on the trail here to get to Totem Lake, but stay on the street (sidewalk).

Totem Lake Blvd remains a five-lane road with no bike infrastructure as far as you need it. Here’s the mall site, ahead to the right. This intersection of Totem Lake Blvd, the on- and off-ramps to I-405, and 120th Ave NE will also need some work to be comfortable on a bike.

Kirkland has plans for a lovely sweeping pedestrian/bike overpass to a rebuilt Totem Lake Park, and a connection to the mall from there (pink line). In addition, the vision for Totem Lake Blvd includes separated bike lanes (“one way or two way cycle track buffered from vehicular traffic with a combination of vegetation and structured barrier” from the Master Plan). This should solve the problem, but the bridge adds another hill, and doesn’t make the trail any closer to the mall. I think an underpass would be a better choice here as it would involve less climbing, but it would not provide the iconic bridge the city seems to want. Plus, there is no funding, so who knows when it will ever be built? In the meantime, we are stuck with that red line. If the city is serious about bike access to the new Totem Lake, they need to fix the intersections and Totem Lake Blvd and not wait for the bridge and the park.

The most direct connection to Totem Lake from the south/west would be along the I-405 offramp (yellow line). Is there space in the right of way? I don’t know, and that’s not an easy area to scout, but there is a grade-separated crossing of 124th St.

Next: Bellevue

Previously: Houghton

Connecting the Eastside Rail Corridor part 3: Houghton

Totem LakeToday I am continuing the series on connecting the Eastside Rail Corridor to actual destinations by describing the route to Houghton. Houghton is a neighborhood shopping district that we’d like to be able to bike to. In particular, we’d like to be able to get to the PCC there (green dot). At a mile-and-a-half from our house, it’s well within our bike-shed, but taking the safe routes turns it into an all-morning outing and I haven’t found a way through Houghton that I’m comfortable with. So for now I’ve given up.

houghton3 (2)

The Cross Kirkland Corridor (blue line) skirts the edge of Houghton, maddeningly close but not really accessible. You can get off the CKC and ride through Google, to 6th St and 68th St (red line), no thanks. The climb through Google shouldn’t be too bad, but both streets are very busy and the bike lanes disappear at the intersection.

There is a path to the elementary school (yellow line), then you’d ride through their parking lot and up the left side sidewalk on 68th St. The first problem is that there is a hill there. See how the street drops but the trail bridge is at the same level? This picture is taken from the Houghton businesses and the school is on the other side of the trail on the right, down the hill.

The hill is steep enough that the slippery gravel makes it hard to ride up.

There’s also a curb at the bottom. There is a speed bump right at the end of the path, shortening the curb, but it’s a curb nonetheless and even if it’s small it makes it less usable, depending on the bike and the person. (glove for scale)

Then there’s a problem at the trail overpass. The sidewalk is very narrow where it splits to go around the posts. I’ve never ridden that with the trailer, and I’m not sure I could actually negotiate the narrow, steep, winding path. Here is an example of how two narrow openings do not make one wide opening!

The city has built access on the south side of 68th, connecting the CKC to 106th Ave with a nice bridge and flat trail (pink line). This provides access to the shopping center on the south side of 68th St. The driveway access to the bridge is rutted but certainly usable.

This connection is awesome, and we are so pleased that the city made this happen. So why isn’t this an option to get to PCC? Because of the crossing of 68th! It seems so stupid – it’s just a street crossing, why is this a problem? Because even if you can make the whole trip on neighborhood streets (and I can) those arterial crossings are still really stressful. You can’t rely on people driving yielding to people in crosswalks, painted or not, biking or pushing a stroller or walking with kids or whatever. We deal with this all the time when walking to our neighborhood grocery store and sometimes I don’t have it in me to fight the arterial crossing battle, especially if it’s dark or rainy.

You can cross 106th Ave into the parking lot on the other side, and then use a crosswalk at the driveway. This is reasonable solution for someone walking. On a bike, you could get to the crosswalk from the driveway, and then once in the street with traffic stopped ride out of the crosswalk straight for the driveway on the other side. It would be a tricky turn onto that narrow sidewalk otherwise.

There is a solution to this problem, but it would require a couple of different private land owners to work together. The building just to the northwest of PCC has a driveway right along the fence separating the properties, and it goes all the way to the CKC (orange line). In the photo below, taken peeking through the fence along the CKC, the PCC parking lot is just on the other side of the fence near the farther dumpster.

It’s flat and short and direct. It’s all right there. It’s very frustrating, enough that some people have taken to cutting through the apartment complex next door, from what I’ve heard.

There’s still one more shopping center in Houghton, right on the northwest corner of 108th Ave and 68th St. I think the only way to get good bike access there is real protected bike lanes and a protected intersection. Sadly, I expect this whole area will be redeveloped before that happens.

Next: Totem Lake

Previously: Downtown Kirkland

Connecting the Eastside Rail Corridor part 2: Downtown Kirkland

Today I am continuing the series on connecting the Eastside Rail Corridor by describing the options for getting to downtown Kirkland.

The Cross Kirkland Corridor, the portion of the ERC in Kirkland (blue line) is a half mile and a steep climb from downtown Kirkland. We cross the trail to get to Kirkland, so we are very familiar with this ride. Our most common destination is the Kirkland Library, the green dot on the left. I’ve discussed biking in downtown Kirkland before.

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Coming from the north on the CKC, you get off the trail at Kirkland Ave, at which point you have two choices. Our usual route goes straight down Kirkland Ave (red line). The first stretch is mostly flat, then there is a difficult crossing of 6th St (orange line). This is blind – you can’t see oncoming southbound traffic until you are actually in the northbound lane.

6th St backs up northbound at the evening commute time, and it’s hard to get through. It’s not much easier during the day when I ride it. This is the location of most of my emergency stops. I’m not confident that the planned light at Kirkland Way (intersection of orange and yellow) will help the crossing at Kirkland Ave (red and orange), and I don’t really want to ride down 6th just to make the two-stage crossing at Kirkland Way. Once across 6th, Kirkland Ave is pleasantly quiet, but very steep. So we go into town this way, but we don’t leave this way.

The other option is to take 8th St to Kirkland Way (yellow line). The problem here is the blind corner at the trail’s overpass.

People use Kirkland Way to get to and from I-405 in their cars, bypassing the traffic on 6th St and Central Way and the busy intersection there. I am uncomfortable with the speeds on Kirkland Way in a car, much less on a bike. There are no bike facilities on this stretch of Kirkland Way, or even sidewalks for most of it. I use this route coming out of downtown because it’s much less steep than Kirkland Ave, it has a 4-way stop at 6th St (soon to be a light) and I don’t have to cross traffic since I’m turning right. I don’t like having to control the lane here (especially in the dark), but it’s the best of a bunch of bad choices.

For those who are comfortable riding in traffic, these routes work. If the sidewalks are empty, they are an option on these routes for those willing to use them. If we want biking to downtown Kirkland to be a reasonable option for many people, we need a better connection to the CKC. I’d like to see protected bike lanes on Kirkland Way from 8th St at least to the library (the green dot on the left) and preferably all the way to the water. There is plenty of space in the right-of-way, but the on-street parking will be politically difficult to use because people seem to think that there is no parking in Kirkland.

Coming from the south, you can ride all the way to Kirkland Ave, and proceed as described above, but that means crossing 6th St twice. The better option would be a two-way protected bike lane on the west side of 6th (orange line) connecting to Kirkland Ave or Kirkland Way. Two-way bike lanes are problematic, but this is a perfect place for it, as it takes out two street crossings. The city just completed the sidewalk on this stretch of 6th, a great first step. Now the connection works for those on foot.

It’s not a perfect sidewalk (unbuffered, lots of curb cuts) but this was an egregious sidewalk gap (busy street, so close to downtown!) and it’s good that it’s fixed now. Here is the street before, picture taken from the other direction.

Another option would be to use 3rd Ave to State St (pink line). 3rd is a residential street that does not go through by car. It has a staircase connecting to 6th St. State is an arterial similar to 6th, so not an improvement. This option also bypasses the new Kirkland Urban (green dot on the right).

Previously: the bike freeway

Next: Houghton

 

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)

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.