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.

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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


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.

Brief Notes from the Kirkland City Council 11/4 Transit Update

Here are some brief notes from the transit update at the Kirkland City Council meeting on 11/4.  It covered ST3 with a focus on the CKC.  I mostly wrote them so I hopefully wouldn’t have to watch the video again.

I’ll make my comments obvious.  We (and Michelle in particular) have been thinking a lot about the tradeoffs with transit on the CKC.  In particular, what are those tradeoffs and what other tradeoffs might we make instead?  We strongly disagree with the idea that BRT on 405 is sufficient for Kirkland.

Why transit in Kirkland?
  1. Kirkland and the region are growing
  2. We already have congestion
  3. The Kirkland Transportation Master Plan calls for multimodal solutions
  4. The CKC is only corridor that isn’t clogged
    (ed: This assumes that cars, mainly SOVs, and the priority given to them are the best use of the existing space on our corridors)
  5. Transit moves more people in the same amount of space
Why transit on the CKC?
  1. The CKC is part of the much larger ERC
  2. HCT was always the intent
  3. The ERC is 100 feet wide
  4. In Kirkland within 2000 feet of the CKC are 1800 businesses and 18000 employees
    (ed: It would be interesting to see these numbers for arterials through Kirkland and how much overlap there is.  We suspect that similar numbers would be found with high overlap.  It would also be interesting to see these numbers for 405, and we suspect that they are low.)
  5. Within 1/2 mile are 25000 residents
    (ed: Same)
  6. Much growth will be around the CKC: Totem Lake, Park Place, Google, South Kirkland P&R
  1. The Kirkland plan is to have transit on east side, leaving room for other uses
  2. Possibly a second trail for faster bikes/commuters vs walkers/”kids on trikes”
  3. Review of ST/Metro and ST3
    1. “Transit is key to reducing congestion” – can’t build our way out of it
    2. Solution is transit, planning, ped/bike connections
    3. ST3 priorites – multi-modal access, coordination with Metro, land use
    4. Time pressure comes from ST3 timeline – draft network plan in Dec – more work in Feb/Mar but hard to add projects after the draft
  4. Kirkland ST3 priorites
    1. Advance Kirkland transit center
    2. Connections from downtown, Google, 6th St to regional transit on 405
    3. BRT on CKC
    4. Transit-oriented development in Totem Lake
  5. A review of BRT – basically trying to convince people that buses aren’t terrible
    1. (R)apid – means frequent, reliable, quick travel – not high speed
    2. Examples – Eugene, Cambridge, Las Vegas, Parma, Jakarta
      (ed: I watched videos about a few of these.  The CKC is both a transportation corridor and a park.  It seems clear that the latter aspect will suffer, though the effect can be reduced with some greenery.  The use as a transportation corridor fits better with transit, though I would not be comfortable taking a young rider or a walking toddler on some of those.  I’d also like to see how connections to the trail are handled, especially small neighborhood ones like 60th in Houghton.)
  6. E-02: 405 BRT
    1. Kirkland priority is access for Kirkland
    2. The low-cost ST3 option doesn’t do much for Kirkland
    3. An alternative: in-line station at 85th, E/W buses on 85th
      (ed: This seems like an odd place to me.  Is the walkshed of such a station zero?  Is the safe bikeshed of such a station zero?  I guess it’s completely based on transit connections to it, but how many transfers will typical full trips take?  Or more to the point, how much time will typical trips take compared to other modes?)
  7. E-03: Light rail Totem Lake-Bellevue-Issaquah
    1. 30 foot ROW (more at stations)
    2. Up to 4 stations in Kirkland
    3. Would not serve downtown directly – Houghton/6th is closest
    4. Stations are difficult to pick – more information is available outside of the meeting
  8. E-06: BRT Totem Lake-Downtown-Bellevue (CKC)
    1. 24-36 foot ROW
    2. 6-8 stations in Kirkland
    3. Metro could also potentially use (the main point is to avoid the 405/520 interchange)
    4. Plans for tight areas on the CKC have been made, at least at a preliminary level but weren’t discussed
    5. If all of the proposed ideas happen, buses would run every 2-3 minutes at peak
  9. A few issues with ST planning
    1. ST assumes middle of corridor, which would severly impact the CKC.  Kirkland is lobbying strongly against this.
    2. Low-cost options skip Kirkland or require investment from other budgets

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…

Coffeeneuring after all

When coffeeneuring came and went last fall, Mark asked me if I was going to participate, and I told him no, because I don’t like coffee. But it turns out that I’m a sucker for these sorts of life-by-bike challenges, and I DO like tea, and cocoa, and, most of all, pastries. So this year I proposed a bakery tour to Mark, but he declined because he doesn’t like bikes. Even for pastries? No.

Well. Fortunately, there are four other members of the family who are happy to ride a bike to seven bakeries in seven weeks, but we’ll have to do it while we’re out during the week, because I like to spend my weekends with Mark. We might not qualify for a prize, but an excuse to stop at the bakeries that we so often skip is reward enough.

Bakery #1: The French Bakery, Kirkland

The French Bakery is kitty-corner from the Kirkland Library, so we see it almost every week. The kids frequently ask to go there, but it’s just annoying enough to get to that I usually say no, even though we really like it. Today’s haul: one chocolate croissant (split between two big kids), one plain croissant (split between two toddlers), one blueberry turnover, a chai tea latte, and another chocolate croissant for Dad (who benefits from coffeeneuring afterall).

Is it bike-friendly? weeeeeelllll, no. You see, Kirkland thinks it’s bike-friendly, but as soon as you get downtown, the traffic appears and the bike lanes disappear. While there are plenty of situations where I’ll control the lane, I am not comfortable doing so in most of downtown Kirkland, because the people driving are looking for parking, not for kids on a bike. And the sidewalks are too narrow to add bikes to the many pedestrians using them. For the most part, the farthest I go in downtown Kirkland is the library, and then we walk from there. So while this bakery is just across the street from the library, the intersection in question is a big barrier – it’s busy, and it’s just too close to all those cars.

Plus, there’s no bike rack. Today I dropped the bike off at the bike shop across the street (to which I’ve found a reasonable if circuitous route) to have its brakes bled, and we walked over with the trailer, then to the library, the playground, and back for the bike.