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:

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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:

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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.

 

Mark’s 2016 Errundonnee #1 – Running with a chair?!?

After my inaugural Errundonnee last year and the realization that I could do more by running that I originally thought, I’ve further embraced transportation running and sought out new, err, opportunities.  It has fit in quite well with training because, outside of a few key workouts per week, there’s a lot of benefit to simply putting in the miles.  Another thing that I’ve learned in the last year is that a second run in a day can be less stressful than the same mileage crammed into one run.  So all of a sudden the oft-dreaded two-a-day became the opportunistic double commute (with possible stops, of course).  I’ve double-commuted a bit in the past, but I’ve tried to do more of it recently.

A year has rolled around, and this year’s rules unsurprisingly still have the ever-fun “You carried WHAT on your bike (or back)?!” category/control.  I’ve been thinking about this one and looking forward to it.  After my initial Errundonnee, I’ve felt a little pressure to, no, wait, that might disqualify me via rule 12.  I’ve felt encouraged (yes, that’s it!) to come up with something good for this year.

Enter the failing upholstery on our gliding chair.

I might have sat on this one for a bit waiting for this day.  I’d say no pun intended, but I’m already talking about running errands here so no one will believe me anyway.

The first lesson was kind of an obvious one except that it’s not the sort of thing anyone would ever think about.  Upholstery shops, being light industrial, don’t tend to be in walkable (or runnable) locations.  I’m going to do this with a stroller, so I won’t exactly be nimble.  A trip to Redmond would be ok; I could use a few neighborhood streets, get past a rough stretch, and then have the 520 Trail, Sammamish River Trail, and Redmond Connector at my disposal.  Alas, my first target turned out to “only” do woodwork.  (Hmm… the possibilities…)  Then I found three in Bellevue in the Northup/Bel-Red area.  They wouldn’t work because, well, Bellevue.  (See here or here though much is afoot (sorry!) so maybe someday.)  Then I found addresses for three more in Redmond, but none existed.  Finally, I found one:

all-city

The Cross Kirkland Corridor’s main problem is that, being an old rail line, it avoids most places (like downtown Kirkland), which turns out to be perfect for this kind of destination.  I can get to the CKC via neighborhood streets and a ped/bike bridge over I-405.  So now to figure out how to actually bring the chair.  It turns out that it fit really well in both the single and double Bob strollers.  The double seemed more stable, so I went with that:WP_20160304_15_20_13_Pro.jpg

Of course it was raining, so it also needed a cover:

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The obvious question in all of this is why I would even do this.  And I could blah blah like running more than biking blah blah don’t know how I’d attach it to any of our bikes blah blah could drive blah blah Errandonnee, but really here’s the answer.  Who’s having the most fun here?

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The run itself turned out to be surprisingly easy.  I bungeed it to the stroller, but it settled into the seats so nicely that even that might not have been needed.  The weight balance was really good; it took very little pressure to lift the front wheel for turning (the front wheel on jogging strollers generally locks straight forward for stability).  In fact, it was easier than pushing the twins around both because of that and because it weighed less than them.  The weight might have tipped backwards on an uphill, a problem we’ve cleverly solved by living on the top of a hill.

Four miles later, I was there (the chair is already inside).  The return trip was lighter.

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Possible categories: You carried WHAT, non-store errand (pretty clearly going to be the former)

Side note: The category is officially “You carried WHAT on your bike (or back)?!”, which I’m going to claim is an oversight of the tools available to transportation runners 🙂

Miles: 8

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:

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Why Don’t the Sidewalks Line Up?

I was running through Kirkland the other day and stumbled through an awkward placing of sidewalk ramps at a street crossing (NE 80th St and 131 Ave NE).  I went back later to figure out what was going on, and here is what I saw:

Kirkland appears to be changing to use more directional curb cutouts rather than a slope down to a single centralized one.  Here’s the old sidewalk, at least until Google updates the image:

I took the double stroller to test it.  At least the sidewalk is wide enough to make the turn, but it’s kind of annoying that there’s such a sharp turn at all.

They’ve also added a cutout on the other side of 80th (so to the right in the above photos), and here is what that crossing looks like:

But note again that the cutout, including the textured surface for the blind or visually impaired, doesn’t point in the right direction!  (I then spent a day paying attention to these textured surfaces and it seems to be standard practice for them to point in random directions.)  So what’s going on?  It appears that this is simply another problem caused by having large turning radii for vehicle turns.  Using a high-tech diagram:

crossing-distance

In the left diagram we have a large turning radius for the roadway.  The desire line for pedestrians would be the straight line continuing the sidewalk – “A”.  This, of course, has a quite large crossing distance, and a curb cut would be almost 90 degrees off of the correct direction.  The shortest crossing distance, which would be perfectly aligned with a curb cut, would be “C”.  However, this is also the largest deviation from the straight-line path.  Worse, it would make pedestrians less visible, and since the curve encourages high speeds, it might be quite dangerous.  So in the end the design is forced to compromise with something like “B”.  In the right diagram with a tiny turning radius, the desire line has the shortest crossing distance and gets a properly aimed curb cut.

As another demonstration of the crossing distance, in the crossing of 80th there is almost an entire lane of distance in the road before actually reaching the travel lane.  Part of this is the bike lane, but part is due to the sweeping curve for the turn.

Just down the street (NE 80th St and 131 Ave NE), there’s another bizarre example:

Here they put a single curb cut at 45 degrees from the sidewalk.  This splits the distance between the crossings to the east (towards the camera) and the north (to the right in the picture).  However, they didn’t bother to put a crosswalk to the north, and they certainly didn’t put one diagonally across the intersection.  Then they used a ramp approach on the side with no crosswalk and a full curb blocking the walking path on the crosswalk side!  In the end, the travel path is mostly straight, but (coming towards the camera) involves turns to the right, left, and right and care to not clip a stroller wheel on the curb.

Even better, these are both within a few blocks of an elementary school.

Jaywalking a Huge Intersection?

I noticed something rather unfortunate while running through the 520 trail crossing at NE 40th St the other day.  I’ve written before about all of the conflicts at the intersection.  It turns out that the number of conflicts isn’t necessarily the lowest when the crosswalk signal is green.  I suppose I should add a disclaimer that readers should make their own decisions about the safety and legality of any maneuvers, which is probably further indictment of how our transportation systems aren’t designed for people, but I digress…

This depends a lot on the traffic levels, which mainly depend on the time of day.  This observation was from attempting to cross southbound on foot in the morning after the main commute, so traffic was light.

To the intersection:

(And note that right now the embedded image is old but if you click on the larger Google map you can see the result of the recent construction.)

The relevant change from the construction is the pedestrian island.  It’s small if you’re stuck there and creates a bottleneck for cyclists, but it can make the crossing more manageable.  It means that only the first half of the street needs to be clear to begin a crossing.  Previously, the intersection was simply too large for judgment.  Now, if one reaches the intersection outside of a pedestrian green (which is likely since the green is about 3 seconds long), one only needs to look back and left to find a clear opening to the median (plus whatever quick scan for wrong-way traffic and the like).  In the middle of the countdown, this might mean getting temporarily stranded in the median as the light changes.  Right after the countdown (during light traffic), the off-ramp will have cleared and a few cars will proceed from the east.  Then the light will stay green for no cars for a while.  Visibility to the east isn’t perfect since the traffic comes up over the bridge, but often this is a time where there are no cars on the off-ramp or headed westbound.  Contrast that to waiting for the pedestrian green, which gives enough time for someone to show up:

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.

In fact, it gets better:

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.

The pedestrian green is the only time that traffic can make the turn at high speed.  (Well, perhaps overlooking the possibility of an exiting car completely blowing the stop sign at high speed isn’t so wise, but a red is better than a green.)

This gets one to the median, where one might find the following:

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

[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.  This means that the below “first half” and “second half” no longer apply, and the north-to-south flow of somewhat less conflict no longer exists.  I’m not planning on writing about south-to-north, and the real point here is describing how pedestrian/bicycle lights are not designed for pedestrians’ or bicyclists’ safety, let alone convenience, so I’ll leave the rest of this up.]

During the first half of the east-west traffic phase, such a car will leave.  Otherwise, things are no worse than crossing with the signal.

When traffic is light, then as with the westbound traffic, the few eastbound cars will clear out early in the long green light, leaving a clear second-half crossing.  With no cars waiting to go straight, the right-turning drivers’ vision isn’t blocked:

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.

The second half of the east-west traffic phase gives a green light and left-turn arrow to the westbound traffic.  Often, due to the multi-intersection signal, more cars show up from the east for it.  If one has made it to the pedestrian island, then the drivers blocking the remaining crossing will have a red light, whereas the new traffic would block a full crossing of the street.  The right-turning drivers won’t be looking during the pedestrian red, but they aren’t looking during the pedestrian green either.

A side effect of this is a quicker crossing, but that isn’t really the point.  And if traffic is heavier, one can do the normal wait for the green light conflicts.  Or maybe WSDOT and Redmond can remove the conflicts from the pedestrian green someday…

Minimalist Shoes

I’ve been walking and running (and I guess cycling) in minimalist shoes for a few years now, so I thought it would be worthwhile to share my experiences.  The timing seems right, too, as I’ve just hit 1500 miles in my first pair that worked for me.  I’ll cover why I changed, what worked and didn’t, and how I look at shoes now.

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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.

Commentary:

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.