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.