Northeast 75th Street is the kind of street where a child might dare to ride with no hands for the first time; where an evening stroll on the roadway is as common as it is on the sidewalk.
It feels this way largely because of how scarce the automobile is. Just 1,500 cars roll through its west-end each day—a stretch that features the campuses of Holy Family Catholic Parish and Lake Washington High School. On its more residential east end, fewer than 250 automobiles will pass through. Northeast 85th Street, by contrast, ushers more than 44,000 automobiles each day.
And yet, this is still a street that connects to significant destinations: South Rose Hill Park and the Bridle Trails Shopping Center, Holy Family Catholic Church, Lake Washington High School, the Northeast 80th Street pedestrian bridge and the Cross Kirkland Corridor via Kirkland Avenue.
The street’s inherent comfort and connectivity are what will make Northeast 75th Street Kirkland’s first neighborhood greenway. Construction on the Northeast 75th Street Greenway begins this summer. Construction on Kirkland’s second neighborhood greenway—Rose Hill’s 128th Avenue Northeast, which connects residents to the Lake Washington Institute of Technology, Mark Twain and Rose Hill elementary schools, businesses at Northeast 85th, as well as the 75th Street Greenway—begins spring 2019, contingent partly on Kirkland’s ability to earn a state grant that will help fund construction.
“The purpose is to create more choices and to improve quality of life by creating spaces on neighborhood roads, where walking and bicycling are every bit as comfortable and inviting as is driving in the streets,” said council member Jon Pascal, chair of the Kirkland City Council’s Parks, Public Works and Human Services Subcommittee in a press release.
To achieve this, the city of Kirkland will enhance these two greenway routes with a variety of devices such as rapid flashing beacons at challenging crossings, a two-way bicycling and walking path and way-finding signs that mark the greenway routes. One of the most effective of these devices is called the “diverter,” planned for 128th Avenue Northeast’s intersection with Northeast 100th Street. The diverter will discourage—but not restrict—turning an automobile from Northeast 100th Street onto the 128th Avenue Northeast Greenway.
The cities of Portland and Seattle have used diverters on sections of their own neighborhood greenways. Vancouver, British Columbia has relied on them to create a vast network of neighborhood greenways that have helped crown Vancouver as North America’s leader in non-motorized transportation. Bike-commuting in Vancouver, British Columbia increased 54 percent between 2013 and 2016. It now accounts for 10 percent of Vancouver’s trips to work, says Dale Bracewell, the City of Vancouver’s manager of transportation planning.
One of the reasons greenways helped Vancouver breach the 10-percent threshold for bike-commuting is that these bike friendly avenues appeal to the 60 percent of the population that is, according to a study by the Portland Bureau of Transportation, willing to ride their bicycles to destinations, but that is also wary of riding them in bicycle lanes on busy streets next to automobiles.
“As it turns out, about seven percent of the population is willing to do that,” said Joel Pfundt, Kirkland’s transportation manager in a press release. “But two-thirds of them want to be able to walk and ride bicycles to important destinations. So while bicycle lanes work well for some people, we’ve got to do more so we can serve more people.”
The pressures of a growing population exacerbate that responsibility.
Kirkland’s proximity to booming job markets and outdoor recreation continues to attract new people to the City, which population forecasters expect to grow by more than 23,000 jobs and 8,500 homes by the year 2035.
“That amount of growth will apply even more pressure to our transportation network,” Pfundt said in a press release. “Part of the plan is to use technology to maximize the efficiency of the street network we already have and provide more feasible choices to people for how they get around: walking, riding a bicycle, taking transit or driving.”
In several forums over the past few years, residents have affirmed this multi-modal transportation strategy: the 2035 Comprehensive Plan update, the master planning processes for both the Cross Kirkland Corridor and Totem Lake Park, as well as a more practical, day-to-day forum called “Suggest-a-Project,” which allows residents to suggest infrastructure projects.
That interactive system has accumulated more than 1,000 transportation-related suggestions. Eighty percent of the transportation-related suggestions request projects that would improve or create infrastructure for walking and bicycling, such as sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, bike paths and traffic calming devices.
“A robust multi-modal network is what we need to address the transportation challenges that come with the growth, plus it’s what many of our residents say they want,” Pascal said in a press release. “So we believe we are heading in the right direction.”