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Competition puts potential cross Kirkland trail’s safety in view

Seattle University students Jason Huyhn and Evan Niimoto, front, won the American Society of Civil Engineers competition organized by Seattle University and the City of Kirkland. They stand with judges, from left, Dave Ramsay, Paulo Nunes Ueno, Larry Toedtli, Amy Walen and David Godfrey.  - Contributed
Seattle University students Jason Huyhn and Evan Niimoto, front, won the American Society of Civil Engineers competition organized by Seattle University and the City of Kirkland. They stand with judges, from left, Dave Ramsay, Paulo Nunes Ueno, Larry Toedtli, Amy Walen and David Godfrey.
— image credit: Contributed

The City of Kirkland finalized the purchase of the old Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail line through the city on April 13 for $5 million. But what now for the 5.75 mile stretch?

One of the main ideas is for the rail line to be converted into a cross Kirkland trail for bikers, walkers and runners. But there are many issues with using the trail in that manner. One of the main questions has been a tough issue in Kirkland for years - how to safely get those non-motorized commuters across the street safely.

A competition between students from four different universities, held at Seattle University’s Center for Urban Horticulture on April 27, attempted to answer that question.

“It really turned out very well,” said Seattle University student coordinator for civil engineering Maureen O’Sullivan. “I was really surprised at the depth to which some of the teams went. Some of the teams went out to the sites to see them firsthand.”

The competition came about through the American Society of Civil Engineers Conference.

“These competitions are usually for structures but we wanted to do something different so we chose transportation,” said O’Sullivan.

Seattle Univerity’s Evan Niimoto and Jason Huyhn won the competition, receiving three first-place votes for cost effectiveness and simple solutions, while the Oregon Institute of Technology’s team of Matt Nicholson and Seth Hernandez came in second with two first-place votes, primarily on its focus of safety.

“I thought it would be a great learning experience where I would learn more in the field of work I am passionate about, as well as get the opportunity to solve a real life problem,” said Niimoto. “I also wanted to use this opportunity to practice my public speaking and network with others in the field, considering I haven’t got around to doing that much yet, being only a sophomore.”

He added that the most difficult part was finding the time to work on the project.

The competition was judged by Kirkland City Councilwoman Amy Walen, City of Kirkland Transportation Engineering Manager David Godfrey, former Kirkland City Manager Dave Ramsay, Seattle Children’s Hospital transportation Director Paulo Nunes Ueno and Transpo Group Principal Larry Toedtli.

“It was probably one of the most fun things I have done since being a council member,” said Walen. “They are all very smart kids and it was obvious the competition meant a lot to them.”

Each team analyzed the six intersections between the rail line and surface streets in Kirkland. Many of the changes involved removing railroad crossing warnings on the pavement and train crossing signals. Most of the intersections have different issues associated with them such as inclines, being on a curve, poor lighting, high vehicle speed, high traffic areas, low traffic areas and long crossing distances, among others.

Some of the ideas for making the crossings more safe were to install speed humps for cars, signage, pavement lights, concrete walkways to the trail, new stop-line striping for motor vehicles, installing islands to slow cars and to split lanes of traffic for easier pedestrian crossing and more lighting.

“I had only seen the intersections on Google Earth and AutoCAD,” said Niimoto. “From those images and data, I was able to immediately come up with preliminary ideas for how I wanted to create the crossings. However, getting to see the site from every angle and knowing how people drive through the area was difficult without actually having seen it. By seeing the site, it definitely helped spark new ideas in my head as well as modify what I thought would work before I had seen the site.”

Niimoto said he did not expect cars to be driving so fast in particular areas that had low posted speed limits. In those intersections, he and his partner thought it would not require much work but did warrant a traffic calming device such as speed humps.

Some recommended diverting the trail to relatively closer motor vehicle intersections for easier pedestrian crossing. One suggestion was to use something that Kirkland has already installed at some high traffic pedestrian crossings - cross flags.

High traffic intersections had more issues than side-street crossings.

One of the most complicated intersections to deal with was in Totem Lake, where the rail crosses N.E. 124th and Totem Lake Blvd. consecutively.

“Actually going out there just confirmed that it would not be feasible to place crossings approximately 70 feet from a major signalized intersection, nor would it be feasible to put in a grade separation,” said Niimoto. “Also, walking through the crosswalks at the intersection took forever, due to the long signal timing. Therefore I thought to myself… if I were a pedestrian, I would just jaywalk.”

Cost estimates for the students varied as widely as their ideas. The Seattle University students thought their changes to the rail line crossings would come to $153,000, while the students from Idaho State University estimated more than $406,000 for their project.

“It was also difficult at times to find some information regarding costs and regulations for every little detail,” said Niimoto. “Nevertheless, I had so much fun doing all the work that I did for this competition. I can honestly say that those 12-hour days in the CAD lab I was having a blast.”

The biggest difference between the two submissions was how they handled the double crossing in Totem Lake. While the SU students maintained the current crosswalk style, ISU students opted for a pedestrian bridge.

“The Seattle University students came to Kirkland and took photos,” said Walen. “They were very technical in their approach.”

ISU students approached the intersection by rerouting the trail along the sidewalks, widening the sidewalks and syncing the existing traffic signals for crossing.

One of the biggest cost differences came at the 132nd Place N.E. intersection. SU’s overhead signage and lights were nearly $44,000 more than the ISU students’ idea to finish the trail just prior to the Redmond boundary.

Oregon Institute of Technology came up with some creative ways to make the trail safer for pedestrians at the crossings by snaking the trail to create a perpendicular crossing as most of the crossings are diagonal.

“They did a great job of presenting the whole picture,” said Walen, who noted that the university is in Klamath Falls, Ore. where there is a popular pedestrian trail. “But they were very careful about safety.”

The students from the University of Idaho also attempted to make crossings more perpendicular. The point of this is to give the motorized traffic a better line-of-sight at the crossings.

OIT students dealt with the double crossing in Totem Lake with a new timing scenario for the traffic signals, giving the trail an all way stoppage of vehicles at the same time.

“I also learned a lot about Kirkland’s active Transportation Plan and will take away a lot of its ideas to implement in other potential projects I may ever be working on,” said Niimoto.

 

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