The Washington State Transportation Improvement Board awarded Kirkland with more than $5 million last month to improve roads and sidewalks in the Totem Lake Urban Center.
The improvements aim to improve mobility for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians as the city implements its infrastructure strategies for the Totem Lake area. City engineers expect to finish designs by next summer and begin construction when developers complete The Village at Totem Lake in 2020.
“These grants are a boon for the rejuvenation of our Totem Lake urban center,” said Mayor Amy Walen in a press release. “Totem Lake is undergoing its most significant improvements since original construction of the mall and the surrounding road and sidewalk improvements will help us keep our infrastructure dependable.”
The city is always trying to minimize traffic impacts according to Kathy Brown, public works director, but because the Puget Sound region is booming, traffic increases are unavoidable.
“Kirkland is on the way to a lot of places and a lot of commuters pass through Kirkland. This will keep increasing,” she said. “We do have a good plan and the plan addresses the growth at the specific sites but because the entire area is developing so rapidly, there will be increased traffic.”
Brown said she thinks The Village at Totem Lake is already in the best position to minimize traffic impacts as it’s adjacent to I-405.
The city’s strategy is to create access to alternative transit as Totem Lake develops and becomes more dense. This focuses on multi-modal transportation, which the city hopes will allow more residents to walk, bike or bus to work, thus taking cars off the streets.
Ultimately, this development can cut both ways, but is an economic positive for the entire city and gives locals a great amenity, according to Joel Pfundt, transportation engineering manager for Kirkland public works.
“With all of this new activity it’s kind of a negative in that there’s new activity that comes with new traffic,” he said. “(But) all that activity that generates sales tax revenue which is how city is able to fund a lot of what we provide.”
The most intensive improvements will take place along Totem Lake Boulevard Northeast between Northeast 124th Street and 120th Avenue Northeast as crews will demolish the existing street and sidewalk before replacing the 40-year-old retaining wall and rebuilding the road and sidewalks.
This section of the boulevard is adjacent to Totem Lake and slowly sinking into the wetlands.
“The more densely this develops the more people will be driving over (this section),” Brown said. “It’s not something that people see every day, but that’s a really important project that we’ll be getting done and we’re super excited to have the grant funding for it.”
Additionally, infrastructure improvements will take place around most of Totem Lake Boulevard Northeast, 120th Avenue Northeast and Totem Lake Way. This primarily includes wider sidewalks, repaved roads, bike paths and a new boardwalk for residents to walk along Totem Lake.
“We’re trying to take streets that are working pretty hard and we want them to work for all modes,” Pfundt said. “(We want) to create more mobility for people and more ways for people to get around as the area grows.”
Totem Lake is classified as one of King County’s 18 urban centers because it accommodates 15,000 jobs within a half-mile of a transit center and maintains at least 50 employees and 15 households per acre — all within one and-a-half square miles or less.
According to Christian Knight, neighborhood services outreach coordinator with the city’s public works department, these obligations come with benefits, including priority eligibility for federal funding. Between 2009 and 2013 Kirkland received $6 million in federal grants, most of which is used for transportation, courtesy of the Totem Lake Urban Center.
Additionally, the Washington State Department of Transportation plans to open a freeway interchange in 2023 that will allow access to I-405 from Northeast 132nd Street. In a press release, WSDOT said it plans to begin presenting its preliminary design for the interchange this winter.
Sound Transit will also implement bus-rapid transit in the Totem Lake area four blocks south, according to Sound Transit. According to a press release, this will ensure freeway-side access to transit every 10-15 minutes at Northeast 128th Street in 2024.
Brown said this transit system will allow buses to operate similar to how a train operates, with fewer stops and shorter transit times.
“Change is hard. You grow up in a place, you love it and you want it to stay exactly like it is, but we can’t make that happen,” Brown said. “The region is growing and people are moving into Washington state and particularly into the Puget Sound area. That’s good for the economy, good for those of us who grew up here and it’s good for our kids. We can’t make it stay the same but we can guide the growth in a way to make it positive and better. And that’s what we’re doing.”