Bike Commute Route Comparison: North End, I-90, and 520

Yesterday, a wonderful thing happened; I’d almost call it a Christmas miracle. The long-awaited, oft-delayed multi-use path across 520 finally opened all the way, connecting the Eastside with Seattle for bikes and pedestrians. Naturally, I immediately seized the opportunity and rode across it the first available opportunity… and the second available opportunity, too. Now I’ve ridden it twice, and I’ve got to say, it’s lovely.

The path itself is wide, smooth (except for a few unavoidable metal plates, a feature of pretty much every bridge I’ve ever ridden over), and well lit. I imagine that in daylight you’d get a lovely view. There’s also a user-counter on the Seattle end of the bridge that informed me that yesterday I was user number 1,965 and today I was user 858, which I think is pretty nifty (if it works; TBD).

I know that for some commuters, this is going to be a complete game-changer. For my part, while it’s going to be super nice to have this option, and I know we’ll use this on bike routes, I don’t think it will change much in terms of how long I take getting home on a day-to-day basis. It’s kind of a hybrid between the North End route I do three times a week and the I-90 route I do once a week — a couple miles less, but not much faster.

Because I spend all day writing technical documents, of course I’m going to make a table outlining the pros and cons of each route. The column headers are links to a representative route.

 Route North End I-90 520
Distance (miles) 21.4 22.1 19.6
Est. Avg. Time¹ (h:m) 1:19² 1:27³ 1:18
Elevation Gain (ft) 550 1300 1000
n Hundreds Dozens 1
Stop Lights After Fremont, very few Many throughout Varies by section
Traffic After Fremont, minimal car traffic Lots throughout Varies by section
Other Factors Pedestrians and other cyclists a hazard between Fremont and UW, but sometimes get to wheelsuck for a faster commute. Goes through downtown Bellevue and Kirkland; crosses Mercer Slough (freezing/icy). Goes through UW (slow pedestrian traffic), goes through downtown Kirkland.

¹ Seasonal differences can result in +/- 15 minutes, depending on temperature, wind, rain, bicycle, amount of cargo and carrying options, and company.

² Varies substantially by season, bicycle, and cargo carrying options. This route is most impacted by all variables.

³ Not as impacted by variables, possibly moderated by inefficiencies of hills and numerous stoplights. I’d hypothesize that the 520 route would be a mix of the two in terms of variation.

Well, that’s all I’ve got so far. After two uses of the bridge and one full 520-route commute, I’m still in evaluation mode. I’ll keep y’all updated.

Bike Commuting Thoughts

Trust in Good from the bottom of you heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own.

Proverbs 3:5

I’m trying to figure out my biking situation still. I’m torn between training hard to get faster and commuting–which, I’ve found, isn’t conducive to getting faster, no matter how good my intentions.

When I started at Tamarac last January, I laid out a training plan for myself that included interval sets doable on the trail and some days with added hills. I was keenly aware that plain old commuting has, in the past, worn me down without any fitness gains. I wanted to avoid that.

Again, good intentions… Following my plan, I felt exhausted on every Saturday ride. My legs had no reserves and every time I tried to work hard, I went straight to lactic acid burning. I did one hill repeat ride in the week that seems to have damaged my left leg for real. Now when I try to ride up a long hill, my left leg gives out and I can’t make it. I also got slower on hills in general because my commute is so flat.

Anyway, I want to rethink my plan for this year. The paradigm of varying my commute days was a good one. I just need to dial in what that variety looks like and how I incorporate more hill work. And I have to find a way to motivate myself to work hard on my bike after a long day at work that used up most of my discipline.

I’m generally not happy with my biking fitness after almost a year of steady commuting. All that means is that it’s time for a change.

So Many Things

Sleep has eluded me the last few weeks. My brain seems to express anxiety this way — perhaps everyone’s does, I don’t know. But when we built the fireplace, I literally went through a period of almost total insomnia, which at least taught me some strategies for dealing with sleeplessness. These weeks, the anxiety has come out more as waking up obscenely early, or sleeping for only short periods of time between long wake-ups. But I’ve gotten enough sleep to get by, and I’m not stressing about it because I know it’ll pass when everything settles back down.

To be fair, that might be quite a while. I think this transition will rank among our biggest, on par with welcoming Benji into our family. Some of the things we’re adapting:

Benji care

By far our biggest adaptation, and one I’m still not settled on. At this time, we’ve selected an at-home daycare recommended by ORCS. It has two adults and up to nine kids, with Benji as the oldest. A couple others are three, and the remainder are under the age of 2.5 years old. I don’t love that; it means they don’t go out on field trips and the adults are stretched pretty far.

I also don’t love that when we walked in to visit, the TV was on, tuned to the Disney Channel (which is an issue in and of itself — all the research indicates that those kind of shows, with many rapid cuts, actually harm kids’ brains, besides being incomprehensible to them). Ian and I have worked hard to make very careful, deliberate decisions about Benji’s screen time, setting firm boundaries and carefully vetting everything he watches. At the same time, we always watch with him and make sure to discuss what we watched so he understands what was going on. We absolutely, positively never have the TV on for “background noise” (as the daycare provider described it); that means he doesn’t–can’t–ignore a TV.

I talked with the daycare provider about this, and she immediately agreed to have the TV off when Benji was there. I’m not sure that will happen, though, because there’s another kid there who seemed glued to the screen both times I visited. If it’s a choice between that kid having a tantrum and respecting our preference for no TV on, who’s likely to win?

So although we have a place for Benji, I’m not real satisfied with it. I’d prefer to find an in-home daycare with fewer kids and closer to Benji’s age; or, better, have Benji go to a friend’s house (with compensation, of course), or even a nanny (although I find that prospect both daunting and alarmingly expensive). I really wish we could hire a friend with kids to take Benji as an extra kid, but it doesn’t seem like that’s going to be possible. Otherwise I’d like to find a nanny-share of some sort, but again, I have no idea how to go about finding that. And we must have something in place by January 23, when my job starts.

Biking

I started riding as a slow and steady bike commuter, but after I stopped working, I switched to recreational riding. I’ve really enjoyed riding long distances fast, and I’ve made some good friends along the way. Saturdays have become my day to spend riding with Dad and those biking buddies, my “escape from home” mental health day.

With this new job, I’m going back to that slow, steady commuting. I expect I won’t be seeing 20 mph very often anymore, and those ultra-distance rides are going to be a distant memory. That’s a tough thing to let go of, because I do love those century Saturdays. Then, too, I have to adjust to spending weekends at home again — that’ll be the only time I have to spend with my family. And, with all that, I won’t see those biking buddies as much, if at all. I’m sad that I may not see those friends much, if at all, in the future. But, alas, commuting is usually a solo activity.

I think it’s worth it, and the 20-mile one-way commute from my new work will certainly help me stay in healthy (if not speedy) biking shape. When the 520 bridge bike path opens, I’m going to have a super commute. Until then, it’s slogging through downtown up to the Burke-Gilman, a commute I did ages ago at the Bike Alliance and that I didn’t love. (In fact, it’s salutatory to review that blog post, which reminds me that 5-day-a-week commuting may not be my wisest choice.)

Over time, I trust we’ll find some kind of balance that allows me to have the satisfaction of the occasional long ride, regular commuting, and still spending time with my family. It does feel daunting, though.

Ian

It looks like he’s going to have to take on a lot more Benji care in addition to his regular work, as I’m likely to be gone from about 7:00 am to about 5:30 or 6:00 pm. That means he readies Benji for the day, drops off and picks up from daycare, spends the afternoon with him, and maybe feeds him dinner and puts him to bed, if I get home late. Right now, we split most of those things. I don’t feel comfortable with all that additional burden falling on him, but, again, we’ll just have to see how everything shakes out.

Our finances

On the bright side, my salary means that Ian no longer carries the burden of sole breadwinner, which frees him up to look for other jobs he might like better. Also, the risk of his losing his job or other major financial crisis does go down substantially. We have talked about this financial easing, which I hope will help remove the burdensome sense of duty and responsibility.

Plus, while money’s not been tight, per se, we certainly haven’t had much wiggle room in finances lately. Depending on how much childcare ends up costing, my additional income will allow us to save for financial goals much more effectively. Of course, we’ll also adjust our giving appropriately, too.

Those are just a few of the areas dramatically changing. Some of them do keep me up at night more than others. It doesn’t help that most of my peers and both my family and my in-laws chose to have Mom stay at home with the kids. While our families support this decision, I can tell it seems kind of incomprehensible to them. I don’t have any role-models or support from moms who’ve done it for how to do this full-time working and being a mom thing, and that makes it tough, too.

Whew! I guess this is my honesty post about things worrying me. As Benji would say, though, “Don’t worry!” –I do have lots of excitement and enthusiasm about this new job. It’s going to be amazing and worth all this upheaval. Just… lots of both anxiety and excitement.

Lemonade

I had a six-hour-long meeting at work and didn’t leave until 3:30 pm. I was (rightly) concerned that I’d get caught commuting home in the dark, having brought only a small blinking front and rear light since I expected to leave the office about 2:00 pm. On the bright side, I got to see first a very pretty rainbow, and barely got sprinkled on.

Commute Rainbow

A little bit later, riding along the Sammamish slough, I got a nice view of the sunset happening as I rode along. That’s one good thing about these early sunset nights — we actually are awake to see them (when the sun isn’t entirely obscured by clouds). In the summer, when the sun sets at 10:00 pm, sometimes I go to bed before the sun does.

Anyway, as I rode along admiring the sunset, I thought, “Why don’t I stop and take pictures? I never stop, but why am I in such a hurry? Two minutes won’t make any difference.” So I found a few good spots to snap a couple pictures. It’s not like my phone is an amazing camera, but it’s nice to have something along because I am a total sucker for sunsets.

Commute Sunset 1

Commute Sunset 4

Everything looked so beautiful over the course of my ride (at least until the sun set at 4:25; that’s likely the last time we’ll see the sun for the next week or so, according to our forecast), thanks to the gorgeous light… and to my favorite bike glasses lenses, which are — you probably guessed it — rose-colored. Really. I keep going on rides and saying, “Wow, that tree’s colors are spectacular!” or “Those clouds are fabulous!” and everyone else in the group says, “Huh?” and that’s when I remember that my lenses are pink.

And you know what? I like it. I don’t think there’s any harm in seeing the world tinted a little more beautiful sometimes. There’s plenty of ugliness and darkness, and I know it’s there. I’ll still look at things and know there’s beauty there, too. All you need is a change of perspective.

Biking Benefits

Today Benji and I got to do two fun things because we ride a bike for the commute to/from preschool. I’m going to throw in a third related vignette for good measure, but these stories are practically infinite.

1. On the way there, a large work van went by and we saw it had a picture of a forklift on the side. We speculated about whether that meant there were, in fact, forklifts inside the truck/van/thing (Benji was all for this theory).

A little way down the road, there was the van, pulled over on our side of the road. I asked Benji if he wanted to stop and ask if there were forklifts inside, and he really did. So we pulled over next to the truck, the driver rolled down his window, and I asked (Benji was too shy and incomprehensible).

The driver told us that no, there were no forklifts in the back (sad!), but wait! Turns out that he was a forklift repair man going to the siding company across the road to fix one of their forklifts. We looked over there and, gratifyingly, a forklift just in our view picked up a load of pipes* at that moment. We thanked the driver and rode away, highly pleased.

*Autosuggest offered “puppies” instead of “pipes,” a wonderful and rather hilarious mental image.

2. In a very similar vein, on our way home from school, we went by a couple of City of Bothell work vans and trucks parked just off the Sammamish River Trail by a bridge over the slough. They were parked near a large blue tent. We decided to investigate, and the City workers were pleased to tell us what they were doing.

Apparently, wherever a sewer pipe crosses a bridge, even a small one like the one over the slough, there’s a pump to hurry the slurry (so to speak). There’s also a backup generator, in case power goes out. Definitely don’t want that backing up!

Anyway, if I understood correctly, after 35 years, one of the pistons in the backup generator got a hole in it. They ordered a new piston (they’re readily available, apparently, even after three and a half decades) and had just finished replacing it when we came along. The worker showed up pictures of the piston with the hole and the replacement piston.

Benji was very interested. He definitely understood the idea of helpers fixing the broken thing, even if he didn’t understand exactly what the thing was or why it was broken.

3. Finally, last week we were riding home on the road rather than the trail, when a fire engine from Bothell Fire Station 42 went by. Naturally, we waved. But even better for us, the fire station was actually in our route home, and we arrived there in time to see the truck backing into its spot in the garage.

Even more happily, one of the firefighters offered to give us a tour of the trucks, an offer we promptly accepted. We learned that the ladder truck’s ladder can go 100′ up (!) and that they use it for different uses than a tiller truck. The ladder has a bucket on the end that makes it useful for lifting equipment and people quickly, or for rescuing people from very high places. But, the firefighter said, they had to be careful not to bonk into things with the ladder when they turn the 51-foot-long truck, since the ladder extends a long way beyond the rear wheels.

We also learned that the truck had once gone out and rescued a cat from a tree, although they used a shorter ladder for that (they put the cat in a sack to carry out down).

Again, we left highly gratified and with lots of scope for play and stories.

We certainly couldn’t have had any of those exchanges in a car, zooming by too fast to stop. Biking allowed us to enjoy the journey a bit more, rather than just rushing from Point A to Point B. The fact is, although I like technology and efficiency as much as the next person, I have increasingly come to value slow time, one-on-one relationship time that only happens at a rate of one minute per minute. Benji and I have many interesting and, for him, educational conversations on our bike rides that otherwise wouldn’t happen. We certainly do use the car for getting places quickly, but I value and enjoy our biking time especially.

Meanwhile, back at Benji school (part 2)

Remember back in March when we started biking consistently to Benji school, and we got a nasty sign put up telling us not to park in the building? At the time, the wonderful folks at Kindering asked the building manager to put up a bike rack. I appreciated the gesture but figured we wouldn’t be around to benefit whenever the each went up.

How wrong I was! Today when we arrived at Benji school (in the car, due to thunderstorms periodically drenching our area) we saw a new bike rack! And it was just in the perfect spot, covered and near the front door.

image
At left, the new, permanent no bikes sign; at right, the new outside bike rack.

I’m not sure how we’ll park our trailer there right blocking the door, but we’ll figure something out.

I’m just really grateful for a positive resolution. Definitely the best outcome I would have hoped for.