The revitalization of downtown Bothell is wonderful in many ways. Unfortunately, the new multi-way boulevard may not be one of them. When it comes to transportation, I consider myself fairly savvy. (I did figure out how the I-405 Express Toll Lanes work, which many people still struggle with and it took WSDOT 6 youtube videos, many pages on a website, and an interactive map just to explain them to drivers.) I have examined the new multi-way boulevard on SR527 in downtown Bothell. I have walked it, biked it, and driven it, but had never fully figured out how they are supposed to operate until now. Apparently I’m not the only one, so our city has put together their own youtube video demonstrating how they will work once open. Here it is:
This video just blows me away. Studying this configuration, I identified the following problems:
Problem: Cars turning right onto Bothell Way from cross streets.
When a car on the cross street pulls up to the signal while it is red, they will stop at the stripe across the lane, then pull forward to setup for a right hand turn onto Bothell Way which puts them in the KEEP CLEAR box and blocks entry to the access lane. But if turning Right on Red is allowed, then a driver MUST pull forward into the KEEP CLEAR box in order to see if their way is clear.
This is could be a nightmare of gridlock or it could leave vehicles that are trying to enter the access lane hanging in the middle of the intersection where they are at risk of getting hit. Consider in particular cars crossing Bothell Way and turning left into the access lane and cars making a U-turn from Bothell Way into the access lane.
Problem: Access lanes have stop signs while all other lanes in all directions of the intersections have a traffic signal.
Anyone approaching the intersection will be watching the traffic signal. They won’t be looking for traffic from the stop sign. Vehicles at the stop sign must yield right-of-way, but this makes for some complex circumstances to have to watch traffic coming from so many directions including behind you, over your left shoulder, where the street poles, signs, and pedestrians obstruct their view and make it an unpredictable blind turn.
Problem: Drivers do not have a clear view of the traffic signal from the access lane.
Drivers in the access lane must yield to all other traffic. But they cannot predict what the other traffic will do in the intersection if they can’t see the traffic signal. And pedestrians can further block their view.
Problem: exiting the access lanes.
From the access lane drivers can go straight to continue in the access lane or turn right. They cannot turn left and they cannot merge back into the main lanes of Bothell Way. In other words, once in the access lane, the only way out is to turn right on a cross street or to continue in it for several blocks to the end of the access lane where it merges back onto Bothell Way. I expect there will be collisions or conflicts from vehicles in the access lane
Let’s face it. If a road is so complicated that it needs a youtube video, it’s too complicated.
Problem: U-turns and Left turns into the access lanes.
Of all the issues, I think the U-turn and left turn rules for entering the access lanes are the most confusing. If you are on a cross street and want to turn left onto the access lane, you must do so from the lanes that go straight through the intersection, NOT the lanes that turn left onto Bothell Way (watch the video starting at 1:42). I expect those people turning left into the access lane from the straight lane will receive the wrath of many angry drivers who don’t know this is how it is supposed to work. Drivers are also allowed to make a U-turn on Bothell Way to enter the access lane in the opposite direction. Typically U-turns are not permitted in busy intersections like these for a reason. It will be exacerbated by traffic blocking the entry to the access lane while waiting to turn right on red onto Bothell Way.
Parallel parking instead of back-in diagonal parking.
Parallel parking is the most difficult for drivers to manage. People have a hard time getting close to the curb so as not to block the road. This is exacerbated by having parallel parking on both sides and a narrow lane of traffic between. (see photo)
This is also a cyclist’s nightmare. Riding a bike beside parked cars is dangerous. You never know when someone will suddenly open their door and you will run into it. Now put one on either side of the lane and there is no safe passage except in the center of the lane. Parallel parking also wastes space. back-in diagonal parking is far more efficient and safer. It would allow for many more parking spaces (as much as double, depending on the configuration.)
Problem: Curb extensions are too tight and the access lane too narrow.
Look at all the tire marks on the curbs on both sides of the lane as cars pull out of The Ranch restaurant. ’nuff said, but if you need more, this first came to my attention when I was standing next to the pylon on the right side of this photo and nearly got hit as a pickup truck turned out of The Ranch and his back tire came far up over the curb and ran over the pylon in the photo.
An attractive change from the usual impervious surface. Unfortunately, it is already showing signs that is was installed improperly. See the curves in the lines because the bricks have shifted due to cars stopping. For comparison, see the lines on the new section that is not being used yet.
There is nothing bike-friendly about this entire configuration. It is a nightmare for anyone on a bicycle. While the video says there are “wide sidewalks and bicycle routes”, I don’t see any, unless they are proposing that the sidewalk is the bike route. There are no bike lanes on Bothell Way and the right-hand lane of the main road is too narrow to allow cars to safely pass. (Normally the right hand lane is made a foot or so wider than the left lane.) The access lanes aren’t well-suited for bikes either. Bikes don’t do well on cobblestone and the speeds in the access lanes are too slow for people who are using a bicycle as transportation, not just for a leisurely ride. But people who are committed to using a bike to get around will not let these hazards keep them from trying. As you can see by this tandem that came up the cross street on the left and then turned and rode the wrong way down the access lane. They had little choice. The sidewalk with the tunnel on the left is not suitable for bikes.
Finally, I leave you with this video of a combination of distracted driver and multi-way boulevard…
The distracted driver is texting while driving; then without checking the other lane, she switches lanes and pulls ahead of the stop stripe to stop in the area marked “KEEP CLEAR”; (OK, the KEEP CLEAR paint is already worn off); then sits there while the signal has a flashing arrow for her to go. Scary. This is more a distracted driver problem than a problem with the multi-way boulevard in downtown Bothell, but combining the two (distracted drivers and confusing/unorthodox road configurations) is bound to be a perilous combination. People on bikes and on foot beware! So much for the Safe Streets and Sidewalks campaign we worked on last November.