I had plans to meet my friend at a park in Wallingford the other day. It was a pretty cold day in Seattle – 41 degrees and windy: the weather report said it felt like 28. We were undeterred by the weather, we just bundled up and got ready to go, despite the howling wind. The four-year-old said he felt like a snowman – he could barely move because I put three coats on him.
I had a thermos of hot chocolate and sandwiches for lunch – we were ready to roll. But just as we were walking out the door, my friend called to say they weren’t going to make it. It was too cold and her daughter didn’t want to go (in the CAR!!!). My son doesn’t take well to changes in plans, so we went without them. Our kids are out in the weather all of the time – this is Seattle after all – if you wait for a nice sunny day to go outside, you’ll spend 10 months out of the year indoors.
Wallingford is a dense neighborhood on the North end of Lake Union. Real estate prices there are high – because it has lots of city-living amenities to offer: shops, restaurants, tea houses, pubs and a movie theater - all within walking distance to residential housing.
All this density is great for walking, but unless accommodations are made for cycling, the riding can suffer. Sadly, I can report little in the way of two wheeled-accommodations.
Instead, Wallingford delivers the typically lame Seattle excuse for a bicycle lane on arterials such as Wallingford Ave. and Stone Way. In Seattle, a bike lane is defined as strip of paint close enough to our always present on-street parked cars to place passing riders in the perfect dooring zone. Parking is in short supply so drivers are at their worst. Common behaviors:
- driving slowly to find that perfect spot (while talking on the phone)
- stopping and waiting for perfect spot (while talking on the phone)
- pulling out suddenly into traffic without looking (while talking on the phone)
- And yes, dooring (while talking on the phone)
I normally go through the Greenlake neighborhood to get to Wallingford – which is much more pleasant. But that day I took the shortest route – down N 45th, one of the main East-West arterials in Seattle.
Because Seattle is seriously hurting when it comes to east-west mobility — our only two highways 99 and I-5 run north-south – 45th gets a lot of aggressive traffic. That’s to be expected. Drivers are probably cranky from sitting in traffic, tired of dodging parked cars that transform the road from two lanes to four and back all within a couple of blocks, and mostly likely fuming that they have to travel east-west anyway!
Though my chosen route wasn’t pleasant, it’s probably not any more dangerous than trying the nearby residential streets. The packed on-street parking situation means most of those roads have only a single travel lane. Playing chicken with a driver who is trying to bypass the arterial mess while watching out for potential doors is not my definition of a pleasant family xtracycle ride.
As you can imagine, if it wasn’t for all of the cars Wallingford (actually, this goes for the whole planet but that’s probably asking too much) would be a much more pleasant place. This, in my mind, is density gone bad. Frankly, if I lived in the neighborhood, I’d likely leave the bike at home and walk – it’s just not worth it.
All ranting aside, we had a fun day at the almost-empty park. A couple other moms and dads didn’t care that it was cold but most of the afternoon-park crowd stayed away. We played for awhile, ate some lunch, drank our cocoa, and then headed home.