Neighborhoods and Bikes: Wallingford


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.

Bad move.

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.

The same way we came.
tire swinging
I guess it wasn’t that bad if I decided to repeat the experience.

– Anne

5 responses to “Neighborhoods and Bikes: Wallingford

  1. Way to go, Anne (& son)! I have been consistently amazed by the car drivers who don’t have the ambition to take trips that I consider routine on my bike. As for the weather, I think that it may be even worse for those who are normally only exposed to it on the trip from the building to the car, or vice versa. You deal with it daily, and you become familiar with it, and realize that it’s not worth letting it rule you. I wonder of your freinds ever go skiing?
    It’s true that Wallingford can be difficult, and requires maximum alertness, but the only thing that will motivate any change is more bikes riding through, creating a demand for change. Don’t let them discourage you; we WILL make a difference.

  2. I don’t know about the rest of you, but reading Val’s posts — whether here or elsewhere — always leaves me feeling warm and fuzzy!

    Thanks Val!

  3. Driver behavior is always a worry when you’re on a bike. I can’t help thinking of how much space it all takes too! So much parking space so much road space and often only for the sake of moving one or two people a very short distance rarely with any luggage or more load than a handbag etc… Then they have the audacity to act s if it is the cyclist who is in the way! LOL
    We really are living on the fringe of an odd social order that gives the automobile priority over more rewarding human experiences.
    Love the park scene; and I can’t help ogling the xtracycle in the background.
    We do the same thing here except we battle the tropical heat to visit our playground.

  4. “Instead, Wallingford delivers the typically lame Seattle excuse for a bicycle lane. . .”

    You have to be kidding. I lived in Wallingford for six years. Now I live in New Orleans. I would trade Wallingford Ave. or Stone Way for _any_ arterial here. (except, maybe, half of St. Charles Avenue.

    I took Seattle cycling for granted when I lived there. From here it looks like cycling paradise.

  5. This is going to strike you as coming from way out in left field, but here goes anyway… I am revising a book proposal that my literary agent wants to start shopping around in Januare ’10. It is a memoir of my experience with breast cancer, and I’m concerned with being as accurate as possible… The scene I’m presently rewriting took place on January 22, 2008 on Vashon Island and in Seattle. I was afraid I might be remembering the weather wrong because of the emotional nature of that day so I turned to the internet and there was your wonderful post about your frigid park visit with your son… It was not only enjoyable and well written, it also confirmed my recollections of the cold and wind… Thank you so much for that. Alice Orr

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