May 31, 1999
BOTHELL--Current solution proposals for traffic jams at the intersection of Beardslee Boulevard, Ross Rd., and 112th Ave. NE would appear to leave residents of the North Creek community further "up the creek" than they already are.
If City of Bothell representatives' comments at the May 25 public hearing are any indication, obtaining a big enough paddle to continue easy access to I-405 might be very "iffy," as well. But the hearing mediator, design engineer Michael Stringam of Perteet Engineering, the firm hired by the City, is very optimistic that this hearing process will eventually produce positive results for all concerned.
"Most of us bought property in North Creek because of the easy freeway access," said North Creek spokesperson Pat Ewing. "We have 63 houses and 1,400 apartment units. The City didn't foresee mitigation problems, and the UW traffic study omitted that intersection. One City proposal would divert us down Ross Rd. during peak-hour traffic, then cut across NE 185th to Beardslee. That would only add to Beardslee's congestion problem. The other City alternative would make us go south on Beardslee, then try to turn left across northbound Beardslee traffic into their proposed U-turn area. Then we'd have to get back into northbound traffic on Beardslee. That proposal does not sound reasonable to us, either."
The U-turn location is almost in front of the Hilton site, which means North Creek U-turn traffic would have to compete with hotel traffic and thousands of UW Bothell students, Ewing pointed out. "Of the many mitigation alternatives suggested by Hilton, we don't understand why the City Council chose that one. The U-turn won't work for us. We believe giving [112th street residents] direct access to I-405 would relieve Beardslee congestion instead of increase it."
Ewing said the City originally committed to maintain I-405 access from 112th but has since changed their tune. City officials acknowledged the planned U-turn would only be big enough for average-sized cars to turn in, not larger cars or trucks from 112th. Those vehicles would apparently be forced down Beardslee into the crowded downtown area.
Ewing suggested changing the south end of 112th to intersect with Beardslee closer to the southbound freeway exit, with a four-way signal there, would be more reasonable.
Bill Wiselogle of City of Bothell Community Planning said the state Dept. of Transportation (DOT) feels that a light at the Beardslee-112th intersecton would cause backups in Beardslee traffic going west from the northbound freeway exit ramp light. He agreed a 112th-Beardslee signal would be a lower cost alternative, if the DOT had an engineering solution.
Dick Paylor represented business and property owners from the affected area at the hearing. He lives in the neighborhood, is selling the land to Hilton, and has been active in traffic relief discussions. "Closing the north end of Ross Rd. with a cul-de-sac seems like a less expensive, first-step answer to reducing congestion," he said. "That would also help the North Creek folks turn left to I-405." Paylor said the Hilton was required to build an entrance to Ross Rd. for emergency-fire access, but that the driveway would normally be chained.
Paylor agrees that if engineers could curve 112th toward the freeway exit intersection with Beardslee and put a single light there for all three roads, "there wouldn't be a loser in the bunch. It doesn't seem to be a priority for the DOT, but we aren't talking about a pioneering design. I am always amazed at how well traffic moves through the five-way intersection at NE 8th and 112th NE in Bellevue. And that intersection handles much heavier traffic than this one would."
Paylor defended Hilton's U-turn mitigation proposal. "The U-turn is a suitable choice that is used successfully in many areas, such as on 148th in Bellevue, but I hope there's a better long-term solution. The U-turn legally fulfills the mitigation requirements. North Creek residents want all projects stopped until the final solution is reached, but there should have been improvements to this intersection when North Creek was developed 10 years ago. Putting the burden on Hilton is not consistent with the law. This is a traffic situation with a long history of events, and the greater solution is outside the control of a single developer. I don't see the sense in pinning the blame on the most recent developers, the UW and Hilton. I was very pleased with the public hearing. Everyone there seemed focused on positive solutions."
A senior citizen in the audience, who said he uses the intersection two to three times a day, said a free right-turn lane from Beardslee onto southbound I-405 should greatly relieve Beardslee congestion. Wiselogle agreed that idea, one proposed by the UW, would significantly reduce the problem, but that too awaits positive DOT response.
Thomas Parmenter, Ross Rd. resident since 1984, spoke of the need to widen Ross Rd. to at least 30 feet from its present 18 feet. "Ross Rd. has blind curves and is hardly wide enough for two cars to pass," he said.
Wiselogle said widening Ross would drastically, and expensively, change the old road's character. "We would lose a lot of trees and would have to build rockeries on both sides, because the west side slopes up and the east side slopes down." It would also impact property owners' driveways and landscaping, he said.
"I don't know the history, so I'm coming in with no preconceptions or prejudices," said Stringam. "I'm not necessarily looking for large numbers of people at these hearings. I don't see the purpose of finger-pointing by people showing up just to complain about past problems, with everyone expecting someone else to fix the problems. We want people who are ready to roll up their sleeves and commit positive energy and ideas. This meeting showed me we have concerned citizens with a lot of good ideas. There just hasn't been the right forum for them to process the resolution of these problems."
Stringam will host a Design Charette (collaborative workshop) at the next Beardslee project public meeting on Saturday, June 12, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Ricketts Building auditorium, 18315 Bothell Way NE. He will show several computerized traffic simulations of various solutions for workshop participants to consider. One of those, a roundabout intersection, is designed to efficiently move traffic using yield signs rather than signals.
"Although local use is limited to Port Orchard and University Place in Pierce County, roundabouts have been very successful in Vail, Colorado," Stringam said. "They are generally used where four or more entries to an intersection are involved. They are exceptionally efficient in moving light traffic. A study here showed some people might be confused trying to figure out who has the right of way, but we think that people would quickly overcome the 'newness' factor. Vail is heavily occupied by tourists, but they have adapted very successfully."
Roundabouts don't make traffic go faster or slower; the radius size of the intersection pre-determines the speed limit, said Stringam. The roundabout has long been used in New England towns, as in rural Massachusetts where they are often built around a town center statue or fountain. Traffic flows counter-clockwise, and often includes more than one lane. Drivers continue around until they reach their chosen exit street.
The Charette will also identify project limits, vital issues such as neighborhood accessibility, short-cut traffic, pedestrian and bike safety, and streetscaping. Participants will break into groups at design work tables to suggest specific solutions.
Each group will be given project plans, aerial photos, and marking pens. Project engineers, planners, and urban designers will help them draw up their ideas. Each work table will then present their proposals to the entire group. Participants will make concensus selections of three solutions meriting further study.
The next day, Sunday, June 13, from 10 a.m. to around 3:30 p.m., Perteet staff members will work with citizen members of the Saturday workshop to prepare up to three refined plans for presentation to the City Council on June 21. That session will also be at Ricketts.