Hop on the bus, Gus? Uh, no thanks
There’s a possibility of employment in Redmond, in the industrial park area at the end of State Route 520. As much as I love the Escape, it’s a bit of a guzzler, so last night I was looking at King County Metro Transit’s Trip Planner.
Because of my address (I guess) any time I try to plan a trip that involves a 17 bus, I get two nearly identical alternatives. One takes a minute longer if I catch it at the Shell mini-mart instead of the place where Inflatable Boat Works used to be (both stops are at opposite ends of the same block). But I am stunned by the length of the trip: one hour and 52 minutes! To travel (according to Mapquest) 17.6 miles!! I’m thinking, I could probably get there faster by riding the PX around the north end of Lake Washington.
Okay, what the heck, why not? I’m not doing anything, and the weather should be okay, at least through mid-afternoon.
I leave Seattle Center McDonald’s with a full gas tank at exactly 9:25 am, having stopped there for a Sausage, Egg and Cheese McGriddle. Yes, I suppose there are healthier alternatives for breakfast, but God help me, I love these things so.
It’s cool, damp and probably foggy at higher elevations. Given the distance and increased possibility of something ugly happening, I opt for group ride dress: hiking boots, thick socks and my Corazzo jacket. The pavement is wet enough to be dangerous in places where oil or other fluids have been dropped, so I don’t plan on any speed runs today.
However, when commuting your real danger is getting caught up in someone else’s bone-headed maneuver. As I approach the Fremont Bridge, a taxi makes a hard right turn from the number 2 lane to the bridge access ramp, causing a guy on a metric bike (like a Harley, but doesn’t vibrate or leak oil) to lay hard on his brakes. Fortunately, I’m far back enough to be able to stop if the biker dumps his machine, but that doesn’t happen.
This part of the route is the same way I’d go to Cafe Racer, but instead of turning off 65th at Ravenna, I’ll keep going to 12th and turn left. So far, so good. Lake City Way comes up in a few blocks, and the second near miss of the trip happens when two box vans seem not to notice the presence of the other until they’re literally inches apart. A collision would’ve been quite ugly, since the box parts of these trucks are usually made of plywood or fiberglass, both of which tend to shatter. But someone is looking out for these guys, and there’s no crash.
The posted speed limit on this Part of Lake City Way is 35 mph, but most people think of it as a freeway. Luckily, traffic is light enough that I can just stay right and chill as people blow by. The speedometer is showing 45 mph, but I know it’s rather optimistic, so I remember my group ride practice, and stop looking.
Most of this route is familiar because I grew up in Bellevue and used to go to an orthodontist in Kenmore. In fact, I didn’t know the street where I’d make a right off what is now Bothell Way was called 68th Avenue NE. I do know that the next left becomes Simonds Road after a brief interval as NE 170th Street.
Simonds Road is a gradual uphill climb, so I get a good run going on 170th. There’s a white Dodge Intrepid in the distance behind me, but as I go further up the hill, the PX starts slowing. I give it more throttle, almost all there is, but I’m still slowing. This is where a performance exhaust pipe might make sense; I’m going fast enough where shifting down to 3rd gear would just zing the engine, with no real increase in forward motion.
Luckily, I crest the hill in the nick of time, and the driver of the Intrepid is maintaining a reasonable distance. I can run the speed limit. But there’s a sign warning of a 9% down grade ahead. Yes, I remember going downhill coming home from those adjustments to my mouth hardware, but I don’t remember it being that steep. (A 9% grade means it goes up or down 9 feet for every hundred feet forward)
The pavement is rather moist, and I’m a bit concerned the Intrepid person behind me might run ouf of patience and try a pass at an inopportune time. Nothing to do but take a deep breath and just let the bike run downhill.
All goes well as I come to a stop at 100th Avenue NE. I turn right, the Intrepid goes left. I spot Buttera Motors, which has been in that same building just about forever. The landscape surrounding it, however, has changed profoundly. Where there used to be houses on acreage, the space between Bothell Way and I-405 is pretty well packed with strip malls, pastel-colored McMansions and beige condos/apartments.
Same deal on NE 124th Street. Where there used to be a whole lotta nothin’ there’s now a whole lotta beige buildings. Hmm, I could’ve sworn that Azteca used to be an Olive Garden…
I come to an intersection that shows how careful you must be when thinking of addresses in King County: NE 124th Street and 124th Avenue NE. I once worked in a store at Totem Lake Mall, which had a 124th Street address, and we used to get all kinds of mail for the car dealer on 124th Avenue (and they probably got a lot of our mail, too). And if that’s not confusing enough, the addresses on both streets will begin with 124.
I’m in Kirkland now, and I recall the ancient maps of the world that said “here be dragons.” I’m now in a strange, foreboding landscape, surrounded by Soccer Moms in SUVs and minivans, cell phones permanently attached to their ears. I’ll bet most of these people wouldn’t even know what a Vespa is, never mind be looking for one as they’re making their rounds.
That’s why I’d rather be in traffic on a scooter instead of a bicycle. I can keep up, and I can now find the horn button consistently.
Left on 85th, and I realize I’m getting tantalizingly close to my destination. The gloomy gray has changed to… sunshine! The pavement is dry. I’m pleasantly surprised that my fellow road users are mostly sticking to the speed limit, which is 35 mph. The PX is quite content negotiating the gentle curves and hills at this speed.
The street becomes Redmond Way, and I have to chuckle as I pass the sign proclaiming Redmond “the bicycle capital of the Northwest.” Redmond, Wash. is about the most bicycle-unfriendly place I’ve ever seen; you mostly take your life in your hands if you’re on your LeMond Triomphe Versailles. See the earlier comment regarding Soccer Moms.
Ooh, I’m really getting close now… I can see Redmond Town Center, a place a woman I once dated referred to as “Mayberry on acid.” I need to look for a sign that says “Avondale Road.” I spot one that says “Avondale Way.” Close enough. But the light turns red in the left-turn lane.
In my mirror, I see a red Subaru that’s about two of its lengths behind me. I motion for it to pull closer… sometimes a scoot doesn’t have enough metal to trip the pavement sensors for the traffic signals. The Subaru driver hesitates. I motion more urgently. Geez, I’ll let you know long before you run me over, just come in closer!
But the light goes green, so I pull away. My next landmark is Union Hill Road… there it is! I know exactly where I am now! I make a right turn on 178th Place; I can see the Bear Creek Park & Ride lot at the corner of NE 76th Street (it’s always good to know where to catch a bus if you need to).
I make a left on 76th, and immediately spot the place I’d be working if this gig comes through. I pull to the side of the street and pull out my cell phone. The time is 10:40 am.
This trip took exactly one hour and 15 minutes.
The gas gauge shows 3/4 of a tank (i.e., about a gallon and a half) remaining. I forgot to note the mileage when I left Seattle, but it is a longer distance than the Metro bus route. Probably twice the distance, possibly even three times as long.
I don’t know about you, but I can think of much better things to do than spend almost four hours a day sitting on a bus. Things like, I don’t know, having a life…
What really bothers me is, I’m old enough, and I’ve lived in Seattle long enough to remember when voters here, not once, but twice, turned down a chance to build a real rapid transit system… 75 miles worth, for about $300 million (and the Federal Government would have picked up 90% of that tab). Oh, it’s too much, how are we going to pay for it (the Boeing Bust was at its peak at that time), people moaned. The notion that something like this would be an amenity that might, say, attract a new employer to the area, flew over people’s heads like a 747. If you want to see what might have been, go to Atlanta and ride MARTA; that’s where the Federal money ended up.
I have nothing against public transportation; Portland, Ore. and Vancouver, B.C. are two places that do it very well, and I make good use of their excellent offerings when I visit. But here in Seattle, Metro, well, sucks.
A Vespa GTS, which I can ride on 520, in the HOV lanes: $5,999. Being able to have a life because I can travel between home and work in about half an hour: priceless.
And I can pay for the bike with a credit card.