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Kirkland’s new trail changes everything

IMG_0643There was Kirkland before the Cross Kirkland Corridor Trail, and now there is Kirkland after.

The city officially opened the interim hardpack gravel trail over the weekend, and now the Eastside city has a flat and safe biking and walking route connecting Totem Lake to the South Kirkland Park-and-Ride and nearly to the 520 Trail.

While not paved with asphalt, the hardpack gravel surface is easy to ride on. If you can handle bumps on a typical Seattle neighborhood street, you can handle this trail surface.

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And you will be glad you did. Including detours, it’s 6.3 miles across Kirkland with almost no elevation change. No bike route like this has ever existed before in this very hilly city (the blip in the elevation graph below is a temporary detour about Google campus construction):


The interim trail was funded in large part by Kirkland voter approval of a parks levy in 2012, and it has drawn tons of volunteers and local support.

Even while building this interim trail, Kirkland had been developing a master plan for the trail, which will include a full-paved trail and perhaps even some transit service.

Maybe someday? Image from the Cross Kirkland Corridor Master Plan
Maybe someday? Image from the Cross Kirkland Corridor Master Plan

Cross Kirkland Corridor Master Plan Final-mapAnd maybe the best part of all is that the new Kirkland trail is just one part of the much larger Eastside Rail Corridor, which runs from Renton into Snohomish County and intersects many existing and planned bike routes and trails. A complete Eastside Trail could do for the Eastside what the Burke-Gilman Trail has done for Seattle.

When biking the Cross Kirkland Corridor, one of the biggest things I noticed was the economic potential along the trail. Today, there are few retail businesses near or facing the trail. That makes sense because before this month, it was an abandoned rail line.

But it’s not hard to imagine businesses popping up along the trail as it becomes a popular regional transportation and recreation route, which has already started. Google’s expanding Kirkland campus is already developing with an active trail in mind for its employees.

Bike-themed brewery Chainline Brewing will open soon with a deck facing the trail (they are building out that space and getting equipment ready for brewing, so stay tuned). This video of a completed (and successful) Kickstarter describes the trail-facing deck concept:

It is likely just the start of how the trail will impact Kirkland’s economy.

While most the trail surface is not paved, the city has paved, signed and designed all the intersections. This is a big deal, since the intersections are typically the hardest part of building a trail. Most intersections include comfortable crossings with flashing crossing lights activated by a push button.

IMG_0658Kirkland did not skimp on another pricey part of many trail projects: Replacing Rehabbing the bridges when needed.

IMG_0666Now, there is a catch to the trail. At least in Kirkland, the trail route hugs a steep hill, which means getting to and from the trail often requires a pretty tough climb. Unlike the Burke-Gilman, which stays close to the water, the Cross Kirkland Corridor is about 160 feet above sea level.

But considering how hill Kirkland’s other bike routes are, I kind of doubt this will be a giant impediment. After all, once you’re there, it’s smooth sailing and beautiful. Have you tried it out yet? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.


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27 responses to “Kirkland’s new trail changes everything”

  1. Yes! I have! And wrote about it here:

    My favorite part: the grade-separated crossing of 85th Street.
    My least favorite part: the trail is not useful after dark. Technically it’s closed after dark, but I’m not going to ride it anyway, because it goes through some pretty deserted areas.

  2. GlenBikes

    It is a pretty amazing bike ride. Being able to go from the South Kirkland Park & Ride almost all the way up to Totem Lake (almost to the malls – which is where the hopes and plans for a future city center lie) on a completely flat route and only go through 6 crosswalks, 3 of which are so incredibly low in traffic volume that it is surprising that the city didn’t put in stop signs for the cars since there is already more traffic on the CKC than on the streets).

    This corridor opens up a ton of potential for the city. Kirkland is currently going through a process to pick a site for an aquatic center. In terms of accessibility for families and particularly kids, this really needs to be on the CKC or at the very least close to it with a great All Ages and Abilities connection to the CKC.

  3. Skylar

    Looks like it’s already up on Google Maps. Thanks to whoever thought to do that!

  4. Jeff Dubrule

    “Now, there is a catch to the trail. At least in Kirkland, the trail route hugs a steep hill, which means getting to and from the trail often requires a pretty tough climb. Unlike the Burke-Gilman, which stays close to the water, the Cross Kirkland Corridor is about 160 feet above sea level.”

    FWIW, the Burke Gilman trail is mostly useless as a local-connector from ~70th St NE to Lake Forest Park, due to the huge hill it’s at the bottom of, and the relative lack of things to do at the top of that hill.

    1. It doesn’t help that there’s no good way to get from the Burke-Gilman to Lake City.

  5. Guy de Gouville

    I have used it! I was truly impressed with the work on the trestles and the intersections. Right from opening everything seems to be done right, which is definitely awesome.
    I was surprised at how many people were on the trail, even on the gloomy Saturday that I was on it. Not a lot of bikers, but definitely a lot of people, especially south of Google.

    One thing that annoyed me is the lack of a clear, marked detour route around the Google Campus construction. As I was thinking when I biked that part: “I can’t complain about bad signage since it’s not even there!”. I ended up getting off at 6th St and getting back on the trail at the trestle at the Elementary school. Good thing I have maps in my head, or I could’ve easily gotten lost.

    I also used the trail at twilight and into the early night, and it was fine with a decent headlight. Since the trail is flat and straight, the risk of crashing is very low, and the intersections are well lit up. I definitely felt safer on this at night than say, the I-90 trail through the Mercer Island lid, where it’s really curvy, dark and you’re going fast.

    Overall I think it’s great and it’s awesome that Kirkland has completed this so fast and so well!

  6. Did they really replace bridges? I think the bridge pictured is over 68th, and that one has a new surface and railings but I don’t think the structure was replaced.

    Also… I was going to go out and check this out on my day in Kirkland tomorrow, in order to help get the Google Maps data exactly right, but I might be staying home sick instead… is the trail still routed through the crosswalks at the intersection of 124th and 124th? I’d expect so, as that’s what the pre-interim version of the trail did, and even the CKC Master Plan doesn’t include a solid plan for anything different.

    1. Jeffrey J. Early

      Yeah, they didn’t replace the structural part of the bridge—just made it more walkable.

      Also, yes, the 124th St./Ave. intersection still requires using the crosswalks at the intersection. I think they’re holding off on throwing money at improvements until they can fund the pedestrian bridge that is planned there as part of the Totem Lake Master Plan.

    2. Tom Fucoloro

      Ah, thanks for clarifying. It’s a pretty significant rehab, but yeah, “replace” definitely isn’t the right word. I’ll edit the story.

  7. GlenBikes

    You are correct Al. There were no new bridge structures, just adding railings/new surfaces/etc to existing structures.

    The trail does still effectively have a gap at 124th Ave and 124th St where you have to go off trail and use the crosswalks. The master plan does have a high-level design for a bridge at that location which (as with the rest of the plan except for the Google section) is unfunded.

    1. Jeffrey J. Early

      Sheesh, sorry—I didn’t see your answer until after I posted.

  8. Jack Nolan

    I work close to the Park and Ride and I just rode this last week. Easy ride on my commuter bike with 25/28 thick tires.

    What a great trail. They have done such a nice job with it. The views are great, I was thinking it would be a great place to watch fireworks, and definitely a nice place to catch a sunset.

    Look forward to the brewery opening as well. A nice place to ride to after work.

    Way to go Kirkland!

  9. The thing that really sticks out is how fast Kirkland moved on the basic improvements along the whole thing, presumably without spending all that much money (around here spending money takes time). This stands in stark contrast to their intention to master-plan the hell out of the final trail and spend a lot of time and money doing it.

    They’d be better off spending their money buying the parts of the corridor that connect to the 520 route and the Redmond Central Corridor (neither complete, both underway) and doing the simplest possible paving job and connection ramps than anything in their master plan, including the 124th/124th bridge. Yeah, those connections are just outside the city limits, but so is the southern end of the current corridor (it’s true, the City of Kirkland owns a slice of land in Bellevue). Kirkland officials don’t realize this because they don’t get around by bike. But if they build the part they own now, and then start thinking about getting around by bike, it’s hard to see how they won’t come to the same conclusion… and they could short-circuit this process by buying some land from its rather indifferent owner, King County.

    1. (I’ve posted about this a lot, and I think there’s something important underlying it. Mostly people get around by car. The road network goes nearly everywhere. A lot of the roads are less pleasant to use than the CKC, but if you set out on roads in a car with remotely accurate directions you have a great chance at arriving safely at your destination without having your wits scared out of you. The great virtue of cheap transportation infrastructure over expensive transportation infrastructure is that you can put it everywhere. Local roads and even, say, rural highways have standardized forms that can be repeated, not specialized ones. It’s only when you have to deal with problems like extreme traffic volumes that highways become massively expensive. And one of the great virtues of cycling is its inexpensiveness — functional bikes can be pretty cheap and so can functional bike infrastructure. If we’re serious about getting around by bike we need to be able to knock out bike paths quickly, cheaply, in standard ways, and incorporate good designs for bikes into standard road design. It’s really encouraging that Kirkland did what it has done without a lot of fuss. The trail is consistent and its intersections, at least the ones I’ve seen, are pretty clear. It’s less encouraging that the next step isn’t extending this sort of work, and its logical extensions like paving, everywhere possible, to form a coherent network.)

      1. (The thing with roads is that we’re reaching a point where in order to handle more growth the traffic volumes are becoming extreme, and we’re resorting to expensive and, frankly, ugly solutions to accommodate those volumes. The opportunity for cycling is that the bike alternative is cheap and beautiful. Bikes are small and light and don’t need big structures, standard forms are cheap, symmetry and repetition are appealing, and people’s faces are beautiful. That’s all it takes! A few good designs repeated as many times as there are roads and trails. The opposite impulse, to design every square inch of the trail as a unique feature and then use it as a marketing tool for Totem Lake revitalization, is perverse. If you’ve never walked around Totem Lake go do it and see: it’s a few bad designs repeated as many times as there are roads and ramps and driveways and aisles. It’s one of the many parts of our region that needs fixes everywhere and in every direction to provide comprehensive access, not one grand shining trail through one of its corners, heading only in the direction of Kirkland.)

  10. T

    Have been watching this for ages now, very excited. Still *very* enthused by the ideas of turning Totem Lake itself into an Eastside Green Lake, complete with encircling path, lakeside business rejuvenation, and connections to these trails.

  11. […] 108th Ave NE, a couple blocks downhill from the South Kirkland Park-and-Ride and the start of the brand new Cross Kirkland Corridor Trail. After years (decades?) of imagining all these vague possible trail connections, they suddenly seem […]

  12. Leo

    It needs to be paved asap. It’s not usable for anything but mountain biking (an efficient commuter bike is thin-tired) and walking. Rollerblades, strollers, and road-cyclists will just have to wait until god-knows-when for the “master plan” including light rail to somehow magically get funded. We’ll all be dead by then.

    1. GlenBikes

      Lots of strollers and road bikes (with 23-25mm tires) on the Interim Trail already. Rollerbladers will definitely have to wait for it to be paved though.

      1. Jeff

        23mm road bike tires on gravel are asking for trouble. If they want the serious bike community out there (which is large in this area), the trail needs to be paved.

  13. Crizzle

    I used this trail to commute from downtown Kirkland to Willows in Redmond, and it was AMAZING. I’ve got a hybrid bike that’s solidly more road-y than MTB-y, and I didn’t have any trouble on it (even after not riding for a year!).

    I really love how wide and easy to ride the trail is. There was some lovely scenery and most of the trail was really quite peaceful. I wish there was a lighting system for evening or rainy day rides, especially in the more deserted areas and under the overpasses. I did NOT love oblivious trail users who wandered in front of my bike or let their children and dogs run around without any sense of situational awareness. I wish there was signage or other educational material to remind people that it is a multi-user trail, and they need to remain aware of their surroundings. Ah, well! I still look forward to many miles on the CKC!

  14. GlenBikes

    I rode the CKC last night in the dark and pouring rain. Even with two front lights, I was a little nervous about going off the trail into the almost-overflowing ditches.

    It was really nice to hear all the frogs/toads (anyone know what species these are?) in the wet areas along the trail. I tried to get a recording of them but they consistently went silent just after I stopped and got my phone out. I guess their calls are a warning to each other that something is coming? Even with my lights all off, they did not start up again.

  15. Mike Halcrow

    Cyclists aren’t a problem on the trails. Just stay right, and they somehow know how to not run into you. So you can relax. Really.

    On the CKC, the gravel makes lots of “road noise,” so you can even hear them coming behind you (and get over to the right if you’re not there already for whatever reason).

    The only people I see causing trouble on the CKC are those with off-leash dogs. They’ve been known to harass other trail users and suddenly dart out in front of bikes.

  16. […] Eastside Trail will change the region forever, and it can’t become bikeable soon […]

  17. […] same time, a parallel effort is underway to remove the rails and create an interim trail much like the amazing Cross-Kirkland Corridor Trail, according to Cascade Bicycle Club’s Eastside advocacy coordinator McKayla Dunfey. But that […]

  18. […] It will take more work to create a bikeable soft surface trail and intersection improvements like the section Kirkland opened earlier this […]

  19. […] has already started construction on an interim trail in the north end of Bellevue, connecting to the already open Cross-Kirkland Corridor Trail. This northern segment is due to open next year before WSDOT connects the new 520 Trail to […]

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