Construction crews continue to put the final touches on a new multiway boulevard in downtown Bothell. Pictured are the northbound lanes of the reshaped Bothell Way NE, between NE 183rd and NE 185th streets. The northbound, brick-lined access lane can be seen to the left of the tree-lined median. Arterial lanes with directional arrows are pictured to the right of the median. The existing southbound access lane, at far right, has been open to traffic since 2014 and features parking for local retail businesses and restaurants. (City of Bothell photo)

Bothell leans European with its new multiway boulevard

BOTHELL — Our fascination with European traffic imports continues.

First it was roundabouts. Now it’s a multiway boulevard.

Bothell is one of the first cities in Washington to give this old idea new attention through a multi-year makeover of Bothell Way. In all, just shy of a half-mile of Bothell Way through the heart of downtown has been reshaped.

A ribbon-cutting celebration is set for Aug. 24.

At first glance, the new roadway looks like any roadway, with through lanes and turn lanes at intersections that include traffic signals. What’s new are narrow business-access lanes on both sides of the roadway. These travel in the same direction as the main flow of traffic and are separated by tree-lined medians.

The idea is to separate retail and pedestrian traffic from the drivers who just want to get through.

“It’s a way you can get a busy arterial into an urban setting,” said Steven Morikawa, the city’s capital division manager.

Multiway boulevards have been a fixture for centuries in such European cities as Paris and Barcelona. They were first imported to the United States in the mid-nineteenth century — you can still find old ones in New York.

The concept’s popularity didn’t last long here, however, in part because of changing highway standards. They’re now enjoying a fashionable resurgence as city planners rethink the old focus on solely moving vehicles quickly through.

California was the first to embrace a return of multiway boulevards. The design also was applied to an expansion of Pendleton Avenue two years ago at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Tacoma.

The buffered approach aims to put pedestrians at ease.

“Typically, your standard American arterial would have five lanes of traffic and a narrow five-foot sidewalk slammed right up to the curb,” Morikawa said.

In Bothell, the project also aims to seamlessly connect the historic downtown on the east side of the roadway with the newly developing west side.

But how does it work?

Like roundabouts, the multiway boulevard aims to slow traffic down. In Bothell, that means very narrow access lanes where all the parking is parallel and bicycles share the same space as vehicle traffic.

And, like roundabouts, the new lane configuration requires some lessons in navigation — maybe a few lessons, in this case.

Bothell staff put together a 3.5-minute video tutorial, available on the city’s YouTube channel.

While it’s tempting to think of them as dandified parking lots, the access lanes are considered part of the roadway. That means drivers can jog into them directly from the arterial lane. Once in an access lane, if a driver can’t find parking, they can continue straight over the cross street into the next block’s access lane. There are stop signs, but no signals like there are for arterial lanes.

For now, drivers are restricted from making left turns out of an access lane into mainline traffic at intersections. But in theory, that kind of movement could be allowed in the future as drivers get more comfortable with the concept, Morikawa said.

City engineers designed their project based on lessons learned in California, where more generously sized access lanes became used as passing lanes at congested times.

“So we narrowed it up — so people knew it was a pedestrian realm — and put down brick pavers so it has a different texture,” Morikawa said.

Practice makes perfect

While the complicated explanations of how to use the roadways can stir doubt, boosters say safety concerns largely disappear after use.

“Spending hours observing intersections and the behaviors of motorists and pedestrians (at such intersections in Europe), we did not get the impression that they were particularly dangerous,” write the authors of 2002’s “The Boulevard Book: History, Evolution, Design of Multiway Boulevards.” “People simply adapted to what was there, and they did so safely.”

Bothell residents have already adapted, to a small extent.

A portion of the west side of Bothell Way was changed to a multiway boulevard in 2014.

On a recent morning, the access lane in that older stretch was mostly filled on both sides with parked cars, including some large pickup trucks.

“They’re figuring it out,” said Jackie Parramore, as she polished glasses behind the bar at Amaro Bistro. “It took awhile, but I think now people know they exist and how to use them. … Bothell has learned how to use them, that’s for sure.”

The lingering issue is parking limits, Parramore said.

Drivers don’t always realize one side of the access lane is 15-minute parking, while the other side is two hours.

Cassidy Sauvage drives her friends downtown for their frequent visits over coffee drinks at Social Grounds.

“It’s convenient to be right in front of the places you want to go,” Sauvage said. “The only part I don’t like is, when you’re leaving, you have to turn right really sharp, and it’s not easy to get back on the (main) road. I’ve spent a lot of time there (at the light at NE 185th Street) waiting to turn left to get home.”

Bothell Way NE — the old Highway 527 — becomes the Bothell-Everett Highway once you cross into Snohomish County.

The multiway boulevard is the second-largest road project to date in the city’s decade-long revitalization efforts.

The $23 million price tag includes the earlier phase of work. Funding comes from city coffers, developers and a state Transportation Improvement Board grant.

Melissa Slager: streetsmarts@heraldnet.com, 425-339-3432

New kind of road

Bothell plans a ribbon-cutting celebration for its multiway boulevard project. It will include brief remarks and a parade with a Ford Model A fire truck and convertibles.

When: 11 a.m. to noon Aug. 24

Where: East access lane and sidewalk of Bothell Way just north of NE 185th Street

More info: www.bothellwa.gov/446/Multiway-Boulevard

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