Bothell Way 11-Lane Redesign Doesn’t Quite Stick the Landing

Bothell Multiway Boulevard

Don’t say they didn’t ask for it.

First, Bothell residents asked the City of Bothell to design Bothell Way NE as a walkable street to keep the walkable vibe of old downtown.

Then, Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom, who detailed the not very walkable design, asked to hear The Urbanist’s critique.

Street design on Multiway Boulevard. (City of Bothell)

While the boulevard looks pretty with its lanes of trees, Bothell has not created a “Complete Street” in producing this 11-lane “multiway.” Seeking to balance desire for a walkable vibe with needs of automobiles, they’ve create a dressed-up car sewer–still with some STROAD tendencies and a parking focus. The over-designed street will fail to create a safe all ages and abilities bicycling connection. How are cyclists supposed to feel comfortable and be safe in double-door-zone sharrows that interact with pocket slip roads–effectively off-ramps?

By creating an entirely new concept, Bothell is also asking motorists to learn many rules that won’t necessarily come naturally. At low speeds, these awkward turning movements could allow for mistakes, but add speed and collisions will surely occur. Watch the video below (from the City of Bothell’s project website) to see all the conflict points a multiway boulevard creates.

The design should make looking for parking less stressful for motorists, but trying to direct bicyclists though the same area doesn’t seem like a recipe for success. With all that space, why not create protected bike lanes? Perhaps the parking won’t be heavily used at many times of the day, which will decrease the chance people bicycling will be doored but may encourage motorists to pass bicyclists or drive faster.

Bike sharrows look like a side swipe opportunity at multiway interchange. (Photo by Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times)

For pedestrians, five lanes of mainline traffic is still a long crossing distance, especially when added to the two lanes for the pocket slip roads. It’s nice to see curb extensions, but the curbs on the pedestrian islands could be extended even further to slow turning movements, particularly if reckless turns prove common. It’ll also be interesting to see if motorists confused with the turn restrictions  (i.e. no left from the outer parking lane) wreak havoc for pedestrians and other motorists.

The design has some positives beyond mere beautification: 14-foot sidewalks, 10-foot travel lanes in the parking zones, and the pervious surfaces and rain gardens should decrease stormwater runoff. It’s admirable that Bothell is thinking big and planning for the downtown it wants to have in the future. Taking down the SR-527 signs helps delineate that Bothell doesn’t want the road to feel like a highway through its booming downtown. If motorists obey all the proper multiway movements and bicyclists get a separated facility, the Bothell Way NE boulevard could be quite successful. Some placemaking along the edges of the boulevard would also help draw in pedestrians. Bothell tried for the grand Parisian boulevard approach, but in this acrobatic manuever for a carcentric suburb, it didn’t nail the landing.

The Seattle Times attempts to make sense of the many movements of the Multiway. (Graphic by Mark Nowlin/The Seattle Times)

The boulevard planning is also admirable because it seeks to pair multimodal transportation improvements with urban mixed-use development. It used to be improvements like these just happened in the normal course of city making. Now, healthy urban growth gets compared to nuclear explosions. “Like the South Lake Union district of Seattle, you get a sense that Bothell was nuked and its core enlarged from ground zero,” Lindblom wrote. I don’t think Lindblom is saying growth is as devastating as nuclear weaponry, but rather trying to reflect attitudes on the ground–some people do feel it’s a big magnitude of change. It’s good to see Bothell growing. Suburbs can’t be frozen in amber forever.

522 BRT Could Unlock Major Development Potential

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Doug Trumm is The Urbanist's Executive Director. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.


  1. I have traveled here several times and still find it a bit confusing and not at all self explanatory. I also find parallel parking in the slip lane difficult; if cars are a bit off the curb on the opposite side of you it is incredibly tight even for my little leaf.

  2. I think this critique suffers as it looks at this project through the wrong lens. This is Bothell, not downtown Seattle. The multiway was designed for the people who live here, and the majority drive rather than bike. I live along the highway and I find crossing to be much more friendly than it was before the revision. Personally, I am a big fan of the new multiway and the only critics I have heard so far are from those who relatively unaffected by it.

    • If serving people who bike wasn’t a goal of this street, that’s fine, but then the City should get rid of the sharrows and the stop boasting of making a bike-friendly design. Stop trying to be something it’s not in other words.

    • The biggest problem I have with it is the entrances and exits to the parking. That is the part that is unique, so far as I know. Compare that to the example in Berkeley mentioned before:

      This is essentially the same thing. The big difference is that you have entrances and exits from the main street (going in the direction you are headed). The result is that it is a lot simpler. Anyone who drives knows what is legal, and what isn’t. Crossing the street is a lot easier too. You don’t have to worry about crossing the parking lane. There are no bike lanes, but it is pretty easy to imagine them. Just run them next to the sidewalk. As a bonus, a bike wouldn’t have to worry about being hit by a door (because it is angle parking). Angle parking is also a lot easier to get into and out of for a driver as well. This would make it really simple for quick stops. Retailers might want some of the parking to be half hour, for that very reason.

      In contrast, the current proposal is not at all simple. I can just imagine a bunch of drivers slowing down in the main lane, looking at what is obviously a public parking area, and then wondering how the heck they get over there. When they finally do figure it out, they have to find it odd. The only way to get into the parking area is to essentially change lanes
      at an intersection (something that is generally illegal, for good
      reason). Oh, and instead of a nice easy lane change (like the Berkeley example) they have to contend with pedestrians. I can just imagine someone making that change, getting close to the entrance of the parking lot, then realizing that a pedestrian blocks their path. Enough people, and the car is stuck waiting in the middle of the intersection, while crossing traffic honks at them.

      When they leave the parking area, they are then forced to take a right turn — or go through to the next parking spot. They can’t even get back onto the main street. This makes a quick “stop off on the way home” trip a pain (they have to go around the block). Meanwhile, U-Turns are legal and taking a left from the right hand lane is legal (even though it isn’t marked that way). So many things that are normally legal are illegal, while things that are normally illegal are legal.

      It just looks like a mess for drivers, and a mess for both pedestrians and bike riders. Yes, it is better than before, but that isn’t saying much. If they made it simple (as they did in Berkeley) then it would be so much better.

  3. This is essentially the same design that has been on Shattuck ave in downtown Berkeley, CA for as long as I can remember.

    The major difference is that they are including bikes into the parking zoo, and that they are allowing exits from it directly into intersections. anyone know if that’s been tried elsewhere? If they followed Berkeley’s design, it would alleviate the motorist confusion and make shorter crossing distances for pedestrians. I’m not sure any way that good bike facilities could be incorporated into such a design unless they were essentially combined with the sidewalk. In Berkeley, the road certainly feels like a minor highway, and the parking sections do little to make it a more pleasant place to walk and shop.

    • Yeah, that seems like an enormous difference. The Berkeley example seems really simple and easy from a driving perspective. The Bothell situation (based on the diagram) seems insane. I really have no idea, half the time, whether something is legal or not. Turn left from the right most lane? Sure, as long as you turn into the “slow lane” (AKA parking lot). U-Turns? Same thing. From the parking area, you can keep going straight, or turn right. To just access the parking area, if you are going straight, requires you to effectively change lanes at the intersection (which I always thought was illegal). Oh, and after parking, in that “slow lane”, if you want to merge back into traffic (going the same direction), you can’t. That would be against the law. You have to either head to the next parking lot, or take a right. Uff Da!

      Time will tell, but I think they just blew it here. I know people hate big parking lots, but really, just add a big parking lot, narrow the street, add bike lanes (if you can) and a handful of (very short term) street parking, and that would be that. There are only a handful of shops here, and people can park in the nearest lot, or around the corner. Look to Lake City for an example. They didn’t have room to add bike paths, but other than that, it is simple, narrow and contains a handful of on street parking spots. Cars (and buses — lots of buses) slow down, but just keep moving. If you want to park for a while, there is a big parking lot, which has access to plenty of shops — or you park around the corner. There is more than enough space in Bothell to add lots of parking lots — it is kind of crazy that they felt there was a need to add them right off the highway (when there aren’t that many businesses there — most of the businesses are on Main Street),

      You don’t need to have so much space — and such a ridiculously complicated parking system — mixed in with your highway. If you really want some parking, then do it like Berkeley did it — keep it simple. The main advantage here is not that you have a lot more parking, it is that you can access the parking by making U-Turns. Or access one parking lot from another. I hardly think that is a good thing, considering you can’t even exit a parking spot and keep going the same direction! Talk about a law just begging to be broken. The whole point of street parking is to allow someone who is headed the same direction to quickly park and then keep going. Easy as pie in Berkeley — illegal in Bothell.

      This just looks like a 1950s design, where everyone assumes that the biggest problem to be solved is trolling for parking. It’s not. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a lot of parking, but this is simply a terrible way to design it. You are going to have lots of accidents, and near accidents. You will scare off the bike riders or they will simply ride on the main line (which appears fundamentally safer). Traffic will, as a result, move slower. It is the worst of all worlds — poor throughput, along with a lot of risk. Oy Vey!

  4. It’s not that unique, and it is certainly not a new invention. These are real boulevards and are common in Paris and New York and a number of cities around the country. In the US we call any crappy arterial a boulevard when in fact this is a true boulevard. The Times readership will get the impression this is some radical experiment to take away their cars and will lead to enslavement yet it’s just a relatively standard historic street design that is not very common here.

    • As liam said above, what is weird is not the off street parking, but the rules surrounding it. Access only at the intersection. Exit only on the intersection. U-Turns into the parking is legal, but not onto the main road. You can turn left from the far right lane, but only if you are headed to the parking lane. And the kicker — you can’t exit the parking lane and keep going straight.

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