Park Lane becomes a Woonerf-style street or "living street"


Temporary ordinance creates a “shared street” for all users and allows new flexibility and delineating patio dining areas 

Kirkland’s City Council unanimously adopted a one-year ordinance on June 2 that will establish the renewed Park Lane as a shared street, where people who are traveling by foot or by wheel can mix safely with people who are traveling by automobile. 

“This particular ordinance doesn’t specify carlessness,” said Council Member Shelley Kloba. “It finds a way that cars and pedestrians and the various commercial uses can co-exist happily.” 

The ordinance also increases the sizes of Park Lane’s five sidewalk cafes, creating room for up to 106 sidewalk café seats—34 more than what would have been possible under the City’s previous regulations and a dozen more than what was legally possible before construction began. 

It also allows retailers to use three feet of Park Lane’s sidewalk space to display some of their products—so long as the product-displays leave at least six feet of walkable space to pedestrians of all ages and all abilities. That’s enough room for pedestrians, strollers or wheelchairs to pass when a customer stops in the sidewalk to examine a product. 

“The restaurants are better off than they were before,” said Mayor Amy Walen during her remarks at the June 2 City Council meeting. “The retailers are better off than they were before. And not just because of the amazing project. But also because of this ordinance.” 

The temporary ordinance accomplished this, in part, by capitalizing on a seven-week-old ruling by the Washington State Liquor Control Board. The ruling allows alcohol-serving restaurants to delineate their sidewalk cafes with permanent markings in the sidewalks’ surfaces, rather than with 42-inch barricades, as the Liquor Control Board previously required. 

To create more space for Park Lane’s sidewalk cafes, the ordinance reduced the requirement for six feet of pedestrian space down to five feet of pedestrian space. This was made possible by Park Lane’s single-grade, curbless design and the Dutch concept for shared streets on which Park Lane will function. The concept is called a “Woonerf” (pronounced VONE-erf), which means “living street.”

On Woonerf-style streets, pedestrians, bicycles, wheelchairs and automobiles share the drive lane. And when they do, drivers slow to walking speeds, just as they tend to do in parking lots. This expands the pedestrians’ space beyond the designated walking lanes and reduces their need for six feet of designated space. 

More than 2,000 European communities have Woonerf-style streets. In the U.S., more than 400 communities have transformed their traditional streets into Woonerf-style streets. 

To establish this Woonerf dynamic on Park Lane, the City of Kirkland will post a speed limit sign with an advised speed limit of five miles per hour. State law prohibits cities from reducing speeds below 20 miles per hour, but advisory speed limits are allowed. 

The action by the Council is all about striking the right balance among all users. 

“The restaurants might consider it to be their patios,” Walen said. “But it is still the public’s right-of-way. We have an important job to always balance the interest of the public and their ownership of the right-of-way with the needs of the businesses and the desire of all of us to have dining al fresco experiences.”  

The ordinance allows the Public Works Director to adjust the regulations to improve that balance as the City experiences how the residents and businesses use the street.