[I wrote this article last summer and left it for a few days to mature — and forgot to publish it. So the short-term construction projects are doubtless finished and businesses may have changed, but the long-term transit and urban issues remain.]
On Friday, August 7th I took a walk around north Everett. I’d heard it has an old residential area northwest of downtown, more walkable than Broadway’s miles of strip malls and large-lot houses. Studying the map I decided to focus on Colby Avenue, which has buses both north and south of downtown so it must be an interesting street. My colleague who had grown up in northwest Everett confirmed this, saying Colby Avenue was a good place to start. There are two circulator bus routes through the area, Everett Transit 4 and 5, which run the same loop in opposite directions from different starting points. But they’re hourly weekdays and not at all weekends, and I’d originally planned the trip for a weekend. But I had a few hours free Friday afternoon so I decided to do it then.
My journey started at the Ash Way Park & Ride. This is the part of Snohomish County with the most frequent bus service, with both the 201/202 and 512 running every 15 minutes to Everett and Lynnwood. A 202 came one minute later. It runs on I-5 between 128th and 41st Streets. The freeway was solidly packed and crawling the entire way, at 2:30pm. No HOV lane anywhere here. If BRT between Lynnwood and Everett ever happens, they’ll need to build an HOV lane from scratch. Fortunately I was not in any hurry so I just read my book.
Everett Station is where the express buses, Swift, and the 4/5 all meet. Downtown is one one Swift station away away but I decided to walk. That took 12 minutes uphill. At the end was the Snohomish County Campus, a county-government complex with a pedestrianized block in the middle and a nice view. Downtown Everett is basically five east-west streets: Pacific, Wall, Hewett, California, and Everett. These crosses Wetmore Avenue, which is the one place in Everett I’ve been to more than once: an MMA school called Charlie’s Combat Club and the nearby National Guard armory. So I walked a few blocks up and down Wetmore looking for the school but I couldn’t find it! Later I learned it had moved. So I continued west to find Colby Avenue, and it was just one block west of Wetmore, right in the middle of downtown.
It was now 4pm. I turned north on Colby, and saw a diner and tried to go in but it was closed. Next door is a sandwich shop, the Strawberry Patch Cafe, so I went in there. It was about to close too but the owner offered to serve me anyway. I ordered a salad and chatted with the owner. She had just bought the restaurant three weeks ago, and lives in Rainier Valley. I asked why she chose Everett to buy a restaurant. She said it was a place she could afford. I said central Everett will probably grow in the next two decades and she might see gradually-increasing business. I asked if everything downtown closes by 5pm. She said it does. I asked if there were any areas that are open later; she said a couple bars. Then I continued north on Colby for my walk, thinking about what it would be like to live there without a car.
The downtown part of Colby Street is a mix of everyday and not-so-everyday shops. The street and sidewalks are wide, as if it used to have a streetcar, and the space had been filled in with diagonal parking because what else could you do with it? Later I googled, and the Interurban terminated at Colby & Pacific. The part of Colby is south of where I was, but still the street is that wide. As I continued north, at Everett Avenue the street turned residential. There’s one apartment complex a block north of the cafe, but the rest is houses. Everett High School is on both sides of the street. At 19th Street the center lane turns into a tree-lined median.
Many of the houses are from the 1905s-1910s; they look exactly like the houses on 16th Ave NE in the U-District and 16th Ave E on Capitol Hill. Front porches, bay windows, a certain kind of wood architecture, and no garages or driveways. There are a few 1960s or newer houses with 2-car garages. Then came Providence Medical Center. At 10th Street it started going downhill, and it looked like things were just going to get more isolated, so I turned west. Central and north Everett is a narrow penninsula hilltop going down on three sides, like the top of Beacon Hill but wider.
I continued west three blocks to the last street above the cliff, Grand Avenue. Beyond that is the railroad track and Marine View Drive. All the residential streets are very wide, and the houses have deep setbacks like in Magnolia. You could fit another full-sized row of houses in the front yards and sidewalks. The empty space bothers me because it makes walking distances longer. In San Francisco the back yards are deep and narrow like this, and people have large gardens. But when setbacks are in the front, they tend to be plain lawns that are rarely used so I don’t see the point. Several streets and sidewalks were closed; the city is apparently resurfacing several of northwest Everett’s streets at the same time.
I went south on Grand until the large mansions got to be too much; I wanted to see ordinary-sized houses. So I turned east to Rucker Avenue. All these residential streets are wide for some reason. At 18th Street I saw a linear park, so I went back to Grand Avenue. Finally a good view of the water. The navy base is right below, with a football field next to it. The base consists of several buildings clustered around a turnaround street. That makes it look like — believe it or not — a casino resort.
The impression I got from northwest Everett is, if you want to live there without a car, there are a lot of houses and a few apartments within a 20-minute walk of the downtown Swift station. With a bicycle you could get to pretty much everywhere in Everett. I like the houses on Colby Avenue, both the 1910s and the mid-century ones. The houses further west are too large for my taste. And I don’t like the wide streets and setbacks. But the area is walkable and has a complete street grid, and people with kids would appreciate the high school (which I saw) and the elementary school (which is just beyond where I went). I didn’t see many people: downtown there was one military-looking dude, but everyone in the northwest area was middle-aged or older.
I went back to Rucker Ave and continued south until downtown started again. I passed the library and a bar called Prohibition. I went east on Hewitt looking for the Swift station, then got out the bus schedule and saw it’s two blocks south, at Pacific & Colby. (The Interurban terminus, remember.) I didn’t want to sit in freeway traffic again or look at a freeway, and I wanted to see what’s in the neighborhood’s transit circle, so I took Swift south to Aurora Village, which took 50 minutes. The most plentiful thing along the way is car dealerships. Can that many dealerships really stay in business? It looks like more than Auburn or Bellevue have. Snohomish County residents certainly don’t have to worry about not having enough cars to choose from. I wonder how many people take Swift to the car dealerships. At Aurora Village I stopped at Costco which is next to the transit center, and then took the E to Seattle. When I got downtown it was 8:30pm, and it was a slight culture shock to see so many pedestrians, twenty on one block. And that’s my northwest Everett trip.