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Bringing the Road Diet Debate Back to Reality
The conversation about the Nickerson "road diet" has devolved into a flawed "cars vs. bikes" debate since Mayor Mike McGinn announced the project at his Walk Bike Ride kickoff in early May.
The road diet will reduce Nickerson to two lanes with a dedicated turn lane to reduce traffic speed and accommodate safe pedestrian crossings and bike facilities.
To be clear, making Nickerson safer for bicyclists is an important component of the project. But to pretend that bikes are the sole motivation for the city's work is to oversimplify the project and to ignore the serious pedestrian safety problems on Nickerson. The misunderstandings are in no small part due to the media coverage of the Nickerson project, which has framed it largely as a bike-safety project. But blame also rests in opponents' lazy, unwarranted fear of change.
A lot of that misunderstanding came to a head at Tuesday's City Council transportation committee meeting.
Nickerson does not currently meet SDOT or federal guidelines for pedestrian crossings. Current guidelines dictate that high-speed, four-lane roads with no median cannot have uncontrolled crosswalks---which Nickerson does. Cars in the right lane will often stop for pedestrians, blocking the view of drivers in the left lane, leading to collisions with pedestrians. These safety concerns have drawn the support of pedestrian advocates and the Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board.
SPAB Chair Tom Williams says, "We strongly support the proposal because pedestrians will certainly benefit from the engineering changes: lower speeds, shorter crossing distances, and more opportunities to cross in areas where ped traffic is generated."
Some business interests and concerned citizens argued that the nearby, recently completed Ship Canal multi-use path eliminates the need for new bike lanes on Nickerson.
Those arguments are specious. First, the Ship Canal trail is definitely not a replacement for Nickerson. It ends at 6th Ave West, making it a path to nowhere for westbound traffic. For eastbound riders, crossing Nickerson to reach the path can be harrowing. Unless the BNSF rail company realigns its tracks to allow completion of the trail, it won't be a practical alternative to Nickerson.
Queen Anne resident Sharon LeVine, for example, said, "Several million dollars was recently spent to build a scenic bike road ... and yet city executives want to spend 200,000 more precious dollars to reduce auto lanes on one of Seattle's busiest arterials---$200,000 to satisfy a few bikers who won't use the trail."
It's more than fair for industry interests to be worried about freight mobility. The marine industry is a strong economic presence in Seattle and they need to be able to move their goods. But leaping immediately to the rote argument that "any change will kill industry in Seattle" ignores ample evidence that road diets benefit motorized vehicles, nonmotorized vehicles, and pedestrians alike. SDOT studies of previous road diets show negligible impacts on roadway capacity. WSDOT's preliminary traffic analysis predicts an average increase of roughly 50 cars during peak hours on Nickerson once the deep-bore tunnel opens.
Ultimately, the misguided outrage over Nickerson seems to have had little impact on the Council. Council member Tom Rasmussen says the project will move forward as planned in July. But, if Seattle continues to make its push to accommodate all modes of transportation, Nickerson will be far from the last road diet. If we're going to make a significant environmental shift in this city, as we at least pretend we want to, we cannot afford to have progress constantly marred by unfounded protest.
- Seattle Summer Outdoor Movie Guide 2014
- Seafood Road Trips
- Architectural Gems That Are Vacation Rentals
- Five Reasons Not to Miss 'The Book of Mormon'
- 30 Perfect Day Trips
- Slide Show: Seattle’s Best City Parks
- Seattle Restaurants with the Best Wine Lists
- Why I’m Voting for Parks (Even Though the Opponents Have a Point!)
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