Battle Brewing Over SDOT Plan for Bike & Ped Friendly Redesign in N. Seattle

By Josh Cohen August 4, 2010

Following the familiar routine that has accompanied all of the road diets in Seattle this year, Lake City and Pinehurst community members have raised concerns about the Seattle Department of Transportation's plans to reconfigure NE 125th St. between Roosevelt Way and 35th Ave NE and making efforts to stop the project.

SDOT's proposal is to reduce travel lanes from two-lanes in each direction to one lane in each direction with a center turn lane. SDOT says the lane reduction would allow them to install traditional bike lanes in either direction, improve pedestrian crossings, improve "major signalized intersections by creating right turn only lanes for vehicles (excluding transit and bikes)," and reduce vehicle speeds. According to an editorial by Cascade Bicycle Club's Chris Rule, the 85th percentile of vehicles travel 39 mph on the 30 mph road.

An unattributed flyer was distributed throughout the neighborhood this week encouraging people opposed to the project to let SDOT know before the project comment period closes on August 9 at 5 p.m. The flyer (click here for a bigger, but still-hard-to-read version) contends that the 125th street rechannelization is "a bad idea" because:

  • It will create major traffic congestion between 1-5 and Lake City Way.

  • Lake city is an area that's been already designated by the city as a "high-density" neighborhood -- you can't increase population in an area and reduce car-travel lanes.

  • Congestion on NE 125th St will force more cars to divert to side streets in Pinehurst.

  • With one lane each way, emergency vehicles will slow and buses will add to the backup.

  • It won't encourage bicycle commuters to travel on the NE 125th hill; most bikers ride on less steep side streets -- so put bike lanes on flatter streets that border NE 125th.

  • It won't reduce speed. Installing traffic cameras on NE 125th Street will reduce speeding. Taking away lanes to decrease speeding punishes everyone who drives on NE 125th St.

The claims made by the flyer should sound familiar to anyone who payed attention to previous proposed and completed road diets such as the ones on Nickerson St., W. Admiral Way, Roosevelt Way in Maple Leaf, and Stone Way. In each of those cases, community groups, residents, and businesses asserted that the rechannelization would cause congestion, reduce car and truck mobility, and cause traffic to divert to neighborhood streets.

A recent SDOT study of the Stone Way road diet found that the project reduced traffic speed while maintaining roadway capacity, increased bike traffic by 35 percent, and reduced collisions between cars and cars, bikes, and pedestrians by 14 percent, without causing an increase in traffic on neighborhood streets.

In addition to the above claims, the flyer also charges that "SDOT has not made an effort to communicate widely with Pinehurst residents or businesses about this change."

According to SDOT Communications Manager Rick Sheridan the department, "worked aggressively using a number of different tools to make the community aware of the project and project open house." He says they used email, door hangers, contacted local community groups, and had a presence at local community meetings and farmer markets as part of their outreach.

"We take the fact that more than 100 people showed up to the project open house as a good sign about our outreach."
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