Opinion

125th St. Opponents Go Into Stall Mode

By Josh Cohen September 15, 2010

In preparation for tomorrow's Lake City town hall with Mayor Mike McGinn, opponents of the proposed 125th St. road reconfiguration are distributing a letter to Lake City and other NE Seattle residents. The letter is addressed to the Mayor and Seattle Department of Transportation Director Peter Hahn and outlines concerns over the changes and lists five areas that they say need further analysis. It is not attributed to a specific group, but residents are being asked to sign the letter and send it to City Hall or deliver it to the Mayor at the town hall.

SDOT wants to reduce NE 125th St from four lanes to three (two travel lanes with a center turn lane). The additional space would allow them to install traditional bike lanes in either direction, improve pedestrian crossings, and slow traffic to the posted 30 mph (the 85th percentile of cars drives 39 mph). The proposed changes were controversial from the start and sparked plenty of car vs bike debate between community members and in the press.

This letter appears to be the latest effort to stall the road reconfiguration.

The meat of their letter (read it in full here):
... these concerns stem from the lack of information regarding the potential impacts of the proposal that is based on objective traffic analysis (vs. overly simplistic SDOT staff responses to concerns e.g. “it has worked on Stone Way and other arterials”). We strongly recommend that a standard traffic and parking analysis be completed and shared with the public at the next workshop and on the SDOT website before a decision is made to proceed with this project. The analysis should include at least the following:

1. Level-of-service (LOS) calculations for all of the affected intersections that document the existing LOS and provide projections of the LOS with the proposed lane changes;

2. Estimates of the increased seconds of traffic delays at street segments with bus stop locations that, when reconfigured, will not provide enough space for bus loading without blocking the proposed single lane of traffic, especially during peak traffic periods;

3. An accurate block-by-block count of the parking spaces that would be eliminated;

4. A detailed assessment of roadway conditions that identifies paving repairs that should be made to provide bike lanes that can safely be utilized; and

5. A description of the mitigating measures that would be employed to avoid the cut-through neighborhood traffic that is almost certain to occur if congestion on NE 125th Street is significantly increased with the lane reconfigurations, including the financial feasibility of implementing these measures.

Some of their requested analysis is fairly reasonable (knowing how the change will effect Level-of-service, how many parking spaces will be eliminated in the changes), but on the whole the requests come across as an attempt to delay construction with extraneous analysis.

If you're primarily concerned about the supposed gridlock that the road diet will cause (Seattle's previous 27 rechannelization projects have shown this to be untrue), will knowing the increased seconds of delay or number of spots needed for repaving really make you decide the safety improvements for drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians are suddenly worthwhile?

Along with requesting further analysis, the letter charges that SDOT's response has been a flippant repetition that "[road reconfiguration] has worked on Stone Way and other arterials." This is an inaccurate oversimplification of the truth.

SDOT posted a response on their blog addressing early concerns over the proposal and listing data from their analysis of 125th St. They found that "eighty nine percent of eastbound vehicles and seventy four percent of westbound vehicles drive faster than the posted speed limit of 30 mph, the 85th percentile speed is 10 to 12 m.p.h. over the posted speed limit, from January 2007 to April 2010 153 collisions have occurred along this roadway, and in that same period of time 13 collisions involving pedestrians and three involving cyclists have occurred." Their response also explains that a three-lane road has capacity for up to 25,000 cars daily. Around 16,200 cars currently use 125th St. daily, well under a three-lane road's capacity.

Their assertion that the rechannelization project worked on Stone Way stems from their study of the project's affects, not simple anecdotal evidence. The study found that traffic on neighborhood streets didn't increase, collisions between cars and cars, bikes, and pedestrians declined, fewer drivers were speeding, and bicycle traffic increased 35 percent.

SDOT's analysis of 125th St. shows that drivers speed, there are an excessive number of accidents, and there's little room for bicycles. Their analysis of previous rechannelizations shows that they are a relatively low-cost way to calm traffic speeds, reduce accidents, provide more and safer space for bicycles and pedestrians without having any impact on capacity, negligible impact on travel time, and without pushing cars onto the surrounding non-arterials.

SDOT's recent reconsideration of the Admiral Way rechannelization and N. Roosevelt Way project show that they're willing to change directions when a project isn't appropriate.

The 125th St rechannelization is, without a doubt, an appropriate project and will make things safer for all users without destroying anyone's ability to drive. It's time for opponents to step aside, let the project move forward, and see that their arterial, like all the others in the past, will be better for everyone after its "road diet."
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