SDOT Proposes Three Potential Options for Rainier Ave. Safety Project

Option 1b, showing protected bike lanes between Columbia and Hillman City

Option 1b, showing protected bike lanes between Columbia and Hillman City

Tonight’s packed meeting at the Columbia School was the current step in SDOT’s ongoing efforts to tackle Rainier Ave’s major safety problems. The meeting began by quickly establishing that Rainier has, without question, some alarming safety concerns and that the road is in dire need of some major rethinking and redesign.

In addition to some easy changes that can be made right away–lowering the speed limit through Columbia and Hillman city to 25mph (which got a big applause), re-timing pedestrian crosswalks (more applause), making sure lanes and signals are visible, etc.–SDOT proposed three different options for significant redesigns of Rainier Ave S:

Option 1A:

  • A road diet from S. Alaska to S. Henderson
  • Reduction from four lanes to two lanes…with a designated turning lane in the middle.

Option 1B:

  • Same as option 1A but with the addition of protected bike lanes between Columbia and Hillman City (the most involved and expensive option)

Option 2:

  • Essentially the same as option 1A but with designated transit lanes running intermittently the whole four-mile stretch. No bike lanes.

Although there are variations with separate benefits and limitations to each plan, all share essentially the same key features:

Reduce top collision types (left turns, sideswipe, parked car)

Lower vehicle speeds

Better conditions for people walking

Opportunities for new crossings

Improved efficiency

Easier turning movements – especially for large vehicles

The full presentation can be viewed here and, of course, SDOT’s slideshow goes into much more detail than the quick summaries provided above. To better understand the implications of each option, be sure to really explore the data provided and the ideas behind each proposal. Comments, questions, and concerns regarding each proposal were welcomed and addressed at the end of the meeting. Continued input from the community was encouraged.

The next meeting (addressing much of the same info that was provided tonight as well as some additional, specific information for areas of concern north of Hillman) will be:

Tuesday , March 3, 2015
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM, The Ethiopian Community Center,
8323 Rainier Ave S

In the months to come, SDOT will continue to review and study the options, continue to seek out feedback and input from the community, and come back with a decision around May. From there, implementation will begin–which, depending on the decision, may be a very long process. Questions and comments about the proposals can be directed here:

jim.curtin@seattle.gov

(206) 684-8874

28 thoughts on “SDOT Proposes Three Potential Options for Rainier Ave. Safety Project

  1. Ray says:

    When faced with the same pedestrian safety issues, other large cities, including New York and London, turned to enforcement. Tickets and prosecution solved their pedestrian safety issues. Seattle chooses the draconian measure of reducing traffic capacity. Question: Why is SDOT being asked to solve a police and public safety issue? The logic escapes me.

    • Columbia City Dad says:

      Have you been to London or New York in the last 10 years? Enforcement is obviously important, but both cities, and many more, are completely remaking their streets to be safer for pedestrians and work better for all modes. In NYC, they have shut down Broadway to auto traffic through Times and Union Squares – only the most famous examples.

      More here: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/streets/pedestrian-safety-plan/user_uploads/pedestrian-safety-action-plan.pdf

      http://www.pps.org/blog/shared-space-and-slow-zones-comparing-public-space-in-paris-and-new-york/#.U39cQTpm5rM.twitter

    • Max says:

      The point of rechannelizing a road (in this case reducing to 3 lanes from 4) is that it makes the road more efficient, rather than reducing its capacity. The available data back this up. If you look at the information presented by SDOT, you’ll see that they’ve done this to at least four other 4-lane roadways in Seattle. In three of the cases, traffic volumes actually went up after the roadway redesign. In the fourth case, traffic volumes fell by 1%. So it would be difficult to call this kind of plan a draconian measure. The main impact is that it reduces speeding and the kind of aggressive lane-shopping that leads to accidents. But I think your basic premise is spot on: Have I ever seen anyone pulled over by SPD for speeding or other basic safety violations on Rainier? No.

    • Hold Your Horses says:

      “Why is SDOT being asked to solve a public safety issue” he asks. Uh, maybe because SDOT is tasked with ensuring that roads are SAFE for ALL USERS. Maybe because when city departments of transportation KNOW that there are safety problems, they are legally culpable when they fail to address those issues.

      Remember a few years ago when a dog was electrocuted upon touching a Seattle street lamp? The City of Seattle was legally liable. Thank goodness it was “only” a dog (sweet, poor family member, but at least it wasn’t a human child). The Seattle Public Utilities had to inspect and repair thousands of street lamps to ensure SAFETY.

      Clearly, there are some people, perhaps Ray, who can just ignore deaths, severe injuries and permanent disabilities of pedestrians. People who can ignore the large number of vehicles crashing into buildings. People who can ignore the tens of thousands of auto accidents up and down Rainier Avenue. But the City cannot ignore this; it is the City’s responsibility to fix known problems.

      Enforcement is not the only answer. And by the way, do you want to pull cops off of other public safety issues, like gun violence, assaults, burglaries, just to write tickets? There are only so many police officers to go around.

      Lastly, there are those who will demand more data, more studies, all while denying that there are problems. The problems are not mere data; they are humans. Maimed kids. Run-down middle-aged pedestrians. Dead senior citizens.

      • Ray says:

        I just read that Seattle is among the safest (perhaps THE safest) city for pedestrians. Safety has not been on SDOT’s radar screen apparently until recently. If SDOT believed in safety we’d have had slower speeds by now, reflective paint (so you can tell which lane you’re in at night) and we’d have had updated signage and other improvements –which have been installed in Greenwood and other neighborhoods. No, SDOT has clearly taken their eye off the ball when it comes to Rainier Avenue. Then, in a knee-jerk response, they choose one option, and only one option –taking away two lanes of travel. Seattle can do better. This is a a dishonest plan, downright passive-aggressive. Regarding enforcement, it’s false to suggest it will pull officers away from other duties. Seattle has a dedicated traffic division, which will take NO officers away from regular policing duties. We could lower speeds on Rainier and increase enforcement and we’d have the same success as other cities, such as New York, London and others. Everyone wants safer streets. But, let’s not deceive ourselves that a road diet is the solution. Drivers avoid road-diets and zoom through our neighborhoods, finding short-cuts to avoid congestion. That makes all of our neighborhoods much, much more dangerous for everyone.

  2. Excellent, succinct report, Eric. Thanks so much for posting and giving everyone easy access to the presentation and the staff.

  3. Ray says:

    A road diet is one lane in each direction. The center lane is a turn lane (although many enraged drivers are using the center lane as their personal passing lane). Re-channelization isn’t the obvious solution for Rainier, nor should it be the first and only proposal. The city has offered basically one fix; reduced lanes. What about the negative impact to our business community? The new Steinbrueck study shows that Rainier Beach is suffering mightily compared to other city neighborhoods, especially when it comes to job creation and incomes. Squeezing traffic and reducing access means Rainier Beach, and other commercial nodes will suffer. During construction of the Central Link light rail, when MLK was reduced to one lane in each direction, Mayor Nickels and Sound Transit agreed that a mitigation fund was required. They established the Rainier Valley Community Development Fund with $50 million dollars, targeted at helping the businesses that would be impacted. Even so, many businesses failed. The city is imposing the same restriction on Rainier, one lane in each direction, in our most economically challenged section of Rainier. Where is the mitigation fund? I’d suggest the fund must be larger, say $200 million, since there are more businesses on Rainier, compared to MLK.

    • Jay says:

      Ray,

      Were you there last night for the meeting? There’s quite a bit of data which proves that a road diet does not significantly delay travel times or even the number of drivers. If anything, it can improve access as opposed to limiting it.

      The question was directly asked how SDOT and the city would monitor the impact on businesses and their answer–looking at business revenue, monitoring sales impacts, etc–proved (at the least) that they are very aware that what you are concerned about is on their radar.

      I absolutely get that you’ve got a long history with the city and can cite many, many broken promises–but this meeting last night seemed (to me at least) to really try to be about working with the community on some real, workable solutions. I think most people left relatively pleased.

      • Ray says:

        I see more business-as-usual at the city. History shows we usually receive the short end of the stick. Three options —all roughly the same— is not a choice. I’d like SDOT to demonstrate they have respect for Southeast residents by giving us real choices. A road-diet, a road-diet, or a road-diet is insulting.

    • Columbia City Dad says:

      You are flat out wrong about NY and London, it was both enforcement and changes to the street design that slowed traffic there. Bottom line is that the safety of my kids is more important than the two minutes of time you might lose at peak hours driving your car. Enforcement is not enough, the roads also need to be designed for legal speeds, not for “maximum vehicle throughput.”

  4. CC Rider says:

    Ray,

    Most of your concerns were voiced by the neighbors in attendance…and most of these same concerns were received and responded to with actual data that suggests these proposals are by no-means “knee-jerk reactions” or the “short end of the stick.”

    I’d be curious to see some examples where a road-diet has failed, hurt businesses, decreased access, and made streets less safe. Admittedly, SDOT only cites the local examples that, according to their data, have been extremely successful at doing the exact opposite.

    For those of us who are not engineers who study this for a living, it’s difficult to not believe SDOT and the data they’ve included. Can anyone in the know chime in a bit more? Any examples of road diets gone horribly wrong?

    Ray, pretty much every concern you’ve listed:

    -significantly increased travel times
    -congestion
    -people zooming through side streets
    -business access
    -pedestrian safety
    -driver frustration
    -etc.

    are the same “knee-jerk” reactions we all have when we initially hear the phrase “road diet” for the first time. SDOT presents a (pretty clear and well-backed) case that road diets (when done well) can actually alleviate most of these problems.

    I am going to even argue that these proposals (especially 1B) are clear examples of South Seattle finally NOTgetting the short end of the stick.

    Everyone agrees that enforcement needs to be increased–and that too was addressed right from the start last night–but, here’s the city finally taking action on a real plan to make significant, researched, and costly safety improvements to an area that’s been ignored for decades. If done well, neighbors, car commuters,pedestrians, transit, bike riders, businesses, etc. will all benefit.

    I think the biggest concern should be how do we make sure these proposals go beyond just the major impacts they’ll have to Columbia and Hillman City. I am wondering if there are more specifics about the stretches beyond these two neighborhoods that will be presented during next week’s meeting.

    • Ray says:

      There is new data from Peter Steinbrueck which documents some SE neighborhoods are not doing well at all. Rainier Beach, for example, has below-average incomes, and the community has failed to thrive. Jobs and economic growth have not kept pace with the rest of the city. A road-diet may be just fine for Columbia City, making it more civilized, but what about Hillman City and Rainier Beach, and all the businesses in-between? In fact, the city has demonstrated that reducing traffic IS a problem in some locations. When traffic was reduced to one lane each direction on MLK due to light rail construction, the city established a $50 million-dollar mitigation fund. Without that fund, we would have seen business failures along MLK. (And some businesses did indeed fail.) I’m not convinced we need to experiment with our fragile local economy. Why not use common sense, and apply proven solutions: reduced speed limit and more enforcement? That’s documented to work best, cheapest, and with the least disruption. Hard to understand why that’s not Option #1?

      • CC Rider says:

        What you just listed is a part of every single one of these plans. The meeting opened with SDOT saying they are going to do exactly that and get to them immediately:

        30mph
        more enforcement
        reflective lane markers
        more visibility for signals/lights
        more time at crosswalks
        etc.

        These are all actions SDOT clearly went out of their way to say are going to be implemented very soon–regardless of what option is chosen. Yes. They are all cheap and effective and ready to get started on now.

        However, it was made very clear last night that these simple changes will not solve all of Rainier’s greater problems at all–doing just those would be once-again ignoring South Seattle’s larger needs. Given that Rainier’s got more accidents, more injuries, more fatalities, and more locations of incidents than just about any other road in Seattle, I would hardly call this an experiment–it’s an urgent need…which again (if done well), will only help South Seattle’s fragile economy.

      • Ray says:

        I must disagree, in part. I believe reduced speeds, more enforcement, re-timed signal lights, better signage, more enforcement, reflective lane markers, did I mention more enforcement….are the real solution. The elimination of travel lanes is the unnecessary part. The data shows reduced speeds and more enforcement is the real solution. All else is pretty much window dressing. Why not try reduced speeds and more enforcement first, we can always eliminate lanes later? Meanwhile, let’s stop warring with our neighbors. I love the idea of the bike viaduct. It’s an amazing plan. Let’s channel all this energy into a demand to build the bike viaduct. If the city can spend $288 million of street levy money at South Lake Union, why not spend $50 million out here in the S’end?

  5. Lucas says:

    These options sound great – a huge win for safety and for access and mobility for residents and businesses. Did any of the options increase street parking with the freed up lane space, or make the limited hours parking area south of Hillman City all day? (I’m guessing the bike lane and optimized transit options do not) That would be a huge boost to businesses as well.

  6. Kevin L says:

    I am excited SDOT is presenting three options that all emphasize Safety over Speeding. Many members of the Rainier Valley are avidly working to push for a so-called “road-diet” because it is a proven method of reducing speeding, dangerous driving behavior, and damage to life and property. Seattle has seen success right-sizing streets and is far from the only city implementing this safer street design.

    The concern about business is legitinate, especially given the history in southeast Seattle. However, updating this road should be seen as a boon. People who are able to actually see businesses are going to stop and shop much more often than those who cannot. Obviously people moving at slow walking speeds have the greatest opportunity to discover a new business. Slowing speeds and updating Rainier to three lanes is not going to restrict access and hurt business. It is going increase the opportunity of people seeing something interesting and stopping, rather than speeding by at dangerous speeds.

  7. Max says:

    Ray, it seems that nothing will sway you. As such, it is safe to assume that you have a degree in transportation engineering and have access to research data the rest of us do not. I did not realize that you were an expert. Bring on more cops!

    • Ray says:

      I’ve thought of myself as a reasonable guy. I’m not hearing reasonable and rational dialogue. Do you think ONE choice is reasonable? There is one choice offered, and one mantra; road-diet…in three varieties. Should residents accept this insult? I want more funding for improved infrastructure. I want to see the bike viaduct plan funded & built. I want to see our sidewalks widened, better lighting, and enhanced LED crosswalks. I want to see investment on par with South Lake Union. I’m tired of being told we must settle for less, and divide a shrinking pie. I’m also weary of hearing from those who moved here six months ago and have everything figured out. Get engaged with the local politics, embrace the viewpoints of others, and work collaboratively. I’ve been doing it for three decades. But, feel free to tell me my mind is set and I don’t know that of which I speak.

      • L says:

        Better sidewalks, lower speed limits, better crosswalks, better lights, better pedestrian access, better business access, better transit access, millions of dollars designated to South Seattle for once!, more enforcement! Neighborhood involvement! Let’s force the city to listen to us by being engaged! And, let’s look at some real data to see what’s been proven to be effective before we act! Let’s get something equal to the big bucks being spent elsewhere in the city!

        All of those things are exactly what South Seattle needs. And getting ignored on these issues has got to stop. We need packed meetings, a collaborative effort, and a clear message that safer streets are a requirement and that we are not going to settle for anything less.

        …which is why I am so puzzled as to why there is opposition to this plan. Every single thing listed above is a part of each option.

        What’s a better plan? No road diet? No turning lanes? No reduction in accidents? Nothing based on proven data? Are we going to wait for our oh-so-functional police department to just solve this problem? Another car just crashed into a building in Hillman city today. Show me why a road diet-only proposal is an insult, how a different option creates a safer neighborhood, and back it up with some data as to why something else is a better choice and you’ve got my vote.

        A bike viaduct sounds like a great idea (although it’s impossible to search for since bike + seattle+ viaduct only brings up posts pertaining to Alaskan Way and Bertha………so, do share more). If it’s a good plan, let’s push for that as well. Do we have to chose between making Rainier safer and a separate bike option (clearly, I need more info on this bike viaduct thing). I, too, am sick of being told we have to settle for less.

        It was great to see such a diverse and engaged group attending last night.

      • Joe says:

        Is there any actual opposition? It looks like there’s merely one, individual person who appears jaded and opinionated, who has posted a tremendous number of objections (of debatable merit) to any of the smart, sensible changes proposed and embraced by the community.

      • Ray says:

        Ever hear of the ‘silent majority’?

      • Joe says:

        Yes, Ray. The idea of a ‘silent minority’ is frequently invoked by people who believe the rest of the world magically happens to see things exactly the same way they do — even when it’s dramatically counter to the evidence at hand.

        In fact, there’s psychological research detailing this phenomena, called “social projection”.

  8. Seattle Bike Blog on last night’s proposals.

    http://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2015/02/27/rainier-is-the-citys-most-dangerous-neighborhood-street-but-it-could-be-the-best/

    Ray, can you fill us in on the bike viaduct project you brought up?

    Also: a neighborly reminder to be civil. I’m not one to really want to mediate a discussion like this, but a reminder to make sure remarks are directed at ideas, not each other.

    …glad to see people diving into the discussion–even if there is disagreement. Discourse and participation that goes beyond a quick Facebook “like” or comment has always been one of my hopes with this site.

    -Eric

    • Ray says:

      I have seen the concept of a bike viaduct posted elsewhere. The concept sounds amazing, and do-able. It’s my understanding that someone has drawn up a preliminary design? I wish I had more information. It seems like a perfect solution for a narrow right-of-way. We just need support and funding. If the city can squander $288 million of BTG levy monies at South Lake Union, then why not $50-$100 million in S’east Seattle?

      • Columbia City Dad says:

        Rainier is not that narrow a corridor and really doesn’t need anything as extravagant as an elevated structure to accommodate bikes. A protected bike lane, like on Broadway would do just fine.

        BTG property tax levy dollars were not used to fund Mercer St. That was funded by commercial parking tax, which is mostly collected downtown. Lack of expensive infrastructure is not where the Valley has been neglected (light rail, repaved Rainier and MLK). The real injustice is in allowing one of it’s main thoroughfares operate in such a dangerous way. Enforcement is important, but it waxes and wanes over time, even in the best neighborhoods. A road diet can limit the opportunity for reckless speeding on a more permanent basis, as it has in all those neighborhoods north of the Ship Canal.

      • Ray says:

        You are mistaken. The use of (at least) $288 million dollars of the Bridging The Gap road levy monies is well documented. Please check with Councilmember Nick Licata’s office for verification. Licata toured neighborhood groups, seeking support to stop the use of BTG monies at South Lake Union to benefit 5 or 6 wealthy property owners. Licata was the only vote in opposition to spending so much at one location. (Again, well documented.)

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