Unlike most of the recent coverage on SDOT’s three proposals (which has been primarily enthusiastic and approving), Scigliano’s piece includes criticism of the road diet and limited bike lanes and reaches out to opponents (or at least those skeptical) of the plan. Vocal Columbia City neighbor, realtor, and long-time neighborhood activist, Ray Aykers (who dove into a lively discussion here on the same proposals), is included in the conversation.
Late this spring, the Seattle Department of Transportation plans to put Rainier Avenue S.
from Columbia City to the city limit on a “road diet” — to squeeze it down from a four- to two-lane arterial, with a center turn lane serving left-turning vehicles going both ways. SDOT has presented three alternative schemes for doing this, all with the same traffic configuration. Only one of them includes any provision for bicycles, and that’s just 0.9 miles of separated bikeway from Hillman City to a little north of Columbia City, the stretch of Rainier with the most commercial and pedestrian activity.
This redesign will make notoriously perilous Rainier safer and more convenient for pedestrians and safer if somewhat less convenient for motorists. But unless it’s amended, it may actually make this notoriously perilous avenue less safe for cyclists, squandering an even better opportunity to bring a safe, widely accessible through cycle route to the most under-served quadrant of the city.
Before considering how that’s come to be and what can be done about it, it’s important to credit the need and motives driving the push for a Rainier safety fix. There’s no questioning the need. Rainier is far from Seattle’s busiest arterial, and, at 8 miles, it accounts for only about 1/200th of the city’s arterial miles, and 1/500th of total street miles. But Rainier claims 1/30th of the city’s traffic collisions, and an even larger share of traffic fatalities — two in the last three years, 11 in the last 10. On Rainier, as opposed to other hotspots, the victims are mostly pedestrians…
The piece goes on to include a number of areas of concern about the road diet’s lane reduction and offers some strong criticism of the limited bike-lanes:
[Ray] Akers predicts the lane reduction will be a disaster for Southeast businesses, most of which lie along Rainier, and for property owners there. “How many Safeways can you find located on a two-lane road?” he asks. “How about 7-Elevens or McDonald’s? Any major chain will seek a major arterial, and that means four lanes. Secondary and tertiary arterials do not command the attention or the value of a four-lane arterial. Real estate fronting on a four-lane arterial is always more valuable.”
[SDOT Director, Scott] Kubly and [Mayor] Murray contend that far from road diets starving retail, there is “a lot of data showing that when you do these kinds of facilities [road diets], retail does better,” says Kubly. “It’s only going to make this a more attractive place to be.” And anyway, he adds, “Most of the people using these retail businesses are using transit to get there.”
Really? Try parking in Columbia City.
I asked both Akers and Kubly and SDOT spokesman Richard Sheridan if they could send me their data. I didn’t hear back from SDOT. Akers replied that his data was “anecdotal,” with one notable example very close at hand: Many retailers closed when only two traffic lanes continued operating on MLK during light rail construction. Indeed, but that project caused (and continues to cause) much more disruption than a road diet, which would be speedily implemented.
I suspect that Akers and City Hall are both right to a degree: Fewer traffic lanes will be one more factor dissuading the sort of national retailers that Akers has tried for frustrating decades to lure to Southeast Seattle. But smaller, locally-owned, more pedestrian-oriented businesses may fare better in calmer traffic conditions (and be glad not to have SUVs crashing through their walls). Southeast Seattleites will continue to miss the convenience of Trader Joe’s and Target nearby, but Columbia and Hillman Cities will retain their distinctive, nearly all-local characters. Some residents would call that a fair trade.
The neglect of bicycles in the Rainier plans is more worrisome, and not just for the missed opportunity. Paring lanes may actually make Rainier Ave. more scary for cyclists. That’s because impatient motorists will no longer have another traffic lane for passing them. Asked about this, Jim Curtin said drivers could still use the center turn lane for passing. But that’s dangerous too — and illegal…