by Gina Luna
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Do you remember how angry the community was at the last meeting about the Central Area Neighborhood Greenway? The city came to talk about its plan for a greenway, and the attendees insisted that it was a non-issue until the 23rd Avenue corridor construction plans were explained. The attendees were louder, but there wasn’t a lot of headway for either party. On Thursday, the Seattle Department of Transportation visited The Capitol Hill Community Council to better explain the 23rd Avenue Corridor Improvements Project as well as the greenway’s progress. This time, questions were answered.
23rd Avenue carries from 13,000 to 20,000 vehicles per day, and is among Metro’s top 10 highest-ridership routes. Added to that are the pedestrians, cyclists, businesses, and residents who use the corridor. It’s busy, and the fuss is that SDOT’s plan for improvements includes reducing the four lanes (two in each direction of traffic) to three (one in each direction with a middle left-turn lane).
“People always say, ‘How is that possible? You’re going to reduce capacity. This isn’t going to work. It’s going to back up traffic,’” Maribel Cruz, SDOT’s Project Communications Lead for these projects, told the council. “We’ve done a lot of data gathering and analysis. On any street that has 25,000 vehicles or less we do a complete streets assessment, and part of that is looking at reconfiguring the roadway. By redesigning a roadway we can reduce collisions, reduce speeding, allow vehicles to turn without blocking traffic, manage driver behavior, and create space for wider sidewalks. It also makes these streets easier to cross.”
Kit Loo, the corridor’s Project Manager, assured The Capitol Hill Times that the changes, including the reduced lanes, wouldn’t slow down or back up traffic.
“A lot of these improvements that we’re doing, especially with the transit and signal improvements, actually improve the efficiency of the traffic,” Loo said. In fact, similar projects around the city, like improvements to Stone Way and Nickerson, were a success. But one of the council’s attendees wanted more assurance that SDOT knew what it was doing.
“Some of it is from experience, looking at what has worked and what hasn’t. Other things, especially for this particular project, are that we ran it through extensive modeling where we input all of the data related to traffic volumes, how many bus stops, busses, and turns; it all gets put into a modeling simulator, which runs through it, crunches, models, and determines how well the improvements that are put into the model will work, as well as the ones that do not. Modeling is sometimes different from reality, so there will be calibrations amendments to be done after the fact.”
A lot of the cause for backup now has to do with busses or drivers taking left-turns blocking traffic, as well as poorly timed traffic lights. All of these will be remedied. The improvements include a center lane for left-turns as well as a place for busses to pullout of the road when stopping, allowing traffic to continue through. As well, the traffic lights will be better timed, making it possible for drivers to hit green lights through the entire corridor if they mind the speed limit. The reduced lanes will also make the corridor safer since they’ll be wider (bonus for large trucks and semis), and cars won’t be able to weave in and out of lanes.
Added to the infrastructure changes, bus stops will also be redistributed to where there is most need, and there will be improvements to sidewalks, lighting, pavement, transit reliability, and signals. Public art is also on the list.
The only thing removed from the 23rd Avenue Corridor is bike lanes, which is where the greenway comes in. Built in three phases concurrent with the corridor project, a greenway is to be built parallel on a nearby street, which provides a safer place for cyclists and pedestrians.
Terry Plumb, Project Manager of the Central Area Neighborhood Greenway wasn’t present at the council meeting, but Cruz had the details. She said that a “greenway” is a safer, calmer street that everyone – all ages and abilities – can use. There isn’t a need for infrastructure changes, but, rather, accessories. For example, the speed limit in a greenway is reduced to 20 mph; speed humps are added (about one per block), plus signs and pavement markings like crosswalks to help people navigate, and pavement improvements when needed. Stop signs are also added at all intersections so that all streets entering the greenway will be required to first stop.
“The goal is to get people off of the busy arterial, but close enough that they’re able to access it,” Cruz said.
SDOT has been considering 21st Avenue, 22nd Avenue, 24th Avenue, and 25th Avenue for a greenway, and will announce the chosen route at an open house on February 26. (Open house at Thurgood Marshall Elementary, 2401 South Irving Street, from 5 – 7:30 p.m.)
Both the corridor and greenway projects travel from Rainier Avenue South up to East Roanoke Street, with the greenway’s construction staggering a couple of months in advance. In Phase I, set to begin before the end of 2014, construction will happen between South Jackson Street and East John Street, which will include the lane reduction. Phase II, planned for 2015, includes similar but less extensive improvements, and is from South Jackson Street to Rainier Avenue South. For the time being, changes are not on paper for Phase III, since SDOT is waiting to find out that the state does regarding SR 520.
More information about the 23rd Avenue Corridor Improvements Project can be found at http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/23rd_ave.htm, and more information about the Central Area Neighborhood Greenway can be found at http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/centralgreenway.htm.