If Holman Road is a ‘complete street,’ then that term has lost all meaning

SDOT today hailed Holman Road as a "complete street"

SDOT today hailed Holman Road as a “complete street.” Image from SDOT.

I received a troubling press release today from SDOT. In announcing the completion of the 1.4-mile, $3.8 million Holman Road repaving project, the department and Director Scott Kubly repeatedly refer to the street as a “complete street.”

If Holman Road is a complete street, then that term means nothing.

Holman Road is a busy, mean, wide, fast and uncomfortable street the slices off Crown Hill from the rest of the city. It may be the worst street in Northwest Seattle, a four-to-five-lane car sewer cutting a diagonal across the neighborhood street grid and demolishing all walkability and bikeability in the area.

When the city decided against utilizing this repaving project as a chance to complete a safe streets redesign or a chance to revolutionize biking in Crown Hill and Northwest Seattle by installing bike lanes, they lost the right to call this a “complete street.”

Holman was and still is all about moving cars quickly at any expense, including safety of people walking and biking. Building two new pedestrian refuge islands in the middle of a terrifying highway-style road in no way makes this a complete street. That’s like rebuilding a trench full of crocodiles in the middle of a neighborhood, but hanging a few rickety rope-and-plank bridges across it and calling it a success for walking safety.

Installing ADA-compliant curb ramps also does not count. They legally had to do that (though DOTs are good at finding loopholes if they really want to skip this step).

“With new pavement, sidewalks, curb ramps and transit stops, this Complete Streets project has something for every roadway user,” said Kubly in a press release. I have a feeling he has not actually gone out and tried to bike on this street, because there’s no way to claim this has made the street significantly better for people biking (give him a break, he’s still new?).

Bike commute map, from WalkScore

Bike commute map, from WalkScore

We argued several times during the creation of the Bike Master Plan update that Holman Road needed to be included. It was not. A look at a map of bike commuting rates in the city shows that Holman might as well be a row of bike tire spikes. Bike rates a few blocks south of the road are strong, while rates a few blocks north are dismal. Holman is clearly a giant impediment to biking.

Of course, it would not be super easy to make Holman a true complete street given the transit and freight loads it needs to carry. It would require a lot of hard work, public outreach and some creative design work. But the city effectively opted to just not even try, and that’s why calling this a “complete street” now is so troubling.

Some good folks at SDOT did try to paste a few small improvements onto this monster. But that is all just window dressing if the core of the street remains a highway-style roadway through an urban neighborhood.

Complete streets are about creating places that are safe and comfortable for everyone, no matter how they get around. It’s a powerful vision of hope that we really can build cities and neighborhood where the threat of traffic death and injury does not constantly loom over everyone’s heads. Where biking and walking is so comfortable that most people don’t feel the need to drive just to get to the grocery store or the park. Where people with mobility issues feel comfortable crossing the street even though they can’t move as quickly as some other folks.

Holman Road fails by every one of these measures. It’s more of the same problem, repaving the road engineering mistakes of the last century. Rather than praising this work, SDOT needs to be looking at how it happened so it doesn’t happen again.

Here’s the full press release:

After a busy eight months, Holman Road NW Paving Project construction is now complete. In a major roadway enhancement, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) repaved 1.4 miles of Holman Road NW and made pedestrian and transit improvements all the way from Greenwood Avenue N to NW 87th Street.

As a Complete Streets project, SDOT built curb ramps at 64 locations to enhance ADA access, constructed over 3,700 feet of improved walkway, and installed five bus stop waiting pads with new lighting to better support Metro’s RapidRide service. It also constructed pedestrian refuges on Holman Road NW at the intersections of 7th Avenue NW and 13th Avenue NW, and enlarged an existing median to better serve as a pedestrian refuge at Holman Road NW and 15th Avenue NW.

Said SDOT Director Scott Kubly, “We are pleased to deliver the Crown Hill neighborhood’s new roadway just in time for the holidays. With new pavement, sidewalks, curb ramps and transit stops, this Complete Streets project has something for every roadway user.”

As part of the paving project, the Holman Road Bridge at 8th Avenue NW also received new bridge expansion joints and waterproofing. Additionally, temporary wheel stops were installed on Mary Avenue NW and NW 92nd Street to provide a safer route for pedestrians and bicyclists during and after construction. The location is slated for a Safe Routes to School project, with a new sidewalk currently in design and planned for construction in 2016.

Residents and drivers can expect regular traffic flows to resume over the next several weeks. The construction contractor will complete finishing touches such as landscaping with minor effects to traffic over that timeframe.

Funding for this project came from a federal Surface Transportation Program preservation grant of $1.1 million and Bridging the Gap funding of $2.7 million. More information about the paving and Safe Routes to School projects can be found on the project web page: http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/pave_holman.htm.

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46 Responses to If Holman Road is a ‘complete street,’ then that term has lost all meaning

  1. Blaeloch says:

    Well-written and -deserved diatribe, Tom. Kubly needs to take a walk on Holman–I think this high-fivin’ is going to come back to haunt SDOT.

  2. biliruben says:

    My wife works on Holman.

    I basically have to sneak up on her business when arriving by bike, going far out of my way to the south, and crossing E-W on 90th, so as to not get eaten by the Holman beast, than slowly, quietly sneaking north.

    She has despaired of ever being able to safely bike to work, stuck in a horrible E-W car commute that takes nearly as long as what it would take on bike. But there is no alternative, and apparently won’t be one for at least another decade when it comes up for repaving again.

    Very disappointing and foreboding that they use this misnomer.

    Anecdotal evidence is that the refuges actually entice to car drivers into doing very dangerous turns inappropriately across traffic to reach partially blocked businesses, further endangering peds and frustrating everyone.

  3. Charles B says:

    Other than the lack of bike lanes, the other major thing lacking here is an increase of safe pedestrian crossing points. Pedestrian refuges are a joke when cars are flying by at 35-45 miles an hour.

    We need better crossings for the whole Northgate Way – 105th – Holman – 15th corridor. As population increases in this area it will unfortunately become more and more apparent as the injuries and deaths begin to stack up.

    I am grateful for the new sidewalks along Northgate Way, but the lack of new safe crossings is a serious oversight.

    • JAT says:

      I agree with this: the major deficiency is lack of viable crossing points and this is just as much a failure to tame car-culture as it is an infrastructure issue.

      I’m not concerned about lack of bike lanes (I don’t believe the any and all ages and abilities standard is a reasonable one to strive for,…) but I sure do believe the driver’s mindset is a toxic one and needs to be reined in.

      Kudos to you Tom for calling B.S. on the Orwellian newspeak of SDOT’s “complete streets” meme.

  4. Andres Salomon says:

    This problem is not unique to Holman Rd, of course. Look at the list of SDOT’s AAC repaving projects to see numerous other examples of streets that received or will receive major maintenance, but little or no improvements for people walking and biking:

    http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/paving.htm

    Check out N 85th St, for example, which was repaved in 2012:

    http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/pave_85th.htm
    https://goo.gl/maps/RTDia

    This is a 4 (and in some places 5)-lane road with 1/4mi gaps between crosswalks, and at least one school directly on it. Numerous improvements could’ve been made to make it easier to cross or bike on, but it was kept the same (with the exception of legally required ADA curb ramps, and the creation of sidewalks – a bare minimum in a dense city).

    The same thing will happen with the 2015 Roosevelt Way NE repaving project. Yes, we convinced them (through public outcry) to add 4 blocks of protected bike lanes – after public outcry. However, it’s a 25 block-long project, and the main problems are difficulty crossing and drivers speeding. The roadway configuration will mostly remain the same, and it will continue to be a barrier to people walking/biking in the Roosevelt neighborhood. We need to exert more pressure on SDOT to stop treating repaving projects as boring maintenance, and to use them as an opportunity to actually fix dangerous streets.

    Our latest letter (and analysis of the current repaving plans) for Roosevelt is here: http://seattlegreenways.org/wp-content/uploads/roosie60pc-3.pdf . We really need to get more attention on this issue..

    • biliruben says:

      Yeah, sandpoint was the same way. They didn’t even bother to pave the shoulders, which is where bikes and peds are forced, with no lane or sidewalk. The asphalt is destroyed and dangerous where it exists at all.

  5. Uwe B says:

    Well written post and the comments are capturing the frustration local residents and users have. Thanks for contributing to the discussion.
    It doesn’t really matter whether you look at this from a pedestrian, cyclist or driver perspective. All I can add is that this is a waste of tax payer money, no improvement from my point of view which is very unfortunate (yes, I admit there is new asphalt and some yellow painted curbs around deserted traffic islands no one can get to). Furthermore if you look at the recent major SDOT work in the north west quadrant of Seattle (85th Street and 105th Street), where we do not see bike lanes in any case, you get a similar dismal picture of what priorities / capabilities the planners from SDOT have. SDOT is the wrong partner for any type of “complete streets” they have yet to prove that they can do 21st century traffic improvements in this town.

    • Karl says:

      No kidding. They can’t even do Sharrows right and that is just paint. 90% of the Sharrows in this city are painted far to the right, completely defeating the intended purpose of them. Either the crews doing the painting are purposely fucking with us, or SDOT is so incompetent that they paint the Sharrows far to the right, confusing cyclists and drivers, and further increasing drivers ire towards cyclists.

      • Josh says:

        On sharrows, at least, SDOT announced a policy change last month, they acknowledge that shared lane markings are supposed to be centered in the travel lane, and they will install them there going forward, including replacement of existing sharrows during maintenance projects.

        It shouldn’t have taken cyclist complaints to get that policy changed. Centered sharrows are specified in the Bicycle Master Plan. But, as we’ve seen on other projects, the BMP’s mandate to comply with safety standards is too often just words on paper.

      • Karl says:

        Well, I won’t hold my breath that they are actually going to do the right thing, but I suppose it is encouraging that they are at least finally making the right noises.

      • Josh says:

        I’ve actually seen them relocating sharrows as a result of last month’s change, and they’re training the crews to do them right. If you see new sharrows going in that are too far to the right, report them ASAP.

      • Karl says:

        Thanks, I will!

  6. Andres Salomon says:

    Also, for what it’s worth – the Crown Hill Neighborhood Association attempted to delay or halt the Holman Rd repaving project in order to get SDOT to take into account safety and planning issues with the corridor. Here’s part of their complaint:

    > > Significantly, the neighborhood and other stakeholders were only
    > > informed about the expanded scope of this project when it was too
    > > late for us to be properly engaged. We raised the bigger, longer
    > > term impact of spending Bridging the Gap funds on a capital project
    > > that does not include safe pedestrian or bike crossings on a freight
    > > corridor with over 30,000 vehicles going by daily nor drainage
    > > updates on a road that drains directly into the salmon runs of Pipers
    > > Creek.

    One of the things the CHNA requested was for SDOT to use this opportunity to make changes in accordance with the various Master Plans (Freight, Transit, Pedestrian, and Bike). SDOT’s response (from the ex-interim director of SDOT, Goran Sparrman) was basically that this is a repaving project, and the various (mostly safety!) improvements requested were outside the scope of the project. Those things could be implemented later.

  7. Davey Oil says:

    I have little to add, except to agree with every word of this post and the comments. Holman is a monster of a road, in a corner of town that has a few, Aurora, and 85th come to mind.

    Thanks for calling this out. I don’t read SDOT press releases and I would never have known that they were asking for praise for such feeble work.

    What ARE the criteria for a “Complete Street?”

  8. Doug Bostrom says:

    Again and again it blows my mind that with two major options for making streets safer, we choose neither. Either engineer “calm” traffic into streets via the means we already know work well, or impose brutal (well, just apply the law) enforcement of speed limits, signal jumping etc.

    We can be smart and nice or we can fall back on less intelligent and “harsh”* but doing nothing just isn’t an option.

    Next time we read of SPD wasting money on invading activist groups with James Bond wannabes and the like, let’s remember to ask why our money is not being spent in the places where people are being harmed by lawbreakers?

    *And after all, “harsh” only means enforcing laws we all agree are necessary. I

  9. Market St mark says:

    Who would ever want to bike here anyway? What a pathetic article.

  10. Merlin says:

    Well said, Tom. This is terribly disappointing – the bragging as much as the (lack of) engineering. Reminds me of the 2006-2008 Rainier Traffic Safety Project http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/rainier.htm which claims to have “reduced injuries by 8% and reduced collisions by 1%” but still left Rainier with 1243 collisions, 630 injuries and 2 fatalities in the past 3 years, making Rainier by far the most dangerous street in Seattle. Don’t brag until you’ve actually fixed something, SDOT!

  11. ChefJoe says:

    More complete than it was… nobody wants to bike really fast in a massively rutted, pot-holed street that’s crumbling beneath them.

    There’s even some fancy bike racks near the QFC.

    http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2014/11/12/is-this-bicycle-rack-uncut

  12. Clark in Vancouver says:

    Time for a revolution at the SDOT. At the very least they need to be asked sternly some questions.
    Why didn’t you make it truly complete?
    Why are you referring to this as complete when it’s not?
    What is your definition of complete?
    How could you be so out of touch with current transportation thought when we’re all reading blogs about The Netherlands and know that things could be so much better?
    What will you do to make sure this does not happen again?

    I see on the map that it’s a diagonal through the grid. This means that it’s useful and therefore should include bike lanes of some type on each side. Principals of complete streets are that either you lower traffic speeds and volumes or if you are allowing that then you must have physical separation.

    • ChefJoe says:

      As long as we’re emulating the Netherlands, we should change our laws to match their “bicyclists must use the bike lane if present” law.

      • Richard says:

        This is only plausible if “the lane” (by which I assume you mean any present bike lane) can be assumed to be at least as safe as the primary traffic lane. Currently, the opposite is more often true.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        Agreed. If Seattle really works hard and makes really smart and significant investments, we can maybe start discussing such a law in, say, 20 or 25 years.

      • Adam says:

        I’d happily throw my weight behind that law if, and only if, we had facilities here that held their own to cycling/pedestrian infrastructure in The Netherlands. I spent a few weeks cycle touring around The Netherlands, and oh boy, there’s no desire whatsoever to not use their excellent cycling infrastructure.

        If you design a road for 50 mph but stick a 30 mph speed limit on it, people will speed regardless of the law. Design a road for 30 mph, and people will generally go 30 mph even if you put a 100 mph speed limit on it.

        It’s the same thing with cycling infrastructure. If you design shit cycle infrastructure, then of course people won’t use it. If you design stellar infrastructure then people will want to use it, no “must use bike infrastructure” law needed. Unfortunately most of what we have now in Seattle is shit. Even the newer infrastructure (2nd Ave, Broadway), while groundbreaking when held up to America’s pathetic standards, is still shit when compared to what I rode on in The Netherlands.

      • Josh says:

        Actually, CROW reports that the Netherlands is experimenting with desegregation — faster cyclists (18 mph+) make sidepaths dangerous and unwelcoming for more vulnerable users, so studies are under way to allow cyclists to choose the street instead of the path.

        http://www.fietsberaad.nl/?section=nieuws&lang=en&mode=newsArticle&repository=Fast+bicycles+on+the+roadway

      • Adam says:

        Interesting information Josh.

        That actually reminds me of a conversation I had with a man over there. He was complaining that he could only exercise on his road bike at night or in the early morning before the “old ladies and kids” woke up and took over the cycle paths. That’s certainly a problem I’d love to have all over the city one day.

      • clark in Vancouver says:

        Adam: Yes, I think that’s the point of most protected cycling infrastructure, is that it’s not for the racers or those wanting to sustain a certain speed to get cardio, it’s for when you want to get somewhere. School, store, work, etc. It’s for all the people that currently don’t cycle but want to.

        ChefJoe: What is your point?

      • ChefJoe says:

        clark,
        my point is that you can pick and choose a fantasy that doesn’t actually exist anywhere. I’m trying to “keep it real”.

        The Netherlands invests heavily in such segregated bike lanes with the laws also (compared to the US) restricting bikes to those lanes once they’re built. I know many car drivers would probably welcome knowing that one could focus on looking out for bicyclists in the 2nd ave bike lane rather than the full width of the roadway.

      • Clark in Vancouver says:

        ChefJoe: I see. So the concept of different types of people rather than the same people who at different time are using different transportation modes?
        I have no opinion on such a law but I hear that over there in the Netherlands, we’re told that the cycling infrastructure is so good that nobody cycling would even want to not use it. That seems okay to me as I find the same experience here in Vancouver with the few really nice separated cycle lanes, that I have no interest in not being on them. I found the same when I visited the Netherlands.
        Now, I do read about Oregon where they have such a law but their cycle infrastructure is, while not the worst, is fairly poor and people often find that it just doesn’t cut it yet become lawbreakers if they want to leave it and use the general travel lane. That would be a drag.
        So, I agree with Tom F. in that only after we have a complete network of very high quality cycling infrastructure in this continent that we can start to entertain ideas like this.

  13. Phil Jones says:

    I live quite near this project. I agree that the term “complete street” is a misnomer when applied to this project. It does include limited improvements (the curb ramps, new traffic islands (can’t wait for street trees to be added!), and better pavement. However, I would never bike on Holman; and avoid crossing it (usually taking 8th underneath Holman). I would like to think that the “complete street” nomenclature was an unintentional oversight.

    However, those using the terminology should choose their words more carefully; otherwise they’ll give the impression that they think their stakeholders are complete rubes who don’t know the difference between a “complete street” and an urban highway. Both parties owe each-other more respect than that.

    On the bright side, the changes are still improvements.

    Good job calling it out, Tom!

    • Al Dimond says:

      I think there’s a law, or if not a law some kind of official practice, that significant street work triggers some sort of “complete streets” review, similar to the requirement that accessibility be addressed. On streets like 85th and Holman SDOT will basically do this review, say, “Biking and walking will happen mostly on parallel and crossing streets,” do some token sidewalk improvements, and call it a day without really addressing how well the street works for people crossing it, or people that need to access stuff that’s right on it.

      • Clark in Vancouver says:

        One thing that’s unique about Holman is that it’s diagonal across the grid, this means that there is no parallel street that could be designated to cycle and walk on. The case can be made therefore that it should have some AAA cycling infrastructure on it.
        This is similar to Kingsway Avenue in Vancouver. It’s diagonal across the grid so any greenway even near it is not parallel. Even though it was designated for cycling infrastructure in 1997, there still is nothing on it and there continues to be construction and repaving on it but those opportunities aren’t taken to include bike lanes at the same time.

  14. Cathy Tuttle says:

    Seattle Neighborhood Greenways leaders chose Vision Zero, Complete Streets, and renewing a Transportation Levy as our citywide priorities in 2015 http://seattlegreenways.org/blog/2014/11/24/vision-zero-tops-list-greenway-priorities/

    All three of these priorities — Vision Zero, Complete Streets, and BTG2 — need to come together in future SDOT spending. We completely appreciate SDOT doing hard work to maintain our crumbling streets, and we plan to encourage the City’s clear movement towards more robust Complete Streets. We trust all future SDOT repaving work will prioritize people first, so that we can safely and conveniently move along and get across improved streets while walking or riding a bike.

  15. SMC says:

    Community leaders from Crown Hill met with SDOT’s Holman Road project team no less than one (1) day ago to review a “punch list” for Holman Road and long range plan for completing the Holman Road multi-modal corridor (stormwater management was not part of the completed street). Just when does a corridor make it to the SDOT’s list for improvements? Per SDOT’s Complete Streets checklist: Holman Road has an average daily traffic count of 29,300 and average pedestrian count of 14,000-17,000. Holman is a principal arterial, freight corridor, major truck street and transit arterial. The 35MPH posted speed is within the walk zone for Whitman Middle School and Crown Hill’s urban village. There was not a single safe, protected crossing installed.
    Last week a southbound speeding car flew out of control on Holman at 90th, ejected the driver and came to rest in the opposite lane of northbound traffic, wrapped around a tree in front of Petco—as school was getting out. In the last month a McDonalds employee sustained a broken leg when he crossed Holman at Mary in the crosswalk. He was on his way to the bus after work. The project is done, and the sidewalk network is still not complete, the signals are not synchronized, the curve of the roadway causes spin-outs and the posted speed is still 35 MPH. To add insult to injury (literally) SDOT attributed the uptick in injury accidents on Holman to a statistical anomaly because more people are speeding, likening it to the multi-car incident on Rainier around Halloween. This is just wrong. Holman Road is not reasonably safe for ordinary travel and actually this project seems to have made it more dangerous.

    • Selena says:

      Holman Road NW is a 5-lane Major Truck Route, designated T-1 strategic freight route and King County SMART Corridor. There are over 8,000,000 Average Daily Tons that move along the Holman Road Repaving Route–second only to South Lander Street. Holman is not a place to cross without a signal, yet most people do, including kids going to/from Whitman Middle School every day. The City’s duty is to maintain its roadways for all users and all modes. Trucks with heavy loads have a much longer stopping distance. The curvature of the roadway distorts speed and sound which is further compounded by episodic hazard conditions, namely spotty street lighting and poor surface drainage.

  16. In The Know says:

    Ask SDOT how many of the 64 new curb ramps are actually fully ADA compliant.

    • Karl says:

      Are the ones with these steel plates (like the one in the photo above) compliant? Am I the only one that is afraid of them when they are wet, or slick with leaves, or it is icy out? Wouldn’t it be better to just have grooved concrete? I really don’t understand why they’ve added these plates anyway, in addition to being dangerous, they have to add significant cost, not only in materials, but also for their installation. Smacks of someone getting a payback somewhere…

      • ChefJoe says:

        The plates are for the visually impaired to have a detectable surface.

        http://articles.mcall.com/2010-11-18/news/mc-warrior-ramps-20101118_1_ramps-on-state-roads-wheelchair-ramps-new-ramps
        the plates or tiles are intended primarily to let those with visual impairment know that a curb ramp is underfoot, …
        A variety of materials can be used for the tiles, including concrete, steel, and plastics, but the Federal Highway Administration has established minute specifications for the surface features, down to the size and spacing of truncated domes

      • Josh says:

        ChefJoe is correct, grooved concrete is no longer legal for curb ramps due to ADA regulations. The shape of the truncated domes is a national standard intended to provide both visual contrast (they’re usually yellow, sometimes red) and a heavy texture that can be recognized through shoe soles or with a cane.

        More than you ever wanted to know about it at
        http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/bicycle_pedestrian/publications/sidewalk2/sidewalks207.cfm

        But yes, there have been many complaints about the slipperiness of some of these truncated dome tiles, many complaints from wheelchair users, people using walkers than hang up on the cones, pedestrians who get injured on them, etc. But the city doesn’t get to write its own standards on these, and they’re the Federally-mandated compromise solution.

    • Karl says:

      Interesting. Thanks!

    • Nathanael says:

      In case you’re wondering, they’re not compliant with current standards.

      The curb ramp and tactile tile are supposed to point in the direction of the crosswalk, not out diagonally into the middle of the road. This is a fairly new standard, but it’s there for very obvious reasons.

      The one in the photo fails.

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  18. Jeremy says:

    I did enjoy biking down the hill on the nice new pavement on Hollman. Imagine if there was actually a good bike lane to make this a viable everyday route.

    The bike infrastructure north of Hollman is pretty much nonexistent. The Greenwood bike lane dies at Hollman. (Instead, there are pretty medians north of Hollman.) There are a couple bikeable trails in the Carkeek park area, but they are not connected, and not very useful for transportation. It is pretty much Interurban trail or bust – and that is well east of Hollman).

    3rd Ave NW would be a great candidate for a bike lane. But alas, sections have been repaved without even bothering to pave the shoulder. The intersection with Hollman and 3rd is also a mess. (One side has a left-through and right lane, while the other is a left-through and right-through, leaving bikes stuck behind right turning buses or left turning cars.) 8th cuts under Hollman and contains some sharrows, but is not really an all ages route. (And for some reason 100th place seems to get a lot of traffic.)
    For an “all-ages” getting from Broadview to Ballard, I’d probably suggest going over to Dayton or Fremont to cross Hollman. Alas, that adds a mile to the trip.

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