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To people worried about changes to NE 125th: Take the Greenwood Ave challenge

NE 125th at 22nd NE

An article in the Seattle Times Saturday has struck up the same old anti-traffic calming arguments, framing the project as a bikes vs car project. In the piece, residents express fears of doom and congestion, despite ample evidence from the city’s previous 26 or so similar projects that have proven, over and over, to be unfounded worries (see our previous post).

The Times article explains that speeding is at an unacceptably high rate on 125th. In fact, the article even include this stat:

Sandra Woods, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT)’s leader on the project, said 33 percent of accidents on the city’s minor arterial streets cause injuries. On Northeast 125th, the number is 51 percent.

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Wow. So, this project is as much about motorized vehicle safety (maybe more so) than anything else? Then why is the article headline “Lake City residents angry over city bike-lane plan”? The article confuses things even more by telling people the project will down-size the road from four lanes to two. Actually, it’s two general-purpose through traffic lanes and one center turn lane. So that would be three (five if you count the bike lanes), not two.

The article then goes through a series of completely unfounded predictions of doom from residents and other people angered or scared by the project, such as:

  • “The road will be backed up to I-5. People will start avoiding 125th and go through the neighborhoods, which is what nobody wants.” — FALSE
    • In fact, in 2008, NE 125th handled a little over 16,200 cars a day. That is only about 1,000 more cars per day than Stone Way handled with a very similar configuration to the one proposed. NE 45th Ave west of I-5 handled about 22,300 cars a day with two through travel lanes and a turn lane (and no bike lanes). So if NE 45th is still moving, it’s doubtful a street with over 25 percent fewer cars will get clogged.
  • “Congestion will slow traffic, and congestion will make it harder for anyone to turn left off Northeast 125th, and congestion will make the use of Northeast 125th worse for everyone…” — FALSE
    • How is turning left from a dedicated turn lane across one lane of traffic more difficult than turning across two lanes without a dedicated turn lane? That’s clearly not true. And the assertion that the unfounded conclusion of more congestion will make the use of the road worse for “everyone” is clearly not including the people who will not be injured due to the calmer and more humane traffic arrangement. And what about pedestrians trying to cross the street? They are going to find the new arrangement much safer.
  • “Nobody rides up that hill on a bicycle.” — MAYBE
    • It is entirely possible that few bikers would choose a street with abnormally high traffic injuries as their preferred route. The hill is also steep. However, I’m sure the number of bikers will increase with the new lanes.

But, again, this is not about cars vs bikes. A four-lane configuration is massively over-designed for this neighborhood arterial street. The traffic that drives on it is far below the levels supported by that street layout. A result of an over-designed street is increased speeding. It’s a highway layout, and NE 125th is not (nor should it be) a highway. They could plant flowers in the bike lane space and the project would still be worthwhile. This is about pedestrian safety, bicycle safety and motorized vehicle safety.

Also, this project is not experimental. I would understand people being upset over an unwanted experiment that could end up a disaster, but this is not such a project. The city has already reconfigured 26 streets in a similar fashion. Other cities across the globe complete similar projects regularly. Consistently, projects show drastic reductions in pedestrian injuries and car crashes while bicycle usage increases.

The Greenwood Ave challenge

So, residents near NE 125th, this change is good for everybody. Don’t fear. Read more about similar projects, like Stone Way. Or even better, head over to Greenwood Ave and see for yourself. Drive (or bike) from 95th to 75th. Did you notice the road change at 85th? That’s what SDOT is proposing on NE 125th. You will see that it really is not that scary. Both those sections of Greenwood Ave handle a comparable numbers of cars per day (12,000 – 12,600), yet one section is like a highway and the other is a more complete, safe street.

If anyone takes me up on my challenge, let us know how it went in the comments.

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5 responses to “To people worried about changes to NE 125th: Take the Greenwood Ave challenge”

  1. JRF

    Sometimes I think it would be better to plan and implement the re-striping without bike lanes, let the motorists realize it isn’t the end of the world, then stripe the bike lanes later. By putting the bike lanes in the original plan, folks jump all over bikes as a scapegoat when the bike lanes are completely tangential to the main issue being addressed which is a road design which inspires motorists to drive through residential areas as though they were on a limited access highway.

    I drive and bike and bus on Fauntleroy Way which went through a road diet, and it is a vastly better experience for all three modes. In the previous configuration, all the lane changing required to dodge left-turns, stopped busses, and slow bikes effectively canceled out the theoretical capacity advantage of two travel lanes.

  2. Charles

    Is anyone organizing support for this and other road diets? When the Nickerson one was announced the second time (this year) and the North Seattle Industrial Association along with Magnolia Community Club and QA Community Council came out against it, I created Supporters of the Nickerson St. Road Diet and with the help of a few people, tons of tweets, FB posts, phone calls and emails, we did all we could to make sure that plan happened. We succeeded even when 2 of 3 state legislators came out against the plan.
    It can be done, but only if the people who live in the neighborhood and support the idea come out in force for it. And to make that happen, someone needs to give folks a point around which to organize. It will likely take a fair amount of attention for a couple of weeks, but it’ll be worth it and it’s the only way it’ll happen.

    If anyone does want to take on such a project and wants some tips, feel free to contact me at [email protected]. You can also see the Google Group I used to organize at http://groups.google.com/group/Nickerson-road-diet and search for it on Facebook.

  3. Michael Snyder

    I bicycle up (westbound) 125th every few months to get back to Ballard after a late evening meeting in Lake City. I’m doing 4-6 mph going up the hill, so I only take the lane when traffic is very light, like after 9pm. In higher traffic periods, I’ve been riding on the sidewalk.

    It is a great route if there were just a place to ride out of the way of the 50 mph car traffic.

  4. Joseph Singer

    It’s useless to argue with people who have made up their minds that they will have a negative effect from a change despite any proof to the contrary. They perceive it as cars vs. bikes no matter how you frame it and refuse to see any other way.

  5. […] roadway safety projects. Erica Barnett and Josh Cohen at Publicola and Tom Fucoloro at Seattle Bike Blog all note how the debate has wrongly centered on a “cars vs. bikes” meme — not […]

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