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Times columnist takes some of her claims back

Well, I am glad to see that, in her newest column, Nicole Brodeur has taken back many of the unfounded and unresearched claims she made in her previous column. First, she apologizes for attacking the mayor when the project was already moving before he even took office. However, she defends calling him “Mayor McSchwinn,” which I agree is funny.

The 125th Street proposal came to life last summer, before Mayor McGinn took office, according to Seattle Department of Transportation spokesman Rick Sheridan. I failed to mention that in the column, and I apologize.

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Sheridan stressed that “road diets” don’t cut capacity at all, as I asserted in the column.

“We can take a four-lane and convert it to a three-lane and there’s no effect on capacity,” Sheridan said, adding that “rechannelization” has been going on around here since 1972 on such streets as 45th Street from Latona Avenue Northeast to Stone Way North, and Madison Street from Seventh Avenue to Broadway.

I appreciate her being willing to revisit the factual claims in her column. I don’t mind if she disagrees with the project. There are plenty of debates to be had when discussing how streets should be configured. Is the proposed plan perfect? I am sure it’s not. I bet in ten years, we decide it can be better and make more changes. But right now, complete streets activists, ranging from pedestrian, bicycle and neighborhood organizers to urban planners and environmentalists, agree that the proposal is a vast improvement.

It is disheartening when the city’s major newspaper publishes ideas based on erroneous information and misleading or unfounded conclusions meant to stir up old arguments and fears that run rampant (and are, thus, reinforced) through our community. The idea that three lanes can be better than four is complicated. It takes explaining and education to allow people to see how they work and why they will not cause chronically snarled traffic (or at least traffic that is worse than it already is). Yet, research (including this new report by the Federal Highway Administration) clearly supports the functionality of this three lane configuration.

Debates that are locally divisive and can cause hysteria (which can potentially lead to actual aggression on the streets) are exactly the places where the Times has the power (and responsibility) to explain the facts and how these road configurations compare to each other. That is important work, and perhaps we activists and citizen journalists could improve on our efforts, as Cascade is currently examining.

If Nicole does not like the plans, that’s fine. I would like to see her address our points and counter them, using research (not just asking Joe on the street what he thinks) to back those points up. I want more discussion about the merits of these plans, because I am confident more discussion will lead to more understanding and fewer fears.

But please, let’s stop taking everything back to square one.

One note: There is still one big erroneous sentence in Nicole’s new column. She states: “I wondered whether it made sense to cut four lanes down to two on a thoroughfare used by 25,000 cars a day.” First, let’s be clear. It’s going from four to three, not four to two. Second, traffic on NE 125th in the segment of the proposed changes (between Roosevelt and 35th Ave NE) was 16,200 cars per day in 2008. It’s fairly safe to assume that number has not changed drastically. My guess is that her 25,000 cars per day number is in reference to SDOT’s estimated capacity for the proposed configuration, which is about 8,800 cars higher than current traffic levels. The Times article from last weekend says, “According to SDOT, the capacity for a two-lane road is about 25,000 vehicles per day, and Northeast 125th now carries about 16,200 daily,” so I think, again, she did not read that carefully enough.

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2 responses to “Times columnist takes some of her claims back”

  1. alexjonlin

    Also, she still didn’t even mention the safety benefits, which I think are the real reason why this project is being done, the bike lanes are just a side benefit.

  2. […] Likes Bikes, Publicola, Seattle Bike Blog, and the SDOT blog have all weighed in, mostly in response to the now infamous article by Nicole […]

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