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Just 10 days after Dexter/Nickerson hit-and-run, city installs permanent curb to make intersection safer

IMG_0092My head is still spinning by how fast the city and SDOT responded to this dangerous right turn lane at Dexter and Nickerson.

Friend and Seattle Bike Blog reader Maile Martinez got in touch last week with the story of her sister Alana’s nasty hit-and-run at Dexter and Nickerson late July 6. Alana, who was in town visiting, was struck from behind by a person making a right turn from eastbound Nickerson to southbound Dexter. She never saw the car, and the driver did not stop.

Shortly after publishing a post about the collision July 10, I happened to bike by the spot and noticed that a series of plastic pylons installed to channel right-turning cars was destroyed and missing. The pylons were meant to slow right-turning cars and direct them into a safer 90-degree crossing of the bike lane. Without the pylons, it was easy for people driving to end up driving through the bike lane at high speed:

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I suggested in the July 10 post that the city install a permanent solution, noting that the plastic pylons were clearly not enough. Maile and her partner Archie (who also happens to be a Central Seattle Greenways member) urged the city to do something similar during a July 12 meeting.

Now, just days after that meeting, SDOT crews are out installing a permanent curb (see photo at top). That’s some seriously fast turnaround.

More details from Maile’s blog:

I am really grateful to Seattle Bike Blog, KOMO 4 News, and lots of friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter who helped to spread the word about this story. In particular, my partner Archie contacted SDOT directly and asked for a meeting to discuss how to make this intersection safer. He met with an SDOT representative on Friday, July 12, and he learned that SDOT now has plans in the works to install a new curb right where the stripes are painted on the pavement at this intersection. Archie rode by the intersection after his meeting and noted that SDOT has already marked the pavement.

Maybe the bigger story here is Dongho Chang’s influence on SDOT, and Mayor McGinn and SDOT leadership giving him their support to make changes quickly. Since taking the position of city traffic engineer (he told the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board it is his “dream job”) just a year and half ago, there has been a very clear increase in responsiveness to residents’ road safety concerns.

Chang’s response to the guerrilla Cherry St protected bike lane has garnered him national attention, with Streetsblog going as far as suggesting he could be “the coolest traffic engineer in the world.” He was out studying E Marginal Way within hours of the fatal collision that killed Lance David, looking for temporary and long-term solutions to the dangerous-but-vital bike route. Their long-term plan for fixing it was put together so quickly that it made it on the list of projects that would have been funded by the ill-fated state transportation package.

Today, he was out with Mayor McGinn talking to Wedgwood residents and media about plans to improve safety on NE 75th Street, where a particularly devastating DUI collision forever changed the lives of the Schulte family. He told the crowd his goal was to have the changes in place before the start of classes at nearby Eckstein Middle School.

Making changes this fast doesn’t just fix the dangerous streets, it also sends a message to residents that their road safety concerns are taken seriously.

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24 responses to “Just 10 days after Dexter/Nickerson hit-and-run, city installs permanent curb to make intersection safer”

  1. Devlin

    You mention a hurried solution to East Marginal Way., Do you know what or where to find the informortion their short and long-term plans for fixing the East Marginal Way?

  2. amy

    I’ve contacted SDOT about a couple of pedestrian-related issues over the last year or two and have been completely blown away by their responsiveness. Big hole in the sidewalk adjacent to an alley – I was contacted by engineers within an hour of reporting it online, and it was patched the next time I walked by it. Requested that they look at pedestrian light cycle timing issues at an intersection – they responded right away and even kept me posted throughout the process. This is how responsive, accountable government should serve its citizens. Good on them for their swift response to this situation.

    1. Leif Espelund

      I’ve put in three or so questions/requests on the Ask SDOT blog. One was a crossing on the Interurban that wasn’t recognizing cyclists, they restarted the camera system and fixed that pretty quick. One was a super wide turn lane on 3rd Ave NW just north of 85th that got installed when the Fred Meyer re-opened. That lane forced the removal of a parking lane. Now normally I’m not one to advocate for parking, but in this case there are no sidewalks on that side of the street and the parking gave a nice buffer for pedestrians walking on the shoulder (ie: people’s yards). Apparently Freddies had requested it. SDOT reviewed and agreed that it was the wrong approach. They just got around to fixing it a couple weeks ago, but still pretty good turn around considering the situation. The third was this thing. Obviously my request wasn’t what did it, but still nice to see SDOT respond so quickly.

  3. […] (View the Bikewise map to get an overall sense of the level of cycling danger.) [UPDATE: SDOT has already made improvements to that intersection, reports Seattle Bike […]

  4. no traffic lights

    Don’t forget to vote in the mayoral primary

  5. Matt

    I’m amazed she got out of this without major injuries. That is one hell of a dangerous intersection. Looking at satellite imagery, merging traffic have a long gradual curve, where they intersect with cyclists is most the dangerous part of it; the tri-point intersection of the merge lane, bike lane, and Dexter. The curb makes this a little bit safer for cyclists, but not much. The intersection would need to be redesigned so there wasn’t the tri-point merge. My initial thought is to enlarge the floating sidewalk and have cyclists stop on it, then use a crosswalk across the merge lane. Cyclists then proceed into the bike lane without having to merge. A good demonstration of this is at the Montlake and 520 merge.

    1. bill

      I have to disagree about having cyclists stop. If they have crossed Nickerson, they have the green light. Like other southbound traffic they have the right of way. Cars turning right off Nickerson are required to yield. If drivers will not yield, the free right should be eliminated.

      I have never liked crossing that right turn lane.

      1. Breadbaker

        That’s still the real question. Other than “it’s very convenient for the cars on Nickerson who want to turn on Dexter”, what is the justification for the free right turn there? It’s not like there wouldn’t be a turn if they just eliminated that lane, it would just be an ordinary right turn from one lane to another at a controlled intersection, i.e., clearly a yield to bikes, buses and cars who have the green. The free turn, yield sign, curb or none of the above, encourages cars to accelerate. Cyclists, who often have to concentrate to their right on the next hazard, the buses crossing the bike lane to get to the stop just up Dexter, also have to watch out for the cars that are coming from our right notwithstanding their clear obligation to yield. So the question is, why do they not simply delete the lane?

      2. Matt

        Well, both left lanes are for turning only. That leaves the only other lane for traffic moving straight through and for turning right. If the right merge lane were removed then it would cause it to back up because of slow traffic turning right. With the merge, right turn drivers can still turn right even when cars in front are waiting to go straight on red. This is crucial because don’t forget that the Fremont bridge is a drawbridge and keeping traffic flowing is essential, not to mention the intersection is also a bottleneck. This intersection is fun when biking through it, especially when going over the bridge, having to go through it by car can be really frustrating.

      3. Breadbaker

        Ooops, I mean you have to concentrate on your left for the buses and to the right for the cars on Nickerson. I wish we could edit after we post.

      4. If we removed the channelized right turn lane we could reshape the pedestrian island and put a normal right turn lane on Nickerson, a design (closer to) befitting an urban street intersection as opposed to a highway interchange.

  6. biliruben

    Dongho has been a huge asset.

    When dealing with many others at SDOT, it’s still a pretty solid car culture however. The repaving project on Sandpoint is a case in point. The are resurfacing the car lane, while leaving the majority of the shoulder untouched and unimproved, with potholes and encroachments into the city’s right of way making it extremely dangerous for pedestrians and bikes to use the road. With the flat new asphalt, it encourages cars to drive highway speeds, so it is a much more dangerous road now than before the repaving.

    My concerns in the planning stage and now have fallen on deaf ears.

  7. Brian T

    Huge +1 to the City for acting on this so fast. Imagine if we had a “bike infrastructure brigade” like the “pothole brigade.” Maybe it’s not the way to get the best possible intersection designs, but some quickly-installed “good” improvements have some benefits over three-years-from-now “best” improvements. Of course, the City should still keep working on improving infrastructure at these danger spots so that we get to “best” eventually. But, still, good to see the fix coming quickly. Now it only needs to speed up a bit more so that it gets ahead of the collisions.

    The improvement also seems to work pretty well. I happened to drive past the intersection yesterday in the early evening and sat there while the bridge opened and closed, watching cars (probably about a dozen) go through that turning movement. All of them braked considerably so that they could do the left-right wiggle that the curb now forces. It was definitely an improvement over the barrel-through approach from before. It will be interesting to see whether that continues over time, and how long the curb lasts in the face of big dump and delivery trucks who find it oh-so-tedious to slow down. What’s the group prediction on how long it takes until the end of that curb is dislodged and no longer forces the slow-speed-wiggle?

    1. Matt

      Good to hear the curb causes cars to slow down; it was hard to tell from the pictures that it had this affect. I’ll give the curb 2 years before it starts to crack and break apart. At which point it can be even more effective since driving over chunks of rubble is more of a deterrent than a solid round over curb :)

      1. Brian T

        Two years seems generous. Didn’t I just see a photo today on twitter that some of the Cherry St. pylons are already down?

        Cars and trucks say, “Nothing can stop us!!! We laugh at your curbs! We eat pylons for breakfast! GROWL!”

        (Still, and seriously, +1 to SDOT for fast work with the concrete.)

      2. RTK

        I watched last night as I was riding north and was stuck at the light.
        It does slow cars down, but there was already a big tire track across the tip of the curb that sticks out. I don’t think those wands are going to last very long.

        In other news there is spray paint markings on the edge of the bike lane on Dexter just north of Denny. The bike lane paint is almost completely gone there already due to people driving on it.
        Looks like the bike lane paint will be put down again and it looked like they might be trying to move the car lane over to the left about 6 inches.

  8. […] like to acknowledge that, while I am often frustrated by Seattle’s bicycling infrastructure, occasionally we do get it right.  As the Seattle Bike Blog points out, city traffic engineer Dongho Chang seems to be making […]

  9. Matthew

    I agree that this new curb thing is a net positive, but… man, I wish we had an actual list of prioritized projects and not just a seemingly reactive, ad hoc approach to safety. It’s great that SDOT listened to people complaining about a safety hazard and fixed it. But people have been complaining about other safety hazards for months or years — why haven’t they received the same treatment?

    Just to take one example, consider the needed (and rather simple) safety improvements McGinn promised at 17th Ave NW and Ballard Ave. Those were announced at a press conference months ago, but literally nothing has been done. And yet this Dexter job gets done right away.

    Again, not opposed to the action, just confused about the lack of any clear list of priorities. I’d love to see Dongho say, here’s the prioritized list of what we’re going to do over the next three months.

    1. biliruben

      It may actually be a clever strategy. You aren’t going to get a huge “war and cars” backlash when a cyclist or pedestrian is currently in the hospital due to the infrastructure you are now improving. I also would like to see a prioritized list, but I don’t really mind this as well. As long as it is in addition to, as opposed to a replacement of, a prioritized list, it’s probably a good way to fast-track off of tragedy.

  10. darell

    Is there any indication that this is cause and effect? Are we certain that this fix hadn’t been planned for quite some time? I can’t imagine something like this happening in just ten days even if it were to make cars safer!

  11. […] moving quickly enough to make a dent in the problem. Under Dongho Chang’s leadership, SDOT is becoming an agency that responds more quickly to safety concerns. But it will take a lot more work and a restructured transportation budget if […]

  12. […] for how extreme their solutions can be. One low-budget solution would be to square off the turns like the one recently installed on Dexter Ave. At least then people would have to stop and cross the bike lane at an angle with more […]

  13. Jay Walker

    That curb is stupid as hell for drivers, it jumps out at you with no warning. It my opinion that its j6st a bandaid for bicyclists and a problem dor cars. Eff that curb.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Sounds like you ran right into it without paying attention… Basically a strong argument for why it is needed. If it weren’t there, then there’s a big stretch of bike lane that would be exposed to people not paying attention. That’s how the person in this story got hurt.

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