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National report on dangerous streets cites NE 125th redesign as an example of success

If you moved to the north end of Seattle after the summer of 2011, you may have no idea that there was an epic debate over city plans for a road safety project on NE 125th Street. That’s because the project, once completed, was a slam dunk. The street became safer for all users, easier to walk across and more comfortable to bike along. Traffic volumes and travel times hardly changed at all.

But the fight was truly awful. Few media outlets have taken the chance to point out what a success the project has been, but they were sure happy to rail against Mayor McGinn and other supporters of the project before the city completed the work.

But the project did catch the eye of Smart Growth America, which highlighted it as a success story in its walking-focused 2014 Dangerous By Design report:

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dangerous-by-design-2014The city repainted some lines on a dangerous street and dramatically decreased speeding and collisions. It also increased comfort and access for residents walking and biking. The results are so promising, it’s shocking the city is not doing the same to every single street with similar characteristics.

The report crunches the data further and finds that, between 2003 and 2012, 375 people were killed in traffic while walking in the Seattle-Tacoma region:

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 1.27.51 PM

As horrible as these deaths are, you might be shocked to learn that the Seattle-Tacoma region ranks 3rd safest out 51 regions included in the plan (the Pittburgh and Boston areas were deemed safer). This, of course, is no reason to start patting ourselves on the back. The number of people seriously injured or killed on our streets is completely unacceptable.

But it is evidence that we know how to make our streets safer. Seattle has a record of success when the city chooses to act. As the bitter fight over NE 125th (and today’s fight over the Westlake bikeway) shows, there will be resistance to needed safety changes in many areas of the city. But it is the duty of our elected officials to do the right thing and protect the lives of Seattle residents.

If Mayor McGinn had chosen to cave to intense pressure from angry opponents of the NE 125th Street changes, data suggests that several more Seattle residents would be fighting to recover from serious, potentially lifelong injuries right now. One of us might even be dead, and the table above would have one more number added to its death tally.

SGA also updated their map of people who have died while walking on America’s streets. The Seattle section reinforces the need for a safer downtown, the need for safe street projects in every Seattle neighborhood, and the need for dramatic action on Rainier Avenue, Aurora and Lake City Way are (2003-2012):

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 1.32.10 PM

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28 responses to “National report on dangerous streets cites NE 125th redesign as an example of success”

  1. Peri Hartman

    Excellent to hear good news!

    Can these results (and results for other locations) help sway the nay-sayers for the Westlake corridor project? This case is pretty different from Westlake, but if the reports from various projects shows gains for everyone, maybe a few more people can be convinced Westlake improvements would be good, too.

    1. How cute, you think naysayers can be convinced by data. There were a gazillion successful redesigns before the 125th St project, but that didn’t stop people from opposing it or every redesign before and since. People will always doubt these things work until they see it, and sometimes not even then (Nickerson St was redesigned a stone’s throw from Westlake).

  2. Mike

    Have you ridden on Dexter between Mercer and Denny lately? All of the construction has made this area a mess. But as part of that mess, four lanes were reduced to two, and the bike lane was restriped and protected by plastic bollards.

    The bike lane gets a little crowded during rush hour, but the slower traffic speeds and bollards make it feel much safer. It’s too bad that this two-lane configuration is temporary. This stretch of Dexter needs a permanent road diet.

    1. jay

      Why, yes I have, about 6 hours ago! But I was going north at a bit after noon, not exactly rush hour.
      Personally I’m not thrilled about the bike lane shifting over into what used to be a main traffic lane. Today there was a car in front of me that just kept traveling parallel to the side of the road, apparently oblivious to the bike lane markings. Not that I can complain all that much as I was doing the same, there wasn’t any activity at the construction site and I just kept as far right as I could, also totally ignoring the bike lane markings.

      To be fair, the car did turn right at the next opportunity, and I don’t want to be “one of those guys” who expect drivers to signal, ’cause that’s just unrealistic.

      It’s interesting that a project that reduces collisions and minor speeding only around 10% is considered a huge success. (and couldn’t a bit of enforcement, perhaps speed cameras, have reduced the major speeding just as well?)
      Also interesting that it was the 10% reduction in bent sheet metal that got highlighted, not the 17% reduction in injuries (http://sdotblog.seattle.gov/2013/11/13/the-results-are-infewer-collisions-on-northeast-125th/) , I would have thought the latter would be more important.

  3. CDlivin

    Union street could use this treatment too. The light turning green at 23rd is the signal to punch the gas and burn rubber to beat the other cars. The hills and dips make for blind spots at the cross streets. I have seen some major T-bones on 21st because of the blind rise combined with too much speed.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Amen! I couldn’t agree more.

      Union is marked as a potential “protected bike lane” route on the updated Bike Master Plan. I assume this won’t happen until they repave the street (which can’t be too far away … right?). I can’t wait for that.

  4. Andres Salomon

    “But it is the duty of our elected officials to do the right thing and protect the lives of Seattle residents.”

    And it’s our duty to let our elected officials know that we have their back when they propose road diets that encounter pushback. Let your city councilmembers, mayor, and/or SDOT know that you appreciate past road diets like NE 125th, NE 75th, etc.

  5. RossB

    I live within a few blocks of 125th and believe the road diet was a complete success. It is much safer to walk there. I drive on that road all the time as well and it just fine. It is nothing like what the doom and gloom naysayers were worried about. In other words, the people who complained really don’t understand driving. Simply put, three lanes is better than four for everyone (even drivers in a hurry) unless you eliminate left turn lanes.

    The next road diet that should happen is not too far from there: 5th Ave NE. This is the same street where that poor girl died, and it is not surprising. It has everything you don’t want in a street. It is wide, with room for two cars each direction, but no lane markers. It gently slopes downhill, is close to the freeway, and has no lights from the nearest exit (130th) and Northgate Way. This means someone can exit the freeway, take a right, then cruise along at a very fast clip before the next light, about a mile away. Cars might be parked in the ride hand lane, but they might not. This encourages drivers to swerve back and forth. If they see a car stopped at an intersection, they assume the driver is turning left, and pass on the right. It needs a road diet, and it needs it fast.

    One last note: I want to thank Renee Staton (I hope I have that name right) who runs Pinehurst Blog. She was a strong supporter of the road diet on 125th and helped folks like me give input to the city in support of the plan. Because of her, as well as a lot of other people, we have a much nicer, much safer street.

    1. daihard

      Totally agreed on 5th Ave NE. I live near NE 125th and 15th Ave NE. Drivers on 5th go fast downhill and never stop at intersections where pedestrians or cyclists are waiting – even at a MARKED crosswalk. I usually take NE 117th to get to the Interurban Trail from my place, meaning I have to cross 5th. It’s almost never easy.

      When I ride southbound on 5th (meaning no bike lane), I always take the full lane exactly because of those parked cars.

      As for the Pinehurst Blog, are you talking about Nancy Rauhauser? I know Renee Staton is in the Pinehurst community on Facebook, too, but it is usually Nancy who posts updates about Pinehurst in that community.

    2. Clark in Vancouver

      Just had a thought. Has anyone ever seen a sign that informs drivers that they are no longer on a freeway? Something more than just a street sign or speed change sign.

      1. By that logic, how many drivers even know there is such a thing as “driving on something that isn’t a freeway”?

  6. Terence

    I ride down every morning. I would consider it a success! The manholes in the bike lane make it a little sketchy. East bound where the bike lane ends and it turns into 2 lanes near the library can be a little dangerous.

    I recall when this was two car lanes in both directions, it was like a drag strip. Felt sorry people trying to cross the street.

  7. asdf2

    Up next, I would like to see a road diet of Green Lake Way between Aurora and 50th. The current design is all about speeding cars and is awful to cross or bike on. Even from a perspective of car mobility, it arguably does more harm than good, due to the complicated signal phases required where it intersects 45th and 50th St..

    A road diet here would be nice, but I would prefer to even go one step further and just tear up the street completely, and build a linear park in its place.

  8. Jayne

    Lower speed limits in city limits now with increased enforcement and see traffic fatalities and injuries drop overnight. 20 mph on major thoroughfares outside the commercial core, 15 everywhere else. When is laziness not going to trump safety?

  9. Lee

    The challenge SDOT faced on reconfiguring 125th stemmed largely from misrepresenting the reasoning for the alteration in much of the outreach. The rechannelization was promoted as important for bicycle access, when truly the driving force, no pun intended, was to slow vehicle travel. That focus on providing bicycles with a new east/west pathway led many to oppose the effort, as the quite hilly 125th was barely frequented by bikes leaving the reasoning to seem false and the work merely a McGinn pet project to put a feather in his cap. Had the outreach focused on the true reason, a safer road for all and slowing the high level of speeding vehicles, the fight would have been less, I believe, though still there in a different form. Honesty and transparency are the best approaches when spending taxpayer dollars, as it shows respect for taxpayers.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      That’s a good point. It’s hard to explain that a street redesign that adds bike lanes is not primarily about bikes. When you say otherwise, many people think you’re lying. I can’t blame them entirely, since it is a bit counterintuitive that fewer lanes available to cars does not make things worse for people driving. But somehow we need to be able to make that case so someone who doesn’t read bike blogs or study traffic engineering will understand and get excited about it.

      1. Part of the problem is that a lot of people believe it is their prerogative to drive as fast and unsafely as possible and believe any effort to curtail that, even when dressed up in euphemisms like “safety” and the not-even-euphemistic “slow vehicle travel”, amounts to a “war on cars”.

      2. Maybe we should adjust our expectations that people are rational creatures that can be convinced by logic and life experiences that do not resemble their own.

  10. kshively

    Thank you for posting this story (and to everyone for your advocacy for this important road safety project). I have a very personal appreciation for this project and more broadly for the City’s new commitment to ZERO fatalities and injuries. In 1999, I was struck by an on-coming turning car while traveling eastbound on NE 125th at 17th Avenue NE Street (concussed and hospitalized for 5 days with fractured tibia and lacerations, and to my great frustration put on crutches and out of a year of college sports). The collision occurred at sunset, so the driver apparently never saw me as he turned left. I’m firmly convinced, however, that with the current channelization on NE 125th, the crash would not have occurred, as the presence of the bike lane would have encouraged the driver to keep an eye out for bikes, and more importantly, the provision of a center left turn lane and elimination of one of two eastbound general travel lanes would have put the turning driver 10-12′ closer (laterally) to my line of travel and focused his attention on the travel lane directly adjacent to me. In any case, I’m certain from the data presented here and for other street right sizing projects elsewhere in the City and Country, that this type of modification is offering a major public health and safety benefit that would be well worth intervention by the City, even in the limited cases (apparently not here on 125th!) where such projects result in minor delays/increases in travel time for motor vehicle operators. Thanks again for the good news post. I’ll be emailing City Council and the Mayor’s office on this project this evening.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Thanks for sharing your story. It helps to know that these traffic injury stats are not just numbers. Each one is a real person.

  11. Adam

    I really wish they’d do this to 65th between I-5 and the Viewridge neighborhood all the way to the east. I say this as someone who doesn’t even ride a bike. As a driver I get so sick and tired of pulling up to a stop light and people pulling up along side on the right and then when the light turns all those people on the right force themselves back into the through lane because there are cars parallel parked beyond the intersection. The parking signs are such that westbound is 2 lanes between 7 and 9 AM and eastbound is 2 lanes between 4 and 6 PM to coincide with rush hour. I get the sentiment, but having driven that stretch hundreds of times I can confidently say 65th does not function as 2 lanes in either direction (nor does it need to) even though that may be the idea behind the signage.

    1. Andres Salomon

      Yep, 65th sucks to drive on. It also sucks to bike on, and it especially sucks to walk on. A rechannelization would be quite welcome. NE Greenways has been pushing for that, but the city has a number of other projects that it’s prioritizing.

    2. Doug Bostrom

      The parking thing is crazy. Folks are forced to move their cars, encouraged to commute by car. Deeply conflicted strategy there.

      Just leave the things parked, as traffic calming tools. :-)

  12. Doug Bostrom

    A less-noted success story is 75th St NE. A night-vs.-day difference with regard to aggressive drivers or people trying to fix their broken schedules by speeding.

    125th still offers before/after examples; westbound past Roosevelt it’s back to the law of the jungle, w/four lanes of space for raging hormones.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Yeah, NE 75th, Stone Way, Nickerson, Fauntleroy, Columbian Way, and on and on. You name a road diet in the city, and you’ll find big safety increases.

      We’re not even finished with the low-hanging fruit yet. Four-lane streets with fewer than 23,000 cars per day could all get similar changes without even impacting traffic. While safety is more important than traffic flow, I see no reason why the city should not skip the debate and just fix every street where design exceeds use. That just makes sense.

      Anyone out there good with maps? It would be cool to see a map of all street segments with four or more lanes, but fewer than 23,000 vehicles per day. Here’s the traffic levels map (note, these counts include bikes): http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/tfdmaps.htm

      1. Andres Salomon

        How would you classify streets with restricted on-street parking? Many arterials have 2 lanes for most hours, but turn into 4 during rush hour. The degree to which this actually happens depends upon density and businesses.

  13. […] And along those 1.2 miles, people have to traverse some very unfriendly and outdated roads, bridges and underpasses. These might as well have come straight from Smart Growth America’s Dangerous By Design report: […]

  14. […] a general traffic lane in each direction, bike lanes and a center turn lane. That project has even received national attention for being a low-cost and effective traffic safety […]

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