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More details on planned improvements at Rainier and Dearborn

Image from Google Street View
Image from Google Street View

Yesterday, we posted about the city’s planned Neighborhood Street Fund improvements. Among the list of new sidewalks and better street crossings was this item:

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 10.35.07 AMDearborn and Rainier is an absolutely terrible intersection, and a big problem spot for a major bike route into downtown. The city already has plans for a neighborhood greenway on Hiawatha, a low-traffic street that connects to the I-90 Trail.

The NSF project is not the high-budget remake of the intersection that is needed, but it’s a nudge in the right direction.

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From the Bike Master Plan
From the Bike Master Plan. Rainier is the blue line parallel to Hiawatha.

Dearborn has inadequate paint-only bike lanes for such a busy street with freeway ramps. The Bike Master Plan calls for protected bike lanes on the street, which will likely be a major project.

In fact, after downtown itself, protected bike lanes on the north end of Rainier (MLK to Jackson) and the Dearborn connection to downtown might be among the most important major projects in the entire master plan. It would open up a lot of Rainier Valley bike route options that do not exist today, and it would make a very dangerous and uncomfortable street safer for everyone.

The Neighborhood Street Fund improvement will not fix the problem, but it will make the northeast sidewalk much more comfortable and make it easier for people on bikes to trigger the light.

Here’s the project description from SDOT spokesperson Rick Sheridan:

The goal of the proposed improvement is to resolve the conflicting movements of pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles at the NE corner of Rainier and Dearborn. This is a location where congestion often occurs, especially with passengers waiting at the #7 bus stop.

The original proposal included several elements – re-aligning the crosswalk, curb cut and pushbutton closer to the corner, moving the light pole to the side, widening the sidewalk, and adding markings/signage for the bicycle signal loop for crossing Dearborn.

Our preliminary analysis recommends narrowing the outside northbound through lane on Rainier Avenue S to 12 feet to provide a wider sidewalk between the existing Metro transit shelter and the intersection. We are currently at 10 percent design and expect the remaining modifications to be finalized later this year.

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18 responses to “More details on planned improvements at Rainier and Dearborn”

  1. eric.br

    agreed on dearborn! riding east bound last week, i definitely thought to myself how unbelievable dangerous those bike lanes are that pass in front of the highway on-ramps. a safe way to connect the valley to the southern part of downtown would be a major improvement.

    after living north of ship canal for years, and now living on beacon hill, i can definitely see the huge spending differences between north-end/south-end bike infrastructure. you can do better, seattle.

  2. Law Abider

    Off topic, but late last week, I noticed that 17th Ave in Ballard had been painted up for survey, at least from 65th down to Seaview. I can only imagine that it is for design of the greenway. It’ll be cool to see the design plans when they come out. In particular, it looks like they are going to reconfigure a few of those goofy five way intersections between Leary and Market. I’m also curious how they’ll handle speed bumps, since the emergency room for Swedish is accessed from 17th.

    1. Kara Sweidel

      Replying but slightly off topic of your off topic… I had emailed SDOT about the silly, barely raised circle in front of the Fremont Troll and why that was the design choice rather than a traffic circle or speed hump. I see cars do nearly 40 over that while people are standing in the street, and it seems to do exactly nothing to deter speeding or help traffic in that area. The reasoning: Emergency vehicle turning clearance. It’s different in front of the Troll because that’s an intersection, but I think they would do the thing listed under Speed Cushions here:http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/ntcp_physical.htm

      1. Law Abider

        Honestly, the speed cushions on 3rd Ave, north of Holman Rd work waaaaaaay better than the speed humps on the 58th St Greenway.

        On 3rd, you pretty much have to slow down to 10-15 mph or risk damaging your car. On 58th, I see people fly over them without batting an eye.

  3. Ellie P.

    Bummer, are they not considering adding a crosswalk along Rainier at the south end of the intersection? Intersections with only three crosswalks drive me nuts, and Rainier Valley is full of them.

    I got stuck there at Dearborn once, not realizing a crosswalk was missing, and had to backtrack…

  4. bill

    I ride through on Dearborn frequently. Why this improvement is prioritized mystifies me. I think the greater problem is eastbound, where the bike lane evaporates and you have to cross to the inside lane to continue on Dearborn. I can negotiate this pretty well now, but back when I was slower and more intimidated by cars the eastbound approach was pretty scary.

    That intersection also needs red light cameras on Rainier. As do all the other arterial intersections in the city.

    1. Yeah… eastbound is a mess but a fix is going to be complicated. This is just something that can be done with a hundred thousand dollars.

      I think in general Dearborn is going to need a two-way cycletrack on the north side if it’s going to get a protected bike lane. Any lane along the south edge has hard-to-resolve conflicts with turning traffic, both at Rainier and the I-5 on-ramp. A protected lane would need a signal-controlled crossing of both of these major ramps, and it would be crazy to expect that to result in anything other than huge delays for people biking.

    2. Gary Anderson

      I would agree that eastbound is worse than westbound. Having to cross the right turn lane to Rainier can be sketchy if there’s much traffic. Westbound isn’t too bad but the marked bike lane doesn’t start until quite a ways after the intersection.

  5. Keven Ruf

    I don’t find this intersection difficult to navigate. I think a much greater need is for a southbound safe route. The most dangerous place near this intersection is heading south on Rainier through the cross traffic getting onto and off of I-90. Then after that there is no shoulder, all the way south on Rainier for miles. Let’s improve Rainier as a bike arterial!

    1. JAT

      Dearborn? I’ve ridden though there well more than a thousand times, day, night, rain, shine, rush-hour traffic, drunk baseball play-offs traffic – never had a problem (well, I’ve broken my chain there, twice, but I carry tools).

      North and south through Rainier Valley though? yeah that’s something that could use some improvement, but that would be hard to actually implement, while slapping something on Dearborn, a nice wide right of way with few cross-streets that doesn’t actually present a problem to cyclists with a modicum of traffic sense? Piece of cake – let’s put our improvement dollars into that.

    2. jeik

      I used to work in the ArtSpace building, and this intersection WAS frustrating. Bikes could not trigger the light very well. If it was in my neighborhood, I would expect it to be fixed (in fact I complained about it while I worked there).

      Beyond biking, the sidewalk near the bus stop was very narrow. Since then, the Goodwill job training building has opened across the street so I can only imagine the number of people using that stop has increased.

      There are a lot of needed improvements, but sometimes progress will just have to be incremental.

  6. Kyleen

    I ride through this intersection every morning but it is nothing compared to 4th and jackson or 2nd and jackson. I go downtown from the I-90 trail and there is no good way to get onto the 4th avenue bike lane. On the way home I have to cross the new trolley tracks while turning left from 2nd onto jackson. Going right to 4th from dearborn is a bad idea as well, there is no sharrows or bike lane yet and it is a very wide and busy road.

    1. Gary

      4th and Jackson turning North on 4th is terrible. You have 2 blocks of heavy no bike lane traffic where you need to be in the far West lane on 4th where people going North on 3rd cross in front and behind you… it’s probably the worst part of my commute.

      Going home, I climb over Capital Hill to the ridge on 18th and ride South on that series of residential streets until I meet up with the trail. I’d ride in that way too but I’m always running late and it’s an extra 5 minutes. (and riding down Pine street is no picnic in the morning either.)

      1. Heh, I tend to just turn into the right lane on 4th (the bus lane), stay there until getting past Washington (and the turn-off for 3rd), then merge over whenever I have an opportunity (either lane-by-lane or in a crosswalk when stopped at a red light). I don’t know that’s a whole lot better — it might be worse for a slower rider that would be more likely to get stuck in front of a bus (if you wanted to get stuck in front of a bus you could just exit to 3rd!).

  7. Chris

    Fixing the wheel eating drains that are in the middle of the north side bike lane further west on Dearborn would be a better fix than looking at that intersection. I’ve never experienced a conflict on Hiawatha or at the Rainier Dearborn intersection. That said, I’ve never actually hit those drains either…

    1. Karl

      I thought there was a post just recently about the city wanting to know about dangerous drains because they think they’ve fixed most of them. You might contact SDOT about that.

  8. I don’t like Dearborn because it is a gateway to the highway. You know what is interesting. If you bike to the pedestrian beg button and wait there you get across the street sooner than waiting in the lane for the light.

  9. Well, anyhow, though I’m a little disappointed that this little project isn’t doing a ton for biking… thanks to Tom for investigating it!

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