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Now that it’s partially funded, help guide major Mount Baker intersection remake

Looking west across Rainier and MLK from Mount Baker Boulevard. There is so much potential here.
Looking west across Rainier and MLK from Mount Baker Boulevard.

You passed Move Seattle! Have I mentioned recently how great that is for our city?

Well, it’s already time to start directing the investment, starting with a major intersection that is the root of so many Southeast Seattle mobility problems: Rainier and MLK.

As we’ve reported previously, SDOT has a very promising and radical idea for fixing the problem, and you can weigh in on the biking and walking elements of the plan at an open house 6–8 p.m. Thursday at King’s Hall (behind Mount Baker light rail station).

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Move Seattle includes $2 $6 million for the Accessible Mount Baker project, which is enough to make some small-but-significant fixes and work on the design for bigger changes. Thank you Seattle voters!

The crisscrossing intersection works poorly for everyone today. All the major vehicle movements mean long waits at red lights if you’re driving or biking in the general travel lanes, on the bus or waiting at a crosswalk. Even if you only care about vehicle movements, something dramatic needs to change here. But the problems go much further.

Access to Mount Baker Station and the new housing and businesses popping up around it is absolutely terrible because of this intersection. The extra-wide streets and extra-long signal cycles create dangerous conditions for people trying to cross the street on foot between buses, Mount Baker Station, businesses and Franklin High School. You don’t have to hang out long until you see someone make a run for it across Rainier because they don’t want to miss their bus.

And, of course, the intersection is a big bike route wall. There is no way to safely and comfortably get to or through the area on a bike, even though MLK and Rainier are the only flat and direct options in the whole valley. When trying to imagine a safe and direct bike route through the Rainier Valley, this intersection is an unavoidable impediment.

Dozens of collisions happen within a couple blocks of this intersection every year. People in and out of cars are getting hurt. This won’t stop until we take action.

When the current intersection was designed decades ago, it also sliced in half a historic Olmsted-designed boulevard between Lake Washington and Beacon Hill via Mount Baker and Cheasty Boulevards. These windy and very green park-like routes are part of what makes biking around Seattle so wonderful (other examples include Interlaken, Ravenna and Lake Washington Boulevards), but this particular stretch has been severely limited due to this awful mega-intersection.

But perhaps most importantly, redesigning this intersection is vital to rebuilding a true town center for the neighborhood. With comfortable movements for people on foot, extra space to gather and improved transit access (the station will only get more important as new LINK stations are added and the 7, 8 and 48 bus routes are improved), Mount Baker has a bright future as a bustling and vibrant place to live, work and play.

This could be one of the best transportation projects in the whole city. And as the big plan is developed, the city also needs to make walking and biking connections safer, more comfortable and more direct in the near-term.

For an idea of what those near-term projects might look like, here are some boards from earlier this year. You’ll have to go to Thursday’s meeting to see the updates.

AMBPres-Boards-set-3-30-2015-nearAMBPres-Boards-set-3-30-2015-midtermAnd here’s a glimpse at the bike route elements (magenta) in the radical long-term concept:


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4 responses to “Now that it’s partially funded, help guide major Mount Baker intersection remake”

  1. Adam

    Quick correction–

    The project has $6.9M in funding so far. $900,000 from the state and $6M from Move Seattle. MS allocated $2M into each of three categories–$2M to transit connections, $2M to walking improvements, and $2M to biking improvements.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Yikes. Thanks. I corrected it above.

  2. Ben P

    I wish they’d just do the long term plan right now

  3. NickS

    Do I understand Phase 2 correctly in that it will prevent northbound traffic on Rainier Ave S from turning right onto MLK Jr Way S, and instead direct northbound traffic to a new dedicated left turn lane onto S Hanford St, to turn right onto MLK from there?


    The right turn on red restriction from northbound Rainier to MLK in Phase 1 makes total sense; it’s an awkward angle, and one has to edge quite far out to safely see before making a turn. However, eliminating a turn right turn entirely seems nonsensical (is this an attempt to protect pedestrians crossing MLK? It might help, but so would eliminating the ability to turn right at intersections throughout the city).

    The short segment of Rainier Ave S between MLK and McClellan is among the most congested between Rainier Beach and Little Saigon (other than the Columbia City portion of the newly road dieted section between Orcas and Alaska); the same block with the Mt Baker Light Rail Station, and the Mt Baker Transit Center. Speaking as a northbound motorcycle and bus commuter that often takes Rainier as part of my commute to Pioneer Square, this seems problematic. A significant portion of northbound traffic on Rainier currently turns right onto MLK. With nearly all traffic continuing on Rainier instead, the congestion in this block seems likely to worsen, affecting buses and riders utilizing the transit center.

    Diverting northbound traffic that needs to get to MLK from Rainier onto S Hanford St seems absurd.

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