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Mercer Island road safety project worked so well they decided…not to do it again?

Lives could be protected here so easily. Image via Google Street View.
Lives could be protected here so easily. Image via Google Street View.

The number of Mercer Island community members injured in a ten-block stretch of Island Crest Way dropped 75 percent after the city made a simple road safety change. Collisions dropped 61 percent. Traffic continued to flow.

The 2012 project worked so well, the city has decided … not repeat it? Huh?

The Mercer Island Reporter has the story:

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Island Crest Way will remain four lanes from Merrimount Drive to Southeast 40th Street as the city of Mercer Island continues a 10-week project to repave and improve drainage on the road.

The project, which started July 18 and is planned for completion by the end of September, does not involve the controversial three lane reconfiguration implemented in the 4300-5300 blocks of Island Crest Way in 2012.

But several data requests from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) for crash data on Island Crest Way from 2001 to 2016 indicate that the lane reconfiguration has reduced accidents on the Island’s main thoroughfare in those blocks. The data shows a 61 percent reduction in non-injury collisions and 75 percent fewer injury accidents.

Read more…

The last time the city decided to scrap a safety project on Island Crest Way a 17-year-old high school student was struck in a crosswalk in a common type of collision known to occur on four-lane streets (one person stopped to let him cross, but the person driving in the second lane did not). It seems they are willing to repeat that mistake, but not willing to repeat a clear safety success that would essentially eliminate that risk for future victims.

The public is not always going to agree on everything. But a city has a moral imperative to protect the public when it makes street investments, especially when the benefits are so clear. Yes, even if some people get irrationally angry about it.

Because the Mercer Island is repaving and restriping the street anyway, instituting a safety upgrade would be essentially free. For zero dollars the city can reduce injuries by 75 percent. Yet they aren’t going to do it.

The people who are not injured because of a safety change can’t exactly thank city leaders, but their health would be protected nonetheless.

If the city puts this road back to a design they know is dangerous, those preventable injuries are at least in part the city’s fault. There is no reason anyone should get hurt while walking, biking or driving on Mercer Island.

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25 responses to “Mercer Island road safety project worked so well they decided…not to do it again?”

  1. Jean Amicj

    Yikes. A no brainer. Repair it with safer design.

  2. (Another) Tom

    “There were multiple points of opposition: some thought the problem could be solved with a traffic signal, and others worried that the plan would divert vehiccles onto neighborhood streets, cause traffic delays and favor bikes over cars.

    Having a wider shoulder and bigger buffer between the sidewalk and passing cars was a decision made for safety reasons, Bassett said, and not out of preference for cyclists.”

    Favoring bikes over cars?!? Heaven forbid!

    “Whoa, whoa, WHOA,” cried Bassett. “To be absolutely clear: We still hate those filthy hippie cyclists. They are unfortunately going to benefit from the increased safety too but that wasn’t our intent. Just want to set the record straight.”

    1. Davepar

      That quote must have been taken out of context, e.g. as a joke. I know Bruce and can’t imagine him saying something like that. On the other hand, there is a lot of resentment toward bicyclists on Mercer Island, so that sentiment is common. The island is a suburb. In other words, it was unfortunately developed around cars as the primary transportation. And people get unreasonably upset when taking Junior to the soccer field is delayed 5 seconds by inconsiderate bikers riding 3+ abreast on West/East Mercer.

      1. (Another) Tom

        Yes, my tongue-in-cheek comment was more directed at the voters he has to appeal to: many who have an irrational, knee-jerk hatred towards cyclists and anything that might be construed as part of the ‘war on cars.’

        I don’t know Mr. Bassett but it sounds like he gets it but also understands that you have to placate the “car fetishists” (to quote Mudede) if you want to be re-elected. These folks aren’t interested in facts, they know how they FEEL and that’s enough. Those that would cut off the nose to spite the face…

    2. If the three-lane section had been done “out of preference” for cyclists we should get our money back — I made the mistake of taking Island Crest one time and the drivers were just out for me in the three-lane section. If the perimeter road on MI is what Lake Washington Boulevard is in Seattle (a magical place where, despite lack of infrastructure and close quarters, drivers basically respect us), then Island Crest is Rainier.

  3. Neel Blair

    The War on Cars continues. The cars are still winning.

  4. Ross Freeman

    Hi folks, looks like I should weigh in here – I’m the City of Mercer Island’s Communications Manager, and also their Mgr overseeing Sustainability Policy. I also happen to be a lifelong bike commuter (and currently ride year-round from Greenlake to the Mercer Island City Hall, rain or shine).

    The original road diet happened well before my time, but the choice not to extend that format to the recently repaved section of Island Crest Way this year was not made without careful consideration. We didn’t just decide to let cars win this one nor are we blindly proceeding “…willing to repeat [a past] mistake” (quoting Tom F). The Streets Engineer, and an independent consulting team, determined that it couldn’t work in this situation for many technical reasons, not for political reasons.

    Although it’s popular to bash the City of Mercer Island for bike infrastructure issues, or recent legal settlements, the City takes bike safety seriously, but is constrained by all manner of issues. The Mayor himself is an avid cyclist and is eager to see additional improvements. And we consult often with our local Island cycling advocacy group.

    Readers may note that the MI-Reporter did not interview any City staff for their update story, nor (to my knowledge) did Tom F contact me or any other City staff for background/fact-checking before adding his editorial comments. I’d be more than happy to talk respectfully with cycling advocates about this road diet topic, or your other suggestions for cycling safety on MI — my contact info is on our website.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      I did contact the listed project manager last week.

      1. Andres Salomon

        I emailed Ross asking for average vehicle counts along that stretch and justification for why they’re not doing a 4-to-3 road diet. If I hear back, I’ll post a comment here.

      2. Ross Freeman

        Thanks Tom – Yes, you did Email him Sept 8th, but did not receive a reply before publication. If you had, he would have provided the same summary points I list below about the road-diet analysis. If you need quicker turnaround in the future (especially from field-based staff), please contact me and I will locate the appropriate employee.

    2. Scott

      I think we would all be curious to hear what the technical reasons were. If the average daily traffic is less than 25,000 a three lane configuration is perfectly doable, as proven time and time again.

    3. Josh

      It’s also popular to bash Mercer Island city government because in defending itself from the Camicia case, the City’s attorney claimed with a straight face that the I-90 Trail is purely recreational, in essence claiming that the City Council is both ignorant and impotent, that the City’s binding turnback agreement with WSDOT wasn’t really binding, that the City’s adopted Comprehensive Plan was void, that the City was free to ignore planning concurrency requirements, etc.

      Sure, it was really about money, and the City probably would have submitted any excuse it could think of to get out of paying millions after letting someone get maimed by bollards that to this day fail to comply with federal, state, or local safety standards.

      But still, it stuck with many cyclists that the City was willing to perjure itself to escape liability for defective infrastructure.

      1. Gary

        Those trail bollards are still a hazard. +1

      2. Josh

        The City has hired a consultant (Toole) to review the bollards on the Trail, finally, and they’re expecting something back this fall.

        But that doesn’t explain or excuse decades of refusing to even maintain them to the standards that were in place when they were first installed, or the refusal to comply with standard MUTCD markings.

    4. KCR

      The data suggests that this is a low traffic cycling route (Island Crest Way is the road down the middle of the map). What it does suggest is that this is a route that people frequently run on though.


      If I go to the pub, have a few drinks, and then knowingly get in the car and make decisions that are likely to endanger someone else’s life and things go wrong, that would be the very definition of negligent driving. If the City of Mercer Island deliberately and knowingly chooses on a traffic planning approach that it knows will generate more dangerous conditions, they should be held liable or partially liable in the event of injury or damage.

      It’s great that the people in charge are also riding bikes, but this is not a bike issue. This is a people issue.

      1. Josh

        Keep in mind that Strava shows primarily tech-friendly upper-income recreational riding, not cycling in general.

        Very few school kids Strava their commute to school. Most adult bike commuters don’t Strava their daily ride. Nor does the average shopper heading to the grocery store.

        Island Crest Way looks low traffic relative to one of the most popular destination cycling routes in the state, but zoom out a bit and compare it to plenty of other well-established bicycle commuting routes.

      2. Kirk

        The Strava map shows that cycling is prevalent on the section south of Merimount that is two lanes and has bicycle facilities. East Mercer Way and West Mercer Way have limited access points, while Island Crest Way is much more accessible. ICW is also a relatively straight and direct shot down the island compared to EMW and WMW. The configuration on ICW should revert to two lanes southbound just north of 40th, after the hill, by the Presbyterian Church. The right lane there should be kept as a right turn only at 40th and all southbound traffic should cue as one lane at the light. North of 40th the northbound roadway should be reduced to one lane, with the resulting excess space made into bike lanes that connect to the I-90 trail. This would make too much sense for the City of Mercer Island to enact.

  5. Mark Clausen

    I am a Mercer Island resident who has been active with cycling issues. I can assure you that Bruce Bassett is not anti-cyclist. He has been receptive to the concerns of cyclists, particularly about safety. Mercer Island does have a vocal minority of pro-auto residents and they have at times achieved a disproportionate influence over City policy. I do not believe that is now the case. Resident cyclists typically stay away from Island Crest Way because, well, why would you compete with unbroken lines of commuting cars when East Mercer and West Mercer are great roads for riding?

    1. Presumably some people would want to ride on Island Crest Way for the same reason a lot of commuters drive on it: it’s the most direct route to their destination!

      Of course this is doubly true for walking, and a 4-to-3 road diet without bike lanes does a lot more for walking than cycling. As I found when I rode down Island Crest (just for some variety, not knowing much about the road), the cultural difference between the perimeter roads and Island Crest applies across all the various road layouts.

      Later, after I picked up the hobby of mountain biking, I decided to visit Pioneer Park on Mercer Island, which has a fair amount of easy singletrack where cycling is allowed (I think more than incorporated Seattle has anywhere — kudos to MI for maintaining it). If I hadn’t known the way people drive on Island Crest I’d have probably taken it all the way down just because it’s direct.

      More seriously y’all are going to get a light rail station pretty soon. Access by bus will likely be inconvenient unless islanders start riding buses in such great numbers that Metro is convinced to improve connecting service; access by car will be limited by parking availability and a lot of the parking will be used up by eastsiders. Biking to the station would be a very practical option… and a lot of people’s most direct routes would involve some part of Island Crest! Though it’s usually possible to avoid it, it would be nice if plotting out twisty routes wasn’t so often a requirement for basic transportation by bike. Again, the 4-to-3 road diet doesn’t have much to do with this, but the idea that people might want to bike on useful roads shouldn’t be shocking. You see people biking on Rainier, Aurora, and LCW all the time if you look.

  6. Ben P

    Island crest was one of the first major streets I rode. I rode on yhe sidewalk, but there was this section with no sidewalk where I just bumped along the uncut grass on the edge. Then, approaching downtown, there was narrow sidewalk with the street right against my left and a huge rock retaining wall to my right. I would pick up speed in the descent and then swerve around this bus stop at the bottom. One time I went too fast, fell off the lip of the sidewalk, and flattened the bush in front of the sidewalk. In retrospect I’m surprised 12 year old me didn’t get myself killed.

  7. Steve

    I live in this vicinity of Island Crest and am also a frequent bike commuter. My route to Seattle usually finds me taking Merrimount to West Mercer or Island Crest to North Mercer, but I never ride that particular section of Island Crest. This isn’t because of the 4 lane design, but because it just doesn’t make sense for any of the common routes.

    I love the road diet South of Merrimount because it’s certainly much easier to make left turns from the many side rodes, but a reduction to three lanes wouldn’t work as well North of Merrimount. I’m fine with this decision.

    As a side note, to the many drivers that honk at the Merrimount merge down to one Southbound lane, a short honk means “I’m here. Do you see me now?” and a 12-second long honk means “I’m an entitled jerk, how dare you make me slow for you!”. There’s too many long honks.

  8. biliruben

    I wish MI city officials would actually bring facts and reasoning to this discussion. So far all I’ve heard is “arguments” in the vein of “I’m not racist, I have a good friend that’s black.”

    Skip the bonafides and discuss the reasons why this section can’t go 4-3.

  9. Ross Freeman

    Ok, I’m not going to take the bait on personal insults — but here’s the summary of the road diet analysis from the MI streets engineer himself that many of you have asked for. Thank you to those who have emailed me privately, and respectfully… We remain interested in thoughtful and constructive ideas about ways to improve MI cycling routes; this blog serves an important service in eliciting that input.

    Background context:
    This segment of Island Crest Way (ICW) is 2,600 feet long and carries close to 20,000 vehicles/day. The intersection of ICW and SE 40th Street is the busiest intersection on the entire island, and all engineers involved believed it must retain its two northbound and two southbound lanes from SE 41st up to SE 40th Street to handle today’s traffic volumes. Consultants KPG and City engineering staff therefore analyzed extending the existing 3-lane segment of ICW northwards from Merrimount Drive to SE 42nd Street.

    While this idea would have created approximately two blocks of new 3-lane configuration, it had several disadvantages:

    1) This action would create a new merge situation for vehicles turning left from Merrimount Drive to northbound ICW. This would be less safe than the current intersection layout, where Merrimount traffic has its own dedicated lane to pull into (an “add lane”). Past work at the ICW/Merrimount Drive intersection has improved safety, but over the last 3 years, it’s still the location where 5 of the 7 major collisions on this section have occurred.

    2) The action would leave only 600 feet for the high volume of southbound ICW traffic to merge from 2 lanes to 1 lane (versus the 2,000ft available today), which would potentially impact the performance of the SE 40th Street signalized intersection as southbound vehicles would favor the non-merging lane.

    3) Due to the offset nature of the cross-streets at SE 42nd Street, left-turning vehicles could not share the center turn lane because they must get past each other before making their left turn, leading to potential conflicts. A short 4-lane section could be needed to separate northbound and southbound left turns, but this transition would be confusing to drivers. If SE 42nd Street were offset the other way, this would not be a problem.

    The consulting engineers’ recommendation was that the 4-lane configuration between Merrimount Drive and SE 40th Street should not be changed. Merrimount Drive is the logical transition from 3- to 4-lanes due to the need for a receiving lane on northbound Island Crest Way, coupled with ample room in the 4300 block going southbound for a 2-lane to 1-lane merge area.


    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Thank you for the detailed response, Ross.

    2. Andres Salomon

      Thanks for the follow up!

      I agree with you about #2, but that stems from an issue of only doing a road diet on a short stretch of the road.

      #3 is not a problem unless SE 42nd sees high volumes of traffic, and given that it’s mostly dead-end residential streets, that’s unlikely to be the case. It it’s truly a problem due to turning volumes, disallow left turns for soundbound ICW traffic (with a physical diverter, if necessary). Southbound drivers who want to turn left there can instead make a left at SE 40th, a block earlier, and take 85th Ave SE to their destination.

      #1 is hard to consider, since Google Maps’ newest pictures are from 2011. However, it’s clear to me that the problem there is sight lines due to the hill. The number of lanes doesn’t help that; slowing down traffic and increasing predictability on ICW does, and that’s what a 4-to-3 lane conversion does. Combine that with looking at whether an all-way stop or a signal is warranted, and you’ve created a much safer intersection for people trying to turn from Merrimount Dr.

      All that ignores the elephant in the room – whether the intersection of ICW and SE 40th actually needs two lanes in each direction (AND a center turn lane). If your primary concern is Level Of Service, then of course ICW needs to be 5 lanes there. If your primary concern is safety, then you can find plenty of examples of elsewhere of intersections that handle more traffic that do just fine with 3 lanes. NE 75th St & 25th Ave NE in Seattle is an example of such an intersection. NE 75th carries 22k vehicles per day, and had a road diet that reduced it to 3 lanes. 25th Ave NE is a busy street that carries 12k vehicles/day. There, the road diet actually improved travel times.

      Without knowing what the peak volumes and collision data looks like, it’s hard to say what the traffic engineers making the call are prioritizing. I also understand the political concerns of potentially disrupting the busiest intersection on MI, but I would also strongly consider the collision data, the increase in congestion due to collisions, and loss of income/life/health that is experienced by keeping that 5 lane intersection.

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