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Lander bridge design still ignores safety + Should city hold its funds while it fights Trump?

pdbd5Of all the major transportation investments Seattle has planned using Federal grant assistance, the only one that is not at risk by the Trump administration is the one we need the least: The Lander Street Overpass.

That project is moving ahead at a very quick pace with final design planned for completion in July. SDOT is hosting an open house 4 – 6:30 p.m. today (Thursday) at Metropolist to discuss the Lander Overpass plans. You can also learn more and comment via the project’s online open house (it takes quite a few clicks to get to the comment form, but stick with it!).

The bad news is that planners have ignored essentially all the safety concerns raised earlier in the design process. The plans still call for a walking and biking trail on the north side of the bridge with no accommodation at all for people on the south side of the bridge, unchanged despite very clear feedback that this does not work for walking and biking safety.

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1st_and_lander_looking_eastThis is horrible design for walking and biking safety, reminiscent of the kinds of people-hostile, car-focused bridges designed in the 1950s and 60s like this sorry excuse for a Denny Way bridge across I-5:

Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 1.20.36 PM

Forcing people to cross busy streets multiple times in order to reach a sidewalk is an unnecessary impediment to walking and a recipe for disaster. Every extra crossing means added times to walking trips, more frustration (and, thus, more cases of people crossing against the signal) and more opportunities for collisions.

For people biking, the plan would likely work well for people headed westbound. But it would be awful for people heading eastbound, who will be expected to somehow cross to the opposite side of the street to get to the trail, then cross back again on the other side. This is not realistic. People will either follow the design and add minutes to their trips or just bike in the much faster general traffic lanes without any separation from the truck-heavy traffic.

We simply cannot build bridges like this anymore. In 2017, it is street safety malpractice.

The answer is clear: Include walking and biking spaces on both sides of the bridge.

Planners can do this without adding cost to the project just by reducing the number of lanes. Right now plans call for two lanes westbound and one lane eastbound. But not only is overall traffic declining on Lander, westbound traffic is barely higher than eastbound:

Table from SDOT, via the Urbanist.
Table from SDOT, via the Urbanist.

So the city could just build one lane each way and dedicate the extra space to preventing serious injury and death on this new piece of major public infrastructure. Such a bridge would greatly increase capacity for freight and general traffic, reduce delays, improve access to Sodo Station and improve safety for everyone.

Amid Trump budget uncertainty, the city should hold onto our Lander cash

The train tracks in Sodo do pose challenges to all people trying to get around, whether walking, biking, driving or hauling freight. Lander passes by the Sodo light rail station, and a bridge over the tracks would make it a very appealing option for people biking to and from West Seattle and the Duwamish Valley neighborhoods. And hey, nobody likes waiting for trains.

However, with desperately-needed transit funds under attack — including Federal support for the Madison BRT project in Seattle and other big transit projects across the region — perhaps Seattle needs to hold its major transportation capital funds to be prepared for the unknown. This could mean slowing the Lander project, which is currently moving at light speed (for a high-budget project, anyway) after many years collecting dust on the shelf.

Ryan Packer at the Urbanist recently made the case for slowing the Lander project, pointing out that traffic on Lander is declining while the need for all these transit projects that have been put at risk only grows.

The city plans to spend $33 million of its own funds on the Lander project, with another $15 million from the state, $10 million from the Port of Seattle and BNSF, and $63.5 million from the Feds. Even with all that, there’s still an $18.5 million gap.

To put this funding in perspective, the city is planning to spend twice as much on this one bridge in Sodo than on the $16 million earmarked for the new Madison Bus Rapid Transit (RapidRide G) project. RapidRide G would provide fast, high-capacity transit service to support a central-neighborhood (Capitol Hill, First Hill, Central District, Madison Valley) population that is growing fast and showing no signs of slowing down. Meanwhile, traffic on Lander has been declining, down 24 percent since 2007 (thanks in part to transit investments like light rail and RapidRide).

If the Trump Administration succeeds in cutting the $60 million in expected grants for the Madison project, then the city’s $33 million for the Lander project may be needed elsewhere.

I know this sucks for freight interests that have been pushing for the Lander bridge for a long, long time. Assuming the bridge design is improved so it is actually safe like it should be, then delaying this bridge also sucks for people biking and walking.

But these are extraordinary and uncertain times for the city’s transportation capital. Just this week, Mayor Ed Murray and City Attorney Pete Holmes sued the Trump Administration over its threatened budget actions against so-called sanctuary cities like Seattle. If Trump wins that fight, the transportation budget will be the hardest hit. It’s definitely a price worth paying, but Lander’s cash would be good to have on hand if that happens.

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10 responses to “Lander bridge design still ignores safety + Should city hold its funds while it fights Trump?”

  1. ronp

    Excellent post, there is no excuse for such a poorly designed bridge. We should wait and build it later when the federal idiot is gone. What a screwed up election.

  2. Southeasterner

    Not quite that simple to move federal funds around. The money is from a federal grant that is tied to Lander. If they were to stop, or even delay the project, that funding is lost and given back to the feds for distribution elsewhere. With Trump in charge the funds would most certainly go to a highway project in a red state.

    If the at-grade crossing at Holgate is closed when Lander is built they will most definitely have an increase in vehicle traffic that would justify 3-4 GP lanes, which most definitely justifies a separated bike facility to address the safety concerns you outlined. Given the space constraints it doesn’t seem like it’s possible…

    Maybe the only hope is a new arena with a dedicated bike/ped crossing near Holgate paid for by the developer? It has been suggested.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      The $33 million is Seattle money.

      1. Southeasterner

        The $33 million is Seattle money but it’s a match to $64+ million in federal contributions.

        Lander is in Move Seattle (a measure you encouraged your readers to support) so regardless as to when it happens the city has committed to building it. We focus on commitments the city made to the bike community but they made even bigger promises to the freight community.

        The choice is build it now with $64 million of matching federal funds from a program that will no longer exist, potentially as soon as this year under Trump and Ryan, or add 5-10 years of cost escalation and have the city pay the entire thing by themselves with a few contributions from BNSF and the Port which could potentially turn $33 million of required SDOT funds into $100+ million. Where will that $67+ million of additional funds come from? My guess would be cuts to transit and bike investments.

  3. bill

    I’m not sure how you conclude removing a westbound lane, “would greatly increase capacity for freight and general traffic.”

    Thanks for pointing out that there is only one eastbound lane. SDOT’s cross-section is disingenuous. It depicts two lanes both ways. The section must be near 3rd Ave. Squinting at the overhead plan you can see most of the bridge only has one eastbound lane. That’s the one frustrated faster cyclists will take across the bridge.

    Traffic on Lander might have declined recently (I frequently ride Lander so I am not convinced traffic has decreased). But as more people move to Seattle traffic in SODO is bound to increase. I think this bridge will become inadequate very quickly. Has any thought been given to what is going to happen when the 99 viaduct closes, and downtown-bound traffic has to take surface streets from SODO?

    A better east-west connection to the SODO trail is needed. This bridge is not going to help much.

    1. Dave

      Full sentence: “Such a bridge would greatly increase capacity for freight and general traffic, reduce delays, improve access to Sodo Station and improve safety for everyone.” I assume Tom meant that removing the westbound lane would accomplish all of these goals – keeping the westbound lane will only help freight and traffic, not safety.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        I meant the bridge would improve capacity over the existing conditions, with constant closures for train crossings. One lane in each direction would still be a big increase in capacity.

  4. […] recommended reading for today: Seattle Bike Blog says there’s only one major transportation project in Seattle that isn’t threatened by […]

  5. BuildthedamnBridge

    “the one we need the least” – clearly the author has never been one of the bus riders stuck waiting for trains when trying to get to work. This has been a much needed project since the last transportation levy promised to build it using those funds, and it could have been constructed for half the cost had the city not squandered those funds on other projects of questionable need. The author may conclude from the statistics that traffic has decreased, but fails to consider the increased bus traffic, traffic diversions due to the clusterfuck that is the Lander crossing, etc. There may be some potential improvements to the quality of the bridge and of course, more bike lanes because what would Seattle be without $100 million in bike lane projects, but the bridge itself would significantly help bus riders and the general movement of goods in the area.

  6. […] lanes, to keep speeds low and allow space for dual walkways. Seattle Bike Blog calls the design “street-safety malpractice,” comparable to the one-sidewalk Denny Way/I-5 overpass built in the […]

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