A Roosevelt junior redesigned the streets around his high school, and his plan is better than SDOT’s

Concept image of a dramatically-improved crosswalk on NE 65th Street by Joe Mangan.

Just about every school day when Joe Mangan and his fellow Roosevelt High School students walk to area businesses during their lunch breaks, they have to squeeze together on sidewalks so skinny they can barely walk side-by-side and talk to each other. And when they get to major intersections, they have to squish together at corners far too small for the number of students walking to grab a bite. Meanwhile, traffic rushes by just off the curb on an unusually dangerous stretch of NE 65th Street.

But Mangan knows it doesn’t need to be this way.

“I was noticing that friends and other students trying to walk to lunch don’t have enough space to wait at corners,” Mangan said. “I decided I would take things into my own hands.”

So he took the initiative to put together his own proposal for what a truly safe and multimodal NE 65th Street could look like complete with concept 3D graphics he created using Sketchup. He sent his 12-page report (PDF) to SDOT, some neighborhood safe streets groups and Seattle Bike Blog.

His work blew me away.

The ideas he presents are bold, thoughtful and based on real-world examples from around the world. And his graphics are professional-quality. He depicts a streetcar because he was inspired by trams in cities like Amsterdam, but you can imagine them instead as improved stops for existing (or improved) buses.

But he didn’t just focus on NE 65th Street. He also reimagined other streets around his school. Here’s the overview:

After many years of neighborhood advocacy and leadership from Councilmember Rob Johnson, SDOT is currently developing designs for a NE 65th St remake that includes protected bike lanes. Mangan’s design is far better not just because it has more bells and whistles (and, to be fair, a likely higher pricetag), but because he is focusing on fixing problems he sees daily on the ground.

“The street is just unnaturally wide,” he said of the current street. “Every day there’s always someone who has to walk in front of the group or behind because there’s not enough space to walk side-by-side.

“With my design, I narrowed it to a center turn lane and two lanes at each intersection. This gives more space at corners for people walking with their friends.”

This might seem obvious, perhaps, but SDOT’s current design actually makes sidewalks skinnier in places in order to prioritize space for people driving to pass buses at bus stops. Mangan, on the other hand, imagines a street that prioritizes walking, biking and transit.

He also looked at ways to increase the number of places where people can cross the street and improve safety at each crosswalk.

“I added curb bulbs to add more waiting space and also to shorten crossing,” he said. “Curb bulbs make it easier for drivers to see [people walking] and easier for crossing pedestrians to see cars.”

Mangan preserves general travel lanes in each direction and dedicated turn lanes at major intersections, but his idea is to focus on how we want neighborhood transportation to work in the future after Roosevelt Station opens.

“Increasing pedestrian and bike connections to the station would kind of offset the reduction in car lanes,” he said. “Because many people driving are trying to get to the highway to go downtown, if you give people other options to get to the light rail you would reduce the number of cars on the road.”

Standing ovation.

This is exactly what the redesign of NE 65th Street should be doing, and where the latest design out of SDOT fails. I hope the design team takes a lot of time to study Mangan’s ideas and incorporate many of them into the final street design.

So how exactly did a high school junior learn so much about street design?

“I’m just interested in city planning in general,” he said. “It’s a combination of engineering, design and politics, all three of which I have been interested in.”

Mangan said he watches videos online and seeks out podcasts about city planning.

“I watch Jeff Speck,” he said, making him perhaps the youngest fan of the East Coast urban planner.

And how exactly did he get to good at Sketchup?

“I used it in second grade,” he said, because it was installed on school computers. And he’s been designing houses and streets for fun ever since.

“I’m also using it to design a detached accessory dwelling unit behind our house right now.”

Sorry, planning firms and city department heads, Mangan has a few more years of school left before you can hire him full time.

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35 Responses to A Roosevelt junior redesigned the streets around his high school, and his plan is better than SDOT’s

  1. Matt says:

    I saw this a couple of weeks ago on an email thread and was completely blown away by it. If you set aside the streetcar line that’s clearly not on the table at present, this is exactly the sort of remaking of the street that the #Fix65th advocates were hoping to see from SDOT, and why we’re so frustrated with SDOT’s work so far.

    • ryan says:

      chances are those that are paid to design streets don’t live in those areas and deal with the real dangers. This plan would work great for those that live in this area and implemented in all areas around schools and dangerous streets. Money should not be a problem to create a safe streetscape for the safety of the local tax payers

      • Matt says:

        Some of our conversations with SDOT engineers have left us wondering if they had even visited the street to see what it looks like.

  2. Conrad says:

    I ask myself all the time about SDOTs work: Are these people stymied by regulations or superiors that don’t care, or are they just completely high? At the very least, they should walk and ride around they areas they are planning to change.

  3. Karen says:

    Wow! Wow! This truly is amazing. I walk drive and bike along 65th on a regular basis (I am a middle aged woman). I have been so frustrated by the lack of vision with the current SDOT design process. I have been to every forum they have had except the last one. Everything we communicate to them doesn’t seem to change anything. They should take a hard look at this.

    Way to go Mr. Mangan!

    And on a side note – I am still floored they want to move bike lanes from 65th and shift them north starting at 20th Ave NE. The north neighborhood streets are too steep, don’t have the businesses people want to travel to, and they have blind corners. People already bike more on 65th now – all stretches of it. The SDOT seems to think this is already set in stone based on feedback they got 3+ years ago. A lot has changed since then. They need to prioritize smooth transit, safe biking and walking on a main access to the light rail and new businesses developing in Roosevelt.

  4. Aviva says:

    Yes! I feel like urban planners have never walked, biked, or even visited the areas that they plan. Nice work and I look forward to Joe’s ideas implemented in the years to come🙌🏽

  5. eddiew says:

    A tram is not only not on the table, but as described would be infeasible as they do not climb steep hill well. They also cannot make the turning movements suggested. Perhaps Mangan should suggest an electric trolley bus. He does prioritize pedestrian well. He leaves little space on the arterials for traffic; that would take care of his classmates driving to and from school.

    • William says:

      Not correct. The tramway shown is pretty is straight and the gradient of 15th Ave NE is less than then tram on Broadway near Swedish. Checkout https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_steepest_gradients_on_adhesion_railways

      • eddiew says:

        “Invest in a tram system beginning near Magnuson Park, down NE 65th Street, and looping back around near the Woodland Park Zoo. It would increase the accessibility of Magnuson, Greenlake, Woodland Park Zoo, Cowen Park, businesses, the future light rail station, and several schools”
        The text describes the tram as east-west, thus encountering two steep hills between Link and Sand Point.

  6. William says:

    This is amazing

    “So how exactly did a high school junior learn so much about street design?”

    The corollary is

    “So how exactly has SDOT managed to assemble a team for street redesigns who are so utterly lacking in creativity or competence?”

    As best as I can tell they hold all these public outreach events but pay absolutely no attention to the input since the concepts presented at the start of public input and the final product are inevitably almost identical.”

    • Karen says:

      Exactly! They have in mind what they plan to do all along, public input changes nothing They are just going through the motions to say they did the community outreach, but paying No need to the folks actually in the communities.

  7. Andres Salomon says:

    Sure, when *I* do designs, everyone’s all “It looks like MS Paint.” I’m not at all jealous. Nope! ;)

    I kid. I was so excited to see Joe’s design, I hope SDOT seriously considers some of the points he made. At this point, SDOT’s moving ahead with a severely flawed design. They’ve wasted at least a year of everyone’s time, for no apparent reason.

  8. Treehugger says:

    Michael Colville-Anderson agrees that children can do a better job of design. Check out his presentation at Ted x Zurich. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pX8zZdLw7cs

  9. biliruben says:

    What really needs to be re-designed is public outreach. Instead of the process just being a checkbox, it should allow for community input, and significant redesign well before 30%.

  10. liam says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with biliruben. SDOT’s public outreach process not only fails to actually engage the public, but also substantially contributes to tension in the community and implementation of designs that go against established engineering best practices.

    One of the key reasons why Magnan’s design is so good is that it has the trams (or equivalently and much more practically rapid ride busses, as are already slated for this corridor) stop in the travel lane. SDOT’s modeling shows that in lane bus stops would not appreciably slow private vehicle travel speeds, and it fits with the recommended street design from the NACTO for a street with transit priority and the measured traffic volumes. In lane bus stops would also substantially ease design constraints where pull-out stops would require taking space from sidewalks and bike lanes to allow cars to pass busses.

    In light of the clear advantages of in-lane bus stops, SDOT chose to make their inclusion a topic for public input on the initial design survey, using this extremely misleading presentation (survey results in parentheses)

    Question 5: If Option B was selected, which design would you prefer at transit stops?
    1. Option B1: In-lane transit stops: 24%
    2. Option B2: Cars can pass bus: 71%
    3. Don’t know: 5%

    [the survey graphics showed option B2 with the bike lane continuous behind a bus stop island and a full-width sidewalk. see them here:]
    https://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/SDOT/MaintenanceProgram/NE65thSt/May18_ProposedCrossSections.pdf

    By putting this question to the public without any information about the drawbacks of option B2, any person who doesn’t spend their saturdays reading the NACTO manuals would choose to be able to pass a stopped bus, without thinking about conflicts with bike lanes, the added danger to pedestrians and motorists, and decreased transit efficiency.

    The result is that SDOT is now stuck with public opinion in favor of poor design, and a conflict between cycling advocates, car advocates, and transit advocates, when explanation of the priorities on the street and relevant data could have substantially alleviated that tension.

    This issue is just one example of a trend that is seen over and over in SDOT’s outreach. I have seen it first hand in relation to the 35th ave NE repaving project as well as the Rainier ave vision zero project. I’m not sure who it is who writes the surveys, but they seem at least a bit disconnected from the safety and efficiency goals of these projects, if not actively working against them.

    Here’s what I would propose as a solution: For any of these projects, outreach should start with an overview of the priorities for a given street as outlined in bike, pedestrian, transit, and freight master plans. That’s the point of having them, right? Then, some preliminary cross sections and design ideas could be presented based on Seattle’s street type standards, NACTO guidelines, etc., along with an explanation of the engineering principles at play. This information is pretty much already compiled in the street type map tool linked below. There would still be opportunities for public input during the design process to ensure that the engineering guidelines wouldn’t cause problems in the unique situations that arise in each neighborhood, but the design process would rely much more heavily on the master plans. This wouldn’t solve the problem of the bike route jogging up to 68th through the ravenna business district, but based on the transit priority for 65th, pull-out bus stops should have never been an option. As for the bike lane, if the advocacy community knew that the city would actually follow their master plans, perhaps the NIMBYs would have been outnumbered in 2014. I know I’m getting excited for the 2019 revisit of the bike master plan and hope we can use it to fix ALL of 65th.

    ps… I hear a rumor that the 90% designs are coming soon!

    a cool map of street designations with master plan info and suggested designs:
    http://seattlecitygis.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=dfeed51c66334b10a82e7a23dc42086f

  11. Paul says:

    This proposal is great.

    It doesn’t take into account pushback by angry car drivers, which is what SDOT has to deal with and part of why their approaches are so milquetoast.

    • Courtney C. says:

      The funny thing is most of the car drivers get over it once the changes are made.
      Even if they did get a ton of angry feedback I am ready for more transportation agencies to focus on ALL modes of transportation, not just single-occupancy vehicles.

    • Conrad says:

      SDOT should tell angry drivers to suck it, given that it is a safety issue. It’s also deeply frustrating that drivers lose their minds whenever a redesign of an idiotic pseudo 4 lane street is proposed. When the project is finished, traffic flows better and it’s safer. Currently it’s 35th ave that people are freaking out about.

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  22. dgpseattle says:

    Another way to get wide sidewalks is to require more setback on new buildings, and to ‘take back’ space on existing lots where possible. I agree that the sidewalks are too narrow, especially given the light rail set to open. Look at the new Mio apartments. They are built right up to a skinny sidewalk, and overhang it. That should never have been approved. If the city was actually PLANNING, they would recognize and require wider sidewalks, further set backs on buildings. This student (Bravo!, btw) sees a street that’s too wide, but it’s not really considering it’s trying to move transit, vehicles, bikes and peds across. as well as parking, but the sidewalks – yeah, too narrow for the coming foot traffic.

  23. MiamiCityMan says:

    Same issues faced here in Miami, USA. Congratulations to young designer. Hopefully a new generation will eventually arrive to DOTs across North America and out into practice these sensible ideas.

  24. David says:

    I saw this proposal reported by King 5 and knowing this area saw some glaring issues in the graphics shown with the story so I wanted to look at the full document to see what he was doing. First thing as something I liked was crosswalk improvement like the curb bulbs and marking some of the crosswalks at intersections where they weren’t already marked.

    The first issue that jumped out at me was 12th ave being shown as a 2 way and yes this is actually in the proposal. This is the major one-way connector that runs from the University Bridge to access Lake City and Maple Leaf. Currently it is 2 lanes of cars and a bike lane all the way to 75th St where the bike route splits off to access the Roosevelt and 5th ave bike lanes that continue north. His proposal just removes this bike lane though I did ride 12th before the bike lane I like it better with one.

    The apparent replacement for the removed bike lane on 12th is to move the access over to 15th in a dedicated bike lane. As proposed it takes over the side walk outside the school where half the school buses pick-up. I may have a personal issue with narrow contained bike lanes because they severely limit maneuvering options if something blocks them. I like having access to more open lanes of traffic when necessary. The first time I used the lane on 2nd ave downtown I felt very stuck when I used to be able to use all the lanes to filter with traffic.

    Adding speed bumps, stop signs and traffic lights just for the school on major arterial streets just for school traffic that is limited to less than 3 hours a day seems selfish. I think just adding better markings and signage for the school zone would go a long way.

    Some of the installation choices that I would guess are mostly aesthetic are questionable when it comes to use and driving condition like using brick in the parking zones. Most bricks I have driven on tend to be worse for traction especially in wet conditions and more expensive to maintain than asphalt. The addition of raised planters at corners and center islands would limit maneuverability for larger vehicles like delivery trucks and buses.

    • Joe Mangan says:

      A.) I removed bike lanes on 12th because I wanted wider sidewalks and was adding a bike lane on 65th. Most cyclists will be trying to get to the light rail, so it isn’t completely necessary to have a bike lane all the way up 12th, when the station is right next to raised cycle tracks on 65th. Also, with the light rail station, Roosevelt students walking to lunch, and multi-story apartments developing in the area, I wanted to widen the sidewalks on 12th. I decided this was preferable because there would be a cycle track on Roosevelt way (one block over), raised cycle tracks on 65th, and raised cycle tracks on 15th, so again, the lanes on 12th aren’t completely necessary. I’ve also just never liked them because they have no seperation from traffic, I never see them being used, and they are one block over from much safer lanes on Roosevelt Way.
      B.) Me and my friends often eat lunch in one of our cars, which are usually parked on 15th. People have driven past us so fast that our car rocked side to side. Speed bumps are definitely necessary, for all hours of the day (not just to keep students safer). I also think it’s selfish that you don’t want to have to stop at traffic lights that would drastically improve pedestrian safety. Maybe school traffic only lasts three hours every day. But multiply that by 180 days and thats how much time the average parent and student spends in the area.
      C.) I haven’t found anything that says bricks are bad for traction. If so, great, because that slows down cars, as they are intended to do.
      D.) I’m not concerned about turning buses, because I proposed to replace buses on 65th with either trams or cable cars, and I didn’t propose them to have to turn anywhere. They would travel in a straight line up and down 65th. Any bus route that would travel on 65th would be redundant. As for delivery trucks, I did keep that in consideration (particularly because there are many businesses on 65th). The turning angles do not completely disable them from turning (the fire department always throws a tantrum when the city adds curb bulbs to an intersection for that very reason, but they always test whether fire trucks can still make the turn, which they always can. If a fire truck can make the turn, so can delivery trucks). Regardless, if truck drivers don’t think they could make the turn, there are other intersections on 65th where they could make the turn. I think student, cyclist, and pedestrian safety should take priority (which would also benefit businesses).
      E.) The bi-directional raised cycle track I proposed on 15th is not narrow or contained, nor does it take up the majority of space on the sidewalk. The lanes are both 5 foot wide, which is hardly narrow (that’s a foot wider than what the city proposed on 65th). The sidewalk is 7 foot wide, next to the two cycle tracks which are ten foot wide, followed by a 4-foot-wide buffer zone and waiting/loading area for busses. In total, the sidewalk area would be 11 feet wide (7+4=11) and the cycle tracks would be 10 feet wide. The sidewalks take up more space, but the distribution is close to 50/50.
      F.) 15th and 12th can hardly be considered “major arterials.” Traffic counts just don’t support that claim (even if the city designates them as arterials, that doesn’t mean they function as arterials). Traffic counts also don’t support the current one-way configuration of 12th. Making 12th a two-way street is largely supported by safety advocates, and would not remove its purpose (a connection to Greenwood).

  25. Commenter says:

    Wonderful initiative!

    Minor nitpicks: I’m surprised (especially given that he was inspired by Amsterdam) he put in such harsh corner refuge islands. Making a 90 degree turn on a bike is impossible, and these flowerbed things are so tall that the effective width of this already narrow bike lane is decreased even further…
    I hope the final plan does pay more attention to the Amsterdam examples…!

    Another note: I get that he wants to keep some car parking since he is driving to school, but did he put in any bike parking for his fellow students who might ride to school once those protected lanes are in?

    • Joe Mangan says:

      A.) I did add lots of bike parking (particularly on 15th, I just didn’t take any renderings of them).
      B.) A lot of people are acting as if my designs are blueprints that the city should copy exactly, which they aren’t intended to be. My designs are meant to give the city an outline of what should be done. That’s why I don’t have any renderings that show dimensions or corner radii. I’m not a graduated city planner. What I know is limited to what I’ve taught myself. People are complaining that trams can’t go up steep hills, that the angle of the planters are too sharp, etc. I researched what slope trams can climb, before releasing the proposals. I found that the steepest was roughly 8°. I don’t have time to research what the slope of every hill in the area is. I don’t really care. This is a side project for me and my designs are not a blueprint. If trams can’t climb a slope in the area, cable cars do exist (and Seattle used to have many of them) or alternate routes could be chosen. Also, the planters are 1.5′ tall. Not that heigh at all.

  26. paul says:

    Excellent proposal from the fine young gentleman. Your design is light years better than the sdot. If you’re going to be applying for colleges you outta find a way to emphasize these skills and designs. It’s very impressive. Seattle could actually be a world class city if we planned and built using first-rate designs and input from people such as yourself. Well done!

    Also, whoever was commenting on lack of setbacks and hideous overhanging new buildings I agree spot on. My undersnsanding is that many designers and planners favor these hideous multi-story buildings coming right off the sidewalk to “anchor” the street scape. Obviously it doesn’t work especially considering so many empty retail spaces in new buildings. Widening sidewalks and allowing more light to reach the street scape would be nice.

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