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35th Ave NE: A Project at Risk

This is a guest post written by Liam Bradshaw. Liam is a research scientist in materials chemistry who lives near 35th Ave NE in Wedgwood. He enjoys riding for both commuting and recreation, but drives, walks, and busses when necessary.

35th Ave NE runs through the heart of the Wedgwood and Bryant neighborhoods, connecting our schools, post office, grocery stores, and restaurants. It currently has an outdated design that is causing injuries and collisions at an alarming rate, and SDOT’s repaving this spring provides the perfect opportunity to address the safety problems as the community has been requesting for years.

The design has been finalized and bids returned for construction, but a few vocal neighbors are petitioning the mayor to halt the project and remove the bike lanes that are included to improve the safety of all who use the street. We need your voice on a petition to make sure this project happens.

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Proposed layout of the intersection of 35th ave NE and NE 75th St. From the SDOT project page.

The current state of 35th is so dangerous mostly because of wide lanes and ambiguity. This causes a serious collision about once every two weeks, with at least 198 people injured in the 2.3 mile project boundary since 2004. Predictably, speeding is rampant where lanes are 12 feet or wider, and (south of NE 77th St) timed parking increases that width at rush hour without making a second lane, encouraging dangerous merges and passing on the right.

Collison map created by Andres Salomon

The community has been demanding a fix for years. Improving walkability was the primary demand to the “Future 35th Ave NE Plan” developed between 2012 and 2015. When SDOT started outreach for the repaving in 2016, they used this plan along with their own survey showing 88% of people wanted to be able to walk and 48% wanted to have a safe place to bike. This street is also a part of the “citywide network” on the 2014 Bike Master Plan, which calls for protected bike lanes north of NE 68th St.

Almost 50% of respondents to SDOT’s survey said they would like to get around this neighborhood by bike.

SDOT therefore developed the plan below, which pulls elements from similar projects around Seattle and nation-wide that have been resoundingly successful at reducing speeding and providing a safer, more comfortable sidewalk, while maintaining (or improving) the flow of cars and busses. The key components of this design are to keep car lanes between 10 and 11 feet (so people don’t feel like they’re on the freeway), while using bike lanes to take up the extra space and create a buffer between the sidewalk and cars.

The plan maintains the current single lane in each direction along with parking on the east side of the street (but removes its time restrictions). With an abundance of off-street lots, street parking was found never exceed 50% occupancy within one block of 35th. Left turn pockets will be added to make the major intersections safer and more efficient. Bike lanes provide a buffer to the sidewalk and provide space for people on bikes with a mix of paint-only and protected bike lanes. It would be great to see higher quality bicycle infrastructure, but this represents the compromise reached after years of debate. SDOT’s proven modeling predicts no more than a 30-90 second delay at peak rush hour, and the reduction in collisions will no doubt make traffic more predictable.

After the near-final design was presented in October, a few angry neighbors started a petition to halt the project and strip the bike lane component, putting the badly needed safety improvements at risk. To this end they have spread misinformation and fear, claiming the project will cause gridlock, speeding on side-streets, and will impede emergency vehicles. It’s worth noting that these opponents of the project also want a safe, calm street, but they appear so distrustful of SDOT’s modeling and promises of follow-up studies, and so viscerally opposed to the idea of removing any parking to put bike lanes on arterials, that they ask to sacrifice all of the safety and economic benefits bike lanes like these bring to all users of the road.

Safe 35th Walk on March 4, 2018, to support street safety and local business.

Angry that these people claimed to represent the voice of the whole neighborhood, proponents of safe streets hastily formed the “Safe 35th group,” and a petition to support the project. We have been able to gather over 500 signatures in two weeks alone, but we need your voice to show our new Mayor that the city needs to prioritize safety on the streets that are the lifeblood of our communities. And we need your help ASAP: the city will sign the contract for construction any day.

Although the petition focuses on 35th Ave NE, the implications citywide aren’t lost on us. The city has made commitments to building a connected bike network and to reducing traffic injuries. Bike lanes are a crucial tool that traffic engineers use to make streets safer for the multiple modes of travel that we all use, and SDOT must do everything in its power to deliver on its Vision Zero promise. If the bike lanes are stripped from this project, what does that mean for the next project, and the next after that?

Please sign here!

If you have an extra minute, please also take the time to email [email protected] that you support projects with bike lanes like this one. These emails really make a difference.

To learn more about the details of this project and ways that it will make 35th ave NE a livable street and vibrant community hub, please read Councilmember Rob Johnson’s article in support of the project, or visit safe35th.blogspot.com.

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16 responses to “35th Ave NE: A Project at Risk”

  1. Jason Smith

    When I read this article, it makes me feel like the same deception that were presented during the “outreach”. Outreach which said it was a repaving plan but never mentioned the word bike. I oppose the current plan but I most certainly do not oppose improving 35th and making it safer. That would include repaving, new traffic lights and more crosswalks. You mention “a few angry neighbors” in your article but the reality is that it is 2,500 and growing and 70% of the business oppose this plan. That is far more than a few.

    Nobody is against bikes, or bike safety or safety in general. However, for many people biking is not an option. There is a large elderly population here and a huge number of families. Most of these families have multiple kids in schools and must drive to be at different spots events at the same time. We rely on safe side streets where our kids play, ride their bikes, etc…. This plan will push much more traffic onto the side streets an endanger children. We have areas right next to this plan where the streets don’t even have sidewalks. We have children walking to/from school on side streets with cars speeding already. Increasing congestion will push more cars onto the side streets and that is a recipe for disaster. Removing parking on the West side of the street will be very dangerous to the elderly and disabled people attempting to cross the street to access businesses or the Public library. Lack of parking will hurt the few businesses that we have in this area. This current plan is very negative to the majority residents and benefits only a very few. At the same time, commuter cyclists without cars do not even pay for road access. It is car tabs and fuel taxes that support our roads. How can it be possible that a group that doesn’t contribute financially to the roads even gets a vote? We would need a significant licensing fee on bikes for this to be fair. Besides, the greenway on 39th (4 blocks away) was done just 6 years ago and already serves the needs of cyclists.

    Additionally, one of the biggest problems is that our City Government is simply not allowing the citizens to even engage in this or have a voice Outreach is deceptive, Rob Johnson placates people in opposition to his plan by listening to them and then dismissing their every though. We want a voice and we want to come up with a good plan that works for everyone or at least for the majority. Regardless of whether anyone is for, against or neutral on this issue the citizens and tax payers of this area demand transparency and collaboration from our elected leaders at a bare minimum.

    We should be making 35th safer and there is a lot to do. However, this current plan is a bad plan and we need to collaborate and come up with a better plan. Instead of being opposed to one another, we really should be working together on a revised plan that works for the majority and benefits the needs of the community.

    1. M Glaz

      Once again, this comment ignores facts and actual studies. Speculation about congestion and cut through traffic is unsubstantiated. SDOT has already responded to this concern and will do a before and after study. We already know the bike lanes make it safer for people walking and slow cars down. We have seen increase in business where people feel safe walking. Parking on 35th is already low, and we are not losing all of our parking, just some of it.

      Our car tabs and fuel tax are not paying for the streets. They haven’t for a very long time. Our property and sales tax do. Although cars do more damage to roads and costs more to our streets for upkeep than any other mode of transportation, cars get a larger share of the tax money than would be considered “fair” using your logic.

    2. Car-related taxes don’t actually cover the costs of roads; anyone that lives, works, or shops in Seattle pays taxes that contribute to this particular part of the public realm and all others. But that’s beside the point: the big idea of a republic is that the public realm and its governance are public matters. Nobody can buy their way into a larger stake (or indeed a sole stake) in the public realm.

    3. ChamoisDavisJr.

      This article had me interested in signing the petition to make sure the current design including bike infrastructure gets built. However, your misleading comments supporting the upside-down prioritization of cars over people (drivers, pedestrians and cyclists) actually motivated me to sign the petition and write Mayor Durkan.

  2. 35th Ave NE has 12,500 vehicles traveling on it each day and that number is growing. That is a dated number. It is undoubtedly more given the growth in the region. I’d like to understand how many of those are people passing through do not live in the neighborhood (during events at UW this number is significant). Where is that data? What is being done to understand the composition of the existing and future traffic on 35th Ave NE?

    This conversation about repaving 35th Ave NE should be expanded to be about creating and maintaining a vibrant livable neighborhood. There are many factors; safety being only one, but let’s confront the reality we are facing.

    More development is happening; that is a given with the up-zoning. UW and Children’s Hospital have expanded and plan to continue their expansion. The UW Light Rail station doesn’t have a local shuttle or enough parking to serve those who use it. So, those who arrive planning to get to the airport (with bags in tow) or another stop during inclement weather (many months of the year) require a car to drop them off (kiss and go fashion or through the services of Lyft/Uber or a friend). Walking to the station or biking to the station is not a realistic option in these cases. A well designed community shuttle service is sorely needed in the neighborhood (should have been part of the light rail plan) and could aid in alleviating traffic on 35th Ave NE.

    I’d also like to see a holistic plan from the city that provides behavior changes / incentives to move some of the 12,500 and growing vehicles (don’t know about vehicle occupant numbers) into public transit or other options. I’ve not seen that in the master plans and I’ve looked. One bright spot is all of this is the Microsoft Connect shuttle which runs regularly through the Montlake and Ravenaa/Bryant neighborhoods. Those shuttles ARE taking cars off of the road.

    City leadership and departments/agencies involved in this “repaving” project would do well to look to other practices like the Microsoft Connect shuttle, Woonerfs, etc. both in terms of traffic calming but also in terms of reducing traffic. I understand this isn’t the limited purview of SDOT; it is bigger than that. If the street remains a major and growing arterial without incentives to change behavior or concern for the quality of life in the neighborhood, then I’m not sure adding a protected bike lake is addressing the actual problem that needs solving. Actually, I am sure it is not. It is time to expand the conversation, the stakeholder group, and the imaginations of those involved.

    1. Andres Salomon

      You know what’s a great way to get to UW station? Biking. You can bike with bags in tow:

      You can do it in inclement weather:

      You can even bring your bike with you on the flight, and save yourself time getting through the airport:

      But biking works best when there’s safe infrastructure. Try thinking beyond cars.

    2. Community shuttle? There’s a full Metro bus running right down 35th, serving Children’s and UW! It’s very popular during peak hours (takes a lot of cars off the road, and probably some bikes, too)! It got a huge frequency boost when UW Station opened!

      The connection to the station is not as good as it should be, and takes a bit of walking, but doesn’t require crossing a major arterial. If you’d like to bring pressure from Wedgwood community groups on UW and ST to prioritize bus transfers over event parking at UW Station, transit advocates in Seattle would love to have you on the team!

  3. The results to the survey question “How would you like to get around your neighborhood” is not necessarily related to the drivers and occupants who comprise the 12,500 vehicles traveling each day on 35th Ave NE. As an example, a driver among the 12,500 vehicles, could come from Lake Forest Park en route to UW or Children’s Hospital or U Village, etc. The composition of vehicles includes those who work, live, recreate, or pass-through the neighborhood. Understanding that data can help setup the correct problems and then act to solve them.

    1. asdf2

      If people really are taking 35th to avoid traffic jams on Lake City Way and I-5, this sounds like 35th needs more calming, not less.

      1. William

        I do not think the city has this data but anecdotally there are plenty of vehicles in the morning that turn onto 35th Ave NE at NE 137th St and drive its length at speeds well in excess of 30 mph (doing the opposite in the afternoon) to avoid all the traffic lights in the “urban village” part of Lake City way. Goodness knows why so many residents of Wedgwood want to preserve this.

  4. Daily 35th rider

    There were zero bike accidents on 35th last year… check the SDOT 2017 Traffic Report. Page 31.

    Attracting more riders to this busy arterial with so-called “protected lanes” and bottle-necked traffic does not sound like a good idea to me. I feel that I am more visible in the wider shared lanes we already have. Will the buses be stopping in the bike lanes or the car lanes???

    1. Andres Salomon

      First of all, that’s 2016, not “last year”. We don’t have the 2017 data yet.

      Second, there were 2 injury collisions involving bicycles in 2015: page 28 of http://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/SDOT/About/DocumentLibrary/Reports/2016_Traffic_Report.pdf

      One was at NE 50th, the other at NE 80th.

      And finally, the bike lanes will improve conditions for drivers by calming traffic, and ensuring predictability. There are plenty of driver injuries on 35th, many life-changing. I just watched a video from a woman whose husband lost the ability to walk in 2010 after being rear-ended in front of Safeway. That was considered an injury collision (not serious), and yet he’s been in a wheelchair ever since.

  5. […] 35th Ave NE: A project at risk. […]

  6. Scott

    I hope these changes still get implemented. The reduction in 65 bus stops is going to be great. It gets really obnoxious when the bus is crowded and it makes a stop every 2 blocks. I’m also glad they’re moving the bus stop on 75th in front of Safeway to the other side. That area always gets real dicey.

  7. JM

    The initial backlash against this project was a factor in my wife and I choosing to move away from Wedgwood. We loved the WW Alehouse, Broiler, and other local businesses, but we feared that the WW business district would never evolve to a place friendly to all people rather than just people who drive.

    I’m happy to see the Safe 35th group organize and I now realize there were other neighbors who felt as we did, and hope the city can move forward with the project.

  8. eddiew

    https://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/transportation/metro/schedules-maps/065.aspx. Route 65 was improved in March 2016 and improved further when ridership grew. Metro is supported by countywide sales tax; the Seattle TBD, fall 2014, buys more service. Will the SDOT plan on 35th Avenue NE maintain transit flow or slow it? Today, parking is restricted in the peak direction. Routes 71, 75 and 372 also connect the area with Link.

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