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I guess I need to take back some of the nice things I said about the Neighborhood Street Fund… UPDATED

UPDATE: Be sure to read to the bottom of this post for an update from SDOT. This specific Neighborhood Street Fund project is dead, but the department has not abandoned this intersection, a spokesperson said.

2016 top-down concept of the winning 15th and Columbian redesign, including shorter crosswalks and a pedestrian plaza.
What could have been at 15th and Columbian Way S. Concept from the 2016 Neighborhood Street Fund selection announcement.

Yesterday’s post was supposed to be about a neighbor-led SDOT program focused on investing significantly into ideas generated from the community rather than from within SDOT. But then just when it went live, The Urbanist reported some very depressing news about a 2016 Neighborhood Street Fund safety project on Beacon Hill. SDOT has officially cancelled the long-delayed intersection redesign and public plaza at 15th and Columbian Way S for purely political reasons.

So an intersection near a middle school will remain dangerous because people who didn’t want it to change got organized, and city leaders buckled.

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“After extensive design and coordination with the community, we were unable to reach a consensus on a design that could be supported by the community as a neighborhood proposed NSF project,” SDOT Spokesperson Ethan Bergerson told the Urbanist.

Consensus? If we suddenly need neighborhood consensus to make changes to our city, then we will never change anything ever again. This is an absurd and dangerous requirement, and it cannot become the new standard for NSF projects. The process is already grueling for the volunteers who propose ideas, and the result is an idea that is generated from community members and design by SDOT’s professional engineers. There will always be people who don’t want change. Always and forever. True leadership means doing the right thing, anyway. Trading away safety for middle schoolers because some adults wanted it to be a little bit easier to drive and park cars is very poor leadership.

This project was not cancelled because of further study. There was no professional report that found it would be unsafe or cause problems for neighbors or businesses. It was rejected because some neighbors just didn’t like it.

This intersection is dangerous today, and it will be dangerous tomorrow and every day until we do something to make it safer. As the Urbanist’s Ryan Packer reported:

The school zone speed camera at southbound 15th Avenue S adjacent to the Middle School records an astronomical number of tickets issued: during the 2018-2019 school year, there were an astounding 8,012 tickets issued to drivers exceeding the 20mph speed limit, over 800 per month. The cameras only capture speeding at certain times of day immediately before and after school hours. This makes the southbound 15th Avenue S camera the busiest school zone camera in Seattle…

And is it mere coincidence that this intersection is just blocks away from Columbian Way/Beacon Ave where SDOT quietly deleted a half block of planned bike lane to create a turn lane instead? (UPDATE: See below for good news about this intersection) Why is safety for people walking and biking in South Beacon Hill such a low priority for our city?

Seattle will have a chance to make this right in a couple years when 15th Ave S is scheduled for repaving in 2022. We must accept nothing less than the level of safety represented in the 2016 project.

UPDATE: SDOT’s Bergerson got in touch to clarify that the intersection has not been abandoned, though the specific NSF project will not go forward through that funding source. Instead, they are now looking to the upcoming 15th Ave S paving project as an opportunity to pursue a new design. So it may not look exactly like the 2016 NSF project, but they are “committed to making pedestrian and bike safety enhancements at this intersection.”

Also, Bergerson had some really great news. SDOT will be fixing the Columbian Way/Beacon Ave intersection and completing the bike lane there (see in bold below). And this should happen as soon as this next week.

From Bergerson via email:

We are still committed to making pedestrian and bike safety enhancements at this intersection, which are expected to be incorporated into upcoming paving work. We are planning community outreach in early 2020 to re-engage nearby neighbors and businesses at and nearby this intersection. Specifically, we aim to address the comments and concerns we received in 2018 and take advantage of paving planned for 2021 to install enhancements and formalize what is currently paint and posts.

We have also prioritized two safety enhancements in this area on a faster timeline:

  • We are planning on extend the S Columbian Way protected bike lane through the Beacon Ave S & S Columbian Way intersection in response to concerns from people who bike in this area and specifically thanks to your article highlighting the problem this summer. We plan to complete this work as soon as this weekend, weather permitting. We will also be making signal and channelization improvements at this intersection to help alleviate driver confusion.
  • We recently installed a new full traffic signal at the 15th Ave S and S Dakota St intersection. This was one of the requests we heard from the community during our outreach for the 15th/Columbian project, and we were able to accommodate this request outside of the NSF program.

We cannot use Neighborhood Street Fund (NSF) dollars because the NSF program is specifically designated for community initiated and supported projects. We needed to redesign this project from the original proposal for a variety of reasons including pedestrian safety, and after extensive community engagement we were unable to reach a solution that was supported by many in the community, including the original NSF program applicants.

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10 responses to “I guess I need to take back some of the nice things I said about the Neighborhood Street Fund… UPDATED”

  1. (Another) Tom

    Really feels like we’ve got the B squad working this area. The bike lane ‘upgrades’ on Columbian have made many of the intersections less safe than before. Particularly westbound at Veteran Hospital Dr. where the new bike lane shunts you too far to the right resulting in SIGNIFICANTLY more right AND left hooks by drivers who aren’t looking for you way over there in the gutter under the shadow of the apple tree that also drops a tremendous amount of fruit into the bike lane for about 4 months/year. Water consistently pools in the bike lane along much of this stretch as well.

    Worse, they totally mucked up the intersection at Columbian and Beacon resulting in consistent, long backups extending back to 15th Ave. Driving eastbound on Columbian through the intersection a right lane suddenly appears just before the intersection and suddenly you find yourself in a left turn only lane so you need to merge while in the intersection. It feels wrong and creates hesitation in most drivers reducing throughput. The long backups create dangerous situations at Snoqualmie and Angeline as opposing traffic turns left through the stopped cars that block visibility to the oncoming cyclist. I can almost feel the ire of drivers stuck waiting as I ride past. I’m sure most of them blame the bike lanes even though they were always there and have nothing to do with this issue.

    The decision to leave this intersection unchanged is bad and we are putting children at risk to move a few more cars through during rush hour. Of course the most dangerous thing around that school is still the parents themselves. Riding past the carpool entrance and along 16th is perhaps the most dangerous part of my entire commute due to parents whipping in and out without stopping, not bothering to check the sidewalk or bike lane, parking in the bike lane, etc. The school needs to do more to encourage bus/bike riding to school and to enforce consistent, safe behavior from the parents who still choose to drop their kids off.

  2. Pedro M

    Rejecting safety on 15th/Columbia is part of a larger story: Seattle does not build meaningful bike safety projects in SE Seattle.

    There’s long and sorrowful list of proposed then abandoned projects:
    — Rainier Ave thru Columbia City
    — Rainier Ave at I-90
    — Rainier Ave thru Rainier Beach
    — North Beacon Ave S
    — Georgetown to Spokane St
    — SODO trail to Spokane St
    — Holgate Bridge pedestrian thing
    — Holgate across SODO
    — Lander St Bridge
    — Airport Way S
    — and on, and on, and on…

    The crap they do build is neither asked for nor used:
    — Alaska Way Climb (the steepest bike lane in America)
    — 51st Ave (bike lane to nowhere)
    — Myrtle/Swift (OK, but that route already had a bike lane)
    — N/S Greenway (well-intentioned, but a bad route)

    Politicians and bloggers keep saying we need infrastructure down here. But it keeps not happening.

    1. NickS

      Amen, brother! Re: “The crap they do build is neither asked for nor used:” — don’t forget the “bike connection” on Lucille between Georgetown and Beacon Hill — the absurdly steep climb up from Airport Way S., with a portion being sharrows on a blind corner overpass (!!). This “route”, uphill anyway, requires the athleticism and stamina of a doping Tour de France competitor, as well as the bravery of a combat medic or late night Route #7 Metro operator.

      Let’s not forget that it doesn’t actually connect to much; there is no bike lane in front of Cleveland High School, and the new lanes on Swift/Myrtle/Othello end well south of Lucille at the I-5 on-ramp at S. Brandon.

      The correct location for an uphill connection between Georgetown and Beacon Hill would have been Albro. SDOT is simply unwilling to compromise the 4 general traffic lanes over the bridge to add a bicycle facility.

      1. Gordon

        The western sidewalk on Lucile gets you fairly easily from Georgetown to 12th Ave which is a neighborhood greenway that routes you through Beacon Hill. Not perfect, but I enjoy it.

  3. “This project was not cancelled because of further study. There was no professional report that found it would be unsafe or cause problems for neighbors or businesses. It was rejected because some neighbors just didn’t like it.”

    35th Avenue NE?

  4. Millie

    “Why is safety for people walking and biking in South Beacon Hill such a low priority for our city?”

    – Safety for people walking and biking is NOT a priority anywhere in Seattle. I walk a few miles every day. Even Police cars, buses, and City vehicles do NOT fulfil their obligations to yield to pedestrians, and most people in cars seem thrilled to follow their example of bad behavior. I just don’t see it ever getting better – we’re doomed!

    1. pedro

      Why are the schools better up north? Why are all the polluting industries in the south? Why do the out noise barriers on i-5 up north but not down south.

      Every question, same answer.

  5. William

    I’m not sure why anybody says anything nice about SDOT. I know they have a few capable employees but as an entity they are incompetent and rotten to the core. The have consistently mismanaged the Move Seattle Levy, they cannot do anything economically, they cannot implement even the simplest pedestrian safety practices (automatic walk lights, no turn on red where there are lot so pedestrians), they repeatedly either abandon bike lines at the dangerous junction where they are needed most or implement solutions that suggest no knowledge of best practices developed elsewhere, they cannot implement basic traffic management like light synchronization or adaptive timing, our streets are in horrible shape, I am now riding on bike lanes and street edges that have an inch of leaf sludge because there is no street cleaning plan, their employees continue to block bikes passages with temporary signage however many complaints they get, their process of public input is to send junior employees to show, tell and listens which have no discernible effect on final designs while at the same time they are susceptible to intimidation outside their public input process. I could go on an on …

    Whether one likes the outcomes of the Neighborhood Street Fund or not, it is an incredibly inefficient program. Dedicated citizens put in a huge amount of effort to propose projects, SDOT then spends a lot of money administering the program and selecting a handful of winners, and then the result is ~$2M of expenditure per year (or less if projects are abandoned)

    1. Dave

      SDOT is about to screw up another NSF project, the bike lane on 34th ave in Fremont by putting it on the north side of the street, instead of the south side where access to the Fremont bridge would be straightforward and where there would be seamless continuation with the existing PBL. This is because their models are driven by a need not to change car traffic flow.

      1. eddiew

        you mean North 34th Street. SDOT may be considering four modes.

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