When the entirety of state route 99, Aurora Ave N, was repaved by the Washington State Department of Transportation in 2018 and 2019, many safety advocates saw a missed opportunity. While actual roadway is state-owned, Seattle is responsible for taking the lead on changes to the street like channelization and safety improvements. While spot improvements have happened along Aurora, there was not a comprehensive effort made to redesign one of Seattle’s most dangerous streets. As Bart Treece, communications manager at WSDOT, described it in 2019, “Ahead of this pavement preservation project, we did approach the city, but nothing materialized on their end.”
A new group calling itself the Aurora Reimagined Coalition seeks to ensure that opportunities like that aren’t passed up again. SDOT is set to receive a state grant funding a $2 million corridor plan. According to SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe, the department expects to get to a 30% design on the entire Aurora corridor with this funding, and to a 90% design on at least one segment, setting the department up to be shovel-ready when funding becomes available to actually make changes. The coalition wants to ensure that someone is pushing SDOT to make Aurora into a “21st Century ‘main street’ for our neighborhoods, a thriving street where people feel comfortable walking and shopping and that reconnects neighborhoods on both sides of Aurora”. The group is having their kickoff meeting tonight.
This month, SDOT announced that the first speed limit reductions on Aurora, a 30 mph limit between 85th and 109th Streets and a 35 mph limit between 115th St and the northern city limits at 145th Street, would be in place by mid-April. This is a slightly less significant change than we reported SDOT was requesting from WSDOT back in February, where the entire limit would be set at 30 north of 85th Street. Timelines for future phases in speed reductions, as suggested by SDOT’s proposal, remain unclear at this point. But Aurora will need significant changes to its design to make it as safe as it could be.
As a more immediate ask, the group is pushing for the curbside lane along Green Lake Park to be converted into walking and rolling space in place of the muddy dirt path (and no sidewalk) that currently exists there. Earlier this month, we reported on the fact that SDOT had already drawn up plans for this concept last Summer, and the department confirmed that it was still on the table but lacked funding, among other factors. With the soon-to-be completed protected bike lanes along the east side of Green Lake, adding a safe place to bike on the west side would complete a full route around Green Lake Park. They have a petition going to support this specific change.
But the longer-term vision for comprehensive changes to Aurora looms large. In ten years, 22 people have been killed while trying to use Aurora Ave to get where they were going, the majority of them walking. Aurora is a public safety crisis that the City has evaded responsibility on for far too long.
The Coalition so far includes long-time advocates for safety on Aurora like Lee Bruch of Licton-Haller Greenways and Brock Howell & Tom Lang of Green Lake & Wallingford Safe Streets.
The Aurora Reimagined Coalition’s kickoff is tonight at 7pm, on Zoom. Click here for the Zoom meeting, or call (253) 215-8782, meeting ID 881 5043 1673.