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Brooklyn Ave reopens today near U District Station, signaling the start of a new era for the neighborhood

Photo looking north on Brooklyn at 43rd Street.After eight years behind construction barriers, Brooklyn Ave NE and NE 43rd Street are finally starting to reopen today, Sound Transit announced. Brooklyn will open to all traffic while 43rd will open sidewalks.

This is a big deal for the neighborhood and a reminder that the opening of Brooklyn Station…ahem, I mean U District Station is getting very close. There is still no official opening date, but test trains have been running on the tracks up to Roosevelt and Northgate Stations. The current service plan calls for a September start, though train deliveries have been delayed. Each train needs to operate for a certain number of hours without any faults before it can go into service. So fingers crossed that all the testing goes smoothly.

Brooklyn’s street design is a big miss, unfortunately. It has a sidewalk-level protected bike lane headed uphill in the northbound direction, which should be lovely. But then people headed southbound are expected to mix with car traffic. It’s so strange. Who is the target user of this street? Who will decide to bike to the station because there is a comfortable bike lane in only one direction? There is space for a downhill bike lane, but instead SDOT and Sound Transit prioritized on-street parking on both sides of the street. Hopefully SDOT will closely observe car traffic on this street and will be ready to make significant changes to limit volumes and speeds if needed. This should also be an opportunity to improve the nearby 12th Ave neighborhood greenway, one of the worst in the city due to its relatively heavy car traffic thanks to people driving around the closed Brooklyn Ave.

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A failed design concept for a “mall” on the Ave from 1972, as published in the Seattle Daily Times (PDF).

Brooklyn is also just one foot too skinny for two-way bus service, a huge priority for the advocacy group U District Mobility. This could make it more difficult to someday turn the Ave and NE 43rd Street into the car-free (or car-light) spaces they should be, a dream of many people in the neighborhood going back half a century.

Car ownership levels in the neighborhood are some of the lowest in the entire city. Only Belltown and downtown have fewer cars per capita than the U District, which has about one car for every two people. Yet the streets in the neighborhood still prioritize driving and parking cars even though half of the neighborhood residents don’t have one.

I’m not sure the city has yet to fully comprehend how much the U District is about to change. There are a lot of buildings under construction right now, and more are in the queue. It’s one of the few areas of the city that allows towers, and it is about to get a subway that brings it just minutes away from the heart of Capitol Hill and downtown.

With Brooklyn and 43rd closed since 2013, the neighborhood has felt a bit like a construction zone. But it’s about to open back up just as COVID vaccine rates start to gain steam (though Washington is currently seeing a spike in cases, so it is too soon to stop following the pandemic protocols!). But as the pandemic fades and the station opens, the neighborhood could assume its role as one of the biggest hubs of activity in our city. It will be transformative.

As a nearby resident (I live between Wallingford and the U District), I think the name “University District” really misleads people because there is so much more going on than simply being near the university. This is one reason I am stubbornly still calling it Brooklyn Station (the other being that there is already a “UW Station” so “U District Station” is just a confusing name and no I’m not over arguing about this yet. People are always like, “Brooklyn is in New York,” as though Beacon Hill isn’t in Boston or Capitol Hill isn’t in DC or Pioneer Square isn’t in Portland. Lots of places are named after other places. Brooklyn has long been used as one name for the neighborhood, and it’s way cooler than U District. OK fine I’m done ranting. For now.)

Of course, major change can be positive and negative. There is still a lot of underutilized space in the neighborhood, including large surface parking lots, that are now being developed into housing and business space. That’s a good thing. The Ave is one of the best business districts in the city because of its many small storefronts and diversity of business types. More people in the area means more potential customers, which could be great. But will these small businesses, many of them owned by people of color, be able to survive if/when rent increases? I hope so. The neighborhood also has a lot of affordable housing (or at least what passes for “affordable” in Seattle). A lot more housing is opening in the area, so will the city’s mandatory housing affordability rules be strong enough to offset the increased demand? City leaders will need to pay close attention.

After more than a year of following pandemic guidelines, it’s hard to imagine a fully reopened U District complete with light rail service. It almost feels like a dream. But it’s really happening, and I can hardly wait (but, seriously folks, please keep waiting).

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15 responses to “Brooklyn Ave reopens today near U District Station, signaling the start of a new era for the neighborhood”

  1. JB

    “But then people headed southbound are expected to mix with car traffic. It’s so strange. Who is the target user of this street? Who will decide to bike to the station because there is a comfortable bike lane in only one direction?”

    I’m glad to see some street design that takes the grade into account for a change – I think narrow PBLs are sketchy when you’re going fast downhill, I would rather take a lane. 15 or 20 mph is not too slow for cars to follow you on a street like this.

    1. DB

      People repeat this over and over but it still has to be said: until children can safely navigate our bike network we won’t have achieved a system that works for all. I don’t want a ten year old “taking a lane” next to an F150. Protected bike lanes are key to improving access for everyone.

      1. Exactly. It took a long time for me to realize that PBLs aren’t designed for me, but for those who are afraid to or shouldn’t ride in traffic.

        The only drawback is occasionally I get yelled at for *not* riding in a bike lane. Oh, well.

      2. NickS

        Amen. Making a system comfortable for children is a great benchmark; as you say, however, it’s really about a system for all. Kids, new riders, riders unused to riding in traffic, or everyday commuters completely sick of being tailgated and harassed. Not every adult grew up riding a bike, and very few grew up riding a bike in a crowded city with our levels of traffic. A more common experience is riding around a suburban cul-de-sac or on a recreational trail.

        Riding in traffic with only a sharrow to point out to others that you belong there is incredibly stressful and off-putting, and just one scary experience of being tailgated and honked at by some impatient yahoo in that F150 will be enough to turn off many people for good. I’m used to riding in traffic, and experiences like that are still enough to really ruin a good portion of the day.

      3. JB

        “until children can safely navigate our bike network we won’t have achieved a system that works for all”

        Narrow downhill PBLs are not safe for kids OR adults, and if you think they are then I would argue that you have a false sense of security. If you want a downhill PBL, then it should be at least 8 ft. wide, and probably 10 ft. Which is almost the width of a travel lane for a car. And I’m all for it – but good luck getting this stodgy unimaginative city to spend that kind of real estate exclusively on bikes.

      4. Blue Glasses

        Well until the usa changes it’s car focus it will not be safe for kids. We need to stop the what about the kids argument as it brings no basis in what people should be caring about. We don’t care about are adults let alone the kids.

    2. Andy B

      100% agree.
      A low speed mixed use street is better than an unsafe PBL, which is all SDOT is willing to construct here.

  2. Sean P.

    This bike lane is giving off pretty strong “built solely as a condition of a funding requirement” vibes, which is a shame given how much the rest of Brooklyn would benefit from having better bicycle infrastructure. It’s reasonably quiet, unlike 15th and The Ave, and it actually connects to useful destinations at its ends, unlike 12th. Are there any improvements planned or is this and the 43rd makeover all we’re getting for now?

  3. Yes, I like “brooklyn station”. It’s a unique name to the region and sounds nice. I’m not looking forward to a “frelard” station :)

  4. kiriska

    It’s confusing enough for people, especially visitors, that we have University Street Station and University of Washington Station — adding University District Station to the mix seems ill-advised strictly from a clarity perspective.

    1. Tim

      It was going to be renamed, then that decision was walked back, then COVID hit

  5. eddiew

    Yes, I agree, SDOT should make Brooklyn Avenue NE a bicycle priority street in both directions. I and others made that suggestion many years ago. It has signals at the major arterials and connects pretty well with the Burke Gilman Trail, Ravenna, and NE 65th Street. Let’s ask SDOT for that. Parking is relatively unimportant; there are garages nearby. University Way NE has been the transit center of the District for 120 years. That is where the streetcars and trolleybuses (1940-1963) ran. That is where the 71 series routes ran on the Ave. Seattle completely rebuilt the Ave in about 2003-2004 with thick concrete for transit, replaced utilities, bus bulbs, and added two feet to the sidewalks. 12th Avenue NE may no longer be a great place for a greenway; it has had bus layover north of NE 45th Street and now has hotel traffic; it will have bus layover between NE 43rd and 45th streets; and, it does not reach the BGT; it stops at NE Campus Parkway.

  6. Tim

    Even if SDOT installs a southbound lane it’ll just be full of parked cars with drivers giving entitled excuses that they’re allowed to block the lane because they’re “just” dropping someone off

  7. eddiew

    Let’s run a popular campaign to call it the Brooklyn station. Nearby, University Way NE has the popular name of “the Ave”.

  8. zoom

    I haven’t looked into where all that data is from, but I’m surprised that the u-district car ownership is that high (although I realize many think it’s low). Are they including UW students?

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