City delays Stone Way bike lane upgrade, latest of many Wallingford paving project safety cuts

Side-by-side of the project maps from 2018 and 2021.

Many safety improvements were cut since the project first took shape in 2018.

Yes, the new bikeway around (half of) Green Lake is a big improvement. We made a whole video about it. But it is only one part of a major series of paving projects all grouped together into one very big “Green Lake and Wallingford Paving & Multi-Modal Improvements” project that aside from Green Lake Way has been almost entirely about cars.

It didn’t start that way. But as the project developed, many biking and walking safety improvements were cut short or removed completely. Recent news that the city won’t move forward with the planned improvements and protected bike lanes on Stone Way from N 45th Street to N 50th Street is just the latest cut to the project’s bike improvements plan. “A change of funding availability due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other competing needs led to construction at this location being paused,” SDOT wrote in a project update.

Initially, bike lanes were planned on N 40th Street as identified in the Bicycle Master Plan. The project was also going to make much needed improvements to the connection between the Burke-Gilman Trail and streets leading up the hill like 5th Ave NE. But then, as with 35th Ave NE, SDOT and Mayor Jenny Durkan did not stand by the goals of the bike plan and folded in the face of some complaints. So instead they repaved the whole street without making any significant safety improvements (beyond the accessible curb ramps they were legally required to update). In lieu of bike lanes, SDOT proposed a couple biking and walking safety “spot improvements” as a consolation prize for people hoping the busy east-west neighborhood street would become safer to navigate. These included improved crossings at Ashworth, Densmore, Bagley, 2nd Ave NE and Latona.

But then as COVID-19 threw city budgets into question, SDOT cancelled the spot improvements. As a result, they simply repaved the street and prioritized car parking over safety.

Photo of N 50th Street with the words "Seattle Car Master Plan" on it.

In 2019, I used N 50th Street as the cover image for an imagined “Seattle Car Master Plan.”

But at least most of 40th has a bus route that can benefit from the paving investment. That’s more than can be said for N 50th Street. I don’t understand how this street made it to the top of SDOT’s priority list for paving. It does not carry any bus routes, and the team did not even try to make any real safety improvements. There’s no equity benefit, no safety benefit, no transit benefit, and no neighborhood improvement benefit. They simply repaved a street through a neighborhood without making it any easier or safer to navigate. Unlike safety projects require years of planning and advocacy and long master plans with lengthy justifications, cars-first projects like N 50th Street don’t need to demonstrate any tie-in with the city’s stated goals. I wrote a slightly tongue-in-cheek argument back in 2019 arguing that the city needs a Car Master Plan, and I used N 50th Street for the imagined cover image:

Without a Car Master Plan, many of Seattle’s biggest transportation investments are being spent without a clear focus on how these public projects will help us reach our major climate change, race and social justice, public health, housing growth, and high-level transportation goals. All of the other modal master plans take these issues seriously, but those master plan projects are the exception to the rule at SDOT. The default mode of operation is that every inch of road space should go to cars unless an existing master plan says otherwise. And even then, those plans are only considered suggestions that can be ignored.

I’m particularly salty about this project because it’s near my house and I get angry every time I try to walk or bike along it or across it with my child because it’s terrifying. But there are streets exactly like this all over Seattle. The sidewalks are very skinny and right next to traffic, which is moving very quickly because there are multiple lanes in the same direction, a design SDOT knows is dangerous and leads to speeding. There are also long stretches without a safe crosswalk, which is frankly unethical for a transportation department to build. And after investing a lot of public money into this street, we still signs prohibiting people from crossing the street:

A four-lane street with a "no walking" sign.

Walking across SDOT’s brand new street is prohibited at 4th Ave NE near my home.

SDOT presentation slide with an illustration of how multiple lanes in the same direction are dangerous for people in crosswalks.

From an SDOT presentation about the NE 75th Street changes (same effect applies to N 50th Street). If the city knows this is dangerous, why didn’t they fix it when they repaved the street?

This project either should have received a safety update or the budget should have gone somewhere else. The task of achieving Vision Zero is far too vast to be investing in dangerous street designs like this.

And that brings us to the latest cut. SDOT just announced that they will not be repaving and redesigning Stone Way between 46th and 50th Streets due to “a change of funding availability due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other competing needs.” At least this time they are also cutting the paving project and not just the safety upgrades. But it’s more bike lane mileage that isn’t happening, adding to the city’s long list of bike plan cuts and delays. SDOT lists the work as “paused,” but there’s no timeline to resume.

But let me put on my infinite optimist hat for a second. In addition to cutting the bike lanes, the city also will not make improvements to the awful 5-way intersection at Stone, Green Lake Way and 50th. Maybe this is actually an opportunity for Seattle’s next mayor to do something really great. Because that intersection needs a very bold change, and it’s very clear that Mayor Durkan is not up to such a challenge.

Satelite map of the area around Green Lake Way between Aurora and Stone Way.

Idea: Delete Green Lake Way N between Aurora and Stone Way.

I gotta suggest my favorite idea, which comes from an old Seattle Bike Blog comment: Delete Green Lake Way between Aurora and Stone Way. The whole street, just gone. Then reconnect the neighborhood street grid and turn that awful 5-way intersection that absolutely everyone hates into a normal 4-way intersection. Do the same to the odd intersection with N 46th Street near Aurora. I am of course not a traffic engineer and don’t have the means to run all the traffic simulations and such, but I have a good feeling that this short diagonal street is causing a lot more traffic problems than it is solving. But I know for a fact it creates a lot of walkability and bikeability challenges. It’s so frustrating and stressful to cross, cutting off a lot of homes from easy access to neighborhood businesses, Woodland Park, and the nearby Rapidride E and Route 44 buses.

What’s really great about this idea is that even after reconnecting the neighborhood street grid, the city will have a lot of new developable land. This could be turned into park space, affordable housing, or sold to fund the road redesign project (or some mixture of these ideas).

This is all a long way of saying, We are getting a new mayor soon. We need a visionary leader who will stand up for our safety and climate goals and restore trust in SDOT’s ability to deliver on its promises. Rather than constantly looking for ways to scale back our city’s ambitions until they look like more of the same, our next mayor should challenge our city to think bigger and imagine a better world.

This entry was posted in news and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to City delays Stone Way bike lane upgrade, latest of many Wallingford paving project safety cuts

  1. Gary Yngve says:

    “And after investing a lot of public money into this street, we still signs prohibiting people from crossing the street”
    Wow, at 50th St. There is a traffic light a block to the left and a block to the right, presumably with long waits for the beg buttons. Prohibiting crossing the street here is way lame. (And are the drivers who live in those houses prohibited from making left turns onto 50th?)

    • asdf2 says:

      It should be standard SDOT policy that if there are enough people trying to cross somewhere to justify a “don’t walk” sign, put in a crosswalk instead.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        A don’t walk sign is an admission that the street is not a complete street, which is required by Seattle ordinance.

  2. Dave R says:

    In addition, the 2014 bicycle master plan had a cycle track along 50th between Stone Way and Phinney Ave. This was quietly dropped at the initiation of this project. The pained bike lanes on 50th were slightly widened.

  3. JB says:

    “This is all a long way of saying, We are getting a new mayor soon. We need a visionary leader who will stand up for our safety and climate goals and restore trust in SDOT’s ability to deliver on its promises. Rather than constantly looking for ways to scale back our city’s ambitions until they look like more of the same, our next mayor should challenge our city to think bigger and imagine a better world.”

    Yes, we certainly do need some new and visionary leadership in city hall. We also need a bike lobby that is capable of making its voice heard on equal footing with the car lobby, instead of bleating plaintively into the night every time another project gets axed.

  4. U.R. says:

    Frustrating… Thanks for covering this.

  5. eddiew says:

    North 40th Street has routes 26, 31, and 32; in fall 2021, Route 26 will be deleted; Route 31 will have Sunday service; routes 31 and 32 will run more often in a few peak hours. NE 50th Street will have new Route 20 between Latona Avenue NE and University Way NE (not a great design, but that is another story). North and NE 50th Street carries many cars; it connects SR-99 and I-5; many arterials serving interchanges do so. I have always avoided North 50th Street while biking except to connect with Latona Avenue NE.

    The funding pie is too small. Let’s ask the Seattle TBD to ask the voters to re-impose the VLF fees from before I-976.

  6. Lee Bruch says:

    On that map look at the streetcar drawbridge crossing the NW corner of Lake Union between Stone Ave and Westlake. If only that had survived long enough to become a rails to trails project.
    https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stone_Way_Bridge_looking_north_from_Queen_Anne,_ca_1915_(SEATTLE_290).jpg

  7. michmill says:

    That section of Stone is super dangerous for bikes. We’ve almost gotten hit there multiple times by left turners (cars coming south on Stone). It’s especially bad when the light is backed up, but bikes can keep moving–you never know who is going to turn into the post office parking lot at the last second and not look ahead at the bike lane. The city needs to say, much more often, this is just a bad street for everyone and needs a new design from scratch once every hundred years.

  8. Skylar says:

    This is pretty disappointing. The spiteful part of me wonders if it would be possible to get SDOT to just pave bike lanes, and let the rest of the street network that lacks transit go back to gravel. It would moderate speeds far more than putting down fresh, smooth pavement without any safety improvements.

  9. Adam says:

    SDOT could also help this situation by reconnecting some east-west streets across Aurora between the Aurora Bridge and Woodland Park. Between 36th St and the park there are only 3 locations where motorists can get across Aurora, which undoubtedly puts a huge amount of strain on those three streets – 38th, 46th, and 50th. I agree motorists should be much lower on the priority list, but reconnecting a few east-west streets across Aurora would de-concentrate traffic from these choke points and make justification of reducing lanes or, in the extreme, eliminating Greenlake Way between 50th and 46th easier because it wouldn’t be trying to funnel as much traffic to cross Aurora like it is now. And most importantly, especially if these newly reconnected intersections are signalized which they would likely have to be, pedestrian and bicycle connectivity east-west through this area would be greatly improved. This suggestion would make Aurora through this area more like Aurora between Winona & 85th, which is far from perfect but it’s far better than the poor man’s freeway that it is now.

Leave a Reply