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Watch: We know this street design is deadly, so why do we keep building them this way?

Pie charts showing that 80 percent of pedestrian deaths were on multi-lane streets.

Seattle’s recent Vision Zero review noted that 80% of people killed while walking on Seattle streets are killed on streets with multiple lanes in the same direction. So why are we on the verge of opening a brand new streets through Belltown near Pike Place Market with multiple lanes in the same direction?

I ride Western Ave every day while taking my kid to and from preschool, so I’ve watched the under-construction roadway come together. This new street will connect Alaskan Way on the waterfront to Western and Elliott Avenues through Belltown. The roadway is supposed to restore a connection that was removed along with the Viaduct, but the city has been operating just fine without this connection for years.

Now that it is on the verge of opening, I have a plea for WSDOT and SDOT: Only open one lane and see how it goes. Keep the other one coned off. Because we know from far too many tragic data points that having too many lanes increases speeding, reducing yielding and results in injuries and deaths. It would be actively harmful to open multiple lanes through this neighborhood.

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Design concept map of the new street connections between the waterfront and Belltown.

The decisions about the design of this roadway happened many years ago as part of the mega-project to remove the Alaskan Way Viaduct. But it’s 2023 now, and our city is in the midst of a traffic safety crisis. We know we need to take bold action to improve the safety of streets across our city, and redesigning streets with multiple lanes in the same direction is the most important thing we can do. Here, the state and the city have an opportunity to demonstrate their commitments to traffic safety by rethinking an old decision about these Belltown connections and prioritize safety above maximizing motor vehicle capacity at all costs.

Multi-lane streets are a highway design that don’t belong in neighborhoods. We have unfortunately had to learn this lesson the hardest way possible. But it’s never too late to make a better and safer choice.

The great thing about street safety projects is that the safety impacts can snowball. For example, if the state and city keep this new roadway at one lane and everything works just fine, then the city could extend that safer design all the way down Western through Belltown. We could have safe crosswalks, protected bike lanes and even car parking instead of turning this street into a highway.

Missing bike connection

It is also frustrating that there is no direct bike connection northbound between Bell Street and the section of Western that passes through Pike Place Market. Bell Street is a major bike route, but people headed from there to the market will be left with two lacking options: Ride on the sidewalk (or the wrong way in the bike lane) on Western or bike down a hill to Elliott just to bike back up the hill to Western.

For as much money as was spent on planning for this project, this seems like a big mistake. Was there no consideration that someone would want to bike from Bell Street to Pike Place Market, one of the biggest destinations in the whole state? Perhaps fixing this mistake could be a good use of that unnecessary lane space.

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5 responses to “Watch: We know this street design is deadly, so why do we keep building them this way?”

  1. Ross M

    Western Ave south of Blanchard wasn’t part of the project, so even if they included a 2-way bike lane you’d still have to take the sidewalks from Blanchard to Pine. Anyway, I imagine most of the bike traffic from Bell to Pike will be taking the alleyway on the backside of Elliot Pointe (it’s visible on your map, just above the “Planted Slope” label between Bell and Blanchard), but I agree that this particular traffic pattern is under-supported in the final plan.

    Anyway, the primary purpose of this new roadway is for freight traffic that can’t take the tunnel, so having two lanes uphill seems warranted, but the two lanes downhill are probably overkill; I guess we’ll see when they open at end of month.

    1. btwn

      why can’t freight take the tunnel?

      1. Ross M

        Ah, sorry, I misunderstood the article I read about it. Freight could take the tunnel, but it doesn’t go where freight wants to go. This road is for freight traffic between the south ports and Interbay.

  2. JB

    Western north of Bell is also severely overbuilt, left over from when it was a primary feeder for the viaduct. The way the new street geometry is laid out around the aquarium, it looks like the intention is for most traffic to come up the hill from Alaskan to Western, and Alaskan north of Bell will be more of a side street. In that case, the least they can do is provide a real cycle track all the way up the waterfront on Alaskan.

  3. Don Brubeck

    Worth a trial run with cones for one lane.

    Where you say “northbound”, don’t you mean “southbound” in this sentence: “It is also frustrating that there is no direct bike connection northbound between Bell Street and the section of Western that passes through Pike Place Market” ?
    If riding from Bell into the Market, why not take 2nd Ave to Lenora, Stewart, or Pine, whichever is closest to your destination in the market? To go further, south from the Market, take 2nd to Virginia to Western, or from within the Market, take Pike Place north to Virginia and turn south on Western, or take Post Alley to University, or 1st to Madison or Yesler.

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