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.
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.