After a delay finalizing the construction contract, SDOT is planning to begin work on the MLK Jr Way Safety Project in the fall. The project includes protected bike lanes from Mount Baker Station to S Judkins Street and includes significant safety improvements for everyone passing through the monstrous intersection with Rainier Ave S.
The project was selected after a huge amount of community organizing as well as consistent urging from the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board pushing the city to prioritize bike safety projects in the south end. And while the first maps showed the project ending before the intersection with Rainier Ave, the project now connects through the intersection to S Winthrop Street, providing a complete connection to Mount Baker Station. But perhaps even more importantly, the Rainier/MLK intersection changes will also add significant curb extensions to slow turning cars and add much-needed crosswalks between the light rail station and Franklin High School. At long last, all four legs of the intersection will have a crosswalk, doubling the current number. Honestly, these crosswalk improvements might be the most impactful and important elements of the whole project.
The project does not reduce the number of lanes on Rainier and makes very minimal changes to MLK Jr Way south of Rainier (adding a short section of southbound bike lane connector). So the work here is not done, but bigger changes would need to be part of a much larger and much higher-budget remake of those two large and busy streets. In fact, this is probably a good time to pushing the city to prioritize such a project in the next transportation funding measure that will (most likely) go up for voter approval in 2024. I’m talking a full redesign of Rainier Ave from Little Saigon to at least Columbia City, where previous safety projects left off. Such a project would make a very appealing poster image for selling the public on the funding measure itself. But that’s a topic for another story.
Back to the current MLK Jr Way Safety Project, another interesting element is the creation of a divided biking and walking path on the east side of MLK between S McClellan and S Bayview Streets, a stretch connecting to Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Park that is currently missing a sidewalk. Rather than constructing a traditional sidewalk on the hillside next to the street—an effort that would likely have required relocating many utility poles and perhaps building retaining walls and removing trees—the project team is using on-street space instead. The whole ten-foot biking and walking area will be separated from general traffic by a concrete curb.
New bus islands and bike ramps at the I-90 Trail will help people make what is sure to be a very popular transition. These bus stops will also likely get a lot more use once Judkins Park Station opens a few blocks down the trail at 23rd Ave S. For people biking on the trail looking to connect to light rail, this will also be an interesting decision point. For trips heading south or to Beacon Hill and SoDo, it will likely be faster to take the bike lane downhill to Mount Baker Station. But for heading north or to the Eastside, Judkins Park Station will be faster. The biking and transit synergy in this whole area is going to be excellent.
You can find more diagrams and details on the project website. Here is the team’s latest update and an explanation for the recent delay:
We’ve awarded the construction contract for the MLK Jr Way Safety Project and are currently bringing the contractor onboard and preparing for construction. Groundbreaking is expected this fall, which is a few weeks later than what we shared at our last update.
Shifting the construction schedule out a few weeks was the result of two challenges that came up at our final design:
First, the bids we received for the work from private-sector construction contractors were higher than expected. This required us to secure more funding to build the entire project as designed without sacrificing any of the safety elements the South Seattle community wants us to build. Fortunately, we were able to secure the funds and haven’t removed any of the new street safety features we’ve been telling you about.
Second, our partner transportation agencies informed us of new traffic control plan requirements during a standard interagency review. This project is federally funded and crosses over I-90, which is in Washington State’s jurisdiction. We created new plans and shared them with our partners, requiring us to wait for their approval.
We appreciate your continued support as we get ready to construct this safety improvement project including the new protected bike route. We’ll be sure to share the detailed construction schedule on the project webpage and via email updates when it is finalized. Thank you.