Community Post

Dear 23rd Ave: You’re Too Skinny And Need A Diet

Remember our chat back in January about changing 23rd Ave to two lanes? I was surprised that the overwhelming majority of commenters came out firmly against it. But yesterday the Hugeasscity blog came up with some interesting data to add to the discussion:

– The right-of-way for 23rd Ave is only 60 feet wide. Side streets such as Marion are actually wider than that, and the 2-lane MLK has an 85 foot ROW.
– There’s many two-lane arterials in the city that carry the same amount of traffic that the 4-lane 23rd does now

It has always seemed to me that 23rd was basically created as a narrow neighborhood side street. Then cars came along and someone at the city decided to shoehorn 4 lanes of traffic into the corridor without going to the trouble to buy property and widen it enough to support an arterial.

But I thought Hugeasscity’s most interesting point was the possible connection between the bad pedestrian environment on 23rd and the crime issues that we all want to solve at 23rd & Union. Would more law abiding citizens walk on 23rd if there weren’t big trucks and busses whizzing by just a couple feet away? Would a better physical street environment encourage better development and new businesses in the area? Is the level of criminal activity on a street directly proportional to the narrowness of its sidewalks and abundance of its vehicle traffic?

And maybe the most important question: Would you tolerate being slowed down a bit at rush hour if it resulted in an improvement to a variety of other neighborhood ills?

I think I would…

0 thoughts on “Dear 23rd Ave: You’re Too Skinny And Need A Diet

  1. i don’t think it’s a bad idea, but i don’t necessarily think that it’s a cureall for the problems on 23rd. Sure, MLK is a nicer, safer street, but is that b/c it doesn’t have a ton of traffic?!? Is there evidence?

    I like the idea and the argument is persuasive. I think it is a particularly important topic given the possible commercial development at 23rd and Union.

  2. If you look at this map of 2006 traffic volumes from the SDOT website, it looks like MLK carries roughly the same magnitutde of traffic as 23rd (14k-15k).

    (here’s the main traffic vol page):

    I personally love the idea of narrowing 23rd to either one lane in each direction with on-street parking on both sides, or a three-lane section with a center left turn lane with bike lanes on the sides. Either way, it would give more of a buffer between pedestrians and auto traffic, and still move plenty of traffic.

  3. Cool links. The map also shows that Madison carries more traffic (23k) while being limited to two lanes in most spots.

  4. i’d love to see 23rd go down to a three lane road – one northbound, one southbound and one turn lane with bike lanes on either side.

    23rd is such a key thoroughfare that we need to make it as pedestrian friendly as possible to get people out of their home and walking.

  5. Yes.
    Don’t Know.
    I don’t know if the level of criminal activity on a street is directly proportional to the narrowness of its sidewalks and abundance of its vehicle traffic, but I would say yes to all of your other questions.
    We looked at a house on 23rd before we moved to the CD, but we wanted a sidewalk we could WALK on and not feel like we were risking our lives.

  6. The continuous turn lane on MLK is useful at intersections and for driveways, but it is also hazardous. Many people routinely use the turn lane as a passing lane (scary for oncoming traffic using it as a turn lane in the opposite direction) and I’ve seen it used for on-street racing. I wish the city would get rid of the continuous turn lane on MLK.

  7. I do see the turn lanes abused, but some of that has to come with enforcement. I know, not exactly priority #1, but there is 0 traffic enforcement in the area and tons of speeding.

    I actually think the turn lanes are critical to keeping traffic moving and would be a good bone to throw should we ever get to a point where we could diet 23rd.

  8. I used to live in Greenwood/Phinney, and Greenwood Ave has a turn lane that is interrupted at many intersections with islands that give peds a refuge in the middle of the street in case they’re only able to cross one half of the street at a time, and it would obviously also prevent people from using it to pass and have races.

  9. So hailing from St. Louis, the Delmar Loop is one of the halmarks of successful urban re-development. And a big portion of that was slowing traffic down, increasing street parking, and other pedestrian friendly measures that in turn helped to support the local businesses. They also added a light rail stop so you didn’t have to drive.

    But this is more an explanation of why Broadway is cool. It’s the same pedestrian friendly urban environment that makes you want to walk around and shop and eat at the restaurants. 23rd just seems to be far from that. Don’t get me wrong- I would love for 23rd to be like that. But it’s far off. There are huge gaps of resident “pass-through” sections. And the little retail pockets at Madison, Union, Cherry, and Jackson hardly encourage one to get out and strut about. Jackson seems to have the best thing going for it – despite the strip mall feel.

    Re-development like the proposed mixed-use building at 23rd and Union might change that. But it’s also going to add more people and hence more cars. And currently- we don’t have a mass-transit system in Seattle (another long discussion). If we’re hoping to change the way 23rd is used- to a more pedestrian and bike friendly environment, then we’re going to need to look at the zoning on 23rd. It’s going to need to look more like 34th in Madrona. We’re gonna need shops and restaurants, and reasons to get out of cars and walk about.

    Otherwise- 23rd is still going to be a “pass-through” and it’s going to need all 4 lanes for that.

  10. I think that summary is brilliant. I live in Judkin Parks neighborhood and we are suffering all of the things you pointed out. 23rd between Judkins ave and Chery has been a danger for all of the reasons you sighted and more. We have in order from north to south: Community Center, Garfield High, Douglas Truth Library, Senior Housing, Washington middle scool (1/2 block on Jackson, Seattle Community College, The elementary school and finally the New NW African American Center- plus Sam Smith Park- ALL which are heavy used by the community in the form of pedestrian traffic. Reducing the number of traffic lanes will aid in getting more of us out of the car for walkable trips to and from schools and civic gatherings. I know that many of our members would like to weigh in on this. Can you forward info to me or: [email protected]

  11. great forum, but who knows what our next step is to get this in front of SDOT? What’s the process (because we are in Seattle and there is always a process or 10)?

  12. SDOT told me back in January that they don’t have any plans for 23rd until at least 2009. They will have some public meetings and other outreach once they get that far, but generally most decisions are made behind the scenes well before the public is officially invited to comment.

    It’s always helpful if you give your thoughts and suggestions directly to SDOT. It probably won’t result in concrete action, but 10 or 20 comments about this one issue would definitely get noticed and maybe get it on the department’s radar:

    Probably the best long-term course of action is to get involved in your local neighborhood group. Go to the next meeting and bring the issue of 23rd up for discussion. Push to get the group’s formal endorsement of a road diet for 23rd. And consider leading a subcommittee to push the issue with the city.

    I know that last suggestion sounds like an extremely tedious and boring form of bureaucratic torture, but it’s the most concrete path to get major changes from city government. General public pressure helps, but organized pressure from multiple recognized neighborhood groups can make a big difference.

  13. 23rd has always struck me as too many lanes, even while driving it seems a bit cramped. The current state of affairs also makes it suicidal to ride a bike on, and the side streets are in bad enough shape that they aren’t great for riding either.

    I agree that two lanes with a middle turn lane would be ideal, with nice bike lanes.

    I also agree with one of the previous posters that the urban planning in the 23rd & Union area is largely responsible for the lack of pedestrian traffic. I do disagree however that it’s a lost cause. A good portion of Union to the west of 23rd is already pretty friendly and has the right kind of storefronts. It sounds like the development on 23rd & Union will be built so as to be friendly to pedestrians, with wide sidewalks and storefronts. Hopefully that will trigger the post-office block to be finally sold for redevelopment, and with a good developer there we’ll be in a completely new situation.


  14. If folks are really serious about trying to get 23rd on a road diet, there are any number of potential allies to help work with SDOT:

    Feet First (pedestrian advocacy,
    Bike Alliance ( & Cascade Bike Club ( to advocate for bicycle lanes, if that’s the preferred alternative.

    With a 60′ right-of-way you could do one lane each way with bike lanes and a 2-way turn lane in the middle. dave above rightly points out that the easy way to make that concept safer for peds is ‘refuge islands’ and intersections, to slow down people who want to drive in the lane as well as making it safer for folks to cross, particularly at the many un-signallized intersections.

    You could also think about on-street parking, which definitely provides a nice barrier feel for folks and often makes streets feel safer to walk. One of the challenges with a lot of 23rd is how narrow the actual sidewalks are…another approach might be to consider expanding the non-road right-of-way by increasing the sidewalk’s width.

    There are lots of options. But as has been said several times above, if folks don’t get very involved and organized, decisions tend to have already been made by the time the public meeting process starts.

  15. And for my money, I think 3rd times a charm. I support this diet, and I vote! And cycle, and drive, and ride the bus. I would love to have a safer route to ride between my house and 2020 Cycles, but JS is right, those sidewalks are way too narrow for a respectable pedestrian-friendly city. Maybe enhancing the sidewalks first should be the priority.

  16. Email the city council members/Mayor and, if you’d like to see bike lanes there, say something like “per the bicycle master plan, which recommended adding bike lanes to 23rd…”

    Or, I think you can pitch the PEDESTRIAN enhancements to the people developing the Pedestrian Master Plan by sending an email to this address: [email protected].

    The next Pedestrian Master Planning Advisory Group (PMPAG) meeting is this Friday, March 28th.

    JS, feel free to chime in here if you are able to correct any of my disinformation here.