23rd Ave repaving and complete streets remake could start in 2014

With millions of dollars in federal, state and local funds behind them, the city is beginning outreach for a repaving, transit efficiency and complete streets redesign of 23rd Ave stretching all the way from Rainier Ave to E John Street. If everything goes smoothly, work could begin in mid 2014 and wrap up in 2015.

You have a chance to hear from project planners first-hand tonight (Monday) at the Jackson Place Community Council meeting, 7:30 p.m. at the Hiawatha Place Lofts. Also on the agenda: Judkins Park Light Rail Station planning.

23rd Ave is the last remaining four-lane street through the heart of the Central District, and is the site of several of the most dangerous intersections in the neighborhood for all road users. The intersection of 23rd and Jefferson is one of the most dangerous intersections in the entire city for people walking. Five people were struck by cars there between 2009 and 2011.

Between 2001 and 2009, four people were killed in collisions on 23rd Ave—two people on foot, one person in a car and one person on a motorcycle. This makes 23rd Ave by far the most dangerous street in the CD.

Seattle laws require that every transportation project go through a complete streets process in which the needs of all road users are considered in the new road design. There are no details on any plans for the street at this point as the city is just beginning the outreach process. There will be an open house in February so residents can get a look at options and give the city feedback.

The project could also see transit improvements, including trolley wire connections that would allow the 48 to run as an electric bus from the Mount Baker Transit Center to the University of Washington. This improvement is part of the city’s Transit Master Plan, and would require the 48 to split into two routes: One that runs the route south of UW and one that runs north and west of the UW to Ballard. For more on this, see our previous story.

Traffic volumes on 23rd Ave between Jackson and Rainier are about 18,700 vehicles per day (counting buses and bikes), according to SDOT data. This is below the threshold the city typically considers prime for a “road diet,” often in the form of adding a center turn lane and reducing general travel lanes to one in each direction. A recent road diet on Nickerson (which moves about 2,000 more vehicles per day than 23rd) reduced collisions by 23 percent without significantly impacting traffic flow, according to an SDOT report I wrote about on Seattle Bike Blog. For a local comparison, MLK see only a couple thousand fewer vehicles per day than 23rd (about 14,000), and it easily does so with one lane in each direction plus a center turn lane (though the outdated bike lanes on MLK are terrible).

A Dexter Ave bus island as seen from the bike lane.

A Dexter Ave bus island as seen from the bike lane.

At the Squire Park Community Council quarterly meeting over the weekend, 23rd Ave project leaders mentioned Dexter Ave as an example of a recent street reconstruction project that got a complete streets redesign. On that street, “bus islands” and bike lanes with larger-than-normal buffer spaces were constructed to speed up transit and provide safer movement for people on bikes. Shorter crossing distances for crosswalks made the road safer and easier to cross on foot, and motor vehicle flow was not significantly impacted.

If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I am quite excited about this project. 23rd Ave is a barrier in the CD that should be a destination instead. Imagine being able to cross 23rd on foot at every intersection without sprinting for your life or going four blocks out of the way to nearest stoplight. Imagine more welcoming bus stops and more comfortable sidewalks. Imagine quiet electric buses instead of diesel-belching ones. Imagine if very few people drove over the speed limit, and fewer people got injured or killed simply trying to get wherever they’re going. And yes, imagine being able to safely bike to 23rd Ave destinations. All or some of these could become reality.

What would you like to see happen on 23rd Ave?

Here’s the project flier:


40 thoughts on “23rd Ave repaving and complete streets remake could start in 2014

  1. This is going to make getting around with out a car so much safer and easier, not to mention more pleasant (I hope).

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  3. It would be really something to have 23 as a bikeable route from Rainer to UW. I drive that route pretty frequently. There are so many left turns blocking the left land and busses or right turns blocking the right that you end up zig zagging the whole way. It ain’t good driving. Darn foolish to ride. Improved surface with bike and turn lanes would be nice. As for bus – something.

    That bus island looks good on paper, but, looking at the picture – I’m not sure that is a good position for a bicycle. You have pedestrians obstructing your view to the left of cross traffic and possible right turning vehicles. The right turning vehicles would not reckognize your existance at all. Something about that picture sets of a lot of uncertainty in my biker mind. Is there any study or feedback on similar bus island/bike lane separations?

    In any case. Improvement of that corridor will be great.

    • If these bus stop islands are to be modeled on the ones on Dexter, I vote no. As a motorist, I find those very confusing, and other drivers seem to also.

  4. I love the Dexter treatment, but there isn’t going to be enough right-of-way on 23rd to do it.

  5. …which is one of the main reasons why I’m extremely dubious about mixing bike lanes and the #48 on 23rd. Because you can’t get current Dexter, you’re going to end up with old Dexter, and that was a fiasco for transit and cyclists alike.

  6. Some attendees at the Squire Park meeting suggested using another street for the bicycle lane. At one time there were some thoughts about giving 23rd a road diet (taking away a lane in some areas). Those who are dubious about adding things to 23rd without taking something away are not alone.

  7. We also have extremely narrow sidewalks for large portions of the 23rd right-of-way. I’d want to think hard about making it a safer street to walk as well, not just to cross.

  8. I would not be too excited about all of 23rd with dedicated separated biked lanes. If you want people to bike you need the climbs to be gradual. Maybe somehow they could make partial lanes on Martin Luther King, turning on Jackson (which won’t kill anyone) and then on to 23rd Ave heading north. This would make connecting to the “backroads” on 19th more accessible. Fixing 12th Ave starting at Rainier Ave and going north would also merit some kind of better biking facility. It is pretty scary to ride and wonder if the door is going to swing open.

  9. Thing is we have to put a couple of serious N/S Bike corridors somewhere. 12th is too far west for me. 20th – 25 is workable. If not 23rd then we need to kick parking off of a residential street.

    You can’t put a dent in car traffic unless you get serious about safe alternatives. As it is Broadway, 12th, and 14 are being degraded in terms of car and bike use.The slots in broadway – gotta see how that works for bikes, lanes or no. Cars will be shifting to 12th and 14th, alread very slow for cars and not safe for bikes.

    If you open up 12th for cars and trade parking on 14th for bike lanes – I can see something working out. Bikes deserve a lane every ten blocks. Only question is what block and who’s parking are you going to take.

    • “Thing is we have to put a couple of serious N/S Bike corridors somewhere.”
      – Actually, no we don’t. The N/S corridors need to be maintained to move traffic for commuters and business/freight mobility. Using an off-street is perfect for bikes, and you don’t need to kick off any parking in doing so.

      “You can’t put a dent in car traffic…”
      -Clearly a vendetta against cars. Adding bikes as an alternate transportation mode is fine, but it needs to be transparent to the existing use.

      “As it is Broadway, 12th, and 14 are being degraded in terms of car and bike use.”
      – Actually, not so. With the addition of the trolley, Broadway is losing car lanes and getting bike lanes.

      “Bikes deserve a lane every ten blocks.”
      – How so? Until bikes pay their fair share for the roads, they don’t deserve anything. And just because you have a car and pay road taxes doesn’t give you the right to use your bike on those roads. Someone with two cars pays road taxes on both- yet can only drive one car at a time. Why should people with a car and bike get a freebie?

      • Actually, the vast majority of SDOT’s money comes from taxes we all pay, no matter what mode we use to get around: http://www.seattlemet.com/news-and-profiles/publicola/articles/we-all-pay-for-the-roads

        And, as noted in the post, the city has an ordinance that mandates all road users are considered in road projects. That means motor vehicles, freight, bikes, people walking, people in wheelchairs, and people on transit. The CD has residents who do all these things.

      • Broadway already has trolley buses, especially the the #49 with many others crossing Broadway. A streetcar (with tracks) is what is new to Broadway. Trolleys need no more space than any other bus.

      • “And just because you have a car and pay road taxes doesn’t give you the right to use your bike on those roads”

        – Pull your head out and look around Pat. This is ‘murica! We have the RIGHT to use a bike on THOSE roads.

        You are clearly the one with a vendetta against BIKES.
        Alternate modes of transportaion do not have to be “transparent” to the existing use. Aging, out of date modes and pathways of moving people to and fro need to be update to reflect what is happening NOW and where we are going in the future!

      • So Pat you need to pay a carbon tax for the crap you fill the air with when you drive your car. Bikes do not produce carbon hence they have a right as a commute vehicle.

      • Good link Tom re: paying for the roads. But oddly – I’d didn’t see a bike tax contributing.

      • Eyes, the emissions from my vehicle meet local, state, and federal requirements, so I have no need to pay for carbon offsets (which we all know just go to the general fund).

        Just because have no emissions in your use of the roads doesn’t give you a freebie. You need to pay for them like everyone else.

        Note that WA is going after electric cars to be assessed a tax because they use the road more than the gas tax they contribute, which only seems fair.

        This is a “user pays” state – you use it, you pay your fair share.

      • You do not get it Pat. Emission regulations are a joke in the face of global climate change. You can name whatever make you fell justified but you are polluting if you emit emissions. You retort has no basis in todays climate reality .

  10. I’d love to see both 19th and 27th surface improvements to support bicyclists. At least on 27th south of Madison, traffic is pretty much one lane with people parked on either side, so cars need to go very slowly and are usually just people getting in and out to the main roads. In other words, no one in their right mind would try to use 27th as a through street.

    The low amount of traffic and the easy grade seem to me to make 27th a rather nice option for people getting from the south over Montlake to avoid that raceway that MLK turns into. The surface of it is pretty terrible in spots though.

    • Oddly enough, I could imagine a scenario where we would actually ADD parking to 23rd. For example, if it went: curb, two bike lanes (one for each direction), parking/bus islands, general traffic lane, general traffic lane, curb. So, for example, southbound buses would still pick up at the curb, but northbound buses would pick up at new bus islands, freeing up space on the sidewalk. There would be a lane in each direction with turn lanes at traffic signals as needed, buses would maintain its efficiency by stopping in-lane, crossing distances would be half what it is today, crosswalks could be safely installed at every intersection, and there would be safe bike lanes. Very few negatives and tons of positives.

      That said, I’m not a traffic engineer, so I’m eager to see what they come up with.

      • That sure sounds good Tom. I could go with KT’s plan too (but people are in fact out of their minds).

      • Tom, this seems good to me. However, you are proposing eliminating one lane of traffic in each direction, correct? Do you know if the traffic engineers see a negative impact with that or do the additions add enough efficiency to make up for it? I am waiting/ 23rd should not be the barrier that it is.

      • I have no idea. I’m just spitballing ideas and daydreaming. They are going to do all the appropriate studies and I’m sure some that information will be at open houses.

  11. Worried for the Cars: a road diet on 23rd would be great for the neighborhood, but it won’t speed things up for the cars. I don’t think the need for bikes on 23rd is particularly compelling. The north-south routes through the CD aren’t bad for making time on a bike and most are well graded (if a little out of shape). 23rd is a great street for getting north/south in a car and the #48 is the busiest bus in town- that seems like pretty good material for a make-over, even without bikes in the picture. Why not push bike’s off a block-or-two?

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  14. To be clear. I am for rebuilding 23rd almost regardless of which specific improvements there are, so long as we get a pleasant, safe, modern corridor that attracts business and residents.

    Sure, bikes can go to some other block. I am pro-bike. I want a coridor on which bikes can be free to maintain a 20-25 mph commuter pace. Not the kind of stop and go you find on off blocks or bike/walk paths. Given the grid that we have, it is certain that the only way to achive a serious bikeway system is by displacement of some cars.

    Don’t imagine that I am anti car. I’m quite certain many Seattlites despise my 25,000 mile per year SUV habit. I love driving. I hate driving in Seattle. It’s hard to park, I hate paying to park, my truck doesn’t fit well in garages, especially with the bike rack, I like to drink when in town, so, more trolley systems seems like the way to go in the city.

    23rd doesn’t operate like a 4 lane road now. It is too narrow and too many cars stopping for turns. I’d bet it will be faster as a 2 lane road with turn lanes.

    • In general, there are a ton of north-south streets that should be good for cycling as they are no good for buses or much for cars. People can buzz down 27th from Madison to Union on a bike during rush hour and usually never see any moving car. I’d say no need to restrict parking and the cyclists already have made that a route to use.

  15. Let’s not forget that bikes are allowed on any street, bike lane or not. Personally I use 23rd on my northbound commute because I have found it to be safer and more direct than 19th… The thing I like least about it is the tendency for cars to speed and then weave because of left hand turning traffic and bus traffic slowing both lanes. That is mostly a problem on the flat part of 23rd (I get on it just before Madison heading north). Down the hill, as long as the conditions are OK (not very wet or possibly icy) I have no problems going nearly as fast as most relatively law abiding traffic traffic (as long as they aren’t going +40 in a 30…), pretty much to the Montlake bridge, as long as I make all the lights. Also there are fewer turning cars on that section of road, the main place where they do want to turn has a turning lane, so far fewer people are tempted to weave through there.

    I would like to see 23rd mostly left alone…. I wouldn’t mind a road diet, really more a reconfiguration, though I’m not sure there’s really enough space for it the way I think it would work best. I would like to see it taken to 2 cars lanes with a center turning lane and a bus/bike lane on the outside. I’m OK with sharing a lane with the buses, as in general I go faster than they can – once I pass one, unless it makes no stops at all, I can usually stay comfortably ahead of it, if it doesn’t make any stops it stays comfortably ahead of me. NO parking – that’s one of the reasons I prefer to use 23rd. No worries about car doors, no parked cars to block my view of side streets and to block the view of me to cars entering from side streets. But that is moot, I think as there’s really no space to add a full lane there anyway.

    I don’t think I like the separated bus island bike lane configuration. I find that you are in the most danger at each time you have to re-enter a lane that contains car traffic, so creating *more* points at which you are merging with them, in my mind is no good. I’m not a huge fan of bike lanes in the first place – I think they tend to make us more invisible and the trusty white line (If I stay on my side of it I’m OK right…) tends to give motorists the go ahead to pass too closely.

    And yes Tom is entirely correct about where money for local roads comes from – all of us pay for them in the form of mostly property taxes. Gas tax money goes mainly to the federal government and federally funded roads (i.e. interstate highways) so the argument that cyclist don’t pay their share plain wrong. We pay our share and perhaps then some, as we cause far less wear and tear to roadways than larger vehicles, and were it simply us, we’d require far less space to move the same amount of people… But that’s all silly anyway. Let us not forget that in any case even a total shut in, who never personally uses the roads still relies on them for all of the goods, services and utilities that they need and use, so no one can say they shouldn’t share the cost.

    At this point I’m less worried about rerouting traffic than about simply having our roads taken care of… I see cars and I can handle them, but just last night I took a hard fall from a very small wheel sucking pothole/crack that I couldn’t see – even with the array of lights I use. I have a quite incredible crunched helmet and I’m quite lucky to only be sore today. I’ve been watching the streets degrade – the potholes on 19th get worse and worse and never seem to be repaired (one of the reasons I don’t like it…) New rough patches appear on the downhill side of 23rd (worrisome) and some side streets seem like they haven’t been paved in 20 years making them nearly unnavigable on a bike.

    • Just to clarify, the project scope ends at E John St. Also, it’s worth noting that the stretch of 23rd/24th north of Madison has far higher traffic numbers than the stretch south of Madison. I would bet that any road redesigns would end south of Madison for this reason, at least for now.

      Also, with bus islands, you wouldn’t merge back into traffic. The bike lanes would stay separated. Basically, it’s the idea the city is using on Broadway, except without the streetcar tracks. I wish that were finished so people could have an idea of what it would be like.

      • Sounds great- I’m glad the SDOT has such a solid track record with these redesigns. As others have pointed out above- safe biking on 23rd would be ideal- it would be visible, get used, and tie right into the Sam Smith bike trail down at 23rd and I90. Just hope the cars don’t get too screwed in that scenario- autos can bring a lot to a neighborhood too.

    • @CD Biker: Riding down 23rd with the big boys is kamikaze man. Sounds like you probably don’t need any coffee once you get into work!

      • really it’s not…… 23rd is 4 lanes so there’s plenty of space and really most people don’t really even want to be in the right hand lane in the morning because of the amount of bus traffic that it carries. Heck even I have to pass buses sometimes… The only thing I dislike is that if there happens to be left turning traffic, people will make rather quick moves back into my lane…

        19th is worse. It’s only 2 lanes so people have to go into the opposing lane to pass you. It has parking, so you really need to stay a minimum of 4 feet out from the cars to not be in peril of “winning” a door prize, and right at that point there is a nasty crack in the street , so really you need to be out a bit further, which tends to simply p*ss impatient people off… After intentionally being harassed several times (and even by a school bus driver!), I switched to 23rd for my northbound commute and much prefer it.

        Coming home I still use Interlaken. I can’t imagine coming *up* 23rd during rush hour, but then I also usually go to the grocery store on my way home, and so need to go to the top of the hill anyway, which I do on neither 23rd or 19th.

  16. I’m super excited about this project. Not sure excactly what the ideal cross section should be, but it should definitely involve a road diet and a bike facility. I’m thinking take the four auto lanes, and turn them into three auto lanes including a center turn lane, and convert the fourth lane into a cycle track on one side of the street.

    • Dave, if we didn’t have the #48 on 23rd I’d be right there with you. But unless we have the right-of-way to do island stops for the buses next to the cycle track (and I’m pretty confident we don’t) then that plan kinda falls apart, unfortunately. A Dexter-type solution would be fantastic, but again I don’t think we have the width. And remember that we’re trying to encourage neighborhood ‘nodes’ at Union, Cherry, Yesler and Jackson; in significant stretches of 23rd the sidewalks are very narrow and really should be widened, particularly if we want to encourage additional pedestrian traffic.

  17. I’m excited about this project! My main goal would be increasing the amount of foot traffic on 23rd, to increase safety as well as expose people to local businesses. In terms of biking, I usually use 21st for N/S travel, but there are a lot of stop signs. I’ve tried 24th/25th, but the roads are in terrible shape, making for a rough ride. For those reasons, I’d like to see protected bike lanes on 23rd. If the traffic slows enough, it could even be a pleasant, quick ride.

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