With transit speeds and safety improvements as their guiding principles, the city presented early ideas for design changes to 23rd Ave as part of the upcoming repaving and complete streets project stretching from E John to Rainier Ave.
Residents packed Garfield Community Center to see some early concept images and see a presentation from SDOT planners about the challenges and opportunities for the project.
The biggest focus, according to presenters, is transit speed. In addition to paving funds for the section of 23rd Ave between E John and S Jackson, the entire corridor will get transit signal prioritization work intended to get buses (especially Metro’s workhorse Route 48) through quickly and with fewer delays.
There is also money to repair existing sidewalks, which are in awful condition for much of the street, and for bus stop improvements.
The safety goals of the project will likely point to some kind of three-lane configuration (one lane in each direction plus a new left turn lane) for all or most of the street. Currently four lanes, 23rd Ave is the most dangerous street in the Central District. When the design of the road changes, the question is what to do with the extra road space.
One option presented would involve expanded sidewalks. For much of the street, sidewalks are not only bumpy and destroyed by tree roots, but they are also only four or five feet wide. Widening the sidewalks would help make the street much more inviting, safe and accessible for people on foot or with mobility issues. However, planners said that even though the project has secured about $20 million in funding, there is no money for expanding sidewalks. If the neighborhood wants this option, there will likely need to be a big push for it and a drive to find more funds.
“That doesn’t mean we won’t look for more money if that’s what we hear here,” presenters said.
Another option shown would include a two-way cycle track on the street. The Central District has one of the highest rates of bicycle commuting in the city, and 23rd Avenue is one of the biggest barriers to cycling within the neighborhood (since I also write Seattle Bike Blog, I can’t claim to be unbiased in my support for an option like this one). Much like the under-construction design for Broadway, a 23rd Avenue with a protected bike lane would be on the forefront of urban street innovation in the U.S. and would create a bicycle facility safe enough for people of all ages and abilities to feel comfortable using it (or, at least that’s the goal).
Broadway’s design also includes on-street parking, which was suggested by 23rd and Union property owner Tom Bangasser as a way to make the commercial districts in the CD feel more like commercial districts. City staff said adding on-street parking to street that currently has none is a lower priority than keeping traffic and transit moving, but that it could be considered if residents made it clear it was a priority for them.
Presenters said initial transit flow studies suggested a three-lane design would work well for almost the entire length of the project area, but there could be issues at Madison/John and Cherry. Citing early results of an in-process transit reliability study, those intersections might drop to a “failing level of service” under a three-lane design. Several residents at the meeting pointed out that such level of service studies only look at vehicle travel and do not look at the service level for people on foot, a key component of the road changes.
If you were unable to attend, you can still comment on the project by emailing Maribel Cruz at SDOT by March 31.
Here are the meeting materials: