City presents early ideas for a redesigned 23rd Ave, seeks input

IMG_0055With 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.

23rdAveCorridor_OpenHousePresentation_MARCH2013existThe 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.

23rdAveCorridor_OpenHousePresentation_MARCH2013swalkOne 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.

23rdAveCorridor_OpenHousePresentation_MARCH2013cycleAnother 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).

Concept image of completed Broadway at Pine St

Concept image of completed Broadway at Pine St

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.

A mother holding her child tries to cross 23rd Ave

A mother holding her child tries to cross 23rd Ave, a dangerous and unappealing experience today

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:

23rdAveCorridor_OpenHousePresentation_MARCH2013 by tfooq

Funding Summary by tfooq

23 Rd Cross Section Possibilities by tfooq

27 thoughts on “City presents early ideas for a redesigned 23rd Ave, seeks input

  1. The Cycle Track sounds great, but maybe a little kludgy if it has to be broken up at those 4-lane intersection points.

    I believe SDOT’s preliminary analysis indicates that 4-lanes will be necessary at three intersections: John, Madison, and Yesler (not Cherry). This seems intuitive to me- those are spots where traffic currently backs up at rush-hour. The critical intersection to me is Yesler- with the same amount of traffic as Cherry (~8000 cars per day), why is it that Yesler is a much worse intersection and can this be remedied through redesign? If you could allow 23rd to be 3-lanes at Yesler, this would give you a nice long stretch of uninterrupted 3-lane road that should be more compatible with the Cycle Track or other alternative designs.

    Thanks for the story Tom

  2. Thanks for taking the time to pull all of these documents and drawings into one post! Very appreciated.

  3. I would be interested in the cycle track. The 3 foot shoulder bike lines are better than nothing, but I would be willing to bet the next 20 years of this project on trying something new. For the four lane segments the less stable riders can exit to the sidewalk while the frequent riders join the race with the cars. The short intersection burst isn’t really a problem for the frequent rider.

    Let’s be sure to get on board with something. Would hate to see us fight until the money goes somewhere else.

    • The cycle track is a *very* bad idea… it may, on the surface, appear to make the road more attractive to you, but in reality, especially as it is configured (with cyclists riding against the flow of traffic!!), it would be much more hazardous than riding on the road as it is now….

      I appreciate that you may not feel comfortable riding on a high traffic road or acting like a vehicular cyclist, but please don’t be lulled into a sense of false security by “cycling facilities”. FYI – one of the most dangerous intersections in the city…… where the Burke Gilman trail crosses (34th?) at the U Village…. Trails, tracks, bicycle lanes…. they are not necessarily better, they just look more inviting.

      • I feel as comfortable riding in traffic as anybody should. Riding in traffic is not inherently safe. It is a numbers game. Some of us will be crushed to death or disfigured. When your number comes up is a factor of how much time you spend in what traffic conditions, plus a little luck or bad luck.

        Depending on the specific design of the track – There is potential to create and environment that improves cycling for all but the most bull headed traffic cycling enthusiests.

  4. I was not able to go to the meeting Saturday.

    Therefore, I read through the above information. I’m not sure of some of the lingo in the documents Tom posted above so maybe expanding and improving crosswalks is covered and I just don’t understand how it is being defined or referred to in the documents. Does anyone know if I can assume improved crosswalks will be part of this project? Not just better signal’s at existing cross walks?

    • Good question! That’s the kind of feedback they are looking for, so definitely send them an email.

      In general, a three lane configuration makes it much easier to include safe (or safer) crosswalks without the need for a traffic signal (which cost a ton of money). Crosswalks on four-lane roads without traffic signals are not deemed safe and the city has actually been removing them in recent years where they exist.

      Both the cycle track and the expanded sidewalk options would make it much easier and safer to cross the street on foot, and this was clearly a priority (maybe the top priority?) for people at the meeting.

      • Regarding the “crosswalks on four-lane roads”:

        Crosswalks are in place at most intersections whether they are marked or not. How does the city “remove” them –
        by signage saying “do not cross” or similar, or by some other means?

      • Sorry, you’re right. I’m referring to marked, zebra-stripe crosswalks here.

        However, as anyone who has ever stood at 23rd and Marion knows, even though that is legally and technically a crosswalk (traffic should stop for you), nobody will. 23rd is a neighborhood street, but it looks and feels like a highway so people driving naturally treat it that way. I don’t blame them, either. It’s natural to drive fast and not stop for someone trying to cross because it doesn’t feel like you should. That’s why a road redesign is so badly needed.

      • Tom’s right – to expand on what he said, the City pulled 4-lane marked crosswalks off some arterials (notably Nickerson) due to safety concerns. Notably, after a rechannelization project on Nickerson, the crosswalks were returned (and improved).

  5. I sometimes have wondered if what Carolyn is saying is true for 4 lane traffic. As far as I can tell it is. I am assuming that the City may have feel that the marked crosswalks encourage pedestrians to attempt to cross where they normally would not. When 23rd is busy, I always cross at a light. There are times, Sunday afternoons are an example, that I cross at non-lighted intersections along 23rd.

    This is not exactly related, but it is to the point about the need for traffic calming and more training for drivers regarding pedestrian laws.
    Raves for those few vehicles on E. Cherry who stop for pedestrians. However, vehicles on E. Cherry are among the worst, I have ever encountered for stopping at intersections, and it isn’t a four lane street. I usually feel that the vehicles on E, Union are rude until I have to deal with E. Cherry.

  6. Re: Alternative 2… Bike travel against traffic is DANGEROUS…. even if it is a “separated” cycle track it is a very, very, very bad idea.

    It’s already known that riding on the sidewalk against the flow of traffic is one of the highest accident risks. This is because drivers coming out of side streets or parking lots are unaccustomed to looking for rapidly moving vehicles from the right – they very often do not see cyclists. Separated cycle tracks are no different.

    • A little bit of common sense and caution is what prevents that type of sidewalk accident and the other type of bicyclist error in judgement accidents you describe such as on Burke Gilman.

      As the saying goes something like “you have the right, the dead right of passage.”

      I look forward to having a smooth road surface so I can be on the look out for potential collisions rather than looking for the next pothole to smash my wheel or send my water bottle flying or the next crack. 23rd is a nasty ugly street that is unfit for creating a decent community. Let’s make something comfortable and friendly.

      • No doubt – I’m very much looking forward to better paving. The potholes are getting downright dangerous (I had a pothole caused fall just a few weeks ago and a pothole caused flat recently too), but the cycle track I just can’t get behind.

        It’s not just about caution or common sense… or perhaps maybe it is.. caution and common sense says don’t ride against traffic… I mean sure. I could ride on the sidewalk, very, very slowly and stop before each side street and be safer, but also not get anywhere…. but I ride my bike so that I can actually go places faster than walking there….. For me to ride my bike is an acceptable risk for the benefits. Getting in a car entails risk, walking entails risk, but we do what we can to minimize that risk – like wearing a seatbelt and not crossing against lights. Not riding against traffic is one of those things that minimizes risk while allowing me to travel at an acceptable rate of speed too. Were that cycle track to be installed I would not use it – too dangerous.

        And FYI – the BG intersection accidents are *not* necessarily cyclist error in judgement….. more than a fair share are drivers who are turning left into the crosswalk (that has a walk when they have a green.), which is very much a *driver* error in judgement….

      • Oh… and FYI, I’m not always simply on the cyclists side…. I was once almost T-boned by another cyclist who was riding on the sidewalk and came flying across nearly into me on a don’t walk…. (I had a green to go straight). She’s simply lucky I was occupied with adjusting something and didn’t start forward immediately when the light changed or we would have connected – and she was actually traveling with traffic, but still I did not see her until she was in front of me.

    • Portland has successfully deployed cycle tracks. The ones I’m familiar with near Portland State are one direction only. Bikes travel in the same direction as car traffic. The city simply swapped on-street parking with existing bike lanes, placing the bike lane between parked cars and the curb.

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  8. There’s one huge hole in the idea of separated bike facilities on major streets:


    Which behavior has the better outcome:
    1. I’m helpless and vulnerable give me “my own space” regardless of driving behaviors.
    2. I’m responsible for learning driving behavior so I can see how to get along with diverse drivers.

    This study has never been done, and the city REFUSES to do it while taking all our major streets and spending whatever it takes to put bike facilities on them.

    This has two consequences:

    1. For bicyclists who have benefited so much from learning to drive with traffic there is now no place to do that. In this case the City has declared all-out-war against responsible bicyclists.

    2. When bicycle facilities are built, bicyclists learn far less about riding with traffic and become ever more dependent to get around. Its a vicious cycle, the more bike facilities we get the more helpless and dependent they become, the more extravagant the spending needed and the more extreme the segregation needed.

    The cost – hundreds of millions now approaching billions – is extravagant with respect to the alternatives.

    Even if separated facilities were safer (likely they’re not, that’s why supporters REFUSE to compare the behavior outcomes) I do not look to them for bicycling. Its just not the kind of person I’m trying to become: Its’ the opposite.

    Everything I’m reading about behavior shows improved outcomes for people looking to face and overcome life’s challenges. Those looking to avoid problems, while avoiding learning from those who know how, have poorer outcomes while enjoying their lives less.

    If you do anything please do not trust what I write: treat it as an invitation to look more broadly at your options and evaluate them. If there is anything wrong with bicycling its this: too many people trusting politicians pushing their emotional buttons to get to those ribbon-cutting ceremonies and all that money.

    Here’s some books looking at our behavior choices based on actual behavior studies:
    1) Mindset The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
    2) How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough
    3) The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

    • Nice false dicotomy.

      Goes something like this.

      Which is better, Ice cream or Vegimite?

      Once people have tried Ice cream they will never learn how to eat vegimite and will ultimately give up the rugged colonialist lifestyle. This is why Australians are better and more interesting people than Americans. So, never, ever let your children have ice cream or the rest of the world will disapprove of them.

      Your argument is equally silly. People can very easily adapt to transitions between different surfaces or rule structures. One minute I can be playing soccer. The next minute I might go kayaking. Playing soccer does not make me a poor kayaker at risk of being hit by a ferry.

      • Hello Grumbo,

        Hmmmmm…… Ever tried playing football with your friends while you use basketball rules? Behaving like a pedestrian while riding a bike with other people using driving behavior?

        I understand the confusion, that’s why bicyclists who think like drivers and fit their behavior to get along better, report results that most people simply can’t believe.

        That’s why I’m asking for a behavior study, to compare the outcomes of the opposite behaviors of bike riding and bicycle driving so we will have real information every one can recognize.

        Otherwise we might just as well all sit down to ice cream and see how fat we can get.

      • We could study the thing to death and most likely find out that we have more to disagree about. Sometimes you just have to try the thing an see how it works out.

        People don’t believe the anecdotal comment of riders because they know that said riders flirt with disaster everyday and note how safe they feel. Much like 98% of motorcyclists suggest the last friend they had bite the dust was simply not paying attention. Thing is, you number comes up. I’m all for riding, motor or no, but I do it in moderation in terms of streets, times, weather, etc.

        I would like to have a route that is segregated and safe anytime. Yes, different rules and cautions would apply. It’s just another choice. There won’t be a law that prevents bikes from joining traffic.

    • So spare the rod and spoil the child huh? How’s this for an “outcome”? I would love to get around town without burning carbon. I think biking should be the norm for all but long haul trips, the way it is in Tokyo, Amsterdam, and so many other cities that aren’t overbuilt with car infrastructure. In those cities we see something like a 50/50 mode split. Biking there doesn’t require special gear, risking one’s life alongside cars. People in Japan put their kids on their handle bars, drink coffee and talk on the phone as they pedal around town. The “outcome” is that less than half of all trips are done by car.

      Riding next to fast moving cars scares the crap out of me. Outcome: I don’t even own a bike. Haven’t had one in over a decade. I take the bus when I can, but frequently just use the car. I don’t feel safe out there on 23rd, and my life is not something I’m going to play games with. How many others like me are there? I’ll bet there are a lot. As long as we continue to give auto users undue privilege on our public rights-of-way, they will continue to be the dominant, majority users. That needs to change. A safe, carbon-free, healthy commute should be a viable option for all citizens.

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