Last month, in response to videos documenting dangerous motorist behavior on the newly redesigned 35th Ave NE in Wedgwood, the three members of the Seattle City Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee sent the new transportation department director, Sam Zimbabwe, a letter expressing concern and asking how the department would be reacting to what was happening on the ground.
The letter’s response was delivered last Tuesday, just one day after a fourth councilmember, Sally Bagshaw, publicly raised concerns about the safety of the street at a council briefing attended by most members. Director Zimbabwe, scheduled to meet with the transportation committee on the Bicycle Master Plan that same day, evaded attempts to directly outline the response in-person, but did address some of its points in his presentation. 35th Ave NE was officially deleted from the Bicycle Master Plan when Mayor Jenny Durkan decided to implement an alternate striping plan that removed bike lanes in favor of a center turn lane. That turn lane is now being used to pass bikes, buses, and other vehicles–often at speeds higher than the posted limit.
The councilmembers on the transportation committee wanted to know how the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is viewing the new design through the lens of Vision Zero–the City’s goal of eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030–and what revisions, if any, the department intends to make to fix shortcomings. Heidi Groover of the The Seattle Times obtained a copy of the response to council questions. The letter doubles down on insisting that the implemented design is perfectly fine. Director Zimbabwe defends the street design by saying that 35th Ave NE “meets the project objective and furthers Vision Zero goals.” Let’s break down some of the details that are mentioned in the letter.
Speed is the critical factor in the severity of collisions, contributing to 25 percent of traffic fatalities citywide…
We collected speed data on 35th ave NE in early June as we had previously committed to doing after project completion.Sam Zimbabwe, SDOT Director
The speed data detailed by the director shows that vehicle speeds on 35th Ave NE are virtually unchanged compared to speed studies that were completed before the project started. At NE 50th St, 85% of vehicles in both 2016 and this month were traveling 35.4 mph or below. The speed limit there is 30 mph. At NE 77th St, in the heart of the business district, that 85th percentile speed was down a tiny amount from 32.2 to 31.8 mph.