The City of Seattle has cut back significantly on its plans for street safety projects citywide, but especially in Downtown and the southern neighborhoods. This has left advocates confused and frustrated, as the City had extensive plans for protected bike lanes and greenways that would create a comprehensive network. And voters just overwhelmingly approved a $930 million levy to build these projects. While that is sorted out and the City adds on another layer of Seattle Process with a “Center City Mobility Plan”, there is one key opportunity that we could implement today at low cost: redesigning 4th Avenue through Downtown.
4th Avenue is a northbound one-way street and is among the widest streets in Downtown. Not surprisingly, it carries the highest amount of vehicle traffic in Downtown—but not so high that bikes lanes are infeasible. According to the latest counts from the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), between Yesler Way and Stewart Street average annual weekday traffic (AWDT) is 20,600 vehicles. North of Stewart Street to Denny Way, in the Belltown neighborhood, AWDT lowers to 14,100.
These numbers along with the street’s use as a regional transit corridor and existing use by bicyclists, make the street ripe for a reconfiguration.
The existing design struggles to balance many needs. Like most of the Downtown streets, 4th Avenue is home to many ground level retail spaces, hotel lobbies, restaurants, and parking garage entries that draw private motorists and taxis but which also demand ample sidewalk space. The street also fronts major civic spaces like City Hall, the Central Library, and Westlake Park. On-street parking is located throughout.
At the same time, 4th Avenue is a major bus corridor for regional Sound Transit and Community Transit routes and has a peak-hour bus lane. These buses tend to exit 4th Avenue at Olive Way, which leads to on-ramps for Interstate 5. And because the street is relatively flat through Downtown, it’s also a popular route for people riding bicycles.