Lynnwood is on a path toward disaster with its latest stroad designs for 196th St SW, a road bisecting the city’s regional growth center near the Lynnwood Transit Center (also future terminus of light rail in 2023). 196th St SW is a primary arterial street linking together the communities of Edmonds, Lynnwood, Bothell, and Maltby. The project is supposed to “enhance” a 12-block stretch of road from 36th Ave W to 48th Ave W within the city center. Lynnwood recently issued their SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act) determination on the project proposal that would expand an already-wide right-of-way from 85 feet to a freeway-style 112 feet.

Under the proposal, the total number of lanes would increase from five to seven. This is cause for concern if Lynnwood is serious about forging a city center in an urban image around its light rail station. Just this week Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith told The Seattle Times her downtown is “ground ready” to welcome people and buildings. This proposal suggests it’s more interested in pampering cars.

Project area and the regional growth center. (City of Lynnwood)
Project area and the regional growth center. (City of Lynnwood)

Shotgun “Mitigation”

The City of Lynnwood claims that its SEPA determination has proposed adequate mitigation measures for environmental impacts associated with the project using a shotgun approach:

1. The project will implement the City’s adopted City Center Plan and City Center Streetscape element with landscaped medians, pedestrian refuge islands at key intersections, wider sidewalks set back from the curb, illumination, underground utilities, and street trees in tree grates on both sides of the street.

2. Safety and security will improve due to new sidewalks, signal upgrades, improved pedestrian and roadway illumination, and a new raised median separating opposing traffic.

3. The project will improve the safety of business access with a dedicated Business Access and Transit (BAT) lane, re-striped parking lots to minimize loss of parking, and u-turn movements at intersections, which will mitigate for the loss of the two-way left-turn lane.

4. The additional two general purpose lanes, left-turn pockets at intersections, u-turn movements, signal upgrades, and BAT lane will increase capacity and mobility, decreasing congestion and delay.

5. New sidewalks and improved property access points will encourage non-motorized travel, improving non-motorized connections into and throughout City Center.

Can I just point out they actually said “pedestrian refuges”? If that doesn’t instill concern on its own, the rest of the car-obsessed mitigation proposal should.

Lynnwood might say that adding BAT (business access and transit) lanes, a measly expansion of the sidewalk environment, and very thin pedestrian refuges at crosswalks is sufficient. But the plan puts people walking and biking in third class, induces higher road speeds, adds pollution, reduces safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, and jeopardizes the future success of a planned town center with access to high quality light rail. How many great walkable urban districts can you say have a seven-lane highway plowing through the middle of them? How many plans to densify a “city center” begin with seizing a 27-feet wide swath of developable real estate and paving it over for highway widening?

For what it’s worth, the street plan title calls these “safety improvements.” But safe for whom exactly? (City of Lynnwood)
For what it’s worth, the street plan title calls these “safety improvements.” But safe for whom exactly? (City of Lynnwood)
How BAT lanes would be constructed. (City of Lynnwood)
How BAT lanes would be constructed. (City of Lynnwood)

The proposed cross-section speaks for itself: two general purpose lanes plus one BAT lane in each direction, a rotating left turn pocket and median, and a minor curb-to-sidewalk separation and meager five-foot sidewalk on each side (plus a five-foot treewell that buffers the roadway but cuts down on navigable space).

screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-9-38-24-am
In October 2015 the Lynnwood City Council saw a proposal for a stroad with even narrower sidewalks and less green space. This project is moving in the wrong direction. (City of Lynnwood)
The proposed cross sections of 196th St SW. (City of Lynnwood)
The proposed cross sections of 196th St SW from 2012 preliminary plan. (City of Lynnwood)

Threatening A Regional Growth Center

Lynnwood’s city center has a lot going on. For starters, Sound Transit plans to open its northernmost Link station at the Lynnwood Transit Center by 2023, which is just a few blocks south of 196th St SW. Three major private developments are under construction, including: a six-story, 150-room Hilton hotel; an eight-story senior housing apartment building with 308 units; and a seven-story affordable housing apartment building with 347 units. The large parcels of land and relatively connectable grid certainly lend themselves to a walkable, mixed-use urban district. Lynnwood’s city center plan also has the right bones in it to incentivize high-rise and mid-rise construction throughout. Things like a better, more multimodal 196th St SW design would flesh out those bones.

Lynnwood's City Center plans to allow building as high as 350 feet tall. (Lynnwood)
Lynnwood’s City Center plans to allow building as high as 350 feet tall. (City of Lynnwood)
The future light rail station in Lynnwood. (City of Lynnwood)
The future light rail station in Lynnwood. (City of Lynnwood)
The new six-story Hilton hotel. (City of Lynnwood)
The new six-story Hilton hotel. (City of Lynnwood)
Eight-story senior housing apartments. (City of Lynnwood)
Eight-story senior housing apartments. (City of Lynnwood)
The planned CenterCity Apartments. (City of Lynnwood)
The planned CenterCity Apartments. (City of Lynnwood)

Lynnwood will undoubtedly continue grow as light rail inches its way closer, but a stroad on steroids will permanently sever the two sides of a regional growth center likely kneecapping its ability to function as a desirable place to live, work, and play.

A Better Alternative

If Lynnwood wants to get serious about its city center, building a stroad isn’t the way to invest in it. For starters, seven lanes are excessive and unnecessary, so let’s just cast that idea away. A BAT lane has value, especially given that Community Transit may add a future Swift route on it; swap out one general purpose lane in each direction for BAT and then bump up the width of the planter strips or even try the earth-shattering idea of providing more than five-foot wide sidewalks.

Lynnwood could go further by adding mid-block crosswalks (half light crossing) on long-blocks so that pedestrians aren’t stranded with walking four blocks to the next crossing. Time the lights to provide frequent changes to allow pedestrians to cross instead of relegating them to ridiculous waits. Missing entirely from the plans are bicycle facilities. With light rail going in at 46th Ave W, the right answer seems to be that bike lanes should be installed on streets crossing 196th St SW to build a network on lower use and speed streets. The best candidates for that seem to be 48th Ave W and 46th Ave W, but the plans don’t involve anything that would provide safe facilities for bicyclists.

I understand converting an existing lane to a BAT lane is the type of thing that riles up some motorists, fills up inboxes, and causes headaches for City officials. However, if Lynnwood is serious about changing from a car-centric sprawled-out suburb to a balanced city with a vibrant core, it needs to take pedestrian mobility seriously; it can’t proceed with a seven-lane monstrosity on 196th St SW. A municipality can’t simply pass an aspirational city center plan and expect everything to magically change. The city council needs to follow through and make tough choices to make it a reality.

The project is probably a done deal since its been in planning for well over four years, but that shouldn’t stop urban advocates from raising red flags now. The SEPA comment period is open through 4pm tomorrow (November 4th). So if you care about quality urban places, now’s the time provide your feedback. Let project manager, David Mach, know that this design is a dud and that Lynnwood needs to rethink how an urban district should work. You can reach him at dmach@lynnwoodwa.gov.

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Doug Trumm is the Publication Director at The Urbanist. He joined the exodus to Seattle in 2014, leaving behind his home state of Minnesota. Living on disputed land between Wallingford and Fremont, he is doing his best to improve both neighborhoods. He is a grad student at the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance and a marketing intern at King County Metro. His views are his own and do not represent his employer.

8 COMMENTS

  1. I’m all for pedestrian and bus access, but I also see the reality. Lets focus on the road corridor for a moment. Major arterials are basically 2 GP lanes each direction and a middle turn lane or two depending on queue length. Transit is going to be fighting for the 1 hour commute all up and down the poorly planned puget sound. Apparently one transit technique is putting cars into so much congestion that bus riding is the right choice. As much as a city thinks it can combine GP and BRT into common lanes with bulbs and queue jumps the model breaks with too much congestion. If cars are waiting for 2-4 cycles of the traffic lights that is too much for bus delays and the side bulbs aren’t that long. BRT would add lanes in that environment which will greatly speed up bus times, but the pedestrian suffers and traffic lights with pedestrian signals will be longer. Maybe its seriously time to look at changing lane positions for different functions. Getting pedestrians off the side of the road safely is a good starting point. Buses sharing the right turn lane seems better than an inside bus lane(s) fighting GP left turns. Is it time to consider splitting these roads into a separate east and west or north and south with a block or three of mixed use in between?

  2. Those U-turns will require cars to encroach into the BAT lanes, there is no way for cars to make that tight of a U-turn. Trucks, forget about it. This is definitely a dog of a project, and will unfortunately remove a lot of the significant private landscaping around the uses, in favor of new small street trees.

    • Yes, and this is how such U-turns are typically designed. You can really see this on Bridgeport in University Place, where the street has an extra lane’s worth of width at each intersection to give more space to cars making the U-turns. Bridgeport is two lanes each direction, but has this third lane of extra width at its signals.
      The vehicles would only encroach on this BAT lane when they have a green light to U-turn, and so would not interfere with the buses sitting at a red light anyway.

  3. I like it better than what’s there. SR524/196th between 44th and Alderwood Mall Pkwy is mostly a holding lane for the queues waiting for I-5 and I-405. This will allow buses to clear that congestion.

  4. Speaking as someone who grew up in Lynnwood, this still looks like positive progress. Lynnwood will probably always be auto centric, but adding bus lanes and creating a town center is a positive step.

    I wouldn’t worry about eating up developable space in lynnwood with road. There is an enormous amount of low rent surface parking lots that could be converted into condos. Cheap land is the one thing that is plentiful.

    A bike lane is a good idea, but not on 196th. That’s like putting a bike lane on highway 99. It’s not safe, and there’s nowhere bike friendly to go on that road.

    44th street would make more sense for a protected bike lane. It passes by the light rail, and through more bikeable neighborhoods. It also goes by the highschool. That would help more people in the suburbs get in and out of town center than 196th in my opinion.

    Aside from that, the other place to make more bike friendly is the alderwood mall. The mall is really the biggest destination in lynnwood (yes, I know that’s kind of sad).

    Eventually the mall will have a light rail station under ST3, so they should think about how to make it more pedestrian friendly.

  5. How many plans to densify a “city center” begin with seizing a 27-feet wide swath of developable real estate and paving it over for highway widening?

    I don’t know exactly how many, but around here the list would start with SLU (Mercer famously widened at great expense, balanced by the removal of Broad Street). Shoreline’s proposals for 185th and Meridian are pretty similar (not sure about land acquisition, but adding general-purpose lanes on both). Downtown Bothell’s 527 widening project is more creative (i.e. pretentious) but substantially similar (here the land was a grassy strip that had been set aside for highway expansion already). Bellevue must have done this downtown a few times in the Bad Old Days, but more recently on 120th Ave with similar justifications.

    The plan for Seattle’s waterfront surface highway about half qualifies (it’s not necessarily about densifying the city center, but it is tied in with development in that part of it. I’d say about the same for some of Shoreline’s grander proposals for 145th.

    This isn’t to say Lynnwood’s plan is good, but it seems to be about par for the course.

    • Similar to the debate about the waterfront – if the only way to narrow the road width is to take away the bus lanes, I’m ok with the wider road.

      196th is the primary east-west road in that area. It will handle a lot of traffic as it connect Edmonds to I5 & Alderwood mall. Even ignoring LOS, I think removing a GP lane would be unreasonable given many people will still get around using cars. Even in a future where Lynwood builds up a downtown on the scale of Bellevue’s, there still needs to be an arterial that gets vehicles both into & through Lynnwood for all the people & businesses that exists in the suburbs west & east.

      Would it be nice to have more midblock pedestrian crossings? Sure, but those can always be added in later.

      • Yeah, I think it’s a bit unreasonable to expect the Lynnwood area to give up cars completely. If people start making Seattle trips via light rail, that alone is a big improvement.

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