On November 26th, volunteers with Seattle’s most active street safety organization, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, criss-crossed the city, stopping at sites along our streets where collisions within the past year had led to someone’s death. Somberly they placed white silhouettes marking the spots and bearing the age of the person who was killed and how they were using the street when the collision occurred.

Northeast Seattle’s representative on the City Council, Rob Johnson, attended a gathering dedicated to remembering lives lost along NE 65th St, a corridor that has had an unusually high number of collisions in recent decades, many of them leading to serious injuries and several tragic lives lost within the past few years.

The corridor has gotten a lot of attention, mainly due to an outspoken group that has galvanized attention around the #fix65th label and pushed the city to commit to taking action. Because this is such a high-profile street redesign, it has the potential to represent a model for how these safety-focused street overhauls happen in the future.

Earlier this year, we looked at the different designs for each segment that had been approved by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) from the alternatives presented to the public.

The primary segment of NE 65th St will have protected bike lanes on both sides of the street, with one travel lane in each direction and a center turn lane. This is very similar to the configuration of NE 75th St after a 2014 rechannelization on a short stretch, which did lead to reductions in traffic speed and collisions.

One difference is SDOT plans to add transit islands will to bus stops so that buses do not need to enter the bike lane. In order to leave enough road space to accommodate a stopped bus at transit stops and a travel lane to allow vehicles to pass buses, the design calls for the removal of planting strips next to bus stops and for narrowing sidewalks as well.

The proposed design by SDOT. (City of Seattle)
The proposed design by SDOT. (City of Seattle)

SDOT has completed 60% design and we now have a better idea of exactly what NE 65th St will look like: sidewalks will be four feet wide, next to a four-foot wide bike lane.

SDOT's 60% design at bus islands along NE 65th St. (City of Seattle)
SDOT’s 60% design at bus islands along NE 65th St. (City of Seattle)

Seattle’s right-of-way improvement manual doesn’t recommend sidewalk widths below six feet in any area of the city, and recommends eight-foot minimum width in pedestrian-designated zones, which in the case of NE 65th St  from 9th Ave NE to 15th Ave NE. Four-foot sidewalks are literally the minimum size required by ADA requirements–a very low bar. It bears mentioning that in 2021, a Sound Transit light rail station will open at NE 65th St and 12th Ave NE–the street will become an even more major transfer point. Sound Transit estimates daily ridership at 8,000 people in 2030, most of whom will arrive via transit, walking, or biking. Pedestrian travel between Roosevelt and Ravenna/Bryant will increase, and four-foot bottlenecking sidewalks will prompt people to walk in the bike lane. It will be hard to argue that that’s not by design.

Sidewalk width guidelines in the Seattle right-of-way improvement manual. (City of Seattle)
Sidewalk width guidelines in the Seattle right-of-way improvement manual. (City of Seattle)
Planting strips along NE 65th St will be removed and sidewalks narrowed at transit stops. (Photo by the author)
Planting strips along NE 65th St will be removed and sidewalks narrowed at transit stops. (Photo by the author)

As I wrote about in my last post on NE 65th St, no changes are being considered for the corridor east of 20th Ave NE. When I spoke to Councilmember Johnson, he told me that the segment is slated to be repaved in the next few years and that changes could be considered to the segment later. However, the collision data doesn’t support ending the Vision Zero project at 20th Ave NE. There have been a number of pedestrian and bike collisions east of there in recent years, and speed is just as much an issue there as further west.

SDOT is also working with King County Metro Transit to consolidate and relocate bus stops along the corridor. The stop removals will, in some ways, compensate for the out-of-lane bus stops, where bus operators will have to wait for traffic to clear to merge back into the lane. But it’s worth noting that there will be no westbound bus stops between 15th Ave NE and Ravenna Ave NE. Eastbound the maximum distance between a bus stop is a little shorter. The bus stop consolidations around Roosevelt Way NE and 12th Ave NE will set up bus operators for a seamless transfer when the station opens in 2021, however.

Bus stop relocation and removal. (City of Seattle)
Bus stop relocation and removal. (City of Seattle)
Evening commute travel times in the eastbound direction for buses and private vehicles. (City of Seattle)
Evening commute travel times in the eastbound direction for buses and private vehicles. (City of Seattle)

SDOT’s data showed that travel time for buses along the corridor will increase slightly with the out-of-lane bus stops discussed above (Option B2) compared to in-lane stops (Option B1), but that travel time for vehicles would not have been impacted. In other words, the out-of-lane bus stops that require planter strip removal and sidewalk narrowing don’t benefit travel time for private autos and actually hurt bus travel times.

And then there’s the issue of pedestrian crossings. In a survey conducted by SDOT, 53% of respondents said that they were either very or somewhat unsatisfied with the quantity and/or quality of pedestrian crossings across NE 65th St. 57% of respondents said they felt either very or somewhat unsafe walking along or crossing NE 65th St on either a bike or on foot. Nonetheless, plans do not currently include any additional crosswalks along the corridor: that means the only place where a crosswalk will be provided, after all of these changes are implemented, between 12th Ave NE and 20th Ave NE will be at 15th Ave NE. After that, the next crosswalk is at 25th Ave NE.

Oralea White, a board member with the Ravenna-Bryant Community Association (RBCA), told me that she thinks that the plans leave a lot to be desired for pedestrians, and do not take into account current behavior, where people are unable to cross the street at unmarked crosswalks where traffic does not stop. “Let’s look at how our neighbors use the road to get where they need to go and help them do it safely,” she said. “RBCA’s Mobility Assessment Survey demonstrated that folks do not feel safe walking around the neighborhood but they’d walk more if they felt safer doing so. While there are huge improvements coming to NE 65th Street, I don’t see that SDOT’s plan goes far enough in addressing pedestrian safety.”

White posted a video to Twitter showing pedestrians trying to cross 65th St at 21st Ave during a morning commute:

 

As SDOT heads toward starting construction on this project next year, it’s worthwhile to step back and look at how this corridor’s future is being realized: some improvements will improve safety, but space for vehicles to pass buses and not stop at intersections is coming at the expense of people walking, biking, and taking transit.

Tonight (December 12th) from 5pm to 7pm and Thursday (December 14th) from 7am to 9am at Broadcast Coffee (6515 Roosevelt Way NE), SDOT is hosting drop-in sessions to discuss the project. A consensus seems to be growing that SDOT needs to go back to the drawing board and propose changes to NE 65th St that take the long term needs of a light-rail-oriented neighborhood into consideration, rather than focusing only on the needs of the people driving.

SDOT Finalizes 65th Street Vision Zero Concepts

9 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for this article and for the work you do to help
    create a better community. I sincerely respect and appreciate the work
    you do. And, now, for my question. I have to believe I misread this: “that means the only place where a crosswalk will be provided, after all
    of these changes are implemented, between 12th Ave NE and 20th Ave NE
    will be at 15th Ave NE. After that, the next crosswalk is at 25th Ave
    NE.” Surely, you don’t mean that there will be no crossing between 15th and 25th. I assume the 20th Ave NE crossing will stay. By “that” you must referring to the 20th Ave NE crossing, correct?

    • Yes, thanks for clarifying- I will reword that as it’s a bit confusing. Crossings only at 15th, 20th, and 25th.

      • There is also a crossing at Ravenna Avenue. Ravenna is midway between 20th and 25th. That means the city could add one at 18th, and we would have crossings every two to three blocks, from 8th to 25th. I’m not saying that is ideal, but a big improvement.

        Worth mentioning is that there is a bus stop on 18th (https://goo.gl/maps/3wZ11TDbjot). So right now, someone on the other side of the street has to cross an unmarked crosswalk, or walk several blocks out of there way, just to get to that stop. Of course few will do the latter, and the city is simply ignoring the safety concerns of the former.

        Reading the city’s proposal, you would think that 65th is a major automotive corridor (like Aurora). It isn’t. It just doesn’t go very far. There are stop signs at the eastern end. Not because it intersects another arterial, but because it makes a turn (https://goo.gl/maps/CRgpEWGBNp62). It is only a couple miles from there to the freeway. For such a short distance, folks can slow down.

        • For the people who use 65th on a daily basis, it is a major corridor. It supports many neighborhoods and people from Greenlake to Magnuson Park. SDOT has failed with this attempt, par for the course for Kubly and SDOT.

          • Pretty sure what Ross meant by “major corridor” was that Aurora was used by lots of non-local automobile trips. NE 65th is clearly not. My house is incredibly important housing infrastructure for my family; that doesn’t make it major housing infrastructure for the region. 🙂

          • Yep, exactly. Imagine 65th gets shut down at say, 35th Ave., and everyone knows about it. People who live close just drive the residential streets. Other people go around, using 75th, 55th or Sand Point Way. Traffic is a bit worse on those other streets, but really not that bad.

            Now imagine Aurora gets shut down. Traffic shifts to other arterials, but it can’t handle the volume. Traffic shifts to I-5, and starts moving at a standstill. This, in turn, slows down the two floating bridges (nowhere for that traffic to go) which pushes traffic to I-405. The entire region is effected.

            SDOT is prioritizing automobile traffic in a corridor that is simply not that important for automobile traffic. Make the cars wait for the buses, and provide more space for pedestrians (and bikes). Make the east side of 65th safer for bikes, and add more crosswalks. Someone driving from the freeway to Sand Point might be delayed a minute or two. Big deal.

  2. North End drivers don’t care about pedestrians. I grew up there, and still visit my parents there regularly, and the traffic is awful. NOT the amount of it. The way it behaves. Ignore pedestrians, surge through yellow lights, phones out, signals non-existent. It really has gone downhill.

  3. Yes, SDOT should go back to the drawing board. There is not sufficient arterial width to provide priority to all modes. NE 65th Street is quite different than NE 75th Street; the striping that works on the latter arterial is not correct for the former. NE 75th Street feeds the SR-522 I-5 interchange and has much less retail. NE 65th Street has more retail, Roosevelt High, Link, and frequent bus transit. The bike infrastructure should be placed on a different street from transit. Of course, sidewalks should not be narrowed. Pedestrians should have the highest priority. Pedestrians, including intending transit riders, have to cross the arterial safely. Transit should have in-lane stops for good flow. East-west bike infrastructure is on NE 75th Street, Ravenna Boulevard NE, and could be added to NE 70th Street. That would align with the bike lanes over I-5 and signals at the Roosevelt couplet.

  4. It is time for Kubly to go. This is not the first time his team has produced something that is terrible. Given the fact that the new mayor is mulling over some changes, it is time we get someone in here who knows what they are doing.

    Even before they did the research, it should have been obvious that out of lane bus stops are a really bad idea. This is not a major automobile corridor, but it is a major transit corridor. Not only will you have the future Link station, but this will be the terminus of the Roosevelt RapidRide (with service along Roosevelt, Eastlake and South Lake Union). There aren’t huge numbers of people living along 65th, but there are lots of buses, since it makes sense as a continuation of other east-west routes. That is what the 62 does right now. Slowing down the buses — any buses — in that area is a terrible idea.

    But narrowing the sidewalk just takes the cake. Who narrows the sidewalk right next to a major subway station? Just ridiculous. The folks in charge just ignored the importance of transit in the area, and came up with a very stupid plan, that goes against their own guidelines in several ways. Now, instead of having to fine tune the work, ordinary citizens are being asked to take time out their busy day, and either write letters, or attend meetings, just to salvage this thing.

    Oh, and after the first meeting, they should have addressed the most dangerous section, which is to the east. That is where people drive the fastest. This is just a bad plan all around. Bad for safety, bad for transit, bad for bike travel.

    Kubly is asleep at the wheel. We need someone who knows what they are doing.

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