After weeks of deliberation and hundreds of votes, we’re down to two finalists for Seattle’s worst intersection in 2019.

Now in its seventh year, the worst intersection in Seattle competition brings out the very best of the worst by inviting readers to nominate and campaign for those crossroads that impede commutes and frustrate people on foot, riding bikes, or riding the bus.

The two finalists advanced from a crowded field of over 16 nominees. One of them has been crowned the worst intersection before. The other is certainly well qualified.

Readers of The Urbanist voted for former winner Denny Way & Stewart St ahead of Mercer & 9th in South Lake Union. Denny & Stewart (& Yale) advanced past many worthy nominees in South Lake Union, so many, in fact that there was an extra play-in round to narrow down the options. Denny & Stewart was voted Seattle’s worst intersection back in 2017.

The former champion will face off in the finals against NE 40th St, NE 40th St, and 7th Ave NE in the University District. This intersection has the unique distinction of having four intersecting streets with the same name. In last week’s semifinal competition, this five-way intersection beat another five-way intersection, Rainier Ave S, S Jackson St, Boren Ave S and 14th Ave S. The latter intersection at the border of the International District and Seattle’s Atlantic neighborhood had twice as many unique street names as the winner, but it received fewer votes.

40th, 40th, and 7th

First, the new contender. When people talk about dysfunctional Seattle intersections, this is a great example:

  • Five-way intersection.
  • Only one direction has a different name (7th Ave NE) and the other four are all called NE 40th St. How did anyone think this was a good idea in the first place? And, regardless, how has it stayed this way?
  • On top of the directional confusion, the busiest bike trail in the region passes by. And, there is no provision for people on bikes to leave or join the trail and cross the intersection. In fact, instead of a proper bike path for people headed toward UW, someone (not SDOT) has made a little asphalt ramp to make it a little easier to jump the curb.
  • The intersection is a five-way stop, meaning the intersection is anything but efficient as drivers try to determine whose turn it is (and maybe check for people on foot or on bike). People on bike and on foot need to make contact with five different drivers to make sure it’s safe—or simply look forward and cross at their own risk.
  • Because one of the NE 40th streets leads to the University Bridge, traffic backs up on weekdays, causing the intersection to fail as nobody can move when drivers wait to queue.
  • Not only do people in cars get delayed, but buses get stuck in the mess with no bypass, ruining reliability of the 31/32 on weekday afternoons.

And there may be more flaws, but we have to move on.

Denny and Stewart

The intersections of Denny Way, Stewart St, and nearby Yale Ave on the other hand are a little more straightforward. While 40th, 40th, and 7th is confusing and inconvenient, Denny and Stewart is unpleasant and downright dangerous.

There is not a rule against having a previous winner be voted the worst again, and until now, no other worst intersection has advanced this far. The fact that Denny and Stewart is on the doorstep of another title goes to show how bad this intersection really is.

Like 40th, 40th, and 7th, this intersection also backs up regularly (this one due to I-5 traffic), and at those times is miserable for all roadway users. But, it also has the distinction of being one of Seattle’s most dangerous intersections, dating back to 1971.

It’s also a very unpleasant intersection to walk through, with with aggressive crosswalk-blocking drivers, dangerous right turns on red, and speeding traffic coming off of I-5. People walking across both Denny and Yale have to be quick to make both intersections, or else they’re stuck waiting to cross for another two minute light cycle.

Speaking of cycles, this isn’t a common bike route, but is a common place for people on bikes to get injured.

The intersections can claim some improvements over the past several years, including a reduction of Yale Ave to one-way, creating a larger pedestrian area near the route 8 bus route, and a new Route 8 bypass lane to speed up the chronically-late 8. SDOT claims collisions have been reduced since 2014. Still, spending a couple minutes here is enough time to know that it could still be Seattle’s worst intersection.

What do you say? Submit your vote by next Sunday, June 16 to choose the worst intersection in Seattle for 2019.

Article Author
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Troy is a pedestrian advocate who serves on the board of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways. He loves cities and walking, hiking, and biking. He wrote a book to help others looking to find the right place for them, called Move to the Place of Your Dreams: A Relocation Handbook. By day, he is a professional consultant for a technology firm.