Earlier this year, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) repaved State Route 522 between I-5 and Seattle’s city limit, the entirety of Lake City Way NE within the city. That $15 million project, which added new curb ramps along the corridor as well as along a short segment of SR-522 in Kenmore, kept the prior roadway configuration, with two lanes in each direction, a center turn lane, parking along some segments, and a northbound bus-only lane along the north half of the corridor.
Since that repaving, temporary roadway markings have been in place, including at all marked crosswalks. Rather than full zebra striping, these temporary marked crosswalks consist of narrow white strips delineating where to cross the street. At many intersections, including some unsignalized crossings at the heart of the commercial district around NE 125th Street, these markings have already disappeared. But full marked crosswalks may not be coming until next spring.
Several members of the Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board voiced concerns at their November meeting about the fact that Lake City Way, a corridor with a very high collision rate, would not have fully visible crosswalks back in place until after the darkest months of the year. Seattle’s new City Traffic Engineer, Venu Nemani, previously a traffic operations supervisor in the department, noted that the reason for the delay is that the material that is used to bind markings to the pavement doesn’t work well in wet, cold temperatures.
Following up on the issue, we checked with WSDOT, which had installed the temporary markings. In a response, WSDOT’s Bart Treece steered responsbility back toward the City of Seattle.
“In this instance, we consulted with the city about how to stripe the roadway to their standard,” Treece said. “I should note that we are still working on temporary striping in the area, so some crosswalks will look different in the coming weeks than how they look now. These temporary markings differ from the permanent markings in that they don’t include the cross-hatching that runs parallel to the sidewalk every few feet. However, they do demarcate the crosswalk for pedestrians and vehicles across the entire roadway. Permanent striping is planned for the spring when there is dry weather to complete the work.”
But the Seattle Department of Transportation noted they were assessing the condition of the temporary crosswalks and determining if changes could be made before spring. “A week ago [as of December 8], our City Traffic Engineer Venu Namani personally reviewed the temporary striping on SR 522 for the entire length of the project (Lake City Way from NE 80th St to NE 145th St). We are now working with WSDOT to discuss their plans for the temporary crosswalk markings over the winter until permanent striping is complete and determine if there are opportunities to enhance pavement markings,” SDOT spokesperson Mariam Ali told us.
The recently completed repaving project did come with some badly needed pedestrian improvements. New signalized crossings have been added at NE 83rd Street and at NE 135th Street, though they haven’t yet been turned on. Sidewalks have also been added between NE 88th and 89th Streets and between NE 91st and NE 95th Streets, partially funded by the state. But the entire corridor is badly in need of a more comprehensive makeover, an ask made harder by its status as a state highway.
Lake City Way is a particularly dangerous street for pedestrians. In 2021 alone, three people walking have been hit and killed by drivers, all of them in a stretch north of NE 130th Street that doesn’t currently have a signalized crosswalk until NE 137th Street. The most recent fatal crash, on November 13th, occurred when a pedestrian attempted to cross the roadway median a few hundred feet north of NE 130th Street and was hit by a driver heading southbound. At the intersection of NE 130th Street and Lake City Way NE, the speed limit drops from 35 mph to 25 mph, but there isn’t any signage indicating that change until close to NE 127th Street.
The likelihood of a person walking surviving a crash at 25 mph to 30 mph is markedly higher than at 35 mph to 40 mph. Of the 19 people walking killed by people driving so far in 2021, six of them have been walking along just two state-controlled corridors, Lake City Way NE and Aurora Avenue N. These highways generally have higher speed limits than the surrounding City-owned arterial streets, which had their speed limits lowered at 25 mph across the board in 2019.
Attempts to improve Lake City Way are not new. In 2013, a task force was formed to make recommendations on how things could be improved, in a traditional Seattle Process fashion. That taskforce resulted in an action plan that was implemented in 2014 and included things like targeted enforcement patrols along the street and education campaigns, both long forgotten now. Ultimately, the taskforce resulted in some spot improvements, including flashing beacons at NE 125th Street, and new sidewalks and curb bulbs at 24th Avenue NE. But nearly a decade later, Lake City Way remains one of the most dangerous streets in the city.
Documentation noted at the time that there had been 21 deaths or serious injuries along the street between 2007 and 2011, a number that is depressingly similar to the 28 deaths and serious injuries that were seen on the corridor between 2015 and mid-2021.
And unfortunately, unless something is done, the problem could get worse. Lake City also happens to be growing faster than most other neighborhoods in North Seattle, as Shaun Kuo covered in an article on the roughly 2,200 apartments recently built or on the way. Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan designated Lake City one of six Hub Urban Villages, but transportation investments haven’t matched the denser land use. With another 3,000 residents walking around Lake City on streets with only minimal changes, collisions involving pedestrians may only get more common.
It remains unclear if the street will see any interim treatments to highlight the presence of pedestrians before final installation of crosswalk markings next spring. But repaving a huge stretch of road like Lake City Way without a plan to provide pedestrians with the level of protection and visibility that they had before is just another illustration of who is prioritized on our streets, and on our state highways in particular.
Ryan Packer lives in the Summit Slope neighborhood of Capitol Hill and has been writing for the The Urbanist since 2015. They report on multimodal transportation issues, #VisionZero, preservation, and local politics. They believe in using Seattle's history to help attain the vibrant, diverse city that we all wish to inhabit. Ryan's writing has appeared in Capitol Hill Seattle Blog, Bike Portland, and Seattle Bike Blog, where they also did a four-month stint as temporary editor.