The existing pedestrian overpass at this location was built in the 1960’s and does not meet the current American with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards for accessibility. Over the past decade, the area immediately west of Aurora and centered at Bitter Lake has seen a boom in senior housing developments. Over 1,500 new senior housing units have been built in that time. Because of the number of senior citizens in the area, it is especially important to improve the accessibility of this busy intersection.
The crews will install new curb ramps at all four corners, and will add a marked crosswalk on the north leg of the intersection. They will also add pedestrian countdown signals.
As part of the Aurora Traffic Safety project, which has been reviewed here (part 1, part 2), the intersection with Halladay St will be improved. This intersection has one of the highest amounts of crashes for motor vehicles (nearly 20 per year), and also poses danger to pedestrians due to vehicles turning off Aurora at a high rate of speed. The new traffic island at this intersection will be constructed with concrete and feature new curb ramps and a better walking surface for pedestrians.
Additionally, radar speed limit signs will be installed at five locations along Aurora. These signs have been shown to reduce vehicle speeds by 3-5 miles per hour. The high speed of traffic along Aurora is one reason why it has so many fatalities.
2011’s Worst Intersection in Seattle… isn’t an intersection at all. At its cross streets that don’t actually cross – John, Thomas, Harrison, and Republican – Aurora presents a nearly half-mile long barrier to pedestrian movement. Aurora Ave is a human-made scar through Seattle that obstructs the flow of people – nowhere worse than between the dense Lower Queen Anne / South Lake Union areas.
The street grid will eventually be reconnected, but not until the completion of the Alaskan Way Deep Bore Tunnel boondoggle in 2015 or 2016. Councilmember Tim Burgess earlier requested that WSDOT open crossings at the completion of the Mercer Corridor Project in 2014.
Regardless of when these intersections are restored, it’s too long to wait. In the three year period between April of 2005 and March of 2008, five pedestrians were struck within the 0.4 mile length of Aurora between Denny and Mercer – this is more than were struck in the 4 miles immediately to the north between Mercer and Green Lake.
Opening these crossings to people on foot would make it significantly easier to access Seattle Center and for workers on either side to access more lunch and happy hour options. The closed intersections mean that many trips take an extra 10 minutes of walking, which is inconvenient enough to discourage people from walking at all.
Reopening the intersections could improve safety for vehicles as well. There were 72 collisions on Aurora from Thomas to Republican during the time period referenced above. Vehicles here move 40-60 miles per hour, so providing signalized intersections would protect motorists as they turn onto Aurora.
I’m not optimistic that we’ll see changes anytime soon. This section of Aurora carries roughly 60,000 vehicles daily, and signals would delay these vehicles. Highway 99 is under the jurisdiction of WSDOT, an organization whose goal for decades has been to move more cars, and adding a signal here – where Aurora is essentially a freeway – would go against their deeply-ingrained traffic engineering standards. 60,000 drivers could generate a lot of complaints, sadly more than a few concerned pedestrians can.
As we saw in part 1, Aurora is a dangerous highway, especially for pedestrians. The Aurora Traffic Safety Project is making Aurora safer for all users through a three-pronged approach of engineering, enforcement, and education.
There is only $250,000 available for engineering improvements along Aurora, so “getting word out is a critical piece” of the plan according to project manager Jim Curtin. Because many pedestrian collisions are caused by inattentive drivers who fail to yield the right of way, the tag line of the project is “Expect the Unexpected.” “We want people to be ready for anything at any time,” says Curtin.
New billboards on the corridor remind people to slow down and watch for pedestrians. Also, five radar speed signs will remind drivers how fast they are going. This method can lower speeds in these targeted areas by 3-5 miles per hour according to studies referenced by SDOT.
Billboard to remind drivers to be careful
There are also pedestrian safety patrols on Aurora to make sure that drivers properly yield to pedestrians. Drivers who don’t yield to pedestrians will get a ticket and a brochure to remind them to drive safely around people on foot.
The Washington Traffic Safety Commission has supplied seventy-five thousand dollars for additional police work during the duration of the two-year project. Citations issued on Aurora are up 110%, and 10,000 citations have been written since the project launched in June of last year.
Meanwhile, SDOT is doing what it can to address the road design. “If we had funding in place, we would like to re-engineer the roadway and put changes in place to slow people down,” says Curtin. The majority of pedestrian collisions occur in intersections and the existing signals are already “the highest form of traffic control that we can provide.” Still, SDOT has repainted crosswalks at all signals at a cost of $1,500 per crosswalk, and added new crosswalks at 115th and 130th Streets.
But Curtin says there’s more than just new paint. “When the Traffic Safety Project is complete in June of 2011, we will have installed more than 30 new curb ramps along Aurora (fourteen of which are already complete). In addition, we have applied for a grant to install a new traffic signal at N 95th and Aurora. This is the mid-point of a ten block stretch that lacks crosswalks despite busy transit stops on the east and west sides of the street.” Just a few weeks ago a pedestrian was struck at 95th St, so this improvement can’t come soon enough.
SDOT has applied for an additional grant to install curb ramps at N 135th St, another site of serious accidents. Other improvements that have already been made include reclaiming part of 84th Street to create a bus stop plaza and adding a left turn signal to traffic lights at 80th St.
The project team will continue to evaluate conditions along Aurora, looking deeper at collision patterns as well as lighting along the corridor.
SDOT is still evaluating how to reduce pedestrian collisions near Green Lake. There were some good ideas shared on this blog last time someone was hit there. According to Curtin:
We are currently leaning toward an option similar to one of your reader suggestions. In this option, we would install signage or paint directly onto the jersey barrier with the “no pedestrian crossing” symbol (the ped symbol with a red circle with a line through it). Beneath the symbol we would paint “crosswalk X blocks” with an arrow pointing in the direction of the nearest crosswalk. We would install these markings in areas where we see this behavior most often. We’ve identified several areas thus far including: the Green Lake area, near the N 50th St underpass, near the N 46th St underpass, near the N 41st St overpass, near the N 38th St underpass/north end of the Aurora Bridge, near the south end of the Aurora Bridge, near the Galer St overpass, near the Broad St underpass, and near Denny Way. Believe it or not, most of the ped collisions on the south end of the corridor happen within one to two blocks of a safe crossing. Again, there is no guarantee that pedestrians will take time to read the message but we feel that this is a viable option.
While Aurora will still be a dangerous roadway without re-engineering, the project is already seeing success. Curtin says, “We’ve seen a 30% reduction in collisions and want to sustain that for the next couple years and beyond.”
Aurora Ave N, one of Seattle’s busiest roadways, is also one of its most dangerous for pedestrians as well as drivers.
Traffic Death Thermometer near Aurora in 1940
The Washington State Department of Transportation analyzed three years of collisions along Aurora. The study found that while pedestrians were involved in less than 3% of the total collisions along this roadway, they accounted for more than 30% of the fatalities. Over 70,000 drivers pass along at least part of the eight-mile stretch between the Battery Street Tunnel and 145th St at the Seattle City Limits every day, and significantly fewer people walk on this mostly-car-oriented roadway. Pedestrians therefore represent a disproportionate number of the fatalities that result from collisions on Aurora.
Due to the high speed of traffic along this street, people struck by a vehicle on Aurora are more likely to die than people hit on other roadways. 8 out of 10 pedestrians hit at 40 mph suffer fatal injuries and, according to a 2003 WSDOT study, vehicle speeds along Aurora average around 45 miles per hour.
According to Jim Curtin of SDOT, “We see more fatalities on the south section, where there are higher speeds. Up north pedestrian collisions are more frequent but less severe.”
“The speed limit on Aurora south of Green Lake is 40 mph but speeds in this segment tend to be over 45 mph,” says Curtin.
The fundamental problem with Aurora is the road design. The roadway does not meet modern standards for vehicles, much less pedestrians. For example, sharp curves limit visibility, and narrow lane widths lead to more vehicle accidents. Pedestrians are further endangered by the lack of sidewalks on Aurora north of 110th, where sidewalks exist only in front of recent development.
However, most pedestrians are struck while in an intersection. The intersections at 85th, 90th, and Northgate Way account for 1/4 of all the pedestrian collisions along Aurora. More than half of these collisions occur between 85th and 125th. Many of these accidents are due to “inattentive drivers turning their vehicle” according to the WSDOT study. “I don’t know that people are following the rules of the road and yielding the right of way to pedestrians,” says Curtin.
Also, crosswalks are spaced far apart in some places, and many people attempt to cross Aurora where a crosswalk does not exist. According to Curtin, “a lot of people who have been doing this have problems with drug and alcohol issues. We have seen a number of people get hit near the motels.”
Speed, inattentive drivers, and poor road design make Aurora a dangerous place to walk. In part 2, we’ll talk next about how the Aurora Traffic Safety Project is addressing the issues along this major corridor.
There is a single crosswalk, however in this case the pedestrian was trying to cross just a block away from it. Apparently jaywalkers across this section of Aurora are pretty common. While others commenting on this incident are quick to blame the pedestrian for jaywalking, the fact that this roadway is such a common location for pedestrian accidents points to flaws in design.
With walking being such an important mode of transportation in Seattle, it’s important that the built environment enables that. There is certainly a lot of motor vehicle traffic that passes along highway 99, but it also interrupts the street grid and and acts as a barricade for anyone trying to get to the walking haven that is Green Lake.
In this specific case, it’s not necessarily clear that there should be more crosswalks across Aurora, but perhaps it would help reduce the incidence of pedestrian accidents.
The plan for replacing the Alaskan Way viaduct includes reconnecting the street grid in South Lake Union across Aurora near the current north Battery St tunnel entrance. However, building these roads over the highway wouldn’t be complete until 2015 or 2016.
Publicola reports that Councilmember Tim Burgess recently pushed the state to consider reconnecting the grid earlier. Mercer St is being converted back into a two-way street in the next couple years and Burgess is concerned that the two-way Mercer project won’t be successful without congestion relief provided by connecting John, Thomas, or Harrison Street across Aurora.
Currently, the only way across Aurora in this area is by Denny Way, or the Mercer or Broad St underpasses, all of which are rather unpleasant pedestrian experiences. As a frequent walker in that area, I would welcome another way to cross Aurora, however it is not yet clear how seriously the state will consider Burgess’ suggestion.
Highway 99 isn’t a popular pedestrian route, but the segment on the east side of Queen Anne Hill is surprisingly sheltered and comfortable, leading to beautiful views from the Aurora Bridge. Dexter Ave N is a nice residential street for a stroll on the way back.
Start at Aurora and Mercer. The 5, 16, 26, 28, and 358 buses will get you very close, or there is some street parking along Dexter just a block east.
Head north along the east side of Aurora. Across the highway is the Church of Scienology, with its large Dianetics advertisement. Up ahead you’ll see a large neon Pepsi sign. The original sign, installed in 1958, was globe-shaped and was replaced by the current version in 1998.
Neon Pepsi sign, installed in 1998
After passing a parking lot on the right, Aloha Street is the last through street that you’ll have to cross for over a mile. The sidewalk is insulated from the street by a row of trees that provide a surprising amount of shade and protection from rain (as I learned from experience). And, while the buildings aren’t really pedestrian-oriented, they combine with the trees to provide a surprisingly comfortable walking experience.
Greenery along Aurora
There are a few breaks in the trees and the buildings as you pass by some parking lots and car repair businesses. There is also a courtyard and some other viewpoints where you can overlook Lake Union and look across to Capitol Hill.
View from Aurora of Lake Union
On your right are several staircases down toward Dexter Ave. The street will veer left. This is one of the more uncomfortable parts of the walk, as you can see where some vehicles have left the roadway.
On the opposite side of the street is the Aloha Inn Transitional Housing.
Flattened bushes and sign
You’ll pass by Seattle Hydroponics, which sells lights and other materials for growing plants without soil, a more efficient way to grow plants. You’ll see their large revolving lights through the window as you pass by.
The east side of Queen Anne hill is interesting, as there are several old, non-descript buildings, including a couple homes and the Hillside Motel.
House and garage nestled in the hill along Aurora
At one point you’ll pass over a quiet one-lane road, which is the southbound exit from Aurora to Dexter Ave. Shortly after that is Lynn St, which you’re free to take, as it curves right back around to Aurora.
The George Washington Memorial Bridge is close ahead. Feel free to walk as far along it as you wish. It offers a beautiful view east including Wallingford and Gas Works Park on Lake Union.
Dexter Ave & Lake Union from the George Washington Bridge
There is a staircase to pass under the highway if you’d like to look out on the west side toward Fremont, Ballard, and the Olympic Mountains. The bridge was opened to traffic in 1932 and has been the site of over 230 suicides becoming the second deadliest suicide bridge in the US. Phones and posters were installed as a deterrent, but some groups are campaigning for the installation of a safety net or protective barrier.
Sign and phone on the G Washington Bridge
Head back south along the east side of Aurora. Cross the first street you pass, Halliday St, and then turn left on it. If you turn left on it before you cross, you’ll reach an awkward little intersection with no crosswalks where the sidewalk just ends. Continue along Halliday St as it curves right and turns into 6th Ave N. You’ll pass a park and p-patch under construction on your right before reaching Dexter Ave N.
Go right on Dexter to head south. This is a nice little neighborhood and is similar to Eastlake, though without the commercial center or new condos.
Old building along Dexter Ave
Swedish Cultural Center along Dexter
Plenty of aluminum on this apartment building's garage door
Watch out, pedestrians
Enjoy the stroll on this quiet street as you head back toward our starting point at Mercer.
highlights: few driveways to cross over along Aurora, trees provide good cover and insulation from the street, Dexter Ave is a nice residential street, good views from the bridge lowlights: few commercial places to stop for a drink, lack of public space, fast traffic along Aurora
In the 1950s, Seattle annexed unincorporated land between N 85th St and N 145th St. However, with no local jurisdiction, much of that area was not developed with sidewalks and according to local resident Richard Dyksterhuis, little has changed since then. Like the Bitter Lake resident who wants to make his neighborhood more walkable, Dyksterhuis wants to make this part of town better for walking.
For the past five years, Dyksterhuis, 83, has rallied neighbors and contacted city officials numerous times to call attention to the lack of sidewalks on his street. “Between 800 and 1,200 low income elderly live in the Linden Avenue area,” said Dyksterhuis, who wants to make it into a complete neighborhood street where his peers can walk or use their wheelchairs safely.
There has been some improvement recently:
A 100-foot stretch of gravel and potholes has been asphalted and a line painted on the pavement to mark the path for pedestrians. Further north, bewteen 143rd and 145th streets, an 8-foot-wide sidewalk was built last fall, three years after Dyksterhuis and other neighborhood activists got Mayor Nickels to pay a visit and the project was included in the city’s budget.
However, more could be done to transform the area by making it more walkable:
But opportunity for change has opened since two car dealerships have gone out of business and the big lots have been put up for sale. “I want you to find a developer with a heart, compassion, sense of beauty and commitment to social change,” said Dyksterhuis, who envisions a residential complex with a 18-story apartment building, a European-style plaza and small businesses. “It would help transform Aurora Avenue North.”