Tag Archive for 'South Lake Union'

2011 Worst Intersection in Seattle

The pedestrians have spoken!

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.


View 2011 Worst Intersection in Seattle in a larger map

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.

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SDOT’s explanation for crosswalk closure worth examining

Earlier this week we pointed out that the crosswalk along Westlake at Mercer has been closed as part of the Mercer Corridor Project. We have an update, as SDOT has responded to confirm our assumptions:

You are correct that the eastern crosswalk at Mercer St. and Westlake Ave. N is closed due to the two left-hand turn lanes from southbound Westlake Ave. N onto eastbound Mercer St. The volume and timing of traffic turning left (traffic that crosses the eastern crosswalk) is too high to keep the crosswalk safely open. This traffic configuration is in place to accommodate high volumes of traffic now using Westlake Ave. N to access Mercer St. while construction is occurring on other streets, such as 9th Ave. N.

The eastern crosswalk at Mercer St. and Westlake Ave. N will likely be closed for the duration of the Mercer Corridor Project, through mid-2013.

(emphasis above is mine) The Mercer Corridor Project will significantly improve the pedestrian environment in this area, however, like the McGraw Square construction, this is another project where the impact to pedestrians is worth examining.


View Westlake @ Mercer Crosswalk Closure in a larger map

As with most things SDOT does, safety appears to be one of their foremost considerations. However, the current intersection signaling appears to pose safety risks to both drivers and pedestrians. The current light signals allow drivers on southbound Westlake Ave to turn left onto Mercer St after yielding to northbound traffic. Then the signal changes to a green arrow to allow a protected left turn. By allowing drivers to turn left on yield, the chances of a vehicle collision are increased, which is apparent upon observing rush hour traffic. Due to traffic back-ups, northbound vehicles sometimes have to stop on green before entering the intersection or stop in the intersection, making the unprotected left turn dangerous for vehicles during peak hours.

Vehicle navigating unprotected left turn

Vehicle navigating unprotected left turn

Furthermore, with the large “Crosswalk Closed” signs, and no visible crosswalk signal on the east side of the intersection, drivers will be less likely to scan for pedestrians inevitably crossing in this area. The crosswalk closure means that there may be fewer people on foot to be hit by turning cars, but with drivers focusing on navigating the unprotected left turn, the few pedestrians who do cross (albeit illegally) may be more likely to be hit.

Keeping traffic moving through the intersection may be a bigger reason for SDOT closing the crosswalk, but doing this doesn’t significantly increase how many cars can turn left onto Mercer during peak periods. During this evening’s commute, only around 2-5 cars were able to turn on the unprotected left arrow – a relatively small number compared to the high number of cars that turn left on the protected arrow. Re-opening the crosswalk may slow down the cars that are able to turn left on yield, but the number of pedestrians crossing here isn’t high enough to have much of an impact to left-turning traffic.

One of the goals of the Mercer Corridor Project is to support walking in the area – the project will create a street through a neighborhood (South Lake Union) where there is now basically an onramp to a freeway. So why shouldn’t this transformation start with the beginning of the construction project?

By closing this crosswalk, SDOT is expecting people on foot to cross Westlake twice to cross Mercer once, which can add over three minutes to a walk on foot – a long time to spend navigating a single intersection, especially in a city that aspires to be the most walkable city in the nation.

Pedestrians walking on closed crosswalk

Life-threatening jaywalking or civil disobedience?

As with most construction projects, some inconvenience is unavoidable. However, if SDOT were serious about improving safety at this intersection and upholding the objectives of the Mercer Corridor project, my opinion is that the unprotected left turn for vehicle traffic would be eliminated, at least at peak periods, and the crosswalk would be re-opened at all hours.

On the other hand, SDOT is correct that this is a high-traffic area, and reducing the number of cars able to turn by eliminating the unprotected left turn and by re-opening the crosswalk will have some impact on how quickly vehicles can drive through during rush hour. What do you think? How would you respond to these questions?:

  1. Does blacking out the crosswalk signal and putting up “crosswalk closed” signs make this intersection more or less safe than if the crosswalk were still open?
  2. To address the safety issue posed by jaywalking pedestrians, should SDOT install physical barricades (e.g. jersey barriers) or should there be a police presence to reduce the number of people on foot who cross illegally?
  3. If you were walking along the east side of Westlake and needed to remain on the east side of Westlake, would you cross here illegally where there has been a crosswalk in place, or cross Westlake twice to cross Mercer legally?
  4. Is SDOT striking the right balance between vehicle throughput and pedestrian accessibility?
  5. Is there another way this intersection could be configured during the construction period?

Should this crosswalk across Mercer be closed to pedestrians until 2013?

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Share your thoughts in the comments. Also, if you have a strong opinion or questions of your own, contact the construction project hotline at (206) 419-5818 or mercerinfo@seattle.gov.

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Crosswalk closed at Westlake and Mercer

Update: SDOT explains reasons for closure

As part of the Mercer Corridor Project, the east crosswalk at Westlake Ave is closed.

Closed sidewalk at Mercer and Westlake

While there is not currently any construction in this area, a few weeks ago, the crosswalk signals were covered and large “CROSSWALK CLOSED” signs were placed on each side of Mercer.

SDOT has not returned an email requesting comment on the closure.

Vehicle traffic has been rerouted as part of the construction project and now a high volume of traffic is turning left onto Mercer from southbound Westlake.

It’s not clear exactly why the crosswalk is closed or how long it will be in place.

Perhaps the crosswalk was closed to make it easier for vehicles to turn, as now there is more vehicular traffic passing through the intersection.

This closure probably has good intentions, however they are not apparent to people in the area. Safety is a key consideration for any traffic flow change, however closing this crosswalk may in fact be making the intersection more dangerous.

As with most sidewalk and crosswalk closures, a significant number of people are ignoring SDOT’s attempt to close the crosswalk and are crossing when traffic has the green light. It does not appear that SDOT has a plan to address the danger created for these pedestrians who choose to cross without a crosswalk signal.

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Mobility planning kickoff

Neighbohood groups in South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne are holding a mobility planning kickoff meeting this Thursday. The mobility plan will integrate the various studies and current projects in these areas to create an overall transportation plan.

Join Mayor Mike McGinn, City Council Transportation Chair Tom Rasmussen & City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw at the Kick-Off Open House for the SLU and Uptown Queen Anne Mobility Plan, Thursday Nov. 4; Seattle Center Northwest Rooms, 4:30 p.m.

The organizers are seeking input from the community on connecting the two neighborhoods, planning for a multi-modal transportation system and growing the transit options, as well as enhancing the street experience. You can find more and RSVP at the meeting’s facebook page.

There will also be an opportunity to review and comment on the Thomas Street green street proposal. Here’s an editorial from Publicola on the deficiencies in the design of the green street.

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Walking South Lake Union

This part of Seattle has been transformed over the last several years and this nice long walk takes you on a tour to see the history, the public spaces, and the recent development that this area has to offer.


View Walking South Lake Union in a larger map

Start at Westlake Ave & Denny Way near Whole Foods. You can get here easily by taking the 8 or 17 bus, or Seattle Streetcar. If you’re driving, there is a parking garage off of 9th Ave and there is some street parking in the area.

This development opened in late 2006 and includes the Pan Pacific Hotel, condos, and retail. Originally QFC had signed on to be the grocery tenant, but had to back out because construction did not start soon enough.

The space in front of the store includes the sculpture by UW professor Akio Takamori entitled Three Women.

Take the escalator up. On your left are a couple restaurants and the Pan Pacific Hotel. Continue forward, walking by the storefronts to the right, which include several upscale shops. Turn left at the end of the row of shops to continue.

When you reach the sidewalk along Terry Ave, turn right. On your left is the Main Campus Center of the Cornish College of the Arts, established in 1914 and the oldest music conservatory on the West Coast, and considered one of the top art schools in the country.

Ahead is the Terry Avenue green street, with a single lane for vehicle traffic. Cross Lenora St and then turn left to head uphill. Watch for traffic coming from Denny Way as you cross Boren Ave.

Cross both Fairview Ave and Denny Way to end up in front of Mirabella, a large retirement community. There is some art at the corner and near the courtyard you’ll pass. Walk north on Fairview, past the driveway and courtyard of Mirabella.

Continue across John St and turn right on Thomas St. Note the large musically-themed mural on your left, painted for The WoodShed Studios, home to Noc on Wood Records.

Continue to Pontius St where you’ll turn right by the Southlake Grill. As you walk down the street, notice the building on your left, which was once a laundry building and is now an apartment building. Turn left mid-block to pass through the green alley. When you first turn left, there is an old photo and some information on the history of this building. Pass by the waterfall and meet up with Yale Ave. There are a few shops to your right and immediately across the street is REI’s flagship store.

Turn left to walk north along Yale Ave – be sure to watch for cross traffic at intersections. The Cascade neighborhood used to be home to many immigrants from Eastern Europe, and at Harrison Street, you will see Saint Spiridon Orthodox Cathedral, constructed in the late 1930s in traditional Russian church style.

The old red brick buildings along Yale Avenue give a good feel for the area’s history of industry. A large office development, called Yale Campus, has been planned for the area a couple blocks ahead near Mercer, however that development is on hold.

Turn right on Mercer St and then turn right on Eastlake Ave. Before the construction of I-5, there would have been buildings to your left, and at Republican Street was the Republican Hill Climb, built in 1910 to connect Cascade with Capitol Hill.

At Thomas Street, turn right and head downhill. Soon you’ll pass by the Cascade People’s Center and the Cascade P-Patch. At the corner of Thomas and Minor, turn into the garden and wander through the paths before heading back to Minor Ave. Walk north on Minor Ave. There are a couple benches along a gravel path to your right and picnic tables – behind that is the Cascade Playground.

Turn left on Harrison St, passing the Seattle Streetcar garage on your left and cross Fairview Ave. There are a couple cafes you’ll pass by as well. You’ll need to walk along the north side of Harrison St due to construction of Amazon.com’s buildings on the other side of the street that is blocking the sidewalk.

Turn right on Terry Ave, you’ll pass by a courtyard for Amazon.com’s new headquarters in the area. You may have to cross to the left side of the street to continue north past Republican Street. After crossing Mercer, the sidewalk disappears, but there is still room to walk. This area will be under construction for the next couple years as part of the Mercer Corridor Project, which will make the whole area more pedestrian friendly.

Continue past Valley St and into newly-opened Lake Union Park. As you walk into the park, you’ll pass by the interactive fountains (which you may not notice if they’re not running). On your right is the Naval Reserve building, commonly known as the Armory, which will soon be the home to the Museum of History and Industry. On your left is a model boat pond. Continue forward to the water and step out onto Blanche – you’ll recognize it by what looks like a chrome upside-down boat in the air – the sculpture evokes the feeling of being out on the lake in a small boat. There are boats stationed nearby, many of which are part of the Center for Wooden Boats, which offers various programs and whose collection of over 100 boats is open to the public.

Head toward the bridge over the water and cross it. The bridge has some signs posted on it with highlights from the area’s history. On your left is a cove, which includes a restored salmon habitat. Once you’re done at the park, go back towards Valley St and cross south along Westlake Ave (you could also take the Streetcar back downtown if you’re done walking). Continue south for a few blocks, passing a few retail establishments and a couple new eateries.

You may wish to cross the street at the light at Harrison or Republican to be on the west (right) side of Fairview. Turn right at John St and walk across 9th Ave to find yourself at Denny Park. The oldest park in the city seems to be home to some people who don’t have another one, but it also has a new play area with a zip-line and good shade for a picnic. Walk along the perimeter of the park on John St and turn left into the park where 8th Ave ends. There are a couple benches around here, but you can keep walking to the center of the park, and then Take the diagonal path SE toward Denny Way & 9th Ave.

At Denny Way, continue back toward Westlake. There is a small triangle of open space on the SW corner of Westlake and Denny, but it seems too exposed and irrelevant to be very popular, at least compared to the area in front of Whole Foods where our walking trip ends.

highlights: Lake Union, Cascade P-Patch, some areas with retail, history, active public space at Fairview and Denny
lowlights: some parts of the neighborhood are not very active, no sidewalks along Terry when crossing Mercer, heavy motor vehicle traffic along Mercer and Valley

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Mobility planning kickoff for South Lake Union and Queen Anne Uptown

With many projects in progress impacting the South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne areas, Several groups in South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne are starting a project to create a mobility plan for the area. This mobility plan will incorporate elements from the various studies and current transportation projects for these areas.

Join Mayor Mike McGinn, City Council Transportation Chair Tom Rasmussen & City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw at the Kick-Off Open House for the SLU and Uptown Queen Anne Mobility Plan, Thursday Nov. 4; Seattle Center Northwest Rooms, 4:30 p.m.
Special program at 5:30 pm

The project team is looking for community input on how to connect the neighborhoods, planning for an integrated multi-modal transportation system, and enhancing the street experience. You can find more information and RSVP on facebook

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New green street: Terry Avenue

SDOT is transforming a one-block-long section of Terry Avenue in the Denny Triangle into a green street.

SDOT will narrow the roadway and remove 35 on-street parking spaces, replacing them with landscaping (including 13 trees) and wider sidewalks. Three granite slab benches will be added. The total cost is approximately $500,000, funded primarily by a Federal Transit Administration grant with additional money from local grants.

The street has not been very heavily used by pedestrians or by vehicle traffic. It’s not a particularly enjoyable street to walk along, though this project won’t do anything about the poor streetscape created by the buildings on this block. Still, it’s nice to see another street made more pleasant for walking on.

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Reconnecting South Lake Union street grid

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.

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Walk, Bike, Ride forum in South Lake Union

There will be another Walk, Bike, Ride forum this coming Tuesday in South Lake Union. From the event description:

When it comes to getting around easily without a car, the City wants to know what is – and what isn’t – working for you. The Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plans help guide the City’s improvements for biking and walking, and Mayor Mike McGinn is currently updating the Transit Master Plan. Join us to learn more about these plans and talk with representatives from the Department of Transportation about where you think there is the most trouble – and the most potential – for transit, pedestrian and bicycle enhancements.

The South Lake Union Seattle PI blog has more details on this event and on other projects in the neighborhood that affect pedestrians.

This currently appears to be the last Walk, Bike, Ride event on the calendar, however more may be scheduled.

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Perspective on fixing the Mercer Mess

The project to fix the “Mercer Mess” has been somewhat controversial, as some drivers have complained about inadequate improvement to travel times.

However, this resident’s perspective highlights the benefits to pedestrians of this project:

I look forward to the day that I won’t have to take my life in my hands when walking along or crossing Valley. While the new sidewalks are a beautiful improvement, just as soon as they went in they became the preferred route for bicycle commuters, who tend to zoom up behind my preschooler and shout, ON YOUR LEFT. Of course, given the current state of Valley, the bikers don’t have much of a choice. I certainly wouldn’t feel safe pedaling into the sea of spaced-out drivers exiting the freeway, not to mention the dangers of old train tracks and the streetcar. Most drivers coming off of I-5 onto Valley don’t seem to realize that they are no longer on the freeway. Their goal is to get through the next light at any cost and they don’t register the possibility of bikers or pedestrians.

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