Open House photo by Zach
Open House photo by Zach

SDOT held an open house this Saturday at Garfield Community Center to discuss the upcoming repaving project on 23rd Ave. The background here is that SDOT, through several successful grant applications, has put together $20M (more than the $14M I’d previously reported) to turn what would have been a basic repaving project into a potentially much more significant series of improvements, including:

  • signal upgrades
  • transit signal priority
  • fiber optics
  • CCTV cameras
  • license plate readers
  • bus stop improvements
  • lighting improvements
  • sidewalk repair

With about 6,900 daily riders, 23rd Ave is the most important corridor between North and South Seattle outside of the downtown area, so what happens here is of vital importance to the transit network overall.  Buses are the primary non-car mode, and the need for them to remain fast and reliable is, according to SDOT staff, what’s likely to define what’s possible and what’s not.

The big decision is whether to rechannelize the street to three lanes from the current four lane configuration*.  SDOT as completed a basic traffic study which has shown that going down to three lanes through the entire corridor would cause significant backups at three intersections, resulting in unreliable transit travel.  A more detailed traffic study which may shed more light on this is currently underway, to be completed in April.

Much more after the jump.

Potential 3-lane configuration

If it’s determined that the road can go down to three lanes without significantly impacting transit, then the question becomes what to do with the extra right of way.  Options include a two-way cycle track, a parking lane, or moving the curb out another few feet to make the pedestrian experience safer and more pleasant.  Currently there are no funds to move the curb, but SDOT says they will attempt to find the money to pay for what ends up being the consensus option.  Regardless of whether the curb is extended on not, current sections of the sidewalk which are broken will be replaced, and ADA curb ramps will be installed at all corners.

The cycle track will be difficult, due to the relatively narrow right-of-way, and the three failing intersections mentioned above.  The only way SDOT has found so far to make the three-lane option work for the overall corridor is to transition to four lanes at those three intersections, but that, of course, would not leave enough room for a cycle track.  A cycle track would also reduce the lanes down to 10′ in places, which is about the lower limit of where Metro considers it safe to drive a bus.  An alternative option might be parallel bike infrastructure on, say, 24th Ave.  Funding would come after the completion of the Bicycle Master Plan, currently in progress.

Down the road, there is hope that the corridor could be electrified, and all changes made will be compatible with future electrification, but the cost here is significant and the money has yet to be identified.

In addition to SDOT’s work, DPD is conducting a separate action plan to study three 23rd Avenue intersections – Union, Cherry, and Jackson – with a goal of creating a shared vision for the neighborhood. This is all happening as major changes continue to occur throughout the neighborhood.

Planning will continue through 2014, with construction running from mid-2014 to late 2015.

* Two lanes is not an option. Unlike, say, Dexter Ave, which is basically a North-South corridor with little turning traffic, 23rd Ave has multiple signaled intersections that cross major East-West corridors. Turn lanes are unavoidable. 

53 Replies to “23rd Ave Open House”

  1. 20th is a good street for the bike treatment, I think. But there’s quite a few options. I honestly ride smack in the middle of the right lane of 23rd and feel safer than I do on the side streets with all the uncontrolled intersections.

    4 lane is the decision I was expecting, but it’s still a shame we can’t make it work with 3. Photo enforcement is likely the only viable option to reduce off-peak vehicle speeds, and that’s not happening any time soon.

    1. Well, they say they can make three lanes work — but it would have to become four lanes at three major intersections. That’s fine for slowing down traffic, improving safety, and possibly providing curbside parking in some places, but its not fine for a cycletrack that needs to be continuous to be usable.

      1. Just saying “at three major intersections” oversimplifies the issue. The queueing space needed for those intersections is actually a few blocks deep. After you’ve given room for queuing before the intersections and merging after, you are left with only a few short blocks to have 3 lane sections before it has to widen out again for the next major intersection.

      2. Except you’re only talking about the far north end of the project scope (Madison/John) and one in the middle (Yesler). So there are whole stretches that would be able to be 3-lane.

      3. I was assuming the 3 major intersections were the ones in the middle of the project, and that union & cherry were included. Did they name Madison/John as the open house?

        If the traffic study shows that Union / Cherry intersections can be 3 lane, then a lane diet suddenly looks way more practical.

      4. Yes, they did – and did not say word one about Union or Cherry. Which is why 3-lane looks possible, indeed, at least for parts of the project scope.

      5. Yes, they specifically stated that LoS was reduced at most intersections in a three-lane configuration, but that most intersections did not fail (i.e. reach LoS F); those three intersections do.

    2. Photo enforcement of speed is why license plate readers are included in the project.

      1. Ooh, I love this.
        The Times and TV media won’t of course. “Big Brother!”

        But really, folks need to slow down.

  2. Can transit signal priority lanes be worked viably in a situation like this? That is, a far-right lane in the direction of travel would be bus only (I’m thinking along the lines of what is on 15th Ave NW in Interbay) near intersections to effectively allow buses to jump the traffic. (And a wilder idea: bus-only traffic lights, allowing buses to proceed through a green signal while general traffic waits at a red.)

    1. Reserved lanes are likely a non-starter. Aggressive signal priority to clear traffic in front of the bus should be a boon to the 48, though.

    2. Corridor widths are narrow, and a 3-lane alignment for calmer traffic is more in line with what the neighborhood would like to see, I believe.

      TSP will hopefully improve #48 speeds.

  3. Oh hey, there’s me in your picture, and my next-door neighbor Jon at the far left.

    Seems like the best thing they can do is to simply make the transit signalling improvements and then re-pave 23rd as-is. The cycle-track idea seems like a non-starter given the intersection constraints.

    I am seriously creeped out by the whole business about license plate readers – what on earth is that? That sounds incredibly creepy; how are they just slipping such a significant invasion of privacy in without anyone seeming to notice?

    1. The plate readers are to scan for stolen cars, a significant problem in the Central District (and King County as a whole). Similar readers are already installed on several parking enforcement vehicles.

    2. I think the other purpose is to provide to provide realtime traffic flow/congestion information, aka Intelligent Transportation Systems.

      1. We already have that info through the existing traffic cameras & road sensors, without plate reading capability. I use it quite a bit.

      2. The point-to-point times will be interesting. There’s none of that information available for anything near the CD. We do currently have flow/congestion info, aggregated by a million different traffic maps (google)

  4. Which are the three troublesome intersections? I assume one is Jackson.

    If they are all in the south part of the project area, it seems like it might work to reduce only the north part (north of Cherry) to three lanes. The worst safety problems (because of inadequate lane width) are in the north part, especially between Madison and Union.

      1. Wait, the project area used to end at Madison, I thought. Now the website shows it extending to John… when did that happen?

      2. The paving project extends to Madison, I think. They got additional funds to continue Complete Streets work further north. They may also get another grant to do transit improvements in Montlake.

    1. I’d assume Madison is one of them, at least southbound, given the proximity to the stoplight on E. John Street. Going southbound, John is an interesting conundrum already since the left lane can get tied up with cars turning left (across a fairly heavy flow of northbound traffic on 23rd)and the right turn onto John is fairly tight. Most southbound 43’s have to take up a portion of the left lane on 23rd in order to navigate the turn onto John.

    2. Jackson’s not troublesome, the ROW there widens out to 5 lanes anyway, with reserved left-turn lanes in all directions, and so it doesn’t have the capacity issues the 4 lane intersections do.

      Union and Cherry are for sure the worst two. The third is likely Yesler. The Madison/John mess is also troublesome, but it’s just outside the project area, and is kept flowing as best as possible with left-turn restrictions that allow north and southbound traffic to move simultaneously.

      1. Union and Cherry aren’t on the list. At the meeting SDOT listed Yesler, Madison and John.

        And sorry, I don’t know when they changed the scope.

  5. Does anyone know the current lane width of 23rd between Union and Madison? If 10 feet is about the minimum that Metro is comfortable with for bus operations, I’d venture to guess that stretch is at (or possibly below) 10 feet. It’s an incredibly tight fit. Unfortunately, I suspect that 23rd and Madison is one of the intersections where SDOT feels 4 lanes would continue to be needed, so it’s not clear how much relief that situation will get even after this work is completed.

    1. Corridor widths vary from 35.5 to 42.5 I believe – they had specific lane widths for ‘typical cross sections’ on some of the boards but I didn’t write them down. You are right that both Madison and John are ‘problem children’ intersections, with Yesler the third.

  6. I attended the open house. Well attended. Living in the neighborhood traffic currently moves way to fast for safe ped and bicycle use. 3-laner would be great even at intersections is fine because you still get left turn lane.

  7. It is difficult to have an opinion until the detailed traffic study is complete. I hope that it is done well. As a resident pedestrian, mass trnsit user, and driver, I hope that the traffic can be calmed and sidewalks made to feel safer along 23rd. Crossing Madison, especially crossing in the east crosswalk of the street never feels comfortable. The same is true when crossing 23rd at E. Cherry, especially the south crosswalk. The intersection and the bus stop need improved lighting. As a pedestrian, I have not noticed feeling particularly unsafe at E. Yesler. Is it the number of lanes and turn signals that are the problem at E. Yesler? The right hand turn on red is problematic often due to the speed that of vehicles approaching an intersection. It would be great if 3 lanes worked and if bicyclists felt safe. However, it would not be beneficial to the neighborhood if the changes on 23rd in anyway encourage more vehicle traffic on the side streets.

    1. I’ll admit I haven’t done a thorough survey of the N/S streets surrounding 23rd, but it seems like most of them between 20th and 27th are residential streets with a lot of parked cars (at least as you get up towards Madison). That will hopefully minimize the temptation for through traffic to use them as a way to get around any traffic calming efforts on 23rd. It’s possible MLK or 19th might see some additional traffic, but they’re probably far enough away from 23rd to not be worth the detour. It should also help that the street grid for the side streets gets a little goofy closer to Madison.

      I had similar questions about what made Yesler problematic. In my experience, the biggest issue is traffic turning off of westbound Yesler onto southbound 23rd (I looking at you #8 bus). It’s possible that reducing 23rd to 2 through lanes and a dedicated turn late won’t provide enough capacity for all the left turn volume.

      Is your issue with the Madison and 23rd crosswalk on the east side of the intersection just with the length of the signal (which feels very short) or are there other things that make it unpleasant as well?

      1. It seems wider than most, but it is the angle that prevents seeing the traffic moving north especially when crossing to the north, and the length (shortness) of the light. The light is quick. I prefer to be able to perceive that the the autos wanting to turn right onto Madison to travel east are stopped, and the angle makes it difficult. Also the vehicles wanting to turn right onto 23rd to travel north often stop after they are at least a somewhat into the crosswalk forcing a pedestrian to walk even closer to the moving traffic on 23rd. I almost always feel like running across. This type of problem exists along much of E. Madison. At 19th the problems are similar, but at least there is not as much moving traffic along 19th. My perception is that drivers along E. Madison are trying to decide if they really have to stop on red. The situation at 17th is much better due to design.

      2. The Yesler intersection could be improved E/W by going to 3 lanes with signalized protected left turns in both directions. N/S it’s mostly hopeless; smarter light timing is the best we can expect.

  8. Ditch the cycletrack if it impairs other priorities. 19th is a good bicycle street, and MLK is wide and pretty flat from Madison to Rainier Beach. Their main problem is access from the north (i.e., U-District). There’s a steep uphill to 19th, and it takes inordinately long to get from the Montlake Bridge to MLK even with a small-street bike route. So work on those problems and enhance the bike infrastructure on those streets rather than trying to squeeze a cycletrack into 23rd. Has the city looked into sidewalk hill lifts for bicycles (whatever those cable-car things with foot platforms instead of cars are called)?

    1. When the ramps from 520 to the Arboretum close, MLK->Lake Washington Blvd instantly becomes a pretty great bike route to UW.

  9. Electrification! This is *the* key route for trolleybus improvement. It’s already electrified from John St. north, *and* from Cherry to Dearborn. It simply CANNOT cost that much to electrify from John to Cherry and from Rainer to Dearborn; this is 8000 feet, less than 2 miles.

    1. At the very least, the reconstruction should place streetlight poles in a manner designed to hang wire from, and redesign the wire at the intersections. (New trolleybuses are coming which can go through unwired intersections, right?) Then you would just need to find a place for a substation or two, and hang the wire.

      1. (Just checked: yep, the new trolleybuses should be operating before the reconstruction of 23rd starts. So it’s a good time to simplify the intersection wiring.)

      2. The new trolleys have off wire capability but I was under the impression that drivers still had to get out at least at the end of off wire operation and manually reattach the poles to the overhead wire. If that’s the case you’d really not want this scheduled into the run just for a few intersections.

      3. :-( I’d assumed the buses would have automatic rewiring (obviously at very low speed). :-( Darn.

        So I guess you still need special work at the intersections. Yuck. Still worth it.

      4. I’m not sure about it but I think I’d assumed automatic rewiring and someone here corrected me. I was hoping someone that knew for sure would chime it. It seems like it should be a no brainer. I guess we’ll just cough up another $100k later to retrofit all the trolleys :-(

      5. The 23rd Ave wiring project is estimated at $18 million, including all design work and cost/benefit/environmental study needed; construction of poles, substations and wire on 23rd; substation upgrades and an additional layover loop in the U-District; and the differential cost of purchasing the additional required 60′ trolleys vs. 60′ hybrid coaches.

        As part of this project, SDOT is paying to complete the design and cost/benefit study, and yes, all work done on this project is being done with a view to future electrification, including things like dual-use lightpoles, where they are going to be replaced.

      6. The neighborhood is asking for streetlight poles conducive to future electrification, and SDOT is aware of the issue. So at least we’re not precluding anything in the future.

      7. Thanks for all the information. I hope someone makes a serious push to fund and spend that $18 million, which will save money in the future. When large hunks of the route are already wired, closing the gap is well worth it; fuel prices will continue to go up faster than electricity prices, and electric trolleybuses will last (somewhat) longer than diesel buses, and require less maintenance (assuming you don’t get lemons from Breda).

  10. I would really like to see 23rd become more pedestrian friendly. Widening the sidewalks and creating some pedestrian scale lighting would go a long way to doing this. If pedestrians feel safer (from cars, and each other), more people will walk on the street, reducing crime and adding opportunity for neighborhood businesses.

    While 23rd would be nice to have some bicycle infrastructure on, I think changing stops signs and marking up 20th or 24th would be fine. In Portland, the bike boulevards are not usually the busiest streets.

    If we want to slow drivers down, we can do that with street design. We don’t need a bunch of cameras, and tech. Simply narrowing the streets/lanes will do a lot of that.

    In terms of transit priority, I don’t think much needs to be done with this between Madison and Jackson. I ride the 48 quite frequently, and I don’t think it gets stuck in traffic around here. Things may be different, if 23rd goes down to 3 lanes.

    1. Unfortunately at the open house SDOT stated clearly they don’t have sufficient funds to move the curbs. Given that, wider sidewalks are going to be hard to come by.

      And in my experience, at rush hour it’s quite common to miss a light cycle at Union/Cherry/Yesler/Jackson – most commonly at Jackson. Sometimes two.

  11. I live a block off 23rd and travel by foot, car, bicycle, and occasionally bus. I don’t see why 23rd needs to be pedestrian or bicycle friendly: make the arterial useful for buses and cars and move the non motorized traffic to other streets. I don’t walk or bike along 23rd now and I don’t see why anyone would ever want to or why we need to accommodate those uses beyond what exists now on a busy important arterial.

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