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Today is the second day of the new traffic re-channelization project on Rainier Avenue through Columbia City. SDOT is hoping to reduce the number of traffic accidents in the Columbia City neighborhood by reducing the number of general purpose traffic lanes on Rainier Avenue from 2 in each direction to 1 in each direction (with a left turn lane between the lanes). Since the new lane markings have appeared I have made a couple of transit trips, a car trip and I walked along the route this morning.

With the new traffic pattern, there is a noticeably calmer environment on the sidewalks next to Rainier Avenue. Reducing the number of lanes creates a huge reduction in auto noise. I guess that should be obvious, but I was surprised at how much calmer the sidewalk felt. If a quieter street draws more pedestrians onto the sidewalks, fringe neighborhoods like Hillman City may become more friendly for businesses and foot traffic. I also crossed Rainier at Mead St.–an unsignalized intersection–without much trouble. When Rainier was 4 general purpose lanes I never would even attempt to cross at any unsignalized location. For pedestrians, the re-channelization project should be an improvement.

The bus trips were somewhat less of an improvement. A trip on the 9 during morning rush was definitely slower than usual and I missed my planned transfer at I-90. But we also had a newbie driver who was confused by which stops were for the 7 and which stops were for the 9, plus there were lots of confused drivers on the road, too. My return trip, last night on the 7 was very slow through Columbia City, but SDOT crews were still working on the changes, so it’s too soon to tell if bus times are negatively affected by the re-channelization. I hope that SDOT and Metro have worked to make sure that transit times won’t be much slower. The southbound stop at Edmonds St. (Bank of America/new PCC) may become a real bottleneck, however.

As for driving on Rainier Avenue, hopefully it will become less of a drag race and more of an orderly trip from Rainier Beach to Columbia City. The left turn lane may help reduce the amount of swerving auto traffic, but lefts will still be very difficult during peak hours when all oncoming traffic will be channeled into one lane. The best way to make Rainier Avenue safer is to make transit more useful. If these changes have a negative effect on transit operations, more people will want to drive.

10 Replies to “Columbia City/Rainier Avenue Re-channelization Project”

  1. Thanks for this.

    I was able to take a drive through the new corridor a couple times lately, once to pick up a pizza and another to drive to Capitol Hill.

    The calming effect seemed to be noticeable by car as well. I didn’t feel like I was constantly checking my mirrors for people swerving behind and around me. I didn’t feel like I had to watch ahead for potential bus backups in the right lane to avoid those who cut left and around.

    On the way home, right after the new stuff going on heading back toward Rainier Beach, cars immediately zipped into the left lane and promptly got stuck by a left-turner, so they jumped back right. That type of chaotic zooming around will not be missed if this project gets extended fully down Rainier.

    Looking forward to more feedback on bus trips. I like hearing that walking around is more peaceful, too!

  2. It takes a few weeks to moderate out. I did walk along Rainier today at 4 PM and it was taking southbound vehicles at least 3 or 4 red lights to get through the Alaska signal. This doesn’t bod well for nearby residential streets that will eventually pick up some through traffic.

    1. I’ve noticed too that the Alaska signal is backing up nearly to Genesee. That might mean that Letitia and 38th Ave S are both soon to become major thoroughfares and that’s bad news for bike riders and the neighborhoods. This road diet may eliminate the high speed wrecks in Columbia City; but if drivers are diverting to neighborhood streets and bus riders are foregoing Metro because of the slower service, we’ll surely see more accidents. They just won’t be on Rainier Avenue.

      1. Right — demand will (eventually) respond in-kind to a reduction in capacity. That won’t mean a reduction in overall delay, but in the long run, fewer people will simply want to drive this route at peak times.

        The result of that can only be speculated upon for now, but it won’t take all that long to start seeing some anecdotal results — more crowded 7/9 buses, additional traffic on side streets (or even MLK and Alaska), etc.

      2. It may also lead to some people currently driving down Ranier to walk to MLK and take Link – especially those going to Capitol Hill, once Capitol Hill Station opens. After all, Link is the only service available in the area that actually bypasses the road congestion, rather than simply exchanging sitting in traffic in a car for sitting in traffic on a bus.

      3. More crowded buses should lead to more frequency in an ideal world (i.e., if Metro has hours for it), and thus an increase in ridership, which would give Metro more leverage to justify other expansions.

  3. The road diet has really messed up Columbia City and caused massive delays and anger as drivers try to get out of the gridlock. Who thought this was a good idea? Which cannabis store does SDOT patronize?

    As I ride the delayed buses (#7 and #9) through Columbia City, and have to run from my stop to get to work on time, I wonder how soon Metro is planning to revise the timetables to incorporate the road diet delays. What a disaster for transit and traffic! Why didn’t they try it on Lake City Way first?

    1. That’s too bad. Every time I’ve gone through there (driving or bus) in the mornings it’s been about the same as ever. Just less angry drivers swerving around cars and buses. So, it’s better for me and less stressful.

      The SDOT/cannabis shot makes no sense.

      You should try to leave earlier if you’re finding it takes longer for you. You’ll be less stressed that way.

  4. Hmm, I haven’t ridden the 7 peak hours since the rechannelization, but I rode it northbound around 7pm and didn’t see anything unusual in the traffic, and I didn’t notice the lane changes either.

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