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.