Rainier Avenue is one of the more dangerous roads in Seattle. SDOT says that the road has averaged one crash per day over the past 10 years. Phase 1 of Seattle’s approach to fixing it took it from four lanes to three between Kenny (near Orcas) and Alaska Streets, added some transit queue jumps, and reduced speed limits. Although it’s about a minute slower to drive through the corridor, collisions are down about 15%, and Northbound transit times improved 3 minutes.* Vehicle volumes dropped on Rainier, though they increased on MLK a similar amount.
Now it’s time for Phase 2. The next segment continues the revision from S Kenny St. all the way down to S. Henderson St. The 4-lane-plus-parking roadway will transform into one of two alternatives as early as next year [edited], but they involve difficult tradeoffs:
Alternative 1 turns one traffic lane into a center turn lane, and one into a Northbound bus lane. This transit improvement anticipates Metro and Seattle upgrading Route 7 to RapidRide.
Alternative 2 replaces one lane with more on-street parking, and one lane width with a cycle track in each direction. At intersections, the parking makes way for a turn lane and transit shelters in the roadway. Unfortunately, the budget is not large enough to fully fund this alternative. Also, turning vehicles and other disruptions might severely reduce bus reliablility. But it’s not all bad news for buses: the shelter islands mean that “route 7 will stop in-lane to improve efficiency of loading and unloading,” in the words of SDOT Traffic Safety Coordinator Jim Curtin.
There is a parallel greenway under construction that provides another safe bike path north-south in the area. However, Rainier Avenue is, by far, the flattest pathway through the area, and a much more direct route of travel. And by the same argument, there is a parallel rapid transit corridor only blocks away on MLK. And much like the greenway is an imperfect substitute for Rainier for many ages and abilities, Link doesn’t answer all the transportation needs of the Rainier corridor.
It’s disappointing that the alternatives present this difficult tradeoff. Consider some possible changes to Alternative 2:
- Get rid of the new parking lane, and use the resulting 31′ of roadway for two general-purpose lanes and a turn lane to prevent delays from turning vehicles. Admittedly, this would omit the calming effect on the bike lane of a row of parked cars.
- Consolidate the two bike lanes into two-way cycle track, saving one 2′ barrier. The remaining 40′ of ROW could be divided into a 12′ NB bus lane, 7′ of parking, and two 10.5′ general-purpose lanes (wider than the 10′ lanes in alternative 1).
I asked Mr. Curtin about my second idea. “Design of protected bike lanes is a relatively new thing… Having a two-way bike facility on one side of the street can be problematic. Bicyclists have trouble getting to the bike lane from the other side.” He added that it can “lead to additional crashes, especially on a principal arterial with a record of crash problems.”
You can comment on the genuinely difficult tradeoffs at SDOT’s project website. The deadline is August 28th.
* Southbound transit times were unchanged.