We Need a Safer 35th Ave NE

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I have been hearing from many who live and work near 35th Avenue expressing both support for and concerns about the upcoming paving project. Ultimately, I still believe that the proposed changes will result in a safer corridor for everyone traveling through the neighborhood and will help allow more people to choose to walk or bike, which we need to meet climate change objectives and ease traffic congestion.

While there are many aspects subject to disagreement within the scope of this project, I think we can all agree that safety improvements are necessary along 35th. For the last few years we’ve seen an average speed of more than 30 miles an hour and we know that speeding kills: a pedestrian hit by a car at 40mph only has a 10% chance of survival while a pedestrian hit by a car at 20mph has a 90% chance of survival. There have been over 250 collisions on this street in the last five years and the new bus service on 35th NE is increasing the number of pedestrians trying to cross the street. Given these factors, it is imperative for me that we make this street safer for all – pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers alike.

How we go about making 35th safer is where I hear many, many differences of opinion. What I hear most from folks is around the proposed bike lanes, changes to parking and the resulting impact on businesses along the corridor – and I want to address all three.

Out of the $5 million total cost for this project, bike lanes represent only 12% of the total, representing what I believe is significant return on investment. Separated bike lanes create a safer environment and encourage more folks to ride their bikes – two goals I view as critical for Seattle and its future. For example, according to a 2016 study out of Rutgers University[1], “in Minneapolis, the bikeway network grew 113 percent, trips climbed 203 percent and injuries and fatalities dropped 79 percent.”

Some question why the greenway on the 39th is not sufficient. While greenways are an important part of the bike network, they do not have the same benefits as dedicated, protected lanes, either in terms of safety or ridership. Furthermore, it does not protect cyclists on 35th where the majority of destinations are located.

Additionally, because of the city’s commute trip reduction goals through the Major Institution Master Plan, two of Seattle’s major employers, Children’s Hospital and University of Washington, are doing excellent work in encouraging their commuters to shift the mode of transportation they take to and from work away from driving. Because we are asking them to meet certain goals, we have an obligation to increase our protections for those who make the shift out of their vehicles and onto their bikes.

Much analysis has been done to look at the impacts to parking along this stretch and the data shows that there is sufficient parking available. For example, on weekdays between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm, on every block parking utilization was less than 70%, and most blocks were under 55%. Numbers were very similar for weekends during that same timeframe, and also during weekdays during morning and evening rush hours. To put that in a different context, in one snapshot of time during a weekend between 10:00 am – 2:00 pm, 591 out of 653 total parking spaces were available.

This project involves removing parking on the west side of 35th, south of 85th. Parking will be available on the east side of the street all day, and there won’t be peak-hour parking restrictions as there are today. The scope of this project also reconfigures some East/West streets to better handle parking demand. For example, we will be installing more 2 hour limited parking signs to increase parking turnover and availability for business patrons.

Many have voiced concerns around the health of our retail and service centers, like the library, that operate along 35th. Supporting business and bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure is not an “either/or” for me – studies show that having bike lanes increase traffic in and out of businesses[2]. A recent study from the State Smart Transportation Initiative shows that street improvements such as bicycle lanes that replace parking spaces and lanes of traffic do not impede – and even boost – economic growth[3]. Additionally, SDOT has been working closely with businesses and service centers to be responsive and accommodate unique requests.

I’ve heard from several community members that they’d like to see some additional safety traffic improvements on corresponding North/South streets.  I’ve particularly heard from folks about additional investments like a speed island at 77th and 34th, speed bumps on 80th between 35th and 30th and on 30th between 80th and 75th, and a light (or more clearly marked pedestrian crossing) at 77th and/or 80th.

Some of these suggested improvements didn’t make it in to the final design, because they either fall outside the scope of the project, or need to be determined after implementation. I’m working with the project team to identify additional resources that may be available to make those additional investments to correspond with the corridor improvements.

I also look forward to working with you and SDOT to regularly monitor the success of our investment. If we are not meeting benchmarks and desired outcomes and if markedly slower traffic becomes the unintended impact that many believe it will, we have the opportunity to change course and make design improvements.

To achieve a greener, healthier city for all of us to live in, I unabashedly support Seattle’s goals to make it safe for people who choose to ride their bicycles or walk. I understand that many Seattleites need to drive their cars for a whole host of different reasons (health reasons, juggling family schedules etc.), I believe that we can and should balance the needs of all users to ensure our streets are accessible, efficient, and above all, safe for everyone.

[1] Pucher, John, and Ralph Buehler. “Safer Cycling Through Improved Infrastructure.” American Journal of Public Health, Dec. 2016.

[2] Jaffe, Eric. (2013, September 10). No, Bike Lanes Don’t Hurt Retail Business. Retrieved from https://citylab.com

[3] State Smart Transportation Initiative. (Producer). Bike and Pedestrian Street Improvements and Economic Activity in NYC [Video webinar].