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Nickerson plan officially on hold

March 31st, 2009 · 62 Comments

The Seattle Department of Transportation confirms our report from last week that plans to change Nickerson Street are being reevaluated.  Here is the official word in a message from project manager Eric M. Widstrand:

“Thank you for your interest in the Nickerson Street rechannelization project.  This project is currently on hold as we evaluate how Nickerson Street would interact with the roadway network, via a systems approach, taking into account the north portal of the bored tunnel.  We are coordinating with the Alaskan Way Viaduct project team to make sure that the overall mobility of the north end is taken into consideration before making a decision about Nickerson Street.  

 Our comment period is open until April 10th to give people time to comment about the project.  Once we have received all comments we will send out a response to questions received.  For more updates or to see a copy of the plans, please visit our website at:

 The city backed off after numerous concerns were voiced by residents.  The city originally proposed changing Nickerson from two lanes to one lane in each direction and adding bike lines. 

Here is what Nickerson looks like now:

And here are the changes the city proposed:

We will continue to monitor and let you know if and when any decisions are made.

Tags: Uncategorized

  • busdrivermike

    Oh please, it is an election year for el presidente Nickels. The destruction of the two lanes will happen next year after the “election”.

  • Bobby


    The delay is great news. I feared a decision was going to be made without the full 250 open houses, and 75 feasabilty studies.

    I’m sure a change will be made as soon as the viaduct plans are finalized, funding is in place, we run through several Mayors, and a few earthquakes.

    After all, we are talking about restriping lanes.

  • Yorik

    Studying the effects of this in relation to the viaduct seems like a reasonable idea, but I can’t imagine the outcome will be any different.
    Intersections and the bridges are the chokepoints for cars, not the roadway itself. The proposed improvements look like a great way to improve safety and build a whole new transportation facility for real cheap.

  • raab

    Yorik, I agree with you that the outcome will likely be no different. You are right on when you mention “choke points” too. It would be interesting to see what happens when both the Ballard Bridge and the Fremont Bridge are up like they did yesterday around 3:30pm. There were two lanes of traffic backed up along eastbound Nickerson just east of SPU. Channel some of that down to one lane and I see the potential for some pretty substantial back ups. So much for access to the new tunnel.

    I wonder though if the gurus behind all of this have considered temporarily coning off one lane to see what the result is? That probably makes too much sense though.

  • Distant Replay

    The identification of “choke points” does not provide a very useful description of transportation dynamics.

    Transportation corridors are dynamic environments where numerous factors combine in complex ways to determine throughput and safety. Some of the most useful models are derived from the study of fluid systems where elements that introduce “friction” and “turbulence” are evaluated in reference to the whole system. The ultimate throughput of a corridor like the portion of Nickerson described in this project proposal are determined by far more than just the location and size of intersections and draw bridges.

    Given that the bored tunnel project is very likely to increase the demand load on this corridor it would be absolutely irresponsible for SDOT to proceed without a thorough impact study. The wrong combination of decisions taken in isolation often results in significant negative impacts and reductions in overall system efficiency and safety.

  • gerg

    The same exact configuration was done to several miles of South Rainier Avenue along Lake Washington. Four lanes down to two with bike lanes and a middle turn lane. The people that lived along the route hated it because it turned into a very long line of cars that takes minutes to find an opening to pull into. Also, it became dangerous when many people not content with the speed limit would pass recklessly using the middle turn lane.

  • Jon Morgan

    The improvements proposed here are excellent for walking, biking, and riding the bus. They will also make Nickerson safer for cars (no more weaving between lanes) and usable by the freight community. After a serious pedestrian injury last March (possibly fatal) at Dravus, SDOT took out several marked crosswalks. They need to narrow the roadway to put them back, and we definitely need them. It’s important to solicit and consider public comment, but this project needs to get done ASAP.

  • Jon Morgan

    On the contrary, with a dedicated turn lane, cars waiting to make left turns won’t hold up other cars this way. If you’re in the left lane now, you may have to stop at any time if the car ahead of you wants to turn left somewhere. With this road diet, car traffic will flow more smoothly and safely, bikers will have a dedicated lane on one side, and pedestrians will have much safer crossings and better access.

    The city did the same thing on Stone Way N. and Broadway, and it’s working great in those places.

  • gerg

    Actually there IS a paved bicycle path along the canal that I currently ride on and would still use even if they gave me a dedicated bike lane because for one I can avoid traffic lights, and two, I’d rather keep my distance from cars. It even goes underneath the Fremont Bridge, so you avoid the whole mess there.

  • Jon Morgan

    The bicycle path serves a different purpose. There are important differences between biking for recreation and biking for transportation. We need to serve–and encourage–both. We give parallel streets to cars; why not bikes? I like to ride in the street, and I’m safer when I have a bike lane to ride in. Bikes are a legitimate vehicle and form of transportation. They should be treated as such; not relegated to a small network of paths away from the rest of the street grid where cars don’t interact with them. We need both the current bike trail AND the bike lane and sharrows on Nickerson. Then you and I can both have a choice of route.

    And as I noted above, these road diets work well and are safer for everyone. It may take adjusting to at first, but this project needs to get done ASAP. I don’t want to read about another elderly man crossing the street *in a crosswalk* getting hit by a car and having to be flown to Harborview for major head/brain injuries. (He might’ve died, but SPD doesn’t release that information out of privacy concerns)

  • Jon Morgan
  • Jay

    Jon Morgon, are you one of our local politicians? These “improvements” are going to make it more dangerous for pedestrians and bikers. Sharrows are a joke at best, incredibly dangerous at worst. They are poorly marked and encourage inexperienced/naive cyclists to use already crowded roadways as their personal bike paths. Their only purpose is for Nickels and crew to pay back the cycling clubs throughout the city who have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to their campaign coffers. It will also help in their campaigning when they lie and say they’ve added miles of bike paths to the region. For the record, sharrows do NOT qualify as bike paths.

    If our leaders were truly interested in pedestrian safety they would be putting traffic lights and right/left turn arrows at every intersection. If they were interested in easing traffic congestion they would time these lights and issue an ordinance prohibiting the drawbridges from going up during rush hour.

    It’s time Seattle’s leadership stood up and loudly proclaimed their true mission: Gridlock traffic thereby forcing everyone onto public transportation. It would bring some refreshing honesty to the table.

  • Jay

    Oh, Jon. I see that you are on the pedestrian board. You should mention that when you make your blog comments. And how much is the mayor paying you to promulgate such poor planning on boards such as this?

  • Bobby

    Jon is correct about the safety improvements for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists if Nickerson is upgraded.

    And I appreciate Jon’s willingness to serve on the Pedestrian Advisory Board (if Jay is correct.) If Jay did a bit if research he would learn the City of Seattle’s Advisory Board members serve as volunteers and advise the City on a number of issues. Thanks Jon, for doing more to support our community that just commenting on a website.

    Additionally Jay, the City is not empowered “to issue an ordinance prohibiting the drawbridges from going up during rush hour.” Marine traffic has precedence over car traffic. Sounds un-American doesn’t it?

    And did you just say the City should put a light at every intersection? Is there any evidence this improves traffic flow?

  • Jay

    Bobby, not only would a light at every intersection improve flow but it would increase safety.

    And it’s too bad the city is not empowered to issue an ordinance banning drawbridges from going up during rush hour; in particular the Fremont and Ballard bridges who seem to have more than their fair share of single masted sail boats during the hours of 4 to 6. Given the city’s concern for going green it would seem a small price to pay to get traffic off the road as quickly and efficiently as possible.

  • Bobby

    All dissent aside–I’m in favor of limiting bridge openings. I get caught by the bridge on my bike too.

    I feel the ire of the sailing crowd. Only in Seattle could sailors and bicyclists clash over right of way.

    Come to think of it, many in the world would be in disbelief we could even discuss such a trivial situation. I feel ridiculous for bringing it up.

  • Jay

    Hahah! Well said, Bobby.

  • Jon Morgan

    Serving on the Ped Board is a volunteer, unpaid position. I do it because I care about improving pedestrian conditions in Seattle, and I try to advocate for that as well as solicit peoples’ experiences, opinions, and priorities around pedestrian issues in Seattle. I am not a politician in the least, and you should be ashamed of yourself for questioning my motives as if I’m some kind of undercover apologist for the Mayor. I don’t support him at all, and in fact have been warned that I should remove my support for Peter Steinbrueck from my emails to the Board. And I’ve refused to do that.

    Do you always jump to questioning someone’s motives and accusing them of being mindless lackeys for someone else just because you disagree with them? Is it really that difficult for you to conceive of fellow Seattleites caring about their community and putting in their own unpaid time to try and make it a little better? Maybe you should come to one of our meetings sometime (fully open to the public, with a chance for public comment at each meeting) to see who we really are and what we really do before assailing us.

  • Jon Morgan

    Bobby, thanks.

    Jay, do you have any actual knowledge or expertise in transportation, traffic, planning, safety or a related field? Most of what you say sounds really uninformed and is not supported by data or evidence.

    I also support limiting drawbridge openings. It’s a kind of frustrating truism that the higher you build a bridge, the less often it has to open (think Aurora and I-5). At least light rail to UW will give us another path across the ship canal separated from boats. I hope the next round of transit expansion includes light rail between Ballard and Interbay/Queen Anne (and I’m pretty sure it will, just a matter of time) which would add another such connection near Magnolia.

  • Jay

    Jon Morgon,

    Sorry if I offended you but you should have mentioned you were a member of this board from the beginning. The fact that you didn’t mention it was disengenuous made me suspicious.

    Be specific as to what about my comments struck you as uniformed. Did you follow the link I posted? If you truly care about improving pedestrian conditions then why are you not advocating for traffic signals and right/left turn arrows at every intersection?

  • Jon Morgan

    There’s nothing disingenuous about not mentioning one of my affiliations. I have others I’m not mentioning here, as I’m sure you do. Every comment of mine includes a link to the SPAB website, which clearly shows that I am a member. Had you bothered to click it rather than instinctively impugn my motives just because you disagree–and accuse me of being a corrupt, bribed pawn of a mayor I don’t support when I have sacrificed job promotions to blow the ethics whistle–you would’ve discovered it on your own right away.

    I am advocating what would make Nickerson and other places in Seattle safest for pedestrians. Signals at every intersection and left and right turn arrows at every intersection are a hamhanded, expensive, cost-ineffective idea. As I noted before, the city has already done on Stone Way and Broadway essentially what it plans on Nickerson. Heard of any pedestrian injuries or fatalities on those streets since the road diet? I live right off Broadway, and I haven’t. Fewer lanes, slower streets, and coexistence with cars, bikes, and pedestrians make our streets safer.

    The single most important element of ped safety is probably vehicle speed. The severity of car injuries to pedestrians goes up dramatically over about 35 mph. There’s a good reason why peds aren’t allowed on highways. But city streets are not interstates. Nickerson is too fast now (thus the severe head injury last March), and police enforcement of speed limits is impractical and ineffective. Physical design is the effective way to reduce car speeds. SDOT’s Nickerson project does this.

    Crossing fewer lanes of traffic also greatly improves pedestrian safety. Often cars in the outer lane will stop and motion for a ped to cross, but cars in other lanes don’t. This is called a double threat, and it’s lethal. Nickerson has too many lanes now, increasing both the danger and the time it takes for pedestrians to cross it (and consequently, the time cars have to spend stopped for peds to cross). Streamlining four car travel lanes to two, with a center turn lane (where cars usually move pretty slowly), will greatly improve pedestrian safety on Nickerson. Because federal guidelines on crosswalks changed, the city can’t really leave them across a four-lane street anymore; they’ve been found to give people a false sense of security. No crosswalks at all is better. That’s why the ones that were there have been removed. But what’s safest are crosswalks on a narrower street at signalized intersections with curb bulbs, and in many cases, median refuge islands. Islands help slower or later pedestrians cross part of the street during one signal cycle, and wait safely to get a walk signal to cross the other part of the street.

    I am also a fan of mid-block crosswalks with choke points and appropriate signage; in many ways they are safer still for pedestrians to cross. Look at The Ave where they work well. I don’t think Nickerson will see these because it will not be a slow enough street for them. I only know of one on Broadway (at SCCC).

    I’m not sure Seattle uses right turn arrows anywhere, and we have few left turn arrows (these are called protected turns). They have some advantages, but are only appropriate in certain places. One of their disadvantages is that they elongate the traffic signal cycle. The longer you make pedestrians wait to cross a street, the likelier they are to cross when it’s not safe. As it is, pedestrians in crosswalks (marked or not) have the right of way over turning cars. I’m not interested in making peds wait longer to cross.

    A smaller part of this project is relocating some Metro bus stops to safer places with safer crossings.

    SPAB has gotten presentations on the Nickerson project (meeting minutes are on our website), and I’ve emailed SDOT staffers about it and attended the open house at SPU. The plans are quite impressive to me and will be a huge improvement in bike and pedestrian safety and mobility for all users.

    Seattle is not perfect, but one thing I love about it is its strong ability for self-correction. I and other SPAB members still have issues with SPD, some parts and policies at SDOT, and other officials and departments of the city government. I am not satisfied with SDOT signals policies and practices, and that’s something I and others are working on. In the case of right turns, I do think we should look at having right-turning cars wait while pedestrians cross and cars going straight or left are allowed to go. And after the walk signal phase ends, then allow cars to turn right. That would lengthen signal cycles, but until we can get SDOT signals and SPD to coordinate and enforce traffic laws that protect pedestrians, I think that would make a big safety improvement. Others don’t necessarily agree with that.

    I’d also like to see more “pedestrian scramble” signals where all cars have to stop and pedestrians can walk wherever they need (e.g. 1st & Pike). And more “leading ped” signals where pedestrians get the walk signal a few seconds before cars get a green. So far, SDOT seems not to even know how many of either we have. Likewise, SPD doesn’t keep many of the statistics they should, and are reluctant to release many of those they do have.

    But those are broader changes in city policy, and ones that can be implemented anywhere they’re appropriate. What SDOT proposes to do on Nickerson is just what needs to be done. We need those crosswalks back, along with the other protections and improvements, and we need them ASAP.

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