Feet First endorses the proposed rechannelization of NE 125th Street between Roosevelt Way and 35th Avenue NE to three lanes of traffic.
There has been much debate in Seattle of late about proposals such as this one to convert existing four-lane arterials to three lanes, often referred to as “road diets.” All too often, the public debate over these treatments is mistakenly framed by the news media and others as a zero sum contest between drivers and bicyclists. This is false. When done properly at appropriate locations such as NE 125th Street, all users benefit.
NE 125th Street traverses a populated residential area. At the eastern end is the Lake City commercial district, containing multifamily homes and retail establishments. Two Metro bus routes use the road. All of this activity along the corridor makes it necessary for people who live and work here to cross this arterial during the course of their daily activities.
Unfortunately, NE 125th Street has many characteristics that make it difficult and unsafe to cross. There have been thirteen pedestrian collisions along this road section between January 2007 and April 2010. The road carries over 16,000 trips every day, and most drivers travel ten miles or more over the posted speed limit. We are particularly concerned about the section of 125th Street between 15th Avenue NE and 25th Avenue NE, a half- mile road segment without signalized intersections. For many, this section of roadway effectively serves as a wall dividing the neighborhood in two for pedestrians.
The reconfiguration o f NE 125th Street to three lanes should reduce pedestrian accident rates, and make it much easier for pedestrians to cross the road:
- Busy, four-lane arterials such as NE 125th Street are unsafe to traverse at unsignalized crossings. A car stopping for someone crossing the street obscures visibility for the driver in the adjacent lane, who might not see the pedestrian. This dangerous situation is significantly improved by conversion to a three-lane arterial.
- Pedestrians at unsignalized crossings must find a gap in the traffic through which to cross, which can be difficult on four-lane arterials as pedestrians must wait for gaps in both directions. With the conversion to a three-lane arterial, pedestrians can cross each half of the road separately, using the center turn lane as refuge.
- ·Speeding is less common on three-lane arterials. The removal of the extra “passing lane” prevents speeding drivers from passing other drivers who are following the posted speed limit. When Stone Way was converted to three lanes, speeding ten miles or more over the posted speed limit declined by over 80 percent.
The record of four-to-three lane configurations elsewhere confirms that pedestrian safety is indeed improved. Pedestrian accidents along Stone Way North declined from five in the two years prior to conversion to only one during the two-year period afterwards. These pedestrian safety benefits have been found at other locations as well. For example, pedestrian accidents along Fourth Plain Boulevard in Vancouver, Washington declined from six in the three years prior to conversion to none in the two years following.
Lane reconfigurations such as the one proposed for NE 125th Street also provides safety benefits to motorized vehicles for a number of reasons:
- reducing conflict points;
- improving visibility for crossing and turning vehicles; and
- reducing speeding.
These traffic safety benefits are corroborated by findings at a number of locations throughout the country:
- At nine lane conversion locations around Seattle, aggregate crash rates declined by 34 percent.
- Crashes on Fourth Plain Boulevard in Vancouver, Washington declined by 52 percent.
- Crashes on Baxter Avenue in Athens, Georgia declined by 53 percent.
- U.S. 18 in Clear Lake, Iowa saw 65% fewer crashes, and 52 percent less aggressive speeding.
A bonus benefit from converting arterials to three lanes is that it frees up extra space on the roadway for other uses. A common practice is providing new bicycle lanes in each direction. The lanes proposed for NE 125th Street will provide a needed east-west corridor to the city’s bike network.
As for accommodating traffic, when done at appropriate locations three-lane roadways can handle the same amount of vehicles per hour as they did before the conversion from four lanes. According to the Federal Highway Administration, “road diets” on roadways carrying up to 20,000 trips per day have minimal effects on roadway capacity – a threshold well above the 16,200 daily trips that currently use NE 125th Street.
Feet First recommends the addition of refuge islands at appropriate crossing points, which would improve safety even further. We also suggest installing bus bulbouts which will maintain transit speed and reliability.
Feet First understands there are many four-lane arterials that simply carry too much traffic to be converted to three lanes without causing unacceptable levels of traffic congestion. “Road diet” proposals should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. However, it appears from all available evidence that NE 125th Street is an appropriate candidate for conversion to three lanes.