We need your help, we can’t wait for a safer 15th & Columbian. We’ve made it easy for you to contact the Mayor’s office, SDOT and Councilmembers to support the safest project possible.
There have been several articles written by local journalists regarding 15th & Columbian. Check them out here:
According to the Transportation Safety Research Board, middle school aged children have a “greater desire to take risk” when crossing streets, which could result in “walking across more risky roadways”. Eliminating a crosswalk, combined with high times to cross at the remaining marked crosswalks, could present an opportunity to middle school kiddos to cross against the light, defeating the entire purpose of a redesign of the intersection. All for the benefit of drivers trying to get through the area as quickly as possible.
This is not what Vision Zero should be. Vision Zero, to which Seattle is in theory committed, is intended to prevent traffic deaths and injuries by adapting street design to human behavior. A major part of that is accommodating pedestrian desire lines ($)—the paths pedestrians would use most naturally. The desire line for many students crossing this intersection will be across its north side; that is the shortest way across, and it is where both transit and public space will be.
In the middle of the busy roadways is a curbed concrete island, no larger than the size of a couple parking spaces. The pedestrian sanctuary is complete with plastic guard pylons, some of them sheared off from hits by passing motorists. Complicating matters, Mercer International Middle Schools sits along Columbian, a short distance away. As school lets out every afternoon, students run through the intersection to catch buses from the stops located on 15th.
This intersection is very close to Mercer Middle School, located a block away. The fix proposed would rechannel traffic into fewer lanes, add a south crosswalk on Columbian Way, and use the excess space in the road to create a public plaza. The plaza is not the primary purpose of the project, but simply a byproduct of reallocating an overabundance of roadway to slow down traffic.
What’s going on?
A few years back under the Neighborhood Street Fund process the City of Seattle conducts, community members from the Mercer PTA submitted a project, that was later approved and funded, to replace the current design of 15th & Columbian (shown to the right). The goal of the new design was to improve pedestrian safety, in particular for students and visitors to Mercer Middle School.
What does this redesign, do?
The redesign reroutes through-traffic on 15th by creating a more standard “T” intersection by extending sidewalk and open space. The reconfiguration would simplify the intersection, reduce how far people have to walk in the street to cross via new curb bulbs, and create a new crosswalk on the southern side of S Columbian Way. Currently there is only a single crosswalk over Columbian Way, off a small pedestrian island.
To create this simplified intersection SDOT has indicated that it would remove the signal on S Oregon St and also close the through lane. The rational given for this decision was retaining the signal would cause too much delay for vehicle traffic.
Why is the signal at S Oregon a big deal?
Many people who live in the neighborhood west of 15th between Spokane and Lucile utilize the signal at S Oregon St to leave, particularly if they’re going left/north. 15th is very busy and it can be difficult to find a large enough gap to turn; in addition finding those gaps may require people to drive aggressively and it feels unsafe. The signal at Oregon allows a protected turn out into traffic, in a manner that feels safe.
What’s the compromise?
SDOT has proposed a new signal at S Dakota St & 15th, about 0.25 miles (2 long blocks) north from Oregon. This will provide people in the neighborhood the benefits of a signaled intersection for easier left turns onto 15th and will enhance the Mercer circulation plan by making it safer and easier for school buses to depart. One downside to this compromise is that it will add some vehicular traffic on the Beacon Hill Greenway and possibly create a slightly higher risk of “left hooks” at S Dakota.
Sometimes you don’t want to read 45 articles to figure out a project; here’s the BHSS Summary:
How does this project improve safety?
Decreases how far people have to walk in the street to cross.
Adds a new crosswalk closer to the path students naturally take on Columbian Way
Simplifies the intersection to reduce confusion by drivers and pedestrians
Improves ADA accessibility
Reduces speeds for through traffic on 15th and makes clearer sightlines on Columbian Way
Improves cyclist safety and connectivity by adding bicycle elements to the intersection
The new public plaza space can be used by nearby businesses as additional seating and open space for residents and visitors
Some have also expressed that the plaza may “hurt” businesses due to loitering people or students; this is unlikely as open spaces tend to improve pedestrian traffic and give people more reasons to stick around.
The possibility of an all-way walk to assist students in accessing transit and the school versus needing to complete multiple crossing legs.
Improved transit amenities at stops, such as benches or shelters as well as moving one stop further from a driveway where people frequently drove through the bus stop sidewalk area.
What are some thoughts on other concerns about the project?
SDOT has proposed an “Option C” that removes a crosswalk over Columbian Way to maintain the signal at Oregon.
The point is to make it easier for students to cross here as well as other vulnerable users. Removing a crosswalk makes the intersection more complicated, will reduce safety for pedestrians, and make it more difficult to access to transit as well as encourage students to keep “jaywalking” by not having crosswalks where they need them.
“The new signal at S. Dakota is just too far from Oregon”
It is further for some, closer for others. The drive or bike time to this location is just over one minute from S Oregon at a calm pace.
“S Oregon street is wider, thus more appropriate for a signal”
This is true, Oregon is about 32ft and S Dakota St is 26ft wide. Narrower streets reduce speeds and serious injuries; however, if there are concerns about larger vehicles we should ask SDOT to look at parking restrictions along S Dakota.
“There is not enough crashes/data/data isn’t supporting/not enough people have been hit/killed”
This is a distraction. Beacon Hill Safe Streets supports a Vision of ZERO traffic fatalities and serious injuries. We should not wait until additional serious injuries or fatalities occur before improving an intersection that already makes people feel uncomfortable.
In December of 2017 another child was struck, this 12 year old was able to walk away from the crash but should we wait until one can’t?
In July of 2018 as the project continues to be debated a rollover crash occurred injuring occupants of the vehicles.
“We should retain the existing light at S Oregon and install the new signal at S Dakota”
The new signal on S. Dakota will meet the objective of the neighborhood by providing a way to safely turn left. A signal at both locations is unacceptable if it results in the current configuration at 15th & Columbian being retained. The new signal reduces the safety of the Beacon Hill Greenway by increasing traffic on it; the S Dakota signal should only move forward if the significant safety improvements to 15th & Columbian are done.