Seattle’s War on Cars Fails, Again, to Achieve Predicted Nightmare Outcomes

by on March 1, 2012

(Image: SDOT)

With a full year of traffic data under their belts, Seattle’s Department of Transportation is reporting on how the Nickerson Street “road diet” affected traffic. Average weekday traffic was down one percent, to 18,300 vehicles from 18,500. SDOT has not been able to find evidence of diversion to alternate streets.

On the safety side, the primary reason for the rechannelization that converted the four-lane road into two lanes, collisions were down 23 percent compared to a five-year average, the speeding population dropped 60 percent, and the number of people doing 10 or more miles over the speed limit was down 90 percent.

The $242,000 project included pedestrian crossing improvements at three locations, smoothing a sharp curve, a two-way left turn lane in the middle, and an uphill bicycle lane. Though Nickerson was Seattle’s 28th road diet (as of March 2012 we have had 36 battles in the “war on cars”), the proposal was met by substantial outrage from people who argued that a four-lane road could not be reduced to two lanes without traffic volume being cut drastically.

On neighborhood blog Magnolia Voice, the community appeared split on the viability of a change that, remember, had been successfully implemented 27 times since 1972:

A survey we took back in June indicated that, of the 711 who participated, 48.4 percent were in support of the road diet, while 51.6 percent were against the plan.  The topic generated more discussion on this site than any other topic we have ever posted.

At the time, the City Council’s transportation committee chair, Tom Rasmussen, wanted to delay the project “until 2016 — when other corridors including two-way Mercer Street and the Alaskan Way Tunnel are completed, and their traffic detours let up.”

UPDATE: Rasmussen’s office has written in, claiming that he was incorrectly characterized in the Seattle Times: “The reference to waiting until 2016 for changes to Nickerson came from a letter from Mayor Nickels when he was in office that Tom was paraphrasing at the MDC meeting in 2010. Tom was never advocating for waiting. He was only interested in receiving more information from all viewpoints to be able to make a subsequent decision if the city council decided to weigh in.” You can decide if “receiving more information from all viewpoints” would result in what’s more prosaically known as waiting.

The Manufacturing Industrial Council (MIC) also complained that freight mobility would suffer. (Freight use of Nickerson Street post-diet hasn’t declined at all–it’s actually up slightly.)

Because bicyclists were for the proposal, it had to be bad for cars. A Crosscut guest editorialist opined that “Losing lanes to bikes will produce a jobs exodus.” And things went from there. KING 5 included road diets in their “war on cars” segment. “The Emerald City has been put on a road diet,” proclaimed FOX News.

SDOT actually tried to mollify people by pointing out that many of the changes simply involved paint, and if it didn’t work–if this 27th Seattle road rechannelization didn’t work–they could always switch it back, and people could return to traveling at in-city speeds that kill pedestrians. A year later, it’s not as easy to find people arguing for SDOT to road binge.

Filed under News, Transportation

3 thoughts on “Seattle’s War on Cars Fails, Again, to Achieve Predicted Nightmare Outcomes

  1. “A year later, it’s not as easy to find people arguing for SDOT to road binge.”

    This is America. It’s always easy to find people arguing for a road binge. Check out Queen Anne View, where it’s always easy to find people arguing about anything. “My family curses McSchwinn on a regular basis… it’s like we are trying to discourage all industry left in the city!”

  2. I am assuming the pictures taken were at 10 am? Anyone who has been on that street knows 6-9 am and 3-6 pm it is bumper to bumper.