My letter to Nicole Brodeur on road diets

Dear Ms. Brodeur:

I read your column regarding the road diet for Northeast 125th Street. Not being familiar with this street, I decided to go out and see it myself. something I hope you get a chance to do.

On my visit, I noted several interesting things. First was how pleasant the neighborhood was, with mature trees lining the street. I can see why folks up there see potential for interesting retail to spread west from Lake City Way.

My impression of the road is that, despite a little rough pavement, it's entirely bikeable as it stands, although to be fair it's probably more challenging during times of heavy traffic. I didn't see any bikes besides me, but on a Sunday afternoon, there weren't all that many cars either. Lots of people waiting for buses though. Not a lot of good places for bus riders to get to or from the required side of the street.

As for the monster 8% grade hill, meh. I assume this is west-bound from roughly 25th to 17th. I rode up it in 2 minutes without breaking a sweat. Literally, 2 minutes. I timed it. I ride my bike quite a bit, but I'm well into my 40s and don't have the strength I did as a kid. Surely, there are some casual bike riders that would have had to work harder or go slower, but a lot of those casual riders ride city bikes or mountain bikes with very low gears (I was on a road bike), so they can comfortably go quite slow. I reckon there are riders that would be intimidated by that hill, but I can't imagine there are very many riders who are not able to comfortably ride up it if they tried.

Why don't more bikers ride 125th? As for me, I ride in this area quite a bit, and I've never ridden 125th because, well, I didn't know it was there. Now that I've ridden it, I'll probably ride there now and again. It's actually better than the other ways I've been getting from Lake City Way to 15th. One thing this controversy might to is get more bikers to try 125th, and when they do, they'll probably like it. Lots of bikers ride Lake City Way, and southbound there are two hills far more formidable than the hill on 125th. Taking 125th replaces the steeper and more dangerous of the two Lake City Way hills with a shorter, easier hill having better sight lines.

So what does SDOT need to do for bikers on 125th? Nothing.

But the road diet isn't for bikers anyway. It's for pedestrians, and those bus riders I saw. 125th today is like Stoneway when I used to cross it walking my son to school. It was scary to cross, especially in the winter. After too many close calls, I ended up carrying three bike flashers with me so that cars would see us in the crosswalk. Sometimes that didn't feel like enough. It's worlds better now.

Businesses were worried about the road diet on Stoneway affecting them too, and it has. For the better. Slower driving speeds make people more likely to notice interesting businesses, and more willing to park. (Ever tried parallel parking on Aurora?) So I hope the road diet is as good for business on 125th as it seems to have been on Stoneway. I can't see anything special about 125th that would keep a road diet from helping business there.

When the road diet goes in, there will be space for bike lanes, and I suppose the city might as well put them in, at least westbound, although eastbound is probably better off with a little bit wider lane and sharrows. A bike lane or sharrows would both signal to bikers that they should give 125th a try. Had I seen such an invitation in the past, I would have taken it, and discovered a pleasant little neighborhood I'm now pleased I know about.


- Erik


Nickerson Street Road Diet

Drove the dieted Nickerson today. (Planned on riding it, but had another errand to run....) Maximum speed: 36 mph, probably a 10 mph improvement. Average range of auto speeds: less than 10 mph. So far, looks like the diet is working.

There are bike lanes, but this clearly is not bike-centric infrastructure. Bike lanes disappear when the space is needed for turn lanes or for room for cars to wait at the 5-way snarl at the approach to the Fremont Bridge. I think that's the right call, though. The road diet as implemented should have negligible impact on car capacity (of which there is excess anyway) while increasing bike capacity and giving a clearer signal to all road users that bikes belong on Nickerson.

As for pedestrian safety, the actual reason for the road diet? Traffic speeds are closer to the legal limit, with ample traffic capacity. The street now complies with national standards for crosswalks, and the street feels less like a waste land and more like a neighborhood. Everybody wins, even if they aren't ready to admit it.

Everybody, that is, except a few people who think that driving 50mph through a college campus is somewhere in the Bill of Rights.