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.


Anonymous said...

I live on Nickerson. I have not become a fan of the road diet. Here's why:

1) More traffic density per lane makes it harder to cross by foot and turn left/right from side streets onto Nickerson by car.

2) Traffic backs up/stacks up more because of the reduction of lanes.

3) I don't ride bikes on urban streets. I do ride the bus however.

4) I never had a problem with Nickerson pre-road diet.

I hope the small amount of bicycle riders I see on this road feel safer, though I don't see why they would. There's a much safer alternative called a bike path about 1/2 block to the north of Nickerson. It's scenic as well.

Erik Nilsson said...

Thanks for commenting, Anonymous. Sorry I didn't reply sooner. I hope you check back and see this comment as I have a few questions:

- Where are you seeing traffic back up more? SDOT can still make some adjustments to the paint, so they should want to know about problems.

- Where are you finding it harder to cross? SDOT isn't done with this project. The last part is some signaled crosswalks, so that may address your problem.

- Just a comment: the data is pretty consistent that road diets reduce accidents from vehicles turning on or off the arterial. So it might seem more difficult now, but that might be because it didn't look as dangerous as it really was before.

I suppose if you thought Nickerson was fine before, you aren't likely to see the change as an improvement. My experience driving and biking on Nickerson is that it is improved.

As for crossing the street, it should be safer even it might seem "harder" to some pedestrians. I'd like to introduce you to a friend of mine who is permanently disabled from crossing a street very close to the old Nickerson configuration. The problem is that the outer lane cars will wait, as the law requires, but the inner lane cars don't always wait. The new lower driving speeds along with single lanes means a car is more likely to stop for a pedestrian, as the law requires, and there is no inner lane where a car can threaten a pedestrian who is already in the street, but possibly hidden from view.

Search Engine Marketing said...

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) says a new federal study shows that road diets calm traffic and reduce collisions. SDOT recently put Nickerson Street on a road diet, taking it to one lane each way.

Anonymous said...

Improving safety and reducing accidents is nice. However, to what lengths do we pursue this as a goal? I'm certain we could dramatically reduce auto-related fatalities across the board by reducing speed limits on all roads, freeways included, to 20 mph, but that would be ridiculous.

Five years from now, when Seattle's population has grown, it will probably be necessary to remove these avenues from their diets just to accommodate increased traffic as a result of population growth, at a higher expense.

Road diets, though providing what some consider a benefit, are nothing but stop-gap solutions to a more large-scale problem - poorly designed cities with bad transportation issues.

I'm sorry your friend became disabled while crossing a street. But safety alone cannot be the single focus guiding decisions on how are cities roads are managed.

Traffic on this road today, close to peak times, is a continuous river of cars, backed up from light to light becoming progressively worse from West to East heading toward the Fremont Bridge.

~Anon from above

Erik Nilsson said...

Thanks again anonymous, for writing back.

I agree that traffic planning in our cities is not nearly as good as we could have.

But I think people being maimed and killed in traffic is a bigger problem than not being "nice." It's a daily massacre.

Your concern is that future growth may require the greater capacity. However, the dieted roads have about the same capacity as the un-dieted roads. The difference is not in the number of cars handled per day --the difference is that maximum travel speeds are closer to the legal limits on a dieted road vs. an un-dieted road. So if future growth pushes Nickerson past capacity, taking out the diet won't help. SDOT says Nickerson is not at capacity, as things stand.

Erik Nilsson said...

Also, anonymous, another point: you are willing to trade away safety in the pursuit of reduced congestion.

Yet, a study I cite here by the American Automobile Association shows that in Seattle, crashes have a significantly higher economic cost that congestion. So if we are worried about it being cost effective to move around Seattle, we should be reducing speeds on arterials to be closer to their design and legal limits.

The AAA study underestimates the true cost of crashes for two reasons, first by considering only lost work and medical costs, without attempting to account for human costs in pain and suffering. Second, crashes are themselves an important source of traffic jams.

Nobody is suggesting reducing speeds on freeways to 20mph. That's as ridiculous as suggesting that we could reduce congestion by raising speed limits on city streets to 90mph. We want to reduce the difference between the maximum and average speed of traffic, and bring the average closer to the speed the streets were designed for.

Anonymous said...

Again, Mr. Nilsson, I live on Nickerson. I was just outside on my porch observing a speeding car approach a non-speeding car from behind. The speeding car used the center turn lane as a passing lane. Probably not the safest or legal maneuver.

I did not mean to infer that the traffic capacity of the road today has grown post-diet. I did mean that eventually, it may be necessary to revert it back to a non-diet state in order to handle increased traffic loads in the future.

I have no studies to cite, only empirical evidence that to me suggests the street is louder, slower and more congested than it used to be. It appears more congested because the same amount of cars are being forced into a smaller space. I drive on the road almost daily though I take the bus to work.

Perhaps the road diets are benefiting our city financially and perhaps they are helping to improve safety. I'm not against either of those things. On the other hand, my anecdotal experience is telling me that this road has become a nuisance ever since the diet. On foot and in the car.

Also, I mentioned previously that there already exists a scenic bike/pedestrian path located 1/2 a block north of Nickerson St. It runs the entire length of the road diet. I use it. Come on out and give it a try.

If nothing else, I have learned through this discussion that there are valid concerns and people dedicated to finding solutions to problems regarding traffic and safety in this city. I am glad that you take the time to provide this forum and actively moderate it while presenting well thought out information, even if our experiences differ a bit.

Erik Nilsson said...

Hi Anon,

Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Sorry I didn't publish your comment right away. It got grabbed by Goog's overagressive spam filter.

Clearly the road diet isn't working for you. Maybe it isn't going to work from most people's perspective, maybe it will.

SDOT likes to say that road diets are only paint. While they usually work, there have been cases where they haven't. So SDOT can always grind the paint off and go back to something more like it was before. However, as I pointed out, history suggests that going back to 2+2 lanes won't actually improve capacity much at all.

As you say, we need to be open-minded and learn what we can from the data we can get. We need to improve traffic systems over time, but not every shiny new idea works out, certainly not in all cases. I don't personally think the Nickerson Diet has failed, but I have only my experiences to go on, and no real data. So I honestly don't know yet whether it will work out.