This year’s West Seattle Bridge closure has released a plague of traffic on communities in the Duwamish River lowlands, which already endure more than their share of congestion and pollution.
City staff and advocacy groups wonder how to make the overflow less miserable, not only for drivers from the peninsula who detour 6 miles heading downtown, but for people in South Park, Georgetown, Roxhill and Highland Park.
Road rage is on the increase, along with lineups at traffic signals and trips through residential side streets, neighbors say.
“There’s tons of kids in the neighborhood. We’ve got kids living in houses, a lot of families with kids living in apartment complexes without a lot of space,” said Aley Thompson, a member of the South Park Neighborhood Association. “It’s summer in Seattle. Kids are going outside. We’re really worried.”
The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has launched a survey, already completed by nearly 11,000 people, that asks whether travelers will change their patterns, and how the city might help.
The survey also invites people to endorse their favorite project ideas among 155 nominations, which each would require less than $100,000 and 12 months to finish. However, the survey’s maps and descriptions often don’t match, so people should also write their needs in the comment boxes.
The survey can be found by searching “Reconnect West Seattle” online until July 31.
SDOT strives to somehow keep moving 120,000 daily travelers who were displaced by the March 23 high-bridge closure, that removed seven lanes of capacity.
Success requires slashing West Seattle’s 81% solo-driving rate in 2019 down to 35% in 2021, SDOT says.
“We want to make sure people can enjoy life the way they did prior to the bridge closure. That’s going to take a shift,” said Adonis Ducksworth, SDOT capital projects coordinator. Even considering telework, he’s hopeful Sodo sports stadiums will reopen soon, generating trips.
South Cloverdale Street is a two-lane arterial designed to serve homes and apartments, but also links the South Park Bridge to highways 99 and 509. It illustrates an impossible quest to serve both traffic and tranquillity.
John Dorrough, a retired truck driver, sat in his front-yard rocking chair one day last week to drink cola and watch the afternoon street scene.
“Traffic is a little bit deeper now. When that bridge froze, they have to come here to go downtown,” Dorrough said. A garbage collector waved, while vehicles accumulated behind his stopped truck. Paramedics passed with sirens on, then a coupe with a loud muffler.
Dorrough said the din doesn’t bother him, because he bought the place in 1993 aware of aircraft noise around Boeing Field.
The survey nominates several safety tweaks on Cloverdale: pedestrian-activated signals at two crossroads, a wider crosswalk near South Park bridge, more 25 mph speed limit signs and “traffic calming measures, such as speed humps or cushions,” which are less abrupt than traditional parking-lot speed bumps.
The city is adding nine humps and cushions in Highland Park, a hilltop West Seattle enclave also slammed by bridge detours. SDOT installed a traffic light March 28 to deter T-bone crashes.
“I don’t like speed bumps,” Dorrough said. They don’t do anything but “tear your car and everything up.” Police issue speeding tickets on Cloverdale occasionally, and that’s effective, he said.
More drivers from outside South Park stop to buy coffee, and often rant, at Resistencia Coffee on Cloverdale, which is digging out from a COVID-19 slump, said barista Jovanna Barron, who lives nearby. She said it took 40 minutes to reach her grandmother’s house in West Seattle, yet she’d support speed humps and residential road calming.
“It’s just more congested, and we’re getting more frustrated,” she said.
Afternoon traffic stretches to the South Park Bridge, where some drivers turn right into shaded, residential Dallas Avenue South to bypass Cloverdale congestion. A survey map suggests pedestrian improvements there.
About 19,000 vehicles crossed South Park Bridge on July 16, about 3,000 more than before the coronavirus pandemic and West Seattle Bridge closure.
The city hasn’t announced yet how much money is available, said Paulina López, executive director of the South Park-based Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, who co-chairs a 31-member task force that advises the city on West Seattle Bridge repair or replacement, and traffic management.
Survey replies from the valley are fewer than from the peninsula. To close the gap, SDOT offers surveys in Spanish, Chinese, Somali, Korean and Vietnamese. Paper versions of the survey are also available.
With the survey deadline approaching Friday, the choices seem overwhelming for average residents, said John Persak, a task-force member from Georgetown. But, he said, “It’s probably better than the alternative, which is no dialogue.”
Though city policy is to discourage driving, many options aim to help motorists cross the valley.
When arterials flow properly, there’s less temptation to shortcut through an alley or past a playground, advocates hope. Maritime businesses and the Port of Seattle, which will open vast Terminal 5 in West Seattle next year, insist that trucks keep rolling.
Survey options in Georgetown include a wider right-turn area from South Corson Street to South Michigan Street, where converging traffic funnels into a single, poorly marked right turn lane.
SDOT is considering signal-timing changes to reduce clogs in the Corson-Michigan corridor, suddenly the main route from I-5 to West Seattle.
Alongside the West Seattle peninsula, drivers grouse about West Marginal Way Southwest, where traffic tripled. It’s common to wait three or more signal cycles where West Marginal meets Highland Park Way.
Drivers often say SDOT should create a right-turn only lane to northbound West Marginal, so commuters and trucks turning north aren’t corked behind somebody waiting at a red light, to ascend straight toward Highland Park.
“Reducing idling would probably be the most important thing,” Persak said. “Keeping it moving.
“But I think the biggest thing would be a mode shift for West Seattle.” If fewer commuters fill the valley, the trucks concentrated there would burn less fuel.
At only $100,000 per project, there’s little SDOT can do that both improves air quality and revs the economy. Ducksworth points to a partial remedy: Plant more street trees.