Seattle may start issuing more $136 tickets this fall for cars that block busy intersections, especially in the Mercer Corridor.
If it looks like Seattle drivers are constantly clogging the city’s busiest intersections, the numbers prove that’s true.
There are at least five crossings where city staff have recorded more than 130 violations a day — led by nearly 240 cars “blocking the box” where the new Mercer Street Corridor meets I-5.
In their desperation, commuters routinely try to cross an intersection before there’s room to arrive on the other side.
The numbers will be discussed at a City Council committee meeting Thursday, to support a planned fall crackdown by the Seattle Police Department this fall. A traffic ticket costs $136, for obstructing traffic at a signal.
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Mass citations will begin in October, following a publicity campaign and sign postings in August and September.
City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen has asked that police bring a plan to his Transportation Committee, for stronger enforcement of the law that forbids blocking an intersection. Rasmussen told reporters about his proposal July 31, as Mayor Ed Murray announced a related effort to clear stalled trucks and cars faster after noninjury crashes.
Blocked crosswalks and intersections are an everyday irritation, especially in the city’s new two-way Mercer Street Corridor, where the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) this summer measured four hot spots. SDOT also looked at Howell Street, where cars and buses leaving downtown creep toward the freeway; and at Rainier Avenue South next to the Mount Baker light-rail station; and just north of the Fremont Bridge.
Congestion through Mercer is making a mockery of Seattle’s dream of a pleasant gateway boulevard for South Lake Union, where the sixth and final lane under Aurora Avenue North opened in July.
A few blocks uphill, workers walking from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and visitors leaving Seattle Center, are forced to shimmy between cars. Afternoon drivers turn from Fifth Avenue onto Mercer, but often stop on the crosswalk because of congestion ahead.
When traffic occupies an intersection so that crossing traffic can’t advance, the result is “gridlock.”
The most common gridlock in Seattle may be where Valley Street and the Eastlake portion of Fairview Avenue North converge toward the I-5 junction, competing for space with cars that arrive via Mercer. Drivers from Valley are turning right to fill a tiny one-block holding zone on Fairview — which prevents cars from the Eastlake side from advancing.
In this spot, SDOT says an average 25 vehicles block the Fairview-Valley intersection between 5:30 and 5:45 p.m., or 1.7 times per minute.
These logjams block the Route 70 bus heading downtown, and the South Lake Union streetcar.
On her blog, Councilmember Sally Bagshaw has implored box-blockers to “Don’t be a Jerk.”
However, the violations aren’t only about boorishness, but also peer pressure.
Drivers who defer to pedestrians attract honks and angry gestures from other drivers waiting behind. Meanwhile in front, pedestrians are crossing Mercer in the waning seconds of the walk signal.
Police issued a flurry of tickets during Mercer Street construction a year ago, after television reporter Jesse Jones waded into gridlock at the Mercer-Dexter crossing. Within days, they moved on to other problems.
The act of issuing citations might itself slow traffic, as drivers see on the West Seattle Bridge, whenever police ticket drivers abusing the bus lane.
So police might find themselves spending as much time directing traffic on Mercer as they devote to enforcement.