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State lawmakers raise concerns over Nickerson Street road diet

June 8th, 2010 by Doug Alder

There’s a new twist today in the controversial plan to put Nickerson Street on a road diet. This morning, three state lawmakers from the 36th District (representing Magnolia, Queen Anne, Fremont and Ballard) went before the Seattle City Council’s Transportation Committee to voice their concerns. Representative Mary Lou Dickerson, Representative Reuven Carlyle, and Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles stopped short of calling for the project to be killed. But they urged the Council to wait on a WSDOT traffic analysis due out in early September before moving forward. However, Seattle DOT officials say they already have the information contained in that upcoming report and have used it in their own analysis.

The proposed rechannelization of Nickerson would eliminate a car lane in each direction of Nickerson Street while adding a bike lane and bike sharrow. The three state lawmakers want the Council to look at a more integrated and comprehensive approach to traffic in Northwest Seattle instead of taking on one road at a time. They worry about the impact not only to car traffic, but also freight traffic coming from Ballard and Interbay.

“We’re in real danger of losing a lot of our industry in the city and we can’t let that happen,” said Sen. Kohl-Welles. “It’s very difficult for industry to transport their goods to their port on a bicycle.”
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One resident who lives on Nickerson said he sympathizes with cyclists, but believes the road is already pushed to its limits.

“In reality, that street is already at capacity with automobiles. You can’t reduce it more than that. During rush hour when the Fremont Bridge goes up, you have traffic going all the way back to SPU just sitting there.”

Cyclists and other supporters of the road diet also showed up at today’s hearing. They urged the committee to put safety first.

“We find it unconscionable that people would support configuration of a roadway that puts themselves and their neighbors at risk for any longer than possible,” said David Hiller of Cascade Bicycle Club.

Karlen Bere, who lives on north Queen Anne near Seattle Pacific University, shared a horror story with the committee. She says her roommate was hit by a dump truck on Nickerson Street while riding her bike.

“She was stuck in between parked cars on her right and the dump truck on her left,” said Bere. “The restriping of Nickerson is a faster and more efficient solution to our problem than the reworking of the Ship Canal trail which is deeply needed but would take more time, resources and many more meetings.”

The Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board, which advises the Council on bicycle safety issues, also supports the road diet and is asking for monitoring prior to the project and after it is completed. Although supporters of the rechannelization say it will make Nickerson a “complete street” for all modes of transportation, those who oppose the plan say the diet will make things even worse when Nickerson becomes an alternative to access the new waterfront tunnel. The 36th District lawmakers also pointed to a letter from former mayor Greg Nickels who assured them that the city would provide all reasonable access for residents in North Seattle to the new tunnel.

A recent poll on the Nickerson issue conducted on Magnolia Voice, Queen Anne View, and MyBallard showed the community is almost evenly divided. The Magnolia Community Club and the Queen Anne Community Council oppose the plan. A newly formed group called Support the Nickerson Street Road Diet is now on Facebook and Google.

The Transportation Committee did not take any action today, but Councilman Mike O’Brien said he’s ready to move the project forward while keeping a close eye on it.

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