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Neighbors Celebrate New Safe Routes to 3 Schools

Safe streets advocacy can be a long, arduous haul. But sometimes we just get to throw our hands up in the air and shout “YES!! We did this!!” On August 27 we celebrated a key step in knitting North Seattle neighborhoods together, easing walking and biking between east and west, and bringing critical safety improvements to the routes to and from three newly-opened schools. Our ribbon-cutting gathering of 100+ neighbors took a moment on a sunny afternoon to cheer, in all: a protected bike lane on North 92nd Street; a new mixed-use trail running along the multi-school complex and connecting two parts of 92nd; and a new bike and pedestrian signal on 92nd at Aurora Ave North.

92nd trail ribbon cutting compressedIdentifying a familiar problem in Seattle: fragmented, disconnected neighborhoods

It’s endemic across the city: a lack of safe and comfortable east-west routes for walking and biking. In 2012, Northend neighbors began gathering to talk about the safety and mobility issues of their local streets. To start, they identified three major issues fragmenting their neighborhoods:

  • For seven blocks between North 90th Street and North 97th Street there had been no east-west through-route connecting Aurora with Wallingford, College Way, and North Seattle College. A traveler on foot or bike had to wind one’s way on several discontinuous streets.
  • In the 30 blocks between North 80th Street and Northgate Way, the only option for crossing I-5 by bike or foot was at the North 92nd Street overpass. And efforts to go west from there had been frustrating — 92nd Street was discontinuous between Ashworth Ave North and Stone Way North. To continue to the west one had to jog to North 90th  Street or North 85th Street. Due to heavy traffic, those east-west streets weren’t conducive to biking or walking and the intersections of those streets at Aurora were two of the most dangerous intersections on the state highway.
  • Aurora Avenue (SR 99) is a traffic moat that splits several northern neighborhoods. With few signalized crossings, major traffic activity, and frequent injury collisions — it’s simply unsafe for biking and walking.

The safety challenges surrounding North 92nd Street and Aurora Ave were about to get worse. In 2013, Seattle Public Schools applied for permits to build three schools for 1,660 K-8 students on one multi-block campus — located on North 90th Street between Stone Way North and Wallingford Avenue North, a block east of Aurora. The safety issues were plain to see: many of the students in the schools’ catchment area would have to cross Aurora and I-5; and neighborhood-street traffic would increase considerably on 92nd Street east of the schools, and on 90th Street, in front of the schools.

Local SNG volunteer Lee Bruch said, “It was critical – something had to be done.”

SNG Coalition Groups Take the Lead on Safety Solutions

New trail compressed

Licton-Haller Greenways and Greenwood-Phinney Greenways took the initiative and led community groups, including Licton Springs Community Council, Aurora Licton Urban Village alliance on a multi-prong approach.

They studied the situation and identified needs and alternatives, and proposed and prioritized solutions. The highest priorities included:

  • Make North 92nd Street a safer and continuous east-west link from the Maple Leaf/ Northgate neighborhoods on the east of I-5 through to Greenwood and Crown Hill to the west.  Solution:  Make 92nd a traffic-calmed greenway where possible; and where it’s a main arterial across I-5, create protected bike lanes.
  • 92nd was discontinuous behind the schools; the school site extended across what normally would have been the 92nd Street right-of-way.  Solution:  Convince the schools, the city’s development permit reviewers, and SDOT to establish a multi-use trail across school property to link both portions of 92nd.
  • Create a pedestrian signal at 92nd and Aurora, complete with right-in right-out diverters. Solution:  obtain funding and convince WSDOT and SDOT to implement it.
  • Improve safety on North 90th Street in front of the schools, including providing new marked crosswalks and RRFB’s (rectangular rapid flashing beacons).  Solution: obtain funding and convince SDOT to implement it.
  • Create traffic calming on streets surrounding the schools.  Solution: obtain funding and convince SDOT to implement it.

Effective Community Organizing — Seattle Neighborhood Greenways-Style

The SNG neighborhood groups began a concerted effort in late 2014 that is still ongoing — creating concern and interest amongst the neighborhood, community groups, decision makers, funding sources, and technical personnel.

Licton-Haller Greenways and Greenwood-Phinney Greenways volunteers began making presentations to the city’s development permit reviewers to affect terms of the permit. They approached the School Traffic Safety Committee for their support in convincing the school district and SDOT to create the missing link trail behind the schools. They held a series of on-site Safe Routes to School audits by Greenways members, parents, and members of SDOT and the School Traffic Safety Committee and produced a substantial study documenting their findings. They  held separate personalized walks for three councilmembers and continually lobbied them and their staffs. They participated in a Find It Fix It walk with the mayor and city department heads and lobbied them. They leveraged their working relationship with the staff in SDOT’s Safe Routes to Schools and greenways groups.

speed humps 92nd donghoBuilding Community Will … and Locating the Funding Too!

In 2015, the SNG groups applied for Neighborhood Park and Street Fund and Neighborhood Street Fund grants. They weren’t successful. They redoubled their efforts, adjusting as needed, and in 2016 applied again —  this time winning part of the funding. Critically, their timing coincided with the citywide Move Seattle funding victory and with SDOT’s own greenways team getting ready to build out part of a network in north Seattle.

Lee Bruch: “By patching together various interests and various funding sources we got a partial victory.”

On August 27 this year, the SNG groups hosted dozens of kids and supporters celebrating the completion of the multi-use trail behind the schools, the completion of the protected bike lane on 92nd from Wallingford across I-5 to 1st Avenue NE, and the completion of the pedestrian signal at Aurora and 92nd.

But, as Lee says, “Our work isn’t done. There’s lots of advocacy, monitoring, and cajoling still needed.”

Safety provisions on North 90th Street and on Stone Way North adjacent to the schools have been planned, but are still not implemented – kids still must dart across the street to and from their school, without crosswalk markings and without the promised RRFB’s.  And the North Seattle greenways network is not yet totally planned. Hope are they’ll be implemented in 2018.

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