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Planning for Walking and Biking to U-District Light Rail

The University District is the second largest business district in Seattle, and with the University of Washington, Seattle Children’s facilities, and other major entities located there, it’s already a complex area for pedestrians, bikers, and buses.

A new light rail station at NE 43rd Street and Brooklyn Ave NE is scheduled for 2021, and plans for mobility and access aren’t coming along fast enough.

Drew Dresman, Transportation Planner for Seattle Children’s, sets up the problem handily in The Urbanist:

“Sound Transit’s construction of Northlink is on track to extend light rail to the north end of Seattle by 2021. After decades of failed attempts and hard work, we will finally have a fast, reliable rail line connecting North and South Seattle. Unfortunately, major questions have been left unanswered as to how people will be able to safely and easily access our future light rail stations and nowhere is this oversight more glaring than in the U District. U District Station will attract tens of thousands of daily users, but unlike Northgate Station and a growing list of others, no agency has studied how people will travel to and from U District Station and what improvements are needed to ensure people can reach Link safely and comfortably by 2021.”

Enter the community advocates and a powerful neighborhood coalition

For the past nine months, residents and representatives of several organizations in the University District have been meeting to discuss the need for a coordinated plan for light rail station access at the forthcoming U District Station. Together, members of the U District Greenways neighborhood group, U District Advocates, U District Partnership, as well as transportation staff from Seattle Children’s and the University of Washington formed a neighborhood-based coalition: the U District Mobility Group.

As a first joint action, the Mobility Group hosted a station access walking tour on September 7th — with hopes of building a unified vision for multi-modal access to the new station and the surrounding areas.

The well-attended (65+ participants) Station Mobility Tour began at the UW Tower and led participants through the neighborhood, on foot, with stops and speakers at several locations. At each location, members of the working group shared insights about the anticipated challenges for accessing the station by foot, bike and bus — and presented a variety of mobility solutions.

u dist mobility walking tour compressed

Current mobility challenges in the U District

The U District Mobility Group identified several current problematic conditions for pedestrians and cyclists in the neighborhood:

  • Most people walk or take transit to the U District and UW — yet pedestrian amenities and public open space are lacking.
  • Many pedestrians and bicyclists do not feel safe near major arterials.
  • Transit suffers from speed & reliability issues and cumbersome transfers.
  • Automobile traffic is concentrated on NE 45th Street, 15th Avenue NE, and the intersection at Roosevelt Way NE & 11th Avenue NE.

Growth and changes ahead

When the U District Station opens in 2021 it’s expected to serve 24,000 daily riders. That’s a daily influx/outflux of pedestrians and bicyclists in a neighborhood where walking is already the most common form of travel. At the University of Washington alone, 76% of students and employees take transit, walk, or ride bikes.

The new light rail station is one among several major changes slated for the neighborhood. With recent upzoning and other development impacts, the U District faces unprecedented commercial, academic and residential growth. The City and Sound Transit are both planning major capital investments in the U District, and Metro is expected to restructure area bus service.

Members of the U District Mobility Group want to ensure that as the neighborhood redevelops there’s a coordinated, holistic vision in place for how people will move about safely, comfortably, and efficiently.

Via Drew Dresman, here’s a taste of what that holistic vision could include:

  • Prioritize safety concerns for the tens of thousands of daily pedestrians in the immediate vicinity of the station.
  • Develop great bus-rail transfers and ensure connecting buses have reliable pathways to the station, even during evening rush hour.
  • Ensure people on bikes have safe routes to the station including alternatives to major arterials such as NE 45th Street and improvements at dangerous intersections.
  • Ensure adequate loading areas and building access for private vehicles.
  • Create streets that support vibrant, safe and welcoming experiences for all.

Getting the community organizing and outreach funded

So far, the U District Mobility Working Group has $87,000 in funding pledged and/or received from Seattle Children’s, U District Partnership, the University of Washington, Sound Transit, Seattle Department of Transportation and the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. This total includes a $42,000 award from the Neighborhood Matching Fund Program.

Interested in updates on the U District light rail station mobility project? Sign up here.

Interested in getting involved in a wide range of U District mobility projects? Join the U District Greenways group here.

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