Cycling/Land Use & Development/Transit 7 Ways To Improve Wallingford

Wallingford is an idyllic neighborhood, but it’s dealing with issues typical to much of Seattle: transportation woes, skyrocketing housing costs and an elevated risk of pedestrian, bicycle and motorist injuries on its streets. Broadly speaking, Wallingford should seek to become a more multimodal neighborhood with stronger transit, better bicycle infrastructure, and safer and more enticing pedestrian spaces. Moving people more efficiently by fuller using more modes would allow Wallingford to continue to grow without getting paralyzed with gridlock.

Here are seven ideas to improve the public realm in Wallingford:

  1. A North-South Protected Bike Lane
  2. Upgrade and Maintain The Burke Gilman Trail
  3. RapidRide E Stop at 38th Street
  4. Pedestrian Improvements on 45th Street
  5. Ballard Spur Subway
  6. Transit Oriented Density In Key Corridors
  7. Remove The Diagonal Portion Of Green Lake Way To Restore The Grid

1. A North-South Protected Bike Lane

IMG_20160603_170456649_HDR
The uphill bike lanes do help, but Stone Way is subject to a fair amount of speeding motorists so more protection would increase safety and comfort. The downhill side only has a sharrow. Reducing the speed limit would lower the risk of collisions, particularly fatal ones.

The idea is to connect Green Lake (and the bike trails there) to the Burke Gilman Bike Trail with a protected bike lane (PBL). Two options come to mind: One is to turn the existing bike lane on Stone Way into a protected bike lane by putting it on the other side of the parking lane and adding bollards and intersection treatments. The other is to instead take advantage of the also quite wide but less busy Woodland Park Avenue to put in a PBL.

The Bike Master Plan draft envisions Stone Way as the primary thoroughfare.
The Bicycle Master Plan draft envisions Woodland Park Avenue as a neighborhood greenway, and Stone Way as a bike lake with minor separation. (Seattle Bicycle Master Plan Update 2013)

The Bicycle Master Plan (still not finalized and apparently on hold) acknowledges these options and seems to be thinking along similar lines. As of now, the draft doesn’t endorse a full protected bike lane on Stone Way, but the route considered a “local connector” with “minor separation.”

The street marking have worn off giving Woodland Park a freeway type width travel lanes.
The street markings have worn off giving Woodland Park Avenue a freeway type width travel lanes. Plenty of room to make dedicated and protected space for bicyclists and pedestrians. If Woodland Park is to be the thoroughfare for bicycle commuters though, the avenue will need bicycle signals at Bridge Way, 45th Street, and Green Lake Way, which are each a nightmare to cross.

The big changes seem to be planned just to the west at Woodland Park Avenue where a neighborhood greenway is planned. Woodland Park Avenue is very wide for a lightly used neighborhood street, which likely is related to its history of hosting a streetcar line before it was dismantled with the ascension of the automobile. Not only is Woodland Park Avenue wide, it also is due for maintenance judging by its bumpy, cratered surface that is presently a menace for unsuspecting bicyclists (my friend hit an especially deep pothole here and went over the handlebars breaking his collarbone. He’s fine and back on the saddle now). This overdue maintenance presents a golden opportunity to re-envision the transportation and green space mix on the avenue. Or at the least stripe some bike lanes so the travel lanes aren’t 15 feet wide.

Something is going to have be down with the Woodland Park greenway's intersection with Green Lake Way. See suggestion 7 for a radical idea.
Something will have be done with Woodland Park Avenue’s intersection with Green Lake Way, especially to achieve a functional greenway. A new traffic light with a bike signal would have to do unless we go the more drastic route laid out in suggestion #7.

2. Upgrade and Maintain The Burke-Gilman

The fact that the Burke-Gilman Trail is Seattle’s best bike trail sometimes blinds us to how it could be much better. Some areas have gotten very bumpy and need to be repaved. We also need to improve intersection treatments. In Wallingford, some intersections are a mess with bumpy crossings and jarring curb cuts. The standard should be for clearly marked intersections (bright green paint) with a preference for table top intersections so that instead of dipping down to the road level, the Burke is flat and the road rises to meet the crossing in a table top intersection (basically a big speed bump for crossing motorists and a smooth ride for bicyclists).

If I were transportation czar, I'd remove the utility pole to make a clear less cluttered path for all the pedestrians and bicyclists trying to negotiate this busy intersection.
If I were transportation czar, I’d get rid of the curb at the corner and remove the utility pole to make a clear clutter-free path for the many pedestrians and bicyclists trying to negotiate this busy intersection.

One busy intersection where the Burke-Gilman crosses Stone Way is also more congested that it needs to be. Clear up sign and utility pole clutter to increase the usable sidewalk width and do a much wider curb cut so that bicyclists and pedestrians both have enough space. Sloppy intersections are also a big problem to the east.

The curb forces an awkward swerve to stay on the trail. The ride would be much more comfortable with a much wider curb cut or even better a table top intersection.
The curb forces an awkward swerve to stay on the Burke-Gilman trail as intersects with Densmore Avenue. The ride would be much more comfortable with a much wider curb cut or, even better, a table top intersection to provide a smooth traffic-calmed crossing.

3. Better Bus Service: RapidRide E Stop at 38th Street

This would most help folks in Southwest Wallingford but could potentially relieve bus overcrowding in routes throughout the area. I wrote extensively about that here. Bruce Nourish also covered this same idea for Seattle Transit Blog three years back. Adding a RapidRide E stop is the lowest hanging fruit for bus upgrades and wouldn’t be very expensive.

This is where a 38th Street E Stop would likely go.
Just north of 38th Street is likely where a Lower Wallingford RapidRide E Stop would go. Make it happen, Metro Transit!

Other than RapidRide access, higher frequency is key to reliability for Wallingford bus routes. It will interesting to see how ridership is doing after the latest restructure. For example, will the newly created Route 62 will perform similarly to the Route 16 or does its Dexter Avenue routing sacrifice too much speed versus the former Aurora Avenue routing? As the neighborhood grows and become less car dependent it will become more crucial to augment weekend frequency so car-free residents can still get around.

4. Pedestrian Improvements on 45th Street

45th Street gets a ton of pedestrian traffic but it can get a little hairy as motorists speed through this busy area coming to and from I-5. We should reduce the speed limit to 25 miles per hour to discourage speeding and add a scramble intersection at Wallingford and 45th. All along the street, cross walks should be a regular feature rather than limited to a few places.

In Wallingford, sometimes the crosswalks are on the murals rather than the streets.
In Wallingford, sometimes the crosswalks are on the murals rather than the streets.

5. Rail: Advocate For The Ballard Spur

The Sound Transit 3 (ST3) package is firming up and it doesn’t appear the Ballard Spur will be on the project list. Downtown to Ballard via Interbay is though and transit advocates are still pushing for a tunnel instead of a moveable bridge. Not only is this the most reliable option, it also provides the City with an opportunity to fund an extension to Fremont, Phinney Ridge, and Wallingford via the Ballard Spur subway. What we need to do is make sure the Ballard Spur is included as a provisional project with a full Environment Impact Statement (EIS). That will make the project shovel ready should Seattle locate funds.

The Ballard-to-UW line would connect with the Central Link at the U District station at Brooklyn Avenue. (Sound Transit)
The Ballard-to-UW Spur line would connect with the Central Link at the U District station at Brooklyn Avenue NE as pictured above. (Sound Transit)

The preliminary study puts the Wallingford stop at 45th Street and Meridian, with another stop near 45th and Aurora Avenue. Essentially that would bring the entirety of north Wallingford into the subway’s walk shed. The Ballard Spur would provide transit users in the corridor an astronomical improvement over the plodding Route 44. One potential funding mechanism that could help secure funds is impact fees to the new development that will come near the stations.

Ballard-Spur
It might cost upwards of $3 billion but it would be awesome. (Seattle Subway)

6. Transit Oriented Density In A Few Key Corridors

One HALA recommendation for zone-wide increases from C-40 and NC-40 to 55 feet would help Wallingford accommodate more residents more efficiently in less area. Plenty of opportunities exist to fill in gaps in the urban streetscape on 45th Street, and, if we redevelop here, we should do it right. Developers can get an extra story with HALA and another with existing incentive zoning. Six or seven stories with some units set aside for low-income tenants would be a nice improvement.

The five story newly constructed Bowman apartment 278-apartment building going up at 3801 Stone Way is good, but seven stories would be even better to maximize the potential of 5 over 1 construction.
The newly constructed Bowman building has 278 apartments and maxes out at 5 stories at 3801 Stone Way. We are leaving a few stories on the table in Type V construction. Seven stories would be even better to maximize the potential of 5-over-1 construction.

The largest buildings make the most sense on key corridors best served by transit and laden with amenities. Away from the main streets, more modest density will make more sense. Some rowhouses and townhomes are already going up where zoning permits, and hopefully that type of modest density will be allowed throughout the Wallingford Urban Village after the City works through the HALA recommendations.

A rowhouse of six units is a recent addition at 46th and Whitman Avenue.
A rowhouse of eight units is a recent addition at 45th Street and Whitman Avenue.

Gas Works Park is outside the urban village but also seeing some fairly large projects going in, including a near-completed office building called NorthEdge. Tableau has rented out the whole building with space for 1300 employees and that fact alone appears poised to supercharge the local economy for years to come. For Wallingford to not build housing to keep up with its local office boom would likely cause housing cost to spiral even further out of control. We have to find a way to accommodate more people.

7.  Remove The Diagonal Portion Of Green Lake Way To Restore The Grid

One stumbling block for pedestrians and bicyclists trying to circulate around northwest Wallingford is Green Lake Way N, which is unmitigated car sewer with no controlled crossings between Whitman Avenue and Stone Way. The width of Green Lake and lack of parking or traffic calming encourages speeding and traffic routinely moves above 40 miles per hour rather than the posted 30 miles per hour.

Green Lake Way was shoehorned into northwest Wallingford to feed into SR-99.
Green Lake Way was shoehorned into northwest Wallingford to feed into SR-99.

Removing a major street, even if only a third mile portion of it, might be too radical for SDOT. However, it would transform pedestrian connectivity in the neighborhood. Currently nobody likes the way that the 5-way intersection at Green Lake Way, Stone Way, and 50th Street functions. In fact, the city voted it the worst intersection of 2016. If that intersection was a simple 4-way stoplight, everybody would benefit, from people trying to walk or bike to Green Lake park to motorists wanting a shorter interval at the light. I suspect you would find some of the trips on the route would disappear as motorists find other routes to cut between SR-99 and I-5 and points in-between. Our carcentric design is inducing demand.

Green Lake Way is fronted by a few businesses that will likely seek to re-develop as they are ill-fitting to the environment.
Green Lake Way is fronted by a few businesses that will likely seek to redevelop to interact better with a more pleasant and non-car-sewer environment.

If we are able to pull off such a revolutionary move, we would open up five parcels currently occupied by car sewer for development. Since the city owns the land, it could use it or maximum public benefit. Social housing would be a great fit in such a high amenity neighborhood. The city could establish a pedestrian only trail along the diagonal. Removing a major road might be far-fetched (perhaps even more so than a freeway cap over I-5 at 45th Street) but it would make the area a lot more pleasant to walk around.

Green Lake Way map
Green Lake Way divides the neighborhood, both from a pedestrian perspective and from the city’s planning perspective; it represents the northern limit of the Wallingford Residential Urban Village. (Google Maps)
Green Lake Way Redux
Without the diagonal of Green Lake Way, the street grid emerges. The dark gray represents developable parcels that could be gained in rough terms. (Google Maps)

This article is cross-posted at The Urbanist.

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