23rd Ave small business owners say corridor overhaul is putting them on the ropes

701 coffee trying to make the best out of a difficult situation with deals for road workers. (Image: 701 Coffee)

701 coffee tries to make the best out of a difficult situation with deals for road workers. (Image: 701 Coffee)

The massive overhaul of 23rd Ave, and all the near-term traffic headaches therein, are coming to the E Madison intersection this weekend. The intersection will close and the 11 and 48 busses will be rerouted along with car traffic as crews will work around the clock until Monday morning.

23rd Ave is a workhorse of a road, running along the backside of Capitol Hill and through the Central District connecting neighborhoods and commercial areas. The $46 million overhaul of 23rd between S Jackson and E John will transform the artery into a much more efficient, much safer route for cars, transit, pedestrians, and — thanks to an adjacent greenway — bicyclists. But like so many massive transportation construction projects, while the long road may bring promise, the first few miles of the process are pure pain for local merchants. The city’s Department of Transportation and Office of Economic Development have pitched in with extra signage and communicating work plans, but some owners are saying it’s not enough.

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Reroutes for 1/15 – 1/18 (Image: SDOT)

701 Coffee opened on the corner of 23rd and Cherry in April, just a few months before the 23rd Avenue Corridor Improvements Project kicked off. Shortly after opening, owner Sara Mae said the coffee shop was seeing 70 or more customers a day. After the construction started, Mae said she’s lucky to get 20 people inside the door with traffic reduced to one lane and sidewalks under construction.

“My wife works full time, that’s only reason why we’re still open,” she said.

Mae told CHS she is starting to organize nearby businesses to approach the City about getting construction mitigation funds made available. While such funds were not offered for 23rd Ave businesses, it’s something that has been done in the past.

In 2014, the City of Seattle made up to $15 million available to small businesses that had to close due to seawall construction. Sound Transit similarly compensated businesses that dealt with years of construction along the light rail line in South Seattle.

Mae said she has approached the offices of Mayor Ed Murray and District 3 representative Kshama Sawant, but nothing has come of it. Representatives from SDOT did not return our requests for comment on Wednesday.

UPDATE: According to a City Council spokesperson, Sawant’s office scheduled a meeting with SDOT and the Office of Economic Development after Mae reached out Wednesday.

UPDATE: SDOT spokesperson Norm Mah tells CHS that the City has a policy not to provide direct compensation to businesses affected by construction.

While we recognize that construction creates challenges for local businesses, SDOT focuses on maintaining customer access to businesses throughout our work. We support businesses by delivering construction notices door-to-door, meeting one-on-one with owners to discuss concerns, sharing regular project updates on our website and project listserv, and staffing a 24-hour project hotline to respond to questions and concerns. We also help local businesses stay accessible and minimize some of the impacts by placing  “Businesses Are Open” and detour signage throughout the construction area.

The 20-month project started in June and is expected to be complete late early next year. The project will transform the street into a new configuration with a center left-turn lane and improve the pedestrian and sidewalk experience. The new layout will also allow buses to pull completely out of the traffic lane at stops.

Phase 1 will entail work on 23rd Ave from between S Jackson and E John. Phase 2 covers the work south of Jackson and Phase 3 will handle 23rd/24th from E John to E Roanoke in Montlake.

Here are the details about this weekend’s street closure:

Full intersection closure at East Madison Street and 23rd Avenue, Jan. 15 – 18

Beginning at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 15 through 6 a.m. Monday, Jan. 18, travelers can expect:

  • The East Madison Street and 23rd Avenue intersection will be closed to traffic in all directions.
  • East Madison Street between 19th Avenue and 23rd Avenue will be open for local access only.
  • 23rd Avenue between East John Street and East Union Street will be open for local access only.

Detours around the intersection of East Madison Street and 23rd Avenue include:

  • For southbound 23rd Avenue traffic, drivers will follow a detour via East John Street to 19th Avenue. To return to 23rd Avenue, use East Union Street.
  • Northbound 23rd Avenue remains closed between South Jackson Street and East Union Street. Drivers will follow the regular construction detour on Martin Luther King Jr Way, continuing on Martin Luther King Jr Way to East John Street where they can return to 23rd Avenue.
  • For westbound East Madison Street traffic, drivers will take East John Street. To return to East Madison Street, use 19th Avenue.
  • For eastbound East Madison Street traffic, drivers will take 19th Avenue to East John Street before returning to East Madison Street.

Pedestrian crossings will be maintained and businesses will remain open and accessible. SDOT would like to thank the public for its patience while this work is completed as some travel delays are anticipated along with Metro Bus service route changes. Please visit the website for more information and maps showing the detour routes.

 

35 thoughts on “23rd Ave small business owners say corridor overhaul is putting them on the ropes

  1. Huge surprise Sawant hasn’t responded to one of the biggest issues going on in her district.

    I feel for 701 Coffee and the other businesses. I’m glad that the 23rd corridor will be safer but I also hope that this construction project makes traffic flow better but I have my doubts.

  2. Opening a coffee shop in this location a few months before construction of this nature, it is completely foreseeable that business will be negatively affected. This information was available to the coffee shop owner before she decided to open her shop. The city should not be subsidizing her decision to open under these circumstances. Furthermore, the construction will likely increase foot traffic and liveability in the immediate area, and should lead to increased business oppportunities for the business owner. If compensation is to be given, it should be reserved for businesses existing before the project was announced and publicized.

  3. It seems like every article about transit on this blog now contains a mandatory praise for the project, such as, the “fixing” of 23rd Ave will make things more efficient for cars, etc. The point is pretty obviously, to slow cars down, by reducing lanes without providing anywhere else for the traffic to go. 23rd has been something of a raceway, used by many to move quickly north-south. I’m not sure what accident stats were but I’m guessing high, so on that level, the project might be worth it. But it is not going to make north – south car traffic more efficient. It’s going to make it slower going, and there is no plan for alternate routes to help the traffic.

    I guess we’re just supposed to take the train, or something. Meanwhile, new transit tools like Waze will rout drivers around the traffic onto residential streets, causing more traffic there. (Our city planners don’t consider things like Waze — see if you can find any mention of that increasingly important transit tool in the most recent plan.) So, anyway, when they compare before – after accident stats, they should consider not only decline (if any) in accidents on 23rd, but increase in accidents on nearby “secondary” streets where the “overflow” traffic is like to go.

    Will “transit” meaning buses be more efficient? Right now, buses move very quickly from stop to stop, just interrupting a line of traffic. In the new design, they will probably need to pull out of traffic and then come back into the flow, slowing things down, and inceasing chances of accidents. We’ll see if that’s more efficient.

    My bet is, it’s going to be harder to drive north and south, causing less traffic as people just don’t go that way as much. Some people would call that an improvement.

    • I agree….I’m not sure what SDOT’s people are smoking when they think this will improve traffic flow, but it must be good. I hope I’m wrong but I doubt it.

      The construction on 23rd has already pushed traffic onto MKL, which at times is now dead stopped too. Understandably now N-S drivers are moving even farther east into residential neighborhoods not designed for traffic. The sad part of this is, once it’s done, there will be no way to un-do it.

    • “Efficiency” in this sense does not mean cars travel through more quickly. It’ll be more efficient for all road users, including cars, transit and pedestrian, which are increasing in numbers in the area. In this case, we need to reduce car travel speeds in order to make the road operate more efficiently. Don’t forget, people live and work on this street.

    • I can’t figure out from your explanation what your definition of “efficiency” is for a roadway. The main use of a roadway is transporting cars/cyclists/pedestrians (on associated sidewalks).

      How is getting fewer people from point A to point B on the road in a _longer_ time more efficient?

  4. I agree that this project will make moving north/south more difficult. Taking a beautiful four lane road and reducing its capacity so a couple of people a day can pedal through is insane. Nothing was wrong with 23rd Av. Moving around the city is exceptionally difficult without SDOT ruining good streets. This will make it harder….utopia does not exist fellow citizens…..we are not going to pedal our way out of congestion, that is a total lie.

    • “Taking a beautiful four lane road” you mean a drag racing road that divided our community?

      “so a couple of people a day can pedal through” The bicycle route is on adjacent streets not 23rd, so this is just not factual.

      “Moving around the city is exceptionally difficult without SDOT ruining good streets”
      The data, rather than your unfounded fears, finds that re-channelized roads actually work just fine and are significantly safer: http://walkinginseattle.org/?p=3661

    • I’m not sure I’d use the word “beautiful” to describe the crumbling, pothole-ridden road that is 23rd. The streches closer to Madison (particularly north of Union) have really narrow lanes and are in pretty poor shape.

  5. Too late for 23rd Ave but these “road diets” need to stop. 23rd wasn’t a joyful Avenue to walk down and that’s okay. If you want a peaceful walk, take a side street. Its an arterial and we need to efficiently get vehicles though this city with ease. But the city seems to have an issue with that. I also don’t believe dangerous. How many accidents, injuries and deaths occurred on 23rd Ave last year?

    23rd Ave, eventually Madison St. What is next, Rainer Ave going down to 2 lanes also?!

    • Rainier Avenue has already had a road diet implemented through Columbia City and Hillman City. It’s made Rainier Ave in CC a lot safer for pedestrians and it has made traffic flow smoother.

    • while I didn’t specify an area of Rainer, I was indirectly referring to where 23rd meets Rainer and North of I-90 where is serves as a workhorse to accommodate large volumes of traffic.

      Lets not kid ourselves, 23rd isn’t a retail corridor with volumes of people walking to business – because only a few business exist. We can keep the same lanes, improve sidewalks and crosswalks with lot less expense and disruption.

  6. You can argue that 23rd doesn’t need improvements in terms of your own commute, but I don’t see how you can argue that the road improvements on 23rd will not improve access for businesses on 23rd. People will actually be able to walk to them.

    In the interim, who’s up for a cash mob? Name the place and time.

  7. People who complain are still judging transportation decisions by how quickly/efficiently vehicles can travel.
    People do not complain judge transportation decisions by how quickly/efficiently people and goods move.

    The former are dinosaurs – literally asserting that their dinosaur-fueled choices have been, are, and will always be the best choice … the very epitome of willful ignorance.

    • Yes–and if we all wish hard enough, close our eyes, and click our heels together, in no time everyone will be able to bike, walk, or bus to work. Nobody will need a car, and we’ll all have jobs conveniently located just a short green- commute away from all our LEED-certified homes. It seems obvious that SDOT is working towards that.

    • But that’s precisely what Robert Moses, the grand architect of our car-centered culture, did. He clicked his heels, and obliterated dozens of neighborhoods in NYC to make way for his grand vision of interstates and roads slicing and dicing city centers. It worked for a while, but then the Road Paradox kicked in. The more roads you build, the more cars come. Expanding roads relieves traffic for an extremely brief time, and then we’re back to snarled traffic jams.

      No one…and please stop with the Straw Man BS, Jim…is suggesting that we ban cars off the road and make everyone ride bikes. What is being attempted to create a diversity of travel options: Cars, Bikes, Pedestrians, Buses, and Trains. If more people are biking and busing (because it’s easy and convenient), that means fewer cars on the road. Why would you be against that? We’ve tried expanding lanes over and over again…and it doesn’t cure traffic jams, but only makes them worse.

      So stop the “The guv’ment is coming for our cars!” rhetoric. Unless you want to stick with Robert Moses’s tired, catastrophic experiment in mass transit.

    • There’s no “straw man”. I never said anyone was trying to take away everyone’s cars. I never said we should expand 23rd ave. This does just the opposite. They’re just making it unnecessarily impossible for drivers to use the roads we do have. How does bringing traffic to a crawl make things better for pedestrians–as opposed to improving crosswalks, signals, and making it more walker-friendly? Why do pedestrians need the traffic to crawl, as opposed to having improved sidewalks? It’s not an “either/or”. Drivers don’t need to suffer for pedestrians to have improved walkability. And why do bikers necessarily need to be on the same road as the cars? Isn’t that the point of the greeway through the CD? This inflicts needless pain on drivers for no added value to bus riders, walkers, or cyclists. And BTW don’t assume just because people drive, we don’t also ride buses, light rail, etc. We do.

    • Oh spare me. There’s no “straw man”. I never said anyone was trying to take away everyone’s cars. I never said we should expand 23rd ave. This does just the opposite. They’re just making it unnecessarily impossible for drivers to use the roads we DO have. How does bringing traffic to a crawl make things better for pedestrians–as opposed to improving crosswalks, signals, and making it more walker-friendly? Why do pedestrians need the traffic to crawl, as opposed to having improved sidewalks? It’s not an “either/or”. Drivers don’t need to suffer for pedestrians to have improved walkability. And why do bikers necessarily need to be on the same road as the cars? Isn’t that the point of the greenway through the CD? This inflicts needless pain on drivers for no added-value to bus riders, walkers, or cyclists. And BTW don’t assume just because people drive, we don’t also ride buses, light rail, etc. We do.

  8. “The 20-month project started in June and is expected to be complete late next year.”
    Twenty months from June 2015 is February 2017. That is not “late next year,” it is early next year! Which is correct?

  9. I’m worried that these changes will slow down the traffic on 23rd to the point that it pushes traffic to surrounding residential streets. I live on 19th Ave and you can already see this happening south of Union due to the construction on 23rd. Angry commuters are speeding through 19th after it turns into a one lane road at 40+ MPH. This is area frequented by runners, bikers, and small kids that frequently play around and in the street. This road diet could backfire and create an even more dangerous situation for pedestrians and bikers on what used to be safer residential roads.

    • This has already happened on 24th. Drivers are not diverting to MLK as they are supposed to. 24th is almost like I-5 at times!

    • This is happening now because 23rd is closed entirely in one direction and frequent construbtion delays even in the one lane going south. Very little reason to believe it will continue when the construction is finished. Consider — under normal circumstances does anyone use 27th or 29th ave to avoid traffic through CD on MLK? Guess not Will be the same when 23rd is open.

  10. I thought it was so funny to see a speed tracker (not sure what they are called) on MLK recently, It kept flashing 15mph. With all of the traffic on MLK it is impossible to go over 25 and people get angry. Is the goal to force us to drive so slowly that we are better off biking? So stupid. With a population boom the city is trying to figure out how prevent people from getting to their destinations efficiently.

  11. Gee, I guess SDOT could’ve saved a lot of time by just talking to a few “experts” here instead of doing, you know, a detailed assessment based on actual data, experience and expertise (along with plenty of community outreach & input forums).
    – the road “diet” is expected to add no more than 1 min travel time for cars driving the 2.5 miles from John to Rainier
    – it will shave 3 min or more off transit times (1/4 of all daily users and growing)
    – it will vastly increase safety — 900 collisions on 23rd in past 5 years. (not surprising since driving 23rd has previously been a game of trying not to get stuck behind buses stopping in right lane and cars turning left from left lane — hence constant cutting back and forth between lanes. And yes, I’ve been “guilty” of that)
    – will be much better for pedestrians — all the more important with development underway (and coming) at Union, Jackson, etc
    Final point: it may cost me an extra minute (not always) driving the couple miles from Union to Rainier – but like taking MLK it will also be more predictable (and a hell of a lot less aggravating) without having to worry about getting caught behind a stopping bus or turning car — or worried about the guy next to me weaving in and out of the very narrow current lanes.

    http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/23rd_ave.htm

  12. The owner doesn’t seem to be taking into account that two businesses closed within the two years prior to opening the coffee shop. Nor does she seem to address that new businesses in the food and beverage industry rarely profit within the fist three years, let alone the first year. This is addition to the coffee shop being a specialty variety only serving vegan. Having a vegan only menu could easily be a significant factor in why there is low customer volume, as well as the “charm” of a new place within the first few months fading and the true business volume being the result.

    I’m not saying the construction hasn’t been a significant factor as well, just that there are MANY compounding business variables that were not addressed in the write up or by the owner.

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