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Work set to begin to make John/Thomas intersections safer from Capitol Hill Station to Miller Park

After two years of citizen advocacy, a series of pedestrian-focused improvements is coming to the John/Thomas Street corridor with construction set to begin in early July .

David Seater, co leader of Central Seattle Greenways, began calling for the project two years ago. Seater said he walks along the corridor frequently, and finds it challenging to cross either of the streets, which tend to be high on traffic, and low on places to cross.

“I felt like it shouldn’t be that tough,” he said.

In addition to supporting Metro’s 8 and 10 routes, E John and E Thomas offer direct pedestrian access to Capitol Hill Station. Unfortunately, the corridor can be difficult to navigate by foot. Seater found help from the city’s Neighborhood Street Fund, which allocates funding to projects identified by citizens. The projects generally have a projected cost of $100,000 or more.

The street fund operates on a three-year funding cycle, and two years ago was at the start of the current cycle, so seater approached the East and Central neighborhood councils, which was the step at the time. The project went through for consideration to the city via the Central council.

Since any one of the intersection improvements would probably not cost enough to reach the funding level for the program, Seater thought bigger.

“Why don’t we try to improve all these at once,” he said.

In the proposal, The intersection at 10th and E John was highlighted as especially concerning: “This intersection is close to the signalized intersection at Broadway so drivers are focused on the traffic lights there, or have just come through a green light. Many fail to yield to people trying to cross John.”

Seater said the project was ranked highly, largely because of the high number of accidents, mostly involving pedestrians at Broadway and John.

At the eastern end of the project, the safety improvements will no doubt come as a relief to the parents of students at Meany Middle School who have to cross the street to get to school. Meany re-opened as a middle school last September, and there was at least one case of a student being hit by a car on their way to school during the last school year.

The bulk of the project involves installing curb bulbs at corners along the corridor. A curb bulb is when the sidewalk pushes out further into the street, kind of like it’s swollen at the corner, giving a double dose of pedestrian protection by narrowing the street.

First, the narrower street means pedestrians have less distance to cross. Additionally, the narrowed street typically has a calming effect on traffic, slowing speeds and therefore increasing pedestrian safety.

This project will be a mixture of two different kinds of curb bulbs, some made by pouring extra concrete, and others made by a combination of paint and white marker stands. No legal on-street parking is slated to be removed as part of the project.

The project will also paint new crosswalks, and install bus bulbs – where the sidewalk widens to allow buses easier access to the curb – in some locations. Also, the bus stop at John and Broadway will be moved, so that westbound buses on John will now stop on the same side of the street as the light rail station, meaning riders will only have to cross one street instead of two.

Finally, folded into the project is a new bus bulb to be installed on E Olive Way near Summit. The bulb will widen the sidewalk on Olive on the westbound side, across from the Starbucks.

Seater explained that King County Metro has contributed some funding to the project, and the bus related amenities, including the E Olive Way bulb, were added in soon after they signed on.

Construction may start as soon as July 9, according to the city, with work beginning on the intersection at Thomas and 21st. Work will move steadily westward, with the final item on the list, the changes at John and 10th, set to start construction from early October to late November.

The bulk of the work near Meany should be finished before the start of school, though the intersection at Thomas and 19th may see construction stretching into early October.

Funding for the project comes from the 2015 Levy to Move Seattle. The levy provided $24 million to the citywide Neighborhood Street Fund over nine years. The cost of this project isn’t yet known but early estimates were around $1.245 million. UPDATE: SDOT says the budget for this round of improvements is $2.4 million.

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15 thoughts on “Work set to begin to make John/Thomas intersections safer from Capitol Hill Station to Miller Park

  1. I’m so ready for these improvements to be implemented. I drive E John and Olive daily and see the struggle people have to cross the street. Curb bulbs and added signage will be welcome additions.

    It’s really frustrating when I stop to let a pedestrian cross the street and traffic starts passing me on the right. Anything to remedy this would be great.

  2. How about just a bit of enforcement….. perhaps if they sat a cop at a few of these intersections once in a while and gave tickets for failure to yield, stop sign running etc, drivers might change their behavior…

    • Based on prior experience with cops at busy intersections they’d probably just hand out more jaywalking tickets.

    • That would only work when there were police present. No police, back to bad behaviors.

      I’d rather a permanent solution to enhance safety and have police tackle more pressing issues instead of camped at intersections to monitor them.

      • Traffic control officers generally do this as their job and don’t handle the other stuff…

        I would prefer that drivers start respecting other road users and stop breaking the law so that we don’t have to have add tons of fancy contraptions and make our roads more complex than ever because people are permitted to continue to drive like asshats…

    • For a similar cost, I think it makes sense to make a permanent change, rather than temporarily scare drivers into following the law. Really, intersection bulb-outs should be standard for all sidewalk construction, there doesn’t seem to be any downside.

  3. Unless people simply slow down and pay attention, no amount of work will make the streets safer. Try driving the 25mph posted speed limit and see how many people get pissed off behind you.

    • Hi, Peep. There are many kinds of fairly simple and (in the long run) low-cost physical street features that do in fact result in drivers slowing down. Even something as simple as painting a lane 10 feet wide instead of 12 feet can reduce the worst speeders enough to significantly reduce the incidence of severe injury. There is lots of data out there about this. Google “Complete Streets” Further, physical design that discourages speeding isn’t inherently biased so it does its job without disproportionately targeting any set of people. I’m not saying it’s the end-all-be-all, but it’s a cost effective way of reducing serious injury and death.

  4. I’m super happy its happening, but WTF to take 4+ months. Most of this is temporary materials and one of the most critical locations is 10th/John which is last on the list.

  5. I’m so excited about this project! Will be such a big safety improvement all along that corridor, which leads from my house to the light rail station. Thank you so much, David Seater!

  6. I’m so happy to see that street get controlled a little more. Hopefully the improvements will help behavior on the west side of Broadway on John. I’m pretty sick of dodging cars!