Highland Park talks traffic trouble as SDOT’s pre-roundabout plan approaches

(WSB file photo: Highland Park Way/Holden crash)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Would a “mini-roundabout” be a better way to improve the Highland Park Way/Holden intersection while funding for a full roundabout is awaited?

Or – maybe it would be better than the full roundabout.

That’s what SDOT reps heard when they came to Highland Park this week to listen to concerns about the interim plan for the intersection. But as of week’s end, two days post-meeting, SDOT was still planning to proceed with a modified version of its interim plan, spokesperson Adonis Ducksworth told WSB:

The improvements will likely be put in the next time our crews are available and the weather is good. These improvements include:

• Enlarging the painted islands
• Extending the southbound right-turning lane and installing signs in advance that share how lanes are organized
• Installing yield signs and street markings
• Repainting the northbound left-turn street markings

Originally, as part of the near-term improvements, we were planning to install post barriers on the east side of the intersection to encourage the northbound left-turn movement onto the Highland Park Way from SW Holden St. These posts would have restricted SW Austin St to a right-in/right-out configuration. Based on feedback from the community, we have removed the posts from the near-term improvements and the turning movements will remain the same at SW Austin St. We informed HPAC and several of the neighbors about this change prior to (the Thanksgiving) holiday.

Ducksworth reiterated that the interim improvements won’t preclude the future roundabout, and that the community will be involved in its design – but first, the city expects word next month on a WSDOT City Safety Grant.

About 30 people attended the meeting in Highland Park, and it was already full-on vent mode when we walked in a few minutes late, delayed by breaking news. One resident asked if SDOT is monitoring how the increase in density along the corridor – multiple teardown-to-townhouse projects, similar to what’s happening along other West Seattle arterials such as California and Fauntleroy – and the effect on traffic volume, with expected passage of HALA Mandatory Housing Affordability upzoning expected to add even more.

Why do something temporary when the money could be applied to something more attention-getting? asked one resident, who said drivers in the area seem to be hell-bent on “getting out of here as fast as they can.”

Yet another person mentioned the difficulty of keeping speed down going down the Highland Park Way hill – and even while “riding the brake,” being passed by people “flying by.” And another resident in the SW Othello vicinity said that she worries that traffic-calming measures will eliminate the “traffic breaks” that enable her “to get out of the neighborhood.” She also mentioned the hazards faced by bus riders trying to cross the street.

Another person mentioned a major pothole at SW Austin.

Highland Park Action Committee vice chair Gunner Scott, leading the meeting, asked how engagement will work once the funding is found.

SDOT reps Ducksworth and James Le said there’ll be a public meeting at design stages such as 30 percent and 60 percent, plus “pre-construction.” During construction, there would be speed-watch trailers – which he said contractors are required to provide – to address neighborhood traffic diversion.

Michael Taylor-Judd of the West Seattle Transportation Coalition asked how this would factor into the different traffic patterns that are expected during the upcoming Seattle Squeeze / Period of Maximum Constraint.

Ducksworth said that maybe the department’s new traffic website could help, though they didn’t think it had Highland Park-specific information (it doesn’t).

Neighbors continued to bring up specific trouble spots, even beyond HP Way/Holden, such as (corrected) 4th Avenue South Bridge work that SDOT team says has to be coordinated with BNSF and won’t be done in time for the start of the squeeze next month. Another spot of concern: 9th/Kenyon, and people “flying” through that area too. Scott pointed out that 9th/Highland Park Way has about a mile without crosswalks. He wondered if some dangerous areas could be addressed by making some streets one-way.

Before the traffic discussion wrapped up, one resident brought up the “mini-roundabout” concept as a solution between the “large roundabout” – which he said would cause problems by eliminating the southbound turn lane – and the “soft fix,” referring to what SDOT plans to do shortly. He noted that most crashes involve people going northbound on Highland Park Way and turning left onto Holden. He also observed that people turning onto NB Highland Park Way from Holden “sit there way too long” because of sightline problems. He also suggested that the “mini-roundabout” could be achieved in the existing budget, with some paint, no digging, no physical structure/barrier. He drew a smattering of applause but also some questions about how that would work: “Everybody yields” was the overview.

In the end, SDOT’s Le was asked to examine it and provide feedback.

Some of the attendees departed at that point – Scott suggested that attendees send thank-you notes to Councilmember Lisa Herbold for getting the roundabout into the capital budget. (lisa.herbold@seattle.gov) He also reminded people that HPAC board elections are coming up and they need new people to step into leadership.

HPAC will resume its regular fourth-Wednesday meeting schedule on January 23rd, with a meeting that will focus on city-sanctioned encampment Camp Second Chance and its expected pursuit of an extension to stay on the site. Scott said community groups are asking HPAC to support the extension request and HPAC would like neighborhood input on whether to do that so the January meeting will be a facilitated discussion on that point. Though he said city reps will not be part of that discussion, they will be watching to see how it turns out, we heard while covering the regular monthly meeting today of the camp’s Community Advisory Committee – watch for that report here on Monday.

For Highland Park updates, watch the HPAC website at hpacws.org.

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