Neighbors say SDOT bike plan makes street unsafe

VIDEO: Neighbors say SDOT bike plan makes street unsafe

SEATTLE — Some residents who live near Seward Park are upset with the city's new plan for their street. Wilson Avenue South, from South Dawson Street to South Morgan Street, used to have parking on both sides and cyclists rode next to traffic. The new configuration puts the bike lanes on the outside, next to the sidewalk and creates parking boxes next to traffic for cars.

Neighbors say their vehicles don't fit in the narrow parking areas and to get out they have to open their doors into traffic. The plan eliminated parking on the east side of the street.

"It causes so much of a dangerous situation for the people who live on this street," said neighbor Debi Willner.

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"You open your doors you're going to be in traffic," Greg Hanson, who parked his car in the new area, demonstrated. When Hanson got out, an SUV had to swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid him.

Not only do they feel it is unsafe for drivers and passengers, they worry cyclists will get hit as cars turn in and out of driveways.

"Someone's going to get hurt," said Ed Wong who lives on the street. Wong said he thinks it is unsafe for cyclists with so many cars driving through the bike lane and a curve in the road that limits sight distance.

Neighbors told KIRO 7 they've been working with SDOT for months to come up with a different plan. The painted parking boxes showed up overnight Friday to Saturday.

SDOT says it is working to increase the protected bike paths in the city. The new path near Seward Park is one of several planned for the area.

"There's a lot of benefits for safety protection for bicycles from oncoming traffic and also a lot of benefits, bikes don't have to worry about doors opening up on them," said Ethan Bergerson, a spokesperson for SDOT.

He understands the change will take some getting used to for neighbors. "Safety is the key goal of this project. It has worked very well across the city."

Cascade Bicycle Club is pushing for more protected bike lanes, and was part of a rally over the weekend to increase safe riding conditions for cyclists.

"Protected bike lanes are about creating safe designated places for people to bike," said Vicky Clarke,  
Policy Director at Cascade Bicycle Club. "More and more people will choose to bike as more protected bike lanes go in."

Clarke cited a recent study in Melbourne Australia that found painted bike lanes are not enough to keep drivers safe, protected lanes are crucial.

Some residents told KIRO-7 they're excited to use the new bike lanes. Tonya Ricks Sterr lives nearby and uses the bike lanes on Wilson Avenue South to get to and from the Rainier Beach Community Center and Pool with her children. She said the protected lanes will keep them all safer.

As for drivers needing to watch for others' cars as they open their car doors, she says that's the law; they have to yield.

She added that the narrower lanes will make traffic go slower on the road, a benefit SDOT told KIRO 7 as well.

Neighbor Shirley Savel says she avoids Wilson Avenue South because drivers go too fast. She says the improvements make it safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers.

"We take long circuitous routes to get to the destinations on S. Wilson just because how bad it used to be. Walking and biking will be more direct now. The times I do drive I also have avoided S. Wilson because people drive too fast and that's scary too. SDOT is working on lowering the speed limit which will help in addition with the improvements to people who walk and bike," Savel explained on Tuesday.

The city is still working to complete the project. They will add plastic posts and planters to help section off the bike lane. Some neighbors told KIRO 7 they wish the city would hold off moving forward with the more permanent additions. They'd like the city to change the striping on the road.

SDOT is considering lowering the speed limit from 30 miles per hour but says the new street design with protected bike lanes tend to naturally lower speeds. SDOT might add a crosswalk now that some residents will have to park across the street. SDOT says it conducted a study that showed many of those parking places are not usually used.

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