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Seattle’s attempt to reduce cut-through traffic feels ‘incomplete’

Though the city installed traffic diverters on a residential street between Aurora and Greenwood, rush hour can still be hectic. (Chris Sullivan/KIRO Radio)

Let’s head back to 90th and Aurora in North Seattle where the city installed traffic diverters eight months ago to try and reduce cut-through traffic between Aurora and Greenwood.

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The Seattle Department of Transportation installed diagonal diverters at 90th Street and Linden and 90th and Dayton to prevent people from using 90th as an alternative route to the always crowded 85th Street. The diverters cut across the entire intersection and only allow left turns. Your straight path is blocked by flexible yellow posts, giving bicyclists and pedestrians access.

Eight months in and the city says they are working.

“We had 3,146 vehicles a day, and that’s excessive for a neighborhood street,” Dan Anderson with SDOT said. “After this project was implemented, we saw 1,704 vehicles a day. So a pretty significant reduction in the number of people driving on a neighborhood street.”

But the speeds haven’t dropped much at all. Drivers are still going over the 20 mile-per-hour limit.

Many drivers are simply using other east-west roads, pushing the cut-through onto other streets.

“We’ve heard mixed results from the neighbors,” Anderson said. “Some people really like these, but we’ve also heard from people that they are frustrated because some people have diverted and use parallel streets as the new cut-through.”

To illustrate the anger some residents have, I will share this story: When I got out of my car, wearing my reflective neon yellow jacket, a woman thought I was from the city and yelled, “are you here to fix our intersection.”

James Gomez has lived at 90th and Linden for eight years. You can put him in the “mixed review” category.

“It’s working to some degree,” he said. “The one thing I see is that a lot of cars just drive through [the flexible barriers].”

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Gomez noticed the numbers of cars and the noise that goes with them has decreased. But at rush hour it’s still chaos.

“It’s helped deal with the constant traffic, people using it as a thoroughfare, but the commute hours, it’s a … yeah.”

The city continues to make changes to the intersection to respond to neighborhood feedback. Engineers have cut back on vegetation and added more signs so drivers have a better idea of what’s ahead. They also added stop signs at the intersection. When these diverters first went in, the number of near-head-on collisions went up. The stop signs have cut down on those near-misses.

If giving a grade on this project after eight months, I’d say “incomplete.”

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