Flush with state dollars, Seattle’s Aurora redesign emerges

Mar 14, 2022, 5:36 AM | Updated: 1:38 pm
The Aurora Bridge (SDOT)

With the passage of the Washington Legislature’s transportation package arrives $50 million in new funding for the redesign of specific stretches of Aurora Avenue North. Those dollars are tied to the requirement that the city completes its design change plans by Sept. 30, 2023, and begins construction by March 1, 2024.

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That funding comes as the Seattle Department of Transportation is set to begin a comprehensive, long-term safety study for the noted-dangerous stretch of highway that has claimed the lives of 18 in the last five years, 15 of whom were pedestrians.

“Aurora Ave N safety improvements are a critical part of a much larger citywide effort to improve traffic safety,” an SDOT spokesperson wrote in a news release.

“While we have made numerous investments to make our streets safer, including reducing speed limits and creating safer crosswalk signals citywide as well as redesigning other dangerous streets like Rainier Ave S, we recognize that traffic safety trends are moving in the wrong direction and there is a lot more work to do. We must continue to work to design a safer transportation system, and this investment to Aurora Ave N will be a key part of that overall strategy.”

One of the community groups spearheading the safety improvements is the Aurora Reimagined Coalition. In their most recent blog entry, the coalition calls out the stretch of Aurora between North 84th Street to North 110th Street as being zoned for tall, mixed-use buildings that agree with its potential to be a robust commercial core. Despite that, the group notes that Aurora’s seven lanes of traffic make for an uncomfortable and hazardous urban experience, as evidenced by the high number of traffic fatalities in the area.

The group calls out a number of improvements that they would like to see made to the highway, including: more space for pedestrians, wider sidewalks, a greater number of traffic crossings, reduced speed limits from 30 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour, narrower lanes, designated schools zones near Robert Eagle Staff Middle School, added bike lanes, and “anti-displacement policies and funding to ensure that small businesses are protected and have affordable rents in the future.”

SDOT has made changes to Aurora piecemeal over the years. In April of 2021, speed limits were reduced to 30 mph between 85th and 109th Streets, and to 35 mph between 115th Street and 145th Street. In February of this year, SDOT announced that construction of the Green Lake outer loop bike path would begin in the summer or fall of 2022.

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With the new surfeit of funds, the city has the shot in the arm it needs to complete a redesign that has germinated for years. In 2018 and 2019, the Washington State Department of Transportation repaved Aurora Avenue North. The Seattle Bike Blog reports that WSDOT was interested in a more comprehensive resign with SDOT, but nothing materialized.

In July, the safety plan was announced for the full length of Aurora, minus the additional $50 million now granted by the Legislature. Those funds are specifically tied to safety improvements between North 90th Street to North 105th Street.

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Flush with state dollars, Seattle’s Aurora redesign emerges