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Seattle’s new traffic diverters getting mixed reaction from residents

With increasingly bad traffic, drivers are looking for the fastest way to get around, even if that means cutting through neighborhoods that were never designed to handle heavy traffic.

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Seattle is trying to combat that with new traffic calming devices.

I received a text from a KIRO Radio listener asking me about new traffic diverters that went in this week in his neighborhood, which is a few blocks west of Aurora Avenue along 90th Street.

The traffic diverters block through traffic and are confusing to many non-local drivers that are looking to avoid the north-south backups on Aurora or the east-west backups on 85th Street. Drivers can use 90th Street as a cut-through from Greenwood to Aurora.

Seattle calls them diagonal diverters because they cut the intersection in half on a diagonal line. It forces drivers to turn at the intersection. There is no way to go through, unless you are walking or on a bike.

Susan Saba has lived near 90th and Linden Avenue where one of these new diverters went in.

“The amount of cut-through is tremendous,” she said. “Both morning and evening — all day long. And people are very fast. They do not obey the speed limit and they go every which way over the medians. We just had our trash cans busted before this went in. High-speed cars coming in hit our trash cans and just left.”

She and her husband, George, have lived there for nearly 25 years.

“People use Linden all the way from 105th down to the zoo, instead of Aurora … this becomes Aurora,” he said.

The City of Seattle placed diverters in to cut down on speeding, which inevitably cut down on the amount of through traffic, forcing cars back onto the arterials, as designed. The change came after safety complaints from the neighbors.

But not everyone is excited to see them. Dave has lived in the neighborhood for about 15 years and says they just makes things more difficult.

“[Drivers] are still cutting through the neighborhood … Now there are just people driving through the neighborhood instead of the one pass-through.”

It also means residents have to drive around several blocks to get to their homes. That’s something Susan Saba doesn’t mind, but she does wish the city would put in better signs to warn drivers about the change.

“There is not enough warning of what is coming up ahead. They need to get more signs in because this is an unusual traffic revision people have never seen before, so they are trying to figure it out and that is not safe.”

She’s not kidding. In the 15 minutes I watched at one of these diverters, I witnessed three near-head-on collisions.

The problem with this design is that there’s only enough room for one car to turn at a time, and drivers can’t see if there’s someone coming in the other direction, nor do they expect one. What you get is one driver turning left and another turning right directly into each other’s paths.

I’ll be watching to see how drivers adapt.

Tell Chris about a Chokepoint or ask a traffic question @kirotraffic via Twitter.

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