This 7-way intersection on Queen Anne is widely used by cars from all directions, as well as pedestrians and students walking to Seattle Country Day School. Advocates hope to redesign the intersection to make it safer and less confusing. Photo by Sarah Radmer
This 7-way intersection on Queen Anne is widely used by cars from all directions, as well as pedestrians and students walking to Seattle Country Day School. Advocates hope to redesign the intersection to make it safer and less confusing. Photo by Sarah Radmer
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At a community meeting on Oct. 21, Seattle Country Day School (SCDS) parents and concerned residents gathered to discuss the nearby seven-way intersection that they feel is confusing and a potential disaster waiting to happen.

Nearly everyone in attendance either lived near or walked through the seven-way intersection at Fourth Avenue North, Queen Anne Drive and Raye Street. The intersection is unique because it includes both city and state roads. It’s close to SCDS and part of its Walking School Bus program.

One SCDS mom said, her son walking to school through the intersection “makes me nervous every day.”

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a preliminary design that the group could possibly take to the city later on, said SCDS parent Heather Levy.

Planning for this intersection goes back decades, said SCDS Walking School Bus coordinator Mary McCauley. SCDS encourages families to walk and bike to school, but with students ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade, they find the intersection challenging.

The school has recently started using flags stored in containers at the intersection and even got a grant to buy larger flags. They also had the crosswalk repainted.

“The crosswalk has a blind spot, so you kind of have to stop and wave the flag so cars can see you,” McCauley said. “Cars feel like they can beat you.” 

Not a ‘safety fix’

In the last few years, SCDS parents reached out to the city’s Neighborhood Parks and Streets Fund for both construction and examination of the intersection. A Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) employee said it would cost $55,000 just to have a consultant study the intersection, former SCDS parent Louise Franklin said. Franklin wrote grants for two consecutive years for the Magnolia/Queen Anne District Council, but it chose to fund other projects.

Around that same time, the Queen Anne Greenways group formed, and the group at the meeting noticed other work the Greenways group had done on the hill, said SCDS parent Elta Ratliff. The Greenways group identified the intersection as its second priority this year.

The intersection is relatively safe for cars, Queen Anne Greenways spokesperson Michael Herschensohn said, but it’s a prime place for accidents to happen: “The Greenways [group] finds that sometime it takes a fatality to make things happen.”

The Greenways group has also been in communication with Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who attended the group’s monthly meeting at the Queen Anne Library last night on Tuesday, Oct. 28.

To avoid the high fees for a consultant, the group brought on SCDS parent and City of Bellevue traffic engineer Franz Loewenherz. Loewenherz brought his colleague, Brian Walsh from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), onto the project. Typically, a project like this would start with a $50,000 study that would take the vision, data and alternatives into account. Then you “start spending the big bucks when you do surveys,” Loewenherz said.

SDOT city traffic engineer Dongho Chang knew about the meeting, Loewenherz said.

In comparison to other city locations, this intersection is relatively safe, with only five collisions in the last five years. This is an operational fix, not a safety fix, Walsh said.

Despite that, Loewenherz acknowledged the intersection is “chaotic, confusing, not predictable…and for that reason, it doesn’t feel safe.” It also often backs up with long lines during rush hour.

Because Loewenherz didn’t have the time or money, he and Walsh mocked up one basic solution with a roundabout and a large center island. In the current mock-up, the island is mountable, so trucks with long trailers could potentially drive over it, if necessary. The design also features four “shark teeth” triangles, could include directional arrows for circulation and making two of the streets one-ways.

Roundabouts are not to be confused with traffic-calming circles, Loewenherz said, which are much more common in Seattle; roundabouts “enhance predictability,” he said. Drivers must yield at every approach, and everyone knows which direction the traffic is coming from, Walsh explained.

This design is also on the lower end of the cost spectrum, Loewenherz said. If this design were to advance, SDOT would need to run micro-simulation models to “truly see if there’s adequate gap” between cars, he said. Whenever traffic changes in one area, transportation planners would need to check impacts elsewhere, which costs money, Loewenherz said.

Other design options come with their own complications. Stoplights are usually warranted when there’s high volume and frequent crashes, Walsh said. With roundabouts, “when demand shows up, demand gets handled,” he said.

Across the state, transportation departments are looking at roundabouts first, because they have low injury and fatality ratings and automatically slow traffic down, Loewenherz said.

No organization, no funds

Loewenherz advised the group to create a petition and a website and bring in other transportation and community groups to write letters of support. This intersection is “not relevant on the safety map, unfortunately,” he said. “In my experience, the squeaky wheel does get the grease. Unless you organize yourself that way, there won’t be a flow of funds.”

As the meeting concluded, Levy said it was “very clear that for this to move forward, we need passionate ownership that’s [able] to rally” people. The group is partnering with Queen Anne Greenways to see if that can help the momentum.

Queen Anne Greenways (qagreenways.org) meets the fourth Tuesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at the Queen Anne Library (400 W. Garfield St.).

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