Seattle to improve Aurora Avenue: ‘It's kind of a madhouse’

Aurora Avenue North, infamously known in Seattle for prostitution, could see some big changes.

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) released new renderings and construction ideas for the Aurora Ave Project stretching 7.6 miles to improve safety and traffic flow.

"We are planning to construct several near-term safety projects. These improvements were identified based on recurring collision patterns along the corridor, community feedback provided as part of the corridor planning study, and opportunities for proactive safety measures," said SDOT officials.

There is much more to Aurora Ave N than just the sex workers who walk a short section of the notorious street. Several businesses located there want a safe commute for employees and customers. It’s one of the main reasons why SDOT said it is planning to make safety improvements.

"Anything they can do to improve it, I’m all for it," said Dutton Clark, manager of Stereo Warehouse.

Aurora Ave N, also known as State Route 99, is one of the highest traffic volume streets in Seattle. It has some of the busiest bus routes in the city, is critical for businesses needing freight moved, and connected to dense housing and employment options.

SDOT said the street has a history of crashes and accessibility barriers for pedestrians with mobility challenges. Business owners said improvements would impact their safety and their livelihood.

"During rush-hour traffic, it’s kind of a madhouse. I mean, people drive down the bus lanes super fast. There’s always people pulling out, and they’re getting run into by the people that shouldn’t be in the bus lane," said Clark. "Pedestrians—some people stop for them, some people just drive 90 miles an hour."

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SDOT shared some conceptual ideas to improve safety and help traffic flow. The city wants to divide the proposed construction projects into five segments to minimize travel disruptions while crews are working. Those segments are:

  • Segment 1: Harrison St to N 38th St
  • Segment 2: N 38th St to Winona Ave N
  • Segment 3: Winona Ave N to N 85th St
  • Segment 4: N 85th St to N 115th St
  • Segment 5: N 115th St to N 145th St

Improvements within each segment will have some differences, but many of the plans include installing pedestrian crossings at bus stop locations and additional intersections, a general-purpose lane to accommodate trucks, upgrading street lighting to increase visibility, and bus lanes in both directions.

SDOT said the safety improvements are part of its near-term plans for the street. Officials further mentioned they are working on long-term plans for the future of Aurora Ave N, though details weren’t outlined in the safety improvements project.

Clark, who has owned his business for more than 30 years on Aurora, said store owners like him hope the city’s future plans include addressing prostitution.

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"Well, I’d like to see them put the ‘no loitering’ law back into effect, so we can get rid of these prostitutes. These prostitutes aren’t just poor victims. In order to get rid of all the crime that centers around prostitution, it’s pretty easy to figure out; you get rid of the girls, everything else goes away," claimed Clark.

Officials with SDOT said they want as much community input as possible on the safety improvements ideas. SDOT launched an online survey to share feedback on the draft concepts. The survey is open now through April 5.

The city is also hosting three open houses this month, talking about the plans with the public:

  • Tuesday, March 12: 1-2 p.m. at the Broadview Library, 12755 Greenwood Ave N, Seattle, WA 98133
  • Thursday, March 14: Virtual, 6-7 p.m.
  • Thursday, March 21: 6-7 p.m. at the Bitterlake Community Center, 13035 Linden Ave, Seattle, WA 98133