Seattle redesigns dangerous intersection for pedestrian, biker safety

Seattle has invested $1.8 million to transform a deadly cross street in South Lake Union into a "protected intersection," a design commonly found in the Netherlands. 

It's Seattle's first "protected intersection," which essentially aims to prioritize the safety of non-motorized traffic in that corridor. It includes new traffic signals that make it safer for people to walk and bike to cross Dexter Ave. N. from Thomas Street, particularly during events at Seattle Center.

This initiative comes as Washington state is grappling with its highest traffic death toll in 33 years.

The redesigned intersection at Thomas Street has been hailed by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) as "revolutionary" by the city. 

View of the new protected intersection at Thomas St and Dexter Ave N in South Lake Union. Photo: SDOT.

According to the city, this is how the protected intersection works: 

  • New corner islands lead to safer turns. Concrete islands lead to calmer traffic and encourage drivers make turns at safer speeds. There are improved lines of sight for people in cars, making it easier to see people biking and walking.
  • New traffic signals for people walking and biking. The new walk signals have been designed to meet the needs of people walking, rolling, and biking and give people plenty of time to cross Dexter Ave N.
  • Better experience for people riding bikes. People riding bikes have a separate path through the intersection making bike riders more visible to drivers. This reduces the likelihood and severity of crashes, including right-hook conflicts between drivers and people biking.
  • Simple to drive through. Driving through the intersection is still simple and intuitive. There will be no significant impact on travel time or traffic flow for people driving, and it will not change the routes through the neighborhood. People driving can make the same right turns onto Thomas St from Dexter Ave N that they could before construction, and travel along Dexter Ave N is not changed. Signs and markings guide drivers through the intersection and show where to stop during red lights.

According to data from SDOT, nearly 700 bikers pass through this part of South Lake Union on a single day, with a weekly total reaching about 4,700. 

The new design features concrete islands at each corner, which shield pedestrians and cyclists, a median separating northbound and southbound traffic, and bolstered crosswalks with additional signals. There is also a separate path for bikers and walkers.

The project began in 2019 and gained urgency after a tragic incident last year: Seattle Police Officer, Kevin Dave, was speeding to an overdose call when he hit and killed 23-year-old graduate student, Jaahnavi Kandula, in January 2023. 

With the completion of this project, SDOT turns its attention to further transforming Thomas Street.

Concept plans show intent to add a skate park and create a grand entry into Seattle Center, enhancing the route up to the iconic Space Needle.

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