Op-Ed: The Road Diet Starts at My House

by Paul Nelson

The Road Diet Starts at My House

It’s a regular part of the soundscape from the swinging Angeline at 4801 Rainier Av S. The Rainier Avenue South “Road Diet” – designed and engineered by the Seattle Department of Transportation – starts right before the large apartment building and it’s right about at the spot where many turn into the lot to go to PCC that we hear the blaring of yet another car horn. Five or six very un-Seattle nice-like seconds of angst. It pierces the Keith Jarrett, Gary Burton or Carla Bley vibe on the box here in our third-floor nest and we don’t bother looking anymore unless it’s accompanied by a crash, which happens now and then, between sirens.

Well, SDOT wants your input and has deemed this part of the Road Diet a success:

Rainier Pilot Project Evaluation Report

In August 2015, Seattle moved forward with the Rainier Avenue Pilot Project.  This project has successfully improved safety along Rainier Ave S in Columbia City and Hillman City.  Highlights from our evaluation report include:

  • Collisions reduced by 15%
  • Vehicle speeds reduced by 16% northbound and 10% southbound
  • Transit travel times improved by 1 minute in the southbound direction during the PM peak hour
  • There have been zero serious injury or fatal crashes in the area we redesigned

I really think people of the future and are going to look back on our social media “debates” (and the road diet is right up there with proper dog poop disposal etiquette on the Columbia City Facebook page) and wonder just WTF we were thinking.

The evidence of Global Climate Disruption is rather overwhelming and the recent rash of mudslides and huge rain totals should be telling us something. Instead, walk by the PCC parking lot, yes the parking lot of the cooperative, locally-owned grocery store, where people line up to purchase organic sunchokes and artisanal Belgian Endives and then look at their Facebook feed in their parked car while their engine is running.

“Driving the car is personality enshrined.” Michael McClure

This is the consciousness behind the car horns. Ask Curtis, the current security guard outside Bank of America. He watches drivers rushing up in the “right turn only” lane in front of the bank only to hurl their cars back into the southbound traffic flow while kitty corner Jeffrey Taylor is in his insurance office watching another car blow through the red light at Edmunds.

And the funny thing is that when I drive the same stretch, I become one of the impatient types in competition with others to get wherever it is I have to get with urgency.

(9.15.16 – It is easier to be a Buddha when you’re not driving the car. #AmericanSentences)

But a funny thing happened on the way to the car horns. My partner and I moved into the Angeline in September 2015. We love Columbia City and find ourselves at Tutta Bella and the Royal Room, among other places, regularly. But, the Angeline was the symbol of yuppie gentrification! I’d satirized in verse the hipster/yuppie consciousness that seemed endemic here. But, on a lark, we got a tour of the Angeline and found out we were eligible for the city’s Multi-Family Tax Exemption program.

Years after I learned being a poet, running a literary-oriented non-profit organization, and being an Airbnb host, was NOT the way to unlimited wealth, at least I could enjoy an easy 300 step walk to the PCC to get me some Cherry Tree cola. (It is crack.) And we caved and got an indoor parking spot and started counting our steps. About 700 to the Link Light Rail Station. Another 1,900 from the Capitol Hill Link Station to our spiritual community’s house on First Hill. 2,000 to my daughter’s pre-K, at Orca Elementary and we started getting healthier!

We were less grouchy. We slept better at night and started getting resentful when WE HAD TO DRIVE SOMEWHERE! Imagine, in a nation where obesity is an epidemic, where fossil fuels destroy the biosphere and where we slouch around in bodies designed to walk many miles each day. We must walk long distances daily to be healthy. Being sedentary leads to any number of maladies, heart disease, sleep apnea, you name it.

Dig this in the New York Times:

Most mammals can sprint faster than humans — having four legs gives them the advantage. But when it comes to long distances, humans can outrun almost any animal. Because we cool by sweating rather than panting, we can stay cool at speeds and distances that would overheat other animals. On a hot day, the two scientists wrote, a human could even outrun a horse in a 26.2-mile marathon.

If you think walking is for poor people, or for people in “Third World” countries, check your privilege and for the sake of all that is holy STFU with the car horn already!

Back to the Columbia City Facebook page. The Road Diet nay-sayers at this point in time are conspicuously quiet. Probably stuck in traffic somewhere.

Paul is a poet, interviewer, father and literary activist engaged in a 20-year bioregional cultural investigation of Cascadia. He currently lives in Columbia City







11 thoughts on “Op-Ed: The Road Diet Starts at My House”

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed your “American Sentences”, Paul. And like you, I hate having to drive around town. Fortunately that is pretty rare these days, except I drive out of town every week or two, like to Cabin Creek yesterday to go ski touring up to the sparkling sun breaks at the summit of Amabalis Mtn.

    As for better exercise around town? – I just put on my backpack when I take a walk.

  2. The Rainier Avenue Road diet was a prime example of an out of control Mayor, City Council and a Department of Transportation that should be all replaced. I went to the meeting as did 100+ other citizens about this grand plan. We were told the city wanted public comment about this plan. We were told by the mayor and Bruice H that more people could be moved with one lane N and S than with the 2 lanes N and S then existed. The comments from the room were 40 to 1 against this change. I asked what the department of transportation smoked and drank. I had to get some if it would make me believe that two lanes of traffic would move more people than 4 lanes. At the end of the meeting we were told too bad we are going to restripe the lanes in two days. They were not interested in public comment and paid no attention to what was said.

    Have you tried to go through Columbia City any time beween 6 AM and 8 PM. It is impossible. You are right, the traffic is slower. In fact, the average parking lot moves faster than Rainier Ave. S. Of course we do not have any parking lots. This is painfully obvious if you want to park and take sound transit downtown. In my case that is a 2 mile walk up and over 2 400’ hills.

    The solution is do not take Rainier Ave North and South. Drive through the one lane streets in the local neighborhoods. They are one lane because there is solid parking on both sides of the street leaving one lane open for traffic. It is not unusual to have to back up half a block because of cars coming the other way. I am getting better at recognizing which alleys go through and the small pets are getting much faster about getting out of the way.

    If you want to make Seattle into one large parking lot this is a wonderful start. Why not take sound Transit? Our previous mayor made sure it did not go to South Center. 100 times more people go to South Center every day than go to the airport. It does not go to Boeing field where many folks work. It does not go to Georgetown. It does not go to West Seattle or Ballard. It does not go to north Capital Hill or South Beacon Hill. Hell yes! we need to use cars. There are 100 autos on the streets for every biker. This time of the year it is closer to 200 to 1.

    Have you tried going S. on 2nd or 3rd avenue. I am not sure which, I was so frightened the last time I did go down town, I will never go down town again. Sidewalk – bike line – parked cars lane and then one auto lane. Going S if you need to turn left, look out. I have had bikers go past me doing 30 mph. The auto gets a green light but you must wait until the bike lane gets a red light or a biker will run into you. However you still have to look out for pedestrians. They should not allow cars on that street unless they have three people to look for bikers and pedestrians.

    Mr. Mayor, if you are trying to make Seattle unlivable you are achieving your goal. Lets just eliminate autos. They only transport 95% of our citizens. Eliminate autos. You will not need mini homes, DAUs Doodos, DoDos. The population will shrink to 50,000 who will live in the flat areas. There will be vacant home on all the hills so there will be no homeless unless they are old and cannot climb hills. There will be no trucks to get garbage or repair our power and water facilities. They can dip out of and eliminate in the lakes. Paramedics will be on bikes and only take 30 minutes to get to you when you have your cardiac arrest. It will be utopia. The day the Mayor rides his bike from his home to work, or Mike O’Brian does the same. I will believe this master plan might work. Oh by the way we watched Ed and Mike ride they bike away from a public meeting. They went two blocks to where they attached them to their autos and drove away. They did look cute in the biking shorts, however.

    1. I’m wondering if you missed the part that Rainier Avenue was found to be the most dangerous street in the city. The primary goals of these changes is to improve safety on Rainier …

  3. Not unless every one dies off at 80, no one has children who need to go to the Dr, school, shopping for clothes. Just today we recycled some Styrofoam 6 miles south in large plastic bags. I next went to get some specialized batteries 4 miles to the North and way to heavy to lug onto a bus or carry on a bike. Next to get some specialized equipment in the Ballard and back home.

    I grew up in a small town where you could walk everywhere. The problem was everything we needed was not available in a small town. Seattle neighborhoods cannot come close to providing everything we need. We need South Center. We need the airport. We need Drs that are not located near sound transit or bus lines. Every little community will never come close to providing all we need.

    The Cat is out of the bag. We would rather go to the Big Box stores where we can shop for what we want and need. Young people may be driving less but they are driving. Some of the decrease is due to the Mayor and City screwing up our existing pathways.

    We could all go back to a horse but our streets will impassable. No one will want to eat out because of the stench. Our economy will suffer badly because of the lack of transportation for people and goods.

    Dream on.

    1. Ever heard of peak oil or limits to growth? The cost of driving or owning a car is going to soar in the future, along with a lot else. We already hit peak producion of conventional oil in 2006 and its been boom and bust ever since then. We’re a bust period right now but it won’t last – much of the world’s cheap oil is already gone, so we’re into the more expensive and less plentiful stuff like fracked oil and tar sands. A number of experts think that the global peak for conventional + unconventional oil is only a few years off. And oil, of course, is by far the number one driver of the global economy.

      1. Dick limiting growth is not achieved by placing mini homes in everyone’s front and back yards. This increase in density places even more autos on our streets both parked and in traffic grid lock.

        Should we go back to horses or have you heard of hybrid cars and all electric cars.

        You cannot go back to horses and wagons. Bikes simply do not move more than 1% of traffic in Seattle, have you heard of hills. We have spent $100,000s of thousands painting bike symbols on hills. These will last for years as I have yet to see a biker on any of the access hills going up Beacon Hill.

        There are many ways to slow down traffic without creating grid lock by cutting street access in half by removing two lanes. Have 4 lanes but limit their speed. When you create grid lock you fill the area with fumes because the cars are not moving. You create lots of noise with frustrated folks laying on their horns. Tempers flare because people cut others off.