Wednesday, August 18, 2010

LETTER: A View Of Our Awful Traffic On Education Hill

Many years ago, the main north-south road to the top of Education had only one lane in each direction. Over the years, as more and more houses were added to the neighborhoods, the two lanes couldn’t handle all the cars going up and down the hill so the road was widened to two lanes in each direction.

Fast forward to 2008 and the City of Redmond decided that they once again wanted only one lane of traffic in each direction on 166th Avenue NE with a center turn lane.
They introduced a plan where the conversion would be done in stages. The initial construction stage would convert the 166th/104th intersection from stop-signs to traffic-lights and reduce the number of lanes from 4 to 3 between NE 98th and 104th Streets. They told us that although it wasn’t intuitive, it would be faster, safer and better for us. As an example, they told us to look at the 4-to-3 lane conversion that had been done on NE 85th Street in the downtown area. I wondered if they had been to the Post Office on NE 85th Street on a busy Saturday in December or on April 15 (tax day) and if they had noticed that traffic ground to a halt as soon as the road and parking lot got the least bit busy. In other words, their traffic engineering that they were bragging about failed under minor stress when the Post Office got busy. The city was confident that their new traffic light and 4-to-3 lane conversion on 166th Avenue NE would be great.

After enduring 5 months of construction that coincided with the start of the 2008-09 school year, and after spending $650,000 of our taxpayer money (some from a fund ironically called the “Safe Routes to School” fund) we now have TRAFFIC THAT IS WORSE THAN EVER!!! We now have a constant, steady stream of southbound morning traffic on 166th Avenue NE that never breaks because there are too many cars! In fact, it’s dangerous with cars playing “chicken” as they try to get into and out of the Redmond Junior High parking lot.

Sometimes cars slow down, stop, and wave turning traffic into the parking lot. Sometimes cars slow down but don’t intend to stop and drivers pull into their paths and nearly collide. There is a lot of swerving, frequent slamming on brakes and at least 5 near misses every morning and afternoon. It’s especially dangerous for bicyclists who can get hit by cars making left turns across oncoming traffic. (Fortunately, bike riders know not to ride along 166th when school is in session.) When events such as school dances or field trips occur and too many parents try to get into the parking lot at once, traffic overflows and jams the street. Without 2 lanes in both directions, cars must drive down the center or are stuck waiting in circular gridlock.

I checked with Tricia Thompson and Jeff Palmer at the City of Redmond’s Transportation Department and they said that the City has no plans to fix this terrible traffic mess. They both blame the traffic problems on too many parents driving their children to school. Well, that is exactly the problem – so unless they have a plan to get rid of all the schools on Education Hill, they need to figure out how to make driving on 166th Avenue NE safe. Redmond Junior High has two narrow driveways on 166th and a wide bus driveway on 104th. The driveways are interconnected but are blocked by barriers. The City should work with the school district to redesign the parking lots and the widths of the driveways to make traffic flow more quickly and SAFELY.

A more permanent solution would be for the city to use its influence to encourage the school district to provide bus transportation for students who are consistently being driven to school in cars. When the school district requests building permits, the city should require a traffic study and impact fees if the school district hasn’t taken steps to reduce the current traffic problems. The City should also require the district to mitigate any additional traffic that might occur as a result construction for additional students.

Requiring the school district to provide lots of expensive road improvements to handle the traffic that the schools generate might motivate the LWSD Transportation Department to provide adequate bus service for their students – a responsibility that they currently choose to ignore. Education Hill is a residential neighborhood but we sure don’t have residential traffic levels. The City needs to stop turning its back on this problem.

By Susan Wilkins, LWSD parent and volunteer
Video by Susan Wikins
Photo by Bob Yoder during 4:3 construction


Paganne said...

Thanks Susan for the videos. Traffic is horrible in the mornings and it is dangerous when driving your child to Band or Jr. High early in the morning or any other time until about 9:30 AM.

As a parent that drives several children to various schools on the hill, i'd also like to point out that the 'conversion' directly impacts residents leaving any of the east side streets, entering 166th to go down the hill. I have waited as long as 10 minutes for traffic to allow me in during busy times of the day.

And, many evenings from about 5PM on the traffic on 166th northbound is so heavy that a three minute trip up the hill to the sports park can take 15 minutes in wait time.

YES -- we all could have our children walk to school. However, with the number of predators and unsafe drivers I am hesitant to have my 6th grader walk even a few blocks in the dark for band class or after practice from Hartman Park. Don't even ask how many of these cars drive MUCH faster than the school zone or 30 mph speed on the hill.

The City has reported that residents are "happy" with the conversion, but as one who drives up and down the hill numerous times in any given day, it has added wasted time and frustration to an already busy schedule. The City is as usual, out of touch with reality.

Howard Frazier said...

But wait… there’s more!

Even more traffic will be funneled through the intersection. Because Avondale Rd. and RedWood Rd are often congested, some of the traffic will enter Education Hill from NE 116th St and proceed south on 172nd Ave NE and then south on 166th Ave NE (did you follow that?).

There is currently a plan to allow even more traffic on this route by opening 172nd Ave NE all the way north to NE 124th.

This means that drivers who are stuck in traffic could avoid Redwood Road or Avondale Road by driving south on 172nd Ave NE and then south on 166th Ave NE.

I first learned of this plan in 2005 and called a city planner. I asked if they were reconsidering this plan (a master traffic plan written in 1990), given the problems already experienced. The response I got was incrediblely unhelpful.

During my discussions with city planners, they said that they didn’t forecast much additional traffic through the new extension of 172nd. I asked if the plan included a ‘roll back’ if the traffic volumes were higher than anticipated. I was told ‘no’. When I explained that the traffic already travelled much faster than the posted speed limit, they promised to install ‘traffic calming’ features such as speed bumps and narrow lanes. Those features were installed and have slowed traffic along the corridor, though, over time drivers have learned to negotiate those features without slowing as much.

The video which depicts the school traffic is truly frightening. In that very short span of time, one can clearly see the dangers posed by the configuration. The metering of the southbound traffic is such that there is never a break to safely turn left. I also heard that the problem was due to parents dropping off their kids; imagine that…. Parents dropping off their kids at a school. Who would have guessed that would happen at a school. Did anyone model that traffic flow before configuring the lights or the lanes? If they think the ‘solution’ is to discourage parents from dropping off their kids, they have an uphill battle on their hands. While I agree it would be better for the kids to walk more, I’m not about to support a ‘solution’ that parents don’t feel is safe enough.

I recommend two short term solutions to be implemented before school starts in September:

Prohibit left turns into the Redmond Jr. High School from northbound 166 Ave NE… Period
Create a drop off plan with entry on NE 104th
Those items will improve safety in the short term. Next we need to help the planners understand that we need to reduce traffic in the neighborhood rather than create new corridors that take the strain off the major arterials.

Bob Yoder said...

We're all concerned about safety and I'm not sure it's any more or less dangerous than before the conversion. In fact, could it be safer because traffic moves slower, but we just feel closer the traffic? To get an objective safety data I suggest you write: and ask them for a record of vehicular, pedestrian, and bicycle accidents in 2007 before the conversion and in 2009 after the conversion. My beef is the terrible congestion eastward from NE 100th St. to 166th. We have to get out of our car and push the cross walk button just to get out. The "safety lane" at the this intersection is anything but.

Lindsey Hughes said...

The state mandates that bus stops cannot be located within one mile of the school. As long as there is a 400 foot elevation change, kids are going to need a ride up the hill (or down and up the hill, or whatever) in order to get to school. The shouldn't arrive at the school in the morning exhausted from walking to school! One size fits all regulation.... put a school on top of a hill, then draw a circle of 1 mile radius on the (flat) map and dictate that everybody within the circle must walk.

Facebook entry

Susan Wilkins said...

We did a detailed traffic count on Friday, May 28 starting at 7:15 AM and ending at 7:50 AM at both the north and south parking lots. Almost 200 cars came up the hill and turned left into the south parking lot and then made right turns when exiting and went back down the hill. A few cars came from the north and then exited left across traffic and headed north again.

The north parking lot was used almost exclusively by cars that came through the 166th/104th intersection and turned right immediately after the light. A few cars came from the south and turned left, but it is a difficult turn because of backed up traffic. A total of 187 vehicles entered the north parking lot and all turned right as they exited the lot (because it's right turn only.) If you watch the video, many of those cars exiting the north parking lot turned left into the NE 102nd Place intersection, made a U-Turn and then headed north on 166th Avenue and then back through the 166th/104th intersection again.

An interesting note: the student dropped off by the white truck that does the wild, left-hand turn across traffic about 2 minutes into the video lives at the east end of NE 104th Street and is eligible for LWSD bus service. His assigned bus, #39 picks up students at 7:10 AM and drives through downtown Redmond before heading up to RJH. Many students who could have taken bus #39 last year were instead dropped off by their parents because the bus pick-up time was too early for what should have been a 5 minute bus ride.

Anonymous said...

The one thing that is super, super dangerous about the left turn into the southern entrance to RJH is the fact that kids can walk across that crosswalk. During the winter months, especially when it's raining, the ability to see a kid stepping out into the crosswalk through a dark drivers side window is severely hampered. And, usually folks are "jumping" to get across the southbound lane and get into the entrance road. I'm amazed kids haven't been run over.

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of the traffic is due to the hoards of people who are coming south on Avondale and want to take a "short cut" through Redmond. I know people who live in Woodinville and off of Novelty Hill who actually believe it saves time to get out of the traffic on Avondale and cut across Ed Hill to get on 520 at W Lake Samm! I am glad to see the cop posted around the area for traffic calming - I don't want these people to think our streets on Ed Hill are a 50 mph speedway....

Anonymous said...

I just checked the bus route for RJH for the east side of the hill. Once again, students are supposed to get on the bus at 7:04 AM and ride through downtown Redmond. I am not surprised, but I am angry about this.

Susan Wilkins said...

I did a traffic count at the corner of NE 104th Street and 184th Avenue NE last school year. Between 8:00AM and 8:30AM only 13 vehicles came up the hill from Avondale Road and half were service vehicles (plumbers, painters, gardeners, etc.) and so they were probably headed to work on Education Hill. Nobody cuts through Education Hill to save time because of the back-ups at the schools.

However, during the summer, we do get some cut-through traffic, especially after 9:00 AM when southbound traffic on Avondale is heavy.