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May 26, 2010 at 2:14 PM

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Nickerson "road diet" gives Councilman Rasmussen indigestion

Posted by Mike Lindblom

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn's "road diet" for West Nickerson Street is drawing opposition from Councilman Tom Rasmussen, who says the project should probably be delayed until 2016 -- when other corridors including two-way Mercer Street and the Alaskan Way Tunnel are completed, and their traffic detours let up.

Rasmussen wants to scrutinize the plan June 8 in the council's transportation committee, which he chairs.

In a typical "road diet," a four-lane arterial is restriped so there are two traffic lanes and a center left-turn lane -- and often bike lanes, plus some raised medians to help pedestrians. There have been 24 such lane reductions in the city since 1972.

The mayor, a longtime environmental activist, announced the Nickerson road diet May 11, as part of a re-emphasis on walking, biking and transit projects. One goal is for lower car speeds to improve pedestrian safety; the street passes through Seattle Pacific University.

Peter Hahn, the new transportation director, said he had authority to carry out the $200,000 makeover without further council or mayor actions -- and if it failed, the road diet could be easily reversed.

Rasmussen says he heard an immediate outcry from neighborhood and Democrat groups. Nickerson is one of only two east-west streets directly feeding Ballard industries. Meanwhile, angry drivers tell the Times that bicyclists should use the Ship Canal Trail, a block away.

Rasmussen questioned the Nickerson plan at a small noontime forum with the Metropolitan Democratic Club of Seattle. Afterward, he said the council might a) pass a budget proviso withholding road-diet money, b) pass a recommendation for or against the plan, or c) watch what happens, perhaps adding language repealing the road diet if things went bad.

Meanwhile, the city says that its 2007-08 road diet on Stone Way North is reducing total collisions, though rear-end crashes increased at a confusing road segment near North 40th Street. Rasmussen said a road diet on Fauntleroy Way Southwest has been well-received.

McGinn isn't wavering. Asked if it would take a veto-proof six council votes to stop McGinn, mayoral spokesman Aaron Pickus said that's "a fair interpretation."

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Jim Brunner
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Covers politics and state government from Olympia.

Emily Heffter
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