The Seattle Department of Transportation will conduct a six-week traffic study of Dorffel Drive. The community’s goal is to ultimately prevent cut-through traffic. Photo by Sarah Radmer
The Seattle Department of Transportation will conduct a six-week traffic study of Dorffel Drive. The community’s goal is to ultimately prevent cut-through traffic. Photo by Sarah Radmer

Dorffel Drive, in the middle of the Denny-Blaine neighborhood, has seen more and more cut-through traffic over time. Neighbors have been trying to fight this traffic increase for a decade, and the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has finally agreed to a traffic study with hopes of permanent change.

The street is narrow and historic, connecting the neighborhood to Epiphany School and The Bush School. It’s not meant to be an arterial but has been treated as one for some time.

“It’s pretty much the only practical route for kids who are walking or biking to either school,” Bob Edmiston said.

Edmiston, organizer of the Madison Park Greenways and member of the Madison Park Community Council (MPCC), has been focused on making the area safe for pedestrians and cyclists.

About 10 years ago, the neighbors formed the Denny-Blaine Neighbors for Safer Streets (DBNFSS) group and pooled their money to commission a traffic study. The road should have about 500 cars traveling on it each day, but even 10 years ago, there were 3,000 cars on it every day. The study also tracked license plates, which revealed that most people using the road weren’t from the neighborhood and were using it as a shortcut.

There hasn’t been a traffic study since then, but neighbors feel the traffic has continued to increase, Edmiston said.

People typically come off the arterials and drive quickly through the neighborhood, which endangers pedestrians, he said. Because of this aggressive driving, residents often park their cars on the sidewalks, to keep them out of harm’s way. But this ends up blocking the sidewalk to kids who are using the street to walk to school.

“It’s currently a very dangerous thing,” Edmiston said, “a lot more dangerous than it needs to be.” 

A historic greenway?

The DBNFSS group already existed by the time Bob Minnott moved to the neighborhood, but he has since joined the cause. Dorffel was designed around the turn of last century and was configured for minimal car traffic. The neighbors had “collectively thrown their hands in the air” and gave up on trying to get the city’s help, Minnott said: “I said, ‘Let’s me try. It’s my turn now.’”

Through his involvement in the Seattle Neighborhood Greenways group, Edmiston met Minnott. The residents want the street to have the same goals and livability as a greenway, Edmiston said; in fact, Minnott hopes Dorffel Drive becomes “the Historic Dorffel Drive Greenway.”

The street has beautiful, historic houses with a lot of city value, which is why the idea of the historic greenway makes so much sense, Minnott said. The city hasn’t given an “official blessing” on the greenway plan yet, he said.

Minnott also has plans to reclaim and rejuvenate nearby Lakeview Park to the Olmstead Brothers’ original creation.

“The history is invaluable,” Minnott said. “It’s something you want to preserve. If you don’t do it, you’ll never have the opportunity. Right now, on the street, cars go in weeds, and street is abused.”

“This has taken on a greater importance — that is, the asset that it is to the community and Greater Seattle,” he added.

Minnott presented his case at a MPCC meeting, and the community joined the cause. It’s difficult to get the city to listen to individuals focused on specific issues, Edmiston said, but with groups like the Greenways group, the MPCC and DBNFSS behind it, they were able to get SDOT to respond.

SDOT sent traffic engineer Dongho Chang to visit the area with Edmiston, Minnott and other SDOT staff. Chang immediately came to the same conclusions that the traffic study did, Edmiston said.

After that meeting, the neighbors were able to get SDOT to agree to a traffic study. The study, which was implemented by Aug. 22, addresses the intersection of Lake Washington Boulevard East and 37th Avenue East and barricaded the eastern pair of lanes on Dorffel Drive, leaving just the two western lanes available to cars. It will also track how many cars are using the road every day. This will make the road look less inviting, hopefully cutting down cut-through traffic and making it safer for pedestrians, Edmiston said.

The closure will last for six weeks, until the beginning of October, while they evaluate whether the number of cars per day changes and if there are any unforeseen consequences.

Edmiston hopes they see a lower volume of traffic, while still maintaining local mobility. “The function on the street has not changed,” he said. “People who live on the street can still use it for local transit needs.”

Once the test is completed, SDOT will collect feedback from residents, motorists who used the street as a shortcut and the schools on both ends of the street. The idea is to collect as much feedback as possible before coming up with a permanent solution for the intersection, which Edmiston hopes is designed in 2015.

The neighbors would prefer that the temporary barriers are just left in until SDOT comes up with a permanent solution, “but that’s not our decision,” Minnott said.

The idea is to move street parking and get people to park on the other side of the street. Minnott would also like to extend the sidewalk in some spots on the west side.

The neighborhood will need to apply for a Neighborhood Street Fund grant. If it’s able to get the grant on time, construction could start as early as 2016; if not, it’ll need to wait another year to apply for the grant again.

The neighborhood has been in disbelief at the project’s progress, Edmiston said: “They have been trying for so long and received literally nothing from the city that a lot of them had given up hope.”

Edmiston’s help and the support of the neighborhood groups has reenergized Minnott. “I’m not here by myself anymore,” he said.

“The neighborhood has been worn out by the process,” Minnott said. “God knows, I am, too,” he said. “I’ve been at it for five years.” 

Other greenway news

Pedestrian crossings continue to be a problem throughout the neighborhood, and the Greenways group has identified seven on East Madison Street between 23rd and 43rd avenues East, Edmiston said.

Fixing the area will require a study that may be part of an upcoming bus study or its own line item on the city’s budget. If the latter is the case, Edmiston expects the study won’t take place until 2017.

The intersection of McGilvra Boulevard and Madison Street is already getting an update: The neighborhood received a $90,000 Neighborhood Street Fund grant for a 2015 study, and planners hope to win another $90,000, plus $300,000 from the Safe Routes to Schools program to fix the intersection.

The group is also working on the Arboretum Greenway. The neighbors were recently denied funding for a study on 29th Avenue East through the Washington Park Arboretum, but the neighborhood is very motivated, Edmiston said; in the last month, cars have hit the traffic islands, taking out trees and foliage.

In the kid-friendly neighborhood, people want to see the cut-through traffic go away in place of a greenway, he said.

The Garfield Greenway will open on Sept. 21, at 1:30 p.m., at 37th Avenue East and East Madison Street. The Greenways group will close the street to let people “experience what a neighborhood greenway is like,” Edmiston said.

This is the first few blocks of the greenway in the area. The greenway also fixed the intersection of 37th and Madison, where a McGilvra student was hit while riding his bike. The student has since made a full recovery, Edmiston said.

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