After eight years of planning, traffic improvements are finally coming to Fremont.
In late summer 2005, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) will implement a series of spot improvements in downtown Fremont, along the Bridge Way/North 38th Street corridor and at two intersections near the Fremont Bridge to reduce congestion and increase safety for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists.
The improvements are also intended to help ease traffic impacts during replacement of the Fremont Bridge approaches (elevated roadways at each end of the bridge), which is slated to begin in mid-2005.
The public attended a transportation meeting on Dec. 9 at the Adobe Plaza building to review the final stages of the project.
Various SDOT planners presented their strategy on overhead projectors to a diverse group that included business owners, developers and bicycle advocates.
The attendees then circulated to comment tables to view and give feedback on the nearly finished designs.
A coordinated plan
The plan includes a combination of new and upgraded traffic signals, rerouting of traffic, better access onto and off Aurora Avenue North, new pedestrian crosswalks and traffic circles to calm neighborhood intersections.
Totaling more than $5.1 million and funded through a combination of voluntary contributions and government grants, the project plugs together three major efforts: the Fremont circulation plan, the Bridge Way corridor improvements and the Fremont Bridge approach project.
Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin, chair of the council's Transportation Committee, pointed out that the transportation plan is one of the key elements that came out of Fremont's neighborhood planning process, which identified safety and traffic flow concerns within the community.
"It is unique among the neighborhood plans because it pulls together many recommendations into a coordinated whole," Conlin stated in an e-mail, adding that the business community was interested in having a smoother flow of traffic through the commercial center, the neighborhood was interested in better management of the downtown area and bicycle and pedestrian advocates wanted safer bicycle connections and better crossings. "All these [ideas] came together in the overall plan."
A blueprint for safety
For nine months, Fremont will undergo major street work until construction slows down in spring 2006.
The circulation project includes the removal of an estimated 20 parking spaces and the relocation of some bus stops.
Six new signals will be added, and nine traffic signals will be upgraded to fiber optics with improved synchronization.
Some intersections will also be reconfigured, and fiber message signs will be installed at the bridge approaches to forewarn drivers of bridge delays.
A sampling of some improvements includes two signals at the Aurora Avenue North off-ramps at Bridge Way North, a left-turn pocket and signal at Stone Way North and Bridge Way North, North 39th will change to one-way eastbound from Bridge Way North to Stone Way North and crosswalks will be also added at Fremont Place North and North 36th Street.
Additional projects affecting Fremont
Several other projects, including construction under the bridge and private development, will also impact circulation in Fremont.
According to SDOT, the Burke-Gilman Trail, between Stone Way and Phinney Avenue North, will completely close for 18 months. A temporary westbound bike lane on North 34th Street will be added to accommodate cyclists while the trail is closed.
Emily Allen, chair of the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board, pointed out that the Fremont Bridge is a major bicycle corridor traveled by more cyclists than any other bridge in the state, and added that the city will also work to make the bridge "more bicycle-friendly."
In addition to bridge work, three traffic-calming devices will be installed, including one in front of "The Fremont Troll" sculpture under the Aurora Bridge on North 36th Street. Private developments on Stone Way North and North 36th Street will also create additional impacts.
While many support the plan, some small-business owners expressed concern about losing business due to traffic rerouting and reduced parking caused by the construction.
Frame Up Fremont business owner Rob Bradley fears that frustrated customers may avoid the area and shop elsewhere.
Corky Merwin, owner of Postmark Gelato, at the intersection of North 35th Street and Fremont Place North, is "delighted to see all the improvements and changes taking place with the traffic flow," but says that the parking also makes her "a little nervous."
"I'm hoping they're giving as much thought to it as to the traffic situation," Merwin stated.
Fremont Chamber of Commerce member Suzie Burke acknowledged the challenges, assuring that the group is addressing this issue through a committee that is looking at alternative solutions for parking in the downtown core, including a proposed residential parking zone.
SDOT spokesperson Marybeth Turner also indicated that bridge construction workers will be required to shuttle to the worksite to reduce competition for spaces in downtown Fremont.
Though there will be delays and detours, Turner suggested that "traffic will still be able to get through," adding that SDOT "will work to minimize the impacts as quickly as possible."
They will also keep residents updated via e-mail and newsletter mailings.
City Councilmember Conlin added that the goal is to move fast so that all the changes can be in place before the surface bridge construction begins.
Despite the challenges, Merwin and many others view the project as a necessity and look forward to the outcome of a safer and less congested community.
"Nothing's perfect, so let's get things done," Merwin said of the construction impacts. "I'm hoping that all these improvements will make it as easy to be in Fremont as it is fun."
Go to www.seattle.gov/transportation/fremont circulation.htm to sign up for e-mail news on upcoming circulation pro-jects.
Ericka Berg can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.