For a while now, those of us working with Save Madison Valley have warned that if the proposed development for the City People’s site is allowed to proceed as currently planned it could turn Madison into quite a mess. You might recall that an independent traffic consultant found that the developer’s traffic study had left some gaps: they hadn’t counted the current number of trips at the location, hadn’t identified current back-up patterns, hadn’t counted truck deliveries at a comparable PCC, and hadn’t addressed the impact of losing street parking, to name just some of the shortcomings.
The developer’s traffic engineers countered that they had done everything that is required of them. And this is true. They pulled trip estimates from a handbook of national averages and plugged numbers into a formula and — voila! — the 30 second increase in traffic delays we heard about.
So we asked a transportation planner to actually go out and count some cars and trucks. Here’s what he found: After counting cars over three days it appears that the developer’s estimates for current peak traffic at the site are double the actual number. What does this mean? Well, the increase in traffic they’ve suggested the development will bring sounds minor because they’ve estimated a heftier quantity of traffic now than we actually have. (It’s nice when hard data line up with common sense: Do any of us doubt that a nursery open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. generates a lot less traffic than a supermarket open from 6 a.m. to midnight? And who stops shopping and eating when the weather turns bad because they don’t want to get wet and muddy?)
Counting deliveries at a comparable PCC the consultant found there were 25 to 35 truck deliveries in a day — many of which happened simultaneously, curbside (or any old place drivers can find sometimes — even a neighboring business’s parking lot in a pinch). It quickly becomes apparent (if it weren’t already) that we’re talking about a lot of traffic and a lot of deliveries.
One solution on the table is to put the apartment residents’ entrance on the backside of the building on Dewey Place (full disclosure: my home backs onto Dewey). Too bad for those folks, but it’s just one street — and a traffic disaster would be avoided.
Except it won’t be. While the residents’ traffic would have a significant impact on Dewey and the surrounding neighborhood, it is a minor piece of the issues that plague Madison. Dewey is a small drop in the traffic bucket.
The challenges inherent in trying to build a destination supermarket on a relatively narrow stretch of Madison without a second entrance (as most supermarkets have) are major. Maybe there’s a solution. I don’t know; I’m not an engineer. But I have a strong suspicion that the developer and the developer’s traffic engineers don’t yet know either, because they haven’t yet taken an honest look at the situation and searched for a serious answer. It looks like a case of starting with what the result needs to be and then backing up from there; no room for any data that deviate from the desired end result.
Instead they’ve floated the idea that they can split the traffic – commercial on Madison; residential on Dewey. This is a red herring, a diversion from addressing the true problem. It falsely reassures worried commuters that a solution has been found; it allows the city of Seattle to avoid confronting the developer; but it won’t take care of the mess that will be Madison.