Road Diets, Road Kill?

South Seattleites play the cop card in order to keep an arterial fat.

Since Mayor Mike McGinn started pushing "road diets," they have generated controversy, especially among people who see them as an anti-car sop to the Spandex crowd. Now a South Seattle group has a new complaint: It fears a planned road diet will endanger public safety.

This road diet will remove a car lane and add bike lanes for some seven blocks along Othello and South Myrtle Streets, including right in front of the Seattle Police Department's South Precinct. Seattle Department of Transportation's Therese Casper says the restructuring is intended to improve safety. Documented speeds on that stretch of roadway average 10 miles per hour above the 30 mph limit, and there were 112 collisions between 2008 and 2010, according to SDOT figures.

But Pat Murakami, president of the Southeast Crime Prevention Council, worries that the road diet "will slow down police response time, which is already slow." Not only might the South Precinct's officers get stuck on their own block, Murakami says, but they will have a harder time reaching other parts of their territory. Very few arterials run east-west, as does Othello/South Myrtle (one road turns into the other a few blocks west of Martin Luther King Way), Murakami points out. And she says the problem is compounded by light rail, which bisects the few existing east-west routes. The concern is heightened by a recent crime spurt in South Seattle, which has seen a spate of muggings and assaults, including one leading to the death of gay Filipino hairdresser Danny Vega.

South Precinct Captain Mike Nolan says he also expressed initial concern about the road diet. But that was before SDOT officials showed him their maps. He says he saw that although there will only be one car lane in each direction, there will be a center turn lane that he believes will allow his cars some wiggle room. There will not, however, be a turn lane on the precinct's own, narrower block. But Nolan says the block is not that busy, and on the rare occasions it is, his officers can use a bike lane to pass.

"I gave it my blessing," Nolan says of the project. "If it is problematic, know this: I will be going back to SDOT and requesting that something be done."

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