Seattle will reconfigure Fauntleroy this summer, reducing traffic lanes

A section of Fauntleroy Way in West Seattle will be “rechanneled” this summer — reducing the number of traffic lanes while adding bike lanes and a central turning lane — to increase safety and reduce speeding on the thoroughfare, city officials said. Islanders have mixed feelings on the decision, however.

The Seattle Department of Transportation announced its plans on Friday, after holding several community meetings on the proposed road change last month.

“I’ll have a safer ride to work,” said bicyclist Henry Haselton, who has commuted via Fauntleroy Way for eight years. He characterized the stretch of road that will be reconfigured as “by far the most dangerous stretch of the commute.”

A little more than a mile — from California Avenue S.W. to S.W. Edmunds Street — will be reconfigured concurrently with the city’s repaving of the road, which in some areas hasn’t been paved for more than 60 years.

The project is slated to begin in May, and most major work on the road will be done at night.

National studies indicate that creating a single lane in each direction may “calm traffic,” thereby promoting a safer environment for vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians, according to a press release.

“I think all users of Fauntleroy Way will benefit,” Haselton said, “because traffic will probably move at the speed limit.”

But some Islanders, especially commuters, aren’t convinced. They’re concerned that reducing Fauntleroy’s travel lanes to one each way will exacerbate congestion and lengthen travel times in West Seattle.

“I think it’s a mistake,” said Vickie Mercer, a member of the Island’s transportation committee who has followed the proposal for months. “I think it’s very shortsighted.”

Mercer helped draft a letter that the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council sent to Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels in December, which stated, “on behalf of Vashon Island residents,” that the council opposed the city’s proposal to rechannel Fauntleroy.

Two weeks after the letter was sent, Islanders voted at the Dec. 19 community council meeting to rescind the letter, which the council did.

But Mercer still believes the change could hurt Islanders, she said.

She’s concerned that city officials didn’t take a holistic enough view when they predicted the impacts of Fauntleroy’s rechanneling.

Analysts may have minimized the negative effects of the change, because they only examined the 1.3-mile stretch within the project, not the outlying areas that feed onto Fauntleroy or the West Seattle Bridge, she said.

City officials estimate commuters’ travel times will increase 30 seconds after Fauntleroy is reconfigured, Mercer said, but she guesses it will be more like 20 minutes.

“How many more lights are you going to wait through in each direction?” Mercer said.

Fauntleroy residents and bicyclists have long felt that vehicles on the road were traveling at unsafe speeds, according to transportation officials. The new road configuration is designed to reduce speeding and, therefore, create a safer environment.

Additionally, the new plan for Fauntleroy is more environmentally friendly and in line with Seattle’s long-term “bicycle master plan,” a press release issued Friday states.

“We’re trying to come up to par with Portland, which is way ahead of us in terms of bicycle access,” Haselton said. “We need to get closer to that.”

But Mercer said she worries that, with fewer traffic lanes on Fauntleroy, more vehicles will be idling in traffic and spewing exhaust into the neighborhood.

“I don’t think it’s more environmentally friendly, because now the bicyclists are going to have to inhale more exhaust from vehicles waiting at stoplights,” she said. “I really think this is a promoter of air pollution. I think it’s a huge step back.”

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