Feb 14, 2023 - News

A new vision for walkable, bikeable Aurora Avenue North

A wet  six-lane roadway with cars driving toward the camera and an auto store and a public storage facility visible on the right side of the highway.

This is part of the 15-block stretch of Aurora Avenue North that local leaders aim to redesign with $50 million in state money. Photo: Melissa Santos/ Axios

Local leaders want to transform Aurora Avenue North from a roaring freeway into a walkable, European-style boulevard.

Why it matters: Historically, much of Aurora has been known for cheap motels and prostitution.

  • But the urban highway is well served by transit, has easy access to downtown, and borders several vibrant residential neighborhoods, causing city and state officials to view it as ripe for redevelopment.

What's happening: State officials are spending $50 million to turn a 15-block stretch of Aurora into the Champs-Élysées — or at least, that's the goal, said former state Sen. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle).

  • The money, contained in last year's transportation budget, is directed toward projects that would slow the speed of traffic along Aurora from 90th to 105th streets, while also making the area more walkable and bikeable.
  • That could mean integrating improvements such as protected bike lanes, wider sidewalks, street trees, and traffic-calming measures like speed humps.

What they're saying: The idea is to demonstrate what is possible, said Carlyle, who helped secure the money in last year's budget.

  • While he said comparing Aurora Avenue to the Champs-Élysées in Paris may seem "annoying and rhetorical," he thinks it's a future that's within reach.
  • "Right now, Aurora is a scar that people don't want to cross," Carlyle said. "It doesn't have to be that way."
  • He argued that if you can morph Aurora into a pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare, you'll prove it can be done anywhere.

Curbing pedestrian injuries and fatalities is a priority for people who live in the area, said Tom Lang of the Aurora Reimagined Coalition.

  • That could mean redesigning unrestricted left turn lanes, which Lang said contribute to unsafe crossings.

The latest: A study of possible improvements to the corridor is now underway.

  • City and state transportation officials are collaborating with King County Metro to come up with design recommendations, which are expected by later this year.

The big picture: Seattle officials are looking to upgrade other stretches of the highway beyond the 15 blocks that are the focus of the state's $50 million.

  • Further south, city officials recently added a protected bike lane on the outer loop of Green Lake Park that borders Aurora.
  • They also are planning to add pedestrian enhancements along some of the neighborhood streets that border the highway, Ethan Bergerson, a spokesperson for the city transportation department, told Axios.

What's next: In the next few months, the city plans to seek public input from businesses, residents and drivers about what design changes they'd like to see on Aurora.

  • The city is then supposed to convene a neighborhood oversight board to monitor the implementation of the state-funded improvements between 90th and 105th streets.
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