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caption: Phyllis Porter is a neighborhood activist who lobbied long and hard to get Rainier Avenue S on a "road diet."
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1 of 4 Phyllis Porter is a neighborhood activist who lobbied long and hard to get Rainier Avenue S on a "road diet."
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Rainier Avenue South Begins Its Road Diet

People have called Rainier Avenue Seattle’s most dangerous street. There’s at least one accident every day. Pedestrians have died. But that could change soon.

On a warm weeknight in Columbia City Jacob Anderson rides by on his bicycle -- on the sidewalk.

“People drive so fast on this street for some reason. And then they’re like angry at the fact that you’re there," Anderson said. "So they’re going to zoom around you and go ZROWW!”

But maybe he'll feel safe riding in the street again later this month. The city is rearranging the road in the hopes of slowing down traffic.

Workers chiseled up the plastic turtles in the middle of the road. Phyllis Porter cheered them on.

“I’ve been saying for a long time, you know, when will the shoveling start. And today – it’s like I’m like a child with a little toy. I’m so excited,” Porter said.

Porter is a neighborhood activist. She worked long and hard to get Seattle Department of Transportation to give Rainier Avenue a treatment called a road diet. Just like it sounds, that means cutting down the number of traffic lanes and lowering the speed limit -- making it less like a freeway and more like a small town main street.

"If it’s going to save even one life, I think it’s worth it," Porter said.

But not everyone’s in favor of the road diet. There’s a marimba band, Zambuko Marimba Ensemble, that practices on the sidewalk here twice a week. They don’t like it.

Bandleader Sheree Seretse lead the band in a chant: "1, 2, 3 RIDICULOUS!"

What are you saying's ridiculous? “That they’re converting this to one lane each direction,” Seretse said.

But road diets do work, according to traffic engineers. That’s because the middle lane is a turn lane.

SDOT engineer Dusty Rasmussen said it’s easier for cars trying to turn. “They aren’t trying to merge with traffic, they’re able to actually get in and around each other,” Rasmussen said.

He said past projects like this have reduced collisions without significantly reducing traffic volume. A study by the Federal Highway Administration backs up those claims.

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