Heard of the 'Mercer Mess'? Get ready for the 'Denny Debacle'



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Posted on May 8, 2014 at 6:41 PM

Updated Thursday, May 8 at 6:55 PM

SEATTLE - You've heard of the "Mercer Mess,” but are you ready for the "Denny Debacle"?

Key city planners acknowledged Thursday that Seattle has done little planning to ease congestion in the South Lake Union corridor and the site of a mega project planned by Amazon.

The company has broken ground on a new complex in the Denny Triangle area, which when complete will include 3.3 million square feet in office space and house 10,000 employees.

However, an independent traffic analysis, which was part of the permitting process, showed the planned site is surrounded by congested intersections and will only get worse by 2020 with the new construction.

The report by Heffron Construction graded intersections like Lenora and 7th, Westlake and 7th, Denny and 6th, and Denny and Aurora, as an “F.”  The report says the wait times will only be extended for drivers through those intersections and a handful of others.  The report was submitted when Amazon was seeking a Master Use permit to build the complex, and the Seattle Department of Planning and Development granted it.

"(There is) incredible gridlock at the end of the working day," said Seattle City Councilman Tom Rasmussen, who acknowledged the lack of planning for the Transit and Transportation impacts in the Denny Triangle.  The traffic flows are expected to also be impacted by the tunnel on Highway 99, which will dump cars out on Dexter Avenue.

Erin Maher owns the Row House Cafe in the South Lake Union neighborhood.  Her building, which was built in 1904, is now at the nexus of old and new Seattle.

"It's a wonderful thing. It'll be interesting to see how we get through it," said Maher.

She says her business, near Republican, was cut off from traffic for a year on one day’s notice, and that city leaders have had trouble communicating their long term plan for the ever evolving neighborhood.
"The guys on the street need to carry it through," said Maher.

Bryan Stevens, spokesperson for DPD, says Amazon and the city have already made small plans for the opening of the complex in the Denny Triangle.

"Re-timing traffic signals near the Amazon development is expected to substantially improve operations at nearby intersections, including those projected to operate at LOS F.  As a permit condition, each Amazon project is required to pay for a portion of the signal timing modifications.  The City is working to finalize a trip reduction plan with Amazon, aimed at reducing the number of single occupancy vehicles and encouraging transit use," wrote Stevens by email. "The City reviewed traffic flow, trip reductions methods and will adjust turning lanes and signalization to improve efficiency of traffic once the project is completed."

Amazon spokesperson Ty Rogers also said by email "Amazon is building a dedicated cycle track to make it easier for employees and others to ride their bikes safely into downtown, Amazon is purchasing and funding operations of a fourth streetcar, and Amazon is working with the city on other road and bike lane improvements in the Denny Triangle area. Also, our urban campus allows employees to live nearby and walk, bike or ride the bus to work."

But no one is talking about road improvements, or helping ease traffic flow on the major east-west corridor connecting Capitol Hill, Downtown, and the Magnolia neighborhood.

"There is some money for changing signals and improving the flow of traffic, or signalization, but we may have to find more money for long term solutions," acknowledged Rasmussen.