Changes coming for commuters on Aurora Avenue

SEATTLE -- It's peak time for summer produce - ripe for business at the Jones Farms stand near Aurora Avenue and 73rd Street near Green Lake.

If you ask customer Chris Diorio, however, he'll tell you that while his purchase may be sweet, getting here leaves a sour taste.

"It's pretty bad," said Diorio, a Seattle resident who drives Aurora daily. "If they want to keep people off the residential streets, they need to make this road flow."

Making Aurora Avenue flow better, faster, quicker is the city's goal with changes coming to the road next month.

Starting September 8, the right-hand lane on both the northbound and southbound sides will become Business Access and Transit, or BAT, lanes during the morning and evening commutes. The city is installing the lanes along Aurora between N. 38th and N. 115th streets.

"This project is actually going to help both automobiles and transit," said Jonathan Dong, senior transit planer with the Seattle Department of Transportation. "It's going to provide the transit-only lane and that's going to help reduce the travel time, and it's going to also improve general purpose vehicles because we're installing signal optimization and transit signal priority."

"It seems like it's possible that people will get so frustrated by the traffic, maybe they'll ride the bus more," said Susannah Anderson of Beacon Hill, who estimated she rides the bus about 95 percent of the time. "(But) if I were in a car in all of this, I'd just be fit to be tied."

That sentiment was shared by Slawek Pyelasinski, who works at produce stand and says his business is directly impacted by how easily cars can access it.

"It kills the business. For people here on the line, if they're not coming through, they will not come to your lots," Pyelasinski said. "I talked to the 7-11. I talked to the Shell guys, and they have a drop in volume. If anything's been done with the third line, the business drops."

"We have to pay taxes. We have to make a living," he said.

"Yes, the drivers are not going to be able to use the curb lane during the am and pm peak periods but we are trying to make this a better option for people using transit," countered Dong. "Hopefully then more people are going to use transit which will take more cars off the road."

The cost of the project - about $600,000 - is covered by a federal grant. While the BAT lanes take effect on Sept. 8th, five blocks - along southbound Aurora, between N. 77th and N. 72nd streets - will only be active during the morning commute, city planners said, because parking in the area needs further evaluation.

"Time will tell (how it goes)," added Diorio. "It doesn't seem to have worked in other areas so I don't think it's going to work here as well."