Changes on Mercer Street draw praise, criticism

SEATTLE -- One of Seattle's busiest intersections has a new traffic restriction, and it has some drivers worried that it will make the Mercer Mess even messier.

The Seattle Department of Transportation is banning right-turns from southbound Dexter Avenue onto westbound Mercer Drive. The city says it's a direct reaction to several close calls between drivers and cyclists in the bike lane at the Dexter-Mercer intersection.

"We were seeing too many instances of drivers failing to yield the right of way to cyclists. In fact, that resulted in two collisions on Tuesday alone," said SDOT spokesman Rick Sheridan.

From SDOT's mouth to our eyes -- today we watched as a biker narrowly escaped the crush of a heavy truck as the driver made an illegal right turn from Dexter to Mercer.

"I've almost bought the farm a couple times," said Kegan, who commutes by bike from Ballard to Belltown every weekday.

Kegan said motorist making right hand turns into his bike lane is one of his biggest worries.

"You've got to be very careful," he said. "I watch out for me, I watch for other bikers and I watch out for drivers."

On Tuesday when two bikers were hit in the Mercer and Dexter bike lane, SDOT had seen enough and made an immediate decision to ban right hand turns from Dexter Southbound to Mercer Westbound. Good for bicyclist, but another traffic bump for drivers already dealing with construction congestion.

"It seemed like it was too much of a knee jerk reaction. I don't want people hurt, but maybe there is another way?" said lex Perez, who lives near the corner of Mercer and 5th Avenue.

"It's not necessarily about being impulsive, it's about seeing a pattern of driver behavior that needed an immediate response," said Sheridan.

He admits the ban is a inconvenience for motorists, but says it's necessary and temporary -- drivers only have to endure this new traffic restriction for about another year. The Mercer Corridor construction project is expected to wrap up in late 2015.

"Every time I'm in a car and I'm coming up on this (Mercer Street and Dexter Avenue) I still get this feeling of dread, because you sit there forever," said Brian, who quit driving a few years ago, but still endures the traffic as a passenger. "It was the right decision, probably definitely going to help from keeping you getting hit."

The Cascade Bicycle Club applauds SDOT's decision. On its website it reminded visitors of the bicyclist lost on Seattle streets, including the death of Michael Wang, a father who was the victim of hit and run driver. He died in 2011.

Sheridan said his department made the right-turn ban decision on its own, and has authority to do that when it comes to public safely. It's not a rare move, but Sheridan admits it's uncommon.