Downtown plan may not bring more traffic woes

"This is the fourth story in a series about Federal Way's downtown. On June 7 we told you about the multi-million push the city will start this summer as well as policy decisions on downtown that the Federal Way City Council soon will face.On June 28 we took a look back at how Federal Way's downtown plan came to be.On July 5 we looked at why the area surrounding the SeaTac Mall was chosen for the downtown.On Aug. 2 we'll tell you about what it will take to make the downtown a reality.Have a sayThe Federal Way Mirror welcomes your comments on this series.Contact us by phone at 925-5565, e-mail or write to 1414 S. 324th St., Suite 210, Federal Way, WA, 98003.----------------------It's a familiar sight to anyone who's driven in Federal Way: seemingly endless lines of cars inching their way forward with little or no relief in sight.That, say some, brings worries that a new downtown area along Federal Way's busiest street, South 320th, will mean even more traffic for residents who regularly navigate in and out of town.People who hold that concern should rest easy, says City Manager David Moseley, because the city of Federal Way is preparing now to ease traffic woes in the future.We're making a lot of investments and preparing for that now, Moseley said. The improvements we'll be making will be designed to move traffic through that area better.Those improvements include widening South 320th to three lanes and adding a dual left turn lane onto Pacific Highway South as well as a right turn lane. One of the city's busiest intersections, South 320th and Highway 99, sees about 70,000 cars pass through each day. On average, 6,500 cars travel through in about one hour, says traffic engineer Rick Perez. To help further ease traffic along South 320th, the city is planning to add a dual left turn lane onto 23rd Avenue South, which skirts Center Plaza and Gateway Center.With additions to help move traffic more easily and an attractive downtown where people will want to live and shop, Moseley doesn't see traffic becoming any more of a problem.What we hope is to have more people coming downtown, not just passing through downtown, he said. Right now, all we have is just through traffic. What we want is to draw them to downtown and have them stay. This makes traffic better, he says, because people will drive downtown, park their cars and walk rather than drive through the area to get to another destination that might offer the same things as downtown would. Not everyone shares that optimism.Steve Skipper, a commuter to Federal Way from his home near Enchanted Park, believes a downtown in Federal Way will create traffic headaches that are more painful than today's. This is a bedroom community not a destination point, Skipper said. My destinations are usually outside the city. My concern is that traffic would increase if they try to change the idea of what this area is.And City Councilman Mike Hellickson worries that plans to draw more pedestrians downtown will add to traffic woes.The more people you put downtown the more cars you're going to have, he said. I'd love to see us put money into the roads before we start worrying about building up the downtown.Other city officials disagree, and will not likely abandon their plans for a thriving downtown area. In fact, Moseley said, the city already is planning to encourage more pedestrianism in the downtown core.We'll start by making it more pedestrian friendly, Moseley said of the downtown core. People will walk because there's interesting things to do and see. There will be sidewalk cafes, art galleries. People walk in Seattle and Bellevue because there's interesting things to do.Getting people out of their cars can be a tricky situation if it's not planned properly, says Ellis McCoy, manager of traffic investigations for the city of Portland.You'll want to put amenities to attract pedestrians like landscaping and street furniture, McCoy said. Give the pedestrian an advantage.There are ways to manage traffic, McCoy said.The city of Portland, he said, didn't spend money on regional arterial roadways to help ease traffic. Instead it created feeder arterials that connected to major surface streets.If people can't get to downtown effectively then they won't go there, McCoy said. You can create diversions around traffic or create modern round-abouts that manage higher volumes than traffic signals.Moseley admits Federal Way's one-turn lanes impede traffic. That's why he supports creating two left turn lanes rather than one in some of the city's high volume intersections.At South 320th and Highway 99 for example, two turn lanes will more than double the amount of vehicles traveling through the intersection from 300 to 600 an hour.These and other traffic fixes, says Perez, will likely help move vehicles along.There's a perception that it's worse here than other cities in the Puget Sound region, Perez said. I don't think that's the case. On average, I don't think we have any worse traffic conditions than other cities in the area."

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