Collision rates and traffic speeds along Rainier Avenue South were undoubtedly the most important statistics at last night’s SDOT Rainier Avenue Safety Corridor Meeting. However, the most surprising number of the evening was concerning land use. Of the 431 parcels along Rainier Avenue South in Seattle’s Rainier Valley, 70 parcels are vacant. With Seattle-wide commercial vacancy rates around 13%, the vacancy along the Rainier Ave S corridor seems unusually high for a retail/residential corridor.
The question follows: would a road diet improve land use along Rainier Avenue South, reducing the number of vacant and underused parcels? I didn’t find all that much on the subject. This appendix to a research report for Butte County, California was the best lead I could find on the web. It notes that “case studies have shown that downtown corridors that undergo a reduction in lanes or lane widths generally experience an increase in sales and property values while experiencing a decrease in vacancy.”
What impact have road diets had in other parts of Seattle on commercial activity and vacancy rates? Could similar results be expected in Columbia City and the Rainier Valley? Does the city consider land use impacts and the potential for increased tax revenue when making corridor improvements? And how does building economic opportunity factor into this kind of decision-making?
According to SDOT’s presentation last night, they will be approaching businesses along the corridor to get their input and criteria concerning access and road use of Rainier Avenue. This is a smart approach and I think may help amplify the conditions that support land use patterns that amplify commercial opportunity and greater quality of life.