From Denny Way to North 145th Street where Seattle borders Shoreline, Aurora Avenue is an eight-mile ribbon of asphalt, dotted with over 500 businesses. On Aurora, you can find cheap motels, used car lots, burger drive-throughs, and dozens of auto repair shops and nail salons.

Faye Garneau, executive director of the Aurora Avenue Merchants Association, has a second-floor office in the middle of that strip, at 100th and Aurora, on top of a Futon Factory outlet. From her perch, she can see for blocks in either direction.

Garneau is practically the queen of Aurora. Her throne is a massive desk, which is covered in paperwork, files, civic awards, and family photos. Smoking Salem 100 cigarettes, she talks about the old days--the late '80s, when she helped found the merchants' association, and even chased down johns in her own car. ("I'm Greek," she explains. "We get carried away with things.")

Lately Garneau, an energetic brunette nearing retirement, is turning her eye toward the infrastructure of Aurora. She's been studying medians, bus lanes, landscaping, and center turn lanes for the strip (currently a haphazard, car-centric corridor with a retro flavor). But Garneau isn't trying to get landscaping and bus lanes on Aurora. Instead, she's leading her business organization in a fight against those proposed "fixes."

For the last year, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT)--along with SeaTran, Metro, and the City of Shoreline--has been studying Aurora, which is officially a state highway.

"There are certain locations [on Aurora] that need to be addressed," says Nytasha Sowers, project manager of the Aurora study. "We want to keep it moving and make it safe." WSDOT's goal is to cut down on accidents and increase Aurora's traffic flow, but Aurora business owners aren't too happy about the state's proposed plans.

Though the study won't be finished until December, the state has already tossed out ideas that have business owners riled up. WSDOT has discussed replacing the center left-turn lane with a landscaped median, creating bus-only lanes on parts of Aurora, and axing street parking on the south end of the strip. Businesses say the turn lane is essential for store access, bus-only lanes would cut out car-friendly lanes, and small stores depend on street parking for survival.

Garneau would rather not see Aurora as a commuter highway, but wants to keep it as-is: a '50s-style urban strip where merchants greet passing cops and sweep their sidewalks, and cars mean customers. She can, however, envision a few minor improvements. A couple of crosswalks, a sidewalk or two, and safer bus stops would do the trick, she says. "Let's not spend a lot of money foolishly. Just because you graduated from the 'school of urban design' doesn't mean you have all the answers," she says. "The car isn't an enemy, it's a means of transportation."

Clarice Keegan, who's owned a business on or near Aurora for over 10 years, agrees with Garneau's old-school mentality.

"It's quite frustrating," she says. "I think the way that Aurora is now, the way it's functioned for many years, is preferable."

Garneau has organized a letter-writing campaign (similar to the successful one Aurora businesses implemented a few years ago, against a WSDOT plan to put carpool lanes along the length of Aurora), urging business owners to write to WSDOT, SeaTran, and Mayor Greg Nickels. Merchants are telling the government to leave their parking, turn lane, and traffic lanes alone.

WSDOT has gotten 35 of the letters, and heard the merchants' criticism, says Sowers. "The merchants are concerned, and we understand that," she says, stressing that the state's proposals are just recommendations at this point. "We recognize that a lot of the businesses are auto dependent. We're trying to recognize all of the different concerns out there," she says.