During the first decade of the present century, the artist, designer, and psychogeographer Christian Nold biomapped urban areas using a Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) device, which combined two technologies: the cellphone and the lie detector (polygraph). A person wore the device as they walked around the city. In certain areas the person would feel calm, in other places the person would feel distressed, and so on. The GSR would gather and transmit this information to a computer that then visualized an emotional map of the person's walk.
The important part of the art/research project was to fuse the visual-emotional maps of several pedestrians to produce a social-emotional map of the city. This way of thinking is called emotional cartography (or psychogeorgraphy), and in this post I use it to name the worst streets in Seattle. These are zones of experience that sharply increase, as an aggregate, those awful negative feelings.
Number One: Rainier Avenue
Transportation activists share my deep hatred of this very dangerous street. Seattle Greenways named it the worst in town "hands down."
Katie Wilson, the head of the Transit Riders Union, said that she and some of the members of her organization were of one mind when it came to Rainier: bad, bad, bad. And one of the members, Michaela Barrett, had this to say about that street the city has totally failed to tame:
Rainier is a pretty safe bet for being bad. A transit and pedestrian-rich strip that drivers treat like an expressway while simultaneously darting in and out of streetside parking. I dislike crossing it (especially outside the relatively-calmed Columbia City historical district) and you couldn’t pay me to bike it.
27 minutes after clearing one collision on Rainier Avenue, another collision on Rainier Avenue. #fixrainier https://t.co/3PBO258RZu pic.twitter.com/FSd3MVdUYZ
— Ryan Packer (@typewriteralley) June 7, 2021
This street hits the top of every dangerous list I can think of. According to a comprehensive 2019 analysis by Peter Johnson for Seattle Transit Blog, Rainier is up there with "Aurora, 45th Avenue North, Lake City Way Northeast, California Avenue Southwest, and Delridge Way Southwest" as the most "dangerous places to walk" in our city. Rainier and Highway 99 have the most dangerous "intersections and blocks." Johnson concludes that "Rainier is dangerous for its entire length. Highway 99 is especially bad on the Aurora Bridge." (Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom has written about Aurora Bridge madness.)
Pike Place at Pike Place Market: Ground Zero for the War on Cars
Few things in the transportation universe are stupider than the right granted to ordinary cars to access the short stretch of street in Pike Place Market. And it seems no one in the city can do or cares to do anything about something that is so obviously obnoxious. The street should be for service vehicles and pedestrians only. But, year after year, cars enter it and make their astounding stupidity known to all. If the "war on cars" can't even win Pike Place, Mr. Zimbabwe, then what does that say about the rest of the city?
What About North Seattle?
The transportation activist Ryan Packer rightly names 15th Ave NW as definitely one of the worst streets in this part of town. To understand why, he points to its intersection with Northwest Leary Way. Anyone who knows a thing or two about this intersection and 15th Avenue feels nothing but horror at the fact that they will probably be dead by the time Link arrives in Ballard. (It's slated for the year of Buck Rogers, or something like that.) But the king of bad streets in north Seattle goes to Aurora, "since [according to Packer] it kills 2-3 people per year."
We Must, of Course, Mention the Nightmare That Is Denny Way
In a direct message on Twitter, the Seattle Bike Blog said this of Denny Way:
This street, which, at rush hour is jam-packed with drivers who are mad beyond belief, radicalized Ryan Parker. It made him "a transportation advocate."
It’s a diagonal street that breaks the grid, so it’s the most direct route for so many trips, but it prioritizes cars over everyone else in every way. The 8 is always late, the crosswalks are long, the sidewalks are skinny, and biking is terrifying. And it sucks to drive because it’s always backed up (surely the fault of a bike lane somewhere).
Shall We End With MLK Way?
Seattle Times' reliable transportation reporter Mike Lindblom named Martin Luther King Jr Way as a street worth hating—though it is named after a very peaceful man. Why? Because it "has generated more than 100 train-involved crashes, because it's unAmerican to close even one of the 28 grade crossings."