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Locals resent drivers who go a Waze to avoid jams

Thursday, January 18, 2018by  Jon Osterberg

Driver uses in-dash navigation app to avoid trafficMore and more, apps like Google Maps and Waze are routing frustrated drivers from congested arterials onto residential shortcuts, which isn't always good.

Consider the residents. Often those shortcuts weave through once-quiet neighborhoods, now noisy with traffic that blocks their driveways and poses danger to kids playing outdoors. It's a problem everywhere, from clogged East Coast metropolises to soggy Northwest cities and towns.

In New Jersey, one community is closing 60 streets during morning and evening rush hour to all drivers aside from residents and local employees.

Personally, I haven't witnessed increased congestion in my Redmond neighborhood, but I live off of an arterial that's been busy for years.

Young kids play in the street in a residential neighborhoodMy colleagues see short-cutters crowding their neighborhoods. One lives on Greenwood near Northgate, the other on 119th Avenue N.E. in Kirkland. Drivers are avoiding Kirkland's 124th, an often-jammed arterial, and using 119th instead to access I-405.

I wonder if lower speed limits will dissuade some drivers from taking residential shortcuts?

In September, Seattle dropped its speed limits from 30 to 25 mph on city arterials and from 25 to 20 mph on residential streets. Yesterday, Portland did likewise, dropping its residential speed limit to 20 mph. In the Rose City, residential streets make up about 70% of the entire grid.

If you're stuck in traffic on an arterial, and your navigation app suggests a shortcut through nearby neighborhoods, might you balk if your shortcut traverses a 20-mph zone instead of 25? Might you stick it out on the arterial?

According to Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State Transportation Center at the University of Washington, residents might face less inconvenience in Seattle neighborhoods than in other communities. That's my takeaway from his interview published in the July 2017 Here & Now.

Roundabout in a Seattle residential neighborhood"If you're in Seattle, Seattle leads the nation in traffic circles to prevent people from diving through neighborhoods very quickly," Hallenbeck said. "The speeds that people travel are slow. Waze, Google, capture that slow data and say, 'Wow, that road's pretty slow. We're not going to send you that way. It's better to stay on the main arterial even though it's going to be three lights.'"

So score one for roundabouts, the objects of scorn in many Northwest lunch table conversations.

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