Just back from the contentious Alki Community Center meeting where SDOT briefed community members on two options for completing the segmented sidewalk on the north side of Alki Ave from the west end of Alki Beach Park to the spot where the unbroken sidewalk picks up again just south of Alki Point. Most of the residents along the affected stretch of Alki Ave want to keep the status quo, which the city says is not an option; at the end of the meeting, after one attendee said “What would it take to just stop this process?” and Sandra Woods from SDOT said she couldn’t answer that, neighbor Charles Turbak announced he’s starting an opposition group with the goal of hiring a lawyer to stop the project. Stand by for more details from the meeting. ADDED 11:22 PM: Here are those details:
That’s one of several fairly rudimentary PowerPoint slides shown tonight – photos marked up with blue lines, pink lines, and more. That one is part of the proposal — as we first reported here in early February, when neighbor opposition first led SDOT to revise the Alki sidewalk plan, its managers decided to look at ways to more clearly mark 63rd/Alki as a “turn here” spot — what you see above is a proposal for realigned crosswalks, signage (hard to see from the aerial view), and narrowing the entrance to Alki Ave west of 63rd.
One more radical proposal for that stretch of Alki Ave seemed to be dead in the water before tonight’s meeting was even over — Woods showed a rough proposal that would make it a one-way street, heading clockwise/northeastward from the north end of Beach Drive; under that proposal, drivers heading west on Alki Ave would be forced to turn left at 63rd and head over to Beach to reconnect with Alki. Woods stressed she was only floating the idea because it had come up as a suggestion during her conversations with area residents in recent weeks, and hadn’t seriously studied it; she asked for a show of hands on the idea and it didn’t gain much traction, so she indicated it wouldn’t go any further.
What will go forward, beyond tonight’s meeting, is a lot murkier. First a little backstory: As recently departed Alki Community Council trustee Gary Ogden explains (and tried to explain again to the angry crowd tonight), closing the sidewalk gaps on the west side of Alki Avenue around Alki Point is a project that community leaders had been trying for 12 years to get the city to fund. Finally last year, as we first reported in September (WSB coverage here), the project made the list of Neighborhood Street Fund projects the city might fund – our September report pointed out that the city was offering an online survey where residents could have a say on which projects advanced in the process.
After that survey was done, we reported last November that the mayor recommended funding for the sidewalk plan (along with another West Seattle project). In December, we heard from an area resident concerned about possible effects of the project. Over the next month, neighborhood opposition gathered steam, and in mid-January (WSB coverage here) a large, upset crowd of neighbors appeared at an Alki Community Council meeting to try to get a resolution passed; main problem at the time, most of them weren’t voting members of the ACC (any resident can join; online signup/payment is available). Then in February came word the city was pulling back on its first draft of a plan, adding 63rd “traffic calming,” and planning to present options at a community meeting (the one held tonight).
Major concerns voiced previously by residents along the north side of Alki included fears they would lose parking spaces that currently exist where a sidewalk would go, and also lose existing landscaping. Woods’ presentation tonight indicated that city engineers have worked as hard as they can to minimize parking loss and to come up with a plan that doesn’t take away any existing landscaping.
She started her presentation with some numbers — more than half of the nearly half-mile stretch, 1220 feet total, already has sidewalks, and they go in front of 62 percent of the residences in the area. She said only about 10 existing parking spaces would be lost, more than half of them in the southernmost stretch of the project, right around Alki Point. She explained a dizzying array of ways the added sidewalk stretches would be built without disrupting most of the existing parking configurations.
And then the concerns flew fast and furious. What about bicyclists? “The sidewalk will be raised, so they should stay on the street,” said Woods. “You wish!” somebody hissed.
Concerns about the safety of visitors not following the rules was a frequent theme — bikers, skateboarders, just plain gawkers. And speeders too, one attendee noted, saying: “The good thing about the mess we have now is that it slows everybody down – it’s kind of a good thing.”
Why not just improve the sidewalk on the other side of the street? came a voice. “We’re trying to create the links between the existing stretches of sidewalk,” explained Woods. “Why not just remove those stretches altogether, then?” asked a man, and applause erupted.
Then another voice from the back of the room: “People who live there are taking advantage of public property. We woulid like to take advantage of public property — we’re just asking to use the public property.” (That referred to the fact the disputed area is largely in the public right-of-way, with some of the residents’ usage stretching beyond their property lines into that right-of-way.)
And later, a similar question for the neighborhood opponents: “I’m just wondering, what’s your objection if you are not losing landscaping, and losing minimal parking spaces? It seems like the city has bent over backward to accommodate your concerns.”
A voice from the opponents: “Nobody asked us! Nobody came to our door and asked us if we wanted a sidewalk.” That’s when Turbak announced he would take e-mail addresses to form an official opposition group and look into hiring a lawyer. As one more person from the 70-plus-member audience said, “This would steer traffic toward an unsafe area,” Woods made one more try: “People are going to continue to walk (along Alki Ave) toward the lighthouse. This is providing them a safe option.”
By then, she had lost most of the audience; they were gathering around Turbak at the back of the room to sign up for his list.
Next steps: We’ll be checking with the opposition group as well as with the city. April 9 is the deadline Woods gave tonight for the city to receive comment cards that weren’t completed at tonight’s meeting; she says the compilation of those comments should be put together by mid-month, and the project will proceed from there.