Story and photo by Christopher Boffoli
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
At Tuesday night’s Junction Neighborhood Organization meeting: Information from SDOT on the implementation of the West Seattle Junction on-street parking changes (as well as discussion of some wider transportation issues), updates on the status of Junction Plaza Park, and a plug for West Seattleites to attend upcoming Southwest District Council meetings.
The meeting began with a presentation by Danté Taylor, Associate Transportation Planner for SDOT, who gave a brief review of the Junction parking study completed last year.
Though they did find that particular streets did have high utilization rates, the majority of the streets around the Junction are used for short stays of less than three hours. So the area did not meet the minimum standards for an RPZ (Restricted Parking Zone). However, SDOT did decide to tweak restrictions slightly by amending parking time limits in a few places adjacent to businesses and community spaces. This will convert some current 1-hour zones to 2 hours. And it will add new 2-hour limits where none existed before. The changes will take effect in coming months.
Taylor said the goal was to help to steer short-term parking off residential streets and that the effort represents a compromise. “It is always a challenge to find a solution that both businesses and residents are both happy with,” he says. “But it is important for people to know that there is some flexibility with this plan. We want to see how it works and we will be checking back in six months to gather input about how the changes are working.”
A SDOT brochure on the parking changes was recently mailed out. And Taylor says they will be letting people know soon about a more precise implementation timeline and when they will actually change the signs. He also noted that the new 7 am to 6 pm restrictions in some residential areas were designed with residents in mind as the limits are not in effect by the time most people arrive home. And though some residential street parkers may not leave for work as early as 7 am, due to the 2-hour limit their cars wouldn’t have to be moved until 9am.
JuNO President Erica Karlovits asked Taylor, and his colleague SDOT Strategic Adviser Margo Polley, also present at the meeting, if Mayor McGinn’s recent move to ease parking restrictions along the light rail line might be a harbinger of policy changes that would affect Junction area neighborhoods. In particular, Karlovits wondered if the new mayor would maintain Mayor Nickels’ moratorium on adding new Park & Ride lots in West Seattle. Taylor said the SDOT has had no indication thus far that Mayor McGinn would seek to amend that policy.
Karlovits had opposed a Park & Ride plan that had been discussed as a possibility in a now defunct proposal for a large apartment building at 4515 41st Ave SW. But Karlovits qualified her statements by saying that she sees potential opportunities for Park & Ride locations, even on temporary basis, with currently empty lots in the Triangle area. She said, “I think there is potential for those empty lots to alleviate commuter traffic issues.”
Karlovits wondered if the city could find a way to proactively start a conversation with the landowners as, despite risk and liability issues, the lots are already zoned commercial and there is revenue potential. But Taylor questioned whether the city is the appropriate party to catalyze that conversation and added that Park & Ride facilities are generally “…not good neighbors for residential neighborhoods.” Karlovits articulated her concerns regarding the upcoming RapidRide buses, saying that their presence will create huge challenges for Junction neighborhoods and that she does not see them as an effective solution. She said she had heard rumors about a Park & Ride that was already in place in White Center and wondered if it would be a site worth studying.
Polley rounded out the discussion on the RPZ study by telling the group that the city is indeed “feeling the impacts and growing pains” of parking issues in the Junction area but that “curb space is precious.” In reference to JuNO’s longtime advocacy for an RPZ for Junction-area neighborhoods, Polley said that the SDOT is essentially data driven. “We have criteria that we simply cannot fudge,” she says, “and in fact, recent decisions by the City Council have made the process even more stringent.” She explained that the essence of RPZ’s is that they are very restrictive of public rights of way and that the City has an interest in making sure that curb space is regulated appropriately. “Current data does not support an RPZ, “ she added, “But when it does we will be back.”
Karlovits said that she is sometimes frustrated by the quality of communications between neighborhood groups and City Hall on transportation policy issues. She said, “As a neighborhood we’re always trying to look ahead, anticipating infrastructure needs and necessary changes, but city policies often seem limited to being reactive and always barely catching up with growth.” Polley expressed optimism in the new mayor’s request for transportation policy review which has been fast-tracked to happen in the next 30 days. Taylor added, “We’re always open to creative solutions.”
From there the discussion turned to a recent announcement by Metro that this year they are considering the replacement of electric buses with diesel hybrid vehicles. Initial studies have indicated that the upfront costs of the latter are considerably lower than the electric buses. But Karlovits distributed a fact sheet that was prepared by
Jonathan Dong (of SDOT) and distributed at the SW District Council
meeting last week (WSB coverage here), indicating that, despite higher costs per vehicle, the electric buses offer a number of advantages over diesel hybrids. These advantages include longer operating life, quieter operation, double the energy efficiency of internal combustion buses, an energy source that is 100% carbon neutral, and better torque for hill climbing and operation in inclement weather.
Though West Seattle currently has no electric bus routes, Karlovits said that Dong has asked the SW District Council to get the word out to West Seattle neighborhoods to encourage citizens to urge Metro to consider more than just the upfront cost benefit before making a decision in 2011 before purchasing a new fleet in 2013-14. Dong distributed a short questionnaire (posted in the WSB Forums) and has asked anyone willing to participate in his informal survey to please e-mail him at the address provided.
Turning to discussion of the Junction Plaza Park project, Karlovits said that planning work is proceeding along swiftly. She and other neighborhood advocates working on the park have recently reviewed the plans with landscape designer Karen Kiest, and Karlovits said those plans are now 95% complete. They will be presented to the City for approval tomorrow.
They are in the process of finalizing private donor recognition and expect the work to be put out to bid by the end of this month. The group is hoping the bids will come in under what has been budgeted which will allow them to upgrade elements such as better pavers, increased lighting and various other landscape features. Though the City requires much of the work to be performed by qualified contractors, Friends of Junction Plaza Park will be organizing a planting day to provide the community with an opportunity to come together to do much of the actual planting.
But much work must be done before that point. Major drainage and electrical work will need to be done at the site. And SDOT will be funding sidewalk modifications and upgrades. Karlovits says the work can begin as soon as the bids are finalized. Though she had no exact date she did say “to expect to see activity at the park soon.” She says that she has asked the Parks Department to have the bulk of the work done before the start of West Seattle Summer Fest so that there aren’t pedestrian safety issues as there were last year with the sidewalks along the south side of QFC being closed, forcing people to walk in the street. Karlovits did say that a decision has not yet been made as to whether it would be more prudent to delay final plantings at the park until after West Seattle Summer Fest to avoid the potential risk of having nascent plants trampled.
Finally, Karlovits closed the meeting by encouraging anyone who is able to attend upcoming Southwest District Council meetings, which are held the first Wednesday of each month, from 7-9 pm, in the President’s Board Room at South Seattle Community College (WSB sponsor). She co-chairs the SWDC and says citizen participation will be more important than ever this year as the Council will be focusing on the issue of neighborhood planning. The February meeting will provide an overview and history of the neighborhood planning process. The following monthly meetings for March, April and May will be devoted to a closer look at Admiral, Morgan, and Alaska Junction issues, respectively, followed by a joint meeting in June between the Southwest and Delridge District Councils.
Karlovits says that, though each neighborhood has its own issues, there are many parts of the neighborhood plans that interconnect. She adds, “This is a great opportunity to educate our community about the neighborhood planning process before we begin to seek resources from within the community (eg. architects, urban planners, etc.) to guide us.”
The initiative will re-write and modernize existing neighborhood plans which were last updated in the late 1990’s. One example of what is “broken” with the current neighborhood plans, says Karlovits, is existing zoning regulations; principally how transitions between residential and commercial buildings are managed. “Right now there’s a half-block transition and it just isn’t enough,” she says.
Furthermore, Karlovits says that Junction Neighborhood design guidelines were adopted as policy with the last plan but that developers are not held to them. “A lot of work went into those design guidelines but there is no teeth in their enforcement. There is also a big disconnect between the Department of Planning and Development (DPD), the SDOT and neighborhood organizations. There’s really not enough communication about problems, especially with issue of growth,” she says. “Though I do think there are a lot of possible solutions.”
Karlovits says that one of the goals of the Southwest District Council will be to develop talking points about the various neighborhoods in the district in order to have something to provide for visiting city officials. “We want to distill what we think are all of the things that are most essential about our neighborhoods.”
Ending on a positive note, and perhaps providing a reminder of the potential benefits of a refreshed neighborhood plan, Karlovits says that the real success stories of the old plans in West Seattle have been in preserving public space and parks. “Even the landscape designer for the Junction Plaza Park recently commented on how it is one of the only projects she has worked on in which the citizens were able to raise so much in private money for a city park.”
Junction Neighborhood Organization meets every other month, 2nd Tuesday.