(From the RapidRide C Line route map)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
That’s what the businesses’ proprietors warn could happen if the forthcoming Metro RapidRide “C Line” takes away Avalon Way street parking nearby – as is currently planned – a risk they say is even more dire in their area than in The Triangle, where related fears have surfaced.
The Luna Park district merchants have been talking with Metro over the past few months, without convincing them to preserve the parking, so now they’re taking their concerns to the community at large. Wednesday morning, we were invited to sit in on their monthly merchants’ meeting, which also included businesspeople dealing with related RapidRide-parking-removal concerns in The Triangle, as well as three county reps.
The meeting packed the back section of Luna Park Café, with about a dozen businesspeople, including three from The Triangle (which has voiced its own RapidRide concerns) as well as West Seattle Chamber of Commerce board chair Jerome Cohen (whose law office is in the heart of The Junction). They discussed their concerns for about 20 minutes before three county delegates started arriving – transportation specialist Chris Arkills from King County Executive Dow Constantine‘s office, and Jack Lattemann and Paul Roybal from Metro. (Another government representative was there, Christine Alar from SDOT.)
The major concern for the merchants along Avalon Way, just south of the West Seattle Bridge is this: The RapidRide bus service, scheduled to replace the 54 in September 2012, is supposed to have a dedicated lane heading northbound down Avalon to the bridge. Though there had been some community sentiment to route it along Fauntleroy, the King County Council approved the Alaska-to-35th-to-Avalon-to-The-Bridge route two years ago, and as was noted today, it would take a vote by six of the nine councilmembers to change that.
To create the bus lane along Avalon, the street parking across Avalon from the Luna Park businesses would go away.
“We’ll be an island,” declared Avalon Glassworks’ Shannon Felix as the meeting began, “if that access is gone. … This (neighborhood) is going to revert to what it was 20 years ago.”
“I’m really nervous right now,” the block’s major landowner, John Bennett, picked up from there. “We need to build up our defenses and get a plan going … That’s 80 percent of my parking.” He turned to the proprietors of Avalon, the new restaurant taking over the former Café Revo on the block. “You’ll be out of business before you even start,” Bennett warned them. Later, he and others pointed out the small business district already has barely enough spaces to deal with their needs: “If anything, we want MORE parking” (than currently exists).
Bennett had invited another journalist to the gathering, Seattle Times columnist Nicole Brodeur, and noted that his acquaintance with her dated back to a battle in another neighborhood where he has significant holdings, Georgetown, over location of a transfer station there (here’s a column from 2006), a community campaign in which he recalled learning that just saying you don’t want something isn’t good enough.
It was revealed during the meeting that Metro has been meeting with the merchants’ group for several months – this was the sixth meeting, the county reps pointed out. However, Avalon Glassworks’ Felix told us afterward that every alternative the merchants proposed was ultimately shot down.
During the back-and-forth of the meeting, while the Metro reps said they would “take a look at (the situation) again,” there were no promises. Executive’s office rep Arkills said that the issue of changing the route from Avalon to Fauntleroy would be difficult to say the least, and, he observed that Fauntleroy had been found to have other problems as a potential route, including a lack of connectivity with the much-used transfer point at 35th/Avalon.
The business owners stressed they weren’t opposed to buses or even RapidRide. Said Bennett, “We all agree we need rapid transit – but if we’re going to do this, why don’t we do it right?” He went on to suggest that would mean above-grade or underground transit, rather than buses, and briefly lamented the loss of the once-planned monorail.
That’s unrealistic, suggested Metro’s Lattemann, after Patrick North of Mary North Travel in The Triangle suggested that business closures resulting from parking loss in his district and Luna Park would lead to “blight.” Lattemann said, “I disagree about blight. We’re heading into a future where we simply have to rely less on cars. This [RapidRide] is the biggest transit improvement that West Seattle is going to see this generation. There’s no money for light rail [etc.] …” Lattemann suggested that ultimately, RapidRide would be a boon for Luna Park businesses: “This area will be known as one of the areas that’s easy to get to by bus.”
The county delegation did offer one alternative they said would preserve 15 parking spaces: Eliminating the left-turn lane between Yancy and Bradford. They acknowledged that still means drivers would have a block-long hike to the major Luna Park businesses. They also suggested another look to see if every possible parking space already had been squeezed out of the streets on the west side of Avalon (Bennett insisted there’s nothing left to squeeze, and “we’re already short parking NOW”).
Also discussed: Could the left-turn lane be completely removed? No, said SDOT’s Alar, since their studies indicated that would increase crashes about 30 percent. What about making the bus lane weekdays only, or even morning rush hour only (given that’s the time the buses would need to jump the northbound to-the-bridge queue to truly resemble “rapid”)? Neither generated much enthusiasm among the business owners, with morning being busy for both Luna Park Café’s breakfast business and vital to Java Bean’s coffee business. Not that either would necessarily work for the county’s goals, either, Metro reps warned; they ultimately said a new traffic/parking analysis would be in order, since the one used to draw up the current plan was done in 2007.
Adding insult to injury, in the businesses’ view, is the fact there’s no RapidRide stop planned in their area – the nearest one is uphill at Yancy (stops are marked with circles on the route map). According to Roybal, that’s so the people living in the high-density residential area centered on Avalon/Genesee can choose either to head toward Yancy, or in the other direction toward 35th. It was also confirmed that RapidRide isn’t stopping by the Park-and-Ride lot under the West Seattle Bridge, either, which led to some head-scratching. And a sore subject from the past briefly re-emerged – the 2007 removal of the crosswalk by Java Bean.
The meeting ran an hour and a half, with no resolution at the end. Avalon Glassworks’ Felix told WSB afterward that she hasn’t given up hope yet, saying the meeting represented a bit of progress. “I didn’t even think [the county reps] would come.” But she’s also not viewing their attendance through, shall we say, rose-colored glass, contending they have only “given us lip service” to previously proposed alternatives.
She also reiterated that the Luna Park businesses face a different challenge than those in The Triangle, where there is access from multiple directions – for her district, however Avalon goes, they go. (And indeed, regarding The Triangle, Metro’s Roybal said that recent discussions had indicated they might be able to get by without a bus lane between 35h and Fauntleroy after all – design for that area is just beginning.)
NEXT STEPS: The Metro reps promised to pursue a new traffic analysis, and to keep coming to the Avalon merchants’ meetings. The merchants, for their part, suggested a show of force at Mayor McGinn’s West Seattle town-hall meeting/community forum tonight (6 pm, Youngstown Cultural Arts Center) to voice their concerns on a larger stage. Asked what else they could do, Arkills suggested they could set up meetings with individual County Council members. Another meeting regarding RapidRide concerns in The Triangle is planned in January, with both merchants and residents. Meanwhile, construction of the Rapid Ride facilities – including bus stops and shelters – is scheduled to start next year, with the C Line service itself launching in September 2012; the county has said it will convene a new series of West Seattle public meetings next year to talk about what other Metro service changes might be in order once RapidRide is running.