By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Deb Greer and Karen Berge, founders of the West Seattle Block Watch Captains’ Network, launched its first meeting of 2014 by announcing proudly that WSBWCN is starting its fifth year.
They have always noted that you don’t have to be a captain, or even a Block Watch member, to attend, and in fact, about a third of the ~15 attendees said they were not – though some were getting ready to organize one. Others, meantime, identified themselves as longtime captains.
Also on hand for the meeting in the Southwest Precinct‘s meeting room: The precinct’s current top two leaders, new commander Captain Pierre Davis and Operations Lt. Ron Smith.
Capt. Davis told the group that Block Watches are the first step to “helping us catch the bad guys” and that the setup here in West Seattle is “second to none,” a “true partnership.” Lt. Smith echoed the appreciation and reiterated, “If you see something suspicious, report it.”
Centerpiece of the meeting was an appearance by Stephen Padua of SDOT, talking about the city’s Neighborhood Traffic Operations program – making clear he’s taking about neighborhood streets, not arterials. (Volume defines which streets are arterials and which are not – there’s a different process for arterials.)
He showed examples of how streets’ appearance make them more conducive to speeding – wide straightaways, for example.
The concerns they address, according to Padua:
Traffic calming is a two-phase process – though SDOT hopes they don’t have to get to phase 2:
#1 – Education, enforcement, community involvement/support
#2 – If that doesn’t work, “engineered measures”
For starters, they’ll loan you and your neighbors a radar gun, so that, with training, you can record what neighborhood traffic/speeding is like. You can also get signs to put up in your neighborhood – you’ve probably seen those “Respect Our Streets/Slow Down” signs.
The radar speed study might be followed by the portable radar-speed trailer, if speeds already are at least 7 miles above the speed limit.
Traffic circles and speed humps are the types of calming measures that might follow – citywide, there are 2,000 traffic circles and 300 speed humps, according to Padua. Chicanes are an option too. Traffic circles cost $25,000-$50,000 and SDOT is only budgeted for about four a year, he said. Others might be built through grants for which neighborhoods can apply – including matching funds – though, Padua said in response to a question, you can’t just raise money and build your own. (Find out more here about the process for requesting one.)
If you want to get all this going for a street in your neighborhood, you have to start the process by attending SDOT’s bi-monthly safety meeting – next one is in March at the Ballard Library (the next one in West Seattle is in November). Then apply for enrollment (find the form here). Participants are eligible for the aforementioned signs, for starters.
A couple of streets were mentioned – 61st south of Alki, which already has traffic circles that an attendee said make things worse, because people speed up between them. That does happen sometimes, Padua acknowledged, while also reminding attendees that “people from anywhere in the city have the right to drive on any street in the city.”
Yes, they do, said another attendee, but “it would make a huge difference” in safety for residents if people driving through that area took 63rd SW instead – it’s wider, for starters.
An ensuing discussion of measures in place turned to the 48th SW speed cushions through Seaview/Genesee, and the perception that they are not effective. Though Padua agreed the speeds on 48th are still faster than they should be, studies have shown the cushions have taken speeds down 3.5 miles an hour.
And physical measures can only go so far.
“You can put five traffic circles on a roadway and people are still going to speed – that’s why we put more of our efforts on enforcement,” he said.
Though it wasn’t Padua’s area of responsibility, talk turned at one point to bus lanes in the Junction/Triangle. One attendee wondered if, should Metro have to go ahead with its cuts, those lanes would be “returned” to other traffic. Padua said that he would be happy to direct those concerned to the right people at SDOT to voice concerns. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
35TH SW SAFETY: Right after the SDOT guest, Deborah Vandermar from the High Point Neighborhood Association spoke to WSBWCN about the 35th SW safety petition – published here earlier today – and mentioned the temporary signs that have gone up in the area as part of a traffic study. (Here is the petition link again.)
The WS Block Watch Captains’ Network meets eight times a year, as noted toward the end of tonight’s meeting, on the fourth Tuesday of the month, 6:30 pm (come earlier to socialize!). On the web, find the group here; on Facebook, find it here.