Seattle’s transportation system is ‘fragile,’ new SDOT director acknowledges in first West Seattle appearanceSeptember 4, 2014 at 10:23 pm | In Southwest District Council, West Seattle news | 20 Comments
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
“We’re back to it now,” as Southwest District Council co-chair Sharonn Meeks said, launching the SWDC’s first meeting since July. The marquee guest for last night’s meeting: New SDOT director Scott Kubly, about 15 minutes late because he “had a problem with the reliability of the transportation system.”
He noted he’s lived in Seattle all of six weeks, “so I’m very very new to the city” and “learning a lot about it … One of the things that has been really apparent from my first moment on the ground … is that we have a pretty fragile transportation system.” As an example, he mentioned recent incidents, including, locally, the Highway 99 offramp fuel spill. Regarding West Seattle, “there’s very very few ways to get over here,” he observed, “a really challenging geography to work with,” while also acknowledging “it doesn’t take a rocket scientist” (to figure that out).
“I’m sure you guys are going to hit me with a lot of hard questions,” he concluded his introduction, adding, “We all need streets to work for everyone.” First question was from Chas Redmond – who brought a handout to accompany his.
Redmond's beef is dismantled RapidRide station by 35th SW construction project. pic.twitter.com/UcQGePpkpY
— West Seattle Blog (@westseattleblog) September 4, 2014
Redmond brings up the inbound RapidRide station at 35th/Avalon that has been dismantled because of the construction project on the west side of 35th.
(Photo from Redmond’s handout)
He pointed out safety and other issues, and that this is the second busiest transit station in the area, saying, “SDOT and Metro should have seen that this was going to be an indefinite huge impact for a large number of people with no warning. … My question for you is, do you find this acceptable?”
“No,” replied Kubly. He noted sidewalks are shut down because of large construction projects downtown and said, “If a 5-unit project can put up a pedestrian canopy, so can” a large project.
“Please fix this situation,” Redmond – who, like Kubly, is a former DC resident – implored him. The new director promised to look into it. (A few minutes later, attendee Diane Vincent recalls the Design Review meetings for the 35th/Avalon project and says that while the developer talked about moving the bus stop to open up a plaza area once the building is done, they didn’t mention the stop would be dismantled during construction.)
Adding to the issue of dealing with developers, Susan Melrose of the West Seattle Junction Association brought up the difficulty of maintaining promised alley access in the Alaska/California construction zone. “We would appreciate SDOT’s support in maintaining public rights-of-way,” she says.
Junction street congestion was the next issue mentioned, specifically a concern about the west side, Oregon/Glenn vicinity. Then, the bus lanes through The Junction – particularly on Alaska – came up. SWDC co-chair Vlad Oustimovitch brought up RapidRide’s failure to connect to a grid of buses, as more of a “trunk system.”
Next Avalon Way conditions, and an attendee saying they often hear “it’ll get taken care of,” but no followthrough: “I don’t understand how SDOT can see it and not do anything about it.”
Kubly countered that so far he’s impressed with SDOT’s prioritization process for repavings and construction projects, “based on what’s the condition of the pavement, what type of street is it … we tend to focus on heavy transit roads, buses are harder on roads than semis are.” But if someone at SDOT said they’ll do something, and nothing happened, that’s a point of concern, he finishes.
Overall, Kubly acknowledged it’s easy to see why people are frustrated if they’re not getting the service they expect. And he said he’s heard a lot of frustration with developers and thinks it would be wise of them to be “a little bit better neighbors. … If you’re making it impossible for people to get around the city, it’s not going to be long before people have really strong reactions.” (One attendee was heard to murmur something about those “reactions” already happening.)
Invariably, a question about bicycle-safety infrastructure came up, and the perception that “not everyone can get around on a bike.” Kubly pointed out that cities all over the country – not just Seattle – are putting in bicycle infrastructure, mentioning the bike-share program he helped launch in Chicago, and that his parents visited and used it, even though they hadn’t been on bikes in decades. Being in a dedicated lane and feeling safe was a big part of them deciding to ride, he added, saying that infrastructure is vital so that bicycle riding isn’t just for risk-averse “young men.” Protected bike lanes “make it safer for everyone,” not just the bicyclists, he said. He tells an anecdote about a bike lane put in on a street in another city in which he worked, along an 80-foot-wide street. “After the construction was done, and people were seeing that semis are going (more slowly) through our neighborhood, they thought it was a great project.” He thinks bicycle-infrastructure development has become a “lightning rod” for people’s frustration/concern/fear about all kinds of changes.
Co-chair Oustimovitch, who skates along Alki, brought up a concern about Seattle Parks making the trail/path there dangerous by “using it as its service lane” for motorized vehicles that would seem to be easily able to use the street instead.
David Whiting of the Admiral Neighborhood Association brings up the notorious five-way intersection by the low bridge and a tour of it (last year?) that was preceding a design charette to which he said he couldn’t get an invite. A firm was then contracted and – “we’ve heard nothing back” since that meeting February. Kubly says he’ll look into it.
Is anyone at SDOT in charge of West Seattle? Kubly was asked. No, he replies, but he is considering the idea of setting up regional teams.
“We really want you to succeed,” Redmond told him.
The night’s other guest, before Kubly’s arrival, was also from SDOT, speaking about a specific program:
SDOT PLAY STREETS: Jennifer Wieland, who manages SDOT’s “public space” program, came to SWDC to speak about “Play Streets,” one of dozens of programs under her purview. 27 percent of the city’s geography is public right-of-way – streets, planting strips, sidewalks, etc. – she noted as she began. “People want places for lots of different kinds of things … to sit and eat, gather and meeting friends, garden, special activities, and places to play. All of those requests from people fostered the development of this new public-space program at SDOT. … We are really about helping people seize opportunities to use the right-of-way … as a place, recognizing we still need to balance” all the other ways it’s used.
Seattle is not one of the “play streets” cities funded by a program championed by First Lady Michelle Obama, Wieland noted, but the city has launched one and will decide by next summer whether it’s one that works here, or not. “Play Streets are not just for little kids,” she declared.
Applying is free; it’s “100 percent community-led – SDOT is not identifying where there ‘should’ be Play Streets,” she said. Among the applications so far are many afternoons, evenings, weekend proposals. “We do not close the street entirely to traffic” for a Play Street, she says – barricades go up at each end, and volunteers/neighbors need to help make sure residents retain local access.
In West Seattle so far, there’s an application for a recurring one on 51st SW between Charlestown and Andover, twice a month. You get “simple, free signs” if you launch a recurring play street, she added, also saying they’ve had “almost no negative feedback on this program so far” – except for one case where a neighbor was upset about access to her house. To resolve that, according to Wieland, SDOT worked with her and the “play street host.”
“Play streets” are not marked with No Parking signs ahead of time because of the cost, but if a host thinks it’s important, they’ll work with them. Play Street information is communicated to the Fire Department and put into a system that other city departments can access, to know the location, dates, and times.
She mentioned the giant Scrabble tournament held in the street as part of this program, and other things that could be done – badminton, Bocce ball, and more.
NEXT MEETING: 6:30 pm October 1st, SWDC expects to hear from and talk with City Councilmember Sally Clark, who just this week announced plans to work on a “housing strategy” for the city.
FRIDAY AFTERNOON P.S. SDOT director Kubly is now booked for TWO more West Seattle appearances this month – WS Transportation Coalition next Tuesday (September 9th), 6:30 pm, Neighborhood House’s High Point Center; Delridge Neighborhoods District Council on Wednesday, September 17th, 7 pm at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center.
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