Seattle’s transportation system is ‘fragile,’ new SDOT director acknowledges in first West Seattle appearance

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 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.

20 Replies to "Seattle's transportation system is 'fragile,' new SDOT director acknowledges in first West Seattle appearance"

  • swres September 5, 2014 (12:41 am)

    Perhaps one solution to solve many of our traffic woes is to repeal the horrible experiment that got us here in the first place. Perhaps the solution could be an initiative to repeal i-695 and return to what worked for many decades. Now that Tim Eyman is failing miserable perhaps we can start to clean up the mess he has left us with.

  • iggy September 5, 2014 (7:54 am)

    I’m impressed. Initially I was upset that the new SDOT head was not familiar with the Seattle area, but now I’m seeing this as a positive. From the WSB report we got a picture of a man who is looking at West Seattle’s problems with new eyes and is clearly seeing the issues regarding access/egress from West Seattle, Rapid Ride and other Metro issues, etc. So often West Seattle is ignored as “that region across the bridge,” so I am hopeful that we can train/educate/even woo Kubly to become a West Seattle advocate.
    A bit off topic, but related. The other day I was at Westwood around 4:00 pm, and the line of Metro buses continues so far to the west on Barton that it still is blocking the intersection (don’t know the street name) of the street coming from the south. Wall of Buses is still there as a traffic and safety issue.

  • Brian September 5, 2014 (9:06 am)

    And yet nothing about delridge it’s always admiral and the junction.

    • WSB September 5, 2014 (9:10 am)

      Brian, that’s because (a) this was the Southwest District Council (western West Seattle) meeting – I should tag this with a note that we now have confirmation that Kubly will be at the Delridge District Council meeting in two weeks, as will Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, and (b) nobody was there asking questions about Delridge – we published repeated advance notice of this meeting, and the public is always welcome, wherever they’re from.

  • Brian September 5, 2014 (9:13 am)

    Oh that’s good to know the more we come it in numbers the more people Will listen and maybe get more public transit options to west seattle.

  • Robert September 5, 2014 (10:32 am)

    Now that T-5 is pretty much dormant, I wonder if that overhead roadway that connects T5 to the low bridge could somehow be leveraged by regular commuters?

  • wetone September 5, 2014 (11:15 am)

    What I see here is talk about Bicycles, Play Streets ? what does Play Streets have to do with Seattle transportation issues except cost tax payers for people involved with the program ? Buses which are very important, we need a very large park and ride set-up here. Finally Seattle Parks department people driving down the walking/ bike path along Alki, see that almost daily, can’t figure that one out as they have many parking areas on street and why is it at the busiest times ? But where’s the questions about moving motor vehicles in and out and around W/S ? Not one bit of info or any questions asked on moving/improving motor vehicle traffic in/out around W/S. With increased ferry traffic, 5k plus of new people moving into the W/S area from the building boom and anyone that thinks the majority of them won’t own a motor vehicle isn’t living in reality, where are those cars going to park ? adjacent family neighborhoods and around the junction area making it harder for people to get there and spend money. How about commercial vehicle traffic for supplying new shops/retailers, and the biggest problem of all for this area is I-5. If I-5 doesn’t move we don’t either. The new 99 tunnel if ever built will be of no help as it will only be 2 lanes each way, less capacity than today and past. Surprised no one asked Kubly about the recent Spokane St viaduct rebuild with it’s constant ongoing patch work being done by SDOT ? who’s paying for that…..

    • WSB September 5, 2014 (11:21 am)

      Wetone, come to the Delridge District Council meeting Sept. 17th and ask him yourself, in case nobody else does! Also, our story does not reflect every single question asked of him – I write the highlights, generally not a full transcription.

  • Diane September 5, 2014 (12:08 pm)

    wetone, Play Streets was a separate presentation by Jennifer Wieland prior to SDOT Director Kubly’s arrival

  • Cheif September 5, 2014 (12:23 pm)

    The fact is that anyone who thinks that we’re going to get to keep living the 20th century Midwest fantasy of everybody drives a car everywhere they go isn’t living in reality. It’s unsustainable financially, monetarily, logistically. Quit living in the past and quit being part of the problem.

  • vincent September 5, 2014 (2:29 pm)

    @swrez I695 was defeated in court as unconstitutional, the democratically controlled state legislature, with now mayor Ed Murray, voted in legislation to replace it

    @wetone There is a huge park and ride under the bridge between Avalon and Chelan its almost never full.

  • AmandaKH September 5, 2014 (2:51 pm)

    And! Director Kubly will be joining the West Seattle Transportation Coalition (your dedicated team of volunteer neighbors helping solve WS transporation issues) on September 9th! 6:30 pm at the High Point Neighborhood House.

    • WSB September 5, 2014 (3:18 pm)

      Wow, that’s three West Seattle meetings in a row. Thanks for the update, AKH.

  • M September 5, 2014 (3:05 pm)


    That overpass doesn’t connect anywhere else where commuters might go. If you wanted to use it to avoid the Chelan/Marginal intersection, you’d have to find a way to cross what are still live railroad tracks to get back under the WSB.

  • zark00 September 5, 2014 (3:50 pm)

    The mention of the bike share is a huge red flag for me. Its the bike shares in DC and Chicago that Kulby headed that are dismal failures. Shows a general lack of understanding of our regions transportation needs. An anecdote about his parents using the bikes to sell the idea of dedicated bike lanes, cmon. Lets see his folks pedal up 35th hill on their daily commute home. This guys is going to cost us millions, and leave us (in a year) worse off than we are now. Yeah he bounces jobs when it gets sticky, google it.

  • RayK September 5, 2014 (6:08 pm)

    zark00, why do you characterize the Chicago Dizzy program a “dismal failure?” What ridership rate would you characterize as fantastic or meh?

    Here is Chicago’s actual result:
    “Since Divvy launched in June 2013, Chicagoans and visitors have taken more than 2.3 million trips on Divvy bikes, collectively riding more than five million miles. [They] also boast more than 23,000 active annual members and 220 corporate partners.”

    If that’s a dismal failure, wow!

  • RayK September 5, 2014 (6:25 pm)

    Re: Chas Redmond’s complaint about the RapidRide station at 35th/Avalon that has been dismantled because of the construction project on the west side of 35th is a superficial view of the site. The photo above shows an open walkway when the site is inactive. I’ve watched the operation from the RapidRide station across the street with large dump trucks pulling large capacity trailers with a hoe inside the site dropping dirt into the vehicles. As one filled, another was behind it and rolled into position within about 45 seconds while protecting traffic with orange cones. The operation was running at this rate during my 15 minutes viewing it. More trucks were queued around the corner in the middle lane of Avalon waiting their turns. No bus could safely stop at that station during the operation. No pedestrian canopy could reliably shield waiting transit riders from debris that might fall from the large hoes.

    I’m more concerned about the temporary bus stop at the next corner of 35th and Snoqualmie St. which needs concrete or gravel to avoid mud where the bus back doors open. The front door does have a concrete pad for boarding. I use that stop to transfer between the Rt 21 and Alaska Junction buses.

    • WSB September 5, 2014 (6:27 pm)

      Ray, I’m sorry, I only had time to put in one photo. He sent at least 20. If they were all in one PDF, I would have downloaded it, and maybe he’ll see this and can send me that or upload it someplace I can link to.

      P.S. Also, in the “I guess you had to be there” mode, his objection was not so much keeping its location at all costs, but the fact that the temporary stop has none of the “station” infrastructure, and won’t while it’s sitting there as a bare-bones stop for a year and a half.

  • RayK September 5, 2014 (6:34 pm)

    @wetone, your comment above about increasing demand for parking related to various uses mentions ferries. We think most ferry traffic passes through West Seattle and raises little demand for parking. Is that a misplaced issue?

    Certainly if the Seattle Prop 1 ballot measure fails, the vehicular traffic will increase geometrically and parking will be a minor issue in comparison. The high bridge will be known as the West Seattle parkway with cars parked waiting for the exits on the east / west side.

  • wetone September 6, 2014 (12:22 pm)

    All scare tactic’s RayK, spoken like you were employed by the city. Your right the W/S bridge will be a parkway but not because of Prop 1, it’s because the City government is doing such a poor job at managing growth in this city. Very little infrastructure planning just build up and population increase. What infrastructure improvements that have and are being done do little for 90+% of the people in this city and surrounding area. It’s for the developer’s, people that are fortunate enough to commute to work by bike or bus, but nothing for people that have to use their motor vehicles for work, family, commute. What would happen from all the revenue generated from motor vehicles if they went away ? bikes don’t have any usage fees or ID producing zero income for cost the city spends to improve infrastructure only used by bikes ? would we just keep raising sales and property taxes ? Seattle Prop 1 will do little if anything for ingress/egress from W/S, unless they make a law that everyone has to work within 5 miles from their place of residents. Nothing is being done to help flow through the city (I-5) until that happens W/S will continue to get worse along with everywhere else that flows onto I-5. Move the convention center and double deck I-5 to get traffic flowing again is about the only thing that will help the I-5 corridor. Pretty simple and common sense you increase population you increase traffic, add no infrastructure improvements = grid lock for all.) How about more and longer trains that will be going through the area in the near future what is that going to do for all commuter groups of this area ? RayK where did you get your info on Kubly’s bike programs ? from his company web site or the city’s where used ? all I know is I have friends that live in two areas he has been involved with and they say quite differently :)

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