‘Problem-solving project’ ahead for West Seattle Junction transit-hub area

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Story by Tracy Record
Photos by Patrick Sand
West Seattle Blog co-publishers

Metro Transit Police promise to “put together a problem-solving project” for the transit hub in the heart of the West Seattle Junction.

That was one result of a meeting/walking tour this morning that also included reps from Metro Transit itself, Seattle Police, the city Department of Human Services (HSD), the West Seattle Junction Association (WSJA) and some of its merchants, the West Seattle Farmers’ Market, and the WS Chamber of Commerce.

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The gathering was intended to seek solutions to concerns including safety and sanitation issues surrounding the bus shelters on both sides of SW Alaska between California SW and 44th SW. Recent police responses to the area even included a death investigation in late August (not a criminal case; the police report indicated witnesses had seen the victim become ill after drinking heavily earlier that morning).

While action already has been taken to make the area less attractive for loitering – such as removal of a bench and trimming of shrubbery along WSJA’s Alaska/44th parking lot, some other ideas emerged.

From Transit Police (a division of the King County Sheriff’s Office that’s responsible for handling crime in transit facilities), Pat Butschli suggested that the fixed porta-potty on the west end of the south-side shelter is a magnet for loiterers.

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Edwin Obras from the city HSD explained that the city pays for rental and maintenance of that porta-potty and said he believes it was installed after a request from “the community.” (We’re following up with HSD about its history and cost.) He also said that while it’s scheduled for maintenance every weekday, there have been some reports that it’s been inaccessible for maintenance because of people loitering inside it and refusing to come out.

One participant asked if it could be “uninstalled.”

Would you rather people hanging out in the area relieved themselves out in the open? a Metro Transit official asked.

“They’re already doing that too,” was the response.

Another potential draw for loitering in the area: Openly available power outlets by the south-side shelter.

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It was suggested that those be made inaccessible as soon as possible.

And yet another draw, suggested the Transit Police, is an easy fix – and since it’s something we’ve written about over and over again, we’re putting it in all caps – DON’T LEAVE ANYTHING IN YOUR CAR. Word about “fertile ground for car prowlers” gets around.

Would warning signs help? someone asked.

People seem to get numb to signs, so get the word out in other ways – flyers, e-mail, etc., suggested Butschli.

And when there is an incident, he stressed – call 911. They might not be able to answer all calls, but having a record of issues is important. He also added that being in a bus shelter is not a crime – provided you’re really waiting for a bus. Drinking, vandalizing, publicly relieving yourself, harassment – those are crimes/violations. (Here, by the way, is the Metro Code of Conduct, which also was mentioned.) The “squeaky wheel” gets the attention, he said, and the number of calls determines where resources are allocated. (If you are calling about a bus stop, include its number if you have that information.)

Some of the issues in the area near the stops are also Seattle Police issues, acknowledged Community Police Team Todd Wiebke, who is exclusively dedicated to handling “outdoor” issues. While much of what he does involves people experiencing homelessness, Officer Wiebke took great pains to stress that transient/loitering issues are NOT synonymous with homelessness, and he sees it as vital to ensure that situations are accurately described. When it’s a matter of homelessness, they respond with human services, Wiebke said, while transient behavior – trespassing, drinking, etc. – can simply be “stopped” (via enforcement).

Right now, he said, he is almost fully consumed with issues by West Seattle’s other busy transit center, Westwood Village, with Roxhill Park camping and other issues, but he said he wants to hear from people with outdoor concerns in The Junction and elsewhere, too, and asked us to include his e-mail address in this report: todd.wiebke@seattle.gov – Overall, he described The Junction situation as a “campfire” compared to the Roxhill Park/Westwood “brush fire.”

What else can be done?

The bus stop areas actually rate fairly high in terms of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, Butschli said – lighting, openness. But as the group strolled on following an extended conversation, it was clear there were some lighting fixtures – not necessarily Metro’s – that could be improved.

And one Metro rep wondered if the Alaska/44th parking lot could be fenced off, so that wandering through and around it wouldn’t be as easy.

The meeting broke up after about an hour, with much followup to be done. WSJA’s new executive director Lora Swift noted that it was important to “have the conversation,” and if that conversation continues, progress can be made. We’ll continue to follow up.

43 Replies to "'Problem-solving project' ahead for West Seattle Junction transit-hub area"

  • Jon October 6, 2016 (2:02 pm)

    Junction Plaza Park is where transients go to drink and smoke as a group and publicly use the concrete walls and bushes as toilets, outside of the near the Bus Terminal.

    It doesn’t bother me so much when someone needs a place to rest; there are one or two transients in the area who will often sleep on the benches on along the back side of the park who don’t seem to bother people all that much. What bothers me is the litter (so many stolen alcohol containers from QFC), human waste, and drug use (so much trash gets stuffed into the tree there, alongside Alaska).

    It’s also very poorly lit at night. It might be nice to have a flood light for the park.

    But even with the issues some of the transients regrettably bring with them, nothing is more annoying and dangerous than the entitled drunks leaving the bars at night, screaming throughout the neighborhood and drag-racing through the Junction. These problems require an SPD presence and the enforcement of the number of laws being broken every night; and if they’re interested in making money, I’m not quite sure why they aren’t placing an Officer here from 11PM-3AM. They’d be raking it in.

    I know that Alki has dealt with the same problem for years, but now it’s an every night occurrence at the Junction.

    And yeah: everybody stop leaving things in your cars, please. Don’t even leave loose change in the cup holders. Having empty cars is the only way this is going to stop. We lose herd immunity if people just expect to find phones, laptops, and other high-value items in everybody’s car. Just carry everything inside with you and bring it back as you need it.

  • WS Resident October 6, 2016 (3:25 pm)
    Thank you for the awareness and action!  The number of open parking spots in the California/Alaska Junction lot behind the bus stop might indicate people no longer feel safe parking there.  Early last evening I was approached aggressively (knocking on my window, loud panhandling) by two large, middle-aged people for money and food just after parking my car, which I then moved.  After approaching me, this couple similarly approached a young woman in her car.  At the same time I also noticed a young, slender man looking into car windows and trying car doors.  
    Last Sunday afternoon I parked in this same lot and was very uneasy due to what appeared to be a large group of homeless men fighting in the corner of the parking lot near the portapotty.
    • Pops October 6, 2016 (4:58 pm)

      I noticed 3 guys drinking beer behind the bus stop on that bench near 44th/Alaska. They didn’t even try to hide it. No I didn’t call Non emergency to report it since it takes 30 minutes sometimes to get an operator. This city puts things in place that block citizens from getting involved while encouraging community involvement. SMDH

      • WSB October 6, 2016 (5:01 pm)

        That’s why they said to call 911, so you will get a live person. If you don’t call, you have guaranteed 0 percent chance of anyone responding.

        P.S. A guy in crisis showed up in our neighborhood multiple times today. Apparently told someone the first time that he had a gun. Neighbor called it in around 3 pm; officer showed up around 4:15 pm as we were heading out to check out the WC/HP helicopter. Guy was long gone, but at least it’s on the record. Lot of calls, few officers.

        • Pops October 6, 2016 (5:06 pm)

          911 has told me my concern is not an emergency and they transfer me to the non emergency line.

          • WSB October 6, 2016 (5:12 pm)

            Call it first anyway. This is a direct quote from precinct brass again, and again, and again, and again. And again today – from Pat Butschli of King County Transit Police (I didn’t catch his rank – he was a sergeant in our archives some years ago).

  • Eddie October 6, 2016 (4:14 pm)

    They should look at adjusting the lights so that buses have a chance to get through westbound on Alaska at california. Allowing the westbound thru traffic to continue when the westbound green comes on would help that intersection flow. Keep the All Ways Walk.

  • Soup Ninja October 6, 2016 (4:31 pm)

    Yeah, something needs to be done about that spot. I’m always having trouble with smokers loitering and harassing people there. I once called in a complaint about some homophobic graffiti there. And years ago, some teenage brats were throwing rocks at the shelter I was using, trying to scare me. Always something going on in that area. Might be nice if the cops actually did something, for once.

  • Eddie October 6, 2016 (4:36 pm)

    Meant to say eastbound: let westbound traffic flow when eastbound is going.

    Not bus shelter related, I know.

    • Pops October 6, 2016 (5:04 pm)

      I agree traffic flow needs to be improved. But also enforce people walking before the walk always light turns on, cars turning right on red (signs say not to), left turns despite signs as well. I’ve reported it but like a lot of other people, it seems like we’re just filling our forms for stats and not for any real action.

  • BJG October 6, 2016 (4:42 pm)

    I am at the edge of the Junction and can confirm that the neighborhood has become quite scary in the past 5 years. I won’t go out at night to empty the garbage. We can’t leave the door open on hot evenings. The cars are battened down and empty. We keep them alarmed and under flood lights. The  beer cans and garbage need to be cleaned out of  the shrubbery  most mornings.  It has felt like a seige after three  burglaries. Don’t think we need a “better” transit center. It’s how this transient population moves in and out of the Junction.  It works just fine for them.

    The police will never see what we see on the ground living here. Our last car break-in got an officer’s visit because of the screwdriver jambed in the ignition…an attempted car theft  Otherwise, just file a report online and call your insurance company. It is very expensive to live in “trendy downtown West Seattle.”

  • Brian October 6, 2016 (4:55 pm)

    Even in the past year it seems to have become way, way worse at the shelters.  We no longer walk with our 4 year old through that block, we take the long way around.  It’s such a shame… although the raw number of incidents might be a “campfire” compared to Westwood, the fact that so many families with young kids live and walk through that block daily… it makes the issues that much more impactful to the quality of life here.  We live 3 blocks away and I would not want to live closer, I worry about it quite a bit.  Stay safe West Seattle friends.

    • AmandaKH October 6, 2016 (7:01 pm)

      Brian – I will chalk your comment up to frusturation, and not a classist statement about who’s quality of life matters more.  As someone who has been working on issues surrounding  the Westwood Village / Roxhill Park Transit Hub  for 4 years, I can appreciate your frusturation.   But Roxhill is just as important as the Junction.   The Westwood Hub is adjacent to the heavily used shopping center. Roxhill playground and skatepark serves hundreds of families on a daily basis, and Roxhill Elementary is located on the same property as the park.  Quality of life is something we know a lot about. 

      • Brian October 6, 2016 (8:53 pm)

        I didn’t say a thing about whether the Junction or Westwood were “better” neighborhoods or more deserving.  That wasn’t my comment at all.  From my personal experience it appeared to me that the bus area around Westwood was less of a pedestrian destination than Junction and more of a drive-through area.  However, I obviously have been there at the wrong times and didn’t realize the amount of neighborhood foot traffic so comment recinded.

      • Brian October 6, 2016 (9:01 pm)

        Also I’m curious what steps you’ve been successful in taking at Westwood/Roxhill to address similar issues.  What has worked, if anything?  I know your Junction neighbors (myself included) would love to know.

  • Brian October 6, 2016 (5:07 pm)

    Also – it’s not entirely clear who to call when we see issues and what constitutes a 911 call vs non-emergency.  For calls, as far as I can tell the breakdown is:

    Emergency/crime:  911  and maybe email Todd after the fact todd.wiebke@seattle.gov

    Non-emergency issue inside a shelter:  Transit Police Non-Emergency Dispatch (206) 296-3311 

    Non-emergency issue outside a shelter:  Seattle Police (206) 684-3400 and maybe email Todd after the fact todd.wiebke@seattle.gov


    Note the code of conduct calls out storing belongings and sleeping on benches as violations, not sure those would be 911 though.

  • Pops October 6, 2016 (5:18 pm)

    I’m glad we have an email address. I’ll take pictures and video of every event I see there and send it to him as a back up to calling 911/non emergency. I think there is a disconnect between what the officers are telling the public to do and what the officers are telling 911 operators. It has been discussed here for years about when to call which numbers and I have read so many reports of people complaining of calling 911 because the officer said to but then they get transferred to the sometimes never ending hold line of non emergency. I filled out a ticket on line about the long non emergency wait times. I keep getting told they are hiring more staff but when I follow up, I get ignored or I some other reason like they are upgrading the system. If 30 minute waits are happening a year after I reported it, something is wrong.

  • wsres October 6, 2016 (5:37 pm)

    We are so glad that other people are also reporting what is happening at that bus stop. I has gotten noticibly bad in the past 6 months. several men are hanging out there all day-drunk. I hate waiting for the water taxi shuttle there as i don’t want to stand near the rif-raf. At night i won’t go anywhere near there… there is also a man living at the drivethrough bank on the southern corner of that block. I am glad the police are listening in our neighborhood, as they not in all parts of the city. The homeless and homeless addicts problems are out of control. our mayor and city council members are not helping to keep a vibrant livable city for the taxpayers that are footing the bill.

  • NW October 6, 2016 (6:15 pm)

    Family member shared with me that in the general area of where keybank currently is there ,though not directly on the corner, was a bar or tavern called Pick Wick and the free parking lot across the alley was a firestation a mural across the street 44th ave sw depicts it. 

  • Azimuth October 6, 2016 (6:17 pm)

    I’d settle for better human traffic flow. It’s a dance of weaving around waiting people, light poles, shelters, trees and open ground, sidewalk cracks, and signs.

  • Kadoo October 6, 2016 (7:04 pm)

    I’m glad to hear a discussion has started about this blight on the West Seattle Junction.  I live a half block away and walk past the bus stop several times a day so I’m well aware how unsafe my neighborhood has gotten.  The outlets were locked a month or so ago but apparently the ‘loiterers’ broke it open.  I’m glad they will be locked up again. No reason for local businesses to pay for electricity for people idling their days away at the bus stop.  Perhaps the port-a-potty could be locked up and used only by Metro drivers with a key.  Or take it out completely.  One afternoon there were two separate calls for people needing to be hauled away by AMR.  Seattle Fire Dept staff told me to document everything I see and take pictures. This situation has gotten to be intolerable.    

  • dale October 6, 2016 (8:34 pm)

    I would be happy if there was an Orca Card filling machine located in the junction, like in the transit tunnels downtown. Not alway possible to do online, or when Safeway or QFC can do so. 

  • Brian October 6, 2016 (8:58 pm)

    Do others agree that the portapotty should go?  I don’t really understand the City’s position that it was community requested.  Do we have a lot of community members needing to use a porta potty instead of their houses and/or the businesses that they are legitimately shopping/eating at?  

    WSB was there a contact person at the City to take our feedback on that?

    • WSB October 6, 2016 (9:00 pm)

      My question to the media liaison for the Human Services Department has not yet been answered; I’ll be asking again tomorrow. As with everything, your elected officials are one place to start – from the council to the mayor.

    • Chemist October 6, 2016 (10:23 pm)

      That portapotty is in google street view going back to at least 2007.  I suspect it (and possibly the power outlets) were very useful for farmer’s market activities over the years.

      • WSB October 6, 2016 (10:28 pm)

        The Farmers’ Market has its own porta-potty, kept locked up between Sundays, on the southwest edge of the parking lot behind KeyBank.

  • Wsres October 6, 2016 (11:38 pm)

    I Thought the porta potty was there for the bus drivers, but I would live to see it go! 

    • WSB October 6, 2016 (11:49 pm)

      One of the Metro reps at the event was asked that today. No, not for the drivers.

  • Westside4Liznife October 6, 2016 (11:58 pm)

    The Porta Potty keeps the Rif Raff out of the local businesses, or at least that was the original plan. I say move all the druggies to the Junction Safeway parking lot.  Even the short times I have spent there make me want to run far away and never come back.

  • Maggie October 7, 2016 (9:42 am)

    I think we’re all missing the forrest for the trees. You can’t expect a livable Junction area until the broader issue of homelessness is properly addressed. Displacing these people from one place will only result in creating another homeless hangout, especially if you’re not addressing mental health or drug issues. I voted for our mayor but have lost all faith in his leadership ability to adequately address this issue. The estimated budget for 2016 to address homelessness is $47 MILLION, with an estimated 10,000 people on the streets, shelters or transitional housing, this is a tremendous budget for each person, which I am happy to fund as a tax-payer, if it were effective.  The problem at the Junction and in other areas will only get worse once the Jungle shuts down later this month. The lack of thoughtful growth, with no regard for Seattle’s middle and lower class, will only ensure that those homeless numbers keep rising. Seattle leads the nation on so many progressive issues, this is one of the most important ones where we need to demand real solutions. We’re a city in crisis but it’s easy to ignore with all the shiny buildings going up. Truly shameful. 

  • bolo October 7, 2016 (9:43 am)

    Wait… What??? There’s an open circuit breaker panel there next to the bus shelter? Who put that there and what were they thinking?

  • S October 7, 2016 (9:55 am)

    Death to the Farmers market blocking off California Ave every Sunday. I could understand during the summer, but all year round NO. 

    • WSB October 7, 2016 (10:09 am)

      The move has been a huge success, and is unrelated to the situation that this story is about.

      • S October 7, 2016 (12:25 pm)

        And your point is.  It is a problem to be solved for the hub area. It might not be a problem for you, but it is for people trying to get around on a Sunday North to South on California Ave. 

        • WSB October 7, 2016 (12:40 pm)

          Yes, actually, both of the past two Sundays we have traveled California north to south while on our way to/from breaking news and had to detour. It’s one block.

        • Jon Wright October 7, 2016 (7:34 pm)

          You are mistaken. It is not a problem.

  • Kadoo October 7, 2016 (10:07 am)

    If that’s the case let’s get rid of the port-a-potty. No one hung around the bus stop before we had a port-a-potty there. 

  • Craig October 7, 2016 (10:25 am)

    Having to squeeze past everyone waiting for a bus in front of Key Bank is nuts, dangerous and feels rude. Particularly not thrilled at the smokers there. There has to be  a better place to load the bus. What about down across from QFC and have people walk back a block?  Or is that even closer to their destination (QFC?). That’s not much to ask.

    Also getting tired of the bums (I don’t know if they’re homeless) drinking and sleeping on the benches – not fun to walk my kids past and explain why a guy has relieved himself next to the bathroom rather than in it. If we want public transit to flourish these critical points in the community need to be very welcoming entry points to the buses. Especially for new riders or tentative riders who we need to embrace public transit.  

  • Jon Wright October 7, 2016 (7:40 pm)

    None of the comments here appear to be from anyone who actually rides the bus. Our family has a bus commuter who takes the C downtown. Some of the suggestions (move the stop out of the Junction) lose sight of the purpose of a conveniently- and centally-located stop: to facilitate mobility. That bus stop is an integral part of the Junction’s vitality, not something to sweep off to the side.

  • Gorillita October 8, 2016 (7:49 am)

    I ride the bus.  I am a disabled senior and am grateful for the bus shelters with their benches.  (PLEASE don’t remove benches – then many seniors/disabled won’t be able to ride.)  There is usually a group of transient (homeless?) men at the shelters on the south side of Alaska.  They are always polite to me, and I chit chat with them while I wait.  The police came once as they had been drinking (early morning), but they were just asked to pour out their beers in the gutter.  My main complaint is trying to get past riders waiting for the C line at Alaska & California.  They seem to think it is okay to block the public sidewalk.  Moms with strollers, disabled in wheelchairs and myself with a large service dog have a tough time getting by.

  • Cyclemom October 8, 2016 (10:44 am)

    Both of my daughters ride the bus daily. They do not find the group of men in the shelter next to the ports-potty to be, “polite”. My eldest daughter has been verbally harassed on a near-daily basis by some of the men who sit there and drink. The bus driver who frequents her route has, on more than one occasion, refused to let these men off at the same stop as my daughters and other women because they are aggressive, intimidating, and use vulgar language to comment about their appearance. It doesn’t matter which side of the street they’re on – they’ve taken steps to avoid being near this shelter – but they still need to get on the bus to go to work or school. They should be able to do so without this treatment. 

    • mark47n October 8, 2016 (7:34 pm)

      Yeah, what she said!

  • rose October 10, 2016 (8:25 am)

     oh, and get rid of the porta potty…I don’t even want to know how many needles are probably in there….

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