From last night’s Southwest District Council meeting:
A Metro planner told the SWDC that they’re likely to go ahead with removing two bus shelters in The Junction as part of a “problem-solving plan” to deter loitering.
While Metro is taking comments for two more weeks, so far few have come in, and more are in support than against, planner Dale Cummings said at the meeting.
Lora Swift from the West Seattle Junction Association talked about the walking tour that preceded it (WSB coverage here), and the concerns that in turn had led to that – “transient behavior in our Metro bus stops and our back parking lot. After Metro had reviewed the numbers of people using the bus stops … they decided to remove the shelters next to the porta-potty (on the west end of the south side of SW Alaska by the corner of 44th SW), to open up a visual corridor between the street and parking lot” where there has been “drug activity” in an area hidden from view.
Swift recapped how the notices that were posted almost two weeks ago led to some misunderstanding because they were placed in four bus shelters, not just the two proposed for removal, and the new notices placed a week ago seem to have calmed the confusion. She stressed that this is part of an “overall plan” to address “transient behavior” in the hub.
Cummings said Metro had heard occasional complaints about loitering and harassment and “is not sure what the Metro Transit Police approach has been over the years,” but, the shelter removal “seemed like a focused approach.” He said the idea “forced us to look at how the Junction works” and the usage of the existing stops. He recapped the stats – 200 boardings a day for the shelters that are to be removed, compared to 1,300 for the RapidRide stop at the east end of the block, which will stay, as will the two non-RR shelters in the middle of the south side of the block.
Cummings said that he, Swift, and a Transit Police deputy also did a nighttime evaluation of the site. “There were quite a few things we came up with that could be done to improve the area – CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) including trimming shrubbery to open up the sight lines.” He said the first announcement (two weeks ago) brought in lots of negative response and after the second announcement, “I’ve received seven comments, most of them positive.” He read one comment from a rider who wrote, “I’d like to thank the West Seattle Junction Association for addressing the issues … I’m glad that you’re considering removing these shelters ..while (it) might inconvenience some people, the loiterers will not be able to hang around getting high and harassing people.” The comment, Cummings said, was from someone who lives a block west of the transit hub and uses it. “We have extended the comment period until November 18th, and given the comments we’ve gotten so far I’m thinking that we will probably go forward.”
Southwest Precinct researcher Jennifer Burbridge, attending the meeting for another topic, suggested that Metro might reach out to the Alaska House apartment building a block east, where she had attended a meeting and heard people discussing opposition to the removal. Cummings said anyone who uses the shelters will see the flyers and can use the information to comment directly to Metro. (If you want to comment, do it ASAP: E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 206-553-3000.)
SWDC co-chair David Whiting said that the problems are well-known but suggested that trying to solve it indirectly by shelter removal, rather than via direct enforcement, is reminiscent of other such efforts, like the (reversed) removal of the “overused” Alki bus-stop trash can.
Cummings said removing the shelters – used by 5 people every 15 minutes – would cost $3,000 to $5,000 but would cost less than other measures: (The hub) “has more shelter than it needs, and we think we can do something positive by pulling them out.”
Lyle Evans from the Senior Center of West Seattle (where the SWDC regularly meets) said “we had a huge trespassing problem in our garage” and as soon as No Trespassing signs went up, the problem ended.
Swift stressed, it’s one part of a plan to help people feel safer. “Cleaning up the landscaping is another part of it, removing the (parking lot) bench is another part of it, lighting the parking lot is another part of it …it’s all part of making our community a safer place to stand and catch a bus.”
If loiterers move to other shelters, Cummings said, they’ll consider installation of “RapidRide-style benches.” Police also have been working in the area, including plainclothes walkthroughs in The Junction to see if there’s anything citeable going on.
Other parts of the evolving “problem-solving” plan were recapped. The porta-potty will stay – it’s been there for many years – because, Swift said, they would rather see it used for its intended reason. It’s maintained daily. The electrical outlets will be reconfigured and locked.
If the shelter removal doesn’t discourage the loitering problem, what happens? Cummings says they’ll continue working on it as part of that larger “problem-solving plan.”
ALSO AT SWDC: The scheduled discussion about saving West Seattle’s murals was postponed. Also, plans for next month’s meeting – at which next year’s officers are to be chosen – are still being worked out because the city has, as of this writing, scheduled a West Seattle open house about projects including the HALA rezoning (and reportedly 35th SW) on the same night, despite community advocates’ request for a different night. (Separate story to come.)