By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
But more are needed, contend the Alki Elementary parents and staffers who formed a Traffic Safety Task Force to campaign for safety improvements at the intersection. On Monday, they met with SDOT managers at the school to seek answers about what’s possible, what’s not, and a timeline for what’s next.
Representing SDOT were traffic engineer Dongho Chang (who had gained some fame earlier in the day) and Brian Dougherty, who has long worked on Safe Routes to School. From the TSTF, Merkys Gomez, Barbara Ott, teacher Alia Delacour, and parent Emily Cier. Brianna Thomas from Councilmember Lorena González‘s staff was there too (a representative from Councilmember Lisa Herbold‘s office had planned to attend but took ill). Here’s how it went.
Gomez opened by thanking SDOT for restoring the pedestrian-activated signal at the intersection to its original mode of operation, after October’s short-lived experiment that converted it to flashing red and posted the intersection as stop-all-ways.
She went through the group’s punchlist of what they hope to see at the intersection. We’ll address each item with the toplines:
FLASHING ’20 MPH SCHOOL ZONE’ BEACONS: SDOT has committed to installing them. Dougherty said they want to do it “as soon as possible,” in January if they can, but it’s too soon to know if that will happen. The beacons usually take “a couple months” from order to delivery, and they were ordered in October. The crews that install the beacons are different from the ones who install the accompanying signage – the beacon installation requires electrical work – so once the beacons are up they “will probably sit for a week or two” without signs. The timing, which is preprogrammed, will be the same as elsewhere in the city, “roughly 45 minutes before school starts to 15 minutes after the bell rings” before school, and the reverse afterward.
The signage is currently intended for Admiral Way, but TSTF members expressed interest in 59th, especially because young crossing guards are out assisting their schoolmates, in the dark early morning during fall/winter. “When we do the sign changes, we’ll look at all the streets around the school,” Dougherty promised. (It was noted later that the signage will be extra-reflective.)
FULL TRAFFIC SIGNAL: SDOT has not committed to this, so far, and has said that the intersection doesn’t meet the standards/requirements for installing one. The TSTF members had much to say about the intersection’s dangers, often posed by speeding/inattentive drivers. Gomez pointed out that local residents not affiliated with the school have voiced the same concerns; she cited the May 2015 community meeting about the SW Admiral Way Safety Project. The “awkwardly angled” intersection makes it “hard to feel safe there,” whatever transportation mode you’re using, she said. She also said that collision data for 47th/Admiral, which did get a full signal X years ago, looked “almost identical” to the 59th/Admiral data. Beach traffic in the warmer months, in particular, concerns them, and it does overlap with the school year, stepping up as soon as early April.
Chang pointed out that signals can actually “draw” people to use a certain intersection/street more, so, he said, that should be considered. A discussion ensued about whether the TSTF intended 59th SW to be “treated as an arterial.” It’s already used that way, they contended, since, for example, for those coming down the hill westbound, it’s the first street you can turn onto to head directly to Alki Beach. The TSTF showed the SDOT reps a photo:
Chang said they had to be sure to apply standards equitably around the city. Yes, this intersection is unique, he agreed, “but we still need to know the numbers.” That includes traffic volume and collisions. “If it doesn’t meet the numbers, what then?” Chang said they go through a “pretty rigorous evaluation every year” and could collect data again a year later to see how things are going.
Dougherty suggested that the TSTF could apply for a city grant through the Your Voice, Your Choice process (formerly the Neighborhood Street Fund). He said data analysis would be done through that process, and that if a signal didn’t result, perhaps money for permanent curb bulbs (an upgrade from the painted ones that are going in now) would result.
TSTF members also mentioned increasing density leading to more traffic in the area – there are new townhouses on the same block as the school, and we in fact noted a demolition just a block west of 59th/Admiral hours before the meeting, another old house to be replaced by
townhouses a new house with an accessory dwelling unit:
Gomez asked Chang when she would be able to “bug” him about the traffic counts. He said they would likely do it in May or June, with the report following a few weeks later, so by mid-July. The report, he said, would provide speed information and “turn counts” as well.
SPEED ENFORCEMENT CAMERA: Once the 20 mph signage and beacons are in, Dougherty said, they would be able to evaluate whether there’s a speeding problem requiring enforcement. “Hopefully speeds (will) go down.” If they don’t, it could be a candidate. They install new locations in September and are already working on a final list for next September; the earliest possible for an enforcement camera here, he said, would be September 2019, since the list has to be fully vetted, engineering has to be done, and then the City Council has to sign off on it. Police-officer enforcement visits would be more likely in the nearer term.