2 schools, 1 campus, 1 busy road: Safety improvements sought before Arbor Heights moves in with STEM

(School-zone beacon near Boren, now fully operational; photo courtesy Robin Graham)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Next school year, the former Louisa May Boren Junior High School on Delridge will be home to two schools – ongoing permanent home to K-5 (future K-8) STEM, and starting its two-year status as temporary home to Arbor Heights Elementary while AH is rebuilt.

That’s 800 or so students filling the campus, plus their teachers and other staffers.

Space in the building is not much at issue. Safety is – specifically, safely getting all those students to and from school, which fronts one of West Seattle’s main arterials, Delridge Way, a much-used route to and from the two bridges across the Duwamish River connecting the peninsula with downtown.

Though this is the second year K-5 STEM has occupied the building, it is only now getting something as simple as flashing beacons to catch drivers’ attention in the 20-mph zone. The beacons just began operation, and SDOT’s Brian Dougherty says that when Arbor Heights moves in this fall, the lights will be programmed to reflect the staggered times both schools will be in session on the campus.

The lights are welcome, but nowhere near a full solution.

When we followed up with Dougherty at an unrelated recent community meeting, he also said a crosswalk to Boren’s front door is expected to be built next calendar year. That’s another of the things parent and community activists have been asking for. Among them is Craig Rankin, who tells WSB that a Neighborhood Park and Street Fund proposal is in for not just the basic crosswalk that now is in the city’s plan but “a central crosswalk with a median pedestrian island, and the installation of permanent speed-reader boards or School Zone Traffic Cameras.” This proposal, with accompanying letters of support from neighborhood and school groups, will be reviewed along with five other fund applications from eastern West Seattle at next Wednesday’s meeting of the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council.

The Boren school building’s needs were articulated again when the Seattle Schools Traffic Safety Committee convened at Boren in late January. It’s a somewhat-low-profile (try finding its agendas!) committee that Dougherty described as a cooperative effort between the city and the school district to address isues; walking/biking-safety organizations are at the table too. In addition to discussing other business, the committee took time during the meeting to hear from and talk with school and community representatives, including STEM principal Dr. Shannon McKinney.

Attendees had spent time right before the meeting observing the situation along Delridge, Juneau on the north side of the school building, and in the parking lot. “A lot of speeding, a lot of near-misses … parents in general would argue that it’s scary to cross the street, like a game of Frogger,” observed STEM PTA president Robin Graham.

And that, again, is with just one school on campus. Many logistics of the campus-sharing remained to be worked out – even a question of where the Arbor Heights office would be. Dr. McKinney suggested that locating it at the opposite side of the building would help – the STEM office is on the south side: “*My biggest concerns, I’ve seen too many parents drag their kids across Delridge at the end of the day, I’m really concerned about next year, parking, with another school here, another staff.”

At Boren, parking-lot safety is a major issue because it’s a long lot, and a safe walking route from parking space to school door is not a sure bet. A walkway along Delridge on the west edge of the parking lot was overgrown with moss by the day of the committee meeting. North of the lot, that side of Delridge becomes a “wall of school buses” at pickup and dropoff time, though it was suggested that’s actually a speed deterrent for other traffic.

While STEM community members supported one goal of getting more students to arrive in ways other than cars, parent Kathleen Voss called attention to the fact it’s not easy to get to Boren from other neighborhoods. Coming from High Point, for example, she noted that the Graham Street stairs “are not well maintained” – crumbling, slippers, lights not always functioning, drug paraphernalia and liquor bottles left along the stairs. But it’s the only way to get between HP and STEM, she said, since SW Brandon has stretches without sidewalks. She voiced frustration that while the problems had been brought up before the school opened in 2012 – speeding on Delridge, the need for a crosswalk – here they sat two years later without solutions. Parents stood along Delridge in K-5 STEM’s first weeks of operation, providing a reminder to drivers:

(September 2012 photo, courtesy John Hopkins)
“The time for (safety improvements) is now,” Rankin told the committee, with community-gathered data indicating “6,000 midblock crossings this year alone.” The crosswalk case is bolstered by the impending addition of middle-school grades to STEM – students even more likely to be crossing Delridge by themselves, it was pointed out.

The layout of the 82-space parking lot is also a point of concern but changing it would be an expensive process – with funding not readily available in anyone’s budget – so talk has focused more on a way to walk through it safely. “We need to guide people through a long, narrow parking lot,” as one parent put it.

But another point of the parents in attendance at that committee meeting was to wonder why this advocacy seemed to have fallen to them: “How much of this is district responsibility? If you open an elementary school, why is so much of this parental responsibility?”

The district rep mentioned a budget shortfall.

“Is there a lawsuit fund?” was the parental retort. “It seems like a child has to get injured for something to happen immediately.”

While that meeting moved on to other topics, the Boren concerns remain unsettled. What can you do? Rankin has been speaking to local community advocates about the issues and tells WSB, “In general, I feel it would help matters for individuals to write city council members to prioritize pedestrian projects in school zones. In particular, I feel that this site desperately needs improvements before the start of the next school year.”

Urging the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council to support the enhanced crossing-safety project when they review projects at 7 pm Wednesday (March 19th, Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, 4408 Delridge Way SW) is another step – the review process is competitive, and the city does not have enough in its fund to take on all projects that are proposed; the DNDC makes its recommendations, and then elected officials have the eventual final say. There is no central e-mail contact for the DNDC, comprised of volunteer members from community councils and other groups in eastern West Seattle, so the best way to advocate is to be at the meeting, but if you absolutely can’t, you can try forwarding comment correspondence through neighborhood-district coordinator Yun Pitre at yun.pitre@seattle.gov.

As Rankin also notes, “Of course the best way to keep children safe is for our community to drive slower and be more conscientious of pedestrians.” With lives at risk, though, a little infrastructure improvement can go a long way.

20 Replies to "2 schools, 1 campus, 1 busy road: Safety improvements sought before Arbor Heights moves in with STEM "

  • Rational Thought March 15, 2014 (7:49 pm)

    What would be great is if the people on the City Council would do their jobs and think about ALL of the issues presented by this consolidation and ALL of its citizens. That’s great that parents are expressing their concern about their kids and themselves, but what about the rest of us who just want to get to work from our homes?!?! No one gives a damn about the fact that more and more traffic gets pushed over to Delridge and it is now almost impossible to use it to get in or out of West Seattle. You can barely move on it from 7 am to 9 pm – and I know, because I still foolishly try to use it since it is right by my house. Crazy me! I think I should be able to drive on a road that I pay to maintain with my tax dollars. So, for those of us who live right by Delridge and for whom it would make sense to use it to get to downtown, we are held hostage by the bus traffic and the school traffic and more and more people forced to use the road because the City keeps approving more building with absolutely no consideration for how the traffic which is generated by all of that new building will be handled. The only voice I hear is parents who are looking out for themselves without any consideration as to how the rest of us will be impacted by their cars, more and more buses and more hurdles to being able to use Delridge as a road upon which to DRIVE! Yes, people need to slow down when kids are going to and from school, but access to the school should never have been put on Delridge in the first place and should be moved now. But at the end of the day, this latest development is just further evidence of how disconnected the City Council is from the rest of us and how most of its citizens care only for themselves and have no consideration for anyone else.

    • WSB March 15, 2014 (8:34 pm)

      RT – It sounds like you are talking about a bigger picture anyway, but just to clarify in case anyone gets confused, the City Council had absolutely nothing to do with either building Boren on Delridge years ago, deciding to temporarily and then permanently house STEM there, or deciding to temporarily move Arbor Heights there. Those were solely decisions of the Seattle School Board, which is a separate entity. The city’s only role here is with regards to road safety, whomever is using the roads, pedestrians, drivers, bus riders, bicycle riders, etc. – Tracy

  • Community Member March 15, 2014 (9:02 pm)

    But Boren had 800 students in the 1960’s, and it has held hundreds of students whenever a school in the area is being remodeled or rebuilt. It’s not like someone just suddenly decided to build a school there. On and off for 50 years, Delridge has delivered students to Boren.

  • Heidi A March 15, 2014 (11:03 pm)

    Yes, we are parents looking out for ourselves. And by that I mean looking out for 350, soon to be 800 kids at Boren. We’ve seen some scary situations and don’t want to see a child run over. So sorry to inconvenience you, but we will continue to look out for those children.

  • dsa March 15, 2014 (11:03 pm)

    CM, Delridge was a much different road in the 60’s. It didn’t have backups that are commonplace now.

  • Eric1 March 16, 2014 (12:41 am)

    I always think the glass is half full: People keep moving to West Seattle because it is a nice place to live. Most people “moved” here so it is hard us to complain about how “newcomers” are messing things up. But I’d rather have more people, traffic, and gentrification because the other option is to turn Seattle into the next Detroit.
    As much as we would like it to, the world does not revolve around us. Things change and usually there is some bad with the good. My house is worth more, but it is only because more people want to live here. I could sell it but where would I move to that is “better”? There are a lot of tough choices but obviously most of us choose to just leave 15 minutes earlier because of traffic.

  • Community Member March 16, 2014 (6:38 am)

    Yes, I understand that Delridge carries more traffic than in the 1960’s. My point was simply that Boren was there first, so any complaints about how this “change” insensitively or negatively effects current commuters seems backwards. The current traffic volume and/or driving preferences seems to be what has changed.

  • Fritz March 16, 2014 (7:49 am)

    I often travel Delridge and am GLAD they will finally put up more “protection” for the kids at the school.
    Slowing down to 20 miles for about a mile only sets my arrival time to work back a out 30 seconds…
    A price WELL worth paying in order to make the place SAFE for the Children.
    Kids safety is ALL of our concern.

  • thistle stairs March 16, 2014 (9:38 am)

    I have noticed the flashing school zone signs on fauntleroy are both obscured. Heading north the sign is covered by a huge english laurel, heading south the sign is 20 feet past a blind corner giving drivers very little notice.If the goal is safety then the signs should be clearly visible, if the goal is to collect revenue then I guess there is no incentive to warn drivers.

  • Robin Graham March 16, 2014 (10:08 am)

    The school zone lights are operational from 8:55 AM – 9:40 AM and 3:00 PM – 4:15 PM and the 20 MPH also needs to be observed “when children are present.”

    To put this into STEM terms:
    Reducing your speed from 35 MPH to 20 MPH for 1 mile means it takes you an extra 77 seconds (180 sec. vs. 103 sec.) to travel the 1 mile distance.

    Reducing your speed from 35 MPH to 20 MPH for the 1/4 mile (the approximate length of the school zone) means it takes you an extra 19 seconds (45 sec. vs. 26 sec.).

    You can do your own research on the dramatic differences in fatality rates when speeds are reduced – it might take you 95 seconds (which is the 1 minute 35 seconds you will be going 20 MPH instead of 35 MPH during this five day work week).

    So thank you community for the extra 19 seconds of your day to keep my children and the other students at STEM safer.

    Robin Graham
    PTA President

  • Walnut March 16, 2014 (11:21 am)

    I’m definately a proponent for safe school sites, but SPS capital dollars are already stretched too thin for additional infrastructure upgrades at an interim site. They haven’t fully funded the construction at the replacement schools, you will see this in the final product at AH, Genesee Hill, etc.
    STEM got their capital remodel funds; if the District neglected to include site upgrades, it’s just another example of poor planning.
    It’s time for for the City or WASDOT to pitch in.

  • kayo March 16, 2014 (1:50 pm)

    I have been passed 3x in the last two weeks by people going in excess of 50 mph in the center turn lane on Delridge while I went the speed limit of 35 (maybe a little over). Ironically, almost immediately after passing me, they were stuck in the same bridge-related backup that I was stuck in. These backups have nothing to do with the school. They usually are related to an accident on the bridge or poor timing of the low bridge opening. There are also more backups heading south on Delridge than there used to be in the late afternoon and this is related to the added bike lanes/road diet in the area of Home Depot. This is also not related to the school. I think blaming the school for any of the backups is misguided. I welcome any safety improvements the school brings to this area as far as slowing speeders down. People need to leave earlier and stop treating Delridge like a freeway. And they really need to stop using the center turn lane as their own private speedway.

  • Wendy W March 16, 2014 (2:15 pm)

    As a current STEM parent- these safety measures are hardly a luxury. STEM is slated to stay in the Boren Buidling permanently- it is no longer an interim site. I believe having adequate lights, crosswalks and parking are all critical to having a safe environment for our children. Whether you come north or south on Delridge, the lights are now clearly visible and the line of yellow busses should also be a signal to please slow down. As a community, knowing that this is a permanent site for an elementary school (little kids!) should be enough incentive to hit the brakes for 2 1/2 blocks…

  • Anne H March 16, 2014 (5:06 pm)

    RT, are you really blaming buses, school kids and their parents at one school for a peninsula-wide traffic problem and then claiming that’s ratIonal? A grain of salt for you! And thanks for slowing down. It’s the law–a state one. http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=46.61.440

  • k March 16, 2014 (8:27 pm)

    *“Is there a lawsuit fund?” was the parental retort. “It seems like a child has to get injured for something to happen immediately.”*

    Sigh. What a horrible way to think. Accidents happen, sometimes even if everyone does the right thing. You can’t protect against ever little *possible* issue. We’d never leave our houses. I’m also not sure where the “lives as risk” comes into play. Kids are going to school–millions do it every day. It’s hardly a risky activity. That said, I have been almost nailed by a few parents texting and driving around Westside School during pickup and drop-off, as well as near accidents for the same issue on Holden. Seems nobody is exempt from being part of the problem?

    Basic safety should be a no-brainer (visible school zone markings + enforcement, crosswalks by the schools well-marked an maintained, etc.) This is a really long block and luckily has great visibility. A well planned crosswalk and improving the school zone is a fantastic idea.

    I have noticed the bus backup as well on Delridge. Maybe they can combine bus stops and have fewer stops? I believe I saw one per block pickup the other day, seemed tad excessive, the kids can walk down the sidewalk to the other corner. Even without a lawsuit fund.

  • Robert March 17, 2014 (6:01 am)

    I live on kenyon next to west school, every day i see drivers with cellphones stuck to their head or worse in their lap texting zipping by at 30-40 between parked cars on both sides of the road to drop off their lil darlings .you take your life in your hands when you try to cross the road or worse yet get out of your car on the street. granted you are going to a private school,[expensive] in your luxury car [expensive] you are still on PUBLIC ROADS. so SLOW DOWN ,SHUT THE PHONE OFF AND WATCH WHAT YOU ARE DOING. it is still a school zone.

  • Lindsey March 17, 2014 (12:21 pm)

    Reading this article, you’d think there wasn’t a single crosswalk already in place at Juneau. Why is this crosswalk not functioning for these parents and students? How far would the new crosswalk be from the existing one, and how would it differ? Longer walk times? I cross Delridge at Juneau every single day, and even for a (short) adult, the lights change quickly. I just can’t wrap my head around why a parent would EVER mid-block cross with their kid. That’s dangerous. The parents are asking drivers to slow down to accommodate the kids, why can’t they slow down and walk to the cross walk?

    It seems like they want two cross walks within a single block of each other. Am I reading this wrong?

  • AHParent2 March 17, 2014 (1:15 pm)

    Folks at AH are doing their part to get SPS to make safe drop off and pick up zones, as well as making a more reasonable facility layout…moving the office to the north, etc…
    With two school communities working on this together, Boren will be a much safer site for the long haul of STEM School.

  • Mike D. March 17, 2014 (5:48 pm)

    Recall that 7 year old Marcus Ryan Anderson was killed in 1987 crossing Delridge Way just a bit to the north of the Boren School. There are street signs installed in memory of his death urging people to be careful driving. His death also resulted in Delridge Way going from four lanes of travel to two lanes with center turn lane as well as traffic signal installation. If you think it is dangerous now, back then it was horrible. Yet it is still in need of further safety improvements and the additions being sought are completely reasonable to anyone interested in anything beyond themselves.


    Marcus Gets A Memorial, 7 Years Late
    By Dee Norton
    Seattle Times Staff Reporter

    A mother’s seven years of stubbornness has overcome a bureaucracy.

    Donna Anderson knows her life will not be whole again. But a small ceremony, set for Dec. 28, will at least confirm her belief that her young son “should be remembered for the good his death brought.”

    It will be a simple affair, the installing of a sign with a message for motorists: “Drive Carefully In Memory of Marcus Ryan Anderson.”

    Marcus, 7, died July 17, 1987, as he crossed Delridge Way Southwest near Southwest Brandon Street. Though one car had stopped to let him pass, another car passed that one and struck him.

    Anderson, 37, won a financial settlement from the city – but did not stop at that. She pushed on, warning the city about what people in that part of West Seattle had come to call the “Delridge Speedway.”

    The city eventually redesigned the section, halving the number of traffic lanes in each direction, and separating them with a left-turn lane. New stoplights were installed to further slow traffic.

    In 1989, Anderson began pushing hard for the memorial sign.

    Last June, she wrote to all nine Seattle City Council members and later had her attorney call Mayor Norm Rice’s office.

    Finally, the city approved the sign, setting precedent for a new program. Relatives or neighbors of traffic victims now may have the city install a memorial sign for a $125 fee, said Mark Murray, Rice’s spokesperson.

  • Robert March 18, 2014 (8:04 am)

    driving in seattle lately has been getting more dangerous lately with heavier traffic and more walkers and bikers, PARENTS WHEN YOU GRAB YOUR KIDS HAND AND RUN ACROSS THE STREET IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BLOCK, YOU ARE TEACHING YOUR KID THAT IT IS OK TO JAYWALK…if you are crossing the street PLEASE GO TO THE CROSS-WALK .

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