(From left, WSTC’s Joe Szilagyi & Amanda Kay Helmick, SDOT’s Scott Kubly & Jim Curtin)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The West Seattle Transportation Coalition stuck with its agenda tonight, hearing from and talking with SDOT leaders about the proposed Move Seattle levy and two safety projects – Vision Zero citywide and 35th SW locally – instead of digressing into a discussion of Tuesday’s 9-hour Highway 99 blockage.
Co-chair Amanda Kay Helmick said WSTC would be writing out its concerns/questions for SDOT to consider regarding the incident. Otherwise, here’s how the meeting unfolded:
35TH SW BRIEFING: SDOT project manager Jim Curtin spoke toward the start of the meeting, with a quick refresher on the alternative proposals unveiled at meetings earlier this month (WSB coverage here and here).
He reiterated that the roadway will be “redesigned” and that the speed-limit reduction that is planned will be based on that, not based on its current conditions. “It will look very much like Fauntleroy Way SW [rechannelized and repaved in 2009] does right now, except that we are not planning bicycle facilities right now” – they are, however, in the city’s long-range plan; in the shorter term, greenway(s) will be developed nearby, and Curtin says that process will begin next year.
Overall, Curtin said, the 35th SW changes “will significantly improve conditions for people who are not driving.” The proposed final version will be the. Next week, he said, SDOT will be meeting with some of the business owners along 35th SW in the Gatewood/Sunrise Heights area, to talk about pedestrian safety. Overall, Holden and Morgan are the two intersections where they’re still working to figure out how they can improve safety without significant delay. “We think we have solutions,” Curtin added.
WSTC’s Michael Taylor-Judd said he was concerned that the city was always looking at “the cheapest” possible solution rather than addressing specific ongoing pedestrian behaviors, which might be helped by signals. “There’s no magic,” Curtin said, but went on to add that even the “cheap” changes such as restriping can result in major safety improvements. “I think this is a really good use of your tax dollars …” more safety without that much more spending, he said.
WSTC’s Joe Szilagyi wondered about more barriers to keep cars from crashing into protected spaces for pedestrians, like the island on SW Barton in Westwood Village where he recently pointed out a driver having taken down signage.
(Photo courtesy Joe Szilagyi)
Isn’t 5 deaths in 10 years a “good” average? asked WSTC’s Marty Westerman, noting that he was “playing devil’s advocate.” Actually, no, said Curtin, saying 35th had one of the worst records in the city. Westerman also asked about why West Seattle didn’t have a “mobility system,” and said he was concerned that “constricting arterials” would impede WS mobility. Actually, Curtin said, SDOT’s experience is that reducing a road to 3 lanes does NOT “constrict” traffic. But, Taylor-Judd contended, it’s going to take people longer, so SDOT shouldn’t be suggesting there’s “no impact.” Curtin said they weren’t making any such suggestion – “if you saw my presentation, we clearly said, there will be delays of up to two minutes.” He noted that one of his first assignments was attending a rally on 35th “after a kid got hit by a car.”
WSTC’s Tom Linde wondered about the feedback provided by radar speed signs. Curtin said that effect “wears off.”
West Seattle resident Mark Jacobs said that he has found information suggesting that the 35th corridor actually has an up to 25 percent lower crash rate than other such corridors in the city. He wants the city to keep the 35 mph speed limit “as they did on Fauntleroy, come back a year later, and see how it’s going.” Curtin countered, of course 35th has a lower collision rate, when you look at downtown and other areas with higher traffic.
Can we make buses run faster? asked an attendee. Curtin said yes, they’re working on tweaks, noting that as an Arbor Heights resident, “the 21 [on 35th] is my bus.” He said a “short bus-only and right-turn lane” is under consideration at SW Morgan, for example. In response to another question, he also reiterated what he had said during at least one of the official 35th project meetings: The city will not (ever again?) put in a bus bulb just north of an intersection like the widely derided one at California/Fauntleroy in Morgan Junction. A followup question about diversion along side streets in Morgan brought a response from WSTC board member Deb Barker who said the situation doesn’t meet “thresholds” for mitigation.
Szilagyi asked Curtin how the feedback has been since the unveiling of the alternatives. Of the 150 or so direct comments he’s received in various ways, Curtin said, most are favorable, with some geographic pockets of concern like his neighborhood, Arbor Heights. He promised that summaries of feedback will be in the SDOT presentation when they come back with the final proposed alternative in a few months.
Taylor-Judd wondered about data for what happened on Fauntleroy and Delridge after those roads were rechannelized – was there diversion to other roads? As Curtin pointed out, Fauntleroy was mentioned in his recent presentations, which pointed out that Fauntleroy’s traffic volume has actually increased (ever so slightly).
VISION ZERO: Curtin segued into this initiative (here’s our original report from last month, with more than 100 comments). The 20-mph zone program will launch next month, with Admiral among the first areas (non-arterial streets involved), and possibly part of High Point shortly thereafter. (He clarified later, in response to a question, that the city is NOT planning to reduce *all* non-arterials to 20 mph. “The locations (where it will be reduced) are generally close to schools, parks, community centers …”)
As originally announced, Vision Zero also includes 30 mph zones planned for these West Seattle arterials among other parts of the city:
*35th Avenue SW
*SW Roxbury Street/Olson Place SW
*Delridge Way SW
*Fauntleroy Way SW
*Harbor Avenue SW
Regarding enforcement, SDOT will be working with SPD on its SeaStat trend reviews, “bringing traffic into the fold,” and emphasis patrols will be happening – one happened just today in Lake City, Curtin said.
Also, they’re in the final stages of deciding where the next school-zone cameras will be installed. (Last month in our Vision Zero report, we noted that Boren Building/Delridge is considered a likely/possible West Seattle location.)
SDOT DIRECTOR SCOTT KUBLY, INCLUDING THE TRANSPORTATION LEVY: He picked up from Curtin, and early on, Jacobs asked a question about national standards that he said Seattle will soon be violating. Kubly said he sees it all as “like a doctor … first, do no harm,” but “part of the challenge we’ve had in the traffic engineering of the past 50 or 60 years is that we’ve planned for one mode instead of all the different modes that use the street … if you look at (a system of any kind) and (focus it on one thing) … it doesn’t work.”
WSTC’s Helmick wanted to find out how the transportation levy will help ingress/egress to West Seattle. Kubly started with an overview of the 9-year, $900 million *draft* proposal – “that’s important to point out, it’s a DRAFT proposal” – and that it includes proposals supporting city goals including safety and affordability. Regarding the latter point, he noted that transportation is the average household’s second biggest spending area, after housing – that the average household spends 17 percent of its $ on transportation. And it’s a matter of affordability for the city too – “it’s cheaper for us to repair a street than to replace it.” 250 miles of repaving are part of the levy plan, as it stands now.
He says someone has just started in a new SDOT position to “do a better job of utility coordination.” He said he was traveling down California SW along what otherwise was a new stretch of pavement and “seeing utility cuts after utility cuts after utility cuts.” Right now there’s a three-year moratorium – “if we pave a street, a utility can’t make a cut for three years.” That will change to a 5-year moratorium, and once the cut is allowed, there will be tougher standards for repairs/restorations “so streets don’t look like Swiss cheese.” But, he added, “there will be times when emergency cuts have to happen.” If it’s coordinated properly, he said, the city could get some “free pavement” as a result.
Then he went into more on the multi-modal vision, talking about a street such as East Marginal – “we’re going to be talking first about freight, and then about (bicycle safety)” … nearby, the Lander Street Overpass is “really important” to get people over the tracks where “oil trains are now coming in three times a day.”
(The fish from the Highway 99 mishap came up at that point; Kubly said he thinks it’s being stored somewhere, likely destined to become pet food.)
RapidRide “type” improvements – likely without the branding – are going to be happening in 7 corridors around the city.
About sidewalks – 27 percent of the city is without them. That’s a $2.5 billion problem, he said. But this levy includes “100 blocks” of sidewalks. Improving walking safety is “not always going to be traditional sidewalks,” he said.
On the point of “a vibrant city,” he said that’s not just about sidewalk cafes, but about other components like freight – the “freight spot improvement program” would be based on the Freight Master Plan that’s expected to be done this year. The levy also includes 25-30 “neighborhood street fund” projects as priorities. He didn’t mention any West Seattle specifics and that was pointed out, genially, at that point. “We’ll be having a conversation over the next several months” to refine all this, he said, reminding people that there’s a survey online as well as more traditional feedback methods as meetings (like the March 31st meeting at WSHS). The website will have a “Levy Builder” so people can go in and shape it the way they would want to see it.
City Council District 1 candidate Chas Redmond asked from the audience what the dollar breakdown of the $900 million is by council district, and “what would it take for us to get you to think out of the box to add … a bus-lane exit on the 99 offramp from Spokane – there’s plenty of space on both sides … (And) what about a 4th Avenue S. onramp for transit prioritization from the busway.”
Kubly started to reply and Redmond said he didn’t want to hear the same old answers – he had asked about this four years ago for the Transit Master Plan “and it was ignored by the people then in charge.” (The breakdown question wasn’t answered at all.)
Another City Council District 1 candidate, Tom Koch, was next with a question. “How much of the $900 million levy cost could be subsidized if (developers) paid their fair share? … Are any of the additional $2 billion in investments (mentioned) coming from fees?” Kubly noted what others have said before, that impact fees are “being studied right now” but that kind of funding is not being considered currently.
Attendee Kathy Dunn asked if red-light-camera revenue could go toward safety projects, as school-zone-speed cameras’ revenue does.
An East Admiral resident brought up the Terminal 5 modernization situation (see “announcements” below) . “We’re talking with the port,” said Kubly, mentioning Lander again and unspecified “spot improvements,” saying he’s not familiar with T-5 specifically, but “people in the department are.”
Someone else from the audience: How many of those 100 blocks of sidewalks are going into Arbor Heights? Kubly pointed to shaded areas on a map which show “high priority” areas. (Apparently NOT including Arbor Heights.) He reiterated that they are looking at non-sidewalk ways to make the city “more walkable.” Curtin brought up the recently built 97th-100th sidewalk along 35th and said that will be extended to 106th this year, which means 35th will “have complete sidewalks from Roxbury to 106th. … We’re definitely working our way through Arbor Heights.”
Taylor-Judd wondered about the threshold for making pedestrian improvements – one house goes down, four or six townhouses/rowhouse/houses go up, and no improvements are required, unlike apartment developments. He also mentioned the phasing – “you buy four or five houses, you take down one, put up a four-pack, wait six months, put up four more … It seems there are tricks being played at the small end of things to avoid making improvements.”
Kubly: “You raise a lot of interesting points …” and mentioned different ideas for how this is handled in different cities. “There are different ways to tackle the problem.”
Jacobs: “What’s the guarantee if this passes, that the general fund doesn’t get supplanted once again” with general-fund money getting diverted elsewhere because there’s a pot of tax money to pay for basics. Kubly: “There are caps about how much property tax can go up this year. .. Maybe a levy is a good way because it means the city is always setting targets, commitments, meeting commitments.” He said that before the levy proposal was announced, he sat down with staffers and analyzed what the city is paying for components of projects. He went on to talk about designing projects cost-effectively. On Monday, SDOT is rolling out a new division that will help make that happen, he said.
Diane Vincent said she had been at the Highland Park Action Committee meeting last night, with SDOT traffic engineer Dongho Chang, and that there’d “been a lot of talk about sidewalks” and safety/speeding concerns, especially along Holden – at 9th and at 16th, as well as “people zooming through side streets (in HP) to get out of West Seattle.”
WSTC LEGISLATIVE AGENDA: If you’re interested in input, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, said Szilagyi.
BOARD ELECTIONS: Several positions are open on the 11-member board and people who wanted to be eligible had to attend tonight’s meeting, as per the communication that WSTC had sent out and published before the meeting. Watch for the list of who’s running for what on the WSTC website; several potential members jumped in. They’ll be voting in May, and candidates will need to submit photos and bios before then so that information about them can be circulated.
ANNOUNCEMENTS FROM BOARD MEMBERS & ATTENDEES: These included a reminder about the March 31st meeting about the aforementioned levy, 6 pm at West Seattle High School, a Metro long-range-vision workshop is happening downtown that same night … a reminder that SDOT will be unveiling its Roxbury plan at the upcoming Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council meeting on April 7th (6:15 pm, Southwest Branch Library) … The Terminal 5 modernization’s proposed Determination of Non-Significance was brought up (as reported here, its comment period wrapped up this week). The Port of Seattle now is taking comments into consideration and will issue a final decision; here’s its notice. … WSTC is also monitoring progress (or lack of it) on the transportation bill in Olympia; a hearing was under way much of the afternoon.