(Slide deck from last night’s meeting)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
“Who can we contact to derail this program?”
That question was asked by one attendee at last night’s contentious meeting about the Admiral Way Safety Project, but could have come from almost anyone who spoke. We hadn’t planned to record the meeting on video but grabbed five minutes of public comment via phone; if you weren’t there, this is a taste of how it went:
This was the first standalone meeting about the project, and at one point during the meeting SDOT reps said it would be the only one – but before the meeting’s end, Admiral Neighborhood Association president David Whiting asked them to commit to another one, and they agreed.
The proposal for SW Admiral Way between California SW and 63rd SW is intended to improve safety by adding a bicycle lane and narrowing vehicle lanes. That would require removal of about 200 street parking spaces, per SDOT’s calculations, on alternating sides of the street. While SDOT initially contended that the proposal would still preserve more than the number of spaces they found occupied during their research, what has drawn ire is the timing of that research: They took counts last December, not during the warm-weather months that fill Alki-area parking spaces for blocks around.
The way in which this proposal emerged also has drawn criticism.
Unlike other arterial projects on the drawing board now for West Seattle – 35th SW and SW Roxbury – this seemed to come out of almost nowhere. Those two projects followed longstanding community requests for help with dangerous corridors, as did the now-under-construction 47th/Admiral traffic signal, which is in the zone covered by this project. But the Admiral Way Safety Project emerged without much fanfare – first we heard of it was when an SDOT presentation turned up on the ANA agenda for April; this preview we published before that meeting included the first publicized details.
Even without much warning, that meeting had a larger turnout than most community councils usually draw (WSB coverage here). The next briefing was at this month’s Southwest District Council meeting (WSB coverage here), a group that doesn’t usually draw much of an audience (and doesn’t meet in a room with much space for one).
But last night brought a crowd. SDOT seemed braced for one, bringing reinforcements to join project manager Emily Ehlers, including her boss Sam Woods and Dawn Schellenberg of the SDOT communications team to try to set the stage for the meeting, as well as to try to keep it on topic and away from mode-vs.-mode anger. At the start, she asked who’d heard about the SDOT safety initiative Vision Zero. A few scattered hands went up. She offered a preface – “The value of someone’s life does not change depending on how they travel. … It’s not us vs. them.” – as well as background on traffic calming and on the Bicycle Master Plan, suggesting that current bicycle riders are mostly those who’ve done it for a long time, and that the city hopes changes like the one in this plan will make more people feel comfortable enough to ride.
Ehlers picked up with the project itself, along Admiral Way between 63rd SW and California SW. She started with stats on a speed study in February – 2 percent of the drivers on the corridor are going more than 40 mph.
She showed a bicycle count – keep in mind, there’s no bike lane now. At Stevens Street, the daily use averaged about 50, and at 48th, it averaged more than 60. “Uphill? Downhill?” somebody muttered. “I don’t believe it,” somebody else muttered. Ehlers said these were measured by devices, not visually.
She also showed the collision data for the stretch over three years – 48 collisions, all but three vehicle-vs.-vehicle, one in which a pedestrian was hit, two involving bicycles.
Then, the parking chart – and she acknowledged the seasonal variations that weren’t mentioned the first time around until someone asked “when was the study done?” and got the reply “December.” So, she said, they will study again in July. The measurements were at 6 am, noon, 6 pm, 10 pm, in the January study, with the available parking only one-third utilized.
The changes are what were announced previously – reduce lane width from an average of 12 to 10 feet, for one. That encourages slower speeds and narrows the crossing distance for pedestrians, Ehlers said. And she mentioned the 47th/Admiral signal project (which is all done except for the signal itself).
The map color-coding planned parking changes was shown – none at the west end, 58 spaces in the next stretch, 124 spaces in the stretch after that, and no change in the block before California, which also will not have a bike lane.
At this point, the project team mentioned that next steps would include the July parking study, and final design; implementation in fall, and evaluation next year. That’s when they said, at first, that no additional meeting was planned after the July parking study, but Schellenberg said that they would notify people when the study results are available online.
That’s when Q/A began, growing increasingly contentious as it went on.
First question: What about correcting behavior through means such as enforcement? Ehlers said, “Enforcement is a huge issue – it’s one prong of Vision Zero along with enforcement and education,” and invited comments on where enforcement would be helpful. Woods said “self-enforcement” is what they are aiming for. She said they can research SPD citations, but they don’t have that data currently.
Another attendee said upper Admiral is enforced more than lower Admiral.
“No pavement repair?” asked an attendee. Ehlers said they planned some spot repairs in the bicycle lanes because bicycles are sensitive. “Cars are too,” was the retort.
A man who said he had been measuring parking in recent weeks said his numbers are different from the city’s, and thought they might be counting the bridge, “where no one parks.” He said that from 57th west, occupancy at night seems to be closer to 85 percent. Ehlers clarified that the 33 percent occupancy was an average, including sections “where no one parks” and sections “where people park heavily.”
A man who said he has one vehicle on the street, one in the garage, and rides his bicycle to work daily, said the best thing he sees about the project is the “narrower lanes … to slow down traffic. Whatever happens here, I hope narrower lanes will be part of it. … Right now it’s just too much of a speedway.” He and neighbors have had their cars hit by speeding vehicles.
Another attendee said “to me the data is useless if you don’t look at what’s happening down here between May and September.”
They’re going to, the SDOT team reiterated. “But you’re not going to share it in a group setting,” said an attendee. “Well, we’re hearing you might like that,” said Schellenberg.
Another attendee stood up to talk about the lack of parking for Alki Elementary and said no one from the school is here “because they’ve given up.” The “overflow parking” is “right in front of where I live,” she said. And, she pointed out, “this is a tourist area. … The whole atmosphere of our city changes (in summer) … strangers come from other cities, and they try to park here, and there’s nowhere to park. Where do they park? Admiral Way. On the 4th of July, we have to take a cab, because there’s no place to park. We’re talking about a street that’s not like the other streets you’re trying to change in the city.” That was followed by applause.
A man who said he lives on 57th says he has to park on Admiral. “There’s a parking overlay around here for good reason.” (Alki requires 1.5 spaces per unit for residential construction.)
A woman said that she can’t turn onto Admiral because it’s heavily parked, up to and even into an alley. She takes the bus to work, she noted.
Next to speak was Jackie Ramels (a former chair of the Alki Community Council), who said it’s hard “to sit here and hear you tell us how things are – I know how things are …” Last weekend during the West Seattle 5K, Ramels said, people were parking overlapping her driveway. “The future of our whole neighborhood and our way of life depend on the information you get in July … we hope you choose a really nice day” (for the July study).
Another attendee said, “My impression is that this plan will go forward.”
“We’re looking to see if we can accommodate your parking, add a new travel option, and have collisions go down on the street,” replied Schellenberg.
Next person pointed out that many of the streets in upper Alki back up onto greenbelts and there are no “other streets to park on.” He said traffic was slower “before they put the center turn lane in” years ago. He added that crosswalks are needed to help people like him – “I’m in my 60s” – at the very least.
The applause got more raucous.
“How long will the study be in July?”
“One weekday and one weekend day,” the SDOT team replied, saying cars will be counted by people.
A woman and man, each holding a baby, stood up to voice their concerns about parking removal on their side of Admiral Way. She started to cry as she spoke, saying she loves the idea of slowing down but “I’m scared to death to take (my children) across the street multiple times a day. (if parking is removed on the side where she lives) … We just heard about this meeting through a neighbor. Is this a votable issue? … I applaud you guys trying to make it safer but it scares me to death to think we’ll have to park across the street.”
The contentiousness ratcheted up from here.
“You should be note-taking,” someone admonished the SDOT team (one person was writing bulletpoints on paper on an easel, but no one appeared to be taking notes otherwise).
A man shouted that people should send their concerns to City Councilmember Mike O’Brien.
One man says “it’s up to each one of us to create our own safety. You can’t do it. I know from the engineering department you want to help – but you can’t design safety into everyone’s minds.”
Smattering of applause. “We’re not going to give up,” said an SDOT team member.
“All it takes is a little alcohol, or a drug, and a little roadway paint will not save anybody,” the man continued – he is the one at the start of our video clip. “I have to be here to tell you, you’re wrong. You insulted me by telling me my experience means I’m stupid.” (He explained he took umbrage to them having called regular bicyclists “fearless.”)
Then another attendee (also in our clip) said that the bicycle counts were wrong, saying that he works at home all day and has never seen more than a handful.
A woman said people won’t stop for a pedestrian island, they certainly won’t stop for a crosswalk. “I don’t see how this is going to work.” She thinks a crosswalk every block or two “would be great, but how you’re going to get the cars to see them …”
A man voiced concern about “all these condos being built …” – he seemed to be referring to apartment construction in the West Seattle Junction area – “they’re going to want to come to the beach.”
Schellenberg reiterated at that point that they are not looking to cut the speed limit beyond the posted speed, 30 mph.
David Whiting, president of the Admiral Neighborhood Association: “If the goal of Vision Zero is to reduce accidents, then why is the bicycle lane adjacent to traffic instead of buffered by (parking)?”
Woods replied that “doing a parking-buffered bike lane would (mean) restricting parking at every driveway, at every intersection.”
Whiting said he wanted SDOT to commit to not implementing any changes without another public meeting, after the next round of research. That drew major applause. He mentioned his group, “we’d host you, logistics are not a problem, or the SW District Council” (which he co-chairs) – “there’s enough concern about this process.”
And with that, Schellenberg said OK, they would commit to another public meeting.
Next person: “If your goal is to slow traffic to accommodate bikes, and you hope there will be more in the future to reduce car trips – I like the idea of eliminating the center turn lane along the stretch. That will slow speeds.”
Another man who said he works on an ambulance crew all day said he thought the whole impetus for this was wrong in the first place – basically, that they were trying to fix what wasn’t broken.
Then a man declared that the studies SDOT said it did in December and April “are completely flawed.” The project team quickly said they would vowed to redo the bicycle count in June, as well as redoing the parking study in July. “You are public servants and you work for us,” he continued, and said he was not happy with the project team’s giggling/laughter during the meeting.
“Who can we contact to derail this program? Tell us now, who can we write to to derail the program? You’re here to placate us.”
“Dori Monson,” someone says.
Ehlers said they can e-mail her.
One woman spoke up to support the proposal at that point, saying that, “she’s looking forward to the narrower lanes and I’m looking forward to the project.”
A man said that they’ve been asking for more pedestrian enhancements at 49th. He then graciously suggested applause for Schellenberg having “run the meeting well.”
Then a woman asked to speak. “There are only three ways to get to Alki” – and this is one of them. “This is our main thoroughfare. It’s not like any other street. That has to be taken into consideration.”
She then wondered about the genesis of this proposal – what led to it in the first place?
Schellenberg said she thought it primarily was inspired by the Bicycle Master Plan, which she had mentioned in her meeting preface.
“So – it’s all for bicyclists?” someone asked.
At that, the meeting wrapped up, with at least a third of the attendees staying to talk with each other and with the SDOT staffers.
WHAT’S NEXT? As noted above, SDOT committed to another public meeting after the July parking study. We will continue to follow up to find out when they intend to do that study.
HOW TO COMMENT: firstname.lastname@example.org – and there’s more contact info on the project page (where you’ll also find the “boards” shown last night, as well as the slide deck we embedded above).