By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
As promised, we followed up today on the Junction bus-shelter removal that was abruptly announced by the appearance of RIDER ALERT signs over the weekend (here’s our Saturday story).
Metro just announced it will “pause” the removal plan while soliciting feedback. Its answers to questions we asked this morning just came in; first, here’s what we learned while talking this afternoon with Lora Swift, director of the West Seattle Junction Association, who helped organize the October 6th walking tour that preceded the plan (WSB coverage here).
First, she confirmed that the shelters planned for removal are the two to the right of the trash can in our photo above, NOT all four of the blue non-RapidRide shelters on the south side of SW Alaska. Metro had placed notices in all four of the structures, which led to some confusion. These two shelters are at a spot which has about 200 boardings a day, according to Metro, a dramatic drop from pre-RapidRide days (the RapidRide stops on the block see 1,300 boardings a day).
“The ridership doesn’t support having four giant bus shelters there,” Swift said. In addition to removing a space that is used more often by loiterers, she said, removal will “open up visually the path between the sidewalk and parking lot, and give (space) between the Honey Bucket and the shelters.” She said that should cut down on illegal activities such as drug dealing in the Honey Bucket – paid for by the city Human Services Department, which says one has been there since the Junction Association requested it more than 20 years ago.
The Honey Bucket itself will “stay for now,” Swift said, so there’ll be a public restroom there.
In discussion of the removal decision following our Saturday report, some commenters wondered about increasing enforcement. According to Swift, Metro Transit Police (a division of the King County Sheriff’s Office) are now “doing plainclothes patrols … getting on and off those buses,” and working with transients to direct them to services they might need that are available downtown but not here. She says Seattle Police are patroling the area as well.
In addition, Metro’s facilities division will be cleaning the shelters five days a week instead of three. And the Junction Association already has taken action to remove a bench in the adjacent parking lot, which, along with the Junction’s other parking lot on 44th, is being evaluated for lighting improvements.
One factor pointed out in the October 6th walking tour as another possible draw for loitering in the bus-stop area was a fixture with open electrical outlets. While they can’t be removed because they’re required for events in The Junction, Swift says they will be raised out of reach on a pole and locked up.
This all began, she said, with messages from merchants who had pointed out “increased transient behavior” at the bus stops, including drinking and sleeping – both of which are against Metro rules – and harassment of passersby.
Now, via spokesperson Jeff Switzer, here is Metro’s reply, just received, to several questions we asked this morning (part of it, toward the end, synchronizes with some of what the WSJA told us):
The King County Metro transit facility at Alaska Junction is incredibly important to our customers and to the functioning of the transit network in West Seattle. Due to the attention possible changes have received over the weekend, Metro is willing to push “pause” on the shelter removal and actively solicit feedback before finalizing the shelter removal plan. New information will be posted at the shelters within the next couple days and will provide the appropriate contact information. We also read the West Seattle Blog and other forums and will compile comments along with all other feedback we receive.
But Metro would also like to take a moment to clarify the proposal to reduce the number of shelters on SW Alaska Street at the Junction. The Alaska Junction transit facility consists of six individual bus stops or “Bays”. Bays 1 through 4 are located on SW Alaska between California and 44th avenues Southwest. Bay 2, on the south side of Alaska between 44th and the alley, is the subject of this discussion. Bay 2 has about 200 Metro boardings per average weekday. For comparison, Bay 1, between California and the alley, has about 1,300 boardings, while Bays 3 and 4 on the north side of Alaska each see about 400 boardings. Bays 5 and 6 are on 44th north of Alaska, on the east side of the street and they remain unchanged by this proposal.
West Seattle businesses, residents, and others have been seeking to identify improvements to reduce illegal and uncivil behavior in the area. The shelters closest to the City of Seattle provided porta-potty have been identified as facilitating this type of behavior and creating an unwelcoming if not unsafe environment for transit riders and others.
Two factors – ridership that does not justify the number of shelters, and numerous complaints of illegal and uncivil behavior – combined to prompt Metro to plan for removal of the two shelters closest to the Porta Potty. The remaining two shelters would continue to provide very generous waiting space for Metro riders, as would the two Rapid Ride shelters in Bay 1 next to Key Bank. Bay 4 (immediately across Alaska Street) currently has two large shelters and twice as many Metro boardings as Bay 2, and we have observed the Bay 4 shelters provide adequate space for riders.
Metro regularly evaluates issues with Metro bus shelters and makes decisions on the installation and removal of bus shelters, as ridership and circumstances change at bus stops. The plan to remove these two Metro shelters arose out of concerns raised by the West Seattle Junction Association (WSJA), and subsequent meetings between WSJA, Metro Transit Police, the Seattle Police Department, and others regarding security issues in the junction, including loitering, public inebriation, fights, illegal dumping, public urination, and harassment of Metro bus riders and others. The removal of these shelters is one of several efforts in the Junction area that is attempting to address quality of life issues.
Removal of the two shelters at Bay 2 is one of several actions that WSJA and Metro are taking to improve security and maintenance at the Junction. Other efforts include:
· Metro Transit Police have started a “Problem Solving Project” in partnership with the Seattle Police Department SW Precinct to deal with code of conduct and quality of life issues to improve safety and security for business and citizens using the junction
· Possible additional lighting in the adjacent parking lots by WSJA
· Tree and bush trimming by WSJA in the adjacent parking lots to improve visibility into the lots
· Metro will increase custodial maintenance at the Junction bus stops from three times per week to five times per week.
Metro is looking forward to hearing further public comment and adjusting the proposal in ways that can both serve riders and improve public safety.