By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Though no one said it aloud, an undercurrent of “can’t SDOT just scrap this?” seemed to be running through the Q/A at the latest community meeting about the Fauntleroy (Way) Boulevard project, held last night in the new meeting room at the West Seattle YMCA (WSB sponsor).
If not, one attendee said, at least “compromise” would be appreciated.
By meeting’s end, City Councilmember Lisa Herbold had spoken up to remind people that SDOT didn’t initiate the project – community members did, many years ago (1999, as the city reps’ slide deck pointed out) – and that the final phase of design is a “negotiation.”
The timeline reminder rankled some, who suggested that in booming West Seattle, the time for a boulevard along the last almost-half-mile to the West Seattle Bridge is long past.
But before the discussion, SDOT presented some new information, including a few tweaks to the 60 percent design, a few highlights from the newest traffic studies, and a couple potential changes along the way.
The meeting was originally announced as the second gathering of the Fauntleroy Way Neighborhood and Business Association (whose first meeting six weeks ago was covered here), with the Junction Neighborhood Organization joining in as co-host, and SDOT sending a raft of reps. Here’s how it unfolded:
After a welcome from Katie Trent of Rudy’s Barbershop on behalf of the Fauntleroy Way group, Herbold told the ~40 in attendance that the project particularly speaks to the “vibrant” aspect of SDOT’s mission.
“The focus of this meeting is about the design and how we can fulfill all of (its) objectives …” she added, noting that having businesses work with the Office of Economic Development would be even more important in the next phase.
SDOT’s Kate Cole presented the newest information, recapping project background (dating back to 1999 discussions, and then the 2012 concept during the West Seattle Triangle Planning project) – including that two lanes of traffic will be retained in each direction, with new sidewalks, new paving, new lighting, signal improvements, bicycle lanes on both sides of the road, a landscaped center media, shorter crossings for pedestrians, and public art. The speed limit will be reduced to 25 mph. As has been pointed out before, the project will be built entirely within public right-of-way – some of which might currently appear to be private property – the road itself will stay in its current bounds.
SDOT is now projecting that construction will start in early 2018, after the 90 percent design milestone by next month, and 100 percent design by July. Here’s the rest of the current timeline:
Cole also recapped the recent round of outreach, 115 attendees at last month’s two walking tours, plus 61 comments from the public post-tours – she promises those comments will be published online. Here are the feedback highlights SDOT listed:
And here’s how SDOT says it’s responding so far:
“Business access is critical” summarizes a point that’s been heard over and over again in project discussions.
Regarding visibility and maintenance of the landscaped medians, Cole showed “low-maintenance” plants that she said would be used. The strips would have shrubs, not grass, to reduce maintenance needs.
She handed off to the city’s highest-profile traffic engineer, Dongho Chang, who presented a few traffic-study toplines from sampling on February 14,16, and 28, plus forecasting of 2019 traffic via construction, projects that are already permitted, “1% annual growth rate,” plans for signal-timing changes, and ferry-traffic outlook.
During AM peak right now, according to SDOT’s studies, it’s 1 minute, 48 seconds outbound, and during PM peak, the same inbound, with that projected to increase by about 50 percent in two years:
The next slide showed what the difference would be with the planned removal of the right-turn pockets at Avalon and Oregon, a major point of contention for some:
“It’s not really significant in terms of congestion, but significant in terms of people and businesses,” Chang noted. Next, he said, SDOT has acknowledged requests that some changes be made at 35th and Fauntleroy – the project was stopping short of that intersection previously. He said no channelization changes are planned for the intersection, but they can make some changes to the signal:
On side streets, Chang said, SDOT is “exploring options for short-term parking restrictions,” promising more public input before any decisions are made.
Making, repeatedly, a comparison between the Fauntleroy plan and Lake City Way, he said they had looked at a suggestion for a crosswalk addition near 37th SW, but they are not recommending it. There also was a request to examine potential left-turn access through the median – “a major concern,” said Chang, showing an area where that could happen, between 36th and 37th. “That’s something we … want to hear your thoughts about.” Cole interjected, “I think this is a pretty interesting development in the project.” She said that they’ll be taking comments online/via e-mail over the next month-plus.
An attendee at that point urged, “You need to consider all the businesses that are in The Triangle, not just those on Fauntleroy – you’ve taken away access to us.”
Next, the biggest issue related to that point – the options for traffic routing during construction – having the project zone on Fauntleroy be one-way or two-way?
One-way routing would mean two lanes going southwest on Fauntleroy, while north/east traffic – toward the bridge – would be detoured onto Alaska and 35th, Chang said, adding that they would also look at signal timing on all three of those streets “just for the construction traffic.” The one-way routing would mean a 12-to-15-month construction period.
“Does that include working at night, too?” asked an attendee. Chang said it was too soon to say. He continued on to the two-way option – which would mean traffic in one lane each way on Fauntleroy. That too would involve signal-timing adjustments “along this corridor,” and construction would take three months longer.
Cole said they are still trying to gauge public opinion on this – during the walk-and-talk events last month, she explained, “we didn’t hear a strong feeling one way or another.”
Chang noted that communication during construction would be vital – though the slide mentioned only a few means of communication – as well as “encouraging (construction) crews to park off-site.” They’ll work with the contractor to find a spot for that, he said, and to “limit onsite equipment staging.”
Chang repeatedly mentioned that they intend to maintain business access, and pedestrian access “on both sides of the street.”
Another city rep spoke briefly next, Michael Wells from the Office of Economic Development, where he’s the “small-business advocate.” Most of what they offer is “free business consulting,” he said, as well as “being an advocate for businesses during construction” and the permitting processes. He urged the businesses to speak with a “unified voice” during the process and also said his office offers “financial consulting” too – including information about small-business loans. “I think that we have learned as a city that the more advanced communication we can have with business districts (during projects like this), the better (things go),” Wells said.
Dr. Terrill Harrington, a business owner on SW Alaska, wondered if the mention of meeting with businesses was just referring to the businesses on Fauntleroy Way itself. Cole said that’s what they’ve been doing during this phase of the design process, and will meet again regarding granular things such as “when does your trash get picked up?” She said they’ve also been talking with groups such as the West Seattle Junction Association and West Seattle Chamber of Commerce, both of which had representatives at the meeting.
Will the presentation be online? Yes, later this week, Cole said (and you can see it at the top of this story).
At that point, someone in the back of the room called out, “When are the roads getting fixed in West Seattle?”
“Other roads?” asked Cole.
“Yes … I could take pictures for days on end. … How much does this project cost?”
“15 to 18 million dollars,” said project manager Norene Pen. He was then going to have Chang answer the more general question about other roads, but the attendee abruptly said, basically, never mind: “Go back to your program,” so someone else’s question took center stage. That person wanted to know why there was going to be a bike lane on Fauntleroy. “We’ve talked to people and they’re really interested in having a protected bike facility” on that road, Cole said. Chang added, “This is the only area in the Bicycle Master Plan that has a separated bike facility … when the Bicycle Master Plan was updated, the community came out” and asked for that.
“So because of that bike lane, there’s no more access to Oregon?” someone asked. Yes, there is access, SDOT said.
“How much does this project cost, again?” asked another attendee.
“15 to 18 million,” Pen replied, again.
That attendee then went on to voice a concern that did not appear to be related to the project: He said he had been having a rent problem at his catering business, and has just been evicted from his apartment. “Where is the justice in this world that I am an honest, hard-working person in this world, and nobody wants to evict me, and now I’m homeless?”
Cole said, “I am so sorry you have to go through that,” and offered that some of the city reps in the room could offer resources.
And it was back to project-related questions/comments. Longtime project supporter and neighborhood advocate Sharonn Meeks, from Fairmount (just south of The Triangle), spoke next, asking another longtime neighborhood advocate in the room, Abdy Farid, if he would publicly voice his preference for the construction routing – one-way or two-way.
“From my experience … the one-way routing, (because it has) less conflict points, and it would be easier for people to get used to it,” Farid replied. “On the way home, people could stop at the businesses … and you save three months (in project duration), which is huge … it’s easier to set up for construction and people don’t have to do as much planning to eliminate conflict between driveways.”
Then Katie Trent from Rudy’s said the one-way routing would not work for her, explaining that she lives on 35th and her commute “is already nightmarish”; she wouldn’t want to see more traffic routed onto 35th. She then noted that Rudy’s is losing its offstreet parking lot (because it includes city right-of-way which SDOT will incorporate into the project zone). The potential break in the median is of interest to her, depending on its alignment. Pen and Chang said the break could be further west/south (that’s why, as mentioned earlier, the graphic in the slide deck is not a final look at what could happen).
Next, another Triangle businessperson, Chris from West Seattle Brewing, said that while he has a parking lot of almost 20 spaces, “it’s going to become obsolete” because of the project, and he’s already had to hire a parking attendant because of the no-offstreet-parking microhousing building (WSB coverage here) nearby. He takes objection to removal of street parking as a result of the project, saying that losing parking can cost businesses their right to operate – including city planning evaluation. And: “I spent $60,000 for garage doors (on WS Brewing’s exterior), I will never be able to open those again if the sidewalk goes all the way up to (the building).” He doesn’t own the property but has spent time and money improving it. “This is an old design,” and so much has changed since it was initiated, he reiterated.
He said they’ve had a camera running outside their business for two months and the landlord has only found six bicyclists crossing in front of the business in that time.
Project manager Pen addressed some of the concern: Four spaces will be lost in on-street parking in front of Realfine/Rudy’s (across the street from WS Brewing). The side-street parking will be reviewed, he said. He added that they will be talking with the other city departments regarding the concern that they can no longer meet parking required for business operation.”We’re discussing it with the proper departments and will have a response (soon),” he said. Cole added that they’ve been talking with WS Brewing about the driveway configuration. Chris said that won’t help the Liquor Control Board requirements that would keep them from opening the garage doors if someone passing by would “be able to reach in and grab a beer.” Cole said, “That has been heard and we’re working on it.”
Next person to speak wondered if RapidRide would be rerouted to Fauntleroy during construction. Short answer: No. They would still use the current route. Alaska and 35th would remain 2-way – just, if the 1-way Fauntleroy option is chosen, with the addition of the eastbound traffic diverted from Fauntleroy.
Someone called out a concern of resulting “gridlock,” at that point.
Then another attendee said that while they support the concept, it seems at cross-purposes with reality: “There is the reality of what this chunk of Fauntleroy Way is now … it’s a big busy street … it’s an Aurora, it’s a 4th Avenue, it links I-5 to the ferry, it’s a big thoroughfare, there’s an industrial feel to this section of it … Yes, I support all of the surrounding changes, for bicycles and pedestrians and buses and all that; it still feels like our stretch of thoroughfare sticks out like a square thumb, it’s like trying to bend a square peg into a round hole.”
Next concern was from an attendee who said they “don’t understand why you need such a large median down the center … the one on Admiral Way is half that size, and it works well.” The median is 10 feet wide, Pen noted. If it were narrower, the rest of the configuration wouldn’t work, he explained. “if you start changing the existing curb lines and shortening them to fit in (all the components), now you are talking about whole, major roadway reconstruction, not just repaving, adding bike facility, sidewalk, you’re talking about changing drainage” and more. “We’re trying to go existing curb-to-curb to minimize the cost.” He also said that too much signal-phasing would have ripple effects on other streets.
“On construction rerouting option 1,” said another attendee, “you’re guiding three lanes of traffic into a one-lane onramp onto the West Seattle Bridge,” which he foresaw as a traffic nightmare. “It seems you’re being very stubborn about, like, keeping the trees – I understand we want trees … but you can plant a tree on a 3-foot median … you don’t need, what is this, a quarter-mile of straight trees on the curb? You’re removing parking lots but you’ll still have curb cuts for parking lots … some compromise would be helpful.”
“Once you remove the median area to something smaller … you’ll have delays,” responded traffic engineer Chang. “This is a very short section of roadway.” And the trees need room to grow. The project is meant to create something “vibrant …” a place where people want to stop.
That drew laughter, and then a person who was skeptical about bicycle use.
One more attendee: “Last meeting we talked about how this project was initiated (many) years ago – in that time, the traffic has gotten twice or three times as bad, the density has gotten twice or three times as bad … last time we asked the city for incremental options – we know you guys like the project, you’re here defending it – (but) we haven’t seen any flexibility on the plan you’ve come here with tonight.” The people using the road “deserve some update” in the plan, he contended. “So … will you consider incremental options and provide (a few) that people can discuss as opportunities for compromise? This is not like you came up with a plan yesterday and we’re asking you to (change it).” His second question: “In terms of the traffic mitigation … do you have any tools at your disposal to be able to model what the traffic will be like … if so, what is the difference you’ve come up with between commute times, and impacts to the commuter?”
Chang went back to the slide about the traffic-study methods, and showed the one with one additional minute of travel time along that stretch in both AM and PM peak periods.
Pen said they also had forecast all the way out to 2044, “and based on all those results, we’ll have (information to share soon).”
The attendee said he wanted to hear about more options.
Councilmember Herbold interjected that this is not an SDOT plan, saying there are “community members in the room” who worked on the plan over the years, and that she supports seeing “real change” in the plan but that it’s a “negotiation.”
JuNO’s René Commons asked about Fauntleroy Way traffic increase in recent years. “1, 2, 3 percent,” said Chang. That drew disbelieving laughs. “Per year,” he added, saying the current volume is 40,000, while the West Seattle Bridge is mid-50,000s just east of 35th, and the peak of the bridge itself is about 100,000.
“Rezoning is happening,” Commons continued after that. “We love our businesses and want to retain as much as we possibly can – we have ST3 coming – it’s important that we all have some future vision about this project … this is hopefully something that will improve things and last.”
WHAT’S NEXT: The meeting concluded with SDOT recapping the next steps in the feedback and design processes:
April/May: Feedback on left-turn break (watch for that to be solicited via the project website shortly)
May/June: Review final driveway designs with businesses
June/July: Design complete; final decision on left-turn break
Summer: Pre-construction coordination (meeting one-on-one with businesses); parking-management discussion
Early 2018: Anticipated start of construction
Mid-2019: Anticipated end of construction