By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
“Frustrating” was the word City Councilmember Lisa Herbold used tonight to describe an SDOT-led meeting in which she participated last night.
Last night’s meeting was a “roundtable” during which SDOT unveiled proposed “near-term improvements” in the area of the on-hold Fauntleroy Boulevard project, to be funded by a fraction of the Move Seattle levy money earmarked for the full project. Herbold’s comment was made at tonight’s West Seattle Transportation Coalition meeting (separate story on that later).
One of the aspects with which others also indicated frustration is a lack of clarity about what will happen with the possible improvements when Sound Transit finalizes which West Seattle light-rail route will be the “preferred alternative.”
Since that decision is still more than half a year away, roundtable invitees “were not being asked to make any choices,” facilitator Susan Hayman clarified at the start of the discussion.
Here’s who was invited:
The meeting was not widely publicized; we mentioned it but originally only heard about it because two invitees told us. SDOT eventually said the public was welcome to observe but not participate. A few community activists did show up to do that.
Adonis Ducksworth, SDOT’s outreach lead for the project, gave a presentation. He listed the project’s goals as “respond(ing) to community needs identified in the West Seattle Triangle Plan and the Bicycle Master Plan.” The timeline noted “community-led planning” starting in 1999, the Bicycle Master Plan designating Fauntleroy Way for a protected bicycle lane in 2014, and the construction going on hold back in January after repeated community concerns. He said SDOT kept hearing “you’re going to spend all this money and then Sound Transit’s going to rip it all out” since the project zone is along a possible light-rail route. He revisited the final design from pre-idling.
He stressed that the project overall has not been scrapped – if the ST route doesn’t impact Fauntleroy, it’ll be buiLt as designed. If it does, they’l work with ST to implement streetscape improvements and “reallocate remaining project funds to other West Seattle mobility goals.”
Dan Enrico, the new project manager, said the near-term improvements have about a $1 million budget (the full project was estimated at ~$15 million) and would be intended to “improve safety for all users,” with “lower-cost” construction methods (he later repeatedly referred to “paint and post”). They would be refined this fall “based on roundtable feedback and technical analysis” and then would be shared with “community and stakeholder groups.” Work would start “as early as next spring.”
Then: SDOT went through what’s being considered so far. First, “general notes” would include refreshing all the markings on Fauntleroy Way from 35th to Alaska, adding bike crossings, look at adding a new pedestrian crosswalk.
*At Fauntleroy/Alaska, formalize the traffic island – painted, not raised – to “tighten intersection and provide guidance for traffic turning right.” Also, a new bicycle crossing across Alaska, with a left-turn “bike box.”
*Between 38th and 37th – where there’s currently a fire signal – a new signalized (push-button-activated) pedestrian crossing, new curb ramps on both sides of Fauntleroy, widen and realign the crosswalk at Oregon “to improve visibility.” The signal still needs to be designed and priced before they would know whether it can be included.
*36th/Avalon – add four off-peak parking spaces to reduce acceleration for traffic using right-turn slip lane. Also realign pedestrian crosswalk to shorten crossing distance (West Seattle Brewing southward), new bike crossing, close right-turn slip lane from Avalon to Fauntleroy, provide new curb bulb for people who walk and bike. New markings on the west side of the intersection (outbound side) to better define it.
*35th/Fauntleroy – update signage to current standards
Lora Swift from the West Seattle Junction Association wondered if repainting crosswalks will also address some of the cracks and other problems in the road. Enrico said, “We would certainly use our Pothole Rangers and fix those up.” Pete Spalding from the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce brought up the bike turn lane on Delridge and wondered whether one on Fauntleroy might be more liability than safety if just painted. He also wondered about lighting; Enrico said they’ll be looking at that.
Katie Trent from Rudy’s Barbershop wondered if near-term improvements would still happen if ST3 was NOT going down Fauntleroy. Enrico: “Depends on how fast we could dust off the design.”
Julie Mierzwiak from Realfine Coffee wondered about completion timeframe for the near-term work. If they started in April, by the end of summer, said Enrico. “We would phase the work so our crews could take care of it, we wouldn’t want to impact the community for a long duration.”
Ducksworth pointed out the Avalon repaving/rechannelization project – for which he’s also doing outreach – would start “sometime in the spring of 2019.” Enrico said they’re coordinating with that project and in fact this might be bundled with it.
Herbold said she hoped they would be ID’ing things that are already part of larger Fauntleroy project so that they wouldn’t have to stop down – this would be like phasing and then adding other pieces if feasible.”I wouldn’t want Sound Transit’s decisionmaking process to result in endless delay” for this, she stressed.
Enrico pointed out “(the full project) involves rebuilding the entire right of way” but some things are simple “pin and post installations” that would be removed if they do the full project.
Don Brubeck of West Seattle Bike Connections pointed out more bicycle safety features are imperative, including at 36th “where drivers are just whipping around the corner.” Doing these as mockups – seeing how they work – is an opportunity. “If these mockups can represent the final design in a mockup form …” Enrico said that indeed some of this is a chance to see how the changes would work. Maybe for example at 36th/Avalon they could shorten the light cycle and improve traffic flow.
Ducksworth noted that ST construction would start around 2025 so these features if built now could be in place for 5+ years. Enrico promised they’d continue collecting data and see how this all affects all modes. He added that five years is about the lifespan of these types of improvements anyway.
Area resident/community advocate Sharonn Meeks wondered if $1 million is really the budget for everything on the list. Enrico called it “an educated guess” from SDOT having done many “paint and post improvements … all over the city.” Actual costs would be identified in design over the next few months. Meeks also pointed out the city-owned triangle of land by Wardrobe Cleaners had possibilities.
Former City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen mentioned past walking tours in the area with community members and the need to improve pedestrian-activated crossings.
West Seattle Transportation Coalition chair Michael Taylor-Judd said WSTC has raised “a number of concerns with the final project design” – so “why not use this opportunity to test some aspects of the project ..” to see how traffic is affected, since that gives SDOT a chance to see if “it’s disastrous” or not.
The timeline came up for question again: “If by April of 2019 (Sound Transit) tells us they’re going to put in a tunnel and miss Fauntleroy, it would take six to nine months to get the project out to bid” – so that would mean construction (of the full project) maybe in 2020. And that would mean there’d be no point in installing the near-term improvements, just to have them torn out a year later.
So how much time would be wasted on this planning in general? is one question.
Enrico said there’s a group that’s “very efficient” in working on this kind of thing so .. his inference was … not much. They’re looking at another meeting like this in September or October when the near-term improvements would be at about 60 percent design.
Ducksworth said, though, “we are committed regardless of Sound Transit’s decision to make some of the near-term improvements.”
Pedestrian advocate Gordon Padelford wondered about dealing with sidewalk damage. Enrico mentioned planters.
Then the timeline, again:
Herbold said her expectation is that “even if Sound Transit decided to … not impact Fauntleroy, we would move forward with these near-term improvements.” She said she’s still seeing a conflict over these improvements occurring or not. “Are these the improvements we should be talking about now or is there a different set we would want to make regardless of Sound Transit’s decision?”
SDOT promised to figure out how to clarify it.
Triangle business owner Kandie Jennings said this all seemed premature given that in April it might turn out to be all for naught.
But West Seattle resident Peg Staeheli observed, “It’s actually been several years that we’ve been waiting for this” – and safety improvements are badly needed, so: “Whatever’s a no-brainer, we should go for it.”
The roundtable concluded shortly after that. Exactly what happens next, given all the concerns that were raised, isn’t clear, except that the full project’s fate will be known next spring, and that SDOT will continue design work on the “near-term improvements” for now.