By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
A new community “coalition to convey urgency” about the West Seattle Bridge closure has just launched.
We were invited to cover the first meeting last night of people participating in West Seattle Bridge Now.
The online meeting was coordinated by community advocate West Seattle Realty (WSB sponsor) co-owner Kevin Broveleit, who opened with the declaration of what the group says tens of thousands of people know here, but others around the city and region need to realize too: “Losing the bridge is a catastrophic event.” So far, he said, most of what’s been heard from SDOT is “it’s not our fault” and “trust us, we’re doing everything we can … and nether resonate with us.”
So in the spirit of community groups that pushed for action to get the now-compromised bridge built in the first place, this one is determined to turn up the pressure and push for “action, not blame” by creating “as broad a coalition as possible” and focusing on “creativity in potential solutions.”
Those already involved who were part of last night’s meeting included a who’s-who of local community and business advocates. While there was spirited discussion about all three major needs created by the sudden shutdown of the bridge March 23rd, two of them – traffic mitigation and accountability – are not the central purpose for West Seattle Bridge Now, according to Broveleit. “The sooner we have a soluton with any sort of certainty,” the less painful it will be. Right now, he observed, his industry and others are grappling with people wracked by fear of the unknown – will West Seattle be bridgeless for more than the near-two-year minimum of which SDOT has already warned?
Joining Broveleit in organizing West Seattle Bridge Now: Neighborhood advocates Amanda Kirk and Phil Tavel.
Tavel observed the bridge closure instantly became “the number 1 topic on everybody’s mind – ‘Oh my God, what are we gonna do?'” gave way to worry because “not a lot was done that we could see or hear about,” So the new group ca serve as “a megaphone, an amplifier, to give us the opportunity to say to the city, don’t forget us, this is impacting 100,000 lives.” They want urgency and “a good solution,” Tavel stressed. “It’s not about blame, it’s not about politics.”
After about a week of strategizing, Tavel continued, the West Seattle Bridge Now organizers realized they needed “to open this up to more people” – the more people involved, the more “downtown Seattle” will pay attention.
Also participating last night, community advocates who are active with the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce, which is meeting to shape its role in bridge-related advocacy, said Pete Spalding, who noted that he had been in last week’s city-organized Town Hall about the bridge (WSB coverage here), followed by city reps guesting at the West Seattle Transportation Coalition meeting (WSB coverage here), “and the thing I walked away with was a lack of a sense of urgency.”
Elaborating on the Chamber’s potential role was Government Affairs Committee co-chair and local restaurateur Dan Austin, who said they’ve been approached by “a political strategist” to work on getting federal infrastructure dollars. He and his co-chair, fellow restaurateur Dave Montoure, have “been asked to speak for the West Seattle business community.” Austin said they’re concerned about getting attention in D.C. without an independent effort, due to political acrimony that could limit what local elected officials are able to accomplish. Though traffic mitigation is not West Seattle Bridge Now’s stated goal at this point, Montoure also mentioned that “innovative solutions” for that part of the situation are vital too, saying he had spoken with Kitsap Transit about the logistics it would take to run a fleet of foot ferries, and learned a lot quickly. He also said that regarding an overall bridge solution Chamber leaders would be focusing on what’s possible and how to pay for it and then would be lobbying “to start asking for money.”
Several board members of the WS Transportation Coalition were in the meeting too. Its chair Michael Taylor-Judd suggested that the perception that “nothing’s happening, there’s no urgency” is not entirely accurate. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the city folks we want to get the urgency, GET the urgency” in no small part due to the preponderance of West Seattle residents in their ranks (including SDOT’s director and three City Councilmembers, along with county and state elected officials).
Broveleit countered that the focus has been too much on people who commute downtown. “There seems to be a huge disconnect” in that not everyone is downtown-bound. Tavel added, “Coming out of the town hall, I had the feeling the city said to me, this is a complex problem, we’ve got it covered, buy a bicycle.” He was also troubled by the lack of an answer from SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe when he was asked how long it would take to rebuild the bridge. He also wasn’t reassured by the fact various SDOT officials repeatedly answered questions by saying only that they were “talking with” various other agencies.
WSTC vice chair Marty Westerman noted that the WSTC already has a list of recommended actions (published here). He also mentioned the city’s 2015 West Seattle Bridge Transportation Corridor white paper, and the fact that the bridge’s condition was not part of it. And Westerman mentioned the gondola system he has long advocated.
Tavel interjected, “There are so many ideas out there and we’re not even seeing them coming out of the city, we’re seeing them come out of the neighborhood. … For now, we’ll focus on making sure that our voice is heard.” There was also a suggestion for a third-party review of the bridge.
Lindsay Wolpa from the Port of Seattle, also in attendance, said one reason that community members t large are not hearing a lot about the bridge’s future at the moment is that the current focus is on emergency contingency planning – the plan that’s being finalized regarding what needs to happen if the bridge s deemed in danger of collapse.
Nonetheless, in the big picture, Deb Barker from the WSTC and Morgan Community Association observed that the rest of the city might be seeing this as our problem, not theirs. “Until we get the entire city of Seattle – and everyone that passes through – on the same page, we’re going to be fighting against the rest of the city, which doesn’t feel great.” That point was expanded on by Chas Redmond, who observed that for West Seattle’s been dealing with transportation challenges for years even before the bridge closure – the Viaduct-to-tunnel project, the Fauntleroy Expressway seismic-cushion work, the Spokane Street Viaduct rebuild, etc.
Deb Barker noted that Councilmember Lisa Herbold‘s staff is synthesizing all the comments (1,000+) from last week’s Town Hall to get them to SDOT. As for the latter agency, she said, “they’re willing to listen to anything at this point.”
Tavel reiterated, “This whole thing was born of frustration … people are looking for more about” what’s being done, but he was heartened to hear from Wolpa about a specific action that’s in progress.
Taylor-Judd reminded everyone that city workers “are kind of consumed by another crisis right now,” the COVID-19 response, and contended that traffic mitigation has to be the immediate priority because in a matter of weeks, people will be headed back to off-peninsula jobs.
So what’s next?
Tavel vowed to talk with the West Seattle neighborhood groups.
Cindi Barker suggested that a weekly update from the city would be helpful.
Victoria Nelson suggested that the city should appoint a “community information person” for such things; the Port’s Wolpa pointed out that the role given to SDOT’s Heather Marx includes that, but the agency is “110 percent focused on the emergency plan right now.”
More communication from the city is imperative, agreed Broveleit, while re-stating the mission of West Seattle Bridge Now: “To convey urgency about a bridge solution.”
If you want to get involved, the group has been coalescing so far around this page on Facebook. (added) You also can email firstname.lastname@example.org