By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Pre-pandemic policy for the city usually featured what some deride as “the Seattle process” – propose something, talk about it a lot, finalize it.
In the case of the city’s new “Stay Healthy Streets” – 23 miles of streets now closed to through traffic, open to walking/riding/rolling, including three stretches in West Seattle – things happened in the opposite direction: Action, then talk.
Most of the meeting was devoted to a hour-plus discussion of Stay Healthy Streets, bookended by two public-comment periods. The first one opened with West Seattle resident Loren Schwartz calling the newest West Seattle SHS, Alki Avenue and Beach Drive around Alki Point, “transformative,” “amazing … phenomenal … paradise.”
That opinion was not shared by Steve Humphrey of Duwamish Head, who said this is pushing all the “negative-type traffic” onto the rest of Alki. Closing a stretch of road “doesn’t make sense,” he said, when the Constellation Park area has speed bumps already and draws school buses and lighthouse visitors in summer.
West Seattleite Andrew Moskowitz expressed concern about the change being made without public process.
The main speaker from SDOT was Summer Jawson, who is in charge of the Stay Healthy Streets program. She said it started in response to park crowding and parking-lot crowding, a “loud cry from the community to open more public space” so people could get outdoors. Many of the city’s sidewalks are 6 feet wide, she said, so it’s hard to pass somebody while maintaining safe distancing.
The routes chosen for most were based on the city’s Neighborhood Greenway network – a program Jawson had headed – with long corridors so people using them could go one or two miles, after overlaying other considerations such as the city’s Race and Social Justice Initiative, housing density, access to open space, and restaurants that are open for pickup/delivery. The Beach Drive/Green Lake Way segments were chosen “in conjunction with the Parks Department,” Jawson added.
SPAB chair David Seater noted that the city’s urban centers/villages don’t have greenways, so the program might be leaving people out. SDOT’s Brad Topol noted that the greenways have been the focus so far because they already have features lending themselves to “quick implementation,” such as pedestrian crossings.
Since the mayor has announced that at least the first 20 miles will be permanent, Seater asked, what will that look like? Jawson said current signage will be kept but they’ll also “look at more-durable materials,” possibly attached to the pavement, so SDOT crews won’t have to go out daily and make sure the signage is still in place. She was also asked about how the signage would be made accessible to vision-impaired users; she said that hadn’t been addressed yet but suggestions would be welcome.
So how much use are these getting so far? Jawson said they had done some preliminary monitoring and the Constellation Park stretch was getting the most use when they checked, even beating out the Green Lake segment. Driving on SHS was down 90 percent. They’re working on a longer-term monitoring plan.
Seater asked what the “complete Stay Healthy Streets network” might eventually look like. Jawson had no specifics but said they’re “receiving new requests daily” for additions, and that SDOT is discussing potential expansion with the mayor’s office. She also said they’re trying to differentiate the park-adjacent stretches – including Beach Drive/Alki Avenue – by calling them “Keep It Moving Streets” to riff on the Parks’ exhortation. (We checked earlier today and there’s no change in the signage, at least at either end.) She also suggested those are NOT likely to be permanent, unlike the 20 miles first announced.
The discussion touched on some other recent SDOT projects as well, such as adjusting signals so that pedestrians get a head start; Topol said they’re already almost up to their full 2020 goal, 250 adjusted signals citywde, “which is 25 percent of our citywide signal network.” He added that the speed-limit-lowering project also is proceeding quickly. Jawson noted that overall, West Seattle is getting extra attention because of mobility concerns following the high-bridge closure.
In the second round of public comment, following the discussion, Moskowitz said he was concerned that automotive use of “public streets … a constrained resource” wasn’t being given enough consideration. Humphrey asked what kind of public process was planned as this program continued. SDOT traffic engineer Dongho Chang answered that, noting that the greenway routes already “went through an extensive public process” but saying that overall, “we’ll definitely engage with the community.”
The next public commenter identified herself as a High Point resident and said that stretch went by lots of open space and seemed “unnecessary.” She thought perhaps the city wasn’t aware of that open space because they’re parks that aren’t part of the city system. Jawson said they are definitely aware.
The board also heard from Capitol Hill, First Hill, and Maple Leaf residents who generally supported the concept, as well as from Doug MacDonald – a North Seattle resident and pedestrian advocate who is also a former state transportation secretary – who said the program needs an environmental study so the public can understand it and comment on it. One final WS commenter said the Alki area needs more painted crosswalks.
What’s next? Again, this is an advisory group, so its members don’t and can’t take action, but rather serve as a sounding board. SDOT said on May 7th that a community survey would be out the following week “asking for your observations of Stay Healthy Streets, ideas for improving, and approaches to future expansion,” but we haven’t seen it yet, so we’ll be asking about its status this coming week.