By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Like a giant domino setup twisting and turning as the pieces fall, traffic side effects from the West Seattle Bridge closure have manifested all over the peninsula.
But SDOT‘s traffic-mitigation efforts – from speed humps to radar-enhanced signage – have been concentrated in a few areas.
Fauntleroy is not one of them. But traffic was the top concern in the Fauntleroy Community Association‘s most-recent community-wide survey, so they catalogued specific trouble spots – some longstanding – and invited SDOT and SPD to come talk about problems and possible solutions. (Added Friday – here’s the video recording of the meeting:)
While much was discussed at Tuesday night’s online meeting, few commitments were made (as was the case with a similar meeting in 2014) – many suggestions were deemed too costly, infeasible, unwarranted, or not possible due to staffing.
Heather Marx, who leads the West Seattle Bridge program at SDOT, started with an overview of what’s happening now, as they get ready for the “final push that’s going to (make us able) to open the bridge,” with repair construction starting by late November. 100 percent design will be done by the start of November. They’re doing “early work,” as we’ve previously reported, including constructing work platforms offsite. No new timeline for opening – still “mid-2022.”
Sara Zora, who manages the Reconnect West Seattle traffic-mitigation program, gave an overview of that – dozens of projects, including what’s been done in the so-called Home Zone areas – in West Seattle, primarily Highland Park and Riverview.
Then she launched into the Fauntleroy list highlighting what’s been done and what’s not happening. Details are in the full slide deck:
36th/Barton – some parking was removed to create more of a turn pocket. 36th SW between Barton and Roxbury did not meet the prerequisites for further traffic calming – average speeds weren’t high enough. Fauntleroy Way has speed-radar signs. California/Thistle has had some “refresh” after hearing about neighbors’ concerns regarding wrong-way drivers into the one-way street end. Ferry signage was a concern – SDOT has checked all the signage and updated where necessary to be sure everything is pointing people in the proper direction. Zora also mentioned “sidewalk beveling,” some of which will be done in Fauntleroy. Regarding speeding, they’ve done some speed studies, including 45th SW, where they’ve gotten complaints about speeding and higher traffic volumes, but any mitigation would have to follow consultation with the Fire Department.
At 37th/Thistle, they’ve done analysis regarding crossing Thistle (an arterial) and some pedestrian counts, so there may be some improvements possible for crossing. At 45th/Brace Point Drive, they’ve heard about pavement concerns. Fauntleroy/Rose did not qualify for additional crossing improvements.
One very hot topic – Fauntleroy ferry traffic making U-turns – but SDOT reps pointed out that U-turning is legal “if you can do it safely and without interfering with other traffic.”
Zora also addressed comments asking for the lifting of the citywide speed-limit reductions, reminding those in attendance that the point of slower speeds is to reduce frequency and severity of crashes, since crashes are more survivable at slower speeds. She also promoted the Flip Your Trip commuter-incentive program.
FCA’s Catherine Bailey then presented other priorities and concerns, including greater pedestrian safety at the church/schoolhouse crossing on California SW, such as a raised sidewalk or signal.
She noted that FCA has been installing pedestrian flags at key intersections and has been distributing SDOT’s reminder signage about speed limits and all intersections being crosswalks.
She ran through other problem spots like 45th/Wildwood, where some drivers just don’t stop. Could they get something there – enforcement, or other improvements?
One SDOT rep, Trevor Partap, said they’ve reviewed that intersection but it doesn’t have enough volume for a signal. The all-ways stop should be working to facilitate flow. (He also note that it’s not legal to use camera enforcement at that type of intersection.)
Regarding police enforcement, Captain Sean O’Donnell– who leads the Traffic Enforcement unit – said he doesn’t have the personnel power to do that. But they’re trying to be efficient and get out where they can – for example, they’ve been doing enforcement near the low bridge/West Marginal. He’ll put the locations of concern onto a list they use when traffic officers are available. But he warned, “We really don’t know after October 18th what our staffing is going to look like” (a reference to the vaccine mandate) – because they may lose people who aren’t complying.
So back to the question about raised crosswalks like the ones in The Junction? Partap said that might be a problem for the Fire Department if the responses would be slowed as a result. “From an engineering and design point it’s pretty costly,” too, as the raised crosswalks create drainage problems. Dey countered that police staffing is expensive too. Then Marx interjected: “Mike, we’re talking millions of dollars,” for raised crosswalks. She recalled work in the 45th/Brace Point vicinity neighborhood a few years ago (here’s our coverage from 2016), when the intersection was partly reconfigured – perhaps some exploration that was done then could be revisited now. Dey said that happened in collaboration with the City Council (which wasn’t represented at this meeting – Councilmember Lisa Herbold had to be at the council’s concurrent budget hearing, and her assistant Newell Aldrich had a family emergency). Zora promised they’ll “look at the intersection again” to see what might be possible. What about “stop ahead” signage? Partap said, “We find generally there are a lot of signs out there and people are inundated with them” – they just choose to ignore them.
Bailey resurfaced the challenges of crossing between the church and schoolhouse. “If we were going to spend a million bucks on a raised crosswalk, I’d put it there before” 45th/Wildwood, Marx said.
Bailey mentioned the people cutting eastbound up Trenton from Fauntleroy and then to 45th. Some neighbors suggested making Trenton one-way westbound to prevent that. Partap said messaging to ferry users might help. A discussion about other ferry-traffic-related issues such as line-cutting and driveway-blocking ensued; FCA has talked with WSF but not recently. SPD reps noted that their enforcement limits are “infractions that occur in our presence.” The Southwest Precinct‘s outgoing commander Capt. Kevin Grossman reiterated that they’re having a staffing crisis and just ccan’t overemphasize that; “We have no bandwidth – zero – for traffic. Zero.” He noted that other neighborhoods are surfacing traffic issues too, like Alki. “We barely have bandwidth for property (crime) … life safety takes up 95 percent” of the current staffing levels.
Marx interjected, “We don’t like saying that … we can’t help you … this is hard. As a resident of the neighborhood,, I know a lot of these are longtime problems, and you’ve been waiting a long time. (But) engineering solutions have winners and losers = some of the permanent solutions, we have to think of (everybody) who is being impacted. We want to hear your concerns and brainstorm with you things that will work …”
Marx added, “All the federal funding we got – $37 million – is going toward fixing the bridge.” They’ve spent additional money on traffic mitigation but it “doesn’t go as far as you might think.” Also, she said, they are focused on things that can be done while the bridge is closed. “If we had started on raised crosswalks in March 2020, we still wouldn’t be done – it’s that complicated.” She said she’d open a conversation the next day with WSF “about their responsibilities here.” But “a lot of this comes down to drivers making bad, irresponsible choices … that’s a hard thing to engineer around.”
Something they CAN do, she said, is striping. But a suggestion for a different color to highlight the cross-hatching in front of driveways near the ferry dock would violate the national standards they have to follow.
Another request: Better signage where one-way Fauntleroy Place meets Fauntleroy Way and Thistle (across from central Lincoln Park). Who has the right of way? Regardless of who does, Marx said, in that situation, everyone should be coutious, make eye contact, etc.
FCA brought up a very longrunning issue – early morning motorcycle noise coming off the ferry – as early as 4:45, 5 am – Capt. O’Donnell said there are noise laws but it’s hard for officers to enforce, making subjective evaluations. He also noted that traffic officers aren’t working that early anyway – “what few we have” start work at 7 am.
Dey expressed frustration that they’d been out collecting traffic data to quantify ferry-related problems for years and turning it in “but nobody’s paying any attention.” Capt. O’Donnell said he hears the frustration, but he just doesn’t have the people for enforcement. Nor does Capt. Grossman, who added another factor to consider: “The political realities of Seattle right now … maybe you’ve heard that the city Inspector General recommended that SPD stop doing all traffic enforcement … whether you believe it’s a good thing or bad thing … that’s the backdrop” for what’s being done and not done now. But that aside, he doesn’t have the person power.
The recommendqtion (read it here), clarified Capt. O’Donnell, wasn’t to eliminate “all” traffic stops, but rather routine/minor ones. (He noted that he was on a committee that worked on the issue.)
It was clear that the issues involve multiple agencies. So, the guests were asked, what does it take to get all the agencies together?
Invite us, said Marx.
The response: What if you invite yourselves and realize there’s problems, let’s fix them?
There are problems everywhere, retorted Marx. “We’re not trying to not help. It feels bad, I know. But some of these problems are really longstanding and really intractable. I know it’s frustrating to hear about our limitations but that conversation .. will move us forward … We want to help, we just need to make sure we can have a conversation bounded by some of the realities we have to live with.” Marx repeated that she’d be talking with WSF (which weren’t invited to this meeting) soon.
Reviving the U-turn issue – what about plastic bollards on the center line to keep drivers from making them close to the ferry dock? asked Dey. They’ll talk about it, Marx said.
Bailey then brought the conversation back to 35th/Barton and whether some signal changes or lane modifications could be made to alleviate backupd there. Partap said they can look at signal timing; they’ve already made some changes there. Marx said “the best signal engineer we have working at SDOT” is working in this area.
Bailey continued working through the rest of the list. She said a few people also had mentioned, east of Fauntleroy, the Delridge/Henderson changes are causing a bottleneck for those heading east on Henderson to turn north on Delridg. SDOT will take a look at that.
Dey proposed a followup with SDOT in a month or so.