The city asked for opinions this summer and a tsunami came back when 17,000 people picked their favorite small projects to make getting around easier despite the West Seattle Bridge closure.
Now the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) says it’s ready to start building the 40 top-ranked improvements, plus 15 other changes based on additional talks with neighbors. At least $6 million will be spent in South Park, Georgetown, Sodo and the Highland Park area of West Seattle, through mid-2021.
Respondents favored smoother and faster driving conditions in the unscientific online surveys, while safety improvements took a back seat. Almost half the respondents live outside the affected neighborhoods but travel through them.
Five of the top 10 picks in Georgetown, six in Sodo and all 10 in West Seattle’s Delridge-Highland Park area were signal timings, turn lanes and repavings — not to mention general remarks like “fix the bridge faster.” Travelers even cast 536 votes for pothole and crack repairs on West Seattle arterials, such as 35th Avenue Southwest.
But in South Park, residents chose safety improvements for nine of their top 10 projects. Highlights include pedestrian-activated stoplights for two intersections on South Cloverdale Street, and some radar speed-readout signs, where a glut of drivers are diverting to reach the South Park Bridge.
Traffic nearby has approximately doubled since March 23, when accelerating cracks forced SDOT to close the bridge, which typically carried 100,000 vehicles a day. More cars and trucks are cutting through the South Park community of 4,166 residents, where many people have low incomes and breathe some of the region’s most toxic air.
Danielle Friedman, project liaison from the city Department of Neighborhoods, said traffic calming didn’t poll well in online ballots, but scored higher in non-English paper ballots and at follow-up meetings.
“The goal of neighborhoods is pedestrian safety, slowing folks down,” said Adonis Ducksworth, SDOT capital projects coordinator.
In that spirit, the city already finished new sidewalks and will paint new crosswalks next to the South Park Community Center on Eighth Avenue South, where drivers are zipping faster than the 20 mph limit, and tree roots broke the old sidewalks.
SDOT has treated bridge detours as a laboratory for its Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. For instance, the city installed 25 mph speed limit signs on commercial roads, some four to seven lanes wide.
Next year, officials will try a tactic called Home Zone, where instead of adding speed humps and traffic circles along a single residential road, groups of connected streets would be revamped to deter through traffic.
Meanwhile, arguments are brewing over how to manage the Duwamish Valley’s busiest arterials, where frustration mounts over routine half-hour delays.
The city’s latest project list includes creating a northbound trucks-only lane on West Marginal Way Southwest, where traffic has nearly tripled to 28,000 vehicles a day.
Former Mayor Greg Nickels, who co-chairs a citizen task force to advise the city on the response to the cracked bridge, said such a lane restriction would reduce general traffic space nearly 50% northbound.
“I think it sends exactly the wrong message to the community, when the community is struggling to find capacity to keep from having people divert into our neighborhoods … ,” he said. “I think you will get huge pushback on that, when it becomes more broadly known.”
Colin Drake, an SDOT operations manager, replied that the list reflects survey results, and the city won’t build something if the community and task force object.
By Friday, the city softened its language to “implement freight treatments” in a new version of its so-called Reconnect West Seattle plan. “Clearly some conversations need to keep happening with that,” spokesperson Ethan Bergerson said.
Although truck improvements made the list, a pedestrian-safety project sought by the Duwamish Tribe across West Marginal Way didn’t appear in the survey or the immediate work plan.
The tribe calls on SDOT to promptly build a pedestrian-activated signal a short distance north of the longhouse, so people can reach the riverfront, said Jolene Haas, executive director of the longhouse and cultural center.
“It’s about safety,” she said. “When we have our cultural events or groups here, when we are doing eco tours, like to T-107 Park, we are walking across like Frogger,” a reference to a vintage video game where players guide a hopping amphibian between moving vehicles.
City staff have said the crossing project is more expensive than the $100,000 ceiling for Reconnect West Seattle improvements, and that West Marginal Way changes will be considered in a separate process.
So the streets next to the longhouse remain a jumble: New 30 mph speed limit signs for safety that most drivers ignore; a road diet to three lanes that helps longhouse visitors exit the parking lot, but remains too wide for pedestrians; no public transit; and heavier traffic that Haas says the Duwamish couldn’t have imagined when the longhouse opened 10 years ago.
“You can’t keep saying ‘equity’ without making something really happen,” said Haas.
The City Council enacted a Transportation Equity Program in 2018 to guide decisions, and SDOT recently assigned a senior project manager to work with the tribe.
More changes are scheduled this fall.
They include automated camera enforcement on the low Spokane Street swing bridge, which is limited to buses, trucks and a small number of local pass holders. SDOT will also reorganize the suddenly crowded junction of West Marginal Way with Highland Park Drive Southwest to reduce bottlenecks.
By October, the SDOT and Mayor Jenny Durkan are supposed to recommend whether to repair the cracked West Seattle Bridge, or proceed to demolition and some kind of replacement.