Councilmember-Elect Saka Compared 8-Inch Road Divider to Trump’s Border Wall

Partial map of the RapidRide road safety improvement project on Delridge; the arrow points to the daycare Saka says the city is discriminating against.

By Erica C. Barnett

City Councilmember-elect Rob Saka, a former Meta attorney who will represent West Seattle’s District 1 starting next year, sent a series of increasingly heated emails to Seattle Department of Transportation employees during 2021 and 2022 seeking the removal of a road divider that SDOT installed in front of his kids’ preschool. The divider was part of the RapidRide H project connecting Burien, White Center, and West Seattle to downtown.

The curb-like divider is a variation on a common traffic calming device known as a hardened centerline. The curb, which replaced a double yellow line, physically prevents northbound drivers from making an illegal left turn to access homes and businesses on the west side of the street, including a bilingual preschool called the Refugee and Immigrant Family Center. According to an April 2022 South Seattle Emerald story about the dispute, Saka’s two children attended the preschool as of last year.

In the email thread (reproduced in part here), which PubliCola obtained through a records request, Saka compared the mid-block traffic barrier to Trump’s border wall and said it was “triggering” and “severely traumatizing” to immigrants who “have faced significant trauma during their perilous journeys, including by navigating divisive structures and barriers designed to exclude lives in the US.”

“First, it might be helpful to reset on physical barriers as a social construct and how SDOT’s dangerous barrier here has severely traumatized and upset our community at the Refugee & Immigrant Family Center (RIFC),” Saka wrote. “Historically, barriers have been used to exclude, isolate, divide, discriminate against, project power over, subjugate, render less than status to, punish, segregate, humiliate/embarrass, harass, degrade, and so much more.”

“Historically, barriers have been used to exclude, isolate, divide, discriminate against, project power over, subjugate, render less than status to, punish, segregate, humiliate/embarrass, harass, degrade, and so much more,” Saka told project staff last March. “More recently, the Trump administration sought to build an enormous wall on the southern border with Mexico – presumably, to exclude certain individuals deemed ‘undesirable’ in the name of national security.”

The border wall is a 30-foot-high barrier, spanning hundreds of miles, that has contributed to the deaths of countless migrants, including a growing number of deaths and injuries due to falls. The Delridge barrier is an 8-inch-high road divider that runs for about 100 feet. Although Saka described the divider as “highly unique and bizarre,” SDOT has installed similar road treatments across the city, including along 15th Ave. NW in Ballard and Rainier Ave. South between I-90 and the Rainier Valley.

Even before SDOT installed the divider, left turns were illegal along the length of the RapidRide project, which also includes new bike lanes on both sides of the street. The divider is one of many new road treatments designed to keep people from attempting to pass stopped buses and prevent collisions with pedestrians and cyclists.

Many of the new safety measures along Delridge are much larger and more permanent than the raised centerline outside the RIFC. Just to the north of the preschool, for example, a new RapidRide bus stop in front of Louisa Boren K-8 school features a raised concrete island in the middle of Delridge, along with wide markings between the lanes to indicate that drivers should not turn left or pass buses at the RapidRide stop. Immediately to the north, a broad, landscaped median protects patrons at the Delridge library from cars turning illegally into the bike lanes and parking lot.

Nationwide, about a quarter of all car crashes involving pedestrians are caused by a driver turning left and hitting someone in their path.

The South Seattle Emerald’s story about the preschool’s concerns also notes that the new bike lane took out several parking spaces parents had used to drop off and pick up their kids.

POV: Driving north on Delridge Way SW, the new barrier blocks drivers from turning into a new bike lane and the sidewalk used by transit riders. It also prevents illegal left turns into a preschool parking lot.

In his emails, Saka suggested that community members, not roadway designers at SDOT, were in the best position to know what keeps their roadways safe.

For clarity, we don’t need a secretive ‘design team’ to impose their errant decisions on us in the name of ‘public safety’. Nor do we need a benevolent king to do the same,” Saka wrote. (Emphasis in original.) “SDOT must immediately remove the most egregious feature – a concrete barrier that directly targets our RIFC community and was erected without our prior consultation, input, or knowledge.”

In April 2022, an SDOT public engagement manager offered to set up a meeting with Saka to discuss the project. Saka responded that he would only meet the SDOT team if the agency guaranteed in advance that they would remove the barrier. “Like I mentioned earlier, we need this pretty simple confirmation from SDOT in order to ensure any meeting would be an effective and efficient use of time,” Saka wrote. “I strongly urge you to NOT overthink your response.”

SDOT has not yet responded to PubliCola’s inquiries about the project, and Saka did not respond to detailed questions sent on Tuesday. The operator of the RIFC also did not immediately respond to questions sent Thursday. A search of court records did not show any legal action by Saka, either on his own or on behalf of the preschool, and the road divider remains in place.

14 thoughts on “Councilmember-Elect Saka Compared 8-Inch Road Divider to Trump’s Border Wall”

  1. I think it’s important to give Rob Saka a fair shot at being a good, if not great leader, for Seattle. He hasn’t even taken his seat yet and he’s being attacked. Come on people, Rob is a good guy, who has proven that he cares about his neighbors, enough to enlist and serve in the armed forces. He wants to make Seattle a safe and prosperous place to raise his kids. His success is our success. Let’s get behind him and give him the support he needs as a new council member.

  2. It’s going to be a fun four year with Rob… SDOT didn’t “do” anything to people, which you would think someone running for office and who lives in the neighborhood would know.

    Proposals to improve Delridge Way came FROM NEIGHBORS, who worked for over a decade to see many of these improvements made. And there were MULTIPLE public meetings, mailers, community briefings, and the like during that time.

  3. I’m truly sorry I voted for this guy. I thought we were going to leave behind the post-modern, neo-Marxist, victimization narratives behind for some practical, real-world governance. Oopsie.

  4. Car brain is a tough disease. The sense of entitlement experienced by sufferers deserves some consideration. Perhaps some travel or in person research into mobility options in other developed nations would help him gain some perspective.

    1. Spare me that sanctimonious crap – approximately 2/3 of the folks who live in Seattle still get to work by car (per the Seattle Times, of those who traveled to work/didn’t work from home in 2022 58% went by SOV, 7% carpooled, 18% used transit, 11% walked, 4% biked, and less than 2% used a cab or “other”), and nearly 80% of Seattle households own at least one car at last count.

      Some blue collar schmuck brought you they computer you are using to opine on in a truck, and I’d bet that you probably use Uber/DoorDash/GrubHub/Amazon, all of which generate vehicle trips.

      So yeah, feel free to spare us the lectures about how you think the world should be and/or why you think it makes sense to screw over 65% of the folks who rely on cars in favor of the 4% who ride bikes, M’kay?

  5. If SDOT had public consultations to appease every NIMBY over making it harder to make illegal turns, we’d have higher pedestrian injuries than we already do today. Good on them.

  6. Weaponizing rhetoric like “Trump Wall” while knowing your audience will run from that association is kind of using the same tactics as Trump. Especially because Obama started the construction and Biden is making significant progress on finishing it. It doesn’t sound like he knows or cares what is happening at the southern border, which is not that big of a deal for a Seattle city council member-elect. But obvious caution with people in public office who wield rhetoric like this with no substance behind it.

  7. Didn’t think about it in quite this light, but SDOT put a “Border On all on Market Street in Ballard as well, to limit vehicle access/egress from a Safeway store parking lot.

    SDOT seems to grade themselves by their “improvements” on a scale of increasing traffic impedance.

    1. The correct language for their current acronym is “Slowing Down Our Traffic.”

      I still remember when they were considering changing the name of the department from SeaTran to the Seattle Transportation Department – at which point I suggested that STD might not be such a great acronym. But in retrospect…..

  8. At some point, you’re going to have to get over the fact that Seattle City Council District 1 voters overwhelmingly elected Rob Saka. And, although his comparison of the barrier to Trump’s wall is a bit histrionic, he’s not wrong on the substance. SDOT put in this barrier without working with the school or the RIFC; this is the problem that Saka was getting to. And this is a bigger problem with SDOT: they simply do what they want to do without any regard for the community immediately around the safety-thing they are trying to put in place. One could point to numerous examples throughout the City.

    1. “At some point, you’re going to have to get over the fact that Seattle City Council District 1 voters overwhelmingly elected Rob Saka.”

      I have some bad news for you…

    2. He’s wrong on the substance and painting himself as an absolute lunatic.

      There is zero parallel with the border wall and he is using the usual progressive tactic of word salad (aka baffle them with bullshit).

      How embarrassing for him, his community, and anyone that voted for him.

      1. I agree… but name a Council member who hasn’t blurted out some crazy hyperbole in the last 5 years? Sarah Nelson is prone is hysterics, right? And then there was the whole bunch who publicly stated “Defund the Police” and then backtracked. If you don’t get your panties sideways and say politically stupid shit… you’re not an elected official in Seattle. Mayor Bruce… love him or hate him… seems to be the most adult person at City Hall. And he’s a bonafide grandstander if I ever saw one.

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