Tag: pedestrians

Despite Deadly 2022, Traffic Safety Bills Fail to Gain Traction

By Ryan Packer

After 2022—the deadliest year on Washington state roadways since the early 1990—it seemed likely that traffic safety would get significant attention during this year’s legislative session. But following a key early March deadline for bills to pass out of their house of origin, a number of promising bills are off the table.

A bill to reduce Washington’s blood-alcohol threshold for a DUI from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent was a top priority for safety advocates, winning early support from a broad group of transportation sector organizatios, including the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, and the National Safety Council. However, the bill failed to make it through the Senate, in part because legislators opted to debate a bill allowing more police pursuits instead during the final hours before a key deadline.

Another safety bill that failed to advance would have required car dealers to put warning labels on large trucks and SUVs that are designed in a way that puts pedestrians and cyclists at greater risk; the bill would have also increased fines for traffic infractions committed by people driving those vehicles. For decades, federal programs have rated the “crashworthiness” of specific types of cars and trucks, but as Americans have opted for larger and larger SUVs, that rating hasn’t taken the safety of people outside the vehicle into account,

A bill that would have prohibited drivers from turning right at any red light within 1,000 feet of a school, park, or other high-traffic public facility received strong support from walking and biking advocacy organizations but never got a committee vote in either the house or the senate. In 2018, Washington, D.C. piloted right-turn-on-red restrictions at 100 high-volume intersections, finding a 92 percent reduction in drivers failing to yield to pedestrians compared to before the restrictions were added. Based on that data, the district broadly adopted the restrictions citywide in 2022.

There is data showing that Black people are getting stopped at a rate of four times their share of the population, and unhoused individuals make up half of jaywalking stops. [The law against ‘jaywalking’] isn’t being enforced to promote safety.”—Matthew Sutherland, Transportation Choices Coalition

Legislators also weren’t ready to pass a bill that would have prohibited traffic stops for non-moving violations like broken taillights, or a proposal that would have to banned most “jaywalking” stops of pedestrians crossing outside legal intersections. One issue was that there isn’t enough data yet to determine the impact eliminating such laws has on pedestrian safety.

“Certainly [we] want to look at how we reduce disproportionality in our transportation space, but we need to flesh out how this fits into an overall safety strategy,” Marko Liias (D-21, Edmonds), chair of the Senate’s transportation committee, told PubliCola.

Matthew Sutherland, the Advocacy Director at Transportation Choices Coalition, said police use jaywalking stops as a pretext for targeting vulnerable people.  “Folks are being harassed,” he said. “There is data showing that Black people are getting stopped at a rate of four times their share of the population, and unhoused individuals make up half of jaywalking stops. This isn’t being enforced to promote safety.” Sutherland also noted that the jaywalking bill would have shifted more of the burden of pedestrian safety from pedestrians onto drivers, a controversial element of the proposal.

Liias said some bills didn’t advance because they weren’t bolstered with enough relevant supporting data. “I’m really trying to ensure that we’re data-driven.,” he said. “When we talk to vulnerable [road] users, we know right-turn-on-red is a problem. I think we now need to build the evidence and be able to articulate that piece of it, because we’re asking for a culture shift … and I think people are reluctant to do that without the full picture.”

Convincing data didn’t seem to help the proposal to drop Washington’s blood-alcohol content threshold for a DUI to 0.05 percent, however. Utah, the first state to adopt the lower limit in 2019, saw a double-digit drop in statewide traffic fatalities in the year after the new law took effect, without a corresponding rise in alcohol-related traffic stops or arrests. The bill was expected to prevent around 30-40 deaths in Washington state annually, but it received significant pushback from the restaurant and hospitality industries, which were concerned about increased liability for servers and bartenders who overserved patrons. Supporters of the bill, including Gov. Jay Inslee, said they looked forward to its return next year.

Liias pointed to several traffic safety bills that are still advancing where the impacts are more clear-cut. One bill would allow the Washington State Department of Transportation to use automated cameras to ticket drivers speeding on state highways. Another would require drivers under 25 to complete a driver’s education class before receiving their license, eliminating the current loophole allowing drivers 18 and older to get a license after passing a written test. Only around half of drivers under 25 licensed in Washington have received comprehensive driver training and those who have not have a crash rate that’s significantly higher than those who have.

“I knew coming into session that we aren’t going to achieve Target Zero in the next two years,” Sen. Marko Liias said, refering to a goal Washington has had in place since 2000 to eliminate serious traffic-related injuries and fatalities. “I think we’ve put this issue on the map, and now we’re starting to build that comprehensive set of policies that will help us get headed in the right direction toward zero.”

But Liias also noted the significant hurdles to changing behavior, even with the potential benefit of saving lives. “We’re used to doing things across the safety space in one way, and shifting to a new framework and a mindset takes time for folks.”

In the other chamber, Representative Jake Fey (D-27, Tacoma), chair of the house transportation committee, said there has been some progress on traffic safety, citing a bill that will provide hiring incentives to Washington State Trooper recruits: $10,000 over two years for cadets and $15,000 over two years for lateral hires from different police departments. That bill is now in the Senate after passing the House with only one vote in opposition.

Fey told PubliCola he considers efforts to increase the number of police on state roadways complementary with trying to reduce unnecessary stops. “Part of the intent was to make troopers and other law enforcement available for other important work, and not dealing with minor things that have the net effect of targeting certain populations,” Fey said. But with Democrats incredibly divided over police issues, hope for future movement on the issue could be dim.

With nationwide trends, like vehicle design, generally outside of state control also having a big impact on increasing traffic fatality numbers, the best legislators were hoping for was small progress on the issue this session. “I knew coming into session that we aren’t going to achieve Target Zero in the next two years,” Liias said, refering to a goal Washington has had in place since 2000 to eliminate serious traffic-related injuries and fatalities. “I think we’ve put this issue on the map, and now we’re starting to build that comprehensive set of policies that will help us get headed in the right direction toward zero.”








Police Accountability Group Wants Answers on Fatal Collision

By Erica C. Barnett

UPDATE February 15, 2023: The Seattle Police Department and Seattle Fire Department chiefs responded to the CPC’s questions in separate letters today.

The CPC asked the Fire Department to explain the reason it requires police officers to be present when Fire responds to overdose calls, which are categorized as Priority 1 calls, the most urgent priority level. (Officer Kevin Dave was responding to an overdose call when he struck and killed Jaahnavi Kandula last month).

In his response, Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said that the requirement “goes back at least 20 years and is designed to provide scene safety for firefighters and paramedics as overdose patients can become violent during treatment to reverse the overdose.”

Although the letter continues, “Encountering combative patients or bystanders on emergency responses has unfortunately become a reality for firefighters and paramedics,” Scoggins does not quantify how often this happens or why; Narcan, the widely available overdose reversal drug, is used daily by non-emergency responders, including drug users themselves, and other public employees are trained to use it in the absence of paramedics or any armed response.

Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz also responded to the CPC’s questions. After describing the training officers receive in “emergency driving”—driving under emergency circumstances, such as a high-priority call where someone’s life is at risk—Diaz said officers are justified in taking “risks [that] “can result in severe consequences for the public and the officer. … When weighing the decision to respond using emergency driving…. [o]fficers must consider if the incident is life threatening, road conditions, vehicle and pedestrian traffic, weather, speed, lighting, and their own driving abilities.”

Diaz said the fact that the overdose was a Priority 1 call would not, in itself, necessitate emergency driving. “The priority level is a factor to consider but is not generally controlling,” Diaz wrote. “While many Priority 1 calls would warrant emergency driving under our current policy and training, not all do and officers are expected to consider the totality of the circumstances.”

Original story follows.

It’s unclear how fast Dave was driving or whether his decision to engage in emergency driving was within department policy.

The Seattle Community Police Commission, one of three city police oversight bodies, sent letters to the Seattle Police Department and Seattle Fire Department last week seeking information about policies that may have contributed to the death of Jaahnavi Kandula, the 23-year-old woman who was struck and killed by SPD officer Kevin Austin Dave last month. Kandula was crossing Dexter Ave. in a marked crosswalk when Dave, who was driving in an SPD SUV to join Seattle Fire Department first responders at a potential overdose nearby, struck and killed her.

SPD has not responded to questions about how fast Dave was driving or whether he stopped to help Kandula after striking her. In a statement , Police Chief Adrian Diaz noted that Dave is an EMT and said he “did have his emergency lights on and was clearing intersections with his siren,” a comment that implies Dave had “cleared” the crosswalk where Kandula was walking.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a person struck by a vehicle at 25 miles per hour, the speed limit on Dexter, stands just over a 10 percent chance of dying from their injuries; at 40 mph, that risk goes up to 45 percent, and 75 percent of people hit at 50 mph will die.

The CPC’s questions for SPD revolve around the department’s policies and training for “emergency driving,” including how officers are trained to decide when driving faster or with less caution outweighs the risks, whether an officer who hits a bystander on the way to a call is supposed to stop and render aid, and whether officers are trained to always treat every high-priority call as an emergency requiring a speedy response. (Overdoses are classified as Priority 1 calls, the same category as active shooters and armed robberies).

The questions for the fire department concern an SFD policy that requires police to accompany them on overdose calls; as we’ve reported, this policy appears to stem from concerns that people revived from overdoses may be violent toward first responders, although it’s unclear how often this has actually happened or whether the presence of police has been effective at reducing this purported risk.

CPC co-chair Joel Merkel, who spearheaded the letter, says the department’s manual includes detailed instructions for pursuing drivers who fail to stop (an issue that’s at the heart of a heated legislative battle in Olympia right now), but comparatively little information about how officers are supposed to drive when responding to various types of emergencies. Last year, lawmakers barred police from chasing drivers except for violent crimes and suspected DUIs; despite data showing the new law has already saved lives, lawmakers are considering legislation that would roll back the partial ban.

“One of the reasons the vehicle pursuit bill was enacted in 2021 is because operating a police vehicle outside of a normal traffic pattern is very dangerous. Well, so is emergency response,” Merkel said. “When I as looking at SPD’s policies on pursuing vehicles and emergency response, I saw a huge variable—there’s a ton of parameters on pursuits, but if you look at the emergency response policy it’s comparatively [vague].”

“There’s a ton of non-governmental responses to overdoses that don’t involve the police and they go just fine.”—Joel Merkel, co-chair, Seattle Community Police Commission

Similarly, Merkel said, the CPC couldn’t find a written policy requiring police to respond to overdoses or documentation of people attacking first responders upon being revived by emergency breathing or Narcan. “There’s a ton of non-governmental responses to overdoses that don’t involve the police and they go just fine,” Merkel said.

It’s unclear whether this call even involved an overdose reversal; a Fire Department spokeswoman said “the patient was evaluated and did not want to be transported to the hospital” but did not provide additional details about the incident.

Spokespeople from both departments told PubliCola they plan to respond to the CPC’s questions as early as this week.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a person struck by a vehicle at 25 miles per hour, the speed limit on Dexter, stands just over a 10 percent chance of dying from their injuries; at 40 mph, that risk goes up to 45 percent, and 75 percent of people hit at 50 mph will die.


Mayor Reshuffles Office Chairs, Council Considers Fixes for Pedestrian-Hostile Third Avenue

Third Avenue downtown (image via Downtown Seattle Association)

1. Learn to trust the Fizz: As PubliCola reported last week, Mayor Bruce Harrell has just reorganized his office, including the reassignment of former Director of Public Safety Andrew Myerberg to the newly created position of special projects director, answering to Harrell’s favored public safety advisor Tim Burgess (whose own title is, confusingly, Director of Strategic Initiatives). The public safety shuffle reportedly reflects a division in the mayor’s office between Burgess (a former city council member who favored law-and-order strategies like a ban on “aggressive panhandling”), Myerberg (the former Office of Police Accountability Director) and Harrell’s niece and senior deputy mayor, Monisha Harrell, who was previously Myerberg’s boss.

The divide between all these players isn’t just about policy, but perception—Myerberg, whose experience is more in the realm of policy than politics, is reportedly getting stuck with the blame for the negative public response to an ill-conceived plan to crack down on people gathering at Third and Pine downtown by using rarely deployed laws governing behavior on buses and bus stops.

The reorganization of the mayor’s office doesn’t stop there. Jeremy Racca, Harrell’s former council aide-turned-general counsel, has taken on additional duties under the new secondary title of “chief administrative officer,” while policy director Dan Eder, a former council central staffer, now reports not to the mayor but to Racca.

Jamie Housen, the mayor’s campaign consultant-turned-communications director, has been bumped up to report directly to Harrell, while deputy mayor Tiffany Washington, the former homelessness director for the Human Services Department, gained two new direct reports, including Lisa Gustaveson, a former homelessness staffer at HSD who worked briefly for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority before returning to the city earlier this year.

So what does it all mean? As Harrell told PubliCola during a press conference last week, “moving people around” early in a mayoral term isn’t uncommon—but it does speak to who’s in and out on the seventh floor (and the mayor’s good graces). Out: Myerberg (who is, interestingly, the only person Burgess oversees), Eder… and possibly another top staffer whose responsibilities are officially the same, but who we’ve heard been relieved of some duties. In: Washington, Burgess, and Housen—whose former boss, Harrell’s political consultant Christian Sinderman, reportedly has his own office space at the city. In addition, top-level staffer Adiam Emery, the mayor’s former chief equity officer, has a heightened public presence and new title, executive general manager.

Closed-for-business vibes: Pre-pandemic snapshots of Third Avenue from the DSA report.

2. The city council’s homelessness and public assets committee considered a resolution yesterday to endorse a plan created by the Downtown Seattle Association to revitalize the Third Avenue transit corridor—currently a wide, bus-clogged expanse of pavement flanked by narrow sidewalks and many boarded-up businesses.

The DSA’s “Third Avenue Vision” has actually been around for several years, but got sidelined by the pandemic, which exacerbated some of the issues the DSA raises in its report while reducing the number of people riding buses on the street—which, as of 2019, was the busiest bus-only corridor in the nation.

DSA director Jon Scholes said the business group’s pre-pandemic surveys found “a strong consensus that Third Avenue is the street that most people don’t want to be on. … It really hasn’t recovered as a street since the … original transit tunnel was dug through and along Third Avenue in the early ’90s.” That tunnel has served light rail exclusively since buses were kicked onto surface streets, including Third Ave., in 2019. Since then, many businesses shut their doors because of the pandemic, and Third Avenue continues to be the focus of periodic crackdowns on drug sales, retail theft, and people hanging out without an obvious destination (what’s often lumped the general category of “disorder.”)

The proposal aims to reduce bus traffic volumes, provide more exposure for street-level businesses, and give pedestrians more space through four potential strategies: A “compact transitway” that would create new sidewalk space by reducing Third Avenue from four lanes to two; a “median transitway” option that would move bus stops to a new median and convert the street into a two-way transit street, using shuttles to move riders through downtown; a “transit shuttle and hub” model that would also rely on shuttles through downtown, but eliminate the median in favor of a two-lane roadway; and a “transit couplet” framework that would turn a three-lane Third Avenue into a lower-volume one-way “couplet,” with buses traveling north on Third and southbound on a parallel street such as Second Ave.

Although the DSA’s report does not explicitly mention crime or homelessness, focusing instead on ways to improve the pedestrian environment broadly, council president Debora Juarez brought it up on Wednesday, saying, “We should be honest about it how Third and other streets have changed and have become not safe. We want it to be safe for everybody, and also for addressing homelessness and getting the right people down there to handle it, but also alleviating some of what pressure from a major corridor like Third. So I think we have to be honest about that.”

Scholes did not respond to Juarez’s comments directly; however, the vision the DSA has proposed for Third Avenue appears to offer little room for poor or homeless people. Notably, two sites of frequent crackdowns on homelessness and crime—the area around the McDonald’s at Third and Pine and City Hall Park in Pioneer Square—have been reimagined in the DSA’s renderings: The park, which was closed and fenced after the removal of a large encampment, appears as the front door to a fanciful “osteria” on the south side of the King County Courthouse, and the McDonald’s has been replaced by a sidewalk cafe.

These Streets Were Made for Walking

by Josh Feit

Due to the popularity of closing Lake Washington Boulevard to cars—and opening it for walking, biking, and rolling only, as SDOT did during the recent Thanksgiving weekend and over the summer: one mile of the northern portion of Lake Washington Blvd from Mt. Baker Park to Stan Sayres Memorial Park will be a no-car zone this Friday, December 18 through January 3.

Apparently, the popularity of these closures is causing some angst. People who oppose closing Lake Washington Boulevard to cars took their case to the joint Board of Parks Commissioners and Park District Oversight Committee meeting last Thursday night.  At the online meeting, SDOT floated the concept of making some of 2020’s COVID-19-era pedestrian-and-bike-only streets permanent. Lake Washington Boulevard isn’t currently under consideration for permanent closure, but SDOT’s anxious critics, intent on nipping the idea in the bud, pointed out that the vaunted Olmsted Brothers originally designed Lake Washington Boulevard for cars. Specifically, they said, for “recreational…pleasure drives.”

I love it when city officials are able to turn original intent arguments back against NIMBYs, and Parks Commissioner Tom Byers did just that. Byers, former deputy mayor under Mayor Paul Schell, pointed out that the typical car speed when the Olmsteds designed the boulevard was 12 mph. Today, it’s 25 mph. (Seems more like 30 or 40 if you’ve ever been biking there and had a car up in your business, but still.) For the past decade, the city has traditionally closed Lake Washington Boulevard to cars on Sundays during summer months. 

This past summer, responding to people’s need for daily recreational opportunities in their neighborhoods during the pandemic, SDOT restricted car access on 26 miles of neighborhood streets, creating bike-and pedestrian-friendly zones known as “Stay Healthy Streets” to create more room for people to walk, bike, and roll while maintaining at least six feet of distance from others. SDOT also teamed up with the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department for four additional miles of closed streets (I consider all these open streets), near Alki Point, near Green Lake, in Goldens Gardens Park, and along Lake Washington Boulevard, to expand park footprints. SDOT called these park-adjacent no-car zones “Keep Moving Streets.”

SDOT is now surveying the public to decide where to make 20 miles of these car-free streets permanent. It’s all part of the department’s pedestrian-centric response to the pandemic, which also now includes 150 sidewalk, converted parking spot, and street permits that neighborhood coffee shops and restaurants have used to set up outdoor seating. That popular program, known as “Safe Starts,” has been extended through October 2021.

In the first installment of this column a couple of months ago, I wrote about all these programs combined, arguing that the ad hoc emergency response was energizing Seattle’s neighborhoods and providing a surprise opportunity to rethink how our city should be planned and zoned.

The notion of re-upping the Lake Washington Boulevard car-free pilot as a pedestrian and bike thoroughfare (thanks for bringing it up, guys!) is a prequel to the overdue debate over reallocating public right-of-way. It’s time to retrofit our growing city to human scale.

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SDOT’s idea isn’t about tradition. It’s about change. And ultimately, that’s what Byers’ “12 mph” quip was getting at.

“I’m really excited about the future potential of these streets,” Seattle Parks District Oversight Committee member Deepa Sivarajan seconded.

Sivarajan, a policy manager at Climate Solutions by day, went even further. “Let’s not prioritize historical intent and historical preservation when thinking about these streets,” she said. “A lot of historical preservation in Seattle tends to preserve an era that was de facto segregationist. Thinking about the historical intent of a ‘driving street’ is not the biggest factor we should be considering.” Sivarajan argued that the city should consider equity above original intent, and her own priorities seemed to also include health and safety; she cited collisions and pollution as something the Olmsteds didn’t consider when designing boulevards for “pleasure drives.”

Sivarajan’s social justice angle served notice on the opponents of SDOT’s potential plan. In addition to the goofy original intent talking points, the preservationists had also been arguing that closing Lake Washington Boulevard to cars would be unfair to communities of color who, they claimed without presenting data, rely on the boulevard to access the city and parks from the Rainier Valley and beyond.

Opponents of a car-free Lake Washington Boulevard also got an earful from Parks Commissioner Dennis Cook, who’s African American. “I’ve walked the lake [for] many, many, many years,” he said. “During the pandemic, I’ve seen more people of color walking Seward Park than I have in the last five to ten years. It’s amazing. It’s wonderful to see because people are out there greeting people and their neighbors, and it’s building community.” Cook noted that the area in question is in the 98118 ZIP code, where the population is 25 percent African American. Seattle is 7 percent Black overall.

Continue reading “These Streets Were Made for Walking”

COVID-19 Has Sparked Interest In Car-Free Streets. Will It Last?

This excerpt originally appeared at Huffington Post, where you can read the full version of this story.

Gordon Padelford, the founder and director of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, can barely finish a thought without pointing out a toddler on a balance bike or a couple walking their dog in the middle of the road.

“I’ve never seen that before!” he exclaims as we take a walking tour of one of Seattle’s new “Stay Healthy Streets,” which the city has closed to most vehicle traffic so people can be outside while maintaining a safe social distance. One of the streets just happens to run right by his house.

“Three hours after it went in,” Padelford said, “two kids and a dad biked by, and I had never seen kids that young biking in the street. As soon as people were invited to use the street, they did.”

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All over the country, cities are closing down streets to car traffic and opening them up to people. It started with Oakland, where Mayor Libby Schaaf announced the city would close 74 miles to through traffic on April 10, and has spread across the country— to Portland, Oregon, Boston, San Francisco, Baltimore, Minneapolis, New York and beyond.

While the details vary slightly, the basic idea is the same: Block off a street to everything other than local traffic with removable barriers, and hope that people walking, biking or rolling will show up.

In Seattle, where more than one-quarter of city streets lack sidewalks, roadways can double as battlegrounds. Mayor Jenny Durkan got off on the wrong foot with bike and pedestrian activists when she dramatically scaled back the city’s ambitious bike plan in 2019, leaving Seattle’s traditionally underserved south end without any direct bike connections to downtown. Durkan initially seemed tentative about the idea of street closures, starting off by temporarily closing just 2.5 miles of streets in April and adding a few miles over the next few weeks.

But by early May, Durkan announced that the city would restrict 20 miles permanently, winning praise from groups like the Cascade Bicycle Club.

As soon as people were invited to use the street, they did.”—Gordon Padelford, founder and director of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways

Car traffic on major streets in Seattle declined 60% after Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee (D) issued his stay-at-home order in mid-March. But the gradual end of pandemic restrictions, combined with new anti-crowding measures on buses and trains, could bring that number skyrocketing back. King County’s public transit agency, for example, recently limited its bus capacity to a maximum of 12 to 18 riders.

At the same time, the city is facing massive budget cuts exacerbated by the April discovery that the West Seattle Bridge connecting West Seattle to the rest of the city had suffered major damage and would be shut down. A replacement will likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Finding other ways to get people around cheaply could soften the blow.

“Making aggressive investments in active transportation and walking and biking— that is going to be part of the city’s overall recovery strategy,” Seattle Department of Transportation Director Sam Zimbabwe said in an interview. “The type of investments we need to make are going to look different as people start to travel more. We need to look at every possible way to keep the city moving, and that doesn’t mean that everyone is going to jump in a car.”

Morning Crank: The Dizzying Array of Potential Pedestrian Treatments

1. I’ll be on KUOW today at noon talking about sexual harassment, tolling I-405, and more with Civic Cocktail host (and ex-Seattle Times editorial board member) Joni Balter and former state attorney general Rob McKenna. Who won’t be on KUOW tomorrow? Tavis Smiley, who was suspended by PBS this week after an investigation found “multiple, credible allegations” of sexual misconduct by the host. The allegations include having multiple sexual relationships with subordinates, some of whom believed their “employment status was linked to the status of a sexual relationship with Smiley,” and creating a “verbally abusive and threatening environment.” Smiley has responded by denying that he “groped, coerced, or exposed myself inappropriately” to any of his coworkers, which, it should be noted, are not the acts he is accused of committing.

KUOW pulled Smiley’s radio show (which is separate from his public TV show) voluntarily, and will run the second hour of “Here and Now” in its place.

2. George Scarola, former mayor Ed Murray’s director of homelessness, made an odd comment the other day about his current status at the city. “Up until the new mayor took office—Mayor Durkan—I was the director of homelessness. I promptly submitted my resignation,” Scarola said, adding that he did so “just to give her a clean shot at exactly what she wants to do, and that hasn’t had any effect yet.” Scarola is still at the city—in fact, he attended a Ballard District Council meeting where neighbors complained about the ongoing presence of homeless people at the Ballard Commons park just last night—but his position is now at the Department of Finance and Administrative Services, not the mayor’s office.

3. Jessyn Farrell, the state-legislator-turned-mayoral candidate who came in fourth in the August primary election, is going to work for Civic Ventures, the progressive think tank founded by Seattle venture capitalist and billionaire do-gooder Nick Hanauer. Earlier this year, Hanauer said he would bankroll the campaign for a homelessness levy proposed by then-mayor Ed Murray; although the city later abandoned that proposal in favor of a joint city-county proposal that kicked the conversation about a homelessness tax into 2018, Hanauer will likely be involved in that campaign as well. Farrell, who also headed up the Transportation Choices Coalition before she was elected to represent the 46th legislative district in the state house, did not say what her title will be, but did say that she’ll be working on “rebuilding the middle class” and “making cities work for people.”

4. If you want to get an idea of of how complicated traffic planners’ jobs are, and how hard it can be to balance road users’ needs and rights without creating ridiculously out-of-whack hierarchies (where drivers can move freely and pedestrians are constantly at risk) or unintended consequences (long periods where pedestrians are just stuck waiting at corners, unable to move in any direction), check out this presentation that Seattle Department of Transportation transportation operations manager Ahmed Darrat presented to the Pedestrian Advisory Board on walk signal timing last night.  Twenty minutes went by as Darrat explained eleven ways SDOT can shift the balance of mobility between cars and pedestrians—assuming slower walking speeds near hospitals and retirement homes, giving pedestrians the option of pushing a button for several seconds to extend the walk time, “passive detection” of pedestrians using thermal sensors—and then Darrat switched to the next slide, which listed another dozen options. (More details on the dizzying array of potential pedestrian treatments here).

The biggest point of contention right now in conversations about how quickly pedestrians should be able to cross the street is the existence of so-called “beg buttons”—buttons a pedestrian (or, in many cases, cyclist) must push to alert the traffic system that cars need to stop to allow people to cross the road. The problem with beg buttons isn’t just that they feel insulting—cars don’t have to ask permission to drive, because we’ve built a system that either assumes they will be there or that senses them when they roll up to an intersection—but that they contribute to a culture in which people walking and cycling are an anomaly on the road. Beg buttons give drivers who hit pedestrians a built-in excuse—he didn’t have the walk sign, officer!—empower cities to crack down on “jaywalking,” and contribute to the overall sense that cars rule the road. And if a pedestrian isn’t aware that they won’t get permission to cross the street unless they push the button, they may get stuck waiting through several light cycles while cars move through unimpeded. Blind people, people with limited English reading skills, people who can’t read, and other people with sensory impairments are particularly impacted by beg button requirements.

Darrat said federal standards require accessible pedestrian signals at every intersection; push buttons just happen to be the only option currently available to SDOT; however, he said, “we’re committed to looking at how we treat pedestrian signals from a more global perspective and coming up with some ideas as to how we’re going to take steps toward standardizing it” so pedestrians don’t have to figure out dozens of potential signal situations—different walk cycles by time of day; half cycles for cars; “pedestrian recall”; leading pedestrian intervals”—to cross the street. Imagine if instead of figuring out whether to push the button and if it’s safe to run and whether the signal will change when you push it if the light’s already green and how long you’ll have to wait if you don’t make this cycle, you could just go out into the street at regular intervals. You know, like cars do.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: It’s Not Clear What Lessons We’ve Learned


1. Four city council members—Rob Johnson, Mike O’Brien, Debora Juarez, and Kshama Sawant—signed a letter Monday urging Mayor Ed Murray to delay for one week the city’s plans to clear the homeless encampment on state Department of Transportation -owned Airport Way South and S. Royal Brougham, known to residents as “the Field” or “the Field of Dreams.” Camp residents have proposed a three-part plan to clean up the encampment and make it safe for human habitation, but it’s unclear how many of their proposals are feasible, given current conditions at the camp.

The city initially sanctioned the encampment as a temporary holding place for people relocated from the Jungle, the three-mile-long encampment under and surrounding I-5 near Beacon Hill. The city cited unsafe and unsanitary conditions as its reasons for clearing the Jungle, and is now making the same claims about the Field. Last month, a camp resident was arrested for rape and sex trafficking, and drug dealers have reportedly also moved in; meanwhile, the field itself is muddy and rat-infested, and garbage is heaped up in piles.

“The conditions down there are really quite appalling,” council human services committee chair Sally Bagshaw said Monday morning. “People who are living there say it looks like the ground is moving, there are so many rats, and that rats are running over people’s feet. … I think as a city we have got to be able to stand up and say that when something is so rat infested and there is mud literally up to our ankles … this is not something we’re willing to say is okay.” Besides, Bagshaw added, “There are options now. It’s not like people are being swept and told ‘Go find another place to be.'”

jesus-h-christResidents of the Field said they have asked for fire extinguishers, wood chips, trash pickup, and additional generators to keep the encampment clean, safe, and free from rats and garbage, but the city hasn’t delivered. Instead, encampment residents and supporters said, they’ve been offered the same shelter beds and long-term treatment slots that they were rejecting by moving to encampments in the first place. “When I see the Field, I am reminded of the two years Nickelsville spent at the Glass Yard” in Delridge, a resident of the Ballard Nickelsville encampment named Matt told the council. “When I see the Field, I am reminded of the times when Union Gospel Mission was sent in by the city to offer false choices of housing that wouldn’t work,” including shelters that don’t allow partners, pets or possessions, mats on the floor in facilities many encampment residents view as inadequate and unsafe, or beds that were only available to those who committed themselves to sobriety or agreed to submit to religious instruction.

The city has consistently said that it now offers real housing options to encampment residents. But in an interview before the council meeting yesterday afternoon, O’Brien told me that claim relies on sleight of hand. “We don’t have 50 good housing options for folks,” O’Brien said. “If you have one housing option, you can offer that one housing option to 50 people, but as soon as one person takes that housing option they’re going to stop offering it.” The rest, he said, will be forced to accept inadequate shelter or move on to the next encampment site.

This morning, the city plans to move in to the Field and remove any remaining tents, belongings, and people starting at 9am. Several groups opposed to encampment sweeps, who sat outside Murray’s office yesterday afternoon and eventually spoke briefly to his homelessness director, George Scarola, have vowed to show up to physically resist city staffers when they try to evict the remaining residents. O’Brien says that even if the protesters manage to stop this morning’s sweep, “My expectation is that the police will be persistent.”

“When they swept the Jungle, from the beginning, it was like, ‘This is chaos, this is unacceptable,'” O’Brien says. “The problem is it’s not clear what lessons we’ve learned as a city if we just keep doing this over and over again.”


2. The council’s discussion of the Field encampment was interrupted briefly yesterday morning when members of the organization Friends of Little Saigon burst into council chambers, waving signs with slogans like “Stop Ignoring Us” and chanting, “Talk with us! Not at us!”

The impromptu protest was a response to the way the city announced the location of the first Navigation Center, a low-barrier, 24-hour shelter for people, like the Field residents, who can’t or won’t sleep at regular overnight shelters. The Friends of Little Saigon and other organizations and businesses in the neighborhood sent a letter to the council and mayor in February asking the city to delay opening the center at the Pearl Warren Building at 12th Avenue and Weller St., arguing that they weren’t consulted on the location until a few days before the announcement, and that by then it was a fait accompli.

Quynh Pham, a representative of Friends of Little Saigon, told me the Navigation Center announcement was the final straw after the city failed to consult the neighborhood on a series of major events, including First Hill streetcar construction and the Womxn’s March, that negatively impacted neighborhood residents and businesses. “We were speechless” when the city’s Human Services Department told them about the decision,” Pham says. “We felt like, why even tell us without a plan to really address the impacts or understand where we’re coming from? They just came to us with the proposal at the last minute.”

Yesterday morning, council member Lisa Herbold blamed the lack of communication on the mayor’s office, which she said “needs to figure out a way to approach public process and engage with communities very differently.” Noting that the Navigation Center has not only been in the works since last year, but will now open months behind schedule, Herbold said “there has been no lack of opportunity to engage with that community.”

3. The mayor’s office plans to bypass the city council to get its $55 million homelessness levy on the August ballot by collecting signatures instead of sending it to the council for approval. Historically, the council tinkers with ballot measures that originate in the mayor’s office or in city departments, adding and subtracting funding for specific programs. In this case, the levy measure is likely to lean heavily on rapid rehousing—short-term vouchers to house homeless people in apartments that will revert to market rate after a few months—and eliminate some funding for agencies that have received city funding for decades, such as those that provide transitional housing. Groups that will likely lose out from a shift toward rapid rehousing include the Low-Income Housing Institute, which runs a number of transitional housing programs—and has heavily lobbied the council against proposed cuts to its programs. Expect an announcement on the levy from the mayor’s office on Wednesday morning.

4. In this afternoon’s transportation committee meeting, council members will get a briefing on the city’s progress on Vision Zero, the city’s plan to end traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. One thing that briefing won’t include is a report on traffic deaths and injuries in Seattle over the past two years; the Seattle Department of Transportation’s most recent report covers 2014, before most Vision Zero changes were implemented. I’ve requested a copy of the latest available information, but the lag, O’Brien notes, makes it difficult to draw conclusions about whether the city’s efforts are working; “it’ll be two years,” O’Brien notes, before recent pedestrian fatalities on NE 65th Street and in Wallingford show up in official city records.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.