Westlake Risk Holders Speak Out

Following are letters from business owners and others who have the most at stake if the proposed Cycle Track eliminates parking.

From: Kevin Clark, CEO & President Argosy Cruises

We utilize on a daily basis a short term bus load/unload zone that allows for us to safely off load guests being taken from or to our vessels at the AGC marina.  The buses we contract with are designed for wheel chairs.  These 50 person buses need a parking area that allows for 10-15 minutes to load and off load guests with all types of physical needs.  We move 37,700 guests on our Locks tour with buses taking them to and from the central waterfront to the Lake Union dock.  We utilize 3-4 buses per day during the “off season” and have as many as 12 buses per day during the summer season.  The 2.5 hour tour from the central waterfront through the locks requires the bus link to get guests back to where they started the tour.

In addition we have school and charter groups that come to the AGC facility by bus that also utilized the existing off street bus zone.  School children that need a safe zone to off load and gather – which is what we have no and really can’t afford to lose.  Safety does truly matter.

One of the sad developments of Museum of History and Industry is it was built with literally no vehicle parking for the number of guests it is expect to serve.  Worse, it was allowed to be built with no bus zones to facilitate school groups wishing to come to MOHAI.  Which means the existing bus zone we utilized in the Westlake area now is the zone being proposed for the bike path.  If nothing is done it would appear that it will no longer be available for school buses bringing school groups in to take the long walk to MOHAI via the west side foot bridge.

It is critical to have Westlake Avenue workable for visitor’s to know they can park their personal vehicles to come to the retail establishments along Westlake Avenue.  The myth that only commuters are driving in and through Seattle needs to end.  Visitors (meaning families) arrive by personal vehicle, not Metro bus.  Having safe, affordable short term parking is critical to the health of the Westlake retail businesses.

I was a bit taken a back on how inadequate the SDOT survey and data information gathering by the city for purposes of starting the Westlake design and proposals.  Reminds me a bit of James Corner (the head designer who is doing the design of the post viaduct central waterfront) and he was fed by the city that there was 60% of the central waterfront parking that was going unused.  So at present his new vision of the central waterfront that presently receives over 4 million visitors (more than all of the professional stadiums combined) has less than 90 parking spots.  90!!!!  So when I asked James Corner where did he get his data?  Where was he told there was sufficient parking?  He said he had gotten data that was based on evenings and weekends the office towers are empty.  To which I responded we get visitors 7 days a week all day long.  So I drilled into the SDOT director for the source of the 60% unused street parking.  When was the survey done on street metered parking.   Final answer: An evening in late November was the final answer. Sure, the waterfront is dead after dark in winter.  Duh…..

We have a big battle of dealing with selective survey’s, lousy data (I am educated from the UW on statistics so I know you can make numbers say anything you want).

From  Bill Wiginton:

WHO ARE THE REAL RISK HOLDERS

 Since the City appears to deem all stakeholders having equal input, we have decided to refer to ourselves as “risk holders” because we have much to lose if the cycle track eliminates any of this critical parking. Bicyclists have options for commuting; i.e. Dexter. The businesses (owners, workers and customers), residents and boat owners only have the parking lot to provide access to their business, home or boat.

Maintaining parking for businesses and residents is crucial in this community because of its unique geography. All the businesses, residents and boat owners along Westlake Avenue North only have the parking lot available to them.  Cars cannot park on Lake Union on the east side; cars cannot park in the greenbelt on the west side.

Who we are: We’ve lived and worked on Westlake Avenue North for almost 40 years.  We’re property owners, landlords, business owners, employers, residents, bicyclists and boat owners.  We’re landlords for eight tenants, six of whom run small businesses.

PROCESS

We find it astonishing that the City, through SDOT, has decided to build a project through the heart of our community without even talking to the community about the feasibility and consequences of such a project. The upcoming kickoff public hearing appears to be nothing more than the City advising the community about what SDOT is going to do to us. Your flyer states that there are “multiple ways to provide feedback”. The Westlake Avenue North community wants genuine input as to if and how the project is going to be implemented not just opportunities for feedback. According to your flyer, the City is “kicking off the Westlake Avenue North Cycle Track project.”  “Kicking off” means that a lot of time and money has already been spent on this. This is happening without any prior communication with the neighborhood affected directly by the cycle track.

Just yesterday, October 24th, we heard Mayor McGinn on KUOW described his (and the City’s) process for doing community development projects to first go to the community and find out what they needed. If it is true that this is the City’s regular process, the City failed to follow it with Westlake Avenue North and the Cycle Track. As far as we know, there has not been a feasibility study done on the project to determine if the cycle track can be built to meet the triple goals of safety for pedestrians, bicycles and vehicles, preservation of a vital neighborhood business and residential district and fiscal affordability (can it be done short of spending $10-20 million or more? )

We’ve been through this before. Five years ago, the City also scheduled an open house to advise the community of a new parking plan. The only reason we ended up having “input” rather than meaningless feedback, is that we brought hundreds of angry residents, boat owners, business owners, etc. to the meeting and demanded a key role in planning the project.  As a result,  we participated (with 15 or so other residents and business owners) for over a year with staff from SDOT developing a plan for parking on Westlake Avenue North. After many meetings, we developed a set of guiding principles and a plan, which was implemented along the entire street. The community was promised by SDOT that before any future City projects which would affect the parking plan would be developed, the City would come to the community. The City then made changes to the parking plan without any consultation or input from the neighborhood, creating many headaches for the local businesses and residents.

Now, here comes the “Westlake Cycle Track” and the City didn’t come to us; we had to demand a listening session. Because of this history, the residents, boat owners, businesses and their owners and employers don’t trust the City. We’ve been lied to.  There is time to correct this situation. Involve the community in the decision whether to build a cycle track, and then in any design of a track or other option.

SAFETY

Living here and bicycling here, we have seen many deaths, injuries and “close calls” between bicyclists and cars and bicyclists and pedestrians. When the Dexter bike lane was built and improved (for a cost of many millions of dollars), there was a small bicycle and pedestrian path built on Westlake Ave N on the east side of the parking lot. It was never meant for commuting and high speed bicycle traffic. Therefore, bicyclists use the parking lot. Along the entire parking lot, there are many curb cuts where cars pull in and out of the lot from and onto Westlake. In addition, because of the high number of businesses, people pull their cars in and out of parking spots all day long, creating more opportunities for “close calls” with bicyclists.

OPTIONS

There are already a high number of bicycle commuters who use the parking lot along Westlake Avenue North as their commuting route into South Lake Union and downtown.  For everyone’s safety, changes should be made. The apparent possible options for a cycle track seem to be the following. Each deserves a full feasibility study.

First:  a cycle track on the west side of the parking lot.

It means that bicyclists will be crossing every curb cut entrance into the parking lot (there are over a dozen). The bicyclists would become very vulnerable to being hit by in-coming vehicles coming in off of Westlake. The risk could be mitigated by installing stop signs at every curb cut, thus slowing down bicycles moving at top speed. This would result in a huge loss of parking for the residents and businesses.

Second: a cycle track on the east side of the parking lot. This would reverse the role of the cyclists. High-speed cyclists would be threatening pedestrians going in and out of residences and businesses. This would also result in a huge loss of parking for the residents and businesses.

Third: an elevated track situated above the parking lot that would allow bicyclists to safely traverse all the way from the Fremont Bridge to South Lake Union without any safety concerns. This would preclude any loss of parking for the residents and businesses. Other slower moving bicyclists will probably still use the parking lot. This option would be quite expensive, albeit accomplishing the twin goals of safety for all and preservation of access for businesses and residents.

Other options have been forwarded which may or may not be possible.

They include:

–Making Westlake into a two lane arterial, with a middle turn lane, leaving one lane available as a two-way bicycle path. However, SDOT has told us that it has a priority of keeping Westlake Avenue North as a four-lane arterial until the tunnel is completed. In addition, access for deliveries from semi-trucks for several businesses along the west side of Westlake would need to be built into the plan.

–Using City right-of-way on the west side of Westlake Avenue North. This would be extremely expensive because shoring would have to be installed to hold up Queen Anne Hill. All the properties on the west-side of Westlake are in what the City calls an “environmentally critical area”. The toe of the hill comes right up to the side walk and on the south-end there are existing buildings.

–Placing speed bumps throughout the parking lot slowing down both the bicyclists and vehicles. This would slow traffic but wouldn’t preclude cars backing out of parking spaces hitting bicycles. However, if the bicycles were slowed down, they might be able to better see the brake lights of cars about to move.

–Figuring out a way to encourage or mandate bicyclists to use the already existing north-south bicycle lanes on Dexter Avenue North. Since there really is no way to require anyone, whether on a bike or in a car, to use one designated route for getting where they want to go, other considerations would be to install a reduced mph zone throughout the Westlake parking lot which would have to be enforced by the SPD. Bicyclists facing a slower commute might choose to take the faster but up-hill option on Dexter.

In closing, SDOT needs to start over and develop a workable plan for all those affected by the proposed project. There are a large number of people in this community ready to work with the City on this. SDOT also needs to weight the interests of the risk holders along Westlake Avenue North in a different way than some of the less affected stakeholders.

Bill Wiginton

Sooz Appel

Pelington Properties

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