If you want the public path next to Lowell Elementary to reopen, you’ll want to go to this meeting

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Neighbors have said closing the public path will not address the root issues of homelessness and heroin use. (Image: CHS)

The sudden closure of a short, wooded public path near Lowell Elementary did not go over smoothly with Capitol Hill neighbors.

After Lowell parents called on Seattle Public Schools to address discarded needles and condoms in the area, the Seattle Department of Transportation fenced off the short trail near E Roy and Federal Ave on September 2nd. One person recently wrote “Over-reaction!” on the closure notice. Many more complaints were lodged here.

SDOT is now planning a series of public meetings to figure out what comes next. The first meeting will be October 25th from 4-6 PM in the Lowell cafeteria. Another meeting will be scheduled for the first week of November. City officials have also met with members of the school’s PTA and hope to have a long-term solution in place by the end of the year.

UPDATE 10/7/2016: SDOT has announced the details of its second planned meeting on the path:

  • October 254-6 pm Lowell Elementary School – Cafeteria – 1058 E Mercer St.
  • November 36-8 pm 12th Avenue Arts – Pike Pine Room – 1620 12th Ave.


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A sleeping bag and needles found near the path by members of the Lowell PTA. (Image: Susanna Mak)

Lowell parent Suzanna Mak told CHS that the path should be permanently closed to the public. “I think school campuses should not have public pathways bisecting them. The City should be responsible for creating an alternative solution for pedestrians,” she said.

Mak said the recent “excrement attack” on the school playground may have been in retaliation for closing the path.

Lowell parents have said used needles, condoms, and human waste are a common site on the path that winds between the school building and its playground. While the PTA has documented needles found on the site this month, one neighbor told CHS there has not been an encampment in the area for several years.

Before announcing the public meetings, SDOT and representatives from the Department of Neighborhoods, and Seattle Police met with parents and school district officials last week “to discuss the issues surrounding the Lowell Elementary path” and work out a schedule for the public meetings.

Attempts to deal with Seattle’s heroin epidemic by clearing camps and street injection sites have been criticized by harm reduction advocates who are calling on the city to allow for safe consumption facilities.

In May, CHS wrote about the consumption site concept and how the program could come to Capitol Hill to provide addicts and users (mostly targeting users who inject) with low-threshold access to a supervised space to consume pre-obtained illicit drugs, clean equipment, emergency care in the case of overdoses, and referrals to healthcare and drug treatment services if desired by the user. Such sites were recently endorsed by a regional heroin task force.

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28 thoughts on “If you want the public path next to Lowell Elementary to reopen, you’ll want to go to this meeting

    • I don’t believe anyone was injured before the closure so I don’t get the public safety aspect. Rather, they were turned off to see belongings of homeless and drug paraphernalia. If we closed off areas that contained those items the whole city might as well be fenced off.

      Instead of closing it, they should have increased access and visibility.

      Don’t let the actions of a few ruin something for everyone.

    • You can use the “I don’t believe anyone was injured” logic to shut down a lot of public safety initiatives, but if you don’t preemptively do something, the city gets dinged for having done nothing for such an “obvious” problem.

      Like people here complain about various intersections after someone does on a bike; their argument is always, “the city should’ve known this was a problem.”

    • Privilege, because you cannot name an instance where a road that is open to vehicles was closed as preventative measure, your analogy does not hold water.

    • @robert

      oh, is that so? public safety is the reason it was closed? what about all the alleys that are filled with needles and human waste? what about sidewalks that are littered with feces and, many times, needles? why aren’t those closed as well? you know, for the safety of the public?

  1. “The first meeting will be October 25th from 4-6 PM…”

    i hope the meetings aren’t all going to be scheduled at times when only stay-at-home parents can attend. some of us work until 5pm and have to commute home and likely wouldn’t even get to attend the last ten minutes of a meeting scheduled for this time.

    and, as an aside to mrs. mak, the actual school classrooms shouldn’t be open to the general public but a path, and even the playground, which are funded with every tax payer’s dollars, should not be used for the sole benefit of parents and their off-spring.

    otherwise, maybe we need to put up signs in volunteer and cal anderson parks prohibiting children from any area that’s not a designated playground. you know, for their safety from adults.

    • You are absurd. The idea that because the city or school district would restrict access to a play area in the interest of child safety means that children shouldn’t be allowed places not specifically designated for them is about the dumbest thing I’ve heard since Monday’s presidential debate.

      Similarly, the suggestion that because people use alleyways to defecate and inject drugs and the city is not closing off alleyways (which BTW are also use for garbage collection, parking, and delivery access) means that the city should not restrict access to a playground on school grounds, or a path that bisects a school campus where children can be reasonably expected to play and traverse is absurd. Alleyways are not places designated for children to play, and are not, generally, places that children (elementary school children) walk alone immediately before and after school.

      One would think that this path were the only way for miles to cross between the neighborhood east of 11th and west of federal.

      I’m not saying the path should be closed forever, and actually think it should be opened once the city can figure out a way to prevent illegal activity from taking place and creating a hazard for the children who attend the school and play on the playground. But if the closure of the path is viewed as an overreaction, than the reaction to the closure of the path is even more of one. Seriously, unless you live on the blocks of roy immediately east and west of the path, or have a destination immediately east or west of the path, walking on aloha or mercer is not actually out of the way.

      Let’s hope that the city and the district can figure out a way to maintain public access to the ROW AND maintain a safe and hazard free environment for the children who attend the school and play on the playground.

    • Speaking as someone who lives immediately across the street from the path, often works outside in our courtyard, and has maintained the path by removing ivy, pruning a fruit tree, and raking fall leaves, I have never seen anyone using the area inappropriately in eight years. I don’t doubt that needles and evidence of overnight camping in the underbrush was found, but it certainly is not typical or frequent.

      Denuding the area of all underbrush has more than removed any appeal to people who might want to use the area to shoot up (let alone to the rest of the neighborhood that has to live with the ugly stumps). Meanwhile, the safety of neighbors who now must walk three blocks around a dark abandoned playground at night to get from 11th to Roy is in jeopardy. The students are here about 25 hours a week. We live here 168 hours a week, and are deprived of access to a public right of way for no justifiable safety reason and without having had any opportunity to provide input before the closure.

      The path should be reopened immediately. In the extremely unlikely case that any further evidence of drug use along the path should occur, it can and should be addressed at that time.

  2. Scheduling this at a time when most adults are at work or commuting makes this seem less a genuine effort to get input from all stakeholders and more an attempt to appear to gather public input before caving in to the hysterical parents at Lowell.

  3. @gregoryh we aren’t talking about a play area now, are we? we’re talking about a public foot path; a sidewalk as you will. as you point out, alleys, and other public sidewalks aren’t designated playgrounds so why would we treat this particular stretch of path as such?

    also, if there is a danger on the path, instead of deciding what an entire community can and a cannot access, how about parents and teachers tell their progeny/charges NOT to go down the path? how hard is that? do they not have control of their children? is that not absurd?

    yes, there needs to be a solution found to the issue. but to randomly shut down a public path/sidewalk due to the desires of a sub-group, without input from the rest of the community, sets a bad precedence.

    again, we’re not talking a playground. we’re talking about a path; a sidewalk! thanks for playing though.

  4. The children do have to walk down that path to get to the school buses, so telling them to avoid it isn’t a solution. But why can’t someone from the city or school just go down there every morning and clean it out? That and ultimately re-do the landscaping so it isn’t such a pit would be helpful.

    • Since the path was closed, the kids have been using a school entrance a little ways south on Federal, and there is no reason why they couldn’t continue to do so once the path is re-opened.

      The Lowell parents are greatly exaggerating when they claim that “needles, condoms, and human waste” have been a “common sight” in the path area. I agree with your very simple solution to the occasional problems….for school maintenance staff to do a quick inspection of the area each morning and clean as needed….this would only take a few minutes. Yes, I know that technically it is not the school’s responsibility, but they could do it anyway as part of being a good neighbor and to keep their kids safer.

  5. Why in the world are people arguing over the wrong things…This isn’t about the kids vs the community – the kids and the community should both be able to use and access this path the people that need to get out are the nasty homeless drug users that are fouling the place, but we’re so nice here – we wall off a place and now no one can have nice things because we won’t call a problem a problem.

    Give the police the right to remove them as soon as they see them as the law breaking, drug using, needle and garbage dumping, public defecating, illegal campers that they are and we wouldn’t even have to have this debate. I’m really sick of the idea that homeless people seem to have more rights that the people who actually do have homes here. I’m not allowed to litter – urinate – defecate on public property…

    • Let’s focus on the actual problem. Homeless people are not the problem. To the extent that it actually happens, drug users leaving their paraphernalia around are the problem. Homeless people have enough challenges to overcome without being cast in such inhuman terms!

  6. The proximity to a school with a child student population is the driver to the closure and should be the number one priority with however this is addressed. Not bent out of shape millennials.

    • I don’t presume to know your age group, but I’m certainly not a millennial! I’m 72 and just want to be able to walk safely home from my car at night.

  7. Why is it the responsibility of the school to clean the path if the public was/is using it as well? Sounds to me like people don’t care about kids! Whenever adults are put in a situation that they have to alter their plan slightly, then then become irratated, irrational and non interested in compromise. SMH

  8. I was a PTA parent myself at Capitol Hill’s Stevens Elementary from 2000-2010 that included a 2 year stint on the executive board.

    This situation, in my opinion, is an issue of the Lowell Elementary PTA being a particularily poor neighbor. The advocating for, and pushed through this closure with ZERO input from the neighborhood. This passage has existed for not only longer than their kids have been alive, but for longer than the parents themselves have been alive. To decide that their desires trump all others in the community that they are (arguably) a part of smacks of elitism.

    The PTA could have taken at least three different courses of action as I see it:

    1. Clean-up parties. What? It isn’t the PTA’s job to clean up city property? It certainly is if you are the ones pushing to close down city property for your purposes.

    2. Underbrush clearing. OK, this is kinda the same as #1. But have you asked the neighbors to join you in the effort instead of bulldozing them?

    3. Lighting improvements. Ask me for money for this. Please. As a neighbor, I want to find a solution that works for both of us, and if it is a fund raiser you want, as a former PTA parent, my check book is at the ready.

    I started walking this path when it was a concrete arch that separated the pedestrian right-of-way from the students. Then the school became a magnet for “medically fragile” (not to mention APP) students, and the school took down the underpass in favor of the current switch-back path. It was weird at the time, but the pedestrians were promised that the actual right-of-way remained, and sure enough we were able to continue using the route.

    This neighborhood has long term walkability needs that should not be trumped by a PTA looking to be good neighbors.

  9. I think the big problem is that no public entity has taken “ownership” of this right of way — not the Seattle School District and not the Seattle Dept. of Transportation (SDOT). As a result, it’s become a no man’s land. Up until the 1970s, you could drive through this street. This is because the School District property was acquired in two phases with the land south of Roy purchased in the late 1880s and the land to the north in 1921. Although the District later tried to vacate the right of way and obtain control of the entire site, SDOT was reluctant to cede control. The current pathway was the compromise that has undergone subsequent design iterations. Although benign neglect has had few adverse effects for many years, we now find ourselves in the present untenable situation.