Public path closed near Lowell Elementary where used needles repeatedly found

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Fencing and no trespassing signs were installed on the path Friday morning. (Image: Alex Garland)

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

Parents of Lowell Elementary students say a wooded public pathway that cuts through the Capitol Hill school grounds has long been used as a place for people to camp and inject drugs.

After months of parents calling on Seattle Public Schools to address the issue, the Seattle Department of Transportation fenced off the short trail on Friday. Crews also cleared trees and shrubs along the path at E Roy between Federal and 11th.

“From our point of view, the right of way must be permanently closed,” said
Suzanna Mak of the Lowell Elementary PTA.

According to Mak, 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 as early as this week, one neighbor tells CHS there has not been an encampment in the area for several years. Seattle Public School students return to school September 7th.

UPDATE: SDOT spokesperson Norm Mah said that after the city received complaints from the school district and PTA, SDOT decided to temporarily close off the path due to the “ongoing public health hazard” posed by discarded needles.

Once the temporary closure is in place, we will assess the situation and explore a number of long-term remedies with the objective of ensuring the safety needs of the elementary school while preserving the mobility needs of the neighborhood. We will work with all essential stakeholders on the longer-term resolution.

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.

For Mak, the hazards posed by the path were too significant to keep it open as many students traverse it daily. She did tell CHS that there would be an opportunity for community input on the closure.

The PTA wants to inform the Capitol Hill community of this closure and talk openly about the reasons for it, and answer any and all questions about our position. Though the Seattle Department of Transportation has not informed us of any process or steps to come, presumably there will some community involvement while the plan is formed for a permanent solution.

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99 thoughts on “Public path closed near Lowell Elementary where used needles repeatedly found

  1. I use this path every day, haven’t seen any folks camping out there in years- seems pretty harsh to shut down the entire path rather than increase lighting at night, have a regular clean up crew in there and cut back bushs to discourage usage. Closing off the whole area is not actually dealing with the larger problem at hand. it’s typical seattle style to just ‘move the problem somewhere else’ . the school is in an urban environment you can’t shelter your kids from everything

    • I agree – this must not be a permanent closure. It is an important pedestrian and bicycle link on a block that is otherwise entirely occupied by Lowell and its fenced-off playground. It is used by hundreds of people each day, including myself. While there is littering on occasion – like in every other public space – dangerous activity or debris is not apparent. Maintenance is the key response here, not closure. Whether that maintenance is the responsibility of the school or SDOT remains to be seen, but if you want to change the environment from one where people linger to one where people pass through, make it easy to pass through and obvious if unwanted activity takes place.

    • I too use this path daily to walk dogs. I’m not on a bike, nor on my phone – always looking around for squirrels and the like.

      I do see needles daily – just off the path. I find that the orange caps are hard to miss. With the dogs, I have to be alert as to where the needles are to go with the cap. It is bothering me now when I think of how much time I spend on the Hill keeping my dogs safe from needles. I’m glad I have no small kids. I can understand the concern.

      Also, there are indeed ‘campers’ per se. I can see in the bushes & behind where someone has slept and/or used the space to inject and smoke. I also view human crap almost daily as I bend over to pick up the dog crap because, you know, it’s the law.

      I have no faith in a safe injection site after witnessing the Vancouver site first hand. Yes, you can keep an addict alive if they use the site, but at the price of the surrounding community which looked like a zombie zone. Trashed, the stink of human waste was overwhelming in June. Car window glass everywhere – a junkie has to make a living. Why has nobody gone up and reported on this reality of ‘safe injection’ locations?

    • “I use this path every day, haven’t seen any folks camping out there in years”

      Bullshit. I live across the street from this path, and have for many years. There have been folks camped out there for the last couple months. You do not use this path every day if you’re saying that.
      -david

    • Urban Dweller’s comment is NOT bullshit. I walk by there almost every day, and there has not been a homeless camp there in several years. Sure, you’re going to have an occasional sleeper there, with some litter left behind inevitably, but that is not a sufficient reason to close the pathway. And if this is done, it will create havoc, as many school buses let kids off at the western entrance to the pathway…if they have to use 11th instead, the congestion will be horrendous.

      The SDOT crew cleared most of the shrubbery/small trees between Roy and Aloha, and now that area is an eyesore….for no good reason, as there have not been any homeless camps there either, and the kids do not use it as it’s a steep slope. Clearly an over-reaction to a “non-problem.”

    • Hello Bob Knudson, Actually both my daughter and son have climbed up that steep hill fairly often on and from their way to school until I learned of the needles and forbid further climbing.

  2. Agree. The school and the playground take up a couple blocks north-south. Why doesn’t the city take care of the people causing the problems rather than penalizing all the rest of us who pay taxes and want to use the streets and walkways in our city? How much degradation of our quality of life are we going to put up with in order to accommodate those who contribute nothing to our community?

    • Well-said! Another example of the City spending taxpayer money because of the illegal activities of homeless people is the P-patch on E Thomas St. They are about to demolish and re-construct the beautiful garden shed for the sole reason that homeless/drug addicts use the area behind the current shed to camp and shoot up, and as a result some long-time gardeners have given up their plots.

    • Seems to me that a ‘temporary’ closing is reasonable for the sake of the children.
      How about hiring a landscape architect to plan the area in such a way that it discourages drug users. A good plan would make it both more open and attractive. This area is sheltered from view from above and it is somewhat sheltered from view on the low west side, opening to the street and closed on either side. If it could be exposed to view from below and from above to teachers, assistants, parents, and even the children, drug users would be deprived of their hiding place – Lighting the area at night to eliminate the concealment of darkness.
      Because it is not open to view it is somewhat intimidating to use. If it were made more open it would likely be used more and with the heavier use it would be even less friendly to drug users.
      Bob Knudson wrote about the shed in the E Thomas Street P-patch. Why not move the shed so that it is flush against the back of the lot. That would eliminate the drug user’s hiding place.
      It is a real loss when these amenities are lost, particularly if there are options.

  3. I also walk through here frequently. I haven’t seen anything out of place in at least a couple of years. Seems to be an over reaction to me.

    • Hello Tim, You might not have noticed anything in a couple of years but that doesn’t mean that nothing happened. Here are some facts from August/ September 2016:
      Sept 7
      School starts.
      Sept 1
      Path is closed.
      Aug 31
      More brush is cleared.
      Aug 25
      Pegi McEvoy, Assistant Superintendent for Operations for SPS visits and finds needles around the path.
      Aug 24
      Partial brush clearance, “No Trespassing” signs placed.
      Aug 23
      Another homeless encampment is found along with more drug paraphenalia.
      Aug 22
      During Kindergarten orientation, the teachers and Kindergarteners went outside for recess at 11:15 to find a man slumped over in the basketball court of our playground. They had to corral the children back inside.
      Aug 21
      The PTA and other parent volunteers cleaned up the path area. They found and documented the following items within 10 yards of the path:

      13 used drugs needles
      3 homeless encampments
      3 used condoms
      4 incidences of human feces
      Baggies, tin foil, syringe caps and other drug paraphernalia
      Other trash including beer cans

      More info to be found on http://lowellpath.com/

  4. Closing this pathway is a short-sighted move with the potential to create or exacerbate the very problem it claims to address. Take a look around the city: camping and drug use happen everywhere, but frequently in fenced or secluded areas which are inaccessible to the public and where users are unlikely to be disturbed by through traffic. Closing this path creates a perfect sanctuary in the middle of a heavily-trafficked area.

    Like other commenters, I use this path regularly, at varying times of day, and have not seen any camping or loitering in the past 3 years.

    I predict the lack of foot traffic through this block will attract precisely the activities the PTA imagines they need to curtail.

  5. I actually was part of the cleanup. I personally found upwards of 10 needles and 3 encampments in the undergrowth between the school and playground less than 2 weeks ago. I know needles have been found directly on the path and that a parent has be stuck by accident. For all those who have never seen them you have probably passed less than 30 feet from encampments and needles.

    I use this pathway on a very regular basis too. Given what I saw and the risk posed to young children and pets I think walking around one block or taking a different route is a tiny price to pay to ensure their safety.

  6. I also use this path, and I personally haven’t seen needles when I have walked through. However, I wouldn’t claim that I’ve inspected it closely enough to see needles, which are tiny, especially since the path itself is covered mostly in lose bark so that it’s not easy to see what you’re walking on. I don’t think the parents who say they found needles are lying about it. Realistically, we all know that SDOT can’t and won’t have the resources to clean that path every school day and neither does the school district. I’m willing to give up the path (much as my dog loves it) to keep an elementary school child from grabbing a dirty needle. Losing path access is a relatively small price to pay.

    • losing public pedestrian access is a big price to pay. what’s next, large swaths of public parks; to keep kids safe?

      sorry, but why can’t parents simply tell their kids not to go down that path? let the adults make their own decision about possibly coming into contact with needles and encampments.

      parents should be forcing rules on adults when they can just place rules on their children.

    • Zeebleoop, I mainly agree with you, but would like to point out that numerous school buses let their kids off at the western entrance to the pathway, and the kids have no choice but to walk along the pathway to the school entrance on 11th. Still, I think the presence of needles there is being exaggerated by some commenters here. Why can’t school staff do a quick sweep each morning, before the kids arrive, to clean up any needles? And for heaven’s sake, parents, teach your kids to not pick up needles!

  7. This path is the pedestrianized part of E Roy Street connecting Federal Ave E with 11th Ave E and is a public right of way. It is outrageous to prevent the public from using this path. As a regular user of that path, there isn’t a particular problem with encampments there, so this overreaction is surprising, but since the school made the path less welcoming to pedestrians by installing a gate a number of years ago and the entire area became increasingly bunkerized with locks added to the playground, it’s not a total surprise that they would do exactly the wrong thing to combat the problem. When drug users make a mess in Volunteer Park, we don’t close down the park, we trim the undergrowth and encourage increased use of the area by normals and dog walkers.

  8. I also use the path almost daily. The problem is not the path, The problem is that conditions around the path have been ignored for quite some time. The area on either side of the path has not been maintained, neither from a landscaping/maintenance perspective, nor from a trash pickup perspective. For about a week in August there were indeed several people camped out on the south side of the path up near the fence by the school. You may not have noticed them as they were hunkered down behind the overgrown bushes and overgrown groundcover, but they were there. There are also rats hanging out in the overgrowth. If the area was kept clean and clear from overgrowth, and well lighted, it would eliminate the hiding areas that have attracted rodents and folks looking for an out of view place to camp or conduct unseen business. Closing the path and not fixing the problem(i.e. not maintaining the property) will not solve the problem. Cleaning the area up and keeping it well lighted would change the environment to one that doesn’t invite undesired human or rodent activity. Whether it is the Seattle Dept. of Transportation, or the Seattle Schools, or Lowell Administration — please be a good neighbor to all of us who live around Lowell and use this pathway. Keeping the area cleaned up, well lit, and used by the community is a win win
    solution for both the school children and the neighbors.

  9. I support the closure, because I’m in favor of the safety of children, and I think it sets a good precedent: where there is the potential for serious danger to children near a school, it necessitates prompt restriction of public right-of-way. School is starting soon, so on Monday I’d like to see SDOT close down 12th Ave E between Aloha and Republican. No child has been hit there recently, but cars go by at 35 mph and higher at all times of day, and dozens of children cross every school day. Let’s go ahead and close it now, because the danger is obvious, and then we’ll see if there’s a need for public input later. Cool?

    • But wait! What about that dangerous curve on Federal Ave right next to the school? Perhaps no student has been hit yet but we can prevent it by closing the road right away before it’s too late. And while we’re at it, let’s not forget nearby Stevens Elementary, where traffic zooms down Galer and up 19th Avenue, two addtiional candidates for street closure. No to mention, 12th Avenue south of John, where there have actually been some pretty bad accidents.

      I would suggest some more intensive police patrol in the area, but I realize that dumping billions of dollars into a puny light rail system and car tunnels though downtown doesn’t leave money for such extravagances as enhanced law enforcement where there’s a threat to elementary school children. But thank goodness, we had the funds for the Broadway bike lane and more streetcars!

  10. I wish the realities of this city allowed us to have both the benefits of a shady winding urban path, and public safety. The reality right now is that we are being prevented by lack of political will from having both. This kind of thing is going to go on until the mayor’s office does more than just say the words “homelessness is a crisis,” but that doesn’t mean that the danger isn’t present and real for Lowell. And yes, people who are injecting along that pathway are just going to go somewhere else. But unless that somewhere else also runs across an elementary school, this is one situation where moving the problem is going to help until a real solution comes along.

    • no, @tamara, the people shooting up aren’t just going to go someplace else. now that the path is restricted to the public, they are just going to climb the fence and hang out in peace.

      oh, did you think a “no trespassing” sign and some hastily erected chain link fence would keep them out? nothing’s been done to solve the problem.

  11. What can we do as neighbors to get our walkway back? The walkway between 11th and Federal is effectively a pedestrian street with landscaping. You don’t close streets because of litter and criminal activity, you clean it up. I run by both sides of the school every morning and yes, vagrants camp there, but they aren’t camping on the path. They are camping under windows of classrooms and in stairwells/doorways, how will closing this off stop any of that?

    • The best way of ensuring continued access to a public right of way is to continue to use it. I did not use it today because of the work going on (falling tree limbs are a deterrent!), but I fully intend to investigate how to get around any barriers tomorrow and will use it if physically possible. I encourage others to do the same – just use it if it doesn’t put you or others at risk. If necessary we can organize a time to get a bunch of people there at the same time (and reps from CHS and the Seattle Times).

  12. I cannot believe some of the previous comments. The reason a great many of you people haven’t seen needles littering the pathway and adjacent growth areas is because neighbors such as I and several others make a habit of cleaning up those grounds in order to keep the children and people who walk dogs and everyone in general SAFE. So, save your self-entitled indignation for the very necessary closure of this area for somebody else and in the interim, get off your keisters and LOOK for areas wherein you can lend a hand by cleaning up this “litter” yourselves.

    • I hope you can see that the overwhelming majority of comments on this article oppose the closure of this public right of way. That’s because it’s a public right of way. Cleaning up the neighborhood is a wonderful thing and all of us who do it know that it’s real work: thank you for doing it. I’m surprised that you’d assume that some people who oppose the closure and have commented here are lazy and entitled though. It is apparently self-evident to you that closing this path will solve the problem you’re seeing and that the costs are worth it. That’s not clear to all those people who have commented opposing the closure. Rather than berating them for suspected character flaws, maybe you could explain why this closure is any different than mamstergrub’s jokey suggestion to close a street.

  13. I too use this path every day and am a community member and parent who volunteers in advocacy for homeless and transitional families. This path has been unsafe for years and has steadily gotten worse since 2015. One of our parents last year was stuck by a dirty needle after recovering his sons backpack that had been stolen from the school playground right after school by one of the drug users who needed a place to carry his dirty needles. There has been used needeles disposed of midday on the pathway where our children have to walk to catch their buses, used dirty condoms, used needles and human excrement have been all found on the playground by the children. This is a risk to the health of all of the children on the community and at Lowell, including medically fragile, visually impaired and special needs children. Our ability to deal with this crisis of homelessness and drug use is not diminished by also keeping children safe who don’t have a choice about where to go to school or whether to go to school. I walk everywhere on the hill, and the 60 extra steps I need to take to go around the path is truly a small sacrifice to make to keep the community safe from HIV and Hep-C exposure. I too believe that a longer term comprehensive solution is required for this complex situation, but until that is in place, children need to be as safe as we can make them at school.

    • I think we have a shared goal of discouraging drug users from hanging out at the school and leaving needles lying around.

      But just so I understand, your suggested course of action is to put a large and permanent fence up not just across the path, but all around the school and playground?

      What happened in 2015?

    • You must have huge strides if it takes 60 steps to get around that fence. Part of attending an inner city school is that you have to deal with the trappings of the inner city.

  14. If anything, closing the path will make it even more unsafe. Now no one will walk past to bother anyone camping, sounds like a great solution. We all know how well drug addicts respect no trespassing signs!

  15. There is an impressive showing of entitlement going on here, even for this blog. You’re entitled to ride your bike down a path instead of around a block, and thus the kids who have to contend with dirty needles should just suck it up? Is it really that important that you spend an additional 60 seconds getting to your destination?
    There also seems to be a general view that the needles aren’t real unless you personally see them.
    I haven’t seen anyone volunteer to form patrols to clean this area every morning before kids get to school. You want it to be cleaned up, by somebody else, because apparently your only responsibility is to not have to walk around a block.

    • Just so that whoever you’re addressing can give a reasoned response, Ferdy, maybe you can include the name of the commenter(s) you’re referring to. I can’t find the arguments that you’re responding to.

    • You seem to think that closing the path will magically make the needles disappear. Are people naive enough to think that a fence will stop people from shooting up? If anything, I expect tents to sprout up next.

    • It is the school’s responsibility to keep that area clean and maintained! …..not only because many of their students walk there, but in order to be a good neighbor. Surely the school employs a maintenance person who could do a quick inspection every morning, and clean as needed.

    • Bob K., the school staff can’t clean up the path if it is not SPS property. Custodians are prohibited from cleaning up Parks or SDOT property. I am a parent at another school, and I decided to clean up human feces myself from the park adjacent to the school three times (from a disturbed neighbor, evidently), where the school kids play before, during and after school, because I thought it was ridiculous to wait hours for Parks staff to come up to clean it up and think that in the meantime kids are not going to run up into the mess. Those of you (not you, Bob) who think that kids should just be “smart” enough to avoid needles and poop, get a grip. Children run. They are impulsive and forgetful. I don’t have a position on what to do about this particular path, but reading about what some folks think others should do, I find some ideas uninformed.

    • @fjnd….I hear you, but why can’t the school and SDOT (which presumably has jurisdiction over the public pathway) just sit down and work out an agreement to allow the school staff to keep the area clear of litter, including needles? There is no way that SDOT will do this…..they are a very dysfunctional department.

  16. Wow, glad to see such a mature conversation here. Truly surprised by your snarky comments matthew amster-burton. Closing a foot path that literally runs through an elementary school campus is in no way comparable to closing a secondary arterial road (which BTW should probably have a traffic signal at the intersection you have called attention to, and or traffic calming beyond the painted bump outs.

    The evidence that there was drug use, deification and other public-health and safety threatening behavior engaged in in the areas adjacent to that path is pretty obvious whether or not anyone commenting here personally saw it happening or saw someone sleeping there.

    The campus spans two blocks, its not like most people who would walk through the path cant walk around while the district and the city figure out a way to prevent illegal activity that jeopardizes the health and safety of children going to school.

    Who here (with a child) wants to wonder whether or not they will pick up a used condom or syringe while they are playing during recess, or walking to/from the school? I know that I don’t want my child to encounter those, or piles of human excrement while he is playing.

    • Do you believe that the fence currently across the path will prevent drug users from using the area around the school?

    • Gregory, as I’m sure you know, I served for years on the Pedestrian Advisory Board, and I’m comprised of 97% snark, so I’m not sure why you’re surprised.

      Of course closing this right-of-way isn’t comparable to closing 12th. One affects pedestrians and the other affects cars. I think the closure of the path—at least temporarily—is probably a good idea. And the problem is disgusting and literally on school grounds. I get all of this.

      But the fact is: the greatest danger to Lowell students, by an enormous margin, is moving cars. SDOT has a massive array of tools to deal with this problem, and it rarely deploys any of them to improve student safety, because doing so would annoy drivers. As soon as we have a problem that can be addressed by shutting down a pedestrian right of way, however, the Seattle Process goes away.

      If you care about the safety of students, this should drive you crazy. Doesn’t it? If the Lowell walk zone is going to extend across 12th (and it does and should), we should make it safe for kids to cross 12th. The PTA considers this an emergency, right? What are they doing about it?

      I get it: these are separate issues, and you address the problems you can, when the political moment presents itself. We’ll deal with the car thing some other time. In the future.

  17. I think it’s really sad that most of the comments here show more concern for the convenience of walking through this path than the safety of the children that attend this school. I imagine most of the authors of these comments do not have kids, do not have kids at this particular school, or even like kids, so of course they are only going to think of themselves. How hard is it to walk to the next block to get to where you’re going? Not every street in Capitol Hill has the luxury of a path to connect one street to another. I don’t know of many schools that have a public thoroughfare on their campuses, so why should Lowell be any different? I have an incoming second grader new to Lowell and the thought of someone shooting up, having sex (used condoms were also found, supposedly) and taking a crap out in the open, so close to school grounds is quite unnerving. No, I do not pretend that life is all sunshine and rainbows with my kids. They are well aware that it isn’t. But I don’t want this to be anywhere near my child or anyone else’s.

    • Sharon, do you believe that the fence currently across the path will prevent drug users from using the area around the school?

      The path isn’t a luxury for the public, if anything it’s a luxury for the school. The path is a public right of way just like any street in the city. The fact that it doesn’t carry cars is an accommodation to the school (which happens to be great for the neighborhood too).

      I’m not sure which comments you’re responding to when you imagine people’s backgrounds and thought processes. If you’d care to highlight a few commenters by name, they would be better able to respond specifically to your concerns about their motivations.

    • I think it’s really disingenuous and entitled of you to frame your comment such that anyone who disagrees with the arbitrary and unannounced closure of a public right-of-way isn’t concerned with the safety of the kids in this neighborhood, or doesn’t have or have had kids attend Lowell. Nor do I appreciate your frivolous assumption that commenters without kids must be self-centered not to put your transient kid’s safety above all other concerns.

      Some of us have lived in this neighborhood and have used that path longer than your whelp has been alive. Some of us are aware of the yearly cycles that bring transients during the warm dry summer months, when school is out, and send them packing once the cold rainy weather returns along with the students.

      Some of us believe that there are obvious and less drastic measures that could have and should have been taken to eradicate the problems you enumerate–including increasing community awareness and vigilance, and better maintaining and lighting the grounds–short of putting up a giant fence.

      The tone of your comment and Ms. Mak’s about this “emergency” action suggests an unfortunate measure of melodrama, entitlement, and lack of interest in a collaborative community-based solution that values the inputs of local residents and taxpayers. I hope events prove otherwise.

    • @localresident, no I do not believe a fence alone will solve the problem. My belief is that if there is a way to prevent this activity from happening near a school with vulnerable kids, it needs to happen. I would, however, like to know how the path is a luxury to the school versus pedestrians? Honest question.

      @capicola, You are right, my presumption of why people seem to be more in favor of a “path” versus safety of children who attend the school in question was out of line. I just don’t understand why the safety of children is the lesser priority for some. You are entitled to your opinion as am I, but I’m not going to target you directly in voicing my opinion. Of course the safety of my “transient whelp” is my priority. So many mentions of what needs to be done, but who is going to do these things? Will you partake? Thanks for your insightful reply and your warm welcome to the neighborhood.

  18. SDOT say “Once the temporary closure is in place, we will assess the situation”. Seems weird for a DOT to block a public right of way before assessing the situation though, doesn’t it?

  19. I don’t think anyone here wants children to be unsafe. I think what many people are pointing out is that 1) closing off public access here will likely make this area more attractive to the people who are causing the problems, 2) school children and their parents are one set of stakeholders in the community, and there needs to be a rational discussion with all of us on how best to fix problems at this public right of way, and 3) we all have an interest in lowering the overall rate of addiction and mental illness that we see in the streets of Seattle rather than putting bandaids that require concessions from law-abiding community members but do nothing to address the actual problem.

    I don’t think it helps us focus on our common goals as a community for some commenters to impugn the motives and character of those with different opinions. “OMG! I heard that one commenter doesn’t even LIKE children!!!!! Let’s discount what he says. I mean, he’s basically SATAN!!!!”

  20. I am puzzled by the assertion that it is an overreaction to close the right of way. My understanding of an overreaction in this context is that the remedy being attempted (closure of right of way), is disproportionate to the harm that needs to be remedied (needles on an elementary school campus). What I’m reading here is that people enjoy the right of way as an amenity (as I do), that they like to able to walk or bike here (so do I). I am not seeing anyone saying they require the right of way to get to their home or to have customers come to their business, etc. So is it disproportionate to take away something that we all as local residents *enjoy*, in order to keep children away from an obvious public health hazard? It don’t think it is even a close call.
    Am I certain that closing the right of way will make the school safer? No, I don’t think anyone can be certain about curbing the consequences of opiate abuse (short of the construction and staffing of safe injection sites). But it seems clear that if we accept (as I believe we should on these facts) that the status quo presents an unacceptable risk, then we can’t be put off attempting remedies that may in fact alleviate that risk, simply because we aren’t certain they will work. Of course we should look for longer term solutions (as I said, I enjoy the right of way) but saying that the right of way should be open during the school year, while those solutions are sought, so that we can continue to enjoy a local amenity while children are exposed to needles, is an overreaction to the closure.

    • Here’s the problem: it appears that you are suggesting that because a situation is bad, that any change is better than the status quo. This is clearly not a supportable position. The problem is not just that you don’t know if closing the path will reduce the number of drug users leaving needles, the problem is that your remedy not only may not have any effect on the problem you’re trying to solve, but that it may in fact make it worse. Given the fencing that has been put in place seems effective only at keeping out normals and is ineffective at keeping out drug users (and could make the place more attractive to drug users), it seems like a particularly strange thing to want to do. You continue to make the claim that people are trading off their personal convenience or enjoyment against children’s safety. But that only makes sense if you believe that closing the path actually increases children’s safety and it seems that many people arguing against the closure believe exactly the opposite. It’s pretty clear to me that poor maintenance and basically ignoring the property over the summer allows bad behavior to flourish, but the solution to that is clear and doesn’t involve closing the path.

  21. If SDOT ( which is probably responsible for the maintenance of this public right-of-way) or Lowell (as a good neighbor and responsible caretaker for the children who attend classes there) had just done a clean sweep of dense vegetation that provides hiding places for sleeping and illicit behavior – and if there was a long-term commitment to proper maintenance – the public access pathway would not have had to be temporarily closed and the above conversations would not have had to happen. Regular maintenance, lighting and vigilance are the keys to keeping this area accessible and safe for everyone. As a neighbor, I am committed to be helpful and watchful. Building a fence or a wall in an attempt to keep people out is not a solution.

  22. Matthew, You’re right, it wasn’t the snark that surprised me, it was the street closure analogy.

    I do believe that restricting access to the area will reduce the likelihood that people will try to climb the fence to find a place to shoot up. They will more likely use a different doorway or driveway in the area. I don’t believe it is a good long term solution.

    As for pedestrian safety in the area of the school, it is a separate issue and one I would be happy to see this much enthusiastic discussion about. But i feel like the problem on this blog and so many others is that people hijack an article about one issue and make it about another, or at least muddle it.

    I would hope that everyone commenting here can agree: IV drug use, and the other activities that have been taking place on the Lowell Campus are not good for public health and safety, and the safety of the children attending the school or playing in that area.

    • Have you seen the fence? There’s no real climbing involved currently. It’s enough to put off normals, but otherwise the fence itself makes the area more attractive to rough sleepers and drug users. I think problems will reduce as the weather changes and the undergrowth is cleared out and there’s more obvious day time activity, but it won’t be this fence that’s doing that.

    • Gregory, I’m just curious…..because you are concerned about the safety of the kids crossing 12th, do you have any statistics about how many Lowell kids cross there daily? My guess is that it’s a very small number. And SDOT did “remodel” the intersection of 12th & Mercer a year or so ago, making it safer for everyone to cross there.

  23. For everyone that thinks this fence is fine because it’s temporary, I’ll just say that a temporary closure in the name of security sometimes means that you will spend the next 15+ years staring at some really ugly chain-link fence that does nothing to solve the stated problem. Just go to the reservoir in Volunteer Park if you need a reminder about this.

  24. People who decided to post about this obviously care about the fence issue. But I don’t think the silent majority in the area has given the fence much of a thought, if at all. If you can afford to live in that area, there are certainly happier and more important matters in life to occupy yourselves with.

    Unless you spend more than a few minutes looking at the fence, it is not that bad of an eyesore and not even as messy as a construction site. Is it going to discourage people from entering and camping within the area? Maybe, maybe not. You probably won’t get to find out because the rainy season is here. As for the smart little kids, they can always be taught not to wander or pick up sharp objects. Worst comes to worst, they get to suffer and play inside their parents’ million dollar Craftmans.

  25. When I bike up from South Lake Union to the top of Capitol Hill, this small stretch through Lowell is part of my journey and it makes me feel very safe. Because there is no car that could potentially harm me. Many parents drive their children around in cars, some too big for this city, and you make the streets unsafe for the children who don’t have parents to drive them everywhere. I just hope that none of you are posting here. Everything else would be pure hypocrisy.

    • Since we’re talking about other impacts on child health and safety: when will Lowell or Seattle Schools address the school buses? The pollution from those things is literally harming kids every day. Not only will addressing that problem likely have a measurable impact on test scores and long term health outcomes for kids and adults in the neighborhood, but maybe it will help get more cars off the road if parents don’t have to make the choice between driving kids to school or letting their developing brains and bodies be damaged by harmful exhaust gases and evaporating fuel.

  26. Mike et al, Lowell is not a school for “smart kids” who live in “million dollar Craftsmen.” Lowell is a high poverty school serving students from the international district and downtown, including a large number of homeless families from Mary’s Place and other shelters, and families who are living in their vehicles and at times in bus shelters. Over 50% of students receive free or reduced price breakfast and lunch. Over 30% are disabled or have other special educational needs. Lowell is a designated magnet school for children with blindness and children with life threatening medical conditions – visually impaired and disabled kids start at Lowell as young as age 3. There are refugee families. There are many kids who are learning English, or who are the only members of their families who speak English.

    Yes, Lowell also serves those Eastlake and Capitol Hill families who haven’t sent their children to private school to avoid being at Lowell (a school that many Cap Hill families describe as unsafe, undesirable, and insufficient for their child’s education). It is a community of marginalized students and families, not a school of privilege and elitism.

    If the majority of Lowell families weren’t living in poverty; if a third of Lowell parents weren’t living on high alert around the clock taking care of disabled and special needs kids; if more families spoke English; if more families weren’t trying to find housing; if more families had steady incomes, it would not have taken Lowell the better part of a year to get progress on a serious safety issue. These are families who have little or no voice…do their children still not deserve results and to have a safe place to learn, without worrying about needle sticks? Why is this community against that?

    We are not naive about living in an urban environment, but the truth is that many of our students cannot actually understand not to touch needles, or do not have the physical ability to reliably stay on their feet on an outdoor surface, or cannot see that a needle is in their path. The assertion that all of our “smart kids” should learn to not touch needles has no connection to the realities of Lowell.

    Educate yourself before you cry elitism and privilege. We are the underdog trying to advocate for families and students who are consistently voiceless in public debates.

    • Marina, I don’t think Mike speaks for the community. He appears to think we’re all idiots for discussing this, whichever side of the debate we’re on. I believe that this community as a whole believes that all children deserve the best possible results and that they should have a safe place to learn without worrying about needle sticks. The debate is not between a group of people who think kids should be safe and a group that thinks kids should be surrounded by dirty needles and human waste. This is a debate between two groups of people who both want the best for kids and the environment and see different ways of providing that.

    • I also wanted to say that I really appreciate the care and time you put in to explaining the situation at the school, Marina.

    • I was wrong. I did read about many of the rich kids leaving for other schools in recent years but I forgot about it when I wrote the post. Maybe that is why the school is not being taken care of better.

      The fence isn’t going to discourage the determined. If I were homeless, I’d choose a quiet and safe area like around Volunteer Park to camp out.

    • Local Resident, I don’t speak for the majority but how do you know most people who live in the area don’t fit what I described? I said I don’t think the silent majority in the area has given the fence much of a thought, if at all. Is that assumption far-fetched? If people don’t have kids who go to that school and they don’t walk around that specific area, why would they notice the fence or the druggies?

      And where did I say you people are idiots for talking about the fence/drug issue? Some are aware of this blog and care enough about the problem to post here. But many in the area are unaware either exists.

    • Mike, I was responding specifically to Marina’s line “Why is this community against that?” when I suggested “I don’t think Mike speaks for the community”. As for my perception that you thought the discussion was pointless, it was based on “more important matters in life to occupy yourselves with” and the overall tone of your comment. Apologies if I have misread your intent.

  27. I’m a parent of a student that attends Lowell. To me this is an easy issue to resolve. I’ve read the comments and took time to gather my thoughts. This is where I’m coming from. These kids deserve better. When were aware that something is going on that can be a problem, then fix it. We spend so much time focused on self, that the people who really need us are left in harms way? NO!!! This is not the answer! We have a responsibility to look after kids, even if they are not our own! I would not walk away from a child who broke their arm on the playground! I would not walk away when someone is getting assaulted!!! So now we all know that there are all sorts of things that are in close proximity of school children and we need to get it cleaned up. It’s not always a choice to wait on someone else to do it, but us!!! Until then, I’m not really concerned about pedestrians and cyclists who can’t access this path, temporarily. This is a wake up call that we need to get our priorities in order!!!

    • Bella, you believe that closing the path fixes the problem, others don’t. If you want to believe that people who think that closing the path won’t help are selfish, that’s your choice, but it certainly makes collaborative problem solving harder.

      Have you seen the fence that has been put up? Can you see that while it effectively blocks access for normals, it doesn’t present a significant barrier for people that want to sleep there or do drugs at night?

    • I’m a parent, and I understand how you feel. But the night they put up this fence, a transient slept there. My husband and I talked to him. He hoped they would keep it up because it made sleeping there safer for him.

      So the fence isn’t the solution.

      This is the result of a larger problem within our city. Working with and investing neighbors into a long-term solution is the only way to fix this.

    • I got the point that you’re wondering “how so many people don’t care about kids”. My response to that was that the people responding here do care about kids. It doesn’t help to suggest that people don’t. Since your comment could apply to any action done in the name of making kids safer, it’s hard to see how it moves the conversation forward. It puts distance between us and it makes it seem as though you haven’t read the comments on this article. If you had another point than that one, I missed it.

  28. Many thoughtful comments on the path. But this is a result of a misguided effort to address homelessness in the region, resulting in our current toxic situation. I have lived on the hill and close by since the late 80’s. Only in the past two-three years have I witnessed what we now face; a scourge of maladaptive individuals who care nothing of the community, who lie, steal, scam, defecate in our parks and streets, park their campers in front of the park and around the city, pitch tents in public rights of ways.
    Our council seems to care more about abetting this than stopping it and are working to get the mayor’s recent efforts neutralized.
    Homeless advocates should be ignored or run out of town. The ACLU should stick to their lofty roots. Every dollar that would be spent to ‘help’ should be spent on zero tolerance law enforcement with laws enforced quickly, incisively and repeatedly.
    The significant portion of these individuals are not local moms in a rough patch, or mentally ill from our community. They are drifters and addicts who take the easiest path. Seattle and San Francisco have welcomed them and this must stop yesterday. I have travelled in the US and elsewhere and never seen anything like this. These are not our neighbors. These are bad people by and large. Open your eyes folks. It is only getting worse with feel good rhetoric and well intended charity.

    • It’s true, the police really can’t do anything when they find homeless people camping somewhere, even if they suspect drug activity, and it’s not their fault. It’s the inequitable way the city treats drug users and transients relative to resident citizens.

      Let’s get the community together to help take care of the both the playground and the path rather than building a fence that will do little to solve the problem, and may actually make things worse.

      I am sure that many residents of this neighborhood would be willing to be on a team to trim back foliage and clean it up regularly to assure the children’s safety.

      Part of the issue is that playground goes unused all summer, and this contributes to its appeal for derelict use. Many school playgrounds in Seattle are available for public use but Lowell is specifically off limits. A couple years ago, a neighbor asked about using it for a community picnic during the summer. She was told under no condition could local residents use the playground even when school is not in session.

      Maybe we can use this situation to get the city to be more flexible on this. An annual picnic on the playground would be great for the neighborhood and the community, and could even be used as a fundraiser for the school. People feel strongly about the path because they use it. If we can get people to focus on watching over the playground area, too, that can only be a good thing.

    • Anna – I had the same thought, that the entire block is such a sketchy eyesore, largely because use of such a large patch of public land smack dab in the middle of one of a very densely populated area is closed to the vast majority of the community all the time and is closed to any use most of the time.

      Instead of a tiny minority of the community unilaterally taking away general access to land paid for by taxpayers (and then calling everyone else who doesn’t immediately see the rationale for this selfish), let’s talk about going the other way and opening the playground to general use outside of school hours.

      The fact that some ne’er-do-wells might misuse the space is not a sufficient reason to deprive the rest of the community that pays for this space of access any more than the fact that some people drive drunk is a reason to shut down roads to the public.

  29. From what I recall, this path was closed during school hours anyway. What’s the big deal?
    I’m all for the safety of the school/kids first.

    • The gate was closed during school hours, but one was free to pass through even then. When I lived down the street I regularly used the path during school hours, even during recess when the kids were in the immediate area.

  30. I think this is outrageous. This is an urban neighborhood. We live in a city that hasn’t figured out how to deal with drug use and homelessness. Fencing off an a path used by hundreds of people daily is just bullshit and a total overreaction.

    My husband and I talked to someone from SDOT when they putting in the fence, and he admitted they also have found needles in the fenced-in playground and they have a problem with homeless people sleeping in there. So if the fence around the playground doesn’t stop this, than why would adding fencing to the path be any different? If anything, the additional foot traffic likely keeps that activity down significantly.

    In all the years I’ve used this path, I have not personally seen any needles on this path. However, the overgrowth does provide a hiding spot for people camping there. How about maintaining the landscaping so it isn’t overgrown, adding some lighting and some signs that remind people that drug use within 1000 feet of a school/bus zone carries a stiff legal penalty and add it to the local police patrol. How about the city asking the local residents to keep watch over the area?

    I walk my dogs in Volunteer Park, and I see someone sleeping there at least once a week. I have found needles there. So are we going to close all of Volunteer Park? I have had someone camp on my own property. I have even found a needle in my yard — and its within the bus zone. Is the city going to confiscate or fence in my property?

    I have lived almost within eyesight of this path for 18 years. Yes, I care about the kids. (In fact, my kids went to this school years ago.)

    Now I use it about three times daily to walk my dog and to visit friends who live nearby, and often walk an elderly friend through this pathway because she can use her walker on the path. Walking around and using the path on Aloha is not a great option as that sidewalk is very narrow and steep, and is not a feasible option to anyone with limited mobility.

    BTW, the night they put the fence up, a homeless person camped up in there. My husband and I talked to him, and he said he hoped they would keep the fence up because it “made it safer to sleep there.” So great work SDOT.

    • E Roy Street is a PUBLIC RIGHT-OF-WAY, it doesn’t belong to the Seattle School District or the PTA, it belongs to the neighborhood. I used the pathway several times each day and NEVER found a needle or feces there. There was ONE person who slept there this summer for a few nights because the students, faculty and parents were absent for 3 months. I called the police and he was removed that day. THERE IS NOT A PROBLEM with this pathway. If there was a needle found, this is a total OVER REACTION to a non-existing problem.

  31. For cripes sake – this is really hard to believe that people are treating this as a local residents vs school children problem… It’s a freaking homeless drop out drug addicts messing everything up because we give them some sort of sanctimonious rights to foul up our neighborhoods problem…..

    The residents and the parents and the city should all be on the same side here. If I litter I can get a $103 dollar fine, but for some reason if a homeless person throws needles where kids can pick them up and leaves feces in parks I should be sympathetic because that person faces problems in their life. Well, I’ve got some serious compassion burnout. It’s disgusting, it’s a health hazard and we shouldn’t be tolerating it.

  32. Honest question: Can someone explain to me why increased police / security presence isn’t on the table here? I’m new here but what I’m hearing is that when you come across someone shooting up in broad daylight in a park you’re just supposed to live and let live even though this is a jailable offense. Isn’t it?

    “Simple possession of a small amount of heroin is charged as a Class C felony in Washington and can result in up to five (5) years in prison and/or fines of up to $10,000. The state also offers probation and drug diversion programs for first-time offenders.”

    Seems like we are just supposed to feel bad for the junkies instead of using the law to keep ourselves safe. Or is this law literally impossible to enforce?

  33. Closing the path is the most negative and counterproductive action I can imagine. There are a number of public realm design, CPTED and management efforts that should be taken before we cede the city over to this kind of activity. I’m afraid it is becoming indicative of Seattle’s approach to civic issues.

  34. For Pete’s sake people, it’s a TEMPORARY closure.

    “Once the temporary closure is in place, we will assess the situation and explore a number of long-term remedies with the objective of ensuring the safety needs of the elementary school while preserving the mobility needs of the neighborhood.”

    Stuff gets shut down all the time for safety concerns; roads, bridges, public beaches, etc.

    It’s not a permanent closure and it’s a two block detour.

    Please save your outrage for real issues.

    • Kevin, it feels like the school/PTA intended this to be a permanent closure. And as I said earlier in the comments, that stupid fence around the Volunteer Park reservoir was also temporary (and also not effective at preventing the stated problem) – it’s been there 15 years.

    • A “temporary closure” without a date or plan for reopening is what we more frequently call an “indefinite closure”. I’d be interested in hearing how you would explain the difference between an “indefinite closure” and a “permanent closure” to someone in elementary school.

  35. I use this path daily to and from the bus stop on Broadway and Roy. I live nearby. I think all the issues surrounding this have been well-captured by other comments.

    Not useful: people for whom a “two-block detour” is no big deal for them assuming it’s the same for everyone.

    Plus “temporary” is too non-specific. And it worries me. But I’m glad so many people are upset about it. If the public doesn’t care when something gets shut down for safety reasons, it seems like too often it never reopens, and the problem is never addressed. So if you care about actually addressing the problem of human waste and needles around Lowell, then stop trying to downplay the concerns of the neighbors who use the path frequently. It’s a nice path. A great compromise for multi-use of resources in the neighborhood.

  36. It’s healthy to allow people to use the path. While there is a problem, it would be so much worse if people didn’t use the path. (like they are unable to now). It’s why there’s such an increase in this activity during the summer: good weather and no one around because residents/neighbors can’t use the property apart from the path.

    Making something more hidden and less accessible makes it more attractive for illegal activity, not less. I agree with that, and I’ve emailed both Sawant and the Seattle gov people whose contact information was provided.

  37. Hey, you guys, I just realized the closure is actually temporary: Just solve the homelessness and addiction problem and we can have our path back!

  38. Thinking about this last night, I wonder if there are two different perspectives from path-users: people who stick to the curvy paved part, and those who cut through the brush (though enough people do that that there is a dirt path there now). I rarely see problem things on the paved part, but I’ll bet they are more prevalent on the dirt part.

    • Hey Bex. Did you ever hear back from anyone at the City? I’m sending my own letter now, as are several of my neighbors, or at least so they tell me. Thanks!