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Compromise reached in long debate to reopen short Capitol Hill path

(Image: CHS)

Describing the solution as a unique one-off — not precedent-setting — officials finally have a back-to-school plan to reopen the Lowell Elementary S Path — the short, curving pathway connecting Federal and 11th Ave E that has been fenced off since the start of last school year due to safety concerns over homeless camping and drug use.

“It’s a little bit of a special snowflake,” Seattle Department of Transportation’s Genesee Adkins tells CHS.

The path joins a South Seattle school playground that doubles as a public park and a West Seattle school’s daily closure of a neighborhood street to allow safer student movement among the few unique agreements forged by SDOT with Seattle Public Schools over restricting access to the public right of way.

Officials expect the path to be reopened in time for the start of the school year in September. No property is being acquired and no money will change hands. “There is no change to the right of way,” Adkins said.

The decision for the Capitol Hill path was not made lightly. Months of community meetings and behind the scenes work by SPS to arrive at an appraisal of the path’s value for a possible acquisition by the district played out, keeping the short but useful path closed through last school year and this summer. Ultimately, SPS decided the price tag and the public process required to vacate the city property would be too rich for the economically challenged district.

Lowell Elementary serves children from across Central Seattle and is home to the district’s program for medically fragile students. Parents rallied last year about garbage and dangerous needles from addicts and homeless campers left along the path. SDOT agreed with SPS to close the path to start the school year. City officials met with community members and school parents last fall to hear concerns about the path’s dangers — and the desire to restore the public route near the school. The community response showed “how important to them having public access was,” Adkins said.

The compromise to reopen the path, SDOT tells CHS, will close the route to the public during school hours — from a half hour before the morning bell to a half hour after. The rest of the time, there will be “no keypad, no barriers,” Adkins said.

SDOT has cleared brush from the route and made improvements to the path’s lighting. The school has also reportedly added its own lighting and security surveillance to the area around the path.

There are still some sticking points to work out. Adkins said SDOT is working with the district to permit a locking fence or gate to block the path during the closure hours. Schools will have an employee tasked with locking and unlocking the gate each school day. “If we say it is going to be open or say it is going to be closed, it is,” Adkins said. Still, SDOT must also finalize appropriate signage with the district — including how best to let people know what to do and who to call if the path’s locking/unlocking plan falls through the cracks.



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7 thoughts on “Compromise reached in long debate to reopen short Capitol Hill path

  1. A reasonable solution that addresses the major concerns of both sides is not an acceptable solution in Trumpsylvania. This sets a bad example to our Federal representatives. Everyone must keep shouting at each other! Make America Fight Again!

  2. I don’t get it. Why close the path during the day if the big concern was that needles and garbage can be left by the homeless at night? Looks like this “compromise” is driven more by the irrational fear that people in the neighborhood crossing the small intersection of the playground access with the path will somehow harm children when they are present? Just open the path, light it and keep it clean!

    • Eh, one of the issues was a vagrant defecating (I believe another was passed out) in the kids playground. I think that’s why they ant to lock it off while the kids are there.

  3. I hope it works. If memory serves, this used to be the arrangement for the single pair of upper gates, but the openings weren’t predictable. Often when I called to complain about not having access after hours, I was told that either the custodian “forgot” to reopen the gate or that there was someone new on shift and they didn’t know about the need to re-open the gate. Eventually, I just gave up trying to use the path, which I suspected was the underlying intention.

    • Yesterday (not a school day) I tried to access the path from the 11th Ave E side. The gate was locked. Hopefully, once school is in session, it will be consistently unlocked by school staff to provide access before and after school hours, but I’m not optimistic.

  4. WTF.

    Problem: Homeless camping on the path overnight and leaving needles.

    Solution: Open the path only at night.

    What a bizarre world we live in where the only people in power seem to be idiots.