Transportation equity and city government transparency were the top concerns at Monday’s District 3 candidates forum at Central Cinema hosted by Central Seattle Greenways after a walk through the community featuring a number of specific issues, including bike lanes and automobile speed.
All of the candidates were in attendance at the evening forum and five of the six made it for the hour-long Central District walk beforehand as Seattle Public Schools Board member Zachary DeWolf was busy attending a graduation event. Incumbent council member Kshama Sawant got there a few minutes late walking because of what she called pedestrian deprioritization as the lights were not going in her favor.
Crosswalks came up as the attendees stood on 23rd and Union with talk that they are not always convenient and may not last long enough, which is why one organizer called for a signal policy directly from the city.
“It’s deeply important that we are making sure that our crossing signals prioritize pedestrians and people who bike, but also that they are long enough both for seniors, families, and [young people] to get across,” DeWolf said during the forum later.
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Meanwhile, Brie Gyncild of CGS decried the early designs for protected bike lanes on Union that included gaps between 22nd and 24th Aves, saying that the lanes are “only continuous with continuous protection.”
And at 21st and Denny, a narrow one-way greenway, there were calls for a diverter that would slow down traffic on the street so that it could be more safe for bikes as cars can speed down the road.
Broadway Business Improvement Area administrator Egan Orion, who walked his dog during the pre-forum stroll, said later that he calls 23rd Ave a “speedway” because cars go so fast.
“We need to prioritize people on bikes and walking over people in cars,” Orion said.
DeWolf noted that it’s not surprising that, in his estimation, bikers and pedestrians are not prioritized because there are no protected bike lanes that get residents to City Hall.
One street that seemingly has preliminary markings for a bike lane came up during the walk as an example of a lack of city transparency in transportation as Gyncild has been unable to figure out what they are for from the Seattle Department of Transportation, a department Orion called a “black hole” during the forum.
This issue and others snowballed into a discussion of what many see as little accountability and transparency in the council’s work.
“We’re just seeing a complete lack of leadership from our council and it comes through in many ways,” urbanist — and Solowheel commuter — Logan Bowers said. “There’s not a clear standard for how we build bike infrastructure, so we get this kind of haphazard implementation.”
DeWolf and Pat Murakami committed to opening an office in the district, which includes Capitol Hill and the Central District, in hopes of furthering transparency and creating a connection between constituents and their council member.
Murakami also wants to match city departments with a community member to whom the given department would be accountable.
“And then I would check in with those people and make sure that the work gets done, that community concerns are being met,” Murakami said.
Along those same lines, public defender Ami Nguyen also brought up during the 90-minute forum her hopes of strengthening communication between residents and city departments as a way to find solutions.
“So many people are spending so much of their time making these great suggestions, but they’re not being heard,” Nguyen said, using the forum host as an example. “That’s free time on issues that we care about that’s not going to cost us any additional tax money.”
Three candidates took direct swipes at Sawant during the forum, with DeWolf, who also works at All Home King County, criticizing what he sees as her decision to spend millions on homelessness outreach when he thinks that money can be spent more effectively to stem the crisis and Orion and Bowers saying she has not been accountable enough to her constituents.
Sawant hit back saying that she has been effective in her work since being elected in 2013.
“In the five and a half years we’ve been at City Hall, my office has shown countless examples… we’ve done that by building community leadership, community activism, and movements in the district and throughout the city,” Sawant said, using the Central District post office revival as a recent example.