Mayor Jenny Durkan, the Seattle City Council, and SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe:
Central Seattle Greenways, a member of the Seattle Neighborhood Greenways coalition, is a grassroots volunteer group that advocates for safe, comfortable streets for people walking, rolling, and biking in central Seattle. We are frustrated, angry, and disappointed with the City’s construction of a large concrete and steel barrier around the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct building at the corner of E Pine St & 12th Ave E.
Our understanding is that City leaders felt it was necessary to install this barrier in response to threats and incidents of attempted arson at the East Precinct, following a recommendation from the Seattle Fire Department to protect the precinct building as well as neighboring wooden buildings on the same block. With no prior notice and without a proper permit, crews from the Seattle Department of Transportation installed concrete “eco-blocks” (later topped with a fence) along Pine and 12th Ave, closing the adjacent sidewalks and crosswalks and obstructing the bike lanes on Pine and 12th Ave. While SDOT could have followed the recommendations in Director’s Rule 10-2015 to provide an ADA compliant pedestrian pathway adjacent to the sidewalk closure and signage indicating the duration of the closure, no such pathway or signage has been provided. The Mayor’s Office has provided no guidance about when or under what conditions the sidewalk will be reopened, saying only that the wall will remain “until the protests end.” The wall, in an ironic (or perhaps fitting) twist, also prevents access to the “Neighbors” artwork in the East Precinct lobby, designed to represent the whirlwind of activity in a welcoming community.
To see the City roll out this concrete and steel monstrosity on the sidewalks of one of the most active pedestrian neighborhoods in the city is infuriating. Volunteers like us spend hundreds of hours every year working with the City to make our streets safer for people walking, rolling, and biking. Just blocks away from the East Precinct, at 12th and Denny, several volunteers spent years getting the funding and support to install a crosswalk “refuge” in the street for a safer crossing. Built only with paint and some plastic “soft hit” sticks, it has since fallen into disrepair. Drivers routinely ignore the signs prohibiting left turns. Elsewhere in central Seattle, the Stay Healthy Streets identified to give people a safe outdoor place to walk, roll, and bike during the pandemic are lacking meaningful infrastructure to prevent aggressive drivers from using them to speed through neighborhoods. The Keep Moving street on Lake Washington Boulevard initially opened without the planned eco-block barriers because they had all been used to build the barricades around the East and West Precincts. While those blocks were later added, they have since been removed when the City ended that program. The blocks placed around the precincts, however, remain.
In safe streets advocacy, we often hear from SDOT and staff in the Mayor’s Office that they are trying to make streets safer, are listening to the community, and want to do the right thing, but are hamstrung by budgets and staff time. We also hear about projects being delayed due to “needing extra outreach” or “negative feedback about parking impacts.” We may not like it, but we have normalized these delays as part of grinding through the “Seattle process” of seeking consensus through exhaustion and accepting only incremental change.
With all this in mind, it was shocking to see SDOT fabricate this concrete and steel wall around the East Precinct, blocking sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes, seemingly overnight, with not a single word of outreach or advance notice. This exposes the Seattle process for what is—a manufactured lie. Clearly, the City does have the ability to act quickly and effectively to protect spaces… when they choose to do so. For years, SDOT apparently could have installed concrete blocks like these along bike routes to make them safe. But they demurred, and people have been hurt and killed. SDOT could have blocked off parts of the street to create safe walkways and added asphalt ADA ramps at crosswalks. But they stalled, and people have had difficulty getting around the city. SDOT could have taken lanes for buses to speed up transit travel times and reduce costs. But they hesitated, and people have had to stand in the rain waiting for buses stuck behind lines of cars. To see that so much of our time and energy as volunteers has been spent pushing against what we now see are unnecessary delays on the part of City leadership is exhausting, demoralizing, and enraging. Infrastructure improvements to ensure that Seattle residents can get around the city safely should receive the same speedy planning and implementation process lavished on the Seattle Police Department’s precinct buildings this summer.
The Mayor’s Office has made it clear that the fortress around the East Precinct will not be removed any time soon. We ask that Mayor Durkan follow through on her stated commitments to transparency and “re-imagining policing” by committing to a deadline to remove the wall, or, failing that, describing when and how the decision will be made to reopen these streets to the people of Seattle, removing the barrier that symbolizes the intimidating and excessive police actions that residents of Capitol Hill were subjected to throughout the summer. Until this is done, SDOT must provide safe mobility options along these streets for people walking, rolling, and biking by moving the barricades out of the street, closer to the building, and creating a pedestrian pathway in the street. We look forward to seeing the City restore safe passage for all street users on 12th and Pine.
David Seater & Brie Gyncild
Co-leaders, on behalf of Central Seattle Greenways
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