On Sunday’s cold but sunny morning, eight Seattle residents met on an E Madison sidewalk and began unpacking their bikes and buckets full of tools from home or borrowed from the Capitol Hill Tool Library.
The goal of the Seattle Street Fixers, a small but growing crew of volunteers who meet up via a Google Group and Twitter account, is to take on projects to make the city safer for everybody like clearing pedestrian space and bike lanes from overgrowth of plants, roots, leaves, and debris.
Over the weekend, the group made its mark on Capitol Hill but there are projects it could help with across the city where the Seattle Department of Transportation and other departments either can’t keep up or have other priorities.
Conrad Cipoletti, walks, takes transit, and bikes in Seattle. “Whether it’s leaves in a bike lane or not being able to walk across the sidewalk, it’s nice to be proactive and do something about it,” Cipoletti said. “I enjoy volunteering and seeing an immediate difference.”
Cipoletti was joined at the 18th and Madison work party by other concerned citizens, some who live in the neighborhood, others who came in from different areas of the city, each with personal reasons for helping out.
“It takes an able bodied person to be able to cut this stuff back and oftentimes people with disabilities or someone in a wheelchair would not easily be able to get past this and they don’t have the ability to cut this back themselves, so that keeps me motivated,” Cipoletti said.
The group credits Rachael Ludwick with founding Seattle Street fixers last year.
Sunday’s project is the kind of work more welcomed by a Seattle City Hall seeing citizen impatience and frustration turn into guerrilla street and sidewalk improvements. We still don’t know who painted the rogue crosswalk at E Olive Way and Harvard in November. But we know how quickly SDOT had it removed — and we know SDOT still hasn’t replaced it with an official city crossing while it waits for funding for the project. UPDATE: Monday, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, announced a round of grants to communities across her state including a $30 million ask from the City of Seattle that includes a line item to fund the E Olive Way crosswalk work. Seattle’s full funding proposal can be found here (PDF).
Back at 18th and Madison on Sunday, there were plants to clip and leaves to sweep up. While it is the responsibility of the property owner to cut back overgrowth, the city has few inspectors to enforce these rules. The few employees are spread thin across the multitude of issues that exist in a major city like new construction, landlords who don’t fix issues in their rentals, and overgrowth on sidewalks.
“Usually what happens is they send a letter to the property owner asking them to cut it back, and they have enforcement mechanisms beyond that, but because they’re so understaffed, they usually just send a letter,” Cipoletti tells CHS, “When the letter doesn’t work, this stuff remains, and we come in.”
Paul Priest, a Capitol Hill resident, heard about Seattle Street Fixers randomly but as someone who goes out on his own and with others to fix issues, eventually hooked up with the group “to make these jobs a lot easier”. A runner, biker, and dog owner, Priest says that land owners often don’t do it themselves, “so rather than complain, why not get out there and just do it.”
Karen Miely, a Seward Park resident, comes out to help simply because she’s a “frustrated gardener.”
“I live in an apartment and I have a container garden and I like to work outside. I just joined them last fall. I see a ton of places that just need a little TLC,” Miely said.
Some folks send in “Find It, Fix It” tickets on the city’s app but on busy sidewalks like Madison between 18th and 19th, it occasionally requires something more to take on nature’s overgrowth.
If you want to join the Seattle Street Fixers, you can find them on Twitter @SEAStreetFixers or join the Seattle Street Fixers Google Group — or, if you’ve got a pair of shears of your own, you can get in the Street Fixers spirit and cut those branches back yourself.
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I applaud these people and would join if I weren’t so decrepit. Someone should follow close behind with landlord-shaming signage. Let’s see how quickly that gets removed.
What does this have to do with landlords?
This vegetation was on privately owned land growing into the public thoroughfare. It’s your responsibility as a property owner to keep the sidewalk clear of overgrown vegetation. In this case, the landlord / property owner of the apartment buildings just shrugged and gave up years ago.
I believe the reference is to the landlords mentioned in the article who get letters telling them to clear the public sidewalks they’re responsible for, but don’t clear them.
It doesn’t, but they’re just a popular target for anything that ails the City, second only to big business.
Landlords are legally responsible for keeping the sidewalks in front of their properties clear… so the reference is very straightforwardly obvious?
Sweet. It’s nice to see people do something to change things themselves, instead of just complaining. Thank you!
I’m planning to join a future Street Fixers meet up. I hate having to walk single file on what should be a broad sidewalk or do the limbo under tree branches, but I’ve been nervous to bring pruners or loppers along on a walk and do some guerilla trimming. You just never know whether some crazy person will run out with a gun or call the cops on you, and there’s some safety in numbers.
The Find It Fix It app is a way to report things such as overgrown sidewalks, etc. They’ll send a warning to the property owner to remedy the situation, and I believe if it isn’t remedied they send out code enforcement.
Haha, no. Well, maybe they do if they think they can harass minorities while doing so but at least here in Ravenna I have submitted things, they timed out, I submitted them again, and they timed out again. It’s a waste of space on your phone as far as I can tell. It’s sort of sad because it was at least a little useful in Boston when I was there, but I honestly didn’t expect much. Besides, the city can’t even deal with workable curb cuts on major crossings, why would I expect them to follow up on someone’s overgrown sidewalk covering garden?
It’s hit or miss for things like overgrown vegetation, generally more responsive to immediate hazards at the moment, but it’s still worth submitting and helpful if you can get others to as well. I’ve had some things get resolved months after it was indicated as “closed” so don’t give up. Adopt-a-street and adopt-a-drain are both good ways to leverage city resources to help address some of these issues too!
Maybe this group could have worked to remove the graffiti “gracing” this building as well? I’m sure the property owner would have appreciated assistance with this prevalent issue as well.
Mayor Harrel, is that you? 🤣 The city will give you supplies and paint for free if you want to be the follow up crew BTW, get some of the other commenters here whom harp on graffiti to get together and clean some up 🤷🏻♂️