If you’ve visited Seattle’s unique South Lake Union neighborhood lately, you’ve likely seen not only the many attractions in this booming community but also the significant construction. In fact, South Lake Union is one of the neighborhoods identified by SDOT as a construction hub, or area experiencing multiple, simultaneous construction projects in close proximity and with considerable cumulative impacts. Those impacts often hamper mobility. That’s one of the reasons the Access Seattle Initiative came to be, to better serve the city through its growth and development surge.
Access Seattle is an initiative launched in 2013 to keep Seattle moving during unprecedented pressure on our transportation system: from increasing population density; new employment centers; and, a significant construction surge. In the South Lake Union area, all three of these factors come into play, creating daily travel challenges for residents and businesses.
A major Access Seattle goal is to proactively plan and manage the city’s transportation system to move people and goods more effectively. The South Lake Union community has a similar goal, of sorts, as part of the South Lake Union/Uptown Triangle Mobility Plan. That plan lays out the community’s vision for all travel modes, to accommodate growth that, “…demands a paradigm shift in how people travel…” The integrated and interconnected neighborhood vision calls for partnerships; the Access Seattle team is working to be one of those partners.
At a recent South Lake Union Community Council meeting, the Access Seattle team talked about progress coordinating multiple construction projects in the neighborhood. Very specific concerns of area residents and business owners were addressed, with results from direct coordination. Some of these concerns, with information the team identified and coordinated steps moving forward, are:
Harrison Street is blocked funneling all traffic to Republican Street and impacts public safety (by restricting access by emergency vehicles).
The Harrison Street closure and limited emergency vehicle access are related. Off duty Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers were hired by Amazon to restrict street access in order to empty out the garages.
Moving Forward: SPD will no longer close streets to address garage exiting. Any such closures must be coordinated with SDOT’s Traffic Management Center in advance.
People avoid the neighborhood because of the traffic gridlock, which hurts local businesses.
According to our community contacts, one of the biggest problems is the eastbound flow of traffic on Mercer East, which apparently backs up outside of peak hours.
Moving Forward: In less than a week, another eastbound lane of Mercer is expected to open up, which will require retiming all the signals and should provide some relief for eastbound flow. Our signal timing engineers will be monitoring the changes and are happy to meet with any members of the community to see how we can make improvements after these changes are complete.
Efforts on the City’s part to coordinate construction to alleviate impacts to parking, and on residents, are not adequate.
SDOT and OED have heard from many community members in construction hub neighborhoods that our efforts through Access Seattle are helping, but more is needed given the scale of the impacts.
Moving Forward: The Mayor’s Proposed Budget includes additional staffing in 2015 to increase our inspection presence in the field. We also plan to release more regular traveler information in multiple formats so people can be aware of known impacts.
Residential developments are being constructed without adequate parking. The community is still experiencing parking impacts, in part due to contractors getting to the neighborhood early and taking up all the available parking all day.
The larger South Lake Union projects all have the amount of parking required by code. There is also an existing Residential Parking Zone.
Moving Forward: Parking enforcement officers have agreed to increase patrols in the area. Additionally, DPD and SDOT will ramp up the requirements that the builders find off-street parking for their workers. This is a practice some developers do voluntarily, others are required to due to permit conditions; in the future, we will look at making this a requirement for all large developments
Pedestrian Safety Issues.
Ninth Ave is not a great situation for pedestrians given the projects along the corridor and many heavy trucks are coming through other parts of Cascade and South Lake Union.
Moving Forward: The builders will pay for SDOT traffic crews to change the signal timing so that we will have all-way walks at the intersections of 9th and Republican, 9th and Harrison, and 9th and Thomas. Additionally, SDOT will be installing all-way walk signals at John and Minor, Yale and Minor, and Yale and Thomas.
Concern about the upcoming Denny Substation construction and increased gridlock.
The Denny Substation will move into the next phase of construction including running new distribution lines to the substation. The scale of this construction is significant and there will be neighborhood impacts.
Moving Forward: We are working closely with Seattle City Light (SCL) to coordinate this massive project. We continue our efforts to coordinate impacts, keep lines of communication flowing, and resolve issues quickly to minimize the impacts to the neighborhood.
Construction noise regulations are based on a commercial zone, despite the fact that Cascade residents are numerous, including a significant number of low income housing developments.
Moving Forward: There is not currently a plan to amend the Noise Ordinance to include more restrictive construction hours in neighborhoods not currently covered by the code (such as Cascade).
The work listed above is the result of the new Access Seattle Construction Coordination Program, looking at all permitted public and private construction schedules and impacts holistically. It builds on the SDOT Street Use permit process, taking it to new levels while building relationships and systems to better communicate. It also joins multiple City of Seattle Departments–Transportation, Planning & Development, Neighborhoods, and Economic Development–toward the common goal of keeping communities thriving.
For more information on the new program, visit: http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/hub.htm