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Sat. Jun 15th, 2024

Seattle is transforming Alki Point Street, adding space to walk and roll

By meerna Jun12,2024

The newly transformed streetscape along part of Beach Drive SW has made walkers and roller skaters priority users while also allowing vehicle access. (Ryan Packer)

A residential street along a popular natural beach in West Seattle was transformed earlier this month with concrete barriers that send a clear message about who the city is prioritizing in street design. The changes along Beach Drive SW at the south end of Alki Point are the latest attempt by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to provide more space for walking, biking and inline skating after a pandemic pilot program proved popular.

Efforts to improve safety on Beach Drive were met with significant opposition due to the elimination of parking lots, with the added emphasis of the area’s context as a regional attraction for beachgoers. Whale-watching and seal care groups have joined the debate, arguing that the parking lot is essential to their activities.

Previously, Beach Drive was a two-lane street with narrow sidewalks on both sides and two parking lanes. Thanks to these changes, the western sidewalk along Constellation Park has been supplemented with a 3-meter shared walking and cycling path protected by concrete wheel barriers. Parking is on the east side of the street, with the remaining lane open to traffic in both directions, with designated drive-thru parking spaces. Cyclists along the street can decide whether they feel more comfortable in the traffic lane or in an expanded multimodal space.

SDOT added new parking spaces under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and a new bicycle parking facility. After some minor changes, the priority user of the street has been changed from drivers to people walking, driving or cycling, while the street remains open to everyone.

The new Beach Drive design provides a safe space for cyclists, but the most common use of the new multi-modal lane will undoubtedly be the expanded sidewalk. (Ryan Packer)

“Personally, I feel like I have a safe space to walk,” said Lynn Drake, a West Seattle resident and frequent Alki Point visitor Urban planner. “When I go there, I just see a really small, narrow sidewalk (under) the previous design. I always felt like I had to walk down the street to make room for me and my dog, and people were always walking down the street. And at the same time, there were cars driving on the street, we are dividing each other, and some cars are not very polite, they don’t like it. And they are just plain terrible and mean. And yes, it’s scary to walk on the street.

In 2020, along with experiments elsewhere in the city in opening streets to people that included closing Lake Washington Boulevard and Golden Gardens Drive to through traffic, Beach Drive added signage that simply codified the long-standing practice of people using the roadway , considering the incredibly narrow sidewalk. When this proved successful, there was a significant push to make lasting improvements to the infrastructure. A video created by project backers in 2020 highlighted problems such as street racing that seemed to solve physical changes to the road.

The “Keep Moving” street, implemented in 2020, allowed people to move around on the street, as many people already did, but generally included no infrastructure to separate users from each other, relying almost entirely on signage. (Ryan Packer)

However, the idea of ​​reconfiguring Beach Drive generated significant opposition, most of which centered on the planned removal of approximately 60 parking stalls. This fact is not particularly noteworthy, but the discussion about Alki Point had one additional aspect: wildlife defenders. A group called “Alki Point for All” has been formed to advocate against major changes to the operation of Beach Drive, and it is led by people affiliated with organizations whose work is directly related to Constellation Park and its interface with Puget Sound. This promotional campaign, widely reported by West Seattle Blogit looked like this might ruin the whole plan at the last minute.

One such group is the Whale Trail, which aims to raise awareness of marine mammals in the Sound and includes over 100 locations from British Columbia to Southern California where shore-based whale watching is encouraged. At the May meeting of Alki Point for All, Whale Trail founder Donna Sandstrom explained that their organization believed that cutting off people’s easy access to Alki Point for whale watching would be disastrous for whale watching in West Seattle.

“I can’t just look at this because it’s the end of our program,” Sandstrom told attendees. “When there are whales here, it’s like a flash mob. “Many people come to see whales and they’re gone within an hour or two – people, not whales – but that means less than half of the people who could previously see whales will be able to do so.”

Sandstrom downplayed the impact that those who commute directly to Alki Point have on the environment itself, even though the sewer system along Beach Drive is not connected to the city’s stormwater infrastructure system but leads straight to Puget Sound.

“For us, it’s definitely a greater good to have as many people as possible, especially whales, have direct contact with this ecosystem because people are protecting what they love,” Sandstrom said.

Changes to Beach Drive make the street along the corridor less car-dominated, providing a bold contrast to Alki Beach on the other side of Alki Point. (Ryan Packer)

Alki Point for All also involves the Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network, a group of volunteers who respond to reports of marine mammals stranded on beaches to protect the animals from the general public who are prohibited by law from interacting with them.

“This will have a significant impact on the health and safety of our volunteers,” Victoria Nelson of Seal Sitters said at the May meeting. Nelson argued that removing the parking lot would make it more difficult for seal keepers to guard the beach while still providing access to the equipment they need.

Alki Point for All created an “alternative vision” for the street, which of course included retaining the entire parking lot and instead placing artwork on the street to calm traffic. The group also called for the removal of “Street Closed” signs, which were actually installed in compliance with a state law that prohibits pedestrians from traveling on an active roadway when a street is open, but the city accepted the suggestion to add greeting signs indicating street entrances and ran with him. New seal and whale signs now proclaim that “park visitors are welcome.”

SDOT also responded to specific complaints about lack of access for students visiting Alki Point on field trips by creating special loading zones for buses to use. It should also be noted that the beach parking lot along the south end of Constellation Park, near 63rd Avenue SW, is still operational.

Beach parking lots remain along the south end of Beach Drive, near the main entrance to Constellation Park. Opponents of the project continue to call the amendments to the proposed design “unresponsive.” (Ryan Packer)

The city’s attempt to find common ground did not reassure Alki Point for All, calling the changes “not responsive to our concerns.” The group says the street must accommodate between two and 19 school buses and continues to call for all parking spaces to be retained with the periodic closure of Beach Drive, similar to Lake Washington Boulevard in South Seattle currently.

However, the compromises were enough to keep the project on track, and Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office apparently supported the project with the understanding that an assessment would be conducted this fall.

SDOT’s diagram shows ADA parking with an additional 10-foot-wide walking and rolling space. (City of Seattle)

District 1 council member and transportation committee chair Rob Saka, joined in the conversation by Alki Point for All and others, also signed off on the decision, highlighting this evaluation period. “After extensive communication with affected communities and SDOT, we support SDOT’s proposed changes to Alki Point Healthy Street to address concerns,” Saka wrote to voters in late May. “While the compromises may not fully satisfy everyone, we look forward to continuing to engage the community in an assessment report, which will be released this fall, on how these changes work.”

While it’s unclear what exact criteria will be used to determine the project’s success in the coming months, a recent Saturday visit at low tide – which was a big draw for Constellation Park’s natural beach – showed the street was functioning well, with open parking spaces along Beach Drive, but more importantly, hundreds of people per hour enjoying the corridor in its new configuration. Even though the change had been in effect for a few days, its potential as a model for street reconfiguration in other parts of the city was clearly visible.





Ryan Packer lives in the Summit Slope neighborhood of Capitol Hill and writes for The Urban planner since 2015. They report on multimodal transport, #VisionZero, environmental protection and local politics. They believe in using Seattle’s history to create a vibrant, diverse city where we all want to live. Ryan’s text was published in Seattle Capitol Blog, Portland BicycleAND Seattle Cycling Blogwhere they also served as interim editor for four months.


By meerna

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