Is sidewalk's end the place to spend?

By Sanjay Bhatt
Seattle Times staff reporter

John and Sarah Price walk along Alki Avenue Southwest, where a citywide review team has proposed spending $600,000 to extend the sidewalk on the water side of the street to Beach Drive Southwest, creating a safer pedestrian route around Alki Point.

Bill Russell, a condo resident on Alki Avenue Southwest, said a plan to extend a sidewalk there will take away parking and make the narrow roadway more difficult for motorists to navigate. He said parking is already such a problem in the neighborhood that he sometimes can’t find a spot within three blocks of his home.


About half of the new sidewalks will be built throughout northern neighborhoods of Seattle. Until the 1950s, most neighborhoods north of North 85th Street were part of King County, which unlike Seattle, didn’t require housing developers to build sidewalks.

After a decades-long push by some Seattle neighborhoods to get sidewalks, the city plans to install them in 11 tiny pockets — including Alki Point, where not everyone is convinced it’s the best idea.

The Alki Avenue Southwest project, which received the city’s second-largest grant among the 11, would connect a quarter-mile gap in the sidewalk between Alki Beach Park and Beach Drive Southwest, enabling in-line skaters, joggers and pedestrians to travel around the point.

Where the sidewalk disappears and a row of waterside homes begins, residents have long used part of the public right of way for parking, landscaping — even patios. And some are not keen on a sidewalk.

“It wouldn’t be a scenic sidewalk,” says Randy Myer, 50, whose rockery would be torn up by the project. “Can’t we find a better use for that money?”

But others argue that filling in the gap would provide a much safer connection to Alki Beach Park.

“The west side of the street is not too conducive to the operation of wheelchairs,” says Don Greengo, 79, who likes to take his quadriplegic daughter to the park. They have to cross the street twice to get there.

Terry Williams, a West Seattle resident and member of the review team that picked the sidewalk projects, said the Alki Avenue Southwest proposal addresses a huge safety problem for those who walk, jog and bike in the neighborhood. Many people avoid the sidewalk on the other side of the street, he said, and walk around cars in the street.

“I wanted to get as much bang for the buck as we could possibly get,” he said.

Across town in the Greenwood neighborhood, residents are so determined to get walkways they’ve formed an activist group that envisions turning the neighborhood into a test site for sidewalks varying in design, cost and attractiveness. Their project received $610,000, the city’s biggest grant, which will provide a sidewalk between the local Boys & Girls Club and Greenwood Park.

This month’s announcement of $6 million in spending for large street-fund projects allots a record amount for sidewalks — but falls far short of the $250 million to $300 million worth of projects submitted by neighborhoods.

“There’s just a phenomenal need for sidewalks and walkways out there,” said Catherine Weatbrook, one of the 15-member team that recommended the final list. “We had to say no to a lot of really, really good projects.”

Won’t be fixed soon

A recent city study found that more than one-quarter of Seattle streets lack paved walkways of any kind, and city officials acknowledge it would take decades to fix the problem at the current rate.

North Seattle accounts for the bulk of the streets without sidewalks, largely due to a historical quirk: Until the 1950s, most neighborhoods north of North 85th Street were part of King County, which unlike Seattle, didn’t require housing developers to build sidewalks.

Some North Seattle residents voted to be annexed by Seattle with the expectation the city would install sidewalks. Over the years, efforts to organize local-improvement districts have faltered, and neighborhood leaders say the high cost of installing concrete sidewalks has been the biggest obstacle.

Kate Martin, a leading member of Greenwood Sidewalks, says the group will develop a guide that empowers homeowners to build sidewalks on their own instead of waiting on the city Department of Transportation.

“A 100-year plan for implementing sidewalks is not acceptable,” said Martin, who calls the amount of money allocated for sidewalks “a joke.”

Persistent efforts

People credit the Alki Point proposal to Gary Ogden, a board member of the Alki Community Council, which has repeatedly sought funding to extend the sidewalk. Ogden says he played a leading role in developing the Alki Trail, which follows the shoreline, and now sees the sidewalk extension as a way to complete the urban trail.

Ogden says the local community council unanimously voted earlier this year for the extension, but he acknowledges that the council didn’t reach out to affected property owners.

The construction of a 6-foot-wide concrete sidewalk and a 5-foot-wide planting strip would mean some losses — changing 90-degree parking to parallel parking in some spots and the possible removal of parking, landscaping, fences, walls and patios in rights of way, according to the proposal.

“We’re trying to create a safe environment, not just for the locals but also those who visit the park,” said Ogden, 60, who dismisses homeowner concerns about the disruption to their parking and other uses as “self-serving.”

Several regular walkers on the east sidewalk of Alki Avenue Southwest said they didn’t see the need to spend $600,000 on a second sidewalk across the street. Barb Vadakin, 58, called the idea “a waste of taxpayer money” and would prefer to redirect the spending to drain-clearing and crosswalks.

After hearing of the controversy, Casey Hanewall, a Transportation Department spokesman, said the agency would reach out to residents but also needs to honor the result of a months-long public process.

“It’d be a little unique for us to put on a [sidewalk] project that was at odds with the individuals on the street,” he said.

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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