Change may be coming to Aurora Avenue North

Photo Meryl Schenker / P-I
Cindy Potter and son Elliott, 7, pass a vacant lot on Aurora Avenue North near North 89th Street, next to the Green Lake Motel, which was closed in May because of health code violations. An assault on Aurora led Potter and others living nearby to form a group that aims to clean up trouble spots on the strip.

Future looks brighter for downtrodden strip

Monday, June 9, 2008

Change comes slowly to Aurora Avenue North.

As the surrounding area turned rich, clean and a little bland over the past 20 years, the 70-block-long stretch of highway between Green Lake and Shoreline has remained more or less the same.

The used-car lots and building material supply stores still line the city’s old main drag. Seattle’s dead find their last rest at Evergreen-Washelli Funeral Home and Cemetery; the city’s down and out land at low-rent motels lining the strip.

The prostitutes, the pushers — they remain. But change, wanted or not, is coming to Aurora.

Earlier this year, a citizens group organized by the city drafted a 40-point improvement plan. City engineers have inked a proposal for a dramatic revamp of the highway’s northern end. Express buses are on their way, as are the condos-over-retail-space buildings ubiquitous in Seattle’s remade neighborhoods.

Crime rates in the once-dicey neighborhood are down, thanks in part to the initiative of residents. A recent spate of motel closures by the state Health Department has some wondering if city officials are quietly trying to push out the poorest.

“It’s almost like there was a kind of campaign against them. And it’s too bad, because now we’ve got a bunch of people out on the street,” said Faye Garneau, director of the Aurora Avenue Merchants Association. “The city has no places for these people to go.”

Garneau and her husband have owned property along Aurora Avenue for more than 30 years. She said she’s seen the corridor better and worse in that time and acknowledged that prostitution and drug dealing remain problematic on the street.

It’s also home to more than 500 businesses, including a smattering of Seattle institutions such as Puetz Golf, Garneau said. Most draw customers from the 40,000 or so drivers who use the street daily.

Some members of Garneau’s organization saw their livelihoods threatened by a city plan to remake Aurora. The merchants association successfully fought the city when it moved to put the proposals on track for expedited review.

If adopted, the proposals would bring wider sidewalks and an end to the center turn lane to a 35-block-long stretch of Aurora Avenue from North 110th Street to the Shoreline border, said Rick Sheridan, a spokesman for the Seattle Department of Transportation. Three lanes would carry traffic in each direction, including one lane reserved for bus and business traffic.

The aim, Sheridan said, is to make the road safer for drivers as well as pedestrians, who are forced to walk in traffic at several spots lacking sidewalks along the road. A planted center median would also moderate the area’s industrial feel.

“It’s really not meeting the needs of anyone in that community,” Sheridan said, referring to Aurora. “We can really create a more vibrant neighborhood.”

A bus rapid transit line would be included in the redesign. The proposed line would shuttle people into the city’s core with minimal stops and buses coming at 10-minute intervals.

Sheridan said the designs are preliminary and that construction wouldn’t start until 2011 at the earliest.

Garneau believes the plan as proposed would cut off access to several businesses and push more traffic onto surrounding streets. Business owners are also concerned about a loss of parking.

Community activist Cindy Potter’s organization, Greenwood Aurora Involved Neighbors, didn’t weigh in on the city proposal because it stopped just short of GAIN’s membership area. But she said some of the improvements suggested would be a welcome change anywhere on Aurora.

Having lived a half-block away from Aurora for nine years, Potter said she believes the neighborhood’s good qualities are often overlooked.

“Having grown up in Seattle, I never would have even thought to look at a house a half-block from Aurora,” Potter said. “People think of Aurora as such a trashy place, but you just step a few feet away and it’s a nice residential area.”

Potter isn’t a Pollyanna. She knows her neighborhood can be a violent place.

An act of violence actually prompted Potter and 11 others to start GAIN three years ago. A block watch captain attempting to shoo away three teenage drug dealers was beaten into unconsciousness. He lay on the street for hours before anyone came to his aid.

Since then GAIN members have been walking the streets around Aurora and cleaning up trouble spots.

Potter subscribes to the “broken window theory” of crime prevention, essentially that badly maintained areas tend to invite trouble. One broken window invites another, one streetwalker or drug dealer shows others they’re welcome to join in.

Potter said they’ve had an impact; police are getting fewer calls, and dump sites usually stay clean after the litter removal crew’s work is done.

Developers also have arrived. Rows of townhouses line the blocks tucked off Aurora. Now two mixed-use buildings — the kind with condos over retail space — are being planned on Aurora itself.

The city Planning and Development Department plans to launch a study of area, Deputy Director Alan Justad said. Planners will try to determine how much room for growth is there.

Justad said some planners have been interviewing property owners. But he said the effort won’t begin in earnest until late this year at the earliest.

“The value of land is going to continue to go up there,” Justad said. “So there’s going to be growth there whether we prepare for it or not.”

The Aurora motels, nearly all of which cater to the city’s poorest residents, remain a sticking point in that revitalization effort.

For some, the low-rent motels lining Aurora Avenue remain a refuge of last resort. They also have tended to attract drug dealers and prostitutes, and some have fallen into disrepair.

Since March, state health officials have closed four Aurora Avenue motels. Two have reopened.

Last week, authorities closed down the Seals Motel after receiving two complaints from Seattle police and another complaint from a customer. The emergency closure followed a similar action in mid-May against the Green Lake Motel.

Shannon Walker, director of the Health Department’s Facilities Licensing Division, said it’s unusual for her office to receive complaints from police departments. But she dismissed the assertion that her inspectors were assisting the city in an attempt to push out the hotels.

“Right now, we have two surveyors in Washington state,” Walker said. “We only have the resources to look at complaints that come in.”

Garneau, whose organization includes several motel owners, remains unconvinced.

“This year, it just seems to me that there’s a little overzealousness on the part of the inspectors,” Garneau said. “It’s a conception that a lot of people have, that these motels cause the drugs and prostitution. They don’t.”

Motel owners have an interest in keeping their places in compliance, and most won’t rent to clients they believe will destroy their rooms, Garneau said. But she said many renters aren’t able to care for themselves and can create a filthy environment almost immediately.

Since moving to the area in 1999, Potter said she’s seen motels on Aurora languish in disrepair. She supports the enforcement action and believes some motel owners are essentially profiting from the misfortune of their clients.

While cheaper than other options, the motels are hardly a bargain, Potter said. Most residents pay upward of $1,100 a month in rent.

Some motel dwellers just can’t get a deposit together for an apartment, others have problems with their credit or criminal history. Potter said some just don’t realize there are better options out there for them.

“Nobody needs a strip like this in their city,” she said. “And there’s no reason why it has festered for so long.”

P-I reporter Levi Pulkkinen can be reached at 206-448-8348 or

Seattle names 4 sites that could house jail

Seattle officials Tuesday announced four possible sites for a new jail that would hold misdemeanor offenders when the King County Jail runs out of space.

The potential locations are all on industrial or commercial land outside of downtown:

• 11762 Aurora Ave. N. — currently a golf driving range and pro shop.

• 1600 W. Armory Way — a group of small warehouses south of Seattle’s Interbay Golf Course.

• 7200 West Marginal Way S.W. — a patch of mostly vacant land near the First Avenue South Bridge.

• 9501 Myers Way S. — part of a former gravel pit adjacent to the city’s new firefighter-training facility.

City officials recognize that putting a new jail in any neighborhood is likely to be controversial.

“I’m already starting to hear from some of my neighbors,” said City Councilmember Tim Burgess, who lives in Queen Anne, which is close to the Interbay site.

“There are going to be a lot of complaints, and many of them will be fear-driven,” said Burgess, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee. “But when we look at the facts, I think we can all understand the need for a jail, and we can understand that they can be safely run in our communities.”

City officials said they intend to seek plenty of public input before making a final decision. Burgess expects the process to take about nine months.

“We’re really committed to being a good neighbor on this,” said Catherine Cornwall, a senior policy adviser in the city’s Office of Policy and Management, who is leading the jail project for the city.

Seattle estimates it will need 445 beds in the new jail. A consultant two years ago estimated the cost at $110 million.

At least seven acres are needed to build the preferred low-rise complex. The city reviewed 35 sites and narrowed those down to 11 before settling on the four properties announced Tuesday.

But Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis stressed that the city isn’t locked into those four sites and will listen to suggestions about other possibilities.

“We’re still open to additional sites,” he said.

Seattle needs new jail space because the King County Jail won’t accept any more misdemeanor prisoners — people serving sentences of less than a year for crimes such as drunken driving or petty theft — after the city’s current contract with the jail ends Dec. 31, 2012.

Cornwall said Seattle already has done a lot of work finding alternatives to jail by diverting offenders into treatment programs and using electronic home monitoring. The number of people in jail on Seattle misdemeanor charges has dropped by 38 percent over the past 10 years, according to the city.

But beds still are required for crimes, such as repeated drunken driving, that carry mandatory sentences.

Other nearby cities face the same problem and are weighing whether to build additional municipal jails in the coming years.

Seattle ultimately could combine its new jail effort with Eastside and North King County cities — which need about 200 jail beds.

Ceis said if Seattle merges its efforts with those cities, the suburbs also would have to put some potential jail sites up for consideration.

South King County cities, meanwhile, are looking at building their own separate jail. They have hired a real-estate broker and are looking for possible properties for a new 800-bed jail, said Renton Police Chief Kevin Milosevich.

Those cities include Renton, Auburn, Tukwila, Kent, Des Moines and Federal Way.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

Sewage overflow angers Broadview residents

Broadview homeowners are angry about the raw sewage that overflowed into their basements in December and vented their frustrations to a city official last week.

During a heavy rainstorm on Dec. 3, the area’s sewage system backed up, causing extensive damage to homes.

Martha Burke, planning manager for Seattle Public Utilities said the neighborhood had been flooded twice in the past, in 1985 and 1997.

Burke said most of the sewer lines, installed in the late 1940s and early 1950s in Broadview are for sanitation only with separate storm lines.

“There should not be a lot of storm water going into the (sanitation) system,” said Burke.

The city provided a map with Carkeek Park Road to the west, Northwest 103rd Street to the south, Fremont to the east and 130th Avenue North as the borders of the problem area.

Some people at the meeting had flooding problems and lived outside these boundaries.

Resident Sid Andrews said sewage came into his home through the floor drain, shower and toilet causing $30,000 worth of damage.

Andrews runs the Fallen Brothers charity out of his home and collects food donations for the homeless and local food banks. Three refrigerators full of meat were damaged beyond repair and he threw out over $600 worth of meat and other food supplies.

Andrews pumped as much of the sewage out as possible that night. He went out to look in the manhole and found sewage rising eight inches from the top.

“One woman had four feet of raw sewage in her basement,” said Andrews.

A city crew sent to investigate told Andrews there were five breaks in the sewer line in his area.

Ted Lockhart and his wife used a pump to deal with the situation and then went out to buy another pump. He said he bought the last pump available in the whole city that evening.

Even with two pumps, the Lockhart’s resorted to bailing sewage with buckets.

“I kept it at hand to three inches. What saved us was when it stopped raining. We pumped all Sunday night and got no sleep,” said Lockhart.

“We are making a promise to look at it,” said Burke. “This is a community problem. We will do things to reduce the flow of sewage and water. This is a complex study, this is not going to be a simple fix.”

The city has a number of options and the solution may involve a combination of all these fixes.

On site solutions include homeowners disconnecting down spouts which drain into the ground and using natural systems like rain gardens.

Off site, the city can look into swales, natural drainage and improvements like adding ditches.

Reducing infiltration is another strategy on the table with repair of side sewers and replacing main lines from five inches up to eight or even 16 inches.

“I’m going to be getting to know your sewage system and get a better grasp of it and get a better feel for the pipe network,” said Andrew Behnke, a senior engineer for Herrera Environmental Consultants.

The engineering firm will gather data and build a model to see how storm water seeps into the ground.

Engineers will start conducting smoke tests on May 12. Liquid smoke will be pumped 600 to 800 feet at a time into the sewer system. The smoke will rise out of the ground or manhole covers if there is leaking, which can cause overflow.

Behnke stressed that an optimum solution will not be determined by the end of the year.

Numerous people at the meeting kept interrupting Burke’s presentation with horror stories of their sewage nightmares.

Others expressed concern about going through another winter storm season without any improvements to their sewer systems.

A few people said they called the city and were told it was not the city’s problem.

Claim forms were available at the meeting for residents to file for damages.

Dale Johnson, a member of the Broadview Community Council who did not suffer from a sewage backup, tried to keep the meeting moving in a positive direction.

“We are talking about the future and how to prevent the problem. We’re trying to get beyond the individual pain and how to solve the problem an move forward,” said Johnson.

Burke said another public meeting would be held later this year to report back to the community. That meeting would likely be in October.

Dean Wong may be reached at

Seattle police working to a new set of beats

Boundaries designed to reflect changing neighborhoods

Last updated January 13, 2008 9:27 p.m. PT


For the first time in a few years, Seattle Police Officer Debra Pelich had to adjust to a new beat.On Friday, she drove around First Hill and lower Capitol Hill in the newly formed “David 3″ sector, taking note of parks, side streets, the hot spots, and the usual transients. She planned to visit businesses and even stopped to watch a parking attendant collect money from deposit boxes.”We have these pay-box looters, so I want to know if he really works there. Those are the things you get to know, like who are my regular guys who collect the money?” said Pelich, a 13-year veteran assigned to the West Precinct.

Pelich was one of many officers across the city last week readjusting after the first restructuring of patrol beats in more than 30 years. Precinct boundaries were redrawn and new sectors and beats were formed as part of the Neighborhood Policing Plan, a major initiative to improve 911 service and enable officers to do more “proactive” police work.

As part of the initiative, the city plans to hire 105 more police officers in the next four years. The plan aims to give officers more time to know their neighborhoods and better ability to back one another up.

  Debra Pelich
  Zoom Grant M. Haller / P-I
  Debra Pelich, a 13-year police veteran, is one of many officers adjusting to new precinct boundaries designed to give them more time to know their neighborhoods.

The Seattle Police Department hadn’t changed its patrol districts since the 1970s. Boundaries weren’t geared to keep pace with the condominium boom downtown, the expanding South Lake Union neighborhood, or changes expected with light rail in Rainier Valley.

Pelich’s last assignment was in South Lake Union, where she watched condos and new buildings sprout seemingly on every other block, bringing more residents downtown to call 911 for domestic violence or auto break-ins.

Her new beat used to be covered by the East Precinct. As she hit the streets around noon, she had new patterns to familiarize with, but so far it was going smoothly, she said.

“It’s not that we’re doing anything drastically different. We’re just being more effective and more efficient,” she said. “No matter where you are, no matter what district you’re in, and no matter what time of day, police work is police work.”

But stagnant police beats in an ever-changing city created an imbalance in workload for officers in some districts and longer waits in some neighborhoods for police service, Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer said.

The average response time for high-priority calls was seven minutes, the accepted standard for larger cities, according to the Neighborhood Policing Plan report. But some responses took nine minutes or were as quick as five minutes, depending on what day and time and what neighborhood.

The goal now is to guarantee no one waits longer than seven minutes in a high-priority call.

“Geographically, the new map is constructed on the theory that no matter where you live, you’re entitled to the same level of police coverage as anybody else. We’ve attempted to be as fair as humanly possible to bring equity into our relationships between the Police Department and neighborhoods,” Kimerer said.

More substantial changes are ahead. The plan calls for officers’ shifts to be rearranged, which will require negotiating with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild.

The guild already has questioned the wisdom of implementing the ambitious policing plan without first having a sufficient number of new officers to meet its objectives. Recruiting has barely kept pace with officers retiring or transferring in the last year, and guild leaders say the city hasn’t offered a labor contract with favorable terms, which they say would help retain and recruit officers.

More proactive work won’t be possible without more officers on the streets, said Sgt. Rich O’Neill, guild president.

“Our biggest concern is the way it’s being hyped,” O’Neill said. “I don’t want to see citizens duped into believing that redrawing boundaries around neighborhoods is going to somehow make more officers show up on their doorstep for a 911 call.”

The changes were based on an analysis of four years’ worth of 911 and staffing data.

One beat in the South End handled four times as many calls as neighboring beats, Kimerer said.

Some beats, such as the University District, which has a high volume of drug and alcohol violations, were pared down so officers have less ground to cover and more time to respond to problems.

The department also plans to switch to a new records management system this year and a new computer-aided dispatch system after that, enabling the department to better monitor data.

As Pelich, the West Precinct officer, cruised down East Howell Street, she spotted a scofflaw from her former territory. She rolled down her window and greeted him.

“OK, there is somebody from my old district who is up here,” she said.

Officers were trained on the new boundaries and had reference maps on hand for the first week. Officers have a good general sense of their neighboring beats, but it takes time on a new assignment to learn side streets, back alleys and the quickest routes if they need to back each other up.

About 3:30 p.m., Pelich stopped a driver pulling away from a curb outside an apartment building on Capitol Hill. He’d been fiddling with the ignition, his head bowed down. The license plate wasn’t registered to him.

He explained he’d just purchased the beat-up Dodge Neon and his record turned up clear.

Just before Pelich set him free, her mobile dispatch terminal beeped with a message from an officer, also on a new beat, checking on her.

“Where the hell is E. Thomas/Belmont Ave?” the message asked, referring to her location.

Pelich smiled.

“This is what’s probably going to happen for the next couple of days here,” she said.


  Map of new police beats

The restructuring of police precincts and sectors is part of a major initiative to improve 911 service and enable officers to do more “proactive” problem solving on their beats. The department plans to hire 105 more officers in four years and will target high-priority crime areas.

1. Concentrated around University Way Northeast with a greater emphasis on foot, bicycle and police car patrols. More North Precinct officers will have an extended focus on Greek Row on weekend nights, the Aurora corridor and the business districts in Ballard, Fremont, Lake City and Northgate.

2. In the East Precinct, a new beat extends along the Broadway corridor where officers will patrol the nightclub area along Broadway, Pike and Pine. More patrols throughout the precinct will combat public drunkenness and drug activity in parks, while officers will work undercover to reduce drive-by shootings.

3. The new beats will focus on the central business district, Belltown and Pioneer Square, with officers proactively dealing with safety around the nightclubs.

4. This sector in the South Precinct consolidates beats once handled by officers who crossed bridges to and from West Seattle. Patrol officers in Georgetown will increase weekend patrols to address early morning property crimes. There will also be special patrols along Rainier Avenue to focus on gang and youth crimes.

P-I reporter Scott Gutierrez can be reached at 206-903-5396 or

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

Mayor proposes $800,000 for Linden Avenue North

From today’s budget proposal by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels:

…The 2008 Proposed Budget also adds new money from the General Subfund and Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) for a variety of projects, including:

  • Existing neighborhood-based project funds, which receive an additional $2 million. The City has had a Neighborhood Street Fund process for several years in which neighborhood councils select small projects throughout the city. About $1.2 million is available for this year and the Proposed Budget shifts another $500,000 to this fund from a set-aside for citizen-initiated capital projects, many of which requested transportation improvements. Bridging the Gap includes $1.5 million annually for somewhat larger scale projects and the Mayor is proposing to add $1.5 million of General Subfund money to this program in 2008. Most of the additional $2 million is likely to go to sidewalk or other pedestrian-focused projects selected by neighborhoods.
  • The new South Lake Union line of the Seattle Streetcar, which receives new staffing and funding to operate. The new streetcar line is expected to begin service in December 2007. Funding is also added to continue planning other streetcar lines, for a total expense of $375,000.
  • A new project on Linden Avenue North, which receives $800,000. Several new developments are being built in this area. The funds will cover design of a new street and sidewalks and initial implementation of some components of the project.
  • The 14th Avenue South street reconstruction project in the South Park neighborhood will be fully funded with an additional $500,000. This project will rebuild the main commercial arterial in South Park and address longstanding drainage problems.

In addition, the 2008 Proposed Budget continues the City’s work to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall….

(To see the full proposal, click here.)

Hear about the Pedestrian Master Plan at the September 18 Broadview Community Council Meeting

Walking is the oldest and most efficient, affordable, and environmentally-friendly form of transportation there is its how transit riders eventually reach their destinations, and its the primary way that neighbors get to know one another and begin to build strong communities. Nearly everyone, for at least some portion of every day, is a pedestrian. That is why the City of Seattle is embarking on a Pedestrian Master Plan.

Barbara Gray, from Seattle Department of Transportation will inform us about it.  Bring your questions and ideas!

Meeting Location:
Luther Memorial Church
13047 Greenwood Ave. N.
Tuesday, September 18, 7:00 PM
(North side of the block immediately west  of Greenwood Ave. N)

Overweight? Blame your ZIP code

Property value beats income and education as obesity predictor

The neighborhoods around Green Lake have P-patches, destination parks, crosswalks, corner groceries and one of the densest concentrations of farmers markets in the city.

Those niceties account for some of the most sought-after real estate in Seattle and some of the city’s least obese residents.

University of Washington researchers recently found wide disparities in obesity rates among King County ZIP codes. The rates range from less than 10 percent in parts of central Seattle and Bellevue to more than 25 percent in some south county neighborhoods.

The strongest predictor of obesity rates wasn’t income or education but property values, the study found. Each additional $100,000 in median home value for a ZIP code corresponded with a drop in obesity of 2 percentage points.

It’s further evidence, experts say, that weight isn’t solely about individual behavior and that the environment you live in matters.

“If you have this mind-set that obesity has to do with the individual alone, then ZIP codes or areas really should not come into this. But they do, big-time,” said Adam Drewnowski, director of the UW Center for Obesity Research.


The study, which used data from surveys of nearly 9,000 county residents over multiple years, suggests areas where public health agencies should focus, and what kinds of programs may be unlikely to work.

“If people are concentrated in a neighborhood with no grocery store and little access to fresh fruits, this is not the place to go in and say, ‘Eat nine servings of fresh fruits and vegetables and play a bit of tennis.’ Get a grip,” Drewnowski said. “The strategies need to be targeted and sensitive.”

In less affluent areas, a lack of access to fresh produce, health insurance or nutritious groceries that are affordable likely influence obesity rates, experts said.

People often use limited money to buy cheap, calorie-dense foods rather than more nutritious fruits and vegetables, said Paul Haas, resource development director for Solid Ground, which works on hunger issues in the region.

“It’s something that’s counterintuitive to a lot of folks, how people with a greater level of food insecurity and who struggle with hunger are at a greater risk of obesity,” he said.

A coalition plans to lobby the Legislature next year for money that would allow food banks to buy more fresh food from local farmers, Haas said.

With at least three Seattle farmers markets in danger of losing their homes to redevelopment projects, some City Council members want to consider lowering street closure or park fees to help markets move to public property.

When it comes to exercise, there’s a big difference between wealthy neighborhoods with nice sidewalks and places where graffiti, broken windows, interrupted routes, crime or other deterrents make walking unappealing, said Rebecca Deehr, interim executive director of Feet First, a pedestrian advocacy group.

It’s spearheading efforts around the city to make walking less daunting — from bird-dogging developers to designing good pedestrian links to organizing “walking school buses” that connect groups of students and parents going to the same school.

In neighborhoods where cars have the run of the road, community intersection projects that paint a huge radiating sun or labyrinth on the asphalt give drivers a psychological cue that they should slow down.

“It says this community is invested and involved,” she said.

Access to healthy food

Standing a block off Aurora Avenue near Bitter Lake, two public health employees tick off the food choices within their line of sight — doughnut shop, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Ivar’s.

They’re in ZIP code 98133, where obesity rates are higher than 20 percent. Median single-family home prices last year were $140,000 less than the Green Lake ZIP code directly south.

“The No. 1 thing is that everyone should have access to fresh produce they can afford. Right now we have big gaps,” said Erin MacDougall, program manager for Public Health — Seattle & King County’s Healthy Eating and Active Living initiative.

She’d like to see cities establish standards for access to affordable healthy food, in the same way that they track proximity to open space or bus stops.

Linden Avenue itself looks different than it did at the bottom of Phinney Ridge. It lacks sidewalks on one side, crosswalks, a white center line or much of anything to separate cars from people.

One elderly woman struggles to load a personal grocery cart into a car parked on the side of the road, with traffic whizzing by her open door.

Another woman picking dust-covered blackberries nearly falls on the crumbling asphalt as brambles catch her diabetes socks.

Hannah Avessuck, who lives in a new apartment building for active seniors, points to the buckled, bumpy sidewalks on the good side of the road. Complications from diabetes make it hard for her to negotiate crummy, meandering sidewalks.

“They’re just horrible, especially for people who are on canes,” she said. “Sometimes my feet don’t clear these lumps. It definitely hinders some people from walking.”

Sidewalks and street trees may be added as properties are redeveloped, under a recent proposal by Mayor Greg Nickels that would require smaller projects to comply with those rules. But gaps will exist for a long time.

Anne Bikle, an environmental planner for Public Health, said it’s important that things such as open space, gardens and decent pedestrian connections don’t get bargained away in the development process.

People intuitively grasp that food choices affect their health. The profound influence of the built environment is less obvious, she said.

“They feel like there’s less within their power to do anything about it,” she said. “It’s become so invisible to society, and so common to not have a sidewalk or a street tree that they don’t see anything wrong with a Linden Avenue anymore in some communities.”

Teaching fellow residents

In Rainier Valley, another Seattle neighborhood with higher obesity rates, people such as Leatha Bailey are feeling more empowered these days.

She leads tours at the local Safeway store of the bread, dairy and frozen food aisles, teaching fellow residents how to read nutritional labels.

It’s part of a broad effort throughout Rainier Valley to promote nutrition and physical activity through culturally relevant programs. That includes working with local and ethnic restaurants to offer healthy menu options, senior exercise programs and community cooking classes.

“I didn’t know how to read labels. I really didn’t,” said Bailey, who never realized that the whole grain bread she bought had low fiber and sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup.

“I thought I was buying healthy stuff because it looked good.”

A single-serving low-fat strawberry banana yogurt, for instance, can hide more calories than a mint chocolate chip ice cream sandwich or Little Debbie oatmeal cake.

Rose Motola was surprised to learn that one of her husband’s favorite cereals, Kellogg’s Raisin Bran, had more sugar, more sodium and less protein than Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats.

“That’s terrible — no wonder he likes that,” she said to the group assembled in the cereal aisle, poring over boxes.

David Solet, a Public Health epidemiologist and co-author of the recent UW study, said individual choices and predispositions obviously play important roles in health issues such as obesity.

But he’s encouraged to see a growing body of research that might get communities thinking about other strategies to narrow health disparities.

“In my mind, too often this issue is sort of one of individual blame,” he said. “And I think the most effective interventions that public health can mount and have been pushing are … the social and community-level things we can do.”


For more information on the Healthy and Active Rainier Valley Coalition, visit

P-I reporter Aubrey Cohen contributed to this report. P-I reporter Jennifer Langston can be reached at 206-448-8130 or

Giving everyone a sidewalk is no walk in the park

By Sanjay Bhatt
Seattle Times staff reporter

Jim Portillo walks in the roadway, just a few feet from passing cars, because there are no sidewalks along his Greenwood street. Portillo, 31, is blind.

Sweeping the area ahead left to right with a white cane, he avoids the roadway’s gravel shoulder — if it exists at all — because ditches or parked cars frequently interrupt the path.

He shrugs and says he’s been dealing with the danger for five years.

“There’s not a lot of room between me and traffic,” he says. “Every now and then you wonder about some drivers.”

Forty percent of Seattle streets lack full sidewalks on both sides of the road — totaling 650 miles, the city estimates — but installing them is a staggering expense of about $2 million per mile. It’s not just the cost of the pavement: When a curb is built, it changes the flow of surface water, triggering legal requirements for drainage systems, which in turn can involve buying adjacent property. Many cities can build them only as part of a major street-paving project.

But residents are demanding sidewalks, and cities and counties are looking for ways to pay for them. Olympia turned to utility bills. Bellevue taps its capital budget. And King County spends about $1 million a year out of its roads fund. Snohomish County has committed $2 million annually to sidewalks and roads.

For the first time, Seattle has devoted money just for building new sidewalks — enough to install less than a mile a year citywide. Over the next nine years, taxpayers will foot the bill through a levy approved last year.

Next month, the city’s transportation department is holding open houses to ask residents to rank proposed sidewalks, traffic signals and other suggestions it received this summer by the hundreds.

The department will use those comments to determine which big projects to tackle out of a $1.5 million annual pot. The city’s 13 district councils get to split an additional $1.2 million a year for small projects, which frustrates neighborhood activists who want a say in how all the money gets spent.

The City Council, which has adopted pedestrian safety as its highest priority this year, is looking for ways to speed up sidewalk construction.

“It seems insurmountable, but at least we could start chipping away at it,” Council President Nick Licata said.

In addition to being a visual cue to drivers to slow down, sidewalks give residents a chance to interact with each other, says Nicole La Chasse, a real-estate agent who lives in North Beach.

“When you have a sidewalk,” she says, “you feel you can walk up to your neighbor’s door.”

Dividing line

North 85th Street is the dividing line — when it comes to sidewalks, at least — between Seattle’s haves and have-nots. It’s also the dividing line for Greenwood, a neighborhood northwest of Green Lake that is Ground Zero in the fight over sidewalk spending.

Until the mid-1950s, much of the land north of this line belonged to King County, which didn’t require developers to build sidewalks.

Seattle always required sidewalks, except for small projects. That meant only pockets of Seattle — parts of Southwest Seattle and Beacon Hill, for example — lacked sidewalks. Developers who built sidewalks to comply with the city’s land-use code passed the cost on to homebuyers.

“I have a sidewalk because I live south of 85th,” explains Kate Martin, a Greenwood community leader. “North of 85th was sort of like Hooverville.”

By the mid-1950s, people living north of the line had voted to become part of Seattle and pay its taxes — in exchange, some say, for promises from Seattle officials at the time to construct sidewalks and drainage ditches in the future.

Over the decades, the city unsuccessfully tried to organize the area’s residents to share the cost of building sidewalks.

By 1988, residents north of 85th still lacked basic amenities, especially in the area in which Portillo lives. Roughly 70 percent of the blocks in northeast Greenwood lacked storm drainage, gutters, curbs and sidewalks. Open ditches were and still are the norm, contributing to overflow into the street during heavy rain.

The community asked the city to make the residential street that Portillo now frequently walks — Fremont Avenue North from North 85th Street to North 92nd Street — a priority for street improvements.

“Walking in the street is dangerous to pedestrians and motorists,” a city official wrote in a 1988 report. “In many parts of Greenwood, pedestrians must walk in the street because the shoulder or planting strip is either used to park cars, or is covered with overgrown vegetation and/or mudholes. Residents are concerned that this is extremely dangerous for children and senior citizens.”

A few weeks ago, city staff estimated it would cost Seattle up to $4.5 billion to add sidewalks for all Seattle streets — and this doesn’t include the cost of putting in drainage systems.

The Seattle Department of Transportation plans to spend about $1 million annually on sidewalk installation, out of the Bridging the Gap levy approved by voters last year.

“The need is so great,” said Wayne Wentz, the department’s director of traffic management. “In one sense we can’t be too wrong in picking one place over another.”

Still, the transportation department created a ranking system this year to help it sort through requests from neighborhoods (see sidebar at right).

For example, its staff wants to focus sidewalk spending on routes to elementary and middle schools — but Greenwood mothers such as Martin point out that high-school students are at greater risk for being hit by cars because they’re more likely to be out walking by themselves and when it’s dark.

The city also is considering putting the onus on developers — and, in turn, prospective homebuyers — to build sidewalks in front of redeveloped lots when they tear down single-family houses and replace them. That change could especially benefit parts of Lake City, Bitter Lake and Northgate, city officials say.

Other cities are taking a more aggressive tack.

Earlier this year Bellevue’s City Council allocated $3 million to build sidewalks. The city estimates it needs $26 million to complete more than 30 critical sidewalk projects. As in Seattle, many of those sidewalk-less streets were once part of King County.

Three years ago, Olympia residents voted to raise their utility rates by 50 percent — about $60 a year — to pay for sidewalks. A little more than half of Olympia’s major streets lack them.

Like Seattle, Olympia has hired a consultant to conduct an inventory so it knows exactly how many streets do not have sidewalks.

Neighbors organized

Michael McGinn decided he wasn’t going to wait any longer for sidewalks. The Greenwood resident wanted his son to realize the health benefits of walking and bicycling.

Several years ago McGinn organized neighbors on his block and cobbled together enough money to install asphalt sidewalks near his house on North 87th Street. The sidewalks look cheap, he admits, but they’re better than nothing.

Martin would like to see the city take the responsibility for sidewalk construction away from the transportation department and delegate it to a nonprofit sidewalk authority.

“We need a lot of sidewalks to be built, and we don’t have the pieces in place to make it happen,” Martin says. The transportation department “is not going to be able to make it happen, and in the contracting world there’s only a handful of contractors qualified to do it and they’re really busy.”

Wentz, the city’s chief sidewalk planner, concedes as much. “Our ability to deliver stand-alone sidewalks is too expensive,” he says. “We have nine years of funding. We don’t think those dollars are enough to get a sidewalk on every street.”

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

How the city ranks sidewalk requests

Seattle is using a new point system for selecting locations for sidewalks with the small pot of levy money it has allocated. The points shown below are the maximum possible in that category; the higher a project scores, the sooner it could get built.

Volume of pedestrians: 5 points
Within one block of hospitals, schools, playing fields or other places that draw many pedestrians, especially the elderly or disabled.

Dangerous areas: 4 points
Poor visibility, high-traffic area, a crash due to lack of a sidewalk or other safety concern.

Street category: 3 points
Along an arterial or one block away from one, or a street with apartments.

School walking route: 3 points
Adjacent to a school or within three blocks of one.

Bus stops: 3 points
Within three blocks of bus stops.

Missing link: 2 points
Existing sidewalk ends prematurely.

Cost: 2 points
Costs less than $70,000 or can piggyback on another project.

Neighborhood interest: 2 points
High priority for neighborhood residents.

Poverty: 1 point
In a federally designated low-income area.

Source: Seattle Department of Transportation
Compiled by Sanjay Bhatt

Neighborhood meetings

Seattle residents can indicate their preference for sidewalks, traffic signals or other pedestrian-safety measures at city open houses next month. The public can drop in between 5 and 8 p.m. If you require an interpreter, call 684-ROAD and press 0.

Sept. 11: Ravenna-Eckstein Community Center, 6535 Ravenna Ave. N.E.
Sept. 12: Yesler Community Center, 917 E. Yesler Way.
Sept. 13: New Holly Gathering Center, 7054 32nd Ave S.
Sept. 18: McClure Middle School, 1915 First Ave. W.
Sept. 19: Youngstown Community Center Theater, 4408 Delridge Way S.W.
Sept. 20: B.F. Day Elementary, 3921 Linden Ave N.

Source: Seattle Department of Transportation
Compiled by Sanjay Bhatt

Bitter Lake Community Celebration!

Bitter Lake Community Celebration!
Friday, August 10th 5:00- 8:00PM

Meet Council President Nick Licata at 6PM

Come down to the park, eat some great food, and enjoy some games and fun.

Please bring a can of food for the local food bank.

Fee: $2 for dinner; 25 cents for game tickets

This event is sponsored by the Bitter Lake Advisory Council and the Seattle Parks Dept.