Photo by Zachariah Bryan
Chief Traffic Engineer Dongho Chang discusses with community members the benefits and technical details of the proposed greenway.

Community packs open house for Ballard Greenways

Starting in September, a new route for bicyclists and pedestrians will be making it's way to Ballard. Called "greenways," the route will be a series of connected roads optimized for safety and comfort so that pedestrians and bicyclists can comfortably travel from point A to point B.

The greenways are being promoted by an all-volunteer group called Ballard Greenways, which is one of several such neighborhood groups throughout the city working toward the same goal of improved traffic safety.

The proposal was discussed at an open house last night in the Adams Elementary school cafeteria, which was hosted by the Seattle Department of transportation and which saw a packed room with 120 people. Both sides of the spectrum were represented in the audience, including bicycling advocates and community members concerned about their commute.

Car drivers will still be able to use the roads as normal, but, in order to improve safety, may experience a slightly slower driving experience.

Colin Dietrich of Ballard Greenways said he was excited to see such a large turnout at the open house.

"This is awesome," he said. "This is a qualified success in any group."

Usually, he said, Ballard Greenways meetings are held at Miro Tea every third Thursday and no more than ten people will show up. He said he was blown away by the community engagement at the open house.

After SDOT officials finished making their presentation, a few in the crowd expressed discontent.

"It seems like the city wants anyone with a car to get out," one woman said. "I want to know, will I have trouble getting to my house?"

Later, another woman stood up, who lived in senior citizen housing near one of the greenway points.

"I'm worried seniors are going to get startled or run into by bicyclists that don't stop," she said. "We were not asked or consulted (about the project)."

Others also questioned the project. Concerns included worries over possibly hitting bicyclists, how effective the changes would be, how much the changes would slow down cars and whether they would provide any real safety.

A select few were frustrated by the question and answer format, where speakers asked the audience to split up and talk to separate SDOT officials to learn more.

"There are questions everyone needs to hear," one woman complained. Others called the format a "divide and conquer" strategy.

But when someone interrupted the clamor and thanked the SDOT officials for their presentation, most of the room broke out into applause.

Even though most people who spoke up at the meeting were fairly critical, transportation planner Douglas Cox said that overall the community has been supportive.

"The reaction has been mostly positive," he said. "Of course, there are people who are afraid of any change or are not clear on what the changes are exactly. But again, this is a project that has come from the community, not from SDOT."

The greenway route starts at Seaview Ave NW and for the most part will run along NW 58th St all the way to 4th Ave NW. Ideally, the greenway will connect with Wallingford and University District greenways, creating a pedestrian-and-bicyclist-friendly passage between neighborhoods.

Most parts of the greenway are already funded through the Bridging the Gap transportation levy. Changes include sharrows, curb ramps, marked crosswalks, a median island at 24th Ave NW and NW 58th St, a widened multi-use sidewalk and bike ramp at 37th Pl NW by Seaview Ave NW, a permanent partial closure of NW 58th east of 15th Ave NW, and other improvements meant to provide safety and ease of access.

One component not funded is a traffic signal upgrade at the intersection of 8th Ave NW and NW 58th St. The upgrade would create full access for all four approaches at the intersection, instead of half (what it currently is). The upgrade would cost $100,000 to $150,000 an SDOT official said, and has been put on the needs list for funding.

Everything that is being proposed in the greenway project has been proven in other cities, Dietrich said.

Though Dietrich admitted that some in the Ballard Greenways group were "bicycle nuts," he said they didn't want to just put forth their agenda. They want to make the roads safer for everyone, he said, whether it's for cyclists, pedestrians or kids going to and from school.

"I watch kids on 15th (where Ballard High School resides) and it terrifies me."

More than anything, he said, he wants the community to be involved and to make the ultimate decision as to what happens with Ballard's roads.

"If all of it (the community) says this is a bunch of B.S., then we'll try something else," Dietrich said, shrugging his arms.

Comment forms were taken from participants in the meeting and will be compiled by Aug. 10. People may still comment on the project by reaching SDOT at walkandbike@seattle.gov.

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