Throughout 2016, I covered the process that led to the selection of twelve neighborhood-focused transportation improvements though the Neighborhood Street Fund process. Those concepts are all getting designed this year to be constructed next year, and were all vetted through both the District Neighborhood Councils and the Move Seattle Levy Oversight Committee, and approved by the city council for inclusion in the two-year budget.

Almost all of the projects are moving along on the path to 100% design, but one of the projects is running into some headway from neighbors who are not happy with some of the traffic impacts the project may have on the area.

The project in question is supposed to fix the intersection on Beacon Hill where Columbian Way, a fast busy thoroughfare, meets 15th Ave S, also a well-used arterial. Because Columbian Way intersects 15th at a curve, there is a very wide three-way intersection created that is hazardous to navigate safely on foot, not to mention by bike.

15th and Columbian (Google Maps)

This intersection is very close to Mercer Middle School, located a block away. The fix proposed would rechannel traffic into fewer lanes, add a south crosswalk on Columbian Way, and use the excess space in the road to create a public plaza. The plaza is not the primary purpose of the project, but simply a byproduct of reallocating an overabundance of roadway to slow down traffic.

SDOT’s concept for the new intersection. (City of Seattle)

What is making some Beacon Hill residents unhappy with the project is that after the change, drivers would be prohibited from making a left turn from S Oregon St onto Columbian Way in either direction like they can now, instead forcing drivers to take a right onto 15th Ave S.

In response to this concern, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has proposed adding a four-way stop sign at the intersection of Columbian Way and S Snoqualmie St (south of the intersection), so that drivers could be able to easily get onto Columbian Way northbound if necessary.

It does not appear to be enough to appease some residents. Several months ago, a rumor circulated that some neighbors were exploring ways to torpedo the street improvement. This week, a post appeared on the Facebook Group Beacon Hill, Seattle that seemed to have a plan to throw an impediment in the way. The post starts:

I am working against the SDOT proposal for the 15th Ave So. and So. Oregon Intersection. Below is my strategy which requires assistance from residents of the area…

The author of the post, who I will not name here, goes on to describe a search for a notable figure to pin a historic designation on with the intention of preserving the intersection in amber. The historic figure is Alan Sugiyama, who was the first Asian-American person elected to the Seattle School Board and was the founder of the Center for Career Alternatives, an organization that shuttered in 2011 and was last based out of an office on Rainier Avenue. Mr. Sugiyama lived nearby the intersection at Oregon and Columbian, and despite the proximity to Mercer Middle School there is no direct connection between his history and the place where those two streets come together. Alan Sugiyama by all accounts was a pillar of the South Seattle community for many years, having passed away just this past January, and a mentor to many people, but if a historic marker noting his life was motivated primarily by anger about a street safety project being implemented by the City that seems very problematic.

The Northwest Asian Weekly reports that the campaign to designate the street for Mr. Sugiyama is gaining supporters: Bruce Harrell has signed on to getting a memorial installed by September 10th, Alan’s birthday. To be clear, an honorary street name and plaque designation would be completely separate from a historic landmark designation. In order for the intersection to quality for landmark status, it would have to meet one of the rigorous criteria, in this case Criteria B:

b) It is associated in a significant way with the life of a person important in the history of the City, state, or nation

The standards for landmarks to be preserved under Criteria B are narrow: for example while Garfield High School is a city landmark, it is not because of any notable students who attended the school, like Jimi Hendrix, because it was not instrumental in them becoming who they are. An intersection that was simply used by a historic figure clearly does not meet the threshold. Seattle has several of landmarked streets, mostly associated with the Olmstead Boulevard network, so a street receiving a designation is not totally unprecedented but this case would clearly not meet the city’s threshold.

A memorial for Alan Sugiyama, if the community is pushing for it in good faith, sounds like a wonderful thing to add to Beacon Hill. It remains to be seen, however, if the Seattle Department of Transportation will carry through with its plans for the Oregon and Columbian Intersection after the amount of pushback they have gotten from community members about it. It is interesting to see an improvement that was so emphatically approved by both the District Neighborhood Council (a frequent topic of conversation during this mayoral election) and the Move Seattle Oversight Committee. Surely a compromise in this case is possible while still achieving the safety outcomes that everyone wants.

46 COMMENTS

    • Because then you couldn’t torpedo a project to improve pedestrian safety in order to keep some vehicle drivers from being forced into a minor inconvenience.

      • See my comment on why neighbors are opposed and consider reframing your perspective on us, thanks.

    • I think the point of the memorial was to slowdown a process which has left residents feeling steamrolled and unheard.

  1. Hi Mr. Packer. I would in encourage you to sit down with some of the residence that live West of 15th and understand their concerns over the proposed change. Instead of writing an article that paints us in a negative light.

    • Undoubtedly different individuals will have different priorities and concerns. However, this article tries to highlight the concern about restricting left turns. If you think this isn’t a primary concern and there are other reasons to stop this project, you’re welcome to articulate those reasons in the comments here and link to supporting evidence that those reasons are primary concerns.

      • Wait… You organization writes an article that considers one view of an issue, someone comments that perhaps you should weigh differing opinions and offer that view in an article. You then say no, effectively, unless this person provides evidence/citations through a comment box? So much for an open dialog.

        • You said there were objections not covered here. As I said, your welcome to share those. Other people in this comment section have shared additional concerns and you can do the same.

          All I’ve seen so far is attacking the writers and organization​.

          • Pickovven my concern is the turning left out of Oregon St., but the article mostly talked one Facebook post. I object to the attacking words used in the article and by others on the is comment section about the neighbors. Such as we are trying to “torpedo” or “throw an impediment”. If Mr. Packer would have sat down with us before writing the article he would see why this is a concern for use and see that we would like to work with SDOT to find a solution that works for everyone. In the thread people are saying this was a community idea. The majority of the neighbors that are affected by this just recently found out about the plan. So community wasn’t involved, the outreach from the SDOT has be very poor. Your feeling like the writer is being attacked, the neighbors feel attacked by his choice of words. This is why I invite Mr. Packer to sit down and talk with us about our concerns. This way no one can hide behind a keyboard and feel in powered to type whatever they want in a comment section. This is the problem today nobody wants to get belly to belly and understand where the other person is coming from and you can’t do that in a comment section, because the internet is your shield and everyone feels safe to say whatever they want.

          • Um, I talked to a mother who went “belly to belly” as she goes to Mercer with her kids on a bike. A woman shouted at her at a public forum, and then another threatened to hit her with a car. So. Maybe this is why people don’t want to go belly to belly anymore. That women left the public forum and submitted the rest of her feedback privately to SDOT including that she felt threatened at the forum.

          • If a community project inspires neighbors to threaten each other’s lives, is it still considered a community project?

          • Robert, I don’t condone any threats of violence, and that person who did that was in the wrong and should apologize. There are those people out there, but that shouldn’t stop people from sitting down with other people to find out their view point otherwise our society will continue on this disturbing path. This is especially true of individuals who want to report on issues and write in a newspaper or blog or whatever. They should get everyone’s views and then write a more informed article and express all view points. Then the author may have approach the story a different way. Still may not have agreed with the opposite point which is fine. But maybe he wouldn’t have use negative words in his article about the neighbors and lumped all of us into one group based on a Facebook post. Again, I will invite Mr. Packer to sit down with us and discuss our concerns. This is the third time I have invited him and every time other people jumping in and comment on my invitation. Then I feel I have to respond back. If Mr Packer doesn’t want to accept this invitation he can say so himself. I don’t think he needs other people to comment for him.

          • Whoa, 14th Ave S has brought forth several specific concerns above, none of which have been addressed by Ryan or otherwise. I think the point here is that the community is trying to engage The Urbanist through the only means that seems to be available at the moment, the comment section.

            The Urbanist about page clearly states it wants to achieve the Mission by “engaging with people” and at least one offer has come up to meet with the community or engage in those with a differing viewpoint, at the bare min in the comments section.

            I know it can feel like an attack on the org here but if you really want to influence urban policy, this uncomfortable engagement is necessary, Brent Toderian seems to be a decent model for this? These are people who live in the neighborhood and drive these streets often. The author lives on the other side of cap hill and some people feel as if they are being painted in a light where they push aside safety in favor of driving a car (turning left) and are feeling like Ryan may not have been able to collect their viewpoint.

        • Happy to hear any additional objections to the project here! Additional greenway traffic from the intersection design definitely seems like a problem that should be addressed. This article was primarily about a concern that some community members are not acting in good faith about their motivations behind a memorial project.
          Thank you for commenting.

          • This piece was a work of advocacy on behalf of the change and was meant to discredit the opponents of this change without really digging into why they want. One imagines that the person moving the memorial project along would not have felt compelled to take this approach if neighbors felt like they had been given more of a voice in the planning of this project.

  2. Time for NIMBY’s to take action and fight this. Again SDOT and the City do not know what is best for this neighborhood. There are other options to make roads safer in this area. This solution is not optimal and really hurts the people they are trying to help. Time for people to stand up and demand the City backs down. Creating intersections to induce more traffic on other streets should not be a priority for the City or this project.

    • This project idea, as I wrote about in the article, came about from the community and through the District Neighborhood Council and the Move Seattle Oversight board of stakeholder groups. I do have to wonder what the process to create ideas for street improvements should look like in your world, Mike.

      • I think that involving the neighbors and residents that live in close proximity to the intersection would be a good place to start when making street improvements. All they have surveyed us on are design elements for the plaza (which makes it hard for folks not to think that is their priority). Of course someone thought this was a good idea, but will any of those folks be affected by the change? Do their kids play and walk along 14th Ave which will be used more as a cut through due to the change of access at 15th& Oregon? Imagine that these are your parents or grandparents who have lived here for 20+ years feeling they have no voice in a quickly changing neighborhood or when they do try to voice their opinion feel ridiculed and like the bad guys for wanting a win win situation. Hopefully there is still room for compromise and further design updates. The restricted left turn was one of the biggest concerns. With the latest update (posted today) the alternative given is a joke and more dangerous…

      • Ryan, what exactly does “from the community” mean in this context? One or two people came up with the idea, in conjunction with a handful of urban planners who don’t live near the intersection? The “community” project, as originally applied, did not remove the protected left turn, and SDOT changed that. The neighbors of this proposed project are overwhelmingly against the plan. That doesn’t feel like a “community” project to me.

        • I should also point out that no real outreach was done to neighbors (not even during all the temporary changes which were pretty confusing) until just a few months ago. There was very limited community engagement to circles most people are not aware of or do not have the time to keep up with.

          • My understanding is that the idea originated from Mercer Middle School Parent Teacher Student Association.

            I can certainly find a basis for arguing that SDOT didn’t do enough outreach, though the project would be constructed next year, so contacting people 10-12 months ahead of time seems pretty reasonable to me. SDOT appears to be working on changes that might address the concerns, but if they compromise the safety improvement (like allowing an unprotected left turn off Oregon) then that would be a bad outcome. The increased traffic on the greenway does seem like a problem that should be addressed.

            But to argue that SDOT making changes that weren’t approved by the community was the problem here seems disingenuous to me, as SDOT has professional engineers who know how to make intersections safer.

          • I wholeheartedly disagree. The point being missed here is that the intersection redesign makes the entire neighborhood less safe, due to added congestion, traffic diversion and increased possibility of conflicts with eastbound peds that are west of 15th Ave S. The added 4-way stop made the project design even worse. Changes to this intersection that significantly affect side streets have been happening for years with no outreach or communication. And SDOT is indeed trying to make changes that are not approved by the community, this has been proven by negative response through surveys, open houses, e-mails, me right now commenting on your blog post, etc.

          • If anything here is disingenuous, it’s the article that uses one example of something one small group of neighbors is doing to dismiss all of the neighbors’ concerns and make us all look like car-loving, backwards thinking NIMBY’s. This is really unhelpful, dismissive and somewhat insulting to those of us who have spent lots of time over the last months attending open houses, filling out surveys, coordinating, reviewing rounds of designs, and trying to have our concerns heard. I’m sorry but this article was biased and uninformed – reading one Facebook post did not give you enough background to provide a comprehensive lens on what’s happening here. I suggest you revise the article or write a new one called, Biased Urbanist Blog Post “Beacon Hill Safety Project Riles Neighbors” Riles Neighbors.

          • It just came to my attention there is a Twitter post on this topic from the Urbanist that is very misleading, please take that down now.

          • Hmm, I see another one titled “Who knew a Beacon Hill road safety project would become so controversial?”. This implies that a poorly designed and conceived project would somehow be more acceptible in Beacon Hill than in other neighborhoods. For a year, SDOT stuck a “Road Closed” sign in the middle of the intersection as a temporary solution that kept getting knocked over, with bagged signals that created an even more unsafe and confusing situation. Would this be acceptible in Capitol Hill?

          • The surveys, open house, etc. Were mixed at best. There were also neighbors there in support of the project and have been along the way. Some of those neighbors were also very upset because they felt “shouted down” and one woman even threatened to run over a mother who bikes to mercer middle school through the Neighborhood West of 15th on the Greenway.

            This is not some cut and dry, all the responses were negative. It’s like most things and it’s getting mixed concern from various users.

    • This project, in the modeling, would have originally improved travel times on 15th actually and reduced diversion. SDOT has made tweaks that may have offset that gain though in response to neighborhood concerns in an attempt to allow easier access off to and onto 15th.

      • On 15th from where to where? I have no idea how a 4-way stop could improve travel times on 15th between Cleveland High and S Oregon. Could you explain how adding an additional stop that would back up with traffic would improve travel times? I have personally witnessed northbound motorists turn left into the neighborhood due to the slightest backup.

  3. Hi Ryan, thanks for bringing this issue to light. As a resident of the neighborhood in question, I feel obligated to raise a point here. One item your article doesn’t mention (and that SDOT has deftly avoided addressing) is the impact on pedestrian and cyclist traffic that removing the left turn from Oregon onto 15th would create. That left turn is the single protected northbound exit onto 15th for over a mile. Any drivers who use that turn to leave the neighborhood would instead be forced to divert to 13th Ave, which is a designated bicycle greenway. Not once has anyone at SDOT openly considered this flaw and potential danger for cyclists and pedestrians who walk through the neighborhood. Just thought I’d point that out.

    I hadn’t heard about the Alan Sugiyama memorial plan, and I think it’s shady at best. No matter how much I disagree with SDOT’s design, it seems wrong to memorialize someone simply as a means of sabotage. Thanks for your reporting; looking forward to seeing what develops.

    • That’s why adding the four way stop at Columbian Way and S Snoqualmie St makes sense. Instead of going to Oregon, you go to Snoqualmie Street.

      The city could also add a stop light north of there, at, say, South Dakota Street. Wait, there is one. It is for pedestrians only though, but that could easily change. Until then, you pull the emergency break, hop out, and push the beg button (yes, I’ve done that). Or simply wait for a pedestrian to push the button (or wait for a gap in traffic).

      As for the particulars (i. e. 13th being a designated greenway) I see no reason why you would use 13th over 14th or 12th.

      • The new signal configuration at 15th and Columbian will have one nice new feature in that it will have a phase in which all traffic is briefly halted to allow a pedestrian crossing. This should make some turning easier to complete. Additionally the stretch of road between Oregon & Spokane will likely be reconfigured during the repaving project in the 20s where additional narrowing/turn lanes/etc could be requested.

      • Hi Ross, you’re right, the 4-way stop is a step in the right direction, but it definitely feels like a reluctant band-aid versus an actual solution. I totally understand the workarounds you refer to, but no one should be expected to have to exit their vehicle and hit a crosswalk button just to have a safe departure point from their neighborhood. (Also we’ve been told that converting that light at Dakota into a traffic signal simply won’t be happening.)

        As far as why folks would use 13th, well, it’s the widest street around. Drivers like to go fast and 13th lets them do so (much to the endangerment of peds and cyclists).

      • The 4 way stop doesn’t make sense for anyone who lives north of Oregon. Those people aren’t going to drive two to three blocks down 14th to Snoqualmie, just to sit at a 4 way stop and head back north. Realistically, they’ll just head up 14th to I-5 causing conflicts with cars coming down 14th off the freeway (on a street that is only wide enough for one car most of the time, and with lots of children playing). The unprotected left they retained at Oregon seems more dangerous because the plaza will block visibility of traffic coming from the north, and the 4 way stop will pace traffic so that there won’t be many gaps coming from the south. The community spoke loud and clear they needed the protected left at Oregon for safety, and this hasn’t been retained.

    • Hi! I think SDOT has addressed that, repeatedly. This turn was never meant to be a “protected” turn, as neighbors have repeatedly pointed out vehicles still turn onto Oregon heading EB even though its “blocked” via paint and post which was an interim solution to improve conditions at the location. Additionally neighbors have continually pointed out that they already travel on 14th and 13th to reach Oregon street, so there is already internal diversion.

      SDOT also has modeled and attempted to account for additional diversion due to delay; in the original plans (pre Snoqualmie stop sign) they actually believed delay on 15th would be reduced and encourage more usage of 15th rather then diversion to 13/14th this was regularly disregarded neighbors as unbelievable even with the data presented. SDOT then eventually added the All Way stop sign at Snoqualmie to add a protected turn back, reduce conflicts with VA traffic, improve pedestrian conditions and give drivers a place to head.

      Cyclists likely are not headed North off Oregon onto 15th as it is unsafe and would likely continue the path on 13/14th (designated Greenway) until reaching a S. Dakota and either entering or using the continued Greenway network. SDOT is planning additional infrastructure to connect to this new intersection with a repaving project in the 20s.

      These have been addressed, and talked about. It’s possible of course these concerns were raised at a meeting or thread you were not a part of.

      • Hi Robert, you’re right, it’s entirely possible these concerns were raised at an earlier meeting or thread that I wasn’t aware of. Public outreach for this project has been fairly poor from the start. If it weren’t for helpful neighbors raising awareness or platforms like Nextdoor, it’s possible this whole plan could have been implemented without the knowledge of many in the neighborhood.

        Just curious, when you say “neighbors,” do you mean your own neighbors—as in, you live in this neighborhood?

        • Considering SDOT mailed out flyers to the whole neighborhood, it seems unlikely that it would have gone completely unaware but it’s always fair to not that outreach could be better.

          Neighbors, in the sense above was meant to mean “people” more generally, most of the comments came from what I overheard at various meetings. I could have used the word “people” as, to be fair, I don’t know where each person is from.

  4. I think it is interesting that they made the change this way. One alternative would be to create a different plaza triangle, on the northeast part of the intersection. Basically you would keep 15th as is, but force the southern end of South Columbian Way to curve into Oregon. The section of Columbian Way between Oregon and 15th becomes the plaza.

    This keeps Oregon pretty much as is. To go south on Columbian Way, you just go straight. Or you can take a left on 15th. 15th is largely unchanged, although the intersection is simplified. It is Columbian Way that changes, in that it no longer directly connects to 15th. You would have to turn right or left (at a standard four way signaled intersection) to get from Columbian Way to 15th. Maybe that was why it wasn’t proposed — there is just too much traffic going between those two places (and far less on the two parts of 15th).

    Or maybe the folks on Oregon didn’t want that change. With SDOT’s proposal, their street gets a lot quieter. With the idea I have, it gets busier than ever. Not only do you have people using the street as the main way to go north on 15th, you also have a major arterial essentially flowing right into it. One of your neighbors could easily go way too fast, while the city just puts up a “Not an Arterial” sign.

    • If you go to the SDOT website on this you can see the evaluated (What I think) is a similar Alternative to what you described, and was closer to what was submitted by the PTSA when it pushed the idea. SDOTs modeling basically indicates what you said, there is too much traffic on Columbian (along with Truck Volumes) to make that an effective solution. They also indicated that that proposal would be worse for pedestrians then their proposed alternative.

      They took the alternative from SETS which called for this intersection to be adjusted to reduce vehicle crashes (with the side effect of improving pedestrian conditions).

  5. Since this article does not accurately portray the concerns of neighbors, and frames the neighborhood opposition as “NIMBY neighbors who want to drive their cars vs. progressives”, let me list some of the major issues with the project here:

    1) 15th Ave S from Cleveland HS to the intersection is heavily backed up in the mornings due to school zones and people avoiding the I-5 traffic. The new 4- way stop has serious potential to increase the traffic backup (similar to the 4-way stops at Red Apple) creating more traffic diversion down the neighborhood streets, primarily 14th Ave S. This creates serious ped/vehicle conflicts at all uncontrolled intersections, especially when dark or rainy (most of the school year). Specifically, students walking east trying to reach the new, “safer” intersection. Us neighbors actually witness dangerous driving down the non-arterials on a daily basis and some recent SPD enforcement has validated that.
    2) Removing the controlled left onto 15th Ave S creates more hazardous conditions for motorists trying to get to the main arterial, where they should be. The new 4-way stop won’t realistically help anyone north of Oregon, so what those people will do is drive down the neighborhood streets, and 14th narrows significantly as it approaches I-5 to only let one car through, conflicting with cars coming off I-5. That street has a large immigrant population with lots of children and town homes. 14th is also a neighborhood greenway so it would add more cars to a bicycle facility.
    3) It removes business parking and re-creates less feasible parking across the arterial. This could really hurt the Mexican cafe which the neighbors love.
    4) People don’t want a plaza on a secondary freight route and main arterial.
    5) It makes the transit stops on 15th more difficult to get to for peds coming from 14th (you can simply cross one street now to get to it)
    6) I don’t believe it actually addresses the issue that caused the student/vehicle collision, which is a signal on Colombian set too far back and around a curve that is less visible for drivers than it should be.
    7) SDOT could not provide traffic study info that adequately addressed our traffic diversion concerns, and had not done any modeling on what the new 4-way stop would do to congestion on 15th Ave S.
    8) All of my concerns are from the perspective of a primary ped/transit user and a resident of 14th Ave S.

    • I should also mention that neighbors proposed lots of simple, low cost things that could have been done first, such as adding a sign for motorists on Oregon to actually let you know you are entering a school zone, a “left turns yield for pedestrians” sign, school crossing guards, etc. We were ignored. Also, Robert from Beacon Hill Safe Streets got visibly frustrated with us at a public meeting, was unprofessional and blamed us for “not being engaged” to justify the proposed design and late outreach. He doesn’t live near our intersection and didn’t really care to understand our concerns. I don’t know why he has been allowed to speak for SDOT.

      • MacPhersons is adamantly opposed to the project, including the plaza and the “ped improvements” that I would presume would help their business. They’re so opposed they’re collecting signatures for a petition at their cash registers. If this is going to be a “community” project, perhaps a main staple of the community for 30 years should be an indicator of the community support (or lack thereof) for this project.

      • I didn’t use that to justify it, but just like normal people I can get frustrated when you’ve been working with people for a year on a project, attended multiple meetings, saw designs shift, etc and someone says that no one did anything. I shouldn’t have become frustrated but I did. Fair enough point; I also don’t speak for SDOT.

        I also don’t blame you for not being engaged, many people are not engaged. My point (and some on the BHC board also said) that its good you are *now* because there was process on this last year that was missed. I would also note I tried things like posting this to Nextdoor but it didn’t really seem to inspire anyone to go or maybe I posted it wrong. I don’t know.

        Lastly, I’ve (and others including I would guess yourself) made suggestions in the past to DON/SDOT that they should try to do a more outreach to the areas affected or post notices or something because people who would like (or in this case, dislike) a project frequently do not know about projects funded through various grant processes. DON tried something new with YVYC, which was to post little signs near the intersections that said things like “A change could happen here! Checkout this link” or something (I don’t recall off hand). So your feedback is working, and its changing the outlook for future grant processes as well.

  6. An SDOT Project forcing residents to go the opposite direction they want to is plain “Kubly”! “drivers would be prohibited from making a left turn from S Oregon St onto Columbian Way in either direction like they can now, instead forcing drivers to take a right onto 15th Ave S.” SDOT is increasing traffic patterns in a neighborhood already suffering from too much traffic. WHY?????? This is obviously a very bad project. The residents of the neighborhood have spoken, SDOT should listen and fix this badly planned project. Safety should be a major priority alone with neighborhood input.

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