Urban Politics #263, 10/2/08

By City Councilmember Nick Licata


	It*s Thursday, October 02, 2008, and it*s been a busy 48
hours since I sent out my last Urban Politics #262 (
http://www.cityofseattle.net/council/licata/up/262.htm ) which
announced this coming Monday*s Forum on Sidewalks and the Mercer
Project. This 48 hour began with a couple of news articles critical of
the Mercer Project, one in Cross Cut and the other in the Stranger:



	Also the day following my UP, and it probably was by chance,
that Paul Allen*s Vulcan held an early morning Wednesday meeting in
the Port of Seattle offices for the individuals or organizations that
formerly comprised the Mercer Corridor Project Stakeholders Committee,
an organization that Vulcan was instrumental in forming. 

I say *instrumental* and not something more finite because the
formal role Vulcan has always been difficult to recognize. Vulcan*s
informal role is generally acknowledged by everyone as one of being just
another party promoting the development of South Lake Union. But their
formal role has been deliberatively obscure, perhaps because any visible
leadership role as the primary promoter of SLU development might draw
attention to their considerable self-interest since they own fifty plus
acres of real estate there.   

Vulcan has sought to work through the SLUFAN (South Lake Union Friends
and Neighbors) organization, which is at times is described as a
neighborhood group, however by their by-laws only one slot is reserved
for someone who lives in the neighborhood. For the most part it is
dominated by property owners and developers, including a number of
employees of businesses in SLU who are interested in urban design and
development issues. Vulcan was also *instrumental* in forming SLUFAN
since its membership closely parallels their own development interests,
more so than the prior existing group in SLU, the Cascade Neighborhood
Council which is largely made up of residents. 

Nevertheless despite having had kept a low profile Vulcan must have
felt it necessary to quickly pull together a meeting since they had
their own staff making calls to urge those who had attended the earlier
stakeholders meeting to attend this very important gathering to save the
Mercer Project. The Director of SDOT (Seattle Dept of Transportation)
attended and gave a wrap up of the progress they were making in moving
ahead with the Mercer Project. Its value or effectiveness was never
questioned, in other words there was no room on the agenda for an 
informed critique.

I find it ironic that the one meeting that did not allow for an open
discussion on the merits and problems presented by the Mercer Project
was the one that Vulcan organized and sponsored in part by SLUFAN.
Meanwhile in the past month I have attended a number of neighborhood
groups and District Council meetings where both I and SDOT staff, or a
pro-Mercer Project Council Member, have made presentations side by side.
The result has always been a good discussion with a number of hard
questions directed toward both presenters. In many instances if the
District Council did not call SDOT, someone from that department would
call them, sometimes within a couple of hours after confirming that I
would be speaking, to request appearing on the agenda with me.

It was also announced at the Vulcan meeting that the rest of the City
Council Members were going to sign a letter in support of the current
Mercer Project. I heard about it later that morning from a participant
at the meeting. I hadn*t been approached by anyone on the Council
about the letter until it was dropped off at my office at the end of the
day - fait accompli. Too bad.

 I had talked to each of the Council Members in one-on-one sessions to
review the traffic analysis in SDOT*s Environmental Assessment Report
which revealed that the two-way Mercer resulted in a measurable increase
in traffic congestion.  I also reviewed the more cost effective prior
approved plan that the former Mayor and past Council had approved along
with the neighborhood group. The response varied but several expressed
concern about the high cost and questionable benefits resulting from the
project. Consequently I was hopeful that some members were still open to
evaluating this project in light of information which is just now
becoming known.

Being an optimist I hope that if some of them attend Monday*s Forum
and stay for the evening they may have a change of mind. A number of
them have said they intend on being there. After I received their
jointly signed letter, I sent out an email thanking them for sharing it
with me and assured them that I would make it available at the Forum and
that each would have time to address the audience if they wished and at
their convenience. 

I differ most primarily with their specific statement that they have
made the Two-Way Mercer Project the City*s second highest priority for
transportation capital projects because it will improve mobility for
vehicles, freight, transit, pedestrians and bicyclists. All of the
evidence to date released by SDOT shows that mobility is hindered rather
than improved for vehicles, freight and transit through the corridor
with this project. Pedestrian mobility is improved on Valley but not on
Mercer since the increased congestion will likely result in a higher
incidence of pedestrian collisions. However, under all scenarios
including the alternative and retaining the current configuration, wider
sidewalks, better signalized crossings and landscaping would be added.
Mobility for bicyclists would be improved with this project over the
previous alternative plan or the current configuration, but an addition
of bicycle lanes on Valley in the alternative plan would address this

If you have the time, stop by the Forum this Monday, October 6th.. It
will be one of those rare occasions where a major public project will be
subject to an expansive intelligent debate on its merits. 

Time: 		6:00-8:30
		Doors open at 6pm with refreshments, presentation begins
at 6:30pm

Location:	Bertha Knight Landes Room, City Hall, 4th Ave and James

Date: 		Monday, October 6

Presentation by Council Member Nick Licata

Councilmember Licata proposes redirecting a $43 million bond allocated
to the Mercer Project to building new sidewalks in Seattle, funding the
recommendations of the Bicycle Master Plan, Pedestrian Master Plan, and
providing a long-term capital program for meeting our freight mobility

Reply to Presentation by SDOT 

The Seattle Dept of Transportation (SDOT) has been invited to explain
why the Mercer Corridor Project is needed and the $43 million should be
spent on creating a two-way Mercer Street and a narrowed Valley Street.

An array of residential communities, business and employee groups, and
transit advocate groups has been invited to make short statements in
response to the presentations. Elected officials are also invited to
comment and address the public.

Audience members will be polled on which approach achieves more
transportation choices, lowers carbon emissions, encourages greater
transit ridership, and promotes economic development. 



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