Safety Railing Or Obtrusive Fence? -- Neighbors At Alki Beach Fighting City's Proposal To Build Barrier Along Seawall

Along Alki Avenue Southwest, Judith Prinz and some of her neighbors are waging war against the city's plans to fence in - or out - a part of Seattle's birthplace.

They've got petitions in businesses up and down the street, hoping to arouse public ire and gather enough signatures to stop the mile-long railing the Seattle Parks Department says will be erected along the concrete seawall.

In some places, there is as much as a 10-foot drop from the seawall to the boulders and beach below, and Parks Department spokeswoman Jennifer Cargal says it's a safety concern.

Prinz, an Alki resident who also teaches at nearby Alki Elementary School, is concerned about safety, too. But for different reasons.

"The feeling of lots of us is that if you put a fence there, children will climb on it and create more of a safety problem than we have already. . . . It'll be like a little Jungle Gym right there on the seawall for them."

Besides, she says, "It will cut visibility. We feel like it will really infringe upon the view and the atmosphere at Alki Beach."

At car-window height, a barrier would drastically alter the classic Seattle landscape with its expansive views to Magnolia and beyond, agreed John Loftus, another resident.

Loftus also adds that no one has been able to show him any documented cases of people falling from the seawall. So "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," he said.

The 42-inch-high railing would begin near Duwamish Head and continue to the end of the seawall just east of 54th Place Southwest - and east of the sandy beach area and several blocks east of the obelisk monument that marks where Seattle's first white settlers landed in 1851.

Although the petitions describe the aluminum barrier as a fence, Cargal says it's not.

"It's a safety handrail, not a fence. It's not going to be in the sightline of most people. And it will be designed in such a way as to be as unobtrusive as possible while still providing the safety needed along that walkway."

The railing is part of a $1.9 million Alki Beach trail project, which also calls for improvements to the bicycle and pedestrian paths along the same stretch of Alki.

Cargal said the project also will rebuild two or three sets of stairs along the seawall for better access to the sandy beach, and reduce the street width from 64 feet to 40 feet.

Cargal also said the department hasn't been insensitive to community opinion during two years of planning for the project. Parking is one example - the amount along Alki will remain unchanged.

In fewer than two weeks, Prinz said, the petitions have attracted 2,000 or more signatures.

"On a sunny day, we can fill up three or four pages easily," said Mary Goehring, a cashier at the Alki Market at 63rd Avenue Southwest and Alki.

Ted Nicoloudakis, who owns Pegasus Pizza & Pasta down the street, says "probably nine out of 10" of his customers oppose any kind of railing.