Sections of Seattle still await sidewalks

Seattle may have glittering stadiums and millionaires to spare, but there are still muddy, open ditches where sidewalks should be in some working-class neighborhoods.

Like Greenwood. More than 40 years after the city annexed the area north of 85th Street, it still has just a handful of sidewalks.

But the city has designated Greenwood as one of the "urban villages" where most of Seattle's high-density growth is supposed to occur through 2014.

The growth in Greenwood is happening now - hundreds of apartments have recently been built and permits issued for others - but there is no firm plan for building sidewalks. More people and cars are making traffic worse. And the narrow, old side streets are the only place to walk.

One who walks there is David Radabaugh, who is challenging the city's growth policies before the state Growth Management Hearings Board.

Radabaugh contends the city is accepting growth before it has figured out how to accommodate it, raising questions about its commitment to the principles of the state's 1990 Growth Management Act.

He says the city has failed to plan adequately for infrastructure such as sidewalks that growing cities must provide. That promise - infrastructure concurrent with growth - is a cornerstone of the growth law. But it's not always fulfilled.

Radabaugh wants Seattle to fine-tune its Greenwood plan, list places where sidewalks are needed and figure out how to get them built. At the current pace, Radabaugh estimates, it will take 200 years to do the job.

"Economically, we're at about the best time we've ever seen. We're seeing the growth now," Radabaugh said. "This is the time to get working on this. If we don't do it during the best of times, when are we going to do it?"

City Councilman Richard Conlin says the city is doing its best.

"There's a legal standard, and we're very confident we meet the legal standard," said Conlin, chairman of the neighborhoods and growth-planning committee.

What about the lagging infrastructure in Greenwood? Conlin says the city is doing what it can on a limited budget and is studying ways to address the shortage.

Underlying Radabaugh's appeal is the city's urban-village concept. The city's 1994 growth plan directs most growth into the 39 villages, mostly around old neighborhood centers such as Greenwood.

The villages are supposed to be pedestrian-friendly places where you can walk to shops, parks and restaurants, and easily catch a bus. Greenwood's neighborhood plan acknowledges that sidewalks are missing. But it offers only vague suggestions for building them.

Radabaugh, ironically, is just the kind of resident the city envisioned in urban villages. He walks everywhere in Greenwood, to stores, the post office, the library and the dry cleaner, and he buses to his job as a planner for Snohomish County.

Some other Greenwood residents are scared to walk so much.

Attorney Mike McGinn lives near a park, but he puts his children in the car and drives if they want to play because there is no sidewalk and other motorists drive too fast.

McGinn is president of the Greenwood Community Council, which hasn't decided to back Radabaugh's appeal. But McGinn agrees the city hasn't done enough for growing areas.

"It shouldn't be the way it is," he said. "The law says it's a goal to bring resources to follow development. Our elected leaders say it's a goal to make this a pedestrian-friendly, livable city that's safe for families and children."

Seattle's transportation department tallied sidewalks citywide in 1998. It found that 30 percent of the city lacks sidewalks and that the situation is worst in the areas north of 85th Street that were annexed in the 1940s and 1950s.

Sidewalks are also lacking around Fauntleroy in West Seattle and on parts of Beacon Hill.

"You have this huge need," said Pete Lagerwey, city pedestrian and bicycle coordinator. "If you would build all the sidewalks in the city it would be well over $1 billion."

The city usually builds two to six blocks of sidewalks a year, for $500,000 to $1 million per block.

But that work has slowed because of concerns about how it could affect endangered salmon. Sidewalks don't kill fish, but curbs and gutters can funnel harmful runoff into habitat areas.

Mostly, the city leaves sidewalk building to developers, who are required to build sidewalks when they improve property.

Those rules are why most of the city has sidewalks: Developers put them in as houses were built. Greenwood was developed under King County's watch, and it didn't require them.

Despite the city's careful planning in the past, city residents still aren't satisfied. Even areas with sidewalks want improvements. In 35 of 37 neighborhood plans, residents asked for better walkways.

In Greenwood, sidewalks were the priority for residents surveyed in 1996 in preparation for neighborhood planning.

For now, Lagerwey says, the city will experiment in Greenwood with inexpensive, unobtrusive options such as blacktop walkways.

Not everyone wants sidewalks, however, especially those whose homes are close to the street.

"People would be walking right across my front window. I couldn't stand that," said 48-year Greenwood resident Helen Webb.

Webb is also concerned about the traffic and growth. "This used to be a very quiet neighborhood," she said. "But with all these apartments going up around here, when they all get filled up, it's going to be unbearable."


Updating plan for growth

Seattle's comprehensive growth plan is being updated.

Mayor Paul Schell has proposed several changes, including linking capital spending to growth areas, providing new incentives to housing developers, updating transportation plans and adding environmental-stewardship policies.

A hearing on plan revisions is at 5:30 p.m. today on the Municipal Building's 11th floor. Changes are to be reviewed through summer and adopted by the City Council in October. For more information, call 206-684-8380.