John Coney, at the dedication of West Thomas Street pedestrian and bicycle overpass that bears his name, earlier this year. Photo by Debi Frausto
John Coney, at the dedication of West Thomas Street pedestrian and bicycle overpass that bears his name, earlier this year. Photo by Debi Frausto
1
2

A plaque on the West Thomas Street pedestrian and bicycle overpass honors the contributions of John Coney in making the project a reality after decades of discussion.

“For his visionary guidance and tenacious leadership, from the smallest project to the largest undertaking,” reads the panel on the bridge, dedicated for Coney earlier this year. “The Uptown/Queen Anne/Magnolia communities and all of Seattle are forever enriched by his determined effort to connect our city to its waterfront.”

Now, a makeshift memorial with flowers, cards and small notes of remembrance surround the plaque as the community honors the longtime Uptown and Queen Anne neighborhood advocate and volunteer, who passed away earlier this month after a long battle with leukemia. He is survived by his wife, Jodi, and stepsons John, Roald and Bruce Simonson.

Making places better

Jodi Coney said her husband was as an extremely caring person, not only in the home but in his neighborhood and city, and tried to make those places better.

“It seems to me that there wasn’t a reasonable and helpful cause that he didn’t somehow find his way into,” she said.

A founding member and later co-president of the Uptown Alliance, Queen Anne Chamber of Commerce member and Queen Anne Community Council (QACC) Transportation Committee chair, Coney was an instrumental figure as the overpass project came to fruition in November 2012.

Current King County regional trails coordinator Robert Foxworthy worked with Coney in the late 1990s as the project manager on the Queen Anne Neighborhood Plan, from which the overpass originated.

“John was really a leader in that effort,” Foxworthy said of Coney, who was on the Queen Anne Neighborhood Planning Committee at the time.

Even after the initial actions on the neighborhood plan were complete, Foxworthy said Coney proceeded in his efforts until the work was finished.

“He continued after that process to meet with just about anyone to get these projects on the ground and somehow get them implemented,” Foxworthy said.

However, Coney’s work extended well beyond the overpass — informally referred to in the community as the “Coney Connector.”

A former public television producer — including a stint as executive producer of “Travels in Europe with Rick Steves” — Coney was a constant figure at community meetings, providing a voice on everything transportation- and transit-related. That included serving as both a member and chair of QACC’s Transportation Committee and a member of the Land Use Committee, the council’s representative on the Magnolia Bridge Replacement Project’s Design Advisory Group and the Uptown Alliance’s delegate in the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program stakeholder group.

Coney also led the effort to refer to what many consider “Lower Queen Anne” as “Uptown.”

Katie Idziorek, who served as co-president of the Uptown Alliance with Coney, listed off even more projects that he had a hand in, including improvements on Mercer Street, the development of Counterbalance Park and planning work for the First Avenue Streetcar.

Idziorek said Coney had the ability to work with a diverse range of people, opinions and situations, as someone who was respectful but firm in his approach.

“He was determined and diplomatic,” Idziorek said. “He was really good at getting things done.”

Debi Frausto, a consultant who works in community organizing and facilitation, knew Coney for more than a decade. She first met him during the planning stages of the Seattle Monorail Project, a plan that, at the time, had big implications for Queen Anne and Uptown.

“John was really a go-to person in the community at the time,” Frausto said.  

When Frausto later became the chair of Friends of Lower Kinnear Park, again Coney was there to voice his support for their efforts.

“Whenever we went for funding and wanted to help show that there was community support for the park, John was always right there,” she said.

Coney also spent time on the City Neighborhood Council.

Along with the bridge dedication, Coney earned the 2014 Community Service Award from the Queen Anne Chamber, while Mayor Ed Murray proclaimed last May 16 as “John Coney Day” in the city.

In a Facebook post, Murray called Coney “a visionary and advocate for the Uptown community,” and said he was saddened by his passing.

“We are a better city because of him and his tireless leadership,” he added.

‘The driving force’

Frausto remembered an instance a few months ago when community members conducted a walk-through of Uptown with Murray. Despite being unable to walk the entirety of the stretch — instead, he was driven from point to point — he still took full advantage of his moment with the mayor.

“When he got his few minutes face-to-face with the mayor, he pulled out his list of Uptown Alliance’s top transportation priorities for the mayor’s budget,” Frausto said. “He had it printed, he had it well thought-out and he handed it to him. That was just who he was to the core.”

Frausto said Coney will be remembered for his tenaciousness, his community-driven, generous spirit and ability to think long-term when it came to the transit needs for Uptown and Queen Anne: “He wasn’t afraid of long-range planning and to work toward those goals and keep that focus there.”

Idziorek echoed that sentiment: “He was not deterred by the size of the project or how long it might take.”

In recent months, Coney had continued looking for ways to connect South Lake Union, Seattle Center and Uptown, while also wanting to see light rail brought to Queen Anne.

Now, the Uptown Alliance will move ahead without Coney, but Idziorek said she doesn’t think there’s any one person that can fill his shoes. Instead, the group will try to carry forward the example he set.

“It’s really hard to imagine Uptown Alliance without John,” Idziorek said. “He’s really been the driving force for a long time.”

Memorials

A memorial service for Coney took place Saturday, Aug. 15, at Queen Anne Lutheran Church (2400 Eighth Ave. W.), drawing approximately 150 people.

“Everyone talked about his smile and his friendliness and his kindness,” Idziorek said, “and just his abilities to make connections between people and also between neighborhoods.”

As for the impromptu memorial on the pedestrian bridge?

“Your contribution to this area will be remembered for a very long time,” reads one note.

Another sports a message now echoing throughout the community: “Seattle needs more John Coneys.”


To comment on this story, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.