A 'gated community' in Queen Anne? Proposed traffic diversions cause uproar on Hill

Plans to fix up the Fremont Bridge have given residents on the north slope of Queen Anne a chance to remedy a long-term grievances over non-locals driving through the neighborhood on narrow streets like Queen Anne Avenue.

But getting from here to there on Queen Anne Avenue and other residential streets is going to get a lot more complicated - if not seemingly impossible - under a proposed plan released last week at an open house sponsored by the Seattle Department of Transportation.

Many, but not all, of those living in the affected area like the plan, which covers a territory bounded on the north by Smith, on the south by Florentia and Nickerson, with Fourth Avenue North to the east and Third Avenue West to the west.

But the Queen Anne Community Council and most neighborhood residents outside of the area are vehemently opposed to a proposed SDOT plan that involves diversions, street closures and setting up new one-way streets to force traffic onto arterials.

There are two sets of neighbors involved: the North Queen Anne Neighbors Association and the Mayfair Neighbors Association, the latter of which has been primarily concerned with traffic associated with the Seattle Country Day School on Fourth Avenue North.

According to an SDOT fact sheet, both groups approached the agency in 2004 with concerns about cut-through traffic caused by the work on the Fremont Bridge, which will be reduced to two lanes for up to 10 months starting this summer.

However, Amy Carlson, a member of the steering committee for the North Queen Anne group, tells a different story. "We started this process two years ago," she said. "We weren't aware of the Fremont Bridge project."

The process includ-ed commissioning a report by traffic consultant company Heffron & Associates, and it was in response to concerns that surfaced in the late 1990s, Carlson said.

The problem was the volume and speed of traffic heading to and leaving the Ship Canal area, particularly on Warren and Queen Anne avenues, she said. "They felt it was a public-safety problem," Carlson said of individuals and local Block Watch captains.

Heffron did a study in 2004 that included traffic counts, and the results were presented at a meeting of immediate neighborhood residents who came up with series of suggestions on solving the problem, she remembered. "The neighbors said they would be willing to have some inconvenience to make the neighborhood safer."

Heffron then came up with some alternative acceptable to the city, and neighborhood residents adopted a recommended plan that covers an area that only goes to Warren on the eastern edge, Carl-son said. But that plan was combined with one approved by the Mayfair Neighbors Association to come up with the total coverage area, she said.

Among other steps shown on a traffic-mitigation map included on SDOT's Web site about the Fremont Bridge project, there will several new one-way streets. In addition, Queen Anne Avenue will be blocked at Armour Street, forcing southbound traffic west and northbound traffic east in a complicated detour that will oblige motorists to drive blocks and blocks out of their ways.

Warren Avenue North includes a similar diversion at Raye Street, and West Raye is completely blocked to traffic near Second Avenue North. Rita Cipalla, who lives in the 2600 block of Second Avenue North, was especially critical of a blocked West Raye Street.

"I'm just furious," she fumed at the open house last week. "I mean, it's ridiculous." Cipalla runs a home-based business, and she's convinced the traffic-mitigation measures will make her job even harder.

"How do I get messengers to my house?" she wondered. "It's like a gated community all of a sudden." Cipalla also charged the traffic plan has nothing to do with the Fremont Bridge work.

John Coney, chair of the Queen Anne Community Council's transportation committee, agreed, saying a lot of the traffic mitigations have nothing to do with the bridge. He also faults the plan for depending on just a small group of people for input. "The broader Queen Anne community was never invited," he said.

Coney concedes the North Slope residents need some traffic mitigation because of the bridge project, but the scope of the proposal is not warranted, he said.

Community council member Craig Hanway said he is "vehemently opposed" to the plan, and he said none of the suggestions made by the neighborhood council were included.

Over on the other side of the Hill, Fourth Avenue North will be completely closed to traffic on Newell Street, which is half a block south of the entrance to the Country Day School. Michael Murphy, who heads up the private school, predicts the change will cause gridlock when parents pick up and drop off their children.

In addition, those traveling on Fourth south of the blocked intersection will only be able to take a right on Dexter Avenue North, preventing them from crossing the Fremont Bridge as they can now.

Michael DeCaro from the Mayfair Neighbors Association said that group as a whole is supportive of the mitigation plan for their area, but he has reservations about the North Queen Anne plan, which he described as "pretty extreme."

SDOT spokeswoman Marybeth Turner stressed that the plan is not a done deal, especially in light of the negative reaction to the proposed mitigation measures by the larger Queen Anne community. "We are listening to all the concerns and taking another look," she added. And SDOT already modified the plan that came from the North Slope residents, scaling back their proposed traffic diversions from 10 to seven, Turner said.

The traffic mitigations will go into effect in March two to three months before work begins on the Fremont Bridge. The changes are ostensibly temporary, but they could become permanent if one of two things happens, according to SDOT.

The community council could endorse the plan - which seems highly unlikely, according to several members. Or the mitigations could become permanent if a petition drive shows that a minimum of 60 percent of people approve of them.

The petition will only involve residents of the North Slope and Mayfair areas, Turner said.

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at rzabel@nwlink.com or 461-1309.

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