by Will Sweger
Wednesday afternoon inside Rainier Valley’s King Donuts, two well-dressed women sorted flyers in nine different languages into neat piles on a table. Their intended audience, riders of Route 7 in Rainier Valley never showed up.
The meeting was part of a joint outreach effort by King County, G3 & Associates Public Affairs Consultants, and the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to inform the public about Rapid Ride service coming to the Route 7. The women also hoped to get feedback from riders on what they would like to see in the redesign.
Dawn Schellenberg, a Community Engagement Liaison with SDOT explained, “The idea is to help [the line] be fast, frequent, and easy to use.” She expects the new buses on the route by 2021 while later this year SDOT will focus on making changes on the stretch of Rainier Avenue between Hillman City and Rainier Beach to improve safety.
Possible changes include Orca card readers at stations, digital displays with the next arrival, more buses, and additional protected lanes for bikes and buses. With the Rapid Ride service, buses would arrive every 10 minutes or faster. Changes may also include a loss of stops and the addition of fare enforcement officers as a result of off-board payment. SDOT is looking for community feedback on street crossings, curb ramps, lighting, and paths for pedestrians and cyclists.
“We look at data—travel times, crashes, what’s happening with the buses currently, and then we overlay the operational aspect with how people are using it and what they’re experiencing as they travel,” she said. “And then through that process we can select out of all of these options, the one that we think we should advance into design.” Once SDOT and King County Metro put together a design, another public comment period will follow to gather feedback.
SDOT has mailed about 40,000 flyers translated into 11 different languages to Rainier Valley residents announcing the proposed change. “We’re trying to go to where people are instead of asking them to come to us,” she said. G3 & Associates have been assisting on the Rapid Ride project for the past two years and have been working on the Rainier line since January.
In choosing outreach locations and times, Schellenberg said, “We rely on people who work with some of the communities out there we’re trying to hit.” She explained liaisons will go to community centers, potlucks, and even Mahjong games. “We have a lot of success when we go to grocery stores, because then we just get general foot traffic—people who might not commonly be interacting with government.”
Many South End residents feel strongly about the project, but express frustration with the meeting process. Will Sarret, a Rainier Valley resident explained: “They’ve been talking about [the project] for a while.” He explained, “The 7 gets pretty rowdy, people will be smoking weed and stuff on there. I hope it goes to Rapid Ride because the line stops so much.”
When asked about the accessibility of weekday meetings, Schellenberg said, “We kind of just vary it all over. I think, based on the low attendance we had at King Donuts, we’re going to try to supplement with a few more locations.”
At the moment, the outreach team plans to conduct additional meetings at the following locations and times:
Monday, April 2, 2018, 12-2 PM at Viet Wah Asian Supermarket, 1032 S. Jackson St.
Tuesday, April 3, 2018, 3-5 PM at QFC, 2707 Rainier Ave S.
Friday, April 6, 2018, 1-3 PM at Rainier Farmer’s Market, 2119 Rainier Ave S.
Residents can also send SDOT feedback via the website rapidriderainier.participate.online or over the phone at 206-684-5189 until April 8.
Schellenberg summed up the project outreach saying, “Until you’re really in construction, it’s hard for people to understand how it might impact them or change the way they’re moving. It’s hard to get people engaged this early in the process.” Speaking of Route 7 riders, she said, “We definitely want to hear from them.”
Will Sweger is a contributor at the South Seattle Emerald and a resident of Beacon Hill. His work has appeared in Seattle Weekly, Curbed Seattle, The Urbanist, and Borgen Magazine. Find him on Twitter @willsweger