by Lizz Giordano
Luz Casio spends many of her mornings directing traffic outside the Refugee and Immigrant Family Center Bilingual Preschool (RIFC) in West Seattle’s Delridge neighborhood. As director of the preschool, she’s trying to help make drop-off a little less chaotic for families.
Casio says this extra duty wasn’t needed before Seattle’s Department of Transportation (SDOT) installed a yellow concrete median in the middle of Delridge Way that cut off left-turn access to the preschool. The road redesign was done in anticipation of the RapidRide H Line, a new King County Metro bus route set to start running frequent service between Downtown Seattle and Burien along Delridge in late 2022.
Karina Rojas, director of SouthWest Early Learning (SWEL), a sister site to RIFC located less than a mile away on Delridge, says the new concrete median took both her and Casio by surprise one Monday morning last fall.
“We didn’t know this was going to happen,” Casio said.
The two directors say they were aware an SDOT project was planned for Delridge, but not that it would change access to RIFC.
“The communication was very, very poor on their end,” Rojas said.
Not only are vehicles now unable to turn left in or out of the preschool, but a new RapidRide bus stop and a bike lane also replaced the handful of on-street parking spots in front of the preschool that parents had been using to load and unload kids. As a result of the changes, Casio says parents must now wait in a line along Delridge for one of the few remaining spots reserved for preschool drop-offs.
RIFC serves about 44 families through its half-day and full-day bilingual Spanish-English preschool programs, a vast majority of which qualify for subsidized preschool. The redesign and addition of the new RapidRide line didn’t change access to SWEL, the sister site, though now transporting food between the two preschools — which share a kitchen — takes a little longer.
The Delridge redesign added a divider along much of the new bus route. It varies between landscaped medians, concrete separators, and painted double yellow lines, which also prohibit left turns. The result eliminated much of the left-turn access between blocks along the route, according to project plans.
“Restricting left-turns across two vehicle lanes, a bike lane, and a sidewalk will help
achieve the community-driven goals of making Delridge Way SW a safe multi-modal corridor for everyone, whether they drive, take transit, bike, or walk,” said Ethan Bergerson, a spokesperson for SDOT, via email, responding to emailed questions.
The raised median installed outside RIFC is an added safety measure for the bus stop, Bergerson said.
“In our eyes, and the eyes of our community that we serve, this doesn’t make it safer,” Rojas said. “It’s just one more barrier for these families to overcome. It just adds to the barriers they already face.”
The preschool wants SDOT to remove the barrier, says Casio.
SDOT excluded the community from the design process that led to the agency installing a “divisive barrier,” says Rob Saka, a West Seattle resident and parent of two kids who attend the preschool.
Generic notices were sent, but nothing specific about the plans to install a concrete median outside the preschools, says Saka, a lawyer who is representing RIFC pro bono in discussions with the City.
Along with mailers sent to businesses and residents along the new line, Bergerson, the SDOT spokesperson, said the agency also contacted RIFC by phone in the summer of 2020 — as construction was set to begin — and sent an additional five emails regarding construction activities near their location.
“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we also conducted door-to-door outreach to businesses along
the street, talking with more than 100 small businesses in multiple languages,” Bergerson said.
“The purpose of these calls and visits was to learn more about the organizations, make sure they were aware of the project, and understand how we can best communicate with them during construction.”
Bergerson said the issue has been elevated to SDOT senior management and that the agency plans to continue “looking at ways to help people get to and from the center.”
But Saka is skeptical.
“We are demanding a better process,” Saka said of SDOT, “and they are just not hearing us.”
Lizz Giordano is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Seattle’s Rainier Valley focusing on transit and housing. She can be reached on Twitter @lizzgior, and more of her work can be found on her website.
📸 Featured Image: A new yellow concrete divider running down the middle of Delridge Way blocks left-turn access to the Refugee Immigrant Family Center Bilingual Preschool (RIFC). To some, the barrier might not seem like a big deal, but Luz Casio (left), director of RIFC, and Karina Rojas, director of SouthWest Early Learning (SWEL), say it is a big deal for their community. (Photo: Lizz Giordano)
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