At the latest public meeting to discuss the Issaquah Highlands’ traffic problems on Wednesday evening, residents complained that the forum sounded very much the same as last July’s meeting.
City of Issaquah Transportation Manager Kurt Seemann, Public Works Engineering Director Sheldon Lynne and Senior Transportation Engineer John Mortenson led the discussion, convened to address the concerns of Highlands residents who have been communicating to the city for over a year their fears for the safety of themselves and their children in a neighborhood with rampant speeding and other dangerous driving behaviors.
In the past, residents have criticized the city for taking too much of a level 1 approach to solutions (communication and education) rather than the level 3 solutions (physical engineering improvements) that they say are needed.
At Wednesday’s meeting, it became apparent that the communication route was still going to be the city’s main plan of action for the near future.
“We need to educate, to change the social behavior, so we don’t have to do something physical that’s gonna change the character of the neighborhood,” Lynne said.
Seemann emphasized the need for Highlands residents to educate their neighbors on safe driving habits.
“You are the people in the community who can do the most to effect change,” he told the group.
“What I’m feeling from our community is that … we’re still not sure as a community how do you help us get to level 2 a little bit faster than what we’re seeing,” said Issaquah Highlands resident Jamie Rosen.
The city staffers drew attention to the changes the city has made since July, such as a “Drive with Care, Walk Aware” pledge that residents can sign online, social media messages, and, in terms of physical improvements, “Drive with Care” sandwich board signs along the busiest streets and the speed limit painted on the pavement on 24th and 25th Avenues.
However, residents told the transportation team that the signs and the paint have not been very visible.
Mortenson said that the city will be able to use better painting materials in the spring, when conditions are drier. He commented that on his way to the meeting, he noticed that the one-way arrows painted on Park Drive and Federal Drive were “really hard to see.”
The city will also be using a website called Peak Democracy, which functions as an online town hall. Residents can log onto the site and voice their opinions on what is or isn’t working well in the city’s traffic calming strategies.
“We don’t jump into things, we don’t take things lightly,” Seemann said. “Maybe we move slower than some people would like, but at the end of the day, we’re really focused on doing the right thing, doing the safe thing.”
Issaquah resident Robin Kelley asked if the problem was “planning, equipment, budget, staffing” or “all of the above?”
Mayor Mary Lou Pauly got up to answer Kelley’s question, explaining that “it’s a bit of all of what you said.”
“We had a lot of discussions at budget last year about the staffings of our police force, and one project I have in the first quarter to work on is to work with the police chief on making sure we are keeping up with the resources we need for all of the police work we need to do,” Pauly said. “We have some vacancies, we also know that there is a demand to add additional positions, and for various reasons … we are not fully staffed right now.”
During the 2018 budgeting process in late 2017, the council also chose to remove the salaries and benefits of three police officer positions that had been proposed for 2018, instead directing the administration to analyze the need for these positions in the first quarter of the year. This saved the city $350,000.
Lynne talked about the four Es — education, enforcement, engineering and engagement — as effective tools for dealing with traffic problems.
Rosen suggested that city staff go out and walk the streets at peak traffic hours to better understand residents’ concerns.
Twenty-year Issaquah resident Geoff Walker said that “no left turn” and one-way signs are so small that people don’t see them. He described how every morning at Starbucks, he routinely sees two to three cars driving the wrong way down the street.
“Left-turn, no left turn … That’s easy, you don’t need to study that anymore, you don’t need to send out staff,” Walker said, adding, “They do not need anymore discussion. They just need to be fixed. I’ll go up on a ladder myself.”
“I love our partnership, but we’re not having a different conversation here today than we did in July,” Christy Garrard, director of the Issaquah Highlands Council, told the staffers. “You’re not hearing anything different, and you’re not bringing us anything different than we heard in July … and I’m really kind of disappointed.”
Lynne responded that “we may not be moving as fast as people would like” but it “takes time to go through a community this size.” He acknowledged that “coming back to communicate was slow and we should’ve been in here earlier.”