As if the merchants of Madison Valley had not already endured enough disruption from the months-long construction of the stormwater pipeline, Seattle Public Utilities suddenly revealed in late February that it was contemplating turning portions of E. Madison Street into a one-lane thoroughfare and allowing no curb-side parking on the street during an upcoming weeks-long phase of stormwater mitigation work.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the reaction of area retailers, service providers, and restaurateurs to this news bulletin was mixture of dismay, horror, and—at least in a few cases—outrage. Now, as the result of a lot of back-and-forth discussion between SPU and the merchants, it looks like the City’s solution will be to do the work at night. But because nighttime construction will create an uncomfortable or even untenable situation for many residents living in the immediate area, some of them will probably need to be moved into hotels for the duration—at the City’s expense.
In theory, at least, it wasn’t supposed to be like this. Madison Valley merchants point out that they were told early on by SPU that the many months of planned construction on the Madison Valley Stormwater Project would not result in traffic disruption to E. Madison St. (other than for very brief periods). The Madison Park Blogger, in fact, was told the same thing by the City when we did a story on the project in late 2009 (“Impact of Stormwater Project on Madison Street Traffic Expected to be Negligible”). We asked SPU to explain the discrepancy and were told that when they talked to us they had only been referring to the main stormwater pipeline project and not the separate stormwater mitigation efforts related specifically to E. Madison Street. Huh?
Well, it seems that what the City is soon to be working on is a separate-but-related project called E. Madison St. Stormwater Infrastructure Work. According to SPU spokesperson Elaine Yeung, this construction effort, not directly part of the Madison Valley Stormwater Project, is designed to help divert the surface water that accumulates on E. Madison St. And unlike the construction of the pipeline, which is a trenchless (underground boring) operation, the water diversion project for E. Madison St. will involve the digging of cross-the-street trenches. Bottom line: the street will have to be torn up and then repaved after the new drains and pipes have been installed, likely a two-to-three-week process beginning in early April.
So, back to the City’s original plan. That was to narrow E. Madison St. to a single lane during the open-trench phase of construction, with no on-street parking allowed. Traffic would be backed up in both directions (east and west) for significant periods of time, with flaggers controlling the back and forth movement of the single traffic lane. Potential customers would necessarily find it even more difficult to get to Madison Valley shops than is already the case, thus creating an even worse nightmare for area merchants.
Upon learning this news, the Madison Valley Merchants Association (MVMA) immediately launched a campaign to change SPU’s planned program, requesting that the construction occur only between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am, that on-street parking not be prohibited in the construction area, that the “No Parking” signs be taken down during the day or covered up when parking is allowed (since all many potential parkers see are the words “no parking” and then don’t read the details), and that entrances to parking lots not be blocked during construction.
SPU agreed to talk about the situation and scheduled multiple meetings for area merchants and residents to present their views. Sessions were held on March 5, 11 and 12, with most of the 30 or so Madison Valley business owners attending either one or more of the meetings. A few local residents also showed up. The merchants, at least, did not mince words. Many described the potential negative impact of daytime open-trench construction on their individual businesses. Restaurant owners were concerned about construction that would occur in the evenings as well, hoping that any work on the street could be delayed until at least 10 pm. Emotions ran high at one of the sessions, as evidenced when a shop owner told the assembled crowd that at the rate things were going she was in danger of losing her house.
MVMA President Larry Levine says the business owners feel they’ve already suffered more than enough. “The work over the Christmas holidays was longer than the City originally said--and that was hard,” he told us. Additionally, according to Levine, the City did not make it clear to the merchants that there would be weeks of open-trench work this year. “This could be devastating for some of the businesses,” he notes. Just to put the situation into stark perspective, one shop manager told us that on a day when construction crews were working directly in front of his shop his total revenues were $25.
The City this week came out with a new construction schedule that limits construction to the period between 8 pm and 6 am (Monday through Friday), except during the street-repaving period, which is expected to last one week. SPU’s additional concession was to work to make the “No Parking” signage more understandable, so that during periods when parking is allowed on E. Madison it will be clear to potential shoppers.
Whether these concessions will be satisfactory to the business owners (or for that matter, area residents) should be a bit clearer after SPU’s upcoming public meeting to discuss the new construction plan. The session will take place tomorrow, March 26, at Luc (2800 E. Madison St.) from 9:30 to 11:30 am.
Levine tells us that the restaurant owners, in particular, have problems with the idea of construction beginning at 8 pm, since the lights and noise will not only interfere with the dining experience but cause many restaurant goers either to have to park farther away or get up from dinner and move their cars off the street once construction is about to begin.
Although Levine says he believes the City is being more responsive than it had been, “right now it’s a wait and see attitude from me. My concern is how long is this construction going to take and when are they going to start.” This view is echoed by Zach Letendre, Manager of Bill the Butcher, who says “I wish the City had responded earlier to the needs of the businesses.” To which he adds, “But if they can do the construction at night, I will be pleased with the outcome.”
[Information on the Madison Valley Stormwater Project is available here. There are two locations principally involved in the open-trench construction phase: 1) the intersection of 29th Ave. E. and E. Madison St., near Café Flora, and 2) mid-block along E. Madison St. between Lake Washington Blvd. E. and 29th Avenue E., near City People’s.] Photo at top by Duy Tran from cpdpcolumbiapike.blogspot.com.