Updated Wednesday at noon with additional explanation by Council President Diane Buckshnis
City of Edmonds Public Works Director Phil Williams Tuesday night gave Edmonds City Councilmembers some additional ideas to consider as they get closer to making a decision about whether to go forward with the existing proposal to create a wider, paved walkway along the city’s scenic Sunset Avenue.
About a dozen citizens — nearly all of them opposed to the project and some repeat visitors from an earlier public hearing — had their say about the project. Two of those against the walkway cited safety concerns for those who might walk or bicycle directly above the BNSF railroad tracks — two speakers in particular mentioned the particular dangers posed to children.
The original walkway proposal called for a 10-foot-wide promenade on the west side of the street beginning at Bell Street on the south, running north along the bank above the railroad tracks, rounding the dogleg at Caspers Street, and finally meeting the existing sidewalk at Third and Caspers. The project design is being funded by a $159,000 federal grant; construction of the walkway is dependent on additional grant funding.
Following concerns expressed by citizens during previous council meetings about the necessity, cost and safety concerns related to the project, councilmembers asked Williams to examine other possible configurations and report back. He initially showed three additional options for designing the walkway, but said he couldn’t recommend going forward with two of them because they wouldn’t meet city regulations that require 20 feet of pavement left clear for fire trucks during emergencies.
The third design suggested by Williams, which meets fire equipment requirements, would move parking that is now on the west side of Sunset — directly along the water — to the east side of the street. The configuration was aimed at addressing the often-mentioned view by opponents that the new walkway design would severely reduce the number of parking spaces, hampering the opportunity for those who like to drive to Sunset Avenue so they can watch the view from their cars. The parking issue continues to be mentioned, even though Williams has repeatedly said that while the current plan does reduce the number of parking spaces from 55 to 43, it is likely that once the design phase is further along more spaces can be included.
In the final analysis, Williams said, the council has “three viable options” for the walkway project: Do nothing (leave the path as it is), approve the shared-use path as originally proposed, or OK the path with parking on the east side of Sunset.
Councilmember Strom Peterson reminded those in the audience that the Sunset Walkway was originally initiated several years ago at the request of a citizen who approached him and then-Councilmember Steve Bernheim with the idea, and was not “a staff-driven project” as some might believe.
Responding to comments by some speakers that the council was moving too fast on the project, Council President Diane Buckshnis noted that the walkway has been on the council agenda for consideration since November, and that citizens have been very effective at making their opinions known. “We’ve heard a sufficient amount of public comment,” she said, adding that the council will begin deliberating the matter at next week’s (April 1) council meeting.
To further explain next steps, Buckshnis submitted this information to My Edmonds News Wednesday morning:
There seems to be some confusion over my use of the word “decision” last night. Next week, I would like to start deliberating as a Council to determine a course of action. That course of action or decision can be a myriad of ideas such as pulling the Sunset Walkway Project completely from the “Capital Improvements Plan (CIP) to “full-steam ahead” or a number of alternatives or points in-between. Of course another decision may be that we move the deliberation process forward to another meeting so as certain Council Members can have more time.
My point last night was that I am of the opinion that we have heard a great deal of public testimony and have pragmatically worked through this process. The staff has also done a wonderful job working with the consultant to come up with a variety of alternatives, as well as, meeting with the public and Council Members. I am ready to provide input and I believe other Council Members are in agreement with me on this idea. I do not believe that the Council, public or the staff should be criticized for needing more time to fully understand this very complex and intricate project and I appreciate the patience afforded us.