Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Seattle Council Elections, District 5: Far-North Seattle Is Where The Sidewalk Ends

Gabriel Spitzer
Richard Dyksterhuis treads carefully along a stretch of North Aurora without a sidewalk.

To get a sense of why many in far-flung Seattle neighborhoods were eager to move to district-based representation on City Council, head to 125th and North Aurora and start walking south.

There are auto shops, shabby motels and several marijuana stores. But it's not the type of retail that illustrates the case for district-specific council representation; it's what the walk to the store lacks. The sidewalk often peters out and disappears, leaving pedestrians nose-to-nose with traffic.

“In 1954 it was like this, and in 2015, it’s just dirt. Just a dirt path,” says retired teacher Richard Dyksterhuis.

That year, 1954, was when Seattle annexed the chunk of King County north of 85th Street. (It was also, incidentally, the year before Dyksterhuis moved here). Part of the legacy of far-north Seattle joining up relatively recently is that it has by far the city’s densest collection of streets without sidewalks.

Dyksterhuis, for one, carries a bright red flag on a stick when he goes walking, just to make himself a little more obvious to the cars and buses he shares the shoulder with.

This Is ‘Elsewhere’

This part of town can feel remote from Seattle’s downtown power centers. It’s no accident that the main sponsor of the initiative creating district elections, Faye Garneau, lives here in District 5. There is a definite sense here that far-north neighborhoods’ interests are not being looked after.

Credit SDOT
The is a Seattle Department of Transportation Map of streets without sidewalks. Note North Seattle's District 5.

“I sometimes call this part of Seattle ‘elsewhere,’” says Dyksterhuis. “’Elsewhere’ is where the marijuana shops are. ’Elsewhere’ is where the drive-throughs are. ’Elsewhere’ is where the whores, prostitutes are. This is ’Elsewhere.’”

Dyksterhuis says the Aurora corridor has loads of promise as a venue for dense housing and parks, as a beautified entryway into downtown Seattle -- and as a corridor that’s good for both walking and driving.

But he says past efforts to shine it up have fallen victim to City Hall’s focus on downtown.

“We had money in 2009 to start this, but Mayor Nickels took it and gave it to Mercer development,” he says.

‘It’s About Dignity’

A few miles east along 125th, near the Lake City library, people share that feeling of being overlooked, as well as frustration over the lack of safe walking routes.

“People can get hit easily that way, just trying to jump into the street for a second,” says Ricky Livingston, a lanky guy who describes himself as a rapper. “Actually my cousin got hit by a car that way.”

Luckily, he was OK.

“He flipped over the hood, but, you know, he drinks milk so he’s good,” Livingston says.

According to the Seattle Department of Transportation, 14 pedestrians were hit by cars in 2012 on Lake City Way alone. Plenty of others had close calls.

“It’s about dignity,” says Janine Blaeloch, co-leader of the group, Lake City Greenways. “It’s like, why should people who are using their feet to get from place to place have to go through such harrowing experiences, feeling they’re in danger and also feeling like they’re being disrespected?”

‘This Is A Special Street’

Credit Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU
Janine Blaeloch of Lake City Greenways says streets engineered to calm traffic can make neighborhoods without sidewalks more walkable.

The trouble is, sidewalks are expensive. It depends on the particulars of a given location, but SDOT reports that a single block of sidewalk, on just one side of the street, can cost between $200,000 and $350,000. Much of that cost pays for design, as well as drainage improvements.

Credit Google Maps

But Janine Blaeloch says there are other ways to address the walkability problem. She walks up a gravel shoulder to 27th Avenue, a designated greenway. These stretches of residential road are supposed to welcome pedestrians, and send a message to drivers.

“It says, this is a special street. You will expect to see bicycles here. You will expect to see people on foot, because the whole point is a calmer street where people are not going to be hit by a car going 40 miles an hour,” she says.

The designers of the greenway get that across by posting lots of signs, adding frequent speed humps and putting up stop signs for all the traffic entering the greenway. It’s still not the same as having a protected sidewalk, but it has one major advantage.

“It’s a hell of a lot cheaper,” Blaeloch says. “This greenway cost, like, $100,000. And to put a mile of sidewalk in would have been millions of dollars.”

Blaeloch wants her new district representative will make walkability a priority. And she hopes that someone familiar with the problem will move past the sticker shock to embrace local solutions like this one.

“I think it’s going to be huge for us, because we will have a council member that lives in our district. We’ve had a lot of attention from people who are running. I think knowledge of what’s going on here has never been as high,” she says.

‘A Corridor Of Promise’

Back at 125th and North Aurora, Richard Dyksterhuis says he’s not totally convinced a district representative will be able to undo decades of neglect. He’s not that happy about the district map, for one: District 5 spans the area from Puget Sound to Lake Washington. He would have preferred the far-north be divided in half and linked instead to the more affluent neighborhoods to the south, like Ballard and Laurelhurst.

But at age 88, he’s still hopeful he’ll see a more vibrant North Aurora, with apartments, green space and, of course, sidewalks.

“If you’re really proud of your city, you should be able to walk it north to south, east to west, safely and with pride. You can’t say we take pride in Aurora Avenue right now. I don’t take pride in Aurora Avenue. I want to,” Dyksterhuis says.

Then he adds, with a twinkle, “It’s a beautiful location. A corridor of promise!”

And with that, Richard clutches his bright red flag and strides back up the cluttered margin of a road he wants to be proud of. 

Additional District 5 facts:

-- According to Seattle's transportation agency, District 5 has the highest concentration of streets without sidewalks when compared to other districts.

-- One of Seattle's most conservative districts, politically. 

-- More than half of District 5 earns between $25,000 and $100,000 annually.

-- Of the seven districts, it's the third-smallest at 90,114 population.

Sources: U.S. Census American Community Survey 2013 and City of Seattle.


Registered candidates for the 2015 District 5 primary:

Sandy Brown,

Debadutta Dash,

Mercedes Elizalde,

Debora Juarez,

Kris Lethin,

Hugh Russell, na@na.none

David Toledo,

Halei Watkins,

Other links: Meet the Districts;

The Seattle Times: district map and information.

About this series:

KPLU is exploring an issue central to each of the seven new districts in the upcoming city council primary election. Last Monday, we explored South Park in District 1 and residents' concerns about crime. On the following Tuesday, we were in District 2 at the Othello light rail station, where residents wait for as-of-yet undelivered new commerce. Then on Wednesday, we went into District 3 and  the Central District where locals fears gentrification is changing the neighborhood for the worse. The next day, Thursday, we went to District 4 where we talked with group of neighbors who were able to limit a developer’s proposalto build five townhomes on a lot currently containing a classic single-family home. On Friday, we discovered why walking is a little riskier in in far-north District 5 than in other parts of town. Yesterday, we heard from District 6 where Ballard residents are concerned about the breakneck pace of development.We wrapped up primary election district coverage with District 7, where an apartment building on Queen Anne's Roy Streethas traditionally has been home to service-industry employees. But now residents there are wondering how much longer can they afford to live in the neighborhood.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.