Construction Impacts

Seattle’s wave of growth is often discussed in sweeping terms, and as a result, it is easy to forget that the ongoing construction boom is made up of many individual projects, each of which has, in its construction, real impacts on those who live or work in the very neighborhood that is sustaining the additional growth. Without proper regulation and oversight, the construction of these projects can deeply affect the public’s safety and quality of life.

Eastlake has recently been ground zero for the construction boom, and many who live or work in our mixed-use neighborhood believe that the City is not doing enough to protect them from the negative impacts of construction. If growth cannot be managed in a way that ensures some level of safety and quality of life for a neighborhood’s existing residents and businesses during the construction process, then it would seem reasonable to slow or stop growth until the City can effectively control construction impacts to a reasonable level.

The Mayor, City Council, Seattle Department of Transportation, and Department of Construction and Inspections must better mitigate the impact of construction projects. Described below are some of the negative impacts of construction and ways to reduce these impacts. Suggested revisions for this analysis are most welcome, especially regarding any construction impacts that are not yet mentioned here. Please send your comments to the Eastlake Community Council at info@eastlakeseattle.org.

Noise. Construction noise is regulated under the City’s Noise Ordinance. Although the Department of Construction and Inspections accepts and promises to act on complaints regarding violations of construction noise limits and hours, its noise inspectors are not on duty in the evening or on weekends when some of the worst violations occur. The City needs to have noise inspectors on call at all times, to ensure that construction noise violators do not act with impunity.

Diesel generators are a notable source of noise and air pollution. Even if such noise and pollution are technically legal, the City can do much to reduce them by discouraging the use of diesel generators. The City can require the construction projects include a “service drop” in which temporary electric boxes and outlets are connected to the City Light electric lines. In the large project that expanded the size of combined sewer pipes through Eastlake in the 1990s, the Eastlake Community Council was able to convince Seattle Public Utilities to require its contractors to rely on service drops rather than diesel generators.

Temporary reductions in on-street parking. Most construction sites involve the removal of parking through Temporary No-Parking Zones. These zones often remove numerous spaces from available on-street parking that may persist for months during the technical life of a construction project but for long periods when construction is inactive. While Temporary No-Parking Zones are often necessary during segments of construction schedules, these zones often remove more spaces and for longer periods than actually necessary. In addition, because multiple construction projects may be occurring simultaneously on the same block, available parking in those areas can be dramatically reduced by the cumulation of several projects. That many construction workers and contractors park near construction sites only exacerbates this problem, especially as construction contractors are not required to provide on-site or accessory parking for the workers.

As Eastlake and many other neighborhoods already suffer from a lack of available on-street parking, these impacts can be significant for those who live or work in the neighborhood. SDOT and DCI need to jointly limit the total number of parking spaces removed for construction on any one block at any one time. Also, DCI should carefully scrutinize construction permit applications to ensure that Temporary No-Parking Zones are limited only to the amount of time and space truly needed to complete a project. The fees charged to construction companies for Temporary No-Parking Zones should be substantially increased to provide an incentive for them to reduce the number of on-street parking spaces removed from public access.

Sidewalk closures (pedestrian detours). Construction sites often cause the closure of nearby sidewalks. Unfortunately, these closures are sometimes unnecessary or are not accompanied by safe alternatives, especially for people who are disabled. SDOT, in Director’s Rule SDOT DR 10-2015, identified pedestrian access along construction sites as an issue requiring stronger authority and action by City officials. While this Director’s Rule is a step forward, SDOT and other City agencies have not done enough to inform contractors or the public about the new regulations and about how to report violations, nor have they taken sufficient enforcement action to hold the contractors accountable for abiding by this Director’s Rule.

Bicycle detours. Director’s Rule SDOT DR 10-2015 pertains to pedestrian detours from construction, it does not help the many people on bicycles who are often re-routed because of construction or who may encounter narrowed lanes and limited visibility near construction sites. This omission poses a safety risk for bicyclists and drivers alike. SDOT should expedite the process for developing new policies regarding bicycle detours and safety protections around construction zones.

Conclusion. While Seattle’s ongoing construction boom brings many benefits to the City, it is also important to recognize and respond to the disruptions that it can impose if not properly regulated. Failure to protect the safety and livability of neighborhoods during construction is not fair to those who live or work in the growing neighborhoods and assuredly will not encourage them to welcome growth. It is imperative that legislative and/or administrative steps be taken to eliminate, minimize, or mitigate the disruptions from each construction project, and if not possible, to explain clearly to the public why these protections cannot be made.

UPDATES ON INDIVIDUAL PROJECTS

In March 2020 during the coronavirus emergency, state and local orders closed down most construction, with exceptions given for parts of projects, especially those that involve temporarily vulnerable stages that require permanent shoring. On April 7, 2020, the Eastlake Community Council received a complaint from a neighbor about ongoing construction at the Aegis development at the corner of Eastlake Avenue E. and E. Newton Street. An ECC board member investigated that day and was told by a site manager at the work site that the only construction ongoing was authorized by the Governor’s office to stabilize the support for the rear retaining wall, which otherwise would not be safe if left for a couple of weeks or more.