TOPS-Seward School traffic and parking management

Cooperation with the community needed to address traffic, bus, and parking issues around TOPS Seward School

Traffic, bus, and parking conditions are difficult and worsening throughout the Eastlake neighborhood. The area around TOPS-Seward public school is no exception. The school was expanded and remodeled in 1997 on a very constrained site with less on-site parking and less space for school bus loading and parent drop-off and pickup of children than in most other Seattle schools.

Remodeling and expansion of TOPS-Seward School would not have been possible if, in approving the Master Use Permit, the City of Seattle had not granted many departures from normal requirements, allowing less parking and loading space than would otherwise have been required. In exchange for granting these departures, Seattle imposed conditions to reduce the enlarged school’s traffic and parking impacts on the surrounding neighborhood.

Now, over 20 years since the TOPS expansion and remodel, TOPS and the School District have not completed some key requirements that were conditions for the City’s approval of the TOPS Seward School Master Use Permit. In particular, the school has not developed and obtained City approval for its City-required transportation management program (TMP). The school’s required process for preparing and administering a Transportation Management Program is governed by specific language in the 1997 Master Use Permit as well as by a 2015 a director’s rule (click here) that is jointly administered by Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections and its Department of Transportation.

The following analysis is based on a 2004 article in the Eastlake News (click here; and on a February 2016 Eastlake Community Council letter ( click here) to the TOPS principal, two City departments, and then-City Councilmember Rob Johnson.

In response to the request of ECC, City officials, and the School District, the TOPS principal agreed to convene a City-required advisory council to develop a City-required transportation management plan and program for the school. The first meeting of the advisory committee was scheduled for Feb. 7, 2018 in the conference room by the TOPS school office. Unfortunately the meeting had to be canceled that day when a sudden school bus drivers’ strike caused the last-minute closure of the school. A new first meeting of the advisory council has not yet been scheduled. Volunteers who wish to be involved in the process should contact the Eastlake Community Council at info@eastlakeseattle.org.

Transportation Management Plan and Program (TMP). Among the many City conditions without which 1997 Master Use Permit #9700309 would not have been approved by City officials is for a transportation management plan and program, making TOPS-Seward School the first (and apparently still the only) public school required to have one. Here is what is required: Page 19: “Instead of imposing a cap on the number of children at the school, the Director favors relying on the development and implementation of a Transportation Management Plan and Program to mitigate the potential negative impacts of overflow parking. The TMP shall contain provisions that address all methods needed to reduce or eliminate the number of teachers, staff and parents coming to the school in single occupant vehicles in order to minimize and reduce the negative impacts of overflow….” Page 19: “…the District shall be required by the Director to prepare a Transportation Management Program containing measures to reduce use of single occupant vehicles by drivers to the school to ensure that the demand for more parking stalls by teachers, staff and parents is reduced [bolding in original], thereby helping reduce overflow daytime parking which will allow more on-street parking for neighborhood residents and businesses….”

The Master Use Permit also states (p. 43) that “The School District, TOPS-Seward School, and the School Advisory Council shall mutually develop a transportation management plan (TMP) that will be implemented by the School and monitored by the School Advisory Council.” It also directs (p. 18) that the School Advisory Committee will have the following membership : “up to five members including the principal…or designated representative, up to three people from within 800 feet of the school as appointed by the Eastlake Community Council, and a non-voting Parks Department representative.” Page 31 states: “Because of the tight parking situation and the limited on-site parking, there is a need to develop a transportation management plan that will be implemented by the school and monitored by the School Advisory Council. … The School Advisory Committee will monitor the effectiveness of the Plan, and work with the school principal and the Department of Parks and Recreation to mutually achieve solutions to problems that may arise.”

The Master Use Permit (p. 43) further provides: “The TMP should develop procedures that offer incentives for staff and parents to reduce the number of single-occupant vehicles coming to the school during school hours as well as measures to mitigate impacts from evening and weekend special events. Specific targets shall be developed for each of the first 5 years of the school’s operation after re-opening by setting a goal of an increasingly greater number of teachers, parents, and volunteers coming to the school via means other than by single occupant vehicles (SOV). On-site spaces for evening spaces should be provided on an incentive or reward basis, such as only cars with two families may park in the on-site lot. The plan should also specifically address the parent drop-off/pick-up operation, developing information handouts for parents specifying the accepted locations for this function.”

The City’s Hearing Examiner added a requirement that the Dept. of Construction and Land Use [now the Department of Construction and Inspections] “shall assist the participants in the development of the TMP by providing information about TMP strategies and helping to set up meetings. Before the TMP can be implemented, DPD must approve it and ensure that it has the potential to be both fair and effective. Once approved, the TMP becomes a condition of approval and can be enforced through the same means as other transportation management plans.”

As of 2019 (22 years after TOPS’ expansion and renovation) the Master Use Permit’s requirements that are described above have not been met. The TOPS Seward School Transportation Management Plan and Program has not been developed, nor has the City-required School Advisory Council been formed that is to provide community involvement in developing and monitoring the TMP.

School bus loading. The 1997 Master Use Permit requires the following conditions regarding school bus loading. Page 15: “Maintain the bus loading as it is today with buses loading and dropping off children on E. Louisa Street, conduct bus loading/loading for disabled on Boylston….” Page 16: “Staging children for afternoon pickup up by buses should be done in the new lunchroom area. Children to be picked [up] by parents must go to the gym area and wait in the courtyard area for pickup or walk to the approved pickup areas on Roanoke and Louisa.”

For a brief period in 2005 and without community involvement this provision for bus loading was dramatically departed from (by prohibiting parking on two blocks of Roanoke Street and Franklin Avenue E.) and then it was largely restored after community intervention. Although most of the school bus loading continues to occur on E. Louisa St., there are proposals to move some of it to Boylston Avenue East in order create space on E. Louisa St. for parent drop-off and pick-up areas. Any such decision should not to diverge from the conditions in the Master Use Permit nor should it be be considered except within the transportation management plan and program process that has not yet begun.

Parent pick-up and drop-off of children. The 1997 Master Use Permit requires the following conditions regarding parent drop-off and pick-up of children. Page 14: “Parent drop-off and pickup of children should be primarily from within the new parking area accessed off of E. Roanoke Street. Page 16: “Additional parent pickup and drop-off should be limited to: [a] on Roanoke west of the east ROW line of Franklin Avenue E.; [b]on Boylston Avenue; and [c] E. Louisa Street only where a pullout could be provided at end of Franklin Ave. E. All of these locations for parent drop off and pickup need to have refinements made to enhance the safety of the children. These measures should include at least the following items: signage should be placed along the first block east of Boylston on E. Roanoke Street to prohibit parent drop-off and pick-up on the first block off of Boylston; school policy and procedures must include written instructions to parents with a map of the acceptable loading locations; an enhanced pickup and drop-off area should also be developed at the south end of Franklin in the Louisa ROW.”

On-street parking for the general public. According to the Master Use Permit, general public parking is to be provided on the south side of E. Roanoke St. and on the north side of E. Louisa St., except during the a.m./p.m. loading/unloading periods when these block faces are used by parent vehicles and buses for queuing. The duration and time of such public parking periods is to be determined jointly by the School District and SDOT.

Conclusion. The traffic, bus, and parking conditions around TOPS-Seward School profoundly affect the school, the Eastlake community, and Seattle at large. There is a need for partnership between the Eastlake Community Council, TOPS-Seward School, the School District, the Department of Construction and Inspections, and the Seattle Department of Transportation to ensure full observance of the requirements in the school’s Master Use Permit. The City-issued Master Use Permit requires the school to develop with the community through an advisory council (whose membership is specified in the master Use Permit) and a transportation management plan and program that must be approved by the Department of Construction and Inspections. Trying to address traffic, but, and parking issues piecemeal and outside this regulatory framework will remove most of the available leverage for a strong plan and program, and may make the current problems worse.