Why are we not following a typical public process?
We are following the public process that applies to projects of this type. This is not a Parks Capital project – Parks is not funding it or handling the implementation- and therefore public process procedures for this project follow a different arrangement than many of us are used to. Because it does include a changed use of the space, at least one public meeting is required to answer questions about the project and hear public comment. Because this is a pilot project, Parks has some latitude to innovate in a process that will be evaluated in three years. If successful, Parks may choose to maintain the project; if the project is unsuccessful, bike paths will be removed from the forest and it will again be subject to current bike use policy.
Does this project benefit from an exception or loophole in the Bike Policy? If citizens allow this project to go forward, how can we have confidence that other Greenspaces will not be converted to different uses?
The Seattle Parks and Recreation has a policy that allows the Superintendent to use his or her discretion for testing pilot projects on Parks land before making formal policy changes, and specific questions about this process can be directed to Seattle Parks. However, the current neglected state of this land and the historic good standing of FCGMV, the community group presenting the project, are factors in its favor. We have already proven our dedication to restoring, preserving, and maintaining the Cheasty Greenspace through our 8 years of work in the Southern 10 acres of the forest. Our proven track record with the city makes us an excellent partner for testing out this new pilot project. The Parks Department has established a time line of three years for this pilot project, with quarterly reviews of its impact on the green space. At the end of this time, Parks will assess the success of this project and inform its ultimate decision on whether to pursue a change to the Bike Policy and/or continue to allow the bike park to coexist with Cheasty Greenspace.
What will happen if, after the three year pilot phase, we are unhappy with the park and want to undo it?
This possibility is an important component of the pilot process. Parks will evaluate this project quarterly for changes and do a full assessment at the end of three years to decide if it fulfilled our expectations and works for Seattle. If all goes well, we expect to continue with the park as outlined. If the project is deemed a failure, we will plant over the bike paths and the space will again be subject to regular bike use policy as at other parks in the city. In this case, we at FCGMV would expect forest restoration efforts and pedestrian trail building to continue, though this will be re-evaluated at that time by Parks staff and may undergo a new public review process. Because bike paths primarily utilize features of the natural landscape, instead of durable materials like the crushed granite used in walking paths, they would be removed the same way we address unauthorized “social trails” in public spaces- concentrating efforts using plantings and landscape materials to discourage unauthorized use.
Why has the planning for this project been so secretive?
The planning for this project has been transparent. If you have only recently heard about the project, we are glad to have your input. We have been engaging with the community about this project for over two years – since its conception. We have presented, met with, and tabled with various community organizations and individuals, including the 2013 Levy Opportunity Fund public process, City of Seattle official press releases, the Columbia City Farmers’ Market, the North Beacon Hill Council, the Beacon Hill Festival, the Friends of Cheasty Boulevard, Refugee Women’s Alliance, the Boys and Girls Club, Seattle Housing Authority, local Homeowners Associations, local listserves, facebook, and other social media, and many other groups in the area. We went through a public process with the Seattle Parks & Recreation Department while seeking funding during the most recent Levy Opportunity Fund proposal period and we gathered public input for months as part of that process. The Seattle Parks Board of Commissioners also had three public hearings related to this project (Dates: October 10, 2013; November 7, 2013; January 9, 2014), allowed for an extended period of public comment (both written and verbal), and another meeting was held by Seattle Parks at Jefferson Community Center on Beacon Hill March 25th for public comment subsequent to pilot designation. We expect at least two additional public meetings in fall of 2014 after engineers and designers have had a chance to fine-tune potential trail options. As a volunteer group, we have limited capacity to reach out directly to every resident of Seattle. If you have energy and expertise to help us with additional outreach and transparency, please contact us and volunteer. We welcome your help!
What if we did nothing? Wouldn’t it be better to leave the Greenspace to nature?
Doing nothing is not an option. We missed that opportunity when early residents of the city logged this hillside and allowed invasive plants like English Ivy and Himalayan Blackberry to infiltrate the forest. While a few first generation Big Leaf Maples were able to take root and grow, the existing canopy is now at the end of its life span and the ivy explosion has stifled the growth of juvenile natives. Doing nothing condemns this forest to the worst kind of urban blight and is a continuation of neglect and irresponsibility. Many groups, including the Friends of Cheasty Boulevard and EarthCorp, have been involved in ongoing restoration efforts for decades. Unfortunately, these efforts so far are simply no match for the invasive species dominating the landscape, which is why, two years ago, we began to think more creatively about how to energize the community around this important work.
Why can’t we just restore the forest and put in walking paths without including bike paths?
The City of Seattle and Green Seattle Partnership have been attempting to restore this forest for over 10 years, and its neighbors for decades more. Some progress has been made, especially around the South and West perimeter of the forest. However, by including bicycles in this proposal, we have an opportunity to engage a huge, active, and energetic pool of volunteers and funding to restore this forest for the neighborhood within a time scale of years instead of an indefinite number of decades. In fact, already we have over 30,000 pledged volunteer hours to restore and create trails in this forest, largely related to the energy of the mountain-biking community. By increasing the diversity of user groups restoring this space we’ve found a way to benefit both the forest and the neighborhood.
How can we be sure there will be follow-through to actually complete the restoration of this forest once the bike trails are built?
Our group has a proven track record of diligent forest restoration. In fact, restoration of this forest is our primary purpose for existence. We cannot be sure how long the total process will take, but we will continue to work on it until it is done. Additionally, we will be signing a Memorandum of Understanding with Seattle Parks that guarantees restoration will occur. If you would like to help ensure that we complete restoration, please volunteer your time, money, or voice to the project.
What about the wildlife? Will trails through the Greenspace reduce wildlife habitat?
It is almost impossible to predict the exact impact of this project on all wildlife within the Greenspace. In reality, the work is likely to have both positive and negative affects. By removing invasive species and planting natives, we will be reducing habitat for rats and other pests while simultaneously increasing habitat and biodiversity within the space for native species. Trails will surely have an impact on animal behavior during the day. However, many animals are most active between dusk and dawn, while human use of this space will be heavily concentrated during daylight hours. While walking trails will meet the Parks department standard of being 4 feet wide with a base of crushed gravel, bike trails will be both narrower (2-3 feet) and directly on dirt, thereby posing less wildlife fragmentation than pedestrian trails. The existence of trails does not necessarily drive out wildlife as can be seen in the city’s other narrow parks and wildlife corridors like Ravenna Park. And, though there is a diversity of opinion about the effect of human traffic on the animals living in the forest, we do know that these animals have already established some comfort in our urban zone and that diversity of animal species has increased in the section of the forest already restored and fragmented with walking paths.
Why are we allowing an exclusive high impact sport to take over this public Greenspace?
Our goal is to design trails to minimize the impact of mountain bikes on the park. The mountain bike trails are only one component of the project and are not occupying it exclusively. Forest restoration and walking paths are also integral parts of this project; for many of us, they are the most important part.
By naming this project BeaconBikePark are we taking this Greenspace out of the public domain?
Beacon Bike Park is the name for one component of this project. Cheasty Greenspace will remain a Seattle Greenspace. Bike parks, walking paths, and habitat restoration will all be happening at Cheasty Greenspace throughout this project. You are invited to help with all aspects of the project to ensure that everyone feels welcome and safe in this space.
What about land slides?
Slides along the edge of Beacon Hill are an important concern for construction projects, especially those along Cheasty Boulevard, and a potential problem with or without this project. The specific area involved in this project has been slide- free for many of years, and geotechnical engineers focused on slope stability tell us that these surface trails should have no measurable impact on slide risk.
However, slides are a safety issue that we do not take lightly. Part of the budget for this project is earmarked to pay professional crews for work on slopes that are steeper than 40 degrees and erosion control is part of our training as Seattle Forest Stewards, and built into the design and layout of the trails. Furthermore, we are currently working with a geotechnical engineering company to survey the space to assess landslide risk so trail work can be guided to areas with the most stable soils. In addition, the current monoculture of English ivy is a significant contributor to the risk of catastrophic landslides, whereas conifer trees reduce impact of rainfall, increase sequestration of water on the slope, and stabilize the soil. While trails are neutral, the restoration component of this project will significantly reduce the risk of landslides into the long term.
What about safety? It doesn’t sound safe to have people hiking and biking on the same trails.
We agree. Our plan calls for building both walking paths AND mountain-bike trails separately from each other. Our design plan works to minimize interaction between the two trail systems, and in the few places where the trails cross, we will implement features to increase caution and improve safety.
Are you going to cut down trees to make the trails?
No. Both walking and biking trails will be built around existing landscape features. We will be removing invasive species as part of the restoration effort, including some non-native trees like laurel and holly, but this is separate from trail building.
How is this going to impact parking in the neighborhood?
We are all familiar with parking issues that arise when living in Seattle. We do not claim to have a magic solution. In theory the existing parking for Jefferson Park and Community Center is adequate to cover new visitors to Cheasty Greenspace. In reality, those of us living in the neighborhood know that the VA Healthcare Center already spills over into the area’s public parking. We expect people that come to ride their mountain bike will often ride to the park, rather than drive. Furthermore, we are close to numerous bus stops and between three light rail stations: Beacon Hill, Columbia City, and Mount Baker. Over the next three years we will continuously re-evaluate the parking needs of the neighborhood and address them. We do anticipate that when the bike trails initially open there will be a few months of excitement that leads to a temporary peak in parking utilization. However, as the novelty wears off, we expect usage rates to reach a steady, maintainable level. Finally, in 2016 Sound Transit will open its next phase of Link lightrail, which will enable visitors from throughout the city to access the forest without their cars.
Why are we allowing outsiders who do not live in the neighborhood to dictate to us what should happen to our park?
We are your neighbors. We live on and around Cheasty Greenspace. We have asked for help raising funds and volunteer hours from the city at large, but people who live here control this project. We invite you to take part in the process. Please come out to a restoration work party and meet your neighbors and the volunteers who are helping us restore this local forest.
Wait a minute; doesn’t this space belong to all of us?
Yes! Home owners adjacent to the park have enjoyed exclusive use of this property for decades as a privacy barrier for their homes, and are justifiably concerned about an increase in public access. Others throughout the city want to preserve this Greenspace for exclusive use as a wildlife refuge. As neighbors of this space, we are focused on exploring the full potential of this forest for citizens of South Seattle and the whole city. Our project integrates the above concerns with the need to restore the native flora and fauna to this local forest; address the nature deficit of our growing urban families; provide an antidote to poor health outcomes in the Rainier Valley and the need for more healthful recreation within reach of this dense urban community; increase opportunities for connectivity between the neighborhoods surrounding the park; support a customer base for the growing business districts nearby; hinder opportunities for illegal and unsafe activity in the space that threaten our families; and much more.
Like most compromises, this one leaves some dissatisfied. There is, however, much happiness to go around. The native plant cover in the forest will be restored, which will improve conditions for wildlife; walking and bike paths in the forest will increase access to nature for local residents; additional traffic through the forest means increased surveillance that will reduce illicit and unsafe behaviors; and making the forest a safe and inviting place will allow our children to develop the love and intimacy with nature that will make them robust stewards of our forests in the future. South Seattle is posed to gain a world of benefits from this project.