First Ave speed limit lowered; new City Manager tentatively selected Tuesday

by Jack Mayne

The speed limit on the entire length of First Avenue South through Normandy Park will soon lower to 35 miles per hour, the Normandy Park City Council decided Tuesday night (April 14).

It also reached a tentative agreement with a new permanent city manager.

Normandy Park Mayor Susan West started the meeting with “the exciting news” that the Council has reached a tentative agreement with Mark Hoppen to become “within a few days” the city’s new permanent city manager. West said a proposed contract will be presented to Hoppen soon and the goal is for him to start work on May 1.

“We think he is just going to be a wonderful addition and it was a unanimous decision by the Council,” West said. “We are very excited about what he can do for Normandy Park.”

Speed Change Unanimous
The unanimous voice vote changes the speed limit on First Avenue (SR 509) from 45 MPH to 35 MPH in from South 174th Street to South 211th Street as the area is beginning to experience more business and residential development.

Interim Community Development Director David Nemens said the Council had asked the staff to look at the reduction way back in 2010 and the city staff has worked with the state highways department to gain its approval subject to the Council’s adoption of an ordinance.

The road at both ends of the proposed speed reduction area is already at 35 MPH, Nemens said, and that reducing the limit will add about a minute to commute time in either direction on the major north-south roadway and it would help reduce the severity of injuries from accidents.

Nemens said the change was also because the roadway is becoming potentially more of an urban arterial as commercial and residential developments are now proposed.

Councilmember Jenkins said the lower speed limit will heighten the walkability of the area, adding that anyone using buses must cross the busy street and “it is so incredibly dangerous.”

Mayor Susan West said she fears there will be some major accidents with people now crossing the busy roadway to bus stops where there are no designated crosswalks, adding she has even seen people with baby strollers crossing the roadway with cars moving at 45 MPH, and often even faster.

Safer and Walkable
“It was great to drive 45 along First Avenue, the whole stretch, for a long time. But times are changing,” said West, who was born and raised in Normandy Park. “We are trying to make it a more walkable community, we are trying to add more development which means more people.

“I just see this as a serious safety issue. Thank goodness nothing has happened. I would just hate to have this conversation after something happened.”

Police Chief Chris Gaddis said there hasn’t been a fatality recently, but there was one serious pedestrian accident at 177th and First Avenue, a pedestrian in a wheelchair trying to cross resulting in “a pretty serious injury.”

West said the Council needs to explain why the change was made to lower the speed rate. She said she got one message saying they were thankful they were lowering the rate, but several in favor of keeping the higher speed limit.

Councilmember Mike Bishoff said he has received no e-mails asking to lower the speed limit but has gotten comments to keep the higher speed limit. “How to we address the people who … say ‘what’s wrong with the speed limit now?’”

Councilmember Shawn McEvoy said a traffic study had suggested that if the speed limit was not reduced earlier on the stretch into Burien, “somebody is going to get hurt” and if someone got hurt if the limit was not reduced, “they’d sue us big time and they’d probably win,” putting the Council in the position of not having much choice but to lower the limit.

He added that the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has approved the lowering of the speed from 174th to 211th because it would lower the chances of serious accidents.

Resident Charlie Harris said before a decision is made to lower the speed the city “should ask your business people whether they think lowering the speed limit from 45 to 35 is going to help their business or whether it might be detrimental because a lot of people won’t use First Avenue South” because they don’t want to deal with the lower speed limit.

Get Citizen’s Views
“You have to be careful that you have the citizens of Normandy Park behind you,” Harris said. “I think if you put it to a vote, you would have a very low percentage of people who thought it should be lowered from 45 to 35.”

He added the state WSDOT study does not support lowering the speed limit.

Resident Ron Evers said he drives the highway every day and likes the speed, but recommended lowering the limit because pedestrian traffic and people trying to make U-turns. Ten miles difference is “not that big of a deal” and that the 35 MPH rate should be consistent all the way along the road in Normandy Park.

Resident Mary Anderson said she favored lowering the 45 speed limit to 35 the entire way through Normandy Park and then “maybe people will keep it at 40 or 45.” She noted there was no fiscal impact to the change, and “when can we pass something without that?”

Councilmember Tom Munslow said the change would only add 50 seconds to the trip, not a minute as the presentation said, and he doubted people would take a different route over that small change in time.

Councilmember Kathleen Waters said the change “is clearly a very hot topic” and that she “occasionally” drives over the speed limit. She was against lowering the limit, and she mentioned an informal blog poll that ran “seriously” to not lowering the it. But she figured the Council would change the rate and noted that the speed limit on most Normandy Park streets was 25 so maybe 35 won’t be so bad.

Habits Hard to Break
Jenkins said she enjoys the slow speeds of the Park, so starting the slowing down earlier is fine with her. She did suggest a six-month moratorium on speeding tickets and giving warnings to get people used to the change.

“Habits are hard to change,” she said.

Interim City Manager Bob Jean said he does not tell police when to cite a violator, but “they do use judgment” in individual circumstances. He also suggested that the change would dramatically alter the chance someone loses a life in an accident.

Chief Gaddis said his department has no quotas for tickets and in the last speed limit change they figured it was time to start giving tickets then the same people were stopped over and over. Officers talked it over amongst themselves and “realized that some people are not paying attention” and citations were issued.

Special Election
Gaddis briefed the Council on King County Proposition 1 that is on a special April 28 election ballot – most residents have already received the ballot in the mail.

The measure is a countywide levy lift to upgrade the regional emergency radio network to better allow police and fire responders to communicate with each other using up-to-date equipment.

But the chief says his concern is that residents will be paying for equipment that Normandy Park does not use since the city is not on the King County radio system, “and unless we are assisting outside agencies for an emergency backup” the city uses its current radios.

He said the proposal would not give the city money, but would give the city radio equipment, and Gaddis said he has asked that Normandy Park receive equipment that would only be used occasionally.

He said he was not arguing for or against the levy but just letting the city know that if it passes, residents of the city may or may not get equipment that its voters are paying for.

Joining the King County radio system would increase the city’s dispatch costs annually from $30,000 to $40,000 a year.

“It is something I am not interested in. The Port of Seattle Police Department provides a fantastic service … (it’s) cheaper and they provide a better level of service,” Gaddis said.

The approval of Proposition 1 would provide a benefit to Normandy Park because the city’s fire department will be getting the equipment upgrade, he said.

Gaddis also swore in new police officer Miko Tempski, who will be attending the police training program this summer and is expected to be in his own patrol car by next March.

“It takes that long to become a police officer,” Gaddis said.

New City Manager
Mark Hoppen’s longest position was as city administrator of Gig Harbor, a position he held from 1992 to 2006. In the interim to his selection as Normandy Park city manager, the website Linkedin says Mark Hoppen has been the city administrator of Black Diamond and interim deputy director of the Snohomish Health District, and that he left in March as the executive director of the King County Flood Control District, a position he held for 11 months. Linkedin says his mission is to “help build program, infrastructure, business, cultural and recreational assets that foster high quality, socially just, sustainable, safe, healthy communities.”

Hoppen holds a doctorate in local government from Seattle University and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Washington.


7 Responses to “First Ave speed limit lowered; new City Manager tentatively selected Tuesday”
  1. Slavka Bishoff says:

    Yikes! Who wrote this article? There are mistakes on top of mistakes, sentences not making sense. Proof reading?
    “He said the proposal would not give the city money, but would give city’s radio equipment and Gaddis said he has asked that Normandy Park receive equipment would only be used occasionally.”

    • scottso says:

      Sorry about the typos everyone – I was unable to do my normal level of proof reading on this one. Hopefully they’re all fixed!


  2. Pappy says:

    Proof Reading:
    “Jenkins said HE enjoys the slow speeds of the Park”

    Or perhaps if you are going to swear in public like a longshoreman, you’ll get mistaken for one too…

  3. Kathleen Waters says:

    Thanks for reporting on the last city council meeting Jack, and for the edits, Scott. As for Pappy, i think you misdirected your comment on the printed error of gender ID for Ms. Jenkins. She was not the cause of gender mis-identification. Maybe you’re opposed to the upcoming 35 mph speed limit in the Park, BTW you’re not the only one!

    • jack mayne says:

      I normally avoid commenting on all Websites, but I thank Scott and the others for commenting on the typos. I miss the professional proofreaders I have had in my earlier stints as editor and reporter. Anyone want to volunteer to be my proofreader? As you see, I really need one again. And no, I am not joking, I am serious.
      Your point well taken, Slavka Bishoff.

      • Kathleen Waters says:

        Jack, I love to edit but don’t have the time right now. But for those thinking of helping Jack with some editing. One neat trick that really helps identify problems with the written word: Read the copy out loud. You will quickly find the culprits!

  4. Cindy Sartore says:

    I support lowering the speed limit of 1st Ave S in Normandy Park from 45 mph to 35 mph. Burien and Des Moines speed limit is 35 mph on the same roadway. Consistency of speed is paramount for safety of pedestrians and motorists. Yesterday, 4/18/15, a traffic accident spread debris for two blocks on 1st Ave including sidewalks. A light pole, tree and road signs were completely destroyed. This accident occurred very close to Metro bus stops.

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