The Seattle Department of Transportation has spent the early months of 2017 reaching out to Madison Street property owners and merchants about ongoing work on the Madison Bus Rapid Transit line — which will be designated King County Metro RapidRide line G once complete — a project anticipated to reveal its latest design updates in March.
But not everyone is happy with how the project is shaping up.
Residents of the Madison Parkview Condominium building have collected more than 120 signatures on a petition urging the Transportation Department to relocate a bus stop, and study the environmental and health effects of a power substation, proposed to be built outside their building at the intersection of East Madison Street, East John Street and 24th Avenue East.
Ingrid Silverman, a retired health care worker from New York, first learned about the proposed stop at the Transportation Department’s unveiling of the 30-percent BRT design in August, she said.
Her condominium unit faces a triangle of landscaped grass immediately west of the Madison Parkview Condominium Building. The triangle sits at the corner of Madison and John streets and is owned by King County, which will operate the rapid transit line through King County Metro.
Silverman said she was particularly concerned by the stop’s inclusion of a traction power substation, a facility that converts electric power to the appropriate voltage, current and frequency needed for use by electric buses. She had heard of possible cancer-causing health risks from exposure to electromagnetic fields and was concerned those would apply to the substation.
“These buses are going to be running every six minutes,” she said. “That’s a lot of fields.”
She added that there haven’t been definitive studies concerning the health risks of such fields, but pointed to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, which in 2011 classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” based on the increased risk of the brain cancer glioma associated with wireless phone use.
Silverman brought her concerns to her building’s homeowner association and, over the subsequent months, the association adopted a number of concerns over the project. An internal association flier supplied by Silverman and compiled in preparation for a meeting with Transportation Department representatives held in January noted concerns over electromagnetic fields, the unknown effect of the bus stop on property values, the space and aesthetic value of the substation’s design.
The petition developed by Silverman and neighbors additionally noted their concern that the stop would slow traffic on the Madison corridor, given that it’s located at the corner of a six-way intersection.
One of those neighbors, Kathleen Allen, said she had been pleased with the Transportation Department’s willingness to discuss beautifying the substation building in a way that would match the surrounding neighborhood. Allen also thought the rapid transit line would provide an overall benefit, she said.
“One of the good things about the line is that this is really going to serve the office workers who commute from Madison Valley to their jobs downtown,” she said.
But she added that she shared Silverman’s concerns over unknown health effects from the substation, as well as concerns over the possible negative impact to traffic.
Allen, Silverman and others collected signatures for their petition from residences and other buildings near the proposed stop through Feb. 6.
The petition specifically requested that the city conduct an environmental impact study of the proposed substation location, as well as an electromagnetic field survey with a gaussmeter to be conducted both before and after construction of the substation. It requested the substation be designed and landscaped to match the neighborhood, and that the RapidRide bus stop be relocated to an existing bus stop.
Silverman said she was skeptical that all her concerns would be met.
However, another Madison Street occupant won a recent victory in having a proposed rapid transit stop relocated.
Erin Nestor, the proprietor of the Two Doors Down burger restaurant on the northwest corner of the same intersection, was worried that a westbound stop proposed for the corner would completely block her business from view.
But at a private Feb. 17 meeting, city officials agreed to relocate the stop away from the restaurant.
“They were very responsive to my concerns,” Nestor said. “It was two weeks from when I found out about the stop to their agreeing to relocate. I’m glad it worked out and that I could maintain our retail frontage.”
The Department of Transportation will hold in-person and online open houses in March to discuss the latest design updates to the rapid transit route. In-person open houses will be held 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 9 at Town Hall, 1119 Eighth Avenue, and 5:30-7:30 p.m. March 15 at First African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1522 14th Avenue. An online open house will be held from March 8 to March 22 at MadisonStreetBRT.participate.online.
Design updates will additionally be presented at the March 8 meeting of the Madison Valley Community Council.