- “This is the No. 1 priority of Sammamish citizens.”–Tom Hornish.
- City’s road program has been to “urbanize” streets, not ease congestion.
- Administration attempted to discredit Mullor study.
- Mullor credited with starting important conversation by Council Members.
In what can only be regarded as a searing rebuke of the City Manager, City Staff and outside transportation consultants, the Sammamish City Council voted 6-1 July 18 to pursue an in-depth review of transportation policies.
The Council also agreed to have discussions at every Council meeting in the foreseeable future.
Mayor Bob Keller was the dissenting vote.
The Mullor study
The Council took up the issue of transportation and concurrency after resident Miki Mullor released a 91-page study about the City’s implementation of traffic concurrency. He concluded that the City Staff had manipulated the system to approve development, over-burdening streets with traffic from the growth.
Attempts to discredit study
City Manager Lyman Howard denounced the study as “inaccurate” and “deeply offensive.” Sammamish Comment gave the Mullor study and Howard’s remarks prominent coverage. The Comment also reported that the conclusions were no surprise.
Behind the scenes, Sammamish Communications Manager Tim Larson attempted to discredit not only Mullor’s study but also Sammamish Comment for writing about it.
Mullor had errors—but he was right, too
Mullor, who is not a transportation engineer or expert, inevitably had errors in his study. He asked Comment editor Scott Hamilton to review the study before he sent it to the City Council and Staff because Hamilton won three appeals against King County on concurrency and sat on the Planning Advisory Board and Planning Commission when Levels of Service and Concurrency standards were crafted in the first Comprehensive Plan.
Several points were identified to Mullor, who modified most but who stuck with others he wanted to raise. Questions posed about some other issues were left to Mullor to sort out.
The City Council wanted a detailed response from the Administration, which came in the form of a detailed report from Staff and the City’s outside transportation consultant.
Howard introduced the presentation with another shot at Mullor’s study.
But as the evening wore on, it was clear problems did indeed exist.
- Contrary to policy, traffic impacts were only being assessed in the PM peak hour, not the AM or PM hours, “whichever was worse.”
- Contrary to policy, traffic was being assessed on Monday through Friday, rather than Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The mid-week traffic tends to be more representative because people are back from long weekends that reduce traffic on Monday and Friday.
- Entire spreadsheets of data were missing.
- Traffic numbers that previously were presented to Council were determined to be wrong.
“We went through a very valuable conversation [last week] related to concurrency,” said Deputy Mayor Christie Malchow.
“Last week I raised two issues of Council-directed policies that were not carried out by staff,” she said. “I have some severe concerns with those.
One, she said, was the Am/PM peak. The original language was that traffic would be measured in whichever was the worse period. This was changed in the 2015 Comprehensive Plan update to the PM peak hour only.
Malchow said that Staff never told Council that the change was made because they didn’t have an AM traffic model. But, she noted, the policy was not about not having a model; it was about AM or PM, “whichever was worse.”
“It should have been highlighted to a previous Council that we didn’t have a model,” she said.
The other policy issue Malchow pointed to was using Monday through Friday for traffic analysis rather than Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, as the policy states. Monday and Friday traffic tends to be depressed due to long-weekend travelers; the mid-week is more representative of actual traffic impacts, she said.
“I also want to voice my frustration that we were given incorrect numbers,” she said. “we were promised corrected numbers for this meeting.” None was provided.
“I’d like to ask that we get numbers that are associated with current policy,” she said.
Malchow noted that it was suggested that further conversation be delayed until either the Transportation Master Plan is ready next year, or the next Comp Plan update late this year.
“This is the number one issue in the City,” she said. “It was highlighted [at the Council Candidates Forum] by every single candidate. I hear about it on a daily basis.
“There are so many questions I have about this and it’s such an important subject matter. Allowing Council an opportunity to change policy, that’s what we’re here for. When we create policy, we have to follow through and make sure it’s carried out,” she said.
Hornish: This was not a waste of time
Council Member Tom Hornish concurred, and added three points.
He noted that when he was elected 18 months before, he had many questions about traffic concurrency then. Hornish admitted he didn’t know much about concurrency, but he’s learning.
For example, the Sahalee Way road project that the Council did not approve was billed as a concurrency project to improve congestion. “We learned at the time [of the vote] it was more about safety,” he said. “Not that improving safety is a bad thing, but we are also hearing from citizens we must improve congestion.”
Hornish repeated a question he’s been asking before: “How can we add a bike lane and a sidewalk and improve capacity? It just doesn’t inherently make sense.
“Number two, what did we learn last week? Mr. Mullor raised this whole issue. I heard through the grapevine that some people thought this was a waste of time.
“I sincerely and vehemently disagree, for the citizens and for myself,” he said. “If this is their number one issue that the citizens are concerned about, we should be addressing it.
“So, what did we learn last week? I think Deputy Mayor Malchow highlighted that among many things, there is current policy that is not being followed. There was a prior policy that wasn’t followed and then changed.
Hornish said the Council also learned that there is a policy to “urbanize” the streets and not relieve congestion.
“That really, really causes me concern,” he said. “Our citizens have concerns in that regard.”
Hornish said are concerns of the original concurrency policies adopted in 2004.
“We need to review the policies if we’re not addressing what the citizens are concerned about,” he said.
“Number three, in that regard, I’d like to make a motion that we make the first agenda item at each meeting going forward to be traffic and concurrency to be further addressed and update the discussions of the Transportation element of the Comp Plan and/or consider possible policy changes to address the congestion before the Comp Plan changes are submitted to Washington State in November, or until the majority of the Council no longer wishes to focus on the traffic in the City of Sammamish,” Hornish said.
Malchow seconded the motion.
“We need to step back and take a close look”
“The last election and probably the next one will probably have this as the main [thing] for people to make decisions,” said Council Member Tom Odell. “We do need to step back and take a close look at what goes into this. I totally agree we need to look at AM along with PM. We also need to look at intersections and segment concurrency. We need to look into the numbers that go into the formula.
“I was embarrassed to learn we give a vehicle credit” depending on the width of the shoulder, especially when the City is unsure what the width is, he said.
“In which case we may be coming up with a bogus number,” Odell said. “I plan to use the month of August [when Council is on recess] to go through this with a fine-tooth comb and come up with a list of recommendations for Council.”
A regional effort is needed, including working with school districts, internal shuttles and other efforts to reduce traffic, he said.