Homelessness continues to be a serious issue in Seattle, and the Belltown neighborhood has struggled with unauthorized camps, particularly around the underpass of Highway 99. There have been various coordinated efforts between Seattle Police and government organizations to address the issue, however one method has been deemed ‘hostile architecture’ and ‘anti-homeless’ as well as misusing department infrastructure funds.
Last September, the city’s Department of Transportation installed a series of bike racks under the highway near the northbound approach to the Battery Street Tunnel. The installation was not intended to serve a need for cyclists to safely lock up their bikes, however.
One Belltown neighbor became suspicious of the addition of 18 bike racks in an area where there was no demand for bike parking. Jeff Few lives adjacent to the spot under Highway 99 where the racks were installed; a site that just previous to the addition of the bike racks, was a homeless encampment site.
“The new racks were clearly there to deter street camping,” says Few. “There was no transportation need for that many bike racks under a viaduct that is going to be torn down in a year.”
He submitted a public records request and obtained emails between SDOT and the city’s bike parking manager, which clearly shows that the racks were installed in an attempt to prevent the homeless from returning to the site: “This is part of the homelessness emergency response effort. The area is being cleaned on Monday and ideally, we’d be able to install behind the clean team.”
Not only was the action clearly anti-homeless, it was likely a misuse of funds – according to King 5 News, the installation cost several thousand dollars (nearly $7,000 according to a Komo News report). Council member Teresa Mosqueda and Chairman of the Transportation Committee Mike O’Brien have been communicating with SDOT’s Interim Director to relocate the bike racks.
Seattle’s Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office issued a statement in response: “Mayor Durkan has made it clear that bike racks should be deployed to support and encourage biking. Last month, SDOT notified members of the City Council stating that the Durkan administration’s policy was to not use bike racks as impediments. SDOT plans to remove the bike racks after a location is identified to ensure the greatest use to bicyclists in Seattle.”
“While we’ve gotten resolve on the bike racks under the Alaskan Way Viaduct, we need to make sure if there is a fund being allocated for hostile architecture, it is redirected to housing options for those that are unsheltered,” Council member Teresa Mosqueda said.