The Galer Street stairs on Queen Anne Avenue North (“the Ave”) are getting an upgrade with funding from the Department of Neighborhoods’ Neighborhood Park and Street Fund.
The upgrade is part of the city streetscape plan proposed by Picture Perfect Queen Anne (PPQA) in 2006. PPQA is a community group focused on revitalizing the streetscape of the Ave from West Galer to McGraw streets.
The group’s goal is to make the area more walkable and people-friendly by improving sidewalks and public spaces along the business core. Having people on the street creates a lively business area, said PPQA chair Margaret Okamoto.
Each year, neighborhoods get about $90,000 for a neighborhood project. The 2013 project for Queen Anne was the Galer stairs. The project will cost $85,000 in total.
The Galer steps are historic steps that link the Queen Anne neighborhood with a greenbelt on both sides. The sidewalks below the stairs were widened to create a plaza feel, Okamoto said.
“It’s a potentially incredibly beautiful area,” Okamoto said. “It really needed some attention.”
In need of attention
The Galer stairs project has four parts, said John Vander Sluis, associate transportation planner at the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). First, the walls will become one continuous cement wall along the steps. The stairs had chain-link fences along the sides, which rusted and broke over the years. The wooden forms for those walls are in now, and the SDOT crew will pour concrete in the next two weeks.
The greenery on each side of the stairs had gotten overgrown, which led to city lights being blocked by climbing plants and homeless people sleeping in the overgrown areas. The overgrown plants will also be removed and replanted.
The erosion walls are the third component. The stairs already have two and a half erosion walls that keep the dirt in place. The walls are made of different materials and are in different levels of disrepair. The new erosion walls have already been completed.
The last component of the project is to add handrails to the tops of the cement walls on the side and remove the center railing.
There are two reasons for adding the side handrails and removing the center rail, Vander Sluis said. The first is that people naturally walk to their right and so it’s better to have a handrail on each side so people don’t run into each other. The other is that the current railing is not in compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. The minimum is 4 feet of clearance between handrails so there is uninterrupted walking space, Vander Sluis said.
Queen Anne resident Rich Littleton uses the Galer steps often. He was upset to learn the middle railing was being removed because he thought it made the stairs less safe. Littleton would like to see both the side and middle rails.
“This is a safety feature,” he said.
Vander Sluis said the middle railing will be removed to comply with ADA.
The terraces on both sides up to the first landing on the stairs will be re-landscaped. Some of the thick plants will be cleared away and replaced with drought-tolerant plants that need less maintenance.
Kathy King, from Land2c Landscape Design, is involved with PPQA and volunteered her services to design the new landscaping. King’s idea was to create an area that looked cared for and polished.
“Nothing ultra-modern, but nothing that looks cottage garden-y,” she said. “That isn’t appropriate for an urban area.”
PPQA would like to continue the landscaping to the top of the terraces and make both sides symmetrical, but right now, there is only funding for the first terrace.
PPQA member Maryellen Swanson is excited to see the historical feature match the rest of Queen Anne.
“Right now, it [has] a derelict, abandoned warehouse kind of look,” she said. “It could [become] be a real highlight.
A list of improvements
Vander Sluis thinks the project will be a great improvement when it’s all done.
“It’s a cool project because it’s got a lot of little pieces that make up a nice whole,” he said.
Prior to the Galer stairs project, PPQA added curb bulbs, larger tree pits, a garden at Boston Street and three benches along the Ave, among other improvements.
PPQA will meet in January to decide on projects for 2014. Okamoto would like to see informational kiosks installed so people can have a place to post community events. She’d like to see some of the crosswalks restriped and some public art added to the Ave, as well.
“It’s encouraging that so many of the major pieces in [our streetscape plan] have gotten done as quickly as they have,” she said.
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