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City council in dispute over 'hostile architecture' being used to keep homeless out

A dispute over what qualifies as “hostile architecture” seems to be brewing at Seattle City Hall, that includes bike racks installed by SDOT in Belltown. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - A dispute over what qualifies as “hostile architecture” seems to be brewing at Seattle City Hall.

The Seattle Department of Transportation has been questioned by several members of city council for installing a row of bike racks in a quiet section of Belltown underneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The racks, which according to the city cost nearly $7,000, are often empty.

During a council committee meeting Tuesday, Councilmember Mike O’Brien said SDOT was using the racks as a way to thwart the homeless from reestablishing an encampment after it was emptied last fall.

“It appeared that was not an area where there was a lot of demand for bike racks and the bike racks were being used, actually, to prevent the campers from returning,” O’Brien said.

On Tuesday morning, SDOT said in a statement they plan to remove the racks.

“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.”

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda called the racks a form of “hostile architecture,” structures used to stop the homeless.

“As a city we will not go down that route other cities have gone with using hostile architecture to displace folks,” Mosqueda said.

O’Brien was critical of another SDOT move – to install fencing to keep the homeless out.

“I know there have been other incidents of hostile architecture there’s a fencing project that I know is costing $100,000,” he said.

But the fencing is a sticking point for many city agencies, including SDOT, the Seattle Fire Department and the Mayor’s office.

On Tuesday, the city told KOMO that over the last five years SDOT has spent $380,000 repairing bridges damaged by fires. The Ballard Bridge, which they said has roughly 60,000 motorists crossing it daily, has been impacted by 11 fires over the last 18 months.

“As we recently saw in Atlanta, fires underneath our bridges cost taxpayers nearly $17 million in damages and can lead to devastating impacts to infrastructure. SDOT’s focus is to maintain the structural integrity of the bridge and keep our communities and commuters safe, especially following a series of reported fires,” SDOT said in a statement.

Over the last five years, there have been three fires, costing $150,000 to repair, at the Jose Rizal Bridge; one at the Dravus Street Bridge, costing $25,000 to repair; and three at the Spokane Street Swing bridge, costing $30,000 to repair, according to the city.

City officials said they removed 26 propane tanks stacked around a column supporting the Magnolia Bridge.

“When fires occur under the bridge, it results in visibility and traffic

issues and may impact the infrastructure,” Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said in a statement. “Brush fires can quickly get out of control, presenting a threat to those that live and work in the area. It’s important for us to act now on addressing these fire hazards.”

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