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    The mayor's block party weekend

    Greg Nickels is putting on a series of car-less Sundays in Seattle. The first one on Capitol Hill was rained out, and many cars were ticketed and towed. Infuriating? Yes, but you know what you can do ...
    A City of Seattle flyer about car-lessness.

    A City of Seattle flyer about car-lessness. None

    Seattle's Supreme Leader, Greg Nickels, had the first of his "car-free" rolling block parties this past weekend. Nickels announced a series of neighborhood street closures to get people out of their cars. The idea met some resistance from retailers who worried about losing customers and residents in the targeted neighbs. The mayor had an answer for these whiners, a command worthy of John McCain advisor Phil Gramm: "Just chill."

    Mother Nature took him at his word and ordered up chilly weather and a wet rain for the afternoon of Aug. 24, forcing the party on 14th Avenue East and East Republican Street [128K PDF] to shut down two hours early and scattering the revelers who came out of their houses to enjoy the mayor's first car-less Brigadoon.

    Reviews conveyed by the Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer were mixed, at best. Some folks enjoyed meeting their neighbors — Seattle is, after all, a haven for the aloof, and many people apparently need a publicly funded government program in order to say "hi" to the strangers next door. But along with bike advocates and visions of playing kickball in the street came tow trucks.

    When the city shuts things down for the mayor's party, it wants all the cars — including the parked cars — off the street and certain cross streets. The Times reported that 27 cars were ticketed and 20 were towed. Word from Capitol Hill is that many residents are furious. Apparently, the no-parking street signs went up on Friday, and some folks had their cars hauled away while they were out of town on vacation. Imagine that. Seattle residents out of town in August.

    They may have unwisely ignored city notices, but the sheer volume of violators suggests that not enough was done to explain the new event to the neighborhood. It's unlikely that people decided to intentionally defy the city and make a statement by having their cars towed — that's one expensive form of civil disobedience.

    Even people who liked the idea of the street closures found the resulting scene a bit creepy. The P-I's Seattle 911 blog reported that Chris Cameron, who works for the Cascade Bicycle Club and was there, said, "People didn't know that their cars were going to be towed and they were flipping out when they were. The tow truck drivers were very aggressive and very scary."

    Hey folks, your wheels have been towed to a Lincoln lot: "Just chill."

    Perhaps Nickels and his communications shop has decided to take some PR tips on improving relations between Seattle bikers and drivers from Critical Mass. The P-I blog's comment section suggests some citizens are ready to return the mayor's favor and turn hostile and scary at the next election.

    Of course, it's not just Capitol Hill residents who are out of pocket for the mayor's parties. The Times says the cost of barricades, cops, and permits for the Seattle Department of Transportation is $45,000 for the three events. The next is on a major arterial, Rainier Avenue South, from South Alaska to South Orcas streets on Sunday, Aug. 31. With the city facing major budget cuts, you might ask, why are we throwing parties for $15,000 each? And is that a net cost after or before all those parking tickets are issued?

    And if not for the sake of generating revenue, why are we deploying so many police officers to these events when the department is already stretched so thin? My car was broken into earlier this year, and when I called months later to follow up with the police, I learned that no one had ever been assigned to investigate the case. It's not like these officers don't have better things to do.

    I know, I know: As a crime victim in Nickels' Seattle, I should "just chill."

    Knute Berger is Mossback, Crosscut's chief Northwest native. He also writes the monthly Grey Matters column for Seattle magazine and is a weekly Friday guest on Weekday on KUOW-FM (94.9). His newest book is Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes On Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice, published by Sasquatch Books. In 2011, he was named Writer-in-Residence at the Space Needle and is author of Space Needle, The Spirit of Seattle (2012), the official 50th anniversary history of the tower. You can e-mail him at mossback@crosscut.com.

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    Posted Tue, Aug 26, 8 a.m. Inappropriate

    45 Grand, No Problemo: Nickels probably dipped into the Pot Hole Levy money to find the $45,000. It seems to be available for his every whim.

    Posted Tue, Aug 26, 9:04 a.m. Inappropriate

    Par for Mayor McMuffin's course: Big surprise. The city shells out $15,000 for a block party and deploys plenty of police officers while drug dealing in broad daylight continues unabated. We are told paper bags from grocery stores are evil, even though they are biodegradeable and often recycled, by a goofball who doesn't understand we are a timber state. Meanwhile, paper bags from Nordstrom and Abercrombie are just fine, thank you. The city hires multiple flacks at up to $160,000 a year but can't get the word out that people's cars will be towed from in front of their own homes, so this joker can score political points with eco-libs. Will Seattle wake up and throw this pariah out on his kiester? Don't hold your breath...

    Posted Tue, Aug 26, 9:31 a.m. Inappropriate

    Nickels Bans Cars And Allows Tow Trucks?: The way this is described it almost seems as if the Mayor came with Tow Truck Companies in tow, as it were. What if People weren't given enough notice and the real point is to generate profit and revenue for the Tow Truck Companies? Also, why, apparently allow Tow Truck Drivers to intimidate unsuspecting citizens and car owners. The Mayor has gone too far!


    Posted Tue, Aug 26, 12:25 p.m. Inappropriate

    Huh?: We close down 1-90 for the Blue Angels, 4th avenue for Seafair Parade, Montlake Bridge for Opening Day, Lake Washington Boulevard for bicycling, the viaduct for a running race-- the list goes on and on.

    So, why exactly all the carrying on about closing down some streets on summer weekend mornings for the neighborhoods to enjoy?

    Just hate Mayor Nickels? Dislike the idea of any implied criticism of cars? Don't like being reminded that global warming is indeed real? Sure, a bag tax and car-free days is not enough, but that is not the real source of the over-reaction.

    Check out http://www.streetfilms.org/archives/summer-streets-2008-nyc/

    Posted Tue, Aug 26, 12:32 p.m. Inappropriate

    A bad tourism move: I live in Olympia. I used to live in S. King, and I still come to Seattle a fair amount to shop, eat out, go to events, etc. Just yesterday, one of my King Co. friends and I planned a "girls' weekend out" at a Seattle hotel...and the only reason I even clicked on this article was to find out if I needed to worry about having my car towed away for being in the city on this particular date. My point being, does the mayor REALLY want to worry the tourists, even "staycationers" like myself, about coming into the city? If I and others like me find that Seattle is suddenly inhospitable to us (and, by extension, our spending money) because of our cars, we'll simply go elsewhere. For me, it's just as easy to head south to Portland for the weekend- and BONUS! no sales tax.


    Posted Tue, Aug 26, 1:03 p.m. Inappropriate

    RE: Huh?: Why all the carrying on?

    Maybe it's because we still, last time I checked, have the right to decide for ourselves how much is enough, and for our own reasons.

    Posted Tue, Aug 26, 1:40 p.m. Inappropriate

    RE: Huh?: Ughh. The old free choice argument. If that's really the case then why don't we start a movement to remove all form of government?

    Personally, I'm looking forward to the day the street closes in my neighborhood. What an opportunity to see if it works or not rather than doubting it from the start.

    I hope I see you all there.

    Posted Tue, Aug 26, 3:32 p.m. Inappropriate

    RE: Huh ?: This mayor will be exposed as being at the fore front of the greatest fraud perpetrated upon the citizens of this region : global warming as the result of increased carbon dioxide in the middle and upper atmosphere.

    Like the current governor, he ignores the continued scientific research into climate change - and we all suffer the economic waste they both incur upon city, county and state taxpayers.

    The planet has entered into the 'quiet' period of the 11 year sun spot cycle. The resultant change in temperatures of the Northern Pacific, the Pacific Decadal oscillation ( PDO ) will now drive this region back into a cooling period.
    It has begun, but the mayor has closed his mind to the truth.

    The eco facists of the city and region don't want you to know the truth ! The last thing they want you to consider are the relative effects of CO2 vs water vapor in the middle and upper regions of the atmosphere.

    Let see what current science michael can offer up to deflect the light of truth shining from my reply / this issue !

    Posted Tue, Aug 26, 4:47 p.m. Inappropriate

    RE: Huh?: It was my impression — whether true or not — that these closures, unlike those for the Blue Angels, Seafair, Opening Day, and Bicycle Sunday, were to make a point, not to accomodate an event. I don't think I'm alone in having that impression. That is the difference.

    Posted Tue, Aug 26, 5:20 p.m. Inappropriate

    RE: Huh?: That, and nobody's cars are towed by surprise to close the I-90 bridge or the other abovementioned streets. When they're going to shut down one of the Lake Washington bridges there are notices posted for days in advance.

    I think the nasty surprise of having one's car towed is a big downer on the celebratory mood. At $150 and up a pop, a towing can be a disaster for many people.

    Posted Tue, Aug 26, 9:04 p.m. Inappropriate

    Party Time!: Didn't Emperor Nickels just sell some million dollar porta potties for a few thousand bucks? What better use for that money....party time!...and you vill haf a goot time or else. Suburban dweller and glad of it.


    Posted Tue, Aug 26, 9:14 p.m. Inappropriate

    The next event: Next up, a section of Rainier Ave S, a.k.a. State Route 167, a major arterial, always the scene of heavy traffic, even on Sunday. If blocking a relatively sleepy section of Capitol Hill caused such consternation, we ain't seen nothin' yet.


    Posted Tue, Aug 26, 9:35 p.m. Inappropriate

    The Point: Did any of you look at the streetfilms clip I posted? Closing a street for people to enjoy without cars is an event, no different from any other event.

    The point, so far as I can see, is that some folks don't like being reminded that cars are indeed a major source of global warming.

    Why so defensive?

    Posted Tue, Aug 26, 9:46 p.m. Inappropriate

    Vancouver and Portland: If car free days in Seattle chase you to Portland or Vancouver, better time it carefully. You would hate to run into streets full of people having fun

    linked text =

    linked text =

    Posted Tue, Aug 26, 10:40 p.m. Inappropriate

    RE: The Point: the point is, you don't understand the first thing about climate change, let alone the fraud of 'global warming' !

    Posted Wed, Aug 27, 7:54 a.m. Inappropriate

    RE: The Point: I understand that cars are a major contributor to global warming. That doesn't mean I want to use a street party as a justification for punishing some car-owners arbitrarily.

    If the parties were announced well enough in advance, and clearly enough, that people knew when to move their cars, I'd have no problem with the street-party concept.

    In New York, there's a longstanding tradition whereby people have to move their cars regularly to make room for scheduled street cleanings. We don't have that kind of tradition in Seattle, and for many people the street is their driveway--it's where they can park their car when they're at home. To tow so many people's cars is rude and damaging--it's a violation of the usual social contract.

    Similar in spirit to the Nickels administration policy of stealing and destroying the belongings of homeless people when they find them "littering" the parks. Whether or not you think homeless people should be able to sleep in public open spaces, it's harsh to confiscate and destroy the belongings they depend on for life. Both actions show an arrogant disregard for people's needs.

    Posted Wed, Aug 27, 2:12 p.m. Inappropriate

    RE: The Point: OK yarrow, lets hear your science on how CO2 is causing 'global warming' , and please be specific, detailed and CURRENT !

    Posted Wed, Aug 27, 4:02 p.m. Inappropriate

    RE: The next event: Fortunately for Nickels, SR 167 now ends at 405 in Renton (well, technically, a few blocks north at Sunset [SR 900]) — otherwise he'd probably have had to get WSDOT's cooperation. (167 was truncated in 1992.)

    Posted Wed, Aug 27, 5:20 p.m. Inappropriate

    RE: 45 Grand, No Problemo: My apologies for the cross-reference on the comment, but FWIW, it looks like Mayor Nickels has plenty of proud UW grads on his side - not to mention the Republican owned tow companies!

    -Douglas Tooley

    Posted Wed, Aug 27, 7:40 p.m. Inappropriate

    RE: The Point: I'm not a climatologist, so I'll leave the explanation to the thousands of scientists who could do a better job than I can.

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