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."