By now, you’ve probably heard the story about Tangletown resident, Paulo Nunes-Ueno, who installed a sandbox for his kids on the planting strip in front of his home, and was warned by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to move or it face a daily fine of $500. Here’s the original story that ran in the Seattle Times on August 3.
Basically, someone filed an anonymous complaint about the sandbox because it was too close to the street, and in violation of a city ordinance that requires play structures to be far enough away from a right-of-way. But last Tuesday, Nunes-Ueno made an appeal to the City Council, and they’ve agreed to work with him and SDOT to come up with a reasonable solution. SDOT has also agreed not to fine him or make him move the sandbox until they make a final decision.
On Saturday morning, I met with Nunes-Ueno and Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who paid a visit to the sandbox to determine if there were any public safety issues. Councilmember Rasmussen also chairs the Transportation Committee, which oversees traffic control, neighborhood and transportation planning, as well as pedestrian bicycle programs.
The street on which the Nunes-Ueno family lives is pretty narrow, and the block is teeming with little kids. There is also a large traffic circle a half of a block away from his home. Nunes-Ueno told us that the sandbox has become a gathering spot for everybody, and we witnessed this ourselves when a few of the neighbors came out to congregate around it. He also pointed out the planter box just steps away from the sandbox, remarking that the sandbox’s dimensions conform to the required dimensions of the planter box.
In an email to me, Nunes-Ueno added more insight to the bigger picture behind the sandbox as a gathering place:
I think we have so much to gain by allowing people to be creative in how they use the planting strips for community gathering places. Sandboxes, picnic tables, benches create places to gather with neighbors and make new friends–for kids and adults. These neighborhood ties makes us more resilient and safer as a community.
A lot has been made about traffic safety concerns of kids being in the planting strip. Although I appreciate the concern, anyone who actually visits our street will see there is no need to worry. Like two thirds of Seattle roads, ours is a quiet residential street made narrower still by parked cars on both sides. We should treat these streets differently from arterials. Neighborhood streets serve many purposes in addition to moving traffic. Rather than prohibit kids from playing in front of their houses, let’s double down on our efforts to make our residential streets even safer.
We’ll keep you posted once SDOT and the Transportation Committee of the Seattle City Council come to some sort of resolution. For now, check out this flyer Nunes-Ueno made for the cause.