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Traffic safety project threatens Federal Way convenience store

Mi Young Shin, owner of Sam
Mi Young Shin, owner of Sam's Market, thumbs through pages of signatures from customers who protest new curbing in front of the market. The curbing, which accompanied a pedestrian safety device on Southwest 312th Street, significantly reduces access to the market and impacts business.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard/The Mirror

At a small convenience store near Mirror Lake, Mi Young Shin worries a new traffic device intended to ensure pedestrian safety will put her out of business.

Shin is the owner of Sam’s Market. The store operates at the corner of Southwest 312th Street and Southwest 8th Avenue, where the city recently installed a crossing device at an existing crosswalk on Southwest 312th Street. When prompted, the beacon flashes yellow, signaling to motorists that a pedestrian is using the crosswalk.

Included in the project’s design is a long stretch of curbing that runs parallel to the road and across most of a formerly unobstructed entrance to Sam’s Market. The convenience store’s entrance once stretched from Southwest 8th Avenue past the store to neighboring business JDK Small Engine Repair Inc. The curbing restructured the access, channeling traffic to a much narrower entry at the west flank of the market near the engine repair shop. The city made the landowner aware of the curbing and subsequent narrowing of the market’s main access, but never spoke with Shin, she said.

The city’s policy is to contact a landowner and business owner and seek comments if a project will impact both individuals, city spokesman Chris Carrel said. Carrel admitted that process, for some reason, was not followed in this circumstance.

“We just have to assume we dropped the ball and didn’t do what our policy directs us to do,” he said.

Pedestrian safety

The curbing is needed to protect walkers and the $10,000 safety device, traffic engineer Rick Perez said. Lakota Middle School students walk alongside Southwest 312th Street to and from school.

Painted curbing along other stretches of the roadway helps designate business access points and protects walkers from traffic entering and exiting the establishments, Perez said. The city thought it would improve safety at Sam’s Market to include similar curbing in the design of the beacon project, he said.

Business slows

Shin said the curbing is harming business at Sam’s Market. Several customers have complained about the access and business has slowed, she said.

“There’s no way to go in,” Shin said.

The curbing makes it difficult for customers and delivery drivers to maneuver the parking lot. Richard Schultz, a customer at Sam’s Market, said he witnessed a delivery driver park on the street in an effort to service the convenience store. Schultz helped start a petition against the curbing. The petition gathered more than 100 signatures the first day, including that of a police officer who regularly patrols the area.

Schultz became involved because he values the friendship of the store owners. He supports Sam’s Market because it’s a small business, and he would hate to see it close.

“It’s a little mom and pop,” Schultz said. “It’s not a corporate chain and those are the kinds of businesses we need to protect.”

Safety hazard

The difference of opinion regarding the curbing doesn’t just concern business. The curbing leads to dangerous driving behavior, Shin said.The day following the Jan. 19 construction, impatient patrons could be seen darting onto eastbound Southwest 312th Street after squeezing their vehicles between the curbing — which stops at the edge of Southwest 8th Avenue — and a telephone pole and mailbox at the edge of the market’s parking lot. Two days after the curb was installed, it bore tire tracks and damage. Shin fears a customer will fail to notice the curb and pop a tire trying to reach the market.

“This is more dangerous,” she said.

Compromise

Shin spoke with the city about her problem. A portion of the curbing was removed the next day, but Shin was told the rest will remain for at least a month until it can be re-evaluated. A month is too long, Shin said. It’s hard to bounce back once business begins to drop, she said.

“They don’t care if business dies or not,” she said.

Carrel said the city will watch the area and decide within 30 days if more can be done to achieve pedestrian safety while also offering adequate access to the market.

“This is not the end point of that project,” he said. “We’re going to keep working to find the solution that balances the pedestrian needs and the business access.”

Perez pointed out that the convenience store still has an access point off Southwest 8th Avenue and the restructured entry off Southwest 312th Street. Parking and maneuverability could be improved if the market’s parking lot, which in areas is shared with JDK, was restriped.

The Sam’s Market beacon is one of eight being constructed across Federal Way in areas prone to heavy foot traffic. In other parts of the city, the beacons are working well, Perez said. One of the first beacons was installed at South 324th Street and 17th Avenue, near The Commons. There, an average of 40-plus pedestrian crossings happen per hour, he said.

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