Winslow Way ‘art’ sidewalk leads to falls, injuries

The segments of sidewalk on the south side of Winslow Way that will contain artwork had a trowel finish that has caused the surface to be slippery in wet weather conditions. The finished work will feature copper and bronze pieces. - Dennis Anstine/Staff Photo
The segments of sidewalk on the south side of Winslow Way that will contain artwork had a trowel finish that has caused the surface to be slippery in wet weather conditions. The finished work will feature copper and bronze pieces.
— image credit: Dennis Anstine/Staff Photo

The new “art integration” sidewalk areas on the south side of Winslow Way were more slippery than expected and have caused several people to fall, including a downtown employee who said she has spent about $1,000 on doctor bills since being injured on Sept. 30.

She said she contacted the city but has received no response. Another woman fell and sustained injuries while trying to approach the crosswalk in front of the Blackbird Bakery, and eventually was denied a damage claim by the construction project’s general contractor, Tucci & Sons Inc.

The city, said Project Manager Chris Wierzbicki, was admittedly slow to respond to the problems caused by the slippery sidewalk area. The city eventually placed some sand on the four sections of the sidewalk that been given a “trowel finish,” and this week received an “acid treatment” that made the areas less smooth.

In response to an email containing several complaints from residents, including Dee DuMont, a Winslow resident who ran for a council position two years ago, Wierzbicki wrote: “…where the trowel finish made for slippery conditions, the intent has always been to apply a surface treatment that will make them more attractive and less slippery. Unfortunately, it’s been very difficult to have this work scheduled with the contractor, given the other major work still occurring. We know that the conditions are a problem.”

Wierzbicki said the contractor had spread sand in the areas to keep them from being slippery during wet weather conditions and that the finish treatment would be applied on Tuesday, which it was.

He added that the contractor was also revisiting a problem area on the north side of the street in front of the Sweet Deal retail store, where the public sidewalk’s juncture with a private sidewalk had different levels and needed to be fixed.

“I recognized there have been problems in these areas and I’m sorry that it has taken this long to focus on the remedies,” he said. “While I haven’t been contacted directly by anyone who was personally impacted by these areas, if you would forward me their contact information I would be happy to reach out to them individually.”

City Manager Brenda Bauer also said she was not un aware of anyone “who has contacted the city directly saying they have fallen. We are certainly concerned if this has happened and have asked that folks contact us if they have actually fallen so we can get them connected with the contractor’s insurer.”

Margaret Darrah, a longtime employee for Esther’s Fabric, said she was walking back to the store between the Chase and Columbia State banks when, “I hit an art piece in the sidewalk and my legs went out from under me. I fell hard on my side and hurt my knee, elbow and shoulder. It had been raining and the sidewalk there was very slick, a different texture than the rest of the sidewalk.”

Darrah said she called the city Public Works Department the day of the fall and reported the incident to a woman who said they would get back to her.

“I still haven’t heard back,” she said. “No response … the city has been completely uncooperative. I’ve already spent $1,000 on this in doctor bills. And my knee is still swollen and hurts.”

Barbara Kirk, owner of Esther’s Fabrics, said Darrah missed several days of work because her job calls for her to be on her feet much of the time.

Kirk said she called Wierzbicki and explained the situation but the city still hasn’t contacted Darrah.

“I’ve heard from several people who have slipped on the sidewalk since they put it in,” Kirk said. “They should have fixed it sooner or at least put up some warning signs until they did. I don’t understand it.”

Bauer said in her email that anyone who has fallen and has an injury needs to pick up a city claim form.

Mary Dombrowski did pick up a claim form after she fell in front of the Blackbird Bakery on Aug. 29. She tripped “over the unmarked juncture of the gravel and paved sidewalk. I fell to the ground hard, hitting my hip and shoulder.”

She said there were several witnesses, including two women who helped her to her feet.

She filled out a form provided by the city and sent it to Evergreen Adjustment Service in Seattle, which has been assigned to handle claims on behalf of the city’s insurance pool, Washington Cities Insurance Authority. The claim was then forwarded to the contractor.

On Oct. 7, Linda Scheyer, a risk manager for Tucci & Sons, sent a letter to Dombrowski denying liability for her claim for damages.

“I don’t understand,” Dombrowski said. “There was a gap between the newly poured pavement and gravel, and I just caught my shoe on it. There were no warnings or marking of the height difference.”

The letter from Scheyer said she had done a thorough investigation by talking to Tucci’s on-site personnel and the project superintendent.

She wrote: “My investigation has revealed that Tucci & Sons had taken elaborate measures to provide for pedestrian safety during the entire course of this project. The crosswalk where you fell was marked on both sides with yellow caution tape and with orange barrels in place. There was a thin piece of plywood placed in the crosswalk to assist wheelchairs in transition from sidewalk to compacted dirt and gravel. This temporary crosswalk meets all construction standards for pedestrian safety.”

Dombrowski said her injuries were not extensive, “but I’ve had a few hundred dollars in doctor bills because of it,” she said.

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