City affirms past manipulation of concurrency traffic modeling data in favor of development

By Scott Hamilton

Sammamish yesterday refuted allegations by former city employee Sarah Hawes Kimsey that Sammamish Comment reporting about concurrency traffic modeling was inaccurate.

Jeff Elekes, the public works director, wrote Kimsey asking for a correction to her blog in which she used an email from Transportation Planner Doug McIntyre to assert Sammamish Comment and Miki Mullor lied about how the city’s transportation model had been manipulated up to 2017 and beyond.

“…[Y]ou re-printed an email from a Transportation Planner on my team, Doug McIntyre,” Elekes wrote. “Both Doug and I are were very surprised to learn how his email to you was used and promoted in your blog.”

Miki Mullor

Elekes said, essentially, that Kimsey mischaracterized the traffic audit as a traffic modeling analysis to conclude there had been no manipulation in the past.

“However, I can confirm that Sammamish’s traffic modeling data under previous administrations has been manipulated in the past in favor of development,” Elekes wrote. “This has all been clearly documented through discovery and analysis. I am writing you now to set the record straight and give you the facts, which I expect you will use to correct your blog post.”

2017 Study and Analysis

In June 2017, Mullor—at the time a citizen and unaffiliated with The Comment—spent weeks reviewing city data obtained through public records requests. He asked Comment editor Scott Hamilton to review the data. Hamilton, before the city’s incorporation, had appealed three development projects approved by King County. He and his co-appellants won all three cases, proving King County manipulated its traffic model.

With this background, Hamilton pointed out some errors by Mullor, who corrected them before presenting the study to the council. The Comment’s story about this study is here.

Lyman Howard, the city manager at the time, called the study offensive and inaccurate. This report is here. But Howard’s own critique, presented to the city council, actually identified problems with the city’s traffic modeling. This story is here. Howard identified these problems with the city’s modeling:

  • Contrary to policy, traffic impacts were only being assessed in the PM peak hour, not the AM or PM hours, “whichever was worse.”
  • Contrary to policy, traffic was being assessed on Monday through Friday, rather than Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The mid-week traffic tends to be more representative because people are back from long weekends that reduce traffic on Monday and Friday.
  • Entire spreadsheets of data were missing.
  • Traffic numbers that previously were presented to Council were determined to be wrong.

Traffic engineer Victor Salemann was retained to examine the traffic model and city policies, as well as Mullor’s study. Salemann had been a traffic consultant to the city off-and-on since the 1999 incorporation, including through the process of establishing impact fees. His analysis identified the issues Howard reported to council.

Hamilton provided a commentary of the Mullor report, here. A long analysis of the history appeared here.

Missing shoulders

Council Member Christie Malchow discovered shoulder widths assumed in the modeling did not exist in some locations. Then-Council Member Tom Odell said, “We do need to step back and take a close look at what goes into this. I totally agree we need to look at AM along with PM. We also need to look at intersections and segment concurrency. We need to look into the numbers that go into the formula.

“I was embarrassed to learn we give a vehicle credit” depending on the width of the shoulder, especially when the City is unsure what the width is, he said.

“In which case we may be coming up with a bogus number,” he said.

None of these facts, including Howard’s own report, were disclosed by Kimsey in her broad blast against Mullor and Hamilton.

Kimsey’s blog post was replete with opinions, accusations and assertions but short on facts.

Former Council Member Tom Hornish, who served along with Malchow and Odell, said, “I’m glad to see that the past misleading legal and engineering guidance is finally being acknowledged by the city. If anyone believes there has been no manipulation in the past, they just don’t fully understand the issue-it took me four years and countless hours to just begin to understand what was being done.”

The city’s letter asked for a correction.

City letter to Kimsey:


August 26, 2020

Ms. Sarah Kimsey
Sammamish, WA
Via email: [redacted]

Dear Ms. Kimsey:

I was made aware of your August 23rd entry in your blog, “I Love Sammamish,” where you re- printed an email from a Transportation Planner on my team, Doug McIntyre. Both Doug and I are were very surprised to learn how his email to you was used and promoted in your blog.

Doug was replying to you as a resident, as my team routinely does. He was referring to the Traffic Model Audit Report that Mr. Salemann presented at a City Council Special Meeting on July 14 which you asked about. That report given was an audit, it wasn’t a traffic modeling exercise.

However, I can confirm that Sammamish’s traffic modeling data under previous administrations has been manipulated in the past in favor of development. This has all been clearly documented through discovery and analysis. I am writing you now to set the record straight and give you the facts, which I expect you will use to correct your blog post.

We can indeed confirm that in the past the process of issuing concurrency certificates was highly suspect and controversial as to how the absence of any city financing was calculated.

For example, in August of 2019, it was revealed that staff included unfunded traffic improvement projects in the concurrency approval process. Specifically, an unfunded and unapproved $54 million widening project on Sahalee Way enabled the issuance of a concurrency certificate for Town Center Phase 1, unbeknownst and contrary to the City Council’s policy.

It is possible that other development projects were approved over the years in a similar manner. Unfortunately, legally there is nothing current management can do about the past, except ensure it won’t happen again.

Another example: In 2017, the City selectively used old traffic counts and ignored AM traffic. The data on this was presented by Mr. Salemann to City Council. Now, traffic model calculations and assumptions have been updated due to the aforementioned Traffic Audit in question. Thus, some of the analysis and decisions of the past appear to be affecting development today. Implementation of the findings of the traffic audit into an updated citywide traffic model will contribute to a better understanding of future potential traffic impacts and afford us the opportunity to be a lot more transparent to the public.

I am also copying Miki Mullor of the Sammamish Comment, as you have referenced him and his work in your blog post.

Should you have any further questions, please direct them to me. Thank you,

Jeff Elekes
Public Works Director City of Sammamish

Cc:

Dave Rudat, City Manager
Lisa Marshall, City Attorney
Doug McIntyre, Traffic Planner
Miki Mullor, Editor, Sammamish Comment


(source: LETTER_Sarah Kimsey_2020 Aug 25)

Scott Hamilton is the founder and former publisher/editor of Sammamish Comment. He was editor in the summer 2017, when Mullor’s study, and Salemann’s initial review, took place.

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