Published on by | Filed in Transit, Transportation

Council President Tom Rasmussen discussing the new transit advisory board, courtesy of the Seattle Channel.

Council President Tom Rasmussen discussing the new transit advisory board, courtesy of the Seattle Channel.

On Tuesday, the Seattle City Council created by resolution a new advisory board to oversee all matters of transit in the city. The new Seattle Transit Advisory Board would consist of 12 board members selected throughout the city. Council President Tom Rasmussen introduced the resolution by describing its ties to the original Proposition 1 measure (the citywide bus funding measure), which called for a citizen’s committee to oversee how Proposition 1 funds are used. Rasmussen enumerated some the primary competencies that Proposition 1 envisioned for the Board:

Responsibilities of the Board include reviewing and providing comments on which routes get investments, and whether they are actually reducing overcrowding and improving reliability, the effectiveness of the use of funds for outreach and access to Metro’s low-income fare, how the vehicle license fee low-income program is being administered, and the status of the proposed Regional Partnership Program which will encourage other cities to participate with us in the enhanced service.

But, Rasmussen noted that the Board’s responsibility would be bigger than just oversight of Proposition 1 funds. The Board would be tasked with directly advising the Council, Mayor, and city departments on the full spectrum of issues related to transit. One of the big priorities for the Board, Rasmussen said, would be to ensure that the Transit Master Plan (TMP) is being realized by the city and local transit agencies. The Madison BRT project is a key element of the TMP, and currently in the planning process by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). This project, Rasmussen suggested, could be one of the first tasks for the newly created Board to take up and weigh in on.

The new Board would be modeled after other transportation advisory boards like Bicycle, Pedestrian, and Freight. Staff from SDOT’s newly formed Transit Division would be tasked to support the efforts of the Board. And, six of the positions will be appointed by the Mayor, and five by the Council, and one from Get Engaged as a young adult representative. Members will serve two-year terms on the Board, although six of the original 11 members will be appointed for three years to stagger future appointments. Specifically, the Resolution calls for board members to be chosen by the following criteria:

  • Different geographic areas of the City;
  • Different transit rider groups (persons with disabilities, senior and school age citizens, commuters, low-income riders);
  • Travelers of different modes of public transportation (e.g. bus, light rail, streetcar, and ferry);
  • Seattle residents with an interest in improving transit conditions within the City and region, and have experience with urban transit issues;
  • Transit-related organizations/clubs; and
  • Schools, business, and neighborhood organizations that particularly depend on the City’s public transportation system.

In other words, the Council wants to create a very diverse board that is knowledgeable, uses transit, and comes from various age groups and backgrounds. It’s a sensible approach to get a broad perspective on Seattle’s growing and future transit system. We’ll keep you posted when the board opens up for inaugural membership.

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Published on by | Filed in Cycling, Transit, Transportation, Vision Zero, Walking

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about ST3 and the upcoming City Council election. However, one of Seattle’s critical transportation funding measures, Bridging the Gap, needs to be renewed in 2015 and has so far received little attention.

Seattle voters initially passed the nine-year levy in 2006 as a way to reduce SDOT’s infrastructure maintenance backlog and provide funding support to pedestrian, bicycle, and transit improvements. Under the direction of the BTG Oversight Committee, the $365 million levy has already paid for the resurfacing of over 200 miles of arterials streets, the construction of over 100 blocks of new sidewalks, and the enhancement of three key transit corridors, among numerous other projects.

N 105th, N/NE Northgate Way Improvement Project – funded by Bridging the Gap, photo courtesy of SDOT.

N 105th, N/NE Northgate Way Improvement Project – funded by Bridging the Gap, photo courtesy of SDOT.

Despite BTG’s successes, the list of transportation needs for Seattle has grown significantly in the last nine years. The maintenance backlog is now estimated at $1.8 billion (up from $600 million in 2006), and SDOT has determined that the City would need to spend $190 million a year on maintenance projects just to prevent the backlog from growing.

As a city experiencing unprecedented levels of growth and traffic congestion, Seattle is also strained for resources to upgrade its infrastructure in a way that will keep pace with new development. SDOT has now developed pedestrian, bicycle, transit, and (soon) freight master plans to help diversify the city’s transportation options and ease congestion, but more funding is needed to sufficiently implement these plans in the near term.

50,000 hours of Metro transit service have been secured with Bridging the Gap funds, photo courtesy of SDOT.

50,000 hours of Metro transit service have been secured with Bridging the Gap funds, photo courtesy of SDOT.

BTG is a measure that has truly benefitted all modes of travel, and at a time when transportation is one of the biggest issues for Seattle and the region, we need to seriously consider increasing the levy in 2015 to keep up with the City’s infrastructure needs. While BTG is currently the City’s largest voter-approved property tax levy (collecting ~$36 per $100,000 of assessed value in 2007), the levy has proven effective in delivering visible and much-needed bridge and street improvements to neighborhoods throughout Seattle. SDOT acknowledges that Bridging the Gap was “never supposed to fill the gap,” but the levy has certainly helped in supplementing funding for critical maintenance and infrastructure projects.

Bridging the Gap was used to fund the rehabilitation of Seattle’s King Street Station, photo courtesy of SDOT.

Bridging the Gap was used to fund the rehabilitation of Seattle’s King Street Station, photo courtesy of SDOT.

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Published on by | Filed in Carsharing and Ridesharing, Transportation

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As of today, Car2Go has expanded their “home area” for Seattle. Back in January, the Seattle City Council approved new legislation regulating and permitting carsharing programs like Car2Go. The legislation did two key things for consumers and carshare operators alike: it increased the maximum free floating permit cap to 750 vehicles under one operator and required an operator to serve the entire corporate area of Seattle within 2 years from first permit issuance.

Before the legislation, Car2Go was capped at 500 free floating vehicle permits and only served portions of Seattle below 130th/125th Street in North Seattle and above Morgan Street/Sylvan Way/Dunmar Way in West Seattle, Michigan Street in SODO, and Orcas Street in South Seattle.

Today’s expansion means that members will now see 750 vehicles in service–with 250 vehicles being added to the fleet quickly–and be able to freely travel throughout all of Seattle. Parking rules have also changed, which should serve Car2Go members even better. Car2Go members can continue to park in non-restricted and Restricted Parking Zones, but the big change is in time-limited spaces. Members can now park in 1 hour maximum spaces as long as they don’t come with restrictions like “Bus Lane 3PM-6PM”, “Commercial Loading Zone”, “30 Minute Passenger Load Only”, or other special restrictions.

For those living a car-free or car-lite lifestyle, Car2Go’s service area expansion should be welcome news.

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Published on by | Filed in Carsharing and Ridesharing, Cycling, Highways, Parking, Plans and Policy, Transit, Transportation, Vision Zero, Walking

Move Seattle supports all modes, courtesy of SDOT.

Move Seattle supports all modes, courtesy of SDOT.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray stood before community members and city staff in Ballard yesterday to launch his 10-year, citywide transportation investment plan. Move Seattle, as it is known, will be Seattle’s roadmap for near-term investments and tying together all of the big transportation plans that Seattle has. The plan is focused around five central pillars: safety, interconnectedness, vibrancy, affordability, and innovation.

Seattle already has an amazing set of transportation and street use assets, but the Mayor wants to build upon this to meet not only today’s needs, but grow for the future in an innovative way. The Mayor recognized that Seattle’s transportation foundations are built upon investments made over 60 years. And while this is a good basis from which to grow, the demands of the modern city have radically changed since the days of collector-arterials and cascading greens for cars. Move Seattle will take a big leap forward by integrating key transportation policies like Complete Streets, Vision Zero, and each of the major 20-year modal transportation plans on the book (which include the Pedestrian, Bicycle, Transit, and Freight Master Plans) into one overarching plan.

The big ticket project list, courtesy of SDOT.

The big ticket project list.

The Mayor wants the transportation department (SDOT) to use every tool in their arsenal to deliver comprehensive projects that put the City’s public right-of-ways to their best use. That doesn’t mean that every street will meet every modal need. Instead, in the spirit of Complete Streets, SDOT will look at corridors as whole systems–something the agency has been doing for a long time–to provide for all modes in city projects. Ultimately, the city will rapidly see a change from one primary mode to a wide variety of modes to drive equity and balance needs.

As the Mayor noted, “More choices means fewer cars on our streets. That means, when you do need to drive, you’ll be up against less traffic. And with roads less clogged, freight deliveries can make it to their destination on-time, supporting jobs and growing our economy. Move Seattle prioritizes the maintenance of our existing system so that system remains functional and safe. Retrofitting our bridges for seismic issues, repaving our streets, investing in new traffic light technology to ease congestion, improving safety in our school zones, improving pavement markings, replacing aging signs, and adding lighting to enhance visibility.”

Of course, the Mayor’s plan requires serious capital investments to bring it to fruition. The city already has a massive backlog of needed maintenance and repair let alone expansion and reallocation. The Mayor recognizes this and plans to propose a series of funding sources to ensure the success of the overall program goals for Move Seattle. This year, the Bridging the Gap levy will expire without reauthorization from Seattle residents. While the levy was never intended to fill all of the funding needs, it was meant to get Seattle on the right path, and it’s certainly achieved that. The Mayor has been exploring a bigger version, and that’s something we anticipating hearing about in the coming the coming weeks.

The small details matter, too, courtesy of SDOT.

The small details matter, too.

The Move Seattle plan itself is fairly accessible, despite its 76-page length, with handy diagrams and lots of interesting statistics, infographics, and other tidbits. For instance, SDOT talks about using innovative approaches to putting right-of-ways and public spaces to better use. As parklets, food carts, and sidewalk cafes increasingly become popular across the city, SDOT wants to expand those programs where they make sense. The way the agency sees it, the right-of-way is meant for all and should be more than just a way to move people and goods, it also is a place for interaction, creativity, spectacle, and freedom.

The latter portion of the plan talks about some high-profile projects that the Mayor and SDOT hope to prioritize over the next decade. To many, the project list won’t be too surprising with many of them focused on moving people around the core of the city and its various urban centers.

Long-time poster children for completion like the Burke-Gilman Trail’s Missing Link (noted as E on the project list) will finally see an end under the plan. For this project specifically, SDOT thinks it will take $15.9 million to finish, but they also highlight why the project really does deserve priority attention. Each project gets a project score in four areas, six qualitative measures, and a total project cost. From a safety standpoint, the Burke Gilman Trail Extension is off the charts scoring 20 out of 20 under the measure. It also ranks highly in interconnectedness by extending the trail that much further into the urban core of Ballard.

Rating a key project.

Rating a key project.

We’ll follow up to dissect elements of the Move Seattle plan in future articles.

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Published on by | Filed in Architecture, Land Use and Development

Design change for the Hotel Clare site, courtesy of DPD.

Design change for the Hotel Clare site, courtesy of DPD.

Plans for the Hotel Clare site are getting a big makeover. Located on the corner of Second Avenue and Virginia Street, the project is getting scaled back from a 39-story residential and hotel tower to a now-proposed 17-story hotel. For the beloved Terminal Sales Annex Building that currently sits on the planned site, the project redesign could be an improvement. Ankrom Moisan Architects are leading the project design for Columbia West Properties, Inc, who hope to create a new luxury hotel for Downtown Seattle.

Previously, the applicants had received approval for the construction of a tower with 190 residential units and 154 hotel rooms. The 537,500 square-foot building would also have included 6,431 square feet of ground floor retail and 288 parking stalls. But the project revision will eliminate all residential units and instead develop 208 luxury hotel rooms with 68 parking stall (58 for cars, 10 for bikes) in a 140,500 square foot building. Ground floor retail will be comprised of 4,609 square feet.

The Hotel Clare proposal, courtesy of DPD.

The Hotel Clare proposal, courtesy of DPD.

The Project Proposal

Standing at 17 stories tall, the building will gracefully mix new and old into the project design–just as the architects intended. Steve Jones, Senior Architect of Ankrom Moisan, shared the overarching objectives for the project:

Hotel Clare is designed to highlight the Terminal Sales Annex Building. The landmark has long been an important element of the neighborhood and we want to respect that history while designing a new 208 guest room hotel on the site. We intentionally placed the guestroom tower to provide space and air to the neighboring buildings while allowing the Terminal Sales Annex to stand proud along Second Avenue. The tower placement preserves views from the apartments in the new Viktoria building, and provides a good separation between offices in the Terminal Sales Building and the new hotel guest rooms.

In addition to highlighting the site’s landmark, our client’s goals are to create a unique destination, minimize traffic impacts and to be a good neighbor along this stretch of Second Avenue. In collaboration with our client, we have designed a plaza with enhanced landscaping at the corner of Second and Virginia. This plaza provides a bit of open space for the public and emphasizes the Terminal Sales Annex’s history of being a sentinel on the street.

From the beginning of the project, the design intent has been to provide a backdrop to the landmark. The strong framing element reinforces the proposed tower’s east/west orientation where the majority of the views are.

As should be apparent–and in keeping with the project goals–much of the landmark structure will be retained and incorporated into the overall tower structure. On the ground floor, some podium elements will be located immediately adjacent to the Terminal Sales Annex Building, as well as a lobby entrance and porte cochere for hotel guests.

The podium elements will be distinct from the hotel tower and landmark building. The Second Avenue podium structure will be broken in two parts. The southern portion will appear partially as a one-story retail space up to the street front while the second will be recessed to give depth. A black overhang will cover the recessed space and cap the window at a prominent height while forming a portion of the southern column wall. It will also match the the tower’s black detailing. Meanwhile, the north portion of the podium will be two stories tall with ground floor retail and second story internal uses. In contrast to the southern portion, the north will feel of a smaller scale and flush with the landmark building using light limestone finishes.

The Virginia Street and alleyway side of Hotel Clare, courtesy of DPD.

The Virginia Street and alleyway side of Hotel Clare, courtesy of DPD.

The tower itself will be significantly set back from Second Avenue to reduce the feel of a such a long rectangular structure and give due respect to the landmark building. The facade will be a mix of glass and metal, but the architects have decided to add variation by using different types of glass and by offsetting window panes. Ultimately, these variations are meant to help create a more vertical feeling for the building to visually draw people’s eyes upward. A minor recess will be present on the top-most floors in the northeast corner. Additionally, the black column theme will come into play on the south side of the building, and continue across the roofline.

The Virginia Street and alleyway sides of Hotel Clare will be a bit more playful. Cantilevered angles will project along the alleyway while dark metal paneling will cover a large square area of the facade. In futuristic fashion, the elevator shaft will be pushed to the outside of the building. In this space, the cylindric elevator will run up and down for hotel guests and staff. As Jones notes, this will provide “a 2-stop, exterior express elevator [to take] guests from a street level lobby up to the upper floors. This allows the guests to experience amazing views of the Sound, Waterfront, and our skyline. This design element will help activate the skyline in the neighborhood.” Meanwhile, the porte cochere will dominate the lower portion of the structure. Built for cars, the space will serve as the place to drop off and pick up hotel guests. Vehicles will enter the porte cochere from Virginia and then exit through the alleyway back to the street. Garage access will also be available from this point.

Plaza area of Hotel Clare, courtesy of DPD.

Plaza area of Hotel Clare, courtesy of DPD.

While not very visible in most of the renderings, the architects plan to add some green life to the building. A landscaped plaza space will be located on the corner of Second and Virginia, which will include some seating for passersby and guests. The space isn’t large, probably no more than 200 square feet. Other landscaping will be provided in the form of streetscape and street tree improvements, as well as terraced landscaping near the base of the elevator shaft base. In between the elevator base and corner plaza will be the main lobby entrance for the Hotel Clare tower.

The project applicants have requested two departures from standard code, one minor and a second of larger significance. The minor request calls for intermittent breaks in overhead weather protection on Second Avenue. As in many newer buildings, the architects hope that small, stylized breaks between the glass canopy covers will be allowed in order to create a rhythm to them. The requirement for continuous overhead weather protection only applies to Second Avenue, where the podium structure won’t be set back from the street.

The more significant request for departure from code is to increase the area of building setbacks. Along Second Avenue, upper floor setbacks would be present in the podium structure and north of the landmark building. The land use code allows for up to 40% of the facade area between 15′ and 35′ above the sidewalk grade to be set back. The applicants propose 44%, but argue that the this will greatly increase the stature of the landmark building, even highlighting it by design.

The Past Lives On

Terminal Sales Annex Building and its smaller neighbor, courtesy of Google Streetview.

Terminal Sales Annex Building and its smaller neighbor, courtesy of Google Streetview.

A prominent feature of both the previous plans and the revised version is the historic Terminal Sales Annex Building. This building is a protected structure and located in the mid-block portion of the planned redevelopment. Originally opened in 1916, the building was first home to the Puget Sound News Company. By the 1940s, the building was “annexed” by the adjacent Terminal Sales Building, a sales and display center for distributors serving large, local department stores.

To link the buildings together, the property owners decided to physically connect them together via a skybridge (which has since been removed). Besides this historical connection, the building is of significant note because of its exemplar local style of Collegiate Gothic Revival using granite and glazed terracotta materials on the facade. The exterior details are very linear and ornate with raised parapet to the set the structure off.

The two structures to be removed, courtesy of Google Streetview.

The two structures to be removed, courtesy of Google Streetview.

The Terminal Sales Annex Building’s two neighbors to the south are not as lucky. These buildings will be demolished to make way for Hotel Clare’s brand new podium retail uses. The southernmost structure slated for demolition is a 4-story reinforced concrete structure built in 1911 that once served as an office building. The smaller building to the north is a single-story retail space. It followed the other two buildings onto the block in 1917. While new can be good, it’s always worthwhile remembering what came before, too.

How To Get Involved

If you’re interested in attending the community design review meeting for this project, you can do so tonight. The Downtown Design Review Board will meet at City Hall in Room L280, located at 600 Fifth Avenue. The design review meeting begin promptly at 5.30pm. Alternatively, if you wish submit comments in written form, you can do so by e-mailing Beth Hartwick, Project Planner, at Beth.Hartwick@seattle.gov and the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) at PRC@seattle.gov.

For more design review materials and upcoming meetings, see DPD’s design review page.

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