Posted by & filed under What We're Reading.

Parking Day Girls on the Run

Creative urbanism: Yesterday was PARK(ing) Day and Seattle Bike Blog took us on a little tour of the cool parklets. A free Scotland may have failed, but folks took to chalk graffiti to show their support! Lisbon’s got a dancing crosswalk light. The Washington Post reimagines the Union Station area of DC. A gondola idea has been making the rounds for New York City, but Second Avenue Sagas pretty much sums up that this is stupid idea, because you know, it’ll only carry three subway trains worth of passengers per hour (can we have that problem?!).

What you should knowMillennials love transit the most, cuz duh. The new Amtrak bill may not be all that bad; in fact, there are some reasons to cheer. The politics of America are pretty stark between renters and homeowners. What you should know about “road diets”. The future of supermarkets might be no packaging for food. Cap’n Transit talks rent control and why it’s not so good.

San Fran: Uber has decimated the taxis industry in San Francisco to the tune of 65% loss in taxi ridership. The future of BART trains and a refurbished system looks pretty slick. A trial of red-painted bus lanes turns out to help buses flow freely and keep cars out. And, the city is slated to get the first café made just for cats

The environmental front: Strategic reforestation could be a solution to fight pollution and ozone depletion. The EPA puts the kibosh on funding New York’s greenwashing of its CO2-oriented Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project.

Stark contrast in Seattle developments: The Rainier Valley continues to suffer with overparked projects and lack of good design. Meanwhile, a Capitol Hill developer has a pretty sympathetic neighborhood-oriented design for their project.

City Hall issues: The Mayor supports the expansion of car sharing in Seattle, and thinks that SDOT should be the decider for permitting, not the Council. A fight is brewing between progressives over the pre-kindergarten measures. John Fox continues his development hypocrisy by demanding no new growth, but saying that he wants impact fees that comes with it. The Council has a big idea on Linkage Fees and Publicola has all the details.

Transpo local: Metro’s financial outlook improved, a little. So cuts are slightly less than originally planned. The good news is that we still have Prop 1 to save and add service. Bertha tops the highway boondoggle list. It appears that the First Hill Streetcar will be ready for service in November, maybe. Beacon Hill is getting some much needed street rechannelizations that will benefit bikes and peds. Seattlish takes Danny Westneat’s car-free trolling article to task.

A trio of maps: An interactive map of languages spoken in Orange County zipcodes. Map the housing inequality due to the Great Recession. You might be a bit surprised where all of America’s geniuses are living. What DC might look like if it became a state.

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Posted by & filed under The View From Nathan's Bus.

Picture 4

 

I’m riding the bus home tonight, racking my brain for particulars. He had a helmet, I’m thinking. It’s just after 1am, and I’m sitting forward on the last bus to my house. Today was the Torchlight Parade, and a detail from the night of madness is nagging at me. Finally I decide to go up and talk to the driver– to distract myself, to get another opinion, anything. Nice guy, this fellow. Younger, late thirties, with a family; he just got back from traveling to Yellowstone. I see him every Saturday night.

“How was your day today?”
“Oh, hey. It was surprisingly easy,” he responds, despite the intensity of the crowds. He describes some technicalities of timing and direction that led to his shift being an unexpected cakewalk. I chat briefly about the general quality of my own day– incredibly hectic but incredibly enjoyable– before getting down to brass tacks.

“Hey, so something happened on my last trip that I’m confused about.”
“Okay, yeah.” He leans in, curious.
“So I was doing the 7, southbound, and halfway through the route a guy gets on with a bike. A Latino-looking guy, maybe Hispanic.”
“Okay.”
“When I get to the end, he forgets his bike, because nobody’s on the bus, and the bike is still there. So on my way back into town, I look for him, thinking he’ll be out there waiting to get his bike back.”
“Yeah.”

“But there’s another 7 right behind me, and we start skip-stopping. Nobody gets on my bus asking about the bike, so I start to think he must be on the 7 behind me. Musta been on one of the stops I skipped. But my 7 only goes to Fifth and Jackson. The 7 behind me goes all the way through downtown and out to the U District.”
“Uh huh okay,”
“So I’m thinking about this bike, and this guy, and at Fifth and Jackson I tell everyone, this is our last stop but there’s another 7 coming five minutes behind me, and he’ll go all the way through downtown. I tell them this, and I tell them, I’m actually going to wait for this next 7 with you guys because I want to talk to the driver about something. And I mention, I want to talk to him something about this bicycle, find out who’s bike this is. And as soon as I say that, a guy on my bus says, that’s my bike!”
“Ooohhh!”
“And I say, what? And he says, yeah, that’s my bike, right there, and I’m like, I really think this bike belongs to someone else. This skinny Hispanic guy from earlier, I remember him. But this guy, this heavyset black guy who looks completely different, he’s saying this is my bike!”
“Oh no!”
“Yeah. And he’s saying, I would swear on my sister’s grave, and he starts telling me all this stuff about the bike that turns out to be true, it has no front brakes, the back brakes are bad–”
“No way!”

“-And the thing is, he’s wearing a helmet! He even has a bike lock in his pocket. He takes it out and shows it to me. And I’m thinking, am I crazy? Am I completely crazy? He’s going to the next 7, and I tell him, I think the guy who owns this bike, that guy is going to be on that 7, but he’s like, doesn’t matter, this is my bike, I can’t believe you thought this belonged to some Spanish guy.”
“Did you tell him the bike had been on your bus for an earlier trip already?”
“Yeah, he said he fell asleep, and he was glad to get the bike back, but he didn’t say anything about it when he got on! I don’t get it. I was a hundred percent sure it was the Latino guy until he started talking. I looked at him for a long time and finally I said okay, ’cause what can I do, and we shook hands. I mean, he had a helmet, so he must be, why else would anyone wear a helmet, and he totally walked over to the 7 bus stop for the next 7 to downtown.”
“And the other guy was probably gonna be on it!”
“Definitely, if that was his bicycle!”
“I would have loved to been on that bus!”
“Exactly, either they would be fighting or… I wish I could get on that thing right now just to find out. I’ve been sitting here the past fifteen minutes, trying to figure it out in my head. I think I’m going crazy. All I know is I’m never telling anyone there’s a missing bike ever again!”

“Well, a something similar involving a bike happened to me recently.”
“Okay,” I said.
“I was driving the 71, by Virginia, also very late at night, and there’s only a few people on the bus. There’s a bike on the bus. A guy gets off and I’m positive it’s the guy who put the bike on. But he starts walking the other way, outside toward the back of the bus. I honk the horn a little but he keeps going. And I see him cross the street behind the bus. So I lean out the window and yell, dude! You forgot your bike! You know? And he can’t really hear me so he starts walking closer, and I tell him again, your bike, don’t forget your bike. And he says oh, that’s not my bike. And he leaves. Then I turn to the inside of the bus and say to everyone, who is the owner of this bike? Does this bike belong to any of you guys? And they all said no! It was none of theirs either! Nobody took the bike!”

Welcome to the Twilight Zone, was all we could come up with. That or we’re both nuts. As he spoke a shooting star streaked across the clear night sky. Now that had to be real– both of us saw it! We marveled at its brilliance. Oh, the things that happen in the middle of the night!

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Posted by & filed under Culture, Events.

Come join us for PARK(ing) Day! Our parklet is on the west side of First Avenue between Stewart St and Virginia St (map).You’ll find us there any time between 9am and 3pm today. We plan to have board games, street furniture, and a bike repair station set up right in the heart of Downtown Seattle. And, we hope that you’ll drop by for coffee, games, people watching, and good company.

But don’t join just us. There are plenty of other great parklet spaces to see–50 in fact! SDOT has a great PDF map to help you find locations and a full location list.

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Posted by & filed under Culture, Events.

You read that right. This year, Seattle will host 50 parklets across the city, up from 46 from the previous. We’re number 13 on the list (see larger scale PDF map and location list), but there’s going to be plenty of other great spaces to visit, and we hope you do. As SDOT says:

Even though you probably have to go to work or school on Friday, we hope you’ll have a few minutes to check out the cool ways that your friends and neighbors are using a parking space for a day. There will be life-sized Jenga, greenhouses and trees, corn hole and board games, a Jimi Hendrix-inspired performance space, forbidden books, pop-up protected bike lanes, pianos, art, and just about anything else you can imagine!

PARK(ing) Day happens once a year, on the third Friday in September, and is an opportunity for any Seattleite to temporarily turn parking spaces into parks. The event raises awareness about the importance of creating a walkable, livable, healthy city and helps people re-think how our streets can be used.

PARKing Day SDOT

As we noted last week, The Urbanist will be hosting a PARK(ing) Day parklet on the west side of First Avenue between Stewart St and Virginia St (map).You’ll find us there any time between 9am and 3pm on Friday. We plan to have board games, street furniture, and a bike repair station set up right in the heart of Downtown Seattle. And, we hope that you’ll drop by for coffee, games, people watching, and good company.

We’re still looking for volunteers if you happen to have time to help facilitate or run our bike repair station. Let us know if you have any questions/ideas or want to help by sending us an e-mail.

Get out there and enjoy the parklets!

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Posted by & filed under Architecture.

Editor’s note: This is a cross-post by David Neiman, founder of Neiman Taber Architects, a local architecture firm that designs microhousing projects. 

We recently designed a couple of micro-housing projects (one under construction and one about to begin) that have pushed the envelope in terms of small-unit housing. Both projects began with clients that gave us a mandate to design micro housing that would support and build community among residents, fit well into its neighborhood, and be a desirable place to live–not just a cheap one.

As the city council seems suddenly poised to regulate private congregate housing out of existence, we thought it would be a good opportunity to review these projects in some detail.

Marion Micros–1215 E Marion St

Marion Micros is one of the first micro projects to abandon the “eight rooms per kitchen” model entirely. Technically, this project is instead defined as congregate housing. The upper floors and the basement have 9-11 units per floor with a shared kitchen in the middle. Unit sizes vary from 150 sf to 240 sf. The majority of the main floor is reserved for very generous common areas–an open lounge, an event kitchen, a TV lounge, a study hall, and a laundry area. There is a single entry to the building. The pathway to get from the front door to the units cuts through the commons, increasing opportunities for the kind of chance interaction that builds community. The laundry area isn’t shunted off to a corner of the basement. It sits in an open glassy room next to the entry lounge, so that doing your laundry and waiting for it has the option to be a social experience, not just a chore. The commons is a space that can be programmed–it can facilitate organized activities like a shared dinner or a movie night. While the large commons on the first floor is a living room at the building scale, the kitchen provided on all other levels acts as a sort of “pajama commons,” where immediate neighbors can casually interact.

Marion Micros elevation

 

Marion Micros level 1

 

Marion Micros Level 2

 

Marion Micros Section

Read more below the jump »

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Posted by & filed under Transportation.

IMG_1655 (4928x3264) - Copy

With the introduction of new protected bike lanes last week, we knew that ridership in Downtown would skyrocket. We just didn’t know how much. From a press release yesterday, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) delivered some amazing numbers:

…[SDOT] released data for the new Second Avenue Protected Bike Lane that shows bicycle ridership has tripled due to the new facility. With the conversion of the former one-way bike lane to a two-way, protected bike lane, an average of 1,099 bicyclists a day used the new lane on September 9, 10 and 11 according to electronic counters. This is three times the daily number of cyclists that had previously used the former one-way bike lane.

To put those numbers in perspective, SDOT tweeted out a comparison graph of the new bike lanes versus the old bike lanes on Second Avenue. The graph below speaks for itself. Impressive ridership gains are seen for all hours of the day, but most dramatically during peak commutes. For more on the numbers and bike lanes, check out Tom’s analysis over at the Seattle Bike Blog.

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Posted by & filed under Land Use, Policy, Politics.

Mayor Ed Murray sent a strong letter addressed to the Seattle City Council yesterday. In it, he dropped a big critique on Council’s approach to regulating microhousing. The mayor communicated to the Council that while he was tentatively supportive of the Council’s most recent microhousing legislation, he was deeply concerned about newly proposed amendments. His reasoning was brief, but clear: more restrictive rules could drastically increase costs to microhousing developments, and thereby future tenants.

According to Publicola, the Mayor’s letter has another dimension to it: veto threat to legislation crossing his desk. Despite the Mayor’s letter, council members still proposed and passed their amendments during yesterday’s afternoon Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee meeting. The full Council is not likely to vote on final legislation until October 18th, so further changes could occur between now and then.

The Mayor’s letter is below in full:

Dear Councilmembers:

As you know, I sent down legislation, C.B. 118067 earlier this year. My intent was to better regulate the development of micro-housing and congregate residences by defining this type of development within the Land Use Code; prohibiting micro-housing development in single-family zones (congregate residences are already prohibited); applying a design review threshold by the size of the building (not number of dwelling units); and providing notice to neighbors as part of the Design Review process.

These were the concerns I was hearing and that is why I responded quickly with legislation.

Wanting to conduct more outreach, Council convened a working group to dig deeper into the issues that were of most concern. As a result of that stakeholder group, a substitute bill was introduced.

For the most part, I was supportive of the proposed approach of C.B. 118201, to regulate small efficiency dwelling units and congregate residences, though I was mindful about how more restrictive regulations could make these types of developments too cost prohibitive to build.

Several amendments are being considered at today’s Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee. As you review the proposed amendments to the legislation, I urge you to keep the affordability issue in mind. I am concerned about indirectly regulating density through land use code standards related to storage space and other amenities, and the unintended consequences that may occur as a result.

Regulations are needed for this type of development, but our regulations need to help and not hinder the process and the outcomes we are hoping to achieve. And one of those achievements is more housing. That is a priority.

With that in mind, I look forward to working with you and the Housing Advisory Committee on the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda in the months ahead, and developing a bold and actionable suite of recommendations to increase housing affordability and options and neighborhood livability in Seattle.

Sincerely,

Mayor Edward B. Murray

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Posted by & filed under Politics, Transportation.

seattle-judges

Fred Bonner is sitting in the center of this picture. The photo is courtesy of City of Seattle and credited to Mike Folden

Back in August, Kiro TV reported that Fred Bonner, a 25 year veteran of the Seattle Municipal Court, has likely been taking advantage of a reduced parking rate offered for people that carpool. Reporters from the news station watched as Judge Fred Bonner parked his car a number of days over a three month period and each day he was seen driving alone. After digging further, the news agency found that the paperwork used to apply for the reduced rate was not completely filled out, lacking the required names of the people Bonner was carpooling with. While KIRO’s reporting is not conclusive, it comes at an inopportune time. Bonner is seen as vulnerable in this year’s election against Damon Shadid, a Seattle attorney who practices criminal defense and immigration law. Additionally, the report raises some important questions about this incentive program.

Purpose Of Reduced Rate For Carpooling

The reduced parking rate for people who carpool is essentially an incentive to help cut down on traffic. The idea is that if there are additional benefits from carpooling, more people will do it and there were will be fewer cars on the road. While this is logical, if it were true, it seems likely that a large number of people would be carpooling without the incentive.

Both An Incentive And Disincentive

The financial gain from carpooling with just two people effectively cuts the cost of commuting in half. In fact, if the cost of parking were low enough, the additional incentive from the carpooling program might actually reduce carpooling. If you consider the time cost from picking up more riders, a car with two people that utilizes the incentivized parking may receive a large enough economic benefit that they would carpool regardless of the incentive, but not pick up any additional people if the gain was smaller due to the incentive. To demonstrate, here’s an example:

John and Jane work in the same office and commute separately into downtown Seattle every day, both paying $300 a month for a parking space. After talking, they realize that they could save $150 a month on parking by commuting together. At the same time though they each have to spend an extra about 10 minutes driving every other day, or about 2 hours each month. Jill is also interested in joining the carpool, but they ultimately decide not to add another person because their additional savings is only marginally larger, $50 as compared to $150, while the additional time is even greater, every third day they are spending 10 additional minutes commuting or an additional hour a month. 3 hours more of commuting simply isn’t worth $50 dollars in savings.

As you can see, there is only a marginal financial benefit from adding each commuter to the carpool. This dynamic is compounded by reducing the cost of parking with two people but not reducing it further with three people. In other words, there’s less and less of an incentive to each additional person to a carpool and the incentive is even further reduced by incentive programs.

Additional Problems

As mentioned in the KIRO article, this program suffers from a problem of enforcement. While the punishment for fraud seems pretty strict, it turns out that the fine is likely less than the benefit Bonner received over the years, estimated at around $12,000.

MISUSE OF PERMIT may result in a citation, vehicle impound, revocation of the permit, a $5,000 fine and up to one year in jail. Misuse includes, but is not limited to:

  1. Failure to comply with the “Basic Rules” outlined above;
  2. Falsifying information on the application or renewal forms;
  3. Duplicating a permit;
  4. Transferring a permit to persons or vehicles not registered to your carpool;
  5. Having concurrent, monthly parking at another facility;
  6. Receiving a carpool parking discount and concurrently receiving a transit pass subsidy.

Additionally, it’s not clear that there is any enforcement or if there were, how that would work logistically. Beyond misuse of the permit though, there are broader issues. First, traffic is a deterrent itself to further commuting by car. Encouraging carpooling may increase the capacity of our roads, but research has shown there is nearly a one-to-one relationship between road capacity and traffic. In other words, if we manage to increase the capacity of our roads, we don’t necessarily reduce traffic. Instead, more people just end up driving.

If this is true, we may be compounding our woes even further with the incentive program by collecting less revenue for the city. That revenue could be used for solutions that actually reduce the amount of traffic.

A Better Solution

The city should figure out how to increase the cost of parking. If the city increased the cost of parking, it would consequently increase the economic benefit from carpooling and riding transit. It might even increase the number of people who want to live in the city to avoid commuting and all its costs. There is a tremendous amount of research on the benefits of increasing the cost of parking.

The city has already done some good work on this but there is a lot more that could be done. For example, the city could probably craft taxes or fees that account for the negative impact of surface parking lots in downtown, which would encourage their owners to develop. Additionally, in the same way the city previously charged for business for employees that commuted alone, the city could have a similar fee for all car commuters. As a show of good faith, the city could use that revenue to provide transit passes for people who were affected.

Update: This article has been updated to reflect that KIRO tracked Judge Bonner parking his car over a period of three months not one month.

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Posted by & filed under Land Use, Policy.

Footprint - Wallingford

Image: Microhousing in Wallingford by Footprint.

The long hard road to a new set of rules for microhousing may finally be coming to a conclusion. The Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee meets this afternoon and is expected to vote on a final set of changes (see the legislative brief and code language) to microhousing legislation before sending the bill to the full council. Capitol Hill Seattle has the details in an article today and says that:

The new rules pounded out after over years of debate will continue to allow microhousing development in dense areas like Capitol Hill while setting a new average size requirement for the apartments built in lowrise-zoned areas. Under the compromises forged by [Council Member] O’Brien, Seattle will end up with two types of microhousing. In areas zoned lowrise where you’re more likely to find single family homes or small apartments, microhousing units must average 220 square feet–though Tuesday’s amendments may adjust size thresholds.

Over the past two years, the process for developing reasonable microhousing regulations has been hijacked by anti-development single-family residential groups. The groups have consistently used the typical concern trolling tactics of raising non-issues and emotionally inflammatory arguments. What started out as simple opposition to perceived parking, building height, and density issues morphed over time by condemning developers, residents, and city staff.

The anti-development crowd in its zeal doubled-down to define what was a humane amount of livable space, how many people could use a kitchen, and what constitutes a unit. When that wasn’t enough, they proceeded to make specious claims that developers wouldn’t provide proper waste collection facilities and that every sleeping room needs a sink (or the world might just collapse in on itself).

When I first learned about the Department of Planning and Development’s effort to create a regulatory framework for microhousing, I had hopes for superior development policies like increased bicycle parking ratios, a review process for building design, restriction of vehicle parking to residents, and establishment of enhanced site development layout requirements. Indeed, some of these broad elements have been incorporated in the final legislation.

However, the concern trolling of neighborhood groups and endless council consternation largely won out in the end. It’s unfortunate that the microhousing legislation will come out as a mixed bag of rules that no one will be happy with. But to add insult to injury, the process reached far beyond the common interest of the public and instead into the bedrooms of future residents, the real victims in this battle for choice and affordability.

CHS hits the mark saying that:

Critics and some developers are not thrilled about the pushback. Capitol Hill microhousing developer Scott Shapiro–who also helped create the Melrose Market–recently told the council there is “no good policy reason to limit size” and called the regulation a “a de facto downzone” amid “a housing crisis” in Seattle. “Design review is broken,” he said and needs to be fixed before it is “imposed” on microhousing. Shapiro offered no opinion on the sinks.

Council Member Mike O’Brien perhaps summarizes all of this the best: “People living in smaller units is a choice. What we really care about is how big the building is on the outside.” It’s too bad we aren’t likely to give people a choice.

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