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

Sep04#01transfer

 

They get on at inbound Campus Parkway, having just passed up a 71. “So I’m just goin’ to Capitol Hill, not Downtown,” I explain. It’s a short 49, merely going down Broadway and eventually back to Base.
“What?” says the first man.
“That’s fine, Capitol Hill perfect,” says the other. “You go down Broadway, right?”
“Yeah, Broadway.”
“See, Broadway,” says the second fellow to his friend. “Perfect.”

I hear the second man muttering. They’re the only people on the bus– it’s my last trip, a late-night short 49 to close out the evening. The pair strike me as first-generation African versions of the Odd Couple, or maybe Laurel & Hardy, except this time Hardy’s not tall and heavy, but the short squat fellow. Just as self-serious though. Laurel in this case is the second guy, taller than in those classic films, lanky and very fit this evening, one of those folks you sense feels pretty jolly regardless of the circumstance. Hardy over here, not so much. He’s muttering darkly. “Well, that 71 stops at Convention Place, which is closer. Had we known.”

“Hey,” Laurel pipes up. “Where you go on Broadway?”
“I go south on, I go all the way down Broadway to Jackson.”
“See?” he says to Hardy. “That’s perfect!”
“Excellent!” I say. “Where do you want to go?”
“On Pine, close to Broadway, but a little bit….”
I think he’s about to say ‘west,’ so I cut in with, “like down by Belmont, Summit? Bellevue?”
“Yeah, over there.”
“Oh, yeah. I’d say its about equidistant between the 71 and me. And this way you get to walk downhill!”

Stan Laurel smiles, revealing rows of shiny, spotless white teeth. In an East African accent he says, “my friend just don’t want to walk! I’m blue collar, he is white collar!”

He and I laugh in solidarity.

“He’s the bossman,” Laurel continues. “Me, I got my running shoes!”

“You ready for anything!”

“Exactly!”

“You guys going home?”

“Yeah. Well, not yet. We make a stop first, my friend he wants to see some music.” I can’t get over the deep fearless baritone of his voice. One of those men whom you have no idea what their past life consisted of, but you better believe it required confidence.

“Excellent! Yeah, don’t go home yet!”

“Yeah, is just a small band, one of our friends, underground, but they’re good, you know?”

“Sometimes that’s the best!”

“Yes!”

Read more below the jump »

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Posted by & filed under Housing, Land Use, Policy, Renters.

title image - superstudio girl on grid
Film still from Superstudio’s Life Supersurface, 1972

Linkage Fees, proposed fees on new development to pay for affordable housing, have a lot of critics. And the critics’ arguments are probably all pretty familiar by now to those who follow housing issues in the city. But for those who don’t, a quick summary: regulations that ostensibly fund affordable housing through fees on developers act like a tax on developers who pass on that cost to renters. Taxing development increases costs for developers who pull back on the production of new units; we all scramble for fewer available apartments, bid up the rent, and make everyone involved pretty miserable. This is just Economics 101 and patently true, we’re told, so get with the program you well-meaning dolts!

I hope to offer an Economics 101, or rather, a Land Economics 101 case that Linkage Fees (and other taxes on new development like Incentive Zoning) do not diminish developers’ returns and do not diminish housing supply. In fact, they are a wealth transfer from land owners to affordable housing supply. I also hope to expand the debate around affordable housing policy, which seems locked in a developer/renter rhetoric, to include land owners and the part they play in housing regulations.

The supply-side argument casts developers as suppliers and renters as demanders. When you tax something you get less of it, goes a common refrain which also makes a lot of sense. As taxes effectively make a product more expensive, suppliers are able to sell less of the product at the old quantity; they pull back on production until they find the quantity that will be demanded at the new higher price. That’s how cigarettes, coffee, gasoline, and apartments work. Tax them, price goes up, consumption goes down, supply goes down, demand and supply wiggle around each other a bit until finally a new equilibrium is established.

 

Image1 - Impact of Inclusionary Zoning-1
From “The Economics of Inclusionary Zoning Reclaimed”:
How Effective Are Price Controls? by Powell and Stringham, 2005

 

When demand and supply react to changes in price, economists call those goods elastic–the more elastic a good is, the more sensitive supply and demand are to changes in prices, and the more inelastic the less sensitive supply and demand are to changes in prices. (I will focus on supply inelasticity here because it’s more important to understanding the relationship between land owners and developers.) Gasoline, for instance, typically has an inelastic supply. A 10% increase in gas prices might result in only a 2% increase in production of gasoline. Why so little? Gasoline is a hard thing to get out of the ground, transport, and refine to the point that it runs your car. It also happens to be largely controlled by cartels who don’t see much benefit in driving down prices by producing as much as demand would support at the lower original price.

Land is like gasoline but more so. Rather than just being inelastic, it is perfectly inelastic. If the price of land goes up 10%, land supply goes up 0%. That’s just the nature of land–to be fixed in supply. Land supply is eternal… or about as eternal as it gets in economics.

The inelastic supply of land changes the supply curve from something that looks like the diagonal line above to a vertical line like below.

 

IMPACT OF LINKAGE FEES ON LAND PRICES
image2 - Impact of Linkage Fees

 

A tax on development like Linkage Fees or Incentive Zoning still “pushes the supply curve up” but because the supply curve is vertical (perfectly inelastic) instead of diagonal (elastic) quantity supplied stays the same. The demand curve for land, however, does change. It shifts down along the supply curve as the new taxes diminish potential revenue and developers pay less for the same quantity of land.

There’s a method of land valuation in real estate appraisal that states that land value is the residual of price minus potential development cost, minus the cost of borrowing money, and minus developer profit. Because of its inelasticity, land value bears the burden of changes in potential development. An important corollary to this is that when the city increases the development potential of a hot market like South Lake Union, land value again absorbs these changes minus the cost of development, borrowed money, and profit. This time, though, the result is an increase in land value.

When Linkage Fees are phased in developers will consider the revenue achievable by building an apartment, fees included, and will offer bids on land that reflect that new development reality. Because land supply is perfectly inelastic–fixed in supply–the cost of the fees will come out of the land. (In the same way a change in the zoning code comes out of or goes into the land.) And then, after developers build apartments, they will sell or rent their units based on what the market will bear. Renters and developers have an elastic relationship with each other–they change their supply and demand based on changes in prices–and abide by the familiar supply-and-demand negotiation around price and quantity.

There are possible exceptions to any theory, however. We can imagine that hill-flattening (and supply-increasing) regrades that would have been feasible no longer pencil out with post-Linkage Fees land prices, or that land owners collude to maintain prices, or that affordable run-down apartments on the verge of demolition stay that way a little bit longer. These are speculative scenarios and, although they deserve their own public airing to see which ones stand to hurt affordability, the potential benefits of Linkage Fees are very significant and grounded in the fundamentals of real estate theory and land economics.

What these theories makes clear is that by including land owners in the process of producing and supplying housing we are able to see that land owners, not developers and not renters, pay for fees on new development. Fees that go on to produce more housing supply.

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Posted by & filed under Land Use, Transportation.

Seattle Department of Transportation traffic engineer, Dongho Chang, was in San Francisco last week for a NACTO meeting. He’s got some wonderful insights on streets in the city and found Market Street to be a great place for all modes represented–much like our Broadway in Capitol Hill (once the streetcar gets going!) Maybe our own Market Street in Ballard can look like this one day… What do you think?

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Posted by & filed under Policy.

Ballard Farmers Market.

Ballard Farmers Market.

The mini-neighborhoods that make up Greater Ballard (Central, Adams, Sunset Hill, Loyal Heights, Whittier Heights, and West Woodland) together form an incredible place. Ballard is a neighborhood with beautiful people, parks, markets, restaurants, night life, and supreme views of the Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains. So it’s no surprise that Ballard is fast becoming a destination for Seattleites and visitors alike.

But despite being an up-and-coming neighborhood, it is has some serious physical and political constraints that are holding it back from reaching a greater potential. Let’s explore some of Ballard’s not-too-distant past and its (hopeful) potential future.

Transportation

The Past Slight

When I was in grade school, my parents told me that one day, I would be able to ride the monorail from our neighborhood to Mom’s work Downtown. At that time, I had no idea that I would grow professionally to have a passion for mass transit. But even then, I knew that the promise of monorail was cool and good for Seattle. We all know how that ended. The Green Line was halved, Ballard being the first portion to be nixed. That was a huge second slight to Ballard. The first slight came from the 1980s when the neighborhood was recognized for having high ridership demand, and just waiting for that high capacity transit line to serve it (see image below). Just think, this might have been our mass transit system–nearly 30 years ago!

Despite this setback, some serious good came out of it. Sound Transit built up great experience in managing and constructing transit. And now we have the opportunity to build a system of better, regional lines.

1985 System

Envisioned high capacity transit service. Credit to Oran Viriyincy.

The Present and Future Remedy

Sound Transit and Seattle Department of Transportation began a high capacity transit study between Ballard and Downtown back in January 2013. The public feedback results aren’t surprising and you can read some of my past analysis on the topic, in addition to others like Ben Schiendleman and Seattle Subway. ST and SDOT did a great job by spearheading this study before any potential ST3 vote, which is a huge boon for the effort!

Land Use

The (Accidental) Slight

In the heyday of the “Grunge Movement” (mid-1990s) Ballard went through a rezone, the effects of which we see today. Many NIMBYs cursed repetitive “bread loaf” buildings that eventually went up. Buildings that are developed and designed more by the floor area ratio and seismic wood height limitations than for aesthetics and neighborhood appeal.

Let me be very clear in that I begrudge no developer or architect for building to the zoning code as it was written and approved years and years ago. All I can say is that there is always an opportunity to revise and rewrite the code so that all parties can make better buildings and neighborhood places (a very worthy video). I may be an optimist, but I truly think that NIMBY resistance isn’t due to the prospect of more neighbors, it’s due to uninspiring, clunky buildings.

The (Hopeful) Future Remedy

Ballard’s Urban Design Framework (UDF) can bring land use policy recommendations to the Seattle City Council. Ideally, those recommendations would be future-oriented and forward-thinking. We know DPD is very capable of making such recommendations (and has!), but we also know that a few vocal outcries could derail the resolve for good, equitable, sustainable, and future civic planning. Below is the case for one recommendation that can benefit Central Ballard as a neighborhood, and by extension the city and region as a whole.

DPD should pursue a slight rezone on the block with the current highest and underutilized zoning capacity in order to save it from becoming an uninspired block in a few years. Central Ballard can simultaneously demonstrate to Sound Transit that it can be the anchor station for a Ballard to Downtown line (presumably funded in a 2016 ST3 ballot measure). Let’s help give Sound Transit more of a reason to deliver us a line that would further activate Downtown Ballard.

In the image below, you’ll see a purple block roughly bounded between 20th Ave NW, NW Market St, 17th Ave NW, and NW 56th St. That block should be the nexus of a Ballard to Downtown light rail station.

Parcels with remaining development capacity.

Parcels with remaining development capacity.

Below I have highlighted a block that I believe is a prime candidate for such a slight upzone. It’s also the same block identified in the Ballard UDF as having the greatest development capacity in terms of redevelopment of parcels and zoning. The block already has NC3-85, the highest zoning type for the neighborhood!

Only 2% of Ballard’s zoning is NC3-85. And, about half of that has already been developed. A slight rezone with building “massing” setbacks from the streets and only a 16% floor area ratio increase from 6 to 7 could really capitalize on its already excellent location!

Ballard zoning map.

Ballard zoning map.

Here is an explanation of the above image: The orange overlay shows where all of Ballard’s strictly NC3-85 current zoning capacity lies. The purple and blue indicates where recent or “built out” construction has occurred (i.e. non developable property for at least a few decades). If you look at the UDF Development Capacity map (the first image in this section) and my highlighted existing zoning map together, you’ll find that the two maps correlate for the greatest potential to activate new, exciting space in Central Ballard.

Putting It All Together

Ballard (and North Seattle) residents have a right to be skeptical about changes in transportation planning and neighborhood zoning. But that doesn’t mean that those goals and pursuits should be watered down and scaled back for fear of enraging a vocal minority. That’s what happened to the Green Line and largely the 1990s zoning in Central Ballard. And nobody is happy about either of those almost 20 years down the line. Let’s not repeat the past.

Hopefully, Ballard will take the same cues from the University District and its UDF. Create a few dense businesses and residences to act as anchors to a regional mass transit line. If Ballard doesn’t, I’m afraid it will build out under its current zoning capacity within the next 5-10 years. If and when it does that, the life cycles for those buildings will be approximately 50 years leading to a very stagnant Ballard. That unfortunate future would lack iconic buildings and have a populace potentially stranded without grade-separated mass transit.

Be bold Ballard. It’s what makes you, you.

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Posted by & filed under Architecture, Housing.

Multi-generational housing has seen steadily increasing demand throughout Northern Europe, and stateside as well. The concept even hit the NYT late in 2012.  While I don’t have a Grandpa Joe or live with my in-laws in a one room apartment (thankfully), the topic has come up more than a few times, and there’s a good possibility if we stay in the US, one set of our parents could move in with us. Multi-generational housing presents a unique typology that isn’t commonplace, but offers a lot of potential. It’s a typology that the City of Seattle should encourage–nay, must encourage. Unfortunately, the City recently blocked an intriguing proposal by a colleague of mine, causing the client to move to another jurisdiction.

willywonka_
There are a few different models of multi-generational housing, and size/form can vary from detached housing with additional living space to large complexes. They can be a means of pooling a family’s assets and building a better home where everyone is close together. Co-housing definitely comes with its own interesting set of demands and requirements, but there are also great opportunities in them. A family with children, a single parent household, or seniors would all be suitable for a multi-generational house. So, here’s a brief survey of a few innovative projects regarding those typologies.

Das ADU

At its most basic level, a multigenerational house could just be a (detached, row) house with mother-in-law apartment. If detached, they’re going to be the hardest to meet Passivhaus, slightly easier with the rowhouse. The incorporation of an ADU makes a lot of sense for Seattle’s SF zones (though it is highly unfortunate it’s limited to just one per lot). Unfortunately, even though ADUs are great for reducing insurance, mortgage and tax burdens–something like 1,400 (legal) ADUs have been permitted on Seattle’s ~124,000 single family lots since the ADU ordinance was passed in 1994. Obviously, a ton of potential to add density here. At a minimum, it would probably be responsible to design new housing to incorporate an ADU for future flexibility.

Das DADU

The incorporation of a DADU or backyard cottage could be another way to set up housing for the elderly. While the typology is intriguing–financing can be relatively difficult to pencil out and the DADU ordinance has some ridiculously onerous requirements. DADUs are often touted as a means of increasing density–though few have been built in Seattle. Sightline Institute had a great series of posts on ADUs/DADUs that revealed how the City could encourage more of this form of housing.

Das combi-HAUS

A step up from the ADU/DADU is the incorporation of multiple living suites combined in one building, with a central living space(s). This, to me, is a really great approach, and there have been several successful projects–some even Passivhaus or near-PH. I guess one way to think of this could be micro co-housing. Each family has their own space–with shared common areas. If kept relatively compact, it could be much easier to achieve Passivhaus than detached housing. I also like the idea of reducing the number of kitchens–helps keep costs lower.

One I’m very fond of is a concrete project in Loerrach, Germany by Gunter Pfeifer. The project consists of a space for the grandparents on the ground floor, children’s bedrooms in one concrete ‘wing’ and the parent’s bedroom in the other. The central common area brings natural light deep into the house and utilizes several aspects of Pfeifer’s ‘kybernetische prinzip’ for a lower energy residence. This central space that plays a key role in the thermal dynamics of the building is a common thread in Pfeifer’s work (Learn more and see additional photos).


Foto:  Francesca Giovanelli

Miyahara Architect Office’s TTN House is another interesting example. A 3-unit multi-generational house for an elderly couple and their two daughters. The project was designed for future flexibility, so each unit has self contained bathroom and kitchen. The structural images on this one are really interesting (Learn more from archdaily).

Teruo Miyahara

A relatively well-known and stunning example is Kraenzle + Fischer-Wasels’ mehrgenerationenhaus in Darmstadt. The project was built by an elderly couple, with the intention of their daughters’ families eventually moving in. The project is three  separate two-story units under one roof. Comingled between the units are some incredible common spaces and buffers (patios, gardens, entry). The project was planned to easily adapt to change (incorporation of an elevator or stairlift). Conceivably, it could even become a 6-unit apartment if the need arose. Not surprisingly, this won a number of awards.

 

Das HAUSes

Another variant, which may be more palatable from a long-term ownership perspective is a form of addition, apartments or row-houses that allow multiple generations to reside adjacent to each other. Grandma may not want to eat lunch with the rugrat on a daily basis–and so this provides a little more solitude in the present. And if the need arises to rent out the adjacent unit, there are fewer hurdles. The units can also be huddled together to make Passivhaus much easier to achieve. Better yet, a whole series of them to form a larger community, intertwined like some Corbusian wine rack.

This phenomenal, modern, low-energy addition by Anja Thede to a 1920s house outside of Darmstadt plays up the assets of the site really well. The incorporation of an addition allows for future flexibility–the elderly to live in one house while the younger family in the adjacent, the ability for one unit to become a separate rental, or even an office. With a total floor area of 3,060 square feet, this type of project would easily fit on a typical SF5000 lot here in Seattle. And I just find it to be rather stunning (Read and see more photos, pdf in German).

Das MAXhaus

In terms of large scale projects, there have been several completed buildings that combine housing for singles, families, and seniors. This is the version that I think is more common in the EU. Most Americans might say “well hey, isn’t this just typical apartments?” And at some level, it is–though these tend to be of two flavors. One, a mix of units including those incorporating ‘universal design’, as well as nursing facilities. Second, an elderly residence with community centers or pre-schools. In this sense, it’s more a community asset where multiple generations can interact on a daily basis. Of course, Passivhaus is overly applicable to a situation like this–the heating needs will be signifiacntly less while ventilation strategies may start to get fun. In many respects, the high level of comfort (No drafts! No cold surfaces!) of a Passivhaus, and excellent indoor air quality, pair phenomenally with the comfort requirements of elderly housing. I’ll actually go as far and say anyone building elderly housing at this point and not shooting for Passivhaus is going to lose a chunk of the market to the enterprising developer that takes that on.

One of the more interesting large-scale multi-generational projects is baumschlager + eberle’s Siedlung Ruggächern in the Affoltern district of Zuerich. A massive undertaking, 14 buildings of various height incorporating nearly 280 apartments for elderly, singles, and families. Pairing compact, well-designed density with great landscaping/public spaces, community spaces, and workshops? And then nearly hitting Passivhaus (20kWh/m2a)?!? Phenomenal development, the US could learn a lot from the work underway in and around Zuerich right now (More photos and information here (in German) and here (pdf in German)).

foto: b&e

The Anna Haag-Mehrgenerationenhaus in Stuttgart by aldinger + aldinger is another example of larger scale complex. The project is a senior living facility incorporated with a kindergarten, cafe, teaching facilities, gardens, and courtyards.

And as for a multi-generational Passivhaus? Yup, that’s been done, too. This 27-unit complex in Herrenberg, Germany features accessible kitchen, workshop and meeting room on the ground floor. Passivhaus (tho uncert’d) was chosen for economic as well as environmental reasons. A stunning, unrealized project in Koenigsbrunn, Germany by cukrowicz + nachbaur/Walter Unterrainer would have met PH or been relatively close (More information and images by Europaconcorsi).

There is something very attractive about recombobulating the nuclear family. What could be better than increasing density, increasing human contact, decreasing transportation emissions, all whilst living in uber comfortable, hyperefficient housing? Perhaps forming a baugruppe to accomplish this deliciousness?

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Posted by & filed under Civics, Culture.

U District Parklet Visualization

U District Parklet visualizaton on the corner of 43rd Street and University Way.

We’re big fans of the University District Parklet project and we’re happy to report that it’s now fully funded. For those unfamiliar with the project, the ~240 square foot parklet will be located on NE 43rd Street and the corner of University Way NE. The location couldn’t be much more prime in the University District given its proximity to the retail and restaurant core, university, and local transportation services. The addition of a little more green and usable public space for visitors, employees, and residents alike will go a long way in a neighborhood that deeply needs more options for outside space to socialize, work, sit, eat, and relax.

As we reported earlier this month, folks from the U District Square (UDS) launched a Kickstarter campaign to fully fund the project. The Seattle Department of Neighborhoods had already kicked in a grant for $8,000 to help fund the project, but the rest was up to the community. The goal by UDS was to reach $6,000 in donations by October 24th. And, they surpassed that goal by a healthy $500.

On Friday, the U District Square group released a project update saying:

With over a hundred backers, we surpassed our fundraising goal on Kickstarter and just raised $6,500 to complement the funding we received this summer from Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods. The U District’s first parklet is now funded and may proceed…

Next steps will be to begin fabrication of the custom elements of the parklet for on-site assembly on NE 43rd Street at the Ave, in the U District of Seattle. If you wish to join us for community construction day, be sure to sign up for updates on the parklet. Then be sure to come visit the parklet once launched for a coffee, lunch or ice cream.

With a $14,000 budget, beating their goal by $500 isn’t exactly huge, but it does secure the project. Hopefully with a bit of extra float in the budget, UDS can rollout a few additions to the project like more planters boxes to expand the public space around the parklet or choose superior materials and features for the parklet. The community construction day will take place in November with the parklet fully usable by December. If you’re interested in helping out, get in contact with UDS.

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Posted by & filed under Video.

Seattle may have paid leave for sick days, but this Department of Labor video is a reminder that we still have a long way to go on true paid leave labor rules.

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Posted by & filed under What We're Reading.

WSDOT Forecasting 2014

Office of Financial Management VMT Projections

Seattle Tries Out Bike Share: The Pronto rollout is going well, clocking over 4,000 rides in the first week and almost 1,500 memberships, despite all the rain. Capitol Hill Blog shows that bike share is popular on Capitol Hill even though it’s separated from the rest of the program by hills. Seattle Transit Blog and City Lab explore how bike share has largely failed as a tool for social justice. Tom missed the Pronto rollout in Seattle so made up for it by using Divvy and had some of the same observations I had about Pronto. We can only hope Pronto amplifies all these benefits in Seattle.

Hurry Up and Wait (In Your Car): WSDOT_Traffic captures the absurdity of commuting by car but focuses on delays and traffic rather than injuries from accidents. This happened to be almost exactly one year after this. Progress on fixing Bertha is now delayed until March. Things like this are probably why driving will continue to decline. Will WSDOT move past the denial stage with this new shockingly honest projection from The Office of Financial Management. It could have big repercussions on projections of debt servicing from the gas tax, basically indicating we can’t depend on future gas tax revenue to finance our massive highway spending.

Do You Like Places? Strong Towns has a great graphical breakdown of places versus non-places. Which reminds us of a previous link we’ve posted about the arrogance of space. Progress is continuing on making Seattle’s waterfront more of a place but Jared Smith, the director, resigned amid budget questions. The lack of place is probably a big reason why these pictures seem so amusing. And in case those aren’t enough places for you, the Project for Public Spaces is doing a big rundown here.

How Will Seattle Get To Affordable And Inclusive Housing: The city gets some national attention surrounding the new regulations on micro-housing and it appears that the mayor has gone silent on his threat to veto the legislation. But while that debate is slowly receding, a new debate on Linkage Fees is rising. Council Member O’Brien’s policy suggestion is the result of nearly a year long research endeavor by consultants. Council and Murray agree though that the fee won’t be implemented until after the Housing Advisory Committee meets and completes a comprehensive review of affordable housing policy. It’s also definitely not clear if the Linkage Fees are legal and developers have put the city on notice. A group of developers lost a previous lawsuit over incentive zoning fees but that was largely a procedural loss, they didn’t have standing to sue. The court ruled they weren’t allowed to sue because they hadn’t actually been assessed any fees. If the same route is taken on Linkage Fees, it’s likely that a lawsuit wouldn’t even be possible for another three years because that’s how long it would take to assess the fees.

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Posted by & filed under Transportation.

pronto-station

It is hard to see but the car next to the station has backed into the white pole acting as a barrier here.

Yesterday afternoon I took my first ride using the Pronto! Cycle Share and I took away a few observations, both expected and unexpected.

Why Use Pronto?

I expected that my first ride would be just for fun but I didn’t have an opportunity since the launch to check out a bike. Yesterday, I needed to get to South Lake Union from Capitol Hill and I was running late. It turns out the fastest mode was by bicycle. You can see my route here:

pronto-route

I planned to take my own bike but I was afraid that when I needed to leave SLU later in the evening it might be raining and I would get drenched. It is of course always an option to put your bike on the bus but occasionally the rack is full and I would still have to leave my bike out in the rain. Taking Pronto allowed me to not have to worry about my own bike while still taking the fastest option to SLU.

I already understood that allowing one way trips by bicycle would be a key benefit to the Pronto system. Prior to this ride, the only reason I thought I might need to do this was if I planned to be out drinking or was afraid of leaving my bike somewhere. It didn’t occur to me that rain would actually motivate me to use Pronto.

Planning the Ride

Before I walked to the station, I was trying to figure where I could see a map of the stations. My default choice was looking at Google Maps and this proved unsuccessful. I ended up just walking to the Pronto station and the map on the helmet locker was sufficient. After my ride, I realized that I could use both the Transit App, covered here previously, or the Pronto Website.

With that said, I spent way more time trying to figure out where to ride than I actually needed. I didn’t realize that the stations had maps and once I was at the station it was easy enough for me to find a station near where I was going and simply remember the intersection. I’ll have to look more closely in the future but I’m curious if the online map is advertised at each station.

What Riding The Bike Was Like

Pronto’s bikes are big and bulky. It’s been a long time since I rode an upright bike and heavy bike but it’s definitely comfortable. The very first thing I noticed was that it’s impossible to go as fast as I typically travel. This is probably a good thing and is most likely why bike shares are remarkably safe.

There was one unexpected drawback to this slower speed. I realized that travelling faster among cars actually makes me feel safer. I may or may not actually be safer when I’m travelling faster in traffic but I do feel like I am. As I’m travelling slower I don’t feel like I’m travelling with traffic and the speed at which cars pass me is more jarring. This wouldn’t be a problem at all if I didn’t use Eastlake, a road with faster moving traffic and 4 lanes.  Harrison (in SLU) and Mercer (in Capitol Hill) felt completely safe, largely because they are two lane road with four way stops.

The bikes are generally very nice for a casual ride. I didn’t realize that they came with functional lights. Shifting was easy and the gear selection was more than sufficient for my downhill ride but I still need to test the bikes on an uphill ride. It was a little difficult to read which gear the bike was in although that wasn’t really important to me since I’m used to using a paddle shifter. It was easy to get on the bike simply by stepping through the frame. Overall I would say it was a very comfortable ride.

Is The Cost Too High?

Pronto’s pricing closely mirrors the pricing of a few other bike share programs, like the one in Washington. That program generates a lot of revenue and nearly pays for itself but that’s not necessarily a good accomplishment. Last night after my initial ride, I almost decided to use Pronto again but chose not to because of the price.

I was going downtown with three friends and we all planned on having a few drinks. Because we were running late, we thought the best option would be to take a taxi together. We all walked to meet each other in order to share the taxi ride and happened to meet next to a bike share station. Of course standing next to the station made us all realize that we could just use Pronto to get downtown. After looking at the prices though, we decided against that option.

Eight dollars for a short, ten minute ride was too much. I have a membership so my ride would’ve been free but between my two friends it would’ve been $16 dollars, and that’s not counting the additional cost if we had to pay for helmets. The cab ride ended up costing $7.14 for all three of us, less than the cost of one person using Pronto. This leaves me wondering, for short trips like this one, wouldn’t the city prefer people to use Pronto over a cab? If that’s the case the pricing will need to be a little different. This might affect revenue but that shouldn’t be the top priority since nearly all transportation receives subsidies in one way or another.

Additionally, this would’ve been a great opportunity for two people to try Pronto that aren’t members, possibly encouraging them to sign up. I was left wondering how Pronto plans on enticing people to pay for the annual membership? It seems like people will need to try it out in order to take that larger leap.

A Great Addition To The City’s Transportation Network

The people who are responsible for rolling out the program deserve a lot of praise. It’s a critical addition to the city’s transportation network. It’s easy to use and the price is relatively competitive with other modes. The two situations I had yesterday are great examples of when Pronto is the best mode choice but I’m sure I’ll encounter more as the system matures and I use it more frequently.

 

 

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

Picture 2

 

“Hey, wha’s happening.” That’s me, greeting the OG’s stepping on at Othello. The Valero gas station there is a 24-hour institution, a cultural fixture on Rainier, a landmark of commerce and questionable exchange as necessary to announce as Chase Bank and the Columbia Tower. It’s never a question of whether there will be anyone at the zone, as there always are, even at 1am; it’s a question of how many want to get on. Tonight we have a few takers. The last, a mixed African-American man with the wispy grey beard of a kung-fu master, stops and stares at me without responding to my greeting. Then, in a tone of incredulity, he says, “holy shit! Wha’s goin on here? Ain’t no way this is for real. I got to be checkin’ for your license, ’cause ain’t no way you old enough!”

It’s a song I’ve heard before, and I respond with the line about the learner’s permit. But this version of the conversation feels amped up to eleven. Certainly it’s the first time he’s seen me, and his emotions feel new.

Staring at me from the chat seat, thinking it out for a second: “and I know I ain’t the first to say that shit either. But damn!” Daayumn. “You look younger than my youngest!”
“It’s all for real, I promise! All on the level,”
“Ain’t no fuckin way!” His tone is one who’s witnessing something too good to be true, like he hesitates to believe. “I got a nephew who’s eleven, and you dont look a day… man, where the camera crew at, ’cause I know this shit is a setup! People must be sayin’ this shit to you all the time!”
“At least a couple times a day,” I say, realizing it happens way more often than that.
“I’m surprised it ain’t all day!”
“I guess it’s about once a trip….”
“I’m ’bout to pull out some Doogie Howser shit, you know that, right?”
“Oh, I do!”
“How they HIRE you, bro?”

We’re starting to come down off the initial high, and glimmers of reality enter the conversation–
“I remember thinkin’, during the interview, there ain’t no way they gonna hire me, ’cause I dont look like any of the other bus drivers! But they did!”
“Man, but man, you got a, honestly, you got a good thing– and hold up, you only half Asian, right?”
“Wow, you know me! Yeah, exactly!”
“Hey, it’s the genes. black don’t; BLACK DON’T CRACK, BUT ASIAN AIN’T PLAYIN’.” Authoritatively: “That’s my new sayin’. I’m a roll with that. Black don’t crack, but Asian ain’t playin’. I knew a half-white guy once and he well, he weren’t playin’ cuz he wasn’t Asian, but he definitely cracked. But you, holy shit, you got a double dose o’ the good stuff.”
“Guess we got the genes,”
“I know you been down to the Caribbean, ’cause that’s where they say the Fountain of Youth is. You really got that shit. I know some white women who would KILL you.”
“I’m just tryin’ to grow up and be like you guys!” Referring to him and one remaining passenger, an older black man who desperately wants to go Auto Zone. “I know that’s right,” Auto Zone says. I say something about how I love the job, that I started seven years ago but I still–
“The– what? Am I believin’ in what I just heard? Do mah ears deceive me? Did I just hear you say–”
The old guy interrupts with, “how long you been doin’ the 7?”
“On and off since ’09.”

Our friend turns to the older gent. “Man, this guy got it goin’ on. You’ll be doin’ somethin’ else before long. I see you got some serious shit together. And man, when you turn sixty, dude, everyone gon’ think you thirty.”

I downplay his praise, and he downplays my modesty. I never thought about mortality so much until I started this job.

“Sometimes I wonder it’ll happen overnight, I’ll wake up look in the mirror have a bunch of grey hairs.”
“Fuck that. You’re good. How do you DO it? What the hell do you eat?”
“I’m just tryin to hit them fruits and vegetables!”
“No man, you be hittin’ some BLACK shit, seriously….”

The older gentleman gets off, absolutely reeking of marijuana, and our friend good-naturedly ribs him for it: “Damn, I know where to come for the good shit. I know you got the good stuff, ’cause ain’t nobody else left on the bus. And I know it ain’t the muhfuggin’ bus driver!”

Alone on the bus, he and I continue chatting as we go up the Prentice loop at the end of the route. His word choice is very street, but his enunciation and general air (plus that refined goatee) connote a formal education and more importantly, a wisdom gained from multiple fronts of life. I feel comfortable speaking what’s on my mind.
“I had two fights today.”
“Only two?” he says.
“See, you got a good attitude!”
“How did that, I mean how did it affect the running of your bus?”
“You know, it was okay. Everybody else was heeeeellla nice, and I think they appreciated, uh, me tryin’ to level everything out, balance out the situation, you know?”
“Aw yeah, people appreciate that no doubt. You tryna keep it movin’. Motherfuckers out here don’t like to put up with that bullshit. I smoke my weed, maybe drink a little too much sometimes, but I don’t interefere with the commerce, you know? And dude, dudes out here got your back. For a dude like you, I’ll fuck up anybody, man. I got your back. Anybody tries ackin some stupid shit, I be right there.” Quite a few other brothers have told me this before, and there have been times when they have followed through with aplomb. “I’ll give ‘em the double elbow, send ‘em flyin through the window for you if you need it. But we gotta be workin’ in concert. You gotta have that door open just the right second–”
“Precision timing–”
“Ezzactly. Send ‘em flyin’ out there, close the doors we be movin’ right on away, we gone, ain’t nobody gettin on the back doors,”

He’s carried away in his daydream, and continues to explain hypothetical details. I’m thinking about how I like his use of the phrase “in concert.” Not really the parlance one hears in fictional ghetto dialogue. Out loud I say, “you know what I like about the 7 is, is that respect goes a loooong way out here.”
“Oooh yeah. And a long time.”
“People remember stuff.”
“My Uncle was for thirty years a Metro driver,”
“Oh, nice!”
“Well, but he was an asshole.”
“Oh.”
“And that shit just really don’t work out here.”

I think I like the 7 in part because it forces discipline. It’s like balancing on a knife edge. My Father and I were recently discussing a certain 554 driver’s unconscionable behavior toward a passenger, and we agreed that with his attitude he wouldn’t last a second on the 7. The tolerance level for condescension and judgment out here is extraordinarily low. But if I’m patient and generous and capable, the rewards are tremendous. The gratitude is palpable.

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