Sunday, 5 July, 2020

What We’re Reading: Travel Banned, CA HSR Approval, and Progressive Paris

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Travel banned: The European Union will continue to bar Americans from entering due to the uncontrolled pandemic at home ($). Mexico has also closed the border along Arizona to Americans.

Masks required: Businesses in Washington will need to begin turning away customers next week if they don’t wear a face mask.

Cleaner truck fleet: California has imposed a new cleaner medium- and heavy-duty truck rule to reduce emissions over time.

Pandemic fallout: Virginia is scrambling to help people in need as the state’s eviction moratorium lapses.

How long?: Washington, D.C. has cleaner air but with reopening will that be able to be maintained?

Tear down division: Monuments to racism and segregation also include highways and interstates ($).

Covid victim: Another King County Metro bus driver has died of Covid ($).

“Sacrificial lambs”: Yakima’s farmworkers have become have been disproportionately affected by Covid and left behind.

Design your streets: A new transportation simulator lets you design and test out streets as you like.

Police reform ahead: Police reform, including tear gas and chokeholds, will be a top issue in the next Washington State legislative session.

Mid-Century Modern: Capitol Hill’s historical society now wants to preserve Mid-Century Modern architecture.

Sunday Video: What “Defund The Police” Really Means

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“Defund the Police” seems ambiguous to many, but Vox explains what the movement is trying to achieve in communities across the country.

Yes, I’ve Been Assaulted

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1. Maybe we should talk about it. 

I’m aware that almost all operator assaults are fare-related, and that so many assaults can be causally traced back to an operator’s attitude, choice of words, or tone of voice. Nobody deserves to be assaulted, but you understand what I’m saying here. It generally takes two to tango. 

We mirror each other, and disrespecting someone, even in a way you think is small, can beget further disrespect. People can smell when you’re condescending to them, and it stings. Doesn’t it sting? Don’t you resent squirming under the thumb of a belittling authority figure? That’s how they feel in that moment. It takes two. However.

Sometimes it only takes one to tango.

I’ve had moments in my past where I know my tone contributed to how things went down. Where I should’ve bit my tongue or been more patient. This wasn’t one of those times. This was absolutely and incontrovertibly not one of those times. 

Holiday Video: A Brief History of Police Impunity in Black Deaths

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America is supposed to be the land of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but for so many Americans, particularly Black Americans, this country is anything but. Justice and fairness is not equitably administered and bias and poor training of police often leads to disproportionate outcomes. Vox looks at the history of police violence against Black Americans and the nearly complete lack of justice for their murders.

More Ways Than One

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Cover image courtesy of Howard Ignatius / Flickr; edited by author.
Cover image courtesy of Howard Ignatius / Flickr; edited by author.

Downtown Seattle is more than a central business district. It is a neighborhood 88,000 people call home. This neighborhood has the highest concentration of population anywhere in our city. It is also home to the most restaurants, bars, cafes, and pedestrian-oriented businesses per square mile. These people and businesses are looking for space to keep safe distance and restore vibrancy.

Despite having the highest density in the city, downtown streets are designed to move car commuters at peak traffic times. Nearly all are designated principal arterials and feature one-way traffic design. One-way arterials are dangerous, unpleasant, and polluted roads that are not designed for the neighborhoods they serve.   

Reclaiming Urban Space in Crisis

Dining in parking spaces allow for safe social distancing on Granby Street in Virginia. (OpenNorfolk)
Dining in parking spaces allow for safe social distancing on Granby Street in Virginia. (OpenNorfolk)

Cities around the world are reclaiming their streets for people and safety. Visionary leaders have taken advantage of the vacated roads and have realized streets thrive with fewer cars. Some have closed streets entirely so restaurants can spill seating into the street, others have popped up bike lanes to test the popularity of new infrastructure. Seattle’s Department of Transportation (SDOT) has focused on car-lite Stay Healthy Streets, which were so initially popular they will make the program permanent. And, albeit late in the process, SDOT will also relax the permitting process for businesses to spill out into parking spaces and sidewalks for dining and retail

Everett Transit Rethinks Its Future, But Is It Time For A Merger?

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Everett has struggled for years to provide a basic city-operated transit system under the banner of Everett Transit. Due to declining sales tax revenues and legacy costs, the city went through the motions to develop a long-range plan setting it on a path to improve transit in the distant future, but ultimately settled on an immediate plan to consolidate and cut service and dramatically raise fares.

Then last year, the city was briefed on new revenue problems that have led administrators to reconsider the delivery of service, including merger with the countywide transit operator Community Transit. All of that was before the economic blow that the Covid-19 pandemic is dealing to the city, which has no doubt worsened the financial situation since about 80% of revenues come from sales taxes.

For years, there have been swirling proposals to make such a merger happen, including during the Great Recession when Everett Transit went through a similar shrinking and rethinking process. In the decade since, the agency has largely been a political token of city administration and sacrosanct tool of transit unions, but the quality of service is substandard. With a population of 111,475, Everett is the largest city and county seat of Snohomish County, which has about 822,000 residents in total. Had a merger–or even some hybrid model like Seattle’s service purchasing approach–occurred, Everett transit riders would have seen a marked improvement. Service could be more than double what there is now, providing more frequency, span, and coverage to communities in the city.

Everett Transit treats the bus system as a bizarre anachronistic fiefdom. Riders know when they have arrived in Everett, where overlapping Community Transit’s operations within the city’s corporate boundaries are decidedly limited, with the exception of the jointly funded Swift Blue Line, and Everett Transit service is sparse. Routes have traditionally and routinely bended to the whims of the loudest constituents over rational system operations. Basic rider-demanded amenities have been denied because of influential lobbying groups. And the scope of bus service has been somewhat inequitably distributed across the city, even after the latest consolidation reforms.

The City of Everett projects that much of the city (particularly along SR-99) will support frequent transit by 2040, but it lacks a plan to serve those needs via Everett Transit. (City of Everett)
The City of Everett projects that much of the city (particularly along SR-99) will support frequent transit by 2040, but it lacks a plan to serve those needs via Everett Transit. (City of Everett)

The agency has said there is no clear path to achieve system growth within existing revenue sources. City administrators have refused to take even the most basic actions since the last recession to move serious tax and fee proposals that could grow revenues and service. Aside from remaining authority to increase the sales tax by 0.3%, the city could have sought transportation impact fees for capital transit improvements, imposed special taxes on ridehailing services, increased business license fees, raised commercial parking taxes and on-street parking fees, and levied additional vehicle licensing fees before Tim Eyman took a swipe at them. Yet, none of those options were sought despite the very clear need for better transit.

Transit service was slashed 7% as part of the consolidation and system restructure process that was approved in 2018 and implemented in 2019. Meanwhile, Community Transit took a completely different approach after countywide voters approved a 0.3% sales tax increase in 2015, allowing the system to grow incrementally every year since. Service was poised to grow 36% between 2018 and 2022 alone, but those hopes have been somewhat diminished under the pandemic. Nevertheless, the system is on an overall trajectory of growth whereas Everett Transit is well on its way on a downward trajectory.

2020 Point-in-Time Report Shows Homelessness Continues to Climb in King County

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A homeless encampment in Seattle's Pioneer Square neighborhood. (Photo by author)

Data reveals a 5% increase in people living on the streets from 2019.

In the earliest hours of the morning on January 24th, 2020, volunteers set out to conduct King County’s annual Point-in-Time count. For the first time in three years, it rained heavily as the volunteers counted people spotted sleeping in tents, vehicles, or on the pavement. According to the 2020 Count Us In report, the heavy rain may have decreased visibility from volunteers’ car windows or pushed people who usually sleep unsheltered to take cover in areas where they could not be seen, thus potentially erasing many individuals from the total count of 11,751 people experiencing homelessness, representing a 5% increase from the previous year. 

There is never complete certainty around the accuracy of Point-In-Time counts. Even with the surveys completed in shelters and the assistance of field guides, who steer volunteers toward where people typically camp or in which vehicles people might be sleeping, the margin of error remains high. Yet the report does offer a snapshot into homelessness in King County, an attempt to tally the how many people are living in shelters or out on the streets during the coldest time of year.

Credit: 2020 Count Us In report, King County

Each year some statistics stand out in the report. In 2020, a rise in the number of families with children experiencing homelessness was one of them. After declining or remaining steady over the last four years, the number of homeless families increased by 35% to 3,743 individual adults and children.

Even more troubling was news that the number of families with children sleeping unsheltered (i.e., in a vehicle, on the street, in an abandoned building, in a tent, or in a sanctioned encampment) rose from a flat 3% in 2017, 2018, and 2019, to 29% in 2020. Looking closer at the statistics on families, about 100 homeless families, representing 251 individuals, were headed by teenaged parents, and almost 50% of all homeless families with children were Black, a figure that highlights the racial disparity existing across all categories of people experiencing homelessness.

GIG Has Launched Bringing Free-Floating Carshare Back to Seattle

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GIG Car Share has finally launched in Seattle with service starting on June 30th. The service includes an initial 250 cars and limited homearea centered on Central and North Seattle. GIG, a subsidiary of AAA of Northern California, announced in February that the company would start up a free-floating carshare service in May, but that was before the pandemic hit Seattle in earnest in March, slowing rollout of the program. Seattle is the third market for GIG, following Sacramento and the San Francsico Bay Area.

GIG planned to enter the Seattle market to replace the long-time carshare provider Car2Go that left at the end of February. The carshare market has been shrinking for the past year as other free-floating carshare services LimePod and ReachNow closed up operations. The main competitor to GIG is Zipcar, which requires monthly membership dues and uses a traditional model and only allows users to pick-up and drop-off cars at specific parking spots.

The membership model is currently free with no monthly or initial registration costs. The rate structure is not too dissimilar to Car2Go’s with $0.40 charges per minute that caps at $15 per hour. These charges cover all costs, including insurance and gas. On top of this, GIG is setting other price caps at $55 for eight hours and $85 per day of use. Access fees per use, slated to be be $1, and the $5 airport parking fee are also waived for the time being. GIG has not said how long the introductory pricing structure will remain in place.

The carshare fleet will entirely consist of Toyota Priuses that include bike racks, providing dual city and recreational use. The carrying capacity of the vehicles is five people, including the driver. GIG is using hybrid electric variants in the Seattle market, but other markets have all-electric models. With 250 vehicles, GIG touts that there is “roughly 18 cars per square mile on average within the [homearea], nearly double the density of past providers.”