Friday, 15 November, 2019

Most Progressive Seattle City Council Ever Tainted by Failure to Elect Shaun Scott

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An Amazon contract employee who opposed Amazon's copious campaign spending talks to a reporter. before an October 24th rally at the Amazon Spheres. (Photo by author)
An Amazon contract employee who opposed Amazon's copious campaign spending talks to a reporter. before an October 24th rally at the Amazon Spheres. (Photo by author)

With only about 1,600 ballots left to tally across King County, election results have solidified, and six of seven candidates we endorsed along with a number of progressive groups prevailed–rather decisively. The one exception was Shaun Scott who lost a close race to Alex Pedersen, coming up 4.5 points short.

Not many people were predicting it would be as close as it was. Expectations were low for Scott. Despite Kshama Sawant repeatedly proving that a socialist can win a Seattle City Council race, many people–including many progressive operatives and groups–wrote Scott off. District 4 was different, we were led to believe. And the Seattle Democratic Socialists of America (Seattle DSA) couldn’t repeat Sawant’s Socialist Alternative magic.

Even the argument that the tide had turned citywide against pro-business moderate candidates given poor showings in the Primary didn’t get much traction. Pedersen did carry a 17-point lead from Primary results into the General election, but every other Seattle Times-endorsed Seattle City Council candidate started behind–and they failed to close that gap. It was the progressive candidates rather than the more conservative options that gained big.

Results as of November 13

  • D1: Lisa Herbold (incumbent) 55.7% over Phil Tavel 43.9% (+9-point swing in margin from Election night)
  • D2: Tammy Morales 60.4% over Mark Solomon 39.1% (+8-point swing from Election night)
  • D3: Kshama Sawant (incumbent) 51.8% over Egan Orion 47.8% (+12-point swing from Election night)
  • D4 Alex Pedersen 52.2% over Shaun Scott 47.6% (11-point swing from Election night)
  • D5: Debora Juarez (incumbent) 60.6% over Ann Davison Sattler 39% (+6-swing from Election night)
  • D6: Dan Strauss 55.6% over Heidi Wills 43.9% (+7-point swing from Election night)
  • D7: Andrew Lewis 52.9% over Jim Pugel 46.6% (+7-point swing from Election night)

Socialism Is on the Rise, but Mainstream Media and Progressives Are Slow to Adjust

Expectations can be self-fulfilling prophecies. Mainstream media sources rarely suggested that Shaun Scott could win, whereas Egan Orion was constantly portrayed as ascendant–maybe even inevitable. Likewise, portrayals of Sawant as unresponsive, combative, and aloof were widely broadcast, but Alex Pedersen skipping dozens of forums and questionnaires–not to mention deleting his blog–was given passing mention if at all. It’s hard to win as a socialist, but Scott coming close should make it easier for the next socialist not named Sawant to win.

Call to Action: Tell Your State Legislators to Fund Transit and Backfill I-976 Cuts

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The Move All Seattle Sustainably (MASS) coalition is fighting to stop the I-976 cuts. (Seattle Subway)
The Move All Seattle Sustainably (MASS) coalition is fighting to stop the I-976 cuts. (Seattle Subway)

Today, Seattle Subway launched a campaign to pressure state legislators to fund transit and undo the damage that Tim Eyman did by passing “$30 car tabs” via Initiative 976. Use this Action Network tool to make it quick and easy to email Governor Jay Inslee and your respective state legislators. Many other Move All Seattle Sustainably (MASS) coalition members signed on including 500 Women Scientists, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, Sierra Club, Transit Riders Union, Rooted in Rights, 350 Seattle, Seattle Transit Blog, and The Urbanist.

We’ve covered how devastating the cuts will be. King County estimates it will need to trim 175,000 service hours from its bus network if Eyman’s initiative stands. Sound Transit said at least $20 billion in funding is at risk, hitting light rail, commuter rail, and bus rapid transit expansions. $6.9 billion of that comes via lower motor vehicle excise tax revenue, but that lost revenue forces Sound Transit into an estimated $13 billion in higher borrowing costs to replace those funds and adjust for delayed timelines, an agency spokesman said.

ST3 Systems Expansion map in King and Snohomish counties. Includes light rail extensions to Ballard, West Seattle, Everett, Redmond, Issaquah, South Kirkland and bus rapid transit on I-405 and SR-522. (Sound Transit)
ST3 Systems Expansion map in King and Snohomish counties. (Sound Transit)

Without supplemental funding, Sound Transit will be forced to delay Sound Transit 3 (ST3) timelines, and it may need to downsize or cut projects, too.

Statewide, the voting results were close, and I-976 was rejected in key Democratic areas. State legislators should understand that the Sound Transit taxing district–the area most affected by motor vehicle fees–opposes I-976. 59% of King County opposes it, underscoring that the economic engine of the state really wants state voters to take the governor off. Instead outlying counties keep gumming up the works and inviting congestion.

I-976 is nearly at a tie in Kitsap County, where just 224 votes separate the pro-transit and pro-Eyman sides. (Secretary of State)
I-976 is nearly at a tie in Kitsap County, where just 224 votes separate the pro-transit and pro-Eyman sides. No on 976 won in King, Whatcom, Thurston, Island, Jefferson, and San Juan counties. (Secretary of State)

And it wasn’t just King County. More than 70% of San Juan County opposes it, leading the state, followed by Jefferson County (anchored by Port Townsend) at just under 60%. Almost 54% of Whatcom County (led by Bellingham) voted no, and 52% of Thurston County voted no. Island County voted no, too, and it was virtually a draw in Kitsap and Clallam County, meaning much of the Puget Sound Region rejected Tim Eyman’s con.

In short, state legislators must fund transit and repair the harm done.

Midweek Video: In Search of Effective Pedestrian Malls for U.S. Downtowns

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In the 1960s and 1970s, pedestrian malls were seen as a way to save struggling shopping districts in cities across America during the rise of suburban sprawl. But many eventually got a bad wrap and closed in the following decades. Why was that? Which ones remain? And what is the secret sauce for success?

In Pursuit of the Affordable Backyard Cottage

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Homeowner Ronnie Cunningham poses with Tom Todaro and Clint Jones, co-founders of MyKabin, in front of his recently completed backyard cottage. (Credit: MyKabin)

Last summer when the Seattle City Council passed legislation that encouraged development of backyard cottages across the city, the move was generally met with enthusiasm from housing advocates promoting increased housing choices in the city’s single family zones. Shortly thereafter, Mayor Jenny Durkan passed an executive order intended to make it easier and more affordable for middle and low income home owners to take advantage of the new backyard cottage regulations by offering assistance in the design and permitting process and piloting low-interest financing tools.

However, adding a new dwelling unit, particularly if it is a detached accessory dwelling unit or DADU, is still an expensive and onerous process that can present insurmountable hurdles for many property owners.

For Ronnie and Wendy Cunningham, Madison Valley home owners who had dreamed of building a backyard cottage in the backyard for years, an initial attempt to construct a modest DADU resulted in the loss of thousands of dollars over a fourteen month period in which they struggled with the city’s complicated permitting process. After receiving construction bids of more than $300,000, it seemed that the Cunningham’s attempt to secure additional financial security by building a DADU on a property that had been in the family since 1975 was all but lost.

An interesting fact about backyard cottages is that while they do tend to eventually rent for rates that are either at or below market value, in terms of square footage, backyard cottages are often the expensive type of housing to construct per square foot. According to data gathered in Portland, Oregon, which has been a few steps ahead of Seattle in terms of encouraging backyard cottage development, the high cost of constructing a DADU is largely attributable to design, permitting, utility connection, and construction costs; in fact, the size of the unit often has a modest impact on total cost in the end.

Bus-to-Link: Snohomish County Bus Routes Planned to Serve Northgate in 2021

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In less than two years, the Northgate Link light rail extension will open creating a significant opportunity to connect existing bus routes with a frequent light rail option. Community Transit, in conjunction with Sound Transit, are proposing a realignment of commuter and regional bus service operating between Snohomish County and Seattle with an eye toward Northgate in 2021, at least until the Lynnwood Link extension opens in 2024. About a dozen different bus routes would be trimmed back to terminate at Northgate rather than run all the way to their current terminals in Downtown Seattle and University District via I-5. Community Transit and Sound Transit are soliciting feedback before finalizing any changes.

The proposal would affect the the 510 series and 800 series routes. Specifically, Community Transit and Sound Transit are proposing to terminate Routes 510, 511, 512, 513, 810, 821, 855, 860, 871, and 880 at Northgate. The benefit is that travel times should often be reduced and reliability of buses should greatly improve. The stretch of I-5 south of Northgate is notoriously unpredictable for congestion, often stranding buses in stopped lanes. The saved service hours will allow the transit agencies to invest in more frequent service, too.

Schematic of how the proposed service change would work by corridor and service. (Community Transit / Sound Transit)
Schematic of how the proposed service change would work by corridor and service. (Community Transit / Sound Transit)

Martin Manguia, communications manager for Community Transit, said that the 800 series was specifically chosen for truncation at Northgate “because those routes cannot travel on the southbound I-5 express lanes in the morning (no UW outlet).” He added, “This makes the entire southbound commute even less reliable than downtown service.”

The Law of Induced Demand: Road Widening (and I-976) Invites Congestion

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I-5 through Northgate section of Seattle. Northgate Station rises on the right.(Photo by Doug Trumm)
I-5 with Northgate Station to the right. (Photo by author)

The four-billion-dollar-and-counting SR-99 tunnel was supposed to relieve congestion. It’s been open nine months, but people getting around on Seattle streets and highways probably don’t feel too relieved. Traffic congestion continues to be a part of life in booming Seattle, and tunnel tolling, which started Saturday, may just move more traffic from the tunnel to city streets.

For the widen highways crowd, the opening of the Alaskan Way boulevard (in the footprint of the mercifully dismantled highway viaduct) is the light at the end of the tunnel. But that surface megaboulevard–eight lanes at its widest–isn’t likely to solve congestion either. Traffic tends to fill the vessel it is given–more a gas than a liquid.

This is counterintuitive. Motorists–many of armchair traffic engineers themselves–often assume wider roads mean less traffic congestion. Billion of dollars have been wasted on this folk wisdom–often with transportation departments aiding its dissemination. The problem is there is no practical evidence for this belief. In fact, a 2011 study by economists Matthew Turner of the University of Toronto and Gilles Duranton of University of Pennsylvania demonstrated traffic and road capacity have a perfect one-to-one relationship. Add lanes and they fill as fast as you add them. This means expensive highway expansion projects historically have ended with overall congestion just as bad as when the project was initiated.

This is the principle of induced demand. Make it cheap and easy to drive and motorists will drive more. Unfortunately this well established though often ignored principle means that Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976 will worsen traffic congestion: $30 car tabs will encourage more people to drive and more often. Cheap car tabs will create more traffic at the same time that transportation agencies face decimated budgets due to the sudden loss of car tab revenue. This underscores the need to backfill I-976 transit cuts.

Moreover, the law of induced demand suggests a particularly effective way to raise revenue would be with fees that hit motorists like car tabs did. The commercial parking tax would serve this purpose, as would congestion pricing, or decongestion pricing as we would call it. Induced demand also suggests that establishing dedicated bus lanes by simply painting over general purpose lanes wouldn’t create traffic Armageddon. In fact, it would improve matters by offering a scalable climate-friendly alternative while leaving road congestion largely unchanged.

The relationship between road capacity and congestion really is that persistent. Adam Mann with Wired talked to the authors of that 2011 road congestion study, explaining their findings.

Downtown Seattle Association Zeroes In on Third Avenue Pedestrian Improvements

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Third Avenue is easily the most important transit corridor in all of Seattle. The street carries more than 52,000 passengers on weekdays via bus. That heavy load of riders translates into transit congestion where hundreds of buses operate along the corridor at peak hours using a complicated “skip stop” approach. A bus will stop every other block on the central portion of the spine even though every block has a bus stop to maximize capacity and throughput. While regionwide transit lowers pollution and climate emissions, concentrating so many routes on Third Avenue does make for localized impacts including pollution and noise.

In May, the Downtown Seattle Association followed up on an earlier visioning phase, releasing more complete options for a redesigned Third Avenue. The Downtown Seattle Association has put forth four divergent long-term concepts showing how the street might function with sidewalks and transit as the focus. Street changes could have impacts to the flow and operation of nearby streets as well. The concepts show where bike lanes and general purpose lanes may go. Additionally, the updated concepts also depict how the pedestrian realm could function on Third Avenue. Underpinning all of this is a storied analysis of peer cities, past planning efforts for Third Avenue, existing conditions, and projected future demand of Downtown streets.

Existing conditions

The busiest portion of Third Avenue stretches from Pike Street to Seneca Street where up to 290 buses operate per hour per direction. But the street remains fairly busy from Blanchard Street to James Street where buses converge and peel off of the street. This is depicted well in the image below:

Where the bus volumes are on Third Avenue. Blanchard Street to James Street is heavy, with Pike to Seneca the heaviest of all. (Downtown Seattle Association)
Where the bus volumes are on Third Avenue. (Downtown Seattle Association)

Third Avenue is not just the busiest bus corridor in Seattle; it also happens to stand out as one of the busiest in North America, too. By a hair, Third Avenue edges out Vancouver’s Granville Street in terms of ridership. It does that, however, with a vastly higher number of peak hour bus trips. San Francisco’s Market Street, Denver’s 16th Street Mall, and Minneapolis’ Nicollet Mall also are peers to Third Avenue.

How riders and buses per hour stack among peers. (Downtown Seattle Association)
How riders and buses per hour stack among peers. (Downtown Seattle Association)

The street design between these differs substantially. Third Avenue currently has four vehicle lanes, which are largely restricted to buses along the core portion of the corridor. The pedestrian environment is somewhat narrow on some portions with sidewalks averaging about 19 feet per side. Vancouver, Minneapolis, and Denver all have smaller roadways for buses (two lanes) and wider average sidewalks (30 feet or more per side).

What We’re Reading: Merging Everett Transit, Coastal Growth, and Urban Canopy

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Merging Everett Transit: Community Transit and the City of Everett had a serious conversation about merging Everett Transit with Community Transit ($) with a public vote as early as 2021.

Suburban shifts: How are America’s suburban demographics shifting?

Environmental terrorism: The Trump administration continues its environmental terrorism in California, leaving salmon to die.

Cities can lead: Local elections matter, but what can cities do to facilitate participation?

First Nation plans: The Squamish Nation in Vancouver are planning a development double the size originally planned on their urban reservation land.

Pedestrian plan: Portland’s transit agency has kicked off a planning effort for safe pedestrian access.

SUV carnage: New York City will track the harm that SUVs have on city streets.

Chicago manufacturing decline: The success of Chicago’s manufacturing zoning has been mixed at keeping industry.

Vienna: What are the secrets to the world’s most livable city?

Coastal growth: In Southern California, coastal cities will need to plan for more housing and jobs as the Inland Empire takes far less.

Electorate geography: Density increasingly is a big factor in deciding statewide elections.

Amtrak boom: Amtrak is poised to break even next year as ridership grows on its urban routes, which could justify more service.