Tuesday, 24 September, 2019

Fall Subscriber Drive Kickoff

View of the Seattle skyline from Gasworks Park. (Photo by Doug Trumm)

Today we’re kicking off our fall subscriber drive. The Urbanist was founded as an all-volunteer organization and has operated that way for most of our five-year history. Despite a proud list of accomplishments, it’s become more and more apparent that we need paid staff. To that end, we’re working on raising revenue and our biggest source is reader subscriptions. During this drive, we’ll try to illustrate the value we add and hope you become a monthly donor–or if you’re already donating–consider increasing that dollar amount.

Moving toward Paid Staff

Anyone that’s followed land-use issues in Seattle is well aware of how slow progress can seem. We know the changes we want will take years and require continuous effort. In order to meet that challenge, we know we need more than volunteers. In no way should this diminish the Herculean effort of The Urbanists’ volunteers. For five years they’ve published content every day, put together regular educational programming and lobbied our electeds, all while doing organizational development to grow capacity.

But during that time we’ve also seen a lot of volunteers come and go. We’ve gone through troughs in which we don’t have the capacity to do important work. More than one person has left after burning out. Most importantly though, the ongoing survival of the organization has always seemed a little tenuous. One fewer super volunteer and we might have to close shop.

There is no way around these problems besides adding paid staff. This alone will determine whether or not the organization can become an institution that creates change over the long run.

Car Activist Revolt Hangover: Living with the New 35th Avenue NE

The new 35th Avenue NE design in Wedgwood is leading motorists to make unsafe passes and speed, which has contributed to an increase in injury collisions. (Image by author)

Now that we’ve had the new, definitely not improved 35th Ave NE for about six months, it’s time to take stock in how it has worked out and determine what the group opposed to safety improvements accomplished.

According to the Save 35th group’s signs, door hangers, and other handouts, their main goal was to “save our parking”. They even made a self-absorbed video about it with business owners who dot 35th explaining how loss of parking would destroy their lives—it literally said, ‘we fear for our survival’.

But then, curiously, the leaders of Save 35th presented a compromise that removed approximately 50% of parking (the entire west side of the road).

They used to warn–based on no data–that the original plan with the bike lanes would remove 60% of all parking, so maybe they consider only losing 50% a win. However, when I spoke to representatives of the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) and the engineering firm in charge of the original design while we were fighting for bike lanes, they both said we wouldn’t have lost nearly 60% (there used to be certain times you could park on certain sides, zone restrictions, there were no set parking spots, etc.).

So, according to Save 35th, their number one demand was to not lose any parking and they lost nearly half of it. It’s difficult to see that as a win.

What We’re Reading: End of an Era, Bus Stop Signs, and We’re Killing Avians

September 20th Climate Strike rally at Seattle City Hall. (Photo by Doug Trumm)

End of an era: Long-time writer at Streetsblog USA, Angie Schmitt, says farewell from the publication.

Dirty leadership: At the behest of the occupant in the White House, the Environmental Protection Agency is moving ahead with plans to rescind California’s authority to regulate car emission standards.

Tejas HSR: Texas’ high-speed railroad company may be getting closer to securing the $14 billion needed to construct the system.

Everett pedestrian bridge: In Everett, the Grand Avenue bridge is finally moving into place ($), which will provide an option for pedestrians to reach the waterfront.

Tacoma affordable housing: Forterra has picked up a site in the Hilltop Neigbhorhood in Tacoma for affordable housing development.

Farewell LimePod: Lime’s app-based car rental unit is calling it quits in Seattle ($).

Denying affordable housing: San Diego’s right-wing mayor vetoed inclusionary zoning enhancements.

Increasingly unliveable: Las Vegas is a city rapidly heating every year on average, will it continue to be liveable?

Biketown evolving: Portland’s bikeshare program is poised for big expansion and half of the bikes being electric.

Remove dams: Sightline makes the case in a series of articles that dams on the Snake River should be decommissioned and removed.

Sunday Video: Kelo v. New London


Mr. Beat explains the famous land use case over eminent domain in Kelo v. City of New London.

Strife in the Afternoon: Nathan on Fights


It all started so innocently. Each person meant well, but each had a stress inside them, a bitterness, that they turned on the others without a second thought.

The first person got on long before the ride would become unpleasant, well before they knew they’d be the locus point around which it would all revolve. 

She was tired already, even before starting the shift she was on her way to–graveyard night-owl at a hotel downtown. She was too young to be called old and just barely too aged to still be young; call it youthful middle age, the time when you learn that personality, not looks, will be your defining attribute from here on out. She had on a purple T-shirt and sweatpants, casual, dressing down on her way to work, the way you need to on the 7. She’d gotten on way back at the bottom of the Valley: long commute.

Thirty minutes later the door opens on an entirely unrelated life. Another denizen of the Valley steps in, a face I’ve seen more than a few times over the years. He’s holding a thin bamboo pole about my height.

Puget Sound Passenger-Only Ferry Ridership Grows in First Half of Year


Passenger-only ferry ridership is growing in Puget Sound, according to recent data from the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC). Both King County Metro’s and Kitsap Transit’s ferry routes have seen large winter and spring ridership gains in the past year, the data indicates. Ridership grew by 24% year-over-year with the bulk of that going to Kitsap Transit which posted 110,000 new riders, a 27% increase. Metro carried 59,000 more passengers over the same period from the year before, a 20% increase.

Passenger-only ferry ridership in the first six months of this year by operator and comparing previous years. (Puget Sound Regional Council)
Passenger-only ferry ridership in the first six months of this year by operator and comparing previous years. (Puget Sound Regional Council)

Over a wider time period, Kitsap Transit’s ferry ridership has traditionally been more comparable in ridership to Metro, but things began to turn in 2018 as more passenger-only ferry service was deployed. First a fast ferry route from Bremerton to Seattle was launched in 2018 followed by a Kingston-to-Seattle route last year. Both were the result of a countywide measure to fund those service increases passed by voters in 2017. In 2020, Kitsap Transit will launch another fast ferry route from Southworth to Seattle.

Since 2014, ridership has boomed 126% on Kitsap Transit’s ferry network. That is astounding but indicative of just how much pent up demand there is for cross-Puget Sound transit options, particularly island dwellers who work in Seattle. Metro’s ferry passenger growth has been slower, but still has risen an impressive 79% over that time period. With a wider lens to 2010, the first full year of service, Metro’s ferries carried 307,640 passengers, so posting 357,000 passengers in the first six months of this year is nothing to sneeze at.

Council Tackles the Right to Sidewalk Access


In the summer of 2017, every single sidewalk in Seattle was visited by a team of interns and assessed: 2,300 miles of sidewalk were inspected. They found, unsurprisingly, a lot of issues. There were 93,000 places where sidewalks were meeting at unlevel surfaces more than a half inch high, 3,600 spots where the sidewalk was itself sloping downward, and 20,000 obstructions preventing the sidewalk from being 36 inches wide.

This $400,000 assessment yielded a full accounting of problems that are estimated at costing $500 million to $1.5 billion to fix. Currently, Seattle spends a few million dollars a year to repair sidewalks, which pays for around 1,000 spot improvements and the equivalent of repairing five to 10 full blocks of sidewalk per year.

Sidewalk issues identified in the 2017 audit (City of Seattle)

In other words, we are not even repairing sidewalks as fast as they can become, unusable. The poor quality of sidewalks impacts Seattle residents on a daily basis, particularly those who rely the most on sidewalks: people who use them to roll on (where obstructions and uplifts can literally prohibit movement) and people with sight challenges who may not be able to see obstructions and uneven surfaces to avoid being hurt by them.

Sidewalk Maintenance Resolution

The city council’s transportation committee is taking up a resolution, brought forward by the MASS Coalition (of which The Urbanist is a member) that asks the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to do more to address this. Bundled as part of the MASS Transportation Package, the resolution requests a report to be delivered to the council by March 31 of next year, and asks SDOT to look into:

  • Assessment of strategies to implement an equitable cost sharing program
  • An evaluation of the City of Denver’s sidewalk repair program
  • Options for do-it-yourself maintenance and hiring an approved contractor
  • Point of sale and lien options

UAW4121 Joins the Youth Climate Strike

UAW on strike. (Photo by Charlie Lapham, MLK Labor Council)

As the human tragedy of Hurricane Dorian lingers over the Bahamas, fires devastate Indigenous lands in the world’s largest rainforest, and democratic presidential candidates unroll climate proposals, the overwhelming urgency of climate change and the mourning for what has already been lost have become our constant companions. Here in Seattle, it manifests in conversations of how “lucky” we’ve been to avoid the smoke-filled air, as if environmental breakdown is controlled by cosmic alignment rather than unregulated waste, corruption, and white supremacy.

Just last week, polls found that nearly 7 in 10 Americans are worried about climate change and its impacts on agriculture, extreme weather, and human health. A large majority (70%) of voters also favor government action to address climate change. Despite broad public support for climate solutions, the Global Carbon Project finds that heat-trapping carbon emissions are still on the rise in Seattle, in the U.S. and globally. 

Let’s be clear: this crisis is a consequence of the oil and gas industry politicking and profiteering at the expense of ecosystems, human health, and our future. We won’t solve this crisis with business as usual. It will take more than banning plastic straws or remembering reusable shopping bags; it’s too late for small incremental changes. Individual consumer choices did not create the infrastructure of pipelines and science-denying PR firms that entrenched the status quo and prolonged our dependence on fossil fuels. Nor will individual choice solve the problem. We need solutions that scale with the scope of the crisis. 

Urbanist Advertising Partner: Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente

Urbanist Advertising Partner: Bike Works

Bike Works