Thursday, 28 May, 2020

Feet First to Host Webinar on the Transportation Funding Crisis Friday, May 29th

Feet First's transportation funding webinar starts at 9am Friday May 29th. (Feet First)
Feet First's transportation funding webinar starts at 9am Friday May 29th. (Feet First)

The Covid-19 pandemic has upended transit as we know it, devastated transportation budgets, and imperiled planned infrastructure upgrades. The advocacy organization Feet First is hosting a webinar 9am tomorrow May 29th to discuss the crisis with a panel of leaders on the issue. Register for the webinar via this link.

The panel consists of State Senator Joe Nguyen (D-White Center), Transportation for America Director Beth Osborne, Jessica Engelman of Spokane-based multimodal advocacy group SpokAT, and Shamso Issak of Living Well Kent.

Former Mayor Mike McGinn, who volunteers with Feet First these days, helped organize the panel and I caught up with him to hear about what to expect.

“The point of the panel is talk about how do we prioritize what we do,” McGinn said. “Transit needs funding. There are more people walking. There are more people biking. But is the State gonna, come hell or high water, fund highway expansion or are they going to look to re-prioritize their spending?”

With representation from Spokane and Kent, the panel will take a statewide perspective and McGinn noted that the suburbanization of low-wage workers and communities of color meant that places like Kent sorely need affordable transportation options. “For many of them transit is essential,” he added.

The Crossroads: Finding Home as Covid Compounds Our Housing Crisis

Police were out in force to barricade onlookers from a sweep of Weller Street in the CID. (Photo by Enrico Doan)
Police were out in force to barricade onlookers from a sweep of Weller Street in the CID. (Photo by Enrico Doan)

The Covid-19 pandemic has thrust the world into uncertain times. In the United States, the coronavirus has now claimed the lives of over 100,000 people. This devastating public health crisis has affected our region in particular. The first death linked to Covid infection happened in King County. Washington was the worst infection hotspot in the country until New York overtook us. Even as the death toll continues to climb, millions have lost their jobs as unemployment reaches unprecedented rates.

Stemming the tide of evictions

Legislators at all levels of government have scrambled to come up with a patchwork of temporary measures that are intended to offset the tremendous strain coronavirus has placed on our communities, neighborhoods, and families. Earlier this month, for example, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed an emergency ordinance that extends the eviction moratorium enacted by Governor Jay Inslee through the end of the year.

Unfortunately, we still have not yet seen substantial movement from the Governor’s office on the prospect of a rent and mortgage moratorium, meaning tenants still face the daunting prospect of paying an accumulated rent balance at the end of the year. Despite this frustrating inaction, the City Council’s extension on the eviction moratorium will genuinely help many Seattleites who are struggling to make ends meet from losing housing, especially those who have lost jobs and are now facing increasingly expensive childcare costs.

It remains to be seen whether the federal government will pass a housing and rent relief package, though it seems unlikely that the Washington Legislature, with its tendency to rush to budget cuts rather than pursue progressive revenue streams, will pass a corresponding state-level relief package either. Moreover, we still do not know when a special legislative session to address the state budget and the impacts of Covid will be convened.

A housing crisis long in the making

Undoubtedly, the coronavirus pandemic has impacted all aspects of our daily lives and our long-term goals. The housing crisis in Seattle has not been any different. If anything, Covid-19 has exposed just how much further we have to go in order to address the housing crisis and how urgently any and all solutions must be pursued.

While many have benefited from Seattle and King County’s tremendous and rapid growth in the past several years, many more have been priced out and subsequently displaced from their homes and communities. For those already living in the margins, the city has become increasingly expensive to live and work in, let alone lay roots down.

In 2018, the PSRC calculated since 2010, job growth has increased by 21% and our population has grown by about 12%. Meanwhile, the availability of housing has not grown at a proportional or adequate rate, with the housing stock only having grown by about 8%. These discrepancies are only amplified due to the effects of Covid. Even before the coronavirus arrived in the United States, we needed to “up” housing production significantly to meet the needs of our community. Reports commissioned by King County indicate that our region has to build 44,000 new affordable homes every five years to adequately address the growing need for affordable housing.

The Urbanist’s Scavenger Hunt #5: Stay Healthy Streets

The Columbia Street Neighborhood Greenway in Central Seattle has been selected as a Stay Healthy Street. (Photo by author)

Share photos of how newly-created “Stay Healthy” open streets are helping people in your neighborhood enjoy the outdoors and engage in active transportation.

The theme of The Urbanist’s Scavenger Hunt #4 was pocket parks, which often come in the form of pint sized oases of green distributed in dense neighborhoods. Pocket Parks can honor history, like Homer Harris Park in the Central District, which is built on a tract of land first owned by African American pioneer William Grose, and they can also preserve natural habitat like Nora’s Woods in Madrona, which is a critical part of the pollinator pathways planned habitat corridor for honeybees.

But in recent weeks a new urban park feature has entered into Seattle with much fanfare: the linear park. If the potential of Seattle’s 20 miles of Stay Healthy Streets is fully realized, the active space they provide for outdoor transportation and recreation should function like linear parks, even after traffic picks up as the city reopens.

Of course the success of the Stay Healthy Streets will depend on the kinds of traffic calming measures the City chooses to employ to ensure that streets remain only open for local access. While the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board was informed that the City plans to post signs designating Stay Healthy Streets, details about plans for traffic calming infrastructure remain undecided. And traffic calming will certainly be needed, particularly where Stay Healthy Streets intersect with busier thoroughfares.

Additionally, while the 20 miles of Stay Healthy Streets is a good start, there are still large swathes of city in which people lack access to safe streets for walking, biking, and rolling. That’s why The Urbanist has endorsed Seattle Neighborhood Greenway’s (SNG) call to increase that number to 130 miles.

Puget Sound Passenger-Only Ferry Study Underway, 15 Routes Currently Shortlisted


The passenger-only ferry (POF) system is set to grow in Puget Sound with the introduction of new service between Southworth and Seattle, making it the sixth POF in the Central Puget Sound Region, but could more destinations be on the horizon? The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) is exploring that question in a study of 40 destinations and 15 routes. Not all of those are likely to the make the final cut in the study, but destinations as far away as Olympia, Port Angeles, and Blaine have been put into the initial screening process. The study is also looking at a half-dozen destinations on Lake Washington, Union Bay, and Lake Union.

The PSRC is studying possible POF routes for 11 Puget Sound counties on behalf of the state to determine viability and what it would take to launch new service. House Bill 1160, passed in 2019, tasked the PSRC with the effort. In 2008, the PSRC produced the last regional POF study, which has been instrumental in informing expansion of the POF network since. That study laid the groundwork for POF routes like Kingston-Seattle and Southworth-Seattle (not yet in service) operated by Kitsap Transit.

King County Metro has its own process underway to study new POF routes for the King County Water Taxi system. In December, the transit agency sought feedback on eight destinations and six routes, which could bring new service to parts of Lake Washington, Union Bay, Lake Union, and Shilshole Bay. There is some overlap between the Metro and PSRC study, but Metro’s would essentially update a similar King County study from 2015.

Midweek Video: Is This A Suburb?


Suburbs are everywhere. But what is and is not a suburb? It depends how you define it, City Beautiful explains.

Metro’s Night Owl Reservation Proposal Leaves Some Behind

A Route 2 bus picks up passengers at 3rd Ave and Virginia St. (Doug Trumm)

King County Metro recently issued an online survey pertaining to potential changes to Night Owl Service. These changes would be a temporary response to Covid-19 and create a free reservation system for 1am to 5am service. The agency would provide interpreter and TTY (Deaf, hard of hearing, or speech-impaired) services.

Metro said the proposal is a response to feedback from riders, many of whom are essential workers, who were unable to board their desired bus due to physical distancing capacity limits. Operators are allowed to pass bus stops when they hit the limits, 12 passengers for a 40-foot bus and 18 for a 60-foot bus.

Missing a bus during a period of infrequent service is unacceptable for our region’s essential workers. King County Metro is trying to ensure enough space to support essential trips during their Night Owl Service. A reservation system could be a solution for King Count’s technology-abled essential workers.

While the suggestion has positive intentions, I am concerned by potential inequities of a reservation system. Access to a phone and phone service are likely requirements to access a reservation system. Those requirements may put Night Owl Service out of reach of our homeless people and other disadvantaged populations.

Let’s Tee Off for Housing

A hole next to a water feature at Jackson Park Golf Course. (Courtesy of Premier GC)
Jackson Park Golf Course. (Courtesy of Premier GC)

Seattle can house 35,000 people on Jackson Park Golf Course by building on 60 acres of fairway and converting the remaining 100 forested acres to public park space.

By the year 2025, you will be able to take a 15-minute train ride from Downtown Seattle to a stop adjacent to 160 acres of publicly-owned land. There is no housing here, no shops, no roads, and the property is operating in the red. I’m talking about Jackson Park Municipal Golf Course. Golf participation isn’t just down in Seattle, it’s down nationwide. Whether it’s the time commitment, or the high cost it takes just to buy equipment, golf is bleeding participants and city money and Seattle has yet to come to grips with this reality.

The City of Seattle has begun to study what to do with excess publicly-owned property. Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda has brilliantly proposed leveraging surplus public properties for dense affordable housing. With the land already acquired, the city saves precious housing funds and gets to decide how it’s developed.

Seattle Must Leverage Its Assets

Golf participation on our municipal courses is in freefall, but Seattle’s population continues to rise. While we have a surplus in publicly-owned land, we have a shortage in housing. So, what if instead of hopping off the light rail and seeing a golf course, we enter a dense, vibrant walkable neighborhood free of car dependency?  

Graphic by Ryan DiRaimo showing Barcelona style apartment block layout for the golf course..
Two future light rail stops will open by the year 2025. With 61% of the site uncovered by trees, a quality designed neighborhood could house a dense population and leave swaths of existing trees and parks open to the public (image by author)

Imagine living in a community where instead of the 15-minute neighborhood, you were in the five-minute neighborhood. You hop off the train, pick up some groceries, run to the bank, wave to your neighbors, see children at play, and walk into your home without ever needing to turn the ignition key. This isn’t just an unachievable utopia, it’s how people live in Barcelona, in Paris, in Rome, in Tokyo, and in New York City. Increasingly it’s how people live in some of the most walkable parts of Seattle.

Jackson Park Golf Course consumes toxic pesticides and enough water to fill a small lake, but it has the bones of a good park once we cease the destructive practices needed to maintain a golf course. The trees rise as high as 100 feet and offer a wonderful habitat for nature and human comfort. But those trees only cover 39% of the land. By setting aside 60 acres of the course’s open land for housing, we can create home for 35,000 people, secure affordable housing, provide space for 750 businesses, and preserve more than 90% of the trees for large parks and pedestrian-oriented streets.

NACTO Issues ‘Streets for Pandemic Response and Recovery’ Playbook


The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) has published a new playbook for urban streets in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dubbed the “Streets for Pandemic Response and Recovery,” the playbook lays out seven emerging strategies in cities and many other policy choices for streets that can help maintain social distancing protocols and aid businesses. Some of the key strategies outlined in the document include things like slow streets, markets, outdoor dining, and sidewalk extensions.

“This is a historic moment when cities can change course. There may be limited mobility options as the crisis has slashed traffic volumes and transit service and people shelter at home,” the playbook states. “But these empty lanes provide new possibilities for people to use streets for essential trips and healthy activity right now, and they form the outline of the future cities we need to build. Creating safe, walkable streets and choices for getting around are critical during the initial crisis response, and also to achieving a long-term economic recovery that is equitable, sustainable, and enduring.”

Cities across the country and world have been creative and rapidly deployed a multitude of tactics to repurpose streets since COVID-19 went pandemic. Washington, D.C. has rolled out sidewalks extensions around grocery and retail businesses to give patrons more space to collect goods or safely queue outside. Oakland has committed to 74 miles of slow streets allowing people to safely walk, bike, and roll in the middle of streets for exercise and formal mobility across the city. Paris is rolling out hundreds of miles of emergency bike and roll lanes on streets to keep workers connected to jobs. And Tampa is turning over street space for outdoor dining instead of just sidewalks.

As the world has come to know, space is absolutely critical to reducing transmission of COVID-19, which is why NACTO has developed the playbook. Implementing the strategies in it though requires cities to thoughtfully reconsider some of their right-of-way space priorities to balance local public health, mobility, and economic objectives. NACTO’s guide identifies several uses of right-of-way that could be reconsidered, which includes the following:

  • “Remove individual parking space(s) or a curbside parking lane.”
  • “Narrow a motor vehicle lane or lanes.”
  • “Shift parking or loading away from the curb, even where it requires closing a vehicle lane.”
  • “Designate a street as local access only to reduce vehicle volumes and speed to levels where street space can be shared.”
  • “Close motor vehicle lane(s), or the entire street, to enable adequate physical distancing or improve accessibility and safety for other road users.”