Tuesday, 15 October, 2019

Copenhagenize: A Conversation with Councilmember González

Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez traveled to Copenhagen with a delegation of Seattle leaders to learn more about sustainable urbanism. The group explored Copenhagen on foot and by bike, learning about the how urban design and policies shaped Copenhagen's vibrant public spaces. (Credit: Lorena Gonzalez)

Councilmember Lorena González traveled to Copenhagen with a delegation of local leaders in August to study the policies and infrastructure that have given rise to the city’s world renowned public life. Sponsored by the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict and the ScanDesign Foundation, the delegates spent a week immersed in fieldwork and lectures, strolling and cycling across a city where the streets are so safe that most Copenhageners choose to cycle though the winter.

But the trip was about more than just enjoying one of the most livable urban environments in the world. The delegation was commissioned with returning home with actionable strategies to implement in Seattle. People cite Copenhagen as model because in the last three decades Copenhagen is leading the world in reducing carbon emissions. (Seattle, where emissions continue to tick up, could stand to Copenhagenize.) Specifically, the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict aims to transform Capitol Hill, the densest urban village in the Pacific Northwest, into a global example of sustainability, social equity, and cultural vibrance.

On Tuesday evening from 5-7pm, the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict is holding a Public Life Community Celebration at 12th Avenue Arts in which the delegation will be sharing ideas for how transform public spaces in Capitol Hill inspired by what they learned during their time in Copenhagen. At the event, the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict will also be collecting feedback from the public, and sharing ideas for its next step: completing a public life planning study of Capitol Hill.

After returning from Copenhagen, the delegation participated in a walking tour of the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict alongside EcoDistrict members and other neighborhood stakeholders. (Photo by author)

In the run up to the celebration, I had the opportunity to chat with Councilmember González about her experience in Copenhagen, which could be best summarized in her own words as “a pretty transformational way to look at a city.” Our conversation ran the gamut from human centered design to resilience planning for climate change. Here are some of the highlights from what Copenhagen taught Councilmember González about sustainable urbanism.

Sound Transit Fare Enforcement Hits People of Color Hardest, Revised Process Under Review


Fare enforcement policies administered by Sound Transit have only been slightly altered, albeit temporarily, despite serious concern by some Sound Transit boardmembers. A briefing the other week revealed that fare enforcement is very disproportionately hitting African American riders, adding even more concern about the process. Despite only representing 9% of system ridership, African Americans made up 21% of all riders being warned or cited for fare violations, the transit agency reported.

Sound Transit also recently came under fire when it unwittingly stuck to standard policy and administered fare enforcement on Seattle public school students during their first day of the school year. This was despite the fact that many students had not yet received their pre-paid ORCA cards and education on fare protocol. The transit agency’s insensitive social media game in response to the situation, when it was pointed out that students were being targeted by officers, only further intensified the outrage by an obviously tone-deaf decision.

Sound Transit currently operates fare enforcement on all Sounder commuter rail and Link Red Line light rail services. This is because in 2009 the Sound Transit board decided that the system should run on a proof-of-payment system. Technically, being on station platforms past certain points are fare-paid areas, meaning that riders have to tap their ORCA cards or purchase tickets before entering the fare-paid area.

The proof-of-payment system was chosen because it is comparably cheap and simple to operate rather than implementing entry and exit gates at stations. Those alternative systems (e.g., Los Angeles Metro Rail and New York City Subway) mean that the platform area has to be formally cordoned off from other portions of a station and requires ongoing monitoring to ensure riders do not hop fencing or cheat the system to enter. This is particularly difficult to administer at Sound Transit’s at-grade stations where creating barriers could be difficult without also adding barriers between the platform and tracks.

Sunday Video: Is Vancouver The Best City In North America?


In this video, Dave Amos of City Beautiful explores what Vancouverism is with a particular focus on urban design.

Compton, Gently


This was lifetimes ago. Summer of 2003, one year of high school remaining. I strolled the flatlands of Compton with camera in hand, up early by choice and searching the shadows and light for an angle that would show how I felt. Rush hour had burned off with the marine layer, and I loitered about Compton Station in the midmorning sun, Willowbrook and Compton Boulevard. I used to love riding up and down the Blue Line, Los Angeles’s equivalent of the 7, with photography on the brain.

I’d just snapped the double exposure above. The man in frame right was walking toward me, and continued to do so. When he got to speaking distance he cleared his throat.

KVRU Interview: Nathan on Route 7 RapidRide


KVRU’s Simon Kidde (a friend, and the son of another friend!) sits down with myself and Metro’s Robyn Austin to discuss the impending transition of the 7 to Rapid, and what that will entail (and not entail) for the people and myself. This was a ton of fun– big thanks to Simon for his gracious professionalism.

Click to listen here.

As well, don’t forget—I’ll be at the WA State Book Awards this Saturday night with my nominated book of bus stories, and you’re invited! It’s a fun, free event, and books by myself and plenty of other great authors will be for sale. Hope to see you there—details and more here!

Olive Way Bus Lanes Will Benefit 33,000 Riders


Seattle keeps rolling out new and improved bus lane segments. Coming on the heels of new red “Elmo” paint for existing bus lanes on Westlake Avenue, 5th Avenue, and Pike Street, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) will upgrade bus lanes on Olive Way. The bus-only lanes will be in effect 24 hours a day on Olive Way between 4th Avenue and 8th Avenue.

In facilitating the bus-only lanes, SDOT is making several changes to the existing configuration and restrictions on Olive Way. The existing bus lanes only have restrictions during the morning (6AM to 9AM) and afternoon (3PM to 7PM) peak hours. This will become a permanent all-day restriction with red paint markings. An existing commercial loading zone on Olive Way, located between 4th Avenue and 5th Avenue, will be moved. SDOT plans to do this in order to allow for better right turning movements off of Olive Way.

As a one-way northbound street, the Olive Way bus-only lane benefits outbound trips from Downtown Seattle heading for I-5. The location of the bus-only lane weaves from the center lane between 4th Ave and 5th Avenue to the furthest right curb lane on the remaining three blocks.

Our House Is on Fire: Shaun Scott is Bringing a Hose, Pedersen is Roasting Marshmallows

The State of Washingotn predicts forest fires will become increasingly common due to climate change. (Credit: Forest Service NW)

Climate policy is taking center stage in the Seattle City Council District 4 race. Shaun Scott was an early backer of the Seattle Green New Deal, a climate justice-centered response that seeks to meet the scale of the climate crisis while also lifting up disadvantaged communities. He’s boldly proposing deep reform of our land use and transportation system to greatly reduce our carbon footprint and snap up us out of our suburban sprawl death spiral.

Alex Pedersen released a 18-point plan–after making it through the primary–that tries to make sure we don’t go too far, while often piggybacking on Mayor Jenny Durkan’s plan or Governor Jay Inslee’s plans where it’s easy. We wouldn’t want to lose too many parking spaces as we try not to scorch the planet!

In fact, Pedersen indicated he wanted to bring back parking minimums, which the City has dropped in Urban Villages and Frequent Transit Areas. Bringing back parking minimums in our most transit-rich areas wouldn’t just lead to higher carbon emissions, it’d also kill many affordable housing projects. And it’s built on a false narrative of scarcity–in reality only about half of our city’s copious parking supply is used on a daily basis.

Pedersen’s parking pandering is also built on the idea that we have more time to take climate action when we don’t. That’s how Pedersen convinced himself (and likely some of “4 to Explore” blog followers) to vote against Sound Transit 3, even as folks like us pointed out the huge climate benefits and urgency. Why take action in 2016 when you can kick the can down the road and search for a mythical perfect plan with no downsides? And you can always delete the blog once you run for office–and that’s what Pedersen did. Bye bye posts opposing ST3, the Move Seattle levy, and the Mandatory Housing Affordability upzones.

Meanwhile, he’s criticized the Seattle Green New Deal for lacking focus and funding sources, despite Scott offering several in his platform.

Still some are convinced by his sleight of hand, including apparently Cathy Tuttle, former D4 candidate. Tuttle, along with Scott, earned The Urbanist’s dual primary endorsement for her climate focus and history leading grassroots groups like Seattle Neighborhood Greenways. She took to the District 4 Facebook page to decry Scott’s tactics and play “both sides” games.

Alex Pedersen and Shaun Scott are both working–as we all must be–on defining strong city climate policies and actions. That’s why I’m disappointed by Mr. Scott’s assertion in The Stranger: “I believe climate change is real and that cities can do something to address it, and Alex Pedersen does not.”

Cathy Tuttle, District 4 Facebook page

What ensued was a maelstrom of 262 comments and counting. With a tact like that, Tuttle has declined to endorse Scott. When pressed in the comments what she was trying to accomplish, “Alex and Shaun each have unique talents that will be needed to transform our world quickly into a low carbon future,” Tuttle said. “Shaun is a good communicator. Alex is a diligent worker. Climate change will soon demand the best from all of us. My advice is no matter who is elected, stay engaged and make sure all government policies and funding decisions substantially lower our energy use — and look for the good in everyone.” A Hallmark moment, even as Tuttle (like Scott) continues to regularly cite Greta Thunberg, who has a markedly different tact. “I don’t want your hope,” she told the global elite in Davos. “Act as if the house was on fire.” Thunberg has no patience for wishy-washy politicians. Tuttle clearly does.

Thunberg delivered this quote to Davos conference of the uberrich in January 2019. (Image: World Economic Forum)

I reached out to Tuttle to give her chance to clarify her position and endorse if she so chooses. She declined suggesting Scott’s platform lacked enough detail for her to judge. I also reached out to Emily Myers, who ran on climate as well and just narrowly edged out Tuttle for third, to see if she had thoughts on the climate plans or an endorsement. I’ve yet to hear back.

For his part, Scott was right that climate just wasn’t a significant part of Pedersen’s platform until after the primary, which helps explain why environmental organizations that did weigh–like Sierra Club, for example–endorsed Scott. He skipped transportation and climate forums left and right, and snubbed many questionnaires including both ours and Seattle Subway’s. The latest forum Pedersen is skipping is the Urban Indian Experience and Green New Deal Seattle Forum on October 18th. Even after belatedly adding climate positions, Pedersen’s clearly has the weaker vision, despite being more long-winded. Now to the plans.

Shaun Scott’s inspiring climate justice vision

Shaun Scott rightly identifies the connection between exclusionary land use and our collective carbon footprint. He’s been adamant that restrictive, carbon-intensive single-family zoning must go to allow green social housing across the city: “The Seattle City Council could correct our current zoning code, which makes apartment buildings illegal in 75% of the city, and build public housing developments that comply with green LEED certifications.” Single-family zoning’s roots trace back to racial exclusion and its persistence exacerbates segregation and keeps carbon footprints from shrinking as quickly.

Scooter Share Is Coming to White Center


Electric scooters could be hitting the streets of White Center in the new year ahead. King County officials passed a pilot program last week that will pave the way for up to two companies to operate shared e-scooters in the area. King County’s pilot program would allow operators to demonstrate shared e-scooters for one year. The pilot program is scheduled to end on February 28, 2021 if not extended or formalized as a permanent street use program.

King County Councilmember Joe McDermott (D-District 8), who represents White Center, was the chief sponsor of the pilot program legislation. During the committee process, he provided a context for exploration of a pilot program, saying that shared e-scooters could be beneficial “in a traditionally underserved area neighborhood and a real mobility connection for that first and last mile..to give people access to transit.” He also highlighted how the pilot program would be designed with options for unbanked and low-income households and serve non-English-speaking users.

White Center is an unincorporated urban area nestled between Seattle, Tukwila, and Burien. It is one of few urban areas still under the control of King County, and one of the largest Potential Annexation Areas, known in planning documents as “North Highline”. The area is fairly suburban despite a strong grid in many portions. Streets tend to lack sidewalks and bike lanes, with roadways being minimally paved. Wide shoulders tend to adjoin the paved roadways with crushed rock for on-street parking.

The area between Tukwila, Burien, and Seattle is considered to be White Center. (King County)
The area between Tukwila, Burien, and Seattle is known as White Center. (King County)

Demographics of the area indicate that it is a minority-majority area (58.4%) and that the median household income is just over $47,700 as of 2017. This is significantly different from Seattle where the median household income was just over $86,800 in 2017 and majority Caucasian. White Center is comparably much less wealthy and has many historically underserved communities, which makes its pilot program a unique test case for shared e-scooters.

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