Wednesday, 24 April, 2019

Upcoming Events Focus on Housing in Seattle

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Image Courtesy of AIA Seattle

We all know that our city, like many cities, is facing a housing crisis. The rent is too damn high; there is a shortage of affordable housing, and people are being pushed out of our city and into homelessness. And on top of that conservative media is doing its best to blame the victims of this crisis for our problems and seeks to criminalize poverty rather than work for solutions. Fortunately other people are working to solve our problems and The Urbanist and our sister organizations want to invite you to join us in several upcoming events focused on the housing crisis in Seattle and its solutions:

April 25th: Neighborhoods for All: Revisiting Seattle’s Single Family Zoning

Join members of the Seattle Planning Commission from 5:30pm to 7:30pm at the Center for Architecture and Design (1010 Western Ave) where they will present an in-depth history and analysis of single family zoning in Seattle along with a series of proposals for how to enable more Seattle citizens to access housing in these highly sought after areas, which make up 60% of our city.

The recommendations in the Commission’s Neighborhoods for All report “would allow for gradual, incremental reintroduction of historic building patterns while helping to preserve (single family neighborhoods) even as we welcome more residents of all income levels, ages and races.” We’ll touch on affordability, density, bulk, scale, existing context, connectivity, the racism underlying our 70-year-old single family zoning policies, the gap in middle income housing, and more.

School Traffic Safety Report Highlights Risks for Students

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An example of a biking pool for a school commute. Credit: Seattle School Traffic Safety Commission 2019 report.

Missing infrastructure and a high crossing guard vacancy rate hamper Seattle students’ ability to walk or bike to school

Active transportation, which includes any kind of transportation based on physical activity, is universally acknowledged as beneficial for children and adolescents. Engaging children in active transportation has both immediate and longterm positive impacts on their physical and mental health, as research shows.

Of course to harness the many benefits of active transportation, children and adolescents need street infrastructure that supports their safety. Otherwise, the reward of engaging in these healthy activities could put them at significant risk–just as it did this March when a Robert Eagle Staff Middle School student was struck by a motorist while walking in a designated crosswalk outside of the school.

The student suffered a broken leg and is expected to make a full recovery. However, at the time of the accident, the vehicle responsible was only driving five to ten miles per hour; if it had been traveling faster, the outcome could have been much worse.

This story was shared at a recent meeting of the Seattle City Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee, in which the Seattle School Traffic Safety Committee shared the main findings from their 2019 annual report.

The Seattle School Traffic Safety Committee is a volunteer board that was created back in 1975. It is responsible for recommending new school crosswalk locations, crossing guard assignments, criteria for placement of crossing guards, and traffic circulation plans for schools. The committee also advocates for improvements to the systems, infrastructure, and oversight that create Seattle Public School’s transportation network. Their work prioritizes multi-modal transportation and seeks to get more students using active transportation in their school commute.

Sunday Video: City Inside/Out Talks West Seattle Tunnel

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In this video, Seattle Channel’s City Inside/Out discusses the West Seattle Tunnel debate to reach Alaska Junction with light rail. It includes a panel discussion of Councilmember Mike O’Brien, Willard Brown who was on Stakeholders Advisory Group, and Kieth Kyle of Seattle Subway. Our own Ryan Packer also makes a cameo.

What We’re Reading: Fore, Notre-Dame, and Brightline

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Fore: Seattle’s public golf courses continue to see usage drop.

Via dud: A new microtransit service was launched to connect riders with light rail stations in Southeast Seattle and Tukwila, but is it worth the cost and abysmal ridership?

Renter protections: Councilmember Kshama Sawant wants to adopt a rent control ordinance in some form that could be effective as soon as state law is changed to permit it.

Build it and they will come: Seattle added a protected bike lane in Downtown Seattle and bike trips jumped 400%.

Madison Valley appeals: In the Madison Valley, community members are trying to appeal a mixed-use project using the environmental review process.

In-line for the win: Despite a kerfuffle with community and City of Spokane, the Spokane Transit Authority has opted to keep in-lane bus stops on E Sprague Ave.

Legislature watch: A bill to make it easier to build accessory dwelling units in cities across Washington has died in the state legislature. On the flip side, an environmental justice bill appears headed for final passage.

On the decline: Transit ridership declined across America in 2018.

Notre Dame: Despite the tragic fire, donors have stepped up to restore Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris ($).

Bike talk: Listen to Seattle’s transportation director and The Urbanist’s Patrick Taylor talk bike lanes.

Stemming renter evictions: Syracuse is working to prevent evictions of renters in creative ways.

Arena budget and timing: The Seattle Center Arena costs have continued to escalate and is now delayed, but it is all backed by private dollars.

Trumpian racism expands: Secretary Ben Carson has a draconian proposal to have his federal department kick immigrants off of housing assistance programs.

Micromobility: E-scooters are booming across the nation while dockless bikeshare is failing, but Seattle’s dockless bikeshare program stands out.

Brightline: With funding in hands, Brightline is now able to break ground on expansion of the higher-speed passenger line from West Palm Beach to Orlando.

Still in demand: The apartment boom in Seattle is the biggest in any major city in the country, seeing the fastest vacancy fillings ($).

About that substation: Was the $210 million Denny Substation really a necessary investment?

Walking in Seattle: According to a new study, Seattle pedestrians often linger on sidewalks but rarely sit down, amongst other findings.

Transit App Improves Real-time Arrival Info, Including For Community Transit

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Transit App rolled out some updates recently. A few weeks ago, Transit App deployed real-time arrival information for Community Transit-operated routes. This means popular local and commuter routes in the system will show next arrivals wherever available.

The update helped bring all Sound Transit bus routes into having real-time arrival data since Community Transit’s contractor, First Transit, operates routes of Snohomish County origin. OneBusAway and Google Maps have yet to integrate real-time arrival data from Community Transit. Also notable, only Sounder commuter rail and Kitsap Transit services remain without real-time arrival data for third party apps—the latter choosing to keep their data locked down.

Around the same time new real-time arrival information for Community Transit rolled out, Transit App improved their zoom out function to show all rail-based transit and bus rapid transit routes in the Central Puget Sound. That means both Community Transit Swift lines and all current King County Metro RapidRide lines are shown alongside Link, Sounder, and the Seattle and Tacoma streetcar lines. This makes it easy for riders to know where high quality rapid and frequent transit is at a glance.

Transit App users may also now find it easier to tell if their bus or train is sharing real-time arrival information, due to last week’s update. When data is live, the estimated arrival times will appear lit up in addition to displaying a pulsing icon; scheduled arrival times will be grayed out. This appears differently based upon screen.

Wonkabout Washington: Waterways and Skyway

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Snohomish County Reconsiders Developing Channel Migration Zones

The Growth Management Act, including the Shoreline Master Program, touches many different land use issues in many different parts of the state. Futurewise works with local partners across Washington who keep us informed of local GMA issues that need our attention. Recently the Pilchuck Audubon Society, active in Snohomish County, alerted us to proposed changes from the Snohomish Planning Commission that would change development regulations around channel migration zones.

What’s a channel migration zone you might ask? Channel migration zones are important salmon and wildlife habitats. According to the Department of Ecology: “Channel migration zones are areas in a floodplain where a stream or river channel can be expected to move naturally over time in response to gravity and topography.” A 2018 peer-reviewed study concluded that the habitats in flood plains and channel migration zones are important Chinook salmon habitat and are strongly correlated with subyearling Chinook productivity for Puget Sound populations. Preserving Chinook salmon habitat is crucial as well to protecting our southern resident orca whales who rely on Chinook salmon as a primary food source.

Fort Lawton Affordable Redevelopment Plan Moves Ahead

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A open fields and a former gymnasium on the historic Fort Lawton site. Credit: Wonderlane

Seattle City Council will vote on the plan to build an affordable housing community on 34 acres of the Fort Lawton site in Magnolia this spring.

Earlier this year, the Seattle Office of Housing released a draft plan for an affordable housing community at Fort Lawton, a former military installation nestled inside of Discovery Park in Magnolia. The land at Fort Lawton has been eligible to be acquired and redeveloped by the City since 2005; however, legal challenges brought forward by local residents have slowed down redevelopment efforts.

The former Fort Lawton site is surrounded by Discovery Park. Critics have used the site's secluded location and infrequent public transit as a rationale for not redeveloping it into an affordable housing community, despite the fact it is one of the only parcels available for the City of Seattle to acquire for redevelopment at low or no cost. Credit: Google Maps

The former Fort Lawton site is surrounded by Discovery Park. Critics have used the site’s secluded location and infrequent public transit as a rationale for not redeveloping it into an affordable housing community, despite the fact it is one of the only parcels available for the City of Seattle to acquire for redevelopment at low or no cost. Credit: Google Maps

But these days with a housing affordability crisis continuing to dominate public debate, opposition to the plan has tempered. Crosscut journalist Josh Cohen even described the Fort Lawton February open house as “surprisingly civil” and “perhaps a sign that armistice is coming.”

Whether or not an armistice has arrived will be tested soon. The Fort Lawton Redevelopment Plan has been given the green light by Mayor Jenny Durkan for Seattle City Council approval. All signs point to a Council vote that will approve the plan sometime this spring.

“For fourteen years we have argued and litigated over the preferred use of publicly owned land immediately next to our beloved Discovery Park,” said Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who represents District 7, which includes Magnolia. “Thanks to Magnolia neighbors and the Office of Housing, we have written and revise plans to address two critical issues:  building more housing for families and seniors and creating more active recreation space.  We have struck a deal with Seattle Public Schools to preserve land for their sports purposes too.  Let’s stop debating and start building!”

PSRC’s 2017 Travel Survey Shows Transit Is Popular, Free Parking Induces Driving

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The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) has released their 2017 travel survey data and it contains some really interesting nuggets. Households were asked a variety of questions about how they get to work, whether or not they pay for parking, and if they have access to or use subsidized transit passes. The data is also broken into demographic categories, such as race and income. Using story charts with this information, the PSRC is able to draw out key patterns. Dataminers, however, could go much more granular for other patterns and findings.

Paying for parking and transit

Who pays for parking. (PSRC)
Who pays for parking. (PSRC)

A key finding in the PSRC’s data is that most workers in the region have access to free parking at work. A full 82% of workers reported that their parking was free with another 8% indicating that their employer either pays part or all of the costs of parking passes. Lower-income workers indicated that were more often paying for their parking than higher-income workers who received subsidies from their employees. The PSRC also noted that when employers or worksites charge for parking, the scales tip very heavily for workers across the board to take transit or other active transportation modes.

Who gets free or subsidized transit passes from their employers. (PSRC)
Who gets free or subsidized transit passes from their employers. (PSRC)

Employer-subsidized transit passes appear to be going to higher-income individuals. This tends to make sense with how the state’s Commute Trip Reduction (CTR) program works. Larger employers–which tend to be higher paying–are required to create a CTR program for employees. These programs often include subsidized or free transit passes. However, that often leaves lower-income individuals without cheaper transit options unless they qualify for ORCA LIFT, a reduced fare program that King County launched in 2015.