Monday, 24 June, 2019

SDOT Digs In On 35th Ave NE in Response to Council Questions

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Last month, in response to videos documenting dangerous motorist behavior on the newly redesigned 35th Ave NE in Wedgwood, the three members of the Seattle City Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee sent the new transportation department director, Sam Zimbabwe, a letter expressing concern and asking how the department would be reacting to what was happening on the ground.

The letter’s response was delivered last Tuesday, just one day after a fourth councilmember, Sally Bagshaw, publicly raised concerns about the safety of the street at a council briefing attended by most members. Director Zimbabwe, scheduled to meet with the transportation committee on the Bicycle Master Plan that same day, evaded attempts to directly outline the response in-person, but did address some of its points in his presentation. 35th Ave NE was officially deleted from the Bicycle Master Plan when Mayor Jenny Durkan decided to implement an alternate striping plan that removed bike lanes in favor of a center turn lane. That turn lane is now being used to pass bikes, buses, and other vehicles–often at speeds higher than the posted limit.

The councilmembers on the transportation committee wanted to know how the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is viewing the new design through the lens of Vision Zero–the City’s goal of eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030–and what revisions, if any, the department intends to make to fix shortcomings. Heidi Groover of the The Seattle Times obtained a copy of the response to council questions. The letter doubles down on insisting that the implemented design is perfectly fine. Director Zimbabwe defends the street design by saying that 35th Ave NE “meets the project objective and furthers Vision Zero goals.” Let’s break down some of the details that are mentioned in the letter.

Speed is the critical factor in the severity of collisions, contributing to 25 percent of traffic fatalities citywide…

We collected speed data on 35th ave NE in early June as we had previously committed to doing after project completion.

Sam Zimbabwe, SDOT Director

The speed data detailed by the director shows that vehicle speeds on 35th Ave NE are virtually unchanged compared to speed studies that were completed before the project started. At NE 50th St, 85% of vehicles in both 2016 and this month were traveling 35.4 mph or below. The speed limit there is 30 mph. At NE 77th St, in the heart of the business district, that 85th percentile speed was down a tiny amount from 32.2 to 31.8 mph.

Sunday Video: New York Is Building a Wall to Hold Back the Ocean

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New York City has plans for a new sea wall on Staten Island. The sea wall is in response to the global climate emergency that threatens worse tidal events and higher sea levels. The approach to the sea wall is sensitive to the existing urban environment and includes a boardwalk and riparian enhancements.

Seattle Growth Podcast Season 6, Episode 3: Nathan Vass

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That’s University of Washington Professor Jeff Shulman on the right, whose influential podcast has been featured on The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. Dr. Shulman interviews various local luminaries about what Seattle’s economic and population growth means to them. He’s talked with everyone from Attorney General Rob McKenna to KC Executive Dow Constantine to musical artist Draze to Stu Tanquist, a resident in Tent City 7(!). 

So that’s who Jeff Shulman is. You’ve probably heard of the guy, honestly. As for that guy on the left, I have no idea…

Here we are chatting it up. Enjoy! 

Electric Coffin’s New Exhibit Questions How Cities Can Spark Wonder

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A dumpster mural outside of Electric Coffin's Georgetown Studio illustrates some of the themes and images the artists address in their work. (Photo by author.)

The name “Electric Coffin” may not immediately inspire whimsy, levity, and brightness, but those are exactly the sentiments the art collective Electric Coffin is hoping to seed across Seattle through their exhibit, DISCOVER + DISRUPT at the Center for Architecture and Design on Western Avenue, currently on view through August 31st.

Mindful of urban planning, the exhibit examines Seattle through an art lens. The different concepts presented all funnel back to the same question: how can cities spark wonder and inspire people to question what is possible?

Public art is a vital component of urban placemaking. The presence of art can dramatically change the feeling of a place by bringing unexpected shapes, colors, textures into an otherwise uniform and utilitarian environment. But according to Electric Coffin’s artist statement, art is “often corralled into commercial spaces such as advertisements or limited public art initiatives, unable to infiltrate the rest of city life.”

“So much of the world is trying to sell you things. If you are moving through a city almost every surface has product and a comment on what you should be doing and where you should be going,” said Allie Jones, account supervisor for Electric Coffin.

For the First Time Ever, Crowdfunding Will Help Build Affordable Housing in Seattle

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A sketch of the planned Madison Boylston affordable housing development in First Hill. The building will offer 17 stories of affordable units, including permanently affordable homes for seniors. (Credit: Bellwether Housing)

Seattle-based Bellwether Housing has announced the launch of its Building Opportunity Fund, the nation’s first crowdfunded impact investment that funds the development of affordable housing. From now until September of 2019, Bellwether hopes to crowdfund $4.5 million dollars of investments to support the construction of 750 units of affordable housing in Seattle and Tukwila.

And if the idea of investing in affordable housing captures the public imagination, there is always the opportunity expand the fund’s reach. “We have a pipeline of 750 more homes,” said Susan Boyd, CEO of Bellwether Housing, to an enthusiastic crowd of tech professionals and affordable housing advocates at the fund’s launch party in the Amazon Spheres. Event speakers also included Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, Cameron Keegan of Tech 4 Housing, and Alex Hudson of the Transportation Choices Coalition.

Tech 4 Housing and Bellwether Housing hosted the launch party for the Building Opportunity Fund at the Amazon Spheres. (Credit: Claire Magula)

According the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), impact investments are intended to generate positive social and environmental impacts alongside financial returns, which range from below-market to market-rate, depending on investors’ strategic goals. 

While affordable housing development is not new territory for impact investment, using crowdfunding as the fundraising tool is new. That’s because until 2016, only accredited investors were able to invest through crowdfunding platforms.

After Seattle-based Tech 4 Housing got wind of the changes to federal securities rules around crowdfunding and investment, they approached local nonprofit housing developer Bellwether Housing with an idea. Why not use crowdfunding to raise funds to invest in affordable housing production?

Wonkabout Washington: Pierce County Subarea Plan Draft EIS Is Inadequate

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In this month’s Wonkabout Washington, we’re diving into amendments to four of Pierce County’s subarea plans. Specifically, we’re examining the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for amended Community Plans for South Hill, Mid-County, Frederickson and Parkland-Spanaway-Midland, which make up the central unincorporated urban growth area (UGA) in the county. Unfortunately, we believe that the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for these plans is insufficient in addressing development impacts in the county.

Planning and Climate Change: Concentrating Growth to Limit Greenhouse Gas Emissions

If you are like most Washingtonians, your largest contribution to the global climate catastrophe is the greenhouse pollution emitted from driving around every workday. But we have a plan for that. The Puget Sound region is working to focus growth into existing cities and towns and to invest in local and regional transit and walking and bicycling. This strategy will shorten trips and allow many Washingtonians to walk, bicycle, and take transit more often, reducing our carbon footprints.

Unfortunately, the subarea plan revisions go the wrong way. Rather than focusing growth in Tacoma and other Pierce County cities where we have invested billions on light rail and commuter rail, the subarea plan will direct more growth onto greenfields, polluting streams and the atmosphere. Here’s an overview of our top concerns about the proposed subarea plan revisions.

Spot Fix: Bus Lane Improvements Planned for Wallingford

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An extended transit-only lane is the planning process for Wallingford. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is proposing a small rechannelization of N 45th St between Midvale Ave N and Stone Way N, which could reduce dwell times in the westbound direction for Route 44, a workhorse in the King County Metro system.

The existing bus lane in the neighborhood picks up a half-block west of Stone Way N as N 45th St bends north and turns into N Midvale Pl. That westbound bus lane extends as far as the Green Lake Way N intersection and includes a queue jump, the result of earlier corridor improvements for transit implemented several years ago.

“We estimate that the N Midvale Pl transit lane extension will lead to time savings for about 44% of bus trips,” said Ethan Bergeson of SDOT. “In addition to time savings, the transit lane extension will also have safety benefits because buses will not need to merge into the same lane as cars.” 

General changes planned for the street. (City of Seattle)
General changes planned for the street. (City of Seattle)

The vehicle-to-vehicle conflicts would be reduced in several ways:

  • SDOT plans to partially eliminate an intersection point on N 45th St by removing the westbound lane west of the street bend where the street turns into N Midvale Pl. Currently, vehicles can stay straight on N 45th St to reach Midvale Ave N instead of following the bend, but that means crossing a lane of traffic heading the opposition direction on N 45th St. SDOT would remove the stop sign at this intersection and convert the north side of N 45th St between the bend and Midvale Ave N into angled back-in on-street parking.
  • The new bus lane on N 45th St means that buses will not need to pull in and out of traffic, further reducing that potential conflict.

Five Key Takeaways from the Updated Bike Master Plan

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After months of work, four community meetings, and a lot of prodding from all sides, Seattle finally has a bicycle master plan implementation plan for the remainder of the $930 million Move Seattle levy. We know know that the City is officially betting on only completing half of the 50 miles of protected bike lanes that were promised when voters mulled filling in the bubble on their ballot in the fall of 2015.

Funded miles of protected bike lane by year, according to the BMP update. Projects with identified funding but unspecified completion dates placed in 2024. (City of Seattle)
Funded miles of protected bike lane by year, according to the BMP update. Projects with identified funding but unspecified completion dates placed in 2024. (City of Seattle)

A letter signed by Mayor Jenny Durkan and Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) Director Sam Zimbabwe introducing the final plan touts 50 miles of facilities to be constructed through 2024 as “prioritized, responsible, and realistic” and states that “we will continue seeking additional revenue sources and grants to advance these key connections.” The letter is the first time that the Mayor has signed her to a statement in support of finding additional revenue for the Bike Master Plan or BMP, with her voice notably absent when the initial draft came out.

The funding gap for meeting levy goals is much narrower than other unfunded mandates that the Mayor has come out in support of, perhaps most notably a $700 million light rail tunnel in West Seattle for which Mayor Durkan says “the city of Seattle is committed to getting third-party funding.”

The document is both incredibly meaningful in that projects that aren’t included on it are very unlikely to see progress anytime soon, and not meaningful in that the implementation plan has made many promises before that weren’t kept. The lines on the map also frequently end up watered down as the on-the-ground reality of parking and level-of-service (for cars) concerns beat out any master plan vision. The last we saw of plans for a protected bike lane on E Union St there was a pivotal two-block gap in the facility that isn’t reflected in the master plan.

But what’s changed since the proposed draft was released two months ago?

Bike Works

Bike Works