Lake Washington Boulevard Open Street Will Stay Confined to Weekends Despite Overwhelming Support

Lake Washington Boulevard with more people and no cars. (Photo by Doug Trumm)

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) in conjunction with Seattle Parks and Recreation has announced that Lake Washington Boulevard’s open street will be extended all the way south to Seward Park starting the weekend of July 4. Currently the closure of the street to through-traffic to provide space for walking, biking, and rolling has been in place on weekends along a one-mile stretch of the street between Mount Baker Beach and Genesee Park. The three-mile version will significantly expand the open street, directly connecting Seward Park’s car-free trail with a Lake Washington Boulevard with significantly fewer vehicles on it.

Lake Washington Boulevard will open to people walking, biking and rolling for a three-mile stretch starting July 4th but only on weekends and holidays. (SDOT)

But the final proposal differs from the result of SDOT’s survey of nearly 7,000 Seattle residents in which approximately 65% of respondents said their first choice for Lake Washington Boulevard was a three-mile option every day of the week. Adding in people who said it was their second choice, seven out of ten respondents rated having an open street every day of the week very highly. The weekends-only option only received a top ranking from a little over 20%.

Results from all respondents on which option they preferred for the Lake Washington Blvd open street. (SDOT)

Brianna Thomas 2021 Questionnaire – Seattle City Council Pos. 9

Brianna Thomas is running for Seattle City Council. (Photo courtesy of campaign)

Brianna Thomas’s impressive resume includes leading the successful campaign for a $15 wage in SeaTac, which kicked off the broader “Fight for 15” movement, and the Honest Election Initiative that won Seattle’s Democracy Voucher program. The Urbanist endorsed Thomas in the 2015 primary for Council District 1, but she ended up finishing fourth, and Lisa Herbold won the seat. In the five years since, she has been a Council Aide to Council President M. Lorena González and rose to Chief of Staff. In February, she announced for her boss’s seat. Check out her campaign website for more information.

The Urbanist Election Committee wrote and distributed questionnaires to the candidates and followed up with Zoom interviews this month. We’ll roll out our Seattle City Council questionnaires this week and continuing releasing questionnaires in other races. The Urbanist will drop our Primary Endorsements very soon. The Primary voting period starts July 16th; ballots must be postmarked by 8pm August 3rd. For voter information or to register to vote, visit the State election website.

Below are Brianna Thomas’s questionnaire responses. 

Do you support the charter amendment proposed by Compassion Seattle? Why or why not?

I support the values driving the amendment, but I would like to see more specific language and details around implementation and funding. I believe that as a City, more than ever, we are ready to take meaningful action on homelessness. There are definitional challenges that the Council will have to address in order to achieve the goals of the amendment, but its current iteration is so open to interpretation that it’s quite difficult to know what the outcomes could include. Most importantly, I believe that clarity in what the City can actually effectuate should be centered in Compassion Seattle’s messaging.

Goldilocks question: The Seattle Police Department’s budget is too big, too small, or just right. Explain your answer and the trajectory you’d like to see.

One of my top priorities is criminal justice reform, beyond the police department’s budget. I was part of many of the difficult conversations and resulting council actions around police funding, informed by community. I stand by the council’s decision to divert millions of dollars from the general fund and SPD budget to reinvest in community based alternatives. The Council also identified approximately $30 million for a participatory budgeting program this summer, which is unprecedented in the City’s history. 

As a Black woman, I deeply understand the call to dismantle the current carceral system, reinvest in community, and right generations of race based violence suffered by my community. As a public servant and policy advisor that has been working on issues surrounding the reform and reimagining of policing since 2016, I feel trapped between the limitations of our continued monitoring by the DOJ, which community called for, and a Collective Bargaining Agreement that patently refused to accept many of the calls for accountability set out in the City’s 2017 Police Accountability Ordinance. 

Simply put, there are no easy answers. There is no magic number, and the Guild is resistant to following many principles that the community and the council have agreed upon.

Nikkita Oliver 2021 Questionnaire – Seattle City Council Pos. 9

Nikkita Oliver is running for Seattle City Council. (Photo by Alex Garland and courtesy of Nikkita for Nine)

Nikkita Oliver ran for mayor in 2017 on the Seattle People’s Party platform and finished a close third behind Cary Moon in the primary. This cycle, Oliver opted to run for Seattle City Council instead of running for mayor again, targeting Position 9 citywide seat vacated by Council President Lorena González’s run for mayor. Since their last run, Oliver has continued working with youth entangled in our criminal justice system as executive director of Creative Justice. During a summer of widespread protests against police brutality in 2020, Oliver emerged as a leader and helped articulate demands that the City invest in Black and brown communities and divest money being squandered on an unaccountable Seattle Police Department. Upon jumping in the Council race in March, Oliver’s first hire was urbanist luminary Shaun Scott as campaign coordinator. Check out their campaign website for more information.

The Urbanist Election Committee wrote and distributed questionnaires to the candidates and followed up with Zoom interviews this month. We’ll roll out our Seattle City Council questionnaires this week and continuing releasing questionnaires in other races. The Urbanist will drop our Primary Endorsements very soon. The Primary voting period starts July 16th; ballots must be postmarked by 8pm August 3rd. For voter information or to register to vote, visit the State election website.

Below are Nikkita Oliver’s questionnaire responses. 

Do you support the charter amendment proposed by Compassion Seattle? Why or why not?

No. This amendment will further criminalize poverty and houselessness, instead of providing a solution that responds to the root causes of those conditions. “Compassion Seattle” would codify sweeps in our city charter, making them permanent. And its provision for 2000 units of “emergency or permanent housing” takes place on a timeline that will not allow for the construction of permanent housing.

The amendment mandates a minimum 12 percent of the city’s general fund go to  fund inside the Human Services Department to pay for shelter, housing, and supportive services such as counseling and drug treatment. This year, the city will spend 11 percent of its general fund on the Human Services Department. “Compassion Seattle” admits this formula for the 2021 city budget would have produced a fund of $192 million — $16 million more than what was actually budgeted. 

Most damningly, “Compassion Seattle” doesn’t propose any new revenue. A 2018 study by McKinsey concluded that King County would need to spend $400 million every year on housing—not temporary shelter—to provide affordable housing, permanent supportive housing, mental health facilities, and public hygiene services to ameliorate King County’s homelessness crisis. We need a real solution, and “Compassion Seattle” isn’t it.

Goldilocks question: The Seattle Police Department’s budget is too big, too small, or just right. Explain your answer and the trajectory you’d like to see.

SPD’s budget is too big. We need to continue defunding AND we must continue the work of building community-based and -led responses to harm and supports as well as key violence prevention and intervention strategies.

When people’s basic needs are met, we build safety. Meeting basic needs is a baseline for community safety. Our city deserves better options than violent policing and mass incarceration as our only choices for public safety. The majority of what we call crime happens because people do not have their basic needs met.

In order for us to create the safer city we imagine, we need affordable and social housing, equitable transportation, affordable childcare, fully funded schools with school counselors, restorative justice coordinators, and health services, more culturally responsive and accessible youth programs, health and sex education that teaches healthy relationships, accessible mental health supports, an array of community-based options for supporting domestic violence survivors and restorative and transformative responses for those who cause harm, civilianized 911, community-based drug user supports, and thriving wage employment opportunities. 

We must make investments in mobile mental health and crisis support teams immediately, so we can get the right care to people experiencing emergencies when they need it.

The 2018 police contract repealed accountability measures, gave officers a big raise plus backpay, and eight of nine City Councilmembers voted for it. What does the next police contract need to have in order to earn your vote of approval?

The next contract the City enters into with Seattle Police Department must reflect a deep value for protecting the lives and rights of residents from police violence (especially QTBIPOC communities and communities impacted by over policing and police brutality), it cannot impede the Council’s ability to continue the work of defunding an ineffective model of “public safety” and effectively fund and develop a model that works for everyone, and it cannot allow officers to evade accountability (including firing) when they commit acts of misconduct. Furthermore, the contract must not put any additional dollars into policing for more training nor additional failed systems of accountability. 

Sound Transit Plans to Introduce Tacoma Link Fares In 2022

Sound Transit's streetcar in Downtown Tacoma. Work on Tacoma's Hilltop streetcar extension continues, but further extensions are shelved until Sound Transit grapples with Covid-related budget impacts. (Doug Trumm)
Work on Tacoma's Hilltop streetcar extension continues, but timelines for further extensions are in doubt as Sound Transit grapples with Covid-related budget impacts. (Credit: Doug Trumm)

Sound Transit is pursuing introduction of Tacoma Link fares. The 1.6-mile streetcar line has operated fare-free since 2003 when it opened. But an extension of the line is set to open next year to the Hilltop Neighborhood, leading the agency to come up with a sustainable way to fund expanded service.

For years, Sound Transit has been able to operate the line fare-free. Fares were going to be implemented in 2014, but a fare subsidy program with the Downtown Tacoma Partnership staved off fares and has been in place since. The line being quite short has acted as a shuttle between Tacoma Dome Station and Downtown Tacoma, making that sort of program an affordable choice. However, agency staff were directed in 2016 to devise and implement a fare structure when the line is extended beyond Downtown Tacoma. Right now, the line is being extended 2.4 miles and will serve the Stadium District and Hilltop District — as far south as St. Joseph’s Hospital, essentially making one big switchback — next year.

Sound Transit’s two fare options essentially differ for the adult and youth costs. Option 1 is a $2.00 adult fare and $1.00 youth fare while Option 2 is a $2.50 adult fare and $1.50 youth fare. Option 1 aligns with Pierce Transit’s current adult and youth fare costs while Option 2 aligns with Central Link’s lowest adult and youth fare costs. Both options propose common $1.00 fares for seniors and disabled persons and $1.50 fares for low-income ORCA LIFT riders.

An online survey on the fare proposals is open through Sunday, July 25th and an online public hearing is scheduled for Thursday, July 15 at 9:30am where public comment on the proposals can be provided. Sound Transit expects to implement fares in May 2022 when the extension is scheduled to open.

Metro’s Fall Service Change Will Bring 14 Deletions, 7 New Bus Routes, 10 Revised Routes

The opening of U District Station with Northgate Link extension on October 2nd while be paired with a major bus restructure. (Photo by Doug Trumm)

Major changes to bus routes focused in North Seattle and other North End areas are coming in the fall to coincide with the opening of the Northgate Link extension. Over 20 existing King County Metro routes are affected by the changes, which means a big shakeup to local and commuter service as many routes are fed toward the new Link light rail stations. In some cases, routes are being consolidated and deleted in favor of light rail.

Approved in early May by the King County Council, the bus restructure will go into effect on October 2nd instead of around the usual fall equinox service change time. Metro will delete 14 routes, create 7 new routes, and revise a further 10 routes.

The adopted changes are similar to the draft plan we shared last year. But it falls far short of the bolder cross-town bus service concepts that had kicked off the process and for which North Seattleites have yearned for decades. The process feels oddly reminiscent of the broken U-Link bus connections restructure process from 2015 that forsake big ideas and the failed SR-520 bus restructure process from 2017 that never came to be. Our earlier report panned last fall’s proposal as a devolution into pandemic-induced austerity cuts, but Metro cast the changes as just a normal consequence of process: “Metro adjusted and refined its proposed network changes as part of the network refinement process as is normally the case prior to submittal of the final proposal to council following analyses, discussions with partner agencies, and extremely robust public engagement.”

Perhaps it is, but it’s still a hard-to-love outcome for riders.

The North Link connections map showing how the service change will look in October. (King County)
The North Link connections map showing how the service change will look in October. (King County)

One area of Metro’s proposal that has been controversial is the redeployment of 47,000 annual service hours from the North End toward other areas, particularly Southeast King County, where ridership has stayed steadier during the pandemic. Most of these annual service hours are coming from the deletion of Route 41. Metro sees Route 41 as almost entirely duplicative of the Northgate Link extension between Northgate and Downtown Seattle and cited its equity framework in shifting service toward the south.

“Metro did not propose redeployment of those hours in the project area because Link light rail will wholly replace it with improved service that is faster, more reliable, and able to carry many more people than the Route 41 it replaces,” Jeff Switzer said, a Metro spokesperson. “If Metro were to reinvest duplicative Route 41 hours into the project area, it would be a significant increase in service operating in the area over pre-pandemic levels. Given resource limitations and increasing demand for service across the county, such a reinvestment would have placed additional investment in the North Link project area ahead of the service needs of the county as a whole (which includes the North Link area).”

Durkan Again Delays Racial Equity Analysis of Seattle Growth Strategy

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda urged OPCD to release its racial equity analysis as soon as possible. (Seattle Channel)

In November 2018, Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, with the backing of housing advocates like us, succeeded in getting $500,000 added to the City budget to fund a racial equity analysis of the Seattle’s urban village growth strategy. That report was due in December 2019. That deadline came and went and then the pandemic hit three months later, which gave the Durkan administration a convenient excuse to continue to delay.

That report — which is now 18 months late — was supposed to finally be delivered to the City Council’s land use committee today. However, the Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) asked for yet another extension. Both housing advocates and Mosqueda expressed their frustrations and urged no further delays. They hope to receive the report in mid-July.

Mosqueda: No more delays issuing equity report

“We cannot afford any additional delays given that this critical report must be made public so that it will help us lay the foundation of what is needed in the Comprehensive Plan update,” Mosqueda said during the meeting. “That process begins this year. This report is critical for helping us understand and chart a course that makes sure we are on a path to true equity in our zoning policies. So that we can really understand the fundamental aspects of our zoning policies are where there are pitfalls.”

The Comprehensive Plan Major Update is due in 2024, but it will take two years leading up to it to put together the outreach process and Environmental Impact Statement. Mosqueda and other housing advocates worry the City will squander the chance to correct course on a housing system that is not leading to good outcomes for Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC), working class folks, or younger generations.

“Seattle’s land use, like many cities, are rooted in a history of racist exclusionary zoning policies, racially restrictive covenants, and redlining that have locked Black, Indigenous, and communities of color individuals out of our [high opportunity] neighborhoods,” Mosqueda continued. “The effects of exclusionary zoning policies continue today. We know this. There’s no doubt about it.”

“The racial equity toolkit is a tool for us understand how we as a city can identify the ways to address the skyrocketing cost of housing,” Mosqueda continued, adding these policies have contributed to “the homelessness crisis disproportionately impacting BIPOC communities” and to the suburbanization of poverty and resulting car dependency.

Housing advocates join the call

The Urbanist joined a letter urging the report’s release that was spearheaded by the Housing Development Consortium and also signed by AIA Seattle, Futurewise, MOAR, Share the Cities, Seattle for Everyone, and Sierra Club Seattle.

Lots of Love for Transit at the Seattle Subway Mayoral Forum

Map by Seattle Subway

Seattle Subway and co-sponsor Seattle Transit Blog, both members of the MASS Coalition alongside The Urbanist, held a mayoral forum focused on the topic of mass transit in the Seattle area. It was the rare 2021 political discussion in which the word Covid never made an appearance, although references to economic challenges and other repercussions resulting from the pandemic haunted the background of several candidate responses.

Moderator Erica C. Barnett of Publicola kept the discussion moving forward through a succession of open ended questions to which the candidates had one minute to respond and two rounds of rapid fire yes/no questions, to which candidates mostly adhered to the yay or nay format with a few exceptions, like when longtime transit booster former State Representative and Executive Director of Transit Choices Coalition Jessyn Farrell refused to choose between funding bus service hours or fare reductions. Perhaps being a mom of three, she’s learned the hard way not to choose between one’s babies.

Splash for the Seattle Subway mayoral forum. (Credit: Seattle Subway)

Maybe the biggest surprise of the evening was the fact that there was so much unanimity on questions that have been relatively thorny in public debate. On all of the yes/no questions, responses of “no” were in short supply, with candidates vying to demonstrate their pro-transit cred, often referencing professional and volunteer work going back, in some cases, decades.

Support for preserving Sound Transit 3 (ST3) plans in the face of potential budget shortfalls was strong among all participants, although discussion of potential funding mechanisms was in short supply, with the exception of a call for a moratorium on funding for new highways advocated by former Chief Seattle Club Executive Director Colleen Echohawk and a call for soliciting private donations from local companies from Rainier Valley nonprofit leader and entrepreneur Lance Randall. But with finances largely removed from the discussion, support for ST3 was high, even from Casey Sixkiller, a current deputy mayor in Durkan’s administration and arguably the most traditionally conservative of the candidates, touting his decades of support for high-capacity transit and his experience advocating for funding Seattle transit in the “other” Washington.

Since transit-friendly vibes dominated the hour long discussion, some of the unclear positions that emerged seemed to show more about candidates’ gaps in personal knowledge of the topic matter rather than where they might stand as the city’s chief executive. For instance, Echohawk’s seemingly off-topic remark about the need to increase bus service to Link light rail stations after being asked to name the greatest obstacle to connecting Seattle’s urban villages with a robust rapid transit network felt more forgivable after she owned up to not being a transportation policy wonk later on in the forum. Randall was strong on referencing topics related to the need to support communities historically underserved by transit in South Seattle, but rarely mentioned particulars other than the need to prioritize basic needs like user safety and maintenance of roads and bridges.

303 Battery: The World’s First Net Zero Energy Highrise Apartment Building

303 Battery will be the world's first zero net energy high-rise apartment building. In addition to its sustainable features, the building has also been designed for affordability. (Credit: Weisman Design Group)

On a humble lot in Belltown, a remarkable building is underway. While 303 Battery may never raise the same level of international buzz as the 1960’s era Space Needle, it is posed to quietly revolutionize the future of buildings, not just in Seattle, but potentially around the world.

At 15 stories, 303 Battery is not just the world’s first net zero energy highrise apartment building. The development also pushes the boundaries of smart building technology, affordability, and sped of construction thanks to a proprietary building technology system created by Sustainable Living Innovations (SLI), a locally grown company that evolved out of Seattle-based architectural firm CollinsWoerman.

Inspired to tackle both affordability and environmental sustainability in the built environment, founders Arlan Collins and Mark Woerman used the uncertainty created by the Great Recession to embark on exploring how technological advancement could create better buildings. The result was the creation of SLI, whose modular buildings are assembled from 44 different pre-fabricated floor, wall, and ceiling panels placed into a steel exoskeleton. If you were to crack open one of these panels, inside you would find electrical wiring, plumbing, and mechanical equipment, including fiber optic cables.

Nighttime image shows the exoskeleton of SLI’s 47+7 building, which was completed in Seattle’s University District. 303 Battery will be constructed from similar components using SLI’s proprietary pre-fabricated panels. (Credit: SLI)

Together the prefabricated and modular construction system allows for a completely smart tech enabled building that can be built primarily offsite in a factory where changes in the weather never slow down the progress of construction. According to SLI, this method of construction effectively eliminates construction waste, and provides steadier employment for construction sector workers, who may find themselves out of work in the region’s colder, wetter months.

This excerpt from 303 Battery’s Design Review Guidance application submitted to the City of Seattle summarizes some of the features that makes SLI’s design and construction methods unique. (Credit: SLI and CollinsWoerman)

Do Pre-Fab Buildings Live Up to the Hype?

In 2020, The Urbanist‘s Shawn Kuo wrote “The Potential and Pitfalls of Prefabricated Buildings,” an article that assesses how SLI claims stand up to the literature. Kuo said the literature supports the idea that pre-fabricated buildings generate less waste, reduce construction times, minimize noise impact on surrounding communities, and lead to improved conditions for workers, most notably in the area of worker safety.

However, the environmental picture is more complex, mostly because not enough time has elapsed to compare the lifecycle of the new generation of pre-fabrication buildings, like those built by SLI, against that of their conventional counterparts. Collins said SLI’s buildings have been designed for durability. The buildings are non-combustible, and the steel exoskeleton is equipped to confront both earthquakes and high winds. Together these features, along with the smart tech building monitoring systems, should mean that the buildings will have a long lifespan.

In theory, at their end of life components in pre-fabricated steel frame buildings should be more readily recyclable than timber or concrete, but it is difficult to know what the level of demand will be for the raw materials that would result from future recycling processes in the future. Shipping is another area where the environmental picture becomes murky. Given that its panels are manufactured in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Calgary, Alberta before being assembled in its Tacoma factory, SLI’s buildings may have a larger shipping energy footprint than similar buildings. As a side note, none of its shops appear to be unionized.