Sunday, August 19, 2018

Sunday Video: Northgate Link Update

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Sound Transit has new footage of construction progress of the Link light rail extension at Northgate. The footage provides a bird’s eye view of the alignment and station north of thr Maple Leaf Portal.

What We’re Reading: Missing Middle YVR, Living Battery Street, and Security Theater

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Legacy entertainment saved?: Amazon is picking up Landmark Theaters. Will that save the Guild 45th and the Seven Gables?

Deadly right hooks: Data from Toronto suggests most people driving don’t pay attention when turning right adding reason to fear the deadly “right hooks”.

Missing middle YVR: Vancouver, British Columbia has big plans to provide a lot more housing types across the city.

Up in flames: Fires in recent years have been getting bigger and that’s likely to worsen in the years ahead ($).

New chief: Carmen Best has been confirmed as Seattle’s new police chief.

More options: Lime Bikes has expanded its discount program.

PDX parking policies: Sightline says that Portland now has the smartest parking policies in the Northwest.

Bus network redesign: Columbus redesigned its bus network and saw ridership grow.

Decongesting: In talking about decongestion charging, it’s important to talk about corresponding transit investments, David Lawson says.

Draconian spitefullness: Trump’s regime still will not release $1.4 billion in congressionally-approved transit dollars.

Creeping on Amazon: Google will expand in South Lake Union with another tower ($).

Bang for your buck: Where are the big cities that you can stretch your dollar in?

Living Battery Street: A local architecture firm has an idea to transform Battery Street’s soon-to-be-defunct tunnel into a living park.

Damaging policy: Trump’s ill-advised trade war is dramatically increasing the cost of construction, particularly for steel.

Go by train: Orlando’s SunRail, a commuter rail corridor, has been expanded further south.

Security theater: Los Angeles has partnered with the Transportation Security Administration to bring body scanners to the Metro rail system ($).

Community investment: In the Rainier Valley, an affordable housing project will include a performing arts space.

Fighting the man: Teens suing the federal government over climate change will take their challenge further up the judicial food chain.

Nathan’s Bus: ​The Perspicacious Hairdresser

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The accent. I knew him from before. The vowels drawled out in between clipped consonant edges, a straining against the upper mouth, little enthusiasms in every double vowel. Did he stem from a country of one? Who else sounds like this? Black hair spiked up, flaxen gold skin, leather, sunglasses that didn’t frown, the sharp teeth grinning besides. He was a hairdresser, and there was no one else like him.

How could I forget his first words to me, years ago? The friendly and unknowable voice, loudly. The proclaiming voice. “You shoul’ be driver of da yeeeeah, man! Not of duh month. Of duh yeeeeah!!”

Today I watched him transform into sunshine upon seeing me, alignments of posture and expression reborn, the body coming together now, no longer a tired man after a long workday. Sure, it’s just an acquaintance seeing an acquaintance, but that can be enough to rejuvenate you, your best self now without even trying. The power of a consistent smile.

“My friend!” I exclaimed.
“It’s duh best number 7 bus driver ever!” Eb-buh.
I laughed, appreciating his glow. “How’s life?”
“Life in 2018?”
“Yeah man, tell me!”
“Just another story,” he replied. “Sad story, happy story, it doesn’t matter. It’s just another story.”

The thick accent, the sunglasses and spiky hair; the tilting roadway, dilapidated in the crossfade of light and gently turning time. How can a line be artless and artful in the same breath, too brief to be profound and yet too concise, too all-encompassing to be anything else? The best sages turn a book into a single sentence.

I drift sometimes. We all do, especially these days. Despair is just around the corner, and it’s addictive. When you’ve “been through some stuff,” as they like to say out here, the reminder that life is a system of peaks and valleys carries with it particular comfort. His line put me back into perspective. To acknowledge the struggle as we comment on the intrinsically beautiful texture of existence allows us—allows me—all the more, to believe. Sometimes it’s glorious, life is, and sometimes it’s terrible.

We take it in stride.

Take things as they come, and make the best of them. “Yeah,” I nodded. “Just another story!”
“Jus’ another story!”

Lack of Progress on Rainier Avenue Spurs Call to Action

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What does Mayor Jenny Durkan’s approach to Vision Zero policy look like? After nine months in office, one thing that appears to be true is that the issue is not a high priority one on the seventh floor of City Hall. When the city council unanimously passed a resolution late last month calling for safer facilities for people biking in downtown Seattle, the mayor did not acknowledge their action publicly. Critical SDOT projects seem to be getting scaled back in terms of their safety impacts. And when two children were struck by a vehicle in early August at an intersection in Southeast Seattle, the mayor’s Twitter account was silent.

That collision took place at the corner of Rainier Ave S and S Henderson St, in the heart of Rainier Beach, on the afternoon of April 9th. Rainier Avenue has long been referred to as “Seattle’s most dangerous street,” with an often-cited average crash rate of one per day. The former state highway is designed to move cars fast, and for people not to get in their way.

In 2015, a road rechannelization was done on a small segment of Rainier Avenue in Columbia City with mixed results, but a full taming of the street, which runs the length of Southeast Seattle, remains a far-off possibility. A second phase of the rechanneling is in the works, but any serious change in road design that might seriously slow most road users, i.e. adding protected bike lanes and narrowing the remaining lanes has been taken off the table.

Apart from the segment in Columbia City, the speed limit on Rainier Avenue remains 30 mph. While the southern segment, including the intersection at Henderson Street where the serious collision this month occurred, is slated to get a reduced speed limit when it is rechannelized, the entire Rainier corridor is not scheduled to get a speed limit reduction until 2021. For Seattle’s most dangerous street this is not quickly enough.

Wonkabout Washington: Pierce County Doubles Protected Farmland, Next Steps on Sound Transit’s Paid Parking

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Submit your nominations for the Futurewise Livable Community Awards!

Each year, Futurewise honors community leaders in five categories (Local Government Excellence, Equity and Environment, Protecting Natural Resource Areas, Smart Growth and Transportation, Community Champion). We want your nominations for 2019! Submit your ideas online.

Pierce County Council Votes to Double Protected Working Farmland

On August 14, 2018, the Pierce County Council voted to double the working farms county policy will conserve long-term. The recent Pierce County Fresh Look report concluded that “[t]here’s near-consensus support for protecting Pierce County’s best farmland and sustaining the economic viability of local agriculture.”

Legal advocacy from Futurewise was critical in reaching today’s outcome. Futurewise identified inconsistencies in the Pierce County Comprehensive Plan that made farmland vulnerable to rezoning and development. Futurewise appealed the plan to a state agency, then worked directly with local partners, community members, and county councilmembers to draft a final policy that balances stakeholder needs.

Suburban sprawl has been a major threat to conserving Pierce County’s agricultural land. Since Pierce County first adopted its current agricultural land designation criteria in 2004, Pierce County has lost 7,987 acres of protected agricultural land. As the Fresh Look study found, “[f]armers further from urban centers are also feeling pressure of development on their operations. Even in the south end of themcounty, where livestock production (mainly beef cattle) is the primary agricultural activity, residential growth is challenging to farmers and ranchers.”

While protected farmland has declined, demand for farmland has increased in Pierce County. Between 2007 and 2012, the land in farms in Pierce County grew by four percent or 1,800 acres. In that five-year period, the market value of food and other agricultural products sold by farmers and ranchers increased by nine percent. In a recent three-year period, the local land trust has heard from over 45 farmers who are looking for land and are interested in starting or expanding their farm businesses in Pierce County.

Yet the Pierce County report, Preserving Farmland and Farmers: Pierce County Agriculture Strategic Plan, concluded that one of the barriers to economically viable agriculture in Pierce County was the need to maintain “[a] critical (minimum) threshold amount of land and number of farmers …; otherwise the industry loses options to sustain itself and grow.”

If no improvements to the county plan were made, Pierce County would lose another 13,313 acres of working farmland. Instead, the new policies approved by the Pierce County Council will stanch these loses, designating over 22,000 acres of protected farmland, removing the designation criterion that allowed the continued farmland losses, and including policies to better protect working farms.

Equity Impacts of High-Speed Rail

Futurewise is serving on the Advisory Committee for the Ultra High-Speed Ground Transportation Study–a Washington State Department of Transportation effort to investigate intercity passenger transportation system traveling at speeds of 250 mph or more between Vancouver, British Columbia and Portland, Oregon (with several possible stops in between). The committee includes a mix of local, state and international leadership, including legislators and representatives from the Governor’s office, and the office of the BC Premier, and will be meeting over the course of the next year to provide guidance and feedback. While this concept has been around for at least a decade or more, the most recent effort was given new life by interest from the private sector, including Microsoft, who are participating in the study phase of the project funding.

Broad strokes on many of the study’s focus areas were presented at the first meeting in July–primarily by the WSP consulting team–including the corridor planning, ridership analysis, governance models, economic analysis, and financing.

However, there was one important point that was not mentioned in the presentation–although it was highlighted by Seattle Chamber of Commerce CEO Marilyn Strickland and Futurewise–which was the project’s equity and social justice considerations, particularly the impacts on jobs, housing, and displacement. There was a lot of discussion of project benefits, but almost no discussion of who benefits from the project. The consultant team was careful to point out that the study being undertaken did not include a “local” analysis of housing or growth impacts–but that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t. Moving forward, Futurewise will advocate for more comprehensive analysis of who benefits from high-speed rail, with a focus on impacts on housing.

Pressing Sound Transit to Improve Paid Parking Policies

On July 26th, the Sound Transit Board voted to offer priced monthly parking permits. Futurewise testified in support of this initiative, while offering recommendations to improve the program.

Overall, the Paid Parking Program is a positive step for Sound Transit. Offering priced monthly permits for Park and Rides will help to achieve more reliable parking capacity while also reducing early morning stress for riders who struggle to get to lots early enough to find a parking spot.

However, Sound Transit has room to make equity improvements in this policy. Most importantly, Sound Transit could further reduce the permit price for ORCA-LIFT users. Riders that are eligible for ORCA-LIFT have very low-incomes that already make living in our region difficult. The current reduced price may be too high for low-income riders to utilize the convenience of a permitted parking spot. The performance-drive price adjustment strategy is a good start; Sound Transit could improve by also evaluating the price-effectiveness specifically for ORCA-LIFT users and consider further reducing the cost.

Another way to improve the program? Make residents living outside the Sound Transit service area eligible to purchase a parking permit. These restrictions have insufficient rationale and create an inequitable system where non-resident users are able to utilize these lots for free, but are not able to choose to pay for a permitted parking spot. We would like to see this restriction lifted and the ability to purchase a parking permit expanded to any user of Sound Transit. Doing so provides equal opportunity access to our transit system to all users, regardless of their address.

Overall, the Sound Transit Paid Parking Program is an important first step in parking management for our region. Implementing the above recommendations would improve the program by increasing the accessibility of parking permits.

Urban Village Boundary Contractions? No Thanks.

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Wallingford Community Council proposed 2017 Comprehensive Plan amendment to remove more than 50 blocks and only park from the urban village. (City of Seattle)
Wallingford Community Council proposed 2017 Comprehensive Plan amendment to remove more than 50 blocks and only park from the urban village. (City of Seattle)

In my Sightline piece from May, I described how homeowners in Wallingford have worked for decades to block housing via downzones, increasing development burdens, and dominating the inequitable and anti-tenant neighborhood planning process. Just last year, the Wallingford Community Council (WCC) proposed a comprehensive plan amendment that would have removed over 50 blocks and the only park out of the already gerrymandered Wallingford Urban Village.

Of course, nearly all areas eliminated were zoned single-family, which will see a nominal uptick with Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) Program rezones. The inequitable aspect here is that Wallingford is majority renter with a median age of 33. Per a colleague, the proposed gerrymander wasn’t even put to a vote (oops), unsurprisingly the WCC board’s demographics are the complete inverse of the neighborhood. This gerrymander would have increased development pressure on existing buildings in the urban village, placing existing businesses and multifamily housing at greater risk for redevelopment — all the while removing a sizeable chunk in future MHA units or in lieu fees.

The city council summarily rejected the proposed comprehensive plan amendment, and I kind of assumed classist tactics like that wouldn’t be tried again. So I was a little surprised to see that the Phinney Ridge Community Council put out a survey to test the waters about removing a significant portion of the (already inequitably gerrymandered) Phinney/Greenwood Urban Village. The survey is titled, ‘Should we change the boundaries of the Greenwood-Phinney Urban Village If doing so means developers would provide more on-site parking in the future?’

Ah yes. Parking. I should have guessed it.

City Council Saves The Showbox, Vacates ROW, and Sets Move Seattle Levy Process

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On Monday, the Seattle City Council temporarily expanded the Pike Place Market Historic District, effectively saving the Showbox for now. The reprieve doesn’t guarantee perpetual protection of the famed music venue, but it does set in motion a process to study a permanent expansion of the historic district to the property in order to keep the space open for concertgoers and bands alike.

The effort to save the Showbox came in response to a pre-application submitted by a prospective developer last month that is considering a 44-story, 442-unit highrise tower. Canadian firm Onni Group has built other large-scale highrise projects in Seattle and hopes to do the same on the Showbox site. However, the historic district expansion will apply for 10 months allowing for a full review and landmarking process to proceed.

The hatched area indicates where the historic district expansion applies temporarily. The grey area is the existing Place Place Market Historic District. (City of Seattle)
The hatched area indicates where the historic district expansion applies temporarily. The grey area is the existing Place Place Market Historic District. (City of Seattle)

The Unfinished Promise of the Center City Connector

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Pioneer Square has the most to potentially lose–but also gain–from the connection of Seattle’s downtown streetcar lines.

During her daily commute into Pioneer Square on Link light rail, Lauren Davis, who is assistant director of ArtXchange Gallery, noticed a change in ridership after the completion of the Capitol Hill and University of Washington stations in 2016.

“The cars are packed,” said Davis. “It’s clear that people in Seattle are hungry for connected transit systems.”

Davis is hopeful that Center City Connector (CCC) will offer Pioneer Square access into another connected system. As the director of a well-established gallery on 1st Avenue just south of S. Jackson Street, Davis knows that customer access is essential to her gallery’s success, and she is tired of listening to customer’s frustrations about “circling for an hour for a park spot.”

“I would personally like to have the CCC in the long run,” said Davis. “If the [streetcar] connector were finished and there were new resources for parking, I think that would be ideal.”

On July 24th Mayor Durkan released a letter explaining her decision to halt construction of the CCC, pending completion of a technical review by the firm KPMG. While the fate of the CCC hangs in the balance, no other neighborhood is waiting for what comes next with as much anticipation as Pioneer Square. Because of the utility work being completed on 1st avenue, the neighborhood has already been living with the painful reality of being stuck in the middle of a major road construction project for several months.