Tuesday, 15 October, 2019

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.

Unraveling the Problem Called Interbay

Aerial view of Smith Cove, Interbay, and Magnolia. (Credit: Port of Seattle and CIty of Seattle)

Early this year, a call went out that the Interbay Armory Advisory Committee was looking for community proposals on what to do with 25 acres of land in the middle of Seattle. What is it, and why does some committee need ideas?

Those 25 acres are currently the National Guard Armory located on relatively clear land just off 15th Avenue in Interbay. The Guard is looking to move because the site doesn’t fit them any more. The facilities are not large enough for their current equipment or the number of staff. The site could get flooded in a tsunami or cut off from highways in an earthquake, so they are planning a new facility near North Bend.

The State is involved because this relocation is not going to be funded by the Feds. the state convened a committee of heavy hitters to examine how to redevelop the current Armory to fund the new National Guard site. 

For many of us who heard the initial call for comment, there’s really only one option: build lots of housing. The site is halfway between two proposed light rail stations: Dravus Street and Smith Cove. If light rail is coming here, here should grow upwards to meet it. Mike Eliason had a great idea called the Interbay EcoDistrict, where he proposes to bring together many underdeveloped sites in Interbay to promote homes and walkability using the best in cooperative housing and green development techniques.

The Interbay Planning Mishmash

But that is not that easy in Interbay, as review of these proposals and eventual recommendations by the Advisory Committee revealed. The neighborhood is crisscrossed with planning initiatives, contradictory zones, and competing interests. While many of us see Interbay as clogged bridges and mini-storage, the story of Interbay is layers deeper.

Midweek Video: Cascadia Rail’s Ultra High Speed Ground Transportation Presentation


In September, Rail~Volution held their annual conference up in Vancouver, British Columbia. Paige Malott, Chair of Cascadia Rail, was there and provided a comprehensive presentation on high-speed rail in the Cascadia Region.

Community Transit Sets Sights on 36% Ridership Growth through 2024 in Latest Plan


Community Transit is beginning to tip its hat on things to come as light rail opening in Lynnwood approaches in 2024. Last week, the transit agency published its six-year transit development plan, which spans the same time period. The plan envisions expansion of the Swift bus rapid transit network, redeployment of commuter bus service hours into local service, and ridership growing from 10.6 million in 2018 to 14.4 million in 2024, a 36% increase.

The planning process for service development programs year by year. (Community Transit)
The planning process for service development programs year by year. (Community Transit)

In the next few years, Community Transit is looking to continue ramping up service levels and expand its bus fleet. By 2024, annual service hours will grow to 566,864, a 37% increase over 2018, while the bus fleet expands to 338 coaches, an 18% increase over 2018.

How annual service hours and the bus fleet will grow through 2024. (Community Transit)
How annual service hours and the bus fleet will grow through 2024. (Community Transit)

Annual service hour growth will be modest in 2020 through 2023 before taking big leap in 2024. This year, service hours already ballooned as the Swift Green Line began service in March and recent service changes went into effect. Fleet growth will follow similar trends to annual service hour growth through 2024.

Early concepts for service growth through 2024 are as follows:

Seattle Needs A Housing Politics Movement Like Germany’s Wohnungspolitik

Passivhaus-Wohnanlage Kaisermühlenstraße, Vienna. (Photo by Mike Eliason)

Actually, Seattle needed a cohesive and comprehensive Wohnungspolitik 40 years ago, but late is better than never. What is a Wohnungspolitik? The literal translation from German is ”housing policies,” but I think a more nuanced translation is ”housing politics”–that is, the activities rather than the ideas—though both are important. 

Wohnungspolitik sets the direction for affordable housing policies, how rents are regulated, what rights renters have, how cities grow, where cities grow, and who has the right to them. Wohnungspolitik can be a means of guiding a city to be more inclusive and equitable. In the United States, Wohnungspolitik have largely been oriented around homeownership, and have largely been about exclusion and exacerbating inequality.

Wohnungspolitik can give a discrete direction, or a guiding vision, towards how a city or state regulates or circumnavigates the housing market, or sets affordable housing policies. It can foster engagement and support on release of land, urban development, and renewal.

A comprehensive and active Wohnungspolitik is common in left-leaning European cities with a high quality of life. It shouldn’t be surprising that these cities are dominated by renters, and largely have democratic socialist or green leaders. In Europe, neither of these parties are beholden to homeowners and there is virtually no single-family zoning anyway (as it should be). It is surprisingly wonderful, actually. There is no unified Wohnungspolitik, and here in Germany, the B’90/die Grünen (Alliance ‘90/the Green Party), die Linke (the Left party), the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany), and others all generally have their Wohnungspolitik front and center.

Wohnungspolitik predate the European housing shortages of World War II, though their proliferation afterwards has had a significant effect on how cities have evolved the last 50 years. Housing crises prior to World War I led to the collaboration and creation of both nonprofit building societies, and large housing cooperatives—many still active today. It was a commanding and radical Wohnungspolitik that led to the rise of the socialist party in Red Vienna. Their Wohnungspolitik intersected with education, healthcare, transportation, and employment, and shaped housing policies that continue to contribute to Vienna’s high quality of life today. It’s is a Wohnungspolitik that has led to dense, livable, sustainable, transit-adjacent housing complexes, interlaced with schools, daycares, and community amenities—all with a high level of economic diversity.

What We’re Reading: Changing Modes, Grand Opening, and Vancouverism


Fracking bans: Should Pacific Northwest cities ban fracked gas in new buildings?

Helpful data: Spin plans to provide e-scooter data to help build safer streets.

Bay Area transit: The Bay Area has a $100 billion transit priority investment list. Meanwhile, a BART extension to San Jose is headed for station opening delays.

Unsprawling the Garden State: New Jersey wants to undo its sprawl.

Traditional street vending: Is Delhi’s book market too messy for the modern day?

Changing modes: In Washington, D.C., commuters are driving less and using more transit.

Temporary household growth: Household sizes in America are growing for the first time in 160 years.

Smog valley: In California, residents in the Central Valley are terrified at the prospect of more pollution do to the occupant of the White House’s awful environmental priorities.

Denver’s big rezone: A zoning change in Downtown Denver could greatly change the city’s skyline.

Highway avoided: Vancouver settles on not elevating a street to a highway.

1% benefits: With coming census tract changes, “opportunity zone” boundaries could end up changing soon.

Blocking the snatchers: The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement have not been able to secure rights at airports in Bellingham and Everett to deport undocumented immigrants.

Bangladesh’s forgotten: The world’s biggest refugee camp is becoming a functional city.

Withering away: An iceberg bigger than Los Angeles broke off of the Antarctic shelf.

North Shore transit: The British Columbia government will begin planning work for high capacity transit in North Vancouver.

Grand opening: The Expedia campus in Smith Cove opens to the first staff on Monday ($).

The 1970s haunt: Who’s afraid of the pedestrian mall?

Rename CHH: Capitol Hill Housing is thinking about a new name.

Fare capping: Fares increases on BC Ferries will be capped at 2.3% annually through 2024.

Pushing people: Tacoma’s parks district has decided to ban tents in parks.

SOV is SOV: At the behest of the federal government, Virginia is finally kicking single-occupant vehicles out of high occupancy vehicle lanes.

Banking on SFRs: How did corporations quickly snap up single-family residential properties to rent them across America?

Lacking inclusive growth: The Rust Belt highlights the inclusive growth problem in America.

Be like China: China is opening new rail projects big and small across the country at a fast pace.

Vancouverism: The South Granville Station planned for the Broadway SkyTrain in Vancouver will have a five-story commercial building on top. Vancouver is also reimagining Broadway as a “great street”.

Real environmentalism: Environmental review and appeals led to California canceling a high desert freeway project.

Okay, do it: The United States Environmental Protection Agency has threatened California that it would force the state to spend highway money on transit.

Counterintuitive: “Cool” reflective pavement in Los Angeles may actually be the opposite on hot days.

Courtyard housing: Using a courtyard approach, more family units will be able to be developed in a Vancouver multifamily project.

Thank You, 2019 Subscribers!

Route 101 is poised to get a service boost in Metro's restructure. (Credit: King County Metro)

To all our readers that donate, THANK YOU. Sunday was the last day of our fall subscriber drive and we we’re really impressed with all the support folks have shown.

If you read The Urbanist, you probably care about the future of Seattle. How will the city grow while remaining accessible and inclusive for anyone who wants to live here? 

The short answer to that question is through better policy but the long answer is through individuals like you supporting organizations that make better policy possible. At the root of nearly all the important legislation passed by city council—before that legislation is passed—you’ll almost always find institutions enabling people to make change

Fortunately, Seattle is full of civic engagement and replete with institutions that are pushing the boundaries of progress. Unfortunately, we aren’t making that progress quickly enough. We’re facing some of the worst crises the city has faced in the dual climate and housing crises. News and journalism is struggling to stay afloat financially while right-wing companies buy up local television. 

Book Awards Event, 10/12: Free & Open to the Public


Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, 7 – 9 p.m.
Seattle Central Library, Level 1: Microsoft Auditorium

The title kind of says it all. It’s like the Oscars, except, of course, for all the ways it isn’t: you don’t have to pay, it’s not long, and there aren’t any commercial breaks. 

I’m inviting you (and all your friends! And family!) for two reasons: one, out of the sheer excitement it gives me to share in what we’ve made together—yes, you, the reader and urban enthusiast, and myself. I would never have gotten this far without such an incredible and wide-reaching boost of support. Who could’ve guessed this would be on the local bestseller list of Seattle’s largest independent bookstore… for an entire year???

This finalist status speaks as much to your unwavering enthusiasm as to my contributions. I’ll be at the ceremony out of gratitude for you.

The other reason for the invitation is because it’s an opportunity to revel in the quality of all the other finalists and their books. You might hear about something you like, whether the probing and honest delicacy of fellow Californian Ana Maria Spagna, or the unironic pleasure of Rubin Pfeffer’s alliterative acrobatics in his children’s picture book Summer Supper. 

It’s a lofty lineup—Ken Armstrong is a two-time Pulitzer winner, Angela Garbes’ new book is an NYT bestseller… and that’s just in my category of Non-Fiction. To be rubbing shoulders with these giants (almost all are published by the big houses in New York) is beyond an honor, not because they’re established but because they’re passionate. I’m still in shock at even being included. We don’t have contracts with HarperCollins or Crown or FSG or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt but simply the humble Tome Press, a Seattle-based venture and collaboration with friends that I couldn’t be prouder to see listed among the finalists. We’re the little engine—or maybe that’s the little bus!– that could. Tom, Jacqueline, Paul, Charles, and so many more…

Thank you. And thank you to you the reader, who keep books alive in our digital age decades after their doom was first forecasted. Come out this fine October 12 if you like and celebrate local authors. Here’s the list of finalists again– all titles, including my own, will be available for sale. Details on the event here. 

See you there!

My initial reaction to the nomination.
More on the book.
Link to buy the book (Elliott Bay Books)!

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