Tuesday, 23 April, 2019

Traffic Safety Camera Bill Passes House, Clearing Its First Big Hurdle

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Third Avenue would likely be a focus of camera enforcement of transit lanes and crosswalks. (Photo by Doug Trumm)

On Monday, the Washington State House of Representatives passed a bill to expand the use of traffic safety cameras (House Bill 1793) to reduce several types of traffic violations. The bill has been a major priority for disability rights and transit advocates this year since it would allow cameras to capture violations by motorists blocking intersections, crosswalks, and transit lanes. Currently, only a law enforcement officer can give traffic tickets, and, given the pervasiveness of illegal driving behavior, they are catching only a tiny fraction of infractions.

Passage of the bill in the House is a major first step since a similar one last year did not even make it out of the Rules Committee for consideration by the full House. Since the bill has been made “necessary to implement the budget,” it may have legs to move and find passage in the Washington State Senate, despite only 12 days remaining in the legislative session.

The bill was passed primarily on a party line vote (57-41) with the Democratic majority easily lifting it across the line. Democrats batted down unhelpful amendments from Republicans prior to a final vote, and Republicans made willfully uninformed floor speeches in opposition to the bill even though it would not have any implication to their own legislative districts.

Tacoma’s Pacific Avenue Hybrid Bus Rapid Transit Advances

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Tacoma's Pacific Avenue BRT will run in the median for six of its 14 miles. (Pierce Transit)

Pierce Transit is moving ahead with a hybrid design for 14 miles of bus rapid transit (BRT) on Pacific Avenue, including 3.6 miles of center-running dedicated lanes. The Pierce Transit board of commissioners voted 7-0 to back the option, which was painted as the more pedestrian-friendly option. Board chair Nancy Henderson highlighted the “safety factor with fewer lanes that people would have to cross to catch the bus” in explaining the decision.

The hybrid option reduces impacts on motorists by dropping transit lanes in some sections to allow more space for cars.

The other remaining option was business-access transit (BAT) lanes–in which buses share the right lane with turning motorists and scofflaws–throughout. Pierce Transit’s technical advisory committee recommended the all-BAT option. However, generally, transit advocates and urbanists preferred the hybrid option, in part for the transit oriented development potential it would unlock.

“A win for ped safety and TOD as the [Pierce Transit] Board selects Median/Hybrid alternative for BRT,” Tacoma-based transit advocate Chris Karnes tweeted. “The 6 mile segment in Tacoma will improve service for 3,500 passengers on Route 1 and transfer conditions for 6 routes serving over 6,500 passengers each weekday.”

“The Tacoma City Council voted unanimously April 2 to endorse the middle of the road or hybrid option,” Craig Sailor with the Tacoma News Tribune reported. “In addition, the city’s Transportation Commission and transit advocate groups like Downtown on the Go were in favor of the hybrid option.”

The $150 million project is slated to open in 2022, connecting Downtown Tacoma south to Spanaway. Service will be every 10 minutes at peak times and every 15 minutes during off-hours. The BRT line will replace Route 1, Pierce Transit’s busiest bus, which attracts just shy of 6,000 daily riders. At least 3,500 of those boardings occur within the 14-mile segment getting the upgrade.

Midtown Commons Breaks Ground at 23rd and Union This Summer

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A view of the empty parking lot at the 23rd and Union block that will be the future site of Midtown Commons. The lot was painted in the summer of 2018 as part of the Imagine Africatown Design weekend. Photo by Author.

Lake Union Partners’ mega-project will bring the most sweeping change yet to an intersection with a complicated past.

In 2009, a group of artists, journalists, and community activists erected an open air photography and audio recording installation on an abandoned lot on the corner of 23rd and Union. Simply called “The Corner,” the installation was a source of community curiosity, pride, and criticism for about a year.

The website for The Corner still exists, and it provides a fascinating time travel experience. Dozens of audio recordings saved on the website address questions of belonging, memory, and change. The makers of The Corner called it a “public radio documentary,” describing it as a compilation of over 200 messages that “collectively depict a rich and complicated place.”

“The Corner,” a photography and audio story installation at 23rd and Union presented community’s members perspectives on the site for about a year before being dismantled. The content can still be viewed and listened to on its website. Credit: The Corner

These messages transport listeners back to a time before Uncle Ike’s Pot Shop’s neon lights and billboards dominated the corner’s evening landscape. When 23rd and Union was known more outside of the neighborhood for street crime than a battle over the opening of a gourmet grocery chain criticized for bad labor practices.

Just a year before the installation of The Corner, Philadelphia Cheese Steak restaurant owner Degene Barecha was gunned down in his business at 23rd and Union during the daytime. It was shocking crime with a tragic twist; Barecha had been running the business for nearly five years on his own after the shooting death of his business partner, Troy Hackett, which also occurred in the Central District. Both of the men had been well-known and liked in the neighborhood.

Listening to messages form “The Corner,” it is clear that the Barecha’s murder was still on the mind of the callers, as were drug sales and other crimes. A particularly incendiary editorial in the Seattle PI from this period describes 23rd and Union as a place “where drugs and cash change hands out in the open, protesters take to the streets for justice, and bullets too often fly.”

These days the atmosphere is very different at 23rd and Union. Developer Lake Union Partners have already built three major projects at the site, The Stencil, East Union, and The Central, all of which are market rate apartment buildings with commercial space at the ground floor. These three developments have greatly changed the corner. Uncle Ike’s, while still a visible presence, no longer dominates the business corridor. On any given night a passerby is as likely to be headed to 23rd and Union in search of tacos as weed.

Union Street Bike Lane Perpetuates Broken Network Yet Again

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Last we heard the City was prioritizing connecting the bike network with important “nodes.” That’s what Seattle’s new transportation director Sam Zimbabwe said when explaining how the department whittled down the list of bicycle safety projects promised in the Move Seattle levy to the confessed list of what’s actually possible. But then news broke that supposed priority E Union Street is getting an incomplete design that won’t connect to any other protected bike lanes.

The Seattle Department of Transportation’s new implementation plan has shown protected bike lane on E Union Street running from 13th Avenue in Capitol Hill all the way to Martin Luther King Jr Way in the Central District. However, SDOT has released its initial proposal for the eastern segment (picking up where the Madison Rapidride project leaves off on the Central District side) and it seems to fly in the face of everything that the department has been touting about its implementation plan creating full connections and all-ages-and-abilities facilities. The proposal includes a two block gap right in the middle of the corridor, on either side of busy 23rd Avenue, and doesn’t connect at all in the eastbound direction to MLK Jr Way.

For a little background, when the proposal to add a RapidRide line to Madison Street was first being developed, bicycle facilities as part of the multimodal corridor were ruled out on Madison itself. A number of other bike facilities that were “complimentary” to a street that cuts diagonally across the city like no other street were developed: Union Street bike lanes were one of them. The further along the Madison RapidRide project got in design, the fewer planned blocks for Union Street were included.

The last update to the design (the project is still waiting on federal dollars to move forward) only included a (mostly) protected bike lane on the immediate blocks surrounding 12th Ave, with riders needing to use the sidewalks to navigate the intersection of 12th Ave itself. Any additional protected bike lanes could still happen, SDOT said at the time, but they would have to come from bicycle master plan funding. It appears those additional bike lanes are coming, but in lackluster fashion.

Sunday Video: Bike Lanes Are Not Good Enough

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In this video, Dave Amos of City Beautiful highlights why designing bike lanes right are important and how cities across the globe are building bike infrastructure.

What We’re Reading: Barcelona’s Superblocks, Rental Tax Credits, and A Model for Seattle

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Barcelona’s superblocks: Vox ran a five-part series this week on Barcelona’s superblocks plan.

Guilty as charged: The shooter and carjacker who killed two and targeted a King County Metro bus in North Seattle has plead not guilty.

No brainer infrastructure: According to a new study, if Kansas City actually implemented its bike plan, it would provide $500 million in benefits and save 700 lives over 20 years.

Pierce Transit BRT plan: The Pierce Transit board of directors has chosen a hybrid option for transit priority of a planned bus rapid transit line between Tacoma and Spanaway.

Uber bad investment: Uber is planning to issue stock even though the company is losing $1.8 billion per year.

Clouding climate change: Floating cities are not the solution to climate change.

Rental tax credits: California Senator Kalama Harris has revived her bill to provide tax credits to families paying more than 30% of their income for rent and utilities.

Greener living: When people adopt the tiny house lifestyle, their habits become much greener.

Catastrophic costs by inaction: Scientists at the United States Environmental Protection Agency warn that climate change will cost hundreds of billion of dollars per year.

Disappearing lanes: Eleven planned bike projects vanished from Seattle’s draft Bicycle Master Plan Implementation Plan.

Terrifying policing: A police tower has popped up at a South Seattle Safeway without prior engagement of the community.

20 is plenty: Portland has rolled out 20mph speed limits across the city, but could other cities in Oregon follow?

Heartland visas: CityLab explains how “heartland visas” for immigrants could reduce geographic inequality.

A model for Seattle: Cambridge, Massachusetts has become the first city in the country to require protected bike lanes to be installed whenever a street is upgraded.

Trailhead Direct Returns for Another Season with Four Routes

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On Thursday, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced the return of Trailhead Direct next month. The bus and van service to local trails is provided by King County Metro, helping connect hikers with the great outdoors while reducing parking demand and carbon emissions. This season will feature four routes connecting Seattle, Tukwila, Renton, Bellevue, and Issaquah to trails in the Issaquah Alps and North Bend.

“We’re bringing back Trailhead Direct with more routes to more trails in more communities,” Executive Dow Constantine said in a statement. “Our popular transit-to-trails service has succeeded in many different ways. We have made our spectacular mountain forests accessible to more people, reduced dangerous overcrowding at popular trailheads, and made it easy to hike without having to drive or park.”

Last year, Trailhead Direct was still in its pilot phase and helped people complete over 10,000 hikes on local trails. Over 60% of surveyed Trailhead Direct riders reported using the service more than once last season and the top reason they cited for using it was because they felt it was “more environmentally friendly than driving.” Not far behind was the response that they did not need to own a car to access trails, suggesting most riders are urban dwellers without a car or who prefer not driving.

Trailhead Direct is a growing partnership between the county, City of Seattle, City of Bellevue, Eastside Fire and Rescue, Washington Trails Association, REI Co-op, and many others. The new season will begin on April 20th and continue through October 27th.

Service is provided on weekends and holidays throughout the season using vehicles ranging from 13 to 27 seats. All vehicles are accessible and have racks for two to three bikes. In terms of fares, Metro charges normal fares with a regular adult ride costing $2.75. Riders can pay using ORCA cards.

Will These Four Housing Bills Pass the Washington State Legislature This Year?

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Four land use bills affecting housing are at a critical juncture in the 2019 session of the Washington State Legislature. Both houses have passed reform bills that would reduce liability for condominiums, mandate cities reasonably accommodate accessory dwelling units, increase the number of lots that could be created through a short subdivision, and mandate that cities take action on providing more housing options. Where these bills end up and whether they will meet final passage remains to be seen, but there has been a lot of progress and tough conversations on them this year.

Housing options bill: awaiting Rules Committee and Senate floor vote

The housing options bill (House Bill 1923) has passed out of the House and made it through the committee process in the Senate. Along the way, the bill has been refined and went back and forth from obligatory to voluntary participation. The current version that the Senate would pass is an obligatory mandate. Cities with a population of 40,000 or more and required to plan under the Growth Management Act (GMA) would need to select at least two actions to increase residential density by April 1, 2021, including the following measures: