Tuesday, 25 June, 2019

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?

New Cruise Terminal Shores Up Opportunity for Streetcar

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A proposed new cruise terminal at South King Street could bring thousands of passengers to the nearby streetcar station at Occidental Square. (Paige Malott)
A proposed new cruise terminal at South King Street could bring thousands of passengers to the nearby streetcar station at Occidental Square. (Paige Malott)

The Port of Seattle is planning a new cruise terminal at South King Street, just steps away from the Occidental Square streetcar station and the First Avenue Streetcar line extension also known as the Center City Connector. The project, Terminal 46, is located just south of Colman Dock and is expected to open in 2022 serving 10,000 daily cruise passengers.

Recently, the Port held community outreach meetings in Pioneer Square and SoDo as they begin the early stages of the project. The site of Terminal 46 includes a total of 88 acres, with the new cruise terminal occupying the northern one-third of the space. The remaining two-thirds will be used for cargo, project manager Fred Chao said at the meeting. The cruise terminal building will resemble the structure at Pier 91 and be larger in size with access points at South King Street and South Atlantic Street. Utility upgrades and intersection improvements at King and Jackson Streets are also being planned.

“We will be working closely with the Department of Transportation, stakeholders, and the community to make sure the egress points are safe and operationally efficient,” Chao said.

In 2019, Seattle expects to serve 213 cruise ships and 1.2 million passengers. According to the Port, each vessel supports an estimated $4.2 million in economic activity for our region, with the average cruise passenger spending $1,547 in the city before and after their voyage.

What We’re Reading: Ambitious on Tenants, Plymouth Housing, and Auto Row

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PDX expanding LRT: The plan for Portland’s expanded southwest light rail line takes shape.

The suburbs: It’s the age old question of “how do we define the suburbs?”

Ambitious on tenants: New York could be on the cusp of major updates and extension to tenant protections ($).

Very cold leadership: Everett’s city council has chosen to temporarily block permanent housing for students and their families ($) experiencing homelessness.

Permitted for construction: After 137 years of construction, Barcelona’s grand church Sagrada Familia has been issued a building permit.

After dusk: Why are American parks closed at night?

Big plans to house: Plymouth Housing is planning to build 800 units for people experiencing homeless in Seattle.

Cleanup melting down: Nuclear waste cleanup is stalling out at Hanford.

The supertall game: How developers in New York City game the zoning code to build supertall towers.

Cleared for reopening: San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center is nearly ready to reopen after discovery of shoddy workmanship.

Building midblock crossings: Angie Schmitt at Streetsblog USA looks at how to build safer midblock crossings for pedestrians.

Auto Row-inspired: On 15th Ave E in Capitol Hill, plans for a new development to replace a service station show an Auto Row-inspired design.

Undermining workers: Uber and Lyft are trying to get legislators in California to block a worker rights bill.

Shrinking but prosperous: Richard Florida at CityLab looks at how some shrinking cities are still prospering.

Connecting provinces: Québec wants to get in on the light rail expansion in Ottawa to bring it to Gatineau.

How Will Emerging Mobility Technologies Reshape Seattle’s Right-of-Way?

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A temporary low intensity travel lane in Kansas City Missouri. Credit: SDOT Emerging Technology and Mobility Options Operating in City Right-of-Way

Meet Veemo, an electric assist vehicle that advertises itself as “bike share meets car share.” From a legal and technical standpoint, Veemo is an electric assist tricycle, or e-trike, but Veemo also includes an enclosure to shield riders from the elements that makes it resemble the tiny car super nerd Steve Urkel drove around in the classic 90’s sitcom Family Matters.

Veemo is part of a new generation of velomobiles, or bike cars, that are creeping up in popularity as people have grown increasing concerned about the significant impact of car emissions on global warming.

Currently available as a shared vehicle on the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus in Vancouver, BC, the Veemo velomobile is just one example of the new wave of small electric powered vehicles the City of Seattle is preparing to see enter its streets in coming years.

Veemo is available for rental on the UBC campus in Vancouver, BC. (Credit: SDOT)

The Emerald City has already had its fair share of emerging transportation technologies hit its hilly and congested streets. Seattle was an early playground for carshare and rideshare, but Mayor Jenny Durkan’s hesitancy on e-scooter share has made the city a late arrival to the scooting phenomena that shaken up car-centric cities like Dallas, which already has four dockless e-scooter share companies operating within its city limits. Seattle has the largest dockless bikeshare fleet in the country making it one of the few places in the US where dockless bikeshare has actually flourished.

Sunday Video: The Green New Deal, Explained

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In this video, Vox discusses the concept of the Green New Deal, a platform to change the American economy to a green economy while accounting for social welfare.

Avery Rising

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We’ve grown accustomed to requiring a certain dose of cynicism in our fictions in order to find them believable. “Few people have the imagination for reality,” Goethe wrote. Because truth can be beautiful in ways we have trouble daring ourselves to believe. Said Mark Twain: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

I preface this story with these thoughts because I want you to know it really did happen. Yes, we conceive of awe as the appropriate emotional reaction to that which is extreme; but what about that which is happy? Doesn’t that equally warrant our reverence, our admiration and respect?

Readers of my book will know of Avery, whose story features prominently in the book’s delicate thematic organization of a series of seemingly unrelated stories. It’s included for several reasons– we touch briefly on my filmmaking background; we explore a character who rode my bus not once but dozens of times; and most importantly, we offer it to the reader almost as a dare. To what? 

To believe.

“Half of them think it won’t work out,” Melanie Laurent’s character says in Mike Mills’ astute and grossly underrated 2011 romance Beginners, looking at a crowd of people. “And the other half… believe in magic.”

Bike Works

Bike Works