See another one in the series here.
Top 10: The current ranking of US cities as the most walkable.
Shell No: The reason why Shell’s Polar Pioneer is allowed to dock in Seattle, for now.
Making room: A Dutch city makes room for its river and readies for a new identity.
Bus to Link: Seattle Transit Blog writes how the bus restructures centered around new light rail stations could be slightly improved.
Debunked: Drivers really don’t pay for the cost of their roads, not even close.
Demise of streetcars: It wasn’t just car companies that killed streetcars in the middle of the 20th Century, it was congestion, too.
Deadly tracks: High speeds were the primary cause of the Philadelphia passenger train crash this week, although positive train control could have prevented it.
13th place: Seattle has dropped to 13th place nationally for bikeability ($).
Contaminated: A shocking number of places in the Los Angeles area depend upon water sources that are deeply contaminated.
Not as dense: The typical New Yorker lives in a less dense NYC than back in 1970.
Low taxes: How billionaires are paying low property taxes for the best views in the house.
Unequal infrastructure: America’s public transportation is failing and it’s causing deep inequality.
Pronto is getting a new station in Yesler Terrace at 12th Ave and E Yesler Way. This station represents the first expansion of Pronto’s service area. It isn’t much, but it will be a welcome addition to people east of Downtown and south of First Hill. It also serves a socio-economically challenged area of the city and the first step toward bringing bikeshare equity to the city. Anthem on 12th, a new apartment in the neighborhood, is sponsoring the station.
Meanwhile, Seattle Children’s Research Institute is helping to fill in a big gap in the Denny Triangle. The station sponsored by the organization will be located in the heart of the growing neighborhood at the intersection of Terry Ave and Stewart St. With the addition of the Yesler Terrace and Denny Triangle stations to the bikeshare network, Pronto will now offer 52 stations to access bikes across the city.
Also, Pronto riders in the University District will want to take note of this: Pronto will temporarily move a station at NE 43rd St and University Way for a neighborhood street fair over the weekend. Riders can find the station relocated to NE 42nd St and University Way (in front of Starbucks). The station will be moved back to NE 43rd St (in front of the Häagen-Dazs) next week.
People love free parking. So rather than try to fight existing homeowners about the issue, I propose we give them what they want.
Seattle has a history of listening to neighbors before making any changes or allowing new buildings. We have a design review process for larger buildings, where the community is allowed to comment and a design review board can require changes to a proposed building in exchange for relaxing certain requirements. We have parking minimums, especially in residential areas. Politicians have scaled back the type of housing you can build, added strict requirements to micro-housing, stepped back from proposing corner stores, and have made many other changes under pressure from existing homeowners.
In fact, 65% of Seattle has been saved for single-family homes while you can only build multi-family housing (apartments, condos, even townhouses) on just 11% of our land. Why do existing homeowners resist any rule that allows more people to live here, as well as fight many projects that fully comply with the law? There are many reasons, but I propose the main one is parking.
Nearly one month ago, the Lake2Bay Coalition hosted a public realm exploration walk to collect people’s opinion on the public spaces around Belltown and the Denny Triangle. It looks like people’s favorite spots were Olympic Sculpture Park, Bell Street, and the Denny and Westlake park across Whole Foods:
Today, the second event will take place – a community workshop where people can provide more feedback on how to connect parks, streets and places:
When: Thursday, 5-7pm
Where: Cornish College of the Arts, 1000 Lenora Street
If you can’t make it, you can also provide comments online.
The Seattle City Council met on Tuesday for the first time to consider Mayor Ed Murray’s Move Seattle initiative—a nine-year, $930 million property tax levy—to fund a multitude of transportation projects.
The current levy, known as Bridging the Gap, expires at the end of this year. Approved in 2006 for $365 million, it accounts for 25% of the Seattle Department of Transportation budget. The Mayor’s new proposal more than doubles that funding to provide for road and bridge maintenance, transit expansion, and pedestrian and bike improvements.
Still, some advocates say it falls short. A representative from Seattle Neighborhood Greenways testified that as much as $2.5 billion is required for pedestrian infrastructure, $500 million for bike infrastructure, and millions more for safe corridors for students traveling to school. The Cascade Bicycle Club also called on the Council to ensure the plan implements Vision Zero and at least half of the 20-year Bicycle Master Plan.
While the price tag is steep, the Council appears to believe that voters will pay. According to one poll by the Puget Sound Regional Council, residents ranked transportation as the top issue facing the region. Similarly, the Seattle Times released a survey showing that Central Seattle residents ranked walkability, commute, proximity to public transit, and affordability as their top considerations on where to live.
Indeed, voters have been generous, approving two recent property tax measures to fund a city-run preschool program and the new Seattle Park District. They will soon be asked to fund an $11-15 billion measure for ST3, Sound Transit’s next wave of expansion. And several campaigns are eyeing property tax levies to fund municipal broadband, public campaign financing, an expansion of the Pre-K program, and affordable housing.
Councilmembers Licata, Okamoto, O’Brien, and Godden all expressed varying levels of concern about the state-imposed ceiling on the City’s property tax capacity (currently $3.60 per $1000 of assessed value). Staff assured them that there is still plenty of capacity left—enough to triple the current low-income housing levy. They counseled that the voter’s willingness to pay would likely be a more pressing concern than the legal capacity.
But the Councilmembers were on to something. Seattle has increasingly turned to property tax levies to fund a range of special projects that would enrich our city. We like to maintain a high standard of social welfare with lush parks, equitable education opportunities, affordable housing, and a reliable transportation system. But levies are a tool designed to fund special projects like one-time expansions or capital projects. They require periodic approval from voters, increasing accountability but also forcing elected officials to sell large packages to the public with shiny new projects to the detriment of basic maintenance. That’s why the
Seattle Parks Oversight Committee Parks Legacy Committee recommended switching to a Parks District over the old levy system. And voters agreed.
Staff pointed to Tim Eyman’s infamous Initiative 747 for their reliance on levies. Passed by voters in 2001, the measure limits property tax increases to 1% year—that’s less than 2-3% annual inflation, ensuring that property tax measures will face a slow and steady death. In response, the City now uses 25% of its levy capacity to boost the general fund. That’s millions of dollars in reserved levy capacity that may ultimately force voters to scale back or choose between upcoming ballot initiatives.
Ultimately the City will need to demand a better revenue system from the state. Right now, Washington State has the most regressive and unstable revenue systems in the country. Poor residents pay almost 17% of their income in state and local taxes, while the wealthiest few pay just 2%. Figures like these have pushed officials to push for a host of new revenue streams, like an capital gains tax, a carbon tax, and an income tax.
If Seattle voters don’t want to see their visions of an urban utopia dashed by the likes of Tim Eyman, they’ll need to show up at the voting booth to say so. They can start by approving the Move Seattle initiative.
How to Get Involved
The Select Committee on Transportation Funding, made up of all nine City Councilmembers, will meet next on May 29th at 9:00am in City Hall. They will also hold a public hearing on June 2nd at 5:30pm. Show up and let the Council know what transportation projects matter to you.
Vulcan Real Estate has teamed up with Runberg Architecture Group to develop plans for two central blocks in Yesler Terrace. Known as Block 2E (123 Broadway) and Block 3 (120 Broadway), the sites comprise 2.7 acres in the city’s most notable social housing community. Vulcan purchased the properties back in October from the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) with the goal of creating a vibrant mixed-income community. The news wasn’t surprising; SHA had long had Vulcan in mind as a preferred neighborhood developer. Money raised from the land sale will help SHA realize its efforts to replace aging social housing buildings and add income-restricted units to the neighborhood.
The sites are zoned as MPC – YT, a special Master Planned Community zoning for Yesler Terrace that allows a wide ranging mix of uses and building heights up to 240 feet. Vulcan has moved forward development proposals that emphasize residential use with a modest amount of ground floor retail. In total, the projects represent up to 435 apartment units and 10,500 square feet of retail space. Building heights would cap out at 7 stories.
Vulcan’s sites are in the very central core of the master planned community with ample access to Downtown Seattle (mere blocks away), social services, transit (including a new streetcar stop), employment centers, retail services, and recreational opportunities. Yet, the proposals drastically undershoot the maximum potential for development given that local zoning would permit greater density in the form of towers. Vulcan chose a smaller scale approach for their proposals because they felt it would better reflect the neighborhood character and meet the overall vision that the company has for their future tenants.
Vulcan has developed three different options for Block 2E massings. The options range from 193 to 202 residential units, 2,051 square feet and 2,773 square feet retail space, and 136 to 137 parking stalls. Each option would see retail focused on the ground floor and at the intersection of Yesler Way and Broadway.
Option A is a traditional courtyard apartment block approach. To break up the block and comply with code, the massings would be broken into two buildings and create additional permeability via a new passageway for pedestrians. Option B is a variation of Option A, but creates one structure as opposed to two, and has a courtyard open onto Broadway. Option C flips the massing of Option B toward the pedestrian alleyway. The block massing is modified to create two open courtyards and link views toward the steam tower and Downtown Seattle.
The applicants list the pros and cons of each option as follows:
|Option A||Option B||Option C|
Vulcan has developed three different options for Block 3massings. The options range from 227 to 240 residential units, 5,835 square feet and 13,023 square feet retail space, and 164 to 179 parking stalls. Each option would see retail focused on the ground floor along the Yesler Way frontage.
Option A uses a traditional apartment block approach with an internal courtyard. Option B is a modified version of Option A, which opens the courtyard to a park space on the corner of E Fir St and 10th Ave. Option C is modified version of Option A with a courtyard opening toward Yesler Way and the building ends flaring out diagonally.
The applicants list the pros and cons of each option as follows:
|Option A||Option B||Option C|
In advance of large construction and development projects like Blocks 2E and 3, SHA and its partners have been working to improve the local infrastructure and streetscapes within Yesler Terrace. Most prominently, the City of Seattle has installed bike lanes and the First Hill Streetcar line on Broadway and Yesler Way, a hillclimb at 10th Ave S, and new pedestrian realm features like the Green Street Loop seen below.
Vulcan will further deliver quality improvements in the form of a 9th Ave Pedestrian Path, curb and gutter, planter strips and boxes, and generous sidewalks. Over three dozen new street trees will line the perimeter of proposed buildings and extensive landscaping will enhance the comfort of the pedestrian realm. North of Block 3, a small pocket park is likely to be developed in accordance with SHA’s vision for the neighborhood. Combined, these amenities will make the blocks feel leafy and green for future residents and shoppers.
How To Get Involved
If you’re interested in attending the community design review meeting for this project, you can do so tonight. The East Design Review Board will meet at Seattle University in the Admissions & Alumni Community Building, located at 824 12th Avenue. There will be simultaneous design review sessions for the respective projects beginning promptly at 6.30pm and lasting until 9.30pm. Alternatively, if you wish submit comments in written form, you can do so by e-mailing Shelley Bolser, Project Planner, at Shelley.Bolser@seattle.gov and the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) at PRC@seattle.gov.
For more design review materials and upcoming meetings, see DPD’s design review page.
Today, King County Metro released a more refined “Alternative 3” for how bus service could be restructured around Seattle’s two new light stations, opening in early 2016. This proposal is a hybrid of two earlier options and incorporates a wide variety of public feedback. And, critically, this version includes Prop 1 service hours approved by Seattle voters in 2014. Throughout May, Metro and Sound Transit are conducting another round of public outreach to see where tweaks can be made, and then a final proposal will be sent to the King County Council this summer and implemented March 2016. Check the Metro website for more information on that.
Metro staff heard the most excitement for Alt 1 in northeast Seattle, where several routes are proposed for consolidation, realignment, and boosts in frequency. There was less consensus for either Alt 1 or 2 in the Capitol Hill area. Alt 3 is a compromise among competing interests but provides a much simpler network that will provide convenient connections to the new light rail stations.
Route deletions are much less dramatic under Alt 3 with only the 25, 30, 43, 68, 71, 72, and 242 being removed from the network.