For the Sake of the Others

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Rachel is a name which has been very important in my life. It’s also the name of the woman on my bus right now, standing next to me as we float down Rainier Avenue, finishing up the midnight run, drifting ever deeper into the darkest reaches of the Valley. In a way the name is fitting, because our conversation somehow turns to matters of great value to me. How did this happen? A second ago we were talking about transferring from the B Line to the 550. Sometimes you know you can go a little further with someone. The air feels right, and before you know it, you’re sharing secrets, finessing them into a more considered polish.

This Rachel was a young soul in an older body, dressed in scruffy black, her sea legs ably keeping balance as we stopped and started. Words flew out of her quickly, a mad and tumbling rush, slurred by both fatigue and enthusiasm– you know that point in the evening, where both seem to hold equal sway?

She’d started things off by thanking me for being the kind of driver that I am, and I’d asked about her commute. Sometimes I couldn’t hear her quiet voice as we took the fluttering curves, but I understood when she mentioned she was a widow. I paused, trying to think of how best to share the Alfred Lord Tennyson quote– you know the one– when she just up and said it herself. This is Seattle, where even some of the street folks know Tennyson.
“Well, better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all.”
“So true. So, so true.”
“It’s hard though,” she said. “To open up. To let yourself love.”
“It’s so hard, once you’ve lost. It’s hard for me to open up, really let go, and that’s why. I’m not good at it.” Brandon Street. Can’t believe we’re talking about this. “I used to be good at it, but once you know how much that type of loss hurts,”
“We’ve all lost though.”
“That’s true.”
“You’ve just gotta do it. We have to allow ourselves to love so that other people can receive it. So they can feel it. People need to feel loved in their lives.”
“Oh wow. I’d never thought of it in exactly those terms,”
“Yeah. It’s not just for us, it’s for them. It’s like we have a responsibility to be happy. If we’re happy, we make the people around us happy. If we’re sad, we make everyone around us sad. We need to be happy, we need to love. We affect the people around us. It’s not selfish. It’s our responsibility. You’re doing good to the people around you, you know?”
“Yes! Yes!”
“It’s like nature, all this green everywhere. Nature’s not afraid to grow and change and live. You ever see one tree saying it’s better than another tree? Never. Can’t be afraid of it.”

And just like that, she was out of there.

Ballots Mailed: Better Know Your Districts

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Ballots are in the mail, and that can only mean one thing: it’s election time! The upcoming August Primary will present voters with some important local measures and a wide slate of candidates. Washington uses an open, top-two primary system where voters can cast their vote for any candidate that appears on the ballot. The top two vote-getters in the Primary then proceed to the General Election for a runoff.

This Primary will be a particularly big change for Seattle voters due to the introduction of district elections. Over 40 candidates are competing for nine positions on the Seattle City Council. But unlike prior city council elections, voters won’t be able to vote for every council position. That’s because district elections created seven district positions and two at-large positions. Seattle voters will instead see three positions appear on their ballot. One position will be for their district and the other two positions will be at-large.

This may leave some wondering: “But what is my district?”

Well, it’s amazing what you can find when you’re tooling around on the web. King County has put together a really helpful interactive map of all political districts in the county. Their map shows districts for the Seattle City Council, King County Council, Washington State Legislature, and Congress. Never wonder again (at least until the next boundary change).

In case you missed it, The Urbanist published a series of interviews with candidates for Seattle City Council and released endorsements.

A Big Revision: Seattle’s Pedestrian-Oriented Commercial Districts

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Dotted across Seattle are scores of commercial districts, often lining the city’s major thoroughfares. They are the centers of community where people assemble, conduct commerce, and exchange ideas. From North Seattle to South Seattle, they are steeped in history, diversity, and character. No two are exactly the same; they are entirely unique. But what makes these places so beloved by local residents is that they are people-oriented.

A place truly connects with people when it is designed to interact on a human level as opposed to a mechanical level. Look around and what you’ll notice in people-oriented commercial districts is that the streets, buildings, and uses directly engage with people on foot. Sidewalks are generous, well maintained, offer opportunities for respite, and maybe even a little bit of earth. Moving from one side of a street isn’t a chore, it’s a comfortable and convenient experience that draws you from one point to another. Buildings are relatively continuous, detailed, vertically scaled, and have ample transparency on the ground floor. Spaces for uses vary in size, but generally are small in frontage. Uses are diverse throughout, but particularly active and practical for daily needs and wants when located at street level. Mix these qualities together and you probably have spaces that are tailored to people.

Yet, this doesn’t happen entirely by accident.

Over the course of the past few years, Seattle has engaged in an effort to revamp commercial districts through regulatory changes. One such change was enacted in 2013 by the adoption of minimum density rules. These rules apply only to pedestrian retail areas (known as “Pedestrian Zones” or “P-zones” in the land use code) in urban centers and urban villages, and require the development of denser commercial and mixed-use projects. Minimum floor area ratios (FAR) are set based upon maximum zoned height and ultimately push development to cover more lot area and build upward. But the latest changes go much further.

In early May, the Seattle City Council approved (Ordinance 1124770) a suite of land use code changes for Pedestrian Zones. In sum, the changes touched on new permitted uses, transparency of ground floor spaces, overhead weather protection regulations, residential allowances, live-work units, and the location of Pedestrian Zones themselves. The new regulations came into force on June 15th.

The land use code describes a Pedestrian Zone as “an intensely retail and pedestrian-oriented shopping district where non-auto modes of transportation to and within the district are strongly favored.” Pedestrian Zones are typically located within Neighborhood Commercial zones (NC1, NC2, and NC3), but they can also be found in a limited number of Commercial zones (C1 and C2). Pedestrian Zones are formed in two ways: the mapped area of the designated Pedestrian Zone and the Principal Pedestrian Streets that lie within Pedestrian Zones. The distinction here is important. Some regulations apply throughout a Pedestrian Zone while more specific requirements only apply along designated Principal Pedestrian Streets.

In the spirit of this, Pedestrian Zone regulations directly prohibit drive-through lanes for businesses, restrict the location of parking to the rear of a property or within a building, and discourage driveways that cross a sidewalk along Principal Pedestrian Streets. Also in the regulatory mix are reductions/waivers for parking requirements and specific set of active uses required along the street-level frontages when located along a Principal Pedestrian Street. However, the the latter two policies were revised in the recent code change.

Expansion of Pedestrian Zones

The most noticeable change from the Pedestrian Zone code update is the expanded number and extent of Pedestrian Zones. At the outset of the regulatory changes, Seattle had 33 Pedestrian Zones designated across all quadrants of the city. But nearly 40 locations were added to the City’s official zoning map. A few of the additions were merely extended Pedestrian Zones (e.g. Fremont, Upper Queen Anne, and Green Lake), but most of these additions were entirely new designations for commercial districts (e.g. Wedgwood, Loyal Heights, and South Park). Until the regulatory changes, Pedestrian Zones covered just 24% of Neighborhood Commercial zoned land (1.2% of the city). A few prominent locations (e.g. Uptown, Ballard, and the University District) were excluded from the code changes due to ongoing planning updates within them.

Street Level Uses, Live Work, and Residential

The Pedestrian Zone designation is focused on active street level uses. Naturally, the land use codes calls for these uses to be located on Principal Pedestrian Streets to drive foot traffic. But this desire for active uses does come with some restrictions. As you can see in the table below, the uses in the two left columns were the only uses permitted at the street level of buildings in the Pedestrian Zone. Meanwhile, the uses on the right hand side were prohibited. The regulatory changes opened up a wider variety of uses within Pedestrian Zones, including community gardens, a larger spectrum of entertainment and institutional uses, food processing and craft work, and limited amounts office and heavy sales and services.

Office space is not typically seen as an active use due to low customer volumes, but the City wants to experiment with allowing small office spaces on the ground floor of structures in Pedestrian Zones. Office uses may be located in any street-level, street-facing structure so long as there is no more than 30 feet of frontage dedicated to office uses within it. The same restriction applies to heavy sales and services, which are typically uses like laundromats, furniture stores, or major goods suppliers.

Old street level use restrictions.
Old street level use restrictions.

In addition to the above, some clarity was brought to how live-work units should be designed along Principal Pedestrian Streets. The work aspect of a live-work unit must now extend the full width of the unit along the street and have a minimum depth of 15 feet from the front of the unit. No residential (live) features are allowed within the business (work) space. That means no kitchen, bathroom, sleeping, or laundry facilities. Live spaces must be designed beyond this work area or entirely separated. The land use code also now calls for clear business signage for all live-work units. Signage must be conspicuously located on the outside. And, each owner of a live-work unit must have a copy of their business license located within the unit on file. Those changes reflect a general concern that many live-work units are merely being converted to townhouse/rowhouse-like units instead of bonafide ground floor businesses with living space. Beyond these changes, the existing land use code maximum for total live-work space remains in force: live-work units are restricted to 20% of the street level frontage of a structure.

While not specifically live-work, a small change to the residential use rules resulting from the code change could be big. Street level residential uses are now permitted in many more Neighborhood Commercial and Commercial zones. But, the code change could allow up to 17 new areas not designated as Pedestrian Zone designation, but zoned as commercial, to allow street level residential uses. And, a departure from the general development standards could grant up to 50% of a street level frontage in Pedestrian Zones with residential uses.

Overhead Weather Protection

Given Seattle’s relatively rainy environment, overhead weather protection provides pedestrians a good measure of relief from the elements. Overhead weather protection often comes in the form of awnings, canopies, and marquees projecting from a building’s facade and over a sidewalk. The City wants to encourage the proliferation of these features throughout pedestrian-designated areas. To do that, two sections of code were modified: the first in the land use code, and the second in the transportation fee code.

Overhead weather protection is now required for frontages of structures located on a Principal Pedestrian Street. A minimum of 60% of the street frontage for the structures must have some form of weather protection. And, these overhead weather protection features must be at least six feet in width. Additional guidelines in the land use code describe how the overhead weather protection should be designed for lighting, overhead clearance, and conflicting street elements.

Since overhead weather protection is typically located over the public right-of-way, they require review, permission, and the payment of fees. With this in mind, City staff recommended that fees be waived to encourage the deployment of overhead weather protection by property owners and developers. The adopted legislation specifically dropped the street-use fee in its entirety (it was originally $0.51 per square foot). The primary intent of this change was for commercial areas, but technically, the removal of the fee applies to all areas of the city regardless of zone.

Transparency

For structures with non-residential uses on ground floor street frontages, the land use code calls for a minimum amount of transparency through structure facades. 60% of street-facing facades between 2 feet and 8 feet above the sidewalk must be designed as transparent (yes, it is that specific). In other words, people should be able to view into and out of the structure with minimal obstructions. Clarification was added by the code changes to ensure that window tinting, shelving, permanent signage, or other fixtures do not unreasonably impede the transparency of windows. In many instances, retailers and street level businesses have gone to extremes to foresake their primary frontages with blank walls or excessive clutter, which is detrimental to the quality of districts that dependent upon active foot traffic. This change gives the City greater power to enforce active frontages instead. On the flipside, the code changes also created some flexibility to challenging sites where vehicle access options are limited. In specific instances, up to 22 feet of vehicular access entries on a frontage could be excluded from the street frontage facade calculations for transparency, thereby reducing the overall transparent frontage requirements.

Individually, these changes may not seem like much, but together they really add up to enhance the overall quality of Pedestrian Zones while also offering greater flexibility. So, what do you think the City could do next to enhance pedestrian-oriented commercial districts?

Map of the Week: Access and Choice to Grocery Stores in Seattle

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Human settlements are built on the bedrock of food access. Without adequate sustenance, urban environments cannot flourish. People will travel long distances to ensure that they are adequately fed, and so it’s no surprise that rural and suburban dwelling will often traverse many miles to the nearest food source. But urbanities would appear to have an especially unique advantage of food access on their side. After all, dense urban environments naturally mean an increased density of food sources and less distance between them. But access to food is not entirely equal in Seattle, and data from Walk Score shows it.

Last year, Walk Score set out to determine the access and diversity of grocery stores in major cities across the country using their walking algorithm. They wanted to see where food deserts and food havens were. Walk Score identified grocery stores by using a variety of data sources (in-house, Localeze, and Google). They also defined what their criteria would be for identifying individual grocery stores. They decided to limit their search for grocery stores by excluding convenience stores and requiring that a food store sell produce.

On the face of it, that seems like fairly reasonable criteria. Convenience stores may not offer a diversity of products to truly sustain the needs for an affordable and varied diet. Yet, a grocery store that sells produce is likely to have a wider diversity of goods that range in quality. With that in mind, let’s look at what Walk Score found for Seattle food access and choice.

Choice and Access maps

Walk Score’s data looks at grocery stores in two differing ways: choice and access. The first of these, grocery store choice is shown as a heatmap. The greener the color, the more choice a particular area has for grocery stores while extent of the red-to-green color shows the related walkshed being analyzed. Meanwhile, the grocery store access map series depicted solely as green to the areas with access to at least one grocery store.

Walk Score’s most recent data would suggest that there are 401 grocery stores within the city limits. When it comes to access, Seattle seems to score pretty well in the 10-minute and 15-minute walkshed maps below, with 70% and 87% of residents having access respectively. When it comes to choice, the 15-minute walkshed map provides more than twice as many grocery store choices for the average resident than the 10-minute walkshed map. With only 2.78 grocery stores within a 10-minute walk, the diversity of choice for the average resident seems modest.

5-minute walkshed

The 5-minute walkshed maps seem to be a mixed bag. On the one hand, Downtown Seattle has relatively good access and choice to grocery stores. Belltown is the shining star here in both regards. But, only 31% of Seattle residents actually have access to a grocery store within a 5-minute walk of their homes. Even worse, most residents end up with a very low ratio for grocery store choice, which stands at 0.64 grocery stores within a 5-minute walkshed.

5-Minute Choice 5-Minute Access

10-minute walkshed

Within a 10-minute walkshed, things get considerably better for Seattle. Urban centers and urban villages appear to have the best variety of grocery stores. Accessibility to grocery stores is more than twice the 5-minute walkshed with 70% of residents being able to walk to a grocery store in 10 minutes. Areas of the city that still fall outside of the 10-minute walkshed tend to be located at the fringes of the city. Although, some significant areas toward the interior of the city stand out like High Point, Ravenna, and Delridge. (Keep in mind that many areas near the Seattle city limits like White Center and Skyway are under other jurisdictions and are therefore excluded from the Walk Score analysis.)

10-Minute Choice 10-Minute Access

15-minute walkshed

At the 15-minute walkshed, over 87% of all Seattle residents have access to a grocery store. This is a pretty healthy number, and 13% more than the 10-minute walkshed. However, the increase in access is not as dramatic as seen between the 5-minute and 10-minute walksheds. Again, areas toward the fringes (e.g. Broadview, Magnolia, and Sand Point) of Seattle remain outside of the 15-minute walkshed. If you put Seattle in the context of geography and development patterns, then this makes a lot of sense:

  1. For starters, the fringes tend to be lightly developed and often have significant vertical grades or other geographic constraints that make access to grocery stores less feasible for residents on foot;
  2. Businesses that typically demand a high volume of patronage (e.g. supermarkets) are unlikely to relegate themselves to location near the fringes largely because the customer base is likely to be low; and
  3. Most grocery stores are located within commercial zones that permit them. Those types of zones are not usually located along the fringes.

But Delridge remains as a glaring food desert within the 15-minute walkshed. No grocery store of any kind is accessible to those on foot. On the flipside, the Rainier Valley boasts phenomenal access to grocery stores–and grocery store choice. In some ways, this comes as a surprise given that minority-majority communities are usually the primary victims of food deserts, and this map series appears to suggest otherwise.

The other big detail in the 15-minute walkshed is grocery store choice. This number more than doubles over the 10-minute walkshed. The average Seattle resident willing to walk 15 minutes is likely to find 6.29 grocery stores.

15-Minute Choice 15-Minute Access

Analysis, Caveats, and Concluding Points

Walk Score sets a 5-minute walkshed as the minimum threshold for analysis. It’s a nice, small number–and probably would be satisfying for most people. But as we can see from the 5-minute walkshed map, Seattle doesn’t deliver so well on access to grocery stores within that walkshed timeframe, and perhaps even worse in the diversity of choice.

If you consider the average shopper, there is a happy medium in what they’re willing to walk. A 10-minute roundtrip walk is a breeze; that’s 5 minutes out and 5 minutes back. Most shoppers are almost certainly willing to take up a longer walk than this for their daily food needs. If I had to pick a fixed roundtrip time as a maximum, it’s probably more than 20 minutes, but less than 30. Beyond this roundtrip timeframe, people will likely pursue other options that are faster like biking, busing, or driving.

Using that broad 20-to-30-minute roundtrip walk threshold, we can reasonably exclude the 15-minute walksheds as a standard for access and choice to grocery stores. It’s not clear what the magic number is, but let’s assume it’s 26 minutes for a 13-minute walkshed. The resulting data points from this aren’t markedly different from the 15-minute walkshed. In this instance, 83% of Seattle residents end up within a short of grocery store and have a choice of 4.79 grocery stores on average.

Despite all of this, what we don’t know is the actual diversity or quality of grocery stores that Walk Score is counting in Seattle. There’s no way to distill down the details about the 401 stores that their database is measuring. We can assume, at worst, that their definition covers the limited offerings sold in many bodegas and corner stores, and, at best, the breadth of goods sold at Uwajimaya and Fred Meyer.

It’s entirely possible that many areas that appear to have access and/or abundant choice, actually have poor offerings of food in terms of the quality, cost, and variety. At the same time, not all chain grocers–which are not identified by Walk Score–are even created equal themselves. Safeway, a large grocer in the area, run on a spectrum for store formats for size and diversity of food choices. Meanwhile, Walk Score chooses to exclude convenience stores and stores that don’t sell produce (e.g. 7-Eleven and Walgreens) in spite of the fact that they may provide important local access to basic needs of consumers. Ultimately, it’s difficult to draw absolute conclusions on what these maps mean for quality, walkable access to food sources.

Regardless of these issues, it is clear that most people in Seattle still live or work within a very reasonable distance of a grocery store–even if we toss out the 15-minute walkshed maps. But in areas where choice and access are low, they present compelling cases for local growth. Because, as we know, growth and added density eventually beget important urban benefits like neighborhood food sources. Many neighborhoods would love to have the problem that Capitol Hill (land of a million QFCs) is faced with–residents there get to debate whether or not another boutique grocery store could be great addition to neighborhood’s beloved Broadway corridor.

Share the City: Support the Full HALA Recommendations

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Last week, amid much histrionics, The Seattle Times leaked a draft report of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) Committee. Owen chimed in on the absurd Time article in the week while I shared my take on the recommendations and Scott added some in depth context and analysis.Today, the final HALA recommendations were publicly released, and they’re quite extensive with 76 pages of policy priorities and analysis.

I’m a pro-rent control, pro-linkage fee, pro-inclusionary zoning, and pro-social housing nerd–which obviously puts me on really good terms with developers and market urbanists. I was initially skeptical of the composition of HALA. But, I also realized that the only way for my list of housing priorities to have any shot at succeeding, we needed to liberalize our planning and zoning codes. So I was amazed and shocked that the recommendations were so progressive–but there is work to be done, because we can make them even better.

What follows is the e-mail I sent Mayor Murray and sitting Councilmembers late last week to argue for making Seattle more accessible to all. I stand by this in light of today’s final recommendations. I’m tired of visionless charlatans championing failed policies and continuance of the rampant (49% of the city!) exclusionary zoning practices that have lead to rising land prices, rising housing costs, and are pricing people out of the city. We passed $15 per hour. We righteously won gay marriage. We can win an inclusive city, and walk back the injustice of 92 years of exclusionary zoning.

I hope you’ll join me in calling for a more diverse, more equitable, more creative, more beautiful, more just, and more visionary city.

Mayor Murray, Council Members,

I’m writing in full support of the HALA draft recommendations. Every. Single. One.

Seattle’s original zoning plan was a snapshot as things existed, haphazardly, in 1923 – shortly after the surrounding cities – villages, really – had been incorporated into the City. In subsequent years, especially outside the downtown core, much of that plan has – confoundedly, immorally, unjustly – been downzoned and adjusted to be even more exclusionary.

This is incredible, as Seattle’s population has nearly double since then – and continues to grow. The original zoning plan was not a means to allow the city to innovate, build, grow, adapt as zoning plans should.

The sum total of 92 years of exclusionary zoning through widespread adoption and protectionism of single family zoning has increased the real value of detached homes in this city 400, 500, 600, 700% in as little as 20-30 years. That equity has come at the expense of ever-increasing rents for tenants, citywide. It has come from the ever-increasing costs to own a home for newcomers and those attempting to move up the economic ladder, regionally. I’m sick of watching my friends have to leave the city or struggle to afford – let alone find – housing. I’m appalled that we’ve made it nearly impossible for those without means to find adequate housing in this city.

Tragically, this was entirely avoidable. We have some of the worst land use policies in the U.S., if not the world.

At Barcelona’s density, Seattle could house over three and a quarter million people – imagine!

The City of Stuttgart, roughly the same area and population of Seattle, has less than 5% of it’s land dedicated to single family housing – and 50% dedicated to green space, forest. Beautiful!

Less than 10% of Berlin’s 340 square miles are dedicated to single family housing – Seattle has more total area dedicated to single family housing than a city FOUR times its size! Ridiculous!

Thankfully, the zoning code is not built in stone! Let’s correct the travesty of 92 years of zoning designed for EXCLUSION, by aiming for a century (or more!) zoned for INCLUSION.

Let’s support the means for developers to build more housing, of all types, everywhere.

Let’s find ways to allow non-profit housing to flourish: co-ops, co-housing, baugruppen, community land trusts, land-leases for affordable housing, public housing!

Let’s build a city for all, a city that stops the displacement of very low, low and even moderate income residents to South King County, to Pierce County.

Let’s champion innovation! Europe is building twenty story wood towers, Paris might hit thirty five!

Let’s allow families and residents like those above, below and beside mine on the economic ladder to be able to share in the privilege, security of tenure, and equity of this city – and not just those privileged or lucky enough to have moved here before us. Equity that is created and increased by folks moving to the city, many of which ultimately are priced out by 19th century zoning.

Stop pricing us out. Share the city. Share the equity. Don’t punish newcomers and children to protect the inequity-increasing status quo.

Support the full HALA recommendations!

With the greatest of hope,
Michael Eliason

Final HALA Report

PSRC Regional Trip Survey: Driving Down, Active Transportation Up

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Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 20.20.57The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) recently released a report highlighting data from the 2014 Regional Travel Study and previous studies. The report compared the results from the previous studies in 2006 and 1999 by looking at travel habits of respondents. The studies analyze all modes throughout the region by aggregating data from from subareas. As a result, the PSRC is able to provide a wide range of data points at various levels. Two trends are abundantly obvious from the data:

  1. The Puget Sound Region has seen an increase in active transportation across the board; and
  2. Driving (SOV and HOV) is declining in the mode share split.

The PSRC summarizes this finding, noting that:

Throughout the past few decades, most people in the Puget Sound region have used personal vehicles to get around. In 1999, 86% of all trips were in personal cars, trucks, or SUVs. By 2006, that share fell to about a little less than 85%, continuing downward to just under 82% by 2014.

Even though auto travel is still integral to the region’s transportation system, survey results suggest significant shifts are taking place, especially toward transit and walking. Transit shares increased by over 60% between 1999 and 2014. The percent of trips made by walking increased 25% between 1999 and 2006 and increased by over 40% between 2006 and 2014. However, there are some differences in the survey methods that likely exaggerate the changes in walking shares between 2014 and previous surveys, so changes might not be quite as dramatic as suggested by the results in Figure 5, though the general trend in increased walking shares is still evident. Regional bicycle shares have also increased slightly since 1999, from 0.9% to 1.3% in 2014.

Diving into data at the Regional Growth Center level, the PSRC compared travel datasets from 2006 and 2014 for mode shares in 11 Regional Growth Centers. Walking and transit saw immense growth over the period. For example, transit usage doubled in Redmond-Overlake from 5% to 10%. Likewise, Everett saw walking skyrocket from 6% to 20%tripling the number of people walking. On the flip side, solo driving saw consistent declines across all regional growth centers. Even Redmond-Overlake, an area located in a traditionally suburban location, experienced a decline from 60% solo driving to just 44%. And, to put the “everyone drives to South Lake Union” rhetoric to rest, the PSRC found that solo driving dropped from 54% to 28% over the same period.
Regional Growth Center Mode Shares

To reinforce the point that driving is beginning to fall away as the primary mode share, the PSRC looked at the average driving mode share by age. The PSRC found that all cohorts made fewer trips by car over the 2006-2014 period. The biggest decline took place in the 18-24 cohort where driving was only 70% in 2014, down from 85% in 2006. Likewise, the next largest decline was in the 25-34 cohort. This matches well nationally with the narrative that Millenials would rather have a smartphone than drive.

Auto Mode Share Dropping

increase-bike-share

Cycling is a particular bright spot in the 2014 Regional Travel Study, which shows that it’s making a dramatic comeback in the Puget Sound region. Cycling has risen by 44% in the share of total trips since 1999. The PSRC says that people are now making 178,000 daily trips on bike with an average distance of about four miles, and resulting in up to 711,000 miles biked each day. The typical rider is overwhelmingly male (representing 65% of all trips) and likely to be in the 25-34 year-old cohort. Breaking the data down further, the PSRC found that the primary purpose for a typical bike trip was:

Purpose of bike trips.
Purpose of bike trips.
  1. Commuting (39%);
  2. Exercise (19%);
  3. General trips (27%) for errands, entertainment, and visiting family and friends; and
  4. Going to school (9%).

The PSRC also looked at mode share by district to see where bicycling was most prevalent. Seattle and North King County naturally saw the largest share of bicycling in the region ranging between 1.8% and 4.1% of trips depending upon subarea. North Seattle, Shoreline, and Lake Forest Park topped the subareas analyzed with 4.1% of trips being taken on bike; the PSRC attributed this to ease of access to bike facilities across Seattle, the University of Washington, and the unique draw that Burke-Gilman Trail provides for bicyclists. The PSRC noted that 8,500 bike trips were coupled with transit in the region and that the First Hill/Capitol Hill Regional Growth Center had the most bike trips logged by neighborhood residents at 6,700 daily. Despite this, most subareas barely cracked 1% for a bicycling mode share, and Pierce County (Tacoma excluded) lagged far behind at just 0.3%.

Biking by subarea.
Biking by subarea.

But some data points didn’t change much like the distribution of vehicle ownership. The PSRC noted this point saying that “There are no continuous trends toward growth or decline in households by vehicle type. There has been a small increase in households with three or more vehicles since 1999, but the share inched down in 2014 versus an increase between 1999 and 2006.”
Vehicle Ownership By HouseholdThe PSRC doesn’t yet know when the next Regional Travel Study will be conducted, but hopes to shorten the current seven to eight year frequency. What that future data will capture is uncertain, but the trends nationwide and regionally seem to be pointing at a common trajectory: less driving and more active transportation. Coupled with local policies and programs that reinforce exactly that, it seems reasonable to assume that transit, walking, and biking will continue to gain share in the regional modal split going forward.

Sunday Video: Seattle Play Streets

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Seattle just extended the citywide Play Streets pilot program until April 2016. Play Streets, in a lot of ways, are similar to block parties. Streets are closed to through traffic so that the space can be used in a variety of ways. It’s not uncommon to see kids play basketball games, chalk up the street, or bike around while adults kick back with BBQs and boardgames. It’s a creative way to make more usable space, particularly in the summer, for all. So far, over 75 different Play Streets events have been put on across the city. Residents are welcome to request a Play Street near them.

What We’re Reading: Everybody Else Bring Data

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No lefts: New York City wants Google Maps to stop promoting left turns.

For the kids: A compelling case for why urban places are better for kids.

Gigabit internet: Kshama Sawant wants to give the Central District real gigabit internet.

Transpo roundup: All the bills that the Washington State Legislature passed on transportation issues this year.

More trail: The East Lake Sammamish Trail has opened with new paving.

Rent control: Berlin’s newly adopted rent control rules appear to be working as intended.

Don’t stop: Someone documented a good list of the saddest Amtrak stops.

New transit pass: ORCA now is offering a Regional Day Pass for local transit.

Noise pollution: A new app is out that shows property-level detail for noise pollution; currently only available in Los Angeles.

Urban murals: Three new murals are now in Capitol Hill, First Hill, and the Central District.

Early response: The initial e-mails landing on Mayor Ed Murray’s desk on the draft HALA recommendations.

Maps of the Week: A cartogram showing the total value of property by counties in the US. And, watch the Shanghai subway grow over 20 years.

Four stories everywhere: CHS profiles a bunch of new projects scattered throughout Capitol Hill and First Hill.

Expanding service: Los Angeles’ Metro bus service could see a massive expansion of their frequent network at no additional cost.

LR3 is dead, long live LR3: Seattle In Progress says that despite the LR3 downzone, those areas of the city will continue to see plenty of projects under old code.

Coverage and tunnelsSeattle Transit Blog proposes how a new tunnel in Downtown Seattle could serve riders better.

Incredible support: The Move Seattle levy has tons of support from Seattle residents.

Ending segregation: President Barack Obama has unveiled new rules that he will enact to prevent segregation in housing.

The office village: Leave it to the Dutch to come up with approach to office parks; MVRDV comes up with “office villages”.

Falling prices: Germany, the world’s best economy, keeps seeing housing prices fall despite growth.

A premium: Where renters pay more for washers and dyers.

End of the line: Downtown may not always be the best place to end a train line.

Data saves: Janette Sadik-Khan talks about how data can solve our most vexing transportation problems.

House the people: A reminder that public housing is absolutely still part of the housing crunch, but that the approach needs to be 21st century.