Thursday, August 16, 2018

Remember to Vote in the Primary by August 7th


Tuesday, August 7th is the last day to vote in the Washington state Primary Election. The Urbanist Election Board opted not to endorse for the primary this year, but we will be weighing in for the General Election. So stay tuned!

This year, no stamps are necessary to return your signed ballot at your nearest post office box, so you have no excuse not to vote. Make sure to get it turned in by collection time (typically 5pm) Tuesday so it can be postmarked and be counted. Alternatively, you can deposit your ballot in a drop box, which are spread around the county as shown here, until 8pm Tuesday. Prepaid ballot postage was made possible by investments by the King County Council and the emergency funding approved by Governor Jay Inslee.

The Urbanist Election Board will be sure to zero in on key issues like broad housing affordability strategies, targeted affordable housing investments, keeping buses and streetcars moving, and following through on the Sound Transit 3 plan–perhaps finding ways to speed up timelines rather than sit idly by as delays happen.

If you’re looking for other voter guides, The Stranger’s endorsements and Fuse Washington’s Progressive Voter Guide are good places to start. The top two vote-getting state legislature candidates will make it through to the General Election.

Sunday Video: An Urban Planner Plays SimCity


In this extended short, City Beautiful takes on the old school classic SimCity from the perspective of a professional planner 20 years later. Along the way, City Beautiful provides pertinent observations of game play versus reality.

The Swagger I Love: Thoughts on My Fellow Operators


Yes, they vary wildly in temperament, outlook, attitude…but isn’t that what you want in a group of people? Look at them. There are so many reasons to become an operator, and accordingly you really do have all walks working here. There was a time when most any trade or service job paid enough to raise a family with; those days are long gone, and with them much of the middle class. Bus driving remains a unique anomaly (to the point that saying thank God for unions, as I do, is less a political statement than a practical one).

Some of them are authors, musicians, pastors, comedians, teachers, here so they can afford to live their passion. There are students, morticians, sports coaches, sneaking in for a few hours before heading off to the rest of their lives. Some of us have doctorates and MFAs (when the bus drivers in a city have four year-plus degrees, you know there’s something wrong with the job market…).

For others, this is highest-paying job they’ve ever had. The gateway to a new life in a new country, a job that actually pays enough to make the dream real. Others are single parents raising children, or homebuyers, or here because the benefits will cover procedures and operations that are important to them, their families, paths to having agency over their lives. Or it’s a second career, something you always wanted to do for a few hours a day.

Fall Service Changes Coming To Community Transit, Other Improvements On The Way


Community Transit intends to make several service changes in the fall and will soon open a new queue jump at a key chokepoint for buses crossing I-5. The fall service change begins on September 23rd and will include higher frequency on the Swift Blue Line on weekdays and extra trips on Routes 120 and 413.

Service Changes

The service changes will shake out as follows:

  • The Swift Blue Line, a bus rapid transit route, will have 10-minute frequencies on weekdays from 6am to 7pm. Outside of those hours, service will be maintained at 20-minute frequencies on weekdays. One additional morning roundtrip will be added to start service at 4.20am in both directions. Overall, the service improvement adds one trip per hour during the 6am to 7pm period to lower headways from every 12 minutes.
  • Route 120, a local route, will get three additional weekday roundtrips during weekdays to offer continue 30-minute headways until 6pm.
  • Route 413, a weekday express route to Seattle, will get more midday and evening trips to provide service outside of peak commute times.
  • Several changes will be made to Community Transit-operated Sound Transit routes. Two Route 510 and one Route 513 trip from Seattle will be deleted and one trip on Route 511 from Seattle will be added in an effort to improve reliability.
  • Route 109, a local route, will be moved off of SR-9 to 99th Ave in Lake Stevens to better serve businesses and communities. Community Transit also added one stop pair near Cathcart last week and intends to add another soon to better serve the community, particularly local students attending Glacier Peak High School and Little Cedars Elementary School.
  • Route 196, a local route, will deviate off of 196th St SW briefly to better serve riders wanting to connect with other transit services at the Lynnwood Transit Center.

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In preparation of the Swift Green Line opening in 2019, Community Transit has installed a new westbound queue jump on the east side of the 128th St SW overpass in South Everett. The overpass is part of a larger interchange at I-5. Buses will be able to use a special lane to skip ahead of westbound traffic once the queue jump is activated. The lane is expected open later this month after the Washignton State Department of Transportation completes repaving work. Local and express buses operating along the busy corridor will be able to take immediate advantage of the lanes once it opens. An eastbound version was installed earlier this year.

Seattle Needs Streetcars

First Hill Streetcar wades through traffic on Jackson Street.

‘Streetcar’ seems to be a dirty word in Seattle. In January, I proposed my own redesign of NE 65th St to the city, which received overwhelming support from Seattle’s bike and car communities alike–the Seattle Bike Blog went so far as to declare my design better than the city’s. However, one aspect of my proposal, a streetcar, stirred vigorous debate. Some flatly opposed the concept of a streetcar. Others considered it too idealistic, proposing a cheaper bus rapid transit system instead.

More recently, Mayor Jenny Durkan halted construction of the Center City Connector streetcar extension, following outcry regarding increasing project costs. The mayor’s office now claims the streetcars placed on order for this extension may not fit the tracks, which is more likely a stunt to stir opposition to the streetcar (still under pause for cost review) than an honest concern. As The Urbanist and The Seattle Times noted, both sets of streetcars–the existing streetcars and those placed on order–have a track gauge specified at an identical 1.435 meters. And, the newly-ordered cars are a requested 2.45 meters wide, actually 0.01 meters narrower than the existing ones.

Our politicians seem to spread misinformation to sway the public against streetcars. But this anti-streetcar sentiment is not justified. In fact, Seattle was built around streetcar lines. The city’s first streetcar line was built in 1884, and by 1936 Seattle’s Municipal Street Railway operated 410 streetcars on 231 miles of track–which neatly cut the city into the neighborhoods that exist today.

Seattle’s old network of trolley, cable, and bus lines. (Seattle Municipal Archives)
Seattle’s old network of trolley, cable, and bus lines. (Seattle Municipal Archives)

Buses now run along these old streetcar routes, and some routes still use the trolley wire. Roughly 64% of residents are within a 10-minute walking distance from a frequent bus line, and approximately 423,000 people ride Seattle’s buses every day, leading The Seattle Times to declare Seattle the second-most bus reliant city in the United States, just behind San Francisco.

King County Considers Lessening Fare Evasion Penalties

A long line of riders wait to board a Route 8 bus at Denny and Westlake.

Fare enforcement reform has been on the barometer for awhile now in the Puget Sound. Increasingly, it has become apparent that fare enforcement policies in place may be doing more harm than good. An April report by the King County Auditor’s Office shed some light on the issue, calling into question the efficacy of fare enforcement as a concept and providing evidence that King County Metro’s fare enforcement often hit those experiencing homelessness or housing instability the hardest, not run-of-the-mill scofflaws.

King County promptly suspended the practice of sending misdemeanor cases to the sheriff’s office, implemented a new practice of giving youth an extra verbal warning before issuing a citation, and increased training and management of fare enforcement officers following the report. Last week, King County Executive Dow Constantine transmitted legislation to the King County Council that would go much further by establishing new protocols to lessen systematic criminalization and financial hardship that fare enforcement policies can have on low-income individuals and people experiencing homelessness or housing instability.

“Fares are an essential part of funding our regional transit system, but we know some riders have trouble paying,” said Executive Constantine. “We’ve created reduced and even free transit fare programs, but some people still skip the formalities and end up accruing infractions, which can lead to legal headaches that impact housing and employment. We want to find a better way that funds vital public transit service while best supporting our most vulnerable riders.”

Africatown Designs Its Future: Part 2

An Africatown design cipher group brainstorms their plan for the site at 23 rd and Cherry. (Africatown)

This is the second part of a two-part series. The first part is here.

When we live in an environment which is dominated by ideas and actions that are contrary to our well-being, then we have to design spaces and places that are conducive to and promote our well-being.Wyking Garrett, President of Africatown Community Land Trust, Africatown Design Town Hall, 2018

Drawing on Technical Assistance

A critical part of Africatown’s strategy is to “bring brilliant people from our diaspora into our community to inspire and give us more ways to go about creating the future we want,” Wyking Garrett said.

As part of this mission, Garrett traveled to Harvard University, where he shared his vision for Africatown with a group of distinguished design professionals. It was through this presentation that Nmadili Okwumabua first became acquainted with Africatown.

“I reached out [to Garrett] and he was like Nmadili, I’ve already heard of you. Let’s connect,” Okwumabua said.

The result was quite literally a convergence of two visionaries. Just as Garrett’s work seeks to redefine the design process, Okwumabua’s work at CDPI Africa centers on the ambitious vision of foregrounding the influence of African architecture, planning, and design on an international scale.

Africatown Designs Its Future: Part 1

Participants gather for the Re’Union at Union, the closing ceremony for the Imagine Africatown Design Weekend. (Africatown)

A year has passed since Africatown Community Land Trust acquired a twenty percent ownership stake of the land parcel at 23rd and Union in the Central District, and during this time Africatown has been busy designing its future.

Fundamental to Africatown’s design approach is the creation and facilitation of a distinctive process that works hand-in-hand with community members, while also drawing on technical assistance from professional designers. The result is an intentional approach that honors the CD’s past as a vibrant African American community and keeps an eye firmly on the future.

“That’s something you see in a lot of historically black neighborhoods,” Sara Zewde said. “The future is rooted in the past. As a designer that’s an element of black urban culture that I have focused on and pushed for. We want community designers to articulate that vision.”

Zewde, a landscape architect, urbanist, and board member of Design in Public, has been involved with Africatown since serving on a speaker’s panel with K. Wyking Garrett at the Seattle Design Festival. Debra Webb, Director of Design in Public, said Zewde has been instrumental to forging the partnership between Africatown and Design in Public. “We want to amplify our mission of building bridges through design,” Webb said.

In response to the current political and social climate, this year Design In Public has chosen the theme of “trust” for the Seattle Design Festival.

“I think there is great mistrust among African Americans and the African diaspora in our city toward designers and the built environment,” Webb said. An underrepresentation of African Americans in design fields and past abuses ranging from widespread demolition of African American neighborhoods for interstate construction, to national policies such as Weed and Seed, have all contributed to this climate of distrust.  

Africatown, however, seeks to redefine how African Americans think about urban design in Seattle by eschewing the conventional “paternalistic” model of community engagement for something much more radical. “Usually what happens is the architect and developer propose something and the community is for or against their proposal,” Zewde said. “Instead we wanted the community to make a proposal. What we want is to get people actually designing. We also want to force designers to design in front of other people.”