Saturday, 24 October, 2020

Eight Cities Have Opted Out of County Measure to House Homeless

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Bellevue City Council. (Credit: City of Bellevue)

Bellevue, Renton, Issaquah, Maple Valley, North Bend, Covington, Snoqualmie, and Kent voted to opt out of King County’s homelessness measure by proposing their own city-based packages focused on higher income housing.

Last month King County Executive Dow Constantine unveiled a plan to raise $400 million to create 2,000 homes for people experiencing homelessness. The permanent supportive housing plan rests upon bonding off a countywide 0.1% sales tax increase the King County Council approved Tuesday. That authority came from a law the Washington State Legislature passed this spring granting local jurisdictions 0.1% sales tax authority for creating housing affordable to households below 60% of area median income. Executive Constantine envisioned using the revenue for extremely low-income housing (less than 30% area median income).

However, suburban city councilmembers had other ideas and preferred to control the funding themselves and dedicate it toward higher income levels–housing much less likely to serve homeless people directly. Since the authority is only for 0.1% sales tax, the cities have blocked the county measure from applying in their jurisdictions by passing their own measure first before the County acted. These city-level efforts will contribute to affordable housing creation as dictated by law, but in a less coordinated way and at the expense of the County plan.

Erica Barnett laid out the implications in her excellent coverage of the fracas.

“But how much money will there be? The county originally estimated that the tax would bring in a little under $68 million in 2021; bonding against half that revenue stream, the maximum allowed under state law, could give the county around $400 million to purchase sites and turn them into affordable housing,” Barnett wrote. “The cities that have opted out of the tax so far have taken more than $8 million off the table. That brings the county’s annual revenues down to just under $60 million.”

With the additional cities opting out hitting eight, an estimated $18 million has been carved out of the measure. The County will have have to downsize its ambitions since the full $400 million in bonds won’t be possible initially after eight cities jumped ship and went their own way. Beyond obstructing the County’s plan to build 2,000 units of supportive housing, these eight cities have cast doubts on the regional approach to homelessness services that was supposed to be getting underway about now.

Suburbs deny their role in homelessness

As I pointed out in December when Seattle rushed to joined the regional homelessness authority and foot most of the bill, the suburbs had no skin in the game and were promising very little. What Seattle stood to gain wasn’t clear then. And so far the regional authority is off to an inauspicious start, and it’s not just this latest kerfuffle; the authority still lacks an executive director after a consultant-driven talent search took longer than planned.

Sound Transit Launches 130th Street Light Rail Station Open House

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On October 12th, Sound Transit began their online open house for the 130th Street light rail station’s design. Approved by voters in 2016, this station will eventually join the Lynnwood Link expansion stations and 145th station to bring light rail to North Seattle. As the name suggests, the station will fall on NE 130th St and will be adjacent to I-5. North Seattle neighborhoods like Bitter Lake, Pinehurst, and Lake City will gain better access to light rail.

The current open house shares Sound Transit’s completed design work for the station. A collection of renderings is presented by the transportation agency, showing off an imposing glass and concrete structure contrasting with a landscape of single-family housing bisected by highway. Design choices for the elevated and ground sections seem mostly made.

Aerial view of the station rendered. Courtesy of Sound Transit
Aerial view of the station rendered. Courtesy of Sound Transit

Inspired by nearby Thornton Creek, Sound Transit plans on giving the station greenery and character typical of our region’s waterways. Bioretention planters and other stormwater structures will prevent excessive flooding. Native flora and stream cobble finishes will highlight the station.

What We’re Reading: Lower BC HSR, Legalizing Multifamily, and Trump Death Cult

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Lower BC HSR: Could a high-speed rail line between Whistler and Chilliwack via Vancouver become a reality?

Failing workers: According to a study, late-night transit is failing non-white night shift workers in America.

Better Naito Forever: Better Naito, a bikeway along the waterfront in Downtown Portland, has received permanent approval.

Worse off: For low-income students, many of their schools were already in bad shape and now the pandemic has made things so much worse.

Shifting blame and costs: Michigan takes a huge step backward in car insurance requirements, putting more financial pressure and blame on vulnerable users of the road.

Cambridge PBLs: Cambridge, Massachusetts is fast-tracking a citywide protected bike lane network.

Northeast cap pact: The carbon capping pact in the Northeast is saving lives and cutting healthcare costs.

Eviction moratorium extended: Governor Jay Inslee has further extended the state eviction moratorium through December.

Vote Inslee: The choice couldn’t be clearer in Washington’s gubernatorial race on critical issues.

Construction Starts on Beacon Hill-to-Downtown Bike Connection

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This week the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is starting construction on a protected bike lane across the Dr. Jose Rizal Bridge on 12th Avenue South between Little Saigon and north Beacon Hill. This will be the first segment of a safe bicycle connection running throughout Beacon Hill expected to be completed by 2023, but the 12th Avenue South segment going in this year will stop short of making some tantalizingly close connections to existing facilities.

The Jose Rizal Bridge previously had two traffic lanes in each direction, but rarely filled with traffic due to the number of lanes meeting the bridge on the Beacon Hill side. Early this year, SDOT had proposed a design that included both lanes of bicycle traffic together in a two-way lane on the north side of the bridge, but this would have meant people biking south would have been separated by traffic coming the opposite direction by only a paint-and-post bike lane. After hearing community feedback, they modified the design to protected bike lanes on each side of the street, following the direction of traffic, still separated by paint-and-posts. The bridge will go down to one general purpose lane in each direction.

Rendering of the completed protected bike lane across the Jose Rizal Bridge. (City of Seattle)
Rendering of the completed protected bike lane across the Jose Rizal Bridge. (City of Seattle)

A protected bike lane all the way from the Mountains to Sound trail at the north tip of Beacon Hill to Yesler Way would truly connect Seattle’s separated bike facility network: Yesler Way includes a connection to the protected bike lanes on Broadway and beyond. But there are no plans to bridge that gap, due to the disruption that SDOT says it would have on the traffic network, particularly on operations of the First Hill Streetcar, which runs in mixed traffic on Yesler Way and South Jackson Street.

Subscriber Drive: Publication Update

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During our subscriber drives, we look back at what we’ve been up to over the past year. 2020 didn’t bring a lot of fuzzy moments, but we’re proud of how we persevered.

As the Covid-19 pandemic ramped up in the spring, we struggled with how to proceed and cope, not just as members of an organization but on a personal level. With all-volunteer reporters and columnists, we told everyone to take their time. It was hard to be productive amidst all the chaos, but we wanted to be there for each other.

Covid’s threat to urbanism

Beyond organizational capacity, Covid was destabilizing for the whole urbanism movement. The pandemic provided ample opportunity for skeptics and doomsayers to declare cities over and density and mass transit to blame for the spread.

We pushed back against those ridiculous claims which even a cursory glance at world history (not to mention Seattle home prices) could prove wrong. The pandemic changed the narrative, but fundamentally the case for sustainable walkable urbanism with a housing and transportation system that serves the least privileged as well as the most privileged is still a strong case.

Cities rebound after pandemics–even a near-death experience may not be up to the task of livening up a cookie-cutter suburb or making a drive-everywhere lifestyle more enjoyable. The fears around urban living were overblown. Transit is not a major site of Covid transmission according to the research, and cities that have contained the spread and taken proper precautions have seen ridership surge back. Meanwhile many suburban and rural areas have seen their Covid rates soar even with their sprawling living patterns.

Nonetheless, in America the impulse for many pundits has been to declare transit antiquated: why bother investing in it? This couldn’t be farther from the truth. We argued for transit investment and against austerity with allied organizations. We must hold off deeper economic decline and be ready to hit the ground running when we emerge from this crisis. We must invest in the city we want to see. We should not be jettisoning transit, street safety, and climate mitigation projects, as Mayor Jenny Durkan has proposed.

Seattle Opens Its Last New Car Bridge

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Last week, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) opened its newest bridge to general purpose vehicle traffic after two years of construction. The South Lander Street Bridge in SoDo separates vehicles, pedestrians, and people biking from the railway tracks between 4th Ave S and 1st Ave S at a cost of approximately $100 million dollars. It includes four vehicle travel lanes and one 14-foot separated pedestrian and bicycle path on the north side of the bridge.

Since Seattle has a goal of reducing passenger vehicle emissions by 82% within the next decade, this will likely be the last time that the city is able to invest that much money in keeping vehicle traffic moving by creating a new bridge, rather than investing in decarbonizing its transportation system. The opening of Lander Street comes at a time when much attention is being drawn to the condition of Seattle’s current bridge inventory, and the fate of the currently-closed West Seattle freeway bridge is very much up in the air.

The Lander bridge will provide a lot of benefits, with the most significant safety-related. There have been at least three pedestrians struck and killed by train traffic at the previously at-grade crossing in the last decade. Grade-separation should make the street safer for everyone. In addition, the bridge will save Metro buses that connect to SoDo station, and people walking, biking and rolling, from having to wait for train traffic which is given priority.

But the question of whether those benefits are worth the $100 million investment in a four-lane overpass still remains as the city grapples with its huge transportation funding deficit and Mayor Jenny Durkan cuts bike and pedestrian safety projects citywide yet again. Seattle’s penchant for putting mega-projects before maintaining basic access for people walking, rolling, and biking must come to an end.

Sunday Video: Is There A Future In 3-D Printing of Buses?

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Bloomberg QuickTake looks at a company that is using 3-D printing to tool all sorts of vehicles, including mini-buses. Could this be a significant contributor to small-scale transit in the future?

How to Drive the 7, Pt III of IV: Route 49 Northbound

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Where were we. That’s right. We’d just come all the way up from Rainier, and are now in the middle of the right turn onto Pike from 3rd. You activate the switch as detailed in the previous post, and are now ready to do the deed.

Turning onto Pike

  • There are 2 deadspots in this turn; if you don’t hear the first one as the left corner of your coach crosses the north-south crosswalk on Pike, stop immediately, because you’re not on the turning wire. Check yourself in the right exterior mirror. 
  • The positioning of this first deadspot is tricky–you have to choose a moment without pedestrians crossing such that you can accelerate and then coast through this deadspot without hitting or near-hitting anyone. This is where we work for that paycheck!
  • The 2nd deadspot is when your turning wire joins back up with Pike St wire, and it lines up with a particular window in the Ross building that’s either very near the doors are actually at the doors, if I recall correctly.
  • Look at that big crowd waiting to get on. You’re loving this. Only someone like yourself could take this crew up the street with the professionalism, patience and easy touch you have. I believe in you.
  • Questions you’ll get: 
  1. “Do you go the college?” Yes. 
  2. “Do you stop at Boren?” No. There’s a 10 in a few minutes.
  3. “Do you stop at Salvation Army?” No. That’ll be the 10.
  4. “Do you go straight?” Not really, this is your last stop on this street. There’s a 10 coming (there really is; that has 15-minute service til midnight, daily).
  5. “Can I just get a courtesy ride up the hill?” Sure, no problem. It’s like inbound Henderson; half of these guys are gonna be gone in ten minutes. 
  6. “Where’s the 11? Have you seen the 11?” The 11 famously has one of the worst schedules in the system, and ever since Metro turned it into a live-loop route, has become torture to drive and woefully unreliable for passengers. It has no bathroom at the Madison layover, and no break on the downtown end, and a schedule that’s never heard of the 2nd Avenue turnaround. Meanwhile, they could be laying this thing over at Virginia between 2nd and 3rd (Planners! Help!), because no other service outside of peak lays there. Basically, passengers are always wringing their hands waiting for it because it’s always late. Tell them: “Yeah, it’s coming. The 11 is always late, but it’s coming.” You can even mention the 11 has a tight schedule. 
  • Do you drive the 11? I feel your pain. I try to let you go first so you can get the heck out of here instead of sitting around watching my rear end slow down for special work. Feeling the call of nature? Know that there’s a comfort station inside Westlake Station, by the old customer service stop, and if you pull far enough forward at the 4th/Pine zone (pull all the way up to 3rd), you can park and run down there. This makes more sense after hours when things have quieted down downtown. Yes, you’ll become late. But wasn’t that going to happen anyway?
  • Are you a passenger reading this? Now you know why those 11 drivers are so miserable. They want to stand. They want to urinate. Or even eat. You know, simple pleasures. Be extra nice to them. You might blow their minds.