Sunday, 9 August, 2020

Rebecca Parson: Let’s Breach Lower Snake River Dams to Save Salmon Runs

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Sockeye salmon spawning in the Adams River. (Photo by Pixabay)
Sockeye salmon in the Adams River. (Photo by Pixabay)

The issue of salmon run restoration provides a sharp contrast between challenger Rebecca Parson and incumbent Congressman Derek Kilmer in District 6.

The birds are larger, their feathers fuller. The water has turned a luminous, healthy green-blue hue. Elk roam where they couldn’t before. Thousands of salmon swim upstream and—instead of dying as they once did—spawn. And indigenous people have discovered a legendary creation site that had been covered up for decades.

It almost sounds too good to be true. But this is the story of the successful dam removal and restoration of Washington’s Elwha river, both for wildlife and the Lower Elwha Klallam people.

It’s clear to me and a growing number of leaders across our region that we should be diligent students of what has been achieved in Elwha. It’s time we get moving to breach the dams of the Lower Snake River and ignite another environmental flourishing.

Along with the Nez Perce, Lummi, and Yakima tribes, recently the Port Angeles City Council joined a broad coalition pushing to breach the dams. While it’s noteworthy that the dams provide emissions-free hydropower, the council rightly recognized that it defeats the purpose of fighting climate change if we sacrifice vast ecosystems in the process. The council’s vote was 5 to 1.

How did my opponent, 6th District Congressman Derek Kilmer, respond to the council’s call to action—co-written by the Sierra Club and over 200 constituents? A mealy-mouthed “I am grateful for the continued engagement” statement that evinced no plan, no moral leadership, and certainly no agreement on the need to breach the dams.

Another Interbay Transportation Study Is a Lesson in Omission

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The Elliott Bay Trail squeezed between the expanding Terminal 91 and the Balmer Rail Yard. (Photo by Ray Dubicki)

Here’s the problem. Sitting through a presentation about the Ballard Interbay Regional Transportation (BIRT) Study, one finds themselves cheering for terrible options. 

The issues are implacably difficult and balancing interests is complex beyond imagining. Interbay has a dozen bridges that are not earthquake or climate change ready sitting at the intersection of rail and water. Three very powerful and wealthy communities overlook the neighborhood. Every level of government has a finger in the pie, often crossing political boundaries. Cutting-edge industries share space with the legacy companies that built this city. Everything must keep moving at the same time all of it needs replacement and upgrading.

Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) and their consultants at Nelson Nygaard have culled a list of transportation improvements from two decades of Interbay planning studies. The projects range from painted pavement to half-billion dollar bridges. Together, these options are being wound into blueprints for the next two decades of development. 

And we are still left asking “is this it?” 

High-Speed Rail Benefits Small Towns and Large Cities

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An high-speed train pulls into a station and passengers approach. (Photo courtesy Midwest High Speed Rail Association)
An high-speed train pulls into a station. (Photo courtesy Midwest High Speed Rail Association)

There are many ways a high-speed rail system can benefit the urban hubs of a megaregion, but small towns along the alignment can also benefit and grow economically. According to Representative Seth Moulton (D-Massachusetts), who authored a white paper on American High-Speed Rail, “Economic development is not limited to the major city pairs that will likely serve as terminals in initial high-speed passenger rail corridors across megaregions: intermediate communities with access to HSR service will also benefit, perhaps even more dramatically.” 

Major cities and small towns within in a clustered network are characterized as a megaregion; the Pacific Northwest megaregion stretches from Eugene, Oregon all the way up to Vancouver, British Columbia, encompassing Portland and Seattle as well as smaller cities along the I-5 corridor such as Bellingham, Olympia, and Surrey. High-speed rail will provide a fast, affordable, and sustainable mode of transportation between larger cities and for commuters in smaller towns–optimizing travel times, boosting innovation opportunities, and providing economic growth to all cities in the region.

Live Where You Want

In his proposal for American High-Speed Rail, Rep. Seth Moulton explains that the mobility that comes with high-speed rail, “opens new housing markets to workers, reduces the cost of living, and shares economic growth with nonurban areas.” 

Building high-speed rail in the Pacific Northwest will ease highway congestion, cutting travel times between city centers and suburbs. For example, a commute between Seattle and Everett could be reduced from 90 minutes at peak to 15 minutes with fast trains, which would save employees 650 hours of time spent in traffic each year–that’s an extra 27 days of free time that people can spend with their families. 

Cascadia Rail’s latest map. (Oran Viriyincy)

Residents of smaller cities like Bellingham would be able to commute to a job in Seattle in 45 minutes by high-speed rail, while living closer to nature and reducing the high cost of residing in the city. Workers from nearby metros can also benefit from fast train journeys. Families who are established in Portland may be willing to work in Seattle, but not be willing to move house. High-speed rail would transform a three hour drive to one hour train trip between the metropolitan areas, expanding collaboration and connecting innovation hubs such as universities, nonprofits, and corporations. 

Durkan Declares Seattle Fed-Free, but Her Own Violent ‘Troops’ Dig In

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Protestors gather behind a police barricade at the East Precinct building, chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot,” on Sunday, May 31.
Protesters gather behind a police barricade at the East Precinct building, chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot,” on Sunday, May 31. (Photo by Ethan Campbell)

Mayor Jenny Durkan did a victory lap on national media yesterday declaring Seattle free of federal agents, but local residents noted that the Seattle Police Department (SPD) continued to aggressively deploy the same weapons and tactics she decried from federal police. In fact, the City of Seattle is being sued for it.

Videos from protests this weekend showed SPD officers indiscriminately targeting crowds of protesters with blast balls, pepper spray canisters, and rubber bullets in violation of a restraining order from a federal judge that banned exactly this kind of indiscriminate use of chemical weapons and rubber bullets.

The Seattle City Council attempted to ban chemical weapons outright, but the Durkan administration went to court to temporarily block the ban. With a legal respite and implied permission from the Mayor, police seemed to use their weapons with vengeance and targeted people trying to render medical aid and those documenting the protests as journalists or legal observers. Mayor Durkan forgot to mention this on MSNBC and CNN.

Although the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had made the Mayor promises before and broke them–triggering a strongly-worded letter–Durkan said she believed assurances were for real this time. In a press release, Mayor Durkan said she had “received confirmation that the Department of Homeland Security’s Border Patrol Tactical Unit has demobilized and left the Seattle area.”

The Mayor correctly identified that police using excessive force and strong-arm tactics escalates situations and increase violence. She just didn’t apply that analysis to her own police force. Troublingly, she sought to hang all accountability for policing decisions on Police Chief Carmen Best rather than herself.

“The president’s actions to target and ‘dominate’ Democratic cities through the use of federal forces is chilling. It has increased violence in Portland, Seattle and other cities across the country, which was what the president intended,” Mayor Durkan said in a statement. “Policing decisions in Seattle should be made by Chief Best–not Donald Trump, and we can rest assured that they will be. We will continue to heed this moment in history and to work with the community to make systemic and generational changes to make Seattle more just.”

The Mayor’s double standard

On CNN, Mayor Durkan argued federal police escalating violence in Portland and inciting larger protests proved that strategy didn’t work.

“We’ve seen that in Portland. It has proven the case the federal agents presence there has escalated things to the point where thousands of people turned out against that action,” Mayor Durkan said. “I think that tells all we need to know about whether they made it better or whether they made it worse.”

The Mayor didn’t apply that same standard to SPD, which had escalated violence and incited larger protests for two months running. Those protests peaked at 60,000 and are building strength again as SPD cracks down once more.

Midweek Video: How Humans Are Making Pandemics More Likely

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Vox explains how human expansion into natural habitats is directly linked to the spread of new and deadly diseases in human populations.

Green Lake Community Center Options Narrowed to Three at Current Site

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Courtesy of Seattle Parks and Recreation. Vignette of Option 3 for selected site alongside sycamore tree rows

Seattle Parks and Recreation’s online open house has returned for the Green Lake Community Center/Pool redevelopment project, including the results of the previous open house. The selected and current site, adjacent to Green Lake’s commercial core, received overwhelming support at 75%. None of the other sites were even netted 10% of the votes.

The project’s team has since done a more detailed analysis on the site to evaluate potential footprints for the new community center and pool. Analysis of urban context, transit, on-site trees, and solar orientation produced five potential options–three of which have moved up for public consideration in this open house.

Courtesy of Seattle Parks and Recreation. Zones bordered by yellow are still being considered. Zones bordered by red have already been ruled out as they would have created too little benefit for the impact on the landscape.

All three options provide the same amount of recreational amenities, and support facilities. Parks pledges to maintain parking for 100 cars, which preserves the number of parking stalls from the old design.

Different options have also been developed for the new Green Lake Community Center. Each option has its own respective design options.

Option 1: Park Pavilion

Community center amenities include parking, tennis courts, play area, basketball courts, and a playfield.

Courtesy of Seattle Parks and Recreation

Option one uses the current footprint of the community center and pool. However, the increased footprint of the planned center consumes the current location the basketball courts, which would be shifted to the east. The east ballfield is lost to accommodate the basketball courts and new walkways.

Otherwise there is little change to the overall layout of the current site. The access road, parking lot, and drop-off loop remain the same and very few trees are displaced. Where they are removed, new trees will be planted to compensate.

For design choice, a new entry would be lined up to rows of sycamore trees. The assigned design option also creates a pavilion on the second floor of the new building that could grant views of the lake. Passersby on the trail would be able to see activity in the center.

Major challenges for this option is the loss of use of the existing center for the duration of construction, current estimates would put that period between 2024 and 2026. Additionally, no change to the existing lake shore-adjacent parking lot wastes the potential of the spot.

Paint Is Not Enough for Bellevue Bike Network

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108th Avenue protected bike lane in Bellevue. (Photo by Chris Randels)
108th Avenue protected bike lane in Bellevue. (Photo by Chris Randels)

Although Seattle, the economic and cultural hub of our region, rightfully receives ample scrutiny for its commitment to a greener, more equitable mobility system, it is important not to forget the similar responsibilities borne by our region’s other cities. In my previous article, I provided a vision for what transformative, paradigm-shifting change could look like for Bellevue’s transportation system. Although historically an auto-dominated city, our leaders could use lessons from other cities around the world and repurpose road space on key arterials to be used for safe, socially-distant walking, biking, and transit use instead. I was happily surprised that the expected “bikelash” was heavily outweighed by positive comments from urbanists, organizations, and community members alike who appreciated the future-oriented perspective for a city traditionally not associated with green mobility. 

As an urbanist myself, I find it easy to get lost in such grand, top-down visions of how things could be different, and I think that such theorizing ultimately serves a positive purpose–it enables people of all political realities to stop and consider substantial changes to the status quo. However, I feel it’s also important to acknowledge the enormous political will such transformations can require, political will that is often not available in suburban towns with several conservative councilmembers. Therefore, it’s essential that advocates not lose sight of the visionary goals we have for our cities while also focusing on the concrete improvements that need to be made to our non-automobile infrastructure.

And in Bellevue, there is substantial room for some concrete improvements due to the significant absence of separated, protected bicycle facilities (there’s a rimshot there that’ll make sense by the end of this article). Although some newer facilities are prioritizing separation and distance from cars, there are certainly plenty of examples of unprotected, narrow, and outright uninviting bicycle lanes that do little to ensure the safety of current riders or entice the new ones we need to meet our climate targets. These types of facilities cater only to a limited percentage of potential cyclists because of the higher-speed automobile traffic directly next to them. Can you imagine the (rightful) uproar if we used public money to engineer city roads that only 10% of drivers felt comfortable driving on?

Bike riders of all persuasions already know that painted lanes are not enough to ensure their safety–I and other cyclists I’ve talked with can relay numerous anecdotes of drivers dangerously speeding past us as we feel the whip of their wind bristle on our arms. But being the scientist I am, I wanted to confirm this quantitatively, and in doing so underscore our obligation to make our city’s bicycle facilities truly accessible for All Ages, Languages, Ethnicities, Genders, Races, and Abilities (ALEGRA)

  • Left: Bellevue Bicycle Corridor map with study points marked in red. (Bellevue DOT) Right: Strava heat map for Bellevue. 140th Ave is an important corridor for people who walk, bike, and roll in central Bellevue. (Strava)
  • Left: Looking north on 145th Pl towards the study point. (Google Streetview) Right: A closer look of the median, curve, and bicycle facilities on both sides of the street. For the majority of people who do not feel comfortable cycling next to motor vehicles unprotected, the sidewalk is currently the only safe option. (Google StreetView)
  • Left: 140th Ave looking northward as one approaches Main Street. (Google Streetview) Right: Looking South on 140th Ave from Main Street. Note the nearly two car lengths of space from the crosswalk to where the curb starts to curve to accommodate turning drivers. (Google Streetview)

To do so, I selected three sites on 140th Ave, a frequently-used cyclist corridor in east Bellevue. Although there are painted, intentional bicycle lanes along nearly the entire corridor, there are no buffers, barriers, or other mechanisms to ensure cyclist separation and protection from drivers. I therefore assessed driver behavior at the above three points by noting how far (if at all) they crossed over the paint line demarcating vehicle and bicycle separation. Points 1 and 3 (see above map) represented a curved and straight point, respectively, where road width is constricted by a median, so I measured how many feet drivers were away from the paint line as their vehicles passed.

Six-year STBD Funded by 0.15% Sales Tax Will Go to Voters in November

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Route 70 on Third Avenue. (Photo by Doug Trumm)

Yesterday, the Seattle City Council debated the right size for the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) and landed on a 0.15% sales tax to boost transit funding 50% over Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal earlier this month.

Councilmember Tammy Morales’ amendment to double the STBD via a 0.2% sales tax–which many transit advocates (The Urbanist included) backed–failed on a close 4-5 vote. Councilmembers Kshama Sawant, Teresa Mosqueda, and Dan Strauss joined Morales in backing the amendment, but they came up one vote short.

In another close 5-4 vote, the Seattle City Council extended the length of the measure from an amended four years back to the six years that the Mayor had proffered. Reversing his initial vote from 10 days ago, Councilmember Strauss offered the amendment and Councilmembers Mosqueda, Lisa Herbold, Debora Juarez, and Alex Pedersen joined him in voting for it.

Generally, councilmembers backing six years argued it allowed more flexibility and would provide a cushion in case a hypothetical countywide transportation benefit district failed in 2024, while opponents argued it would decrease the urgency of advancing the countywide measure and of replacing a sales tax they viewed as regressive with a more progressive funding source. In contrast, members of the six-year camp warned against counting on a countywide measure, pointing out that the last countywide effort failed–with 54% voting no in an April 2014 election.

While not as ambitious as Councilmember Morales’ proposal, the “compromise” 0.15% sales tax amendment Council President M. Lorena González offered still represents a significant boost in service over Mayor Durkan’s anemic STBD proposal. The 0.15% amendment passed in an 8-1 vote with only Transportation Chair Alex Pedersen opposed. The amendment boosts the proposal about $13 million annually to $39 million in total.

The Mayor’s proposal didn’t even try to replace the funding lost when passage of Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976 (I-976) blocked at least for now the $60 vehicle license fee that the STBD had relied on–although the existing STBD is still collecting car tab fees due to a court injunction on the effects of I-976.

Councilmember Andrew Lewis said he was optimistic that the Washington Supreme Court would overturn I-976–and a ruling is expected relatively soon–but he also recognizes there was no guarantee. If I-976 is overturned–the Seattle City Council can reinstate vehicle license fees in $20 increments with a two-year cooling off period between hikes up to $50 total via its councilmanic powers (meaning it doesn’t have to go to ballot). However, Seattle already imposes $20 in vehicle license fees via councilmanic powers, so it’d only have $30 more in authority without going back to voters. The city council should certainly use that authority when it can.