Thursday, 6 August, 2020

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.

Dear Seattle Council: Please Double STBD Bus Funding

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The speed and reliability of Aurora buses are expected to suffer during the viaduct closure.

The Seattle City Council is about to vote on the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) and decide the measure that appears on the ballot in November. We’ve covered the issue closely from the days when a countywide proposal was still on a table to when when it was shelved to the recent jockeying about the right size for the Seattle only proposal to replacing the STBD expiring at year’s end.

I praised Councilmember Tammy Morales’ amendment doubling the STBD proposal and issued a call to action to contact the Seattle City Council to back it. We’ve also documented the benefits the STBD has provided over the years, from the 30% boost to the busiest 15 bus routes noted in the 2017 update to onward march of very frequent transit service which expanded to be in the 10-minute walkshed of 67% of Seattle’s population in 2018 and reached 70% last year.

Our transportation reporter Ryan Packer and many members of the Move All Seattle Sustainably coalition testified during public comment today, including Rooted in Rights, Sierra Club, 350 Seattle, Seattle Subway, Seattle Transit Riders Union. I also submitted the following letter.


Dear Seattle City Councilmembers,

I urge you to support Councilmember Tammy Morales’ amendment doubling the size of the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) proposal by raising the sales tax from 0.1% to 0.2%. This is essential to ensure transit remains a viable option for those that depend on it now and an attractive option to entice people out of more carbon-intensive commutes. Our climate goals depend on frequent bus service.

We at The Urbanist share your desire to right-side up our upside down tax code, taking a state tax code that has been ranked the most regressive in taxation into one of the most progressive. However, we must weigh what would be a largely symbolic move at this point against the very real harm caused by a nearly 80% cut in STBD bus service that Mayor Jenny Durkan has proposed. I’m a District 4 resident and buses I rely on like Route 5, Route 62, Route 40, and Route 44 would see major cuts if we proceed with the bare-bones measure on the table.

If the argument is that a 0.2% sales tax is too regressive, a 0.1% sales tax probably is too. Let’s reject that framing; quality transit service is a key part of the social safety net that redistributes wealth and opportunity toward lower-income folks. The loss of the flat $60 vehicle license fee (that formerly provided the bulk of STBD funding) will lower the tax burden on most car-owning households via lower car tabs.

I can’t imagine a Seattle City Council actively choosing to turn our 10-minute very frequent bus service network, which serves 70% of Seattle’s population, into a 15-minute network. That’s a huge downgrade in service. The extra five minutes in headways mean an extra five minutes wasted waiting for the bus during every round trip for every rider. Motorists expect billion-dollar freeway expansions when they face five-minute delays. We bus riders only ask that you make this relatively small investment to avoid a transit death spiral.

While some councilmembers have argued that 0.1% or 0.15% is the Goldilocks number that is neither too regressive nor too much of a sticker shock for a recession electorate. As a transit advocate that has campaigned hard for past measures, I think the opposite is true. A 0.1% difference isn’t likely to register among voters, and the last measure passed easily with 62.4% of the vote. The risk is to not have real benefits to run on. The nearly 80% cut in the Mayor’s proposal is not an inspiring measure. People will recognize it’s going backwards. We need to offer voters a real continuation of service. We may not get two bites at the apple if our STBD proves insufficient.

The Covid pandemic has certainly complicated the decision-making process, but transit remains an essential service to essential workers and non car owners like me that make up 20% of Seattle households. Transit ridership is down, but Metro has said it expects a full rebound once social distancing measures are relaxed and the economy picks up. We are making a four- to six-year decision and must plan for that rebound. We cannot meet this public health crisis with austerity. Transit is a major lifeline for cash-strapped households, particularly during the recession. 

To paraphrase Katie Wilson, the $9 to $12 in sales tax savings you could provide a low income household by not doubling the measure could be erased by a single ridehailing trip. We have to keep transit a viable option. Please adopt Councilmember Morales’ amendment and continue to seek progressive countywide transit funding.

Send your own letter here.

2020 Endorsement Questionnaire: David Hackney, LD11-1

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David Hackney is running in the 11th Legislative District versus long-time incumbent Zack Hudgins. (Courtesy of Hackney campaign)
David Hackney is running in the 11th Legislative District versus long-time incumbent Zack Hudgins. (Courtesy of Hackney campaign)

The Urbanist Elections Committee based our endorsement decisions on questionnaires we wrote and invited state legislature candidates in the Seattle metropolitan region to fill out. We followed up on those questionnaire responses with Zoom interviews to answer lingering questions. Below are the responses by David Hackney, who is running in Legislative District 11, Position 1 against incumbent Zack Hudgins, who has held the seat since 2002.

What lessons about government revenues and fiscal priorities from the wake of 2008 would you apply in responding to the Covid-19 crisis? (200 words or less)

Funding state government with a regressive sales tax is a bad idea. The Covid-19 crisis has caused a significant revenue decrease because retail brick and mortar establishments are closed or have limited goods and services. As a result, the state government must address a 4-7 billion-dollar budget deficit. The state must resist the temptation to implement significant budget cuts and instead should find ways to stimulate the economy. Cutting education, infrastructure, transportation, healthcare and income replacement programs will prolong the recession. Instead, the state must find new sources of revenue like a progressive income tax, a capital gains tax or a new tax on cloud computing to generate revenue and stimulate the economy. Trickle-down economics is a hoax. The economy does not grow when you provide the top 10% with tax cuts and deregulate the economy. The economy grows when hard working Americans have spending power to buy goods and services, which results in businesses expanding and making capital investments and hiring more workers, who have more spending power. The state must use this crisis to adopt bold progressive initiatives that put discretionary income in the hands of working people and use new sources of revenue to finance these initiatives.

Would you vote for a bill that ends the ban on rent control in Washington? Why or Why not? (50 words or less)

Yes. Rent control provides renters protection from predatory practices by landlords. When you purchase a home, you can obtain a 30-year fixed mortgage, which is essentially a stable price for housing. Renters deserve the same protection. Communities should have the authority to decide the best housing policies for their constituents.

What role do you see the state playing in enacting land use reform, and what should that reform prioritize? (200 words or less)

The state should play a significant role in land use reform. The housing crisis in Washington is the result of a market failure and the state should use land use reform to address this issue. There is an insufficient supply of housing for low-income residents because developers believe they can achieve a higher profit margin on housing projects that sell at a higher price point. The state should acquire land close to transportation hubs and provide tax incentives or direct subsidies to increase the supply of affordable housing. The state should require developers who want access to public land to develop a portion of each project for low-income individuals and families. In addition, the state should require all communities to develop affordable housing and refuse to bow to pressure of NIMBY from residents of more affluent communities. The state should also not attempt to place affordable housing in industrial areas. Promoting affordable housing in industrial areas is a form of environmental racism that exposes communities of color to polluted air and water. The state should focus on land use reform to provide affordable housing on public land in every community and provide economic incentives to encourage development of affordable housing.

Sunday Video: How To Build A City Around Bikes Fast

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Bloomberg CityLab explains how cities can rebuild around bikes quickly for the Covid and post-Covid era and why it’s vitally important to do so.

What We’re Reading: AFFH Rule Row, Over-Parked, and Ban SUVs

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A block in the city center of Ashland, Oregon.
A block in the city center of Ashland, Oregon.

Open top buses: In London, a tour bus company wants to use open top buses for commuters.

AFFH Rule row: The occupant of the White House wants to undo a prominent federal fair housing rule, but what is his real motivations in doing so?

Saving Caltrain: A rescue plan for Caltrain in the San Francisco Bay Area has materialized.

Bailout childcare providers: Many childcare operators are on the brink of closure with no assistance in sight.

Covid risk: FiveThirtyEight explains how every decision is a risk and every risk is a decision when it comes to Covid-19.

Keep on pause: Most Washingtonians want to keep economic reopening on pause.

Raise granted: Transit workers at King County Metro are getting a raise despite serious budgetary constraints.

Battle of Dublin: Dublin, California highlights the block by block battle against infill development happening across the country even in sprawling suburbs.

Over-parked: Greater Greater Washington reports on businesses and planners blasting plans to greatly expand parking at Union Station, the national capital’s most prominent railway station.

Preventable cuts: The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority is projecting over $16 billion in losses through 2024 and is charting a course for dramatic service reductions ($).

Moratoriums expiring: A federal eviction moratorium ends this week, which could put as many at 12 million at risk of eviction ($).

Ban SUVs: Safety experts in the United Kingdom say that American Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) are simply too dangerous for British roads, urging the government to ban them.

Peak population: A new report details how global population is set to peak in the 2060s with a decline beginning in 2065.

Out of scale: Strong Towns takes on the issue of “out of scale” development.

Build up, not out: The San Francisco Bay Area has released a regional growth plan to 2050 that emphasizes compact growth and equity ($).

Our Lady of Context

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Only her eyes were visible beneath her hijab, but isn’t that all you need to feel someone’s friendliness? 

I forget the first words of our exchange. Something banal. Within seconds though, we were off to the races, the story tumbling out of her with the desperation of thoughts that must be shared. 

“You know, my daughter has been missing. I paid private investigator one thousand nine hundred dollars to find her, and she is living with her dad.”
“Is that good or bad?”
“Bad. Her dad is terrible man, stole her away from me, him and her stepmom and her sister they tell her bad things about me, not true. So I think if I go over there and talk to her maybe she will listen. Because if I don’t then it’s three voices against one, the three will win, you know?”
Makes sense. “Where is she?”
“Minnesota.”
“That’s so far away!”
“I know but I have to. I am her mother. It’s what mothers do. I will go and wait for her in the street if I have to, homeless if I have to. I love her. I’m going to go over to her and try to get her back. Because that’s what mothers do.” 

There is no substitute for life, real life experience. Art is closest, but even it falls short: what I heard in her present voice was the power of belief. Of love. It was beautiful.

I said, “what does her dad say?”
She spoke quickly, a headlong passionate rush. I suspected she was similarly zealous in many areas of her life; a woman who coursed her journey forward with tumultuous confidence.