Spot Fix: Dexter Ave Protected Bike Lane

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Dexter Ave PBL
The Dexter Avenue protected bike lane today; no posts separate it from parking.

The protected bike lane built by the City of Seattle on Dexter Ave in South Lake Union (located between Republican Street and Denny Way) has created a challenging situation for parking despite the best of intentions. The parking lane is now further away from the curb while the bike lane is immediately next to the curb. The opposite is true on many other Seattle streets where parking is next to the curb and bike lanes are sandwiched between parked cars and traffic lanes.

When installing the Dexter Ave bike lane, the City did not place plastic posts between the bike lane and the parking lane. This makes it very unclear as to where the bike lane is, which has led to some clashes between cyclists and drivers. It has also led to unnecessary delay for bicyclists (I personally stopped and told four drivers that they were parked in the bike lane on Sunday afternoon).

7th Ave
7th Ave protected bike lane (First Hill) with plastic posts.

Even though the City has installed signs telling drivers where to park, the signs are quite small. Add to the fact that the bike lane is essentially the same width of the parking lane and has small bike lane markings (see photo above), it naturally makes it hard to discern from any other parking lane. Drivers shouldn’t always be blamed for their mistakes due to this unclear signage and redesign of the right-of-way. The Seattle Police Department has said that they will insist more on enforcing the rules of the road, but most people in this case do not actually think that they are doing something wrong. Fixing the design of the bike lane and street will help to ensure that most people park in the correct place.

Separating the bike lane from the parking lane with plastic posts (sometimes referred to as “bollards”) will make it clear that people driving are not supposed to cross it and park in the bike lane. This system doesn’t always work out — some people still manage to park in the bike lane on 2nd Ave and Broadway — but putting up plastic posts will keep 99% of parking offenders where they should be, thus making the bike lanes actually protected. It should also be mentioned that the Dexter Ave bike lane is intended to be protected by parked cars, but since the road has such a low parking utilization rate, the lane isn’t adequately protected most of the time. Adding posts would solve this problem as well.

Map of the Week: Go Play Pac-Man Seattle Now

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Pac-Man in Google Maps.
Pac-Man in Google Maps.

Quick! Don’t miss out on another fun Google Maps feature. This year, in honor of April Fools’ Day, Google has created a Pac-Man version of Google Maps. You can chomp your way across any the globe one street at a time. Locally, the Downtown Seattle blocks around Pike Place Market create a very challenging game for even the best of Pac-Man players. Of course, there are some other cool locations to try across the city like the University of Washington campus, Seattle Center, and Woodland Park Zoo. Happy April Fools’ Day!

King County Metro Launches Broad Planning Effort

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On Tuesday night King County Metro kicked off public outreach for a Long Range Plan that will outline the future of public transportation in the Seattle region. It’s the next in a series of past plans that guide the agency’s provision of services, this one prompted by the region’s rapid growth and recent funding debacles. Last night’s event at the Seattle Central Public Library started with a brief workshop and moved to a panel discussion of notable figures in the transit world. Their remarks offered direction for Metro’s efforts in equity, technology, and community.

The first half hour of the event consisted of six breakout groups on broad topics that Metro will address in the Long Range Plan. It was a small room for the huge, diverse crowd, but once everyone settled in there were some lively discussions. Staff facilitated conversations on transit funding, integration with other transportation systems, working with businesses, and other themes. People from all walks of life were concerned with ideas as varied as late night service to off-board fare payments.

The participants moved to the auditorium and King County Executive Dow Constantine gave some opening remarks, saying he was excited about the process and the enthusiasm of local residents about transit systems; he said he often reads Seattle Transit Blog. He noted 90 percent of King County Metro riders have a car, and with Seattle ranking fifth for congestion nationwide it is imperative that the transit system continues to be robust enough for people to leave the car at home for all kinds of trips.

Three guest panelists weighed in on the direction of transit planning the Seattle area. Mark Hallenbeck from the University of Washington’s transportation research center works with the state on multimodal performance measures. Rebecca Saldaña is the executive director at Puget Sound Sage, a research and advocacy organization working on affordable housing, worker’s rights, a clean environment, and racial equity. Jarrett Walker is an international consultant in public transit network design and author of Human Transit, a book on enriching communities through transportation.

Saldaña started by asking who the agency is planning for. Growth management, climate change mitigation, and the region’s quality of life are all driving factors for good transit, but many groups are underserved. Youth, seniors, the disabled, the poor, and immigrants especially face barriers, both physical and economic, and often live in “transit deserts”. At some point, she said, there can actually be too much outreach and transit planners need to simply serve these populations better.

Walker pointed out, though, that because of funding constraints there will always be a balance between high ridership and access for all. Suburban land use geometries are inefficient to serve with transit, and in many areas its too late to change the shape of past development. However Walker said if the community values equitable access to transit, serving those low density and affordable places is possible. Hallenbeck’s opening statement was similar, emphasizing that suburbanites are not evil because they drive. They simply have no other practical choice because of how far they live from work, school, and shopping. This can be true even in cities like Seattle with its many single family neighborhoods.

Walker offered a concise definition of what makes high capacity transit successful, which will be familiar to urbanists: if a community values all day frequent service, which guarantees lots of riders, the city needs to be dense and walkable, and the transit lines need to be linear. The last point is important because people like to have a clear sense of direction. He shared freedom maps of how far a person could travel by transit and foot in 15, 30, and 45 minutes; there is a vast difference based simply on the starting location. When asked about employment, he said businesses have a choice between cheap real estate and the ability of their workers to arrive by transit.

The six workshop facilitators then asked the panel summary questions from the participants they interacted with earlier: How can the ORCA card serve as an equalizer? How can Metro better integrate with emerging modes like light rail, car share, and bike share? What have other agencies done to secure sustainable funding?

Bus Only Lane
Investments like bus-only lanes and traffic signal priority could also help make service more reliable for all riders. Photo by the author.

The panelists cautioned relying too much on technology to  solve systemic challenges. While electronic cards can adapt to any type of fare structure, such as the new low-income ORCA LIFT, they don’t work for those who  have to watch every dollar they spend. They do help increase reliability, though, by speeding up bus boardings; distributing cards at places like schools and community colleges could help increase their adoption. Emerging technological solutions, like those developed at Hack the Commute, could also play into the Long Range Plan.

Without humor, Walker said many rail transit agencies plan their lines and stations and then leave the rest to the “little bus people” to figure out how to connect to them. Fortunately, Metro and Sound Transit have committed to cooperation as light rail expands throughout the region. The U-Link Connections effort is a timely example of this. Getting cities to increase zoned capacity around stations is probably the single most reliable way to get people to use transit. Walking and bicycling connections, along with the wayfinding, lighting, bike storage, and other amenities, are also critical.

As for funding, Walker highlighted the example of the Mass Transit Railway Corporation in Hong Kong; it earns a hefty profit by renting out commercial properties it owns near subway stations. He poked at the Washington state legislature for limiting local funding options, but for now Metro’s funding crisis has been placated with tax dollars approved by Seattle residents.

Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond wrapped up by asking some other key questions that will help shape the Long Range Plan moving forward. In addition to equity and interagency partnerships, how can Metro use technology to decrease its carbon footprint? What is the role of transit in creating livable communities, especially as the region braces for hundreds of thousands of new residents and jobs over the coming decades? He agreed with Walker in that transit is an enabler of freedom of movement and economic mobility, but there will always be tradeoffs between convenience and geographic service.

You can get involved by checking out Metro’s website, taking a survey, sending in comments, or applying for a position on an advisory board. This space will be updated with news on the plan as it develops.

This article is a cross-post from The Northwest Urbanist, the personal blog of Scott Bonjukian. He is a graduate student at the University of Washington’s Department of Urban Design and Planning.

Othello, Kindness In Dark Places

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Rainier and Othello is not an inviting place. You know the landscape: one and two story buildings, mostly residential, with buckling and otherwise eroded and collapsing sidewalks. There’s the auto parts store, with the owner standing just inside the doorway with his hands on his hips, shaking his head from who knows how many robberies; the Western Union exchange across the way; a Mexican restaurant on the southeast block, seemingly closed more often than open. Iron bars cover the windows of all these establishments and the homes behind them.

Then we have the famous Valero Gas Station (yes, capitalization is necessary), dominating the landscape on the southwest corner. In the same way the Morrison Hotel downtown isn’t the Morrison without an ambulance parked out front, so too is the Valero Gas Station not the Valero without a crowd of guys and gals loitering in, on and around. There are men who more or less live here, dealing, fighting, drinking, and shooting their way through life in a manner far riskier than necessary. Tricked-out classic Oldsmobiles and American muscle cars roar into the lot, throaty and gleaming and oversized, trading people or goods with dilapidated Camrys and unwashed, decade-old Lexuses. Occasionally the folks residing will get on the bus, but generally most don’t, preferring to finish their beer or light another joint, wait for a delivery, or continue a conversation or argument. The fluorescents of the gas station behind only dimly illuminate them as silhouettes in the darkened bus shelter, looming and receding in size, expansive figures in puffy jackets and sagging jeans, shuffling amongst a patina of litter their own in the making.

There are also regular working-class folk who use this stop to go home, and they leave the zone quickly, keeping their head down and walking in a path determined, away from this mass of unpredictability. There’s a regular lady who asks to be let off thirty feet past the bus stop, and that short distance can be the difference between life and something ugly. These are places where a little bit of help can be significant.

Leroy was on the bus one evening, out for a ride, just to talk. A thought occurred to me as we pulled up to the great Valero.
“Hey, you wanna know something kinda crazy?”
“Wha’s that?”
“So you see this bus stop right here, how it always looks really, super sketch.”
“It looks fuckin’ terrible.”
“Yeah, every time we come through here,”
“It looks fuckin’ awful.”
“It reminds me of being in South Central.”
“I know, it’s like Philly.”
“It looks like a disaster.”
“Yeah.”
“And I used to drive up to that stop feelin’ kinda apprehensive, a little bit nervous, you know?”
“Oh yeah!”
“But, the crazy thing is, and I just realized this recently. So I’ve been driving number 7 through here since 2009. But check this out. The crazy thing is, man, in all that time, I’ve never once had a single problem at this intersection.”
“You serious?”
“Yeah, can you believe that? Look at this place. The whole time, every time I’ve ever rolled through here, never had a single problem with any of these dudes. It always, everything always just works out. They get on, I say hey. Can you believe that?”
“Uh. No!”
“I know, it’s amazing!”
“Wow! Damn. Well, that’s cool!”
“So, yeah. Go figure!”

I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how powerful kindness is. In a phrase or evanescent gesture you send so many messages– esteem, consideration, tolerance, appreciation, and the egalitarian, loving belief that we both have a place here, despite our significant differences… I’ve heard tell of some of the things that happen at this intersection, and seen their aftermath.

But somehow, this 7 has so far averted the disasters here. I greet them all as if they’re friends of mine, and since I’ve been part of the neighborhood for so long, many of us really are friends, and they jump on happy to see me. The folks treat me as they are treated, and as the days turn to years we accumulate our mutual good works, dignity seeping through the cracks as grains of sand, something besides weeds buckling through that asphalt, our well-wishes and roundhouse waves building to a new kind of normal.

Editor’s Note: The last paragraph and title of this article have been changed to better reflect the meaning of the article and avoid misinterpretation. To see the concerns expressed please read the comments.

The Contradiction and Broken Logic of Parking

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Garage-less Capitol Hill mansion, courtesy of Google Streetview.
Garage-less Capitol Hill mansion, courtesy of Google Streetview.

Seattle is in the midst of a massive change toward a dense, car-free city, but this cultural shift hasn’t come without some pinches in the form of high parking demand. The demand has struck a chord with many incumbent residents who resent the perceived challenges that it can pose on their daily lives. Whenever a new project is proposed, the first thing on the minds of many is parking. You’ll hear the residents’ constant refrain: “Will this new mixed-use building have ‘adequate’ parking?” More often than not, the answer isn’t to their liking.

It wasn’t always like this. In its bygone eras, Seattle was a city of people walking, biking, and taking transit (much like it is today!), where homes, businesses, and apartments were built without any parking. Take a walk down almost any Capitol Hill street and you will see even the most prestigious of manor houses without a parking garage in sight. Even after the mass proliferation of the car, people got by with placing their cars on the street in front of their residence or place of business. But somewhere in time, this understanding of the new urban environment broke down. Suddenly, parking was a necessity for any new development.

The Contradiction

Though they rile against it in new developments, residents rarely complain about the complete lack of onsite parking in older business districts like that of Phinney Ridge. Locals are fine with people parking on Phinney Ave and the surrounding streets; they expect it. There’s a common understanding that many people patronizing these districts are from the area, which means that the person parking nearby is just your neighbor (you can’t be mad at your neighbor!) Chances are that plenty more residents will simply come by foot or bike.

Limited on-street parking for Phinney Ridge, courtesy of Google Streetview.
Limited on-street parking for Phinney Ridge, courtesy of Google Streetview.

You also never hear single-family residents come out against other single-family neighbors. Tens of thousands of residences in Seattle have absolutely no off-street parking spaces. Tens of thousands more merely have a single-car garage–often an eternal resting place for that once-used kayak and table saw. Yet storage of the vehicles has to go someplace, and that’s always the street.

It’s conceivable that a “normal” family of four (two parents and two high school-aged children) in Seattle could have four cars, each taking up to 20 feet of linear on-street space. Add in the occasional guest, and you’re talking about a “need” for 100 feet of linear on-street parking space per residence. Of course, with the average single-family lot frontage ranging between 50 and 75 feet, there’s no way that any block could meet that kind of demand. That’s why some residents have taken to constructing their own garages or coming up with creative ways to manage their parking needs. Often, this simply means going “car-lite”: accommodating one’s life to the prevailing market conditions of scarce parking.

It’s also conceivable that a family chooses to not own a car. In Seattle, there are plenty of properties that could meet their desire to live car-free whether in older apartments or single-family homes. Their neighbors wouldn’t begrudge them for that. More than likely, they would applaud them! Not because being car-free is cool, but simply because it means less competition for on-street parking.

The Broken Logic

For all of the complaints about lack of parking in new developments, there are many good reasons to restrict parking as much as possible. For one, parking increases the cost of units and lease space dramatically. In structured facilities like that of mixed-use buildings, it can come at a premium of over $60,000 per parking stall. That ultimately gets passed onto future residents and tenants. It also reduces the amount of space that could be allocated to a variety of uses on the same site. But more fundamentally, it directly induces people to be car-oriented. When people are encouraged to own or use a car, they will almost always do so. This, by extension, puts pressure in other locales to absorb the increased demand for parking–usually on-street–and congesting roads; it doesn’t reduce it. This is a losing outcome for incumbent residents who are so impassioned to get the cars off of the street.

Historic Capitol Hill apartment with no parking, courtesy of Google Streetview.
Historic Capitol Hill apartment with no parking, courtesy of Google Streetview.

Of course, it can’t be understated that incumbent residents see a place as they bought it. When residents move in, they assume a place will likely be the same twenty years from thence. Change is a scary thing because it comes with unknowns. And, looking solely through lens of their own values and lifestyle, it can be hard for them to conceive the bigger picture and how others likely won’t make the same choices as them. In that sense, it is understandable that residents would be very concerned about new developments with low or no parking ratios. But even that seems like an overly generous assessment.

Ultimately, there appears to be a broken logic that incumbent residents have yet to rectify. They consistently come out to public meetings and say that any new development has to have ample parking. Yet, old development (including their own) can continue without any intervention or requirement for off-street parking. From a reasoned standpoint, that seems neither fair nor consistent.

Sunday Video: Accessory Dwelling Units

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Accessory Dwelling Units – Take the First Step by Oregon DEQ on Vimeo.

Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality gives a short explanation of what accessory dwelling units are, how people are using them across the state, and how these homes provide a huge benefit for all.

What We’re Reading: New First Hill Streetcar

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New First Hill Streetcar, courtesy of Atomic Taco.

Get addicted: Forget SimCity, meet the new Cities: Skylines, a new planning simulator that waste your life away!

Let us build rail: Electeds all across the region showed up to the House Transportation Committee’s public hearing on the transportation package, and it was unanimous: give us authority for transit completely.

Map of the Week: The United Kingdom rediscovers their first-ever national geologic map, and it’s a beauty.

Give us affordability: Seattle Mayor Ed Murray wants to construct 50,000 new units over the next decade, 20,000 of which would be affordable to those at or below 80% of area median income.

23rd and Union, and Madison: A new project could be on the way for the northwest corner of 23rd Ave and E Union St, filling in a big gap on block. Meanwhile, 23rd Ave and E Madison St sees the “missing tooth” project move forward to recommendation.

Please be alert: A woman using her walker in Downtown Seattle was hit by a person driving a pickup truck, she died from the injuries.

Great plan for Spokane: The Spokane region is soon to vote on a big transit package, which has some great features of it. The Seattle Transit Blog takes a look at a smart way to serve the eastern areas of the region with a connected and frequent network.

Digging in: Denmark wants to dig an 11-mile tunnel to save most Denmarkers and Scandinavians a 100-mile detour around the Jutland Peninsula. This could be a big game changer for Europe as it brings places closer from a transportation standpoint.

Two takes on the linkage fee: Seattle is slated to adopt a linkage fee for affordable housing in the next year. One group says that we should absolutely adopt it for equity while Erica C. Barnett suggests that it may not matter all that much given market changes.

Time to rebalance: Conventional suburbs and exurbs are costing America its future at a rate of $1 trillion per year.

Equals: 6 places where people biking, walking, and driving are all treated like equals. Guess what? Seattle makes the list!

Suck-Pit List: We may not be the rainiest city in the US, but we top the misery index. Well done, Seattle!

Exclusive right-of-way: Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic suggests that Seattle could lead the way on investing in streetcars for other US cities. Seattle plans to deploy exclusive right-of-way for streetcars to increase reliability and speed, starting with the South Lake Union line.

Promoting active transportation: Boston Bikes director, Nicole Freedman, is getting a new job here in Seattle; she’ll be the City’s Active Transportation Program manager.

Making way for the new: Piecora’s on Madison Street is gone, but Equity Residential is planning to build a new 6-story mixed-use building on the grounds of the old pizzeria.

Testing the rails: Mayor Murray hit the streets of Seattle to test out the new First Hill Streetcar. These trains are gonna be colorful!

Apple watch: Transit App comes out with version of app for Apple Watch.

Single family lotsOld Urbanist surveys a broad range of single-family development throughout the eras and by lot size to talk about their patterns.

NYC’s 7 line extension: The subway line may be fairly delayed, but at least the photos are pretty! Take a tour of the future stations.

Test gridlock: A handy interactive visualization of how gridlock works.

Inequality in housing: A take on the cause of inequality in the housing market.

Shoreline Rezones 185th Street, But Holds Off On 145th Street

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185th Street Station Subarea Rezone Final
Adopted zoning for the 185th Street Station Subarea.

Last week, the Shoreline City Council met to approve a rezone in the area surrounding the future 185th Street Station, a light rail station on Sound Transit’s Lynnwood Link alignment. Previously, the City of Shoreline had explored an areawide rezone ranging in mixed-use zoning from 3 to 8 stories as well as a few commercial zones. However, the Planning Commission recommended a phased approach to zoning changes. The City Council agreed with a less aggressive rezoning effort and supported three phases of zoning changes beginning with the area closest to the future light rail station.

The Council took a different course of action from what we reported on a few weeks ago. The Council reduced the maximum zoning explored, adopted different zoning designations in some areas, and removed a few areas entirely from any current and future rezones. For instance, in the core area closest to the future light rail station, the maximum zoned height was reduced from 85 feet to 70 feet (8 and 7 stories, respectively). And while this means theoretical reduced building capacity and height, it may be a wash given that woodframe construction usually is cost prohibitive above 6 or 7 stories. Meanwhile, a block of properties located north of N 185th St between Stone Ave N and Ashworth Ave N saw a zoning boost from the previously proposed TC zoning to MUR-45.

Two subdivisions north of Cromwell Park were eliminated under the rezone. These parcels of land were intended to be rezoned from R-6 to MUR-35. Other blocks west of Meridian Ave N and situated between N 184th St and N 183rd St were also excluded from the rezone. These properties were likewise planned to be rezoned from R-6 to MUR-35. And, properties lying a block north of N 185th St and west of Meridian Ave N were eliminated from future rezones. Again, these properties were planned to be rezoned from R-6 to MUR-35.

Previous alternative for the 185th Street Station Subarea rezone.
Previous alternative for the 185th Street Station Subarea rezone.

The phasing of rezones also saw a variety of changes from the preferred alternative previously analyzed by the Council and City staff. While most of the areas to be rezoned have occurred under the Phase 1 rezoning by the Council’s actions, two subsequent phases will further unlock areas north and south of the core station area for rezoning between 2021 and 2033.

In addition to the 185th Street Station Subarea rezone, the Shoreline City Council took up further discussion this week on a station area rezone centered on 145th Street. This rezone presents the biggest potential for growth of the two subareas, which could accommodate up to 28,326 new residents (in 11,803 dwelling units) and 10,152 new jobs. For comparison, the 185th Street Station Subarea rezone will only accommodate up to 5,399 new residents (in 2,190 dwelling units) and 928 new jobs.

Councilmembers discussed the alternatives of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the 145th Street Station Subarea, but ultimately felt that they could not endorse a particular option for further study. This was in spite of two fairly complete proposals recommended by City staff and the Planning Commission known as the “Connected Corridors” and “Compact Communities” alternatives. Councilmembers feel that a corridor study for 145th Street should be completed first before progressing to a Final Environmental Impact Statement and final set of preferred zoning alternatives. Ultimately, the 145th Street Station Subarea rezone has been tabled until 2016 at which time the precise timeline and pickup point in the process will be determined.

If you’re interested in seeing the current zoning in effect, including the rezone, Shoreline has provided a handy interactive zoning map.