Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Tweet of the Week: Small tweak on Second Avenue

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New infrastructure isn’t an exact science. We knew the Second Avenue bike lanes would need changes along the way. Luckily, Seattle has a very responsive department of transportation that keeps delivering on small fixes to Second Avenue. The latest change is to the beginning of the bike lanes. The lane revision keeps left-turning traffic from crossing the one-directional (southbound) bike lane north of Pike Street.

Reject the SHA Rent Hikes

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Yesler Terrace. Credit to SDOT

Since 2011, Republicans in the U.S. House have forced through significant cuts to federal spending with the goal of undermining public services. No program has been immune from these cuts, including public housing. At a time when demand for affordable housing is soaring in cities like Seattle, federal austerity has led to hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to HUD programs. Seattle alone has seen more than $16 million in federal housing cuts since 2011.

This leads cities to make a choice. Find ways to avoid the impact of these cuts, including new revenues, or go along with them and impose their own local austerity policies that make it even harder for residents to find stable, affordable housing.

The Seattle Housing Authority has chosen to embrace austerity. SHA’s new “Stepping Forward” plan would raise rents on current tenants by as much as 400% over five years. The justification, according to SHA head Andrew Lofton, is that it would encourage tenants to get better jobs and make room for new tenants who need affordable housing.

That’s the same argument made by those on the right — and one that flies in the face of lived reality. Although federal austerity will likely be temporary, Lofton’s proposal makes permanent changes to SHA policies, remaking housing policy in a progressive city like Seattle along fundamentally conservative lines.

Lofton’s plan has generated significant protest this week at public hearings. It’s not hard to see why. Here’s how KIRO TV’s Natasha Chen summarized the plan:

Under the draft proposal, rents would instead be tied to the size of the rental unit. The program also includes enhanced education, training, and employment support.

For example, a family might start out paying $160 a month for a two-bedroom unit. That rent would increase to $360 a month the following two years, then $560 for the fourth and fifth years, then $860 for the sixth year. The agency is still determining if there should be any further increases after that.

“The whole point of this is to help people be successful,” said Andrew Lofton, executive director of the Seattle Housing Authority.

Lofton said he believes most people will be successful in getting higher-earning jobs and won’t need assistance anymore. That will make room for more families to receive housing.

This proposal is intended to conform with the federal government’s Moving to Work program, part of the failed 1996 “welfare reform” plan. “Moving to Work” attempts to force public housing to adopt policies that push renters out if they can’t find a job.

It has become clear that “welfare reform” policies like that adopted by a right-wing Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 have merely increased poverty across America in the nearly two decades they have been in operation. It’s the same logic used by the right-wing government currently in power in Britain, where a variety of public assistance programs are being curtailed on the theory that doing so forces people to find better jobs. There, as in the USA, the result is greater poverty.

East Link Open House: Bel-Red (130th Street) Station Final Design

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130th Station
130th St Station, as seen from the northwest corner. The landscaping between the sidewalk and the station will eventually be replaced by Spring Boulevard. Note the shaded multi-use building in the background.

Last Tuesday, Sound Transit held the final design open house for the Bel-Red segment of the East Link project. East Link is a light rail extension, which when open in 2023, will link Seattle with the Eastside cities of Mercer Island, Bellevue, and Redmond.

The first segment of East Link begins at International District Station and follows the alignment of I-90 from SODO to South Bellevue. Stations in the segment include Rainier Avenue, Mercer Island, and the South Bellevue Park and Ride. The middle segment continues from South Bellevue to Downtown Bellevue via Bellevue Way, 112th Ave NE, and a Downtown Bellevue tunnel. Only East Main Street and the Bellevue Transit Center will be served by this segment. The final segment is the Bel-Red corridor which connects Downtown Bellevue to Overlake in Redmond. Hospital Station, 120th Street Station, 130th Street Station (aka Bel-Red), Overlake Village, and Overlake Transit Center will be served by this segment.

Construction on the project is slated to begin next year. Sound Transit is in the process of developing the final designs for stations and right-of-way alignment. Bel-Red was the first of all stations to have reached 90% design completion. South Bellevue, East Main, and Downtown Bellevue are next up to complete this milestone.

The design for 120th Street Station, in the heart of the new Spring District neighborhood, has been put on hold while Sound Transit searches for a contractor. The open house focused on the 130th Street Station and the track around it.

130th Station art

Image: Art rendering of the platform railings and wave shadows.

A highlight from the open house were plans for station art. Patrick Marold, an artist from Denver, has been hired to develop art for the 130th Street Station. His pieces will consist of an offset in the station railing, which cast a shadow onto the platform. These offsets will change for every railing due to the height and sunlight position to create waves on the platform. Another interesting art feature will be located at the 130th Street and 132nd Street light rail crossings. Intersection pavement will be either painted black or red, as defined in the Bel-Red urban design criteria.

The station will be lighted with indirect lighting to prevent shadows and darker spots, similar to the Metrorail subway stations in DC. The hope is that lighting will discourage anti-social behavior. Station naming was also discussed. The top two station names from previous open houses were “Bel-Red” and “130th Street”. A decision has yet to be made, but it will be determined in the following months.

130 bike cage

Image: View of the bike facilities at the east end of the station.

130th Street Station is set to be both a commuter station and a catalyst for development. To supplement this, bike parking, a kiss-and-ride, and park-and-ride parking stalls will be provided. 300 stalls for surfacing parking will be constructed, which could be converted to mixed-use development at a later date. Three types of bike parking will be provided, including racks, lockers, and a pass-accessed cage. The station is also set to be home to major mixed-use development, much in the same way as the Spring District just to the west. Located in the median of the future Spring Boulevard, the station will only be bordered by the park-and-ride on the north side, leaving the south side for development.

The City of Bellevue has already rezoned the area surrounding the 130th Street Station for denser development, which includes density minimum regulations. (A feat for Bellevue planning given the city council’s politics.) Bellevue has a vision to transform Bel-Red from a light industrial neighborhood to a dynamic, dense, and liveable neighbohood. Light rail will be key to the new neighborhood, but a number of new streets will supplement this. These will be constructed over the next few years to restore the grid block-by-block. Blocks will be people-oriented blocks as opposed to the superblocks found in Downtown Bellevue.

Many of the streets will feature multi-use paths and buffered bike lanes (much like on Seattle’s Dexter Avenue) on Spring Boulevard from the 130th Street Station to Northup Way/NE 20th. Bellevue is also exploring the possibility of separating bike lanes from automobile traffic by using plastic bollards or a similar treatment. However, the City staff do have concerns about how such devices could interfere with street sweeping. Staff said that they would look into how this could be remedied by working with Seattle, which uses similar devices.

Bel-Red

Image: Bel-Red grid repair plan. 130th St Station is the “T” at the farthest right along the light rail line.

130th Street NE north of the station will be turned into a neighborhood commercial street with on-street parking, a rare design for Bellevue streets (exceptions being blocks of Main Street west of Bellevue Way). Most of the streets around the 130th Station will be bidirectional with one lane each way, a design that limits speeding and the use of those streets as arterials. For the neighborhood, this is a great way to keep the streets safe and comfortable for pedestrians and cyclists alike while inviting people patronize and enjoy the area.

Fortitude

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I see her brighten the bus stop as I pull up. Third and Union southbound, some time before midnight. Hers is a smile which renders her ageless; you see the girl she used to be, echoes of a happier time. She’s thirty-five and thin, ready to go home now, her rich black hair tied in a workaday ponytail, unbrushed for now.

I’ve seen her a few times previous. Why does she smile so when she sees it’s me driving? Perhaps she feels safer on my 7, or maybe she just enjoys the warm vibes. I greet everyone with enthusiasm. I get excited when we’re full up and late on the 7 at night. There are times when I feel myself bubbling over, thrilled beyond measure to be here, can’t hide it, thrilled to be in the vortex, Metro’s busiest route, the throbbing heart of this great city, maybe even– dare I say it? Changing the atmosphere just by being myself, reaching out to all these lives as though they were friends–because of course, they are. This euphoric bliss happens delicately, seemingly without my trying, and I feel lucky to touch it when it’s here.

Tonight I gab with various folks. Just passing the time. Here’s a Jack-in-the-Box employee and I, discussing the value of being a people person at our respective jobs. Tonight he’s looking for a payphone, and we wonder where any are. Another man extols the virtues of his bicycle’s disc brakes after I ask. Disc brakes on a bike seem luxurious to me. They’re great going down McClellan hill, apparently.

Eventually she steps up to the front. At first I think she’s getting off at an earlier stop tonight, but no, she just wants to talk. She’s happy to try, despite the trouble of speaking the new language. I feel honored that she feels comfortable enough to do so. Would you do the same in her place? It’s no easy feat, making small talk in a language and country that isn’t your own, but sometimes the feeling of connection is worth it.

“Are you just getting off work?” Yes, she is. An Indian accent. “You work late,” I marvel, noting the clock. 11:41. “Do you like it?”

She waxes and wanes in response, smiling, agreeing with my hand gesture of “more or less.”
“A job is a job,” she says finally.
“It’s true, a job is a job. A good thing to have.”

She explains that back home, people did laundry for her. Servants took care of stuff like that. Now, not only does she do her own laundry, she does everyone else’s, for work. Completely different world. She cried at first, disillusioned, feeling lied to by the great Dream, disappointed and alone on a crushingly fundamental level. They moved halfway around the globe and here she is now, mopping floors, working part time here and there, long and late hours, menial labor seven thousand miles from home. Working the dry-cleaning machine, struggling to keep her tears to herself.

She’s been here three years and has lived that entire time on Rainier Avenue. What a notion of America she must have, so specific to her experience. How little those around her know of her past. Take a second look at the gas-station attendants, the gardeners and cooks around you. Some of them used to be dignitaries, scientists, and more before they came over. A good bus driver friend of mine was once Assistant Vice President at the University of Tehran. His passengers get on without a clue.

I think it was Gombrich who said, an accent is a badge of honor. It means that person, or their family, possessed the unthinkable courage to completely restart their lives from scratch, with no safety net, in a place they don’t know and often are not welcome in. That is fortitude.

Is she a stronger person now, though, than she was before, moving beyond all those years of soft living? I think so. The expanded perspective, the seeds for empathy, the learned skill of appreciation…. Out loud I say, “well, it makes your character stronger. You know?”
She gets it. “Yes, it’s true.”
“And you are always so happy, smiling. Every time.” She beams anew in the darkness. “As long as you can be happy, people can be happy, that is very impressive to me. Anyone really, who can be happy in this life,”
She affirms the sentiment, and I continue, “I love driving the bus! Helping all the people, talking to people….”
Now she’s laughing, in surprise, delight, in newfound freedom. You can make the most out of anything.

“Where you are from?” she asks. It’s normally a question I don’t care for, but I know what she means.
“Korean.”
She’s happy at the response, excited at the commonality of displacement. She asks for a night stop, thirty feet closer to her apartment, and thirty feet away from the drugged-out thugged-out ghettotastic reunion that’s forever taking place in the bus shelter,  over there by the gas station, the omnipresent hustle bubbling on just this side of violence. Those thirty feet make all the difference. Thanking me, she dashes off into the shadows. She had her keys ready.

 

Read more at www.nathanvass.com.

Sunday Video: All-in-One Integration

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We are huge fans to dynamic transportation options and the new RideScout is a pretty useful tool. Wanna know how? Check out the video.

What We’re Reading: Creative Urbanism

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Parking Day Girls on the Run

Creative urbanism: Yesterday was PARK(ing) Day and Seattle Bike Blog took us on a little tour of the cool parklets. A free Scotland may have failed, but folks took to chalk graffiti to show their support! Lisbon’s got a dancing crosswalk light. The Washington Post reimagines the Union Station area of DC. A gondola idea has been making the rounds for New York City, but Second Avenue Sagas pretty much sums up that this is stupid idea, because you know, it’ll only carry three subway trains worth of passengers per hour (can we have that problem?!).

What you should knowMillennials love transit the most, cuz duh. The new Amtrak bill may not be all that bad; in fact, there are some reasons to cheer. The politics of America are pretty stark between renters and homeowners. What you should know about “road diets”. The future of supermarkets might be no packaging for food. Cap’n Transit talks rent control and why it’s not so good.

San Fran: Uber has decimated the taxis industry in San Francisco to the tune of 65% loss in taxi ridership. The future of BART trains and a refurbished system looks pretty slick. A trial of red-painted bus lanes turns out to help buses flow freely and keep cars out. And, the city is slated to get the first café made just for cats

The environmental front: Strategic reforestation could be a solution to fight pollution and ozone depletion. The EPA puts the kibosh on funding New York’s greenwashing of its CO2-oriented Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project.

Stark contrast in Seattle developments: The Rainier Valley continues to suffer with overparked projects and lack of good design. Meanwhile, a Capitol Hill developer has a pretty sympathetic neighborhood-oriented design for their project.

City Hall issues: The Mayor supports the expansion of car sharing in Seattle, and thinks that SDOT should be the decider for permitting, not the Council. A fight is brewing between progressives over the pre-kindergarten measures. John Fox continues his development hypocrisy by demanding no new growth, but saying that he wants impact fees that comes with it. The Council has a big idea on Linkage Fees and Publicola has all the details.

Transpo local: Metro’s financial outlook improved, a little. So cuts are slightly less than originally planned. The good news is that we still have Prop 1 to save and add service. Bertha tops the highway boondoggle list. It appears that the First Hill Streetcar will be ready for service in November, maybe. Beacon Hill is getting some much needed street rechannelizations that will benefit bikes and peds. Seattlish takes Danny Westneat’s car-free trolling article to task.

A trio of maps: An interactive map of languages spoken in Orange County zipcodes. Map the housing inequality due to the Great Recession. You might be a bit surprised where all of America’s geniuses are living. What DC might look like if it became a state.

It’s Called Madness

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I’m riding the bus home tonight, racking my brain for particulars. He had a helmet, I’m thinking. It’s just after 1am, and I’m sitting forward on the last bus to my house. Today was the Torchlight Parade, and a detail from the night of madness is nagging at me. Finally I decide to go up and talk to the driver– to distract myself, to get another opinion, anything. Nice guy, this fellow. Younger, late thirties, with a family; he just got back from traveling to Yellowstone. I see him every Saturday night.

“How was your day today?”
“Oh, hey. It was surprisingly easy,” he responds, despite the intensity of the crowds. He describes some technicalities of timing and direction that led to his shift being an unexpected cakewalk. I chat briefly about the general quality of my own day– incredibly hectic but incredibly enjoyable– before getting down to brass tacks.

“Hey, so something happened on my last trip that I’m confused about.”
“Okay, yeah.” He leans in, curious.
“So I was doing the 7, southbound, and halfway through the route a guy gets on with a bike. A Latino-looking guy, maybe Hispanic.”
“Okay.”
“When I get to the end, he forgets his bike, because nobody’s on the bus, and the bike is still there. So on my way back into town, I look for him, thinking he’ll be out there waiting to get his bike back.”
“Yeah.”

“But there’s another 7 right behind me, and we start skip-stopping. Nobody gets on my bus asking about the bike, so I start to think he must be on the 7 behind me. Musta been on one of the stops I skipped. But my 7 only goes to Fifth and Jackson. The 7 behind me goes all the way through downtown and out to the U District.”
“Uh huh okay,”
“So I’m thinking about this bike, and this guy, and at Fifth and Jackson I tell everyone, this is our last stop but there’s another 7 coming five minutes behind me, and he’ll go all the way through downtown. I tell them this, and I tell them, I’m actually going to wait for this next 7 with you guys because I want to talk to the driver about something. And I mention, I want to talk to him something about this bicycle, find out who’s bike this is. And as soon as I say that, a guy on my bus says, that’s my bike!”
“Ooohhh!”
“And I say, what? And he says, yeah, that’s my bike, right there, and I’m like, I really think this bike belongs to someone else. This skinny Hispanic guy from earlier, I remember him. But this guy, this heavyset black guy who looks completely different, he’s saying this is my bike!”
“Oh no!”
“Yeah. And he’s saying, I would swear on my sister’s grave, and he starts telling me all this stuff about the bike that turns out to be true, it has no front brakes, the back brakes are bad–”
“No way!”

“-And the thing is, he’s wearing a helmet! He even has a bike lock in his pocket. He takes it out and shows it to me. And I’m thinking, am I crazy? Am I completely crazy? He’s going to the next 7, and I tell him, I think the guy who owns this bike, that guy is going to be on that 7, but he’s like, doesn’t matter, this is my bike, I can’t believe you thought this belonged to some Spanish guy.”
“Did you tell him the bike had been on your bus for an earlier trip already?”
“Yeah, he said he fell asleep, and he was glad to get the bike back, but he didn’t say anything about it when he got on! I don’t get it. I was a hundred percent sure it was the Latino guy until he started talking. I looked at him for a long time and finally I said okay, ’cause what can I do, and we shook hands. I mean, he had a helmet, so he must be, why else would anyone wear a helmet, and he totally walked over to the 7 bus stop for the next 7 to downtown.”
“And the other guy was probably gonna be on it!”
“Definitely, if that was his bicycle!”
“I would have loved to been on that bus!”
“Exactly, either they would be fighting or… I wish I could get on that thing right now just to find out. I’ve been sitting here the past fifteen minutes, trying to figure it out in my head. I think I’m going crazy. All I know is I’m never telling anyone there’s a missing bike ever again!”

“Well, a something similar involving a bike happened to me recently.”
“Okay,” I said.
“I was driving the 71, by Virginia, also very late at night, and there’s only a few people on the bus. There’s a bike on the bus. A guy gets off and I’m positive it’s the guy who put the bike on. But he starts walking the other way, outside toward the back of the bus. I honk the horn a little but he keeps going. And I see him cross the street behind the bus. So I lean out the window and yell, dude! You forgot your bike! You know? And he can’t really hear me so he starts walking closer, and I tell him again, your bike, don’t forget your bike. And he says oh, that’s not my bike. And he leaves. Then I turn to the inside of the bus and say to everyone, who is the owner of this bike? Does this bike belong to any of you guys? And they all said no! It was none of theirs either! Nobody took the bike!”

Welcome to the Twilight Zone, was all we could come up with. That or we’re both nuts. As he spoke a shooting star streaked across the clear night sky. Now that had to be real– both of us saw it! We marveled at its brilliance. Oh, the things that happen in the middle of the night!

It’s PARK(ing) Day in Seattle, come join us Downtown!

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PARK(ing) Day by SDOT on Flickr.

Come join us for PARK(ing) Day! Our parklet is on the west side of First Avenue between Stewart St and Virginia St (map).You’ll find us there any time between 9am and 3pm today. We plan to have board games, street furniture, and a bike repair station set up right in the heart of Downtown Seattle. And, we hope that you’ll drop by for coffee, games, people watching, and good company.

But don’t join just us. There are plenty of other great parklet spaces to see–50 in fact! SDOT has a great PDF map to help you find locations and a full location list.