Saturday, October 20, 2018

Take Another Look


Picture 1


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.
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.

What We’re Reading: Highway to Hell

Seattle Light by Jonathan Cheng on Flickr.

Highway to hell: Long Beach, CA plans to remove the first freeway in southern California. The freeway revolt in Los Angeles that you probably never knew about. The Senate Democrats cave to House Republicans on national transportation funding–we may keep the roads, bridges, and buses going, but the system is still broken.

Design and development: The Seattle City Council wants a new housing affordability strategy. Urban Kchoze argues that building width, not height, is what really matters when designing and constructing buildings; he looks at a number of case studies. Capitol Hill Housing buys up Squire Park, a controversial situation due to the number of affordable units in the building. A developer sues a homeowner for delaying their E 15th St and Madison Way project. The San Francisco Transbay Transit Center is spurring a lot of development that is quite unique. And a cool microhousing project is on the way for Howell and 15th.

All for the bikes: The Fremont Bridge bike counter sets another record, but just barely–and it appears that we’re on the way to top 1 million bicycle rides across the bridge. The Westlake bikeway continues to evolve, and this iteration has some seriously unique features that we’re not so keen on–like a cycletrack in the middle of parking lot drive aisle. Seattle Bike Blog talks helmets and Pronto! Houston is making bike interstates out of its utility networks. And a study suggests that buffers are need between bikes and parked cars if you want to keep cyclists safe.

Maps this week: A proposal to get rid of gerrymandering; not only would the political landscape likely be a lot different, but congressional districts would just make sense–people, not politics. A simple map of DC’s Metrorail shows the walkshed of each station within the District and its immediate suburbs. The new geography of consumer debt, it’s widespread.

Transit talk: The freeway stations along SR-520 are now both open, and Tim Bond gives a report on them for transit riders. Meanwhile, Frank Chiachiere wades into the progressive/regressive tax debate and argues that labeling taxes as such that is really a blurred lines situation. FiveThrityEight rates your transit, how do you rank? And bikeshares help support transit.

The random stuff: Forget Uber or Car2Go, BlaBlaCar is taking over Europe–it’s a unique carsharing venture. Saville is banning outdoor dominoes (and lots of other stuff) because they’re noisy. Former Mayor Paul Schell dies. European cities are trying out different cooperative approaches to getting real estate refurbished and occupied. Big cities that restrict development ultimately hurt the economy.

Metropolitan Park District Passing


Parks DistrictThe first round of results have dropped, and most prominently in tonight’s election returns is the Seattle Metropolitan Park District. Currently, the proposition is passing 52.4%-47.6%. We anticipate that this trend will continue as the remainder of the count is tallied over the coming days. Younger and more progressive, liberal, and urban-inclined voters tend to turn in their ballots later than older and more conservative voters.

Another significant Primary race for Seattle is the challenge from the newcomer Socialist Alternative candidate Jess Spear against incumbent House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-43, Wallingford). Spear presented herself as a young, social welfare-minded candidate in the same vain as City Council Member Kshama Sawant. In a nearly identical redux of Sawant’s campaign before council, Spear attempted to knock Chopp out of the Legislature. At this point, it looks unlikely that Chopp will be seriously challenged in the General Election; he leads nearly 80%-20% in the race.

For elections results within the City of Seattle and King County, be sure to visit the King County Elections results page. Legislative District and Congressional races are best viewed from the Secretary of State’s election page as many district boundaries straddle two or more counties.

East Link: Rainier Station Open House

Rainier Station
The site of the future station, in the middle of I-90 and accessed from 23rd (right) and Rainier (left, a little after where all the signs are).


On Thursday, Sound Transit held an open house about the Rainier Station, a station planned as part of the East Link extension. The station is planned as a center platform station wedged in the median of I-90 between Rainier Ave S. and 23rd Ave S. The station will serve riders in the Central District and Rainier Valley.

Trains will operate to the Eastside and Downtown Seattle with service continuing northward. Those looking for service southbound are better served by bus or changing trains westward at International District Station, although this may be somewhat circuitous to simply heading south to the Mount Baker Transit Center/Mount Baker station.

The station will be a significant improvement over today’s bus-only Rainier Freeway Station. An entrance is added at 23rd Ave S making world-class transit accessible to many more people with elevators and a new access point. The experience for riders will also improve. Currently, riders wait in the middle of a very noisy 10-lane freeway. The new station will have the most efficient sound walls ever conceived.

Vegetation opposite of the tracks and center platform will give a garden-like feel to the station, a cue taken from the extensively-landscaped Mount Baker freeway lid and Mountains-to-Sound trail. Meanwhile, entrances to the station will be very light. The station structures will consist mainly of glass and steel, which provide for excellent vistas of Mount Rainier or Downtown Seattle. There will also be plenty of weather protection.

Light rail riders will have many options for accessing the station. Bike cages will be provided on-site for cyclists. These can be paid for by simply using a preloaded ORCA pass and will be located at both station entrances. Cyclists will have plenty of safe routes thanks to the City of Seattle’s Central Area Greenway projects and similar projects in the south end, in addition to the existing I-90 trail.

King County Metro Transit will continue to provide frequent bus service along 23 Ave S. (Route 48)  and Rainier Ave S. (Routes 7 and 9). Other bus services within the walkshed include Routes 4 and 8. Presumably the arrangement of service will be revised by the time of the station opening, but the point stands that the station will be well served. The good news for riders here is that most of those buses are at high frequencies, so there will be little time penalty when transferring to and from light rail.

Unlike the much more car-oriented Eastside, the station has no need of a Park-and-Ride facility. Although there is the legitimate concern by residents that light rail will bring Hide-and-Ride to the neighborhoods in proximity to the station. Action by the city may be warranted to allay these concerns and actively discourage such rider behavior. One way to achieve this for instance is a Restricted Parking Zone.

There were concerns about the at-grade crossing for riders entering and exiting from Rainier Ave S. The entrance from this end is focused to the northwest of the center platform, which means that riders must cross over tracks to reach the center platform. Meanwhile, plazas at both ends of the station will be able to handle food carts. The spaces are designed so that they might be expanded in the future to accommodate food trucks or even permanent stores. Discussion on these potential facilities were both positive and negative.

Lastly, there was a significant revision for D2 roadway–a roadway located just west of the future station area. This roadway currently serves as the express lanes segment running from Rainier Ave S. to International District Station. The right-of-way was initially slated for use by light rail and an eastbound bus lane. The bus lane was planned as an 11′ wide lane; however, it was ultimately dropped from the project in this iteration. The roadway is now planned for exclusive light rail use, leaving a surplus and unused bridge over Rainier Ave S. and the eastbound flyer stop. It’s unfortunate that Sound Transit plans to keep the unused roadway–unlike its westbound counterpart that will be demolished. Though the East Link project has no budget to demolish the bridge, it should be taken down in the future to allow for more light rail to reach Rainier.

Also, in case you missed the video put out by Sound Transit last week, we’ve got you covered. Take a ride from the International District to Mercer Island and see the future light rail stations along the alignment, including Rainier Station.

Reminder: Vote “FOR” the Seattle Metropolitan Park District


Yes Seattle ParksA few weeks ago, we ran a guest article by Michael Maddux in support of Proposition 1–the measure to fully fund park maintenance and construction through the creation of the Seattle Metropolitan Park District. We stand by his article and strongly endorse a vote “FOR” the creation and funding of this district. Michael wrote that:

It’s a simple question, and a simple “yes” or “no” answer. Seattle Proposition 1 is presented to voters under the predication that yes, in fact, we believe that clean, safe, welcoming parks are a necessity for a growing city. That community centers must be open when they are needed, and receive equitable funding to do the same–not the pay-for-play that we see now. That affordable and relevant programming for youth keeps kids out of trouble, programs for seniors ensure folks can remain active with lifelong recreation, and programs for people with disabilities ensure all residents of our city can participate in making our communities great! The Seattle Park District is a funding mechanism that dedicates revenue to parks in Seattle, with a focus on addressing the major maintenance backlog, putting in place measures to help in avoiding deferred maintenance in the future, and bringing community center hours and programming as close to 2008 levels as possible. By levying a property tax increase of less than 1%, Proposition 1 puts Seattle in a position to engage in long-term planning, while also being able to respond to immediate needs–things that levies, frankly, do not allow.

It’s not too late to get your ballots in to support this pro-urban measure. The election ends at 8pm tonight. Be sure to get your ballot postmarked before the close of your local Post Office or Post Office box–this is likely sooner than 8pm. King County Elections will also have mobile vans and ballot dropoff boxes throughout the county to turn in your ballot as an alternative. And, if for some reason you lost, never received, or made a major error on your ballot, you can get a new ballot in-person. For details, visit the elections information online provided by King County Elections. If you’ve already turned in your ballot, it may be wise to verify if it has been received and/or counted.

Don’t Miss Out on the 43rd Street Block Party


U Distrct Block PartyYou may have heard this thing about a new Link Light Rail subway station in the U District. You might even know that it’s being built at 43rd St and Brooklyn Ave. But you probably don’t know that the U District is getting a Greenway, parklet, and loads of new Pronto! Cycle Share docking stations. On Tuesday, you’ll have an opportunity to see this dynamic block and learn about all the cool new infrastructure, meet business owners and neighbors, and talk about the future of the U District. Here’s what University Greenways has to say about it:

We’re closing the street and opening it right up for people!

Tuesday, Aug 5 from 6-9:30 pm U District Block Party at 43rd and University. Come eat, listen to live music and play games. Learn about light rail, bike share, green streets and more!

Join University Greenways, U District Square and Pronto Cycle Share for a potluck, music, games and a chance to imagine a more walkable, bike-friendly U District.

Join the discussion. Learn about a planned parklet at 43rd and University Way, bike share stations that will open this fall, Seattle’s green street designs for the area, upcoming University Greenways projects and the future light rail station that is under construction right now.

You can RSVP and connect here. Bring your bike, kids, a dish, & a sense of adventure. Or just show up: there are plenty of dining options around, and much fun to be had!

Sunday Video: People-Friendly Buenos Aires


A brief video showing how Buenos Aires is making the city people-friendly.

Thanks Guys




We won’t tell anyone I took it for a test drive.

As I pulled my 358 into the layover at Second and Main, I noticed someone had forgotten their bicycle on the rack. It was definitely on the junker side of things, a red jalopy of a bicycle with peeling tape and a chain rusting into orange. I looked at it for a moment and thought, well, what of it, as I stepped outside and removed the bike from the bus. I had fifteen minutes of break time before the next trip. Hoping the owner had a sense of humor, I decided to spend my break taking it out on a “test drive,” as it were, enjoying the sights and sounds of Pioneer Square while I could.

Of course I’d return the bicycle to the bus and leave it on there for the rest of the day before sending it to Lost and Found, but for now the poor red puppy looked so lonely. I barely fit on the thing, but that’s okay. I tooled through Occidental Park, nodding at a few familiar homeless faces. I drifted over to the viaduct and wandered underneath its steadfast bulk, enjoying the shadows it provided, trying to conceive how the waterfront would look without it.

Somehow I found myself inside Metro Customer Service, still with the bicycle. I can’t imagine why I felt compelled to go in there at that moment. Maybe I needed some timetables. As I walked up the steps to the doorway to exit, carrying the bike over my shoulder, two young black American boys, teenagers, simultaneously approached the door from the outside.

Yes, they were dressed in the stereotype that’s been offered up to them for the last twenty-five years or so– sagging, low-riding jeans and spotless athletic wear, oversized basketball shoes with horizontal laces, reflective shades on one, the other with a flat-billed hat tilted at a rakish angle.

It’s an unfortunate fact that media representations disproportionately link this image with that of the irredeemable urban black “thug” figure, a depiction so tiresomely pervasive we run the risk of forgetting that black culture is so much more just than hip-hop culture. There is nothing inherently oppositional about large sports jerseys and low-slung pants.

The two boys hold the door open for me. I step through, saying, “thanks guys.”
“Fo Sho’.”
“‘Preciate it.”
“No problem!”

I smiled deeply as I walked away.

Note: That’s my good friend Eric in the photo. We worked at Capitol Records in Hollywood together.