Saturday, 25 May, 2019

Spot Fix: NE Campus Parkway

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Brooklyn Ave NE and NE Campus Parkway.
Brooklyn Ave NE and NE Campus Parkway.

Take a walk along Campus Parkway in the University District day or night, and you’ll see a very well traveled street. While light on private car traffic, it’s busy with the constant churning of buses and people walking and biking. The east-west nature of the street lends itself to a lot of vehicle traffic traveling in those directions, but it’s not uncommon for vehicles to turn off on to lesser north-south streets or simply cross the boulevard. More than that, though, foot-powered traffic is incredibly dense in the area, largely due to the convergence of over a dozen bus routes, the proximity to the University of Washington, and the dense residential blocks surrounding the street.

NE Campus Parkway has four intersections lining the street from 12th Ave NE to 15th Ave NE; three of these (12th Ave NE, Brooklyn Ave NE, and University Way NE) could use a small tweak. Traffic lights at these intersections should be switched from multi-phase traffic lights to all-way stop lights.

Candidate stoplight locations for changes, courtesy of Google Maps.
Candidate stoplight locations for changes, courtesy of Google Maps.

The current situation of multi-phase lights is undesirable for all users of the right-of-way. Green lights encourage people driving to rush the intersections so that they make it through before a light goes red. This especially problematic when there are cascading greens along NE Campus Parkway. Naturally, this presents a major danger for anyone crossing the street (legally or not). All-way stop lights along this street would end this behavior by ensuring that drivers stop at each intersection.

All-way stop at Brooklyn Ave NE and NE 41st St.
All-way stop at Brooklyn Ave NE and NE 41st St

Meanwhile, the cycle of each traffic light is actually quite long. For a street with such low vehicle traffic, this can create serious delay for the flow of cross-traffic and through-traffic both on foot and in vehicles. It’s not uncommon for people to wait at crosswalks for a minute or more only to get stuck midblock at a median boulevard. Likewise, regular bus riders on the 49 or 70-series know the delay and excessive dwell times that the light cycles create. All-way traffic lights, like those on surrounding blocks, would improve this situation greatly and improve efficiency for all users of the streets over the current arrangement.

The cost to reprogram the lights would be minimal, requiring little more than a few hours from Seattle traffic engineering crews. But the spot improvement would be a boon to the broader University District community by delivering significant time savings and much safer streets for all.

Bellevue’s New 116th Ave NE Bike Lanes Won’t Serve Any Purpose If They’re Incomplete

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The 116th Ave Project, from the City of Bellevue
Next summer, the City of Bellevue will repave 116th Ave NE from NE 12th St to Northup Way, north of the Overlake hospital. The city is planning to change the current configuration of the street from two northbound lanes, a center turn lane, and a southbound lane to one lane in each direction, a center turn lane, and bike lanes on either side of the street. 116th Ave NE acts as the main corridor connecting Downtown Bellevue and Kirkland, as well as Redmond and the Microsoft campus via the 520 trail.

The City of Bellevue’s effort to install bike facilities on this crucial part of the Eastside’s bike network are commendable, but its plans show the bike lanes ending well before the intersections on both ends of the street. If not expanded along the entire length of the project, the bike lanes will serve very little purpose as the unsafe intersections would keep many from riding on 116th entirely, even if they would feel safe before they reached either intersection. The current plans would not fulfill the city’s vision to make “biking in Bellevue safer and easier”, as defined in its 2009 Pedestrian/Bike Master Plan.

Another flaw in the proposal is the width of each lane. The planned design places 5-foot bike lanes on the outside of the roadway, and three 11-foot lanes in the center: one in each direction plus a center turn lane. However, those extra-wide 11-foot lanes encourage speeding, as opposed to safer 10-foot lanes.

Last Spring, Bellevue endorsed the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide, which recommends 10-foot lanes, stating that “lane widths of 10 feet are appropriate in urban areas and have a positive impact on a street’s safety without impacting traffic operations.” Bellevue should now practice what it endorsed.

What Should Change

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Narrowed lanes and a buffer makes the street better for everyone

If the center lanes were narrowed to 10 feet, the extra three feet can be distributed to an 18-inch painted buffer for each bike lane. This will increase comfort for people biking and bring the speed of drivers closer to the speed limit. It will bring us one step closer to Vision Zero.

At the south end of the project, NE 12th St, the city states that 116th’s two lanes to the south of the intersection must merge after the intersection to keep traffic moving. This, however, is not true. Just 24 blocks to the east and 12 blocks north, the intersection of 140th Ave NE and NE 24th St used to have a similar configuration with similar traffic volumes. In 2013, the City of Bellevue changed the street design so that the merge occurred before the intersection instead of after, which converted the right lane to a right turn lane. The change happened seamlessly and no backups formed. With the traffic being so similar between the two intersections, this change would also be effective at 116th and 12th.
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A better intersection at 12th
With one lane north of the intersection gone, bike lanes could be extended all the way to the intersection, making for a much safer route to the multi-use path on NE 12th St’s bridge across 405.
On the north end, the bike lane ends under a dark underpass with low visibility, so collisions would be likely to happen if a driver noes not see a bike. The bike lane should switch between the right and left turn lanes for Northup Way either before or after the overpass, but certainly not under the overpass. There should be a clearly marked (and green-painted) bike lane under the overpass. The bike lane should also be painted green as it crosses the right turn lane.
Right turns on red lights on 116th southbound to 12th westbound should be forbidden in order to keep the crosswalk clear for bikes crossing the road to get from the path to the bike lanes.
Bike lane crossings at driveways and intersections along the segment should also be painted green in order to raise awareness for both people on bikes and in cars.
Please send Bellevue’s City Council a note to make this happen!
Dear City Council,
Thank you for approving bike lanes on 116th as part of the pavement overlay project, but the incomplete design should be refined in order to make biking safer and more attractive along this stretch of road.
The bike lanes should be expanded to the intersections in order to provide a safer route. The northbound lane merge should be placed before the intersection at 12th, as it was recently done at a similar intersection at 140th and 24th.
Traffic lanes should be narrowed to 10 feet, encouraging drivers to drive at the legal speed limit and providing a safety buffer for people biking in the bike lanes.
With these two simple improvements, 116th could become a much safer place to bike, and would encourage many people to do so, fulfilling the City of Bellevue’s goal as stated in the Ped-Bike Master Plan.
[customize your message here]
[sign your name]
Send this to the Bellevue City Council at council@bellevuewa.gov.

 

Leroy

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Leroy’s on the bus tonight. He rides often. Time passes like nobody’s business when he’s around. Tonight we’re in spirited conversation, gesticulating like a couple of Italians. We pause as the next group of passengers boards.”Hi,” the male half of an incoming couple says. “We’re homeless and don’t have any money and we’re trying to go to Seattle Central College ’cause it’s a good safe place to sleep.”
“Here, I’m gonna give you two transfers, just in case,” I reply without a moment’s pause. “Thank you for being honest.”Ten minutes later. Leroy mentions the couple, now sitting in the back, and how he could feel for them. He’s been there.
“You know what I just realized, or what’s hitting me now?” I say.
“What’s that?”
“For them to ask us for a ride like that, the way they did, took a lot of courage.”
“Yeah, for him to say, ‘can we get a ride to Seattle Central because it’s a good …'”
“‘… good safe place to sleep,'”
“Yeah. Man. That takes some bravery.”
“Especially ’cause you know the number of times they’ve probably been burned by other drivers who’ve said no, or been rude or something.”
“Yeah.”
“That was outstanding. I’m glad it felt good enough in here, I mean I’m glad they felt comfortable enough to ask me.”
“Oh man yeah, I feel for them.”
“I wanna give them food or something. I still have another sandwich.”
“You want me to take it back there?”
“That would be awesome.”
“I’ll give ’em the rest of my chips and queso.”
“Oh, this’ll be great. Tell ’em it’s from us. And tell ’em this peanut butter sandwich is good, I don’t mess around when I make that stuff!”
“Okay!”He returns from the back, saying, “I just told ’em it was all from you.”
“Oh, you didn’t have to do that! It was you too!”
“Aw naw man, I don’t like taking credit for that.”
“Dude, it was you who suggested it, man. Or maybe it was both of us. Anyways, Leroy, you are awesome. You are awesome!” I emphatically pound the steering wheel. He’s smiling into a laugh now. I continue, bent on making my point: “‘Cause your reason for doing stuff like that is not to get a bunch of … you know how after Hurricane Katrina happened, and there’s celebrities goin’ down there to help, except they got a big camera crew following them around,”
“Yeeeeaah,”
“So everyone knows they’re helping? It’s such a bunch,”
“It’s bullshit, man!”
“It is! I mean it’s nice they’re helping, yeah okay, but the whole camera crew being there changes the whole thing. They’re just down there so people will see them down there. And when you be doin’ this stuff without wanting any kinda recognition… oooooh, that warms my heart. Or, so hey, there was this supervisor at the base I ran into recently.”
“Okay.”
“He was taking, he was transporting one of those white supervisor vans up to North Base, but before taking it up there he was gonna wash the van and vacuum out the insides and everything. And here’s the thing, he didn’t have to do any of that. He was just supposed to transport the vehicle up to North Base.”
“Yeah, he didn’t have to do any of that, vacuuming,”
“Yeah, and here he was goin’ out of his way– and the thing is, nobody probably would’ve noticed, no one was gonna know he took the extra time to clean it and everything. They’re not gonna look inside at the floors. He only told me ’cause I asked him what he was doin’. And I thought, that is so awesome. He cares. What is it, conscience is how we behave when no one’s watching?”
“That’s awesome.”
“Yeah it is. So anyways, thanks for bein’ that way. That’s beautiful!”As we arrive at the College the couple came up to the front. I remember a driver telling me once, “when people come all the way up to the front door to leave the bus, you know you’re doin’ something right!”
“Hey, we wanted to thank you for the food,” the man says.
“Oh my goodness, of course.” I dole out a few more phrases– it’s the least I could do, I’m happy to help, et cetera– and stressed how good that sandwich is– but I can’t take all the credit. “It’s thanks in part to this gentleman here.” Pointing to Leroy.
“Thank you,” the man says again.
“I appreciate you guys being honest,” I say.
“It’s hard to find good people around, and you guys are it.”
“Dude, thank you both, for being nice,” I reply. “We are happy to help.”
“Take it from someone who’s been homeless,” Leroy says, shaking their hands.
“Thank you,” they say in return. The short phrase carries multitudes. The three of them stand there for a still second, frozen in understanding and appreciation.

Afterwards, Leroy exclaims, “aw man, why you put it on me like that! ‘This gentleman right here.’ Shit!”
“Oh I got to! Hey man, you gotta take some of the credit! I can’t sit here and say it was all me! You know what’s amazing? They came all the way up here to say thank you.”
“Of course. I told you they was goin’ to!”
“And that guy was smiling, and you know, they probably feel a little bit better about people, about life right now, and it’s because we went out of our way. And that good feeling may last in them for ten minutes, or one minute, or the rest of their lives, and we made that little tiny difference,”
“Little tiny difference,”
“Which is a huge accomplishment. Oh man, that was good.”
“Yeah it was.”

Vancouver Transit Vote

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Editorial influence on issues. Thank you Patrick Johnstone

If you haven’t heard, Vancouver is going to vote on a massive transit funding referendum. The vote is for a 0.5% increase in the sales tax that will raise about $250 million a year. If the measure passes, it would be coupled with federal spending that would result in a $7.5 billion (in Canadian dollars) transit investment. It will be the first non-binding vote in Canada’s history in which people will choose whether or not to raise their taxes.

Sales tax increases are frequently opposed for being regressive, and rightfully so. However, a sales tax that funds transit is almost definitely worth it. Paying a little more for goods and services can seem overwhelming for people who struggle with daily expenses, but many of those people are dependent on the most expensive type of transportation: cars. This is especially true for people who live in the suburbs, like Surrey, BC. An advocate of the Surrey Poverty Reduction Campaign captures this dilemma quite well:

Approximately 83% of employees in Surrey use a vehicle to get to work compared with 71% across Metro Vancouver. Only 13% use public transit compared with the regional average of 20%, according to Statistics Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey.

“People don’t have access to adequate public transportation in surrey,” said SPRC coordinator Alice Sundberg. “We know that you can save a lot of money by taking public transit. But if you don’t have access to it, or if it takes you two and a half hours to get to work via public transportation, you’re not going to use it.”

Even though the tax is regressive, meaning low-income people will be more affected than higher-income taxpayers, Sundberg said her organization is urging a yes vote because good transit can be an important benefit to people who are living in poverty.

The measure would make frequent public transit accessible to 70% of people in the Vancouver metro area. Todd Litman goes on to explain why this regressive tax would be good:

“The biggest benefits [of transit] are that it allows households to reduce their car ownership – and the effect is huge,” said Todd Litman, executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute. “The average household in a car-dependent community has one car for every adult, so even low-income households are spending $10,000 a year on owning and operating their car, where that same household in a multi-modal community would be spending half as much.”

Pierce Transit Planning TOD at Tacoma Dome Station

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Rendering of the Dome District TOD project, courtesy of Pierce Transit.
Rendering of the Dome District TOD project, courtesy of Pierce Transit.

There’s good news down in Tacoma: transit-oriented development (TOD) could be on the way for Tacoma Dome Station if Pierce Transit (PT) has anything to say about it. PT is in talks with Cody Development Corporation to create a six-story mixed-use building, which brings in approximate scale with the surrounding parking garages to the east.

The site was originally bought by PT in 1999 to stage construction for Tacoma Dome Station, but has since served as storage space. PT now wants to surplus it for a higher use that will benefit from the services that they and other agencies are already providing. The City of Tacoma and business groups alos want to see this project move forward with hopes of transforming the Tacoma Dome District into a lively, urban neighborhood.

Initial plans indicate that up to 100 market-rate units could be built on five floors while retail would be located on the ground floor to activate the street frontages. Additional parking would be located under the structure. PT’s Board of Commissioners have authorized agency staff to negotiate with Cody Development Corporation over the next 90 to 120 days to determine feasibility of the proposal. If ultimately successful, the project would move swiftly to the land use planning stage.

Location of the Dome District TOD project, courtesy of Pierce Transit.
Location of the Dome District TOD project, courtesy of Pierce Transit.

The project site is situated on north side of East 25th Street, just beyond East D Street. For anyone familiar with this area of Tacoma, the site is perfectly suited for TOD. Tacoma Link has a stop right in front of the site with the alignment heading straight to Downtown Tacoma.

Meanwhile, Sounder trains depart from Freighthouse Square across the street, and Amtrak will soon join Sounder trains at this location in 2017. A large number of buses also operate from transit bays on Puyallup Avenue–a mere block from the site–with Sound Transit, Pierce Transit, Intercity Transit, and Greyhound buses providing frequent service to destinations all across the Puget Sound and state.

Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland said in a press release that “Tacoma Dome Station is the only transit hub in the region that accommodates every mode of transportation imaginable. This mixed-use development will serve as a catalyst for future investments in the Dome District.”

New Bike Counters in Bellevue

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Bellevue Bike Counter
Seattle-bound commuter rides over the new bike counter.

The first two bike counters in the city of Bellevue were installed on the I-90 and SR-520 trails in the first week of March. The I-90 trail counter is located just east of the East Channel Bridge, while the SR-520 trail counter is located at the western end of Bellevue’s segment, right before the trail ends on NE 24th St.

The counters are loop detectors built across the trail (see image to right), much like those installed in Seattle on the Fremont Bridge and West Seattle Bridge, but without the visual interface. Some parts of Seattle already have similar bike counters that forego the visual interface, including one on the west end of the I-90 floating bridge.

Funded by Washington State Department of Transportation, the two bike counters will monitor bike traffic at the two locations and help guide Bellevue’s future bike infrastructure investments. More bike counters are expected to appear throughout the city later this year through a grant provided by Cascade Bicycle Club. The future sites of these counters is currently undetermined.

How to Make an Attractive City

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Only a few cities in the world are truly beautiful—and none of them were built in recent history. At least, that’s what folks at the YouTube channel The School of Life say. In their video “How to Make an Attractive City,” they lay out six fundamental rules cities need to be beautiful. Below is a summary of their urban vision, and a response about what they get wrong.

Not Too Chaotic; Not Too Ordered

An ordered city has balance, symmetry, and repetition. When it’s a mess, it feels like no one is in charge—like a skyscraper springing out of a low-density neighborhood—while excessive repetition is harsh and bleak.

Cities should seek order and variety to create organized complexity. The city of Telc in the Czech Republic, for example, requires that every home is the same width and height but they are allowed to vary in form and color, allowing passersby to focus on a few key differences without being over stimulated.

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Homes in Telc, Czech Republic–courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

Visible Life

Modern cities are filled with brutal, anonymous office buildings on dead streets connected by cold freeways. There is no life or activity on the ground, even as colorful ideas percolate inside.

The streets we love are alive with activity. They are filled with people and lined with transparent storefronts that allow us to see people at work.

Imagine if a pipeline were placed across a scenic river—people would throw a fit (and they have). But the Roman aqueduct isn’t upsetting because it blends functionality with a beautiful form. It’s not the pipe we hate, but the ugliness.

Compact

We’re under the illusion that we want to live alone. “More and more people,” they say, “tuck themselves away in a private realm—and it’s been a disaster. It’s become deadly, cold, boring, and very, very wasteful on the environment.”

Beautiful cities have bustling public squares where people can drink coffee or read the newspaper. These squares should be intimate and enclosed enough to feel like an extension of your home, but large enough to give us relief from our cozy private quarters. They even offer an ideal size: 30 meters across. If it’s too large, we feel dislocated and out of proportion—you should be able to recognize a face across the square. It should feel contained, but not claustrophobic.

Orientation and mystery

We need small back streets to feel cozy and get lost with wide boulevards to help us navigate and establish a sense of place.

Close proximity to our neighbors is also important, since people are nicer when they’re always a bit on display.

Scale

The showpieces of a city show our priorities as a society—and currently it’s giant towers housing even bigger corporations. Often cities are known for their most iconic skyscrapers—be it the Sears Tower in Chicago, Chrysler Building in New York, or Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco. The big things show what we want because they demand our attention.

We should reserve the honor to symbols of our higher priorities. “Towers have to be worthy of their prominence. They must be aligned with our best ambitions and long term needs.” That’s why they propose a general height limit of five-stories with dense, compact development.

Make it Local

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The Pioneer Building in Pioneer Square features gray sandstone from Bellingham Bay–courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Each city has its own culture, character, strengths, and weaknesses. They should connect their character with distinctive local materials and forms. In Seattle, that might mean rich cedars and local sandstone. Setting a distinctive character gives a city a sense of place and a unique identity. If a city is too generic, there is no reason to live, work, or visit it over any other city.

The Two Main Obstacles

First, an intellectual confusion about beauty. “We think that no one has a right to say what’s beautiful and what’s ugly.” But this type of relativism is dangerous, and leaves the community vulnerable to the aesthetic whims of each developer.

We know which cities are beautiful, and we can tell by the crowds of tourists they attract. So we ought to develop a scientific approach to beauty and enforce it through government regulation.

That leads us to the second obstacle: a lack of political will. We’ve given over the responsibility to build beautiful cities to private corporations. “Beautiful cities have only ever been created when cities impose strict and ambitious regulations,” they claim.

The goal of building is to make us not regret the nature that’s been lost. People need to decide on their local flavor of beauty and gather the political will to enforce it. That’s how we’ll build the next beautiful city.

What they get wrong

The proposal suffers from tunnel vision—it sacrifices function for beauty, it forsakes the variety it claims is essential to good living, and it shoehorns other essential traits of great cities under an aesthetic umbrella.

Cities are human habitat. They need to be healthy, productive, enriching, and functional—not just beautiful. Active and bustling streets are important because they build strong economies, offer mental and social stimulation, and provide a density that makes public investments worthwhile. It’s hard to say a bustling street is beautiful, per se, and even harder to say it’s important primarily for that reason.

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First Hill Plaza–courtesy of seattlecondoloft.com

Most great cities did not arise from ambitious regulations, but rather formed organically over hundreds of years. It’s overly strict regulation that can stifle the complexity and variety that give a city its beauty and function. Regulations are great at keeping the worst of urban planning at bay. But they’re not responsible for bringing the best either. Many zoning laws are responsible for the very auto-oriented dead zones that the video decries in modern cities.

In talking about scale, they’re right in asserting that density looks and functions best when focused rather than peppered through a city. A skyscraper can stick out like a sore thumb in a low-rise neighborhood—like the 33-story First Hill Plaza that sparked a sharp community response and new zoning legislation. But the solution isn’t to enact five-story height limits. It’s to create and expand the urban village model that Seattle has become famous for. It’s to put density where it belongs.

Finally, cities must provide varying levels of activity and privacy for their residents. Many seek out urban environments for their bubbling activity and social nature. But some will always need and want a quiet, private place to relax and recharge. It is unfounded to say that we all secretly like being on display to our neighbors. And a city that operates on this assumption will be an unattractive home to many.

Conclusion

The video does a service in making the case for beautiful cities. Too often beauty can be lost to function, leading to soulless and uninspiring cities that leave people feeling lost and disconnected. But a beautiful city without function is its own vice. Finding a balance and respecting the variety of ways that can be achieved is the formula for a great city.

Join The Urbanist for “Ballard: A Walk Through Time” This Saturday

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If you’re interested in the history of Ballard’s development, be sure to check out “Ballard: A Walk Through Time” this coming Saturday (March 14th). Caelen Ball, Neighborhood Advocate and contributor to The Urbanist, will be giving a tour starting at the bottom of Ballard Avenue guiding attendees from Ballard’s past to present — and possibly its future. The walking tour will begin at the corner of NW Ione Place and Ballard Avenue NW at 10:30 AM. We hope to see you there!