Tuesday, 19 March, 2019

Sunday Video: Detroit Future City


Detroit Future City: Design for Rapid Change by the UW College of Built Environments on Livestream.

A lively panel discussion on how Detroit transforms and innovates from the grassroots.

About the Same Concerns


Picture 4


This happened a looooong time ago, but it’s a story I keep rattling around in my head, especially on these post-Ferguson nights.

“Hold on one sec,” he said. Tall African-American man, I’d say thirty, six feet something with a baseball hat (curved bill tonight, not flat) and a wardrobe fitted for a mythical man three times his size: black hoodie halfway zipped, glistening basketball shoes with the wide flat laces, and stone-washed black jeans, the expensive kind, with white accent threads and fabric piled around the sagging bottoms, folds of cloth accumulating around his shoes like Michelangelo’s Pietà, or Alexandros of Antioch’s Venus de Milo.

“Aw, sure,” I said. We were driving something down Third Avenue, either a 3/4 or a 1/14.
“I know I got it.”
“Oh, it’s cool.”
He kept fumbling around, searching for his transfer.

What would a fellow of his look be up to on a night like this? Ten PM on a weeknight. Sometimes it’s polite to not ask. I don’t ask specifics of the guys I know are dealers, for example. We talk about things like weather. I really ought not to assume though–haven’t seen this fellow before–so I decided to venture.

“How’s your night goin’?”
“Iss been good. I just dropped off my son. We went and checked out the ferris wheel.”
“Oh, cool! Did he have a good time, your son?”
“Yeah, somebody said it was only three times they go around but we got a good three, four times. It was dope.”
“Perfect. And it’s a nice clear night, good for that,”
“Awesome. I haven’t been on it.”
“It’s good, yeah.”
“What time they stop runnin’ that thing?”
“I think it closes at ten… man, I know I had one. Truly.” He was still searching his pockets.

“It’s all cool. D’you need another one for later tonight?”
Heartfelt: “truly.”
“Here’s the goods.”
“Thank you man, I appreciate it.”
“Dude, thanks for lookin’ for it! I appreciate you!”
“Man, I had it.”
“It’s all good. I trust you.”

Sometimes people just pretend to look for transfers. He really did have one. Finally he showed it to me, excited to prove his honesty. “See?”
“You’re awesome! Thank you!”
“Yeah, I just met a new lady,” I continued. His eyebrows went up in a half-smile as I went on–“so I been thinkin’ about places to take her. That sounds like a good one.”
“Definitely. I been lookin’ for stuff to do too.”
“Oh, nice!”
“Yeah, my lady, she thinkin’ about other things, but I’m gonna bring it back. Gonna get it this time.”
“Bring back some a that old magic.”
His eyes twinkled in the darkness. “Yeah.”
“That’s beautiful thing,” I said. The effort.

His concerns were about the same as mine. I shouldn’t have been surprised.

University District grid is partially restored by Sound Transit today

NE 43rd St looking toward the construction site.
NE 43rd St looking toward the construction site.

Sound Transit - 43rd and BrooklynConstruction on the University District Station has been well underway since December 2013. As part of site preparation and equipment storage to construct the station box, Sound Transit’s contractors have had to repeatedly change pathways for pedestrians and cyclists while closing streets to motorists. One key closure has been at the intersection of NE 43rd St and Brooklyn Ave NE. While a portion has reopened today, the full block of Brooklyn Ave NE between NE 45th St and NE 43rd St, and small portion on NE 43rd St east of the intersection, are planned to remain closed for the duration of station construction.

Contractors have focused much of their work on drilling down pilings, excavation toward the south portion of the station box, and constructing a new bridging system. The latter of which will make many residents, students, and visitors to the area happy. This new bridge is at-grade to the surrounding streets, but is intended to allow traffic movement above the station box while work continues below. The bridge extends along NE 43rd St from the alleyway west of Brooklyn Ave NE to the west edge of Brooklyn Ave NE. This will help reconnect part of the grid by creating a one-way traffic system northbound on Brooklyn Ave NE to University Way NE (The Ave) via NE 43rd St.

For drivers and bicyclist alike, this will be a welcome change because it provides better options for moving around the area. Pedestrians will also get some measure of benefit out of the reconfiguration with wider sidewalks, new crosswalks and handrails, and a permanent pathway. The contractors have place ample striping, signage, and other improvements along the stretch of reopened street.

Photos of the streets nearly complete earlier this week are below.

The Madison BRT Public Survey


The folks at the Seattle Depart of Transportation released an online public survey yesterday to gain public input on the Madison BRT project which will connect the Downtown Seattle Waterfront with First Hill and Madison Valley. (We previously covered this project back in November.) This survey primarily concerns the potential terminal locations, in Downtown Seattle and in the Madison Valley as well as the potential routes to get there.

Start Survey

Downtown Seattle Segment

Madison BRT potential Downtown Routing I would like to advocate for the Madison St/Spring St couplet (in red on the map) because it:

  1. Continues the connection to the Washington State Ferries Colman Dock;
  2. Provides a connection to the Center City Connector Streetcar (1st Ave/Madison St);
  3. Provides a better connection to the University Street Light Rail Station;
  4. Provides an excellent connection to the Central Library;
  5. Provides improvements to the King County Metro Route 2 on Spring St through the use of exclusive lanes, traffic signal priority, and enhanced station amenities;
  6. Provides a connection to Town Hall at 7th/8th Ave & Spring St;
  7. Removes the difficult turn at 6th Ave & Madison St; and
  8. Improves access to Virginia Mason Hospital while maintaining similar access to the Polyclinic.

Madison Valley Segment

Madison BRT Madison Valley Terminal Options For the eastern portion of the Madison BRT line, I would like to advocate for the MLK Jr. Way/29th Ave terminal (in red on the map) because it:

  1. Provides needed bus service to nearby residential communities;
  2. Supports planned construction in the area;
  3. Supports the businesses located in this area with improved access to Downtown/First Hill;
  4. Provides increased multi-modal connection opportunities;
  5. Provides enhanced station amenities for King County Metro Route 11 passengers where the lines overlap; and
  6. Removes a sharp turn and heavy traffic on 23rd Ave.

Madison BRT Alternate Bicycle Routes/Dangerous Intersections

Madison BRT Alternate Bicycle RoutesIn addition, the survey also seeks the public’s input on dangerous intersections throughout the corridor that are in desperate need of improvement for pedestrian and cyclist safety. In this case, I would advocate for Alternative 2 (in blue on the map):

  1. The route is a much more direct which is safer, less confusing, and more likely to be utilized; and
  2. As part of the First Hill Public Realm Action Plan, Union/University Streets on First Hill have already been identified as the location for an East-West cycle track.

As for the dangerous intersections, I will leave that up to those who are directly familiar with them and who have to make use of them each day (they all need fixing).

Potential Stop Locations

Here I would advocate for the following stop locations:


  1. Western Avenue/Alaskan Way between Madison St & Spring St: connections to Center City Connector Streetcar and ferries
  2. Spring St & 3rd Ave: connections to Link, Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, and 3rd Ave buses
  3. Spring St & 5th Ave: Seattle Public Library and shared with Route 2
  4. Spring St & 8th Ave: Town Hall, residential Development, Virginia Mason Hospital, and Polyclinic
  5. Madison St & Terry Ave: replaces stop at Boren Ave and shared with Route 60
  6. Madison St & Boyslton Ave: Swedish Medical Center, replaces stop at Madison & Summit, shared with Route 60, and near First Hill Streetcar (Broadway/Boylston)
  7. Madison St & 12th Ave: shared with Route 2
  8. Madison St & 17th Ave/18th Ave: shared with Route 11
  9. Further stops east to MLK Jr Way: to be determined

  1. Stops west from MLK Jr Way: to be determined
  2. Madison St & 17th Ave/18th Ave: shared with Route 11
  3. Madison St & 12th Ave: shared with Route 2
  4. Madison St & Summit Ave: Swedish Medical Center, shared with Route 60, and near First Hill Streetcar (Broadway/Boylston)
  5. Madison St & Terry Ave: replaces stop at Boren Ave and shared with Route 60
  6. Madison St & 8th Ave/7th Ave: potentially over I-5
  7. Madison St & 5th Ave: Seattle Public Library
  8. Madison St & 3rd Ave: Link, Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, and 3rd Ave buses

To participate in the survey, click the grey “Start the Survey” button or simply click here.

Start Survey

Full disclosure: I am a resident of First Hill and I am on the Board of the First Hill Improvement Association (FHIA) and sit on the Transportation Working Group. These are my personal opinions and while in sync with FHIA, they should not be construed as the official position of FHIA. Illustrations are courtesy of SDOT and used with permission.

Seattle’s red light cameras reduce collisions by 23%

Photo enforced sign by Lynn Friedman.

Red light cameras have never been popular with people who drive. Since their introduction in to the US, many states have banned their use entirely. Various automobile associations and motoring groups have steadily campaigned for their removal by claiming that they do little for safety and only serve to line the pockets of cities and the private companies often behind the cameras themselves. It comes as no surprise, then, that the City of Auburn recently joined a growing number of cities across the country by choosing to remove the red light cameras installed at four intersections across the suburb. The move was undoubtably popular with local citizens, and council members voting for the removal cited data indicating that the cameras had failed to reduce injuries or automobile collisions at their intersections. On the other hand, the cameras did appear to reduce the number of people running red lights.

With Auburn out of the red light camera business, the question of Seattle following suit has come up. Like Auburn, Seattle first installed its cameras in an attempt to reduce collisions and improve safety at various high risk intersections. Unlike Auburn, though, data shows that Seattle’s red light cameras have done a tremendous job of reducing the number of collisions at various intersections across the city. By looking at the number of collisions in the three years before and three years after a camera was installed, Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has found that red light cameras have reduced accidents by about 23% on average. Right angle collisions (also known as t-bone or broadside collisions) were reduced by a whopping 46%, while collisions involving a person walking were reduced by nearly one-third.

Correlation, of course, is not proof of causation–but it is a hint. The data has some imperfections, as well: in some instances a camera had to be tuned off for construction, while in others poor intersection design caused additional collisions. Not every intersection equipped with a camera saw an improvement, either. But even with these issues, the difference is stark and lends credence to the assertion that red light cameras can help make intersections safer.

To help show just how effective red light cameras in Seattle have often been, I’ve created an interactive visualization based on the data that SDOT provided The Urbanist. Use the dropdown or click on the map to look at how different intersections stack up in the overall dataset. SDOT’s data includes a total of all collisions at an intersection in the three-year periods before and after a red light camera was installed, along with the specific amounts of  pedestrian, rear end, and right angle collisions (which may not add up to the total). Click here to view a bigger version, and note that you can download the file if you want to dig in further.

Free Bikeracks, Update On The First Hill Streetcar

On-street bikerack in the University District, courtesy of SDOT.
On-street bikerack in the University District, courtesy of SDOT.

As part of an effort to promote cycling in Seattle, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is offering free bikeracks to city property owners. Commute Seattle says that the end of the application period is rapidly approaching with January 31 being the last day.

Through its City’s Bicycle Program, SDOT will install 50 public bicycle parking racks near buildings with high demand for bicycle parking at no cost to property owners.  If you’re interested, just fill out this simple request form. The city will prioritize locations that are bound by Transportation Management Plans (TMPs) and/or those that participate in the city’s CTR program, and who do not currently have public bicycle parking at their building. For more info about public bicycle parking, including examples of bike racks, see SDOT’s Bike Parking Page. All racks associated with this program will be installed no later than June 2015.

If you have questions, please contact Mark Melnyk at mark.melnyk@seattle.gov or (206) 684-5017.

Meanwhile, SDOT reports that performance testing of the future Czech-built streetcars is going well, especially for off-wire battery testing. Six new streetcars using this technology will serve the First Hill Streetcar Line from Pioneer Square to North Capitol Hill. Portions of the alignment, due to trolleybus wire conflicts, require that the streetcar go off-wire and instead use battery power to propel the vehicles. The opening of the First Hill Streetcar has twice been delayed with SDOT saying that operational service postponed at least until August.

The first performance tests of the new streetcars on order for the First Hill Streetcar line were completed in December. In addition to testing acceleration and braking, the performance tests featured off-wire operation powered by a rechargeable battery system, known as the On-Board Energy Storage System (OESS). When operating on the First Hill Streetcar line, the streetcars will be powered by the OESS on each inbound trip from Capitol Hill to Pioneer Square (2.5 miles). The batteries will be recharging whenever the streetcar is braking, and will also recharge on the outbound trip from Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill, while being powered from the overhead wires (known as the Overhead Contact System, or OCS).

Streetcar battery drive testing in the Czech Republic, courtesy of SDOT.
Streetcar battery drive testing in the Czech Republic, courtesy of SDOT.

Initial tests were performed on a test track at the factory where the first streetcar was completed in the Czech city of Ostrava. The streetcar operated off-wire for 3 miles, using 25% of the battery capacity of the OESS. Subsequent tests were performed on the Ostrava streetcar system. This allowed for uphill and downhill operation and simulation of traffic conditions that may be encountered in Seattle. During this testing, the streetcar operated on battery drive for distances as great as four miles and durations as long as 37 minutes. The testing also demonstrated that batteries recharge rapidly from regenerative braking and during operation on the OCS.

The test results indicate that the OESS will be more than adequate for the requirements of the First Hill line, and can also be used for significant segments of the planned Center City Connector streetcar extension.

‘One Night Count’ Is Tonight

One Night Count homelessness statistics from 2014, courtesy of SKCCH.
One Night Count homelessness statistics from 2014, courtesy of SKCCH.

Every January, a count of our fellow residents experiencing homelessness is conducted across Seattle and King County. Last year, the results of the One Night Count were worse than previous years with over 9,200 residents experiencing some level of homelessness. The Count helps policymakers and social welfare organizations gauge the progress on ending homelessness in the the spirit of the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness in King County. This effort is coordinated with a nationwide effort on the same night in order to understand the scope of homelessness and analyze efforts to end homelessness.

More than 900 volunteers will break into 125+ groups to scour cities and towns across King County to count every homeless individual. The numbers will be reported to determine the nature and extent of homelessness that individuals are experiencing. This information is incredibly valuable because it assists with future strategies and the allocation of resources to combat the causes of homelessness.

The Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness has a brief Q&A on why and how the One Night Count is even conducted by advocates:

What is the One Night Count?

King County has one of the nation’s best-established point-in-time counts of homeless people. The One Night Count remains the largest community-organized count in the United States. Since 1980, the Coalition and Operation Nightwatch have organized the One Night Count of people who are without shelter.

The One Night Count has two parts:

  1. A survey of emergency shelter and transitional housing providers about who is staying in their programs or facilities on that night. Staff from the King County Community Services Division, Homeless Housing Program coordinate the survey.
  2. A street count of people who are homeless, without shelter and staying outside, in vehicles or in makeshift shelters. The Coalition has expanded the count from its downtown Seattle origins to include parts of 11 suburban cities and unincorporated King County and Metro Night Owl buses.

While it’s too late to sign up and volunteer for tonight’s One Night Count, we strongly urge you to consider involvement for future years, or by offering assistance in related efforts. We genuinely believe that solving homelessness is not only a just and fair cause for our fellow neighbors, but that we can truly end it in our region. We’ll keep you posted on the results, and hope for a better outcome than last year.

One Last Goodbye to the Kalakala

The Kalakala as she appeared in her final days. Photo by the author.

That’s it. Today, the Kalakala is going to the breakers. The 276-foot ferry’s last trip is scheduled for early morning today, from the Hylebos Waterway to the neighboring Blair Waterway in the Port of Tacoma. After that, it will be scrapped in the drydock that was used to build some of the pontoons for the SR-520 floating bridge.

Built in 1926 in Oakland as the Peralta, the ferry was used in the Bay Area until the night of May 6, 1933 when it caught fire. The superstructure all gone, but the hull still intact, Capt. Alexander Peabody of the Black Ball line bought the hull and towed it all the way to the Puget Sound. In was in Houghton (part of present-day Kirkland) that the iconic streamlined superstructure of the Kalakala (Chinook Jargon for “Flying Bird”) was built on top of the Peralta’s hull. Entering service on July 3, 1935, the “silver slug” was an immediate hit on the Seattle-Bremerton route, where the ferry spent most of its career.

From 1935 until its retirement, the Kalakala was the icon of Seattle. Before the days of the Space Needle, the classic Seattle postcard featured the Kalakala. The ferry was rated the #2 attraction after the Space Needle during the 1962 World’s Fair. However, in the 60s the ferry proved more and more difficult to operate efficiently. She couldn’t carry the bigger cars, and her engine and superstructure were showing signs of wear. Even with improvements done, the ferry still vibrated a lot. The ferry last ran in revenue service on August 7, 1967, replaced by the Super Class (Hyak, Kaleetan, Yakima, and Elwha, still in service today).

After that, the ferry was sold to an Alaskan cannery and moved to Kodiak, AK, where it operated first as a floating processing vessel before being beached. Found by a Seattle native in 1986 after being abandoned, it took several years of efforts to partially restore the vessel and tow it back to Puget Sound. Since coming back to Washington at the turn of the century, the Kalakala has spent time on the Seattle waterfront, Lake Union, and Neah Bay before settling on the Hylebos Waterway in Tacoma. Deteriorating quickly, the owner of the Kalakala, Karl Anderson, announced his plans to scrap the ferry earlier this year.

I paid a last visit to the Kalakala on January 19th when she was still in one piece. Here are some photos I took from my kayak.

Editor’s Note: All of the pictures in this article were taken by Guy de Gouville on January 19, 2015 on the Hylebos waterway in the Port of Tacoma. © 2015 Guy de Gouville/SolDuc Photography. All rights reserved. Do not copy, print or distribute without permission from the photographer.

The stern of the Kalakala and the tug Fury, which will be used in the tow to the Blair waterway.
Another stern view of the Kalakala.
Straight-on bow view of the Kalakala.
Since being back from Alaska, the Kalakala has only gotten new paint on the bow, evidenced here.
The boat is in really bad shape, with many missing windows, rust all over and some of the ceiling of the passenger cabin gone.
The hole cut in the passenger cabin on the starboard (right) side for access when the vessel was a cannery is evident in this photo.
Flying bird? Definitely.


Rest in peace, Flying Bird. 1926-2015.

More detailed information about the Kalakala can be found on Evergreen Fleet, a website dedicated to the Pacific Northwest’s ferries, run by author Steve Pickens.