Wednesday, 26 June, 2019

Tell SDOT and Metro How to Make Bell Street Park Better


When Bell Street Park opened in 2014, it was one of Seattle’s first explorations into designing streets as “shared space”. Modeled after Dutch “woonerfs” (which literally translates to “living street”), it was meant to turn Bell Street into public open space while still maintaining vehicle access. In a traditional woonerf, pedestrians have legal priority to walk on any part of the street, including the roadway. No official and explicit confirmation like that exists for Bell Street Park, and people are almost never seen walking in the middle of it, except for brief crossings.

Turn restrictions have been put in place to prevent drivers from using it as a through-street and facilitate the flow of transit while keeping the pedestrian character, but they are largely ignored due to poor signage and perhaps lack of will.

All of the cars in this picture stalling the bus in traffic turned onto Bell illegally.
All of the cars in this picture stalling the bus in traffic entered Bell illegally

In an April 2014 article of The Stranger, Charles Mudede asked Charles Montgomery, author of Happy City, what he thought of the park:

Woonerven are clever design experiments. In an ideal world—one where vehicle drivers all slow to 5mph or less—they really can become social spaces. The problem is, as the concept is adopted around the world, these shared space zones are being used as substitutes for true pedestrian spaces. Here’s the question we should use to judge the success of any woonerf: would I send my eight-year-old out there to play alone? If the answer is no, then this is not a truly accessible social space. It’s just a slow zone for cars.

This means that Bell does not function like a park as originally envisioned, but rather a traffic calmed and beautified street. This is an improvement, but if it is to become a park, sections of it must truly function like one, rather than a “park boulevard”. The strongest case for this are the two blocks between 1st and 3rd Avenue. They have the highest concentration of retail, outdoor seating for the retail and the highest pedestrian volumes–especially on weekends.

If you want to see Bell Street Park improved for pedestrians, come vouch for it at the upcoming Belltown Community Council meeting where Dongho Chang and Jonathan Dong from SDOT and Victor Obeso from King County Metro will be present to take feedback. Here are the event details:

  • When: Wednesday, April 8, 6.30pm
  • Where: Belltown Community Center, 415 Bell Street, Seattle, WA

Stories from Metro Route 7: Redwing Cafe and Stop 8040

Redwing Cafe and stop 8040.

With more than a few minutes until the next Seven arrives, I stand, phone in hand, under Metro Stop 8040 to assess my options. Old Town Rainier Beach has many: Nate’s and Jude’s are as promising now as Montera’s and O’Harra’s one hundred years ago.

But none is as promising or as close to stop 8040 than Redwing Café. Sucks for me that it is now closed on this late Friday afternoon. Inside, I can see that Su has begun clean-up and break-down behind the espresso counter. She decompresses the area around the now vintage Marzocco like a trainer a boxer after many rounds. Tired. Elated. Still outside, I ask silently for entrance. She waves me in from sidewalk to cafe.

‘We’ve been open a couple of months, not very long. We have the kinks out now. There are already people coming down from the hill, on Waters. Coming up from the beach. There was no place really that you could get a cup of coffee, have something freshly baked. And, you can see, we have a full kitchen!’

Su and I walk past the open kitchen to the far end of the café. A set of back windows overlooks an enclosed patio, one story down. ‘That is going to be a great place for kids in the summer,’ Su says. I agree and add bikers. ‘Bikers too! They will love it here.’ We move back to the front of the café where we can talk in sight of the stop. And they can resume their readying for the weekend crush.

Su owns the building with her partner, Anthony. He is also the baker and cook. He tells me that he used to be a carpenter. ‘Did you make the tables?’ I run my left hand over wood that’s soft and solid. Cool and warm.

‘No, Su’s son did those.’

‘They’re great!’

‘Thanks. I think so too. We did a lot of the work ourselves.’

‘You must be a real measure twice type of guy, being a carpenter then a baker?’

“Yeah, but entirely different really carpentry and baking.’ I stare at his fingers. Anthony pretty much reads my mind. He points out a single nick, which Su adds proudly was not work-related. Otherwise the hands are intact.

‘In baking, there’s a daily perfection of the task and immediacy,’ Anthony muses while he moves his hands through the air. ‘There’s a precision. I bake. A sticky bun. Or a pie. I make it right. And then someone enjoys it. And then it’s the next day. Another shot at perfection. It’s different than moving from construction site to construction site.’

I want to hear more about his daily acts of perfection, this craft of baking. Instead my phone alerts me – TWO MINUTES in green on OneBusAway – to the bus’ arrival. I say hasty thankyous, seeyoulaters, and resolve to come again…when they are open.

Lynnwood Link FEIS Now Available!

EIS cover page, courtesy of Sound Transit.
FEIS cover page, courtesy of Sound Transit.

Now that Lynnwood’s FEIS has been published, transit nerds can get a look at the likely outcome for station locations, cost and alignment. Here are the big takeaways:

Segment A (Preferred Alternative)

  • Two stations at NE 145th and NE 185th – 130th station would be an addition.
  • Estimated 2035 ridership of 12,600 – extra 400 riders if 130th is added.
  • Mixture of elevated and at-grade alignment on the east side of I-5.
  • Cost: $730-$840 million (2014 dollars) + $30 to $50 million more for a third station

Segment B (Preferred Alternative)

  • One station at Mountlake Transit Center – 220th station would be an addition.
  • Estimated 2035 ridership of 5,100 – extra 200 riders if 130th is added.
  • Mostly elevated with an I-5 cross over south of the Community Transit park and ride at Mountlake Terrace.
  • Cost: $450-$510 million (2014 dollars) + $50 million more for 220th St station.

Segment C (Preferred Alternative)

  • One station at Lynnwood Park-and-Ride
  • Estimated 2035 ridership of 17,900 – minus 500 riders if optional stations in Segments A and B are added.
  • Mixture of elevated and at-grade alignment on the west side of I-5.
  • Cost: $450-$510 million (2014 dollars)

The preferred alternative would have total costs of $1.5 to $1.7 billion (assumed 2014 dollars).

Here are the biggest quotes regarding 130th station:

Among the station pairing choices, alternatives featuring a NE 130th St station as part of a three-station configuration in Segment A (A5, A10 and A11, and an option for the preferred alternative) rather than two stations (preferred alternative, A1 and A3) would have more access points but longer travel times and higher costs. Three stations could add about 400 daily boardings in Segment A because some users in north Seattle would find the NE 130th station more convenient to use than the Northgate Station. While this is an increase in project ridership, it would not increase overall Link system ridership. Any three-station pairing would have about the same ridership and effects as any two-station combinations.

The NE 130th St station (A3, A7, A10 and A11) would not appreciably increase environmental impacts or ridership compared with alternatives that do not include this station; it would mostly attract riders who would otherwise use the NE 145th or Northgate Stations. While the NE 130th St station would increase costs, it could be paired with either a 145th or 155th St station with little difference in other effects.

But there is hope for 130th and 220th!

Project costs were major considerations for the Sound Transit Board when it identified a Preferred Alternative for the FEIS, which included four stations out of a possible six. However, the Board also requested further study of two stations as options for the Preferred Alternative.

But then there is the current financial plan that still puts the two additional stations in jeopardy:

Sound Transit’s financial plan currently includes $1.322 billion for this project (as indicated in Sound Transit’s 2013 Transportation Improvement Program). Additional funding or cost reductions (including those that may be found through advanced design to reduce risk assumptions and related contingencies) would be needed for all of the alternatives.

ST2 was a $17.8 billion system expansion. Unfortunately, the Great Recession required Sound Transit to reduce their revenue forecasts through 2023 by 30%. That is probably why the current 2013 fiscal plan is $1.322 billion with the preferred alternative being $1.5 billion on the low end. With a greatly improved economy in the Central Puget Sound region, perhaps new forecasts will show more optimistic revenue collection. Our booming economy might just help get those stations on the final design as we march closer to 2023 and full ST2 build-out!

Sunday Video: Gotham City SF


Gotham City SF // A Timelapse Film by Toby Harriman on Vimeo.

This timelapse film of San Francisco is incredibly dramatic, but beautiful.

What We’re Reading: All About That Wage

Pike Place Market staff working hard, courtesy of Elsie Lin.

Saving history: Two buildings made the cut for historic preservation status.

Too posh to understand: Tom Douglas backs down from surcharge for higher minimum wage after making a big stink earlier this week about it.

Dear landlord: A heartfelt letter to the new landlords imploring them to hear the human side of things, not just the dollars and cents.

Keeping wages low: How the Legislature killed the minimum wage bill.

Home on Bellingham Bay: The Port of Bellingham finally is getting waterfront redevelopment, meet Harcourt.

Hey bros, grow up: Dan Savage of The Stranger tells Cap Hill folks to get constructive, embrace urbanism.

On the brink: California goes all in and places hefty water restrictions on municipal water systems. But the effort may just be in vain.

Mount Baker redesign: The intersection at Mount Baker Station in the Rainier Valley could see a huge, sweeping redesign; one that the neighborhood absolutely deserves.

Mapping the competition: Amsterdam is harnessing the power of interactive mapping to highlight their startup business culture to, well, attract business, and here’s why.

April Fools’: The interwebz got a little bit absurd for April Fools’ Day.

The gender pay gap: A fantastic visualization on the gender pay gap globally.

We can do betterA case study into flawed street design.

Getting it done: SDOT will install 10 new taxi stands this year and wants your input. The agency is also re-timing lights in Downtown Seattle.

Youch: Bloomberg Business gives the failing WSDOT-backed tunnel project a serious bruising.

Setting the price: Three reasons why we should be pricing parking right.

More coal: Washington Republicans want to subsidize coal.

No Trans-Pacific Partnership: Local leaders are in opposition to the President’s Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

More options for tent cities: The Seattle City Council approved legislation that would allow tent cities in a wider area of the city, including residential neigbhorhoods.

It pays to be green: A Texas city went 100% green for the energy source, but not for the environment.

Increasing wages: Seattle’s new minimum wage rules went in effect on April 1, no joke!

How Urban Observation Can Ghost-Bust Places

McGraw Square in Seattle.
McGraw Square in Seattle.

In Seattle, last week, I looked across the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Olive Way, into McGraw Square, and towards the Westin Hotel, noting a Seattle urbanism trifecta—the Lake Union Streetcar, the skillet food truck and one building of Amazon’s new headquarters complex under construction.  What’s not to like about that view?

Well, one thing for sure. I saw a ghost, of a missing building from a boyhood memory—something that Amazon might have retrofitted, today, if it were still there for the taking.

Gone from this layered, contemporary scene was something significant to the history of Seattle, the Orpheum Theater, demolished in 1967, once the largest theater in the Pacific Northwest, and the temporary home of the Seattle Symphony.  Begun as a vaudeville house, the design, by theater architect Marcus Priteca also featured street-level retail, and offices—a reminder that mixed-use development is nothing new.

I specifically remember my last trip to the Orpheum, to view the Batman movie from the original television show; notable because local actor Adam West portrayed Bruce Wayne as the winged avenger.

But this is not a tale of Batman over streetcars.  Nor is this an essay about the retention of historic theaters for the preservationist’s cause.  Rather, this is a manifesto about the role of purposeful observation and sensation in urban environments, and acknowledgement of the undercurrents and overlaps that form cities today.

In capturing the photograph above, as an acknowledged urbanist, perhaps I should revel in the streetcar and food truck scene, with an expanded McGraw Square allowing greater pedestrian use. Instead, I hold that scene in perspective, because I’m old enough to recall what was there before.

I’m also an inductive, first person urbanist, always looking for context in what I see. Amid urban change, I see ghosts of bygone images, wondering, ironically, about their unrealized role in today’s vitality. This approach, allowing for and explaining the stories behind our redeveloping cities, should not be viewed as antiquarian, academic or obstructionist.  For example, similar memories of the native American trail that traveled from Elliot Bay to Seattle’s Lake Union, have spurred the Seattle Parks Foundation-led “Lake2Bay” initiative, which endeavors to create a multifaceted urban innovation corridor.

I’d like to think urban observation and collective urban memory are as important to the authenticity of urban change today as the oral histories among indigenous people who pass on cultural traditions from one generation to the next.

opheum-near-end-web11 orpheum-then-mr21

Photos via Lawton Gowey (left, 1967), and John Thomas (right, 1927) featured on Seattle Now and Then.

The tool of human memory, discerning eyes and understanding both the pragmatism of the present and the symbolic, collective meaning of a given place are often left behind in today’s discussions of urban solutions. Hence my past adamance, in Urbanism Without Effort and many articles, where I refer to the importance of the urban diary tool, “place-decoding” skills and “reading cities cover to cover“, in holistic fashion.  I have urged urbanists to create urban diaries and to see their surroundings, to gain a real understanding of cities where we work and live.

Of course, in many respects, I’m channeling those involved in the urban realm for years, both as practitioners and academics. For example, former San Francisco Planning Director and academic Allan Jacobs is perhaps best known for setting this tone in the 1980’s, and Jan Gehl and Birgitte Svarre have recently summarized the value, history, and many examples of why “studies” of public life are essential to urban policy in How to Study Public Life.

While it is increasingly possible through smartphone applications, Google Earth overlays and other tools (see, e.g. Drivedecisions) to compile surveys, aggregate data, and represent such information three dimensionally or numerically for purposes of decision-making or political debate, we often lose the most important human elements when we disallow the importance of looking at cities and their component parts, even if they are no longer there.

Pike Place Expansion is Good Urbanism


Last week, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to commit $34 million towards the Pike Place Market expansion project. The new low-rise, mixed-use development will stretch from the north side of the Market to the waterfront, connecting downtown to a host of new amenities when construction wraps up in late 2016. From funding to design, the project is an admirable example of good urbanism.

For starters, the expansion will replace a lifeless 0.75-acre surface parking lot on the site of the former Municipal Market Building, which burnt down in 1974. Plans to replace the structure were obstructed by the cost and complexity of building over the railroad tunnel that runs beneath. Many have written that the project has been 40 years in the making since the fire, but the truth is that this is an historic realization of the Market’s original vision, dating back to the early 1900s.

The project will position the Market as a community hub, not just of commerce but also of public resources, services, and open space. Plans call for over 30,000 feet of open space and 15,000 feet of retail space with 55 new stalls for local vendors and 12 new “stores with doors.” The space will also be home to a new neighborhood multi-service center run by the Pike Place Market Foundation to provide health treatment and education, homeless services, legal assistance, and access to healthy food. It will partner with the Chief Seattle Club to honor the Native American community and history of the Market.

An aerial overview of the expansion–Courtesy of


On site will also be 40 units of senior and low-income housing, just steps away from fresh local produce and goods. During public hearings on transit reductions, some of the most powerful stories came from seniors who depend on their bus line to get to the grocery store each week. Building senior housing virtually in the market will remove a key barrier to healthy food and active spaces for seniors.

Some vendors worry that the new Market will lose its old, funky charm. In many ways they’re right. Walking through the market, its charm comes from the chaos of overlapping neon signs from different eras, cracked tile, worn brass door handles and a smell that permeates the space long after the vendors have packed up and gone home. These features can’t be built new—they happen organically with age.

Designers know that, so they’ve decided to focus on honoring the historic character of the building by maintaining the existing structure and incorporating key design elements like heavy timber, galvanized steel, and concrete into the new space. They will also preserve one of the most striking and celebrated features: views of Mt. Rainier, the Olympics, and Puget Sound.

The site in current condition–Courtesy of

Also included in the plans are 300 garage parking spaces. While some urbanists might decry parking as a woeful waste of space on prime urban real estate, the expansion would not be possible without it. Much of both city and state support comes from replacement parking funds created by the Viaduct replacement. With a $79 million price tag, the Market can use all the help it can get. But even with the combination of city and state funding, issue bonds, grants, and tax credits, $9 million more must come from private philanthropy. To date over $2.1 million has already been raised, and you can donate more by buying a hoof print or charm to be installed in the new space.

The Pike Place Market expansion is good urbanism at its core: it balances historic character with new development; works to incubate small local businesses; offers expansive public space in an active setting; connects the community with resources and services; bridges the business of downtown with the recreation of a new waterfront; and accomplishes all of this by replacing a dead surface parking lot.

Seattle In Progress Gets An Update

Seattle In Progress Logo
Seattle In Progress Logo

When Seattle In Progress was launched back in November, it was a revolutionary way for locals to be in-the-know on development projects across Seattle. Our good friend Ethan conceived the app service as a way to get people engaged in the planning process, and to help them know what could end up on street near them in the future. Using data from the City of Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development, the app displays key information on projects. Tapping on a pin reveals the location, a preview picture of the project, a way to receive notifications, and a description of the proposal. Users can also choose to review the latest design review packet in full via PNG image scrapes.

But now five months on, Seattle In Progress has gotten a significant update.

New Seattle In Progress user interface.
New Seattle In Progress user interface.

The most obvious change within the user interface are the pins. Now colored by project status, it’s easy to tell if a project is under review (yellow), approved (orange), or completed (red). It’s also possible to see projects that don’t undergo design review like small additions, tenant improvements, or new single-family homes. To change what appears on the map, users can toggle the new filter box (gear icon in the upper right corner).

If you want to follow the progress of new and current projects, be sure to add Seattle In Progress to your Twitter and Facebook timelines. Or, if there are specific projects of interests, you can always subscribe to them via the Seattle In Progress pages.

Bike Works

Bike Works