Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Event Recap: U District Open Space Forum

Doug Campbell, owner of Bulldog News, opens the event. Photo: author.

Some 100 University District residents and employees attended a new community forum on Tuesday night, which seeks to revitalize the neighborhood’s vision for its existing and future public spaces. Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan sets the standard for open space at 1 acre per 1,000 dwelling units and 1 acre per 10,000 jobs. Currently, the neighborhood stands at a 3-acre deficit by these metrics. With 1,500 residential units now under construction or planned, and an additional 4,000 units expected by 2035, the neighborhood’s open space deficit will surely grow. Amidst other planning processes, including a rezoning effort centered on the NE 43rd Street light rail station, the goal of the forum is to publish an updated public space plan for the University District that will guide future planning and development.

Public open space is critically important to the health of cities, especially as as growth and density increase. Such spaces can take a variety of forms, ranging from traditional parks and squares to shorelines, streets, and alleys. They provide an “outdoor living room” where people can gather, eat, relax, and play in the public sphere. Recent trends in urban design and landscape architecture recognize how location and coordination with surrounding land uses is critical to the success of public spaces. Local zoning also regulates how and where private development should provide open spaces, such as stoops, frontage plazas and gardens, rooftop green space, and interior courtyards. Although, these are often only incentive- or performance-based amenities.

The forum, which will have two more public meetings, has been in the making for at least a year. Rapid apartment growth in the post-recession period has stimulated debate, and the recent creation of the Seattle Parks District opens up new opportunities for funding. As a result, The U District Partnership (UDP) and the Seattle planning and parks departments hired consultants from the Pomegranate Center and MAKERS Architecture and Urban Design to lead public meetings, digest public input, and deliver recommendations on an open space plan.

The first meeting began with an introduction of the neighborhood’s spatial and temporal context and provided an update on public projects that are already underway. The City is planning to upgrade Brooklyn Avenue NE, NE 42nd Street, and NE 43rd Street to “green streets”–projects that were envisioned back in 1998 and before the imminent reality of a light rail station. The segment of Brooklyn Avenue NE between NE 45th Street and NE 43rd Street is tentatively designated as a “festival street” where a spinoff of the University Farmers’ Market can take place all week long. In collaboration with the University of Washington and Washington State Department of Transportation, the small waterfront park on Portage Bay (Sakuma Viewpoint) will be significantly expanded. Backers for a parklet on NE 43rd Street are currently fundraising, and the University Playground will soon be receiving improvements.

The facilitators then asked each member of the audience to answer a question: “What guiding principles or values do you propose for developing open space in the University District?” The responses ran the gambit and reflected the diversity of those in attendance. Residents value livability, sense of community, gateways and destinations, equitable distribution of green space, co-locating with transit and walking connections, pet friendliness, all-season usefulness, public art, and more. Then came the second question: “What kind of functions and activities do you envision?” Sitting, socializing, eating, sporting events, children and adults playing, gardening, water features, exercising, and quiet reflection all came up. Early on it became clear that there are a variety of needs. One common theme that residents supported was the importance of a central park space. Residents felt that such a space should be in proximity to the future light rail station and welcome the thousands of people who will be passing through it every day.

An important piece of new and improved open spaces will be maintenance and programming. Zori Santer, past director of Portland Parks and Recreation and now with MAKERS, said her experience in public parks planning and management has taught her many valuable things, but most especially this: government cannot be the sole provider of park services due to limited resources and lack of hyper-local park management personalization, especially for larger park spaces. Instead, many cities turn to non-profits and private community organizations to manage funding and programming for public spaces. Friends of the High Line in New York, the Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation in Dallas, or even Friends of Waterfront Seattle are prime examples. The UDP may play this role for future public spaces in the neighborhood. The UDP already manages the funds generated by a Business Improvement Area (BIA), which is an extra property tax on neighborhood businesses, and the former neighborhood Chamber of Commerce. The Partnership is proposing to expand the BIA boundaries, and if approved by property owners, it would generate $750,000 per year (up from only $140,000 per year) for funding events, marketing, street cleaning, and economic development.

As the second most active urban center in the Puget Sound region, the University District is set to become an even greater hub for business, academics, and social life over the next 20 years. With positive collaboration between residents and city government, the neighborhood can create a well-designed open space system which refines its unique identity. Stay tuned to this space for updates on future meetings slated October 30 and December 3. Each of these meetings will be held at 7pm on the University of Washington campus at Alder Hall Commons (1310 NE 40th Street).

Scott Bonjukian is a graduate student at the University of Washington’s Department of Urban Design and Planning. He writes about local and regional planning issues at his personal blog, The Northwest Urbanist.

The option of sensing the city


Second in an illustrated series about place-decoding from the South of France.

How do we decipher this story?

Place Decoding: Moving Beyond the Directed Experience

Sensing the city is a personal experience owned by each of us.  From a legal perspective, it is an urban property right that transcends public and private domains. It is a form of place-decoding that deserves more illustration and attention.

To see and smell the city is an affordable lease, easement or license across space and time, and it is too easily manipulated by other forces, such as intentional design or the accretion of organic forces of growth or decline.

One critical element of place-decoding is understanding who, respectively, are the leaders and followers in the urban experiential adventure.

My ongoing work in France (outlined here) reminds me that this form of place-decoding is critical to each of our experiences, but it is not easy to capture without treating urban places as classrooms for exploration. This may explain why we often choose to institutionalize the path of least resistance (such as yielding to a directed response or championing others’ essays on the zen of walking and biking), rather than foster self-directed efforts to allow each of us to realize our own sensations and experiences.

The Directed Example

In Grasse, Provence, street odors are changeable near the Fragonard parfumerie. Why? Because an Orwellian, directed scent, as illustrated below, dispenses fragrance across a narrow, pedestrian street. Shoppers, caught in post-hypnotic strolls, cannot escape the medieval, odor-masking reality of perfume’s very purpose.

The directed scent

In this case, a deodorant of the street manipulates the observer, externally directing the right to experience described above. The urban observer has no cognitive choice other than to leave, or ignore the smell.

Context Through the Minds’s Eye

In the multi-layered city such as Bastia, Corsica, small pockets of old blend with the new, and lines of sight span the ages and associated technologies.

As shown below, in the two images below, a glance at topography can show either a hill town setting in isolation, a traffic-laden city, or both. One person may see historic urban form up the hill. Another may see a roundabout of automobiles in context, with little regard to the pre-spawl relic above.

The context view

Close but focused

Here, the urban observer has more choice than in the Grasse example to sense for oneself, and more readily understand the mind’s eye.


I’ve said before that we should pay more attention to the place-receivers of placemaking, through encouraging urban diaries that lead us all to better understand where we live, work and travel between. However appropriate the urbanist purpose, we cannot rest simply with the cutting edge, activist goals of bus and bicycle without a more holistic, experiential point of view.

I believe part of the answer is simply enhancing people’s ability to sense the city. More apps, tools and activities all go without saying; examples include Adelaide, Australia’s well-presented “Picture Adelaide 2040” project, Stage 1 of which centers on gathering 1000 stories from citizens (each with a photo) on how they use their favorite urban places.

But “how-to’s”, such as community classes, meet-ups, school curricula, training of political officials and sensitizing of loan officers is also what I have in mind.

We can urge our political leaders, our planners, our designers and real estate professionals that encouraging people to sense the city deserves a high priority in policies, plans and pro-formas. Better cities will not result from a mandated smell this, or see that mindset.

Rather, better cities are more apt to happen if we first learn how to smell and see, a Place-Decoding 101 class affordable to all.

Coming next:  How walking between towns decodes the elements of place.

Images composed by the author in Grasse, and Bastia, Corsica, France. Click on the image for more detail. © 2009-2014 myurbanistAll Rights Reserved. Do not copy.

Event Reminder: U District forum to discuss open space


U District Open SpaceA three-part series of community forums to discuss future open space in the U District starts tonight (as we noted last week). Sponsored by the U District Partnership, the forum will explore the types of activities and values that University District residents want for open space. Future forums will take place on October 30th and December 3rd to discuss the topics of physical elements and pathways to success for open space in the University District.

The forum will be held at the Alder Hall Commons on the University of Washington campus. City staff from various departments will be on hand to engage community members and answer questions while the forum will host panelists. Refreshments begin at 6.30pm with the forum running from 7pm to 9pm.

The Urbanist has cancelled its weekly meeting at Roy Street Coffee & Tea for tonight. Instead, readers of The Urbanist are encouraged to attend this U District forum. Feel free to show up between 6pm and 7pm to chat with community members, staff, and other folks affiliated with The Urbanist. Our next working meeting at Roy Street Coffee & Tea will be held on October 14th.

On a related noted, the U District may have a new parklet opening at NE 42nd Street and The Ave in a few short weeks. We expect that this and many other open space ideas will be explored during the forum events.



Picture 1


Two girls are getting on at southbound Dearborn, early college maybe, coming aboard in handfuls, pulling their luggage behind and beside them. Together they form an impression of primary colors, a rush of straps and travel and quickly brushed hair, shoes built for walking. The one is asking for Mount Baker Station, no doubt interested in Sea-Tac.

As they walk down the aisle I ask, “are you about to go on a big adventure, or coming back from one?”
“We just came from a big adventure, Seattle was our adventure!”
“Oh how fantastic!”

They decide to sit up front, continuing the conversation. “Hope you guys had a good time here,” I ask.
“We did!”
“Thanks for bringing the sunshine!”
“And now we’re taking it away!”
“It’s okay, I’m willing to deal!”
The clouds had just returned. The two of them are effervescent, with wide smiles and sparkling eyes, that natural excitement which comes easily to the youthful of any age.

“How long have you been driving a bus?” the second girl asks. They speak together as one, alternately answering or listening; clearly friends for years.
“Seven years,” I reply.
“Oh. that’s a long time.”
“I loooove it.”
“Getting to talk to people all the time, to provide this elemental need of transport, to help peop- you know how when somebody needs help, and you’re able to help them, and they feel great, and you get this altruistic high of well-being?”
“I know exactly!”
“Oh it feels so great, spreading that good energy. Getting to hang out with all these folks I would never ordinarily get to hang out with…. So I see you’re flying out on a Saturday!”
“Which I think is great. It’s cheaper for sure,”
“Oh, yeah,”
“Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday seem to be the best. I go to LA a lot, and it’s all about Tuesday through Saturday. Doesn’t cost ANYthing,”
“Why do you go to LA?”
“I have some good friends down there. It’s my hometown. Where are you going back to?”
“Columbus, Ohio,” says the one.
“And I’m going to North Carolina,” says the other.
“Just a hop skip and a jump away!”
“Yeah, shouting distance, you know!”
“North Carolina, excellent. By Durham?”
“Close.” She explains a town I haven’t heard of in the vicinity. “About twenty miles away.”
“I’ve never gone out there.”
“You should come!”
“And Columbus, Ohio, where I have also never been.”
“You should come!” says the other girl, in laughing repetition.
“So many new places to add to my already long list of places to travel! Now, how is it that you two know each other if you’re from completely different places?”
The answer involves particulars of going to school together, one formerly living in Ohio, and so on. They explain the banalities with a bubbly energy we all seem to be building together. You know that sensation, talking to someone new at the party about hardly anything at all, but you’re both so excited.

“I have a question!” I suddenly say.
“Were people in Seattle friendly?”
“Oh good. The answer to that question seems to vary dramatically depending on where people are coming from I think.”
“Oh yeah, people were great. well, not everybody, of course. but yeah. You’re friendly!”
“Aw!” Brief pause. “Did you have a favorite thing you saw or did here?”
“Just up the street here, on Rainier, we went to Humble Pie. It was the best! We went there four times in two weeks!”
“Oh my goodness, I’ve been there zero times in fifteen years! Clearly you guys have the jump on me!”
“You’ve gotta go! What’s your favorite thing in Seattle?”

Thinking on my feet, fishing for an answer– “Oh my oh my hmm, that would take too long to answer, there’s just so much! My mind is going crazy just trying to think of an answer!” Pause. They wait for me to come up with something.
“Right here, right now, driving the bus,” I say finally. What else is there, after all, besides the present?
“Yeah, seriously! This is my favorite route.”
“The 7?”
“It’s the only one we took.”
“Well, if you were gonna take just one route, this one would be it! It’s the most popular one, and it goes through Columbia City, which is the most diverse zip code in the United States.”
“Oh wow!”
“Yeah, that’s why it’s my favorite.” That and a host of other reasons, but I’ll spare them the details….
“So here’s Mount Baker, on the right, and over there well, you can see the stairs,”
“What’s your name?”
“Nathan. And yours?”
“Azalia,” says the other.
“Cool name!”
“Have a really great rest of your shift!”

A Latino man stands and comes up to the front. Baseball hat and black work clothes, a jacket flung over his shoulder. I’m not sure how much English he speaks, but I decide to engage him as well; being silent after all that chatter with the girls would be its own statement, and too easily misinterpreted negatively.

“How’s your night going?”
“Good! How about you?”
“Great. Good people,”
“Yeah, I saw you talking to those nice girls!”
“I like talking to people.”
“I work at a resaurant too,”
“Oh, you understand! It’s the same!”
“Yeah, it’s the same. It makes the day exciting.”
“To hear their stories, listen to all these different lives, be part of it….”

The solidarity I felt in the short interaction with him was just as satisfying as the chat with the ladies. They were enjoying being privy to something new to them, but Latino and I were sharing in something we both already know we love. Joy, expressed and explored in different ways. I drove away through the dark overhanging trees at Walden, thinking, it really is true. For this moment, right now, being lucky enough to be driving this 7 down Rainier Avenue really is my favorite thing in Seattle. Yes, you can call me crazy!

Filling in the gap: Cycle track now open on the Issaquah-Preston Trail

Preston Cycle Track
The new Preston Cycle Track, looking west from Preston. The gravel Issaquah-Preston trail picks up at the curve visible in the distance. Photo by the Author.

Earlier this summer, King County Department of Transportation installed a protected bike and pedestrian lane in the rural east of King County. The new facility is along High Point from the eastern end of the Issaquah-Preston Trail to the start of the Preston-Snoqualmie Trail.

The two paths that the cycle track connects are rail-trails. One is paved while the other is soft surface. The trails use disused right-of-way that once formed the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railway (also known as the Milwaukee Road). After going bankrupt in 1980, the railroad right-of-way gave way to many other fantastic rail-trails in the state. Some of these include the Cedar River, Snoqualmie Valley, Lake Sammamish, and Burke-Gilman trails, but also the John Wayne Pioneer Trail/Iron Horse State Park.

The Preston-Snoqualmie Trail links the small community of Preston, 6 miles past Issaquah on I-90, to the city of Snoqualmie, 7 miles further along the route. The trail runs primarily through the rural forestlands and crosses some impressive wood trestles, a great way to escape the city. The Issaquah-Preston Trail essentially acts as a a continuation of the Lake Sammamish Trail, which runs along the east bank of its namesake lake, and climbs up through the Issaquah Alps to arrive in Preston–or at least close to it.

Prior to this summer, trail users had to ride on the shoulders of SE High Point Way for the seven-tenths mile trip to the Preston-Snoqualmie Trail. But now, this part of the trail is gone, and the shoulders of the road have been converted. On the southside of the road, the shoulder has been widened, which now forms a bike and pedestrian trail protected by reflective plastic bollards. These bollards and added shoulder space creates a much safer space for trail user. In order to accommodate trail users, the shoulder on the north side has been slightly reduced in width.

When I biked through the area in early September, I asked a family riding in the cycle track how they felt about the facilities. They indicated that the new facilities created a safe space for them. Thanks to new smoothing paving, a shoulder completely clear of debris, comfortably wide bicycle lanes, and protection offered by the bollards separating traffic, it’s unsurprising that they had a positive impression. The cycle track crosses High Point Way at its east end with a well-marked crosswalk before linking up to the Issaquah-Preston Trail. A few further improvements could be made though. The Issaquah-Preston Trail remains gravel, mostly smooth, but with some rough spots here and there. The trail shouuld eventually be upgraded to a harder surface. KCDOT could also implement inexpensive, permanent buffers for the cycle track. Permeable curb stops, more solid bollards, or planted boxes could be placed along the cycle track to separate it further and increase safety.

The new cycle track fills in not only a key part of the Issaquah-to-Snoqualmie trails corridor, but also connects to the countywide network of trails, and makes it possible to ride all the way from Fremont to Snoqualmie only using trails and being protected from car traffic along the whole corridor.

Sunday Video: Structural Racism


The history of racism in cities and development persists today even though red lining and racist covenants on property are no longer legal.

What We’re Reading: A Changing Waterfront

The Seattle Waterfront on a sunny day by adnamayy on Flickr.
The Seattle Waterfront on a sunny day by adnamayy on Flickr.

This train is delayed: The Seattle Transit Blog has 9 ideas to improve transit. An economic and equity case is made for political support of Sound Transit 3. Capitol Hill Seattle highlights the last run of the Metro 47. The First Hill Streetcar is delayed thanks to the manufacturer, but at least they’ll pay for the delays. Sound Transit has added the Sand Point Crossing to the long-range plan.

London Town: The simple beauty of the UK’s duplexes. Driverless London Underground trains won’t be a reality until at least 2028. A fan-like foot bridge opens in London’s Paddington neighborhood. London is so woody, maybe it should be a national park.

Waterfront bombshells: The seawall project will make some businesses have to close for the next nine months. Meanwhile, Seattle still has a lot of work to do in order to make the Waterfront improvement projects pencil out, and that may mean scaling back project elements.

Urban photography: Meet the Meat Packing District of Manhattan in 1985 and now, it’s a world of change. Awesome “time slices” in cities at dusk.

Global perspectives: We’ve got electric trolleybuses, LA wants electric freight highways… Germany will impose a rent cap on inner-city properties. An argument that the anti-streetcar meme needs to stop, don’t make the “perfect” be the enemy of the “good”. Map the political protest strife in Hong Kong right now. The fantasy of future cities can make for great artwork. Cities all across the US are quite divided–nothing new there–but Richard Florida breaks it down for us. How to create shared use streets for families in mind. Seven myths about the new urbanism revolution. A climate change continues to take hold and cities grow, we’ll need to become more sustainable water-wise. Maybe public signage needs to be more fun, even a bit more functional.

Changes here: Seattle Bike Blog outlines options for improving the pedestrian and bicycle experience across the Ballard Bridge. A new multi-use trail in Arboretum will give the Central District its own “Green Lake”. Another pot shop opens in Seattle in the Central District, say “hello” to Uncle Ike’s. SDOT is planning a revised Dexter Avenue from Denny Way to Mercer Street, now with full protected bike lanes.

Tear down this bridge: Dallas could be investing in another useless highway project for the low, low price of $1.5 billion. Highways could be increasing your blood pressure and making you unhealthy.What roads would be like if they were like bike lanes. Cities across the country are rethinking what they should do with highwaysCar commuting is still king in the US, but it is dropping. Sadly, drivers do get away with murder because of bad policies, not laws.

Use the land: Sightline profiles inclusionary zoning versus exclusionary zoning and says the exclusionary zoning is the real problem. On a related note, developers are suing the City of Seattle in Federal Court over incentive zoning rules. An infographic of every skyscraper in the works for Seattle. Microhousing gets the breaks put on it.

Madison Street BRT open house


On Tuesday, September 30th, SDOT held the first Open House meeting to discuss the Madison Street Corridor Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Project.

Madison Street Corridor OverviewThe Madison Street Corridor had previously been identified in the Seattle Transit Master Plan as one of the main transit corridors in the city that should be upgraded to High Capacity Transit service. Due to the topography of the route, normal adhesion rail based-options were ruled out and Electric Trolley Bus-based BRT was chosen as the preferred transit mode for this study.

After a brief transit-affirming speech by City Councilman Tom Rasmussen who stated his full support for the construction of a “true BRT line” for the city, the lead for this project, Maria Koengeter, introduced the study.

The open house is the beginning of a yearlong study of the corridor and the overall purpose of the meeting was to engage the community to introduce the project as well as to begin the discussion of what the overall needs and goals of the project are.

The estimated capital cost for this BRT line is approximately $87 million, and the City of Seattle has allocated $1 million for this study.

Ms. Koengeter outlined SDOT’s goals for the study as:

  1. Make transit throughout the Madison Corridor more reliable
  2. Create a better transit experience through improved bus stops and amenities such as real-time signage, off-board payment, etc.
  3. Enhance pedestrian connections–make accessing the buses easier, safer, and better
  4. Identify/plan for a parallel bicycle corridor
  5. Improve the general streetscape along the corridor making Madison more pleasant for pedestrians and local residents

The timeline for the study has been set as follows:

  • Determine the needs and goals of the project
  • Evaluate existing conditions of the corridor
  • Evaluate the options and develop two alternative designs
  • Evaluate the design alternatives and perform technical analysis
  • Determine the preferred alternative and bring it to 10% design level
  • Identify and source funding for the preferred alternative and implement the plan

Further public outreach sessions have been tentatively scheduled for November and December this year, and in February and June of 2015.

Background information for bikes and pedestrians.
Background information for bikes and pedestrians.

SDOT and the City are also making sure that this project follows NACTO’s complete streets guidelines that require support for all users, including pedestrians, cyclists, and transit–not just automobiles. Due to the narrow width of Madison Street, the bicycle component of the project will be off-loaded to an adjacent street, which will be determined at a later date.

In addition to the transit and right-of-way changes, the City is also interested in improving the general streetscape of the corridor. This includes improvements to sidewalks, landscaping, and public safety as well as connections to Madison from neighboring streets. SDOT indicated that many improvements to the corridor that can be phased in over the duration of the study. This may include the removal of on-street parking to the addition of lighting and trashcans at existing bus stops.

Through discussion with many of the representatives from SDOT and their consultants at the meeting, it was clear that SDOT and the City of Seattle are eager to design and construct this project correctly. There is a strong desire to make this line function as a true BRT line (with all expected amenities such a line provides) and not as an “Enhanced Bus Service” line such as the existing RapidRide lines.

Stickies for Madison

The representatives from SDOT are factoring in the topography of the route in their study. The route will have closer-than-normal stops (for BRT) and will most likely utilize 40’-45’ Trolley Buses due to clearance issues at the interface between the flat avenue crossings and the hill. The western terminus of the line will be selected as part of the seawall and waterfront redevelopment project. The intention is to have a direct connection to the ferry dock. The eastern terminus of the line is yet to be determined. Currently, the route is being studied from Coleman Dock at the waterfront to at least 23rd Avenue, however, there was a lot of interest in having SDOT look at extending the line all the way to MLK & the Madison Valley Business District.

Finally, the representatives from SDOT seemed to be surprised at the general amount of opposition expressed towards on-street parking on Madison Street, and most seemed to agree that the removal of the parking could be an easy fix to improve service immediately.

The open house had a decent turnout from the public, especially the First Hill Residential and Business communities and the local Hospitals. SDOT’s representatives were knowledgeable about the area and seemed genuinely interested in the possibilities going forward. Many details such as dedicated bus lanes (curb or center lane), traffic signal priority, what happens to the Metro Route 12, etc. have yet to be discussed. However, SDOT is planning at least four more public outreach sessions over the course of the study and their ongoing analysis of the corridor will inform the options they will present to the public.

Whether in the end a true BRT line is built, or simply existing service is enhanced, the attention being finally given to this highly-strained transit corridor is welcome.