King County Metro Transit just launched a comprehensive planning effort to chart a new vision and direction for the agency. Metro recognizes that transit will continue to play an instrumental role in moving people, reducing congestion, and driving the region’s economy. Of course, no transit system stays the same forever. Metro wants to lay the groundwork for growth and change in the future by planning now. To do this effectively, the agency hopes to a develop a plan that will analyze a 25-year period. The agency also plans to engage a wide range of stakeholders–like riders–to inform the goals, policies, strategies, and investments that will be outlined in the final plan
To give a bit more context, here’s how Metro describes the planning effort:
With King County growing fast, it’s time to lay the foundation for a public transportation system that moves more people and moves them better. What should our transit system look like in 25 years? How can we support our economy, our environment, and the people who live here? How will Metro integrate with the expanding light rail system? These are the kind of questions that captured the imagination of civic leaders years ago, and their vision led to the public transportation system we rely on today. Now it’s time to imagine a new future.
Metro’s long range plan will present a shared vision for a future public transportation system that gets people where they want to go and helps our region thrive. The plan will describe an integrated network of transportation options, the facilities and technology needed to support those services, and the financial requirements for building the system. It will be developed in close coordination with Sound Transit and other transportation agencies.
Over the next two years, Metro will work with transit riders, cities, community groups, and motorists to shape a long-range plan for meeting our region’s growing and changing public transportation needs.
Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 in a three-part series on measuring the success of Seattle’s urban village strategy. For background on the report, see our primer in Part 1, and then then take a look at some of the indicators in Part 3. In this article, Scott takes a look at 12 of 22 indicators from the report.
Resource Use and Conservation
The six indicators in this category looked at how efficiently the city is using its resources, namely in the realms of traffic, utilities, and historic buildings. This is representative of environmental stewardship.
Transit ridership: Seattle transit ridership continues to grow, with over 300,000 daily rides on the Metro bus system within city limits. From 2004 to 2014, ridership per person per acre increased in all of the study areas except Eastlake. This indicator does not include data from Sound Transit or other agencies.
Traffic counts: Though traffic volumes have decreased over the past decade, of the ten study areas the U-District had the highest traffic volumes compared to its capacity. While the data didn’t include occupancy or vehicle types, an overall decrease in volumes suggest opportunities to reconfigure arterial streets with protected bike lanes and bus-only lanes.
Residential energy use: Energy use per person has been steadily declining, dropping 17 percent from 4,777 kWh in 1994 to 3,948 kWh in 2010. While energy efficient appliances help, the project credits Seattle City Light’s conservation programs and environmentally minded residents. One-third of downtown’s commercial properties are LEED certified. Data was not available at the urban village level.
Residential water use: Since 2004 water use per capital declined in all of the urban villages, except for a slight uptick in the U-District, which also has the lowest consumption on the order of 1,500 cubic feet per year. Not surprisingly, neighborhoods with lots of single family homes like West Seattle Junction have higher water use per capita, edging towards 3,000 cubic feet per year.
Residential landfill waste: Also trending downward, this measure declined an impressive 30 percent from 1990 to 2010 to 0.19 tons (380 pounds) of solid waste per capita. While data is not available for urban villages specifically, the citywide recycling rate as of 2013 is 56.2 percent. The previous comprehensive plan set a goal for 69 percent by 2020, which will probably be met.
Historic preservation: This simple measure only reported that the city has 346 official historic landmarks, with 180 of those added since 1994. While it is notable that downtown has the largest share, this indicator would be more useful if it provided any indication of the importance of historic landmarks or comparing preservation and demolition over time.
Indicators in this category reflect general well-being of neighborhoods, including safety and health.
Crime related 911 calls: While not a perfect representation of actual crime statistics, this measure showed a decline in 911 calls to report violent, vice, and property crimes in all ten urban villages between 1998 and 2013. Downtown had the highest volumes in both years, and also the biggest drop. Emergency calls may be linked to residential stability and social cohesion in neighborhoods.
Access to arts and culture: This measure counted theaters, galleries, arts offices, rehearsal rooms, libraries, music clubs, museums, and cinemas in each of the urban villages being studied, and expressed access to them as a ratio to the size of the village. Downtown scores best, with one cultural center for every five acres. The residential villages, such as Eastlake and Westwood, scored lowest. The authors acknowledge that while such amenities can enhance community spirit, they may also be indicative of gentrification and rising property values.
Farmer’s markets: Of the ten villages studied, five have active farmer’s markets. Downtown alone has three, including two offshoots of Pike Place at City Hall and in Pioneer Square. Such markets provide access to local food and community cohesion. This measure is difficult to compare urban villages with, though there is a clear opportunity to expand the markets to neighborhoods without them.
Community gardens: This indicator has more useful data for analysis, as the city’s Department of Neighborhoods runs a formal “p-patch” network of community gardens citywide. The program is so popular that the wait lists for plots average two years long. The authors indicate that an ideal ratio is one garden per 2,500 households. Three of the studied villages have no community gardens, while the U-District has the most at three. Megan Horst, a UW planning student, has done an inventory showing there are 45 unused city-owned parcels, 122 school properties, and 129 parks that are suitable for urban agriculture.
Low birth weights: Defined as less than 5.5 pounds, the prevalence of low birth weights is a proxy for community health and nutrition. Downtown and Rainier Beach had the highest rates, over 8 percent during the 2000-2012 study period. But rates in the other eight villages varied widely. Efforts to address other public health problems, such as drug addiction or food deserts, could improve infant health.
Life expectancy: From 2000 to 2010, average life expectancy at birth has been on an upward trend across the ten urban villages. But it also varies by quite a bit between them; children born in Lake City can expect to live to 80, while those born in Eastlake can expect to live to 85. Research has shown that availability of open space, exposure to pollution, crime, healthcare access, and a variety of other factors play into this indicator.
Funding for this expansion has already been partially secured. Sound Transit has pledged $50m to the project under Sound Transit 2 revenues. A further $13m has come from the City of Tacoma,which is a mix of local tax dollars and separate grants. But even with existing funding sources and the possibility of federal grants, the project has a serious funding hurdle to cross–$27m remains unsourced at this point. As a partner of the expansion project, the City of Tacoma must help secure the remaining $27m in order to make good on their promised $40m.
In a statement yesterday, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland said:
I am grateful to the Obama Administration for including the Tacoma Link Expansion in its FY 2016 budget. The City of Tacoma and its residents have spent several years working with Sound Transit to identify an alignment to best serve the needs of those who live, work, visit and invest here. This Small Starts grant, if approved, will help secure the remaining funding needed to advance this important regional project for Tacoma.
Of course, there should be a word of caution to this news. The President’s budget must first be approved by Congress. And, there’s no guarantee that the Small Starts grant program will be fully funded, especially by a Republican-controlled House and Senate that are rabidly anti-transit. As the legislative process moves forward for 2016 FY, we’ll have a better idea of whether or not the grant will flow into the coffers of Tacoma Link.
Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 in a three-part series on measuring the success of Seattle’s urban village strategy. For the the 22 independent indicators, see Part 2 and Part 3. In this article, Scott distills down some key background details from the report.
Correction: The SSNAP report has been updated to correct statistics on where Seattle residents work. 38.2 percent of Seattle’s employed residents work outside of the city, not 62 percent.
A new report by consulting firm Steinbrueck Urban Strategies, headed up by former City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck, details the changes Seattle’s urban villages have experienced over the past 20 years. This information will be used by planners to prepare for the next two decades with the Seattle 2035 comprehensive plan update, though the study itself has some issues.
The Seattle Sustainable Neighborhoods Assessment Project (SSNAP) assesses the city’s original 1994 comprehensive plan and “urban village” strategy, which called for focusing growth in existing commercial centers. SSNAP found that, in terms of population and employment growth, the urban village concept has been successful. About 75 percent of new households and jobs in the last 20 years have been located in hubs like Downtown, Ballard, and Beacon Hill. On the flip side, public investment has not been equitable across the city’s 32 villages. And many of them are not achieving goals in housing affordability and access to education. The project aims to form lessons from the past and make recommendations for the city’s future.
Many cities are now using indicators, which are metrics that measure various aspects of civic life. Indicators are most often used as annual benchmarks to check progress towards social, environmental, and economic goals. Sustainable Seattle was the first to do so at an urban level in the early 1990s. SSNAP developed 22 such indicators in four categories: resource use and conservation; healthy communities; open space and development; and shared prosperity and opportunity.
The authors selected 10 urban villages for analysis based on geographic distribution and diverse demographic characteristics. The ten selected are, from north to south: Lake City; Licton Springs; Ballard; University District; Eastlake; Downtown; Beacon Hill; West Seattle Junction; Highland Park; and Rainier Beach. Much of the report’s data was not divisible at the urban village level, or was not available at all for certain neighborhoods. This makes clear from the get-go that the study’s methodology has limitations.
Citywide, Seattle faces the challenge of planning for 120,000 new residents in 60,000 new households over the next 20 years. The city’s goal is to balance this with 1.8 new jobs per household, and with the current balance at 1.6 this means over 180,000 new jobs are needed in same time period. Along with attracting employers, the City will need to update zoning rules to enable sufficient capacity in urban villages, which make up only a small portion of the city’s land. According to SSNAP, 69 percent of the city’s developable land is zoned exclusively for single-familyhomes, which means the core neighborhoods are going to become far denser than they already are. Their boundaries may also need to be expanded, spilling larger buildings into quieter neighborhoods to the delight of urbanists and the dismay of homeowners.
Another key point is that only 61.8 percent of employed Seattle residents work in the city itself. 38.2 percent commute outside of the city for employment. In an email, Steinbruck told me, “This is an important measure of regional growth management, which seeks to reduce travel trip [sic] by linking residents more closely to employment centers.” The Puget Sound Regional Council has not established any goal related to this fact in the Vision 2040 plan, which is preparing for a regional population of five million. The situation also highlights the immense appeal of living in the central city, the huge amount of employment growth in the suburbs, and the pressing need for building up multi-modal transportation systems that accommodate bi-directional commuting patterns.
UPDATE:The original presentation to the city and report indicated that nearly 62% of people commuted out of Seattle for employment and we reported that number here originally. This number was updated by the city and we have edited this article to reflect that update.
This article is a cross-post from The Northwest Urbanist, the personal blog of Scott Bonjukian. He is a graduate student at the University of Washington’s Department of Urban Design and Planning.
I don’t really care for football. In fact, I take issue with its non-profit status and insistence on public financing for private stadiums. But I do appreciate its contribution to a community spirit that has enlivened Seattle and the entire Pacific Northwest over the last few years (along with soccer, apparently). This spirit is shared by the people who live in this region, from the friendly Canadians to the hippie Oregonians. As with other challenges, we must move past Sunday’s heartbreak loss and forge ahead in making our home better for current and future generations.
The concept of Cascadia, a bioregion linked intricately with its economy and people, predates the Seahawks. There is something about our unique geography that has become ingrained in our culture and ties together the people who live here. Every day we share a misty blend of soaring mountains and inland waters, and iconic wildlife like the tall evergreen and silvery salmon. Our architecture favors warm timber, cozy social spaces, and views upon sweeping vistas. Modern civilization has nestled among the hills and forests only recently, and unlike other west coast cities our metro areas are relatively compact, giving rise to a very localized sense of place. Being somewhat isolated from the rest of the country makes us turn inwards and intrigued by local affairs. These factors have even prompted an underground movement to secede Washington and Oregon with British Columbia to form a new nation.
Recent writings have sneered at newcomers and enshrined what it means to be a Northwest native. We’re a hardy bunch, forgoing umbrellas and taking pleasure in a stroll among mossy pines or drifting across an alpine lake. And even if some of us are tied down, we like to know we’re only hours from skiing or pitching a tent on the beach, if we want to. We delight in comfort food and good company most of the wet and dreary year, and then move outside in droves during an explosion of festivities and celebration during the precious few summer months. Surely, only someone born here can appreciate the glory of blue skies and warm sunshine.
Our economy is also distinct. From aerospace and startups to microbrews and coffee, we take pride in local products and institutions that are the envy of the world. Seattle is home to one of the world’s largest fishing fleets and top research universities. We also treasure the agricultural products and landscapes of the eastern plains, even if our politics don’t align. But collectively we do lead on social issues, like equal marriage and the end of costly drug prohibition. Governmental partnerships foster a shared sense of purpose, and even a future vision of high speed rail between Vancouver and Portland. We also reap the bounty of inland wind and hydrological resources that cleanly power our cities and industries. The local food movement is evident in a growing variety of local farms, neighborhood markets, and the proliferation of urban agriculture.
We’re socially resilient and endlessly optimistic. Even after Sunday’s defeat, I heard people cheering and chanting on the streets. “It was a hell of a season”, I often heard, and “there’s always next year” said a guy who came all the up from Oregon. Whether we lose in the legislature, see our homes swept away by landslides or wildfire, or lament the closure of beloved establishments, we have infinite potential in our ability to pick ourselves up and move forward to better things. Because if we don’t get the job done of making our home a better place to live, who will?
The Metropolitan King County Council is getting serious about climate change. Yesterday, the Council announced that it had come up with a brand new set of policies to curb carbon emissions. The policies will direct two County departments to become carbon neutral, create a new carbon offset program, and allow others like governments, individuals, and private entities to buy credits under the offset program to collectively reduce emissions.
The initiative, called the Transit Carbon Offset Program, is an incredibly unique strategy for the County. Credits that are sold under the program will be directly invested in transit. Yes, transit. Carbon offset programs aren’t new, there are plenty of them out there like clean energy, reforestation, land banking, and funding building rehabilitation. But King County’s new program would be the first of its kind.
Revenue derived from the sale of transit offset credits would be used by King County Metro Transit (Metro Transit). Metro Transit could spend the credits on new service hours or on investments that would provide even more emissions reductions beyond regular operations.
While transit can still be carbon intensive, the service that it provides can more than make up for the fuel burned by running buses. Transit takes cars off of the road, puts less stress on other services, and reduces inefficient land use patterns.
As King County notes, over 118 million trips were made on Metro Transit last year, which is the equivalent of 175,000 fewer cars clogging the roads each weekday, and led to a reduction of over 600,000 metric tons of carbon emissions. That’s a big bite into carbon emissions. Of course, Metro Transit is also leading the way with fleet modernization. The agency boasts a large and growing fleet of hybrid buses, and has the second largest fleet of zero-emission electric trolleybuses in the nation.
The new legislation also requires the Wasterwater Treatment Division and Solid Waste Division to become carbon neutral. The departments are directed to buy carbon offset credits for any emissions that the departments produce. This would therefore make them net carbon neutral. The transit carbon offset credits would be the first type of credit that the departments would be allowed to purchase. Although, the legislation does provide an out should the transit credits not be comparably priced.
To administer the offset program transparently, Metro Transit will consult with a third-party organization to monitor the transit offset credits. The third-party organization will be responsible for verifying how Metro Transit will spend revenue from the offset program. Ultimately, Metro Transit must show that the offset credits go toward programs and service that reduce carbon emissions. This will also help provide a rating and establish the cost basis for each credit. These carbon offsets will be available for purchase by WTD, SWD, other governments, and private individuals and entities.
King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski praised the legislation, which he sponsored, saying:
This is a win-win ordinance. It’s good for our environment and good for our economy. It will make our two utilities carbon-neutral and provide for further investment in Metro Transit, to take even more emissions out of the air. I felt that we needed to take significantly stronger, proactive steps today to address the pressing challenge posed by climate change and local air pollution.
Council Chair Larry Phillips, who co-sponsored the legislation, further emphasized the program’s importance:
With the reality of climate change it’s more critical than ever to continue our commitment to protect the natural resources of our environment. We need to take bold action to meet this challenge and reduce carbon emissions. Investing in energy efficiency and other best practices to reduce greenhouse gases will make a healthier, more sustainable future in King County.
The legislation may appear disconnected to some, but seemingly benign activities like flushing your toilet, throwing food scraps away, and driving to work can have big collective impacts. This legislation wisely looks at our everyday actions and seeks to connect them with a smart solution to reduce air pollution. And while it’s government-focused, it gives businesses and individuals concerned about their environmental impact another practical way to invest their Green dollars. This innovative approach is certainly something that other agencies should consider whether for transit or other valuable carbon-reducing services. For King County though, increased transit service will only help further our collective environmental goals toward a carbon-lite region.
The House Transportation Committee successfully passed Sound Transit 3 out of committee by a close vote on Monday. Only one member, Jim Moeller (D-49, Vancouver), crossed party lines to vote against the measure. The final vote was 13-12. A full roll call of the votes is provided below.
The bill (HB 1180) grants additional taxing authority for Sound Transit to fund the next round of high capacity transit investments in the Puget Sound region, outlined in the Long Range Plan. Plans include extending light rail from Everett to Tacoma, from Downtown Seattle to West Seattle/Burien and Ballard, and from Bellevue to Issaquah. It also includes high capacity corridors across the Eastside, down to Burien, and throughout Pierce County.
Rep. Hargrove (R-47, Kent) offered an amendment to add three directly elected positions to the Sound Transit board, one from each county. He spoke of the need for more direct representation and a feeling among his constituents that their voices weren’t being heard on big decisions. Rep. Farrell (D-46, Seattle) spoke against the amendment, citing concerns about creating three new elected positions. The amendment failed.
The ranking Republican, Rep. Orcutt (R-20, Clark County) offered a second amendment to exclude all counties outside of Sound Transit’s jurisdiction (King, Snohomish, and Pierce). This provoked Rep. Moeller (D-49, Vancouver) and Rep. Morris (D-40, Bellingham) to speak against the bill, citing the need that their smaller counties have for additional transit funding. Rep. Clibborn (D-41, Bellevue), the chair of the committee, spoke for the amendment as a way to “keep the bill clean” by keeping it exclusively about ST3. The amendment ultimately passed at the cost of Rep. Moeller’s vote.
During debate on the full bill, Rep. Kochmar (R-30, Federal Way) argued it was unclear how much the bill would cost the average taxpayer while ST2 was still being paid off. She also wanted a guarantee that Sound Transit would invest in South King County after they cut back plans to extend Link light rail during the recession. Residents have continued to express frustration at Sound Transit for allegedly violating the subregional equity principle, in which the revenue generated from each of the five subregions must be spent in that area.
Rep. Orcutt offered his own list of reasons against the bill, warning that Seattle would “tax [itself] into oblivion.” His comments seemed to ignore recent poll findings that 68% of registered voters in King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties support ST3, rising to 70% with the $15 billion price tag. In addition, mass transit topped out the economy/jobs as voters’ top priority. Rep. Orcutt also said he hoped Seattle would pony up when rural communities need funding for their transit (i.e., road) projects. But ST3 wouldn’t cost the state a dime—it simply gives Puget Sound area residents the ability to tax themselves.
Legislators are hoping to pass the bill out of the Legislature in time for a ballot measure in 2016. Presidential election years boost turnout about Democratic, transit-oriented voters. Next it will have to pass out of the House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. Ross Hunter (D-48, Bellevue), before a full vote on the House floor where Democrats hold a 51-47 majority. The bill then faces a tough road through the Republican-controlled Senate, including the Transportation Committee chaired by Sen. Curtis King (R-14,Yakima), who recently proposed tolling bicyclists across SR-520.
Join Pronto! on Thursday for a celebration of everything bike-related in Pioneer Square. The event is a great moment to socialize with other cyclists, talk about bike culture, and argue about the proposal to toll bikes on SR-520.
The event will include a short social ride at 6:00, as well as beverages, a bike sculpture and much more. Free Pronto! 24-hour passes will be handed out as well.
When: 5:30-8pm, Thursday, February 5th
Where: Nord Alley in Pioneer Square
For more details and to RSVP, check out the details on the Pronto! website.