Tuesday, 16 July, 2019

Timeless or time-bound in the city?


Take away context clues, and cities become more interesting matrices–with blank cells to complete–where each of us personalizes how space meets time. A uniform filter applied to multiple urban scenes can easily warp time and location, and obscure–yet somehow enhance–the reality of place. This simple premise informs our point of view about city life. For every image, topic or discipline, our values and belief systems inform what we see, especially when familiar guideposts get filtered away. Remove color, crop, leave only hint and nuance, and the city can become an off-trail place where inquiry is a form of intellectual rescue and rediscovery.

In the ten examples below, five questions set the tone for this rediscovery process:

  • Is it apparent when the photo occurred?
  • Is the location clear? If so, is such clarity based on personal familiarity with the location?
  • Is the context of the scene readily understandable? What more would be needed to offer a more complete answer to questions of when and where?
  • Which element of urban life seems the most important to the composition (e.g. safety, environment, mode of transportation, role of public space, public/private interface)?
  • What questions remain?

The answers are for each of us to develop and consider, but one message stands out. Take apart the most fundamental things we see everyday. Inquire, and on the rebound, literally and figuratively, each of us will see things in a whole new light.

Car2Go takes over RideScout, a big win for dynamic urban mobility



A lot of the talk these days is about rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft when it comes to private urban mobility services while other competitors fly under the radar. But last week, Car2Go made some big waves by announcing that its parent company Moovel had gobbled up RideScout and mytaxi, two mobility app services. This merger represents a positive combination of mobility services for urban dwellers amenable to a variety of transportation alternatives on the fly.

In a press release to members on Wednesday, Car2Go talked about their new merger saying:

Since our launch five years ago, we have believed that how we all get from point A to point B has a massive impact on our quality of life and the environment in which we live, work, and play. Whether it’s to get to those significant life experiences, or those everyday life errands, we have remained committed to making life easier to get to where you need to go, when you need to go, with complete ease. As the largest fastest-growing global carsharing company, we are proud to say that we have continued those efforts to provide the best service and experience to our valued community of over 850,000 registered car2go members across 26 cities around the world.

Today, we are thrilled to share that we have acquired RideScout, the leading app-based mobility platform in North America, dedicated to allowing users to search and compare ground transportation options on demand. Together, we share a vision to provide a stronger future of mobility that will provide our valued members across North America with a radically simpler, smarter, and user-focused experience in searching for the best way to get from point A to point B.

The services

Currently, Car2Go is largely a web- and app-based service that connects users to available vehicles parked on-street or in designated Car2Go parking spaces. Trips can be made one-way with fares charged by usage time and vehicles accessed by electronic cards.

RideScout is a broader app-based service that takes a holistic view at transportation. An app user can use the geolocation feature to find available transportation services in proximity and determine the cost and time to a chosen destination. RideScout currently covers over 60 cities in the US and integrates a wide range of mobility services like cycle share, walking, transit, taxis and ridesharing, car rental services, and more. Many of the services can be booked or referred from the RideScout app like Car2Go and taxis. (If you have an interest in trying out the RideScout service, you can download the iOS or Android app.)


Above: some of the dynamic features of RideScout on iOS, click for larger version.

The future

The past few years has seen a rapid evolution of urban mobility services and technology. This has led to many winners and losers in a battle of who will dominate the market (see the endless Uber v. Lyft v. local taxis saga). But it appears that Car2Go has taken a different path, one that is both cooperative and dynamic.

Under a Car2Go-RideScout-mytaxi alliance, the ethos of parent company Moovel is simple: get users from one point to another, even if it that means using other services to do it. That takes guts, especially in light of what Car2Go and mytaxi represent to Moovel. Both are very profitable entities in their own right, and indeed they will be options in the RideScout service–but they are just two of many.

RideScout’s universal mobility means users will be inclined to make other mobility choices that don’t pad Moovel’s bottom line, like taking cycle share or ordering a Sidecar. It’s a bold and commendable decision by Moovel because people can make transparent and informed choices that work best for them at that moment in time. RideScout’s service will continue to improve as features are enhanced and other mobility providers are added and integrated deeper into the app; all of which benefit the app user and urban mobility.

Tweets of the Day: 2nd Avenue Bikeway





Everett’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan update is still uncharted


Everett Downtown 2011

Everett is updating its comprehensive plan. The choices that the city makes will influence building patterns in the city and nearby areas for decades to come. The latest population estimate from the Census Bureau puts Everett at 105,370 people in 2013. In response to anticipated regional growth, the city is exploring three alternatives that would have it accommodate between 133,000 and 165,000 people by 2035. Anything within this range would require a significant increase in the growth rate for a city that has grown slower than surrounding communities for decades. What would it take to achieve these targets?

The Alternatives

Alternative 3 has the smallest growth, with a population target of 133,000. This is a “no action” scenario where trends toward reurbanization would simply build out more of the existing areas zoned for higher densities than what exists today. Most of this growth would occur in the downtown area, surrounding neighborhoods zoned for higher density, and in commercial zones along the north Broadway and Evergreen Way/Highway 99 corridors.

Alternative 2 is the medium growth option and, in this scenario, Everett would see growth to 143,000 residents. Rather than changing land use designations (e.g. from single-family to multi-family), the city would consider a few modest amendments such as increased building heights in the downtown area and more residential density in commercial zones. Lacking a specific driver for growth, Alternative 2 assumes that the market for urban living expands beyond Seattle and Bellevue to include Everett. In many ways, this appears to be the city’s preferred option.

Alternative 1 relies on future investment in high capacity transit (likely Link Light Rail) to spur redevelopment around transit stations and foresees 165,000 people living in Everett by 2035. Because funding for such investment is unknown, no specific action beyond those in Alternative 2 would take place to plan for higher growth at this time. Rather, the city would wait until the location and timing of rail stations become known, and then it would begin planning around future station areas.

In context, Link Light Rail currently has funding to reach Lynnwood by 2023; extending Link further north would require a new funding source. Sound Transit is considering options for its next phase of rail development, but this would be put to a vote in 2016 at the soonest. It is unclear what the timing and route for rail to Everett would be. The state requires Everett to update its plan in 2015, so planning for growth around rail stations would happen after the current comprehensive plan update.

City staff held a workshop with the Everett Planning Commission on September 2nd regarding the alternatives and assumptions above. Details such as where building heights and densities could increase are still to be determined. Readers of The Urbanist who have ideas are encouraged to share their thoughts with Everett staff. Feel free to discuss your ideas here on The Urbanist, but be sure to send them to the city planning director Allan Giffen as well.

Sunday Video: Get On Your Bike


We always keep our eye out for dramatic and fun advertisements, especially when they come to bikes! And boy, does this deliver. Happy Sunday.

What We’re Reading: Float On

Lake Union house boats by Wonderlane on Flickr.

City Hall issues: Mayor Murray made mountains over mole hills to delay the name change of Columbus Day--for symbolic reasons that no one cares about. The City’s measure for schools may lose to the citizen initiative going head-to head while the Hearing Examiner will entertain an appeal against changes to multi-family low-rise zones. Mayor Murray wants to create a new Department of Education and Early Learning, but Council must approve such an action first. And, Publicola reports on how the Mayor is basically ducking the whole micro-housing issue.

Local transit: Seattle Transit Blog has a run down of the February Metro bus cuts, which have been revised. The West Seattle Water Taxi set a brand new monthly record with over 50,000 boardings during the month of August. A case for repurposing a building owned by Sound Transit at the Bellevue Transit; we like the idea of a bus pass shop or retail use.

Not so bikable: The Stranger wonders if helmet laws will impede the success of Pronto! and takes a huge swing at City of Seattle officials for failure to implement the Bike Master Plan, which just might have saved Sher Kung’s life. A very compelling call to change the streetscape for all users along Roosevelt Way and 11th/12th Avenue in the U District, Roosevelt, and Maple Leaf. City Lab examines how bike lanes actually reduce traffic delay. And, the Broadway Bikeway is seeing a surge in ridership, now more than 600 daily.

City highlights: A brief history on the Montlake Cut–landmass to waterway. Floating homes on Eastlake having viewings this weekend. A Capitol Hill theater company plans one last gig before it moves in the 12th Ave Arts building. SIFF’s Egyptian Theatre on Capitol Hill will open in October with free shows for neighbors! Seattle has the dubious honor of being the state’s first guinea pig in the charter school arena; we can only hope that this won’t be a trend, or that it will harm our local schools.

Elsewhere in the Sound: A treatise on development north of Seattle that has led to sidewalks becoming useless, but they apparently have a much larger discussion thread for greater Snohomish County area, if forum thread are your thing. Wonks. St. Edward State Park, a former seminary in Kenmore, is in jeopardy of falling apart, and the state has no way to fund repairs. Hope is in sight though if the right deal can be struck with a private partner.

A broken dream: The American Dream is now micro, or at least a slimmed down America. Ironically, it isn’t only the young bailing on the large house, so too are the aging Baby Boomers who bought off more than they could chew when they bought into environments built only for the young. The sprawl of Atlanta is horrific when you compare it to Barcelona‘s comfortable compact nature, which has more residents and is 1/10th the size. Apparently its tough for a true urbanite to live in a small town, at least for Reyhan Harmanci in her personal story of quaint Hudson, NY. Old Urbanist talks about the demise of the duplex and related housing types. And, a map of decline around St. Louis and article on how St. Louis County profits from poverty.

Competing solutions: The Federal Highway Administration touts a rebound in driving, and say it’s time to build more highways–except it’s not true on a per capita VMT level. Mental disorders keep tens of thousands of homeless on the streets in the US, but there are solutions to this. Portland, Oregon looks at tiny houses as one solution to homelessness.

Focus on the UK: The UK Airports Commission has put the kibosh on ambitious plan to move London’s major airports to a consolidated location on east Thames. Forget London, Mexico City has an even more impressive airport in terms of design. Meanwhile, UK Thatcherite privatization of the railroads has seen private railway operators split from semi-public railway infrastructure company Network Rail. Turns out that Network Rail has been subsidizing the system by transferring publicly borrowed British Pounds to railway operators, and now the public are on the hook for it all. Apparently this is the most new oppressive building in the UK for 2014–way to go Tesco! And, an eclectic skyscraper that could transform the way people live; it’s very futuristic.

Other overseas urbanism:  A German town gets rid of traffic signs, traffic lights, and most rules of the road, but guess what! The streets are safer now that they’re a shared space.  Copenhagen has ignored calls to implement street calming and conversion despite a compelling case, so Copenhagenize has done the legwork for the municipality. And, New Dehli put the brakes on cars for a day to bring sanity back to the city, and the results were amazing. I guess if you’re going to make a waste incinerator, you may as well make it beautiful, too.

The Glow II



At Letitia I put the lift out, saying goodbye to a couple I haven’t seen in some years. He’s a Vietnam vet with a summer job transporting convicts between different prisons cross-country. She remembers me from the 5 and likes my attitude. They’re on their way to the hospital and the bank.

“Good luck with everything,”
“Oh, it’ll be easy. All I gotta do is activate an ATM card.”
“Oh.” I thought it was some sort of trying experience they were heading into. “Piece of cake!” To her I say, in reference to an earlier conversation, “and I hope your infection’s gone next time I see ya!”

A woman’s been watching from the chat seat. “Is the next one Mount Baker,” she asks. She had moved up to the front at Genessee, calmly, no rush. A rare Caucasian passenger on this corridor, I’m thinking thirties, some sort of European descent, dressed in a ponytail and women’s business casual, a trim collection of grays and tailored lines. Demure.

“We’re dangerously close!” I reply. “It’s three more stops, if I’m not mistaken.”
“Are you going, let’s see. To the airport?”
“No, I’m just getting the 48.”
“Oh. Goin’ up to the U District?”
She nods. “I’m going to UW.”
“That’s my school!”
“Oh, great. I’m going in for an ultrasound today!”

I can see how excited she is. She’s brightening up by the moment, opening and lightening up, relaxing into the space. I can’t place her accent. Her eyes sparkle with the joy of getting to be herself–we censor ourselves in public sometimes, and she’s realizing with me she doesn’t have to.”I’m so excited to see my baby. He’s already six months old–well, inside, I mean!”
“That’s wonderful. So much to think about. Names, colors… do you know if it’s a boy or a,”
“I do.”
“Have you started thinking about names?”
“Oh, we already have a name. My husband is good with names. He reads a lot!”
“Oh, terrific!”
“I can’t wait to see what he looks like!”I hesitate a millisecond before speaking, but then I think, why not share. She’s sharing. “Yeah, my mom is Korean and my dad is white, and people often say I look either like a boy version of my mom, or an Asian version of my dad.”
She smiles, her laugh rippling into the morning sunshine. “That sounds great! You got the best of both!”
“Oh, I dont know! I hope so!”
“Speaking of, I have a friend who is also half-Korean, actually half-Korean and half Jewish. He’s from Eastern Europe.”
“Very nice. My friend just went to Romania, the Ukraine, Moscow,”
“Oh, wonderful.” She seems excited to hear about someone traveling to parts of Europe other than Paris and Rome. “I’m from there. Well, nearby, the Baltic States.”
“Oh, excellent. My training is in photography, so I get very excited about traveling!”
“You should definitely go to the Baltic States!”
“I will!” I say, pulling up to Martin Luther King Way.
It occurs to me as I slow for the red light that I have every intention of doing so.

“Congratulations again,” I say as she’s getting off. “You have the glow!” I emphasize the line with a hand gesture, hoping she knows what I mean.
She looked at me for a moment. In a few short minutes we had reached a space where it felt comfortable to say such things. “Oh, thank you! You too, you do too!”

I suppose I meant the glow of being pregnant. Sometimes we find people who absolutely radiate vitality–it seems almost reductive to call it positive energy, though I guess that’s what it is. They might be pregnant, or engaged, or children, or just those rare souls whose well-being explodes out of them for reasons too large to decipher.

A young man once got on my 70 so overwhelmed with joy he rode to the terminal just so we could finish talking about it, parsing it out in words, attempting to solve the mystery. He’d been torn up over the loss of his girlfriend for six months, and today he had a conversation at a “combination tanning salon slash video store,” chatting with the owner about the history of the establishment. The owner was pragmatic in a humorous way: people like suntans, and they also like videos. There you go.

Something about that conversation, in combination with the act of stepping back outside to the sun shining down on him, had filled the young man with an ecstatic, tangible elation which suffused his entire being, and he felt strangely, randomly freed from his grief, as if alerted for the first time to all the greatness going on around him. The rest of the world had been taking place for the past six months, and now he could see it again. We spent the ride and my break at the terminal trying to capture its reasons for happening now, today. Could we bottle it and summon it at will in the future? Could we live in it always? The answers to such queries were outside the scope of our comprehension.

Suffice it to say it was great to live amidst the Glow, talking to Mrs. Baltic States, to live and learn in its presence, coaxing something new out of both of us. She walked over to the 48 stop and I drove up Rainier, spreading the good feeling one person at a time.


Save Seattle: Tax, License & Insure Pedestrians


Throughout the City of Seattle, residents are seeing their neighborhood streets besieged by free-loading, scofflaws, also known as pedestrians. The crux of the problem is that Seattle is facing budget woes, large areas without sidewalks and 634,535 residents that don’t pay their fair share towards the problem. Fortunately, a new group has stepped forward advocating for change, Concerned Seattlites for Safe Sidewalks, Pedestrian Regulation and Stopping Sadness (CSSSPRSS). CSSSPRSS representatives note that other forms of transportation pay their fair share, such as transit riders through fares and motorists through the gas tax, but pedestrians don’t pay anything towards the maintenance and upkeep of sidewalks. This explains why so many sidewalks are cracked and in dire conditions.

Courtesy of cjelli

Beyond wear and tear, there are further issues with pedestrians. If you’re a motorist, you are likely familiar with the common problem of pedestrians impeding your right-of-way, crossing against the light or jaywalking. Not only do the seconds lost from these activities likely add up to minutes, but everyone bears the cost of healthcare for scofflaw pedestrians. The benefits from licensing pedestrians is bigger than helping solve these problems though. If every pedestrian is licensed, it will finally be possible to require all pedestrians to hold walker insurance. This will mitigate the vast costs from things like drunk walking.

While licensing pedestrians may seem unusual, licensing for all types of things is common, especially transportation modes. As James Vesely points out at the Seattle Times, “Special licenses are not new. We license dogs, our cars, our boats, our motorcycles, our pleasures in hunting and fishing, as well as many other outdoor activities.” While the cost of all the undocumented pedestrians in Seattle is obvious, naysayers suggest that it would be impossible or unprofitable to implement. The CSSSPRSS has a plan though.

Implementing A Pedestrian Fee

Implementation would be relatively simple. Since all Seattle residents are potential pedestrians, Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) could send a letter out to each address in the city annually. Citizens would be required to reply to the letter stating how many people live in the house and return a small, $10 dollar fee for each pedestrian. In order to ensure enforcement, all citizens would have to return the fee unless they affirmatively petitioned the City and proved that they never used sidewalks. Upon receipt of the fee, the city would send a small license plate attached to a necklace back to the citizen. It would be necessary for each citizen to wear this while walking around so that the police could reasonably tell the difference between law-abiding, registered pedestrians and rule-breakers. This would be especially useful in situations like pedestrian critical mass, commonly seen around Westlake Mall during lunch time.

Unfortunately, pedestrians aren’t the only problem on our sidewalks. The especially egregious free-loaders are those that have pets and strollers. Strollers add to the wear and tear of our sidewalks. Since this is especially common in Ballard, it would be best to have an additional stroller fee in that neighborhood.

Lastly, Seattle hosts a lot of tourists who also aren’t paying their fair share. In order to ensure their contribution, it will be necessary to require all Seattle visitors to register with the SDOT and pay a small fee before they are allowed to use sidewalks. Many people might object that this would be confusing to tourists and it’s unlikely they would comply. On the contrary, it’s likely many people would hear about the law before coming to Seattle because it would be the only city in the country with this policy. If non-compliance became a problem, all the City would need to do is throw a few tourists in jail to make a point.

Take Action

CSSSPRSS points out that now is a unique opportunity for this novel solution. With the upcoming City Council elections in 2015, CSSSPRSS points out that Council will feel pressure if citizens take action. Considering the overwhelming power of the pedestrian lobby, it’s important to act diligently and timely. It’s likely there will be push-back from militant pedestrians. The most effective contribution you can make is to publicly support this initiative by notifying news affiliates. We encourage you to email the following media organizations.


Suggested Email Text

Dear Media Organization,

I’m emailing to stand in strong support of pedestrian licensing in Seattle. While pedestrian licensing may seems strange, Jim Vesely (former Seattle Times editorial contributor), makes a strong logical argument for all types of licensing, “Special licenses are not new. We license dogs, our cars, our boats, our motorcycles, our pleasures in hunting and fishing, as well as many other outdoor activities.”

It is clear that Seattle has a sidewalk crisis. There aren’t enough sidewalks. They are in terrible disrepair. There are too many free-loading, scofflaw pedestrians. Requiring pedestrian licensing would help address the city’s budget problems, raise money for sidewalk maintenance, require everyone to pay their fair share and help the city track and punish pedestrians that break the law.

This issue hasn’t received enough coverage and I strongly encourage you to provide the time it deserves.


Concerned Seattlite

Bike Works

Bike Works