To Achieve Mayor Murray’s Goal, Stop Tunneling

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Viaduct traffic collapse - From Sightline
Viaduct traffic collapse – From Sightline

Yesterday, in Mayor Murray’s first state of the city speech, he touts downtown’s low single occupancy mode share (page 10) – fewer than half of downtown commuters drive alone to work, preferring instead transit, walking, biking, or carpooling. He laid out a vision I strongly agree with – reducing driving alone from just under 50% to 25%.

This morning on Sightline Daily, Clark Williams-Derry shows us why we’ve dipped below that 50% mark – “traffic volumes on the Alaskan Way Viaduct have collapsed“.

The viaduct is down from carrying 110,000 cars a day – the number used to justify needing a tunnel – to only 62,000. Surface streets are seeing a barely noticeable increase. Transit usage has jumped. This lack of gridlock was predicted by myself and other proponents of the cheaper, lower carbon emissions, more equitable, lower risk, and faster surface/transit option.

Great, right? Not so fast. Finishing the tunnel would likely bring driving alone back above half of commute share. Currently, car trips bypassing downtown on I-5 compete with commute traffic. Putting them in the new tunnel would free up car space on I-5 and other routes, shifting users back from transit to driving, and taking our goal backwards.

If we agree with Mayor Murray’s goal, we would be better off stopping the tunnel today, and spend the remaining money on projects that grow the transportation system we want.

Seattle 2035 Open House

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Seattle 2035
Seattle 2035

Seattle 2035Seattle is in the midst of its update to the city’s comprehensive plan, dubbed “Seattle 2035“. Washington State’s Growth Management Act requires that cities and counties across the state update their comprehensive plans every 10 years to adequately plan for a 20-year horizon. The current update cycle has many other cities and counties working to complete their updates by the state-required June 30, 2015 deadline. Prior to the update process, a lot of behind the scenes work is done: buildable land and capacity analyses, reviews of effectiveness metrics from past plans, demographic and job projections, analysis of current levels of service, and much more.

With the launch of Seattle 2035, two years of public engagement begins, led by the Department of Planning and Development (DPD). The public can review the background profile of the comprehensive plan and comment about where future planning policy should go. Whatever ultimately comes out of the comprehensive plan update, these policies will guide implementing regulations, programmes, initiatives, and plans over the next decade and more.

If you would like to get involved, be sure to check out the website, comment, and attend future meetings. On Thursday the 20th, DPD staff will be holding an open house and presentation from 5.30pm to 8pm at the Central Library. Be sure to meet in the Microsoft Auditorium:

Join us for an open house about Seattle 2035, a yearlong citywide conversation about how Seattle should grow over the next 20 years. After the Open House, Christine Gaspar, Executive Director of the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP), will speak about how this New York-based non-profit uses art and design to improve public participation in shaping the built environment.

Where does the water go when you flush the toilet? What is affordable housing? Who owns the Internet? Who decides where noxious land uses go? The Center for Urban Pedagogy wants you to know!

CUP is a New York City-based nonprofit organization that makes accessible, visual explanations of the complex issues that shape our everyday lives. CUP’s Executive Director, Christine Gaspar, will talk about how the organization collaborates with grassroots organizers and talented designers to create posters, workshop tools, websites, and animations that demystify policy and planning and give individuals the tools to advocate for their own community needs.

The projects are designed with and for advocacy organizations to help increase their capacity to mobilize their constituents on important urban issues. CUP’s print, audio, video, and media projects, along with tactile interactive workshop tools, are in use by dozens of community organizers and tens of thousands of individuals in New York City and beyond.

The work have been featured in the Cooper-Hewitt Museum’s National Design Triennial, PS-1, and two Venice Biennales, and awarded a 2012 Curry Stone Design Prize and a 2010 Rockefeller Foundation Cultural Innovation Fund Award.

DPD will have a mini open house starting at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the update to the Seattle Comprehensive Plan.

The lecture starts at 6:30 p.m.

“Actually, it says ****” (the Last Day I Drove the 358)

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last 358

 

This post is a follow-up of sorts to two writeups from last year, “(Hopefully Not) The Last Day I Drove the 358,” Parts One and Two.

Her black baseball hat has some sort of lettering on it, black calligraphy on a black background. She tosses in the correct amount of coins for youth fare, shoulder-length curls framing clean olive skin and tastefully dark make-up.

“What does your hat say?”

“Actually, it says cunt.”

“Oh. Awesome,” I responded. “Bein’ bold!”

Why did I say her cunt hat was awesome? Because a silent response would carry a meaning that wouldn’t be true. Silence would too easily be misconstrued as judgment. She’s trying to stretch the muscles of her identity, searching for herself in the far corners of adolescent expression, and in that respect her boldness is an inquiry to be commended. I’m excited for when she settles a little, relaxing into her being, able to calmly touch the shapes of who she is. She’s taking part in the great search, and that is awesome.

I’m on my last trip of the last day of the 358, and I’m having a blast.

Yesler Terrace: Hot In 2014

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10th Ave S Hill Climb
10th Ave S Hill Climb

10th Ave S Hill Climb This week, the City of Seattle’s Council Transportation Committee had a briefing on a new staircase at Yesler Terrace called the 10th Avenue S Hill Climb. Tom Fucoloro over at the Seattle Bike Blog gave a great run down on the project benefits and design.

The 10th Ave S Hill Climb is largely grant-funded and part of a street vacation deal with the city as part of the large-scale redevelopment of Yesler Terrace that is now underway. Construction on the hill climb is scheduled to begin this year.

When completed, the stairway and gradual ADA ramp will connect Yesler Terrace to Jackson Street, Little Saigon and the International District. It will also likely be a stunning place to hang out and enjoy the stunning view from the south side of a very steep part of First Hill.

Yesler Terrace is on fire and 2014 is a big year for planning and development beyond the hill climb. The First Hill Streetcar, which travels through and stops at Yesler Terrace, will open in October. The old Steam Plant is already being converted and preserved as a community centre. Two projects are now under construction near the intersection of Boren and Yesler. The Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) is sponsoring the development of 1105 East Fir, a project that consists of a large apartment building and 9 townhouses. Together, the project will provide 100 new dwelling units. Immediately next door, Anthem on 12th is a project to construct a 5-storey, mixed-use structure with 119 dwelling units. A number of other projects are being studied and designed for new buildings and a neighbourhood park.

This is all in line with the 15-year revitalisation plan for Yesler Terrace adopted two years ago by the City of Seattle and SHA. To track all this activity, SHA put out this handy interactive PDF flyer to highlight the projects for 2014.

Renewing Yesler's Promise

Let’s Make a Better Pike/Pine

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Pike Street
Pike Street

Pike Street

Sure, that’s a pretty picture, but let’s face it: Pike/Pine as a corridor sucks. Yeah, there’s a lot of lovely buildings and kitschy businesses dotting the length of it, but the streetscape is desperately unbalanced as a multi-modal corridor. Travel along this stretch of the Pike/Pine corridor any Friday evening at 5pm and you’ll have your proof: bikes dodging cars and buses, buses stuck in traffic and maneuvering weird turns, motorists trying to find street parking and getting stopped at every block. Bikes lose, buses lose, and motorists lose.

The Pike/Pine corridor consists of three primary segments:

  1. A one-way/couplet system between 1st Avenue and Boren Avenue in Downtown Seattle;
  2. Bidirectional thoroughfare space on each street between Boren Avenue and Broadway in Capitol Hill; and
  3. Bidirectional neighbourhood streets between Broadway and Madison Avenue.

Pike/Pine Bus Routes

Pike/Pine serves as one of the very few through-street pairs over Interstate 5 from Capitol Hill to Downtown. Naturally, this creates a serious squeeze for moving transit, cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists. Currently, 6 bus routes use the partial Pike/Pine Couplet with all outbound routes from Downtown making a left turn at Bellevue Avenue and right turn at Pine Street (except for the 43 and 47) as illustrated above.

But, there are a number of solutions that we could implement to enhance this corridor. My proposal consists of the following:

  1. Convert the whole length of Pine Street and Pike Street to bidirectional traffic;
  2. A bidirectional trolleybus system on Pine only (plus a turnaround loop on First Avenue). This would require transferring overhead wire from Pike to Pine;
  3. Bus bulbs on Pine to reduce bus dwell times;
  4. A separated cycletrack on the south side* of Pine between First Avenue and Madison Street (a deviation from the Bicycle Master Plan);
  5. Parking removed from the south side of Pine and at bus bulbs wherever in conflict;
  6. One travel lane is removed in Downtown Seattle along Pine; and
  7. No left turns permitted for motorists along Pine, except at First Avenue and Madison Street.

8th and Pine Renewed

This solution balances the needs of all users by reducing conflicts between cyclists, buses, and motorists. By doing this, we make a safe way for cyclists to go up and down the Hill, speed up buses, and give motorists more options for east-west travel. This is only one possible solution to the Pike/Pine chaos. What are your ideas?

*The south side of Pine has the fewest number of driveway/curb cut conflicts, which makes it an easy place to put a cycletrack in.

Density With Children In Mind

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10583005996_d15afd3a2c_b
Family-friendly density in Malmö, Sweden. Attributed to: Dylan Passmore – license – original

In his “Why Urbanism?” post, Ben cited research showing cities cause people to voluntarily have fewer children. From a planetary carrying capacity perspective, that may be a good thing. As Ben put it, “the more dense a city center is allowed to become, the lower each person’s emissions become.” But greater density also begets greater social equity. More housing is essential to make it affordable for everybody to live in the city, whether you have children or not.

Still, I can’t help but imagine how the finding of a “contraceptive effect” in cities must sound to someone already concerned that new development is making it hard enough for families with children to live in the city limits. As we’ve seen at recent public meetings, even modest density increases in urban villages near transit are highly contentious. Opponents mobilize against what they see as a threat to the single-family zoning that makes up the majority of Seattle’s land use by area.

Change always evokes resistance. When it comes to housing and transit, I find much of it shortsighted, narrow-minded, and exclusionary. We will never achieve any semblance of affordability or adapt to a changing climate if preserving neighborhood aesthetics is our highest priority. But making higher density work well for families and children is an underexplored concern. Urbanists would do well to consider it more thoughtfully. It’s easy to say plenty of families live in New York, London, and Tokyo. Sure they do. But plenty will continue to want backyards and streets quiet enough for their kids to play, too. Unfortunately, density has come to sound incompatible with those desires.

But it isn’t. Or at least it doesn’t have to be. Dense neighborhoods, if well designed, can be great places for children to grow up. These neighborhoods will benefit from a variety of housing types, and lots of it. They can have beautifully landscaped, pedestrian-friendly streets. They need not be congested with cars if we use parking maximums instead of minimums, build quality bike infrastructure, and have frequent transit nearby. Traffic calming and neighborhood greenways keep vehicle speeds low and connect your family to the places you want to go. Design standards, such as the recently adopted Seattle Design Guidelines update, can ensure that human-scale buildings activate the street, creating the sort of residential neighborhood that outspoken opponents to things like new height limits are really yearning for.

5977692977_a43951291c_b
Traffic calming, landscaping, and ground-floor cafes make this a pleasant and dense zone. Attributed to: La-Citta-Vita – license – original

The Seattle Planning Commission recently released a white paper devoted to family-sized housing. Though its primary focus is affordability, it’s also full of ways to make density fit the needs of families with kids. For example, even in low-density areas, housing types like duplexes, tandem houses, or backyard cottages are excellent for families, grow our housing stock, but look appropriate in single-family neighborhoods. Currently, very little total land is available for multifamily housing, so the Commission suggests upzoning single-family and lowrise zones specifically for family-suitable housing like row- and townhouses. A new family-friendly zoning classification could allow greater building height in exchange for a certain number of 2- and 3-bedroom units, especially near schools, transit, and parks and along calmer residential streets.

It’s not just about housing typology, though, or the number of bedrooms. Some of the most oft-cited objections to density center on busy streets, noise, and aesthetics. We need creative ways to make greater density feel child-scale. In that vein, the Commission applauds the Residential Corridor zoning along 8th Avenue in South Lake Union, where wide sidewalks and ground-floor housing have created a quiet, pedestrian-oriented area within one of Seattle’s densest and most urban neighborhoods.

The paper also notes that families with two or more children and single-parent families are disproportionately likely to be severely rent burdened. Priority for families with children in affordable housing programs, cohousing models and homeownership assistance, and better coordination with the Seattle School District are some of the policy-level strategies to address that. Ultimately, the strongest argument for supporting housing for families with children—like the case for density—is equity. Concern about the effect of new development on families with children isn’t unwarranted. But, if you believe in a just sustainability, opposition to density is.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Great and Terrible 358

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358 filth

I’m honored and thrilled to now be part of The Urbanist, a site dedicated to examining urban policy and expand our thinking on public transportation and numerous related subjects. For those of you reading me for the first time, check out my blog of art and bus driving stories at nathanvass.com.

Some time ago I posted a massive post detailing what a day on the 7 is like. As the 358 winds down to a permanent close, it’s time for some similarly massive thoughts on Seattle’s most notorious route.

I was at Central Base once when I overheard two other operators talking about me. “He likes the 3 and the 4?” “Well, he’s crazy. He always picks the 3 and 4. And last winter, he picked the 358. For fun!” Why did I choose to pick what some call “The Disease Wagon” again? Why was I so adamant about snagging “Jerry Springer” one last time before its deletion, to the point that I took an hour and a half cut in pay simply to get my grubby hands on it? The obvious answer is because I love the route… but why? By way of more clearly describing what the route is, I offer a few excerpts from the route’s Yelp page. The fact that it even has a Yelp page (not to mention songs based on it, and celebrations and condemnations in numerous publications) gives you a notion of the route’s continued cultural presence. I can’t help but share some excerpted alternative opinions:

Why Is Housing Cheaper In Raleigh Than San Francisco? Here’s One Big Reason

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Housing prices in many cities are on the rise. This trend has been pushing lower income workers out of housing in many cities, including San Francisco. The backlash has captured national attention and even framed talking points here in Seattle. It’s good that this problem is getting more attention. Allowing people to live in the neighborhood that is best for them is a serious issue that needs to be tackled. Before we can talk about solutions though, we need to understand why people can’t obtain housing or pay too much.

We’ve hammered on this issue a number of times previously and we will continue to write about it. This weekend I saw one graph that caught my attention. Trulia released an examination of the housing costs in Tech Hubs. Here is the cost of housing plotted against the number of construction permits per 1,000 units:

TruliaPriceMonitor_Scatterplot_Jan20141

 

This graph doesn’t show the whole story, but it is very compelling. If the ratio of new units to existing units is lower, the price for housing is higher. If you don’t believe building more housing will reduce costs, I think it’s necessary to ask yourself what would convince you.