Friday, 22 March, 2019

City Council Takes Up Electric Vehicle Charging Legislation

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On Monday, the Seattle City Council officially designated a new landmark. Known as the Broad Street Substation, the property and building provide valuable electrical service to the burgeoning districts in Uptown, Belltown, and South Lake Union. The site was progressively developed between 1949 and 1951 in a style reminiscent of the Works Progress Administration era.

Control Building facade on 6th Ave N. (Google Maps)
Control Building facade on 6th Ave N. (Google Maps)

The substation is located near the new SR-99 portal between Harrison Street, Taylor Ave N, Thomas Street, and 6th Ave N. The most prominent facade is located on Harrison Street with a towering entrance emblazoned with “City Light”, which operates the facility. Several key structures will have preservation controls that protect the unique building exteriors, including the Crane Building on Harrison Street and the Control Building on 6th Ave N.

The Seattle City Council also introduced and referred new land use legislation addressing electric vehicle-ready (EV) charging systems in new development to the Transportation and Sustainability Committee. Mayor Jenny Durkan recently highlighted the legislation in the State of the City Address. “We want to reduce reliance on cars as much as possible and we will continue to develop plans to reduce congestion, and make our downtown core a healthier place for all,” she said. “But we also want to replace carbon and move aggressively to electric cars and buses.”

“This week, I will send legislation to the City Council to require all new buildings in Seattle to provide charging infrastructure for electric vehicles,” Mayor Durkan added. “If we are going to have more electric cars in Seattle–and reduce our climate pollution–then we need accessible, and equitably available electric charging.”

City Accelerates Rainier Avenue Improvements, Too Late to Save Some Lives

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Back in 2017, the phase 2 rechannelization seemed like it was just around the corner.

Last Monday evening a person trying to bike across Rainier Avenue was hit and killed by a driver who fled the scene, as the Seattle Bike Blog recounted. Advocates have been pressing the city to make changes to Seattle’s most dangerous street for a long time. The event has finally spurred the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to announce a set of interim changes that may have a small impact, and also that it is moving up the rechannelization of the southern end of the corridor to this year.

Dubbed Phase 2, Rainier Avenue through Rainier Beach was supposed to be next in line for a street rechannelization in 2016 after the first Rainier Avenue rechannelization in Columbia City was completed in 2015. Changing the roadway from two lanes in each direction to one lane with a center turn lane did result in lower speeds. Speed limits were reduced to 25 mph from 30 mph, but the remainder of the corridor is still at 30 mph, with SDOT officials arguing against lowering speed limits before making design changes.

Now, on the heels of yet another life lost on Rainier, SDOT is proposing to lower speed limits on every arterial street in the Rainier Beach urban village right away. This includes not just Rainier but Seward Park Ave S, Renton Ave S, and S Henderson St. They also intend to make immediate improvements at six key intersections, improvements which vary in intensity.

Map of proposed immediate changes to Rainier Avenue. (City of Seattle)

Community Transit to Launch Swift Green BRT Line in March Service Change

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Community Transit will make a major service change with the introduction of a new bus rapid transit (BRT) line–the Swift Green Line–on Sunday, March 24th. The transit agency will also make some tweaks to several other routes due to the new service.

New Swift Green Line

Snohomish County’s second BRT route, the Swift Green Line, will begin operating, providing high quality, frequent transit between Canyon Park Park-and-Ride in Bothell and the new Seaway Transit Center in Everett, right at the doorsteps of Boeing’s Everett campus. Service on the line will operate along Airport Way, 128th St SW, and Bothell-Everett Highway to serve unincorporated Snohomish County, Mariner Park-and-Ride, McCollum Park Park-and-Ride, and Mill Creek. The line will also intersect with the Swift Blue Line, which primarily operates on SR-99 between Everett Station and Aurora Village Transit Center in Shoreline. Passengers of the line will have good access to the new commercial passenger terminal at Paine Field with a station pair at 100th St SW.

New Swift Green Line alignment and stops. (Community Transit)
New Swift Green Line alignment and stops. (Community Transit)

Service on the Swift Green Line is planned to be every 10 minutes on weekdays and every 20 minutes at early morning, evenings, and weekends. A total of 15 station pairs are planned, in addition to two terminals and a single-direction stop, along the corridor. With BRT quality stations, riders can expect off-board payment, level boarding, ticket vending kiosks, and other amenities and unique branding. The start of service will be at noon on Sunday, March 24th.

Has Oregon Ushered in Era of Rent Control with New Law?

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Protestors in New York City rally in favor of rent control. Rent control, or rent stabilization in NYC, has undergone changes in recent years. Current rent stabilization policies are up for renewal in June 2019. Photo credit: The All Nite Images

Most economists dismiss rent control as a “quick fix” but tenant advocates say immediate relief doesn’t sound so bad.

As the first US state to pass statewide rent control, Oregon has found itself at the vanguard of a new push for housing affordability. Similar to nationwide trends, housing affordability in Oregon has become a major issue in recent years as increases in housing costs have continued to outpace income growth, particularly for low-income Oregon households.

Governor Kate Brown has spoken highly of the bill, which she signed into law last week. In the Statesman Journal, Governor Brown said that SB 608 “is a critical tool for stabilizing the rental market throughout the state of Oregon. It will provide immediate relief to Oregonians struggling to keep up with rising rents and a tight rental market.” That relief is modest, with rent increases capped at 7% plus inflation per year in rentals 15 years or older.

A growing discrepancy between housing costs and incomes is a nationwide trend. From The State of the Nation’s Housing 2018, by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University

While rent control is popular in some circles, economists are skeptical that it will bring about long-term affordability benefits.

“You cannot get economists to agree on nearly anything,” said James Young, Director of the Washington Center for Real Estate Research (WCRER) at the University of Washington, “but one thing they do tend to agree on is that rent control is a disaster. In the long run, [rent control] does the opposite of what it wants to do.”

Economists do seem to agree that the best way to resolve housing affordability issues is to create more housing. But with restrictive land use and zoning policies in place and booming economics in both Oregon and Washington, increasing housing capacity to levels sufficient to meet demand is difficult. Building new housing also takes time.

In contrast, rent control offers an immediate reprieve from skyrocketing costs and attempts at economic eviction (e.g., when landlords try to force tenants to move with huge rent hikes). As a result, rent control advocates believe it is a tool that should be used to help low-income renters.

“Rent control is the fastest and most effective policy for stopping the displacement of renters,” said tenants’ rights advocate Dinah Braccio to KOMO News. “The rising rents are leading directly to homelessness.”

SB 608’s sponsor, Shemia Fagan, who represents East Portland, spoke of her mother’s struggle with homelessness during her introduction of the bill.

“The stability of an ordinary life shouldn’t be that hard,” Fagan said. “The basics shouldn’t be that hard. But for many so Oregonians, basic stability is out of reach.” 

Wonkabout Washington: Meet Housing Justice Expert Lisa Bates

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Lisa Bates.

On Tuesday, March 19th, Futurewise is welcoming activist scholar Dr. Lisa K. Bates, Ph.D. as our Keynote Speaker for the Spring Luncheon and Livable Communities Awards. Dr. Bates will be speaking on the topic “Housing Justice, not for ‘Just Us’”, a timely exploration of the false dichotomies that anchor the affordable housing debate and proposal for how we can advance equitable, effective affordable housing policy. In this month’s Wonkabout Washington, we’re giving you a preview of Dr. Bates’ work. If you’d like to meet her in person, join us at the Spring Luncheon and Livable Communities Awards, where The Urbanist will be receiving the Excellence in Smart Growth and Transportation Award. Tickets are sliding scale and available at Futurewise.org/luncheon.

Futurewise: Could you tell us a little about your research? What have you studied previously and what are you digging into next?

Dr. Bates: My research is all about housing in the many ways that it’s essential for people’s life and well-being, including the importance of the neighborhoods we can live in based on what housing is accessible to us. A lot of my research focuses on how historical discrimination by race has morphed into ongoing institutionalized discrimination — looking at the policy and planning decisions we’ve made and continue to make that disenfranchise people of color. A major mechanism for that has been urban renewal historically, or what we might call revitalization today. These policies and financial incentives have dramatically reshaped cities in the past and continue to do so with the gentrification we can identify today.

Next I’m continuing my work to explain exactly how displacement is happening in gentrifying neighborhoods — which housing is being lost and how? Who’s getting pushed out of housing opportunities? I’ve looked at how older, cheaper apartment buildings get sold and “flipped” or upgraded, at tenant screening policies, and next I’ll be trying to look at evictions. Likewise, I’m also looking at what can keep folks in place, what helps support them in neighborhoods, be it policies or social supports.

You’ve worked in the past with the city of Portland on racial equity in city planning and governance. What are cities like Portland and Seattle currently doing to correct historic inequities? What should they be doing?

Tacoma Says ‘Yes’ to Cottages in its Backyard

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The Tacoma Residential Infill Project got the backyard cottage ball rolling. (Photo credit: Ross Chapin Architects)

Residents of Tacoma largely support a change to the municipal code that would make it easier for home owners to add a secondary living space on their property. The idea to allow more greater numbers of “Detached Accessory Dwelling Units,” or DADUs, was first taken up by the city in December 2017 as part of the city’s larger Residential Infill Pilot Program. Since then, accessory dwelling units have been permitted as part of a pilot program.

On February 19th the city held a public hearing at which public comment overwhelmingly supported a change to the city’s municipal code that would “outright allow DADUs in single family [sic] zoning districts.” According to the City’s website, “This will end DADUs as a part of the pilot program and move DADUs into a comprehensive Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) code that covers detached and attached types.”

Accessory dwelling units represent one effective response to the lack of affordable housing in Puget Sound. As part of a larger and comprehensive approach to housing that includes investments in multimodal public transit, an end to parking minimums, and zoning for greater density, ADUs can help make affordable housing a more present reality for residents of the region.

Seattle Stagnated on Vision Zero in 2018, Preliminary Crash Data Shows

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Preliminary data from the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) shows the total number of serious injuries and fatalities on Seattle’s streets was virtually unchanged between 2018 and 2017, showing another year of stagnation toward our citywide goal of completely eliminating those types of collision results by 2030.

This data comes just as the nationwide projection for pedestrian-involved injuries in 2018 indicates that last year saw the largest number of deaths of people walking on America’s streets since the George H.W. Bush administration. People walking continue to be a large share of those injured in Seattle.

SDOT’s Vision Zero team will present its update to the city council’s transportation and sustainability committee this week with a silver lining taking center stage: only 14 people lost their lives on Seattle’s streets in 2018, the lowest number since 2011. To be sure, these numbers are preliminary and may change, but fewer people losing their lives on our streets is welcome news.

However, with the inclusion of serious injuries in the figures, there was only a reduction of 1.5% between 2017 and 2018–170 people were seriously injured while using our streets last year, up from 168.

Total numbers of fatalities and serious injuries on Seattle’s streets, 2009-2018. (Graphic by Ryan Packer)

Sunday Video: How Realistic Is Cities Skylines?

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In this video, Dave Amos of City Beautiful speaks to a software designer about Cities: Skylines and its attempt to simulate real cities.