Thursday, 23 May, 2019

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.

A Rapidly Changing Seattle

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We all know Seattle is in the midst of a development renaissance. But just how much development are we experiencing and where? What will that growth look like? And will we still have room for further growth in the future? I set out in search of answers to these questions. To do that, I sat down and dug into the Department of Planning and Development’s permit database. Some project proposals have come and died. Others are still in the works. And many are already in the process of construction.

Below you can see just how much activity is taking place in the central part of the city. Downtown, South Lake Union, and Capitol Hill are going gangbusters. But you probably already knew that. Any trip into these areas makes it easy to see they’re filled with trucks, cranes, construction workers, and advertising for future occupancy in a new apartment.

Central Seattle Development

Using Google Maps, I was able to create feature layers highlighting the project areas. Green features are projects in design, blue are projects under construction, yellow are completed projects, and red are sites ripe for redevelopment (judgement call on my part). I’ve also linked to the permit status and latest design review PDF of each project (a work still in progress).

Projects are in the pipeline all across the city, but there is a big disparity between the central neighbourhoods and the rest of Seattle. I’ve managed to capture almost every project of significance in the University District, Roosevelt, Greenlake, and Fremont. So, it should be pretty easy to see that while stuff is in the pipeline, they just don’t come close in scale to the activity of central Seattle. Still, there are some seriously bold and exciting projects taking place in North Seattle.

North Seattle Development

While admittedly subjective, I have undertaken the effort to determine parcels and buildings that are ripe for redevelopment. I don’t have a strict definition for this, but surface parking, blighting and abandoned structures, or old strip malls in urban centers and villages are obvious catches for redevelopment. The not-so-obvious ones are the creative redevelopments such as constructing on top of existing structures and incorporating historic structures. They are challenging efforts to be sure, but the results can be good. From what I can tell, there is plenty of capacity for continued development across the city.

I’m a numbers, map, design, and planning nerd, so creating this project just for my own interests has been fun. Along the way, I’ve discovered many interesting projects and perhaps you will, too. One of my most favourite projects right now is 801 Dexter (see page 10) in Westlake if only because of Weber Thompson’s design inspiration from bold colours and the outdoorsiness of the PNW. Feel free to pan through my database and explore projects. If you have any suggestions or ideas about how I can improve this or can help fill in the gaps, let me know in the comments or send me a tweet!

Make Housing Cost Our Top Priority

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alley-24
Evil developers building homes for people. Attributed to: Andrew Hitchcock – licenseoriginal

In a previous post we established a few important points. First, the housing market isn’t a solution to be accepted or thrown out but rather a tool we get to design. In many cities, the market is designed very poorly, including in Seattle. The best way to approach how the housing market should work is to first establish goals.

Make Housing Costs Our Most Important Priority

Most cities have development goals. Goals are a reflection of community input and are value statements. Seattle has many goals but one of the most prominent is maintaining neighborhood character. Seattle’s comprehensive plan explicitly endorses the value of maintaining neighborhood character, putting this on a pedestal compared to other needs. Most people would agree that this seems like an important goal but this isn’t most residents’ top priority. In fact, for many residents this is completely unimportant. The Urbanist strongly believes housing cost should be the most important priority when considering development in residential zones. This goal benefits nearly everyone, directly addresses a real crisis and can be measured. Furthermore, all city policies should be examined to determine whether they increase or decrease the cost of housing.

Understanding A Housing Price Problem Versus an Income Crisis

To begin talking about the housing cost problem, it is necessary to point out that we are really tackling two separate but connected issues.

  1. Sufficient income to pay for housing
  2. Prices that reflect the cost of providing housing

To illustrate the difference, imagine someone with no income. Even if rent were minimal, maybe $10 dollars a month, they still wouldn’t be able to afford it. Instead of approaching builders, owners or developers to reduce their price, we would likely provide income or subsidies for the housing.

Conversely, if everyone in the city had enough income to pay for housing but we all paid $10,000 a month in rent, while the cost of providing that housing was only $10 a month, we would have a price problem. In this situation, we would seek to understand why the price was so high and what we could do to bring that down.

Does The Housing Market Work? The Answer Is Obvious But The Question Is Misleading

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Seattle Land Use
Two results of Seattle’s housing market design. Data gathered from here and here.

It has become a common refrain among anyone paying attention to housing costs that the market simply doesn’t work. Many legitimate and important concerns motivate this observation, including rising costs, homelessness, displacement and inequity. Often though, the conversation about housing turns to complaints about the failures of the unfettered free market. It seems that many people see the failures of the housing market as an indictment of free market capitalism. I’m not writing to push for deregulation but it’s inaccurate to use the housing market as an example of unfettered, free market capitalism.

In most cities, the housing market is highly regulated. Regulations include zoning for density, caps on total housing, complicated taxes, safety regulations, parking requirements, controls on rent and much more. Some of these regulations are important and some are questionable. When we equate the failures of the housing market to the failures of capitalism we mislead ourselves, preventing a constructive conversation about the actual regulations. If we are serious about solving most of our housing problems, I encourage us to stop speaking with rhetoric. Rather than dismissing the housing market, let’s examine and formulate a more useful assertion than ‘the market doesn’t work.’ To move beyond the misleading comments, it’s necessary to point out nearly everyone agrees with these two points:

  1.  Some regulation is required and good. The government should require buildings to survive earthquakes and prevent fires. In other words, there will always be government intervention in the housing market.
  2. If the market is not producing the outcome we want, it’s not the existence of the market that’s the problem, it’s our poor design. We can’t remove markets anymore than we can make them completely ‘free.’ Even if all housing in the city were paid for by the government, there would still be a housing market; it would just be designed differently from what we have now. In other words, we can’t blame the market as if it were an interest group to be attacked.

Now that we agree we can’t have a completely free market anymore than we can banish the market, let’s talk about specific regulations. In Seattle, we do a lot of good things for housing but not enough. We also have a lot of really bad regulations. For example, our market is designed to:

  • prioritize aesthetic characteristics over supply
  • require minimum parking
  • limit density

This design prevents people from living in the neighborhoods they wish, decreases mobility, puts power in the hands of landlords and increases costs. We should get our priorities straight and address the specific regulations that are hurting us. Let’s design a market that works.