Monday, 25 May, 2020

Reenvisioning the Public Realm of South Lake Union, Belltown, and Denny Triangle

Major gaps in the physical environment hinder a friendly, fun and high quality experience

When the population of a city doubles, its economic productivity goes up 130 percent. As noted in a paper by the MIT Media Lab, what makes the sum greater than the parts is people’s increased chance of face-to-face interaction. It makes sense as it lets people learn from each other, share ideas, and come up with ways to improve their lifestyle and the productivity of their work. It is exactly this kind of rich social experience that attracts many to cities in the first place.

So as Seattle continues to increase in population, it is important to maximize the return on the investment associated with it by ensuring that high quality public social space is available across the city. Such space includes high quality walking connections between neighborhoods, parks, and plazas. Besides improving people’s health and happiness, they also directly create new retail opportunities.

Two years ago, a group of citizens and local businesses called the Lake2Bay Coalition formed to improve the public realm in central Seattle. It is now a project supported by the Seattle Parks Foundation and has received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The premise is that with hundreds of millions invested in the Mercer Corridor and Central Waterfront, and with the reconnecting of the street grid north of Denny Way after the SR-99 tunnel is completed, there is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect Seattle Center, Downtown, the new waterfront, and SLU through a web of signature pedestrian-friendly streets.

Major gaps in the physical environment hinder a friendly, fun and high quality experience
Major gaps in the physical environment hinder a friendly, fun and high quality experience

The Goal

The aim is to integrate cultural, residential and work functions with a natural element on the public right-of-way–spaces that let people relax when out for recreation, but also comfortably support going to or even holding a work meeting when appropriate. In this way it is possible to facilitate the unplanned interactions that enrich everybody’s lives while providing the needed mobility. A successful model can then advise the design of corridors in other parts of the city.

The work begins with learning from the success of others:

The High Line in New York City pays tribute to its transportation past, yet provides highly demanded recreational space in the growing Meatpacking District and Chelsea. People can take a stroll, while enjoying local art and great views or use it to walk to work as many residential buildings have exits directly on it and it passes safely over intersections.


1st Avenue NE in Washington D.C. is in the currently redeveloping NoMA neighborhood. It’s lined with 12 floor residential and commercial buildings and the street reflects the broad variety of activities going on. There is commercial outdoor seating, public outdoor seating, bike racks, and plentiful vegetation. The experience is very much comparable to that of a pedestrian-only street while still accommodating travel by any mode.


La Rambla in Barcelona is a world-famous pedestrian promenade that also accommodates multiple modes. A wide pedestrian area occupies the center of the right-of-way while vehicle lanes are on the side (with a small sidewalk on each side too). The promenade contains outdoor seating for the various food and drink vendors, provides space for arts and subway station entrances.

Mayor Murray’s Departments Back Better Parking Solutions

Denny Triangle by plainurban / Flickr.

Seattle could be on the cusp of better parking solutions. After a year of studying policy options, the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) and Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) released a set of preliminary recommendations yesterday to address residential parking demand across the city. For instance, new development in areas with great transit service could be required to provide transit passes instead of onsite parking. Meanwhile, the City may look at how new developments could share parking among a number of buildings to maximize utilization.

Last year, the Mayor and City Council directed DPD and SDOT to conduct a thorough review of the City’s policies on parking regulations, parking management, and other transportation programs. The Mayor wants to ensure that policies and proposed recommendations alleviate traffic congestion while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, creating more affordable housing options, harnessing the City’s multimodal transportation system, and providing increased flexibility in parking requirements. Mayor Murray summarized why the preliminary recommendations are so important:

Seattle is experiencing tremendous growth as our economy continues to expand and add tens of thousands of new jobs. It is our challenge to do more to ensure Seattle is affordable and livable for current and future residents. To do this, we can’t rely on the parking strategies of the 1950’s. Instead, we must pursue innovative policies that will give residents more transportation choices and smartly manage our current parking supply.

The initial research by DPD and SDOT reveals some very interesting findings on parking:

  • Since 2012, 76% of new development has provided some level of parking in areas where parking is not required. The average ratio of parking spaces to units stands at 0.55. However, 52 of 219 projects have forgone parking altogether, which represents about 12% of the units constructed over the period (2,400 units out of 19,000 units).
  • Most development with reduced parking ratios or no parking is focused around areas with frequent transit service, such as the University District, Ballard, and Capitol Hill.
  • Parking construction costs can range from $20,000 to $50,000 per parking stall. In a case study from Portland, Oregon, onsite parking could add up to $500 per month in rent for a standard apartment.
  • Local studies like that of the Right Size Parking review by King County show that parking is almost universally over supplied, contributing to unnecessary additional housing costs.
  • New parking apps and other technologies (like E-Park) can help match people with available off-street parking options that work for them and maximize parking capacity.

So what are the recommendations? A few of the initial ones include:

  • A requirement for bus passes in new residential development in urban centers, urban villages, and areas served well by transit, carshare services, and bikeshare services;
  • Tossing out code that creates barriers to utilizing existing parking better;
  • Modifying regulations so that bike parking is better included in new development and develop guidance for locating bikeshare facilities on private property;
  • Taking a comprehensive look at the Restricted Parking Zone program to identify and develop strategies to manage demand;
  • Create policies to push new development toward shared parking garages among different buildings in neighborhoods, including garage designs; and
  • Promoting a variety of transit options while ensuring the entire city is well served by transit.

The Mayor’s recommendations are somewhat at odds with a recent letter sent by Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, Chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, appealing to fellow council members on citywide parking policies. In his letter, Rasmussen brings up an appeal to the DPD Director’s Rule 11-2012 regarding the lack of parking requirements in areas served by frequent transit as the genesis of his request. Rasmussen describes at length the appellant’s challenge to the Director’s Rule, a background of the Council’s 2010 legislation on reducing parking requirements around frequent transit service, citing various Comprehensive Plan parking policies and goals, and offering his thoughts on where the Council should go with new policy and code changes.

Rasmussen emphasized his support for existing city parking policies, but appeared to be more swayed by the concerns of incumbent residents over their perceived challenges of using on-street parking saying: “I strongly support our policies encouraging increased pedestrian, bicycle, and transit use. But again, that policy must be balanced with accounting for local conditions where on-street parking congestion is at its worst.” The Councilmember attempted to soften his agenda for revising City regulations by stating his support for policy planks like transit passes and carsharing memberships, but his big policy proposal would repeal much of the City’s progress on parking best practice. Rasmussen wrote that:

It may be worth re-examining the 2010 decision in the same legislation to eliminate the DPD Director’s authority under SEPA to condition a residential project for parking impacts when the project is located in an urban village with frequent transit service. If restored, discretion provided to the DPD Director could help mitigate parking impacts in specific areas where parking spillover from a project would be expected to have more severe impacts compared to other areas of the city.

Under Rasmussen’s policy proposal, SEPA could be used as an instrument to unnecessarily condition development applications, either by choice of DPD or under request/appeal by neighbors, to provide parking or higher parking ratios as “mitigation.” Rasmussen’s letter is well timed in light of the DPD and SDOT recommendations. There’s no doubt that we will hear more about the policy debates headed for full public review this year.

In fact, the Mayor wants to have a final set of recommendations on parking-related policies ready by the end of this year, which may dovetail well with some future recommendations by the Mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda Committee. In the interim, DPD and SDOT will transmit their preliminary findings and recommendations to the City Council for review and input, and prepare a draft ordinance, subject to environmental review (SEPA).

Editor’s Note: Statistics in this article have been updated.

Stories from Metro Route 7: Cafe Avole, Rainier Mini-Mart and Stop 8190

Stop 8190 on Metro Route 7

An iron compass, set into the concrete just outside Metro bus stop 8190, lets you know that you’ll never be lost, and that all directions are possible. I let it point me south-east a few feet to see Solomon Dubie and his good friend, Bisrat, at Rainier Mini Mart aka Café Avole.

‘Yeah. Well that’s the name over the door. But we are more of, we’re trying to be more of a café. We are having an event this weekend. You should come. Take this.’ He hands a flyer my way. ‘It’s a neighborhood here and we want to be more of neighborhood place. You know? Serve Ethiopian coffee. Do it the traditional way.’

‘I’d like a cup, if you’ve got some?’

‘Takes about five minutes until we can drink. I’ve some going already. You’ve got five?’ I see a long-necked clay pot with a spherical base, which I will later learn is called a jebena.

‘I’m trying to make the next 7.’

‘Should be good. No worries.’

‘Sure, then. Thanks.’

When I ask what neighborhood this was exactly, Bisrat says that he calls all this South Seattle. Not Hillman City, though he likes that. Not Brighton, though he likes that too. So does the city clerk’s office. Whatever someone should call the area around the 8190, he would want it to carry all of its history and all of its rapid change.

‘There’s a great amount of it really. You know? We want to be a part of these changes. We want to know that the change here reflects the community that’s here. That’s been here. When new people come, they know, it didn’t just start then. It’s bigger than them. And us.’

Stocked shelves at the mini-mart
Credit Colleen McDevitt

Two men, other café customers, sit in the mini-mart-turned-café window. Each has a double espresso cup placed to the left of a keyboard. If they turn their screens ninety degrees, Rainier itself could peer, from the mount’s great distance, into whatever messages and reports they are working on. They don’t talk to each other, deep in the glow of their laptop screens.

Bisrat asks from behind the counter whether they would like more coffee. They decline. Too busy to engage in chatter or more coffee, but they do turn seconds later to give smiles of appreciation for the offer.

The café still has mini mart staples: wire shelving lined with cookies and candy bars that do not perish. Beer and energy drinks cool in refrigeration.

‘We’re trying to decide how we go forward, you know?’ He points to spices I had not noticed before. ‘How to invest in ourselves. And in our community. We are thinking, do we need money to build out a kitchen in the back? To make it more a café? Do we invest in a roaster? A full kitchen?’

Most beans are roasted in a pan, no greater than the circumference of an outstretched hand. It hangs from a nail on the back wall. ‘We get roasts from Tin Umbrella, up Rainier, and other places too! This one we’re about to drink,’ he points behind him to the pan, ’is our own roast. Single origin.’

Roasting beans
Credit Colleen McDevitt

Steam rises from the narrow neck of a clay pot, the jebena in Amheric. Bisrat pulls it from a heating coil. His left hand reaches for the pot and the right for a circular woven-string stand. The pot’s curved, spherical, bottom comes together, like the two last remaining parts of an international space station, from Bisrat’s mission control. His right hand moves slowly away while his left tilts the spout counter-ward. ‘Keeps the grounds from getting in the pour.’ Bisrat has not looked at me to answer a question I have yet to ask.

Pouring Coffee
Credit Colleen McDevitt

‘Ethiopia has a lot of different people. Ninety different languages are spoken there. Umhmmm! And I only know one. Amharic. So I call coffee, bunna. But people who grew up speaking something else or had parents came from somewhere else, might say something different. They might call it another word. In Ethiopia, though, no matter, what they call it, they are all serious about coffee. So is Seattle. So we know people can handle the time and appreciate getting coffee from its source. It all comes from Ethiopia, you know?’

We talk about coffee’s origin, the history of it, what cities and countries went gaga over its introduction; how often he visits Africa; how long he has worked at the café; what he thinks of the 7 (‘loves the 7’); and more about his aspirations for the café in transition just like its neighborhood.

‘It’s ready to drink,’ Bisrat knows what time it is. And the 7 fast approaches.

I drink my cup in two draughts, put the cup down on the counter and thank him. I leave the shop to find three people already waiting; we are four in our spacious shelter. I take a picture of the compass. The fifth and last to board runs up just behind me. A busy stop is that 8190 on Friday afternoon.

Editor’s Note: If you’d like to learn more about Cafe Avole or help support getting it started, you can visit the website at

Sunday Video: Volvo Lifepaint


Volvo Lifepaint by Volvo on Youtube.

Volvo has devised a paint that people bicycling can add to help be bright in the dark. Although Mikael Colville-Andersen at Copenhangenize has a strong take on the product.

What We’re Reading: Shakespeare’s London, Defining Families, and Saving Amtrak Cascades

Shakespeare's London by Steve James.
Shakespeare’s London by Steve James / Flickr.

Build it and they will come: Copenhagen is planning to build nearly 8,000 bicycle parking spaces at the city’s central train station.

Save Cascades: If Oregon doesn’t pony up some more money, the Portland-to-Eugene train by Amtrak Cascades could disappear. Tell legislators to save it.

Create land trusts: How community land trusts could be one part of the solution to rising housing prices.

Valuable and in short supply: Only 6% of US lands are developed, and here’s why land use values are important when we talk about housing affordability.

More parking wanted?: Councilmember Tom Rasmussen sent a letter to his colleagues stating why he wants a review of parking regulations throughout the city. His goal appears to be increasing parking requirements for new development in light of neighbor complaints in West Seattle.

Calling all transportation nerds: Janette Sadik-Khan is coming to town Wednesday to talk shop, don’t miss out.

North Seattle PBL coming: Seattle is building another protected bike lane on Ravenna Boulevard, Seattle Bike Blog argues that the City should go all in corridor improvements.

Rapidly diversifying: In 78 US counties, minorities now constitute a majority, see where they are.

Slow down!: Why reducing speed limits needs to happen universally, meanwhile, Washington may make the mistake of increasing them (naturally, KING 5 gets wrong on speed and deaths).

Unleash the transfers: Transit transfers are usually a net positive and make networks so much better for riders, two infographics illustrate this best.

Map of the week: Curious about Shakespeare’s London? Then take a walk back in time to 1561 with some great interactive maps.

Clouding up cities: Despite rising urbanism across the country, suburban commuters are still contributing to increased CO2 emissions.

Redefining “family”: In a fit of fury, Bellevue neighbors banned together to oppose families in their neighborhoods. Families are a protected class regardless of situation, but this week the Bellevue City Council adopted an ordinance to ban non-traditional families.

Cite drivers, make streets safer: Over a 4-hour period, 61 people driving get caught for failing to yield to pedestrians at a Portland intersection. Local police have a program to cite people who refuse to yield at unmarked crosswalks.

Taxing carbon: Governor Jay Inslee still was to reduce carbon; voters still support a carbon tax by a wide margin.

In contempt…still: The Senate Republicans continue to play politics over education with their plan for the budget still widely out of compliance with the State Supreme Court’s education decision (McCleary).

Negative development: Not all development is created equal, Smart Growth America has put together a decent way of comparing the public benefits of certain development types.

Linking Lynnwood: Sound Transit released their FEIS on the Lynnwood Link extension; Seattle Transit Blog runs the numbers on the station alternatives and ridership.

Open borders: A comprehensive case of why open borders are good economically and socially for all.

Othello II




A twenty-something couple approaches the front, late at night at Othello Street. They’re about to deboard.
“Um,” says the girl. “Hey, can we ask you a,”
“Are you gonna ask how old I am? Every one asks that.”
“Haha, well, you do look really young. No, we wanted to ask, how are you so happy all the time? ‘Cause every time we get on you’re always in such a,”
“I don’t know! That’s a great question, I,”
“-Sure you don’t need a pee test?” the boy asks.
Cackles of laughter all around.

“I don’t know what it is,” I continue. “‘Cause I’ve thought about that a lot, you know. A lot of people ask me, but I feel like if I was to discover what it was, it would vanish, like a whisper, you know? Like it’s some magic secret thing and it would go out like a candle.”
“I got choo. Yeah.”
“I think it’s just, i really like the people, being nice to the people, something… they give me energy. The people give me energy.”
“That’s so great.”
“I love being nice to the people.”
“That’s great,” she says. “Especially on this route, which is not always, uh,”
“Oh, it’s an adventure! And I looooove it!”

We laughed in each other’s gleaming faces, sharing in the buzz of my euphoria. They could see I meant my words. I didn’t make clear enough in the earlier “Othello” post that I happen to really like these people. As I recently told another operator, I choose to drive the 7, the 358 and others not because they’re the most dangerous routes, or the “most coolest,” but because the passengers are the folks I genuinely most want to spend time with when I’m at work.

I don’t mean to ignore that some of them, like you and I, make ugly and terrible decisions, but here more than elsewhere I feel loved. Gestures of kindness echo with greater resonance. I learn from them, about compassion, appreciation, perspective, actions and consequences. Lessons are stronger at the leading edge of life, on ground level, where things are played out in a high key. These two instinctively got all this, without my having to mention it, let alone try to explain it. They knew, as I continued by describing the 7 as “freaking awesome,” that the silliness in my exuberance was borne of something deeply rooted, something they knew the language of too. Who besides us actually likes this stuff, being out here in this crazy maelstrom, riding high on the everlasting wave?

Common Birds Bring Economic Vitality To Cities, New Study Finds


Is it worth having birds in the city?

If you live in Seattle or Berlin, the answer is yes, to the tune of $120 million and $70 million a year for each city, respectively.

House finch nigel / Wikimedia Commons

A new study published last month in the journal Urban Ecosystems tries to determine what economic value residents in two comparable cities place on having birds in their backyards and parks. Researchers at the University of Washington and Humboldt State University compared two types of common birds – finches and corvids – in both cities, asking residents how much they would pay to conserve the species and what they spend, if anything, on bird food.

They found that both cities place a “sizeable” value on bird enjoyment, somewhat more so in Seattle. Residents in both cities spend more than the average U.S. adult on bird-supporting activities, suggesting that people from Seattle and Berlin value having birds around their homes and neighborhoods more than in most cities.

These activities, in turn, also show that birds benefit the local economies as residents invest in food and nesting structures.

“This paper shows that our interactions with birds actually have a pretty high economic return to the community where you live,” said John Marzluff, a UW professor of environmental and forest sciences and the paper’s co-author. “We know that having a livable, green community that attracts birds also increases the value of homes in that area. This paper shows there’s an economic service birds are providing.”

Researchers say this is the first look at estimating the economic value of enjoying common birds in an urban setting. Previous studies have assessed people’s willingness to pay to see rare or charismatic birds and to pay for conservation of endangered species, but these instances don’t affect most people.

“No one has really looked at what people will be willing to pay for these more common species, ones that aren’t necessarily endangered or threatened. We wanted to address that because people living in urban areas don’t encounter endangered species on a daily basis,” said co-author Barbara Clucas, a lecturer at Humboldt State University who completed this study as a postdoctoral researcher at the UW.

Clucas in the Seattle area and collaborators in Berlin went door-to-door and surveyed dozens of households in different types of neighborhoods – urban with apartments, dense suburban, light suburban and rural. The researchers asked specific questions about how residents viewed corvid and songbird species, whether they would pay for conservation of these species and what they spent annually on bird food.

American crow Linda Tanner / Flickr

In both Seattle and Berlin, residents’ willingness to pay for bird conservation was higher for finch species than for corvids. Interestingly, some Seattleites said they would pay to actually reduce the crow population in the city, though many also appeared indifferent about crows.

In contrast, Berliners were willing to pay a small amount to increase the city’s crow population, but they had an overall negative reaction to conserving magpies, another corvid species associated by legend with stealing and mischief.

“There’s a lot of culture that goes along with these birds, and that influences how we view them,” Marzluff said.

The researchers also noted that residents living in the urban core in both cities interacted the least with birds. The more that we as humans feed and house birds, the more variety and density appear around our homes. If that interaction isn’t happening in urban cores, “there’s a greater disconnect between nature and humans in those areas, and that’s where most of the population lives,” Marzluff said.

That interaction is important for human-nature connections that can lead to greater appreciation for the natural world, he added.

Sergey Rabotyagov of the UW is a co-author on the paper. The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the German Research Foundation.

This is a cross-post from UW Today. Michelle Ma is a science writer for the University of Washington.

Pronto! Is Still An Infant, But Let’s Celebrate!


Pronto! Cycle Share is turning half a year old next week. Can you believe it!? So far more than 87,000 miles have been clocked on the 500 bikes roaming around Seattle. Pronto! also gets to boast that 46,000+ trips have been made on them with thousands of riders (2,400 of whom are members). With all those miles, tons of calories have been burned collectively–3.7 million at least. That’s definitely better than the tons of CO2 that riders might have otherwise pumped out.

Pronto!’s Executive Director Holly Houser cheered the six-month milestone saying that: “We have had an incredibly successful start in Seattle. We’ve seen great turnout in our first six months, even after launching during Seattle’s rainy season. It’s really encouraging that residents and visitors have already demonstrated the value of bike share as a viable public transportation option. We’re excited for what’s to come.”

Pronto! is rolling out some small improvements for community members. All kiosks will now have Spanish and Chinese language options for checkout. This will also be a huge benefit to visitors from across the country and globe.

To celebrate the occasion, Pronto! has a lot of great deals and events planned for next week (4/13-4/19). It’s not to be missed. Heck, even I’m finally giving in and getting my membership! Highlights of the big half-birthday celebration include reduced annual membership prices ($79), a photo scavenger hunt next Saturday (4/18), bicycling skills class by Cascade Bicycle Club (also next Saturday), and plenty of other events, discounts, and prizes! Here are the details:

 Reduced Pricing:

  • $79 Annual Memberships (regularly $85)
  • $6 Single-day Passes (regularly $8)

New Member Perks:

  • Anyone who signs up for a Pronto Annual Membership between April 13 and 19 is qualified to win two round-trip tickets from Alaska Airlines.

Member Discounts from Participating Businesses:

  • One-year membership to Zipcar for $10 (regularly $70)
  • Three-month pass from the ACT Theatre for $10/month (regularly $30/month)
    • 20 percent off of all in-store merchandise at Timbuk2
    • 20 percent off Ligne 8 clothing and accessories
    • 30 percent off Bern bike helmets

Pronto Week Party:

  • $75 ($10 off) Annual Memberships for non-member attendees who sign up that night
  • Raffle with up to $250 in prizes from: Timbuk2, Zipcar, custom-designed Bern Unlimited helmets and more
  • Bern helmet designing by local tattoo artists, complimentary beverages from Hilliard’s Beer and Peddler Brewing Company, DJ and photo booth

#SolveSnapWin Photo Scavenger Hunt:

  • April 18, 9:30 a.m.

Pronto Street Skills Class:

  • April 18, 10 a.m.