Saturday, 28 March, 2020

The First Hill Public Realm Action Plan


Connecting parks & public space to enhance mobility & livability in First Hill

The City of Seattle will be holding an open house to discuss the First Hill Public Realm Action Plan on January 7th, 2015 at Town Hall from 5-7pm. Details are available here.

First Hill Public Real Action Plan AreaFirst Hill is one of the densest urban neighborhoods in the City of Seattle, home to some of the city’s largest employers. The number of jobs and people are increasing, and yet the neighborhood remains critically deficient of public open space. The First Hill Improvement Association (FHIA)–representing a consortium of residents, visitors, businesses, and major institutions–has long-advocated the need for more public spaces in the neighborhood to remain a vibrant and livable neighborhood.

As one of the few neighborhoods zoned for high-rise residential buildings, available land comes at a tremendous premium, making open space acquisition prohibitively expensive, and in short supply. The Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD), Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), and Seattle Department Parks and Recreation (DPR), are proposing a variety of approaches beyond acquiring private land to provide the necessary open space. By utilizing the existing street right-of-way, vast improvements in neighborhood connectivity and open park space can be created at a much lower cost.

Thus, the Public Realm Action Plan was created, which includes “the development of near term implementation strategies to expand the public space network through right of way reallocation, private development partnership and strategic site selection for potential acquisition.” SDOT and FHIA identified key streets and intersections in the First Hill neighborhood and have developed new street concept plans for adoption into the city’s Right of Way Improvement Manual.

Street concept plans are guides for street and sidewalk improvements that can be made over time as new development takes place.

Prototype park tested this past summer on First Hill
Four concepts are currently being studied. DPR is planning a prototype park to be located at the intersection of Union St, University St, and Boylston Ave in order to test concepts and gauge the neighborhood reaction/opinion. A Street Scrabble tournament was held at this location, to much success, this past summer. SDOT would develop this plan with allocated funds in conjunction with DPD and DPR, as soon as this spring.

Ninth Ave and University St at the top of Freeway Park’s Piggott Corridor will see pedestrian safety improvements and the creation of new public seating and landscaping. SDOT would develop this plan with allocated funds in conjunction with DPD and DPR, as soon as this spring.

Eighth Ave between Seneca St and James St designs are likely to be implemented by private development. Projects in motion at Eighth Ave and Madison St and Eighth Ave and Columbia St could choose to implement these streetscape designs, and are likely to do so given because it is both the community’s stated preference and the City’s adopted designs. The design for Eighth Ave includes pedestrian safety improvements at intersections and crosswalks, activation zones, and roadway adjustments.

Terrace Avenue between Harborview Hall and the coming First Hill Streetcar stop on Boren Ave will see similar pedestrian and streetscape designs.

The Sorrento HotelFHIA identified Terry Avenue as a critical street to include in the Public Realm Action Plan, and funded the design. Focal points near the Sorrento and Virginia Mason, as well as St. James Cathedral. O’Dea, and the Frye Art Museum have been suggested as a woonerf, a shared space featuring curbless streets, enhanced landscaping and encourage use by pedestrians, cyclists in addition to vehicular traffic.

A woonerf is a living street implemented in the Netherlands and in Flanders. Techniques include shared space, level streets, traffic calming, and low speed limits.

The Terry Avenue design stretches from Spring St to Alder St, meeting up with future plans for greenways and parks as part of the Yesler Terrace redevelopment underway.

Unlike Bell St., the Terry Avenue plan would be implemented over time as various projects are developed on the street. Funding would come from various sources including, but not limited to, property developers and landowners located along the right-of-way. The Terry Avenue plan is also being designed to integrate with the Madison BRT project’s pedestrian improvement and open space goals.


Special thanks to Alex Hudson/FHIA, Jenny Kempson/FRAMEWORK, and Susan McLaughlin/SDOT for their assistance.

The City of Seattle will be holding an open house discussing the First Hill Public Realm Action Plan on January 7th, 2015 at Town Hall from 5-7pm. Details are available here.

Full Disclosure: I am a member of the First Hill Improvement Association and sit on the Transportation and Open Spaces Committees

Banter in the Nighttime


Picture 1 09-50-39


The NightWatch crew has just arrived. They have their tickets and directions, and are fanning out to the various shelters they’ve been assigned for the evening. “Next stop is Eighth Avenue,” I tell them and everyone else. “By the library.”

“I didn’t know there was a library here!” one of them says.
“Yeah, it’s just to the left. Real small, but it has a bathroom, a bunch a books,”
“It has a bathroom!” he laughs.
“You know, the essentials!”

They continue talking amongst themselves, and I listen, smiling to myself. Their conversation didn’t have high-minded literacy of the exchange below, but more than made up for it with its easy humor.

“That one’s real small.”
“Oh, it’s tiny.”
“Just a room, basically. And it’s dead quiet in there. You can’t even fart. If you fart, you gotta turn around and run out, ’cause everyone’ll know it was you.”
“Well, shoot.”
“It’s a small library, it’s not a real library.”
“They got like three computers,”
“Capitol Hill has a real library, right?”
“You can’t watch porn. It’s just too damn quiet. Hell, you can’t even talk.  You can’t watch porn, and you can’t talk.”
“Hey, did you ever run a background check on yourself? Did you know you can run a background check on yourself?”
“It’s crazy, the stuff you learn. I just ran a background check on myself. I wasn’t aware I’ve been arrested twice.”
“That’s ’cause you were drunk!”
“I don’t drink.”
“That’s all the more proof that you do drink, ’cause you can’t remember!”
“Apparently. Didn’t know I’ve been arrested three times.”
“I thought it was two times! You really are drunk!”
“Get outta here!”

Farewell to 2014: It Was the Year of The Urbanist

New Years in Seattle by Andy Simonds on Flickr.

2014 was an unassuming year for The Urbanist. At the outset of it, The Urbanist was little more than an idea. But late January rolled around, and with it, the soft launch of the website and online publication that we now know today. Our first weekly meetup was held soon after in early February with more than a dozen strangers gathered around a coffeehouse table, all with varying interests in urban affairs. That meeting was a transformative moment. People were activated to get directly engaged with The Urbanist and others by sharing ideas, making connections, using their skills, and advocating for better urban policy. If there could have ever been a great year, 2014 was it.

What we have accomplished since January is even surprising to us, but here are just a few accomplishments:

  • We published over 400 articles thanks to the hard work by 37 staff writers and guest contributors;
  • We held nearly 40 weekly meetups and special events;
  • We received official incorporation status as a non-profit entity in the State of Washington;
  • Dozens of local policymakers, non-profit groups, advocacy organizations, and government technicians have reached out to us for feedback, expertise and assistance, dialogue, and common efforts;
  • Over 100 private citizens have contacted us via e-mail and in-person on a wide range of issues like voter education, tools and resources, shared ideas and news, and involvement in the work that we do; and
  • Our social media connections have grown rapidly to include a very active, thoughtful, and informative community that is more than 1,400 followers strong.

Of course, our accomplishments are not the only things worth mentioning. We wrote a lot, and you read a lot. So, we now want to turn now to some of the biggest stories that you–our faithful readers–thought were the most important of the year (or so Google Analytics tells us). While not exactly a surprise, transportation was very topical. Six of our top ten articles in 2014 were transportation-related. Shocker. And perhaps much of that has to do with our coverage of those issues. But even accounting for that, our top article bested the next by more than two-fold. Seriously. But, the topics of land use and social welfare managed to rounded out the mix to take the third, fourth, fifth, and eighth spots in our top ten. With that in mind, we give you our list of the most read articles of 2014.

1. Bertha’s Future

Way back in August, Ben gave a realistic, critical review of the Bertha mess and the ways in which it can–and will die. He charted how the SR-99 project got to this point, and accurately predicted the invariable sinking of Pioneer Square that resulted from dewatering. But Ben didn’t stop there, he advocated for taking action now by putting pressure on politicians to cancel the project, and others like it.

2. University Link’s Is 87.2% Done, and Northgate Isn’t Far Behind

There isn’t too much to say about this one, but evidently people like slightly wonkish updates on the progress of Link Light Rail construction.

SeattleInProgress_map_logo3. Introducing “Seattle in Progress”

Seattle in Progress, you may remember this nifty design review/land use app. You may even be using it (but if you aren’t, you should be!) At the outset of this project, Ethan came to some of our early weekly meetings to share his vision for an app to get people involved in the land use process, or at least know what was happening in the neighborhoods around. We bounced off ideas, and after months of beta testing and feedback, he launched the app in November. And to mark this launch, Ethan wanted to share the story of why this app matters.

4. Seattle’s Largest Down-Zone

Controversy over development on legal, nonconforming single-family residential lots became a top issue in early 2014 as the Seattle City Council entertained legislation options. Neighbors in single-family residential areas strongly voiced their opposition to small residential structures that could end up on very thin lots between two existing single-family residential houses or on alleyways. Concerns like height, impact to parking, and aesthetics were all raised. Ultimately, Small Lot development lost badly in May, and Matt accurately characterized how this would effectively amount to Seattle’s largest downzone.

5. Seattle/King County: 3rd Largest Homeless Population In 2013 HUD Report

Owen provided a good report on homeless in the Seattle area as part of his continuing research into social welfare and housing affordability issues. The HUD report was definitely mixed with some positive national and local trends like a general decline in homelessness over the 2007-2013 period, but an actual net increase of homeless individuals year-over-year.

6. UW’s New Link Station

Will was one of the lucky transit nerds who got to see the inside of the UW Link Light Rail Station. Naturally, he was kind enough to share the details of the station tour and all the lovely images. Needless to say, the station looks great–if you ignore the wall tiling in Oregon Ducks colors…

7. Dow Constantine Issues Executive Order: We Need Full Integration of Bus and Rail

Back in June, Aleks praised King County Executive Dow Constantine’s executive order to integrated bus and rail services. Aleks made the case that the order was more than just fluff, but a meaningful step toward making the kind of efficiencies necessary to bolster the overall transportation network. Three months later, Constantine made good on the order by holding a joint conference between city and transit officials of what may come of the effort.

Alternative 4 - High Res8. Choose Alternative 4 for the University District

For years now, the city has been exploring options for accommodating more growth in the University District. The city put forth three different alternatives for growth in June. But we weren’t exactly satisfied with the proposals on the table. Instead, our editorial board issued a different vision for growth and zoning in the neighborhood dubbed “Alternative 4”. Our effort to push this alternative helped contribute half of all public comments on the EIS in favor of an alternative similar to our Alternative 4.

9. How Does Sound Transit Expand?

Ben laid out a brief roadmap of how we could expand transit in the region. While a bit wonky, the meat of it was that process, politics, and timing all matter for a successful effort.

10. Rainier Needs a Road Diet

Rainier Avenue is a very dangerous thoroughfare in the city. It constantly makes headlines for tragedy despite being a small street. Will chronicled the history of the street and why it is perfect for a road diet.

Well there you have it: our top ten most read articles for 2014. From all of us at The Urbanist, we wish you a very happy, healthy, and fruitful New Year!

Rider Alert: New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day Transit Service


Holiday Service Reductions

One last time! New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day bring a weird mix of special services, reduced services, and even no service. Don’t be left stranded, know your options. Be sure to check out our comprehensive roundup of services for all Puget Sound transit agencies–including the ferries and the Monorail. Please be aware that apps like OneBusAway and Transit App may not show real-time arrival information, and may have incorrect scheduled data.

On a related note, services like ridesharing and Pronto’s bikesharing never have service reductions! But you might want to keep in mind things like surge pricing in mind if you’re an Uber rider. Have a happy New Year!

Microhousing Under New Code, Greenwood Project in Design Review

Preferred option for 9002 Greenwood Ave N.

Seattle’s Design Review Program has a lot of upcoming meetings for new projects in the New Year, but one in particular has caught our attention. Meet 9002 Greenwood Ave N, a brand new four-story, 48-unit microhousing development in Greenwood. As far as we know, this is the first microhousing project to proceed through design review under the new microhousing rules. But before we get to the details of this project, we want to bring you up to speed on the new microhousing code.

A Bit of Background

Way back in October, the City Council adopted an ordinance to specifically regulate microhousing developments in the city. The adoption of new rules was in response to significant, longstanding concern amongst community groups, activists, and residents about microhousing and congregate housing projects. Previously, these developments were subject to the same rules that applied to all congregate housing developments like dormitories and senior housing. Projects would often proceed as townhouses by proposing maximum ratios of bedrooms to shared kitchen and bathroom facilities. The City responded with a new set of rules to treat micorhousing and congregate housing differently in three key ways: separate definitions and intent, zoning district-specific rules, and the rigor of review by project scale.

Separate definition and intent. Microhousing and congregate housing are now clarified in the code as separate uses. In essence, microhousing are differentiated by the character of the living arrangement. Microhousing is geared toward independent living of residents in “small efficiency dwelling units”. Units required to be a minimum size of 220 square feet and contain a full kitchen. Previously, groups of eight sleeping rooms with a shared kitchen were permissible. Meanwhile, congregate housing is now geared more toward the elderly, infirmed, disabled, and students. Unlike small efficiency dwelling units, the Land Use Code explicitly discourages private kitchens and places no minimum size on units in congregate housing living arrangements.

Zone district-specific rules. Microhousing is effectively restricted to zones that permit multifamily dwelling uses like mixed use zones, commercial zones, and lowrise and midrise residential zones. Private congregate housing developments, however, are further restricted to only Urban Villages and Urban Centers with high density zoning types like Neighborhood Commercial 3, Midrise Multifamily, and Downtown zones. Although, exceptions are granted when congregate housing developments are owned by or affiliated with colleges, social welfare providers, and licensed support services.

Project review by scale. Most new microhousing and congregate housing projects are subject to some form of design review. As you can see in the table below, the entry threshold for design review begins at 5,000 square feet of gross floor area. This is basically the total square footage of a building. In the instance of the Greenwood project, the gross floor area is anticipated to be between 17,415 square feet and 18,694 square feet. Therefore, the project is subject Administrative Design Review, a type of design review that is geared toward a shorter process of public and neighborhood feedback on priority design issues.

Thresholds for Design Review
The Land Use Code defines microhousing as “small efficiency dwelling units”.

Greenwood Project

The Greenwood microhousing will be located at the corner of Greenwood Ave N and N 90th St. The area is currently zoned as C1-40, a commecial/mixed use zone with a maximum height of 40 feet. The applicant is proposing a four-story apartment building, which meets the 40-foot maximum for the zone. At least 48 units will be provided, but the applicant is exploring an option to maximize the site with 50 units. Project amenities include a rooftop deck with green space, some private patios, and bike storage on the ground floor.

The site does present some challenges given that the eastern portion is steeply sloped. To address this, the applicant plans to retain the building into the sloped hillside. As you can see in the massing comparisons below, two structures are immediately adjacent to the site. On the north, there is a four-story apartment building while on the east there is a single-story single-family residence (which is also zoned C1-40). Despite how close the single-family residence may appear to the proposed structure, the applicant plans to maintain at least a 7-foot setback from the east property line.

Proposed massing options.

The applicant is proposing three different massing options* for the new microhousing building (as seen above). To illustrate these, the applicant analyzed each option in detail through their design review submittal materials. I’ll provide some broad comparisons between the options based upon that as follows:

  • Options A and B would have 48 units while Option C (the applicant’s preferred option) would have 50 units.
  • Options A and C would have the most continuous frontage on Greenwood Ave N.
  • Options A and B would accentuate the corner by projecting it toward the street.
  • Option C would modulate the primary facade, but would leave overhanging facades on the north and south sides.
  • Options A and B would have corner entries while Option B would have an entry toward the center on Greenwood Ave N.
  • Option B would stepback the fourth floor from the south side.
  • Options A and C would have the most opportunity for landscaping along Greenwood Ave N frontage.

These are just a few of the comparisons that can be made between the options. But the issues of the project proposal could of course expand far beyond the scope of just these details. I do want to bring up one issue worth mentioning: frontage setbacks. Urbanists are often concerned with how much a building is setback, and in this instance the streets and sidewalk present an odd circumstance.

This project proposal consists of deep setbacks along both street frontages. Neither of these are exactly by the applicant’s choosing. The frontage of Greenwood Ave N has a very wide public right-of-way (90 feet to be exact). The applicant’s proposed layout would in effect have the apartment built right up to edge of the Greenwood right-of-way–even though the sidewalk does not begin for another 15 feet from that point.

How to Get Involved

If you’re interested in attending the community design review meeting, you can do so next week. The Northeast Design Review Board will convene its meeting at the Ballard Community Center located at 6020 28th Ave NW. The meeting starts promptly at 6.30pm and begins with a presentation by the applicant, followed by Q&A from Board, and ultimately an opportunity for public comment.

Alternatively, you can submit comments on the project to the project planner, Lindsay King. Should you choose to comment via e-mail, please ensure that you do so before Monday if you would like Lindsay to incorporate your comments into the Design Review Board packets. It is helpful to quote the project number (3018316 in this case), and comments should be carbon copied to In order to be most effective, comment on issues that fall under the citywide and Greenwood/Phinney design review guidelines.

*It should be noted that these are the preliminary massings of the proposed structure. Further refinement of materials, architectural features, and layout modifications will be made in response to comments and feedback at a later stage.

Merry Christmas, Gosh Darn It


Picture 2


There’s a Samoan man in sharp leather who calls me “Center of the Universe.” It’s because I that’s how I announce Third and Pike/Pine. Tonight, somewhere on Jackson, he launched into the following tirade, which I need to contextualize by saying it was yelled hoarsely by him with a smile on his face. I had just innocuously fared someone well with “happy holidays.” From the middle of the bus, which is scattered at this late hour with faces rugged but friendly:

“Stop sayin’ that shit, man, ‘happy holidays!’ It’s bullshit and you know it!” Arms histrionically waving in the air. “It’s about Christmas! It’s ‘Merry Christmas!’ This holiday is about praisin’ the Lord from up on high, man! Fuckin’ happy holidays, forget that brother, this is about Jesus!” I’m laughing and he is too. He’d be a great preacher.

“Is that right?”

“Yeah it’s right, praisin’ the greater glory of God, don’t hide it! You know better! It ain’t about the merchants, we can’t be celebrating the merchants, ‘happy holidays,’ they’re just tryna make money off tha Lord! Its about the, it’s about Jesus repayin’ our debts and rebuildin’ that church in three days! Don’t say ‘happy holidays!’ I heard you sayin’ that bull, it ain’t no happy holidays,”

“I been sayin’ both! You heard me mixin’ it up!”

“Merchants just after your money, everybody use it as an excuse to buy stuff, they max out their credit cards five years with a swipe! Buy more this year than they did last year!”

“Well, I know that’s true!”

“I’m just thinkin’ aloud, guys,” he says, downshifting. “Thanks for listening!”

“Hey, I’m down, you can say what you gotta say!”

“Thanks for hearing me out, everybody!”

Later on, he said, “hey, what’s your name?”

“I’m Nathan. Nathan.”

“Nathan. I’m Patu.”


“Patu yeah, I’m Samoan. You’re a great bus driver great guy.”

“Thank you. It’s always good to see you!”

“Have a good night! And–” forget political correctness for now, as we holler at each other in unison–”Merry Christmas!”

Later that night, an elderly Jamaican regular looked at me askance after I had diplomatically said “happy holidays.”

“I define my holidays,” he said. Dramatic Pause. Then: “Merry Christmas!”

Okay then! “Merry Christmas!”

I suppose it’s similar to how I feel about the term Caucasian. The etymology derives from the Caucasus Mountains, located between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, with specific reference to the 18th-century populations which lived on the southern slopes. Neither I, nor my father nor any of his ancestors have ever had anything to with the southern slopes of the Caucasus Mountains. I guess I prefer the non-PC “half-white” or “non-white” or yes, “mixed-race,” or the tentatively canonized “hapa.” Or we could all just settle for “Muggle.”

Having said all of that: Happy Holidays!

Sunday Video: Djidjila’letch to Pioneer Square


Djidjila’letch to Pioneer Square by the Burke Museum on YouTube.

Watch the changing face of Pioneer Square from tribal village to the modern district of today.

What We’re Reading: Paddleboard Urbanism

Sunrise over Lake Union by Ryan Healy.

Photo finish: The Fremont Bridge will see over 1 million bike rides for 2014.

Northgate ped-bike bridge: Local politicians call for more time on promised funding for the Northgate pedestrian and bike bridge across I-5. The project is at risk of losing Sound Transit funding.

Robot cars: Six things that The Oatmeal learned from riding in a Google self-driving car.

Paddleboard urbanism: Building up cities around people’s enjoyment of water and their outdoor lifestyles.

Bertha still floundering: The new tunnel won’t open until at least August 2017–likely later. Martin over at Seattle Transit Blog takes a whack at the deep bore tunnel mess and concludes that the project is still terrible, despite the political establishment sitting on their hands. And, Streetsblog’s podcast, Talking Headways, talks the tunnel.

Risky choices: It’ll shock you how much safer rider transit is in comparison to driving, despite isolated events like a suspect stabbing a man on the bus this week.

60 years: See the change of Midwest cities over 60 years.

Indecisive Mercer Islanders: After asking for exclusive parking, Mercer Island looks poised to give up on a new parking structure for transit.

Charge for congestion: An idea of how to conduct congestion charging in Seattle and how it’s technically feasible.

The Metro Neighborhood: Scott from The Northwest Urbanist reflects upon a recent studio project for an area of Downtown Seattle owned by the University of Washington and one way in which it could be redeveloped.