Tuesday, 28 January, 2020

Seattle Installs New Red Bus Lane Markings

Courtesy of SDOT

On Tuesday, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) finished installing red paint on bus only lanes through the Battery Street corridor. The red paint is meant to clarify the fact that the lanes are bus only and better deter motorists. The city plans to step up enforcement of this traffic law as well. SDOT traffic engineer Dongho Chang captured the work on Twitter.

When asked about the work, transportation director Scott Kubly said that the city had its “focus on using the roadways as efficiently as we can.”

‘Inevitably Urban’ and the role of the people



Inevitable Urban Times

These times seem so inevitably urban.  Of course, my wry remark comes from a city-dweller in a post-recessionary Seattle, where new construction appears at every turn.

Here, civic dialogue focuses on the social repercussions of growth, such as affordability of urban housing (“build more“, said yesterday’s Seattle Times), the proper range of housing types, and how residents will travel from here to there.

These are also times to think again about how to “create scalable solutions for city leaders to share with their constituencies across the world”, according to The Atlantic’s CityLab 2014 event underway now in Los Angeles.


Attention to human opportunities in the city is now commonplace, with recurring urbanism, placemaking and urban innovation events like CityLab 2014, The Placemaking Leadership Council and The Future of Places all occurring within the last month. Proffered solutions abound, aided by technology, applications and provocative presentations, both live and online.

Oratory and Shakespeare Define the City

But it’s worth remembering that inquiry about the how to fulfill human opportunities is longstanding. There is undeniable precedent in storied oratory, arguably the internet of ancient times.

The Greek poet, Alcaeus of Mytilene (680-511 BC) (as reported by Roman-era sophist Aelius Aristides in later oratory) established human opportunities as central to his definition of the city:

Not houses finely roofed or the stones of walls well builded, nay nor canals and dockyards make the city, but men [sic] able to use their opportunity [emphasis added].

Sound familiar?

The human part of the built environment has echoed in other, much-quoted prose. Beyond the Greek sophists and orators (themselves criticized for educating only those who could afford the price), Shakespeare’s better known quotation, from Coriolanus, Act 3, Scene 1, also set the tone:

“What is the city but the people?”

What I Learned About Cities

In my case, personal background complements history.

In one of his last presentations, at a major “21st Century City” conference he helped organize in 1988 in Phoenix, my father (late Urban Planning Professor Myer R. Wolfe) quoted Alcaeus in his holistic conference keynote remarks.

How, he asked, can interdisciplinary forces be marshaled to make an accessible urban form (citing Alcaeus’ human “opportunities”) for the 21st century? “The question has to be asked—opportunities for what?”, he noted, pointing to, inter alia, limitations on quality of life inherent in long commutes and related life choices,  issues of density v. intensity, as well as urban character across both urban and suburban patterns. (See The City of the 21st Century, M. Pihlak, Ed., Arizona State University, 1988).

In reviewing those remarks just yesterday, his references both to Greek oratory and his predictive questions about this century sent me searching for universal, human imagery. Because it’s the people who define the city, we should look at them, closely.

It’s the People, Stupid

I have compiled 25 photographs for this essay—taken in multiple locations since 2009, including cities on four continents.  The photographs are presented in black and white, to better show the contrast between the human and built environment, yet also emphasize the undeniably symmetry between.


My intentions are simple:

First, I want to straightforwardly illustrate fundamental traits of city dwellers across cultures, distance and time. Such traits include talking, eating, singing, watching, shopping, walking, sitting, learning, growing and aging, seeking shelter from climate, and blending with technologies of communication, travel and illumination.

Second, beyond the other ample media available to assess city life and prospects, I want to challenge the reader to think about how best to maximize the opportunities for those pictured, and those around us, and to realistically assess what we see.

As explained here, this story of “urban inevitability” has traveled through sophism—a once-revered (albeit privileged) form of teaching, across the ages. But the very point of such sophism—defining the city on human terms—should not morph to “sophistry”, a more modern term reflective of deceit and specious debate.

Finally, Just Look at the People and Learn

Here’s hoping that the interspersed photographs above and below will illustrate what Alcaeus meant long ago, as revisited in 1988 by my father and in new forms, through the gatherings and events today.

I would venture that to be “able to use the opportunity” of the city is a perpetual challenge best observed in the conduct of the users themselves.















More Carmelite Market--on Shabat









Images composed by the author in Antibes, Arles, Frejus, Grasse and Nice, France; Tel Aviv, Israel; London, UK; Aveiro, Lisbon and Porto, Portugal; Arusha, Tanzania, and Seattle, USA. Click on the image for more detail. © 2009-2014 myurbanist.  All Rights Reserved. Do not copy.

For more information on the role of personal experience in understanding the changing city, see Urbanism Without Effort, an e-book from Island Press.

– See more at: http://www.myurbanist.com/#sthash.H2NVldYF.dpuf





As we pull up to Third and James, southbound, a couple of folks get on whom I recognize. “Heeyy,” I say to them, beaming. We sit for the light nearside Jefferson. Across the way is Triangle Park, that open-air bedroom and bazaar, populated with denizens of all stripes and smells. I hear a roar coming my way from over there: “YO, NATHAN!”

It’s him, another buddy, arms extended in a full-body wave. I don’t know his name, but I’m equally thrilled to see him again– black skullcap rag, fluorescent jacket, construction green, with working boots and a crusty smile. Another friendly face from the bus. People remember when you’re kind.

I roll forward and get stopped at the next red light, only sixty-odd feet ahead, facing Yesler. In my right periphery is a dark-skinned figure in white, shouting up at me. “Aaay! Aaay!”

It’s Sho Luv.* He’s letting his hair grow out, blossoming into a full-bodied ‘fro that would make anyone jealous. I open the doors and respond in kind. This is what red lights were made for. “Mister Sho Luv! Heeey, man! I see you on every end o’ town! It’s like there’s ten uh you, jus’ hangin’ around all over!”

I forget his exact response, but he was as excited as I was, high off the elation of seeing and being seen. He wasn’t interested in a ride, or a transfer, or anything; the man just wanted to belt out a hello. I said something about him having magic powers, and at the green light we went our separate merry ways.

A older fellow inside the bus marveled, saying, “you got clout. You got clout on every corner, huh?”
I smiled before saying, “a little!” As we completed the turn onto Third South I added, “good people everywhere, you know?”
“I know tha’s right!”

*Mr. Luv is the gentleman in the linked 358 post with whom I discuss South Gate, right before talking with the researcher about funding for tuberculosis. His name isn’t mentioned because that was the first time we spoke, and as such hadn’t formally met yet.

Sunday Video: Public Space in Motion


Public Space in Motion, From Nice by Chuck Wolfe on YouTube.

What We’re Reading: Shiny Objects and Micro Palaces

11th Street Bridge over the Anacostia
The proposed 11th Street Bridge over the Anacostia River in DC.

Just the facts: Streetsblog discusses HOT lanes and if they really work for transit, it appears they can be a blessing and curse, but mainly just a curse. The data keeps showing that, yeah, the kids aren’t driving, they prefer a multiplicity of modes that aren’t car-based. A before and now of Oklahoma City, its freeway torched the city center, but it looks like OKC officials have some good plans to fix that. Why is DC’s rent so damn high? Blame it on Congress, duh! And, what’s your city’s ratio of place to non-places?

Stop with the Plan Bs: Seattle Transit Blog offers up 10 ways that Metro is better than ever–we forgot how great ORCA really is.Tom over at Seattle Bike Blog makes the case that a “Plan B” for Ballard and the Burke-Gilman Trail is absolutely not the way to go for the Missing Link. SDOT talks about “Access Seattle” in detail for South Lake Union and how it’s a program to ensure access in high construction areas for all modes. Since Sound Transit is already looking to increase fares by $0.25, maybe it makes sense to induce people to use ORCA by increasing cash fares to $3 and $4 even. Tom also gushes on the Divvy bikes back in Chicago (it appears he missed the Pronto! launch at home). And, a photo series on the Link extension from the airport to S 200 Street.

New walls: A brief history on the creation of I-5 that ripped apart Downtown, Capitol Hill, and more on its way north across the Ship Canal. Are we ready for the “big one”? King County has adopting a living wage for all County employees and some contracted positions. It looks like King County will also get its new Youth Detention Center in First Hill after the Seattle City Council approved the land use action; say goodbye to the ugly old block. And, take a peek at the first bit of the seawall installed.

This week in maps: A tool that lets you track the explosive growth of megacities. A former mapmaker for insurance companies turns out to have a wealth of detail in many old cities, it’s data and map junkies treasurer trove. Some sweet English railway map that was less about where the trains go and more about how to charge them.

Shiny objects: This European Alpine villa is pretty amazing, especially because you’d almost never notice it in the landscape. DC has picked its winning architecture team for the new 11th Street Bridge over the Anacostia River, the designs are superb an multi-functional. Now this is how you do a new railway station, leave it to the Danish. Slooped roofs in an Amsterdam neighborhood that completely integrate the green in green roof.

Micro palaces: A clever quip by Nathaniel Hood of Strong Towns that people don’t get engaged in the suburbs–or at least their engagement photos. Politico profiles microhousing in Seattle with the developer talking head Roger Valdez as the story’s centerpiece. The Guardian argues that the increase of cycling isn’t just good for cyclists, it’s good for everyone. The new global talent centers are out for 30 cities across the globe–we still lost out to Vancouver.

Oh, But She’s Got the Answers to Everyone’s Problems…


Crystal Peter Wedding-1


“Birthday on the 25th,” Isaac is saying, referring to himself. Isaac is in a work-release program at Burger King, and sometimes he pays me with food instead of fare. Why can’t it be like that all the time?
“Twenty-fifth a coupla days ago, or next–”
“Next month, August. And my daughter turnin’ sixteen on the 24th of August.”
“Whoa, wow! Excellent. Sixteen. She’ll be drivin’ soon.”
“She live in the area?”

We talk a bit more. I mention my birthday being in March, and the lively Filipino woman behind us inquires further: “March what?”
“The twelfth!”
“Ooohhhh! My nephew, it’s the 13th! And then my daughter-in-law, March 17th! Plus two others in my family, I’m surrounded by fishes!”
“That’s good, right?”
“Well, my nephew, I told him if he turned out like the others I’d kill him with my bare hands!”
She’s joking, of course. I think.
“Oh my goodness!”
“He turned out well. He’s a good provider. Maybe too good.”
“I don’t have a family,” I muse aloud. “Maybe one day.”
“Oh why not?” asks the Filipino lady. She’s very interested.

Oh dear, I think. Why did I say that aloud? No time to get into it all. I give them the short answer: “I haven’t found the right young lady yet!”
“That’s because you work at night!”
A working-class Latino man sitting further back, halfway down, is listening and smiling. Filipino lady and I rib each other good-naturedly as she continues holding forth: “How can you expect to find a girl when you work at night? Of course you’re single! Even a nice cute handsome guy like you–”
“But I like driving at night!” This gets a rich smile from the listening Latino man, who looks to work odd hours himself. Filipino lady’s not having it, though–
“Then you need to meet a nice girl who works at a hospital! That’s what you need to do. I know them. All you have to do is go to Virginia Mason. Seventh Floor.”
“Oh, is that right? Is that where all the ladies are hiding?”
“I know everything.”
“That’s excellent!”
“I’m telling you, Virginia Mason, there’s plenty of wonderful nurses, very bright,”
“Up on the seventh floor, you said?”
“The seventh floor.”
“Well, I guess if I ever want to meet someone, now I know where to go… the seventh floor? What about the sixth floor?”
“I’m serious! You have no excuse now! I’m the matchmaker! I know where all the girls are. I have to look out for my grandsons when they come of age!”
“My parents will have you to thank if they have grandchildren!”
“Or at you know, Fourth and Seneca? I know where all the young women go–”
“Fourth and Seneca?? What’s at Fourth and Seneca?”
“I’m telling you, I know these things. Hey. Isn’t this weekend the big, the big you know, the fair,”
“Yeah, Seafair. So many women go to that. Everyone goes. All you have to do is go. What are you doing this weekend?”

Enthusiastically: “Working!”

Of course! Everyone–she, me, Isaac, the listening guy, burst out laughing. But I really am happy to be here. I enjoy hearing her silliness. In truth, I didn’t say what would have ended our pleasant conversation–I love driving at night. I do the things I like to do, and trust in the universe to provide. It’s worked pretty great so far.

Community Transit hosts a conversation on 8-80 Cities

Walkable Denmark by La Citta Vita on Flickr.

Community Transit recently sponsored a community forum at the Lynnwood Convention Center on 8-80 Cities: Vibrant Cities. About 50 people were in attendance to listen to keynote presenter Gil Penalosa’s talk on what it takes to make vibrant and healthy cities. Gil is the Executive Director of the Toronto-based organization 8-80 Cities. He was formerly the Commissioner of Parks, Sport and Recreation for the City of Bogota in Columbia.

For many urbanists, the message that Mr. Penalosa brought is nothing new. But what made his remarks interesting is that it was geared towards a general suburban audience. And, that is exactly where this talk was took place–in a suburban setting with all of its attendant challenges.

The irony was very present as I travelled by car to attend this talk, arriving late because of severe traffic–and admittedly getting slightly lost. The site of the convention center sits near the junction of I-405 and I-5, and serviced with limited transit options. So, naturally public transit to this event was not a reasonable choice for me given the commute constraints. And to add to the stereotypical suburban problems, the site was plagued by inadequate onsite parking facilities, encouraging attendees to park on neighboring properties.

Pronto! bikes in Occidental Park by Charles Cooper.So with that backdrop, I sat back and listened to a gently laid out case for cities that take on characteristics of vibrancy and accommodating more walking and biking. The first thing I heard was the idea to lower general vehicle speeds on neighborhood streets to 20 mph. His rationale for reducing speeds had to do with safety. The data that he presented showed that speeds above 20 mph radically increased the risk of death to pedestrians should they be struck. Although, he did note that difference between arterials and local streets shouldn’t be discounted when applying such rules.

Mr. Penalosa talked about walking and cycling as a right, not just some urban frivolity. He then segued into a discussion of the investment in bikeways and walking pathways, and just how meager such investments are in most cities. He argued that often these investments are only used to quell gadflies rather than as part of a real substantive approach to changing how the city works.

Throughout the talk, Mr. Penalosa showed many slides of cities in Europe, Asia and South America where cities large and small are instituting these ideas and principles to create showcases for urbanism. He also spent some time talking about getting from talking to doing. What he means is that citizens must delve into the political realm to hold our elected representatives accountable. Citizens need to have a sense of urgency lest planners and politicians simply maintain the status quo.

In the end, Mr. Penalosa laid out the case for cities to take on the core values of his organization and the elements of an 8-80 City:

  • 8-80 Cities are communities built for people;
  • They reflect social equality in the public realm and promote sustainable happiness;
  • They nurture our need to be physically active by providing safe, accessible and enjoyable places for everyone walk, bike and be active as part of our daily routine;
  • They recognize that people are social creatures and prioritize human interaction by fostering vibrant streets and great public places where people can rest, relax and play; and
  • 8-80 Cities encourage sustainable and healthy lifestyles for everyone regardless of age, gender, ability, ethnicity or economic background.

I think Community Transit should be acknowledged for recognizing that their future success depends on spatial changes. In order to better serve their constituent population, communities in Snohomish County will need to transform away from the conventional suburban model and instead to an 8-80 model. This inspirational and gentle talk did get people talking about this issue well after the presentation ended, and in that way, it’s a good starting point for that change.

Many of Mr. Penalosa’s points from his hour and a half presentation can be condensed down, and for a shorter version of these, check out his TedTalk.

Pronto! free ride weekends

Pronto Cycle Share in Occidental Park
Photo courtesy of Charles Cooper.

To welcome–well, themselves–to the neighborhood, Pronto! Cycle Share is throwing a series of celebrations over the new few weeks of October. For instance–By being one of the first people to check out a bike from your local neighborhood docking station, you can earn yourself a free 24-Hour pass. Pronto! will be giving away the free passes to the first 10 people to arrive for their weekend ride series on October 18th, 19th, 25th, and 26th. The weekend ride series is a guided tour to and from various locations in Downtown, South Lake Union, and Capitol Hill, and serves as an introduction to Seattle’s new bikeshare system. The dates of the event are as follows:

Capitol Hill – Saturday, 10/18 @ 1PM
Start: Pine and 16th End: Seattle Central College

South Lake Union – Sunday, 10/19 @ 1PM
Start: REI (Yale and John) End: SLU Park

Seattle Center/Waterfront – Saturday, 10/25 @ 1 PM
Start: Key Arena End: Pier 69

Downtown  Sunday, 10/26 @ 1 PM
Start: 2nd and University End: 6th and King

Josh Steiner is a planner in the Seattle area with a focus in multimodal and sustainable transportation.