Tuesday, 10 December, 2019

Sunday Video: East Union Neighborhood


A short video of local folks from the East Union neighborhood of the Central District in Seattle.




At 4:15pm on August 30, 2010, an officer responded to the life’s work of one Native man in the worst of all possible ways.

Since then we’ve seen no progress in fixing what led to this event. The laws that shielded an officer from justice are still there, urban Indians are still harassed and bothered each day and we still see not-so-benign disregard for vital public services that help keep our community centers afloat. How can a city keep on doing this to itself?

In all of the post-shooting fervor the media and the online comments attached to news stories about that event sought to paint this one man as in any way possible deserving of death. They paraded around insinuations, salacious details of missteps and curiously precise depictions of very human failings, all in an effort to convince themselves and others that this was not a society that would systemically harm a specific group of people.

And yet we still see our family members harassed by police, we still hear and read racist comments, we still watch efforts to dismantle our families and livelihoods under the guise of “civilizing” us, still see efforts to destroy our homelands and watch the law find ways to take even our children. We live in a world where there are people who won’t acknowledge us unless they are trying to convince us our culture exists only to be appropriated. Do we deserve such treatment? No. And yet here we are.

We survive in spite of it all and because of this we can fight back. This is why these efforts, these attacks, these murders, are wrong. It is because we are still here and able to fight back and define what is wrong and harmful to our humanity. We are still here to fight to honor the legacy of those we’ve lost too soon and those we have to care for after society smacks them. We stand up and say this is not right.

Of all the things I noticed in my cringing, stomach-churning fights against those evil comments both online and off, the most telling to me was that in dishonoring this man not many were brave enough to say his name.

His name was John T. Williams.

What We’re Reading: Tragic Loss

Second Avenue by Will Green.
Second Avenue by Will Green.

Bike well: The Seattle Bike Blog offers up some suggestions for Seattle’s next pedestrian plaza. Friday morning saw a tragic cyclist death on Second Avenue, the location of a future protected cycle track. Youarehere has a map of every bicycle crash in Seattle between 2010 and 2012. The science of balancing bike share stations is a pretty big deal, and fascinating. Cities that spend the most on bike lanes reap amazing rewards. And Pittsburgh sees bikeways as an important way to add street capacity.

Building and design: The 2014 Seattle Design Festival begins next week! Don’t worry, you have two weeks to enjoy it. Starchitect Frank Lloyd Wright’s namesake school may lose accreditation. A shortlist of the UK’s worst buildings of 2014. Skinny houses can be amazing spaces. Southampton, England has an awesome pop-up outdoor theatre.

Once around the globe: Location affordability shows that San Francisco is more affordable than a lot of places, even Seattle and Phoenix. Minorities in the suburbs do not trust their police departments. Louisiana is sinking pretty quickly thanks to oil & gas infrastructure, climate change and the Mississippi River. Boston’s Assembly Station serves as a great way to add an infill train station into an existing network. 25 wonderfully vintage photos of Vancouver, BC public transit. The future of cities will be responsive. And, why hasn’t China learned from the mistakes of America?

Policy: Sightline analyzes whether a land-value tax would be legal in Washington and concludes that it probably would be. A statewide poll shows that nearly every voter wants safe routes to schools. Tim Eyman wants you to spend $1.1 million dollars before he’ll screw over low wage earners with an initiative. Irony much? Dick Falkenbury, father of the original monorail effort, thinks the new one is stupid.

City progressWeyerhauser is planning to move into a new office building in Pioneer Square with a 2016 target date, leaving behind its suburban Federal Way location. A 12th Avenue community group voted in favor of apartments instead of a pocket parkTwo new projects in Capitol Hill went before the design review board, and they look pretty good given their context. A look into Dimension, a new 26-story residential building in Belltown.

Maps this weekVacation economies kind of suck, this map series will blow your mind on how quickly jobs are lost, Seattle included. A regional cost map that shows just how far your $1 goes; in Washington it is $0.969. The heat island effect is actually quite significant in cities, see just how much. And, a map for the tokers: every pot shop in Washington.

I Am Now Two Years Old


Picture 2


Two years ago I posted the first of these stories, which now number in the hundreds and stem from seven years of bus driving. The story was from a page in a journal which I never intended to share, but there was something about the exchange I very much wanted to preserve. The feeling of joy I knew in those moments was real, and perhaps by writing that paragraph down I might more easily recall an echo of the sensation. Once again, thanks to the good people–that would be you, Erin Lodi and Michelle Dirkse and Virginia Eader, among others–who urged me to share these stories instead of holing them up, and giving me the push for my blog to become what it has! And a further thanks to Owen Pickford and Ben Schiendelman for inviting me into the fold here at The Urbanist, bringing my stories to an ever-growing audience.

Bus driving is a whirlwind. It’s the feeling of dipping one’s feet into a myriad different worlds, watching and taking part in so many lives and spaces, finding new ways to consider and grow and learn. Here is a collection of days, in celebration of the blogversary, and in an attempt to offer up the experience of multitudes we operators get in just several hours… but most of all I offer the following as a celebration of the people. My stories are ultimately not about me, but about the folks, about how we interact, about ways of thinking.

. . .    . . .    . . .    . . .    . . .    . . .

Rainier at Walker Street, by the Center Park housing facilities and the 2100 building. A runner sprints up the bus, teenage Latino with aviators and camo pants, slick, he’s streaking through time to make it, but wait; he pauses on the second step, body like a dancer, agile, hopping back off the coach to blow out pot smoke before boarding. He stubs out his joint on the cement, and I’m laughing, thanking him for doing that. The eyebrows above the shades smile, his easy grin revealing two rows of small and friendly teeth.

A dark-skinned immigrant man leaves quietly. Does he speak English? Is his world close to mine? Yes. In his hand is a book by the recently deceased Maya Angelou.

A butch girl and her lady, kissing under the orange sodium lamps at Seneca, bodies held tightly, close together.

A man in a wife beater, slapping back at a man attacking him, two men who seem to know each other, fighting amongst the new landscaping on Maynard Avenue, their shouts muffled by the summer leaves.

I’m passing by the Iglesia La Luz Del Mundo at Rainier and Oregon, cruising toward the zone at Alaska. There’s a Latino woman running, no way will she make it, but she’s running anyway, moving pretty quickly. I stop for her, feeling generous tonight. Her smile is oceans wide, breathing heavy and happy, raising the space inside another notch.

In my notes I simply described him as “Red G Playa;” a quarterback-sized man dressed in red walking up from the back at Rainier and Andover. He’d been listening to me discuss my love for driving the 7. He adds to the conversation as he steps out, saying, “I always love it when you do the 7.”

I roll gently down 14th Avenue in Beacon Hill, passing by the International School. A few blocks south and there they are, at home on the overgrown lawn adjacent to the sidewalk– a few Native Americans and others, drunk and high and drifting, behind the tall grass, paraphernalia littered all about them. One of them is Jackie, over there in the wheelchair, and I wave from my passing 36, not sure if I’m making it through their drugged-out haze. In a month or so she’ll be in dramatically better shape, on her way to Peters Place on the 7, happy to finally have a roof and a bed.

Senior East Asian ladies sitting midway back, spelling out the word Safeway together in english. Some giggling is involved.

Phil, always in the corner of my eye, the guy just shows up everywhere and nowhere, a younger man who panhandles near Pike Place. He showed me photos of his childhood days once. Today he squawks to get my attention, practically a bird call, and we wave large.

Arana Wang, local artist, is on the sidewalk. “Arana Wang??” I call out. Yes, it is her! We hug and chat for a red light.

Myself and a man on the 10, discussing the biography of Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide series. Adams was a drunk and died young, in his fifties. We’re discussing the authorship controversies of the closing book in the series.

Anna B on the sidewalk, out of nowhere, another good friend at the 70 bus stop, smiling that smile! Evocative and fresh; imagine the Mona Lisa a few seconds later. Hers is a gaze which has seen many things, but stills revels in the beauty of small moments.

“Playing Tetris” on the 36– that is, trying to figure out ways of arranging passengers and their walkers, bags, and wheelchairs such that we can all fit in. I’m standing there with my chin on my hand, looking at a wheelchair and some luggage, doing some mental calculations. I’d hauled the suitcase up the stairs, joking, “this thing weighs more than I do!” The man in the wheelchair has a sleek, terrific-looking new vehicle, called the Luggie, I learn. It looks to be the Lexus of mobility devices.

A lady on the 120: “You’re a hero to the planet and the people, every day!”
A man on the 120: “I like the way you drive, bro. ‘Ppreciate it.”

A thoughtful hipster on the 70, discussing a band he used to be in, Meese, and the perils of working in the entertainment industry. We share horror stories of living in Hollywood. With someone else I expound on the long-lasting nature of the trolleys.

An Islamic family in traditional dress is asking me questions. I’m explaining where to get an Orca card, inwardly marveling at their wonderful faces, so many bright eyes ready to smile.

11:42 at night on Capitol Hill, and things are pulsing. A full house this evening, lively and ready for the scene. I’m turning onto Pine on an outbound 49, waiting for the people crossing in the crosswalk. Two of them, a couple, suddenly become animated: it’s Kristina and Adam, dear friends, out on the town on Friday night! What are the odds? I open the doors and beam at them. Kristina asks if they can hop on for a moment. Of course they can. I’m overjoyed. We ride several blocks together, chatting up the space, sculpting new sides to our respective evenings, connections and smiles livening up the space even further. Several minutes after they leave a woman will come forward with a cupcake, offered by way of thanks for the joyous ride.

Me, walking by myself, basking in the sunshine at Volunteer Park on a layover, sitting under a tree for nine precious minutes.

“Shit is deterioratin’,” said a man walking by to his lady. I can’t agree.

Editor’s Note: We are so thankful for the stories that Nathan brings. It’s unbelievable how heartwarming and brilliant they are. There’s rarely one that doesn’t bring a smile to our faces. We thank him for showing us all how much community there is on buses, working to dispel stereotypes and communicating the human nature of operators and passengers.

Special Sounder Service This Weekend Plus Upcoming Events

Sound Transit 905 by Stephen Rees on Flickr.

In case you don’t live in Seattle, but feel like taking transit to the Mariners and Sounders games this weekend, Sound Transit has you covered with a special Sounder service on Saturday and Sunday.

On Saturday (August 30), the Sounders will faceoff against the Colorado Rapids with a 1pm start time. Sounder service will be provided from both Lakewood and Everett to Seattle. The Lakewood train departs at 10:45 a.m. while the Everett train departs at 11:15 a.m. Return trains depart King Street Station 35 minutes after the end of the match. Future Saturday Sounder services for Sounders games will be provided on September 27 and October 25.

On Sunday (August 31), the Mariners will faceoff against the Washington Nationals at 1:10 p.m. Trains from the south will leave Lakewood at 10:45 a.m. Trains from the north will leave Everett at 11:15 a.m. Return trains will leave King Street Station 35 minutes after the last out. Sounder trains will also serve Mariners games on September 14 and September 28.

Seahwaks games will have Sounder service for each Sunday match throughout the season, so check out the timetable for those games online.

In addition to the special Sounder service for select weekend games, Sound Transit will provide Everett-to-Puyallup trains for the Washington State Fair on September 13 and September 20 (both Saturdays), which will operate all local stops along the line (see thefair.com/Sounder).

Keep in mind that Sound Transit’s regular fare zones still apply for each special service (except for the fair), so if you’re traveling from Lakewood, you can expect a maximum $5.25 fare each way.

Seattle’s Homeless Population Grew Between 2012 and 2013


(There’s a lot of data in the 2013 HUD report on homelessness. This is part 2 of The Urbanist’s series to better understand this data. You can see Part 1 here.)

Breaking The Data Into Comparable Pieces

One of the fundamental problems with understanding the numbers in the report is putting them in context. The report is largely broken down by geographic areas that are under Continuum of Care organizations (CoCs), as I discussed in the first post of this series. What this means is that the areas may not coincide perfectly with other commonly used geographic regions. This becomes problematic when trying to correlate this data with other data sets, like the census. It turns out, though, that many of the CoCs are defined by counties. A few are also defined by cities.

To narrow down my work, I focused on 54 CoCs with the largest homeless population in 2013. (The pictures below are actually from the 51 largest, because I wasn’t yet done with numbers for 3.) For these CoCs, I put together a table with the area’s total population and homeless population for 2012 and 2013. You can see those numbers here. With the population numbers, it becomes much easier to compare the relative scale of homelessness in different areas.

homeless total 2012-2013

In a lot of ways, this data is pretty bad news for Seattle. First, the data shows that the Seattle/King County homeless population actually increased between 2012 and 2013. If you read Part 1, you’ll also note that Seattle’s homeless population grew between 2013 and 2014. The 2014 data for Seattle/King County isn’t in the HUD report, but given that the homeless population increased in Seattle, it’s likely that it also increased in the rest of the county.

As mentioned in Part 1, the Seattle/King County CoC had the 3rd highest number of homeless people in 2013. Previously, Seattle had the 4th largest homeless population. San Diego managed to decrease the number of people without housing by just over 1,000.

Additionally, this data shows that Seattle/King County has a larger number of homeless people than many other CoCs with higher populations. San Diego City and County, City of Houston/Harris County, Chicago, Phoenix/Mesa/Maricopa County and Santa Ana/Anaheim/Orange County all have a smaller population of homeless individuals than Seattle/King County but have larger numbers of residents. With that said, Seattle ranks 16th among 53 CoCs with the largest number of homeless people per capita:


Surprisingly, the city of Fairfax, Virginia has the worst per capita homelessness rate. In 2012 Fairfax County had the third highest median income in the country.

The HUD report included statistics regarding the effectiveness of providing shelter. While providing housing is pretty expensive (although a lot of research indicates that providing housing is cheaper than not doing so, in the long run), shelter is an important stop-gap with much different political and logistical obstacles. Among the 53 cities, Seattle ranked 21st for providing shelter. Boston topped the list with an impressive with an impressive 96.7% of homeless people provided shelter.

Sheltered Homeless Population

Among the 25 cities that were worst at providing shelter, Portland was the furthest north, followed by San Francisco. All the other cities were in pretty warm climates.

Take a look through the data to see if you can find anything interesting yourself.



Picture 4


As I woke a scruffy older sleeper at the U District terminal, he grumbled out something I think he intended to be derogatory. Something about “you know what you and your coworker, buhuuuh uuh,” a remnant from that zone between dreams and wakefulness. I couldn’t understand his slurred speech though, and wished him well as he stood up. I got a few stretches in as he gathered himself into the present and stumbled away. Several minutes later when I started the bus back up again, he reappeared, and I said happily, “back for more! Awesome, dude!”

He smiled, seeing no more need for the antagonism from his dreams.

Another passenger got on some time later, also an older male. He looked like Elton John with a sunburn and twenty extra pounds, and he staggered into the chat seat and began regaling me with a story from earlier. “So I found a wallet the other day. In the street. A wallet.”
“That’s pretty cool,” I said.

You can tell when someone’s been drinking, and then you can tell when they’ve been drinking all day. This was the latter.

“I opened it up the wallet, and there was a cocaine straw,” he yelled.
“There you go.”
“So I thought, cool! And then there was a twenty. Right there, inside the wallet. So I had a cocaine straw and a twenty, right there off the street.”

He paused for dramatic effect before continuing. Other people were listening now. I feel like I’m on a stage of sorts in situations like this. The sleeper from earlier was now awake, sitting nearby. More refined types and Capitol HIll hipsters fill out the rest of the bus. Was I going to tell him to stop talking? Nope. Mister Elton the Cocaine Strawman is my buddy too.

He continued holding forth: “And the wallet had a you know, a secret pocket. And guess what was in it?”
“What was in the secret pocket?”
“Seventy dollars!”
“Well now, that sounds excellent!”
“Yeah it was,” he blurted in agreement. “And it was rainy and dark outside, and the wallet was black, the wallet, the ground was black, you understand?”
“It was all black!”

The juxtaposition of the serious concentration necessary for watching the lanes, anticipating the moves of other cars, and checking the wire– all that in combination with a dialogue like this, is something I find highly amusing. Just the balance I need. Call it brain tickling. I’m maintaining three feet of clearance for the parked cars while being mindful of passing cars on the left– oh and yes, there was a cocaine straw and the wallet was black.

“It’s amazing I FOUND it. But but but. There was no cocaine though.” He sounded disappointed.
“No cocaine, just a whole bunch a cash?”
“Uh-huh,” he said dejectedly. The sleeper barked out a sardonic laugh. I give voice to his thoughts, saying, “I don’t know, man, that still sounds like a jackpot to me!”
“Yeah, really,” grumbled Sleeper Man.

“I’ll take ninety dollars,” I continue as two teenage girls get on. They’re done up Just So, as it’s Saturday night. One’s having trouble finding money, and the other pays for her. “Such a good friend!” I say. She bats her lashes, and they sit down near Elton the wallet finder, who stares at them goggle-eyed.

Finally he says, “you guys look reeeeally pretty!”
Pause containing deafening awkward silence. “Are you guys teeeenagers?”
They nod patiently.
“You look like you’re about SEVENTEEN, is that right?”

Pretty soon it will be time to steer the conversation in a healthier direction. While I’m thinking about how to do this diplomatically, Sleeper Man butts in on my behalf and that of the girls, saying to Elton: “well, you look like you’re about SEVENTY, so why don’t you shut up?”

Everyone within earshot collapses in laughter.

Elton the Wallet Finder’s a good sport. “No, I’m sixty, I’m sixty! Okay, I’ll leave you girls alone.” Thank goodness for friendly drunks.

Sleeper Man gets off at Union. His first words to me may have been negative, but his last are positive. Out of nowhere he says, “hey! Did you know UPS and FedEx are merging?”
“What? No way!”
“Yeah, I heard it on the news!”
“This is madness!”

I felt like he wanted to balance out whatever negative energy he was belching out when I woke him up. It wasn’t because he thought I might be interested in company acquisitions. The attitude from earlier wasn’t big enough to warrant an apology, but he seemed to feel a need to reach across the empty spaces. The UPS news seemed offered out of a desire to what, find that wonderful meeting point, questing for equilibrium, the need to lay claim to that shared territory which proves we all have something in common.

Bertha’s Future

Bertha being delivered (by the author)

Bertha, the massive highway tunnel boring machine, is stuck in one place underground until at least next March. The future of State Route 99 has moved firmly into uncharted territory, so I thought I’d start a discussion of what might happen next.

First, a recap.

After the 2001 Nisqually quake damaged the SR-99 viaduct, the state legislature started seriously considering funding for a replacement. In 2003, they passed the “Nickel” funding package, providing $177 million in funding to begin design work and start buying right of way. In 2005, once the general scope of the replacement became clear, the Transportation Partnership Program provided $2 billion toward construction.

In 2006, voters in Seattle were asked in an advisory vote to choose between a ‘cut and cover’ tunnel or a replacement elevated structure, and rejected both.

Even at that point, there was a surface boulevard option that put money into transit and downtown street grid improvements, much like San Francisco’s Embarcadero, and would have torn down the damaged viaduct immediately; nearly every party involved ignored that option, other than the project’s citizen advisory committee, which endorsed it.

Also in 2006, the state asked Sound Transit to delay their “Sound Transit 2” vote until 2007 to pair it with a regional highway expansion vote which would have included additional funding for the SR-99 project. Sound Transit did so, and in November, the “Roads and Transit” measure failed, preventing even more money from going to the project. Sound Transit went back to the ballot in 2008 and passed handily.

Finally, in 2009, the state proposed a bored tunnel–the largest in the world–to replace the freeway. They capped the total state spending on the project at $2.4 billion, and assigned responsibility to the city if the project went overbudget. A referendum on the city council’s agreement with the state failed in 2010, and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) started construction.

Since then, the expensive machine has broken, as predicted by many, while other highway infrastructure deteriorates, sometimes spectacularly, and maintenance remains underfunded across the state. The viaduct, touted after 2001 as dangerously unsafe, remains standing, despite a 2008 promise from then-governor Gregoire that it would be torn down in 2012.

The first failure in this project was that it went past the drawing board.

Great. Now what?

I’m going to gloss over the mess of Bertha’s failure: the machine’s bearings failed, causing it to overheat when it spun the cutting head. The contractor has a plan that they believe could get the machine digging by March of 2015. To do this, they’re digging a pit down to the front of the machine, planning to pull off the 57-foot wide cutting head, replace the bearings inside the machine, and make a whole host of improvements to try to keep the machine from breaking again.

First, and soonest, as they dig a pit in wet muck between Elliott Bay and the existing viaduct, they’re going to have to pump water out of it–what they call “dewatering”. When you pump water out of the ground, the ground tends to sink.


Sadly, this isn’t as fun as actually sending the viaduct to the bottom of the ocean. The viaduct is only considered safe to drive on (if you can consider it safe at all) as long as it doesn’t sink more than an inch, and at least one part of it sank 4/10 of an inch when tunneling began.

WSDOT never planned to dewater in the area where Bertha is stuck now, so it’s likely the viaduct will sink further. If it hits that full inch, it’ll have to be closed to traffic. At that point, we’ll see adaptation–traffic will worsen in the short term, transit use will spike, and the region will reach a new traffic equilibrium over a few weeks as people take other routes and change their habits.

It’s very likely that traffic Downtown would improve as a result of tens of thousands fewer cars. It’s entirely possible that once the viaduct is closed for a couple of months, we’d see political will to throw more money at a new freeway disappear–and maybe WSDOT could even sue the contractor for damages to cover the cost of a new surface boulevard and transit improvements.


If the viaduct stays afloat and repairs are completed successfully, we come to another potential point of failure. One theory for Bertha’s failure is that because of its size, the pressure against the bottom of the cutting head is much higher than the pressure against the top, torquing it against the bearings and causing them to wear quickly. I understand this is one of the points the repair is supposed to address, but as it’s being done by the same company that claimed the machine was fine in the first place, I don’t have high hopes.

If the bearings are damaged again, and the machine goes twice as far this time as it did the first time, it would end somewhere under Downtown–either under 1st Ave or an adjacent building. At that point, perhaps under the Four Seasons hotel or one of the buildings of Pike Place Market, a repair would have to be attempted from inside the tunnel; and be more costly and time-consuming than the current year-long repair plan.


On the legal front, a source close to the project tells me that WSDOT has rejected a “change order” from the contractor to increase the contract amount by the amount of the repairs, indicating that the state believes the contractor is responsible. If the contractor disagrees, they may stop work arbitrarily, or only work until they run out of money. At that point, WSDOT might have to sue the contractor to complete the project (or even the repairs).

This is only one of several ways the project could end up in court–and given the history of Ron Tutor of Tutor Perini, 45% of the “Seattle Tunnel Partners” joint venture, it seems likely.


While there are oodles of other ways this project can still die, there’s one more that I find particularly interesting.

This project came from former Governor Gregoire, then-state Senator Ed Murray, former mayor Greg Nickels, county executive Dow Constantine, and most of the current Seattle City Council. All of them are Democrats in a state with only a small Democratic majority. If the tunneling isn’t complete or cancelled by the beginning of the 2016 election season, I expect the Republicans to campaign against Governor Jay Inslee on the cost and Seattle focus of the project.

With that in mind, if I were Inslee, I would be looking for a way out, and I’m sure his team isn’t blind to this risk. If the viaduct sinks, the money runs out, or the machine fails again, I expect to see him and WSDOT pull the plug.

What can we do?

This project may not die, but if it can, the best things we can do to help it along are small.

First, tell every local elected official you meet that you want this tunnel dead, that you’ll vote against any highway money, and that you’ll donate to candidates who oppose highways and build transit and high speed rail instead.

Oppose highways every chance you get. There are a dozen more projects like this one in the pipelines of state departments of transportation across the country. A lot of them are stalling due to a convergence of the interests of anti-tax and pro-sustainability voters. People need to hear in casual conversation that highways are dangerous and unhealthy, a past mistake we must remove and correct.

Tell Seattle City Council candidates that you want them to oppose highways, full stop. When you find one that does, give them a check if you can, and go doorbell for them. If you live in the 6th, for instance, you’re all set.

Finally, be ready for the next legislative session. Come January, we’ll need to testify against highways and for transit. When you come to Olympia in-person, your voice carries.