Sunday, 20 September, 2020

Planning with Grassroots Media


In April, I had the pleasure of presenting with fellow urbanists and writers at the 2015 National Planning Conference in Seattle. Our panel, “Planning with Grassroots Media”, sought to enlighten city planners on how local blogs and neighborhood websites can greatly improve planning processes and boost public participation. The audience was spilling out the door and we had some great questions, so the presentation and audio recording are now being made available in this post.

Listen to just the audio or view it with our slideshow on YouTube.

iTunes | RSS Feed | Download (right click and “save as…”) | Stream below

You can also download the slideshow here (PDF).

My fellow panelists were: Nick Welch, planner at the Seattle Department of Planning and Development; Owen Pickford, Executive Director of The Urbanist; and Josh Feit, founding editor of Publicola. I discussed how planners can start their blogs for the benefit of their own careers and their community. Nick shared local examples of grassroots media benefiting local projects, including the University District upzone and the movement for a light rail station at NE 130th Street. Owen described grassroots media as the bridge between lay people and experts, and why planners should get involved. And Josh discussed the differences between how the mainstream media and grassroots media report on nerdy planning issues.

Thanks to Owen for quickly getting on board with my proposal last year, and to Nick and Josh for joining us with such short notice but continued interest. By sharing our presentation with those who weren’t able to make it to the conference we hope we can develop the conversation on grassroots media and the evolving nature of public participation in city planning.

From left to right: Nick, Owen, and Josh. Photo by the author.

2015 Seattle City Council Election, District 4: Abel Pacheco Interview


Article Note: The Urbanist is publishing a series of interviews with a selection of 2015 Seattle City Council candidates. In June, we will release our endorsements.

Abel Pacheco (aged 28) is one of the two youngest candidates running for Seattle City Council with hopes of capturing a position in the newly formed District 4. Pacheco originally grew up in California, but found himself in Seattle to pursue his educational aspirations in public administration at the Evans School of Public Affairs. He has very strong ties in District 4 having previously served on the Wallingford Community Council and the U-District Partnership (he still is an active member for both organizations). He now works in higher education as Assistant Director for External Affairs at the University of Washington and Adjunct Professor for North and Central Seattle Colleges.

Pacheco boasts a platform focused on housing, public safety, and innovative technology issues to improve our infrastructure like transit and broadband. As a person of color, he understands the challenges that people face when it comes to policing. He wants to improve partnerships to drive better outcomes. He also thinks that the key to success in government is harnessing technology. He wants to help the City find ways to implement technology so that departments become even more responsive, smarter, and reinvent how infrastructure is used. On housing, Pacheco can identify with those struggling to find affordable housing. Since moving to Seattle, he’s been a mother-in-law renter; he wants to find solutions so that more Seattleites can attain quality, affordable housing options.

Council District No. 4
Council District No. 4

What would you do to make housing affordable for everyone in Seattle?

Pacheco’s take on housing affordability is mostly centered on planning and transportation. He looks toward neighborhoods as an opportunity to support growth. Pacheco wants to work with them to meet their goals, but with a renewed spirit of charity by the City. He thinks that the City should put tools in front of them to help them determine what approaches to use. Pacheco mentioned changing zoning (including single-family areas where warranted), changing regulation around allowing accessory dwelling units, and modifying development regulations as examples of this. Pacheco also reflected on past planning efforts in neighborhoods as somewhat prefunctory; going forward, he wants a more collegial planning process that hears the desires of local resdients.

Pacheco placed an emphasis on people living where they work and supporting public transportation. He wants to focus on getting people to live closer to where they work, but also thinks that good transit goes hand-in-hand with new urban development. Going further, he suggested that new development is a much better fit when located in transit-rich areas. At the same time, the availability of high quality transit can get people to work and elsewhere very effectively.

How does planning, transit policy, and development affect racial, social, and economic inequalities in our city? What policies and efforts can we make to combat these inequalities?

Pacheco jumped right in and said that Seattle is leading the way on wage equity. He noted that a $15 per hour minimum represents a huge step forward. Increasing wage for low-income earners could really help them up, but only if the city can get housing affordability and transit right. He’s deeply concerned about current trend of rising costs for housing and transportation. Pacheco thinks these are still serious liabilities that need to be tackled by the City to ensure the success of the new minimum wage rules.

Seattle’s Vision Zero plan aims to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Do you think that this target is achievable? Why or why not?

Pacheco is a big supporter of Vision Zero. “I think it’s a very noble goal and we should strive to achieve it,” he told us. He realizes how challenging life can be for vulnerable users like bicyclists and pedestrians on city streets. He shared a personal story to explain that point.

Pacheco, a resident of Wallingford, works in the University District. He once decided to ride his bike to work along 45th Street, but found it so unsafe and terrifying that he now walks most days and occasionally hops on the bus. He understands why people are frustrated with our infrastructure and thinks people shouldn’t have to make that choice.

Pacheco thinks that the new Move Seattle program will be a big leap forward in realizing the goals of Vision Zero. He says that the loss of “one life is one life too many.” He wants to play a big role in helping implement Vision Zero policies and programs, particularly for the neighborhoods of his district. Pacheco proposed a new lid on top of I-5 that he argued could be a positive project for his district and help make progress on Vision Zero–as well as with housing. Stretching from 43rd Street to 50th Street, the lid would heal a deep wound between Wallingford and the University District. Pedestrians and bicyclists would be able to traverse safer connections, particularly along a new path stitching 47th Street back together. Meanwhile, it could help the city realize housing, environmental, and park space goals. 14 acres of new park could be created while added tree canopy would contribute to positive environmental outcomes.

How best should the city accommodate the next 20 years of growth? 

“Growth is coming and I want to make sure we do it in a way that is environmentally sustainable.” He used the Bullitt Center as an example of this. One of the reasons that the Bullitt Center was built, he said, was to challenge current building and land use codes. At the same time, it was constructed to show that it was possible to use the cleanest and most sustainable technologies in new buildings. He thinks that we can build sustainably and sufficiently to accommodate growth by funneling it in proximity to light rail stations.

When asked what 20-year growth alternative approach would be best align with his vision for Seattle, he identified Seattle 2035 Alternative 4 (the urban village, transit-oriented growth alternative) as a similar approach that he would favor. He reiterated that development must happen where transit is accessible.This can also help relieve the pressure of parking, or lack thereof, from neighborhoods. Part of his reasoning was that the old ways of auto-oriented growth aren’t the best long-term option. “Our streets aren’t going to get any wider”. Moving people on transit gives the city much higher and efficient throughput while helping to better maintain the city’s character that people value.

What is the most important transportation project in your district?

Pacheco said that his district would be home to the three new light rail stations over the coming decade. With this new piece of infrastructure in place, it will offer tremendous opportunity for his district and sustain growth in an equitable, sustainable fashion. Pacheco linked the district’s light rail investments to the future University District rezone. He supports the overall rezone and thinks that it will bolster the prominence of the neighborhood because it would increase housing.

He recognizes the concerns that residents and businesses have about the impacts resulting from investments in new development. Despite that, he thinks that there is a bigger struggle for many residents, often students, when it comes to housing choices. For them, it’s usually a choice of living further from campus or living three to a room closer to college. With more capacity for housing, and presumably the delivery of new units, current and future residents could take advantage of the new housing offerings closer to where they want to be.

Another point he raised was social equity elsewhere in his district. He sees the eastern portion of the district as transit-poor, particularly in Sand Point and Wedgwood. At the same time, prominent senior centers and social welfare organizations like Solid Ground operate in these areas. He thinks that the opening of light rail will offer a huge chance for the district to re-evaluate transit service patterns.

Read our interviews with other District 4 candidates, Rob Johnson and Michael Maddux.

Spot Fix: N 34th St Buffered Bike Lane in Fremont

Broadway Bikeway

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is planning to roll out another piece of the Bicycle Master Plan in Fremont. A three-block stretch of N 34th St will see the addition of a two-way buffered bike lane between Fremont Ave N and just west of Phinney Ave N. Riders use this as a key link between the Burke-Gilman Trail and Fremont Bridge.

Map of the N 34th St protected bike lane improvements.
Map of the N 34th St protected bike lane improvements.

SDOT says that, on average, over 100 people bike this stretch of Fremont during the peak morning and afternoon weekday hours. Presumably, these are bike commuters, but safer bike facilities will also benefit riders of all ages and abilities. A secondary benefit of this is the overall safety derived from reduced street widths. Trimming down the street for motorized vehicles inherently means slower speeds and safer conditions for pedestrians, drivers, and bicyclist alike.

Existing and proposed street layout for N 34th St.
Existing and proposed street layout for N 34th St.

The block between Fremont Ave N and Evanston N is currently a westbound one-way street with back-in parking on the north side and an eastbound one-way bike lane on the south. SDOT would revise the street layout to consist of a two-way buffered bike lane on the south portion of the street while the one-way traffic flow and back-in parking on north side is retained for cars.

N 34th St of today looking west.
N 34th St at Fremont Ave N looking west.

To accommodate the revised traffic flow for bikes and cars on N 34th St, the traffic island at the intersection of Evanston Ave N would be removed. This would create the room necessary to install the new two-way buffered bike lane.

Island on N 34th St at the intersection of Evanston Ave N.
Island on N 34th St at the intersection of Evanston Ave N.

N 34th St between Evanston Ave N and Phinney Ave N is a bi-directional street with on-street parking flanking both sides. No bike facilities currently exist. However, SDOT plans to continue the two-way buffered bike lane on the south side of the street. On-street parking would be retained in full by moving the southern parking spaces just beyond the new two-way buffered bike lane. To make this work, the traffic flow for cars would convert from bi-direction to one-way (westbound).

N 34th St at Evanston Ave N looking west.
N 34th St at Evanston Ave N looking west.

SDOT wants your feedback on the proposal through tomorrow (Friday, June 26), so please share your thoughts with the project manager, Howard Wu.

Midweek Video: University Link Hits The Rails


Seattle transit nerds, behold! Sound Transit has put out a video showing a Link Light Rail train traveling through the the new underground tunnel connecting Capitol Hill to the University of Washington. It’s three minutes long, soundless, and entirely repetitive. But you know what? It’s still pretty darn cool!

Sound Transit says that their contractors have completed work to install power systems and signaling along the University Link extension, which now connects up to the mainline. With this major work done, all that remains is completion of Capitol Hill Station, testing, and minor project elements. The 3.1-mile extension will open in early 2016 ahead of schedule and substantially under budget.

Sound Transit also shared some other details regarding final testing and service expansion:

Over the next months contractors will remove the temporary wall and doors between the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) and the University Link tunnels and install the last 600′ of power and communication lines in that section.

During the final phases of testing beginning this fall, all trains that operate during normal service hours will continue on to Capitol Hill and UW Station before returning south. All northbound passengers will still have to deboard at Westlake Station and the first station southbound will still be Westlake until the extension opens in early 2016.

This final phase, also called “pre-revenue service testing,” is necessary to familiarize operators with the new stations and ensure all systems are performing well.

2015 Seattle City Council Election, District 8: John Roderick Interview


Article Note: The Urbanist is publishing a series of interviews with a selection of 2015 Seattle City Council candidates. In June, we will release our endorsements.

John Roderick is running for Position 8. Roderick is a professional musician and has been politically engaged as an advocate for the Seattle music and arts community since the 1990’s, a time when Seattle local government and the music community were at odds over issues such as the Teen Dance Ordinance and the postering ban. Roderick was a founding member of the Seattle Music Commission. He lives in Rainier Beach.

What would you do to make housing affordable for everyone in Seattle?

Roderick believes that Seattle has historically been a middle-class city and that lack of affordability only became an issue in the last eight to ten years because explosive growth occurred in conjunction with bad planning. He referred to South Lake Union as an example of an area with “thousands of ‘ghost’ units” that were not built due to poor implementation of incentive zoning.

Roderick supports creating more housing in Seattle by building density at transit hubs and by freeing up underutilized space. On way he would do this is by easing restrictions on mother-in-law units. He would also like to see the City build housing. He thinks that micro-housing is “good” but would like to see more larger family-sized units built (e.g. three-bedroom units).

Musicians are a “canary in the coal mine” to Roderick: musicians cannot afford to live in Seattle now and if they can’t afford to live somewhere, soon many others won’t be able to.

Roderick would like to see all possible housing solutions pursued. He wants housing units built that are both suitable and affordable; however, he does not like punitive solutions. He believes that there is a better solution than: “If you want __, you must __.”  He referred to South Lake Union again and to the incentive zoning rules that tied increased height to payments or on-site implementation of low-income housing. Vulcan chose not to take advantage of the incentive zoning opportunity. Roderick’s perspective is that it was assumed that Vulcan could be coerced rather than encouraged.

How does planning, transit policy, and development affect racial, social, and economic inequalities in our city? What policies and efforts can we make to combat these inequalities?

Roderick explained that he sees social justice as a framework for looking at all issues. He believes that transit systems have traditionally underserved communities of color and he would like to see a plan that recognizes that people in Seattle need to move within Seattle. He believes that transportation systems in Seattle have focused on getting people to and from the core of the city and that east-west travel is difficult.

Seattle was built around a system of trolleys and, Roderick explained, he would like to reconnect transportation and neighborhood “sinews.” He would like to reinvigorate neighborhood cores so that people can make shorter trips and take part in their vitality. He sees reinvigoration of neighborhoods and transportation within and between neighborhoods as a way to bring “new equity” to the city. “Centralization is the opposite of equity.”

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 23.11.55

Seattle’s Vision Zero plan aims to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Do you think that this target is achievable? Why or why not?

“I do think it is achievable.” Roderick believes that new technology, such as autonomously piloted vehicles, will create a new style of transportation network. One that will replace single-occupant, internal-combustion vehicles. He sees that traffic deaths are a result of operator error and that after a transition period to new technology, most traffic deaths will end. Roderick believes that the City needs to be engaged in planning how new technology is utilized so that the companies bringing the new technology do not alone decide how it is implemented, particularly around issues of social justice.

How best should the city accommodate the next 20 years of growth?

“The growth is going to come.” Roderick believes that Seattle needs to have a “master plan” for growth because because our process is “politically and culturally timid.” He believes that 40 years from now, Seattle will have grown one of two ways: ad hoc, or through a vision. The vision of Seattle growth he advocates is one that is “interconnected, carbon neutral, then a carbon sink” and one that ”remains affordability and that remains equitable throughout the town.” Roderick argued that it is less expensive to plan upfront than to make changes after something has been built. Roderick also believes that Seattle needs a plan in which all residents are included in the process and stated that “we need everyone’s investment in it.”

Roderick believes that traditional Seattle planning has focused on livability and on keeping out density. He says, “If we want equality, density and transportation, it has to happen in our backyards.” Roderick believes that investments should not be paid for just by “taxing the big developers,” but that single-family homeowners also need to make sacrifices.

What is the most important transportation project in your district?

“Reconnecting our neighborhoods with trolleys.” Roderick is an “enthusiastic supporter of Sound Transit 3,” but he sees that “it may or may not be built and is a long way out.” He hopes that a neighborhood transit system is already built before Sound Transit 3 would be complete. Roderick would like to create “a connected and diverse network that serves the city” and that interacts with systems that serve the county and region.

Roderick said that he is “agnostic on mode.” He is not “against buses” and sees them as a component of the neighborhood transportation system. He also supports separate lanes for buses and trains.

Read our interview with other District 8 candidates, Jon Grant and Tim Burgess.

Mayor Ed Murray Announces New Office of Planning and Community Development


With dramatic growth taking hold in Seattle, Mayor Ed Murray wants to overhaul how the City of Seattle manages city planning and capital investments across City government. He also wants to ensure that the planning process is more responsive to the needs of Seattle communities and residents. He thinks that the best approach to achieve these goals is through the creation of a new cabinent-level agency within the Mayor’s Office.

In an announcement yesterday, the Mayor said that he intended to create the Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) by executive order. The OPCD would be tasked with a broad range of strategic planning functions like transportation, land use, housing, utilities, and parks. Planners and technicians from various City workgroups will be consolidated into one body with the hope that increased collaboration leads to better alignment and implementation of projects and plans. At the same time, the OPCD will act as the primary source for public engagement with residents. The Mayor put his reasoning for the OPCD in simple terms:

We have moved beyond the debate about whether we should allow growth – growth is already here. When we develop new housing in a neighborhood, we must ensure we also have adequate open space, transportation and access to jobs, social services and other amenities. How we grow and how we invest will go hand in hand.

The Mayor plans to use existing staff resources to make the government restructuring work. While a limited number of personnel will be shuffled from disparate City agencies like Seattle City Light, the Office of Economic Development, and the Seattle Department of Transportation, the most substantial change will come to the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) itself.

Preliminary details indicate that all comprehensive planning and capital investment planning functions of the DPD will be elevated to the newly created OPCD. However, day-to-day regulatory planning functions like review and issuance of permits, inspections, and code enforcement will still be under the DPD banner. Although, the department would receive a new name and leadership would change in the shakeup.

The Mayor has tapped veteran DPD Director, Diane Sugimura, to play an instrumental role in the development of the OPCD. But, this will be her last big contribution to the City; she plans to retire later this year after three decades of service. In a statement, she expressed her commitment to rolling out the OPCD and reflected upon her time with the City:

My 37 years with the City have been an amazing roller coaster of activity and change. I’ve been fortunate to have been part of these exciting and challenging times. I look forward to helping create the new Office of Planning and Community Development, which will provide an integrated and equitable approach to city growth.

Nathan Torgelson, DPD Deputy Director, will eventually assume Sugimura’s responsibilities to manage a new DPD. Meanwhile, Sugimura will be joined by Kathy Nyland, Director of the Department of Neighborhoods, and others to build up the OPCD. Nyland was specifically chosen by the Mayor to offer her technical assistance on public outreach and engagement. She will develop a new approach for the OPCD to use with Seattle communities.

The Mayor has a short timeline on getting the OPCD in order. He wants to have a formal plan of how the new OPCD and DPD will be organized before submitting his City Budget for review to the City Council in September.



Tenth Ave at Miller, slowing toward the curb on a gentle downhill. I haven’t seen that face in a while.

He looks as much like Mr. Cobain as any long-faced, swarthy, tall man can, with one key difference: this Kurt grins with such infectious verve as to make you forget life’s problems ever existed. This guy could make Buster Keaton lose composure. Who else in their late fifties smiles with this level of enthusiasm? The man’s just about bursting!
He steps aboard, takes a stance, and says, as if it’s very important, “are you still announcing?”
“Are you still calling out the …”
Announcing the stops, is what he means. He’s asking, am I starting to slack off? Or am I still Nathan, a little bit off the rocker and a little bit not, keepin’ it crazy cool in Club CuckooLand?
“Oh, oh yeah. Definitely!”
“So sweet, man!” he says, unreasonably excited. Fistbumps with sparks flying. “That’s definitely the ‘bring-it’ part of the ride!!!!”

P.S.– That’s my good buddy in the image, one of the best drivers in the entire system. Not everyone announces all the stops and stays happy while driving the 358 for eons– but he does. Such things take massive amounts of character. I learn from standing in the shadows of such giants. Say hi to him if you can! (The photo is from us riding the last trip of the last night of the 358, which was definitely the loudest– and quite possibly the best– bus ride I’ve ever experienced!)

ICYMI: Rainbow Crosswalks in Capitol Hill


Capitol Hill now has 11 rainbow crosswalks at six the intersections of Pike St, Pine St, Broadway, 10th Ave, and 11th Ave—just in time for Pride Weekend. Mayor Ed Murray unveiled the new crosswalk this morning to celebrate the occasion. Capitol Hill has long been Seattle’s preeminent gayborhood with a vast network of advocacy, social, and support services serving the queer and trans communities. Seattle joins a number of other cities, including San Francisco, Vancouver, Philadelphia, West Hollywood, Key West, Sacramento, Sydney, and Stockholm that sport rainbow crosswalks.

Mayor Ed Murray and SDOT Director Scott Kubly
Mayor Ed Murray and SDOT Director Scott Kubly courtesy of Gordon Werner

A campaign to install a crosswalk at the same locations in 2013, lead by the community group Social Outreach Seattle, was unsuccessful–reportedly due to complications with SDOT and the installation of the new First Hill Streetcar tracks.

The crosswalk installations comes at a time when queer and trans residents of the Hill have experienced an alarming spike in hate crimes. Many are seeking to reclaim the neighborhood as a safe and welcoming place, and hope the rainbow will serve as a bright reminder of the neighborhood’s culture and character.

For more photos from today’s big rainbow crosswalk reveal, check out Gordon Werner’s Flickr stream.