Saturday, 19 October, 2019

The Urbanist Meetup for Prop 1


Metro Bus Route 3

Next week, The Urbanist will be hosting our regular meeting, but it will be a special one, too. We’ll be talking urbanism and watching the results for Proposition 1 roll in after 8pm. You can find us at the Roy Street Coffee & Tea on Capitol Hill from 6pm onward. In future meetings, we’re hoping to come to a neighorhood near you for an occasional rotating meetup. If you have ideas of places with great atmosphere and space, let us know.

We encourage our readers to get in their ballots, and keep talking to their fellow bus riders, family, and friends about Prop 1. If you need to arm yourself with literature and reasons why, see here, here, here, here, here, herehere, here, and here. Isn’t that enough reason?! In any case, we hope to see you next week.

4 Demographic Implications on Housing and Transport


Last week, the Planning Association of Washington (PAW) hosted their annual conference, which gathered a wide range of disciplines in planning like land use, transportation, architecture, and urban design. Sessions included topics like practical implementation of I-502, climate change initiatives (district energy projects and action plans), and communities preparing for northbound light rail. Perhaps the topic of most interest were the attitudes of different generations towards urban living, as Baby Boomers and Millennials represent the two largest cohorts in society. If you haven’t been paying attention, there is a huge demographic shift taking place across North America, not just Seattle. This may seem like a passing social anomaly in select cities, but it isn’t. It’s widespread and, to date, happening gradually. The question is when this shift will fully achieve its total saturation point.

Alan Durning of the Sightline Institute, Mark Hinshaw of LMN Architects, and Brian Vanneman of Leland Consulting Group in Portland hosted a panel on “Recognizing Imminent Demographic Change.” The panel represented an interdisciplinary view on future housing preferences, auto use, and differing intergenerational values among Boomers and Millennials affecting the social norms that ultimately guide public policy decisions.

In the session’s closing remarks, the questions raised varied widely between the baby-boomers versus post-baby boomers and between the rural and urban professionals in attendance. Attendees from around the state questioned under supply of urban schools, school mitigation fees, the economic sustainability of the rural town centers outside of Urban Growth Areas, Baby Boomer housing preferences, and ultimately whether suburban development will continue to attract younger generations. As one of two Millennials in the room, I was tempted to ask my colleagues if they had studied our generation in great detail or not.

I appreciated this session, as the presenters neatly packaged some assumptions I had about the future of new housing and market trends. Here’s some thoughts on demographic change.

photo (8)

LeMay-America’s Car Museum, Tacoma.

1. Car ownership for the 17- to 30-year-olds and teens with driver’s licenses have both decreased.

A driver’s license used to signify independence and “making it” to adulthood. These days, the number of 16-year-olds lining up at the DMV is dwindling. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute indicates that in 2010 approximately 50% of 17-year-olds possessed a driver’s licenses compared to 69% in 1983. In Seattle, average traffic volumes have dropped despite a growing population. Consider this: Seattle’s population increased 11% from 2000 to 2010 while per capita trips dropped by 20% over the same period.

2. Millennials earn less money, live in smaller spaces, and by default some have a lot less stuff.

The average income for Millennials is about $31,000. Younger generations tend to opt for various co-housing or home sharing options, sacrificing privacy. Average apartment size in Seattle is also lower than in previous generations; 400 to 700 square feet is typical for an urban singleton or childless couple. Essentially, Millennials are trading living space for quality public spaces. They see public spaces as their optimal living room or caffeine-infused home office.

Historically affordable pseudo-dormitory housing options have been zoned out of the city centers and many inner neighborhoods—things like boarding/rooming houses and extended-stay hotels. Today, the concept has been re-imagined with similar options, but with higher quality and more permanent forms like aPodments and microhousing units. This typology may well meet the needs of some Millenials and other age cohorts while encouraging new forms of intensification and mixed-income neighborhoods. Moreover, they provide a needed affordable housing alternative and opportunities for individuals from all walks of life (an address is key to getting back on your feet!).

photo (7)

Fremont Craft and Farmer’s Market.

3. Not all Baby Boomers are looking to slow down and retire. They are living longer, and some will forage for an urban and engaged lifestyle.

Baby Boomers will seek mid- to high-density housing. Some might even congregate near post-secondary institutions to attend a few classes or frequent the local facilities associated with colleges. In terms of demand, proximity to urban or neighborhood centers is in and golf courses are out. Many retirees, however, will continue to prefer the typical form of suburban development and the flexible to host family or friends it provides. Might retires opt for smaller homes and split their time between condo living (with adult-children) and places like Sonora, Arizona?

Paddington Station UK

London Paddington Station, UK.

4. We’re seeing visible indicators that all generations are moving back to dense, well connected, walkable areas.

Cities will become increasingly populated. We know this. But what about Seattle? Housing building permits have reach their pre-recession peak. At the regional level, construction hasn’t reached the apex of the late 1980s, but metrics from 2014 will be interesting to compare.

To take a quick peek at the presentations, click here for the Sightline Institute and here for Leland Consulting Group’s (LMN’s presentation coming soon). A big thanks to the PAW Session Panel for providing their presentations and insight from the field.

Seattle City Council Unanimously Passes Bike Master Plan


Seattle BMP

Yesterday the Seattle City Council unanimously voted to pass the Bicycle Master Plan. This document largely covers the infrastructure that would be needed to build a complete network for safe cycling. It is neither perfect nor comprehensive but it does provide a vision.

The brief take on what this means is that the city is committing to a document for how cycling should be managed. In order to reach this conclusion it begins with five primary goals:

  • Improve safety: The language of the document and the city council both understand the importance and scope of ensuring safe infrastructure for cycling. The plan makes a point of saying that facilities should be easy and safe to use for all ages and abilities. This could (and will likely) be measured by both the demographics of cyclists and fatalities/injuries of riders.
  • Increase ridership: The plan also notes that achieving the other goals will likely increase ridership. Tracking ridership is a practical way of measuring the quality of cycling infrastructure but increasing ridership isn’t just a measurable outcome. Ridership also contributes to the other goals. There is research suggesting that increasing the number of cyclists may increase safety and definitely increases livability (both health outcomes and economic activity).
  • Create connectivity: One of the biggest accomplishments of the plan is that it creates a vision for a network. The vision is specific and ambitious. A true bicycle network speaks to cyclists who are familiar with bike lanes that end abruptly or seem to lead nowhere. If you look at one thing from the plan check out the network.
  • Provide equitable facilities: Like any grand project, bicycle infrastructure has the potential to positively affect every resident, whether they bike now, will bike in the future or won’t ever bike. The project will touch every neighborhood, require input and invest public funds. Unfortunately, we have a long history of under-investing in neighborhoods with less wealth and less power. For those reasons it’s important to explicitly state (and achieve) the goal of providing easy access for everyone to the facilities. Furthermore, there is a practical reason for spreading the infrastructure. This ensures neighborhoods see the benefits and have a stake in accomplishing the plan.
  • Promote livability with a welcoming environment:This goal directly states the importance of cycling for healthy and vibrant neighborhoods. Building cycling facilities isn’t just for cyclist but to improve the dynamism of the entire city

Why The Plan Is Important

The plan is a pretty big document with a lot of details in it. Generally though, the actual document addresses a few different things:

  • sets out what the goals are for cycling infrastructure
  • gives a vision of what a cycling friendly city would look like
  • standardizes a lot of the language and understanding for different cycling facilities
  • creates a strategy for accomplishing the plan

Lastly, the plan has a purpose that’s not stated explicitly in the document, creating consensus. This may be the most important function of a master plan. The document has been developed over a long period of time with a lot of feedback. This serves to ensure the needs of our communities are understood and the goals are clear. There will be many controversial details to work through before the plan is achieved but the over-arching idea will serve to join communities and activists, even when the specific infrastructure they support isn’t in their neighborhood.

What’s Next

For the best summary of the most important next step, read about the funding issues covered on Seattle Bike Blog. The plan lays out infrastructure that may take as long as 20 years to build. Additionally, the unanimous vote by the council doesn’t actually dedicate any funding for any of the specific projects. It is likely that funding will have to be acquired for each and every project implemented. Perhaps the most important achievement to focus on next would be dedicating more money from the city’s general fund for cycling infrastructure.

Overall, it’s estimated that the city would need $20 million a year during the lifetime of the plan. While this may seem like a lot, it’s a fraction of what we spend on automobile infrastructure and large amount of it would come from sources outside of the city. Most importantly, the value of the lives saved and injuries avoided would well exceed this cost.

There’s Only One Denise!


Picture 10


“Thank you. I hope it’s a pleasant rest of the evening for you,” I say to someone at Third and Union, on a late-night inbound 13.
“I hope so for you too,” she replies. It’s been a quiet evening.

Then, from the sidewalk, out in the darkness, a face approaches with the familiar accompaniment, shrill and hoarse all at once: “AYYOUGOTHIRDUHJAMES?”
“Hi, Denise! I do!”
There’s only one Denise. She plows onboard like the force of nature she is.

Abnormally thin and ever-moving, she comes from the cartoon tradition of relentless vocal and physical energy. You sense it rushing out untapped, barely controllable, an inertia with everywhere and nowhere to go.

“Aw, pretty good,” I reply in normal tones.
“Oh yeah, Third and James!”
“THANK,” she cries as she tosses in a few coins. Glistening yellow pustules cover the lined umber skin and charcoal bruises of her aging hand. Denise will always offer a token gesture as she storms the farebox. What more could one ask for?

She sits down and stands up. Then she sits down again, just behind me.
“How you doin’ tonight?”
“GOOD,” she wails. “MAH FAV’RITE DRIVER!”
“Aw!” It’s often hard to tell how present she is. Typically every fiber of her wiry frame is focused on her next fix, but you get a glimmer every now and again. She loves candy, but doesn’t have any tonight.

“AHM GOIN’ THIRD JAMES,” she announces to no one in particular. There’s only one other passenger on the bus, a crisp silent man in a blazer from Queen Anne. “I WANNA GO THUHJEMS.” The syntax was shaky to begin with, and it’s beginning to
collapse. She experiments with subtly different alterations on an established theme. I’m listening to the Goldberg Variations here. “AH GUH THUJUMS,” she offers.

At Marion a well-dressed African-American gentleman asks if I stop at Yesler. I do. He folds his umbrella, reaching inside his frock coat for an Orca Card. The glint of his oiled shoes catches in the dim light. The man’s on his phone, attempting to have a conversation: “I might be able to get that to you by Tuesday-“, but it’s to no avail, what with Denise’s variations in the background- or, perhaps more accurately, the foreground.

“I GOTTA GO THIR’ JAMES,” she howls to the high heavens, with wild abandon.
“That’s what I’m talkin’ about,” I say. “We’re definitely goin’ to Third and James!”

Well-Dressed hangs up, giving up on his conversation. He looks at Denise, and then at me. “Dayumn,” he declares after a moment. “Why’s it so loud in here?”
“Just another day in the life!” I laugh.
I respond to her with, “I’m goin there too!”

Denise has dropped some change, a few pennies rolling out of her clenched fists like so many raindrops. One rolls toward Well-Dressed. Denise says, “you want tha’ quarter?”
“That’s a penny.” He kicks it back disdainfully.  “There. Take your penny.”
“Oh whuh oh iss okay,” she replies, rocking back and forth, barely registering him.

I was thinking of commonalities I shared with Denise, or other ways of considering the scene. Moments of urgency I’ve felt. The Goldberg Variations. Well-Dressed seemed to be thinking about how different he was from her. Even a sigh can be elitist: “I want the next stop,” he moaned.

Now, the next stop is called James, but it’s also the stop for Yesler. The zone is on the block bordered by the two streets. Well-Dressed asks, “is the next one Yesler?”
“It is.”
“NO! NO! THE NEX’ ONE THUHJUMS!” Denise’s mouth extends out, flat sideways, almost in tears. She sounds like she’s about to start crying.
Placating: “No worries, both of you guys want the next one, it’s all good. It’s the same one, Yesler and James.”
“Here we are. At Third and James! Bye, Denise! I’ll see you again!”
“AY!” she yells at someone in the shadows, already racing forward, on to the next thing.

Well-Dressed is gone, and the third man gets off as well, the silent witness from Queen Anne. “You have a good night,” he says with untold volumes of emphasis and concern. It was the genuine concern you voice for your friend who’s just been drafted.
“I will,” I say, laughing. He was kind, and I was grateful, but I felt fine. No draft was taking place.

Some people think Denise is the bottom of the barrel. I don’t agree. That would be elitist apathy, which we can always use less of. My heart breaks a little when I hear terms like “Lake City Trash” or “Garbage on Aurora” used to describe people. I happen to like the lady. She is exactly who she is determined to be, no more and no less. My first experience with her was in my early teens. She asked me for change (at Third and James!). After I gave her a handful, she walked away without a word, picking out the pennies and throwing them on the ground. I was offended by that for years, even recently. Now I can see her single-minded drive wasn’t concerned with offending others; just hurting herself.

That was around the time I stopped offering money to people, and the beginning of my time gladly offering help- gestures, food, a smile- and expecting nothing in return. She was doing her best to eliminate everything in her life unrelated to acquiring crack cocaine, in a way perversely similar to my great desire to purge from my life everything unrelated to being truly happy. Without knowing why, I must admit her unrelenting energy and focus brings me amusement. No other passenger knows with such confidence which stop they want! I imagine she would like simply to be acknowledged as a fellow member of the human community. I get the feeling that doesn’t happen very often.

Read more of Nathan’s stories at

Sunday Video: Ride the Bus


Ride The Bus by Lok Raj Dhakjal on YouTube. h/t Caelen Ball

We at The Urbanist love riding the bus. So perhaps it’s no surprise that this set of playful commercials for De Lijn really caught our attention this week. The Belgians certainly know how to sell public transit. Enjoy the video short and ride the bus!

What We’re Reading: Save the Buses


New Metro

Save the buses: The Seattle Transit Blog has been tearing up the blogosphere with every reason why you should vote YES on Proposition 1.

Bike protection: New stripped bike lanes have arrived in the U District. Burke-Gilman/UW riders will rejoice the addition of this facility on NE 40th St.

It’s going to the dogs: Apparently people love their dogs way more than kids if they live in the city.

Maptastic: If you love maps and subways, then you’ll love these standardized subway maps.

Developers for affordability: It’s not something you hear often, but a Canadian firm wants to bring affordable units to Seattle.

Ditching the cars: car2go has been pretty effective at inducing people to sell their cars, but it isn’t necessarily all roses.

Urban streets: The City of Bellevue has official gone urban! The transportation department has adopted the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide.

Don’t forget the paint: A new Capitol Hill development has been delayed over paint. This is why you stick to the plan.

Amazon changing the market: The company is changing more than just the face of Main Street, it’s changing our city.

Unclogging the streets: Traffic levels are crashing in the city, and quickly.

Death of the mall: Teens just don’t care about hanging out at the malls anymore. Kids these days…

A rainbow of color: These Dutch fields of tulips are amazing. Don’t forget that we have our own.

Public safety: It’s a tragedy if we allow public spaces to be unsafe for anybody, but especially for women.



Picture 8

I was riding the 7 one night, going out to Orcas to meet a friend. Rain peeled down from all corners of the globe and splashed against the laminated glass windows. Outside, cars of all stripes and nations roared by in the dimming evening light, streaks of illuminated red and white, railing past in defiance of the wet blue darkness all around. I sat just in front of the back lounge area, on those high-seats above the rear wheel. Looking out the window to see the front half of the bus make turns, that great behemoth with its angled front wheel, negotiating the dotted lines and wet pavement. I shivered with pleasure inside my jacket, smiling to myself at the cozy thrill of being indoors.

I’ve sat in the back of a lot 7s, but this one felt different. What was it? I looked around. The bus was maybe three-fourths full, a population whose figure bubbled and eddied with each stop. A laundry list of languages permeated the air, lively, stories gleaming out from under hoods, veils, caps and more, bright eyes of every shade peering out. Here were most of the world’s continents, relaxing for a time, just hanging out together in a sixty-by-eight foot rec room.

Something linked all this disparity though, made it feel united. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Was it the rain? The fading thrill of the last light of day? I looked down the aisle at the grooved non-slip flooring, stained and starched from decades of use. I marveled at all the noise- traffic, conversations, the occasional clink of the poles hitting the switches, the patter of raindrops hitting the fabric of the articulated section….

More after the jump.

King County 2030: Introduction to Housing and Employment


Editor’s Note: King County 2030 is a series analyzing King County’s future through the lens of growth targets for the County’s Metro and Core cities. Topics in the series include: density, sprawl, apportionment of jobs and housing, traffic patterns, greenhouse gas emissions, and more. For other articles in the series, see King County 2030 in the archives.

Seattle Yonder

Over the next few months, we will be exploring the future of King County in a series called “King County 2030.” The series will analyze housing and employment targets for the Core Cities of King County, a top tier of cities that are dense and/or highly productive. Themes we will touch on include the effectiveness of the targets at managing growth, trip generation, commute times, and environmental impacts through greenhouse gas emissions.


Growth in King County is managed through the King County Comprehensive Plan (KCCP), a guiding policy document for the County’s future. The KCCP contains plan elements on land use, transportation, the natural environment, parks and recreation, and other planning and policy areas. While the KCCP largely focuses on the County’s policies for unincorporated areas, it also has strong control over countywide policies that affect cities in King County. Perhaps the most important of these are housing and employment targets. The current planning horizon for the KCCP is to the year 2030.

Every year the Comprehensive Plan can be amended to address technical updates and make revisions that do not require substantive policy changes. Every fourth year, the “Four-Year Cycle” process occurs to conduct a complete review of the Plan. In this review, broader policy issues are addressed and the Plan amended accordingly. The 2012 four-year cycle has been completed, so the next four-year cycle will be in 2016.

The KCCP illuminates different municipalities’ declared growth targets, and a brief analysis shows some very interesting trends. The document is rich with values and further exploration and analysis of the forecasts for this region. For the purposes of this series, we will focus primarily on data from the Metro and Core cities, a subset of King County cities. Now to look at and evaluate some numbers!

Cold, hard, and some reasonably generated population projections

In total, the KCCP has targets of 428,068 more jobs and 233,077 more households created by 2030. Countywide, that’s approximately 1.84 persons per household working a job. It’s a reasonable ratio because it assumes roughly 90% of new households will have two members (heads of households) working in a career.

If we look at the targets for just the Metro and Core cities of the 2030 KCCP, the ratio increases to 2.03 persons per household working in a job. This ratio is also reasonable because it assumes that roughly all new households will have two members (heads of households) working in a career. (In future articles that exclusively analyze the Metro and Core populations, this 2.03 working persons per household will be a key multiplier.)

For the purpose of this article, 1.84 persons is used as a multiplier to find the approximate working population that will be added to each municipality by 2030. An example of the math is as follows: Seattle’s housing target is 86,0001 households; 86,000 x 1.84 = ~157,947 working persons for an employment target of 147,700 added jobs. Below are two graphs. The first shows the raw values between housing (blue) and employment (red) targets. The second shows the values between adjusted/generated population (blue) and employment (red) targets.

KCCP Housing-Employment-Populations Targets

Population to Employment Target ratio

The ratio between the projected population and employment targets is perhaps the most interesting value in the KCCP 2030 Technical Appendix D targets. It is arguable that a 1.0 ratio between working household population and employment targets is the most efficient number for each municipality’s growth. Theoretically, in terms of traveling to and from work, a new person living in the city would/could also work in that city, thereby reducing the distance and time traveled to and from work. (Commuting will be addressed in a future article.) In reality, due to unemployment, it is probably best to plan for slightly more new residents than targeted employment opportunities to account for this.

Let’s look at that in the graph below2:

Projected Population to Job Target Ratio

Note: “Unclaimed Urban Unincorporated” was not included in this graph because the adjusted population to employment ratio was a massive 13.26 to 1. As an outlier, it dominated the graph and significantly detracted from the point of visualizing the 1.00 ratio line.

Now that we’ve seen the data (be sure to look closely at the 1.0 line), let’s discuss three different municipalities’ ratios that are large “players” in the growth of King County:

  1. Seattle: The projected ratio of new working persons to job targets in 2030 Seattle is 1.07. A figure above 1.0 means Seattle will have a surplus of new residents relative to the number of jobs offered in the city.
  2. Renton: The projected ratio of new working persons to job targets in 2030 Renton is 0.94. Being so close to 1.0, it could be said that Renton will have an adequate amount of new residents relative to the number of jobs offered in the city. Put differently, Renton will have an adequate number of new employment opportunities relative to the number of households built in the city.
  3. Bellevue: The projected ratio of new working persons to job targets in 2030 Bellevue is 0.59. A figure below 1.0 suggests Bellevue will have a surplus of new employment opportunities relative to the numberof households being built in the city.

You be the judge.


As noted earlier, we believe a figure slightly above 1.0 to be the realistic ideal. That said, these ratios come from projected targets adopted by planning departments from the various municipalities and from household populations generated for the purposes of analysis. Keep in mind that 2030 is more than15  years away. Only then will we have the luxury of looking back on how well (or poorly) each municipality did in estimatingits growth and the impact that growth had on King County.

Article Notes
1The Seattle 2035 plan alternatives are advertising 70,000 new households and 115,000 new jobs—16,000 households and 32,700 jobs fewer than the 2030 targets. While the planning periods between Seattle 2035 and KCCP 2030 overlap for only a 15-year planning horizon, the targets do not seem to reasonably align. Speculating, we think that this could mean a number of things: 1) the KCCP growth targets are wildly optimistic, 2) the City of Seattle has revised its plans to reflect its buildable lands reporting data and trends, or 3) the City of Seattle does not believe it can reasonably commit to the growth targets in the KCCP.
2Shoreline isn’t considered a Core City, which seems inappropriate. In 2012, Shoreline had an estimated population larger than Burien, Bothell, and Kirkland and directly borders Seattle.

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