Saturday, 4 July, 2020

What We’re Reading: An Alternative Seattle Subway

The newly proposed Westside Seattle Transit Tunnel, courtesy of Seattle Subway.
The newly proposed Westside Seattle Transit Tunnel, courtesy of Seattle Subway.

Stopping displacement: How expensive new housing reduces displacement of low-income housing.

A protected class: Hartford, Connecticut wants to kick out a non-traditional family because of neighbor concerns.

Super green: Brooklyn, NY gets its first truly sustainable housing development that passes Passive House standards.

Capping rents: Seattle may pass regulations to restrict rent prices ($) on new microhousing units.

Calling it quits: Sally Clark is the latest sitting city councilmember to declare retirement from City Hall.

Map of the week: Oran plays with new frequent transit maps for Seattle based upon Prop 1.

Russian bomb: The Winter Olympics weren’t all the were cracked up to be, Russia has two transportation white elephants.

Too much parking: Despite the sensationalist stories on parking in Seattle media this week, the city has way too much parking, and that’s a problem.

Supporting the linkage fee: One major developer is completely behind the imposition of a linkage fee on new development.

Bad signage: Freeway-style signage makes streets less safe for all.

Fairer tolling: NYC could institute tolls across all bridges in the city to right a wrong, and boost funding for transit.

Low blow: How Bertha managed to beat out the surface option as a replacement to the Viaduct.

Incremental Seattle Subway: A new option is being floated to create a rail-convertible tunnel for buses in Downtown Seattle running somewhat parallel to the current transit tunnel. It’s called the “Westside Seattle Transit Tunnel”.

Getting nerdy: Transitmix becomes even more useful for those nerdy transit service planners with a pro version.

The Central Greenway: Work is starting on the Central Greenway, which should create some really safe pathways for bicyclists.

Vertical farming: A story about a Wyoming farm that could really trailblaze the whole greenhouse, urban farming movement.

Ballard Bridge problem: Peddler Brewing took some very clever footage to show the challenges that the Ballard Bridge poses to people biking and walking.

Doing something right: Minneapolis has managed to really balance affordability, opportunity, and wealth, but what’s the secret to this success?

Bike lanes in B’vue: Look out, new bike lanes are coming to Bellevue on 116th Ave NE.

Hitting all of Seattle’s Protected Bike Lanes in one ride

PBLs of Seattle
A day in the saddle.

On the beautiful day of January 25th, I set out on an interesting bike trip: hitting all of Seattle’s protected bike lanes in one ride, in one morning. My route would take me 60 miles from the Eastside to Seattle and back to the Eastside, climbing many hills and biking on many great trails, streets, and of course, protected bike lanes in the process (see my route on Strava).

Here’s a rundown of all the protected bike lanes that I rode on:

Yesler Way (Eastern Segment)

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Distance: 1 Block

Opened: Winter 2014

Connection: On the popular Yesler Way bike route from the Central District to Downtown.


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Distance: 16 blocks

Opened: Fall 2013 (Northern segment), Spring 2014 (Southern segment)

Connection: Connects First Hill and Capitol Hill, built as part of the First Hill Streetcar project.

Roosevelt Way

IMG_0890 (4928x3264) (2048x1153)

Distance: 5 blocks for now, to be 25 when fully opened

Opened: Demonstration 5 blocks: Winter 2015. Full opening: Fall 2015/Winter 2016

Connection: Connection for Northeast Seattle to the Burke Gilman at NE 40th St and the University Bridge, eventually to Downtown.

NE 40th St (Western Segment)

IMG_0904 (3264x4928) (1356x2048)

Distance: 2 Blocks

Opened: A while ago! Before Summer 2002

Connection: Connection from the Northbound University bridge to the Westbound Burke Gilman, and from the Burke Gilman to UW.

NE 40th St (Eastern Segment)

IMG_0909 (3264x4928) (1356x2048)

Distance: 2 Blocks

Opened: Spring 2014

Connection: Built as part of the Burke-Gilman detour through UW, also connects the “regular” Burke-Gilman to UW.

Sand Point Way

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Distance: 2 Blocks

Opened: Spring 2014

Connection: Connects Seattle Children’s Hospital with the Burke Gilman Trail.

NE 65th St

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Distance: 3 Blocks

Opened: Spring 2013

Connection: Connects Magnuson Park with the Burke-Gilman Trail.

Linden Ave

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Distance: 17 Blocks

Opened: Summer 2013

Connection: Part of the Interurban route, which goes from Seattle to Everett. Missing link between two sections of the Interurban trail.

NW 45th St

IMG_0963 (4928x3264) (2048x1151)

Distance: 3 Blocks

Opened: Spring 2014

Connection: Part of the Burke Gilman Missing Link, the major East-West bike route through Ballard

Dexter Ave

IMG_0973 (4928x3264) (2048x1356)

Distance: 5 blocks when complete (still partially under construction)

Opened: Winter 2015

Connection: Part of the popular Dexter Ave bike route from the Fremont bridge to Downtown Seattle, which connects Northwest Seattle to Downtown Seattle and beyond.

Pike St

IMG_0981 (4928x3264) (2048x1152)

Distance: 1 Block

Opened: Summer 2014

Connection: Connects Pike Place Market to the 2nd Ave Bike Lane.

2nd Ave

IMG_0991 (4928x3264) (2048x1152)

Distance: 10 Blocks

Opened: Summer 2014

Connection: Only north-south protected bike lane through Downtown Seattle, major commute route and important piece for Pronto! bikeshare.

Yesler Way (Western Segment)

IMG_0995 (4928x3264) (2048x1150)

Distance: 1 Block

Opened: Summer 2014

Connection: Connects the 2nd Ave Cycle Track with Pioneer Square.

Cherry St

IMG_1000 (3264x4928) (1356x2048)

Distance: 1 Block

Opened: Summer 2013

Connection: Connects Downtown Seattle with First Hill and beyond.

7th Ave

IMG_1003 (3264x4928) (1356x2048)

Distance: 1 Block

Opened: Summer 2013

Connection: Also part of the route that connects Downtown Seattle with First Hill.

Did I miss any? Let me know what I should ride next in the Comments! And have fun riding your bike around those Protected Bike Lanes!


Mayor Murray Remarks on Seattle’s Achievements and Challenges

Mayor Murray addresses a large crowd at City Hall on Tuesday. Photo by the author.

In his annual address, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray remarked on the city’s significant progress towards some of its goals and made a number of announcements about initiatives to pick up the pace on others. He also spoke at length about city planning, including the ongoing comprehensive plan update, the need for an integrated transportation policy, and funding infrastructure and ensuring affordable housing is more equitably spread across neighborhoods. He plans to host a number of summits on social and economic issues with community leaders while increasing government transparency through new performance and budget tracking tools.

Noting that the state of the city is strong, Murray pointed to the city’s many social achievements that were implemented over the past year or will begin this year. The city’s minimum wage ordinance will take effect in April, starting at a citywide standard of $11 per hour. Permanent funding for parks maintenance will also begin in April thanks to the voter-approved Seattle Parks District. In June, Seattle will get the biggest increase in bus service in King County Metro’s history. In July the city will implement a new priority hire program to increase contracting opportunities for local and disadvantaged workers on  public construction projects. And, in September the city will start up its new preschool program to improve long-term academic performance.

Highlighting the number of young people in the audience, the mayor noted that half of Seattle residents are younger than 35 years old, and this large group has a major say in the future of the city. He highlighted Seattle’s rapid growth that is outpacing the suburbs for the first time in 100 years, and applauded the fact that three-quarters of that growth has been happening in designated urban villages. However, services and infrastructure have not kept up with these changes even as 120,000 new residents are being planned for by 2035. Ballard, for instance, has grown 25 percent in the last decade alone with concurrent increases in transit service. Rainier Beach has three times the unemployment rate of the city as a whole. The Seattle 2035 comprehensive plan update, he said, is an opportunity to explore the long-term response to such issues.

Murray announced that he will set new policies for social equity in city planning, saying, “Growth must be about placing without displacing”. He used the example of a Downtown worker who can only afford to live in South King County, commuting hours each day, and declared that everyone who works in Seattle should be able to live in Seattle. Seattle’s rents having been growing faster than any other major US city, so last year the mayor convened a Housing Affordability and Livability Committee. On Tuesday, he announced that he will commit $35 million to implement the committee’s recommendations, due later this year. Murray emphasized that affordability will not be solved with a single tool, possibly in reference to the controversial linkage fee program. But he did point out that, along with the private sector, non-profits, and a concerned public, the city government has a large role in solving housing problems.

Transportation was also briefly touched on. Murray touted the outcome of his rideshare services committee that ultimately brokered a deal between taxi companies and new app-based services like Lyft and Uber. He also mentioned continued expansions of protected bike lanes, the launch of Pronto! bike share, an increase in the cap of free floating car share permits, and the upcoming opening of two new light stations as examples of the city’s growing multi-modal network. He urged a quick passage of state legislation that will enable Sound Transit to ask voters for funding to expand and connect West Seattle and Ballard with light rail to Downtown. Murray announced that a holistic strategy for integrating the city’s transportation systems, under the name “Move Seattle”, will be unveiled by next week.

The mayor also announced two new city websites that will increase government transparency and availability of data. Performance Seattle is a new civic metrics system that will track key statistics like crime, carbon footprints, affordable housing units, and more. Open Budget is an unprecedentedly detailed and interactive way for citizens to view the city’s $6 billion annual budget. It is organized by the city’s operating and capital budgets, and divisible by department and specific projects. The city is increasingly opening up its data to the public, including for hackathon events.

More so than last year, Murray spoke extensively about police reforms. He said it remains a top priority for his administration. The Seattle Police Department will be directed to increase the diversity of its force, collect better data, increase deescalation training, have more civilian oversight, and implement other changes as ordered by the federal Department of Justice. Though he avoided discussing specific incidents of use of force, the mayor also pointed to “smart policing” tactics that been developed to target upticks in crimes like car thefts in South Seattle and robberies in Capitol Hill.

Moving forward, Murray intends to help close social and economic gaps by increasing opportunities across racial divides and neighborhood boundaries. A grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies will help the city create 2,000 summer jobs for youth, and this spring, Murray will hold a youth summit. There will also be an education summit in the fall to pave the way towards 21st century urban school system, though there was no mention of the recent failure to secure a Downtown school. Last year an economic summit with industrial and maritime businesses led to beefing up key truck routes, but Murray cautioned the city cannot continue to rely on luck and geography for economic development. He hopes to continue working with businesses interests on creating an attractive economic environment. In addition, a new labor office is starting up to help businesses cooperate with the minimum wage law. And, finally, later this spring there will be another neighborhood summit that invites residents to a citywide conversation.

Seattle is an increasingly attractive city to people and business alike, and with continued leadership on these many issues it will surely become more so. Initiatives on social equity, environmental stewardship, and economic vitality are needed to continue striving for a high quality of life and vibrancy of diverse neighborhoods and communities.

Mayor Murray’s full remarks are online here.

This article is a cross-post from The Northwest Urbanist, the personal blog of Scott Bonjukian. He is a graduate student at the University of Washington’s Department of Urban Design and Planning.

Mayor Murray wants to see you at his U District community walk Feb. 21


Find It Fix ItOn Saturday, Mayor Ed Murray and other city officials will be in the University District for a community walk on February 21. Billed as a “Find It, Fix It” walk, Mayor Murray wants to meet members of the community and talk about ways that the neighborhood could be improved and get people in touch with the right departments in order to do that.

The Mayor first tried out the Find It, Fix It walking series this past summer after a string of deadly shootings rocked neighborhoods throughout Seattle. Local residents across Seattle have been able to express their concerns and desires to the Mayor on these walks by discussing a wide array of issues such as crime hotspots, the need for new crosswalks and trash cans, broken sidewalks, or just fixing the streetlights. The response to these community walks has been very positive.

Here’s the planned route for this week’s walk:

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You can join this walk from 11am to 1pm on Saturday, February 21. The walk starts at at the corner of NE 45th St and Brooklyn Ave NE.

223,000 service hour contract approved by King County Council and Seattle City Council

Seattle buses on Pike St, courtesy of Canadian Pacific.

The Metropolitan King County Council and Seattle City Council jointly approved a bus service contract yesterday to deploy 223,000 service hours in the city of Seattle. Service increases go into effect June of this year for the first round with a second in September. Deleted routes like the 47 could return while crammed buses such as the 5 and C Line could see serious service boosts in the peak and off-peak. The agreement lasts until December 31, 2017, but could be renewed for another three years and last until December 31, 2020. King County issued a comprehensive statement on the service program last night saying that:

The increased service hours will be implemented starting this June. The second phase will be put in place with the scheduled September transit service changes. Seattle will pay for each hour of bus service provided, with the hourly rate reflecting Metro Transit operating costs for each type of bus used. Metro agrees to maintain current bus trips on route that Seattle invests in. The agreement also defines Metro Transit’s commitment to maintaining service in areas where bus service is restructured.

The investment in service will focus on:

  • Overcrowding. Added bus trips on crowded routes listed in the Metro 2014 Service Guidelines Report–the top priority in the Metro Service Guidelines for adding service. All identified Seattle route needs are included.
  • On-time Performance. Added service hours to improve schedule reliability on bus routes identified as having poor on-time performance in the 2014 Service Guidelines Report–the second highest priority in the Metro Service Guidelines for adding service hours. All identified Seattle route needs are included.
  • Underserved Transit Corridors. Added service hours for some transit corridors identified as “underserved” in the 2014 Service Guidelines Report–the third highest priority in the Metro Service Guidelines for adding service hours.

Some transit service reductions that had been part of the September 2014 transit service change will be reversed in this agreement: Route 19 peak service will be restored, with five morning and six afternoon peak direction trips; the Route 47 will be partially restored; and Route 27 off-peak and night service will return.

Additional Seattle bus service investments provide more service on Metro routes that are identified as priorities in the Seattle Transit Master Plan, a City-generated plan. These investments include peak period, midday, evening, and weekend service.

Shoreline Planning Station Areas for Future Light Rail

Visualization of development around 145th St, courtesy of Shoreline.
Visualization of development around 145th St, courtesy of Shoreline.

For many, Shoreline is just another suburb of Seattle with quiet streets, ample single-family housing, and auto-oriented shopping centers. But peel back a bit of history and you’ll see that there’s more to Shoreline. From the outset, the city was established first and foremost as a rail community. Founders saw a huge opportunity for growth with the coming Great Northern Railway, and in 1890, they platted the Richmond Beach area (which today forms northwest Shoreline). But it wasn’t until the arrival of the Interurban Streetcar, a frequent rail service running from Seattle to Everett, that really made growth began to take off.

As high quality roads and highways were laid down like the North Trunk Road, the competitive advantage of the Interurban rapidly died way. And by 1939, service on the line finally came to an end. But Shoreline, didn’t. The city continued to grow, and not like that of typical suburbs. Early on, the city had a very useful grid due to traditional platting, great public amenities, and vital commercial centers dotting the flourishing neighborhoods. Today, the city is home to over 53,000 residents and now stands at a crossroads of return to its roots as a rail city.

With the prospect of being served by two North Link light rail stations by 2023, the City wants to help make the most of these high quality transit investments. Right now, the City is in the process of exploring and adopting alternatives to accommodate more housing, jobs, and business opportunities in close proximity to the light rail stations. Specifically, the the City has been extensively studying subarea plans for two locations centered on I-5 and 145th St, and I-5 and 185th St.

185th Street Station Area

Shoreline could take a unique approach to rezoning the area around the future 185th Street Station. Three phases of progressive rezones could occur between now and 2033. Phase 1 would be adopted by Council ordinance on February 23 while Phases 2 and 3 could each be unlocked in 2021 and 2033, respectively.

This is a substantial change from what was originally considered by Council in August 2014. At the time, the Council had stated their preference for an areawide rezone, with Alternative 4 as the preferred choice. However, the Planning Commission later met on the matter and urged the Council to reconsider an areawide rezone. Instead, the phased approach emerged in order to control the pattern of development within the area, before and after the implementation of light rail.

Alternative 4 would allow a significant increase in growth. Currently, the subarea has 7,944 residents and 3,310 dwelling units, but it could grow by as many as 5,399 residents and 2,190 units, representing at 68% increase in population. Meanwhile, 928 employees could be added over the current baseline of 1,448 employees, a 64% increase in jobs.

Preferred alternative for 185th Street Station Subarea, courtesy of Shoreline.
Preferred alternative for 185th Street Station Subarea, courtesy of Shoreline.

Shoreline planners want to use the traditional “wedding cake” approach to zoning around this station area. It’s a common approach where zoning runs on a gradient of intensity; highest in the core and least at the fringes. Most growth will be focused near the core area of the light rail station, and to a lesser degree along the spine of 185th St. Zoning intensity generally drops every two blocks beyond the core area and spine.

Blocks immediately surrounding the light rail station would be zoned MUR-85. New development could be mixed use in nature and house buildings up to 8 stories (85 feet) in height. Meanwhile, the spine along 185th St would connect the light rail station to Shoreline’s town center area. These blocks would be zoned MUR-45, which would allow a mix of uses and building up to 4 stories (45 feet) in height. 15th Ave NE, a major north-south street, would be rezoned to CB, a commercial business zoning type. And, areas toward the fringes of the subarea could be rezoned to MUR-35, another mixed use zoning type. Buildings could be up to 3 stories (35 feet) in height.

Two separate options are still under consideration in addition to the above. Essentially, it comes down to how expansive the initial rezone would be with Councilmember Roberts suggesting Option 1 and Option 2.

145th Street Station Area

Shoreline is still considering two different alternatives for growth around the 145th Street Station area. One alternative is areawide in nature while the other confines dense development around the core station area. Both alternatives are projected to provide nearly the same amount population growth with Alternative 3 barely nudging out Alternative 2. Although, Alternative 2 does have a large job advantage over Alternative 3.

The real benefit of Alternative 3 over Alternative 2 is the projected reduced carbon emissions from transportation. Alternative 3 would create 213m tons of greenhouse gasses while Alternative 2 would create 240m tons of greenhouse gasses. This, presumably, is achieved from residents relying on services closer to them and choosing walking, biking, and transit over driving.

Alternative 3 is projected to increase the number of residents by 28,326 (in 11,803 dwelling units) and 8,044 employees, representing a 340% increase in population and 504% increase in jobs. Meanwhile, Alternative 2 would see an increase of 26,322 residents (in 10,968 dwelling units) and 10,152 employees, a 316% increase in population and 636% increase in jobs. Both of these alternatives would see substantial growth over the subarea baseline of 8,321 residents (in 3,467 dwelling units) and 1,595 employees of today.

Under Alternative 2, mixed use zoning would stretch along major streets like 145th St, 155th St, and 5th Ave NE. And, a core area would be established between the blocks of Meridian Ave N, NE 155th St, 15th Ave NE, and NE 145th St. The intent of this alternative is to mix density into the single-family residential areas in a modest fashion while creating a network of improved streets and connected mixed-used areas.

Fingers of density would reach the station core area to the established Aurora Avenue mixed-use corridor, a small neighborhood business district on NE 156th St and 5th Ave NE, and a larger neighborhood business district on NE 145th St and 15th Ave NE. Building heights in the station core would be set at 6 stories (65 feet) with a quick drop to 4 stories (45 feet) in most of the surrounding blocks. Beyond these, 3 stories (35 feet) would be the building height maximum. Each of these would have an MUR zoning type to permit a wide spectrum of mixed uses. However, the commercial nodes at the ends of the fingers of density would retain their current zoning.

The Connecting Corridors alternative, courtesy of Shoreline.
The Connecting Corridors alternative, courtesy of Shoreline.

Alternative 3 takes a completely different approach to development. Density is focused closest to the station area while precluding the connectedness between centers like the Aurora Avenue corridor and the business district centered on NE 165th St and NE 5th Ave. Instead, development in the core could would be slightly broader with increased heights to 8 stories (85 ft) between the blocks of 1st Ave NE, NE 154th St, 8th Ave NE, and NE 145th St. Heights would drop dramatically to 4 stories (45 ft) on some block, or immediately to 3 stories (35 ft), resulting in a patchwork of density throughout the area east of I-5. The neighborhood business district at NE 145th St and 15th Ave NE would also receive some measure of increased development opportunity. It, too, would be rezoned to permit 8-story buildings.

The Compact Community alternative, courtesy of Shoreline.
The Compact Community alternative, courtesy of Shoreline.

There’s a lot to like about both of these options. The benefits of the Connecting Corridors alternative is clear: it opens up a broad set of areas for modest redevelopment and growth while bridging neighborhoods together with safe street infrastructure and business/shopping opportunities. On the flip side, the Compact Community alternative really does give serious options for growth by allowing a range of building types above and beyond that of Connecting Corridors. But, it does suffer from lacking the areawide nature present in Connecting Corridors. It also may not be reasonable to expect 8-story development to occur since the cost of construction goes up quickly once you pass 5-over-1 (i.e. woodframe construction). Meanwhile, Connecting Corridors severely restricts options for varied development types, which is possible in the Compact Community alternative.

Like the 145th Street Station Subarea rezone, there is a potential for a phased approach to rezoning. Both Alternative 2 and 3 could contain two phases of rezoning. Full rezone implementation for Alternative 2 and 3 would occur by 2035 and 2025, respectively.

Next Steps

The City will take up the issue of selecting a preferred alternative for the 185th Street Station Subarea on Monday, February 23rd. Also, the City will be taking up comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the 145th St Station Subarea plan on Thursday, February 19 (tomorrow). In both cases, you can make comments on all facets of the plan changes, so please be sure to share them with the Shoreline City Councilmembers and Shoreline planning staff.

Plain I See You, Western Youths


Picture 10


I’m doing lunges at Henderson, down and up the inside of the coach, when a girl in sweats and horizontal zebra stripes comes forward, tentatively peeking in with her two dogs. My door is open.

“Hi,” I say.

“HIIIIII!,” I say again, recognizing that late-teen face–it’s Celia. She used to ride the 4. We catch up on the sidewalk outside. I tell her about my shows and book, I ask about her time in California (“that was a long time ago!,” she says), and how she’s back here now with a close friend with whom she traveled with.

Blue eyes can have a way of lasering right through you. Hers pierce with a self-reliance emblematic of the heady youthful energy best captured in Walt Whitman’s Pioneers! O, Pioneers!, that burgeoning self-assurance which settles in after the teenage years wind down, when confidence relaxes into something more balanced. The need to prove oneself isn’t so predominant anymore.

Celia’s always been way ahead of that whole game, though. Her gaze contains a carefree kindness that’s uniquely her own. We stand in the late afternoon light, grocery store lot in front of us and soccer field behind. She speaks passionately about the proposed new youth jail, an expensive Orwellian monstrosity more concerned with containing problems than solving them. She talks about a grassroots “No New Jail” movement, meetings, and how doubling the size and upping the ante are not the solution.

Standing there I’m taken by her ardor. The pervasive fashion of “coolness” has so much to do with irony, with apathy and uncaring. The cool thing is to lean back on the chairs in the back of the classroom not knowing the answers to the questions. The cool thing is to pretend you don’t have feelings, to traffic in the peak of fake, always with that guard up, impenetrable. The Wall.

I’ve said this before, but I think it’s worth repeating: that’s easy. The Wall bores me. I say, dare to open yourself up to hurt and love, and explore the uncharted in life. Be bold enough to take that guard down, and let yourself really feel something. Venture as we go the unknown ways, as Whitman wrote. Standing there listening to Celia speak with focus and passion, I’m struck by how comfortable with herself she is. There is no wall. Her eyes are full, alive, watching you, learning about the world with each passing minute. I aspire for that. Here is a young person who cares.

Her dogs tug at the leash, barking at a high pitch intermittently. The sun is hidden but nearby, somewhere over there behind the buildings. I feel deeply satisfied, and afterwards I realize it’s because she, and the other great young people I know, represent the possibilities of the open future. It is not all impending doom. When something is new and good, and here to stay, you feel a tremendous weight lifted. We know there was always strife in the world, but there has also always been goodness. Neither is going anywhere.

*  *  *  *  *

Here’s the Whitman poem in full.
Don’t have time to read it? Check out this Levi’s ad, which admirably interprets the energy of the opening lines.

Relocating a Pronto! station for the sake of political correctness

pronto station relocation on 2nd downtown
Former location of a Pronto! station outside of Benaroya Hall next to the Garden of Remembrance, and the new station location two blocks south.

By now, you’ve probably read about or seen those green bikes roaming the streets of Seattle from the bikesharing service Pronto! Launched in Fall 2014, 50 stations in Downtown, Capitol Hill, the U District and the neighborhoods in between allow users to purchase a membership, take a bike and ride it to their destination and then return it to any station in the city. Pronto! worked with the City of Seattle to put stations in locations that would be convenient for riders and encourage people to use the service. However, one recent decision to relocate a station brings to question Pronto!’s commitment to these convenience and usability goals.

Pronto! staff recently decided to relocate one of their bike rental stations located on 2nd Ave between University St and Union St, right at the footsteps of Benaroya Hall. The spot was ideal for a bikeshare station because it had the benefit of direct access to both the University Street Station (Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel) and 2nd Avenue Cycle Track. The location was incredibly convenient for tourists and regular transit riders using the station. For anyone exiting the station, they would notice the Pronto! bikes and could hop on a rental bike to be on their merry–a truly multi-modal way through Downtown Seattle.

The 2nd Ave and University St location was initially approved by the City for the original rollout, but Pronto! decided to move the station due to a letter of concern. With the Garden of Remembrance immediately adjacent to 2nd Ave, the board that manages the space requested that the station be relocated. When asked about the decision, Pronto! staff said that the bikeshare station disrupted the peaceful and contemplative nature of the garden. Pronto! staff reasoned that they wanted to respect the Garden of Remembrance and be sensitive to community sentiments. Ultimately, they decided to satisfy the request.

Meanwhile, the new bikeshare station is located two blocks south on 2nd Ave and Spring St. This new location has an office building on each corner. It is not next to any transit tunnel exit, bus stop, or within eyeshot of any major tourist attractions. This is quite a downgrade if the folks managing Pronto! are really trying to make the stations convenient, noticeable, and usable.

So let’s consider the context of the original location. 2nd Ave is a highly trafficked street. All manner of vehicles roar by at 35 mph, pedestrians rush through while planes fly overhead, and ambulance and police sirens wail. Whatever other distractions befall a given block in the middle of Downtown, can one bicycle rental station on the sidewalk next to the garden really take away from the peaceful and contemplative nature space? I like to have places to get away from the noise of the city and contemplate peacefully as much as anyone, but I don’t think it’s really reasonable to put a garden in the middle of Downtown and deny any newcomer on the claim that they are disrupting your peaceful atmosphere. Perhaps if the garden’s designers wanted it to be peaceful and contemplative they should have enclosed it like the Waterfall Garden in Pioneer Square. Or, located it in somewhere that is actually peaceful and contemplative like Discovery Park, which would have been especially appropriate given that a military base formerly occupied the site.

When does political correctness go too far in the context of city planning and urbanism? As we try to build a multi-modal system that give urbanites and tourists alternatives to driving, should we make concessions to people who cry foul to political correctness even if that concession is at the expense of the usability of the system? Albeit a seemingly minor case of such a problem, the relocation of the Pronto Station at 2nd Ave and University St raises the question of what principles will guide us as we try to build a mutli-modal transportation system that can offer viable alternatives to private car travel. Making concessions like this, rather than being dedicated to designing the best system possible, will eventually add up to a system that is inconvenient to use and thus cannot compete with private car travel.

I’m sensitive to the desires of the Garden of Remembrance’s board to create a peaceful place where citizens can respectfully contemplate the sacrifices of those who served our country. However, I don’t think outdoors adjacent to a Downtown thoroughfare is the place to do that. Downtown is the transit, jobs, and tourist hub of the entire region, and we should take every chance we get to showcase well designed urban systems there.