Sunday, 20 September, 2020

2015 Seattle City Council Election, District 1: Lisa Herbold 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.

Lisa Herbold has been a resident of West Seattle for 15 years and Nick Licata’s legislative aide for 17. She got her start working in low-income neighborhoods “to kick the butt of City Hall” and demand equal distribution of investments and resources. Her time at ACORN, Syracuse United Neighbors, and the Tenant’s Union taught her that collective action can focus decision makers to make good policy.

She helped coordinate Licata’s 1997 reelection campaign, and subsequently joined his office where she worked to craft and pass the City’s paid sick leave and rental housing inspection program. Now she wants to build upon those accomplishments and craft her own legacy as a council member.

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

Affordable housing is the City’s number one challenge right now. People are concerned that infrastructure investments aren’t keeping up with growth. New developments aren’t affordable for the workers that keep our city running—and the people who work here ought to be able to afford living here. We raised the bar on what it means to be a good employer with the $15 minimum wage and paid sick leave. Now it’s time to raise the bar on developers.

The solution, she believes, can’t be purely supply-side, as the market doesn’t guarantee affordability. But developers will need to work with the City as partners meet our goals.

In terms of specific policy, Lisa strongly supports the linkage fee, the housing levy, and stronger renter protections like relocation assistance and the just-cause eviction ordinance. She wants the City to preserve the older housing stock that acts as “naturally affordable housing.” It can do so two ways: by directly buying older buildings to take them off the market, and by strengthening the rental housing inspection program to guarantee ongoing investments in buildings and dissuade owners from selling.

Council District No. 1
Council District No. 1

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? 

When the City doesn’t use planning, development happens in ways it can’t anticipate. Growth isn’t matched with investment, communities are poorly served, and economic disparities are exacerbated.

That’s why she and CM Licata asked staff to create a fifth alternative for the 2035 Comprehensive Plan modeled after Portland’s Displacement Vulnerability Index. This tool identified areas that are vulnerable to the redevelopment that causes displacement and creates strategies to counteract it.

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? 

Vision Zero is achievable. To get there, we’ll need a target investment for the Pedestrian Master Plan, and we’ll need to reduce speeds on arterials and side streets (especially near schools and playgrounds). Lisa understands the issue personally after a coworker was killed on 35th St Ave SW. That corridor will soon receive a road diet.

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

Planning and investment. She says no one has been against density–it’s like climate change, people get it. But they think the City isn’t doing a good job of managing growth. We will need people in the neighborhoods to be partners moving forward. She’s optimistic that the district system will help facilitate these changes by giving people a voice at City Hall.

What is the most important transportation project in your district?

The 35th Ave SW safety corridor project. People perceive it as a boundary between the two sides of West Seattle, so it holds a special significance. That’s why the City needs to get it right. If they can help people understand that a road diet will reduce congestion, if they give people the information to understand it, she’s optimistic they will support it. She also mentioned Lander Street and Fauntleroy as priority projects.

Read our interviews with other District 1 candidates, Shannon Braddock and Brianna Thomas.

Transportation Levy to Move Seattle Legislation

Comparison of Bridging the Gap and Move Seattle.
Property tax cost comparison of Bridging the Gap and Move Seattle.

Members of the Seattle City Council will meet today for a special ad hoc meeting of their Select Committee on Transportation Funding. Council members will discuss the Transportation Levy to Move Seattle, a nine-year transportation levy. This levy is the successor to the current Bridging the Gap levy, which is set to expire at the end of 2015. Mayor Ed Murray is enthusiastically supportive of the new levy, which help him realize the goals of his bold Move Seattle transportation program. The Mayor transmitted Council Bill 118402 earlier this month for the Council to consider, today being the first time to do so. If the City Council adopts the Council Bill as an ordinance (which won’t happen today), Seattle voters would see the proposal appear on their November ballots.

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 12.59.57The City Council legislative aids have prepared some great data points to show how the Bridging the Gap levy and Transportation Levy to Move Seattle measure up against each other and where new priorities and investments would go. For instance, they note that pedestrian and bicycle improvements in new sidewalks, additional bike parking, and other walking and biking investments would roughly double under the proposed levy from $2.7 million to $4.5 million annually. Meanwhile, basic street maintenance investments would increase markedly from $20 million to $27 million annually. 180-lane miles of arterial streets and spot improvements would be made in this investment category.

Another highlight from the report that many will like is the focus on corridor mobility projects. The report estimates that corridor mobility project could deliver an array of projects that users of all modes will like, including: $79 million for seven transit corridors, $13 million for signal timing improvements, $17 million Intelligent Transportation System improvement, $9 million for the Burke-Gilman Trail extension, $16 million for the Fauntleroy Green Boulevard, and $35 million for other transit corridor improvements.

The hidden detail here is how the City can leverage these investments. By spending $79 million in transit corridors, the City could eek out $207 million in federal grants and other sources.

Annual levy revenue comparison of Bridging the Gap and Move Seattle.
Annual levy revenue comparison of Bridging the Gap and Move Seattle.

So let’s move on to the details of the legislation itself. The proposed transportation levy covers four core areas by:

  • Granting the City authority to the levy a specific property tax within Seattle and establish sustainable finances;
  • Defining specific areas for transportation investments to be administered by the program;
  • Creating a comprehensive oversight and accountability framework; and
  • Offering precise ballot title language for the proposition that voters could see in the November General Election.

Levy authority and financing. The City could levy up to $930 million in property taxes over the life of the Transportation Levy to Move Seattle. Actual levy authority would be limited to $95 million in the first year with tax collection running from 2016 through 2024. Assessments would be based upon the value of property the preceding year of tax collection (e.g. 2016 levy collections would be from 2015 assessments).

Proceeds collected from the levy may be either invested or deposited into funds. The legislation gives priority to proceeds being directed to Transportation Fund, but future subfunds could be established if deemed necessary. Meanwhile, there is flexibility granted to the City in temporarily investing proceeds in other financial instruments. Any earnings deriving from such investments must either be reinvested or deposited in an appropriate Transportation Fund. To pay for elements of the program, the City may choose to issue a debt instruments like bonds and notes. Any debt created could be paid for by proceeds generated by tax collection or Transportation Funds.

An interesting provisio to transportation investments funded under the program is this: If the City Council does not appropriate or transfer at least $40 million dollars from the general fund for transportation in any given year, the City may not collect any taxes from the levy in following budget year. The only exception to this is in this instance where City Council determines that there economic or financial conditions that prevent the Council from appropriating the required $40 million. Under such a circumstance, the City Council would need a three-quarters majority to resolve such a determination and levy the tax.

Areas of transportation investments. The priorities of the Transportation Levy to Move Seattle is focused on four pillars of investment: Safety, Affordability, Interconnectivity, and Vibrancy. Here’s a flavor of some specific project areas that each of the four pillars will work to improve:

  • The Safety pillar is a broad category that looks toward investments in bridges and structures, Vision Zero programs, and general investments in pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.
  • The Affordability pillar places an emphasis on street maintenance by making paving spot improvements and maintenance of primary streets.
  • The pillar of Interconnectivity would make light rail improvements with partner agencies, create new sidewalks and accessible crossings, and make corridor mobility improvements in areas like signal optimization and increased transit speed and reliability.
  • Finally, the pillar of Vibrancy would emphasize individual neighborhood projects, planting and trimming of landscaping, enhance drainage facilities, and freight mobility improvements like the Lander Street Overpass.

The City will determine specific year-to-year improvements and funding allocations by the annual City budget or supplemental ordinance. The precise makeup of the transportation investments hasn’t been settled upon at this time. But, the City will enact projects that will most effectively achieve the goals of the program.

Oversight and accountability. A 16-member oversight committee would be created to monitor the program and advise city government. The primary tasks of the oversight committee would be to review all revenues, expenditures, and implementation of projects and priorities associated with the program. On an annual basis, the oversight committee would present its findings and recommendations to the City Council, Mayor, and SDOT in order to aid them in their governance of the program. A broad range of members would be represented on the oversight committee, including: the Chair of the City Council Transportation Committee, City Budget Director, ten Seattle residents (five appointed by the Mayor and five appointed by the City Council), and one member from each of the transportation advisory boards (Pedestrian, Bicycle, Transit, and Freight).

Meanwhile, SDOT would also have a hand in accountability to the public and city officials. The Department would be required to prepare a comprehensive yearly progress report on the program. Specifically, SDOT would need to profile Move Seattle projects and described its financial plan for transportation improvements. The progress report would ultimately be delivered to the City Council, Mayor, and oversight committee.

Ballot title and enactment. If adopted by the City Council as-is, the City would designate the measure as yet another Proposition 1. The current language of the measure isn’t exactly concise, but it does clearly explain the purpose and cost of the levy to voters. Only a simple majority of voters would need to give their blessing for the measure to be enacted. The following is what they may find on their November ballots:

The City of Seattle’s Proposition 1 concerns replacing funding for citywide transportation maintenance and improvements. If approved, this proposition would replace an expiring levy and fund bridge seismic upgrades, transit corridor and light rail station access projects, pedestrian and bicycle safety projects, upgraded and synchronized traffic signals, street maintenance and improvements, freight mobility projects, and neighborhood street fund projects. It authorizes regular property taxes above RCW 84.55 limits, allowing collection of up to $95,000,000 in 2016 and up to $930,000,000 over nine years. The 2016 total regular tax limit would be $3.60/$1,000 assessed value, including approximately $0.62 additional taxes.

The Select Committee on Transportation Funding will meet again on Tuesday (June 2, 2015) at 5.30pm for a public hearing on the proposal.

2015 Seattle City Council Election, District 1: Shannon Braddock Interview

Shannon Braddock
Shannon Braddock

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.

Shannon Braddock vies to represent District 1 in this first year of Seattle City Council District elections. Braddock is the Chief of Staff for King County Council Member Joe McDermott, whose County District 8 overlaps with the newly created City Council District. On her campaign website, Braddock touts transit and human services as her signature issues. Braddock, along with the other District 1 candidates, has no sitting council member to challenge.

Question 1: What would you do to make housing affordable for everyone in Seattle?

Braddock was ready to look into the whole toolbox of options to address housing affordability. She was especially motivated to act on behalf of the most vulnerable in the community who make 0-30% area median income. As for business before Council right now, she counted herself as a linkage fee skeptic, but was open to the concept. For her, the fee’s success would hinge on its implementation. She enthusiastically supported an expansion of the Seattle Housing Levy. Braddock also said she would support a thorough review of all surplus public land for its appropriate development potential. Lastly, she was in favor of potentially expanding the Seattle Multifamily Tax Exemption Program (MFTE).

Council District No. 1
Council District No. 1

Question 2: 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?

Braddock noted two separate conditions. The first was that income inequality disproportionately pushes people of color to the north and south edges of the city. The second was that those same people have a harder time accessing quality housing and transit, once they are economically displaced. To combat those two conditions, she would push for smarter zoning and planning, specifically planning of transit infrastructure before major development happens. As a fine-grained solution, she estimates that Attached Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) can be better incentivized to address the city’s affordable housing shortfall.

Question 3: 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?

Braddock absolutely supports Vision Zero, though she wondered aloud whether it is possible to reach zero fatalities in practice. She gave a personal thumbs-up to the road diet on 35th Avenue SW, citing three recent deaths as evidence that the road is deeply unsafe. A re-channelization would rightly prioritize safety. Further, she riffed that road diets tend to work and have a high return for a low investment.

Question 4: How best should the city accommodate the next 20 years of growth?

She listed many City departments with the expertise to address growth issues, and hopes to see them break out of their “silos.” To fix the isolation, she would like to gather before Council all the various point people in those separate departments. Better integration within City departments would encourage collaboration and faster progress on the issue that is affecting “virtually everything.” As a conceptual framework for planning, she is a supporter of the current urban village model. Lastly, she was excited to dig into the weeds of the draft versions of the Seattle 2035 comprehensive plan update to find how they might specifically affect District 1, the city, and the region as a whole.

Question 5: What is the most important transportation project in your district?

She leaned in to say that the she was happy to see that the Fauntleroy Boulevard project was included in Move Seattle. The signalization improvements to Delridge Way SW were encouraging. Another priority was the 35th Avenue SW re-channelization. In terms of transit, she highlighted the importance of increased service on Route 120, which is “a really big deal.” She would also like to see RapidRide C expanded and increased service on four other routes within her district in the June and September transit packages. She supports inclusion of the West Seattle to Ballard line in ST3.

Read our interview with other District 1 candidates, Lisa Herbold and Brianna Thomas.

Burgess Introduces Legislation on Affordable Housing Preservation and Tenant Protections for Seattle

Full Council
Full Council

Council President Tim Burgess announced new legislation last week to preserve affordable multifamily housing units and give renters additional protections from the invocation of just cause evictions by landlords. Burgess submitted the two pieces of legislation to the Seattle City Council on Tuesday for further consideration by the Committee on Housing Affordability, Human Services, and Economic Resiliency (HAHSER). In addition to the backing of Burgess, the legislation has received co-sponsorship by Councilmember John Okamoto, Chair of the HAHSER Committee.

Proposed Affordable Multifamily Rental Housing Rules

Council Bill 118404 creates a new section of code designated as Chapter 22.906. This code provision would require some owners of multifamily rental housing buildings to provide notice to public agencies when there is an intent to sell the building. Specifically, property owners would have to notify the City of Seattle Office of Housing and the Seattle Housing Authority. Only buildings with five or more rental units and at least one unit being rented by a household at or below 80 percent of the area median income would be subject to the code provisions.

The proposed language notes that the notice must be submitted to the agencies in writing, which should include property details and basic contact information for the owner. Owners would have to mail the notices no later than fifteen days prior to a property being listed with a real estate service or advertised online or print. The code doesn’t compel a property owner to sell to the agencies, but it does give them an opportunity to review the proposed sale and determine if the property is a candidate for acquisition.

Proposed Tenant Protection Rules

Meanwhile, Council Bill 118403 revises the language of just cause evictions by landlords. Burgess’s proposed revision would amend language to subsections 1.e. and 1.f. of Section 22.206.160.C, Just Cause Eviction. All other changes to the Section of code are merely housekeeping matters, not material revisions.

Subsection 1.e. governs just cause evictions in instances where a landlord or their immediate family member intends to occupy the unit. Landlords must give written notice if there are no “substantially equivalent” units readily available in the building. The written notice requirement for eviction under the provision is currently set at 20 days.

Proposed language by Burgess would increase the written notice period at 90 days. Landlords would have an out if they can substantiate a personal hardship placed on the landlord or their immediate family member. The written notice period in such instances could be reduced to 20 days, but the City would have to determine that the personal hardship claim is legitimate. Some may wonder what constitutes a personal hardship. The code section describe a few instances of personal hardship, but does not limit the definition exclusively to those.

Subsection 1.f. governs just cause evictions when a property owner of a single-family dwelling unit intends to sell the dwelling. Current code requires 60-day written notification to the tenant, which must coincide with the end of a rental agreement or the last day of a monthly period for a month-to-month agreement. And, the owner must list the single-family residence at reasonable price for sale within 30 days of the tenant vacating the unit. The Burgess proposal would see the written notice period increase to 90 days. However, it could be reduced to 60 days if the 90-day notice period would result in a personal hardship to the owner. Again, the the City would have to determine that the personal hardship claim is legitimate. (If you’re curious about the full range of Just Cause Eviction clauses regulated by the City of Seattle, take a whirl of SMC 22.206.160.C.)

Many housing affordability advocates and renters are likely to see this as progress by Council, but others are calling for much broader efforts to preserve affordable housing units and give greater power to tenants. Meanwhile, some counter that while the affordable rental housing preservation provisions may indeed preserve affordable units, it will have a larger negative impact by reducing highly developable properties for greater density and lead to long-term affordability issues. Whatever the case, it’s not yet clear how many people could potentially benefit from the legislation on an annual basis (the data isn’t available at this time).

And I’m Talkin’ IN A ROW!




Martin Luther King, just south of Rainier. We have one taker, a middle-aged man, close-cropped shave growing out again, with a paper bag under one arm. He’s got on worn blue running pants and a blue sweatshirt, the top a shade or two darker than the pants.

“Wha’s goin’ on.”
“Not a lot, how’s it goin’.”

Both of us are so far speaking these exchanges in a pleasant monotone. He seems like the stoic type. The genial tone of the questions asked are their own answer. He pauses after my last question, however, and I’m thinking he won’t speak further, but then he does:

“Good, for a change.”
“Oh, excellent!”
“Real good, actually.”
“Happy to hear it.”
I’m about to ask him for details, and he jumps the gun– “I was just standing on t’ street corner–” kohnah– “minding my own, right back there, when six cars stopped to ask me if everything was okay.”

His stoic vibe is quickly disappearing as he relates the experience, becoming more animated. More lifelike.

“Six!” I say.
“Yeah, six different cars! And I didn’t have my head in my hands, nothin’ like that, I wasn’t cryin’ or nothin’! Didn’t matter what they was driven’ neither, new cars, old ones,”
“Oh that’s so beautiful–”
“Aw yeah! And I’m talkin’ in a row!”
“Thaaat’s amazing! That makes me so happy about humanity!”
“They’re still out there!”
“They’re still out there!”

On simple reflex I clap with joy, both of us rising up in a secular sort of rapture, living that high you hear in the voices of gospel singers.

“Every single one, makin’ sure I was okay. And one of ’em came back, and we had a looooong conversation, praying’ and talkin’.” “So beautiful!”

When he leaves we wave at each other through the glass, and he’s winking a wink I can almost hear, a signal call of joy and belief, putting rich color into this cloudy day.

2015 Seattle City Council Election, District 3: Pamela Banks Interview

Pamela Banks
Pamela Banks

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.

Pamela Banks is a political newcomer, running in central Seattle’s District 3. She hopes to unseat sitting Councilmember Kshama Sawant with her own progressive agenda. Banks is as local as they come with deep roots in central Seattle stretching back to her youth. Banks spent a thirty-year tenure in Seattle government working for multiple city agencies and completing her service as a community outreach director for the office of Mayor Greg Nickels. Banks now serves as President and CEO of the Urban League.

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

Banks opened the conversation by squarely declaring that “we have to do a variety of things and it’s not rent control.” Banks reasoned market rate housing and subsidized housing were both part of the housing solution. In her estimation, the City needs to reach out and work with developers to create new housing units. The City should also take a direct hand in property acquisition and development. Properties owned by the City should be redeveloped to provide housing options for residents. The City, Banks felt, could partner with successful housing providers like LIHI and Capitol Hill Housing to deliver successful projects and quality units to the market.

Banks pivoted to talk about the financials. She wants to pass a new housing levy to provide funding, but cautioned continued reliance on property taxes to fund city needs. Banks said that the current property taxes are often too much for many to bear now and that it’s time for the City to demand new revenue sources. She pointed to a new income tax and increased bonding capacity.

On the Linkage Fee and other impact fees, Banks said that she was nervous about them as revenue tools. Specifically, she said that concerned how collected fees might be distributed. She questioned whether the fees would go back to the neighborhoods from whence they came.

Council District No. 3
Council District No. 3

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?

Banks noted that zoning and transportation have been historically problematic for her area. She recounted two examples: I-90 planning process and the construction of light rail in the Rainier Valley as examples. Banks said that I-90 was originally planned to continue from I-5 to Mercer Island without an intermediate access junction near the Central District. Local residents fought hard for the Rainier Ave S ramps and ultimately won. She also shared how light rail in the Rainier Valley was a challenge to residents and businesses, with many simply closing up during construction. She praised the efforts to create the Rainier Community Development Fund, which helped retain many businesses on the corridor.

Banks argued that light rail isn’t serving the Rainier Valley well. She said that people live too far away from the stations and need better access. Banks praised light rail stations like Tukwila International Boulevard as examples for how station access should be provided. Specifically, Banks wants more park-and-ride structures to ensure that people can use light rail.

Banks voiced concern about rising gentrification trends in Seattle. She explained that the Central District has seen minority-majority populations plummet as the neighborhood sees new residents move in and locals move out. She feels that the Race and Social Justice Initiative needs improvement to drive greater balance on the issue.

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

When asked if Vision Zero is achievable, Banks replied that there are “too many cars”. She went on to explain that she supports slowing speeds down in the city. She pointed to 23rd Ave and Rainier Ave S as examples of where and how the City should focus their efforts to reduce speed. But, she questioned if 2030 was really an achievable timeline to see Vision Zero become a full success. Echoing her declaration that there are “too many cars”, she said that Seattle has a long ways to go yet.

On transportation, Banks said that she wants to see Complete Street efforts better thought out. Focusing all modes on one street doesn’t deliver the best results in her estimation. Instead, modes need to be spread out amongst common streets in transportation corridors. Banks flexed her transportation muscles by saying that she supports transit, especially light rail.

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

Banks wasn’t coy on the question, but focused most of her time talking about transportation and parking. She said that density must be focused around transit, which would be a departure from the past. She explained that the City has done transportation planning backwards like light rail in the Rainier Valley that skirted around established, dense centers.

Banks said that the City is in need of a truly integrated transportation system, otherwise it risks people continuing their current patterns of driving first and foremost. Banks hopes to represent residents in Capitol Hill and said that many in the northern part of the neighborhood don’t support increased density because they lack appropriate services like access to light rail. Residents aren’t able to walk to the station from where they live.

Banks is concerned that parking is a problem for many fragile neighborhoods. She wants more comprehensive parking assessments to ensure that there is adequate parking in places like Pioneer Square.

When asked what she thought about parking minimums in new development, Banks said that it was a must. She added that the only exceptions should be around certain light rail stations like Beacon Hill. Although, others like Mount Baker (McClellan) might not be appropriate for parking-free regulations. Pointing to immigrant, refugee, and elderly communities, Banks said that these groups have a strong need for vehicle access due to their familial formations.

What is the most important transportation project in your district?

Banks singled out the Capitol Hill light rail station as the biggest project slated for District 3. She explained that the project will deliver more than just transit, but also a series of large housing developments with ample affordable housing mixed in. She also highlighted three other projects as key for the district: Rainier Ave, the 520 trail, and 23rd Ave. Bank said that the 23rd Avenue Corridor Project (stretching from Southeast Seattle to Montlake) would be a game changer due to its multi-modal approach to Complete Streets. She felt that many locals will appreciate the new Neighborhood Greenway paralleling 23rd Ave.

Read our interviews with other District 3 candidates Morgan Beach and Rod Hearne.

SDOT Studying High Capacity Transit for the Roosevelt Corridor

Roosevelt Way NE is just one part of the corridor being studied. Photo by the author.

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is studying options for transit improvements in the Roosevelt corridor between Downtown and Northgate. Although Sound Transit is currently building Link light rail in the same area, the City’s Transit Master Plan (TMP) identifies this parallel corridor with high ridership potential. It includes South Lake Union and Eastlake, which Link will not serve. At a project open house last week, SDOT staff and their consultants from CDM Smith presented background information and early thoughts on speeding up transit service between these growing neighborhoods.

Seattle’s most recent TMP was adopted in 2012. It identifies high capacity transit (HCT) corridors that serve, or have the potential to serve, the greatest number of people, the greatest mix of land uses, and provide the highest quality of service. HCT corridors were also evaluated based on social equity, economic benefits, and neighborhood connections. The TMP makes additional recommendations on land use integration and access to transit.

The corridor being studied. The blue line (added by the author) shows the future Link route and stations. Click to enlarge. (SDOT)

The study area is long, stretching 7 miles miles. It connects a variety of neighborhoods and business hubs. From the south it starts in Downtown at Westlake, a major transit hub and commercial center. It then moves through the growing and congested South Lake Union area, where 22,000 new jobs and 12,000 new households are expected by 2031. Next is the constrained Eastlake neighborhood with only one arterial street. It then crosses into the University District on the Roosevelt/11th Avenue couplet; here 5,000 new households and 4,800 new jobs are expected by 2035. Moving through the Roosevelt and Maple Leaf neighborhoods, the route shifts to 5th Avenue NE and terminates at the Northgate transit center. Northgate is being planned for up to 4,000 new households and 10,000 jobs by 2030.

95,000 people currently live in the corridor (defined as a half mile from the route), and 29 percent of households have no vehicle (compared to 8.5 percent citywide). Data from the 2013 American Community Survey shows wide variability in driving and taking transit to work, with driving predominating north of NE 85th Street. Providing more robust transit will likely encourage people to switch from driving and better serve those who already don’t have cars.

SDOT is considering two alternatives for the type of vehicle that will be used. One is bus rapid transit (BRT), which is a bus service that can compete with the speed of driving. This is primarily done with bus-only lanes, having passengers pay their fares before they board the bus, and giving buses traffic signal prioritization. King County Metro has implemented “BRT limited” with six RapidRide routes throughout the county; the biggest missing piece is typically bus-only lanes.

The other option is rapid streetcar, which besides being on rails otherwise has the features as BRT. No such systems exist in the United States, but the TMP heavily leans toward it. One strategy statement is: “Fund and conduct an alternatives analysis study to confirm rapid streetcar as the preferred mode and to position the project for federal funding.” The federal government has been happily funding new streetcar systems across the country, and is expected to fund much of the Center City Connector streetcar construction on 1st Avenue.

Comparing the two mode options. Edited by the author. Click to enlarge. (SDOT)

However, at the open house last week, staff indicated at this early stage BRT is already  the preferred mode. This is likely because of the much higher capital costs of what would be an extremely long streetcar line. There is also potential conflict and incompatibility with the existing South Lake Union (SLU) streetcar route at the southern end of the project area; if the two lines connected, travel times would be dramatically slowed where the SLU line operates in mixed traffic with cars; fortunately, part of this problem will be resolved with new transit-only lanes on Westlake Avenue. But the SLU line also has tight turns and short stations that would may not fit longer, faster streetcars. On the other hand, if the lines don’t connect there is a potential for passenger confusion and redundancy with overlapping rail service in the same area.

Regardless of the final alignment, improvements will be needed for transit operations on Fairview Avenue at Valley Street and Mercer Street. This pair of intersections has poorly timed signal phases that currently delay buses and the SLU streetcar. It can take upwards of five minutes to go less than a quarter mile.

There appears to be some minimal level of coordination with Metro’s route restructuring around the U-Link opening happening early next year; Metro routes 66X, 67, and 70 currently serve the Roosevelt corridor. The 66X is proposed to instead run on Interstate 5 and be peak-only; the 67 is proposed to be rerouted from 5th Avenue NE to Roosevelt Way NE, and then from the Roosevelt couplet to University Way and the UW Link station; and the 70 is proposed to have no route changes. However, there is no firm deadline for implementing this HCT project; it could be constructed before or after Northgate Link opens in 2021.

The alternative shown on the open house maps has the HCT line terminating at the Westlake transit hub, like the SLU streetcar, but it takes a different route via Fairview Avenue and loops to 5th Avenue via Stewart and Virginia Streets.

Community members post notes on a map of the project area at an open house. Photo by the author.

If BRT is ultimately preferred, the line should go beyond Westlake to provide the most utility to people traveling to Downtown. Indeed, the TMP recommends this: “Conduct a detailed study of terminus locations, including…development of a southern terminal that is integrated with the International District Station and does not require transferring passengers to cross a major arterial street.” A terminus at the International District-Chinatown transit tunnel station would eliminate transfers to get further into downtown, and it would provide a connection to the King Street rail station.

The project will likely involve the complete redesign of streets, including bus islands and sidewalk extensions. The Bicycle Master Plan also designates most of the route for new protected bike lanes. With limited right-of-way and transit-only lanes,  parking lanes and general traffic lanes will probably need to be removed or converted in order to meet the City’s complete streets policies. Traffic volume data shows this could be done without adverse impacts, and it would calm traffic and boost business in these neighborhoods.

Two possible options for complete streets on Eastlake Avenue, without transit-only lanes. Images generated by the author at

Staff will be analyzing public feedback and the alternatives through the summer. A locally-preferred alternative will be announced in November. A conceptual design is scheduled for release in February 2016. For more information and to give feedback on the Roosevelt HCT project, check out the SDOT website and the open house posters (12 MB PDF).

This article is a cross-post from The Northwest Urbanist.

Event Reminder: Seattle 2035 Public Hearing

Alternatives 3 and 4 of Seattle 2035
Alternatives 3 and 4 of Seattle 2035

The City of Seattle is quickly approaching the completion of its review and update of the city’s Comprehensive Plan. Earlier this month, the City released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), which analyzed four differing alternatives. As part of this, the City has opened up a 45-day comment period for the public to submit their comments. City staff will listen to comments received by the public and further refine the proposed alternatives in a Final Environment Impact Statement. The City Council must ultimately adopt a set of updated policies and regulatory changes based upon a preferred set of alternatives.

Alternatives 1 and 2 of Seattle 2035
Alternatives 1 and 2 of Seattle 2035

Stephen previously shared the high level details of the DEIS alternatives, which can broadly be summarized as follows:

  • Alternative 1 is an approach to growth that targets land use development in the same patterns we’ve seen over the past 20 years. It focuses new job growth in Downtown Seattle and South Lake Union while residential growth takes place in urban centers and urban villages. It assumes that market trends remains generally the same as today.
  • Alternative 2 guides growth to the city’s established urban centers. It assume that these centers will become even more dominant destinations for new residents and jobs than previous decades. It has the benefit of further encouraging people to walk and bike while reducing their dependence on driving.
  • Alternative 3 focuses growth in the city’s urban villages near light rail and urban centers. While growth in urban centers remains important in this alternative, special emphasis is placed on accommodating much of the growth in urban villages where they are–or will be–served by light rail transit. Boundary changes are possible within 10-minute walksheds of existing and planned light rail stations. For instance, a new urban village could be designated at I-5 and NE 130th St during the plan period while a reconfiguration of the Mount Baker and Jackson-23rd & Union urban villages could occur in conjunction with the opening of a light rail station at I-90.
  • Alternative 4 envisions growth for urban villages near frequent transit, which includes both high quality bus and rail service–not just light rail. More urban villages would be slated for increased growth capacity than conceived by Alternative 3, including expanded urban villages in Ballard, Crown Hill, Fremont, and Alaska Junction.

The Department of Planning and Development (DPD) has put together a useful online open house for the public to review the project proposals. DPD also will hold a public hearing tomorrow evening (May 27, 2015) at the Bertha Knight Landes Room from 6pm to 8pm. This venue is located right at City Hall.

However, public comment will remain open through June 18, 2015 and be considered in addition to vocal testimony. Written comments can be sumbitted onlinethrough a survey, at, or mailed to DPD.

Our Board hasn’t yet endorsed one particular alternative yet, but we plan to do so in following weeks.