Friday, 3 July, 2020

House Gives First Nod to Swift II Expansion

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On Monday, the House Transportation Committee voted to expand Community Transit’s revenue authority to help restore deep service cuts and fund an expansion of the popular bus rapid transit line known as Swift II (vote breakdown below). The 0.3% sales tax increase will bring the first opportunity in 13 years for the transit agency to expand its revenue generating capacity.

Swift II represents a 12.5-mile expansion of bus rapid transit, running from Boeing’s Paine Field down to Bothell at the Snohomish-King County line. The new route is predicted to generate 3,300 riders on opening day, expanding on the resounding success of its predecessor Swift I, which carries as many as 1-in-6 weekday riders and 1-in-3 Saturday riders for the agency.

As Snohomish County’s primary transit agency, Community Transit has struggled to recover from deep recession-era cuts. Testifying during the bill’s hearing on Thursday, Mike Todd, the Board Chair of the agency, said increased revenue from the recovering economy would only restore 45% of service hours. But many of these hours will be used to simply maintain service as worsening congestion brings busses to a crawl. Commute times from Everett and Seattle have increased over 30% since 2010, peaking at well over 100 minutes.

Support for the legislation was strong at the public hearing with no opposition present. Andrew Austin, policy director at Seattle-based Transportation Choices Coalition, testified about the importance of restoring Sunday and late-night service to seniors, church-goers, and swing-shift workers across the County. Austin Wright-Pettibone, a student lobbyist from UW, shared the importance of transit to students, with 85% of students from UW using transit and 25% reporting public transit as their sole means of transportation. Everett Community College, the educational backbone of Snohomish County, has expanded rapidly in recent years, with WSU announcing a $10 million expansion to the campus in 2013.

Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-20

In stark contrast to last week’s vote on Sound Transit 3 (ST3), this vote was widely bipartisan with only two votes in opposition. Rep. Orcutt (R-20, Clark County), the ranking Republican on the committee, stepped “outside of [his] comfort zone” in voting for the bill. Though he mulled concerns about granting local jurisdictions greater revenue authority, he ultimately praised the bill for requiring a vote of the people and for being an example of transit coming from local government.

Perhaps most striking about his comments were the ways they mirrored his arguments against ST3 last week. Indeed, both bills require voter approval, grant revenue authority on the local level, and represent local governments supporting transit. There appears to be no articulable reason why Rep. Orcutt, and eight of his Republican colleagues, would change their minds to vote for this bill (HB 1393).

The bill will likely be heard next by the House Finance Committee, chaired by Reuven Carlyle (D-36, Seattle), where it is expected to pass. It will then face a vote on the House floor before facing the Republican-controlled Senate.

Vote Breakdown 

MEMBER PARTY VOTE DISTRICT
Judy Clibborn D Aye 41
Jessyn Farrell D Aye 46
Jake Fey D Aye 27
Luis Moscoso D Aye 1
Ed Orcutt R Aye 20
Mark Hargrove R Aye 47
Steve Bergquist D Aye 11
Mia Gregerson D Aye 33
Mark Harmsworth R Aye 44
Dave Hayes R Aye 10
Linda Kochmar R Aye 30
Joan McBride D Aye 48
Jim Moeller D Aye 49
Jeff Morris D Aye 40
Lillian Ortiz-Self D Aye 21
Liz Pike R Aye 18
Marcus Riccelli D Aye 3
Jay Rodne R Excused 5
Mike Sells D Aye 38
Matt Shea R Nay 4
Dean Takko D Aye 19
Gael Tarleton D Aye 36
Lynda Wilson R Aye 17
Jesse Young R Nay 26
Hans Zeiger R Aye 25

Community Transit Board Restores Sunday and Holiday Service, Approves Service Increase

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A Community Transit 40' low-floor bus, courtesy of Oran Viriyincy.
A Community Transit 40′ low-floor bus, courtesy of Oran Viriyincy.

As we reported late last year, Community Transit proposed using 27,000 new service hours for the restoration of Sunday and Holiday service, and increasing span of service and frequency on weekday routes. Last Friday, the Community Transit Board of Directors approved most of the proposed changes. But one element of the proposal, which was geared toward untangling the routing of Route 222, was nixed due to public input. This proposal was only possible because of rapidly increasing sales tax revenues and a fare increase that will begin in July. Here’s the details from the press release:

In its most significant action affecting customers since the service cuts of 2010 and 2012, the Community Transit Board of Directors today approved a plan to bring back Sunday bus service in June.

The board approved a service expansion package that will not only return bus service on Sundays and six major holidays, but it will also increase trips on weekdays and Saturdays, mostly in off-peak times.

In response to public input, the board rejected a plan to alter Route 222 service to the new Walmart store on Highway 9 in Marysville. The board also rejected a plan to drop a small loop on Village Way in Monroe. That loop serves the Monroe Boys & Girls Club, library and senior center. A proposed adjustment to Route 280 serving Boeing from Granite Falls and Lake Stevens was approved.

The board also approved a 25-cent fare increase that will go into effect on July 1. The fare increase affects all adult bus fares and DART paratransit rides. Youth and reduced fares will be unchanged.

The Parsonage: Preserving History and Adding Housing Options in the U District

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Photos of the changing Brooklyn block, courtesy of DPD.
Photos of the changing Brooklyn block, courtesy of DPD.

A new residential development, named The Parsonage, is coming to the heart of the University District. Barrientos, LLC is planning to construct an 84-unit residential apartment building on the east side of Brooklyn Ave NE, just south of the intersection of NE 42nd St and Brooklyn Ave NE. The project proposal includes an L-shaped building that would preserve an on-site historic structure. The new apartment building would be up to 7 stories high and would contain no parking, which is common for many new residential buildings in the University District.

Option 3 plan view of the site, courtesy of DPD.
Option 3 plan view of the site, courtesy of DPD.

Locals to the area may be familiar with the quirky, historic church situated on the primary corner of the block. Constructed in 1906, this building has changed hands a number of times and now houses the Vineyard Christian Fellowship Church and two Asian restaurants. (Talk about mixed uses!) The new development, however, is proposed to take place on three lots to the south, which includes the lesser-known neighbor to the church, known as the Parsonage (from which the development takes its name). The two residences that currently exist at 4128 and 4132 Brooklyn Ave NE would be demolished.

The Parsonage forms an important part of the development proposal because that building is a protected structure. The building was constructed in 1907 and used as the rectory by the church’s successive pastors, until it passed into private hands. Its quality of character and connection to the church gives the Parsonage a very high protection status. And, as part of any development, the Parsonage must remain intact on the site.

As you may have noted from the first image above, the Parsonage is entirely invisible from the street. A series of bushes and large trees have walled off the structure from public view of the street. The developers have been careful in devising alternative plans that would honor and enhance the historic structure. Each alternative option proposes to bring this structure back to the forefront of the property so that all can enjoy the architectural integrity. But more than that, this will help the developer maximize the property for development.

The developers are hoping to the bring the historic Parsonage back to life as amenity space for residents. The developer wants to encourage social gatherings and opportunities for group studying in the building. The developer’s preliminary proposals have already been vetted by the Architectural Review Committee (ARC) of the Landmarks Preservation Board with the ARC coming out in support of Option 3.

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 18.35.42Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 18.34.16

Under the preferred option (Option 3), the developer says that they want to achieve a number of different goals like increased site circulation, reduced bulk, open space, and reduced setbacks. The developer plans to establish a pathway along the north property line. By doing this, it would help let additional light into the church and increase site circulation. The street-side building height would drop by one floor under Option 3 in order to reduce the perceived change in height between the historic Parsonage and the new apartment building. To some, the scale proposed as it is may seem quite dramatic even with this subtle softening in height. Departures from the Land Use Code are proposed for alleyway and sideyard setbacks. These are minor in nature and seek to maximize development of the residential units. The developer also hopes to create a courtyard to serve the residents.

Ultimately, the developer hopes to use a contemporary look on the new apartment building. But at this stage, only rough schematics are provided, which appear very bulky in comparison to the humble Craftsman Parsonage. Hopefully in the next Design Review phase, the developers will identify materials, modulations, and other architectural techniques–beyond those discussed–to directly enhance the quality of the two historic structures surrounding the future apartment block. This kind of complementary construction with historic structures is not new to Seattle — it’s been done well dozens of times — and the architects note several examples in their Design Review package.

Examples of compatible new construction with historic structures, courtesy of DPD.
Examples of compatible new construction with historic structures, courtesy of DPD.

For all the good that this project will bring, there may be a significant, missed opportunity at hand. The University District is very likely to see significant zoning changes in the coming year. Under the maximum rezoning plans, buildings on this site could soar to heights of up to 320 feet with more than twice the density of residential space. However, the properties are set to be redeveloped under the current MR-RC zoning (Midrise Multifamily Residential and Residential Commercial).

This zoning allows for lowrise structures of up to 60 feet in height, and 75 feet when incentives are used (i.e. 6 or 7 stories in height). Commensurate maximum Floor Area Ratios of 3.20 and 4.25 control the form of site development by requiring some open, uncovered areas of the site. Commercial uses are also allowed onsite, but they are geared toward smaller commercial uses like convenience stores, restaurants, and retail sales with square footage maximums for individual tenants. In this instance, the developer has settled on a 7-story structure which will receive a bonus story by taking advantage of the City’s Housing Incentive Bonus Program.

Whatever the case, The Parsonage will still be a welcome addition to the University District, giving more housing options to students and long-term residents alike.

Massing and zoning, courtesy of DPD.
Massing and zoning, courtesy of DPD.

How To Get Involved

If you’re interested in attending the community design review meeting for this project, you can do so tonight. The Northeast Design Review Board will meet at the University Heights Community Center in Room 209, located at 5031 University Way NE. The Parsonage design review meeting begins at 6.30pm. Alternatively, if you wish submit comments in written form, you can do so by e-mailing Lindsay King, Project Planner, at Lindsay.King@seattle.gov and the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) at PRC@seattle.gov.

For more design review materials and upcoming meetings, see DPD’s design review page.

Sunday Video: An Interview with Mike McGinn

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Dominic Holden, the former favored son of The Stranger, sits down with Mike McGinn, Seattle’s former mayor, to chat about local issues and the what it was like running city government.

What We’re Reading: MidTown Center Rezone Denied

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MidTown Center at 23rd Ave and Union St, courtesy of Google Maps.
MidTown Center at 23rd Ave and Union St, courtesy of Google Maps.

A little epic: This Danish bus agency has a seriously epic bus commercial.

Changing tax exemptions: The City Council wants to patch up the rules for tax exemptions on microhousing units.

Urban innovation: Architecture and design firm Gensler wants to use subterranean Tube tunnels for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, basically an underground park-like pathway. But Copenhagenize calls this idea–amongst others–misguided and worse.

Map of the week: 16 maps that explain Barcelona.

A wired tunnel: The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel is going to get mobile service.

Expanding Sound Transit: If this bill is successful, Sound Transit’s service and taxing authority could expand geographically. Meanwhile, the House passed a bill out of committee to move Sound Transit 3, despite concern trolling from Republicans.

Housing affordability panel: The progress of the Mayor’s housing affordability panel has been very slow going. Roger Valdez makes a plea for the City Council to not derail the panel’s efforts.

No rezone: A corner block at the intersection of 23rd Ave and Union St, known as “MidTown Center”, won’t be rezoned for now; the request was denied by the City Council.

Big reveal: We now have an idea what the Spring St and Harvard Ave tower project will look like, and it has a Whole Foods!

Vaccinate your kids: One Washington lawmarker wants to eliminate most exemptions from vaccines.

Money isn’t everything: Investment transportation is generally seen as a positive thing regardless of politics, but not all investments will actually enhance our transportation network.

Unexpected support: A Republican wants to use gas tax money for transit within his district.

New Greenwood park: Neighbors of Greenwood met recently to talk about their wants and desires for a new neighborhood park to be sited next to the community library.

Vision Zero SeattleSightline takes a look at what Vision Zero even is.

Choose your words: How using different words for the same thing ended the Seattle bikelash.

Questioning Seattle: King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski talks about why he’s not so hot on Seattle’s contract proposal for Metro–even though Seattle’s priorities best represent their needs.

Why Dayton is gone: A clever cartoon story that depicts the demise of Dayton, Ohio.

Deutschland uber alles: In one chart, you can see all of the ways that Germany is less car reliant than the US.

Changing cities: Maybe it isn’t so much gentrificiation, but rather youthification taking hold in cities across the US.

The 520 Trail: What the new SR-520 trail is actually like for people biking and walking.

Bridging the gap: Sound Transit staff will recommend to the agency’s board more time to secure a plan to fund the Northgate Pedestrian Bridge.

Defining limitsFiveThirtyEight argues that defining Austin by just its city limits is foolish.

Pronto! wants you to say hello to #VitaminP

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Introducing #VitaminP, courtesy of Pronto!
Introducing #VitaminP, courtesy of Pronto!

Pronto! wants you to know that a new bike is coming to town: #VitaminP. Starting today, this yellow bike brighten up the streets of Seattle for the next four weeks. As a way to get members to log even more bike rides through the bikeshare program, riders (and  Pronto! fans) are encouraged to find, ride, and post photos to social media of our new friend #VitaminP. By doing so, members and Pronto! fans have a change to win fabulous prizes like free Pronto! membership and handy bike gifts from local bike retailers, Timbuk2, REI, and Bern. These aren’t cheap prizes, winners could score prizes worth up to $200. And, all it takes is a camera and hashtaging a photo of #VitaminP to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

Aside from this marketing campaign, Pronto! gave some very useful data on the program from their press release:

Bike share launched October 13, 2014. Just 15 weeks later, Pronto had:

  • Total Membership: 2,145 Annual Members and 4,401 24 Hour & 3 Day Pass Holders
  • Trips Taken: 28,622 rides with an average of 258 miles per day
  • Miles Logged: 56,440 (2+ trips around the earth)
  • CO2 Reduced: 45,840 lbs of carbon dioxide emissions, or 2,334 gallons of gasoline
  • Calories Burned: 2,426,933 or 17,335 cans of cola.

Busiest Stations:

1. REI / Yale Ave N & John St REI Station
2. 3rd Ave & Pike St
3. PATH / 9th Ave & Westlake Ave GroupHealth Station
4. Westlake Ave & 6th Ave GroupHealth Station
5. 7th Ave & Pine St Seattle Children’s Station
6. E Harrison St & Broadway Ave E GroupHealth Station
7. 2nd Ave & Vine St
8. Occidental Park / Occidental Ave S & S Washington St
9. Pier 69 / Alaskan Way & Clay St REI Station
10. Republican St & Westlake Ave N GroupHealth Station

Measuring Success on the Urban Villages Strategy, Part 3: Open Space, Development, Shared Prosperity, and Opportunity

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Editor’s Note: This is Part 3 in a three-part series on measuring the success of Seattle’s urban village strategy. For background on the report, see our primer in Part 1, and then take a look at some of the indicators in Part 2. In this article, Scott synthesizes the last 10 indicators from the report.

The fountain at Cal Anderson Park, courtesy of Lay-Luh.

Open Space and Development

These indicators are perhaps the most influenced by land use policy and reflect the effects of the concentration of urban growth.

  • Area of parks and open space: This standard quality of life measurement used by many cities has a baseline goal of one acre of open space per 1,000 households in Seattle. With the exception of Rainier Beach, most of the ten urban villages do not meet this goal or barely exceed it within their boundaries. However, the study authors also calculated the addition of park space within a quarter mile of the villages’ boundaries, showing much higher numbers. The selected villages are densely developed, but immediately outside the villages lower densities permit larger parks. The city is working on acquiring more park space. The comprehensive plan identifies the minimum size of useable open space as 10,000 square feet.
  • Proximity to parks and open space: This indicator measured what percentage of residents within urban villages are within a quarter mile walk of a park, including parks a quarter mile outside of the village boundaries. Most of the selected villages score fairly high, with the exceptions of Westwood Highland Park and Aurora-Licton Springs. As with the previous data set, this indicator has not been traceable over time.
  • Tree canopy coverage: Urban trees provide numerous benefits, such as shade, habitat, stormwater filtration, and human livability, though they must be carefully maintained to prevent damage to sidewalks, power lines, and other infrastructure. From 1993 to 2014, there were increases in tree canopy coverage in eight of the urban villages, now with a current average of 18.2 percent compared to 28.5 percent citywide. Seattle has a detailed Urban Forest Management Plan with a goal of increasing tree coverage citywide to 30 percent of the land area, an ambitious goal. Since 2007, 3.5 trees have been planted for every tree removed. The analysis did not differentiate between trees on private parcels and trees on public land.
  • Impervious surfaces: Roads and buildings are impervious to rain, necessitating complex stormwater systems that convey water to streams and holding ponds where it can return to the water cycle. Reducing impervious surfaces reduces the need for such systems, and this can be achieved with green roofs, permeable pavement, and bioswales. For this indicator, the authors look at two time spans. From 1995 to 2011,  there were increases in of impervious surfaces in all of the urban villages and a 1.5 percent increase citywide. Percent of land covered by impervious surfaces is higher in urban villages than citywide.

Shared Prosperity and Opportunity

These indicators evaluate the allocation of public resources and services to assess differences in equity between urban villages.

  • Public infrastructure investment: The budgets from 2005 to 2014 were used to calculate the distribution of money spent on capital facilities in each of the ten urban villages, including everything from parks and libraries to streets and sewers. Of $445 million spent in villages during this period, most was spent in downtown, Rainier Beach, and West Seattle. However, the authors readily admit that this data is not useful due to inaccurate and ambiguous project locations. Better tracking is needed in the future.
  • Neighborhood matching fund: This fund provides competitive funds to volunteer groups for small neighborhood projects. It has provided $49 million to over 4,000 projects since 1998. The funding is needs-based and has not been distributed proportional to geography or population; for instance, up to 2014 Rainier Beach received $159 per person and Ballard only $3 per person. The study notes that the funding data is only available at the “neighborhood district” level, which encompasses areas outside of the urban village boundaries. The authors recommend better tracking and more equitable project selection.
  • Academic performance: This indicator measured the rates of fourth graders meeting standards on performance tests. From 1998 to 2013, all of the elementary schools within or near the urban villages (excluding downtown) have seen increasing scores, but there are substantial differences. Only 62 percent of Rainier Beach students met the standards in 2013, for example, compared to 88 percent in Lake City. Student performance may reflect other factors, like health and family stability.
  • Unemployment rate: While Seattle has had an unemployment rate lower than the rest of the nation, this varies across the urban villages. The 2008-2012 American Community Survey shows census blocks in the Rainier Valley had the highest rates, above 12 percent, while West Seattle Junction was the lowest at 4.5 percent. These numbers can provide direction on efforts to improve employment, workforce training, and social support.
  • Poverty rate: As of 2014, the U.S. poverty level for a family of four is an annual income of $23,850 or less, and in Seattle the 2008-2012 American Community Survey estimated 13.2 percent of residents fall within that. Rates across the ten urban villages varied significantly, but Rainier Beach, downtown, and the U-District have seen the highest rates at over 20 percent.
  • Housing cost burden: Also using 2008-2012 data, this indicator shows what percentage of income residents are paying for housing. Over 30 percent is considered a moderate burden, and over 50 percent is a severe burden. The U-District has the highest share in these two categories, with over 50 percent of the population burdened by housing costs, but the problem is prevalent throughout the ten study areas and is different in scale and cause. Housing affordability is being studied by a mayoral committee and needs to go beyond issues of supply and variety.

The Seattle Sustainable Neighborhoods Assessment Project (SSNAP) concludes with a comparison of other municipal indicator projects, community profiles, and how neighborhood planning can move forward with involved citizens. Overall the report is somewhat disjointed, with wildly different data timelines and geographic scales. But this is a reflection of opportunities to improve data collection and reporting at public agencies, providing more reliable and consistent tracking on an annual basis at the urban village level. Regardless, SSNAP is a launching point for conducting similar assessments on a regular cycle to evaluate citywide progress and civic health.

To learn more about the report, you candownload it (PDF) from the Seattle 2035 website or view a summary presentation (PDF).

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.

The Case for a NE 130th Street Station

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Option A for the NE 130th Street Station, courtesy of Sound Transit.
Option A for the NE 130th Street Station, courtesy of Sound Transit.

Members of the Sound Transit Board are expected to make a decision in April 2015 regarding light rail station locations on the Northgate-to-Lynnwood extension. One station being considered is a NE 130th Street Station on the east side of I-5 and NE 130th Street. The proposed 130th Street station would not have a parking structure and would rely on people walking, biking, and riding transit. A proposed King County Metro bus route could serve an east-west corridor stretching from Bitter Lake to Lake City while providing direct service to a NE 130th Street station. On top of that, protected bike lanes are planned for the area, which would encourage more people on bikes to ride to the station.

The 130th Street/125th Street corridor has far greater room for additional capacity than Northgate Way or 145th Street. It also offers a shorter distance between the urban hearts of Lake City and Bitter Lake. A new bus route could easily and efficiently serve both communities with quick access to light rail without the delays and congestion on 145th Street and Northgate Way.

Service at the station is scheduled to start in 2023 and would cost about $25 million to construct, considerably less than the cost of building parking garages at a suburban station.

A NE 130th Street Station would be very beneficial to North Seattle communities, and here’s just a few reasons why:

  • Fast and dependable light rail access to two of the densest and most underserved communities in North Seattle: Lake City and Bitterlake.
  • Easy and fast connections to Broadview, Haller Lake, Jackson Park, Pinehurst, Olympic Hills, and Cedar Park;
  • Promoting more walking and biking to the light rail station. Many residents of Haller Lake, Jackson Park and Pinehurst commuters are in the walkshed of a NE 130th Street station, and would easily be able to walk to the light rail station. This would reduce their need to drive or take a bus to the Northgate or NE 145th Street stations.
  • Take pressure off for building expensive parking garages at both the Northgate and NE 145th Street stations.
  • Significantly increase ridership on Link light rail. At least 3,200 riders are expected to board at a NE 130th Street station daily.

This project is relatively inexpensive compared with other light rail stations, and Sound Transit projects are coming in significantly under budget. One would think that this would make it an easy add-on with savings, but Sound Transit decision makers have not indicated support for a NE 130th Street station.

While there may not be any vocal support from Sound Transit board members at this point, nothing is yet final. An extremely strong showing of community and business support could turn the tides in favor of approving this station. Now is the time to show your support before the April board meeting, and you can do that by directly contacting the decision makers. Simply send them a message to let them know that North Link must have a NE 130th Street Station to open with the line in 2023. Here’s who you should contact:

Sound Transit Board, Seattle Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, Seattle Councilmember Mike O’Brien, King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski, Seattle Department of Transportation Director Scott Kubly, King County Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond, and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.