Saturday, 22 February, 2020

Pronto! Cycle Share Membership Starts Today


Pronto! Fall


Today’s the day that many of you have been waiting for. It’s your first opportunity to register as an annual member in Seattle’s new bicycle share program: Pronto! And as a gift to the first 600 people to register, you’ll receive a swanky keyfob (as seen below) and bragging rights as a Pronto! Founding Member. Who doesn’t want to be a Founding Member? Registration starts at noon sharp and costs $85 for one year. The service launch for Pronto! is scheduled mid-September for October 13.

Blue KeyfobMembership gives you 24/7 access to the Pronto! cycle sharing service for no additional cost. The system is easy to use with over 50 docking stations throughout Seattle’s most popular neighborhoods (see map of planned stations): Capitol Hill, Downtown, South Lake Union, Eastlake, and the University District.

As long as you return a checked out bike within a half hour of picking it up, you don’t pay anything more. By simply docking a bike to return it, you can immediately pick up another if your intended journey will actually take longer than a half hour. The idea of the system is short trips around town to keep the bikes circulating throughout the system.

Of course, if you’re not interested in being a member, that’s okay, too. Pronto! will have short-term pass options as well. For the very occasional rider, you can purchase 1-day or 3-day passes to access the system. Each docking station will have a kiosk to manage purchases and accounts. Using the system is no different for non-member ridres, except that a temporary pass is issued instead of the handy keyfobs. 1-day passes cost $8, 3-day passes cost $16.

If you do the math, the very occasional rider should probably consider a membership if they think they’ll use the system more than 10 days out of the year within the bikeable zone. Keep in mind, King County does maintain a helmet law, so you can bring your own helmet, rent one for $2 at the docking stations, or flaunt the law (not that we’re encouraging that–maybe).

Not convinced of cycle share yet? Tom over at the Seattle Bike Blog has a fantastic rundown on Pronto!’s standard bike. Last month, he was invited to take a test run on Seattle streets, and needless to say, he’s a true believer. For more information on Pronto! Cycle Share, visit their website or check out our original article on the topic.

UPDATE 1: Pronto! has two tiers of membership currently offered as seen below.

UPDATE 2: According to the Seattle Bike Blog, the launch will actually be October 13, not mid-September.

Sunday Video: Farewell to the Pianos


The pianos in the park were an awesome program, and it’s sad to see them go. But this is a great way to cherish them.

What We’re Reading: Park It, Walk It, Bike It, Transit

Downtown Seattle by Alex Green on Flickr.

Park it: The happiest commutes are active commutes, and the car loses the longer the commute while other modes barely budge over time. But surprise! Those who take transit (and walk or bike) are much healthier than their driving counterparts, cuz duh. The US is still a pretty deadly country for vehicular-related deaths, and progress to reduction has been abysmalSightline explores paid parking schemes at local transit centers and park and rides.

Walk it: Hopscotch in the CD is back again this year, today in fact until 6pm! Go hop the full two miles. NYC is rolling out some awesome wayfinding maps undergound to help folks when they go aboveground.

Bike it: The 2nd Avenue bike lanes are on their way, and significant progress has been made this week along Pike Street and 2nd Avenue. The bike lanes should be completed by September 8th. Copenhagenize gathers a bunch of bicycle signs and talks symbolism. An interesting way to put protected bike lanes in a roundabout. Implementation of the Bicycle Master Plan is behind schedule.

TransitGreater Greater Washington discusses train stations with side platforms in detail. Many European passenger railway companies should learn from budget airlines. People who live near transit are much happier than folks without it. For you nerds, there are water bottles out with your favorite transit network systems, including Seattle! La Paz’s “subway” is actually a gondola system. Building transit systems shouldn’t take longer than they did in 1925. A Virginia Railway Express transit-oriented development infill station is basically just new sprawl.

Design it: Seattle-based firm Callison Architecture has been bought by a Dutch firm, but don’t worry, they’ll stick around! Istanbul is so committed to the Haiga Sophia, it plans to demolition a series of new skyscrapers that are impeding those panoramic views. Not a bad Pioneer Square loft if you happen to have $650k laying around….Quaint little Oxford house with bicycle parking in mind. Modern offices go stacked like boxes in Roeselare, Belgium. 13 whimsical hotel designs to leave you scratching your head.

Change it: A four-day work week would be much better for us all, and we could still get just as much done. Most Seattle cops don’t live in Seattle (mine Seattle’s police data report). And Ferguson is a clear case of white power in a black townPerformance-based zoning is a superior avenue to controlling development over arcane zoning regulations. Piggy backing on this, Old Urbanist highlights how zoning went so wrong. As predicted, the developers lost their case on incentive zoning fees. Global instability may be making urban life tougher.

Make it: Mayor Murray details the implementation plan of the Metropolitan Park District in a press conference this week. PARK(ing) Day applications are due in just under a week. An update on the implementation of the parklet program. Maintaining all the landscaped right-of-ways in Seattle is a challenge, mostly because it’s a math problem, but they still get it done. The annual Bridging the Gap report is out, and it’s not too long of a read.

Map it: We’re in the 21st Century and that means we have much better technological resources, and mapping is beginning to standardize in new and better ways. An awesome map showing migration patterns for every state overlaid on the states. A better map for the DC Metro system.

Broadway Streetcar Extension Curtailed to Roy Street


For the past few years, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has been working on a plan to extend the First Hill Streetcar northward. Terminus options explored were to Roy Street, Aloha Street, and Prospect Street (near Volunteer Park). Earlier in the process, the Aloha option had been eliminated. However, an extension toward Volunteer Park was always a long-shot. SDOT consistently referred to the project as the “Broadway Extension” and often indicated relative doubt of an extension beyond Roy Street.

This week, we learned for certain that the First Hill Streetcar extension had been curtailed to Roy Street. Cost and benefit were the primary cited reasons for cutting the project scope down. With the current decision, an extension beyond Roy seems unlikely for the foreseeable future. But SDOT has indicated that an extension on 10th Avenue is possible. Conceivably, with a larger streetcar program, expansion far beyond Prospect would make the investment much more palatable.

For a comparison of the previous Prospect Street terminus and the now official Roy Street terminus preferred alternative, see the street configurations below.

While the streetcar extension beyond Roy Street is indeed an unfortunate casualty, it’s not the only one. The Broadway Bikeway (cycle track) is inexorably linked to the streetcar improvements. SDOT plans to extend the cycle track just beyond the Roy Street streetcar terminus. The cycle track will terminate at the intersection of Aloha Street and 10th Avenue, which is a managed intersection.

The good news here is that the cycle track will remain a cycle track the whole length as opposed to cycle lanes on both sides of 10th Avenue. So while this may be a disappointing outcome for streetcar supporters, it could be an even better outcome for cycle track supporters in the mid-term. Cycle track supporters eventually want to push the cycle track all the way to Roanoke Street (as detailed in my previous article). The Prospect Street streetcar terminus option not only split the cycle track in two, but this design precluded the ability to later realign to a two-lane cycle track if such a project was taken up as part of the Seattle Bicycle Master Plan.

It is also important to note that the Roy Street terminus design does not specifically preclude the possibility of extending the streetcar further down 10th Avenue or a bike couplet of 10th Avenue and another parallel street at a future date, should funding and the desire to extend the line arise.

3 Ways to Improve the Onboard Metro Customer Experience


A few simple onboard improvements to King County Metro buses could truly enhance the customer experience and increase their overall efficiency. Outfitting new and existing buses with the following feature enhancements would provide passengers more space, expedite the boarding and deboarding process, speed up overall bus service, reduce fuel consumption, and save service hours.

3 Ways to Make Improvements

Sound Transit Overhead Storage
Overhead storage areas on Sound Transit by Oran Viriyincy.

1. Overhead baggage storage. Bags blocking the aisles or placed on otherwise usable seats—it happens all the time. Space is necessarily limited on buses, especially in a city where many passengers carry backpacks, purses, and groceries during their daily commute. Many Metro passengers also use transit as a primary mode for leisure travel across the region or connecting services to travel outside of the Puget Sound region. Needless to say, it’s unsurprising to see large suitcases and luggage on a normal bus trip.

Metro would be wise to deploy overhead baggage storage on all buses. Doing so would achieve greater capacity by reducing aisle blockage and seats filled with bags. Instead, more passengers could sit or stand aboard buses. Fewer obstacles in the aisles would reduce delays. Reasonably, fewer bags should be blocking aisles and passengers should become more mobile by “taking a load off.” This simple onboard feature also enhances passengers’ well-being and personal comfort.

Most of Sound Transit’s new fleet of New Flyer (and old Gilligs) buses are outfitted with overhead baggage storage—a great local example of how to implement storage racks without affecting aisle standing areas or passengers seated below.

Translink Rear Door
Touch-responsive rear door exiting on Translink by Oran Viriyincy.

2. Touch-responsive rear door sensors for exiting. “BACK DOOR!” A fellow passenger screams out to the driver—often to no avail—that they want to alight from the bus. Bus systems all over the United States have rear door technology that allows passengers to press their hands on the doors to exit (or some similar feature). Typically, a light or indicator becomes lit when the bus has come to a complete stop and the door is operable by pushing or touching it.

Implementing a touch-responsive rear door system would add convenience and a sense of freedom for passengers. There’s nothing worse than feeling trapped at the rear of the bus, and shouts of “back door” can be a nerve-racking and frustrating experience for any passenger. Not only would this feature save fellow passengers from the disturbing shouts to exit, but it would allow bus operators to focus their attention on other customer service duties toward the front of the vehicle. Pierce Transit is leading the way locally and has implemented the technology on all new buses.

Rear door Compass card reader on Translink by Steve Chou on Flickr.

3. Rear door boarding with ORCA readers. Passengers should not be limited only to front-door entry. By deploying ORCA readers, passengers could freely enter both front and rear doors. The key benefits are multiple entry options for riders, a faster boarding process, and drastically reduced bus dwell times. For instance, there are many times where a bus has to board or deboard a handicapped individual, a time consumptive process (even if there is passive restraint). Instead of all passengers waiting to board, they could simply board through an alternative door.

Metro mothballed rear door entry (if you discount the old Free Ride days) a few years ago because of implementation costs. ORCA readers don’t come cheap, and lack of a network-wide Proof of Payment (POP) system on regular bus routes poses a hurdle to implementation. Neither of these is insurmountable, but a cash-strapped Metro makes this a challenge for now. It is worth noting that RapidRide has been outfitted with POP. Fare enforcement officers are tasked with boarding buses to ensure that passengers have paid their fare.


The first two customer experience enhancements seem like fairly achievable goals. Overhead baggage storage racks aren’t cost prohibitive given that bus interiors are fairly flexible. Not every existing model is completely adaptable, but most of the recent buses types that Metro has acquired are. And, given that Metro has gone with New Flyer for essentially all new buses, the overhead baggage rack is a cheap and simple add-on. Touch-responsive rear door sensors for exiting is a bit more challenging. Depending upon bus type, this could be an easy retrofit (although not inexpensive) or a challenging one that requires significant new wiring and computer technology. Meanwhile, rear door boarding would require a policy change to allow rear door entry, significant capital expenditure to implement, and a more robust POP fare enforcement system. On the whole, though, each of these improvements would greatly improve the customer experience through faster buses, more space and comfort, and quicker boarding and deboarding.

Seattle/King County: 3rd Largest Homeless Population In 2013 HUD Report


(There’s a lot of data in the 2013 HUD report on homelessness. This is part 1 of The Urbanist’s series to better understand this data. You can see Part 2 here.)

Courtesy of HUD

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) does a yearly analysis of homelessness in the US and released their research for 2013 in August. This report is largely based on a single night count of homelessness among participating Continuum of Care (CoC) organizations, local planning organizations that manage all aspects of homelessness from providing shelter to providing permanent housing. The federal government provides most of the funding for homeless services in the country and ties the use of that money to guidelines regarding those services. Among these guidelines are requirements regarding the structure and responsibilities of local organizations that want to be eligible for funds and these organizations are referred to as CoCs. In Seattle, there is a coordination of resources and organizations, referred to as the Seattle/King County CoC. (I will be publishing a series of posts about the data found in this report, focusing on the Seattle/King County CoC.)

To get a handle on the makeup and number of people experiencing homelessness, HUD attempts to collect accurate information on the entire homeless population without counting anyone twice. Data collection mostly depends on a ‘single night count.’ Organizations responsible for solving homelessness conduct a count of the population within their jurisdiction on a single night each year. The count usually takes place at the end of January, and the results from Seattle were widely published this year. This method isn’t perfect—it relies heavily on volunteers and possibly misses variations in homelessness during the year—but it is the best data available for understanding homelessness in the United States.

Courtesy of Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness

Important Findings

The scale and details of the homeless problem in the US can be very discouraging, but there are also reasons for hope. Some of the particularly stark findings from this year’s report include:

  • There are 610,042 homeless people in the US.
  • Nearly 35% were unsheltered. Unsheltered areas are defined as a location not ordinarily used for sleeping and can include ‘temporary shelters’ such as a car or abandoned building, but also areas such as tent cities.
  • 23% of all homeless people were under the age of 18.

While Seattle saw an increase in homelessness between 2013 and 2014, the region was growing. Additionally, there is good news on the federal level regarding homelessness:

  • Chronic homelessness of individuals decreased 7% since 2012 and 25% since 2007.
  • Homelessness among veterans declined 24% between 2009 and 2013.
  • Since 2007 there has been a 23% decline in unsheltered homelessness.
  • Those in shelters has increased 1% since 2007.
  • Homelessness overall declined 9% since 2007.
  • 61,846 fewer people are homeless since 2007.

Federal Homelessness Goals

The federal government has four primary goals regarding homelessness:

  • End chronic homelessness by 2015, defined as continuous homelessness for at least one year or four episodes of homelessness in the last three years.
  • End homelessness for veterans by 2015.
  • End homelessness for youth and families by 2020.
  • Make progress towards ending all homeless.

It’s not clear to me whether the federal goals are on track to be successful. The report notes that the progress towards ending homelessness of youth and families has seen small declines, suggesting that the goal is not on track. Additionally, the report’s stated goal of providing a “path” toward ending homelessness is not clear enough to understand what progress towards that goal might look like beyond a declining rate of homelessness.

Seattle and Washington

Some of the notable data from 2013 in Washington State includes:

  • 17,760 homeless people in 2013.
  • 4th largest decline in homelessness between 2007 and 2013, 5,619 (24%).
  • 3rd largest absolute decline in homeless families between 2012 and 2013: -2,088 (-22.6%); and the 4th largest between 2007 and 2013: -2,947 (-29.2%).
  • 2,196 chronically homeless people.
  • 1,136 unaccompanied homeless children and youth.

All the data for Seattle is a combination of Seattle and King County since there is a coordinated effort in this region. Some of the notable data in 2013 from the Seattle/King County CoC includes:

  • 3rd most homeless people (9,106) among participating CoCs.
  • 6th most homeless people in families (3,120) among participating CoCs.
  • 7th largest number (5,986) of homeless individuals among participating CoCs.
  • 7th largest number (533) of unaccompanied, homeless children and youth among participating CoCs.
  • 9th largest number (682) of homeless veterans among participating CoCs.
Courtesy of HUD

In future posts, I’ll expand further on the data for the Seattle/King County CoC since the national report does not discuss these numbers in detail.

PARK(ing) Day 2014 Will Soon Be Here, So Let’s Make It A Success


PARK(ing) Day is right around the corner, and that means our city streets will soon see an extra splash of vibrancy–even if only for a day. On September 19, Seattle will celebrate its eighth year of sponsoring PARK(ing) Day events across the city. PARK(ing) Day, for the unfamiliar, is an international event that confronts the issue of how we use our limited right-of-way spaces. PARK(ing) Day poses two simple questions: Do we need to allocate so much infrastructure to on-street parking? Or could we use that space for other things like more trees, street vendors, parks, bicycle racks, or other public space?

Nearly a decade ago, the first PARK(ing) Day event was born in San Francisco by local design firm Rebar. They recounted why they embarked on an experiment to convert a parking space to a park in a very simple way:

Rebar’s original PARK(ing) project in 2005 transformed a single metered parking space into a temporary public park in an area of San Francisco that the city had designated as lacking public open space. The great majority of San Francisco’s downtown outdoor space is dedicated to movement and storage of private vehicles, while only a fraction of that space is allocated to serve a broader range of public needs. Paying the meter of a parking space enables one to lease precious urban real estate on a short-term basis. The PARK(ing) project was created to explore the the range of possible activities for this short-term lease, and to provoke a critical examination of the values that generate the form of urban public space.

Our original PARK stood in place for two hours–the term of the lease offered on the face of the parking meter. When the meter expired, we rolled up the sod, packed away the bench and the tree, and gave the block a good sweep, and left. A few weeks later, as a single iconic photo of the intervention traveled across the web, Rebar began receiving requests to create the PARK(ing) project in other cities. Rather than replicate the same installation, we decided to promote the project as an “open-source” project, and created a how-to manual to empower people to create their own parks without the active participation of Rebar. And thus “PARK(ing) Day” was born.

Last year, there were over 40 locations across the city that hosted a PARK(ing) Day event (many of which can be seen in the Flickr slideshow below). And this year, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) wants the program to be bigger and better than the last. There’s lots of ways to get involved in PARK(ing) Day to make it a huge success.

  1. Show up to any one of the many PARK(ing) Day events. It’s an easy way to show your support for these spaces, engage with other locals, and even encourage others to drop by and use the spaces just as they were intended. The event lats from 9am to 3pm, so there’s plenty of time to get out there.
  2. Help out one of the many local organizations that are sponsoring a PARK(ing) Day park. You can help them facilitate the space on the day of the event, assist in planning the space, and/or provide funding or furnishing.
  3. Sponsor your own PARK(ing) Day park. SDOT is keeping the program free this year. The application requirements are incredibly simple, but they are due by August 29.

Here They Come


Picture 4

We’re headed out to the Valley. I pull up to Martin Luther King Way, across from Franklin. It’s a dingy gloom tonight. The dealers are on both sides of the street. Various shapes lumber about in the periphery, shifting figures in front of lights, signs of life at the laundromat and beneath the overpass. A small crowd is waiting at the bus stop, maybe five of them, dark shapes against the darker night. Looks like mostly younger guys, tall and lanky, post-high school or so.

Groups of kids are a strange animal. Some years ago on the 7 a cadre of thirty teens beat up a young couple, sending them both to the hospital. Older drivers will remember gang initiations in the back of the 106; the new member would be beat to a pulp, but had to remain silent. This is why some passengers will tell you they never sit behind the articulated section. When I first trained on the 7 I rode one of the late-night trips, and the driver flew past a stop with a crowd of teens waiting. “If you see a group,” he said, “don’t pick them up. Keep going.”

Pulling into MLK now, I take a deep breath.

As I open the front doors I’m still waving thanks to a person stepping out the back. “Thank you,” I yell back at them. Only takes a second. Then I turn my attention to the guys at front. As soon as they see me they all start laughing. I don’t know why, but they’re screaming with glee, one slapping his knees, another struggling to keep his food in his mouth.

“Come on in, gentlemen!” I say loudly, leaning back with a smile. When they hesitate: “don’t be shy!”

Bro Number One pimp rolls on board and offers me a handshake, one stroke and firm.
“Ey, one second,” says the second, reaching in his backpack for change.
“Aw, you’re cool,” I reply, meaning take your time.

It’s hitting me now: all of these guys know me already, and they’re happy to see me. Man Three is older, and I recognize his overjoyed face: “heeeyy,” we yell together, trying to ascertain the last time we saw each other. I feel like it’s been a while, but he reminds me of a moment just earlier this week. “I saw you runnin’ by the train station, it was your off day. You had tha shirt on.” He’s referring to an Others Like Us t-shirt I was wearing, which I learned about through Real Change; I found it fascinating that he noticed.

“Yeah, it was another lady driver there that day after you ran past, and we was talkin’ about you. She was sayin gooooooood things about you–” several octaves contained in that “good”– “you got respect, bro.”
“No way!”
“You should know it! People be lookin’ up to yo ass, dawg. Talkin ’bout yo’ attitude no matter who it is, you always polite and happy, no matter what the route, and, and,” more laughter, “she was like, da first time I saw him, is he even old enough to… can he shave? Does his mom know he’s out here???”

The remaining fellows board without incident. I remember a smile forming on one I didn’t recognize, his slitted eyes in a quiet grin, taking me in with newfound appreciation.

“I’m serious, dude,” Man Three continues. “She had good words for you, real good words. You’re always the best. Listen, I’ma stop blowin’ you up though!”
“No, man, comin’ from her, comin’ from you, that means a lot! ‘Cause you guys know how it is!”

We wrapped up the conversation and he went to the back to join his buddies. They’re hollering to the high heavens back there, but it’s okay. I feel safe. They know me. I’m among friends.
“Is this yo’ phone?” one yells to another, handing up a pink phone from the floor.
“This doan’ look like mah phone,” the other replies, as they all collapse in manly giggles.

A half hour or so later, at Holly, a man with a guitar and long silver dreads steps out, still wearing sunglasses at midnight. I’d seen him the night previous riding the bus back from my art show– the faces you get to know when you don’t use the car. This man plays at 88 Keys on Sundays and weeknights (“them comedians get the prime spots, Friday and Saturday”). As he leaves he says, “man, people really love you. Tha’s good. Keep doin’ what you’re doin’.”

Another man expresses largely the same sentiment later on, albeit in what practically sounds like a different language: “Ay yo. You da man, hannlin yo’ bidness on da 7. You got it goin’ on, bro. Respek.  Hannlin yo bidness on da 7 in the nighttime ow-ah, you be doin’ it like it weren’t no thang. Sheeeit. Dassit. You got mah respect.”

At Othello the boys in the back deboard, taking time to wave. “Thanks buddy! Love ya!” yells the older one.

There was nothing to worry about.