Look who is the face of Metro! Our good friend Nathan talks about why driving for King County Metro Transit has been a fit and unexpected journey for him. If you haven’t been following his stories as a Metro driver, you should!
“We shouldn’t fuel the future with the polluting methods of the past… We have the technology to power our future in ways that don’t threaten our health or poison our planet. Let’s choose to use it” ― Denis Hayes, President and CEO, Bullitt Foundation
The design inspiration for the Bullitt Center, one of the world’s greenest commercial buildings, stems from elements of Seattle’s natural environment. With a vision for creating an innovative living building, the design team explored the ecological processes of the Douglas Fir forest, which historically covered the Capitol Hill site. The architectural design imitates aspects of the Douglas Fir tree and forms part of the local urban ecology, optimizing energy, and water from its local setting.
Vision for a living building
The Bullitt Center which opened in 2013, was designed to meet the ambitious goals of the Living Building Challenge (version 2.0), a sustainable building certification process. Developments participating in the Living Building Challenge (LBC) are required to meet sustainability standards defined according to seven categories, which for version 2.0 included site, water, energy, health and happiness, materials, equity and beauty. These standards are updated to continue excelling sustainable architecture. LBC projects are assessed on actual, rather than anticipated performance and are evaluated only once they have been operating at full occupancy for at least 12 consecutive months. The Bullitt Center, designed by Miller Hull Partnership, is intended to have a lifecycle of 250 years, incorporating many adaptable features so the building can change over time. The six-story building is designed as a living laboratory and center for experimentation to share information, with public tours available 3 times a week.
The building is designed to mirror how the Douglas Fir forest would historically capture, absorb and slowly release water that fell upon the site. Rainwater is harvested from the roof, filtered, passed through ultraviolet light and activated charcoal, and treated with a small amount of chlorine. Once the Center receives approval from environmental and health authorities, all of the building’s water will be provided from this rainwater system instead of the municipal water supply. Greywater, from sinks and showers, is captured, filtered and pumped to a constructed wetland on the third floor. The water passes through plants and gravel in the wetland five times so nutrients are absorbed and harmful materials removed. The water then enters a bio-swale located on the west side of the building where it is filtered again by plants and 20 feet of gravel before entering ground water.
The Center features the only six-story composting toilet system in the world. The odor-free system only uses two tablespoons of water and biodegradable soap, significantly reducing water consumption. Human waste enters the large composting system in the basement and is decomposed through an aerobic process. Liquid is separated into leachate storage tanks and taken monthly to the King County Liquid Waste facility in Carnation where it is used in a bird sanctuary. The biosolids will be taken to GroCo in Kent to be mixed with sawdust and made into fertilizer.
Energy of nature
The designers considered how the site historically processed sunlight, when it was a Douglas Fir forest and created the roof as a canopy integrating 575 solar panels.
The Center is designed to use minimal energy so the roof provides sufficient solar power, as a standard office building would require a larger roof area to generate enough energy. The building optimizes natural light through expansive windows, and interior conditions are also moderated through operable and triple-glazed windows with automated exterior shades, hydronic heating, geothermal heating and passive heat recovery systems. Computers are used to monitor and adjust the building’s systems for maintaining comfortable levels of light and inside temperatures.
The Miller Hull Partnership recognized that in delivering an efficient building, their design would need to influence people’s behavior and rely on ‘people power’. At the building’s entrance, a staircase greets workers and visitors, rather than elevators, as found in many standard office buildings. Constructed with beautiful timber and surrounded by windows offering views of Seattle to Puget Sound, the Bullitt Center fondly describes it as the ‘irresistible staircase for its inviting design. It goes without saying that the staircase offers health benefits by encouraging people to be active at work. To ensure the building is accessible, an energy efficient elevator is integrated, however it isdiscretely located. The building’s location was selected because of accessibility by walking, cycling and transit. Instead of providing on site car parking, the building has storage for 29 bicycles with a repair station, plus showers and change rooms on every level. Each building tenant engages in a green lease, which specifies a budget for energy and water consumption, making workers more aware of their behavior.
City as an ecosystem and innovator
Compared to standard buildings, the Bullitt Center considered design aspects beyond its site encompassing the broader ecosystem of the city. An adjacent traffic median was rejuvenated as a public park, responding to local needs for more green gathering spaces and creates safer connections for pedestrians and cyclists. The location also enables excess energy from the solar panels to be sold back into the grid.
Local materials were sourced in the construction to minimize the environmental impacts of transportation. The building’s frame is constructed of timber, sourced within 1000km from a responsibly managed forest as certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. All of the steel and concrete was sourced within 500km.
The Bullitt Center also helped generate local innovation. Instead of sourcing high-performing windows from Germany, the team liaised with the company to allow a local company to get an exclusive license to manufacture them. They also worked with a local company that produced water sealants for building exteriors to create a formulation that didn’t contain phthalates, one of fourteen harmful materials, which must be avoided to meet the LBC requirements. Through these endeavors, others working in the construction industry in the region are now able to access these innovations.
The building’s sustainable design also pushed the boundaries of government regulations and required collaboration with many agencies. The Center worked with the City of Seattle to create the Living Building Pilot Program to overcome barriers in the Land Use Code to developing green buildings. The team worked with Seattle’s Departments of Transportation and Parks and Recreation to close 15th Street to traffic to extend and redevelop McGilvra Place Park adjacent to building. It is continuing to work with Seattle-King County Public Health and the Washington State Department of Public Health regarding the use of treated water on site. Despite the architectural and engineering innovations of the building, the planning and design process took around 5 years, demonstrating the challenges in sourcing materials to meet the LBC standards as well as meeting regulations.
The development of the Bullitt Center highlights the importance of sustainable buildings serving as living laboratories to test ideas, and to assist other developers to improve upon technologies and design. It also illustrates the need for city governments to think beyond their building codes and facilitate innovation in green building design perhaps through waivers or credits, rather than impediments. Drawing on the building’s metaphor, the Bullitt Center has planted the seed for a forest of innovative sustainable buildings to be developed in Seattle and beyond.
This article is a cross-post from Drawn to Cities. Sarah Oberklaid is an Australian urban planner and artist based in Seattle.
It’s an overwhelming whirlwind, bus driving. In thirty seconds you’ll have someone who loves you, someone who hates you, and somebody who wants to know how to get to Everett. The following list below happened in the space of an hour, over and after each other, a mental marathon of juggled headspaces and concerns. Each bus stop is another channel, another doorway, utterly separated from what came before.
-Rainier and Frontenac. A white drunk asks how to get to Georgetown, in between throwing around the n-word like Jefferson Davis was still in style. Boy, did he ever pick the wrong route to say that word on! Inwardly I wonder if I’d have it in me to intervene on his behalf if the brothers looking on felt compelled to express their frustration with him physically.
Eventually he asks to deboard between zones. “Right here?”
“Yeah, lemme get away from all these niggers.” We’re happy to oblige.
“You’re a nigger, faggot,” a woman tells him as he leaves, a comment in the running for least constructive statement of the month.
-“We need more like him,” I overhear from the middle of the bus. It’s a fan club of lovelies discussing me, four people who couldn’t look more different– remember those photos in math textbooks of students working together? There was always one Asian kid, one black kid, someone with a broken arm and somebody with glasses… my classmates and I could never take any of it seriously. Today I’m energized to see four variations of black, white, female, and male, in all manner of dress, enthusing over my attitude. One asks my name, and we holler introductions– he’s Darryl, but call him Mississippi.
-A middle-aged gent telling me about his two friends who grow marijuana, both of whom have degrees in relevant scientific and medical fields, and the various greenhouse methods, et cetera.
-As soon as the above fellow leaves, another takes up his post to chat. I’m reminded of a friend who once told me she often wanted to talk to me on my bus, but it always felt like she had to wait in line to do so! “I need to get off soon,” this man tells me. “I can only take so much fun at one time! I can only ride your bus for short distances!”
-Albert, a man whose brother recently passed, is moving to New York, where his only remaining family, a sister and niece, live. Today he’s passing time at the Bayview Street bus stop. “You’re coming back around?” he asks. “I’ll catch you on the other side!”
“We’ll talk more! See you soon!”
-A woman in fluorescent green inquires into her phone, “WHERE THE FUCK IS YOU AT?”
“Wow,” I say, “we don’t need to say stuff like that!”
She’s greatly flustered, and howls a mini-monologue into her phone about the exasperating nature of being unreliable; a friend has failed to meet her at one of the stops. I can sympathize with that. I’m reminded of a conversation I recently had with a friend where we shared our mutual feelings on much the same, praising the value of being on time, of being trustworthy. Her diatribe expresses nearly my exact sentiments, albeit in slightly different words!
-“You said the 1, 3 or 4?”
“Yeah, right here at this bus stop, the 1, 3 or 4. They’ll all take you up there.”
“Do we need to pay again?”
“No, just show that to the driver. Hey, what was the score?”
“Eleven to ten, Mariners won!”
-I honk the horn at Seneca to no avail– Richie Holly’s on the sidewalk, and he’s not paying attention. This is what red lights are for. I jump out and catch his attention, convincing him to ride for a stop. Instantly we’re deep in conversation– Kate Alkarni Gallery’s closure in Georgetown, the health benefits of walking, how he’s feeling healthier than he can remember, how I’m working on four life-sized portrait drawings. He’s uncontactable, but we see each other often enough on the street. Always a pleasure.
-Kyle Gulke appears out of nowhere. Diving into another headspace– he’s thinking of Italy for the summer, and I’m trying to convince him how great Florence is. Venice, Rome, yes, both terrific, but those art museums in Florence! I spent ten hours in the Uffizi. Now we’re discussing how many days you can see Florence in, and you also have things like Pisa in the surrounding territory… and he’s off the bus at Belmont, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it guest appearance. Out of Italy, back onto Pine Street.
-Broadway and Pine. Why does it sound like a tropical rainforest in here? “Hey, what are those bird noises?”
“Oh, that’s me,” an older woman up front pipes up. “They’re motion-sensing bird toys. I got ’em at the dollar store.”
She tells me the details. This way her grandsons can’t snoop around in her room. The birds will go off. I was going to ask whoever it was to turn down the birds, but I find all of this rather endearing. Not beeps, not alarms, but friendly chirping sounds. We let the nature soundtrack continue.
-Rory is often drunk, but he’s never angry. Crabbing season is about to start, he’s telling me. He’s getting his boat ready. But there’s a limit to how many crabs you can catch. His solution? Take a bunch of kids with you. Kids count as people for the purposes of catching crabs, and with each kid you have, you can get another six crabs. Brilliant. Why not just take more adults? They weigh too much. Kids are light, and they still count as crab-catching people. Details, details.
-A young man feels my enthusiasm as a bodily force. “Operator of the year, niggaaaa!” he roars with throaty joy, at once testosterone-filled and high on the concept of universal love, heady with genuine excitement. Another brother is looking on, and we’re all grinning wide, glowing together.
-You can get a lower back brace for about $100. So says our latest buddy, who does landscaping and masonry. He prefers masonry– less bending over. We talk about the hazards of repetitive manual labor, and the importance of core strength. He’s young, early twenties, and he wants to have a body that still works two, three, four decades from now. So do I.
And so on. I pull into the next zone, where a crowd is waiting…
Sound Transit completed a comprehensive study (see PDF below for full details) in 2014 to forecast Downtown Seattle transit capacity over the next 20 years. The study, entitled Downtown Seattle Transit Capacity White Paper, forecasts a daily transit capacity shortfall of 5,000-8,000 trips in Downtown Seattle by 2035. This shortfall persists even after building the Center City Connector and a Ballard-to-West Seattle High Capacity Transit (HCT) line. The findings come at an important time for regional transit, just ahead of a potential 2016 ballot measure that could fund significant capital investments in transit projects. Overall, the study indicates an urgent need to expand downtown transit capacity.
Estimating Transit Capacity
The study summarizes the complicated forecasting by poignantly noting that Downtown surface transit is already at capacity.
In most cases, the capacity of a street is constrained by bus stop capacity, or the amount of curb space available for arriving buses. This King County Metro analysis, performed in anticipation of the end of the Ride Free Area and pay-on-entry boardings, reveals that stops on 2nd, 3rd and 4th Avenues at Pike Street are at or over capacity
Light rail ridership growth is expected to continue on the existing Central Link alignment while expansion north, south, and east will dramatically boost ridership in the core of the system even more rapidly over the coming decade. In order to accommodate this growth, it will be necessary to increase the frequency of trains in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT). Ultimately, this means pushing buses progressively out of the tunnel and onto city streets. In a system that is already over capacity, full buses will end up leaving people behind even more frequently. The overall estimate of 2035 capacity includes completion of the Center City Connector, building out the bicycle network, and improved Link headways.
Everyone knows that Seattle is experiencing remarkable growth. Sound Transit’s ridership models show an increase of over 30,000 trips from their previous 2011 research.
However, estimating trip demand is more complicated than simply estimating the number of transit users. As an example, the paper shows how transit demand from West Seattle could create uneven demand at various locations; more people would enter a northbound train in Downtown than would exit it. This is why Downtown transit demand is estimated to be very high:
After examining all conventional scenarios, the study indicates that there is a gap between demand and capacity of 5,000-8,000 trips. Additionally, this shortfall assumes that bus capacity can maintain its current level, an optimistic assumption. Any additional traffic in Downtown slows buses further, requiring them to wait longer at stops and ultimately reducing the number of bus trips through Downtown. It’s likely dedicated bus lanes won’t solve this issues as cross street and turning traffic will exacerbate the problem.
Overall, the report shows that Downtown surface transit is already overcapacity; the city will need more investment to increase total transit capacity.
There are only a few solutions that can address this problem. The first option mentioned in the study is to reduce the number of lanes for private vehicles, add bus-only lanes, and add bus rapid transit (BRT). This would require two bus-only lanes in each direction on both 2nd Ave and 4th Ave so that buses could pass each other (similar to 3rd Ave). As a solution, it is the lowest cost alternative. But it does have a serious pitfall: growing traffic in and around Downtown would inevitably make these buses less reliable.
The alternative to BRT is another grade-separated corridor through Downtown. This could be elevated rail, a new rail tunnel, or a new transit tunnel that serves buses and trains, but could later be converted to rail-only. The last option is very similar to the West Side Transit Tunnel (WSTT) proposal supported by Seattle Subway.
A New Downtown Tunnel: The WSTT
An additional downtown transit tunnel would be the most reliable option and likely the only solution that would meet the expected future transit demand. When first built, it would allow multi-modal transfers, but could be converted to rail-only if and when it becomes necessary. Transit through the tunnel would not be delayed by surface traffic, interfere with people walking or biking, and might even be more palatable to drivers who would otherwise see up to two more streets in Downtown Seattle converted to transit-only. Furthermore, if the transit tunnel is not built now and bus-only lanes are constructed instead, we will inevitably come to a point when those lanes will have to be disrupted in order to build more capacity. This would have deep repercussions on all users attempting to travel through Downtown.
Moving Forward: The Politics of ST3
This study comes at a critical time. Sound Transit is putting together the projects that will ultimately go on the ballot in 2016, which would expand and improve regional mobility. Downtown Seattle has the highest amount of transit use in the entire region and capacity is already at a breaking point. The success of Washington’s economic engine relies on excellent transit in Downtown Seattle. Due to long-range planning and construction timelines, we must fund projects now that Seattle needs by 2035. This study makes the most compelling argument seen yet for a new Downtown transit tunnel and against more at-grade transit.
Editor’s Note: Further clarification has been added to the opening sentence about what was assumed when forecasting the transit capacity shortfall.
Thus far we have reviewed common arguments for and against micro housing. We’ve also explored an analogy to the minimum wage in the city with both the most micro units and the highest minimum wage in the country. The last argument I want to explore compares the arguments about micro housing to arguments about urbanism in general.
Urban living has been characterized by opponents as cramped, crowded, expensive, unhealthy, and unappealing. People can’t see themselves living in an urban setting because they imagine it being uncomfortable. They develop feelings of disgust towards it, and so want to prevent others from living there themselves, and wrap it up in a paternalistic veil.
That paternalism melts away under scrutiny. Not only is smaller living just fine for people, and not only do many people prefer it, but systematically we must move towards organizing ourselves this way. We can’t all have single-family homes surrounded by private pastures. Neither can we all have large two-bedroom units in the most popular neighborhoods.
Urbanism is the most sustainable, efficient, and productive mode by which we have to organize ourselves. We sacrifice space and privacy for the opportunities that density provides. It makes public investment in infrastructure, cultural activities, high-quality transit, and public services more economical. It provides a chance to specialize and diversify, giving rise to thriving cultures, neighborhoods and businesses that can cater to niche markets and identities. It helps preserve the environment around us by reducing suburban sprawl and our carbon footprint. It allows us to be interdependent, sharing resources and building relationships with our neighbors. It promotes progressive and open-minded attitudes that create more welcoming spaces for immigrants and queer folks.
Micro housing is like concentrated urbanism. It’s extra dense. It trades private space for large public amenities. It lowers personal consumption and encourages a cooperative mentality among residents. It reduces dependence on large private vehicles and encourages use of public transit, bikes, car sharing technologies, and our own two feet. It brings people closer to friends, work, and school.
Up until recently, micro housing virtually wasn’t an option. Even in the densest neighborhoods, single-family homes are taking up valuable land, keeping the housing supply low, rents high, and people out.
The City Council cut micro housing off at the knees with a host of new regulations that set minimum space requirements and banned the most efficient style of micro units: congregate housing. They fell victim to paternalist arguments, and restricted one of the most valuable new housing models.
Now the Council has the opportunity to revisit the legislation. They need to hear from residents who support micro housing. So do the 33 new candidates running. Contact the City Council and tell them that you support micro housing. Talk with candidates about their support for the issue. Let them know that micro housing is about creating an affordable, accessible, and healthy city.
The sign for Metro stop 8380 has a smudge on the second eight, which makes it look like a six. Because confirming the number is an eight rather than six takes what seems like way too long with a GPS-enabled phone, I cross the Mekong Supermarket’s lot and pass through the market doors, rattled.
I decide to catch my bearings in aisle 1B. The fish sauces: prawn sauce, shrimp sauce, prawn and shrimp sauce, oyster sauce, and similar combinations derived from what sometimes is simply called fish paste. Any one of them could bring my planned dinner of rice and Chinese wax sausage even more umami. The selection here at Mekong hits a mean between a Viet Wah grand selection and your corner Asian market. I’ve found a fish sauce golden mean. I relax.
I look up to the aisle reader board to see that aisle 1B directs me to Cooking Oils without mention of Fish Sauces. And that the sauces do not merit a shout-out on the board rattles me again.
I approach the register where I finally remember exactly why my friend told me to come here. ‘We have four types,’ one of the owners points at the trays. ‘Pork, chicken, tofu and combo.’
‘What’s the combo?’
‘That’s barbeque pork and chicken. We have tofu for vegetarians. Some people don’t like meat.’
‘Which is the most popular Vietnamese sandwich?’
‘They’re all the most popular!’ I smile and reverence her use of a relative absolute. I ask more questions about the other food impulse buy trays. They hold sweets. Bright colors trapped in coconut and condensed milk heaven. She tells me that it depends on the time of day what is out. There is a method, but she does not have time to explain. The place is busy even at an off morning hour.
She takes me, the depth of the store, to the market’s back wall to see the sandwich preparation station. Everything’s orderly and prepped: pork trimmings, dark meat chicken, tofu, cucumbers, peppers, carrots, cilantro, spiced mayonnaise, and a liquid that could have been Maggi sauce or something else. I am not entirely sure. The cook starts at nine and wraps up the whole operation around five. The owner smiles and returns to the front register.
The counter cook slices, on the horizontal, mini-baguettes, while we chat about which is the most popular. I have not given up on the question.
A regular approaches to ask for a chicken. ‘There aren’t any up front,’ he adds. She already knows that there aren’t. She has not a few minutes earlier finished preparing the chicken. But he wants her to know that he’s not asking for something special. I love this kind of respect and politeness over lunch counters.
She nods and begins to prepare one. Her motion is quick and rugged. Except for bringing the spatula from the mayonnaise. She pauses to milk one dollop from the stainless dish, spreads it evenly across the baguette’s length, and returns the now-empty spatula to the exact position where it began its journey around the whole baguette.
She wraps the baguette in white paper and apologizes. ‘I have to bring it to the front.’ Right. They’ve done this before and he does not protest. And so she walks with her swaddled one carefully to the front. He is in tow.
Now fully steadied, I get a chicken sandwich too, made the exact same way, with the exact same movements, wrapped all in white for my short stay under the protection of stop 8380.
Changing Lanes: Blueprints for a New Road Order on Seattle Channel.
Janette Sadik-Khan, former New York City Transportation Commissioner, came to Seattle to talk about her experience with progressive transportation policy and implementation and what the future holds for our public right-of-ways. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and SDOT Director Scott Kubly join Sadik-Khan for Q&A.
New York Walker: A New York Times Magazine cover went viral highlighting a pasting of a walker in front of the Flatiron Building.
Unworthy: Seattle Transit Blog asks if transit advocates should be worried about Sound Transit’s initial concept plans for a Sound Transit 3 ballot measure–all of the proposals are awful. Meanwhile, Rep. Reuven Carlyle is critical of what funding source to use for the $15bn proposal.
You decide: KOMO says that a Sound Transit Link train “smashes” into a sedan in an “accident”; who smashed into who?
Picking favorites: How each Seattle City Councilmember voted for the final 8 candidates of former City Councilmember Sally Clark’s position, and how the process to fill the vacancy may run amuck of the Open Public Meetings Act.
Cap Hill TOD: Sound Transit has released details of the future transit-oriented development at the Capitol Hill Station site.
TRITDH: The rent is too damn high, really, it is. Meanwhile, on Thursday evening, Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata held a lively public forum on affordable housing and rent control.
Price it right: Gothenburg, Sweden doesn’t get much attention for its congestion pricing, but the economics of it are great with vehicle traffic down and transit ridership growing.
Micro safety: Details on Seattle Police Department’s new “micro community policing plans”.
Map of the week: The geography of Americans’ well being in four maps.
The future tenants: Liz Dunn’s Chophouse Row project is nearly complete; CHS takes a look at two companies that could set up shop in the incredibly well-designed development.
Places for people: The City of Bellevue wants to finish the loop in the Downtown Park; the only problem is that it means parking would be converted to park space, and some residents aren’t keen on that.
AIA top 10: The American Institute of Architects names the top 10 housing projects of the year.
Off the rack: PUBLIC Bikes opens on Capitol Hill offering affordable bike options.
Tackling crime: The City of Seattle is planning to close alleyways, remove seating, relocate transit stops, and open up a “storefront operations center” in Downtown Seattle to combat crime in a 9.5 block area.
Life changing: A look at how $15 per hour has transformed the lives of workers in Seatac.
Ticket to ride: Unintentional fare evaders who get busted in King County have to go to Shoreline–the most extreme northwest corner of the county–to dispute their citation. How fair is that?
Tone it down: Noise in the city is a bigger health threat than you might think.
An unreasonable proposal: Sen. Michael Baumgartner wants to ticket people for going under the speed limit.