Sunday, 12 July, 2020

Surrounded by Friends




Recently on the 3/4, a young man in a red beanie, huge red sweatshirt, massive gray sweatpants, and oversized basketball shoes boarded with his girlfriend. He recognized me.

“Wha’s UP, bro?” he hollered, as we bumped fists.
“Ey, good to see you!”
“Good to see you too! You’re the cooles’!”

As they left out the back door, I yelled, “thanks guys!”
“Have a good one!”
“You too,” said the girl.
The boy tarried for a moment and roared, “STAY OFF THE 7!”
“Oh, I love that thing!”
He frowned, pausing on the back door steps. “WHY?”
“I like the people!”
“Aw, SHUT UP!”

We both laughed. He laughed perhaps because he found my thought absurd. I laughed at his ebullient tone, and wondered if he thought I was sarcastic or serious. Faithful readers, you know that I really do like the people.

Some time later, I was strolling around the Henderson Street layover around 11pm. They play classical music from the loudspeakers over the Saar’s Market parking lot, which I love. There’s something so refreshingly anachronistic about hearing Tchaikovsky in the ghetto that it almost seems appropriate. The rich emotions and high drama, violins and cymbals crashing above a heated urban discussion–doesn’t it kind of make sense? The scene feels steeped in time, anchored in the universality of the ongoing human condition. Down on the ground near my feet is a sleeping figure, a regular on this stretch.* He recently thanked me for the biscuit I gave him; he’d wanted my offering of biscuit, but not of boiled eggs. Clearly the guy doesn’t know what a perfect boiled egg tastes like.

Tonight three men are in the bus shelter, passing the time. One is older. The other two are pushing their hands together as a show of strength. Garbage flutters around little circles, signs of life in your periphery. On first driving the 7 I remember being struck by the fact that people hang out at bus stops on Rainier in ways they don’t elsewhere. Not even on Aurora are bus stops destinations in their own right, the urban answer to porches and park benches. The men look at me as I walk toward them.

“Have a good night, gentlemen,” I say.
“You too,” says the old man. “Don’t work too hard, bumpity bump on those roads out there!”
“I’ll try not to!”
I’m stretching my shoulders as I walk away, one arm straightened out, pulled towards me in the crook of the other. I’m a fiend about stretching on my breaks. Keeps my body feeling happy.**
“Ey, how you do that,” one of the other guys says. I show him how and then cross Henderson street, now empty of traffic.

“Eey, my friend.” It’s the third fellow, walking out after me. I turn back. We meet in the middle of the roadway, standing on the double yellow line together. I know he’s about to ask me for a transfer. Several blocks away a building was shot up with automatic weapons a week ago. Sixty bullet holes, not counting the shattered glass windows. Sometimes you hear firing at night. Of course I give him a transfer, but I’d do so anyway, because of the dark spirited eyes, the wrinkled brow, the curly hair… don’t these describe friends of yours, of mine?

“Happy Father’s day,” I say.
“You know what? God bless you,” he says, patting me on the shoulder. I’ve never felt safer standing in the middle of Henderson Street. He thanked me again a few days later, introducing himself by name. Elbee.

“You are just the sweetest,” a pair of girls said later that night. “You deserve that paycheck!”
They’re followed by an older man who recognizes me from a long time ago. He talks about how he likes my attitude, and I tell him how I love the route.
“I know you’re telling the truth,” he says.
“Yeah? You can tell?”
“Yeah, I’ll tell you how. We, us number 7 riders out here, we see all the new drivers come through here, all the new guys who get forced onto this route. You see all these new faces. And then, after a shakeup or two goes by, they all get the hell out of here and you never see ’em again. As soon as they can pick other routes, they’re gone. But you’ve stayed! I first saw you out here something, five years ago! And you’re still here!”
“Thanks, man! Thank you!”
“Aaaaand, and your attitude is exactly the same as when I first saw you!”
“I can’t help myself!”

*As it turns out he is no longer a regular on this stretch of cement– he was completing a probationary thirty-day stretch before being allowed back into a shelter downtown. Now he sleeps in much greater comfort. “Two more days,” he grinned at me as the thirty days were winding down.

**Is your job a sitting job? Please, for the love of all that is holy, stand up. Do it now. Standing up, even for a few seconds, makes all the difference. It gets your blood flowing again and restarts your metabolism. Standing up for thirty seconds every hour will do more good for your body than running five miles on the weekends. You don’t need to buy a bowflex machine. Just stand. There was an excellent flurry of articles in the New York Times detailing this a couple years ago. Read more hereherehere, and here.

More Puget Sounders get parking benefits than transit benefits


The Puget Sound Regional Council, the regional authority charged with managing growth, published some interesting results on subsidized transportation from their Spring 2014 Regional Travel Study. The PSRC found that there is a massive imbalance between workers receiving subsidized parking and subsidized transit benefits.

A bit more than half of all workers in the Puget Sound received some sort of subsidized parking benefit. When those who were offered subsidized parking, but declined to use it were counted, the number rose to 60% of all employees. When employees were offered subsidized parking, nearly 88% elected to use it. Subsidized parking comes in a number of forms: free parking, partial or full payment of parking costs in pay parking lots, and Federal benefits in the form of the parking subsidy.

However, the 34% who were not offered a parking subsidy does seem staggering considering that the majority of Puget Sound residents commute to work by car. This suggests two things:

  1. Part-time employees may not be entitled to the same level of benefits as regular employees, and
  2. A substantial number of companies out there that do not elect to offer any form of parking subsidy to their employees. Most of these are likely to be large organizations or based in city center locations like Downtown Seattle or Downtown Bellevue.

On the other hand, subsidized transit benefits appear to be much rarer in the Puget Sound. Only 29% of respondents indicated that they could receive subsidized parking. And of that 29%, only half said that they actually used their subsidized transit benefits. A large share, however did not know if subsidized transit was even available. While this latter group skews the data, it seems fair to assume that the true number of Puget Sound employees who could use some sort of subsidized transit benefitis closer to 35%. However, the most striking piece of data here is that 85% of commuters do not–or cannot–take transit using a subsidized transit benefit.

The PSRC further indicated that 30% of Puget Sound commuters were offered “other commuter benefits” like bicycle parking, vanpooling, telecommuting, and other similar options and programs. However, most commuters did not elect to use these.

Perhaps the most interesting takeaway from the PSRC’s study is that when people are offered a transit subsidy benefit, half of them will choose transit. If this benefit were expanded as a standard in the same way that parking subsidies are, the number of commuters using transit would almost certainly skyrocket.

Governor Inslee Announces New Transportation Package for State

SR 520 construction tour by WSDOT on Flickr.

Yesterday, Governor Jay Inslee (D-WA) held a press conference on a new 12-year transportation policy for Washington State. His backdrop for the event was the recently-opened transit center on SR 520. During his press event, the Governor announced his plan for a $12.2 billion statewide multimodal transportation package. The vision for the new transportation policy is focused on maintenance and safety of existing infrastructure, clean air and water, and capital investments in new roads and transit facilities. Inslee stated at the event that:

This is a plan that will keep us safe on the roads, reduce traffic, create jobs and help clean our air and water. This is how we can build a transportation system to move all of Washington State forward.

Funding for the measure would be raised by the issuance of new bondsincreased fees to drivers, and a carbon tax on polluting industries–a huge policy shift for a state that that has traditionally relied on gas tax revenues. The Governor says that he will not be proposing a new gas tax increases.

The transportation crisis is real for Washington State; a whopping 52% decrease in basic maintenance funding is projected over the next 12 years, and at least 71 more bridges will become structurally deficient over that time putting the traveling public at serious risk for new catastrophic bridge collapses like the Skagit River Bridge in 2013. This is of course to say nothing about critical projects that remain entirely unfunded, or services that have been reduced due to the recession.

The plan does provide real benefits to transit and non-motorized users. At least $1.2 billion would be allocated toward a range of alternative transportation modes. Line items identified in the plan, include:

  • Transit projects ($162 million)
  • Regional Mobility Grant increase ($300 million)
  • Complete Streets programs ($117 million)
  • Safe Routes to School Grants ($150 million)
  • Bike/Ped Grants ($150 million)

The plan further covers things like special needs transit, transit operations, and Commute Trip Reduction programming. Local transportation agencies also would see a share of possible new revenue granted by the proposal. As seen in the table below, a wide range of transportation packages could be enacted by cities and counties across the state. Sound Transit would have an option to go to voters for approval of Sound Transit 3, which would expand rail-based services dramatically in the 3 counties covered by the authority. King County would be entitled to a new Congestion Reduction Charge to benefit public transportation by approval of the County Council through 2018. Water-based counties could also levy new taxes to increase or establish foot-ferry services, like the King County Water Taxi. And, Community Transit would get badly needed authority to increase sales taxes in order to return to pre-recession services, subject to voter approval.

Local options for transit.
Local options for transit.

The Governor is passionate about the issue of climate change. His package is considerably more green than past transportation packages have been. The Governor is using this package as an opportunity to provide better alternative transportation commuting options to the traveling public while hitting heavy emitters hard through a carbon tax. Ultimately, consumers will bare the cost of pollution by the purchase of more expensive goods generated from carbon-intensive industry. The package finally makes the State commit to a higher level when it comes to walking, biking, and taking transit.

However, the Governor’s proposed spending is bloated when it comes to funding new transportation investments. 54% of the total transportation package would be allocated to the construction of unnecessary new highway and road expansion projects. $5.8 billion will be spent on numerous megaprojects, including local boondoggles:

  • SR 520 expansion ($1.443 billion)
  • SR 509 corridor completion ($957 million)
  • SR 167 corridor completion ($856 million)
  • I-5/JBLM ($278 million)
  • I-405 Renton-to-Bellevue ($1.315 billion)

To round out the paved pork, the Governor is further proposing highway expansions in Snohomish County and North Spokane (US 395).

The shortcomings from the Governor’s plan are clear: most of the real benefits to traffic reduction are not guaranteed under the proposal while the investment side of things is actually in inconsistent with the policy’s stated environmental goals. The addition of new pavement will not ease congestion for commuters and the traveling public. In fact, the proposed highway projects will increase gridlock and further come at the cost of transit. New “capacity” for vehicles on the roads will not reduce commute times.

Rather, the Governor’s plans would induce sprawl, increase carbon emissions, and inevitably misallocate local municipal (and state) revenue to fund low density development. Aside from the dollars that the Governor’s plan directly provides for transit, the lionshare of revenues have to be passed at a local. This puts each transit funding option at risk of non-adoption by either councils or voters. In sum, this leaves the Governor’s plan as deeply flawed for the 21st Century transportation that Washington State needs.

For more information on the Governor’s proposal, see his policy document Let’s Move Forward.

Towards canine equity in the city


Now is the time for the urban dog.


One of the most immediate cultural distinctions a traveler notices in France is omnipresent, well-behaved dogs, often quite unlike their detached American cousins (perhaps including my own). In a matter of a few weeks, I have assembled a mental diary of locational examples that illuminated the integrated role of multi-modal canine life.

Examples included sitting on adjacent train seats, in restaurant diners’ laps and on park benches next to owners. Not to mention my almost tripping over many, child-like, aisle-shopping companions.

These observations remind me, frankly, that we often regulate away the opportunity for certain, traditional life-enhancements in the interest of public health, something that probably made sense in a more feral age.


But if we are truly on the way to inevitable urbanization, I vote for the extension of the mixed use, sharable spirit to enable more equity for the urban canine.

I, for one, don’t mind sitting next to a well-behaved poodle, or shopping with dogs in both the Gucci in Cannes, as well as the Guccy Wawa located a few towns away.

Images composed by the author in Saint Tropez, Cannes and Fréjus, France. Click on each image for more detail. © 2009-2014 myurbanist. All Rights Reserved. Do not copy.

Seattle Housing Authority Shelves “Stepping Forward”


The Executive Director of Seattle Housing Authority, Andrew Lofton, sent a letter to the mayor today indicating that the proposed changes known as “Stepping Forward” would not be implemented in 2015. The letter indicated that SHA intends to further study the impacts of the proposal and work with the community to put forward a plan for 2016.

Stepping Forward   Seattle Housing Authority
Stepping Forward Proposal

The Stepping Forward plan would’ve limited the years that people could qualify for subsidized housing and incrementally raise their share of rent during their tenure. The proposal was largely triggered by the need to do more with less funding because the population in need has been increasing while funding has been shrinking. The philosophy behind the plan was to nudge people off subsidized housing in order to open up space for others.

This theory was roundly criticized, noting that those who could not get higher paying jobs would essentially be left to fend for themselves. Additionally, critics indicated that the plan didn’t put nearly enough value on the stability of subsidized housing. Hopefully, re-examining the plan will lead to a better solution and more effort into increasing funding.

In an e-mail to SHA staff, Lofton wrote:

Dear Staff,

I wanted to give you an update on our next steps with regard to the Stepping Forward rent proposal.

Yesterday I sent the attached letter to Mayor Murray explaining the status of the proposal. The letter acknowledges a of couple important things: 1) that we heard many concerns from residents that they would not be able to secure adequate employment to allow them to achieve the rent steps proposed in Stepping Forward, and 2) that we need to do a better job of explaining the deep budget cuts and overall financial challenges that SHA faces, which could have big implications for the larger Seattle community.

Therefore, the letter explains that we will put consideration of Stepping Forward on hold for 2015.  This will allow us to take the time to engage the community more effectively on our financial realities and work toward a revised rent proposal that would not go to the Board before 2016.

You all have been incredibly engaged in rent policy discussions and have contributed a tremendous amount of good work and thinking to craft a rent policy option. I am extraordinarily proud of the work that went into developing the proposal, and of the participation by so many of you that helped shape our recommendation. Let me stress that this is not the end; it is an opportunity to respect what we heard in the process and to use that information to further shape a response to the difficult times ahead–and that we continue to need your help! Our fiscal challenges haven’t changed, and the goals that were established at the beginning of the process are still valid: 1) Serve more people, 2) Develop a policy that is fair and equitable, and supports self-sufficiency; and 3) Address our financial challenges. We will build from all that has been done to date.

I will continue to keep you updated as we move into this next phase of our work on our rent policy.  Thank you for your patience and the work you do every day to serve our participants.

The message Lofton delivered to the mayor seems to recognize that the effort of community stakeholders probably prevented the implementation of this plan, stating:

We will redouble our outreach efforts to inform stakeholders and the general public of the possible consequences of sequestration.

But the comments seem to ignore the plausibility of being able to effectively move people onto living wage jobs. SHA will move ahead with a pilot program that is intended to connect people with jobs. It will be interesting to see if this type of program has a higher success rate than people who don’t use the program. Hopefully SHA will track the success of the program and consider this when drafting the next proposal.

The full letter to Mayor Murray is below.

Mayor Murray-SF Status Report

Be at Peace, Mr. Garner. We Will Love the World For You


Picture 2


“Good peoples, bro,” a boy said, coming up at the end of his ride, offering a regular handshake. I’ve just let his brother ride for free.
“‘Ppreciate it, foo,” said another man, who had seen me being friendly with everyone.
Then: “You’re the coolest driver ever,” an elderly drunk said, wriggling to life at Third and James. “We need more cool young people. Got enough o’ these old farts.”

Later on he jumped off the lift while it was in motion. I raised my eyebrows, shrugging–too late to do anything about it–and said, “that’s one way to do it!”
The African-American man outside in sweatpants smiled as he watched. “Always a pleasure riding witchoo,” he said later on. I waved at the wheelchairs on Yesler Way. There’s always a few who bask in the sunshine outside what must be an assisted living complex; it’s our version of the neighborhood folks on their porches, watching the 3:00 train go by.

When I include stories of folks complimenting me on the bus, it’s not because I wish to share that people like me. That’s not important. What’s important is that they are appreciating and taking part in the act of kindness. I think our sanity and livelihood depend on spreading this sort of goodwill, person by person. What else is there, really?

Elders speak to me of 1968 as a time when the world stopped making sense. There used to be order, they’ll tell me, referring to the sensibility of the fifties, the clear moral delineations of the wars of yore, the economic comfort pragmatically enjoyed by those who had struggled through the Depression and the Great War. Now there was an assassinated president, an assassinated civil rights leader, a war being fought for no reason, and now they’re killing Bobby Kennedy… a fundamental trust was broken. The rules were being outmoded by invisible forces, with nothing replacing them. There was the deep, soul-crushing frustration in the idea of America as a failed enterprise. The thought that it had not worked and never will, and our concept of a just universe was slowly being beaten down.

There is a similar weight in the air now. It is a humid, deep-clawing sadness which threatens us toward our worst impulses, and pushes us to consider only the worst of what we’re shown.

I would like to suggest that succumbing to this perspective will get us nowhere.

The act of being fundamentally and simply good to each other has, incredibly, never lost its appeal. I find that amazing. It’s part of why I’m moved to write about them. Such moments may not have much traction in the newsmedia or on television, but nevermind all that. I’m talking about the real world.

When you’re a young black man, and you hold the door open for an old white lady, you’re not just holding the door.
When you’re a CEO and you ask how the cashier’s weekend was, you’re not just making small talk.
When you greet the thug with an eyedrop tattoo as if he’s just another friend of yours, you aren’t simply saying hi. You’re doing something else.

You’re helping them learn.

People develop stereotypes when they have limited information. Primary, real-world experience supercedes secondary hearsay and assumption, and when you behave like the good person you have it in yourself to be, you’re helping others reframe their understanding of what they think when they see someone like you. It requires very little effort on your part. You’re just being a nice person. And yet with that minimal effort, you’re accomplishing more in their headspace than if you shoved them against the wall and lectured them for three hours.

A friend of mine who happens to be a black male teenager recently told me how much he enjoys this approach. He wants people to know that black culture is so much bigger than hip-hop culture. He’s considerate and well-spoken to his customers at work, as he always is, and when they come back later to share how much they enjoy his attitude, that they’ve never met another young man like him, that they’re clearly surprised, he’s not offended. He’s happy. He’s helping them expand their minds, he says. He’s accomplished something.

I would ask that we follow in this young man’s lead, that we might gently transform the world into a place where Mr. Garner, Mr. Rice and others could have grown and thrived. Don’t try to change the world. Change the person next to you. You do that by being yourself. That’s how you change the world.

Be that young person who says thank you. Be the older person who by breaking a silence reveals their non-judgment. Think before you cross to the empty side of the street– is it really wise, or am I doing this because of all those crime shows I’ve watched? Are you a police officer, or other authority figure? You have a golden opportunity. Be that cop who’s fair and human. Interact with a lot of people. You’re helping change their minds, bit by bit. Pull over a few Lexuses and Range Rovers. People notice things like that. Two (white) sherriffs recently woke a passed-out (black) man on my bus. They politely asked him where he wanted him to go, and pointed him in the right direction, actually walking with him for part of the way. One of them asked how he was feeling.

“Wow, they’re really nice,” I said to the supervisor on scene, who was also watching.
“Man, I love seeing that!”

Vastly Disproportionate Investments


While reading through a thesis on transit investment in the Puget Sound Region, this graph caught my eye. It shows the stark neglect transit investments received over the last 50 years.


It’s really no wonder that so few people have access to high quality transit. Keeping this chart in mind, imagine what could’ve been done with just a fraction of the money that was spent on highways. Here’s a few suggestions:

  • The most recent estimates of cost to complete California’s High Speed rail between San Francisco and Los Angeles is $67.6 billion or less than 2% of the total we’ve spent on highways in this country.
  • If we use the same cost per mile as California’s high speed rail ($54 million), building high speed rail from Portland to Vancouver, BC would only cost about $25.2 billion (467 miles) or less than 1% of the money we’ve put into highways. This is likely a high estimate and it would actually cost much less than this. This estimate puts the cost of rail from Chicago to Columbus at $1.5 billion which is about 300 miles or $5 million per mile.
  • Getting trains in the northeast corridor up to 220 mph would cost about $150 billion or just over 4% of what we’ve spent on highways. This would serve about 10% of the US population (New York, Philadelphia and Washington metro areas).

Community Transit Envisions Swift II by 2018


Community Transit is toying with the idea of a Paine Field-Mill Creek-Bothell BRT line dubbed as Swift II on the fifth anniversary of their highly successful Swift service.

The agency projects that a BRT line along that alignment would generate 3,300 riders on opening day. The corridor would be composed of up to 16 station stop pairs along the 12.5-mile length. A strong point for this alignment is that it would intersect with the existing Swift service on Highway 99 while building upon the local route structure in Everett, Mill Creek, and Bothell.

The existing 16.7-mile Swift line line serves the Highway 99 corridor from Aurora Village in Shoreline to Everett Station in Everett. Swift has many of the same features as King County Metro Transit’s RapidRide routes such as off-board payment, level boarding, and high frequencies, but with greater distance between stops compared to RapidRide and required off-board payment (riders can only pay at stations, not on the bus). The buses also include on-board bike racks (no waiting while riders hook on and off their bikes) and Transit Service Priority (TSP) at traffic lights.

Swift is by far Community Transit’s most used route. Over 1-in-6 Community Transit riders use Swift on weekdays and 1-in-3 on Saturdays. To put it in another perspective, 31 of Community Transit’s more than 1,500 bus stops account for nearly 20% of all ridership for the agency.

Swift by the numbers in 2014. (Community Transit)
Swift by the numbers in 2014. (Community Transit)

Part of this success is due to Community Transit and Everett Transit work interlining and overlapping local services along the corridor where feasible. Community Transit operates the Route 101 from Mariner Park and Ride in Everett to Aurora Village via Highway 99, along much of Swift’s alignment. While it is a less frequent service, it fills the gaps between Swift stops and acts a local feeder. Other crosstown routes, such as the 113, 119, and 196, operate in conjunction with Swift to create a complimentary route network.

Future expansion in the works

As we reported last month, Community Transit will be deploying lots of new service for 2015. The biggest change in this service will be the reintroduction of Sunday and holiday service. Since cuts for Community Transit began in 2009, it has always been a priority to return Sunday and holiday service. A second key priority has been the introduction of a new Swift line.

Portions of the alignment proposed for Swift II already contain service today, but the proposed service would lay down much more frequent service along this corridor and extend it further up Airport Road to Paine Field, home to Boeing’s Everett operations.

The Mill Creek portion of Route 105 currently receives good ridership due to the fact that riders can easily walk to stops in residential areas or board from park and rides where connecting services are readily available. Mill Creek has a very strong town center with dense housing options and many businesses. This is likely to continue rapid and significant growth as properties in the core redevelop. Meanwhile, the Canyon Park tail benefits from corporate office and business parks near I-5.

Local network of buses in Bothell. (Community Transit)
Local network of buses in Bothell. (Community Transit)

However, the draft Swift II proposal does leave out a portion of today’s Route 105 Bothell tail. Currently, Route 105 serves the University of Washington’s Bothell campus via Bothell Way and NE 185th Street. College campuses tend to drive good bus ridership, and it seems like creating a frequent UW-Bothell alignment for Swift II could be beneficial to the line.

There are jurisdictional issues given that Swift II funding would be spilling over the county line to benefit King County residents. This situation is not unprecedented. Community Transit funds Swift to Shoreline and nearly two dozen local and commuter routes to elsewhere in King County.

The biggest obstacle for Swift II is funding. Community Transit would need a combination of capital and operational funding. Federal money, likely through grants, would be allocated to capital investment in new infrastructure such as stations and TSP, as well as the acquisition of new buses. In order to qualify for federal grants, the agency would need to conduct a formal alternatives analysis through environmental review for the project. Operational funding would either come from increased revenues by sales tax or new funding sources.

Partnering with other local agencies is also necessary important for Community Transit. The agency must adequately align plans with municipalities so that it can implement TSP, reconfigure streets and streetscapes, and establish station infrastructure. The precise timeline for all this is uncertain, but Community Transit believes that a Swift II line could be up and running as soon as early 2018.

Beyond Swift II, Community Transit has a longer-term vision for even more BRT throughout Snohomish County–up to four additional alignments. The agency is hopeful that with an upcoming BRT study, it could lead to continuous rollouts of BRT as funding becomes available to implement the plans.