Sunday, 12 July, 2020

The once and future street, and how it defines us


A week’s residency in Glasgow, Scotland returns a 2011 essay to the forefront, and its message: In the post-freeway world, recall the important, organic landscape of neighborhood, towers and spires, lost before we can remember.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 17.45.23


Among the more memorable aspects of my professional residence in Glasgow, Scotland this week are the readily ascertainable contexts of different streets from different eras. Dramatic contrasts emerge in a walk west from the remains of the historic, medieval High Street, across the pedestrian shopping promenades of Buchanan and Sauchiehall Streets, to the channeled traffic and amplified sounds of the M8 motorway system that transformed Charing Cross.

It’s a walk worth taking, as shown above, for a ready reference to the ebb and flow of the urban land use and transportation relationship over time.

Most importantly, this walk from High Street to the M8 provided new relevance for some of my earlier essays. While written for general applicability, the one reproduced below (posted both here and in The Atlantic in September, 2011) seems particularly relevant.


Some of the best thoughts about tomorrow’s urbanism come from yesterday’s observations.

A case in point is a quick-read essay entitled “The Discovery of the Street,” by J.B. Jackson (1909-1996), one of the twentieth century’s most noted commentators on the American landscape.

Jackson tells us what is organic, wondrous and ethereal about life in cities, through a bittersweet history of public space, from medieval markets to the modern freeway.

No matter that the Jackson piece is “legacy” in form and only partially internet-accessible (preview here in Glazer and Lille, The Public Face of Architecture). Jackson’s classic writing spins a most relevant story, an ambiguous tale about the raison d’être of today’s urbanism: reclaiming the human and natural systems which underlie the city, as first principles of urban reemergence from within, rather than sprawl to afar.

According to Jackson, likely writing in the 1970’s, the symbol of the modern city is a collection of streets as seen from above, a mere “cartographic abstraction” of implied richness, because the bird’s-eye relationship between public byways and private space is how we now understand urban areas. In contrast, Jackson described the foundational and compact, vertical city of towers amid a landscape perceived by the medieval resident of long ago—who did not need to understand public streets and spaces—while living a straightforward human and animal-propelled life of short journeys to work, church, market and neighbors.

The medieval, vertical city, however imperfect, was represented by an idealized symbol of the divine (a religious construct), “miniature versions of a celestial prototype: a walled city divided by two intersecting streets into four quarters.”

Jackson’s essay came to mind in my recurring legal work over the past few years addressing responsibility for environmental cleanup and the nature of public and private ownership as related to highways, arterials, streets and alleys, and associated advocacy about who is fiscally responsible for assuring public safety adjacent to private places. I had consulted his work frequently long ago, in the context of my Master’s thesis and a later book chapter I wrote on neighborhood planning, summarized here.

His masterful narrative focuses on the 11th century, and how laws, which once regulated classes of people (e.g. feudal lords, citizens, traders and merchants), evolved to regulate places. From the dawn of the geographically delineated, regulated marketplace through the evolution of transportation technology, advances such as the harnessing of multiple horses and pivoted front wagon axle resulted in the surrounding city taking on a different shape. Jackson recounts how forms of public assembly further developed, and streets and squares changed to accommodate both commerce and necessary vehicular space. Land became a commodity as lots to be created, measured and taxed, with buildings to be designed and regulated:

Almost at once the town authorities recognized the street as a versatile tool for exerting control. In one town after another ordinances regulated the height of buildings, the pitch of their roofs, even their design, which had to be suited to the social standing of the occupants. City building plans were detailed… In the additions to existing towns the dimensions of the lot were prescribed, and all houses were taxed on the basis of frontage. The fact that each house owned half the width of the street in front of it encouraged each business or each household to expand its activities on to the street and to use the space for its convenience. As a consequence the civic authorities legislated questions of health and safety….

People learned to perceive a new kind of public space where previously there had merely seen a succession of alleys and passageways, a crooked interval between houses. Now they discovered a continuous space with a quality—and eventually a name—of its own…

The main point for invoking Jackson today, is that in order to achieve a successful city—a place of congregation in the social science, rather than religious sense—we must understand the backstory of organic human association. We must further honor Jackson’s inquiry as to why stones and huts—density based on human association and interdependence—evolved into public and private spaces with the associated loss of a human scale.

As his essay concludes:

It was in this tentative and almost unconscious manner that the street in our European-American model began a career that became increasingly spectacular and then culminated in the freeway. Imperceptively and over many generations our vision of the city shifted from the cluster of towers and spires to the perspectives of avenues and streets and uniform-sized lots. The celestial model, never easy to discern in the dark medieval spaces among stone walls and crowded huts, has been at last forgotten; the map, the diagram, the coordinates are what help us to make sense of the city.

In my view, Jackson’s subtle synopsis ends with an ironic, yet nostalgic judgment of a milquetoast, mapped reality, He implies missed opportunities to create more ideal, scaled spaces which look across and upward rather than down from above.

Jackson might have spoken more directly, but, in my opinion, he invoked a laudable, now familiar challenge to the post-freeway world—to recall the importance of the organic landscape of neighborhood, towers and spires lost before we can remember.

Images composed by the author in Glasgow. Prior photos also composed by the author in Seattle and in Fayence and Annecy, France. Click on the images for more detail. © 2009-2014 myurbanist. All Rights Reserved. Do not copy.

Community Transit proposes significant service changes for 2015


Community Transit (CT) is proposing significant service changes for 2015 that includes 27,000 new service hours for the network. The agency is proposing to bring Sunday and holiday service back while adding more hours to weekday and Saturday service. This is no doubt very welcome news for riders in Snohomish County.

From 2009 to 2012, the agency was faced with hard decisions because of the Great Recession. 37% of service (160,000 service hours) had to be cut with multiple rounds of service reductions. Sunday and holiday service were eliminated, span of service trimmed, and routes deleted. With the economic recovery in full swing, sales tax revenues have been increasing quickly allowing the agency to add 13,000 service hours in 2013 and 7,500 service hours in 2014. CT also plans to add 7,000 new service hours annually from 2016 through 2019. Even with these service increases, the agency will still be 87,000 service hours short of its peak level of service in 2009.

So what are the proposed changes?

Community Transit Sunday NetworkThe 27,000 service hours will be split into primary categories: Sunday/holiday service and weekday/Saturday service. The agency proposes to spend 18,000 service hours on Sunday and holiday service while a further 9,000 service hours will go to weekday and Saturday service.

Sunday and holiday service will return on June 7, 2015, which means that the agency will be able to operate a 365-day service for the first time since February 2010. Precise schedules have not been established yet, but as you can see from the proposed network map on the right, Snohomish County will have a fully functioning Sunday and holiday service with a strong hub-and-spoke focus on Everett and Lynnwood.

16 routes are proposed to operate on Sunday and holidays, which essentially mimics the Saturday network–with the exception of Routes 115 and 201. The span of service is route dependent, but the overall network is anticipated to operate from 6.45am to 9.30pm. And, the preliminary frequency for routes will fall into three categories:

  • Every 20 minutes: Swift
  • Every hour: Routes 101, 105, 112, 113,116, 119, 120, 130, 196, 202, and 220
  • Every two hours: Routes 222, 240, 271, and 280

Community Transit designates six major holidays that it will operate: Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day–Independence Day will be the first holiday that it operates under the new service plan. DART service will also be added and cover the same areas as fixed routes and schedules.

The new Sunday/holiday service is similar in geographic area as the previous one from 2009. However, the new scale of service is about 65% of the old with fewer routes operated. Community Transit will add additional service hours–as they become available–to Sunday service with the goal of having a consistent “Weekend Service” for both Saturday and Sunday.

The remaining 9,000 service hours will go toward weekday and Saturday service. Additional weekday trips to improve frequency and span of service will be focused on Routes 105, 112, 113, 115, 116, 119, 120, and 196. Commuter routes will also see a boost for a few peak-hour trips on Routes 412, 413, and 860. Meanwhile, Saturday will be focused solely on added span of service for Routes 105, 113, 115, 116, 130, 201, 202, 222, 271, and 280.

Fare increase

Community Transit Fare ChangesRiders may not be so keen on a fare increase, but Community Transit is proposing one for 2015 in order to match increased costs and inflation. Adult fares for local and commuter routes would each increase by $0.25. DART paratransit, regardless of age, would also see fares raise $0.25 to $2.25. All other fare categories would remain unchanged. Fare increases are proposed to go into effect on July 1, 2015.

Route modifications proposed for 2015

Community Transit is proposing three route revisions, one route deletion, and one route addition. All four route modifications take effect in June 2015.
Highway 2 Service Changes

Service along the Highway 2 corridor is proposed to be restructured. This will help improve reliability, reduce transfers, increase coverage, and all-day service. Currently, Routes 270 and 275 serve the Highway 2 corridor. Route 270 provides service between Gold Bar and Everett with local stops between Gold Bar and Monroe and limited stops between Monroe and Everett. Route 275 essentially fills in the gaps by providing local stops from Monroe to Everett via Snohomish.

However, as part of the restructure, Route 275 would be deleted. A new Route 271 would be added in its place to provide better coverage to Monroe. New Route 271 would operate with limited stops from Gold Bar to Monroe and local service from Monroe to Everett. This service would operate seven days a week. Meanwhile, Route 270 would operate as an “express” service on weekdays from Gold Bar to Everett in the peak direction, morning and afternoon. Combined headways of Routes 270 and 271 would create a 30-minute frequency on weekdays to and from the Monroe Park & Ride.

Revised CT Route 270 New CT Route 271

Route 222 Revision

Route 222 is a local route serving the Tulalip Indian Reservation and Marysville. Its central focus is linking riders with neighborhoods and local shopping/employment centers like Quil Ceda Village and downtown Marysville. However, the routing is indirect and slightly like spaghetti. Community Transit is proposing to simplify the route by deleting the 4th Street-64th Street alignment west of 67th Avenue. Instead, Route 222 will proceed along Highway 528 to and from Highway 9 near the Walmart.

Revised CT Route 222

Route 280 Revision

Route 280 is a local, all-day route servicing the communities of Granite Falls, Lake Stevens, and Everett. Currently, the route provides limited stops between Granite Falls and Lake Stevens while the remainder of the route provides local service between Lake Stevens and Everett Station. Community Transit is proposing to extend the route to Boeing’s Paine Field plant for two morning and two afternoon trips. For these trips, one morning trip would begin in Granite Falls while the other would start in Lake Stevens. In the afternoon, the return trip pattern mimics the morning: one would terminate in Lake Stevens while the other would end in Granite Falls.

Revised CT Route 280

Get involved

Public comments on all proposed service changes (including the fare increases) are open from now through January 9, 2015. You can contact Community Transit directly via e-mail at and/or meet with staff. Four public meetings will be held throughout Snohomish County from November 19th through December 11th:

Wednesday, November 19
Marysville YMCA, Pilchuck Room
6420 60th Drive NE, Marysville, WA 98270

Thursday, December 4
Mountlake Terrace  Library
23300 58th Ave W, Mountlake Terrace, WA 98043

Wednesday, December 10
Everett Station, Weyerhauser Room
3201 Smith Ave, Everett, WA 98201

Thursday, December 11
Snohomish County PUD, Monroe Office
120 E Fremont, Monroe, WA 98272

At the end of the comment period, the Community Transit Board of Directors will hold a public hearing on all proposals. The Board will meet at 3pm on Thursday, January 8, 2015 in the Community Transit Board Room (located at 7100 Hardeson Road, Everett, WA 98203). If you feel like attending that, you can take transit to get there by using Everett Transit Route 8.

ICYMI: New York City Implements ‘Vision Zero’


Vision Zero Ad

Last week, New York City’s citywide standard speed limit dropped from 30 mph to 25 mph under a policy dubbed “Vision Zero“. About 95% of streets in the city had previously been designated 30 mph, so this represents a huge shift in speed reduction for New York. Every year, New York streets see approximately 4,000 people injured and 250 people killed in traffic-related accidents. But, dropping the speed limit by 5 mph increases survivability of pedestrians by almost double. Serious injuries and deaths for drivers and passengers also plummet. Vision Zero isn’t just about reducing injuries and deaths through speed limit changes. Safe street design implementation, education campaigns, and active policing are parts of the overall policy effort.


In Seattle, we have standard arterial speed limits of 30 mph, residential street speed limits of 25 mph, and alleyway speed limits of 15 mph. Many streets in the city, however, exceed these standards by generous amounts. And, I noted last week, we have some bad street designs that could be improved.

It isn’t just Seattle that has a speed and safety problem. Plenty of suburban jurisdictions and other cities in the Puget Sound that have even higher permitted speeds for comparable streets and incredibly dangerous street designs. It’s an unfortunate problem, but one that’s entirely self-made and solvable. Given the recent spate of serious traffic collisons in Seattle, I think it’s time that we talk about pursuing our own set of Vision Zero policies to eliminate traffic-related deaths.

Introducing “Seattle in Progress,” a mobile web app for engaging Seattle in planning and development




[Update: Seattle in Progress is now at The links below have been updated.]

I pass construction sites every day — it’s hard not to in Seattle — and every time I do, I wonder what’s being built. This question started to bug me more and more: in an era of rapid growth and enormous neighborhood interest in directing that growth, why isn’t it easier to get a clear picture of what’s being planned and built at any particular site? There are land use notice signs, but they give little more than an aerial outline of the building and are quickly covered in graffiti. The City publishes design proposals from the architects, but they’re burried in the depths of the City’s website, where few outside the official planning process will ever see them.


Two views of the same development. Left: Land use notices give you little sense of the project. Right: Design proposals are full of information and visuals, but neither the city nor the builder make any effort to bring public attention to them.

Seattle in Progress is my answer to this problem. It’s a mobile web app that informs and engages residents in local land use and building design decisions. All the basic information about a planned building is available with a single click on a map. And detailed design proposals can be viewed quickly and easily.

Here’s an example of the basic functionality of the app, showing the map view, a project description and a rendering from the design proposal:



Left: Pins show every project that’s gone before a design review board recently. Middle: Clicking on a pin reveals basic information about the project, such as number of stories and units. Right: Clicking the thumbnail lets you flip through each page of the design proposal.


Give Seattle in Progress a try on the desktop or your phone at Or use the shortcut for less typing on a phone. You can also receive notifications of upcoming development projects by following us on Twitter, @seattle_nprgres.

I’ve been using the app to learn more about my neighborhood, and I’m always discovering interesting developments:

Learn about planned re-builds long before construction starts: The Value Village building on 11th and Pine.

Linda’s Tavern will be surrounded by the new 714 E Pike building.

First Hill is getting a new high-rise to rival First Hill Plaza.

Seattle in Progress is just getting started. Looking forward, there are two big features coming soon. First, you’ll be able to follow specific projects or whole neighborhoods and receive email updates on any new activity or change in project status. You could, for instance, ask to be notified of any new construction or demolition within a mile of your house. Second, there will be more emphasis on voicing your opinion. There will be notices of upcoming public meetings and the ability to directly submit feedback to the design review board.

I’d love to get feedback on the app, or just general ideas on how technology could increase public awareness and participation in urban planning. I’m curious what professionals in the field–developers, architects, urban planners, contractors, real estate agents and others–wish technology could do for them. And I’m curious what interested residents, neighborhood activists, journalists and bloggers would like to see.

If you like Seattle in Progress, please follow us on Twitter, @seattle_nprgres, and help spread the word. You can send any feedback or suggestions to

Upcoming Event: A presentation on Sustainable Rosengård, Sweden’s New Urban Eco-District

Rosengård Centrum by Socialdemokraterna on Flickr.

On Tuesday, November 18th, we will have a special meeting that includes a presentation from Paul Byron Crane, a local landscape architect with the City of Everett. The presentation will take a look into how Rosengård, a neighborhood of Malmö, Sweden, has managed to transform into a sustainable, collaborative, and diverse community. The event will take place at GGLO (a local architecture firm) located in Downtown Seattle from 6pm to 8.30pm. The first half hour will include food, drinks, and time to socialize followed by the presentation around 6.30pm. Paul’s presentation will be a mix of video and PowerPoint with Q&A at its conclusion. Following the presentation, we’ll have plenty of time to hang around to chat on a wide range of urban issues. And, we’ll probably need help to finish off what’s left of the food!

A brief summary of the presentation:

Rosengård, Malmö, Sweden successfully moved from a period of riots, due to a disenfranchised immigrant population to actively empowering and engaging young women in participatory place making. Thirteen young political refugee teenager women from Iraq and Afghanistan organized and led design workshops, community events working with Rosengård residents and the City of Malmö Environmental and Parks Departments.

Learning how to accomplish physical change to support positive sustainable development, the spaces between existing buildings shaped their proposed projects; a playground, enhanced town center, and community gardens. These projects in this presentation have been recently built by the City of Malmö adding to Rosengård’s social capital.

Through dialogue and community organizing of 6,400 participants, 136 workshops, events comprised of over 60 % of political refugee women. Their informed holistic decision-making, through an empowered strong local process, together with deliverables of strategic physical improvements started the process of building a sustainable Rosengård. The “pink” large play area and the enhanced town centers “social square” was completed in September of 2013. With the leadership and collaborative genius of these young girls Rosengård has now become the new Eco district in Malmö, Sweden.

Tuesday, 18 November
6pm to 8.30pm
GGLO at the Harbor Steps
1301 1st Ave #301Seattle, WA 98101

The new bus in town…


hi!On Friday, November 7th, King County Metro opened up for public viewing the prototype of the forthcoming King County Metro 40′ Electric Trolley Buses (ETBs).

Manufactured by New Flyer, the new Xcelsior™ XT40 (and XT60) feature many design similarities with the existing fleet of RapidRide buses and the new 35′ and 40′ hybrid buses that Metro is currently bringing into service (all of which are produced by New Flyer).

This bus is part of a $164 million contract that was negotiated with New Flyer for 141 new 40′ and 60′ ETBs to replace the entire existing fleet of 155 ETBs. $138 million, or about 75% of the cost, is being provided by Federal grants and clean energy subsidies. Furthermore, the overall cost has been further reduced due to San Francisco combining their order with ours. The average cost for these new buses are $900,000 for a 40′ ETB and $1,200,000 for a 60′ ETB. In comparison, the equivalent hybrid buses are approximately $650,000 and $1,000,000 each. The order for the new fleet was determined when it seemed that service cuts were unavoidable. Thanks to the recent Seattle transit initiative passing, however, the additional service requirements may require the purchase of additional vehicles to support the expanded service within the city of Seattle.

The new ETBs feature many improvements over our existing fleet. They use 20-30% less energy to operate, and thanks to regenerative braking, they will actually provide power to the system when braking. Much to the relief of passengers, these buses are 70% low-floor (like our existing fleet) and for the first time will have air conditioning. The seats on these new buses are two-toned (yellow and gray) versions of the existing RapidRide style seats.

Single seats by the rear passenger door Rear Seating, looking forward Rear section steps Port-side Wheelchair position

The 40′ ETBs feature a number of changes from both the existing fleet of ETBs as well as their related 35′ and 40′ hybrid fleets. Additional space has been created near the rear door by removing twi seats on the left-side of the bus. This creates, in effect, two single-seat rows. Furthermore, the seat layout in the rear, raised passenger section has been redesigned as well. There is now only one seat on each side over the rear wheel well facing the center aisle. In addition, there is an extra forward-facing row of seats directly in front of the rear seat row. There are actually more seats now in the rear section of the bus than the front.

The steps from the rear door up to the raised rear-section of the bus have also been changed from our existing low-floor buses to a more European style featuring angled steps.

There are two wheelchair positions in the front of the bus featuring new restraint systems that can be used by the public without assistance if they so choose (with some training). Directly behind the driver’s cab, there will be a space without a seat. This is to provide access to the electrical cabinet located there and is unavoidable.

The bus features LED lighting inside the passenger compartment, and the bus features LED low-beam headlights. There are at least three internal cameras and five external cameras that feed into the Bus Data Recorder in case of accidents or incidents.

Unlike our current fleet, these new buses have the ability to travel up to 10 miles off of the overhead electrical wires. This is possible due to the use of Li-ion (Lithium Ion) batteries. The operator is able to retract the trolley poles at the push of a button to go around obstacles as well as make any impromptu reroutes when needed. In addition, the trolley poles are designed to automatically retract and stow themselves in cases where the bus dewires. This will hopefully help further minimize delays.

The “Next Stop” display signs are being combined with the “Stop Requested” light on these buses. When a stop has been requested by a passenger, the display will alternate between the Next Stop information and “Stop Requested.”

Currently, Metro has received two prototype 40′ ETBs. They are being used right now to fine tune their operation on our terrain as well as making sure all the systems and features work as expected. Provided that there are no issues, we can expect to see these buses enter service sometime around August of 2015.

Though still in the prototype/refinement stage, the changes to interior layout and systems should lead to much improved ETB bus service in Seattle in the coming years. The interior feels much less constrained and confined than the current fleet of 40′ Trolley Buses and much less cavernous than the current 40′ Orion Hybrid buses.

Currently, Seattle’s 14 ETB routes carry 20% of King County Metro’s riders to some of the city’s busiest destinations and this new fleet of quiet, reliable buses will surely be welcomed by all who rely upon them each day.

For more photos of the new ETBs, check out the photoset.

Sunday Video: Urban Solutions from Vancouver


Discovery Waterfront Cities of the World: Vancouver by jsnspringer on YouTube, h/t Catherine Neill.

A great video by Discovery on urbanism in Vancouver, BC, which talks about gentrification, architecture, housing diversity, social welfare solutions, and more.

What We’re Reading: No Downtown School

Salmon Bay School by Joe Wolf on Flickr.

No Downtown school: Seattle Public Schools bails out on an opportunity to pick up a Downtown property for a new elementary.

Breaking records: The Fremont Bridge is very likely to see more than 1 million bike trips by Christmas.

The weed: Uncle Ike’s scores a temporary victory while more states legalize marijuana use. Of course, Congress might interfere with DC.

Obscure designs: A worry for the next Guggenheim Museum, could it just be weird? And is that even a bad thing?

Disaster in SFO: What San Francisco might look like if sea levels rise 200 feet.

Charming blocks: A look at New York City’s one-block streets and their charm.

120 square feet: Now this is some creative micro-housing.

It really is bad: A commuter has logged all his Sound Transit 510 trips for 3 years. Turns out traffic is getting a whole lot worse on I-5.

Will it live: Maryland just elected a Republican governor who hates transit, but will he kill the Purple Line and other projects in Maryland?

Minimum wage: It turns out that even in conservative territory, minimum wage increases are incredibly popular.

Transit vote: Free lifts to the polling station on transit doesn’t appear to increase ridership.

No trains Saturday: Light Rail will be shutdown next week, so know your options.

Tons more service: Now that bus service will get a boost in June, what could we end up seeing for future service?

Berlin Wall everywhere: Pieces of the Berlin Wall are everywhere around the globe, and they’re good reminders of the ugly past.

Regeneration: A power plant in Wisconsin will now have new life as a student center.

New condo tower: First Hill will see a new condo tower come to the neighborhood.

Bridges and the city: An exploration of how cities and their bridges interact, it’s a situation of the good, bad, and iconic.

Speed humps: Excessive speeding is cut up to 80%-90% in Seattle where speed humps have been implemented.

Capitol Hill Station: Four developers have submitted their proposals for development, one has dropped out. Plans will be unveiled to the public in December.

Mileage fees: A good case for changing how we charge for driving, the best option is a per mile fee.

Second and Union: A new proposal by Skanska for an office tower at Second and Union dubbed “2&U”