Wednesday, 23 September, 2020

Tweet of the Week: Streets for People

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This week’s tweet is a reminder that language matters. Brent Toderian, Vancouver’s former chief planner, writes:

What does it mean for a street to be open or closed? A typical arterial in a North American City might be 120 feet wide from building to building, if not wider. Aside from two 10-foot sidewalks and the occasional crosswalk, most of that width is unavailable for pedestrian use. Anyone who tried to walk in that space would either be arrested or hospitalized.

The past 70-odd years have seen the steady erosion of pedestrian space, and the expansion of space reserved for cars. And this expansion has affected how we speak and write. At least in the US, car travel is linguistically unmarked. “Directions” means driving directions. “A map” means a road map, and probably one where limited-access are emphasized as fast travel corridors rather than impermeable barriers. “Traffic” means congestion on roadways used by motor vehicles. “Closed” means that cars aren’t allowed (like when San Francisco proposed to improve pedestrian access and safety on a crooked part of Lombard Street by restricting car access).

You can ask for walking directions, or a transit map; you can complain about bicycle traffic on the Burke-Gilman trail, or about how pedestrians aren’t allowed to cross SR-520. But without the qualifiers — without the words “walking”, or “transit”, or “bicycle”, or “pedestrians” — everyone will assume you’re talking about cars.

The way our cities are built will not change overnight. But we can change the way we talk about them. The next time your city proposes to create or expand a pedestrian zone, follow Brent Toderian’s example, and call it what it is: a street opening.

Rider Alert: One-Month Rerouting for Metro Route 44

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King County Metro Route 44 by Oran Viriyincy on Flickr.

A significant reroute of King County Metro Route 44 goes in effect today (January 16th) and will last through February 16th. This reroute is due to construction work taking place at the Montlake Triangle. Eastbound buses, signed “UNIVERSITY DISTRICT”, will terminate at NE Campus Parkway and turn back. The last stop for eastbound buses will be the 15th Ave NE/NE Campus Parkway stop (next to Schmitz Hall). And, westbound buses, signed “BALLARD”, will begin at the 15th Ave NE/NE 42nd St stop.

This reroute will not impact other bus routes (like the 25, 43, and 48) that travel along the NE Pacific St and Montlake Blvd NE corridors. For similar service to and from the UW Medical Center, South Campus, and Husky Stadium, use alternatives like Metro routes 43, 48, 167, 197, and 271, or Sound Transit routes 540, 542, 556, and 586.

Seattle Set to Increase Car Share Limits

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On Tuesday, the Seattle City Council transportation committee voted to approve an increase in the number of free-floating carshare permits and operators. This would primarily benefit car2go, the German company whose blue-and-white mini cars are rented on a per minute basis. Up from 350 vehicles beginning in 2012, the company has reached the 500 vehicle cap under a pilot program monitored by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). The service has proved immensely popular, and reportedly has 59,000 members in Seattle–the largest of car2go’s 30 home cities–representing nearly one-tenth of the city’s population. The company has requested authority to expand. The proposed legislation (PDF) will increase the permit cap six-fold and allow up to four carshare operators in the city.

In the car2go model, drivers don’t need to return the vehicle to a dedicated parking space, hence the term “free floating”. This enhances the public transportation network by enabling trips that may be inconvenient to reach by other means. Members can reserve vehicles up to 30 minutes in advance online or walk up to a vehicle on the street and go. Drivers can park on most streets, with exceptions on some business and arterial streets. According to a staff report (PDF), the vehicles currently occupy only 0.7% of the city’s paid parking space. On average, each vehicle is used six times per day and parked only 68 minutes between trips. Personal vehicles are unused 95 percent of the time.

Committee chair Tom Rasmussen noted that car2go estimates up to 4% (2,360) of Seattle members have ditched a personal vehicle since joining, which removes the option of driving everywhere for every activity and results in congestion reduction. Increasing membership of carshare services will only improve this outcome. SDOT Director Scott Kubly said car sharing is “…a key component to creating choices for people to get around the city, and allowing people to live a car-free or car-light lifestyle”.

Car2Go App ScreenshotThe pilot program’s limitations will be resolved by the proposed legislation. There will be a cap of four car share operators; only two others, Zipcar and BMW’s DriveNow, have expressed interest, but the additional competition will enable the market to set prices and create greater consumer choice. The pilot program’s service area will also expand to the entire city limits, up from about two-thirds of it now. And after two years of service, new operators will be required to serve the entire city in exchange for an increased cap of 750 vehicles per operator (car2go would fall under this now). Effectively, this translates to a maximum of 3,000 car share vehicles citywide. That’s in addition to the hundreds of spot-based Zipcars already in place. The legislation requires regular reports from SDOT, and starting next year the SDOT Director is authorized to adjust the caps as necessary.

The permit cost for each vehicle will increase from $1,330 to $1,730. During the public hearing, car2go representative Walter Rosenkrantz said the company could not simply absorb that cost and may need to raise rental rates or reduce their sponsorship of community groups and events. SDOT’s reports are to include data on neighborhood parking rates and utilization so that fees can be adjusted as needed. Other considerations brought up were the desire for electric vehicles, though that would present logistical problems for charging, and the feasibility of integrating the ORCA card system with car2go. The legislation will next go to the full City Council.

Things are looking up for transportation in Seattle. Last year, one of the mayor’s task forces smoothed out the ridesharing debate with companies like Lyft and Uber, local bus funding was secured to prevent major cuts, bikeshare launched, two new light rail stations will open in 2016, and complete streets continue to be built out. The expansion of carshare services will further incentivize the reduction of urban automobile ownership and improve mobility options citywide.

This article is a cross-post from The Northwest Urbanist, the personal blog of Scott Bonjukian. He is a graduate student at the University of Washington’s Department of Urban Design and Planning.

Let Us Not Judge, That We Might Not be Judged Ourselves

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Mar22~08-1

 

“How you doin’ tonight?”
“Typically!” he says. “And yourself?
“Oh, I’m well!”
“That’s excellent!” he smiles. “And syntactically correct!”
“I do my best!”

That was the first guy. With him is a second man, his friend. Both have books. I ask the first fellow what he’s reading, and it’s a hefty sci-fi tome of at least a thousand pages, about the export of steel across different galaxies. “Seminal stuff,” as he describes it, from the great 1960s-70s period of sci-fi. “Asimov, Frank Herbert, all those guys.”
“Just a little light reading!” I say.
He laughs with pleasure.

“And how about you, what do you have there?”
The second man turns up from his own book. “Oh, this is, it’s about Intercultural Communications.”
“Cool!”
“Yeah, it’s all about the complexities of communicating between cultures, and how the studies we do can impact those communications and how we apply those results can fundamentally affect decisions people make.”
“Oh wow. So it’s talking about the impact of the studies themselves?”
“More how those studies are conducted.”
“Ooooh.”
“Yeah, how the different methods chosen can influence the results and what people do with those results.”
“Tight.”

Once again, just some light reading. I ask him a few more questions about it. I’m fascinated and want to look it up myself. “What’s it called, the book again?”
“It’s, uh. Experiencing Intercultural Communications, an Introduction. By Judith,”
I’m scribbling down the title. “Experiencing….”
“Yeah, Experiencing Intercultural Communications. By Judith Martin and Thomas Nakayama.”
“By Judith Martin.”
“And Thomas Nakayama. Yeah, it’s really good.”
“Nakayama, first name Thomas?”
“Yeah.”
“What made you choose this book? I mean, that’s a pretty specific focus,”
“I just thought it sounded interesting. And what’s really cool is, at the end of each chapter, they have like sixty or seventy citations to other books on similar subjects to what was covered in the chapter.”
“Oh, that’s a gold mine!”
“Yeah, so if you’re interested in this or that, you can go read further, and get all in detail. Which has been super helpful.”

These two were not students attending accredited universities. They were not educated businessmen. They were street people, quite possibly homeless, no different in look from so many of the huddled figures we pass on the sidewalks downtown. What was it my elementary school teacher told us when she broke down the word “assume?”

Mayor Murray Says “Give Seattle More Buses”

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Mayor-Executive-Metro
Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine discussing their new transit partnership, courtesy of the Seattle Mayor’s Office.

Last year was a very uncertain time for transit in Seattle. At the beginning of it, we were bracing for service reductions by as much as 17% over a two-year period. Some measure of hope was given by a countywide ballot in April to prevent service reductions. But that vote was narrowly defeated by exurban and rural voters. Seattle then mulled over an idea to save its service in the aftermath while King County Councilmembers fought over how to forestall or lessen the impact of impending cuts. The bloodshed began in late September as the first round of service reductions went into effect, mostly affecting peak-oriented trips. But things changed rapidly. King County managed to call off all planned cuts in early October and Seattle voted overwhelmingly in favor of taxes to increase bus service.

Increase. A year ago, that word seemed almost impossible. Frequent Network Plan? Pure fantasy. We had buses to kill, or at best save. But now we really do get to talk about increasing service, and the Mayor has just the plan to do it.

On Monday, the Mayor summarized how important his plan for increased Seattle bus service is:

By adding more than 200,000 more hours of bus service annually, we can ensure that transit expands along with our growing city. This voter-approved investment in additional service will help make transit a better choice for everyone in Seattle, and is the first major expansion of bus service in our city in almost a decade.

Under Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s plan, the city would see 223,000 service hours annually added to the baseline service that we see today. A strong focus of the service hours are geared toward reducing crowding and improving reliability of existing routes. Service hours will be targeted at adding frequency on 34 high-demand routes, revising schedules of 48 routes that are chronically unreliable, and adding new buses to 16 routes that are severely overcrowded. Hours that are added to increase frequency will be allocated toward all service periods: peak, off-peak, weekend, and night. The latter three should be especially good news to bus riders.

In addition to this, a small sliver of funding will go toward partnerships with other jurisdictions ($3 million annually) and social welfare ($2 million annually). The voter-approved measure allows the City to enter into contracts with other cities that want to cost-share routes that also serve Seattle. These types of routes would exceed Seattle’s standard requirement for full subsidy (routes that operate at least 80% of their service hours in the city can qualify for full funding). An example of cost-shared services might be peak commuter routes like the 158 (Seattle-Kent-Covington) or 212 (Seattle-Southeast Bellevue). If the pair cities are willing to pay for a portion of the service cost, Seattle could pick up the remainder to keep or add these long-distance services. Meanwhile, the new ORCA LIFT program for low income earners will receive funding assistance from the City. Fares under the program are reduced for many services like King County Metro, the Seattle Streetcar, and Central Link Light Rail.

The terms of the contract create a very unique situation for the newly formed Transit Division of SDOT. While service planning and implementation will be collaborative between SDOT and King County Metro, SDOT will still have a strong say in what types of service treatments individual bus routes will receive under the partnership. To help guide the allocation of service hours and improvements, the agency will use the City’s adopted Transit Master Plan and the baseline Service Guidelines promulgated by King County Metro itself.

The first step to making all of this a reality is the execution of a contract for service between the City of Seattle and King County. On Monday, the Mayor’s Office said that this should happen very soon after the City Council has had an opportunity to review and approve the final contract language. The Mayor sent the contract to Council the same day. King County Executive Dow Constantine also sent the same contract language to the County Council for review and approval on Monday.

The service increase is only possible because of the successful vote for the Seattle Transportation Benefit District Proposition 1 in November. This measure ensures that at least $45 million in earmarked revenue will be collected through a combination of an annual vehicle licensing fee and sales tax increase. The annual vehicle licensing fee is $60 and sales tax increase is 0.1%. The Transportation Benefit District has the authority to levy these revenue sources for six years.

Under the terms of the contract, the City and County will enter into a binding agreement for three years worth of service increases at a total cost of $120 million. The contract could be renewed for a further three years, which happens to coincide with the life of the voter-approved revenue source. The rounds of service increases will occur this year: one in June and the other in September, each coinciding with King County Metro’s regular service changes.

UPDATE: Seattle Transit Blog has additional information on how the service hours will be allocated route by route. You can read the contract language and King County Council’s ordinance here and here, respectively.

SDOT Installing Interim Protected Bike Lane on Roosevelt

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Looking southbound on Roosevelt Way NE from NE 43rd Street.

As planned, this week the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) began installing a temporary protected bike lane (PBL) on Roosevelt Way NE between NE 45th Street and the University Bridge. Dawn Schellenberg, community engagement liaison at SDOT, says it should be completed later this week. The interim improvements include closing the west parking lane, creating a buffer with paint and plastic bollards, and new signage. The PBL will be made permanent and extend another mile north to NE 65th Street after the completion of a full street repaving in fall 2015.

This interim demonstration project is, to our knowledge here at The Urbanist, the first of its kind in Seattle. SDOT is allegedly prompted by immediate safety concerns; this corridor saw 21 collisions involving bicyclists between October 2010 and October 2014, or about five per year, making it one of the most dangerous routes in the city. But the repaving project wasn’t originally going to improve the street’s parking-adjacent bike lane at all. It took a push by University Greenways, a neighborhood group, to get SDOT to implement its own plan for a PBL on this street. SDOT took the initiative to find additional funding and came back with updated plans last week to install the PBL along the entire length of the repaving project.

The temporary improvements don’t yet include curb changes at the University Bridge entrance, where people on bikes are forced to merge with motor vehicles for a short stretch. That will change with the full PBL later this year.

UPDATE: The following are additional photos see from along the corridor today.

DSCN2076

DSCN2074

DSCN2067

DSCN2068

 

 

FEIS For University District Urban Design Framework Released, Further Action Ahead

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On January 8th, the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the University District Urban Design Framework (UDUDF). Prior to this FEIS, the Department proceeded with a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) in June 2014 to gather feedback on the issues and proposals identified in the DEIS. During the DEIS process, a No Action Alternative–growth under current development patterns–and two Action Alternatives–growth under different development patterns–for the neighborhood were evaluated by DPD. At the time, we encouraged readers to provide public comment on the project to support our own Alternative, dubbed “Alternative 4“, which was a combination of the best elements from the two Action Alternatives. We also provided a brief background on the overall project. In light of the released FEIS, we want to provide a debrief on the proposed changes, a call to action, remaining issues, and what’s next in the process.

DEIS and FEIS Proposals

At the heart of the UDUDF are options for growth in the University District, and the best ways to achieve it. The UDUDF examines a wide range of environmental issues like transportation, parks, emissions, utilities, and urban design to support and mitigate impacts from additional growth. The FEIS had only minor changes in respect to these issues when compared to the original DEIS Alternative Actions. A summary and deeper analysis of these background changes (if any) are discussed by the FEIS. However, the larger piece of the UDUDF FEIS are the proposed land use zoning changes. Broadly speaking these can be summarized as follows:

  • Alternative 1 and Alternative 1B focus development in a somewhat disperse pattern. In the core study area, mid-rise towers be added to the skyline and range from 125-160 feet while low-rise development would be encouraged in northern and southwestern portions of the neighborhood.
  • Alternative 2 and Alternative 2B focus development in a more compact pattern. In the core study area, high-rise towers could range from 240-340 feet while fewer areas outside of the core area would be candidates for additional growth potential. Where zoning changes are recommended outside of the core area, low-rise development would be encouraged.
  • In all four of the aforementioned Alternatives, no changes are proposed to the University of Washington Major Institution Overlay and existing industrial zoned areas.
  • Alternative 3 is the “no action” alternative, which would maintain existing zoning and approaches to development.

On the face of it, the FEIS Action Alternatives 1B and 2B would appear to be the same as the DEIS Alternatives 1 and 2, respectively. And, while the counterpart Action Alternatives for the DEIS and DEIS are based upon the same development standards and geographic distribution for growth, they differ in the underlying growth assumptions. The FEIS Action Alternatives assume that 1,100 more dwelling units would be accommodated than under the DEIS Action Alternatives, resulting in 5,000 additional dwelling units over current zoned capacity.

The FEIS anticipates Alternatives 1B and 2B could each see additional buildings over the DEIS projects of up to 8 buildings in Alternative 1B and 3 buildings in Alternative 2B. More specifically, Alternative 1B would accommodate up to 9,130 new dwelling units while Alternative 2B would accommodate up to 9,802 new dwelling units over the next 20 years*. In addition to the new dwelling units, the DEIS and FEIS Action Alternatives anticipate that 4,800 new jobs would be provided in each case over the baseline capacity of 8,401 new jobs.

In the maps below, you can see the zoning changes proposed for Action Alternatives 1/1B and 2/2B. It’s important to remember that DPD grouped the counterpart Action Alternatives from the DEIS and FEIS together since actual zoning proposals did not change, only total dwelling unit numbers under the scenarios.

U District UDF - Alternative 1BU District UDF - Alternative 2B

 

The DEIS generated over 100 comments with most in favor of some form of Action Alternative. An incredible number of comments even cited our Alternative 4 (see below) option for the UDUDF. The quality of the comments were certainly of high caliber with important issues raised like the need for more affordable housing options, increased transit service, more jobs and business, better public spaces, and the conservation of historic structures. But perhaps the most important outcome from the DEIS process was the forwarding of both Action Alternatives to the FEIS. This happened precisely because of the positive feedback that the Department received from the public and stakeholders on providing more opportunity and capacity for growth within the neighborhood. And, it’s for this reason that we believe some combination of the Action Alternatives are viable.

Maximizing the potential for development opportunities in the University District is an absolute necessity. Artificial restrictions through a less intense rezone would cause faster demolition and replacement of existing historic and affordable structures while also potentially reducing the capacity for new residents, jobs, and businesses over the 20-year planning horizon. These should be serious concerns for all when looking at both Alternative 1B and Alternative 2B as individually proposed. But there’s also a broader set of reasons that a bolder rezone should be presented to Council and ultimately adopted into code.

We previously noted that now is a pivotal time for the University District because “[it] is undergoing many major changes, including a new light rail station, an improved Burke-Gilman Trail, expansion of the UW’s West Campus, and dozens of mixed use projects in the heart of the neighborhood. The University District will be growing rapidly over the next 20 years. As the light rail station opens, and the network expands to Lynnwood and Bellevue, the University District will only grow more important as an educational, shopping, employment, and residential center, for students and long-term residents alike.”

We also said that “[t]he neighborhood core could become a strong anchor for research and development organizations, local services, offices that serve the University of Washington, and any private businesses that want space outside of Downtown Seattle. The University District’s convenient location and light rail access will make it a highly desirable place to live (even more than today); the more housing (and variety of housing types) that the neighborhood can accommodate, the better.”

For these reasons, we stand by our Alternative 4 and endorse it as the superior option for growth in the University District.

While we don’t know precisely when DPD will make their final zoning recommendations to Council, we encourage you to get ahead of the game and let them know now that you, too, still support our Alternative 4. And, perhaps more importantly, you should let Council know that approving the rezone at the earliest possible date is of utmost urgency. When you send comments to DPD (Dave LaClergue, Project Manager) and Council, please be sure to give very specific details about why you support Alternative 4. Doing so will add value to your overall comments so that Council understand why things like increased housing options, greater affordability, larger tax base, and efficient utilization of public resources are important to an Urban Center like the University District.

Alternative 4 - High Res
The Urbanist’s Alternative 4 for the University District.

Next Up: Green Streets Plan

DPD is slated to issue a Green Streets Plan for the University District in the next month. While we enthusiastically approve of most elements in the draft plan, we are deeply concerned by the street plans for NE 43rd St and Brooklyn Ave NE. The future Link Light Rail subway station for the University District will be located on the corner of NE 43rd St and Brooklyn Ave NE. In response to this, Metro will likely reorient its bus network to allocate some bus lines to directly serve the subway station.

Brooklyn Ave NE festival street, courtesy of DPD.
Brooklyn Ave NE festival street, courtesy of DPD.

By the nature of this facility, a massive number of passengers (12,000 at the very least) will be entering and exiting the station on a daily basis. Most passenger trips will be headed to and from the University of Washington campus, University Way (The Ave), local offices and residences, and presumably connecting bus services adjacent to and in proximity of the station. This also means that a great share of these trips will be directly funneled along the length of NE 43rd St from the station to the west edge of the University of Washington campus since bicyclists and pedestrians will want to go the shortest distance and most active way to and from their destinations. Despite whatever traffic engineering went into this plan, desire lines of foot-powered users will ultimately rule the day. Given this situation, the plans for the above-mentioned streets are wholly inadequate.

For instance, NE 43rd St is planned to only provide a 20-foot sidewalk on the north side of the street and a 10-foot sidewalk on the south side of the street between Brooklyn Ave NE and 15th Ave NE. Meanwhile, constant access will be given over to car traffic via two travel lanes (no different than today). Moreover, the Green Streets Plan explores a popup weekday farmers’ market on Brooklyn Ave NE–immediately adjacent to future bus bays–which would likely require the rerouting of buses when transformed into a festival street or over-programming of the space.

NE 43rd Street design and features, courtesy of DPD.
NE 43rd St design and features, courtesy of DPD.

In light of this, the prioritization of the streetscapes seems poorly pieced together. NE 43rd St should give pedestrians and bicyclists full priority over all other modes. The street should instead be closed to vehicular traffic in its entirety between Brooklyn Ave NE and 15th Ave NE. This could also double as the festival street due to the wide right-of-way and two blocks of pedestrian orientation. Meanwhile, Brooklyn Ave NE should remain free of uses that might force reroutes of buses off of the street. While that doesn’t mean a farmers’ market or other festival uses in some form couldn’t exist, they should not impede the right-of-way or bus boarding areas. To do so would cause constant confusion to passengers intending to use any future bus facilities adjacent to the subway station.

Down the Road: Future Action on Zoning

Again, while we are not certain of a particular date for DPD to forward legislation to Council on the rezone, we anticipate that this will occur sometime in the summer. We are hopeful that the process will not expand beyond this period and that Council will act quickly in the interest of allowing development to occur sooner rather than later. Legislation must first pass the Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee, which is chaired by Councilmember Mike O’Brien, before being transmitted to the full Council. In the meantime, getting comments in to all of the key decision-makers and policy-crafting bodies is very important so that this process can come to a swift and desirable conclusion for a better University District.

*This number is based upon an average dwelling unit size of 850 square feet and maximum residential capacity assumed under current and proposed zoning alternatives. It is not a calculation discrepancy. 

Seattle Planning Commission Seeking New Members

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Seattle at night by Kay Gaensler on Flickr.

If you’re a wonk about all things planning, then the City of Seattle may have just the opportunity for you. The Seattle Planning Commission is seeking to fill four open commissioner positions on the advisory body beginning in April 2015. The Planning Commission consists of 16 members that reviews a wide range of planning issues like affordable housing, transportation, architecture and design, land use, and community participation.

The Planning Commission is a representative body that provides a voice for Seattle residents to discuss and debate critical issues to a growing, vibrant, and diverse city. The Commission produces recommendations on policies and plans like land use code changes, Comprehensive Plan updates, subarea plans, parks planning, and transportation priorities and investments in order to help advise City decision-makers.

The City is looking for new members to the Commission with a broad range of skills and perspectives that are:

  • Knowledgeable about transportation infrastructure and how they support neighborhoods;
  • Capable of speaking to the issue of affordable housing and how that affordability affects a growing city;
  • Committed to engaging communities and building positive relationships;
  • Devoted to making Seattle a better place to live, work, and visit;
  • Informed and experienced in land use planning; and
  • Passionate about talking to diverse stakeholder groups about planning issues;

Members of the Seattle Planning Commission are appointed by the Mayor, City Council, and Commission for three-year terms and may serve two terms consecutively. To be eligible to serve on the Commission, you must be a resident of Seattle and not already be a paid staff member of the City.

If you are interested in a Commission position, you must be willing to take on the extensive commitments as a Commissioner. Monthly meetings occur on the second and fourth Thursdays, and attendance of at least one sub-committee per month is required. In addition to these, Commissioners are also expect to attend a host of other planning-related meetings and events as necessary.

Please contact Vanessa Murdock, Commission Executive Director, if you have an interest in one the positions or have questions by calling her at 206.733.9271 or sending an e-mail to Vanessa.Murdock@seattle.gov. To be considered for appointment to the Commission, a letter of interest and résumé must be received by Vanessa on or before January 31, 2015. Mailed applications can be addressed to:

Vanessa Murdock, Executive Director
Seattle Planning Commission
City of Seattle
Department of Planning and Development
PO Box 34019
Seattle, Washington 98124