Monday, 10 August, 2020

Community Transit hosts a conversation on 8-80 Cities

Walkable Denmark by La Citta Vita on Flickr.

Community Transit recently sponsored a community forum at the Lynnwood Convention Center on 8-80 Cities: Vibrant Cities. About 50 people were in attendance to listen to keynote presenter Gil Penalosa’s talk on what it takes to make vibrant and healthy cities. Gil is the Executive Director of the Toronto-based organization 8-80 Cities. He was formerly the Commissioner of Parks, Sport and Recreation for the City of Bogota in Columbia.

For many urbanists, the message that Mr. Penalosa brought is nothing new. But what made his remarks interesting is that it was geared towards a general suburban audience. And, that is exactly where this talk was took place–in a suburban setting with all of its attendant challenges.

The irony was very present as I travelled by car to attend this talk, arriving late because of severe traffic–and admittedly getting slightly lost. The site of the convention center sits near the junction of I-405 and I-5, and serviced with limited transit options. So, naturally public transit to this event was not a reasonable choice for me given the commute constraints. And to add to the stereotypical suburban problems, the site was plagued by inadequate onsite parking facilities, encouraging attendees to park on neighboring properties.

Pronto! bikes in Occidental Park by Charles Cooper.So with that backdrop, I sat back and listened to a gently laid out case for cities that take on characteristics of vibrancy and accommodating more walking and biking. The first thing I heard was the idea to lower general vehicle speeds on neighborhood streets to 20 mph. His rationale for reducing speeds had to do with safety. The data that he presented showed that speeds above 20 mph radically increased the risk of death to pedestrians should they be struck. Although, he did note that difference between arterials and local streets shouldn’t be discounted when applying such rules.

Mr. Penalosa talked about walking and cycling as a right, not just some urban frivolity. He then segued into a discussion of the investment in bikeways and walking pathways, and just how meager such investments are in most cities. He argued that often these investments are only used to quell gadflies rather than as part of a real substantive approach to changing how the city works.

Throughout the talk, Mr. Penalosa showed many slides of cities in Europe, Asia and South America where cities large and small are instituting these ideas and principles to create showcases for urbanism. He also spent some time talking about getting from talking to doing. What he means is that citizens must delve into the political realm to hold our elected representatives accountable. Citizens need to have a sense of urgency lest planners and politicians simply maintain the status quo.

In the end, Mr. Penalosa laid out the case for cities to take on the core values of his organization and the elements of an 8-80 City:

  • 8-80 Cities are communities built for people;
  • They reflect social equality in the public realm and promote sustainable happiness;
  • They nurture our need to be physically active by providing safe, accessible and enjoyable places for everyone walk, bike and be active as part of our daily routine;
  • They recognize that people are social creatures and prioritize human interaction by fostering vibrant streets and great public places where people can rest, relax and play; and
  • 8-80 Cities encourage sustainable and healthy lifestyles for everyone regardless of age, gender, ability, ethnicity or economic background.

I think Community Transit should be acknowledged for recognizing that their future success depends on spatial changes. In order to better serve their constituent population, communities in Snohomish County will need to transform away from the conventional suburban model and instead to an 8-80 model. This inspirational and gentle talk did get people talking about this issue well after the presentation ended, and in that way, it’s a good starting point for that change.

Many of Mr. Penalosa’s points from his hour and a half presentation can be condensed down, and for a shorter version of these, check out his TedTalk.

Pronto! free ride weekends

Pronto Cycle Share in Occidental Park
Photo courtesy of Charles Cooper.

To welcome–well, themselves–to the neighborhood, Pronto! Cycle Share is throwing a series of celebrations over the new few weeks of October. For instance–By being one of the first people to check out a bike from your local neighborhood docking station, you can earn yourself a free 24-Hour pass. Pronto! will be giving away the free passes to the first 10 people to arrive for their weekend ride series on October 18th, 19th, 25th, and 26th. The weekend ride series is a guided tour to and from various locations in Downtown, South Lake Union, and Capitol Hill, and serves as an introduction to Seattle’s new bikeshare system. The dates of the event are as follows:

Capitol Hill – Saturday, 10/18 @ 1PM
Start: Pine and 16th End: Seattle Central College

South Lake Union – Sunday, 10/19 @ 1PM
Start: REI (Yale and John) End: SLU Park

Seattle Center/Waterfront – Saturday, 10/25 @ 1 PM
Start: Key Arena End: Pier 69

Downtown  Sunday, 10/26 @ 1 PM
Start: 2nd and University End: 6th and King

Josh Steiner is a planner in the Seattle area with a focus in multimodal and sustainable transportation.

ICYMI: UberPEDAL comes to Seattle


Uber Peddle

Uber dropped some good news for Seattle customers with bikes last week. The company launched a new service called “UberPEDAL” for customers who want an Uber, but also want to bring their bike along, too.

Uber iPhoneMost bicyclists encounter a time when being picked up and dropped off to their destination could be a superior option. We can think of lots of cases where UberPEDAL might be handy like an unexpected flat tire, after a night on the town, or needing to make a spontaneous trip that a bike couldn’t reasonably accommodate.

Uber tapped bike rack company Saris to provide reliable and convenient bike racks that can carry up to two bikes at a time. Uber customers using the UberPEDAL service can expect to pay the regular rate of uberX, plus a $5 surcharge.

Since the service is brand new, Uber is letting customers know that there will be a limited number of drivers equipped for the UberPEDAL service. During the initial launch period, your best bet for getting an UberPEDAL driver are trips that originate near Downtown Seattle.

Requesting UberPEDAL is a breeze. Simply open the Uber app, drop a pin for the pickup location, ensure that the uberX button is selected, and then choose the PEDAL option. Then it’s only a matter of finishing up your reservation.


Tweet of the Week: Goodbye SR-520 ramps to nowhere


R.H. Thompson

WSDOT officially has a date for removal of those awful, rotting concrete ramps to nowhere over Union Bay. Now if they could only actually fund the replacement portion of SR-520 in Seattle and get it right… (But hey, apparently WSDOT staff hate bicyclists, buses, and pedestrians. Go figure.)

If you don’t know the history here, SR-520 in Union Bay was originally planned with a big interchange. A spur highway called the “R. H. Thompson Expressway” would have sent cars as far north to Bothell and south to Renton. You can imagine the total annihilation of the Washington Arboretum and over a dozen Seattle neighborhoods that would have been sacrificed. Thanks to neighborhoods pitching justified fits that they didn’t want this urban-destroying monstrosity in their city, WSDOT relented in 1971 and cancelled the project. But in the wake of the effort to build the project, the unconnected ramps were left as a reminder of what could have been.

Farewell, ramps to nowhere!

Decoding the place between places


Third in an illustrated series about place-decoding from the South of France.


Today, many promote urban walkability, but for several years, I have focused on inter-urban, or, even inter-settlement walkability. Strolls through such “places between” not only highlight the virtues of walking itself, but also invoke the universal transitions between distinct locales and the amorphous rural countryside.

Understanding the blend between built and natural, including how balances change closer to clustered settlement, is key to defining sustainable cities going forward.

New urbanists seized on this notion long ago and built new approaches to planning and zoning around the borrowed biological principle of the “transect“. But my purpose here is more observational and humanistic, and to illustrate the dynamic of the “places between” in the context of the “place-decoding” approach that I began exploring earlier this month.

Between towns, it seems there is always a microcosm of similar characteristics defining the edge of urbanity.

Last year, I wrote about a Washington State perspective in the Palouse region on the Idaho border, and stressed dissection of the farm-to-market basis for why and how many cities grew, and the reasons forests and farms have been elemental to growth management legislation. I suggested that modern legislative approaches essentially emulate the naturally evolved agricultural region that has always surrounded the City of Rome.

But, as the Rome reference suggests, I believe that inter-urban walkability often resonates best outside of the United States, between towns that grew up at a walkable distance between each other—unremarkably in a mountain valley—or along roads left from civilizations where armies marched home along routes where country became city or town along the way.

IMG_0154.JPGOne example invokes Rome again. In my Urbanism Without Effort book talks, I like to relate the “Via Appia Method” of place decoding. Take a train several kilometers out from Rome, and walk into the city through regional parkland on the Via Appia, and witness 2000 years of human universals along the way. Burial places of old merge with suburban villas and tourist buses, agriculture and greenbelts abut now over-trafficked country roads.

Another example is farther north in Italy. I’ve also written about the “essence of urbanism” presented by the Cinque Terre towns of Liguria, joined by waterside pedestrian trail, and experienced the even more dramatic Sentiero d’egli dei through steep, cultivated Amalfi coast land between Positano and Amalfi.

And as a capstone last week, I observed the subtleties of the inter-settlement landscape in and around Quenza and Zonza--two proximate small Southern Corsican mountain towns of the Alta Rocca with populations of some 200 and 2000 inhabitants, respectively.  A five-hour loop hike between Quenza, a small, declining-in-population village, and Zonza, a more touristic, mountain sports-oriented focal point, invited place-decoding of the microcosm outlined above:  From artifacts of religion to agriculture to the cemeteries and leave-behinds that classically occur at the edge of town.



Last year, in the Palouse, I underscored how the elements of older, rural America have reappeared in today’s cities, noting how “small markets, the local bar, the library and the school — no longer needed in one context, they rise again in reinvented urban settings…”.

And last week on Corsica, walking to and from the place between places, I read human fundamentals, as illustrated in the images presented here, in a way that even more firmly decodes and illustrates the elements of urban settlement.

The ebb and flow of nature, economic base and the passage of time are always ripe for observation.  Below, take note of one walk’s illustration of two towns, their edges and the spaces between.


The natural transect, the moniker of urban transition



Agriculture, cemeteries and abandoned vehicles on the urban edge–an organic zoning without effort


Fences/property division:  an indicator that at some point, the commons disappeared


Religious structures are definitional in Quenza, this one for 1000 years


Zonza, renewed commerce at the core


Tourism is the new economy of survival in rough, now recreational terrain

Images composed by the author along the Via Appia entering Rome, and in Quenza and Zonza, Corsica, France. Click on the image for more detail. © 2009-2014 myurbanist.  All Rights Reserved. Do not copy.

Coming next: Decoding the elements of a street in Cassis.


Same time, same great place

Roy Street Coffee and Tea by LadyDucayne on Flickr.

Thanks to all those who came out for a special meetup for the University District Open Space forum last Tuesday. This week, we’ll be holding our regular weekly working meeting. Feel free to drop by Roy Street Coffee and Tea any time from 6pm to 9pm. We’ll have an agenda and debrief on a number of topics.

If you haven’t subscribed to our Google Calendar, be sure to do so. And, we always like to know about city events that fellow urban dwellers might be interested in. If you’ve got a tip, let us know and we’ll add it to the calendar. We hope to see you tonight!





A collection of interesting moments I’ve had recently, which all strike me with the unexpected nature of how events sequence themselves….

* * * *

What the uninitiated would call a “crazy lady” boards and sits near the front. She speaks to the air in front of her. Another woman with more regular brain function, strangely affluent for the 7 and somewhat out of place as a result, boards at Union without paying. “I owe you $2,” she says by way of explanation, and sits next to the unstable speaker. She ends up earning her ride through much more useful means than paying me cash–she speaks to the rambling woman next to her and keeps her at bay, artfully engaging her and keeping the thread of decorum alive. She probably didn’t know how valuable her presence would end up being on the bus, but I was very grateful. “This one’s on the house,” I said later.

* * * *

“God bless you,” says a thug at Henderson after I give his friend a transfer. He shakes my hand in the ebullient glow of acceptance. Two hours from now he will be in the Saar’s parking lot, fighting another young man, smile gone and a crowd gathering.

* * * *

Two young men in an unwashed beige four-door, let’s call it a Honda or Nissan or somesuch, nothing fancy. They catch my eye as I jog across the street in Rainier Beach because one is black and the other is white, and both seem dressed like– well, as if they just applied to Dartmouth and both like listening to classical music and progressive talk radio. Less than twenty minutes later I’ll see them again. The beige car will be smoldering and crumpled from the rear. They’ll be standing outside, hands on hips and foreheads, nerves fraught and struggling for balance. But that hasn’t happened yet. For now they’re simply driving, laughing about something, carefree and present.

* * * *

A wheelchair is rising up on the lift. One set of wheelchair seats is occupied by an older Muslim woman. The other is a white guy in a suit in his forties–the only white guy in sight, and currently the only fellow around with a suit. He remains motionless as the wheelchair enters. Seeing this, the Muslim woman offers her seat instead to the wheelchair. I stand and walk back to get the straps, and right as the Muslim woman is hesitantly moving out of the way, before I can catch myself, I’ve said it out loud to the Man in the Suit:
“You don’t feel like movin’?”
When he stares slowly and doesn’t respond I say “okay,” and ask after the wheelchair lady’s day. Prejudice earns my disrespect very easily, and I try to forget about it. I ought not to have said anything.
But he pipes up carefully and politely during a break in the conversation: “I actually just finished donating blood. I’m feeling, really woozy right now.”
I stand there a second and take him in as an individual. He wasn’t a rich white guy preening at all the colored folk around him. No, he was merely a guy, a guy working through some issues, like every single other person. How idiotic of me.
“Oh my goodness, okay. I understand. You’re fine. You should relax.”
“Thank you.”
“Oh yeah, let’s get you home.” Pause. “Listen, I didn’t mean to be testy in my tone back there.”
“Hey, you’re okay. All you did was ask a question.”
“Thanks for understanding.”
He’ll say the same to me when he leaves.

* * * *

I’m sitting in my seat, turned completely around, elbow on the farebox, talking down two violently furious drunk men. Both have verbally assaulted myself, others, and each other, and will continue to do so with increasing intensity for much of the remaining ride. The police will prove particularly useless this afternoon, both in their failure to respond but more curiously in one officer’s regrettable behavior to one of the principals as he boarded, thus instigating the debacle in the first place. I aim for that delicate mixture of asserting myself and remaining flexible, bending like reeds in the wind and never breaking.

One of the screaming men, drowning in a pathetic and ugly hostility, continually restates his former military status. I feel the heady rush of working, really working, struggling to stay on top of a situation. I wonder when I’ll see this man again–probably sooner rather than later. I don’t know that it’ll be just a week, exactly a week, and although next Friday afternoon he will be unkind and unhappy, he will also be sober. He will sneak on the back, all rage and muscle, never mind the fare, tearing his own transfer in a rash of entitlement. But, as he deboards at Othello I’ll say to him, without irony, “Thank you, mister Navy Seal! Thank you for serving!”

And he will slow a little, disoriented and uncharacteristically appreciative, stumbling through words of gratefulness he’s not used to using. His voice is an odd fit for “thank you,” but he does his best. Confusion. I want to hug the guy, but as in hugging a porcupine, I have myself to consider. I hope he finds more of what is missing in his life.

Pronto! is on its way to a block near you

Pronto! bikes in Occidental Park by Charles Cooper.
Pronto! bikes in Occidental Park by Charles Cooper.

Pronto! bikes are already circulating the city. They’ll be available for all users beginning at 1pm. See our earlier coverage on the launch from this morning for more information or the Pronto! blog.