Tuesday, 11 August, 2020

Sound Transit Releases Preliminary Report on Ballard-UW-520 Rail


Ballard to U-District Alternatives Map

On June 5, Sound Transit released a preliminary report on the Central and East HCT (High Capacity Transit) Corridor Study. The report studies three new HCT corridors: University District-Kirkland-Redmond, Ballard-University District, and Kirkland-Bellevue-Issaquah. The overall thrust of the document is to connect Ballard to the U-District and to use 520 to connect to one of many different locations on the Eastside. The corridor study also includes a few options for reaching Issaquah and the Issaquah Highlands.

For the Ballard to U-District corridor (starting from page 10), three different alignments and a mix of modes are considered, including rapid transit (BRT), at-grade streetcar, full light rail subway, and a combination of streetcar and elevated. (The rail options are collectively called light rail transit, or LRT.) A few key points that stand out here are:

  • All of the streetcar routes run along Leary Way, with one route taking a detour up Stone Way to Wallingford.
  • The subway route (A3) is the fastest route. It sails from Ballard to the U-District in a mere 6-9 minutes, only stopping in Wallingford (at Stone Way) along the way.
  • Both BRT routes stay clear of the popular N 45th Street. Only the rail routes provide central Wallingford with a stop.
  • The only route that serves both Fremont and Wallingford is the streetcar-elevated hybrid.

Though some of these routes skip Fremont, it’s worth noting that the most popular alignment for the Ballard to Downtown corridor would give Fremont a prominent stop.

The A3 subway route stands out as the top contender for solving North Seattle’s east-west transit problem. It’s not much more expensive than the other rail options, and it could give a stellar 6-minute commute time from Ballard to the U-District, which is generally not possible with any mode (transit, bicycle or car) today.

On page 4, the study looks at the options for serving UW Station and the U-District (page 4). This part is a little confusing, because it appears that Sound Transit is suggesting that the UW and U-District need more high capacity transit than they’re already getting with U-Link and North Link. In fact, the goal here is to connect the Ballard to U-District line with the route crossing the 520 bridge.

University Link: 84.6% Complete


University LinkIn case you didn’t know, Sound Transit’s University Link extension is well ahead of schedule and already 84.6% complete. So far, all that remains is the completion of track installation, power systems, and station construction. The UW Station stands at 94% complete while Capitol Hill Station is still at 53%. Meanwhile, track and power systems have a bit further to go with 37% completion. Service could begin as early as January 2016 if all goes to plan.

The rapid progress of the project is quite amazing when you consider that Sound Transit’s contractors only finished boring the twin tunnels last summer–tunnels which are a full mile longer than the SR99 Deep Bore Tunnel. Because of this, Sound Transit has been able to quickly move on to the next extension phase (Northgate Link) with their tunnel boring machines (TBMs). In late April, Sound Transit’s contractors at the Maple Leaf Portal began initial preparation work for the launch of two TBMs–a launch that will occur later this month with Brenda, the first of two TBMs to start drilling. Sound Transit anticipates that the first milestone could be 10 to 12 months away when Brenda arrives at Roosevelt Station while total tunneling completion for Northgate Link would wrap up somewhere in 2017.

Meanwhile, Sound Transit gave the media–and a few lucky guests–a tour last week of the new deep bore tunnels for University Link. The tunnels were bored as twins and are each 3 miles in length. As you can imagine, that must have been quite the walk end to end! The tunnels will connect Westlake Station with the interim northern terminus of Central Link–University of Washington Station–via the Capitol Hill alignment. The tunnels do have significant grades involved to reach Capitol Hill Station from Downtown and Montlake. During the tour, the media and guests took lots of video and photos of this unique subterranean tunnel walk. Capitol Hill Seattle Blog has a great article highlighting the walking tour and the project’s anticipated mobility and development prospects for the neighborhood. CHS also published the video that we’ve embedded below (so be sure to check out the video!) Not to be outdone, Zach over at the Seattle Transit Blog has an excellent phototour that’s worth a gander.

Tunnel Walk to Capitol Hill Station by Capitol Hill Seattle on YouTube.

Blue and Red, Like I Don’t See What the Big Deal Is



“You got one more comin’!”

I look in the right mirror, and it’s true, there’s a streak of red of blue, running for me at Rainier and Letitia. I’m feeling generous, and wait with doors open. In a few seconds he’s on board, breathing heavy and grinning. He sits down in front, a high schooler in primary colors, athletic gear by the looks of it, close-shaved dark head and a black backpack.

“Hey!” I want him to know I’m not miffed. “Perfect timing!” I say, in a friendly voice. “That was beautiful.”

“How you been?” he asks. I wasn’t expecting him to continue the conversation, and as I look at him now I realize he’s Jermain’s friend, the kid who once helped an old Asian grandmother with her bags. As an aside, Jermain, as the odds would have it, stopped by earlier today to tell me how the food at Silver Forks is. “Yeah Jerry told me if I ride the bus every day for two weeks he’d pay me,” he said, managing to sound both relaxed and out of breath, “and he did, took me out to Silver Forks, we had some breakfast it was pretty good.” Apparently Jerry, a father figure, wanted to imprint the value of being on the bus at a young age. I’ve been seeing a lot of Jermain lately; he’s a black American high-schooler who looks, dresses and talks the way we’re cultured to expect, but has seeds of something else in him. I look forward to finding out who he grows into as the years wear on.

Back to his friend, having just made the bus~

“I been great!” I say, in response to his query. “Happy to be on the route! You goin’ home, goin’ to work?”
“Goin’ home.”
“Nice, it’s the right time a day.” Late evening now.
“You almost done wit’ your shif’?”
“Getting there. I’ma go all the way to U District- all the way back to Rainier Beach- back to Downtown, then call it good.”
He knows the route well enough to know that means I’m only about halfway done; I think he was expecting me to say I was nearly finished. In a tone of encouragement he says, “right on. Gotta make that paper!”
“Oh yeah! Good to pay the rent when the rent’s due!”

He laughs, seeing I’m happy to be here. There’s an enterprising spirit he and Jermain both have which transcends expectations. The adolescent brain doesn’t have a fully formed pre-frontal cortex; the ability to consider the needs of others and empathize isn’t completely formed until about twenty-five. It’s a growth mechanism. Ostensibly, in earlier life you prioritize your needs over others so you can survive. Then your frontal lobe finishes growing and you and everyone else in the village help each other to survive.* I catch myself being mildly surprised- a teenager asking about my day?Recently Jermain was on a nighttime run of my 14. We were talking when a bewildered man got on, a stranger to both of us. “You sound like from you from Down South,” he said to the guy. They built up a conversation together, staccato consonants and lackadaisical drawling vowels- food, street names, weather. Young J hopes to move to Atlanta, and considers the South as his adopted home, much the way I do Seattle. Mainly I was struck to see a young person reaching out to strangers. When was the last time you saw a teenager talking to an adult they didn’t already know, without trying to get anything out of it for themselves?

*There are plenty of books on neuroscience, some by pop psychologists and others by actual researchers in the field. There are far too many neuroscientists to suggest reading here, and thus I restrict myself to one: Jill Bolte Taylor, who temporarily lost all ability in her left brain due to a stroke. Eventually the cells regrew and the neural pathways reformed, but she describes that period as by far the best in her life. Learn more from her book, My Stroke of Insight.


A Unique Map Series for Seattle


If you’re into maps and data as much as we are, you’ll probably love this new series of maps made by the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTfHP). NTfHP has an excellent series of maps relating to historic preservation called Older, Smaller, Better which range in themes like number of women-/minority-owned businesses, character score, and percent of non-chain businesses. The map themes compile data from a variety of sources like Yelp, the City of Seattle, and the King County Assessor to establish information on the parcel level and then aggregating that into square blocks to visually represent the data. These blocks are not necessarily contiguous with Census blocks or tracts nor actual city blocks. Currently only three US cities are covered in the map series (Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington, DC).

To give you a taste of the map series, we chose three different themes: medium building age, number of businesses, and number of parcels (granularity).

Median Building Age

Median Building Age

In the map theme for Median Building Age, you’ll notice that it contains a range of color intensity for each set of years. The most intense colors appear along primary streets and urban villages in Seattle when compared to single-family residential areas. Presumably, this is indicative of the strong presence of buildings for a particular age within blocks. The map is probably as you’d expect: the closer in to the city center, the older the average building is. Of course, there are tons of pockets within the closer-in neighborhoods that have lots of new construction like Ballard, South Lake Union, Uptown, Pike/Pine in Capitol Hill, and First Hill. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

Baugruppen: Instant Community (Just Add Water)


Editor’s Note: This is Part 6 of a series on Baugruppen, private owners collaboratively building affordable multifamily projects. Read Part 1 or check out the series.

So, how is it that baugruppen seemingly excel on the community cohesiveness and livability front over turn-key projects? I think there a few moving parts to this. As noted, baugruppen tend to form or ‘market’ around specific concepts or values, cities are pushing and rewarding diversity and livability of BGs, and the arduous, multi-year democratic process undertaken to actually construct the cooperatively-owned project seems to bring about cohesiveness as well (yes, that’s right, multi-year, as in 2+ years. Time is the largest advantage a turnkey project has over BGs).

There are a number of ways baugruppen are formed – some are initiated by friends or acquaintances that already share a common bond or set of core values. Others need additional members, and declare a strong central concept (bikes only! DINKS ok! Intergenerational granola-loving families!), a rallying cry for those that may be interested in joining up.

Through various online portals (including cities keen to advance such developments – hint, hint Seattle), community meetings and word of mouth – groups are completed. Of all the projects I’ve looked at, the FAHRRADLOFT seems to do this rather well (or maybe just hits at the type of BG in which I’d like to dwell – unsure!).

This is an important step in the process – declaring what you are about, be it uber-green living, diversity, gardeners, etc – a project won’t get built if it doesn’t get enough members. The big advantage in both of these scenarios is that you know, or will soon enough, who your neighbors will be at project completion. Along with the stated concept is the obligatory group photo and/or groundbreaking!

Once formed, a large amount of community buy-in must take place. To actually build a baugruppe is no small feat. Like co-housing, the design process of many baugruppen is driven by future tenants. Concepts, themes and ideas are developed, processes are formulated to move project planning forward. The land situation must be worked out. Architects work with the owners on the design – both groups bringing needs and constraints to the table.

This is not usually the case with developer-initiated projects. However, on the best projects, it is this close collaboration with clients that really drives success. There has to be consensus amongst the members to move forward, schedules have to be maintained. This is a process of give and take – actual democracy in action!

Though the process may take more time (e.g. weekly meetings for up to and over a year) and definitely involves challenges (There should be bike storage! The stairs should be yellow!) – it seems like a great way to engage with your future neighbors while formulating a building that meets your needs in a way other models can’t or won’t.

Imagine having a say in whether or not your building would have a roof terrace, or how your building engages the public! Want to implement ecological and social requirements for a project? Then do it! How about prioritizing car-free living like in Vauban? Go for it! This process seems to induce a greater sense of pride, respect and sense of community than other models – perhaps owing to the greater degree of trust and respect garnered through the planning process.

photo: flickr user ADEUPa Brest

Cities can also play a large part in the success of baugruppen. As previously discussed, there are a multitude of advantages for cities – solid taxes bases, affordable housing, increased density, diverse citizenry to name a few. Because of this, many jurisdictions go out of their way to not only promote BGs, but encourage stronger forms of them. They do this through the sale of city land to the group deemed most diverse/ecologically friendly/kid friendly/etc. They also do this through the appointing of facilitators, promotion of projects – built and in planning, and maybe more interestingly, holding the sale of city land while a BG gets it’s planning figured out and funding in order. Yep, you read that right – some jurisdictions are so gung ho for baugruppen, they’ll delay the sale of land to ensure the project is done right. Talk about winning on all fronts!

photo: flickr user ADEUPa Brest

Mostly, though, I think it’s the intentional [urban] community that forms – a close knit bunch that looks out for each other, works together, genuinely cares about the place in which they dwell. Is this a critique on contemporary urban dwelling? Is affordable communal dwelling, then, the biggest advantage to baugruppen? I believe it is. Yes, there is the opportunity for long term financial benefit through reduced construction costs/loans and operational energy (passivhaus) – but it is the communal aspect of BGs that seems to drive success larger than anything else. Per the NYT article on roedig.schoep stunning A52, ‘Mr. Roedig and Mr. Schop point out that they live in the building, not just their own apartment. The building was designed to be a kind of modern-day kibbutz.’ So… Maybe it doesn’t take a whole village… Maybe it just takes a baugruppe. With a community garden. That needs a little water.


Galway’s Lessons for Seattle

Long Walk Road, Galway City
Long Walk Road, Galway City by my gypsy life on Flickr.

I recently went to Galway, Ireland, which was my first time out of North America. I had a ton of fun, and I also learned lots and lots. This is the first in a series of posts where I will try to share some of what I’ve learned.

As usual, a disclaimer: Nothing that I say should be taken as representative of American urbanists, or residents of Seattle, or residents of/visitors to Ireland. I speak only for myself, and any errors in fact or analysis are my own.

I believe that Galway is a shining example of how urbanist principles can lead to vibrant, delightful places, even with a surprisingly small population. My overarching thesis is that we must heed these lessons–which have been the foundation of city design for millenia–if we want Seattle to truly succeed as a city.


Every road in Galway is smaller than the corresponding road in Seattle. To give you a sense of scale, Google Maps reports traffic data for all regional roads in Galway, the vast majority of which have a single travel lane in each direction. A regional road is approximately comparable to a principal arterial in Seattle; that is, a route that isn’t part of the national/state roadway system, but that is considered to be a vital part of the regional transportation network. The typical principal arterial in Seattle has a minimum of two motor vehicle lanes in each direction, and many of those roads have 5 motor vehicle lanes (2+1+2) or 6 (3+3).

Within the city center, many roads are so narrow that they are one-way for motor vehicles by necessity: there simply isn’t enough room for two motor vehicle lanes. And a good portion of the roads within the boundaries of the old medieval city have been fully pedestrianized. There will occasionally be a motorcycle or emergency vehicle that drives through (access is via retractable bollards), but this happens extremely rarely. Note that the roads that have been pedestrianized are not necessarily the narrowest roads. The hotel that I stayed on was on a particularly narrow street; the pedestrianized Shop Street was easily twice as wide from end to end.

Streets are shorter and more closely spaced, and so block sizes are much smaller. Standing at any point in the city, you only have to walk a very short distance to have a choice about which way to turn. There are few “alleys” in the American sense; every block has a contiguous facade of buildings. But the effect is similar, since the average gap between two streets in Galway is smaller than the average gap between any pair of streets/alleys in Seattle.

Galway has none of the giant impermeable facades that are popping up throughout Seattle. I didn’t see a single building that took up an entire city block. There are a few indoor shopping complexes, similar to the ones in downtown (e.g. Westlake/Pacific Place). However, rather than taking up an entire block facade, the shopping center is cleverly placed behind existing buildings. You access the shopping center by walking to the end of a “dead-end” street. But the shopping complexes have so many access and interconnection points that they feel like an indoor extension of the city. I saw several other smaller examples of this principle, where a large store would have an L-shaped building, allowing the store to have a large interior footprint (and two entrances), but taking up a very small amount of street frontage.

Sunday Video: Gravity


Gravity by Sound Transit on YouTube.

Sound Transit has launched a new advertisement campaign for 2014 with three 30-second videos. The lovely Voice of Reason makes her return aboard Link. Be sure to check out Fingers and Long Arms as well for a laugh.


What We’re Reading: All About the Design


501 E Pike

New views: Union Street will soon be under construction for an enhanced access to the waterfront from First Avenue. We look forward to the new lookout and access (for a primer on changes to come, see our previous report on the waterfront).

Ding dong Broad Street is dead: One of the few positive outcomes from the Viaduct is the closure of Broad Street. Remember those small sidewalkss and nasty traffic? Gone. The good news is that a superior street grid for all users is on the way. Broad is now closed between Fifth Avenue and Ninth Avenue.

Nail in the coffin: San Francisco’s voters took it upon themselves to grant veto authority for residents on waterfront development projects. Any future projects by the Port of San Francisco on the waterfront will be subject to a public vote if buildings exceed lowrise heights. Planners be damned.

Doin’ it for the public: Amazon.com wants you to know that you are very welcome to use their future public space. Do it! If you’re unfamiliar with the Denny Triangle towers going up, you should be. A brand new public park and retail amenities will be delivered for both Amazon employees and the public.

$$ for biking and more: The French government is mulling over the idea of paying people to bike. The government feels that the cost is probably worth the savings in terms of health, road expansion, and environmental conservation. Protected bike lanes provide more than safety, they induce new cyclists. In Citi Bike’s first year, every cyclist got home safely without a helmet; no surprise there. Toronto extends the sidewalk which becomes an accidental bike lane. The Federal government has officially designated a US Bike Route in Washington state. And, the Seattle Bike Blog sheds a little more light on the Northgate Pedestrian Bridge options in addition to our own story.

Council action this week: The City Council decided to expand the process for developing microhousing regulations by creating an advisory group for foes and doves (see Owen’s take on it). Meanwhile, the Council did move the North Rainier Rezone forward with Harrell’s low heights amendment getting quashed (Owen opines on it and advocates for expansion of the rezone). But more importantly, the City Council voted to raise the minimum wage to $15/hr, and boy was that meeting raucous.

Innovation in station design: Gizmodo swoons over five cool ideas for intercity railway stations in the US, Curbed highlights the complex and future Union Station in Los Angeles, and Streetsblog USA tells us why Milwaukee is looking to create a bi-level platform station.

Improvement for buses: It’s not exactly new news, but Community Transit will get to add new service over the next few years. The agency talked with KING 5 about their growing pains. SDOT will complete the Belltown-Uptown Trolley Electrification project soon, which will mean better reliability for buses and more direct routing. And Metro releases their basis for a bi-directional Columbia Street as a new path to West Seattle when the Viaduct comes down.

All about the design: CHS gushes about the new Dunn Automotive building breaking ground and argues that the historic preservation effort is commendable. Paris may not like modern design, but they’re getting this funky glass dome addition in the courtyard of an historic Haussmann-era complex. Sweden plans to relocate an entire town and develop the new town with revolutionary design. We’re not exactly fans of Walmart or the boring replica skyscrapers in China, but this new shopping center Walmart is definitely noteworthy. Genoa will deliver some cool new classrooms, which makes great infill. Daniel Libeskind creates a new skyscraper in Manila that will definitely be a talking point. And Manhattan is looking to construct some serious storm defense forces along the Lower Manhattan waterfront. The good news for the public is even better park space.

To cut or not to cut: King County Council Member Rod Dembowski led a coup with Republicans on the transportation committee. Dembowski wants to delay planned cuts to Metro after the initial September service cut round. Seattle Transit Blog opines about tentatively supporting the effort for additional efficiencies, but remains skeptical about the long-term vitality of Metro if actual service cuts are delayed further.

Median building age: This sweet mapping service lets you look block by block at a whole range of data like median building age, density of businesses, granularity of blocks, and more. City Lab has an interesting set of maps on how Detroit may deal with its blight, or at least they have an idea of where it its. And since we love maps, next time you visit Seatac Airport, you can drop by Metsker Maps in Concourse B!

Take a walk underground: Sound Transit shares a walk through the new light rail tunnel between the UW and Capitol Hill, check out the video.

Affordable housing: Gentrification and high rents aren’t necessarily the same thing, Seattle 2035 shares data on housing, affordable housing is linked to good health (especially with children), and everything that you wanted to know about the affordable housing debate.