South Lake Union Green Street Gets the Green Light

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On Monday, the full Seattle City Council approved a woonerf in South Lake Union along 8th Ave between Harrison and Thomas Street. The plan sparked a tense debate between Councilmember Tom Rasmussen and Mike O’Brien on the Transportation Committee two weeks ago. Ultimately Rasmussen won out with a vote of six to two (breakdown below).

Both Rasmussen and O’Brien started out the discussion by recounting their positions, summarized in our previous post. Rasmussen argued that the project was a steal for the City, with the private company Vulcan bearing the bulk of the cost to build a premium public amenity for the neighborhood. O’Brien countered that the project wasn’t enough of a public benefit to justify the $500,000 cost.

Councilmember Nick Licata offered a successful amendment to designate the corridor as a festival street. As such, Vulcan would be able to apply for an annual permit to conduct street activities such as dance and art festivals and celebrations. The stretch of 8th Ave will join just two other festival streets across the city—S Roberto Maestas Street on Beacon Hill next to the light rail station, and Nord Alley in Pioneer Square.

Alleypalooza
Nord Alley, courtesy of DowntownSeattle.com

 

In full debate, Councilmember Kshama Sawant called the project a corporate “infomercial” for Vulcan. She said the company wasn’t motivated by good will for the neighborhood, but by profit from the increased property value the premium amenity would bring—though it is unclear why an alignment of public and private profit is disagreeable. Ultimately the City would be giving up over $500,000 in street use fees to support the project—money that could be spent on affordable housing or sidewalk upgrades (excluding a woonerf, apparently).

Quick to rebut her point, Councilmember Jean Godden accused Sawant and O’Brien of being disingenuous for supporting Licata’s festival street amendment while voting against the full legislation. The project is good for the environment and good for the neighborhood, allowing them to shape their own community.

Finally, Councilmember Nick Licata, usually a dependable ally for O’Brien as one of the most liberal members of the Council, spoke in support of the project. While sympathetic to Sawant’s point that Vulcan was ultimately motivated by profit, not people, he knocked down O’Brien’s central message that the money would be better spent elsewhere. If this project were rejected, the $500,000 in revenue would go to the Seattle Department of Transportation’s (SDOT) general budget; it wouldn’t be earmarked for another woonerf. And even if it were, design costs alone would eat through funds. The question before the Council is not whether to support this woonerf or another; it’s whether to support this woonerf or none.

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Denny Park, courtesy of Carl Paulaner Hefe-weizen via Flickr

Licata also tested O’Brien’s claim that the corporate project would taint the welcoming residential feel of the neighborhood. The new zoning allows for residential buildings up to 240 feet, allowing for what he called a “residential canyon street” with tall buildings lining both sides. This claustrophobic image is usually conjured by anti-density NIMBYs, making it a surprise to hear from Licata, who used it to draw contrast with the open and inviting woonerf.

The Council agreed with Licata and approved the woonerf plan. South Lake Union can now look forward to what may become the most engaging street in the city, with wide landscaped sidewalks dotted with street furniture, pedestrians, and cyclists, just a block from Denny Park.

Councilmember Vote District Running for Reelection?
Bagshaw Excused 7 Yes
Burgess Aye 7 Yes
Clark Aye 2 No
Godden Aye 4 Yes
Harell Aye 2 Yes
Licata Aye 6 No
O’Brien Nay 6 Yes
Rasmussen Aye 1 No
Sawant Nay 3 Yes

 

Mayor Leads Scripted U District Community Walk

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Mayor Ed Murray out with members of the community.
Mayor Ed Murray out with members of the community.

On Saturday, Seattle mayor Ed Murray continued his series of “Find It, Fix It” walks with residents of the University District. The event drew a large crowd and media presence, and wound through the neighborhood’s core with a police escort. Though named after a smartphone application that lets citizens quickly report problems like potholes, graffiti, and broken streetlights, the event focused more on projects and important figures in the neighborhood rather than infrastructure. This left little opportunity for citizens to directly engage with the mayor.

At the event’s starting point, NE 45th St and Brooklyn Ave NE, the mayor pointed to the University District light rail station construction site behind him and emphasized that it is the catalyst for drastic neighborhood change. He expressed hope for preserving the area’s eclectic character while ensuring new development has positive impacts. Numerous other local leaders gave brief introductions, including City Council members Jean Godden and Sally Clark. A few words were spoken by Dave LaClergue, the city planner overseeing upzoning, green streets, and open space efforts here, and Sound Transit’s project manager for the station construction.

From there, the crowd moved north to a grocery store parking lot at NE 50th St, an infamous location for drug dealing, assaults, and other criminal activity. A couple of local activists took the microphone to celebrate a community mural on the wall of neighboring building and suggested it had helped lower nuisance activity in the area. The crowd then moved down University Way, where a neighborhood patrol officer discussed other efforts to reduce crime. A representative from the U District Partnership (UDP) detailed the plan to expand a business improvement district to increase funding for street cleaning and community events.

Down at 43rd Street, Cory Crocker from U District Square handed Murray a flyer and briefly discussed the neighborhood effort to built a parklet on that corner, next to a Pronto! bikeshare station. The project is funded and will likely be built later this year. Crocker told me, “[Murray] said that the city is all for the parklet and mentioned that the city would be making an announcement soon about allowing adjacent businesses to serve in the parklets in order to engage the public more and manage the spaces. He also volunteered that he’d like to see that particular intersection much more pedestrian-friendly.”

Media crowding the Mayor.
Media crowding the Mayor.

 

In the alley between 43rd and 42nd Streets, Murray introduced Kristine Cunningham, executive director of the ROOTS organization that provides temporary shelter to young adults who have been rejected by the foster care system. She noted that ROOTS is just one of many similar social services in the neighborhood, and the challenges are increasing. The alley has also become more of a social space in recent years, with a neighboring university building providing a voluntary setback for bicycle parking and pizza shop entrance in the alley. It complements a cafe that also has its entrance on the alley there.

As the tour wound down, the mayor led led everyone across 15th Avenue to a lawn on the University of Washington campus. There, provost and interim university president Ana Mari Cauce described her view of the school’s role in the neighborhood. The university is a large landowner, but she didn’t speak to rising student housing prices or the physical separation of the campus from the rest of the neighborhood.

King 5’s Dan Cassuto critically reported the event as highly orchestrated, with little opportunity for the mayor to speak to various business owners about crime or to see the large number of people living on the streets here. While it was my first Find It, Fix It walk, I’d argue that’s a fair assessment. The event was as much a mobile photo op for the mayor as it was community outreach, if not more so. But along with briefly meeting the mayor, I did get the chance to talk to three of the city and Sound Transit staff who tagged along, including transportation director Scott Kubly. They were fairly receptive to conversation, though weren’t too enthusiastic about being there on a Saturday morning. In the future, I’d suggest the mayor’s office reach out to specific community groups for focused and meaningful conversations.

We’re Moving! Our New Home is Vivace

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Vivace at Alley 24.

We’re happy to announce that we’re making South Lake Union’s Vivace our new home. We hope that the very central location will better serve our membership by giving us more room to grow. There’s a lot to like about the coffeehouse: good WIFI, great coffee, beer on tap, and a wide selection of food. We’ve also scouted out the space situation: a fishbowl/study room, ample couches and coffee tables, and some bar tables could suit our needs on any given night. Whether you’re walking, biking, taking transit, or driving, most of our regulars should see this as a more accessible.

Of course, we want to express our deep appreciation to Roy Street Coffee & Tea for having us over the past year. Not only has the staff always been incredibly kind to us, the coffeehouse provided a great working atmosphere and topnotch beverages. We leave with plenty of fond memories, good conversations, and successful efforts that couldn’t have happened otherwise. And, it’s where we hatched this whole organization and publication. For that, we thank them.

Next Tuesday (March 3rd), we will hold our first meeting at the Vivace South Lake Union location beginning at 6pm. As is typical, the first half hour will be free discussion followed by our agenda and collaborative projects. Vivace is located in the Alley 24 complex at 227 Yale Ave N, right across from REI. See you there!

Painting the Town Red

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The new 4230 11th Ave NE building, courtesy of DPD.
The new 4230 11th Ave NE building, courtesy of DPD.

A new 101-unit, 7-story apartment building is coming to the University District. The Arion Apartments will deliver a lot of color and whimsy to a block in serious need of it. The project is entering the Recommendation phase of Design Review tonight in order to respond to the concerns and issues presented at the Early Design Guidance stage. Back in July, neighbors expressed their views on privacy and noise, density, parking, and access of the site.  Meanwhile, the Northeast Design Review Board members applauded the extravagant design proposal and requested that the applicant consider issues like privacy of adjacent properties. Board members will have one more bite at the apple tonight to give their final comments and blessing on the development.

There’s no doubt that neighbors will either love or hate this gem by Johnston Architects, but the project is situated in an ideal location for this kind of density. The project is already flanked by apartment and condo buildings on all sides with hundreds of other dwelling units on the block. Two blighting residences will be removed to make way for the new apartment. However, future residents could benefit from excellent amenities like local retail services and entertainment, frequent transit service, employment and educational opportunities, and much more.

11th Ave NE before and after, courtesy of DPD.
11th Ave NE before and after, courtesy of DPD.

The architects have chosen to create a very modular, checkered, and semi-industrial looking building. The exterior will largely consist of red corrugated metal and nearly resemble cargo containers. The almost haphazard nature of the recessed unit facades makes for a very interesting and mesmerising honeycomb building from the public realm perspective. Residents get a big benefit from this design as large windows will fill the boxed frontages of the building while longer side facades will give a more measured and private appearance.

The applicant is not a proposing any vehicular parking for the project, but there will be a huge emphasis on secured bicycle parking on the ground floor. All of the units will be geared toward studios, but they will vary somewhat in size. Residents will have access to a rooftop amenity that will likely play host to social events and provide some measure of onsite open space. A small departure from code is requested for the size of the bay windows, but given the design, this shouldn’t pose an obstacle to the request of the applicant. However, not to be outdone, the applicant wants to flex their environmental credentials by building the structure to Built Green 4-star standards.

Ground floor plan view of the project, courtesy of DPD.
Ground floor plan view of the project, courtesy of DPD.

The property itself is zoned as Midrise (MR) which permits 6-story residential structures. However, the applicant has chosen to take advantage of incentive zoning, which grants one additional floor for development under current zoning. This has two great benefits: additional space for units onsite and more low-income housing provided through contribution to the City’s Housing Incentive Bonus Program.

How To Get Involved

If you’re interested in attending the community design review meeting for this project, you can do so tonight. The Northeast Design Review Board will meet at the University Heights Community Center in Room 209, located at 5031 University Way NE. The design review meeting begins at 6.30pm. Alternatively, if you wish submit comments in written form, you can do so by e-mailing Michael Dorcy, Project Planner, at Michael.Dorcy@seattle.gov and the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) at PRC@seattle.gov.

For more design review materials and upcoming meetings, see DPD’s design review page.

Sunday Video: Do our cities still work?

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Do our cities still work? by The National on YouTube.

Brent Toderian, Charles Montgomery, and other Canadian urbanists talk about how sprawl is a problem for our health and financial stability. Juxtaposed, they speak about how real cities are a solution.

What We’re Reading: An Alternative Seattle Subway

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The newly proposed Westside Seattle Transit Tunnel, courtesy of Seattle Subway.
The newly proposed Westside Seattle Transit Tunnel, courtesy of Seattle Subway.

Stopping displacement: How expensive new housing reduces displacement of low-income housing.

A protected class: Hartford, Connecticut wants to kick out a non-traditional family because of neighbor concerns.

Super green: Brooklyn, NY gets its first truly sustainable housing development that passes Passive House standards.

Capping rents: Seattle may pass regulations to restrict rent prices ($) on new microhousing units.

Calling it quits: Sally Clark is the latest sitting city councilmember to declare retirement from City Hall.

Map of the week: Oran plays with new frequent transit maps for Seattle based upon Prop 1.

Russian bomb: The Winter Olympics weren’t all the were cracked up to be, Russia has two transportation white elephants.

Too much parking: Despite the sensationalist stories on parking in Seattle media this week, the city has way too much parking, and that’s a problem.

Supporting the linkage fee: One major developer is completely behind the imposition of a linkage fee on new development.

Bad signage: Freeway-style signage makes streets less safe for all.

Fairer tolling: NYC could institute tolls across all bridges in the city to right a wrong, and boost funding for transit.

Low blow: How Bertha managed to beat out the surface option as a replacement to the Viaduct.

Incremental Seattle Subway: A new option is being floated to create a rail-convertible tunnel for buses in Downtown Seattle running somewhat parallel to the current transit tunnel. It’s called the “Westside Seattle Transit Tunnel”.

Getting nerdy: Transitmix becomes even more useful for those nerdy transit service planners with a pro version.

The Central Greenway: Work is starting on the Central Greenway, which should create some really safe pathways for bicyclists.

Vertical farming: A story about a Wyoming farm that could really trailblaze the whole greenhouse, urban farming movement.

Ballard Bridge problem: Peddler Brewing took some very clever footage to show the challenges that the Ballard Bridge poses to people biking and walking.

Doing something right: Minneapolis has managed to really balance affordability, opportunity, and wealth, but what’s the secret to this success?

Bike lanes in B’vue: Look out, new bike lanes are coming to Bellevue on 116th Ave NE.

Hitting all of Seattle’s Protected Bike Lanes in one ride

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PBLs of Seattle
A day in the saddle.

On the beautiful day of January 25th, I set out on an interesting bike trip: hitting all of Seattle’s protected bike lanes in one ride, in one morning. My route would take me 60 miles from the Eastside to Seattle and back to the Eastside, climbing many hills and biking on many great trails, streets, and of course, protected bike lanes in the process (see my route on Strava).

Here’s a rundown of all the protected bike lanes that I rode on:

Yesler Way (Eastern Segment)

IMG_0869 (4928x3264) (2048x1152)

Distance: 1 Block

Opened: Winter 2014

Connection: On the popular Yesler Way bike route from the Central District to Downtown.

Broadway

IMG_0872 (4928x3264) (2048x1152)

Distance: 16 blocks

Opened: Fall 2013 (Northern segment), Spring 2014 (Southern segment)

Connection: Connects First Hill and Capitol Hill, built as part of the First Hill Streetcar project.

Roosevelt Way

IMG_0890 (4928x3264) (2048x1153)

Distance: 5 blocks for now, to be 25 when fully opened

Opened: Demonstration 5 blocks: Winter 2015. Full opening: Fall 2015/Winter 2016

Connection: Connection for Northeast Seattle to the Burke Gilman at NE 40th St and the University Bridge, eventually to Downtown.

NE 40th St (Western Segment)

IMG_0904 (3264x4928) (1356x2048)

Distance: 2 Blocks

Opened: A while ago! Before Summer 2002

Connection: Connection from the Northbound University bridge to the Westbound Burke Gilman, and from the Burke Gilman to UW.

NE 40th St (Eastern Segment)

IMG_0909 (3264x4928) (1356x2048)

Distance: 2 Blocks

Opened: Spring 2014

Connection: Built as part of the Burke-Gilman detour through UW, also connects the “regular” Burke-Gilman to UW.

Sand Point Way

IMG_0914 (3264x4928) (1356x2048)

Distance: 2 Blocks

Opened: Spring 2014

Connection: Connects Seattle Children’s Hospital with the Burke Gilman Trail.

NE 65th St

IMG_0925 (3264x4928) (1356x2048)

Distance: 3 Blocks

Opened: Spring 2013

Connection: Connects Magnuson Park with the Burke-Gilman Trail.

Linden Ave

IMG_0937 (4928x3264) (2048x1152)

Distance: 17 Blocks

Opened: Summer 2013

Connection: Part of the Interurban route, which goes from Seattle to Everett. Missing link between two sections of the Interurban trail.

NW 45th St

IMG_0963 (4928x3264) (2048x1151)

Distance: 3 Blocks

Opened: Spring 2014

Connection: Part of the Burke Gilman Missing Link, the major East-West bike route through Ballard

Dexter Ave

IMG_0973 (4928x3264) (2048x1356)

Distance: 5 blocks when complete (still partially under construction)

Opened: Winter 2015

Connection: Part of the popular Dexter Ave bike route from the Fremont bridge to Downtown Seattle, which connects Northwest Seattle to Downtown Seattle and beyond.

Pike St

IMG_0981 (4928x3264) (2048x1152)

Distance: 1 Block

Opened: Summer 2014

Connection: Connects Pike Place Market to the 2nd Ave Bike Lane.

2nd Ave

IMG_0991 (4928x3264) (2048x1152)

Distance: 10 Blocks

Opened: Summer 2014

Connection: Only north-south protected bike lane through Downtown Seattle, major commute route and important piece for Pronto! bikeshare.

Yesler Way (Western Segment)

IMG_0995 (4928x3264) (2048x1150)

Distance: 1 Block

Opened: Summer 2014

Connection: Connects the 2nd Ave Cycle Track with Pioneer Square.

Cherry St

IMG_1000 (3264x4928) (1356x2048)

Distance: 1 Block

Opened: Summer 2013

Connection: Connects Downtown Seattle with First Hill and beyond.

7th Ave

IMG_1003 (3264x4928) (1356x2048)

Distance: 1 Block

Opened: Summer 2013

Connection: Also part of the route that connects Downtown Seattle with First Hill.

Did I miss any? Let me know what I should ride next in the Comments! And have fun riding your bike around those Protected Bike Lanes!

 

Mayor Murray Remarks on Seattle’s Achievements and Challenges

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Mayor Murray addresses a large crowd at City Hall on Tuesday. Photo by the author.

In his annual address, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray remarked on the city’s significant progress towards some of its goals and made a number of announcements about initiatives to pick up the pace on others. He also spoke at length about city planning, including the ongoing comprehensive plan update, the need for an integrated transportation policy, and funding infrastructure and ensuring affordable housing is more equitably spread across neighborhoods. He plans to host a number of summits on social and economic issues with community leaders while increasing government transparency through new performance and budget tracking tools.

Noting that the state of the city is strong, Murray pointed to the city’s many social achievements that were implemented over the past year or will begin this year. The city’s minimum wage ordinance will take effect in April, starting at a citywide standard of $11 per hour. Permanent funding for parks maintenance will also begin in April thanks to the voter-approved Seattle Parks District. In June, Seattle will get the biggest increase in bus service in King County Metro’s history. In July the city will implement a new priority hire program to increase contracting opportunities for local and disadvantaged workers on  public construction projects. And, in September the city will start up its new preschool program to improve long-term academic performance.

Highlighting the number of young people in the audience, the mayor noted that half of Seattle residents are younger than 35 years old, and this large group has a major say in the future of the city. He highlighted Seattle’s rapid growth that is outpacing the suburbs for the first time in 100 years, and applauded the fact that three-quarters of that growth has been happening in designated urban villages. However, services and infrastructure have not kept up with these changes even as 120,000 new residents are being planned for by 2035. Ballard, for instance, has grown 25 percent in the last decade alone with concurrent increases in transit service. Rainier Beach has three times the unemployment rate of the city as a whole. The Seattle 2035 comprehensive plan update, he said, is an opportunity to explore the long-term response to such issues.

Murray announced that he will set new policies for social equity in city planning, saying, “Growth must be about placing without displacing”. He used the example of a Downtown worker who can only afford to live in South King County, commuting hours each day, and declared that everyone who works in Seattle should be able to live in Seattle. Seattle’s rents having been growing faster than any other major US city, so last year the mayor convened a Housing Affordability and Livability Committee. On Tuesday, he announced that he will commit $35 million to implement the committee’s recommendations, due later this year. Murray emphasized that affordability will not be solved with a single tool, possibly in reference to the controversial linkage fee program. But he did point out that, along with the private sector, non-profits, and a concerned public, the city government has a large role in solving housing problems.

Transportation was also briefly touched on. Murray touted the outcome of his rideshare services committee that ultimately brokered a deal between taxi companies and new app-based services like Lyft and Uber. He also mentioned continued expansions of protected bike lanes, the launch of Pronto! bike share, an increase in the cap of free floating car share permits, and the upcoming opening of two new light stations as examples of the city’s growing multi-modal network. He urged a quick passage of state legislation that will enable Sound Transit to ask voters for funding to expand and connect West Seattle and Ballard with light rail to Downtown. Murray announced that a holistic strategy for integrating the city’s transportation systems, under the name “Move Seattle”, will be unveiled by next week.

The mayor also announced two new city websites that will increase government transparency and availability of data. Performance Seattle is a new civic metrics system that will track key statistics like crime, carbon footprints, affordable housing units, and more. Open Budget is an unprecedentedly detailed and interactive way for citizens to view the city’s $6 billion annual budget. It is organized by the city’s operating and capital budgets, and divisible by department and specific projects. The city is increasingly opening up its data to the public, including for hackathon events.

More so than last year, Murray spoke extensively about police reforms. He said it remains a top priority for his administration. The Seattle Police Department will be directed to increase the diversity of its force, collect better data, increase deescalation training, have more civilian oversight, and implement other changes as ordered by the federal Department of Justice. Though he avoided discussing specific incidents of use of force, the mayor also pointed to “smart policing” tactics that been developed to target upticks in crimes like car thefts in South Seattle and robberies in Capitol Hill.

Moving forward, Murray intends to help close social and economic gaps by increasing opportunities across racial divides and neighborhood boundaries. A grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies will help the city create 2,000 summer jobs for youth, and this spring, Murray will hold a youth summit. There will also be an education summit in the fall to pave the way towards 21st century urban school system, though there was no mention of the recent failure to secure a Downtown school. Last year an economic summit with industrial and maritime businesses led to beefing up key truck routes, but Murray cautioned the city cannot continue to rely on luck and geography for economic development. He hopes to continue working with businesses interests on creating an attractive economic environment. In addition, a new labor office is starting up to help businesses cooperate with the minimum wage law. And, finally, later this spring there will be another neighborhood summit that invites residents to a citywide conversation.

Seattle is an increasingly attractive city to people and business alike, and with continued leadership on these many issues it will surely become more so. Initiatives on social equity, environmental stewardship, and economic vitality are needed to continue striving for a high quality of life and vibrancy of diverse neighborhoods and communities.

Mayor Murray’s full remarks are online here.

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.