There’s Only One Denise!


Picture 10


“Thank you. I hope it’s a pleasant rest of the evening for you,” I say to someone at Third and Union, on a late-night inbound 13.
“I hope so for you too,” she replies. It’s been a quiet evening.

Then, from the sidewalk, out in the darkness, a face approaches with the familiar accompaniment, shrill and hoarse all at once: “AYYOUGOTHIRDUHJAMES?”
“Hi, Denise! I do!”
There’s only one Denise. She plows onboard like the force of nature she is.

Abnormally thin and ever-moving, she comes from the cartoon tradition of relentless vocal and physical energy. You sense it rushing out untapped, barely controllable, an inertia with everywhere and nowhere to go.

“Aw, pretty good,” I reply in normal tones.
“Oh yeah, Third and James!”
“THANK,” she cries as she tosses in a few coins. Glistening yellow pustules cover the lined umber skin and charcoal bruises of her aging hand. Denise will always offer a token gesture as she storms the farebox. What more could one ask for?

She sits down and stands up. Then she sits down again, just behind me.
“How you doin’ tonight?”
“GOOD,” she wails. “MAH FAV’RITE DRIVER!”
“Aw!” It’s often hard to tell how present she is. Typically every fiber of her wiry frame is focused on her next fix, but you get a glimmer every now and again. She loves candy, but doesn’t have any tonight.

“AHM GOIN’ THIRD JAMES,” she announces to no one in particular. There’s only one other passenger on the bus, a crisp silent man in a blazer from Queen Anne. “I WANNA GO THUHJEMS.” The syntax was shaky to begin with, and it’s beginning to
collapse. She experiments with subtly different alterations on an established theme. I’m listening to the Goldberg Variations here. “AH GUH THUJUMS,” she offers.

At Marion a well-dressed African-American gentleman asks if I stop at Yesler. I do. He folds his umbrella, reaching inside his frock coat for an Orca Card. The glint of his oiled shoes catches in the dim light. The man’s on his phone, attempting to have a conversation: “I might be able to get that to you by Tuesday-“, but it’s to no avail, what with Denise’s variations in the background- or, perhaps more accurately, the foreground.

“I GOTTA GO THIR’ JAMES,” she howls to the high heavens, with wild abandon.
“That’s what I’m talkin’ about,” I say. “We’re definitely goin’ to Third and James!”

Well-Dressed hangs up, giving up on his conversation. He looks at Denise, and then at me. “Dayumn,” he declares after a moment. “Why’s it so loud in here?”
“Just another day in the life!” I laugh.
I respond to her with, “I’m goin there too!”

Denise has dropped some change, a few pennies rolling out of her clenched fists like so many raindrops. One rolls toward Well-Dressed. Denise says, “you want tha’ quarter?”
“That’s a penny.” He kicks it back disdainfully.  “There. Take your penny.”
“Oh whuh oh iss okay,” she replies, rocking back and forth, barely registering him.

I was thinking of commonalities I shared with Denise, or other ways of considering the scene. Moments of urgency I’ve felt. The Goldberg Variations. Well-Dressed seemed to be thinking about how different he was from her. Even a sigh can be elitist: “I want the next stop,” he moaned.

Now, the next stop is called James, but it’s also the stop for Yesler. The zone is on the block bordered by the two streets. Well-Dressed asks, “is the next one Yesler?”
“It is.”
“NO! NO! THE NEX’ ONE THUHJUMS!” Denise’s mouth extends out, flat sideways, almost in tears. She sounds like she’s about to start crying.
Placating: “No worries, both of you guys want the next one, it’s all good. It’s the same one, Yesler and James.”
“Here we are. At Third and James! Bye, Denise! I’ll see you again!”
“AY!” she yells at someone in the shadows, already racing forward, on to the next thing.

Well-Dressed is gone, and the third man gets off as well, the silent witness from Queen Anne. “You have a good night,” he says with untold volumes of emphasis and concern. It was the genuine concern you voice for your friend who’s just been drafted.
“I will,” I say, laughing. He was kind, and I was grateful, but I felt fine. No draft was taking place.

Some people think Denise is the bottom of the barrel. I don’t agree. That would be elitist apathy, which we can always use less of. My heart breaks a little when I hear terms like “Lake City Trash” or “Garbage on Aurora” used to describe people. I happen to like the lady. She is exactly who she is determined to be, no more and no less. My first experience with her was in my early teens. She asked me for change (at Third and James!). After I gave her a handful, she walked away without a word, picking out the pennies and throwing them on the ground. I was offended by that for years, even recently. Now I can see her single-minded drive wasn’t concerned with offending others; just hurting herself.

That was around the time I stopped offering money to people, and the beginning of my time gladly offering help- gestures, food, a smile- and expecting nothing in return. She was doing her best to eliminate everything in her life unrelated to acquiring crack cocaine, in a way perversely similar to my great desire to purge from my life everything unrelated to being truly happy. Without knowing why, I must admit her unrelenting energy and focus brings me amusement. No other passenger knows with such confidence which stop they want! I imagine she would like simply to be acknowledged as a fellow member of the human community. I get the feeling that doesn’t happen very often.

Read more of Nathan’s stories at

Sunday Video: Ride the Bus


Ride The Bus by Lok Raj Dhakjal on YouTube. h/t Caelen Ball

We at The Urbanist love riding the bus. So perhaps it’s no surprise that this set of playful commercials for De Lijn really caught our attention this week. The Belgians certainly know how to sell public transit. Enjoy the video short and ride the bus!

What We’re Reading: Save the Buses


New Metro

Save the buses: The Seattle Transit Blog has been tearing up the blogosphere with every reason why you should vote YES on Proposition 1.

Bike protection: New stripped bike lanes have arrived in the U District. Burke-Gilman/UW riders will rejoice the addition of this facility on NE 40th St.

It’s going to the dogs: Apparently people love their dogs way more than kids if they live in the city.

Maptastic: If you love maps and subways, then you’ll love these standardized subway maps.

Developers for affordability: It’s not something you hear often, but a Canadian firm wants to bring affordable units to Seattle.

Ditching the cars: car2go has been pretty effective at inducing people to sell their cars, but it isn’t necessarily all roses.

Urban streets: The City of Bellevue has official gone urban! The transportation department has adopted the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide.

Don’t forget the paint: A new Capitol Hill development has been delayed over paint. This is why you stick to the plan.

Amazon changing the market: The company is changing more than just the face of Main Street, it’s changing our city.

Unclogging the streets: Traffic levels are crashing in the city, and quickly.

Death of the mall: Teens just don’t care about hanging out at the malls anymore. Kids these days…

A rainbow of color: These Dutch fields of tulips are amazing. Don’t forget that we have our own.

Public safety: It’s a tragedy if we allow public spaces to be unsafe for anybody, but especially for women.



Picture 8

I was riding the 7 one night, going out to Orcas to meet a friend. Rain peeled down from all corners of the globe and splashed against the laminated glass windows. Outside, cars of all stripes and nations roared by in the dimming evening light, streaks of illuminated red and white, railing past in defiance of the wet blue darkness all around. I sat just in front of the back lounge area, on those high-seats above the rear wheel. Looking out the window to see the front half of the bus make turns, that great behemoth with its angled front wheel, negotiating the dotted lines and wet pavement. I shivered with pleasure inside my jacket, smiling to myself at the cozy thrill of being indoors.

I’ve sat in the back of a lot 7s, but this one felt different. What was it? I looked around. The bus was maybe three-fourths full, a population whose figure bubbled and eddied with each stop. A laundry list of languages permeated the air, lively, stories gleaming out from under hoods, veils, caps and more, bright eyes of every shade peering out. Here were most of the world’s continents, relaxing for a time, just hanging out together in a sixty-by-eight foot rec room.

Something linked all this disparity though, made it feel united. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Was it the rain? The fading thrill of the last light of day? I looked down the aisle at the grooved non-slip flooring, stained and starched from decades of use. I marveled at all the noise- traffic, conversations, the occasional clink of the poles hitting the switches, the patter of raindrops hitting the fabric of the articulated section….

More after the jump.

King County 2030: Introduction to Housing and Employment


Editor’s Note: King County 2030 is a series analyzing King County’s future through the lens of growth targets for the County’s Metro and Core cities. Topics in the series include: density, sprawl, apportionment of jobs and housing, traffic patterns, greenhouse gas emissions, and more. For other articles in the series, see King County 2030 in the archives.

Seattle Yonder

Over the next few months, we will be exploring the future of King County in a series called “King County 2030.” The series will analyze housing and employment targets for the Core Cities of King County, a top tier of cities that are dense and/or highly productive. Themes we will touch on include the effectiveness of the targets at managing growth, trip generation, commute times, and environmental impacts through greenhouse gas emissions.


Growth in King County is managed through the King County Comprehensive Plan (KCCP), a guiding policy document for the County’s future. The KCCP contains plan elements on land use, transportation, the natural environment, parks and recreation, and other planning and policy areas. While the KCCP largely focuses on the County’s policies for unincorporated areas, it also has strong control over countywide policies that affect cities in King County. Perhaps the most important of these are housing and employment targets. The current planning horizon for the KCCP is to the year 2030.

Every year the Comprehensive Plan can be amended to address technical updates and make revisions that do not require substantive policy changes. Every fourth year, the “Four-Year Cycle” process occurs to conduct a complete review of the Plan. In this review, broader policy issues are addressed and the Plan amended accordingly. The 2012 four-year cycle has been completed, so the next four-year cycle will be in 2016.

The KCCP illuminates different municipalities’ declared growth targets, and a brief analysis shows some very interesting trends. The document is rich with values and further exploration and analysis of the forecasts for this region. For the purposes of this series, we will focus primarily on data from the Metro and Core cities, a subset of King County cities. Now to look at and evaluate some numbers!

Cold, hard, and some reasonably generated population projections

In total, the KCCP has targets of 428,068 more jobs and 233,077 more households created by 2030. Countywide, that’s approximately 1.84 persons per household working a job. It’s a reasonable ratio because it assumes roughly 90% of new households will have two members (heads of households) working in a career.

If we look at the targets for just the Metro and Core cities of the 2030 KCCP, the ratio increases to 2.03 persons per household working in a job. This ratio is also reasonable because it assumes that roughly all new households will have two members (heads of households) working in a career. (In future articles that exclusively analyze the Metro and Core populations, this 2.03 working persons per household will be a key multiplier.)

For the purpose of this article, 1.84 persons is used as a multiplier to find the approximate working population that will be added to each municipality by 2030. An example of the math is as follows: Seattle’s housing target is 86,0001 households; 86,000 x 1.84 = ~157,947 working persons for an employment target of 147,700 added jobs. Below are two graphs. The first shows the raw values between housing (blue) and employment (red) targets. The second shows the values between adjusted/generated population (blue) and employment (red) targets.

KCCP Housing-Employment-Populations Targets

Population to Employment Target ratio

The ratio between the projected population and employment targets is perhaps the most interesting value in the KCCP 2030 Technical Appendix D targets. It is arguable that a 1.0 ratio between working household population and employment targets is the most efficient number for each municipality’s growth. Theoretically, in terms of traveling to and from work, a new person living in the city would/could also work in that city, thereby reducing the distance and time traveled to and from work. (Commuting will be addressed in a future article.) In reality, due to unemployment, it is probably best to plan for slightly more new residents than targeted employment opportunities to account for this.

Let’s look at that in the graph below2:

Projected Population to Job Target Ratio

Note: “Unclaimed Urban Unincorporated” was not included in this graph because the adjusted population to employment ratio was a massive 13.26 to 1. As an outlier, it dominated the graph and significantly detracted from the point of visualizing the 1.00 ratio line.

Now that we’ve seen the data (be sure to look closely at the 1.0 line), let’s discuss three different municipalities’ ratios that are large “players” in the growth of King County:

  1. Seattle: The projected ratio of new working persons to job targets in 2030 Seattle is 1.07. A figure above 1.0 means Seattle will have a surplus of new residents relative to the number of jobs offered in the city.
  2. Renton: The projected ratio of new working persons to job targets in 2030 Renton is 0.94. Being so close to 1.0, it could be said that Renton will have an adequate amount of new residents relative to the number of jobs offered in the city. Put differently, Renton will have an adequate number of new employment opportunities relative to the number of households built in the city.
  3. Bellevue: The projected ratio of new working persons to job targets in 2030 Bellevue is 0.59. A figure below 1.0 suggests Bellevue will have a surplus of new employment opportunities relative to the numberof households being built in the city.

You be the judge.


As noted earlier, we believe a figure slightly above 1.0 to be the realistic ideal. That said, these ratios come from projected targets adopted by planning departments from the various municipalities and from household populations generated for the purposes of analysis. Keep in mind that 2030 is more than15  years away. Only then will we have the luxury of looking back on how well (or poorly) each municipality did in estimatingits growth and the impact that growth had on King County.

Article Notes
1The Seattle 2035 plan alternatives are advertising 70,000 new households and 115,000 new jobs—16,000 households and 32,700 jobs fewer than the 2030 targets. While the planning periods between Seattle 2035 and KCCP 2030 overlap for only a 15-year planning horizon, the targets do not seem to reasonably align. Speculating, we think that this could mean a number of things: 1) the KCCP growth targets are wildly optimistic, 2) the City of Seattle has revised its plans to reflect its buildable lands reporting data and trends, or 3) the City of Seattle does not believe it can reasonably commit to the growth targets in the KCCP.
2Shoreline isn’t considered a Core City, which seems inappropriate. In 2012, Shoreline had an estimated population larger than Burien, Bothell, and Kirkland and directly borders Seattle.

Seattle Streetcar Maintenance Facility Phototour


The Seattle Streetcar Maintenance Facility is a newly completed LEED-certified building in the International District that will soon provide operations, maintenance, and training space for King County Metro employees. Streetcar vehicles will access the facility on 8th Avenue South via a single track connecting to the mainline on Jackson Street with the opening of the First Hill line later this year. The building is located in the City-owned maintenance yard between Dearborn and Charles Streets.

YPT Seattle had the opportunity to take a tour last week with the City of Seattle and has shared the photos below to provide a closer look inside this exciting facility.

All photographs are by Nathan Barnett, YPT Seattle Chair for Administration.

Young Professionals in Transportation is a national organization that aims to provide professional development opportunities, fellowship and networking events for young professionals. The YPT Seattle Chapter is designed for everyone that is involved in the transportation sector, including transportation and land use planners, engineers, architects, landscape architects, advocates, and policy makers both in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. This cross discipline focus complements existing professional groups, bringing professionals with multiple perspectives together in a way that is different from discipline-specific groups.

Census Bracketology


Census Bracketology

March Madness may be over, but there’s no reason why you can’t fill out your bracket—census bracket that is! The Census Bureau has put out this cool game online to test your geography skills. As you can see above, you simply pick the larger metro area (or state) to move your way up the brackets. If you do it right, only two cities (or states) should make the final round every time. (I hope you get those right.)

In case you didn’t know, the Seattle metropolitan area is currently the 15th largest in the country. And last week, we learned that King County is the second fastest growing county right now. If there’s any reason that we need to plan for growth, save King County Metro, and encourage affordability, that is it! (Just for the record, I’m not that bad at geography. I scored 59 out of 63 the first time I played!)

Seattle’s Largest Down-Zone


Lots less than 3,200sf won't be able to be developed or raised above 18' tall (22' with sloped roof)

On the April 18th, there will be a final public hearing regarding small lot legislation, which is targeted for passage in early May. Although almost unnoticed by the media, and not acknowledged in presentation materials, “interim” legislation has already been passed that may have been the largest down-zone in Seattle’s history. The proposed permanent legislation will slightly lessen this down-zone, but will carry many features of the original interim legislation.


A few years back, developers started building houses on small lots in Seattle that were previously side yards or back yards. These houses were often tall, up to three stories in some case and built looking over yards. Inevitably, there was a public backlash from neighbors who were close to these developments. The City Council created emergency legislation to stop small lot building, and directed the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) to come up with a longer term solution.

Your humble writer made it to meetings early on, one of which was poorly attended (four attendees). At the time of the interim legislation, it appeared that the subject of the legislation was only about blocking small-lot developers from building new houses in side yards. It also seemed like the legislation was simply a minor code change. But my sensibility all the same was to oppose the legislation. Why? Density is density, even if it’s just a little bit.

Looking into this more recently, I realized that the implication of the new rules would actually impact a large number of homes, not just side yards. It turns out 45% of homes in SF5000 zones are on small lots. And, the legislation will effectively down-zone 7% of all single family homes in the city. Looking back, it’s amazing to think that very a small group of vocal critics could have such a dramatic impact on the future development of our city.

More after the jump.