2013-2014 Amendments to Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan


City of Seattle Comprehensive Plan Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan is a constantly evolving policy document. Beyond the state-required update every 10 years, amendments to the Comprehensive Plan can be made annually through the Annual Docket process. Proposed amendments can be initiated by the public, City Council, or the Executive departments.

The Department of Planning and Development works with the Council and the Planning Commission to determine which proposals should move forward for further review. Once this happens, there is consultation through the process with other departments and Council as the proposals are drafted. Council ultimately reviews and approves a set of amendments to the Comprehensive Plan.

For the 2013-2014 amendment cycle, DPD has evaluated a number of proposed changes with two given the green light for Council consideration. The areas within the scope of the review are the Central Area and Interbay. The proposed amendments for the Central Area would involve revisions to policy text and a future land use map designation change. Meanwhile, the proposed amendment for Interbay consists a future land use map designation change for three parcels.

On Tuesday, the City Council’s Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability (PLUS) Committee held a public hearing on the proposed amendments. A follow-up meeting for PLUS is scheduled for April 18th, essentially the last step before a full Council vote can be held on the matter.

More after the jump.

5 Questions About Building Big Buildings

South Lake Union Construction by clappstar on Flickr.

Seattle is experiencing one of, if not the greatest, building booms in its history. A short walk north from the central business district, yields sightlines filled with cranes eschewing in the beginnings of new high rise structures and large multi-family homes. Below the streets, deep and often massive trenches and excavation pits fill the ground like the great open pit mining operations of the American Southwest. Seattle’s northern skyline is stretching skyward, and it is doing so quickly.

For the average engineer and/or construction manager, this work has them anxious and excited for the present and the future. More building, means more business, and therefore more money and job security. But, for the average pedestrian waiting for the delayed 71 bus during rush hour on Fairview, 400 Fairview is a giant hole of questions, chaotic motion and a temporary distraction from yet another OneBusAway refresh update. As a construction management project engineer, I often find myself explaining to friends, family, and occasionally the random passer-by, the behind the scenes process for each of these projects. I could write ad nauseam about building a skyscraper from bottom to top, so instead I will discuss the top 5 questions I am commonly asked about large commercial and residential construction.

More after the jump.

Westlake Cycle Track Design Advisory Committee

Attributed to: SDOT

The Mayor recently appointed a design advisory committee for the Westlake Cycle Track. If you’re unfamiliar with the history of this project and its struggles, the Seattle Bike Blog provides good primers on the saga. To summarize, this committee is the direct result of a lawsuit.

For community and grassroots activists, lawsuits are a conventional tool used to force government organizations to follow the law. Groups that have an interest in specific laws will often monitor whether the government is meeting its legal requirements and sue if they aren’t. Lawsuits are vitally important because they are often the last recourse when the government isn’t fulfilling its duties. For example, the ACLU frequently uses this tactic like in a recent case of suspicionless laptop searches at border control.

Unfortunately, many activist groups use lawsuits in a more disingenuous manner. Simply filing a lawsuit has costs to the defendant. These costs can be very high even if the suit is dropped or the defendant wins. The tactic is especially insidious when suing government organizations since they are generally risk averse. This means that lawsuits can easily be used as threats or bargaining chips to exert power.

A simple test of whether or not a lawsuit is reasonable is to ask: “If the plaintiff won, would they achieve their goals?”  In regards to the Westlake Cycle Track, a group of individuals opposed how the project was moving forward and filed a lawsuit to stop the Bicycle Master Plan. If you ask this question in light of this instance, the answer would be no. If the lawsuit proceeded and the plaintiff won, it wouldn’t stop the project. The plaintiffs simply used the lawsuit because it provided them leverage.

When the city was presented with the choice of delaying the Bicycle Master Plan but proceeding with the Westlake Cycle Track or ceding to the demands of this interest group so that they would drop the lawsuit, the City ceded to their demands. I can’t definitively say whether this was a good solution withoutmore intimate knowledge of the circumstances. But it deeply worries me for two reasons:

1. There is a greater danger that the Westlake Cycle Track will be implemented in a manner thatover-emphasizes this small group of stakeholders and doesn’t prioritize the safety of people first.

2. Other groups will see this as an effective tactic to get what they want from the City.

The first concern is illustrated a couple ways. First, take a look at who was chosen for the citizen advisory committee. The group filing the lawsuit was rewarded with two positions on the committee. This is in addition to the individuals that are representing similar interests. You can see a breakdown here:

SDOT   Westlake Avenue North Cycle Track
Attributed to: SDOT

Besides the composition of the group, SDOT also decided to take feedback via an online questionnaire from only residents and businesses on Westlake, rather than everyone in the city. The form had many questions asking specifically about motor vehicle access, including parking and driving. But it had no questions about safety or pedestrian and bicycle access.

That said, the advisory group has strong representation from people concerned about public access and safety. And the group is only advisory; all final decisions are left to SDOT.

It is unclear how much influence this group will have in the end, but their impact may be bigger than this specific project  — which leads me to my second point. The larger concern is giving into the demands of a group that files an off-topic lawsuit.

If we concede to the demands of a group that threatens suit over an unrelated topic, there is a serious threat to important projects. Whenever an interest group is not getting what it wants, it can attack its opponents with a lawsuit. This strategy usually means that bigger, more important priorities will come under threat. These projects provide the most leverage. Furthermore, this tactic can be used endlessly. Dropping the present lawsuit doesn’t preclude this group from suingagain if SDOT comes back with recommendations they dislike. If stakeholders use this strategy enough, it can result in a completely hamstrung and ineffective government.

An environment in which people are willing to prevent important projects in order to pursue their narrow interests is unhelpful to everyone. It’s important that we do not encourage these kind of tactics. To break this cycle, we have to demonstrate that disagreements over particular projects should remain within the scope of those projects and that there is a very big downside for groups that don’t accept this. The best way to accomplish this is to support the goals of the stakeholders involved in the Westlake Cycle track who didn’t use this strategy.

You can read more and advocate for a solution that puts safety and public access first by visiting the Westlake Cycle Track page.

Cats Love King County Metro, Too


The Adventures of Fluffy: Too Many Cats, Not Enough Buses by Mark LaFalce on YouTube.

Cat lovers and transit lovers, unite! This video hits the point home that transit cuts don’t affect just cat riders, they affect all users of our transport network and the viability of our regional urban fabric.

That’s why we at The Urbanist encourage you to vote YES on Proposition 1. And while you’re at it, get all of your cat loving friends to do the same!

You can also help get the Yes message out by contributing to the Move King County Now campaign. Tomorrow (April 2nd) is a great opportunity to do this if drinks and food is your thing. Seattle Subway will be holding a fundraiser at Hattie’s Hat in Ballard. The event starts at 5.30pm with special guest Seattle Council Member Mike O’Brien in attendance. In tandem with the event, the Seattle Transit Blog plans to host a meetup. We hope to see you there! (But you may want to leave the cats at home.)



358 night


John (a different John, not the fellow from the 358 posts) seems to come from another age. Multicolored crumbs pepper his dry lips and beard. His eyes are glassy, sometimes present, sometimes far away. A gentle cloud of paraphernalia seems to drift ever around him- garbage bags on their last legs, the red handles stretched from overuse; backpacks and shoulder packs, hanging off this shoulder, or that one. Here is a man who needs three arms.

The better part of his wardrobe lays heavy on his back. Dark jacket over dark jacket weighing down his drifting figure, halftone layers of brown and gray, with a coating of grime unifying it all. He would sit at Rainier and Bayview in the summer evenings, barely able to talk, but always ready to smile.

You would wonder if he was lucid enough to be aware of your existence, and then he’d look you in the eye, responding graciously to your greeting. Today I’m at the 358 layover, my door open, leaning on the farebox with my book (Dumas), when John comes ambling by. He stops when he sees me.

“Heeeeey,” I exclaim, recognizing him.
“Hey, man! I need a taste o’ ‘caine!”
“Oh yeah?”
“Yeah, I’m just hunting’ for a little bit o’ ‘caine. Hey, congratulations on supervisor!”
“What, me? Naw man, I’m still just a regular old bus driver!”
“Aw what? They told me some young Chinese guy went supe.”
“I didn’t mean to imply…”
“Oh, no, I like bus…” What was I about to say? Where am I going with this? I like buses? I’m not Chinese? Best to tack outward a little- “I’m glad you said hey! I see you got shoes now, that’s some good stuff!”

This is the first time I’ve seen him walking in something other than scuffed, oversize white socks. The bones in his feet seem fused awkwardly. They are large, and he’s unable to “walk,” in the traditional sense, but he gets by doing the shuffle.

“Yeah, I remember you from that 7 route!”
“Glad you’re still hangin’ around!”
“You moved up in the world, I see,” he announces, looking for the route number. “What’s this?”
“Oh.” Silence.
“I love it. It’s like the 7, long and straight!”
“Yeah, they’s some good ones. I like that one out by the arsenal.”
“Magnolia, yeah! 24, 33…”
“Mostly older folks.”
“Real quiet out there.”
“Yeah. Nice to get away for a second,” he remarks wistfully.
“Oh, the park’s beautiful.”
“Except them drills though.”
“Drills. What kinda drills?”
“The army guys, they run these drills, all kinds a hours…” Discovery Park is built on the historic grounds of Fort Lawton, and still contains adjacent military properties and housing. He continued, “I was out there real early one morning, and they surrounded me with quiet subterfuge!”
“Those army guys really like to play around out there, huh?”

Right when he said the word “subterfuge,” I felt the budding sensation of learning something new. Nobody on the street says subterfuge- except when they do. Who was I, to assume he didn’t know the word? There are facets and details in the lives of others we can’t pretend to fathom.

A blind senior passenger recently told me he was a chauffeur for celebrities back in his day (“Ah was that mista Daisy,” he explained), and although I was skeptical, I had to admit there was a very small chance that yes, it was in fact possible. Subterfuge. In that moment the word took on a new meaning- there are multitudes within me, despite my appearance. I, John, am not a homeless drug addict; I am a person who happens to be homeless and addicted, and there is more that defines me.

To have my belief in depth, regardless of appearance, confirmed, was profoundly electrifying, if such a reaction is possible. It’s the freeing feeling of an open door, and the welcome wave of understanding that no, you don’t know everything about this universe, and there is still space for pleasant surprises. I grinned out at John, unable to explain just why.

DPD Is Taking Seattle 2035 on the Road


If you didn’t get a chance to attend the Seattle 2035 EIS Scoping and open house meeting last week, don’t fret! The Department of Planning and Development (DPD) is taking their Seattle 2035 show on the road. Over the next two weeks, DPD staff will be meeting with residents across the city.

The purpose of the meetings is for DPD to receive feedback on what people want to see in an updated comprehensive plan. Are the alternatives on the table sufficient or should they be modified? Should the scope be expanded? Are there things that the city should consider in terms of services, culture, environment, and more?

If you aren’t familiar with what Seattle 2035 is, you should check out DPD’s website or our coverage here and here.

Upcoming Meetings

April 7 (Northwest Seattle)
Loyal Heights Community Center

April 8 (Northeast Seattle)
Northgate Branch Library

April 9 (West Seattle)
Youngstown Cultural Arts Center

April 14 (Central Seattle)
Miller Community Center

April 15 (South Seattle)
Rainier Community Center

Laughing Gas on the 120


Picture 1


The actual words spoken were not so much the meat of the exchange. It was the noises in between. You have to imagine the bubbling, incandescent laughter- perhaps giggling is a more accurate term- which emanated from both of us, for the duration of the conversation.

He came forward at southbound Union, late in the evening on a 120. One of his eyes seemed in a permanent state of half-closure, an exaggeration of the Alfie-era Michael Caine’s lidded stare, but this didn’t dim his demeanor in the slightest. His outer coat was scruffy while still being presentable, if such a thing is possible; it was a multi-purpose outfit, muted colors and ambiguous textures, a manner of dress you could reasonably get away with at a sporting event, a housewarming party, and that spiderweb network of sewers underneath UW (no need to go home and change!). Which is to say, he’d fit in just about anywhere.

I wonder now if I thought that because his ebullient presence overwhelmed one into simply ignoring his outfit, the details of which I have trouble recalling. I’d place him in his mid-forties, with an eleven o’clock shave (it was about that hour, after all), from a country of origin I couldn’t determine. He spoke English well enough.

“How far down Third do you go?” he asked.
“Um, actually just,”
“Is it just the next one?”
“Yeah.” Here he laughed, and I laughed, and for some reason we didn’t really ever stop.
“Okay!” Bubbling out. “I’m glad I asked!”
“Perfect timing! How’s your day been?”
“Good. And you?”
“Fantastic,” I said, with emphasis. He chuckled as I continued: “I’m alive; no accidents;” I clasped my hands together in a gesture of thankful supplication, adding, “everything is beautiful!”

He knew I meant it, but the statement has an added element of ridiculousness when sitting at a red light at Third and University in the middle of the night. He laughed again, we both did, skating on the frame of mind that lets you see levels, finding amusement in everything.

He says, “yeah, the stress! And plus the vehicle is so heavy!”
“I have to stay happy!”
Chortles, rising up.
“Yeah, it’ll get to you! I drive truck.”
“Oh. Excellent! You know how it is!”
“Yeah, I’m always trying to avoid accidents because we’re so wide,”
“So wide, so long,”
Our shared agreement manifests itself in gleeful merriment. I don’t know what the rest of the bus thinking. Maybe they feel it too; who knows.

At a red light I follow up on his words, saying in a serious tone, “plus you have to be careful because it’s your job too.”
“Yeah, I look at my mirrors all the time.”
Mystifyingly, this gets us cracking up again. “The mirrors, yes! constantly! I stare at them all day!”
Effervescent mirth, though we’ve got only the tiniest of ingredients to work with. The turning green light at Seneca releases us.
“So do you do cross-country, or,”
“Just local,” he responds.
“Good, that’s nice. Don’t have to drive to Florida. That’s always handy.”
You would have thought we were under the influence of something. I wave big at an operator across the street, as loud as a silent gesture can get.
“Do you like it?” I ask him. “The job?”
He pauses before replying. I start tittering. “It’s good,” he says hesitantly. We’re at it again.

Third and Spring, our last stop on Third: “Okay, here it is,” I say.
“Thank you. Have a good night, be safe!”
Okay, you be safe too!”
“You too, be safe!”

He had a slight accent, but laughter has no culture of origin. His and mine intertwined together, fluently, authentically, even after I drove away, echoing in my greetings to the incoming people.

“Welcome everyone, this is a 120,” I announce into the microphone as we approach the turn on Columbia. I’m still riding the mirthful wave, hardly able to control my happiness. Where did it come from? It colors my voice and enunciation, living in the syllables and word choice, hanging in the air of my living room full of strangers. I can see the older Latino gentlemen looking up at me, looking at each other, enjoying the sensation of being here. “Makin’ our last stop downtown here at Columbia,” I say, “by the ferry terminal. Tonight we’re gonna go out to White Center. After that we’ll go to Burien!”

I wanted to add a “hooray” at the end, but thought better of it!