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.

You’re Foonie


Picture 2

“You’re a foonie bus-drivin’ horse master, y’ know thaht?”
“Oh yeah?”

I’m strolling back to my bus one morning at Aurora Village Transit Center, after using the restroom. My job is to take people who call me foonie bus-driving horsemaster seriously. This fellow, a passenger on my most recent trip, has approached me. He’s stockily built, but with the romantically scraggy locks of hair you expect to see on the front of pulpy romance novels. His terrific Scottish accent carries a tone ambiguous, a current of anger whose level I can’t quite place.

“Yeah, calling’ out THS. You might not wanna dew thaht.” THS is the methadone clinic. The letters stand for Therapeutic Health Services (“we know what that means,” some users and I joked when I once explained the acronym to a curious onlooker).

“But that’s where everyone’s goin’!” I reply.
“But they’re in treeetment, maybe they don’t want everyone to know they’re in treeetment,” he growled darkly.
“Oh, but they may not be goin’ there. Maybe they’re goin’ to the taco stand across the street…or hey, the smoke shop!”
He resigned himself to a chuckle. “You’re a foonie horsemaster!”
“Have a good one!”
He gave me the peace gesture, two fingers.

Later, he tells me again, under identical circumstances, a tinge of burly threat coloring his words: “I’m teeellin’ you, you got to stop sayin’ THS. I’m the only person got off there this morning and yew said THS, now everybody thinks I’m an ahddict!”

He sounded angry, but I pretended not to notice. “Oh man no, they don’t think that! They’re self-absorbed in their own stuff. You know I’m just callin’ out the local attractions! Maybe they think you’re goin to Aqua Quip, gonna buy a hot tub…” There, I got him to smile.

I knew I needed to pay a little more attention when he was next on board. Which is why the next time he rode, I glanced in the mirror before announcing, “this is 165th next, by THS. Also by the Credit Union and the auto shop, Shoreline Motel, there’s a U-Haul, let’s see…we got Dana Waterproofing right here…”

Never did 165th receive such a careful and studied series of announcements.  He indicated his approval by way of congenial silence. I imagine Dana and Sound Credit Union never dreamed they’d get announced as local attractions, but hey, everyone deserves a moment in the limelight.

Puget Sound Bike Share Launching Soon


Proposed Puget Sound Bike Share Docking Stations


It’s official: the Puget Sound Bike Share (PSBS) will launch in 2014! PSBS’s primary vendor Alta Bicycle Share has teamed up with D8 Technologies. D8 will provide Alta with the necessary software to run the docking stations and bikes. Alta will be responsible for delivering 500 bikes and 50 docking stations for Phase I of the system.

PSBS has created a crowdsourcing map to receive feedback on potential docking stations. As you can see from the map above, the green area is the service area for Phase I with blue dots indicating proposed locations by PSBS and green dots proposed by the public. Most of the proposed locations are heavy concentrations of docking stations along corridors and core areas.

Barclays Cycle HireWhen we consider what the launch plan for docking stations, we should look at successful bike share programs like Washington, D.C., New York City, and London for best practices. Each of these systems distribute their docking stations in a fairly balanced manner across city cores. Instead of over-concentrating docking stations (except in a few instances) in city cores and corridors, the stations are spread out to provide riders with many options and ease of access. Like transit riders, cyclists are only willing to walk a few blocks in any direction to and from a docking station. This means that docking stations need to be in residential heavy areas too, not just primary activity centers. Where docking stations are highly popular, the bike share provider simply provides additional docking ports at a station.

Capitol BikeshareLooking back at the map above, residents in Belltown, Eastlake, and the University District have clearly indicated that they want stations near them. If stations are too far away from residents in the University District or Eastlake, many will probably just walk, catch the next bus, or rent a car2go instead of bothering to use the bike share.

All of this is trial and error, of course. The Capitol Bikeshare program has been a constantly changing system since its inception. Planners have repeatedly recalibrated the system based upon data, demand, and comments. I expect that PSBS will do the same. But we want to strike the right balance on Day One so that we have a vibrant and well used bike share system from the beginning. Doing so will help make the case for expansion sooner, rather than later, much easier. So please be sure to provide your feedback to PSBS!

City As Affordable Housing Developer?

Guided Tour Youth Olympic Village at Jan 11th as part of the Innsbruck 2012 YOG
Passivhaus development in Innsbruck. Courtesy of Innsbruck 2012.

It should be painfully obvious by now that a ‘free market solution’ to low-income housing (and at this rate—even quality, affordable housing) in Seattle is getting further and further from reach. Seattle’s Office of Housing is doing what it can, spending roughly $34 million in 2012, with much of that stemming from the 2009 housing levy. While this is a good start, it falls well short of the critical need, and a large portion of that funding was loans to non-profit developers.

But what if we, the enlightened denizens of Seattle, pushed for the City to take on a greater role in the development of affordable and low-income units? Could the City itself become a non-profit developer of sorts, taking on construction, development and funding of large scale affordable housing projects? Could we position ourselves as a leader in addressing critical housing shortages while at the same time pushing innovative, high-quality, low-energy buildings for low-income residents? If this region ever decided this was a viable option (and I’d posit that it is), then perhaps Neue Heimat Tirol (NHT) could be a solid role model.

Neue Heimat Tirol is a non-profit developer jointly owned by the Bundesland of Tirol and the Tyrolean capital, Innsbruck. Founded as a for-profit venture in 1939, by 1968, after post-war construction slowed, the organization’s nearly worthless shares were picked up by the State and City. Today, NHT is one of the largest housing suppliers in Western Austria—providing attractive, clean and affordable social housing. NHT develops, rehabilitates and manages a variety of projects—rentals, condos, and elderly residences—with many incorporating secondary functions, such as kindergartens, schools, and community centers.

Lest you think I’m pulling this organization out of thin air, I do have some rationale for my choice. Presently, Innsbruck’s median condo cost/square foot prices are comparable to Seattle’s (approximately $340/sf for both). Tirol’s population (714,500) is also comparable to Seattle’s. Tirol also happens to have a phenomenal wood-based, low/mid-rise, digital fabrication and high performance building sector which should really be reason enough to imitate. Furthermore, the geography and labor costs are also comparable to our region. Over the last decade, NHT has seen tremendous growth, presently managing nearly $160M of construction per year—both in new projects ($120M) and energetically-focused rehabs ($40M).

More below the jump.

Sunday Video: 137 Years of Sprawl



New York University Stern has studied 30 global cities and their urbanization patterns. So far the college has posted three videos on YouTube showing the rapid sprawl of Paris, Los Angeles, and São Paulo. I’d be curious to see what the sprawling pattern looks like for our very own Seattle.