Archive for April, 2011

How do we make the code address growing sustainably?

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Seattle’s Land Use Code blog grew out of a sense of frustration with the glacial pace of change in Seattle when it comes to land use. Having worked at the City in the Department of Neighborhoods and as a

Photo courtesy of luisrock62 from
neighborhood activist I have seen both sides of this. Most often changing the code involves responding to a developer who needs adjustments to the code to meet specific economic needs. Other times a specific area of the city (South Downtown, for example) or a particular designation (industrial lands, for example) are singled out for special attention.

I get it. But what about taking a look at the bigger picture? How do we make our code speak to our larger goal of growing sustainably? I kept feeling like we needed to blow up the code and start all over again. I also recognized that the code is a complicated document. Why not conduct my own audit of the code? Maybe in reading it I would find that perhaps the code isn’t all that bad. Or I might find some ideas for a rewrite. So the blog was born.

So far, I am still convinced that we are far too old fashioned about land use and our code reflects that. We spend far too much time building legally binding boxes into which coming growth must fit. Why not focus on use first then conform the standards around that use? Why do we continue to “zone,” putting some use in one place and other uses in other places? What we need is not just a pig in our parlor, but to invite the whole herd in. Change is always tough, but we’ve got lots of growth coming and we’re going to have to develop a post Euclidian code that, ironically, takes us back to principles of land use that were common before the rise of the automobile.

Roger Valdez is a former city council and legislative staffer, consultant, and research associate at Sightline Institute. He has an interest in land use and urban livability and writes for a variety of local blogs and online publications.

A Saturday morning transit adventure

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Seattle developers are paying more and more attention to bus-rapid transit, so on Saturday I went to check out Metro’s version, RapidRide.

As a transit geek, I’d been wanting to go since the A Line between Tukwila and Federal Way opened last fall. I mentioned this in passing to Paula Rees. It turns out her Seattle company, Foreseer, is doing “environmental

communications” consulting on the planned D Line from downtown Seattle to Ballard, so we headed out

Photo by Marc Stiles
People with Orca cards pay before boarding, and people can board or disembark from three doors, speeding up the process. Photo by Marc Stiles


Here’s my take as well as the opinion of a frequent rider, Steve Elling. We chatted him up at the Federal Way Transit Center.

* The diesel-electric coaches did move at a good clip. But it was early and I wondered what the pace would be like during rush hour. A survey of A Line riders found 84 percent are satisfied with the service. Steve concurs: “The A Line is super.”

* I was surprised by how close some of the stops are to one another; doesn’t seem very BRT-y to me.

* The pay-before-you enter system speeds that processes up, and fare enforcement officers make sure people do that. We didn’t see any, but Steve said they’re around and have zero tolerance for scofflaws.

* At major stops on the north-south line there are east-west connections. In-coach signage, however, didn’t seem to indicate where these transfer points are. Plus, the same route signs are reversed. As we headed south, the signs made it look as though the bus was going north confusing for folks who are not familiar with the lay of the land.

* Steve said the east-west bus connections are too few. And those that do exist stop running too early at night.

* I liked the multi-modal character of RapidRide. The transfer from light rail to RapidRide in SeaTac was fairly convenient despite having to cross International Boulevard on a pedestrian bridge and then cross back at street level to catch a south-bound bus. I was impressed that RapidRide’s southern terminus in Federal Way is at a transit center served by different transit agencies. One complaint: it wasn’t clear where in the center you catch the RapidRide heading back north.

* Metro gave RapidRide its own brand. Instead of the regular blue and green and yellow regular Metro coaches, RapidRide buses are red and yellow. We found that scheme cautionary. This combined with the do-this, don’t do that, Hold On! signs was off-putting. “There’s very little customer information and way too much regulatory messaging. I felt like maybe I shouldn’t be here,” Paula said.

* I’ll catch heck from my fellow transit geeks for this, but it seems like Sound Transit and Metro and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn’s expansion plans and dreams overlap. We already have the A Line, so why is a cash-strapped Sound Transit pushing ahead with its plans to extend light rail farther south from SeaTac along the A Line route. And if RapidRide is coming to Ballard and West Seattle, why is McGinn pushing to extend light rail to those areas?

* It took us 1 hour and 20 minutes to get from downtown Seattle to Federal Way via light rail and RapidRide. Impressive when you consider that before RapidRide and light rail, the trip would have taken almost forever. If you’re looking for a truly speedy route, take Sound Transit’s express bus from Federal Way. We did on the way back and it took only 25 minutes.