Posts Tagged ‘Add new tag’

Okay, Okay! Build your tunnel

Friday, October 8th, 2010

So I’ve been thinking. What would I be willing to take in exchange for supporting the deep bore tunnel? What would it take for me to capitulate and get on board the deep bore bandwagon? Okay, here it is. It’s pretty simple and straightforward: a sensible land use policy. I think it might just be worth the $4.5 billion, the rancor and the power grab by the Seattle City Council if we could get our act together on land use in Seattle. We know compact communities are better for the environment, use less energy, and promote walking, biking, and transit use. So warm up the boring machine but here’s what I want first.

Let’s start with Beacon Hill. About 15 years ago I moved to Beacon Hill and got involved in the neighborhood planning process. It was fun. I learned a lot and the various committees and organizations on the Hill worked hard to develop a vision for Beacon Hill. There was a small, dedicated, and relentless group focused on getting Beacon Hill a station on the new light rail line that would be passing deep under the neighborhood. There was no plan for a Beacon Hill station, or at least there wasn’t any money. But the group persevered, and, amazingly, landed a plan for a station and a commitment for a station shell. They pushed some more. Finally, there was a commitment to build a station—one of the deepest in the world at the time—to serve the neighborhood.

At the time the neighborhood was also planning where to put the library and how to take advantage of the lid going in at the reservoir in Jefferson Park. All of these things were challenging (sometimes controversial) and took a lot of energy from neighbors. But the station seemed to be an unqualified and big win. We’d finally get that core to the neighborhood conceived of in the planning process. The neighborhood could finally grow up with mixed use buildings and retail. We’d exchange the squat and decaying buildings for transit oriented development. Again, not without controversy, but why not take advantage of the rail line to create a compact downtown for Beacon Hill centered on transit.

Well, what does downtown Beacon Hill look like today?

All photos are by Roger Valdez.

I moved to Capitol Hill some time ago. But a recent trip to Beacon Hill made me wonder “what happened.” Then I thought about the City Council falling all over themselves to dig the tunnel on the water front. Why that big project and not Beacon Hill?  Fifteen years after I moved there, Beacon Hill does not have thriving transit oriented development. Instead the station looks like the stump of a felled tree. And that’s about how it feels.

So dig your tunnel City Council. But I’d like to see the rezones on my desk for transit oriented development on Beacon Hill by the end the day. That shouldn’t be to hard, just dust off the plans we worked so hard on. We’d also have a chance to consider things like district energy, affordability, and LEED requirements as part if the legislation. And rezones are free! Write up that resolution for Monday, pass it with a unanimous vote (sure they’ll be a few whiners in the audience but that shouldn’t slow you down. You’re the “get it done gang,” after all).  How exciting! Maybe one day we’ll be able to stand up and say we’re like Redmond. Here’s what they built near their park and ride.

And what the heck, once the rezones are signed, sealed and delivered, I’ll bet we can talk Mayor McGinn into taking a trip out of town so Richard Conlin can do the honors and sign them into law. I’ll even loan him a pen.

Out with the viaduct … in with I-605?

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

Replacing the viaduct with a surface streets could stall traffic downtown.
Replacing the viaduct with the surface-and-transit option could stall traffic downtown and encourage highway construction elsewhere.

The current mayoral race has placed the viaduct-replacement issue squarely back into the public limelight after most of us thought the issue had been put to bed, what with the governor’s and Legislature’s approval of the deep-bore tunnel option, as well as the accompanying funding commitments.

Both mayoral candidates have raised the issue of the viaduct replacement, with one issuing renewed and strident calls to reconsider the surface-and-transit option.

While the surface-and-transit option seems to be readily embraced by the nominally environmentally conscious activists, I’ve been wondering recently if their concerns may not be both overly simplistic and somewhat shortsighted, as well as possibly self-defeating.

We have heard and read much discussion in the media about the relative validity of arguments on both sides of the issue of whether the throughput of the existing Alaskan Way Viaduct can reasonably be reduced and/or otherwise accommodated by surface streets.  Activists promote the notion that greater and more attractive transit options will remove a certain amount of the vehicle traffic, leaving the remainder to be accommodated by an enhanced network of the existing surface streets.  Detractors protest that most of the throughput traffic is not transit-compatible and that diverting a huge volume of additional traffic onto the surface streets will create gridlock all day long on virtually all downtown Seattle streets.  These issues have been volleyed back and forth in the public debate ad nauseam, but there’s one additional concern that I have been discussing lately that I have not yet seen much coverage on.

Sharing the concern that simply cutting off one of our region’s major north-south highways will reduce downtown Seattle’s streets to a virtual standstill during most daylight hours, I wonder what impact the sharply exacerbated choke point of downtown Seattle within the Puget Sound area’s north-south regional transportation corridor would have on the pressure to consider future road-building in suburbia and exurbia?

You may remember that every few years pro-development forces on the Eastside raise the issue of the “Foothills Freeway,” or I-605, that would consist of a more distant loop around the easternmost edge of our metropolitan area.  If north-south circulation through the metro area is even further complicated by the removal of one of the region’s vital north-south highways, the I-605 promoters would essentially be offered more fuel for their fire.  Constant gridlock on I-5 and the downtown Seattle streets, coupled with the congestion already on I-405, could lead to a ready-made argument in favor of efforts to pursue an I-605.

And we need to ask: Even if some magical combination of street improvements and synchronized traffic signals could accommodate the existing Highway 99 flow through downtown (which I do not believe is possible), what about future growth?  Do the streets-and-transit promoters think the region will stop growing?

Now, in addition to the already oft-mentioned litany of environmental impacts from potentially gridlocked downtown Seattle streets (i.e., substantially increased vehicle idling and resulting air pollution, increased noise, and a markedly diminished pedestrian environment), we could add the potential consequence that the loss of the Highway 99 corridor through downtown Seattle could lead to the development of I-605.  Any environmentally conscious individual knows that the construction of a major new freeway in any metropolitan area literally paves the way to urbanization in its path.  Is that what we want virtually on the slopes of the Cascades?

Mayor Nickels, Gov. Gregoire and the state Legislature all recognized, and thankfully so, that the viaduct should not be replaced with a new modern-age monstrosity along our waterfront.  They also recognized that the vital transportation corridor that Highway 99 plays not only in Seattle, but in our entire region,  must be preserved.  The tunnel was and is the only option that accomplishes both noble objectives.  Environmental activists need to look beyond their Seattle-centric view of the world and see that Highway 99 is not just a Seattle problem, but a regionwide problem.  And the potential, long-term environmental impacts of the streets-and-transit option are far greater than the theoretical, short-term reduction of vehicle trips that that option is purported to create.

Turning the ‘urbs’ inside out?

Monday, June 1st, 2009

The concept of “urbs” and “suburbs” is one that we’ve lived with in the United States since the end of World War II. It might be time to rethink these categories or get rid of them all together.

In an article that ran in Crosscut last week Knute Berger characterized as simplistic the distinction between suburb and city.  I agreed with that characterization in a response at the Daily Score.

But I couldn’t abide with Berger’s claims that somehow smart growth or density (the dreaded ‘D’ word) somehow contributes to sprawl. This conclusion is fueled by the very simplicity Berger seems to deride.

What seems to be happening instead is that it is getting harder to develop large projects in Seattle because of a kind of strange single-family preservationist streak here.  My point was that projects like Bel-Red on the Eastside are almost impossible to do here because of vehement opposition by neighborhood groups and labor.  Neighborhoods oppose the density and labor hopes for more public benefits for their workers from the projects.

As time ticks off the clock projects like the redevelopment of the Campfire site in North Seattle and the Goodwill project in the Southeast part of the city languish and die.  So while we resist growth in Seattle most of the 1.7 million people projected people coming to the region in the next two decades may end up living in Bellevue, which may, ironically, according to the old view, make Bellevue the city and Seattle a “suburb.”

Saving bus service actually helps the economy

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

By now, most of us have heard Metro’s grim warning of a $100 million funding decline next year, and a potential 20 percent cut in service. We’ve also heard that an increase in local taxing authority might be a solution to keep our service. If it’s Thursday morning, the anti-tax, anti-transit crowd is undoubtedly out in full force. If history is an indicator, their arguments are hollow.

They’re probably saying more taxes will make the economy worse, and asking how we could even consider such a thing, and don’t we want to be business-friendly?

They’re backwards. Saving bus service will help us IMPROVE our economy, and improve a lot of people’s lives, even if requires a tax increase.

Of course, Metro hasn’t mentioned a tax increase per se, just maintaining a similar amount of revenue via a higher rate. But it’ll be argued as such.

With decent bus service, more people can leave their cars at home, saving operation and parking costs and wear and tear, and keeping away from the financial cliff. Transit gives people the option to not have cars at all, which can make poor people middle class. Anyone need reminding on the importance of saving individuals on the brink for the good of the rest of us?

Businesses are increasingly locating where the transit is good, because transit helps them attract employees. This is a major reason most office construction and tenants stick to a few urban districts in our region, and those in other areas are asking for better transit. Even if the boss doesn’t use it, the rank and file often do. I’ve heard 60 percent of my office uses transit at least sometimes, aided by our Downtown location.

Financial benefits to the region as a whole are less immediate but even more significant. We save tax dollars in the long run because good transit lets us reduce the amount we spend on road capacity, where our wish list is in the tens of billions because road capacity is outrageously expensive. Consumers end up saving because transit can reduce the amount of parking required (or wanted) for everything we spend money on. For example, the City of Seattle has reduced parking requirements for housing in a few areas, often saving tens of thousands of dollars per unit. Why throw these advances away?

Transit helps the nation use energy and materials more efficiently, from steel and leather to gas and oil. True, our whole metro is 1 percent of the country, but we can be part of the solution. Between the materials to produce the car and the resources to operate it, even a US-made hybrid sends money overseas hand over fist. We reduced oil demand when prices rose; again, why throw that away?

It’s hard to tell where the economy will go, and where tax revenues will go. Maybe things won’t be so bad. But count me as one who’s happy to vote yes if necessary to keep our bus service…and to stay up way too late tonight to write this.

More than sustainability

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

Sustainability means doing the minimum necessary to avoid ecological or societal trauma, whether for one location or ecosystem, or worldwide. In other words, it’s a half-measure.

People like half-measures. Public discussions of sustainability tend to reflect giving people everything they already have, but in less-wasteful formats. We hear more about hybrids than encouraging people to have fewer cars, more about responsible forestry than about using less wood, and more about recycling than about “reducing” or “reusing.”

That’s a start, and plenty for some people, but perhaps we need to work harder on the big stuff too.

Like density. We’re improving a bit, but we still strictly limit density in this region, making it more expensive than necessary (through bonus fees, additional process, lack of sites zoned higher than what’s already there, etc.) and therefore reducing its market share, which in turn adds to sprawl. Meanwhile, denser construction brings huge efficiencies in energy, materials, and land use, due to factors such as shared walls and reduced commute distances. (Transportation is sometimes forgotten in analyses of energy use!)

The trend toward smaller homes (or plateau?) is encouraging. Smaller homes use less materials and energy to build, use less energy to heat, cool, and light (all else being equal), and don’t leave so much room to fill with unneeded stuff. The trend toward multifamily helps for similar reasons, plus multifamily residents have the option of simply deleting the astonishing array of tools and materials often kept by house residents, from paint to edgers to four kinds of shovel.

It’s great that we’re focusing on transit, because transit benefits energy use, land-use, runoff, the need for parking infrastructure, and so on compared to driving. Biking and walking are even better. Density automatically makes all of these modes more viable. Of course we still don’t put our policies where our mouth is on pedestrian issues, with many “no crossing” points even in our most urban districts, our lax oversight of speeding and red light running, and so on.

It’s disgusting what’s happening with the global warming “debate.” In fact it’s a fake debate kept alive by certain industries and those who believe them. We’re exactly where the cigarette “debate” was a couple decades ago. Scientists agree that humans are a contributor to the problem, as much as they agree about anything, except the corrupt (bought) ones and a small number of honest devil’s advocates. The cigarette deniers are now seen as having contributed to countless deaths (and they still troll online bulletin boards, denying everything!). In the coming decades the global warming deniers will be reviled in the same way for the same reason. I’ll applaud any leadership Obama might provide on this issue, and we can all act locally as well, as an industry adding to the strides we’ve made, as a region with policy, and as individuals.

Letting townhouses be homes

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

The Northwest Chapter of the Congress of Residential Architects (CORA) has been presenting proposed revisions to Seattle’s multifamily code to neighborhood councils. I just attended their presentation at the Sunset Hill Community Association sponsored by the Crown Hill Business Association.

Existing zoning for Lowrise 3

David Neiman of CORA gives an outstanding presentation about how most of the things single family neighborhoods hate about townhouses, are, ironically, driven by the effort to make them more like single family homes; a yard, set back from the street and a place to park a car.

In many respects the puzzle of how to fit four houses on a lot, with private open space, setbacks and parking was never meant to be solved.

But the off the shelf four-pack plans emerged as the solution, making these kinds of town homes profitable. Parking requirements make townhouses parking solutions, not housing solutions. Could we just remove parking and set back requirements from L-3 and L-4 zones and go from there?

CORA’s proposal focuses on addressing the biggest complaints about townhouses. If design is the biggest part of why neighborhoods object to town homes, then why not use design review to free the townhouse from the single family corset so they can be responsive to the needs of the end user, neighborhoods and the region’s need to accommodate growth.

Craig Benjamin from the Cascade Agenda spoke just before the CORA presentation about 1.7 million reasons why we need more density.

CORA’s proposal is trying to get more density through better design. The question is, will single family neighborhoods relent in their opposition to density in exchange for better design of townhouses?

60th Street Cottages

Will the administrative process that is run entirely by DPD satisfy their need to get the outcomes they want? The proposal is likely to come before Council early next year.

On my walk to the Community Center, I stumbled upon these little gems called the 60th Street Cottages. I don’t know how they were received by the neighborhood, but they look like what we were talking about.