Yesler Terrace today (wikimedia)

The comment periods for these projects close on Monday so get writing. One is exactly the kind of project we want, the other not so much.

Yesler Terrace

The Slog reports that the Yesler Terrace redevelopment project has received very few public comments (at least prior to the Slog posting). Being a density fanatic, option three caught my attention:

Option Three (the highest density choice): 5,000 housing units built, with 1.2 million square feet of office/hotel space, 88,000 square feet of commercial space, 50,000 for neighborhood services, new street grids, fireworks, etc. It would also include 6.9 acres of open space and add 6,300 parking spaces to the area.

That’s too much parking for such a transit-accessible location, but we must maximize the ability of people to live near excellent transit. In the long run, more units also equals affordable housing and a larger property tax base for social services. Go comment on this before Monday.

SR-99 Deep Bore Tunnel

The Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Study (SDEIS), which you can read here, is an update to previous EISs. Although Chapter 8 is the section that talks about the alternatives it is rather pointless because the analysis doesn’t include tolls, Chapter 9 on tolling is the chapter you want to read. Also focus in on tolling Scenario C, as it is the only scenario considered that raises enough revenue to meet funding goals, although A gets closes. Adam wrote about tolls previously here. Go to Chapter 3 to read about why WSDOT dropped the surface option.

Go here to comment, also before the end of the day on Monday.

43 Replies to “Go Comment on Yesler Terrace and SR-99”

  1. Yesterday was the last day for the high-density Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago. Experts agree (and I am one of the experts), part of the reason it failed is because of it being high density.

    1. So, um, all high-density development is bad? That’s manifestly false. If you’re trying to make some other more nuanced case against certain high-density developments, please do so, or stop trolling.

      1. No, concentrating the poor all in one large building is bad. Neglecting neighborhood walkability and mixed-use is bad. Having low-visibility hallways and courtyards where miscreants can act up without being seen is bad.

        Mixed-income neighborhoods are better, which is why Holly Park, Rainier Vista, and Yesler Terrace were/are being renovated. Putting the poor all together means the miscreants take over and ruin the lives of people without options, and kids grow up without any educated/employed/higher-income neighbors as role models.

    2. High density without any kind of urban design is bad. High density along streets with ground-floor retail and mixed uses in an urban setting is good.

      1. Being mixed use or having ground level retail is not the be all / end all to good design. No amount of retail in the bottom of the Cabrini Green building would have helped out. I’d argue few businesses would have located there given the neighborhood, crime and relative location of the housing + throw in racial issues.

        If you’ve actually been to the area you’d see a lot of the former buildings being turned into new market rate row-houses and apartment buildings with retail concentrating itself along the high streets {division, north}. These are pretty successful due to the area being close in and having reasonable CTA links. (As an aside I’m surprised that in Chicago a new building can be built up right against the L lines and still sell.)

        In fact, there is no need for universal retail in all buildings / a food cart everywhere “to activate the space” either. Like established successful urban neighborhoods some areas are quieter and more residential than others.

        The lesson I take from that experience is that social engineering rarely succeeds as well as organic growth and/or its another sad example of irrational behavior due to racial prejudices that have sadly blighted most of the rust belt cities.

      2. It’s not the silver bullet but you need some way to get people out onto the street, as eyes on the street are the best way to deter crime. In such a high-density environment, retail along the main streets is a major way to get people onto the street.

    3. I think the main reason it failed was cheap construction to begin with and corruption in the CHA. If you give people a nasty place to live, even if it’s free, they’re going to treat it nasty. And when money set aside for maintenance goes up in smoke, things only get worse.

      1. How about Newark, Camden, North Philly, Bed Stuy in Brooklyn? It might not just be the implementation.

  2. Isn’t Yesler Terrace the last of the “projects” here in Seattle? I wonder why so many parking spots will be added since the First Hill Streetcar will be cutting right through the project?

    1. There are plenty of low-income housing projects in Seattle, but Yesler Terrace seems to be the most like a stereotypical “project” of all of them. The housing is low-quality, and it’s good that it’s being replaced.
      I think it should have a lot less parking, but I can see why they put so much, as along with the 5000 residents, there will also be thousands and thousands of employees from around the Puget Sound area trying to get to work there. However, as it is right on the First Hill Streetcar, I can see a lot of people taking Sounder or Link to International District/Chinatown and transferring. Also, they are talking about having the 3 and 4 take Yesler between Harborview and Downtown instead of James, as James has such heavy traffic (I have found that it is much faster to get off the 3 or 4 at Harborview and walk down the hill than to stay on, when I’m going Downtown from Garfield High School). That would provide 5-10 minute headways from Downtown to Yesler Terrace much of the day.

      1. Actually, it should be noted that the housing at Yesler Terrace is approximately 75 years old. It’s not poor quality, it’s just old.

        If you want to talk poor quality, let’s talk about Park Lake Homes and Holly Park: those were put up to house war workers and were never meant to last as long as they did. Although I think they had a certain charm of their own – particularly Holly Park, it really meant well.

      2. Have to disagree with Alexjonlin on Yesler Terrace being low quality. That is not how the residents feel, nor is it my impression from having sold the Freedom Socialist newspaper in that community. I live right by there by the way. And the ugly high-rise condos they are building can’t find renters or buyers. YT is one of the last “garden communities” in the country, as opposed to the high-density, high crime towers that pack people in like rats. Hands off yesler terrace.

    2. The First Hill Street Car Project, aka companion to Paul Allen’s toy train, should be deferred and the money used to stop service cuts and fare hikes for Metro bus service. At $150 million, this would stop cuts of 600,000 hours of service for two years — enough time to get the stable source of funding that is needed to preserve bus service.

      1. Leaving aside the nearly insurmountable cross-agency issues, it seems pretty foolish to raid capital funds for operations for.which we’ll have nothing to show for in two years.

      2. The money for the First Hill streetcar is from Sound Transit, not KC Metro and not the City of Seattle. ST could re-allocate the funds to ST Express service in the North sub-area it would be foolish to eliminate long-term capital spending in favor of short-term operating expenses.

  3. 7 acres of park will really hurt the density also.

    The new street grids will help get people from outside coming through, so that will be good.

    Wouldn’t it be best to make changes for the new street grid, change zoning if necessary to allow mixed use and high density, eliminate minimum parking requirements, and then sell all of the land to developers?

    1. The park space will lower the density but increase the livability. The “towers-in-a-park” scheme totally sucks (someone just brought up Cabrini-Green, which was built like that and was awful), but having towers and midrise buildings interspersed with well-designed and -programmed urban park space contributes greatly to making the area livable, especially for the many low-income families with children who live there.

    2. What’s the new street grid going to be like? Streets crossing Boren? More diagonal streets extending to Yesler? Major changes to the decades-old but arbitrary-seeming street grid, making Broadway cut across the street grid rather than terminate it? Or just the creation of some sort of grid south of Yesler?

  4. I sent in my comment. I said they should turn Yesler into green space and parking garages. Then move all the poor people to Tukwila, where they are selling 3 bedroom homes for $179,000.

    As far as surface options, both the Embarcadero in San Fransisco and West Side Highway in NYC prove the superiority of surface street options for transit, bicycling, pedestrians, community oriented fun, commerce, business, health and almost everything else.

    Seattle’s tunnel is the highway to hell.

    1. Not a bad idea. It does make sense to buy when building is more expensive. But that would dismantle the empires of some – not to mention the voter base.

  5. I want to read the whole SR-99 SDEIS, but not sure if I really have the time. My gripe is with the size of the bore. I think the same result could have been achieved with a much smaller bore size and two or more tunnels. Since the volume of a cylinder is relative to the square of the diameter a larger tunnel means an exponentially larger volume of dirt to be moved. And unless I am mistaken, the record breaking bore diameter of this tunnel means moving volumes of dirt not seen in Seattle since the great grading projects such as the Denny regrade. Can anyone point me to which chapter of the SDEIS relates to the bore size? Or which chapter talks about the environmental effects of moving so much dirt?

    1. Is it possible that the third runway project at SeaTac moved more dirt than the Denny regrade? Although that wasn’t actually in Seattle.

      1. Quick back of envelope calcs suggest the bore will generate between 500 and 600k cubic yards per mile – tens of thousands of tandem truck loads.

        But, I see a number of references to 14 million cubic yards of fill brought in for the third runway, and some of those references say 10 million yards moved for the Regrade. Maybe that’s right for the runway, seems low for the regrade by comparison.

        Regardless, while a lot of dirt moving for the tunnel, it’s not gargantuan. It would be interesting to know the haul routes and where it’s headed…

      2. How about they dump the dirt in Denny, make some nice hills, plant some trees?
        Now that’s recycling.

    2. Not sure if I buy your argument about bore size. If you wanted one lane of traffic each way like the transit tunnel, you’re definitely correct. If you want four lanes total, you either need four one-lane tunnels, two two-lane tunnels, or one double decker. We can eliminate the two-lane tunnels as a waste of area (excess headroom). For the one lane tunnels you have an area of 4*2*pi*r = 8*pi*r and for the four lane tunnel you have 2*pi*(2*r)^2 = 8*pi*r, so it’s a wash at best. When you consider the circumferential amount of concrete you have to put in (4*2*pi*r vs 2*pi*2*r) the four tunnels cost twice as much; plus you have to spread the tunnels out more, rent more TBMs etc.

      1. I have to admit that its a wash
        So for a 56′ bore you get 6400ft*pi*28’^2=16 million cubic ft (rouded up), but you need a minimum of 42′ bore to get the same 30′ width on the roadway which is slightly more volume of dirt, any savings from a smaller TBM would be wiped out by using more concrete.


        I was reading up on the Channel Tunnel to see what they did about fill. 5 million cubic meters was the total, and four million were used to reclaim 183 acres of land on the British coast. There’s also apparently a Seattle connection — they used techniques from the Mount Baker Tunnel (I-90). 31 miles long… makes our little tunnel look like a child’s toy :-)

      3. And I see my formulas were mistyped in my first post. Obviously, the area of a circle is pi*r^2… the conclusions are still correct, though.

  6. correction: i thought more about the envelope. Needs 30′ of width for two lanes and about 20′ height or even less towards the sides so you can get two lanes from a 36′ bore

  7. Yesler Terrace was created when Seattle was awash with free spectacular views. This incredible view location was considered marginal even though (or maybe because of) historically Japan Town centered here. I support the debate on how to make healthy urban design decisions. However isn’t the most value for the space in selling it to developers? There’s a lot of money to be made that could really double or triple the number of people given housing in another area. Course any such “deal” need be looked at but this is stunning property and the view as one comes down Yesler Hill into downtown Seattle one of the greatest views anywhere. Given the hill that leads to Chinatown is so high numerous housing developments could also be built near the freeway without impacting the view. The whole area needs a master plan, not simply what’s best for public housing approach.

    1. We need to take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put thousands of low-income housing units right in our center city. As we speak, cities are getting more and more popular among the middle and upper class, and they are moving in and pushing the poor out. I believe that over the next few decades, one of the major issues in urban planning will be how to allow diverse groups of people to stay in the inner city even while land values skyrocket. They have a right to be in the city just as much as people who will be able to afford 20th story penthouses in the market rate sections of the Yesler Terrace redevelopment.

  8. Over 6,000 new government parking spaces in the center of the city is absolutely unacceptable. This will completely destroy the growing transit/bicycle/pedestrian areas on 12th ave, south Broadway, and south Downtown.

    Seattle Housing Authority needs to study the impacts of the thousands of additional cars on traffic, the environment, and increased injuries and deaths. They are making significant zoning changes for redevelopment anyway, and the city council has recently shown they are willing to reduce and eliminate minimum parking requirements.

    Sorry – there is good density and bad density. This is clearly very bad density.

    1. Nothing will be ‘completely destroyed’. There’s a lot of housing, retail and office space going in here. I’m surprised they aren’t putting more parking in, to be honest. I think they’re improving.

  9. I’ve never seen Cabrini-Green but I saw re-watched Koyaanisqatsi last night and saw the implosion of Pruitt-Egoe in St Louis. I couldn’t believe a project had so many huge buildings, it was big enough to be its own city. I have a question about the scale of the buildings. Wikipedia says Pruitt-Egoe had 33 buildings, and the pictures of it and Cabrini-Green look like a garden city design: highrises with empty landscape or nothingness around each one.

    Jane Jacobs says it’s not density that makes neighborhoods unsafe, it’s the number of people per room. Having more than 1 person per room (including living rooms and dens) increases stress and leads to violence and crime.

    Wikipedia suggests a related factor for Pruitt-Igoe: ‘Apartments clustered around small, two-family landings with tenants working to maintain and clear their common areas were often relatively successful. When corridors were shared by 20 families and staircases by hundreds, public spaces immediately fell into disrepair. When the number of residents per public space rose above a certain level, none would identify with these “no man’s land[s]” – places where it was “impossible to feel … to tell resident from intruder”. … Meanwhile, adjacent Carr Village, a low-rise area with a similar demographic makeup, remained fully occupied and trouble-free throughout the construction, occupancy and decline of Pruitt–Igoe.’

    I’m having a hard time imagining a corridor shared by 20 families and a stairway shared by hundreds. Has anyone seen them who can explain how large and/or crowded they were?

    I have been in large residential complexes in Russia, which may be the same scale. It was not crowds of people going up the stairs like at a metro station, it was one or two at a time. The hallways were dark because people stole the lightbulbs. People did not take care of anything outside their apartment door. But at the same time they were renovating their apartments like mad. I asked why people were putting money into their apartments when the building looks condemned and about to fall apart. They said, “It’s a stone building, it’s been there since before the [1917] Revolution, it’s not going anywhere.” Another 60s-modern buildings in outer Moscow, with no elevators so you have to walk up. Not the most pleasant place to live perhaps, but not a gang-ridden wreck either. It wasn’t a mixed-use dream, but there were shops and a “market” (like a large farmers’ market) and I guess schools within a 15-minute walk.

    High-rise neighborhoods in themselves are not crime-prone, viz. Vancouver, lower Mahnattan, etc. Belltown has crime outside the highrises but not inside.

    Holly Park used to be small houses scattered on a lawn. There were never any “projects” in Seattle the size of mini cities. Perhaps the Massachussets Ave apts on Beacon Hill had been three times the size

  10. Surprised no one has commented on Chapter 3 of the 99 EIS and how the surface-transit option died. Looks like it was mostly motivated by keeping cars moving smoothly (I don’t get the impression that WSDOT came into it with the right priorities), but I was surprised to read that the bored tunnel supposedly met the “urban design” criteria best.

    1. That doesn’t surprise me at all. In their way of thinking, the tunnel will put cars underground, leaving the waterfront open for non-highway streets and development. And they have a point: if you focus only on the waterfront, then it does seem better if all the cars are somewhere that you can’t see them.

      Of course, that’s a very simplistic analysis. Among the things they’ve forgotten:

      – The billions of dollars being spent on the tunnel would do a lot more to improve the city if it were spent on transit (to reduce demand) and I-5 (to mitigate it).
      – Because of tolling and the lack of downtown exits, the tunnel will push lots of cars onto city streets. (Alas, we’re not investing in the transit improvements that would get them out of their cars.) Even if the waterfront is better (which isn’t guaranteed), other parts of the city will be worse.
      – Those monster portals aren’t going to do much for “urban design”.

      I could go on, but I don’t need to convince you. :)

      Interestingly, the Big Dig was sold this way too. There was a famous brochure with two pictures: on top was the congested Central Artery, and on the bottom was an artist’s rendering of the same area, but as a park. The first was captioned, “Now you see it…”, and the second, “Now you don’t.” The implication was that one of the highlights of the Big Dig would be putting all those cars out of sight.

      In Boston, it ended up mostly working, but that’s because [a] it’s untolled, [b] it’s the only north-south highway in city limits (I-93), and [c] it has two downtown exits. And it only “worked” after we spent $15 billion and 20 years building the darn thing. With the tolling, and the lack of downtown exits, and the super-convenient alternative (I-5), it’s hard to see this one being worth the money.

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