Changing the Skyline

Rendering from NBBJ, via Seattle Times

Last week, NBBJ, the firm designing Amazon’s new South Lake Union Denny Triangle complex, released updated renderings of the project’s tower designs, which give a glimpse as to how the downtown skyline might change upon completion.  Without a doubt, these buildings will be the tallest in the Denny Triangle, and is a sure sign of the infill development that is to come in the future.

Aesthetically, the towers are of a typical post-modern design heavy on the glazing, which doesn’t really seem to be inciting strong opinions either for or against, given the proximity to downtown.  When looking at street-level renderings, released earlier this year, there’s a fairly strong inclination to emphasize landscaping and open space, which can hopefully be complemented by sufficient activities and uses beyond the typical daytime office worker.

Transfers at 196th St.

Lynnwood Transit Center is probably the most important transit hub in Southern Snohomish County. It provides all-day access to Seattle, and 18 bus routes converge there.

In a noble attempt to simplify and straighten bus routes, CT consolidated a number of East/West routes in the area into the 196, which, fittingly, travels in a nearly straight path on 196th St SW. Regrettably, this forced it out of a direct connection at the transit center: not only would it have subjected riders to a circuitous detour, but CT’s Martin Munguia says that the added length would have required an additional bus, “which we cannot afford.” Score one for system legibility and directness.

The next best thing would be a 196 stop in both directions on 48th Ave. W to limit the walk to under a half mile, if not an additional stop at 44th Ave. W to facilitate transfers to those buses. Regrettably, neither exists: your eastbound choices are Scriber Lake Rd,. a full mile away and a long block East of Swift; or 40th Ave. W. (Timepoint 2 above), 0.8 miles to the East. Westbound, there’s a stop at 50th Ave. W, “only” two blocks away from the optimum. More after the jump.

Continue reading “Transfers at 196th St.”

(Im)personal, Rapid Transit

Last Saturday I missed an hourly connection from Seattle to Kennydale (550–>560) because of an affable and knowledgeable 550 operator. My bus was held for 4 minutes at International District Station while the operator proceeded to plan 2 riders’ trips to far-flung places. In those 4 minutes she told these riders how to purchase and use ORCA Cards, described several route alternatives, discussed interagency fare structure, and made various small talk about the weather.

As many transit grievances are born out of personal anecdotes, I spent the (delayed) ride to Bellevue thinking about what level of humanity we should generally expect from our transit. By all accounts the driver who forced me to wait an hour in South Bellevue was just being a decent human being, using her considerable knowledge base to inform misguided riders in need. Yet in doing so she was being a terrible transit operator.   More after the jump.

Continue reading “(Im)personal, Rapid Transit”

New OneBusAway Signs Downtown

Photo by Sherwin

Following up on the warm reception of the Pike St. OneBusAway sign, Seattle DOT has installed another two, both at Benaroya Hall.

This is part of Seattle’s plan to improve Third Avenue. The sign joins those already at Macy’s, Columbia Sportswear, the Fourth and Madison Building, and the King County Courthouse. As the press release states, “Real-time displays have been shown to reduce stress and foster a stronger sense of safety and security, particularly for passengers waiting at night and during other times when buses do not arrive as often. ”

It’s nice to see Seattle make some capital improvements along future RapidRide corridors. SDOT isn’t even a transit agency, and is well ahead of Metro and ST in real time transit information.

Using Shame to Cross the Street

This car is about to zip by me at high speed while I’m at the edge of his lane. 

There are several streets in Seattle that function more like highways, or even freeways, than city streets.  If you routinely cross Rainier, Denny, 15th Ave NW, or one of the other dozen or so 4+ lane streets at an uncontrolled intersection, then you know what I mean.  Let’s take my commute as an example.  The pedestrian portion of my commute involves crossing Rainier Ave S. at S. King St., which has no marked crosswalk. 

Legally, the second I step off the curb*, most lanes of traffic** have to stop for me.  It’s an intersection, and therefore it’s an unmarked crosswalk.  But in practice, I’d guess a good half of the cars don’t obey this rule and keep driving.  Not only is this illegal, it can put me in great danger, especially if this starts happening in both directions while I’m in the middle of the road.  I’ve had a bus do this to me (at least he yelled “sorry” out his window, though it was followed by “there was someone behind me”, which fails as a logical excuse).  I’ve had people yell “get out of the road” as they zip by. Continue reading “Using Shame to Cross the Street”

News Roundup: Federal Funding

Slack Action/Flickr

This is an open thread.

Reminder: Streetcar Talk Tomorrow

Seattle Streetcar, 1909 (wikimedia)

Join Rob Ketcherside, me, and the Seattle Public Library tomorrow night for a discussion of the history of Seattle’s streetcars and where urban rail goes from here.

Thursday August 16th
7 to 8 p.m.
Roy Street Coffee & Tea, 700 Broadway Ave E

In 1941, Seattle’s streetcar tracks were torn up and sold for scrap. Now we’re tunneling under Capitol Hill and laying new tracks on Broadway. What has changed? Join in a discussion about the past and present of Seattle’s street railways.

Bikeshare Doesn’t (Yet) Belong Downtown

Puget Sound Bike Share (PSBS) has been in the news a lot lately.  They are searching for an Executive Director, and they have published a 5-year business plan which hopes to have bikeshare up and running in Seattle by summer or fall next year. Seattle Bike Blog has posted a thorough summary of the business plan along with an excellent comment thread, both of which are worth reading in their entirety.

In short, PSBS plans to rollout bikeshare in 4 phases (see map):

PSBS Phased Rollout

I have a great enthusiasm for bikeshare, and I think it could be very successful in Seattle — if done right. I am, however, deeply unsettled by some parts of this plan, in particular its phasing, and the prospect of putting bikeshare users — who, if the project is to succeed, must be drawn from the full spectrum of ages and abilities — on the streets of downtown Seattle with the current bicycle facilities. More after the jump.

Continue reading “Bikeshare Doesn’t (Yet) Belong Downtown”

Light Rail Excuse of the Week: Rainier Valley Heritage Parade

RV Heritage Parade, 2009 (Rainier Valley Post/David Mullarkey Images)

It’s the Rainier Valley’s turn to have their summer festivals. If you’re looking for a summer excuse to take light rail, this is your weekend.

On Saturday, August 18th, the City is shutting down Rainier Avenue through downtown Columbia City. The “Heritage Parade” runs from 11am-12:30pm, and the “street party” continues till 4. There will be the usual booths and amusements.

The very next day, one stop down is the Othello Park International Music and Arts Festival, from noon to 6pm in the park just behind the new apartments. Food, local music, and more booths.

Yesler Way Gondola

May I present my next dream: the Yesler Way Gondola.

Proposed Route

Although this probably isn’t the most important line for a gondola in Seattle, this might be a good place to start.  Consider that we’re about to begin two massive projects: Yesler Terrace redevelopment, and the waterfront redevelopment.  If we’re going to build gondola stations, it would be cheap and easy to add them to projects that are being built anyway.  Consider also that both of these locations suffer from pedestrian access because of hills.  There are likely a large number of ferry passengers and waterfront tourists that would love an easy connection to Link light rail.  There are also 4,500(!) new housing units about to be built at Yesler Terrace that would love a quick and easy ride to that same transit service. 

The route is a very short one, which would be appropriate for Seattle’s first gondola line.  At 3,700 feet that’s around a 3 minute ride from end to end, adding another minute or so for the Pioneer Square Station stop.

Northgate Groundbreaking Friday

Northgate is ready to start digging, wooooo

Northgate Link Extension groundbreaking and community celebration
August 17, 2012
3:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Groundbreaking ceremony-3:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Community kick-off celebration-4:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Location: Former QFC site at N.E. 66th Street & Roosevelt Way N.E.

When that TBM finally breaks through I’ll breathe a sigh of relief. The festival sounds like a good time for the kids — if Roosevelt Station were already open, I’d probably head up there with mine.

What Apodments Can Do For You

Sigh. Now the news is full of apodments. I like saying the word, apodments, because it sounds like part of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address that was edited out. I hear him saying, in that beautiful Boston accent, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask when you can move into an apodment!”

Your new apodment?

But seriously, apodments are good for our country—or at least our city—since they offer an affordable alternative people who want to squeeze into city life affordably. Some neighborhood groups are beginning to band together in a kind of pan-NIMBYism to halt the spread of this kind of housing, but I think it’s misguided. People worried about the price of housing should love apodments. And so should neighborhoods.

From an economic standpoint, apodments make sense. As I wrote in another post, smaller, compact, and tiny apartments are an efficient use of space, creating new development projects that can lead to construction jobs. If someone owns two single-family lots in Eastlake, why not let them create a project that will maximize the use of that land, and allow people to live how they choose to? I’ve been going on and on lately about how we Seattle liberals need to let go, and let the market when it comes to land use. Apodments make sense, encouraging property owners to maximize the use of their land.

And housing price, something I think we shouldn’t worry and fret about so much, is something that still troubles Seattleites. The problem, the price worrywarts say, is that, “Seattle is too expensive.” The apodment, tiny and more affordable units right in the heart of active vibrant neighborhoods, is an excellent way to open up real estate renters could never afford.

Living in dense, vibrant neighborhoods means a person doesn’t need a car. Neighbors who live by proposed apodments express a worry about parking. I’ll admit, the parking in Eastlake, especially on the street where the apodments are proposed, is really bad. Could it be any worse? I doubt it. And I don’t think the City should be subsidizing parking by mandating that developers build it. If nobody wants to rent an apodment because it has no parking, the price of the apodment will come down, and people won’t build them anymore. If they do, it’s likely that the renter doesn’t own a car in the first place—saving money is part of why they’re moving into an apodment.

Apodments aren’t for everyone, but why not see what happens with them? I think it’s weird that neighbors, particularly in Eastlake, who own big, spacious homes, are coming out on their lawns to defend the poor, pathetic, hapless, future apodment renters. “A pod is not a home!” declares one flier. Why not let potential apodment renters decide for themselves whether they can make a pod a home?

The thing about local opposition to apodments that discredits it almost immediately is that the opponents are saying that the potential renter of an apodment doesn’t really want to live there. If that’s true, that potential renter won’t rent an apodment. If enough people walk away from apodments, the projects will go unrented and they will fail. On the other hand, if lots of people love apodments, renters will pay rent and forgo a car.

Let’s give the apodment a try. If it’s true that nobody really wants to live there, then these kinds of projects will lose money, and nobody will build them anymore. If they succeed, then we’ve created some good, infill development for people who don’t have a lot of money to spend on rent and cars, but want to live in the heart of the city. And yes, if I could, I’d live in one myself.

Sounder arrives in Lakewood!

Sounder at Lakewood Station by the author

After 13 years, Sound Transit’s Sounder Commuter Rail service made its first run into South Tacoma and Lakewood. The train, greeted by media and dignitaries, completes the last piece of the original Sounder plan in Sound Move, an 81.8-mile corridor between Everett and Lakewood.

Testing now ramps up. Starting this week, a 7-car Sounder trainset will be making runs between Freighthouse Square in Tacoma and Lakewood Station at initial speeds between 10mph to 20mph. The following week will ramp up speeds to 40mph and eventually the maximum speed of 60mph. The testing will include emergency drills, including stop/slide testing on the hill between M Street and D Street; adhesion testing between M Street and D Street to ensure the train can start safely with maximum loading of passengers; crossing malfunctions, which may include an occasional blow of the horn at times; and certification of the right of way for passenger use. These tests will happen between 8am and 4pm, every 30 to 60 minutes, Monday-Friday. However, please expect ANY TRAIN at ANY TIME and do not trespass!

Freight trains that currently use the line will be permitted at 40mph between Lakewood Station and M Street. However, trains will still only have a maximum speed of 10mph south of Lakewood, due to the condition of the track. Reports that Tacoma Rail is running on the connector is not officially confirmed at this time, but during the testing phases I saw a Tacoma Rail train on the hill.

The start of service is currently slated for October but an exact date has yet to be determined. Simulated runs will happen 2 to 4 weeks before service starts. That is, trains that normally terminate at Freighthouse Square will continue onward to Lakewood Station without passengers. Each train will be “swept” to ensure to passengers are off the train at Freighthouse Square. When service does start, fares for passengers traveling between Lakewood and Seattle will be $5.50 one way with a total travel time of an hour and 10 minutes, 75 cents and 11 minutes more than the current end point at FHS. Sounder is in a boom right now with nearly a 20 percent increase in ridership and continues to keep that growth up with additional trains coming soon over the next few years. Expect a schedule change that will align the departures with a “clock-facing” departures to make it easier to remember. There will only be 5 round trips that initially will go to Lakewood:

AM Trains #1500, 1502, 1504, 1506, and 1510

PM Trains #1509, 1513, 1515, 1517, and 1519

The 8th and 9th peak-direction roundtrips to Tacoma start in 2013 and 2016 respectively. A third reverse-peak round trip also starts in 2016, and the next year ST will add an off-peak round trip. It is unclear which of these will terminate in Lakewood.

This has been a long time coming and looking forward to riding the train. My excitement for this has been growing and hopefully ST will keep extending the train South. More information on the project is available here, here, and here.

Election Results Roundup

Jessyn Farrell

The dust is settling on the primary election results. It appears that the candidate with our strongest endorsementJessyn Farrell in the 46th district — has advanced to the general election with a plurality of votes. Almost half of voters supported neither candidate that advanced, so there’s still a lot of work to be done (and money to be spent) in the campaign.

In entirely unsurprising results, Jay Inslee and incumbent justice Susan Owens will continue to the general.

Elsewhere, the news was bad. Brett Phillips, Rob Holland, John Ladenburg, and Greg Nickels all will not be on the ballot in November. In most cases this is likely to result in an officeholder that is a mere “yes” vote for transit, rather than a leader on the issue. In others, anti-transit candidates are still in the race. Some of the survivors may very well emerge with good ideas in the coming months. We’ll discuss that further in our general election endorsements this fall.

An Update on Seattle Subway

Talking to interested folks at Ballard Farmers Market

For the last eight months, Seattle Subway has been working on several paths to build public support for accelerating and expanding transit in Seattle.

For those that don’t know much about us, we’re not specifically advocating for any particular technology, and we don’t necessarily advocate for everything being underground. We just want to ensure that Seattle’s neighborhoods are connected with fast, reliable transit, and that generally means separated right of way. We call ourselves “Seattle Subway” because that evokes, for many people, the kind of speed and reliability that they want in their transportation system. Dominic Holden’s article is a good primer – if you haven’t read it, you should.

This week we broke 2500 followers on Facebook. We have our 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, and we’ve been giving presentations and doing direct outreach for months, refining our message and learning from everyone. A lot of our work is basically just boosting Sound Transit – many people, especially in places like Ballard and West Seattle, don’t know that Link is being expanded at all, much less that tunneling to the U-district is already complete. We’re also building a volunteer organization – we’ve had a dozen people helping already at farmers markets and other events.

Continue reading “An Update on Seattle Subway”

An Update on the Walk Bike Ride Challenge

Miles saved, via SDOT

[UPDATE 8/16: The original amount of gas saved (3272) was mistakenly reported.  Of all WBR participants, an estimated 1,900 gallons of gas have been conserved.  Of those participating in neighborhood competition, around 115 gallons have been saved.]

With the Walk Bike Ride (WBR) challenge underway*, the City is now releasing an update on the standings in the neighborhood competition.  As of the most recent update on July 25th, Ballard holds a commanding lead, with West Seattle and Capitol Hill a distant second and third.  According to the City, a total of 2285 vehicle miles have been saved by neighborhood participants, amounting to a conservation of more than 3272 100 gallons of gasoline.

Interestingly enough, West Seattle is the neighborhood leading the pack when it comes to the number of trips saved thus far, which seems to indicate that the converted trips out of Ballard are much lengthier distance-wise.  I can’t find a rational explanation for this peculiarity other than the presumption that Ballardites are more likely converting longer-distance commute trips rather than shorter errand-type trips.

More from SDOT:

This map from SDOT shows where the neighborhoods stand with regard to car miles saved.  Here’s more info on the July/August competition. If you sign up you’ll receive weekly emails with encouragement and tips, and for every trip you switch you earn a chance to win some great prices, like an electric bike, a one night stay at the Pan Pacific Hotel and more.

There are five weeks left in the neighborhood competition, so these neighborhoods could move up or down in the rankings. The Seattle Walking Map and the Seattle Bike Map can help you take advantage of everyday opportunities to get exercise as you get around.

*My last WBR post mistakenly encouraged those already regularly WBR’ing to sign up, although the purpose of the challenge is for the conversion of auto trips, not existing WBR trips.

Metro Focusing on Columbia Pathway

Columbia and Marion Pathways
Columbia and Marion Pathways; click for full presentation

As reported by West Seattle Blog and Publicola, Metro’s ongoing effort to choose a post-2016 pathway for SR99 routes to enter downtown Seattle has turned its focus to the Columbia Street pathway, which brings buses to 3rd Ave via Colman Dock, rather via Main St (or a Main/Washington couplet) in Pioneer Square. Yesterday, I had a chance to sit down with Metro staff working on the Southend Transit Pathways project, and discuss in more detail the work they’re doing.

The most obvious item is that already mentioned in Publicola: while either Pioneer Square option would be expected to deliver adequate reliability, and the projected travel times in the image above, with no changes to the city street grid or signals, to do so on the Columbia pathway will require much more work. SDOT has not yet committed to provide peak transit lanes in both directions on Alaskan Way, which Metro regards as essential to maintain speed and reliability in any service there. Another is the signalization of Columbia: SDOT will need to provide strong signal priority to keep buses moving reliably in both directions.

We had a great discussion on the network-design merits of the two alignments. Columbia obviously could provide West Seattle riders the faster trip into the central and north downtown, but Pioneer Square travel times would be much better with a Pioneer Square alignment; I suggested that publishing a single travel time number for the whole of downtown didn’t really capture the many destinations people travel to in the central city, and the different effects these pathways would have on their travel times. Pioneer Square is already a major employment center, and it has a great deal of room to grow, even at the current zoning.

More after the jump. Continue reading “Metro Focusing on Columbia Pathway”

News Roundup: Risk Reduction

This is an open thread.