North Rainier Zoning Meeting Report

Last Thursday’s North Rainier Zoning meeting (background here) drew a couple of hundred people and perhaps 60 commenters in spite of the unseasonably warm weather. There was a short presentation by the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) followed by over 90 minutes of public comment. DPD envisions the Lowe’s site, with the tallest proposed heights and the source of much angst, as not just housing, but hopefully a corporate or educational campus.

Perhaps someone will have the fortitude to go through and count the comments, but my impression was the pro and anti speakers were roughly evenly split, with the clearest division between longtime residents (mostly opposed, and speaking early) and people who have been there less than 10 years (mostly in favor, and speaking late). It’s a good example of how fixed transit investment builds its ridership through a natural process of sorting: people for whom rail is an important amenity are disproportionately likely to settle near stations.

The most common theme in the comments — whether “yes but” or “hell no” — was the thirst for an economic development strategy for the Rainier Valley. With the gruesome economic history of the Southeast, many fear that without a conscious plan the storefronts will be empty and what jobs do exist in this neighborhood won’t be replaced. It’s an understandable desire, but some of the people calling for “quality jobs” at a headquarters like Amazon’s might be careful what they wish for. After all, a global employer won’t simply hire the Franklin High School class of 2015: they’ll recruit globally, and many of their employees will choose to bid up rents in the Southeast. I take a relaxed view of gentrification, as opposed to displacement, but others do not.

Beyond that, the criticisms were so varied that the Council will have trouble finding ways to improve the plan in the eyes of the community. There were complaints that there wasn’t enough affordable housing, or that the Rainier Valley already had enough of it. Some thought the war on cars had gone too far, and others that high speeds still made our streets unsafe. Developers are simultaneously losing their shirts on empty TOD and making obscene profits at the expense of residents. And lastly, some argued that the retail and service jobs from storefronts weren’t good enough, while others passionately argued to preserve the retail jobs at Lowe’s.

The other opposition thread was complaint about outreach. Of course, project opponents never think it’s time to move on until (absurdly) every last citizen is well-informed. Nevertheless, Rainier Valley Post editor Amber Campbell (who didn’t take a position on the upzone itself) pointed out that her very-plugged-in publication has had only intermittent notification, suggesting DPD is missing some low-hanging fruit. But there is a cost to delay: the time lost is time where more people who seek housing in Seattle have to go elsewhere, people don’t have jobs, and the temporary advantage that the Rainier Valley has in transit quality slips away.

Thanks to the people who came out on a nice night to participate in the process.

A Garage Intervention

Ok Seattle homeowners, can we get real for a minute? It’s just you and me.

We need to talk about our garages. You know, the ones on our property that were built for storing motor vehicles.

Let’s be honest: many of us don’t use our garages for parking cars. I was tooling around Madrona the other night, looking for a parking space, and every spot on the street was taken. How could that be, I thought, when every house had a garage? Why are all the residents of Madrona parking on the street when they have perfectly usable garages?

I’ll tell you why. It’s because our garages are stuffed with more junk than a Greenwood antique shop. The typical Seattle garage contains six pairs of snowshoes, four vintage dining room chairs, a Fender amplifier, and at least one kayak. Can’t have that stuff in the house, of course, so in the garage it goes!

I don’t mean to pick on Madrona, it’s just where I happened to be. But I’ve been in enough Seattle neighborhoods on those pleasant Spring Saturdays, when the garages are open and everyone’s working on various “projects.” I know the score. I’m looking at you, guy in Phinney Ridge who brews his own beer. And you too, lady in Wallingford who keeps a  loom in the garage for the day you start, what, a… textile business?

And don’t get me started on the townhouse folks. You guys don’t have basements, so there’s no way in hell you’re using your garage to store a car. Not like you could anyway… most Seattle townhouse garages can’t fit anything bigger than a Mini Cooper, and even then you have to do a 17-point turn to get it in the auto court.

So next time you show up at a community meeting, complaining that some new apartment or condo is going to take up precious street parking, you may not get much sympathy. You can’t just leave the snowshoes and the kayak in the street for 23 hours a day, right?

I say it’s time for a city-wide purging. Let’s get rid of all that crap, because, let’s face it: you went kayaking that one time, you didn’t really enjoy it that much, and you can rent Kayaks pretty cheap at Agua Verde or REI anyway.  Is your garage sparkling and you use it only for your car and always park your car there? Good for you; maybe work on your neighbor.

Personally, I don’t have a garage. I have a basement, and as you can see from the photo above, it’s full of junk. If I had a garage, then I’d probably be using it for junk storage as well.  I’ve got at least three REI tents in there I don’t use anymore.  I spent last weekend making trips to the transfer station and Goodwill in an effort to start my own purge.  It felt great.

But hey, if you really want to keep storing junk in your garage, that’s your business. Just keep it in mind next time you’re circling the block looking for a spot.

Has the Tunnel Fiasco Changed Any Minds?

For all the things have happened on the Deep Bore Tunnel project, my opinion on it hasn’t changed. Of the seriously considered options, the DBT has the least money for transit, spends the most on environmentally destructive freeways, and is the infrastructure least useful for buses. For my values, that made it the worst option by far. Unfortunately, through some combination of elite consensus, car dependence, and exhaustion, most voters disagreed with me.

I think most people would agree that the program’s current troubles — long delays and escalating costs, that will probably end up in litigation between contractor, city, and state — should make the project less popular. And a fair amount of rhetoric has aimed at capitalizing on that, as tunnel supporters made lots of nonsense assertions about risk during the campaign. But I haven’t seen much evidence of people changing their minds on the tunnel, and that’s consistent with what I’ve observed about how people decide how to vote on projects.

I argue that within an order of magnitude, voters don’t care how much a project costs. They decide whether or not the project is valuable to them and people they care about, and if it is, they vote for it. I submit to you that whether a project is quoted at $2 billion or $3 billion is a difference of approximately zero votes.

Continue reading “Has the Tunnel Fiasco Changed Any Minds?”

News Roundup: 400 PPM

UW Tower View
UW Tower View

This is an open thread.

Give Input on Seattle’s Transportation Budget

Next week the Seattle Council budget committee will ask for community for 2015-16 budget priorities, with focus on transportation and land use priorities.

DATE/TIME: Wed., May 7, 6p – 8p

DEPARTMENTS: Transportation/Land Use

LOCATION: Garfield Community Center, 23rd and Cherry, Multipurpose Room (Central District)

After brief presentations of each department’s budget, constituents will have the opportunity to participate in small group discussions with Councilmembers, and to list their priorities for the featured departments. The summaries of those priorities will be reported to those attending the Community Budget Workshops. Each meeting will have three Councilmembers in attendance. Holding the meetings during the Spring will allow Councilmembers to take the information and encourage the Mayor to include it in the budget he proposes to the City Council in September.

The city level is where most of the interesting small-scale transportation capital projects can happen: pretty much any and all bicycle infrastructure, a new Fremont Bridge for cars, trolley wire on Yesler and 23rd, a Northgate pedestrian bridge, all the priority treatments in the transit master plan, a Westlake queue jump, off-board payment systems at busy bus stops, a downtown streetcar, Madison BRT, and all the rest. Let the city know that these projects are important to you.

Latest on the DBT

13902307541_b9f13cf781_b 13925489173_d651991fe6_b 13925498873_cdb57bf9a6_b

These images are of the meagre progress the tunnel project has made. Images courtesy WSDOT.

A couple of months back I asked whether we should continue with the deep-bore-tunnel (DBT) replacement for the SR-99 viaduct. At the time, Bertha, the Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) had been blocked for months with no date for its unblocking (if that’s a word), traffic on the viaduct was way down (though that data appeared to be bad, other data does show decline), the tolling revenue looked to be much than expected and there was confusion over who would pay for the seemingly inevitable overruns. In the intervening weeks, we’ve learned a few more things:

  1. The TBM will be stuck for nearly another year, restarting only in March. Assuming it does become unblocked by that date, the machine would have been blocked for 16 total months. That will lead to a 14 month delay for a tunneling project that was meant originally to take 14 months to complete.
  2. The repairs to Bertha are meant to cost the tax payer another $125 million. Keep in mind, this is to repair a TBM that cost $80 million to begin with. The state has refused to pay this, though who will ultimately pay for any cost increases is certain to be only decided in court.
  3. However, we’ve learned that one of the construction companies behind the tunnel has a decades-long history of suing to get extra payments from public agencies. They successfully deflected blame when projects have gone sour, and have forced government agencies to spend millions in court and legal fees. The company is already asking for $62.6 million in change order, and that figure is not a part include the previously mentioned $125 million. The original tunnel contract was for just over $1 billion.

None of this is very surprising, but what is surprising is that state transportation secretary Lynn Peterson is now saying there’s a “small possibility” the project could be cancelled. Now, I don’t know if these statements come from a bargaining position or an earnest assessment of the situation, but I hope more people wake up to the possibility of cancelling this project sooner rather than later; this project is unnecessary and promises to be a money pit far into the foreseeable future. Let’s cancel it now rather than throw more good cash after the bad we’ve already buried in this tunnel.