When can Public Infrastructure be Repurposed?

Battery Street Tunnel Credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

When the Alaskan Way Viaduct undergoes demolition next year, WSDOT plans to use the Battery Street Tunnel as a disposal site for the Viaduct’s debris, but a group of residents is pushing for a second life for the 65-year old tunnel.

The group Recharge the Battery says anything is better than the current plan to fill and seal the tunnel, however with only a year left before leveling of the viaduct is scheduled to begin the group is racing to rally support from the community.

The group envisions the tunnel becoming a “defining urban icon for the City of Seattle and valuable public asset for the Belltown neighborhood and surrounding communities.”

The cut-and-cover Battery Street Tunnel, which runs under Battery Street from Highway 99 to 1st Avenue, was the first tunnel designed and built by the City of Seattle Engineering Department, according to the final environmental impact statement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project. 

Battery Street Tunnel Credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

Earlier this year Recharge the Battery made an open call for proposals reimagining, without limits, a future use for the space. Ideas ranged from building a mushroom farm or a wine cellar to constructing an underground beach or allowing drone racing. One award-winning conceptual design envisioned a publicly accessible forested ravine which could also filter stormwater before returning it to Elliot Bay. Back in April Zach discussed the idea of using the tunnel for transit.

The group says there’s a wide range of possibilities, pointing to projects such as Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon River Restoration which uncovered an ancient river while creating a public recreational space after removing a large highway. Or the city could imitate New York City, using the space for a transit museum.

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News Roundup: Toronto Wins

Streetcar Wires, Toronto

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Does Foreign Capital Trump Supply and Demand?

English Bay, Vancouver (Andrew Raun/Wikipedia)

Charles Mudede is latest in a line of columnists (see here, here, here, and here) drawing comparisons between the rapidly appreciating housing markets in Seattle and Vancouver, BC:

The forces at work in Vancouver BC’s housing market seem unrelated to those at work in, say, Toronto’s—a city that, like Seattle, has a real economy and lots of high-paying jobs. Vancouver, on the other hand, “relies largely on an inflow of foreign money to fuel its real estate industry.”

After acknowledging that Seattle’s demand may be less finance-driven, Mudede still says later on that we have “lost Seattle to finance” in the same way as Vancouver. That’s not the only perceived similarity between the cities. He asks Globe and Mail reporter Kerry Gold about Vancouver’s HALA-like proposal:

They have also acknowledged that their policy to build tons of market condos backfired, because they became the perfect speculative commodity. So that’s all fine and good. But their strategy, which calls for greater numbers of rental buildings and incentives for developers to build more affordable housing, largely depends on addressing demand at the same time. If they just build, build, build, which has been our way, the hyper-commodification of housing will just continue. They need to address the demand side—as in, closing the floodgates with a speculator tax, or bigger foreign buyer tax, or even banning foreign buying of existing properties, the way New Zealand just did.

I think there’s reason to believe Seattle’s market has key differences from Vancouver. In particular, legal incentives to build apartments instead of condos ($) often limit investors to the single family market. While skyrocketing single-family prices are painful for those looking for a larger house, they are largely orthogonal to the question of how many homes the City of Seattle should build. But let’s set that aside and assume that the tide of foreign money is coming for us next.

Like an overcrowded light rail train, or a gas tax that can’t raise money because no one buys gas, this seems like a nice problem to have. First, an investor that rents out her property is not contributing to the housing shortage, but instead shifting inventory from the purchase market to the rental one. This, on balance, is a progressive move.

Moreover, even outside investment in an empty tower (the dreaded “speculators”) creates working-class jobs to build and operate the building, and implies a commitment to pay property taxes (and other levies, like affordable housing funds) without consuming much in the way of services. The only cost is a tiny bit of land, land that is only scarce because of artificial zoning restrictions. In the limit where speculator money is truly bottomless, various taxes and fees on endless new buildings could probably fund all the city’s needs with little or no burden on residents.

Indeed, for all Vancouver’s outstanding success boosting transit ridership with aggressive upzones around stations, their overall zoning map isn’t all that better than ours, as Matt Nicholson’s wonderful map shows:

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Installation Error Cause of Link’s August Electrical Malfunction

Tukwila International Boulevard Station Credit: Oran Viriyincy

On August 8, a severe electrical malfunction at the Tukwila traction power substation caused extensive damage to the unit, according to Paul Denison, director of light rail operations at Sound Transit. Following the outage, drivers were given orders to slow acceleration.

Briefing board members Thursday during the Operations and Administration Committee meeting, Denison said an error during installation caused the electrical failure.

“We found the root cause of the failure and it was because of some loose fasteners on one of the busbars,” Denison said. “It appears when that busbar was installed that those fasteners were not properly tightened.”

According to Wikipedia, a busbar is “a strip of metal used to conduct electricity within an electrical substation, distribution board, electric switchboard or other electrical equipment.”

“It looks like it was a one-off unfortunate event that was missed during the install by the contractor,” Denison said. Sound Transit was not able to provide the contractor’s name, or any plans to recover the cost, by press time.

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Sound Transit Expanding Parking Permit Program

Issaquah Transit Center Credit: Sound Transit

Sound Transit will extend its paid permit program at park-and-ride facilities to include solo drivers. The assurance of a guaranteed spot could cost commuters as much as $90 a month if Sound Transit charges the average market rate for these spaces.

Currently, carpools with two or more riders are eligible to purchase a $5 parking permit for nine park and ride locations: the Angle Lake Station, Auburn Station, Federal Way Transit Center, Issaquah Transit Center, Kent Station, Puyallup Station, Sumner Station, Tukwila International Boulevard Station and Tukwila Sounder Station. Metro has a similar program at 15 other park-and-rides.

Sound Transit began selling these HOV parking permits in 2016, which gives commuters access to priority parking areas during the morning rush hour on weekdays. Spaces in permit zones open up for general use after the morning rush hour and on weekends. Up to 50% of parking spaces at each station are reserved for permit holders.

Sound Transit manages about 11,800 parking spaces across 37 owned and leased facilities in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties.

During yesterday’s Operations and Administration Committee meeting, Abby Chazanow, a transportation planner at Sound Transit, told board members that a 2014 pilot project showed there was “quite a bit of demand and a strong willingness to pay” among commuters.

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Imagining a Post-Carbon Transportation System

The Futurama exhibit presented visitors with a car-centric future. Credit: Library of Congress

A new exhibit presents a vision of a fossil-fuel-free mobility system in a city not designed around cars.

As automobiles began taking over cities in the early 1900s, an exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s fair titled “Futurama”  gave visitors a glimpse of a city twenty years in the future where cars ruled the landscape.

The vision, sponsored by the General Motors Corporation, equated new with better included a superhighway system which connected small towns and a metropolis “replanned around a highly developed modern traffic system.”

A video documenting the exhibit declared “Over space man has begun to win victory, space for living, space for working, space for play, all available for more people than ever before.”

Credit: Smarter Than Car

That car-utopia vision never quite panned out leaving cities to deal with traffic congestion, pollution and freeways that separated — and in many cases destroyed — neighborhoods. Inspired by, yet a critique of, that car-centric vision is the exhibit Futurama Redux, opening today at the Center for Architecture & Design. Futurama Redux presents a best-case scenario thirty years in the future after a post-carbon transition which rejects car-centric city planning — instead designing streets around urban dwellers.

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Largest Ridership Changes on Metro Routes in 2016

King County Metro’s 2017 Annual System Evaluation is now publicly available.

One coarse performance measure in the appendices (pages 45-60) is weekday ridership on each route, comparing fall 2016 ridership to fall 2015 ridership. STB covered the March 2016 and September 2016 service changes that occurred during this period, as well as the March 2017 and September 2017 service changes that are not reflected in this evaluation.

Metro has roughly 180 routes, most of which saw daily weekday ridership shifts of 200 riders or less. The 50 routes listed below are the ones that had more dramatic shifts. Continue reading “Largest Ridership Changes on Metro Routes in 2016”

Microsoft’s expansion in the suburbs

Microsoft’s planned campus revamp (image: Microsoft)

Microsoft announced last week a major investment in their Redmond campus, expanding their footprint to accommodate up to 8,000 more workers, but also renovating and reinventing their campus. 12 older buildings will give way to 18 taller ones with a net addition of 2.5 million square feet.

Urbanists, and other observers, were quick to notice an apparent contrast with Amazon which has built its headquarters in Seattle and avoided suburban offices. Many Bay Area tech companies, after having started in the suburbs, are putting down roots in cities too. Several regional companies like Weyerhaeuser and Expedia have decamped to Seattle. Microsoft doesn’t appear to have ever considered such a move, and is confident that it can create an urban vibe within its historic footprint. Continue reading “Microsoft’s expansion in the suburbs”

News Roundup: ITDP Gold

Busway - Bridleway Crossing

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Senate Dems, Back in Charge, Announce New Committee Assignments

As a result of Manka Dhingra’s election, giving Democrats a solid majority in the State Senate (with Sen. Tim Sheldon caucusing with the Republicans), the Senate Democratic Caucus has had to choose new Senate leadership and committee leadership, and redo committee assignments. The new assignments were announced on November 14:


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2018 Brings a Slight Increase to SDOT’s Budget

Though Bertha’s job is done, the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall replacement project remains a major project in SDOT’s budget for next year.

With a backlog of over 550 lane-miles in need of major maintenance, estimated to cost $970m, and a rapidly growing city, the Seattle Department of Transportation says its 2018 budget attempts to balance the mobility needs of the city while maintaining existing streets and sidewalks.

Next year’s city budget, approved November 20, increases SDOT’s budget by a little over 5%, growing to $472.4m, from $448.4m. The agency plans on adding 31 new full-time employees, approved by the city council this summer, comprised of project management, engineers and planning and design positions.

In good news for bus riders, a last-minute proposal by Councilmember Mike O’Brien and approved by the council starts to lay a path for the use of automated enforcement of transit lanes. A report by SDOT in partnership with SPD “on the potential for using automated enforcement to reduce ‘block-the-box’ incidents and transit lane violations,” is due to the council by March 2, 2018

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