News Roundup: Car-Free Adventure

Northgate station construction, April 2018

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Monday Evening: Speak for Housing

On Monday, you have a chance to speak to Seattle city council members about one of the greatest challenges facing our society: building more houses for people. In Seattle, our housing shortage does not arise either from a lack of technology nor of capital, but primarily from laws that reserve more than half of the city’s land area for the most spatially-inefficient kind of urban housing ever to achieve mass adoption — the detached single-family house, with mandatory setbacks and car parking — and stringently regulate development on the tiny slice of land where multi-family housing is allowed.

Unlike other challenges we face, many of which require help from reluctant or recalcitrant higher levels of government, we in Seattle control* our own land use laws. We have nobody else to blame for the invisible wall of exclusionary zoning that we allow to stand around our city. The good news is that we have elected City Council members who, mostly, understand our housing problem and care about rectifying it. Last week’s Council vote, to stop forcing many people who live in transit-rich areas to have parking spaces they may not want, suggests our council members are willing to turn concern into legislation, even over the objections of a vocal, litigious, and extraordinarily privileged ($) minority.

The bad news is that privilege dies hard. To listen to much of the testimony at a zoning hearing is to fall into a netherworld where building more homes will not help our housing shortage; where open resentment of immigrants and newcomers is acceptable; where people who live in pre-war bungalows that would never meet today’s codes denounce modern apartments as Dickensian fire traps and health hazards; and imagined slights by the city bureaucracy invalidate years of open public process. To be a person who speaks at these hearings, for the radical proposition that roofs over people’s heads are both a public and private good, is definitely Type II fun.

But speak we must. Housing in the city, both subsidized and market rate, is an ethical and economic imperative, and if we fail to speak for it, we leave our elected leaders out on a limb. On Monday’s agenda is the citywide HALA rezone, a long-discussed, modest rezone of existing urban villages, coupled with a linkage fee. This rezone is worthy in its own right, and you should speak for it, but it must be thought of as a beginning, rather than an end; a down payment on a much more extensive and diverse housing stock that we have yet to legalize. As Minneapolis is considering, we must fundamentally reexamine single-family zoning throughout the whole city.

  • What: Public Hearing: Mandatory Housing Affordability in Districts 3 & 7
  • Where: Seattle Central College, Performance Hall, 1625 Broadway
  • When: April 16, 2018 6:00 PM (be early! — speaking is first come, first served)

If you’d like to join up with an awesome, supportive group of people, consider Seattle 4 Everyone or Seattle Tech for Housing.

* Well, mostly. The playing field isn’t really level — upzones go through an exhaustive state environmental process that the status quo mostly never had to.

News Roundup: Cars or People

Mercer Island station under construction, March 2018

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Wenatchee’s Link Transit Goes to the Ballot

1907 Irrigation Bridge

Nestled by the confluence of Wenatchee and Columbia Rivers, the City of Wenatchee is framed by some of the most dramatic scenery in the state. A small urban core of about fifty thousand people, squeezed into a bench around the confluence, serves as the primary urban center for a huge rural hinterland that extends roughly from Leavenworth at the southwest, Ephrata at the southeast, and 145 miles east of north up US 97 to the Canadian border. I think of Wenatchee as the gateway to Washington’s Big Sky Country, and it seems many other visitors are similarly taken, as the area is struggling with a housing affordability crisis ($).

Wenatchee is a railroad town, and it owes its location primarily to the choices of the Great Northern. Headed west from Saint Paul to Puget Sound, the GN crossed one of its major obstacles, the mighty and wild Columbia, at its narrowest point in Washington, before threading its way up the Cashmere Valley towards Stevens Pass. That westerly alignment, which made Wenatchee well-connected in the era of the railroad, has made the city an island in the age of the macadam road: there are exactly two road bridges carrying one paved road, WA 285, through the urban core, which can suffer startlingly bad car congestion given the small population.

The political and business leaders of Wenatchee have exhibited more progressive thought around transportation policy than one might expect. While the north end of Wenatchee Ave is a hellscape of roaring engines, drive-thrus and giant parking lots, the downtown business association formed a LID in 1989 [PDF page 40] to convert the historic central section into a calm, pedestrian-oriented street. WSDOT-owned land riverfront land on the east bank of the Columbia, once slated for a freeway, has become part of a non-motorized trail system, which notably includes a historic bridge over the Columbia initially designed for wagons and irrigation pipe. The city recently engaged the marginalized South Wenatchee neighborhood in a subarea planning process that yielded safe walking facilities as the top priority.

In a similarly forwarding-thinking vein, Link Transit was founded in 1989 to provide transit service to Chelan and Douglas counties. Today, the agency provides all-day bus and paratransit service throughout the urban core, with a more skeletal service radiating out to smaller towns along the US 2, US 97 and WA 28 corridors. In 2009, Link pioneered battery buses on a set of short, high-frequency urban routes — a bold move for a small agency. This November, car-free mobility in north-central Washington will take another big step forward if voters approve a 0.2% sales tax increase for Link. This ballot measure arises from a planning process which found that residents both wanted more transit options, and were willing to pay for it.

To find out more about Link’s plans, I exchanged emails with planner Lauren Loebsack.  Continue reading “Wenatchee’s Link Transit Goes to the Ballot”

News Roundup: Don’t Just Rebuild

In bloom, Bellevue style

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News Roundup: Parking Lots Disappearing

Lovely residential street in Seattle.

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News Roundup: Another Helpful Debunking

Elliott Bay panorama from Columbia Center

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News Roundup: Fourplexes Citywide

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News Roundup: So Much Oxygen

Roosevelt Station under construction, Feb. 2018

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News Roundup: Harmful Obsessions

Look both ways

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News Roundup: Nice Bridge

Green River pedestrian bridge in Southcenter

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News Roundup: Sizeism

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News Roundup: Not Transforming

I-5 southbound traffic approaching Mercer Street

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News Roundup: Still Unfinished

SeaTac/Airport light rail station

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News Roundup: Automotive Liberation

Seoul skyline

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News Roundup: Resolutely Pro-Housing

Highway 99 Tunnel and Seattle skyline

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News Roundup: Wrong Getaway Vehicle

Broadway

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News Roundup: The Case for the Subway

Light rail in Columbia City

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News Roundup: Insane Preservation Decisions

Ballard Docks

  • Seattle test will lead to regulations for dockless bike-share.
  • What the Washington train derailment means for Cascadia high-speed rail.
  • Speed control faces challenges ($), slowly gets rolling on Sounder trains.
  • What Vancouver, B.C., can teach us about housing.
  • When historic preservation clashes with housing affordability. Sightline’s Dan Bertolet catalogs several recent insane decisions from Seattle’s various landmark and historic district boards. Having read that piece, I’m really to nuke the entire dysfunctional process.
  • 120,000 square feet in the heart of Seattle is set to disappear; with the caveats that this square footage (a) is below grade and (b) will require about $100 million to bring up to code.
  • Denver vs Seattle: How our Pacific Northwest peer adds people without adding traffic. Streetblog gives a preview of the Moving People Forward conference in February, which looks very interesting.
  • Amtrak crews express concerns about training on new route where train derailed ($).
  • I-405 express toll lanes between Renton and Bellevue are on their way ($).
  • Driving from Everett to Seattle? Plan for a 94-minute commute, new report says ($). Hmmm… if only we had some technology that could provide an efficient alternative to driving for many thousands of people per day.
  • Seattle extends its run as the nation’s hottest housing market — but we may be starting to cool ($).
  • Margaret Hurley forced state to take alternate route for north Spokane freeway.
  • Elon Musk’s ideas about transportation are boring.
  • 150 studios with no parking going up in Ballard. Excellent!
  • Switzerland’s border-busting streetcar rolls Into France and Germany.
  • Boston tests faster bus service simply by laying out orange cones.
  • Agency OKs $126M budget for Tacoma Dome Link design ($).

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News Roundup: Everything But 501

April 9, 2015 - Fremont salutes Pontoon F!

Unsurprisingly, regional and national transportation news has been dominated since Monday by the tragic Amtrak 501 derailment. Because many of our readers are following the news of that accident via traditional or social media, and every outlet is working with the same (small) set of facts, I elected not to try and summarize all the 501 coverage, but to focus on other things that happened this week. STB’s reporting and commentary will continue in other posts.

If, nonetheless, you have room in your brain for one more 501 story, make it this KNKX interview with All Aboard Washington’s Lloyd Flem, who knew two of the deceased, Zack Willhoite and Jim Hamre, through their transit advocacy. “I can say with clarity, on behalf of both men […] that we do not believe the future of transportation is an infinite amount of pavement so everybody can drive alone, all the time, everywhere.” Words to live by.

The roundup:

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