Probably a terrible idea…

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

…and it’s far too late anyway.  But what if instead of light rail over I-90, we just connected downtown Bellevue and downtown Seattle via gondola?

The two are just 6 miles apart.  Yes, that’s huge for gondola distances.  And over some deep water.  But I feel like crunching some numbers, so humor me.


We’d definately want to use 3S technology – that’s two support cables and one drive cable.  This would allow us to go 24 mph.  So that would be a 15 minute journey.  Hey, that’s much faster than Link’s 20 minute journey!  Of course, South Bellevue station and Mercer Island would increase in travel time, but everything north of Bellevue won’t be affected much (transfer will surely take less than 5 minutes, when a car leaves every 30 seconds).


So a gondola would win in terms of speed.  What about capacity?  East Link will have a maximum of 4-car trains every 8 minutes going to the east side.  If each car can hold 200 people, that’s 6,000 people per hour per direction.  But wait, Whistler’s 3S system can carry 4,100 people per hour per direction.  And with larger stations we could add more cars, bringing that number up.


This is the big unknown.  Gondola systems are cheap compared to light rail systems, but keep in mind we’re really only comparing the section of light rail crossing I-90 (though this is probably an expensive stretch of rail).  We would need to keep the rest of the planned system, even adding a storage and maintenance area, because East Link will serve much more than Bellevue.  Also, we’d be crossing a deep lake.  I have no idea how much towers going down 200′ to the floor of Lake Washington would cost, but I’m quite sure it wouldn’t be cheap (there’s a reason we use floating bridges around here).  We could have high towers on either side and skip mid-lake towers (the lake is only 2 miles across), but that could be expensive too.


Well, I’m a day late and a dollar short on this one.  Our entire region’s already agreed on a plan, and it’s likely a better plan than mine.  Plus leaving the east side light rail disconnected from the west side light rail system kills all kinds of efficiencies.  Then again, maybe I’m not thinking big enough.  Why not branch out from Bellevue with gondolas?

Is the FRA Killing Passenger Rail?

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Eric McCaughrin from the East Bay Bicycle Coalition puts together a list of ways that antiquated Federal Railroad Administration rules stack the deck against passenger rail in the US.  US trains need to be almost absurdly heavy to withstand potential freight crashes.  This results in slower, more expensive, harder-to-maintain rolling stock.  Trains must also blow their horns loudly at every intersection, raising the ire of nearby residents.

Easing these rules would seem to be something that the FRA could do without congressional approval.  I know that some rules, like the horn rule, were actually legislated by Congress, but is there room for interpretation on this or other rules?

I assume the reason that these rules haven’t been changed is that the freight companies and their allies in congress are petrified of the potential lawsuits from collisions.  Anyone have any more insights?


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Within the first few minutes of Urbanized, the new movie from Helvetica director Gary Hustwit, a voiceover lists the various forces that shape urban design, including architects, planners, zoning laws, and citizens.  That last one is accompanied by a visual of an elderly woman ostensibly making a public comment at some sort of community input session. I saw the film earlier tonight at a screening in Seattle, in a theater full of designers and architects, and there was an audible snicker when the woman came on stage.  Anyone who’s been in those input sessions can relate, but the snicker was interesting because in the end, Hustwit ends up more-or-less on that woman’s side, in favor of maximum community involvement in any urban project.

Urbanized, like Objectified before it, tells the story of the city through a series of vignettes in various cities.  There’s a project to reduce violence in a Cape Town slum through urban design, new architecture in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, New York’s High Line, and several more. Some of these will be familiar.

The project that comes in for the most unsympathetic treatment is Stuttgart 21, an effort to build a new high-speed rail line through Stuttgart.  It’s bracing to watch protesters getting beat up and sprayed with water cannons for opposing the project.  Alex Steffen, who moderated a Q&A with the director afterward, compared the Stuttgart project to Seattle’s deep-bore tunnel project.

How could a new high-speed rail project be so hated in a film that’s otherwise a paean to all things urban and non-automobile? The answer, I think, is that the Stuttgart project is presented as an example of elite-driven, top-down approach to planning, which Hustwit seems to eschew in favor of an organic, bottom-up approach that draws on the wisdom and distinct natures of the communities in which they are involved. The protesters are the bottom-up story, fighting to preserve the 100-year-old train station and the 200-year-old trees around it.

The top-down vs. bottom-up argument surfaces repeatedly. The High Line story, for example, focuses on how the two men who spearheaded the project were just two guys living nearby who wanted to do something, and rallied the community around it. Brad Pitt’s efforts to build houses in New Orleans, by contrast, are treated skeptically as the work of an outsider.

This is something that many of us in the transit community should take to heart: listen to your community.  Work with them.  Approach grand projects with humility.  Build grassroots support.  Don’t rely on planners in ivory towers to create a perfect, rational design and expect it to get implemented. That concerned citizen in the community input session is a potential ally, or at least a rich source of information and local knowledge.

That said, there’s something simplistic about the way Hustwit approaches the top-down vs. bottom-up dichotomy.  I wish he’d honed his film here a bit more.  The bottom-up stories don’t seem to involve serious trade-offs.  They’re either about providing new infrastructure to communities that have no money and no political power (in the slums of Santiago and Cape Town) or preserving things that already exist in wealthy communities (the High Line, the old Stuttgart train station).   What we didn’t see was an example of a bottom-up, grassroots effort to take something away from a relatively powerful or wealthy* community.  I have no doubt that such examples are few and far between.  But that in a nutshell is the dilemma for the modern new urbanist: they always seem to be taking things away from first world people and communities: parking spots, highway lanes, cars.

Is it possible to engineer a bottom-up, grassroots effort to re-prioritize the urban fabric of a developed nation away from cars?  That’s the question I’d love to see answered.

* when I say “wealthy” I simply mean “lives in a house with running water and electricity in a country with where they have the right to vote and organize.”  In other words, a citizen of a developed nation.

SLU / UW Ferry

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

FYI: There’s a mini-ferry running between South Lake Union and the University District (near Agua Verde).  The trip is $5 and takes 20 to 25 minutes.  They leave UW on the hour and SLU on the half hour, every day from 8am to 6:30pm, with an extra three hours on Fridays and Saturdays.  The boat carries 14 passengers and two bikes.

They’ll run the ferry through October (weather permitting), and will start back up next year in May.  They’re also planning on connecting SLU to Fremont.

(via The Sun Break)

High Rise Buildings Are Sooooo Expensive

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

One issue that comes up frequently when discussing “towers” compared to shorter buildings is cost.  Yes, taller buildings cost more.  But not much more.  And what you spend on construction can come back in saved real estate costs (since you can build more units with the same land).

Here’s some typical cost data from the 2011 RS Means*:

Apartments, Low Rise 1-4 story, $84/sf, $95,000 per unit

Apartments, Mid Rise 5-7 story, $107/sf, $118,000 per unit

Apartments, High Rise 8-24 story, $116/sf, $115,000 per unit

Don’t get too excited that the High Rise unit is actually cheaper than the Mid Rise, it’s clearly a smaller unit.  The per sf number is more important.  But either way, that’s a very small difference in price.  And let’s compare that low rise number.  It sure sounds cheap, but let’s run some numbers.  Let’s compare 3 buildings: a 4 story, a 7 story, and a 24 story, each on the same piece of land – let’s say a 15,000sf piece of land (around 3 SF homes) that cost $4M to buy and clear.  Let’s assume each unit is 1200sf.

4 story: $4M land cost, $5M construction cost, 50 units = $181,000 per unit.

7 story: $4M land cost, $11.2M construction cost, 87 units = $175,000 per unit.

24 story: $4M land cost, $41.8M construction cost, 300 units = $153,000 per unit.

Even at a higher per sf construction cost, the tall building wins.

*”The cost figures… were derived from aproximately 11,200 projects… they include the contractor’s overhead and profit, but do not generally include architectural fees or land costs.”  These are also national averages – Seattle has a location factor of 105, so 5% should be added to any number.


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Mark Hinshaw has an interesting piece in Crosscut with the counterintuitive title, “Seattle is killing retail by requiring too much of it.”  I encourage you to read the whole thing.  I find myself nodding in agreement with his diagnosis of the problem: Seattle over-incentivizes street-level retail, and the result is too many storefronts and not enough residents to support them.  I also buy his solution: focus retail on a few commercial thoroughfares, and allow the side streets to remain residential.  He cites New York as an example:

 For decades Manhattan has had a system in which the north-south Avenues serve as the streets of commerce. Larger, taller buildings tend to flank those thoroughfares. By contrast the east-west side streets are more residential with considerably less commercial activity. There may be businesses on the ground floor (or a half-basement). Exceptions to this rule are major crosstown streets such as 8th and 14th in the Village or 42nd and 57th further uptown.

You can actually feel the difference between the major streets and the side streets in a visceral sense. The side streets are quieter. Walk off the big avenue 50 feet and the noise level drops significantly. But even other difference are evident. People walk more slowly. People linger in knots. Kids play on stoops. Street trees abound. Apparently even in New York with its off-the-charts density, people appreciate the virtues of small town living and respite spaces.

One problem with using Manhattan is that the grid is exactly the opposite of, say Belltown’s: New York’s wide, major avenues form the short sides of the grid’s rectangles, whereas in Seattle they form the long sides.  What this means in practice is that there isn’t really much room for a residential row on, say, Lenora St., because it’s so short between Avenues.  Go 50 feet off of 3rd avenue, and you’re… halfway to 4th Avenue.

Secondly, as some in the comments section have noted, Seattle does have several “high streets,” such as NE 45th, California Ave SW, 15th Ave E, Greenwood and Phinney Aves, etc.  The problem with many of these high streets is that they are often (a) limited to single- or double-story buildings and (b) located in neighborhoods that turn immediately into single-family detached housing as soon as you step off the high street.  This limits the potential pedestrian-commercial impact. Exceptions include Broadway in Capitol Hill, University Ave, NW Market St. in Ballard, among others.

I’m not really sure why Hinshaw makes reforms to Pioneer Square the centerpiece of his argument, though.  Clearly he has a soft spot for the neighborhood, but it seems to me that Pioneer Square isn’t really a candidate for the “high street” treatment.  Instead, I’d argue for more density and up-zonings, with the goal of creating a critical mass of residents who can have a seat at the table alongside the sports teams, the night clubs, and the preservationists.

City Builder Book Club

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I happen to own a copy of Jane Jacobs  The Death and Life of Great American Cities.  I was several wonderful chapters in when I lost it, and only recently found it again (it was zipped away in the pocket of my suitcase).  As I work through the other 4 books I’ve started, it has sat on a shelf.  Even the few chapters I read expanded my understanding of what makes a great neighborhood.

But I’ve found a great reason to pick it back up: the City Builder Book Club.  The Center for Urban Projects, the same group that created The Gondola Project, is starting up an online book club specifically for those of us that wish to understand cities in greater depth.  And just my luck: their first book is The Death and Life of Great American Cities.  If you’re a reader here I highly recommend signing up and reading along.


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Two Views of M Street: the people entrance and the parking entrance

I appreciate Roger Valdez’s straight-up acknowledgement that yes, there is “social engineering” going on in American cities:

Yes, we are social engineers, but no more so thanRobert Moses and his followers, who built “free” highways and subsidized, auto-dependent single-family communities that ate up land, fuel, and energy for more than half a century. That kind of social engineering has run out of (cheap) gas. The answer is to engineer more wisely, not to return to the Wild West or mimick South American shanty towns.

Shortly after I read this article I found myself walking home past the recently-closed M Street grocery on First Hill.  Though M Street was popular with the locals, it couldn’t make ends meet after the building’s owners doubled the rent on them.  While doubling the rent seems extreme, keep in mind that the property’s new owners, the Ohio Teachers’ Retirement System, bought the development for $75M back in 2006.  Gotta recoup that investment somehow.

The reason I bring up the M Street grocery is that urban living (and suburban living) is all about choices.  The choices we make necessitate other choices.  Developers on First Hill are required to provide parking (this requirement was mercifully reduced to 0.5 spaces/unit, but only after the M Street building was completed), which increases the costs of development, and thus the amount of rent that needs to be collected on the building’s tenants. Furthermore, requiring parking makes it easier for M Street’s residents to own a car, which makes it more likely that they — and their neighbors — will be able to patronize grocery stores further afield.  Especially if those grocery stores, are, say, the nearby QFC or Whole Foods, both of whom offer free customer parking.

Thus, only certain kinds of businesses can afford to stay open in neighborhoods like First Hill — and apparently grocery stores are not one of them.  Which is a problem, but it’s a problem that results directly from car-centric “social engineering.”  We may wish to take a “ducks unlimited” approach to urban planning: “sure, give them parking spots, we’ll offer them such awesome retail that they’ll choose not to use them!”  In reality, however, choices and constraints prevail.  By choosing to have parking minimums, we’re directly limiting the type of retail that can exist at the ground level.  Fortunately, we’re making the right choices in First Hill.  What about your neighborhood?

Healthy King County

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I’m glad to see that King County Public Health is talking up“healthy places to live” as part of its messaging: “we can work together to make sure everyone has the opportunity to move more with parks, sidewalks and bike paths in all neighborhoods.”

Walkable, bikeable communities are a public health issue.  There’s only so much you can do to promote healthy living if people are living car-dependent lifestyles.

Today’s Bicycle Journey

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Just to highlight Seattle’s struggling bicycle infrastructure, I thought I’d describe my bicycle experience today.  My wife and I took our 2yr old son on a ride from Gasworks Park to the Lake Forest Park Farmer’s Market.  The ride started off great – the Burke Gilman Trail was packed with bikers, joggers, and rollerbladers.  But when we were close to Lake Forest Park we came upon a sign saying that the BGT is closed in 2.5 miles, and there’s a detour.  Fairly sure the Third Place Commons was less than 2.5 miles away, we continued onward.  But I had miscalculated – the BGT was closed about a mile from our destination.  With a choice between turning around and riding 2.5 miles to the detour and just finding our own way, we chose the adventurous route.  This led us to a push-your-bike grade of hill.  Ok, a few of them.  In the hot sun, but we eventually ended up on Bothell Way NE.  This road (actually a highway), is 4 lanes of unforgiving, high-speed traffic.  It’s no place for a bike with a child seat, even downhill.  So we chose the sidewalk, until it suddenly ended.  We found a side street up and down a few more hills, and we were there.

Arriving at the market, we couldn’t find any bike racks.  I figured the town’s city hall should have at least one, and I finally found it – covered in plants from a vendor.  I asked if I could move some off it (and the vendor agreed, after some passive-aggressive banter about charging me for the spot, and how he’s going to complain to the market’s coordinator), but a recently added ballot box was installed so close that a bike couldn’t fit.  So we headed off and found people leaving the other bike rack we could find.  But another vendor was using the water spigot – located right where our bikes would go.  We eventually found another bike rack at Third Place Books.  We took a bus part of the way home, for fear of having to ride uphill Bothell Way NE.

Overall I had a great time and I love Third Place Commons.  But that was despite the lack of respect shown for bikes along the best bike path in the region.

Significant observations:

  • If I were in a car, there’s no way they’d close the only highway connecting two cities for multiple months without a realistic second option.  If the BGT really has to be closed for months, do it in the winter.
  • If you’re going to just end a sidewalk, at a blind corner with nothing but high speed traffic, at least add “sharrows”.  Actually, no.  Get rid of a lane and build sidewalks.  I can only imagine being a pedestrian – or a pedestrian in a wheelchair – in such an environment.
  • If I were in a car, businesses would go out of their way to make sure I had a parking space.  In fact, they’d devote far more than half of their entire land space to my vehicle.  Yet despite being across the street from the BGT, they can’t offer more than a handful of poorly designed bike spaces?

Dow Constantine wants your wasted heat

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

You turn on a shower.  Your hot water heater takes water that’s the same temperature as the ground (roughly 50F, depending on the season) and heats it up to around 120F.  The water runs in pipes through your walls (losing some of this heat to the outside), then you mix it with some cold water to bring it down to 105 or so (an unnecessary increase of entropy, which wastes energy), it runs by your body once, then you dump almost all of that beautiful, expensive heat down the drain.

But King County Executive Dow Constantine, working with the FreeHold group, wants to take some of that heat you’re wasting and heat other buildings with it.  They are also using ground source heat pumps, adding a smart grid, supplying district heat and cooling, recovering methane from landfill waste, harvesting rainwater, and even want to add a new Sounder station at Interbay.  The entire Interbay project will be mixed use with offices, retail, and industrial all sharing the same campus and sometimes the same building. 

Check the project out (PDF of features here, sales PDF here).  Want to save some of that wasted heat yourself?  Consider shower heat recovery.  It’s just a coil of copper tubing around your shower drain, and pays back quickly for new construction, and in a reasonable number of years for many retrofit installations.

Here Comes the Tunnel

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Well, I guess it’s all over but the shouting.  Barring a major upset, Referendum 1 is going to be approved and the deep bore tunnel will happen.  At least we’ll get a new waterfront out of it.  I’m sorry we couldn’t convince our neighbors here in Seattle that this project was a poor use of limited dollars. Unlike Matt, I’m not interested in continuing to fight this battle.

On the plus side, it’s great that we’ve moved the debate this far.  The battles of the past few years were about the legitimacy of mass transit in general and light rail in particular.  Those battles were, in a sense, easier, because they didn’t involve zero-sum tradeoffs. Light rail is funded primarily by new tax money.  The tunnel project, on the other hand, would have meant taking existing tax money and spending less of it on single-occupancy vehicles and more on other forms of mobility.  That’s a bigger deal.  So, no surprise that it lost on the first go-round.  But considering the tunnel lost 70-30 a few years ago and then won 60-40 yesterday, I’d say public opinion is still pretty flexible on the subject.  And that gives me hope.

Proposed Anti-Tunnel Strategy

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The tunnel debate is over.  Long live the tunnel debate. 

This week’s vote may have settled the tunnel debate for now, but that’s no reason for anti-tunnel advocates to give up.  No multi-billion dollar yet-to-be-funded-or-started project can be considered a done-deal until opening day.  Consider the Superconducting Supercollider, which started off as a $4.4B project and was finally cancelled once they were nearly finished but the price had risen to $12B.  Or the Monorail, which failed while shovels were hovering over the ground. 

Consider that the tunnel has to dig under a Federal Building, who’s owner has refused to let the state dig under their building.  Or consider the potential increase in the cost of borrowing now that the US has an AA+ credit rating.  Or consider the fact that this project is still not completely funded, nor are several other multi-billion dollar road projects in this state.  No, I’m not hoping for massive financial failure of this project – much of my resistance to it is because of how much it will cost us.  But if an unavoidable roadblock should occur, those that prefer no Highway 99 through downtown should be prepared.

Here’s my proposed strategy.  Have a campaign ready to go to the council, to the then-Mayor, and to the then-Governor.  The campaign message: let’s try life without the tunnel first.  Temporarily add more transit, close the thing down for a month, and see what happens.  Mayhem, madness, and gridlock?  Ok, you’re right – we will have to deal with whatever massive roadblock is in the way.  But if nothing happens, would you consider just tearing the thing down and saving billions?

Why the Roosevelt tiny 10% upzone isn’t enough

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Several Roosevelt neighborhood plan supporters are claiming that Roosevelt’s new zoning will triple the existing population within 1/2 mile of the new rail station.  At first I was tricked – triple the zoning is at least a win for Seattle, and probably as much zoning as I would have asked them for.  But some of the numbers didn’t quite make sense. 

Architect John H. Adams ran a density study, which is where these numbers come from.  But even though that study seems to indicate a tripling of density, it still has numbers like 1,000 new units.  Can there really only be 333 units currently?  And then I saw it – Mr. Adams is comparing current population with future zoning – not current zoning vs. future zoning.  Reading into his study a bit, it’s clear that the new zoning only increases potiential units by 10%.

Why this matters is that we clearly won’t get anything close to the number listed in future zoning.  The only way to do that is to bulldoze the entire area to the ground, and build up a maximum number of units on every single property.  Except in major urban renewal projects (which is clearly not called for here), this doesn’t happen.  How development works is that over time inefficient buidings (say, a 1 story building in a 6 story zone) become worth less than the potential profit that comes by building up.  That new building still rarely comes anywhere close to the maximum number of units, because as a new building it’s generally marketed as high-end and includes large units.  Over time, most of the buildings that are widely different than their potential height are replaced.  But what about the 4-story units in a 6-story zone?  It would take a very high price per unit or very low construction cost to make money on bulldozing that building, since (profit) = (value of additional units) – (construction cost) and you aren’t adding that many new units.  So the end result of upzoning by 10% isn’t a tripling of units – it’s probably an increase by about 10%.

Ok, but how much upzoning does the Roosevelt area need?  I’d argue that Seattle needs to at least match WA’s rate of growth if we’re able to even keep up with sprawl, much less reduce it.  That means every single neighborhood is due for at least a doubling of their current zoned capacity, since WA’s population has doubled since the mid 70’s while our population has stayed roughly constant.  And that’s ignoring the fact that this is a light rail station, which should have a large potential for growth.  But doubling the zoned capacity should be an absolute minimum.

DBT Adds 47,500 New 60W Incandescent Light Bulbs

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Seattle PI reports that the DBT will use quite a bit of energy – specifically 25 million kilowatt-hours per year.  Running a quick calculation, that’s equivalent to 47,500 60W light bulbs burning all day long, every day.  That’s like every single Seattlite leaving an extra non-efficient light bulb on for about 2.5 hours a day.  47,500 is a big number and is hard to visualize, so I’ve done it for you.  Here’s what 47,500 light bulbs looks like.  I recommend dark sunglasses.

I’m Voting No on Referendum 1

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

When the decision came in 2009, somewhat out-of-the-blue, to replace the Viaduct with a deep bore tunnel, I was skeptical.  Still, I realized that the State was holding all the cards here.  Seattle could complain all it wanted, but at the end of the day it’s a State highway, the Governor wanted it, and the legislature likes roads and hates Seattle, so a tunnel it shall be.

One of the strengths of great leaders is that they know how to identify pressure points in the system and lean on them hard.    Mayor McGinn, on the other hand, likes to throw himself at brick walls, even (especially?) if he hasn’t found a pressure point.  The city doesn’t really have many cards to play here, and I don’t think this referendum will significantly change that.

My first instinct in this situation is to throw my hands up and declare there’s nothing to be done here. At least we won’t have that roaring viaduct through downtown, and maybe we can get on with some Seattle Streetcars and other important transit and pedestrian improvements throughout the city.  I’m perfectly happy to spend $150M of “Seattle’s” money on a tunnel through downtown Bellevue, which will at least benefit the thousands of Seattleites who visit and/or commute to the Eastside.

But then reason takes over, and there just isn’t enough lipstick in the world to make this pig of a tunnel look good.  Start with the EIS, which shows traffic getting worse through downtown as drivers avoid $9 round trip tolls and a tunnel with no downtown exits.  Then move on to the latest Federal Transit Administration letter, which warns of adverse impacts to transit in Seattle if the DBT is built as envisioned. And finally, consider the fact that WSDOT routinely over-estimates future car traffic.

As much as we might want the catharsis of building this f’ing thing and putting an end to the cursed “Seattle Process,” it’s hard to escape the fact that this project is a turd.

Oh, and by the way: the State of Washington is broke, if you haven’t heard.  Maybe the money for the new tunnel should go towards the new SR-520 bridge, which is still is still a couple billion short. Or maybe we should build the quieter 4-lane bypass viaduct and save a billion bucks.  Or maybe we should try this crazy Surface/Transit/I-5 option which seems to perform as well or better on every metric and cost less money than the tunnel.

So, I’m voting no.

American homes are over twice the size of European homes

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

According to the BBC, the average new US home is 2,300 square feet, while the average new UK home is 818 square feet.  Yet they seem to get by just fine in life.  Let’s take a look at those numbers.

First let’s compare two homes with the same weather conditions in somewhat cold region.  Seattle isn’t too different from rainy England, so we’ll use a cold Seattle winter day of 35 degrees F. 

Wall Area (sf) 2170 1293
Window Area (sf) 542 323
Roof Area (sf) 1380 490
Heat Loss (kBTU/hr) 12.8 7.3
Electricity (kW) 4.6 1.6


So you can save 43% on heating and 65% on electric use by having a UK sized home. 

Assumptions:  To be fair, I assumed the same building codes exist. I assumed 20′ tall (at the exterior walls) 2-story homes with a window-wall ratio of 20%. I looked only at heat conduction – factoring in air loss would show more energy savings in the UK model. I used 2009 WA energy code values for walls and windows. I assumed 2 W/sf for electrical energy – this is a very rough estimate, and more useful for percentages.  Electric use is assumed to scale linearly with square footage because lighting typically dominates electric use, and a larger home will typically have more electric equipment.

Server homes

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Let’s look at two buildings.  In the winter, a condo complex is busy burning natural gas to heat up all of its 50 or so units.  The condo is fairly efficient, but Seattle is a cold place and the building still uses a lot of fuel to keep people warm.  Next door there’s a server farm.  It’s filled with high-end computer components whirring and computing and using a huge amount of energy.  The heat that results from this energy is dumped outside, as computers want to be cold, not warm.  The obvious solution is to connect the two – build residential over server farms.  The farms don’t care about the view, and the residents can benefit from all of the free heat and high-quailty network connection.

Microsoft (in their suburban-loving way) has looked at this for individual homes.  But breaking this into 50 pieces is crazy – you need 50x the network runs, multiple times the installation cost, maintenance would be expensive and would involve visiting multiple homes, and security would be a nightmare.  I’ve actually seen something like this done for large office buildings – our own SAM has a similar setup with the WAMU* building it’s attached to.  But connecting a server farm to a multifamily building would be perfect – offices need very little heat in comparison, since they run during the day and have high internal loads (from all of their lights – and computers!).  Homes need heat all the time in the winter, and have much smaller internal loads.

* I’m sure it has another name now.

Need directions? Look for a parking meter.

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

SDOT is trying out new smart parking meters.  Besides spitting out parking tickets, they also have maps and “wayfinding”.  Now if we could only get them to dispense and recharge ORCA cards we’d really have something.

A Tale of Two Streets

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

In the US our streets started out slow and safe before cars existed, and have become increasingly dangerous.  We’re lucky in Seattle in that much of our roads were built before modern road standards.  These standards have pushed roads to be wider for visibility and to fit large fat fire engines, remove stop signs in favor of signals prioritizing the faster road, and provide gentle curves in order to accomodate faster speeds.  Let’s look at two streets.

This is in one of Seattle’s many “streetcar suburbs”, built over 100 years ago around streetcar stops before cars were much more than a toy.  There’s one lane for cars, shared by both directions, two lanes for parked cars, two areas for trees and plantings, and two sidewalks.  A car driving here can go around 5mph and feel very safe, and at about 8mph they start feeling in danger of hitting an opening car door.  As a result, there’s little car noise and streets are very safe.  Even if an accident occurs, the car is travelling a maximum of 10mph.  There’s an alley between streets for garages and garbage (and playing soccer, or learning to ride a bike).  There are turning circles every few blocks.  Yes, it takes a while to get around at 5mph, but in the city you aren’t often travelling far.  Arterials are built for 30mph, but I think we would be better off with narrower arterials as well.

This is a suburban street in Atlanta.  I’ve had to zoom out a bit because it’s not very interesting up close.  This street was designed for cars.  Your car can get from your driveway down the street at 30mph, and onto the main road where you can drive 50mph until you hit the freeway and drive 70mph.  It’s also just a few blocks from where a local woman and her children were hit crossing the road – that wide one on the left.  Charges were dropped on the drunk, medicated, partially blind driver that killed her son and injured her and her infant.  But she was charged with vehicular homicide for jaywalking and is facing three years in prison.  There were no crosswalks within half a mile of her bus stop, and her home was across the street.  She was tried by a jury of her “peers” who only drive cars and don’t take transit.

When you build sprawl you necessarily move destinations further from origins, and car trips become longer.  When car trips are longer the logical decision is to design roads to speed up these trips.  But speed kills.  Which road would you prefer to cross with your children?