Archive for January, 2009

On-street bike parking for Seattle

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009
Bike to work and park there too
The Seattle Department of Transportation plans to create on-street bike parking. They’re targeting one to two per neighborhood and plan to start installing the spots next week.

The spots will take over one or two car parking spots with bike racks with a raised curb around them. Each car-sized space will hold eight bikes.  The new program is part of the Bicycle Master Plan, which aims at tripling Seattle bikers over the next decade.

Here are the first three planned spots:

●  Mid block of Broadway East between East Harrison Street and East Republican Street (by Broadway Market)

●  At the corner of 12th Avenue and East Spring Street (by Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Café Presse)

●  At the corner of Woodlawn Avenue Northeast and Northeast 70th Street (by the Greenlake Condominiums)

Seattle unseats Atlanta as most wired city

Friday, January 23rd, 2009
Link to Seattle WiFi maps
Seattle is now the most wired city in America, according to Forbes. And they’re not talking about highest number of caffeine junkies per capita, either.

The ranking is based on a calculation of the percentage of Internet users with high-speed access,  the number of companies providing high-speed Internet, and the number of wi-fii spots citywide. Forbes has only been doing the top 30-rankings since 2007, and Atlanta took the top spot in both 2007 and 2008.

Now, Atlanta is at No. 2, followed by Washington, D.C., and then Orlando and Boston. Portland came in at No. 14 and San Francisco was 11th.

Thanks to Crosscut for catching this one.

Affordability and that pesky “American Dream”

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

The single biggest challenge to true growth management, and therefore the strongest driving force behind suburban sprawl, is in fact the average American household’s pursuit of the “American dream” – which ultimately becomes a very personalized definition of “affordable housing.”

The real barrier?

While the “American dream” is often loosely defined as one’s own tidy single-family home on a sizable piece of property behind the proverbial white-picket fence, in fact this dream is a moving target, influenced not only by the marketing machines of corporate homebuilders, federal tax policy, and even cable television, but also by still lingering suburbanite fears of “urban living.”

While growing up in my family of five in eastern Bellevue in the 1960’s I lived in what was then deemed a model of middle-class housing. Yet that same 1600-square-foot, three-bedroom, 2-bathroom house on a large lot is today considered substandard by most even two- or three-person families seeking new housing.

With new homebuilders and the massive media storm that has grown around them bombarding American society with imagery and messaging meant to convince us all that we should live in 3,000-plus-square-foot “faux chateaux” in the distant-most exurbs, the tidy, comfortable, and, yes, more modest suburban homes of yesteryear pale in comparison.

As a result, when today’s small family laments that they cannot “afford” a house unless they move out to the exurban fringe on yesterday’s farms and forestland it’s often because they cannot afford the current media-driven image of what they should afford. In fact, 15- to 30-year-old suburban homes in first- and even second-ring suburbs are far more affordable than houses in the brand-new subdivisions but are often overlooked. (more…)

Musings on affordability

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

We often hear the “30% of income” statistic used to define housing affordability. This is clearly inadequate. No one statistic will recognize our wide variables in lifestyle and situation. A suitable housing cost can be very different, for example, if a person doesn’t have a car, has a big family, doesn’t have a family, eats for free at a restaurant job, spends half their income on medical bills, etc.

If your expenses are mostly housing and food, paying 30% for housing seems downright quaint, however admirable and however great for retirement savings.

If a single metric is useful, how about 50% for housing plus transportation? It’s not perfect, but it’s much closer to the truth for pretty much everyone.

Local governments can do great things to encourage affordability. Some are happening now, and some aren’t.

First, take this...
Helping people live well without cars is a big start. It’s already easy for some people, but not enough. This means more housing near jobs and near transit, as well as better transit. It means corner stores, supermarkets, and other conveniences. Car sharing, taxis, and bike routes all help. We don’t have enough taxis because we don’t have enough customers, partially because we don’t have enough taxis. Again I’ll recommend a Seattle-only measure to increase bus service, since many neighborhoods are barely touched by Metro’s and Sound Transit’s planned improvements, and never will be with the 80/20 requirement.

Housing construction is expensive, and some of it is our own fault. Buildable sites are expensive because not enough land is zoned higher than what’s already there. Seattle’s famous “process” adds significant cost and risk for every project. We’re tacking on massive new fees onto projects above the older zoned heights. We’re disincentivizing new construction even though new supply is our greatest weapon to avoid SF/NY prices.

More on that: I don’t mean the new supply is affordable, because construction is expensive. But new supply means less demand for the old supply. That allows the old supply to gradually become cheaper over the years. That’s why the middle-class housing of 1920 or 1970 is generally more affordable today. (And the opposite is why similar housing in San Francisco or Manhattan is still outrageously expensive.)

Major kudos to the City for reducing parking requirements. This is already paying off as developers are developing parking in line with demand, rather than the average nimby’s idea of demand. The savings are dramatic for every space not built, and some projects that didn’t pencil with 25 spaces now pencil with 20 (with garage geometries, even one added space will sometimes trigger new costs in the hundreds of thousands).

In the third-rail department, our own expectations are part of the problem. In the US we tend to think 2,000 square feet is necessary for a family, and 800 square feet is barely livable for an individual. Basically we think we’re entitled to what much of the world would consider out-of-reach luxury. Why can’t a couple with two kids live in a two-bedroom apartment on a quiet street a few blocks from a park, at least until their careers advance a little?

Seattle open houses get weirder

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

I’ve heard of local open houses plying visitors with wine, cookies or a year of free coffee to try to sweeten the deal, and of realtors strategically placing mannequins and other props to help sell townhouses. But an open house planned for this weekend has to have the most creative grab yet.

Is now a good time to buy?

Capitol Hill’s ArtHaus Boutique Condos + Gallery will have Master Psychic and Clairvoyant Judith Ballard giving readings from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. this Sunday on site at 735 Federal Ave. E. According to a press release we received announcing the readings, Ballard can answer questions like:

“Will I get that great new job?”

“How much will rent go up?”

“Is now the right time to buy?”

and

“What does your future hold for 2009?”

The condo conversion project has nine units ranging in size from 414 to 1,368-square-feet.  Prices range from $219,000 to $699,000, and there is a $5,000 credit to help artists and teachers purchase units.

Tarot and numerology readings are first come, first served, but you can reserve a timeslot by emailing Clay.

Eden Development is owner and developer, Wynn + Associates is architect and McLeod Construction is general contractor.

What is affordability?

Monday, January 12th, 2009
Is Seattle affordable?
Words like affordable, sustainable and livable are thrown around regularly in conversations about how Seattle should grow.

But we want to know what these words actually mean, and how the city can acheive them.

In today’s DJC, SeattleScape blogger Roger Valdez introduces the topic of affordability.

On next week’s editorial page, we will run brief comments provided by members of the community, including elected officials, organizers and A/E/C industry players. (We asked them all to answer the question: “What is affordability and what can Seattle do to achieve it?” in under 50 words.)

Bloggers at SeattleScape will also take on the debate over the next few weeks. We hope you will join the conversation by commenting on the blog or emailing your comments to me at shawnag@djc.com.

Tunneling our way to recovery

Friday, January 9th, 2009

While reading about Obama’s plans to pull the economy out of a nose dive, I happened upon this quote from John Maynard Keynes:

“If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with bank-notes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coal-mines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is.”

How long will it be before local officials start touting the tunnel option as a way of boosting the local economy by creating jobs?  The trouble with Obama’s infrastructure plan is that it seems to significantly rely on projects like replacing the viaduct that we don’t need and shouldn’t build.

Now is the time for us to lean into the fact that automakers are facing a downturn in demand for their product.  Why would we keep building infrastructure for single occupancy vehicles?

So my half-serious proposal is we go forward with the tunnel option to replace the viaduct.  Once we’ve dug out the tunnel, we bury bottles with $100 bills, cover it back up and sell the rights to dig them up.  That way, we get the benefits without the downside of more infrastructure for something we are trying to discourage.  So grab a shovel, and let’s start digging!

Architecture: 5 cents

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009
Life in the current economy
In case you missed it, Mike Lewis had a great piece in the P-I today about Seattle Architect John Morefield’s creative marketing technique.

The 27-year-old architect, who said he’d been laid off twice this year, has spent the last two Sundays at the Ballard Sunday Market doling out design advice and a chuckle – on the cheap. He set up a booth with a sign that reads “Architecture 5 cents.”

These are certainly scary times for the A/E industry, but, as in the case of Morefield, such times can also uncover unique opportunities when designers use creative approaches. I’ve been working on an ongoing series for the DJC  on the economy and its affect on the A/E industry. The story has gotten increasingly bleaker over the past few months, but most architects aren’t resorting to Morefield’s tactics just yet.

In the most recent installment of the series, architecture industry execs told me they see a lot of opportunity in these gloom times. New markets, urban redevelopment, increasing demand for green design and a chance for Seattle to lead in the next economy topped the list.

Seattle is getting WAY better

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Is Seattle getting better? Well…yeah. In my own mind this is so clear that the question is always a surprise.

The discussion is generally about pace of growth. It’s easy to understand slow-growthers’ points, like how cheap everything used to be, the comfort of the familiar, or the ease of parking.

But it’s the big-city traits that impress me, like density, walkability, transit, diversity, and energy. One of the great journeys of life is watching this city turn into something greater.

Some of our neighborhood business and mixed-use districts had better retail in the 70s and 80s, but way fewer people lived there, and these places tended to lack energy. Yes there was parking — it dominated the fringes of many areas, like moats of nothingness. Seattle (in-town) has grown by over 20% since we bottomed out in 1986, and a lot of the growth has gone to urban villages. The difference is even more stark in greater Downtown, where many edge neighborhoods were wastelands.

Of course more stuff in proximity usually means greater walkability. We have physical and policy problems there (the City often doesn’t walk its talk),  but we did then, too.

We’re finally getting light rail, and not just a line but a network. Each new line magnifies the value of the lines that connect to it. Our bus service is less exciting, with service far too limited, due in large part to the 80/20 rule. Because the County might never sober up, we need Seattle to subsidize buses the way the State subsidizes Amtrak, possibly with a levy.

We’ve improved immeasurably on the diversity front. While we’ve lost ground on some fronts as the poor areas have edged southward, Seattle has also had big influxes, such as Vietnamese, Russians, Ethiopians, and others. Today’s Seattle is more worldly and interesting, and as Microsoft can tell you, we’ve gained priceless talent (which I hope we don’t lose due to misguided immigration law).

Parks are another improvement area. Downtown still lacks central green space, but the edges are doing better.

By the way, here is Stephen Cysewski’s astonishingly cool photo collection about Seattle in the 70s and 80s.

See Seattle by water, daily

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

Remember in Sleepless in Seattle, when Tom Hanks and his young son were shown riding in a little motor boat from their houseboat on Lake Union to Alki (I think), where they ran along the sand?

I realize their journey is unlikely for a number of reasons. But I remember watching that scene and thinking how cool it would be if Seattleites saw our myriad bodies of water as thoroughfares rather than impediments to travel.

Taxxiiiii! (pic from Wikipedia)
Sure, a lot of people here row or kayak on weekends and others do obnoxious things with jetskis in the summer, but what if we could actually use the water here as a means to get to work or to run otherwise tedious errands?

People living in Bremerton and on Bainbridge and Vashon already live the dream, but those living in the Seattle area decades ago lived a much more ferried life.

For those living in West Seattle, the dream will be realized soon, and other neighborhoods will soon follow suit. Year-round Elliott Bay Water Taxi service from West Seattle to downtown is slated to begin in 2010. The King County Ferry District, which levied a property tax in the county starting last year, also is funding the Vashon passenger-only ferry and is planning up to five new routes. Potential new routes could include Shilshole to downtown, and Kenmore, Kirkland, Renton and Des Moines to downtown Seattle.

Seattle Parks and Recreation, the King County Ferry District, and the King County Marine Division are hosting an open house next week to talk about the West Seattle portion of their plans, including improvements to Seacrest Dock.

The open house will run from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 15 at the Alki Community Center at 5817 S.W. Stevens St.