Archive for April, 2012

Harbor Island losing its bus?

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Generally it’s a good idea to focus transit service on trunk lines, to put the service where the most riders are. So, generally, King County Metro should be congratulated for its proposed route changes.

But that’s not the only priority. While nobody expects Metro to go everywhere, it shouldn’t cut entire neighborhoods off, particularly job centers where workers have grown to rely upon transit, which benefits all of us as well as the riders. Outside the major nodes it’s ok to ask people to walk, in excess of a half-mile in some cases, but how much beyond that is ok?

Harbor Island is about to lose its service entirely outside of the SW Spokane Street corridor at the south end. It’s more than a mile from there to the northern-most employers such as Vigor Marine and Crowley, much of it not particularly safe or comfortable, particularly in the dark. Today Route 35 runs two buses each rush hour (none the rest of the time), a bit

Photo courtesy of King County Department of Transportation
earlier than normal closing times in the afternoon but moderately workable for now. This route will go away under the current proposal. Only Spokane will be served by the new Route 50, leaving the rest of the island 100% high and dry.

The current riders don’t want much, or so says the one who inspired this post — just a couple trips up the island at rush hour, ideally including one a little later than the current 4:09. Something a few blocks from work rather than the solid mile.

Solutions might be a special looping version of Route 50 a couple times per rush hour (either in addition to or instead of the main 50), or a separate rush hour shuttle connecting from the 50 to the north end of the island. Neither would be free, but either would be cheap vs. deleting a whole district from service.

Transit should help the the city function well, and parallel our regional strategy. Harbor Island packs a lot of economic punch, cramming in a lot of seaport and industry uses. It’s done this for generations. We’re not talking about leapfrogging new development and expecting new public services to cover it. This is about serving what’s existed for generations, and an existing community of riders.

Please don’t cut off this community.


Come park yourself down at Environmental Works

Friday, April 20th, 2012
Sketch courtesy of John Barker Landscape Architects
On Monday (April 23), in celebration of Earth Day and Environmental Works 42nd anniversary, the nonprofit community design center and its friends at John Barker Landscape Architects will occupy the parking spaces in front of Environmental Works at 402 15th Ave. E. in Seattle,  converting them into a Parklet (mini-park).  They invite you to join them from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in their outdoor living room  with plants from the green thumbs at Seattle Tilth, ice cream from Par Fait (a portion of ice cream proceeds will go to EW), and coffee courtesy of their neighbors at Victrola. And, yes, they know Earth Day is April 22, but they aren’t working that day.



Redevelopment planned at Melrose and Pine

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012


Ground Zero – Melrose and Pine

Madison Development Group plans to redevelop the “Bauhaus Books and Coffee” block on Capitol Hill. Photos by Patrick Doherty

To read the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog and its various commenters, that’s exactly how you might describe the current local sentiment about the impending redevelopment of a site at the southeast corner of this key “gateway” intersection, as it’s identified in the City of Seattle’s Pike/Pine Design Guidelines.
But seriously the collection of structures at this site (most recognizable as the “Bauhaus Books and Coffee” block) is definitely a character-defining element of the Pike-Pine Corridor, both in terms of its historic structures and some much-loved, iconic businesses located therein. In addition, as its “gateway” identification connotes, it’s one of the first remarkable collection of older, character-defining buildings as one arrives to the neighborhood from Downtown.
And now comes Madison Development Group (MDG) with a proposal to redevelop the entire site with a mixed-use building, which naturally raises local hackles.  Why, ask many locals, do these sites need to be redeveloped when they contain such lovely buildings?
Well, market forces are obviously at play here, combined with permissive zoning that allows substantially more development potential than the existing buildings embody – as the City implements its growth-management-sympathetic goals of accommodating urban growth, supporting transit-oriented communities and generally building urban villages.  In fact, the zoning has allowed greater development there for decades.  But market forces are finally catching up with that development potential.
What tempers the all-out higher development potential of the underlying zoning are the above-mentioned Pike/Pine Design Guidelines that contain some very specific language encouraging the most sensitive design possible where “character structures” are involved.  In essence, within the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District such “character structures” should be incorporated to the greatest extent feasible within the new development scheme.  Some purists scoff at this, labeling it as a “façadectomy” approach  to historic-building conservation, but frankly, short of full-on landmark or preservation-district level of control, that’s about the most the City can do legally to “conserve” these character-defining elements of such a neighborhood (be that Pike/Pine, Fremont or Greenwood).
What we should all hope for now is that MDG and its architects live up to the challenge to bring a truly sympathetic solution to this thorny design problem.  Somewhere between preservation of the buildings as-is and a pastiche-level façadectomy approach should be the right, elegant solution that melds the character and essence of these historic buildings with a handsome, contemporary companion.  This can be done, but it takes a high level of finesse not often seen in this neighborhood or elsewhere in Seattle . I won’t drag you through my list of successes and failures, but suffice it to say there have been some recent examples in this very neighborhood of both elegant additions, breathing new life into character buildings, and awkward, heavy-handed boxes abruptly shoved down on top of historic buildings.  Let’s hope the former examples inspire MDG, not the latter!

To learn more about the planned redevelopment, go to

Controversy over Counterbalance Park

Thursday, April 12th, 2012
Counterbalance is an urban plaza in Seattle’s Queen Anne/Uptown neighborhood. Photo by Murase Associates

Photo by Murase Associates

An addition to Counterbalance Park at Queen Anne Avenue and Roy Street in Seattle is causing a debate about whether the public work of an architect should be changed without appropriate oversight. In this case, the work is by well-known Pacific Northwest landscape architect Robert Murase, who died in 2005. Here and here are some articles about the controversy.