Archive for the ‘transportation’ Category

Can growth reduce traffic?

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014
Via6, photo by Tim Rice

Often we look at development and wonder what will happen to traffic. This comes up a lot regarding greater Downtown Seattle, particularly the fast-growing northern portions. Actually, the truth might be pretty good.

The reasons are primarily these: 1. Congestion is mostly about peak times, and some buildings’ users spread their travel throughout the day rather than concentrating at rush hour. 2. A large percentage of growth does not add trips, but rather makes them shorter.

Category 1 includes hotels (a big growth area) as well as colleges, hospitals, retail, and art/tourist attractions. While these have peak times, they mostly spread activity throughout the day and night. Even at hospitals, only portions of the staff work bank hours, and few patients arrive at 8:00 am. Hotel guests arrive all day and evening, stay multiple nights while getting around mostly on foot, then leave throughout the morning. Destination retail is often busiest on weekends. Concerts are mostly at night. College students and faculty keep varying class hours. All of these uses avoid making rush hour much worse, while also activating our parks, spreading their lunch dollars to the slower times, and so on.

Housing falls heavily into Category 2. Greater Downtown residents are often greater Downtown workers. They’d already be traveling to these jobs daily, but living nearby means they can walk, use transit, bike, or drive a short distance instead of a long one. Working residents of the three major Downtown zip codes commuted on foot at rates of 47.6% for 98104, 34.1% for 98101, and 32.3% for 98121 in 2012 per Census.gov. They drove alone (often a much shorter distance) only 22.0%, 21.0% and 38.1% of the time. The gap between those figures was mostly transit, which is also much more convenient when you’re downtown. Working at home is also a major category. Expanding to the north, the 98109 area includes South Lake Union but also half of Queen Anne Hill, so its 13.7% walk and 47.6% drive alone rates are less relevant; perhaps SLU’s numbers are more like 98121′s.

Of course, those figures include people who commute to jobs far away from Downtown, who must represent a big chunk of the drivers and transit riders. The pedestrian numbers should be much higher if you only count those who also work Downtown. As for outbound commutes, these are added trips, but might peak a little earlier than inbound commutes (like 7:00-7:30 instead of 7:30-8:00?), and use the less-congested half of Downtown streets. In any case, it seems likely that most new Downtown residents also work here, so there should be a net reduction in traffic.

Many residents are in Category 1 as well, largely traveling outside commute times. This would include many retirees and students without jobs, who are apparently not counted in the commute statistics. These people seem likely to have low driving rates as well. Category 1 would also apply to many workers with non-traditional hours.

This is all relevant to transportation to and from greater Downtown as well. Turning thousands of 20-mile drives into two-mile drives and half-mile walks must be really helpful. If the current greater Downtown housing boom is around 11,500 units including tendrils up Dexter and Pike/Pine (my guesstimate), how many fewer inbound commutes might that represent, and and how many tax dollars might we avoid in future road projects, let alone less-jammed public transit? Between that savings, construction-related sales taxes, and new tax base upon completion, it’s a wonder we charge development fees rather than incentivizing new housing along with nice thank-you letters.

Offices (as well as laboratories) are the other big category of growth, and of course they contribute to rush hours. But our region needs their economic engine. That engine is best served by allowing companies to locate where workers want to work and companies can be near each other. Locating downtown means they’re transit-accessible and many employees can walk, meaning fewer cars on the road overall. They key is to balance office growth with housing growth. It would help if some companies changed their start times a little, much like the construction industry already has.

The concept of living Downtown is supported by demand. Apartments keep getting built because they keep filling up, at good prices. Maybe people like those leisurely walks to work, and choosing from the Downtown smorgasbord on the way home. Maybe they like walking out their doors on weekends and already being somewhere.

It works in other places too. Want less traffic in Redmond? Keep adding housing in that nice downtown area (seriously, take a look) as well as around Microsoft. Downtown Tacoma? Same thing. Everybody wins.

New bilingual signs in Chinatown-International District

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

Bilingual street name signs will be installed this summer at more than 30 intersections in Seattle’s Chinatown and Japantown neighborhood through a partnership of the city and the Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area.
Mayor Mike McGinn said in a press release that the translated signs in English and Chinese, or English and Japanese “will help us celebrate the ongoing diversity of the Chinatown-International District, as well as help people navigate the neighborhood.”

Photo by Jen Nance, Office of the Mayor

The CIDBIA worked with neighborhood stakeholders, family associations, local ethnic media, the University of Washington and translators from the Seattle Municipal Court to translate the existing street names into traditional Chinese and Japanese.
Don Blakeney, executive director of the CIDBIA, said “Not only is it a wonderful reflection of the neighborhood’s rich cultural history, but a reflection of the international hub that Seattle has become.”
Translated street names will be in white lettering on a brown background below the current legal name. The first sign is at Sixth Avenue South and South King Street.
Funding was provided by a $20,000 Small and Simple Matching Fund Grant through the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods.
The Seattle Department of Transportation also contributed $6,000 from the voter approved Bridging the Gap ballot measure.

King Street Station Can Transform the City

Monday, June 24th, 2013

Seattle has invested a great deal in King Street Station and the surrounding area, why not go a little further and make it a world-class transit hub?
Out of the three designated hubs in downtown Seattle, King Street is arguably the primary transit hub bringing together Amtrak, streetcar, local and regional bus, and light rail. In the not too distant future, rapid ride from West Seattle and access into downtown from SR-99 will both have significant impacts to this area. Using the already congested street grid to transfer between systems is not a coordinated nor safe approach for transit riders.  

Transbay Transit Center is anticipated to have a patronage of 100,000 every weekday and 45 million annually. Photo credit: © Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects

All the transit systems in the hub are just a block or two away from where you hoped they would be.  Light Rail is a trek across 4th from King Street Station; bus stops on Jackson are one-two blocks away; and the First Hill streetcar stops are a block or two in either direction. The City and transit agencies need to think bigger, in a way that leverages the investments in this hub including the restoration of the historic station, the North Lot, Union Station, and the Stadium District. In early thinking about the North Lot there was an idea proposed that included a significant bus terminal proposed for 4th Ave S over the BNSF tracks- this would provide the opportunity to create a stacked connection including Sounder, local bus, and perhaps an underground connection to Link. It’s time to start thinking about this facility now so that the promise of a real transit hub can be realized and the benefits of investment in the neighborhood can bring about real change.  Change that’s been planned for in the Livable South Downtown Plan.

The experience of San Francisco has an uncanny comparison.
Downtown San Francisco is a maze of cranes these days and the 6-block long gaping hole next to Mission Street that will become the Transbay Transit Center is a healthy contributor to the current crane count. With an anticipated patronage of 100,000 every weekday and 45 million annually, Transbay will be one of the largest transit hubs on the West Coast. From local rail and bus service to Amtrak and Greyhound, Transbay will provide the hub for more than 8 transit agencies including Caltrain and High Speed Rail. Originally built in 1939 to handle electric trolley service (and later bus service) from the newly constructed Bay Bridge, the original building was razed and along with several earthquake related ramp removals that provided the real estate and a significant source of funding for the new Transbay Center. The new Transbay was conceived in 2008 and is to be completed in 2017. But even the 70’ deep hole in Soma is already spurring development including the Transbay Tower- planned to be 200′ taller than the Transamerica pyramid.
Seattle has the opportunity now to rethink how transit systems come together at King Street Station and to create a world-class transit center befitting a world-class city.

The sidewalk observed: building a better street corner

Monday, June 17th, 2013
Successful street corner at 36th Ave SW and SW Snoqualmie St in West Seattle. Photo by Nate Cormier.

Last time I promised to contrast that miserable corner of 35th Ave SW and SW Avalon Way in West Seattle with something more gracious. This one is three blocks away at the corner of 36th Ave SW and SW Snoqualmie St. The context is quite different in terms of available right of way, traffic volumes and level of investment by the adjacent developer, but my interest here is in highlighting some of the aspects that make it a successful street corner.

• There are wide and nicely landscaped curb bulbs to slow traffic and buffer pedestrians at the corner from passing automobiles.
• The building entry is close to the intersection with decent transparency to the lobby so there should be a good amount of foot traffic and eyes on the street here.
• There is a seating area near the intersections for passersby to take a break. This is particularly valuable for seniors and others that pause frequently while walking. Hopefully once they lease up the apartment building they can get rid of those plastic signboards.
• There is a broad area between the ramps that is separated by a curb from turning traffic. This makes waiting to cross feel safer.
• The curb ramps align with the sidewalks and the unmarked crosswalks so the visually impaired can more easily guess the correct angle to make their way to the paired ramp on the other side of each street. Note that this leaves a triangular bit at the bottom of the ramp that needs to be carefully graded to not collect water.
• Finally, and this one is tiny, but the attention to detail is sweet…where the tactile warning strips meet adjacent curbwalls, there are subtle joints aligned with the tactile tiles. They may play a role in controlling cracking of the curb, but I like how they make those tactile strips appear rooted intentionally in those locations. Too often tactile warning strips look glued on as afterthoughts. Not here.

All in all, a solid contribution to the public realm!

Make Way for Parklets

Monday, April 1st, 2013

There is a new position at SDOT in the Street Use and Urban Forestry Division; Public Space Manager; and with this new role there is hope brewing for more permanent parklets coming to a Seattle neighborhood near you.

San Francisco Parklet

The re-purposing of parking spaces into miniature open spaces has grown from the latest soup d’jour for urban areas across the nation with San Francisco leading the charge and most recently followed by Los Angeles’ activity parklets to a more common wrench in the toolkit of cities as varied as Philadelphia and San Jose. Now it’s Seattle’s turn. Let’s give SDOT all of our support as they move forward.
Congratulations to the very capable Jennifer Wieland as she takes on this role. She let me know that Seattle can expect to see the pilot program roll out this summer with several projects in Center City neighborhoods.
If you would like to know more about how to develop and implement parklets, see this (very thorough) study from the UCLA Lewis Center here.
http://lewis.ucla.edu/content/completestreets-publications

The sidewalk observed: a disappointing West Seattle street corner

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Others do a great job covering the major issues and signature projects of our region. I’d like to turn your attention, usually downward, to the less examined details of our cityscape. Let’s call it “The Sidewalk Observed.”

35th Ave SW and SW Avalon Way
Dodgy street corner at 35th Ave SW and SW Avalon Way in West Seattle. Photo by Nate Cormier.

This is the corner of 35th Ave SW and SW Avalon Way in West Seattle. A new building here, now called The Residences at 3295, has become notorious for its construction fits and starts. Neighbors are probably grateful to finally have the project  done, but WOW, this street corner is disappointing. We can surely do better at the intersection of two busy arterials with heavy bus and truck traffic. I write that  ‘we’ can do better because I’m not particularly concerned with who designed it. This is the kind of urban landscape shaped less by design intent than by underlying regulatory and economic forces that maxed out vehicular flow and land value at the expense of a safe and inviting pedestrian experience.

Typically, a corner like this would have two ramps with a bit of curb in between to protect a safe place for people to pause. Short of this, providing a contiguous flat area behind the sidewalk could have helped, but here we are pinned between the street and a step up to the corner of the building. For my next post, I’ll contrast this with a better example of a recent street corner improvement. And if you have a cityscape scene or detail you’d like me to highlight, please drop me a line at natec@svrdesign.com.

 

LA OKs key financing for downtown streetcar

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Voters in downtown Los Angeles have approved key financing for a $125-million streetcar project, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

The streetcar would run mainly along Broadway, and Hill and Figueroa streets, three of downtown’s main arteries, connecting various neighbors, including the old banking district, South Park, Civic Center and the fashion district.

Seattle’s 2.5-mile First Hill streetcar line  is  slated to be complete in the spring of 2014.  It will go  from Pioneer Square to Broadway and Denny on Capitol Hill.

 

10 ways to make cities more walkable

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Seattle has a number of walkable neighborhoods, from Capitol Hill to Belltown. An article in The Atlantic Cities offers 10 tips for making cities more walkable

Ballard is an urban village and a fun place to walk. Photo by Clair Enlow.
. The suggestions come from Jeff Speck’s new book, Walkable City.

Blue Scholars team with Sound Transit on train safety video

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

“These trains move fast, so don’t play around” is advice offered by the Blue Scholars in a music video titled “Zoomin’ through the Sound,” just released by Sound Transit.

Vocalist MC Geologic is a member of the Seattle hip-hop group Blue Scholars, which teamed with Sound Transit to produce a video promoting safety around Sounder commuter rail train tracks and crossings. Photo courtesy of Sound Transit

The popular Seattle hip-hop group partnered with Sound Transit to deliver train track safety messages.  The Blue Scholars are well known for their love of Seattle and interest in supporting community issues.

The video features MC Geologic (Geo), vocalist for the Blue Scholars, catching Sound Transit’s new Sounder service in Lakewood and riding the train to Tacoma and on to Seattle.

Geo raps about wearing headphones around train tracks (“nah, take ’em off so I can hear the train comin’”), scolds a friend who sends him a text (“you playin’ near the tracks, you playin’ with your life”), and speaks his mind about being smart around train tracks (“don’t be a dummy, and use your head”).

“People don’t realize how quiet the Sounder train is, and how fast it travels,” said Carol Doering, community outreach specialist for Sound Transit.  “We want everyone who lives and works in the Lakewood area, where our new service just started, to pay attention and obey all the signs and signals around train tracks.  We’re very excited to have a group as popular as the Blue Scholars helping us deliver these messages.”

Geo and the second half of the duo, DJ Sabzi, wrote original lyrics and music for Zoomin’ through the Sound.  The video was shot in the Puget Sound area by Seedwell, a digital creative studio based in San Francisco whose founders all hail from Seattle.

Iconic backdrops include Mt. Rainier, the Tacoma Dome and downtown Seattle.  Sound Transit said it enlisted the Blue Scholars involvement because of  their artistic talent and their commitment to important social issues.  The group has performed across the country, opening for and sharing a stage with Kanye West, Slick Rick and De La Soul.

The video is part of a larger campaign called “Be Smart. Be Safe.” launched by Sound Transit in connection with new Sounder commuter train service from Lakewood to Tacoma.

“There are a lot of misperceptions about trains, and we want people to recognize the power of a fast moving train and not put themselves at risk,” said Doering.  “This video helps raise awareness of the great need to behave safely around train tracks.”

Zoomin’ through the Sound can be seen on YouTube at http://youtu.be/yAjs_2LJ3ec, and the song alone is available for download at www.soundcloud.com/bluescholars.  More information about Sound Transit is at www.soundtransit.org, and about the Blue Scholars at www.bluescholars.com.

 

 

 

Challenge your inner pedestrian

Friday, September 21st, 2012

HBB Landscape Architecture has created the Palletable Plants Park, a temporary installation in a parking space in front of the firm’s Seattle office at 215 Westlake Ave. N.

Photo courtesy of HBB Landscape Architecture

The “park” highlights edible and ornamental plants while showing what can be done with little more than an open parking space, recycled materials and versatile plants. It also has furnishings constructed from recycled pallets.

The installation is part of PARK(ing) Day, an annual one-day-a-year worldwide event designed to show what cities would look like if more public space was allocated for parks, recreation and social interaction rather than for cars.

Locally the event is sponsored this year by the Seattle Department of Transportation. A total of 14 parking spaces, almost all downtown, have been temporarily converted by groups and firms into everything from a photo booth to a Bocce ball court to a place where you can challenge your inner pedestrian by getting a Transportation Tarot Reading.

As part of Park(ing) Day, a number of local organizations, including Feet First, are sponsoring an event in Pioneer Square, which turns Occidental Park, Nord Alley and  parking spots on Main Street into a summer lawn party. It ends at 2 p.m. today.