Morning Crank: Adapting Parking Policies for the Next 50 Years

Dark gray: No parking minimum. Light gray: No parking minimum within 1/4 mile of frequent transit service. Orange: Multifamily and commercial areas with reduced parking requirements. Green dots: Bus stops along frequent transit corridors.

1. The city council continues to debate legislation that makes modest changes to the current rules regulating parking in new buildings, with West Seattle city council member Lisa Herbold continuing to lead the charge against changes to the code that might impact drivers in her district by increasing the walk between their cars and their homes. The updates would, among other changes, change the definition of “frequent transit service”—a direct response to a group of Phinney Ridge homeowners challenging a development on Greenwood Avenue that is directly on a major bus route. The homeowners claim that because the route’s actual schedule varies at rush hour due to traffic, the area doesn’t actually have frequent transit service.

Additionally, the legislation would:

• Allow “flexible-use parking,” which would allow shared parking between buildings (for example, if one apartment building had empty spaces during the day, a retail building without parking next door might rent some of those spaces for their customers.)

• In developments where parking is required, allow that parking to be up to a quarter-mile away from the building (up from 800 feet), in keeping with the definition of accessible transit  as all areas within a quarter-mile of a bus stop served by frequent transit.

• Require landlords to charge for parking separately from rent, to “unbundle” the cost of parking from the cost of a unit.

• Reduce parking requirements for some large institutions and affordable-housing providers.

• Require more bike parking in new developments.

Herbold, who previously argued that the city’s studies showing a low level of car ownership among renters in dense areas don’t account for areas like her district, where most people drive, made the case Tuesday that the city should open up developments where parking is not required to challenges under the State Environmental Policy Act, which are generally intended to mitigate the environmental impact of proposals, not their impact on convenient car use. If SEPA analysis determined that there wasn’t “enough” parking in an area, the city could take a number of actions, including—Herbold suggested—denying residential parking zone permits, which are currently available to all residents of the city, to the tenants in that building. (Herbold pointed out that her proposal would also apply to people buying new condos, but the fact is that the overwhelming majority of new units in Seattle are apartments, not condos).

Herbold also argued that the proposal to allow parking a quarter-mile away from new buildings that are required to have parking could discriminate against elderly people, for whom, she said, “I’ve seen estimates that an acceptable walking distance” is between 300 and 600 feet. “We talk about Seattle wanting to be an age-friendly city, and I’m just concerned that the proposed change to a quarter mile does not serve the needs of that aging population.”  A few minutes later, though, she undermined her case by saying that if the quarter-mile rule for car parking passed, she would propose that developers be allowed to move their mandatory bike parking up to a quarter-mile away; after all, she argued, if a quarter-mile is the rule for cars, shouldn’t it be the rule for cyclists, too? Council member Mike O’Brien pointed out that cars and bikes have very different impacts and serve different purposes; instead of “trying to pretend that cars and bikes are identical and have the same impacts,” he said, the city should adopt bike parking requirements that actually work for bike riders—and encourage cycling, which is already official city policy.

2. If Herbold’s RPZ idea sounds familiar, that’s because it has been proposed loudly and often by homeowner activists , who see it as a kind of “gotcha” that will demonstrate that people who move into buildings without parking actually own cars and plan to park them on the street. Taking away their ability to park on the street serves as both a punishment meted exclusively against renters in new buildings (on behalf of homeowners and incumbent renters who own cars) and a targeted I-told-you-so.

RPZ restrictions were one of many proposals to stick it to developers and renters during a rowdy meeting of the Phinney Ridge Community Council Monday night. Staffers from the Seattle Department of Transportation, the Department of Construction and Inspections, and council member Rob Johnson’s office came to present the legislation and ask questions, but the “Q&A” devolved into a shouting match before it even began.

SDCI’s Gordon Clowers, Johnson staffer Spencer Williams, and SDOT staffer Mary Catherine Snyder only made it through a few minutes of their presentation before members of the crowd—mostly white, mostly gray-haired—began pelting them with rhetorical questions. “Have you considered shift workers who might work at night” in your parking vacancy studies, one woman wanted to know.  (Yes). “If you say, ‘You can’t lock your door'”—a reference to shared parking, which would allow shared use of parking garages—”and there’s a whole lot of break-ins, who fixes it?” (That’s a question for the landlord.) “If most neighborhoods are facing growth and most people are looking for on-street parking, there’s eventually going to be such a rat race of parking demand, looking for that last free spot, that it’s not going to be viable.” (Not a question).

I sat and listened as a woman behind me stage-whispered, “SO WRONG. SO WRONG. SO WRONG” while Williams explained that people living in subsidized housing are less likely to own cars, and I watched as people shouted him down when he tried to explain the rationale behind allowing buses that sometimes arrive every 16 minutes to count as “frequent transit service” for the purposes of parking policy.  I heard a dozen people start yelling in unison when Williams was insufficiently surprised that 1,700 apartment units are in the pipeline along the 5 bus route from Shoreline to Fremont (“That’s been part of our growth strategy since the 1990s”), and I listened as grown adults screamed “Bullshit!” when Clowers said the city wasn’t trying to force people out of their cars and when a different person told Clowers he was full of, again, “bullshit,” because “you can interrupt us but we can’t interrupt you.”

Listening to the Phinney Ridge homeowners in the room, you would think that Seattle is a city where it’s impossible for anyone to get around without a car, where no one takes the bus because they’re all too full anyway, where the local transit agency fabricates bus schedules from whole cloth, and where parking policy is made without consideration for “working-class” residents with work trucks and delivery vehicles. If I hadn’t known that I was sitting in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city, in a roomful of homeowners motivated not by altruism but by the desire to park their cars near their houses, I would think Seattle was in the middle of a class war between elitist city policymakers and paycheck-to-paycheck laborers getting screwed over by policies designed to crush working-class renters.

But that isn’t what’s happening here. Instead, the city is starting to make progress toward adapting its parking policies for the next 50 years, when driving alone in privately owned cars will become the exception, not the rule. It’s hard to see the future when the present is all that’s in front of you—if you and all the people you know own cars, it’s easy to imagine that everyone else does, too, and will for the foreseeable future. Policy makers, and elected officials, are supposed to look beyond the next few years and think about how people who haven’t even arrived in the city yet will want to live 20 years from now, especially when crafting land-use policies that will have implications for decades. It’s a shame when otherwise progressive elected officials can’t see beyond the immediate self-serving demands (for ample, free, convenient parking; for laws preserving single-family neighborhoods) of their current constituents.

3. In an example of the kind of inconveniences transit riders are frequently subjected to, King County Metro will relocate its Route 4—a lifeline route that serves downtown, Harborview and Swedish Hospital, Garfield High School, and the Central District down to Judkins Park—for a year, moving the line four blocks to Martin Luther King Jr. Way S. S. in the Central District. That’s inconvenient enough, but Metro is adding an extra wrinkle: Bus riders will also be forced to transfer to a different bus at 21st and Jefferson, making an already slow route that is frequently delayed even slower. Metro says they had to add the transfer because there aren’t enough diesel hybrid buses to run along the route, which is on wires until it gets to 23rd and Jefferson, on weekdays. In response to my tweet about this yesterday, Metro said that “to minimize the inconvenience, hybrids will serve the entire route on weekends, when hybrids are more available than during the w[ee]k.” I have asked why hybrids couldn’t be made “more available” for this route, given that riders will already face a year-long route change; they said they’d get back to me later today.

Last year, the agency dead-ended the route at 21st Ave. and Jefferson Street, forcing people headed south to transfer to the Route 48 bus two blocks away.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Electric Vehicle Owners Will Soon Be Able to Charge Curbside

This post originally appeared on Seattle Magazine’s website.

Earlier this month, Mayor Jenny Durkan officially opened a 156-station charging facility for the city’s fleet of electric vehicles— “the first of its kind for an American city and one of one of the largest indoor electric vehicle charging stations in the country,” according to the press release.

But the development that will have a more significant impact for ordinary drivers, the city hopes, is a program called Electric Vehicle Charging in the Right-of-Way—EVCROW, for short(ish).

Part of a larger plan to get 30 percent of the city’s car owners to switch to electric vehicles by 2030, the EVCROW pilot will set aside dozens of curbside parking spots throughout the city for use EV drivers in 2018, with the goal of expanding the program if the pilot is successful.

Durkan unveiled the first iteration of the program earlier this month—two charging stations operated by Seattle City Light, the first in a network that will eventually include 20 stations across the city—but EVCROW’s real potential may be in the private sector. At least two private companies are seeking city approval to install potentially dozens of charging stations, which resemble standard gas pumps, in city rights-of-way, alongside parking spots set aside exclusively for electric vehicles.

The German charging station company eluminocity is close to getting city approval for one charging station, with six to eight more sites in the permitting pipeline; Greenlots, a California company, is seeking approval for several dozen charging stations, although the number of stations they actually install will depend on future funding.

The on-street spots will be reserved exclusively for EV owners to use while charging their vehicles, a process that takes between roughly 30 minutes and four hours, depending on the type of charger. That will take some of Seattle’s on-street parking out of commission for people who drive gas-powered cars.

Chris Bast, climate and transportation policy advisor at the city’s Office of Sustainability and Environment, says the program will be restricted primarily to designated urban villages and urban centers—relatively dense, transit-rich areas along major arterial streets— to “help encourage electrification of high-mileage fleets,” such as car sharing and taxi companies.

The on-street spots will be reserved exclusively for EV owners to use while charging their vehicles, a process that takes between roughly 30 minutes and four hours, depending on the type of charger. That will take some of Seattle’s on-street parking out of commission for people who drive gas-powered cars.

Bast acknowledges that reserved parking for EV users could be perceived as a class issue—a new Nissan Leaf starts at about $30,000, out of range for low- and moderate-income drivers—but notes that the program is open to all EV cars, although Tesla, which has a proprietary charging system, could not install its chargers in the right-of-way under the new program.

In theory, as EVs become cheaper (and used EVs become more widely available), the stations could see more use from people without high incomes. Tesla, Bast notes, has put its own, proprietary charging stations mostly in small towns along major highways, and has yet to expand much into urban areas.

One thing Bast says the city won’t do in its quest to encourage EV use is allow private homeowners to install their own parking stations in the parking strips in front of their property, which is owned by the city. “You maintain it, but we don’t let you put a hot tub there. We can’t allow you that exclusive use, just like we can’t guarantee you the parking space in front of your house.”

Almost half the climate-changing carbon emissions in Seattle come from passenger vehicles—a higher percentage than most parts of the country, because Seattle City Light’s electricity comes from zero-emission hydropower.

“We need to reduce pollution in our transportation sector, and electrification across our whole system is the best way to do that,” Bast says. “Every gas vehicle we exchange for an electric vehicle is a 100 percent [emissions] reduction.”

That said, every car added to Seattle streets contributes to traffic congestion and sprawl, making public transportation (especially electric public transit) a greener option, overall, than driving.

Crashes Up, Biking Down in New Seattle Traffic Report

The annual traffic report from the Seattle Department of Transportation, which measures everything from how many cars are moving through the city to how many people are commuting by bike to how many pedestrians are injured and killed on Seattle’s streets, came out last week, and the news is not great for people who bike or walk in the city—that is, just about everyone.

Bike ridership is down (by 2.6%), the number of drivers injuring or killing cyclists and pedestrians is up, and the number of total collisions is up for the third year in a row—not an auspicious sign for the city’s “Vision Zero” plan, which aims to reduce the number of traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2030. The citywide collision rate increased 6.3 percent over the last year; the rate of bike collisions stayed steady and the rate of collisions with pedestrians went up. Overall, 171 people were seriously injured and 20 were killed in collisions on Seattle streets last year, a 16.5 percent increase over 2015.

With “Vision Zero” in sight, serious injury and fatality crashes have barely budged for the past five years.

Some of the main “contributing circumstances” for collisions, in terms of sheer numbers, were: Inattention, “unknown driver distraction,” failure to grant right of way, following too closely, speeding, “improper turn,’ and driving under the influence of alcohol. Other circumstances that led to collisions: “Apparently asleep,” “driver grooming,” “driver reading or writing,” “had taken medication,” and driving on the wrong side of the road. Most of the pedestrians who were involved in collisions (57%) were in marked crosswalks when they were hit, and most were hit during daylight hours, not at night or dusk, when conventional wisdom says pedestrians are most likely to be hit (a trope that enables auto advocates and drive-time radio hosts to blame people in crosswalks for getting themselves run into). Bike collisions followed the same general trend, except that cyclists were less likely to get hit during winter months, when there are fewer of them on the roads. The color a cyclist was wearing when he or she was involved in a collision appears to be largely irrelevant—of 246 collisions for which clothing visibility was recorded, just 43 cyclists were wearing dark-colored clothing, including crashes that happened during the day and at night.

The offending chart

The report notes that the city’s Pedestrian Master Plan identified several locations for the city to monitor and report on every year, to see if people are speeding more or less at those locations. Unfortunately, this year’s report inexplicably fails to pull out information on those locations, as previous reports have done, so that people who pay attention to traffic trends can compare it to reports from previous years. To find out whether speeds have gone down on, say, Rainier Ave. S—historically one of the most dangerous corridors in the city, and a focus of a lot of Pedestrian Master Plan work since 2010—someone reading the report will have to scroll through pages of data in one of its appendices. This is not an insignificant issue, because a major point (if not the point) of tracking whether, and by how much, drivers are speeding is to see if things are getting better or worse. (You can dig through the appendices to find each segment individually, but who’s going to do that? Me, sure, but who else?) What the report does include is a chart that indicates the roads where the “85th percentile speed” (the speed at or below which 85 percent of drivers travel) is highest—a basically useless number in itself, because whether someone is speeding depends on the speed limit. Going  52 mph on a 50 mph highway is barely speeding, whereas going 45 in a 20 mph school zone amounts to reckless endangerment.

Dig into the report yourself, which includes lots of additional data about crashes, travel speeds, and traffic volumes, here.

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Morning Crank: The Dizzying Array of Potential Pedestrian Treatments

1. I’ll be on KUOW today at noon talking about sexual harassment, tolling I-405, and more with Civic Cocktail host (and ex-Seattle Times editorial board member) Joni Balter and former state attorney general Rob McKenna. Who won’t be on KUOW tomorrow? Tavis Smiley, who was suspended by PBS this week after an investigation found “multiple, credible allegations” of sexual misconduct by the host. The allegations include having multiple sexual relationships with subordinates, some of whom believed their “employment status was linked to the status of a sexual relationship with Smiley,” and creating a “verbally abusive and threatening environment.” Smiley has responded by denying that he “groped, coerced, or exposed myself inappropriately” to any of his coworkers, which, it should be noted, are not the acts he is accused of committing.

KUOW pulled Smiley’s radio show (which is separate from his public TV show) voluntarily, and will run the second hour of “Here and Now” in its place.

2. George Scarola, former mayor Ed Murray’s director of homelessness, made an odd comment the other day about his current status at the city. “Up until the new mayor took office—Mayor Durkan—I was the director of homelessness. I promptly submitted my resignation,” Scarola said, adding that he did so “just to give her a clean shot at exactly what she wants to do, and that hasn’t had any effect yet.” Scarola is still at the city—in fact, he attended a Ballard District Council meeting where neighbors complained about the ongoing presence of homeless people at the Ballard Commons park just last night—but his position is now at the Department of Finance and Administrative Services, not the mayor’s office.

3. Jessyn Farrell, the state-legislator-turned-mayoral candidate who came in fourth in the August primary election, is going to work for Civic Ventures, the progressive think tank founded by Seattle venture capitalist and billionaire do-gooder Nick Hanauer. Earlier this year, Hanauer said he would bankroll the campaign for a homelessness levy proposed by then-mayor Ed Murray; although the city later abandoned that proposal in favor of a joint city-county proposal that kicked the conversation about a homelessness tax into 2018, Hanauer will likely be involved in that campaign as well. Farrell, who also headed up the Transportation Choices Coalition before she was elected to represent the 46th legislative district in the state house, did not say what her title will be, but did say that she’ll be working on “rebuilding the middle class” and “making cities work for people.”

4. If you want to get an idea of of how complicated traffic planners’ jobs are, and how hard it can be to balance road users’ needs and rights without creating ridiculously out-of-whack hierarchies (where drivers can move freely and pedestrians are constantly at risk) or unintended consequences (long periods where pedestrians are just stuck waiting at corners, unable to move in any direction), check out this presentation that Seattle Department of Transportation transportation operations manager Ahmed Darrat presented to the Pedestrian Advisory Board on walk signal timing last night.  Twenty minutes went by as Darrat explained eleven ways SDOT can shift the balance of mobility between cars and pedestrians—assuming slower walking speeds near hospitals and retirement homes, giving pedestrians the option of pushing a button for several seconds to extend the walk time, “passive detection” of pedestrians using thermal sensors—and then Darrat switched to the next slide, which listed another dozen options. (More details on the dizzying array of potential pedestrian treatments here).

The biggest point of contention right now in conversations about how quickly pedestrians should be able to cross the street is the existence of so-called “beg buttons”—buttons a pedestrian (or, in many cases, cyclist) must push to alert the traffic system that cars need to stop to allow people to cross the road. The problem with beg buttons isn’t just that they feel insulting—cars don’t have to ask permission to drive, because we’ve built a system that either assumes they will be there or that senses them when they roll up to an intersection—but that they contribute to a culture in which people walking and cycling are an anomaly on the road. Beg buttons give drivers who hit pedestrians a built-in excuse—he didn’t have the walk sign, officer!—empower cities to crack down on “jaywalking,” and contribute to the overall sense that cars rule the road. And if a pedestrian isn’t aware that they won’t get permission to cross the street unless they push the button, they may get stuck waiting through several light cycles while cars move through unimpeded. Blind people, people with limited English reading skills, people who can’t read, and other people with sensory impairments are particularly impacted by beg button requirements.

Darrat said federal standards require accessible pedestrian signals at every intersection; push buttons just happen to be the only option currently available to SDOT; however, he said, “we’re committed to looking at how we treat pedestrian signals from a more global perspective and coming up with some ideas as to how we’re going to take steps toward standardizing it” so pedestrians don’t have to figure out dozens of potential signal situations—different walk cycles by time of day; half cycles for cars; “pedestrian recall”; leading pedestrian intervals”—to cross the street. Imagine if instead of figuring out whether to push the button and if it’s safe to run and whether the signal will change when you push it if the light’s already green and how long you’ll have to wait if you don’t make this cycle, you could just go out into the street at regular intervals. You know, like cars do.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Advocates, Council Members Say Urgency Lacking on Vision Zero

In February 2015, Seattle launched Vision Zero—an audacious plan to calm traffic, prioritize pedestrians, and reengineer city streets so that by 2030, the number of pedestrians killed or seriously injured in traffic crashes will be zero.

More than two years later, Seattle is closer to that goal than other US cities—literally all of them. Seattle transportation officials tout the fact that our rate of pedestrian fatalities, per capita, is lower than in Boston and Portland and is just a hair behind Sweden—the result, Seattle Department of Transportation director Scott Kubly says, of “decades of investing in neighborhood infrastructure,” like traffic circles, bike lanes, and road diets.

But some advocates point, instead, to the fact that pedestrian deaths have been inching upward; so far this year, three pedestrians have died in traffic collisions, and seven people have died in traffic overall—two more than the average for the previous three years. With just 13 years to go until 2030, they argue that Seattle should—and could—be doing better.

Two weeks ago, as the city council’s transportation committee prepared to adopt a new Pedestrian Master Plan (the document that prioritizes pedestrian projects for city spending), pedestrian advocates lined up in council chambers to register their disappointment that the plan didn’t come with more funding for basics like sidewalks, marked and signaled crosswalks, and other traffic calming measures. (The committee also got a Vision Zero update from SDOT, which attributed the rise in traffic collisions to distracted driving and an uptick in vehicle miles traveled, a measure of how much people are driving.)

“Many of who do a lot of walking really feel like it’s not our city, and it doesn’t welcome us, and it really does not care about our safety and dignity,” Janine Blaeloch, the founder of Lake City Greenways and a member of the city’s Pedestrian Advisory Board, told the council.

“I think there is a lack of urgency,” Blaeloch said after the meeting. “The Pedestrian Master Plan talks about making Seattle the most walkable city in the nation, but there’s so little imagination or vision. It seems like the city has sort of given up. From my experience as a pedestrian, I don’t feel like I’m living in Sweden. I feel like I’m taking my life in my hands when I’m crossing the street.”

Kubly says he understands why an advocate like Blaeloch are frustrated—“any fatality over zero is one too many”—but he points to investments the city has already made on corridors like Rainier Ave. S, where the city has reduced the number of car lanes and lowered speeds to slow traffic, and NE 65th Street and Roosevelt near Roosevelt High School, where two pedestrian deaths this year have fast-tracked plans to make the 65th Street corridor safer. (One of those pedestrians was crossing with the light; the other, against it.)

SDOT, as I’ve reported, has already started implementing some low-cost pedestrian-safety fixes in crash-prone locations—like “walk” signs that give pedestrians extra time to enter an crosswalk at the beginning of a light cycle, making them more visible to turning cars—and has plans in place to use modeling to identify dangerous intersections before accidents occur.

“One of the things that’s tough with pedestrian collisions is to identify spots that are high-risk, because the numbers are so small and there’s thousands of miles of roadway,” Kubly says. “If you’re not being strategic and using data to drive investments, you end up chasing crashes” after they’ve already happened.

Skeptics of this study-first, implement-later approach say there’s plenty of data to justify lowering speed limits to 25 miles per hour throughout the city. At the meeting earlier this month, council member Rob Johnson questioned why the city doesn’t even plan to analyze safety issues on the northern portion of Rainier Avenue S, where there are few crossings and drivers frequently travel well above the 30mph speed limit, until 2021. “We know folks are going to lose their lives on that corridor in the next four years, before we have even completed the evaluation,” Johnson said. Why not lower the speed limit now, before that happens?

“Our challenge is that if we go into a place like Rainier and we just change out the signs, we usually see almost no effect,” SDOT project development division director Darby Watson responded. “They just ignore the signs.”

SDOT senior transportation planner Jim Curtin says the city plans to make major design changes on Rainier anyway, and doesn’t want to futz with the speed limits before that happens. (The same goes for streets like 65th, where the city is considering a long menu of traffic-calming options). “There’s a whole bunch of places in the city where, if we just drop the speed limit, drivers will go as fast as they feel comfortable with, based on the geometry of the street, Curtin says. In other words, if drivers can round a corner going 35 miles an hour, it’s safe to assume that they will round the corner at that speed, and the real solution is not just to lower the speed limit but to engineer the road so that even if a pedestrian wanders out into traffic, drivers will be going slow enough to stop before striking her.

Blaeloch, the pedestrian board member, says there’s an easy way to make sure people don’t ignore the signs—send cops out to catch them. “How about if you put the signs up and enforce the speed limit? You could do that next week,” she says. “But that just didn’t seem to be in [SDOT’s] tool box.

“It’s easy for them to say ‘We’re engineers; we know who this stuff works,” Blaeloch adds. “Well, I’m a pedestrian. I know how this stuff works too.”

Council member Johnson, along with his colleague Mike O’Brien, want SDOT to accelerate the Pedestrian Master plan and prioritize projects on a list that could, depending on whether you believe the optimistic estimate from Seattle Greenways or the pessimistic estimate from the pedestrian advocacy group Feet First, take between 200 and 300 years to implement in its entirety.

“Are we making progress? I can point to policy decisions and say, ‘That’s progress,’ but if you look at the outcomes and the data, it appears that we’re losing ground,” O’Brien says.

Johnson adds: “I’m all for more study and more analysis, but I’m also for bold action, and this feels like one of those times when we need to listen to the community.”

Seattle Greenways staffer Gordon Padelford, one of the community members who spoke at the transportation committee earlier this month, says Vision Zero should be more than just aspirational. “No one would say, ‘We can have five deaths a year from our water system.’ We expect to have all these other government systems that are completely safe.” Why should Seattle’s roads and sidewalks be any different?

“Seattle really is so close to being a completely safe city,” Padelford says. “Maybe we can be the first ones to get there.”

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support!

Murray Releases Revised $930 Million Transportation Levy Proposal

I’ll have more to say about the latest iteration of the ever-costlier Move Seattle levy (Mayor Ed Murray says the tacked-on $30 million will come from higher revenues from new housing), but I wanted to throw up a quick side-by-side comparison of the two proposals. (Original proposal here; latest version here.) My initial reaction (other than frustration that Murray refuses to release the full details of any new proposal, opting instead for a standard-issue series of blue-and-black handouts), is that this is a good proposal with something for everyone that will inevitably be “right-sized” by a council that’s largely aligned with the mayor but scared of imposing a major property tax increase.

I could be wrong, but last I checked, $275 (the amount a typical homeowner would have to pay per year) is more than $130 (the expiring Bridging the Gap levy’s annual price tag). Readers desperate for sidewalks in their neighborhood at any cost may find charges of “tax fatigue” tiresome (I know I do), but this is a big tax increase, and the council (five of whom are running for reelection) will surely have something to say about that.

My other reaction is that this proposal leans heavily on neighborhood greenways and segregated bike lanes, potentially at the expense of safer bike facilities on streets that already have heavy bike traffic. The recent Metro bus collision that put a cyclist in the hospital with life-threatening injuries happened at an intersection (12th and Jackson) where cyclists from Mount Baker, Capitol Hill, Beacon Hill, and many other parts of the city converge, and which may be even more dangerous now, with the streetcar tracks posing a new threat to cyclists.

Much the same could be said of high-bike-traffic intersections across the city. Yet the emphasis on neighborhood greenways (which were never meant to be major commuter corridors) could–and I say could, because the devil’s in the details of this still-somewhat-opaque proposal–come at the expense of streets that will always be filled with cyclists.

I have a call in to the mayor’s office for a more detailed project breakdown for the $930 million proposal.

Screen shot 2015-05-06 at 12.57.28 PM



... and now.

… and now.


Here are some other changes the new plan proposes:

• The new proposal reduces funding for maintaining and improving the city’s traffic signal, sign and marking system, reducing that line item from $67 million (with $20 million in additional leveraged funds*) to $37 million (with $7 million in leverage).

• It slightly reduces protected bike lane and greenway funding, which is down $2 million from $67 million; that money would pay for 50 miles of protected bike lanes and 60 miles of greenways.

• It includes an additional $1 million for curb ramp and crossing improvements.

• The proposal reduces funding to repave arterial streets by $20 million, from $255 million with $70 million in leverage to $235 million, with $50 million in leveraged funds, and reduces funds for repaving “targeted locations” (presumably this is the pothole line item) from $20 million to $15 million, with $5 million in projected leveraged funds for each level of funding. Even with reduced funding, the mayor’s proposal says the money would pay for the same amount of improvements—repaving “up to” 180 lane-miles of arterial streets (not the same thing as actual miles) and 65 targeted locations per year.

• Multimodal and “transit plus” improvements (i.e. RapidRide) get a bit more funding in the mayor’s latest plan—$100 million, compared to the original $75, with $246 million in leveraged dollars under each plan. The transit/”multimodal” improvements have been shuffled and consolidated in this latest plan, though, making it tough to tell how much was originally allocated for signal re-timing and “intelligent transportation system improvements,” for example (those items were lumped into larger categories in the original proposal) and whether the new numbers are an increase or a reduction.

• Sidewalks, the hottest topic at every council district forum, get more love under the latest plan, with $35 million in additional funding for sidewalks and improvements for streets without sidewalks, up to $61 million from the original $26 million (leveraged funds are the same under both expenditure levels, at $9 million).

• Neighborhood projects, vaguely defined, get $3 million more under this plan, with $26 million total compared to the initial $23.

• And South Park Broadview gets $8 million less for flood drainage.

Notice anything I missed? Feel free to let me know in the comments or on Twitter (@ericacbarnett).


Seattle’s Walking Maps: A Crowdsourcing Request

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The Seattle Department of Transportation recently published three walking maps (one each for the central, northern, and southern parts of the city), featuring “recreational” routes that, according to SDOT, “follow sidewalks, shoulders on quiet streets, and park trails.” The maps came out just in time for the annual Walkscore ranking, which named Seattle the eighth-most walkable city in the country.

That certainly isn’t true in my part of town, Southeast Seattle, where SDOT’s map quite obviously violates many of its own stated guidelines. The suggested “recreational” routes on the South Seattle map include a small, sad-looking loop around the perimeter of Georgetown, along with major, high-speed arterials like Rainier, Orcas, and Graham in Southeast Seattle. None of the charming, walkable streets inside any of Southeast Seattle’s neighborhoods make SDOT’s cut as paths for walking, and even Seward Park doesn’t make the cut. Contrast that with West Seattle, where a neat grid outlines the many neighborhood blocks considered suitable for walking, and it starts to look like something very odd is going on.

I have a call out to SDOT to find out what criteria they used to determine which routes to mark as pedestrian paths, and I’ll update with their response.

In the meantime, I’m putting out a crowdsourcing request: If you see any routes in your neighborhood that you think shouldn’t be marked as walking routes (just an observation: SDOT has really gone all-in on cemetery perambulations), or if you think the maps are great as-is, let me know by commenting on this post or tweeting at me @ericacbarnett. And thanks.



An Ambitious Solution for the Mount Baker Mess

In addition to posting here, I’m also excited to announce that I’m now a staff writer at Seattle Transit Blog. Here’s an excerpt of my latest; check out STB for more.

Image via SDOT.

Image via SDOT.

Last Thursday, SDOT’s Accessible Mount Baker project manager Michael James—a youthful guy with an indifferently tucked shirt and an eager smile, presented an intriguing, but still unfunded, proposal to improve the transit, bike, and pedestrian connections around and between the Mount Baker light rail station on the west side of MLK and the Mount Baker Transit Center on the east side of Rainier.

The meeting, held in the windowless Kings Hall building behind the station, turned out a few dozen committed residents for tortilla wraps, a mixed-fruit platter, and a detailed discussion of what the station area might look like in the hands of SDOT’s “Accessible Mount Baker” team.

Although the city hasn’t identified any specific funding source for the project, expected to take up to a year to build, James said it was consistent with SDOT director Scott Kubly’s vision for spending the money raised by the Move Seattle levy, an ambitious $900 million proposal that will, if voters approve it in November, be roughly twice the size of the 2006 Bridging the Gap levy it would replace.

Like Martin, I can attest that the Mount Baker rail station and the flat concrete expanse of the Mount Baker Transit Center across the street are underdeveloped, poorly connected, and confusing even to a longtime transit rider like myself.

The transit center on the east side, which serves routes 7, 8, 9, 14, and 48, is separated from the light rail station by (let’s just call it what it is) a broad highway; a nearby pedestrian bridge is circuitous, indirect, and steep, encouraging pedestrians to jaywalk and drivers to pick up speed. And the road configuration, with its turn lanes in both directions, increases pedestrian wait times and forces many to dash across the street so they won’t have to wait a full three-phase light cycle.

It’s little surprise, then, that Rainier and MLK have had several times the “acceptable” number of crashes over the past few years; between 2010 and 2013, there were 42 crashes at MLK and McClellan; 65 at McClellan and Rainier; and 76 at Rainier and MLK. The “acceptable” number, according to James, is 10 crashes a year.

Read more at Seattle Transit Blog.

Are Long Commutes “Forcing” Women Out of the Workforce?

Image via Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Image via Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

When making a broad generalization, it’s always best to have the facts on your side. Human activity is causing global warming. The death penalty is an ineffective deterrent. Always plant your peas on President’s Day.

Which is why this Citylab story, festooned with the clickbait headline, “NYC’s Long Commutes May Be Forcing Mothers Out of the Workforce,” raised my truthiness antennae. (The original headline, since changed, was even more eyebrow-raising; “How NYC’s Long Commutes Force Mothers Out of the Workforce.) New York City, with the most comprehensive subway system in the nation? What kind of “long” commutes are they talking about? Is the real problem that driving long distances is too time-consuming for everyone, not just moms? And on what data are they basing this extremely sweeping factual claim?

For those answers, we have to turn to the report on which Citylab’s conclusion was based, from the New York City comptroller’s office. That report looked at workforce participation among women with children under 16 between in NYC and 29 other metro areas, and found only very small differences between the cities. In New York, 70 percent of mothers are in the workforce—about 3 percentage points lower than the average of the 30 cities included in the report. (Women in general have a workforce participation rate about 2 percentage points lower in New York than in other cities—again, hardly sufficient evidence for such an overwrought, explosive claim.)

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Nowhere, moreover, does the report suggest that women are being “forced” or even voluntarily abandoning the workforce. Nor does it support CityLab’s claim that it’s New York’s transit system, in particular, that is responsible for all these working moms being “forced” to stay at home. (“The city’s transit system is not known for its parent-friendly features, as any mom (or dad) who has lugged their child into the city’s depths can tell you. But it gets worse…”) 

Yes, New Yorkers have a total “work week” that’s two and a half longer than the average of all large cities in the U.S. because New Yorkers have a longer average commute. But that average commute time includes not just buses and subways but cars, taxis, ferries, and more, making Citylab’s attempt to blame long commutes on inadequate transit seem disingenuous.

And the two-and-a-half-hour stat must be considered in the context of many short-commute cities on the list, like Phoenix, El Paso, and Las Vegas, where sprawl is virtually unfettered (and with it ever-expanding highways to accommodate that sprawl) and the single-occupancy car is by far the dominant mode of transportation.

It’s absolutely true, as Citylab asserts, that “mothers of young children are particularly sensitive to long trips to and from work,” because they are chiefly responsible for child care, errands, and home responsibilities (cooking, cleaning, and other family duties that are still primarily the province of women.)

But I’m not sure Citylab’s math adds up. Citing a 2013 study concluding that every one-minute increase in commute time decreases the labor participation of high-school-educated white women with children under five (a much different group than all women in New York with kids under 16, by the way), Citylab calculates that a half-hour increase in the average commute will reduce the number of working moms by 15 percent. Which means that if the trend of ever-longer commute times continues, by the time the average commute is a half-hour longer, fewer than 60 percent of New York City women will be working. That defies the long-term trend of increasing labor-force participation by moms in cities, and would be dramatically lower than the average percentage of mothers with kids under 17 in the workforce nationwide, which, according to the Census Bureau, is 74.7 percent.

The lesson here? Don’t take splashy headlines at face value; take the time to read the studies such headlines are based on, if possible; and question sweeping claims that generalize about an entire population based on selective cherrypicking of data.

Incidentally, this isn’t the first time Citylab has explored the supposed exodus of women from the workplace due to long commutes. Back in 2013, when that white-women-with-kids-under-5 study was published, writer Eric Jaffe wrote a piece for Citylab titled “Do Long Commutes Discourage Married Women from Working?,” which was based on a single study that included only white women with at least a high-school. And even that study concluded that there was no clear explanation of why long commutes correlated with slightly fewer women in the workforce.