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Posts from the "Seattle" Category

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Seattle DOT Hits the Street to Tell People About a New Bike Lane Proposal

Much nicer than the church basement, at least during a Seattle summer – and better attended, too. Photos courtesy SDOT.

pfb-logo-100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

One part public outreach and one part PARK(ing) Day, Seattle DOT held a three-hour open house last Wednesday for a half-mile protected bike lane on Dexter Avenue. The outreach session took place on green plastic mats spread out to cover an empty parking space.

Project manager Kyle Rowe explained that a different, state-led project on Dexter had him on a tight deadline. What’s more, because Dexter is a necessary link between downtown and the heart of Seattle’s bike culture in Fremont and Ballard, the number of affected households was huge.

“That is kind of like a funnel for roughly two-thirds of north Seattle,” Rowe said. “To capture all the people that use Dexter in a traditional open-house style, which would be 7 to 8 or 9 p.m., would mean flyering or sending a mailer out to most of North Seattle, and that didn’t make sense. I also wanted to accelerate this to meet the deadline of the state’s restoration work.”

So Rowe used a trick he said he’d seen on “Streetblog or CityLab” and held his public meeting on the side of the street from 7 to 10 a.m. on a weekday. He brought eight easels, two tables, a few temporary bike racks, a comment box, sticky notes, a sign-in sheet and a bunch of hot coffee.

That last item was important.

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Is Your City a Great Place to Raise Kids? Could It Be?

Jennifer Langston of the Sightline Institute in Seattle has so far published eight articles in a series called Family-Friendly Cities. She shows that while Seattle has a lower share of the population under age 15 than the rest of the state of Washington, that gap is closing. The number of kids in Seattle is growing far faster than in the rest of the state.

Image: Sightline

Image: Sightline

“Whatever the underlying causes, the data certainly make intuitive sense, given the expectant parents I know searching for cribs that will fit in the closets of their Capitol Hill apartments and downtown daycares with open infant slots (harder to find than a magical unicorn!),” wrote Langston. “In my own Seattle neighborhood, the new elementary school that opened four years ago to handle our local baby boom filled up so fast that there’s now a lottery to get in.”

In fact, while all over the country, demographic factors — delayed fertility, lower birth rates, the silver tsunami — are raising the median age, Seattle is unusual in seeing the share of its population under 15 rise — and dramatically.

Image: Sightline

Image: Sightline

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6 Things to Like About Seattle’s New Broadway Bike Lanes (And One to Fix)

broadway streetscape from hill 600

pfb-logo-100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

To see how dramatically Seattle has changed Broadway, just above its downtown, by adding streetcar tracks and one mile of two-way protected bike lane, compare the photo above (from Saturday) to the one below (from Google Street View’s capture of the same stretch of road in 2011).

broadway before

As of this spring, the lanes through Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood connect Seattle Central College, Seattle University, the Swedish Medical Center, a high-density mixed-income housing complex, and a significant commercial node that’ll soon be anchored by an underground light rail stop.

Steve Durrant of Alta Planning and Design, a lead consultant on the project, said the lanes allow biking on a major artery that had been “essentially a forbidden street.”

The lanes were created as part of the $134 million First Hill streetcar expansion, paid for by a 2008 transit ballot measure. With space at a premium on the new street, the 10-foot-wide space immediately east of the northbound streetcar tracks was seen as the only viable way to get bike facilities on Broadway.

The resulting lanes are rare in one important way: they create a two-directional protected lane on one side of a two-way street. That’s a little-used design due to the large number of possible turning conflicts. But Seattle is showing that with enough money and care, it can be done.

I stopped by last weekend to have a look at the project’s unique features.

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Seattle Opens Up Neighborhood Streets for Kids to Play

Seattle launched its "play streets" program on Friday. Photo: Seattle Department of Transportation

Seattle launched its Play Streets program on Friday. Photo: Seattle Department of Transportation

At St. Terese Academy in Seattle last week, students held relay races on 35th Avenue. It was field day at the Madrona neighborhood school, and thanks to a new initiative from the city of Seattle, the kids had some extra space to stretch their legs.

The elementary school was the first to take part in Seattle’s new “Play Streets” program, which launched last Friday. ”Play Streets” will allow community groups to apply for permits to keep traffic off their block specifically to establish safe, temporary spaces for children to play.

Jennifer Wieland, manager of Seattle DOT’s Public Space Management Program, which oversees Play Streets, said the city was acting on numerous requests from residents. The city has for years operated a program for block parties, which allows neighbors to request a permit for a temporary car-free street. But Seattleites started to ask about scheduling car-free events with greater regularity and incorporating play equipment like swings and sand boxes.

“It’s about having that little extra bit of community speace to do something creative,” said Wieland. “It’s really out of people’s desires to build community and create great neighborhoods.”

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Washington DOT Chief: Seattle’s Big Highway Tunnel Might Not Get Built

"Bertha," the digging machine that was to help build a buried highway in Seattle is broken down and might never get running. Photo: Washington State Department of Transportation

“Bertha,” the tunneling machine that’s supposed to clear the way for an underground highway in Seattle, might never get up and running again. Photo: Washington State DOT

Nearly five months after coming to a halt beneath the city of Seattle, Bertha — the largest tunnel boring machine in the world — is still immobilized. It had barely begun to clear space for the underground highway meant to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct when it broke down late last year.

Construction crews are furiously digging a second hole in the ground to access Bertha and fix it. What happens when they reach the machine is still uncertain. Even the state’s top transportation official admits theres a “small possibility” that the highway tunnel might never be completed, reports Erica C. Barnett at SeattleMet :

On conservative host Dori Monson’s show on KIRO radio earlier today, state transportation secretary Lynn Peterson sounded this wakeup call: She acknowledged, surprisingly candidly, that there is a “small possibility” that the deep-bore tunnel will never get built. The only scenario in which that might happen, she added, is if the contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, and WSDOT discover that “the machine is not going to actually be fixable.”

“I would say it’s a small possibility, but we want to make sure that everyone understands that it’s a possibility.”

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Anthony Foxx Kicks Off Nationwide Project for Better Bike Lanes

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx praised bike infrastructure as a way to get more value out of existing U.S. streets. Photo: Green Lane Project

Staring down a highway trust fund that he described as “teetering toward insolvency” by August or September, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Monday that better bike infrastructure projects are part of the solution.

“When you have a swelling population like the USA has and will have for the next 35 years, one of the most cost-effective ways to better fit that population is to better use the existing grid,” Foxx said.

Foxx made his comments to a gathering in Indianapolis of urban transportation experts from around the country, welcoming six new cities into the PeopleForBikes Green Lane Project, a two-year program kicking off Tuesday that will help the cities — Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Seattle — add modern protected bike lanes to their streets.

“I know you are the vanguard in many was of these issues, and we at U.S. DOT want to do everything we can to be supportive,” Foxx told the crowd.

PeopleForBikes Vice President for Local Innovation Martha Roskowski singled out Indianapolis, the host city, as a particularly bright light in the constellation of towns using using curbs, planters, parked cars or posts to create low-stress streets by separating bike and auto traffic.

“This city is on fire,” Roskowski said. “You look at the Cultural Trail, you look at the other projects in the works. … You don’t really know that you’re at a tipping point until later.”

Roskowski praised Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican, for six years at the front of an Indianapolis transformation that has seen the city use better bike infrastructure “to be resilient, to be sustainable, to be competitive and to beautiful.”

“Five years from now we’re going to look back and say, we really changed how we thought about transportation in America,” Roskowski said. “Yes, we’re all going to drive cars still. But there are other elements to transportation.”

Six focus cities

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Green Lane Project Picks Six New Cities to Make Big Progress on Bikeways

Austin, Texas, built this beauty of a bike lane by the University of Texas campus while it was participating in round one of the Green Lane Project. Photo: The Green Lane Project

More than 100 cities applied for the second round of the Green Lane Project, the program that helps cities build better bike infrastructure, including protected lanes.

People for Bikes, which runs the program, announced its selections for round two today: Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and Seattle.

“The selected cities have ambitious goals and a vision for bicycling supported by their elected officials and communities,” said Martha Roskowski of People for Bikes. “They are poised to get projects on the ground quickly and will serve as excellent examples for other interested cities.”

Several of this year’s choices already have good wins under their belts. Indianapolis, Atlanta, and Seattle had protected bike lanes on People for Bikes’ list of the country’s ten best new protected bike lanes last year. And Pittsburgh, with its star urbanist mayor, seems poised to make big strides.

Beginning in April, the selected cities will receive expert assistance, training, and support over a two year period to build safe, comfortable protected bike infrastructure.

During the first two years of the Green Lane Project, the number of protected bike lanes in the country nearly doubled from 80 to 142, People for Bikes reports. More than half of those new lanes were in its six first-round focus cities: San Francisco, Chicago, Portland, Memphis, Austin, and Washington.

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Talking Headways Podcast: One More Freeway Without a Future

So, Bertha is stuck digging an enormous highway tunnel underneath Seattle. Jeff Wood and I ask the essential question: Does Seattle really need to spend $2.8 billion on a new traffic sewer, when traffic on the Alaskan Way Viaduct has been plummeting?

We also highlight this week’s public conversation about CNU’s big report calling out highways just begging to be demolished. After all, 2013 was the ninth year in a row that Americans drove fewer miles per capita, and some states are beginning to adjust their old assumptions that driving will grow steadily, forever.

We talk about all this and more on the 12th episode of Talking Headways.

And remember, you can subscribe to this podcast’s RSS feed or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes — and please give us a listener review while you’re at it. Join the conversation in the comments section.

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Traffic Plummets on the Highway Seattle Is Spending a Fortune to Replace

Traffic has collapsed around Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct. Image: Sightline

Traffic has collapsed on Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct. Image: Sightline

For months now, the largest tunnel boring machine in the United States has been broken down under the city of Seattle. Meanwhile, traffic on the highway that the tunnel is supposed to replace has plummeted, raising more questions about whether the project is worth the enormous expense.

The project to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a buried highway in Seattle is off to an absolutely disastrous start. Image: Wikipedia

The project to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a buried highway is off to an absolutely disastrous start, but there’s also a big upside to the new traffic patterns. Photo: Wikipedia

The state of Washington intends to spend $3.1 billion to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct — an elevated double-decker highway right by the waterfront — with an underground highway tunnel. But Bertha, the tunnel boring machine, is stuck a thousand feet into its path and will take months to get running again, if the state can get it running again at all.

Meanwhile, Clark Williams-Derry at regional think tank Sightline has made an amazing discovery: Traffic on the viaduct has plummeted by 48,000 vehicles per day in the last three years, or 44 percent, raising questions about whether this awesomely expensive undertaking is needed at all.

The reason for the traffic drop? A lot more people are taking buses. Some have avoided driving because of construction delays. Of those who are still driving, some have shifted to surface streets. Combine that with the fact that, across America, driving is declining in general — and maybe Seattle doesn’t need to replace this highway after all.

Williams-Derry puts it like this:

Nobody knows if Bertha will ever get moving again, let alone complete her job. But given these figures, maybe it doesn’t matter. Seattle has seamlessly adapted to losing the first 48,000 trips on the Viaduct. No one even noticed. No one even noticed that 40 percent of the Viaduct’s traffic just disappeared! Could accommodating the loss of another 62,000 be that hard if we, I don’t know, tried even a little?

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Talking Headways Podcast: Bikes of Ill Repute

Jeff Wood and I are back with episode 8 of the Talking Headways podcast. We talk about Los Angeles Metro’s decision not to extend light rail all the way to LAX (and what they’re doing instead), plus some analysis of what rail can really do in a city as spread-out as LA. Then we head east to Princeton, New Jersey, where we debunk the thesis that low sales of luxury condos somehow equates to a rejection of walkability. And finally, back west to Seattle, which finds itself with a similar problem to LA: how to bring more density to settled single-family areas?

You can subscribe to our RSS feed or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes — and please give us a listener review while you’re at it.