Saturday, December 31, 2016

Trail-Oriented Development on the ERC?

Seattle Met gives Trail-Oriented Development the big headline for their guest article by King County Council member Claudia Balducci. That might lead us to ask: what does “Trail-Oriented Development” really mean? The term is coined in reference to “Transit-Oriented Development” (TOD), which indicates new development built around mass-transit access. That sounds nice; trail-oriented development would then be new development built around trail access, here specifically the planned Eastside Rail Corridor (ERC) trail. But sometimes the “transit-oriented” label is applied questionably; when we see “trail-oriented” used we should look at exactly what's being proposed and what it means.

First, why is TOD (here, the T is for transit, as usual) sometimes not TOD? Today many mass-transit lines follow major highways, which are the primary mode of access to the area. They do that because following these highways is the easiest way to get a bus within range of a large number of homes and destinations that have been built along and near the highway. A lot of these routes were established and grew into popular, important “trunk“ routes in response to travel demand generated by development that formed around the highways. Metro's E Line is sort of like this and the A Line even more, but even bigger and more expensive projects do this: Sound Transit's current network looks a lot like the freeway network, and with a few notable exceptions will continue to through ST2 and ST3. If a freeway interchange is built, and then an office park next to it, then the interchange is expanded to handle the additional traffic, then express bus service is started, then eventually a train station is built there, and then part of the office park is expanded, is that really TOD? Or is that just a nice-sounding buzzword, while the expansion will mostly continue to lean on the freeway interchange for access? This comes up a lot around here, with recent and future redevelopment in places like Northgate, Lynnwood, and Bellevue's Spring District (along with many others).

What about the ERC? It's a defunct freight railway; within Kirkland the rails have already been removed and a temporary gravel trail constructed. Within Renton and southern Bellevue the trail is sort of hemmed in by Lake Washington, I-405, and steep slopes; there really isn't much room for development of any kind near it south of downtown Bellevue. Around and north of downtown Bellevue it used to provide rail access to some fairly large industrial lots; some of these are still industrial while others have newer big-box stores and car dealerships on them. Continuing north it backs up to some office buildings and apartment or condo complexes before entering Kirkland, where it runs along a hillside surrounded by expensive view homes (whose residents reliably agitate and file lawsuits over any proposed change to the corridor). North of that is old industrial Kirkland, some of which has been recently been replaced with low-slung commercial buildings. North of there, the Totem Lake area, named for a small lake but dominated by a massive freeway interchange, home to a chronically struggling mall and the hopes of generations of Kirkland leaders that they could focus growth out there (growing their tax base without pissing off people in older parts of town) by redeveloping it. After escaping Totem Lake the industrial character resumes, broken up by hillsides and the wineries of Woodinville.

So since the corridor's industrial peak it has already seen some changes, with mostly retail and commercial buildings replacing rail-dependent industries. Building out the trail and focusing planning resources along it might accelerate this change, and probably add some homes to the mix. It's hard to see much happening south of downtown Bellevue (because of terrain and physical obstacles), or in Woodinville (I think everything that isn't a hillside there is a floodplain; maybe some of the beer-and-wine businesses will open up trail-facing entrances and try to compete with Red Hook). Some parts in Bellevue could be really exciting. Through much of Bellevue the rail corridor is a big physical barrier that's near other parallel barriers (especially 405 and 520), so the areas near it aren't very cohesive. A good trail conversion would add lots of ways across it, connecting homes and destinations on either side in ways that haven't been possible before. On the other hand, taming the connections to downtown Bellevue would take a lot more work. In Kirkland I'm less excited. I've heard people from the city of Kirkland talk about these ideas, and they seem pretty excited. They mostly seem interested in accelerating the ongoing land-use changes along the corridor, which is OK; good, even, if it results in daily needs like basic shopping and childcare available within walking distance of more people. But it's mostly on pretty small slivers of land... until you get up to Totem Lake, which is what I think it's really about. Kirkland wants yet another hook to get some developer to make Totem Lake happen, for real this time.

Now here's the problem with any “transit-” or “trail-oriented” development project in Totem-Lake. ST3's 405 BRT plan includes a station in Totem Lake. That's one little bus station, about the size of the freeway bus station that's already there today. The ERC trail is one 12-foot-wide strip passing through the southeast quadrant of the neighborhood. So there's some transit, and there's a trail. But they're not all that big, they're not all that close, and they're not really connected to eachother. I-405 is really big, and it's the Prime Meridian of Totem Lake. NE 124th Street is really big, and it's the Equator. And they sure are connected, with a very large interchange right in the dead center of the neighborhood. Whatever good there is in 405 BRT (which I'm skeptical of in general) and the ERC Trail (plenty of good things, especially in Bellevue), we shouldn't pretend that they'll really change the game in Totem Lake, which will continue to be dominated by roads and parking lots. So we shouldn't let Totem Lake redevelopment be greenwashed by them. There are parts of Kirkland where low-carbon redevelopment is possible today and Totem Lake just isn't one of them without major infrastructure work.

Friday, December 30, 2016

2016: Seattle's Cycling Progress


In 2014 Seattle adopted a major revision to its Bike Master Plan (BMP), defining routes of city-wide importance for bike transportation and promising to create good bike infrastructure along them, or at least serving the general travel need they represent. Though this represented more of a general aspiration for the shape of the network than a commitment to specific projects, and it never promised to do anything by any particular time, it was more specific than previous plans and explicitly called for higher standards in facilities. No route of city-wide importance would be implemented by slapping down “sharrows” on an arterial road, for example. It wasn't just bike advocates that took notice: opponents of including a bike lane on NE 65th Street through the Ravenna-Bryant business district packed a community center in protest and got the city to move the line, indicating a nearby side-street route (which probably would have happened several years later, when it became truly relevant, anyway). This was an exciting moment: this “master plan”, which explicitly didn't commit to anything specific or to any time frame, felt that real to people.

Just as exciting for the more wonky among us, though not as visible, was Seattle's subsequent release of a five-year “Implementation Plan”, setting out what sort of progress the city expected to make between 2015 and 2019. I believe the first version of the Implementation Plan was released in late 2014 and it had some really ambitious stuff in it! In March 2015 the city published an update, cutting a few things back due to changing conditions. It was reasonable to update the plan every year or so, to reflect differences between planned and real progress and changing conditions, but I also thought it was important to compare real progress against a fixed version of the plan. So I took the March 2015 version, broke down projects by year, analyzed it against the Master Plan, and have been tracking progress against it since then. That work is in in this spreadsheet. The March 2015 Implementation Plan covered 73.8 of the 176.2 miles in the BMP's city-wide network (41.9%), and only a few items in the Implementation Plan didn't correspond to Master Plan items. As for year-by-year progress, the Implementation Plan set out about 20 projects per-year, and I was curious whether SDOT would keep up that pace.

In 2015 the city completed half of the 22 projects they promised. That sounds bad, but I was tracking completion, while the plan only promised that these projects would start in 2015 (I track completion because it can't be fudged and is evident to the public), and most of them had been started (at least outreach or conceptual design was done). They also completed some things that had been planned in previous years that weren't counted toward the total; if they finished all the outstanding items in 2016 and got about half of the 2016 items done they'd still be in good shape! Toward the end of 2015 we got the disappointing news that the city wasn't going to release a final downtown bike network plan by 2015, and in fact would be kicking the can way down the road because of complications with bus routing due to the Convention Center expansion. This tore a big hole in the 2016 update to the Implementation Plan, removing the many downtown projects.

Even so, if the city has the capacity to implement about 20 bike projects per year, it certainly had a backlog that would allow it to get about 20 projects done in 2016. On the ground they finished 10 of the 11 outstanding 2015 projects, plus three-and-a-half of the 21 originally slated for 2016, plus a couple 2017 items that got moved up: by my count, 15.5 projects. Many of the 2016 projects have started, but some haven't, and that's not limited to downtown projects. Seattle is making progress, but it's both behind and off-pace.

Bike counts

The Fremont Bridge will not make a million this year, and will probably finish a little behind last year. The windstorm in October and some snow in December, both coming with threats of worse weather than what actually happened, kept cycling numbers down in those months. The Westlake Cycletrack opened in September, and we did pretty well in September and November, but not overwhelmingly so. The West Seattle Bridge got a boost from the 99 closure in May, but its usage has also been hit hard by weather late in the year, probably a little more than in Fremont. Monthly patterns are pretty similar between the two bridges, as you'd expect with weather as a major driver. Fremont is doing a little better year-over-year than West Seattle since September, which might indicate a small boost from Westlake. If that boost is real Fremont has a good chance to get back over a million in 2017.

Suburban things

As far as I know most of Seattle's suburbs don't have public multi-year bike infrastructure plans to track (and I wouldn't have time to do that anyway), but there have been some notable things going on throughout the region.

  • The part of the Lake to Sound Trail that follows Des Moines Memorial Drive between 156th and Normandy Road is almost complete. It will one day continue to the south and connect to the Des Moines Creek Trail (and the Sound), with the exact route yet to be determined; the Lake to Sound Trail heads east along 156th toward Renton. This segment is also part a path continuing along Des Moines Memorial Drive to North SeaTac Park, with bike lanes continuing from there almost to the Seattle city limit and the Duwamish Route.
  • Also near the Des Moines Creek Trail, a climbing lane was built from the trail up to the new Angle Lake light-rail station. The new lane is a steep climb for people that have just finished a long, easy climb.
  • Bellevue striped a bike lane that falls along a key route, on 116th Ave NE from about 12th to 24th, by doing a road diet! It's also in the process of a massive road expansion on 120th and NE 4th that also includes bike lanes, for what it's worth. The Northup Way rebuild that will eventually connect the two sections of the 520 trail with bike lanes is underway.
  • More sections of the East Lake Sammamish Trail are being paved, pushing it toward what the county will dubiously call “completion” in the next couple years.
  • Eastside Rail Corridor trail planning is underway. The county wants to get an interim trail open quickly, at least in some sections. Others (especially near Bellevue) may be held up by Sound Transit construction.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Occam's Razor's Edge City Lights

A paunchy, greying man wearing a dark sweater walked up and down the security lines, asking each in turn to please not put our shoes in the bins, because people put their food in those bins! I thought, “What kind of dingus would put their food in those bins — they've had shoes in them!” Bombarded by the noise of his voice and mine I forgot to empty my pockets before entering the X-Ray machine...

“I've about had it with understanding," the man said. He sat on the edge of the bed, facing the wall, pulling on a sweatshirt. He cracked, "I tell every line the same damn thing but the next one never listens!" His voice was still raised from the din of the terminal. The joke did not land.

“You don't have to do this,” his wife sighed. “We could move to the coast. You could do something else.”

“Ah, it's not like that.” A long pause followed. He was a couple generations removed from northern farm people that stared at the flat horizon and left lots of space in their conversations. “I'm adjusted.” As if remembering himself, his voice adjusted to the house and they spoke softly as usual. “How about Saint Paul?” He turned to show his grin. “Chicago? Always has great Christmas decorations, not like here.”

“No! Bad! No more shoveling snow!” Now she smiled slyly. “Barcelona.”

“It's bad enough to fly back home from here, with both cities being Delta hubs.”

“How does a guy work so many years in an airport and hate flying? You're not half as well adjusted as you think, mister!”

“Oh, I love flying, watching the ground recede and return, it's still awe-inspiring. I just hate the security lines. Those pompous tyrant-for-a-days telling you to take off your belt, hassling you about your arch supports!”

“Just get pre-check already!”

“Anti-democratic nonsense. And everyone trying to sleep on the plane making me feel like a real jerk for having the reading light on.”

“... and a neck pillow...”

“I don't need comfort, I need purpose!”

“... and an iPad...”

“I don't need to be entertained,” by this point he couldn't keep a straight face and he laughed and stammered while he searched for a line, and she let him search, and he finished, “I need to be enlightened!”

“You don't need to be right —”

“— in fact, I prefer to be wrong —”

“— you just need to be contrary!”

“Anyway, I really have just had it with understanding. Everyone's on Facebook, they just want you to understand this one thing, whatever it is now. This fucking year. The idiots crowing about Trump. The idiots ranting about how we have to understand the idiots crowing about Trump, making carefully sure not to share with any of the idiots crowing about Trump. Half my old friends from Madison that are just mortified, apparently about what Trump says about them. The Bernie people, still. The anti-Bernie people, still! At least the Bernie people are for something. But when I go see them we don't talk about all that, we treat eachother like people. When I live in the midwest I never use Facebook, I never get on airplanes, and I treat my friends like people. That's a life.”

“When you lived in the midwest you didn't have a cell phone.”

“And I was a bike-riding vegan. Now I live in Seattle and run 'em down in my Suburban on my way out to go hunt pandas.”

“You live in Federal Way, you take the bus to work, and you keep a patch kit in your Civic.”

“In case I come across someone in need. And I have.”

“Wasn't he a Bernie person?”

“Yeah, but it was still 2015, and he didn't even spout any nonsense about superdelegates. And I proved I can still fix a flat better than some kid even if I never could ride fixed in this town. I'm happy with the exchange.”

“You could fix people's flats on the coast. No more hopeless-ceaseless-line-of-fresh-clueless-assholes-from-shift-start-to-shift-end. You could stop being a... a pompous tyrant-for-a-day or whatever.”

“I'm adjusted. What about your job? It's all the same once we're adjusted. Your quarterly planning meetings, where you set goals for advancing —”

“— the new woman on my team, not the new new one but the one from six months ago —”

“— Amy? —”

“— Yeah, she said like half the stuff I said was dystopic in the 2017 goals was dystopic, and I couldn't... I had to —”

“— You're, like, her mentor —”

“— I'm her manager, her mentor is... you don't know him, different sub-team.”

“You're like her mentor. You're her role-model.”

“She took over a bunch of stuff in the women-in-tech group at our branch that I was supposed to be doing, and she's killing it. I run around and get coffee and shirts for her events. She connects with the youth. The youth are scaaaaary. They outnumber us, and they're just learning how bad our knees are!”

“You did ride fixed in this town for... longer than she's been coding? Anyway, she said, like... half the stuff you said was dystopic... she also said the advancing dystopia was dystopic. She has an eye for dystopia.”


“And you couldn't agree out-loud, even in a one-on-one meeting.”

“Sure, and every quarter they're going to keep making new plans and we'll keep making new goals and maybe if I'm lucky the best I can hope is that they won't be dystopic?”


“I don't think that's fair. We make people's lives better. I'm someone's like-mentor. And I have a real voice.”

“To shout against the dystopia?”

She rolled her eyes. “Shouting against the dystopia is just not how I roll!”

“So you'd walk in next week, mysteriously give your two weeks, and fuck off to the coast without shouting against even a little dystopia?” He made a silly face and waved to indicate somehow that the phrase “fuck off” was not meant as pejorative, which basically worked.

“Maybe not the coast, anywhere but Minnesota.”

Sunday, December 4, 2016

These are lyrics.

They are probably the best lyrics I've written in a long time. Unfortunately the music I've written for them is simultaneously boring and too hard for me to play. So I'll probably record this song at some point but it will be really bad. Also, if you were wondering, yes, it is an homage to The Sun Also Rises with all the Pamplona/bullfighting stuff replaced by Chicago and dentistry. Because my dental visits have a sense of ceremony analogous to... um, anyway... in the spirit of the novel, if you think you're in this song you probably are (not really, it's all made up).

Steven you know my generation's lot's the mess that yours left after
Steven I've been back to Chicago two times since the laughing gas disaster
To feel the newfound menace in those brick walls that now seethe
The Madhouse dentist would not see me, she just ran upstairs and screamed through my teeth!

Midwest punctuality starts at fourteen and ends at the Edens
So I was on my third beer as the trumpets tuned their bell impedance
She burst in with her painted troupe but not her jealous lover
To say nothing of her husband whom she fought just like a brother, I say

Every time I've seen you since the summer of oh-five
You just reminded me how you don't exist and left me on the stairs for alive

We rode up to the west side, bidons full of makeshift absinthe
She, her husband, and her lover, so I fucked off to play Go Fish
On return my friend the organist had the chant at breakdown tempo
My companions drunk as I was, front teeth busted from the endo

The hygienist did the cleaning with her stiff grey scrubs and picks
Then the floor cleared for the dentist, long coat gleaming white with a smudge of red lipstick!
On the lapel!

(instrumental bit to break up the wordiness)

A jar of tonsils left along the Wood Street underpass
We should all stay on the west coast where we all admit we're never gonna last

(more instrumental)

The calls came in collect for me, I never could refuse them
She saw my good nature and my lack and only once confused them
Oh that's just my self-delusion, she was always gonna make it
That's why she can tease my injury while I just beg to fake it, she said

Every time I see you, since the summer of oh-five
You just remind me how you don't exist and leave me for alive!
On the stairs!