Design & Development
February 11, 2019

Seattle: At-large vs Districts; Downzoning vs Affordability

We really should pay more attention to local government in Seattle; they’re dealing with so many of the same issues.  And they have a city council structure which many would advocate for us as a replacement for our ten-member council (plus mayor), all elected at large.

The Council consists of nine members serving four-year terms, seven of which are elected by electoral districts and two of which are elected in citywide at-large positions; all elections are non-partisan.

It will surprise you not at all that their major issue is housing affordability, and that they too are struggling with the question of how much of the city should be rezoned for higher density – and whether neighbourhoods should be treated differently with respect to density and affordability.  Here’s the latest from the Seattle Times:

Some potential battle lines were drawn Friday as Seattle City Council members debated trimming a plan to allow denser construction in the hearts of 27 neighborhoods while imposing affordable-housing requirements on developers.

Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and M. Lorena González, who represent the city at large, spoke out against attempts by certain district-based council members to reduce upzones proposed for some blocks of single-family houses. …

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Now is the time for the new council to consider a ‘congestion charge’ when (if?) it licences Uber and other ride-hailing companies to operate on city streets.*

From the Seattle Times:

The two ride-hailing giants provided more than 91,000 rides on an average day in the second quarter of this year, according to ridership reports the companies filed with the city, recently made publicly available for the first time.

While that’s just a fraction of daily travel in the Seattle region, Uber and Lyft trips are heavily concentrated in the city’s densest neighborhoods, where nearly 40,000 rides a day start in ZIP codes covering downtown, Belltown, South Lake Union and Capitol Hill. They are almost certainly contributing to worsening congestion. …

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From Bloomberg:

A neighborhood full of offices might not seem like much of an attraction, but South Lake Union has undoubtedly increased the city’s appeal. More than 114,000 people have moved to Seattle since 2010, increasing the population by 19 percent and making it the fastest-growing big city in the U.S. this decade. There haven’t been nearly enough new places for them to live, leading to steep increases in housing costs in a city poorly equipped to absorb people.

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Big things start with people coming together over big ideas. In this case, it’s a set of ideas to foster and increase regional growth through economic integration between Metro Vancouver, Seattle and Portland.

PT has previously covered Cascadia material HERE and HERE.

Your chance to mix, mingle, network and learn is on its way to Vancouver.

2018 Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference

Vancouver (Hyatt Regency Hotel)

Tuesday October 9, 2018
Specialized sessions, Registration, Kick-off reception

Wednesday October 10th, 2018
Main Session

p.s. It’ll cost ya $C 400.

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Daily Durning found another Great Mistake to add to the list, from Streetsblog: 

Parking spaces are everywhere, but for some reason the perception persists that there’s “not enough parking.” And so cities require parking in new buildings and lavishly subsidize parking garages, without ever measuring how much parking exists or how much it’s used.

Now new research presents credible estimates of the total parking supply in several American cities for the first time. The report from Eric Scharnhorst at the Research Institute for Housing America, an arm of the Mortgage Bankers Association, provides city-level evidence of the nation’s massively overbuilt parking supply and the staggering cost to the public [PDF].

Scharnhorst states:

After decades of requiring parking for new construction, car storage has become the primary land use in many city areas.

In Seattle, one-third of the city’s parking supply is located in downtown garages.  … the parking occupancy rate downtown is 64 percent. …

Scharnhorst concludes that cities should change course, and that in places with excessive parking developers should “allocate capital to non-parking uses” — a.k.a. housing, commercial buildings, and, in general, the sorts of things that make cities habitable for people instead of cars.

Images: Research Institute for Housing America

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You have to admire the good folks in Seattle for their approach to making the argument for safe, separated, protected bike lanes.
Last week, in order to encourage the development of a continuous separated bikeway, volunteers came out to create a “people protected bikeway”. And they did a very good job, as documented on Twitter.

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How did a transit-backward town become a national poster child for ridership success?
So asks CityLab; since 2007, the fastest-growing city in the country has added nearly a quarter million jobs (thanks in considerable part to Amazon), and has grown in population by more than 15 percent since 2010.
Remarkably, though, Seattle has not gained more cars in its most congested areas. The number of commuters driving private vehicles downtown has declined by 10 percent since 2010, even as new residents and workers have spiked. 

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Another backgrounder on the housing dilemma from the Seattle Times.  And just so you know, it’s estimated that 80 percent of residential land in Vancouver is zoned for ‘single-family’ — a misleading term, since it doesn’t define family, and almost every sf-home in Vancouver can have multiple units via secondary suites and lane houses. But you get the idea — they’re low-density, separated and super-expensive.

Rapidly growing Seattle constrains new housing through widespread single-family zoning

This is the second edition of real-estate reporter Mike Rosenberg’s new housing column, which takes a deeper dive into the booming housing market and answers reader questions. Read the first instalment here.

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Last month the Seattle Times sent reporter David Gutman up to Vancouver for a story on the similarities and differences in transportation between the two cities – an unusual commitment in this day of constrained resources.  He talked to a lot of people (including Price Tags) and here is a much-abridged version of what he found. (Full story here.)

With three fully-built light-rail lines and an interconnected bus network, Vancouver’s transportation system is like Seattle’s, just a couple of decades in the future. But the Canadian city differs in its rock-solid commitment to building housing right on top of transit.
Metro Vancouver — which comprises Vancouver and 23 surrounding cities and towns — is a region being built, more and more, around its thriving and ever-expanding light-rail system. …
South Lake Union, home of Amazon and the epicenter of Seattle’s construction boom, currently has 15 major projects under construction, about evenly split between apartments and office space.
South Lake Unions are sprouting up at SkyTrain stops all over Metro Vancouver. …
“There’s different attitudes about density than in Seattle, that’s for sure,” said Kevin Desmond, CEO of TransLink, the agency in charge of transit and roads in Metro Vancouver. “But if you’re going to manage congestion, which is getting worse and worse in Seattle, you’ve got to get people nearer to transit.”  …
Throughout the region, 146 developments are being built close enough to a SkyTrain station or track that they need special permission from the rail agency.
In 2012, there were only two such developments. …

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