Lid I-5: Reconnect Seattle

 

Image courtesy of Patano Studio Architecture

Seattle is growing fast, and if the number of people moving here did not make that clear, the number of cranes that can be seen over our skyline does. As fast as we want to build, what limits us in Seattle is the amount of available land.

Recently, the Lid I-5 steering committee hosted a morning bicycle tour from downtown Seattle to Mercer Island and back. We were able to experience the range of freeway lids the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has built. The lids help us create more buildable land.

Photo courtesy of Scott Bonjukian

We were joined by about twenty people including Representative Nicole Macri of the 43rd Legislative District. Interstate 5 (I-5) cuts directly through the 43rd Legislative District, separating many neighborhoods that were once connected. The Lid I-5 effort is focused on Downtown for now but could expand north and south and could also consider “non-liddable” conditions, such as the Chinatown-International District to reconnect communities disconnected by the interstate.

Re-imagining how we can reconnect our neighbors along I-5 is within our grasp. The Lid I-5 campaign is inspired by numerous examples nationwide both completed and planned, ranging from Klyde Warren Park in Dallas to Capitol Crossing in Washington, DC. If we take this innovative opportunity suggested by the Lid I-5 campaign, we could have 20 acres of new public land Downtown. Land costs are rising as buildable sites diminish. Lidding provides us with a tried-and-true way to create new public space while reducing the noise and pollution which spills into neighborhoods.

Image courtesy of © SOM

You may remember the effort in 2004 put forward by Allied Arts to imagine what the waterfront could look like if re-designed. Community leaders called for a tunnel, removal of the viaduct, and a waterfront boulevard. Many people called us dreamers, but we knew then that a connected community prioritizing “green over gray” public open space is more enjoyable for all and is healthier for residents and businesses. Now, 14 years later, we can literally see the light at the end of the tunnel, and the dream for a connected waterfront where you can hear the waves instead of rumbling traffic is only months away.

Image courtesy of Patano Studio Architecture

The same opportunity is true when considering the addition of one or more lids over I-5. It may seem at first blush that we are dreaming to say we can create 20 new acres of open space Downtown, but this is a real possibility that we should take seriously. Lids are already in place on I-90 in Seattle (10.3 acres) and Mercer Island’s lid (12.3 acres) is a veritable forest now.

Image courtesy of Scott Bonjukian

Freeway Park: Beginning our bike tour at Freeway Park just south of the Convention Center we discussed current lids in the city. After experiencing the many freeway lids around the city, it is clear that improvements need to be made to Freeway Park for it to reach its full potential. Currently Freeway Park is not a complete lid and the gaps in the lid allow for noise and exhaust from traffic to overwhelm the park. This undercuts the effectiveness of the lid so much so that it was difficult to hear the two-story waterfall at the park. We need to start our work by filling these gaps in our only Downtown lid.

Image courtesy of Scott Bonjukian

Jackson Street: We stopped next at the freeway overpass on Jackson Street in the International District. This section of freeway will be difficult to address when reconnecting the neighborhood because the freeway is elevated for about 500 ft of roadway. Reconnecting the International District is critically important as it is the only neighborhood core that is cut in half by the freeway rather than other neighborhoods which are walled-off by the freeway. Unfortunately, a lid may not be the answer here, but the feel of the International District will improve when east-west re-connections are made.

Photo courtesy of Scott Bonjukian

The land over and around the I-90 Lid is divided into three parks; Judkins Park, Jimi Hendrix Park, and Sam Smith Park.

Judkins Park and Jimi Hendrix Park (I-90 lid): Our next stop was next to the Interstate 90 (I-90) lid where the Eastlink light rail stop will be located. From here you can see the open park space the lid provides the neighborhood, but the noise and vibration from the interstate makes it difficult to have conversations, even when standing near each other. This is a good example of how the lid also provides connective infrastructure for other regional projects, as the light rail station now has a larger walk-shed than would have been built as part of Sound Transit 2. Without the lid, the Northwest African American Museum would overlook lanes of travel and the Central District would be cut in half by I-90. Instead, the museum is surrounded by parks and stands out as an icon for the neighborhood.

Photo courtesy of Nakano Associates

Sam Smith Park (I-90 lid): It is hard to tell where solid ground ends and where the lid begins. The lid connects the neighborhood which would otherwise have endured narrow overpasses and subjected to all the negative externalities of the interstate. Luckily the Central District neighborhood and City of Seattle were adamant the I-90 reconstruction include a comprehensive lid. What could have become a trench echoing traffic noise and pollution is instead a pleasant park with bicycle trails and basketball courts. You can even have quiet conversations walking with your closest friend.

The pedestrian experience between Freeway Park and Sam Smith Park (atop the I-90 lid) is stark. For a peaceful environment, Sam Smith is the model to follow. Freeway Park is checker-boarded, leaving openings to the noise and vibration of I-5. Much of the space south of Seneca is not only unused but overgrown and an eyesore. Conversely, Sam Smith Park is a solid “land make” providing for a park, a playground, and walking/bicycle paths, two stories above the freeway lanes below. The space between the road and the park contains high powered fans and open-air space connecting the tunnel to vent stacks above in the park.

Photo courtesy of Scott Bonjukian

Mercer Island: After riding through the Mount Baker tunnel we crossed the I-90 bridge to Aubrey Davis Park on Mercer Island. Riding on the bridge was noisy – no practical enjoyment of the lake – yet we were solidly protected.

Leaving the noise of the bridge and arriving at Aubrey Davis Park we arrived at a half-mile long park complete with benches, tennis courts, cricket players and frisbees on the lawn, and surprising views of Lake Washington – you can almost hear the waves from the park! Yet, we were directly atop the interstate.

Aubrey Davis Park sits atop the I-90 lid and is named after the Mayor of Mercer Island (1970 – 1974) who famously declared he, “didn’t want to see, hear or smell” the I-90 expansion across Mercer Island. He and the community made that happen.

Image courtesy of Scott Boinjukian

Thanks to the work of the Lid I-5 team and public benefit money from the Convention Center, the Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) and a consultant team will begin a feasibility study of lidding parts of I-5 starting in early 2019. I am optimistic the results from this study will pave the way for next steps in design, capital funding, and eventual lid construction to heal fractured urban neighborhoods.

The feasibility study comes as WSDOT separately begins a long-term visioning process for over 100 miles of the I-5 corridor with functional challenges and seismic vulnerabilities. Some of the challenges being studied are located in downtown Seattle. If WSDOT were to rebuild I-5 downtown, we must have complete lids included in the design.

By placing lids on top of I-5, we can reconnect neighborhoods throughout the city and create as much additional open space for Seattleites as the Olmstead Brothers did. We can stitch together the fabric of our community because we know a connected community with green public open space is more enjoyable and healthier for our residents.


Thank you to Dan Strauss for his contributions to this post.

Lowrise Multifamily Code Updates: Balancing Design and Density

Lowrise-mapLegislation a Council committee discussed earlier this week has been characterized by one side as a dramatic giveaway to developers and, by the other side, an unnecessary and dangerous downzone. Both characterizations are false.

The Council’s land use committee considered code adjustments to the city’s Lowrise residential zones. The multifamily Lowrise zoning category, which makes up about 10% of city land, is designed for a range of moderately dense housing types, from townhouses and rowhouses to apartment buildings.

Even though many Lowrise zones contain older single family houses, these zones are designed to be denser multifamily—not single family—zones.

Lowrise zones are often found in the City’s Urban Centers and Urban Villages, where we focus our efforts to concentrate density. Concentrating density is good for the environment, good for the economy, and good for our communities. When people live closer to work and have easier access to mass transit systems, it creates a better city for all of us. It also allows us to protect the character of single family zoned neighborhoods.

In 2010, the Council passed a comprehensive update to the multifamily code to improve street-level design and encourage a mix of housing types in Lowrise zones. After large updates like these, we typically circle back around after a couple of years to close unanticipated loopholes. (Since construction slowed down significantly during the great recession years the process took longer this time.)

After construction resumed, the Council heard from numerous constituents and frustrated neighbors when it became clear that loopholes exist that allow for larger and out-of-scale development. In the fall of 2013, Councilmember Sally Clark requested legislation to make technical fixes to the Lowrise code. Developers appealed the resulting legislative proposal and lost, but in doing so forced a further delay.

The legislation introduced by land use committee chair Councilmember O’Brien, while modified from the 2014 version, honors much of the intent of the 2010 code update and will address concerns we’ve heard from many neighborhoods. The committee was shown egregious cases of out-of-scale buildings and all of these examples wouldn’t be allowed under the proposed new rules:

  • For those in the Lowrise 1 zones like our Ballard neighbors, the bill eliminates the loophole that let developers squeeze more buildings onto a single 5,000 square foot lot.
  • For those in the Lowrise 2 zones, it adds a design review requirement already applied to the Lowrise 3 zone.
  • For those concerned about height, primarily in the Lowrise 3 zones like our Capitol Hill neighbors, this bill limits bulky rooftop features and imposes setbacks at higher heights to eliminate the canyon feeling from the street level.

I also supported an amendment proposed by Councilmember Rasmussen to apply a new density rounding threshold to larger lots. The rounding threshold in the base legislation would have solved the problem we’re seeing now where four townhouse units are squeezed onto a 5,000 square foot lot, but the amendment will make sure developers don’t take advantage of the same loophole on lots greater than 5,000 square feet.

The committee approved two other amendments that I did not support: one that mandates counting all exterior stairways in a unit’s overall size limit (something the City hasn’t done before) and one that creates side setbacks for rowhouses that abut multifamily parcels that still have a single family home on them. This second amendment highlighted a difficult tension: do we zone for what is on the ground now or do we zone for how we’d like the neighborhood to evolve over the course of many years? I can see the merits of both sides, but took the longer-term view.

While the detailed language may not be exactly what some are looking for at points, I believe the bill addresses the major concerns that have been expressed. And it does so while still providing some flexibility for different housing types and styles in these Lowrise, multifamily zones of the city. We need this flexibility as we see thousands of new residents and rising housing costs. Some housing created by this flexibility, like partially below-ground units, provides some of the most affordable units in a building.

We all want the same goals: good design, a variety of housing options, and the preservation of neighborhood character. I believe the legislation that passed the committee strikes a good balance that upholds these values and doesn’t sacrifice one for the sake of another.

But in many ways, this debate was not about the specific legislative language. People do not get as fired up as we saw just about details like rounding thresholds. The rapid pace of change in many neighborhoods concerns many people, and reasonably so. Seattle is growing dramatically and that growth is causing disruption.

As a city we must accommodate the thousands of new residents who are moving here, but we must also keep up with the necessary infrastructure that alleviates these growing pains: open space, transportation, the need for affordable housing, and more. Sadly, City government hasn’t provided this infrastructure or zoning loophole protections in a timely manner. I know we can do better and the legislation that passed out of committee this week is a good step in that direction.  

City Seeking Community Input on Projects in Delridge

The City of Seattle is collaborating with the North Delridge community to produce a shared vision and action plan to continue improving the health and equity of the Delridge community.

Delridge is an area in West Seattle with a rich heritage that is home to diverse communities and organizations. Over the years, the residents of Delridge have worked with the City to create neighborhood assets such as the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, Longfellow Creek Legacy Trail, Cottage Grove Park, and affordable housing options. Fifteen years have passed since the Delridge community completed their neighborhood plan and there are new opportunities to seize and challenges to meet. DPD and Department of Neighborhoods (DON) are leading the development of an “Action Plan” for the North Delridge area. They are co-hosting a public workshop with the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) and Seattle Parks and Recreation (Parks) to integrate multiple projects into a large community workshop.

Share your ideas about transportation, community development, drainage, and parks at our workshop.

When:
Saturday, June 6
9:30 a.m. to Noon.

Where:
Southwest Teen Life Center
2801 SW Thistle Street

Light snacks and childcare will be provided.

SDOT will share existing conditions information and learning how the community currently uses the street, what works, what needs improvement, and what ideas they have about how the street could look and function in the future. The Delridge Way SW Multimodal Corridor Study seeks to transform Delridge Way SW (from SW Roxbury St. to the West Seattle Bridge) into a safer and healthier public space with more predictable movements of people and goods.

DPD is working with the Delridge community (primarily within the neighborhood planning area to the north of SW Elmgrove Street) to develop a shared vision and action plan for a healthy Delridge. At this workshop, the project advisory team and City are seeking review and comments on the potential steps the City and neighborhood can take to realize community goals, including: creating great community places along Delridge Way; addressing drainage and flooding; supporting on the Delridge Grocery Cooperative to increase access to healthy food; making walking, biking and taking transit an easy choice; and growing community capacity to take action.

SPU is developing a Natural Drainage Systems (NDS) Partnership Program. This program will achieve the water quality goals identified in the Plan to Protect Seattle’s Waterways by working with sister agencies and community partners to deliver high-value neighborhood improvements. SPU wants to know where in the Longfellow Creek watershed neighbors think natural drainage systems could meet neighborhood goals by overlapping with the Delridge Neighborhood Planning and the Multimodal Corridor planning efforts.

For more information:

  • Visit DPD’s web site and sign up to receive updates
  • Visit SDOT’s web site and take an online survey and share your thoughts about the future of the Delridge Way SW corridor
  • Visit SPU’s web site to learn more about natural drainage systems

Department of Planning and Development
David Goldberg, Planner
(206) 615-1447
Davidw.goldberg@seattle.gov

Seattle Department of Transportation
Sara Zora
(206)733-9973
Sara.zora@seattle.gov

Seattle Public Utilities
April Mills
(206)733-9816
April.Mills@seattle.gov

Update on the Cheasty Mountain Bike/Pedestrian Trail Pilot Project

Over the course of the last year, my office has received a great deal of correspondence regarding the Cheasty Mountain Bike/Pedestrian Trail Pilot Project proposed for the Cheasty Greenspace.  This project first came before the Council as part of its approval of a Neighborhood Matching Fund (NMF) grant that would support the construction of a perimeter trail, envisioned by the proponents as the first phase of a larger project involving mountain bike and pedestrian cross trails through the interior of the Greenspace.  The project was initially proposed by The Friends of Cheasty Greenspace at Mountain View (Friends), in collaboration with a number of community partners.

The Friends are doing a great job of removing invasive plants and restoring the area.  Such volunteer work is essential to reclaiming our Greenspaces, and I deeply appreciate the work of the Friends.

When this proposal came before the Council intense community interest in support and in opposition was expressed.  Some would like to see Cheasty developed with a network of pedestrian and mountain bike trails and others are concerned about the effect of mountain bike trails on the Greenspace.

Since at least 1988 Seattle has had policies relating to our Open Spaces (now referred to as Greenspaces).[1]  Generally the policies on Greenspaces include 5 key goals, to[2]:

  1. Help preserve areas of natural landscape and habitat for wildlife
  2. Provide natural buffers between land uses of different intensity or areas of distinct character or identity
  3. Help mitigate the effects of noise and air pollution
  4. Help reduce the necessity for constructed storm water systems
  5. Help preserve the quality of natural drainage systems and enhance the stability of the land

Those and other City policies were developed over the years through a lengthy public process at a time when there was intense pressure for development and building within the greenbelts.  While the policies for the Greenspaces do not prohibit pedestrian trails or the use of bicycles, it is clear that uses in the Greenspaces are to be “low impact”.  Where such uses are proposed, careful planning consistent with City polices and environmental stewardship must occur.

Those who oppose the Cheasty Mountain Bike/Pedestrian Trail Pilot Project have been characterized as “a small but vocal group”.  However, there is strong support throughout the City for protecting our Greenspaces and strong support for the five key goals in our policies. 

The Seattle Urban Forestry Commission in an April 2, 2014 letter to the Mayor and Councilmember Jean Godden noted the following:

Cheasty Greenspace is part of the approximately 14 percent of park land that falls under the April 2009 Seattle Parks Classification as a “Natural Area/Greenbelt”. That classification notes that “Natural areas are park sites established for the protection and stewardship of habitat and other natural systems support functions.  Some natural areas are accessible for low impact use.  Minimal infrastructure may include access and signage where it will not adversely impact habitat or natural systems functions.” …The Commission is very concerned about any conversion of natural areas and Greenspaces in our urban forest to more active uses which can impact the habitat and wildlife protection in these areas.

When this project was proposed to the Council, it did not appear that public dialogue had been held on how the project was consistent with our longstanding Greenspaces policies. Evidently, the Parks Department (DPR) was aware of the sensitivity of constructing a mountain bike trail in the Greenspace/Natural area because DPR in communication with the City Council refers to the trail as a “1.5 mil perimeter bike loop”.

To be clear, the legislation before the Council was the NMF grant for funding of a perimeter trail only.  Thus Council’s decision to specify that design discussion should focus on a perimeter trail was, in part, an effort to keep discussion focused on the scope of the NMF proposal before the Council.

Meanwhile it was made public by the proposal’s advocates that the long-term desire was to include interior mountain bike trails within the Greenspace, which Council was concerned may not be “low impact”.    We know, for example, that Cheasty Greenspace is an ecologically sensitive area, especially with respect to the slopes and wetlands.  Yet, without sufficient information at the time the Council acted last summer, it was Council’s belief that more study should be done, and that steps should be taken (such as focusing on a perimeter trail) to prevent potential ecological risk to the landscape.   I support that cautious approach.

When proposed actions are potentially inconsistent with longstanding city policies it is appropriate for the Council to respond to public concern.    In this case we asked the Parks Department to conduct a public process on the project, so that more information could be developed and public review could occur.

DPR is in the midst of that Council-requested public process involving a Project Advisory Team (PAT) composed of community members.  The PAT will make a recommendation to the Parks Board of Commissioners on the design of the project.  Following this, DPR is expected to make a final decision on the design consistent with Council direction, and return to the Council for approval.  These requirements are consistent with the City Council’s responsibility to comply with city policy, our responsibility for oversight of City Departments, and our stewardship of our parks and public lands.

I look forward to reviewing the recommendations of the Project Advisory Team, the Parks Board, and ultimately of DPR.  I expect that in-depth study will be completed on the ecological impact of the final design proposal.  And, I anticipate a more comprehensive discussion of how this project correlates to our existing policy on Greenspaces and of whether the policies should change.

The Council has requested the Parks Department to review and report back to the Council on policies relating to use guidelines for natural areas and greenspaces (such as the Cheasty Greenspace) by this summer.  That process has already begun, and I anticipate that there will be ample time to review those policy recommendations within the context of the Cheasty project.

There is a need for more places for active recreation including mountain biking.  I am confident that need can be met without damaging our Greenspaces and undermining the unique benefits they provide to our environment.

[1] Seattle City Council Resolution 27852, adopted September 12th, 1988

[2] Seattle City Council Resolution 28653, adopted February 8th, 1993

 

 

Update on the Cheasty Mountain Bike/Pedestrian Trail Pilot Project

Over the course of the last year, my office has received a great deal of correspondence regarding the Cheasty Mountain Bike/Pedestrian Trail Pilot Project proposed for the Cheasty Greenspace.  This project first came before the Council as part of its approval of a Neighborhood Matching Fund (NMF) grant that would support the construction of a perimeter trail, envisioned by the proponents as the first phase of a larger project involving mountain bike and pedestrian cross trails through the interior of the Greenspace.  The project was initially proposed by The Friends of Cheasty Greenspace at Mountain View (Friends), in collaboration with a number of community partners.

The Friends are doing a great job of removing invasive plants and restoring the area.  Such volunteer work is essential to reclaiming our Greenspaces, and I deeply appreciate the work of the Friends.

When this proposal came before the Council intense community interest in support and in opposition was expressed.  Some would like to see Cheasty developed with a network of pedestrian and mountain bike trails and others are concerned about the effect of mountain bike trails on the Greenspace.

Since at least 1988 Seattle has had policies relating to our Open Spaces (now referred to as Greenspaces).[1]  Generally the policies on Greenspaces include 5 key goals, to[2]:

  1. Help preserve areas of natural landscape and habitat for wildlife
  2. Provide natural buffers between land uses of different intensity or areas of distinct character or identity
  3. Help mitigate the effects of noise and air pollution
  4. Help reduce the necessity for constructed storm water systems
  5. Help preserve the quality of natural drainage systems and enhance the stability of the land

Those and other City policies were developed over the years through a lengthy public process at a time when there was intense pressure for development and building within the greenbelts.  While the policies for the Greenspaces do not prohibit pedestrian trails or the use of bicycles, it is clear that uses in the Greenspaces are to be “low impact”.  Where such uses are proposed, careful planning consistent with City polices and environmental stewardship must occur.

Those who oppose the Cheasty Mountain Bike/Pedestrian Trail Pilot Project have been characterized as “a small but vocal group”.  However, there is strong support throughout the City for protecting our Greenspaces and strong support for the five key goals in our policies. 

The Seattle Urban Forestry Commission in an April 2, 2014 letter to the Mayor and Councilmember Jean Godden noted the following:

Cheasty Greenspace is part of the approximately 14 percent of park land that falls under the April 2009 Seattle Parks Classification as a “Natural Area/Greenbelt”. That classification notes that “Natural areas are park sites established for the protection and stewardship of habitat and other natural systems support functions.  Some natural areas are accessible for low impact use.  Minimal infrastructure may include access and signage where it will not adversely impact habitat or natural systems functions.” …The Commission is very concerned about any conversion of natural areas and Greenspaces in our urban forest to more active uses which can impact the habitat and wildlife protection in these areas.

When this project was proposed to the Council, it did not appear that public dialogue had been held on how the project was consistent with our longstanding Greenspaces policies. Evidently, the Parks Department (DPR) was aware of the sensitivity of constructing a mountain bike trail in the Greenspace/Natural area because DPR in communication with the City Council refers to the trail as a “1.5 mil perimeter bike loop”.

To be clear, the legislation before the Council was the NMF grant for funding of a perimeter trail only.  Thus Council’s decision to specify that design discussion should focus on a perimeter trail was, in part, an effort to keep discussion focused on the scope of the NMF proposal before the Council.

Meanwhile it was made public by the proposal’s advocates that the long-term desire was to include interior mountain bike trails within the Greenspace, which Council was concerned may not be “low impact”.    We know, for example, that Cheasty Greenspace is an ecologically sensitive area, especially with respect to the slopes and wetlands.  Yet, without sufficient information at the time the Council acted last summer, it was Council’s belief that more study should be done, and that steps should be taken (such as focusing on a perimeter trail) to prevent potential ecological risk to the landscape.   I support that cautious approach.

When proposed actions are potentially inconsistent with longstanding city policies it is appropriate for the Council to respond to public concern.    In this case we asked the Parks Department to conduct a public process on the project, so that more information could be developed and public review could occur.

DPR is in the midst of that Council-requested public process involving a Project Advisory Team (PAT) composed of community members.  The PAT will make a recommendation to the Parks Board of Commissioners on the design of the project.  Following this, DPR is expected to make a final decision on the design consistent with Council direction, and return to the Council for approval.  These requirements are consistent with the City Council’s responsibility to comply with city policy, our responsibility for oversight of City Departments, and our stewardship of our parks and public lands.

I look forward to reviewing the recommendations of the Project Advisory Team, the Parks Board, and ultimately of DPR.  I expect that in-depth study will be completed on the ecological impact of the final design proposal.  And, I anticipate a more comprehensive discussion of how this project correlates to our existing policy on Greenspaces and of whether the policies should change.

The Council has requested the Parks Department to review and report back to the Council on policies relating to use guidelines for natural areas and greenspaces (such as the Cheasty Greenspace) by this summer.  That process has already begun, and I anticipate that there will be ample time to review those policy recommendations within the context of the Cheasty project.

There is a need for more places for active recreation including mountain biking.  I am confident that need can be met without damaging our Greenspaces and undermining the unique benefits they provide to our environment.

[1] Seattle City Council Resolution 27852, adopted September 12th, 1988

[2] Seattle City Council Resolution 28653, adopted February 8th, 1993