The purpose of this newsletter is to provide
information, inspire involvement, and make things work
in this great city.
QUOTE AND DEEP THOUGHT
VIADUCT EMERGENCY CLOSURE PLAN
On Monday, July 18 the City Council Committee of the Whole on the Viaduct/Waterfront held a public meeting on the revised Emergency Closure Plan for the Alaskan Way Viaduct. An earlier draft, reviewed at a public meeting in February, had alarmed both Councilmembers and the public with its lack of substantive detail. The Plan, designed to be invoked in the event that the Viaduct has to be closed down due to a disaster (most likely an earthquake), simply did not provide the degree of confidence that the public has a right to expect.
Fortunately, the Council's actions in revealing the shortcomings of the earlier plan and demanding a better one have produced results. The state and city transportation departments, who are jointly responsible for this plan, heard the concerns, and responded by replacing the vagueness and lack of coherence with much crisper and clearer planning. A copy of the plan can be reviewed at http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/viaductemergencyclosure.htm.
The emergency coordination plan is now much more coherent, with specified lines of communication and the procedure and responsibility for making decisions set up in advance. While the first responders (police and fire) will have the immediate responsibility for ordering and managing the initial shutdown, the City's Emergency Management system will take over as soon as it can be activated. Specific personnel assignments are made with clear descriptions of each task.
The plan now also describes equipment needs in detail, inventories existing equipment, and identifies materials to be stockpiled and the places where they are located. Staff assured the Council that this part of the plan had already been implemented, and the equipment was already in hand.
There are now specific maps of Metro bus detours for each route, alternate routes where vehicles will be directed, and places where traffic flow will be improved by removing parking and other means. The detour routes are no longer as convoluted as some were in the earlier draft, and are described in detail.
Planning has also gone beyond the Alaskan Way Corridor to include all of the access routes around downtown, including measures such as closing the James Street I-5 ramps in order to ensure emergency access to hospitals.
The Council's review was generally positive, but Councilmembers did identify a few areas that appear to require additional work, particularly the plan for community contacts and communications. On balance, the Departments have done an excellent job of responding to our concerns. Members of the public are invited to continue to comment as the plan is finalized, and identify any places that need further work, particularly any practical difficulties with the detour plans or the public communication plans, places where the public can be especially helpful in bringing their experience to bear. Comments may be made to the Seattle Department of Transportation at their website, or to my office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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CAPITOL HILL ZONING
On Monday, June 13, the City Council unanimously adopted legislation increasing the height on Broadway to 65 feet from the current 40 feet, with the requirement that the additional 25 feet of height is used exclusively for residential development. The Council also adopted a series of other recommendations, including moving Neighborhood Specific Design Guidelines (including stronger setbacks) forward expeditiously and increasing City efforts on public safety, streetscape, and human service issues in the neighborhood.
The Council's actions are designed to address concerns about the health of the Broadway business district by expanding the opportunity for key properties to be redeveloped. This would increase the number of residents living directly on Broadway. These residents can support a healthier retail mix and provide more 'eyes on the street' to help address public safety concerns, while the redevelopment also offers the opportunity for additional retail space that could attract more Capitol Hill residents to shop on Broadway instead of other places in the City.
Capitol Hill is the densest residential community and most dependent on mass transit north of San Francisco and west of Minneapolis, and will soon be served by the second phase of the Link Light Rail system currently under construction between downtown and the airport. Unfortunately, the commercial core of the community has not been able to become the major shopping destination for the many people who should find it easy and convenient to shop in. It is believed that this is because of public safety concerns and the lack of a critical mass of commercial development that is attractive to the surrounding community.
There is no magic formula for revitalizing such a commercial area, but the Council is hopeful that making the area attractive for new development and addressing the other issues offer the best opportunity for making this kind of change.
A number of Capitol Hill residents expressed concerns about the rezones, which were considered but did not reach consensus agreement in the Capitol Hill Neighborhood Planning process. The major concerns were whether this was actually necessary for redevelopment to take place, and whether there would be a 'canyon effect' from the increased height.
It is always hard to tell what is required for redevelopment to happen, but there were several major property owners who committed themselves to proceed if this height increase was approved. The Council also concluded that the 'canyon effect' was unlikely to occur, noting that many other commercial areas (such as Fremont and West Seattle) have similar heights, that Broadway is a wide street, that setbacks will help to alleviate this, and that the narrower streets to the west have 60-foot heights that fit well with this rezone. There are also many properties that are unlikely to redevelop, so the streetscape on Broadway is likely to continue to have a variety of heights. The Council also adopted requirements for residential development on the side streets and for an orderly stepping down to the lower heights to the east by continuing the 40-foot height on the half blocks facing 10th Avenue East.
Making Broadway a safer and more attractive place is a high priority for the Council, and Councilmembers are hopeful that we have come up with the right combination of measures that will be effective in achieving that goal.
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SOUTH LAKE UNION STREETCAR
On June 27th the City Council voted 7 to 2 to approve legislation authorizing the Mayor to proceed with developing the South Lake Union streetcar as long as property owners pay the majority of the cost of development, with the remainder to be raised mainly from state and federal grants.
Last fall, the Council approved an ordinance requiring that the proposed streetcar meet a stringent set of requirements to ensure that it could be constructed and operated without taking funds away from other city priorities. Property owners in the SLU neighborhood will pay for over 53% of the capital costs, with the remaining funds coming almost entirely from other non-City funding sources. Operations costs will be funded from private sources for the initial two years. After that, operating costs for the streetcar will be funded using new Metro transit hours that become available for reallocation when either Sound Transit's link light rail or the Monorail begin operations, along with sponsorships and other funding from the South Lake Union community. Operations of the Waterfront Streetcar have always been funded using Metro service hours. The legislation also ensures that the City does not bear significant financial risk for this project, and provides for using alternatives to the City's General Fund in the event of a revenue shortfall or increase in expenses.
When the South Lake Union streetcar is constructed, it will also have the potential to connect through downtown to the Waterfront Streetcar line, which could be the basis for a real streetcar network that could extend through the International District down Jackson as far as 23rd and/or down Eastlake to the University District.
The funding plan for the streetcar does not take away any money from other transportation projects, public safety, human services, or transit service to other Seattle neighborhoods. The limited City dollars that will be invested were already earmarked for transportation projects in the South Lake Union area. With the expected increase of 8,000 new residential units and 16,000 new jobs over the next 15 years, the City must improve transportation in the South Lake Union area, and this project has been proposed as a step towards that end. The Mayor's office has also agreed to invest approximately $1 million of South Lake Union transportation funds in bicycle and pedestrian improvements.
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In the last newsletter, I noted that I had received an email from a person who stated that he had been one of the three people who wrote the 2000 initiative and now opposed the currently proposed plan. The other authors of the initiative have stated that this person actually played a much more peripheral role. I regret the misunderstanding.
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"The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of bold projects and new ideas. Rather, it will belong to those who can blend passion, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the great enterprises and ideals of American society."
--Robert F. Kennedy
"The only title in our democracy superior to that of president is the title citizen."
--Justice Louis Brandeis
Citizen participation and engagement are critical for maintaining democracy -- fostering it is a key task of elected officials. It's my hope that this newsletter will inform you about issues, inspire you to get involved, and that together we can make things work better in this great city. Please send me your feedback, so we can keep things lively, interesting, and useful. And please forward it along to friends who might be interested. You can get more information or send me feedback through the City Council website at http://cityofseattle.net/council/
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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