Metro Report Short on New Ideas for Improving Transit Access

More people than ever are riding transit in our region. King County Metro was recently named the best large transit system in North America, and is recognized as a leader for the ORCA LIFT reduced fare program. But many folks are still being left behind, so this summer the King County Council asked Metro to find ways to serve more low-income people.

Motion 2018-0255 directed Metro to identify opportunities to make public transit more affordable and accessible for youth, community college students, affordable housing residents and low-income employees, as well as options for very-low-income Metro fare “for individuals who are in households with incomes of two hundred percent or less of the federal poverty level and are unable to afford the ORCA LIFT fare.”

The resulting report from Metro recommends a pilot program to serve very low-income individuals as compliance with an earlier 2016 Council ordinance (Ordinance 18409, Section 115, Proviso P1). Unfortunately, Metro’s report is short on ways to make transit more accessible to the other groups named by the Council. Instead, Metro opens the report’s third paragraph with this conclusion:

“Although individuals in all the markets considered for this report would benefit from increased transit access, we conclude that special pricing for specific groups is not the best tool to achieve this end.

This conclusion runs counter to Metro’s current practices, including the Regional Reduced Fare Permit (RRFP), which entitles senior riders (age 65 or older), riders with a disability and Medicare card holders to reduced fares. Metro also offers a discounted youth fare.

Metro suggests that “a comprehensive, income-based approach to fares would be the most equitable, viable, and aligned with adopted policy.” This sounds good, but then they kick the can down the road suggesting “policy updates supporting this approach in future updates of King County Metro’s Strategic Plan for Public Transportation,” which isn’t scheduled for update until 2021 or later.

In the body of the report, Metro makes broad assumptions about a small set of options for serving youth, students, low income residents and low wage earner groups might work to argue in each case that the cost would be too high to address their respective needs. In addition to considering limited options, Metro takes a very conservative approach to estimating the costs of potential programs, an approach which Metro admits in the report “may overstate the impact that programs could have on farebox recovery.”

Let’s look at how these assumptions play out in relation to one group—affordable housing residents—and a proposed program to adapt the Multifamily ORCA Passport to better serve this population.

Assumption 1: We can’t afford it.

In the existing Multifamily ORCA Passport program, costs are shared between the riders and their for-profit apartment landlord. Metro points out that subsidized housing operators “have very little if any availability to fund the partner/building operator share of the ORCA Multifamily Passport program.” This is true and is why we’ve argued that the Passport program is broken. We believe a modest subsidy of less than $1 million would go a long way towards fixing the program and increasing ridership among affordable housing residents, and suggest Metro work with other transit agencies to reduce the trip rate for Passports in affordable housing and think creatively about sources of funds to cover some or all the operator share. Following are potential sources to explore:

New Revenue: Metro is currently above its farebox recovery requirements and has a variety of options for new revenue.  New revenues of $3 million and $5 million are expected to come from Metro’s recent fare simplification.  Other revenues, such as parking user fees, should be explored.

Other Jurisdictions: We’ve heard some local jurisdictions suggest that if Metro could bring down the cost (e.g. by reducing the trip rate for Multi-Family Housing Passports in affordable housing), those cities might help to cover the partner/operator share for buildings in their jurisdictions. These conversations have been mostly informal and should be followed up.

Sound Transit: Metro’s report assumes other transit agencies won’t participate in a reduced fare program serving affordable housing. But there’s no suggestion in the report that they’ve asked for input from Sound Transit or the other transit agencies part of the ORCA pantheon (Community Transit, Everett Transit, Pierce Transit, Kitsap Transit, Washington State Ferries).

Federal Funds (e.g. CMAQ): The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) administers millions of dollars in mitigation funds block granted from the Federal Highway Administration to address the pollution impacts of congestion. For example, in 2018 PSRC will distribute $26M under the Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality (CMAQ) program. Metro could explore options with PSRC to see where there might be a good fit in 2019.

Assumption 2: It wouldn’t be fair, Part 1.

Metro suggests it would be unfair to offer a less expensive pass to affordable housing residents because they might get a deal unavailable to similarly low-income or lower-income people not living in affordable housing. We share Metro’s commitment to fairness and recommend better service to low- and very low-income individuals everywhere they reside in the County, including within subsidized housing.

Affordable ORCA Passports would be a complement to other reduced fare products like ORCA LIFT, not a replacement. Passports are effective for reaching groups of riders connected to an apartment building or business, just as the student program services students in Seattle Public Schools. ORCA LIFT is a good option for individual low-income riders not connected to an institution.

Assumption 3: It wouldn’t be fair, Part 2.

Metro suggests that because not all affordable housing is located near transit, offering a lower price transit pass to all affordable housing residents would not serve folks living away from transit hubs.

We suggest offering a program that affordable housing providers could opt into based on the level of interest of residents in their building. It is most likely that buildings with poor transit access would not have a great demand for the program as compared to buildings near transit and would not opt in. This is consistent with how the current Multi-family ORCA Passport program works. Buildings opt in, at least that is the idea. Currently, Metro has very few customers for the Multifamily ORCA Passport program. This is likely because in market-rate buildings near transit, most of the residents already have a Passport through their employer. This is far less likely in an affordable housing property where residents are less likely to have a pass subsidized by their employer.

Assumption 4: We should just do more of what we do.

What is perhaps most disappointing about the Metro report is the absence of creative problem solving. To be fair, Metro was only given a couple of months from when Council passed Motion 15171 and when Metro was required to deliver a report. But instead of offering opportunities, as the motion requested, and perhaps asking for more time and/or resources to develop creative solutions, Metro retreats to promoting what they’re already doing or committed to do.

The main recommendation of the report besides piloting a very low income program is to focus “on increasing ORCA LIFT enrollment among youth, students/trainees, subsidized housing residents, who have low-wage/low-incomes and are communities of color, limited English speaking, and immigrants and refugees.” In other words, better marketing.

Sure, better marketing and outreach to support existing programs is a good idea, but it shouldn’t be the only idea coming out of a report that was supposed to expand opportunities for serving low-income riders. It may not even be the best way to improve ORCA LIFT enrollment.

RECOMMENDATIONS

King County Metro could make the ORCA LIFT program immediately better and likely boost enrollment by bringing the eligibility requirements for the program into alignment with the eligibility requirements for affordable housing. Currently, Metro bases eligibility for ORCA LIFT on 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), which is set annually in relation to income levels across the continental US and used to qualify for federal programs like food stamps and Medicaid. The FPL is woefully LOW ($12,140/year for an individual; $25,100/year for a family of four), especially in an expensive place like King County.

Area Median Income (AMI) is based on income levels in King County, which makes it far more relevant as a measure of how someone is doing in our local economy. We suggest resetting the ORCA LIFT eligibility to 60% AMI, which would have the dual benefits of qualifying more cost-burdened people and making it easier for affordable housing providers to help enroll residents already income qualified for 60% AMI housing.

Similarly, Metro could consider applying a lower AMI rate, say 30 percent of AMI, to qualify for the new very low-income product they hope to pilot. With Motion 2018-0255, the King County Council directed Metro to identify opportunities to better serve low-income and very low-income riders. Metro has responded by recommending a pilot program to reach very-low income riders. We look forward to working alongside Metro for the success of this program and its full scaling to reach the many folks who need transit access but can’t currently afford an ORCA LIFT card.

We also offer to help Metro respond to the other needs outlined in Motion 2018-0255 and take a deeper look at modifying the ORCA Passport to serve low income folks. Finally, we support the crafting of a comprehensive, income-based approach to fares and recommend that Council and Metro not wait until the next strategic planning process to craft it.

 

 

Why Can’t One of the Richest Cities in the U.S. Solve Its Homelessness Crisis? Well, It Isn’t Really Trying—and It Won’t Until You Make It

Photo: Ansel Herz

This article originally appeared in the Stranger

By McCaela Daffern

It’s not a new story when a large corporation throws its weight around, devouring public resources and hectoring its way through city government. With the Head Tax decapitated, Seattle’s homelessness crisis raging on, and with King County threatening to minimize its commitment to affordable housing, who will bear any responsibility for investing in this city and its people? Who is writing this story anyway?

Community engagement is the key to leveraging strength against a powerhouse player when it comes to large-scale development. I know this because I was part of a coalition that effectively took on the Washington State Convention Center expansion and came away with a model for winning major community benefits. I believe the model we used in that fight— enlist allies, find a champion, and leverage collective power—can be applied to other struggles over the direction of our city, including the long debate over how to address our homelessness crisis.

The upcoming $1.7 billion expansion of the Convention Center will be the largest real estate project in Seattle history and promises increased tourism revenue and new jobs. But what good will it deliver to nearby neighborhoods impacted by the addition of noise, traffic, and general disruption? Where will new service-wage workers live? The coalition I was a part of asked these questions because we believed that as residents of Seattle, we deserve a better legacy than to become a footnote in a saga of growing pains. Communities need to rewrite this story to be our own.

A vast power imbalance between government, corporations, and regular people does not have to equal futility, though it is rare to have a partner like the one we found in the Washington State Convention Center. It turns out, the folks at the convention center were more than willing to listen. What I discovered in our pursuit to secure public benefits from a powerful, well-funded enterprise is a truth: the privilege of having the connections and resources of an expert organization is undeniable.

I work at such an organization—Capitol Hill Housing. They entered this negotiation to ensure that funding for public benefits would include affordable housing, and at first, the Convention Center put $5 million on the table. Amid a crisis of homelessness in which King County is short up to 14,000 affordable homes, that amount was absurd.

In response, the Community Package Coalition (CPC) formed in January of 2017 and included eight organizations from adjoining neighborhoods: Capitol Hill HousingCascade Bicycle ClubCentral Seattle GreenwaysFirst Hill Improvement AssociationFreeway Park AssociationHousing Development ConsortiumLid I-5, and Seattle Neighborhood Greenways. Using the King County Health Equity Toolkit, we could see that housing was the most significant tool we had to promote health equity in our neighborhoods. In addition to affordable housing, the Coalition pushed for funding for public space like parks and bike lanes. Communities are knitted together through safe and equitable access to meaningful and lasting amenities that make Seattle livable. Our ever-expanding city should grow closer, not farther apart.

The Coalition worked. We secured more than $80 million in public benefits, including funding for bike lanes, sidewalk improvements, open space, a study to lid I-5, and $30 million for affordable housing throughout Seattle.

Without this deep alliance and the support of Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, City Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw, Teresa Mosqueda, and especially Mike O’Brien, as well as the tireless efforts of Seattle City Council staff, this win would have been impossible. As a city, we owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who helped to shape our future with this work.

Together, we proved that community efforts can change the story of large-scale development and put pressure on major developers to be accountable to their neighbors. With the Convention Center’s willing ear, we were able to articulate our vision of what would serve Seattleites rather than take what we were offered.

As a coalition, we must recognize our immense privilege in having the means and connections to bring the Washington State Convention Center to the table. We could make the time, we had relationships with City officials, and we enjoyed an expertise in developing the very assets we were asking the Convention Center to fund. It shouldn’t take such an abundance of resources to stand up for what you believe in or to ask for what you deserve.

Communities of color especially face the brunt of displacement and discrimination when it comes to housing and economic opportunities. Thanks to the work of advocacy organizations like Puget Sound Sage, the City has adopted a process by which groups representing marginalized communities become a central voice in the decision-making process. This is essential if Seattle is to realize its potential as a vibrant, diverse, and welcoming city where real opportunity exists for anyone willing to reach for it.

It is my hope that our success with the Community Package Coalition paves the way for coalitions that follow. As debate over the lodging tax, or “hotel/motel tax”, reaches a fever pitch, now is the time to come together to support funding for affordable housing. Nearly three years ago, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine declared a state of emergency on homelessness, yet County Councilmembers are currently discussing using the lodging tax to fund $180 million in stadium improvements for Safeco Field, home of the Mariners, with only the minimum amount required by law going toward affordable workforce housing and services for homeless youth. Now, I like baseball as much as anyone. But, as Ethan Phelps Goodman, founder of Seattle Tech 4 Housing, said at a recent hearing on the subject, “Did we declare a state of emergency around stadium maintenance three years ago?”

The Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness, Housing Development Consortium (HDC)—of which Capitol Hill Housing is a member—and others have created #TeamHousing as a rallying cry in support of maximizing public investments in affordable housing. As an individual community member, you can take action to center our most marginalized neighbors. Speak at the next public hearing on August 29 or contact your county council member and let them know that you agree – we must do the most we can for affordable housing, not the least.

Get involved. Ending homelessness in Seattle will only be a true government priority if we make sure of it. Join #TeamHousing or connect with the King County Regional Affordable Housing Task Force, and let your voice be heard. It is essential that institutions like the King County Council, the Convention Center, and any corporation or institution residing in our community respect and reflect the values and priorities of their neighbors as well as that of the city and county at large. In the story of Seattle’s growth, its people should be the protagonists. Corporations and large institutions form an important scenery that they and we should get to design together.

McCaela Daffern is the Sustainability Manager for Capitol Hill Housing, a community development corporation and public development authority. Her work includes staffing the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict, a community-driven effort to promote equity, environmental resilience, and cultural space in the most densely populated urban village in the Pacific Northwest.

City Council Committee Passes Bike Network Resolution

Councilmember Mike O’Brien introduced Resolution #312826 and his committee, the Sustainability and Transportation Committee, passed it 5-0 yesterday.

“With Wednesday’s committee meeting, we’re reaffirming our commitment to establishing a connected, protected bicycle lane network in downtown Seattle,” said O’Brien in a press release. “We’re also committing Seattle to achieving zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2030. Given what’s at stake, it’s too expensive not to make more investments in completing the network for all to utilize and enjoy.”

(image courtesy of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways)

Seattle Neighborhood Greenways and Cascade Bicycle Clup helped organized a big turnout at Wednesday’s hearing. Joel Sisolak from the EcoDistrict testified on behalf of the Resolution and specifically the connection of downtown to Capitol Hill via a protected bike lane in Pike-Pine.

“In the past 18 months, I’ve been in two separate bike accidents commuting to Capitol Hill,” Sisolak said. “I’m deeply invested in Vision Zero and seeing the bike network completed on the Hill.”

Sisolak also noted that as sustainability advocates for Capitol Hill and as a member of the Community Package Coalition that helped negotiate community benefits from the Washington State Convention Center expansion, the EcoDistrict is a staunch advocate of well designed bike infrastructure for Pike Pine.

Bike lanes need to work for all stakeholders, including people who would choose to bike if it were safer. Capitol Hill Housing and the EcoDistrict are committed to working with SDOT, Central Seattle Greenways and other community interests to ensure that our business community and all users of the Pike-Pine corridor have a say in how these lanes are designed so that their implementation is successful and the lanes are well and safely used.

(image courtesy of City of Seattle)

O’Brien was joined in passing the Resolution by Councilmembers Johnson, Sawant, Bagshaw and Gonzalez. A vote of the full Council is expected July 30th.

 

 

 

 

It’s Time to Make the ORCA Passport Program Work for All

If you have an ORCA card, there’s a good chance you got it through your employer or your apartment building. The largest group of ORCA users get their pass that way, taking advantage of one of two “Passport” programs (ORCA Business Passport Programfor employers and the Multifamily ORCA Passportfor apartment-dwellers).

Either way, you are a beneficiary of the most effective transit pass program in the system. In 2017, King County brought in $76 million in revenue from the ORCA Passport programs for approximately 35 million boardings.

The ORCA Passport Program is both effective in getting people on transit and popular, but unfortunately, it doesn’t serve most low-income people. In 2016, Capitol Hill Housing (CHH), a city-wide affordable housing developer and community development organization, surveyed people living in apartments along Pike Street. We found that in market rate buildings, 68 percent had an ORCA pass subsidized by their employer. In contrast, only 22 percent of the residents in affordable housing buildings had Passports.

Far fewer affordable housing residents are offered an ORCA Passport by employers. These residents must resort to more expensive individual passes or walking long distances to work, school or appointments.

To address this disparity, in 2016-17 CHH piloted an expansion of the ORCA Passport programin affordable housing. The project, funded by Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) and Enterprise Community Partners, enabled  57 households in three CHH buildings making below 60 percent of the area median income (roughly $60,000 for a family of four) to purchase ORCA Passports at under $20/month, the same amount or slightly more than what many local employees pay for their Passports through work or their apartment building.

The pilot tested three things:

  • Would affordable housing residents making $20,000-40,000/year pay $10-20/month for an ORCA Passport?
  • How much they use the Passport once purchased?
  • Would the program be easy for an affordable housing provider to administer?

The results of pilot were illuminating. More than half of our residents participated in the program and they used it A LOT, an average of 43 trips per month, 80 percent above what KC Metro models anticipated. And the program was easy to administer. Each month, we collected the rider share of the cost via the same mechanism by which we collect monthly rent.

Our residents loved the Affordable ORCA Passport Pilot. It made it easier for them to connect to jobs, healthcare, and opportunities in our city. Here’s a sample of quotes from participants:

“Makes my family feel normal and connected to public transportation, allowing my family to have extra funds to apply to other household cost(s).”

“Please keep it funded and going! I decided not to keep my car and just use this $10 pass and walk. Loving it and saves me money.”

Unfortunately, the pilot ended in 2017. CHH is pressing for an expansion to affordable housing residents across King County. Other housing organizations, including Seattle Housing Authority, King County Housing Authority and the Housing Development Consortium, support an expansion. King County Council has also received letters from Forterra, Futurewise, the Transit Riders Union, the Mayor of Tukwila and the North Urban Human Services Alliance Board, among others.

Advocacy is working. Last month, the King County Council passed a motion that instructs Metro to address transit access and affordability for affordable housing residents, as well as youth and community college students. The projected costs of these strategies will inform the Council’s Fall budget deliberations and could lead to a major expansion of transit access to low-income households.

Motion 2018-0255 is open ended. One big question is how an expanded Affordable ORCA Passport program would be funded. Based on our estimates, the cost should not be prohibitive. The subsidy cost to serve three CHH buildings for a year was under $35,000. We suggest the County create a $1M pool of funds to launch a robust Affordable ORCA Passport program County-wide and target households making 60% of the area median income and lower-income buildings near transit.

There is still a lot left to figure out, which is why Metro’s work under the motion is so important. It directs them to price options for Council consideration in the Fall budget cycle, allowing for a more nuanced discussion of how we can better connect low-income residents to public transit.

An expansion won’t be simple, but folks are willing to roll up their sleeves to figure it out. Mayor Allan Ekberg of Tukwila writes: “The City welcomes the opportunity to participate in conversations about this expansion and how Tukwila might both contribute to its success and benefit our constituents.”

This is a pressing issue that affects all parts of King County, not just Seattle. In a letter to Councilmember Dembowski, the North Urban Human Services Alliance Board, which includes the Cities of Shoreline and Lake Forest Park, laid out a case that could be made for cities throughout our County and underscores why this should be a high priority for Council and Metro going forward:

“As you well know, North King County is growing rapidly. All of the NKC cities are investing in transit infrastructure.  And all of these cities and the County are spending millions of dollars to build affordable housing near transit  hubs. We want to be sure that the folks who live in those buildings can afford to ride transit to school, jobs and other services.  Fixing the ORCA Passport is a logical step towards meeting this goal.”

 

Another Reason to Visit Cal Anderson Park – It’s Pesticide Free!

Cal Anderson Park is pesticide-free! Barb DeCaro from Seattle Parks and Recreation delivered that surprise piece of good news during a tour of the park Tuesday with representatives from the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict, Seattle Audubon, Earthcorps, SalmonSafe, and the Cal Anderson Park Alliance.

The Capitol Hill EcoDistrict Steering Committee has been concerned about pesticide use in Cal Anderson since the Seattle Times ran a story last July on Seattle Parks’ wide use of pesticides, including glyphosate, the active ingredient in the popular product Roundup.

Why the concern?

Glyphosate was tagged as a “probable carcinogen” in early 2015 by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Since the classification, activists in some cities, including Portland, Oregon, have been asking for a ban on glyphosate use in public parks.

Capitol Hill EcoDistrict staff and allies have been seeking more information about glyphosate use in Seattle Parks and were gearing up for a fight to get pesticides out of Cal Anderson Park and spark a conversation about getting glyphosates out of all Seattle Parks.

And then we found out on Tuesday that we are lucky among neighborhoods in Seattle. According to DeCaro, Cal Anderson Park doesn’t get sprayed with pesticides as part of an agreement with Seattle Public Utilities to protect the water quality of Lincoln Reservoir that lies below the northern half of the park.

But what is going on in other nearby parks, including Volunteer Park? Are we and our pets protected from exposure to a probable carcinogen?

According to the Times article, the answer is no. Glyphosate was sprayed in Volunteer Park as recently as 2016, as well as Alder Creek Park,  Washington Park, Thomas C. Wales Park, and many others.

“In 2016, Parks and Recreation conducted 732 pesticide treatments in parks that were either developed or in active restoration. More than 60 percent of these applications included glyphosate,” according to the Times. The heaviest use of pesticides is on Seattle’s golf courses.

And glyphosate is probably in other green spaces nearby. Megan Dunn, from the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, was in town for Tuesday’s tour. She pointed out that even if glyphosates are not in Cal Anderson Park, they are definitely used heavily in nearby private yards and public rights of way. Dunn points to the growing evidence against glyphosate use on both public and private land, but the substance is still widely used. And it is finding its way into our bodies.

“This chemical is in our food, water, air, and has been found in breast milk and urine. The manufacturing, distribution and sale of glyphosate is a multi-billion-dollar industry,” Dunn writes on the NCAP blog.

Monsanto, the makers of RoundUp and other pesticide products containing glyphosate, claims there is no evidence that glyphosate is carcinogenic. They are currently defending this position in California and Missouri courts.

In the meantime, RoundUp continues to fly off the shelves of local home improvement stores and Seattle Parks has expressed no intent to stop applying glyphosate in many neighborhood parks. If you don’t want yourselves or your pets exposed, come over to Cal Anderson Park!

 

Seattle Advances Shared Parking

On April 13, Mayor Durkan signed into law an omnibus neighborhood parking reform package. This package included some important steps to support shared parking, policy changes that Capitol Hill Housing and the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict have been advocating for since 2014.  While these changes are important, they have gotten less attention than some of the more controversial parts of the package.  Here’s a recap of shared parking, what will change with the new legislation, and what we still need to do to make shared parking common practice.

What is shared parking?

Shared parking is an umbrella term for a set of parking management strategies that use parking more efficiently through sharing spaces. The simplest form of shared parking refers to allowing non-tenants (people who don’t live or work in a building) to rent assigned spaces on a monthly basis in a building’s garage. More complex systems involve making spaces unassigned and sharing between users that need parking at different times of day or days of the week. All forms of shared parking achieve more efficient use of limited parking spaces. However, the more complex systems, with more different types of users, are capable of greater efficiency and can dramatically reduce the number of parking spaces needed.

Why is shared parking a good thing?

  • Parking is expensive and makes housing expensive. The Victoria Transport Institute, a leading local think tank on parking, estimates that underground parking in Seattle costs between $33,000 and $46,000 per space to build.
  • Lots of spaces go unused, but they are hard to access. King County Metro’s Right Size Parking study looked at 46,420 residential parking stalls across the county and found that 26 percent of spaces were empty in the middle of the night.
  • Use what we have before building more. We are stuck with the parking we’ve already built, but shared parking can help correct for this oversupply as we continue to grow.
  • Shared parking makes infill development more cost-competitive over sprawl. Infill projects rely on expensive underground parking spaces, while develop on the urban edge, where land costs are cheaper, have the space for cheaper surface parking. By reducing the number of spaces needed, shared parking benefits infill projects the most. Infill projects protect our farms and natural spaces, require less infrastructure investment, and help provide existing neighborhoods with the density to support high frequency transit.
  • Prevent circling for scarce on-street parking by opening up access to off-street parking. In some neighborhoods on-street parking is very full and streets are clogged with drivers looking for an available space. Providing easier access to off-street parking can reduce circling and congestion.

How is the City of Seattle encouraging shared parking?

The parking reform package includes two new strategies that promote shared parking. It more formally legalizes sharing by creating a new category of flexible use parking and it requires new garages be designed for sharing.

Legalizing Sharing

In the past Seattle permitted two types of parking – accessory use and principal use. Accessory use parking was attached to a specific use, such as an office, a retail store, or an apartment building.  Only users of this related primary use could use the accessory parking.  In contrast, principal use parking was a category for a stand along garage or surface lot.  Principal use parking could be used by anyone.  However, many areas of the city banned principal use parking.  There was no acknowledgement of parking facilities integrated into a building, but serving different types of users within the nearby walkshed.

The new code changes this in a few different ways.

  • Replaces “principal use parking” with “flexible-use parking.”
  • Outside of downtown, allows flexible use parking in most places where previously principal use parking was not allowed
  • Inside downtown, allows flexible use parking as a conditional use with staff approval
  • Lets more kinds of accessory use parking be made available to the public
  • Lets more kinds of accessory use parking be converted to more kinds of flexible use parking
  • Permits the use of flexible use parking facilities by park and ride users for the first time, in some areas
  • Eliminates parking requirements in more areas
  • Extends the walking distance within which required parking must be provided

You may notice that there are a lot of caveats implied in these changes. We would have preferred a simple change allowing short and long-term public access to all parking.  Still, taken together, these changes will radically increase the flexibility in the use of our city’s parking stock.

Designing Garages for Sharing

Many garages, especially in small and medium-sized apartment buildings, are not designed with sharing in mind. In many cases, the only pedestrian access to the garage requires walking through a private, secured residential hallway.  Not surprisingly, granting access to this portion of the building can make some tenants uneasy about sharing the garage.  To address this problem in new buildings, Seattle will require direct pedestrian connections between the garage and the street.

Some developers have already started using this approach. The image below shows a recent garage design with direct pedestrian street access.  A small door on the left provides a pedestrian only access point that does not require walking in a car lane and can be accessed with a key fob or code throughout the day.  A separate key is required for access to the residential lobby.


Signage clearly identifies the pedestrian access point for the garage.

A simpler pedestrian garage access configuration is shown (below left) with the pedestrian door immediately adjacent to a closed garage door. Many older garages already have these doors for evacuation.  The doors can be retrofitted with their own key or code access to be accessible from the outside.  This design can provide a lower cost option for some garages.

These designs can help developers avoid situations like the one below right, where the only pedestrian option is to walk in the drive lane, down a steep pedestrian ramp, or enter through the residential lobby.

More Work to Do – Parking Taxes

Unfortunately, parking taxes remain a major barrier to shared parking. The Washington State and Seattle tax codes directly penalize the essential ingredients for shared parking: unassigned spaces and multiple users.

Since 2007, Seattle has exercised its authority to impose a commercial parking tax. That tax, now at 12.5 percent[1], is levied on top of the general sales tax, 10.1 percent in Seattle in 2018[2], for a combined tax of 22.6 percent on commercial parking revenue. While many assume that this tax is applied uniformly to all parking, that is not the case. Parking that is reserved for only one user for 30 days or more (most parking today) is considered real property and therefore exempt from the tax. However, as soon as that parking is shared with someone else, the tax is triggered.

In focus groups held by CHH in 2014, property managers expressed strong concerns about the financial impact of being subject to the tax. Property managers liked that shared parking has the potential to add revenue through new users paying for time when spaces otherwise sit empty.  However, because of the tax, revenues would need to increase by 29.2 percent to break even.  Property managers have communicated that such a high threshold for new revenue is prohibitive, especially in the context of uncertainty around adopting an unfamiliar management practice.

Conclusion

Taxes aside, Seattle has shown a real commitment to innovative parking policies, including shared parking.  It is through many incremental changes like these that we will begin to tackle the big challenges of affordability and climate change.  As Councilmember O’Brien stated during the final Council vote, “We need to commit as a community to taking actions to fight climate change locally. We’re going to have to take hundreds of actions like this one today. These are hard actions because they require each of us to slightly change the way we live in our communities.

 

[1]http://www.seattle.gov/business-license-tax/other-seattle-taxes/commercial-parking-tax

[2]https://dor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/legacy/Docs/forms/ExcsTx/LocSalUseTx/LocalSlsUseFlyer_18_Q2_alpha.pdf

Reflection and Refraction

Health Equity Fellow Andy presenting survey findings to the LGBTQ advisory committee.

Health Equity Fellow Andy presenting survey findings to the LGBTQ advisory committee.

 

Andy Post is a Health Equity Fellow placed with Capitol Hill Housing for the summer through Humanity in Action. The fellowship, in partnership with Virginia Mason, focuses on the intersection of health and housing in LGBTQ care in Seattle. This is his reflection. 

 

I entered Capitol Hill Housing (CHH) at the beginning of the summer, dropped off by the number 49 bus a block away from the turf at Cal Anderson Park. My task, as I knew it then, was to help with pre-development research to support a new apartment building for low-income seniors that affirms the needs of LGBTQ elders in the community. But what exactly is pre-development? I gradually learned the outlines of the process: CHH was working to establish an advisory committee of leaders from LGBTQ community organizers, health care providers, and nonprofits. On my fifth day, we had an initial meeting with some of these leaders. The main topic of conversation: who in the LGBTQ community was not there that should be? Which community groups encompassed by the rainbow of letters L-G-B-T and Q in the King County area, would influence the design, planning, and character of the project?

 

This question only provokes further questions: why affordable housing for LGBTQ elders? Who needs access to affordable housing the most? What are their needs in the housing process? How can this process be a celebration of care for this community, rather than a divisive struggle for limited resources?

 

LGBTQ elders face many challenges compared to their heterosexual peers. Thanks to research from Dr. Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen with University of Washington and Generations Aging with Pride, the needs of LGBTQ elders are beginning to be documented. Results show disparities in health, income, and social status that make aging difficult for LGBTQ seniors. 54% of LGBTQ elders in King County suffer from social isolation (linked to higher risk of poor health and premature mortality), nearly half of elderly transgender adults had household incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and in 200 nationwide trials testing for differential treatment in seniors seeking senior housing, the tester with a same-sex partner experienced adverse treatment. Based on these national and local surveys, LGBTQ seniors are more likely to be in poverty, are at higher risk for illness, face discrimination when seeking a home, and are less likely to have support of biological children or family.

 

Data collection in the world of community development and healthcare is political. Data influences our ability to advocate for, legislate, build, and care for different demographics. While the current administration is taking steps to eliminate LGBTQ identity from national surveys, the research from leaders on LGBTQ gerontology is clear: LGBTQ elders need affordable housing solutions and culturally competent care. But the question arrives again: which cohort within the community?

 

For over 40 years, Capitol Hill Housing has worked to build vibrant and engaged communities by responding to community needs. But who we engage and the extent to which we can incorporate their input will greatly shape the final project. As part of my fellowship, I visited Virginia Mason’s Bailey Boushay House, a care center for people living with HIV/AIDS. Over half of their clientele currently experiences homelessness. That same day, I participated in a focus group with Living Positively, a social and support group organized by Lifelong for HIV positive men, many of whom are living on a fixed income. The differing needs of these two cohorts only begins to illustrate how who we listen to and how we synthesize their input will greatly change the result of the project. For example, if we prioritize the needs of the portion of the LGBTQ community experiencing homelessness, the services and design of the building will look different than if we prioritize fixed or low-income renters. Even these examples are weighed heavily towards older white gay men living with HIV. Our process of community outreach has just begun, but we are committed to employing a race and social justice analysis to our efforts. Our project—and our community—will be best served by a project that acknowledges and confronts structural racism.

 

The key word in community development work truly is process. Over the summer, I worked to interview seniors who are reflective of the broader LGBTQ community. These interviews provide insight not only into health and aging needs, but the individual stories that inform the tradition of care we hope to participate in. We hope to feature 7-8 of these interviews in a short film that speaks to why LGBTQ senior affordable housing is needed here in Capitol Hill. Yet again, because 7-8 people cannot represent the full breadth of this project, we will continue to work with and expand our Advisory Committee to hear from as many relevant voices as possible.

 

In addition to the short film, we are planning a queer gathering; an event to invoke our muses in LGBTQ care and include the larger public in this community development process. On September 21st, we will convene stakeholders and community members to illuminate the tradition of caring for LGBTQ elders in Capitol Hill. Queer art, delicious food, and music, featuring artists such as Storme Webber and Michael Woodward, will bring generations together to create a strong foundation for CHH’s project. You can register for the event here, or on Facebook.

refraction diagram

 

Process, process, process. I stalled over whether to use this clichéd symbol, but I looked up the physics of forming a rainbow this morning. A layer of water droplets forms a medium of different opacity that disperses white light in a particular way. What results is a refraction of the visible light spectrum, each color appearing as distinct in an arc of light. The task of pre-development and community development is to be the water droplets: those who absorb incoming light and help align internal and external reflection.

 

This summer I have had the opportunity to meet with over thirty members of the LGBTQ senior community in King County, and over twenty organizations that fight for LGBTQ rights throughout the state. Their stories and openness to share are a testament to the strength of this community—and the necessity of creating a central home and gathering place on Capitol Hill.

 

My experience began with a solitary morning walk through Cal Anderson. And so it continues. A few weeks back, I visited the Cal Anderson House, and interviewed two wonderful men who shared their history as residents of the building named after Washington state’s first openly gay legislator. Hearing about the resilience, struggles, and continued advocacy of these community members reminds me what is at stake in this work.

 

Andy Post is a Health Equity Fellow placed with Capitol Hill Housing for the summer through Humanity in Action. The fellowship, in partnership with Virginia Mason, focuses on the intersection of health and housing in LGBTQ care in Seattle. 

Capitol Hill Garage Sale and Farmers Market THIS SUNDAY

Grab some coffee and a pastry, then hit the ATM on Sunday morning. You’ll want cash in your pocket and perhaps a map (download here or pick one up in the Park) for all the garage and yard sales happening in Cal Anderson Park and across the neighborhood.

It’s time again for the Capitol Hill Garage Sale and this year it’s going to be huge with more than 100 registered sellers! About half will be selling items in Cal Anderson Park and another 50+ will be laying out their wares on lawns, by sidewalks, and in front of their homes. We suggest you start in the Park where a DJ will be spinning AND the Capitol Hill Tool Library will have a booth.

Oh yeah, you’ll also want to bring your dull knives. The Tool Library will be where you can get your dull knives and tools sharpened for FREE. There also will be folks in the tents with info on how to support Cal Anderson Park, get engaged with fellow renter activists, and join the work of the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict  to make our neighborhood safer, greener and more equitable.

When you’re done popping tags, you’ll probably be hungry again. Head from the Garage Sale to the Capitol Hill Farmers Market. If you haven’t been to the Market in a while, it’s peak season for peaches, nectarines, melons, tomatoes, peppers, and all that the summer has to offer! While you’re there, make sure to say ‘hi’ to Leah Litwak, the new manager of the Market. She’s a great addition to the community and eager to meet neighbors.

Finally, we want to say a huge thank you to all of the sponsors that are making this even possible: Capitol Hill HousingAIDS Healthcare FoundationSchemata Workshop, Hunters CapitalBoard and Vellum, and Recology CleanScapes. An extra special thanks to Capitol Hill Seattle Blog for nurturing this incredible neighborhood tradition over the years.

See you out there!

The “8th ANNUAL CAPITOL HILL GARAGE SALE DAY” will take place on Sunday, August 27th, starting at 10:00 a.m. throughout the heart of Capitol Hill and in Cal Anderson Park. Individuals without a garage or front yard can sign up for table space in Cal Anderson park. A $10 donation to the Cal Anderson Park Alliance secures a spot. For more information or a map, go to capitolhillgaragesale.com. Printed maps will also be available on August 27th at the information table in Cal Anderson Park. Follow along on social media: #NoGarageNoProblem2017 or become a fan on Facebook: @CalAndersonPark.

Vision Zero by 2030 (in case I live that long)

Last December, an idiot sideswiped me when he cut into the southbound bike lane to park his car by Seattle U. The accident cost me a concussion and scars on my nose and leg.

Last night, another idiot, this one on a bicycle, pulled a Jersey left at the intersection of 12th with Union and Madison. Again, I was traveling south on 12th on my way home from work. Both of us ended up sprawled on the street just a couple of blocks from the site of my December accident. No major injuries this time, thank God. My bike took some damage, but mostly just cosmetic. Steel frames are amazing.

I’m not damaged, but it may be a while again before I bike to work. Before December, I rode pretty religiously 3-5 times per week. After the concussion, it was about 3 months before I got back in the saddle and then it was only for the occasional sunny day ride. My bike commuting went from 3-5 times per week to 3-5 times per month. Last night was one of those rare rides.

It’s a little ironic, at least Alanis Morisette ironic, that as I walked my bike out of the office yesterday, I mentioned to a co-worker that I don’t ride as much as I used to since my December crash. She wished me a safe ride home.

It’s the good advice that I just didn’t take

Who would’ve thought, it figures.

Before gearing up for my ride home, I spent some time with a different co-worker checking out a new collision reporting web site. Tim Ganter does a nice job ranking and mapping auto collisions (car on car, car on pedestrian, car on bike) in Seattle since 2006. Turns out that Capitol Hill is a popular spot for ramming people and parked cars. In the past 12 months, we rank third in number of collisions (508), first in collision-related serious injuries (10), and first in collisions with possible injuries (59). We rank first in number of parked cars hit (97), second in DUI cases (20), second in number of pedestrians struck (37) and first in number of cyclists struck (23).

WTF, Capitol Hill drivers?

For the record, that last number is low. I looked at Ganter’s map and my December run-in with the sideswiper didn’t get counted. Also not counted are collisions between two or more bicycles, or collisions of bicycles with pedestrians, or pedestrians with pedestrians, or pedestrians with parked cars.

Ganter is pulling data from SDOT, and I suppose a focus on collisions involving cars (weighing 4000+ pounds) are the ones most concerning. I can attest that colliding with another bicycle sucks and cyclists can be fucking IDIOTS (I’m talking about you, Katherine A!). But a car crash can kill you. Seven people have died in Capitol Hill car collisions in just the past six months. We can and must do better.

In 2015, the City of Seattle “launched” (their word, I wonder how one launches a vision) Vision Zero setting a goal of zero car crash fatalities or serious injury related accidents by 2030. Clearly, we have a long way to go in Capitol Hill and across the City, especially in Seattle’s denser urban villages where 80 percent of pedestrian-impacted collisions occur and where crashes with pedestrians and bicycles most frequently happen during commute hours.

It’s no wonder people are afraid to bike to work, or even walk through certain intersections on Capitol Hill. If we’re to achieve zero fatalities or serious injury accidents by 2030 (and preferably before then), even as more people move into the neighborhood, there are a few things we need to prioritize:

    1. Slower speeds
    2. Safer separation for pedestrians and cyclists
    3. Better crossings for pedestrians and cyclists
    4. Better enforcement of traffic and parking laws
    5. Fewer idiots

Okay, it’s hard to control for number 5, so can we please hurry up with 1-4?

http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/Ghost-bikes-offer-eerie-reminder-to-share-the-1179751.php

Meet the Capitol Hill Renter Initiative Leadership Committee!

In early spring, six neighborhood advocates were nominated and confirmed to join the first Leadership Committee for the Capitol Hill Renter Initiative. This vibrant group of renters come to their new roles with a diverse range of interests and lived experiences and share a united vision for creating a more sustainable and affordable Capitol Hill. Throughout the next year these leaders will provide guidance and strategic direction for CHRI advocacy, shaping our outreach efforts while affirming CHRI’s commitment to elevating the voice of renters’ in Capitol Hill.

As they grow into their role, this group of dedicated renter leaders will play a vital part in advocating for the vision, goals, and future of the Capitol Hill Renter Initiative, help us welcome them into their new roles!

Learn more about each of our new renter leaders:

Ryan (Jonesy) Jones

My name is Ryan Jones (Jonesy) and I have been living in Seattle just shy of two and a half years in the same Capitol Hill apartment.  Living in a micro-apartment has inspired me to better understand the issues surrounding this type of housing as well as other issues related to housing in Seattle.  I really believe in the work that CHRI does and I would be pleased to assist with the strategic direction of CHRI as well as work on some of its specific projects and efforts.  I have always been interested in environmental issues and I view housing, transportation, and planning as being integral to the ecological and social well-being of communities.

Austin Valeske

I’m a software engineer with Socrata, a civic tech company where we help government make data driven decisions and open data to the public. I spend the rest of my time fighting for transit justice, housing affordability, inclusive zoning, and racial justice by organizing with the Capitol Hill Renter’s Initiative, Seattle Tech Solidarity, and the Capitol Hill Neighborhood Action Coalition. Increasing density, access to opportunity, and access to transit is a fundamental piece of fighting climate change and reducing inequity in our city.

Myra Lara

I’m an architectural designer by day and cartoonist by night. I moved to Seattle in 2010 for the sole purpose of living sustainably, growing creatively, and fighting “the man” among like-minded people. My current priorities are housing affordability for all peoples (especially new multifamily affordable housing and re-legalizing the “missing middle” in single family zones), racial justice (learning about, acknowledging our complicity, and actively fixing our segregated cities – to especially have women of color as urban leaders), mass transit and neighborhood connectivity. I live on the hill because I live car-less, bike-full, and thrive on art, living near friends, and weirdness. I’ve been living in this neighborhood since 2010.

Zach Lubarsky

I’m Zach, a ~3-month Capitol Hill/First Hill resident. I lived in Belltown for 3 years, and New York State before that. I’m interested in zoning and how that interacts with community building and affordability. I’d love to give renters a bigger ear to our city wide and district politicians, city, county, and, state.

Noelle Symanski

As a Capitol Hill renter, I feel committed to the Capitol Hill Renter Initiative’s goal of addressing affordability and mobility challenges. Capitol Hill is a vibrant and diverse neighborhood, and I wish to support my community members in building a coalition that gives voice to renters from all backgrounds. I am particularly passionate about recruiting and affirming involvement of Capitol Hill residents that are not traditionally represented in neighborhood groups or state and local government processes.

 Andy Katz

After watching Capitol Hill grow and change over the eight years I’ve rented here, I now have the time to engage more actively with our community and to advocate on behalf of the renters who comprise the majority of Capitol Hill residents, including the most vulnerable and marginalized.  I’m most passionate about affordable housing and transit advocacy, and I’m excited to deepen my understanding of inclusionary land use initiatives like MHA upzones so we can build the best, most affordable, and most equitable Seattle possible.  If time and energy permit, I’d also like to explore connecting our renter livability work group with city and county efforts to address the homelessness and opioid addiction crisis, e.g. by creating supervised consumption sites.  I’m excited about the opportunity to meet and serve alongside my Capitol Hill neighbors.

Thank you to our renter leaders for your dedication and service to the community!

As we grow into 2017, it’s important for the Capitol Hill Renter Initiative to reflect the diverse interests of renters in Capitol Hill. This includes building a leadership structure that reflects the diversity of the neighborhood. We reserved at least one spot on the Leadership Committee for a renter living in subsidized affordable housing. We are also open to expanding membership to include diverse and intersectional perspectives. We encourage folks from all identities including people of color, and LGBTQ people, women, and renters from all ages and abilities to talk to us about joining the Leadership Committee. No need for previous experience, just an interest in taking on a leadership role and passion for renter advocacy. Contact cwalther@capitolhillhousing.org for more details or if you have questions.  

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