Tag Archives: Seattle

6 Places Where Cars, Bikes, and Pedestrians All Share the Road As Equals

Can you imagine some select streets in Saskatoon doing this?

If you aren’t a traffic engineer or an urban planner, the word woonerf probably looks like a typo, or maybe the Twitter handle of whoever runs marketing for Nerf (woo!). But you might want to get familiar with the term—Dutch for “living street”—because the urban design concepts it embraces are on the rise.

A woonerf is a street or square where cars, pedestrians, cyclists, and other local residents travel together without traditional safety infrastructure to guide them. Also sometimes called a “shared street,” a woonerf is generally free of traffic lights, stop signs, curbs, painted lines, and the like. The basic idea is that once these controls are stripped away, everyone is forced to become more alert and ultimately more cooperative. Through less restraint comes greater focus.

The decades-old vision is not without its critics. Skeptics wonder if drivers feel too much ownership of the road to adapt their ways, or if shared streets can work fine for smaller towns but not in big urban centers, or if removing oversight is naïve at a time when people won’t even stop texting to drive. Then there’s the general critique pointed out by Traffic author Tom Vanderbilt in a 2008 article about shared streets: “people do act like idiots.”

All fair points (especially the last). Butwoonerf supporters can point to the success of shared streets projects in Europe as well as their gradual adoption inother parts of the world—including major cities in the auto-centric United States. Construction of Chicago’s first shared street, for instance, is expected to begin this spring.

I know this ship has sailed but Victoria Avenue with a pedestrian bridge would have been ideal for this.  So would parts of 20th Street.

Why Are Developers Still Building Sprawl?

Boomers and Millennials say they want to live in compact, walkable developments, but builders are putting their money into suburban McMansions

There are communities that have successfully made the shift to building more compact, walkable developments, even in the most unlikely places. Some of the most excessive sprawl during the housing boom, for instance, occurred in the inland areas of Northern California, places like Brentwood, Antioch, Vacaville. But those areas are now rethinking what kind of building they want to allow, and what kind they don’t.

“There was, up until 2008, a profound overbuilding of single-family homes,” Jeremy Madsen, with the Greenbelt Alliance, a Bay Area smart-growth group, told me. “The ‘drive ’til you qualify’ syndrome ran rampant in the Bay Area.”

Now, many of these developments are half empty or unfinished, waiting for demand to come back—if it ever will. But cities in the Bay Area are starting to put in urban-growth boundaries, which prevent building from happening outside of that area. Voters handily defeated a proposal to allow developers to build on Doolan Canyon, an open space outside of the city of Dublin’s urban-growth boundary. In the city of Windsor, in Sonoma County, a new-urbanist developer decided to create a downtown and built a mixed-use combination of offices, retail, and homes near a transit station. And a planning commission in Stockton, another epicenter of the housing boom and bust, recently said no to developers who wanted approval to build 2,000 homes on what is currently farmland, the first-time observers could remember the commission doing so.

Even San Jose, once considered just a giant suburb of San Francisco, has shifted its mentality, Madsen said. The city’s newest general plan, adopted in 2011, emphasizes ‘smart growth’ and called for the growth of ‘urban villages’ located along current and future transit lines. It promotes infill development rather than sprawling out to open lands, aims to reduce the number of trips that have to be made by car, and rethinks street design to encourage walking and biking.

“I think we’ve moved into a different era in the Bay Area in term of how we’re going to grow in the future,” Madsen told me. “The consumer preference side of things appears to be changing.”

But, he said, even though leaders and consumers might be on the same page, it isn’t going to be easy, since a lot of the zoning and building layouts are from the old era.
“There’s going to be a major challenge when it comes to implementing this shift, but there’s a critical mass of opinion and market direction to get it going,” he said.
It’s easy to dismiss the Bay Area’s plans as another California anomaly. But California often leads the rest of the country when it comes to adopting environmentally-friendly policies that are sustainable for the long term.

Other areas may continue to eschew ‘smart growth,’ and just as America is divided politically, it could become a more divided country in the way its residents live. People in cities such as Washington D.C., Boston, and Seattle, will want more walkable developments, while consumers in what Leinberger calls “the laggards,” including Phoenix, Dallas, and Las Vegas, will continue to live in sprawling suburbs.

But it’s also possible that Boomers and Millennials in the laggard cities will come around. After all, even in Las Vegas and Atlanta, some builders are starting to shift their mentality. Zappos founder Tony Hsieh has poured $350 million into downtown Las Vegas, creating a shopping center built from shipping containers, mixed-use residential development, and a host of walkable amenities like a donut shop and a bookstore. And in Atlanta, a developer is in the midst of converting a former Sears building near downtown to a mixed-use community of apartments, restaurants, and retail.

Not everyone will want to live in downtown environments like these. But if they’re appealing to consumers, they could motivate a whole new segment of buying, even in cities such as Las Vegas and Atlanta. If consumers come around to “smart growth” in those areas, perhaps builders will too.

And now the FBI…

Now it is the FBI that is forging websites to catch high school criminals

The FBI in Seattle created a fake news story on a bogus Seattle Times web page to plant software in the computer of a suspect in a series of bomb threats to Lacey’s Timberline High School in 2007, according to documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in San Francisco.

The deception was publicized Monday when Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C., revealed it on Twitter.

In an interview, Soghoian called the incident “outrageous” and said the practice could result in “significant collateral damage to the public trust” if law enforcement begins co-opting the media for its purposes.

The EFF documents reveal that the FBI dummied up a story with an Associated Press byline about the Thurston County bomb threats with an email link “in the style of The Seattle Times,” including details about subscriber and advertiser information.

The link was sent to the suspect’s MySpace account. When the suspect clicked on the link, the hidden FBI software sent his location and Internet Protocol information to the agents. A juvenile suspect was identified and arrested June 14.

The revelation brought a sharp response from the newspaper.

“We are outraged that the FBI, with the apparent assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, misappropriated the name of The Seattle Times to secretly install spyware on the computer of a crime suspect,” said Seattle Times Editor Kathy Best.

“Not only does that cross a line, it erases it,” she said.

“Our reputation and our ability to do our job as a government watchdog are based on trust. Nothing is more fundamental to that trust than our independence — from law enforcement, from government, from corporations and from all other special interests,” Best said. “The FBI’s actions, taken without our knowledge, traded on our reputation and put it at peril.”

An AP spokesman also criticized the tactic.

“We are extremely concerned and find it unacceptable that the FBI misappropriated the name of The Associated Press and published a false story attributed to AP,” Paul Colford, director of AP media relations. “This ploy violated AP’s name and undermined AP’s credibility.”

Before we jump all over the FBI, it happens more than you think and has similar things happened recently in Saskatoon with false news stories planted in the media.  That and the Seattle Times got it’s outrage wrong.  You don’t need spyware to get an I.P. address.

Seattle tries to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up

A conversation every city needs to have

Does Seattle know how to grow?

You’d think so, with all those construction cranes back and so many mega-projects underway. We’re about to get expanded light rail, a new waterfront, a massive downtown tunnel, a super-sized 520 bridge, and a Mercer Mess that has been tidied up after 50 years of complaining. Growth would seem to be the least of our problems.

But there are some who think these endeavors are not enough. We could do more, do it bigger, do it better and, they believe, we had better get to it because we’re facing big economic challenges. Boeing, for example, has become a constant worry. The company is doing a slow retreat from Puget Sound, and keeping key parts of Boeing’s work here is getting increasingly expensive for taxpayers. Some $9 billion in new tax breaks have been offered to keep 777X work here. Even so, without a major transportation package and with major union concessions just voted down, Boeing is looking for a better deal elsewhere.

Another foundation of our economy is showing signs of change, and age. Microsoft has reached maturity and experienced enough marketplace failures (Vista, Zune, Surface) that a major management shift is underway. We’ve grown accustomed to Redmond being a perennial powerhouse and millionaire-generator in the Gates-Ballmer era, but will that roll continue?

Seattle sees itself as a special incubator of the next big commercial success — and the new Bezos family-funded “Center for Innovation” at the Museum of History and Industry that opened this fall is a shrine to this self-image. We’ve scored with Starbucks, Nordstrom, Costco and Amazon, for example. But in the tech sector there’s some thought that we haven’t reached our silicon potential, that we’re over-due for a new major success a la Google or Facebook.

Sure, we’re a pretty good place for start-ups, but Seattle tech booster Chris DeVore recently wrotethat while Seattle is pretty good at launching companies, “It’s been a long time since a new Seattle-based company produced a huge windfall.” He means a company, like Microsoft or Amazon, that lifted employees and investors by generating lots of wealth. “If I had to put my finger on the one thing we could do to improve our weak ‘startup rate,’ it would be to produce more explosive wins in Seattle…” he wrote. That would benefit start-ups and companies all up and down the food chain and generate money to invest in new ventures. Apparently, the tech sector needs a new blockbuster.

Another voice encouraging Seattle and Washington to take it to the next level is Microsoft executive vice president and general counsel Brad Smith. In October, he addressed the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce’s annual Leadership Conference, an appropriate place for business leaders to inspire the team with a growth-oriented Gipper speech. I also had a chance to talk with him afterwards. In his speech, he said “[I]f there is a moment in time when we can come together and focus on raising our ambition, I think that moment is now.” With the state recovering economically, with greater global competition ahead (China, Brazil, South Carolina…), and with so much potential here, we need to get going, and set our sights higher.

To that end, his Gipper — or maybe "Skipper" — speech cited a nautical example. It was inspirational achievement of the University of Washington rowing crew who beat the odds to win a gold medal in 1936. These were local boys who had to raise their own money during the Depression to go to Germany, who had to race under rules that favored Hitler’s rowing team, and who took on the task of making America proud at the Nazi’s infamous Olympic Games. “It’s a reminder of what nine young men from humble background could achieve when they reached beyond themselves and worked as a team,” he said.

Tech entrepreneur is converting retired city buses into showers for the San Francisco homeless

I don’t know if I find this encouraging or depressing.

San Francisco is teeming with tech entrepreneurs who want to save the world but who’ll pass by the homeless person on the street without a second glance.

Doniece Sandoval, a Bay Area tech entrepreneur, is not one of them. Her latest trick? Turning retired city buses into mobile showers for the homeless. The initiative, known as Lava Mae, is a response to a desperate need in the city. According to the most recent count, more than 6,500 homeless people sleep on the street or in shelters in San Francisco, and there are only eight shower facilities specifically available to the homeless, and most of these have just one or two stalls and aren’t open every day.

I love the idea but I find the homeless number of 6,500 people more than a little depressing.  The idea of showers and facilities for the homeless has also been done quite well in Seattle at Urban Rest Stops.

The Urban Rest Stop (URS) is a hygiene center providing free restrooms, showers and laundry facilities to homeless men, women and children within a clean, safe and dignified environment. The URS has five private shower rooms, 9 washer and 14 dryer units, and large men’s and women’s restrooms. Patrons receive free toiletries including toothbrushes, toothpaste, disposable razors, shaving cream, shampoo and soap. Patrons may borrow overalls while they wash their clothes. 

Saskatoon’s Future: Being blackmailed by billionaires

As Saskatoon grows bigger, more and more people have talked about bringing a pro sports franchise to the city. Hockey has been dreamt about since Bill Hunter tried to bring the St. Louis Blues to Saskatoon in 1984.  We saw one group try to bring the Phoenix Coyotes here for at least a couple of games a season and there has been been some talk of a CFL franchise coming to Saskatoon (even if it meant that it would kill the Riders). A pro sports franchise would be fabulous in the short term. We would sell out Credit Union Centre and cough up money for some much needed renovations and capital improvements. There may even a new stadium built downtown, where Credit Union Centre should have been built in the first place.  That is how it will start out but let me tell you how it will end.

Over the weekend, the Edmonton Oilers’ owner and senior management went to Seattle to tour the Key Arena in an effort to get the City of Edmonton to pay for an even larger part of a $500 million dollar stadium deal. After getting the city to pay for the entire stadium up front and then giving billionaire owner Darryl Katz a sweetheart loan for his portion (to be paid back over 35 years), he wants an additional $6 million subsidy to run the arena. Instead of paying back his portion back $5.5 million a year, Katz is now demanding that he gets a free half-billion dollar stadium and $500,000 a year to run it. Where do I sign up?

Katz isn’t the only owner to behave badly. For every responsible sports owner with deep ties to his community, there are numerous ones that extort their community to buy them things or as the threat goes, they will move their franchise. The threat works as there is an empty hockey stadium in Kansas City and Seattle is building a new stadium to lure back the NBA (probably the Sacramento Kings).  Hockey is an excellent second tenant to make even more money. Seeing everyone else do it, enables even local billionaires to behave badly. Katz which has deep roots to the Edmonton area and is a very profitable market with a very loyal fan base is basically blackmailing the Edmonton city council to give him the deal that he wants or he will move a team that has spent its entire existence in Edmonton to Seattle.

Now that Seattle has reached out to him (and he has reached back), expect a Kansas City visit as well.  Why not play multiple markets off each other until Edmonton City Council responds to the bullying. While it doesn’t excuse Katz’s behaviour, many other owners behave the same way. The NFL has an empty Los Angeles market where the threat of teams moving to Los Angeles has gotten it better stadium deals in almost every market where the NFL has a new stadium. It will be used for leverage in the upcoming years in Jacksonville, Miami, Oakland, and San Diego. While FedEx Field in Washington is only 15 years old and still cutting edge, owner Daniel Snyder has already declared it as “half-life” and wants a new downtown, stadium.   Instead of wanting Washington to pay for it, he is willing, if they give him a big chunk of land to develop for free.  So why does a 15 year old stadium that is the largest in the NFL need to be replaced after only 15 years? He wants to keep up with the Giants/Jets/Cowboys and maybe even the new Rider stadium.  EIther the Washington taxpayers pay for the stadium or give him premium land for his own profit.  Either way, taxpayers pay. Just watch, if he doesn’t get what he wants, he will move the team. Threats of moving teams got a new stadium built in Miami even when there isn’t a great market left to move to and this was after Jeff Loria had already proven that he is the worst owner in sports (he destroyed the Montreal Expos).

Heading back to Seattle, the Key Arena was completely renovated in 1995 and brought to NBA standards. NBA commissioner David Stern called it state of the art but less than a decade later, he was in town demanding that Seattle build the Supersonics a new team, invest another $220 million into the stadium or they would move. When the city said no, the team moved to Oklahoma and became the Thunder. In 2002, the Charlotte Hornets moved to New Orleans because of their antiquated stadium that was built in 1988. The fans supported the team through 364 consecutive sell-outs but even that wasn’t enough to keep the team in town. The stadium didn’t make it’s 20th birthday before being demolished (it was 13 years old when Charlotte had their first referendum on building a new stadium).

This is what happens. Billionaire owners of profitable teams want more and the expectation is that taxpayers give it to them. It happens all over the place and as Saskatoon grows, it will happen here, whether it is a NHL team, a CFL team or even a AHL team; it’s great for a while and then all of us have to pay up for the right to buy tickets to watch a team. It’s a sick system and I feel bad for the City of Edmonton, Edmonton Oilers fans, and fans of sport in the city because it’s not right.

Will the same thing happen in Saskatoon?  If pro sports come to Saskatoon in a real way, of course it will.  We will tell ourselves that it won’t happen, we have local owners, and we are a growing market in a booming economy; just like Edmonton told itself when Katz bought the team.  It’s only a matter of time.

Seattle Post-Inquirer: One Year Later

It’s been a year since the Seattle Post Inquirer stopped publishing a print edition and moved to being an online only newsroom.  They released this video on YouTube explaining the process.

Before you get uncomfortable about losing your daily paper, the Star Phoenix’s national and international coverage comes from the wire services and most of it’s staff are all local.  Anyways, if you are inclined to burn the boats, this is a way to do it.