A version of this guest post, by Roger Valdez, originally appeared on the Seattle's Land Use Code blog.
Last night, Mayor Mike McGinn made the trip up to the Bitter Lake Community Center for one of his periodic town hall meetings with the public. As at all these meetings, city staffers were on the scene to help answer questions from citizens. One question that was widely expected to come up during the hour-and-a-half Q&A, but didn't, was the rezone around the Roosevelt light rail station.
I was bracing for an onslaught of angry neighbors opposing the increases in density that some of us had advocated for near the station. There was good reason to think that would happen: Last week, Roosevelt Neighborhood Council land-use chair Jim O'Halloran sent out an e-mail touting the plan the neighborhood worked on for years with the city, a plan that kept density limited at key properties in the area, and opposing taller buildings in the area.
Everything was going along fine until meetings for the station design were announced.
Then, something interesting happened. A number of committed bloggers and organizations started complaining to the city's Department of Planning and Development, McGinn, and city council members that the rezone plan DPD proposed was not enough. In any light rail station area, they said, buildings should be much taller: eight stories, 12 stories or more would be necessary all around the station to achieve the kind of population density needed to “support” the taxpayer’s investment in mass transit.
For whatever reason, though (a few signs like the one above aside) the anti-density forces didn't show.
Instead, the questions focused on things like sidewalks, regional transit, and why bikes aren’t required to have licenses like cars. (McGinn's answer to that last one: Only two percent of the city's transportation budget is bike-related, while three percent of the city commutes by bike; people who ride bikes pay into the same tax pool through property taxes that maintain roads; and bikes have a smaller impact on roads than cars.)
McGinn seems to have benefited from these town halls, fielding tough, even somewhat hostile questions about controversial projects with relative ease. A question came up about the road diet on NE 125th St.. A woman bemoaned that since the road diet kicked in on 130th she has to wait as much as three or four minutes longer to get into traffic from her parking lot. “Is it really worth what were spending on time and money for these?”
The mayor responded that, according to the city's speed patrol, speeds on 125th regularly exceed 40 miles an hour. At that speed, the fatality rate for pedestrians is 80 percent. As speed drops, death and injury drop as well. Road diets lower speeds.
McGinn then told two stories about kids who crossed in front of stopped cars only to be hit by cars swerving around those cars into the second travel lane. Sure, he said, it might mean waiting a few extra minutes, but road diets save lives. The answer seemed to catch the questioner off guard and the conversation moved on.
The most interesting story of the night was not about Roosevelt but another land use issue: People who live in their cars. Ember Knight and Graham Pruss showed up to ask the mayor about the new parking scofflaw legislation, which would allow city parking officers to put a boot on the cars of people who haven’t paid traffic tickets---including people who live in their cars. So, as Pruss’s sign pointed out, the new law would “impound people’s homes.”
This is the first time this issue has surfaced and the mayor promised to address it. Knight, who said she grew up in a camper parked on the streets of Ballard, said that if the law was in effect when she was young, she might have ended up living on the street. McGinn promised to work to find a solution before the law kicks in early next month.