Editior’s Note: This post was written by Great City super volunteer Jeff Reibman and David Neiman of the Congress of Residential Architects (CORA) who participated in the CORA team described below.

Photo courtesyof the CORA Team

The Seattle City Council’s Planning Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee (PLUNC) is considering an update to the Multifamily Zoning Code. To aid in their process they asked three groups to test run the new Low-rise sections of the proposed code to see what sort of outcomes we might produce on several different sites. Teams were asked to produce both “White Hat” schemes that showed to positive potential of the proposed code and “Black Hat” schemes that attempted to game the code to maximize development potential while producing results counter to it’s intent. The goal of the exercise was to help council members visualize the real world impact of the proposed changes and to see how it could be modified to better accomplish the city’s goals.

The three teams were picked to represent a spectrum of relevant ideas Team 1 was The Master Builders Association. Team 2 was The Congress of Residential Architects (CORA) with some involvement from Great City. Team 3 represented longtime neighborhood advocates.

CORA’s team was represented by a number of seasoned multi-family architects who drew on their experience to test a wide range of ideas. Our black hat schemes were intended to illustrate extreme of significant loopholes and unintended consequences while our white hat schemes highlighted the type of development we hope to see more of and advocated for changes that would incentivize it.

On 9/24/09 all three teams presented to PLUNC in council chambers. CORA displayed and explained the 20 boards posted here to council members and the public. Here is a link to the Executive Summary (Small PDF) and here is a link to the Full Report (Big PDF – 13 MB). Of eleven recommendations that would close the major loopholes exploited by the bad schemes & provide additional flexibility where it would allow the good schemes to be improved. Our major recommendations include:

  1. Reduce allowable FAR for ground-based housing. Above 1.1 FAR, the wheels start to come off the cart for most ground based housing schemes. At 1.4 FAR most ground based housing schemes are a disaster. We need to revisit allowable FAR & use it as a tool to reward desirable features & outcomes. For small-lot ground-based housing, FAR needs to be kept relatively low. For structured parking solutions, large lots, and projects that undergo full design review, higher FAR is appropriate.
  2. The residential amenities requirement is far too permissive – it reduces open space to an afterthought. It’s not hard to correct. The requirements just need to be dialed up to be more significant. See executive summary for proposal.
  3. Lift the density limits in all L-zones to allow diverse unit types, sizes, affordability levels.
  4. Return to a 30′ base height limit for all L-zones w/ a 4′ height bonus in L3 for structured parking.
  5. Encourage basements by exempting them from FAR – you get a privacy grade break & create opportunities for inexpensive rental flats.
  6. Reduce required Green factor. If it were working, it would incentivize open space, privacy screening, tree planting & permeability. It does none of those things; it simply covers your land in shrubs & your walls in vines.

We need volunteers to help count bicyclists and pedestrians in 25 cities in Washington this week.

If you are available for a 2-hour shift on September 29, 30 or October 1, please help us to count pedestrians and bicyclists between 7 – 9 am or 4 – 6 pm.

The Cascade Bicycle Club is working with the Washington State Department of Transportation to track growth in bicycling and walking.

We’ll collect data to advocate for better sidewalks, bike lanes and other safe facilities.

It’s easy!  Just e-mail organizer@cascadebicycleclub.org and we will set you up with instructions and let you know which intersections need volunteers.

For more information on the Project, click here.

If you can’t join us, please help us to recruit more volunteers by forwarding the message along to your friends in Bellevue, Bellingham, Bothell, Bremerton, Burien, Ellensburg, Everett, Issaquah, Kent, Kirkland, Longview, Kelso, Oak Harbor, Olympia, Richland, Redmond, Spokane, Tacoma, Vancouver, Walla Walla, Wenatchee, Yakima, Ferndale, Lynden, Tukwila, and Burien.

They can contact us at: organizer@cascadebicycleclub.org or 206- 957-0689.

Thank you for your help. Please contact us with any questions!


Letter From Copenhagen Hamburg & Lubeck

I was in Germany (specifically Hamburg and Lubeck) over the weekend and I found this:

That is a bike lane, and a really questionable idea. As a result of running these bike lanes on the sidewalk I witnessed many “near-hit” incidents between cyclists and pedestrians. Admittedly, some of these were a direct result of clueless tourists not recognizing that the seemingly arbitrary lines in the middle of the walkway were actually a separate bicycle right of way. However, even native Hamburgers (?) were occasionally seen to mistakenly venture into these lanes only to be nearly run down.

By running the lane down on the sidewalk, what you are essentially creating is a woonerf (mixed space street) for cyclists. The success of the woonerf is that they make it uncomfortable to drive at speed by forcing drivers to share the right of way with cyclists and pedestrians. By eliminating their separate vehicular right of way, the street no longer “belongs” to the driver as pedestrians and cyclists are given free rein on where they can be. Instead of pedestrians and cyclists entering the cars “domain” when they cross the street, as is normally the case, a woonerf makes the car become the “intruder.” This in turn makes the driver slow down, and can even discourage them from driving all together.

When you eliminate the car from the equation, the people whom you discourage are the cyclists. By running these lanes down the center of the walkway or right of way you guarantee that pedestrians will enter the cyclists’ “zone,” and this will (in principle) cause the cyclists to slow down. Or at least it will most of the time (as an aside, the lack of open container laws creates a very interesting dynamic with pedestrians and these bike lanes, especially later on in the evening). Ultimately, making cyclists uncomfortable hardly seems like an incentive for them to get out and ride, much less to replace their cars.

On to other things -

I want there to be a Segway City Tour in Seattle (although that may just be my love of Arrested Development talking). But should these things be allowed to drive on the sidewalks? Unlike cyclists, who will slow down somewhat while riding on a crowded sidewalk, the Segway driver (or at least the ones I have encountered) will not do that. Making them tourists and parading around in herds does not change the behavior, even if it does look a bit hilarious. These are motored vehicles, and their top speed is 20 km/h – just about the speed a bicycle should be traveling in the city.

Bicycles belong in a place where riders won’t be worried about mowing down pedestrians (be that on a cycletrack or sharing the right of way with cars on the street) and so should vehicles that travel at the similar speeds. Why should Segways be treated any differently?

PARK(ing) Day 09.18.09

SAM Downtown
Hosted by Great City
Organized by Cheryl dos Remédios

Thanks to 4Culture, Cascade Bicycle, greenmuseum.org, Anne McDuffie, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs, Seattle Parks & Recreation, Seattle Summer Streets, Perla Sitcov, SvR Design, Talking Box Media and all of our wonderful volunteers!


A Low Impact Vehicle experience (aLIVe) rethinks our transportation system by focusing on the human body. Right now, we design our street grid around 40 ton trucks, but what if we designed around our bodies instead? A bicycle is a low impact vehicle. It’s designed around the human body and doesn’t take much space. The organizers of aLIVe are inviting artists, inventors, designers and community members to create everything from prototypes to poetry.

Artist Peter Reiquam designed and built the Walk and Roll. Inspired by a picture he remembers seeing of a modern dance troupe performing with large diameter bicycle wheels as part of their costumes, he tried to imagine how the devices might be used and how he could interpret this stage prop to create a low impact vehicle that would conserve energy and be fun to ride. The prototype he is displaying is entitled Walk and Roll. . . . Two large wheels, five and a half feet in diameter are linked by an axle. The rider stands between the wheels, the axle attached to a hoop that encircles the rider. When walking, the user pushes the vehicle around with one wheel on the rider’s left side and the other on the right. The rider can then bend his/her legs, sit in a sling-seat suspended from the central ring, pick up his/her feet and begin to roll. . . .

Artist Vaughn Bell’s Vehicles for Slowness is not an object but a series of instructions and actions. Ask for a copy of Vaughn’s instruction booklet at the aLIVe table.

The DIY LIV Table allows you to make your own LIV model! Imagine new types of vehicles and new ways to use our roadways.


Be a part of aLIVe by posting your ideas and comments. Visit my.greatcity.org and choose the aLIVe group. By joining the group, you can also receive updates about when and where aLIVe is happening next.


The multi-phase Low-Impact Vehicle experience (aLIVe) seeks to address the scale of our transportation system. Our built environment is increasingly defined by and designed around high-impact vehicles such as cars, trucks, semis, and even motorcycles. As the scale of our built environment has increased, so has its impact on our economic, environmental and cultural health. Vehicles must be designed to withstand high-speed collisions, which significantly increases their cost and the resources required to manufacture, operate and store them. They rely on fossil fuels, they pollute, and they require extensive transportation infrastructure and economic subsidies to be effective.

aLIVe is looking for new ways to reduce the impact of transportation on air and water quality, in terms of vehicular emissions and land use. Our hope is that by creating low-impact alternatives to existing modes of transportation, we can decrease our use of fossil fuels, reduce vehicular emissions, and prevent unchecked growth of the transportation network. In Seattle, for example, 40% of the city’s total land mass is used to move and store private vehicles on roadways and in parking lots, garages and alleys. Of that, 26% of Seattle’s land is in the public’s “right-of-way,” which is, with the exception of transit and freight, primarily given over to single occupancy vehicles. These paved surfaces contribute to climate change in several ways: they radiate heat; they eliminate portions of the tree canopy; and they increase storm water runoff, which is the largest source of pollutants flowing into Puget Sound, annually flushing 22,580 tons of oil and pollutants into its waters. A greater diversity of transportation options would allow us to re-examine land use both locally and nationally, which is key to improving air, climate and water quality.

How do we define a low-impact vehicle (LIV)? The simplest example of a LIV is a bicycle. Bicycles are designed to be easily propelled by the rider. They offer a low-cost alternative to cars, and they require fewer resources to manufacture, operate and store. They contribute minimally to pollution. For safety, a cyclist relies on specially designed protective gear, which also requires fewer resources to manufacture and purchase, and offers greater flexibility than features built into the vehicle itself. Bike-only or bike-friendly routes are typically also pedestrian-friendly, and do not adversely affect the air quality, tree canopy, or sensitive habitat areas.

In general, a LIV:

  • is designed around the human bodyhas minimal impact in case of collision.
  • has a standard operating speed of 20 mph or less.
  • has a small carbon footprint to manufacture and operate.
  • has a small land-use footprint—it does not take up much space to drive or store.
  • promotes the use of mass transit by providing an effective way to complete trips (In Seattle, for example, Sound Transit light rail stations are being placed 2½ miles apart on a north/south grid—the perfect setup for a commuter solution that involves LIVs.)

What do we mean when we talk about designing LIVs around the human body? Research shows that humans are designed to travel at a top sprinting speed of 20 miles per hour. After that, the risk of fatality increases exponentially, which is why designing cars, trucks, semis and motorcycles to be on the road together consumes so many resources. Designing vehicles to run at lower speeds and creating specialized gear for user protection allows LIVs to have smaller footprints and to be lighter and easier to propel. A LIV could even be collapsible. Ultimately, aLIVe proposes we repurpose portions of the existing street grid for LIVs so they can be used safely. This will also reduce the amount of pavement needed, allowing us to reduce carbon emissions, reclaim space for the tree canopy, and preserve watersheds.
LIVs may encourage the use of alternative energies for propulsion and offer more human-powered options, for significant environmental and public health benefits. LIVs may also dovetail with the goals of green business development. aLIVe aims to foster the design of production systems that can be replicated across regions to stimulate the economy through locally sourced materials and the creation of local green jobs.

Right now, a bike is the only LIV that is permitted on our roadways. Not everyone can ride a bicycle, and most people can’t use a bike as their only form of transportation. We need more LIV options to make low-impact mobility available to all.

aLIVe focuses on new thinking about LIVs—what is possible when we design around the human body? We’re asking artists, inventors and designers to create their vision of LIVable vehicles and LIVable communities that will enthrall, amaze, amuse and inspire.

As much as our transportation system is a physical reality, it’s also a metaphor for our way of life. As a culture, we’ve internalized the myth of freedom on our freeways and failed to recognize the economic burden and environmental damage incurred. We fail to see the inherent paradox of a “faster, safer” vehicle. Worse, subsidizing our vast transportation networks shifts resources away from the things most central to preserving our culture and way of life, such as education, health care and the arts.

To paraphrase the essayist Rebecca Solnit, as we risk losing our natural world to pavement, we also risk losing the world of our imagination. In Greek, “metaphor” means to travel, and as humans, we need to travel outside our immediate experience and out into the natural world to free our imaginations. If we only experience manmade environments, we begin to lose touch with our cultural language.

aLIVe aims to repurpose existing resources and redefine the basic unit by which we design our communities. aLIVe is a chance to begin establishing a vision for systemic change. Imagine LIVs driving down LIVable streets, where the right-of-way extends to children playing beneath a LIVing infrastructure of shade trees. With LIV’s the opportunities for LIVable communities truly come aLIVe.


I-Sustain Report on Transportation in Copenhagen

Continuing along with our recent theme of Copenhagen sustainability envy, we want to give a shout out to our friends at International Sustainable Solutions (www.i-sustain.com), a local non-profit that strives educate urban professionals and decision makers about the best sustainability practices happening around the globe.

I-Sustain has loaned some reports documenting some best practices from their recent sustainability tours that took place in, you guessed it, Copenhagen! We’ll be posting on our blog over the next few weeks.

The first one focuses on transpiration. You can download it here:
Solutions at a Glance: Can Reliable Efficient Transit Limit the Numbers of Second Cars? (PDF, 353K)

Thank you I-Sustain for lending us your report and hooray for Copenhagen!

Note: Ryan Miller is a Seattle University student majoring in Political Science. He is currently studying abroad in Copenhagen and will be writing blog posts for Great City about his experiences and impressions of the Danish Capitol (and possibly other locations around Europe).

Hej (Hi)

With Copenhagen (spelled København and pronounced Kew-bin-hawn if you ask the Danes) currently being inundated by heavy rains, I have finally been allowed a free moment to sit down and reflect on the first week I have spent here rather than continuing to attempt to explore and experience as much of this city as I can (while the daylight lasts).

Some quick (and relatively boring) biographical information about myself before I begin this blog in earnest:

My name is Ryan Miller and I am a 19-year old senior at Seattle University majoring in political science. Upon graduation in the spring, I intend of pursuing a career in environmental policy planning, with particular interest in transportation systems (and using a lot of parenthesis). Outside of academics, I am an avid cyclist (I have been racing since I was 10) so the amount of snobbery and elitism I am with which I’m burdened when it comes to cycling knows no bounds. My bike I am staying with a host family in Amager (pronounced Ah-ma), and as part of my housing my host family provided me with a bicycle. Normally, I might refer to the quality of this bicycle using a rather derogatory slang term for defecation. However, this is a family friendly place so I shall instead call this bike “remarkably utilitarian.” That said, the 30-lb aluminum framed bicycle is equipped with all the things a person could want from a basic bicycle in a flat city. It has fenders (a necessity as Copenhagen is very similar to Seattle in terms of weather), lights (there is a rather substantial fine if the police catch you without them at night), and a three-speed gear system that will OCCASIONALLY shift when you want it to.

Exploring the City by Bike and Metro

Much to my surprise upon heading out on my first ride into the city, this bicycle is turns out to be somewhat luxurious. Perhaps my understanding of “cycling culture” is clouded by all the spandex wearing and leg shaving I normally partake in, but the informality of Copenhagen’s cyclists came as a huge surprise to me. Unlike bicycle commuters in Seattle, who typically ride to work wearing more cycling-specific clothing (or at least shoes) and then change upon arrival to work, the people of Copenhagen will simply ride to work in whatever they intend to wear that day. I have seen men in suits riding to work with the only modification to their wardrobe being that they have pulled their right sock over their pants to avoid anything getting caught in their chain. More surprising to me, however, are the many women riding to work in their high heels. My personal knowledge of riding in heels is (so far) non-existent, but of the Seattleites I have talked to, the consensus amongst them is that they would “rather ride barefoot” than attempt to ride in heels. Read more