Livable Green Lake

– Greater Awareness of the Impact of Growth in the Green Lake Community –

Green Lake Mixed Use at 419 NE 71st St is a large, 130-unit complex currently under construction in the east Green Lake community. It first caught our attention because a project now under review at 417 NE 73rd St was required to look at its parking spillover as part of a cumulative parking analysis.1

We’ve written extensively about 419, including that it was impossible for us to determine how its parking demand estimates had been calculated based solely on the information provided in its traffic study. We’ve also noted that John Shaw, the Seattle DCI transportation planner responsible for vetting the study, did not respond to multiple email requests from Livable Green Lake asking for clarification regarding these estimates.

Seattle requires traffic studies as part of the review process for many new projects. The reports, which are funded by developers, are the primary means the public has of understanding the impact of new development on local traffic and parking conditions. It is the responsibility of Seattle DCI to review them for thoroughness and accuracy.

A key claim in 419’s traffic report, which was prepared by Transportation Engineering NorthWest (TENW), is that its proximity to the future Roosevelt light rail station (LRT) will reduce vehicle ownership of 419 residents by 20 percent.

Roosevelt LRT won’t open until 2021, presumably meaning that reduction wouldn’t be realized for at least several years after 419 is completed. We showed here, using the same methods TENW used in its analysis2, that until then parking spillover from 419 onto neighborhood streets would be extensive. This result did not appear in the study TENW provided to Seattle DCI, which only reported— based on the LRT reduction—that 419 would have zero parking spillover.

That’s the first problem with TENW’s LRT claim.3 The second is whether it’s correct.

TENW provided no analysis or other evidence for it in their report. In an email exchange with Livable Green Lake, the firm stated that they had relied on Sound Transit documents for their calculation:

There are a number of Sound Transit documents we used to calc the reduction.

However, they did not respond to an email from Liveable Green Lake asking for a document source.

Mr. Shaw also did not respond to email requests for documentation for TENW’s LRT claim. Moreover, it appears that he never investigated or tried to verify it and that he was unaware of any analysis TENW had performed related to it.

We issued public record requests to both Sound Transit and Seattle DCI asking for all documents that had looked at the impact of proximity to LRT on vehicle ownership of residents in mixed use or apartment developments. The request to DCI also included all communication between TENW and DCI related to traffic and parking studies done for 419.

Based on the records we received from Seattle DCI, there is no indication Mr. Shaw ever questioned TENW about their parking analysis for 419, and the handful of concerns he did raise were with the project’s architect. For one inquiry, in March 2015—a full three months after TENW had delivered their traffic report for 419 to Seattle DCI—there was this email exchange:

[Mr. Shaw]
Am I correct in reading your earlier e-mail that residential parking will be limited to the 60 parking stalls on the lower level? If so, the project will have spillover parking in the evening/overnight, and will need to provide a parking utilization study. If this is the case, I will document this request in a correction notice. I don’t have any other outstanding questions or issues regarding the traffic or parking impacts of the project.

[Architect]
Outside of peak business hours, all stalls in the upper floor would also be available for peak demand of residential uses, expected to not exceed 83 stalls during evening hours based on the parking analysis completed by TENW of the proposed 130 apartment units.

[Mr. Shaw]
Thank you for the clarification. As long as the parking on the upper floor would be available to residents during the evening and overnight hours (as well as the parking on the lower level), we do not anticipate that the project would have any impacts on nearby on-street parking, and do not need any additional information.

Had Mr. Shaw quizzed TENW and dug into their analysis, he would have known his claim (highlighted) was highly doubtful since, as we noted above, the methods the firm used show there would be substantial parking spillover, at least until Roosevelt LRT went into service in 2021.

And maybe even after it went into service.

Sound Transit was unable to identify any documents in its records that looked at the impact of proximity to LRT on vehicle ownership in response to our records request. Presumably, TENW reached its conclusion for the LRT reduction by performing its own analysis using other Sound Transit material.

Seattle DCI was also unable to identify any documents on this subject. Moreover, in response to DCI’s public disclosure officer, Mr. Shaw stated he didn’t “have or know of any additional analysis by Sound Transit that would address” the issue, and was able to provide only a single document, consisting of a list of projects being built or proposed near light rail stations.

Based on these results and the fact Mr. Shaw never questioned TENW about their parking analysis, it appears he approved their LRT claim without ever seeing the evidence for it.

And as of the date of this post, the public has also not seen this evidence, despite it being central to the conclusions in 419’s parking analysis.

* * *

Mr. Shaw is also the transportation reviewer for 417 NE 73rd, the project mentioned at the top of this column. Katy Haima, the Seattle DCI planner for 417, has assured Livable Green Lake that DCI reviews the traffic studies for these projects. However, as we’ve written here and here, there are also issues with the parking analysis done for 417, raising serious questions about whether the reviews of these developer-funded reports are anything more than cursory.

Seattle DCI transportation planners regularly go before Seattle hearing examiners to provide testimony in support of projects being challenged by local communities. In the case of an appeal for a project in Fremont, for example, Mr. Shaw found the project’s parking study to be “sound and consistent with the Code.” That appeal, like so many others of this nature heard by city hearing examiners, failed. No doubt, this was partly due to Mr. Shaw’s expert testimony.

In April, Livable Green Lake met with Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien to discuss the issues we’ve raised on this blog and in community meetings regarding the traffic studies done for projects in the Green Lake community. In response to that meeting, his office later got back to us, saying they had contacted Seattle DCI and assuring us “we will all continue to work on being sure that the rules and regulations are followed as written, and that the city upholds our piece in this.”

Based on our experience, those “rules and regulations” are either being regularly broken—or are, for the most part, non-existent.

1 A cumulative parking analysis estimates the parking demand of nearby projects that are either undergoing review or under construction in order to assess the potential combined impact on future street parking availability.

2 Our analysis included corrections for several errors found in the original report.

3 If TENW had concluded there would be parking spillover onto the streets, they would have been required to also do a time-intensive parking utilization analysis that measured on-street parking utilization in the vicinity of 419 when parking demand at the project was greatest.

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