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On Friday, I took a walking tour of Linden Ave. N between 130th and 145th -partof the Broadview/Bitter Lake/Haller Lake neighborhood that is scheduled for a neighborhood plan update in 2010. I was joined by members of the community, staff from the Department of Neighborhoods (DON), and Deputy Mayor Daryl Smith, among others. I have taken this tour a couple times before, and visited the neighborhood numerous times, yet something finally struck me on this visit.
If you are familiar with my past work at the Sierra Club or Great City or the issues I campaigned on, you know that I am a fan of density. The more people on our planet choose to live in cities, the smaller their footprint – fewer resources, less land, less energy, and less carbon. But no one will choose to live in slums so we cannot allow the affordable, dense neighborhoods to turn into them. We need to create amazing cities – with exciting and diverse neighborhoods, and easy access to city amenities. Not to mention the diverse opportunities for social engagement.
Linden Avenue North should be a poster child for this work. In the past few years, at least three new developments added approximately 865 new units, much of it dedicated to affordable housing and senior housing. This is on top of over 1300 pre-existing units covering a much-needed range of affordability. We can expect a couple more projects when the economy turns around. For perspective, this is about one quarter of the housing created in South Lake Union over the same period.
One block to the east is Aurora Ave. N with grocery stores, drug stores, restaurants and other services we all want close by. The 358 Metro Bus Route operates up and down Aurora connecting Shoreline to downtown Seattle and points in between from 4:30 am to 12:30 am with frequencies (headways) less than 10 minutes apart during rush hour. To the north and south of Linden Ave, the old interurban trolley line connects Greenwood to Shoreline with a converted, dedicated bike/pedestrian trail. On the west side of Linden is the Bitter Lake playfield, with tennis courts, a great community center with a gym, and a kids’ play area. A few blocks to the north is a Seattle Public Utilities drinking water reservoir with open space around the edge.
Why isn’t Linden Ave. N my dream come true? There is a nice sidewalk in front of the new developments, but it ends at the end of the block. Much of the 15 block stretch on the east side of Linden has no sidewalk – an asphalt road tapers into gravel parking and then into blackberry bushes, with no clear safe space for pedestrians. The west side of the street is slightly better, with intermitten and sidewinder sidewalks. I can’t imagine navigating this sidewalk with limited mobility. Senior housing is less than 100 yards door to door from the Bitter Lake Community Center, but crossing the street is a challenge. There is a crosswalk at 130th, but then no marked crossing until you get to 135th. Going an extra 200 yards for some of these folks can mean the difference between getting outside or not.
Trying to get to shops on Aurora on foot is a completely different challenge. Roads with no sidewalks, massive parking lots to navigate, and overpasses that are not wheelchair accessible, with no at-grade cross walk alternative. While the bus stop has a nice platform, getting to that platform is another challenge because it is a pedestrian island in a sea made for cars.
The bike/pedestrian trail is another missing link. South of 125th and north of 145th the trail is amazing, but for 20 blocks, it is a no-bike zone. A neighborhood P-patch to promote local food production and community, on land the city already owns, has been discussed for three years but is still a dream.
I am frustrated because these all seem like reasonable amenities that should be mandatory with the type of development that Linden Ave is absorbing. It would be one thing if the city departments had not been trying to make this dream a reality, but they have been working on it. Seattle Public Utilities, SDOT, City Light, Parks, and the Department of Neighborhoods have worked together to create a draft plan for how to move forward, but we have not made it a priority – we have not funded it.
As we start the neighborhood plan update process in the Broadview/Bitter Lake /Haller Lake neighborhood around Linden Avenue, these are the questions I am asking – Why hasn’t the city made the proper investments on Linden Avenue as density has increased? How can we ensure that this doesn’t happen in other neighborhoods? How much will these investments cost? If we can’t figure out how to make these investments pencil out, we need to rethink our whole model of sustainability.
We know what this neighborhood could look like. I believe we are ready to rally together the neighbors and the great urban thinkers in Seattle to transform Linden Avenue into a model for neighborhood development. Can we do it?
*Note: A .14 acre neighborhood P-patch at 143rd and Linden Ave N is on the docket for Phase 1 of the Parks Levy development projects, planning and design are underway, and the estimated completion date is Sept 1st this year.