Tuesday, January 16, 2018

As neighborhoods go, downtown Olympia is pretty valuable

One of the most incredible things happened last week. The Thurston County GeoData Center released a huge swath of datasets that had previously been prohibitively expensive to access.

All the datasets are available to download, and if you have your own GIS application, you can play with them there. But with a few of the datasets, you can access and play with directly. One of them is this dataset in particular that puts together a lot of information about parcels in Thurston County. Including total acreage and the total value of the parcel.

By comparing value and acreage, you can really see where the most value is in terms of Thurston County neighborhoods. Downtown Olympia, seen here in mostly deep blue, is generally pretty valuable to the county's bottom line. These tightly developed blocks are fairly consistently assessed at a high value.

When you get out to the Capital Mall area, the colors become less pronounced. There are still a few deep blue parcels, but the mall itself is a lighter shade of blue and its surrounding commercial developments are getting yellow.

When you get out on Martin Way, really the only highly valued property is one brand new commercial building.

The same is in Southeast Olympia, where the highly valued properties are newer, nicer homes or actual newer "missing middle" townhomes.

You see the same pattern in interior Lacey, where parking lot developments like the South Sound Mall and Fred Meyer are less highly valued than smaller parcels in Lacey's adjacent "downtown."

I made a similar point earlier using anecdotal evidence comparing a downtown block with a similarly sized parcel on the Westside.  When you make the same analysis using businesses next door to each other (but only in Tacoma, not Olympia), the result is the same. 

Traditional development is more productive than development that prioritizes car infrastructure. 

When you compare traditional, non-car centric, blocks to parking lot dominant commercial development, the traditional blocks are always more valuable. They provide more to the community. The video below points out that the blocks in downtown Olympia are a lot like the blocks that we've built in cities for thousands of years. These are the dense, easily walkable blocks that have only become rare in communities that were built in the last 60 years. Only newer cities like Lacey lack them at all.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

A map of Lacey that you can't unsee

Take a close look at this map:

What do you see?

This map is from a page buried deep in the city of Lacey's 2017 State of the Streets report. I took a look at the report originally because I was looking for data on pedestrian accidents. Which, by the way, are collected by the federal government, but are also very hard to work with.

Anyway, I found this map and had an immediate head-smack moment. What I saw totally blew me away.

Can you see it yet?

Now take a closer look:

I zoomed into the area around where Martin Way crosses underneath I-5 between College and Carpenter Roads. City-owned roads on this map are black (residential), green (arterial) or red (collector). The gray roads are not city-owned.

According to this map, Lacey is essentially two cities.  

In the Southwest corner of the map, you have the (mostly) original core of Lacey that existed near when the city became a city in the 1960s. This area is a collection of neighborhoods and commercial strips south of Interstate 5. This was essentially the bleeding edge of suburban development from Olympia that wanted to be on its own.

The Northeast Corner of the map is is everything that was annexed into the city beginning in 1985. This is generally what we call today Hawks Prairie. It was historically Hawks Prairie too, of course.

But, these two parts of Lacey are not connected by Lacey owned roads.  The two roads that would connect Lacey together, Carpenter or 15th Ave SE/Draham, are owned and maintained by the county.

This makes total sense to me now, because the entire "loop around the north to annex around the older Tanglewild neighborhood" always seemed so blatant. So it made sense that you could easily drive from one part of Lacey to the other without traveling on city roads.  Just go down Martin Way.

But, before I saw this map, there's no way I thought you couldn't, in fact, drive on city roads to get from one end to the other.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Lakewood was not built for walking

This town was not built for walking
It isn’t the trains that make pedestrians unsafe in Lakewood. Like a lot of cities that were built primarily in the era of car-centered infrastructure, Lakewood is not particularly walkable and a lot of people end up getting hurt and killed because of it.

Since the Amtrak derailment at Dupont a few weeks ago, a new focus has been put on the comments of the Lakewood mayor on how bad a new high-speed train route is to his city. His statement that someone is going to “get killed” was said without any sense of irony that five people already get killed walking around Lakewood each year.

Just pedestrian injuries (deaths notwithstanding) from cars have been steadily increasing in Lakewood for the past ten years.

Buried in Mayor Don Anderson’s column in the Tacoma News Tribune is the logic that kills so many people in Lakewood. He states bluntly that local rail was “made obsolete” by buses in the 1920s. In reality, it isn’t that small-scale or regional rail became obsolete, it is that investment and planning in low-density suburbs (like Lakewood) in the car era made local rail inefficient.

Even if you don’t believe that the car lobby bought out local rail lines to simply shut them down, there are broad historical trends that play havoc with Anderon's obsoletion thesis. While suburbs began sprouting up in the early part of the 1900s, the spread of cars and federal transportation funding pointed towards cars led to the development of car-centric communities. Places to shop and work became displaced spatially from places to live and sleep. I don’t think there’s a serious person who can say that Lakewood isn’t an almost perfect example of this kind of suburb.

Trains are not obsolete, but they are ill-suited for suburban cities like Lakewood that were built around cars. But then again, so is walking.

Lakewood’s walkability rating is 39, which means that almost every trip you need to make from your home requires a car. Much of Lakewood, even the portions with sidewalks, is built for cars. Thin sidewalks with little or no division from long, straight roads the encourage traveling at a high speed. This is the kind of city design that leads to less walking and which also leads to pedestrian injury for those who have to walk.

From Next City:
Wide, straight lanes, for example, encourage people to drive faster, making neighborhood streets less safe for those walking. Cars are three times more likely to cause death when hitting pedestrians while traveling at 30 mph than at 20 mph. And when some of the population does not have access to transit or a car, making a street pedestrian-free isn’t a realistic option.
Lakewood at one point did have a local rail system connecting it to Tacoma. And you could argue that it was shortline rail companies like Pacific Traction that originally spawned suburban living in the Lakewood area. More well-off Pierce County residents could set up home around American Lake, and in an era without decent roads to Tacoma, they could still find a way to earn a living in the city.

But it was the glut of highway and road spending in the later decades that made that dream available to everyone and subsequently killed Lakewood’s streetcar company.

Pedestrians getting hurt and getting killed in Lakewood is fairly common. Pedestrian deaths aren't newsworthy, mostly because they're cooked into the city's design. 

Regional rail transit is also hopefully going to continue to expand, despite the tragedy at Dupont. So, if Mayor Anderson wants to make pedestrians safer, he needs to look at the layout of his own town, examine why cars kill and hurt so many already and not blame the train.