Urban Design: The Future of Integrated Transportations

To accommodate high population growth and control traffic congestion in Seattle, the city is seeking solutions that will provide better mobility and integrated transportation choices for the public. Establishing a network of shared mobility hubs in partnership with transit agencies and private mobility services is one of the potential solutions that the city is currently looking into. This week, our Project Manager Josh discussed the potentials of implementing shared mobility hubs and autonomic vehicles in Seattle, and shared his thoughts on how these integrated transportation choices might transform travel experience in the future.

Written by Josh Janet, Project Manager | PE:

The passage of the Sound Transit 3 (“ST3”) package last September by a majority of King, Pierce, and Snohomish County voters will substantially expand light rail, bus, and other public transit systems to provide better connections throughout the region. Although the staff at Urbal have been generally supportive of the package, we joke from time to time about the timeline associated with these new connections. My coworker Kendra and her husband Tyler celebrated the birth of their first child, Arlo Oester, at the end of 2016; he will be at least 13 years old by the time the light rail extension opens near his home in West Seattle (assuming this schedule is accurate).

I thought about ST3 during a few panels at the 25th annual convention for the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) this past week. CNU is a non-profit organization of architects, urban planners, engineers, developers, and others interested in improving the quality of the built environment “to build vibrant communities where people have diverse choices for how they live, work, and get around”. These panels discussed mobility and how technology can address the first and last mile problem (i.e. the problem of how users get to and from bus and light rail stations when they are not located near them in the first place).

Shared Mobility Hubs

An example of a shared mobility hub.   |   IMAGE BY SOPHIA VON BERG VIA SHARED-USE MOBILITY.

An example of a shared mobility hub.   |   IMAGE BY SOPHIA VON BERG VIA SHARED-USE MOBILITY.

Shared mobility hubs (“Hubs”), or integrated mobility hubs, are central locations in neighborhoods that provide a variety of transportation options and services. These Hubs are intended to encourage a greater reliance on alternative transportation options beyond car ownership, and may include features like the following:

  • Access to bike lanes and bike infrastructure;
  • Bike-share, bike storage, and bike repair services;
  • Changing rooms;
  • Electric vehicle charging stations;
  • Ride-share parking (like Car2Go and Zipcar);
  • Drop-off and pick-up areas; and
  • Bus stops.

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is currently planning a network of these hubs around the city, and has even hired a team of dedicated staff members to lead the efforts. The criteria they are using for the development of these hubs include:

  • Hubs to be built around or near transit stops;
  • Street space will be dedicated only if necessary;
  • Hubs need to be located near users;
  • Hubs need to incorporate quality wayfinding, lighting, and cohesive branding to integrate them; and
  • Fare integration needs to be incorporated where possible.

It’s anyone’s guess as to whether these will actually be implemented or planned to death, but I’m curious to see where SDOT is thinking of locating these. I’m on the fence as to how often these will be used and if they’ll make any dent in changing the paradigm for vehicle ownership at all.

Autonomous Vehicles

 Seattle will be the first place to test BMW ReachNow's Autonomous Cars.   |   image by bmw via the drive

 Seattle will be the first place to test BMW ReachNow's Autonomous Cars.   |   image by bmw via the drive

Autonomic Vehicles (“AVs”) are the elephant in the room when it comes to the future of transportation in America. Everyone seems to expect these to be on the market “soon,” but it remains to be seen in what form and under what kind of operations and regulations they will be allowed on the road.

The biggest question in my mind, beyond how AVs will share the road with normally-operated vehicles, is whether or not AVs will be allowed for purchase by private citizens. Personal AV ownership has the potential for two huge impacts to our environment. The first is that, under normal circumstances, an individual will drive to work and drive home, resulting in two (2) trips generated on any given day. With personal AV ownership, does that car get parked in a parking lot or garage during the work day or does the owner send the car home? Many planners and techies seem to be expecting that AVs will reduce the need for parking in urban centers, but this scenario would effectively double the amount of trips being taken per day and worsening congestion.

The second impact is that personal AV ownership may place pressure on increasing sprawl away from urban centers. There are generally limits to how long people are willing or interested in sitting in traffic, but if you no longer have to focus on driving in that space and can instead read a book, watch a movie, or even operate an easy bake oven, then the time it takes to get to work may be less of an impact on where people choose to live relative to their employment.

The only scenario I’m somewhat comfortable with right now is the use of AVs for ride-sharing services, but even that begs the question- where do those cars go between use? Do they just drive around the block aimlessly until they’ve been re-directed by an app service? Are they re-directed to the nearest shared mobility hub?

ST3 makes sense under today’s challenges with population growth throughout the region, but AVs have the potential to re-write the book on transportation, and I’m wary that it will be for the better.

Welcome Merrill Gardens at Rockridge!

Our senior housing project in Oakland, California — Merrill Gardens at Rockridge — is now opened! We are so excited to announce the opening of this beautifully-crafted, mixed-use senior housing community and can’t wait to share images of the completed project with you!

Located at the central hub of five major arterials, the design of Merrill Gardens at Rockridge strikes an intriguing balance between urban and residential architecture in the neighborhood. The east façade of the six-story building reflects a mix of architectural elements consistent with the neighboring downtown apartments and UC Berkeley to maintain a strong street presence along the major retail corridor. Conversely, in order to blend with the nearby residential neighborhood fabric, a distinctive color palette was selected for the west façade to reflect the vernacular style of the eclectic Temescal neighborhood, and provide a vibrant yet familiar visual character for the building.  

Northeast Corner

Northeast Corner

Designed to create a sense of transparency and connectivity, extensive glazing was used at street-level, making the amenity spaces a part of the street action. 

Northeast Street Corner

Northeast Street Corner

The 170,860-square-foot community offers a total of 127 residential units including studio, one- and two-bedroom units, along with a broad array of hospitality-inspired amenities, such as bistro, theater, wellness center and beauty salon. Designed to promote a sense of community, the building features both formal and casual common spaces to encourage social interaction between residents.

Living Room

Living Room

Activity Room

Activity Room

Theater

Theater

Beauty Salon

Beauty Salon

Bistro 

Bistro 

Along with modern indoor amenity spaces, the community provides a variety of outdoor spaces to promote a healthy lifestyle. Inside the courtyard, residents can take a leisurely stroll, or enjoy gardening and al fresco dinning with friends and families. 

Courtyard 

Courtyard 

To see more photos of this newly furnished community, visit our project page for Merrill Gardens at Rockridge!

A Fresh Look Into Our Two New Projects!

We are so excited to announce the openings of our two senior housing projects in Washington — Merrill Gardens at Burien, and Merrill Gardens at Auburn!

Located in downtown town center of Burien, Merrill Gardens at Burien reflects a blend of traditional main street characters and modern architectural elements that are designed in accordance to the design guidelines of Burien. This 166,320-square-foot community offers a total of 111 residential units including studio, one-, and two-bedroom units. The building features both formal and casual social spaces to encourage camaraderie among residents and promote a sense of community.

Living Lounge

Living Lounge

The interior of this community reflects classic main street characters, where details are rich with earthy accents, colors and textures. To create a more residential ambiance, soft lighting and furnishings with neutral colors are used throughout the amenity spaces. Large windows are also used to let the daylight comes through and fills the interior space with a soft, pleasing glow. 

Dining Room

Dining Room

Library

Library


On the other hand, Merrill Gardens at Auburn, located in the heart of downtown Auburn, was created to reinterpret the traditional old town main street architecture with a contemporary twist. This project features a highly-modern layout, along with a bright and airy interior feel. With convenient access to the Sounder Train Station and a variety of local retails, restaurants and other area amenities, this community is designed to meet the expectations of seniors who seek a modern and independent lifestyle. This 169, 310-square-foot community offers a total 129 residential units with a mix of studio, one-, and two-bedroom units.

Dining Room 

Dining Room 

The dining room of this project features extensive glazing and floor-to-ceiling windows, which flood the interior space with natural light and create a breath of openness. The open modern layout of the communal area allow residents to decide whether to participate fully in group activities or from the periphery. Short walking distances in between amenity spaces also provide an ease of access to common areas, allowing less-mobile residents to easily venture out and join in.

Dining Room / Bistro

Dining Room / Bistro

Emulating modern hospitality interiors, each residential unit has ample space and a private bath with shower where residents can receive guests.

One-bedroom Unit - Living room / kitchen 

One-bedroom Unit - Living room / kitchen 

To see more photos of these two newly furnished communities, check out our portfolio page for Merrill Gardens at Burien, and Merrill Gardens at Auburn. In addition to these two new communities, our apartment project in Burien, and senior housing project in Rockridge, California, are getting close to opening their doors. Stay tuned for more updates on our next new project! 

Urban Design: Tent Cities

Work in progress of a tent encampment at south Seattle.   |   Photo by Josh Janet

Work in progress of a tent encampment at south Seattle.   |   Photo by Josh Janet

Every year, King County organizes a “One Night Count” of both the unsheltered homeless population throughout the county and those individuals staying in shelters or transitional housing. As of the January 2016 count, nearly 3,000 people were living on the streets in Seattle—a worsening crisis that the city has been trying to address for decades. Following the city’s authorization of homeless encampments in 2015, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine declared a state of emergency to tackle its rising homelessness. This week, our Project Manager Josh discussed the use of encampments in Seattle, and shared his experience of volunteering with the set-up of encampments around the city.

Written by Josh Janet, Project Manager | PE:

Homelessness is a topic that can evoke wildly varying but passionate responses, especially when discussing how to address it. In 2015, the city of Seattle hired a consultant to provide her suggestions on how the city should respond to the growing crisis, and the report that was produced called for re-allocation of funding from transitional housing to rapid re-housing. The consultant had very choice words for homeless encampments in particular: “Encampments are a real distraction from investing in solutions. You can see it takes a lot of energy to get them running and they don’t solve the problem. You still have people who are visibly homeless, living outdoors.”

Although rapid re-housing may work for some, many local homeless housing advocates challenged that it has not shown to work for more vulnerable members of the community. Neither the report nor the consultant’s comments address that fact that if housing isn’t available today, individuals and families that are homeless don’t really have any other options.

Seattle is one of the few cities in the country that has attempted to regulate the use of encampments around the city. The Seattle Municipal Code allows encampments to be accessory uses on property owned by religious organizations and interim uses (up to three months) on other property that meet certain restrictions (such as a 25-foot buffer from residential properties). The maximum allowed number of residents is set at 100 and the site must meet a number of safety standards, including the placement of fire extinguishers and 100-person first-aid kits, designated smoking areas, power protection devices and associated safety posts. Encampments are also required to provide and maintain chemical toilets, running water (either indoors or properly discharged outdoors), and garbage removal services. Cooking facilities aren’t required but need to meet health standards.

I first volunteered with the set-up of an encampment when the Tent City Collective was provided space in a parking lot on the University of Washington’s campus, back in December (right down the street from the College of Built Environment in Gould Hall). With the three months up, the collective had to move this past weekend to another site, located in south Seattle near Renton. Less visible than the UW location, this new spot pits residents much further from services and employment and was basically a large mud pit when they were in the process of constructing the new encampment.

If you’ve never been to an encampment, wooden pallets are arranged in a 3x4 pattern for families and in a 2x2 pattern for individuals. Plywood sheathing is nailed onto the pallets, and these provide a basis for tents to be installed such that they do not need to be set on the ground (staying dryer and warmer). Each unit of pallets must be set 4’-0” apart to provide city-regulated clearance aisles for emergencies. In-between, organizers set them at 1’-0” apart to provide some space for access but also squeeze in as many tents as they can onto the site. In a separate area is the “kitchen,” a covered area where milk crates full of donated or collected foodstuffs are stored for resident use. Other supplies are stored here as well.

One of the biggest challenges for the homeless population in Seattle is security. It comes up often when the Mayor discusses the perceived need to clear out places like “the Jungle,” the area underneath I-5 between roughly South Dearborn Street and Lucille Street. In a talk at the Central Library last June, however, former and current residents of the Jungle spoke to the critical need for stability and community that the Jungle provided. If a homeless individual is on their own, it is likely that whenever they leave their tent behind with possessions in it, it is going to get ransacked. Imagine leaving your home every day and finding all of your possessions gone that evening, forced to start from scratch again the next morning. Encampments and other “village” style communities allow for individuals and families to leave for the day, whether for work, food, support services, school, or just needing a break, and return to a relatively stable environment.

As long as rapid re-housing is promoted as the primary method for addressing homelessness, there is going to be a lag between identifying the most vulnerable members of our community and actually finding affordable housing for them along with whatever support services they need. Encampments should not be seen as a city goal, but in the short-term, they provide a measure of normalcy that is better than the alternative. If you are interested in helping tent city residents in the future, whether through support or volunteering during their next set-up in three months, you can find more information on Tent City Collective’s Facebook page.

Glass Cottage is almost completed!

Our Magnolia house project, Glass Cottage, is nearly in completion! The addition portion is completed for the most part, with only a few details left to be installed on the exterior. After months of construction, this 1940s rambler has gradually transformed into a light-filled, sophisticated home that embrace mid-century modern design. We paid a visit to the project yesterday and here's a sneak peek into the newly furnished home!

Kitchen

The previously small, closed-off kitchen was replaced with a light-filled, open kitchen that features a large awning window and a skylight. This streamlined, contemporary kitchen is a part of the SieMatic Collection that is designed by the renowned kitchen designer Mick De Giulio. 

Kitchen/Dining

The new kitchen is now adjoining the dining and living room to form one spacious, multifunctional space that is ideal for socializing and hosting.

Clerestory windows and floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors help scoop natural light into the enlarged living room.  

Master Bath

The master bathroom is designed to mimic the streamlined, modern finish of the kitchen counter.

A full-width skylight above the master shower allows zenithal light to cascade across the surrounding space—accentuating the beauty of the open layout under natural daylight. 

Stay tuned for the finished look of this stunning mid-century house project!