It’s been over a year now since we first raised the issue of unworkable alleys, what we call “19th Century Alleys vs. 21st Century Demands” [March 8 post], and started to advocate for including alley setback requirements in all new residential construction downtown. As expected, this proposal has been met with resistance from the developer community, which claims that too much setback won’t leave enough development capacity.
There is a precedent for alley setback in First Hill HR zoning where a 10’ alley setback is required. Urban Strategist Peter Steinbrueck studied this issue carefully and agreed with our assessment that 10’ is a reasonable “ask”, stating that 80’ depth is the practical minimum for a residential tower, and 10’ setback on a typical downtown Seattle street lot of 115’ depth lot still leaves an adequate 95’.
As you can tell in our photo image for this post, it is impossible for two delivery trucks to pass in a typical downtown alley like this one, yet the DRB, SDCI, and SDOT traffic experts seem to ignore the facts and continue to approve projects that simply won’t work. An independent study by TSI NW last August on this alley found that the alley was blocked 32% of the time; and individual load/unload times were as high as 52 minutes. Later, on 11-3-2015, five large trucks loading/unloading blocked the alley continuously for almost three hours.
SDOT tries to funnel all of the traffic off of the streets and into the alleys, but existing alleys can’t handle it. Alleys become overloaded with hotel and residential parking, taxis, sanitation, 24 hr. deliveries, repairs, moving, and emergency services; and major streets can become blocked with vehicles waiting for access to or from the alleys. This is not just a traffic circulation and deliveries issue, but a safety and quality of life issue as well. Fairness and justice demand a reasonable solution.
Other downtown residents are also becoming more concerned about the alley issue, as evidenced by another recent study by Traffic Engineer David Markley in relation to alleys on both sides of Second Avenue from Union to Lenora Streets on behalf of similarly impacted downtown residents in that area. In that study, there were three recommendations for alley improvements, all of which would be helpful. However, those three alone will not really provide a long-term solution for downtown Seattle. In our opinion, only alley setback requirements on all new residential construction will avoid generational damage to downtown livability.
Yet, now, when we have a unique opportunity to take the first steps towards bringing our alleys into the 21st Century, the HALA Team seems to want to pass the buck on alleys to the new Challenge Seattle transportation initiative, effectively postponing any action on this critically important issue for years.
PLEASE LET YOUR ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES KNOW THAT WE NEED NEW ALLEY STANDARDS NOW!