Land swap raises traffic concerns

October 14, 2008

By Jon Savelle

It was hard enough to orchestrate a three-way land preservation deal for the Park Pointe parcel on Tiger Mountain, but now comes the task of making it work. Creativity is the necessary ingredient, especially when it comes to traffic.

The complexity of the job was evident Oct. 7 at a meeting of the Major Development Ad Hoc Committee — three members of the City Council, who got their first look at traffic issues arising from the land swap.

The deal says Port Blakely Communities would buy the 100-acre Park Pointe parcel from First Wellington LLC, which had plans to develop it with multi-family residential units. Port Blakely would then deed that land and some it now holds to the city as permanent open space and parkland.

In return for this, the city would allow Port Blakely to increase its area of commercial or retail development in the Highlands by 1.1 million square feet and add 550 residential units. The developer also would be able to develop 36 of the 78 acres it owns south of Park Drive, commonly known as the WSDOT parcel.

The new business and residential development would generate more traffic on Highlands Drive Northeast and connecting streets. So, the committee needs to know whether or not those streets can handle a greater volume.

They got some answers from Tom Brennan, of the Nelson/Nygaard consulting firm in Portland, Ore. He said the new development would generate 1,317 additional vehicle trips during the afternoon rush hour, which would bring the total traffic load to 6,769 trips during the afternoon peak — close to the 6,816-trip limit of the street network.

To avoid creating congestion, traffic engineers and planners must find ways to reduce reliance on private vehicles. Brennan offered several options:

  • Adjust signal timing at Ninth Avenue Northeast and Northeast High Street to accommodate more traffic.
  • Increase transit service.
  • Develop a traffic management plan with Microsoft and Swedish Hospital, the two largest employers who have plans to build campuses in the Highlands.
  • Create a traffic management association of smaller, local employers to reduce employees’ vehicle use.
  • Establish a local shuttle service between Highlands residential areas and the park & ride.
  • Public education about alternative transportation.
  • Pay cash incentives to residents to not drive their cars.
  • Create additional street connections to optimize traffic flow.
  • Provide pedestrian and bicycle paths.
  • Consider providing a shared fleet of Zipcars, bicycles or scooters.

Of these, Brennan most strongly recommended transit improvements and the formation of a traffic management association.

Committee members expressed appreciation for the detailed analysis, but had questions. Council President Maureen McCarry urged that development be planned so that high-density housing is located near employment. That would pay dividends not only in reduced vehicle trips, but also in freeing resources for other things.

Alan Boeker, president of Port Blakely Communities, endorsed the idea,

“We agree,” he said. “We want it to work smart.”

Boeker added that the existing High Street Association, a business group of which he is president, would be a suitable governance structure for a traffic management association, too.

Any new policy will have to be codified as a fifth amendment to the Highlands development agreement, the document that stipulates what can and cannot be done. Councilman Fred Butler cautioned that it is best to get it right the first time.

“It has to work,” he said. “We don’t want an unexpected hit to the city just because we didn’t do a good job of structuring the amendment.”

Reach Reporter Jon Savelle at 392-6434, ext. 234, or jsavelle@isspress.com.

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