RBCA Land Use Committee comments about proposed University Village 25th Avenue NE garage

On September 25, the Northeast Design Review Board (DRB) held its second Early Design Guidance (EDG) meeting on the University Village proposed major phased development. The Land Use Application is to allow five new retail buildings and one, seven-story garage building with retail and parking for 880 vehicles (University Village Major Phased Development). Review includes 10,000 sq. ft. of demolition and the removal of 467 surface parking spaces.

The RBCA Land Use committee has engaged the developer and submitted its second comment letter on the project.  Two RBCA board members attended the EDG meeting to provide public comments for consideration by the DRB. The comments focused on pedestrian and bicycle safety along 25th Ave NE, and the need for developers in this area along and across 25th Ave NE to work together to make the connections between the neighborhoods and the Burke-Gilman trail safer and easier for pedestrians and cyclists. Below is the letter.

September 25, 2017

Michael Dorcy, Planner

Seattle Department Construction Inspections

Re: Project #3025629 4500 25th Ave NE; University Village West Garage

Mr. Dorcy:

The Ravenna-Bryant community is directly impacted by the proposed project, so we have taken great interest in the latest development proposal by U Village.  RBCA submitted comments in December 2016 at the first EDG meeting and now we are submitting new comments about this project, specifically related to the West garage expansion and the impact of traffic on the intersections and circulation of pedestrians, bicycles, and vehicles in the context of the significant development that is proposed on both sides of 25th Ave NE in the next couple of years.

We appreciate that the project design has evolved to address some of the concerns raised in our first comment letter, however we still have concerns relating to the public realm along 25th Ave NE and transportation generally.  Further, we greatly appreciate the efforts of the three developers in this area (U Village, Phoenix, and Greystar) to work together to make their developments complement each other and improve the overall circulation and safety for pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles. This cooperation is imperative given the redevelopment of these blocks will provide a major opportunity to improve pedestrian orientation along 25th Ave NE and create a safer, more functional multi-modal transportation network in the area.  While 25th Ave NE is a major arterial, it is also a major pedestrian thoroughfare that has more pedestrians and bicycles using it given the connection to the light rail station less than 1 mile away and the access to the regional Burke-Gilman trail.

We list below the following bullet points to summarize our concerns:

  • Pedestrian safety on 25th Ave NE: We have three major concerns about pedestrian access and safety:
  • Garage Ingress/Egress: The DRB Recommendation Packet seems to reflect three travel lanes, including only one left-turn lane onto southbound 25th Ave NE. This is different from the four-lane option in the EDG package. We support SDOT’s position that a four-lane configuration would compromise pedestrian safety at the 47th Street intersection.
  • 49th Street Intersection: The garage entrance will eliminate one of two east-west through-connections that exist today across U Village. The remaining one, 49th Street, already seems like a dangerous access point, as 49th is an off-set intersection and there are three sets of adjacent curb cuts along the east side of 25th (U Village, Office Depot and Jiffy Lube), which present a safety hazard, in our opinion. As more cars seek to make an unprotected left into U Village, either to drop off/pick up passengers, access other garages on site, or fruitlessly search for surface parking, the additional turns will exacerbate the already challenging conditions. This potential diversion of left-hand turns to this intersection does not seem to be assumed in the Transpo report. 
  • Pedestrian experience on 25th Ave NE: We appreciate the micro-retail, which is a modest but appreciated improvement from the EDG design.  We have met with U Village and understand their programmatic and economic challenges with more providing more active street-front uses along 25th Avenue NE. However, there still will be a stretch of more than 200 linear feet from the micro-retail to 49th Street NE without any active uses. Even with the nicely appointed landscapes depicted in the design packet, the combination of arterial traffic and inactivity along the property will make for a challenging pedestrian environment. We encourage U Village to consider how to provide lighting to enhance real and perceived pedestrian safety, and to consider widening the sidewalk to allow for two parties to pass comfortably in light of the lack of eyes on the street in this location.
  • Cumulative traffic impacts from development proposed in this same vicinity:  In addition to the U Village West garage, there are two other proposals going through the EDG phase: 1) Greystar (Project #3027063) and 2) Phoenix Trailside (Project #3027312) projects. The Greystar project proposes 205 units and 140 parking stalls and the Phoenix project proposes 293 units with 286 parking stalls.  Both developments are seeking rezones from C-40 to NC2 65 or 75 and LR3 to NC2-85, respectively.  We think density done well is welcome in an urban village with as many amenities as our Ravenna Bryant neighborhood and we welcome the additional housing options.  However, these are big changes for this area and it will significantly increase the volumes of people and traffic who need to move around safely. According to the transportation study shown on Table 3, the future LOS for 13 of the 20 intersections will be at D, E or F by 2027. Currently the existing baseline shows nine intersections operating at D, E or F at this time.  Anyone driving during commute hours AM or PM peak knows that 25th Ave NE is a parking lot and traffic moves to a crawl.  We are concerned that the additional approximately 311 net new trips during the weekday PM peak hour created by the new garage only adds additional stress.  This does not even account for the increased traffic that the Greystar proposal (Project #3027063) and Phoenix’s Trailside proposal (Project #3027312) will add to the traffic on intersections and on 25th Ave NE.
  • Bicycle Connection along 47th: In part due to the Phoenix project’s pursuit of a street vacation, there is a plan for a bicycle and pedestrian connection that would run from the Burke Gilman Trail to 25th Ave NE along 47th Unfortunately, 47th is offset from the traffic light at the planned garage entrance, creating potential dual crossing of 47th and then 25th Ave NE to reach U Village from the Burke Gilman Trail. We encourage U Village to continue coordinating with Phoenix and Greystar to devise a plan, in conjunction with SDOT, that can meet the U Village’s vehicular access needs while supporting a seamless bicycle and pedestrian connection.

Thank you for considering our comments as you complete your review of University Village’s proposal and please let me know if we can answer any questions or participate in any manner as the process moves forward.

Michael Jacobson

Thank you for your feedback on behalf of the community. The giant back wall of a parking garage facing 25th is really discouraging and I’m glad you continue to make it an issue.