Livability means being able to take your kids to school, go to work, see a doctor, drop by the grocery or post office, go out to dinner and a movie, and play with your kids at the park – all without having to get in your car.”
— Secretary Ray LaHood, USDOT Livability 101
The BGC connects a rich livable neighborhood by directly addressing safety and capacity constraints that disrupt the community’s connection to the resources Secretary LaHood describes in the quote above. The BGC is rooted in and builds on all six livability principles developed by the Department of Transportation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency as part of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities.
The BGC enables transportation connections
The BGC is the first- and last-mile for the state’s second largest transit district, providing direct access for bicyclists and pedestrians to 60 bus routes by three different regional transit providers, shuttles from five major regional employers and, by 2016, the new light rail station. The BGC sits at the crossroads of SR 520 and I-5, the main interstate highway on the west coast running from Canada to Mexico, and as such, is a critical intersection for commuting to work, accessing amenities and getting around the region. This is why the University of Washington (UW), the state, local and federal governments are investing billions of dollars to ensure this area can accommodate transportation growth and continue to thrive.
The BGC provides more transportation choices
Decrease household transportation costs:
With a median household income 54% lower and individual poverty frequency 138% higher than citywide averages, the University Community Urban Center (UCUC) is in acute need of affordable transportation options. This is illustrated by the fact that UCUC households are 46% more likely to be car-free than their counterparts in the rest of Seattle.
Link light rail
While the UCUC is well-served by transit, the gravitational center of area transit service beginning in 2016 – the Montlake Triangle transit center and its new light rail station – has no adjacent housing. The UCUC’s saving grace is a rich and growing housing supply (>$1 billion in new investment) within the station’s catchment for bicyclists and pedestrians. This makes removing constraints on the UCUC’s bicycle and pedestrian network, and particularly it’s failing spine – the Burke-Gilman Trail – the UCUC’s highest priority.
Reducing our dependence on oil:
Leveraging the connection between walking, bicycling and transit to enable regional trip-making is central to enabling car-free or car-light lifestyles. The robust transit service to the UCUC extends the bicycle and pedestrian network to all regional employment and commercial centers.
Improving air quality:
With its adjacency to SR 520 and I-5 and excess emissions from congested UCUC arterials, air quality is a significant concern for UCUC residents. Walking, biking, and transit trips enabled by the BGC pay double dividends for air quality in that they both remove the emissions from diverted trips and reduce delays for, and emissions from, the remaining motor vehicles.
Promoting public health:
In addition to the significant public health benefits associated with the increased walking and biking and air quality improvement supported by the BGC, the project will create an additional short- and long-term public health benefit. The BGC’s safety improvements, including mode separation, grade separation, and intersection improvements, will pay immediate public health dividends through reduced collision and injury rates. The BGC also directly improves access to two hospitals and four clinics creating significant indirect public health benefits.
By enhancing and building out the regionally critical portion of the Burke-Gilman Trail in the highly-populated university area, the UW is giving our region better, safer tools to allow for healthy choices in commuting, exercising and moving between urban communities.
— Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer, Public Health Seattle and King County
The BGC promotes equitable, affordable housing
The UCUC has 19% greater ethnic diversity than the average Seattle neighborhood. It has significant economic diversity with a mix of public housing, market-rate multifamily housing and high-value single family homes. There is significant age-diversity in the UCUC and on the BGC as well; a senior-housing facility sits at one end of the BGC, and just down the trail are UW residence halls, a preschool and a mature neighborhood of single-family homes. The BGC significantly increases the number of accessible (ADA) connections to the trail. The diversity of the UCUC helps make the BGC an outstanding investment in affordability and equity.
Creating location efficiency:
With the region’s third largest employer, largest academic institution, six grocery stores, a year-round farmers market, 16 libraries, two museums, two botanical gardens, six performing arts venues, countless restaurants and six medical facilities all located in the UCUC, it represents one of the most location-efficient living options imaginable. This efficiency is particularly critical for the senior residents of Seattle Housing Authority’s property on the Burke-Gilman Trail, nearby student-family housing and the 31% of UCUC residents living below the poverty line. Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan calls for a 33% increase in household density and a 19% increase in employment density in the UCUC over the 20 year planning window, further increasing the opportunities for location efficient living and the urgency of investing in the UCUC’s active transportation options and transit connections.
The premise of location efficiency assumes walkable, bikeable neighborhoods and the BGC removes the primary constraint for achieving this in the UCUC by addressing the failing infrastructure of its primary active transportation corridor.
Providing energy efficiency:
One indicator of housing energy efficiency is recognition by the US Green Building Council’s LEED rating program. More than $850 million of the $1 billion in housing investment within three blocks of the BGC is designed to meet or exceed LEED Silver. At the leading edge of this investment are UW’s new residence halls, which include innovative energy-saving features, such as providing residents with real-time feedback on energy consumption on a room-by-room basis. The age of housing facilities is another indicator for energy efficiency, with modern construction practices and materials offering significant energy advantages. The densification of the UCUC, enabled by projects like the BGC and the transit it supports, is contributing to a renewal of housing stock that will improve home energy efficiency.
Public investment in this type of multi-modal project pays off. Safe pedestrian and bike corridors such as the Burke-Gilman Trail provide low-cost transportation options for students and economically disadvantaged populations to connect to jobs, education and other basic services.”
— Ada M. Healey, Vice President, Vulcan
UW economic impact
The BGC enhances economic competitiveness
As noted in the discussion of location efficiency, the employment, education and services available in the UCUC are second to none in both quantity and quality. The BGC helps connect people to those critical features and in doing so bolsters the UCUC’s economic competitiveness. The BGC’s ability to improve the economic competitiveness of a neighborhood is not limited to the UCUC, however. The BGC connects communities such as Kenmore and Bothell, along with neighborhoods like Fremont and Ballard, to the employment, educational, service and cultural opportunities in the UCUC by removing the key constraint on the region’s primary active transportation corridor.
While the UW is the largest employer directly adjacent to the BGC, the corridor also provides vital connections to a network of bicycle and transit routes that will provide significantly improved access over the next few years to many major regional employers including Microsoft, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Adobe, Google, Amazon.com, and businesses in downtown Seattle. This potential can only be realized if the current bottleneck can be relieved.
The BGC supports existing communities
Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan calls for urban centers to “receive the most substantial share of Seattle’s growth, consistent with their role in shaping the regional growth pattern.” The UW is in the process of constructing 2,500 additional beds by 2015 (an 38% increase) in an effort to concentrate housing in mixed-use buildings proximate to the UW; revitalize the neighborhood; implement land-use patterns that promote walk-, bike- and transit-friendly neighborhoods; and encourage transportation choices that support UW’s commitment to carbon neutrality. The location of this housing development relative to two future light rail stations will transform the UCUC into a model of transit-oriented development. All of this new housing stock sits within three blocks of the Burke-Gilman and its success is predicated on construction of the BGC and removing the constraint on the trail’s capacity constraints.
UW’s investment in the BGC is part of a long commitment to a transportation strategy centered on walking, biking and transit. That strategy has reduced UW’s drive-alone rate to just 20%, saved as much as $280 million in parking construction costs and enabled the recycling of $73 million in land from parking use to public facilities and open space.
The BGC coordinates and leverages federal policies and investment
The BGC builds on federal policy coordination in the Partnership for Sustainable Communities by directly supporting the Puget Sound Regional Council’s “Growing Transit Communities” (GTC) initiative, which is funded through a HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning grant. GTC identified that the implementation approach most appropriate to the UCUC was to “preserve, monitor and connect” and that the infrastructure priority should be to “strengthen strategies to improve local and regional transit access for commuters.” The BGC directly addresses both of these charges.
The BGC maximizes the benefits associated with a variety of federal and local partner investments in the area. By providing convenient and direct access to light rail transit, the BGC leverages previous investments from Sound Transit, FTA, the City of Seattle, WSDOT and Washington’s taxpayers – including approximately $1 billion in federal funding and nearly $8 billion in local funding – ensuring that transportation in and around the UW works for everyone: light rail and bus riders, bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists. Investment in the BGC also supports access to employment for the UW employees that conduct or enable $1 billion in federally funded research each year.
As a woman of a ‘certain age,’ I would love to have walkers and cyclists separated along the busy portions of the trail near campus. At 70, it is hard to get quickly out of the way of fast moving bikes.”
— Carol Curtis
The BGC values communities and neighborhoods
The UW and BGC funding partners are deeply committed to the health, safety and walkability of our community. As the preeminent regional bicycle and pedestrian facility, the BGC will attract thousands of people to healthy transportation activities each day. This convenience and reliability is further enhanced by the new open spaces, seating areas and rest points created on the BGC that frame views of Mt. Rainier, Lake Washington, Rainier Vista and Lake Union – making the trail a destination in itself.
The BGC looks beyond the facility’s capacity and focuses heavily on enhancing neighborhood safety. The innovative design improves sightlines by squaring off intersections and eliminating invasive vegetation and concrete abutments. Separating pedestrians and bicyclists onto dedicated trails eliminates passing movements, thereby reducing conflicts between two modes with a large speed differential. A refined pedestrian-scale lighting palette reinforces the corridor’s 24-hour nature by providing a well-lit transportation facility day and night. A slew of signal and crossing improvements, traffic calming and an underpass at a high-crash arterial intersection will dramatically reduce collisions and injuries to pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists alike. Where the trail intersects high-volume paths, the BGC will feature a tabled bicycle trail with tactile warnings to passively calm speeds. In addition to preventative safety measures, the BGC will also expand the number of Code Blue emergency phones with broadcast capability to alert trail users, residents and employees to emergencies.
It is important the BGC be responsive to its unique community. Consistent with the role of the UCUC as the epicenter of innovation for the Pacific Northwest, the BGC public art and interpretive program will celebrate innovation over UW’s 150-year history. Mixing zones will be named for the prominent academic disciplines in the region and at the UW, helping to better connect the BGC to the campus and its rich past. Each mixing zone will feature installations that identify and celebrate significant innovations in the featured academic discipline that either originated at the UW or with its regional partners. The installations will be incorporated into UW’s broader public art program, ensuring ongoing stewardship.
The trail is constantly busy, at times certainly over-crowded. ROTC members running together, skateboarders, mothers with strollers, older folks, younger folks, every manner of bicyclist – from ‘beaters’ to lycra-clad racers – activity is ceaseless. The trail is how I walk home every evening after work. I worry sometimes that we are ‘loving this resource to death’.”
— James Whitefish