Planning Commission Launches Online “Transit Communities”

The Seattle Planning Commission launched the online version of Seattle Transit Communities – Integrating Neighborhoods with Transit.

The online report allows easy navigation of all report content as well as other features found only in the online version including an interactive Flash™ movie, a funding and implementation toolkit, a navigable map of 41 Seattle transit communities, and more!

Seattle Transit Communities – Integrating Neighborhoods with Transit is a road map to capitalize on investments made in transit by creating vibrant and successfully transit communities.  Alaska Junction is one of the high-priority communities singled out by the Planning Commission for examination.

The document identifies answers and paths to execution for these topics:

  • Why transit communities matter and what makes them successful;
  • Four typologies for Seattle that guide land use and identify essential components of livability;
  • Recommendations to support transformative change including 14 near-term priority transit communities where focused planning efforts and investments are needed;
  • Funding and implementation tools to build and enhance our Seattle transit communities.

Help This Sunday with Summer Streets @ Alki

Summer Streets 2011 is kicking off this weekend at Alki Beach and Seattle’s Department of Transportation needs your help!

Complete with volleyball, a 5k run/walk, tons of kids’ activities, face painting, henna tattoos, a wave machine, skateboarding ramps and competitions, live music, dancing, a petting zoo and so much more,

Summer Streets 2011 on Alki Beach is the perfect way to spend a Sunday giving back to the community that loves you. SDOT needs help in every area, and promises an experience to remember (plus a cool t-shirt)! If you’re interested in a day in the sun partying to make a difference, or if you have any questions at all about the opportunity, please email SDOT’s event planner at or reach him by phone at 347-583-6868. You may also click here and scroll down for SDOT’s volunteer signup form. Come be a part of a several thousand-strong community celebration!

  • Who: You!
  • What: Summer Streets 2011 Alki Festival Volunteer Opportunity
  • When: Sunday, May 22, 2011 THIS SUNDAY!!
  • Hours: 9:30  am to 5:30pm, all day or half day (4 hour) shifts
  • Contact: Jordan Adams, Phone: 347-583-6868


Energy Blog: Smart Grids & True Energy Efficiencies

By Andy Silber

A Tale of Two Talks: Smart Grid and Reinventing Fire

In the last week I’ve attended two talks: a breakfast meeting hosted by the Washington Green Tech Alliance on the Smart Grid and a talk by Amory Lovins founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute on their Reinventing Fire plan. These talks reminded me of the opening of one of Dickens great novels (great as in big), not because one of them was bad, but because they had very different approaches. The smart grid talk got into the weeds and details and challenges in rolling out new technology covering a small part of the electrical system with a timescale of about 5 years. The Reinventing Fire talk was a grand plan covering how the entire electrical and transportation systems could change over the next 40 years. They did have some things in common:

  • The both lasted about 90 minutes, with time for questions
  • They were well attended by an interested audience that asked good questions
  • They left one feeling hopefully about the exciting things that are happening and what’s possible if we only try

Smart Grid

A group crowded into the conference room of a downtown investment firm, sharing coffee and pastries. For $25 I thought we might get something other than baked goods, but I wasn’t there for the food, but the topic. The panel included a manager for a big firm working on the all aspects of the grid to the CEO of a start-up only working on a Smart Grid application.

One nice thing about the panel is that they are all local.

When considering the challenges of a Smart Grid, it’s good to start with a definition. If you get 3 people in a room who are working on Smart Grid, you’ll probably get 3 definitions, but there are a few things everyone agrees with:

  • It is not JUST a Smart Meter or Advanced Metering Infrastructure. Randy Berry said “The dumbest thing you can do is just install a Smart Meter”.
  • Communication is a key component
  • It enables customers to use less power during peak times and more power when the system can easily delivery it (e.g. at night when a wind farm is producing and the demand is otherwise low)
  • It also provides value to the utility that is not obvious to the customer (e.g. monitoring the voltage at the house, allowing the utility to more efficiently deliver energy)

Some people are just talking about the grid from the customer to the utility. Others include HVDC power lines connecting windfarms to distant cities.

Some applications are very obvious, but aren’t happening yet, because the utility and your appliances don’t communicate.

  • Only defrost your freezer in the middle of the night
  • Electric hot water heaters setting the thermostat high (e.g. 160° F) in the middle of the night, changing to standard heating (120° F) during times of higher demand.

These applications require the kind of communications that has been standard in the IT industry for decades. But with a few exceptions, the technology used in distributing electricity would all look familiar to Tesla. So the challenge of the Smart Grid is to apply already commercialized technology and concepts in a very conservative field.

One interesting thing that the panel agreed about is the standard tech-startup model of

  1. start a company
  2. develop a technology
  3. build a customer base
  4. go IPO
  5. get rich

doesn’t work because the customer is usually the utilities, which won’t buy from a small guy. They’re too risk adverse and don’t trust something that hasn’t been proven. So the model in this space is

  1. start a company
  2. develop a technology
  3. get bought by a big player (e.g. GE/Alstom/Siemens)
  4. don’t get rich, but you do OK

And the big boys are buying. Michael from Alstom talked about several recent acquisitions that Alston has made, where they figured it was faster to buy a company that helped them compete than develop the technology in-house.

Jim Holbery represented the only startup on the panel. He’s working on applying IT concepts to the grid, attaching data along with the electricity. Currently if you want to buy “Green Power”, your only option is to buy Renewable Energy Certificates (aka Green Tags) which perform accounting magic to separate the greenness from the power and sell them to different people. GridMobility’s idea is to actually track where the power came from and sell you real green power. To be honest, given the mixed up nature of the grid, it’s like mixing organic and non-organic berries in a bucket and trying to separate out the organic ones at the store and just sell you those. His hope is to partner with the big players like Alstom.

The one thing that I found disappointing about the panel (and the field) is that it was all about the retail/local grid. If you’ve been reading my posts, it’s pretty obvious that I think the most important element that we need to develop is long-distance transmission that can efficiently bring in utility scale renewables to the distant customers who live where there isn’t nearby renewable resources. This was not a topic that any of the panelists are working on. The Smart Grid that we discussed saves little energy, but does help shift consumption to better times. This helps reduce blackouts and effectively integrate intermittent renewables like wind power, which are good and important, but insufficient on their own. Integrating renewables isn’t very valuable if you live where there aren’t renewable resources.

Reinventing Fire: A Talk by Amory Lovins

First off, if you don’t know who Amory Lovins is, shame on you. He may look like Frank Oz,

but he’s a superhero to me. He basically invented the idea was energy efficiency with the publication of Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken?” in Foreign Affairs, 1976. He founded the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), which he calls a “Think and Do Tank” and does amazing work. Maybe I just like him because he’s also a physicist. Maybe because his most famous quote involves beer, “All people want is cold beer and hot showers.”

His talk covered the RMI’s Reinventing Fire concept. This program has the modest goal of driving the consumption of oil and coal to zero by 2050. They believe that this is possible while reducing the consumption of natural gas and building no new nuclear plants. He claims that this can happen driven by corporations trying to maximize their profits with only small actions by the government. He assumes that there will not be a carbon tax or cap and trade or any other effort by the government to internalize the cost of carbon.

As always, Amory’s focus is on using energy more efficiently. One example he talked about was the Hyper Car concept. By making cars out of advanced materials the weight of a car can be reduced by more than half, reducing the fuel consumption. A lighter car needs a smaller engine, saving more weight and more fuel. This also makes electric cars cheaper, since the largest cost is the battery and a light car won’t need as many to go a given distance. This allows electric cars to go mainstream sooner, encouraging more research on advanced batteries that further reduce costs and increase range. By 2050 cars can be using so little liquid fuel it’s fairly easy to supply that with biofuels (not corn ethanol, which received applause from the audience). The interesting thing was he gave lots of examples where car companies are currently working on bringing these concepts to the market in the next few years, including a factory in Moses Lake that will be building material for BMW.

He also talked about using roads more efficiently, more efficient pumps and motors, and lots of other topics. The basic story was repeated over and over. We waste a lot of energy. Once we cut out the waste, it’s easy to clean up what remains. And we can do this while improving the economy and everyone still gets cold beer and hot showers.

The presentation was only about 30 minutes, followed by some questions from Seattle’s Denis Hayes and the audience. In true Lovins style he covered a lot of territory and it was basically whetting our appetite for when it comes out in book form or to go to their web site and read more. His view is optimistic, but it’s backed up with real analysis and the assumptions he’s making are not unreasonable.

While the case he made for drastic increases in efficiency was fairly persuasive, he didn’t explain how renewable energy would replace existing coal plants without significant government action. Personally, I think that unless we institute some kind of preference for renewable energy (e.g. carbon tax, cap and trade, renewable energy standard), coal plants built in 1980 will still be operating in 2050. He also made reference to how abundant wind energy is, but I don’t believe that we’ll capture that without significant government investments in a national HVDC grid.

Lot’s of reasons to hope. Now get out their and conserve energy!!!

Whale Trail, Climate Change & Transpo @ CoolMom Meeting

This May, West Seattle CoolMom is beginning to discuss the topic of transportation and climate change. Our monthly meeting will be happening on Wednesday the 11th at 7pm at C&P Coffee, California Ave. SW just south of SW Findlay St.

The May agenda includes:

  • Visitors from the Whale Trail organization who will be sharing with us information on community involvement for the whales that live in our neighborhood. They will also touch on how our transportation choices can effect Puget Sound and the health of whales.
  • We will discuss the fundraiser that CoolMom has going on for the month of May around making alternative transportation choices. Part of this discussion will include brainstorming ways for families to get out of their cars and making personal pledges for what we each might try towards making a reduction in our transportation carbon footprint.
  • Short video of an interview with a California climate/transportation researcher who touches on a number of key points for creating change in transportation systems and policies to have a positive impact on carbon output from transportation.

This should be a relatively relaxed meeting and would be a perfect opportunity for people unfamiliar with CoolMom to come and check us out.

Additionally, our agenda items this month would be a great introductory session for members of our community who are novice learners on this topic and would like to begin gaining more knowledge about climate change and transportation. Please forward this meeting invitation to other West Seattle moms you think might be interested in more information about CoolMom.

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Cinco de Mayo: Celebrate South Park’s New Bridge

You are invited to participate in a celebration of the new South Park 14th Avenue Bridge this Thursday, May 5, at the south end of the bridge at 14th Avenue S. and Dallas Ave. S.  No, the new bridge isn’t built yet, but the funds to build it have been secured.  The image shows what the replacement bridge would like in place.

Join King County Executive Dow Constantine, members of the King County Council, and other elected officials along with funding partners and members of the South Park Community who have made construction of a new South Park 14th Avenue Bridge possible.

Following the celebration, you are invited to stay in South Park for the many festivities planned by South Park residents and merchants in honor of Cinco de Mayo Day.

The South Park Bridge was closed in mid-2010 due to its aging condition.  The county estimates the new bridge will open by mid-2013, with project completion expected in late 2013.  The project is expected to employ about 125 people during the estimated 32-month construction period.

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Enjoy Alleys During First Thursday Pioneer Square Art Walk

Interested in the evolving urban scene.  Integrated Seattle Alleys is a celebration and live street discussion of ways to integrate alleys into the urban fabric.

This Thursday, Pioneer Square First Thursday Art Walk, there is such a gathering in the alley West of Occidental Avenue, this is behind 314 1st Avenue, also known as Nord Alley.

Alleys are an important part of our city network, providing space for trash, service trucks, underground parking access, deliveries, and fire access. While alleys serve many valuable and irreplaceable functions, they are often wrongly ignored in the day to day city life of Seattle citizens. Alleys can become places for recycling centers and bike storage. They have the potential to foster small businesses and cafés, provide shelter from the elements, create settings for festivals and nightlife, and strengthen the city experience and identity of Seattle. These small but mighty spaces could play an important role for the city, as places for the public, ecological corridors, and community builders.

This team’s alley research began as a project sponsored by the Scan Design Foundation, UW Green Futures Lab, and Gehl Architects. After months of labors of love, the team has finished their report on alleys and would love to share their findings with you on First Thursday. You can also check out their blog at:

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Watch SWS Members Describe What We Do and Why

Sustainable West Seattle was recently featured on Seattle Channel in a production video from Pangeality Productions, Seattle.  The video was shot before we moved the Tool LIbrary to it’s new Youngstown Cultural Arts Center location. Click “Continue Reading” and then click the player to watch and see what SWS does from the perspective of a local television production firm.

SWS video

Sustainable West Seattle members describe what they do and why.

EWG Publishes Guide to Healthier Personal Care Products

The Environmental Working Group has published a guide to personal care products and how to choose those which are healthier for you and your family.

Most people use around 10 personal care products every day, with an average of 126 different ingredients. We’d like to believe that the government is policing the safety of all of the concoctions we put on our bodies, but it’s not. Instead, these unregulated products pose uncertain dangers for our health and our environment.

EWG thinks you deserve better. We asked our research team to put together some tips on how to choose better body care products. You’ll learn how to:

  • Read a label
  • Shop for the grown-ups in the house
  • Find the safest body care products for your kids

What makes a body care product “better”?


Better products are truthful in their marketing claims and free of potential worrisome ingredients. Some products might make claims that a product is “gentle” or “natural,” but since the government does not require safety testing, personal care product manufacturers can use almost any chemical they want, regardless of risks.

The EWG website shows you how to buy better personal care products.

Parks Hosting High Point Playfield Renovation Meeting

Seattle Parks and Recreation is hosting a public meeting Wednesday, April 27, from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm  to provide information about the improvements at Walt Hundley Playfield, located in the High Point neighborhood.  The meeting will be at the Southwest Branch library, 9010 35th Ave SW.

The renovation includes replacement of the existing surface with synthetic turf to provide year round adult soccer and improved accessibility. City Council approved $1 million from the Parks and Green Spaces Levy for planning, design and construction.

Construction is anticipated to commence at the beginning of summer with completion in early fall.

Seattle voters passed the Parks and Green Spaces Levy by an impressive 59% vote in November 2008. The new $146 million Levy provides for development funding for projects such as improved playfields, reservoir lid parks, renovated playgrounds, community gardens, and safety upgrades at city owned cultural facilities.

For more information on this project, please visit or contact Parks Project Manager Ted Holden at 206-684-7021 or

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Becoming a Steward of Puget Sound

By Cate White, MPA Earth Systems Science, Policy & Management & Coordinating Council Member, Sustainable West Seattle

Puget Sound is sick. Polluted runoff from sealed surfaces like paved streets, sidewalks and rooftops is the number one source of toxics entering Puget Sound each year. This toxic mix threatens human health, the economic vitality of the region, and the survivability of the Sound’s most emblematic species: salmon and orcas.

The good news is that local community members can adopt behaviors that will reverse the damage to Puget Sound and restore it to health. Our citizens are the stewards of the same streets, sidewalks and rooftops that convey 14 million pounds of pollutants into Puget Sound each year. Pollutants include motor oil, pesticides, fertilizers, grease, paint, heavy metals, and bacteria.

There are simple actions people can take to become stewards of Puget Sound. Among the most important are:

  1. Keeping water on-site with rain barrels, rain gardens, and porous surfaces,
  2. Practicing natural yard care,
  3. Picking up pet waste,
  4. Walking, biking, or riding public transit instead of driving,
  5. Planting and protecting native evergreens, and
  6. Using car wash facilities instead of washing cars on driveways.

1. Keep water on-site with rain barrels, rain gardens, and permeable surfaces

A big part of the problem with polluted runoff is that it runs quickly over hard surfaces and collects toxics that flow directly into our streams, rivers and Puget Sound. Rainwater retained onsite that percolates through soil can cleanse many of the toxins.

Keeping water on-site may sound counter-intuitive. One might think “if the polluted rainwater runoff is bad for Puget Sound, then it must be bad for my yard.” But that isn’t exactly true. A healthy soil profile with lots of microbes and fungi can help degrade many of the pollutants like hydrocarbons that wash off our streets and driveways. Some mushrooms can absorb heavy metals too, although they do require proper hazardous waste disposal. So filtering rainwater through healthy soils is a first step toward cleaning the water that goes into Puget Sound.

There are many ways to retain water on one’s property. You can use rain barrels to collect water that is later used to water gardens. Or, you can build a special kind of garden called a rain garden to absorb rainwater. Or, you can replace cement surface with permeable surfaces that absorb water. Learn more about each of these alternatives at

2. Practicing natural yard care

Directing rainwater into porous surfaces for absorption is half the solution. The other half is making sure that those surfaces have the ability to break down pollutants. Soils rich in organic matter that have lots of microbes are critical to solving polluted runoff because those microbes can start metabolizing and degrading many pollutants. Soils that have chemicals added like synthetic fertilizers, pesticides (herbicides, fungicides or insecticides) and other unnatural chemicals don’t develop the microbial populations that are necessary to break down pollutants. So any garden made to absorb rainwater should be organic.

The best things to add to your soil are organic compost and woodchips. You can work compost into your annual/vegetable beds, but topdressing soil with two inches of compost works fine. Raking a one- to two-inch compost/sand mix into your lawn can help absorb more rainwater as well. Woodchips in perennial beds and natural areas help create an environment similar to a forest floor in the Pacific Northwest, encouraging beneficial fungi. Soils in need of nitrogen can benefit from a “mulch sandwich: two inches of compost with three to six inches of woodchips on top. Avoid bark. It repels water and resists breakdown, suppressing the fungal populations that plants need. Woodchips can be obtained from tree trimming crews working in your area.

3. Picking up pet waste

Creating a poop-free Puget Sound is more important than you might think. According to King County, there are more than 200 tons of pet waste deposited in the Puget Sound region every day, and water runoff flushes it into streams, rivers and Puget Sound. Dog poop contains things like E. coli, Giardia and Roundworms – nasty stuff that we don’t want in Puget Sound. The very best thing you can do when walking your dog outside is to bring plastic bags, pick up the poop, and dispose of it in a trash can. Do not contaminate your compost with pet waste. This is one of those rare cases where throwing something away is the best option. Or, if you have trouble managing your dog’s mess in a dog-run, you can line it with arborist woodchips 1-foot deep to allow beneficial fungi to filter pollutants.

4. Walking, biking, or riding public transit instead of driving

Each year, one-half of an Exxon Valdez oil spill worth of oil flows into Puget Sound. It’s rather hard to fathom. Leaks from cars and hydrocarbons from exhaust are responsible for a significant amount of pollution. Also, the copper in brake pads can have toxic impacts. Copper is also being linked to the disruption of salmon olfactory (smell) senses and may be disorienting them, impeding their ability to spawn. Furthermore, car tires contain zinc, another toxic heavy metal. We can all drive less to reduce pollution. When you have the option, choose to walk, bike, or ride the bus instead of driving a car.

5. Planting and protecting native evergreens

Our native forests are integral to our success in reducing polluted runoff. Native evergreen trees are stormwater-holding tanks. For example, a mature evergreen can absorb as much as 250 gallons of rainwater a day – more than a 12-foot square rain garden built to SPU specifications to mitigate a 400 square foot roof. However, we are losing our native forests not only to development, but also to invasive species like English Ivy, Holly, Laurel, Knotweed and Himalayan Blackberry.

You have a lot of options to help plant and protect our native evergreens. If you have a large yard, you may consider planting evergreen trees. If you have an evergreen that has been taken over by English Ivy or Wild Clematis, you can periodically cut the vines at the ground and at chest level to keep if from fruiting and re-infecting forest restoration work elsewhere. If you prefer getting some social time in while saving the Sound, consider joining restoration efforts.

  • Groups that run forest restoration projects include: The Nature Consortium, the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, EarthCorps, or Green Seattle Partnership.
  • Good trees and shrubs to plant include Madrona, Doug Fir, Western Hemlock, Western Red Cedar, Evergreen Huckleberry, Shore Pine, Pacific Rhododendron, Salal and Sword Fern. Non-native plants (Rosemary, Thyme, fruit trees) for food or ornament are fine, as long as they’re not invasive.
  • Garden Cycles is a West-Seattle based business that removes invasive species:
  • The West Seattle Nursery has a good selection of native plants:

6. Using car wash facilities instead of washing cars on driveways

Finally, there is the car wash. Soaps can include phosphates, which can lead to low oxygen levels in our waterways, thereby killing fish through oxygen depletion. Soaps can also include phthalates that have been linked to reproductive problems and obesity. So, it’s best not to wash your car on your driveway and let soap wash down the storm drains. Going to a carwash is a much better alternative because the soapy water doesn’t go untreated into storm drains. If you are considering a high school fundraiser, ask your local carwash if they will give you discounted gift certificates for resale instead of washing cars in a school parking lot.

Why we should become stewards of Puget Sound

There is a lot at stake. Citizens are losing their rights to fish and swim in the Sound’s waters or to make their livelihoods from local fisheries and ecotourism. Warnings are posted around the Sound alerting people to the dangers of eating fish and shellfish. Over the past decade the gross revenue earned by Washington’s shellfish industry fell by two-thirds to $55 million in 2008 due in large part to pollution-related harvest closures.

We are also losing the salmon and orcas that underpin the identity of Pacific Northwest residents and help to drive tourism to our region. Puget Sound’s Coho Salmon are classified as a “Species of Concern.” Our orcas are the most PCB-contaminated marine mammals in the world and our Southern Resident Killer Whales are a federally listed “Endangered Species.”

We can reverse these trends. Exciting efforts are being implemented throughout the region to staunch the flow of polluted runoff using rain gardens. Seattle’s Street Edge Alternative Project (SEA Streets) used rain gardens and evergreen trees and shrubs to effectively reduce stormwater pollution by 99 percent. This creative use of “green stormwater infrastructure” actually beautified the community, increased its carbon sequestration capacity with lots of vegetation, and is promoting natural drainage. King County Wastewater Treatment Division now plans to implement similar “green stormwater infrastructure” in the Sunrise Heights and Westwood neighborhoods of West Seattle to reduce combined sewer overflows (CSO) at the Barton Pump Station.

Together, the citizens of Puget Sound can take small steps, like picking up dog poop, volunteering in a forest restoration effort, and going to the carwash – and large steps like building rain gardens – to restore Puget Sound to health. Through collective effort, we can hope to see robust salmon and orca populations once again.