Southlake

The Tale of the Swale on Yale

South Lake Union is home to forward-thinking environmental design. One of the most innovative design features, a form of green infrastructure, is what’s known as the Swale on Yale. It’s two swales actually (one in the 400 block of Yale St. and the other parallel to it on Pontius St.), and it’s about to swell to two more (just south of both locations in the 300 block of both streets).

The swales give South Lake Union a bit of moorland feel, but beyond the aesthetics these stretches of grassland are working to treat Capitol Hill storm water roadway runoff before it reaches Lake Union.

Technically the swales are known as the Capitol Hill Water Quality Project, a public private collaboration between the city of Seattle and Vulcan Real Estate; KPFF Consulting Engineers also played a key role.

“When the swales were planned (in the early 2000s),” wrote Jason Sharpley of Seattle Public Utilities, in an email exchange, “there were no regional scale biofiltration swales treating stormwater from ultra-urban roadways that we were able to find.”

“Typically, swales were used on a more limited, roadway scale to treat and convey stormwater runoff from the adjacent roadway.”

The project was so unique that the Seattle Design Commission created a special award, an “In the Works “ Excellence Award, that they won in 2011. The swales came online in 2015.

Working swale on the 400 block of Pontius St.

“Since completing the first pair of swales there has been a lot of interest and there may be new systems in other cities.”

Seattle’s steep slopes helped propel the innovation. “We have the right topography for this,” says Dave Schwartz of KPFF Consulting Engineers. The slopes make it easier to divert water to where you want it, which makes cleaning it easier too. And that’s what the swales do, filter and clean. They’re made up of densely planted grasses, “a mixture of sedges, which have edges, and rushes, which are round,” says Schwartz describing his mnemonic means of distinguishing them. 

They clean roadway runoff that “includes everything that you see, and don’t see, that is on the roadway,” says Sharpley.  “This includes brake dust from cars that carries copper, dissolved metals from galvanized fences, and bacteria from wildlife and pet waste. The swales and pretreatment that make up the Swale on Yale system do a good job of removing a significant portion of the pollutants.”

The Swale on Yale couldn’t have been done without developer help, says Schwartz, stressing the huge role that Vulcan Real Estate played in making the public private partnership happen. Vulcan provided technical and profession assistance along with contributing about $1.3 million toward design and construction. Most critically they provided the easement to the city. Developers are playing key roles in creating environmental projects that provide a greater good, says Schwartz, noting another public private project under the Aurora Bridge, rain gardens catching bridge water runoff. “Not all try to just make money and destroy the world,” he added.

Planted in rain garden soil which is a bonus for filter, the grasses catch toxic sediment from the water as it takes its time to mosey through the swale, at least nine minutes.

But even before the water reaches the swales it’s run through a diversion tank that uses centrifugal force to flush out “floatables,” a nice name for trash such as cups, straws, and cigarette butts.

From the diversion tank, controlled amounts of water are released into the swales evenly so as not to overflow them and to keep their integrity intact.

The swales then drain into a discharge pipe and the water is released to the lake.  “The water is not drinkable,” says Sharpley, “but significantly cleaner than when it entered the swale.” 

New swale plantings on the 300 block of Pontius St.

The two new swales will come online once the plants mature. For now they look like woven works of art running between the sidewalk and roadway. Once they are put to work, the system will be able to treat the full design flow of 7.2 cubic feet of water per second, which is more than 3,000 gallons a minute. The older swales treat half that capacity today. The full swale build-out will treat 435 acres of storm water runoff from Capitol Hill’s 630-acre basin.

The Swale on Yale captures the dirtiest water from both small storms and the early runoff from larger storms. Thanks to this pioneering green infrastructure, Lake Union is much cleaner than it otherwise would be and could become cleaner still with even more projects like the Swale on Yale.

The Swale on Yale — 400 block, with city workers maintaining it.
Local author to narrate Steamship Saturday Cruises

Too High, Too Steep author, David B. Williams, will narrate a one-hour cruise on Lake Union aboard the Virginia V steamship, the last of its kind, built almost 100 years ago of old growth timbers and used as part of the Mosquito Fleet. “I will be discussing some history on the lake, the ship canal/locks, and the Mosquito Fleet,” he notes on his website.

There are four more excursions this summer, two each “Steamship Saturday,” July 28 and Aug 25. Kick back enjoy a glass of beer or wine (they’ll be available for sale along with sodas and snacks onboard), drink in the views as well, and partake in some colorful local history.

The tour is a collaboration between the Center for Wooden Boats and the Virginia V Foundation.

“There’s a cost but it’s worth it because the boat is so lovely,” adds Williams.

To find out more check out Steamship Saturdays.

The Virginia V also offers other wonderful excursions this summer.

What the heck is a Hellmouth?

Unless you’ve been lost in another dimension these last couple of weeks, you’ve probably heard about Liminal Seattle that website started by two cartographers, Jeremy Puma and Garret Kelly, mapping all the strange and wonderful places in Seattle. The story about their website made the front page of the Seattle Times this week and had been bubbling up all over the local press before then. The Associated Press also picked it up.

Liminal Seattle is tracking the hot spots around the Salish Sea where people have had paranormal or inexplicable experiences. The site encourages submissions. The map makers are looking for true stories although they’re not opposed to a little mythologizing along the way.

Puma and Garret are becoming curators for that Other Seattle the imaginative and fantastical. Future plans include publishing a Tolkienesque map of the area. It’s all for fun with maybe a little social commentary on the side.

One of the first places to get mapped out was Hellmouth curiously overlapping South Lake Union.

When asked during an interview with the Seattle Review of Books how they determined the boundaries, Kelly replied, “I get the impression that you are questioning our cartographic skills? Is there an underlying assumption that we’re somehow “making up” the boundaries of the Hellmouth? Look man, I didn’t create the Hellmouth, I just pulled out the protractor and used my skills as a map-maker to roughly define the border. ”

Ah, but what is a Hellmouth you may be wondering, unless you’re a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, then you already know.

Hellmouths are places of increased supernatural energy. According to the mythology of the “Buffyverse“, this is the area in which the barriers between dimensions are weak. The Hellmouth has a focal point, which serves as a portal between earth and Hell. For these reasons, the Hellmouth attracts demons and other supernatural creatures, becoming a “hot spot” for supernatural activity. (Wikipedia)

Long before Hellmouths were brought to light by “Buffyverse,” the underlying universal story of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, they were featured throughout Medieval art and theater usually as the mouths of fire-breathing dragons devouring the damned.

A UW Theater dissertation on the web describes Hellmouths “as the conventional setting for three popular cyclic episodes of the middle ages, the Fall of Lucifer, the Harrowing of Hell, and the Last Judgment.” It was “often celebrated for its spectacle—flames, pyrotechnics display, smoke, and tumult….”

Wait a second doesn’t our own Hellmouth have a great, big spectacle every year, every 4th of July to be exact?

Bee’s Knees: It’s Pollinator Week!

The Eastlake Community Council is hosting an I-5 Colonnade Open Space clean-up event this Wednesday, June 20, from 9 to noon, and it is a good way to celebrate National Pollinator Week, which is June 18-24 this year. Another good way is to plant native plants. “Research suggests native plants are four time more attractive to native bees than exotic flowers,” says the Xerces Society, and they have a handy list of NW natives that do just that – attract bees.

If you’d like to go further but are not quite ready to become an apiarist, you can create bee habitat. It requires food (those native plants), fresh water source, and nesting places. The Green Queen has the how to’s in her blog post Make your garden bee-friendly.

Begun eleven years ago by a unanimous vote of the U.S. Senate, National Pollinator Week has “grown into an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles,” according to the Pollinator Partnership, the organization announcing the week.

Seattle was officially recognized as the eighth bee city in the country in 2015 by Bee City USA. There are now 70 bee cities, and they provide annual reports. “These reports are bursting with inspiring stories,” says Bee City USA, “of communities planting pesticide-free habitat rich in diversity of locally native plants, discussing their community’s pest management policies with pollinators in mind, and hosting events for young and old to create awe for and greater understanding of the plant-pollinator collaboration that makes our planet bloom and fruit.”

Seattle has a few nationally recognized events happening, too, organized by the nonprofit The Common Acre:

Pollinator Field Day, June 18 @ Beacon Hill Food Forest

Save the Pollinators Symposium, June 19 @ Rainier Arts Center

Meet the Bees, June 21 @ Centro de la Raza

Help Build Pollinator Habitat, June 24 @ Duwamish River Valley

Pollinator Poster 2018 available at pollinator.org/pollinator-week.

Have a comment, suggestion, or other news tip? We’d loved to hear from you.  Email us at editors@lakeunionwatershed.com

Featured sketch by Karen Berry

Historic Schooner Zodiac sails Lake Union and is docked at SLU Park, June 7-12

That beautiful sailboat you may catch sight of on Lake Union is the historic Schooner Zodiac visiting from its homeport in Bellingham.

The Zodiac is available for dockside tours at South Lake Union Park from 2 to 6 p.m. through June 12 and for a few daytime sails.

According to the Zodiac’s website:

Schooner Zodiac was built for the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical heirs in 1924 for use as a private yacht. Zodiac was designed by William H. Hand, Jr., to epitomize the best features of the American fishing schooner. The Johnsons sailed it up and down the East Coast and participated in the King’s Cup Race across the Atlantic to Spain in 1928.

The Zodiac changed hands several times during the great depression before being purchased by the San Francisco Bar Pilots. Renamed California, she enjoyed a storied career in San Francisco Bay before retiring in 1972 as the last American pilot schooner. She was purchased and restored by a community of shipwrights, sailors and historians who formed the Schooner Zodiac Corporation and operate her as a charter vessel from her homeport in Bellingham, WA. The Zodiac was added to the National Register of Historic Places by act of Congress in 1982.

(The Schooner Zodiac is often confused [even by notable historic ship aficionados] for the Adventuress, a 1913 luxury yacht, originally built for an Arctic expedition and now owned by the non-profit Sound Experience.)

Photos above and below show Schooner Zodiac en route to Lake Washington.

And docked at South Lake Union:

Living By the Lake – Epicenter of a Rapidly Changing Seattle

It has been years since I could go up on my apartment building’s upper deck overlooking Lake Union and not see multiple construction cranes, sometimes as close as a few blocks away. No surprise. Change is roaring through Seattle, nowhere more than around the lake, with the epicenter at its south end.

That area once occupied by car dealerships, wholesalers, warehouses, small shops and working-class housing has, as everyone around here knows, undergone astounding change. A new downtown has grown, fulfilling the vision of city engineer R.H. Thomson in flattening Denny Hill, albeit close to a century after Thomson expected. The area has become, in the words of the Urban Land Institute, “one of the world’s most dynamic urban technology hubs,” a mix of computing and biotech. Amazon, the world’s premier e-commerce retailer and leading web services company, has grown volcanically. From 5,000 Seattle employees in 2010 to 40,000 now, mostly in South Lake Union (SLU) and the Denny Regrade, those numbers are expected to reach 55,000 by 2020. Amazon has as much office space in Seattle as the next 43 organizations combined.

Facebook is in the area, and Google is building a major complex on Fairview at the north end of SLU. There’s a personal and indicative story in the latter that tells a lot of the story of the neighborhood. Back in 1995, I was living in Portland and playing in a political punk band. We came to Seattle for our last club date before we broke up, a play-for-beer gig at the Lake Union Pub, one of Seattle’s funkiest dive bars. The pub was torn down many years ago to become a parking lot. I used to pass it daily on the way to work. Now the new Google-plex is rising above the site. We played near what will be the building’s northeast corner.

Band playing at the Lake Union Pub (not the author’s) photo by Dan10things

Former site of the Lake Union Pub

 

One wonders about an alternative scenario in which Seattle voters approved the Commons in 1995. The large park would have stretched from the southern shore of Lake Union to Denny and been surrounded by an upscale urban village. It was opposed by people who wanted to keep the funky old neighborhood. But that neighborhood is gone, and a much more intense upscaling than was envisioned has swallowed the whole area. The South Lake Union Park that does exist is a jewel, but it does seem like a bet was missed. In any event, Amazon was determined to stay downtown. So the build-up that happened in SLU would have happened somewhere, perhaps in South Seattle, perhaps more into the old downtown.

The effects of growth are spilling across Seattle – rents rising fastest in the country in 2016, and still going up in 2017 though not quite as fast due to a boom in apartment building. A lot of that is taking place in surrounding neighborhoods including mine, Eastlake. It seems virtually impossible to walk down a street in the neighborhood without passing a construction site, usually where a single-family home has given way to multifamily housing. That and city moves to upzone densities have spurred a backlash in the neighborhoods, and lawsuits.

I’m of divided mind. As someone who works professionally on the critical issue of climate disruption, I’ve long opposed autocentric sprawl and supported growing up rather than out. Every gallon of gasoline burned represents 25 pounds of climate-twisting carbon dioxide dumped into the atmosphere, some of which will last longer than nuclear waste buried at Hanford. Making transit a practical alternative to cars takes a certain amount of density.

We are facing increasing climate impacts, from the fires that filled our air with smoke the last two summers to record storms that ravaged Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico, not to mention the Indian subcontinent and Africa. When low water levels were threatening to put houseboats on the lakebed and cut their utility lines in summer 2015, it was due to lack of mountain snowpack feeding rivers and streams, one of the major climate impacts forecast for the Northwest. As sea level rises, salt intrusion from the Ballard Locks into Salmon Bay and the lake will become an increasing problem. Climate disruption is coming home.

It is clear that the 20th century pattern of a single-family home with parking at the curb for the single-occupant vehicle must yield to 21st century realities, if we care about leaving a world to our children not completely ravaged by a disrupted climate. Replicating the current pattern with electric vehicles will still require tremendous natural resources and leave us in traffic jams. We need cities where people do not need to own a car, and that means density. It also means we must significantly build up transit and other alternatives to make it practical.

At the same time, the quality of much of the new development causes understandable backlash. Much of the architecture, and I can see it on my own block, is aptly described as “prison modern.” It presents a cold face to the street that lacks the soul and convivial feeling of the older houses it is replacing. Much is radically out of scale with surrounding buildings. Large mixed use buildings on main streets price out the funky old retail and restaurants, often replacing it with medical and other offices that don’t promote vibrant street life. In many cases dense development involves losing trees and greenspace as well as precious views. On top of all this, the bulk of new residential development is upscale apartments, while older, affordable housing is being lost. So displacement is an issue. I don’t have all the solutions for this, but we need to address these questions with better standards, and possibly have the city get into the housing development directly. We also need to accept there will be trade-offs for growth.

I have lived nearly 20 years now in Eastlake, nearly one-third of my life. When I first moved to the neighborhood in 1998, the precursors of today’s trends were already present. The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute and ZymoGenetics were already on the ground toward the south end of the neighborhood. SLU high tech development was already in sight. Eastlake Avenue had begun to be lined with multi-story mixed-used buildings. The west slope of Queen Anne was already densified. The shape of what we see today was on arrival. It is today’s rapid rate and massive scale of change that is difficult and disturbing.

But change must come, and we must somehow adapt. If there is to be growth, better an Amazon downtown than on a campus on the metropolitan fringe, and better people living in dense, transit-friendly, multi-family neighborhoods than sprawling, auto-dependent suburban subdivisions. The question is not whether or not we will grow. In fact, as one of the least climate impacted areas of the U.S., we will have our own climate refugees. People will actually move to the Northwest for the weather! The question is how will we grow, whether we will preserve equity and amenable neighborhood environments. And nowhere is the question being put more vigorously than around Lake Union.

Do you have any stories or pictures of places around Lake Union come and gone? We’d love to get them and potentially share them on the blog. editors@lakeunionwatershed.com

 

 

 

The buoys are coming to Lake Union

After some controversy, the buoys are finally coming to Lake Union. Five temporary buoys (down from eight) will be installed just before Memorial Day and removed after Labor Day. As Kristen M. Clark of Crosscut reports today:

“[T]he city of Seattle will install in Lake Union a straight line of five buoys equipped with flashing warning lights that will alert boaters, kayakers and other watercraft of seaplanes’ impending takeoffs and landings, the Seattle Office of Planning & Community Development (OCPD) told Crosscut.

“It’ll be a de facto airstrip in the lake — but not in the traditional sense with a cordoned-off physical lane exclusive only to aircraft. Boaters and other lake users will still be able to access the waters around the buoys; the idea is now they’ll have forewarning not to be in the area at the wrong time. (Aviators who will make use of the warning buoys are referring to it as a “seaplane advisory area,” while a government permit application formally called it a “takeoff/landing area.”)

“Such a water runway has been several years in the making with the goal of improving safety on Lake Union for the increasingly congested mix of sailboats, powerboats, yachts, planes, kayakers and paddle-boarders, among others.

“’This warning system is intended to support public safety on the water but does not change any current regulations about right of way for boaters or airplanes,’ OCPD spokesman Jason Kelly said in a statement.”

The buoys are arriving just in time for expanded seaplane service on the lake. Last Thursday Kenmore Air and Harbour Air launched their synergistic flights between Vancouver B.C. and Seattle. GeekWire explains, “Affectionately dubbed the ‘nerd bird,’ it’s hoped the route will attract tech workers and researchers shuttling to offices and institutions in both cities.”

The new route was hailed by Governor Jay Inslee and other dignitaries in attendance Thursday. And while it’s certainly the quickest way to get across the border, not to mention the most beautiful and spectacular, it’s not the cheapest ($570 round trip) or greenest way as commenters on the GeekWire article point out.

But seaplanes have a cherished history on Lake Union “…beginning with the famous Boeing name,” notes Crosscut. “One hundred and two years ago this June, Bill Boeing took to the skies in his first flight using a seaplane that taxied into takeoff from Seattle’s Lake Union.”

Like Boeing over a hundred years ago, both the temporary buoys and the new seaplane service are testing the Lake Union waters.

 

 

 

Possible Water Taxi for SLU to Renton coming in 2020

As the region’s transportation woes worsen, some are dreaming of bringing back a version of the “Mosquito Fleet,” boats that ferried goods and people around Lake Union, Lake Washington, and Puget Sound between the 1880’s and 1930’s. (They got their name because they were so numerous.)

A step in that direction was a recent test run of a ferry between SLU and Renton sponsored by SECO Develop Inc. King 5 News covered the Wednesday promotional event as did Crosscut’s Mossback. As Mossback writes, “While Microsoft has its own private bus system for employees, SECO envisions a service that serves the broader public and gets autos off the road. ‘We want to connect our energizing hubs,’ says SECO’s Rocale Timmons, director of planning and development. ‘We need to find a way to catalyze innovative transportation solutions.’”

One passenger on the test run summed up the proposed new water taxi this way, “This is very smooth, it’s very fast, and it’s very convenient. This is the kind of innovation that’s really going to set Seattle apart in how it affects mobility.”

 

A quasi-annual walk around Lake Union

After pie for breakfast and Thanksgiving leftovers for lunch a walk around Lake Union seemed a good idea. We started by dropping off some books at our local Little Free Library then headed down the hill. A long block of new construction at Fairview and Hamlin was a surprise to see finished. With more across the way.

DSCN1228

DSCN1229

DSCN1230

Roses were blooming at the P-Patch. Is that typical for November?

DSCN1232

A Thanksgiving gnome garden could be found just north of the P-Patch.

DSCN1233

 

Gnome Garden

 

Every time we cross the bridge Tom wonders about the scaffolding on this building. “It seems to have been put in place deliberately for the graffiti artists.”

DSCN1237

DSCN1239

 

What’s new this year are all the shared bicycles around. Tom and I talk about signing up for them — would make getting around the lake a lot easier. “Orange, lemon, and lime,” he notes.

DSCN1241

DSCN1242

In a lot of places people have knocked them over, but not in Fremont I notice once we get there. In Fremont bicycles are all standing, looking dignified, getting respect.

 

Ride the Ducks are out despite the grey skies threatening rain. A rare blue duck leaving the public dock at Sunnyside and 36th.

DSCN1247

 

This is one of my favorite views of the Space Needle on the Burke Gilman Trail, hovering above the trees.

DSCN1252

Like an alien space craft, I can’t even get a decent photo of it.

 

At Fremont we make a small detour to a small local cafe. We arrive just in time to get the only table inside before the crowds descend, about five more people.

DSCN1254

 

Back on the trail, the bridge looks especially nice.

DSCN1255

 

A sacred spot, the old wooden railroad trestle now has a picket fence gate blocking both ends to discourage walking on it, which is a good idea, as I found out the hard way a few years back.

DSCN1256

 

The controversial Westlake bikeway is settling in and seems already like its always been there.

DSCN1262

The bikeway brings with it some new art — here a beacon directing bicyclists and pedestrians to the Fremont Bridge.

DSCN1261

More art along the bikeway.

DSCN1268

At the other end of the bikeway, near MOHAI, a shimmering gateway.

DSCN1269

 

We stopped at the MOHAI Cafe for another break.

DSCN1272

Rain and dusk were falling after that.

 

But a reminder at South Lake Union that Christmas is just around the corner.

DSCN1276

 

Dick Wagner, 1933-2017:  Champion of Lake Union

Eastlake and Lake Union lost a dear friend and great champion with the April 20 death of Dick Wagner.  The Seattle Times obituary by Claudia Rowe tells how it all started:  Wagner grew up in New Jersey and was trained as an architect.  “But during the mid-1950s, en route to a summer job in San Francisco, he stopped in Seattle.  That sudden change of plans would alter the trajectory of his life and affect thousands of others.  He fell in love with the city, found a floating home to live in on the shores of Lake Union and eventually married one of his neighbors, the former Colleen Luebke.”

Dick and Colleen came to the lake when wooden boats were no longer dominant, and as the skills and commitment to build, maintain, and operate them were waning.  With genius and unstoppable verve, they threw themselves into preservation and promotion, founding the Center for Wooden Boats as a living museum where people of all levels of skill or income level could experience another era’s legacy aboard handmade wooden craft.   As Caren Crandell, first assistant director at the Center recalls in a tribute on its web site, “The goal was always to get a tool, an oar, a tiller, or a mainsheet in someone’s hand, so they could feel the wood, the water, or the wind as they discovered with amazement what they could do.”

Although Wagner was not an Eastlake resident (the family’s houseboat, the Old Boathouse, is in the shadow of the Aurora Bridge), he was important to Eastlake’s survival as a human-scaled neighborhood.  In the 1960s for the Floating Homes Association, Dick did drawings for parks at Eastlake’s shoreline street-ends—many of which became reality in the ensuing decades (a few still remain to be accomplished).   He also did drawings for traffic calming and greening of Fairview Avenue East, the earliest step toward the City’s 1998 designation of part of Fairview as a “neighborhood green street,” and the street design concept plan that the City is now reviewing.

Dick Wagner was a popular speaker at Eastlake Community Council meetings, as with a 2012 talk on “Mysteries of Lake Union,” based in part on his 2008 book, Legends of the Lake.  As ECC wrote in endorsement of grant funding for the Center for Wooden Boats, “No organization is better suited…to uncover Lake Union’s history and tell [its] story.  We regard CWB as the best organization of its kind anywhere.  The construction, restoration, and operation of a wooden boat require great care and an ability to tell its story.  In just that way, everything else that the Center for Wooden Boats does is equally well-planned, professionally produced, historically grounded, and effective at reaching a broader audience.”

ECC offers condolences to Dick Wagner’s wife, sister, two sons and grandchild. At his request, no public service was held.  But surely he would have been pleased that on May 21 a flotilla of historic wooden boats including the Virginia V, M/V Lotus, Tordenskjold, and hundreds of other smaller vessels sailed in tribute, between the Center for Wooden Boats and the Wagners’ Old Boathouse.

Donations in memory to Dick Wagner may be made to The Center for Wooden Boats (1010 Valley St, Seattle, WA, 98109), online at cwb.org, or by phone at 206-382-2628.  Please include “Dick Wagner Memorial” in the memo or notes line.  ECC has made such a donation and encourages others to do so.

 

Article written by Chris Leman, reprinted with permission from the Eastlake News

CWB copy

sketch by Karen Berry