Monthly Archives: June 2019

Say “goodbye” (for now) to the floating sidewalk on Lake Union

There are many gems on Lake Union, but one that mostly locals know about (and fiercely protect) is about to disappear. It’s the floating sidewalk adjacent to the Fairview bridge that is itself adjacent to the historic City Light Steam Plant building.  The old wooden trestle bridge has done its time and must go and along with it the hidden floating sidewalk – you can’t see it from the roadway.

But it’s there all the same, down a stairway, offering a brief, delightful refuge from the street. It’s also one of the few places where you can get close to the lake and view a wide vista, as a friend of mine noted. Close, for sure, you’re walking right on it; it’s open space, a de facto park.

Pedestrians love the floating sidewalk beside the Fairview trestle.

The bridge will be replaced with something earthquake proof, streetcar ready, sturdy and modern with bike lanes and look out points. At first there were only vague promises of bringing back the floating sidewalk.  It was dependent on budget and permitting, said the city, and that didn’t sound promising. But MariLyn Yim, SDOT project manager, confirms the floating sidewalk will be rebuilt.

Rendering of new Fairview Avenue Bridge.

She had to do “some trading and swapping and talking [to get] the floating walkway OK’d,” wrote Jules James, one of its fierce defenders, in an email.

Closure and demolition of the bridge is expected to happen this fall, once improvements to Aloha Street are complete as that will be the detour route.

The roadway next to the historic Steam Plant building is actually an old wooden trestle, reinforced over the years.

Some are predicting major traffic jams with the closure of this 500 foot segment, but that’s what they said about the viaduct too and that just wasn’t the case

Catch the old floating sidewalk now while you still can. It’s just a stone’s throw from MOHAI and the Center for Wooden Boats. Walk up Eastlake Ave. for a close-up view of the historic Steam Plant and its remarkable tilework. (Eastlake Ave. is its front.) Next door is the even older Hydro House, open for breakfast and lunch weekdays with an outdoor patio that faces the lake and overlooks the old bridge.

Featured floating sidewalk sketch by Karen Berry.

Denser development coming

Owners of the Cortina, located at the opposite southern corner from Serafina, at 2001 Eastlake Ave., have submitted plans to the city to tear down the two buildings that make up the 1957 22-unit apartment complex, according to a May 21 Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce article. The proposal for the site takes advantage of the new 65-foot up zoning, notes the Journal. The owners, Graham Capital Group, plan a six-story, 90-unit apartment building with retail and commercial space and 35 underground parking space, as well as room for 95 bike stalls.

This old house on Eastlake may be replaced with a six-story 30-unit building, no parking.

Another parcel taking advantage of the new up zone, is between the Cortina and Serafina, an old house, at 2031 Eastlake Ave. Plans were submitted for it to be replaced, according to a May 20 Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce article, with “a six-story building with 30 units, no parking and possibly 600 square feet of commercial space.”

Shaking things up: Eastlake Hub’s first all-city drill

Last Saturday’s Eastlake Hub drill simulated a “Seattle Fault” 6.7 magnitude earthquake and a four-foot seiche on Lake Union, which is not a tsunami but is a lot of violent sloshing back and forth in the lake’s basin.

“We’re assuming the worst,”’ said Jess Levine, Eastlake Hub’s Public Information Officer for the day. “People won’t be able to get over I-5 or the University Bridge. Eastlake would be cut off, and we don’t have a lot of resources,” he added, noting that the nearest fire station would be in Belltown because Station #22 across I-5 on Roanoke wouldn’t be able to reach Eastlake until all bridges are certified safe by SDOT.

I-5 could conceivably be an impassable canyon dividing the city.

“Some people could be coming here injured and hysterical,” Jess said referring to Rogers Playfield where the hub drill was being held and is Eastlake’s information clearing house should disaster strike.  The hub won’t have supplies though. Individuals and families need to prepare for themselves.  But it will be the communications center.  “The city is telling people to be prepared for at least two weeks of being off the grid,” said Levine.  That means no electricity, no gas, no water, no phone, and no internet.

Seattle hubs are all volunteer run, and Eastlake was one of 14 neighborhood hubs participating in the city-wide “Seattle Fault” earthquake drill June 1. Eastlake Hub currently has nine active members, and after Saturday’s drill will likely be adding new members. The public was invited to stop by, participate, and sign up for email notices. “We plan to have more local drills and share preparedness information,” said Margaret Sanders, Eastlake Hub Captain, to get Eastlake prepared.

Hub volunteer Anne Bonn and Eastlake Hub Captain Margaret Sanders discuss a message that has come in. In the foreground is the jar with the day’s possible scenarios.

The biggest need right now, she added, is for more radio operators, either GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) for communicating with family and friends when cell service is limited or out, as well as with other hubs, or ham for communicating with the city and for that matter anywhere in the world.

KC McNeil is Eastlake’s only ham radio operator affiliated with the hub. He became one after joining the hub last year when he realized there was no one to fill the role.

KC and Margaret both expressed the hope that other ham radio operators who live or work in Eastlake will sign on to help in emergencies.

When a scrap of paper with the day’s possible scenarios was pulled from a jar, this one – a sewer break on Fairview Avenue, with raw sewage pouring onto the street, KC radioed that information to the city on the ham radio.

“This is a drill,” he began, reading off the message prepared in careful legible block caps as recommended by the planners. It wasn’t clear if Columbia Tower, Seattle’s headquarters got the message. They never responded.

There are issues, KC said.  He had tested the ham radio at the top of the hill on Boylston Ave. earlier, where it seemed to work fine, but down the hill on Rogers Playfield where he was set up, it was apparently not working so well. They may need to find the money to purchase an antenna for the playfield or a stronger radio, he added.

At any rate that’s what the drill was for – to help sort out those types of issues.

KC McNeil listens to the radio. He has both a ham and GMRS radio at the table.

Besides trying to get messages out to the city and other hubs and hearing from them, the hub had a makeshift communications network for neighbors spread out along the fence around the tennis courts. The fence served as a message board for people to put up notices of what they needed and others to respond or add what they had to share, and for one hub volunteer to write the latest news on a large board.

It also provided laminated posters of what to do if the water was out; how to make potable water, how to set up makeshift toilets; how long food will last in the fridge or freezer with no power (advice: don’t open the doors). 

“We need a lot more volunteers,” said Jess, “to fulfill the various roles and be interchangeable – nobody knows where they’ll be when the big one strikes. They may not even be in the neighborhood at all. The hub is cross-training because of that uncertainty.

Hub volunteer BJ Bergevin writes down the latest news for the community to read at the emergency drill, “Full electricity outage.”

“The hub is being formed for all types of emergencies not just earthquakes,” he added. “Besides, it’s good for community building.”

If you’d like more information about programs, training or volunteer opportunities for the hub, check out the http://seattleemergencyhubs.org  or http://www.seattle.gov/emergency-management/prepare. Eastlake Hub also has information for condo associations.

If you’re interested in becoming a radio operator, there are two options: GMRS will allow you to communicate locally, and there are no classes or tests to take, just a fee for a five-year license. Getting a ham license is more involved, on a par with getting a driver’s license, although some would say not even that hard. Classes are offered periodically in the area, and you no longer need Morse code to qualify. You just need to know the protocols, and you’ll be able to communicate with anyone, anywhere. Ham radio waves can go to the moon and back.

Featured photo at top — left to right hub volunteers: KC McNeil, Kathi Woods, and Anne Bonn

Electric seaplanes could fly over Lake Union in coming years

As a 20-year inhabitant of Eastlake, the roar of seaplanes flying overhead has become a familiar and even comforting sound.  But emerging technology could make those overflights much quieter, and a lot more sustainable.

Electric airplanes powered by batteries are beginning to appear.  Harbour Air, which partners with our own Kenmore Air on daily flights between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., announced plans to convert its fleet to all electric.  With 37 planes, Vancouver-based Harbour is the largest seaplane-alone airline in North America, and aims to become the first all-electric airline of any type in the world.

The company is starting test flights this year by converting a De Havilland DHC-2 Beaver, familiar to Lake Union residents as the smaller, and to my experience noisier, planes flown by Kenmore.  The aim is to gain approval of aviation regulators in the U.S. and Canada, and begin passenger service by 2021. Batteries will provide 100 miles range, or about 60 minutes flight time, leaving a reserve for Harbour’s average 30-minute flight time. 

Electrified aviation in development comes in forms from personal to larger commuter aircraft by companies including Boeing and JetBlue, and promises to reduce air pollution and climate-twisting carbon pollution, not to mention sound pollution.  Vancouver and Seattle, mostly hydropowered, offer some of the lowest-carbon electricity on Earth.  Harbour already claims carbon neutrality, based on offset purchases since 2007.

Redmond-based electrified aviation company MagniX will supply the electrical system. “Batteries remain the limiting factor for electrical propulsion in aviation, said Roei Ganzarski, MagniX’s CEO and a former Boeing executive,” Bloomberg reports.  “‘By 2025, 1,000 miles is going to be easily done,’ Ganzarski said, based on the evolution of current battery technologies. ‘I’m not saying 5,000 miles, but 1,000 miles, easily. I don’t think that’s far-fetched or a pie-in-the-sky thing.”

Electrek, a site devoted to electrified transportation concludes, “Converting seaplanes seems like a good fit, and the two companies also seem to have found a good sweet spot in flight range. Converting all of Harbour Air’s ‘seaplanes into ePlanes’ isn’t going to happen overnight, but even so, this is a milestone.”

Eastlake seaplane historian Jules James has some skepticism.   “My feeling is it is technically feasible, but not financially.  They can get 30 minutes of paid flying time on one charge.  Each charge takes an hour.   Dock space is precious.  I can’t have a seaplane fueling up for an hour on a busy day.”

My hit, having worked professionally studying alternative vehicle fuels including electricity, hydrogen and biofuels, is that battery technology is rapidly improving and coming down in price. Fueling with voltage will be cheaper, and upfront costs can do nothing but come down.  Fast charging could solve the problem Jules cites. Electricity is not going to power jetliners to Europe anytime soon.  But for smaller planes up to intercity commuter aircraft on the Horizon Air level, electricity is the future. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

Patrick Mazza

Seaplane sketch by Karen Berry