The Department of Planning and Development (DPD) has initiated a significant planning effort that brings together issues of land use and transportation. The study covers the corridor that stretches approximately three miles along Elliot Avenue W and 15th Avenue NW from Interbay to Ballard. The purpose of this planning activity is to develop a vision for the lands close to this heavily travelled, multi-functional route.

One of my key learnings as a Councilmember has been the realization that land use and transportation are not just associated, but are inextricably intertwined. In fact, I often comment that land use and transportation are really the same thing, like two sides of the same coin. The fact is that the nature of development both shapes the need for transportation and responds to the transportation options available. Access to transit, the walkability and bikability of neighborhoods, the ability of trucks and freight to move around, all tell you what kind of development works in an area – and when the development does not match the available transportation options, it requires significant work to bring them back into alignment. It’s not surprising that when every Seattle neighborhood accepted its growth target under the Comprehensive Plan and provided a list of recommendations for community improvements, more than half of the recommendations involved transportation.

And transportation improvements, especially major ones, tend to be expensive and take long time to construct. While many of the neighborhood plan recommendations involved relatively modest improvements, like adding stop signs and traffic lights, a number of communities recognized that only significant new services, especially transit services, would make continued development workable. Light rail is potentially transformational on the east side of Seattle, although the recession has slowed the changes in South East Seattle along the only route that has been completed, but it takes a long time to build.

No one in Seattle would be surprised to learn that the Elliott/15th Avenue corridor presents many challenges to transportation planners, and that creating good access routes between Ballard and downtown is a critical issue. Ballard is growing rapidly, but 15th is its only through access to downtown. Interbay, which was not a neighborhood planning area, is adding commercial and residential development. And the area along Elliott Avenue continues to redevelop as new office space is constructed. There is critical pressure on both freight and passenger capacity for this route.

Metro has introduced its RapidRide service, which is intended to provide faster and more reliable bus service along the corridor. While it should eventually improve, the initial phases have not lived up to the promises. The City and Sound Transit have partnered to review possible rail access, but this study is just in beginning. In the meantime, we need to find a way to manage the corridor that will work as these new services are developed.

That’s where the Ballard to Interbay Corridor Study comes in. The study will consider how to address redevelopment issues in Interbay and Ballard, look at the potential for coordinating future transit investments and development, and identify opportunities for improving livability in the area. It could include proposals for changes to the Comprehensive Plan or the Land Use Code to support the vision for the corridor, which will be developed through a series of meetings with community working groups and reviewed in community meetings.

DPD is analyzing a variety of information about existing conditions. The Interbay working group has been meeting since December 2012 and will present preliminary recommendations to the community in April or May. The Ballard working group has begun meeting this spring.

This approach is an interesting and potentially important way to transcend the limits of neighborhood planning and consider ways in which to address common interests along this kind of linear corridor. For more information, go to: http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/Planning/EnvisioningInterbay/Overview/