Seattle: On the Cusp of Change, Facing New Opportunities

February 06, 2020
Pressured by rapid growth, can Seattle transform itself with the adoption of micromobility transportation?

“We believe it is important for us as humans to come together in exceptional places that foster connection and enhance our sense of shared community.”

– Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Gathering

Seattle has the opportunity to reinvent its urban infrastructure in the new decade, developing more livable streets and publicly used spaces to shape the city positively. This topic is the focus of our upcoming Year of Gathering event in Seattle and the premise of a recent Daily Journal of Commerce article titled, “Why electric scooters could be a game changer for Seattle by Garrett Reynolds, AIA, an associate at our firm.

Like other rapidly densifying regions across the United States, Seattle is experiencing significant growth and increasingly complex development issues. Large-scale projects, like the removal of the Viaduct and The Waterfront Seattle Program, have offered a unique opportunity for Seattle to positively transform its urban fabric while grappling with added density and growth. There are now possibilities to rethink old policies and new micro solutions to significant transportation issues that bring the focus back to the human level.

As Reynolds wrote in his article, micromobility adoption could have dramatic impacts:

“As Seattle takes strides to provide pedestrian-friendly urban environments, the ultimate success of these projects will depend on their connectivity. Micromobility options including electric scooters, and a supporting infrastructure, hold the potential to be the next game changer in our cities, reshaping urban centers and transforming the way we commute.”

1 / 3
Photo credit: Oakie from Unsplash, Viaduct before removal at Pikes Place Market in Seattle, WA

“It is imperative for us to embrace technology and the change it could bring to how we think about urban spaces. We need to be open to reconsidering architecture and urban design in the 21st century.”

– Garrett Reynolds, AIA, Why electric scooters could be a game changer for Seattle

Micromobility’s Potential

The adoption of micromobility transportation (defined by UCSD as, “small, manually or electrically powered vehicles used to travel short distances”), could have a notable impact on Seattle. It is a solution currently being tested by Seattle’s Department of Transportation as part of a three-phase pilot program.

According to a 2018 Populus report on micromobility, scooters could close the public transportation gap:

“It is widely believed that as cities become more urban and streets more crowded, micromobility services could more effectively replace personal vehicle and ride-hailing trips, as well as deliver first- and last-mile solutions for public transit. In fact, our analysis of the most recent national transportation data indicates that over 45% of the trips made in the United States are 3 miles or less, and 78% of those trips are made by personal vehicle.” (pg 4)

Seattle’s new pedestrian first waterfront redevelopment provides the perfect opportunity to integrate new modes of transportation in a thoughtful way that is beneficial to Seattle’s residence. Populus’s research shows that scooters are more accessible then bike-share programs to lower-income riders and women, pointing out their low user cost, their perceived safety over bikes, ease of use, and convenience for short trips.

Photo credit: Taylor Vick from Unsplash

What this means for Seattle

Just as cities have rapidly formed around transportation changes in previous generations, Seattle is undergoing a historical period of transition. Forms of transportation continue to evolve, and we must adapt. As Reynolds says, “this makes mobility an important challenge with which architects and designers must grapple.” While transportation infrastructure hasn’t changed much since the 1950s, when freeways and interstates were built to accommodate the growing use of cars, cities have continued to evolve due to population rise, job markets, and shifting behaviors of young people.

To help this, Reynolds says, “it is imperative for us to embrace technology and the change it could bring to how we think about urban spaces. We need to be open to reconsidering architecture and urban design in the 21st century.” Reynolds asks, “If the expressway enabled the rise of the automobile, what urban design innovation is needed to bring about the rise of the electric scooter in our cities?”