Safe Routes to McDonald International School

I’ve been working on Safe Routes to School issues at the McDonald International School for several years, since before it re-opened in 2012.

I’ve been aware of problems at this intersection, but recently several near-misses have prompted me to make sure the issue has attention from the city, and the simple solution designed and ready.

Here is the problem, animated….


To avoid having to wait in the traffic queue to drop off their kids, drivers are blocking the crosswalk, forcing kids walking to school into dangerous space outside of the pedestrian zone.


After the drivers have dropped of their kids, they will often back up into the other crosswalk in the arterial. Creating an even more dangerous situation as they drive in reverse across the sidewalk.


Here is a description of the problem, described by a parent…

This morning and yesterday morning while my kids and I were walking to school, parents in cars were dropping their children off in the crosswalk on the playground side of 54th Street and Latona Ave N. While I understand this is more convenient for the driving parents than waiting in line to drop off at the designated area down the block, it is extremely dangerous. The danger is twofold, they block the crosswalk so that walkers have to walk very close to the car in order to complete their crossing and the cars need to both back up and drive forward essentially making three moves inside the crosswalk. Children are small and easy to miss in the forward and rear views. Yesterday morning a parent backed into three children, myself and my husband, nearly touching us as we crossed. We were all scared.

This morning I told my kids to go in front of the driver so that we could be sure to be seen. And as I walked in front of the car, I rapped my knuckles on the hood to be sure the driver saw me.  I also spoke to the driver through her passenger side window once I was safely on the sidewalk at the corner of the 54th side of the playground and Latona. I said, “You know if is very dangerous to drop off here.”

What I wished I had said was, “When you drop off here you put my kids and me in grave danger.”

And another…

I also witnessed an incident at pick up.  Same issue (backing up into the crosswalk area) however this was caused from a slightly different situation.  A car wanted to drive westbound on 54th.  However, there was a car heading westbound and due to all the parked cars, there was nowhere for the eastbound car to go but forward to Latona.  Therefore, the westbound car was forced to back up nearly hitting a middle schooler and aging adult.  Had I not seen the car backing up and warned them, they would have been hit.

Here is our simple solution…a curb bulb for this crosswalk.


A curb bulb would fill in the curb space where irresponsible drivers block the sidewalk while dropping off their kids. They will then be forced to proceed to an appropriate dropoff zone, which keeps them from blocking the crosswalk. This will also eliminate the danger of drivers making the dangerous reverse crossing of the Latona crosswalk.

Visibility will be increased with the kids being on the bulb, instead of further back on the sidewalk. The crossing distance will also be reduced for children in the crosswalk, creating an even safer environment.

I’m excited about this solution, and I’m looking forward to making the streets safer for our kids!

Heat Maps

While at the UW, I created a set of heat maps showing the density of responses to our Campus Landscape Framework survey. The survey asked a number of questions about the preferences and perceptions of students, staff, faculty, and alumni. I took the responses and visualized them geographically…

Bebb & Gould Regent’s Plan for the UW, 1915-1945

The Bebb & Gould plan for the University of Washington–updated nine times between 1915-1945. North is left.

1915-1945 UW Regents Plan

This plan is a great display of both what was built and what wasn’t. A few roundabouts remain from the AYPE. Campus Parkway never had the grand plaza envisioned here. The South Campus golf links were replaced by the UW Medical Center, but never made it to East Campus (except, I suppose, for the driving range).

They seemed to care about maintaining a connection from the main campus to the South Campus waterfront–this was forgotten by the next generation, but has been recently made a priority again.

I’m glad they never enclosed the Liberal Arts Quad as shown here. In the way it was eventually developed, the elevation change as you move to the northeast gives a good sense of enclosure, and allows for an axis from the northeast dormitories into the central campus.

Denny Yard would be a much more interesting space if they had actually enclosed it as shown here. The energy of the Yard is sapped by a poor sense of definition. The tighter, defined plaza shown here would be a place to gather and be seen.


A History of the UW in 120 Frames

I love watching things change over time.

Buildings, landscapes, street grids–everything morphs with changing technologies and cultural priorities, and time-enabled mapping can help us visualize and understand the changes that have occurred.

When I started this project for the University of Washington, we had just celebrated the centennial of the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition. John Stamets, who teaches photography at the UW College of Built Environments, had co-authored a book about the 1909 event, documenting  with maps and then-and-now photos. He had aligned a number of historical AYPE plans in Photoshop, transforming each until they all lined up with a modern map. Using this method, he was able to pinpoint the locations of the historical photographs, and take photos of the current conditions from the same location and angle.

He gave me his collection of digitized AYPE plans, which I took and georeferenced. Using the plans as a guide, I then digitized the building footprints and created links between the new geometry and the existing historical database. Once the 1909 buildings were digitized, I researched plans and maps of other eras, looking forward and back from the year of the Exposition. Where there were additions to buildings over the years, I georeferenced old construction plans that enabled me to show the evolution of the building shapes over time. Over the course of several months I was able to put together a spatial database of nearly all the UW buildings that ever existed, tied in with a rich historical database. The timeline features of ArcGIS allowed me to create a 4d map, showing any of the buildings at any specific time between 1885 and 2015.

This timeline video is a distillation of the information collected and created.

Cool things to look for:

The Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition was the single most profound influence on the layout of the University. Although most of the AYPE buildings were demolished shortly after 1909, the landscape retains much of the physical form of that event. Rainier Vista is the most obvious remnant, but the influence can also be seen in the layout of much of the central campus. The HUB Yard area had a circle with a band stand. Frosh Pond/Drumheller Fountain was larger in 1909, but was in the same location. Stevens Way is essentially the same route as the parkway in the 1909 layout. Some of the AYPE structures were put to use as institutional buildings for years or decades–the Forestry Building, at the site where the HUB now stands, was used until 1930, when its rustic timbers were deemed too rotted to save. The Washington building was used first as a library and then as the High Energy Physics Lab until demolished in 1961. Its foundation survived as a landscape element (not shown) until the construction of the Allen Library. Gradually, over the years, most of the surviving Exposition buildings were torn down. Now, only three remain.

Five years after the AYPE, the Lake Washington Ship Canal was completed, and Lake Washington dropped by eight feet.

At the end of and just after WWI, from 1917-1922, barracks stood briefly where Guggenheim Hall is now. The post-WWII (1946–mid 50s) era saw a tremendous construction boom, including the erection of temporary barracks all across the UW to house returning soldiers. Located in the center of campus, in the north campus where Dempsey Hall and Paccar Hall now stand, and especially in the eastern campus, at the site of Center for Urban Horticulture–none of the barracks remain.

The original Lander and Terry halls were built on the site that is now the Sound Transit University of Washington Station (at Husky Stadium). These were built in 1917 and demolished in 1928.

Some buildings morph over time–watch Suzzallo Library, the Art Building, the power plant, and the Applied Physics Lab.

in 1937, 15th Ave NE was widened to the east. This necessitated the construction of the retaining wall along the west edge of the UW campus. I was surprised to learn that this wall was designed by Bebb & Gould.

Watch the changes in the Southwest and West Campus. In 1937, the University’s grand boulevard to and from nowhere, Campus Parkway, was cut through what was a neighborhood of modest single-family homes, removing scores of houses. The era of urban renewal hastened the change.  Properties were condemned by the city and deeded to the University, allowing the consolidation of lots, the re-routing of streets, and the construction of most of the University-owned structures in the area. in 1962, I-5 was completed. NE Pacific Street was re-routed in the 1970’s. The UW’s suburban office-park buildings along Boat Street were completed in the 80’s and 90’s. 15th Ave NE was re-routed in the late 90’s, in between the construction of the first nasty Portage Bay Garage that cut The Ave off from the waterfront and the second nasty Portage Bay Garage addition that was ironically LEED-certified. All of these changes altered the street patterns, destroyed old neighborhoods, and cut the University District off from surrounding communities.

Some Caveats:

The building data should be pretty accurate–I spent a lot of time and did a lot of research to create it.

The original downtown Seattle campus is not included in this project.

The campus landscape, paths and roads are accurate at several points along the timeline, but they aren’t coded year-by-year as the buildings are. Really, they’re only accurate from 1895–>1930 or so. After that, the 1930 landscape stretches out to 1960, and the 2013 landscape stretches back to 1980. Between 1960 and 1980 there is a very noticeable lack of landscape.

The roads, modified from Seattle right-of-way GIS data, are approximate. Again, they aren’t coded year-by-year. I did a snapshot for about every decade starting in the 1900s.

For all layers, there will be points when two things exist in the same place at the same time. This is a result of the coarseness of the time data. For buildings, this will mean that a building was demolished and a new building was erected in the same place within a single year.


GeoSIMS–An Application for Interior Mapping

In my years at the University of Washington, my greatest accomplishment (along with Eric Darst) was the envisioning, design and implementation of GeoSIMS–the Geographic Space Information Management System.

FloorPlanGISThis online application utilizes a multi-campus set of georeferenced floorplans to enable the tracking of room information. The implementation was a challenge–a  lot of different people and departments had to be brought together to make it work. Some groups were indifferent. Some were resistant. Ultimately it all came together, and the UW has a system of space tracking that is streamlined and automated.

For those of you interested in a bit more detail on the background of the program and its uses, you can download my presentation to the University for the GeoSIMS rollout (warning–10 mb Powerpoint file).