Sammamish city council members just screwed their constituents

Editorial

The Sammamish City Council members just screwed their constituents.

On a 5-2 vote May 15, the council agreed to advance the current proposal for revising the traffic concurrency model.

It was a vote that shocked Mayor Christie Malchow and council member Tom Hornish, who opposed advancing the model.

Deputy Mayor Karen Moran and Members Jason Ritchie, Pam Stuart, Ramiro Valderrama and Chris Ross voted to advance the concurrency revisions even through the model doesn’t include analyzing congestion and travel times. The model’s creation also included count flaws, the staff admitted, nor was it validated when submitted to council for approval.

Drivers who sit in traffic are told they have a better experience. Traffic, according to the model, has improved from 2014 to 2016.

It’s a preposterous claim. Yet five council members voted to advance the model toward approval in June or July.

Ignoring the facts and campaign pledges

Malchow and Hornish led the way in challenging the veracity of the old concurrency model and the new one developed by staff and consultants.

The council split over the process. Malchow and Hornish were followed by Moran and Ross. Valderrama led Ritchie and Stuart in opposition. This pattern is why Malchow and Hornish were stunned by the 5-2 vote.

Here’s a rundown.

Karen Moran campaigned in part on her expertise and knowledge of concurrency. She served on the Planning Advisory Board that wrote the city’s first Comprehensive Plan and on the Planning Commission when concurrency was before both commissions.

She also campaigned in part as a council member who would challenge and question staff, consultants and the city manager.

Her vote to continue with this flawed concurrency model and her general complacency with personnel is a huge disappointment.

During her election campaign, Karen Moran criticized previous city councils for weakening the Level of Service standard, but she just voted to do the same with the proposed traffic concurrency model.

During the candidates forum in the August 2017 primary, Moran said that on the issues of traffic management and the current methodology for measuring concurrency the Level of Service (LOS) metrics have been “watered down,” over the last several city administrations. Her vote on May 15 further waters down LOS.

In Moran’s general election questionnaire, she criticized the practice of “segment averaging, lowered Level of Service, and capacity added for things such as trails, curb width, width of sidewalk etc.  This has left us in gridlock.” Yet the core problem, congestion and travel time, left out of the new concurrency model, doesn’t seem to matter now to Moran.

Pam Stuart’s strong position advocating proceeding shouldn’t be a surprise. At the primary candidates forum, Stuart praised staff and said council should rely on them. She tried to walk this back some when The Comment criticized her for this, writing:

Pam Stuart’s election campaign statements don’t jive with her actions on the city council.

“We need to rely on staff to provide the recommendations for the very complicated issues that face our city and have council who has the technical acumen to review those proposals and make decisions in the best interest of the community. If we don’t have enough or the right staff, that needs to be corrected. But we should not be looking to a 7-person council to come up with all of the answers. Our traffic issues are not easily solved – the council needs to set the direction that we must solve traffic – get experts to advise, have full time staff engaged and provide recommendations… and then council make the right decisions.”

Stuart indeed is deferring to staff, but she’s not providing direction. Rather, she’s siding with staff and challenging those council members who are questioning staff.

In her Candidate’s Questionnaire for the primary, Stuart listed traffic as one of her top three priorities.

“Increase transportation options through increased road capacity, adding intra-city public transit – relieving congestion,” she wrote.

But today, “congestion” is excluded from the proposed concurrency model and Stuart is going along.

Ramiro Valderrama’s serial flip-flopping perplexes people who were previously staunch supporters and even fellow city council members.

Ramiro Valderrama is the biggest disappointment. Throughout his first term, Valderrama not only made it his mission to challenge staff and be the citizen ombudsmen, he relished these roles.

Today, he’s become the council’s strongest champion for STCA, having flip-flopped on his support for the Town Center three times. Valderrama is leading the charge to quell any drill-down into concurrency flaws, to adopt the current proposal and lift the moratorium.

His 180-degree flip from his first term confounds even who were his strongest supporters, including The Comment. His motives are perplexing and his motives are questioned even by fellow council members. Valderrama criticizes Malchow and Hornish for pursuing their beliefs concurrency is flawed, a huge contrast to his own approach to issues in his first term when his critics criticized his persistent squeaky wheel demeanor.

Jason Ritchie is new to city government and many issues. Traffic concurrency is one of the most complex and he asks many questions to clarify the issues in his mind.

But during the general election campaign, he was clear about this:

Jason Ritchie said during his election campaign that the city’s concurrency model didn’t accurately reflect traffic conditions. The new, proposed model doesn’t, either–but he still voted for it.

“We are not measuring traffic, as part of our concurrency requirements, in a manner that accurately represents true traffic patterns. More weight should be placed on traffic during rush hours.”

The proposed concurrency model doesn’t “accurately represent true traffic patterns.” Nor does it truly measure rush hour traffic. The new model proposes measuring traffic between 7-8 AM to capture school traffic. Malchow presented data that in some locations, the true rush hour is between 8-9 and.

Some cities measure a two-hour window.

Ritchie’s rookie lack of understanding of all the complex issues is natural. But these flaws compared with his own campaign statements are clear as a bell.

Chris Ross is also new to the council, and like Ritchie, is befuddled by some of the complexities of concurrency.

During the general election, Ross wrote in his candidate questionnaire:

Campaigner Chris Ross said traffic concurrency needs to focus on congestion. The new traffic model ignores congestion, but he voted for it.

“We need to prevent the [traffic] problem from getting worse.  The current system measures capacity.  The credits utilized are misleading.  For example, adding a median, increasing road width by 1 foot, and adding a walkway provides a credit of 7420 vehicles or added capacity of 57%.  This does not mean that we are taking 7420 cars off the road, just that these improvements allow a greater capacity of traffic to safely utilize the road.  We need to examine the magnitude of these credits and the accuracy of the measurements used to qualify them.   We need to focus our attention on congestion.”

However, the new model ignores “congestion.”

A larger issue

Aside from abandoning their own pledges to meaningfully address concurrency and congestion, council members face a larger issue: the veracity of the staff and consultants.

The city manager, his deputy, the public works director and his deputy have no any experience or domain subject expertise on traffic engineering.

Staff and consultants have provided conflicting information, unkept promises, stonewalled and practiced the bob-and-weave to questions.

Candidate Stuart perhaps said it best:

“At no point was I implying that we should blindly follow staff…but if we cannot rely on our staff, we have other issues that need to be resolved – and we need leaders to do that. An organization is only as good as its employees – we need to hire the best, provide them the vision and priorities, provide them what they need to be successful, and then hold them accountable.”

In Sammamish, the buck stops with city manager Lyman Howard.

This is not happening at the Sammamish City Council.

Under the city manager form of government, the council can’t dip down to staff level. The city manager is the chief executive officer of the city and the council is the board of directors. Thus, in Sammamish, the buck stops in the corner office of the city manager.

The city just spent six months and nearly $400,000 of a contact awarded for more than $900,000 to craft a new concurrency model that doesn’t analyze congestion and fails to follow council direction to measure travel time, which weakens Level of Service standards and is worse than the concurrency model it is designed to replace.

The model doesn’t measure driver experience and claims traffic is better than it was in 2014. This model is crafted so that no traffic concurrency test will ever fail.

The council can and should hold Lyman Howard accountable.

Then it should reverse itself and pursue a model that is honest.

22 thoughts on “Sammamish city council members just screwed their constituents”

  1. Thanks for your analysis. This type of decision making is exactly why Sammamish is getting overrun with poorly mitigated development.

    What do we need to advocate at the neXT meeting?

      1. Scott, Please describe what you mean by time-travel. Also explain how travel time is linked to GMA goals and the city’s comprehensive plan land use element. Question: can travel time provide an approach that allows simulation of future conditions? How to calculate and use travel time along a corridor with numerous intersections? Would it not still be necessary to do intersection analysis and is not travel time a factor of v/c? Can you conceive of situations in which congestion and slower traffic speeds are desirable, schools for example, on local neighborhood streets (city putting in traffic calming facilities. Also we have a lot of barriers that require detours that impact travel time? Will it be appropriate to have different LOS for different zones within the city.
        I suggest it is more positive to focus on a multi-modal approach to concurrency. Your support for time of travel seems rather old fashion and certainly not a reflection of newer more visionary approaches. We need to be visionary not reactionary. Here is a brief quote from a case study. Instead of wasting time and money on an undefined concept such as time-travel (is like traveling back in time rather then forward in time). Here is a glimpse of the future of transportation management.

        Moving Beyond the Automobile
        Multi-modal Transportation Planning in Bellingham, Washington By Chris Comeau, AICP

        Table 1. Comparison of Letter-Grade Classifications for Academic Achievement Versus Transportation Capacity

        Academic Achievement. Value Assigned. Transportation Capacity
        90–100%. A. 50–60%
        80–90% B 60–70%
        70–80% C. 70–80%
        60–70% D. 80–90%
        N/A E 90–100%
        100%

        Source: Highway Capacity Manual 2000

        In reality, there is no public agency in an urban area that would plan, fund, and construct an expensive new transportation facility with the expectation that it would function at LOS “A,” or 50 percent to 60 percent of design capacity, during the highest demand periods of the day. An arterial maintained at LOS “A” would provide overbuilt and underutilized infrastructure, an incentive for increasing single-occupant vehicle trips, high public cost with little if any public benefit, and significant criticism for wasting public tax dollars.
        When combined with Washington’s GMA concurrency requirements to adopt and maintain LOS standards, the logical progression of maintaining a strict interpretation of traditional and theoretical volume-to-capacity (v/c) LOS standards is that arterial streets or intersections must become both wider and more congested or the urban area must remain at a lower density. Transportation demand management strategies also may be a legitimate response, but they typically have limited results. Because the measure of LOS is limited to automobile traffic congestion, the mitigating measures to maintain the adopted LOS are typically limited to adding capacity for the automobile, which is inconsistent with GMA goals for compact urban areas, multi- modal transportation systems, and reducing environmental impact.
        Changing public perception about LOS “F” is not easy, but it is essential for jurisdictions choosing to promote infill development. The public perception is reinforced by the engineering industry in choosing to use a term like “failure” to describe LOS “F” conditions, which may include short-term congestion and possibly even temporary gridlock. In reality, the demand for physical space for vehicles has simply exceeded supply/capacity available. A traditional reaction has been to widen the congested street to add capacity. In human terms, this could be viewed as analogous to simply putting on a larger pair of pants to deal with temporary heartburn and discomfort from overeating, instead of dieting, exercising, or eating better.
        “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” — attributed to Albert Einstein
        It often is not physically possible, nor desirable, for streets or intersections in an urban core to become wider, so if additional infill development is desired in the urban core, then both the public expectation and adopted LOS must allow ever increasing traffic congestion during the heaviest demand period of the day.

  2. The city mgr. & staff are overpaid government bureaucrats at best, just preserving their status quo gravy train . Most of the newly elected council are incompetent bureaucrats as well & got elected with campaign promises & as we see now, lies. Hopefully they won’t destroy the city between now & the time they are voted out.

  3. The reference to Mr. Valderrama’s “squeaky will demeanor” is a wonderful Freudian slip, but I think you meant “squeaky wheel.”

    At any rate, more of the same, no surprises except perhaps for the 2 dissenting votes.

  4. Scott –

    A good write-up.

    The new model as currently formulated will do nothing to address either the concurrency issue or the traffic problem. The Council should reconsider their decision and come up with something that will actually work. This most likely will have to be an approach that looks at at least two hour peaks in the AM and the PM as well as segment issues. We would be better off with the old model with a revised Table T-8 that is combined with an intersection delay element than the one they are now planning to use. The latter will not do the job for the city and its residents.

    I hope the Council will take a deep breath and reconsider their action.

    Tom Odell

    1. $500,000 and a year later you conclude the current concurrency program is not fundamentally flawed and that the proposed revision demanded by CM Hornish, Mayor Malchow, and yourself (as CM in 2017). The TMP was started and scheduled to address a full range of creative transportation management approaches but the CC took us down this dead end alley. Now the same council members want to do it again with some non-defined travel time approach. Heaven help us.

  5. If for no other reason, the reopening of 212th (Home of the Indy 500 Hill Climb) should be taken into consideration. It now reroutes additional traffic onto the major arteries in Plateaupia South. The notion of taking old data (outdateddata?) to predict the future would be like Boeing thinking everyone wants to continue to travel on old 727’s.

    With all due respect o he council members (thank god we don’t have to deal with the Seattle City wackos – and I mean that in the most respectful manner they deserve – What did some of you do for a living before being elected to office?

    Sorry, but I’ve lived up here long enough to see what appears to be a lot of growth. Nothing much has changed in our little corner of the community, save for the traffic and our property taxes. Do you realize that our current property tax estimate, if amortized monthly is more than our total house payment (including taxes, etc) was not so very long ago.

  6. I suggest that the city council hold their next few meetings at the intersection of Southeast 4th and 228th (Metro Mkt.) and see for themselves how bad traffic is and how bad it is going to get. Then, load up into a van during the to our morning commute and to our afternoon commute and see how incredibly long it takes to get from one end of the plateau to the other. The wait time is long, and the crosscurrents of traffic cutting back and forth across the lanes is dangerous. The only obvious objective conclusion is that traffic is far beyond what the infrastructure can handle. Moreover , there is no question but that the city and its staff have, for whatever reason (self-preservation: more development equals more staff), consistently fudged the traffic concurrency numbers to allow more development against the wishes of the vast majority of residents.

    I too have been tracking and mapping all of the applications, pending projects, and notices in the Southeast 4th Corridor running west from 228th to 212th. The city has been deliberately leaving off at least 224 units from the development Maps that are being displayed on its website and to the public, even after being notified of the (charitably) error. The number of daily car trips just from the units in the pipeline will completely overwhelm the ability of SE 4th and related small surface streets — that are to be choked with numerous small roundabouts — to move traffic either with any type of flow or safely. In other words: concurrency failure.

    If any of those high density apartments that are being qued up (yet a possible additional 200+ units crammed into the SE 4th corridor) get granted, the quality of life precipitously plummets into gridlock. Then, we residents get hit with not only all of the impacts traffic, overcrowded schools, packed Library, overburdened YMCA , etcetera) also with more taxes to fix the mess that the developers leave behind after pocketing huge profits….

    1. Mr. Jordan writes:”Then, load up into a van during the to our morning commute and to our afternoon commute and see how incredibly long it takes to get from one end of the plateau to the other”.
      Can’t attach the screen shot but I have it.
      Using google maps. From Northeast 37th Way at Sahalee Way Northeast to Issaquah-pine Lake Road Southeast at Southeast Klahanie Blvd. From one end of Sammamish to the other.
      Here it is Mr. Jordon, get your heart medicine ready, pull up your pants, tighten your belt, hold your breath, don’t bite your tongue….

      6.1 miles at 8:05 AM May 31, 2018. “get ready, here it is”. 13 minutes. Sorry no dangerous grid lock

      P.S. The tens of thousands of people who checked into the YMCA last year don’t seem to mind a little congestion around city hall and the library. The lower commons is a great place. Live dangerously, Mr. Jordan, visit the library, get some books on smart growth and new urbanism. Read up on climate change. Delve deeply into our auto-centric fossil fuel driven society’s rush to extinction. Then, take a nice walk in the commons.

  7. The terrible congestion, cars parked at intersection suffering unbearable delays, an emergency so overwhelming we need to stop everything, spend $500,000 and a entire year revising concurrency and causing all kinds of havoc in the process, all this is a myth, a grand deceit.
    Here is the reality.
    I have the screen shots from google maps supporting this data. The city has purchased for 25K similar data and analysis from INRIX (look this company up for more details)
    The within Sammamish leg of these journeys is 6 to 7 minutes. What everyone who is not looking through a cloud of prejudice and bias knows is that the traffic congestion is caused by choke points outside Sammamish. Playing around with concurrency doesn’t solve traffic problems in Redmond along 202. All this yelling and screaming about concurrency is a poorly disguised attempt to overthrow the city’s comprehensive plan, sabotage the town center, and disrupt the city’s
    finances leaving the city in deep idoodoo. (unable to pay for parks, maintain infrastructure, without services – a suburban waste land)
    Traveling from point around the city to the town center is a short 5 minute trip on average and the vehicle miles traveled is a fraction of the trip to Redmond, Bellevue, Kirkland or other regional destinations.
    Now, one sign of a closed mind is an inability to accept any information that does not reinforce preconceived ideas. So, lets see if someone can use the same source of information (google) or a similar method to throw more light on the reality of Sammamish traffic. Also, keep in mind that in many cases accepting some congestion is beneficial. More dense urban cores may experience some congestion but the trips to and from these core areas are shorter. Often transportation alternatives are available, and more people bike and walk. There are gathering places, etc. All great cities have a more lively, denser core. Only in sprawling suburbia will one find malls with large parking lots and wide streets with lots of car trips necessary due to decentralized, low density development. The concurrency approach advocated by certain member of the city council encourages a dependence on the single occupant vehicle and fails to create a multi-modal approach.
    From Metropolitan Market at 228th Ave. and SE 4th to to Redmond town Center
    June 1, 2018 morning commute
    leaving returning
    7:50 a.m. 17 min. 15 min.
    7:58 AM 17 min. 15 min.
    8:00 AM 17 min. 15 min.
    8:09 AM 17 min. 15 min.
    8:14 AM 17 min. 15 min.
    8:23 AM 18 min. 15 min.
    8:30 AM 19 min. 15 min.
    8:37 AM 19 min. 15 min.
    8:46 AM 20 min. 15 min.
    8:58 AM 21 min. 15 min.
    We see a peak hour increase in travel times but, upon analysis it is clear the problem is along 202, not in Sammamish. The Sammamish leg is consistently 7 minutes.

    How does google traffic work? Google Traffic works by analyzing the GPS-determined locations transmitted to Google by a large number of mobile phone users. By calculating the speed of users along a length of road, Google is able to generate a live traffic map
    Since launch, Google has collected enough data to be able to predict the kind of traffic users can expect on any road at any time of the day. So for example, Google would know that traffic would be at a peak in the morning and evening, but not on holidays.
    Using the historical data it has compiled over the years and traffic data from mobile devices using the Google Maps app, the company is able to create models for traffic predictions for different periods. For example, the modelling techniques would be able to predict that certain roads would experience more traffic during rains than other times of the year. Google also takes traffic reports from transportation departments, road sensors, and private data providers to keep its information up to date.

  8. Let me add a question: Does time-travel tell us any thing about how to address traffic issues? Do we always want to have shorter and faster travel times. If we want shorter travel times why not build out the town center so I can travel five minutes not twenty five (5o minutes with return). Going to Ace Hardware in the town center is a much better driver experience than going to Redmond Home Depot when I desperately need one small screw to make a fix. Talk about a bad driver experience, more vehicle miles traveled, more time, more gas, more pollution and more cars on the roads going off and on the plateau.
    Lets hold the city council responsible for thinking inside a very small box.

  9. According to public King County tax records, it appears that commenter Mr. Galvin owns 2 parcels around 228th Ave SE and 4th Ave SE/Crusader Way, comprising just over 3 acres.

    I’m certain Mr. Galvin has no financial interests that might factor into his vehement defense of Sammamish real estate development, of course, despite the proximity of those properties to the Town Center development plans.

    1. Okay, fine. Who better than to have an opinion – right or wrong – than anyone more affected than many others. While I find the survey recently posted, I suspect it would not hold up under serious scrutiny vis-a-vis accepted methods of data collection.

      My point is that between he council willing to get on with matters, no matter how outdated and others who may be concerned with their own interests, however noble or legitimate, we do seem to have a traffic congestion issue up here in sunny Platauepia.

      But what’s the real concern? Is it travel time both coming and going to work or is it public safety? Are they one and he same or mutually exclusive?

      Full disclosure here: I am retired. I still travel to my volunteer job at the Hydroplane Museum in Kent, buI can select my time of departure and return. Accordingly, my priority is not so much the amount of traffic, so much as the safety – or lack of -to locals who walk to school or shopping.

      Strange thpugh it may seem The neighborhood along 32nd between 228th and 220th near Pine Lake Middle school, not only has sidewalks, but also allows cars to park along the street. I’m not sure I like the concept, but if it would slow the traffic through Pine Lake Heights I can live with it.

      I’m rambling here and must appear to have my own agenda – I do – but I suspect the data being discussed may be flawed and may not reflect the real concern. Are we simply trying to figure out a mans and route t get us back and forth to the office or are we trying to make our community safer?

      Has anyone, including the council given though to the idea of a local transit service to allow the locals t get to Safeway or Home Depot? Or, fr that matter, get our kids to and from school?

      1. Phil,
        Elements of the city’s concurrency program made the creation of safe pedestrian streets a priority, This is consistent with the City’s comprehensive plan. Developers who provided “complete’ streets (safe walkable sidewalks, bike lanes, gutters, etc.) were allowed some additional road capacity that assisted them to meet concurrency requirements. Mayor Malchow and CM Hornish made eliminating this element of the concurrency approach a top priority. Now, after advocating these changes they are claiming they were all wrong. After a year spent debating and spending $400k and more (count staff costs) they want to start all over again. It appears that CM Moran and CM Ross are prepared to start all over again with the certainty that this will cost taxpayers another $400 to %500K and more wasted time.
        Concerning the parked cars you mentioned. Professional traffic engineers know that cars parked between auto lanes and sidewalks increases pedestrian safety.
        Concurrency does not address some of the issues you presented such as local transit services, but the Transportation Master Plan that has been delayed a year due to the council obsessive preoccupation with designing their own concurrency model intends to address this and other issues like it.
        Local transit service…I proposed this issue years ago during the comprehensive and town center planning process. Nice to see you raising it again.
        The comment below is a reply to Otto the taxpayer not you Phil.

    2. You failed to address the substantive content of my postings. No contribution whatsoever to the discussion.

      1. This discussion reminds me of the story of Bishop Berkeley and Samuel Johnson, as recounted by James Boswell:

        After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it — “I refute it thus.”

        With respect to your posting, Sammamish residents “refute it thus” every day we try to get from point A to point B.

        You failed to address the substantive points of my posting too.

  10. Mr. Tax Payer, compare your experience of going to Ace Hardware when it was located here in Sammamish and your experience of going to an Ace Hardware or a Home Depot now. How long did it take you? How much gas did you use? Did you take the bus, ride a bike, walk, get a ride in a car pool, leave at peak commute time or not? Come on Mr. Berkeley, stamp your foot on the ground. Ask a variety of Sammamish Citizens would they like an Ace Hardware in Sammamish? Would they like more local services?

    Read this article as well. Do you have an article you would like to share. So far, you are more Berkeley than Johnson.

    Jonathan Levine, Joe Grengs, Qingyun Shen & Qing Shen (2012): Does Accessibility Require Density or Speed?, Journal of the American Planning Association, 78:2, 157-172
    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01944363.2012.677119

  11. As usual, John Galvin makes interesting points. While the debate has been about how to predict traffic numbers, there does not seem to have been a serious discussion about what we want Sammamish to look like.

    John (and the former city council) wants a place where you can make an easy trip to Ace Hardware (if you pick the right time of day). At least a few other people would like their commuting experience not to get even worse than it already is.

    Seems like the council should have something to say about that…

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