Green streets project proposed for Ballard

During major rain storms, Seattle’s storm drainage systems are often stressed. With large amounts of stormwater and wastewater heading down to water treatment plants, pipes can fill up quickly. To prevent sewage backups, the city will allow the burdened pipes to overflow directly into Puget Sound or Lake Washington without first being treated.

Tracy Tackett with Seattle Public Utilities is working on a way to reduce the amount of stormwater that reaches the pipes. She’s proposing the Ballard Green Streets project. The idea is to build specially designed green spaces in the planter strips between the sidewalk and the street which would catch water in an environmentally friendly way. The water would be slowed or stopped at the source and allowed to soak back into the earth. Phase one of this project would be between NW 75th and NW 85th and 28th Ave NW to 32nd Ave NW. This is an ideal test location, Tracy says, because it has a monitoring station down stream.

Another idea is to bump out curbs, like shown above, which could possibly slow traffic in busy neighborhoods while minimizing the water that reaches the pipes. Neighbors within the above-mentioned area will be receiving a letter in the near future describing this proposal followed by a community meeting. This is not a guaranteed project, neighbors need to approve it before it can move forward. Tracy says if phase one is successful, phase two would be all of Ballard south of 85th and west of 15th. East of 15th is in the King County basin and not maintained by the city.

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35 thoughts to “Green streets project proposed for Ballard”

  1. These are interesting ideas. I like the thought of the plantings, so long as they are cut and don't grow wild. The curb bulbs, well there are few streets in the area that are large enough for them. Overall, its a good idea, but I would like to see what places they want to put the bulbs, and I don't mean tulips.

  2. now I realize we are trying to do right by the earth but…this idea makes it seem like we'll have all 2 lane roads.
    The bike lanes worked out well but squished the roads and now this will trim the roads into 2 lanes? Where are the cars and buses that the roads are built for going to fit? What about bumping back into the property line, not the street?
    And who will be responsible for taking care of these plant lines? Not the city, they don't take care of the parks we have! And not the “owners” , that won't happen..I think the general idea is a good one, well motivated..but not entirely thought through…

  3. These are good ideas in theory. The Achilles' Heel is the maintenance issue. Property owners are typically the ones responsible for maintaining those areas, and many don't lift a finger to do so. The City has enough trouble as it is maintaining planting beds in the parks, much less parking strip planting.

    In an ideal world where all property owners spend an hour or two a month weeding and pruning, then it would be a fantastic solution to the stormwater problem.

  4. Forget bumping out curbs. It's not realistic — many of our streets are too narrow as it is and many residents don't have garages and need parking in front of their houses. The cost and hassle of construction crews on our streets would hardly be worth it.

    Just let people do planting strips. They add a lot to the aesthtics of a neighborhood. The flip side is that they do take maintenance and cost more in water usage for the homeowner, so FORCING people to do it is not a good idea in my opinion.

  5. Even as a pedestrian I hate the curbs idea. It'll cause a lot of space issues between cars and bikes. Not practical, in my humble opinion.
    The planting strips, though, sound like an excellent plan. And planting strips always seem to stay maintained, so I don't see an issue there.

  6. these are both good ideas in theory, but they don't go nearly far enough.

    the rain gardens in the planting strips will only make a difference if water from the downspouts is actually diverted there. some water from the sidewalks might shed there, but if designed wrong, they just become little islands.
    that second image with the guy walking across the 'bump-out' shows this–it appears there's curbs all around that planting strip. this will only serve to slow water actually falling on the planting strip.

    what we really need are more green roofs. most houses push or exceed the 35% coverage allowed on the lot, and most of it is impervious roof.

    plant your roof–now that will make a difference.

  7. I fear I'm not grasping the full concept here. Right now the planting strip between the sidewalk in front of our house and the street has two trees surrounded by lawn. Does this mean I need to dig up the grass and plant bushes or that long grassy stuff that has to be trimmed?

  8. here is a bit of info on the other green streets project that i know of. but this one went much further by removing a sidewalk on one side of the street. if you have never been up here you should check it out.

    i love those streets, but i know not everyone would. it feels so much more natural and way better to look at. the only downside is decreased parking. if your street is packed with cars, this plan would not be met with a lot of favor.

  9. Why is the city wasting money on this when it is already being done. Every time it rains, the street out in front of my house is a lake (3 across covering my whole driveway). And from November to March, they can't read my water meter because my planting strip is underwater (the water table is at the surface). Where will the water “drain” to anyway? (Besides my basement).

  10. that is exactly the point mad hatter. if there were more swales and ways to handle rain water… you wouldn't have that problem.

    don't underestimate how much water certain soils/plants/swales can absorb.

    it won't hangle 100% of the problems but it will reduce them dramatically.

  11. Thanks for the links, gooner, very pretty pictures. I still don't know what my responsibilities would be, but I guess I'll wait for it to happen rather than worry about it now. I don't think the idea of losing parking spaces would go over very well in my neighborhood, though. If only more people would get rid of their cars, but that's a hard transition for most people to make. Parking problems don't bother me personally, as my electric-assisted bicycle fits just about anywhere.

  12. Great idea. To address some concerns:

    As you can see in the first picture, the curb is cut so that the water flowing along the side of the street will divert to the “garden” (planting strip). Selecting plants that are drought resistant and that will supersede or overpower weeds will take care of the maintenance question.

    My question is whether this will increase the water-insect population, namely mosquitoes.

    Third, I think the bulb idea could work extremely well on 28th avenue where I know speed is a concern. Many of the intersections along 28th have enough extra space to afford what would essentially be a small park (like the one on Market st. and Ballard ave. or the corner of 67th and Greenwood on Phinney Ridge).

  13. Thanks for the links, gooner. I really like that project myself, but agree that in areas that need on-street parking that probably won't work. A side benefit is that the “curvilinear” road prevents high-speed through traffic.

  14. I still worry about the bulbs funneling bikes and cars together at a point where the drivers/riders will also be worrying about cross traffic. I ran into this with the bulbs on 14th (at 58th?) and felt very unsafe as a bicyclist. I'd probably stick to riding on the sidewalk with such a setup.

  15. Just the next step in the mayor's plan to wreck the city and make residents as miserable as possible.

    Parking? Sorry, no more parking on the street. You want to park on the street? OK, apply for a monthly permit for the city, and hope you have an extra hundred bucks a month for that.

    Only exception will be for scummy old Winnebagos with bums livinig in them – they'll get free parking.

    Careful not to step in the excrement.

  16. Horrible idea. If anything we need to remove the sidewalks and green strips to make way for more cars. The more cars we have on the road and the faster those cars can drive, the better things will be. We also need to eliminate buses and bus lanes. Traffic would be so much better if there were no buses and everybody drove a car like they're supposed to.

  17. I live on Sunset Hill, so was intrigued by the recent presentation on reducing street runoff in a 10 block area through the use of swales and diverting water into the ground. I was wondering, since this is an area prone to active bluff sliding, such as a recent one in front of a residence just south of the park on 75th, what is the impact of adding additional water to this steep slope area? The proposed area, as described, is just a few blocks away from the bluff. The residents here are generally careful to control water runoff and avoid putting water in the ground. Also, most best management practices from other agencies, discourage the introduction of additional groundwater in these areas without adequate detention facilities.

    One quick reference from WA DOE:

  18. There hasn't been any standing water in the planting on 14th by Ballard Market all winter. So no mosquitoes. Also, during mosquito breeding time (warmer weather) the streets get enough light that it will dry out before eggs are able to hatch.

    And the plants that are there are, just like you suggested, drought resistant. They take little maintenance and make it look real lovely, too!

    Unrelated to your comment, I think this blog post is misleading. It is my understanding that only storm water from downtown Seattle goes to the treatment plant. Everywhere else, like Ballard, drains straight into Puget Sound.

    Plants help clean up a lot of crap and allow cleaner water to make its way through the watershed. It's true!

  19. I don't really understand why storm water is not driving repaving all our city sidewalks with pervious pavement as well as these swales being planted.

    We pay for it at the end of the pipe or cleaning up the Sound.

    I am ready to move on from cars and hard surfaces driving our society into the ground.

    All of Ballard should be greener. Start with planting and keeping some big trees, rain gardens. Green roofs like the new library should become normal instead of unique.

    best fishes


  20. The rain gardens can be useful only if the majority of the rain gets to them. This will require some kind of diversion from impervious surfaces (roof, driveway, sidewalk) directly into the rain garden. At my house this would mean extending my rain gutter downspouts through my front yard, behind/under my retaining wall, under the sidewalk, and some kind of drain into the rain garden. I would need other drains from the areas in the front yard into this system. This would be a lot of work/money and damage to existing native landscaping which does not appreciate being tunneled/roots cut. If this is not done, most of the water still flows right down the driveway into the street and the drain. Careful selection of plants and public education so people don't think they need to water these gardens in the summer is also essential or we will actually make water treatment/waste problems worse. A pilot project is a good idea because it will bring out these issues and hopefully resourceful citizens will solve them in easier ways than I envision at my house.
    The curve bumps do not look like a good idea. These will cause a lot of conflict between cars and bikes, and the bikers will lose big time. The rain gardens on the corners will all have big dents and ruts in them from all the bikers run into curbs, over the bars, and headlong into the rain gardens by cars.

  21. The problem isn't that the planter strips aren't slowing the water down, it's the non-porous sidewalks, driveways, and streets that are causing the run off issues. Putting specially designed green spaces into the planter section will only cause a minimal decrease in the run off unless they do something about replacing the non-porous asphalt and cement with porous alternatives. Heck, just replacing the asphalt a narrow strip along each side of the street with a porous alternative will represent a more significant reduction in run off then this idea.

    It also doesn't help that a good number of houses in this city dump their downspouts directly into the sewers using non-porous PVC pipes. Having those downspouts pass through a series of french drains and dry wells would also significantly reduce the run off, without the need to create “green roofs”, which aren't possible in most of the houses in the Ballard area.

  22. Beware, the city will take parking in front of your home with bump outs. The city has sewer lines that are failing. Nickels was told to replace the sewer lines when they started to build condos in Ballard. So now we are going to lose street parking in Sunset Hill, stand to see our parking strips destroyed, and our streets reduced to one lane so the yuppies in the condos can flush their toilets. This is BS, literrally. Show up and fight this at trh meetings, otherwise lose parking in front of your home, have your property value reduced…and narrower streets, for an experimental project. Fix the sewers, instaed of putting a bandaid on it!

  23. actually, this type of thing in other parts of the city has been shown to reduce runoff from the streets into storm drains by 99 percent. Basically the water runs from the street into these rain gardens INSTEAD of the storm drain.

  24. It never ceases to amaze me how people think they have a god-given right to store their vehicles for free on government-owned land. Your post reeks of entitlement.

  25. As a tax payer the best way to solve the problem is with new sewer lines. There is no scientific proof that the rain gardens work. They will reduce your property value as we had improved property with sidewalks and a flat planting strip. So now the City of Seattle is going backwards and putting drainage ditches in the planting strip, reducing your property values. Go look at the Pinehurst Project, you can hardly see the no parking signs, because the weeds the city planted are blocking them. Is this how the city maintains the rain gardens, weeding and watering twice a year? What a joke. We paid for the trees to be planted 15 yaers ago so now the city is taking them out and putting in drainage ditches on the planting strip. Good luck trying to sell a home with a swamp in front of it. BTW you better hope to God the firefighters don't break a leg when they have to cross a 7 foor ditch to get to your home in case of a fire or health emergency.

  26. Who is the environmental namby pampy NIMROD that came up with this idiotic plan? There has never been a problem with drainage in Ballard but this will now screw up a very nice neighborhood's streets and the bump-outs will end up looking like a bunch of unkept weeds. House values will drop because of no curb appeal. This ridiculous.
    This is a total waste of tax dollars that could be much better used elsewhere. Who is responsible for this? They need a reality wake up call.
    If you want to improve the communities, why don't you do something to put sidewalks in the the Greenwood area that is North of 85th St. That would improve the area and make it safer. The drainage problem in Greenwood is a bigger issue than spoiling Sunset Hill.

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