Non-Transit : Times vs. PI

Anyone notice the PI has more focus on the city, while the Times seems to cover the suburbs, especially the Eastside more?

The Times seems to even use the Eastside lingo, for example calling South King Co. “the South End” (in the image on the left), while the PI uses the “South End” like people use it in the city, the way I used it growing up.

Compare the coverage of the growth report this week. The PI:

Seattle’s growth over the past year was the fastest of any year in at least the past four decades, according to new state estimates.

The city grew by 1.3 percent between April 1, 2006, and April 1, 2007, putting the new total at 586,200, according to data the state Office of Financial Management released Wednesday. The growth rate was up from 1 percent the previous year; the rate was the highest of any year in state records since 1968. The closest year was 1992, when the rate was 1.26 percent.

Notice it says “the city” (distinctly Seattle jargon) and starts off talking about Seattle.

The Times on the other hand has an article focused on the Eastside, and an AP wire article that doesn’t mention Seattle until the fifth paragraph. From the Eastside article:

Issaquah takes this year’s title for biggest population jump on the Eastside from 2006 to 2007.

The number of people living in the city spiked by 26 percent in the past year, according to population figures released Wednesday by the state Office of Financial Management. That’s an increase of 5,140 residents, mostly due to a voter-approved annexation of the Greenwood Point/South Cove neighborhood.

Completely different.

Transit Preceding Density

The Overhead Wire has a nice example of transit preceding density, the point I’ve been making for a while now.

Update: My first version of this post spelt “precede” “preceed”, which shows no matter how long I went to school, I’ll never be able to spell.

Seattle Grew at 1.3% Last Year


Which also means the city got 1.3% more dense last year, the most of any year since 1968. The county grew at 1.4%, less than last year’s 1.5%, so Seattle’s share of the county’s population continues to fall, though this time ever so slightly.

The new statistics show that efforts to concentrate growth in existing cities such as Seattle are paying off, Nickels said.

“One of the secrets I think to our success to be able to battle climate change will be for cities to become really compelling places to live, because we can’t afford to have people driving 40, 50, 60 miles alone from work anymore.”

King County Demographer Chandler Felt said Seattle growth, and the lack of growth in unincorporated King County are successes of growth management.

“I think it’s pretty remarkable that Seattle is managing to grow at a comparable rate to its county and region,” he said.

Seattle now sits at 586,200, but housing is still scarce (from the PI article):

Abie Flaxman, 29, moved to Seattle from Pittsburgh last July to take a job as a mathematician at Microsoft, and found things were different here.

“Housing is the major issue in everyone’s life in Seattle,” he said. “Pittsburgh’s got houses for everybody. It’s got twice as many houses as it needs right now.”


Even with all the construction (some nine 25+ story condo towers are going to be completed by 2010, just within downtown), housing is still the major factor from density in the city. Nickels has said he wants 925,000 people in the city by 2040, which everyone thinks is completely unrealistic (including myself).

My simple excel extrapolation says that if Seattle continued to grow by 1.3% each year for the next 33, we’d hit 900,000 in 2040. To get to 925,000 we’d have to get about 1.39%, almost a percentage point higher. I have a feeling when Nickels says that 925,000 number, he is including the North Highline annexation, which would mean Seattle would only need to grow about 1.22~1.24%, depending on how many people live in North Highline (most people say 30,000~34,000). Still even 1.22% over 33 years will be tough for the city without massive development on the order we’ve been seeing continuing for years.

Seattle’s growth from 2000 to 2006 averaged 1.1%, which would be about 841,000 by 2040 without North Highline, and 890,000 with it. I bet that’s a more realistic number, but I’ll be 59 in 2040, so I wonder if I’ll care as much then. Even to get there, whole parts of the city will continue to need development. Well at least we’re growing smart, not sprawling out as much as the nation’s newest 5th biggest city, Phoenix, with 1.4 million at a density about that of Kitsap county.

Here’s a times article about the state at large.

City to help pay for SLU Streetcar


On Monday, the council approved money for the car, which has seen cost overruns. PI editorial board did not like that, feeling they were taking money away from buses.

Personally I feel like the streetcar is nothing-ventured-nothing gained project. The streetcar in Portland has attracted a lot of development, and it is preferable to buses because it is so much more comfortable and somehow seems more reliable (whether it is or not). South Lake Union already seems to be attracting tenants. Since much of the money for the streetcar (even with cost over runs) came from private property owners, I think it’s a good deal that for the city, and a nice chance to see if these kinds of streetcars will work here. Unfortunately the line is too short to be really useful (it would have to go at least to UW to be), but it could be the start of something great, or a mildy inexpensive boondoggle.

57% Support "Roads and Transit" Bill

According to this post, an Elway poll says that 57% of the 400 people polled said they supported the package, with a margin of error of 5 percent.

Rethink Rail not well Thought Out



An organization called Rethink Rail sponsored by Talisma Corp has come up with a plan to run heavy-rail across the existing BNSF tracks on the Eastside. It’s a pretty neat idea, and they got a tour set-up for July 17th. It’s a fairly similar plan to what Sound Transit is going to study for the area if (when!) ST2 passes. The Puget Sound Regional Counsel has a nice map of the rail line, it’s the red one. They’ve also got some “>fascinating preliminary studies of rail through that corridor.

The problems I see:
1) It’s pretty far from Downtown Bellevue, so a second transport mechanism would be required to move people from there to and from the station. It’d require either some kind of bus or secondary rail system.
2) There’s a huge section that passes outside of the growth boundary until Snohomish county, way out in the middle of no where.
3) The southern section runs right next to lake, where few people live and the (rich) people who do live there probably aren’t that interested in having stations in their neighborhoods. Actually, the rich people idea holds true for a lot of the rail on that line.

Still, I think it’s a good idea to put something there, and that area probably doesn’t have the density to support light rail.

Density Again

There has been a lot going back and forth about density, so I’d like to write about it yet again. My basic argument about density with relation to transit is that transit creates density, not the other way around. New York had 500,000 people when it’s first railway was built in 1849 , 617,000 people subway was built in 1869, and had 7,891,957 people 80 years later in 1950. London had 1.35 million in 1831 when it’s first railways were built, had 2.5 million when the tube began construction (in 1863) and had ballooned to 8,615,245 76 years later (1939).

So when you here about transit and density, think not about how much density is required to support fixed-guide-way mass transit, but instead think about how much construction will be built around that transit. Case in point: Saturday the New York Times ran this piece about transit oriented development in Utah.

Murray City and Hamlet Homes are taking advantage of growing buyer interest in living and working near the regional TRAX light rail system, which has operated in the Salt Lake Valley since 1999. The Murray North station, one of three TRAX stops in Murray City — population 50,000 — serves as the centerpiece of Birkhill at Fireclay.

Salt Lake City and its closest suburbs built the $520 million, 19-mile, 23-station TRAX system, which carries more than 55,000 riders a day, well ahead of ridership projections. Voters have also repeatedly passed sales tax increases, including one approved last November, to spend $2.5 billion more in the next decade to complete 26 additional miles of light rail, 88 miles of heavy commuter rail line and nearly 40 extra station stops. The only American metropolitan area that is building more regional rapid transit capacity is Denver, which is constructing a 151-mile system.

Uh, does it seem to me that the low density places like Utah and Denver benefit more from new rail already high density places? Development is relatively easy, there is more community transformation and it is easier to obtain rights of way. In fact, one of the reasons that was so cheap was the right of way was an abandoned railway. Sounds a bit like the BNSF corridor on the Eastside, doesn’t it?

So you may think that means that high-density Seattle won’t get much out of transit. But Seattle is actually relatively low density. People get confused because the downtown core is so dense, they think that Seattle is a dense city. It is not. I have compiled this table of city densities with how populated Seattle would be if it were that dense.

As you can see, even epitome of sprawl Los Angeles is far more dense than Seattle. In fact, Seattle would have 700,000 people (by my calculations), instead of the 580,000 it has now, if it were as dense as Los Angeles. Seattle is about like Cleveland and Detroit, not cities I think of when I think of dense.

Despite it’s recent condo boom, Bellevue is far to the low end of cities, though it is probably unfair to compare a satellite city to main ones. The point remains, this is a low density region, and mass transit won’t have quite the effect here as it had in London or New York, but I imagine with enough transit built Seattle could easily get to be as dense as San Francisco or Chicago, in the one million people range.

Here’s a decent argument from Clark Williams-Derry (of Sightline) about how transit works in Vancouver, and how it could work here from the Tacoma News Tribune.

But when density rises a bit, transit becomes viable. By clustering homes near transit stops, and mixing residences with stores and services, neighborhoods in greater Vancouver have created more opportunities for convenient, cost-effective transit service.

Data from the Canadian census shows that roughly two-thirds of greater Vancouver’s residents live in a compact neighborhood – the sort of place where transit begins to be convenient and reliable. At last count, only about one-quarter of the people in the greater Puget Sound region live in that kind of compact neighborhood.

Transit doesn’t solve everything, of course. Despite its transit-friendly neighborhoods, greater Vancouver’s traffic is still pretty darn congested. Still, even if Vancouver’s focus on transit-friendly neighborhoods hasn’t guaranteed breezy commutes, the effects have almost certainly been worthwhile. First, without Vancouver’s transit edge, the city’s commuters would almost certainly be worse off than they are right now. If you lowered Vancouver’s transit ridership to Seattle-Tacoma levels, tens of thousands of additional cars would flood their roads during peak hours – the very time when they’re already jammed to capacity.

He’s got the argument backwards as I keep pointing out. Vancouver wasn’t dense before they built Skytrain and other transit options, it became dense when transit became more reliable. The argument about lowering Vancouver’s transit ridership is silly, because if they had never built Skytrain, Vancouver and it’s suburbs wouldn’t be nearly as dense as it is now, with far more sprawl, and far fewer compact neighborhoods. Building transit here will allow for more density. It certainly won’t solve everything, but more roads won’t either.

Clark Williams-Derry does have this nice point:

And finally, Vancouver’s transit-friendly neighborhoods have kept residents safer. In Washington, car crashes are the leading killer of people under the age of 45. But Pierce County residents are 70 percent more likely to die in a car crash than are residents of greater Vancouver – not because the roads are less safe, but simply because residents in counties like Pierce have to drive so much. (Mile for mile, riding a bus is about 10 times safer than driving a car.)

Well, I will feel a little more safe aboard the bus tomorrow.

RTID gets approval in King County

Read an article about it here.

The King County Council agreed Monday to place a $9.7 billion regional road-building plan on the November ballot, where it will be combined with a $17.5 billion proposal to expand the Sound Transit light rail system.

“I believe that this package is a very important investment in the region’s future,” Councilman Reagan Dunn, R-Bellevue, said before the approval of the highway construction proposal from the Regional Transportation Investment District.

That’s how you get the Republicans to vote for Transit, give them some roads.

Elevated Section Photos

Here are some great photos of the elevated section between Tukwila and the city.


Thanks so much for the photos, Neb!

Other Cities…

I don’t even know how to say what emotion this story brings out in me.

Bus Links

A little belated, but I finally updated the side bar with the bus links from the post a few weeks ago.

Beacon Hill Tunnel Update

The PI published an article on Beacon Hill Tunnel progress when Sound Transit put a tour on Sunday.

“It is probably the most challenging construction project along the whole Link light rail line,” said transit-board member Larry Phillips, a Metropolitan King County Council member from Seattle, said during a tour Sunday morning. “The methods used to mine out this station have never before been used at this depth. We are standing here in an engineering and construction marvel that will be known throughout the world.”

That’s pretty awesome if just a bit exaggerated.

Phillips said the tunnel proves Sound Transit has the know-how to deliver 50 more miles of light rail, if voters approve it this fall. But the mining is tricky enough that officials canceled a deep train platform they once promised at busy First Hill.

Hmmm… I wonder if my fantasy ballot measure could some how include the First Hill station…

David Brewster Makes Case for Rail Transit


At crosscut there’s an interesting piece about rail transit. David Brewster writes this about the densities required to make rail transit work:

The case for transit is not an easy one to make for the voters. Costs are very high, and only a few of the voters live near enough to the lines to get much direct benefit. The trickle-down case is difficult to make, especially since expensive transit systems usually force cutbacks in bus service to pay for the rails. So it’s not surprising that the case is invariably oversold. One of the worst ways it is oversold is to urge people to imagine that these first baby steps, or “starter lines,” will someday grow into a full system, as in larger, older cities.

Ain’t gonna happen. The general rule is that only cities with densities of more than 10,000 people per square mile pass the threshold for extensive use of public transportation systems. That qualifies only New York and Chicago, which account for a large percentage of all public transportation in America. Seattle’s density, for its urbanized area, is about 3,000 people per square mile. Moreover, public transportation becomes dominant only in the downtown business districts of these cities.

He’s confused. When New York built it’s first subway, there were 500,000 people living there. It wasn’t even as dense as Seattle. New York, Chicago, etc. became dense because of transit, not the other way around.

He does go on to say that Rail will attract different and more riders, that it will allow for smart urban planning and that it will increase development and investment. But he’s wrong on density.

Capitol Hill Times on Capitol Hill Station

I went to this meeting, but Capitol Hill times has a great round-up on the meeting that happened last month.

When completed, Broadway’s light-rail station will have three entrances. The north entrance, projected to be the station’s busiest, will be at the southeast corner of Broadway and East Olive Way. The station’s south entrance will be at Nagle Place East and East Denny, immediately west of Cal Anderson Park.

A third entrance on the west side of Broadway will be north of Seattle Central Community College, where Chang’s Mongolian Grill used to be. The station itself will be built under Nagle Place. Construction will not, the audience was told, impact Cal Anderson Park.

Other Tunnels @ Other Blogs, plus my Five Year Plan!


Mike at Carless in Seattle talked about a tunnel for cars through downtown. Sounds interesting. Oh and yes, there’s just one of me writing all of this, but I would happily invite other people here to blog if they are interested.

Then over at Orphan Road, Frank wrote about Cascadia Prospectus’s idea for a “University Street Transit Hub” that would connect Sounder and Link Rail underneath downtown Seattle which I completely agree, would be awesome, and would increase Sounder ridership quite. The problem is that all freight from Seattle going north, or from Everett/Canada going south, goes through that tunnel, so it would be a logistical nightmare to try to get any part of it closed for any stretch of time, and the platforms would need to be separated from the freight lines otherwise boardings would interfere with freight, and freight would interfere with the lives of passengers.

Well, the whole tunnel conversation got me thinking back to the time when I talked to some transit heads about a City only expansion to rail paid based on the two studies that Sound Transit is going to include in ST2 one that would connect Downtown, Ballad and the UW and a second that would connect Downtown, West Seattle and Burien/SeaTac. Well, the city would only pay for part of those two, especially not all the way to Burien, and I doubt Seattlites could afford both lines in their entirety, but I think the interest would be there once the Central Link passes. The most difficult part would be running a second set of trains through downtown. The current “bus” tunnel through downtown will barely be able to handle the Tacoma-Seattle-Everett Light Rail traffic added to the Seattle-Eastside traffic, running a West Seattle-Ballard line cause a traffic jam. In order to build the rail line of my dreams, it would take a second downtown subway on 2nd or 4th, and that might be an uphill battle.

Don’t be surprised if that ballot initiative shows up in 2011.

Wall Street Journal Chips in about Streetcars

It’s behind a paywall though, so sorry if you can’t read it. it has some good information about how even if a streetcar doesn’t get good ridership numbers, it spurs development which is something Seattle desparately needs.

Morrill is Dead Wrong

I get exhausted writing these responses to confused articles, but Richard Morrill’s piece is such a doozy I just had to respond.

I find it nothing short of insane to spend far over half ($24 billion out of $38 billion in the November ballot package) of potential transportation investment (capital and operating) on trains which cannot possibly meet more than 1 percent of demand for trips, an amazingly small fraction.

Here and at other blogs, we’ve gone over the $38 billion stat ad nauseum, so I won’t bother to repeat the argument. But where does this 1% trip number come from? Sound Transit says “These investments will expand daily regional transit ridership to nearly 370,000 by 2030″, which is nearly as many riders as Metro’s 100 million a year. Even if you figure ST will only carry 370,000 riders on weekdays, that’s still about ten percent the population of the region. That number is just completely wrong.

There’s also a nasty class issue our leaders ignore. Who benefits and will be obscenely subsidized? Rich professionals, of course. And who pays? The more lowly workers in those scattered but necessary service, retail, manufacturing, construction, and transportation workplaces.

How do we know it’ll be the “rich professionals” that are subsidized? Even on my Microsoft Express bus a huge number of the riders aren’t professionals, but contingent staff.

We don’t need a six-lane Highway 520 or a giant new viaduct, or two additional lanes each way on Interstate 405, given the inevitable constraints on single-occupancy vehicle use in the not-very-distant future.

Are you sure about that, Richard? Everytime I sit in traffic for hours (even on the bus) I wish there was an actual HOV lane there, which has nothing to do with single-occupancy vehicles. And what does the Viaduct have to do with anything? Who is talking about that? RTID isn’t.

Oh well. Richard Morrill is battling strawmen with made-up statistics.

Dump the Pump


Thursday is “Dump the Pump” day. As the APTA says:

The day is dedicated to raising awareness that public transportation helps improve the environment and conserve fuel. It also offers the opportunity for people to beat the high price of gasoline and support public transportation as an important travel option that helps reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

On June 21, public transportation agencies from coast to coast will join together to ask the public to park their cars and ride public transportation instead.

Make sure to dump the pump Thursday and don’t you dare drive!

Kingston-Seattle Foot Ferries?


I really have a soft spot for ferries. I just think they are the most “Seattle” form of transit. Today in the Seattle Times there’s an article about a group in Kingston pushing for a foot ferry down to Seattle. Right now, ferries from Kingston go to Edmonds, and so anyone travelling into the city would have to take Sounder.

I like this article because it shows citizens taking transit into their own hands.

Station-Station Travel Times


Sorry, Blogger has been fighting me, but if you click on the image you should be able to see the station-to-station travel times for Light Rail that would be built for ST2. 30 minutes from Bellevue to the UW. There’s no way you could drive that fast during rush hour.