ULI Reality Check Liveblog part 6

(Above: Table 26, one with fairly low carbon emissions – I previously stated that this was the lowest, but that was in error.)

Greg Nickels just said that as Sound Transit Board chair (which he is this year), he intends to put a project on the ballot this year. That is subject to a vote by the board first, of course, but with the chair behind it, perhaps we’ll get it!

The panel discussion is ending with some of the ideas that we’ve been pointing out here at SeaTrans for the last year: We have more people coming every year, especially in the coming three decades. We have plans on the books for expanding our transportation network and channeling growth into pedestrian-friendly, dense development, and we need to execute those plans. We have needed rail infrastructure since 1968. We have needed to replace major roadways for a decade, and some of those are ready to crumble. The EPA is making it clear to us that we need to better handle stormwater. We need higher education investment in Everett; we need affordable housing.

It’s basically come time to mature as a region. We’re stuck in traffic, and building more roads is only making that worse, as Mayor Penarosa pointed out. This is the reality check we’re experiencing – we have to put regional planning and infrastructure at the forefront if we’re going to have the kind of future we want.

ULI Reality Check Liveblog part 5


After lunch, we first heard about how well our urban layouts did against the State of Washington’s climate change laws – there was one table (which I hope I got a picture of) that came very close. We voted (using little remote controls at our seats) on what issues are most important for the region – where our largest challenges will be, and what we need to focus on first. Infrastructure came first – building transit and transit oriented development.

It was pointed out that of all the square footage that will exist in 2040, 60% of it is yet to be built. That does include renovations, but it’s eye-opening. We have the opportunity to completely transform our region, building TOD and high density, green buildings, and new transit investments designed to serve them.

Right now, we have a panel discussion going (in the above image), led by Emory Thomas of the Puget Sound Business Journal, and featuring Greg Nickels (mayor of Seattle), Cary Bozeman (mayor of Bremerton), Grant Degginger (mayor of Bellevue), Ray Stephanson (mayor of Everett), John “Boots” Ladenburg (Pierce County Executive), and Ron Sims (King County Executive).

They’re discussing how to handle densification – Ladenburg just talked about how to use TOD to build new communities rather than forcing existing communities to densify. They’ve been talking about who regulates growth – Sims mentioned that King County is being pressured more and more to manage growth outside the cities, and that they’re trying to ensure that there isn’t overlap between city and county in planning. Mayor Stephanson is talking about higher education – he feels that Everett is limited by a lack of schooling. He’s also just brought up Swift, a joint venture between Everett Transit and Community Transit to build BRT on highway 99 between Everett and Aurora Village (the county line) and meet up with RapidRide. He’s expecting to grow by 100,000 people by 2040, and he says Everett can’t handle that much growth without light rail.

ULI Reality Check Liveblog part 4


We laid out the region (above, multiply this by 32) – each table had people with opposing views, so most looked fairly similar. Nearly every table had a mature transit system represented – I took some pictures that will go up later. There were a lot of familiar faces, people from transit agencies, developers, lots of legislators, mayors and city council members from all over the region.

Just afterward we had lunch, accompanied by a lecture from Enrique Penalosa, ex-mayor of Bogota, Colombia. He spoke about cities really having to be designed either for people or for cars – his comments were certainly controversial in this crowd, but that’s what we’re here for. He is a big proponent of buses in exclusive right of way – he pushed his system a little, but focused on his advocacy of public space.

He thinks that every city should build cohesive bicycle and pedestrian networks, and points out that the cities that have are regarded as the best cities in the world today. He had some interesting specifics – for instance, he feels that a bicycle path isn’t safe enough until an eight year old can comfortably use it. He spoke about waterfronts being extremely useful as public space: cars should be separated from the waterfront by pedestrian/bicycle right of way, and that right of way should be separated from the cars by buildings. There are several cities scaling back waterfront roadways and converting them to pedestrian right-of-way – Paris has closed a large swath of road along the Seine to vehicle traffic, and the locals are now calling it Paris’ beach!

I’m writing this during a short break – we’re about to find out how our models scale up in terms of carbon emissions and mobility. More soon!

ULI Reality Check Liveblog part 3


We’re being given instructions now. I’ll lay these out simply.

  • We have a huge table-sized map of Puget Sound to work with. It has half-inch gridlines, and is color coded to show land inside the urban growth boundary, rural land, military/reservation land, forest/protected land, and certain identified growth areas and industrial zones.
  • We have legos representing people and jobs – 5 million people (obviously one lego represents more than one person) and 3 million jobs. Those legos have to be arranged on this map, preferably in the gridlines, to show our ideas about where people should live and work.
  • There’s also yarn, blue and red, to represent (respectively) transit and road corridor improvements.

The idea is to put everything together to match our ideal regional design. There’s a facilitator and a recorder at each of the 32 tables. I’m going to go there now.

ULI Reality Check Liveblog part 2


Right now we have ULI Fellow Ed McMahon speaking, with comparisons between the US and European approaches to infrastructure development, increasing costs to maintain and expand our highway systems, the increasing cost of fuel, and other infrastructure issues.

He’s also touched on climate change, and the danger facing us (he quickly blew off ‘deniers’, which was nice in a room of business leaders) if we don’t reduce vehicle miles traveled. He’s talked about how many new residents the urban core has versus the suburbs – about 40,000 each in this region since 2000. That kind of split is unsustainable, and we’re charged now with changing that split.

He’s almost giving the James Howard Kunstler talk about sprawl and urban design – he’s brought up the lack of sense of place in suburban sprawl, and the impact of sprawl on our water and air.

Update 09:20: McMahon is now discussing planning. I love his quote: “Failure to plan is planning to fail.” He points out that it’s not enough to just build light rail – it’s necessary to plan transit oriented development around it.

Liveblogging from ULI Reality Check


Update (daimajin): That’s a well dressed live blogger!

Good morning! I’ll be liveblogging from the Urban Land Institute’s Reality Check workshop today.

This workshop is about understanding growth, and planning for our urban layout as 1.7 million new people are born and move here by 2040. Where will they live? How will we move them?

Governor Christine Gregoire is currently standing in front of a breakfast with about 250 local leaders – from elected officials to business leaders to prominent researchers – explaining what we’re going to do today.

Wow, she’s just said (and I paraphrase): “What international city has on-street parking? What international city has two-way streets downtown?” She’s also just pointed out that I-5 brings us congestion – and that mass transit is part of the solution. The rail system we expected to start in the 1970s has been delayed nearly 40 years.

08:40 Update: She’s discussing funding mechanisms for transportation, and who permits development – the fact that we need to streamline permitting, for instance, where we now have a mishmash of city, county, state, and federal, rather than an integrated system.

She’s addressing framing very well here. She’s pointing out that we are not forcing anyone out of their cars, or to move to places where they don’t want to live, but rather we’re creating affordable housing and transportation that people will choose to live in, and choose to use.

She’s brought up LA and Houston as examples of cities where the choices made, where the planning used, did not effectively address growth – and that we don’t want to go that way, but we need to work together now, because we don’t have more time to wait.

It looks like we’re moving into the workshop room shortly. I’ll post again once people start.

Metro wants your feed back on their new sign ideas


Metro has a survey up so you can give feedback on their sign designs. I told Metro I wanted the stop numbers to be mybus numbers.

Let them know what you like and don’t like about the signs.

Portland: I envy you

This made me so jealous of Portland. Read this:

With two new lines nearing completion, the Portland-area’s rail system will add 23 miles of track and grow by 50 percent in the next year and a half.

The Westside Express Service commuter rail line will open this fall, connecting Wilsonville and Beaverton. A year later, the MAX Green Line will connect Clackamas Town Center to the Gateway area and a new north-south transit mall in downtown Portland.

“In a year and a half we will have opened the first commuter rail in the state of Oregon and opened our first line into Clackamas County,” said Mary Fetsch, TriMet’s communications manager. “That’s big.”

The new lines mark a turning point in the region’s 22-year relationship with rail transit. Commuter trains and streetcars will become more common — not just the familiar MAX lines used for commuting. Riders will be able to transfer more easily from one train to another, as in big cities where rail has been used for generations.

The lines under construction could transform surrounding neighborhoods. For Portland State University, the transit mall extension will open in the section of downtown where the university plans to focus its growth.

Transfers between trains? I guess you’ll be able to transfer between our one commuter line, our one mile streetcar line, and our one light rail line next year, and I know our Light Rail system would be better than theirs if it were larger. But still, if your question is whether Seattle works anymore, the jury is still out, but there’s no doubt that Portland works when it comes to transit. I hope we can get an expansion so I don’t have to break up with Seattle over transportation.

A Google Maps tour of Central Link, part 1

I was looking at Seattle on Google Earth this morning, and I noticed that much of the city has been updated with new images. This is fantastic from a transit standpoint – the last images were taken at a very early stage of construction. Since then, we’ve come a long way, and I just thought I’d link everyone to some highlights. Because Google Earth and Google Maps use the same image data, everything here is a link you can open in your browser.

Let’s start at the top. This is where the rails disappear into the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. If we scroll out just a little, we can see the DSTT connects directly to the I-90 center roadway. If you happen to work in Seattle and ride a bus that comes in on I-90 in the morning, you probably use these direct access ramps today. These were designed with curves and grades that can be used for rail transit – these are why it makes perfect sense to build light rail over the I-90 bridge.

Moving south, we have Stadium Station. Last night I watched thousands of people come out of Safeco Field – many of them walked across 4th Ave S. to their cars, but they could just as easily have been walking to this station. This station also serves two Metro bus bases, the maintenance facility for Amtrak and Sounder trains, and likely many Port of Seattle workers. Just south of this station is a storage track – a third track in the middle of the other two. As Roger told us on the lunch bus tour this weekend, at the end of big games, this track can hold an empty light rail vehicle (or four) so that when a train leaves the station completely packed and there are many more people waiting, another train can run right away rather than making game-goers wait for several minutes.

Next there’s SoDo Station. This is right next door to the USPS parking facility, and a few blocks from both Starbucks (west) and Tully’s (east) headquarters – not to mention Seattle Schools’ headquarters building.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Link’s Operations and Maintenance base is complete in this image. We can see the nine tracks that enter the building, as well as the five long storage tracks just to the east of it. The tracks that go inside provide access to maintenance bays that provide access under and over the vehicles, as well as a painting room and a special bay for removing and maintaining the ‘trucks’ – the assemblies under the cars that contain the axles, wheels and electric motors (yes, I took a picture of an electric motor).

Near the base, you can see the west portal of the Beacon Hill tunnel. This is a bit old – see all those things sitting around just south of the track? Those are stacks of tunnel segments. Each stack builds a five foot long ring of tunnel – but they’re all used now, except for one or two extra that were probably kept in case of breakage. The truck leaving the site from the south is a great example of Sound Transit’s protection of the Duwamish waterway – you can see that the ground is wet around it. Sound Transit’s contractor, Obayashi, is required to spray down the wheels of vehicles leaving the site so that the mud doesn’t wash into city drainage.

Last, for now, is the Beacon Hill station site itself. Two round holes are visible here. The larger one, on the left, will have four high-speed elevators bringing riders into and out of the station, which is 165 feet below ground. These elevators get you from top to bottom and vice versa in 20 seconds – four is more than enough for the long-term needs of the station. The smaller hole provides an emergency exit stair. The station itself will be two relatively small structures called headhouses, one with elevator equipment over the large hole, and a quite small one over the other. Most of the property you see here will be returned to the landowner for redevelopment once construction is complete.

We’ll move on to the east portal and southward later.

ST2.1 Outlook

Here is an article from the News Tribune about ST2′s outlook, and two editorials, one from the Seattle Times and one from the Everett Herald saying it’s took soon to go to the ballot for Sound Transit (neither paper endorsed prop 1 last November). Both editorial’s argument is basically that the economy isn’t great, and the first light rail line hasn’t opened yet, so we can wait to for a ballot measure in a few years.

I still think ST2.1 should go to the ballot this year, since gas has already hit $4 a gallon around here, a big election year will get tons of voters to the polls, and the sooner we start the sooner we’ll finish. The trick is really to get a ballot measure that people are really going to like. Twelve years ago Sound Transit was created by a successful ballot measure that came a year after a larger failed measure that had a longer construction time. Amazingly, the Seattle Times endorsed the 1996 measure.

This is not a perfect plan, but it represents a consolidation and rethinking of two earlier versions: a $13 billion budget-buster that never made it to the polls, and a $6.7 billion measure that was defeated in March 1995. The new plan benefits from a more-focused RTA mission and the public’s acceptance that a start must be made toward a solution.
Opponents are running out of ideas and credibility. No one believes there is any more money, physical room or public acceptance for major new highways and freeways. Republican legislative candidates who don’t like the RTA talk instead about pie-in-the-sky people-movers and other fanciful technology better suited to amusement parks than serving a bustling metropolitan area.
Another diversionary tactic is to suggest that King County’s Metro has the resources to take up the slack. Wrong. Metro is adding bus routes but pilfering its budget at the expense of relief for crowded park-and-ride lots.

All of these arguments were true then, and are even more true today. The 1996 post-election article sited “The difference, said Bob Drewel, county executive in Snohomish County and chairman of the RTA board, was that the RTA was willing to rewrite its plan after its defeat. RTA supporters reduced the scope of the plan and the time to build it.”

The measure from Prop 1 last year could be a good starting point for going to the Eastside and south to Tacoma, and maybe this year’s larger plan could be the design for going north. The lesson from the original Sound Transit vote is that the the plan has to please voters in the suburbs, many of whom will think that a system that doesn’t bring light rail to their area is a bad deal.

Now is the perfect time to go forward with a measure. Let’s hope we can get agreement on one before time runs out.

County wants your Opinion on Eastside Rail

The Cascade Bicycle Club has been pushing hard for a bike trail without rails on the BNSF corridor, while some transit advocates have been pushing for the rails to remain in case future rail goes through that corridor. The County Council will take public comment on the issue in their meeting tomorrow and again on May 5th. Some details here.

Lunch Bus

Ben and I went on the Sound Transit Light Rail Construction lunch bus yesterday. It was awesome to see how far along the construction is, and we had a great tour guide, Roger Pence from Sound Transit, who seemed to know the answer to just about every question we could think of. The other riders were all transit supporters, though one gentleman seemed to think that at-grade light rail is useless. We ate lunch at a table with a Federal Way Council member, Mike Park, who had some very interesting perspectives on an ST2 package, regional politics, and how badly Federal Way wants light rail.

As for the construction, Sound Transit has received more than half of the 34 cars ordered for the initial segment, and will be ready to test trains on essentially the whole line once the Beacon Hill tunnel construction is finished. The MLK portion of the line looks essentially done, and the stations look great. The Tukwila Station is a masterpiece, and has a very prominent profile next to SR 518. The mountain view from ontop of the platform is beautiful.

It was a beautiful day, the trip was really illuminating and the company was great. I highly recommend going on future lunch buses.

Seattle Transit Blog Turns One Today!

Since I started this blog a year ago, I’ve had four great co-bloggers and a guest blogger join, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about transit and transportation from personal study but most importantly from the comments and from the co-bloggers.

That state of Seattle transit is mixed. The SLU streetcar opened in December, but the Waterfront Streetcar has been killed for a decade or more. Link Light Rail opens next year, but it’s expansion failed last year. We’re still not any closer to a plan or a vote this November.

At the same time, traffic is terrible, and tons of people are still moving here. Some 10,000~12,000 units of housing are being built just in Seattle. We’re going to need solutions for our transportation problems, and transit is still the cheapest way to move people.

Thanks for reading over the past year, and I hope we find the next to our liking.

Prop 1 ST2 in November?

Could ST2.1 just be the original ST2? In this piece by the DJC, the suggestion is yes.

Light rail extensions to Tacoma and Lynnwood are back on the table after the Sound Transit board in a surprise move voted yesterday to include the transit portion of Proposition 1 as one of three options for a package that could go on the November ballot.
Sound Transit has been drafting two stripped-down versions of the transit portion of Proposition 1, which was defeated by voters last November. Both versions would be a lot cheaper and take less time to build.
But neither of them included light rail to Snohomish County, and yesterday Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon asked the board to put last year’s plan back into contention.
The stripped-down plans “leave North King County with no fast, reliable connections to Seattle,” Lynnwood City Council President Loren Simmonds said in public testimony.

Holy crap. So my post this morning could be a real question for the board. Not everyone on the board is happy with the idea though:

King County Council President Julia Patterson said the two new draft plans, which rely on a major increase in Sounder commuter rail service between Seattle and Tacoma, are contingent on getting an agreement with BNSF Railway that is far from assured.
“Shouldn’t we have another plan waiting in the wings?” Patterson asked.
But only one board member — Everett councilmember Paul Roberts — voted against proceeding.
“There are too many unanswered questions,” Roberts said. “I feel we’re running down the street trying to get dressed.”

ST2.1 or ST2?

Which do you prefer?

ST2.1 doesn’t have nearly as much light rail, in the .5% scenario only as far as Northgate, Highline Community College and Overlake Transit Center/Microsoft and in the .4% only to Northgate, 200 St Des Moines and Overlake Hospital. But it does build it much faster, that last projects would open in 2020.

So which do you prefer? More light rail or sooner light rail? Sounder and express bus or light rail to Tacoma?

ST Draft Plan Summary for 2008

Update: I had a bad version of the draft package.

Here are images of a summary draft plan for 2008, which summaries a .5% plan and a .4% plan. For Seattle, the difference seems to be extending the streetcar from John to Aloha on Broadway, which seems like a tiny difference for .1%. On the Eastside, though, .1% is the difference between Bellevue and Microsoft, which I think is well worth it. I’d guess there’s other money going to something else. What’s interesting is that ST would move about 302,000-309,000 people per day with $700-800 million total operating costs from 2008 to 2020, while King County Metro moves less than that number each day with operating costs of about $500 million per year.

Congestion Pricing Would Unclog Roads

The Puget Sound Regional Council released a study called “Traffic Choices” that shows that congestion pricing could alleviate traffic congestion. My question is, they needed a $3.1 million study to show that? It’s pretty obvious that if you start charging $13.41 people to drive to work, they’ll decide to drive less.

What’s also obvious to me, but apparently not to most other liberal environmentalists in this region, is that the moment you start this tolling scheme on existing roads, Tim Eyman passes an initiative repealing the laws, and a brand new wave of anti-tolling, anti-congestion pricing politicians sweep into office and undo the whole bloody thing.

I do like the sound of this:

Over 30 years, the report estimates, tolls could generate $87 billion in today’s dollars. The fairness of any regional road-tolling scheme would depend to a great extent on how those dollars are spent, Kitchen says.

The study confirms higher-income people — people who could most afford the tolls — would benefit most if regionwide road pricing were adopted for real. As for the less affluent, “they’re worse off unless you do something beneficial with that [toll] revenue,” Kitchen says.

It could be used for road improvements, or better transit service. Or it could allow policymakers to roll back other taxes, perhaps the gas tax or vehicle-excise taxes.

$87 billion is a lot of rail, but I doubt we’ll ever get 30 years of this sort of tolling. Congestion pricing is a great idea in theory, but in practice it’s going to push new development annd businesses far out into areas where the congestion pricing isn’t in effect, and it’ll be political suicide for whoever implements the plan unless alternatives are built long before the plan is put in place.

Let’s stick to realistic things we can do now, like build light rail to the Eastside, Northgate and Kent.

WPC Study Rebutted

The Washington Policy Center, a right-wing think-tank, issued a “study” entitled “The Facts on Light Rail: A Comparative Analysis of Light Rail Systems in Six West Coast Cities”. It’s the standard anti-rail stuff: it’s expensive, no one rides it, and buses would do a better job.

Michael Setty at publictransit.org has written a convincing rebuttal to the methods, arguments and facts of the study. For example, WPC uses San Francisco to talk about how expensive transit is, but fails to mention that one third of all commute trips in the three counties served by BART and Muni are taken on transit. Setty also shows that LRT is cheaper per passenger mile (38¢) than buses (55¢), in direct contrast to WPC’s claim that buses are 12% cheaper to operate.

A particularly money passage in the Setty piece:

WPC also claims that LRT does not reduce congestion or auto usage. However, according to Bailey, Linda, Mokhtarian, Patricia L. PhD, and Little, Andrew. The Broader Connection between Public Transportation, Energy Conservation and Greenhouse Gas Reduction. February 2008. ICF International. http://www.apta.com/research/info/online/land_use.cfm, transit reduces urban travel by 102 billion annual vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in U.S. urban areas, or about 6% of total urban VMT and two VMT for every urban passenger mile traveled on transit. About half of this impact is due to rail, which reduces travel by up to 10.9 daily VMT per household within 0.75 miles of a rail transit stop. This mitigates probably hundreds of billions in new roads otherwise “needed” without transit.

Applying this two for one reduction in VMT compared to daily transit passenger miles, five of the six West Coast LRT systems (excluding San Jose) are suppressing approximately 1.75 billion annual VMT, saving direct expenditures for auto trips of roughly $850 million based on the 2007 IRS Standard Mileage rates for business purposes, e.g., $0.485 per mile driven. This savings offsets net operating subsidies of about $304 million for the five LRT systems, plus an estimated annualized capital expense of $400-$450 million for the roughly $7.5 billion invested in West Coast LRT except for Santa Clara–e.g., assuming current 30-year U.S. Treasuries rates of 4.35%, and an annual set-asides to fund future replacements (actually provided by Federal formula funding).
These estimates do not include any allowance for reducing parking expenditures by the private sector, the increased value of land next to LRT stations, reduced travel times for transit dependents in some cases, and precluded expenditures for additional urban roadway capacity needed. In all corridors served by LRT, roadways already exist, usually freeways.

One of the main criticisms of transit is that it accounts for so few “trips”, as measured in vehicle miles travelled. But transit reduces the overall number of miles travelled, not just by car but by all means. So a simple usage metric is over counting the people who live in Spanaway and commute to Redmond, and dramtically over-counting those who live in Ballard and work in First Hill.

It’s great stuff, and the best smack-down of the standard anti-transit arguments I’ve read in a long time.

WPC Fights Rail In Vancouver

Kemper Freeman is fighting light rail in Vancouver. Well, not himself, but by proxy with Michael Ennis at the Washington Policy Center doing the dirty work. Kemper’s a big donnor to WPC (Jon DeVore at HA has some details on where WPC gets its money, and how they spend it). Some in Clark county way to extend Portland’s Max across the Columbia to Vancouver. Mike Ennis’s opinion piece in the Columbian is so full of absurdities as to almost be hilarious.

Light rail does not reduce traffic congestion. In 2005, light-rail systems on the West Coast served only about 2 percent of the work force in their service areas. On average, these systems only remove between 0.39 percent and 1.1 percent of cars from the roadway.

As I’ve said a million times at this blog, the goal is to move people, not cars. I don’t really care whether cars disappear from the road. As people move here (and Portland/Vancouver), there will always be more cars.

Light rail is expensive and it requires significant public assistance. On average, West Coast light-rail systems need taxpayer subsidies to pay for 73 percent of operations and 100 percent of capital improvements every year.

Yeah and roads make tons of money, that’s why we have such an easy time replacing the Viaduct and the 520 bridge. So do buses, those things are cash cows! I wonder what the figure is for the BRT that Ennis loves so much?

Light rail is far less efficient than a bus system. Attracting a new rider to light rail costs 16 to 47 times as much as attracting a new rider to a traditional bus system. And when accounting for passenger demand, West Coast light rail is 12 percent more expensive to operate than bus service.

Sure the capital costs of rail are large compared to buses, so it’s not surprising that rail costs more to “attract a rider”, but that statistic is massively misleading. And the 12% figure is not only wrong, it ignores the fact that advertising revenues are 15~25% of operating costs for rail systems, while just 10% for bus systems.

Just to get an idea of what kind of guy Ennis is, check out this post from the WPC blog:

On this Earth Day, I’m reminded of the push for highly dense, urban centers by incorporating transit oriented development (TODs). The idea is to build residential and commercial development along a railway or transit station. Through public subsidies and tax breaks, TODs typically require government manipulation of the market to attract the new community. Some also result in high vacancy rates and empty businesses because of the unnatural market.

Here is Thailand’s version of a TOD:

I wish I could make this stuff up.

Uh, Density?

Crosscut recently posted an essay by former WSDOT secretary Doug McDonald lamenting the fact that, seven years into our growth management plan, the core cities aren’t keeping up with the share of population growth they’re supposed to absorb, leaving the excess to places like Snoqualmie:
In King County, in the most recent years, only five percent or less of the new housing units are springing up outside the urban growth boundaries. But in Snohomish County, since 2000, the share of new housing units outside the urban growth boundaries has steadily increased. In Kitsap County, the number of new housing units outside the Urban Growth Area in recent years has bounced from year to year between 40 percent and 60 percent. In Pierce County, recent information shows that 20 percent of the new housing units are now arising outside the urban growth boundaries. Another telling indicator is that for Pierce County as a whole, growth in the unincorporated areas — some inside and some outside the urban growth boundaries — accounted for almost six out of 10 new residents in the entire county!

I assume that his data is correct, and agree that it’s a big concern. Befitting a former WSDOT (i.e., “Pavement Inc.”) chief, he completely misdiagnoses the problem:

What will be necessary to turn the tide against, well, the spread of sprawl across the region? Better urban public schools! Higher-quality and lower-cost housing in the cities, especially housing that will make all kinds of families with children eager to live in city neighborhoods! Friendlier, convenient main street shopping for shoppers of all incomes! Good streets and sidewalks, safe bike lanes, and enjoyable parks for people of all ages! For all the citizens of the entire region, these needs in the cities now are front and center as the essential, critical measures of “green.”

The underlying assumption is that we can’t find enough people to buy housing in Seattle, so we have to create more incentives for people to do so. That is, of course, nonsense: over the past decade demand has exceeded supply, and in fact developers can’t build enough units to satisfy market demand. Why is that? Because of zoning restrictions, design review boards, and NIMBYism, not because Seattle is such a rotten place to live. If you want more households in Seattle, you have to increase the number of homes, and there’s no place to put up vast new tracts of single-family housing.

Because this is Crosscut, there’s a gratuitous swipe at Light Rail:

Has anyone not yet noticed that it’s standing-room-only on principal bus routes all over the very areas where better transit services can help attract new residents? What is so hard about the obvious fact that today we must take the path of securing the Vision 2040 goals by radical, imaginative, and cost-effective improvements in bus and van services to strengthen the entire network of public transportation? Can we see the numbers, please, for our public transportation alternatives, including innovative bus and van transit services and modern park-and-ride centers, as compared to just a few light rail stops? It’s time to take action, guided by real data, to deliver transportation solutions to help hundreds of thousands of people move more easily and inexpensively everywhere in the designated growth centers.

Again, Mr. McDonald assumes that the problem is that no one wants to live in Seattle, rather than supporting transit options that support density. As we’ve reviewed time and time again, the permanence of rail attracts transit-oriented development in a way that non-capital-intensive buses never can. And since rail can carry more people than buses, the sheer number of people you can fit in a space is larger.

I’m not sure how he plans to improve bus service where articulated buses already run every 5 minutes or so during peak hours. Maybe he would take away general purpose traffic lanes on arterials, but that would be pretty unprecedented for a WSDOT guy. What he needs is a larger vehicle that can run with shorter headways, i.e., light rail. But I guess his “real data’ doesn’t support that.