Seattle Times: Upzone SLU for the Economy

121203 - SLU-Height Comparison

Image from city tank.

The Seattle Times published a rather surprising editorial mildly advocating for the upzone of South Lake Union:

South Lake Union is looking up. Rezoning proposals represent an opportunity that would turn other cities emerald green with envy.

Council land-use chair Richard Conlin is looking for a council vote by mid-February At this point, he sees a general consensus building around the mayor’s plans.

If the instinct is to worry about views, then keep the outlook for Seattle’s economic well-being unobstructed as well.

This is a good observation for two reasons. First, the swap is views for 1) jobs, 2) housing, and 3) social benefits like low-income housing and workforce-training facilities. Second, we should be encouraging the investment here and not elsewhere.

The other surprising bit is the mention of further transit investments:

More offices, apartments and condos provide a critical mass for further investments in public transit. All the talk could indeed turn into a people-moving reality.

This is from a group that famously advocated voters reject ST2 just four years ago. Maybe attitudes are truely changing in on Fairview and John, or maybe it’s the fact that their properties are part of the rezone, either way, it’s welcome.


  1. Ryan on Summit says

    It’s a good thing that a newspaper might have sacrificed its credibility for its financial interest? Because it happens to correspond with your view?

    If you think this opinion is in any way driven by the Seattle Times’ financial stake, you should call on them to recuse themselves.

    • Matthew Johnson says

      Recuse?!?! This is Editorial we are talking about, not a Supreme Court ruling! LOL

      And good on the Times for getting something right.

    • Schuyler says

      Ha! The Seattle Times has 0 credibility already, based on their ad “donations” this past fall.

    • lazarus says

      Recuse??? Ha! Last I checked the Times was still free to advocate as they choose – stupid as some of their past advocacy might have been

    • Andrew smith says

      Growth is in everyone’s financial interest, not just the paper’s. I guess I am confused what you are objecting too.

      • Ryan on Summit says

        The fact that the Seattle Times has no credibility especially in regard to issues where their own financial interest is clear, the fact that everyone knows this, and the fact that if they went the other way on this issue you’d be attacking them for their lack of credibility.

      • Andrew smith says

        If they had gone the other way, I wouldn’t have posted this. I don’t think you are making a whole lot of sense, to be honest. Changing your opinions over time with new information is a sign of rationality.

      • says

        And even if they came to the right conclusion for the wrong reasons, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s the right conclusion. Nor that ST still has some level of influence, so them getting this right and informing those who don’t follow these issues as closely is a good thing.

  2. mic says

    Higher density in SLU is pretty predictable given the current CBD is constrained by water, a freeway, and soft muck on the south end. A bonus are the views of Lake Union, Space Needle and Puget Sound. Totally logical development.
    Where’s the mass transit station?
    I don’t see any efforts to connect that section of the new CBD to the spine. The streetcar doesn’t count, as it’s not HCT by anyone’s definition.
    GMA calls for concurrency in development and transportation. Did I miss something?

    • Matthew Johnson says

      As demand for the streetcar increases, we’ve seen more and more trips added (paid for by the private sector mostly). Hopefully this trend will continue until adding trips is not realistic. Then there will be push to ‘speed it up.’

      At least that is the hope.

      • Lightning says

        One way to “spped it up” now is to tweak the light at Valley and Westlake. When the streetcar began operations, I’m sure I remember it getting preference at that corner. Now it can wait up to four minutes before it gets the green. Once every fifteen minutes, or even once every ten minutes, the cars can wait the 30 or 40 seconds it take the streetcar to get through that intersection.

      • Brent says

        Why can’t some of the money being used for more service be used instead for reliability and speed (i.e. capital) improvements?

      • Matthew Johnson says

        The quick answer is that the businesses in the area are paying for more runs, so they get more runs.

        The more complicated answer is b/c we haven’t organized around speeding up the SLUT and pressured the city to do it. If you’d like to take that up, I’d donate time and money.

    • Matthew Johnson says

      There is also the proposed Eastlake ‘Rapid Streetcar’ connection to the University District.

      All built out and you could have reliable connections to the spine both to the South and North.

      • mic says

        Is this another ‘bait and switch’ ploy to get higher taxes for something marginally better than what it replaced, like RapidRide?
        From TMP >> Rapid Streetcar is the rail mode considered for HCT corridors. It uses longer articulated or coupled street-running vehicles and is envisioned to operate like European street tram systems. Rapid streetcar achieves faster operating speed and greater reliability through longer spacing between stops and more extensive use of exclusive right-of-way than is typical of U.S. streetcar lines that emphasize Center City circulation. Rapid streetcar stations would be on-street and would be designed to include high volume shelters, real-time passenger information, level boarding, off-board fare payment, and enhanced station amenities. Rapid streetcar would have higher capacity trains, greater priority over traffic, and operate at higher speeds compared with a local streetcar circulator, such as the South Lake Union streetcar.
        I was thinking more in terms of a Link stop, not fucking with a couple of traffic signal boxes and calling it the “Slightly more Rapid than Yesterdays Trip” streetcar system, that cost us a bundle.

      • Matthew Johnson says

        Eventually, yes, all major nodes will need to be part of a Seattle Subway.

        However, short term I don’t think SLU is a very high priority. Due to its close proximity to DT and its existing streetcar which can be relatively cheaply beefed up, there are higher priorities. Short term SLUT improvements, medium term the Eastlake Rapid Streetcar line, and then long term a Seattle Subway stop.

      • Mike Orr says

        “Rapid Streetcar is the rail mode considered for HCT corridors.”

        The TMP is a guide for city projects; i.e., what the city can do on its own. Rapid Streetcar/Trolley/BRT is the minimum that could be considered high-capacity transit. Link is a higher level of HCT, and the city does anticipate that some of the corridors may be superceded by Link. When the city gave ST money for the Westlake streetcar, it assumed ST would make a Link proposal for Interbay and a rapid-streetcar proposal for Westlake/Dexter. Thus, the city is effectively delegating the Interbay corridor to ST until it finds out whether Link is coming or not.

        It’s assuming Link will never be on Westlake, Eastlake, or Madison, so it’s starting there with its own projects. Most Link pre-proposals for Interbay and 45th bypass Fremont, so Fremont will need something else in any case.

      • Matthew Johnson says

        … accidental post before completion.

        What I was going to say that one of the lowest hanging fruit I see is to get the Monorail tied in to Orca. Let them keep the cash fare for the tourists, but for the people that live and work here, let it be a useful mode of transportation.

        So besides will, what would be required? I imagine a study showing that the City and Seattle Monorail Services wouldn’t lose money (or if SMS would lose, how it would made up), Orca infrastructure (readers and a TVM at the Seattle Center)… and… What else am I missing?

      • Matthew Johnson says

        Due to proximity to Westlake Hub and the SLUT, increasing transit options from Westlake increases mobility for those living and working in SLU.

      • Mark Dublin says

        Sul mare luccica l’astro d’argento.
        Placida è l’onda, prospero è il vento.
        Sul mare luccica l’astro d’argento.
        Placida è l’onda, prospero è il vento.
        Venite all’agile barchetta mia,
        Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!
        Venite all’agile barchetta mia,
        Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!

        I like gondolas too. In Venice, (northern Italy, not California) they’ve also got long motorboats with route numbers like buses.

        Also like the aerial type- think it’d be great to put a lighted number 8 on top of the ones from Capitol Hill down Denny replacing certain bus route.

        Streetcar motormen tell me that since construction started, signal pre-empt either doesn’t work or not all the time. I don’t think mechanism has been taken down.

        Might be good if a lot of people, including from Amazon head office, called City Hall with a reminder.

        Wouldn’t “dis” idea of rapid streetcars- though everybody involved, from SDOT to the general public, motoring and pedestrian, and the Law, has to internalize the idea that streetcars get priority.

        My idea for desirable density? Google up “Sickla Udde”, a neighborhood in Stockholm located where a light rail line terminates at a waterway. Might be less opposition to development like that.

        Mark Dublin

      • d.p. says

        Wow… look at that Stockholm Line 22/Tvärbanan!

        An almost entirely traffic-separated (except for in one short, small-town stretch), occasionally grade-separated circumferential line that efficiently connects to rapid transit in multiple places… while in no way insisting that its passengers need a slow, duplicative radial experience anywhere close to the city center!

        Who’da thunk it?

      • Mike Orr says

        Note that accepting ORCA doesn’t necessarily mean accepting transfers or PugetPass. That might make the difference in whether the monorail can still fund itself under it.

      • d.p. says

        Nobody with a monthly pass is using the monorail today. Period.

        Allow monthly-passholders free rein and keep charging tourists and occasional users, and the city won’t lose a dime.

        Allow monthly-passholders free rein, keep charging tourists, and let ORCA e-purses transfer for a nominal fee (say, 50 cents), and the city will gain a valuable mobility asset for very, very minimal cost.

      • Will Green says

        Interestingly enough, the contract with ERG/Vix governing ORCA specifically mentions that it needs to be capable of expanding to support the Monorail.

      • Mike Orr says

        I avoided the monorail for decades because my pass didn’t cover it, but now I take it a few times a year for the experience. If you only go to Seattle Center a few times a year, why not take the monorail and make it extra special?

      • says

        I go to Seattle Center a lot and I ride to Westlake on the 511 a lot. I only take the Monorail when family is in town as a tourist thing. The monorail is making virtually no money off of ORCA holders now so I think allowing us to pay with ORCA will only increase their income, not the other way around.

    • Charles says

      There are many un/under-developed parcels in the “real” CBD including right in front of city hall. What is the city doing to encourage development there?

      • Ryan says

        The parcel in front of City Hall is owned by the city. The plan, which has been on hold due to the crappy economy, is to rebuild the public safety building there. This will presumably house the Seattle Police Department and other city (and maybe county – not sure) offices.

      • Kevin R says

        The building to the east of City Hall is the new Justice Center which includes the police headquarters. I don’t think they’ve announced any specific City departments that would move into the new building (if any).

      • Charles says

        The city already owns a very large skyscraper so I can’t imagine that the city needs additional office space. I got the impression that the development in front of city hall is a public/private partnership to build a commercial development.

        But it does seem that major building activity in the “real” central business district has all but stopped with the frenzy of activity in SLU. This is unfortunate.

    • Mike Orr says

      “I don’t see any efforts to connect that section of the new CBD to the spine.”

      There will be if a Ballard subway has a station Uptown, and if the existing plans to rebuild the streets across Aurora are successful. We’re used to thinking of Uptown as dreadful 20-minute walk from SLU or the 5 or 358, but with good east-west streets it would be as short and convenient as Pike Place Market to Belltown or Broadway from SCCC to Roy Street.

      • d.p. says

        So it will be a slightly less dreadful 20-minute walk from any future hypothetical sortakindamighthappen rapid transit?

        Fine… on a nice day, when you have plenty of time, on occasion.

        Reality check: even with reconnected streets, the heart of SLU will be as far from Uptown as the SLUT is long. And clearly people were opposed to such walks for the sake of a daily commute, or we wouldn’t have the SLUT. And the SLUT corridor is, of course, a wholly sub-par connection to rapid transit.

        I don’t necessarily think we should be planning elaborate subway strategies under SLU as our top priority, but let’s not pretend an Uptown subway station will be any better for the neighborhood than Westlake is already.

      • mic says

        Ditto d.p.
        The Link stop needs to be very close to Denny/Terry to be of any use for riders coming from the east or south. It would be a through connection for some and a platform connection for the rest.
        Asking commuters to ‘sort of’ find your way over to the monorail platform, or a jazzed up SLUT train ‘somewhere’ on Westlake looks easy on paper, but a killer when actually counting noses of people doing it.
        If you agree Link trains NEED to go to SLU from the current tunnel, then the next logical stop is Uptown Stn/Seattle Ctr.

  3. Brent says

    I know there are those who want Vulcan and other developers in SLU to pony up more for affordable housing, a goal with which I strongly sympathize. I would have no problem with that *if* it were a county or regional policy, that hit up suburban sprawl developers even harder. Since it is the city doing the zoning, we unfortunately have a backward incentive not to build in the city, and instead mow down the foothills, and turn agricultural land into suburgatory.

    To the extent there is a land-use planning failure, it is at the county and state level. Is there really much the city can do to get developers to agree not to develop in the hinterlands?

    For those who think the city should give over more power to the self-appointed people who show up at neighborhood association meetings, go to one of your neighborhood meetings, and see if they really represent the diversity of the neighborhood. When they start talking about any new housing bringing in the wrong people into the neighborhood, or bike infrastructure being a nuisance, I would suggest they don’t. We elect the mayor and city council. We don’t elect the neighborhood association membership.

    But don’t forget, people in the Sierra Club, the Cascade Bicycle Club, etc, would like to be heard more, too. Among the current round of mayoral candidates, I just don’t see anyone but the incumbent mayor listening to the environmental groups.

    • Matthew Johnson says

      Showing up to one of these meetings isn’t always that easy. Have you tried to find out when/where they meet? Most don’t have websites and the City doesn’t have a listing of them all.

      I suspect that this is intentional.

      • Brent says

        My neighborhood association is different. It advertises its meetings on sandwich boards at key intersections. However, the attendance at most run-of-the-mill meetings is overwhelmingly white, but at least thankfully quite progressive in its thinking.

        But no, I’ve never seen neighborhood meetings advertised in any other neighborhood I’ve lived in.

    • Mike Orr says

      The thing with neighborhood associations is, if you’re the only one with an dissenting view you’ll be ignored and your view won’t be reflected in its statements to the city. So it’s important to show the city council that not everybody in the neighborhood agrees with the NIMBYs that usually have control of neighborhood associations. Of course, starting a counter-movement to either give visibility to the opposition or even influence the neighborhood association is also worthwhile, but that requires more than one or two people willing to form a movement.

    • says

      “Is there really much the city can do to get developers to agree not to develop in the hinterlands?”

      I recall reading about the “public land bank” or something along those lines, but I think that should be a supplementary means, not the primary one. The best thing we can do is to ensure that development in the city isn’t prohibitively expensive. Part of that is upzoning to allow developments that can actually make money of course. Developers are going to go where the money is, and that’s fine.

      Maybe more safeguards to ensure that the costs of expanding infrastructure and services (roads, utilities, public safety), including maintenance, are actually covered by the growth. It’s bad enough to keep eating away at agricultural and rural land, but when it ends up being a net drain on city/county resources as well (as it usually does), it’s unacceptable.

  4. Ralphie says

    Too bad that Sound Transit did not build Light Rail through South Lake Union, where the growth is, rather than Capital Hill where the growth is not.

    Transit advocates and politicians blew it on this one.

    • Brent says

      I assume, then, that you are on board with building the Eastlake Rapid Streetcar line and having a subway stop on a second subway line to North Seattle?

    • Ryan on Summit says

      I’m sure you’re very familiar with Capitol Hill’s growth opportunities, especially since you don’t even know how to spell the neighborhood correctly.

    • Zed says

      Have you been to Capitol Hill lately? It’s one of the fastest growing urban neighborhoods in the country. Even if it were not, the current commercial and residential density justifies light rail there. SLU will need better transit than what it currently has, but not at the expense of Capitol Hill.

    • Andrew smith says

      confession: I automatically assume people who write “capital hill” instead of ” Capitol hill” are incorrect.

      • Charles says

        Perhaps we might surmise they are keying to the little grammatical tidbit that says Washington D.C. is the Capital of our country and the Congress is seated in the Capitol building. But such speculation is pedantic.

      • says

        It’s not unreasonable to think that you would spell it as “Capital Hill”, but if you do it’s pretty clear you’re not very familiar with the area, and your opinion of its growth prospects is suspect.

      • Ryan on Summit says

        The fact that I knew they weren’t correct (being a resident of said neighborhood) was the main reason I pointed this out.

    • Mike Orr says

      It’s important to cover the CURRENT pedestrian/transit intensive spots, not just potential future ones. People have packed Capitol Hill (and 45th) because that’s where the most frequent existing transit is and the most successful pedestrian districts. Putting HCT there guarantees immediate high ridership and growth because the people are ready for transit, will jump onto better transit, will support it with their votes, and are already thinking about selling their cars if/when the transit situation improves substantially. (That means both Link and good feeders and bus signal priority.) In contrast, speculative stations are just that: speculative. Othello and the Spring District are speculative stations, intended to channel/leverage future growth. The problem is that the growth may not happen, or may occur elsewhere. And even if it does occur in the right place, you’ll probably get block-sized buildings with large parking ramps and dead open space, because that’s what’s being built right now. As opposed to the narrow storefronts and high pedestrian activity of Broadway, a legacy streetcar-suburb main street. It may turn out that new dense neighborhoods will never be as effective as the legacy streetcar-suburb main streets even if everything goes right. That’s why it’s important to serve the existing pedestrian high points now rather than bypassing them for new or speculative neighborhoods.

      The bulk of guaranteed ridership growth is from places that are already ready for HCT:

      That’s why a 45th subway keeps coming up, because there are already people ready to ride it and vote for it and approve upzones. Othello and the Spring District are speculative stations designed to channel/leverage future growth. SLU is in between. But Broadway and 45th are ready for HCT now and will jump to use it. Because speculations are just that: speculative. The growth may not happen or it may occur elsewhere. And even if it does, it’s most likely to be block-sized buildings with large bits of parking ramps and dead open space rather than the narrow storefronts of the pre-automobile era, because that’s being built right now. So even if the growth happens in the right place, it may never be as effective as the streetcar-suburb main streets that have managed to retain their pedestrian attraction.

  5. Ralphie says

    Ryan on Summit,

    Sorry I spelled Capitol Hill wrong, I have been doing that for 30 years.

    The lot across the street is not for the Seattle Police Department, they moved east of City Hall in a new building next to the Municipal Courts. The west across from City Hall is for private sector development. You are right to be concerned about its development.

    Though there has been development on Capitol Hill, it is nothing like is planned in South Lake Union. Capitol Hill is in walking distance of downtown and First Hill and has excellent bus service.

    South Lake Union is much more an employment center than Capitol Hill and should have gotten the light rail, particularly when it became too expensive to have a station on First Hill.

    • says

      Employment centers are important, but Capitol Hill is a housing center and don’t forget that one of the biggest employment centers in the state is the University of Washington, which will be directly connected to Capitol Hill in 2016. This line has also been planned for quite a while, and in 2008 the population of SLU was a few thousand. In 2010, it was less than 10,000 including both Census tracts 72 and 73, which extends as far west as 3rd Ave and as far south as Olive Way, so is probably mostly people living in those areas.

      Capitol Hill, on the other hand, had about 30,000 people within walking distance of the new station in 2010. To pass all those people by due to speculation about the growth of a place with less than 1,000 people would have been a huge mistake, politically and economically. And while the hill has great bus service, seven minutes to UW (and probably shorter headways) versus 15+ on the bus is a huge difference. And due to the relatively undeveloped area along Eastlake, existing transit service is, or at least can be, much more fast and reliable than the 43, 48, and 49 that go through/by Capitol Hill.

      I’m not saying with absolute certainty that not locating a stop in SLU was the best choice for the long term efficiency/productivity of our light rail network, but it was the only realistic one at the time and certainly wasn’t a “mistake”. It’s gonna be a very long time before SLU actually competes with Capitol Hill in terms of potential ridership.

      Oh, and one last thought: Capitol Hill’s population is almost certainly more transit-dependent than SLU’s will be (much lower average income, and more students), so they’re not only more likely to use transit service, they’ve also got the most to gain from transit that’s good enough to allow them to get rid of their cars.

      • mic says

        I still blame Norm Rice for killing the ‘Seattle Commons’ project and nixing the SLU stop over serving his cronies on First Hill.
        How’d that one work out Norm?

      • Ralphie says

        When Sound Transit dropped the First Hill Station, they should have moved to South Lake Union. Shows the City was not committed to South Lake Union.

        Just because a community is transit dependent, does not mean it needs light rail.

      • d.p. says

        No, but when the uphill buses are so FUBAR ineffective that tens of thousands of people waste 20 minutes a day each traveling a single mile — adding up to years of wasted life — that’s exactly when you need working rapid transit.

        I’m not saying SLU isn’t or won’t be underserved. But if you think the status quo to and from Capitol Hill is acceptable in the slightest, then you either never, ever go there or you are an idiot.

      • Mike Orr says

        “the hill has great bus service, seven minutes to UW (and probably shorter headways) versus 15+ on the bus is a huge difference.”

        The hill has theoretically great bus service in the daytime, when the buses don’t take twice as long as scheduled. Evenings/Sundays it devolves into a spaghetti of half-hourly or worse routes, and the only frequent service is between Pine/4th and Pine/Bellevue, which is a very small corner of the hill.

        University Link is sure to be 10-minute headways as Link is now, or better. (Going to 4-car trains will double capacity, and if more capacity is needed it could run turnbacks to Stadium.) North/Lynnwood/East Link will roughly double that.

      • says

        Agreed Mike. I didn’t type that very well- I was saying that it takes 15+ minutes now (15 is without congestion), whereas the light rail trip from Capitol Hill to UW will be about 7 minutes, every time.

      • Ralphie says

        But you still have to get to the station and down into the tunnel and wait for the train.

        It is only advantageous if you live in walking distance of the station.

      • says

        Easily more than 15,000 people are within walking distance of the new station. It’s worth an extra 5-10 minutes’ walk (if necessary) for a trip that’s at least twice as fast as the existing service, and during peak hours 3-5x faster.

      • d.p. says

        Indeed, if Seattle were any reasonable European, South American, or Asian city, we’d probably see a subway with three stops across Capitol Hill. One that virtually everybody could walk to. It is certainly a shame that Seattle decision-makers believe we live in a geometry- and precedent-free zone, or that saving mere seconds on a long-distance trip is worth gaping holes in mobility along the way.

        But Shane Phillips is right. A healthy chunk of demand is in walking distance of the Capitol Hill station we’re getting, and the improvement will be so drastic that using anything but the train would be a fool’s errand. In the uphill direction at rush hour or in the evening, when every other option is an unqualified nightmare, the train will be the obvious choice even if your walk is further than you might like.

        Your plan to bypass Capitol Hill entirely, and leave everything just the way it is, makes no sense and would be utterly unacceptable.


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