Publicola today has one of their fantastic “one question” pieces – this time for mayoral candidate Ed Murray, on his view on Sound Transit’s subarea equity policy. Murray says it should be eliminated.
As a quick bit of background, subarea equity is a policy in which Sound Transit is split into five subareas – and money collected in a subarea must be spent in that subarea. This means money collected in Seattle essentially stays in Seattle, money collected on the eastside stays on the eastside.
Subarea equity originally existed because suburban legislators, in creating Sound Transit, wanted to make sure that suburban money didn’t end up spent in Seattle. As a result, Link implementation was at first slower. But now that Sound Transit 2 is passed, the North King subarea’s “spine” is fully funded. Most of the political pressure on Sound Transit is now to expand to Tacoma, Everett, and Redmond, and most of the board votes are outside Seattle.
In a Sound Transit 3 package, subarea equity is paramount to ensuring that we get a new line in Seattle – it ensures that Seattle’s contribution stays in the city, and political pressure doesn’t move money out to the ends of the lines.
Murray claims that his reason for wanting to remove subarea equity would be to focus transit investment in Seattle – but the outcome of removing it would be the opposite. As a transit advocate who wants Seattle to have more grade separated transit, this is scary because it’s a direct threat to a new line in the city, and it’s scary because a mayoral candidate should have a better grasp of the issues.
As we previously mentioned, this week the Mayor proposed a supplemental transportation budget to balance car, pedestrian, bicycle, and transit needs using the $11.75 million in savings from the Spokane Street Viaduct project. Bruce’s piece this morning showcases one of the great transit options this planning work could help build.
Unfortunately, the Seattle Times, with guest Sally Clark, has continued its campaign against any transit the Mayor proposes. Let’s have a look at their reaction to the supplemental budget ($).
On the high capacity transit studies, we begin with:
“Déjà vu,” said council President Sally Clark. “It seems like we just discussed this.”
In fact, we did just discuss this. In the first paragraph of Council’s Statement of Legislative Intent with 2013 Transit Master Plan implementation, they said:
It is also the Council’s intent that SDOT continue planning for the High Capacity Transit (HCT) corridors identified in the TMP, including the Eastlake corridor, in a timely manner so that Seattle can meet longer-term growth in transit demand. Following the City Budget Office 1stQuarter update of revenue projections and upon review of the 1stQuarter Supplemental Budget, Council will examine prospects to move up the Eastlake HCT corridor planning to begin in 2013.
This is exactly the time that the Council asked to review bringing this transit planning work to 2013 – and now there’s extra money to do just that. Perhaps Clark, busy in her role as Council President, simply forgot that her legislative body asked for this? (more…)
Tacoma Trestle (DWHonan/Flickr)
Last week, the Washington State Senate released a bipartisan transportation budget (summary [PDF]) for this biennium. It’s quite unlike the previous budget we saw from House Transportation chair Judy Clibborn: major highway expansion is almost completely missing, and it includes almost no significant new revenue. However, it does hurt Sound Transit and high speed rail.
The transit part
There are two troubling changes to Regional Mobility Grants, state grants for transit capital and operations.
The first is how it’s appropriated: in the past, it’s simply been competitive. If a project is more cost effective, it ranks higher on the list. This makes a lot of sense! The Senate budget added an “agency cap” – any one agency can’t get more than 25% of total projects. This is effectively an attack on Sound Transit – it cut the $7 million grant to the Tacoma Trestle project.
This seems shortsighted on the Senate’s part. The Tacoma Trestle is a 100-year-old, wooden, single-track trestle leading up to Freighthouse Square, the Tacoma station for Sounder commuter rail. It would be replaced with a new concrete double track structure – a structure required not just for Sounder expansion, but also to add Amtrak Cascades trips required for the state to keep its $800 million in federal high speed rail funding, and therefore a state responsibility. It’s also the second highest ranked RMG project in the state. This would be a good time to call your Senator and say “I want high speed rail, don’t cut the Tacoma Trestle!”
The other major issue is a word game in the summary linked above. Normally, once a grant is allocated, the money stays allocated to that project until it’s needed, and sits in a state RMG account. The RMG account accrues interest, which can be applied to other projects later. Not this year: in the Senate version of the budget, the interest is zeroed out, rather than going to the next project on the list. It’s a quiet way of claiming RMGs are “fully funded” but changing what full funding means.
The highway part
When Governor Jay Inslee appointed Lynn Peterson as the next WSDOT Director, urbanists and sustainable transportation advocates across the country cheered – and some dared to hope that WSDOT would scrap megaprojects like the Columbia River Crossing. But any WSDOT Secretary ultimately reports to the Governor, and indirectly to the legislature.
Between the two governors, Inslee has been the more vocal cheerleader for the CRC over the last year. Both on the campaign trail and in recent speeches, Governor Inslee has called for building the CRC – with light rail.
The CRC proponents say that both the Oregon and Washington legislatures have to put up $250 to $450 million this year in order to secure federal funding. Although the merit of this argument is suspect, Oregon has committed their share and now the pressure is on Washington to do its part.
To kill or change the CRC Mega-Project, we’re down to perhaps two options: (1) make sure no transportation package includes funding for the CRC, and (2) reduce the dedicated funding in the transportation budget to only the project components that make sense. More after the jump.
Still structurally sound. (wikimedia)
WSDOT, ODOT, and their lead contractor David Evans & Associates (DEA) have waged a deliberate misinformation campaign since 2007 to frame the Columbia River Crossing Mega-Highway Project as imperative. It’s not.
Let’s look at each of the major points. By the end of this series, I hope you’ll agree that the CRC Mega-Highway is a giant mess, a waste of taxpayer dollars that could be better spent on almost any other project. Part 1 is here.
1. The CRC Mega-Highway is a 5-mile long freeway expansion project with 7 substantial interchange modifications.
The CRC Mega-Highway expands the existing I-5 freeway from its current 6 lanes to a total of 22 lanes at its widest. The expansion starts in Vancouver, Washington, 2.5 miles north of the Columbia River and extends more than a mile south of Hayden Island and the river into Portland. There are also seven substantial interchange modifications — representing 41 percent of the project costs — in order to make it easier for single-occupancy cars to get from suburban and rural homes onto and off the freeway. And yes, the current I-5 bridges that cross the Columbia River (and once carried streetcars) get demolished and replaced by a lower, bulkier mega-highway.
WSDOT, ODOT, and DEA would have you believe that it’s only a bridge replacement project. They went so far as to rename the project the “I-5 Bridge Replacement Project” in legislation recently passed by the Oregon legislature. As you saw in the contractor-created GIF yesterday: that’s misleading. More after the jump. (more…)
Seattleites, urbanists, and environmentalists: While we’ve been focused on saving Metro service, expanding rail, and working toward dense growth – we’ve lost sight of part of the bigger picture.
By forgetting about a megaproject from another region, we’ve put in jeopardy funding for what we want built. The biggest threat to funding many of our priorities is the Columbia River Crossing Project (CRC), 160 miles to the south.
The CRC Mega-Highway is a five-mile long highway expansion project of I-5 with seven significant interchange modifications between Portland and Vancouver. In places, the highway will become 22 lanes wide.
Like nearly all mega-highway projects, the CRC Mega-Highway will increase global warming pollution and exacerbate sprawl. But perhaps even worse, the CRC will put taxpayers at tremendous financial risk, spend billions of dollars, and divert money from better projects.
And like most mega-projects, the history of the CRC has been that of an alliance of politics, business, and labor moving forward, never solving significant problems, claiming that we’ve come too far not to keep pushing on, and that some federal dollars are at risk.
In fact, when the Oregon legislature voted to approve $450 million as their state’s share to the project, almost none of the legislators had seen renderings of what the CRC Mega-Project would look like, despite more than eight years of planning efforts.
Has Governor Inslee seen this bridge? (ODOT/CRC via Willamette Week)
This week, the Spokane Street Viaduct widening project has officially come in under budget by $11.75 million. The savings stay in the city, to be used on other SDOT projects.
The mayor and SDOT have released their highest priorities for this funding – and the list is something urbanists should be happy with, a good balance between road reconstruction and pothole prevention, neighborhood streets, intelligent transportation systems, sidewalks, bicycle improvements, and a little at the end for transit.
This is the kind of balance that is too diffuse for voters to be happy with – there’s no “big ticket” item to frame the package – but grabs low-hanging fruit across the board and targets cost effective investments like adaptive traffic signals to improve traffic flow without manual tweaking, and crack sealing to stop potholes before they start. As an aside (and an abuse of blockquotes):
The crack sealing program is pretty interesting to me – it’s much like my day job. I find software problems before users get to them: it’s cheaper to fix a bug before it goes to customers than it is to release a patch. Much like this, crack sealing stops potholes from forming in the first place, preventing more expensive patches. This week council member Burgess attacked the mayor over potholes, but the mayor pioneered this program to prevent them at much lower cost, making city dollars go farther. It’s a classic attack, but it’s really damaging to the conversation, because we’re past that as a city.
Under McGinn (and Nickels before him), the city patches potholes when they’re reported, which means the ones most important to citizens are addressed first. Burgess said he wanted to move to a system where teams go neighborhood to neighborhood to patch on a schedule – but that’s the system we moved away from, because it’s less efficient. This is similar to how modern building management systems have moved away from regularly scheduled maintenance, and to a sensor-driven model that lets maintenance know when a valve is stuck or a light out, so they can choose the repairs with best cost benefit first. This saves a lot of money for building managers just as it saves the city money for potholes.
Now that the Ballard to Downtown rail study work has begun (and don’t miss the open house tonight!), I want to point out some of the best parts of the study scope of work, and reiterate what our next steps should be to achieve solutions that will last us for the next century.
First, remember that the money for this study comes from two sources – Sound Transit, which the ST2 measure tasked with studying high capacity transit to Ballard, defined as operating principally on exclusive rights of way, and Seattle, which has identified a preferred alternative of rapid streetcar (page 3-7) for the Ballard-Fremont-Downtown corridor. These are different policy goals, and they likely fit into different corridors.
As a result, the scope of work is split into two different “tasks.” Task A, High-Capacity Transit, and Task B, Rapid Streetcar. Both have some very clear direction. It will develop up to four “Level 1″ alternatives for each of Task A and Task B, and four new maintenance facility locations between both. The potential for grade separation is clearly called out in Task A:
A footprint of a Salmon Bay /Ship Canal crossing for a fixed bridge, moveable bridge and a tunnel will be developed at up to two (2) locations determined in the Initial Concept Screening.
As the consultant releases their Level 1 alternatives for Task A, it’ll be our job as advocates to look at what they produce (page 9 – “Technical Memorandum: Definition of Task A Concepts”), engage in the public process that will result, and influence the two options to advance to Level 2 (starting page 13). Then the consultant will do ridership forecasting, cost estimates, running times, and even land use:
This analysis will potentially be more detailed and quantitative than in Level 1, and may include population and employment analysis and development of schematic urban design drawings.
This particular bit about land use is the outcome of Sound Transit’s updated TOD policy, passed last year. It’ll help start to rationalize transportation and land use decisions, and make it easier for us to put transit where it can have the most economic benefit over the long term, not just in the ridership it’ll generate today.
Task B is the rapid streetcar work. That’s exciting too – all the study work in the past has shown that we need rail transit in both of these corridors. But unless that “rapid streetcar” targets a level of investment as high as Link, which it’s very unlikely to, Sound Transit won’t put it in ST3. And as Bruce wrote this morning, there’s little that surface rail through downtown can do to make transit faster.
Fortunately, this study is as much about separated light rail as it is about streetcar. The way we’re going to get to fully grade separated, fast transit to Ballard will start here, and be determined largely by how well we organize. We need to ensure the highest levels of investment that result from the Task A, Level 1 alternatives are those that move forward to Level 2 so we get cost and ridership information. If we’re successful, the end of this study will have projects for which we can seek funding.
Wonky? Yes. But staying involved in this work – from understanding this study, to championing the right alternative, to winning funding – is the way Seattle Subway turns from a great idea into an inevitability.
Massive Spokane Highway Expansion
Now that House Transportation chair Judy Clibborn has proposed a statewide transportation package, much of the local reporting has been focused on the fact that it includes a tax on bicycle sales. And yes, a bicycle tax is a stupid idea. It would create a disincentive to use a transportation mode that does almost no damage to streets or our climate, and improves public health, for a measly million dollars in revenue in a ten billion dollar package.
It’s also a genius move – put something so incredibly stupid in a package that we talk about that instead of the real reason the package is insane.
At a time when the state needs money for maintenance across the state, we’re trying to address climate change, and we desperately need money for transit, this package spends $3.9 billion to start – and not finish – shiny new highway projects. It widens 405, 5, 167, and 90. It doesn’t solve the 520 or 99 funding problems the state has already started. And it puts hundreds of millions into the Columbia River Crossing project – throwing money into a boondoggle that our new transportation secretary has opposed for years.
There is a little bit for transit – but it wouldn’t come close to solving Metro’s shortfall, and it does nothing to build toward Sound Transit 3.
This would be a terrible place to start a debate. Urban legislators would be left fighting a bicycle tax, trying to fund I-5 preservation through downtown, and finishing 520 and 99, instead of asking for transit. While I can’t speak to Clibborn’s motivations, it would make sense for this to be intentional, to keep the debate focused on highway projects. Transit advocates would be left fighting it entirely or trying to get what they can (which wouldn’t be much).
In the short term, we don’t have much to worry about. House leadership isn’t interested in the bill. It was yanked from getting a hearing in today’s meeting, and I’ve heard from sources in Olympia that the House doesn’t want to deal with transportation at all until education is solved.
Unfortunately, this is what we’re going to have to look forward to. Without strong leadership from our representatives, we’ll end up starting the transportation debate with a package that would drive sprawl, accelerate climate change, and screw transit users all over Puget Sound. Remember – the legislature created our transit mess.
If we start with a package like this, we’d do best to kill it at the ballot box, and force the legislature to actually fund transit if they want our votes.
Overlay transition areas – click for staff presentation
Over the weekend, Bellevue rolled out new changes (.pdf) to its land use code amendments in response to the NIMBYs that swarmed the City’s public hearing last week. From what we’ve heard, the changes are a last ditch-effort that could end up delaying East Link by months, maybe even years. Sound Transit is so concerned with the new amendments that they even sent East Link’s project director to testify against them at the council’s meeting Tuesday night.
Among the changes are three technical code revisions, any combination of which could end up having some negative impact to East Link:
- Height restrictions that could be determined by a lengthy regulatory process
- A 30-foot setback from the edge of the alignment to residential property lines
- A 60-foot setback from the edge of the alignment to residential building structures
In a move that shows a strong commitment to walkable, bikeable communities, transit, and sustainability in general, Governor Inslee has appointed Lynn Peterson to succeed Paula Hammond as Secretary of Transportation.
Peterson has been Sustainable Communities and Transportation Advisor to Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber since March 2011. She began her career as an engineer for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation in 1988, and has worked in the greater Portland area since 1994: as a Travel Forecaster for Metro Regional Government, as a Transportation Advocate for 1000 Friends of Oregon, a Strategic Planner for Trimet, 4 years with her own consulting firm, and as Chair of the Clackamas County Commission.
Peterson is very unlikely to support highway expansion over transit. She’s been a supporter of rail over road expansion in the past. This is great news for us, for our transit agencies, and for our climate.
2:15pm update: Looking a little deeper, there’s a lot to like here. In Peterson’s 2010 letter to the Columbia River Crossing Review Board as chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, she was carefully critical of the Columbia River Crossing project, with really solid comments that show clear support for light rail and pedestrian connections, and little support for highway growth. This is the approach I want to see to every highway project:
“Removing a bottleneck on the I-5 bridge and moving it to I-5 in the Central City is not a viable solution, and the region is forced to make additional difficult and unrealistic choices.”
Tolling I-205 (a parallel crossing to I-5 in the project) is a major theme here, and the strong support in the letter shows she’ll be committed to tolling I-90 as well. She also wrote that “evolving environmental expectations” mean that “mega-projects do not reflect the priorities of the communities we are elected to serve,” and disapproves of prioritizing the CRC project over all other regional concerns. That’s exactly the kind of approach Washington needs.
On Wednesday the 20th, STB is pleased to present an open house on the Ballard to Downtown Study funded in last year’s partnership between Sound Transit and the City of Seattle. We’ll have Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, and staff from both governments to talk about this first step.
And let me reiterate that this is *just* the first step – it’ll take more work from us to get this past a corridor study. This study area is wide, from Ballard through SLU/Fremont and Belltown/Interbay to the heart of downtown, and it’ll come up with alternatives in both corridors at many levels of potential investment. It will open up a process for choosing one or more of those alternatives, but there isn’t funding for design and engineering, much less construction. It’ll be our job over the coming year or two to advocate for funding sources to connect these neighborhoods, and it’s important for us to understand what’s in the study – and what isn’t – so we can be effective in that advocacy.
So join us on Wednesday the 20th at Hale’s Ales in Fremont from 5:30-7pm, for an ALL AGES meetup to talk transit to Ballard!
Last minute notice, I know, but tonight at 6:30 at City Hall, as part of developing a new Climate Action Plan, the City of Seattle is hosting a forum on what we can do to reduce the climate impact of our transportation and land use. With panelists Rob Johnson of TCC, David Cutler of the Seattle Planning Commission, and Maggie Wykowski of Puget Sound Sage, the discussion should be in line with the things we write about.
There’s an opportunity for public input tonight, but not just in person. Online, you can read about the city’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, development of the new Climate Action Plan, and you can comment! Even saying “more electric transit” or “more density” helps, as there will inevitably be comments to the contrary.
Definitely comment below if you’re already planning to go – I know a few of our regular readers will be there.
Ever since the 2000 legislature revoked our voter approved car tab revenue, transit funding has been unreliable. Before then, transit agencies across the state relied on a combination of more volatile sales tax and less volatile (and more progressive) Motor Vehicle Excise Tax, or MVET, to operate service. Now, with only sales tax, funding fluctuates wildly with the economy, and our bus service is being gutted.
Imagine if all our highways and large arterials had to be closed a few hours a day, or even one day a week! When transit service is so dramatically cut, the elderly, the poor, the visually impaired, and many others face a similar situation, cut off from jobs, family, services, much of the world.
This year, with such a universal threat, our transit agencies have come together to present a unified demand.
An earlier legislature chose to cut the MVET. This legislature must now step up to solve the problem, and the solution is easily within reach. Our state only provides 2% of our transit agencies’ budgets – compared to a national average of 17%. The state will be relying on Puget Sound voters to pass a transportation package, and we’ve spoken before: We don’t want wider highways. We want more fast, reliable, high capacity transit.
Now, a line in the sand has been drawn. A statewide package must contain $400 million annually in direct transit operations funding, to be apportioned to agencies by an already established formula. That’s the level that will shore up Pierce Transit, keep Metro from having to make huge cuts, and even assist Sound Transit a tiny bit in implementing light rail. As part of a statewide package, direct funding would avoid fighting every local battle individually, and provide a rock for the next economic crisis.
The “Keep Transit Moving” request is worth a read. 31 agencies across the state have one ask. It’s still a little timid – allowing for 25% of a smaller package if the $400 million/year isn’t in the cards. But the Republicans in Olympia would provide less at their peril – major cuts in Pierce and King counties in 2014 would bring angry voters to the polls, leaving them little chance of keeping their tenuous grasp on power.
Olympia must fix the problem their predecessors created by cutting the voter-approved MVET. The resilient, sustainable, efficient transportation system of the future starts with well funded mass transit.
I couldn’t resist.
Tomorrow, we get a big win. Sound Transit doesn’t want to see Issaquah, Redmond, or Everett left behind by Seattle going it alone, so they’re responding to the threat of our ballot measure by doing a lot of our work for us! Their board is expected to unanimously pass a budget amendment (PDF) to spend $9.76 million in 2013 to get them on track for more. I met with staff, and they explained what this will fund:
First, it will combine a bunch of study work into likely three major contracts for corridor studies. This likely means one from downtown to West Seattle, Burien and Renton; one from Ballard to UW, Kirkland and Redmond combined with options for connecting Issaquah; and finally, one from the currently funded Lynnwood terminus of light rail all the way to Everett.
From each study, different alternatives will be evaluated for cost, ridership, and other factors. Then Sound Transit will use this data, along with extensive public outreach, to identify the best projects to be added by the board to their Long Range Plan. Law requires that the Board choose projects from their long range plan for any ballot measure – so a mixture of these will become the light rail backbone of Sound Transit 3.
With this budget amendment, the board puts the pedal to the metal, keeping their pipeline full for about the next two years, and helps open up the option of a regional vote as early as 2016, rather than 2020 or even later. It’s a big win for transit advocates; grassroots organizing gets results!
To get to a vote, though, there’s much more work to do. Voters have already approved all the revenue that the legislature provided for Sound Transit, so before they can develop Sound Transit 3 and send it to voters, they need the authority to ask. This week’s vote will help us show legislators that we have the support of our local elected officials – we want more transit, and we want it yesterday.
Want to help us get there? Sign up and say you want to help out, or talk to me at tomorrow’s meetup, where we’ll discuss what the board action means and what we can do to get more.
Massive Spokane Highway Expansion
Today, the AP reports that Governor Gregoire plans to propose a highway expansion package before leaving office. This is billed as a “transportation” package, but there has been no mention of transit – the major projects circulating so far are highway expansion, including plenty of new suburban lanes. She’s said it would “rival” the 2005 highway expansion package, which included almost nothing for transit.
As Governor-elect Inslee has committed to vetoing any direct tax increase, this package would very likely go to the voters. Gregoire seems to already be framing it with that in mind – talking about “maintenance,” and avoiding direct discussion of expansion. This is a good strategy; in 2007, highway expansion proved to be extremely unpopular with Puget Sound voters, the voters that the state relies on to pass tax increases.
With yesterday’s Republican coup in Olympia, Senate Transportation will likely be co-chaired by Senator Eide and a Republican, making the chances of a separate local options package for transit agencies, cities and counties nearly nil.
With Obama’s commitment to addressing climate change nationally, several local counties in bad shape, Tacoma and Seattle looking for revenue for streetcar expansion, and Sound Transit jump starting planning for Sound Transit 3, voters won’t be interested in big highway projects. Gregoire needs to come out swinging for transit, not promote suburban sprawl.
Three of the East Link maintenance facility study locations
The blurb is enough to show the Times didn’t investigate this story at all:
“Bellevue City Council members are angry Sound Transit didn’t tell them it was considering building a large rail yard in the city last year”
Basically, anti-rail Bellevue City Council members Kevin Wallace and Jennifer Robertson have found a new way to oppose East Link. They claim that they had no idea that Sound Transit was considering maintenance facility locations in Bellevue! No idea at all!
Except that not only have these identical maintenance facility locations been in the final environmental impact statement for East Link for over a year, they were also in the draft environmental impact statement published in 2008 (see section 2, “alternatives considered”). They’ve even been displayed at Sound Transit open houses – including at least one physically in Bellevue City Hall. Furthermore, comments on maintenance facility options are included in correspondence dating as far back as 2009 between the City of Bellevue and Sound Transit on East Link options.
Given that I’ve personally spoken to more than one Bellevue City Council member about possibilities for a maintenance facility, and that it came up in the investigation of council member Kevin Wallace, it’s clearly a falsehood that they are in any way surprised about this part of the East Link project.
The Times says one thing to try to cover this ridiculous allegation:
“But Sound Transit officials told Bellevue in 2009 they had decided instead to locate a major rail yard south of Seattle and store a limited number of trains on the Eastside.”
In discussions I’ve had with Sound Transit staff, that option has never been a long term solution, and I don’t believe that a rail yard was ever cancelled, just delayed.
The supposed paper of record for our region shows significant bias in this piece, and fails to fact check Bellevue city council members, or accurately portray their knowledge of the largest infrastructure project in their city. I look forward to a correction from the Seattle Times.
One Option For Ballard to Downtown
As part of partnership more than a year in the making, on Thursday the Sound Transit board approved $2 million in funding to study rail transit connecting downtown to Ballard. This is joined by up to $800,000 from the City of Seattle. Sound Transit’s funding will go to study of modes in exclusive right of way, like Link, and the City funding will consider streetcar options, although the funding will be together in one contract. The Federal Transit Administration has indicated there’s no need to study buses further in this corridor.
The last time this corridor was studied, there was no updated Transit Master Plan, nor was there a Seattle Streetcar, so the outcomes will likely be different. The cost-effectiveness of extending the existing streetcar to Fremont and Ballard in its own right of way will be higher, and because of new development, the Interbay corridor will likely also look even better for more completely grade separated rail.
This planning will inform rail in both corridors, so regardless of exactly how the study work shakes out, it’s going to be beneficial for fast rail through Belltown, Uptown and Interbay, and slower rail through SLU, Westlake and Fremont.
During the board meeting, board member Paul Roberts (Everett city council) voiced concerns about Seattle “going it alone”. Before considering further projects, he said, we need to ‘finish the spine’, and build light rail to Everett. Most of the board, though, recognizes that in order to build to Everett, we need projects in Seattle in the next Sound Transit package – due not only to the need for Seattle’s high pro-transit voter turnout, but also because subarea equity requires that the revenue in each of Sound Transit’s five subareas goes to fund projects in that subarea. You can’t build in Everett without building in Seattle, Federal Way, Redmond (and maybe Issaquah), and Tacoma as well.
With that in mind, this makes a lot of sense. The more planning work (and even design and engineering) that can be out of the way, the shorter the timeframe can be for Sound Transit 3, and the better it will fare at the polls.
As for Seattle actually funding major rail construction by ourselves – that’s honestly unlikely. There’s need for rail transit throughout our region, and Seattle has plenty of smaller transit projects that very much need to be funded, like connecting our two streetcar lines together, improving our electric trolley bus system, and rebuilding our road infrastructure to prioritize transit. We’ll definitely help accelerate Sound Transit, but the grassroots groups who support transit expansion in Seattle want to do it in partnership with the region, not by ourselves.
The Basic Recommendation
One of the more interesting discussions I think we have here is one of density. Where do we allow growth, and how much? What kind of public amenities should have to come with new density, how much affordable housing, what kind of investment in common space, and what kind of requirements should there be on design?
Personally, I’m interested in allowing a great deal, because I see the alternatives as worse for both affordability and the environment. If we don’t build enough new housing to keep up with the demand from new residents, it pushes costs up for all housing, all the way down to the poorest of us. If we don’t allow density, our growth will come at the edges, worsening congestion and pressure on our transportation system, and contributing to climate change.
South Lake Union is possibly the perfect place to allow large increases in density. It has very few existing residents outside of those who have come in very recent development, far fewer than any other neighborhood in the city, so change there has the lowest impact on existing communities. It is directly adjacent to downtown, meaning new residents are most likely to walk or take transit to work, and with expansion of the streetcar through downtown, that will only be a stronger argument.
Tomorrow evening, the city council will take public comments on approving the recommendations from the city’s Department of Planning and Development. These are, at the root, taller buildings, but there’s lots more in the full plan (PDF), which is really worth a look before being critical. It limits exactly where towers can be and how many.
Comments are at City Hall tomorrow in council chambers, run from 5:30 to probably 6:30, and you must sign up to comment before 5:30 to be called. I urge you to comment in favor of the recommendation – it protects the small part of South Lake Union with older residential, and makes more room for downtown to grow. It would help us be more prosperous and sustainable, and make all of our investments in transit infrastructure more efficient.
South Lake Union Proposed Rezone Legislation
November 14, 2012
City Council Chambers
2nd floor, Seattle City Hall
600 Fourth Avenue
View the public notice for hearing details.
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Following on my personal values and vision of a better future, and our first overall call on Governor-elect Inslee to lead with his own environmental values, here is our view of the top priorities for improving our transportation system to become more sustainable:
- First and foremost, Inslee should hire a director for the state Department of Transportation who will put climate change reduction first, not highway expansion. The head of DOT has many roles, including a seat on the Sound Transit board. We need a transportation leader who will think long term and progressively, someone like New York City’s Janette Sadik-Khan. SDOT director Peter Hahn might be a good choice here, or Sound Transit’s Ric Ilgenfritz – not a politician, but a professional with good political understanding and a willingness to push the envelope. We have state law already requiring emissions reduction – we need a leader to demand it. There are almost always better options on the table than what DOT chooses now.
- He should ensure Amtrak Cascades operations are safely funded, and use this opportunity to make service better. Let’s pick a seat on our smartphone when we buy a ticket, not get one assigned in a long line before boarding. Let’s better fund King Street Station’s progress and make it a great regional hub. Let’s push hard on the capital improvements that will get the service running more often and faster – improvements that have already led to hundreds of millions in federal funding, and would win us more.
- He should ask for the development of a real rail plan for the state – with true high speed rail for the Seattle-Portland corridor, and with possibilities to connect cities outside Puget Sound with service too. What would it take to actually run electric rail in the Northwest? We need to know so we can fight for it. 110mph diesel trains aren’t good enough for our future.
- He should push to require local comprehensive plans actually meet climate reduction targets. Cities and counties shouldn’t be allowed to build more suburban subdivisions unless they’re reducing those emissions somewhere else. California already does this. Our local emissions need to trend down, not up. (more…)