Draft Affordable Housing Recommendations: Far Beyond “Abolish Single-Family Zoning”

No longer sacred? Image via Wikimedia Commons.

No longer sacred? Image via Wikimedia Commons.

This afternoon, Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat had an excellent, but inartfully headlined, scoop: Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda committee (HALA–rhymes with balla) could, according to a draft plan leaked to Westneat, recommend doing away with the label “single-family zoning” and replacing it with the more inclusive “low-density residential zone,” which would allow more flexibility to build backyard cottages, duplexes, and other very low-density (but not exclusive single-family) housing types.

The new designation, even if it’s limited to a pilot project, as the draft suggests, would be a stunning rebuke to the supposed sanctity of single-family zoning, which applies to an astonishing 65 percent of all the land in Seattle.

The recommendation seems almost designed to fan the flames of single-family protectionism (ten bucks says the leaker was a disgruntled HALA member who believes he or she benefits from those protections), and Westneat (or his editor) didn’t do urbanists any favors by reporting on the proposal under the inflammatory headline, “Get rid of single-family zoning in Seattle, housing task force says in draft report.” (That headline has since been changed to “Drop single-family zoning, housing panel considers.” By tomorrow it may be “Housing panel considers change,” but the 500-plus unhinged comments on Westneat’s piece suggest the damage is already done.)

Those who believe it’s their God-given right to own a four-bedroom house on a 5,000-square-foot lot and never have to cross paths with a single apartment dweller on their route from house to two-car garage to office tend to see any incursion on that right (including a rule change that allows them to build an apartment for Grandma) as an assault on their way of life.

I mean, how dare those HALA hippies point out the historical fact that single-family zoning was originally designed to keep minorities and poor people out? Don’t they know that exclusive areas for wealthy white homeowners is just the natural order of things? The draft report begs to differ:

[Read more…]

My ST3 Survey Answers

ST Central Link 135

Tomorrow is the deadline to tell Sound Transit which potential ST3 projects you think are most important. I thought I’d share my answers, with a bit of commentary, which of course reflect my personal prejudices. I invite others to share their responses on Page 2 or snippets in the comments.

For background on these routing options, see the main ST3 webpage. The survey asks how important we consider each project, with 5 meaning very important and 1 not important. Unlike Seattle Subway, I didn’t game the system by rating everything at the extremes.

Central Projects

5: Downtown Seattle-Ballard, elevated/tunnel (both options); New Downtown Seattle Tunnel; Madison St. BRT

A line that serves Ballard, Lower Queen Anne, and Belltown covers three of the most high-demand neighborhoods that don’t have high-quality traffic-separated transit. First Hill and the Central District are two more, for whom BRT is both inexpensive and the only game in town.

Ballard-Downtown Service also sets up a line to West Seattle no later than ST4, a desirable outcome at any ST3 package size.

4: Downtown Seattle-Ballard, at-grade via Westlake; Ballard-UW

It’s an unpopular opinion, but outside the Mercer-to-Jackson downtown core I think at-grade can work for the bulk of the line. This is only because ST assures me that they mean MLK standards, not Central City Connector or (God forbid) SLU Streetcar. It makes the system mildly less reliable, and lowers maximum frequency, but it also makes short stop spacing affordable. Grade-separated is better, but the Westlake line makes the very attractive trade of SLU and Fremont for Lower Queen Anne and Interbay.

Ballard/UW, while cheap and cost-effective, sacrifices neighborhoods south of the Ship Canal for Wallingford, which is not an attractive swap in my view. But I’d gleefully vote for a package that contains it.

3: Downtown Seattle-Ballard, at-grade via 15th; Graham St. Station; Downtown Seattle-West Seattle elevated and at-grade

First, the least intriguing Ballard option. Second, a modest Rainier Valley mobility improvement, but not one demanded by development pressure or intersecting bus service. Third, West Seattle’s transportation situation is abysmal, and there’s no reason to believe bus alternatives (not a part of the survey!) will avoid the snares of past iterations. But it ranks below Ballard largely because there’s a whole lot of nothing, in ridership terms, between Delridge and the stadiums. I’ve ranked the at-grade option relatively highly because this is the most appropriate place to economize between Ballard and the Junction.

2: Boeing Access Road Link; Boeing Access Rd Sounder; Downtown Seattle-White Center

There is little argument for Boeing Access Road except a geometric one. Connectivity at nodes like these enables arbitrary trip pairs without truly outrageous detours (e.g. Rainier Beach to the Museum of Flight via TIBS). But the ridership probably isn’t high enough to make this a priority. Delridge is a reasonably strong corridor but the big, walkable stuff is happening at the Junction.

1: Downtown Seattle at-grade

Bruce made a convincing case that at-grade options can work in Seattle for Link-caliber transit, but not in the core.

[Read more…]

ST Unveils New Link Station Pictograms

new pictograms with station signage

After asking the public last year for input on pictograms to identify new Link stations from Angle Lake to Northgate, Sound Transit revealed them in its Northgate project update last week. The new pictograms will appear on redesigned signage in stations and on board trains later this year in advance of U Link’s opening. Sound Transit provided me with a document describing their design approach and a report of community input. While it does not show or explain the final pictogram designs, you can see the process that led to them.

In lieu of an official description from Sound Transit, here are my interpretations of each station pictogram, from south to north:

  • Angle Lake is represented by a rainbow trout, which can be caught in the lake. The shape of the fish also resembles the shape of the lake itself. It is the official state fish and the state stocks the lake with it. Expect to see people with their fishing gear on the train when the station opens later in 2016.

  • Capitol Hill is the rainbow ‘Pride’ flag, honoring the neighborhood’s association with Seattle’s LGBT community. Although the actual flag is commonly seen with six colored stripes, the pictogram is rendered in monochrome as part of its signage program, ST spokesperson Bruce Gray told Capitol Hill Seattle Blog.

  • University of Washington is a mortarboard cap with the UW’s block ‘W’ logo. This is the most obvious of the pictograms, at least to this Husky. The mortarboard represents academia and is worn in the commencement ceremony which the UW hosts in Husky Stadium, whose parking lot the station is situated. The university and the medical center is the block ‘W’ logo. The logo is trademarked and I assume ST was granted permission to use it.

  • U District is a stack of three thick textbooks, possibly referring to the nearby University Book Store which has anchored “The Ave” shopping district for more than 90 years. The books also represent education, which is why the neighborhood exists.

  • Roosevelt is a Bull Moose, a nickname for the Progressive Party founded by Theodore Roosevelt, who is the neighborhood’s namesake. The neighboring street and high school are also named after the 26th president. At first glance, it could be seen as a Roosevelt Elk but people who know their moose from their elk can tell them apart.

  • Northgate is a dragonfly. It mimics the Green Darner Dragonfly artwork to be installed in the station, which can be seen from the platform and mezzanine. Dragonflies are commonly found in the recently daylighted Thornton Creek near the station. The dragonfly is also the state insect.

While I think the symbolism and intent of having pictograms are great, they are just not implemented very well. Here are ST’s requirements for effective pictograms, from last year’s questionnaire:

  • Simple in form, and are an easily recognizable symbol
  • Readable at many scales; including signage, print material, online and mobile devices
  • Are individually distinguishable and read as a family

Cameron Booth, a professional graphic designer who writes the Transit Maps blog, criticized the existing Link pictograms as “overly detailed” and “reproduce terribly at small sizes.” He cites Mexico City’s Metro “bold and simple” station icons as a good example that ST itself used as an example but instead did “the absolute opposite”. I can apply Booth’s critique to U District’s book stack and Capitol Hill’s rainbow flag.

U District’s book stack is not readable (pun not intended) on a dark background. SODO’s anvil is most similar to the books in design and perspective but functions better because it is a single object with a recognizable shape and minimal ink within the pictogram itself. The books, however, just look like a square blob.

Capitol Hill’s rainbow Pride flag is a case of completely changing the meaning through loss of detail at small size. The rainbow flag turns into a white flag of surrender or a black/blue flag of many things, because the keylines that separate the bands disappear when shrunk. It still looks like a flag, big or small, so it works in that respect and perhaps I am overthinking this.

A rainbow, which was an overwhelmingly popular suggestion at 48, would have been visually clearer and just as, if not more, inclusive and representative of the neighborhood. The arc shape of the rainbow is also reminiscent of how many legislative chambers are arranged (not Washington’s), the dome shape of capitol buildings, and a hill. Many of the adjectives suggested in the questionnaire like diverse, vibrant, fun, etc. could be symbolized by a rainbow, without the added layer of a flag.

Sunday Open Thread: Our Next Generation of Trolleys

Shots of 4500, Metro’s first low-floor articulated electric trolleybus (New Flyer XT60), in action. You can see it rolling up Rainier, up Pike, then lowering the poles and using battery power, and pulling a U-turn at the Route 14 terminus in Mount Baker. I’m glad we decided to invest in more and better trolleybuses. More are on the way and I can’t wait to ride one!

News Roundup: Seattle Style

Downtown Auburn – Wikimedia

Downtown Auburn – Wikimedia

  • 126 “Seattle style” apartments open near Auburn Station. Would you live in Auburn for $1,300/month? (DJC)
  • Most of the Montlake Triangle/Rainier Vista has reopened, including the Burke-Gilman rebuild, and Seattle Bike Blog loves it. (Thanks to this week’s transportation package, the Burke will also get $16m to fully rebuild the trail through campus.)
  • South Tacoma Way (e.g. Auto Row hell) is getting an upgrade near South Tacoma Station, with bike lanes, ADA compliant ramps, and a connection to the Water Flume Line Trail (Tacoma Weekly).
  • In a belated move that shows how auto centric digital mapping services have been, Google announced this week that it will finally add rail crossings to its map products, but only after a request from the FRA. (The Hill)
  • The Times ($) profiles 6 commuters – including a Lake Union Kayaker.
  • County Councilmember  (and ST board member) Dave Upthegrove proposes legislation to decriminalize fare evasion, make it harder to impose rider suspensions, and to eliminate the “Shoreline Rule” for adjudicating citations. Hmm, I wonder where he got the term “Shoreline Rule“? Props, Erica. (KC Press Release)
  • A transit evangelist with a pragmatic streak“, from the Times ($) endorsement of Rob Johnson for City Council District 4.

This is an open thread. Happy 4th, everyone!

Farrell Turns $518 Million Ransom Into Benefit for ST District

Rep. Jessyn Farrell

Rep. Jessyn Farrell

Shortly after STB’s editorial board issued a screed denouncing the $518 million ransom payment to the state to be allowed to spend money on ST3, Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D – 46th District – North Seattle) made lemonade out of the lemon.

Via an amendment to SB 5987 that was proposed by Rep. Farrell on the House floor, got adopted by the House late Tuesday night, and was concurred with in the Senate early Wednesday morning, that $518 million that would come out of taxes on Sound Transit 3 projects would stay within a new Puget Sound Taxpayer Accountability account, to fund educational programs for the most vulnerable students within King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties.

While far from an ideal precedent, it does mean that more voters will have a reason to vote for ST3. Even if their neighborhood does not see new transit investments from ST3, their schools will be in line for some extra funding.

The net losers in this transaction are taxpayers from other counties, who just took a hit on their share of education funding, thanks to a related $518 million transfer from the state’s general fund to the Connecting Washington Account (See (9) in Effects at the bottom.), which is for WSDOT, and a lot of which will be spent in the ST District. It remains to be seen whether this net transfer of $518 million out of the state’s general fund will run afoul of the McCleary decision (Seattle Times $).

In Defense of the Transportation Package

Photo by Zach Shaner

The path to the future isn’t always as straight as we’d like. Photo by Zach Shaner

Early yesterday morning both houses of the legislature passed a transportation package that among many things included the full $15 billion in funding authority Sound Transit requested. While I agree with many of the complaints with the package, overall I think it is a win for the region.

  1. Sound Transit wanted $15 billion in authority, Sound Transit got $15 billion in authority. This is the last bad deal we’ll have to take to build High Capacity Transit.
  2. Transit investments are needed today. Every year we wait to build more rail is another year stuck in traffic. Plus, expansion is most efficient when Sound Transit has a stream of projects so that it doesn’t need to waste time and money on short term increases in staffing. Sound Transit 2 planning is finishing up, meaning that putting off the next measure to 2020 would force Sound Transit to downsize, and then rebuild, their planning department. That means that delaying a vote four years would delay project completion by six or seven.
  3. The worst parts of the compromise are policies that can be corrected when we obtain a more supportive legislature in the future. The best parts of the compromise are rails that will be permanent. Some of our green friends are saying that we should have waited until we had the votes to pass a clean transportation bill, without things like the carbon-standard poison pill or all the highway money. But by the time we have the progressive majority needed to pass an ideologically pure bill, that majority can instead correct the poison pill and other flaws in the compromise. Either way, there is no need to delay the transit investments the region so desperately needs.
  4. Even without a carbon standard, the gas tax increase is GOOD for the environment. Washington will now be tied for the 3rd highest gas tax in the country. In a recent poll, rising fuel costs were the largest motivator to increased transit use apart from HCT access. Even if the tax revenue were just collected and set on fire, that would still help shift drivers onto transit. As it is, we get a couple decent projects such as south 405 HOV lanes and 520 west out of it.
  5. Increasing the number of people who can commute by rail, today, is the best way to increase support for rail in the future. We can’t obtain more progressive outcomes by halting transit expansion (as rejecting the compromise would do). To get a more progressive legislature we need to increase the number of dense, walkable legislative districts with voters that demand more transit. Dense populations are progressive populations. To create a more progressive future, we need to start building transit now.  Each expansion of our rail system will have more supporters than the last. Once we shift the balance of power back to the urban core, then we can push an ideologically pure progressive agenda. Until then we will have to compromise. That’s the reality we live in. If we wait until we have a progressive majority before we agree to expand transit, then we’ll get neither.

The vote is over. Overall I think the compromise was worth it, but even if you disagree, let’s agree to work for more progressive outcomes in future sessions. It is critical that we all work together to make sure that the 2016 Sound Transit ballot measure is the best it can possibly be. Our local politicians made the deals necessary to put ST3 on the ballot next year, and for that I am thankful. Let’s work to make sure the compromises are worth it.

Central Issaquah becomes a Regional Growth Center

Central Issaquah Plan Area (Orange), Regional Growth Center (White)

Central Issaquah Plan Area (Orange), Regional Growth Center (White)

On June 25th, the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) designated the Central Issaquah Urban Core as a Regional Growth Center (RGC). Issaquah is the 29th center to receive this designation, which is a major criterion in the distribution of federal transportation funds. Issaquah’s designation follows University Place, in 2014, and South Lake Union in 2007.

The new RGC is about two miles northwest of the historic downtown of Issaquah, centered around the intersection of I-90 and SR-900. It comprises 461 acres within the larger area of the Central Issaquah Plan. The Central Issaquah Plan, approved in 2012, relaxed parking requirements, height and FAR regulations over 1,100 acres of the Issaquah valley floor. Central Issaquah has 89% of the commercially zoned land, 13,000 employees, and many large employers including Costco. Central Issaquah is, however, thinly populated with just 730 residential units, none of which are in the newly designated RGC. [Read more…]

Announcing Our First Fundraising Drive

Link 155 at SODO Station

Photo by SounderBruce on Flickr

For over 8 years, Seattle Transit Blog has been an independent, award-winning resource for helping tens of thousands of people in our region understand and take action on local transportation issues.

In addition to providing a top-notch community for enthusiasts, we’ve helped push real policy changes around the region, including ST2, expanding ORCA access, transit-oriented re-zoning, and operational improvements to bus service. Now it’s time to take our work to the next level. Today we’re announcing a fundraising drive to hire a paid part-time reporter to augment our all-volunteer staff, and we need your help.

Between now and the end of 2016, our region will face a series of critical choices – how to expand bus service, where to build light rail, and what role the city should play in funding capital and operations. There will be public votes on Move Seattle Forward, a housing levy and, as of this week, Sound Transit expansion.

We want to give our readers a view into the coming months and years like only STB can. We want to help you make informed decisions about where to live, what to ride, and how to participate in the public debate. You’ll be on the front lines with us as we look at infrastructure projects, talk to elected officials, weigh the pros and cons of new transit service, and think about how our growing region should move over the next 20 years.

Our reporter will:

  • Cover public hearings and events that we all can’t get to, keeping you up to date with what’s happening and how to take action.
  • Provide in-depth coverage of the maze of new transit spending coming up, from Move Seattle to Sound Transit 3 to expanded Seattle bus service.
  • Interview top officials to get more of your questions and ideas in front of key decision makers
  • Cover the transformational changes coming to the suburbs along with light rail, from Federal Way to Lynnwood to Bellevue

Our current volunteer staff isn’t going away. This new reporter will amp up our current efforts. It’s STB, but more.

Please consider giving to our campaign using the donate button below. All donors will receive a monthly insider newsletter, letting you know what we’re working on and what’s coming in the future.

It’s an exciting time to be thinking and talking about Seattle’s transit future, and we hope you’ll support us for the ride.

[Read more…]

Expect Crowded Transit & Unusual Schedules July 3-4

FireworksDon’t be caught off guard by the significant transit service reductions on Friday, July 3, the day the federal government is observing as the Independence Day holiday. Very few transit agencies will be running a regular weekday schedule. Some will even shut down completely. Others will be shut down Saturday and open for business Friday.

However, on the night of Saturday, July 4, the South Lake Union Streetcar and * Tacoma Link will be in service later into the evening. ** The ferry from Vashon to Fauntleroy will have an additional sailing, at 11:25 pm.

Washington State Ferries is taking extra measures to handle the 350,000 passengers they are expecting over the holiday weekend, including spacing cars more tightly, and having police directing traffic at the downtown Seattle ferry dock. Check WSF’s terminal status page for the most up-to-date information on your route. Walking on is strongly encouraged. There should be more than enough space for the expected walk-on crowds, and ample space to transport bikes. If you want to avoid long lines, 4-6 pm Wednesday and Thursday evening is the wrong time to take the ferry.

If you are planning to take the ferry between Port Townsend and Coupevile, or any of the Anacortes / San Juan ferries, and taking a car, making a reservation is strongly encouraged. And then, be there 45 minutes before scheduled departure. ** Several additional sailings are planned for the Anacortes ferries July 1-5.

For-hire, taxi, and rideshare services with special deals this weekend, or any free-ride-home services, are welcome to mention those deals in the comment thread.

Service Levels for the various transit agencies in the region for July 3-4 are below the fold:
[Read more…]

Senate Ransoms Transit; House Voting Today

Less than 10 hours after the public received details about the state legislature’s transportation package, the Senate approved it. By the time you read this, the House’s vote will be imminent. Governor Inslee is a party to the deal and unlikely to veto any section of it. We’re not ones to lament lack of process — a good bill is a good bill even without public comment, and a bad one is bad even with it — but the lack of time to even digest the legislation, much less mobilize around it, is breathtaking.

We’re left with only the opportunity to reflect on what is about to become law. The basic highway/transit tradeoff was probably inevitable, because our allegedly climate-focused Governor either doesn’t grasp or doesn’t care about the link between highways and carbon emissions, and therefore fought hard for the highways. We were ready to grudgingly accept that deal, partly because some of the highway projects were at least defensible from a transit advocate’s perspective. But the additional stipulations are too onerous to accept.

First, there’s a further $500m subsidy of drivers by taking tax revenue from the general fund — from schools, state parks, health care, social services, public safety and all the other things the State does — and give it to WSDOT through a new sales tax exemption.

To raise the Sound Transit 3 revenue authority from $11 billion to $15 billion, the State will claim over $500m of that ST revenue, intended for transit, in addition to having Sound Transit forfeit virtually all state grants (already pathetically behind other urbanized states). So this last $4 billion of taxes will purchase perhaps $3 billion of transit. The $500m replaces the $500m WSDOT exemption, a barely obscured transfer of regional transit funds to statewide highways.

And then there’s the provision banning low-carbon fuel standards, which shows that Senate Republicans care so little about non-car modes of transportation that they will gleefully use its funding as a hostage.

In the short term, there’s little we can do about these bills. Perhaps there will be an initiative or referendum to target one or more package elements. A good target would be SSB 5990, the sales tax exemption, a straight giveaway to construction contractors and to WSDOT, the single state agency doing the most to aggravate the climate problems that are already damaging our state’s economy, at the expense of everything else the State does to serve its citizens.

The STB Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Frank Chiachiere, and Brent White.

Compromise Transportation Package Details Online

ST and WSDOT: one of these things is not like the other. Photo by SounderBruce.

[Update from Martin 4:10pm: Section 319 specifically prohibits Sound Transit, if it enacts new MVET, from receiving any state grants except for “transit coordination grants.”]

Today, the state Senate made public the details of the “compromise” transportation proposal agreed to by transportation committee leaders in the state House and Senate.  The public documents include proposed bill text, project lists, and a balance sheet. We understand that both houses will vote on this proposed compromise tomorrow.

STB staff are still reviewing the documents and determining exactly what they mean for Seattle-area transit, but there are a few important highlights from the proposed revenue bill, ESSB 5987:

  • Sound Transit gets authority to ask voters for a basket of new taxes that would raise approximately $15 billion for ST3 projects (Sections 318-321).
  • However, up to $518 million of the new ST3 taxes would be diverted to the general fund (Section 422).  This exactly matches a sales tax break that would be given to WSDOT under SSB 5990, so it is effectively a transfer from ST to WSDOT.
  • ST must contribute $20 million over five years to affordable housing, and must give developers of affordable housing the first opportunity to bid on 80% of its surplus property, including property acquired for ST1 and ST2 (Section 329).
  • The Snohomish County Public Transportation Benefit Area gets authority to ask voters for an additional .3% sales tax, which would support Community Transit (Section 312).
  • Cities or counties may absorb, and take on the powers of, transportation benefit districts (TBDs) that have identical boundaries (Sections 301-308).
  • TBDs get authority to impose $40 to $50, up from $20, of the maximum $100 vehicle license fee without a public vote (Sections 309-311).

On the one hand, this package gets ST3 all of its requested authority, and could also help fund Community Transit.  On the other hand, this package contains numerous policy provisions which are hard to swallow, and (as always in Washington) proceeds full speed ahead with highway projects while requiring transit projects to submit to yet another public vote.

The Full $15 Billion

The Seattle Times reported last evening ($) that Governor Inslee and legislative leaders from both houses have reached agreement on a transportation package. Of highest relevance to STB, the package contains the full $15B requested authorization for Sound Transit 3.* This could either give the ST board some flexibility in choosing its revenue sources while still meeting some regional goals, or the whole sum could fund very close to all of the main regional priorities. (See here for a guess as to what $15 billion — as well as some smaller sums — could come out to in terms of project budgets).

Apparently one key Democratic concession was acceptance of the “poison pill” provision that essentially negates any chance of a low-carbon fuel standard in the short term. Gov. Inslee’s quote is worth reproducing in full:

I oppose [the poison pill] and have worked hard to find a better alternative,” Inslee said in a statement. “But legislators tell me it is essential to passing the $15 billion multimodal transportation package and authorizing an additional $15 billion for Sound Transit light rail expansion.

And then there’s the matter of the highways, which have been there from the beginning thanks to bipartisan enthusiasm. As always, the package doesn’t adequately fund highway maintenance and actually makes the problem worse by adding many more decaying lane-miles on SR 520, I-405, SR 167, and in North Spokane. Highway expansion is a futile response to congestion, encourages environmentally damaging driving, and literally destroys neighborhoods. About the only good thing to say about it is that it’s funded by gas taxes, which in a small way offsets a little of the environmental carnage.

A deal isn’t a vote, so we’ll see how Democratic and Republican backbenchers react to what the leadership forged. Those highways, together with the poison pill, have been enough to turn some climate-oriented environmental organizations against the deal and lobby legislators to vote no. As much as I want the ST3 rail investments, it’s hard to blame them.

*According to House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island).

Swift II Open House Update

This is a guest post.

Swift II legend

Though only for illustrative purposes, this map at the Swift II open house shows CT could be considering using colors to brand its Swift lines. (Photo by author)

Community Transit held three open houses this week for their Swift II project, which aims to build a 12.5-mile-long bus rapid transit line with 15 stations connecting northern Bothell to Mill Creek and the Paine Field industrial area in Everett. The project is estimated to cost $42-48m, with the majority of capital funds provided from the FTA (through their Small Starts program) and WSDOT (through their mobility grants). The money will primarily fund two major projects: the new Seaway Transit Center on the east side of the Boeing factory and BAT lanes on 128th Street SW as it approaches its interchange with Interstate 5.

The second of these meetings, held Wednesday night at Mariner High School near the midpoint of the Swift II corridor, was attended by five members of the public (including me) and six Community Transit employees. CT also published the slides online.

While most of the information presented was already previously public, mostly as documents on CT’s website, there was one noteworthy new item. The table map of the proposed stations used colors to label both the existing Swift line and the proposed Swift II line as the “Blue Line” and “Green Line”, respectively. Swift I and Swift II will be eventually renamed, but not until the run-up to a local election on Swift II funding. The election will occur after the passage of House Bill 1393 by the state legislature, which would allow CT to raise sales taxes by an additional 0.3% with approval from voters. The bill is still alive in the special session.

CT expects the line to open sometime between 2018 and 2020, at the earliest September 2018. It projects 3,300 daily boardings by the end of the first year of operations, dominated by commuters to the Paine Field industrial area and Canyon Park’s office parks until the corridor matures into an all-day destination. The goal for base frequency is every 10 minutes, the same headway Swift I had until it was reduced to 12 minutes in 2012. This requires 12 new coaches funded by the FTA and WSDOT grants. CT confirmed they are looking into shadow service on the Swift II corridor, similar to how Route 101 stops on the southern half of the Swift I corridor, but there are no concrete plans.

The draft plan for the proposed Seaway Transit Center was in the presentation but omitted from the online copy because of its unfinished nature. It showed a layout for the transit center that accommodated both Everett Transit as well as a possible Boeing shuttle with its own bay, similar to the Microsoft Connect shuttle at the Overlake Transit Center in Redmond.

The initial Swift line still has one remaining infill station, located southbound at 204th Street SW east of Edmonds Community College, that will be named “College Station”. This presents a possible conflict with a future Swift line on North Broadway that could serve Everett Community College.

This is a guest post.

Growth is Centralizing in Seattle and the Eastside


Detail from Sound Transit mailer for ST3 Open House.

Recently, Matthew shared some 2014 population statistics that once again showed the City of Seattle leading King County growth.

Looking at more detailed city data across the region, the news is more complex and yet more encouraging. Not only is Seattle leading King County, but much of the growth elsewhere in the County is coming from the central Eastside. In 2014, Seattle grew 2.3%. Among the cities of the central Eastside, Bellevue grew 1.8% in 2014, Redmond 3.0%, Kirkland 1.5%. Renton grew 1.3%, and all of the rest of King County averaged just 1.1%.

Major cities in Pierce and Snohomish Counties (and in South King) lagged further. Everett was + 1.2%, Tacoma + 0.9%, Federal Way + 0.7%, Kent + 0.8%.

This mostly looks like concentric circles of slower growth the further one gets away from downtown Seattle. [Read more…]

News Roundup: Cracking Down


  • Better enforcement coming to regional Park & Rides, with KIRO highlighting a recent crackdown. (KIRO)
  • More First Hill Streetcar delays: SDOT and Inekon are another 30 days behind their most recent goal of having all cars certified by the end of June. (KING 5)
  • Mercer Island’s development moratorium has been extended another six months. Meanwhile, the Stakeholders Group was tasked with writing a news article from 2035 describing Mercer Island, and the submissions are fascinating. (MI Reporter)
  • Ready for the 90° heat this weekend? Take heart that this is the last summer in which you’ll have to suffer through the  stagnant swelter of Metro’s current trolley fleet. (KIRO)
  • The Mayor announced a new Office of Planning and Community Development, tasked with coordinating and directing growth. Both neighborhood groups and urbanists are cautiously optimistic, which really just means it’s an unknown quantity. (The Urbanist)
  • Dueling ST3 editorials from the usual suspects, local electeds on the Pro side and Niles and co. on the other. (Seattle Times, $)
  • Gag order: in a sign that things are about to get mighty litigious, the state pulls the plug on Bertha’s Expert Review Panel, because “hav[ing] an ongoing three people out making opinions which are public …could hurt taxpayers.” (Seattle Times, $)
  • In a recent PSRC survey, only 1 out of 5 solo drivers said that they could be persuaded to stop driving. (Seattle Times, $)

This is an open thread.

Under Capitol Hill at 55 MPH

University Link light rail train testing from Sound Transit Video on Vimeo.

This afternoon Sound Transit released its first video of full-speed testing of the ULink alignment, showing a northbound trip from Capitol Hill Station to UW Station. The video gives a nice sense of how the ride quality and acceleration will feel once in service. The train slowly accelerates from Capitol Hill Station, taking 40 seconds to accelerate to 55mph underneath Volunteer Park. The train then cruises at 55mph for 2 minutes in the downhill northeast straightaway between Volunteer Park and the Montlake Cut. The train passes under the Cut at around the 2’30” mark, turning north and slowly making its way into the station at the 3’00” mark.

Tunnel videos are generally among the most uninspiring things to watch, but when you remember that during those 3 minutes the #43 would only make it as far 15th Ave, what the video represents is very exciting indeed. Just 8-9 more months to go!


Praise for Route 60 Investments

When more buses are needed during peak hours, and no extra money is available to add more runs, it is usually off-peak frequency, and then off-peak span-of-service, that gets reduced first. Sunday and then Saturday service are at the front of that queue for taking away service.

Cleveland High School, where bus riders will no longer be stranded after 8:00 on weekends (photo by Joe Mabel)

Cleveland High School, where bus riders will no longer be stranded after 8:00 on weekends (photo by Joe Mabel)

So, I was pleasantly surprised when the route I ride most, if it is in service, got a serious investment, with nearly half of the investment being on weekends. Route 60 is a very dependable, but often-not-close-to-full cross-town route connecting Broadway on Capitol Hill, Madison St, Harborview, Yesler Terrace, Little Saigon, North Beacon Hill, Beacon Hill Station, 15th Ave S, southern Georgetown, South Park, Arrowhead Gardens, White Center, and Westwood Village. It splices together a lot of short trips, and yet shows up on time whenever I ride it (at least since the reliability-destroying loop through the congested Veterans’ Administration Hospital parking lot got removed).

Seattle Proposition 1 provided the funding to bring route 60 up to par with a lot of downtown routes, with half-hourly service all day from roughly 7:00-11:00 on weekends, and at least that frequent on weekdays. Service investments added four late-evening trips each way on weeknights and eight evening trips each way on weekends, plus an additional northbound trip on weekends earlier than the previous span of service.

Mid-day frequency got boosted to every 20 minutes a few years ago, with 15-minute scheduled headway during peak, which has since been fine-tuned to headway of no worse than 20 minutes, but as good as 10 minutes for the peak-of-peak period in the peak direction. There are portions of the route where the bus fills up during peak, including at Cleveland High School before and after school.

One of the major stops for boardings and alightings is at Beacon Hill Station, with lots of riders transferring to/from Link. Route 60 is slowly but surely becoming a success story as a Link-connecting route that doesn’t go downtown. Indeed, a major draw of the route is that its reliability isn’t wrecked by having to slog through downtown. More of this, please!

Council Committee Passes Anti-Density Legislation

Another neighborhood destroyed by a clerestory

In the urbanist blogosphere it’s most interesting to write about policies that cut both ways. Taxing development to fund low-income housing probably, at the margins, discourages construction of market-rate units while also enabling construction of below-market-rate units. The net impact is therefore debatable.

But then there are straightforward restrictions on the number of units that developers can build, which is a dead weight loss that sets Seattle back from a number of uncontroversial objectives. Last week the Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability (PLUS) Committee took a Mike O’Brien measure intended to close a few loopholes (that would have the very negative effect of reducing units constructed) and turned it into a vehicle in effect driving many potential residents out of the city.

The public comment period was pretty depressing. Erica’s blog covered the June 2nd hearing, and on June 16th her twitter feed was filled with comments from the day of the votes.

Josh Feit has an excellent rundown of the amendments and how people voted. Retiring councilmember Tom Rasmussen voted for all of these bad amendments; retiring councilmember Nick Licata and very much not-retiring Jean Godden joined him in all but two of the eight. Mike O’Brien, perhaps regretting even bringing the subject up, and Sally Bagshaw correctly voted no on all eight, and reliable density stalwart Tim Burgess only voted yes on one. John Okamoto, interim replacement for Sally Clark, voted yes on only two.

No amendment gained had the five votes necessary to pass the full council, so much will depend on Kshama Sawant and Bruce Harrell.

Beyond reporting what happened, it’s tough to say anything new about this debate. People either want more people in the city or they prefer them displaced to the suburbs. To the extent that the flood of comments are a coherent objection, it seems to be an aesthetic one (“livability”). I can’t read the minds in this instance, but the non-subjective objection usually comes down to parking (if there isn’t “enough” in new developments) or traffic (if new parking adds cars to the neighborhood). Sometimes development might bring the “wrong” kind of people into the neighborhood.

Citizens are entitled to like whatever kind of neighborhood aesthetics they want. It’s not crazy to try to preserve your exclusive access to public right-of-way. And while not admirable, it’s easy to understand why someone of a certain class might not appreciate what young or low-income people bring to a place. What’s harder to understand is why a substantial portion of a Council theoretically interested in reducing sprawl, enabling alternatives to the car, maintaining an inclusive city, and addressing the housing shortage is prioritizing these prejudices as they form policy.