Sound Transit study: New bus/rail tunnel required

This is a guest post.

WSTT Initial Service Pattern

Map by Oran Viriyincy

by SEATTLE SUBWAY
As reported yesterday by the Urbanist, Sound Transit recently released the results of their downtown transit capacity report:
The study, entitled Downtown Seattle Transit Capacity White Paper, forecasts a daily transit capacity shortfall of 5,000-8,000 trips in Downtown Seattle by 2035. This shortfall persists even after building the Center City Connector and a Ballard-to-West Seattle High Capacity Transit (HCT) line. The findings come at an important time for regional transit, just ahead of a potential 2016 ballot measure that could fund significant capital investments in transit projects. Overall, the study indicates an urgent need to expand downtown transit capacity.

Check out the Urbanist’s in-depth analysis, or read the study yourself. The data is clear. Regional mobility requires a new bus/rail tunnel downtown.

We’ve been saying this for a while and we’re glad Sound Transit has shared the data proving it.

This is a guest post.

Spokane Cliffhanger!

Spokane Cliffhanger

Spokane Cliffhanger! Artistry by Oran.

Last night, the initial ballot counts dropped for the Spokane Transit Authority’s Proposition 1, to fund STA Moving Forward. Prop 1 is down around 900 votes out of about 70,000 — 49.4% yes / 50.6% no — with about 8,000 ballots left to count. I don’t have any further insight into the precinct by precinct numbers, but informed locals suggest it’s passing in the city, and losing outside:

I’ll update this post as more news comes in. Here’s hoping urban procrastinators come through!

UPDATE 12:45: A nice map from the Spokesman-Review showing the precinct-by-precinct results.

UPDATE 17:55: The SR reports that late ballots did not significantly alter the overall vote difference. The measure is now failing 49.5%-50.5%, and while some ballots remain to be counted, the measure has almost certainly failed at this point.

Poll: How Bad Is It?


My report on Sound Transit’s Conceptual ST3 study triggered a collective freakout, crushing STB’s former comment count record by a wide margin. Perhaps everyone is overreacting to a box-checking planning exercise; maybe the reaction will encourage better outcomes and they’ll claim that was the point all along; or perhaps enough stakeholders have decided on the plan that the future is (unofficially) already sewn up. It’s hard to tell from the outside.

Anyhow, because comment threads have a way of snowballing to the negative, and we’ve all had a weekend to reflect and cool down, here’s a little poll. Search your feelings and lodge an opinion.

When it Comes to Zoning, the Status Quo Tends to Win

chs_development

Last week it was announced that Sound Transit has selected a developer to build atop the Capitol Hill light rail station. Since so many of our other light rail stations are sadly hemmed in by highways, constrained by density-opposing locals, or located next to giant sporting arenas, everyone seems to have pinned their hopes on Capitol Hill to deliver some actual transit-oriented development.

With all that scrutiny came intense pressure to build affordable housing, family-sized housing, a community center, a farmer’s market, and other amenities. The site became a vessel for every neighborhood group’s dreams. One developer decided it was too constraining and abandoned their bid.

While the selected proposal looks nice, it’s actually quite short for being next to a rail station. In Vancouver, 25 stories seems to be typical for development around SkyTrain stations, even outside of downtown.

But you don’t have to look all the way to Vancouver to see 20+ story residential buildings. In fact, just half a mile from Capitol Hill Station there are several tall residential towers going up.  Developers seem to have realized that, despite being worlds apart culturally, sleepy First Hill and buzzy Capitol Hill are, geographically speaking, actually kinda the same place. For example, 24-story 1321 Seneca will be just two blocks from Pike/Pine.

All of which leads to a funny/sad situation, in which the tall buildings are not where the station is.  First Hill has been zoned for high-rises for a long time, while Capitol Hill has not.  And so we end up with a lopsided neighborhood.

Of course, First hill was initially slated for a light rail station. And yes, the First Hill Streetcar (opening soon!) is supposed to ameliorate some of the disconnect.  Still, it would be ideal to have the most intense land use adjacent to light rail.

Spokane Moving Forward: A Coeur d’Alene Connection?

1928 Washington Railroad Map Excerpt

1928 Washington Railroad Map Excerpt

[This is the fourth and last in a series covering Spokane Moving Forward, the Spokane Transit Authority’s proposed ten-year plan to improve transit in the Spokane region, which will go to an areawide ballot tomorrow. Previously I discussed the proposed Central City Line, improvements for Cheney and the West Plains, and Core urban service in Spokane.]

In my first post about Spokane Moving Forward, I wrote of Spokane, “It’s the city for a huge geographic swath of the northern United States … the most populous urban area between Seattle and Minneapolis. Only Boise, population 208,000, and 350 miles to the south, comes close.” There was a time, though, when Spokane’s regional prominance was vested not only in the power of urban agglomeration, but in infrastructure: the railroad era. Before ubiquitous automobiles and paved roads, it was difficult to get far in northern Idaho or far-eastern Washington without going through Spokane.

The 1928 railroad map above, which captures the Washington rail network close to its apogee, tells the story. From Spokane, a knot of railways unraveled north up the grand valleys of the Columbia Mountains, strung west over the endless wheat country of the Columbia Plateau, and wove south into the myriad hills of the Palouse; but it was to the east, Coeur d’Alene, that the railways pointed like a bundle of arrows. The obtuse angle formed by Cheney, Spokane, and Coeur d’Alene has been the principal axis of urbanization and travel since the beginning of European settlement, and just like in Puget Sound, much of the pedestrian mobility we seek to enable today is merely an echo of that past.

With a population of about 45,000, about half the size of suburban Spokane Valley, Coeur d’Alene is the second-largest city within typical commute distance of Spokane. A sizable commuter population drives to the half-way city of Liberty Lake, the easternmost extent of today’s STA service, parks, and rides STA Route 174 express into the city. Conversely, as a lakeside resort town, Coeur d’Alene figures in the minds of Spokanites as a pleasant get-out-of-town day trip. There is therefore, considerable and longstanding interest on both sides of the state line, in an all-day interurban service that could connect Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.

Reality presents some fairly significant challenges to this idea. Any permanent service between Coeur d’Alene and and Spokane would require a financial partnership with Citylink, the tiny transit agency which provides hourly service to the towns east of the Idaho line. Such a partnership would require a major increase in Citylink’s budget, and it’s not yet clear where that money would come from. With an travel time of 35-40 minutes, a nonstop service would unavoidably have a high cost per passenger. An interurban service could reduce that cost and provide more connectivity with intermediate stops at Post Falls, Liberty Lake, and Spokane Valley, but each stop would likely require a deviation from the freeway, chipping away at the service’s speed and directness.

The Moving Forward ballot measure includes funds to operate a Spokane-Coeur d’Alene service on a pilot basis, although it will be several years before the pilot could take place, as the measure involves no debt financing, so in the early years, much of the revenue would be dedicated to capital projects. For all the challenges, there are good reasons to hope that such a pilot, if it happens, could eventually turn into a permanent feature: All the local governments involved, plus WSDOT, strongly support the idea, and like airport service, it’s an idea whose utility registers immediately, even to people who don’t habitually ride transit.

This concludes STB’s series on STA Moving Forward. The election is tomorrow. If you are voting in this election, get your ballot in as soon as possible; if you have friends or family who are voting, remind them!

Transit Isn’t Working in the Regional Growth Centers

TransitModeShareRegional Centers Monitoring Report - 2013 Edition

Sound Transit’s planning emphasizes connections between Regional Growth Centers. The PSRC’s VISION 2040 growth strategy distributes the largest share of growth to cities with designated regional growth centers that are connected by major transportation corridors and high capacity transit.

So how are the regional growth centers doing? Are they effective hubs for regional transportation?

PSRC data reveals that 76% of commuters in the region drive to work alone. (The PSRC region comprises the four counties of King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish). The RGCs do better with only 61% driving alone. Transit mode shares show 18% ride transit in the RGCs vs. 10% for the PSRC region.

So far, so good. But the average numbers are skewed by Seattle. The six RGCs within the city of Seattle (red bars on the chart) all have transit mode shares higher than the region. All but Northgate are at or above the RGC average. Most other centers are far behind.

[Read more…]

Sunday Open Thread: Fun with headlines

Smashes, SMASHES! into that poor little car. :(

Alternative title could have been: Driver weaves around car sitting in the left turn lane, ignores the red light, tries to turn left from center lane, ignores train signal, inevitable happens.

Did You Know You Could Order Regular, Senior, and Youth ORCA By Mail?

mr-mcfeely

It has come to my attention that even some STB staffers and commenters with kids and some who qualify for the senior-citizen ORCA were unaware they could order regular, youth, and senior ORCA cards via postal mail. Given that reality, it is unreasonable to expect that the general public knows this option exists. And so, today, I offer a public service announcement.

If you have kids 6-18, and they don’t qualify for a youth ORCA through the public school system or any other program, you can fill out this form, include age verification (copy of a student ID, a driver’s license, a state ID, or a birth certificate) and a $5 check, and mail them to the address listed on the form.

Likewise, any of you trying to get a senior (65+) ORCA just have to fill out the front side of this form, include a copy of one of the following — your state ID or driver’s license, your birth certificate, your passport, or any state or federal document that contains your name and date of birth — then mail these and the $3 check to:

Metro Transit
KSC-TR-0102
201 S Jackson St
Seattle, WA 98104-3856

Getting a regular full-fare ORCA is even easier. Fill out the form, include a check for $5, and mail it. You can also order the regular ORCA card online, or buy one at many locations all over King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap County.

For those trying to get a disabilities ORCA, a little more work is involved. You will need a Medicare card or proof of disability, $5 $3, and will need to go to one of the sites where the transit agencies sell all pass types. For Metro, that means visiting the King Street Center at 201 S. Jackson St between the hours of 8:30 and 4:30 on a regular business day (i.e. a weekday that is not a holiday).

For those who qualify for the ORCA LIFT (the low-income card), you will need to take income-verification documentation to one of the several sites that vet people for income qualification and give out LIFT ORCA cards. The LIFT ORCA is free. The fare is not.

If you are considering which card to get, the disabilities and senior ORCA (also known as the Regional Reduced Fare Permit) gets you the cheapest fare on all services that accept ORCA. The youth or LIFT ORCA get the same fare as each other, wherever LIFT is accepted (currently Metro, Kitsap Transit, Link Light Rail, the South Lake Union Streetcar, and the King County Water Taxis). However, the youth ORCA gets you a discounted fare on all services that accept ORCA. A complete list of current fares for all payer categories is here.

Spokane Moving Forward: Division, Sprague and Core Urban Service

3_STB_Spo_HPTnetwork

[This is the third in a series covering Spokane Moving Forward, the Spokane Transit Authority’s proposed ten-year plan to improve transit in the Spokane region, which will go to an areawide ballot on Tuesday. Previously I discussed the proposed Central City Line, and improvements for Cheney and the West Plains.]

Spokane’s two biggest transit corridors, Sprague and Division, will feel familiar to residents of Seattle or Tacoma: they are the old highways, just like Aurora or Pacific. Essays in the nascent craft of highway building circa 1930, these streets are wide, noisy and fast; but for much of their length they retain a street grid and a street wall (if not good sidewalks or safe crossing points), before transitioning to strip malls and box stores at the periphery. When 1970s freeways rendered* them obsolete as thoroughfares, people and businesses with money abandoned these streets to lower-income people, and the businesses, and the buses, which cater to them.

Connect Spokane, the Spokane Transit Authority’s long-term plan, identifies Sprague and Division, along with several other Spokane streets, as High Performance Transit corridors. STA’s HPT taxonomy lays out three types of HPT service (I described them in my last Moving Forward post, and you can see a complete map of the desired HPT network here), but essentially, in the medium term, the agency would like to get all urban HPT corridors up to a “lite BRT” service quality that’s something like King County’s RapidRide lines; in the long term, light rail or “heavy” BRT is contemplated for Sprague and Division.

The money required to achieve the full HPT network set forth in Connect Spokane is almost certainty not obtainable with the funding authority that remains available to STA under state law. Instead, for this ballot measure, STA has chosen three corridors to implement “HPT lite“: Division, Sprague, and Monroe-Regal, shown on the map above. A HPT lite treatment is a package of rider amenities, branding and reliability improvements, on a corridor that already meets, or is close to meeting, the frequency standards of the HPT network. Seattle riders, again, can think along the lines of RapidRide, although STA’s idea of rider amenity extends quite a bit beyond the bus stop, and includes building significant amounts of sidewalk in areas while have little or none — expensive and unsexy, but essential for the safety of riders.

Speaking only of service which can realistically compete with owning a (second) car — there are other, meritorious parts of Moving Forward that I won’t get to discuss — what the voters of Spokane will buy, if they pass this measure, is HPT lite radiating out of downtown on the major points of the compass; a flagship HPT line connecting the ridership centers of Spokane Community College, Gonzaga University, and downtown; an interurban HPT line connecting Cheney, West Plains, and downtown; and (non-HPT) frequent service to provide a couple of crucial crosstown connections, and radial service on the remaining points of the compass. A person who lives and works in Spokane (or Cheney) could get around for their daily needs on that network.

Finally, on Monday, I’ll discuss the most tentative, but most attention-grabbing idea in STA Moving Forward: a possible interurban connection between Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.

* I’m cheating a bit with Division: this is the current north-south highway. In the not-too-distant future, it will likely be replaced by the North Spokane Freeway.

Sound Transit’s Conceptual Study: Should You be Worried?

At yesterday’s ST board meeting the most interesting presentation was a staff discussion of an imminent conceptual study that will help inform board decisions in an ST3 package. It’s the first document that scopes projects based on overall package sizes.

The stated purpose is not to create a project list, but instead to evaluate certain package sizes as required by statute. There are four levels of spending, from an almost negligible amount of rail, to using the whole $15 billion revenue request (which amounts to about $25 billion of projects in year of expenditure dollars). The higher spending plans allow variable amounts of emphasis on completing the light rail “spine” (Everett/Redmond/Tacoma) vs. additional corridors in Seattle and on the Eastside.

Staff will evaluate the representative packages for each funding level and spine emphasis according to the following criteria:

  • Completing the Link Light Rail Spine
  • Ridership
  • Connecting the Region’s Designated Centers with HCT
  • Socio-Economic Equity
  • Integration with other transit operators/transportation systems
  • Multi-modal access
  • Promoting transit-supportive land use and TOD
  • Advancing “logical next steps” projects beyond the spine; within financial capacity

Both the slides themselves and the ST press release are emphatic that this is focused on high-level tradeoffs, and “the scenarios are not draft system plans and do not encompass all of the projects that will be considered for a ballot measure.” And that’s a good thing, because there are possibly fatal problems with all of them:

Concept 4: Maximum Revenue

Concept 4: Maximum Revenue

 

[Read more…]

Pike Place is for everyone, including those in cars

How did those cars get there? And look at those shadows!! How could anyone live in such an anti-urbanist hellhole?!?!

What are those cars doing there?! And look at those shadows!! How could anyone live in such an anti-urbanist hellhole?! Image from en.wikigogo.org

Maybe I just hang out with the wrong kind of riffraff, but it seems every couple of months I find myself in a conversation about whether or not automobiles should be allowed on Pike Place. Once and (likely not) for all I’ll respond.

Cars belong on Pike Place.

Yes, I said it. I don’t think we should ban automobiles from Pike Place.

Saturday my family and I joined some friends downtown for an aquarium visit. Walking through the market with my stroller, I of course used the street, the sidewalks being too crowded. Hundreds of people were doing the same. Cars, bikes, strollers, people, all jumbled together but surprisingly no mass casualty situation emerged.

Judging by the ‘WTF?!? How the hell do I get out of here!?!’ expression of most drivers I made eye contact with, many did not mean to be there and wished they were anywhere else. However, there are legitimate reasons for driving on Pike Place. Maybe you are dropping off someone with mobility issues, or you’ve got a dinner party and don’t want to haul 2 cases of wine from Pike and Western Wine Shop up the hill and back home on Link, or maybe you even work for a business in the market (yes it’s not just a tourist photo op, but an actual market) that needs a delivery.

As long as automobile drivers recognize the priority of non-motorized users (which they obviously do in Pike Place), what is gained by banning automobiles? The only change I would make to Pike Place would be to either lower the sidewalks or raise the street. In Seattle’s only real woonerf* it would be nice if the street engineering matched the usage. Aside from that, leave it alone, why fix what isn’t broken?

*when people ask me what a woonerf is, I say ‘Pike Place’ and they instantly get it. Seriously. Not an exaggeration. How else would you describe the concept to a Seattleite?

News Roundup: 9.5 Blocks

3rd/Pine from the Macy’s Skybridge (Photo by the Author)

This is an open thread. 

Jobs Belong in the City

This is a guest post.

Modal Split Snip

Last week Matthew Johnson posted an excellent piece regarding Regional Growth Centers and why Ballard isn’t one.  The short answer is that Ballard doesn’t have enough employment, and losing this classification amounts to losing 100s of millions of dollars in federal transit funds.  In other words, there’s a large financial incentive to would-be Regional Growth Centers to add jobs.

I argue that this is a backward incentive.  Job growth outside of the core is fundamentally poorly served by transit in our hub-and-spoke system (just try to get to Ballard from the East side, or the islands, or even from some places north on transit).  But what’s worse is that job growth outside the core helps build sprawl.  People choose housing based on a combination of lifestyle, cost, and transportation ease.  Make it easier and cheaper to live further from the city, and builders will build further from the city.  Every job added to a suburb, even a Regional Growth Center style suburb, potentially adds a home further out into sprawl.

King County should remove this job-based requirement, and let growth centers be centers of residential growth.

This is a guest post.

Action Alert: N. 130th Station Tomorrow

Average Weekday Boardings, 2035, for Preferred Alternative with Options (p. 3-24)

Average Weekday Boardings, 2035, for Preferred Alternative with Options (p. 3-24)

[Update 11:15am: The Seattle Light Rail Review Panel agrees that 130th is important too.]

At tomorrow’s Sound Transit Board meeting, the agenda includes final approval of Resolution No. R2015-05, “Selecting the route, profiles and station locations for the Lynnwood Link Extension.” As it stands, the preferred alternative has a station at N. 145th St., but none at N. 130th St. You can let whichever board member(s) represent you know what you think of this.

Sound Transit’s own Final Environmental Impact Study (FEIS) showed, somewhat confusingly, that although 145th alone would attract 600 more riders than 130th alone, if both stations were present most people would select the latter. Moreover, the study did not seem to consider the relative ease of bus access via 130th, unclogged by cars trying to access the freeway, which will dramatically affect the plausibility of cheaply delivering riders. STB has hosted two extended arguments for this station.

Having both stations would be fine, but really if there is to be only one it should be at 130th. one of the two stations has to be deferred, it should be 145th.

The Shoreline Rule

Screen shot 2015-04-18 at 7.28.28 PM

Last Wednesday, I gave up.

I paid a $124 fine for a ticket I did not believe I deserved, a ticket from a Sound Transit fare enforcement officer who at first told me I would only receive a warning, after fully intending to challenge the ticket in court.

What changed my mind? In the end, I just couldn’t stomach the Shoreline Rule, which says that, in order to challenge a ticket from Sound Transit or King County Metro, no matter where that ticket was issued, you have to travel all the way to King County District Court in Shoreline. If you live in Shoreline or far north Seattle, bully for you. If you have a car, more power. But if you’re transit-dependent like I am, and live in any other part of the county (I’m in Southeast Seattle, which is hardly the hinterlands), your only option is to get a ride from a friend (good luck doing that on a weekday at 10am), or take the bus.

Don’t blame the county or Sound Transit. Both agencies told me they have nothing to do with the Shoreline Rule. Blame, instead, King County District Court Presiding Judge Donna Tucker, who signs the General Administration Orders (most recently in March of this year) directing where various case types are adjudicated, and whether the court can hear challenges in more than one location.

“State law says the county district court handles our fare enforcement,” says ST spokesman Geoff Patrick. “We don’t have the ability to tell them what to do. It’s their decision.” King County’s Rochelle Ogershok confirms the same is true at King County.

[Read more…]

Right-Sizing Parking

20150414-2015-04-14 21.35.06

10PM on a Tuesday Night. Typical Residential Garage in Downtown Kirkland.

In 2012, Metro sponsored a study of parking ratios for multi-family developments in urban King County. By counting vehicles parked overnight, the Right-Size Parking study created a model of current parking needs and demonstrated that parking is 40% oversupplied.

Several pilot demonstration projects were developed in partnership with various cities. However, only one, in Kirkland, made recommendations for changes in policy. It hasn’t gone well. The challenges encountered point to the difficulties in reducing suburban parking requirements.

Fundamentally, right-size parking is a conservative approach. It does not defer to developers to build what the market requires. (Suburban cities are too concerned with spillover parking to be comfortable with that). Neither does it look forward to a less car-dependent future. It only brings parking minimums into line with current use.

Kirkland’s base parking requirements are high, far above even comparable suburban communities. They’re so dated that nobody remembers how they were derived. In downtown, 1 stall per bedroom is required, with a 1.3 minimum per unit. Most other neighborhoods have a 1.7 requirement per unit. Up to another 0.5 stalls per unit are required for guest parking. But overnight parking counts found just 1.27 parked vehicles per apartment. Indeed, the average multi-family unit only has 1.57 residents, so the code requires more parking than there are residents.

[Read more…]

10 Things APA Conference Attendees Need to Know About Seattle

Washington State Ferry:  the state highway with a large pedestrian toll Photo by Jamies

Washington State Ferry: the state highway with a large pedestrian toll
Photo by Jamies

On behalf of the Seattle Transit Blog (STB), I would like to welcome the American Planning Association to Seattle for its four day national planning conference. STB has covered transportation and land use policy in the Puget Sound region since 2007, becoming a recognized source of transportation reporting and advocacy. Written by a group of passionate advocates, we dive deep beyond the headlines.

To help APA attendees from across the country get oriented in our fine city I’ve pulled together a topical compilation of posts and links which will help you get up to speed on the what’s happening in Seattle. If you want information about getting around the city check out Seattle for visitors or consider using our bike share system called Pronto! If you have questions leave a comment and our awesome readers will help answer your questions.

  1. Seattle recently implemented a regional low-income transit pass. Here’s why we support it, how it was studied and how it was rolled out. Don’t forget about Seattle’s $15 dollar minimum wage.
  2. Housing affordability in the nation’s fastest growing city has becoming an omnipresent issue, especially in Center City neighborhoods like Capitol Hill. The Mayor has set up a committee and has called for 50,000 new housing units (20,000 affordable) in the next 10 years. Recently the City Council “went a little to far” on micro housing regulations which some have opposed.
  3. Link Light Rail is expanding north to Lynnwood, south to Federal Way and east to Bellevue and Redmond (despite years of lawsuits). The region could vote to expand regional high capacity transit as soon at 2016 but first the State Legislature has to expand Sound Transit’s funding authority.
  4. Seattle is a national leader on performance based on-street parking management. However, off-street parking regulations which were eased years ago have recently been thrown into a state of limbo. In Downtown thousands of off-street spaces go unused every day and the Mayor has proposed some innovative ideas for moving forward.
  5. Seattle has a complicated relationship with Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). For example there are insincere BRT “supporters”. Metro’s RapidRide BRT wouldn’t likely get federal funding now because it’s too watered down. Madison Street is poised to get the City’s first true BRT.
  6. Seattle would like to connect the First Hill Streetcar to the South Lake Union (SLU) Streetcar with an alignment operating in exclusive lanes along 1st Avenue in Downtown. Seattle would also like add a transit only lane on Westlake Avenue to get the SLU Streetcar and buses out of traffic.
  7. Seattle is tearing down the waterfront viaduct, but the largest tunneling machine in the world is having issues. We would have loved the Surface + Transit solution but the questions now is what should the waterfront look like? Parks or commerce? Grand or understated?
  8. Seattle has the largest Car2Go fleet in North America and it’s expanding. How does Car2Go compare to Zipcar? Why does it work so well with paid parking? We sit down and talk with Car2Go’s CEO.
  9. How do you integrate bus and rail service? Mt. Baker Station is bad example, which might get better. Metro and Sound Transit are looking at how to restructure bus service when University Link opens in 2016 but transfers at UW Station will be far from ideal.
  10. South Lake Union, home of Amazon, is booming, but transit service is having a hard time keeping up despite planning.

Is It Time to Ban Amenities?

wikimedia

A Sunday Times cover story ($) late last year told the story of some longtime renters driven out by a new building owner’s intent to renovate and move upmarket:

The record pace of apartment construction… is skewing the average rent higher, said local apartment expert Mike Scott. In part that’s because the new apartments tend to be steel high-rises with luxury-condominium finishes and amenities like gyms, theaters and game rooms that aren’t typically found in older apartments.

 “The rent has gone up, but the product is so much superior to what they were doing 10 years ago,” said Jon Hallgrimson, executive vice president at commercial brokerage CBRE.

Many people are skeptical of regulation micromanaging the housing market, and with good reason. Arbitrary rules can retard one thing that capitalism does very well: matching supply with demand.* Detailed rules can also create perverse incentives and unintended consequences.

But if Seattle is considering these kinds of regulations, as it is in the aPodment debate, it could do worse that trying to limit free amenities like pools and gyms in new or renovated buildings: not banning them outright, but forcing them to unbundle from the rent and instead operate as separate businesses, open to the public.

Consider the following advantages:

  • To the extent it deters construction of these amenities, it leaves more space for units. More units are critical to most of the social challenges density can address.
  • Developers evidently believe they can command higher rents by devoting valuable space to these areas. It follows that separating out these features would lower prevailing rents.
  • Opening a gym to the general public enriches the neighborhood, allows multiple buildings to diversify their amenities, and uses space more efficiently.

Urbanists are familiar with the identical argument when the subject is parking. Residents shouldn’t pay for expensive services they don’t use; bundled parking encourages car ownership (with serious negative externalities) and raises housing costs for everyone. While the externalities of a pool, gym, or private club are not in the same league, unbundling these services strikes me as a much better idea than taxing the housing construction we desperately need to encourage.

* And by “demand” I mean “demand with money behind it.”

How Should Link Get to Federal Way?

Last week Sound Transit released its long-awaited Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Link’s extension south from Angle Lake (S. 200th) to Federal Way Transit Center (FWTC). As the DEIS is the document that guides the ST Board to select a Preferred Alternative in early 2016, the DEIS is perhaps the last chance for advocacy and public comment to sway a project’s future before political inertia begins to harden opinions and preclude positive change. You can comment now through May 26 here.

As a refresher, Link to the tip of Federal Way (S. 272nd) was included as the marquee project of ST2 in the South King subarea, only to be deferred south of Highline College when South King fell harder, and recovered more slowly, than its peer subareas during the recession. In  early 2012, County Councilmember Von Reichbauer and Senator Tracey Eide successfully funded $24m for design and engineering for the project so that it could be ‘shovel ready’ as soon as funding were to be identified, and the DEIS is the result of that effort. Most recently, a relatively unexpected TIFIA loan saved Sound Transit so much in financing costs that it freed up an estimated $200-300m in capacity, money which could potentially pay for Link to get from Highline to 272nd St, leaving just the segment to Federal Way unfunded and to be covered by ST3 and/or federal grants.

The DEIS presents 4 general alignments: SR99, I-5, I-5 to SR99, and SR99 to I-5. Within these 4 options are over a dozen station alternatives that further complexify the choices, something with which anyone who has been following the alphabet soup of alternatives in East Link can identify. Notably – and perhaps suspiciously – all alternatives present nearly identical ridership projections  (24,000-27,500 daily riders) and with travel times that only vary by 2 minutes (12-14 minutes). Cost estimates vary by nearly 70%, however, from roughly $1.25B to just over $2B.

While this may seem like a dizzying array of options, Sound Transit has done a good job of presenting the material, both in the video above and in an interactive exercise at federalwaylink.org; and the corridor itself is linear and relatively uncomplicated.

But all the options essentially boil down to a handful of fundamental questions:

  • Should we use an I-5 alignment, and SR 99 alignment, or some combination of both?
  • How well should we serve Highline Community College?
  • Where should the 272nd station be?
  • How important is it to serve FWTC directly, or would it be better served obliquely?
  • Should there be additional stations at S 216th and S 260th?
  • How important is TOD?

A summary of each alignment, and brief commentary, are after the jump.

[Read more…]