This is an open thread.
Change is quickly coming to Bellevue as Sound Transit ramps up construction on the East Link Extension. Most recently crews on Monday night began work on the first elevated section of the 14-mile light rail extension, placing two girders that span 112th Avenue Northwest near the future Bellevue Downtown Station.
10 years ago this month, to great fanfare, Seattle’s modern streetcar line opened, a 1.3-mile route between Westlake and South Lake Union.
Though it seems insignificant now, cast your mind back to 2007. The Seattle Monorail Project died just two years earlier, after costing the city $125M. A month before the streetcar opening, the Roads and Transit measure to expand light rail had just been defeated. Many people were openly questioning whether rail-based transit had a future in Seattle (Not coincidentally, 2007 is the year STB was founded). Thousands of people crowded into Westlake square to see our shiny new toy. I was working in the neighborhood at the time and recall the insane crowds on opening day.
The Seattle Streetcar system has had its ups and downs over the years. 10 years seems like a good time to look back at the system, and forward as the Center City Connector moves forward.
After ripping up the last of the city’s streetcars in the 1941, Seattle’s modern streetcar system kicked off with the South Lake Union line (setting aside the historic waterfront line). Half the funding was provided by local billionaire Paul Allen, who waned the line as an amenity to kickstart development in what was then the sleepy warehouse district known as South Lake Union.
Since then, mayors and Council members have had varying degrees of enthusiasm for streetcars. The streetcar system has taken on a totemic quality that made it about more than just a transit mode choice: if you were for it, it means you were for real estate development and “placemaking.” To be against it was to be for spending money on More Important Things. As with many things in this town, it became a question of What Do We Want to Be When We Grow Up?
On Monday, the Seattle City Council approved a partnering agreement to accelerate Sound Transit 3 project delivery. The slideshow, the partnering_agreement itself, and Councilmember Lisa Herbold’s thorough writeup are all online.
Most of the agreement is just a commitment to working together and being cooperative, but there are some interesting nuggets. Each agency (ST and SDOT) will have a “designated representative” to serve as a single point of contact, which authority to direct other staff as needed. For ST, this will be Cathal Ridge. SDOT will name their representative by January 15th. There’s a nice review of how Sound Transit’s workflow will be different from previous projects, in an effort to speed things up.
When the Alaskan Way Viaduct undergoes demolition next year, WSDOT plans to use the Battery Street Tunnel as a disposal site for the Viaduct’s debris, but a group of residents is pushing for a second life for the 65-year old tunnel.
The group Recharge the Battery says anything is better than the current plan to fill and seal the tunnel, however with only a year left before leveling of the viaduct is scheduled to begin the group is racing to rally support from the community.
The group envisions the tunnel becoming a “defining urban icon for the City of Seattle and valuable public asset for the Belltown neighborhood and surrounding communities.”
The cut-and-cover Battery Street Tunnel, which runs under Battery Street from Highway 99 to 1st Avenue, was the first tunnel designed and built by the City of Seattle Engineering Department, according to the final environmental impact statement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project.
Earlier this year Recharge the Battery made an open call for proposals reimagining, without limits, a future use for the space. Ideas ranged from building a mushroom farm or a wine cellar to constructing an underground beach or allowing drone racing. One award-winning conceptual design envisioned a publicly accessible forested ravine which could also filter stormwater before returning it to Elliot Bay. Back in April Zach discussed the idea of using the tunnel for transit.
The group says there’s a wide range of possibilities, pointing to projects such as Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon River Restoration which uncovered an ancient river while creating a public recreational space after removing a large highway. Or the city could imitate New York City, using the space for a transit museum.
- A profile of Seattle’s Chief Traffic Engineer Dongho Chang ($), notably including his sadly-uncommon perspective on civil engineering: “Creating things that enable civilization — where people are gathered — to occur.”
- On that note, here’s what SDOT is doing to make crossing the Mercer Stroad better for people on foot ($).
- How City Planning Can Change an Anti-Aging Culture.
- Seoul’s Lessons for Seattle Transit and Land Use. TL;DR allow density, build out your rail network, operate more and better buses.
- Vancouver is considering streetcars. Here’s my advice.
- London’s walking and cycling commissioner says all the right things you would expect.
- Toronto’s King St improvements have brought drastic speed improvements to streetcar riders; Jarrett Walker has a relevant guest post on his blog.
- A $40 peak period toll ($) to drive ten miles in a HOT lane sounds great, I want that for all of our regional freeways.
- Kent City Council agrees to pay $3 million for railroad quiet zone.
- Reconnected Thomas St at Aurora to get a traffic diverter.
- Issaquah Updates its Central Issaquah Plan. It’s good that Issaquah still wants to grow in a compact way, but the people writing the doc seem to have rather optimistic ideas around how much you can legislate good design.
- Two-way Columbia rebuild will soon begin.
- SDOT’s official blog puts out a very rosy take on the transit-accessibility of Key Arena.
- Union pushback against driverless buses is already here.
- Times catalogs what anyone looking in Zillow already knows: Condo shortage is worse than ever in King County ($). Primary culprit seems to be an unusually strict state law around condo construction defects.
- Véliberté, egalité, fraternité: is Paris’s seminal bike share scheme out of date?
- Design pieces drop into place for new Sumner Sounder Train Station parking monstrosity.
- From congestion to carbon to fatalities, roads are getting worse ($), WSDOT data show.
- As the NFL founders, cities are dangling football-style funding promises at pro soccer franchises.
- “We have wages nowhere near matching increased housing costs.”
- These six cities are smarter than Portland (and Seattle) about housing.
- The pedestrian walkway on the Brooklyn Bridge is severely overcrowded. The obvious solution of taking space away from cars was rejected out of hand.
- Curved Element design allows rail on floating bridge.
- Portland’s Southeast Division Corridor: big plans for buses.
- How urban sprawl shapes the critters that crawl our city.
- Renovations shutter subway stations for Months. Some ask ($), for What?
- Plan to ban cars on SF’s Market Street moves forward this month.
- Wallyhood writes about dockless bikeshare.
- CM Herbold’s update discusses partnering with ST, Key Arena redevelopment, and RapidRide H.
- “The Cincinnati [streetcar’s] challenges track back to a factor common among underperforming streetcars… ‘It doesn’t really go where people want to go.'”
- Cities, Counties To Pool Resources As They Brace For Climate Change Impacts.
- One of the last great Washington train rides is coming to an end. (It’s not actually, but the view won’t be as great.)
- And, last but not least, Seattle Ped Advisory Board has open seats.
This is an open thread.
Seattle City Council Member Rob Johnson joins the podcast to talk ST3, HALA, Key Arena and more.
- ST3 – Crossing the ship canal (1:30)
- ST3 – West Seattle (5:57)
- ST3 – Permitting (8:50)
- 130th Street (14:47)
- Car tabs (18:46)
- HALA (23:52)
- Parking (27:40)
- Beyond HALA (31:21)
- Move Seattle Levy (33:29)
- Key Arena (38:58)
The forces at work in Vancouver BC’s housing market seem unrelated to those at work in, say, Toronto’s—a city that, like Seattle, has a real economy and lots of high-paying jobs. Vancouver, on the other hand, “relies largely on an inflow of foreign money to fuel its real estate industry.”
After acknowledging that Seattle’s demand may be less finance-driven, Mudede still says later on that we have “lost Seattle to finance” in the same way as Vancouver. That’s not the only perceived similarity between the cities. He asks Globe and Mail reporter Kerry Gold about Vancouver’s HALA-like proposal:
They have also acknowledged that their policy to build tons of market condos backfired, because they became the perfect speculative commodity. So that’s all fine and good. But their strategy, which calls for greater numbers of rental buildings and incentives for developers to build more affordable housing, largely depends on addressing demand at the same time. If they just build, build, build, which has been our way, the hyper-commodification of housing will just continue. They need to address the demand side—as in, closing the floodgates with a speculator tax, or bigger foreign buyer tax, or even banning foreign buying of existing properties, the way New Zealand just did.
I think there’s reason to believe Seattle’s market has key differences from Vancouver. In particular, legal incentives to build apartments instead of condos ($) often limit investors to the single family market. While skyrocketing single-family prices are painful for those looking for a larger house, they are largely orthogonal to the question of how many homes the City of Seattle should build. But let’s set that aside and assume that the tide of foreign money is coming for us next.
Like an overcrowded light rail train, or a gas tax that can’t raise money because no one buys gas, this seems like a nice problem to have. First, an investor that rents out her property is not contributing to the housing shortage, but instead shifting inventory from the purchase market to the rental one. This, on balance, is a progressive move.
Moreover, even outside investment in an empty tower (the dreaded “speculators”) creates working-class jobs to build and operate the building, and implies a commitment to pay property taxes (and other levies, like affordable housing funds) without consuming much in the way of services. The only cost is a tiny bit of land, land that is only scarce because of artificial zoning restrictions. In the limit where speculator money is truly bottomless, various taxes and fees on endless new buildings could probably fund all the city’s needs with little or no burden on residents.
Indeed, for all Vancouver’s outstanding success boosting transit ridership with aggressive upzones around stations, their overall zoning map isn’t all that better than ours, as Matt Nicholson’s wonderful map shows:
On August 8, a severe electrical malfunction at the Tukwila traction power substation caused extensive damage to the unit, according to Paul Denison, director of light rail operations at Sound Transit. Following the outage, drivers were given orders to slow acceleration.
Briefing board members Thursday during the Operations and Administration Committee meeting, Denison said an error during installation caused the electrical failure.
“We found the root cause of the failure and it was because of some loose fasteners on one of the busbars,” Denison said. “It appears when that busbar was installed that those fasteners were not properly tightened.”
According to Wikipedia, a busbar is “a strip of metal used to conduct electricity within an electrical substation, distribution board, electric switchboard or other electrical equipment.”
“It looks like it was a one-off unfortunate event that was missed during the install by the contractor,” Denison said. Sound Transit was not able to provide the contractor’s name, or any plans to recover the cost, by press time.
Sound Transit will extend its paid permit program at park-and-ride facilities to include solo drivers. The assurance of a guaranteed spot could cost commuters as much as $90 a month if Sound Transit charges the average market rate for these spaces.
Currently, carpools with two or more riders are eligible to purchase a $5 parking permit for nine park and ride locations: the Angle Lake Station, Auburn Station, Federal Way Transit Center, Issaquah Transit Center, Kent Station, Puyallup Station, Sumner Station, Tukwila International Boulevard Station and Tukwila Sounder Station. Metro has a similar program at 15 other park-and-rides.
Sound Transit began selling these HOV parking permits in 2016, which gives commuters access to priority parking areas during the morning rush hour on weekdays. Spaces in permit zones open up for general use after the morning rush hour and on weekends. Up to 50% of parking spaces at each station are reserved for permit holders.
Sound Transit manages about 11,800 parking spaces across 37 owned and leased facilities in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties.
During yesterday’s Operations and Administration Committee meeting, Abby Chazanow, a transportation planner at Sound Transit, told board members that a 2014 pilot project showed there was “quite a bit of demand and a strong willingness to pay” among commuters.
A new exhibit presents a vision of a fossil-fuel-free mobility system in a city not designed around cars.
As automobiles began taking over cities in the early 1900s, an exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s fair titled “Futurama” gave visitors a glimpse of a city twenty years in the future where cars ruled the landscape.
The vision, sponsored by the General Motors Corporation, equated new with better included a superhighway system which connected small towns and a metropolis “replanned around a highly developed modern traffic system.”
A video documenting the exhibit declared “Over space man has begun to win victory, space for living, space for working, space for play, all available for more people than ever before.”
That car-utopia vision never quite panned out leaving cities to deal with traffic congestion, pollution and freeways that separated — and in many cases destroyed — neighborhoods. Inspired by, yet a critique of, that car-centric vision is the exhibit Futurama Redux, opening today at the Center for Architecture & Design. Futurama Redux presents a best-case scenario thirty years in the future after a post-carbon transition which rejects car-centric city planning — instead designing streets around urban dwellers.
King County Metro’s 2017 Annual System Evaluation is now publicly available.
One coarse performance measure in the appendices (pages 45-60) is weekday ridership on each route, comparing fall 2016 ridership to fall 2015 ridership. STB covered the March 2016 and September 2016 service changes that occurred during this period, as well as the March 2017 and September 2017 service changes that are not reflected in this evaluation.
Metro has roughly 180 routes, most of which saw daily weekday ridership shifts of 200 riders or less. The 50 routes listed below are the ones that had more dramatic shifts. [Read more…]
Microsoft announced last week a major investment in their Redmond campus, expanding their footprint to accommodate up to 8,000 more workers, but also renovating and reinventing their campus. 12 older buildings will give way to 18 taller ones with a net addition of 2.5 million square feet.
Urbanists, and other observers, were quick to notice an apparent contrast with Amazon which has built its headquarters in Seattle and avoided suburban offices. Many Bay area tech companies, after having started in the suburbs, are putting down roots in cities too. Several regional companies like Weyerhaeuser and Expedia have decamped to Seattle. Microsoft doesn’t appear to have ever considered such a move, and is confident that it can create an urban vibe within its historic footprint.
Microsoft’s 2005 master plan foresees a gradually densifying campus. The latest announcement will come close to exhausting the capacity in that master plan, but the likely next step will be another master plan for further development within the 500-acre footprint. Microsoft’s leasing of office space in Bellevue and Issaquah was viewed as responsive to urgent needs for space rather than a strategy to develop outside the core campus. Microsoft in 2015 negotiated zoning changes that allow up to 10 story offices on the eastern part of the Redmond campus though this expansion won’t be that tall.
The campus vision already goes well beyond the stereotypical auto-oriented suburban office park. It’s aligned to the nearby rail station opening in 2023, with straightened pedestrian connections to offices and retail. Buildings are closer together. Cars are removed from the interior of campus and all parking is underground. The office expansion fits with transportation improvements from the master plan including a pedestrian bridge across SR 520. The bridge connects the east and west sides of campus across SR 520 to each other and to the future light rail station. [Read more…]
- New York gives pedestrians a head start ($) at key intersections.
- New York City’s Comptroller describes a bus system in crisis ($). Classic NYC finger-pointing ensues. Civic and business leaders describe a subway system and transit agency in crisis ($). Read Ben Kabak’s take (and visit London) if you want to get really depressed.
- It fell to Albuquerque to open the first ITDP Gold BRT line in the US. Jarrett Walker discusses.
- More Jarrett, what it means for a transit agency to listen.
- TransLink pilots double-decker buses in Richmond.
- Chariot looks to roll out commuter van service in Q1.
- The city of Zhuzhou is testing an autonomous, rubber-tired tram.
- Envisioning an I-5 lid in the U-District.
- Olympia looks to forestall a missing-middle housing crisis by liberalizing small-lot development. Bravo to the city, and to Olympians for People-Oriented Places for being organized and having smart things to say.
- Vancouver already has a full-blown crisis, and they’re discussing some radical ideas to address it. (Interesting tangent: the Vancouver Special. Perhaps in twenty years, we’ll call the auto-court townhouse four-pack ($) the Seattle Special.)
- London’s Mayor reveals plans to ban the construction of new car parking spaces.
- Nearly three decades of fighting and still no agreement ($) on Seattle’s Burke-Gilman missing link.
- Doug at the Urbanist read the MHA rezone appeal filed by the inaptly-named “Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability, and Equity,” so you wouldn’t have to.
- Can private buses solve the Bay Area’s commute woes? They won’t, but they’re still a net positive to the transportation system.
- LA timidly proposes more walkable density in the area around five Expo Line stations. Local council member promptly denounces the plan, saying “his district ‘simply cannot support’ more density without improvements to streets and other public infrastructure.” Newsflash: you can never build enough infrastructure to satisfy the NIMBY concern trolls.
- There’s a hipster Best Western coming to Capitol Hill.
- Portland’s Southwest Corridor is lined with at-risk NOAHs.
- Minneapolis’s Southwest Corridor is lined with historic Great Northern retaining walls.
- TNT gives a slightly ambivalent welcome to the Point Defiance Bypass, but an unambivalent smack down to the outgoing passenger hut.
- Portland City Council endorses congestion charging for Portland-area freeways.
- Curbs are the riparian zones of our cities.
- Anchorage will test a Proterra electric bus this winter.
This is an open thread.
As a result of Manka Dhingra’s election, giving Democrats a solid majority in the State Senate (with Sen. Tim Sheldon caucusing with the Republicans), the Senate Democratic Caucus has had to choose new Senate leadership and committee leadership, and redo committee assignments. The new assignments were announced on November 14:
With a backlog of over 550 lane-miles in need of major maintenance, estimated to cost $970m, and a rapidly growing city, the Seattle Department of Transportation says its 2018 budget attempts to balance the mobility needs of the city while maintaining existing streets and sidewalks.
Next year’s city budget, approved November 20, increases SDOT’s budget by a little over 5%, growing to $472.4m, from $448.4m. The agency plans on adding 31 new full-time employees, approved by the city council this summer, comprised of project management, engineers and planning and design positions.
In good news for bus riders, a last-minute proposal by Councilmember Mike O’Brien and approved by the council starts to lay a path for the use of automated enforcement of transit lanes. A report by SDOT in partnership with SPD “on the potential for using automated enforcement to reduce ‘block-the-box’ incidents and transit lane violations,” is due to the council by March 2, 2018
When the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel finally got cellular phone service last March, the tentative expectation was that the Beacon Hill Tunnel would follow later this year. University Link has long had it, so Beacon Hill is the last segment that drops calls and freezes page loads.
ST spokesperson Kimberly Reason told me earlier this week that cell service there is now scheduled for mid-2018 “to allow for design modifications for the power infrastructure.” So for a few months longer, you’ll be forced to read dead trees or talk to your neighbor for at least a few minutes on every trip.