Highway Insomnia
Highway Insominia by flickr user Nrbelex

This morning, I’m saddened to see King County Councilmember Larry Phillips drawn in by backwards arguments for a Viaduct tunnel. His heart seems to be in the right place, but his conclusions do not follow.

Paradoxically, the Viaduct is actually bad for mobility. Because it allows people to entirely bypass downtown, it encourages spread out development, and results in commutes that go from a neighborhood on one side of the city to a neighborhood on the other. This has two impacts.

First, it encourages businesses to sprawl, instead of staying in the accessible downtown core. This has always been the problem with highways – they break down the efficient hub and spoke structure of human settlement. When someone can take a trip from Ballard to West Seattle for work, that’s great for them, but then someone in Ravenna or Mount Baker can’t get to that job as easily as if it were in the core. Net mobility is lower. Multiply by a hundred thousand, and you create congested arterials all over town, as we have today.

Second, these through trips the Viaduct generates are generally not replaceable with transit. Again, the only way it’s cost effective to build transit is in a hub and spoke layout, and for most of these trips, that means an uncompetitive downtown transfer.

Right now, Phillips says, 70 percent of traffic on the Viaduct is pass-through. In the next sentence, he refers to ‘that traffic’ being pushed through the downtown core by the surface-transit option. He’s partly right – when the Viaduct is brought down, whether for good or for replacement, most of those trips will go onto downtown streets and I-5.

Empty Viaduct?
An Empty Viaduct, from flickr user Slightlynorth

But ‘that traffic’ will change dramatically.

Even on the first day of closure, many ‘soft’ trips will switch to transit. That’s not just the viaduct trips – when viaduct users switch to other corridors, a lot of soft trips on I-5 will also switch to transit, as will many that were previously taken on surface streets. I’ve pointed this out before – over months and years (and even a construction closure will be years long), leases expire and jobs are gained and lost, so many of those through trips will disappear through attrition when they’re no longer effectively subsidized by the free trip through downtown.

The benefits of not rebuilding a bypass are many. Average commute mileage decreases, reducing emissions. New non-through trips are more often replaced with transit. Every time a business chooses to locate downtown instead of in a neighborhood or suburb, mobility increases for the huge number of people who have transit access pointing to the urban core.

And I think Larry Phillips can appreciate that. With downtown office space dropping in price due to the recession, but several more downtown office towers under construction, we have a lot of space available and getting cheaper. Remove a subsidy to sprawl, and we take advantage of the recession to concentrate development downtown. That’s smart growth.

55 Replies to “No, Highways Are Never Growth Management”

  1. Ben, you act like this argument really matters to most residents in Ballard or West Seattle save the few urbanophiles that live there. In general, you’ll find that they are quite happy with a subsidized bypass and give little currency to an argument that points to any inequality like you pointed to. Downtown is an obstacle, the mobility of other neighborhoods doesn’t matter and if it costs Billions to serve the gilded few, then so be it. The opinion pieces and letters to the editor really tell the story quite well.

    Of course, disagreeing means you’re some shmuck from Capitol Hill that thinks walking and density are actually good things.

  2. You hit the nail on the head, not only is it simply easier to maintain a prescriptive transportation infrastructure that leads people to their destination than it is to try to enable every possible commute combination, it’s also more efficient.

    1. If you built the New York City subway in Yakima, then certainly it would encourage sprawl. However, it would sprawl by a whole let less than if you built, say, Dallas’s freeway network, which moves fewer people than the NYC subway.

    2. I like to think of rail in three flavors: urban rail, regional rail, and long distance rail. The first does the opposite of creating sprawl – it gives a large time-bonus to those that live in the same city that they work. The third has little impact on sprawl in either direction, it’s simply another (much more efficient) way of traveling. The second is a bit of a gray area. Compared to building more roads, regional rail clearly induces less sprawl. But any time you reduce the amount of time it takes to commute long distances you increase the incentive for sprawl.

      That being said, Link has a significant urban component. My great hope is that we figure out good land use policies that build dense areas around Link stations, and eventually get rid of park-and-rides. This will reduce some of the incentives to sprawl, and perhaps will just spread urban life further into the region.

      1. In the sense that regional rail still relies upon stations, at the very least you can see an urbanization around these rail stations that you simply cannot envision with a highway offramp.

      2. I think you get a different kind of urbanization. If you look at downtown bellevue, that’s urbanization. It’s not downtown Seattle though:
        1) DT Bellevue’s density isn’t close to DT Seattle
        2) The bellevue blocks are super-blocks that discourage pedestrians, which is why you see so many fewer in Bellevue.
        3) The transit infrastructure isn’t there, which is why most people in DT bellevue are driving, compared to less than half in DT Seattle (40% transit, 15% bike+pedestrians)

        Microsoft’s Overlake campus is another sign. That’s a huge employment center, right next to two freeway off-ramps. That campus could not be built there if it wasn’t for 520. So you get some urbanization, just not the full-scale urbanization that transit gives you.

    3. The simple answer is no, not at all.

      The difference is in what rail moves versus what a highway moves, and the last mile.

      A highway moves cars. The marginal cost to an individual of going one more mile after getting off at an exit is very low. The marginal cost of going three miles is only three times that.

      A rail line moves pedestrians. The marginal cost to an individual of going one more mile is fairly high – 80% of people won’t go more than another quarter mile, 50% won’t go much more than an eighth. Going three miles would require another mode of transport, so it’s very expensive in time or complexity.

      So rail tends to concentrate growth around the station – you create high density. Cars don’t at all.

      The killer point here – we’ve had rail all over the world, but we don’t see sprawl in around stations. We do see sprawl around highways.

      1. If sprawl only means low-density, then rail can’t cause sprawl. But if you look at the Kanto region around Tokyo, you get high-density sprawl around rail lines. Look here for example. Yeah there are “highways” there -two or four lane roads with tolls every 10 km or so – but few people are commuting to the city via those.

      2. I have a hard time with the assertion “rail can’t cause sprawl”. What about people that drive to park-and-rides? Previous commute times at, say, 1 hour dropping to 45 minutes increases the incentive to live further out (not to mention the cost savings from parking for free). What about current exurb commutes? More people on the train frees up freeway space, shortening their commute time (again, encouraging the exurban lifestyle).

        Don’t get me wrong, I see dozens of ways to use Link to increase density. But I think the default mode (no new land use regulations or upzoning, free park and rides) has a good chance of increasing sprawl more than it increases density. If for no other reason than it will be faster to travel long distances.

      3. Park and rides aren’t rail. Park and rides are park and rides. The rail doesn’t cause the sprawl, the parking does – that’s a different issue. Sure, we’re building park and rides with our rail, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the station capacities.

      4. The NYC Metro area is 6,700 Square miles, spans 4 states and has an overall population density of 2,800 persons / sq mi. In comparison, LA metro, the archtype of sprawl, is 4,200 sq mi with a population density of 3,600 persons / sq mi.

        This is on top of the fact that the way metro areas are measured artificially inflates the actual area ( and decreases the density) of the LA metro area in comparison.

        New York Metro has more than its fair share of sprawl, and average commute times are longer in NYC than they are in LA. NYC proper may be very dense, much denser than LA, but if you look at the overall economic region, as defined by the number of people that commute, NYC metro is as sprawling as anything else in this country. The difference? The vast majority of NYC’s sprawl is RAIL INDUCED. Mostly through the commuter rail. Whether people park and ride or take a feeder bus, the fact that long distance commuter rail exists, makes possible long distance commuters, and the land use and commuting patters observed on the ground show this.

        A little bit of history here:

        The original purpose of the NYC subway was to CREATE sprawl. Prior to the creation of the subway, the vast majority of workers in NYC had to live within walking distance of the lower Manhattan business district. This resulted in the densest concentration of human population in the history of time in the lower east side of Manhattan. The Subway was created specifically to spread people out and avoid the misery that overcrowding creates.

        You might be able to make the case that building a rail line INSTEAD of a freeway might result in less sprawl, but it’s not building the rail line that reduced it, it’s the NOT building of the freeway that reduces sprawl.

        But where you build is just as important as what you build. This viaduct will produce far less sprawl than Link will. Why? Because the Tunnel is in central Seattle while Link spreads out the far suburbs. The Tunnel eases traffic congestion within the city, making the city more attractive and pulling people in. The periphery of Link serves the distant suburbs, making it possible to commute long distances at relatively low cost, subsidized by the tax payers. This makes the suburbs more attractive.

      5. In order to define the NYC metro area in that way, you have to go very very far beyond a common sense definition. You are including places like New Haven, Connecticut and Trenton NJ that are almost 100 miles away and are closer to other metros, in this case, Hartford and Philadelphia.

        The problem with this definition, and the reason it makes LA look really dense, is that you only stop counting metro areas when you hit a physical boundary. LA looks great because it’s surrounded by national and state parks. Never mind that on the other side of those state parks are places where people commute into LA proper from.

        And since that NY area has no physical boundaries one city’s metro area bleeds into another, and you get the silly definition that you’ve shown. Why is New Haven part of New York and not Hartford, when it’s much closer to Hartford? because you’ve defined it that way, and not for any other reason.

        It’s also ridiculous to include the NYC has some part of that sprawl. The area served by the NYC subway is the most dense area in the United States plus Canada. The low-density Mid-Atlantic seaboard that you say is sprawl is very very far away from the last Subway stations.

      6. Tony,

        Very interesting comment, that gives me a lot to think about.

        I might point out that virtually all of those NY Metro area commuter rail stations have park and rides.

        As a thought experiment, here are some ways you could design an infrastructure:

        1) No infrastructure. Everyone has to walk to work, resulting in extremely dense living conditions, huge economic inefficiencies, and lots of human misery.

        2) Rail-only infrastructure. Still, very dense housing, but some ability to move around, making the economy operate more efficiently. You have to live very close to a rail station, but have a bit more choice on where to live.

        3) Rail/P&R infrastructure/local arterial/infrastructure, no freeways. Development is still somewhat restricted to the rail corridors, but there are options for less dense development for those who strongly desire it.

        4) Rail/freeway. Development everywhere. Significant segments of population not accessible by efficient transit.

        5) Freeway only. We know what this looks like. VMT goes through the roof as virtually all trips have no alternative but the car.

        YMMV, but in my opinion (3) is pretty close to the ideal in terms of providing people maximum latitude in how to live their lives. In practice, it would be the work of 50-100 years to get Seattle from (5) to (4), so it’s not worth speculating about the relative merits of 1-3.

      7. Bad local and regional governance, combined with a rail line, can absolutely cause sprawl. If there’s a stop in the middle of nowhere, with single family zoning for miles around, and an enormous parking lot surrounding it with no real pedestrian approaches, then you’re enabling the construction of car-dependent subdivisions far from job centers, ie sprawl.

        Our rail infrastructure is so far from that point right now it’s not something worth worrying about in Puget Sound, but some of the more wild ideas about extending Sounder to points arbitrarily far to the North or South need that reality check.

      8. Yes. It’s still a matter of what’s built *in addition* to the rail, not the rail itself.

      9. Martin the problem is pouple are already commuting in to jobs in the Lakewood/Everett corridor from those points “arbitrarily far to the North or South”. With Sounder service there is at least the potential to focus any further development in areas that are already dense (downtown Marysville, downtown Mt. Vernon, etc.).

    4. I think to some extent it depends on what one is calling “sprawl”. To the extent rail enables one to live quite far from one’s job it can encourage sprawl. However at the same time the land use patterns around the stations can often be already fairly dense.

      Is increased development in downtown Kent or Auburn “sprawl” or is it smart land use?

  3. Ok, thank you, AS, for answering that. After reading this: “Paradoxically, the Viaduct is actually bad for mobility. Because it allows people to entirely bypass downtown, it encourages spread out development, and results in commutes that go from a neighborhood on one side of the city to a neighborhood on the other. This has two impacts. First, it encourages businesses to sprawl …” It made me ask how or if a light rail system encourages businesses or people to sprawl.

    1. The difference I see is that rail builds in points on a line. It makes most sense to live close to those points and work close to those points. Highways and roads remove this incentive.

  4. Nice policy post. I think one of the obstacles to progressive transportation planning is this idea that the trips are constant, and somehow fungible. That is, if you take away a road that handles 50,000 trips, those trips will have to go elsewhere, burdening that new place. Your point is simple, that the trips are not constant or fungible, that the system is organic and reacts to change in many different ways, some of them surprising.

    1. Strongly agreed – I need to take an urban planning class to better explain the point that trips taken aren’t constant. We really lean on that in public policy discourse, and it leads us to make really bad decisions.

  5. Larry Phillips has hurt his chances with me, to be honest. Then again, Nickels probably still wants a tunnel as well. Both are wrong.

    The most unfortunate part is that people current rely on this sprawl. At the cost of billions of dollars to deep bore, it is not worth subsidizing this unsustainable reliance. At the same time, Ballard-West Seattle light rail should be a regional priority for ST3.

    1. Treating it as subsidization for a small number of users seems to be a good tactic, but you have to use it in tandem with the point that it’s subsidization of driving alone – subsidization of pollution, and of sprawl, whereas subsidizing rail is not.

      1. This tunnel is expected to serve more trips than the initial segment of Link (before U-link). I think it’s a tough sell to suggest that road projects are a subsidy of a tiny fraction of users, but rail projects are not. Ben’s point about pollution is a good one. His point about sprawl is not. Nevertheless, there are far far more effective ways to reduce both sprawl, pollution and congestion than building light rail. Rational pricing of auto travel would be the most important. Changes to zoning laws would be the second. Light Rail is far far down the list in terms of effectiveness.

  6. When it comes to building highways, people just throw out any thought besides going faster. Imagine if Sound Transit was proposing to build a Ballard-West Seattle rail line and decided that they wouldn’t put any stops downtown, because that would “slow things down too much.” I’m sure that would go over really well.

    1. I think that’s a really interesting point, and I hadn’t thought about the equivalency. Great comment, thank you.

    2. On the other hand, I do think that there is probably one too many stops in the downtown transit tunnel. This makes link comparatively unattractive for trips say from the rainier valley to UW. Three stops would have been about optimal downtown rather than four. (Basically make the Pioneer Square and the University Street stops into one stop right in between the two of them.) In fact, one of the things that has allowed me get over the loss of the first hill light rail station is the fact that removing that station will speed up the connection between the U-district and Downtown.

  7. Many businesses — what’s left of Seattle’s industrial base — inherently can’t function in the downtown core. Most of the city’s light industry is based SW of downtown, or along the ship canal, and requires a way to get from one area to another (with freight, mind you, so this isn’t a problem solved by transit).

    How will industrial Seattle continue to function smoothly without some form of AWV replacement?

    1. This point always confuses me, so perhaps I’m missing something. What’s wrong with using freight rail for moving goods around? Rail runs past the shipping terminals both north and south of downtown.

      1. Railroads really don’t want to deal with low-volume or short-haul freight anymore from what I’ve seen.

        I think the industrial users were whining a bit exessively. Ballard to Duwamish freight is more likely to use the surface Alaskan Way than the viaduct. Besides freight is just as likely to be moving to/from one of the many other industrial areas in the region as it is to be between Ballard and Duwamish.

      2. Matt, come on, you’re an engineer. It is overwhelmingly inefficient to use rail to transport low volumes over short distances. Starting and stopping a freight train takes hours and thousands of gallons of fuel. It also requires highly specialized infrastructure for loading and unloading. Freight rail is for large volume long hall trips. It is far better to feed everything into sodo via trucks, load up a single train and then have that train not stop until it gets to Chicago or San Fran.

    2. They’ll use I-5, or they’ll use surface streets.

      There is already a 10000 pound weight limit for trucks on the viaduct, if I’m not mistaken – and the port is functioning. The cost to the port of operating on I-5 indefinitely is MUCH MUCH lower than what they’re losing in corruption – and it’s a lot cheaper to fix that than to build a tunnel.

  8. So wait…you want to go slower when you drive on highways? Do you use Highway 2 to drive to Spokane? I’ve never understood this argument. What is inherently bad about moving as fast as you can through the city? Should everyone that uses I-5 or 99 begin or end their trip in Seattle? There is no traffic from say, Everett to Kent? Or Bellingham to Portland? The state and federal highways should only serve the city of Seattle?

    I seem to be a minority here on this board in supporting a tunnel. I’m fine with that. But how about an option along these lines? What if we knocked down the viaduct and put the surface and transit option in. That makes transit people happy. But additionally, we have true express lanes on I-5 through the heart of the city serving both directions at once. Meaning that there are NO exits on or off in the heart of the city. So those that don’t want to care about Seattle, don’t have to care about Seattle. I think 99 tends to be a “workaround” for a claustrophobic I-5 which should be the high speed route through Seattle. Does the DOT know the number of trips on 99 or I-5 through Seattle, but do not originate or end in Seattle?

    1. The problem with moving as fast as you can through the city is that that’s why we have sprawl in the first place… what do you think caused all these congestion problems? We spread out!

      “Trips” aren’t the same with or without the viaduct! You can’t study the trips happening with the viaduct, and then pretend those trips just move. People choose what trips to take based on what infrastructure is available. Visiting your relatives in Everett is not one of the trips that need to change – but the vast majority of the trips taken are commute trips, which very easily switch to transit.

      Remember what happened when I-5 nearly closed last summer? Sounder got 2,000 more trips per day. Bus ridership skyrocketed. Many, many trips are ‘soft’ – transit use goes way up if people even think there will be increased congestion. When there really is increased congestion, people move their commute trips to transit, easing it for the trips that really have to use the highway.

      And, of course, the really silly part about all this is that no matter what we build, the Viaduct will be closed for YEARS. During that time, we’ll be dealing with all of this anyway, and most users will find permanent new solutions.

      1. Sprawl was not caused by fast through trips. The ability of someone to get from Bellingham to Portland has absolutely nothing to do with sprawl in Lynnwood. The thing that caused sprawl was fast connections TO downtown. Sprawl is about living far away from where you work, and back in the day, everyone worked in downtown (or sodo). Seattle was fundamentally limited in its geographic extent until the freeway made it possible for people to live farther out and still get TO their jobs in downtown. Had we built a complete bypass that had zero downtown exits, the freeway would have remained largely unused by commuters and would only have been used for its intended purpose, which was intercity transport.

  9. You’re wrong about mobility decreasing. Mobility will increase with a new transportation facility with marginally decreasing benefits the farther away a destination is from the new facility. What the construction of this tunnel really means is that the appeal of downtown and for that sake the appeal of Central Link will likely be decreased while the appeal of any new transit routes through downtown and driving through downtown will increase. Travelers will shift modes and destinations based on these circumstances. In the viaduct travel time report it was found that 8% more person trips could be accommodated by a bypass (page 9). Also worth noting is that the report assumes Prop 1 fails (page 5), although it’s a study of the year 2015, so light rail likely won’t be operating by then to UW.

    In a much longer term horizon I feel (as I’m sure a lot of others do) that this $4 billion tunnel will be less effective than if the money were invested in a West Seattle-Ballard medium-heavy rail line. That tunnel can only carry so many vehicles whereas the capacity of a new transit line could easily be maintained at much higher rates than this small 4 lane tunnel. That tunnel will only be able to serve a maximum of 5,000 vehicles per hour per direction at an optimistic rate. If only the state could consider transit seriously.

    1. You’re ignoring the effect that the existence of the transportation facility has on people’s choice of what trips to take. You can’t just pretend that all trips stay the same in light of different infrastructure. Infrastructure is lower level than even development, in terms of effect on trips.

      If we actually reduce bypass trips, transit will take a larger share than if we maintain or increase them.

  10. Ben,

    I too am very disappointed with Mr. Phillips and his argument that a tunnel supports growth management. He is posturing for re-election and is trying to brand himself as the inventor of growth management and the champion of our uber-mobile lifestyel. His interest in a tunnel is more about maintaining highway capacity because it’s good for Magnolia.

    Your categorical statement on rail as being an antithesis to highway-induced sprawl is a bit of hyperbole. As long as there are park and rides, this will not be the case. Without park and rides, rail can facilitate walkable places as you described. Sprawl and unwalkable places are not necessarily synonymous. Any subsidized transportation that penetrates exurban lands and converts passive/agricultural uses to housing and commercial uses is sprawl-promoting. Auto-oriented places are not typically friendly to pedestrians, though they may be within urban growth areas and fairly dense.

    I think we should be more concerned with the preservation and development of walkable places over densification of place. I’ve seen small towns that are walkable as much as large cities. Density is only relative and not absolute in being part of the formula. Walkability and pedestrian oriented trumps TOD, GMA and UGA.

    1. Let’s say I build a rail station, and a park and ride. That park and ride takes up a SMALL portion of the potential high density development area around the stations. It sucks, but I’m not worried about it.

      1. The point is not the land that the park and ride takes up, the point is that the park and ride enables people to live in auto-dependent low density suburban development and still avoid most of the congestion by driving to the park and ride and then using the rail. The park and ride at the rail station thus enables the sprawl several miles out, well beyond the tight walking distance of TOD.

      2. Well a bus that serves the suburban development and the rail station can encourage sprawl as much as the P&R lot.

        To the extent that building P&R lots at rail stations is necessary to get support for the rail line in the first place I’ll take that over no rail line at all (or an expensive road project).

      3. Exactly, the point is that we shouldn’t have built the rail station that far out in the first place. South Snohomish County is sprawl. Anything that improves the ability of people who currently live in South Snohomish to commute into Seattle will only encourage more people to live in South Snohomish.

        Sub-area equity completely undermines the argument that we have to throw a sprawl inducing bone to the suburbs to get their support. By definition all of Seattle’s portion of the Light Rail is being built with Seattle’s money, we could have lopped Snohomish County off of the district and it would have had zero effect on rail in Seattle. We wouldn’t get their money and we wouldn’t have the expense of building rail to nowhere. It’s a complete wash financially.

  11. Hmm, this is an interesting point that you bring up when you say that transportation infrastructure influences travel behavior even before people decide to make a trip. This premise would be complex (however very useful) to incorporate into the standard travel demand modeling practice of assuming that trips are generated at the same rate regardless of the transportation infrastructure serving it. If you have any academic resources that describe this process, please share this knowledge.

    However, that is more of an accessibility issue, not a mobility issue. Whenever a new transportation facility is opened it enables more throughput of trips. Even if in this case it is assumed that the rate of trips may react to the transportation infrastructure causing some trips to be longer, the net mobility must be greater because of the greater availability of transportation capacity. To claim otherwise seems to disobey the statistical dynamics of travel behavior where you over or under-estimate the system-wide spread of traffic and shift to other modes. I can’t see how there is a legitimate argument that increasing any kind of transportation capacity decreases mobility. By your argument building five I-5’s across Seattle (God forbid) would decrease mobility and that argument just doesn’t hold up in short-term analysis.

    1. Basically every transportation engineering or urban planning textbook in the last forty years addresses the demand influence of infrastructure. We just don’t deal with science or planning in the political arena.

      Building I-5 in Seattle DID decrease mobility. You’re qualifying your analysis with ‘short-term’ – sure, it increases mobility in the short term. But today, 40 years later, I-5’s construction has left us with a reality that’s very congested with no alternatives, largely because of the built investment that I-5 represents.

      I know it’s easy to say that throughput=mobility, but that has never been the case. Adding cars to surface streets faster means that those surface streets become more congested – an individual trip would likely lose more time on the adjacent streets than it gained on a bypass. It’s like pouring water into a drain too fast and having it bubble instead of flow smoothly.

      The real issue here, the really big issue, is that this tunnel subsidizes non-downtown business locations. Bypassing downtown makes downtown less competitive as a destination, which is exactly what we *don’t* want during a recession when we suddenly have a glut of downtown office space.

      1. The super-rich downtown business interests don’t need Ben Schiendelman to protect them. They will be fine. We don’t need to hold a gun to people’s head and say “No trips other than those into downtown are allowed.”

        Your point about the recession is bizarre. Why on earth would you want to punish every business except those in downtown in a recession? Imagine if you actually succeed in your vision of squashing every commercial location within 30 miles and force everyone into downtown Seattle. That would simply result in an incredible scarcity of space for business and require the construction of dozens, if not hundreds of very tall very, very expensive skyscrapers. Most businesses cannot afford rent in these kinds of very expensive buildings, thus they will fold. Those that do succeed will have to pay a much larger portion of their revenues for rent, leaving less available for wages. The whole thing results in lower wages, fewer jobs and a huge transfer of wealth to a tiny group of individuals who own land in downtown.

        That “glut” of downtown office space is a good thing in a recession (assuming it’s jobs and businesses that you care about rather than landlord’s pocketbooks). High vacancy rates mean lower rents. Lower rents means lower costs for businesses which keeps them competitive during tough economic times. Lower rents also makes land owners more willing to sell (since their land is less valuable), which increases the potential for developers to buy up properties for the next upswing.

  12. We don’t want downtown to be less of a destination, period. Regardless of the recession, having an urban core is critical to both transit needs, but also metropolitan identity, stability, and focus with regard to infrastructure, housing, and simple community identity. Neighborhoods and specific areas of focus for industry are fine, and good, and desired, but the focal points of serious business enterprises need to be limited, not disbursed, as otherwise you get sprawl.

    Working in Bellevue or Seattle or Redmond is fine, these are focused cores. Working in many other areas within a few miles of these cores causes problems, both for local residents, and for those who need to get to work (and of course, offering transit options that don’t solve problems so much as create them. The direct W. Seattle to Ballard comment is on point).

  13. Why on earth are is Redmond an “acceptable” subcenter but Ballard is not? How about Northgate? How about West Seattle Junction? Lake City? Fremont? U-district? Each of these places is either a designated urban center or hub urban village and the intention of the Seattle comprehensive plan is to focus not only housing, but also job growth in these areas. Is this a bad idea?

    Subcenters are good, they take some of the pressure of of the major center which helps keep the major center from choking on itself.

    Imagine if every grocery store in the puget sound region were located in downtown Seattle. What kind of a transportation nightmare would that be, even if we did have NYC’s subway system?

    The key is to keep all of these subcenters connected via rapid transit so that they can support each other synergistically, causing them all to benefit, which is one of the reasons east link is such a good idea. I happen to also like North Link UP TO NORTHGATE ONLY, because Northgate and the University are urban centers that I believe in time will rival Bellevue and Redmond. Beyond that, you’re no longer connecting centers, you’re just serving sprawl.

    1. Serving sprawl and turning it into a dense comunity is not the same as creating sprawl.

      1. This is a good point. Unfortunately, that is NOT what Link is doing north of Northgate. Past Northgate, Link follows the freeway, the stations are not anywhere near areas that could be turned into TODs. The plan, as it exists is that these stations are to be served by park-and-rides and feeder buses. IF Northlink had turned west at northgate and followed the 99 corridor to Lynnwood, then there would be a lot of redevelopment potential. THEN you would be turning sprawl into dense TODs. One more example of ST missing boat on integrated planning.

        Furthermore, there is a lot of undeveloped land in south Snohomish County. If we define sprawl and new greenfield development at the edge of the contiguous urbanized area, south Snohomish fits the bill. Because the Link will serve these as yet undeveloped areas with its park-and-rides, Link’s presense will make these areas more attractive and thus increase the likelihood of new development in the adjacent greenfields. The key to stopping sprawl, defined as development at the fringe, is to stop building infrastructure that serves the fringe. Build infrastructure that serves the inner city, including this tunnel, and you attract growth to the inner city. (Ballard, Fremont, U-district, West Seattle being included in the definition of “inner city” in comparison to Snohomish County)

    2. The University District is the second largest concentration of employment in the state outside of downtown Seattle. I’m not exactly sure on residential density but I believe it is only surpassed by Capitol Hill, First Hill, and Belltown. Similarly I wouldn’t be surprised if Northgate already compares favorably to Bellevue and Redmond on at least housing.

      As for going North of Northgate, there are centers between Northgate and Everett (not to mention Everett itself) that are every bit as “active” as many on the Eastside or between Seattle and Tacoma.

      If nothing else it is worth building light rail to Everett in order to serve the already high volume of transit ridership North of Northgate.

  14. Reading the blogs this a.m., catching up on commentary to the tunnel announcement. I’m struck – yet again – by the quality of debate here and at another progressive site (not ALWAYS, but usually).

    There’s an existing political and constitutional/statutory structure, though, that shapes the transportation/mobility debate at least as much as the “power players” in downtown Seattle. And I wish that backdrop was further to the fore in your conversations (e.g., role of the gas tax and the 18th Amendment, or the fact that GMA accountability is directed at individual CITIES, whether it’s big Seattle or tiny Normandy Park, scope of statutory funding authority for transit).

    We have and for the foreseeable future will lack any mechanism in the Puget Sound region that allows a group of people like you to debate the pros/cons of THE REGIONAL SYSTEM and to make firm decisions about it. Bruce Katz at Brookings has been telling us this for years. But we have such entrenched turf (Katz calls it a “farrago of agencies”) that we can’t risk the disequilibrium for a political debate as nuanced as the one you have here, with the decisions being enforced/enforceable. Knute/Crosscut thinks this fragmentation has worked well for us. I’m not so sure. But I’ve shelved any attempt to change it.

    And, in any event, my point was to let you know that I really enjoy reading your debates, especially this one.

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