University District - Seattle
U-District, photo by Brewbooks

Dan Savage points to this Atrios post contrasting today’s urban zoning and the buildings that currently exist in urban neighborhoods:

One thing I mention frequently but which some seem not to believe is that just about everywhere in this country it would be illegal to build the kind of dense residential urban neighborhoods one associates with, well, urban living. My block, a completely typical South Philly block (not my block, but similar), could not be built today without an unlikely to receive zoning waiver. Most units on my block, and in my area generally, do not have dedicated off street parking. Any new development – say, a new block of rowhouses – with 5 units or more requires dedicated parking for each unit. Parking takes up space, requiring more land which increases (sic) the cost/sq. ft, and reduces, all things equal, residential density.

I mentioned this idea briefly my post about Bellevue’s plans for transit oriented development in the Bel-Red neighborhood. I live in the U-District and my home has a perfect 100 walkscore. Most of the myriad of small businesses and apartments that make the neighborhood walkable are in old buildings that could never be built under today’s zoning: retail without parking isn’t allowed, and neither are tall, affordable and parkingless apartment buildings. These requirements existing in what is probably the residential neighborhood that is best served by transit in the state.

North of 50th street a lot of townhomes have been built recently (south of 50th st the zoning is NC-65, or six stories, north of 50th it’s L3, or townhome zoning), and all have parking, most in the ugly mini-cul-de-sac formation that is so despised. The nicer designs have the cul-de-sac facing the alley instead of the street, but it doesn’t do much for affordability.  On Roosevelt and 55th, a ten-unit student-priced housing development is going through with five parking spaces, and a zoning exception was required to allow less than the usual ten parking spots. In fifteen years that development will be walking distance to two light rail stations. How many of the residents will need cars or even be able to afford them? Parking requirements and height restrictions need to be re-thought, especially in dense neighborhoods that already have many buildings that without parking and others taller than the height restrictions.

79 Replies to “Time to Re-Think Zoning”

  1. Absolutely right; thanks for posting. When we talk about 30 unit per acre density (urban density capable of supporting transit), we have to get away from the requirement that parking comes along with that development. However, there is a chicken and egg caveat. The city and county need to maintain a widespread commitment to transit in all forms, else you end up with west capitol hill, a destination for denizens from other parts of the city, but ill served by transit.

    1. Sure, but I take the other side of the chicken and the egg caveat. In the Roosevelt neighborhood, the entire neighborhood association is up in arms because developers want to put taller housing adjacent to the future North Link light rail stop. Those same people gladly welcomed light rail, but then don’t want to build the density to support it.

      The city and the county needs to maintain a widespread commitment to density, and then “reward” the communities that support density with light rail. If you commit to the light rail stop first, then the community will still fight the density later. Perhaps make it a package deal, but I believe that if you have density, transit will come. The higher the density, the most significant the transit it can support.

      Building transit first ends up with underused boondoggles like the Buffalo light rail.

  2. The parking regulations exist because, needed or not a large percentage of people will own cars. I think most residents will be in favor of the parking requirement tied to development because they know that more cars mean “their” on street parking will be in even shorter supply meaning long trips around the block looking for an open space and increasingly long walks from parking to the front door. Is the U-District currently one of the places where cars parked on the street must be moved every 24 hours? The last couple of times I was over at UW (last summer) there was a yellow ambulance parked on Montlake Blvd that looked like it was being used as a dorm room.

    Near the Ave there’s currently enough parking for restaurants and retail thanks to Joe Diamond but you can’t count on those “vacant” lots staying parking forever. It only makes sense that over time new development pay the price of absorbing the need for parking. Yes it ups the cost. That’s why desirable neighborhoods are more expensive.

    1. There’s only so much on-street parking. If it’s full all the time, people will learn their lesson and either move or sell their car.

    2. I don’t see how that’s an excuse at all. The good news is that things will change. But it’s requiring a lot of bi*ching along the way.

    3. Bernie’s right that probably the main motivation for having parking requirements is the preserving on-street parking for existing buildings that don’t have dedicated parking.

      Still, that isn’t a good excuse for height restrictions in neighborhoods full of tall buildings or low “floor area requirements” in Downtown Seattle.

    4. We’re in a really bad equilibrium here. In existing neighborhoods, everyone owns a car because there’s enough free parking and it’s hard to walk to most destinations. Meanwhile, that vested interest makes it hard to build the kind of buildings that would discourage car ownership and reliance on cars to get places.

      This makes me sympathetic to light rail lines that go through areas ripe for redevelopment (MLK, Bel-red), because it gives you the opportunity to break this cycle in a brownfield area.

    5. Not sure about Montlake Blvd, but in the main residential part of the U-District cars have to be moved every 24 hours.

      The problem with the “need for parking” argument is that the UW already disproves it. About 15 years ago they implemented an integrated project to reduce the number of student vehicles and SOV trips to campus. Today parking is expensive and inconvenient (plus $1140 a year buys a lot of zipcar hours). It’s one of the main reasons I sold my car when I moved up to Seattle. I don’t know if restaurants and retail track walk-ins vs parking, but I’m willing to bet $1140 a year that at least south of 45th it’s mainly foot traffic.

      1. Yes you can live in the U District and not own a car. But, there’s still a large percentage of people that do own cars and the street parking is maxed out. You bring in higher density and the parking goes from bad to worse which ticks off all the people that live there and play the shell game everyday with their cars. Maybe as gas prices rise and toll roads become the rule rather than the exception you’ll see fewer cars but until you can point to a bunch of empty on street parking don’t expect much softening on the parking requirements for new development. Even as people are driving less car ownership is increasing. I guess people like the idea of being able to hop in for a weekend jaunt to the mountains or to haul around large items but for whatever reason cars aren’t going away any time soon. Besides, a garage if it’s lockable private space is good for all kinds of things besides cars; sports equipment storage, refinishing furniture, tools, etc.

        It’s great that UW has taken steps to reduce the number of student cars. But the reason they did this is because there are already too damn many cars in the U-Dist. One thing they can do (well somebody could) is NOT build the Pacific Street interchange from SR 520. I’m pretty sure the Arboretum exits are going to disappear. I think it would be great if the Montlake exit was only accessible from the HOV lanes. They should also terminate most if not all of the bus routes across 520 at the Stadium Link station. There’s absolutely no reason that buses coming across 520 need to go downtown once Link is there. It would be a small step but in the right direction.

      2. You’re absolutely right–there are still too many cars–but you’re missing the point. There is no free street parking at all in the central U-District (south of 45th from campus to Roosevelt), but several ten thousands of people live and work there in a walkable neighborhood with easy access to transit and zipcars. I moved with a zipcar (Honda Element), and have headed out for a hike or camping many times.

        This would not work in most neighborhoods in the Seattle area, but the point of the post (and linked articles) is that it certainly does work in the urban core and we need to make room for that in zoning.

  3. You should know most modern planners like myself entering the field are working so, so hard to reduce or restrict parking where possible. It’s just so freaking difficult with a regressive populace and bone-head politicians.

    1. I’m not so much asking for the abolition of parking, but more for the freedom to construct buildings without dedicated parking.

      1. I suppose what I meant by restricting parking is in the sense of not allowing parking on the site, but via dedicated right-of-way for on-street parking.

      2. Maximum parking requirements might help to alleviate financing issues a developer not coupling a significant amount of parking would likely face. If the developer is just following the regulations rather than leaving out parking in hopes of attracting “hippies” without cars, they may be less likely to receive flack from investors and banks. Just speculating.

      3. Maximum parking requirements might help to alleviate financing issues a developer not coupling a significant amount of parking would likely face. If the developer is just following the regulations rather than leaving out parking in hopes of attracting “hippies” without cars, they may be less likely to receive flack from investors and banks. Just speculating.

        I completely disagree. Investors, banks, and developers have no problem whatsoever with leaving out parking. More housing without wasting space for parking is more profit for the builders and the banks. If people really need parking, they’ll just take it from elsewhere in the neighborhood and impose costs elsewhere.

        The people who have the problem are the neighbors, the neighborhood association, the stakeholders, the community. They don’t want it to become harder to park in their neighborhood, they don’t want their neighborhood transformed, they fear worse traffic, they fear crime with large apartment buildings where people don’t know each other, etc.

        I’m in favor of higher density. But realize that in this case the developers and banks and money would love to build higher density; it’s way more profitable to stuff more housing on the same land. It’s the community and the environmental regulations and the zoning and all the involvement of the stakeholders in the process and other things that progressives usually love that prevent higher density.

  4. Ok, let me enlighten everybody on a few simple truisms that shed light on this subject:

    1. Seattle DOES NOT HAVE THE POPULATION needed for high-density housing. There is not enough demand to even fill the existing housing market.

    2. There ARE NOT ENOUGH JOBS to support an influx of residents. There are only so many trustfunders. Many of them are going broke anyway, their trustfund decimated by the recession of greed.

    3. METRO IS BROKE! One thing people overlook when discussing deficits is that it is a fancy word for broke and in debt! There is no money for more service, and it is unfair to ask for somebody to lose their lifeline service so you have a seat instead of having to stand for your 20 minute bus ride to your job that pays 2x as much as it should.

    4. SEATTLE IS NOT A WALKABLE CITY! If you do not have some form of personal transportation, your options for basic living are limited. If you can find a place that’s less than 6 blocks from a grocery store, you’re probably ok to forego an automobile. Any farther, and unless you like carrying groceries on the bus (I must say it does make for cheap exercise), you will need a car.

    To be an effective planner with good karma, you have to balance idealistic attitudes with realistic goals. There is no easy way to form a utopia, and even in a utopia there will be dystopia.

    You have to offer parking near commercial businesses, otherwise the businesses will fail, and you’ll have vacant property.

    You can, however, remove parking space requirements from residential zones. The net effect of course would be a reduction in density. Have you noticed how many single-family dwellings in Seattle use on-street parking? Yes, some of that is from the property being developed before WW2, but a lot of it was to make maximum use of the property for habitation and recreation, not automobile storage.

      1. I’m inclined to agree with the comment if you think of “Seattle” as the whole metro area. However, the topic of the post is the U-District which is extremely dense in terms of both population and jobs (many students of course, but also UW staff and a lot of people who commute downtown or the eastside). The U-District is walkable and is one of very few places with good zipcar coverage. I’ve lived here without owning a car for five years and it’s really no problem.

        The point is, one size zoning does not fit all. The current system is broken for the few neighborhoods that are walkable (basically the Urban Centers minus Northgate). There is a small overlay lowering parking requirements for the immediate vicinity of the light rail stations, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Then you have to deal with underwriters, insurance providers, financiers, etc. who drove in to the office in Omaha and don’t like your numbers (even Paul Allen’s Vulcan got pushback according to a commenter at hugeasscity).

        Cars and parking are ingrained in American culture at this point. Maybe we’ll adjust in the next 30 years like the Danish did after the first oil crisis, or maybe we’ll just continue and spend an ever-increasing percentage of our income on transportation. Personally I feel very lucky to live somewhere with transportation choices.

    1. 1) How does that make sense? We have high density housing all over the city. (been to the u-district, belltown, capitol hill, lower queen anne?).

      2) That may have, you know, something to do with the recession and may not be a permanent condition. None of the people I know who have moved into Seattle in the last few years are “trustfunders”. Any you know what? So people who move into seattle don’t need jobs… they’re called retirees.

      3) This doesn’t have a lot to do with the post’s topic.

      4) Parts of Seattle are tremendously walkable. Come to the U-District, I’ll show you how to live a car-free life.

    2. If there’s no one to fill the current housing, then no new housing will get built and what’s the problem with what Andrew’s asking for?

    3. 1. Completely wrong. There are far more people that would like to live in Seattle, but can’t because of housing prices. Why are housing prices so high here compared to the suburbs? Demand.

      2. Also wrong. Most people commute in to the city for jobs from outside Seattle. Clearly we have more jobs than we do people.

      3. That’s an easy fix. Fund Metro. There is clearly enough demand for the service.

      4. True and False. It would certainly be tough to walk from Northgate to downtown, but within neighborhoods Seattle is very walkable. I rarely drive to get groceries (but then I’m less than 6 blocks from the grocery store). I don’t see an issue with bringing groceries on the bus. I think you’re thinking of suburban grocery shopping – 12 bags bought once a month loaded in the SUV. Here in the city we buy what we need for the next day or two, since the grocery store is so close. I rarely have more than one bag of groceries.

      Commercial businesses won’t fail without parking. Just suburban style businesses. The only four stores I can think of on Queen Anne with parking are Safeway, the Metropolitan (little parking, and the lot is usually empty), Bartells (very little parking, the lot is usually empty), and 7-11 (how did that end up here?). Yet the dozens of other businesses do fine. And that’s just Queen Anne. Capital Hill has far more density, far less parking, and far more businesses. Ditto the University district. Ditto downtown, pioneer’s square, and the International district.

      1. 1) Yes, there are more people that would live in Seattle if home prices were lower but by lower priced suburbs you’re talking maybe Kent or Lynwood. There’s an awful lot of people that choose to live in places like Bellevue, Mercer Island, Kirkland, etc. where home prices are higher than Seattle. New housing will always drive up the cost. Developers don’t make a living by putting up lower priced housing. You tear down one $350,000 house and put in four half million dollar condos. Sure Seattle mandates some “low income” housing but it still usually ends up being more expensive than what it replaced and the “upscale” factor drives up all the other existing housing.
        2) Definitely more jobs in Seattle than people. That’s why the reversible lanes on I-90 and I-5 “reverse”. More housing would certainly shorten commutes which is a good thing but Seattle is on a path to increase employment faster than housing. Why? Because it generates more tax revenue and has a much lower cost of service. Better schools would do more to bring families back into the city than better transit but that costs money. It’s much easier to permit gleaming new office towers and bring in white collar workers from the suburbs.

      2. Some of the reason the Eastside is expensive is for the same reason that Seattle is expensive: near jobs. Another part of the reason is quality of life and good schools.

      3. 1) You’re falling into a common logic trap with regard to the price of housing. Housing prices are high because there is more demand than supply. That’s it. Why are $350k houses bulldozed for four half million dollar condos? Because there’s a perceived demand for half million dollar condos. Build enough housing, and those half million dollar condos turn into quarter million dollar condos.

        Anyway, Brian’s claim was that there isn’t any demand for housing in Seattle, which is absurd.

      4. That’s essentially what has happened with the real estate bubble. But the drop in prices in King County has only been about 20% on the high end housing ($800k condos going for $600k and $5M homes sitting on the market for $4M). The drop on so call affordable housing has only been about 8-10%. Not much relief for the first time buyer when the prices doubled in the last 5-7 years. Nobody’s going to build enough housing that the prices are cut in half. They can’t get financing. That’s why the spigot has been turned off and the “condo” projects that were already in the works are being converted to apartments. All of that will help moderate increased home prices and rents for a few years but unless there’s a prolonged downturn in the local economy it’s not going to get any cheaper. If that does happen you won’t need more houses because people will be fleeing the region like they are the rust belt today.

      5. That’s essentially what has happened with the real estate bubble.

        The bubble is a problem of not building enough housing. So prices go up. Prices go up in Seattle, so they go up in the suburbs because people are comparing to what they’d pay in Seattle. But in the suburbs they let people build, so prices go down.

        Prices are still too high in Seattle. We need more building, and we need lower prices. But once you have inflated house prices, you build a political constituency of home owners who want to keep them high (understandably). It’s a hard problem to get rid of.

        Seattle’s high house prices are the result of years of zoning practices that keep density lower than it would be and force development to the suburbs.

    4. Oh, I forgot to tell you, if you dare to stray from group-think on this blog, you will be flamed. See below.

      1. No, if you make a contestable argument you will be debated. If you make a totally unsustainable argument, you will be refuted. That is all part the good process of communication.

        Flaming is making personal accusations against someone because they disagree with you. Kind of like what you are doing here.

      2. We do definitely have lively discussions but I don’t think we “flame”

    5. I live a few blocks from the lower QA (uptown) busines district. In the morning, you see cars driven off to work and then replaced by cars of people who work in the business district.
      The only hitch is when you get folks who use street parking for those extra cars that are rarely driven. This is where permit parking could be useful, if you limit the number of permits per unit.

    6. If you do not have some form of personal transportation, your options for basic living are limited. If you can find a place that’s less than 6 blocks from a grocery store, you’re probably ok to forego an automobile.

      That doesn’t explain why the Roosevelt neighborhood association is protesting building tall buildings directly beside the upcoming light rail station, though.

  5. There is this whole weird culture around parking that has to change. When I use the street parking in my neighborhood (legally), I get irate notes from my neighbors (single-family homes, mostly) for parking in front of their house. As if they own the street! In one sense, I wish the developer who built the townhouse I rent had omitted the parking it included; the aesthetics of the building would be much better without it and the whole place would be cooler in the summer if the living areas weren’t on the second and third floors. But if I had to park on the street in my neighborhood all the time, instead of just when I’m utilizing my garage for my latest painting or upholstery project, I’d go crazy from the harassment.

    1. I’ve seen that behavior in many parts of Seattle. Some people have this weird idea that the parking in front of their house is for them and their guests.

      There wasn’t much of that down in the CD and I haven’t seen much on my street in Maple Leaf. Perhaps because so many houses were built without off-street parking.

  6. For the record, you’re technically required to move your car every 72 hours everywhere in the city, with stricter limits in effect depending upon residential or business zone:

    And recent evidence seems to suggest that simply removing parking requirements will not necessarily lead to developers building without parking. Developers believe they will have more difficulty trying to rent/sell properties without parking.

    One solution is to encourage more shared parking in shared developments. For example, you build a six-story residential with one or two ground floors of grocery or drug store or the like and one to two underground floors of parking. Buyers pay less in exchange for restrictions on the private parking spaces that ensure some amount is available for use by customers during business hours. (I believe there’s a few places in Belltown doing this.)

    1. That’s what I mean by legally, moving it every three days. People still get mad. And of course, there’s another problem. When I have the move the car, I usually figure that since I’m driving it around the block anyways, I may as well run to the grocery store, when that’s a four-block trip I could easily walk.

      There’s something to be said about the ability to just leave your car somewhere safe until you need to visit Grandma in Duvall or whatever and not have to worry about it. Which is why the shared parking you mentioned worked for me. I lived for a while in a mixed use building with a parking garage and just left the car down there for weeks at a time.

      There’s not a huge downside to underground parking garages that I can see. They don’t take up any horizontal space, they don’t encourage sprawl the way parking lots do and they don’t diminish the walkability of a neighborhood the way the parking for townhomes does. Do they encourage car ownership? Some. But as I pointed out above, they also help people transition to using cars less. In 100 years if hardly anyone has a car, they might be empty, wasted spaces, but maybe the building could rent it out as storage or something.

  7. I think this economic disturbance shows that in the last 15 years, housing prices were determined by a whole host of factors having nothing to do with supply & demand.

    Regarding U-Dist, I used to live there as well, it is extremely walkable and its “periphery” amenities (such as Gas Works, the Burke-Gilman, easy jumping off points to downtown and the Eastside) are ridiculous. I’ve long felt that it is a woefully under-appreciated neighborhood.

    Having said that, I do hope they protect some of its existing housing stock; some of those old homes (North of 50th) are just incredible, and really give the neighborhood a nice feel. I do wish Schell had never put up that chain link fix around…oh I forget the name of that park, but anyway…

    1. // housing prices were determined by a whole host of factors having nothing to do with supply & demand// Absolutely false. A host of factors affected supply, and another set of factors influenced demand, but basic economic rules still apply: despite any other factor in a market if you offer more supply, prices go down; offer less supply, prices go up.

      1. If were that simple then the price of Picaso’s should have been going down as more and more people produce art in his style. You can’t have a high density and low prices. In fact the opposite is true. That’s why Seattle is cheaper than San Francisco and SF is cheaper than NY. Development is demand driven but the supply of land is fixed. So what happens is affordable housing gets pushed farther and farther outside the urban core where land prices are less and the high density housing gets built as the demand warrants.

        You’re confusing “want” with demand. Demand in a economic sense implies the ability to pay for it. I want and Alfa Romemo Competizione but I can’t afford one so I’m not creating any demand. Lots of people might want to live closer to downtown Seattle, or Bellevue but can’t afford it so they aren’t creating any demand. The only thing that will lower housing prices in Seattle is a drop in demand. That’s exactly what you’re seeing with the current economic situation. And guess what, no new construction! For an extreme example look to Detroit. Demand (ability to pay) has dried up and the city is rapidly becoming less dense.

      2. I don’t think that’s correct. NY is more expensive because there are more jobs (12 million on that little island of manhattan, about the size of bellevue, that’s 100x as many jobs, btw) than there are places to live (1.8 million live in manhattan).

        Calcutta on the other hand about an order of magnitude more dense than Hyderabad or Bangalore, but since the jobs are in Bangalore and Hyderabad, housing is much more expensive in those places.

        Here’s a simple thought exercise. Imagine if all of Seattle were covered with six-story apartment buildings but there were no new jobs. You’d have housing for about 3.5 million people instead of 600,000. Do you honestly believe that housing would be more expensive in that case? Most of those apartments would sit empty, and prices would be dirt cheap.

        Demand isn’t just “ability to pay”. Everyone in Bellevue and Kirkland has the “ability to pay” for a place in Seattle. Demand is both the willingness and the ability, not one or the other.

      3. The demand can come and go; witness Detroit. The developable area isn’t a supply that you can increase simply by running a second shift. Seattle won’t get covered with six story apartments because; land use restrictions prevent it and even if the city took a completely laissez-faire attitude developers wouldn’t overbuild to that extent. They will build when they can make money which almost always means “upscale” development in an area of high demand. It might be highrise condos in Belltown or mega mansions in Medina but the cost of housing in desirable neighborhoods always drifts upward with new development.

        Demand isn’t just “ability to pay”. Everyone in Bellevue and Kirkland has the “ability to pay” for a place in Seattle. Demand is both the willingness and the ability, not one or the other.

        Isn’t that what I said?

        In Bangalore they’ve developed an expedient way to help contain the astronomical rise in real estate prices; you’re simply shot if you don’t sell at the “negotiated” price.

      4. Even the “they will build when they can make money” thing isn’t necessarily true. Look at Seattle Housing Authority developments.

      5. Which proves that you lose “affordable” housing when development is left to market forces. There are good reasons why SHA exists but it’s not a free market supply and demand situation.

        However, senior living centers are one type of development which could probably get waivers to reduce parking requirements and be financially profitable. With the flower power generation starting to retire I bet there’s a lot of demand for such units in say the U-Dist. rather than the more traditional lower Queen Anne.

      6. Another thing. In the last 35 years in San Francisco, just 27,000 housing units were built. This was during several rounds of economic expansion. Housing is expensive in the city there because you can’t building anything: much of the city has a historical landmark designation.

        If there was twice as much housing, housing would be much cheaper. Don’t confuse the cause of density (the demand for housing near desirable locations) with the cause of the high prices (not enough housing near desirable places)

  8. Oh no, I’ve opened my own Pandora’s box, because I have very strong responses to some of the refutations.

    1. Compared to Philadelphia and New York City, Seattle has the density of a farming community. There are pockets of density near the UW, near West Seattle Junction, First Hill, Downtown, and Chinatown. Otherwise Seattle looks like a generic west coast car-centric city. I go to what I said about realistic and idealistic.

    2. Our unemployment rate isn’t in the domain of collapse yet, but Seattle has never really had a large base of brick and mortar businesses. If I look region-wide, which is reasonable because people commute from a pretty wide area, the large employers I can think of are… Public sector (government), Boeing (not so much anymore), Microsoft, Hutch and its spinoffs, and Amazon (though I think Paccar employs more locally). There’s a lot of venture capital churn as well, but that really just causes an amplified boom-bust cycle. So what I’m getting it is there just isn’t a wide enough base of high-paying jobs to support trend-density, and not enough jobs period to support forced density. Seattle would have to suddenly become a major industrial city for that to happen. Seattle just doesn’t have the right environment to draw companies here. I could keep writing about this all day and night and never get to #3, so I’ll stop here.

    3. Metro is broke and there’s no unused taxation authority remaining. ST has plenty of authority left, but they’re restricted to projects of regional significance, and can only build what they codify into law. Metro has a wider duty to serve the taxpayers of King County (which includes the town of Skykomish!). It is unwise and unfair (and political suicide for most of the county council) to take a disproportionate number of hours from the other parts of the county to provide an insignificant boost to a city route.

    Convince the legislature to enact an income tax, and we might get somewhere.

    4. Say you live in the vicinity of Green Lake, where all those new condos were built. Because Albertsons closed, you will now have to travel to Roosevelt or Wallingford to buy groceries.

    About the individual who says they can get with one grocery bag a week. Do you eat out a lot? I go grocery shopping 2x a week and have 3-4 bags each time.

    Brian Bradford
    Olympia, WA

    1. 4. I lived at 58th and 5th NE, just south of where you’re talking about (and farther from the Roosevelt QFC, incidentally) and did 95% of my grocery shopping on foot or bike. I’m an anecdote, and I know a lot of my neighbors drove to the store. But not all of them did — it’s not that hard to carry 2 bags of groceries 10 blocks.

      That said, I’m more interested in your point #2: Do you think there are other areas that do a much better job of creating/attracting businesses? It seems to me that once a business is more than about 50 people, it can’t move*, so at some level, the key to gaining population by jobs (vs. by attracting retirees a la Phoenix/Miami) is growing businesses from scratch. And Seattle actually seems pretty good at that — Washington State typically ranks highly on the “places to start a business” lists, and it seems like there’s a pretty healthy set of young businesses in the region (and not just in software and biotech: there’s food and beverage, apparel, renewable energy, etc.)

      * = Yeah, yeah, Boeing probably moved more than 50 people when it moved its headquarters, but you can argue that was really McDonnell Douglas taking over Boeing — Boeing’s actual production is still here and in Kansas, right? — and it was definitely an anomoly to see corporate headquarters move. Corporate headquarters are far more often lost via mergers (Airborne Express, Immunex) or collapse (WaMu) than actually moving.

      1. I’d also say that Seattle is rarely competing with NYC for jobs. Small towns and minor cities have been the losers, and there’s a pretty big pie to go around for all the first and second tier metro areas.

        I’m also curious about “industrial” jobs. Isn’t job growth coming from the knowledge economy?

    2. 1&2) You are confusing density with growth. The purpose of increasing density is not to increase growth, but to control the growth you have. Is new growth going to go into a newly-denser city, or to new suburbs created by paving over the wilderness? If Seattle will have no significant growth in the future as you imagine (a highly doubtful idea, but let’s assume it’s true), then the question is irrelevant because no one is going to build anything, dense or un-dense, if the demand isn’t there.

      3) So your solution to a (potential) shortage of transit to demand is to further encourage and subsidize car-transportation? This seems quite backwards. As commenters said above, create more funding for Metro.

      4) The more density, the more reason for new grocery stores to open up in a neighborhood. If you have a large number of car-free residents in the neighborhood, then the store has a lot of guaranteed customers.

    3. 1. I completely agree – overall we have a fairly sprawled, car based region. But your original point claimed that this means we can’t have dense housing. The two aren’t connected at all and you could successfully build dense, walkable areas in any sprawled city.

      2. Density is just a measure of how close you build homes and businesses. How many jobs or homes that exist is unrelated to how dense a city can become. I’d actually claim that they type of jobs here are much more conducive to a dense city – most require offices, not factory floors.

      3. I think you’re misinformed about where bus money is spent in this county. We have a terrible 20/40/40 rule that gives most of our new bus service to sprawled areas, resulting in mostly empty buses in the suburbs and crowded buses in the city. This is expensive and not terribly useful.

      1. “Density is just a measure of how close you build homes and businesses.” Sorry, after re-reading my comment this wasn’t very clear. I meant how close you build homes to each other. And how close you build businesses to each other. Not necessarily how close homes are to businesses.

      2. 1. Density and sprawl are intrinsically connected. One defeats the other. Yes, you can have both, but then what you have are pockets of density in sprawl. Such a condition is not desireable. A desireable condition is to have density period. The outlying areas are for agricultural production and recreation. Greed has shifted this to a dangerous extreme. Food costs more because it has to be transported farther.

        2. You can’t have density without jobs. Without jobs, you don’t have people to reside in the housing that has been built. People with common sense have a tendency to leave areas with high unemployment. Only those in which it is cheaper to stay than leave remain.

        3. I know all about 20 Seattle 40 S King 40 East King. I strongly support the concept. Those who bash it don’t understand its reason for existence. It is really based on population. Out of 2,500,000 people roughly, Seattle has 600,000 residents. 50 percent would be 1,250,000 25 percent would be 625,000. It is based on percentage of population. I would argue for perhaps making it closer to 25 Seattle, 40 S King, 35 E King.

        I don’t recall the precise actual service percentages, but I do know that Seattle currently gets more than 25 percent of the service provided.

        When I lived in the Tri-Cities (I kind of still do), their transit system provided service based on ridership rather than population. This results in Franklin County getting more service than it pays for. Not many people make a serious amount of noise about this because Kennewick and Richland get enough service to make most people happy. Kennewick and Richland are both expanding their urban boundaries and building new subdivisions (whyfor, I don’t know), so eventually people are going to demand more service, and BFT is going to have to look at how they provide service.

        Any who know a certain former employee of Community Transit who got hired at BFT can ask her what I’m referring to.

      3. You’ve got 3 all wrong.

        First, It’s not 20% “seattle”. It’s 20% North King, which is Seattle + Shoreline + Lake Forest Park. So it’s not 600,000 people, it’s 680,000.

        Second, the population of king county isn’t 2.5 million. It’s 1.87 million. Even less inside the growth boundary (area served by metro). So North King is actually more than 37% of the population, and even more than that of the Metro service area. It should at best be 37% North King, 31.5% South King and 31.5% East King.

      4. That would be better but still not all that good. What Brian said about ridership makes more sense. Bellevue barely has enough density to make public transit work. Therefore it’s share of service should be lower than it’s population base. Besides, most people in Bellevue (except for commuting and even that’s questionable) don’t want to ride the bus. They want other people to ride the bus so they’re not stuck in traffic. That’s not to say there aren’t transit needs that could be funded. Bellevue and the eastside is well suited to expansion of the van pool system for instance which recovers some 60% of the cost. Efficiency like that might bring the overall fare box recovery back up to a more reasonable 30% from it’s current 20% which would mean more service for everybody.

        It’s really pretty simple. Empty buses don’t do anybody any good.

    4. “About the individual who says they can get with one grocery bag a week. Do you eat out a lot? I go grocery shopping 2x a week and have 3-4 bags each time.”

      I rarely eat out, though I did say a bag every day or two – not just once a week. It’s nice to plan meals only a day ahead of time, and not have to worry about running out of ingredients because the grocery store’s only a few blocks away.

    5. 1) What I’m hearing is not so much that Seattle in general should encourage more density but that the areas you mention (in particular the U-Dist) are ripe for further development and that such development could/should/would decrease the percentage of car ownership. I don’t disagree with that idea. In fact I believe that it will happen and bring with it even higher housing prices. Overall these limited projects will have virtual no impact on the percentage of car ownership regionally but they can have a big impact on the local neighborhoods.

      People have brought up MLK and I think in time (the lines not even open yet folks and development everywhere has ground to a halt) this area will develop but at that point it will no long be a “poor” neighborhood. The idea you can have Belltown amenities and Rainer Valley prices just doesn’t work.

      2) The Seattle metro area has been very fortunate to diversify it’s economic base. One huge industry you left out was shipping. Container freight is huge and it’s not moving except between other west coast port cities. Fifty years ago Washington State was Boeing, aluminum smelters and wood products (mostly Weyerhaeuser). Microsoft jump started our high tech boom. UW and a few key spin-off companies establish Seattle as a medical and bio-tech player. PacCar is still big but “ain’t what they used to be”. The Puget Sound is still very much affected by a military presence; more so since our major facilities survived the last round of base closures (thank you CA congressmen & women). Along with these anchor industries we reach a critical mass which starts to attract other service and finance companies. We don’t see too good at regional banking (SeaFirst, WaMu) but we’ve done well with insurance. And while not a financial center, branch offices of all the major players create much of the employment in the downtown office spires. In short, Seattle is very much San Francisco’s younger sibling. By 2030 the Seattle Metro will resemble what the Bay area is today. 20 years ago the Mission District was an up and coming “working class” neighborhood.

      3) We’d do better with our limited tax dollars to follow the model of BART for regional rail than concentrating our money on a subway in Bellevue. Extending south to Federal Way and north to Lynwood would probably make more sense than cut and cover tunneling north of UW. Surface rail is going to work far better for Pill Hill than a single expensive underground station. There are probably other places this model makes sense (i.e. stop making Link try to be regional rail, a subway and a streetcar).

    6. Seattle is 1/3rd the density of NYC, no matter where you slice it. Their densest neighborhoods are 3x denser than our densest, their overall density is a little over 3x ours. The only thing they have that outstrips us is sheer volume of jobs in one place.

      It was a functional take-away that I grabbed from a friend in NYC who said, “for every person in Seattle on the street, triple them.”

      And outside of areas around subway stations, that works pretty well.

      1. It’s actually almost four times the density.
        Seattle: 7,029 pp sq mi
        New York City: 27,147 pp sq mi
        Manhattan is more than ten times as dense as Seattle:
        Manhattan: 71,201 pp sq mi

      2. Capitol Hill: 35,000 pp sq mi. Denser than NYC overall, 1/2 the density of Manhattan.

        This metro region as a whole may not be dense, but there are pockets of density that are well beyond what is needed to support a car-free lifestyle. And, btw, I do live within 6 blocks of a fully functioning grocery store, along with another 15,000 people on Capitol Hill. I also use zipcar once every two weeks to do shopping at Costco, so I have no trouble getting groceries or anything else for that matter without owning a car in this neighborhood.

  9. I’d love to see a study of the sum total of parking lost to curb cuts. It seems so silly to see townhouses with a one-car garage in each unit and a wide curb cut for each garage. The garages don’t actually add parking to the neighborhood — they just replace each on-street space with an off-street space.

    On another note: Don Shoup has all the answers on parking reform. If we slowly start charging market rates for on-street parking and dedicating revenues locally, we can politcally plausably re-institute the idea that cars pay rent like anyone else. Once parking a car in the neighborhood costs something, the idea that new neighbors = more cars is no longer as certain.

    1. You have a great point regarding curb cuts. All the more reason to have alleys.

  10. One critical point that is barely touched on in this discussion is the fact that developers can’t or have extreme difficultly in obtaining financing (in any economic climate) for construction without parking. I believe the rest of the discussion is moot if you don’t have the money to build.

    On another point, I find it curious that there is little to no discussion about why there is virtually no development along the MLK corridor. If anything, the bulk of the projects have dried up: Granted some of this is attributable to the economy.

    While some of the folks in posts say they will move to light rail convenient neighborhoods we haven’t seen much of an influx in the SE. One has to wonder about the lack of leadership among the City of Seattle, King County, Sound Transit…. to leverage the investment they made in light rail along this corridor. Having attended many of the neighborhood planning sessions along with 1490 meetings I can say that the only plan that there seems to be is to concentrate even more social services in the SE. While this strategy does promote more density along the corridor among individuals who don’t own automobiles it doesn’t make for a safe, diverse neighborhood, walkable neighborhood. Coupled with the ineffective response the city has in regard to crime and gangs in the area is it any wonder that developers are pulling out instead of flocking to the area?

    Along the same lines wouldn’t it have been magnificent if the city spent as much development effort on the MLK corridor as they did on South Lake Union? If light rail “fails” in the South End I believe that there may be many more difficulties ahead for the system as a whole.

    1. Well, Dan covered it a couple weeks ago at hugeasscity: T Sans D. The few developments actually are SeattleHousing (SHA). It’s not an Urban Center, though, so you are correct that MLK is not getting the level of planning as SLU or Northgate.

      As for private developers, there are a lot of reasons they’d would wait, including the current low rents.

    2. I have a habit of not repeating myself if I can help it.

      I mentioned the lack of growth in the MLK corridor as a reason for claiming Central Link will be lucky to get 18k passengers/day by 2010.

  11. Re: Car less in Seattle.

    I lived in Seattle for a number of years (Cap hill, U district) and yes, you can be carless and walk for the basics, bus for work.

    What you can’t do is take advantage of the other things that make living in this area great. I have yet to see anyone with a bicycle towing a rowboat or canoe down to the lake. I can’t afford waterfront or even water access property. If Seattle put in more hand launches at all the street ends, maybe it would be possible. But it would still be very limiting, as you’d only ever use the area right next to where you live.

    Second, I have yet to see a reliable bus to the Pass for skiing. Yes there are a couple of midweek buses, but most involve driving to where the bus will pick you and your ski gear up for the ride up to the pass.

    When I first was here, I didn’t have a car but I managed to borrow one, or hitch a ride to do Mt. Climbing. Yes they carpool to the trail head but it’s someone’s car if not my own.

    Then I took up sailing, tell me how to get from Cap hill to Shilshole at 8am on Sunday morning via Metro with 40lbs of gear. I was just crew but it’s not a regular route. Nope, doesn’t really work.

    So if you live and only read, go to movies, shop or do any of the things that anyone living in Ohio could do, sure, toss the car. But for me, even with a bicycle which I use for commuting (17 miles each way) 4 or 5 days a week. A car totally adds to my quality of life.

    Oh rent one? Yeah, I did that on my last trip, $360 for the week. Doesn’t take too many of those to make it worthwhile to own one.

    1. This was one of my misconceptions about renting at first. For me we go camping a couple times a summer, over to friends houses for birthday parties and the like. It adds up to around $2000 a year of zipcar (and traditional car rentals when visiting family elsewhere in the country–not drivable). AAA’s 2008 small sedan cost is $6320. Even if you’ve got an older car like the 1987 Subaru GL I used to have, you’d be lucky to get by on much less than $2000 a year, plus you’d have all the maintenance headaches.

  12. As much as I would love parking-free development, I read in the Times that even if the city had reduced or had no parking requirements for developments near light rail or transit, the developers still add parking anyway – because their financers or banks require it.

  13. Actually, parking is not required for new buildings in Urban Centers or light rail station areas. (see SMC 23.54.015.B.2) This currently just applies for Commercial zones, but City Council is reviewing legislation that would allow that to include residential zones. That being said, I do agree with a lot of the points made here: developers will often provide parking even if it isn’t required; we need better transit service to really make this work; and that the City’s policies could be more progressive (e.g. parking maximums). It’s a sticky issue, but one where it helps to be informed about what the City’s actual regulations.

  14. One approach that has been used for parking in condo developments is to make parking spaces seprately titled from living units.

    The developer still gets financing, because the project as a whole has the parking spaces the finance company wants to see, but those parking spaces aren’t thrown in as “free” with each unit. Unit owners who want parking have the choice to buy a parking space. Unit owners who don’t want parking have the choice to save the cost of a parking space.

    After the initial unit sales, the association can choose whether to sell remaining parking spaces to non-unit-owners or keep title to them and rent parking by the month to non-unit-owners. (Usually not hourly parking — monthly parking rental is more compatible with secured parking garages.) If the association decides to sell off excess spaces, neighbors without off-street parking in their own buildings are often among the buyers.

    When a unit owner decides to sell their unit, any parking space they have can be sold with the unit, or it can be sold separately. If they’re sold together, the new unit owner still has the choice to sell the parking space if they don’t want it. If the association doesn’t sell spaces to outsiders, then the excess space can be sold back to the association, or auctioned to other unit owners.

    All of that allows a development to have “enough” parking spaces for financing requirements while still exposing unit owners to the cost of parking separately from the cost of housing.

    FWIW, this system can also work in lower-density developments, like garden-style townhouse condos, where on-site surface parking can be a huge part of the total land cost of the development.

    Finally, it doesn’t take much cost to influence parking choices. I park at a commuter near the Auburn Sounder station for $20/month. Many people will spend time and gas every day finding free on-street parking further away from the train station, rather than buying a monthly parking pass. Personally, I look at the stress reduction of having guaranteed parking and a fixed time to get to the platform, and I’d sooner give up my morning coffee if I really needed to save $20/month.

    1. That and charging (by permit) for on street parking makes a lot of sense. I’ve never understood the rational for free on street parking and then complaining about too many cars.

  15. Yesterday I took a walk through the Rainier Valley focusing on Alaska and Othello streets, the ones connecting the stations to Rainier Avenue. The thing I notice is that the Columbia City station is pretty far outside Columbia City. It’s a six minute walk downhill to the library, with nothing in between (except single-family houses, unkempt lawns, a blind institute, and I think one apartment building). I thought Sound Transit was going to put “pedestrian amenities” on Alaska Street to connect the station to the neighborhood, but I didn’t see one amenity. It gives the feeling of walking through a no-man’s-land. Maybe it will be well-traveled anyway given the high transit use in the Valley. But it’s a significant minus.

    Othello is the same way, but that doesn’t bother me as much because that area has never had much there anyway. (Or to put it a more positive way, Othello has yet to assert its identity.) Othello from Rainier to MLK is all single-family homes, but the terrain is more wide and open so it’s more pleasant to walk, and there’s a large grassy park near the station. Three corners around the station have unbuilt condo projects (350 units each in two of them, and the third looks around the same size, so potentially 1000+ people when they’re built). Two of the condo lots are empty; one has an existing apartment building that’s still renting. The fourth corner is a Safeway. Behind one lot is the New Holly townhouses. So that all could conceivably become an Othello City someday. It will be kind of difficult to connect Othello-MLK to Othello-Rainer because the intervening houses really look like they belong there, so I guess they’ll have to evolve as two separate villages.

    All this points to the important role of the Alaska & Othello bus to connect these areas. Elderly people can’t walk five minutes uphill, and most people don’t want to walk through no-man’s-lands, so a frequent circulator would make a big difference in terms of making the stations more useful. The Othello – Seward Park – Alaska – West Seattle bus that was axed would have been excellent. I home Metro’s long-term finances don’t stay so bad that they can’t put it on someday.

    As for the 30 empty storefronts on Rainier mentioned in one of the newspaper articles, I don’t think you can blame that on the train. The ones on MLK, yes. But MLK is too far from Rainier to have much of a direct effect, unless you say that all those former customers used to drive down from Beacon Hill and now don’t because it’s so hard to cross MLK, but that’s kind of ridiculous because there aren’t that many people living up there anyway, and those that do can take the 3+ major cross-streets that still go through.

    1. It’s Edmunds St that’s supposed to get the makeover, not Alaska. It’s no great shakes but it’s a level street and has some nice street lights.

      The Othello-Seward Park-Alaska part of the route is still there, as the 39. The West Seattle part is gone, but that’s irrelevant to your point.

      1. Edmunds, thanks. I must have known that and forgotten.

        The 39 is there, but with 45-minute frequencies it’s almost as bad as not having a bus at all. It reminds me of growing up in Bellevue in the 80s when the bus came once an hour, so if you missed it you had an hour to way, and you couldn’t do things spontaneously without it taking a long time to get into town. So you either waited, took another route (which may be the 7 in this case), drove, or didn’t go at all. If a lot of people don’t go at all, it means they’re not working or shopping or attending get-togethers, which is a loss to the entire economy and to the social dynamism of the city. And non-residents who unexpectedly find themselves in the area, who don’t happen to keep that route’s schedule in their pocket, don’t know what time the bus arrives till they get to the stop, at which point their options for making the waiting time useful are limited. (Note to Metro: there are four #106 stops in a row on Othello, none of them with schedules.)

        I remember the first time I visited a friend on the top of Queen Anne in high school, being amazed that the 2 ran every 30 minutes (20 minutes midday), and was electric too. That seemed like the top of the world. Along with the fact that you could walk all over Queen Anne, and there were businesses every few blocks to go to, and if you had other friends there you could walk to their houses too and round several people up. But now that I’ve lived some more years and seen several transit systems, I’ve come to the conclusion that 15 minutes is really the minimum reasonable frequency to make a city well-functioning. 30 minutes, at least it’s something. Not good if you get off a train that comes every 10 minutes and then have to wait 30 minutes for a bus. 45 minutes, hmm, need some more funding….

      2. The West Seattle part is irrelevant to the immediate point, true. But Rainier Valley and Beacon Hill are kind of one-ended. There’s no place to go except downtown (and secondarily to the U-district). The train will open up the south end a bit. But south Seattle and west Seattle are really disconnected from each other because of the hills and the lack of crosstown transit. Whereas in north Seattle you don’t have to do much more than fall down and you’re somewhere on 45th or 85th or 105th, if not downtown or in Snohomish County. The same could be true in south Seattle too, look at how popular the 8 and 75 have been.

      3. My childhood was very different (Capitol Hill and later Wallingford in the 90s). I would just walk to the bus stop and a bus would show up. I remember thinking *I should have checked a schedule before leaving* a couple of times, but those were usually the routes it wouldn’t have mattered aka the old 43 which later split into the 43 and the 44, the old 7 which split into the 7 and the 49 and the ever infamous – but never split – 48.

  16. In fifteen years that development will be walking distance to two light rail stations. How many of the residents will need cars…?

    I live in the U-District and would find it difficult to live without a car. I only use it a few times a month, but those few times I use are necessary. Just this past weekend I had to bring items to a BBQ. It would have been impossible by foot or transit. Other times I need to get places transit doesn’t go, or get there at times that transit doesn’t run.

    But don’t think I’m anti-transit. I moved here in order to limit my driving. I walk to school, and use transit or walking for almost all errands.

    1. You sound exactly like the sort of person car-sharing services like zipcars were designed for: people who need cars only occasionally.

      1. I looked into Zipcar. Owning my car is cheaper than Zipcar, even if I throw out their stupid comparison. The major problem is that even if I only need to use the car for say, two hours, I still need to pay for the duration that I have it. An all day trip could cost more than $60. Here’s their (monthly) comparison:

        Car payment (including depreciation): $283
        Finance charges: $62
        Insurance: $80
        Gas: $78
        License, registration, taxes: $45
        Maintenance and tires: $46
        Parking: $175

        My real monthly totals:
        Car payment: $0
        Depretation: negligible
        Finance charges: N/A
        Insurance: Don’t remember the exact amount, but slightly less than their quote
        Gas: $30 if I’m lucky
        License/registration: Whatever tabs cost for the current year
        Maintenance/tires: $10 maybe
        Parking: $0

        Their comparison assumes that I’m still paying off my car and that it costs me to park it. My car gets good mileage and due to its low odometer reading depreciates less than 10% a year. Since I drive it only a few times a month, I don’t need to change the tires very often. An oil change every few months is whatever the local parts store is charging for a quart.
        Plus the annual fee effectively cancels out the money spent on tabs.

      2. Zipcar wasn’t a real deal for me either. I end up renting from a traditional rental car company (Budget, Enterprise, etc), truck place (Budget, U-Haul) or taking a taxi if I don’t need to haul much and don’t need a vehicle for all-day or longer.

    2. Just this past weekend I had to bring items to a BBQ.

      Personally I would have just taken a taxi or rented a car for a day or two. Zipcar is also an option but their program just doesn’t make sense for me. In any case even with cab fare and car rental costs I figure I come out ahead on owning a car I would rarely drive.

      Besides with car rentals I can rent according to my needs and I get a reliable well-maintained vehicle for when I need to make a long road trip.

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