Seattle Transit Communities

Tonight the Seattle Planning Commission is having a release event for their “Seattle Transit Communities” report, which from my understanding has been in the works for the last few years. The event is at 5:30 at Pyramid Alehouse (1201 First Avenue S) accross the street from Safeco Field. While I haven’t seen the document yet the Washington State APA newsletter has a short blurb about it (1/3 way down) and it appears Dan Bertolet has. More after the jump.

My favorite part of the Seattle Planning Commission’s new report is its title: Seattle Transit Communities. Good on them for having the sense to jettison the clunky word “oriented” from the more commonly used planning term “transit-oriented communities.”

But yes, the report has a lot more than that to offer in terms of wholesome plannery goodness. In brief, the report identifies 41 transit community sites in Seattle (mapped above), outlines funding and implementation strategies, and finally, makes recommendations, including those for several specific transit community locations. Overall, the report is a much-needed synthesis of the opportunities and challenges (and a nice companion piece to this).

The Seattle Transit Communities (STC) report defines a transit community as a place in which “people can walk, bike, or take transit from their homes to accomplish many of their daily activities including getting to work or school, picking up groceries, or going out to a restaurant or a special event.”

What strikes me about this definition is that it avoids any mention of density, which is the most fundamental ingredient of communities with reduced car-dependence. Without sufficient density, transit cannot operate efficiently, and travel distances become to great for walking. Yet the STC report seems to tiptoe around the subject throughout.

Go here to read his whole post or attend the event. I’m excited to read the report but honestly I have to say we already know what Seattle needs to do, and we know Seattle isn’t doing it nearly fast enough or to the degree necessary.

34 Replies to “Seattle Transit Communities”

  1. Adam – your concluding remark is exactly the point the Seattle Planning Commission is addressing in the Seattle Transit Communities report. The Commission’s intent is to help focus all the good ideas out there to take advantage of the transit service we already have.

    Also, while residential density is important in some – not all – transit communities, the focus of the report it not to find ways to build high density residential and employment centers for the sake of improving transit ridership. Instead the focus is to direct investments in planning and infrastructure, along with strategic increases in density, to create communities at locations where transit service is already available or is coming soon. This, for the sake of people who live and work in the area who deserve a little breathing room and the abiity to get to and from transit easily.

    1. That is really good to hear. I hope this report will catalyze more action around station areas. Seattle has really missed the boat as of yet. Action is what is necessary and that is something we haven’t really seen. Look at what is happening in SLU. Seattle can do it, it just has to move from talk to action.

    2. All these areas are former streetcar suburbs (except maybe Northgate/Lake City), and they haven’t become less dense since then. The only thing they’ve lost is some neighborhood commercial centers (which have become fully residential). Low density is a problem if you’re talking about 164th in Bellevue, but not in these neighborhoods.

      1. Well, back when they were streetcar suvurbs, everyone took the streetcar every day. But now, most people drive, so in order to get an adequate constituency for stellar transit service, we need to increase the neighborhoods’ densities, and least in their commercial centers. Also, Seattle is growing, no way around that, so we want to focus that growth into density in these communities.

      2. (presses like button for the [alex] comment)

        Something to add is that Seattle is growing far more slowly than WA as a whole, so we have a whole lot of work to do not to make our entire region sprawlsville.

  2. The majority of the “transit communities” seem to be defined by rail lines plus Rapid Ride Lines. So, a big question: what is going to happen along the blue lines–the travel corridors–on the map? And will there be more blue lines? (Note that the north end has only one east-west blue line!) Whatever the density of the individual communities, people are still going to need to travel.

    I’ll be interested to see how mobility and accessibility will be addressed. I assume that Magnolia, Laurelhurst, Leschi, Fauntleroy and Seward Park will still be condidered mostly auto-dependent, but how can neighborhoods along the blue line corridors be better served by transit?

    1. I was surprised at no east-west lines north of 45th. But it’s a starting point, and can be expanded later.

      1. Metro 48 travels frequently from Crown Hill (actually Loyal Heights) through Roosevelt all the way down to Mt. Baker. It directly serves the (future) Roosevelt, Brooklyn, UW (aka Husky Stadium) and existing Mt. Baker Link stations. It’s also the highest ridership single route in the system today, only partly because of its length. It seems odd that the map is missing that line. Does that mean anything?

      2. Agreed, a east-west line is missing for the north half of the 48’s route; should connect Roosevelt to Crown Hill via N. Green Lake and Greenwood.

        As J.D. Says, highest ridership route in the system, and decent 15 min headways.

    2. I like the suggestion I saw elsewhere which is to make the E/W portion of the 48 from Loyal Heights all the way to 15th NE part of a larger E/W cross city route with the portion of the 71’s route E of 15th NE added on. Combine the N/S part of the 48 with either the 73/347 to Montlake Terrace P&R or along the route of the 243 up Montlake/25th NE to Lake City.

      1. I like the 48/71 east-west route. The 48/73/347 route sounds too long. Montlake is a bottleneck that throws buses off schedule, and I’m not optimistic that the 520 changes will improve this. The effects of the bottleneck get magnified the longer the line is; that’s why the current 48 needs to be split. The 48 should go from UW to Rainier Beach (and the 8 truncated at Mt Baker), and the 73/347 can go from UW to Mountlake Terrace. (But should 5th Avenue detour be straightened or given to another route?).

  3. For a moment I looked at this and thought it was a projected new streetcar or light rail line by ST or possibly a drawing by Oran.

  4. While I’m all for increased density in transit-oriented community centers, sometimes I think we dwell too much on the topic, to the point of scaring the shit out of too many single-family neighborhoods.

    Density can’t be wished into existence by merely waving the magic wand of zoning. The demand has to be there. Market conditions have to cooperate. Financing has to be available. Or you have to depend on taxpayer subsidies targeted for low-income people.

    And the higher density structures have to look good, and sadly, most of them don’t — even the ones that have gone through Design Review. Too many licensed architects out there got C’s in their design classes, and sometimes I think most of them went to work on projects in Seattle neighborhoods. Since they don’t command the highest fees, no doubt they attract low-end developers looking to build on the cheap.

    1. The demand is almost always there in the city. Basically, if there’s demand for tract housing in Sammamish, there’s demand for high density in the city, if the zoning allows it.

      1. Read my whole post, Ben. Demand may be there in the abstract but that’s meaningless if the building won’t rent (or sell) at the level necessary for developers to make a profit. Zoning alone is no magic wand that will wish development into existence.

      2. [Trans] I could buy your argument if there was a $10k or $20k difference in the price of a 1-bd condo in Seattle vs. Sammamish, but we’re talking an order of magnitude higher than that. There’s a huge demand for housing, and we’re built up to the limit in most areas. Check out my graph here to see how artificially constrained Seattle is. Want to see new density? Double the height limit in our urban villages, and widen them by a block in each direction.

      3. A 1 Bedroom condo in Sammamish is $130-170k; Seattle $105-650k. You could spend $2.5 million on a 1 bedroom condo in Seattle (with more square feet than many 3 bedroom homes… or you could buy a waterfront home in Magnolia for that! How about a nice 1 br, 1 bath on lower Queen Anne for $155k. Clearly, zoning isn’t limiting anybody’s choice regarding living in Seattle. Now, add on the price of private school to match the quality of education you get at any of the eastside public schools, higher cost of auto and home insurance because of higher crime, higher property taxes to support… um, what? and yeah, it’s more expensive to live in the City. Psst, offer $2.1M on that place at the Four Seasons right around December 5th and I bet you get it :=

    2. You can see the demand in the higher housing prices around transit nodes. The problem is that the supply of higher-density housing has not kept up the with demand for thirty years, due to restrictive zoning laws, risk-adverse financiers, and NIMBYs and Kemper Freemans. We’ve got a few decades of building before we saturate the demand for higher-density, transit-oriented living environments.

  5. This map is pretty bad. There should certainly be an edge connecting Broadway with the University District (that is the 49) and one connecting the University District with North Greenlake and on to Greenwood (the 48). Do the people who put this together no know about two of the highest ridership routes in the system? Or are they planning to cut those?

    1. It’s not really supposed to be a map, but rather a graphic that represents the connectivity between the places the Planning Commission has defined as “Transit Communities”. The body of the report has more details about the actual transit connections.

    1. The Report covers many solid principles and goals for urban development. Planning in Seattle has a history of not getting very far past the theoretical stages and getting bogged down in the famous “seattle process”. One of the key components to success will be transit funding and the question of how the allocation of transit hours to the “transit communities” will affect service in the non-transit communities. Will service to Magnolia and the top of Queen Anne be cut to feed Othello and Northgate?

      The commercial real estate market is currently in a free-fall and it may be a couple of years before all the problems are straightened out. But that may be a good thing if it allows local–rather than national–developers to get the development rights for the biggest projects in the transit communities. The big, national developers tend to streamline the design process and look to national chains to fill the buildings. We don’t want generic architecture full of national chains in our transit communities. We want unique buildings and businesses that keep people in their neighborhoods.

      I wish that the report had done a better job of talking about integrating schools into the neighborhoods. As anyone with kids knows, school activities create a lot of transportation logistical planning. It seems strange that there wasn’t much coordination with the Seattle School District in integrating schools into the communities.

  6. For starters: What does Denny represent on this map? Denny Triangle? The map shows Denny on a line from Westlake to SLU, which is the streetcar route, so I assume Denny then means the general vicinity of Denny/Westlake, which could be seen as the north end of downtown proper.

    Next: What’s the diagonal line from University District to Denny supposed to depict? I’ve never heard anyone suggest a transit concept that would connect that area with the University District, without going through SLU. This map seems odd to me.

  7. I like the ideas in the report for Broadview, where I live. Especially the part about improving regional connections to Northgate, NSCC, etc. and improving pedestrian access. The lack of sidewalks along Aurora in that area makes it very scary for pedestrians. I’m also a big fan of rezoning now so that when the economy stops being so ridiculously bad, we’ll be ready.

    I see Wedgwood (along 35th, between about 72nd & 87th) as a potential future transit community. There has been a lot of pedestrian-friendly commercial development in that area in the last 10 years. I grew up in that neighborhood and it wasn’t nearly as charming or pedestrian-friendly back then.

  8. Just to reiterate, the map shows existing and promised frequent-transit connections. The task force is focusing on improvements to strengthen these routes, not on where additional frequent routes would be desirable. For some reason the north part of the 48 fell below their threshold.

    1. I think the issue for many of us is that we’re not convinced that they did a very thorough job of understanding today’s transit network.

      There’s the fact that they left out routes. The 8, 48 and 49 are three of the most frequent and most well-used routes in the system, but significant portions of all three routes are missing from the graph.

      And they left out whole neighborhoods: Upper Queen Anne and Wallingford are officially-designated “residential urban villages” — aka orange dots — and they both have super-frequent transit service on lines that are already included on the map, but they are nowhere to be found. Hell, they left out Ravenna, which is officially part of the University District “urban center”. Surely it qualifies for at least an orange dot.

      And some of the connections/neighborhoods they did include are misleading. Where is that “Fremont” dot? If we assume that it’s 34th and Fremont Ave, then how come they left out the other part of the 30, and what is the connection between Fremont and Ballard? The 46? But if you look closely, you realize that most of the dots and lines are (roughly) geographically accurate, so “Fremont” probably means somewhere like 46th and Aurora — maybe good enough for an orange dot, but hardly what anyone would consider a “mixed use center”. (I can’t tell whether they left out Bitter Lake Village and North Rainier — it seems like they may be included as Broadview/Oaktree and Mt. Baker, respectively, but I don’t know the areas well enough to confirm.)

      But wait, it gets better. If you look on page 15 of the report, they have a map of “transit connections and frequent transit service”. According to this map, the 5 uses the Fremont Bridge, and then takes Fremont Ave from 34th all the way to 50th. Also, there is apparently a route with sub-15 minute headways, that *currently exists*, which goes between Aurora and 15th Ave NE via Green Lake Way and 50th St. There’s a route connecting Fremont and Ballard via Leary, and a route connecting Fremont and the U-District via 34th/Pacific. The 10 continues north to Broadway via Boston St, and south to Yesler via 14th Ave (!). And those are just inconsistencies on parts of town I know very well… I’m sure there are tons more issues like these if you know where to look.

      The only map I’ve been able to find that looks anything like this one is the UVTN “Future Service” map. These are routes that will have sub-15 minute headways… *in 2030*. It also appears not to have been updated in a long time, since I don’t think anyone today would seriously propose routing a bus down 14th instead of 12th.

      With that, here are the questions I have for the authors, in case any of them are reading.

      – If this report was supposed to summarize today’s transit service, then how come it contains maps of future service (that are not labeled as such)?

      – What were your criteria for deciding whether or not to include a neighborhood and/or a connection? Soft descriptions aren’t useful; I want to hear something like “at least 10 buses an hour”. (Of course, it has to be less than that, or else North Greenwood wouldn’t be on the list, but I’m sure that you had some kind of criteria.)

      – Why did you invent new neighborhood names and classifications, rather than using the existing classifications, i.e. “urban centers”, “hub urban villages”, “residential urban villages”, and “manufacturing and industrial centers”? I don’t think you were wrong for coming up with a new classification scheme — indeed, that may have been the whole point of the report — but it would have been nice for you to at least include a justification for why you’re doing things differently. This would be especially interesting for the hub urban villages, which you seem to have split between mixed use centers and neighborhoods.

    2. I haven’t read the report yet so I’ll reserve comment on that. But I attended the presentation and they seem to be asking the right questions re improving station areas (“station” in the broad sense of any major stop) and where local crosswise buses are missing.

      I was surprised that “Broadview” is shown north of Oak Tree. I thought Broadview was 3rd Ave NW, and Aurora north of Oak Tree was Bitter Lake.

      1. I think by Broadview they mean the area at Linden and 130th, which is included in the Broadview Community Council’s area. But I think you’re right that Bitter Lake is probably a more apt name for what they’re talking about.

      2. For what it’s worth, I emailed the planning committee about the frequent service map in the report, and haven’t heard any response. Unsurprising, but disappointing.

  9. I got very giddy at the idea of a pedestrian bridge over I-5 from the Northgate TC to NSCC. I live north of NSCC and it’s a tedious bus connection on the 5/75(school bus)/345/346 to get to the 41 downtown. (Putting the 316 in the tunnel improved that trip downtown tremendously.) This neighborhood is so cut off from Northgate I often don’t say I live there even though I am still in their planning zone circle. Granted by the time the light rail is up here and there’s a pedestrian bridge I’ll be long gone from my meager 1 bedroom apartment.

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