DC Streets Blog recently asked the question: Can Transit Expansion Produce Sprawl Like Highways Do? The question was also brought up years ago during Roads and Transit debate on the original Sound Transit expansion plan. More recently, the Obama Administration’s High Speed Rail plans have brought the question along with them, this time as to whether high speed rail would cause sprawl.

Can rail cause sprawl? Answer below the fold.

The Tama River in the 19th century as seen by Hiroshige

First, I think it’s worth defining what “sprawl” is exactly. There are two main connotations to the word. The first images that comes to mind are far-flung environments far from the center-city, and the second are car-oriented, low density developments.

Transit can certainly cause – or be the cause of – the first sort of “sprawl”. In Japan’s post-war boom, many heavy-rail transit lines were built through what had previously been farmlands around major cities. Areas such as the Tama New Town were communities planned by the government around transit lines to ensure that new communities had enough infrastructure to become economically sustainable. The line I lived on in Japan was built the same way in the 1950s.

Transit-enabled sprawl has also taken place in America. The streetcar suburbs, while much closer than modern suburbs, were some of the first suburban developments enabled by motorized transport. While streetcar suburbs are generally less dense than center-cities, most streetcar suburbs that remain are more dense than the surrounding areas. In Seattle, Ballard, Fremont, the University District, Ravenna and Columbia City originally developed as streetcar suburbs. This paper by University of Washington student Clay H. Veka is a good introduction to the subject for those curious.

View of Tama River from Futako-tamagawa Station Platform
The view from Tama river today, photo by flickr user ykanazawa

Most of these places built around transit wouldn’t necessarily be thought of as sprawl today. None of the original streetcar suburbs come to mind when thinking about sprawl, and in fact most were built with a quite a bit more density – to say the least – than modern greenfield developments are built. Generally these areas were built with walking in mind as the streetcar commuters were transit dependent. The same holds true for the heavy rail example: forty-five years later, Tama New Town has a population of over 200,000 in an area barely larger than ten square miles, meaning it’s a bit more dense than San Francisco.

Today’s commuter isn’t as transit dependent as those in yesteryear, and modern America isn’t as space constrained as Japan was in the middle of the 20th century. This means the process is not at all fool-proof. As the Streets Blog post notes it is possible to create the second kind of sprawl with bad planning around station areas:

Portland-area Congressman Earl Blumenauer said transit-oriented development can create walkable, livable communities, but “building nothing but a park-n-ride outside the station will create sprawl.”

Every transit line has some stations that fail this test – stations that are anchored in an ocean of parking, with no other services nearby. If there are no residential or commercial opportunities within walking distance of the station, no one will ever walk there. In these cases, transit is an engine for auto-oriented sprawl.

It’s worth noting that not all development that starts low-density or far flung remains that way forever. As these maps of Manhattan show, in the early 19th century, the Upper East Side – now the most residentially dense neighborhood in the country – was a low-density exurban environment. The Seattle Times mentions that in Victorian times even First Hill was sprawl.

Still, it’s obvious that land use planning is key. Again from Streets Blog:

…[W]ell-planned station area development [is] key. It doesn’t just make for nice, semi-urban enclaves – it channels outward development along compact corridors, says APTA President Bill Millar.

“We have a long, long history in the country of building compact towns around railroad stations,” Millar said. “We know that the value of land goes up around stations and intensity of development goes up around stations and that’s anti-sprawl.”

It’s unlikely that any rail transport – including high speed rail – built in our area will cause sprawl of either sort. None of the plans for light rail expansion, streetcars or high speed rail include stations in greenfield areas like the streetcar suburbs or the post-war Japanese boom, thus the first sort of sprawl is ruled out. As for the second sort, even with bad planning in areas around stations, these places are already either urban, standard suburban or low-density sprawl, so it’s difficult to imagine station areas becoming less dense after the introduction of transit.

With population increasing and household size shrinking we are going to need a lot more housing to to accommodate everyone in the future. It would be logistically, economically and politically impossible to pack all those people into our current urban centers. The best way to manage population growth is to follow the pattern of places like Bellevue and Northgate and create new urban centers outside of the center city. This of course means more people living in places that are farther away from what’s currently dense development, but it won’t necessarily be what most people think of when they hear the word “sprawl”.

70 Replies to “Can Rail Cause Sprawl?”

  1. The thing about rail transit is that it is very linear with stops along the line, so with future development, you should get clusters of density. By contrast, auto-oriented development is linear along a freeway, highway or arterial but cars then get off that line and spread out over the local roads to get to their final destination. As a result the car-oriented development can spread out a lot more. In the case of limited access highways, there may be nodes of development around the exits, but the need for parking and access roads spreads things out and makes them pedestrian unfriendly.

    The way that we’re building rail around here should lead to densification of areas around the stations and improvements in pedestrian access. Some stations are going to need park and rides, but those will also allow for more concentrated development, while still taking advantage of the auto and bus transit infrastucture we’ve already built. Some commenters here decry the cost of structured parking, but it allows a more compact provision of parking than surface lots, and can be combined with TOD.

  2. Well, to play devil’s advocate here I can “imagine station areas becoming less dense after the introduction of transit.” Plenty of small towns have torn down their historic downtowns to make room for parking lots, so why not for a rail park-and-ride too?

    I hope it won’t happen, but I can imagine such around a high-speed rail station in someplace like Stanwood to enable commuting. And as this post notes big park-and-rides can enable greenfield sprawl.

  3. What is it that’s bad about sprawl?

    Is the question: Is RAIL sprawl better than ROAD sprawl?

    What about PEDESTRIAN sprawl?

    Think about what is meant by “sprawl”.

    1. Did you actually read the post? I give a two definitions of sprawl and say one kind is obviously not bad and the other could be.

      1. The impression I got is, one kind is obviously bad and the other doesn’t have to be – unless you can explain how “car-oriented, low density developments” only “could be” bad. It’s certainly better if “far-flung environments far from the center city” avoid developing in a sprawly way, but it’s still chewing up land that could be used for farming or forests, which given the pressures of global warming and overpopulation is still an undesirable outcome.

        (The one urbanist book I’ve read cover-to-cover is Suburban Nation, which is all about preventing the first kind of sprawl from becoming the second, but one of if not the blog(s) that inducted me into the transit blogosphere is this blog and its opposition to LA’s Gold Line extention along I-210 back during the Measure R debates.)

      2. Yes Andrew, I read the post.

        My post borrowed from yours and added to it as a segue to what I was going to post … shortly after.

        I thought, …. but life happens while you plan other things!

        The title brought to mind a short exchange I had with a WSDOT representative at a public meeting. I don’t remember what the specific subject was, but it must have had to do with SR-522 far enough north and east that I asked about using the Woodinville Subdivision as a way to deal with the commute pressure.

        Her reply was “Oh, No… that would cause sprawl!”

        My first reaction was thinking ‘what do you mean?, cars cause sprawl’, but it got me thinking.

        It’s true, rail systems allow a population to live as far, if not farther from the city center, just as much as roads do.

        So I went back to a basic question: What’s the problem with ‘sprawl’?

        What concerns do environmentalists, highway users, mass-transportation activists, and everyone else have with sprawl? People have to live and work somewhere, and each place has its unique impact on the environment.

        To an environmentalist, impervious surfaces immediately come to mind, and if you live downhill from that uphill development, you become an environmentalist. Carbon footprint is another issue.

        To the auto-centric, sprawl causes congestion, since everyone else is going to all the places you do, in their ‘snail houses’. I get that description from thinking about the physical footprint a car needs to safely navigate the system. A sedan roughly takes up 100 sq.ft., and travelling at 40mph, the total (with following distance) is about 500 sq.ft., or roughly the size of a small studio apartment.

        To mass-transportation activists, the problem is that spawl, spread too thin, makes the ‘tipping point’ that much farther into the ‘planning future’ to pay off.

        Cars replaced the pedestrian scale range-of-accesibility from the rail stations with something much broader. Our mistake as a society was to completely forgo the rail version for the road version, by replacing the private capital investment of the rail and traction companies, with public capital investment, by taxing the general public to build public highways.

        Ben hits on a few points in his “Decisions” post, and I have some unique ones to contribute myself… over there.

  4. Something to keep in mind is commuter costs. Taking a high-speed train from Stanwood to downtown Seattle, for an everyday commute, would be a rather costly ticket, even if fares don’t cover operating costs. There will certainly be some executives and folks with unlimited employer-paid passes who might do that, but the average downtown office worker, probably not.

  5. I watched BART being built out through Hayward, with a stop in the middle of mostly farmlands in Union City back in the 70’s. Not much else around.
    We drove through there last year, and the area is rich with commercial, multifamily, and yes, cul-de-sac land too.
    Is this bad? No, it’s just where developers see an opportunity to build on cheap(er) land, with fewer restrictions and generally lower construction costs with lots of elbow room for contractors.

  6. Left out of the discussion was the WSF system. While some landings are relatively compact towns (Kingston for example, although it’s changing) the easy commute and cheap land are creating auto dependant suburbs. Silverdale is Lynwood west. I think South Sounder is “in the same boat”. Only a tiny percentage of people walk to the train. It just makes it easy to have a big home in Covington where land is cheap. It isn’t so much that these options exist. A lot of people choose to drive anyway. The issue is that they are highly subsidized and mask the cost of choosing to move to these far flung areas both in cost and time.

    1. I think the difference with Sounder is that it can promote infill development, rather than just encouraging development farther out. Because rail has such a higher capacity per mile than an equivalent lane of roadway, it’s much more feasible to add infill stops. Adding onramps to an already-congested highway will cause the highway to reach absolute maximum capacity far earlier than adding infill stops to a rail line. The need to add GP lanes arises much sooner than the need to triple-track a rail line.

      1. Where could we usefully infill stations on Sounder? It looks to me like it already has stations in all the “densest” places in the Kent Valley that it can. As an operational matter, diesel powered heavy trains are very unsuited to frequent stops, unlike light rail EMUs.

        I’m very skeptical of further high-capital improvements for Sounder in the South King subarea. I think socking money away for Link expansion is a better choice for South King. For example, an East Hill spur off an Issaquah-Renton line might be more useful from a TOD and land use perspective.

        Commuter rail is not the kind of service that really spurs TOD, because it only gets you to work, not to all the other things in life. Sounder will never be a frequent all-day service because it’s a shared ROW with a strong freight demand that competes with passenger service.

      2. Sounder, and of course Link, are all well within the Urban Growgh Boundary. Inside that boundary we’ve already decided to go urban; it’s the areas beyond that should be protected from urban and, yes, suburban growth. Keep them rural. So anything that happens around a Link or Sounder station in the form of higher densities and more urban redevelopment is fine, and totally consistent with being pro-Growth Management and anti-sprawl.

      3. I agree with Bernie, oddly enough. Raising medium density to high density (SLU) is ideal, but is not compatible with all land uses and expensive. Medium density in existing low-density areas is good, provided it’s built in a way that’s amenable to transit service (Bel-Red). Low density in the UGB is slightly better than taking farms, forests and wilderness, but not by much.

      4. I think we all want to avoid the part of Portland where strip malls and other hallmarks of suburbia come right up to the urban growth boundary and abruptly halt so everyone can tell where the border is.

        “Infill” here doesn’t mean “infill stations” but “infill development”. Would upzoning downtown Kent (for example, not just to provoke Bailo) run into any major problems?

      5. Yes, Morgan, I did use the word “infill” to refer to both development and stations. Thank you for clarifying that.

      6. Even if there was massive infill development near the Sounder alignment, using that shared, privately-owned, non-electrifiable ROW is a terrible way to provide frequent rail service.

      7. I don’t think anyone was suggesting turning Sounder into some mockery of urban rail – Bellevue and Northgate didn’t need it to turn into what they are today. But very long-term, 167 might be a useful Link corridor at least to Auburn, and then we’ll want to ask where we want to send it down. I’d much rather not interfere with Sounder, Amtrak, and other trains using the existing tracks, but where else should it go?

      8. I question whether it is actually “non-electrifiable”. What’s the vertical clearance of the largest aircraft part transported by rail across that section of track? I can probably look up the wire height for catenary-over-doublestack, which has already been worked out and is quite doable; the only question is whether the aircraft parts are so much taller than THAT that there’s some problem raising pantographs to that height.

      9. “Where could we usefully infill stations on Sounder?”

        Sounder North, mostly. If the problems with its landslide-prone location can be addressed.

      10. Nathanael,

        The aircraft parts I expect you mean are headed to Boeing Everett, right? If those are what you’re wondering about remember that they have to pass through the downtown tunnel if they come from the south. That puts a vertical limit on their size already.

        I believe that it’s probably possible to moot the problem entirely by electrifying only the easternmost two tracks from Argo Junction to Black River and sending any high cars down the western track. Then, once through Black River high cars could take the UP to Tacoma.

        Since the turnouts to Tacoma Dome station are just south of the UP junction into BNSF there would be no catenary problem at the south end of the Black River Jct to Tacoma.

      11. Guys, there’s more than one line that goes from Kent to Everett. This has been rehashed ad nauseum in other comment threads. Not only is BNSF not going to allow electrification of that line, doing so would be a colossal waste of public money. For the price we could build only a little less Link track and own the ROW.

      12. “Infill” is exactly the process that takes a lively, economically viable area and kills it. Prices go up. Reaching it becomes harder. Rents become exorbitant. People then move away and stop going there, and then crime goes up.

        That’s essentially what’s happened to Seattle, made worse by the forced density of the last 20 years.


        You’re not alone. According to the “misery index” published in The Wall Street Journal, Seattle ranks third as the most miserable city in the U.S.

      13. Yeesh, Bailo!

        1. Do you even read your own “supporting” links?

        2. Have you ever left Washington state?

        3. Do you understand basic economics?

        Not that the WSJ’s “misery index” is in any way scientific or based upon value-neutral criteria, but did you happen to notice that the “happiest” city in your own link is Boston… with a population density twice that of Seattle?

        And prices and rents go up because demand exceeds supply, despite the increase in supply. If things are expensive, it ain’t because “people [have] move[d] away and stop[ped] going there.”

        And on what planet is crime higher in successful, desirable, wealthy areas?

    2. With respect to Sounder, I think the appropriate question is, are stations like Kent Station and Auburn stations helpful in promoting densification around the station area? Suppose there were a South Sounder branch line going in the direction of Stampede Pass. What would the effect of that have on “downtown” Covington and Maple Valley?

      1. I’m still waiting for apartments and a supermarket around Kent Station. There’s nothing to do while waiting half an hour for a bus, except walk a block to a bar, or walk a couple more blocks to where it’s more built up. It’s a perfect opportunity to build a city center around a transit center, or at least to make it as dense as Kent’s other retail areas.

        So it really depends on the city. Burien and Bellevue have built centers ahead of comprehensive transit. Kent has gotten a station and just stagnated. Is Covington a city or just a geographical abstraction? If it’s not a city, who’s going to design and promote the densification, the county? Apparently Covington is outside the ST service area. Is it outside the urban growth boundary too?

      2. I’m not sure, but I think it wouldn’t exist if it were outside the UGB. It’s on Highway 18 for Pete’s sake; it’s actually west of Issaquah. Which isn’t to say I’d want Link there, of course.

  7. Totally off topic – but not sure where to put this:

    [Yes OT. Please repost in open thread or news roundup]

    1. Wouldn’t bother me much. You’re going to still need transit and people will probably vote for continued improvements in transit. A new viaduct will have a 60 year life or so. Oil will either run out or be prohibitively expensive well before then. But a rebuilt viaduct will be cheaper than a tunnel and the billions saved can be used later.

  8. I’m interested in this notion that we need to create more urban centers. Where might those end up being, and how urban does an “urban center” have to be? If “Northgate and Bellevue” are the minimum, it looks like Redmond is starting down the path to becoming one, and the same could start to happen along the 99 corridor. Kirkland seems pretty far along already. If Tukwila had been smart with light rail they could have developed something along their stretch of 99, and had they gotten their way with it Southcenter could have become Northgate South.

    The only new urban centers I see ST2 creating are Mercer Island (if they choose to accept it), Bel-Red, and along the NCHCTP. If North-of-Northgate Link heads along Aurora, it would be a shame if it diverted back to I-5 near Lake Ballinger just because Mountlake Terrace anticipated Link following I-5. There’s some low-hanging fruit for new urban centers in Snohomish County.

    Long-term, post-ST3, I look for true urbanity in West Seattle, as well as Burien, and Federal Way has already embraced an urban-center future even though they’re more in Tacoma’s orbit than Seattle’s. Really long-term, looking a certain radius out from Seattle… it’ll be interesting if Lake Forest Park embraces the concept considering that that “city” is pretty much the defintion of a bunch of suburbanites who incorporated to avoid being swallowed by the big city, in this case Seattle. Its city hall, near as I could tell, is basically an office inside a strip mall, which is also its only non-residential development. Kenmore has some room to grow; Bothell has a quaint downtown, like Kirkland last time I got to really take it in, and it has a lot of potential with a light rail line. Woodinville is interesting as well.

    It’ll be interesting to see if Juanita keeps its status as a swath of low-density homes surrounded by Lake Washington, the Sammamish, I-405, and 116th; the difficulty of getting lighr rail there could leave it relatively isolated. Factoria and Eastgate have limited potential, but none of the rest of Bellevue, not even Crossroads, is likely unless Bellevue embraces streetcars, which won’t happen until Kemper Freeman is long dead. Renton and the cities along the 167/Sounder corridor have some obvious room to densify, although they’re pretty far along already to varying extents. (For that matter, Edmonds and Mukilteo have historic downtowns that could use revitalization, which is why I liked the idea of Link going to Edmonds.)

    If we’re looking broader, at the perfunctory downtowns of a lot of suburban “cities” as the definition of an urban center, the low-hanging fruit is probably Newcastle, which is only 17 years old as an incorporated “city” as of later this year, and which, to my knowledge, doesn’t have much in the way of a “center” of any kind at all, in part because I-405 hugs the water pretty tightly in the area. But maybe its fate is Juanita South.

    This is based solely on looking at a map and not whether the physical conditions at each site would make them ideal, especially in a future affected by global warming, but it’s interesting how much room for infill there is in a fairly tight area.

    1. The only new urban centers I see ST2 creating are Mercer Island (if they choose to accept it), Bel-Red, and along the NCHCTP.

      The main point of ST2 (and Sound Move before it) was to connect the existing urban centers that desperately need it, like Northgate-UW-Capitol Hill-Downtown, and to a lesser extent Downtown Bellevue-Downtown Seattle.

      And not to dis Tacoma, but the extent of its orbit is almost zero right now.

    2. I actually think there are opportunities within ST1/2. Within the existing line, I could see significant redevelopment around Tukwila Int’l Station and also densification and pedestrian improvements across from the airport to give Seatac a real downtown (although if I recollect, didn’t a rezone fail there?). OK, maybe it will never quite be Crystal City, but I think there’s real opportunity.

      On the north end, I’m a little unclear how far ST2 gets, but if it makes it to Alderwood, couldn’t that be another great Northgate-style opportunity? Maybe even a bigger one because it is a larger area?

      1. ST2 funds construction north to Lynnwood, south to Redondo and east to Overlake. Construction to the south isn’t going to go any further than S 200th St for maybe a decade for budget reasons. Tukwila hasn’t really shown much interest in treating Link as anything other than a fast bus, and I think the city of SeaTac had TOD plans but they were scuppered by the recession.

        The big TOD opportunity on the Eastside is Bel-Red, for which planning is reasonably well underway. I read somewhere about the Lynnwood wanting to do some big TOD project around the station there, although I can’t be bothered to dig it up right now, and it can’t really be much more than talk right now, as the train is twelve years off at best. Of course, there’s also the TOD slowly progressing in the Ranier Valley.

        The only really big unknown about Link that affects land-use issues is the alignment between Northgate and Mountlake Terrace. If Link goes up Aurora, that has real potential, versus running Link up I-5 which will make it just commuter rail… but constructing the Aurora alignment will be riskier, more expensive, and slow the commute for Snohomish commuters.

      2. I would love to see something worth walking to around TIB stn.

        Re SeaTac, I think the owner of the block is refusing to sell.

        ST2 goes to Lynnwood TC. Some 4×4 superblocks are zoned for Bellevue-style highrises, approx 48th to 40th, I-5 to 196th. The TC is at the southwest corner. The mall is 4 superblocks past the northeast corner but it looks like the same commercial area. Some Lynnwood residents are requesting a second station at the mall. If so, that would be the ST2 terminus.

      3. 518 and the airport respectively limit the walkshed of TIB and SeaTac stations. Besides which, no one wants to live near the airport and TIB is an eyesore in a sea of parking.

        It’d definitely be nice to make the Alderwood area a repeat of Northgate. If we were to keep the line on 99, I’d move it back to I-5 around 220th.

    3. There are two different answers: now and ten years from now. Now we need to focus on Seattle neighborhoods, suburban downtowns, 99, and other growth areas the cities designate (Bel-Red, Othello). Trying to get Juanita and Newcastle to densify is as futile as trying to get Magnolia or Laurelhurst to densify. It’s not worth the effort. All the Seattle urban-growth and transit-corridor plans bypass Magnolia west of 15th, so we might as well too. Juanita is part of Kirkland now, and the annexation agreement probably had an implicit understanding that growth would stay out of the single-family areas. Kirkland has other sites that are more amenable to growth and better located for rail/BRT: Totem Lake, and the corridor south past Google to Houghton Village.

      In ten years North Link will be finished and East Link almost done, and people will envy the circulation it provides. Gas will probably be significantly more expensive, electric cars still a niche, and more people will be too old to drive. Driving per capita may not drop much in ten years, but I can’t believe it won’t drop significantly in 20. As all this emerges, more people will move closer to transit, jobs will move closer to transit, and single-family areas will have to attract transit (by upzoning one of their streets) or risk losing real-estate value. Then we can talk about Link in Juanita and Newcastle.

      Southcenter needs more than a Link station to become as pedestrian-friendly as Northgate. Tukwila’s decisions the past forty years have made it an automobile hellhole. The 150 has to turn-turn-turn in congestion to get from Interurban to the mall. Tukwila City Hall is pedestrian-unfriendly. Where are the apartments, library and supermarket within walking distance of the mall and the 150? Likewise, Kirkland could have demanded a sidewalk on 520 in the 1970s, but it didn’t.

      After ST2, the most likely Link lines outside Seattle are Burien-Renton, Bothell-Renton (405/BNSF), and an Issaquah spur. Burien designed a dense center to attract Link, Bothell-Renton would get a lot of Eastside ridership, and Issaquah already wants Link. 522 (Roosevelt-Bothell) is probably after that. And of course Everett (more likely) and Tacoma (less likely due to underdeveloped Fife).

      Some have suggested a Benson Road line if Kent promises to densify. Re 167, I don’t know enough about its corridor to say for sure, but I think Benson would have much better urban center potential, like I-5 vs 99. But a Benson line would have a dilemma at 240th. Go west to Kent Station, south-and-backtrack for East Hill and Kent Station, or south-southeast-east to Covington/Maple Valley? Kent needs to decide where its center will be, and if it’s at Kent Station, it needs to build something to make it look more like a center.

      1. Kirkland could have demanded a sidewalk on 520 in the 1970s

        Huh? Sidewalk on a freeway?? Juanita down by the waterfront has added significant density. Rail isn’t going to get there but then point of honest land use management is land use management; not the advancement of rail because trains are neato (cool, spiffy, hip, 70’s, uber-expensive etc.). Rail isn’t likely to reach Totem Lake in the next 20 years either. Probably not in the next 40 years and there’s no reason it should. Transit to Totem Lake will suffer because $$$ are being uselessly spend on rail where it makes no sense; but does create bonuses for ST big wigs.

      2. I-90 has a sidewalk, and people walk and bike across it all the time. Bridges aren’t like other freeways. There aren’t any nearby adjacent roads to use. Kirkland is a l-o-n-g way from I-90 or 522 if you’re on foot or bike.

      3. These are all just pipe dreams, Mr. Orr. What will all the people you envision coming to Puget Sound do? They can’t all work for Microsoft and Amazon. Well, maybe Starbucks; they can make each other lattes maybe?

        Seattle is fortunate still to have three Fortune 100 companies, but the smaller corporations are being gobbled up the larger forces ever more quickly.

      4. I think I eventually reached the conclusion that Link is probably never reaching Juanita and Newcastle, just because it’s hard to find a route for them, though Newcastle is along BNSF. My concern about the latter mostly concerns its lack of a downtown at all. (I’m curious why you think Bothell-Renton is more near-term than 522…)

        Issaquah is funny. It has a nice historic downtown that might be ripe for becoming the next urban center, but it’s slightly isolated and building modern density would seem an odd fit with their current development pattern. I’d think they’d want to look at how Winslow’s doing ferry-oriented development. (Each of my grandmothers live right outside those centers.)

      5. A crosswise line generates more ridership than a parallel line because it can serve trips in 12 directions rather than 4. That’s why I think 45th or Burien-Renton would be a more productive second line than Ballard-downtown. Some Ballardites would take a 45th line to Central Link, but nobody can take a nonexistent line to Wallingford.

        522 is close to Central Link and also in Seattle. Some ppl would complain, “It’s too close to the existing line,” and others would say, “Why should Seattle get everything when the Eastside has no N-S line at all?”

        A 405/BNSF line would be the only N-S line east of the lake. There are only two plausable locations for an Eastside N-S line, that or 148th. 148th is less dense and would bypass Kirkland again. I don’t think this line is super-likely because Eastsiders are still suspicious of light rail and its costs. But it would perform better than any other second line on the Eastside, and eventually some politicians who are more interested in mobility than automobiles will recognize that.

        If this line is built, Newcastle would get a station because it happens to be on the way, but I doubt it would be more productive than Surrey Downs. I don’t see Newcastleites being eager to densify the station area; they moved there for a single-family non-dense house.

        I also don’t see the line making a big expensive detour to serve Juanita, if it’s sticking to 405 between downtowns. It would only work if the line left 405 completely and went on Market/98th/100th/Wayne or Market/98th/100th/Juanita-Woodinville Drive. That’s close to single-family homes; would there be major opposition?

      6. I’ve always liked a Ballard, Fremont, U-District, Sand Point, Kirkland, Bellevue (via East Link) Issaquah line.

        Then Ben pointed out that you could actually make two really good lines. Have one branch go Ballard Issaquah as described about and another one continue to Redmond.

        As East Link will always be at half frequency this combination effectively gives Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond (all places we’d like to see extensive TOD) full frequency (two lines of half frequency each).

      7. A second Lake Washington crossing will be very expensive and will be seen as a low-benefit parallel line. I don’t mind doing it after other cities without Link have been reached, but not now.

      8. I’m not talking about building this tomorrow. However we need to keep future expansions in mind whenever we build here.

        Also I’d like to keep Link as close in as is possible with Subarea Equity.

      9. I think the next new line is likely to be Ballard-West Seattle; 45th isn’t long enough without becoming a parallel line to East Link (or a de facto 522 route). Because it sounds like we’re not building a second line to Snohomish County, that line is likely to lead to a 522 line in addition to Burien-Renton, especially given the demand for transit in Lake City. ST3 could also give us the Issaquah spur if extending East Link to Redmond doesn’t chew up enough East funds to mollify pols there.

        At this point, I think both a 45th line and BNSF line get built in the same ST package, 45th mainly out of the North, BNSF mainly out of the East. 45th will come first, though, if ST3 somehow manages to go all the way to Lake City (or if it at least gets far enough that a Lake City extention won’t cost too much), but any ST4 45th plan probably only gets to intersecting Central Link if the East is too busy building out to Woodinville.

        I neglected to mention Totem Lake as a potential urban center, especially given its location on BNSF. Beyond that, though, the corridor swings wide of Kingsgate as it approaches 202, in an area I don’t think has much development potential; 145th would be the major candidate, but there are like two roads in the area as it stands now, it’s at the foot of a steep hill, and the wineries there are important tourist destinations unlikely to accept redevelopment. Detouring to follow 405 for a segment to serve Kingsgate might be in the cards.

        I’ve never been to Kent, but just looking at a map it seems to me that Kent Station has more “urban center” potential than SR 515 or wherever else Orr thinks might replace it. There are a lot of elements that sound like “downtown” there. There’s much more of an urban grid, and Google shows places like a library and a theater and a shopping center and even a park labeled “town square”. Sure, there’s nothing taller than a couple of stories, but it seems much more primed for redevelopment into a real center than anyplace else I’d imagine.

  9. I basically agree with this post, but I am often skeptical that politics will allow the appropriate land-use changes. The concern with Roads and Transit in 2007 was that sending light rail all the way to Tacoma through a bunch of rural land would encourage a lot of sprawling developments. That probably would happen because the few people who do live there would want park-and-rides and would probably get them. This would lead to car-centered developments. This would be easier if we had a regional government that corresponded to the ST district. Instead ST has to deal with lots of little towns and unincorporated areas.

    To my mind, park-and-rides are fine if a new commuter rail or light rail line is put through an existing low-density suburban area. Once it’s already built, it’s going to stay that way by and large for a long time, and in that case it at least cuts down on the vehicle miles traveled. Putting a line through an undeveloped area, however, should be contingent on that area adopting plans for a compact, transit-oriented community around each station. There’s a great small book called the Pedestrian Pocket Book that describes planning for very small, dense towns around train stations. This can work with commuter rail if there is enough business in the town for everyday needs, but works better with all-day 2-direction light or heavy rail so that people can give up cars entirely.

    I’m still not sure about the idea of light rail going all the way to Tacoma or Everett. That seems like a long way for a technology designed for shorter, urban trips with many stops. Something like BART would normally be used for those distances. The other (probably better) option would be to do whatever possible to make Sounder an all-day, bidirectional train so it would be useful for more than just commuting.

    1. Part of the problem is that the development pattern around here is hemmed in by the Cascades and Puget Sound. If you draw, say, a 10-mile radius around Seattle, you surround less development than in most other urban areas and you cut out more important developments.

      I’m not sure where the corridor between Sea-Tac and Tacoma is all that “rural”, ST2 or Roads and Transit.

    2. I don’t believe that P&Rs encourage sprawling growth. P&Rs are an attempt to deal with the sprawl that’s already there or is inevitable. Anyone who moves to those areas has already decided to drive for most of their trips. The P&R just diverts the work commute, maybe. I doubt any of those people would have lived closer to town if the P&R weren’t there.

      Link is like BART, get used to it. The region was not willing to pay for a separate city system and regional system. Sounder can’t be the regional system: it will never run every 10 minutes and it’s far from many population centers. Link is better than BART because it will make 12-13 stops across the entire city (excluding downtown) rather than 4 stops in one corner.

      Tacoma is not in the cards until Redondo is funded, and the gap south of Federal Way gives one pause. Travel time may be slower than the 594. It also depends on Pierce paying for it. Pierce may prefer a Tacoma streetcar instead, more Sounder, or a frequent (10-minute) express bus to “extend” Link to Tacoma.

      The path to Everett is more dense, and the distance from Lynnwood shorter, so that should be less controversial. But even there, a frequent express bus could “extend” Link to Everett, and would be better than nothing.

      1. People move in (out really) and if after a while the commute is too long and too expensive they’ll make other choices. Or, you can reinforce the decision by providing luxury rail service at a fraction of the cost it really entails. The other scenario is people move out and then jobs follow them. Then the big city “density” advocates look for public money to maintain a jobs base in the core. Eventually you end up with a reverse commute where the purpose of transit is, like present day Detroit, to move people in the inner city out to where the jobs are.

      2. Link is like BART, get used to it. The region was not willing to pay for a separate city system and regional system.

        “The region” isn’t paying for crap. Each subarea is paying for their own stuff and gets a large say in what goes on there. The hope is to meld those local desires into something that works for everyone.

        I get that Link is not the NYC subway, but we should fight very hard the BART-ification, or perhaps more appropos, the Denver-ification of Link. That is why I’d like to see Link go up 99, not I-5, and why I’m not in a blazing hurry to extend Link to Tacoma (at least not unless we built an express through the Duwamish Valley.)

        Commuter lines just don’t perform particularly well on a cost per boarding basis, nor do they encourage improved land use or eliminate car dependence.

      3. @Bernie You’re forgetting the other outcome, namely that people get tired of commuting and move to the city. By building good in-city transit (like Link will eventually be) you make the city more livable and then people live by their jobs. It’s great, you should try it.

      4. as I said:

        after a while the commute is too long and too expensive they’ll make other choices.

        For me, an easy bike ride is most preferable to enduring transit into the big city. A seven mile each way bike ride to work saves the expense (and time) of joining a health club. My employer moved and even though it’s a couple of miles farther the net time is about the same (elevation gain changed). Driving is easy. Either way, riding my bike is way easier then a commute to DT Seattle. Granted, my back has been wacked out lately and I would have driven to a P&R to use transit if I worked it DT Seattle vs. just driving to work but it’s way better to just have a job close to where I live.

      5. My downtown Seattle commute is five to ten minutes. Plus I don’t have to live in mind-numbingly dull suburbs or drive 20 minutes just to see a movie at a crappy mall in Tukwila. The biggest thing that would improve my quality of life is high-quality transit to Capitol Hill and the U-District. Luckily, that’s exactly what we’re building. That and ripping the stupid viaduct down.

      6. Glad you like it. I spend a whole 5 minutes longer each way getting to my job in the burbs. I like being comfortably numb. Come home and “worry” about growing vegetables instead of walking to the market. The only problem is that actually raising your own food is a hell of a lot of work. In fact just dealing with waste is more work than putting it in a container that gets shipped via rail to “somewhere” in Oregon.

      7. If comfortable numbness makes you happy Bernie, I wish you all you could want; I prefer to engage with the world. I do, incidentally, plan to grow something on my balcony this year; probably something that requires minimal effort like mint or basil. But like most people, I leave food and waste to professionals.

      8. Mint is easy. Even after the hard freeze last year ours is just in the last few days starting to come back. I thought we’d killed it but once again I’ve been proven wrong. FWIW it was planted as cuttings from my mom in an area under cover between two sidewalks where nothing should grow. Mint is an invasive weed! Basil is harder. Last year we got a bit from plants that were already started. I’m trying to work it from seed this year. Rosemary is a relatively easy one once established (although we lost one of three mature plants this winter). It might require some work as a patio plant and as a healthy bush it’s pretty large.

      9. So the solution to automobile dependency is to eliminate all transit outside of Seattle? Then everybody will move to the city rather than drive? That’s not realistic. The job sprawl has already happened in the Eastside and Kent, and it wasn’t caused by too much transit by the way. I doubt Fife will become a major job center to rival Kent. In any case, strengthening transit to Eastside and Kent jobs will decrease the incentive for more job sprawl in Fife. Pacific Hwy South is also a potential growth area for transit-adjacent jobs and housing. Many of those Kent jobs are large industrial facilities; they can’t all fit in Seattle even if they wanted to.

  10. To me it’s like the evolution of computers.

    First everyone had to be sitting at a terminal hooked up to a mainframe — the City.

    Then people could dial in — Commuting by subway.

    Then people could move even further away — Suburbs with rail.

    Then people got personal computers they could use independent of mainframes — Exurbs with cars.

    Now business is conducted on clouds of servers that exist worldwide, and people can move and go point to point with no fixed portal or centralizing force to control them — America, 2011.

    1. The thing is, there are still classes of human activity which have to be conducted face to face. And for those, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that the city is the most attractive location for about half of the population, with the rail suburbs the most attractive for about a third. (The remaining sixth want to live in genuinely rural areas and be “off the grid”, so they essentially reject much of those types of human activity.)

      What classes of activity do I speak of? Well, collaborative physical activities would be a good description. Classic examples are sports — and sex.

    2. Interesting, then why do I have to keep getting on airplanes to spend direct, physical time with all these folks that I’m conducting business with on clouds?

      Oh, you don’t mean metaphorical clouds, you mean real clouds.

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