South Lake Union: How High Should We Go?

Photo by Mike Bjork

The 2004 Comprehensive Plan designated South Lake Union as an urban center, and it laid out ambitious growth targets.  Since then we’ve seen solid growth in the neighborhood through the Hutchinson Cancer Center, Amazon’s relocation, and of course the Seattle Streetcar.  But the real potential for densification lies in incentivized upzones, and to that end the City of Seattle has released a draft Environmental Impact Statement, South Lake Union: Height and Density Alternatives.  It studies the environmental impacts of three zoning alternatives that would create space for 23,000-31,500 jobs and 15,000-21,000 residences.

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Route 36, 60 Stop Consolidation

Photo by dreaming_of_rivers

Metro is going to eliminate a bunch of stops on Beacon Hill (and beyond) on April 2:

Currently, the corridors have a combined 137 bus stops south of S Jackson Street, with an average stop spacing of about 920 feet. The plan will remove 28 of these stops, plus two on East Marginal Way S, increasing the average spacing between stops to about 1,150 feet.

As a result of the changes, approximately 11 percent of Route 36 and 60 riders who board south of S Jackson Street will have to catch their bus at a different stop. When the project is completed, all riders should have a faster, more reliable trip.

Good news. You can comment here. Comments are due by March 21st.

What if the Viaduct Isn’t The Problem?

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Whether you support a new SR99 tunnel or a surface/transit option to replace the viaduct, one thing that both sides agree on is that the noisy, elevated double-decker freeway coursing through downtown is preventing Seattle from getting maximum enjoyment from its waterfront.

Having recently returned from a brief trip to Sydney, Australia, however, I’m suddenly haunted by the question: what if the viaduct isn’t the problem? We tear it down, JCFO works their magic, and the result is… crickets. The same old collection of tourist traps.

Now, I admit I haven’t watched JCFO’s presentation yet. No doubt they’ve considered this. In the meantime, however, consider Sydney harbor:


A double-decker viaduct separates the downtown from the waterfront, which has an array of ferry terminals, cruise ship ports and, of course, the iconic Opera House. And yet: Sydney’s harbor is bustling! You can’t quite see it in this photo, but at night there are tons of pedestrians, street musicians, commuters, and the like. The harbor is a hub of activity; if not 24/7, then close to it.

To be sure, there are plenty of differences between Sydney and Seattle. One is that the lower deck of their viaduct is a commuter rail station (Circular Quay) where thousands of passengers pass through every day. With the shops built into the ground floor, it actually resembles Frank Chopp’s megaduct. The key difference, of course, being the transit component.

Second, the ferries that leave from the harbor are passenger-only. This means that there’s plenty of foot traffic going to and from the train station and the ferry terminal, and no long lines of cars queuing up to board. The result is lots of news stands, cafes and the like.

Sydney Ferry terminal

Finally, Sydney has beautiful weather nearly year-round. That certainly helps.

All of this is just to say that we can’t rely on tearing down the Viaduct to turn the Waterfront into a vibrant area. Transit is hugely important. It’s more than a little troubling that neither the city, nor the state, nor the county have significant plans to turn the waterfront into a pedestrian-centric transit hub.

RapidRide Funding Uncertain

RapidRide buses in storage

Metro’s RapidRide program may be in jeopardy if $68 million of federal Small Starts funding isn’t restored. As reported last week, the U.S. House of Representatives cut funding for transit capital investment programs in its continuing appropriations bill. In addition to cutting funding for RapidRide’s C (West Seattle), E (Aurora) and F (Burien-Renton) lines from the proposed budget, the House rescinded previously appropriated but not yet obligated funding for the B (Bellevue-Redmond) Line. President Obama’s budget proposal recommended full funding for the RapidRide program.

The B Line is scheduled to launch this October. Metro has ordered the buses and construction is ready to begin. The Federal Transit Administration is currently going through the process which would lead to an agreement, committing $9.3 million in funds to construction. A possible government shutdown would stop the process and the passed House bill would take that money away.

Congress is scheduled to resolve 2011 funding for the B and C lines this month and 2012 funding for the E and F lines this summer. Whatever happens, uncertainty with funding would delay the project and future RapidRide lines. Metro has to make a decision soon to purchase buses for the C and D (Ballard) lines.

Metro is looking to fund 44% of the cost of RapidRide capital improvements with federal grants. That’s $93 million out of a total cost of $210 million for six lines (A-F). Of the $93 million, $25 million has been secured for the recently opened A Line and part of the B Line. Funding for operating the service has already been committed by the King County Council.

With the shortfall in local revenue, Metro has been really competitive in obtaining federal grant money. Amenities like real time passenger information and the addition of more speed and reliability improvements were crucial in winning federal grants.

In a briefing on Monday, Metro’s General Manager Kevin Desmond has not yet outlined specific actions in the event of reduced federal funding but has said that Metro is constantly in contact with Washington’s congressional delegation. A loss in funds would result in significant reductions to the RapidRide program. Such reductions may include reduction in scope by eliminating amenities, delaying or cancelling future lines, or cancelling other services or programs to fund RapidRide.

Missing: Pacific Northwest Drivers

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

There’s a great set of data that deserves a link.  It turns out that a BC bridge is failing to pay for itself through tolling, and the Columbia River Crossing project might not pay for itself.  Why?  Because traffic volumes have been falling in the Pacific Northwest.  Clark Williams-Derry presents data showing that driving has gone down in Seattle, Portland, Washington, and Oregon by no small amounts and in at least one case before the financial crisis or fuel spikes hit.

And in one of the comments, a private company in Queensland filed for bankrupcy because instead of tolled traffic growing from 60,000 vehicles to 100,000 vehicles it dropped off to 20,000 even when they cut their toll in half.  This might point to an internation trend away from the car.  Or at least a lesson for us before we start building an expensive tunnel that is expected to pay for itself using tolls and future car volume growth.

Pierce Transit Sets Cuts in Motion

Photo by Atomic Taco

Following the failure of a sales tax increase last month, the Pierce Transit Board of Commissioners authorized staff on Monday to begin work on 35% cut to take effect in October:

The Board directed staff to go forward in reducing the system by approximately 35% by October, 2011.  All service and staff reductions will occur by that date.  These actions will stabilize the agency’s finances and allow for short and long-term sustainability…

Dates and times for the public hearings will be announced in a later communication.  The Board will take formal action for the October service reduction at their May 9, 2011 meeting.

The PT Tomorrow website is a pretty good preview of what cuts would look like. Personally, I’d like to see PT shrink its service area and focus on maintaining good service in the core cities, also shrinking the electorate to districts much more likely to vote to improve service.

The Supply of Housing Near Transit

HARLEM - Convent Avenue Brownstones
NYC Brownstones, photo by flickr user Professor Bop

Last week I started looking for answers to some questions I had about transit oriented development. Today, I want to see if I can answer the question “are we doing enough to keep supply in pace with this increased demand?”

According to this report, “Hidden in Plain Sight; Capturing American’s Demand for Housing Near Transit”, sponsored by the Federal Transit Administration, Fannie Mae and the Surdna foundation, in 2004 there were just 6.1 million households currently residing within a half-mile of a fixed-guideway transit station in the US. By 2025, the report estimates there will be at demand for at least 14.6 million households, which represents a quarter of new households expected. According to the authors, there could be even more if growth rates increase or gasoline prices rise more than expected.

This is good news, right? Maybe not. According to the study, there were 3,341 fixed-guideway transit system stations in the US in 2004, but the number was only expected to grow by 630 stations by 2025. That number may be a bit off today- a number of transit systems are in various stages of construction across the country right now. Still it’s certainly correct in order of magnitude if not precise. My next post will highlight some of what could happen if the gap is not closed, but today I’d like to talk about ways of doing just that.

Continue reading “The Supply of Housing Near Transit”

Constantine Moves RTTF Recommendations Forward

Strategic Plan for Public Transportation

Yesterday Executive Constantine released The Strategic Plan for Public Transportation. Since his election, Constantine has shied way from the spotlight, focusing on making county government operate as well and efficiency as possible. The Regional Transit Task Force (RTTF) was a key element of this with relation to transit. In general the strategic plan shouldn’t be a major surprise. It lays out what should be expect from Metro as an agency, i.e. safe operations, access to service countywide, support economic growth, etc.

More interesting is the updated accompanying Service Guidelines, which outlines the process by which Metro plans service. Before this point service proposals to the RTTF didn’t had firmly defined performance thresholds, it was more about the general approach not the actual numbers. Specific performance thresholds are now proposed. Also Metro has carried forward the “screen process” for planning with several changes.

First Metro looks at land use and social equity. Next service is added back that surpasses certain cost recovery, load or connection threshold or requirements. The next step is the largest change. Peak service is then added over the previously defined all-day network with the requirement that it is more than 20% faster than all-day routes and riders per trip is 90% of a competing route. The document also outlines service design guidelines that are very similar to what the RTTF recommended.

This is all very promising and exciting.