SLUCB: TOD Tools and Ingredients

Seattle Land Use Code blog has a long and valuable post on the tools and ingredient that would help move TOD forward in Washington State. While you’re reading the post keep SLU and Yesler Terrace in mind. I think both of these project provide an interesting lens to view the post through.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the last several months listening to people tell me all the things they think we need to facilitate Transit Oriented Development (TOD) in these parts. It’s part of a longer set of discussions going back into the 90s when people asked, in a similar way, “how do we implement the Growth Management Act?” Here’s my quick answer; we have all the ingredients we need to facilitate leaps and bounds toward TOD. What we’re missing is leadership. Second, we could make TOD happen without as much leadership if we had significant changes to our constitution, city charters, and tax codes.

What I am going to do is cover the things and agency would need to set out on a massive TOD effort. I’ll include the pieces we already have and where they are. Then I’ll explain my leadership comment. And a caveat: these are notes. If I am wrong or missed something, please comment.

Levy Taxes

The ideal TOD agency would be able to raise significant revenue on its own by levying sales, property, and payroll taxes. You get the first two, right? But payroll taxes? Yes, you read that right. In order for any agency to generate the kinds of revenue needed for significant capital investments, right-of-way acquisitions, land purchases, and operations of connecting transit infrastructure (trollies, jitneys, shuttles etc) it would have to be able to raise taxes on its own. TriMet in Oregon actually raises huge money, most of their $211 million budget, from a payroll tax. Taken together these three sources would get the job done.

Who already has it?

Sound Transit raises most of its money from sales tax and local governments fund transit from sales taxes. Local government can already raise property taxes as can the Port of Seattle and other benefit districts and taxing districts created by the legislature. While uniformity is a problem with property taxes, the constitution allows for the creation of any number of taxing and benefit districts that could raise revenue for TOD.

How do we get it for TOD?

The legislature would have to pass legislation to allow a TOD agency to raise money this way. The payroll tax is doable, today, as long as it’s not an income tax. TriMet’s payroll tax is a percentage, but a TOD agency could just charge a flat fee like the head-tax that was eliminated by the Seattle City Council.

The post goes on to cover condemnation and eminent domain, zoning and land use, tax increment financing and land value tax, public credit, and leadership.

East Link Slips to 2022 or Later

ST's Preferred Alternative

Scott Gutierrez has the story:

[The] opening date [is] now pegged in early 2022 or 2023, Sound Transit’s governing board was informed Thursday.

The extension of light rail from Seattle to the Eastside was planned to open in 2021.  It would open at the latest completion date if Sound Transit opts to tunnel through downtown Bellevue instead of running trains at-grade, project manager Don Billen said.

There’s temptation to put all the weight of this on the Bellevue City Council, but in fact Mr. Billen told me that “it was the decisions in late 2009 and early 2010 to study 4 new alternatives in downtown Bellevue and then 6 design options on 112th that delayed in the EIS process, which is now rippling into revenue service.”

The city is hardly being helpful, but ST itself was dissatisfied with the options coming out of the original EIS.

Mr. Billen added that “There maybe opportunities to shorten the construction schedule but those opportunities are being overwhelmed by the risk of further delays in the decision making process.”

Street Food Measure Draws Complaints


If I had a comfortable job at the Seattle Times, I’d be interested in any regulatory barriers that blocked low-cost competing business models like Craigslist or PubliCola. If I ran an encyclopedia company, I’d be supportive of regulatory hurdles to operating an organization like Wikipedia. And if I were an established restaurant owner, I’d probably advocate for unreasonable restrictions on food carts:

Specifically, council members are considering imposing street food curfews and wider setbacks from restaurants, stadiums, and schools… Council Member Tim Burgess called the lack of curfew a “huge problem,” adding, “Why wouldn’t we… just say [vendors] can’t operate after 11:00 p.m. or midnight or something?”…
The proposal also replaces a 1,000-foot school setback rule with 200 feet, which a school janitor’s union denounced would be an “absolute nightmare” to clean up after.

I understand the industry interest, but I’m not sure why anyone on the Council would be swayed by these arguments.
The Stranger has a copy of the proposal and reports that a Council vote will likely occur in late July. This legislation is going through the Committee on the Built Environment. Slog super-commenter Fnarf summed it up nicely in a comment, reproduced below the jump because it’s awesome:

Continue reading “Street Food Measure Draws Complaints”

Mourning the ‘Bikelash’

Bike Parking Outside 12th Ave's Cafe Presse. Photo by SDOT.

The faux-war between ‘cyclists’ and ‘drivers’ has gotten depressingly out of control, even though it is being fought almost entirely in the media.  The 900+ comments in Danny Westneat’s recent Seattle Times column (“What’s With All the Bike Bitterness?”) reveal that the mutual acrimony has grown past the absurd into a parody of itself.

A simple truth:  cycling is not an inherently political act.  When a person is on a bicycle, they are just cycling, a verb whose adverbial embellishments (recklessly, quickly, safely, cautiously, etc…) have a short shelf life and extend only to observed behavior.  When people insist on twisting you into a noun – a Cyclist, a Motorist – you become not a person doing something, but rather a category expressing some fundamental defining value.   By definition, categories are constraining, and they make it easier to load transportation choices unnecessary moral weight.  As transit advocates we also do this to “Drivers” – and it’s just as unfair to “them” as to “us”.

This intellectual laziness provides the framing material needed to animate call-in radio shows, network news segments, and (to a slightly lesser extent) print and social media.  As the Fundamental Attribution Error rears its ugly head, we lose our ability to handle complexity and begin thinking in binary.  “Cyclists do X, Motorists react with Y,”  as though cyclists never drive, drivers never cycle, and that the two have a necessarily adversarial relationship.  Worse, each time we do this we risk losing the crucial ability for integrated systems thinking, descending into both mode-based and region-based parochialism.

Our current investments in bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure are modest, they are appropriate for bicycling’s mode share, and they can only be seen as radical in the context of a cultural expectation for complete car dominance.  When you build your city for its largest scale mode, smaller scale modes are precluded and society actively engineers your mode choice upward toward cars. In a depressing segment Monday on KOMO Newsline AM, John Carlson affirmed as much when he suggested that bicycles be banned from any road with a speed limit higher than 20 mph.  When you build for cars, they become the only permissible game in town.   When you build for choice, all modes are enabled and respected (including cars!).

I would hope that we could all grow up already.  Modal fetishism is immature whether it’s bikes, trains, buses, or cars.  Ultimately, transportation infrastructure should become not a product to be marketed but a public utility matching people’s needs with appropriate tools.  (Something tells me that there is no marketing budget to get people to use I-5!)   As a transit advocate, I simply want more tools in my toolbox.

So when you feel yourself jumping towards the ad-hominem, take a moment and reflect upon inertia, individual economic incentives, the cumulative effects of all the poor decisions that have come before us.  Hopefully this would produce fewer culture warriors and more sober problem solvers.

For more on constraining terminology – see Jarrett.

Roosevelt 30% Design Open House


Station Overview

Last night Sound Transit held an open house for the Roosevelt Station, which is expected to add 8,000 boardings by 2030. STB reported on the design of the station yesterday, knocking it for not having any potential for TOD in the station footprint. While that certainly is a disappointment, we do have to thank Roosevelt residents for their hard work in 2005 to get the station sited at Roosevelt’s commercial core and not at Metro’s NE 65th Park & Ride underneath I-5.

This underground station will be located just west of 12th Ave NE with entrances at NE 65th and NE 67th Streets. Both entrances will have stairs and escalators leading to a mezzanine and an elevator leading directly to the platform. Elevators will directly connect the surface to the platform, 70 to 90 feet below ground. Construction will require the acquisition of three chunks of land: the entire block currently housing QFC, the empty lot at 67th and 12th, and a chunk next to 12th between 65th and 66th. The latter chunk is currently home to four townhouses and the Standard Radio building, which Sound Transit recently announced did not qualify as a historic landmark. The four townhouses are up for sale and could be transported to a nearby location. If not sold, fixtures and materials of the townhouses will be salvaged or recycled. Sound Transit will launch the TBMs tunneling to Husky Stadium from this station.

12th Ave looking West

The 30% design presented has two buildings located along 12th Ave NE. Dubbed “greenhouses” by critics, the buildings will house two entrances to the station that will be bathed in natural light from large windows and skylights. Brainstorming by the architect led to keeping both entrances similar in function and appearance. More than half of the actual footprint of the buildings will be for support facilities—vent shafts, mechanical rooms and the like. These buildings will be pulled away from the sidewalk a bit, allowing for an open plaza area with significant amounts of landscaping. The station will also feature spaces for 50 bikes in the form of racks, lockers, and a bike sanctuary–a locked room for bicycles—and could be expanded to accommodate up to 100. The stairwell and escalators from the surface will lead to a mezzanine, which will connect to two separate sets of stairs for riders to reach the platform level. The mezzanine will have natural light brought in from skylights.

It will be necessary to have two vent shafts with each entrance. The current design—which is not final—has a large stack that will block the windows of some units of the 6 story Dwell Roosevelt Condominiums located next door. This design caused great outcry from residents, citing that their view would be lost due to this shaft. The same residents expressed opposition to any secondary functions or building on top of the station entrance, stating that only a 1-story entrance is acceptable.

Sound Transit suggested that a commercial food cart could be installed at the station, but dismissed the idea of building on top of the station entrances, citing two facts. First, current zoning laws cap building heights at 65 feet here. Building on top of the station entrance, it’s unlikely you could get more than a couple of stories, in a small footprint, thus making this uneconomical. Second, Sound Transit pointed out that much more land will be available from the parcel north of NE 67th and about 75% of the QFC lot. The QFC lot alone could produce as many as 260 units.

Sound Transit expects to have a 60% design in early 2012, and a 90% in late 2012. As always, your feedback can be sent to

Infrastructure Decline

Federal Funding on Transportation

I don’t have much to add to this graph. Politicians in our nation’s Capitol Building make a big deal of the need to become more competitive in business, especially vis-a-vis China and other emerging markets. Then at the same time I look at graphs like this (from here via here) and wonder what exactly their plan is. China has been spending 7 to 10% of GDP each of the past 15 years on infrastructure, and is set to eclipse our economy in size sometime in the next twenty years. Meanwhile economists say “economic growth depends on high-quality well-maintained infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, we are failing behind in every infrastructure quality ranking to our economic detriment. Decline is a choice, and our lawmakers are certainly choosing it.

News Round-Up: Transportation Drama

Big Pink Sightseeing Bus
Big Pink Sight Seeing Bus in Vancouver. Photo by flickr user Guilhem Vellut

This is an open thread.

Federal Way “Reviewing Legal Options” for ST2

Federal Way’s city council has passed a resolution urging Sound Transit to build light rail all the way to the city rather than curtailing the line due to budgetary constraints brought on by the recession. Federal Way representatives will be at a Sound Transit board meeting later today to discuss the resolution.

Portion of the resolution passed by Federal Way.

Light rail to Federal Way was part of the Sound Transit 2 plan,  which was approved by voters in 2008 before the full impacts of the recession on tax receipts was known. According to Sound Transit’s interim CEO, the agency cannot afford to build light rail to Federal Way unless all other South King County projects are canceled and, even then, rail will be come more than a decade behind the schedule outlined in ST2.

Federal Way’s resolution says the city is “reviewing legal options,” and suggests the agency could curtail costs by changing the alignment or borrowing money from Pierce County, both unlikely to change the fundamentals. It also asks Sound Transit to consider entirely eliminating sub-area equity which ensures that money raised in a particular community (i.e. South King County) says in that community. Since South King has been particularly hard hit by the recession, it is facing the deepest cuts of any sub-area. Repealing the policy is a remote possibility that would likely be opposed by cities like Seattle and Bellevue who would only stand to lose money now and in the future to less urban cities.

My personal thoughts on this resolution and the rhetoric are complex. Federal Way is fighting hard for light rail and in a way the resolution brought a smile to my face. This moment may turn people against ST on the margins (claims of “broken promises”), but it to me shows that cities may be lobbying the state for ST3 funding authority sooner than later. I wonder if my read is too optimistic.

We’ll see how far the rhetoric against ST from Federal Way goes. In my view, the city has a right to be disappointed and upset, but their remedies aren’t realistic and a lawsuit would not be helpful nor would it prevail. Right now, this is looks like posturing and political pressure that’s perhaps healthy.

Roosevelt Station Design Concept

Roosevelt station concept looking west from 12th (Via ST)

Sound Transit presented some station circulation and design renderings to the Seattle Design Commission last week, showing how the planned Roosevelt station could look. The station entrances will be located on the blocks between NE 65th St to NE 67th St and 12th Ave to Roosevelt Way, taking up roughly the eastern quarter of both blocks. Escalators from the northern and southern entrance face inward, meeting on a mezzanine under NE 66th St. From there they face outward landing on the station platform towards the ends.

Despite the fairly compact footprint of the escalators the station building and entrance takes up the full two blocks along 12th, with no activation or TOD potential along or above them. I don’t know how the design could be improved but ideally underground stations should integrate station entrances into buildings with retail oriented towards the street and station entrances. The Capitol Hill and Brooklyn stations have both moved in this direction and this station should as well.

Sound Transit should show more leadership on good station design, especially as the system grows.

Update 12:55 – A post I wholeheartedly agree with over at the Seattle Land Use Blog.

CTAC III Wants Your Opinion

Seattle’s Department of Transportation has an alphabet soup of committees exploring various transportation problems.  The Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee III (CTAC III) is tasked with matching funding sources to all the various transportation projects in the various master plans, as well as basic road maintenance needs.

If you’re a Seattle resident, I encourage you to fill out the online survey about what transportation investments are important to you, and your willingness to pay taxes to support it.

There are also workshops starting yesterday evening (oops), and continuing tonight and Thursday. Showing up and having a conversation with decision makers is always more effective than submitting uninformed comments.

Metro’s New Hybrid Buses In Service

KCM Orion VII - 128 Southcenter (photo by Atomic Taco)

Metro’s 40-foot Orion VII Next Generation hybrid diesel-electric buses began carrying passengers on Monday. The restyled New Flyer articulated (DE60LFR) buses entered service a few weeks ago. Both of these buses feature the new seats we reported last month. They are low-floor and have automated stop announcements powered by GPS. These 170 Orions are the first low-floor 40-foot buses Metro has purchased since 2003.

The buses are running on routes in South King County. The Orions were spotted running on Route 128 between the Admiral District and Southcenter. The DE60LFRs can be seen on major South King tunnel routes like 101, 106 and 150. If you want to find out which buses are running on which route, you can check the status of a vehicle on OneBusAway using its coach number. The Orions are the 7000 series (7000-7169). The DE60LFRs are coach numbers 6866-6921. For example: Coach 7001 (for other coaches, change the 7001 to the desired number)

I rode a DE60LFR on Route 106 in those new seats. I really like the improved ergonomics. Unlike the old seats, I never slipped in these seats, even as the bus twisted and turned through Georgetown. The concave back fits snugly with my back and keeps it from moving sideways. The cushion was adequate. The lack of a high back didn’t stop me from taking a nap. It makes sitting sideways tolerable. Your feelings may vary.

Read Metro’s press release on the new buses for the costs, funding, and fuel savings.

This month only: feel free to use more energy

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Dear Washington,

I know, we’ve started getting good at saving energy, and that’s a good thing – keep at it.  Except maybe wait a month or two.  You see, because we had a huge amount of snow this year we actually have too much energy – not a problem we’re used to having in our modern world.  Our dams are so full that not only has the Bonneville Power Administration (the folks in charge of these things) cut off coal and natural gas plants, but they’ve even started cutting off wind farms.  The issue is that unless we generate a whole lot of electricity using our dams, we’ll have to “spill” water, or allow it to bypass our generators, and that apparently oxygenates the water and is bad for fish.  Of course that’s a terrible deal for the wind producers who have gone and invested in a renewable power source just to be told to turn off their wind turbines for a while.

So, for a limited time only, don’t bother line drying your laundry.  Power wash the driveway like you’ve been meaning to for years.  Take a few long hot baths (assuming you have an electric water heater).  But enjoy it while it lasts.  Your local wind farmer will thank you.

(I actually think the best thing they could do is announce a statewide one month rate reduction.  That will keep those wind farms in business.  Or even better – use smart meters for real-time pricing, to let you know hour by hour what your electricity costs and let you – or your next generation super-smart dishwasher – base your usage on how strong the wind is blowing on the other side of the state. )

OneBusAway on Front Page of Times

Today the Times featured a front page, above the fold story about OneBusAway. Most of the story is essentially about how awesome it is, which most OBA users already know, but at the end of the story is some new and uncertain news.

The timing couldn’t be worse, but now the future of OneBusAway is in limbo.

Ferris will finish his Ph.D. next month then work for Google at its Zurich, Switzerland, office, with a team that works on transit and direction services.

Local supporters are looking for ways to keep the project going. King County is talking to companies about contracts to support and extend the project.

At the UW, Dorning hopes to raise enough money from transit agencies and others to hire a part-time developer to maintain the system.

“An extremely high priority is to make sure it keeps running — we need to figure it out,” Dorning said.

In a way, the project will continue in Zurich, where Ferris hopes to keep working on it while building more tools to help people find and use all kinds of transportation.

“My goal,” he said, “is to go to Google and do this worldwide.”

New Apartments at Othello

Any Link riders through the Valley have no doubt noticed the monolithic Station at Othello Park going up for what seemed like forever. Well, it’s done*, and the Seattle Times wrote it up:

Other developers will judge the Station at Othello Park’s success by how much rent it can charge and how quickly it fills up.

A new project is doing well if it leases 20 apartments a month, researcher Cain says. By that measure, the Station is right on target.

As for apartment rents, Cain says, the Othello project is charging about 40 percent more per square foot than older buildings in the Rainier Valley, Beacon Hill and the Central District — but about 12 percent less than the average rent at similar new buildings on Capitol Hill and other neighborhoods closer to downtown…

But Southeast Seattle is a new frontier for the industry. Before the Station at Othello Park, “that area hadn’t seen any conventional [for-profit] new construction in many years,”  Cain says…

“I have heard lots of developers say they are waiting to see how the Station at Othello Park does,” said Al Levine, the [Seattle Housing] authority’s deputy director.

It’s nice to hear that the initial reports are good, but as with everything else let’s not judge the first project of a hoped-for  rebirth of the Rainier Valley based on a few months of data.

Because of developer hesitation, this is, however, a relatively important project. And if it turns out that the Rainier Valley is so hopeless for market-rate development than not even light rail can rehabilitate it over the next decade or so, then that would call in question, if not light rail as a whole, then the decision to go through the Rainier Valley in general and especially via MLK in particular.

* The article implies it’s done, but a source tells me the complex is leasing but not quite done with construction.

Northgate Open House Report


Click to Enlarge

On Tuesday Sound Transit held an open house for Northgate Station. Northgate Station is the northernmost station of North Link, which will stop at Roosevelt and Brooklyn stations before connecting to U-Link. This $1.35 billion (2010 dollars) ST2-funded extension is expected to open in 2021. Northgate station alone is expected to add 15,000 daily boardings by 2030; the entire North Link segment is expected to add 62,000 daily boardings. Both numbers assume a full ST2 buildout to Lynnwood.

The alignment consists of 3.3 miles of twin bored tunnels and one mile of retained cut/fill and elevated tracks. The cut/fill section will be very similar to the segment that currently parallels I-5. Previously the alignment was to transition from below to at grade at NE 75th, however last year Sound Transit revised this moving it north to NE 85th which will save approximately $10 million. The retained cut/fill section will parallel I-5 and will become elevated at NE 95th and will continue to the elevated station to be constructed just west of the Northgate Transit Center.

Lots of diagrams and details below the jump.

Continue reading “Northgate Open House Report”

Link Ridership by Station, June 2010-February 2011

STB recently obtained from Sound Transit per-station boarding statistics for both June-October and October-February. This continues the series from the first half of 2010.

A cursory glance at the numbers shows little qualitative difference between the first data set and the next two, so I think the analysis back then still stands. The June-October period is the peak ridership to date, and interestingly about half the total growth was at Westlake and Seatac.