Wide geographic coverage AND intense corridor-level density? Impossible!

Within the transit world, there seem to be two types of transit advocates — there are those who are strong believers in efficient grid-based networks meant to emphasize anywhere-to-anywhere geographic coverage, and then there are those who favor implementing high-capacity transit between urban centers to spur dense growth and land use in these corridors (let’s call them Group A B and Group B A, respectively).  There’s a lot of grey area where these two camps mix, but ultimately it shouldn’t be forgotten that both are on the same side.

Often, there gets to be a pretty weird dichotomy that plays out between both factions. All of a sudden, you start characterizing the latter, Group A, as the pro-density pro-rail long-term visionaries in contrast to the former, Group B– pro-bus pro-efficiency short-term pragmatists.  For a slightly clearer example, Human Transit highlights a good quote demonstrating this split in the context of Tampa’s Tallahassee’s recent bus network restructure (emphasis mine):

This quote from Scheib was interesting:

“If you talk to a land-use planner, typically they would want you to keep … service focused more on the downtown because they want more people to live downtown, in that dense environment. I’m all for that, I’m all for urbanization, I’m all for denser places,” Scheib said. “But the reality is that people need to get to work. And you’ve got to go where the jobs are.”

I can assure you that this change won’t damage downtown.  I was hanging around Portland’s TriMet in 1982 (in the indispensible role of teenage transit geek) when they totally restructured the inner city bus system, creating a grid pattern with many crosstowns that don’t go downtown at all.  Several of those crosstowns are now among Portland’s most productive lines.  But downtown Portland survived, to say the least.

The bottom line is this: if we focus on efficiently structuring our network that tends to follow land use instead of shaping it, does it hurt our ability to promote high-density growth using transit as a catalyst?

First, Group A.

Jarrett’s defense of the Portland’s decentralization of its bus network is a little too anecdotal for my taste and doesn’t really address the true forces behind the city’s ability to maintain a strongly centralized downtown core.  But I think what’s important here is examining the level of influence a transit network has on local land uses.  The Portland case is interesting — the bus network restructure occurred before MAX and at a time when the city didn’t really have a strong transit identity.  An interesting to thing to think about is whether or not you’d have the same effects  if MAX were decentralized today.

What it comes down to is capacity and service levels of your core transit system.  The greater the capacity, the higher the frequencies, and the better the reliability, the more land use-inducing your system becomes.  We like to trend towards rail because it offers these key advantages and is usually a better bet of TOD (though there are examples of BRT-induced TOD).  Basic mathematics tells us that the densest areas are the most conducive for transit.

But what of Group B?

People in this camp tend to be interested in the here and now, making Route Y more productive or restructuring Quadrant X to save on resources.  What it usually means is quick short-term changes that can happen within a year – in other words, changes that are limited to what you can do with a bus network on non-fixed guideway, typically lower-capacity local-running transit.  This approach sometimes disturbs members in Group A who tend to be alarmed by such efforts that seem to be more about following land use than shaping it.

In defense of Group B, bus restructures aren’t primarily focused on land use because real estate markets never really respond to local-running bus transit anyway.  This is an entirely different layer of transit being emphasized– that which focuses on serving the majority of transit users that don’t live in high rises.  If we know there will always be people living in lower density environments outside of dense well-served transit corridors, then people in this camp will always have a job to do.

Ultimately, the answer to the bottom line is no– focusing on efficient network restructures does not hurt our ability to promote density.  Good transit networks are composed of multiple layers – frequent trunk corridors, peak-only express routes, local buses, etc. – and can still encourage strong centralized land uses that we know are good for transit.  This allows different groups, like Group A and Group B, to address specific layers suitable to their expertise.  What’s truly important is the ability for these groups to work together instead of disassociating themselves from one another.

If you want real proof of how well this can turn out, look at TransLink’s network in neighboring Vancouver– radially-built frequent SkyTrain lines help emphasize centralized growth downtown and along dense transit corridors.  All the while, an overlapping complementary bus grid that is both frequent and efficient helps riders travel from place to place outside of these dense areas.  This is what transit synergy is about and this is what we should be striving for.

75 Replies to “Transit synergy, land use, and the glue that holds us together”

  1. I agree with all of this, except for the idea that the two groups don’t work together already. Yes, there are the occasional bus-only advocates, but I don’t know of any rail-only advocates – an efficient bus system must exist with high capacity transit, or you leave a lot of riders behind.

    1. I’m actually a rail-only advocate. Not to say we shouldn’t have buses, at least for the moment, but I don’t advocate adding any more bus service than we have today. We have the largest bus network in the US. Put all our energy into rail, and then repurpose service hours to beef up lines we have.

      I do think that once we’re seriously paying for our energy use, we’ll be creating density where we may not want any buses, save for perhaps our steep hills.

      There are far too many bus-only advocates. You can be a bus advocate for your whole life and all you’ll do is maintain the status quo.

      1. “I do think that once we’re seriously paying for our energy use, we’ll be creating density where we may not want any buses, save for perhaps our steep hills.”

        Dude, once we start seriously paying for our energy use the private sector jobs around here will dry up and blow away in the wind. We won’t need train lines because there won’t be nearly enough jobs right near the stations that are being built. But hey, ignore the economic realities of peak oil if it makes you feel better . . . . The economy based on cheap petrol will go away, leaving a hollow shell of its former self around here. No commercial jet-building here, no fishing, no Port of Seattle growth . . . who do you think is going to be building dense living or working spaces around here?

      2. Bus systems consume more fuel/energy than LRT systems which are more able to direct local economic development and job creation throughout metropolitan regions. The Metro map is a confusing maze of duplicative lines that bypass the dregs of community centers that desperately need infill redevelopment. Seriously paying for energy consumption begins with reducing travel & transport and readily enables the replacement of corporate industrial & road-building jobs with many times more jobs in local production of goods and services, incidentally better able to control costs without corporate influence. The Seattle region should expand Link LRT, but the elite prefer Link serves only the interests of the elite, most of whom derive their income on car-dependency to which an actually functioning transit system poses a threat.

      3. Standards of living will surely drop, but as long as we’re humans there will be jobs. The entire world will be in the same boat in an expensive energy world – Seattle isn’t different or special. Even if we go all the way back to sailboats and electric trains, Seattle’s a great location for a city so there will always be a city here. That said, if we build our infrastructure for density now, we’ll increase our standard of living later (for instance, less money and effort wasted with a commute).

      4. the replacement of corporate industrial & road-building jobs with many times more jobs in local production of goods and services
        . . .
        Standards of living will surely drop, but as long as we’re humans there will be jobs.

        Really?? Local production of goods and services? I want some of what you are smoking.

        The trend is for jobs to go away from high-cost, high-tax, remote locations like Seattle. Boeing doesn’t use local suppliers, it has long multinational supply chains. That trend will accelerate. The new norm is adult underemployment of 17%. The old days (up until 20 years ago) of lots of employees working at downtown offices won’t be seen again because employees are too expensive and can be both outsourced and replaced by technology. There will be jobs created, but most of them will be far away from urban centers. That’s why prices still are falling for Class A office space in downtown Seattle and Bellevue. SLU is indistinguishable from an office park outside, say, Salt Lake City. The only reason it is even in Seattle is the massive public subsidies provided by the city to Vulcan (Bridging the Gap money, SR-99 project spending, etc.).

      5. Matt: I’m not “Bailo”(?).

        You note the US exports. Fair enough. My post had nothing to do with the US overall. It had to do with Seattle. There are not going to be lots of new jobs created near Sound Transit’s light rail stations where lots of employees make goods for export. Your problem is you think macro trends for the country can be reduced to the absurd; just because the US overall exports does not mean jobs will spring up near light rail stations in Seattle producing lots of goods for export. There are a host of reasons for that FACT, but I doubt you could grasp them.

        Your observation that worldwide cities are growing likewise has no bearing on anything I posted. Just because cities worldwide are growing does not mean there will be massive growth near the light rail stations that Sound Transit puts in. For example, there is currently underway lots of apartment building construction in Seattle, and only a small percentage of that is within a couple of blocks of light rail stations. By your logic, a huge percentage of new “density” would be formed near LR stations BECAUSE they are there. Reality proves you wrong again.

      6. “There are not going to be lots of new jobs created near Sound Transit’s light rail stations where lots of employees make goods for export.” Who said anything about making goods at light rail stations? Offices downtown export quite a bit – I have first-hand experience “exporting” engineering design to Shanghai and Dubai. Do you honestly believe the jobs downtown are purely serving the needs of the local economy? We are a global city. We’re comparatively small, but we’re sucessful.

        The US’s most valuable export, boiled down to a single word, is innovation. Innovation doesn’t come when you’re alone in your basement. It comes by walking to the cube next to you and refining a design idea. It comes by walking 2 blocks to a meeting of diverse minds, each able to refine and question that design. Businesses pay for skyscraper floor space because it values this closeness, this interactivity that is tough to get on your phone and your computer screen. A computer screen is a barrier to these interactions, and by extension a barrier to innovation.

      7. Also, an increasing number of skilled workers want to live in cities, and they’re forcing companies to locate there because they refuse to work in exurbia. That’s why Amazon is in SLU, and Google is in Fremont and near downtown Kirkland, and Microsoft in downtown Bellevue. The latter two companies have been opening offices in cities all over the country and world, because it’s easier to bring the company to the workers than to get that many workers to move.

      8. Orthogonal’s “The trend is for jobs to leave high-cost, high-tax (remote?) locations like Seattle” is argument that forces a square peg into a round hole. Downtown Seattle will continue to offer more workplace jobs than anywhere else in the region. However, MLK before Link LRT was run down. After Link, the commercial growth around stations brought with it jobs in retail & restaurant more than car-dedicated jobs. In theory, all Link stations have this potential to bring jobs to station areas. The more jobs are created outside Seattle near stops and stations along transit corridors, the less the supply/demand factor forces prices and taxes to skyrocket. Like Ben Schiendelman, I believe Link LRT expansion is necessary because it has the most potential to create permanent jobs for communities surrounding station areas while offering the most efficient means for travellers to reach major regional centers besides driving, which according to Orthogonalists among us works like magic fairy dust on Dunlaps.

      9. “The trend is for jobs to go away from high-cost, high-tax, remote locations like Seattle. Boeing doesn’t use local suppliers, it has long multinational supply chains. That trend will accelerate.”

        Until the cost of long-distance transporation catches up with them. Long-distance supply chains and worldwide markets can only exist with huge energy inputs. Boeing is unusual because airplanes themselves are long-distance transportation, and the delivery address has little to do with where the plane will be used. Other companies will locate closer to their markets. Boeing will have bigger things to worry about, namely what it’s going to sell when air travel decreases.

      10. Nonsense, most people in Washington state use cars because they have no alternative, because their passenger rail was removed.

        I don’t understand your car fetish, and it’s *not* as common as you think.

  2. Vancouver can’t be held up as a shining example of mass transit. TransLink’s rail is paid for mostly by the national and provincial governments, and the housing costs in that city are among the highest in the world. That’s fine if you’re a wealthy emigre from Hong Kong, but it’s not going to resonate too well on this side of the border.

    I’ve come to believe the version of “density” in the urban planning textbooks from last century is an historical artifact. Jobs aren’t going to cluster “downtown” anymore, or even along radial spokes away from a downtown. Telecommuting and satellite offices are where most people will work going forward. Morevoer, mass transit never can serve factories because their workforces live in myriad locations.

    Whatever its conceptual appeal in academia, dense downtown nodes served by rail aren’t going to be how economic ecosystems develop going forward.

    Just my 2 cents.

    1. That’s an interesting position. By nature, humans cluster and have done so for thousands of years. It takes a lot to decentralize a city; even post-war suburbanization could do so much. The concept of telecommuting has been around for some 20-30 years now and never caught on. What makes you think this is the future?

      1. Sherwin: Widespread broadband internet only has been available (and cheap) for five years. The old business model of “many employees at central offices” indeed is dead: contract workers at various sites networked together is happening everywhere. Historically humans have clustered together, but not in remote locations like Seattle. If this were a city on the order of Hong Kong, Shanghai or Tokyo then rail enabling that density is efficient. Seattle only will get “denser” if more multifamily buildings are put in upzoned areas, and the “Othello Station” project shows rail will not act as a success-driver for that kind of density. Putting the cart before the horse – building up a rail line and then hoping density will develop where the stations were located – NEVER has happened anywhere before. In Paris they are tearing down the density that was erected after the train lines were put in.

      2. “building up a rail line and then hoping density will develop where the stations were located – NEVER has happened anywhere before”

        Yes it has, right here in Seattle and all over the country. Guy Phinney laid a streetcar in empty land to attract development to Phinney Ridge. The area is still one of the highest density in north Seattle.

        In Rainier Valley, developers won’t leave any opportunities undeveloped. The reason they aren’t racing to build on the empty parcels on MLK is the bad real easte market, not because they’re building elsewhere. Against that is the lingering unwillingness of people to live in Rainier Valley, which has nothing to do with transit.

      3. It is the future. Take IBM approximately 350,000 employees worldwide, almost 40% of the workforce is mobile/work from home. Why some local companies insist on sprawling campuses and infrastructure to support employees who come in private cars, vanpools, or heck buses is beyond me. Maybe it isn’t lost on the shareholder community given the relative performance of both companies over the past decade in returning value to investors…

        Consider the lunacy of a company providing its own transportation network to its sprawling campus? Have you seen the size of the Connector that comes from Ballard?

        Why do we allow Microsoft to encourage sprawl in this region?

      4. “Guy Phinney laid a streetcar in empty land to attract development to Phinney Ridge.”

        I wasn’t referring to laying down rail lines to tracts of empty land in the era before 95% of the population owned automobiles. I was referring to building train lines the way Sound Transit does it . . . in and around a developed city during the past 50 years.

      5. Gotta disagree with this one —

        The reason they aren’t racing to build on the empty parcels on MLK is the bad real easte market, not because they’re building elsewhere. Against that is the lingering unwillingness of people to live in Rainier Valley, which has nothing to do with transit.

        There is plenty of multi-family construction going on now, in lots of parts of Seattle and environs. The point that around the train stations things seem quiet (from a development perspective anyway) is a good one. It could be argued train stations are not a good neighbor, or a disincentive to development in other words. The Rainier Valley was supposed to be helped by transit, and from what I can see that hasn’t happened.

  3. Sherwin, excellent article. I think it would be worthwhile to discuss bike+transit, and the possibility that dispersed high urban densities might work with high-capacity transit. This is even more relevant now that Seattle is bike city #2.

  4. Grids are best suited to geographies are flat and uninterrupted by lakes, rivers and hills. Portland’s grid system is mostly on the flatter eastside where the streets are laid out in a grid system, too. And most frequent service routes in Portland pass through downtown. The only frequent-service TriMet routes that don’t serve downtown are 57, 72 and 75.

    The restructuring of the Tallahassee (not Tampa) system doesn’t look as impressive to me. If Bellingham, home of WWU, can have a network of frequent service bus lines, why can’t Tallahassee, the home of Florida State, have even one bus line with headways of less than 20 minutes?

    1. Grids don’t have to look like graph paper. All you need are frequent routes that intersect – even if those routes wind around and through geography. The key point is to combine your service onto a small number of routes to provide enough frequency, then the extra transferring involved can be reasonably painless.

      1. Exactly. Frequent service trunks that go between major destinations and have good transfer opportunities are what matter.

        I don’t think people care about grids. They care primarily about getting where they’re going as quickly, reliably and conveniently as possible, and they’ll use whatever mode does that best.

        There is so much low-hanging fruit in restructuring Seattle’s bus network it’s ridiculous. We can do much better with the money we have.

  5. I may be missing something but I don’t see those two objectives being mutually exclusive. In my perspective you can support creating HTC spines with an emphasis on shaping and reenforcing TOD land use patters and you can support creating a grid based network. In fact I see HTC spines and grid based networks as absolutely synergistic because their success is predicated on the idea of easy and quick transfers between routes with high frequency.

  6. “there are those who are strong believers in efficient grid-based networks meant to emphasize anywhere-to-anywhere geographic coverage, and then there are those who favor implementing high-capacity transit between urban centers to spur dense growth and land use in these corridors (let’s call them Group A and Group B, respectively).”

    “All of a sudden, you start characterizing the latter, Group A, as the pro-density pro-rail long-term visionaries in contrast to the former, Group B– pro-bus pro-efficiency short-term pragmatists.”

    Wait, which is which again?

  7. I’d be far more supportive of grid-based routes in Seattle if our geography better supported it, but it’s hard to go east-west in the North or South quadrants of the city.

    I have major objections to using transit to spur density. I’m an advocate of both; but I also think both are exclusively beneficial. (Did I write that right?) Good development should be happening because folks like us are demanding it and want to live in walkable urban neighborhoods. On the other hand, transit dollars are extremely scarce and we should spend those dollars to primarily improve transit not to encourage development.

    An example of this is the lack of transit to SW Seattle in the current draft Transit Master Plan. 1/5 of the city’s population lives there and is hampered by limited connections to the rest of the city. I don’t dispute the data in the plan that shows higher ridership potential in other areas, especially in the rapidly growing South Lake Union area; I just dispute ignoring the needs of current riders/residents in favor of planning for future ones.

    1. I agree that the layout of the route network in West Seattle is currently crap, and the lack of E-W service to Beacon Hill and the RV is terrible, but after the next service change, there should be a much better-organized network there. There are many other places in the city with underserved corridors — E-W in north Seattle comes to mind — and West Seattle is no worse than those.

      After the RapidRide service change, West Seattle will have a bus network that’s basically commensurate with its population density. I may write about this at some point.

    2. I have major objections to using transit to spur density while existing density is underserved. As has been pointed out numerous times, Ballard-UW, Seattle-White Center-Burien, Madison, Denny Way, 23rd, and other places are already ready for high-capacity transit. Every year’s delay causes hours of lost time every month to passengers, and dampens the city’s and region’s commerce.

      We do need to make forward-looking investments in growth areas like Othello and maybe Bel-Red, Pac Hwy, and Aurora. But the idea that high-capacity transit is justified only if it leads to future density — rather than responding to existing density — is wrong. If you serve existing density, it shows what’s possible in other areas and leads people to believe it can happen. If you put all bets on the future, people look at the crappy half-hourly and hourly transit in existing dense areas, and don’t really believe you. It certainly doesn’t make them trust the transit agency enough to stop driving.

  8. I grew up in Chicago in the ’50s and ’60s (and for much of that time, in a household that did not have a car). I understand transit in my bones.

    In Chicago I lived in single-family neighborhoods (a density of about 12dus/acre), in a lakefront condo (a density of more than 200 du/acre), and a 19th century neighborhood of two-and three-flats (a density of 30 to 40dus/acre). In Seattle I lived for more than 25 years on Capitol Hill.

    From these perspectives, I conclude that, in Seattle, rail, of any kind, is an expensive, political/environmental boondoggle.

    Check our commuting patterns in 1960 versus 2010. In 1960 our commutes looked a lot like Sound Transit’s proposed light rail lines. Today our commute patterns look like a plate of spaghetti. You can’t serve that pattern with 19th-century fixed-corridor technology.

    The tragedy is that we could have had a fully-functioning BRT system operating from Tacoma to Everett and from North Bend to the Sound many years ago at a fraction of the cost of what we have spent to date on light rail. Let that sink in. Ten years ago, people from the entire region could have been leaving their cars at home (or, more likely, at the park-and-rides)and using transit to get to and from work. How long before that will happen with our current light rail plans?

    The division into Group A and Group B is simplistic. Group B could easily encompass people who advocate building a bus system (with stations and dedicated guideways—at least during peak commuting hours)over a decade or more.To suggest that such a system would be maintaining the “status quo” is to deny reality.

    New York city has about 20% of its commuters using transit. It is a high-density city with a fully-developed transit network with a population used to taking transit. City’s typically replace/add dwelling units at a rate of 1% to 2% per year. How long will it take for Seattle to get to New York’s density? Hint—never is a good answer. How long will it take before our light rail system is the equivalent of New York’s? Hint—see immediately preceding answer.

    Why do some of us think we are going to reverse a decentralization trend that began before the mass use of the automobile? In Chicago, Daniel Burnham famously advised, “Make no little plans.” What he didn’t have to advise the sensible people of Chicago was to “Make no stupid plans.”

    1. [George] more than half of every family in NYC, and 75% of every family in Manhattan, doesn’t own a car. So I would double check that 20% number.

      And I think you’re misunderstanding the problem. We have a sprawl problem in America – one that’s currently harming the environment and our quality of life, and one that will cause a massive problem once energy becomes expensive. Running more buses to suburbia doesn’t fix anything but traffic congestion, and in the end will get more people to move further from where they work.

      Rather than catering to the spaghetti commute patterns, the goal is to provide frequent, easy commutes in rigid, tight corridors and nodes to encourage people to live and work in those places instead of in sprawl.

      1. Matt: You are missing the big points – Sound Transit (heavy taxes for a largely-useless train) isn’t going to stop sprawl, and it isn’t going to provide any meaningful relief to the vast bulk of the population “once energy becomes expensive” (whatever that’s supposed to mean). If energy becomes expensive there won’t be the need to run buses to suburbia because there won’t be enough jobs in the inner cities of Bellevue and Seattle. You are trying to solve mid-20th-century problems (lots of jobs downtown and lots of residents in far-flung suburbs) when the number of jobs downtown are shrinking. As someone above posted, we know that’s the case because of the huge amount of vacancies in office space around here. And no, those jobs aren’t coming back.

        Matt, do you have ANY idea of the amount of tax Sound Transit’s financing plan to service its bonds will cost the people and businesses of this region? Scores of billions of dollars are to be hauled in over the next four decades for that train line of marginal significance. Your laments about sprawl and predictions of high energy costs dont’ justify that kind of financing plan in any way . . . even if that train line gets built out there is no way it would help enough people for long enough to justify the tax costs. What don’t you get about this?

      2. Justifying a cost is a value judgement, and you’re free to make up your own mind whether it’s worth it. Our region already thinks it’s worth the price, and maybe it will take a few years into peak oil until you agree – or maybe you never will. Fine with me.

        We are currently building many multi-billion dollar roads in this state that you’re not batting an eye at, even though driving is declining and peak oil is on the way. A light rail line, on the other hand, will only increase in ridership and will be useful for centuries.

        I don’t know why you think jobs will exist in sprawl, where driving is required to get anywhere, once peak oil hits, but again I’ll leave you to your opinion. Seems to me that the reduced transportation needs of density would be make more sense.

        I’d love to see numbers behind your claim that downtown jobs are shrinking. Yes, the economy crashed, but even with WaMu’s collapse Seattle did better than most places. How did Kent fare?

      3. dawg, most of your comments follow a pretty simple pattern of logical fallacy – begging the question. You start out with the assumption that the train is “largely useless”, and then you’re just looking for reasons to point to it. When you see something that agrees with you, you have confirmation bias, and decide it must be right, and when someone points out another piece of information, you decide it must be wrong.

        If you’re going to have a rational discussion, you’re going to have to control these tendencies, because they’ve led you so far down a blind alley that you’ll never know when you’re right and wrong – just what agrees with your original assertion.

      4. Also, dawg:

        If Link is of “marginal significance”, I’m sure you must not support the deep bore tunnel, because Central Link and University Link together will cost about the same amount but have more users, at lower operating cost. :)

      5. “If energy becomes expensive there won’t be the need to run buses to suburbia because there won’t be enough jobs in the inner cities of Bellevue and Seattle.”

        Where will these jobs be? A depression is probably inevitable, but some new jobs and new companies will find opportunities in the new environment. People will have to live/work/shop closer together, because they won’t be able to afford to commute ten miles by car or heat their 2000 sq ft detached house. With three million people it would be a slow, gradual restructuring, but the trend would be away from isolated houses and office parks. The opportunities will be in places where walkable infrastructure exists: Seattle neighborhoods and old suburban downtowns. Adding the missing amenities in Othello or downtown Kent will be cheaper than trying to create a walkable live/work island from scratch in an automobile-scale location (Kenmore, Covington, Overlake).

        “You are trying to solve mid-20th-century problems (lots of jobs downtown and lots of residents in far-flung suburbs) when the number of jobs downtown are shrinking.”

        Link is not just about getting people downtown. It’s about Bellevue-UW, Rainier-UW, Tukwila-Capitol Hill, Beacon Hill-Northgate, etc. All of these could be — and already are — locations of jobs. With certain enhancements, Ballard could also be pulled into the network, and also Renton. These could be in the form of rail or true frequent/fast buses. But the central part of the network needs the highest capacity and speed, and that essentially means rail.

      6. ” You start out with the assumption that the train is “largely useless””

        That’s a fact. Not many people ride it, most who do would have taken buses that were discontinued because of the train, it is not creating meaningful numbers of jobs, it is not improving neighborhoods, and the tax costs are staggering.

        Note how Matt there refused to try quantifying the regressive tax costs of the financing plan. He says whether the costs are worth it is a value judgment but he refused to even attempt to quantify those costs. The reason he failed to do that is nobody would consider those costs “worth it” based on any reasonable criteria.

        Well, Ben – you tell us how Sound Transit’s train makes economic sense. Factor in the public costs of the financing plan and explain how those are outweighed by some set of economic “pluses”.

      7. 10-minute frequency, a simpler route map (one train route instead of several bus routes), and faster trips (in some but not all cases, and especially where it previously required a bus-to-bus transfer) are all good things. It’s worth the investment because it begins to build a transit-oriented infrastructure for the city, instead of running buses in traffic where they’re handicapped vs cars. If we had built a subway forty years ago it would have cost a lot less, but we didn’t, we just let the transit problem fester and applied band-aids. Cities require high-capacity transit, as Europe knows but most of the US is just learning now.

      8. “nobody would consider those costs “worth it” based on any reasonable criteria” Except, you know, most of the voters. You do the calcs if you care so much, dawg.

    2. “Today our commute patterns look like a plate of spaghetti. You can’t serve that pattern with 19th-century fixed-corridor technology”.

      Even if commute patterns may look like a pile of spaghetti, a properly designed fixed corridor not only can, but must do the job. The reason being is that even if each individual’s commute is different, there are still and always will be large corridors where a large number of people’s commutes overlap. For example, anyone going from the Eastside to Seattle will travel in some form over either the 520 bridge or the I-90 bridge. Anyone going from somewhere in Issaquah to somewhere in Kirkland will use I-90 west to I-405 north.

      The trick here is to allow transit to serve the corridors where lots of people are traveling a significant distance along the same path even though there does not exist a small set of pairs of endpoints you can run buses or trains between to directly take people between home and work.

      While there’s no easy solution to this, I think part of the problem is that we tend to think of roads and highways as forming corridors, but transit as connecting specific destinations together. Just as it is unreasonable for a highway to have an entrance and exit ramp at everyone’s front door, it is unreasonable for a major rail line to have a station at everyone’s front door (although it can serve much more people that way than a freeway can). People having to be willing to walk, bicycle, or ride a local bus to get to a major transit stop, rather than expect one bus to go door-to-door the entire trip. This aversion-to-transfer-and-walking attitude leads to ridiculous routes like the 25, 39 (the section northwest of Columbia City station), and 42. I would even go so far as to call the 7 redundant. The few times I’ve visited the Ranier Valley, I’ve found the trip much faster and more pleasant on Link than on the #7 bus.

      Put differently, as the entire Ranier Valley is within a short bicycle ride of Link, I consider Link as serving the entire Ranier Valley, even though the number of specific destinations within an arbitrary 1/4 mile theshold form a station is very small. Similarly, when Link expands northward, I would consider Brooklyn station to serve Fremont and Roosevelt station to serve Green Lake, in the same way as the 45th St. exit on I-5 serves Fremont and the 65th St. exit on I-5 serves Green Lake.

    3. George, the conventional wisdom (and trust me, the transit geeks are nothing if not thoroughly conventional) is that “if it’s not rail, it’s not transit.” I don’t understand that mentality, given that rail is so much more expensive than buses, and so much less flexible.

      If Seattle’s light rail had been poured into a bus system, we’d have gotten so much more bang for the buck.

      1. Jake, why does “flexible” come into the equation when our main bus routes run on wires, and have been in the same place for 120 years?

        The fundamental here is that transportation is what brings development. Flexibility is a straw man – it’s like a dog whistle word for “car”.

      2. My understanding is that those buses are dual powered, and can run on diesel where there is no wire. In any case, hanging wires is a lot cheaper than running rail.

      3. The new ETB’s, if and when we buy them, will probably be able to run off wire for a while. The existing ones can’t. Not that this matters much for changing routes.

      4. The majority of Link’s cost is for the separate right of way, essentially a new street. Building a similar infrastructure for BRT would have cost about the same. Not building a separate ROW would mean squeezing more buses onto existing streets, which would have slowed them (and everyone else) down even further, and would not materially help the situation. We could convert regular street lanes to transit-only lanes at lower cost, but that’s not going to happen for a long time, and it’s impossible where a 2- or 3-lane road is the only arterial in an area.

      5. The new ETBs, if and when we buy them, will probably be able to run off wire for a while. The existing ones can’t. Not that this matters much for changing routes.

        It’s important to note that the ones we chose were battery backup, rather than diesel. Battery backup is great for routing around roadblocks or construction, but it can’t handle more than a mile or so. It’s definitely not like the old dual-mode Bredas, which used diesel for most of their route.

        (For what it’s worth, I think that battery backup is great for the current trolley routes, but I’d love to see diesel backup trolleybuses purchased for all of Metro’s routes which run on 3rd Ave, even the non-trolley routes. Why not take advantage of the wires when they exist?)

      6. I see none of you commented on my other observation, which is that overhead wires are much cheaper than rail lines. Seattle’s light rail network is a gigantic waste of money. The system never should’ve used anything but buses.

      7. I see you haven’t commented on the need for more right of way, and how that shrinks the price difference between bus and rail.

      8. You aren’t even remotely serious in this discussion. None of you are. Maybe that’s part of the reason why the voters are now stiffing you at every possible moment?

      9. You can make assertions, Jake, but maybe you should try actually having some evidence for a change, because you haven’t presented any yet.

        Railway tracks are cheaper than roads / busways. Fact.
        Buses will either get stuck in traffic or need exclusive lanes. Fact.
        Conversion of existing lanes to bus lanes gets you the cheapest improvements in mobility, but is unpopular. Fact.
        Rail, on the other hand, is popular. Fact.

        You don’t have to deal with the facts if you don’t want to, but I think many here would suggest that you do.

    1. Indeed – largely because we subsidize exurban living so heavily. On the other hand, 2010 and 2011 numbers are significantly better – Russell Investments, Amazon, and others. You’re seeing a drop due to things like WaMu in the 2009 numbers, but that office space has recovered.

    2. The trend for the number of residents living in downtown is going in the opposite direction, and at a faster rate. According to the same website, downtown’s population has increased 76% since 1990. Transit isn’t only about getting dispersed suburbanites to large business nodes for their jobs, it’s also about serving the growing number of people who choose to live in dense neighborhoods that are efficiently served by transit such as Link.


  9. Does anyone sense the hypocrisy of saying “people want to live in dense downtowns” followed by loads of socially engineered ways to force them to do so? If people really wanted to live in a super dense downtown, they would.

    Yet the overwhelming social trend, one which is desired by people, is to move to low density, healthy communities with good schools, well paying jobs and car based mobility.

    As witnessed by the current high vacancies in almost all large city downtown, the “density” was driven in the past two decades by the financial industry which created its on self-fulfilling architecture. Once that bubble burst, we now see microscopic examples of organizations trying to “save” an area.

    But even when that “urban” area gains an employer…is it really the type of density that the promoters are touting? I mean, is Amazon in Fremont — a neighborhood with a bit of larger condos built in the last 10 years, but surrounded and gaining its character mostly from the low density neighborhoods and parks. These “urban” enclaves in fact are more like exurbs themselves. Even South Lake Union is really like a Bellevue within Seattle proper…even Vulcan having seemingly abandoning the “real downtown” like Belltown to the pushers and pychotics!

    Even in Manhattan, the densest of the dense, the mid town is where all the sky scrapers are, but few want or do live there. The most desired places are the Upper West Side and its three story brownstones with rows of trees (and on street parking), or the Upper East Side, which, although has more high rise apartments, many of those apartments are the size of a suburban ranch home — or larger! Not dense by any means.

    It seems to me the only people who get density are ones who are forced into it…by wanting to live near “happening stuff” but not having the money for a big 5 bedroom condo.

    1. You’re not really portraying NYC as it is. It’s super dense and super expensive. It, like London are a hub of creativity and finance. Seattle, where we build airplanes; not so much. Microsoft has it’s corporate campus and other companies have located here to “Poach” employees but the synergistic creativity in industries like magazines/media and such isn’t a factor in Seattle. The Puget Sound isn’t just Weyerhaeuser/Boeing/Microsoft but it’s still small potatoes to major cities like NY, London, Tokyo, etc.

    2. Rebutting the cry of “Social Engineering!”, another article from The Seattle Times, July 9, 2011, entitled “Apartment developers bypass suburbs, target Seattle”

      From the article:

      Apartment development is a cyclical business, and right now it’s on a big upswing in the Seattle area. More new apartments will come on the market in King and Snohomish counties in 2013 than in any year since 1991, one researcher projects.

      This apartment boom, however, is different from those that preceded it.

      This time it’s focused almost entirely on Seattle. Developers, for the most part, are bypassing the suburbs.

      “The big driver is jobs,” says Tom Parsons, who heads Holland’s Pacific Northwest development team, “and a lot of the new jobs are downtown” — Amazon.com, the Gates Foundation, tech and biotech companies.”


    3. John, let’s let the market sort it out. You don’t want that, do you, because you know everyone will live in cities? :)

    4. John, transit planners hate it when people don’t want to live in the prescribed manner. They remind me of the story about Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect (great houses with low ceilings, leaky roofs, and surprisingly little ambient light). He knocked on the door of one of his creations, and berated the wife of the client when she answered the door. Apparently, her outfit clashed with the house.

    5. Wrong, John. We know people want to live downtown because *the rents are really high*. We know people don’t want to live in low density communities because *the rents are really low there* and the vacancies are high.

      Supply and demand, John?

      Fact is most people seem to prefer “rowhouse” levels of density over “skyscraper” levels, but “rowhouse” is still dense by the definitions usually used.

  10. Portland is an example of a place where the two groups are definitely not working together. Rail advocates focus on expanding MAX and streetcar exclusively, and pretty much don’t care about the bus system getting cut at the same time. The Streetcar even has a streetcar-only monthly pass, so they are explicitly encouraging people to use the streetcar but not use buses. Bus advocates, meanwhile, think rail is a huge waste of money at a time when bus service is being cut to the bone. I’ve come to the conclusion that the development of King County Metro and Sound Transit as separate agencies with separate funding and separate missions has been very positive. TriMet, as a single agency running all bus and rail in Portland, is constantly pulled in opposite directions, and rail always wins because the suburbs have the power. In Seattle, even when Sound Transit is building light rail and Metro is cutting bus service, you can’t really say that “bus” money is being taken to build rail–they are two separate pots of money.

      1. Well, I’ve been arguing over on Portland Transport that Metro (the directly elected regional government) should take over TriMet, which they have the legal option to do. Metro does all the long-range land use and transportation planning, but then TriMet does its own thing a lot of the time.

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