News Roundup: Escalating Cost

Photo by AvgeekJoe

This is an open thread.

Another voice from Roosevelt

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Roosevelt Multifamily

It’s been quite entertaining and satisfying to read all the comments here at STB and elsewhere about my satirical take on Monday night’s meeting in Roosevelt. One of my favorites was Wally who asked me whether I was a hypocrite, preaching the density gospel while living in single-family home. No, Wally, I’m not a hypocrite and I really don’t want you to know where I live. But that has been the tone of much of the “density debate” in Roosevelt. Who’d want to live in a cubby hole? And rent? God forbid? Density is so bad in Wally’s estimation, that living in it is like being celibate, taking a vow of chastity and avoiding the joy of single family conjugal bliss.

But out of all that noise comes Janice, a renter and parent who articulates the points some of us have made but more succinctly and beautifully. I hope commenters will refrain from calling her, as some did speakers in favor of the DPD plan, a “fake neighbor.” Here’s Janice:

Janice says:
September 21, 2011 at 11:55 am

As a resident of Roosevelt I was embarrassed to see people booing and yelling at people who were there to give earnest testimony. Sad day for Roosevelt and I was also perplexed that no one in charge of the meeting put a stop to it until a man at the very end had to stop and ask for quiet while he tried to finish. I think many people like me where there to listen because I got an email through our PTA list essentially saying that the City was trying to ruin the neighborhood. Obviously I felt compelled to go and hear what this was all about.

After the presentation by both groups (City DPD v. SLRP) it seemed there was not a whole lot that was different. After listening to the testimony I went home and looked at both proposals. It seems to me that both proposals are pretty darn similar other than WHERE the new housing density and taller buildings will occur. Seems like one proposal puts a small amount east of the station and near the school but most to the west of the station (city). The other proposal by SLRP puts all the density to the west of the station only.

One woman made the point that higher density housing should go close to the school and park because it makes the higher density housing more desirable and livable. That makes a lot sense to me. I live in an apartment with my daughter west of 12th. I would love to be able to live in an apartment closer to the school and park so my daughter could run around on the field or just go a few blocks south and be at Cowen Park. She’ll be in high school before I know it so it would be great to stay in this neighborhood so she could walk to school and I could get to my job at the UW on the train.

It’s just nicer for those of us with kids, living in apartments that don’t have yards to be close to that open space instead of closer to the freeway. I am going to support the city plan for that reason. But what can I do to support that?

Tell Sound Transit How to Improve Sounder Stations

Photo by Slack Action

Sound Transit is figuring out how to improve car, bike, pedestrian, and transit access to many of its South Sounder stations, and staff will collect feedback on-site from 3:30-7:30pm on the following days:

  • Thursday, Sept. 22 at Tacoma Dome Station (South Tacoma Station will also be discussed)
  • Tuesday, Sept. 27 at Kent Station
  • Tuesday, Oct. 11 at Auburn Station
  • Wednesday, Oct. 12 at Sumner Station
  • Thursday, Oct. 13 at Puyallup Station
  • Tuesday, Oct 18 at Lakewood Station

Face-to-face discussions are usually more productive than internet comments, but there is an option for the latter as well.

Street-Level

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Mark Hinshaw has an interesting piece in Crosscut with the counterintuitive title, “Seattle is killing retail by requiring too much of it.”  I encourage you to read the whole thing.  I find myself nodding in agreement with his diagnosis of the problem: Seattle over-incentivizes street-level retail, and the result is too many storefronts and not enough residents to support them.  I also buy his solution: focus retail on a few commercial thoroughfares, and allow the side streets to remain residential.  He cites New York as an example:

 For decades Manhattan has had a system in which the north-south Avenues serve as the streets of commerce. Larger, taller buildings tend to flank those thoroughfares. By contrast the east-west side streets are more residential with considerably less commercial activity. There may be businesses on the ground floor (or a half-basement). Exceptions to this rule are major crosstown streets such as 8th and 14th in the Village or 42nd and 57th further uptown.

You can actually feel the difference between the major streets and the side streets in a visceral sense. The side streets are quieter. Walk off the big avenue 50 feet and the noise level drops significantly. But even other difference are evident. People walk more slowly. People linger in knots. Kids play on stoops. Street trees abound. Apparently even in New York with its off-the-charts density, people appreciate the virtues of small town living and respite spaces.

One problem with using Manhattan is that the grid is exactly the opposite of, say Belltown’s: New York’s wide, major avenues form the short sides of the grid’s rectangles, whereas in Seattle they form the long sides.  What this means in practice is that there isn’t really much room for a residential row on, say, Lenora St., because it’s so short between Avenues.  Go 50 feet off of 3rd avenue, and you’re… halfway to 4th Avenue.

Secondly, as some in the comments section have noted, Seattle does have several “high streets,” such as NE 45th, California Ave SW, 15th Ave E, Greenwood and Phinney Aves, etc.  The problem with many of these high streets is that they are often (a) limited to single- or double-story buildings and (b) located in neighborhoods that turn immediately into single-family detached housing as soon as you step off the high street.  This limits the potential pedestrian-commercial impact. Exceptions include Broadway in Capitol Hill, University Ave, NW Market St. in Ballard, among others.

I’m not really sure why Hinshaw makes reforms to Pioneer Square the centerpiece of his argument, though.  Clearly he has a soft spot for the neighborhood, but it seems to me that Pioneer Square isn’t really a candidate for the “high street” treatment.  Instead, I’d argue for more density and up-zonings, with the goal of creating a critical mass of residents who can have a seat at the table alongside the sports teams, the night clubs, and the preservationists.

ACTION ALERT: Call Our Senators for Amtrak Funding

Photo by Oran

Unfortunately, we got this alert very late in the game, but it’s always worthwhile to register your support for items like this. Even if they’re well-disposed to high speed rail and your input comes a little late, they like to know that it’s something important to their constituents:

In response to the elimination of high speed and intercity passenger rail (HSIPR) funding in the Senate subcommittee’s fiscal year 2012 bill, Senators Durbin, Lautenberg, Feinstein & Landrieu will offer an amendment today at 3:00 PM in full appropriations committee mark up.  The amendment would provide $100 million for HSIPR and you may find more background on it below.  We encourage you to contact Senate appropriators to express your support for the amendment.  You may find a list of committee members and their contact information by clicking herePlease contact your Senators as soon as you can prior to and around 3:00 pm [ET] today.

There are talking points here.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the federal process WSDOT received $31m from the Feds for Cascades. Details below the jump.

Continue reading “ACTION ALERT: Call Our Senators for Amtrak Funding”

Are We Even Having the Right Conversation?

Yesler Terrace Residences
Yesler Terrace Garden Homes, photo by SDOT.

Many people are studying the connections between housing, density and economic growth. At the heart of Ryan Avent’s short new book (Amazon Single, well worth the $2), The Gated City (alluded to here), is a very compelling argument that restrictive housing policies put a drag on economic growth and overall prosperity by limiting the supply of housing which in turn limits the number of people who are able to participate in the high-growth activities in high-growth locations. Reuters has a brief excerpt of that argument as it pertains to Silicon Valley. While the situation isn’t as acute here as it is in Silicon Valley, we are needlessly limiting housing and often we may not even be fully aware of the reasons or the consequences.

Details below the fold.

Continue reading “Are We Even Having the Right Conversation?”

Density, An Ill Defined Term

At this point I don’t have much to add what Roger and Bruce had to say about Monday’s Committee of the Built Environment hearing, but I do want to make an observation. There has been a lot of people using the term “pro-density” or “anti-density” without actually qualifying what kind of density they mean. To some, the Roosevelt neighborhood already is their definition of a dense neighborhood, to others Fremont, Ballard or Capitol Hill are dense, and to yet others Belltown is the only example of actual density in Seattle.

So while people will say they are pro-density, what they actually mean by density is much more important. In addition, what people believe the additional density associated with a new Link station should be, over what that neighborhood should otherwise have, is almost never addressed. These issue are compounded by the fact that by in large part single family zones are off the table when it comes to rezones, focusing and compounding growth into a small area.

Below is a post by Dan at his old home at HugeAssCity on the topic.

Much of the heat in the debate over urban density arises from a lack of understanding of what the metrics correspond to in the real world.  Below is a series of slides presented at a public hearing on HB1490 by a colleague of mine from GGLO, that illustrates a wide range of densities, i.e, Density 101 for Legislators.

The first two slides address the difference between gross density and net density — this has been a source of confusion for HB1490 opponents, as discussed here.

More after the jump. Continue reading “Density, An Ill Defined Term”

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

As many of you are doubtless aware, there was a zoning hearing last night, regarding the upzone of the station area surrounding the future Roosevelt Station. I’m not terribly interested in rehashing the tortured history, arguments and intrigue surrounding this rezone and the (officially separate, but practically intertwined) contract rezone near Roosevelt High School. As someone who’s perhaps taken more of an in-depth interest in the matter than most on “my side”, and reached out to people on the “other side” of this debate-cum-brawl, I have some observations that I hope will be useful for the future.

  • Stick a fork in it. The Mayor’s modifications to the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association’s proposed rezone are done. Whatever your opinion of the outcome, the last six months have been a tour de force in community organizing by Jim O’Halleran and the RNA. They’re well versed in the minutiae of zoning laws, politically and legally astute, incredibly motivated, well organized, and they vote. The council couldn’t ignore the opinions of this group of people if it tried. If only we could run transit campaigns a tenth as well.
  • Let’s not ever do this again. The upzone sideshow has become a nightmarish headache and time sink for the agencies caught in the crossfire. In particular, I think Ron Endlich and his staff have gone above and beyond the call of duty to address the concerns of neighbors in meetings beyond those required by the formal outreach process, deftly addressing the matters that pertain to Sound Transit while not getting caught in the zoning-related crossfire, which legally has nothing to do with ST.
  • This isn’t going to happen again at Northgate.  There is already a real effort underway to bring together neighbors, agencies, transit advocates and other stakeholders to talk about the station area rezone at Northgate, a process that is just beginning. I hope to write about this effort more as it unfolds.
  •  “DIY Zoning” is perhaps an experiment we should not repeat. When the light rail upzone process started in 2006, the RNA asked DPD if they could devise the plan to meet DPD’s density targets, rather than the normal method of DPD planners crafting the proposal based on community input.

    Years of successful volunteer effort (which met DPD’s density targets) created the not-unreasonable expectation that the RNA’s plan would be adopted wholesale by the city. When transit and density advocates appeared at the 11th hour to demand major changes, those people were — not unreasonably — very upset.

    Can such a process be made to work in a way that balances the competing interests of present and future residents, without offending those current residents who have shouldered the hard work of planning, and who feel a legitimate pride of ownership in their own efforts?

  • The legitimacy of neighborhood opinion. Just as RNA members tend to skew toward older, wealthier, property-owning people in the neighborhood, transit and density advocates tend to skew the opposite way in every respect. If we expect them to understand our concerns, we must take be willing to listen to and understand their concerns. If you’d poured $400,000 into a house, you’d be jittery about neighborhood land use changes, too; and to be idly dismissed as a NIMBY by random internet commenters for expressing those sentiments would be hard to bear.
  • Most people aren’t anti-density, they’re just worried about how the change will affect them. This doesn’t make them stupid or evil, rather we need to better articulate the benefits of well-planned mixed-use density (which seem transparently obvious to us), and counter the mostly-bad arguments of the very small number of people who really are just intransigently opposed to density or change.
  • Engage with people, not the internet. This is something of a cri de coeur and perhaps an odd thing for a blogger to write, but I’m absolutely convinced that if even a small number of transit or density advocates had personally gone out to the neighborhood meetings and just listened and talked to the people there, most of this uncivil mess could have been avoided. A majority of people can usually be swayed either way by someone who takes the time to address their concerns; even those who don’t fully buy your arguments will typically see your perspective and work with you to find common ground; virtually everyone will hear you out and respect you for showing up and listening to them.

That’s all I have to say about that.

August 2011 Link Ridership

Photo by Atomic Taco

Last month’s Central Link ridership was 26,221/26,627/20,905  for weekday/Saturday/Sunday. That’s right: Saturday was higher than weekdays, partly thanks to Seafair. Those are new revenue service records, up 1013%/16%/31% year-on-year. [UPDATE: ST spokesman Bruce Gray says the August 2010 numbers have been revised slightly downwards to 23,218.]

I don’t have July’s day-by-day numbers, but I believe August 12th was the single day revenue service boarding record, at 31,176. August 20th is the new Saturday mark at 28,592, and August 7th for Sundays at 26,714.

We never posted July’s numbers, which were 25,618/23,474/17,759.

From here, it’s the long, slow, cold descent into winter.

Ole! Upzone proposal gets skewered in Roosevelt

Wait, you won

What was publicly billed as a hearing of the Seattle City Council in at Roosevelt High School last night quickly devolved into a bullfight of sorts, with Roosevelt Neighborhood Association land use committee chair Jim O’Halloran as the matador and the proposal for more density in the neighborhood as the bull. We all know what happens to the bull. After a presentation of the proposal by City staff most of the meeting was spent hammering the nine members of the City Council over and over again with the reasons why near by neighbors think increases in height near the high school would be a terrible thing.

The neighborhood’s reasons stated over and over, came down to three stated and one unstated one. First, neighbors feel that any changes from their plan would be an abrogation of the sovereignty of those who live “near by.” That is, there is privilege that comes simply from living down the street from a proposed project that should afford those people the right to veto changes to zoning in their neighborhood. And let’s not forget the “many hours in meetings” neighborhood planners invested. Rejecting that would be a slap in the face by the Council to hard working citizen planners.

Second, the views in and out of the high school would be blocked. On the few days a year when cloud cover breaks, local neighbors want high schoolers busy at work on reading Moby Dick perhaps, to be able to look up and see the tip of Mount Rainier. And they want to be sure as they walk their dogs on 65th they can gaze up at the iconic high school after scooping. I’m not sure why it is so important to keep an eye on the school so intently. Is someone trying to steal it? I thought David Copperfield was retired, had he threatened to make it disappear? More after the jump.

Continue reading “Ole! Upzone proposal gets skewered in Roosevelt”

112th Ave SE Design Options

Option B, 112th Ave SE Crossing

As we reported last week the B-segment of East Link is still not finalized, with the City of Bellevue going through a blitz of public engagement over the next week. Tonight the city will hold an open house to get feedback from the public on the latest design options, and next Monday the City Council will address the topic at it’s regular meeting time.

Yesterday, the city released design drawing showing two design options that have been further refined through coordination between the City and Sound Transit. Option B, shown above, is a fully grade separate option with both elevated and retained cut segments. The elevated segment crosses 112th Ave SE at roughly SE 15th St, first reported here. The elevated crossing and retained cut design further north eliminates the only two at-grade crossings between Seattle and downtown Bellevue, assuming a downtown tunnel (C9T) is built. Option C is an at-grade design with Link crossing from the east side of 112th Ave SE to the west side at SE 15th St. Option A is essentially the original B2M at-grade design with Link crossing 112th Ave SE at SE 6th St. The changes reflected in Option B and C are in response to the city’s insistence that Sound Transit use “exceptional mitigation” for design of this segment.

Finances for East Link are already strained, and while Option B is undoubtedly the most expensive, it could be a win for both sides. It would meet the city’s desire for exceptional mitigation while giving Sound Transit a higher quality design, with completely grade-separate operations between downtown Bellevue and Seattle. This would increase reliability and slightly reduce travel time, and combined with a downtown Bellevue tunnel, could give Sound Transit more operational flexibility over the long term.

Tomorrow is ‘Don’t X Out Public Transit’ Day

Photo courtesy APTA

With serious cuts to transit and transportation proposed at the federal level, various national organizations have banded together to form ‘Don’t X Out Public Transit’ – a campaign to rally against cuts and support federal investment in transit.  Some of the organizations include heavy hitters, like Reconnecting America, Amalgamated Transit Union, and American Public Transportation Association.

Tomorrow is the official ‘Don’t X Out Public Transit’ day, with a few things you can help out with:

Get involved by taking action on September 20 and telling Congress that now is the time to invest in public transportation infrastructure! Now is not the time for cuts.

In addition to taking the above actions, tell us why public transit is so important to you. Share your transit story of about 500 words with us by e-mailing us at dontx.publictransit @ gmail dot com. We may post your story here.

While there won’t be any rallies here, the Seattle Transit Riders’ Union will be out and about handing out promotional materials so be sure to say hi if you see them around.

Details of Oct. 1st Service Change

Photo by geoff271989

Metro’s newish service change website format is great. The October 1st change details are out:

  • Total restructure of Eastside service to accompany Rapid Ride B.
  • West Seattle-Sodo routes move from 1st Ave S to 4th Ave S. That’s better connectivity to points south and Link, if nothing else.
  • Viaduct construction mitigation brings the 54 to 15-minute frequency midday and Saturday.
  • Children’s Hospital buys some new trips on the 75; new trips on the 193, 211, 303, 309, 522, 545, 577, and 586.

Roosevelt rezones up for discussion tonight

Vacant Roosevelt: What


A recent and rich study, by Needham Hurst “How Does Light Rail Transit Affect Urban Land Use?” takes a close look at how land use changed around light rail stations in Minneapolis over the last decade. The study confirms the obvious: light rail transforms land use patterns, promoting the development of vacant and underutilized land. Light rail stations also boost demand for housing and commercial space and contribute to an overall transformation of the built environment.

Tonight the Seattle City Council will consider land use changes in the Roosevelt neighborhood, where a new Link Light Rail station is planned. What’s at stake in Roosevelt is the future of light rail in Seattle. Until now, the course of land use decisions in station areas has trended toward conservative and incremental change when there has been change at all.

Hurst’s work confirms many of the suspicions of “density freaks” that see the opportunity to channel growth into a tight circle around transit stations, especially areas with vacant land like Roosevelt:

Vacant land experienced the highest magnitude and radius of LRT’s effect. Vacant land was the first type of property to be converted to denser uses—indicating the Hiawatha Line increased the marginal accessibility of properties enough to generate higher housing demand, high prices, and which in turn incentivized development on vacant properties.

In Roosevelt there is a panhandle of vacant and derelict land that extends from the station area entrance for a few blocks east, paralleling the high school and 65th. Neighbors justifiably upset with the owner of the panhandle are bitterly opposed to his realizing a profit from turning those properties into mixed-use development. More after the jump.

Continue reading “Roosevelt rezones up for discussion tonight”

Metro’s BIG Little Map of Eastside Transit Service

Metro's Frequent & All-day Eastside Transit Service Map

Metro put together a decent map showing the improved Eastside frequent & all-day transit network, featuring the RapidRide B Line, that will begin service on October 1st. Metro will be distributing these maps as a “pocket guide” to the Eastside transit network. The other side has a frequency chart and list of connections to major destinations on the Eastside, plus park & ride locations and fare information. This is a good initiative from Metro to promote its new and improved service. I hope to see these maps in the hands of as many as possible and that these maps be posted at the Eastside transit centers for all to see.

This map uses a similar color scheme to the Spokane transit map. The RapidRide B Line stands out as the Eastside’s main transit route with a thick and dark red line. Frequent service (every 15 minutes most of the day) routes are a thinner light blue. Other all-day service (every 30 minutes) are an even thinner light green. Peak-only routes are not shown. I printed it on an 8.5 x 14 inch sheet of paper from a monochrome laser printer and was able to read the map, even though the background colors and tiny streets were washed out. The green is a little too light, almost blending into the background.

Unlike Spokane’s schematic map, this is a geographic based map produced from a GIS. Metro wanted to show the underlying street grid which is helpful on the cul-de-sac dominated Eastside where walking to the main roads isn’t as straightforward as it appears. There are different intentions here in the role of each map. Spokane is creating a hierarchy of maps with a simplified system map providing the big picture and the route map providing street block level detail (also compare with Community Transit’s route map). While Metro has done the opposite with a big detailed map and simplified route maps, the one big map is all you need.

I can see Metro taking this style and quickly adapting it to the system map and expect them to produce something similar for Seattle when the C & D lines launch next year. It’s nice to see Metro finally getting maps done right.

Metro doesn’t provide a link to print or download the map but I found the source images for the map and the information tables. Warning: they are very large 2-3 MB image files.

As for my Eastside transit map, I’m still working on it. I’m going for a schematic to see how that’ll work compared to this map.

TCC Fundraiser Next Week

Transportation Choices Coalition’s big annual fundraiser is Thursday, Sept. 22nd!

Join us for Transportation Choices’ annual event, “What Choices Look Like”

We’ll be unveiling our new logo and website and showing you how transportation choices can transform individuals and communities. You’ll be snacking, drinking, and mingling with other fabulous people who care about how Washingtonians get around.

It’s our biggest fundraiser of the year, and we hope you can be there to make a difference.

If you’re looking for a way to deploy your money to improve transit around here, TCC is one of the better choices you can make. Although they do some organizing, their greatest contribution is probably to provide a body of expertise to translate the kind of values we advocate for here into policy at the legislative level. So there you have it: able advocates, “fabulous people,” and me.

And undoubtedly the website is ready for a relaunch.

East Link Isn’t Foolproof Yet

If you thought Bellevue’s light rail saga was over, think again.  Over the next two weeks, the city will host two public meetings – an open house next Tuesday and a public hearing the Monday after – all on the subject of East Link, namely mitigation for the B2M route and terms of an MOU with Sound Transit to fund the downtown tunnel.

With ST’s adoption of the final preferred alignment, these meetings shouldn’t end up being about routing or mode choice, but that won’t stop Link opponents from using any tactic possible to drag this process on longer. The City Council’s latest complaint? That the timeline for the October 24th MOU deadline is “unrealistic,” according to City Councilmember Kevin Wallace. We’ve heard rumors that the pro-B7 council quorum might try to push this deadline out, possibly even after the council changes next January.

If anyone’s at fault for the short timeline, it’s the City, which has had plenty of time to execute an outreach process and work out an agreement with ST – but instead, it’s been wasting its effort and money pushing for options that are already clearly not cost effective, like B7-R and the Vision Line. Pinning the blame on ST certainly won’t make Bellevue look any better. If the City Council wants to get serious about collaboration and getting the tunnel it wants, it would do well to stick to ST’s timeline, which it has already impacted.

The upcoming meetings, especially the public hearing, are going to be an important chance for Bellevue citizens, the majority of whom voted for East Link, to stand up against these tactics and join other key regional voices in pushing for mass transit now.