Streetsblog DC has had great coverage of the Rail~Volution conferencing going on this week in DC, with two posts that really jumped out at me (maybe I just love bulleted lists). The first post highlights some lessons learned by WMATA with regard to Metro station area design, and the second looks at nation-wide demographic and attitudinal changes that all favor transit.

… At Rail~Volution on Monday, Harriet Tregoning, director of DC’s Office of Planning, and Christopher Zimmerman, chairman of the Arlington County Board, explained some notable mistakes their cities made along the way.

Here are some of the top lessons learned:

  • Don’t build above ground: “In the short term, under-grounding can be very expensive, but in the long term it saves a lot of money,” Zimmerman said. The development that occurs above the station easily pays for the tunnel, and there’s significant savings on maintenance when rails are protected from the elements. But perhaps more important, there’s little difference between a transit line and an Interstate when it comes to fracturing the fabric of the urban environment. “A railroad takes up a lot of space and creates a barrier — something you can’t get across, like a highway,” he said.
  • Don’t do transit without housing: The lifeblood of any TOD includes not just retail and office space, but housing, too. One of the most heavily utilized Metro stations in the DC system is Gallery Place, a downtown stop that just 10 years ago was a ghost town. Bringing it back to life wasn’t just about breathing new business into the area. It was about creating an environment that boosted downtown from 1,000 residents to more than 10,000. “Retail doesn’t survive on the 9 to 5 and it creates a safety issue,” Tregoning said. “It doesn’t work to not mix the jobs and housing.”

More after the jump.

  • Don’t ignore pedestrians: Transit agencies spend plenty of time making sure their facilities are inviting, but what happens when riders exit the station? “In many, many parts of our city, we didn’t just ignore the pedestrian; we punished the pedestrian,” Tregoning said, showing an image of a man walking a concrete tightrope in a median outside L’Enfant Plaza Metro. “In many ways planning for pedestrians should predate the planning for the transit system. If you ignore the pedestrian, you don’t get the ridership. You don’t get the impact.”
  • Focus on the first floor: Creating a sense of place around a transit stop requires street-level activity — and that starts with the surrounding buildings. Funneling folks along the back side of an office complex strips the area of that vitality. “Blank walls are an act of civic vandalism,” Zimmerman said. “This kind of thing has no place in the city.”
  • Avoid setbacks and embrace permeability: Permeability isn’t just for storm water engineers; it’s for transit officials, too. Encouraging ground-level retail isn’t productive if it’s hidden from public view behind a wall or separated from walkers by a parking lot or un-tapped open space. Think multiple entrances and easy access for passers-by. Even a bustling apartment building or successful office complex has no impact when it’s a lonely island surrounded by parking. “There’s no sense of place,” Tregoning said of setback buildings. “It’s alienated from its environment.”
  • Don’t start too small: Small-scale pilots can be hugely helpful when experimenting with a new idea. But DC made a mistake when it only dipped its toes into bike sharing. The Smart Bike system debuted in 2008 with just 100 bikes at 10 stations. The size meant the initiative never took off. Luckily, with Arlington as a willing partner in bike-share 2.0, the district was able to roll out Capital Bikeshare on a much grander scale. It showed that, in some cases, you’ve got to “Go big, or go home,” Tregoning said. “Bike-share has been phenomenally successful but it was based on a solid failure.”
  • Don’t start too big: … At least when it comes to parking. That was the lesson from the large-scale TOD project above the Columbia Heights Metro stop. “One of the big fights in making the transition from a car- to a transit-oriented place is people think you need more parking than you do,” Tregoning said. To serve the million square feet of retail, 1,000 parking spaces were created at a cost of more than $40 million. But even on the day after Thanksgiving, that capacity far exceeds the demand. “On a peak day, 500 spaces are used and 500 spaces are just sitting there,” Tregoning said.
… According to Martin, Millar is right: There is a large and growing audience for more and better public transit. Here are the top five reasons we could soon see a swell of transit advocates.
  • Growing population: With the U.S. headed to 341 million residents by 2020 and 400 million by 2040, the population is growing. If the current trend continues, an overwhelming number of them are bound for the cities. “What ultimately will happen is we’ll have these urban villages everywhere,” Martin said. But more people means more cars, and tight budgets mean no new roads. “News flash: Congestion, access and mobility are really going to be challenged,” he added. In that context, public transit will be an obvious answer for new and long-time city dwellers.
  • Demographic sea change: We’re facing a profound generational shift and, according to Martin: “The dynamic is aligning with transit big time.”
  • First, there’s the boomers. There are 76 million Americans in that cohort and nine out of 10 say they want to age in place. “The question isn’t going to be, ‘Are boomers ready for transit?’” Martin said. “The real question is ‘Is transit ready for boomers.’” Lucky for advocates, boomers aren’t a passive bunch. “If you look at boomers, when we were growing up it was a time of plenty,” Martin explained. ”Our values are being in control and changing things we thought should be changed… We transformed society as we passed through it and we’re going to transform transit. We’re going to demand the things we want it to do.”

    Gen Y is inclined to transit, too. “Gen Y is much less car centric than other generations,” Martin pointed out. Compared to their elders, folks born between 1982 and 1994 are less eager to get a drivers license, less inclined to purchase a car and less likely to view automobile ownership as a right of passage to adulthood. Some would argue the trend is based on economic need, the result of student loan debt and a tough job market. “I think it’s deeper than that,” Martin said. “Gen Y is hyper connected. They are literally digital natives… Eighty-eight percent want to live in urban settings because they can be hyper-connected.” Gen Y isn’t looking for a dream home; they’re looking for a dream lifestyle and that includes walkable, bikeable, transit-oriented neighborhoods.

  • Continued climb in poverty rates: The unfortunate reality is that 43 million Americans lived in poverty in 2009 and that number grew to 46 million in 2010, accounting for approximately 15 percent of the U.S. population. For low-income individuals, owning and operating a car is a disproportionate financial burden that can consume up to 40 percent of a family budget. Public transit provides a more affordable option. “And a major part of workforce competitiveness is that it’s hard to get people to jobs,” Martin said. “There are more jobs available than we have transportation to get people to those jobs. That’s going to be a huge issue moving forward.”
  • Green going mainstream: According to SRI research, eight out of 10 people want to live green. (Their behavior, of course, may not meet that aspiration). Many report taking more eco-conscious actions now than they did three years ago. “Where this is headed is, 20 years from now, we’ll be in a post-carbon city stage,” Martin said. “We’re going to be designing cities around green transportation, and carbon units — auto units — will be phased out. We’re going to compete in economic development language against other cities in how green we are.” That’s evident in places like Arlington, Virginia, he said, where SRI’s surveys show access to sustainable transportation options already plays a role in attracting and retaining residents.
  • A new consumer craze: Combine the shifting demographics and growing environmental ethic and the result is the “new frugality.” Call it responsible consumerism or just a determination to get the best bang for their buck, but Americans want more out of what they buy. In fact, in many cases, they don’t want to buy anything at all. “The manifestation of this is collaborative consumption,” Martin said. “We’re now more interested in getting access to materials or services, instead of owning them.” Look at the meteoric rise of car sharing. Look at the growing number of websites where people are sharing their homes and personal automobiles. Transit serves the same model, freeing consumers from stuff without cramping their lifestyle.

41 Replies to “Streetsblog: Dispatches from Rail~Volution”

    1. Yep, pretty much.

      It’s heartening to know that our nation’s capital is finally becoming one of those places that learns from mistakes so as to avoid repeating them.

      The ideal is to learn from mistakes made by others, elsewhere, before making them yourself, but D.C.’s learning curve is still not bad.

      So, will Seattle still insist on making every mistake, de novo, then repeatedly?

      1. One of the amazing ironies in the US is that federal officials and Wall Street traders have the kind of transit we wish the whole country had, and they use it, and they don’t think those systems are too socialistic. But then they turn around and say it won’t work in the rest of the country and it’s too un-American. So the rich end up with access to subways, while Joe Sixpack in Boise and Joe Nirvana in Seattle have to wait for a slow bus or get a car.

      2. Mike, we don’t have to look outside of Seattle to find people who say it won’t work here. Among too much of the political, community and business leadership in the Seattle area, there is a lack of political will to make the sacrifices necessary to bring about right of way public transporation.

      3. Neo-realist: that’s true, but the point is that federal officials and Wall Street muckymucks have the most ability to change the situation. The ones who could influence things the most are living a European transit utopia right now — and walking to work in a lot of cases — but there’s some disconnect in their brains between what works well for them and how the same could be applied to the rest of the country.

      4. You know, how John can spend so much time navigating the metropolitan area by foot, bicycle, and bus, yet still clings to gloriously warped and muddled preconceptions about human spacial organization, is one of the great mysteries of the universe.

        But no matter how head-scratching his conclusions, no one can deny that he’s a curious and observant being. And it would be impossible not to observe that the prevailing form of Seattle’s recent development, and the discrete street-level manifestations of Sound Transit’s work thus far (from TIBS all the way to Husky Stadium), thoroughly violate the lessons laid out by the D.C.-experienced above.

        Massive edifices, street-inactivity, parking lots and plazas galore, commercial nodes rather than all-purpose corridors. It’s just a litany of broken rules of thumb.

        FWIW, for someone who purports to be a low-density warrior, John always sounds shockingly comfortable managing his personal space and navigating transit when he reports on experiences in NYC. Is it possible that he’s not actually averse to density, but just allergic to botched attempts at density?

        Maybe it’s just that Seattle’s 20th-century history of dysfunctional mid-range density and the mostly clueless and de-activating model of its recent densification attempts have just sullied the word “density” in la tête de Bailo. If that’s the case, maybe I agree with him more than I would think.

      5. Unfortunately, Mike, it would be pretty difficult to overestimate the intransigence of a huge portion of the Seattle populace. Even those who might vote for transit and fancy themselves forward-thinking people of the world cling to troubling autocentric biases with shocking tenacity.

        Don’t believe me? Find a neighborhood blog entry announcing any new development project (e.g. the MyBallard/PhinneyWood/FremontUniverse consortium), and check out how many comments boil down to:

        “Where will they all park?”
        “Traffic’s already horrible, and we’re gonna let all these new cars in?”
        “There’d better be enough parking in this thing.”
        “I don’t want to have to fight for street parking. They’d better have surplus, and they’d better not take away one damned on-street space.”

        “Transit isn’t for me.” –> “I can’t imagine transit being for anyone.” –> “Transit won’t work.” is still the majority sentiment around these parts. Wall Street and Washington have foisted none of that upon us.*

        (One theory: I’ve been surprised since I’ve lived here how rare it is for kids of all economic classes to attend college far away. Back east, college is often looked at as your first great chance to see how the rest of the world functions, and applying to geographically disparate institutions is pretty normal for the solidly middle class in addition to the well-off. Here, even the upper-middle-class kids are more likely than not to stick around the northwest or places like it. The rest of the world may get visited for fun, but the way it functions day-to-day seems to stay in the realm of books for the Seattle-raised.)

        (*Bush-administration obsession with only funding “new riders” (bolstering commuter-centric systems and costing us our First Hill station) notwithstanding. But he and his circle were always gated-community assholes who’ve never used transit in their lives, even if other powerful DC and NY types do.)

      6. I gather that John is from (and advocates for) Long Island suburbanism rather than NYC urbanism. I’ve never been to Long Island but I assume it’s a hundred-mile stretch of old small downtowns and low-density sprawl around them?

        Which brings up a point. Why is LIRR “good”, and PATH and New Jersey Transit trains maybe good, but BART and Link and Sounder are “bad”? Aren’t they all essentially the same thing, it’s just that some are a lot more frequent than others and can be used as quasi-subways, while others are infrequent so they don’t accommodate spontaneous trips? Should we shut down LIRR so that people will stop living on Long Island and… what, demand the creation of another Brooklyn to live in? (Yes, I know Brooklyn is on Long Island; I’m talking about the general distinction between high-density areas and lower-density areas.) Or is the population size of Long Island dense enough to “justify” its existence and LIRR? Why is it OK to drive to an LIRR station and take the train to NYC, but it’s not OK to drive to a Sounder or BART or Link station and do the same thing? In my book, the important thing is that they’re not driving all the way; they’re only driving one or two miles. 80% less driving is better than 0% less driving.

      7. “I’ve been surprised since I’ve lived here how rare it is for kids of all economic classes to attend college far away.”

        Because “far away” is further away, people like the Northwest, or they or their parents left someplace else because they didn’t like it and they still have a bad impression of it. (This happens especially with people feeling religious intolerance or perceived social rigidness in their family or city.)

        From Boston you can get to the entire east coast in 24 hours on Greyhound, even as far as Chicago and Atlanta. That’s thousands of schools and hundreds of cities to choose from, while still remaining pretty close to your parents. Here the 24-hour radius is much more limited: San Francisco, Wyoming, and eastern Montana. Yes people can fly, but they still think twice about moving to a city beyond that radius. And if they insist on a city at least as large as Spokane, there are only a handful to choose from.

        I didn’t go out-of-state because I didn’t think the advantages of a distant college outweighed missing out on in-state tuition. My first choice was UW because it’s the most urban location in the northwest, and at the time it was easier to get into UW than it is now. Maybe now I would have to look at more out-of-state or small-town universities, or suburban campuses.

      8. Correction: you can get to LA in 24 hours if you go straight south and bypass the Bay Area, but it’s still psychologically far.

      9. The difference between here and NYC is that NYC has LIRR *and* the subway. We just have Link.

        If Seattle had a full set of rail lines connecting all of our in-city dense neighborhoods in an efficient way, then I would be all for East Link and all the others. But we’re focusing on building to the suburbs first. As I’ve said elsewhere, it’s significantly faster to get from Capitol Hill to Redmond than from Capitol Hill to Ballard. That’s not the way to encourage density or discourage sprawl.

      10. Aleks: I’m focusing on the impact of LIRR outside NYC. A “Seattle first” network is unrealistic. (1) Most voters think the main transportation problems are clogged freeways, not a slow 44 and 48. That’s why the DBT, 520, and Link are being built first, and a 5-line monorail or better-than-the-monorail never got off the ground. (2) Regional transit can’t wait any longer. It can’t wait twenty years for Seattle to build out its great MUNI system. (3) Sound Transit’s mandate is to be an alternative to the freeways. If you want a city transit system, you don’t ask Sound Transit to build it. Maybe after Link reaches Mountlake Terrace, we can ask ST to build city-scaled HCT, but not now.

      11. Mike, while I happen to agree with Aleks here, the difference between New York’s commuter rail systems and BART-style endeavors is about much more than that.

        1. Using almost entirely pre-existing inter-city rail lines, grade crossings are the norm on all but the highest-volume segments, which tend to be in open cuts with simple bridges. Massive, custom-built infrastructure — of the sort that BART now has hundreds of miles to maintain — is very much the exception. (Even in California, working with pre-existing ROW to create a commuter rail network is something that could have been done if they hadn’t insisted on metro-rewarding the sprawl.)

        2. Frequency on New York’s commuter rails is actually commensurate with demand. In many cases, that means a constant flow of trains at rush hour. But if that only means hourly (or less) serving nights and weekends, so be it: that’s the trade-off you accept for not living in the city. There’s isn’t the incentive to massively overserve (like BART or Link to Lynnwood) to justify your metro-level infrastructure incentive.

        3. Commuter rail users pay a pretty penny for their service. I’m taking $10-$18.50 each way! Monthly passes run up to $400. It becomes a huge chunk of living expenses; commuters are less deluded about the cost of their suburban lifestyle as a result.(A BART Rider may pay $6 yet cost the system $15 in subsidy. Link riders to the boonies probably won’t be asked to pay more than $4.)

        New York’s commuter fares are so high as to seem punitive, which is itself a problem because the expense of the city and the breadth of the metropolitan truly do prevent a lot of people without means from living close to work. (I don’t feel bad charging a Westchester executive $400 a month, but an immigrant from Patterson may have little alternative.) But it’s still better than Link’s prescription for Puget Sound: “Sprawl away! We’ll make it easy and cheap!”

      12. In my book, the important thing is that they’re not driving all the way; they’re only driving one or two miles.

        Just as a quick introduction, I’m less of a transit activist, and more of a railfan, so my points are biased. I’ll also note that I live on in Nassau County on Long Island, and once lived in Queens on the outskirts of the city. And I’ll note that I stumbled upon this blog as one of my railfan friends is a former resident of your metro area, and it seemed prudent to read some things here before I go play railfan in your part of the country. :-)

        Admittedly, I tend to be a bit agnostic about park and rides, but our situation is somewhat different here in New York Metro. Transit is admittedly less of a choice factor for those working in the urban cores, so a lot of the ridership is implicitly forced to ride on the commuter rail network lest they sit on the highway, pay tolls, and pay say, up to $500 per month to park their cars. On the Long Island side, there just aren’t that many of the large mega park and rides at each stop, and a decent number of the ridership either takes cabs, gets dropped off, or walks as our some of our suburbs are semi-walkable, especially in older, more established suburban areas. By default, I’d still much rather have people drive to a P&R in lieu of sitting on the expressway all the way to Manhattan, or like my brother, soaking up subway capacity meant for urban travel at the terminals. There are always going to be suburbanites for varying reasons, and it’s better to pander somewhat to them than to pretend they don’t exist and complain about them driving into the city while secretly hoping that they’ll morph into urbanites out of frustration.

        Regardless, despite near-government ownership of most of the railway infrastructure, it just isn’t used in effectively, IMHO, off-peak when compared to European systems, and that’s what drives me crazy about the LIRR/New Jersey Transit/Metro-North setup, as despite hourly or half-hourly service on certain lines, it still reinforces the same patterns and divides between urban and suburban, and prevents easy travel between these areas. In contrast, Seattle seems to hemmed in by the fact that anything with Sounder needs BNSF to sign off on it, so unlike New York and Philadelphia which inherited a large commute rail network with little interference, you’re stuck catering to the needs of the largest freight road in the country. Given the topography issues, Link ends up being a light rail system forced to place somewhat of a BART/German S-Bahn role more blatantly when compared to other regions (e.g. Portland), and Sounder ends up with unusable service. I’ve seen light rail systems in Germany (Stadtbahns), and the station spacing is rather tight when compared to Link. So in a realistic sense, the best mix for Seattle would be Link + streetcar and enhanced bus service where possible along with improvements to Sounder for off-peak service.

        So in short, while New York may have the best transit in the country, I’d argue that one should aim higher, and try and ape as much as one can from the European systems as possible. Don’t repeat our mistakes, and don’t get caught up in a pro-urbanization argument. Instead, it may be prudent to simply argue for more public transit resources so that urbanites *AND* suburbanites have decent access, and as older suburban areas decline, better rezoning along main corridors.

      13. forced to ride on the commuter rail network lest they sit on the highway, pay tolls, and pay say, up to $500 per month to park their cars.

        Where’s the problem with that? Put that in place in Seattle before you build light rail and there will be a whole lot more concenses on why it should be publicaly funded. BTW, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing a conjestion charge.

      14. ommuter rail users pay a pretty penny for their service. I’m taking $10-$18.50 each way!

        That’s because the high wage structure of our railroads forces the higher fares in order to meet a respectable farebox recovery rate. These are systems in which 50% recovery is considered an average year. The downside is that the fares discourage off-peak utilization, scares off suburban middle income employees from working in the core urban area, and low income riders are implicitly forced to use slower bus and subway combinations. I’d argue that we (in New York) need fare restructuring as seen in Germany, in order to have free transfers between the bus and subway networks and the commuter rail/regional railways, and reduction of costs via reduction of on-board personnel* as well. I would argue that any system attempt to build itself from the ground up should aim for that model than to segregate each mode and create an institutional barrier between the modes when it would be best to have everything work together.

        *We have conductors and assistant conductors who collect all tickets on all runs, and the LIRR still has the “brakeman” on each train.

      15. Put that in place in Seattle before you build light rail

        It’s a bit easier here in New York as the tolls have been extent since opening of crossings that currently have them, although, there is a complement of free to use bridges between Manhattan and the Outer Boros. There have been some attempts to toll those bridges during peak hours or to implement a general congestion charge, but the public has been against it with claims that it’s “unfair” to motorists and the so-called middle class while leaving the core as a playground for the rich, or that the MTA will magically waste the money. Mind you, most people have no idea of how the transit system is funded on an operational or capital basis, and the media is of no help either as it tends to pander to the citizenry.

        The best thing for transit activists to do is to ensure that Sound Transit and it’s county-based partner agencies are well-run, avoid media scrutiny, and continue building well-planned, well-implemented transit projects to increase faith in transit agencies. Otherwise, you will run the risk of losing voter referendums and initiatives in the future. And yes, if it means beating up on transit employee unions for having high pay, overly generous fringe benefits, or work rules that prohibit service improvements, then so be it, as the goal is to maximum public transit access and usage, not employ people as employees.

        Where’s the problem with that?

        I’m a roadgeek, and even I’d rather park myself on the LIRR for my off-peak trips to the core. Besides, I’m far too lazy to park on the street, especially in Manhattan. Regardless, I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with that as it induces transit usage, while avoiding a blanket ban on auto usage. I’d argue that if Seattle wants increased transit usage, it should consider restricting the amount of parking or increasing the price of it, but I’d wonder how the mechanics of that would play out. Unlike New York or to a greater extent, a European city, there’s less of a prestiege factor in locating in an urban core, hence why nobody thinks poorly of Microsoft for being based in say, suburban Redmond. So while theoretically, Seattle can’t control the future of it’s suburban areas and destroy the office park based competition, it may be best to encourage a healthy business climate that attracts businesses and employees to the core as well as residents, and it may be time for the region to plan as a whole, but the tax dynamics of municipal governments make it hard to do that as governments like to have the tax benefits of development.

      16. “there’s less of a prestiege factor in locating in an urban core, hence why nobody thinks poorly of Microsoft for being based in say, suburban Redmond.”

        Yes they do. There are a significant number of people who hate Microsoft’s location and refuse to work for MS because of it. I think that’s why Microsoft’s latest expansion was in downtown Bellevue rather than another office park. Attitudes have changed since the Redmond campus was built in, I don’t remember, the late 1980s? The downtown Bellevue location is good for both employee relations and for impressing business visitors.

        “Using almost entirely pre-existing inter-city rail lines”

        That’s great but we don’t have those. For fifty years we’ve built population centers not near rail lines, like Federal Way, Redmond, Lynnwood, and Issaquah. Even where historic track exists (NE 118th, Edmonds-Mukilteo), it’s single-track and deteriorated, not suitable for full-time passenger service. New York and Chicago kept their existing commuter lines from the early 1900s, which encouraged suburbs to grow along them rather than just anywhere. So, because we don’t have those legacy lines, we should just forget about commuter rail? Or we just have to spend more money now to build what we should have built fifty years ago?

        Ten minutes off-peak to Lynnwood and Redmond is not a major expense compared to turning back at Northgate and Bellevue, and it’s not a long distance compared to LIRR or BART. If it generally encourages people to take transit off-peak, and to take it to Seattle Center and ballgames and shows and the like, it’ll be worth it even if the ridership is mediocre. The main expense is in building the line, and we aren’t building it solely for off-peak.

      17. By the way, I confirmed the North Corridor plan is 4 minutes peak to Lynnwood on two lines (Lynnwood-200th and Lynnwood-Redmond), 5-minutes off-peak to Northgate on two lines, and 10 minutes off-peak to Lynnwood on one line (the other line turning back at Northgate).

      18. Yes they do. There are a significant number of people who hate Microsoft’s location and refuse to work for MS because of it.

        FWIW, it’s been less than three years since Microsoft completely revamped its west campus (i.e. west side of 520). With the amount of money they’ve spent there — and considering they own the buildings — they’re not leaving any time soon.

        If you actually look at commute patterns, though, this is understandable. I would much prefer to work in Seattle, but as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my commute from Capitol Hill to Redmond is actually faster and easier than a similar commute to Fremont (Google/Adobe) would be.

        And many of their competitors also have suburban locations, including Google (Kirkland) here, and dozens of Silicon Valley companies.

        (And also, something like 75-80% of Microsoft’s employees live on the Eastside. So for them, avoiding I-5 traffic and 520 tolls is a good thing.)

        As long as Microsoft can afford a fleet of shuttle buses for their Seattle employees — and as long as most of their competitors can’t offer a significantly better deal — there’s much less of a downside to their location than you might think.

        And to totally change the subject:

        The main expense is in building the line, and we aren’t building it solely for off-peak.

        Call me crazy, but I just don’t think the expense of rail is worth it if the capacity is only needed for 30 hours a week.

        costing us our First Hill station

        I thought the problem with the First Hill station was engineering (something about soil conditions). Do you have more info on this?

      19. Aleks:

        “…a station at First Hill probably would keep the project from getting that money, because the line wouldn’t meet the Bush administration’s new, tougher standard for cost-effectiveness. While it would cost a lot, it would attract relatively few riders who aren’t already transit users, [Joni] Earl said.”

        I remember The Stranger delving much deeper into what the Times has here relegated to the bottom paragraph. Unfortunately, that was back when the print version was paramount, and I’m having trouble finding the articles I recall in their archive.

        Here’s the gist: The “soil issue” existed, but it would have made the station more expensive rather than impossible. In the way it was fed to the media (as the lead factor, but with a paucity of specifics) revealed it as a bit of a red herring.

        The real problem was a deliberately anti-urban change by the Bush Administration to the formula for determining “cost effectiveness” of transit projects that applied for federal funding. The grossly distorted “worthiness” metric favored “new riders” at all costs while de-emphasizing any project that improved service for “existing transit riders” — no matter their numbers or how crappy the service they were currently suffering. So first hill, whose residents and employees overwhelmingly use transit already, would basically be told by the Bush metric to fuck off and suffer forever,

        The First Hill station was never rejected by the feds. Sound Transit was too terrified of the new rules to even send a proposal with First Hill intact. We, the public, were never even offed a dollar figure to explain the true impact of “soil issues.” My hunch is Sound Transit might have taken First Hill off the table, out of fear of Bush scuttling the whole U-Link subway, even if they didn’t have the “soil issues” to blame.

        First Hill will lack true rapid transit for all of eternity. Just another casualty to add to your list of Bush’s “you didn’t vote for me, get bent” anti-urban slights.

      20. Mike, I agree that Seattle would have lacked the appropriate pre-existing rail network to allow for the creation of low-capital-cost commuter rail. But the Bay Area would have. That’s why I’m so critical of what it did instead: from-scratch metro with very high capital costs that begat very high operational costs (for sprawl-rewarding and disproportionate-to-actual-demand service levels to justify what they built).

        BART continues, every day, to hemorrhage money that could have been better spent on rapid transit in the urbanized areas (no, I don’t just mean SF) and on forms of service to the outer suburbs that would actually be appropriate for demand patterns.

        For the record, and as I’ve stated many times, I see our South 200th, Lynnwood, and Overlake projects as necessary and effective enough to be worthwhile: bottlenecks are bypassed, a handful of two-way demand inducing satellite activity centers are reached, and everyone further north and south has a good P&R to access the line.

        But the suburbs, and the politicians that yell on their behalves, can’t be satisfied. “Frequent trains to Everett,” they demand. “Issaquah,” they propose. “A circle line through Renton,” they dream.

        And, as usual, urban needs are sacrificed, as streetcars are deemed adequate and multi-mile stop spacing is made default (can’t slow those suburban trips down!).

        I don’t hate Renton, and I know that Everett can conjure some all-day demand. But the former is mostly sprawl, and the latter’s entire population is less than the U-District-Ballard corridor + Greenwood… with a lousy economy that doesn’t really attract visitors. For the foreseeable future, neither will have the demand to justify billions in construction or the high cost of rapid transit operation. (Economies of scale advantage rail. Everett and Renton just don’t have those.)

        The moment we start actively pursuing such extensions is the moment the least flattering BART comparisons become apt.

  1. One more point about the Baby Boom generation. I don’t know the general trends about elderly and housing, but it sure seems like the city provides a much higher quality of life than the suburbs. You can live an active life for decades after losing the ability to drive, if you’re in a city. In the suburbs… you pretty much go to a retirement home (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing – it seems kind of like dorm living, but presumably with less binge drinking – but it also comes with a lack of freedom). It’s interesting that even in the suburbs, the answer to old age is density.

    1. There’s a huge retirement complex right around the block from me here on Kent East Hill…the cool thing is they built it overlooking a skate park.

      So here you have the old protecting the young and the young being around the old.

      There are many paratransit vans and vehicles available to the elderly including Dart services.

      I think most elderly people would rather be in an environment with lots of trees and green open spaces as well as where families are rather than being stuck in a cubby hole condo 20 floors up surrounded by yuppies…

      1. This from a guy that wants to live in the middle of nowhere.

        People like to interact with other people. They like to shop. They like to go to the museum. They like to go to lectures, and movies, and to the opera. People do not like to spend time on Dart to do any of these things. This doesn’t change because you get old.

        I think you overestimate the number of people that want to spend decades of their lives stuck in a box in the woods.

      2. Many elderly people — and disabled people — initially like the “green” low-density environment of their retirement home or group home. But after a while they feel cooped up because they can’t go anywhere without a vehicle, and in many cases that means a shuttle van or their visiting relative’s car. It may mean they can leave the grounds only once a month when their relative visits. By then it may be too late to move to a higher-density home, either because none is available or they can’t afford it or they’re too frail.

      3. And these same frail old people are going to leave their senior center (we have a nice one here in Kent right next to Earthworks Park…a park designed by an original member of the Bauhaus) and get on a bunch of steep escalators to ride on a train with drifters instead of taking their own shuttle bus to Benaroya??

      4. No, it’s the man with Down’s syndrome at a group home in Renton, where the streets are too trafficky for him to safely cross, there’s nothing within walking distance except single-family houses, and his caregivers don’t speak English and are paid minimum wage so they’re not much companionship.

        It’s also the elderly woman on fixed income, who has to live in a Section 8 apartment with certain disability accommodations, who finds that only three or four units in the entire city meet her requirements, and only one or two of them are on a bus line, and one of them is on top of a hill with the bus stop at the bottom of the hill.

        We really screwed the pooch in our suburbs design. All that money wasted in the 60s, 70s and 80s, and in the 2000s bubble, that could have split the investment half-and-half between single-family blocks and good transit neighbrohods, so that people would have a 50-50% choice of either one, rather than a 90% choice of automobile-only neighborhoods and 10% walkable neighborhoods.

      5. My dad and stepmother at hardly frail or unable to drive but are planning to move closer to Phoenix from their 55+ community halfway between Phoenix and Tucson.

        Why you ask? Because they find themselves driving to one city or th other all the time to shop or go out and do something.

        The area they are looking in doesn’t have great transit access but a 5 mile drive to the nearest light rail station beats a 50 mile drive.

    2. I’m finding with old age in the suburbs, the old are going to the nursing homes or moving in with the grown kid and his/her inlaw. In the cities with old age, I’m seeing home day care.

      But the old in the suburbs keep driving past the point they should due to hubris and no other accesible commuting options.

      This is all anecdotal

      1. Which old suburbs aren’t densifying their centers? Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Renton, Burien, Kent, and Shoreline have all done so, and will continue to do more so over the next few decades. Lynnwood, Federal Way, and Des Moines haven’t done much yet but they promise “any time now”. I’m not sure about Mountlake Terrace. Tiny cities like Carnation are so far outside the growth area, and so small, that it doesn’t matter if they don’t do anything.

      2. Old suburbs usually had an old town core to start with.

        Consider, for contrast, the wastelands of SeaTac. Do you see that densifying, ever?

  2. The reason for RR tracks being a barrier akin to the freeway is that here people generally don’t have the common sense to stay away from the train, so a innumerable amount of barriers are placed to ensure the train isn’t hit.

    Portland’s Interstate Avenue is an excellent representative of this.

    Otherwise this would barely be an issue, many places tracks are fine at street level. That said, I agree with many of the other points about rail being underground.

    1. Yeah.

      It’s downright silly to compare “a railroad” with a freeway — they are very different in most cases. Even lines with extremely high ridership are far smaller than a typical freeway, and can be easily elevated without undo impact on the surrounding environment.

      For example, see Tokyo’s Yamanote line. It’s probably the most heavily used rail line in existance, and it isn’t underground (it has a mixture of elevated, at-grade, and trenched sections, with some short tunnels). Yet its impact on its surroundings is surprisingly minor outside of stations (where its impact is beneficial); a highway in the same location with the same throughput would be utterly unbearable. The sheer size of a highway makes it more expensive to elevate or bridge (meaning it’s done less often) as well as vastly increasing the mental impact it makes, and the constant noise of a highway is very different than a rail line.

      Obviously you need to take some care—grade-separation is very important (though not entirely critical), as is the question of how people get from one side to the other. However a subway is not the only reasonable solution (though of course it’s often a pretty good one).

    2. I wonder which RR he was referring to. It must be a segment of the DC Metro that wasn’t built with sufficient pedestrian crossings and mitigation.

      1. Don’t know specifically what was being discussed, but the Green line around College Park, MD definitely was a STRONG barrier to pedestrian or car crossing. Much of it is an above ground berm-style line.

      2. Freight rail lines create impenetrable barriers in a lot of communities, though not so much in Seattle except in Interbay/Magnolia. Intracity rail lines are usually designed with consideration for their effect on the neighborhoods they travel through, whereas intercity rail often pre-dates the communities that grow up around it.

      3. The metro ones were actually newly constructed for metro as far as I know. Part of the problem is I don’t BELIEVE DC metro with their third rail system ever has at grade crossings of any sort. Good for metro being on time, but bad because crossing literally means a bridge or a tunnel. Around College park there weren’t many crossings at all, and some of what was there was scary, dark pedestrian passages under a rail track…

      4. Certain sections of the DC Metro are built above ground adjacent to freight lines, creating FOUR TRACK — or wider — barriers to cross. This starts to get substantial, and it starts to be really desirable to have it grade-separated.

        Four tracks elevated is OK, though, as long as the track spacing isn’t too large. Six tracks and it starts to be too much of a barrier elevated; it starts to be “freeway sized”. Six tracks trenched seems to work pretty well though.

        If you trench, you can always cover the trenches later.

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