Part of the answer of why we can’t have this here is that Seattle isn’t New York: it simply doesn’t have the density, the transit system, or a population that has largely escaped the mindset that their car is the only way to get around.

But another part of it is institutions. Our local laws simply don’t allow political appointees these kinds of powers. There are lots of rules about process and a tendency to have an election for even minor positions. After all, in many ways, Ms. Sadik-Khan is a 21st century version of Robert Moses, if on a much smaller scale, and was spawned by a similar set of political structures.

97 Replies to “Christmas Open Thread: Janette Sadik-Khan”

  1. We can’t have this in Seattle?

    We can’t add more bike lanes? We can’t do road diets? We can’t build pedestrian improvements?

    Uh, we are doing those things.

    1. One of the things worth noting is that the pedestrianization of Broadway *improves car flow*. This was predicted in advance. NYC has a very straightforward and complete grid, and Broadway *breaks the grid*, massively screwing up traffic.

      This is a basic principle. Now, Seattle’s grid is already completely busted south of Denny, north of Yesler, and west of Broadway, with two separate sections of different grids at different angles. Somewhat akin to the mess in Lower Manhattan, which even Sadik-Kahn has not attempted to fix. And further south, the grid is not well-established, with lots of the east-west and north-south roads failing to go through.

      The analogue to pedestrianizing Broadway in NYC would be pedestrianizing E Madison Street east of 12th, a grid-breaker in a well-established grid with few breaks.

      Or pedestrianizing Westlake Ave. from Denny to Stewart, which is completely at odds with the local grid (yes, the local grid is also at odds with everything around it). This might actually be a decent idea, except that the way the grid runs into Denny forms a barrier.

      Denny is difficult to fix due to being the line between two different grid systems; it will always have both criss-cross traffic trying to get from one grid to the other, and straight-through traffic. Seattle’s Broadway would be expected to suffer the same problems. Rearranging the way the grid “curves” across Denny to encourage traffic to cross Denny rather than going along it might help.

  2. Remember, one of the main reasons Bloomberg is allowing Sadik-Khan to do all this is because Albany nixed the toll charges that would have been levied on the Bridge-and-Tunnel crowd that DRIVES into Manhattan every day. Take away that daily injection (like a fix/hit of narcotics?) of CARS* and not only Manhattan but much of New York City would be a very different place on a day to day basis.

    *(Delivery Trucks are a whole different issue, but with a toll charge the city could manipulate the kinds of trucks that come in every day to do their work. 18-wheelers are often used because they are “handy” not because they are necessary or proper for the job)

  3. I agree with you on Seattle process and endless elections but Seattle’s topography may make a lot of the ideas difficult to bring about. It would be nice to see Pike, Pine and 5th, 4th and maybe 1st Avenues more pedestrian friendly but I don’t see anyone wanting to advocate closing them to buses and cars.

    I don’t find Seattle to be as car dependant as you argue. A car dependant city would be Los Angeles. Here we are more flexible in our choices. I advocate that we continue to provide more choices for people.

    When does construction start for the First Hill Streetcar?

    1. From the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog:

      Seattle Department of Transportation planner Ethan Melone tells CHS that we’ll begin to see construction related to the new line come January:

      Construction is expected to begin in January 2012. Initial work would begin on First Hill (between Madison and Boren); work on Capitol Hill would start later in the 1st or 2nd Quarter. We are working on the detailed schedule with our contractor as part of final contract negotiations, and that should be available in December.

      1. You’ve got to wonder why we’re buying steel from China. They import iron ore, metallurgical coal and scrap steel, then sell it back to us as finished product.

        I guess FHSC is not subject to Buy America? Or is in-street rail just not produced in the USA?

      2. Pretty amazing that our local government allows us to use this rail while “railing” against shipping local coal to China. Time to look at the big picture. I’m not sure if Nucor West Seattle or any mill in the Northwest makes rail, but if so, wouldn’t that be the most ecologically sound, local and authentic purchase we could make? It would be interesting to trace the negative ecological impact of sourcing this rail from China and compare it to the positive ecological impact of the first hill project.

      3. Rail is a specialty steel. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are no suppliers of streetcar-rail steel left in the US. :-(

    2. Funny that you mention L.A.

      While it certainly is nice to have a car to get around, it is not impossible to live in Los Angeles without one. Indeed many of her neighborhoods and adjoining cities grew up as classic Sam Bass Warner “Streetcar Suburbs” (Echo Lake, West Adams, Glendale).

      The places that a really car dependent are the cities that have truly grown up in to the era since the signing of the Interstate and Defense Highway Act: Places like Orange County, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Houston, and Orlando. In those places is one truly lost without motorized transportation.

      1. With Phoenix’s light rail, it’s now just about possible to be car-free IF you have a road bike and you’re willing and able to ride fast in bike lanes on arterial streets AND you chose the place to live appropriately; I did it for a while. Light rail connects two of the big entertainment/employment/residential centers, and Tempe around the University and Downtown Phoenix are fairly walkable and bikeable. Frankly, 90% of the interesting things in Phoenix/Tempe are on the light rail. The rest of the city is not set up well at all for bikes, but you can usually find a minor arterial that’ll work for you.

        I’d grade them like this: Seattle, in most neighborhoods south of 85th St and outside most of West Seattle, it’s reasonably possible to be car-free if you don’t have kids. If you have a kid, it’s still possible, but you basically have to live on Capitol Hill or a couple of other neighborhoods that have all the things you need, and you have to structure your life around being car-free. Phoenix is a notch down from that. If you don’t have kids and you have the ability to structure your life around being car free, there’s a few places you can reasonably do it. Outside of that little envelope, forget it.

        I’m kicking myself for bringing the bike I had in Phoenix up here to Seattle. It was damaged in transit and I ended up selling it for a pittance. My mother lives just outside walking distance of one of Valley Metro’s rail terminals, and if I’d kept the bike there, I could get around well enough to visit all my friends and all the cool stuff in Phoenix without having to borrow her car. Oh well.

      2. I second the notion on Tempe. Quite impressive.

        Transporting Bikes in a move is indeed often a tragedy in the end; sell it if need be and put the cash in your pocket which travels better.

      3. LA and Seattle are no doubt far better than the post-Eisenhower cities. But take a stroll through Boston’s North End sometime.

        *That* is a pedestrian city. There are cars, but it doesn’t matter; the streets and buildings are sized for people, and it shows.

        Even looking at a birds’-eye view is revealing. You can tell that the buildings are very short by conventional standards, and yet the North End is one of the densest neighborhoods in Boston, largely because the streets are so small (and every building has been mixed-use before it was cool).

        The only place in Seattle that has the same feel is Pike Place / Post Alley. I don’t know how, but we need to build more of that.

      4. If you like to go places outside of Seattle, e.g., Snohomish County, Olympia, or like to go out at night, e.g., music clubs on Capital Hill, it is virtually impossible to go without a car since you’re hard pressed to get public transportation to those areas or get to and out of those areas at night. I do know about people who hypocritically brag about being car free but use Zipcar incessantly for errands and day trips.

        If you’re not bike savvy and want to expand your horizons in travel locally, it’s very challenging to do so around here; and I say this as one who grew up using subways and buses almost exclusively for travel.

      5. East Coast Cynic.

        I don’t know about Capitol Hill, but in Pioneer Square there are usually plenty of cabs on weekend nights.

      6. Snohomish does not have the density for any type of transit except peak commuter service. Hell, that’s even true about a lot of Seattle north of 85th St.

        Frequent all-day transit isn’t the best way to serve those areas, and we shouldn’t try. Instead, we should be redirecting our transit spending to the high-density urban areas where it can be most effective. The fact that Capitol Hill is hard to get to from the west side of the city *is* a problem, and it’s one that Link will very happily fix.

    3. Seattle may not be car-dependent, but it’s definitely motor-vehicle dependent. If not for I-5 and our wide (by European standards) streets, walking from the Broadway QFC to Fairview/Harrison (for example) would take half as long.


    What do people think of this proposed stadium? I generally detest stadiums for their negative effects on walkability and the massive car congestion they cause through downtown. On the other hand, SODO is basically a pedestrian wasteland anyway, and this new stadium would be further away from Pioneer Square. Of course, it also brings jobs, money, and other regional amenity into the city. I guess if it’s privately funded, I don’t mind.

    1. I just wish it could be built next to the SODO station … would make taking Link to it that more appealing …

      1. the proposed site is north of Holgate St. … which is the RR crossing between SODO and Stadium stations … and on the other side of the BNSF rail line.

        while not really “that far” from either Stadium or SODO … it isn’t next door either

      2. It’s a .6 mile walk to either SODO or Stadium Link stops. It doesn’t matter anyway because the Link will be full of Seahawk and Mariner fans. Can you imagine if we had Seahawk, Mariner and Basketball game at the same time? It would almost be worth putting a Sounder stop right there just for games since the Sounder can actually hold a lot of people.

    2. It’s a pedestrian wasteland, so we might as well make it more of one. No, I don’t buy it. The way to mitigate dearths like stadiums is to space them out, not clump them together. SoDo could be very nice if the right kind of buildings were built there.

      1. Anc: The problem is that modern sports stadiums are ridiculously, absurdly huge.

        When Fenway Park was built, Fenway was still an outlying area of Boston — a streetcar suburb, if you will. Even so, the park is only the size of a small city block. Now, Fenway is a dense urban neighborhood, and the park is surrounded by restaurants and bars. I think it’s fair to say that more people walk or take transit to Fenway games than drive.

        But most important of all is the fact that those restaurants and bars are open nearly 365 days a year. So even when there isn’t a game, the neighborhood is still lively.

        In contrast, any stadium built today would be ten times bigger, not least because there would be tons of structured parking. There are already two monster stadiums there, so with a third, any hope of smaller-scale development would be completely dashed. Now you have an area about the size of 2-3 Bellevue superblocks that is completely abandoned except for the ~50 times per year when there’s a game.

        And again, because of all that parking, most people are going to drive there, even if you had a train stop in the stadium! But you don’t — the stop is a quarter mile away, once you take into account how far you have to walk inside the stadium (because it’s so damn big).

        So, I’m with Ryan. If we have to build this monstrosity, let’s at least have the decency not to put it in a dense urban area (or an area that might become one someday).

      2. One advantage in downtown stadiums is you can take transit to them. That works in the suburbs only if it’s right downtown, as in the Kent ShoWare Center and Everett Events Center. But even there it’s difficult. The last 180 going to Link is at 7pm, and the last 510 from Everett leaves around 10:30. So you either have to leave in the middle of the event, or drive.

        The point isn’t whether most people take transit to it, because most people don’t take transit to anything. The point is whether you can take transit to it. If people who want to take transit end up driving, something is wrong.

      3. @Aleks: Fenway sounds a lot like Wrigley, then…

        The thing is, a basketball stadium isn’t all that big by itself — not much bigger than the warehouse it would replace. The football and baseball stadiums aren’t going anywhere. As long as there’s no new parking (and there shouldn’t need to be), it’s probably not so bad.

        As far as parking goes, with the CenturyLink field north parking lot redevelopment, the overall stadium-complex parking shifts further south and east (last I heard they were planning to use part of an existing Metro South Base garage to replace north-lot parking), and the walkable core of downtown extends a few blocks south. If all that goes as planned and a new stadium brings basketball and hockey (is our market really that big?) the stadium area should gain activity on both ends, and squeeze more utilization out of fewer total parking spaces.

        It’s not the perfect picture of an urban neighborhood, but… I don’t know, it sounds like it’s at least getting a little better.

      4. The problem with using transit for games is there’s just no way it can provide the capacity. Figure out how many people fit on one link train and divide that into the capacity of only ONE stadium and you’ll find it’s not even remotely possible to make a dent in it.

        However if people were going both directions on Link (let’s assume Northgate is open), the 4 car trains are running every 6 minutes AND we put a Sounder stop at this new Stadium and run the last four South and North Sounders a second time we could probably empty a stadium in an hour. Three stadiums and we still have a problem.

        It would however, be wonderful if the majority of people going to games could rely on transit. The idea that you could just get on a train in Tacoma or Everett and it would take you directly to the game and then return the same way would be very nice.

      5. @Grant: Tell the Cubs and Red Sox that transit can’t provide real capacity. I don’t know much about Fenway, but I used to commute on the trains past Wrigley every day. This part of Chicago’s L has capacity that this part of Link will never have, but Seattle runs way more buses through SODO than Chicago can jam into Lakeview on a game day. A lot of ST Express routes stop near the stadiums, a lot of Metro routes use 4th Ave S. It helps that not everyone arrives and leaves at the exact same time (that’s much more true in an area with things to do before and after the game… so let’s root, root, root for the north-lot developments?).

        If there were three games going on at the same time parking capacity and road capacity would be pretty serious issues, too — we’d need all the capacity we could get from all our modes (including biking if there was a Sounders game, hehe). But, then, attention capacity is, too — that is, even in the unlikely event that three teams play on the same day, how likely is it that enough people care about all three games to come close to filling all three stadiums? In bigger cities than Seattle attendance drops when events compete.

        I bet if there was actually a mega-schedule conflict like this, the teams would arrange for the least important game to move somewhere else (or the most movable one… baseball is sort of hard to move). This region has many… perfectly cromulent stadiums!

      6. Vancouver Olympics did just fine with transit carrying spectators around. London will do the same too.

        One Sounder train can carry thousands of people. I was on a West Coast Express (same cars as Sounder) during the Vancouver Winter Olympics and it was packed. There was over 3,000 people on that one train.

      7. True, but Vancouver and London have fully-assed rail systems, unlike our half-assed effort. King Street is pretty well placed for the current stadiums, but will be out of walking distance for a new one; they’ll have to transfer to IDS. Riders coming in on East Link will have to transfer at IDS. South of IDS, Link’s headways are limited by the lack of grade-separation. I could see that segment of Link becoming a choke point.

      8. Al: Yep, Fenway and Wrigley are the only two “classic” (i.e. non-car-infested) stadiums left.

        Grant: Al is right on the money. After games, people line up to get on the trains, which are arriving pretty much constantly in both directions. The one time I actually took the train after a game (I’m not really a sports fan), it took about 3 or 4 trains before I could even cram on. And that’s on Boston’s Green Line, each car of which probably has less capacity than a Link car, and every train has 1-2 of them. 4-car Link trains, coming constantly, could handle the traffic no problem.

      9. @Aleks actually it can’t if you do the math. It would take 32 trains to empty a stadium. In our current configuration it would take roughly 3 hrs. When we get trains going both directions we could get it to 1.5 hrs. So my math tells me if you had Link trains going both ways (to Northgate and Seatac) AND you had 4 extra Sounder trains running an extra run at night you could empty a stadium in 1 hour. I think that’s doable considering people would be sitting in traffic for an hour anyway.

        In other cities they may be able to use transit for games but we’re just not equipped for that. We could add in buses but it would take 1,200 buses to empty ONE stadium. If we could load them in 1 minute (by having a lot loading at the same time) we could empty a stadium in 15 hours with buses only. This is a clear example of when trains triumph over buses.

        I think the key to Stadium traffic would be to run a lot of Sounders but the problem is it takes them 2 hrs to get back to pick up more passengers. That means you have to have a lot of trains and I’m not sure we do. Maybe we could utilize some Cascades trains but they hold about 12 people each so I’m not sure they’d be of much use.

        Let’s not forget that we’re assuming there are ZERO normal passengers wanting to ride these systems while we’re trying to empty stadiums. We would actually need more than what I outlined depending on normal ridership.

      10. Not everyone stay for the whole thing. A lot of people start to leave early, especially if the game is pretty much wrapped up one way or the other.

        Then throw in the fact that different parts of the stadium are closer/further away, that people walk different speeds, that people who came together but didn’t sit together have to link up, that some people like to go around collecting the cups and programs other people leave, people want to buy nicnacs, etc. etc.

        All in all, as someone who regularly attends sporting events, I’d say you have a good 30-45 minute window from the start of the exit rush to the end.

        And that’s just for everyone who wants to go straight home. Thanks to having the stadiums actually IN the city, there is actually stuff to do, especially for your younger crowd who has both the ability and inclination to walk back to Pioneer Square for post game celebrations/commiserations.

      11. Aleks, on stadium size, oddly enough I was reading about Qwest Field earlier (thinking about getting Sounders Season Tickets), and saw this:

        “The site of CenturyLink Field is the smallest of those developed for new NFL stadiums.[23] The upper levels were cantilevered over the lower sections to fit within the limited space. Along with the angle of seats and the placement of the lower sections closer to the field, this provided a better view of the field than typically seen throughout the country and allowed for a 67,000 seat capacity.[24] Space is available to increase the total capacity to 72,000 for special events. Included in the capacity are 111 suites and over 7,000 club seats. The stadium has 1,400 seats for those with disabilities and their companions located in various sections.[24] As of 2009[update], CenturyLink Field ranks 21st out of the 31 stadiums in the NFL for total seating capacity.[25]”

        So at least as Football Stadiums go, it could have been a lot worse.

      12. Grant: You’re assuming standard 7.5-10 minute frequency. After Red Sox games, the train comes *constantly*. As soon as one leaves, another arrives. When you take into account loading times, the effective frequency is about 2-3 minutes.

        CenturyLink Field has 72,000 seats, of which only 67,000 are used for NFL games. Let’s assume a few things:

        – We’re trying to achieve a transit mode share of about 50%.
        – About 50% of people are heading north (assuming U-Link/North Link), 25% south, and 25% east (assuming East Link).

        – About 20% of people will have left before the official game end.

        Now, we’re talking about 13,400 people going north (and half that in the other two directions). That’s 16 fully-loaded trains. At 3-minute frequency, that means that the most you’d have to wait is 50 minutes.

        In practice, what happens is that people don’t all leave at the same time. Some people leave early; some people linger a bit longer after the game ends. Some people walk fast, some people walk slow. Some people head to the bars afterwards.

        Again, I cite Fenway Park. It has a capacity of 37,000 people, and after a game, about 25% of those people (so almost 10,000) cram onto 1- and 2-car trains (fewer than 200 people per car) at the outbound track at Fenway Station. And they do it because driving would be even worse — you have to park your car 15 minutes away from the park, and then traffic is miserable, and you have to be sober. :P I don’t care if it “can’t” work — it does!

      13. Anc: That’s true, but having the smallest modern NFL stadium is about as reassuring as driving the most fuel-efficient SUV. :) It’s huge, no bones about it. CenturyLink Field is somewhere between 25-50% of the size of all of South Lake Union. Suffice it to say, as infill development goes, I think the latter is a far, far better pattern.

      14. You’re forgetting that people are already successfully getting to and from the stadium, and they’re using a mode that takes far more space than trains. Two cars carrying at most 8 people fit into the same space as one bus carrying 50 people, or one Link car carrying 130-200 people. The current price for filling the stadium is an hour of hellish traffic for everybody else. So it should be possible to make a dent in that by extending Link to Lynnwood and Federal Way and doubling the number of buses.

    3. If it’s going to be built, it may as well be on non-Port land in the SODO. But if taxpayers are asked to foot the tab, I’m voting No!

      1. Only if Seattle gets Arena Football and more Pro-feshya-nal Rassling!!!

        /And more motocross

        //And maybe a monster truck pull?

        ///On a Sunday?

        ////Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!

    4. The major negative effects on walkability come from provision of too much parking around the stadium. Stadiums are big buildings with only occasional, but intense, activity, but they typically are pretty compact compared to their parking. Consider Wrigley Field, which has very few permanent parking lots in the area (most parking is provided, at market rates, by any land owner with space). There’s a lot of car congestion on game days, but it remains a good pedestrian environment (it’s certainly more enjoyable to walk through there than to drive through on a game day), one that local businesses thrive on. I’m not sure something like that will ever be built again, and SODO’s existing land uses are quite different from Lakeview’s have ever been, but…

      I bet if a stadium is built there it will mostly use the parking facilities of its neighbors to the north. If that’s the case, traffic impacts will be pretty much the same as baseball traffic impacts, just on different days, and the pedestrian environment won’t change much if a stadium replaces a warehouse — it may improve if businesses change to cater to basketball crowds.

      I’m not sure SODO’s pedestrian environment overall is something to lose sleep over. It’s largely an industrial area, so it needs to be able to accommodate big trucks and trains and generally more vehicle than foot traffic. Businesses in SODO provide products, services, and jobs that are good to have in the city. Its pedestrian and transit access are actually pretty good for an industrial area, there just isn’t a whole lot to walk to on any given block. It could probably stand to have better bike access, and that could be provided without changing the area’s character too much. Breaking up superblocks probably means forcing businesses out of the city, increasing our cost of living, etc.

      1. “I bet if a stadium is built there it will mostly use the parking facilities of its neighbors to the north. If that’s the case, traffic impacts will be pretty much the same as baseball traffic impacts, just on different days”

        Is that because the Mariners only attract basketball arena-sized crowds?

        To you other point about parking, It seems like the Safeco Stlantic Street garage just to the north would be very convenient to this arena, and it offers a very convenient exit to the freeways. This facility will displace some surface parking that’s used on game days, but it will be more convenient to other parking further to the south and less convenient to parking near Century Link Field. I expect this will keep impacts on downtown traffic somewhat less than the other venues.

      2. Here’s another thought. Let’s say that games are all on separate days and we had Soccer, Football, Hockey and Baskeball plus conventions, auto shows etc. we could keep people in the area virtually every single day thus providing enough traffic to keep local eateries open. If they’re already open then they could pick up other business.

      3. I managed a SODO fast food restaurant for a couple of years. The stadiums have never been the grand local economic driver the stadium advocates make them out to be. Event nights are some of the worst. We would always get a 30-minute burst of business immediately before and after the event, and an absolute lull in business during the event itself. That event lull that would eat up any potential extra profit the pre/post event rushes brought us. All our regular local customers spend as little time as possible in the area on event days, too.

        The vendors inside the stadiums and event center get first shot at the crowds. Most of the visitors go straight into the event center, eat/shop at vendors inside the event, see the show, and immediately leave the area after.

        The exception is bars and clubs, who can manage to grab quite a few post-game customers and hold them for a while after sporting events, which tend to have a nice synergy with alcohol.

        In that neighborhood, I’d gladly trade the stadiums for a few more blocks of warehouses. At least you know an active industrial area will bring in a consistent number of employees to the area daily. Those workers always made up the bulk of our business and of the foot traffic on the streets, even during an M’s game.

    5. Quote:
      On the other hand, SODO is basically a pedestrian wasteland anyway.

      That may be, but I love walking the streets of SODO, at least the non-arterials!

    6. SODO is basically a pedestrian wasteland anyway, and this new stadium would be further away from Pioneer Square.

      Yes… and no.

      If you look at how the development has been stretching southward from Pioneer Square over the past several decades, it’s pretty clear that the 1st ave S corridor is quite salvageable. It’s the pedestrian-friendly strip that will, in the long run, allow walkable neighborhoods to extend south of the stadiums without being cut off from downtown (the current giant hole in this strip is the SR-99 construction area from Railroad to Atlantic).

      The corner of 1st and Holgate would be a bad place to plop down an arena; right in the path of both future southward development, and at the only east-west rail crossing for 1/3 mile in either direction. East of 4th Ave would be a much less disruptive location – thanks to the Metro bases, there’s pretty much no chance of downtown ever expanding that way. Of course, the Holgate location would probably mean grade separating Holgate’s rail crossing, which would be a boon for absolutely everyone in the area.

      Alternately, maybe put the damn thing on a giant barge? That would be totally awesome. Park it off of Pier 49 when there’s an event – I think there’s just enough room there between the water taxi dock and the container port for a 2500 sqft barge housing a world class arena. And then, we can tow it out of the way when the event is over and not have to give up any of our downtown for the unused space.

      I can dream, right?

    7. The NHL fan here supports an arena anywhere in the sound as long as it is privately funded and built up to NHL specs.

      But the problem is the developers haven’t brought enough property to build in that SODO location and the owners of the property they need aren’t interested in selling.

  5. Interesting, and I’m glad to see it’s working out.

    I had always wanted to try to play (or make) a SimCity type game where personal automobiles were lot allowed in the city. Instead, lots at the city edge would be used for parking cars, then pedestrian walkways, bike lanes, and electric rail would provide transit around the city. Commercial and Government traffic would travel via cut-and-cover (sometimes open top) tunnels through the city to deliver goods and emergency needs.

    I wonder what the implication on traffic and congestion would be with that kind of layout, or if any part of such a city actually exists in the world.

    1. the only examples that I can think of that touch on your idea would be the old freight/coal underground rail lines under Chicago … and possibly the “secret” Senate/Congress subway in DC …

      of course Brasilia, the capital of Brasil was completely opposite … designed explicitly for the car … which was a disaster since most people working there didn’t own cars …

    2. My understanding is that most “old world” cities, i.e. pre-1800 or so, are in fact built exactly like this.

      Venice is a prime example — cars don’t really work there, for obvious reasons — but the medieval portions of most European cities are primarily pedestrian, with relatively narrow streets. The same is true for the oldest portions of the oldest North American cities, such as the North End and Beacon Hill in Boston, and Old Quebec City.

      Here are a bunch of great pictures of these cities. Don’t take the text too seriously — the author is kind of a crank — but the pictures are pretty. :)

      DJ is of course completely right; in the US, this kind of human-scale development is more common at a theme park or outdoor shopping mall than a real city core. University Village, for example, is simultaneously a tribute to and a mockery of this kind of design. (It’s a tribute because the architects were clearly aware that people prefer shopping on pedestrian streets; it’s a mockery because no one actually lives there, and so instead of a soul, it just has a bunch of chain stores.)

      And back to the original topic, I have a love-hate relationship with Sim games, precisely because they’re not truly simulations. In the game, there’s a right and a wrong way to build your city / family / ant colony / etc., and that may not correspond to reality. Of course, making an arbitrarily-complex city simulator would be the most complex piece of software ever written, not least since you’d have to incorporate a million concurrent human brain simulators as well. But as games, they’re still fun.

      Personally, my favorite was always Sim Tower, probably because it’s the only one set in an urban, pedestrian environment. The closest you come to having cars is building underground parking. And you can even build a metro stop! :)

      1. Less far away:

        But all this is moot thanks to the near universal adoption of the Uniform Fire Code which mandates a street with of aT LEAST 20 feet without parking (34 feet with) and is now under the auspices of the USDHS. (PDF!)

        So you either keep the streets W-I-D-E or you must therefore support Al-Qaeda and shall be detained indefinitely by Nappy and Barry!

      2. Guanajuato, Guanajuato Mexico would be a great example of this. There used to be river canals under the city but those have been converted for car use now and the surface is largely pedestrian only.

      3. Erik G: Wow, that PDF is basically everything that’s wrong with US cities in one picture. Talk about putting the cart before the horse…

      4. Yeesh. That PDF is pure bullshit, concentrated. Any city worth its salt will immediately notice that there is no need for two fire trucks to park IN PARALLEL — EVER.

        So make that a 10-foot street width and you’ve got a real fire code, unlike the bullshit crap the DHS is pushing.

  6. Thanks for the video. Couple of thoughts:

    1. Liked the idea of a control-room for traffic. Right now, regional transit would benefit if Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel and all associated service answered to a single integrated control. Including taking full advantage of control capacity already built into the Tunnel. Would make controllers’ work easier if express buses had fully-reserved lanes and ramps region-wide.

    2. Anybody familiar with trucking: how realistic is it to schedule freight deliveries at night, and other slack times? Also, how much would long-haul trucking be damaged by having rigs just pull over at truck stops during times when presence on the road wastes fuel, burns up log-time, and inflicts wear and tear, in addition to blocking traffic?

    3. I wonder how much resistance would turn to support if bike-lanes could carry advanced version of pedicabs- compact vehicles powered literally by pedals or small electric motors, providing fast, comfortable taxi and delivery service. My guess is that first time someone starts making a serious profit, or even breaking even like this, public opinion will permanently shift. Reduced car insurance should also compensate for a lot.

    Mark Dublin

    1. 2. The trouble with scheduling local freight deliveries at night is that someone has to be there to receive them, so it’s not viable for serving small businesses.

      Long-haul trucking isn’t economically viable at all, and will be switched to rail as much as possible as fast as possible thanks to fuel prices. Just forget it; focus on accomodating short-haul trucking.

  7. 80,000

    Was reading an article about the Mercer Mess and this is the number of cars that enter and exit there every day.

    80,000 cars

    Isn’t that a black eye for transit…that the most dense, urbist, business/civic/residential area in Seattle is the least carfree?

    1. No, it’s a black eye for the city/county/state for not building a high-capacity transit system sooner, so that it would be more like London where most people take the subway to places like Seattle Center and a majority don’t even have cars. Instead we have a world-class freeway and eight-lane Mercer/Valley Street, and a puny Monorail with only two stations, and buses that take 20 minutes to go one mile. Go Seattle Subway!

      1. Not a good enough answer.

        I eman transit advocates are forever berating the suburbs…where the average car trip is less than 2 miles…and yet here, day after day, a hoarde of smog belching vehicles…80,000…is running in and out of the area with the highest population density in the state!!

        Seriously, if you can’t make it work here, how can you sell it anywhere. Is there even a plan on the books like, reduce traffic to 40,000 daily?!

      2. John, how many of those drivers live in Seattle and how many in the Suburbs?

        And yes there are plans to reduce traffic, it’s called congestion pricing. Glad to know you support it.

      3. It only makes sense that there’s heavy transportation demand is in places with lots of density in housing, jobs, entertainment, retail, etc. So far, driving has been privileged over other modes of transportation. Given the best rights of way, given the most direct access to destinations, given excessive right-of-way over walkers, etc. So it’s only natural that downtown is choked with cars.

        Here’s a plan to remove half the traffic from Mercer: blow up half the city (including the suburbs). That’s a stupid, destructive, wasteful idea that would only “work” temporarily, so here’s a better one: blow up half the freeway lane-miles. Urban traffic is like a fluid: it expands to the shape of its container. If we reduce the size of the container we reduce the traffic. Simple as that. We can’t do that. Blame politics, poor understanding of the issues, lack of responsibility.

        Miles per car trip is a silly metric. VMT per person-year is perhaps better (as, because of the emissions profile of cars, number of car trips per person-year).

        But the suburbs are not a disease; their current form is merely a symptom. If we blew up half the freeways and taxed gasoline according to the externalities of burning it a lot more suburbanites would be looking for jobs closer to home. And they would rebuild the suburbs, in subtle ways at first, into something more self-sufficient, something more walkable (at some point this starts to mean mixed-use and density), something with a sense of place. Something like a city. Something that people from “the city” might ride a bus to.

      4. Al,

        “, driving has been privileged over other modes of transportation. ”

        You’re kidding right? Even with scads of transit going downtown…the most mass transit rich section of town still invites 80,000 cars a day even with spectacularly bad traffic?!

        You know, some day I wish STB would go “experiential” and actually interview, say, 10 drivers out of the 80,000 who commute using Mercer every day.

        Just wave down 10 cars while they are stuck in traffic, and give them $10 to answer 3 or 4 questions, basically “why are you driving when it would be so easy to just jump on a bus to get here”?

      5. We have relatives and friends who drive. They tell us why they drive. It mostly comes down to three reasons. (1) They can fit more things (i.e., more trips) into the day. (2) They don’t want to walk to the bus stop and wait for the bus. (3) The only bus near them is hourly or peak-only and it’s going to the wrong place.

        We can mitgate (1) and (3) with more frequent and faster transit. (2) we can’t do much about, except to make the wait shorter.

      6. Even people within the same household may have reasons for driving. Even I drive to some places instead of taking transit. I think #2 is fixable but not by the transit agency. Developers and local government need to create places that are more accessible on foot. Even small fixes, like creating paths through cul-de-sacs and big lot developments would greatly shorten the walking distance and minimize exposure to dangerous arterial traffic.

      7. And another thing we can do: put more businesses and housing near major transit stops, so that people can get off the bus and their destination is right there.

      8. John,

        Seattle has over 1,500 lane miles of arterial pavement. That’s infrastructure which is dedicated almost entirely to passenger vehicles. And that doesn’t count our three major freeways (SR-99, I-5, SR-520), each of which are heavily used for in-city trips.

        And to make matters worse, the dense urban core of our city is miniscule. North/west of lower QA, north/east of Capitol Hill/First Hill, south/east of the ID, the land use pattern is completely suburban. Very few people like walking in suburbia, given an alternative.

        Seattle doesn’t have the best transit infrastructure in the world (or even the West Coast), but even if we did, we need to be a better *walking* city first. That’s why people don’t get out of their cars. Transit’s no good if you can’t walk anywhere.

  8. To those who think Seattle is generally a walkable city – it’s all relative. I just spend 4 days in San Francisco for a conference, and that city absolutely blows Seattle out of the water in terms of walkability. Adjacent neighborhoods, huge sidewalks, pedestrian plazas, tons of activity centers, corner stores everywhere, rowhouses and multi-family housing (as opposed to single-family), foot traffic seemingly everywhere, very few dead zones, etc. etc.

    We have a long, long way before we get there. Now, all that said, I grew up in Tucson, AZ and lived in Indianapolis for years. Seattle is much better than those cities in terms of walkability.

    1. Seattle is around 7,000 people per sq mile and San Francisco is 17,000. If Seattle wants walkable then it should concentrate development where it already exists before branching out to single family neighborhoods and creating isolated canyons of nothingness.

      1. “before branching out to single family neighborhoods and creating isolated canyons of nothingness”

        Where is that happening within the city, Bernie?

      2. Mostly not happening because the TOD where ever there happens to be a Link station is so lame; Beacon Hill, Othello, and coming soon to Roosevelt. Too bad the lesson wasn’t learned with Overlake Village. Next stop South Kirkland P&R.

      3. Let’s give it more than 2 years IN THE MIDDLE OF WORST RECESSION SINCE THE GREAT DEPRESSION to declare Link a TOD failure.

        Although I agree that every station area needs REAL upzones.

      4. How about citing an example of TOD that’s actually been an unqualified success in this area? I think you’ll find the only transit investments that make sense are those that serve areas that already generate demand. That’s where density can actually increase and make transit more effective. Pushing development out to fringe areas like the latest South Kirkland P&R fiasco result in the peanut butter effect. RR B is bogged down largely because of Overlake Village. Link is crippled because of the decision to wander off though the RV.

      5. Zed: How about everywhere? I could make a list of neighborhoods where you have one isolated commercial street and then a sea of SFH:

        – Wallingford
        – Fremont
        – Upper QA
        – Ravenna
        – Green Lake
        – Phinney Ridge/Greenwood
        – Roosevelt
        – 15th Ave (Capitol Hill)

        And that’s just the ones I’m familiar with.

        In contrast, the areas where you *don’t* immediately fade into SFH are:

        – CBD
        – Belltown/Uptown/LQA
        – First Hill/Capitol Hill, west of Broadway
        – U-District
        – …

        If you want to see how right Bernie is, just look at a Google satellite map of Seattle, and one of San Francisco.

        Seattle: A small dense core, a few pockets of dense streets, and lots and lots of SFH.

        San Francisco: The whole darn thing is dense!

      6. So you consider all of those neighborhoods to be un-walkable, isolated canyons of nothingness that shouldn’t be targeted for new development or transit improvements?

      7. Zed: I think that each of those neighborhoods has precisely one walkable street. For the rest, “isolated canyon of nothingness” sounds about right. Just look at a map. Do you see a dense, walkable community at 45th and Wallingford Ave? Because what I see are a couple of buildings on the main street, and then a sea of SFH.

        Outside of a few isolated pockets of dense blocks, the only places I see with continuous urban fabric are the city center, Ballard, and (to a very limited extent) the U-District.

        If I were in charge, I would do my best to funnel development on the city core. I want dense, mixed-use development radiating out of downtown. For example, look at Capitol Hill between 15th/23rd and Madison/Aloha, or the CD between 12th/23rd and Madison/Jackson, or East Queen Anne between QA/Aurora, south of Boston St. Those are huge areas with great transit service that could easily accommodate a lot more density.

        For all practical purposes, “Seattle” currently ends where the “neighborhoods” begin. Wallingford is a suburb. Roosevelt is a suburb. Ravenna is a suburb. Phinney Ridge is a suburb. West Seattle is a suburb. You can see it on a map (see above), and you can read it in the papers, when you see how these neighborhoods respond to proposals for anything even remotely resembling urban development. I fully respect the right of these suburbs to develop the way they want, but my interest is in the city.

        P.S. Since this is a transit blog, I will note that I do think that we should work to improve transit service in these neighborhoods, many of which do in fact show strong demand. But those neighborhoods will never have the intense, all-day demand that you get when you run transit lines through dense, walkable neighborhoods.

      8. I don’t need to look at a map. I’ve lived in almost every one of the neighborhoods you’ve listed and never needed a car or would consider life in any of them to be anywhere close to “suburban” or isolated from the “urban” parts of Seattle. You’d be a fool if you lived in Greenlake or Roosevelt and considered a car a necessity for daily life. I asked Bernie to come up with an example of where growth in Seattle was being concentrated in un-walkable, isolated canyons and he came up with Overlake Village, not even in Seattle. That’s akin to naming some development in Oakland as an example of planning failure in Seattle.

        The main difference between San Francisco and Seattle is that the growth rate of San Fran in the pre-auto area was higher than Seattle. That’s what resulted in the higher density that we see today. The growth patterns of the last fifty years or so in both areas are nearly identical, but I’d give Seattle the edge in smart growth today, at least we have an urban growth boundary and a regional plan that’s based on funneling growth towards urban centers and villages, San Francisco has nothing of the sort. What has San Francisco done in the past few decades to make urban living affordable or more accessible to newcomers? Nothing. Pretty much all they’ve done is rest on their laurels and bank on the fact that there are enough starry-eyed over-paid computer programmers who are willing to pay $2000 a month to live in a studio apartment because it has a good Walkscore.

      9. Zed:

        As the saying goes, the plural of anecdote isn’t data. Your experiences against mine don’t really prove anything.

        If you don’t believe the map, then here are some numbers for you.

        Here are some numbers for the percentage of trips to work made by car in some different neighborhoods:

        Roosevelt: 65.5%
        Wallingford: 62.4%
        Ballard: 64.6%
        Green Lake: 72.7%
        Greenwood: 70.2%
        West Seattle Junction: 71.1%
        Capitol Hill: 42.0%
        Pike/Pine: 28.9%
        First Hill: 30.5%
        Belltown: 33.2%

        Here are the numbers for the percentage of households with zero cars, for the same neighborhoods:

        Roosevelt: 7.8%
        Wallingford: 12.3%
        Ballard: 20.1%
        Green Lake: 20.1%
        Greenwood: 8.9%
        West Seattle Junction: 24.6%
        Capitol Hill: 33.7%
        Pike/Pine: 49.1%
        First Hill: 50.4%
        Belltown: 51.5%

        Noticing a trend?

        Note that these numbers are only for households within the urban village boundaries — which, for the non-center-city neighborhoods, means that much of the surrounding SFH area is not included. If it were, the numbers would be even worse.

        Yes, it’s possible to live in those neighborhoods without a car. But do you really think that 92.2% of Roosevelt residents are fools for owning a car?

        The numbers don’t lie. Most people in the center city live a car-free or car-light life. Most people in the neighborhoods, even the “urban villages”, don’t. I don’t see that changing.

        And given that, the whole notion of Seattle’s “smart growth” falls on its head. The only way to make urban living affordable is to build more of it — more homes in a larger urban area. If we pursued dense, mixed-use infill development in the center city (and at its boundaries), we could easily create new neighborhoods’ worth of walkable cities. Instead, by putting isolated pockets of development in scattered spots throughout North/South/West Seattle, we continue the current pattern, where users take transit to downtown but drive everywhere else, because the dense corridors for crosstown transit just aren’t there.

        Demonizing San Francisco for what it has or hasn’t done has no place here. If we want to make Seattle better — and I do — then we have to focus on what we should change here. The fact is that San Francisco is a highly successful example (by North American standards) of a *consistently* dense and walkable city. The proper response isn’t to criticize what they did wrong, but to copy what they did right.

      1. There’s an art to choosing a carfree corridor.

        As I noted earlier, the best choice in Seattle may be Westlake Ave. from Denny south.

    2. Look at a map. San Francisco is the tip of the iceberg that is the Bay Area (it has a tenth of its region’s population and looks sort of like the tip of an iceberg, too). The growth and a lot of the jobs are in places where the car is king — population is sparse, walkability is a joke, transit is a non-entity, and biking anywhere useful is reserved for the brave. You won’t see that on a four-day visit. I lived in the Bay Area, if only for a year, and saw the other side.

      Seattle as a political entity isn’t anything like San Francisco because of the latter’s very small boundaries. As a region we’re already, in many ways, better than the Bay Area, and we have opportunities to grow better, too.

      1. One could argue that a lot of the jobs in the Seattle area are also in places where the car is king—Microsoft–Redmond (but they are an outlier employer that provides transportation for many of its employees), Boeing–Everett and Renton, and a lot of Biotech is situated in Snohomish County and the Eastside. However, our political entity hasn’t shown the will to expand right of way public transportation to those critical employment centers and doesn’t appear to be bringing any will or outside of the box thinking to make that happen in the near future. Instead we get more nipping at the edges with Rapid Ride and telling people to telecommute and bike.

      2. I couldn’t disagree more. Because of San Francisco’s geographic isolation, it’s actually one of the few places in the country where the political boundaries are actually legitimate. In a very real way, every San Francisco census tract is urban. Compare this with Seattle. The vast majority of Seattle census tracts have suburban density, and only a tiny fraction of the Eastside/South King have urban development patterns.

        Also, compared to Seattle (on a relative basis), there’s much less cross-talk between the city and the bay. Lots of people live, work, and play within the city boundaries. In fact, I know lots of people who had tech jobs at established Valley companies like Apple and Google, and left for startups in the city, almost entirely to avoid the commute.

        From my perspective — and this is backed up by what I’ve been told by many, many people who live there — San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area might as well be separate regions. Yes, Seattle is doing better than the latter, but that’s hardly a comparison. On a population-density basis, we’re much closer to San Jose than San Francisco. Which do we want to be — a world-class city, or “the largest city near the Bellevue-Redmond tech center”?

      3. East Coast Cynic,

        Sending rapid transit to Overlake is borderline reasonable, because there are so many jobs in such a small area. But most of the suburban jobs you described could not be effectively served by rapid transit, simply because they’re so darn spread out. Low-density suburban office parks and transit just don’t mix, and we’re wasting our infrastructure dollars if we spend them in that way.

        Even in San Francisco, the most effective services are the ones provided by Muni (frequent all-day transit within the city). I’ve never once heard anything good about Caltrain, for example.

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