Big ST Board Meeting

Pat McCarthy

Last week the Sound Transit board took action on a bunch of major items:

In related news to the last point, I think it’s now fairly clear that the Seattle City Council doesn’t think rail to Ballard is a very urgent priority. Or, they’d rather stymie the Mayor than have a good policy outcome. Either way, shame on them.

More on Northgate Parking

Northgate P&R Origins and Destinations
Northgate P&R Origins and Destinations

In my last post on North Link, discussing the 30% open house, I alluded to the possibility that Sound Transit might construct a parking garage at Northgate, to offset the loss of park and ride capacity during and after construction of the Northgate Station and associated guideway. The Northgate P&R (which is actually a collection of different lots owned or leased by different agencies) has a total of a about 1500 spaces, and is currently close to maximum capacity. During the construction process, ST will displace about 450 spaces, and upon completion of the project, about 120 spaces will be gone permanently.

Last week, Seattle DPD hosted a community open house to present and discuss various urban design concepts for Northgate. Also present were Metro representatives, soliciting input on preferred parking mitigation strategies during construction, including (among other ideas) improved connecting service and parking shuttles to satellite lots. Before that meeting, Metro had conducted a very useful survey of weekday Northgate P&R users, interviewing a sample of riders to find their destination, and looking up home address records of a sample of license places, to find those drivers were coming from. The map above summarizes these results, with census tracts color-coded and labeled by number of origin drivers.

This map suggests a raft of excellent parking alternatives, based on our bus network. The areas of highest P&R demand are exactly those served by the 5, whose frequent service alignment should be extended to Shoreline as part of the Fall 2012 restructure; the 358, for which RapidRide E will bring improved policing (and thus improved passenger behavior — a serious problem on this route) as well as speed, frequency and reliability improvements in 2013; the 316, a commuter express with a limited span of service; the 345/346, local routes running from Shoreline into Northgate; and the local-service segment of the 41 to Lake City. ST could, at a relatively low cost, mitigate transient parking issues and create lasting value for transit by purchasing operating and capital improvements for those services.

Continue reading “More on Northgate Parking”

Who Will Ride the First Hill Streetcar?

Photo by Atomic Taco

The First Hill Streetcar will be built.  Its alignment has been approved by the City Council, the interlocal agreement between Sound Transit and Seattle is secure, and construction begins next month. I’m personally quite excited to ride it from Capitol Hill to Little Saigon/Chinatown to get cheaper produce than I can get at QFC.

But let’s be clear, the First Hill Streetcar is an expensive investment (transit planning as consolation prize) that will do very little for mobility in central Seattle.  In its current configuration – and in the absence of money to connect the line through downtown – much more mobility could be purchased through trolleybus investment.  As a staunch rail advocate this is a difficult thing for me to say, but comparing modal choice across origin-destination pairs makes it abundantly clear that the streetcar loses in most cases to existing bus service.

Let me unpack this a bit…more after the jump.

Continue reading “Who Will Ride the First Hill Streetcar?”

Route 106 and Link Connections

Photo by the author

In September 2009, Metro revised Route 106 to serve the Rainier Beach Link light rail station, creating new travel opportunities for people living and working along the route in Georgetown, Rainier Beach, Renton, Skyway, and South Beacon Hill. Riders could benefit from a faster trip to downtown by taking Link partway instead of busing all the way. How well does that work? Two charts hold the answer, after the jump. Continue reading “Route 106 and Link Connections”

Redmond Approves Overlake Redevelopment

Visualization of Overlake redevelopment, image from City of Redmond

On Tuesday, the Redmond City Council approved the Master Plan for redevelopment in the Overlake Village area*. As we’ve reported in the past, the project is transit-oriented in nature, to be served by the B Line and a future Link station along 520.  The planning includes several major revisions to the existing street network, including subdividing the suburban superblock parcels and building a ped-bike connection to employment areas north of the freeway.

The Seattle Times has the primer on the vision for the area:

The City Council approved a development agreement Tuesday that allows a hotel and conference center, 1,400 apartments or condos and 1.2 million square feet of offices and stores on the site of Group Health’s former Eastside hospital.

Located adjacent to Microsoft’s main campus and a planned Sound Transit light-rail station, the project — even if built by more than one developer — will be “an iconic development for Overlake that will set the pace and style” for other high-density projects in the area, Redmond Planning and Community Development Director Rob Odle said Wednesday.

Consider this Redmond’s own version of the Bel-Red plan with a similar set of rules– upzoning could raise height limits to 120 feet and developers would be incentivized to build higher if they offer ‘public amenities’ like park space. The City is also pursuing other low-impact development opportunities in the area, including rain gardens and stormwater vaults.  When compete, redevelopment would complete a TOD corridor between Bellevue and Redmond, linking the Hospital District, Bel-Red, and Overlake together.

The City of Redmond is never shy about putting up really high-quality comprehensive planning documents on their website, so I’d be remiss in not linking to a few of them: the Master Plan itself (PDF) and a 167-page street design manual (PDF) just for Overlake Village.

*This particular project concerns only redevelopment on the Group Health site.  The Overlake Village subarea can accommodate a much higher level of development capacity.

Ridership Patterns on Route 7

Ridership Patterns on King County Metro Route 7
Ridership Patterns on King County Metro Route 7

Connecting Downtown, the International District, and a swath of neighborhoods in the Rainier Valley, Route 7 is one of Metro’s most important routes. Along with many of Metro’s trolleybus routes, it was originally a streetcar, and also like many of those streetcar routes, it was put in to help spur development in what was previously untamed land: transit- and pedestrian-oriented urban sprawl, circa 1890. In a previous post, I discussed some of the problems suffered by the current incarnation of Route 7, and discussed one possible improvement. In this post, I’ll focus mostly on current ridership patterns.

First, some notes on the chart. As I discussed at length in the aforementioned post, Route 7 has a split service pattern, with most trips turning back at Rainier Beach High School, and others continuing to Pentice St. This manifests itself as a discontinuity in the data in the outbound (right) pane. More importantly, Metro’s APC system assigns both the outbound and inbound legs of the Prentice St loop to the outbound trips. So, reading upwards in the right pane, from Rainier/Hend to Prentice/64th the bus is heading south; subsequently it is heading north.

Analysis after the jump.

Continue reading “Ridership Patterns on Route 7”

News Roundup: Going Ahead

Sound Transit

This is an open thread.

A Better 7

King County Metro 7
King County Metro 7

When the Sound Transit board chose an MLK alignment for the Rainier Valley segment of Central Link — an alignment which comes tantalizingly close to serving the RV’s blockbuster ridership corridor on Rainier Ave — they unwittingly created a thriving ecosystem of bloggers and commenters trying to figure out better ways to connect transit riders with the train. The city is weighing in with its Transit Master Plan Corridor 5, which calls for electrifying Henderson and presumably extending Route 7 (or a successor route) to Rainier Beach Station.

After the jump, I’ll present a simple idea, one that I think is considerably superior both to current conditions and the city’s proposal.

Continue reading “A Better 7”

Limits of the TMP

ST2 Planning Corridors in Orange

Ben’s report on bringing forward ST3 planning money should assuage a lot of fears that Sound Transit’s resources are being diverted to something less than Link-standard rail. Federal funding requires an alternatives analysis, which may as well leverage the resources Seattle has gathered. The wording of the McGinn Amendment up for consideration tomorrow by the ST Board shouldn’t stir panic.

However, a lot of reporting on this story has focused heavily on application to the Ballard-Fremont Rapid Streetcar. I don’t see this planning as primarily about rapid streetcar, but if any actors are intending this to be the new focus for Sound Transit, that would be a mistake.

In Seattle, the ST2 package promised study of three corridors: downtown-West Seattle, downtown-Ballard, and Ballard-UW. If construction is to begin before the ST1 and ST2 bonds get paid off in the 2030s, it’s going to require legislative action.  Although no one knows for sure how big of a package the state might authorize, the region’s other goals are Downtown Redmond, Issaquah, Everett, and Tacoma. This implies scope for North King County in the billions of dollars. For Sound Transit, then, extensive tunneling is a viable option.

Seattle’s Transit Master Plan, in contrast, is scoped to reflect Seattle’s relatively meager funding capacity, and does so beautifully. Limited to Rapid Streetcar, the entire High Capacity Transit plan amounts to about $700m — less than the returns from a 30-year $80 tab fee at $810m. The plan skipped over the Interbay corridor largely because it would likely be duplicative with Sound Transit*; there is insufficient right-of-way to do anything rapid for Ballard-UW without a  tunnel the city can’t afford on its own. The TMP is a complement to the long-range Sound Transit plan, not a replacement for it or a guide as to where ST should go.

* Ballard via Interbay isn’t actually a done deal. The monorail project probably picked the right corridor, but with enough data I could certainly be convinced an alignment through Fremont is superior.

Why a Constitutional Amendment for Tax Increment Financing?

The Washington State Legislature’s special session will barely be over when their next regular legislative session starts next month. Among the many issues facing the legislature will be whether both chambers will muster the necessary a two-thirds vote to amend the Constitution to allow for Tax Increment Financing (TIF). As the opening of session approaches it’s worth reminding ourselves why TIF is such an important financial tool to support sustainable growth and effective transit.

Tax Increment Financing is a value capture tool that allows local government to borrow money to make infrastructure improvements and make payments on that debt from property taxes assessed on the increase in property value from new development. It’s a tool available to local governments in 48 other states (Arizona also doesn’t have TIF). Local governments can use TIF to invest money today in infrastructure that will pay for itself in the future. More after the jump.

Continue reading “Why a Constitutional Amendment for Tax Increment Financing?”

Failed Logic Leads to Blight, Not TOD

Obstructed view: A vote for Licata's amendment is a vote for blight.

Nick Licata sent an e-mail today explaining why he’s trying to stop a rezone to 65 feet on the blocks next to the new light rail station in the Roosevelt neighborhood. Licata’s thinking is framed by a question he’s asked himself; “can the Council support Transit Oriented Development in Roosevelt without increasing building heights to 65 feet across from the Roosevelt High School building?” Licata concludes that it can, so he “will move an amendment in tomorrow’s COBE committee meeting to keep the heights at 40 feet.”

Licata acknowledges that “what is best for the city as well as the Roosevelt neighborhood are inexorably linked,” but his starting point leads him to the wrong answer, that somehow preserving views of Roosevelt High School and denying the developer additional capacity will create TOD in Roosevelt. Nothing could be further from the truth. His own e-mail acknowledges that denying the rezone could leave the neighborhood with a blighted hole, not new housing.

Licata rehearses many of the same arguments that have been offered again and again to oppose increased heights on these key blocks. The neighborhood’s plan is the product of lots of process so it should take precedent, and their plan “takes” more density than other proposals.

Licata’s e-mail goes on to cite the complaints local neighbors have had about the property owner Hugh Sisley. Sisley, Licata says, is a bad actor, having code compliance issues. But strangely he says this:

If the developer cannot build to 65 feet, he believes that his project is not viable and will probably walk away from developing these parcels, perhaps leaving the community these troubled properties until the land ownership changes or another developer presents a different package.

But let’s return to the original question, “How does the Council support TOD without upzones on these properties?” Licata’s answer is that it does that by preserving the “prominence” of the High School, and locking in blight on key properties in the neighborhood. Neither of these creates new housing, and keeping blighted properties blighted won’t help TOD. His amendment fails to meet his own standards.

Licata, if he listened to his own reasoning, wouldn’t be proposing his amendment. If he believes that these properties will stay blighted because the developer will walk away from 40 feet, how does he think that keeping those properties that way helps the goals of Transit Oriented Development?

It seems more likely that Licata starts with ideology rather than TOD in mind. He culminates the e-mail by quoting a resident opposed to 65 feet:

Another resident amplifying a national theme wrote: “It feels as though we are being strong-armed here and that democracy has been spurned. This smacks of the national problem of the one percent exerting its will over the 99 percent.”

So for Licata, it all comes down to the 99 percent. Somehow the entitled single family homeowners are the downtrodden 99 percent, while the people that would move into apartments in the redeveloped properties don’t matter.

Licata’s reasoning is deeply flawed and seems to be linked to the contention that upzones are just giveaways to the 1 percent, rather than opportunity to create more affordable housing and accommodate growth around regional investments in light rail. Licata’s amendment would leave the blocks in question a blighted mess without accommodating any new housing. Is that really what is best for the neighborhood? Or has Licata aligned himself with single family homeowners who can’t get over their anger at Hugh Sisley and who feel entitled to keeping the value of their own investments at a premium at the expense of more housing?

Let’s hope Licata’s amendment, like his logic, fails.

42 Redux

Photo by the author in the STB Flickr Pool
The Old 42 (photo by the author)

As I implied in my last post on the subject, of all the complaints about elimination of Route 42, the one that has some merit comes from those served by the old 42, primarily clustered around Graham St. Too distant to walk to a Link Station, to access downtown users have to board the frequent (15-minute headway) Route 8 to connect with either Link or the 7, both of which are extremely frequent. The remnant of the 42 attempts to serve ACRS, would be adequately replaced by Access or other low-volume service, and does no good for the Graham St. market.

A transfer, in itself, shouldn’t be a dealbreaker for a system design. Unfortunately, the Southbound 8 is intensely unreliable as it works its way through knots on Denny Way and Capitol Hill, indeed not much better than the 48 that used to provide Central District-Rainier Valley connectivity.

In the last few days I’ve heard an interesting new idea bubble up from the grassroots, and I understand there’s a little bit of organization pushing for it: split the 8 at Mt. Baker Station. Although it costs some money to layover buses, it would solve the reliability problems and make train/bus transfers less painful. There’s a less attractive addendum to this idea, however: have this “southern 8” replace the 42 by heading up to the International District from Mt. Baker, a move that raises costs substantially and provides zero additional connectivity. Moreover, one nice effect of restructuring service around Link is creating new direct connections to elsewhere, and splitting the 8 there wrecks that. More after the jump.

Continue reading “42 Redux”

Kirkland May Buy Eastside BNSF Segment

Eastside BNSF Trail for Purchase (Seattle Times)

[Update 12/14 The city council voted unanimously to acquire the corridor despite some concerns about how to fund that purchase.]

The Seattle Times reports that tonight starting at 6 pm the Kirkland City Council will determine whether to buy a 5 and 3/4 mile segment of the Eastside BNSF rail corridor stretching from the South Kirkland P&R at 108th Ave NE to 132nd Ave NE, less than a block away from where Bradley Nakatani was killed while riding his bike last Friday.

The corridor is currently owned by the Port of Seattle, with ownership transitioning to King County sometime next year. However, due to King County’s ongoing financial tightness, ownership by the City of Kirkland would likely lead to faster development of a multi-use trail in the corridor. This type of agreement is not without precedent. In 2002 Juanita Beach Park was transfer from the ownership of King County (which had close the park in 2001 due to lack of funding) to Kirkland, which has since spent millions of dollar on improving the park. Purchase of the BNSF trail by Kirkland would likely allow Kirkland to do the same thing.

While no official plans for how the corridor would be developed have been made, it will certainly involved a multi-use trail of some sort and could include transit along some or all of the corridor in the future. As part of the purchase agreement Sound Transit will have a standing easement on the corridor for future high capacity transit, which will be negotiate between the City of Kirkland and Sound Transit when plans for transit service are developed. The corridor would need to conform to the national Raibanking standards that often makes development of transit in the corridor more expensive than many might think.

In my opinion this corridor is a game changer for bicycling in Kirkland, especially between SR-520 (and the future regional trail across the bridge), Downtown Kirkland and Totem Lake. The trail will provide a flat, high-quality north/south spine, which it currently lacks, and could eventually tie well into the Burke Gilman trail on the north, and the future Bell-Red corridor TOD on the south. For transit the corridor has potential although not as much since the corridor skirts the eastern edge of downtown Kirkland, requiring any future transit on the corridor to leave it to serve downtown. The corridor could however greatly improve the connection between Downtown Kirkland and Totem Lake via transit, which are the cities designated growth centers and important transit demand generators.

Council study packet here. The council meeting starts at 6:00, with consideration of the agreement at 7:30. The video stream can be viewed here.

Tell Congress to Extend the Transit Benefit

Photo courtesy Slack Action

When the federal stimulus package was passed two years ago, it provided one key provision benefiting transit commuters nationwide– an increase of the monthly transit benefit from $120 to $230, matching that of the parking benefit.  Just around this time last year, the increase in the transit benefit was due to expire the following January had Congress failed to approve an extension.  Luckily, that fate was avoided, which allowed transit commuters to reap the same tax-deductible benefits as drivers for 2011.

Unfortunately, the extension was only for this year, which brings up the matter before Congress again.  If Washington doesn’t act on the benefit extension before the end of the year, drivers will be getting a higher direct federal commuting subsidy than transit users come 2012.  I’m not convinced this is a good direction for the country’s transportation policy, and neither does Transportation for America:

If Congress does nothing by the end of the year, if you take transit to get to work each day you could be paying more out of your own pocket when the tax benefit for transit is cut in half. If that wasn’t enough, drivers will keep enjoying the same great parking benefit ($230) – nearly double what transit commuters will be eligible to receive. We don’t think that’s fair, and Congress needs to hear about it.

So if you spend more than $120 a month on your commute in a vanpool, train or bus, the federal government will be sending a message loud and clear: they’d like you to start driving to work, where you can get $230 for parking deducted from your paycheck tax free.

Be sure to tell Congress that slashing the transit benefit is the wrong thing to do at the wrong time.  While Washington State Senators Murray and Cantwell are already strong transit allies and are likely to approve the extension, many House representatives are not and can’t be counted on to do the same.

The Price is Wrong: Planning Commission Issues Housing Report

The Seattle Planning Commission has issued Housing Seattle, a report developed using data from the United States Census Bureau, the American Community Survey and surveys of the Seattle housing market. As Erica Barnett pointed out at Publicola, the report is largely about whether housing is affordable in Seattle. The report concludes, “Seattle households are increasingly burdened by their housing costs.”

That burden is measured by the classic normative standard for measuring affordability; no more than 30 percent of a household’s income should be spent on housing costs. While the report makes some good recommendations based in solid data, the use of the 30 percent rule of thumb only raises more questions about what the housing problem really is, or whether there is a problem at all. We need better language and measures when talking about housing if we’re going to make good policy that accommodates growth. More after the jump.

Continue reading “The Price is Wrong: Planning Commission Issues Housing Report”

Visit Milepost 31

`Visitors at Milepost 31, opening night
Opening night at Milepost 31. Flickr photo by WSDOT.

Pioneer Square’s problems are well known among Seattle residents. Caught between very restrictive zoning and historic preservation rules, and difficult geotechnical conditions, the neighborhood has suffered from a lack of market-rate housing, leading to public-safety problems and the loss of high-end anchor stores such as Elliot Bay Books (to Capitol Hill) and Masins (to Belltown); sporting events at the stadiums to the south periodically saturate the neighborhood with passers-by and mind-bogglingly awful road traffic.

If you’ll excuse the phrase, I think there is light at the end of the tunnel for the neighborhood. The Stadium Place development will bring hundreds of new residents; the Alaskan Way Viaduct will be torn down, taking with it the deleterious effects elevated freeways have on an urban environment; University Link will put Pioneer Square a short subway ride from Capitol Hill; beautiful King Street Station will be restored. Getting from here to there won’t be easy, as the neighborhood residents and businesses will be subject to near-constant construction for many years.

Last week, I attended the opening night of WSDOT’s free Milepost 31 museum, a project designed to draw visitors to Pioneer Square during the next two years, when AVW replacement construction will have the most impact. I’m pleased to report that it’s informative, well-curated and certainly worth a visit for anyone interested in Seattle’s history. For its trouble, WSDOT has earned the ire of the usual drive-by critics of government, which seems unfortunate and unwarranted — if not unsurprising — to me.

Along with the free Klondike Museum on Jackson St, Milepost 31 can make for an interesting, fun, and very inexpensive half-day in Pioneer Square, particularly if you have kids in tow; and while you’re there, you can visit some of the great local restaurants and coffee shops that dot the area. Note that Milepost 31 is closed Sundays and Mondays.

I’ll even offer you a guarantee: if you don’t like Milepost 31, I’ll give you your money back. So now you’ve got no reason not to go.