Rainier Station Walkshed (Oran)

Roosevelt station planning has received enormous media attention, but I haven’t heard any mention of another station opening in a center-city neighborhood only a couple of years later: Rainier.

Rainier Station lies in the middle of the wide I-90 roadway, and the environmental conditions there will probably never allow it to be another Belltown or Capitol Hill. A large amount of the area within the golden quarter-mile and half-mile radii is taken up by the freeway and its onramps and offramps.

All the same, the station will have entrances on both the Rainier Avenue and 23rd Avenue corridors, featuring extensive bus service. Note that only about four blocks of Rainier from between Dearborn St. through Downtown Columbia City will be more than a half mile from Link. There’s an opportunity for a continuous, dense, interconnected corridor with absolutely incredible transit service.

As far as I can tell, there are three basic types of land here:

  1. Light industrial and commercial a block or two to either side of Rainier. Some parcels are better used than others here, and entrances are generally surprisingly close to the street, but there could certainly stand to be a lot more height.  Most is zoned C1-65 with some C1-40 right against the station area, but in reality it is nowhere near that intense.
  2. Single Family homes. We all know that thou shalt not mess with single-family neighborhoods, but there are townhomes already slipping in because it is zoned LR2 and LR3* south of the station. There’s a little of the dreaded SF5000, but the 23rd Avenue entrance will basically be surrounded by LR1.
  3. Parks.  It’s been too long since I’ve written anything for my lonely war on parks. In almost every direction from the 23rd Avenue entrance, the immediate approaches are lonely patches of grass. Ownership is split between the city’s Parks Department and WSDOT, with lots of obstacles to development.** In any case green space is an even more dangerous third rail than single-family zoning in Seattle. Nevertheless, thousands of potential units won’t be built, making intensive use of the bordering areas all the more important to both utilize the station and activate all that (anecdotally) empty parkland.

According to Mayoral spokesman Aaron Pickus, DPD doesn’t have any firm plans to take another look at land use in this area. And it may very well be that there will never be demand here for intensive uses. However, I’m in favor of letting developers figure it out by taking the risk, not preventing us from ever finding out due to over-regulation.

* Here’s the fact sheet explaining LR zones. Basically, these are 30′ height limits with maximum floor-to-area ratios (FARs) of around 1.  LR3 is a little better, but not by much.

** Noel Brady of WSDOT tells me that the lid itself is not engineered to support buildings of any kind. The WSDOT property South of Judkins St. is officially part of the I-90 ROW, and to be sold would therefore need to be (i) declared excess to future highway needs and (ii) be cleared by FHWA. Another source tells me that these federally funded parklands have onerous replacement requirements built into the law.

113 Replies to “What About Rainier Station?”

  1. The location is bad for directly adjacent density, but there’s lots of density replacing the SFH further away. I live literally a block away from I-90 and Rainier, to the south west (use the flyover stop all the time). Most new projects on existing lots on my street and several to the west (and generally through out the neighborhood) seem to be minimum new 4+ unit condo replacing old house. That’s actually a lot of people if you imagine even a third of the lots converted.

    One of the major barriers I see to making the station friendly is good pedestrian access. The I-90 trail route (which many live on and is a much more pleasant way to walk east/west) has no existing access to the flyover stops. You have to go down to Rainier (sometimes in wide loops) and then back up the ramps or stairs. The trail should be better integrated with the new station.

    I don’t have a good answer on getting more commercial in here. Rainier is almost a freeway. Several lanes in each direction, huge sight lines, sidewalks are narrow, obstructed and cracked (this is not far from one of the I-90 trail spurs), etc. Prevailing speeds are usually 10 over the limit. SPD was doing regular crackdowns in November at the I-90 overpass (funny to see people pulled over by a cop in bright clothes on foot just walking out into traffic) but it doesn’t permanently slow cars down. I regularly am forced to yield to cars that blast thru the red light on the off-ramp to turn onto Rainier (I’ve nearly been hit several times when a car I thought was going to stop just kept going).

    All in all, it’s basically awful for a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly commercial district. I hope they think of some way to improve it with the new station. Pity the station itself likely won’t have commercial space. But I look forward to having light rail near home anyway! The Beacon Hill or Mt. Baker stops are just too far a walk to decide to take rail over bus unless I’m going to the airport (and service too duplicative with the 7).

    Can we build East Link faster? :)

    1. Rainier is an absolute highway that shouldn’t be a highway. I say pull out the big guns on that one. Major road diet, widen the sidewalks, reconnect Bush (yes, even through the onramp), reconnect Lane (yes, right through Goodwill), rework the streetlights toward pedestrian use, and find some way to slow down traffic under I-90. Maybe narrow the road for a bus station.

      1. I mean “rework the stoplights”. I don’t know that there’s any problem with the streetlights.

    2. Rainier is a highway, SR 167. Meaning the state may block efforts to downgrade it. But calling it a freeway sounds like quite a hyperbole. West Valley Highway is much more like a freeway, yet it still isn’t.

      1. Oran,
        That’s surprising as the Lyle Bicknell, planner for the Mt Baker Station, from the Seattle DPD seems to think that it is in all the planning presentations he makes.

      2. I’ll admit it is a bit hyperbolic to call it a freeway, but people drive fast on it, it’s wide, they don’t feel like they have to stop or yield to pedestrians and so forth. During rush hour it can take two minutes for the lights to change for pedestrian crossings (at Massachusetts) which means drivers don’t have to stop for quite a distance. Around the off-ramps is worse because people coming off the freeway tend to run the right turn lights (like it’s a merge ramp onto another freeway) and speed up before they even hit the on ramps.

        But it’s completely not conducive to having a pedestrian friendly neighborhood. It’s long distances between safe crossings (lights). It’s loud. And so forth.

      3. They didn’t take down the SR 167 sign on I-90 at the Rainier Exit until much later — maybe 2000, I think? Well after I moved to Beacon Hill. But, yeah, not a highway anymore.

      4. OK, well 167 did go from Jackson or Dearborn down Rainier to Renton, and then south to Puyallup and west to.. east Tacoma? And 900 started somewhere on MLK (then Empire Way) south to Renton and northest to Issaquah. I’m not sure if it went all the way north to Madison. I wasn’t aware that parts of 167 and 900 were decommissioned. But that should make it easier to downgrade the streets if one should want to, without the state insisting that “all highway capacity” be retained.

    3. “The I-90 trail route (which many live on and is a much more pleasant way to walk east/west) has no existing access to the flyover stops. You have to go down to Rainier (sometimes in wide loops) and then back up the ramps or stairs. The trail should be better integrated with the new station.”

      I got the impression the 23rd entrance would hit pretty much right at the spot the trail does.

    1. It would be nice if they designed a parallel transfer with a middle platform in ID so you can walk across to the adjacent trains to go South. This would also be very disabled (and luggage lugging) friendly. They could probably also time the trains so they line up within a minute. NYC subway has become expert at timing the express trains to stop along with the local at a stop where you can swap between the two with minimal waiting.

      There’s a median there that could be converted to a platform with an elevator on one side and stairs on the other. Once the tunnel converts to all-rail, they won’t be able to use the middle for vehicles in any case.

      1. This is Seattle, they’ll probably dig another tunnel next to the one we have already and make you climb stairs to the surface, then walk over 10 feet and descend again. The whole process will take 10 minutes.

    2. I hope it will be redesigned with a middle platform for east-south transfers, but they haven’t said.

      1. Eh, have an emergency pedestrian walkway; Boston’s Park Street Station has a level crossing, and it has worse sight lines. Not a problem.

      2. A middle platform with escalators to the surface. They can move those too, although obviously it would require rebuilding part of the plaza.

  2. Can we rename it Atlantic Station? That’s what the neighborhood used to be called, before the highway split it in half, right? And now the station is tying it back together.

    Better than having a second Rainier…Station.

    1. That’s a great idea. Atlantic would be good. One of the parcels near there is also called “Valentine”. I’m sure there is a better name than Rainier. It will also be close to Judkins Park Station and right across from Sam Smith Park (with Northwest African American Museum right there too). Any of those would be better than “Rainier”.

  3. That zoning is just normal town home zoning which is very disappointing for that location. We should at least get hundreds of new units, which means some mid-rise very near.

    1. On zoning sheet 132 you can see SF-5000 coming right up to the North Rainier Hub Urban Village. I’d shift this urban village north a bit, and convert a big part of the Massachussets St. LR2 to mid-rise, as well as most everything across the street. On the other side of the freeway it’s worse, since there isn’t anything like an urban village there now. LR1’s and SF-5000’s everywhere. Ugh.

      1. At least it’s not SF-7200 like the Northern parts of the city. Honestly, it could be a lot worse. There’s more density south of the freeway than at nearly any point along Aurora, and it’s pretty much equivalent to the average density along the 44’s route, where everyone’s advocating for a subway.

        But the main value in this station isn’t in its walkshed. It’s as a transfer point from two of the busiest bus routes in the system – #7 & #48. Any residential area directly served by the station is just a little added bonus, in my mind.

      2. I’m with Matt, upzone! Let’s upzone like crazy, since it’s next to a park as well. So green space between buildings shouldn’t be an issue, right?

  4. There has been a lot of building just north of the I-90 cut in the last decade and I think we’ll see more construction in the next decade in that area. Rainier Station could be a valuable transfer point when Metro revises service for the East Link opening. The 7,9 and 48 are obviously going to be picking up more transfer riders. Rainier Station could also be a new terminal for the 4S to provide east side riders with a good connection to First Hill and the hospitals. But knowing that Metro wants to chop the 4S, it might be best to talk about reviving some form of the 4S when East Link opens.

    It’s too bad that the station isn’t closer to the Mt. Baker station. Downtown Bellevue to the airport would be much easier if east side riders could make an easy transfer from Rainier Station to Mt. Baker Station.

    1. Airport Link should have went out Dearborn to Rainier, with a convenient escalator transfer below I-90 for all those East Link connections to the south. That didn’t happen, but hey…
      It’s only 1/4 mile further than walking from Airport Link Stn to the international gates. Grab your bumbershoot and hoof it.

  5. Based on my own bus riding observations, that station is a total waste of time. We pick up maybe one rider and once in a great while drop off one rider.

    Without some more commercial activity next to that station its going to remain that way.

    I also ride through Judkins Park daily and that is not much of a destination park either. I would welcome more pedestrians using it. And yes it would help to have a direct connect from the bike paths to the station. How many more riders that would attract I don’t know but right now going to the station is not a pleasant walk/ride.

    1. I use this stop regularly and there are frequently multiple people waiting to get on Bellevue bound or Eastgate/Issaquah bound buses particularly at commute time. I’d venture to say that there would be more potential ridership from this station than say SODO station. If the station has escalators and elevators, then this station becomes rather convenient to get to places Link takes you and transfers from Rainier buses become easy. If Metro were intrepid (my new word of the day) they would reorient service to reduce buses downtown by truncating some routes at this station.

      1. My rides tend to be Westbound in the 7:30am morning on the 550. We drop off one rider sometimes. And return 6pm, where we always swing over, and get waved off, usually. But sometimes, pull over open the doors, then get waved off. If we pick up anyone going East, it’s one person, sometimes two.

        I’m not saying it isn’t used, I’m just saying that when I’m on a crush filled bus going home it doesn’t seem worth it to make every bus stop there to see if anyone wants to ride it.

      2. I commonly see 1-3 people get on or off the 554 when I ride. I get the impression that some of those people are riding between Rainier Station and Bellevue College.

    2. I often see quite a few young people in the afternoon who have gotten on the bus at Eastgate get off at the Rainier stop. I’m assuming they are coming from Bellevue College.

    3. I would disagree. I used this stop every once in a while and while not at busy as the 520 freeway stops its fairly well used, and I only see it becoming more used.

    4. Right. Useless. Everyone north of Mt. Baker Link station who needs to get downtown or to the airport or Capitol Hill or University District is better served by a rail stop there than any of the existing bus rides. The flyover stop is great, but it’s frequency is only good during rush hour. The 7 is super slow and gets in traffic. But still, many people get on buses at both stations all the time. A lot of that traffic would convert to rail if it was there.

      I sometimes feel bad using the flyover buses at I-90/Rainier to go to/from (and other points via connections), but it’s literally the fastest way and the frequency is really good. If Link stopped there, I imagine you could have some of the commuter-oriented buses skip those stops since those riders would take Link instead.

    5. Even if the ridership isn’t that high, geographically, the I-90/Ranier stop is at an important location because it makes it possible to travel between the Eastside and either the central district or the Ranier Valley without having to backtrack to downtown.

      Even if not much is within an easy walk of the station, there’s a whole lot within easy biking distance, and there’s several connecting buses available as well. In fact, if we could build an off-street bike trail connecting the I-90/Ranier station to the Mt. Baker station, that would make the connection really easy – 5 minutes by bike vs. 20 minutes backtracking to downtown.

      I’ve personally used this stop several times, often to begin a jogging loop on Lake Washington Blvd to Seward Park, ending at Columbia City station, and returning home via Link. The distance from the bus stop to the lake is only a mile or so, which means that people who live in the houses there, work on the eastside, and want to get some exercise on the way to work, at present, can have a pretty nice commute by running or biking to I-90/Ranier, then hopping on the bus. Take this stop out and they’d have to backtrack all the way to downtown, which would add a considerable amount of the to the commute.

      1. You have one “fixed-guideway” (as defined by the FTA) transit line (Eastside LINK) meeting another, in this case very very busy “fixed-guideway” (as defined by the FTA) transit line (KCMetro 7 ETB).

        You have to have a transfer station.

        But, you want to make it very very nice and well lit.

    6. It seems like the problem is pedestrian access. Surely this can be addressed during construction. Pedestrian bridges don’t need to carry huge weight loads, so there must be a way to get them built as part of the station project….

    7. Part of the problem with the current freeway station is a lack of good buses on Rainier. If there were a frequent route to, say, First Hill and SLU, it would get a lot more use.

  6. You are not completely alone on your “war on parks” — Jane Jacobs completely agrees with you.

    The real issue with “green space” is that almost everyone, even people who otherwise seem to understand cities, completely misses the opportunity cost. Of course a park is great if you want to go there (and if enough people want to go there at the same time as you that it feels safe). But virtually any building in place of all but the most popular parks would attract much more use throughout the day.

    To put it another way, except for the very best parks, green space is a very low-intensity use of city land. In a neighborhood of high-intensity use, this is both a waste of money and a major detriment to a neighborhood’s diversity and vitality.

    It’s worth noting, of course, that freeways are also a low-intensity use of land. Sometime after we build East Link, I hope that we have the courage to rip out I-90 west of the bridge, as well as I-5 and 520. Nothing else could do half as much for the neighborhood’s vitality.

    1. “In almost every direction from the 23rd Avenue entrance, the immediate approaches are lonely patches of grass.”

      I assume this means the I-90 trail, which to me connotes “a boring monolith of grass”. But this could be significantly improved with more plants and shrubs and other things, including people-gathering features, without turning it into a non-park.

      1. It is a boring patch of grass, except in the evenings when there kids playing soccer. People shooting hoops, and bicycle polo on what used to be the tennis court. And the old people out for a walk in the morning, and the dog walkers in the evening.

        I don’t want more bushes in that park. The sight lines are already cut down enough to make me nervous riding through there at 11pm. And unfortunately the alternative is a stiff climb over the ridge as you can’t get to the bike trail on the bridge side without a serious detour.

    2. And do what with the Port of Seattle after you destroy all of it’s connectivity to the Interstate highway system? Seattle would quickly start to rival Detroit as an empty city at which point you don’t need high capacity transit either.

      1. Freight doesn’t need 8-10 lanes of traffic through central Seattle. If the railroads can carry a lot of the Port’s container volume east on just 1-2 tracks, freight will do fine with dedicated truck lanes.

      2. Detroit is not suffering from an insufficient number of freeways. It has the most of any city in the country I think. In the debate over whether inner-city freeways caused the decline of American cities, it’s hard not to notice that Detroit is highest in both.

      3. Detroit’s problems have more to do with the power-elite of the Detroit area (who live in places like Birmingham Hills, MI) and both their management decisions over the years plus their opinions of those who live and work(ed) in Detroit.

      4. Actually, many of Detroit’s problems really *do* have to do with road-centeredness. Now, that obsession is not *surprising* coming from Detroit. But once upon a time, they made trains and streetcars there too, before GM decided it would be more profitable to dismantle the nation’s streetcar systems. They probably shouldn’t have put all their eggs in one basket.

    3. I love when Seattleites scream and moan that Seattle has a lower percentage-acreage of parkland than New York City, and how that proves our urgent need for more “open space.”

      Know what else New York has a higher percentage-acreage of than Seattle? Useful built space where actual stuff happens!

    4. There’s still plenty of land available for semi-high rise development. Put more people in the neighborhood and those parks will suddenly be full of people doing more interesting things. Easy access to downtown Seattle or downtown Bellevue via LINK will make that neighborhood very attractive to many people.

      1. Easy, yes. Pleasant, not so much. There’s still going to be 10 lanes of elevated highway flowing by your doorstep.

      2. I can’t help but remain a little offended that we’re paying for this meh-located station, and meanwhile the mayor is pushing Sound Transit to fast-track study a sub-par, total cheap-out alternative to real rapid transit for parts of the city that actually need rapid transit.

      3. Put more people in the neighborhood and those parks will suddenly be full of people doing more interesting things.

        Put housing where the parks are, and suddenly way more people can afford to live in the neighborhood and do interesting things.

        Parks do not create diversity or vibrancy. They reflect it (if it’s there), and inhibit it (by reducing the density of more active primary uses, like housing and jobs and commerce).

      4. You can’t leave out a transfer to a Rainier Avenue route, that would the height of silliness. It’s the main north-south corridor in southeast Seattle. It’s not impossible there’ll be a future streetcar on Rainier between Jackson and Mt Baker, and it’s also not impossible that the 7 will turn into a Rainier-Boren route, or Rainier-Broadway, or Rainier-12th. Any of those would make a transfer station worthwhile. As would future upgrades to 23rd, which is apparently just outside the station too.

    5. I’ve never understood the calls for more open space. Cal Anderson Park, Ravenna, Greenlake, Myrtle Edwards, Discovery, Seward Park, and Seattle Center are enough for me. The existing parks are enough for me. The only problem with the peripheral parks is there’s not enough transit to them. There’s an almost useless parkette at Summit & Thomas that’s so hilly you can’t do much on it, and a new one north of there that was quite nicely done, but their presence do not really benefit me much as a resident. If I want to go to a park I go to Cal Anderson even though it’s further away, because it has more people in it so it’s more interesting. If I want to be (relatively) alone the woods I go to Discovery Park or Seward Park. I don’t need a parkette and a woods right next to my house.

      1. Totally agree, Mike.

        The city actually has some amazing “turn the corner and escape into total wilderness” parks in the form of Interlaken and Ravenna (the latter with front-door service from the 70-series). And Cal Anderson is the perfect example of a perfectly-sized and perfectly-activated “neighborhood living room” park.

        Why do people continue to believe that bigger is better here? People still lament the failure of the Seattle Commons proposal, which would have tried to mimic Central Park, but with nothing around it sufficient to have made it “central.” Ever tried to go to Denny Park? Seattle Commons would have been a disaster!!

      2. Seattle Commons would’ve been a great idea if we’d increased density surrounding it. Central Park isn’t surrounded by three-story office buildings and surface parking lots.

      3. Kyle,

        [cough, cough…] Seattle.
        [cough, cough…] Seattle fifteen years ago, to boot.

        http://www.hitl.washington.edu/research/cedes/commons/air-dntn.gif

        That park fills literally 1/3 of SLU. Sufficient upzoning was not gonna happen.

        Oran,

        Totally true, for at least half of Mike’s examples and mine.

        But those whiners wouldn’t walk 5 lousy blocks to a park anyway, because our low-density usage makes the pedestrian experience to and from so lousy.

        Failing to make the logical connection between A and B, they start clamoring for less connective spatial usage, and giant patches of nothing on the waterfront. And nobody ever calls them on it. It’s infuriating.

      4. The Commons in retrospect would have been a good idea, but I like many voters said no because we didn’t want to give Paul Allen another freebie at taxpayer expense. Now we’ve lost an easy-to-get-to large park, but at least we’re getting a waterfront park. Isn’t that enough?

      5. Mike, Westlake Ave N is fast becoming the pulsing spine of the new SLU — much more so than, say, Terry, thanks to its identifiability as a connective through corridor (transit/auto/pedestrian legibility) and the mix of buildings new and old, large and small, that can accommodate many adjacent uses.

        Know what would have been on Westlake Ave N had the Seattle Commons been built? Absolutely nothing!

      6. d.p., I know the upzone never would have happened. It would have been another Seattle Center.

        Mike: what is this obsession with trying to prevent developers from ever making a profit?! Developers/land speculators, like commodities traders, serve a very important role in our economy: they hold, accumulate, and redistribute assets, absorbing risk and providing the massive capital investment needed to extract the value of those assets.

        Because their actions are so powerful and so critical, they are regulated. You can argue to the efficacy of that regulation, but this ideological bent against developers of any sort is mind-boggling, and it’s really holding us back from growing Seattle into a world-class city.

      7. “many voters said no because we didn’t want to give Paul Allen another freebie at taxpayer expense.”

        What do you mean another freebie? The commons vote came a long time before the SLUT or the new Seahawks stadium. I think most voters, myself included, voted no because they didn’t see a need for a sprawling park in the middle of what at the time was an urban wasteland of single story warehouses. I’m much happier with what Paul Allen has ended up doing with his land in SLU.

      8. http://www.seattle.gov/parks/park_detail.asp?ID=350

        Of course, Cascade Playfield, a 3/4 block neighborhood park (with a p-patch on the side) was redone in 2005 and is absolutely an asset to SLU/Cascade. There are well-designed parks and badly-designed parks, and the badly-designed parks are empty holes in the neighborhood (the stupid plaza just south of SCCC being perhaps the canonical example) but the good ones are well-used and loved, and are a big asset, especially to those with kids, a large group of people whose needs we should try to build our city to meet.

        Different parks serve different needs, some being destinations worth busing and some not; some being active and some passive, just to watch the clouds go by. I would tend to agree with those who say we have plenty of destination parks (certainly we don’t need one on the waterfront), but we have neighborhoods — some very dense — that suffer for want of neighborhood park. Where I live, in Belltown, is one: a small park with (say) a kids play area and a basketball court would get used every day, by lots of people, and it would keep residents and families here who otherwise would depart to further-flung areas of the city. People who want density in the city should want a park such as that in Belltown.

        Why must every STB discussion about urban design descend into absolutism? This isn’t that fucking hard people. Stop ranting, start reading.

      9. +1 to Bruce. My family of 3 is considering moving back to Seattle, and Belltown is off our neighborhood list because there aren’t any playgrounds. We don’t need Seattle Commons, just a jungle gym and a basketball court somewhere in walking distance.

      10. The best (and safest!) parts of Capitol Hill are the parts that see constant use and foot traffic nearly all day, especially Broadway and the western slope. (This is also by far one of the densest parts of the city.)

        In contrast, east of Broadway, walking along Pine St at night can be downright unsettling — despite the fact that the East Precinct office is right there! Lately, I’ve made a point of walking on Pike St instead, even though it’s out of my way, simply because the greater foot traffic makes me feel much safer.

        I’m not trying to pick on Cal Anderson — the sports fields/courts are heavily used even at night, and the stretch of Pine bordering the park feels much safer than the stretch of faceless buildings between 11th and 14th. But what’s abundantly clear is that, aside from a few lucky spots, Seattle suffers from a dearth of streets/blocks with all-day, high-intensity use. I don’t want to make that even worse by building parks where we should be building… well, buildings.

        Belltown is an interesting case, because a well-designed park there could actually *increase* the neighborhood’s diversity. A park and playground in Belltown would do a fantastic job of activating the street during the day, when office workers are at their desks, residents are working elsewhere, and the bar crowd hasn’t arrived yet.

        But there’s a big difference between a half-block or block of park in Belltown, and a gigantic park surrounding a light rail station that also destroys the street grid.

        I really try not to be absolutist. It’s just that the demand for more “open space” is so common, and yet so unwarranted, that it sometimes feels like swimming upstream just to keep things from getting worse.

      11. Bruce, I knew someone would say “Belltown,” and that’s probably the only place in the entire city with a reasonable “dearth of public-use park space” case to be made, and like Aleks, I wouldn’t be opposed to such an addition to that area as a usage-diversifying attraction.

        That said, if you’re raising a very young family, Belltown is probably the last neighborhood in this city you’re about to move to. You’ve got a billion choices in all price categories; Belltown doesn’t have to be as family-friendly as the 67 other neighborhoods within city limits.

        For everyone else, it’s a <10-minute walk to Seattle Center.

      12. Erik,

        See? No Westlake Ave N businesses. No Westlake Ave N transit spine. No Westlake Ave N at all. What a horrible, horrible proposal.

      13. I don’t remember the exact order, but there was the EMP, the Commons, the stadium, Allen’s insistence on running the new monoral through the EMP because of the hole for it even though 2nd Ave would have been more direct and cheaper, and then the SLUT. All of these required or would have required taxpayer funding, and the feeling people had was that they were more of a financial or personal benefit to him than something that benefitted the city as a whole. That’s what the frustration was and why the Commons was voted down. I don’t object to developers making a profit. I object to developers getting taxpayer money for oveselling the public benefits of projects.

      14. “Mike: what is this obsession with trying to prevent developers from ever making a profit?! ”

        J
        ust speculating here…
        Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that, since the Reagan tax cuts on the superrich, and even more so since the massive Bush tax cuts on capital gains (maximum rate 15%, which is lower than the minimum which working people pay), rich speculators *never give up their profits*.

        Back when there were very high tax rates on very high incomes, one could trust that if a developer made “too much money”, it would just end up funding the government. Now, that doesn’t happen.

      15. Anyway, it seems to me that the “more open space” people should be forced to say exactly where there are insufficient pocket parks for children and parents. “Large” parks we have enough of, although I’d support the Commons because it could turn into a central gathering place, which Seattle doesn’t have. (Westlake Park is too small. Seattle Center has too much other stuff going on to fulfill it. The new waterfront park may serve the purpose though.)

        But I’m wondering if the “more open space” movement is really that large or if its size has been overblown with the caricataures. I can understand a desire for specific increases in specific places, but there has to be the limit. Or is the limit “parks everywhere except for my house”? But I can’t really believe that many people would believe that, or think it’s realistic for Seattle to become as undense as Medina.

      16. DP, did you mention a Ballard Commons somewhere? What is that? Is that a name for Bergen Place or the bell tower plaza?

    6. Are you saying that NYC would be a better place to live if they’d get rid of that blasted Central park? Or how about putting some buildings on the Champs de Mars in Paris or Hyde park in London. Thankfully people with vision design cities with parks. It’s not all about getting as many people into as small a space as possible and making money off them.

      1. See my other comment. You’re comparing apples and blue-whale-sized grapefruits.

        Seattle has 6,000 acres of parkland, or about 100 residents per acre of land. Paris has 7,400 acres of parkland, or about 300 residents per acre of land. The numbers are even more skewed when you look at density: the average number of residents within 1/4 mile (or any arbitrary distance) of a Paris park is at least an order of magnitude higher than the equivalent number for Seattle.

        Good parks are great. Bad parks are terrible. Relentless demands for “green space”, regardless of where it is or what it looks like, will produce less of the former and more of the latter.

        People with “vision” have been responsible for ruining many of the world’s greatest cities, or at least trying. Robert Moses’s “vision” was to replace most of New York with expressways. John Hynes destroyed Boston’s West End. Arguably, the “visions” of people like Ebenezer Howard and Le Corbusier are the reason that America has so few remaining examples of vibrant cities.

        If you ask me, I think we need a little less “vision”.

      2. @Aleks: Yes, but it is very easy to switch a park from being “good” to “bad”. Once it is developed, then it is very difficult to ever get it back as parkland (e. g. Westlake Park and Seattle Commons).

        Besides, you are basically arguing that because we have a messed up lack of density, we should get rid of the parks. Sounds like L. A. to me. Nothing too high, nothing too interesting, but pretty good density. Aaach. (OK, to be fair, the best part of L. A. is a Venice Beach, which is a park, but I guess we should get rid of that and put up more condos and shopping malls)

        Great cities have great parks. They also have great buildings. Seattle should build both.

      3. Ross,

        Seattle *has* great parks. We have Green Lake, Cal Anderson, Volunteer, Woodland, Discovery, Seward, Golden Gardens, and the Arboretum, just to name a few.

        I’m not proposing we get rid of any of these. I just don’t want us to build any more.

        Also, I think you misunderstood my point about good and bad parks. A bad park is not necessarily bad because of the physical space; it can be bad because it’s in a location that doesn’t see enough foot traffic to make it safe. I’ve seen many beautiful parks where the main users appear to be either homeless or dealing drugs. Today’s well-used, well-loved park could become tomorrow’s tent city, simply because the number of workers or residents drops too low (for example, if a number of residential buildings are converted to office towers).

  7. The existence of the I-90 pedestrian/Bicycle tunnel may also feed traffic from east Mt. Baker to the station. I agree this area is very under-utilized and that perhaps selling a portion near 23rd street to developers would make good sense in creating a vibrant community there and preserving enough green space that the people moving in would make use of it.

    1. When the block down by Dearborn and Rainier gets more development then the condo’s just South of that intersection will finally sell and then those people will need that park.

      Parks are not just a place for people to gather, they are a pressure release from the relentless concrete that is a city. People need spaces that are not 100% built up, a place to walk, play, take a dog for walk, otherwise they go crazy.

      1. See my comment above. What part of Seattle is a “relentless concrete” anything.

        Relentlessly bad use of space, yes. Relentlessly bad architecture for sure.

        Our parks are underused spaces surrounded by seas of underused spaces. I hate this Seattle “need more open space” meme. It is flatly at odds with reality.

      2. Gary,

        It’s not enough to say that there ought to be parks, because we have parks. I think advocates for more parks should explain how much is enough and why the neighborhood and the region wouldn’t be better served by density there, especially around transit stations.

      3. Because if you have kids, you need a place for them to play. And dense housing generally precludes anyone having a “backyard swing set.” Ask any parent why they live in the burbs and the answer boils down to, “good schools”, and a backyard. If you want people to raise families in a city you need to deal with both. A close local park replaces the backyard. It’s also more efficient use of space by aggregating all the “backyards” into one place you can have playground equipment, and soccer and baseball fields.

      4. Totally. So please name one place in Seattle without access to a neighborhood park with a swingset or similar.

      5. Because if you have kids, you need a place for them to play. And dense housing generally precludes anyone having a “backyard swing set.” Ask any parent why they live in the burbs and the answer boils down to, “good schools”, and a backyard.

        Good schools, yes. Backyards, not necessarily. Lots of suburbs are full of rowhouses, or detached single-family built to the lot line on small lots.

        Cities work best when most spaces see near-constant use. Even if you assume that a neighborhood has a constantly-refreshing supply of elementary school aged kids (since any kid older than that would be bored to tears if they had to play in a park), there’s only a 3-4 hour window max when kids aren’t in school but it’s light enough to play outside. The rest of the time, if you’re lucky, it will be filled with the homeless, and if you’re unlucky, it will be filled with drug dealers (who naturally gravitate to places, like parks, where few people are watching).

        Oh — and all that park land is producing zero tax revenue, which means that we have less funding for those crucially-important schools. And no one lives there, so we have fewer kids, and less ability to support a neighborhood school.

        People need spaces that are not 100% built up, a place to walk, play, take a dog for walk, otherwise they go crazy.

        Everyone is different, but as a generalization, what you’re saying isn’t true. What people need are areas that are built to human scale.

        Lots of great European cities have extraordinarily high ground coverage by buildings, and virtually no “open space” to speak of. It works because their buildings are *short*. If you maintain a roughly 1:1 ratio of building height to street width, it’s amazing how much more pleasant the city can seem.

        When a standard arterial is 60-100 feet, you start to need 8-12 story buildings (or higher) just to get the minimum level of density that can support a vibrant city neighborhood. And yeah, once buildings are so tall that they get in the way of the sky, you can’t sustain the same level of ground coverage.

        The proof of this is everywhere you look. Old cities have near-total ground coverage of attached, *short* buildings, with frequent streets, and minimal “open space”. New cities — and new projects in old cities — have skyscrapers surrounded by huge windswept plazas with more open space than you could dream of. The former are teeming with people; the latter are empty.

        And finally, note that the best parks are almost uniformly specialized (at least in part). Central Park has a zoo, water/ice facilities, and an amphitheater, among others. Boston Common has sports fields, ice skating, a theater area; the Public Garden next door has very interesting formal landscaping, and the swan boats during the summer. Dog parks, swimming pools, sports fields; all of these attract much more use than generalized parks, largely because they’re relatively so rare. It’s just not possible to have enough people to support generalized parks with anywhere near the frequency that we have them (and want to build them) in Seattle.

      6. Old cities have near-total ground coverage of attached, *short* buildings, with frequent streets, and minimal “open space”.

        I’m curious what cities you’re referring to here. In the examples I’m familiar with (Paris and London), there are large concentrations of open parkland somewhat removed from the residential centers, and children are taken or entrusted to go to these places to enjoy themselves. None of the barely-utilized pocket park crap we have in this town.

      7. Kyle: I’m mostly thinking of the older parts of Boston, though the pictures I’ve seen and stories I’ve heard suggest that there are other European cities with similar layouts. My point isn’t that we need a ban on parks, just that the desire to “escape” has less to do with the lack of parks and more to do with excessively tall buildings and excessively wide, car-dominated roadways.

      8. Bruce,

        There are two very interesting things I see in that map.

        First is the legend. It’s very telling. Capitol Hill has restaurants, bars, and stores which attract people from all over the city. And yet, apparently, parks aren’t interesting enough to get people to walk more than 1/8 of a mile. That’s half the distance we expect people to walk to a bus stop. As a general rule, I would prefer to live in a neighborhood with the kind of amenities that are interesting and compelling enough that people are willing to walk more than 2 blocks to get to them.

        Of course, it’s worth pointing out that people *will* walk more than 1/8 of a mile to a park if it’s a good one. I know lots of people who take trips out to Discovery Park, or the Arboretum, or Golden Gardens, just for fun. The skate rink at Cal Anderson attracts people from all over Capitol Hill, and same with the dog park. A park has to be particularly vapid (as many of ours sadly are) for it to be useless to anyone but its immediate neighbors.

        Second is the map itself. The neighborhoods which apparently have the greatest dearth of open space include most of downtown, Capitol Hill, Fremont, Ballard, the U-District, and West Seattle — basically, the urban centers and villages. Coincidentally, these are also the neighborhoods that have absorbed the majority of Seattle’s growth over the past ten years (I think about 2/3). They’re also the neighborhoods with the highest rents, implying that they’re the most desirable places to live in Seattle.

        People say things like, “Oh, Capitol Hill is great, but it needs more parks!”. It never seems to occur to anyone that Capitol Hill is great *because* it doesn’t have more parks. Instead of parks, it has an abundance of jobs, interesting stores, and high residential density. If you have too much of the former, then you simply don’t have enough space for the latter.

      9. Discovery Park is one of the jewels of the Seattle Park system and one I’ve come in from the eastside to enjoy many times. Capitol Hill is also a short trip to the Arboretum and has the 50 acre Interlaken Park at the north end. Cal Anderson is another defining feature that makes the neighborhood along with two major college campuses. Upper Broadway has some of Seattle’s oldest and most expensive mansions that also blend in to make Capitol Hill the eclectic and dynamic place it has become.

      10. Bruce,

        While I agree with you on the Belltown exception — with reservations; see above — the map you linked to is precisely symptomatic of the block-headed “anywhere remotely dense must be wanting for open space” Seattle meme.

        As Aleks says, the “gaps” on that map precisely correspond to our density loci, i.e. the very areas where people are able to (and routinely actually do) walk around to reach stuff.

        The idea that anyone in Central Ballard is freaking out because Ballard Commons is too far away is ridiculous. Parents and children and adults of all ages use it all the time. The only complaint is probably it’s permanent bum minority, but the park is well-used enough that at least the bums are a minority. Put in a new pocket park near Safeway and I wouldn’t count on such a ratio.

        I love that Aleks was bold enough to say, “it never seems to occur to anyone that Capitol Hill is great *because* it doesn’t have more parks.” But the truth is that Capitol Hill is fucking full of parks. There are four just in the orange-colored “gap” zone of about 20 square blocks. There are 15 others scattered around the hill.

        But that’s not what’s truly scary about the map you linked. What’s scary is that all of that safe, friendly striped green that fills most of the map is Seattle’s endless, deactivated SF and set-back LR monotony. The monotony is pedestrian-hostile, and the lawns aren’t necessarily useful for anything, but no, Parks & Rec doesn’t consider that “a gap.”

        But anywhere actually urban yet more than a lazy man’s stone-throw from a park? That’s gets tagged orange and deficient.

        Truthfully, you just linked to the perfect illustration of what is wrong with Seattle “open space” thinking. Bravo!

      11. “The idea that anyone in Central Ballard is freaking out because Ballard Commons is too far away is ridiculous”

        What’s Ballard Commons? Is that a name for Bergen Place or the bell tower plaza?

      12. Somebody needs to buy Aleks a plane ticket. Paris is the densest big city in Europe and has parks all over the flippin place. Here – http://bit.ly/uTMHXz – scroll around on that map for a while and look for green spots. Some of Paris’ green spots are the size of the entire downtown Seattle. The metropolitan area of Paris is 30% smaller than Seattle but has 400% as many people. Paris has a policy that says that no parisien should be more than 500 meters from recreation. A full 10% of the city is green space.

      13. Grant,

        First of all, you linked me to pictures of jeepneys.

        Second, Paris’s population density is over 50,000 people per square mile; Seattle’s is about 8,000. When you have Paris-like density, you can support more parkland, simply because there are enough people in a smaller area to activate the parks. This density simply wouldn’t be achievable with Seattle’s level of density and ground coverage.

        And third, if you look at a map of Paris and compare it to a map of Seattle, what’s abundantly clear is that Paris *doesn’t* have nearly as much green space. There are dense multi-story buildings, built to the lot line, everywhere.

        When Seattle has that level of development, then we can build more parks.

  8. I live in a single family home built in 1904 at 22nd Ave S and Massachusetts. The southern end of our block t-bones at two lots zoned commercial. At present there is an empty commercial manufacturing space that hasn’t been used for several years, except by drug dealers, illegal dumpers, graffiti artists, among others. I believe in our recent neighborhood plan update, we encouraged the area to be rezoned mixed use because this would be a perfect area for dense, mixed use development.

    There is opportunity available already that doesn’t mean removing all the single family homes in the area and takes advantage of the well-used park space nearby – which offers the only respite to the smog and city goo that accumulates for those who live the surrounding Central Area and Rainier Valley neighborhoods.

    I’ll just have to decide whether I want to stay living in my single family home next to really tall buildings with residents who may or may not feel a connection or rootedness to the community and neighborhood; whether I should join the fray and bulldoze my house turning it into some gentrified, upscale condos (as is the norm in the Atlantic neighborhood); or whether I should take my partner and young daughter and find a different place to live that has better public schools and greenery (but probably no diversity). I’m still trying to figure out how to both advocate for density and keeping neighborhood character – advice welcome.

    I also like what Rachael said about making the pedestrian/bike trails better connect to the station as they don’t right now… Plus renaming it the Atlantic Station and putting commercial space in the station…Yes!

    1. Hi neighbor! I’m over at 19th and Mass if it wasn’t obvious from my comment.

      We’re probably keeping our single family home as single family, but I’m looking forward to more dense housing. More people means we might get some closer corner stores, more restaurants, bars, maybe even a music venue. So maybe someday the condo next door will block a little of my light, but I will be able to walk to and from a corner store in less than ten minutes. And walk to light rail in five minutes!

    2. Unfortunately Sound Transit has weird rules regarding redevelopment of owned land. This was a big debate for the Roosevelt station as well.

    3. No one is advocating “removing all the single family homes.” Density advocates would like the regulatory restrictions lifted so that any single family homeowners that would like to sell to a developer can do so.

  9. Speaking of vast wastes of urban space: It seems crazy that Seattle has several golf courses. Instead of a dense urban area somewhat close to downtown and very close to transit housing thousands upon thousands of people living, working, and shopping, Jefferson Park Golf Course holds what – 50 people at capacity? That’s a density of about 2 people per acre.

    Golf courses are for the suburbs. Maybe keep the non-golf park side if it’s well used (don’t know, never been there). But at least redevelop the golf course.

    1. Please provide your evidence that probable demand for housing on Beacon Hill cannot reasonably be accommodated in the Urban Village centered around BH Station?

    2. Matt,
      The golf course redevelopment plan is going the other way.

      http://beaconhill.seattle.wa.us/2011/12/20/opinion-golf-course-plans-aiming-in-wrong-direction/

      tearing down the oldish clubhouse, paving paths, and adding parking.
      http://www.seattle.gov/parks/projects/jefferson_golf/files/capital_imrovements_design_program.pdf
      Cost to city is $7.3 million.

      Golf course size is 123 acres, but you couldn’t call it open space, as there is no public access.

      Similar upgrades are being done to other three city owned golf courses.

      1. (sigh) The funny thing is, you can see in the redesign a tiny piece of reality showing through. The operator (who makes money off our public land, renting out space for private uses) wants a banquet space because there isn’t enough money in golf itself. The banquet space is really an indicator that the land is way, way too valuable to be used as empty, near useless space.

      2. The Greenlake 9 hole course is barely used and is land that would be better utilized in almost any other (park) use including open grass.

  10. I sometimes wonder why there wasn’t a second station near Dearborn around 12th. That area is perfect for dense redevelopment. That also could remove the need for the Rainier Avenue stop (which I agree doesn’t seem to be very popular) and let the current platform be geared primarily to 23rd. Can someone explain why this wasn’t considered?

    This station needs a “there there”. There is not really a good place for drop-off/pick-up rail passengers. In absence of manufactured retail, perhaps there could be a supporting community facility land use (rec center? library? satellite campus?) that could make this station a more active destination. There is an adjacent museum, but that seems to be about it.

  11. ” It’s been too long since I’ve written anything for my lonely war on parks”

    With good reason. Yes they aren’t urban, aren’t dense, no development, and that’s the point. No parks/fewer parks makes cities less attractive–in a fundamental way–to many people, myself included. They’re the city equivalent of yards. When I look at apartments, the first three things I look at are nearby grocery stores, transit, and parks.

    Takes parks away and whatever gain you get is offset my people moving to the burbs.

    1. btw I think we have a good mix of parks in Seattle, in number, size, and type. Just don’t want the opposite…few parks, spaced too far for many people to walk to, and too small to be really useful.

  12. I sure hope that more light rail in the area brings more development. The area between the Mt. Baker station and I90, with its proliferation of vacant and crumbling buildings, reminds me more of a wasteland than a vibrant part of the city about to have two light rail stations.

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