North Link Construction Open House Slides

Northgate Construction Open House Presentation
Northgate Construction Open House Presentation

Click the image above to see a PDF of the slides from the Northgate Construction Open House. Next week, I’ll have a post following up on this morning’s editorial, discussing in depth the issues relating to parking at Northgate, and what paths forward there might be. In the interim, there’s a lot of good information about parking (and a raft of other issues) in this presentation, and I encourage everyone to read it.

McKenna Calls for Ominous “Solution” to Sound Transit

In remarks to the Eastside Transportation Association, a group of people who seem to exist essentially to keep Link off the eastside, the anti-transit Republican yesterday stepped up his commentary.

Paraphrasing, he said he didn’t know of a “solution” to Sound Transit – but the “only way out” is “a public vote”.

This isn’t an idle threat – he’s opposed light rail to the eastside since the beginning. Do we want a governor who wants to axe our mass transit system?

News Roundup: Side By Side

Steven De Vight/Flickr

This is an open thread.

On Food Trucks as a Reasonable Compromise

Martin recently posted about the lack of success Seattle’s food trucks.  There’s plenty of good discussion in the comments about whether food trucks are even a good idea.  I thought I’d take a step back and look at what the best system would be, and how to best approximate that system.

If I had a magic wand that could change downtown Seattle exactly how I’d want it, when it came to restaurants we’d have a lot more areas that look like this:

Pike Place, Wikimedia

Continue reading “On Food Trucks as a Reasonable Compromise”

Sounder to Lakewood Construction Update

Photo by Sound Transit

On Monday, Sound Transit substantially completed the rail bridge over Pacific Avenue in Tacoma, marking a major milestone on the ‘D-to-M Street’ portion of the Sounder to Lakewood Extension Project. Pacific Avenue reopened to vehicle and transit traffic as well – nearly 2 months ahead of schedule – modifying detours on Pierce Transit Routes 1 and 53. Remaining work at the site involves the laying of track, berm construction, construction of a pedestrian underpass on A Street, signal and safety installations, etc.

In October the single-track bridge will serve 5 daily Sounder roundtrips to/from South Tacoma and Lakewood. The other 4 daily round-trips (2 peak, 2 reverse peak) will continue to originate/terminate at Tacoma’s Freighthouse Square.

In accordance with the 2012 Service Implementation Plan, Sound Transit will reconfigure its Pierce County services once Sounder service begins. Route 592 will be cut back to 15-minute headways but all trips will begin at DuPont, whereas currently only 1/3 do. Route 592 will also be rerouted off the SODO busway in favor of the Seneca/Edgar Martinez couplet taken by the 577/578. Route 593 will be eliminated and its service hours added to the 590/594, extending the window in which those routes have frequent service. Though Sound Transit had initially planned to move Route 574’s terminus to Lakewood Sounder Station (instead of the current Lakewood Towne Center), subsequent public comment shelved that plan for now.

This bridge also marks a major milestone for the eventual Point Defiance Bypass, even though they are separate projects with different funding structures. Within 5 years or so Amtrak will begin to use the bridge, shaving 6 minutes off Seattle to Portland trips and significantly improving reliability by reducing conflicts with freight traffic.

More coverage, from the Seattle Times and the Tacoma News Tribune.

Capitol Hill Breakthrough

Togo's Breakthrough (courtesy Sound Transit)

Last night, Zach, Oran and I showed up at 8:30 to try to see Togo break through, completing the first subway tunnel from UW to Capitol Hill. Sadly, in the last five feet, Togo had to slow down, and ST told us to return at midnight.  Bruce and Tim Bond joined Zach at 11pm, but breakthrough didn’t happen until 4am, at which point we were all asleep. Zach did stick around until 2:30, but finally had to give up.

Bruce Gray over at Sound Transit sent us this fantastic image, taken by workers as the Tunnel Boring Machine finally broke through, completing the southbound tunnel. Be sure to click on the image (twice) to see the full size, and check out the video Sound Transit put up here.

In another month or two, Balto will complete the northbound tunnel, and then Sound Transit’s contractors will start laying rail and building University Link stations!

Seattle Food Trucks Underwhelming


Food trucks are a bit of a silver bullet for urbanists, because they add to street activity without triggering many of the externalities of new construction. In a survey of food truck policy in the Pacific Northwest published just about everywhere, Eric Hess  says Seattle has not achieved food-truck nirvana:

Have the rule changes panned out? Not yet. Since July, the city issued seven new permits for food trucks—defined in Seattle as self-powered vehicles with kitchens onboard—to vend from public streets, and six permits for food carts—think hot dog vendors or push carts—to vend from sidewalk spaces. The numbers don’t signal an explosion of street food. In fact, the number of food cart permits actually dropped a bit since the new regulations took effect…

In Seattle, street food is also on the rise, but largely missing from dense, walkable neighborhoods where it has much to offer. The city lifted many archaic rules, but there’s more to be done.

Erica Barnett follows up with a little more, including this analysis from Sally Clark:

Basically, [Clark] said, she has no idea. One theory, though, is that scarce street parking makes it more profitable for parking-lot owners to use them for parking than lease them to food trucks. “The thing is, actually think seven or eight is a good number for people who want to serve in the parking area or in the sidewalk,” she adds. “It’s just not all that well tested in Seattle yet.”

In the end, thought, I think Yglesias asks the right question: is this really a failure of the rules?

 By tripling fees and giving bars and restaurants veto power over where trucks can operate, it sounds as if the goal of the Seattle government was trying to make sure that the growing nationwide popularity of food trucks doesn’t pose a competitive threat to existing Seattle restaurants. That relatively few trucks are opening under the new regime is a sign that the rules are panning out as intended, not that they’re failing. The question for Seattle’s voters and public officials is why they think that protecting the profits of incumbent business owners should be a goal of regulatory policy.

North Link Meetings; Northgate Parking Update

University Link TBM Brenda after extraction at Pine St
University Link TBM Brenda after extraction at Pine St

Over the next few weeks, Sound Transit is hosting three community meetings about the North Link project, which will extend the region’s light rail system from the U-District to Northgate. If you can’t attend, but have thoughts or concerns on these subject, you can reach ST’s outreach staff via email instead. The dates and times are as follows:

  • March 21, 6:00 – 8:30 PM Northgate Station to Tunnel Portal Construction
    Olympic View Elementary School — 504 NE 95th St, Seattle
  • March 26, 6:00 – 8:30 PM Roosevelt Station Construction
    Ravenna-Eckstein Community Center — 6535 Ravenna Ave NE, Seattle
  • April 11, 6:00 – 8:30 PM — Roosevelt Station 60% Design
    Roosevelt High School Commons — 1410 NE 66th St, Seattle

Generally, construction meetings are oriented primarily towards neighbors, and focus on the details of construction effects and planned mitigations; nonetheless, it’s still a great chance to talk directly with agency staff, and interesting questions do sometimes arise in the public question period. Design meetings are more substantive, and fairly major changes have arisen from public feedback at those meetings, as happened with Brooklyn Station’s entrances. One thing that’s not going to change at Roosevelt is the decision not to design for TOD over the station box: the ST board voted to reject a plan to spend additional money for that last month.

I do have some good news on the parking situation at Northgate: multiple sources tell me that Sound Transit are in discussion with the City and other agencies on this subject, and the possibility exists (which I had previously been told was very unlikely) that ST could ask the FTA to remove the stipulation of one-for-one parking replacement in the North Link Record of Decision, a mitigation measure which would effectively force ST to build a parking structure at Northgate. If, like me, you believe that spending millions on “free” parking in a nascent urban center and transit hub is a disastrously awful idea, I would encourage you to attend ST’s Northgate meetings, or to email their community outreach staff — especially if you live near the future Northgate Station.

Apple, Amazon and the Wicked Problem

The Atlantic/City of Cupertino

By now you’ve probably heard that Amazon is planning three new office towers in downtown Seattle.  Plans call for more than 13 million square feet of office space, in addition to the 2.7 million square feet that Amazon already leases in the Downtown – South Lake Union area.  Somewhat intriguingly, Clise Properties is “hoping and expecting” that Amazon will eventually buy all 13-acres Clise owns in the Denny Triangle (wishful thinking?).

Looking at the plans, it’s hard not to contrast Amazon’s project with the proposed Apple campus in Cupertino. At 2.65 million square feet, it’s roughly equal to what Amazon already leases between Denny Triangle and South Lake Union. Several blogs have already commented on how Apple’s proposal violates all sorts of urbanist principles, especially when compared to Google’s New York City office or the new Twitter offices in San Francisco.  To be fair, Apple’s proposal is no worse than in urbanist terms than the headquarters of most Silicon Valley titans of its vintage, such as HP, Yahoo!, and Oracle.  Still, when the opportunity arises for one of the world’s most admired companies to completely reconfigure a huge swath of one of the world’s wealthiest ZIP codes, it’s reasonable to expect something more than a re-hash of the classic suburban office park, beautiful as it may be.

If you’re a design nerd like me, you may be familiar with Gary Hustwit’s trilogy of films, HelveticaObjectified, and Urbanized.  One way to think about these films is that they move outward in considering increasingly complex forms of design: graphic design, product design, and finally urban design.  (By “complex,” I mean in terms of the sheer number of people involved.)  Apple products are featured prominently in Objectified, and Apple’s new campus is clearly an effort to create a building that could be featured in that film. But it’s also a paean to a bygone era of suburban sprawl.

Steve Jobs may have been a genius, but he was also – to quote The Big Lebowski – a man for his time and place.  He was born and raised in the postwar Bay Area suburbs, and even became obsessed with the specific style of suburban tract home he grew up in. Thus, the Apple campus represents the apotheosis of a time when we thought of buildings as distinct objects, like iPads. Now we recognize them as part of a complex ecosystem involving streets, sidewalks and transit.  For example, smart building design these days often involves letting the outside world in as much as possible to minimize energy costs. By contrast, Apple’s campus won’t let employees open the windows.  Then again, Jobs was never much interested in complex ecosystems he couldn’t completely control.

It’s no coincidence that Hustwit ended his trilogy with Urbanized.  Urban design is a wicked problem.  This may be why all transit thinkers inevitably come face-to-face with urban design, building design, and even complex systems like education and health care delivery.  It’s impossible to fully consider the city without doing so.

In the meantime, props to Amazon for building densely, in the city, a few blocks from Westlake Station. I won’t assume that they did it for urbanist reasons.  Perhaps the famously frugal Jeff Bezos simply wanted to build fewer expensive underground parking spaces than the 10,000 subterranean spots that Apple has planned for Cupertino.  More likely, Amazon knows that attracting good workers means being close to amenities. Whatever the motive, it represents an encouraging trend in high-tech corporate headquarters away from the sprawl of yore.

Top Transportation Tweeters

Top 25 Transportation Sources to Follow on Twitter

While I’m obviously biased towards @SeaTransitBlog’s twitter feed, which is nearing the 4,000 follower mark and has lots of added value above and beyond just pushing our blog posts out, I wanted to share a list the top 25 twitter transportation sources according to ULI’s Urban Land Magazine. It’s is a great list, with lots of influential thinkers, organizations and national news sources. Of course you can always just look at who we’re following, which is a fairly distilled group of local and national tweeters.

View the whole list here.


If you’ll forgive me being pedantic for a moment, I’d like to push back against the corruption of the term NIMBY to mean “anyone who opposes a project.”

The meaning of a NIMBY, although it’s not clear from the acronym, is someone who doesn’t question the value of a project, but always has reasons it shouldn’t go in their neighborhood. They might applaud the expected congestion reduction from a new highway, but try to keep it away from their neighborhood; understand the need for a new prison, but have a reason it would fit in better on the other side of town; or accept that more density will contain sprawl and reduce long-run housing costs, but shucks, it just doesn’t fit the “character” of the neighborhood. The glorious thing about the NIMBY is the stink of hypocrisy, and I’d hate to lose that connotation through misuse of the term.

That’s not the same as a BANANA — Build Absolutely Nothing Anything Near Anyone — or someone genuinely opposes the project no matter where it goes. Someone who doesn’t care about sprawl, or who somehow hasn’t connected the dots, is simply a density opponent, not a NIMBY. So let’s use proper labels when we discuss these issues.

The Right Tool for the Job: Istanbul

Istanbul, Matt Gangemi

In my last piece, I looked at a system that uses just one tool: buses, buses, buses.  Let’s take a look at a system that does the opposite.

Istanbul is an ancient city, built and rebuilt on Greek and Roman ruins.  It is geographically constrained, and has an unfortunate highway running through it that connects Asia to Europe.  But despite these constraints they’ve built a wonderfully functional transit system. Continue reading “The Right Tool for the Job: Istanbul”

Carfree Living – in Lake City?


Photo by the Author

Last week, Puget Sound Regional Council released the draft of their 2012 Land Use Forecast. It contains predictions of population, household, and employment growth up to 2040 across the Central Puget Sound region. These numbers are important, because they have implications for transportation investments and other resource allocations. In addition to direct funding from PSRC, cities and neighborhoods that are growing rapidly are more likely to be the focus of city investments in infrastructure, including new sidewalks and parks.

While there is a lot of data to dig through in the report, I immediately gravitated to the forecast for my neighborhood, Lake City. So what will Lake City look like in 30 years? According to the forecast, the Lake City area (which follows census tract boundaries, rather than neighborhood boundaries) will have 1,466 new housing units and 8,254 new people, which is a population growth rate of 30%. The employment numbers are even more impressive. Lake City will be supporting 5,237 new jobs in 2040 – that’s 85% growth!

If these numbers are true, one thing seems pretty certain: All of these residents and employees will require more space, which means that less space will be available for huge parking lots and drive-throughs. Lake City’s auto-centric development patterns are a thing of the past.

Continue reading “Carfree Living – in Lake City?”

Jessyn Farrell Running for 46th District House Seat

Jessyn Farrell

Jessyn Farrell, former Executive Director of Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC), has just announced that she is running for the open 46th District Seat of the Washington State House. We’re always supportive of strong pro-transit elected down in Olympia, which Jessyn will no doubt be. Press release below.

Transportation and Environmental Leader Jessyn Farrell  

Running for 46th Legislative District House Seat

Raised in 46th and graduate of local public schools and UW, Farrell will focus on quality public K-12 and higher education, transportation and transit infrastructure, and protecting health care access for women and kids

SEATTLE— Transportation leader, attorney and environmental advocate Jessyn Farrell has announced that she will run for the State House of Representatives in the 46th Legislative District, representing the neighborhoods of Northeast Seattle and cities of Lake Forest Park and Kenmore.

Farrell, a Democrat, grew up in the Lake City neighborhood and attended schools in Lake Forest Park and Shoreline.  She now lives near Children’s Hospital with her husband Tim and their two young children. She is the former Executive Director of Transportation Choices Coalition, a statewide non-profit that advocates for expanded bus, light rail and other transportation options. In addition, Farrell, 38, is an attorney specializing in mediation and environmental advocacy, and a former Seattle-based AmeriCorps volunteer.

Continue reading “Jessyn Farrell Running for 46th District House Seat”

Downtown Walkable Radius

Inspired by Roger’s post, I thought I’d look at whether downtown makes sense from a pedestrian standpoint.  Here’s the map:

1/2 mile and 1 mile radius from 3rd and Spring

Green Circle: 1/2 mile radius.

Using 3rd and Spring as roughly the center of the city, I first drew the green circle.  I consider 1/2 mile the distance a person would walk rather than look for alternate transportation.  You can see immediately why downtown works so well.  All of downtown fits in this circle, making it easy to hop between offices for meetings or to head out for lunch.  The waterfront is in this circle, as is Pike Place Market, Pioneer Square, the Convention Center, the ferry dock, and many large hotels, which make this also a great place for tourists.  There is that pesky I-5 cutting through the right side, which cuts off most of what’s east of there from easy walking.  But luckily 99 is above ground within this circle, so it doesn’t get in the way too much. Continue reading “Downtown Walkable Radius”

News Roundup: Reforming

Slack Action / Flickr

This is an open thread.

Measured Benefits of One Bus Away

Brian Ferris, one of the creators of OneBusAway, has co-authored a paper (pay-gated link) on real and perceived wait times for transit users with and without real-time arrival information. The authors[1] used OneBusAway data and questionaires of OBA users to study the effect of real-time arrival information, and came up with three surprising results, and two unsurprising results.

The surprising results:

  1. Without real-time arrival information, perceived wait times are 15% longer than real wait times.
  2. With real-time arrival information, perceived wait times are the same as real wait times.
  3. Real-time arrival information reduces perceived wait times significantly against users who are not using real-time-arrival information. In the study this was 30%.

The unsurprising results:

  1. Real-time arrival information reduces aggravation level of transit riders.
  2. With real-time arrival information, real wait times are less than without real-time arrival information.

Analysis below the fold.
Continue reading “Measured Benefits of One Bus Away”

PT Contraction Almost Complete

Erubisu 27/Flickr

University Place Patch reports that contraction of the Pierce Transit Benefit Area, which we last reported on here, passed the “Public Transportation Improvement Conference” Thursday night.

The County Council has 30 days to terminate the revised boundaries – in which case they will remain as they currently are – and cities have 60 days to withdraw from the revised Public Transportation Benefit Area (PTBA). Otherwise, pending approval from the County Auditor and Department of Revenue, the new boundaries will take effect in 61 days.

“Silence is a ‘yes’ in this case,” said committee assistant Justin Leighton in a presentation that preceded public testimony at the transit agency’s training center. He added that the County Council cannot change the boundary lines from those being proposed. “It’s either all of it or none of it at all.”

We’re down to the last two steps of a complicated process, as I outlined last year.  Spokesman Lars Erickson said that after cutting service and losing the tax revenue, PT “will have less money after everything is considered.” However, this contraction is designed to increase the likelihood of a tax increase passing.

We Need Old Buildings

Pioneer Square
Leave these buildings alone for you know not what you do. Photo by Laughing Squid

I recently read an article by Architect Lyz Dunn for AIA Seattle where she makes a great case for preserving old buildings during the densitification process. The paper is very good and I recommend everyone read it. In this post (with extensive footnotes!), I’d like to expound on a certain part of her argument, and explain why, at least in Seattle, there’s nearly no well-reasoned pro-urbanist argument for tearing down a single moderately dense old building, especially those of the pre-automobile sort (roughly anything Depression era or earlier, though I include any moderately-dense oldish building without parking).

I see three reasons you (or anyone) might want to replace old buildings with newer ones. First, you may not like old buildings, or you may prefer the look of new buildings. These are aesthetic arguments we can dismiss out of hand; everyone’s tastes differ[1]. Second, you may have support for a sense of property rights that entitle people to tear down old buildings they own if they want to. This is a philosophical argument that is outside the scope of this post, but as I have said before, I am wary of the actual intentions of most people who make these arguments. Finally, you may like to tear down old buildings and replace them with something more “dense” for standard urbanists reasons: walkability, sustainability, transit-use and economics. This is the argument I will address today.

Continue reading “We Need Old Buildings”