The Bigger Picture on Housing

Stepping back from the fierce debate on cottage lots and minimum size, it’s worth looking at the bizarre pressure cooker that is today’s post-bust Seattle housing market. The unemployment rate is dropping. Interest rates are absurdly low (30-year fixed rates are 3.5% as of today). Any halfway-decent house is getting multiple offers. Buyers are primed and ready.

And yet… there’s nothing for anyone to buy. Inventories are at record lows. The excellent puts it into stark relief:

Monthly King County SFH Inventory by

We went from over 12,000 homes on the market in King County in 2008 to about 5,000 today. One reason is that many homeowners are underwater:

King County has “such a short supply that it invites further price increases,” Crellin said. “The Realtors are right. They need inventory.”

So why aren’t more people listing their homes for sale, given the high demand?

Jacobi, Kelman and Crellin all pointed to owners who still wouldn’t be able to ask what they paid for their homes at or near the height of the market.

“They’ve sort of resigned themselves to staying put for awhile,” Crellin said.

One way to resolve this situation would be for the country to experience sustained 3-4% inflation over the next few years, which would slowly but surely put more homeowners above water and make it more palatable for them to sell. But federal policymakers have resisted this approach, and inflation has remained in the 2% range despite the record-low interest rates. The result is a whole lot of money sitting around looking for something to buy and a whole lot of homeowners who aren’t interested in selling or able to do so. Is it any surprise developers are looking for creative ways to build more houses?

Second Pierce Transit Prop. 1 Open Houses Tonight

Pierce Transit is kicking off the second of nine Proposition 1 Open Houses across Pierce County tonight to inform the public about the proposition and what will happen either if it passes for fails. PT press release below:

Lakewood, WA – Pierce Transit will be hosting eight more informational Open Houses for the public, regarding Proposition 1 at locations around the Pierce Transit service area. Facts and information about Proposition 1 can also be found online
Locations and dates of the eight remaining Pierce Transit Proposition 1 Open Houses (please note the change in location for South Tacoma on October 15):

Tuesday, September 18th from 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM
Pierce Transit (Rainier/St Helens rooms)
3720 96th St SW, Lakewood, WA
Hosted by: PT Commissioner Don Anderson
Served by Routes 48, 300

Gig Harbor
Wednesday, September 19thfrom 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM
Gig Harbor Civic Center (Council Chambers)
3510 Grandview Street, Gig Harbor, WA
Hosted by: PT Commissioner Derek Young
Served by Route 100

Tacoma (first of two meetings)
Thursday, September 20th from 5:00 PM – 6:30 PM
Tacoma Municipal Building (Council Chambers – 1st floor)
747 Market Street, Tacoma, WA
Hosted by: PT Board Chair Marilyn Strickland
Served by routes serving Commerce Street

Continue reading “Second Pierce Transit Prop. 1 Open Houses Tonight”

Carbon Taxes

Internal Revenue Service (wikimedia)

Matt Yglesias makes a nearly bulletproof policy argument for carbon taxes and then wonders why they’re so unpopular with Democrats:

Last but by no means least the government still needs revenue. It needs revenue to fund these solar subsidies, it needs revenue to pay teachers and cops, it needs revenue to fund Medicare and Medicaid, it needs revenue. There’s room for some kind of conservatives-for-solar-subsidies movement, but the vast majority of the people to whom these clean-energy causes appeal are the very same people who think the federal government’s tax revenue should rise. That’s a hard political fight right there. Why not make it a fight for a form of revenue increases that also have huge environmental benefits?

Mr. Yglesias is probably asking that rhetorically, but what the government does with the revenue is in fact the crux of the problem.

A tax on fossil fuel use is a regressive tax that will hit working class people especially hard. Now, it’s possible to construct the program to neutralize the impact on the poorest people, by allocating the funds to welfare programs, or even something as simple as cap and dividend.* But if one is looking to fund general government with carbon taxes, one is arguing to make the tax system more regressive.

Personally, I’d argue that given the scale of the threat, and the fact that nothing is going to deter destructive behavior more than making it expensive, that this is a reasonable price to pay. And the impact on the poor wouldn’t have to be as high with decent transit and land use policy. But it’s not surprising that the Democratic Party hasn’t pushed very hard for something that would shatter its coalition.

* As supported by Washington’s own Sen. Cantwell.

“Singles” at 20


Cameron Crowe’s Singles, easily the best romantic comedy ever made about Seattle transportation policy, was released 20 years ago today.  If you’re familiar with the movie, then I probably just made you feel really old.  If you’re not, all you need to know is that the main character, played by Campbell Scott, is obsessed with building a “supertrain,” convinced that if he gives people good coffee and good music, they will get out of their cars, and they will ride.

Thankfully, 20 years later, the debate appears to have resolved itself. We’re finally building the Supertrain* — or something close to it.  Though it’s unlikely we’ll get the line across Elliot Bay to Bainbridge and Bremerton on the next ballot, the rest of the routes are coming along quite nicely, don’t you think?

Above are a couple of screencaps I took when I watched the movie recently. If anyone has better images or even original artwork from the film, I’d love to know about it.

*not to be confused with the 1979 TV show of the same name.

Regional PSRC Funds Up for Grabs

Photo by planet_lb

The Puget Sound Regional Council has opened a public comment period for its Transportation Improvement Program, which will dole out than more than $440 million in federal funds to regional projects, many of which are transit or at least transit-related.  The overview of the Draft 2013-2016 TIP (PDF) has a good breakdown of all the projects by type (i.e., transit, roadway, non-motorized, etc.).  You can also view all the projects on an online map.

While transit accounts for nearly 70% of all projects selected for the 2012 selection process, many are the projects have a strong emphasis on general maintenance and transit operations (e.g., trolley replacement, ferry preservation, etc.)  “New transit alignment” projects, on the other hand, only get 24% of the transit funds– these primarily consist of things like light rail and fixed guideway expansion.

The table below the jump lists the top projects by award amount:

Continue reading “Regional PSRC Funds Up for Grabs”

Seattle Design Festival September 20th-23rd

While not totally within the genre this blog covers the Seattle Design Festival has more than a few events that STB readers would probably enjoy. Below are highlights from the festival:

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth


The story of the transformation of the American city in the decades after World War II is told through the lens of the infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing development and the St. Louis residents who called it home. Built in 1956, Pruitt-Igoe was heralded as the model public housing project of the future, “the poor man’s penthouse.” Two decades later, it ended in rubble – its razing an iconic event that the architectural theorist Charles Jencks famously called the death of modernism. The footage and images of its implosion have helped to perpetuate a myth of failure, a failure that has been used to critique Modernist architecture, attack public assistance programs, and stigmatize public housing residents. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth seeks to set the historical record straight by examining the interests involved in Pruitt-Igoe’s creation and re-evaluating the rumors and the stigma.

Continue reading “Seattle Design Festival September 20th-23rd”

Transit Hike: Through the Olympic Mountains


This blog has often covered transit-accessible hikes that can be accomplished in a day. But many of the most beautiful areas of Washington are out-of-reach of the day-hiker — even one who relies on a personal vehicle to get them to the trailhead. This summer, two of us set out to see if we could use transit to reach some of these more remote destinations. The result was an eight-day excursion that brought us from downtown Seattle past our State’s capitol, through the heart of Olympic National Park, over international waters to Victoria BC, and home, relying entirely on public transportation and our own feet.

The trip started with a five-leg transit journey from Seattle to Lake Quinault Lodge, on the south-west edge of Olympic National Park. The following is a weekday itinerary: the trip is possible on a weekend, but transfers don’t work out quite as well.

Leg 1: Ballard – Downtown Seattle

18E (King County Metro)

6:20am – 6:47am

$2.50 (Orca accepted)

Leg 2: Seattle – Tacoma

Sounder train (Sound Transit: ST bus 594 is an alternative)

6:50am – 7:48am

$4.75 (Orca accepted)

Leg 3: Tacoma – Olympia

603 (Intercity Transit)

8:12am – 9:12am


Leg 4: Olympia – Aberdeen

40 (Grays Harbor Transit)

9:30am – 11:00am

$3.00 (request transfer when paying)

Leg 5: Aberdeen – Lake Quinault Lodge

60 (Grays Harbor Transit)

11:30am – 12:35pm

$1.00 (free with transfer)

Continue reading “Transit Hike: Through the Olympic Mountains”

Update: Oct. 6th Sounder Ceremony

A couple of more details on the Oct. 6th celebration of Lakewood Sounder service beginning the following Monday:

  • The free rides on Sounder will leave Lakewood at noon, 1pm, and 2pm, and Freighthouse Square at 12:30, 1:30, and 2:30 pm.
  • The ribbon cutting will be, tentatively, about 11am.

ST is also giving out 20 tickets to a special preview ride Sept. 24th. To get one, you’ll have to work through this puzzle.

The SLUT Goes to College

This morning, we received great news from the Mayor’s office – not only does his proposed budget close the $20 million hole the city budget has today, it also manages to accelerate street repair funding, and takes the next steps in implementing the high capacity transit corridors in the Transit Master Plan. He has a great guest post up on the Slog that you should read, because he’s right on. The best thing to do to build more transit in Seattle is to start doing alternatives analysis in every corridor.

The funding in the Mayor’s budget is as follows:

· $2 million for Downtown to the U-District via Eastlake. This was actually part of the original Bogue subway plan the city had in 1911 – more than a hundred years ago – and it was one of the highest use streetcar corridors in the city. Almost every inch of the corridor is multifamily zoned, and what isn’t is changing into multifamily fast.

· $1 million to plan real BRT in the Madison corridor. The mayor’s office told me this morning that this means off-board payment, and would be a higher standard than RapidRide.

· $500,000 to develop alternatives for the best pedestrian, bike, and transit crossing of the ship canal, near Fremont. Much like Portland’s new bridge, this would get transit out of traffic and be one of the largest components of a Downtown-Fremont-Ballard streetcar.

· 2.5 million to be spent on whatever corridor is ready for design and engineering soonest – Ballard, U-district, the downtown connector or Madison.

This funding is in addition to the downtown connector and Ballard funding that’s already been secured.

This is exactly what we need to be doing. This funding will identify the possible alternatives so that transit supporters have specifics to fight for and data to back it up. The next move for us will be to ensure the City Council signs off.

News Roundup: Zero Percent


This is an open thread.

Sounder to Reach Lakewood Oct. 8th

Lakewood to Seattle
Lakewood South
Puyallup Sumner Auburn Kent Tukwila Seattle
4:42 a.m. 4:47 a.m. 4:55 a.m. 5:07 a.m. 5:12 a.m. 5:20 a.m. 5:27 a.m. 5:34 a.m. 5:54 a.m.
5:22 a.m. 5:27 a.m. 5:35 a.m. 5:47 a.m. 5:52 a.m. 6:01 a.m. 6:08 a.m. 6:15 a.m. 6:34 a.m.
5:47 a.m. 5:52 a.m. 6:00 a.m. 6:12 a.m. 6:17 a.m. 6:26 a.m. 6:33 a.m. 6:40 a.m. 6:59 a.m.
6:12 a.m. 6:17 a.m. 6:25 a.m. 6:37 a.m. 6:42 a.m. 6:51 a.m. 6:58 a.m. 7:05 a.m. 7:24 a.m.
6:37 a.m. 6:42 a.m. 6:50 a.m. 7:02 a.m. 7:07 a.m. 7:16 a.m. 7:23 a.m. 7:30 a.m. 7:49 a.m.
: : 7:20 a.m. 7:32 a.m. 7:37 a.m. 7:45 a.m. 7:52 a.m. 7:59 a.m. 8:19 a.m.
: : 8:00 a.m. 8:12 a.m. 8:17 a.m. 8:25 a.m. 8:32 a.m. 8:39 a.m. 8:59 a.m.
: : 4:25 p.m. 4:37 p.m. 4:42 p.m. 4:50 p.m. 4:57 p.m. 5:04 p.m. 5:23 p.m.
: : 5:00 p.m. 5:12 p.m. 5:17 p.m. 5:25 p.m. 5:32 p.m. 5:39 p.m. 5:58 p.m.
Seattle to Lakewood
Seattle Tukwila Kent Auburn Sumner Puyallup Tacoma
6:10 a.m. 6:22 a.m. 6:29 a.m. 6:36 a.m. 6:45 a.m. 6:49 a.m. 7:08 a.m. : :
6:50 a.m. 7:02 a.m. 7:09 a.m. 7:16 a.m. 7:25 a.m. 7:29 a.m. 7:48 a.m. : :
3:15 p.m. 3:27 p.m. 3:34 p.m. 3:41 p.m. 3:50 p.m. 3:54 p.m. 4:14 p.m. : :
3:50 p.m. 4:02 p.m. 4:09 p.m. 4:16 p.m. 4:25 p.m. 4:29 p.m. 4:49 p.m. : :
4:20 p.m. 4:32 p.m. 4:39 p.m. 4:46 p.m. 4:56 p.m. 5:00 p.m. 5:12 p.m. 5:20 p.m. 5:32 p.m.
4:45 p.m. 4:57 p.m. 5:04 p.m. 5:11 p.m. 5:21 p.m. 5:25 p.m. 5:37 p.m. 5:45 p.m. 5:57 p.m.
5:12 p.m. 5:24 p.m. 5:31 p.m. 5:38 p.m. 5:48 p.m. 5:52 p.m. 6:04 p.m. 6:12 p.m. 6:24 p.m.
5:40 p.m. 5:52 p.m. 5:59 p.m. 6:06 p.m. 6:16 p.m. 6:20 p.m. 6:32 p.m. 6:40 p.m. 6:52 p.m.
6:15 PM 6:27 p.m. 6:34 p.m. 6:41 p.m. 6:50 p.m. 6:54 p.m. 7:06 p.m. 7:14 p.m. 7:26 p.m.

A week after all the other weekday service switches to the Fall schedule, Sounder’s South Tacoma and Lakewood stations will begin revenue service.

The 72-minute trip will cost $5.25/$3.75/$2.50 for adults/youth/reduced fare permits. The South Tacoma fare is 25 cents cheaper for adults. Special event trains will serve both stations.

There will be a ribbon cutting and free rides on Saturday, the 6th, at both stations and Tacoma Dome.

Lander Street Overcrossing and SODO Transit

Lander St Grade Crossing, looking west from 3rd & Lander
Lander St Grade Crossing. Photo by SDOT.

I suspect many readers are aware of yesterday’s announcement of a deal between new arena backer Chris Hansen and the Seattle City Council, which includes a $40 million fund for transportation mitigation in SODO. Judging by the news coverage (PublicolaTimes), it sounds like the focus of this fund is on mitigating the Port of Seattle’s concerns about freight mobility in the face of increased game-night car traffic congestion.

The city is vague on what specifically might be funded, deferring to a “stakeholder process”, and I have absolutely no inside information, but with $40 million in hand, and a focus on SODO freight mobility, there’s one project which stands out, namely the South Lander Street Grade Separation Project, a proposal from SDOT to build an overcrossing of the BNSF mainline at Lander St, which was shelved in 2008 for lack of funds.

Judging from the project website, it appears that SDOT had done the preliminary engineering and design work, and placed the cost at about $75 million*. It might, perhaps, be worth $35 million to the Port or the City or BNSF (or some combination of the three) to take the project off the shelf and get it done; and while the Lander overcrossing is certainly not what I’d build if I were given $40-$75 million to improve non-car modes in the area, it would have peripheral benefits for transit. Buses which must navigate the current Lander grade crossing suffer horrible unreliability due to train traffic; at the very least, the overcrossing would make Route 21 and the new Route 50 much more reliable.

That crossing’s unreliability (and the congestion on Edgar Martinez Dr) was one of the reasons why Metro eliminated any 4th Ave S pathway from consideration for RapidRide C, but between the new Spokane Street Viaduct and a possible Lander overcrossing, that pathway might become viable. Interestingly, as reader Matt L pointed out to me, Seattle’s Transit Master Plan (page 4-3) calls for “strong consideration” of a 4th Ave pathway rather than a 99 pathway, due to the better connection this provides for riders heading south or east on Link or crosstown services, as well as better access to SODO, Pioneer Square and the International District through a path which wouldn’t raise NIMBY objections from Pioneer Square.

Again, this is complete speculation on my part. We’ll have to see who’s on the future stakeholder group before we can get a better sense of what might be built.

* Postscript: Adam pointed me to this MIC Bulletin which puts the cost at $180-200 million, although it doesn’t provide a source for that number. If that number is accurate, then $40 million doesn’t appear to put the overcrossing within reach, except maybe as a part of a local match for a federal grant.

Port Townsend Foot Ferry a Step Closer

Port Townsend
Port Townsend from the water. Flikr user Andrew Albertson.

The Port Townsend Leader has the scoop on a possible new foot ferry service:

The Port of Port Townsend has submitted a draft of their passenger-only ferry plan for feedback from the Federal Transit Agency. The plan would create a Port Townsend-Seattle route for recreation and business use, starting out from May through September. […]

According to the draft plan, the terminals would be located at the Point Hudson Marina in Port Townsend and the Bell Harbor Marina, the heart of Seattle cruise ship operations. In order to compete with traditional ferry routes and other passenger-only ferries, the 42-mile crossing is planned to take 70-80 minutes.

The idea of such a service has been kicking around for many years, but it was the FTA’s unexpected award of a startup grant to the Port which has given the idea a chance at becoming reality. If it comes to fruition, such a ferry would provide a significant improvement to pedestrian and bike mobility in the region, and provide another great car-free getaway for Seattle-area residents.

The Port of Port Townsend‘s business plan seems to suffer none of the flaws which almost guaranteed the failure of the nearby Port of Kingston‘s ill-starred SoundRunner, which will cease at the end of this month. From the start, the Port has planned to provide no operating subsidy, for which there’s not likely to be a viable level of support in any taxing district in the Peninsula; the FTA grant is solely for capital improvements and boat procurement costs, and then the service must pay for itself. SoundRunner competed against a slower but cheaper (albeit also heavily subsidized) alternative commuter route, via the Kingston-Edmonds car ferry and north line Sounder; a pretty epic transit journey through Bainbridge is the only alternative between Seattle and Port Townsend.

More after the jump.

Continue reading “Port Townsend Foot Ferry a Step Closer”

TCC Hiring Field Director

TCC Homepage

Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC) is looking for a new field director. Go here for more information. TCC is where I got my start in the transportation world years ago and has been a strong voice, especially on the state level, advocating for the things this blog believes in. The job description is below.

The Field Director is a key part of the staff leadership team and helps to develop organizational and program strategy. The Field Director is responsible for building public support for our agenda; developing messages; running the grassroots component of legislative, issue‐based, and ballot measure campaigns; conducting educational outreach; organizing coalition partners around our priorities; directing volunteers and interacting with the media. This is a senior staff position. Flexible schedule with some night and weekend work required. Modest monthly travel also required.

Disappointment with RapidRide and the Budget Dodge


I think that the underlying emotion behind the recent flap over RapidRide ORCA readers is, as Adam hints in his clarification, disappointment with what was sold to us as “Bus Rapid Transit” (BRT). It’s a denunciation done not with glee but with anguish.

It’s true that BRT is a continuum rather than a specific set of criteria, but that doesn’t mean that the term has no content and can be assigned to any new bus brand. At the least, it should incorporate at least some of the elements that make North American rail service traditionally much, much better than its bus counterpart:

  • Service all day and deep into the evening
  • Separation from traffic/signal priority.
  • Frequent Service
  • Off-board payment

Aside from the first, which was present in all six RapidRide corridors before RapidRide, the new lines largely fail to provide any of these.* Let’s take them in order:

Continue reading “Disappointment with RapidRide and the Budget Dodge”

Mountlake Terrace’s Quest for Density

Lake Ballinger rezone (click to enlarge – PDF)

Last week, the Mountlake Terrace city council gave its nod of approval (PDF) to a small rezone proposal in the Lake Ballinger neighborhood, an area less than a mile away from the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center at I-5 and 236th St SW.  The rezone is modest– an increase in height limit of 35-feet (3-story) to 50-feet (4-story).  There are already existing four-story structures in the area, built prior to code revisions in 1995 and which have since been grandfathered in.  The amendment once again permits four-story construction that would be conforming to code.

The approved proposal was actually the result of a compromise between the City and some area homeowners, who raised typical NIMBY concerns of traffic, views, etc.  Public testimony against the amendment was sufficient enough to force a revision of the original rezone and require that only properties in the north half of the zone be affected.  According to the City, the compromise protects views from the single-family areas to the east, which are ironically situated between the rezoned district and the freeway station.

More below the jump.

Continue reading “Mountlake Terrace’s Quest for Density”

Streetcar Connector Moves Forward

SDOT / Nelson/Nygaard

Mayor McGinn’s office announced last week that Seattle has selected Nelson/Nygaard, authors of the City’s Transit Master Plan (TMP), to conduct the federally funded $900,000 study of the downtown connector on 4th and 5th Avenues, which we discussed in detail last year.

The TMP argues that the connector is the most cost-effective streetcar line in terms of gaining new riders, although that’s largely a function of its length and it would presumably score worse in a passenger-mile calculation. It is also attractive because it links the two more advanced lines, is one of the cheaper streetcar options at $74m in capital, and is a necessary component of any line out to Fremont or up Eastlake.

Seattle’s next round of streetcar construction is supposed to be “rapid streetcar,” implying more priority treatments than the South Lake Union Line. However, observers of the First Hill Streetcar construction might be skeptical of SDOT’s fortitude in giving large transit investments the priority they deserve.