Photo by MSPdude

Friday’s news that Amazon is purchasing its main campus from Vulcan is one of many recent harbingers of fortune for South Lake Union and plenty proof that early investment in the neighborhood is now paying dividends.  The purchase comes to the tune of $1.16 billion, nearly half a billion more than the $700 million that it cost Vulcan to develop the complex.  The sizable return means investment for still more development in SLU, particularly now that private money is helping fund public infrastructure projects.

I’m a believer that the boon makes a fairly strong local case for rail investment– while we’ve heard about billions of dollars worth of development spurred on by rail in cities like Phoenix and Portland, South Lake Union presents us our own shining example of strong private returns on public investment.  As a result, Amazon is now chipping in to purchase a new streetcar for more frequent operations, while Denny Park is re-earning its reputation as a vibrant urban space.

The SLU case has given rail proponents a lot of leverage moving forward– the Amazon sale alone translates into millions in local taxes, solidifying a stronger tax base overall on top of the billions in private development.  Much of the credit should go where it is due: to the former mayorship of Greg Nickels, who championed the early visioning of the neighborhood’s future.  While Nickels took a lot of heat for his investment of political capital, it’s clear now that his efforts have paid off and paid off well.

104 Replies to “South Lake Union Investment Pays Dividends”

  1. I see where Sherwin’s going — public money (tax revenues raised from the public) get spent on infrastructure (roads and trolley service) so Paul Allen’s real estate company gets a big ROI. Brilliant, Sherman.

    You work at Sound Transit, right Sherman? What is the tax cost to the public of the bond contract security pledges? $85 billion? And that regressive tax cost will go to make rich property developers like Wallace Properties, Kemper Development, and Wright Runstad even richer.

    Am I missing something here? Sherman’s head is someplace the sun don’t shine . . ..

    1. Private money spent on *public* infrastructure. What a novel concept!

      Yeah, I know. Bikes bad. Density bad. Streetcars and trains bad.

      Having the public pay 100% of the cost to build roads into the forest: Good.

      I’m sure that if there were a tax abatement scheme going on here, Mr. Fox would be on top of it and would have included it in his comment above.

    2. My opinions are my own so I don’t speak on behalf of Sound Transit. If you want a statement from the agency, you’re free to contact them directly.

      And your snarky attitude and immature misspelling of my name isn’t appreciated.

      1. Sherman Alexie writes pithily about South Lake Union for The Stranger. Perhaps that’s the source of the confusion.

        For the record, I still think the SLUT is mostly silly, and exists in parallel to the rise of SLU rather than being able to take credit for it. But given the limited nature of the public investment on the line and the amount of tax revenue coming out of the area, it’s hard to argue that the city has taken a loss on its role in the redevelopment.

        (Contrast to SoDo arena, where all tax revenue will be diverted to pay the city’s bonds, sending nothing into the general coffers. That one’s a work of wholesale sham math.)

      2. Well said, d.p. I sure hope the lesson from this is not that we need more slow surface rail. Grade separated makes a lot more sense. By the way, most of the people I know who work at Amazon take the bus or walk from downtown (they don’t ride the trolley). As their headquarters move further north, my guess is even fewer of those folks will ride the trolley. Of course, Sound Transit is a different matter (lots of people ride it and will the numbers will increase rapidly when there is fast service from Capital Hill, the UW and points north).

      3. Especially if Seattle doesn’t blunder and abandon the Convention Station, which serves lower Capitol Hill apts, and is the jumping off point for a Ballard Line.
        The proposed elevated station spanning 9th/Denny is less than a 1/2 mile walk for every Amazon facility now and planned. Next stop is Seattle Center.
        All grade separated except for a street vacation at Terry/Lenora for the cut/cover portal transition to elevated.

      4. Do you have more information on this proposal for a 9th/Denny station? I haven’t heard of it before.

    3. Vulcan payed for half of the streetcar, IIRC. I don’t know what you’re so mad about.

      Take a basic econ class and pay attention to section on public goods.

    4. Who cares how much Allen, Wallace, Kemper, Wright, and/or others profit? The issue is whether the investment helps the public get around the city more conveniently without a car, and whether the magnitude of the investment has some relationship to the magnitude of the public benefit. If developers are building good things rather than bad things, the public benefits even if the developers make a profit.

      1. Let’s take a jab an analyzing “whether the magnitude of the investment has some relationship to the magnitude of the public benefit.”

        First, let’s quantify the magnitude of the public investment. The bond sale contract security terms Sound Transit uses are comprised of pledges to collect the sales tax and the car tab tax at or near the maximum rates while any of the bonds are outstanding. Given that some 30-year bonds will be sold in the 2023 – 2025 period, we can expect the sales tax will remain at or near the .9% rate through the mid-2050’s. I estimate the tax cost to the public of that abusive financing scheme for the ST2 bonds will be about $85 billion. For obvious reasons, Sound Transit’s management won’t disclose its estimate. What is your’s, Mike?

      2. I don’t see how it’s abusive. ST2 was approved by voters. How would you like ST2 to be financed?

      3. Schuyler, I have a feeling there would be no problem whatsoever in his mind if the same financing scheme were used to build highway lanes.

      4. Remember, the primary purpose of the streetcar is not actually to move people (although, that’s a nice ancillary benefit). Rather it’s so you can look out your window, watch it go by, and smile at how quaint it is. Because that is the only thing the slut does that the #70 bus doesn’t.

      5. Well, that and multiple door quick boarding, off-vehicle payment, POP, level boarding, covered stops with scrolling arrival information, and now 10 minute frequency.

      6. Upvote to Mike Orr’s comment. I don’t understand why people have this strange idea that developers making a profit means that the public is losing.

    5. public money (tax revenues raised from the public) get spent on infrastructure (roads and trolley service)

      You haven’t been paying very close attention. The extra streetcar service, the cycletrack, etc. are being paid for by the developer. In exchange they’re being allowed some extra height on the buildings.

      This is the same kind of public amenity deal that we used to do for big public plazas, except in the intervening years we’ve changed the code to get amenities that are more useful.

  2. Before anyone starts thinking Sherwin is on to something, read this report out today relating to how development around the light rail stations that have gone in on Denver’s system have been a mixed bag (at best):

    How’s all that TOD going around Sound Transit’s stations? Oh, yeah . . . not so good.

    Hey Sherwin, I asked you a question above about the tax cost to the public of this FUBAR financing scheme that’s being developed by your employer. I’d appreciate an answer. You are a public servant — provide some service to the public.

    1. Wikipuddle, Denver’s light rail system (from my observations) seems to be a little different from the Sound Transit version. Most of Denver’s light rail stations seem to be on the side of or in the median of highways and interstates, hardly the ideal environment for TOD.

      1. I live in Denver right now, and this is true. The one station in Aurora that’s mentioned as not having much TOD is literally in the median of I-225, the south side of the highway is a giant park, and the north side of the highway has a giant 1,200 spot park-and-ride—no TOD potential to speak of there.

        This is true just about everywhere outside of downtown Denver—the southwest line runs along I-25, and the southeast line runs along freight rail tracks for its entire length. It’s kind of like if all of Link looked just like North Link, except less useful.

      2. Park-n-rides have great TOD potential, in theory. Stack the parking and you have six remaining acres to build, say, 900 housing units.

      3. Eric, you’ve inadvertantly swapped the lines in Denver — the Southeast line runs along I-25 (with the branch along I-225) while the Southwest line runs along the freight rail tracks (and also US 85 for what that’s worth).

        Yeah. Thanks to the locations, none of the stations outside downtown have TOD potential on both sides, and several (such as the ones in the highway median) don’t have potential on *either* side.

        The soon-to-open West line is in mostly in an undevelopable park / floodplain/ river valley, but at least it’s not in a freeway median. I still don’t expect much TOD there either.

        The soon-to-be-built I-225 line extension manages to escape I-225 for, I think, one station in an already-built-up area, so I wouldn’t expect much TOD there either.

        The East Rail Line is all freight tracks to the north as well, until it starts hugging the Pena Boulevard expressway….

        The Gold Line is perhaps the best hope for TOD in Denver. Although downtown is certainly getting some TOD.

    2. Some puzzling questions…

      What in the heck does suburban TOD have to do with the center city development which is the focus of this item?

      And how in the heck do you think you’ll get anywhere arguing with that tone?

    3. The TOD around Link stations have been, not so good for much of it, the Great Recession and the Seattle Process have seen to that. The plans for what is going to happen on Eastlink along the Bel-Red corridor looks like they are learning from their mistakes. And the stations in Rainier Valley have alot of potential that can be still be tapped

      1. In case you didn’t notice in your suburban newspaper, crime and gangs have gone down dramatically in Rainier Valley since 1990. Take a stroll through Columbia City. (Even after dark!) I don’t monitor specific schools’ performance, but the Seattle district has had successes with magnet programs and other new programs at specific schools, which I’m pretty sure includes Rainier Valley ones.

      2. Crime issues do exist around Columbia City and Othello, but they are manageable. The areas around Hillman City and Henderson still need a bit more help. As a resident of the area, Henderson is the place that makes me nervous at night — and even sometimes during the day.

    4. Hey Wiki,

      If you want a “public service” response from ST, contact them directly. Sherwin is on this blog on his own time, and he owes you nothing, especially with your “Bow before me, slave” attitude.

    1. Not without some serious upzoning on Capitol Hill. Most of the stops are in areas which mostly have existing zoning maxed.

      The Yesler Terrace redevelopment is probably the biggest change we’ll see.

      If there was a 14th & Yesler stop, or if the Aloha extension is built, with accompanying zoning changes in either place, we could see something happen.

    2. No because the development’s already happening furiously on Capitol Hill; there are a couple dozen apartment buildings under construction. In First Hill, the tall buildings are already there so there’s not much room to grow; i.e., developers won’t be tearing down buildings that are still viable to replace them with another building the same size.

  3. But when you take a step back from all the big numbers and big company names, what are you really left with in terms of transit in the SLU area? It doesn’t seem like a whole lot. SLU has very little in the way of transit, and what it does have is pathetic.

    You have a very slow and short streetcar to nowhere which is better at giving the neighborhood “atmosphere” than answering a transportation need. You have the extremely unreliable route 8. You have the route 70 which ends early, even on weekdays and doesn’t even run on Sundays. Am I missing something? Isn’t that about it? There might be a few routes on the fringes of the neighborhood, but transit in the core of SLU sucks. But with all the new construction and development going on, it’s easy to forget that.

    1. Are you arguing that this private investment in bike and transit infrastructure will make SLU worse?

    2. Just a point on Rt 70, when it doesn’t run it’s replaced by the 71/2/3 locals, which exactly duplicate it.

      The new 40 is a HUGE improvement for SLU in terms of connectivity. But other than that, I think the main problem is there isn’t one transit spine. You cant wait on westlake for say, the streetcar, 40, 70, 26, or 28. You have to pick one and hope it’s the first.

    3. The streetcar was always intended to be extended someday. The 71/71/73 take over for the 70 evenings/Sundays. The 40 goes on Westlake, replacing the 17. Three routes in a four block area is a lot of transit.

      The 8 is extremely unreliable but it’s a great help for going up the hills.

    4. The SLU streetcar connects to one of our larger transit hubs. At the downtown end it’s right next to the bus/rail tunnel, our bus street on 3rd, and the Monorail. As population end employment increases in SLU you’ll see frequencies for the streetcar increasing, which will make this transfer less painful (Amazon’s alredy buying this down from 15 minues to 10).

      And once we convince someone to install that gondola line…

      1. No, at the downtown end it is hidden from one of our major transit hubs by a superblock of buildings, a monorail, and an interminable pedestrian crossing.

      2. ? You know there’s access to the tunnel in Westlake Center, right? That’s catty-corner to the streetcar. Though I agree they need much better signage.

      3. Oh, and if 5th is that pedestrian crossing you don’t like, there’s also an enterance at Nordsrom’s (again, better signage would help).

      4. I thought I’d mention that the bridge on Fairview N, just beyond where the trolley currently ends, seems to be getting closer to replacement. I dropped a drill barge off there a few weeks ago to do the geotechnical samples for the piling for the new bridge, and they’ve long since finished up. Once that bridge gets renewed I don’t think there are any other physical impediments to running the trolley quite a ways further north.

  4. The S.L.U.T. has absolutely nothing to do with the development that is occurring in South Lake Union. That is where there was a lot of relatively inexpensive, lightly developed land that Paul Allen bought up. Where else could that developlment have gone that would have been so close to the downtown core?

    I find it absolutely hilarious that anyone would attempt to argue that the S.L.U.T. had anything to do with any development in South Lake Union.

    1. If Paul Allen didn’t care about the trolley, then why did he largely pay for it? (Remember, he’s by far the biggest landowner in the LID, and he could have stopped it in its tracks.) Clearly, he thought it was important to his plans.

      1. Norman is right in claiming that the SLUT is not the cause of SLU’s success.

        But Allen/Vulcan obviously thought it was integral enough to the plan that they paid for half of it. And Amazon thinks it’s important enough to continue investing in it after purchasing the campus.

        We didn’t plop down a trolley to nowhere and expect the land use to follow. The plan was a lot more nuanced than that. But both Norman and this blog post are guilty of that oversimplification.

      2. Was actually roughly $8.1 million paid by Vulcan properties during the LID assessment out of a final figure of just over $54 million. So, a nice $8 million investment. It’s why it should have been financed as a TAD to realize ongoing gains, especially when the original assessment came back and showed that the total property value in the area would realize over $80 million gain just from the streetcar alone, and they still held to the $25 million in assessments to the owners.

        BUT, TADs aren’t allowed per WA law…

    1. So I assume you would have them move to a big, cheap suburban office park? That’s a novel employee recruitment and retention strategy.

      1. No, I’d have as many as possible telecommute. Virtually no incremental environmental impact and way cheaper.

      2. Even with modern videoconferencing technology, face-to-face interaction is still often important in getting useful work done. If there weren’t value of having employees physically there, Amazon would have simply outsourced the jobs to China or India for less.

      3. Telecommuting? Maybe for the occasional programmer hiding while grinding out code, or for some poor on-call waiting for their pager to blow up, but those are exceptional cases. The Dublin office complained repeatedly of not having easy access to the Seattle developers, to the point that Amazon would fly out members of the Dublin team every so often, despite available video conferencing, email, and other technological gimmicks (the timezone offset is also an issue).

        Physical presence trumps flaky software–wake me up if the Internet somehow produces a Third Viennese School.

    2. John:

      Last I heard, is NOT losing money. Where have you been the past couple of years? Kent? LOL

    3. Jeff Bezos owns the majority of the voting rights in AMZN. So he can do whatever he wants.

    4. Also, You’re incredibly near sighted if you think buying the property is bad. Amazon wants to attract young workers who command a VERY high salary. They want to live in the city (deal with it). Getting to work is A LOT easier if they can walk/have a 5 min bus ride from Cap Hill, rather than dealing with the freaking 545 or 150. This in turn raises the attractiveness of Amazon over some other tech giant in the area.

      1. Schuyler, you’re obviously not familiar with John. He operates under the extreme delusion that cities are shrinking and exurbs are the wave of the future.

      2. Oh, don’t worry. I am very familiar. I just have never heard any objective reason why exurbs are nicer (I’ve lived in cities the past 5 years [Cleveland and Seattle], and grew up in the exurbs [Hopewell Township, Mercer County, NJ]) from him. Just some hand wavy nonsense about “it’s nicer because there’s more space”

      3. Everyone in existence wants a garden and at least three bedrooms. At least that seems to be the theory.

      4. Amazon wants to attract young workers who command a VERY high salary.

        Ha, young workers you hire cheap. The reason the MS campus is out on the eastside is because it caters to the managers. “VERY high” is relative but the MS folks that can afford to live in Medina are “VERY high salary”. They don’t want to live in a city. No place to moor the yacht; deal with it!

      5. Bernie, that may apply to the very tippy-top levels. But not to the great bulk of the staff. I know a whole lot of people who work at Microsoft… and, as a rule, the higher their grade, the closer into the city they live. The Microsofties I know would be ecstatic if Microsoft and Amazon switched places. Microsoft’s expansion in downtown Bellevue is being done as a baby step in catering to these folks.

      6. “The reason the MS campus is out on the eastside is because it caters to the managers”

        I worked as an intern at Microsoft during the summers of 1987-1990 (No stock back then so no “FerrariBusDriver”:( ) I started in Building #1 and moved into building #6 after it was completed. (The prank of sending new employees to building #7 hadn’t started yet)

        For my entire time there the campus was designed to emulate a college campus and grew with ever increasing amenities on site specifically to keep new graduates comfortable. They sold it in interviews big time. They even had ship parties that were very fraternity-like. (The day before an infamous Office ship party, facilities came through and pulled all the art off the walls. Those of us not in the Office group wondered what was going on until the champagne started getting sprayed all over the walls) I suppose that subset of employee still exists – even may be the dominant type of car dependent / happy to be insulated in a sterile office park with soccer fields, volley ball courts, hiking trails, and an array of cafeterias that I can only imagine today. But I think you’d agree that the balance of employees today is shifting more toward an urban-hip crowd that wants to be in the city. The lengths that Silicon Valley companies go to cart their employees to their remote campuses from San Francisco should be evidence enough. The struggles that WSDOT has had retrofitting our Seattlecentric freeway system for an ever increasing reverse commute also are evidence of that trend.

        All that said, you are correct that the Management caste at Microsoft does (or at least did when I was there over a decade ago) have a taste for the far out exurbs. Virtually every party at a manger’s house I went to was out in the boonies – boonies that are more convenient to suburban Redmond rather than Seattle.

      7. Schuyler … where did you go to school? I am class of ’89 at The Hun School in Princeton

      8. Even After the Housing Bust, Americans Still Love the Suburbs

        By defining “urban” and “suburban” in this way, suburban growth is clearly outpacing urban growth. Growth in the “more suburban” neighborhoods was 0.73% in the past year, more than twice as high as in the “more urban” neighborhoods, where growth was just 0.35%.

        In fact, urban neighborhoods grew faster than suburban neighborhoods in only 5 of the 50 largest metros: Memphis, New York, Chicago, San Jose and Pittsburgh – and often by a really small margin. In the other 45 large metros, the suburbs grew faster than the more urban neighborhoods.

      9. John, that study is goofy. I don’t know what’s happening in the suburbs, because I haven’t lived there in a long time. But with respect to the cities, the study is counting places like SLU or the eastern Regrade that have been underutilized, or even dense financial districts without many residences, as “suburban.” All it’s really telling us is that residential development is concentrated in areas that haven’t had many residents to this point. Which is obvious! Places like inner Capitol Hill that already are very residentially dense are not as attractive for adding more density.

      10. “Ha, young workers you hire cheap.”

        Not in IT. Entry level app developers are pulling in six figures.

      11. David L says “I don’t know what’s happening in the suburbs, because I haven’t lived there in a long time.”

        Welcome to Seattle Transit Blog.

        Facts and figures ignored.

        But feel free to pontificate with your own biases off the top of your head.

      12. “But feel free to pontificate with your own biases off the top of your head.”

        You’re pretty much the leader in that field.

      13. My point is that, regardless of what’s happening in the suburbs, the study’s definition of “suburbs” is so screwed up as to render it useless. I’m sorry, but any study that would define 98104 as a “suburban” zip code is most worthwhile as parrot cage liner.

      14. The Bailoman has an interesting comment in the loving-suburbs article:

        “My take on all this is what is happening is “normalization” where cities get suburban and the other way round. Cities are becoming more suburban…the building of vertical density has mostly ended and some are reducing old downtowns to corporate office parks. Recently in Seattle they celebrated…the opening of a downtown Target store! And what is Times Square now but an open air shopping mall…with the same stores as any in a San Diego suburb? Meanwhile, suburbs are becoming more sophisticated. Here in Kent, WA, I can ride my bike and then stop at a wine bar for a snack!”

        Actually, the real news is that suburban downtowns are becoming more like cities. Cities went through a wave of suburbanization (undensifying) but now they’re redensifying too. The Target store is notable because of the kind of change, not the magnitude of it. There has been no discount department store in central Seattle for decades, and finally there is one. But that’s dwarfed by the furious construction of 5+ and 10+ story housing and commerical buildings in SLU and Capitol Hill. Buildings over 40 stories may be passe, but 5 stories is definitely urban if it’s not an isolated office park. The suburbs are being more cautious, but even 3 or 4 stories there are making their downtowns more urban than they were.

        Times Square shows that urbanites want the same chain stores that only the suburbs have heretofore had. But the contrast in environment is unmistakable. Times Square has subways every minute, all classes mixing on the sidewalk (even non-customers), and people expressing their freedom of speech on public property. Suburban downtowns are growing more like that on a lesser scale, but suburban malls are not. Suburban malls are private property where non-customers are discouraged, some expressions of free speech are prohibited, and large parking lots are in your face — all of which make malls undesirable from an urbanist’s perspective.

        As for converting old downtowns to office parks (I assume you mean conversion in place rather than building the office parks elsewhere), where is this occurring now? Akron, Ohio famously did that in the 1960s (“Way to go, Ohio!”), but that was decades ago and that kind of thing is now seen as a mistake. And if you mean the ruins of long-abandoned buildings in Detroit, that’s not the same thing.

    5. Why is a company that is losing money splurging on obsolete overpriced towers?

      Um, maybe because they are directly across the street from the Westin Building? Direct access to every major internet backbone?

      They are an internet company, you know. They need backbone access. The Denny Triangle site was not chosen at random; they are not able to get this kind of internet connection anywhere else in the entire Northwest.

      Until the price of laying fiber comes down significantly, people who need lots of low latency bandwidth will have to build in cities where the proper telecom infrastructure exists, rather than in sprawling suburbs where building that kind of infrastructure is stupidly expensive.

      You can’t get cost-effective fiber-to-the-premises in Kent.

      1. Until the price of laying fiber comes down significantly, people who need lots of low latency bandwidth will have to build in cities where the proper telecom infrastructure exists, rather than in sprawling suburbs where building that kind of infrastructure is stupidly expensive.

        False. We lease two dark fiber lines from Totem Lake to our own direct connection in the basement of the Westin building (east and west loops to combat backhoe induced failures). Dark fiber runs all over the place and is relatively cheap. What happened is nobody foresaw the incredible increase in speed and density (DWDM). 100Gb/sec over a single pair of fiber can go 40 km without amplification; 100 km with amplification.

      2. Bernie, you’re looking at what I can only call small-scale access — two dark fiber lines? Whatever, that’s a rinky-dink operation.

        Consider the sheer quantity of bandwidth used by Amazon (or Google, for that matter) — they really *do* want to be right next to their network access points..

      3. Do you think Microsoft dug a trench to Quincy for their data center? Amazon locates it’s distribution centers that handle all the data for all their sales transactions in places far more remote than Kent. All the bandwith needed is available in the suburbs. AboveNet will be happy to sell you all you can afford. Amazon had no trouble at all when they were headquartered in the PacMed building and other sites scattered around the city.

        City of Seattle looks to expand fiber leasing plan:

        Mayor Mike McGinn released a request for information today to private companies who want to use the city’s 500 miles of unused cabling throughout the city.

        The nations fiber optic backbone is in better shape than our utility grid. The difference is the last mile or last 100 feet is all in place for electricity.

      4. Bernie: Sales transactions are not what matters (although the retail website is an impressively sized beast, and the database backend must be a nightmare to manage). It’s their hosting, cloud computing and related businesses that are getting pretty serious right now. For that kind of business they need a server farm with more bandwidth to the backbone than god. If all they wanted to do was run an e-tailer, they could have stayed in the PacMed building indefinitely.

      5. We have a dark fiber advantage in the city. There is so much fiber under Seattle streets it’s not even funny. It is one of Seattle’s biggest strength over the suburbs. There’s no last-mile problem because there’s already fiber at the doorstep for fast swaths of the city.

        Out in the ‘burbs, we’ve got fiber-to-the-node pretty widely deployed, especially on the Eastside. But fiber-to-the-premises is only doable if the land is right on the line, because as you mentioned, no one wants to have to dig a fresh trench to their data center. So if they were to build this complex in a less dense area they would need to develop land right on the fiber, or else be stuck with a crappy last mile.

        So where out there in the ‘burbs on those lines do you find zoning that would allow you to build a complex this big? I can think of to build a complex like this, without making construction complicated. Can you imagine what a complex that size would look like in Overlake at 0.5 FAR?

        Telecom infrastructure is like transit, in that the benefits of both investments increase with density.

      6. Goddamn, I must have been staring at Civ5 for too long today, I’m word salading all over the place. Edit button where art thou?

      7. they need a server farm with more bandwidth to the backbone than god.

        Bandwidth is cheap. Power to run the machines and the A/C is expensive. Highrise buildings are really expensive. Land in the city is beyond expensive. That’s why server farms are out in the boonies. We’ve moved twice in the last eight years. Finding a building that already has fiber to the premise or the trench is only 100′ narrows your selection but it’s not hard. Most business just don’t care about lighting their own dark fiber… yet. DT Bellevue has gobs of bandwidth waiting to be used. Anywhere around Microsoft is golden. And the thing is, the bandwidth from every single fiber pair is poised to see another 10X increase with the products that are now coming to market. Amazon located in SLU because of the people factor not the fiber. If bandwith was their overriding concern HQ would be in Moses Lake. BTW, ever think about how running all the backup diesel power generators for a server farm would come off in Seattle? Yeah, didn’t think so.

  5. I’m sort of guessing here, but I think that there was one major reason why Paul Allen (originally) and (recently) decided to invest in the south Lake Union area rather than at, say, the Lake City area. And streetcars had nothing to do with their decision.

    1. I hate to retread someone else’s argument, but the fact that Mr. Allen plunked down a big chunk of the streetcar costs suggests that he thought it was a key part of the big picture.

      1. Mr. Allen plunked down a big chunk of the streetcar costs so he could look out his window and smile at how quaint the streetcar is. Not so he would ever ride it get anyway – that’s what his car is for.

    2. Allen has been buying property in SLU since long before the Internet boom. If you think he predicted the rise of e-tailing and cloud computing before the fact, then he was ahead of 90% of the tech industry. It also raises the question, if he predicted it, why didn’t he found a company like Google before the fact, and why didn’t he position Microsoft to be the head of the Internet wave?

  6. We may never know the answer to Sherwin’s assertion. One could approach an answer with a multivariant analysis of the real estate market.

    As other posters have noted, in addition to the Seattle Streetcar SLU Line, SLU is served by routes 8, 70, 26-28, and the new 40. all provide a headway of 15-minutes weekday midday. routes 70, 26-28, and 40 provide more pedestrian advantage than the streetcar as they are longer; they penetrate downtown Seattle and extend to interesting markets to the north: the U District, Fremont, and Ballard, respectively. In addition to the capital cost, that was split about 50/50 between the LID and public funds, about three-quarters of the streetcar service subsidy came from redeployed hours from the southeast Seattle Link restructure, 2009. We do not know the outcome of an alternative path. Suppose the grant funds were used differently and the service hours were used to provide short headway on Route 70; more ridership may have been attracted. the streetcar provides too much coverage; it is only three blocks from the Fairview and Dexter corridors.

    1. employers have partnered to add Route 70 service. Seattle partnered to add Route 28 service between downtown Seattle and Fremont.

    2. This overlooks the considerable number of riders who will ride a streetcar but won’t consider getting on a bus. Fulminate about it, tell them they’re silly, complain they’re not worth the cost, whatever… but you can only grow bus ridership so far.

      1. Indeed, truth.

        It’s been suggested that the one unchangeable reason is that streetcars have better ride quality. I can read on a streetcar; I can’t read on a bus.

      2. suppose there is a rail factor. how large is it? does it really make up for the high cost? the funds spent on streetcar capital (about $40 million per mile) are scarce and could be used to improve service frequency. there are ways to improve transit flow that are not related to mode: stop spacing, faster fare collection, in-lane stops, wider aisles, signal priority. would Jarrett Walker ask how much mobility was provided by the change in mode?

      3. does it really make up for the high cost?

        Well, that depends how much you value the comfort & happiness of the citizenry. Do we really need all these parks? Do we really need to fill potholes on streets already slated for complete reconstruction? Do we really need to landscape the median strip? Do we really need to air-condition the buses?

        You have to make a judgement call and decide for yourself – no one wants to rehash the BRT/Rail flamewar. In my personal view, if any significant standing loads are expected, it’s enough of a benefit to outweigh the initial capital costs.

        Compare the way citizens flipped their shit about standing loads on RRC to the way they pack onto Link at rush hour. You shouldn’t subject your citizenry to standing on a bus, and most citizens will go quite a bit out of their way to avoid it.

        But if McGinn gets his way, we’ll see real, honest, electrified BRT on Madison in our lifetimes, so we’ll have a pretty good way to compare the modes.

    3. routes 70, 26-28, and 40 provide more pedestrian advantage than the streetcar as they are longer

      This is subscribing to the fallacy that milk routes make the best routes.

      Not that the routes you mentioned are milk routes, but in general length does not necessarily correlate with advantage.

      1. long milk runs provide more advantage than short milk runs. many can walk the length of the SLU line in its headway.

  7. “Allen/Vulcan obviously thought it was integral enough to the plan that they paid for half of it.”

    “Suppose the grant funds were used differently and the service hours were used to provide short headway on Route 70; more ridership may have been attracted”

    There’s another part of it too. The SLUT wasn’t just to bring more transit or pretty trains to SLU. It was to jump-start a larger streetcar system like the Portland Streetcar. So the initial incentive was Paul Allen’s vision of a larger streetcar network, which he knew would take forever in the bond-raising Seattle process, so he threw in some money to get it started. The other companies jumped in because they didn’t want to get left behind (without a streetcar, and thus at a competitive disadvantage) if a larger streetcar network did emerge. Now that it exists, that silly too-short starter line, the companies put money into service because it benefits their employees.

  8. I think it would be great if they expanded the streetcar to the UW link station: From the health science campus to Fred Hutch and the SLU UW labs.

  9. Rider: great?
    better: take the funds needed for streetcar capital and improve Route 70 service frequency, provide it in-lane stops, and shift the northern terminal to the Pacific Triangle. then it would connect SLU with the UWMC and Link. this would provide faster and more frequent service at less cost. if we want to mitigate global warming, we should not spend scarce transit funds to convert one electric traction mode to another and gain little. Seattle has it in its power to treat ETB like streetcars. Seattle Transit once provided a combined 2.5-minute headway on routes 7 and 8 on Eastlake Avenue East.

  10. I don’t like to pay for parking downtown. I usually take the bus downtonw, but those times when I have to drive in, I park on Westlake and take the SLU trolley from the SLU Park stop. I only wish traffic signals could be tweaked to allow the streetcar to spend a little less time at reds, thus speeding up a fairly slow (if short) line. I’m pretty sure that when the line opened, it got preference at Valley and Westlake, but now can wait, and wait, and wait at that corner for quite a while before proceeding southbound.

  11. When Bailo talks about the suburbanization of cities, he means more white people. The suburbs are the new ghetto. Hence all the gun fire we hear from Burien, Federal Way and South King county.

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