Center City Connector Open House

Center City Connector Open House
Mayor McGinn speaks at the Center City Connector Open House

SDOT held the first open house for the Central City Connector Corridor Study on Wednesday night at City Hall. Three more open houses will be held as planning progresses over the past year.  Mayor McGinn was first to take the stage, followed by Richard Conlin and finally project manager Tony Mazzella. McGinn spoke about the process of updating the Transit Master Plan and the need for many different revenue sources, including potentially ST3. Conlin billed himself as a streetcar “skeptic” who was converted by having seen the Portland Streetcar and then the Seattle line in operation.

Here’s the proposed purpose, according to SDOT:

To serve the growing demand for Center City circulation trips with a mode and street alignment that is:
• Highly legible and easy to use for a variety of trip purposes
• Provides continuity of travel between the downtown commercial core and adjacent Center City neighborhoods that are or will be served by the South Lake Union Streetcar and the First Hill Streetcar

When the TMP was first announced in 2011, Martin did a thorough analysis of  the CC1 (1st Avenue) and CC2 (4th/5th Avenues).  STB commenter and occasional contributor Mike Orr was at last night’s meeting and wrote in with the following comments:

The feedback on the group-brainstorm sheets showed about half the people prefer 1st Avenue to Seattle Center. The rest were about even on 4th/5th or 1st-to-Westlake. A few people preferred bus or trolleybus over rail to save money. A few said to put all resources into a 3rd Avenue transit mall. And a few said to revive the vintage waterfront streetcar.

The question of alignment is obviously going to be an important one, but before we get there I think it’s important to step back and make sure we’ve got the right goals in mind. One potential outcome of the connector, if built, would be to knit together downtown with its adjacent residential neighborhoods, and make the area bounded roughly by Mercer Ave, Broadway, and Jackson St. feel like a single neighborhood – in which one can bounce around freely and frequently.

Alternatively, if this is to be the first leg of an eventual line to Ballard, that’s a different project with very different needs than a downtown circulator.  The relative importance of measures like frequency, reliability and travel time benefits depends in large part on what happens to the streetcar system outside of downtown. We’ll look forward to seeing more clarity in this regard with the release of the purpose and needs statement in the next few weeks, and over the year as the plan evolves.

Mike Orr contributed to this report

News Roundup: Pitchfork Brigade


This is an open thread.

Tonight: Forum on Transportation and Land Use in Seattle’s Climate Action Plan

Last minute notice, I know, but tonight at 6:30 at City Hall, as part of developing a new Climate Action Plan, the City of Seattle is hosting a forum on what we can do to reduce the climate impact of our transportation and land use. With panelists Rob Johnson of TCC, David Cutler of the Seattle Planning Commission, and Maggie Wykowski of Puget Sound Sage, the discussion should be in line with the things we write about.

There’s an opportunity for public input tonight, but not just in person. Online, you can read about the city’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, development of the new Climate Action Plan, and you can comment! Even saying “more electric transit” or “more density” helps, as there will inevitably be comments to the contrary.

Definitely comment below if you’re already planning to go – I know a few of our regular readers will be there.

Big Metro Cuts Ahead in 2014

desmond_slideI was going to write a big post with all the numbers, but PubliCola has a perfectly serviceable rundown, so just read that.

Erica’s report is largely based on Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond’s presentation to the Seattle City Council, the slides for which you can find on Metro’s website.

If you’re too lazy to click, the summary is that WSDOT’s mitigation money for viaduct construction runs out before the construction does, at the same time that the temporary $20 license fee authority stops.  Metro will be short $75m annually to maintain current service levels.

Transit Report Card: Seoul (II)

This is the second and final part of a two-part Transit Report Card series covering Seoul, the capital of South Korea.  In Part 2, I’ll explore transit in Seoul from a rider’s perspective and conclude with an overall assessment of the transit system in relation to the city’s urban culture.  You can find Part 1 here.

Three stations in one: 16 exits. And you thought Westlake was complex?

System Design cont.: Wayfinding & Signage
As I alluded to in Part 1, Seoul’s transit system is an overlapping network of frequent services, many of which interconnect at points across the entire metropolitan area.  With millions of riders transferring between transit vehicles daily, infrastructure to accommodate these connections is crucial.  Given the enormous spatial complexity of its many stations, the city has does an excellent job in wayfinding and signage provision throughout its transit system.

Each subway line is numbered, color-coded, and designated by its terminal stations on wayfinding signs.  Connecting stations can be as far as a quarter-mile apart from each other, necessitating a complex labyrinth of connecting underground walkways, many of which act as secondary shopping corridors.  I was pleased to find vendors and merchants from street to platform, selling goods ranging from scarves to delimanjoo.

Many subway stations closer-in to Seoul are tortuously complex– station footprints are dotted with multiple points of access and egress.  Jongno 3-ga, for example, has 16 different exit and entryways, thanks largely to the interface of three separate lines.  As a result, multiple exits/entrances are numbered, each classified with nearby landmarks and destinations on wayfinding signs.

Continue reading “Transit Report Card: Seoul (II)”

Metro Tweaks Renton Changes

Route 105 in the Snow
Route 105 in the Snow. Photo by Oran.

After a round of public feedback, Metro has dialed back some of the changes originally proposed for Renton with the introduction of RapidRide F. You can read a thorough summary of the modifications and public feedback over at the Metro Future Blog, but here’s the brief version:

  • The deletion of Route 110, a Sounder shuttle which mostly duplicates RapidRide F, will go ahead.
  • The conversion of Route 155 to DART, and a minor change to DART 909, will proceed as planned.
  • The proposed deletion of underperforming DART 908, and the rearrangement of the tail of Route 105, won’t proceed. This was due public concerns and considerations which “point to a need for [Metro] to maintain bus service in a community with a higher level of transit dependency.”

I don’t have strong opinions about these modifications, as I don’t know the area particularly well, but if you do, you can take this survey or email Metro at The deadline for comments February 15th.

Rebuilding 23rd Avenue

23rd and Cherry, Looking South (1968) - Seattle Municipal Archives on Flickr
23rd and Cherry, Looking South (1968) – Seattle Municipal Archives on Flickr

23rd Avenue in Capitol Hill and the Central District is currently a disaster for pedestrians and bus riders.  The right-of-way is far too narrow to support four traffic lanes and pedestrians comfortably, to say nothing of bicycles.  The pavement has been torn up by heavy bus use, and needs replacing.  So it’s great news that the city has cobbled together $14M for a full redesign of 23rd Ave from John St. all the way to Rainier Ave. Central District News reports on the project here, which could start as soon as 2014.  Community outreach is still ongoing, and final designs and lane configurations have not been set.

According to Bill Bryant at SDOT, the redesign will consist mainly of transit signal priority, fiber optic upgrades, and passenger facility improvements.  Electrifying the corridor, which could benefit many transit riders well beyond the CD, would cost an additional $12M or so, funding for which has not yet been secured.

Between this and the recent developments planned for 23rd and Union and 23rd and Jackson, change is afoot in the neighborhood.  Now more than ever we need that Madrona/Queen Anne restructure.

Update: great point by Zach in the comments. The past 40 years of road infrastructure in the CD (such as the widening of Cherry St. in the 1950s) have been about speeding up through traffic: getting people (in cars) through the neighborhood instead of to the neighborhood.  Hopefully we’re seeing a the beginnings of a reversal to that trend.

Upcoming Meetings on Snoqualmie Valley Service Changes

Snoqualmie Valley Map
Snoqualmie Valley

Two meetings about potential changes to bus service in Snoqualmie Valley are coming up in the next couple of weeks:

Thursday, February 7
6 -7:30 p.m.
Cherry Valley Elementary School,
26701 Cherry Valley Road, Duvall

Monday, February 11
6 – 7:30 p.m.
Fall City Elementary School
33314 SE 42nd Street, Fall City

Our commenters batted around some ideas from possible changes to Snoqualmie Valley service in a previous post.

From the Metro Future Blog post:

During the meetings, Metro will outline proposed adjustments that reflect the community’s desire to see improved connections between Duvall and Redmond and a more reliable and better connected valley transit network. All day service to Snoqualmie Ridge — a growing residential and employment center in the valley — was another priority shared by stakeholders.

In addition to these service adjustments, the plan points to the role vanpools and vanshares can play in providing additional transit opportunities. The effort also looks at longer-term ideas that can be explored in future years to provide more integrated transit service to valley residents.

The proposal will be available beginning Feb. 7 on Metro’s Have-a-Say website, where you will also be able to share your feedback via an online survey.

Since September’s major restructure to West Seattle and Ballard (which, by the publicly available results, has proved a smashing success in West Seattle), Metro’s service change proposals have ranged from insipid (I-90) to nonexistent (RapidRide E), so I’m not particularly hopeful here, but I suppose Metro could pleasantly surprise me.

Mercer Island, I-90 Tolls for Thee

The Island of Asa Mercer
The Island of Asa Mercer

The residents of Mercer Island have a pretty sweet deal.  They live in an emerald castle of sorts, surrounded by a moat, which keeps the riffraff out and property values high.  They have a relatively short commute to Seattle OR Bellevue.  They have a bridge across said moat paid for by federal and state taxpayers in both directions.  Finally, they have free access to the HOV lane for their single-occupancy vehicles!  All in all, it’s a helluva place to settle and raise a family if you happen to earn three times the U.S. median household income.

But alas, all is not well on the emerald isle. Tolls are coming. What?! That’s not what’s supposed to happen!  In fact, it’s precisely backwards: the bridge is supposed to keep people out, not keep the islanders locked in! They took the beautiful Castle on a Cloud and turned it into… Alcatraz!

Alas, the moat giveth, the moat taketh away. But I, for one, am at least somewhat sympathetic to the plight of our island-bound friends (soul mates, as they are, in our 206 area code). These folks bought houses under the (perhaps naïve) assumption that they’d have permanent, subsidized access to the mainland in perpetuity and now the rules are being changed.  What, if anything, should we do about it?

Continue reading “Mercer Island, I-90 Tolls for Thee”

Merits and Aesthetics in the Density Argument

Belltown (wikimedia)

There is a strong center-left consensus that more dense construction, in the abstract, is good for society. Most obviously, dense construction is more energy-efficient, discourages the many negative environmental effects of driving, and a new housing unit in Belltown is more or less one fewer unit cut out of forest or farmland.

Furthermore, there are huge non-environmental benefits. The associated transportation choices are good for public health. Although individual projects may result in short-term displacement, provision of affordable housing in the long-term aggregate requires increasing supply. More residents place the city in a better fiscal position and new businesses create jobs. And finally, self-identified progressives must realize that increasing the electoral power of cities is good for the liberal project at all levels of government.

Against the enormous weight of these benefits lie a small series of objective concerns: more competition for parking in City-owned right of way, more neighborhood traffic congestion, more low-income housing, and in some cases reduced property values. Residents aren’t crazy to fear and oppose these changes to the status quo, but density advocates are right to dismiss these concerns as either wrongheaded, or inevitable given that we will follow the imperative to put density somewhere. And if climate change, affordable housing, runoff, health care costs, and/or defeating Republicans* are top-level issues for you then that imperative is clear.

Parallel to this cost-benefit analysis is the issue of aesthetics. Some people like leafy neighborhoods with big lawns, and good for them! I certainly have my own tastes in planning and architecture that don’t have any more intrinsic merit than anyone else’s. But that aesthetic preference has to be weighed against the many emergencies that density helps to solve.

Lest you think the prejudice of aesthetics is a solely a creature of the suburban mindset, the archetypical Capitol Hill hipster is equally capable of letting aesthetic considerations overwhelm much less subjective goals. Opposing development because one hates chain stores or doesn’t like the architecture, while understandable, is placing the same personal taste above our continued broadest-sense prosperity. It’s true that de facto taxing development through various requirements for open space, affordable housing, and whatnot might earn revenue for those goals, cutting into developer profits without actually stopping the project in question. But it also raises the threshold for what kind of projects pencil out, and economics tells us taxing the thing we need most is terrible policy.

All this doesn’t mean there can be absolutely no development regulations. But the Council should carefully consider whether any given one will deter the delivery of this city’s future.

* With apologies to the pro-transit Republicans around here! It would be good for America if you won the battle to make your party responsive to the needs of urban centers.

Land Footprint – Seattle is Not Dense

This is part 2 of a series.

In the previous post on this series, I looked at the idea of a residential land footprint – the amount of land each person takes up for their home.  I also created a chart (updated here) that shows the different living conditions in the Seattle metropolitan area.

The best use of this land footprint curve is to have an easy way to compare the land use of our region to other regions.  I chose five metropolitan areas that I thought would be interesting to compare to Seattle.


New York City stands alone in the US with regard to land footprint.  The average person uses far fewer square feet of land.  This is accomplished by stacking residences, allowing more people to share the same amount of land.  Note that peak of 300 sf per person might be uncomfortable in a single-story world (keep in mind this includes your share of yard, street, and alley), but by building up each person can have as much floor space to live while using the same amount of land.


I was surprised by these two.  I had imagined Los Angeles to be more sprawled the San Francisco, but they have very similar curves.  It’s interesting to see where the curves cross – SF has more very dense construction, then the curves cross at around 500sf/person.  LA has more moderate density units, and at around 4,000sf/person they cross again, leaving SF with more spread out housing than LA.  Of course, LA’s metropolitan area only includes LA County and Orange County – and the sprawl I always think of extends beyond these areas.

Portland, Seattle, Phoenix

Portland and Seattle are similar.  Seattle has more dense housing, Portland had more mid-density housing, and they align again as housing spreads out.  However, the most common living condition is significantly more dense in Portland than Seattle (~3,000sf/person vs. ~4,000sf/person).  I had included Phoenix just to show what I thought of as a large sprawling city, but was surprised by the curve.  Yes, Seattle has many more people living 2,000sf/person than Phoenix, but Phoenix peaks near Portland at 3,000sf/person then stays lower than Seattle up through the higher footprint homes.

My Interpretation of the Curves (I’d love to hear yours in the comments)

Comparing Seattle to these five cities, it’s clear that we have a large land footprint.  In the most common living condition, a Seattlite takes up a tenth of an acre for their share of their home alone.  Add in the roads and freeways to get to your home (road area likely increases with land footprint), your children’s school footprints (there aren’t many multi-story schools around here), your workplace land footprint, the footprint of your grocery store, and we’re talking about a large amount of land per person.  This is wasteful of our forests, our farms, and increases the distance and time needed to travel to any destination.

How do we move the peak of our footprint curve to the left?  One way is through good transit.  NYC started with an above ground railway over 140 years ago, which continued as a great subway system, and expanded from there.  Building good transit that takes up little street space helps encourage development with small land footprints – your commute is shorter the closer you live to a transit stop, so building up allows for more people to live at these valuable locations.  SF and LA had similar histories, except using streetcars and cable cars.   Streetcars aren’t quite as good at concentrating residences as subways, as they stop more frequently.  Seattle and Portland also had streetcar histories, but much of our growth came after streetcars were removed and cars became the standard mode of transportation.  Of course there’s a lot more to land use than transit – for instance we’ll need to allow growth through zoning – but good transit is certainly a strong force in creating a small land footprint.

All cities percent