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Part 1 of this series focused on infastructure improvements in the works for Southcenter.  This post will focus on the very ambitious and complex proposed revision to the Southcenter-Tukwila Urban Center’s Comprehensive Plan Element recently completed by the Tukwila Planning Commission staff and a consultant, concentrating on zoning and the street grid. A copy from October 2012 can be found here.  Highlights of the plan include:

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  1. Locating a “large percentage of the City’s future housing needs” in the urban center, in order “to preserve our existing residential neighborhoods”, encouraged to be within “walking distance of the Sounder commuter rail/Amtrak station” or the bus transit center.
  2. Flexible zoning regulations for residential, retail and light industrial, per district, with development of regulations for appropriate building heights. (The Kent Reporter covered some possible developments in this arena earlier.)
  3. Expansion of residential areas.
  4. Incentives for “providing a variety of different types of open spaces (e.g., plazas, parks, public & private)”.
  5. And finally, anchored between the upgraded bus transit center on Andover Park West and the Sounder commuter rail station, a new Transit Oriented Development neighborhood will sit, as seen above.

Such an ambitious urban redesign requires a new street plan for Southcenter, broadening the current travel and adding bike lanes while also expanding public frontage as seen below.

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The current “Street Tree” road layout will need revisions to accomplish such goals, stated Lynn Miranda, project manager for the Southcenter Plan. The plan focuses regulations and investment regarding siting of new buildings and parking lots on and around Baker Boulevard, and the northern part of the Southcenter area.

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The recent First Quarter Update  applies to projects all over Tukwila. For Southcenter, it announces that preparation of a Transit Infill Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) that will prevent appeal on environmental issues related to individual developments in the urban center.  

“By evaluating the potential adverse impacts at this stage of the redevelopment process, it acts as an incentive for future development. Provided a proposed project is consistent with the type and scale of project evaluated in the SEIS, additional environmental review will not be required – developers know what will be asked of them in terms of mitigation up front,” said Miranda.

Throughout this process, public meetings, comments, and various noticing requirements for the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review will occur, leading to the final SEIS issue and prevention of further project appeals based on the SEPA.  The planners must issue the draft SEIS before any changes to draft planning. After that, according to Miranda, the city council will publicly review and possibly adopt the SEIS with the draft subarea plan (current plan), revised development regulations in the Tukwila Municipal Code chapter 18.28 for the Tukwila Urban Center, and the draft Southcenter Design Manual.

“At this point we have not yet adopted any of the revised development regulations,” Miranda stated. “We have used the draft design manual guidelines to review a couple projects lately, to test how well they would work.”

Future challenges include accommodating planned I-405 expansion, given its impact on access to Southcenter. The transit center is even more crucial in that regard, along with continuance of Amtrak facilities (details on transportation elements from the latest planning commission).

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“We think of the urban center as an island, separated from surrounding development by highways and rivers, with very few access points, so having many options to getting in, out and around the urban center is extremely important!” Miranda said. “We also strongly support the Amtrak stop here in Tukwila, and want to make sure Sound Transit maintains adequate capacity at their Sounder site for Amtrak parking and facilities.”

Andrew Ciarrocchi, district manager of Westfield Southcenter, noted that the changes won’t occur to Westfield itself. He added: “We welcome the partnership between King County Metro Transit and the City of Tukwila to upgrade and expand the Transit Center adjacent to our property.  We are excited to see a project that will improve our employee and guest experience.”

Miranda concluded by stating that the urban redevelopment is slow, but the pace is the cost of developing residential mixed-use areas, parks, high-quality architectural design, pedestrian and cyclist trails, and more.

“We’re trying to work on getting all of this in place and realize it will take a bit of time.”

41 Replies to “Tukwila’s Transformation of Southcenter – Part 2 of 2”

  1. I wish Miranda well trying to undo so many years of bad decisions on so many levels with an area hobbled from freeway, river and railroad layouts.
    As I see the huge walls to climb, this area is nearly permanently screwed and can only develop bits and pieces of a cohesive plan, because most of the area is developed and in private hands.
    1. The railroad tracks serving many of the cul-de-sac warehouse buildings are an amenity to a business which will not likely embrace changes to street patterns in most cases – yet little rail traffic serves the area these days.
    2. Tying the new CR/Amtrak station to the new TC at Westfield will suffer from the same problems of today. It’s nearly a mile walk between them so they forever will be separate facilities. BNSF has and will limit the number of trains per day for both Amtrak and Sounder by pricing public transit out of THEIR market in favor of freight and coal. The activity there will mostly be commuters in the peaks from other areas, albeit with better road grids to get them settled into a parking space for the day trip to Seattle.
    3. City of Tukwila stymied Metro from developing a TC years ago because business’ on Andover didn’t want it. Maybe that’s changed now, but it’s still is an island stop for the Mall and difficult to route buses through. Link muffed it’s chance to unify transit into the spine when it lost it’s pissing contest with the old guard leaders of Tukwila, then ended up with the booby prize route up the hill along the freeway. Another opportunity lost forever.
    4. The much maligned car is still King in S.King County. This is especially true in Tukwila with freeways coming and going, bisected by W.Valley Speedway. We’re adding a million to our population in the next generation or so, and mode shift on Link barely moves up a notch to accommodate them in Tukwila’ Urban Center. CR is nearly maxed out. ST and WSDOT didn’t consolidate the 3 mainline tracks into effectively one corridor between Seattle and Tacoma so the UP corridor came into play. That’s lost.
    So buckle up Miranda. Tukwila is a car city, and you are secure in knowing you’ll have lots to always do to realize the plan, but hey, it’s a great idea and they all have to start somewhere.

    1. I think ST could benefit with a spur to Boeing-Renton via Central Link. The service would branch off between S 144th St and Southcenter Interchange….stop just north of the Mall (possibly where the abandoned bank building sits).
      Then it could continue east to downtown Renton…and terminate at Boeing/The Landing.

      1. That’s always the big hurdle when trying to add a branch line to an operational tunnel or box girder elevated guideway, such as Link. It’s prohibitively expensive and disruptive to justify either. Marginal increases in ridership from Tukwila, Renton or Kent would tell the tale. I’m not sure if that would trump the Commuter Rail effort either.

      2. ST has done preliminary studies on a Burien-Renton Link line, and I expect it will be part of the batch of studies ST is currently starting. A spur to Renton is very unlikely, because then Burien, Kent, and Auburn would demand their own spurs, and want to know why Renton is so overwhelmingly important it deserves a special spur. Also, you’d have to implement the spur by either adding trains or diverting trains. Adding trains would cause train congestion in Seattle (both downtown, and interfering with the MLK traffic lights), and diverting trains would break Link’s promise of 10-minute frequency all day.

      3. Sound Transit recently requested proposals from consultants for doing both the Downtown-West Seattle-Burien study and the Burien-SeaTac-Renton study.

      4. The idea of *Link* between Burien and Renton sounds exceedingly wasteful. Where is the ridership?

        Oh, yeah, they’re all going to Seattle, and will continue to do so via express bus even if a train gives them a one-seat ride downtown via the Alaska Junction, White Center, and Burien.

      5. mic,

        Wouldn’t the logical junction be just south of S 144th St. where the ROW is at-grade. From here it would descend into a tunnel under the I-5/I-405 interchange, emerging in one of the vast Southcenter parking lots.

  2. I like the idea. My concern lies with the close proximity of this development to the river. While visually appealling, overdevelopment and densification will prove disastrous should the Green River flood. If memory serves me right, this area was shown to be in an 8 ft deep inundation zone.

    This is an ambitious plan. …but the Southcenter Access project that constructed a mess at I-5 left me wondering whether Tukwila was serious about addressing the car centric culture.

    My concern here now is whether the City wants to allow such dense development so close to the Green River and its dike system.

    1. For once, I agree with CR.

      Development within a river’s flood plain turns a 100-year flood plain into a 5-year flood plain.

      Very bad idea.

    2. The area is question is already fully developed with impermeable surfaces (generally parking lots and low-rise buildings). Replacing these surfaces with mid-rise buildings will cause no further impact on river flooding. Having lots of buildings taller than 8 feet high should help during a flood. Underground parking garages might not be a great idea, though.

    3. I heard recently some towns in flood plains in the Snoqualmie Valley are reserving land directly around the river for parks and wetlands that can flood naturally when the river floods. In Tukwila it’s mostly parking lots around the river now, and parking lots are pretty much the easiest thing to move. Maybe Tukwila should focus on permeable surfaces directly adjacent to the river and redevelopment some blocks away.

    4. This being in the Green River’s flood zone is troublesome. I have a lot of faith in the flood control abilities of the Howard Hanson dam, but we’ll need to make the reservoir bigger if climate change gives us more storms like 2009. They went nearly to full capacity that January to keep the valley from flooding during storms that were dumping water into the reservoir at over 30 thousand cubic feet per second.

      I’m also genuinely angry at King County right now. On their Green River Valley Flood Preparation page, a link to the map of the floodzone is not just a dead link, but an actual hard link to the “page not found” page. What? What is going on there? And to make it worse, that appears to be the ONLY link to the map on all of the county’s website.

  3. You have to admire Tukwila for trying after being decades behind the curve or not being innovative enough to plan the city for pedestrian/density and not so much automobiles. Didn’t they reject the idea of Sound Transit placing a stop near the mall? If so, how terribly blind could they be; now that they want to design urban development around transit.

    1. Behind or ahead?

      Maybe they realize, we’ll all be “driving” Google Cars in 25 years or less.

      1. The idea behind self driving cars isn’t that we’re all driving them and there needs to be lots of parking. It would be that you would use them like a taxi service. You’d tell Google where you are and where you need to go, and a car would show up for you. It likely wouldn’t stay parked at your destination unless you needed it to for some reason.

      2. We can’t pin all our hopes on a speculative technology that may or may not become mainstream and affordable. Otherwise in 25 years if self-driving cars don’t pan out, we’ll be stuck with Tukwila still being an automobile wasteland, people having ultra-high demand for cars and parking spaces, and the poor relagated to way second-class transit. Walkability, BRT, light rail, and commuter rail have been proven for more than a hundred years all over the world. Even if self-driving taxis become common, there’s no guarantee they’ll cost less than $3/mile that current taxis do, and that’s a order of magnitude more expensive than a $2.50 or $3.50 transit trip.

      3. @Mike Orr:

        Ford predicts self-driving, traffic-reducing cars by 2017

        “Never gonna happen” just got a lot closer. According to Ford the self-driving car will be here within five years, using technologies available today. The smart car will take over your morning commute on clogged freeways, improving your speed and reducing fuel consumption. The technology concept, known as Traffic Jam Assist, uses adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and the sensors from its active park assist.

      4. Pfizer predicts cancer/ebola/loneliness-curing wonderdrug to usher in permanent utopia by 2017

      5. “Even if self-driving taxis become common, there’s no guarantee they’ll cost less than $3/mile that current taxis do, and that’s a order of magnitude more expensive than a $2.50 or $3.50 transit trip”

        That is why we need deregulation and competition. If we artificially limit the number of self-driving taxis of the future to the number of human-driven taxis today, guess what – the price won’t drop one cent, and all the savings will go the taxi company in higher profits. But, if we can have a whole bunch of driverless taxi companies competing with other for customers, with the free market determining the number of taxis and the price – especially if peer-to-peer is able to get into the game (i.e. car owners making money on the side by turning their cars into driverless taxis while they work during the day or sleep at night, when they would otherwise be just sitting there) – competition would have to force prices down, just like competition between gas stations forces the price of gas down. It’s the way the free market works.

      6. What this argument really does — much in the way I call for definitions of density and sprawl — is expose the notion of what is transit and what is not.

        At what point is a bus a car? Is a mom in a minivan taking 5 kids to soccer transit as much as a paratransit van picking up 10 senior citizens is?

        We use words without dimensions or quantification to make technical judgments.

        That is not good!

      7. A mom with a minivan and a paratransit van with seniors are both forms of personal transportation, as are taxis and car-shares and bicycles. They may all be valid forms of mobility for their respective uses, and there may be — in the case of paratransit, certainly is — a valid justification for subsidizing them to varying degrees, but no one is “defining” them as mass transportation.

        Mass transportation is able to carry the masses, and is able to scale without straining vehicle capacity, running out of lane space, or seeing costs spiral out of control due to very low passenger-labor ratios.

        You frequently see King County buses ambling all over the place carry so few passengers that they could fit in your hypothetical minivan. That is called mass transit that is failing. And it’s failing because density-averseness and sprawl and other misaligned land-usage decisions have fragmented demand to the point where the critical mass for transit to succeed is not remotely achieved through much of the system’s service area.

        Which is why, contrary to your endless bullshit, the mathematically-dependent “definitions of density and sprawl” are not remotely debatable either.

      8. I don’t often agree with d.p. or his excessive combativeness. But, in this instance, I totally concur with his analysis.

      9. The other issue is public transportation. Does mom stop for all hitchhikers? Do hitchhikers know where mom’s car is going before it stops, and does she drive the same route regularly so that they know when she’ll be there? Public transportation is available for everybody, just like a public library is available for everybody.

      10. Available to anyone within distance of a transit stop.

        Where as taxis can go to anyone’s house, right to their doorstep. As can Mom and Dad’s minivan or junior’s 4×4.

        Anytime you add a passenger…is it not transit?

  4. So it is more than a cute pedestrian bridge. I’ve never stopped in the Southcenter area to see the river or the 2 ponds. I knew there was one pond, but it’s a revelation to me that there are 2 ponds in the area. There’s also the Starfire complex just north of the area which could be included as an amenity to the area if good transit and pedestrian connections are built.

    Thankfully the plan calls for requiring pedestrian connections between sidewalks and business’ front doors and locating buildings next to the sidewalks instead of putting parking lots between the street and the stores. There’s also a lot of re-gridding of large blocks into smaller parcels. All good stuff.

    The distance between the Sounder/Amtrak station and Southcenter Mall shouldn’t be an issue if there is frequent transit between the 2 locations AND there’s lots of diverse development along the route. Tukwila doesn’t more Southcenter; it needs more Urbancenter. Build more variety, diversity and opportunity and pedestrians will get out of their cars. Eventually, if the development along Baker Boulevard succeeds, Westfield will bring the mall out to the edge of Andover Park West to reflect the new development between the Green River and the mall.

    1. I know somebody in a flight crew for a small airline. The airline puts them up in a hotel just west of Tukwila Pond, which is essentially across the street from the mall. That’s how I encountered the pond. Tukwila has done some preliminary work in making a natural buffer and trail entrances around the pond, and I’m sure it wants to go further with that.

    2. The Interurban and Green River Tralls meet just south of the Starfire Complex. The Green River Trail in particular is not just walkable, but quite pleasant to walk (though I am usually on my bike). From the point where that trail is closest to Southcenter is actually not far from the mall. And once you’re on the trail, you don’t have to cross a street til you get to the parking lot.

  5. Building TOD near heavy rail lines is tricky. I would not want to live that close to heavy rail due to the noise.

  6. A few separate comments and some replies to mic’s thoughts above.

    The mall and the big-box businesses need to be part of the solution. The mall could add a garage and convert part of the parking lot to (revenue-generating) businesses, as both Bellevue Square and Northgate have done. The businesses east of Andover Park West may not be able to afford their own garages, but the city could help them develop some kind of shared-parking scheme. That would allow some blacktop east of APW to be converted to buildings, which would improve the pedestrian experience.

    Mic #2: “Tying the new CR/Amtrak station to the new TC at Westfield will suffer from the same problems of today. It’s nearly a mile walk between them so they forever will be separate facilities.”

    But it’s a 10-minute walk for somebody who lives halfway between them. This isn’t a point-to-point path, it’s a new corridor, with many simultaneous uses along different parts of it.

    Mic #4: “The much maligned car is still King in S.King County. This is especially true in Tukwila with freeways coming and going, bisected by W.Valley Speedway. We’re adding a million to our population in the next generation or so, and mode shift on Link barely moves up a notch to accommodate them in Tukwila’ Urban Center.”

    The majority may use cars but that doesn’t mean a minority doesn’t use transit. Making it easier to live near transit and get around via transit (even with low-budget improvements in the 150 and 140 corridors) will encourage more non-drivers (or part-time non-drivers), which will make at least a dent in the mode share. It will also help south King County’s society by making not-driving more socially viable and acceptable. There’s also the people who want to do less driving but can’t afford to live in Seattle or have relatives in south King County: they should have more viable choices where to live.

    1. “…with many simultaneous uses…”
      is where we differ. Commuter Rail runs mostly when retail is closed in the AM and in the PM most will get off the train and split for home to Easthill on the new connection at 27th or via RR-F. TOD will provide some use for both, but not much different from today on the MT140. So the TC at the Mall will remain the all day facility and the new CR station will sit idle for most of the day.
      #4. We agree it’s a dent in the numbers. My dent is pretty small and takes a long time to attract private development near ever increasing rail traffic consisting of 15-20 more coal trains a day along the corridor.

    2. many simultaneous uses… most of them unrelated to whether Sounder stops there or not.

  7. What is the city planning for the area around Tukwila Intl Blvd – from 130th to SR518?

    Since it has easy access to a link station, and is not on a floodplain, is there any growth being directed there?

    1. The TIB station area has plenty of space for redevelopment and TOD, hint hint Tukwila.

    2. Maybe a streetcar to shuttle Seatac passengers to the new King County Airport passenger terminals.
      [BOOM – Double Irony]… I miss John Stewart.

  8. Looking at the “after” street grid map, it looks like they plan on re routing the spur line that is directly west of the Sounder/Amtrak stop. This would free up a great area for some mixed development. Its still close to the main rail line, but the rail will skirt the outside of the development.

  9. Flooding issues aside, I have to confess to great excitement about this plan. There are two frequent bus lines traveling perpendicular to each other through here – the 150 and the F. Redoing the street grid is a great opportunity to make these attractive with a dedicated busway. If a street starts out as a busway, there won’t be the political inertia to dedicate it to cars.

    With an accelerated 150 and F providing decent inter- and intra-neighborhood access, and in the long term fast all-day commuter rail service into downtown Seattle, this could turn into a great place to live without a car where today there is nothing but parking lots.

    1. Is the plan to provide car-free living or to reduce the number of car trips that residents will need to make? Afterall, the plan is only anticipating a reduction of about 99,000 annual car trips in the area (that’s about 275 fewer car trips per day). I didn’t see much information about the parking ratios in the planned residential development, but 275 fewer daily auto trips isn’t an especially lofty goal.

      1. If you take into account a projected increase in resident population and increased jobs, that sounds pretty good to me.

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