Seattle Case Study: Economic Impacts of Bike Facilities

By KYLE ROWE

Although we may be one of the top cities for bicycling in the nation, planning for bicycles is no simple task in Seattle; political barriers, physical limitations, and competing modes make squeezing bicycle facilities onto arterial streets seem like we are tearing down a bridge. One of the barriers that bicycle planners face is the neighborhood business community, who has repeatedly made their voice heard that they oppose bicycle facilities on their retail streets, such as NE 65th Street.

A lack of data and understanding about the impacts that bicycle facilities have on retail streets has allowed this political barrier and general misunderstanding to persist much longer than necessary. During the public comment period for the Bicycle Master Plan, numerous businesses wrote to the city in opposition to the new facilities planned on their streets. Rightfully so, these businesses are concerned about customers’ access to their storefront. With little data to show, planners are at a loss when trying to show that the proposed changes to the right-of-way will not hurt businesses.

I have attempted to bridge that gap in knowledge by utilizing taxable retail sales data (provided by the Washington State Department of Revenue) to study what occurred in neighborhood business districts when bicycle facilities were added.

In late 2010, the Seattle Department of Transportation completed a road diet on Greenwood Ave N, which included installing bicycle lanes from N 85th St. to N 105th St. The business district in Greenwood is centered around the intersection of Greenwood and 85th, and extends both north and south a few blocks. Taxable retail sales data was gathered from the Greenwood business district, starting in the fourth quarter of 2009 and extending to the fourth quarter of 2012 – the most recent dataset available. To account for variables beyond the street improvements, two comparison datasets were gathered in the same timeframe to act as controls. The first neighborhood comparison was the business district centered at 15th Ave NW and NW 85th St and the second comparison dataset was all businesses in NW Seattle.

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Wednesday: Open House for North Greenwood Stop Improvements

Greenwood improvements diagram
Greenwood improvements diagram. Click to enlarge.

On Wednesday, from 5-7PM at the Greenwood Public Library, the Seattle Department of Transportation is hosting an open house to discuss a set of proposed transit, pedestrian and bike improvements for the section of Greenwood between 85th St and 105th St. The proposal has  changed significantly from its initial version, but mostly in good ways. If you’re a person who uses transit on Greenwood, you should be there to express support for these changes, which will make your bus faster and more reliable; alternatively, you can send comments to Christine Alar at SDOT.

The main part of the proposal is to close a number of substandard and overly-closely-spaced stops, and upgrade four of the remaining stops to be transit islands similar those found on Dexter, with benches, shelters, conduit for future real-time sign installation, and bike lanes flowing around the outside (concept diagram below). This is a major upgrade for those facilities, as most of this section of Greenwood lacks proper sidewalks, and some of the stops are little more than a post in a ditch.

More after the jump. Continue reading “Wednesday: Open House for North Greenwood Stop Improvements”

Don’t Let Anti-Transit Voters Decide the Election

Tuesday’s mayoral election will help decide future of transit in Seattle for years to come, and that decision will be made by those voters who bother to return their ballots. Not very many people have sent in their ballots, and that’s not a good sign for transit advocates.

King County Elections has predicted turnout for this election will be 35%, but even that may be optimistic. So far, only 15% of voters have sent in their ballots. That’s not good for transit.

Early voters are usually older, many of them over age 65. That age group is statistically the least likely to support improving public transit, from saving Metro bus service to expanding rail in Seattle and our region. They are the most likely to be influenced by the Seattle Times’ attack on sustainable, dense, transit-friendly policies as being some kind of “war on cars.” If turnout remains this low, then it will be those voters who decide which two candidates face off against each other in November. And the candidates they choose might not be good for transit in Seattle.

We can’t let that happen. We need pro-transit voters to turn in their ballots now – and then make sure their family and friends vote too. Seattle Transit Blog has endorsed Mike McGinn for mayor because of his strong pro-transit, pro-density record. You can find our complete 2013 primary endorsements here for other important races, too.

Seattle residents are strongly in favor of transit. We shouldn’t let our elections be decided by the small minority that is anti-transit. Please vote.

Ballard Study to Produce 4 Options – 2 Subway & 2 Streetcar

In the Option 9 comments section it was argued by some that the Ballard Study was to produce only one option.  I decided to ask Sound Transit directly.  And the project’s Community Outreach Specialist Ryan Bianchi, answered directly:

Our goal is to refine the corridors based on input received from the public and technical analysis to two light rail and two street car options, keeping in mind that we need to balance the appropriate technology with the most feasible routes.

The project team will prepare a final report of study findings in early 2014 for consideration by the City of Seattle leadership and the Sound Transit Board for possible future action. The findings will help inform both Sound Transit and the City of Seattle in future planning decisions. The Sound Transit Board of Directors could consider options to include alternatives from this study in further high capacity transit corridor planning or Sound Transit 3 (ST3) program. The City of Seattle may use information from this study to develop a future funding program, or, if directed by the Mayor and City Council at a future date, it could be the basis to advance an alternative for formal environmental analysis and preliminary design and engineering.

Two options will go to the Sound Transit Board of Directors for ST3 consideration and two options will go before the Seattle City Council for consideration in terms of Transit Master Plan implementation.

Bruce Ramsey’s Imagination Problem

Yesterday, Seattle Times editorial board member Bruce Ramsey poked Mayor McGinn for including the Seattle Transit Master Plan’s map of future high capacity transit corridors on one of his campaign mailers, calling it McGinn’s map of “imaginary rail lines.”He goes on: “…if you vote for Mike McGinn, Seattle will have rail lines to West Seattle, White Center, Georgetown, Rainier Beach, Seward Park, Interbay, Ballard, Fremont, Lake City, Maple Leaf and Aurora North.”

Exactly. And it’s not just Mayor McGinn. That’s the plan our City Council unanimously voted for last year. Ramsey makes the point for us, though – McGinn is the only mayoral candidate championing this future. Creating that future is why I started Seattle Subway, and it’s one of many reasons I support him.

New Report: Seattle Needs More Housing Choices

Housing

A recent report by the Harvard University and the University of California, “The Economic Impacts of Tax Expenditures: Evidence from Spatial Variation Across the U.S.” has been getting a lot of attention in the press (check out Paul Krugman’s take on the study) lately for a report with such a wonky title.

For those of us in the various theaters of the land use war in Seattle there is one paragraph in the summary of the study that should get special attention:

In particular, areas with a smaller middle class had lower rates of upward mobility. In contrast, a high concentration of income in the top 1% was not highly correlated with mobility patterns. Areas in which low income individuals were residentially segregated from middle income individuals were also particularly likely to have low rates of upward mobility.

At first reading, this might seem to bolster the argument that some make for something called “inclusionary zoning,” a requirement that private developers should build price controlled units into their market rate projects. The basis of that argument is that greater mixing of income levels should be required and achieved through setting and controlling housing prices of a set aside number of housing units.

Notwithstanding the questionable nature of this strategy—that controlling the prices of a few hundred units of housing is the way to achieve economic diversity and upward mobility for the poor in a neighborhood or city—the study should be carefully considered for its implications on this discussion of normative housing price in Seattle.

Some might argue that this is “proof positive” that lowering housing prices in new development will result in greater economic integration and thus result in greater upward mobility for people with lower incomes. But let’s reverse the logic of that argument; gentrification (a term that stubbornly resists a quantitative definition) itself is a kind of inclusionary strategy. Why not move people with higher incomes into lower income neighborhoods? Wouldn’t that also be a salve for economic pain in low income neighborhoods? And gentrification or displacement is a watchword in any discussion of the so called impacts of light rail in the Rainier Valley.

However, the argument cuts two ways: if we demand that developers build price controlled units into their housing in rapidly growing neighborhoods because it supports upward mobility of people with lower incomes, then we must also consider the reverse—putting more people with higher incomes into neighborhoods with lower incomes— might have the same effect.

Continue reading “New Report: Seattle Needs More Housing Choices”

Books on the Bus Talks Mount Rainier

This is short notice, but if your evening is open tonight, head on down to the Central Library for Transportation Choices Coalition’s quarterly Books on the Bus event.  Nature enthusiasts will enjoy this quarter’s selection: The Measure of a Mountain by Bruce Barcott– a book which is essentially part-memoir part-account of Barcott’s explorations of Mount Rainier.

Barcott himself will be at the event, so even if you didn’t read the book, you’ll have the chance to learn more about it and what Books on the Bus is all about.  The event will be held from 7:00 to 8:30pm tonight (8/1) in the Microsoft Auditorium of Seattle Central Library.

Bolt Bus PNW – Happy Belated Birthday

Photo from Tubulocity.com
Photo from Tubulocity.com

Bolt Bus, the extremely popular intercity bus service that started up on the East Coast (NYC) in 2008 began operating in the Pacific Northwest a little over a year ago.  The Seattle to Portland route kicked off May 17, 2012 and the Seattle to Vancouver route May 21.  Bolt Bus GM David Hall was kind enough to answer a few questions about their first year of operation out here.  A pleasure to talk to, below is the edited (for length) interview, here is the full transcript.

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Transit Advocates Sign Letter for Ed Murray

wikipedia

An impressive list of pro-transit forces — including all of the most notable pro-transit legislators, and a sizeable number of current and former Transportation Choices Coalition associates — have signed a letter making the pro-transit case for Sen. Ed Murray:

[Murray has] deliver[ed] hundreds of millions of dollars for transit in Seattle and statewide by creating the Regional Mobility Grant program.  That program has funded several key projects throughout Seattle like the Metro Route 120 service improvements in West Seattle, Metro Route 44 improvements between Ballard and the U District, Metro Route 7 improvements in the Rainier Valley, King Street Station’s retrofit, the South Lake Union Streetcar, and many Sound Transit projects…

He successfully fought to save Sound Transit by killing every attempt in Olympia to gut and kill the agency at a time when Sound Transit supporters in Olympia were rare.  And he’s the only candidate who can work with state and regional leaders to bring ST3 to the ballot in 2016 with a package that expands—and accelerates—light rail in Seattle and region-wide.

I presume most transit advocates are by now dug in on one side or the other. Mike McGinn certainly has impressive urbanist endorsements of his own. Nevertheless, it’s quite gratifying that we have not one, but two candidates who have consistently said they are for more aggressive light rail expansion in Seattle.

Full text of the letter below the jump.

Continue reading “Transit Advocates Sign Letter for Ed Murray”