A friend of mine remarked to me the other day how little people seem to talk about the revitalization of downtown Seattle over the last 20 years.  Sure, there are still your not-so-nice corners here and there, but as American urban downtowns go, it’s quite a vibrant place, even nights and weekends.

The state of downtown living and working is the subject of the just-released 2013 Downtown Density Report, which includes some interesting numbers on the subject.  Relevant to our work on this blog, for instance, 43% of downtown households are car free, and 1 in 3 downtown residents walk to work.

Furthermore, since 2005, over 11,000 residential units have been added, and over 5,000 are currently under construction. Despite the preponderance of construction cranes on the horizon, the neighborhood isn’t finished growing by a long shot. The PSRC’s Vision 2040 projects 75,000 new residents downtown by 2040. That’s excellent news, because downtown is great for transit and great for the environment.

A PDF of the full report is available here.

66 Replies to “Downtown Density”

  1. The growth chart on page 2 is pretty interesting…

    According to this report, most of the largest growth centers we are familiar with are pretty close in and not too difficult to connect with high capacity transit in the coming decade or two. There are, however, a few far flung neighborhoods in the far north and south that will be a bit more difficult to serve.

    Ballard and UW are pretty obvious and there is already a lot of effort going into getting these two communities connected better to the rest of the city.

    If I am not mistaken, the center on the south end is Rainier Valley and Rainier Beach which will continue to have its growth facilitated by link light rail.

    The last neighborhood is up North and looks like its between Bitter Lake and Aurora, with some moderate growth also happening in Northgate, Lake City Way, Crown Hill and Greenwood. With the exception of Northgate, none of the near term high capacity transit plans seem to be targeting this area for expansion, so I wonder if either the growth will slow down, if the buses will become increasingly crowded, or if most people in this area are resorting to cars to get around.

    I hope the new Rapid Ride (E) being constructed on Aurora can address some of this, but I am a little bit concerned about the bottle necks it will hit when getting downtown.

    West Seattle often gets talked about a lot as a growth center, but it looks like to me that most of the growth is on the southern edge of that area in Delridge and Westwood….

    1. The charts are very interesting, but I find them a bit frustrating in their lack of detail. I wish they were like the new route map that was shown on this site (http://a.tiles.mapbox.com/v3/david-l.FNP-Type/page.html#14/47.5759/-122.2831). That thing is so helpful and so well constructed (it is a very nice cartographic showpiece). Meanwhile, we are kind of left guessing as to which spots are high density, versus medium, etc. I would like different maps that allowed you to toggle between the features, as well as combine them. For example, combining current employment and housing data gives a great snapshot of where we should be building things right now, if there is no future growth. Adding in the growth data gives us a hint for what is coming next.

      1. Thanks for the compliments on my map (which I just noticed)! :)

        But it’s easy for me because I made my own data, and I paid a bit to use the miracle-like Mapbox (and TileMill) once I had created it. It’s a lot harder when you’re trying to make maps using free tools with other people’s very imprecise data.

      2. You are most welcome. Both the substance and the presentation of your proposal were top notch. As a software engineer who loves maps, I loved it and find the possibilities fascinating. I agree, though, it is one thing to draw lines on a map; it is another to try and integrate data that might not be in a friendly format. As with any software integration related project, there are several steps:

        1) Learn the software system(s) and the domain. The domain can be tricky enough (arcane terminology and concepts). Just picking the appropriate software can be difficult (it is nice to hear that you found something you liked).

        2) Gathering the data. For my example above, I think I can find some of it, but other parts are difficult.

        3) If necessary, translate the data to a format that can be used by the software. For example, I would like to see zoning maps as a layer in a map but my guess is that zoning restrictions are presented as a picture (map), as opposed to raw data. Translating that data could be very tedious.

        4) Apply the software to the data to produce the pretty maps.

        I know of one example here, where someone did that: http://buildthecity.wordpress.com/2011/03/19/census-2010-city-of-seattle-population-density-map/

        I would love to see the same thing, but on top of a map like the one you used (complete with street names, etc.). I would also like to see both growth and employment density. The good news is that all of this comes from the census, so aside from zoning, it might be fairly straightforward. When I get some free time (a lot more than I have now) then I might look into this. Hopefully someone will beat me to it. :)

    2. You have to look not only where density is now, but where Seattle is channeling growth to. There’s a three-tier list of urban villages, and Central/East Link was designed to go through all the largest ones (U-District, Northgate, Lynnwood, Bellevue), and to serve as many of the second- and third-tier ones in the east half of the city as it could. The clearest omissions are Ballard and Lake City. Ballard has long gotten the shaft, which is why there’s been so much momentum for the monorail and now a Ballard-south and Ballard-east Link. Lake City has the 522, which is a major perk in the interim. West Seattle is still deciding whether it wants more than a little bit of density. Until it becomes more clearly pro-density (i.e., willing to have more 4+ story buildings and less parking), it will remain deferred in the high-capacity transit network. I’m not sure how pro-density Lake City is; my guess is it’s still deciding too.

      1. Like every area, there are multiple voices in Lake City.

        There is the old guard, dying out, but kicking and screaming trying to maintain the 1950s single-family home life-style.

        There’s the young urbanites that see it as one of the last affordable, increasingly dense places to live in the city limits.

        Mostly though, it’s a dumping ground for the ultra-poor government sponsored subsidized housing (completely out of scale with the services that are desperately needed, but lacking), and the land of opportunity for fast-expanding, hard working immigrant community that also needs essential services, including decent transportation.

        The lack of any sort of plan for that transportation along with the current, crush-level buses that do serve the urban village needs to be fixed, if we want to attract more market rate residential density to offset the ultra-poor concentrations that are going to be a drag on both commercial and residential development going forward.

      2. Where does Northwest Seattle sit on this urban villages list? I would be interested in knowing what kind of growth the city was expecting to have here in the future.

      3. “Crush-level” buses?

        Yes, that description applies occasionally to the peak-direction, peak-of-peak 306/312/522.

        Nothing else that serves Lake City even approaches fullness, let alone crush-level fullness, anywhere near Lake City. (The 65/75 at U-Village and the 41 south of Northgate don’t count.)

        And the reason is a network that has a whole bunch of infrequent, hard-to-use bus routes.

      4. What Attracts people who will pay market rate for housing in Lake City? People who by-and-large use transportation at peak commute times. The 522, the 306/312, 72/272. If these buses are always SRO, it’s not an attractive commuting option, and therefore Lake City is less attractive for market rate housing.

        I agree that the bus routes, particularly the meandering 41 and 75 to Northgate, leave much to be desired. I love your idea of a cross-town bus route to Ballard.

        But first things first. Make transportation attractive for those who can pay market rate, or we will be overwhelmed with the high concentration of residents in poverty.

      5. I moved to Lake City from Greenwood 11 months ago. I commute to downtown. While the 522/306/312 buses are busy, & often I’m standing when on the 522, none of these buses are crush loaded. Crush loaded is the Buenos Aires subway at 6pm when one’s feet are straddling the feet of another and everybody is pressed so tight that the pickpockets can’t operate.

        One of the biggest reasons I moved to Lake City was the ability to get to work (I work south downtown). 522 generally takes 25 minutes dependably, the 312/306 generally 30 minutes, the 41 about 35 to 40 minutes. While I loved the 5 in Greenwood above 85th, it was often 45 minutes. The difference between the times tipped me to move here.

        I went to the DEIS for Lynnwood Link, put in my support for the 130th stop, and attended a Lake City action plan meeting put on by the mayor’s office last night. I keep my ear to the ground and put my two cents in. I sense Lake City will get there.

      6. Yeah, no doubt the 522 is pretty sweet. Half the folks around these parts are eager to shut it down and make us take the 41 to Northgate as soon as North Link is live, however. Be careful about wishing for a transfer to link, you might get it, and an extra 15 minutes to work if 130th isn’t chosen. That will solve all of Lake City’s problems.

        There is a specific definition of crush level, however, and the Transit Master Plan does say that the buses on LCW often approach or meet that definition. Maybe they have a different definition in Argentina.

      7. A truncation of the 522 and friends will work tolerably for Lake City residents if there is a 130th Link stop.

        It will not work if the Link stop involved is Northgate, and I’m pretty sure the agencies know that.

      8. Hey David –

        Have you run the numbers for the transfer at 130th?

        Right now it’s 19 minutes to Union via the 522. I can’t imagine, even with a perfect transfer at 130th, it’s less than 30 minutes via link.

        Losing 10 minutes or so might be worth it to increase reliability and frequency. I’m not sure if it would be if it is much more than that.

        A transfer at Roosevelt would be much better.

      9. biliruben, a big part of the reason that you and others think a 130th transfer would be so slow is because the current 41 has very high ridership along 125th, makes every stop, and is accordingly slow.

        If the 522 didn’t stop between LCW and I-5, it would cover that distance in 3-4 minutes, so the total trip including Link (assuming 4-5 minute headways and 1 minute to walk from the bus stop into the station) would be somewhere between 20 and 26 minutes. Slightly slower than the direct 522, but I think people would accept the tradeoff for more 522 frequency, especially off-peak.

        The transfer at Roosevelt would be several minutes slower. People have not yet grasped just how fast North Link will move because it’s relatively straight and 100% grade-separated.

      10. The urban villages are on page 6 of the PDF at “Urban Village Replacement Pages” on the Seattle Comprehensive Plan page.

        The largest size is “urban centers”: (1) downtown to approximately Roy St, Broadway, and Weller St; (2) the U-District and U Village; (3) Northgate including west of the freeway.

        The second tier is “hub urban village”: Bitter Lake (=Aurora north of 130th), Lake City, Ballard, Fremont, North Rainier, and the West Seattle Junction (including Avalon Way).

        The third tier is “residential urban village”: Aurora – Licton Springs (=85th to 110th), Greenwood/Phinney Ridge, Crown Hill, Green Lake/Roosevelt, Wallingford, Upper Queen Anne, Madison-Miller (=east Capitol Hill), 23rd/Union/Jackson (=part of the CD), Admiral, Morgan Junction, Westwood – Highland Park, North Beacon Hill, Columbia City, MLK at Holly St (=Othello and Graham), Rainier Beach, South Park.

      11. Just to add to what David said, the other advantage to using Link for this purpose is that it will serve the UW and Capitol Hill. There are other buses that go to the UW, but I think this route would be faster. Even if it isn’t, the combination of buses will provide much more frequent service. For example, if I’m in Lake City and just miss the 372/72 towards the UW, I can hop on a bus that goes to the 130th train station (in five minutes). Basically, just about any bus that heads south will get me the UW, one way or another.

        So, basically, it would be faster, not get bogged down in freeway traffic (which can happen even with the car pool lanes) and serve more destinations along the way. The stop at 130th is a hugely important stop. With it, we can provide decent service for much of north Seattle (both northeast and northwest). Without it, there is very little that Link Rail offers to the folks in Lake City, Bothell, Bitter Lake and many other parts of the region, just because the transfer via other stations aren’t that good.

        There is also another, somewhat minor advantage, but fits into what is already mentioned. If you are boarding the 522 at Lake City heading towards downtown and it is standing room only, you will have to stand for your entire trip. On the other hand, if the bus takes a right and heads directly to the train station at 130th, you will have to stand for about five minutes, then get off the bus and ride on a nice, comfy train. It just sounds like a more comfortable commute (although I really love the view from a bus while riding over the freeway).

      12. Cool David. Thanks. 26 minutes would be completely acceptable. I hadn’t envisioned an express on 125th.

      13. I’d expect a revised, more frequent 75 would cover the local demand (and provide new crosstown service) along 125th and 130th. I was assuming the 522 would make the same stops it does now, and no others.

      14. Comparing the urban villages to transit infrastructure:

        Tier 1: downtown, U-District, and Northgate are all on ST2 Link.

        Tier 2: North Rainier is on Link. Aurora/Bitter Lake, Ballard, Crown Hill, the West Seattle Junction, Morgan Junction, and Westwood Village are on RapidRide or will be, although they deserve more than that. Lake City has nothing but is on the 522. Fremont has no enhanced transit but now has 8 buses/hour to downtown and 4 buses/hour to the U-District.

        Tier 3: Greenake/Roosevelt, North Beacon Hill, Columbia City, MLK/Othello, and Rainier Beach are on ST2 Link. Aurora/Licton Springs will be on RapidRide. Greenwood/Phinney, Wallingford, Upper Queen Anne, Madison-Miller, 23rd/Union/Jackson, Admiral, and South Park have no enhanced transit.

    3. Slow and steady growth would be fine if West Seattle had started with anything resembling urbanity.

      But it didn’t. West Seattle (the hill) is a suburb, and wishes to remain a suburb. It simultaneously and perpetually demands to cut in line to enjoy the infrastructural/access spoils of the city. Strangely, the dittoheads that control our civic conversation indulge this shamelessness.

      Everything about West Seattle elevates my blood pressure.

      1. After years of stalling a “downtown” is finally starting to appear. The Triangle will all be high-density housing ten years from now, and a critical mass of 6- to 8-story buildings is appearing in the immediate area of the Junction. As many as 3000 people may be added to the new urban bit of West Seattle, which will significantly change the political calculus there.

        West Seattle in a decade or two will be like the more urban parts of North Seattle today: with a bunch of SFH owners who are overwhelmingly in their 60s and even 70s and who are loudly opposed to even the slightest change, and an insurgent, younger group of multifamily residents who are able to shift the balance from time to time.

      2. I remember when the Seattle Public Library sponsored three citywide public forums, one downtown, one in West Seattle and one somewhere up north, the only one I could attend was in West Seattle. When I asked a simple question about the central library, I was shouted down by people who wanted the entire forum to focus on the needs of West Seattle alone.

      3. You need to have a beer close to the Junction (Elliot Bay will work fine) then wander towards the freeway and look at all the big buildings and the big cranes (which will soon build big buildings). You will feel better, knowing that whatever improvements they make to transit in West Seattle will likely include this area.

        Seriously, though, West Seattle isn’t as sparsely populated as a typical suburb. It has single family homes, but like much (if not most) of Seattle, the houses are on much smaller lots than just about any suburb around here. We aren’t talking about San Francisco, but still way more dense than Bellevue. Then there is the area from the junction to the end of the freeway, which is quickly starting to look like Ballard. If anything, what is slowing it down is not civic resistance, but really bad traffic and mediocre bus service.

      4. West Seattle is far more sprawling than many “suburbs” where I come from. And the house lots are big enough that there are noticeably fewer houses per square mile than in even the outermost reaches of Ballard or Greenwood, or in the ever-transit-shafted Central District.

        Construction may make the Triangle denser, but it won’t make it urban, if the current examples are to be taken as prophetic. And did you see the plan for the Whole Foods monument to autocentrism “mixed-use” building?

        Meanwhile, just this year West Seattle threw a collective tantrum at the notion of a 27-unit building with no parking being built in the dead center of the Junction. Is there a single mixed-use building in all of West Seattle without its own parking? I live in one of many in Ballard.

        This is not a neighborhood interested in the concept of urbanity — at least not the kind of urbanity that sustains high-capacity transit. And yet West Seattleites are always the first in line to demand more and better and ever-costlier projects to ease their once-daily barrier-crossing on the rest of the citizens’ dimes.

      5. This is not a neighborhood interested in the concept of urbanity

        And my theory is that 3000 new, mostly young apartment dwellers will change that more than a bit. Especially when they are told (as they will be) that the train to West Seattle will have stops only in the highest-density areas.

        There is only one way to build a West Seattle subway line that makes sense from the perspective of ensuring tolerable ridership estimates. After crossing the bridge, the stops go like this:

        Youngstown
        Avalon/Triangle
        Alaska Junction
        Morgan Junction
        High Point
        South Delridge
        …and after that it gets a bit harder, but that’s not the area we’re talking about.

        People will realize that living near the stations, in northern West Seattle, means living in the areas that have high density and urban amenities.

      6. From what I can tell by looking at the big zoning map of Seattle (http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/cs/groups/pan/@pan/documents/web_informational/dpds022048.pdf) as well as picking out individual spots via the main zoning page (http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/toolsresources/zoningmapbooks/default.htm) most of West Seattle’s single family homes sit on lots that are zoned SF 5000. This is typical for (old) Seattle (and the minimum SF designation*). There are places of SF 7500, though. I think these are generally located along hilly sections on the western slope. Those may be what you are thinking of. Interestingly enough, West Seattle is one of the few places that has big apartments/condos along the western shore. Given the slope of the hill (which basically produce uninhabitable greenbelts) it isn’t enough to produce high density in the area, but it helps.

        I don’t know what is typical for suburbs nationwide, nor have any found any data for local suburbs (in my cursory search) but in all my experience in suburbs around here (various eastside areas, Shoreline, Edmonds, Lynnwood, and Kent) the lots are very big. Obviously there are exceptions. That doesn’t mean that the suburbs (or parts of the suburbs) aren’t dense. There are plenty of spots where big apartment buildings are added to the mix of houses. The difference is that when the apartment building is added to a very sparsely populated area, it doesn’t make the overall area very dense. On the other hand, adding apartments (or even row houses) to a mediocre area can make it dense quite quickly.

        Generally speaking, West Seattle is a huge area with a mixed set of interests and housing. Looking at the density map (http://buildthecity.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/seattle_2010_density.jpg) it doesn’t strike me as anything special, from a negative or positive standpoint. It looks like a lot of Seattle, south of I-90.** In other words, Southeast Seattle looks a lot like Southwest Seattle. It is obvious that the central area (everything east of downtown between the freeways) is the area that is being hosed right now (it isn’t getting the rail service it deserves). At the same time, I can see how someone in West Seattle might be a bit jealous of the folks that live in Southeast Seattle (close to the train). Of course, that analysis doesn’t take into account future growth, which Southeast Seattle has by and large welcomed, while many in West Seattle oppose. However, there are plenty that opposed growth in various areas (I think the Seattle anti-density movement started in Ballard) but that doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve appropriate service. What is appropriate for West Seattle may not be rail service but they will probably get it. Much of that has to do with distance, not just politics. People like to look at a map and say “yeah, that makes sense — it is a long ways from there to there and lots of people go back and forth and the traffic is terrible — let’s build that line” as opposed to the idea that rail should serve densely populated, relatively close areas first (like a line close to Denny Way from the lake to the sound) .

        If they do get rail, then it will come with density attached. That is just the way it works (ask the folks in Roosevelt). Fortunately, this time around, we will make it very clear (which was the reason for the whole Roosevelt political snafu). My guess is that there will be very little opposition. My guess is, with few exceptions***, people really aren’t opposed to density in West Seattle because of parking, or loss of housing character or anything that typified Ballard opposition, but just because they fear that more housing means more traffic and more of a mess trying to get off the peninsula. If you offer them a carrot (fast rail) then they will take it, regardless of the added density.

        * Not counting special lots or town houses.
        ** It is quite possible that the census data is flawed, since much of southeast Seattle is lower income, which is typically underrepresented in census reports.
        *** I’m not surprised that folks would oppose a new building in the junction. This is understandable. I know it sounds backwards, but it is one of the few urban areas in West Seattle (or Seattle as a whole) with character. Much of that character comes from its age. In other words, it isn’t general opposition to density, or an effort to preserve singe family homes, but an effort to preserve one of the few spots in Seattle that actually resembles a place like Toronto (if you squint just a bit). I’m not saying I agree with the preservationists, but I think they have a point. It makes sense to build like crazy to the east of there (which is happening as we speak — OK, not “like crazy” but slowly).

      7. Ross,

        The Central District and most parts of Inner North Seattle are full of lots smaller than the SF 5000 minimum (because they predate that zoning designation). That’s why these significant portions of the city feel — and are — quite a bit denser than the 5000-sq-ft that spreads across West Seattle.

        It’s not West Seattle’s fault that its sprawls more than the earlier-built streetcar suburbs. But it is their fault that they demand expensive services they can’t sustain while ferociously fighting even scant change at their sole mixed-use intersection.

        David,

        I’m sorry, but a mere 3000 new people living in similarly-priced units, likely from similar employment sectors and with similar commute patterns, does little to change the transit calculus when you’re talking about billions of dollars of Duwamish-crossing infrastructure (and you suggest not even using the existing infrastructure at Spokane!).

        A chart on page 2 of Frank’s link visualizes the scale of Ballard’s development over the past two decades: the population within about 3/4 mile of Central Ballard has increased by “more than 22,500″ people in that time. All while still waiting for real transit.

        When West Seattle gets serious about that kind of scale of growth, then we’ll talk about billions of dollars in dedicated crossing.

      8. Oh, and Ross, and Roosevelt is no winning example of linking TOD to transit.

        After demanding and receiving an expensive mid-area subway stop, NIMBY forces hijacked the process, shoved all of the future density under the highway — away from the station they demanded — and ensured that one of station’s entrances will forever open to block and blocks of untouched SF 5000 (plus a football field on a 20-foot embankment).

        Roosevelt reveals how delusional the “development-follows-transit” idealists are. In the real world, transit follows demand. It has always been that way. Pathetic outcomes like Roosevelt do not occur that way.

      9. “In the real world, transit follows demand.”

        In saner places, transit infrastructure is built at the same time as the roads, and in some cases the transit is built before the buildings in order to channel growth around the stations. Othello and the Spring District are the two examples in our area. In Vancouver, an entire satellite city (Whalley/Surrey Centre) was built to channel growth, and Skytrain stations were incorporated into the downtown design before the buildings were built. I understand that Europe’s satellite cities are similar. The PROBLEM in Seattle/Pugetopolis is that we allowed haphazard growth to occur for decades without building HCT or even BRT along with it — we built just the highways and let the buses get stuck in traffic. So now there’s no room to build exclusive surface ROW like Tokyo or dig a subway in low-cost land: instead we have to rip up thousands of houses to retrofit a line and pay big bucks to the homeowners. That’s the hole we dug ourselves into by allowing transit to follow demand.

      10. No, it’s the hole we dug by never building high-capacity transit at all, and by allowing all other transit to devolve into lowest-common-denominator one-seat lifeline crap with almost no relationship to actual demand patterns.

        Now that we’re finally building transit, we’d get great results if we followed demand. But instead we get promises that MLK and Lynnwood and Kent-Des Moines Road are the New Hotness, and so we build useless express trains that no one in existing places can access to get anywhere!

        Lo and behold, the demand fails to materialize, the boonies stay boonies, the most windswept street in South Seattle remains that way, and the one place with actual development potential (Roosevelt) NIMBYs it off to the fringes.

        And then people who’ve learned nothing go on blogs to argue the same disproven meme verbatim and to claim South Everett is the New Hotness.

        The idiocy is exhausting and very, very costly.

      11. Just a few points…

        There are about 90,000 people living in Seattle west of the Duwamish River.

        There are relatively few ways to get in and out of West Seattle. The West Seattle Bridge sees as much traffic every day as the SR 520 bridge and it doesn’t take much to turn it into a parking lot in the morning.

        West Seattle has two thousand new housing units in various stages of the development process, or at least it did at the beginning of the year.
        http://westseattleblog.com/2012/12/west-seattle-development-mapped-2000-planned-units-2

        The data in the report linked in the posting above is from the Census, so it is already starting to get a bit stale.

      12. Firstly, that 90,000 number appears to some swaths of White Center and Highline that, in addition to being outside of the city proper, have close access to the 509 corridor that belies your description of the West Seattle Bridge as sole available bottleneck crossing.

        Secondly, those people are spread over more than a dozen square miles (officially 17, though that number includes unpopulated industrial areas), with almost nothing in the way of densely-populated focal points. There are a handful of corridors with populations disproportionate to the rest — these are the ones with the most robust bus demand — but there isn’t even a hint of urban agglomeration of the sort necessary for high-capacity rail to begin to succeed.

        Compare again to Ballard, which has well over 30,000 people just within walking distance of its downtown (again, that’s >22,500 more than there were 23 years ago). And which is contiguous with other built urban centers and connectable cross-corridors that encompass hundreds of thousands of residents and the effervescent cocktail of uses and destinations that make make full-on mass-transit viable. West Seattle has none of this.

      13. I’m not trying to beat up on West Seattle, which is a perfectly pleasant place (if a little redundant to the what the rest of the actual city has to offer).

        My frustration comes from the same source that leaves me furious at the Roosevelt High School Track Must Have Its Own Subway Station Association. Both places want the very expensive spoils of mass transit, but neither has done an ounce of the complicated and sometimes difficult urbanizing work that would justify the need for “mass” anything.

        Ballard is a wholly different place than it was. West Seattle routinely proves it hasn’t begun to embrace that kind of change.

      14. @d. p. — I think you missed the point of what I had to say about Roosevelt. Let me back a bit and summarize what happened. By the way, Richard Conlin wrote a great piece about the whole ordeal, that I wish I could find (since it summarizes it even better). First, Link wanted to put a station close to Greenlake. There are a few big buildings there, and more being built as we speak. This was part of the deal. Big buildings (or zoning changes that allow big buildings) along with rail. OK, good, everything is settled.

        But then the folks in Roosevelt wanted the station. The board (along with the rookie mayor) said fine, move it over there a bit, next to the high school. A little while later, the city said, OK, now we have to change the zoning to go along with the new station. The locals were aghast. They had no idea that one lead to the other, and like a lot of anti-density zealots fought hard against it. Many on the city council were sympathetic. The end result was a compromise, which like all great compromises, pleased no one. The neighborhood got higher growth limits than they wanted, but less than what makes sense for a train station. Meanwhile, you have the nearby slumlord, who will profit from this mess, which just pisses off everyone.

        The whole point I’m making (and that Conlin made) is that if you build a station, it comes with an upgrade in zoning. This has to be made clear from the beginning. My guess is that if the folks in Roosevelt new this, then either the station would have been where it was originally planned (much closer to the new big buildings being built) or Roosevelt would have had much more appropriate zoning. In the case of West Seattle, this has to be made clear as well. Change the zoning or no train.

        One last thing, and that is that while parts of West Seattle do allow for big buildings (and some are being built) my guess is that is traffic itself that is stifling growth. If I was a developer, I would think twice about building a new building in West Seattle unless they make some sort of improvement (I might wait until the tunnel is done to see what effect that has). New rail (or maybe even a gondola) might be enough to do that. I really don’t feel that way about Ballard for a couple of reasons. First there are more transportation alternatives in Ballard (15th, Aurora, etc.). Second, Ballard isn’t as isolated as West Seattle, which means that even if traffic is terrible, you can walk to Fremont, ride a bike or take a slow bus to the UW. I’m sure for a lot of folks in Ballard, this pretty much covers their transportation needs.

    4. That’s my neighborhood. We’ve been designated as an urban hub and the city has proposed rezoning some of the big box/strip mall properties on Aurora into something more TOD-ish. There are some large vacant buildings in the area, including the car dealership on the corner of 130th & Aurora and the old KMart.

      Right now, the neighborhood has a serious drug and prostitution problem that is centered around the motels between 115th and 125th but also fans out ito the neighborhood in the form of used condoms left lying around on the sidewalk, frequent mail theft, and plenty of car prowls (ours was broken into a few years ago) and other petty property crimes. Yesterday on the way to work at about 7:15, my husband and son and I drove past a very obvious hooker standing on the side of a side street, which was only notable because more often you see them in the evening instead of the morning. We have chased prostitutes and johns out of our alley plenty of times this summer. Shootings and stabbings happen a few times a year.

      We also have quite a few homeless people in the neighborhood, camping along the Interurban trail and in Bitter Lake Park, or living in their cars along Linden or in the unnecessarily large parking lots along Aurora north of 130th. There don’t appear to be any services in the neighborhood for these folks.

      We have good frequent one-seat rides on the 358 and 5 to Aurora Village, Shoreline Community College, downtown, Greenwood, and Fremont. Getting to Ballard requires a transfer at 105th to the 40. Getting to Northgate, you can take the painfully slow 345, but frankly it’s much faster to transfer to the 40 at 105th. The switch to Rapid Ride will shave a few minutes off the trip downtown but otherwise it will be very similar to what we already have on the 358.

      After 7 years in this neighborhood, I have given up hope of things changing dramatically in the future. I don’t see developers coming in and building anything new anytime soon. I don’t see the police/city solving our drug and prostitution problem. And we aren’t getting light rail in my lifetime, if ever–the best we can hope for is a decent connection to Link if/when a station is built at 130th in another 10 years. It is a shame because I love my neighbors, but we plan to move in a few years, to a neighborhood with less crime and faster transit connections to downtown.

      1. I’m sorry to hear that. It seems like much of the streetwalker/street dealer problems have just moved north (or has only been eliminated on the southern end). It used to be, what you mention was typical for most of Aurora. Now, it is rare for much of it. I can’t but think that general improvements in the commercial real estate had as much to do with the change than anything else. It used to be that everything from the side of Queen Anne to Northgate Way used to be rather dumpy. It is much better now and getting nicer. As it is, I think a lot of that property is very much underused — I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of it goes through a rapid change very quickly. More apartment buildings along Aurora make a lot of sense. No one wants to be right next to a busy street, but with rents as high as they are, lots of people will take what they can get. The city is caught between the desire to make things nicer by slowing down the cars and maintaining a key corridor (for both buses and cars). Over time, I think the area will get nicer, but I think it will probably be a while.

      2. Aurora has a huge ton of potential for vastly more workforce and middle-income housing that would make RapidRide sing, without displacing anybody’s precious single-family house (except a few around 92nd, sorry). Shoreline has promised TOD around all its stations, and Lynnwood around all its Swift stations. Will a few visionary parcel owners do what the city and the Aurora business association have so far been too timid to do?

      3. Honestly, the neighbors up here by the urban hub would be thrilled to see any development the city could bring us. I mean, if the choice is between what we have now, and tall apartment buildings? Bring on the construction. Put it this way: a tall apartment building has a landlord, probably an onsite building manager, security cameras, people who take care of the landscaping, etc. The abandoned car dealership where the hookers hang out does not. Neither do the skeevier of the motels (I’m looking at you, Seals Motel).

        92nd is not part of the Bitter Lake urban hub, we’re further north than that. I can’t speak to the wishes of people at 92nd, because I don’t live there. But up here by the hub, you won’t find that many NIMBYs. Because, really, density would be way better than abandoned buildings.

        I feel like the city has tried to get the transportation stuff rig up here–we had a road diet on 130th, we have new sidewalks on 125th, and the Linden Avenue project is awesome. But nobody wants to walk around a neighborhood filled with hookers, and nobody wants to wait at a bus stop with a scary pimp who’s whacked out on whatever the drug of choice is that week. Infrastructure improvements can only do so much. The property owners have to also be willing to build things that will attract non-criminal activity.

        Honestly, the motels around 85th seem pretty sketchy too. On the way to work, I see pimps and hookers walking home after the night shift in that area too. The gas station at 105th is a great place to score drugs or hire a prostitute–my husband was offered both when he stopped for gas there a few weeks ago. I think 45th is in better shape since the worst motels there closed down, but those folks just moved north. That’s how it seems to go on Aurora–the crime shifts from one motel to another as the police deal with this motel or that motel. But it never fully goes away, it just relocates a little.

  2. My beefs with downtown are the wasted space given over to parking (we don’t really need street parking when 40% of downtown’s off-street stalls go unused every day), the bad architectural decisions of the 60s-80s that gave us an excess of blank walls (Ross, Post office, much of the financial core), but these are fixable design quibbles. Overall, the primary problem with downtown is just that there isn’t enough of it. The employee/resident ratio is improving rapidly but is still way too high at 3:1 (200,000/65,000), necessitating our massive peak-only network and the tax resource dump that requires.

    While we’ll never be able to get rid of the need for peak-hour suburb to CBD transit, this report makes it clear that living downtown takes significant pressure off our transit system, and makes active transportation the fastest, cheapest, most elegant way to get around. PSRC’s vision of 75k new residents would be fantastic if realized…let’s make sure that we fight for new height, that we stand up for good design and fight human-hostile design, that we reclaim our streets for people and get those cycle tracks built.

    1. There is nothing wrong with on-street parking – buffers pedestrians, provides for convenient and reasonable short term vehicle access, and space for deliveries. There has always, since the days of carts, curb space for “vehicles”. Trick is to keep the curb parking time very short – never more than an hour, so that this valuable real estate is heavily used, and doesn’t compete with long-term privately owned parking.

      1. Its fine when it doesn’t clog much needed arterial space.

        Some of the parking downtown could be better utilized, but some of it should be removed to make more room for transit and/or short term delivery or unloading space.

    2. Downtown residential capacity should increase, but it’s not a solution for all income levels in society because market forces will inevitably push downtown prices to the highest levels in the region, both because of the ultra-convenience and because of the age-old prestige of a downtown address. The only way to make walkable, transit-oriented living accessible to the other 90% is to spread it out to other further-out neighborhoods that will be intrinsically less expensive. I don’t mean limiting downtown development to reallocate it to other areas, but building up the other areas at the same time as downtown. Not to the same density of course, but to the level of a walkable, transit-rich neighborhood, as all neighborhoods were built to before 1940.

      1. @Mike, in some respects that’d be ok, because even though we can probably import rich talent for decades to come, demand for the ultra high-end is inevitably finite, and concentrating that demand downtown takes rent pressure off adjacent neighborhoods and inner suburbs. What we’ve had in Downtown is high incomes and high inequality, as the highest and lowest ends of the market have been served, with construction costs keeping new developments exclusive and tons of low or zero income people living in shelters or transitional housing. Downtown will always be rich relative to other places, but if we can chip away at that inequality by getting upper-middle or (possibly?) middle income people downtown too, that’s a huge win. We also need to stop concentrating social services downtown…it’s an artifact of the RFA rather than a principled policy. As poverty suburbanizes, social services should spread out too.

        But we should demand that our legislators remove barriers to lower construction costs (hint: no parking minimums!) and bring the cost/unit down so we that we have a flying chance of getting some middle-income new construction developed. People would be beating down the doors to rent those places and we couldn’t build them fast enough.

  3. Figure 8 – I’m probably being over sensitive, but the Seattle bike mode share is oddly out of scale with everything else, with 4% bike share shown as just a sliver of the 3% King County walk-share.

  4. I was wondering recently how Seattle’s downtown population compared to other cities. Interesting that it compares pretty well to Philly. Seattle really does have a great downtown and it gets better every year.

    1. I saw that chart, and couldn’t help but think that they’re drawing some uselessly arbitrary comparative boundaries.

      Here, “downtown” is drawn to include all of Uptown, SLU, First Hill, Cap Hill all the way up to Broadway, and even the outer fringes of Little Saigon. Most of those people do not consider themselves “downtown” residents.

      Meanwhile, there’s no way they’re including such a wide swath of central Boston and arriving at a population figure below 50,000. And who even knows where they’re setting the “downtown” threshold amidst the large swath of contiguous urbanity that is Center City Philadelphia.

      Some of the stats and charts in this report are quite interesting and useful. That one is not.

  5. How many bloggers and commenters here live downtown? And no, the Rainier Valley and Queen Anne doesn’t count. I’m talking downtown. Let’s say within the boundaries of the old Ride Free Area?

    1. That’s exactly what I thought. Density advocates want other people to move downtown, but they prefer to live in the suburbs. They like the idea of density, but they don’t want to be part of it.

      1. I would be overjoyed to move downtown if I could afford a place that would meet my family’s needs. Perhaps a greater supply of housing would help in that respect.

      2. Sam, I don’t live in the suburbs. For what it’s worth, I live within walking distance of downtown, but outside the RFA. Downtown has a serious shortage of affordable 3BR and larger housing units. As David said, more housing is needed to bring the prices down.

      3. This study, to the probable detriment of its analysis but to the benefit of countering Sam’s trolling, defines “downtown” quite broadly.

      4. Your troll tripped over your keyboard. You know full well that most STB staff and many commentators live in Seattle, often in the very same neighborhoods they want to densify. There’s no conspiracy of “limousine liberals” who promote Manhattanization from the comfort of their 4BR house with large yard and driveway. Some commentators who don’t live in urban villages wish they did and are waiting for the first opportunity that coincides with their job/family/financial needs.

        Also remember that you don’t have to live in an urban village to benefit from it and contribute to it. They’re also places to shop, work, and do cultural activities. The difference between these things happening in an urban village vs in an isolated location is that (1) you can get there on frequent transit, (2) you can walk to it from the bus stop, (3) the venue is more likely to exist.

      5. Also remember that you don’t have to live in an urban village to benefit from it and contribute to it. They’re also places to shop, work, and do cultural activities. The difference between these things happening in an urban village vs in an isolated location is that (1) you can get there on frequent transit, (2) you can walk to it from the bus stop, (3) the venue is more likely to exist.

        Since we’re on the subject…

        When our political systems were designed, the vast majority of people spent the vast majority of their time within a single political district. You worked and socialized close to where you lived, because transportation was too slow for anything else.

        In this environment, political districts and small municipalities made sense, because everyone who had a stake in a community was allowed to vote there.

        But now, it’s trivial to work in one neighborhood (or city, or county) and live in a different one. You vote, pay taxes, etc. based on where your residence is. Even if you spend most of your waking hours in a different jurisdiction, you get no say into how they run things.

        This just doesn’t sit right with me. I don’t see why the location of your mattress should be more important than the location of your job.

        In theory, you would expect this kind of political structure to overweight residential priorities, and to underweight commercial and social priorities. And, in practice, this is exactly what happens. Public meetings are scheduled at times that are nearly impossible to attend if you have a job. Land use codes are extremely hostile towards commercial development. Political candidates use languages that treats commerce like an enemy combatant.

        This is a big part of why I will be enthusiastically voting against the city council districts initiative. Our politics are already much more balkanized and “residentialized” than they should be. I refuse to make it worse.

      6. False. I live in the University District. I support density, for myself and for my own neighborhood. The U-District is one of the most densely populated areas of the city, and it’s getting denser with every passing day. I couldn’t be happier about it.

    2. I live in Greenwood and I’d actually like to see more density and better transit in my own neighborhood. Greenwood should be a work force housing district, but the recent spike in rents is pushing the area out of that price range.

      I would consider a move downtown, but I actually work in Ballard, and that would give me a much worse commute than I currently have both by transit and by bicycle.

    3. It’s hardly a fair question since there’s so little housing inside the old RFA zone to begin with. There are a handful of buildings up north on the edge of Belltown, a few around the market, and a few more in Pioneer Square, but most of downtown is commercial space and office buildings. The residential density is all a bit further out.

      I lived in Belltown for about five years and loved it. I moved up to Capitol Hill not because Belltown had somehow become too dense, but because I kept spending all my free time up on the hill with my friends, and I wanted to live within walking distance of the bars and restaurants we all hung out in.

      Now I live in Madison Valley, two miles from the center of downtown, and it’s about as suburban an environment as I can stand. We would have moved closer if we could have, but this was the best we could get at the time we were looking. Still, we have a back yard where my wife can grow vegetables and raise ducks, and a house big enough that I can invite fifty or sixty people over for a party, and we’re still walking distance from lots of restaurants, a Safeway, coffee shops, and even a garden store.

      My job is in Bellevue, so I have to deal with the grind of a cross-lake commute every day, but there’s no way in hell I’m moving any further from the center of things. It’s going to be a long ten years waiting for East Link.

  6. I would live downtown if I could afford it, and I’m sure a lot of others would as well. And Sam, I can’t believe you made that assumption just because no one rushed to answer you.

  7. The defintion of “downtown” is clearly ambiguous and in flux. Some people think of it as between Stewart Street and Yesler Way to I-5/8th Ave; others view it as Denny Way to Yesler Way. I sometimes think of it one way and sometimes the other. But the new urban center the city has defined extends to Roy St, Broadway (or 12th?), and Weller St, and the city sometimes dubs it all “Center City”. And with all the construction going on, it’s conveivable that in twenty years people will perceive that entire area as being downtown.

    1. To respond to DP’s point: “Most of those people do not consider themselves “downtown” residents.”

      That’s true but that notion may be becoming functionally obsolete. The Center City boundaries do define a distinct area that has long been denser than surrounding neighborhoods and has full-time frequent transit. The boundaries are roughly where SFH’s start to appear, pedestrians shrink, and bus corridors diverge and become infrequent. Pioneer Square and Belltown are obviously as dense as downtown, and SLU is on its way. Lower Queen Anne is called “Uptown” because it’s a transition area between the office buildings and SFH’s, and the west side of the Capitol Hill/First Hill ridge is the same thing. So the concept of Center City makes sense, and it may be merging with the concept of “downtown”. Of course, it’s another question whether this would be a good thing or not.

Comments are closed.