93 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Strong Towns’ Chuck Marohn”

  1. Those transit day passes that social service agencies give out to homeless people … I happened to find an old one the other day in the seat next to me, and I examined it. One thing I noticed that seems odd to me is it’s valid on Link light rail, but not valid on Sounder. Interesting. I’m sure there’s some seemingly plausible, pat answer as to why Sounder is excluded, but being the skeptical sort, I wonder if the real reason is because more higher income and white collar commuters take Sounder than Link, and ST doesn’t want to make those riders uncomfortable?

    Another thing I’ve been wondering about. The development at the South Kirkland P&R … I understand there will be 58 affordable housing units and 185 regular apartments for a total of 243 units. I would like to find out how many parking spaces are being allotted to the residential unit portion of this “TOD?” I would like someone to look into this for me. Here’s a link to the project, and in the lower right hand corner is a list of people from various agencies you can email and ask my question.


      1. Because if there are going to be 243 parking spaces, or anything even close to that number of residential parking spaces, I’m wondering why they are calling it TOD. Just because an apartment building is built next to a P&R doesn’t make it TOD. You have to assume many people will be switching to a car-free lifestyle. If mostly car owners/car commuters are moving there, it’s a pretty sad example of TOD.

      2. With a walkshed that includes virtually nothing except a bus to downtown, nobody who wants to live car-free is going to choose to live there. They can call it what they want, but it is absolutely not TOD. At best, the transit there might enable a few couples to share one car between them, provided at least one of the people works downtown.

      3. There’s “transit-oriented development” and “transit-adjacent development”. Transit-oriented developments former is designed for walkability; e.g., shortest path from the station, human scale, a variety of staple destinations in the walkshed. Transit-adjacent development is a similar density designed so that it’s possible to walk to but is not transit-friendly or pedestrian-friendly. Generally this is because transit is low on their list of priorities.

        I tend to be lenient on TOD, and consider any apartment building with its front door toward the station to be TOD, and hopefully at least a grocery store on the block, but others may have stricter standards.

        Why don’t you actually write an article sometime rather than always expecting other people to research the topics you’re interested in?

      4. virtually nothing except a bus to downtown

        Downtown Seattle, downtown Bellevue, downtown Kirkland, the U-district (sometimes via Montlake Freeway Station), and Microsoft at Overlake – all of which run late (except for Overlake) seven days a week. I’ve heard of worse things called ToD.

      5. “TOD” is the “urban renewal” of today. A word that can be attached to almost any urban redevelopment project with some public element.

        There’s a lot that’s crazy about South Kirkland P&R and the development there… and there certainly isn’t a whole lot in its walkshed. As for its transit utility… it isn’t just the buses to Seattle. It has around 8 buses per hour on weekdays to downtown Kirkland, which has a fair number of jobs and a bit of a parking shortage (especially for workers, as the city tries to keep parking spaces available for shoppers). It has around 6 buses per hour to downtown Bellevue (including 4 to the hospital district area). Less impressively, a couple per hour to Bel-Red and Overlake, and several rather slow runs to Totem Lake. None of this is especially fast service, but it’s not bad to downtown Kirkland and Bellevue, and covers the major employment centers of the northern eastside.

      6. The problem with “urban renewal” is that it replaced well-designed neighborhoods that at worst needed some renovation in the buildings, with huge soulless often-unwalkable complexes. What is the South Kirkland TOD replacing? Part of a parking lot. It’s not extending past the P&R boundaries, but even if it were, it would only take one or two isolated office buildings or houses (i.e., the kind of soulless office buildings that were part of “urban renewal”, and low-density houses with no “neighborhood”. The entire area was rural land that grew into sprawl, not some great neighborhood that’s in danger of being destroyed.

      7. In other words, the development can only make the neighborhood better from its abysmally low starting level. Maybe not much better, but a little better. There’s no way the development can make it worse. Maybe all the residents will have cars, but maybe some of them won’t, and maybe they’ll appreciate living close to downtown Kirkland when they can’t afford the downtown apartments. Not to mention that they’ll have all-day express buses directly to downtown Seattle and UW.

      8. With 243 units, how many bedrooms will be built? If it’s all studios and one bedrooms, it will be pretty clear that it’s designed for singles and DINKs. If there are 2 and 3 bedroom units available and schools nearby it may develop into a community worth living in. I think it’s also important to count the number of bedrooms in these developments instead of just the number of parking spaces.

      9. Studios are also in shortage outside the Capitol Hill/U-District core and the ultra-expensive teeny city-center units.

        There’s also a lack of 3-bedroom units, but that also gets into a different problem, namely that each bedroom naturally costs more, but families with children typically only have one or two incomes, and the “natual” price of a 3-bedroom unit may still be $1700+.

      10. On the other hand, those 3 bedroom spaces can easily be divvied up into de facto pseudo dorms or apodments, thus pricing out the intended user of the 3 bedroom space, a family with two or more kids. And three incomes can pay for a three bedroom space better than one or two.

    1. Thank you for the opportunity to do some ‘leg work’ for you Sam. It’s difficult to come up with question on our own, so it’s a real service you do.
      SOUNDER: It’s considered a premium service (fast, comfortable, predictable), and it’s relatively expensive to provide – therefore ST charges more for it.
      TOD: Anything that gets built around transit can and will be counted as TOD by someone. Where we choose to draw the line is probably more a function of doing a ‘giggle test’ when the PR Dept decrees more success stories than they deserve. Even lowly bus routes have been responsible for a lot of TOD in our region, but it’s not sexy stuff, and most of it probably would have been built anyway.

      1. Mic, that “premium service” BS is probably the scripted reason the homeless with their free ride tickets aren’t allowed on Sounder, but I don’t believe it’s the real reason.

    2. Oh, the fact that Sounder has higher-than-usual fares and costs the most to operate may have something to do with it. Not to mention the fact that it’s hard to think of a homeless trip on Sounder that’s in the public interest to subsidize. 99% of all services or jobs they might be going to are in the same city or nearby burbs. If somebody really needs to go to Everett or Tacoma for some reason, there is ST express. (You didn’t mention whether it’s valid on that, so I’ll assume it is.) Oh, but these are county-based social services, so why should a county be subsidizing a trip to another county?

      1. There are plenty of counties that subsidize trips for the homeless to another county, as long as the rider signs a statement that they promise not to return.

      2. Mike, here’s what I remember about what those social service free ride day pass thingies are valid and not valid on. Valid on Metro, ST Express buses, Link, and maybe the SLU Streetcar. Not valid on Sounder, Ferries, Monorail, Pierce Transit or Community Transit. There was no ST Express bus inter-county exclusion, so presumably a day pass holder could take an ST bus from Seattle to Tacoma, for example.

        It just seems odd to me that a homeless person with their free day pass could ride back and forth all day and night on Link, but not take just one trip on Sounder from Tukwila Station to Seattle.

        I think it has a lot to do with who rides Sounder.

      3. Sam has half a point. We’ll subsidize rides on full ST Expresses, but not on half-empty Sounder trains. These rides are essentially free to provide if it is on a non-full train or bus, but has a heft marginal cost once that vehicle is full.

      4. Why do you spend so much time worrying about trivial or nonsensical issues?

        Here’s a research project for you: find out how many homeless people know they can’t ride Sounder, and how many care whether they can ride it or not. And by “care” I mean that they would actually ride it, not that they just want to have it as an abstract justice issue.

      5. Mike Orr, before I answer you, I want you to click on the link that I provided below, then click on “Interactive Map,” and tell me if you think that East Link is cutting right through the middle of a fragile wetland.

      6. I did it because I want to and not because you told me to. :) You mean the trees west of 120th or east of 124th? I have no idea what their status is, but I doubt they’re wetlands because if they were, somebody would have told ST by now that it can’t build there. Currently they’re just patches of trees between the office parks.

      7. “Why do you spend so much time worrying about trivial or nonsensical issues?”

        If you’d been paying attention to Sam’s writings, you would know that he has been doing the New York Times crossword puzzle since he was five.

    3. The better question is, why isn’t there a similar day pass for tourists and occasional riders, available at any price? Even a rip-off $10+ price with the same caveats (similar to the Muni CityPass or the Toronto Day Pass), sold at vending machines and touristy places, would gain a lot of revenue.

      1. “Why” is because the transit agencies weren’t satisfied with the security of the disposable card offered by our ORCA vendor. It’s on the agencies’ todo list but is languishing at low priority. Several people including myself have urged them to either offer a disposable card, reduce the $5 fee, or institute a maximum daily fare (so that once you’ve paid $10 or whatever, the rest of your rides are automatically free without having to get a day pass beforehand).

      2. An interesting side issue with day passes is how they’d relate to Sounder. If a day pass costs less than the longest Sounder round trip ($10.50), there may be an epidemic of Sounder riders using day passes. A way around that might be to treat day passes as a $3.50 pass, which would allow access to regular buses but require a surcharge on the longest Sounder/Link trips. (The longest Link trip is currently $2.75 but that will double when the extensions open.)

  2. Here’s a website to the future Spring District that East Link will service a little over a decade from now. But when I clicked on “Interactive Map,” in the upper right hand corner of the photo, it looks like East Link is going to go blasting through the middle of a wetland. Can someone confirm this for me?


  3. This is from the other open thread on Ballard apodments/density. I raised whether Metro would adjust on 15X and others chimed in on the new 40, etc. But the second part of my comment was whether Sound Transit would make their decision on the 8 options (and Ben’s 9th) based on the expanded density. Does anyone have any thoughts on whether/how Sound Transit would make their Ballard-downtown decision on the new density?

    1. ‘m sure it plays a part. They want to pick up as many people as possible, as cheaply as possible and as quickly as possible. Balancing those is a tricky business. But the expanded number of people in Ballard suggests a plan that is focused more on Ballard and southern Queen Anne (which I mean to be everything south of Mercer, with the exception of the Seattle Center), rather than the places in between. Even though many of those spots have merit, I don’t think they have anything like the density of Ballard and southern Queen Anne. Furthermore, as the population spreads north, then it is easy to justify extra stops there — doing so might mean choosing a cheaper way to get downtown, just so you have money to build stops to the north.

      Even with that quick summary, though, there are complications. For example, an Interbay station may work OK for walkups, but be really good as a feeder station (from north Queen Anne and Magnolia). Likewise, a Fremont station will be good for many reasons, not the least of which that a fair number of people work there (unlike Ballard). Meanwhile, past Interbay, 15th is a ghost down until you get close to Mercer, while the east side of Queen Anne has plenty of big buildings. Like I said, it gets complicated.

    2. It’s useless to speculate on what ST will do; we’ll see it in the next round of proposals, and the staff are unlikely to reveal anything they’re not yet ready to commit to. Clearly the #1 goal is to connect Ballard to downtown, because it’s the largest urban village that’s the most egregiously isolated from ST1/2 Link and the rest of the city. Fremont is in a similar boat but has better connections to downtown and the U-District, so it’s not a “must-have” the way Ballard is. Uptown is high density and a major destination, but on the other hand it also has the monorail and almost a dozen bus routes from downtown, so it’s more of a “major opportunity” than a “must-have”. Interbay is really dependent on upzoning, which the city hasn’t committed to yet. ST said in the ST1/2 debates that it can base ridership estimates only on known density, not speculative density, per the federal EIS rules. So only existing buildings, buildings under construction, approved upzones, or upzones in the late stages of approval. That doesn’t automatically disqualify Interbay, because ridership is only one factor in choosing a routing and stations, but it does mean ST can’t base its decision on significant Interbay ridership that may or may not happen.

      1. Uptown is also surprisingly small in population*, scores poorly on density metrics, has a mostly lousy pedestrian-scape with no plans for improvement, and has very few independent regular-use destinations (as opposed to sporadic-event destinations). Were it not adjacent to and quasi-contiguous with Downtown/Belltown, Uptown would frankly be a minor blip on our urban consciousness.

        Anyway, all of this is moot if ST pushes for MAX-style surface chugging into downtown, in which case the line will be irrelevant to the larger network and pretty much everyone will keep driving for non-commute trips.

        *(roughly 7,000-10,000 to Ballard’s 30,000-50,000, depending on how you draw boundaries)

      2. I’m curious as to how you draw those boundaries, d. p. I think words like “Uptown” or “South Queen Anne” can be confusing. That is why I specified “everything south of Mercer”. As I see it, everything south of Mercer (or between Mercer and downtown) from the sound to the lake is pretty dense (with the exception of the Seattle Center, and the area really close to the lake). The out of date census map shows population density (http://buildthecity.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/seattle_2010_density.jpg) while the out of date Google Satellite map shows plenty of big buildings. Many of those big buildings are office buildings, which explains the weak population density numbers. Regardless, most of the area is now either big residential or big office buildings. There are a handful of old warehouses and parking lots, but these are quickly being converted to high population areas (whether in the famous “South Lake Union area” or places further west). Most of these aren’t as big as the ones in Belltown, but they certainly compare with Ballard for size and depth.

        All of this suggests two lines. The first between Belltown and Ballard. Regardless of the particular route, it probably makes sense to have several stops along the way going north through downtown, until you hit Mercer (or a few blocks south) and then a sharp reduction in the number of spots until Ballard. If the route goes to the west, then it is hard to justify a station between Mercer and Dravus, although one would likely be built anyway. If built to the east, then it is a tougher task determining where stations should be put. There are some big buildings there, but you have to fight the terrain, which is not your friend in the area (the slope is steep). So, just like the west side, you might end up with a rarely used spot in between Mercer and Fremont.

        Along with that line, an east west line makes a lot of sense. You can see it from the out of date Google Satellite maps, or better yet, just stand on top of Capitol Hill and look west from a nice vantage point. This is a real city — and nothing like what most of Seattle looked like when I was a kid. Big buildings, with places to work and places to live spread throughout. This is probably the biggest, most contiguous spot of high density housing/employment we have in the city outside of downtown. The only area that isn’t very dense is the Seattle Center, which has its moments (to put it mildly). Therefore, an east west line in the area, spreading from the sound to at least Madison would make a lot of sense.

        But we don’t always build what makes sense. We have a preference for building lines that cover distance, over lines that cover the most densely populated areas (we are finally covering “the three largest urban centers in the state of Washington” several years after we built a line to Tukwila). So, it is quite likely that we will build a line from Ballard to the UW before we build an east/west line as suggested in the last paragraph. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A very good case can be made to build a line from UW to Ballard, especially if the line south from Ballard is to the west. We should build all three (and a few other lines) but in the time — on to Lynnwood!

      3. As I see it, everything south of Mercer (or between Mercer and downtown) from the sound to the lake is pretty dense (with the exception of the Seattle Center, and the area really close to the lake).

        But that’s the point, right? Green Lake is dense, if you don’t count the lake.

        Uptown is defined by the presence of Seattle Center. If you define Uptown as the region between Roy and Denny, then well over 50% of Uptown is taken up by the Center grounds. Instead of a filled-in square of density (like downtown or Belltown or Ballard), you get the *outline* of a square. That’s 35 blocks that could have been a dense urban neighborhood — and used to be, before the Center was built — and instead are a dead zone 95% of the time.

        I am indescribably grateful that the Seattle Commons failed. We could have had yet another dead civic center. Instead, we have a vibrant, growing neighborhood, and one that (in about 30 years) will have an abundance of housing options at different cost levels.

      4. The city is pretty much positioning greater downtown as Roy St – Broadway (or 12th?) – Weller St. Calling Uptown not dense enough or not urban enough is just silly. Saying Seattle Center has a density of zero most of the time is also silly. If you asked anybody where the most productive rapid transit stations outside the CBD would be, they’d say University Way, Broadway, and Seattle Center. If the stadiums justify a station due to a few huge events a year, then Seattle Center does even more, because it also has medium-sized events every summer weekend and tourists year round. And if it were easier to get to, it could fulfill that role even more than it does now.

        When I said Uptown wasn’t vital, I meant that it wouldn’t harm residents’ mobility as much as if Ballard wasn’t included. But common sense says that it should have a station, or people will say it was a major missed opportunity. I’m sure it will have a station unless the line is really far east (at Westlake), which I’m hoping is unlikely. An Uptown station would also allow all the Upper Queen Anne buses to meet it, which would dramatically improve transit access to Upper Queen Anne even if an Upper Queen Anne station is not built.

        As for a pure east-west light rail around Denny Way, I haven’t even thought of it, and it’s so not on ST’s or the city’s priorities. You might as well dream of a gondola.

        “We have a preference for building lines that cover distance, over lines that cover the most densely populted areas (we are finally covering “the three largest urban centers” several years after we built a line to Tukwila).”

        It’s not so much about distance as about connecting politically-important cities. Many people think the biggest transportation problem is clogged freeways; that’s what justifies transit taxes in their minds and should be Link’s first priority. The Lake Washington bridges and I-5 are bogged down, so build rapid transit that can bypass the traffic. ST’s charter is primarily to connect the cities in the region. If you wanted the DP inner Boston subway first, you shouldn’t have gone to Sound Transit, you should have gotten the city to do it.

      5. While I agree with every word Aleks types (especially regarding the sad vortex that Seattle Center can be, and the dancing on Seattle Commons’ grave), that’s actually not the point I was making.

        For the most part, Ross, Uptown contains bad urbanism. The skinny-storefronted commercial district is barely three blocks. There is zero small-lot rowhouse residential.
        The two-block swath between Mercer and Olympic — the ones colored bright red in the density map to which you keep linking — do manage to contain a number of high-density, mid-scale 1910s-1950s buildings that engage directly with the street. But that’s only a two-block swath, and its genuine density simply does not pervade the neighborhood!

        The rest of Uptown is full of this and this and this and this. Oh, and lots and lots of this.

        Uptown is the very definition of a place with big-seeming buildings that somehow manages to lack density and be underpopulated. And most of those buildings are new enough that they aren’t going anywhere. The autocentric nature of construction encourages a galling percentage of residents to use their cars, and keeps most of the area’s block-faces functionally dead. Don’t scapegoat the offices, either. Uptown barely makes a dent as an employment center, and the approximately 3/4-dozen office buildings that do exist are even more painfully anti-urban than the residences.

        Seattle is pretty bad about publishing population statistics by established neighborhood boundaries. Adding tiny census tracts is laborious, and gleaning population stats from our oddly-shaped zip codes is imperfect. But the 7,000-10,000 figures come from real estate websites that have every incentive to portray the neighborhood as bustling. The figures seem to include all areas from which Uptown (and, by extension, an Uptown station) can reasonably be accessed by foot: the areas west and north of Seattle Center, and up the hill to about Ward Street.

        Unfortunately for those who would paint it as an urban paradigm and paramount destination, Uptown is factually a very small and not-as-dense-as-it-probably-should-be corner of the city. A minor destination.

        Reality checks are vital when major decisions are being made.

      6. p.s. It can be more important to have large swaths of contiguous urbanity than it is to have tiny pinpoints of targeted de jure density.

        That’s why Ballard, whose density steps down the further you get from Market, still contains enough people within 2/3 mile of its center to support an increasingly robust center of commerce, culture and transit. That’s why the marginalizing of Central District transit connectivity is a mistake. That’s why our “urban village” plan — which concentrates all growth within 1/4 block of the arterial in some of its designated upzones — has been kind of a disaster for workable urbanism!

      7. Sometimes I can’t believe you DP. People move to Uptown because they like the walkability and density and lots of transit, like what we’re trying to build more of across the city. One of the apartment buildings is called TriBeCa, which seems like a fitting name for a neighborhood that’s at least something like New York. Yes, there are bad examples of mid-century office buildings, especially around Queen Anne & John. But I wouldn’t throw out the whole neighborhood just because of those. It still only takes five minutes to walk past them if you want to get to a better place. And it is contiguous density: south to Belltown and downtown, north to the south slope of Queen Anne Hill which has more apartments than almost anyplace except Summit, and east to the emerging SLU and Capitol Hill.

      8. You’re conflating reality with marketing. Just because a developer attempts to trade off the cosmopolitan airs of a Manhattan neighborhood — a place a lot of people have heard of but know nothing about — does not change the reality on the ground. The living and mobility choices people actually make have to do with what is actually built, not what marketers sell to the wannabe-chic.

        And Uptown is only sort of contiguous with downtown. Yes, there are no physical barriers like I-5 or intervening industrial zones like Interbay or SoDo. But the Seattle Center cuts off what would have been the connective tissue, and the street grid requires coming around “the long way” through Belltown. Outer Belltown joins in the bad urbanism and pedestrian hostility, and the result is that unless it’s the nicest day of the year, people prefer not to make the walk. (Hasn’t it ever struck you as odd that you see literally nobody walking on these blocks in the rain or after dark, in these areas that you think are so busy and dense and urban?)

        You don’t need to take my word for these things. For one, look at the hissy fits that get thrown when anyone suggests RapidRide shouldn’t be forced on a painfully slow detour. Mercer to Denny is 2/5 of a mile — people reject that walk not because it is far, but because it feels far. It’s a shitty walk, any route you take! And again, the area’s population doesn’t even break 5 digits, failing to reach any kind of urban critical mass, on account of being a small neighborhood whose land area is terribly utilized, with “large buildings” overwhelmed by the dead space on which they’ve been plotted.

        You need to take a walk around these blocks at rush hour, and watch the stream of cars coming and going from the various surface lots and garages. This is no urban paradise, no transit mecca. This is a minor place. If it were in Chicago or L.A., most people wouldn’t be aware of its existence.

        One more note on marketing: There is a giant piece of advertising on one of the crappier block faces in SLU, inviting prospective residents to “redefine urban”. Sorry, no sale. Urbanity lives or dies based on a set of sound, well-understood, but oft-violated principles, and if you “redefine” it you’re probably going to get a bunch of dead “open spaces” and people driving around in cars. Wishful thinking will get you nowhere.

      9. >> Seattle is pretty bad about publishing population statistics by established neighborhood boundaries. Adding tiny census tracts is laborious, and gleaning population stats from our oddly-shaped zip codes is imperfect.

        That’s for sure. As I said, the census information is already out of date. Based on the last census, Ballard doesn’t look like anything special. Even the Google Maps and Street View miss a bunch of the newer buildings. Walk around there however, and it is obvious that lots of people live near there, or will soon.

        Your links don’t change my argument in the least. Nor do the satellite views. There are parking lots, and building that are only four stories high, and buildings that waste a lot of space on lawn, trees or parking. At the same time, I can see 10 story buildings (some south of Mercer) as well plenty of new buildings that use up the entire lot. The parking lots can change. South Lake Union was a ghost town ten years ago, now it isn’t (even though it still has some of this — horrors). The same can be said for Ballard. It isn’t hard to find parking lots in Ballard, even close to the most densely populated areas. For example, if the line to Ballard ends up going north on 15th, then 15th and Market would have a stop. Look around that area and tell me that sounds wonderful (big apartment building, gas station, gas station, drug store — well one out of four ain’t bad).

        My point about the office buildings is that while the area has decent population density in many areas (and great population density in a few) and while that number is growing rapidly, depending on where you draw the lines, it is still primarily an employment center.

        There is plenty of density in Uptown (just not as much as in Belltown). It is also growing rapidly. But without real data, we are just waving our hands and making bar talk (i. e. “Magic was way better than Bird”).

        More than anything, of course, the population and employment numbers are dragged down because of the Seattle Center. But the Seattle Center is still a big destination, just not consistently. The city could do way better with that property. If Seattle keeps growing, then it will like do so.

      10. Look across the parking lot in your SLU image. You can see the backside of a handful of 2-story, small-lot buildings from the 1920s-30s. These buildings open up onto Westlake Ave N, and help to keep Westlake the vibrant center of the new SLU. Again, thank heavens for the demise of Seattle Commons, as every every inch of good urbanity on Westlake would have met the wrecking ball. Fortunately, the current trend in SLU is to build out from Westlake, while respecting Westlake as the urban place-setter. When the rest of the lot in your image is built, the human-scaled Westlake-facing cornerstones will remain.

        Anyway, Uptown has none of that. The area was built on a model that segregated low-scale commercial (one story but at least with skinny storefronts) away from everything else. Which would be fine, except that this commercial district is small (it’s all a minor neighborhood can really support) and the “everything else” is pretty crappy, layout-wise and in its built history (or lack thereof).

        Uptown has some lousy urban bones, and it’s hard to hang meat on lousy bones.

        Look at my links again. Most do not involve parking lots that may be built on in the future. Uptown is largely “built out” already. It’s just “built out” with crappy buildings that waste a ton of space and that use the space they do use terribly. The newest buildings have slightly higher FARs, but they’re basically gated car-storage lots with people hiding in boxes above them. In the city, but not of the city. And none of these buildings are going anywhere anytime soon. While other parts of this city grow and change, Uptown is pretty stuck in its marginal mediocrity.

        And Uptown is not “primarily an employment center”. It’s just… not!

      11. Again, I’m not saying that Uptown has nothing or no one. I’m just cautioning against overestimating it’s importance — or its worth as an urban model — because it happens to be a familiar place through which we’ve all passed a bunch.

        Uptown is what it is, and part of what it is is small.

      12. For the most part, this is all just speculative anyway. The east-west line I envision won’t be built anytime soon.

        However, it is quite likely that one of the remaining choices for transit to Ballard will include a west side option. In my opinion, this is the only one that would be grade separated. Of the original proposals, only Corridor 2 and Corridor 3 were grade separated. Both are west side lines. It is fairly cheap to build on top of the railroad line. Tunneling would only be required close to downtown and Ballard. It’s even cheaper if you only tunnel close to downtown, and keep the train elevated through Ballard (Corridor 3). This means that most of the stations south of Ballard are next to the rail line. The question then becomes, what is your first station in a tunnel? Do you include Uptown as part of that, or do you keep going (adding another rail stop around Thomas) and make your first tunnel stop at Belltown? Depending on the cost, this might make the most sense. In other words, if it costs an extra billion to move the Uptown stop a couple blocks up the street in Uptown, then forget about it. I can think of better ways to spend the money. But a hundred million? Absolutely.

      13. My answer would be that you must tunnel as far as needed to guarantee unimpeded running. So ironically, given my above cautions about overestimating the importance of Uptown, I would fully expect a subterranean station there. (It’s not a detour when grade-separated as it is along RapidRide’s path.)

        I happen to think there’s a good case to be made for tunneling below Upper Queen Anne — a more populous area, albeit more sprawling — in that you would fix multiple otherwise-insurmountable geographic problems (the total lack of transit to the north, the slowness of transit to anywhere) by doing so.

        Sadly, doing things right end-to-end on the line would run up a tab of about twice the high-end estimates in the 8-option first-round plans. Which is why I’m a big advocate of doing things incrementally as you find the money to get them right, rather than permanently screwing up the network by cutting corners.

        And which is also why I’ve long advocated for the greater mobility-per-buck that could be achieved by building a Ballard-Wallingford-UW line first. Which is another reason to caution against the overestimation of Uptown’s urban importance.

      14. >> And which is also why I’ve long advocated for the greater mobility-per-buck that could be achieved by building a Ballard-Wallingford-UW line first. Which is another reason to caution against the overestimation of Uptown’s urban importance.

        I agree, but unfortunately that wasn’t on the table. By the way, a side note (but in response to Mike’s comment about my comment) the reason we aren’t building east/west routes (whether it is UW-Ballard or something like what I envision) is because of fears of crush loading. I happen to think those fears are unfounded, but there you have it. We will build a second line north before we build an east/west line through the city. The good news is that it will benefit the folks in Ballard and Belltown, regardless of which way the line goes.

        I also agree with the idea of building smaller, but building better. I really wish they would budget enough for good stations, instead of telling us later “sorry, we can’t put the station where it makes sense, there just isn’t enough money”. I would rather build good stations, and fewer of them, and then expand the system later.

        As to the Ballard proposal, though, unless we build an east-west line (which again, isn’t on the table) I don’t see how we can do this. The plan is to serve Ballard. If we built a plan like what Ben has in mind, then we could only build half of it. I suppose we could build a subway from Ballard to Fremont along with a line from downtown to east South Lake Union (or wherever) but unless the line goes end to end I just don’t think that would be politically feasible. If the line is on the surface for part of it, it will probably remain on the surface. I’ve yet to hear anyone talk about changing anything about the existing line (e. g. put more of it underground, etc.).

        This is why (if you haven’t guessed it already) I’m a fan of the west side route. It is great for folks in Ballard who want to get downtown fast. It is good for Belltown residents. It sacrifices Fremont for the sake of Interbay, which is a terrible trade. But cost is an issue, and the east-west line should be built sooner or later (which would be great for Fremont). I would much rather have that, than a slow train via Fremont. In many ways, that would make things worse. If there is surface rail from Ballard to Fremont, I don’t see how Ballard would get underground rail to the UW anytime soon. Even folks in Fremont wouldn’t get it. The city or ST would simply build them another slow surface train, or worse yet, tell them to stop whining, since they just got a train.

        However, if Ballard gets a fast line heading downtown, and continues to grow east and west, then a line from the UW to Ballard makes a lot of sense, in addition to the cheap line heading south. Everyone east of 15th NW (or wherever they build the line) will feel cheated, and ask for a line to the east (to UW).

      15. It’s not Uptown marketing hype. People have been moving to lower Queen Anne and the front of the hill for a century — including over the past twenty years — because of its density, mixed use, and convenience.

        “Upper Queen Anne — a more populous area”:

        Upper Queen Anne is also much less dense, mostly single-family houses. You have to pull from a significantly larger area to reach the same population. The Central District is even more single-family and low-density, but you want to serve it before Uptown.

        “the reason we aren’t building east/west routes … is because of fears of crush loading.”:

        No, it’s because of downtown-centrism. Downtown is both the largest destination and where the most transfers are. I do think a cross-line like 45th has more advantages because it can facilitate travel in four directions, but you are just not going to convince the majority of Ballardites or officials of that. They wanted a monorail to downtown, now they want Link to downtown, before they’ll consider any 45th line. Otherwise we’d be designing the 45th line already.

        “look at the hissy fits that get thrown when anyone suggests RapidRide shouldn’t be forced on a painfully slow detour.”:

        There are other factors in the D’s routing besides density. Ballard needs reasonable travel time to downtown, which the Uptown detour violates. More people in Ballard are going to downtown/Capitol Hill/West Seattle/Bellevue/Kent/Portland/Atlanta/Bangkok than are going to Uptown. In Uptown, most people are going to downtown or transferring downtown. The 1/2/13 are perfectly adequate for this; they don’t need the D. That still gives them more full-time frequent service than most of the city, and on top of that the 24/33 are nearby and the 3/4/16 and the monorail. But some people are going to Ballard, so there should be a bus to Ballard, but it doesn’t have to be the D, and it doesn’t have to be as full-time frequent. The 8 could easily be extended to Ballard.

        “But the Seattle Center cuts off what would have been the connective tissue”

        Do you also think New York’s Central Park is an undense scar? Both it and Seattle Center are welcome amenities in the neighborhood, and people from all parts of the city take transit to it throughout the year. Many citywide events like the Bite and Pride started in other places and ended up at Seattle Center when they grew because there’s no other venue as large. The main problem with Seattle Center is the traffic it generates, which distorts the neighborhood. But if it’s directly on Link, then a greater percentage of people would come via transit, and then they wouldn’t impact the neighborhood as much. The other thing of course is that Seattle Center is only five blocks wide, so even things on the other side of it are within walking distance.

      16. The problem with that, Ross, is that what’s “on the table” simply may not be good enough. Even Corridors 2 & 3 include routing and station-placement compromises that leave a lot to be desired. And the threat of cutback creep is forever there, so the results may be further degraded*, yet still declared a success for “connecting the endpoints” (whether or not it does so in a way that is actually useful to people).

        So if options come on or off tables on account of utterly stupid presumptions about crush loading**, or stop spacing, or magic TOD, or which types of destinations yield the highest aggregate demand, we need to push hard against that ignorance until consensus congeals behind plans that actually improve our transit situation within the allotted budget!

        *(See: Rainier, First Hill)

        **(Link will not be “crush loaded” in the next forty years. And what a great problem that would be to have someday, as it would actually encourage further expansion and the leveraging of efficiencies elsewhere in our transit network!)

      17. People have been moving to lower Queen Anne and the front of the hill for a century — including over the past twenty years — because of its density, mixed use, and convenience.

        …And yet the entirety of Uptown has only a few thousand people in it. You’re just not getting this through your head, Mike. You see big-(ish) buildings and your brain presumes high population, mathematical density, busy urbanity. In this particular location, your brain deceives you. It just isn’t true!

        Upper Queen Anne

        I’m surprised that you’re arguing with me on this one. The case for Upper Queen Anne has less to do with density and more to do with overcoming topographical challenges and stitching together our terribly-stitched city. It’s also a case that you made, in your own published guest post, and with which I am agreeing. The fact that there are more people within the walkshed than within Uptown’s — a less dense walkshed, but one with a wider radius of easy walking access — seems a germane fact.

        Do you also think New York’s Central Park is an undense scar?

        Seattle should have a moratorium on Central Park comparisons. You know what surrounds Central Park? Hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of people.

        And yes, Central Park is a notorious impediment to cross-town transit and cross-town interactions. The Upper West and Upper Eest Sides are not adjacent and don’t tend to act as adjacent. Hard as it may be to imagine today, when my dad was growing up in the ’50s (a more ethnically hermetic time in the NYC’s history), the other side of the park was practically a foreign land. The benefits of a Central Park in a city that massive and dense are worth the inconvenience, but interrupting contiguousness is most certainly something that it does.

        When a place is as abandoned as Seattle Center is most of the time, its interruption is felt that much more strongly.

      18. When Seattle Center is “abandoned”, it functions like a quiet park that some Queen Anne residents like to walk through and spend an hour in, and which is one of the reasons they chose to live in this neighborhood.

      19. Funny, anytime I walk through, unless it’s during an event, I’m one of about six people in the entire massive area.

        I really don’t know why you’re arguing with reality. Seattle Center may serve some valid, sporadic purposes, but it’s empty most of the time. That is fact.

        Uptown, despite patches of upper-medium density therein, is not a particularly populous place. That too is fact.

      20. Oh, and the Seattle Center is no Central Park. It is tacky, and filled with walled off buildings and empty holes that only jump to life twice or maybe three times a year. Build a nice arboretum or something similar and maybe we can have a talk. Unfortunately, it isn’t in the best spot for a park, anyway. Seattle struggles with hills and the center is on the edge of one. It just isn’t a great place for a “center”.

        But back to transit. As much as you and think it is ridiculous, d.p., the argument over an east west routing is not political. it is practical. The power that be (Sound Transit) believe that if you build a line from Ballard to the UW, you will crush load the poor little trains. I think that is bullshit. You think that is bullshit. But all the screaming in the world and letters to the editor or to your congressmen won’t change their attitude. I agree — I wish we had that problem, but the engineers (or folks who speak for the engineers) feel otherwise. That is it. Sorry, Mike — their is no other story. No “preference for downtown” or “desire to move people to longer distances” or any other story. The folks in charge simply think it can’t be done, so it won’t be done. Maybe they are wrong — or maybe they prefer a downtown line and are hiding the preference by claiming that it just isn’t practical. I doubt it, but it doesn’t matter at this point — it ain’t gonna happen.

        So, what exactly is your problem with Corridor 2 or 3? Or, more to the point, assuming we build a line from Ballard to downtown, and we can’t build a shorter line to the UW, and we have limited funds, how exactly would you build the line?

      21. Seriously, in what universe does there need to be more than half a square mile of “quiet park” dedicated to a “dense” “urban” neighborhood with only 9,000 residents?

      22. Ross,

        My main concern about 2 is that it won’t actually happen as promised. It’s already the most expensive proposal, and thus the least likely to be promoted by politicians (these studies exist to provide cover for “middle ground” settling). But even if it were chosen, any number of unforeseen cost-inflaters could scuttle the Ballard crossing. Perhaps the sewage tunnel can’t be worked around. Perhaps Belltown is even more costly than I fear. All of a sudden the Ballard tunnel is eliminated and all we’re left with is an elevated line with two Magnolia stops in pretty weird locations.

        3 cuts costs by compromising every single station, and thus the usability of the entire line. It still tunnels under Uptown, but it doesn’t even bother to serve it; kind of a worst-of-both-worlds scenario. Then the line expresses to Ballard, where it provides only a single access node east of Ballard’s worst pedestrian intersection. The pedestrian route from there to the heart of Ballard is unpleasant enough to feel longer than the half-mile it actually is; the location is no better for the cross-transit that would be needed to serve the entirety of northwest Seattle with this one stop. 3 is underwhelming on all fronts: it’s basically the monorail we should already have had by now, but with even fewer stops and for more money.

      23. I agree, Corridor 2 is a pipe dream. But I still don’t see the problem with corridor 3. It is cheap, but provides good bang for the buck. Given, say, half a billion dollars more, how would you change it — or would you just build somewhere else? Yes, it is like the monorail, only light rail (not a silly monorail). If we run short of money (e. g. because the bridge is too expensive) then we should jettison the stop between Dravus and Uptown. Maybe add it in later (if we can justify the cost). Oh, and weren’t you the guy that suggested that Uptown isn’t worth serving? If so, then what’s the problem?

        Then you don’t like it because there is only one stop in Ballard? Huh? There is no proposal that has grade separated rail to more than one Ballard stop. Adding stops in Ballard sound like a perfect example of “add it later”. Build this, then extend it. Add (grade separated) stops to the north later. Build an east-west line later. It just seems like the best we can do given the constraints of the system. Again, if you have an alternative, I would love to hear it.

      24. You can cut through the Seattle Center – it is not necessary to actually follow the street grid. I do admit that Denny itself has several quite anti-pedestrian crossing points, but that is a solvable problem.

      25. Given, say, half a billion dollars more, how would you change it — or would you just build somewhere else?

        Option 3 is the moral equivalent of running Link along I-5. Yes, the width is already there, and nobody will complain about the noise. But it doesn’t actually stop where anyone wants it to stop. Deviating from the “freeway” (that is, 15th) will have a disproportionate impact on the price.

        Like with any freeway, most of the interesting destinations are on one side of 15th or the other. South of the ship canal, the answer is easy — it’s on the right side. North of the canal, there are interesting destinations on both sides; Ballard is obviously #1, and Fremont is #2.

        If you add half a billion to Option 3, you end up in the price range of Option 5, which is pretty much better on all counts. You get to stop in the center of Ballard, and you get a much better Uptown stop, and you get Fremont and Upper Queen Anne. Building at-grade on Leary is a sacrifice, but not a tragedy; you’ve already bypassed the worst part of the congestion, and Leary doesn’t have much cross traffic (by design).

        I also wouldn’t object to something like Option 6, but where you add a billion dollars to put the whole downtown segment underground. That’s in the same price range, too. I’m guessing that tunneling between Belltown and the tunnel segment on Westlake would approximately double the cost of the project, which seems plausible at first glance.

      26. “The power that be (Sound Transit) believe that if you build a line from Ballard to the UW, you will crush load the poor little trains.”

        Are you talking about crushing the north-south trains? Because there’s no way you can crush an east-west train: even a 2-car train at 2-minute intervals could handle everybody in the 45th corridor even if their cars vaporized. Yes, ST is concerned about capacity in the Northgate-to-downtown segment when Lynnwood comes online, but that’s not the reason the 45th line isn’t next. The reason is that so many politicians are telling them to do Ballard-downtown next. In any case, they could make an L-shaped line that serves both Ballard-south and Ballard-east simultaneously.

        I’m not that concerned about capacity because if Central Link does get full it will give more incentive to build a second north-south line on Aurora.

        I’m not inclined to rehash the corridor alternatives at this time, but I support #2, #3, #5 (preferably with a 140′ bridge rather than 70′), the south-canal part of #5 with the north-canal part of #6, or Ben’s #9.

        “any number of unforeseen cost-inflaters could scuttle the Ballard crossing…. All of a sudden the Ballard tunnel is eliminated and all we’re left with is an elevated line with two Magnolia stops in pretty weird locations.”

        ST won’t approve construction until it’s quite sure about the costs and has had engineers list everything they can think of that might go wrong. They doesn’t want a repeat of the first Sound Transit meltdown, and they don’t want to get into a position of being short on money or having to ask for a supplemental tax. So it’s really unlikely construction would halt with a line to Magnolia. If the tunnel were absolutely unfeasable at that point, they could dust off the bridge proposals.

      27. I’m talking about crush loading the north/south line. Again, I think this is bullshit (or rather, a nice problem to have) but this is Sound Transit’s official position. They stated this repeatedly when it came time for the open house. This is because there were a lot of people who basically said the same thing “why don’t you just build a line to the UW — wouldn’t that be cheaper — besides, I have to go to the UW (or places north) and this won’t save me any time…”

        Here is the little blurb from the beginning of the Ballard Open House document:

        Planned light rail extensions to Lynnwood and the East Side will
        increase train traffic in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT),
        leaving no room in the tunnel for a Ballard rail line to safely operate.
        If the Ballard rail line used a separate parallel tunnel to enter or
        exit Downtown Seattle, underground walkways could connect
        passengers to the DSTT.

        In other words, it isn’t just “crush loading” or lots of people getting off the train heading south, but simply too much capacity for the system without a new tunnel (even if the train coming from Ballard just curves to the south and reuses the tracks headed towards downtown).

      28. That’s referring to Ballard trains merging into the north-south tunnel; i.e., the so-called Ballard Spur. That’s a completely different issue from whether there’s enough capacity for Ballard passengers to transfer to Central/East Link trains at U-District, which is what I was talking about. Even if fifty people transfer at once, they’ll still take up less room than one railcar would and they can distribute themselves into any empty spaces. So it’s still an open question whether Central Link will reach capacity by 2030 with or without a 45th line. If it does during peaks, then ST would have to reinstate some bus routes until it can do something about capacity. If it does off peak, then ST can extend peak-hour scheduling to acommodate it.

      29. ASDF: You can’t cut through the Seattle Center, because the arrangement of the paths don’t actually save any time or distance.

        More importantly, even if the paths were perfect diagonals, people don’t make habits of walking through dead zones for practical purposes. I’m not taking about “sunny summer evening stroll home”. I’m talking about the way people actually move through cities in order to get where they need to go. People direct themselves through continuous, bustling, visually stimulating, built-up streets, which psychologically shrink distances as they impart feelings of safety and belonging to a whole.

        Dead zones and urban interruptions fail to do that. If the city has gaps, people won’t walk through it. Ever wonder why Uptown has so much pent-up bus demand, despite being barely a mile to downtown with every bus option infuriatingly slow? The crappiness of the pedestrian experience (whichever route you choose) is a big part of that.

      30. Everybody else:

        The point I’m trying to make is that the rest of the world outside of the U.S. (and Canada, on this particular matter) does not choose two endpoints and name a budget and then force themselves to reach those endpoints on that budget in one fell swoop, no matter how useless the outcome.

        Have you ever noticed how networks in Central and Eastern Europe, in Asia, and in South America seem to grow organically, with lines unfurling slowly across their maps and stations opening sequentially at intervals of a few months or a year? These places have figured out how to plan for what they actually need, to select the stations and shovel-ready the engineering, and then to build them — correctly — as they attain the money. This process works so well that the whole line is often done 3x faster than our half-assed version can get its first shovel in the ground!

        If $2 billion will give us something useless, that’s a pretty lousy use of $2 billion! Plan for what will do the most actual good, and then start building. Be frugal everywhere you can, but don’t make self-defeating choices. And don’t stop until the line you really need exists on this earth!

  4. Strong Towns

    Stroad (street-road)! I love it..it is exactly my categorization of Kent-Kangly and 104th/108th here on Kent East Hill. In that video at least he doesn’t really define an alternative though…he’s talking about “Towns” which I assume means he isn’t just another knee-jerk urbanist.

    However, my thesis is that the Stroad is a result of not building enough Roads — or rather limited access highways (or as an alternative accessible and regular fast transit)! For example Western Washington has not added one single new highway during the period of the last two decades of extraordinary population growth! It has added one significant regional transit line, Sounder, and one (still) urban line LINK, but both of those travel in one dimension — North South.

    1. Last weekend I took a walk on Benson Drive to see what’s there (since the 169 uses Talbot Road instead it and I don’t have a car), and I discovered that there really is nothing there: only one residential development has an access road; all the other houses turn their back to it. That reminded me of something I’ve long noticed about the south end: it has a lot of highways. Every mile or half-mile there’s 509, 599, 99, I-5, the West Valley Highway, East Valley Road, 167, Benson Drive. Many of the non-highways are wide 4-lane things that are almost highways. That’s way more highways than in the north end or Eastside, so you’re really complaining about nothing. I despair of all the highways that make it a pedestrian-unfriendly place.

      1. All of these are North South and run in the Valley, towards the West Edge:

        509 – Nice Hwy, we need more like this…but it doesn’t go very far!
        599 – Not really a highway…traffic lights, etc. A Stroudway.
        99S – Ok, but it pretty much parallels I-5 and does a worse job. More of a service road I guess.
        I-5 – Yessir, we need more of these.
        167 – West Valley Highway. Again, not a highway, has traffic lights and cross traffic that bring it to a halt.

        And on the East edge of the valley:

        167, East Valley – Good place for a highway, and after they expanded it…they too away a lane for a not too well used HOT lane! Needs to be interstate class, another I-5.

        Benson Drive –Goes diagonally East West up the hill. Not a highway. Has traffic lights. I like that they finally put a direct entrance to I-405 at the base though! One of the first “good moves” from WSDOT and the second will be improving the 167/405 interchange!

        That still leaves us with no real major East-West highway in the South King County and beyond area! This produces the Stroud effect where multi-lane boulevards are used as highways yet have cross streets and traffic lights. Traffic that should move 65 mph moves 35 mph. Neighborhood streets get backed up with high levels of traffic as people take short cuts. Buses get caught up in traffic lights and traffic!

        Many of the non-highways are wide 4-lane things that are almost highways.

        That’s the whole point of the video! Many of these are “not quite” highways.

      2. You are correct John. Perhaps the State should build over SR-516 with a freeway between Des Moines and Maple Valley.

      3. The construction of new highways often benefits exclusively people who drive, while causing transit users to be left behind. Without a lot of extra, expensive, transit-specific infrastructure, every stop imposes a minimum 5-10 delay to get off the freeway, wait at a bunch of stoplights, and get back on the freeway again. Effectively, transit is forced to either:
        1) Connect a very specific set of origin->destination points. Usually this means connecting one large employment center with a park-and-ride lot at 10-20 miles away. Anyone that either doesn’t work at that specific employment center or live near that particular P&R, the service is useless too. Trying to create a whole bunch of buses to connect every conceivable origin->destination point is too expensive to be feasible, especially if you want each route to have reasonable all-day frequency, rather than just one peak trip per day.
        2) Forget about the freeway altogether and take parallel surface streets. Now, instead of transit taking twice as long as driving, it takes 4 times as long! Furthermore, limited crossing points of freeways can sometimes force buses into circuitous detours to reach important destinations that they would otherwise not have to make.

        And that’s before you consider the impact of a freeway behemoth on pedestrian mobility. Poorly designed freeway crossings function effectively like a gate that says “if you’re not in a motor vehicle, you may not pass”.

    2. The problem isn’t that there aren’t enough highways, it’s that all the things that should have been built on local streets in the towns the highways connect are instead built along the highways. So everyone has to hit the highway for their daily routines, and there’s tons of traffic turning, both right and left, on and off the highway at lots of essentially random points, as if it was a local-access street. The road has to be widened around major intersections with ultra-long, complicated light cycles to provide room for bunched-up traffic to wait to turn in every direction.


    TOMORROW (Monday, 23 Sept 2013) is the DEADLINE for
    COMMENTS to the Lynnwood Link Extension DEIS.

    Consider this a personal request (plea?) to anyone who has not yet submitted comments to do so in the next 24 hours.

    Lots to be commented on, but of importance:

    Suggested issue to comment on –#1 Priority–

    Whether or not a station will be included at NE 130th.

    Suggested issue to comment on #2:

    Total lack of designing and siting stations to encourage potential
    [ Current plans call for little more than Park & Ride facilities along a commuter railroad — there is no sense of supporting the urban areas; or recognizing and applying the Sound Transit TOD policies ]

    for more thoughts / details, what follows is a re-post of (somewhat long-winded….) comments made days late to the 13 September thread about the Lynnwood Link Extension.

    original post:

    Even if you do not live in (or care much about) the “northern reaches” I still would really, REALLY strongly encourage everyone to send in comments on this.

    As several people have already noted, perhaps the most important comment to make would be to support the inclusion of the 130th street station. Without it, everyone to the NE, and especially everyone to the NW from about 100th to 140th will need to make their way (by car, bus, bike, or foot) through all of the congestion at Northgate to get to the station south of the mall. Which would mean so much frustration that few people will use the system….

    So the 130th Street station is maybe the #1 priority comment to make — but a close #2 has to be regarding the near total lack of Transit-Oriented-Development (TOD) potential.

    In broad terms, it would seem that the communities and neighborhoods to the north are being asked to accommodate a series of large Park & Ride facilities for a commuter railroad. Sure, the residential densities are slightly lower than in downtown Seattle, but this is a continuous metropolitan area — ready to be served by this intra-urban transit system which will support urban growth and increasing density. No doubt, one of the goals of Sound Transit’s Light Rail system is to meet the needs of commuters, but this is not its only use, nor the only goal identified by the Sound Transit Board. Each station needs to support its immediate community, and foster the TOD that will in turn help support the station and the whole system.

    In April, Sound Transit reported that the potential for TOD at all the proposed Lynnwood Link station sites to be poor. It appears that the Lynnwood LINK conceptual design, as described in the DEIS, pretty much completely disregarded Sound Transit’s own policy (passed in Dec 2012). The development of designs are directed to “facilitate TOD” (Sound Transit’s words) — NOT to simply study the issue and then report that, “nope, not much chance of TOD here…” (my paraphrase)

    A representative of Sound Transit has told me that ‘we can’t expect every station site to allow for TOD’ (which ok, I do tend to believe is true) — but the fact is (as established by Sound Transit’s own report), that NONE of the proposed stations allow for appreciable TOD.

    Again, I get it that this section of LINK is never going to have the TOD potential of some of the station sites in Seattle. Likewise, I understand that it would be too much to expect that Sound Transit would site, design, and build every one of the Lynnwood LINK stations to maximize TOD potential. But NONE??

    Eight months after Sound Transit publicly commits to a policy of designing its transit projects to encourage and facilitate TOD — and the very next project design which is released to the public has little to none. At some point in design and scoping — especially after the Sound Transit board adopted an official policy and commitment to TOD — there should have been a recognition that the current design was not meeting Sound Transit’s own criteria.

    It seems like the lessons learned by Sound Transit a mere ten years ago have already been forgotten. At that time, the preferred alternative of locating a LINK station alongside the highway at NE 65th was realized to be a mistake –both by the community AND the Sound Transit Board– simply on the basis of the lack of TOD potential.

    No transit station which is sited immediately adjacent to a highway will ever encourage –or even allow for– effective TOD and integration into the surrounding community. By definition and simply geometry, half of the land adjacent to a station located immediately next to a highway can never be developed, because it is taken up by the highway itself. And then the other half of the land adjacent to the station will never foster good, valuable, and attractive urban development, because all of that property, by definition, is next to a highway.

    I understand that it must have seemed the obvious solution to run LINK along the edge of I-5 from Northgate to Lynnwood — its simpler, and probably cheaper. But by choosing this ‘easy’ way, Sound Transit has disregarded what it has already learned about station areas.

    But here we are, and the DEIS, as it is currently written, basically only allows a choice of which type of Park-and-Ride station the public wants to accept (at-grade or elevated); and WHERE to build the huge parking structures (not “whether” to build them…).

    So what can be done? Re-designing the alignment is probably never going to be even considered at this point, but by pointing out the insufficiency of potential TOD in their proposal, we can perhaps suggest the many other changes which will maximize the little potential for TOD there is. These ideas should include:

    –NOT using the land immediately adjacent to the stations for blank open spaces, retention ponds, maintenance sheds, service vehicle parking, etc. (as is currently shown in the DEIS) Design compact town-square plazas and allow as much as possible of the area adjacent to the station to be developed.

    –Diminish or even eliminate some of the parking structures currently proposed for every single station site.

    –design and build stations which incorporate over-build / under-build, and integrate public spaces and commercial development.

    –design for and plan better, safer, more efficient transit connections — not just a bus stop located across a busy (and getting busier) arterial from a station.


    The fact that the Lynnwood Link as currently designed offers little hope for TOD means its more important than ever to do everything possible to encourage related station-area development. This Link Extension must be more than a commuter-centric park-and-ride railroad, but rather the creation of vibrant community station areas as part of the entire regional public transit system

    So I dunno if I’m just a “squeaky wheel”, or a “Sancho Panza”, or what; but I really do believe its gotta help if Sound Transit gets public feedback every time, every project — comments which remind them of the basics of designing for efficient transit connectivity and encouraging Transit-Oriented-Development .

    They are never going to embrace their own policies — or ‘get in the habit’ of smart design on all their projects — if there is NO public push-back about the lack of TOD on this route/segment.

    If there are few complaints that there is no TOD here, then its not going to happen — AND — it will be all the more difficult for to get TOD prioritized elsewhere in the future.

  6. Great to see Strong Towns shared here! Civic economics is a challenging thing to grasp, because so much of it runs counter to the suburban mythos that profess that sprawl is the optimal form of development. Charles Marohn breaks it down very well. I encourage everyone to read this essays, especially the “Growth Ponzi Scheme”.

  7. After examining the Spring District website a little more, I have to say, I am impressed. I can’t think anything along any current or future Link line that compares. Bellevue is really capitalizing on the new rail line. Where are Seattle’s ideas for development along Central and University and North Link? A few new apartment buildings went up along MLK. You have to think bigger, Seattle.

    1. The U-District already blows the Spring District out of the water. The interesting thing about Bellevue’s plans is that it really seems ready to extend “downtown” to 124th and 520, and you can see it almost merging with the commercial area at 156th & 24th which goes straight down to Crossroads. The city people say it will be more islands of development at 120th, 130th, 140th, and 148th-156th rather than continuous, but even with that it means a commercial/mixed-use area in a giant “n” shape, with residential-only around it and in the middle of the n. That would almost double Bellevue’s mixed-use, somewhat-walkable area.

      1. I agree, it’s only a matter of time before these “islands of development” on the eastside grow together. I see the SD growing toward Overlake Village, and growing toward downtown Bellevue. I can especially see the area along NE 8th between 120th and 116th, and 116th between NE 8 and Main street (old auto row) being ripe for development.

        Yes, the UD blows the Spring District out of the water. But I’m talking about something that was built, or is planned to build, next to a Link rail line. The MLK corridor was transformed, but it’s basically just a bunch of new apartment buildings. The Spring District is residential, commercial, and retail on a large scale. I haven’t heard of anything this big and bold planned anywhere else along a Link line.

      2. The MLK corridor is not transformed yet; its development is just starting. But the larger businesses will be around Mt Baker station, not the other three. That’s where the hub urban village is designated. The others will stick to neighborhood retail; e.g., the kind that Othello has now.

  8. Here’s a peek at the schematic of the Frequent Network Plan (discussed extensively in earlier posts) that I’m making: https://www.dropbox.com/s/r3he9t4537n0kca/Seattle%20Frequent%20Network%20Plan%20schematic.svg

    It’s still VERY incomplete and unpolished–obviously I still have to add in the route labels, many landmarks, etc. but at least I’ve finished laying down all the lines. Note that only lines running every 15 minutes or better are shown on the map–which is very impressive considering how much ground the “frequent network” alone covers. I apologize for the extreme amount of geographic distortion, especially in far North Seattle (!)–that was because I ran out of space, so please don’t be offended. Still, I think it helps visualize the large amount of frequent service that can be added without additional cost after Link opens.

  9. I was absolutely certain I wanted the station at 155th…Then as I read more comments from people in our Ridgecrest neighborhood, I am now leaning towards the 145th location. If Sound Transit insists on building a parking garage in Shoreline, I’d much rather have it at 145th and not 155th. Well, I’d rather them NOT build a garage at all and spend that money on better bus service in the neighborhood. (Wow, where have I read/heard that before?? Oh yeah, everywhere here on the Blog!!)

    1. It would seem to me that a 145th St. station with a large parking garage is only going to compound the traffic problem. Not only do you have everyone driving to work getting on the freeway there, but you also have everyone driving to the station as well. Meanwhile, everyone busing to the station gets stuck in the mess.

      What are your reasons for 145th? Do you think anyone attending Lakeside High School (about the only thing within walking distance of the station besides a tiny number of single-family homes and a golf course) will actually use the light rail to get there?

      1. My reasons for now favoring a 145th station are basically because Sound Transit/Shoreline Council are going to build a damn parking garage so I’d rather have it at 145th instead of 155th. Still, I’d rather they NOT NOT NOT build a parking garage at either location and spend the millions of dollars improving the bus service to the station. From what I’ve read in various emails, the Shoreline City Council has already started drooling about demolishing the homes around 5th Ave NE and allowing developers to spoil the area with monstrous, out-of-scale apartments. Instead of having the route along Aurora which makes the most sense and has the most space for real TOD, they want to destroy the neighborhoods that have been there for generations. I don’t mind upzoning(really, I’m not a NIMBY), but no one in King County really knows how to do it right. They basically allow the developers to say “Let’s build the ugliest, most economical thing we can and to hell with scale and beauty.”

        Ridgecrest is the neighborhood that borders Interstate 5 to the west and 145th to the south…

      2. “Monsterous apartments around 5th NE”

        Do you mean just at the intersection of 5th and the station, or north-south along 5th? I hadn’t thought of development along 5th, and I’d have to go look at the street to see what’s there, but theoretically there could be linear development on 5th from 145th to 185th, connecting the stations and giving a reason for a north-south bus. But it all depends on how willing Shoreline is to convert single-family blocks, and that I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude on.

      3. So the 347 and 372 already travel on 5th between 145th and 175th. In that case, I don’t see what would be wrong with making it more of an apartment street. Some density has to be expected with rapid-transit stations, and how many of those houses are really so precious and essential? I’ll check out the street this afternoon.

      4. Mike,

        I’ll be curious what you think after driving through the area. I live there, and walk the streets quite frequently. The traffic on 5th NE is busy during the rush hours and I wish the sidewalks were much wider than they are. But, as for ‘precious’ and ‘essential’ houses? Who’s to say which house is more important? Since you don’t live in those houses, you don’t know what the people think. Talking with my neighbors, they all think their houses are pretty damn essential to them.

        As for density around rapid-transit stations…why at every station? Why is the feeling that since there is a station there that the area must suddenly be stripped of what made people want to move there to begin with? Especially decisions made by people who don’t even know what the area is like? Since the decision was made to put light rail along Interstate 5 instead of Aurora Avenue, that doesn’t mean that the homeowners have to suffer with being pushed out of their homes. It would be easier and more economical to improve bus service to the thousands of apartments and condos being built in areas that are already zoned for them, like on Aurora Avenue and Lake City Way.

      5. I’ll be taking a bus through the area, since I don’t have a car. As to which houses are important, that’s what I’m asking since I don’t have full knowledge of the area. Of course the houses may be important to their individual owners, but we don’t determine land-use decisions based solely on that — that would be tantamount to complete NIMBY control except where the to-be-displaced homeowners are IMBY. We can’t allow NIMBYs to have 100% control on development or it leads to all the problems in the Snob Zones article — especially the fact that people who want to live within walking distance of a station can’t afford to. I agree that not every station needs lots of apartments around it, but if you categorically rule out any changes, it means that only ten households will have close access to the station, and why should they get that amazing benefit when most of their neighbors or less-affluent people don’t. So we need to have a discussion about what level of density and upzoning is reasonable, and which single-family blocks might be converted. That needs to include all stakeholders: existing homeowners, other Shoreline residents, and people who might live in the new station-area housing in the future.

        In fact, it’s very difficult to upzone a single-family block, which is why 70% of Seattle is single-family, and even urban activists have given up trying to upzone Magnolia or Greenlake or Sand Point or Laurelhurst. It’s much easier to upzone existing commercial or multifamily blocks, which is why most of Seattle’s urban villages do just that. But the Shoreline government is at least talking about building more appropriate station areas, which is surprising to me. And Shoreline has promised TOD around all its RapidRide stations and installed complete BAT lanes for it, which is also surprisingly forward-thinking and puts Seattle’s Aurora policy to shame. So we should at least ask the question of whether an upzone around the station is appropriate, and if so where, how far, which direction, and how tall.

    2. What’s Ridgecrest? Some of these neighborhood names aren’t as well known as others.

      The advantages of 145th are: (1) Seattle and Shoreline already favor it, (2) there would be less opposition to upzoning, (3) a wider variety of bus routes could theoretically meet the train, (4) drivers from Lake City and Kenmore would find it more convenient (yeah, I know that’s popular). But seriously, there could be an upzone from 5th NE all the way to Aurora, which is a whole mile of potential TOD. It’s pretty much all mid-century SFH in between, and it’s easier to upzone houses along a highway than houses on a neighborhood street. They’re already putting up with traffic noise, so it’s not a greatly desirable single-family location.

      The advantages of 155th are: (1) TOD on three sides, (2) human-scaled street and atmosphere, (3) Twin Ponds Park has only two blocks of street frontage and would not be too long to walk past and would be a neighborhood amenity, (4) it’s closer to the Safeway-Sears complex at 155th & Aurora. 155th could also be upzoned from 5th NE to Aurora, but I’m afraid it would be harder politically to get it approved because it’s more of an “ideal” single-family neighborhood.

      1. another aspect in the 145th vs. 155th:

        Hopefully they choose to build the 130th station (as many commenters here support), and then that would mean a station at 130th; a station at 185th; and one in-between (145 or 155).

        from a purely arithmetic / theoretical /strategic standpoint, a station at 155th better divides the 55 blocks between 130th and 185th. a station at 145th would be a mere 15 blocks past 130th, and then 40 blocks to the next station.

        Beyond that, I agree with the statements above:
        145th is a lousy site for a station — no adjacent land available for TOD in 3 out of the 4 surrounding quadrants (hwy, hwy, gold course); AND the location is already a choke-point with bad congestion in all directions. Bringing hundreds more cars, bus connections, bike riders, and pedestrians to this location every day would seem to be a recipe for public-safety issues and grid-lock.

  10. Driving the Robocar Revolution (Webinar)

    Join us on Tuesday, September 24, at 2:00 p.m. EDT.

    Perhaps the most fundamental purpose of the city is to reduce travel times to the people, places, and resources you must reach. The 2020s will see a complete revolution in urban transportation thanks to cars that drive themselves, or “robocars.” This talk will discuss that technology and its prospects, with an emphasis on consequences for the city, including the decline of parking lots, public transit, and non-specialty retailing.


  11. …the cost of hydrogen fuelling infrastructure could be five times lower than the cost of the charging network required for battery and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Costs have fallen by 25% per annum over the last 10 years and the costs of fuel cell systems for vehicles are expected to further decrease by 90% by 2020.


  12. Ah, Chuck Marohn. He understands towns, like Jane Jacobs did… but he doesn’t understand money, which is a serious weak point in a number of his arguments. (Money is tricky; most people don’t understand it. It’s a social agreement, a shared illusion, a network of trust, not a “thing”.)

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