Microsoft, Amazon Take the Lead on Public-Private Transport Funding

Proposed ped-bike bridge connecting Overlake TC Link Station
Proposed ped-bike bridge connecting Overlake TC Link Station

As we mentioned in our news roundup last week, Microsoft is generously agreeing to pitch in on a new ped-bike bridge that would span SR-520 and connect to the new East Link station at Overlake. The contribution kills two birds with one stone: it greatly increases access to the station while also improving connectivity across Microsoft’s massive campus, which is cleaved in two by 520. Furthermore, it’s an encouraging sign that rail transit’s many regional beneficiaries, both public and private, are showing willingness to invest in improved station access.

From a transportation perspective, the news is very welcome for non-motorized and transit advocates alike. If all goes well, the new bridge would be the third built in the area in a matter of years. In 2010, the City of Redmond opened the NE 36th Street bridge, which connects the south side of Microsoft’s campus with the future Overlake Village redevelopment. The City also hopes to fund another ped-bike bridge nearby, currently planned to connect the station at Overlake Village with the 520 trail at Microsoft.

From a funding perspective, Microsoft’s example builds off of a good precedent. As Bike Blog notes, Amazon has already taken the lead on funding streetcar service and bike facilities in South Lake Union. Both Microsoft and Amazon campuses are somewhat centralized, so it’s logical for both corporations to be proactive about employee commute solutions. This, of course, beats the historical alternative, where transit agencies have had to rely on equally cash-strapped cities to fund station access improvements.

Private actors, on the other hand, usually have the capital to make these kinds of investments. Regionally, there’s no reason to believe that the Microsoft/Amazon model isn’t just as applicable elsewhere. North Seattle Community College and Northgate Mall, for example, both have high stakes in a pedestrian bridge crossing I-5. In Eastgate/Factoria, T-Mobile would benefit greatly from access improvements to the park-and-ride and freeway station.

The downside to public-private funding partnerships is that they’re contingent on voluntary contributions. Unlike general property taxes or LIDs (local improvement districts), government agencies don’t have the authority to mandate them. Employers might be better motivated by incentives, like tax credits and the like. Under the State’s CTR law, for example, employers who offer reasonable non-SOV commuting provisions are eligible for state tax credits.

The problem with the CTR law is that private financing of public capital projects don’t meet the definitions for “commute trip reduction,” disallowing Microsoft from claiming tax credits for its contributions to Overlake station access. One could easily argue otherwise– after all, free transit passes are only as good as the facilities and service that they’re used for. If the State wants to get serious about transportation sustainability, reforming the CTR law and providing meaningful transit funding would be logical steps to take.

Build a Ballard Subway

Screen Shot 2013-12-06 at 1.01.40 AM
Well what did you think I was going to write about?

Last week, when Sound Transit and SDOT presented the options for Downtown to Ballard, only one option truly fits into a vision of a completely connected city; a city where transit is just as good as owning a car, if not better; a sustainable, resilient, forward-thinking city. That option is D – the subway option. Today is the last day to get your comments in supporting it.

It serves the most people, both today and tomorrow.

When Seattle adopted its urban village strategy, it committed to growing in urban centers and urban villages. Because Fremont and Ballard are both hub urban villages rather than just residential urban villages, they’re expected to grow faster than the rest of the city’s urban villages already. The subway option is the only option that serves every urban village between downtown and Ballard – and the only grade separated option that serves both the Ballard and Fremont hubs.

From the Seattle comprehensive plan

Rewarding neighborhoods that have accepted growth in urban villages also tells people across the city that they, too, have a path to getting transit. Providing this positive feedback will help engage people in planning for growth so that their neighborhood comes next!

Making the higher investment in a core line today also means that when we add on to both ends, we make transit competitive for many more trips. Whatever route the line takes northward, the more urban village nodes it connects them to, the more people will choose to use it. The fact that it does so at such high speed also means even the stations built farther away will have more impact. Remember, this isn’t just about Ballard – it’s about going a lot farther.

It’s exciting and commands attention – what we’ll need to win.

Remember 2011’s Proposition 1? It failed – not because it wasn’t full of good stuff, not because of any cost or benefit, but because it had no major project to make people excited. What people are voting for has a far greater impact on their vote than how much it costs.

This doesn’t just matter for the vote itself – when more people see themselves using a system, more demand funding for it in Olympia, more people volunteer for the campaign, and more people get engaged to fight for the next extension. And that gives us another reason the subway option is by far the best choice:

It puts transit on the offensive in Olympia.

Our region has twice voted decisively to spend many billions of local dollars on transit, and we asked for nothing from the state transportation budget. Municipalities don’t step up like that to fund highway projects, they ask the state to do it for them. Rather than fund Sound Transit 3 by ourselves, we should demand a state match for transit projects, just like most states provide to their transit systems – and with the Metro hostage well on its way to being rescued, we may soon have the leverage to win state funding.

Every transit agency in the state benefits from this frame – Vancouver needs light rail, even Spokane has considered a streetcar, and we desperately need a real statewide passenger rail network as an alternative to continued highway expansion. As Greyhound reduces services, intercity connections outside the Amtrak Cascades corridor are becoming an ever-higher priority as well, and local bus networks are all underfunded.

It supports West Seattle, and the rest of the city and region.

Planning from the end of this line to West Seattle and Burien is currently under way, along with many other corridors (see page 11), and we’ll likely see options for those corridors come out in the next few months. Picking the subway option for Ballard now will result in the highest ridership for any continuation of the line to West Seattle, making rail to West Seattle more competitive and likely to be funded in ST3.

Overall, the more transit we have planned and prepared to fund in Puget Sound, the stronger our ask in Olympia, and the higher the compromise position will be for the authority and funding we need. WSDOT does this well – they put projects on the map years ahead of time, building support and a sense of inevitability that helps them get funded. Sound Transit will only benefit from doing the same, so let’s help them. Please support the subway option – option D – in Sound Transit’s online tool.

Seattle Subway’s Comment on the Ballard to Downtown Level 2 Analysis

Tomorrow is the last day to submit online on this latest phase of the Ballard Study.  If you haven’t submitted comment, please do so.  If you don’t send a letter, please take the time to fill out the online survey.

Seattle Subway Logo

To: Mr. Ryan Bianchi

Re:  Ballard Transit Expansion Study

The leadership and volunteers of Seattle Subway would like to thank Sound Transit and the City of Seattle for partnering to take the first steps towards bringing rail to Ballard. The Ballard to Downtown corridor is a key regional corridor that deserves fast, reliable service and connections, and we are excited to see that three of the five options in the Ballard-to-Downtown Transit Study include grade-separated service from Downtown Seattle to Market Street. Specifically, we have the following observations of and recommendations for the proposed grade-separated segments studied so far:

  • Grade-separation. Alternatives A, B, and D are grade separated and will provide a faster alternative to driving in traffic between Ballard and Downtown Seattle. Regarding the at grade sections included in option B north of Market street: We want to urge Sound Transit to not intermingle at grade sections into a line that would function best as 100% grade separated. The at grade sections would hamper the speed and reliability of the entire line and would preclude the option to select better rail technology, specifically both driverless technology and the fastest possible technology. Seattle Subway recognizes that Crown Hill may not be currently considered for grade separation. However, we urge Sound Transit to consider the system-wide impacts of at-grade alignment well into the future.
  • Operable Bridges. While options A and B consider operable bridges, none of the options studied include bridges that would be likely to open more than a few times a week. Seattle Subway urges Sound Transit to study the highest possible vessel clearance for bridges in order to minimize delays.
  • Future Connectivity. In all options, Seattle Subway hopes to see designs that are compatible with and connect to the studies currently underway for UW-to-Ballard and for Downtown-to-West Seattle. Furthermore, in order to accommodate the growth coming to Seattle and to get the most out of public investments, we believe it will be critical to design any downtown tunnel with the ability to split and connect to an additional line entering and exiting downtown in the future.

That being said, our work is far from over. As 2016 approaches, Seattle Subway realizes the next step towards building a high-quality subway system is preparing a great ballot measure. After Sound Transit completes its long range plan update, it will have an arsenal of studies at its disposal including Ballard-to-Downtown as well as other studies currently underway from Downtown to West Seattle, and from Ballard to the UW. This will give Sound Transit the tools to compose a package for the voters that balances geographic equity with the expense of building fast, reliable infrastructure that does not get stuck in traffic, and we urge the agency to use these studies to tailor the ballot measure to best fit each neighborhood and lay the groundwork for a system that will serve Seattle and the region for the next one-hundred years.

While Seattle Subway envisions high quality rail built to every neighborhood in Seattle, we realize that finite resources mean there will be difficult choices and tradeoffs. In a future package we hope to see as much of our vision funded for construction as possible, however we realize the scope of that package will depend on the availability of state and federal funding. Thus, we encourage Sound Transit to set aside money in that package for planning and design in all of the remaining Seattle-area corridors so that design decisions captured in the Long Range Plan don’t preclude the eventual build out of the rest of the system. Furthermore, we want to stress that tradeoffs should not include at-grade alignments as cost-saving measures. For example, a cost-saving measure for Alternative D (from Level 2 analysis) would not be Option 5 (from Level 1 analysis) – it would be an updated version of Alternative A or B  (from Level 2 analysis). Lastly, as Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan studies continue, we encourage the agency to build early community support by promoting their efforts specifically to those neighborhoods where rail is being studied, such as West Seattle and communities along the 45th Street corridor.

Again, we write in support of the work Sound Transit has done for Seattle and the region. We are passionate fans who urge Sound Transit to build a system designed from the beginning to serve every neighborhood so that we can realize our shared vision:  A city and region fully connected by fast, reliable high capacity transit.

Thank You,

Seattle Subway

To keep updated on all that Seattle Subway is doing, and for information about volunteering, please join our mailing list!

Seattle Subway is an all-volunteer organization that advocates for grade-separated rail transit in Seattle.

News Roundup: Hopeless

This is an open thread.

North Rainier Rezone Update

Google Maps

If you set aside time December 20th to testify about the North Rainier Rezone, don’t bother. Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee members Mike O’Brien and Richard Conlin have confirmed that the public hearing won’t occur until early 2014.

Mr. Conlin explained that “we realized that the next Committee would both have new people on it and would want to schedule a public hearing next year, so decided that this one would be redundant.” He added that Mr. O’Brien, who is likely to be the PLUS chair next year, “has said that he will move this as quickly as possible next year, so hopefully it will be done in the first few weeks.”

It would be a tragedy if it wasn’t. This process began in 2008. While it’s usually good to build consensus, approximately zero of the residents that objected to the upzone will be satisfied by a little more delay, because procedural objections are never the core reason for protest. Instead, people fundamentally opposed to the presence of renters and low-income housing in the area will pocket another delay and only be encouraged to continue this game in 2014.

Meanwhile, Rainier Valley residents that could have used new construction and retail jobs, and people everywhere that would appreciate relatively affordable housing close to light rail 10 minutes from downtown, will just have to wait. And if all of this delay causes us to miss the current real estate boom, we’ll have an entire business cycle where the Southeast’s greatest transit hub remains a car sewer.

We’ll keep you posted on the public hearing schedule.

The Reality of a Seattle Transit Agency

I occasionally see the argument that Seattle should separate from King County Metro, which would replace the foibles of the King County Council with those of the Seattle City Council. Usually this proposal rests on the widely-held thesis that Seattle “subsidizes” the rest of the county. As I’ve argued before, worrying about cross-subsidy is a terrible way to approach these issues, but the underlying facts show this assertion to be simply false under reasonable assumptions.

Thanks to annualized Fall 2012 data provided by King County Metro, I’ve broken down all of the agency’s platform hours* into multiple bins. Out of a total of 3,461,387 service hours over the system’s 208 routes:

  • 1,544,511 (44.6%) are one- and two-digit routes that are clearly within the Seattle city limits. Add to this 2,030 hours for the the 217, which is actually a reverse-peak route, and that’s 44.7% of all service.
  • 700,816 (20.2%) are two-way, two-zone routes, meaning they reasonably serve residents of both jurisdictions. These include routes with long suburban segments but decent two-way demand (150, 255, 271) and routes that are primarily in Seattle but for a relatively minor terminus in a suburb (120, 358).
  • 1,214,030 (35.1%) are “three-digit” routes that never enter Seattle, or enter Seattle solely as a peak-direction bus.

Although we won’t consider it below, it’s important to remember that Sound Transit’s subarea accounting allocates 100% of the cost of ST Express to its suburban subareas, and none to North King. Whatever you think of the overall balance of riders on these routes, Seattle inarguably gets more than zero benefit from this service.

The revenue side is somewhat murkier, given the complexities of ORCA revenue sharing, transfer slips, and the like. In calendar year 2012, Metro collected “approximately $162.5m” in taxes from Seattle, with the fiscal year (Nov-Oct) 2012 county-wide total at $402m. That’s about 40.4% coming from the city, or less than Seattle’s service allocation even if you charge 100% of the two-way routes to the suburbs.

A further $133.8m came from farebox revenue in 2012. Setting aside other revenue sources, 30.3% of it comes from sales tax in Seattle, 44.7% from sales tax elsewhere, and 25% from fares. It is hard to parse this by municipality, but if we assume that farebox revenue is directly proportional to boardings, the split would be 54%, 20%, and 26%** from the three route groupings above.  This somewhat understates the suburban contribution because the average two-zone fare was $1.61, vs. $1.09 for one-zone travel. If we credit Seattle with half of the two-zone/two-fare ridership, Seattle contributes 46% of the revenue that funds Metro, 44% with one-zone only.

In other words, Seattle would basically break even if it took all the one-and-two-digit routes along with their fares and the tax revenue, as long as the County continued to fund the two-way service out of generosity. Whether that scenario is a plausible one is left to the reader, but it’s definitely not a story of Seattle service gutted by exporting money to the suburbs.

Of course, this provincial argument about who benefits is ultimately unresolvable. Plenty of suburban residents utilize a Seattle route for some of their trips, and Seattle benefits when suburbanites come by transit rather than car — or rather than not at all. Most importantly, everyone benefits from the free flow of people around the region in ways that alleviate pollution and congestion. And of course the revenue itself largely comes from sales tax, and it’s hardly unheard of for Seattle to shop at Southcenter, or Bellevue to shop downtown.

It’s entirely reasonable, in the interests of maximizing the productivity of the system, that the majority of spending would occur in dense, urban districts, in the same way that social services money flows from King County to substantially poorer counties in Eastern Washington. Nevertheless, the likely reduction in overall service hours and loss of economies of scale will overwhelm any possible governance improvements associated with a separate Seattle transit agency. A separate Seattle Transit is not a solution to any of the problems with our bus network.

*These are “platform hours” — hours the bus is running — not “revenue hours”, when it’s carrying passengers. All of the deadhead costs of peak expresses from nowhere are already baked into it.

** Based on Fall 2012 boardings data Metro provided me.

The Metropolitan Revolution Comes to Puget Sound


Reuven Carlyle (D-36th)

As legislative negotiators work tirelessly behind the scenes to seek common ground on a statewide transportation package, profoundly important philosophical questions are on the table. The tension in the air can be sensed over what strategic direction our state’s transportation system will take in the decades to come.

Will a modern, sophisticated, win-win grand bargain between the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-led House be achieved, or will our infrastructure continue to slide into mediocrity?

On a deep level, the questions are substantial: Will we continue down a traditional path of a restricted 18th Amendment (use of gas tax for roads and highways) instead of multi-modal uses? Will metropolitan strategies–from Bruce Katz author of The Metropolitan Revolution with smart cities, urban environmentalism, responsible growth, transit to city-oriented regionalism itself–find support from the business community and Republicans? Will the Senate Republican leadership provide the majority of votes to lead their chamber through the sweeping policy questions or simply expect a majority of Democrats to vote for taxes while Republicans vote ‘no’ yet quietly bargain for transportation spending in their own legislative districts? Will Seattle and King County voters, who for years have been net contributors of taxes to state government, reach a tipping point of frustration at cuts to local transit and deteriorating roads and support a “Plan B” or ‘King County-only’ approach? Will King, Snohomish and Pierce county residents take the initiative, for the first time in years, to think strategically about the post-modern infrastructure needs (ports, ferries, highways, transit, bike paths, stormwater, public waterfronts, etc.) as a Puget Sound region?

Recently I stopped by a major bus stop in my district to speak with Metro riders about the situation. After reviewing the policy background provided by Metro, and learning more about the current Senate proposal on the table, one rider said to me: “I’ve been thinking about this, let me get this straight, here’s the deal as I understand it: We raise our gas tax by 11.5 cents which, in turn, gets us the honor of voting for a new Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET), and we cut spending on public schools–and environmental cleanup–all in exchange for ‘buying back’ our current level of bus services. Seems like a ridiculously bad deal to me. Let’s just raise fares and our own MVET and pay for our own services and at least keep the money here.”

The state’s thought leaders in the business community are fighting hard to find a compromise. They argue, rightly, that public infrastructure should maintain a special place in political discourse given how vital it is all a healthy and robust quality of life. And yet those same organizations led the charge to fully fund the business-backed candidate in a recent open state senate seat who is categorically opposed to new transportation taxes. It is difficult to reconcile those competing values.

Our old model of transportation funding and spending is ending. More than that, our radical addiction to decentralization of authority and allocation of resources based on yesterday more than tomorrow is unsustainable. The gas tax itself is, of course, imploding virtually before our eyes as vehicles become more fuel efficient, and competing over a declining resource is hard enough under the best of circumstances. Add to the mix the need for a bold approach at living the Metropolitan Revolution and it simply does not seem realistic to expect Seattle and King County voters–and others throughout Puget Sound–to enthusiastically embrace a stereotypically static model.

What would make sense?

Continue reading “The Metropolitan Revolution Comes to Puget Sound”

Amtrak Cascades Improves Eugene Service Beginning January 6

ODOT Photo
ODOT Photo

After test runs over Thanksgiving weekend, Oregon’s new Talgo trains have entered regular service. They are running between Seattle and Portland this weekend, and will run between Seattle and Vancouver BC later next week (see scheduled runs here, bottom of the page).

Given the new flexibility afforded by the two new sets – each set must overnight in Seattle at least once per week, limiting the schedule somewhat – ODOT has announced a new schedule for Portland-Eugene service beginning on January 6, 2014.

A new early morning departure is being added at 6:00am from Portland to Eugene, and a 4:00pm departure from Eugene to Portland. In addition, on weekends and holidays the morning train from Portland to Eugene will depart 2.5 hours later, at 8:30am.

Currently, northbound departures all leave Eugene before 1:00p and the first train doesn’t arrive in Eugene until after 5:00pm, making day trips to anywhere south of Portland impossible and even one-night stays impractical. This will considerably improve the options for Portlanders visiting the University of Oregon, anyone with state business in Salem (including reverse commuters from Portland), and others.

ODOT has published the new schedule for Oregon service here, but the full corridor schedule has not yet been released (we have an email in to WSDOT). However, given that WSDOT is not changing service levels at this time, we can reasonably infer the following:

  • Trains 11, 14, 500, 501,  506, 507, 510, 513, 516 , and 517 will remain unchanged.
  • Train 508 will now begin in Eugene at 4:00pm and continue to Seattle, arriving at 10:05pm.
  • Train 504 is cancelled.
  • Train 503/(505 on weekends) is the new morning service from Portland to Eugene

If so, the new schedule is as follows:

Screen Shot 2013-12-06 at 2.54.29 PM Screen Shot 2013-12-06 at 2.55.05 PM

While our fleet will be badly underutilized until the Point Defiance Bypass is complete – 7 trainsets for 11 daily trains! – the added flexibility is greatly appreciated and the redundancy should at least prevent some of the maintenance problems such as locomotive failures that have occurred too frequently in the past couple of years. Though we’re still many years away from a fully usable schedule in which you can arrive in Portland or Seattle in the morning, this new schedule does represent progress.

Some Thoughts on Ballard Option C

Option C
Option C

Zach’s summary and analysis of the Tier 2 alternatives arising from Sound Transit and Seattle’s Ballard HCT study is excellent, and if you’ve not read it yet, you should do so. There are some good ideas and some less-good ideas among the options, and I’m sure by now, our regulars will have thoroughly digested them, but in this post I’d like to point out one option that I was hoping would have made it into the final analysis but didn’t, a variant of Corridor C.

First, I’d like to explain my criteria for a sensible downtown Seattle rail line, beyond the obvious ones of being frequent, direct, reliable and focused on areas of high ridership potential:

  1. It needs to be no worse than an existing express bus trip, including transfer time. Ballard’s express services are massively popular, but express service is expensive to operate, both in terms of operations (lots of deadheading) and capital (lots of buses that sit at the base twenty hours a day). Riders will revolt if we try to cut their service without offering them something at least as good. If we can cut the 15X, 17X, 18X and maybe the 28X in favor of better connecting services, that’s a shedload of buses we can reallocate to better all-day service at minimal cost.
  2. It needs to be grade-separated south of Denny. Lots of people worry about the top speed of transit service, but it’s not very important for in-city services (say, typical trips of less than ten miles, stops about every half-mile), because even a fully grade-separated train spends much of its time accelerating or decelerating for stations; frequency and reliability matter most. Assuming any of these lines will be both very frequent and reasonably reliable, the most important factor to minimize trip time is to avoid extended periods of very low speeds, e.g. slogging at-grade through the city center.

To the first point. The current scheduled time from 15th/Market to 3rd/Pine on the 15X is 19-21 minutes inbound in the AM peak. Supposing train headways of 10 minutes (i.e. a five-minute transfer penalty) and a couple of minutes of added walking, we need Market to Pine travel times below 15 minutes if we’re going to build a rail line worth getting out of bed for. Option C currently fails that test — but I think it could be fixed through much smarter design, at a plausible cost.

More after the jump. Continue reading “Some Thoughts on Ballard Option C”

Sound Transit Refines Ballard Options

Ballard MockUpAfter nearly 1,800 public comments and 6 more months of technical study, Sound Transit held its final open house Wednesday to present refined options (‘Tier 2’) for rail transit between Downtown and Ballard.  After this round of public comment, the results of the full study will go before the Seattle City Council and the Sound Transit Board early next year.

When we last left this project, Sound Transit and SDOT had presented eight corridors more as conceptual thought exercises than actual proposals, helping to focus reactions and reveal the underlying qualities that matter to people.

In a testament to a high demand for fast, reliable transit – and no doubt in some part due to the work of Seattle Subway – Sound Transit said:

“We heard that efficient and reliable service that is ideally grade-separated is a major priority. We included many corridors with high levels of exclusive right-of-way, including a full tunnel option.”

Unfortunately, in response to public feedback ST also eliminated high fixed bridges from consideration, raising the stakes somewhat and leaving us with only drawbridge and tunneled options for crossing the Ship Canal.

The initial 8 concept corridors were refined down to 5 and then analyzed for ridership, reliability, speed, environmental impact, and impact to other modes. Full descriptions after the jump…

Continue reading “Sound Transit Refines Ballard Options”

News Roundup: Progress Everywhere

This is an open thread.

PSA: Standing the Right Way

Twice in the last two weeks, I’ve been a passenger on buses that passed up other passengers while there was still room in the back of the bus.  Two weeks ago, I got on a bus after the driver was telling other riders it was too full, because I saw open space in the middle of the front half of the bus, and pushed my way back there.  Especially in horrible November and December weather, things like this shouldn’t ever happen.  And the reason they do happen is oblivious or rude standing habits.  To be considerate when you’re standing, all you need to do is follow three simple rules.  Please pass this post along to everyone you know who rides well-used routes, so more people can get on without someone making a scene.

1. Move Back!

Really.  Move back.  Yes, all the way back.  Yes, further back than that.  This is the most important rule.  And it’s that simple.

A typical scene on a morning Route 312 trip. Note the fantastic view I have, because I’m standing in the elevated area at the very back, where more people need to stand.  Also notice the guy in the black parka who refused to move further back even as we passed up passengers at NE 85th.  The passed-up passengers should make and use voodoo dolls of that guy.

There is not a spike that descends from the very back of the bus to impale you if you stand all the way back.  I often see otherwise jam-packed buses with absolutely no one standing to the back of the rear steps.  Please stand back there.  You can still reach the door easily, you have a nice view past other standees in low-floor buses (as in the photo above), there is plenty of headroom unless you’re well over six feet, and you’re considerately making room for others.  Three to four people can comfortably stand behind the rear door, and you can jam six or seven in when it’s extremely crowded.

Other places where people are very reluctant to move back are at the hinge and, bizarrely, at the front door.  Yes, you need to move past the hinge if there is room in the back half of the bus.  And if you are that person who insists on standing at the front door and forcing everyone else to dance around you just to get on, then you deserve all the bumps and bruises you get.  You will still be able to get off the bus just fine if you move further back.

2. Pay Attention.

Frequently, standees will tune out the world around them as soon as they’ve settled into a position, not noticing that people behind them have considerately moved back because more people want to get on.  When the bus stops, look around you. Look both backward, to see if you have more room to move back, and forward, to see if more people are trying to get on.

People sitting in full buses should also pay attention, because they should be ready to give up their seats to seniors or persons with disabilities who may have a hard time standing in a moving bus for the length of the trip.  Getting totally lost in your reading, music, or game is fun, but rude to those around you.

3. Step Out.

If you are standing near the doors and passengers are trying to get off, then get off the bus, and step back on when people finish exiting.  People can exit much faster when the aisle is clear, saving everyone time.  You will have time to get back on.  Drivers will wait until they see no movement at the back door to close it, and they can tell the difference between existing passengers getting back on after having stepped aside and new passengers trying to evade payment.

If all standees followed these three simple rules, we’d have considerably fewer pass-ups, and buses would move faster as well.  Please be considerate to your fellow passengers and stand the right way.  Those waiting in the cold and rain at bus stops thank you sincerely.

Last Ballard Study Open House This Thursday

This Thursday, December 5th, “Sound Transit and the City of Seattle are hosting the third and final open house to present updated concepts for new rail transit between Ballard and downtown.” Link.

Staff and decision makers from Sound Transit and the City of Seattle want to hear your comments and answer your questions. By attending and commenting, you can help to make sure that all options are as fast and as reliable as possible and to facilitate future expansion to other neighborhoods.

Event Details:
Ballard High School Commons
1418 NW 65th Street, Seattle, WA 98117
5:30 pm – 7:30 pm, Thursday, December 5th
Opening remarks begin at 6:30 p.m.
Transit Routes: RapidRide D, 15 Express (Peak Time/Direction Only)

More from the Press Release:

“Five conceptual routes are currently under review as part of the Ballard to downtown High Capacity Transit study, which will help inform updates to the City of Seattle’s Transit Master Plan and Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan. The plans identify priorities for potential future transit expansions.

Sound Transit and the city hosted open houses in March and June and used online tools to gather feedback on potential rail routes connecting Ballard and downtown. The technical team refined the alternatives down from eight to five potential routes for either light rail or streetcars. The project team will have detailed maps and information at the meeting.”

“Construction of any future transit extensions would be subject to Sound Transit and City policy decisions and identification of funding sources. Voter approval is required for potential Sound Transit investments.”

After the meeting, some members of Seattle Subway and possibly some writers from Seattle Transit Blog will be meeting up for drinks at the Essex (1421 NW 70th St) .  This is not any kind of planned/organized/official meetup, there will be no guests or even event space, just some people you might know grabbing a drink or two before taking their bus home.

What Is Transit-Oriented Development, Anyway?


Planning professionals, private sector developers, and the media often operate with different definitions of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD). Many confuse TOD with mixed-use development and claim that new, mixed-use development with 100 residential units and 100 parking spaces next to a nice bus stop with buses arriving every 15-30 minutes is TOD.

In short, no.

Mixed-use development is typically development with retail on the ground level and with other uses above, without other distinguishing features. Despite sharing common features with mixed-use development, TOD differs from mixed-use development. The focus of TOD is the dramatic reduction of privately owned, single occupancy vehicle use. A development parked at 1 space per dwelling unit, or 1 space per 1,000 gross square feet is not TOD under any circumstances because TOD first and foremost seeks to reduce the space required for and provided to private automobiles.


If readers failed to read further than the title of a recent article in The Atlantic, “’Transit’ Might Not Be Essential to Transit-Oriented Development,” then readers might think that transit is only a marginal factor in TOD. However, the study that the article cites concludes: “The focus on rail is particularly problematic in cases where developments near rail stations are simply transit adjacent, with high amounts of parking, low density, and large units being offered for sale [as opposed to smaller rental units].” The quote is precisely correct. That development pattern is problematic, with or without rail. Development considered TOD that is actually merely transit-adjacent, retaining priority given to private, single occupancy vehicles directly detracts from the goals of TOD.

TOD and transit must always be seen as two halves of a whole. Transit provides mobility. Development without parking near transit provides increased densities and walkability, making high-capacity rapid rail transit the most effective and reliable method to move people between neighborhoods. Additionally, the compact, mixed-use, pedestrian-prioritized nature of TOD provides accessibility, a convenient lifestyle for those seeking to live without the hassle of owning a car.


In short: TOD is unparked, mixed-use, walkable development near high quality transit investments. It provides essential retail services, at least some employment, and access to high-capacity, rapid, reliable transit all within a convenient, 5-minute walk. TOD actively reduces the availability of on- and off-street parking as much as possible and therefore uses space that might be otherwise filled with idle cars. In practice this means development near high quality transit and without private parking. Always.

This definition should be stated at the beginning of any media outlet piece or investor call about TOD.

Ben Broesamle is an aspiring real estate development and investment leader specializing in human- and transit-oriented development. He presently works as an analyst in commercial real estate finance and is on the board of Seattle Subway. He holds a BA in geography from UCLA where he concentrated in urban and regional development studies and minored in environmental studies. He moved from Los Angeles to Magnolia in 2010 where he now commutes via the 33 or 24.

North Rainier Zoning Meeting Report

Wednesday’s Seattle Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee meeting agenda contained one appointment to the design commission and an initial briefing on two zoning issues, one apparently minor and the other controversial. The North Rainier Rezone dominated the other items during public comment. Chair Conlin and members Burgess and O’Brien were there; Clark was not.

For those of you not familiar with the area, the crossroads in the shadow of Mt. Baker station is officially known as “North Rainier.” The actual Mt. Baker neighborhood, heavily represented at this meeting, is an affluent single family area immediately east of North Rainier. This upzone, in progress since 2008, concerns North Rainier. The public comments came first, a lively mix of proponents and opponents of the upzone.

The pro comments, which included most of the institutional representation, focused on arguments for density well-known to readers here. Beyond the general case, North Rainier is one of the major public transportation hubs in the region, with not only Link but three frequent bus lines (7, 8, 48) and three minor ones (7X, 9X, 14).

The negative comments, which I’ll try to state in as value-neutral a way as I can, were as follows:

  • there has been insufficient notification and opportunity for public comment, so the process should slow down;
  • growth will make it much harder for residents to park their cars; and
  • an influx of renters and low-income housing would harm the close-knit, publicly involved character of the adjacent single-family Mt. Baker neighborhood.

I’m unmoved by the process argument. Officials should comply with the law in public processes, but no one ever complains that something they like is moving too fast. I’m more interested to hear what actual concerns are driving them to complain about process. For a response to those substantive concerns, see Councilmember Burgess’s exceptional opening statement just after public comment. His monologue begins at the 49:15 mark:

[UPDATE: The meeting has been delayed until 2014, location to be determined.] The next opportunity to comment on the North Rainier rezone will be Friday, December 20th, at 9:30am in the Council Chambers. If you care about the fate of this neighborhood, and more people and jobs there, I advise you to make the time to show up.

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