This is an open thread.

55 Replies to “News Roundup: Happy New Year”

  1. If they’re going to build a second Montlake bridge, it should be built to accommodate buses too, not just bikes and pedestrians. Ideally, it would provide direct access from the 520 HOV ramps to the stadium parking lot, with stops adjacent to the LINK station.

    1. That makes sense, but that sort of a study is way more complicated. Figuring out where to put in a new pedestrian/bike bridge and figuring out how much it would cost is pretty simple. But adding a new bridge for buses would involve new lanes and new off ramps to make sense and things get really complicated with that. Making it even trickier is that Seattle isn’t building the new 520 (the state is). A new pedestrian bridge built just by Seattle would be fairly easy for the state to approve. But a new bus bridge along with lanes and ramps would probably be funded by the state.

    2. Agreed. Seems sort of silly to spend $25-50M on a bike+ped bridge with no transit capacity when buses routinely get seriously stuck in that area; which likely has an overall greater impact on regional transportation than 200′ of bike+ped congestion. Even a single, one-way bus lane would be a great improvement.

      1. You mean one way going northbound? I suppose that would still be a big improvement. And, much simpler (and cheaper) than re-connecting a southbound bus lane back to SB Montlake and/or 520.

        Although, looking at the satellite view, there is plenty of ROW on Montlake to add lanes between 520 and Shelby. The current NB lanes could be converted into a two-way busway, and the existing tree-lined median could be narrowed or eliminated to make room for two lanes each way of GP traffic. The new bridge would be just east of the existing one (the two homes at the NE corner of Montlake & Shelby would probably have to be removed).

      2. Based on my experience going through here just about every day, a bus lane across the ship canal would make a lot less difference than it might first appear.

        Most of the backups happen not on the bridge itself, but further back, namely, the Montlake exit ramp (e.g. 271, 540, 542. etc.) and the light at Montlake and Roanoke (e.g. 43, 48). Once you get north of 520, the worst of the congestion has passed, and a dedicated lane won’t help that much, especially since buses will still have to wait for the light to turn left on Pacific St.

        The last I saw of the final WSDOT Montlake plans, the exit ramp from HOV lane to Montlake will be for buses and 3+ carpools only. This, alone, should make a huge difference in reliability. Even the temporary proposal calls for the current Montlake exit to be widened to two lanes. If we lobby hard enough, maybe there’s some chance of convincing WSDOT to make one of them an HOV lane.

      3. @asdf: Exactly. The way I see it there are a few issues:

        – First and foremost, traffic exiting 520 overwhelming the local street network. Expanding exit capacity is the worst possible action, unless the ultimate goal is to force a massive general traffic expansion of Montlake Boulevard. That’s unacceptable for urbanism, walkability, and the environment. We should fight expansion of SOV exit capacity off of 520.

        – Essentially all the buses crossing the Montlake Bridge take Pacific. If buses have to make lane changes across congested traffic to get from their stops south of the bridge to their left turns onto Pacific then they’ll get backed up.

        – With really good design of the Link station it might work to have transit access between the interchange and the station east of general traffic lanes on a rebuilt Montlake Boulevard and on a second bridge east of the existing one. But that probably isn’t possible because UW thinks the most important thing in the area is parking lot access for a handful of football games per year. So we’re probably screwed forever.

  2. OK, I’m no zoning expert, but as I read it, the fight over the low rise buildings have little to do with density, but everything to do with height. Indirectly, they effect density, but that is just one of the weaknesses in the zoning law. Here are a couple of simple things you could do to increase density and affordability:

    1) Get rid of the parking requirement.
    2) Get rid of the density limit. For many of the buildings, it is 1 unit/1,600 SF lot area.

    Once that happens, you can then argue about the height.

    1. The low-rise height limits are basically identical to the single-family height limits: 30′.

      DPD should just issue a press release reminding everyone what the code actually says and not waste time and money on a public meeting…

      1. Not entirely. As I read it, if the building is within a “growth area”, then it can be 40 feet high, plus 5 feet for the roof and another 4 feet for partially below grade floor. The “Seattle Speaks Up” group is inaccurate in saying that the buildings can be as high as 50 feet, but they are close. Counting the top of the roof, I think the tallest building can be 47 feet (the partially below grade floor is designed to handle slopes I assume — so half of four feet is two). Measured from the high end of the street to the edge of the roof would be forty feet, while the other end would be 44 feet (as I understand it).

      2. RossB:

        You can take either the 5′ sloped roof bonus or the 4′ daylight basement bonus, but not both.

        Maximum height, using the most permissive zoning (LR3 in an UV) and taking all the bonuses is 45′.

        However, there are precious few LR3 zones in the city, and even fewer in designated growth areas. For all practical purposes, you can’t break 35′.

      3. Single family houses can get to 35′ as well, with the sloped roof bonus.

        The bonus for being in an urban village goes away when you’re within 50 horizontal feet of a single family zone. An LR building beside a single family building will have the same height.

      4. Thanks for the clarification. Not only does the hyperbole surrounding this bother me (OMG — 45 feet!) but the entire tone. There is no talk of a trade-off here, only the horrors of living next to a tall building. This is what bothers me most about the zoning discussions in this city, and it leads to crap. Crappy big buildings, crappy small buildings, and yes, high rents. I’m sympathetic to the folks who don’t want tall buildings built next to them, or who want to preserve old, unusual, historic or just good looking buildings. But rarely is that considered or argued for independently. It is usually considered part of a big “keep it all the same package”, which includes requiring parking and limiting density.

        A look at the low rise zoning shows this. Parking is required unless you are “in an urban villages for lots within 1/4 mile of frequent transit service, in urban centers and station areas”. (I’m not sure how to interpret that sentence — but it sounds vague enough to invite a lawsuit). Cottage houses have to be less than twenty feet high and arranged around a common open space. Except for row houses, you have density limits (essentially limiting the number of units). This is all for low rise, not SFH zone. A very small part of the city is low rise, and this is designed for areas that should build taller buildings. Furthermore — why must the cottages be “arranged around a common open space”? Why require any parking? Why have any density limit?

        There should be real discussion of zoning in this city — not the stupid, reactionary legislation that creeps every so often we try and liberalize the laws. We’ve started — there were two very good editorials in the Seattle Times (one for getting rid of parking minimums and one for liberalizing the mother in law apartment rules). But we should start by listing the goals, which include balancing the following:

        1) Try and preserve historic or aesthetically interesting old houses or apartments.
        2) Set limits on the height or width of buildings depending on the area.
        3) Build nice looking buildings that provide for good street level interaction.
        4) Build as many units as possible, with the goal of reducing the cost of housing.

        That’s it, as far as I can tell. We can debate until the cows come home which particular rules should apply to which particular neighborhood (or building) and that’s where the compromises make sense. But there really should be nothing about the maximum number of units per building or how many parking spots need to be built. I live in an area that is zoned single family. I could care less how many people live next to me. I would rather my neighbor build a duplex, quad, or even a nice little apartment building next to me instead of an ugly mega house. Of course, right now the mega house is legal, but two little houses are not (even if they are shorter!).

        Our zoning laws are crappy and outdated. They ignore the fact that many of our nicest neighborhoods, and nicest buildings, could not be built right now (because they don’t have parking). They ignore the fact that living in a house close to an apartment building is just fine, and some of the finest neighborhoods of the world are like that. They also ignore the fact that our zoning laws played a part in creating some really ugly buildings that gave density a bad name in this city (I’m thinking specifically of the ugly duplexes that were built in Ballard and had plenty of concrete to adhere to the parking requirement). You can’t blame zoning entirely for crappy buildings in this city, but in many cases, they sure haven’t made it better. Clinging to the idea that adding more and more restrictions will lead to a prettier neighborhood is a really big mistake. It is much better to state your goals and try and get the zoning to match them as much as possible instead of simply using it as a means to slow down construction.

      5. Well, you’ve really hit on a horrific flaw in Seattle planning. Let’s just get over this crap and do real neighbourhood form-based code, masterplanning for all commercial, medium and high density, and mixed use zones. You can still plan for maximum scenarios for incentive bonuses and TDR as alternative scenarios by designating priority locations where applicable. Delineate the expectation for view corridors and the protection of historic structures/feature. Work within that box and do Design Review–modify those guidelines by neighbourhood so they’re even more tailored and less universal. It’s modeled and people know exactly what to expect. Unfortunately, this comes down to a serious issue of whiny, irrational, and uncooperative neighbours; weak politicians; and lack of funding for real neighbourhood-based planning that will not come together to choose a better option. What does this get us? A complex, adversarial, and messy system that almost everyone hates, even if what gets built is good to okay most of the time.

      6. Cottage houses are crippled by the max height and unit size, and the fact that you’d need a rather large lot to execute it. The cottage house type is the NIMBY dream for how to integrate multifamily into a single family neighborhood, and that’s why it was added to the LR code, but no one is building those developments.

        The row houses scare people with the “unlimited density” (i.e. no unit limit), but in reality they’re quite limited. They’re required to be side-by-side units that extend from the front to rear of the building, and units are not allowed to be stacked. Therefore, to pack in a lot of units, they have to be made narrow, and there’s a practical limit to how narrow you can make a unit. The unit density ends up being based on how much street frontage the lot has, and is self-limiting somewhere around 1 unit per 12′ of sidewalk.

      7. Tru dat. The average minimum facade width is certainly close to 15 feet. Although, they tend to be much wider here: 20ft to 25ft. Imagine if this happened here… (look left on Street View)

        It’s kind of a travesty that cottages are permitted in the zone. I don’t even know why they are quite frankly, but then again we have the same sort of rules in Snohomish County even though they are totally economically infeasible in such medium density zones. One thing I wish that the LU code would loosen up on is the allowance of apartmentalising / condominiumising vertically in rowhouses and townhouses. The prohibition is asinine.

    2. Good luck getting rid of the arbitrary density limits. (I’m onboard with that, but the proposal is really driving the opposite.) It’s unfortunate that Sally Clark is spearheading a faux reactionary meme to zoning rules that are fairly decent. The fact that developments can get up to 5 storeys in the zone makes sense since that is “low-rise” development by definition and totally compatible in scale to single-family residential development. And, LR3 is the most intense and diverse LR implementing zone. The proposal is really going in entirely the wrong direction. Sigh.

      In any case, please send your comments of opposition to her proposal to DPD:

      1. There is no way to get 5 stories in a lowrise zone without building into the side of a cliff face.

        3 is the practical maximum, 4 if you manage to find a LR3 property within a designated Urban Village (about as common as a unicorn).

      2. Lack Thereof: The exemptions and incentives to get that kind of maximum height of 5 storeys are indeed rare in practice. Hence why this is a faux issue. There should be no code changes as proposed.

    3. I wish we could stop talking about height limits in the density conversation. The real measure of density is FAR — Floor Area Ratio. How many square feet of development can go on a given size lot.

      In multi-family zones, just set the desired density via FAR and let property owners and developers figure out how the buildings should look. Let’s encourage a little creativity in building design, instead of the nearly-identical boxes now seen everywhere.

      With FAR as the only real limit, buildings that would be “too tall” for the neighborhood won’t pencil. Yes, there will still be a lively discussion on what FAR is appropriate in each neighborhood; a great topic for the next round of neighborhood planning.

      1. Height and FAR go hand-in-hand unfortunately. Get rid of height on a half-acre parcel and set the FAR at 1.0. What could you do? Well, you could build a 20 storey structure on 1089 square feet. I’m pretty sure people would go batshit crazy if that happened in LR3. But, you could do it.

        It could actually pencil out, don’t kid yourself. Maybe the neighbourhood needs a pocket park. Maybe that zone is close enough to centres that it works.

        The bigger issue is getting people to chill out and realise that design, bulk, and scale matter more than strictly “height”–within reason, of course. Quite frankly, that’s why I think we should scrap actual “height” in feet and go to “storeys”. 35′ isn’t tall at all.

      2. Fear of density is fear of people. Fear of height is fear of lost aesthetics. While I’m sure there’s some fear of “those people” going on in some places, I suspect the latter is more top-of-mind as a whole. (Or are you using density to mean height? I forget what FAR measures exactly…)

      3. Stephen posted while I was writing. Design is a big part of it, but a lot of people don’t want to lose their views and “don’t want to become Manhattan with the tall oppressive buildings” which means different things in different contexts. Raw height does matter there, and what may be “not tall at all” in one neighborhood may be oppressive in another, regardless of design. (And some design choices urbanists would make, like small setbacks, would make things worse in this perspective.)

      4. Morgan, hence why a zone should or form-based typology should be correctly designated. If it doesn’t suit the context or site, why is designated that in the first place? That’s the fault of the not adequately teasing out those issues in the initial Comprehensive Plan, subarea planning, and implementig regulations in the first place. And, if that’s the issue here (and I’m not saying it is), then this is definitely not the code project and means to make those adjustments.

      5. Morgan: FAR measures the ratio of floor area to land area. A 1 story building that fills a lot has a FAR of 1.0 – a 2 story building that fills half the lot also has a FAR of 1.0

        We’ve always had FAR maximums, but the height, setback, and parking requirements tend to eclipse them. I recommend reading this architectural review that was done during the last major update to LR code. Almost every theoretical design has a note saying “it’s not worth it to go to full allowed FAR because [insert other code limitation]”.

        It’s worth noting that SF zones have no FAR limits at all, only height limits and minimum setbacks.

      6. With there is no FAR for SFR, there are lot coverage maximums for structures. So, there is technically a ceiling to development potential beside just height limits.

  3. The mention of Federal Way Mayor-Elect Jim Ferrell going after federal funds to help get light rail to Federal Way speaks volumes about our dear sweet state legislature — not just this installment of it, but its entire history.

    Mayor Priest’s defeat is just the latest example of how suburban politicians are doing their careers no favors when they campaign against transit.

  4. If that Kiro report is accurate, it’s a big improvement. We’ve gone from one driver assaulted every 48 hours to one every 72 hours.

    Still no trustworthy statistics for passenger-on-passenger assaults, because those are virtually never reported.

  5. “Major employers that once leased office space along Interstate 90 have moved to downtown Bellevue, and their employees have followed, hurting apartment properties near these suburban office parks”

    So, walkability is becoming more popular for both companies and workers.

    Ultimately we’ll have to put something more walkable in Factoria/Eastgate itself, to get rid of auto-oriented commercial sprawl completely.

    1. I work in Factoria and walkability improvement has been noted in the last ten years. The one major exception to the trend was the construction of the wall down the middle of Factoria Boulevard a few years ago by the City of Bellevue, apparently to move residents of Newcastle to I-90 more efficiently. One easy improvement for pedestrians would be to reduce the wait to cross Factoria Boulevard from somewhere around 3 minutes on average, with a second or two of walk signal, to something more reasonable. Still, it’s way more walkable than it was ten years ago.

    1. So the FTA actually requires both Opening Year ridership projections, as well as those for 2030, or now 2035 for recent ST projects.
      I’ve never seen the opening year projections for any ST project listed, which would be nice to know, as the article has something concrete to write about, rather than just wait 20 years, and we’ll all see how it worked out mentality.
      Note to Bruce Grey at ST. Please post opening year numbers for Link segments opening through 2023 in the interest of public transparency.

      1. It’s impossible to make any meaningful prediction in Opening Year ridership numbers without knowing what Metro and ST are going to do with existing bus routes that serve the same corridor.

      2. That’s been done and submitted to the FTA as part of grant requests. I’m just asking ST to disclose those numbers, as Salt Lake City has done. I suppose a public disclosure request will work, if Bruce is reluctant to share that with STB readers.

      3. Page 121 of the 2009 SIP has 15,900 average for the six months of 2009 and 26,600 for 2010.

  6. Why don’t they just put a transit loop in Westwood Village and the buses can lay over in loop? It would help solve the layover problem for buses in Westwood Village because the buses don’t stay on the side of the road.

    1. Cost, most likely. We’d have to buy/lease a section of lot, and/or construct Westwood Village some replacement parking (likely structured), in addition to reconstructing whatever section of lot we used with a material that could survive use by that many buses.

      If the cheap parking lot pavement could survive it, we could layover buses on the access road behind Target, and we could probably lease a couple bus-sized parallel spaces back there pretty cheap.

      1. Since the Westwood Village TC stops are not all in one central area, like most such centers are, it would be helpful to have a map at each of these stops showing where the other stops are and the routes that stop there. I have only been at WV couple of times but found the area hard to navigate and a bit unpleasant with quite a few sleazy-looking characters milling about.

      2. Ya figure if Westwood Village is going to be a transit hub long-term Metro will have to invest the money necessary to fix the layover and transfer situation there.

      3. It’s very difficult to find your way from one stop to another. The C and most routes are in one place, the 120 is a block or two away, and the 60 is on the opposite side of the commercial plaza. You have to ask somebody if you’re unfamiliar with the stops, and they give you only a vague answer, so you have to go to the right block and then figure out which direction the stop is and hope you don’t miss the bus.

        They really need to do consolidated bus bays like at Bellevue Transit Center, where all routes are in one place. Especially the 60 which terminates there, so there’s no excuse for it being on the opposite side.

        The 120 may be a bigger issue because some people object to buses going out of their way to reach bus bays. But is it a transit center or is it not? If it is, then all routes should stop near each other in an easy-to-understand pattern. If it’s not, then why did Metro go halfway in making bus bays and bringing the 120 nearby and promoting it as an “emerging urban village”?

      4. Westwood Village is sort of like Northgate in the degree that its local street network is broken up for the shopping center and its parking lots. In scale it’s pretty similar to the office park south of Northgate TC but with moderately better pedestrian access; maybe since it’s a retail area a better comparison might be University Village, but probably not quite as busy.

        Nevertheless, if any of these places are long-term transit hubs we ought to be thinking about more closely integrated land use, and only a public local street network supports that very well. A transit street that works either like Bellevue TC or University Parkway should certainly be included in such a plan.

      5. “Consolidated bus bays” is code for delay. in particular, delay for every transit user passing through the area, whether they are actually switching buses or not.

        Better to keep the buses going in a straight line. For people making connections, it is not necessary for one bus stop to be directly in sight the instant you get off the other bus – that is a problem that can easily and cheaply be solved with proper signage.

        There is nothing like a trip that a short, straight line on the map broken up by “consolidated bus bays” halfway through which leads people to conclude that transit is too slow and the only reasonable way to travel is to drive.

      6. In normal circumstances, asdf, yes. But as it is, every route serving Westwood Village turns around there except the 120 and 22. If you could put at least one set of bays directly on 25th Avenue where both of those run (like the bays for the B-Line at Overlake TC directly on 156th Avenue), bays should work quite well there.

      7. Straight lines is the spaghetti that existed in Bellevue before the transit center.

        Most of the problems with transit centers can be traced to poor location or a street-distorting parking garage next to them, not the existence of a coherent set of bus bays.

        I’m not objecting to some modest variations like having the E sail past TIB. What I’m objecting to is having several lines that all miss each other by a block or two, or kitty-corner from each other so that you have to cross two intersections (and maybe miss your bus in the meantime). “So near and yet so far.”

  7. When will Sound Transit put ORCA vending machines on platform levels in the tunnel so those who transfer from Metro to Link (often people with luggage) don’t have to go up to the mezzanine to get a ticket?

    1. I don’t imagine that’ll even happen, especially given that buses will eventually leave the tunnel. And the problem you stated only exists for users of tunnel buses who also don’t have an Orca card, which is relatively small number of people.

    2. “Eventually leave the tunnel” = 2019. That’s when ST will install a turnback track at Intl Dist station that will be incompatible with buses.

      I hadn’t realized many people were arriving on buses and going upstairs to get a Link ticket. They really should be getting an ORCA card, which will pay for itself after their return trip and one more inter-agency transfer. If they’re arriving on a bus, they’re clearly not a one-time rider (which is who Link tickets are meant for), although they may be a two-time rider.

      1. Not necessarily true. I myself have an ORCA card but often arrive with visitors via Metro in the tunnel. Since it is not possible to purchase a through-ticket from Metro to Link, and not possible to purchase a ticket onboard Link, it IS a hassle to go upstairs to the mezzanine.

      2. Since you do this “often,” maybe it would make sense to buy a few pre-filled ORCA cards ahead of time and just have your visitors reimburse you.

    3. What I see more often on the platform is people who don’t know they need to go upstairs and get a ticket or card. When I explain it to them they think it’s too much hassle, especially if they ask about train and bus fares and I try to explain the different fares and what time of day they’re in effect. And they don’t think they’ll use a free ORCA transfer. So they just get on the train without paying. Probably some of them get away with it and others get fare-inspected.

      1. It used to be worse. A few years ago, Orca users making bus->train transfers technically had to go up and down the stairs just to tap their card. Most probably didn’t bother.

  8. Transit crime doesn’t just happen on buses and trains. A significant percentage happens at stops and stations. Some studies show more crime incidents occur at train stations and bus stops than on trains and buses. So why isn’t there a greater emphasis to put cameras at troubled stops? Quite a few transit centers and possibly all Link stations have cameras. Lots of buses, and all trains have cameras on them. But what about at busy bus stops that have a history of trouble? Why not put cams there with signs saying so?

    I’m not even going to begin to try to make a list of the worst stops, but I would imagine stops like 15th and Roxbury, Andover in front of Southcenter, and Aurora at 85th would be the type of stops that would be good candidates for cameras.

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