A new mayor taking office is an opportunity to reevaluate what’s been going on over the past term. Mayor Murray certainly doesn’t need me to tell him that Seattle is in dire need of more buses and more trains; nor does he particularly need to take advice from me. However, if he asked me what non-obvious transit issues a Mayor can make a big difference on, here’s what I would tell him:
1. Density and Zoning.. This is familiar to anyone who reads STB regularly, but it’s worth mentioning the connection between lots of work and housing units within walking distance of transit stops and that transit being cost-effective. Likewise, parking minimums that require everyone to subsidize car use make it more likely that someone will choose to utilize the money they’ve been forced to sink into a parking space rather than take transit. The Mayor’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) creates the opening bid for upzones around station areas; a good first bid is important, as it’ll be watered down by the Council and by “neighborhood activists” that never saw an upzone they would like.
2. Station Placement . The Sound Transit board has a strong inclination to defer to local jurisdictions as to the precise placement of its stations. That’s especially true when the jurisdiction has a representative on the Board, which will describe Mayor Murray*. The traditional way that the process works is that ST tentatively puts the station very close to an important regional attraction or urban center, because that it is in the best interests of future riders and residents. Then, the location is either value engineered away, or local business owners fear the disruption that construction will cause and lobby to have the station moved somewhere less useful. Holding the line on station location is a great opportunity to be a statesman focused on the future rather at
than a politician obsessed with transitory interests.
3. Transit speed and reliability improvements. With Metro in perpetual crisis, all of the attention is understandably focused on filling the service hour hole. That’s a shame, because priority treatment for buses and streetcars boost ridership and permanently reduce operating costs. Moreover, they are traditionally a city-level responsibility and are therefore a focus of the existing master plan. In general, these projects are of trivial expense in the scope of a major city’s budget. In many cases, it’s a question of policy not budget: for example, taking a handful of parking spaces on First Avenue makes a streetcar there cheaper, faster, and better in every respect.
We don’t know if Seattle will retain Richard Conlin’s old seat, or if it’ll go to someone from Shoreline. [UPDATE: Mike O’Brien will also represent Seattle on the Council. Full story to follow tomorrow.]