May Day Tomorrow, Be Prepared.

From Sound Transit:

ST transit service through downtown Seattle will likely be delayed Thursday during the afternoon and evening commute as a result of the May Day march and other activities.

Bus riders should be prepared for transit service delays and plan their commutes accordingly. If possible, transit users may want to leave work early, plan to take earlier buses, and allow extra time to travel through the downtown area.

One march is planned to leave the Central District at 3 p.m. and travel west on South Jackson St, north on Boren Avenue, west on Madison St, north on 4th Avenue to Westlake Park.  All 4th Avenue buses will use 3rd Avenue during the march, from approximately 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. There could be additional May Day activities in other locations that could further delay or disrupt traffic and transit.

Great weather is expected to bring out even larger crowds than last year so be prepared for major delays and disruptions.  Try and build the downtown portion of your commute around Link and tunnel buses if possible. It’s also a good idea to sign up for rider alerts for your routes.

The Downtown Streetcar Could Solve the “Bus 2” Problem

Fall 2012 Restructure: Proposed Changes to Routes 2 & 12
Fall 2012 Restructure: Proposed Changes to Routes 2 & 12.
Map by Metro.

My recent long-form post about restructures, which used the notorious “Bus 2” as an example, inspired renewed discussion of the Route 2 restructure itself. For those who have not followed the discussion, the restructure involves splitting Metro Route 2 and moving its First Hill routing from Seneca Street two blocks south to Madison Street.  Downtown, under current proposals (including the restructure planned for February 2015 as a result of Proposition 1’s failure), the revised route would use the live-loop currently used by Route 12 along Madison and Marion.  The restructure would speed up service to First Hill and consolidate two routes which run just two blocks apart, allowing buses to come more often for everyone.

Commenters who defended the current configuration raised familiar objections to the restructure.  One of these objections has real merit.  It is that the restructured downtown routing would not deliver riders to the part of downtown most of them want to reach, and at the same time make transfers to other service (including service to the rest of downtown) inconvenient and possibly dangerous for riders with mobility impairments.

The Center City Connector streetcar project, surprisingly enough, could provide a way for Metro to do the restructure while entirely solving this problem.  Details after the jump.

Continue reading “The Downtown Streetcar Could Solve the “Bus 2” Problem”

Both Parties to Blame for Metro’s Crisis

Capitol Interior (wikimedia)

Eli Sanders interviewed Rep. Reuven Carlyle in the Slog, assessing blame for Metro’s predicament and suggesting a way forward:

Until a statewide package passes, Carlyle said, “I think the pain points are going to increase everywhere. Pierce County is feeling it. King County is now feeling it. What is the argument against a statewide transportation plan, other than that taxes are a bummer?”…

[Murray can lead] by loudly connecting the dots for Seattleites who want action to save Metro, telling them exactly who to send money to in order to flip the handful of state senate seats that Democrats need in order to get Metro the money it needs.

Although I wouldn’t expect a Democratic legislator to say anything else, this comment is both misleading and self-serving.

The Republicans have run the Senate for less than 18 months. Metro’s funding crisis is in its sixth year. The Democrats had about four years to find a long-term solution for Metro. Aside from the two-year $20 vehicle license fee that is about to expire, neither party in Olympia has done anything. This includes Gov. Gregoire’s immediate abandonment of her commitment to include Metro funding in the deep-bore tunnel deal, her direct veto of a $20 vehicle license fee for Metro in 2009, as well as former Senate Transportation Chair Haugen’s decision to hold off on Metro relief until it could be yoked to a massive highway expansion bill. Metro advocates would be naive to believe a Democratic majority would automatically bring new funding.

And that’s the argument against a transportation package that eludes Mr. Carlyle. Any conceivable transportation package will trade the maintenance of existing transit for a massive expansion of highway capacity. This will spew greenhouse gases, expand sprawl, and add to future highway maintenance costs. (Check out last year’s (Democratic) House proposal for an example of a terrible bill.) Chances are good that a bill will automatically authorize the highways — endless subsidy of drivers is too important to risk at the ballot box — while the transit will likely require a county vote. As we’ve seen, county votes are not necessarily a slam dunk.

This isn’t to suggest that there aren’t a handful of good legislators,* or that Republican transportation policy is, in any way, good for the future of the state. They despise taxes that discourage destructive behavior and would be perfectly happy to do nothing but build highways. However, those desires are in tension, and their control of the Senate at least thwarts the only slightly better Democratic ideas.

For many of you, there are other issues where the Senate Majority will make a big difference. But until we see a real commitment from the Democratic Caucus to focus on the road maintenance backlog rather than highway expansion, transportation is not one of them. Local battles have much more potential for good outcomes in transportation and land use, and you should focus on those.

* Liias, Fitzgibbon, and Farrell are all exceptional, but not enough to stem the tide of bad ideas in their own caucus.

North Rainier Rezone Meeting Thursday

The weather is supposed to be exceptional Thursday, but this is important enough to spend a couple of hours indoors, even if it’s nice outside:

The City Council’s Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee is holding a public hearing to take comments on our revised zoning proposal. The meeting is on May 1, 2014 at 6:00 p.m., in the 2100 Building, located at 2100 24th Ave. South. Please check the Committee agenda a few days before the meeting for more information.

For density opponents, it’s never the right time to allow for growth, and they’ve successfully delayed this action several times while the Rainier Valley suffers. The North Rainier neighborhood is currently a car sewer sitting atop one of the biggest transit hubs in King County, but could become a place to go rather than a place to get through.

Opponents from the adjacent, affluent, single-family Mt. Baker neighborhood (not actually a subject of the rezone) trot out the usual meaningless objections to “scale” and “character,” as well as the “but where will they park?” question straight out of 1965. If density and transit can’t work here, with Link, three (7, 48, 8/106) frequent bus lines (even after coming Metro cuts), transit-dependent populations, and two other bus lines providing 360 degree transit mobility, then it can’t work anywhere.

Dense development near the station will bring jobs to the most economically challenged sector of Seattle, jobs that don’t require a graduate degree. It will provide more accessible housing and retail for the transit dependent. It will also increase transit usage in the city by focusing people and attractions in one of the few places where our transit system will remain robust, come what may. Furthermore, there would be more housing in a part of the city where rents and house prices are relatively affordable.

Here is a useful presentation on the proposed rezone. It is not nearly enough — in ever-livable Vancouver at least double the heights proposed here would go without saying — but would be a huge step forward for the neighborhood, the city, and the region. My report on the most recent of these hearings includes an embed of the (often quite reprehensible) testimony.

We lose these battles when the young people most accepting of density and with the most future at stake decide to blow it off because they think they have better things to do. Don’t let it happen again.

Book Review: Vignelli Transit Maps

Vignelli Transit Maps by Peter B. Lloyd and Mark Ovenden is the story of Massimo Vignelli’s famous (infamous?) 1972 map of the New York City subway system. The map was controversial because it ignored geographic and station location and stuck to a strict 45- and 90-degree grid, and was eventually replaced by the MTA in 1979. You can see a high-resolution image of the map here.

The book covers the story and people behind the map, as well as the importance of transit maps and how they are designed. There are a number of interesting details on map features such typeface, colour, and cost as well as lovely images of the maps. Where the book does fall a bit short is on answering the question of whether the map was better or worse than those that came before and after it. Even though the book is rather large, some of the maps are illegible because they require even larger formats.

I think Vignelli Transit Maps is a nice companion to the 2007 work Transit Maps of the World. The former will give you some of the tools to help understand that thoughts that went into some of the later. I picked up my copy of Vignelli second-hand for much less than the Amazon price, but I would say it’s worth it if subway maps are an interest of yours.

“Capital in the 21st Century” and Public Infrastructure

French Economist Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has been translated into English by Arthur Goldhammer, and it has made quite a stir. Paul Krugman’s review is probably the best, and Matt Yglesias’s is the best “TL;DR” version. To summarise briefly, Piketty studied wealth (capital) growth in the nineteenth and twentieth century and has concluded that without considerable government intervention the 21st century will look a lot like the Gilded Age. That is, wealth will continue to accrue only a very select few at the top of the wealth curve (the “.01%” you could say), and that eventually elites will inherit all of their wealth, with little chance of a change in social status between generations. Piketty says this undermine democracy and turn society into an oligarchy, if it already hasn’t.

What does this have to do with transportation? Well, capital and wealth accumulating to only a few is scary enough, but I think it also helps explain one of my pet subjects, the decline in infrastructure across the United States. Public infrastructure is capital as is any other. With all wealth accumulating to just a few, there’s less money left over for big public infrastructure projects, which is why the interstate system could be built in the middle of the 20th century, but a project of that scale is completely unimaginable today. Piketty does not go into any detail on this subject, nor does any of the commentary on the book, but it’s worth keeping in mind as an explanation for why it’s so difficult to even keep public buses funded.

As an aside, I do recommend Capital in the Twenty-First Century, even though it’s not the easiest read.

Metro Cuts: When and Where

First peak-only, then later eliminated.
First peak-only, then later eliminated. (Image via Leschi Community Council)

For some time we have known that the coming Metro cuts would not fall all at once, but would be implemented in 4 phases corresponding with the normal triannual service change process. At a press conference yesterday, Metro released details of all 4 phases. The phasing is thoughtful and clearly attempts to minimize rider pain and inconvenience as long as possible, with each successive round of cuts being relatively more painful than the last. Each of the phases has a distinct theme, very roughly as follows:

  • Phase 1  (September 2014) could be called the lower-hanging fruit, delaying any systematic restructures while eliminating duplicative peak routes, express variants of core routes, some First Hill peak routes, and all the old night owl milk runs.
  • Phase 2 (February 2015) restructures service in Central Seattle, South Seattle, Renton, Kirkland, and to the peak network in South King County.
  • Phase 3 (June 2015) restructures service in North Seattle, including a complete overhaul of service in Fremont, Ballard, the UDistrict, Roosevelt, Maple Leaf, Northgate, and more. All-day service in Magnolia is essentially gutted, down to a single loop.
  • Phase 4 (September 2015) is the final phase and brings the West Seattle restructure.

Route by route details of each phase below the jump…

Continue reading “Metro Cuts: When and Where”

News Roundup: A Return to Process

Sakura Con at WSCC
Sakura Con at WSCC

This is an open thread.

A Seattle Initiative to Save Service

Proposition 1 was the last chance to avoid deep, countywide cuts, and the first installment of those cuts will take effect in September. However, Friends of Transit, the Political Action Committee founded and operated by former STB staffer Ben Schiendelman, announced yesterday the intention to file an initiative for the November ballot to recover quickly:

The proposed initiative would increase the city’s property tax by $0.22 per $1,000 of assessed value between 2015 and 2021. The measure is estimated to generate $25 million a year in revenue, enough to fund as much as 250,000 hours of bus service. This funding would help stave off cuts to routes operating completely within Seattle, and may help reduce cuts to routes operating between Seattle and other cities. The property tax increase requires a simple majority vote for approval.

If a measure like this were to pass and work as intended, this would be great news for transit in the areas that most need it to function. As this measure would run on the November ballot, it couldn’t take effect until January 2015, when many cuts have already been in effect for months.

Friends of Transit has not yet finalized the language of the initiative, and we are a long way from a campaign. I asked Ben how he envisions this would work in practice. “The council would be directed to buy service to offset Metro’s service cuts (the language references the cuts documents) for routes with 80% or more of their hours in Seattle,” he explains. Mr. Schiendelman says that the package is resourced to cover all of the routes that qualify, but it would be up to the City Council to implement it and prioritize where necessary.

Nevertheless, there are things to like about this proposal and things to be concerned about any city-only measure:

Continue reading “A Seattle Initiative to Save Service”

Smarter Growth Means More Planning

Danny Westneat had a column last week on the rapid development of South Lake Union and Denny Triangle that elicited a fair amount of eye-rolling from the urbanist set in my Twitter feed. Here’s the nut graf:

I’m no Lesser Seattle type. Growth means jobs, and density means a vital city. But wasn’t it supposed to be managed growth, or smart growth? Plopping down the biggest development in city history on two blocks with little provision for infrastructure seems helter-skelter. Not smart.

I admit I rolled my eyes the first time through as well, especially when I got to the only quote in the piece, from reliable density foe John Fox.  But let’s take Westneat at his word that he’s in favor of smart growth, where we plan for transit, schools, and parks to go along with our deluxe apartments in the sky.

If you really want smart growth, it follows that you’d need more central planning — something Seattleites have traditionally resisted.  In fact, you’d want the exact opposite of the decentralized, neighborhood-driven process that Fox’s SDC advocates.

Instead of quoting the SDC, Westneat might have taken the opportunity to highlight Seattle 2035, the major planning initiative currently being undertaken by DPD.  Or, he might have looked to his paper’s own archives, where an accessible story comparing Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, written 11 years ago during the last building boom, is still quite relevant:

But when it comes to livability, we seem stuck in first gear and our neighbors are more than a little condescending. Seattle’s OK, they say, but a little crass. Yokels on planning. Bumpkins on design.

“Seattle has an ethic of passivity,” says Portland developer John Russell. “People throw up their hands and say there’s nothing we can do.”

“I can’t figure out why you guys don’t build better buildings,” says Homer Williams, the developer behind the burgeoning new Pearl District and the upcoming Macadam restoration along the Willamette River.

Continue reading “Smarter Growth Means More Planning”

A Preview of the Coming Cuts

If you haven’t been following the Proposition 1 discussion obsessively, you might not have a firm idea of what the (now inevitable) Metro cuts will look like. David Lawson’s analysis of the Seattle and Eastside cuts are useful references, amended by the recent slight uptick in projected revenue.

South King County’s cuts are equally deep, but are not accompanied by a major restructure and so did not merit the kind of analysis David brought to the other subareas.

Metro’s website about the cuts is here.

[UPDATE: Here’s a document about phasing, where the first 166,000 hours go away this September.]

Proposition 1 Failing

Proposition 1 is failing in early (but substantial) returns. With 30% of an estimated 38% turnout counted, the measure is failing 55%-45%. Barring an unexpected late surge in ballots, King County voters will get the road and bus systems they evidently deserve.

Faced with the choice between slightly higher taxes and draconian cuts to service, the voters have chosen the cuts. The impact will be most severe on the transit-dependent, but commuters of all modes, businesses in dense areas, clean air and water, and public health are all losers.

At the campaign party, King County Executive Dow Constantine indicated he would submit the legislation to cut 550,000 service hours in the next few days. Some officials expressed interest in trying again, perhaps at the city level, but in any case cuts will begin soon.

It is always imperative that Metro spend its dollars wisely. The King County Executive and Council must exercise real political courage to overcome the forces that resist reform of our route structure. In an expanding service environment, it would be possible to rationalize the system and take care of the scattered losers from any restructure, but today Metro must focus on the serving the most people it can, and the casualties are regrettable but inevitable.

One effect of the cuts will to be consolidate desirable service into a few trunk lines. It is more important than ever that these lines function effectively to avoid the total collapse of the system. In these corridors, cities must ignore complaints from other stakeholders and remove parking or general-purpose lanes to ensure these buses are not stuck in traffic. Moreover, future city transportation levies must invest in priority treatments for buses. The returns from these projects are often astronomical, and if anything the case for them has improved.

In these struggles, we look forward to the support of the many Proposition 1 opponents who were concerned that Metro was not spending its dollars effectively.

Rent Control, Protectionism and Affordability

Update — As Cody pointed out, it might be nice to link to the actual article. Also, the original version of this post misspelled Ms Cutler’s second name.

Last week, Techcrunch’s Kim-Mai Cutler published an excellent – and detailed – summary of the history of housing, affordability and the housing development environment in the Bay Area. You may not be aware, but in the Bay Area in general and San Francisco in particular there has been a growing movement of people who are unhappy with gentrification and rising rents that they believe has been caused by the tech industry. Protesters have been blocking and vandalising Google buses and have even been known to harass Google employees at homes (full disclosure, I work for Google in Seattle). I highly recommend the post, it’s truly excellent, and a few interesting titbits jumped out at me, and I thought I would share them.

The big advancement in thinking in the article is about how rent control and NIMBYism interplay and create a startlingly hostile environment that pushes affordability out of anyone’s best interest:

San Francisco has a roughly thirty-five percent homeownership rate. Then 172,000 units of the city’s 376,940 housing units are under rent control. (That’s about 75 percent of the city’s rental stock.)

Homeowners have a strong economic incentive to restrict supply because it supports price appreciation of their own homes. It’s understandable. Many of them have put the bulk of their net worth into their homes and they don’t want to lose that. So they engage in NIMBYism under the name of preservationism or environmentalism, even though denying in-fill development here creates pressures for sprawl elsewhere. They do this through hundreds of politically powerful neighborhood groups throughout San Francisco like the Telegraph Hill Dwellers.

Then the rent-controlled tenants care far more about eviction protections than increasing supply. That’s because their most vulnerable constituents are paying rents that are so far below market-rate, that only an ungodly amount of construction could possibly help them. Plus, that construction wouldn’t happen fast enough — especially for elderly tenants.

So we’re looking at as much as 80 percent of the city that isn’t naturally oriented to add to the housing stock.

More below the fold.

Continue reading “Rent Control, Protectionism and Affordability”

Where to Cast Your Vote Today (By 8 PM)

image:  King County website
image: King County website

Happy Election Day!(and Happy Earth Day!) If you haven’t mailed in your ballot, dropped it at a King County Elections drop-box, or voted at a live voting location, and it is not 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 22, 2014, yet, it is not too late.

If you have your ballot with you, carefully follow the instructions on the ballot envelope, place the ballot in the security envelope, seal all envelopes, and sign the outer envelope. Then get it to a drop site by 8 p.m.

If you take your ballot to a post office, be very sure it will be postmarked today, and make sure you put a first-class stamp worth at least 49 cents on it. If it is already past 6 p.m., there are no post offices at which you can get it postmarked today. Indeed, most postal locations close by 5:30.

If you don’t have your ballot with you, have lost it, or just want to cast your ballot in the privacy of a voting booth, voting sites are located at Union Station (the big art deco building next to Link’s International District / Chinatown Station, and the Sounder/Amtrak King Street Station) at the southeast corner of Jackson St. and 4th Ave S; Bellevue City Hall; and the King County Elections Headquarters in Renton.

If you are not sure how you plan to vote on King County Transportation District Proposition 1, Seattle Transit Blog has endorsed a “Yes” vote and spilled a lot of ink regarding the issue. Just peruse the RECENT POSTS at the right.

Get Out The Vote: Yes on Prop 1

I Voted Yes on Prop 1
I Voted Yes on Prop 1

Tomorrow’s election is going to be close and every vote is going to count. As a daily reader of STB, I’m not worried about you voting Yes on Prop 1. But now is the time to get your friends, family and co-workers to vote as well as all of the other people that value Metro as much as you. Here are three things we can all do to get out the vote:

  1. Take a few minutes out of your day to talk, call, text, or email your close friends, family and co-workers to vote Yes on Prop 1. Tell them why you’re voting yes, often people just need a little encouragement, especially for special elections. Here is why we’re voting yes.
  2. Take to your social media to get out the vote. Change your Facebook profile, invite your friends to vote yes and tweet why you voted #YesOnProp1 to #SaveMetro (we’ll be RTing).
  3. Help the campaign make calls. Move King County Now is hosting phone banks all day, with Pizza provided.


  • 10 AM – 5 PM at 901 Fifth Ave, Suite 2200 710 2nd Ave (RSVP: for any 2 hour slot during the day!)
  • 5:00 PM – 8 PM at 1100 E Union #1e (Help us call voters to remind them to mail in their ballots and Vote Yes on Prop 1 to Save Metro!)
  • 5:30 PM – 8 PM at 1402 3rd Ave (RSVP:


  • 10 AM – 5 PM at 901 Fifth Ave, Suite 2200 710 2nd Ave (RSVP: for any 2 hour slot during the day!)

Tuesday night the Move King County Now campaign will be hosting an election night party at Kells Irish Restaurants & Pub  (1916 Post Alley starting at 7 PM).

Closing Argument

Ballots in King County’s special election must be postmarked by tomorrow, so now is the time to stop procrastinating and Vote Yes.

I suspect there are many voters out there that simply want to have as few of their taxes as possible going to transit. They’d be perfectly happy to not have public buses at all, or a system that only those in the most dire need would set foot on. If that’s your ideology — you simply haven’t bought into the enormous societal benefits of higher transit use — we’re just going to have to agree to disagree. All the squabbling about labor costs and efficiency are secondary to what you really want, so go out and vote your principles.

For the rest of you, any angst you might feel about this vote comes down to the gap between Metro as it is and Metro as you would like it to be, or perhaps the gap between a vehicle license fee with a low-income rebate and a different tax. We’re aware of those gaps; Seattle Transit Blog has probably thought more than any other organization about how to improve Metro dollar-for-dollar. But a voter more interested in good transit service than “sending a message” needs a theory of change: how a no vote will lead to improvement in whatever Metro is not doing well.

Rejection of this tax will not rally the legislature to produce a more progressive taxing source. Deep cuts to transit service are not going to punish the forces that keep our taxes regressive, and in fact will give them a solid argument that even King County voters just don’t care about preserving transit service levels.

Minor efficiencies aren’t worth deep cuts. True, a crisis at Metro might wring some concessions out of the union, but not enough to make up for the cuts, the suffering of the transit dependent, and the numbers of people who will give up on Metro and decide it’s useless for them. It is no way to build a system. The really big restructures over the past half-decade are connected to qualitatively new service — Link and RapidRide — rather than the specter of cuts. A growing system is easier to restructure than a shrinking one.

If you think Metro is a pretty good agency, vote Yes. If you think Metro could improve greatly, stand with the experts on Metro improvement at STB and vote Yes.

Link and the Rising Seas

It’s become fashionable in progressive coastal cities to start planning for the reality of climate change, particularly sea level rise. Locally, Sound Transit says “the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Long-Range Plan update will consider the potential rise in sea level and localized flooding that may occur as a result of climate change based on GIS data currently available.” Although maps of the Seattle Archipelago are an interesting thought exercise, in the foreseeable future rising seas are likely to be much less dramatic. Nevertheless, plausible sea level predictions do have implications for Sound Transit’s long range plan.

click to enlarge
click to enlarge

Sound Transit 1 and 2 rail lines will suffer little in the next hundred years or so, although the elevated Boeing Access Road section may become a causeway over water or frequent flooding. Although Seattle is fortunate to find most of itself at elevation, Sound Transit 3 and beyond face serious constraints. Hopefully, Seattle will allow thriving, dense neighborhoods to grow around those stations; if those station areas are under immediate threat, the value of the entire alignment is doubtful.

A wildly optimistic estimate as to when light rail might open to Ballard and/or West Seattle is 2030. A map I found that projects what the coastline might look like 50 years after that is at right.

A few immediate observations from this map:

  • An approach to West Seattle on or west of 1st Ave S is a little dicey.
  • Interbay is a terrible place to create a new neighborhood, suggesting an eastern approach to Ballard is more responsible.
  • The idea of a “Rainier Valley Bypass” via E. Marginal Way to speed up South Link trips seems bankrupt, in particular because it would likely come after Sound Transit 3.
  • South Sounder looks to be in pretty good shape; coastal North Sounder, not so much.
  • The Deep Bore Tunnel is not well-positioned, but its lack of futureproofing extends well beyond the sea level.

Continue reading “Link and the Rising Seas”

What Makes an Urban Oasis?


Photo from Yelp user Indy P.
Photo from Yelp user Indy P.

On Fridays some friends and I have a semi-regular tradition of grabbing sandwiches from Tat’s (go with either the Italian Grinder or the Tatstrami) and heading over to Waterfall Garden Park to relax and pontificate on what needs to be done to make this city perfect.  It’s one of my favorite parks in Seattle, a place I make sure to take visiting friends and family.  A great resting point after a long week of work or a day showing off downtown.  What makes it so great:

Not usually this empty.  Photo by Yelp user Jane J.
Not usually this empty. Photo by Yelp user Jane J.




1. I can get to it. I don’t have long for lunch so need a place located where I am.  Same thing when showing off the city to people.  It needs to be where we are.

2. It’s worth going to.  An actual three story waterfall in the middle of the city, with maintained ‘green space’, a glass roof (it’s not always bright and sunny) and in winter, heating.  It’s not some barren wind/water swept empty plaza.

3. It’s enjoyable to just be there. The tables and chairs (plus above mentioned setting) make it a great place for people to be.  And it’s great to be around people.  And yes, maybe this makes me a bad progressive, but there are security and maintenance staff that help make it a pleasant experience.

Where is your urban oasis and what makes it great?