I was interviewed for KUOW’s The Record recently to discuss Seattle 2035, the next comprehensive plan.  Overall I think it went fine, though there are a few things I’d word slightly differently if I had to do it over again.  One thing I didn’t mention, but should have, is the dearth of affordable 2- and 3-bedroom units accessible by transit.  I’ve harped on this over and over again on the blog, so I’m not sure how it slipped my mind, but it’s definitely something that a comp plan is uniquely suited to think about.

37 Replies to “STB on the Radio”

  1. Here’s a direct link to the Background Report, containing tons of data to sort through.
    It’s very revealing on how Seattle is losing ground daily in the fight to remain the regions economic and political center of gravity in the region.
    Page 3 shows how Seattle barely grew in population compared to the Puget Sound as a whole since 1940. Trends like that explain how Seattle’s political clout ‘ain’t what it used to be’ and why things like Prop 1 failed miserably.
    Big spending sounds like a great idea, but look at how our commute patterns have changed over the last 22 years on page 19.
    Yes, SOV (drove alone) went down by 10% (from 59% to 49%), but where did they go?
    Working from home, biking, and walking all went up 3% each at a cost of practically nothing!
    Transit went up a only 4%, at a cost of tens of billions so far, and carpools actually went down 3%.
    STB folks should look in the mirror and ask if the last 22 years was the best we could do for only 4% more pie.

    1. mic,

      Are you including the costs heretofore spent on construction of transit infrastructure that is yet to open for service in that math?

      1. No.
        and it wasn’t the point. Bike, Ped and Telecommuting alone accounted for the loss of 10% of the SOV’s, costing some sidewalks and bike lanes, or pretty much nothing.
        Bus/Rail gains were offset by HOV losses (statistically only), at billion dollar per year spending levels, one against the other.
        Should we have spent some more money on the low lying fruit modes listed above, and less on the grand spine, with it’s palace like stations? History says yes. The future is unwritten.

    2. So, driving went down 13%. That sounds like a holistic approach to transportation modalities is working.

      1. I’m concerned HOV’s went down so much, as they cost very little over time, and like it or not are more efficient than an average bus per person. I would have preferred that number went up also.

    3. I don’t think anyone who reads or writes for this blog thinks this is the best we could do. Not even close. As far as Sound Transit goes, we should have built the UW to downtown line first, and it should have included a stop on First Hill. Then a line from Ballard to the UW, which would connect in with the other line, to provide frequent service through the most important corridor in the state (UW to downtown). Then a line to the east side, since leveraging the freeway should be relatively cheap, and there are plenty of jobs over there (and enough volume to warrant light rail). Then maybe a short line replacing the Metro 8, which would connect the Central Area with South Lake Union. Things get a little trickier after that. Serving Phinney/Greenwood is important, but I’m not sure how best to do that (can you leverage Aurora?). It is less important to serve the other suburbs, but it can often be done fairly cheaply. The extension south, towards the airport isn’t that expensive (no tunneling). Likewise the route north to Lynnwood (via the freeway). I’m not sure either one was ideal, of course. It might have made more sense to go out Lake City Way once the train got north of Roosevelt.

      Then there are the stations themselves, which are full of flaws. I don’t know or remember all of the details, but many of them make it really difficult for people to transfer to buses or just the neighborhood.

      Then there are the buses, which basically are focused on one hub — downtown Seattle. If not for traffic, this might make some sense. But better solutions exist, and writers on this blog have proposed them (your bus …).

      1. You have to realize all this is by design.

        The intent was to concentrate as many workers into downtown and charge (tax) them as heavily as possible.

        If this effort were truly citizen oriented, they would have used the money — as people had voted for — to build a fast regional transit system like SkyTrain in Vancouver.

      1. Your Funny!
        On the graph, the last 2 years took a magnifying glass to note the change, in a sea of blue everywhere else.

      2. All you can say from this chart is the both city and suburban growth rates are crashing to zero.

        But this is after decades of extrodinary growth for the suburbs surrounding Seattle. Our population now exceeds and certainly equals that of Seattle depending on where you draw the line — yet we are just beginning to find our voice.

      3. John, correct, but the numbers were collected over only two years.

        Here; lets say Seattle was 100 people. In two years 2 people moved in. That would be 2% growth, for that period. Let’s say growth was constant and every two years 2 people moved in. At the end of 10 years, you would have 10 new people, or 10% growth, for that period.

        Get it?

      4. I assume — since it’s mixing years and decades, that the decadal percentages is an average per year rate.

        You assume — that it’s taking the total number immigrating during the decade, and calculating a percent based on what the population was at the beginning of the decade.

      5. That’s absurd. To read it like that would mean that the population of the King County suburbs almost doubled EVERY YEAR for ten years (1940-1950). Instead if you were to look at the census data, from 1940-1950 the non-Seattle population of King County only increased the 87.5% (from 136,678 to 265,401) shown in the chart.

        As is so often the case John, you are just plain wrong.

      6. Ok so I went to Google data and selected this chart comparing King County to Seattle:


        Now, to get the absolute numbers I have to mouse over the lines and at the interval Jun-YYYY it shows the population for that year.

        What I end up with is, for Seattle, for the last two years:

        a change of 24,126
        a pct change of 3.9%

        For King County:

        a change of 69,600
        a change of 3.5%

        So, yes the suburbs are growing more slowly, but they are still adding 2-3x as many people in number.

      7. Well, yes I know.

        Seattle is *in* King County.

        So subtracting the 24,126 from the 69,600 you still end up with 45,474.

        Nearly 2x as many people added to non-Seattle King as Seattle.

    4. You’re asking the wrong question. The first question should be, “What level of transit do we need to reach maximum ridership?” and then “How much does that cost?” The first answer would be a grid of buses running every 5-15 minutes, with 30 minute night owls, rapid transit between all urban villages, and frequent transit to suburban centers (better than the 150 and 120). The cost would be two to three times more light rail (beyond what’s open now) and significantly more bus hours. The investment/benefit curve is not linear because there are certain levels of convenience that convince more people to take transit. I.e., people who will take a 15-minute bus but won’t take a 30-minute bus or one that drops to 30 minutes in the evenings. If they suspect it may be infrequent at this moment, they’ll drive or get a ride or won’t make the trip. So all trunk routes need to be at least RapidRide frequency. And we need some kind of faster service so it doesn’t take an hour to get from Phinney Ridge to Sand Point or Ballard to Lake City or Broadview to downtown. That’s what’s dissuading the marginal non-riders.

      You have to spend enough to reach these levels of convenience, and the “10 billion” we’ve spent is not it. We cut corners on RapidRide by not making it a limited-stop overlay like Swift. We cut corners on Link by putting it surface in Rainier Valley so it runs at 35 mph instead of 55. Those “missing stations” people talk about also come down to saving money (Summit, 15th, 23rd, Graham — but not First Hill which was engineering issues).

      Reorganizing buses like David L and Aleks have proposed would take us part of the way there but not all of it. That’s because the question is wrong again. “What can we do with what we have?” won’t solve things if the resources are insufficient. The question has to be, “What do we have to do to get to the level we should be at?” That means both reorganizing and more service.

      Likewise, RossB has some good ideas for a could-have-been network. But you have to weigh that against the political consensus necessary to build anything, adversion to higher taxes to build more at once, the ship canal construction risk which he ignores, etc. Yes, Link could have been built better but that would have solved only part of the problem and we need to focus on solving all of it, and look toward what we can do in the future rather than blaming people for the past.

      1. The cost would be two to three times more light rail (beyond what’s open now) and significantly more bus hours.

        We can wish that were the case. However, those cities I know of that have >40% of trips by public transit have their primary core network operating on primary railroad lines at higher speeds than LINK operates. Until cheaper main line services are possible on the BNSF, or until LINK is able to operate at much faster speeds than is currently allowed, ridership can’t be maximized.

        The good news is that once those higher speeds are possible the price per rider drops off dramatically, due to the sheer number of riders as well as the cost per hour being minimized per passenger-mile.

  2. Here’s a question that’s been on my mind quite a lot- even before I started reading a book about Seattle’s seismic possibilities:

    If buildings are constructed properly and infrastructure is completely up to standard, does population density amount to a death-trap?

    Somebody with requisite knowledge, would appreciate your writing in.

    Mark Dublin

      1. Thanks a million, Mic. Report from Chile has a lot of applications here: starting with a population with a longstanding habit of staying trained and ready to get into effective action in the absence of orders transmitted over a long chain of command.

        I don’t doubt that our country’s people, including those in Seattle, are capable of this kind of action and the state of mind behind it. The way our air traffic controllers got a whole continent’s space of sky cleared without a single crash probably did more to discourage a repeat of that particular mode of terrorism than any fleet of drones.

        And the response of bystanders at the Boston Marathon, especially the ones who kept running toward the victims to help them even after the second bomb went off, is reason this really hardly ever happens here.

        Very good news about the low casualties among modern buildings in Chile. But the lack of energy behind public leadership and training could get a lot of people killed needlessly. We’re capable of being trained and practiced- but classes never seem to start.

        Excellent, and infuriating, example re: transit: September 15 2014 marks 24 years of DSTT service. In that time, we’ve had precisely zero emergency drills for operating personnel. Through years of budgets and more than one economic cycle.

        Absence of real hands-on control of ordinary Tunnel operations is personally aggravating, but hardly anybody else considers this a matter of life and death.

        But as an indicator of what’s likely to happen from a variety of causes- chance is a lot of people who don’t need to are going to die.

        Mark Dublin

    1. If buildings are constructed properly, you get the seismic resistance that Japan has. Giant waves may still be a problem there, but Seattle is well protected from them by the Olympic peninsula.

      The problem, of course, is that since Japan is both one of the most seismically active areas on earth and one of the most densely populated places on earth, they have very good seismic standards. The vast majority of the USA isn’t quite so good.

      If something like the New Madrid Earthquakes hit the Midwest anytime soon you can expect some pretty nasty stuff to happen in Chicago, Saint Louis, Memphis, etc. It isn’t just Oregon and Washington that are unprepared for their own geological history.

    2. Ok so this reply is going to be partly talking about the potential scope of the disaster, and partly a PSA. Im gonna start with the PSA.

      1) forget about getting under a table of desk. In the event of a structural failure getting under large things basically ensures that you will die. Under a table, you are protected from ceiling plaster and lights and such debris, but any beam which comes down will settle on and crush the tallest sturdiest object in its path. Often that is the furniture, which it WILL crush. Instead of being under the furniture, lay down NEXT TO the largest sturdiest object you can find. If a beam comes down, it will crush the object, and leave a small triangle of space next to it unharmed. Be there.
      2) do not stand in a doorway. They are not reinforced, and if the interior wall goes you have be crushed.
      3) if outside, be aware of the facades of the buildings around you. If it has bricks, go to the middle of the street.

      For the homeowners out there…
      4) many older homes were built without an awareness of the earthquakes here. Lucky for you, wood-frame homes are some of the sturdiest in an earthquake. !IF! the load bearing beams are permanently fixed to the pile/slab foundation. If they are unsecured, a house can “walk” off its foundation and collapse. If it is secured, you will be fine. Its cheapish and easyish to do, and well worth it.

      As far as the scope of the “Big One”, it could easily change the map from mid-Oregon up to a few hundred miles into BC. Like, the actual geography. It could be a disaster of similar scale to Yellowstone blowing(which would require the evacuation of more than 60 million people). Our geology is much less sturdy than Chile’s, and if your geology goes it doesn’t matter what your building code is.

  3. dearth of affordable 2- and 3-bedroom units accessible by transit.

    And who’s fault is that?

    Maybe the people who hung up LINK building tunnels in Seattle instead of spreading elevated to the region.

    1. The UW-link portion (Capitol Hill and UW) will be the most heavily utilized segments of link outside of downtown from day one. How do you propose we would have served those with elevated rail?

      Also, with sub area equity, not a dime of Kent’s money has been spent on light rail tunnels in Seattle.

      Are you arguing that the tax collected in the Seattle sub area ought to have been spent in the suburbs instead?

      1. Bingo.

        Under sub-area equity the lack of modern rail services in Kent has nothing to do with the spending in Seattle. Instead it is a direct result of the poorer economic conditions in South King as compared to the better economic conditions in North King. South King just doesn’t generate sufficient tax revenue to be able to build much rail — tunneled, elevated, or surface.

        Under sub-area equity, building cheaper in Seattle wouldn’t produce more transit in Kent, it would only result in more transit options in Seattle.

        But you are correct, cheaper doesn’t always equal better. Given the extremely high ridership it will generate, ST was right to build U-Link in a tunnel.

    2. If you’re looking for a downtown-centric service to bash, see Sounder. Link is specifically designed to serve jobs and non-work destinations all along the line, including UW, SeaTac airport, Capitol Hill, Northgate, Des Moines, etc. And if the Tacoma and Everett extensions are approved, gasp, it will give access to potential jobs and lower-cost housing there too.

      Link alone can’t solve car-oriented, transit-blocking development in the suburbs. The suburbs themselves need to decide to build urban villages, row houses, small-lot houses, walkable office buildings, and all that stuff you say you want. If they’d do that, they’d get more comprehensive transit coming to them sooner. Nothing is stopping them from doing that. They just need to do it.

  4. I head the interview during Morning Edition at 6:30am. So it wasn’t just on The Record.

  5. John, and everybody else using lack of elevated rail to bad-mouth LINK, really should visit Vancover BC- and make sure you come in on AMTRAK.

    As the train comes from the outskirts of the city, notice the elevated pillars in the same right of way as your train tracks- for miles.
    When your train gets in, take a Skytrain ride under the CBD. Get off at one of the underground stations and reverse direction- notice change requires one vertical escalator ride.

    Point being: the reason the nation of Canada had enough money to do Skytrain was that they inherited so much existing surface right of way for their pillars, and an entire tunnel under the most crowded part of downtown- double-tall to vent steam locomotives- that every ballast rock and concrete pebble might as well have been a diamond.

    Also, like the whole rest of the world with very few exceptions, Vancouver is relatively wide and flat. We’re not. This doesn’t mean we can’t create surface and elevated transit right of way. It does mean tjat transit that anyplace but underground needsto permanently remove cars from a lot of lanes and put pillars in a lot of people’s views. And yards.

    Special problem if you own house is close enough you’ll have to live with the results, but too far away to get compensated for it.


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