Whenever Seattle’s various master plans (Transit, Bicycle, Pedestrian, Freight) are the subject, it’s fashionable to decry segmentation of transportation plans into “silos,” because who could be against a holistic, unified plan?

Well, a plan that tries to solve every problem won’t do very well at any of them. In any case, the SDOT staff I talked to about the Freight Master Plan were very eager to tell me how much they were cross-checking all of the other modal needs at every step. But in the comments in that piece Al Dimond offers a very reasonable defense of silos:

It is, of course, important to think about how all modes work in a corridor when that corridor is being designed.

It is also important to think about how all the city’s transportation corridors combine into a network for each particular mode of travel. It can reveal gaps that corridor-based thinking misses. One of the most glaring examples in Seattle is the gap in our cycling network south of downtown. In every specific corridor a combination of weak cycling advocacy and strong trucking opposition has doomed bike facilities. But when we look at the cycling network as a whole it’s clear that a bike route is necessary in the general area, even if none of the individual corridors cry out for it.

Of course the example that comes to mind first for me is a cycling example, since I get involved in that more than other stuff, but it wouldn’t be hard to come up with driving, freight, and transit examples where whole-network mode-specific thinking is needed to identify weaknesses and inform and prioritize improvement projects.

12 Replies to “Comment of the Week: Multimodal Plans”

  1. Another reason mode specific plans are necessary is because they create momentum, which is often lacking, for implementation of all the small, non-glamours projects which otherwise are overlooked.

  2. But you wouldn’t argue that even the best individual plans need some coordination to see that they don’t conflict with each other- would you? It seems like the main reason for so many problems with every project in this reason owes to this exact lack or coordination.


  3. Yes, exactly. It’s the same thing that held up the Burke-Gilman extension in Ballard. Somebody needs to directly decide how important bicycling infrastructure is vs industrial truck access. Otherwise the default is that trucks get 100% because they’re paying taxes to city coffers. The right balance may be 50% or 75% but somebody should decide it, and integrating the plans is the way to force the issue. Like how Metro has metrics for ridership vs coverage service, which it didn’t have before, so the default favored coverage excessively.

    But Al Diamond is also right that you need to start with the needs of each type of user, and then bring the integrated plan back to them, to make sure you haven’t shafted any essential and highest-priority mode-specific goal.

  4. South of downtown, south Seattle, I agree, but further down South King County has a wealth of non-motorized trails.


    Yet, even here, these are silos, as getting to and from the trails can sometimes be involved with many simply punting and putting their bike on a car rack and parking nearby. (I for one have avoided the urge to purchase a car rack, preferring to rough it and do what it takes to get between trails safely.)

    So, given this, there are scores of Connectors that need to be built, or laid out on Safe Streets between these vast resources.

    Should we work towards linking South King and Seattle? There seem to plans, like the Interurban and Soos Creek north extensions.

    What I wonder is whether we shouldn’t build along side bike corridors, and to some extent they have done this along the Green River Trail, but how many have chosen to live, work, play along this fantastic resource that can take you all the way from Southcenter Mall to many office parks, apartment buildings and homes.

    1. Certainly many of the times I notice the SODO bike gap I’m biking to South King County. Of course, there are lots of not-quite-made connections down there, too. Between the Interurban Trail and Southcenter; various gaps in the Interurban Route between Pacific and Tacoma (the gap in Fife and the eastern Tacoma industrial area is probably the worst, but getting across Enchanted Parkway is significant, too); between either end of the Des Moines Creek Trail and anywhere; in every direction from the nice part of Des Moines Memorial Drive. Like everywhere, there are individual projects and plans to help with some of these, like the plan to build bike lanes between the north end of the Des Moines Creek Trail and the upcoming light rail station at 200th. But only looking at the bike network as a whole shows all the gaps and lets us really prioritize.

      As much as I love cycling, I don’t think for the most part existing bike paths should drive development patterns. Walking should drive development patterns. The historic cores of Renton, Kent, and Burien all have flawed but at least present public street networks, the physical infrastructure capable of supporting walkable, mixed-use public places, over significant areas. Everywhere else along the major bike paths the path is a nice amenity but doesn’t really change the auto-dependence picture enough that urban form isn’t dictated by parking.

      1. If you don’t want to end up with sky high rents, and increasingly unaffordable (except to the super wealthy) amenities, the path that Seattle has chosen, then you have to spread out further than the distance that people typically can walk.

        The question then becomes, if you spread out, how far, and can it only be accomplished by use of a 2 ton vehicle?

        Burien-Kent-Auburn for example, already have a bicycle-pedestrian corridor in the form the Interurban Trail. One could indeed live in an apartment complex along the trail (like one of the many that border Meeker and also the Green River), and bicycle to a job at Southcenter. Or you could take one of the many local bus routes.

        The point is this is an achievable, low cost, transit-pedestrian-bicycle lifestyle that is already used by some, and could be used by more if ever people got out of the mindlock of “Seattle Is Everything”. When you do need centralized resources, you jump on the Sounder or Angle Lake LINK.

  5. Yeah. I also get frustrated when we try to literally get every mode to be able to use a corridor. I think it’s high time we closed some stuff to cars, for example. Maybe we’re too obsessed with being multi-modal. I think sometimes people decry “silos” just because it’s the hot word of the day to be mad about.

    1. There need to be both plans for modes, so they work as a system, and integrated plans for corridors.

      I think the concept of “complete street” is confusing on this. It implies that every street should accommodate every mode. But every mode can’t operate on every street–transit, for example, only works on streets with a certain level of width, certain through length etc. All modes should be accommodated in a corridor, but certain modes need to take priority on certain streets (another reason that there ultimately has to be a coordinated plan). What’s needed is not so much complete streets as complete networks.

  6. Hope my info is out of date, but the connection from the street to Coleman Dock, from Coleman Dock to the train station, and from Tukwila to airport was kind of iffy. In a way this really is a node-connection problem for the State DOT. I could kind of see calling for transportation from the train and from the ferry. It was too difficult for elderly MIL some years ago.

  7. Silos are have relevance but are terrible as a primary organizational tool. It encourages advocacy plans and not consensus plans. It sets up mode-based battles. It doesn’t include community-derived consensus area-wide plans. It doesn’t recognized that we move people and goods – not cars or trucks or transit vehicles or bicycles — and that most of us rely on all modes. We are all pedestrians at some point in our trip-making, and those are best addressed at a local level. It doesn’t recognize that the majority of the public doesn’t really know or care much about travel issues in the portions of the City that they don’t visit. Even with bicycles, if there was a frank community discussion about how to get safe routing through a neighborhood there would be wider public understanding of the gaps and ways to resolve them. Mode silos are utopian and confrontational, but not practical or strategic.

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