Urban Growth Center Silverdale
Regional Growth Center Silverdale

Last summer Seattle Subway pointed out how the PSRC’s population estimates for Ballard were EXTREMELY low. In summary, just built/under-construction/permitted units will result in Ballard meeting it’s 2035 Puget Sound Regional Council projections in 2017 if not sooner.

In response PSRC reached out to us and wanted to go over their methodology. When we sat down they agreed that their numbers for Ballard were low. When we dug into the why, it turned out that the designation of Regional Growth Center is pretty significant. It signifies that the local jurisdiction is going to put in the infrastructure and land use policies necessary for growth. The converse of that is the assumption that areas that are not designated as Regional Growth Centers will not be slated for that kind of intensive infrastructure investments and land use policies. Thus in PSRC’s modeling those areas are not projected to grow very quickly.

PSRC’s numbers are important because as our regions Metropolitan Planning Organization they allocate 100s of millions of dollars of federal transportation money (that isn’t an exaggeration, click the link, the last grant was for $440 million). Currently, suburban and exurban locals are more than willing to label themselves growth centers (Silverdale, Bothell Canyon Park and Totem Lake are all Regional Growth Centers) while due to NIMBYS urban areas are afraid to. Combined with outdated models of urban v suburban growth patterns that means this huge pot of money is being incorrectly allocated. The numbers are also important as they are the basis for  Sound Transit’s ridership projections.

Sleepy-town Ballard
Sleepy-town Ballard

Right now Seattle only has 6 of the region’s 28 Regional Growth Centers. Four of those six are in the Central Business District (CBD). Only Northgate and the University District are outside of that core. However, rapid growth is happening all over the city. It’s just not recognized by the modeling and thus is missing out in the infrastructure improvements that should come with said growth.

I contacted Councilmember O’Brien (chair of Seattle’s Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee) to find out if the city had started the Designation Process for adding any more of our De Facto growth centers (for instance Ballard, Lake City, etc.) and he looking into it. He was kind enough to pass along his response from staff. Tom Hauger, who works on growth management and comp plan issues at DPD (below the fold):

The two outside bodies that establish criteria for designating regional growth centers are the King County Growth Management Planning Council (GMPC) and the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC). To be designated a regional growth center requires meeting both sets of criteria.

The GMPC adopts the Countywide Planning Policies, which include the following criteria for what they call “urban centers:”

  1. Land area up to 1.5 square miles
  2. Zoning and infrastructure to accommodate:
  • A minimum of 15,000 jobs within ½ mile of existing or planned high capacity transit station
  • At minimum an average of 50 employees per gross acre
  • At minimum an average of 15 housing units per gross acre.

Ballard meets the housing-related criteria, but not the job-related criteria. The Ballard Hub Urban Village contains 425 acres. So to meet the 15 housing units per acre, it would need to be able to accommodate 6,375 housing units (15 x 425). Ballard currently has over 7,200 housing units.  So, it meets the housing criterion, without even counting the additional 6,700 units allowed by the current zoning.  To meet King County’s 50 jobs/acre criterion, Ballard would need to be able to accommodate a total of 21,250 jobs.  It currently has about 6,700 jobs, and DPD’s development capacity report indicates that it could accommodate another 5,600 jobs. That would lead to a total  of just over 12,000 jobs – well short of the county’s criteria for both the total number and the density of jobs.

PSRC’s Vision 2040 is the regional growth strategy for the 4-county region and the basis for establishing criteria for regional centers. PSRC’s criteria are actually less stringent than King County’s.  They require zoning that would allow an average of 45 ‘activity units’ per acre. An ‘activity unit’ is a job or a resident, and an area can achieve the 45 units through any combination of population and jobs.

Ballard does meet PSRC’s 45 activity units per acre. To reach that, Ballard needs a total of 19,125 units (population plus jobs). The 12,000 potential jobs that could be accommodated in Ballard plus the 7,200 existing housing units put Ballard above the PSRC threshold for being a regional center (even assuming only one person in each housing unit and no additional housing being built).

Because the regional center process requires designation first by the county and then by GMPC, Ballard would not get past the county-level review to be considered by PSRC.

The benefit from being designated a regional center is that transportation projects serving regional centers are the highest priority for regional funding.

Councilmember O’Brien is looking into policy changes that could get more of Seattle’s De Facto growth centers designated as De Jure growth centers. Please email the council and let them know that this is important to you.

126 Replies to “The importance of a name; Regional Growth Centers and why Ballard isn’t one”

  1. A table comparing Ballard/Silverdale/Bothel/Canyon Park/etc with the various metrics would be nice (and there must be one somewhere). Because it is hard to see how Silverdale type development patterns can meet the criteria but Ballard can’t….

    Such data must be somewhere…

    1. I’m guessing the smaller suburban “centers” are based mostly on zoned capacity and not actual land use. Also it would seem the other counties are perhaps a bit less stringent than King on their criteria for designating a regional center.

  2. Ah, the old chicken and the egg. Ignoring terrible zoning practices: Ballard needs more jobs to get a designation that will allow for more transit funding, but it needs a designation that will allow for more transit funding to get more jobs.

    Ballard could be ripe for a bit more commercial zoning and demand, it’s just unfortunately not a pleasant place you’d want to commute to daily.

    1. Part of the problem for Balllard is many of the jobs are in the adjacent Ballard/Interbay industrial center.

    2. Some perspective on Ballard, RapidR. I moved there in 1985, when I went from part- to full-time driving for Metro. The spirit of the place was light industry, and the population very much the people who worked there. To me: the only really real part of Seattle.

      The 43, which on the Ballard end became the 44, had just been wired. Shake-ups at Central or Atlantic base, I could often take transit to work. But the reason that the 1985 transit system was good enough for many of my neighbors didn’t have to commute at all.

      By the end of 2013, when I left Ballard in a shower of hybrid sparks like a weasel that just backed into a transformer, the place had rapidly gone from light industry to heavy real estate speculation.

      It would have been bad enough if the new owners had been slumlords, like major landowner around Roosevelt Station. These people bought Ballard to “flip” it when the market hits the right mark on the gauge.

      The worst problem is not just zoning. Market-wise. the best small machinist can nowhere near outbid the worst speculator. Especially if forces behind zoning and other city policies think industry and its participants smell bad. The old English aristocrats with less lace and longer pants.

      But worst of all is that the last thing many lifelong machinists and welders want for their kids is a resume whose strongest recommendation is a medical record of burn scars and reattached fingers.

      And even the bravest of their offspring know the stats for manufacturing in this country: all the serious career action is where major work-related injuries are stress and carpal-tunnel. And the new economy’s real prosperity: financial gambling.

      Luckily, there’s small manufacturing technology coming online with more personal creativity for workers, and a lower casualty rate. Ballard’s chance to Center Regional-caliber Growth into a natural subway terminal. Whose workers have every choice where to live.

      Mark Dublin

  3. I’m curious why the city thinks the Ballard Urban Village is only zoned for 12,000 jobs. On this zoning map near 15th and Market there are three full blocks of “C1-65” zoning, with parts of 10 nearby blocks also zoned that way.

    This proposal is from a developer who plans to develop 204,000 square feet of office space on 50,000 square feet of land (nearly half a block). With floor space per office worker now at 150 square feet and falling, seems that building could hold at least 1300 workers.

    Counting the 5,000 square foot parcels in that C1-65 zone, there is roughly 600,000 square feet of land there. If it’s all built up with office buildings with FAR around 4 like the one I linked before, that’s 2.4 million square feet of office space, or 16,000 workers at 150 square feet per worker. That’s just this particular C1 zone. There’s a small C1 zone on Leary, connected to a larger IC (industrial/commercial) zone, all within the urban village boundary. This plus the huge swath of “neighborhood commercial” that makes up most of what we traditionally think about as downtown Ballard should be more than enough space to hold the required 21,500 workers if it’s all built out to the maximum extent permitted by the current zoning code.

    That’s not to say that it actually will be built out this way. Some of the C1 zoning has recently been redeveloped with apartments rather than office space, but it seems that the requirement is that the requisite number of jobs be permitted under the current zoning code, not that this number would be considered likely to happen anytime soon.

    1. No jurisdiction assumes an square-foot per employee ratio that low. While it is true some companies are pushing space utilization down significantly, others are not and any overall number needs to account for this wide range. Based on published studies for office uses Seattle appears to assume 268 sf/job (in SLU); Bellevue assumes 333 sf/job (for Bel-Red); and Redmond assumes ~275 sf/job (citywide).

      1. Even if you assume 268 sf/job, Ballard should still be able to qualify. That big C1 zone centered around 15th and Market could then hold 9,000 jobs instead of 16,000. The other C1/IC zone around Leary should be able to hold a similar number, for a running total of 18,000. Add in the large NC zones and Swedish Hospital and there should be no problem getting to a total of 21,500 employees under current zoning.

      2. The C1 zone specifies a maximum use size for offices of 35,000 square feet or the size of the lot, whichever is greater.

        I’m not familiar enough with the zoning and development standards for Ballard (or Seattle in general for that matter) to take any kind of close look at the jobs potential, but the devil really is in the details here when you’re talking about zoned capacity. Based on the caveat about maximum office space, 600,000 square feet of land in that particular C1-65 zone only gets you ~2,200 jobs, a far cry from 16,000.

    2. So there are two parts to the developable capacity calculation:

      (i) Is it likely to be developed? The county methodology says development is likely if the value of the current improvements is less than half the value of the land.

      (ii) what would be the capacity of the development if it happens? Here, they assume everything that meets the first test is built out to the zoned max.

      So if you have a zone where office is allowed, but there’s been recent residential development, that capacity is not available because it probably fails part (i) of the test.

      There’s an alternative methodology for (i) that is available for urban growth centers. Here, everything that has a development intensity less than 25% of the zoned maximum is considered developable. That’s how you get huge capacity numbers for places like Totem Lake. They have zoned up to 160′ in parts of that center. Anything in a 160′ zone that is less than 40′ tall is considered developable up to 160′. I’m sure Issaquah and Silverdale are using similarly goofy calculations.

      I don’t know whether Ballard could use such heights to qualify for growth center designation, or only for a capacity calculation after it’s been so designated.

  4. “Ballard” needs to expand its borders to include more employment areas. The current definition of “Ballard” consists of 425 acres. But there are 640 acres/square mile; so, “Ballard” could contain up to 960 acres of land (according to the GMPC criteria). With Interbay and Fremont so close by, could the borders of “Ballard” could be expanded to include some of the job sites in those areas? I don’t know how many people work in Interbay (BNSF, Expedia) or in the Fremont area (Google, Adobe), but clearly “Ballard” is undersized when the GMPC criteria are applied.

    Right now Seattle only has 6 of the region’s 28 Regional Growth Centers. Four of those six are in the Central Business District (CBD). Only Northgate and the University District are outside that core.

    Questions: What do Northgate and the UD have that Ballard doesn’t have? What is the difference between the photo of the Silverdale and the photo of Ballard?

    Answer: Ballard doesn’t contain a major shopping mall within its borders.

    It seems that building a major auto-centric shopping mall is a key to meeting the criteria for being a major Regional Growth Center.

      1. Per this zoning map, the Ballard Blocks doesn’t even count! It’s just outside the border of the “Ballard Hub Urban Village” and instead lies within the “Ballard-Interbay-Northend Manufacturing Industrial” district. Perhaps some lines need to be redrawn so that we can game the system at least as well as the suburbs.

      2. I’m sure that the borders of Silverdale, Bothell Canyon Park and Totem Lake are all gerrymandered to include just enough jobs and just enough housing to meet the criteria and gain the money. The borders of Ballard seem to be established by a 100 year old definition which, unfortunately, doesn’t include enough job centers to qualify for PSRC money. But, at just 425 acres, Ballard is about 44% of the maximum allowable size for a Regional Growth Center. With so many job centers just outside of Ballard, it would make sense to expand the defined borders of Ballard to include some of those job sites.

      3. Such post facto fudging fails to address the larger problem of this being an appallingly stupid methodology for either quantifying or shaping growth, and of an entity working in such a nonsense manner having outsized influence over the region’s permanent built form and transportation infrastructure.

      4. I agree that it’s stupid to base funding off of the assumption that empty land in the middle of nowhere will be filled with as many structures as the zoning will allow, rather than looking at how many people and jobs are actually likely to be there in five years.

        However it seems that adjusting the urban village borders and/or adjusting the estimates of how many workers the current zoning can accommodate–in order to get a legitimate urban center recognized as such–would be a good short-term solution while we work on getting the structural idiocy fixed.

    1. It should be the “Ballard/Fremont Regional Growth Center”. The most important thing about the Ballard Blocks and Fred Meyer is they’re within walking distance Ballard’s commercial/multifamily center and RapidRide D. The D was an intentional commitment to concentrate growth and transit in that area and a precursor to a future HCT line, and the monorail attempt was also a precedent. We could even pull in the Nickerson part of Queen Anne, and Interbay. Fremont has already developed jobs and should be considered part of the same urban center as Ballard. The most successful urban areas in other cities are large 2-D areas which create a network effect of pedestrian population, and here’s a large 2-D area.

    2. There actually is a lot of development happening in Silverdale. Another mall is going in across from the existing mall and a new branch of Harrison Hospital is being built. The geography of Kitsap County is riddled with peninsulas so Silverdale is in a rather unique location that has good access from everywhere in the county except Port Orchard (which splits its business between Silverdale and Gig Harbor to the south).

      But that said, it’s nothing like the number of cranes I see when I drive through West Seattle.

      1. The title does have a period at the end. Normally titles would have no punctuation at their conclusion (period, colon or otherwise). It’s quite a picayune argument to make, though (as is this).

    1. Thanks for the heads up. Someone must have fixed it while I was at work, thus the confusion.

  5. …rapid growth is happening all over the city.

    Statements such as that will get you thrown right out of the doctoral review committee.

  6. Looking at the Regional Growth Map:


    A good question for STB is…are these Centers well interconnected by transit?

    Is there rapid transit between all the Growth Centers?

    Is the transit balanced…with enough local circulators at each center (not just a dense mesh in Seattle…which may, in fact, lose out to these new, lower cost, Centers)?

    Is it time to re-evaluate East and Western expansion? Why is growth only in a narrow North-South sliver? If we Regionalize density, without intervening sprawl…can we then cross the GMA boundaries with this new, greenish model?

    1. “are these Centers well interconnected by transit? Is there rapid transit between all the Growth Centers?”

      No, but they’re close to ST’s long-range plan map, and where almost all of ST’s existing services are.

      “with enough local circulators at each center”

      No, This is where the cities also have a responsibility, to put together good transit master plans as Seattle and Bellevue have done, and to do their part in implementing the plans, which means good transit lanes and such.

      “Is it time to re-evaluate East and Western expansion?”

      Not when there’s huge tons of underused space within the urban growth boundary.

      1. I don’t really want “urban sprawl” of end to end asphalt to be the only answer for the spaces within the urban growth boundary, but such a boundary forces that sort of compression.

        On the other side of the boundary, they obviously don’t want compete and other rural sprawl (nor do I).

        I would rather an archipelago of Regional Centers, with commercial areas descending in to apartment complexes and then again into greenspaces.

      2. If we could open the growth boundary just for that type of focused pin-point development, I might be for it. But if we simply open it wide, I don’t think we’d get that.

      3. Every one-story big-box store or strip mall is an opportunity for more concentrated jobs/housing/retail. The almost-empty space around 164th in Snohomish County is another place that could fit tons of growth without turning it into Manhattan or wall-to-wall concrete. Fortunately they have recently put a lot of aparments around the park n ride; that’s a start. The more you build up regional centers, the less need there is to build in the fringes, and there’s your green spaces. They will be an archipelago, both by definition (two urban centers that merge into each other are one larger urban center) and by this region’s preferences. What I lament is the sea of low-density houses on cul-de-sacs around them: that land was the lost opportunity we squandered and could have done something better with, and is the sprawl we need less of, and by no means should we let it leap out of the urban growth boundary.

      4. @William C
        They are already building large new suburbs as far out as Smokey Point… and I can only wonder where those unfortunate souls are going to commute to.

        The boundaries don’t need to budge even one inch further.

        If we need to build out in the suburbs how about starting with rebuilding some of the crumbling, old town centers first?

      5. For developments outside the urban growth boundary, see Snoqualmie Ridge. I’m not sure if Redmond Ridge is outside the boundary but its surroundings are still rural and 1960s semi-rural. At least they’re compact. Is that what you want more of?

  7. “What the fuck is Silverdale?”

    – Any past, present, or future Puget Sound resident who matters.

    1. SIlverdale is the place that sucked the retail soul out of Bremerton.

      If the growth on the Peninsula ought to be anywhere its Bremerton (actually accessible from Seattle) rather than the acres of big box stores that is Silverdale. At least downtown Bremerton still has a walkable grid.

      1. As does downtown Kirkland. But no, “Totem Lake” is the “growth center”.

        Can you imagine if any significant part of the PSRC’s “plan” came to fruition? Office parks and mega-garage apartment blocks scattered to the furthest corners of the region, not a single one of them walkable, or genuinely mixed-use, or becoming a “place” in the slightest. Transit usage perpetually paltry as an inherent consequence of poor form and of distance-math, and multi-dozen-mile commutes on worsening roads enshrined as the permanent model.

        I mean, thank god Totem Lake or Issaquoffice Park will never come into being as envisioned. Dystopia incarnate.

        Anyway, I appreciate Matt’s diligence in exposing the PSRC as an entire organization of John Bailos, with no understanding of contiguousness and as little grasp of human migratory behavior as they have of present-day growth statistics.

        Now how can we get this body and its nonsense predictions the fuck out of the transit conversation and the federal pork pipeline?

        (p.s. Charles, Does anyone in Kitsap even call it Silverdale? Or is just “that place where I used to work in the Wendy’s drive-thru by the Kitsap Mall”.)

      2. They do call it Silverdale. Its the Lynnwood of the Penninsula in just about every way you can imagine.

      3. You do understand why that Wendy’s drive-thru is more valuable to the PSRC (and the associated municipalities) than your style of living, don’t you?

      4. Totem Lake and places like it are “growth centers” because they’re zoned really high. They’re zoned really high for two equally stupid reasons:

        1. They’re near freeway interchanges (i.e. the Regional Transportation Infrastructure Necessary For Growth).

        2. They’re so ugly and noisy (despite lack of much human activity outside of cars) that nobody would ever bother to protest development, zoning, or growth plans of any kind.

        Our zoning plans are based on the idea that we should build the largest stuff next to the biggest roads. Any consideration of human or natural environmental factors contradicts this idea. The general shape of our existing zoning and planning is far in opposition to our oft-claimed goals (and, as various posters have pointed out, it’s often implausible); it probably can’t be fixed incrementally. What we’ve got to do is re-envision our future, and draw zoning and planning guidelines reflecting it. What does that take? It takes a lot of people that disagree on a lot of stuff agreeing to work together in some kind of good faith. Without that every change is trench warfare.

      5. So, maybe Bremerton should have an unfortunate cruise missile accident towards Silverdale some night when nobody’s there.

        This type of thing makes me wonder what good urban growth boundaries actually do.

      6. Dan Ryan, who appears to be one who is an active participant at his city council meetings, .. assuming he’s not a one-subject participant, would have a handle on what drives these decisions. And Totem Lake has got what Kirkland wants.

        Your first 2 guesses at what that is, and who’s supplying it don’t count.

    2. Silverdale is a really nice town smack in the middle of the peninsula. It’s got some really nice shops and restaurants, and excellent mall area (large, like Southcenter). It interconnects by highway with all the rest of the area. It has a large community college, and has been building lots of nice apartment complexes (as I’ve been suggesting all Centers do) since the late 1990s. Really if no one told you, you might think you were the type of place that the new Tukwila-Burien has become 15 years later.

      The peninsula, like Southeast King, has to be one of best growth areas possible…if done right! Maybe start with better highways…how about a Sounder that makes a U-turn at Tacoma and heads back up terminating in Silverdale!

      1. Better highways?
        The 54-million-dollar question is…
        What defines a better highway?
        and who is it better for?

      2. Here’s a question you might find interesting. How does Tacoma differ from a Bailo-topia? What would it take to make it into one?

      3. @John

        Yeah no, no sounder is coming to Silverdale not in our lifetimes and probably not ever. It barely has any rail system at all and that appears to just serve Bangor, not “downtown” Silverdale itself. Oh, and more importantly those tracks don’t go to Tacoma or anything… they go out to SHELTON.

        So if rail were ever going to happen, it would have to be new… but would anyone even ride it?

        There is hardly a population base to fill the trains, and no one would need to ride them anyway. Almost everyone living in Silverdale works on one of the bases, in the Shipyard or in downtown Bremerton. Maybe just a few will commute from Silverdale to Tacoma, if they can stand the daily slog.

        The reason why is here:

        There is a massive choke point in the highway interchange at the South end of Bremerton that makes rush hour commutes unbearably slow through the stretch and it will probably take hundreds of millions to fix… money that does not seem to be in the pipeline and that would probably be wasted if it were.

        It also makes regional express buses (needed to build to train levels of ridership) essentially impossible. The current transit system recognizes this and funnels all riders going between Port Orchard and Bremerton onto foot ferries:


        In any event, the inter-county transit system is fundamentally broken between Kitsap and Pierce counties and no one in their right mind tries to go from Kitsap County to Tacoma without a car. If you want to go to Seattle, you take a ferry or maybe drive a car over the narrows.

        Given the difficulties of trying to make long haul expresses to Tacoma (not economically booming) and the relative ease of running a few more foot ferries to Seattle, its no wonder that Kitsap transit has been pushing so hard for the express ferries for the last several years.

        The chances that some Seattle techies will get priced out of the city and try commuting on a speed boat from Bremerton are much higher than the Silverdale commercial district magically turning into something more than a mall for military and ship yard dollars to be spent at.

        And the chances are that if you built a shiny new rail train out there, it would have less ridership than a bus going through Laurelhurst.

      4. @Jim Cusick

        You beat me to the punch. Funny how someone can make a comment about running sounder trains out somewhere without checking the track on google maps first.

      5. You couldn’t really even do passenger service to anywhere meaningful in Bremerton. It would require a reverse move at a golf course and then have to end service just outside the Bremerton Naval Base, since there isn’t any alternative track outside the base.

      6. A not insignificant number of people commute to Seattle via Bainbridge from Silverdale and the surrounding area.

        Kitsap transit runs express buses to the Bainbridge ferry dock during commute times.

        I’m told commuting is faster via Bainbridge when you factor in the congestion to get to the Bremerton ferry terminal and the longer trip times of the Bremerton ferry.

      7. Well, again, instead of wasting billions on a 1/2 mile tunnel in Seattle, I would be looking at a real tunnel across Elliot Bay to Bainbridge.

      8. John, do you even have the remotest clue how much a cross-sound tunnel would cost? And for what? To enable more sprawl out in Kitsap county?

        A new transit tunnel in Downtown Seattle wouldn’t be “wasteful”. Indeed it would do more for connectivity in South King and Pierce Counties than the Federal Way and Tacoma Link extensions.

      9. @Balio

        A tunnel to Bainbridge? Under the Sound?? Do you have any idea how deep that would have to be?

        Even a bridge to Bainbridge would cost more than a Seattle tunnel and would have less than a tenth of the ridership.

        What Kitsap needs is more express passenger ferries.

      10. How slow would the 150 be if the DSTT didn’t exist? Where would your train from Angle Lake be? Infrastructure is going to downtown because it benefits far more people than just those who live downtown.

    3. The sad thing is Silverdale never would have been allowed to happen if the Growth Management Act were in place sooner. In the early 80’s it was literally a pasture. The state’s Growth Management Act was passed by the legislature in 1990.

      1. Eh? What are you on about John?

        Plenty of cheap housing out there, just not so much in King county or areas where people like to build vacation homes.

        For example my cousin just bought a home for less than $100k in Tacoma. A similar house in Seattle would have been in the $400k+ range.

      2. @Chris Stefan

        Everett is still pretty affordable too, and they have express buses downtown. If you choose carefully you can still have relatively inexpensive places to live that are still transit connected.

        That’s not to say more housing isn’t needed in Seattle, because we still need a lot more to address the demand.

      3. The early 80s was when Seattle’s population hit its lowest (411,000), and 2 BR apartments in the U-District were $450. In the early 90s my friends were living in a duplex at 18th & Union that the owners were selling for $90,000 (both sides). Looking back I should have bought it, but I was just out of college thinking I’d never have that kind of money and not expecting prices to skyrocket. In 2003 I had a 1 BR in north Ballard for $700. On the eve of the 2008 crash same-size units in Summit were $950 and extra-big or recently-built ones were $1100-1200. So the skyrocketing prices are very recent, mostly since 2012, and to a lesser extent to 1995. But not all the way back to 1980. Any increase then was infinitesimal compared to later increases.

      4. You can still live for a thousand or less around 145th (Broadview and Lake City), Delridge, MLK in Renton, and vast parts of Burien, Tukwila, Renton, Kent, Everett, etc. All of these have either peak expresses to downtown, all-day expresses, and/or all-day trunk routes. But even if you work downtown, you also have to consider the other things you do. Grocery shopping, visiting friends, etc. Those are usually in your home neighborhood or scattered throughout the metropolitan area, depending on your personality. How many things can you walk to from your outlying residence (not much), what is local transit like in your neighborhood (infrequent and sparse), how long does it take to bus to regional destinations in other subareas (a long time if you live on the end of the 5)? So there are many inexpensive outlying apartments, but they come with actual expenses if you drive, or major quality-of-life degradation if you don’t.

      5. Correction, late 80s. The $450 apartments were around 1990, so close to the time of the $90,000 duplex. I confused my college and high school graduation years.

  8. The 6 “regional centers” are

    Seattle Downtown
    Seattle First Hill/Capitol Hill
    Seattle Northgate
    Seattle South Lake Union
    Seattle University Community
    Seattle Uptown

    which should give us pretty good ammunition to argue against a DT-West Seattle Line because, Ballard-DT and Ballard-UW are much more important.

    1. The RV doesn’t appear on your list of regional centers either, and they got LR first. So it is hard to draw any conclusions from what you posted, except for the fact that 4 of the 6 Seattle regional centers are already covered by LR that is either in service or under construction.

      Ballard-DT has the potential to pick up a 5th (Uptown), but Ballard-UW and WS-DT wouldn’t pick up any (if that even matters, and I suspect it doesn’t).

      1. If Ballard were to combine with Interbay to create one RGC, they could apply for funding to help build downtown to Ballard light rail. Likewise, combining Ballard and Fremont might help to fund Ballard to UW light rail.

      2. Interbay has huge TOD potential. If zoning changes and the Expedia announcement can somehow result in a new RGC that would qualify for PSRC funding, then it certainly raises the prospects of some sort of DT-Ballard LR route via Interbay.

        IF RGC designation and PSRC funding make Ballard-DT-WS more feasible, then that would be a fantastic thing for the entire region.

    2. Note: Almost no significant residential development going on in Northgate. At least not on the level being seen in Ballard, Roosevelt and the UDistrict.

      I’d like to see some, but most of the developable land is not showing any signs of changing…

      1. I disagree. It is very similar to Roosevelt. A few big buildings squeezed into a moslty single family neighborhood. But unlike Roosevelt, it started with a lot more apartments in the area (unless you give Roosevelt credit for the area on the other side of the freeway). The big six story full block type development growth spurt started a bit earlier as well. The mall dramatically reduces the numbers on everything (including employment). A few people selling clothes in a mall surrounded by an enourmous parking lot is nothing like a few dozen people working in a three story clinic. Hopefully someday they will do something worthwhile with the mall — until then, it just drags everything down.

        But Ballard and the U-District are different. They are growing in every diretion, in ways big and small.

      2. @RossB

        There is a lot more room to develop around the Northgate Way and 5th Ave corridors. Neither is seeing much action yet.

        Unless one of the large shopping centers redevelops I would not seriously consider Northgate a regional center. Right now its just a highly populated neighborhood along the lines of Lake City or Bitter Lake.

        There are at least a few office buildings here, but they don’t have the kind of floor space or accessibility yet that the companies renting downtown are looking for apparently.

    3. Actually, this list of Urban Centers is good ammunition for an “8” subway line connecting Uptown, SLU, Capitol Hill and First Hill.

  9. In the “be careful what you ask for” category, consider this.

    Some of the suburban centers have zoned capacity that is wildly implausible. They do this by zoning building heights and densities that will never happen. Capacity analysis assumes that a site, if redeveloped, will be built to the maximum allowed size. Whether or not the cities would be happy to see this happen, they don’t have to worry too much about it.

    They also have, in many cases, created urban centers far enough from where people live that they don’t have to consider neighbor impacts.

    If Ballard, on the other hand, boosted office height limits to increase capacity, somebody would build it. So expect a much more focused discussion with a lot of neighborhood interest.

  10. This article makes a great point — even with the Growth Management Act – and the urban growth boundary, there are funding mechanisms that induce further sprawl.

    PSRC money needs to go into real urban infrastructure not support suburban office park growth and expensive to maintain road infrastructure.

    1. There may have been a time when Totem Lake and Canyon Park and Silverdale looked to be a sensible alternative to yet more sprawl out to the Snoqualmie Valley.

      But with Seattle blowing through its growth targets, it sure looks like time to revisit those assumptions.

      As an aside, how does Silverdale get to be a growth center without even being incorporated?

      1. @Mike Orr

        If SIlverdale did incorporate, where would Kitsap get any kind of tax revenue from?

  11. I didn’t put this in the piece, as it was scatter brained enough, but considering ST ridership projections are built on these faulty projections it’s pretty important we fix this.

    The implications are pretty far reaching. For instance the idea that adding 130th would have no net effect on ridership might be effected by under-estimating in-city growth (ridership) and over estimating exurban Snoho growth (ridership).

    What if Lake City is like Ballard in that the PSRC is severely underestimating it’s population and potential? How would that not have an effect on ridership projections based on those estimates?

    1. The thought that the powers that be might try to build light rail to Smokey Point before Lake City sends a shiver down my spine.

    2. This is pretty damn serious. Your example is exactly correct — the Sound Transit models are taking garbage in (the PSRC population models) and as a result spewing garbage out. And this could lead to really terrible decisions.

      And as I say below, this is actually what broke the USSR. This sort of garbage-in-garbage-out decisionmaking is very, very, very bad.

    3. Nobody is considering light rail to Smokey Point. The Sound Transit district ends at Everett. And when I went up to Smokey Point last year to see what’s there now, the biggest thing I saw was a Safeway plaza. If there’s anything bigger the bus doesn’t go to it, which probably means there isn’t anything bigger. Except the casino. The furthest that has been suggested for light rail is Everett Community College.

      1. Last time I was out there a few months back I saw them building a bunch of new apartment buildings out near the Costco and Lakewood crossing.

    4. I agree with you Matthew. The land use projections problem needs to be addressed right away. We’ve been letting PSRC take their dear sweet time to theorize land use forecasting — and now we’re in a place where the data is so old and irrelevant that all of our transit forecasts are likely horribly inaccurate.

      I have to shake my head when we get transit station boardings that vary by 1,000 riders a day or sometimes even less. We’re supposed to make major decisions on station locations and alignments and other major investments off of them — yet the future land use assumptions are so badly dated that the rider forecasts could easily be off by several thousand riders at the very least.

  12. This is how the Soviet Union collapsed.

    No, seriously. Hear me out.

    Central planning can work. But to work, the central planners have to be getting *good information* from all the individuals and organizations below them. And then they have to take an unpoliticized view of those facts.

    Here, we know the actual facts — Ballard is full of housing, and there’s lots of jobs nearby (Interbay)…

    …but the central plans are being based on false information: identification of “regional growth centers” based on some cities promoting themselves as such and other cities choosing not to.

    This is what happened to the central planning in the USSR. They got garbage data coming in from every city and every collective farm — it was always politicized data, what the locals thought would “look good” and get them promotions, not the actual facts — and as a result it was impossible to do competent central planning. Garbage in garbage out.

  13. The core problem appears to lie in the unsophisticated PSRC definition of “Regional Growth Center”. The definition is geared to job density much more than housing density. Growth Centers should probably be separately designated for residential and non-residential growth, and not lumped into a category that requires that both parts be met — and that the non-residential part is at a higher density than the residential part.

    Even with a change, land use records and zoning capacity and utilization data have been readily available from all sorts of data points for many years. Is PSRC forecasting staff just lazy? The document for Vision 2040 was adopted in 2007 according to their web site, so the base year data has to be 2005 or older. That’s 10 years! Link wasn’t even near opening! Most major metro areas of the country have a much more current, accurate and reasonable land use data base for the base year. The basic fact that PSRC isn’t talking about what base year they are using for policy decisions points to some serious negligence on the part of their staff and administrators. In fact, I read the Appendices for Vision 2040, and it appears that many of the data points are still using 2000!!!

    The lack of data assessment is at the core of the housing affordability problem too. Other expensive metro areas around the US establish housing inclusion targets required by jurisdiction and are considering reducing or even funding projects unless a community is willing to add housing density. It seems from looking at these criteria that job creation is much more important than housing creation to PSRC in this cycle — and I’m hard pressed to buy that. It doesn’t matter how academically sophisticated the projection methodology is or how innovative someone things the growth strategy is, if the data is bad, it’s stale. It’s like bread — and even the most expensive loaf of bread made by the most reputable baker still goes stale and is lousy to eat.

    I hope the STB readers understand that this land use data set is the data set that Sound Transit will be obligated to use for the rail forecasting. These stale land use forecasts are at the core of all of our rail transit planning.

    Maybe it’s time for a change here. Dated forecasts are fine for a slow growth region, but with tens of thousands new residents in King County every year using data this old is irresponsible.

    1. But… But… I heard somewhere that Everett is going to add 73 million new people and need subway trains every two minutes for all the people catching Concordes out of Paine International Awesomeport.

      Don’t you dare burst my bubble by introducing facts into the planning mix!

    2. I agree. There are really several problems with this process:

      1) The data is old.
      2) It is too restrictive — an area should be considered a center if it has high residential numbers or high employment (Ballard should certainly qualify since it is populous and has a fair number of jobs).
      3) It places way too much emphasis on potential growth based on zoning.

      I can understand why places like Ballard or Fremont, which have significant employment, get special treatment over a place like Lake City, which lacks that. But Lynnwood? That is crazy. Besides, carried to an extreme level (and this is extreme) it is just silly. Recently, for example, I noticed that a building in Lake City changed part of their building from office to housing. No big deal, as far as I was concerned. It still has ground floor retail, and there are offices nearby. But if Lake City came close to qualifying as a center than such a change would be rejected. That is really a horrible policy, especially with rent as high as it is.

      It is important to consider the value of areas that have significant amount of people and employment when it comes to transit. But such ridiculously restrictive (and faulty) rules simply defeat the purpose. One of the arguments for UW to Ballard light rail is that it will benefit Snohomish County residents immensely. Whether an office worker is headed to Fremont, or a health care worker is headed to Ballard, if they live in Snohomish County, they don’t want to go to downtown first.

      Seattle, like most of the country, is undergoing what I would call the “third wave” of office employment. The first was centered around the downtown areas (and that has seen a clear revival). The second was in suburban office parks, and like a lot of things suburban, has simply fallen out of favor. The third is offices located in the city, but not that close to downtown. The UW, Fremont and Ballard all fit that description. These all have one thing in common: they are interesting places to visit. I could easily see Roosevelt being that kind of place. On the other hand, it would take a huge amount of work at the mall to make Northgate be like that. Which is not to say that Northgate lacks employment (it is a medical hub) but you would have a hard time convincing Google to open a satellite office there. Lynnwood is a challenge — no momentum, no special reason to visit — I just don’t see it.

      If we are going to base decisions on trends, then we should base them on obvious trends that are playing out right now. These favor connecting more areas in the city, not fewer (as this map implies).

    3. The problem is King County’s defintion, not the PSRC’s. The PSRC naturally defers to the county’s judgment rather than imposing things on it. From the article, the PSRC’s definition is more flexible to accommodate unanticipated local conditions; i.e., residential-heavy, job-heavy, or even. That could become a problem if we get any more 100% residential or 100% non-residential centers (e.g., a bedroom community vs Southcenter), but that would be the opposite problem from what we’re having now. As long as the counties and cities keep focusing on mixed-use, it will head toward an even balance.

      1. I’d agree that mixed-used is ideal, Mike. Still, a job center has a much lower bar to meet to be a Growth Center than a residential center has.

      2. That is such a cop-out, Mike.

        It is increasingly clear that the PSRC is an organization empowered to affect vital transportation outcomes on the basis of a core, misguided, explicit endorsement of aspirational growth in disparate nodes that are antithetical to both transit and to genuine mixed-use form.

        You can’t just gloss over the dangerousness of that.

      3. The dangerousness is the short time to get Ballard/Fremont designated as an urban center before the ST board chooses an ST3 system plan possibly this fall or next spring.

      4. No, that’s a short-term amelioration and a messaging need.

        The dangerousness is in tacitly accepting an organization with exceptional power staffed by people who want to see rail manifest as a bunch of think Sharpie lines on a map, but who simply do not understand and do not care if they improve no one’s lives and end up with empty trains to terrible places for all eternity.

        This region is eternally fucked without a major corrective to this broken org.

  14. So let me see if I’ve understood this post and the comments. Sleepy little Ballard needs to be a growth center because it’s in Seattle. Silverdale (where?), Totem Lake, and Everett should go f— themselves.

    Really, it’s ok that Ballard is a sleepy little suburb. West Seattle is proof of that model’s sustainability. We don’t need a clean line around the city. We’re a vibrant, thriving region, not just a city and a bunch of trash surrounding it.

      1. @William C.

        Look at the caption on the picture of Ballard: “Sleepy-town Ballard”. That’s where my comment (“Sleepy little Ballard”) came from.

        Have I ever been to Ballard? Yes.

        My point is that the comment thread–and original post–reads as “Seattle good, other places bad”. Note the comments above about Silverdale: “What the f— is Silverdale?” and “maybe Bremerton should have a cruise-missile accident toward Silverdale.”

        Have I ever been to Silverdale? Maybe, I honestly don’t know. But this comment thread is just freaking immature.

      2. If your desire is to nudge the region toward sustainable and transit-amenable usage patterns in even the slightest way — and that is precisely what the PSRC was originally supposed to be charged with doing — then “fuck Silverdale” is in fact the correct answer.

    1. It’s not OK when more people want to live in Seattle and prices are rising faster than inflation. Ballard and West Seattle are less than ten miles from the largest downtown in the northwest, so they need to act like the city neighborhoods they are and not exclude people because they don’t already own a single-family house in the neighborhood. The cities’ growth targets are related to the cities’ existing sizes and near-future sizes, so Seattle is still getting the largest number of people. And many people want to live in Seattle and nowhere else, sometimes because of cultural amenities and hipsterdom, and sometimes because it’s the easiest place to get around without a car. So the housing patterns needs to take these factors into account, otherwise a lot of people will be living where they don’t want or paying too much to live where they do want. And the population is rising faster than we can fix the land-use policies in the suburbs, or even in the city, so we pretty much have to go with the prevailing “semi-smart” growth patterns, and be glad they’re not as dumb as the 1970s ones.

      Meanwhile, the policies that need fixing are to allow ADUs everywhere and to upzone single-family blocks near major transit lines.

      1. @Mike Orr, I agree: Ballard and West Seattle should try to accommodate their growth. But I see no problem with Silverdale trying to encourage growth as well.

        The former is Seattle’s problem. The latter is not.

      2. It’s not “encouraging” growth. It’s channeling growth that’s coming to the county anyway.

      3. Fine, “channeling” growth. The question seems to me to be more of targeted location than the effectiveness of incentives.

      4. Targeted location is the point of the growth management act. The alternative is low-density sprawl spreading like a golf course.

      5. There is no functional difference between a cloverleaf-adjacent office-park-style agglomeration to which everybody drives and any other form of sprawling development that is hostile to anyone not in a car.

        That is what both you and the PSRC seem to be fundamentally missing.

        Furthermore, even as the public desire for genuinely urban forms and contiguous connectivity has been strongly renewed, the “scattered node” vogue of 30 years ago to which the PSRC is sticking has yielded a methodology conspicuously weighted to undervalue those desirable development patterns, which are then stuck with transit so lousy that everyone is stuck driving anyway, all while zillion-dollar trains get pushed through to the fucking malls.

        There is no silver-lining this shit!

      6. @d.p., you’re making very strong statements.

        Are you saying there should be no development on the peninsula? We should centralize all growth in the city?

        How about Spokane? Fuck Spokane too, and focus development in Seatttle?

        Why even have Seattle? Fuck Seattle and focus development in NY. There’s density for you.

        My point hasn’t been to endorse the PSRC’s position. Hell, I didn’t even know where Silverdale was until reading your comments. My point has been that this comment thread is vitriolic and immature. And I further believe even the original post somewhat oversimplifies the needs of Ballard.

        We can achieve more with a rational conversation than we can by saying “fuck Silverdale”.

      7. The difference is whether it takes five minutes, ten minutes, thirty minutes, or an hour to walk to a typical job or housing unit from the transit station. Several large buildings like at Northgate may be ugly and non-ideal but they put a lot of things within a ten-minute walk. If you put a cloverleaf between the station and the buildings, it can cut the effectiveness in half. If you have sprawling office parks like on Northup Way in Bellevue with lots of open space around each one — which for years I feared I might have to work in someday — then it’s a level of magnitude worse. And for the worst I’ve ever seen, Great America Parkway in Santa Clara, where each block is a half mile and contains exactly one office park in the middle of it.

      8. AP,

        I’m making very strong statements, because the path we have been pursuing on the basis of the flawed brainfart that created the PSRC structure thirty years has such very strong destructive potential.

        I’m all for Snohomish and Kitsap and outer King attempting to repair some of the damage of midcentury sprawl patterns. But we pretend that these places represent the bulk of our future “walkable” environments and transit-able needs at our great peril. Not only would we scandalously fail to aid places that are already in desperate need to functional transit, but we would actually reinforce a dispersed and auto-dependent aggregate outcome even worse than the one plaguing us today.

        There’s a reason that none of the world’s high-transit-usage cities look like the places in question, either in their built forms or in the massive distances between each of them and any other declared nodes. There’s also a reason that trains to places that do look like these nodes — most notably along BART, where municipalities with quarter-million populations and statistical densities far higher than you’ll ever see in Kirkland — see absolutely empty trains all day and night.

        Bad form = bad outcomes. And it seems that the PSRC is all about putting our eggs in the basket of hypothetical growth spurts in places with irredeemable form.

      9. The reason is that disparate locations are not fungible, and that human-scaled places are not fudge-able.

        The reason is that contiguous activity and organically-grown cities beat fly-by-night “regional planning” theories every time.

        The reason is that transit geometry is real and immutable.

        The reason is that trains are not magic.

      10. Ah, the problem with New York is they have better magic trains than everywhere else.

        If we were only so organic as to grow now as they did 100 years ago.

      11. If we were only so organic as to grow now as they did 100 years ago.


        the problem with New York is they have better magic trains


        Yes, if you want a transit-amenable city and (somewhat) transit-amenable region, work very hard to foster growth patterns that will be more along the lines of traditional cities (and adjacent towns) than along the lines of what has been built in the recent past.

        And if you never want to set foot on a bus or get in a car again, you’d better invite 7.5 million of your closest friends. And then still never leave the city proper for any reason. Because New York’s Federal Way equivalent doesn’t live the 100% rail life either!

        Geometry works exactly the same in New York as it does here, Jim. Nothing to do with the trains.

      12. That’s right, I tend to forget, since I don’t live there anymore, when NYC’s population hit 8 million, (I think that was around 1940) that’s when they built the subway system.

        Same for the surrounding suburbs. The railroads came after the fact.

        Got it !!

        If only Robert Moses were born earlier.

      13. Repeat after me:

        Magic trains did not build New York in a vacuum.
        Magic trains did not build New York in a vacuum.
        Magic trains did not build New York in a vacuum.

        If you really lived in New York City, and you’re not just bullshitting like the sub-Sam-quality troll you are, and you truly think the answer to all our problems is trains-in-a-vacuum, then you might be even dumber than I realized.

      14. You’re quite tiresome, you know.

        The crux is simple: The subways and the elevateds and the regional railroads helped to aid and to shape growth through New York’s six or seven pre-WWII expansionary decades. But they neither preceded nor instigated that growth.

        And here’s the asterisk: If you’ve ever spent five minutes on Long Island or in New Jersey, you’ll immediately know that vast portions of those places exist in little relation to the railroads that preceded their post-war filling in. Good luck living life by rail in those places (which are still infinitely denser than fucking Orting).

    2. @AP Not trash talking neighborhoods, but I don’t like sprawl.

      Regionally we need to focus development back on the old town centers:
      Bremerton, Everett, Tacoma, etc.

      Places we could actually get a transportation sensibly working for a growing population.

      We also need to upgrade Seattle’s transportation network to provide mobility options for folks to access the growing housing and employment centers.

      What we don’t need to do is invest tons of transpiration money in malls and office parks in the middle of neighborhoods that won’t ever support the density that makes that investment worthwhile.

  15. @Charles B:

    Agreed, I don’t like sprawl. It’s disappointing, for example, that Kirkland’s walkable center is separate from its growth engine. That kind of zoning encourages car-fueled sprawl. And I further agree that we need to focus development back on town centers.

    As for the last point, I think we could do better. Let’s upgrade the region’s transportation network to link these regional growth centers. Let’s make it that if you can get to Silverdale (wherever the hell it is) you can get from Silverdale to Seattle or Ballard or Bellevue on reasonable public transportation.

    1. What you suggest is impossible. That is simple geometric fact.

      But if you desire to sink any chance the region’s $tens-of-billions transit enterprise might have of offering any improvement for real lives in functional (and non-fictionally-growing) places, then siding with the PSRC’s astounding ignorance of geography and built form and non-automotive reality is a pretty great way to do that.

      1. @d.p., you inspired me to actually look up Silverdale. Yeah, it’d be pretty difficult to have a reasonable public transportation path from there to Seattle.

        But take Totem Lake as an example again. If you could have a train going from Seattle to either Kirkland downtown or Totem Lake, which would you choose? Either way you lose because Totem Lake is where people work whereas downtown Kirkland is where people want to be.

        I think we’re actually in agreement about PSRC having some misplaced “growth centers”. But not all the growth centers need to be in Seattle proper.

      2. Silverdale is a lost cause. It is a problem best left to Kitsap transit to worry about. Similarly past WSF, Bremerton is mostly a Kitsap problem too.

        On this side of the Sound I don’t think we’re doing anything too crazy if we link various concentrations of population and employment (especially in the suburbs) using buses. The all-day express bus model has worked pretty well as has SWIFT. Maybe spend a little money cleaning up some of the bottlenecks and fixing some of the connectivity issues.

        I agree many of the PSRC regional centers are doomed to be nothing but sprawlvilles. The older historic downtown areas (Everett, Tacoma, Bellevue, Redmond, Renton, Kent, Auburn, Pyuallup, perhaps even Burien) offer some hope of reasonable outcomes over time to create pockets of walkiblity and conducive to transit use. The other growth centers which are based around malls, office parks, and other auto oriented forms I’m much more pessimistic about, this includes to some extent Northgate. I don’t think any is going to be able to undergo the sort of sea-change Bellevue has.

      3. @Chris Stefan

        As far as Northgate goes, the good news is nowhere left to sprall into. The only possible growth is up, and no new major development will come without parking lots and shopping centers transforming into something more urban.

        We need to do what we can to push that development in a more walkable direction too…

      4. The thing is there is the built form in the area to deal with. The super blocks, the parking lots, the auto oriented development, the mall itself.

        The good news as you say is there is nowhere left to sprawl to. This means there is pressure to develop in a more urban fashion, but it is going to take a lot to reverse 60+ years of auto oriented sprawl.

        In spite of the zoning Northgate haven’t exactly taken off in comparison to the rest of the city.

      5. Northgate will develop more slowly than SLU or the U-District or downtown Bellevue simply because it’s less desirable to developers/companies/workers/residents. But it’s more desirable than Totem Lake or Lynnwood. Southcenter is in between because it’s not an affluent tech/cultural mecca, but on the other hand it appeals to suburbanists who don’t want to be in Seattle and is more affordable than most of the others.

        The Northgate Link station is not open yet so it’s still somewhat cumbersome to get to: the buses get caught in I-5 traffic and are less frequent, and the cars get caught in I-5 traffic and Northgate traffic. There’s no express bus from Snohomish County to Northgate so anyone from there who works at Northgate or anywhere between 75th – 145th Streets has to drive. So I expect development to jump into higher gear closer to the station opening. The pedestrian bridge would also help it by increasing the market (number of people who can easily walk to businesses/residences). The tired strip malls (Marie Callender’s) will surely be redeveloped in the next decade. The 1970s office buildings will take longer because that’s a lot of currently-productive space you’d have to replace before you even start adding value. There’s also Simon Malls, which has a great opportunity to densify both the mall and the parking fields, because a freestanding 1970s mall is going to become gradually less desirable over the years, so it can’t stand still. (Though I must complement Simon for the interior roof redesign; it’s great.)

  16. The only reason Totem Lake is designated as a Regional Growth Center is because nobody in Kirkland wants growth in any other neighborhood, so the only place that it is politically palatable for council to say that Kirkland will grow is in Totem Lake which is currently a dead zone with no housing and almost no businesses.

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