Last week Matthew Johnson posted an excellent piece regarding Regional Growth Centers and why Ballard isn’t one. The short answer is that Ballard doesn’t have enough employment, and losing this classification amounts to losing 100s of millions of dollars in federal transit funds. In other words, there’s a large financial incentive to would-be Regional Growth Centers to add jobs.
I argue that this is a backward incentive. Job growth outside of the core is fundamentally poorly served by transit in our hub-and-spoke system (just try to get to Ballard from the East side, or the islands, or even from some places north on transit). But what’s worse is that job growth outside the core helps build sprawl. People choose housing based on a combination of lifestyle, cost, and transportation ease. Make it easier and cheaper to live further from the city, and builders will build further from the city. Every job added to a suburb, even a Regional Growth Center style suburb, potentially adds a home further out into sprawl.
King County should remove this job-based requirement, and let growth centers be centers of residential growth.
92 Replies to “Jobs Belong in the City”
Your problem respectfully is at the federal level. I wish I was in a position to change this, Ballard deserves a better Return On Investment for its transit taxes…
Are you sure about that? It seems like it’s the county that’s keeping Ballard back. “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.”
Not too sure to be honest
My understanding is that the federal grants go to the PSRC who distributes them as it sees fit. The PSRC defers to the counties’ plans on where to direct it. That reflects the “local control” principle that’s so beloved in our region. The problem is the county’s jobs cutoff for urban centers. The concept of urban centers is not flexible enough if it excludes Ballard.
But the problem may also be in Ballard’s boundaries; it’s only counting inner Ballard. But if you look at the greater Ballard/Fremont district, that’s a ton more jobs. Fremont has been a signficant jobs center and large apartment buildings since the 90s when Adobe moved in, so it would be irrational to exclude it or consider it a separate village. And you can even extend it to Interbay and the Nickerson part of Queen Anne because they’re similar.
I agree. A significant number of people walk to work, so having jobs in the city just makes sense (that is where the people are).
Seattle’s downtown has larger percentage of jobs than most American metropolitan areas. That’s another way of saying Seattle didn’t decentralize as much as other metros did. The retail-core revival in the 80s also made a major difference. (Saving Pike Place, and the complex deal that saw Nordstrom move across the street, the creation of Westlake Center and Park, and Pacific Place with its city parking garage. The project had dubious origins: it used credits which were intended for low-income housing but were used to urban-renew a “blighted area”, but the result now is extremely successful. I live off Pine Street so I’m constantly amazed at the packed-full sidewalks even at 9pm or on weekend mornings.)
So we’re already doing well at the concentrating-jobs part, and that helps to justify the peak-express transit to downtown, which has already resulted in SOV drivers being a minority. And downtown jobs are already expanding now with the SLU developments. I don’t think we need to go further and push all jobs to downtown.
I worked in Ballard for four years, at a company that preferred to be in Ballard. For most of it I commuted from the U-District on the 44, but in the end I moved to Ballard. (And was laid off a month later, but that’s another story.) Ballard is a great self-contained neighborhood: it’s the kind of place where people should be able to both live and work. Its isolated location is a bit difficult for Eastsiders, but there are plenty of jobs that aren’t Eastsider-heavy that could successfully locate in Ballard. Did I mention how the Ballard – U-District subway would also help with that? And the 40 is already going to Northgate and could be extended to Lake City and routed closer to Greenwood, which would give Ballard workers a large choice of nearby places to live.
Extending the D line to Northgate instead of having it terminate in the middle of nowhere would help with folks getting to/from Ballard. The 40 ain’t enough.
I’ve heard Metro originally wanted the D to go to Northgate but it would require more red buses than Metro could afford so they put the 40 on it instead. I think extending the D to Northgate is still on Metro’s wishlist.
RapidRide D to Northgate can’t and won’t happen until they split the C/D.
why won’t it? besides our region’s apparent allergy to best practices, this one being bookending a frequent rapid transit line with strong ridership generators, places people would actually like to go.
@Shane Because the C/D is already one of the longest routes in the Metro system, with horrible on time performance as it is. To tack on another 4 miles (current last stop is 90th and Holman) on would be excruciating.
If they were to split the C/D, you might be able to add Northgate to the D. But even then you’d probably have to remove the LQA diversion to ensure any sort of reliability.
It’s too bad we’re not willing to do what is necessary to fix those reliability issues. There is no inherent reason that an ~18-mile line has to be unreliable. It would be good to have a bus line serving the same market served by the Link alignment some folks would like to see go from West Seattle to Ballard, both to provide those reliable crosstown connections now and identify if the demand exists to replace the line with Link/whether a train could actually perform the same function better.
Why wouldn’t you locate jobs where people already live? Because it encourages sprawl somewhere else feels a little hollow if there are growth management activities also occurring.
Local jobs that are the appropriate type for the population that already lives there (or the population an area wishes to attract) means having to architect fewer new solutions to move people long distances and less strain on the existing infrastructure.
I used to be one of those “you should live where you work” but now find myself in Federal Way and commuting to Bellevue with no hope of selling in Federal Way and being able to buy in Bellevue (and no good transit options since there seems to be a parallel spine FW->Seattle or Kent->Bellevue thing going on.) But FW seems unwilling to take the steps to make itself attractive (if that’s possible) to any of the companies in Bellevue that are running out of space.
Federal Way’s 4,000 jobs are nearly all staffed by non-Federal Wayans while something like 30,000 Federal Way residents leave the city each day for work. Jobs where people already live (which are a good fit) would reduce the overall long-distance transit needs, the widening of freeways, etc.
I think if you take a step back you’ll see you’ve answered your own question:
“Why wouldn’t you locate jobs where people already live?”
“Federal Way’s 4,000 jobs are nearly all staffed by non-Federal Wayans”
The fact is that as much as people want to live where they work, they usually don’t. This could be because they changed jobs, their spouse works somewhere else, they couldn’t afford a house nearby, they wanted a larger yard, they inherited their parents house, etc. Placing jobs in suburban cities leaves us with a mesh network. A mesh network is a system where every point can be directly connected to every other point – in this case, every suburban city is connected to every other suburban city by commuters. A mesh network isn’t just tough to serve with transit, for large regions it’s impossible.
Consider some basic math. Say there’s 30 cities that need to be connected together with transit. Using a mesh network you need 435 bus routes to connect them all (29+28+27…). With a hub-and-spoke system like Seattle uses (everything connects to downtown), you only need 29 bus routes. It’s only this hub-and-spoke system that allows Seattle to have the great bus system we have. A fully connected grid network is unaffordable as a transit system, and you end up with just cars and very few buses which run very infrequently.
And that’s just transit. What you’ve also done is made it cheaper and easier to live in the far suburbs (sprawl). People resist commuting more than a half an hour, but tend to want cheap housing. These two forces balance out in a city and more people choose to live more densely to avoid a long commute. But put jobs in Federal Way, and suddenly Enumclaw or Buckley become attractive. And we lose farms, fields, and forests in the name of cheap housing with large yards.
A mesh network works if you concentrate jobs in suburban downtowns. That’s how ST Express and Sounder are oriented: downtown to downtown. The problem is the last mile out of downtown: far-flung residences or job sites. That’s what’s difficult for transit to serve. That’s the reason for urban villages.
There are ST routes from Auburn and Burien to the Eastside, which follow this concept to the extent the jobs do. Federal Way to the Eastside may be too far and overlapping to expect, but it is available as 574+560 or 181+566. Some Tacomans have also asked for a route from Tacoma Dome to the Eastside, so that may the biggest latent market.
Of course, there could also be centers outside “downtowns”. What Boeing should have done is supported mixed-use urban centers next to its factories fifty years ago. Then there wouldn’t be so much Boeing-induced sprawl and people driving thirty miles to the plants. There was so much growth during that time that they would have easily filled up.
All we’ve done with the suburban center concept is added more hub-and-spoke networks at our urban villages. This still beats a full mesh network, but it’s way less efficient than a single hub-and-spoke. Now instead of direct lines to Seattle, each suburan town needs a line to Seattle and to its local urban village, or maybe two local urban villages. So you’re taking an already low-density bus situation and splitting it 2 or 3 ways, resulting in far lower frequencies and poor but expensive service. The other option is to only connect to the nearby urban village and cut off any other lines, but then you’re requiring more transfers and adding more incentive to drive.
OK, I misunderstood what you meant by mesh network.
The nature of the modern job market is that people change jobs.
Even if they keep the same job, with the same company they have to move around.
When I worked for Boeing in Kent Space Center East, I still had to go to meetings from Everett to Bellevue to Seattle to Renton to Longview and so on.
People want to not only have cheap housing, they want nice housing with space to move around in, low crime, a backyard, and a place to park their boat.
Fast regional transportation was supposed to be implemented by now.
You guys had one job…build fast regional transportation…you spend tens of billions.
You failed Seattle and King County.
You failed Washington State.
It’s time to get rid of you.
How many jobs in downtown Seattle are occupied by people who live in Seattle? A theme of this article is that sprawl is a very bad thing that must be avoided, but is it practical to have everyone work downtown and live a few miles from downtown?
Something that’s unique to the Seattle region is its north-south oriented geography and city arrangements, making a fairly 1-dimensional general sprawl direction. Isn’t this the “ideal sprawl” in terms of transit coverage? This is why we can have commuter routes to Stanwood and Olympia even though those cities are 50 and 60 miles away (compare this to Issaquah, and North Bend if you want to count that).
I myself live in Federal Way and commute to Seattle. My family could never afford a house near downtown. What’s wrong with having sprawl and just serving the sprawl with freeway express buses? Isn’t that what Sound Transit is for??
Show me Seattle without Federal Way/Kent/Auburn/Tacoma/Lynnwood/Issaquah/Shoreline/Redmond/insert-a-dreaded-(gasp!)-sprawl-city-here and I’ll show you an empty downtown that can’t generate enough revenue to fund the D-line.
56% of Center City commuters come from within Seattle. Within Center City destination neighborhoods, First Hill has the lowest share of workers who live in Seattle (44%), while Belltown has the highest (67%).
TV James, I feel your pain. We own a home in Auburn, because that’s what we can afford. But we both work in industries where we each have the choice of a small handful of employers in Tacoma or a plethora of employers in Seattle or Bellevue. We’ve chosen to work in Tacoma, for now, with the goal of someday being able to afford being able to live in a walkable neighborhood in Seattle. (Even the walkable neighborhoods of Tacoma are relatively overpriced.) I suppose that we may be waiting for the next bubble to deflate – otherwise end up relocating elsewhere in the US. Seattle has made itself so unaffordable – particularly for young people, even well-educated young people – that it is downright sickening.
My wife and I have the “let’s leave Seattle” talk at least once a month. It’s very difficult here for a couple to find any place to live that makes it so both can get to work by any reasonable combination of transit, walking, and biking. Right now, we are fortunate enough to live in Mt. Baker and work downtown and on Capitol Hill, respectively. However, if we ever want to stop renting (and move to where we could afford to buy), or if one of us has to change jobs, we’re stuck driving. Add a child and the need for a second bedroom into the mix, and even the smallest families are screwed here.
Justin: I assume the problem is that most other cities in the US are actually worse. Which cities have you found which are better?
I guess the deal with other places I’ve lived is that housing isn’t so expensive and one or both of us could get to work with transit. At the times when one of us couldn’t get to work on reasonable transit, the one who was stuck driving didn’t have as long of a drive. While driving alone to work is certainly far from the ideal in terms of time spent, the environment, finances, etc., a 20-minute drive at 50 miles per hour over the 45 minutes of stop and go traffic that it takes me to get to Fremont once a week is certainly better.
Cities I’ve found that are better: Dallas, Ft. Worth, Omaha, Spokane, Twin Cities, Chicago, Denver.
Engineer, let’s get this straight. It is NOT that “Seattle has made itself “. It’s that “God” or “Nature” or “the Luck of the Draw” has made Seattle “unaffordable” because there is not enough land in the Puget Sound region — not by a LONG shot — to accommodate all the people with money who would like to live along its shores! Especially now that the myth about the horrible rain has been exploded.
Dude, you live in one of the most desirable locations for human habitation on the planet! The reason that all those cities that Justin listed are cheap is that with the exception of Denver and to a degree Spokane they are aesthetically boring and uninspiring places to live.
True, all of them have better economic prospects for families; you are correct about that. So if you want to retire in the Pacific Northwest and you don’t have an inherited house, do what my wife and I did. We went to Texas for a decade, lived in rental housing and saved, saved, saved. Then when I got a modest inheritance from my aunt, we came back to the Northwest and let contract opportunities for Oracle decide that Portland was better for us.
No, it’s not as great as Seattle, but it has the same wonderful spring, summer and fall, lack of annoying insects, and if anything it’s even more varied as to what will grow, so a heaven for gardeners. Go make your bucks in the Republican cesspool of the Midwest and South and bring back your nest egg after the kids leave home. Maybe if you’re lucky you can leave them enough that they don’t have to go through the same process.
A lot depends on where you want to live in Seattle. Houses are pretty cheap in the Rainier Valley, from what I can tell. Townhouses for close to $200,000 and full houses for around $300,000. You occasionally can find similar bargains in other neighborhoods.
On the positive side, two middle income people may well out-earn a well-paid newcomer who is single. Splitting housing costs also helps.
If you can live reasonably cheaply in the suburbs while saving up a nice down payment, you’ll probably be better off in 3-5 years than the single, high income person who is spending most of their income on housing, student loans, income tax, etc.
There’s also Spokane. It’s close enough for a weekend visit to Seattle; the weather is more extreme than Puget Sound but it’s not humid like the southeast; and the culture and laws and are civilized. The main issue would be finding a job, since it’s more limited than larger cities.
Justin: thanks for the list. Yeah, from what I know of housing prices and transit systems, all those cities *are* arguably better.
I thought of NY, SF, LA, Boston, but housng prices…
I thought of Pittsburgh, Cleveland, etc., but no jobs.
I thought of Houston, San Antonio, Atlanta, Milwaukee but terrible public transportation.
Then there are smaller cities, but almost always terrible public transportation and no jobs… and sometimes high housing prices on top of that!
I’ve thought of leaving Seattle due to the high costs as well. Unfortunately the list of other candidates is rather limited. Finding something with the right mix of affordability, employment opportunities, and livability is difficult.
>> Why wouldn’t you locate jobs where people already live?
I think that is the key argument here. People live in the city, so it makes sense to locate jobs in the city. Look at a census map of the area and it is pretty easy to make out the city line. Shoreline, for example, has no census tract over 10,000 people per mile. Bellevue has a few moderately dense sections, and there are handfuls in Lynnwood, Everett, and a surprisingly dense section in Kent. So I suppose you could make an argument for location jobs in Kent, but of course, Link manages to avoid the entire area (too hard to get down into the valley I suppose) so it would be a pretty big challenge to serve it with transit (it can be done, just not as well as other places). There is no way that it would as easy to reach as say, Northgate, for the huge numbers of people that might locate here.
But anyway, we are talking about only a very small number of people. Almost all of the density is in Seattle. It’s not even close, and this was before the latest boom (where we are seeing population growth in the city outpace that in the suburbs). The people are in the city, so if you want to locate the jobs where the people are, that is where you would put them.
There is an argument to be made that having jobs scattered throughout the region, rather than all concentrated in downtown Seattle can make for a more efficient transit network. The simple reason being that instead of carrying full loads in one direction and empty loads the other direction, buses or trains can carry full loads in both directions. The 545 and 550 are prime examples of routes that would not be nearly as efficient as they are if downtown Bellevue and Overlake were nothing but bedroom communities.
The flip side, of course, is that for every person commuting to Microsoft from Seattle, there’s another person commuting to Microsoft from Redmond Ridge or Sammamish, in what would have likely remained most undeveloped had Microsoft chosen to locate itself in Seattle.
It’s pretty clear that after 3 decades of centralization, the authorities cannot make it work.
Billions spent, and still horrible traffic.
Sky high housing and rents.
Ever decreasing job opportunities from crumbling behemoths.
Terrible rates of new business formation.
This State has been hitting itself on the head with a hammer for so long, it thinks that two hammers might be a solution.
The better answer, is of course, stop hammering.
Do you live in California?
California, like Seattle, uses highway as train tracks.
Cars go in two dimensions.
Few to none of the planners understand this.
Waze is making it clearer (and thus they fight it).
Been to Gig Harbor recently?
It could have a pleasant little downtown if it weren’t for the fact that the community is so auto centered that even on a lazy Saturday morning it is impossible to cross any of the streets there on foot. The vast housing development completely surrounding the place on far flung roads without even a shoulder, let alone a sidewalk, have turned what could be a great place to live into a traffic hellhole.
I’m not convinced that turning small suburban cities into traffic hellholes is the solution to any particular problem.
Yet, that is the result of a decade or so of acting like existing planning actually limits much of anything.
Been to Portland.
They have adequate highway capacity and a strong percentage of single car drivers.
Where that 2-dimensional network (not having all cars funnel into a single linear route) is robust, traffic goes freely.
Highway capacity which, except for an added couple miles of third lane to I-5 near Delta Park, hasn’t particularly changed since about 1987. We don’t have money or space for more highway capacity in Portland.
Want some proof of what a difference land use planning can make? Use Google satellite view to compare Portland to Clark County on the other side of the Columbia. Our land use planning isn’t great here, but it’s better than Clark County. They’ve had to continuously expand their roads there, and it still isn’t keeping pace with the population.
Spot on, sir. Which is why those of us who live in Clark County and still have some sense of caring for the environment need those of you in Oregon to say “No. No. No. And Still No!” to whatever crazy, selfish scheme the bat-crazy people who run the place and represent most of the county in Olympia come up with. Because it’s 100% guaranteed to be some scheme to subvert the regional land use planning standards.
Uh…one question John. If anybody that usually writes for or reads these pages actually is responsible for even one of your whole list of failures, what else can you expect?
I mean, look at us!
Since I actually used to drive transit, and my advisory committee advice blew out at last a hundred million, I’ll take some of the blame. I really am sorry.
But that’s best I can do. I tried to get all those governmental agencies to help me wreck the country, the State, and the County but they just gave me little maps of the capital and a cookie.
Okay, I admit I vote, too. So I’ve confessed, John. Now you owe it to the world to tell us: where were you over the eighty years or so when all this happened?
Traffic is enviable because traffic expands to the size of the road. It’s a property of the universe and public policy won’t change that.
A lot of suburban centers are challenged to meet steep employment goals. Eastside commercial development is very concentrated in downtown Bellevue and the SR-520/East Link corridor. Growth centers elsewhere on the Eastside are meeting employment goals with lots of zoned capacity and much less actual development.
What would happen if they relax the goals, i.e. accept the centralization of employment into downtown Seattle and Bellevue?
They could absorb more dense residential. Zoning for employment excludes a lot of potential residential development. For instance, there’s a bunch of land in downtown Kirkland that’s largely reserved for office (the area east of Peter Kirk Park). Developers would do multifamily, but the City is anxious about how to meet employment targets if potential office space is built over with apartments.
There is a trade-off here. We’d be giving up on all-day neighborhoods in the other urban villages. But Kirkland (and Ballard if it wants RGC designation) are being forced to push residents out of downtown to make room for employment growth that may never happen.
Again, the likelihood of your exact job being exactly where you live is low.
Even if your job class is near your home, someone else, on the other side of town, may have it with ten years of seniority, friendships, and so on.
This is why urban villages fail…because you can’t match jobs and people like legos, there’s emotion, history and specifics involved.
But what you can do is try to build a system so you can
That was the supposed job of transit.
But somehow that got usurped by the densifiers and politicians into MBIS (Must Be In Seattle).
The MBIS are what is ruining it for everyone.
You can’t build a system to do the impossible. You can’t have anyone work anywhere and live anywhere.
The only way to allow anyone to easily get to their job at any time is:
(1) to restrict the areas where large non-farm (non-mine) businesses and residences are allowed to be built — restrict it to areas which have suitable transportation. So, not out in the middle of the wheat fields, not on the mountain peaks, not on the islands… those areas should be strictly for people willing to live at their job, such as farmers or miners.
(2) Allow unlimited businesses and households within the area which is well-served. We could call it “the city”.
This is the model which has worked for, oh, forever, prior to the insane arrival of suburban sprawl.
To make it clearer that your idea is totally impossible, I’d like to work in London and live in Hawaii. Not gonna happen.
Throw in housing prices of East Sludgepot, New Jersey and I’ll sign up for it.
You can’t have anyone work anywhere and live anywhere.
Not can’t…didn’t want to.
A corrupt Democrat regime in bed with a few greedy landowners saw to it.
This is a political, not a technological issue.
Ah, the Lord of the Universe belches forth another Faux News slam.
Just FYI, John, “Democrat” is not an adjective, regardless of what Saint Rush claims.
John, pay attention to reality. The word is “can’t”. Can’t live on Maui and work in London. There are real restrictions to where you can live vs. where you can work. Try figuring out what they are.
Hint: They have to do with transportation. They have to do with what’s possible to build in the way of transportation at reasonable expense.
I really think this is super-simplistic.
For one thing, real evidence shows that employment distributions that are similar to residential distributions reduce average commute distances a lot. For example, hypothetically moving all non-residential Bellevue functions (export industries, regionally important retail, etc.) to greater-downtown Seattle (with offices moving to typical office areas, retail moving to retail areas, industry moving to industrial areas, etc.) would increase commute distances both short-term and long-.
Then, of course, when it comes to transit operations, strong job centers outside a single downtown core can allow for more efficient and useful transit patterns. Again, moving all non-residential Bellevue functions to greater-downtown Seattle would probably increase peak capacity requirements for Bellevue-Seattle transit while decreasing all-day ridership.
And then there’s the affordability question. Suburban job centers are important release valves for demand in “the core”.
As with residential growth, future job growth in places like Ballard may be underestimated by regional projections. But then Ballard is just flat-out hard to get to from most of the region. A lot of suburban downtowns are relatively well situated for this. While Totem Lake is permanently freeway-damaged, that’s a lot less true of, say, downtown Bellevue, downtown Renton, and Northgate. Significant job growth around regional transit investments in these places is a good thing if we can build a strong and flexible transit network overall.
Check out downtown Bellevue, and then tell us that all those office towers should’ve been built in downtown Seattle? Impossible to fathom.
They shouldn’t have been built anywhere except out in the middle of nowhere so cars could reach them and find a place to park.
This again seems like a case where there are two design options, both bad and at cross purposes.
You build this vertically dense towers in the midst of already high density with poor road access and expensive parking.
Or you build these “campuses” in the middle of nowhere so it’s hard to move around even short distances without a vehicle.
Why not build tall buildings with lots of space around them and parking?
Why not turn already dense cities into campuses?
Seems to me those towers *were* built way out in the middle of nowhere so cars can reach them and find a place to park: namely, Bellevue.
Ummm, actually not, Mars. Bellevue adopted a compact high-density plan for downtown Bellevue in 1979. Those towers were built afterwards,in conformance with that plan. Their zoning code even included upper limits on auto parking supply within those towers. Your comment sounds like hyperbole, but it’s thrust is wrongly directed.
RDPence, I was trying to answer Bailo’s question by reversing his premise. If I’m understanding his point accurately, he’s arguing that Downtown Bellevue’s highrises should have been built out in the middle of nowhere, not in the middle of a dense city. From my perspective as a Seattleite, Bellevue *already is* out in the middle of nowhere relative to Seattle. If you were going to ask “should we build these high-rises in the city or stash them out in suburban sprawl somewhere”, answering “Bellevue” would count as the latter.
But now that the high-rises exist, Bellevue therefore has some density, and while it’s a very poorly designed city it has nonetheless become a real city. Bailo’s point, as I read it, therefore inverts cause and effect: Bellevue strikes him as a bad place to put high-rises because Bellevue *used to be* the kind of place he would put high-rises, and the act of putting high-rises there is what made Bellevue the way it is today.
From my perspective, density is a sign of health; density is what efficient use of resources looks like, and efficient use of resources leads to prosperity. Avoiding density just seems like deliberate self-sabotage.
“From my perspective as a Seattleite, Bellevue *already is* out in the middle of nowhere relative to Seattle.” Look at an aerial photo of the region, and you will see no boundary lines separating “Seattle” from other cities and communities. And you will also see that downtown Bellevue is quite close to downtown Seattle, certainly compared to most other regional centers. My advice would be to get out more, and stop being so Seattle-centric.
Seattle does not need a boundary line separating it from Bellevue because there is a very large glacial lake doing the job already. My disdain for Bellevue arises from familiarity, not ignorance; until last October I worked in an office at NE 8th and Bellevue Way. From what I saw of its urban design and political process, I believe it to have been designed by suburbanites who neither liked nor understood cities and only built one because they wanted to invest in city real estate.
Maybe something more like Dubai syndrome? Build a bunch of unnecessary towers so it has a more impressive skyline?
I’m always surprised by the contempt Seattleites have for Bellevue. Their ignorance isn’t quite so surprising.
I work in Bellevue. I can look out my window at any given point in time, on any given day, in any kind of weather, and see from NE 8th all the way nearly to Main down 110th. Unless a convention event just got out, it is a shock to be able to see more than 10 pedestrians in that entire stretch. This is a part of the city that has a small mall, government buildings, two large residential towers and several office towers AND the east end of a major transit facility! And right now, at rush hour, I can see 4 people in that entire stretch. Plop me in ANY neighborhood center in Seattle and I will see more pedestrians than that at any time of day. I tend to walk to the store or post office or other places I need to run errands here during the day, and you rarely see more than a handful of other people walking anywhere.
Bellevue was designed for cars. It works passably well for that. It sucks for pedestrians; it can take 2-3 minutes at every major intersection to wait for a light cycle. That kind of thing takes up valuable time at lunch if you want to make it somewhere much farther than your building’s little cafeteria. Our firm is moving to Seattle this summer and even the suburbanites in the office are happy about that. Bellevue will someday, despite its horrible decision on the rail routing and stations, fill in. It already has some housing in the core, although high end; what it hasn’t developed yet is any sort of soul. Were I not working here, I can’t think of any reason why I would ever come here–not because I “hate” Bellevue, but because there is nothing here that I can’t easily find in Seattle. Maybe that will change someday, but when your “destination” is a mall that has a lot of mall stores and chain restaurants, it isn’t hard to find that stuff pretty much anywhere you live. (Nice as that mall may be, for a mall, it isn’t even as nice as malls I’ve visited in Panama City or Doha. As for me, I’m not a mall person….oh, and right now–8:20am on a Thursday–there is not a single pedestrian in the view I described earlier.)
“I’m always surprised by the contempt Seattleites have for Bellevue. Their ignorance isn’t quite so surprising.”
It happens the other way too.
And of course, some STB staff live on the Eastside, and some readers have lived in both places and support both places. Eastside-bashing is mostly about the large percentage of low-density blocks there and high parking minimums, but of course Seattle has those problems too.
Scott, I’m not referring to the state of Bellevue. I agree that Bellevue is doing “urban” badly. They’re trying, but it is a city built around cars. It takes a lot of effort to break that model. I don’t expect downtown Bellevue to be truly urban in my lifetime.
Mike, I don’t think it happens nearly as much the other way around. This is in large part because the Eastside doesn’t have a voice as strong as Seattle’s. The ignorance is common–most truly popular businesses are copied on both sides of the lake (including Bellevue businesses being copied in Seattle) so people can choose to never cross the water.
I don’t agree Eastside-bashing is mostly about low-density blocks and high parking minimums. Maybe on this blog, though that’s charitable. It seems to me that Eastside bashing is about creating a sense of self-importance for city dwellers.
Seattleites imagine themselves to be an island of greatness. All the jobs should be in Seattle. All the good neighborhoods to live are in Seattle. All the restaurants worth visiting are in Seattle. But Seattle completely ignores the fact that it’s part of a greater metropolitan area. Without Microsoft on the Eastside, would we have the current tech boom that has powered this city for the last 30+ years? I don’t think so. Amazon is big now, but it still pales in comparison in overall impact.
Seattle is, frankly, a rather inconsequential city overall. It’s been dominated by a list of monopolies throughout its short history. First the gold digging (and prostitution), then the timber and whaling, then Boeing (in Renton, mind you.) After that, software (centered in Redmond.) There was a short–and failed–biotech spurt. Our next hope (yes, “our”, even though I don’t live in the city) appears to be SpaceX, merging aerospace and software. And yeah, it’s on the Eastside.
All I’m asking is that people on this blog start to regard Seattle as a region, not a city. If it were just a city it would have failed long ago.
It would be a large bump upward, but not unimaginably so. Downtown Bellevue employs 46k people, compared to downtown Seattle’s 202k. For comparison Manhattan has 2 million employees. 22% increase is large, but it’s certainly fathomable.
Anyway, I’m not talking about banning employment outside of Seattle. But we shouldn’t be adding financial incentives to push jobs outward.
My point is, our region is built on a multi-centered plan with major transportation spokes (rail now and to come) connecting the largest of those centers. And nothing is going to morph that into a single-centered plan, certainly no blogger or group of bloggers.
The multi-centered plan actually makes good sense from a rail transit perspective, because it puts riders on trains in both directions — not just inbound in the morning and outbound in the afternoon, like a single-centered system would do.
I suppose it depends on what the author means by core. Bellevue is already built up. There are a fair number of people there and a bit of density. Downtown Bellevue is a major center, and so trying to roll back the clock won’t help. But let’s not pretend it didn’t play a part in sprawl, or the horrible amount of traffic we have.
If possible, we should avoid further, similar actions. Building lot of new development in Issaquah, for example, would simply make commuting worse for a lot of people, and add to sprawl. New jobs in Ballard, or the other hand, make a lot of sense. Given the current population of Ballard, at least one light rail line is justified — you can’t say that about Issaquah. So if we want to add jobs, adding them in Ballard would make a lot more sense.
Actually, RossB, downtown Bellevue density helped contain sprawl. Those office buildings house attorneys and accountants and other professionals serving eastside clients. It would’ve been folly for them to move to Seattle and force their employees and clients to “do the bridge”. But for those Bellevue towers, those tenants would be out somewhere in next-generation office parks — and THAT would’ve been sprawl.
>> It would’ve been folly for them to move to Seattle and force their employees and clients to “do the bridge”
Maybe, but consider the advantages:
1) Great bus service, since so many buses go downtown.
2) Fast bus service, since the HOV lanes go that direction.
The reverse hasn’t happened. Bellevue is still harder to get to than downtown, via a bus. Meanwhile, it is horrible to drive to as well. Many a suburban office park was built and designed to provide a better commuting trip for their employees and clients, but like many a suburban activity, it backfired. Once traffic caught up with the “reverse commuters”, they gained nothing. Meanwhile, the transportation system got spread too thin (e. g. reversible HOV lanes or insufficient bus service).
You are absolutely right, though, about our development history. If not for downtown Bellevue, then we probably would have more Redmond and Factoria office parks, with even more sprawl. But if people had simply continued to build in downtown Seattle, then the average commute for the average person would probably be a hell of a lot better. That probably wouldn’t have happened twenty or thirty years ago without a lot of legislation (carrots or sticks) but it is the trend now. Companies still locate in the suburbs, to be sure, but the trend is the opposite direction, towards companies starting in the city. Some companies (like Weyerhaeuser) have actually moved their company from the suburbs to the city, which is quite a change in direction. If anything, the trend now is to locate in the city, but not in the core (i. e. Brooklyn instead of Manhattan). Companies located in Fremont, Ballard, the UW and even South Lake Union (which was once considered outside the downtown core) can be seen as part of that trend.
That puts a lot of stress on the transportation system, but it probably results in less sprawl and more people who walk to work. Not that many people walk to work if their job is in Factoria (instead of Fremont). Likewise, if you work in downtown Bellevue, then Lake Sammamish doesn’t sound like a bad commute, but if you work in Fremont or Ballard (and certainly the UW or South Lake Union) then living in the city is a lot more appealing.
Bellevue is great for developers.
I’m not even sure Bellevue is that great for cars. Parking is difficult to come by and getting out of town at the end of the day sometimes can take 30 minutes just to leave the city limits.
But yes, Bellevue is what happens when a master planner engineers a city. All the way down to the one homeless guy who radiantly greets out outside California Pizza Kitchen with his thoughts on yesterday’s game or what kind of music he’s in the mood for today, Bellevue feels… Disneyfied. It doesn’t feel like a real city.
If by “Parking is difficult to come by” you mean that sometimes you have to go to the second deck of the Bellevue Square lot to get a spot then yes.
That homeless guy by the CPK is honestly the most memorable part of Blahvue. I’m glad someone else has taken note.
Shane V, I’m glad that you stay out of “Blahvue”.
The reality is more and more of us don’t have the new big incomes needed to live close in. We work at middle-class jobs with limited raises and housing cost outpacing wage increases. The kind of job growth occurring in Seattle today is pushing people out of the city and causing more sprawl. Today and for the foreseeable future, the market is being filled with expensive apartments with amenities to capture the new, wealthier market who wants to live close to the city and their jobs. Old, affordable buildings are razed to make way for lucrative developments. Even taller buildings that were supposed to help lower rent and meet demand boast luxury, amenities, and high prices. New affordable units forced by the City meet a small fraction of supply. In our market, affordable isn’t desirable by those actually building. Maximizing return on investment is.
Now that we’re concentrating more jobs in the city core, people now have to commute longer since they cannot afford to live near the core (land is a finite resource and prices have reflected that). ORCA Lift is an example. Poorer residents who used to live close to the city core now have to commute far greater distances because they can’t afford to live here. Even middle-class people are having more difficulty living close to and working downtown since there’s no growth in affordable living! This includes myself.
Additionally, if there were a balance of growth in other parts of the region, even suburban, the overall load on the transportation network would decrease as O/D pairs would change. Everyone now is trying to get into the downtown core on a limited, 100% utilized supply of roads and rails. Bellevue used to be a suburban town, and now it’s a big job center. The increased number of jobs has lead to an increase in transit as well. The simple fact is Seattle won’t have a robust rail network for nearly a decade and our bus system is showing significant strain.
Personally, if my job moved to Lynnwood, I’d be happy. Cost of living plummets and so would my commute time. Yes, I’d have to drive more, but I could also afford to live *and* save money for the future. Getting from Edmonds or MLT to Lynnwood is fairly simple, even by transit (for a suburban agency, CT is actually pretty good and used to be amazing).
“The kind of job growth occurring in Seattle today is pushing people out of the city and causing more sprawl.”
I’d argue Seattle’s restrictions on growth are pushing people out of the city. Jobs don’t tend to make things unaffordable, quite the contrary. But if Seattle is adding far, far fewer new housing units than cubicles.
I agree. Infill of housing is number one on the list of things that we should be doing.
I agree as well.
“The reality is more and more of us don’t have the new big incomes needed to live close in [to the city in a single family detached home.]”
There, I fixed it for you.
Even single family detached homes aren’t too expensive in Rainier Valley (well within the city limits, and close to convenient transit).
Tell that to my friend who’s a third-generation Valleyite and looked for months for a small house in the mid-2000s but couldn’t find one for under $250K so he ended up getting one in SeaTac. He said he should have bought one in the 80s when they were cheap. He pointed to some new houses in Columbia City that are $600K, which is probably the highest.
A detached house for $250K is probably hard to find — I’ll give you that. But according to Zillow, there are fair number. These are detached houses. Maybe some need some work, or are on a busy street, but from what I can tell, I would live in most of them (I wouldn’t mess with the fixer uppers). There are a bunch more townhouses (some new) at around that price as well. You get a lot more options as you go up a bit (to the $300 range).
Once again, you guys have it all backwards.
Think of Seattle before the big influx of people, back before 1990.
When it was ranked America’s #1 Best Place to Live.
Ok, cleary that density was what made it desirable.
But when you add more people you degrade quality of life.
In order to preserve quality of life, while increasing population, you have to build to the same specifications as when it was a desirable place.
What has happened to Seattle is what happened to the hamburgers that are made by fast food places. They extracted all the value through the use of low grade materials until you end up with something that costs a lot, and has zero nutrition.
Yes. The density — lots of people and jobs in a relatively small area with high-quality buildings — was what made it desirable.
And that density & quality should have been replicated by building more “town centers”, rather than building cheap, low-grade cookie-cutter subdivisions and office parks on the former farmland and forest. That’s what “New Urbanists” have been saying all along.
Just to make the point about people not living near where they work, I’ll give you a personal example. I grew up on Queen Anne. I knew most of the neighbors and I can remember where many of them worked – for most of them, a transit commute would have been rather difficult:
Federal Way (2)
Lower Queen Anne
These people paid some premium (even back then, QA was more expensive than, say, Shoreline or Renton) to live in Seattle, and yet few worked close enough to make transit a good option.
However, if you work in Everett and your partner works in Federal Way, Queen Anne isn’t such a stupid idea after all. Living in the center gives you access to most of the jobs. If you live on one edge of the area, commutes to the other edge are extremely difficult. For couples, this effect is even more important.
The Regional Growth Center term is flawed in several big ways:
1. The jobs criteria threshold is much higher than the housing criteria threshold. It was developed before our affordable housing crises got so acute.
2. The criteria looks at overall numbers and not relative densities.
3. The data setting the criteria is no updated on an annual or biennial basis.
4. The criteria of “job” is too generic, and a retail or medical job generates much more travel activity than a warehouse or manufacturing job does.
If we would switch to “daily home and non-home person trip ends” as an actual number or as a number per square mile (trip end density), we would probably be a little more equitable for assessing transportation growth areas. These data can be readily available in travel model data produced by PSRC.
I realize that is a rather “out there” idea for many Seattle elected officials, citizens and professionals — but we need to admit that generic terms of total jobs and housing are marginally useful metrics for urban transportation investment trade-offs and agree to something better.
Don’t forget to include in your calculation HOW a given ‘growth center’ is to grow via its revenue stream.
Does this job center cost a city money, or generate revenue for the city?
Does this housing center cost a city money, or generate revenue for the city?
Ballard is a suburb??? There used to be lots of jobs in Ballard. Machine shops, fishing industry, etc. The old “blue collar” jobs. But it was close enough to DT that high tech took over and prices pushed blue collar works out. Can’t get workers and jobs go elsewhere. It’s great to say Ballard should have more jobs; and I agree. But those jobs are going to have to compete with high tech positions in DT and Bellevue. Good, bad or ugly that’s just the way it is. But yes, Ballard should be a jobs center. Maybe it’s not ideally served by transit now but improving that is way easier than improving transit to some place like Issaquah. And that’s the choice.
Many of those Ballard jobs are still there: various marine businesses including small boatyards, machine shopes, powder coating businesses,
The problem is most of those jobs are part of the Ballard/Interbay industrial center and not part of the Ballard Hub Urban Village.
It would be sort of like excluding the UW from the University District then claiming the U-District doesn’t have significant employment.
Let’s take it to the extreme – every new building 12 stories or greater in Seattle must contain: ground-level retail, 5 floors of office space, the ability to support a skybridge to neighboring buildings (in case businesses need to expand) and 5 floors minimum residential.
As much as I like the idea of preventing sprawl, I don’t think that keeping every single job in the core of one city really works. It creates a need for an infrastructure that is heavily utilized in a single direction once a day. Everyone driving driving, busing or railing in at 7:30 am and driving, busing and railing out at 5:30 pm. I can work out of South Lake Union or Bellevue and both are impossible to escape at days’ end.
Our geography does constrain us, true, but concentrating jobs in a few key areas and housing elsewhere just exacerbates this and leaves a lot of infrastructure under-utilized in the reverse – empty trains and buses heading back out and empty freeways opposite the commute.
Eventually between policy and geography sprawl will be constrained as well. The more we do now to not just prevent sprawl but strategically encourage healthy mixes of land use wherever people are already, that will help.
Back to my original argument – most Federal Way residents leave the city for work while most jobs in Federal Way are filled by people from other communities. This sounds like a good challenge for city, county and state leadership to better understand who lives in Federal Way or Ballard or Everett and encourage aligning businesses to set up shops or offices in those communities. (This is why you’ll find recruiting and military bases throughout the U.S. rather than one giant military base in the the middle of the U.S. with all recruits and military personnel relocating or commuting there.)
I see 1-way commute as an engineering problem, not as a reason to poorly design cities. 1.6 million people commute into Manhattan, and only 132,000 people commute out. This has not caused their transit system to go bankrupt, or harmed the urban form (quite the opposite, in my opinion).
Again, I’m not proposing we force every job into Seattle. Let’s just stop the incentives to pull jobs away from the core.
I agree. Plus it is simply a much easier problem to solve. We could pretty much solve the Snohomish County to downtown Seattle commute problem tomorrow with some paint (change the “2” on the HOV lane to “3”). But the reverse would literally require billions of dollars (in added HOV lanes). I-90 is doing that, and it ain’t cheap.
Not that the author is proposing that. We can’t move all the suburban office jobs into the city. But we shouldn’t encourage new office jobs in the suburbs, as that only makes transportation and sprawl worse.
I’d say New York is too Manhattin-centric and unbalanced. That doesn’t mean jobs and activities have to be spread out evenly, but 66/33 split with more people travelling between Brooklyn and Queens may be better than a 90/10 split with almost everything in Manhattan.
Based on what? Transit efficiency? That’s pretty low on my list of priorities for building a city.
In my opinion that would be a terrible, terrible idea. You’d create massive sprawl as people move to 2nd ring or 3rd ring neighborhoods and commute in.
Manhattan is what it is precisely because it has all of those jobs.
There is no practical requirement that dictates that jobs should be located in the city. In Seattle, that makes absolutely no practical sense. You have irresponsible politicians that are not proposing real transit solutions, so in effect people have to drive their cars everywhere in the meantime. People get tired of the congestion, and there is some truth to the idea that one should live close to where they work. So if this is the case, and if the reality is that most people with families that want a good education move to the suburbs, then the jobs should be close to the suburbs where these people live.
Market forces dictate where companies locate too. Land and office space is cheaper in the outlying areas, so it makes sense for these companies to locate there. Instituting a policy to change that reality artificially does nothing to deal with market reality. Rather than to continually pester people with a stick to come to one’s political viewpoint (example: trying to force people to ride bikes to commute when they’re not even considering the idea of getting out of their car to take transit), it is far more convincing to put practical measures forward that make it easier to adopt transit and to make commuting to the city a more economically viable and comfortable choice over living and working in the suburbs.
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