TransitModeShareRegional Centers Monitoring Report - 2013 Edition

Sound Transit’s planning emphasizes connections between Regional Growth Centers. The PSRC’s VISION 2040 growth strategy distributes the largest share of growth to cities with designated regional growth centers that are connected by major transportation corridors and high capacity transit.

So how are the regional growth centers doing? Are they effective hubs for regional transportation?

PSRC data reveals that 76% of commuters in the region drive to work alone. (The PSRC region comprises the four counties of King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish). The RGCs do better with only 61% driving alone. Transit mode shares show 18% ride transit in the RGCs vs. 10% for the PSRC region.

So far, so good. But the average numbers are skewed by Seattle. The six RGCs within the city of Seattle (red bars on the chart) all have transit mode shares higher than the region. All but Northgate are at or above the RGC average. Most other centers are far behind.

In the chart above, ranked from worst to best, we see only 3 of the other 21 RGCs have transit mode shares higher than the region as a whole. Those are Bellevue downtown, Tacoma downtown, and Bremerton. Conversely, just 4 have SOV shares below the average of the entire region, and none by very much.* The region, of course, includes thousands of square miles of sprawling suburbs and rural areas. It’s striking that most RGCs fail to clear such a low bar.

Regional Centers Monitoring Report - 2013 Edition

The map to the left shows activity units per acre. Activity units, a favored PSRC measure, are the sum of the number of residents plus the number of jobs. Regional growth centers (outlined in blue) capture a fair, but not overwhelming, proportion of activity in the suburbs. But as Matthew Johnson noted last week, they exclude a wide expanse of Seattle that is relatively dense.

Does it make sense to concentrate transit investments in centers that aren’t performing even to the low average of the region?

For transit, land use is destiny. Most RGCs aren’t very urban. Can they evolve, and can early transit investments aid in that evolution? That’s the hope of planners in many cities who see Link light rail as key to future urban development.

Redmond Overlake may be a notable outlier. It’s a mostly non-residential area with good transit access, but 80% SOV usage by residents (i.e. four points above the regional average). Yet, the development prospects are strong with an expected 30-40 thousand future residents. Why do Overlake’s prospects seem better than its peers on this list? Overlake will have a Link station in 2023, but it also benefits from strong local employers and proximity to successful downtowns in Bellevue and Redmond.

* Data is for the 27 Regional Growth Centers as of 2010. A 28th center, University Place, was added in 2014.

97 Replies to “Transit Isn’t Working in the Regional Growth Centers”

  1. I come down on the view that half the problem is the lame marketing campaigns to get folks to use transit.

    It’s time to put using transit as your primary vehicle in dollars, cents and sense. I mean if I had a realistic choice – and I don’t due to disability, but still – between riding in a bus to get a jump-start on the workday or in a single occupancy vehicle able to only focus on driving, I kinda think I’d want the bus. I’m already paying taxes for the bus and if I get a monthly pass I get instead of fuel + insurance + maintenance + car payment bills just one low bill.

    Just my thoughts. It’s time to force people to realize transit is good for them and we’re not going to be widening I-5 anytime soon… and already 1% of the vehicles on I-5 between Seattle & Everett are Community Transit hauling 25% of the commuters.

    1. I come down on the view that half the problem is the lame marketing campaigns to get folks to use transit.

      This is extremely unlikely. Marketing matters at the margins, but it’s rarely a major factor.

      1. It certainly doesn’t matter as much as the choice between a three-bus, hour and forty minute commute versus a 30 minute drive. That’s the choice for many folks who work outside of downtown Seattle.

      2. Yep, that’s exactly it, Justin. Oh, I’m sure there are cases where people aren’t aware that a bus exists (like maybe they are looking at Metro and ignoring Sound Transit) but these days that is rare. Folks drive because taking the bus is usually bad. I drive all the time in the city, and I comment on and have even written a guest post. It isn’t marketing, it is just an inferior product.

      3. The lamest part of transit marketing campaigns are that they only promote one agency’s service. It’s all Ride Metro or Ride Sound Transit, never Ride Transit. Makes as much sense as WSDOT advertising Drive State Highways.

        People ride the buses or trains that will get them where they need to go, and they don’t give a damn which agency is providing the service. Same as when they drive; they use the roadways that get them where they need to go.

  2. Ahhh, the impatient generation. You are used to results happening immediately, and if they don’t, something’s wrong. But increasing mode shares won’t happen as quickly as knocking down bricks with a bird. Your generation has grown up not having to wait for anything. With transit, you will simply have to learn how to wait.

    “Does it make sense to concentrate transit investments in centers that aren’t performing even to the low average of the region?” Yes. Of course it does. Again, building transit takes decades, not months or even years. This very blog repeatedly says freeway traffic will only get worse as more people move into the region. And now your answer to this upcoming region-wide gridlock is to NOT invest in transit? HUH??

    1. What?

      The question posed was not “Transit. Is it a good thing? Should we even build it?”
      It was “Is the PSRC model a good way to decide where to invest in transit?”

      I’d say that any model that that suggests that Totem Lake is more worthy of transit money that Ballard is not working correctly.

      1. The contrast between Ballard and Fremont and suburban RGC’s is really striking. For that matter Bitter Lake or Lake City look pretty good compared to Totem Lake, Federal Way, Lynnwood, or South Hill.

      2. Well luckily, KC Metro doesn’t *just* use RGCs to direct investment (granted, this is just KC Metro). Metro has its own transit activity centers (and Totem Lake is one of them). They (the RGCs and TACs) actually count equally for determining where investments go. Unfortunately, they both suffer from the involvement of politics (a reality that plainly just ‘is’). Politics determined, in part, which places were designated as RGCs and TACs, not just plain old numbers; for some of these places, transit just doesn’t work well, at least not yet (and at least when “transit” is defined as your normal, fixed-route bus service).

        What transit service to these areas does in the near-term is to provide lifeline service and a measure of tax equity. What investing for the long-term can do is facilitate higher-density growth or at least prepare for higher-density growth to occur. In some respects, it’s less of a chicken-and-egg situation, and more of a concurrency situation. (Although, tbh, we need to work on our concurrency laws to explicitly allow transit capacity to count.)

      3. The problem is that the plain old numbers aren’t good ones. PSRC was off on Ballards population growth estimate by >15 years. The numbers for Totem Lake are built off zoned capacity, which in real life, doesn’t mean anything. Designating urban centers in that way is clearly political, which is fine. But it is also clearly fibbing, which doesn’t lead to good growth strategies and investments.

  3. “It’s striking that most RGCs fail to clear such a low bar.”

    Unfortunately, the fact that this is “striking” to anyone explains why people feel the need to keep throwing money at the low percentage RGCs, versus shoring up the RGCs that are actually utilizing the various transit mode shares they have, however good or bad those might be. But hey, as long as there’s money being thrown at an unsolvable problem, there will always be someone happy to cash that check.

    1. And some of the best-performing regional growth centers aren’t designated as such, so they aren’t getting the transit investments.

  4. A couple for things strike me about the activity unit map. The first is by all rights both Fremont and Ballard should be RGCs. Look at either compared to any RGC outside Seattle other than Downtown Bellevue, Downtown Everett, and Downtown Tacoma.

    The second is I agree the prospects for most RGCs outside Seattle other than Downtown Bellevue, Downtown Everett, Dowmtown Redmond, Downtown Tacoma, and Overlake are pretty dim. There are some glimmers of hope in Renton and Kent, but past that RGCs seem to be aspirational with little in the way of actual jobs or population to back it up.

    1. It’s almost as if spending tens of billions of dollars on a proposition wholly at odds with the entire history of human development might not be the wisest idea!

      1. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

        Transit has generally chased growth except when it has been very tightly coupled with land use and development. There are few examples of this in North America since the end of the streetcar era. Vancouver is about the only place where green fields sprouted skyscrapers in recent history. Even the much lauded TOD in the DC area was built in old suburban cities that already had some density to them,

        As this relates to Sound Transit, extending link to Downtown Redmond at least makes some sense. Going any further south than Highline CC is insanity. The picture northward is a bit more complicated, but the Paine Field alignment is stupid as is the I-5 alignment north of 128th.

      2. Since the days when our ancestors screeched and swung through the thorn trees and fought competing families for the same banana, the history of human survival, let alone development, has been to adjust rapidly to changed conditions.


      3. I wonder if Vancouver’s growth was simply the result of new zoning laws, not the new transit. In other words, they would have happened anyway, if the city would have let them. I can think of lots of places in Seattle that would have skyscrapers before Everett if they were allowed to (Wallingford, Fremont, Ballard, Lake City) none of which are especially good for transit. But you are right as far as Seattle is concerned — growth appears to occur independently of transit (in Ballard, Fremont, Lake City, not in Rainier Valley).

    2. Don’t forget Bremerton, which has the highest mode split of any non-Seattle RGC except downtown Bellevue.

      And that’s with literally no regionally funded transit assistance. (unless you count WSF).

    Having read, and re-read John Niles recent report and documentation supporting the PSRC models for 2040 I’m left scratching my head for anything close to the truth around here.
    The differences between our official MPO (Metropolitian Planning Organization), that doles out the big bucks in the Puget Sound, and the actual reported and forecast information presented by our transit agencies is as if we’re talking about two entirely different cities.
    It’s astounding to me that ST and PSRC are still having this data war from 20 years ago. It’s tragic that our political leadership must choose from one or the other to make wise choices going forward.
    If they can’t get reasonably consistent projections about future conditions, and what investments will yield, then it’s no wonder we have STB transit supporters going ballistic (~500 comments) over what appears to be a re-affirmation of the existing long range plan to connect Tacoma, Everett and Redmond with Link Rail.
    The dialog between PSRC and Maggie Fimia (who I respect in spades) points out how fuzzy much of the forecasting is.
    With population set to double by 2040, and transit mode share hovering at less than 5% (after spending 175B, tolling all freeway lanes and doubling transit spending), I would propose locking all the ST, MT, CT, PT and PSRC planners in a room and tell them they can’t come out until there’s agreement within 10% of what the collective truth is. Then maybe our politicians can begin Ice-Skating training without fear of falling in.

  6. We haven’t seen much evidence yet that transit is shaping growth patterns. So maybe the answer is for ST3 to chase the density rather than hope the density chases the most elegant map nodes? That seems to be the argument….

    In particular, is the “RGC” of downtown Everett the holy grail? When I had a briefing on Friday with Sound Transit staff (the pro-transit blogs couldn’t/didn’t make it), an important theme was to use Everett Station as a collector for park-ride customers converging from Marysville and points north,. Those folks would take Link the last couple miles to Paine Field jobs. This was Sound Transit’s counterargument when I asked if Paine Field might be a weak destination given that Boeing workers come from a huge crescent from maybe Burlington to Gold Bar to Kent.

    This scenario maybe isn’t the STB vision but I expect to hear it in the ST3 campaign.

    1. The transit-skeptical will find that unpersuasive. Potential transit users will find that unpersuasive.

      Apparently the only people who consider the PSRC/ST vision persuasive are the people at the PSRC and at ST.

      ST3 is going down in flames.

      I wish STB (and yourself at the Times) had focused on pulling back the curtain on this exercise in bad predictive data and misdirected investment years ago. Perhaps ST2’s worst errors could have been averted.

      1. In fairness, if these morons and their PSRC charts hadn’t been in charge, U-Link might actually serve the areas it expresses beneath.

      2. The point is that the PSRC foundational fallacies have been responsible for the shape of Link from day one, from the very conception of the “spine” to the copious fuckups at the station placement and design level.

        (ST2 also has no shortage of such errors.)

      3. I understand the progression from PSRC RGC designations and population forecasts to spine, to station placement, but how has PSRC influenced—in some roundabout way—the design of stations?

      4. The point is that the PSRC foundational fallacies have been responsible for the shape of Link from day one

        Yes. Not just the shape, but even the organisation of the ST board. We have several bad actors (PSRC, ST board, Washington state legislature, etc) acting each for their own political purposes, playing transit advocates for the fool.

        It has finally taken the most graceless, the most cynical and sardonic move to finally make people stand up and say “No more.”

    2. It’s going to be interesting to learn more about the Everett plans.

      There’s an obvious tension between the idea of (i) Link connecting an urbanizing Everett and (ii) a Link terminus as a Park-and-Ride center for workers on their way to Paine Field.

      Doing both well won’t be easy.

      1. There’s an obvious tension between the idea of (i) Link connecting an urbanizing Everett and (ii) a Link terminus as a Park-and-Ride center for workers on their way to Paine Field.

        Yeah, just like there is an obvious tension between a skyscraper and an airplane “The thirty story building quickly transforms into a high speed jet, so that it can fly to another city, should the need arise”.

        Seriously, though, the idea is nuts. I know of no area anywhere that does this, because they are fundamentally at odds with each other.

      2. Back in my day, the wisdom on park-and-ride lots was they needed to be near people’s homes, so the transit leg would be the longest on their commute. Seems quite misguided to ask Boeing workers to drive all the way into Everett and park, just for the last two miles on a Link train.

        Not to mention how to handle all that auto traffic converging on or near downtown Everett.

      3. A general rule of thumb is that the target market should be able to access a P&R lot without getting on the freeway. Ideally, the most direct driving route to the actual destination would pass right by the P&R lot, just before the freeway entrance.

      4. “A general rule of thumb is that the target market should be able to access a P&R lot without getting on the freeway. Ideally, the most direct driving route to the actual destination would pass right by the P&R lot, just before the freeway entrance.”

        This doesn’t pass that test. If I’m driving in from Marysville to Paine Field, I don’t see why I’d want to get off the highway at Everett to catch a train for the last few miles. With free parking at Boeing, the traffic delay on the highway would have to be horrendous to justify making that switch.

        South Kirkland P&R works (as a parking facility, if not yet as TOD) because it meets your test precisely for a lot of riders from all over south and central Kirkland. Also because it is BEFORE a tolled bridge and a city with SOV congestion and expensive parking on the other side. Paine Field is nothing like downtown Seattle.

      5. I didn’t dwell on this in the article, but the Manufacturing Industrial Centers have transit shares much lower than the regional growth centers. Thoroughly SOV-dominated. Nothing wrong with that. Many manufacturing activities are just not compatible with transit-supportive land uses.

        But the way I usually think about Park-and-Ride transit options is that they are a way to funnel people from less dense places onto transit for travel to more dense places. Riders come in from SFH sprawl, park, then ride transit to a dense urban area.

        Having a Park-and-Ride in Everett to get people to Paine Field seems completely backwards in that framing.

      6. The Link mainline should go directly to Everett with full realization of the development possible around Everett Mall and serving the Evergreen corridor, downtown and North Everett, eventually. Serve Boeing with a spur and a couple stations E and W of the plant. It would connect with Swift2. Put the maintenance and operations base over there. Connect it to the tracks that go down to the new Mukilteo multimodal terminal. ST can let the Port of Everett compete for their business when they take delivery of new railcars and parts. Can I get a cost estimate for that? Call it option A+ I wonder if it’s less than the full mainline Boeing diversion. Call that option B. What? There’s no way SnoCo should give up a direct Link route to Everett, unless Boeing shows up to the table interested in supporting its workforce with cold hard cash. Pledges to pay bonds are acceptable as well.
        Everett has a lot of potential. ST should immediately reopen the West Everett Station platform for Sounder North boardings. It has better walkability from more residential units, hotel rooms and the new Market and could support a lot more construction. It also has better travel time competitiveness. The current Everett Station is a great multimodal hub, but it doesn’t have supportive development yet and being right next to I-5 the train isn’t competitive. Especially factoring in the lack of a station North of Downtown Seattle. And let’s not discuss the simple installation of a platform near Shilshole, (um, hint: that’s Ballard dude. There’s a passenger train there. Shhh!), so then, I could get home from the place I sailed to without taking 3 buses. I prefer a train, bus and 1 mile walk!

    3. Thanks for the update, Mike. This just shows how crazy Sound Transit is. Downtown Everett is supposed to be a huge destination (someday). Lots of people will want to live there — it will be like Belltown. But wait, the light rail line will have a huge parking lot. Doesn’t anyone at Sound Transit see how at odds those two concepts are? If downtown Everett is supposed to be a huge center of activity, it doesn’t need the parking lot. Furthermore, why would someone drive into the busy, bustling downtown Everett of 2040, just to take a train to some other spot? That is crazy. No one will drive to downtown Seattle, (or even SoDo) park their car, then ride the train to the UW. Sound Transit is simply changing their story to somehow magically justify investments that are really poor.

      It reminds me of when McGinn became mayor. McGinn had a decent handle on transportation issues and zoning issues (from his years at the Sierra Club) but he had no idea what it took to be mayor in a big city. Suddenly he had to deal with a police force with some serious problems, and he had no clue. The answer, of course, was to properly delegate, but he struggled with that, and eventually the city lost confidence in the guy.;

      Now the Sound Transit board has the opposite problem. Guys like Dow Constantine are probably good managers. He can probably handle, for example, a crisis involving the public health care system. But he seems to know nothing about transportation, nor does he (or any else in power) seem to have anyone underneath him that can explain the basics.

      Here is a quick tip: A train is not a teleporter. Getting a train stop or two in Everett won’t magically solve their mobility problems. A train needs to fit into a larger network for it to be successful. The network includes buses. Travel distances matter. If it is too far, then folks won’t even ride it, unless it acts like commuter rail, and even then, such commuter rail only makes sense if it is cheap and fast (light rail is neither). West Seattle light rail is stupid because it will be *slower* for the vast majority of users, versus an improved bus system. You can’t say that about other parts of the line (e. g. U-Link). Even for someone in Lake City, riding Link to downtown might be marginally slower (but only during going with the express lanes) but you would go to several high destination spots along the way (all of which would be much faster than buses are today). That simply isn’t true for West Seattle, since it wouldn’t add any stations between SoDo and West Seattle. In other words, there is no trade-off; a bus is simply faster for most people.

      The folks at Sound Transit need a crash course in transit mobility. This isn’t rocket science. I have no formal training nor have I read any books about transit, but even I know when an approach is stupid. To be fair, It took me a while, but all it really took was an open and analytical mind. I fear that the folks at ST lack both.

      1. I can swallow a speculative rail line being built in the suburbs in the hope of catalyzing new development and luring a few thousand Paine Field commuters to switch to transit. But for the love of God, such an endeavor should fall so far down the list of priorities compared to making life better for the 250k commuters who enter greater Downtown Seattle daily. It’s unconscionable for the theoretical future potential of scattered brownfields-cum-growth-centers to trump the present needs of a booming, traffic choked, transit starved city. By all means do both if you can, but neglecting the latter to serve the former is insane.

      2. I think you are being too generous Zach. The answer for areas like Everett are buses. Look at Spokane, which has a similar density pattern. It actually has a more densely populated census block (although only one) but they both are very similar (not very dense). Spokane is building (or hopes to build) a really good bus network. They hope to leverage the existing infrastructure (highways) to provide good value for the money. Spending billions on a light rail line that would only serve a handful of people is nuts — you wouldn’t have any money left over for decent bus service.

        Snohomish County should build Swift 3, 4 and 5. Swift is a winner — it does a very good job (Metro should take note). This would provide much better mobility at a much better price than a light rail line.

        Even just running express buses would be a better value. Run them to Lynnwood, but also run them to Bothell, Kirkland and Bellevue (where new HOT lanes await). Extending Link past Everett is just not a very good value.

      3. I completely agree on the merits, but it’s their money. Where I get testy is when they look at taking our money in order to do less with it than we would.

      4. Everett is a poor city that has repeatedly tried to revitalize its downtown and failed. So it should be looking at low-cost solutions, and many of them, rather than putting all their eggs in one blockbuster that will only solve 10% of the problem.

      5. I agree Zach, it is their money, which is why I have trouble getting too angry at proposals that would spend their money on extending Link. I think it is stupid, but if they want to be stupid, they can be stupid (although I’m sure there are plenty of folks there who think it is stupid, and I’ll join their “stop the stupidity” cause).

        But that is why I focused on Seattle projects. Building West Seattle light rail before Ballard to UW light rail is absurd.

        @Mike — I agree. Good bus service should help them immensely. They should also try and get Link to provide decent service within the city. I read a comment (on another blog) from a woman who lives in Haller Lake and commutes to Everett. She wants a stop at NE 130th, so she can take the train to Lynnwood, then the express bus to Everett. Adding that stop will benefit an Everett business more than a new rail line up to Everett ever would (at a fraction of the cost). Same with Ballard to UW light rail.

      6. d.p.,

        Seeing as they adhere pretty religiously to that definition of “Light Rail”, perhaps if we assign them a new mode with a different definition tacked on we could hope for some better urban mobility outcomes.

      7. @ d.p. – Yes. They have lost it completely.

        I’m done with this. My hope now is that the City of Seattle can somehow gain the ability to plan, fund and construct actual urban transit lines, and that they can work with Metro to create an urban system–or, somehow, that separate taxation and planning for each ST subarea becomes a reality so that North King can fund and build what they need and other subareas can do the same.

        As things stand today I cannot see myself voting another dime for this transit agency. I never thought I would say that. They have some work to do–to say the least–or they are dead. The worst of it is they will never understand why.

      8. Steve,
        Id advise a bit more caution. People have been trying to figure out how to do just that for a while and… it just might not be something we can do.

      9. But, Jon, we’ve figured it out: Use the monorail bonding power to construct a SkyTrain that is “not light rail.” The only reason it hasn’t happened yet is that the sane pro-transit groups have been united behind Sound Transit.

    4. “Those folks would take Link the last couple miles to Paine Field jobs.”

      Would they take an express shuttle bus? East-west commuting to Boeing is inconsistent with Central Link’s purpose of facilitating north-south trips and all-day mobility.

      Does Everett Station really have so many excess parking spaces that aren’t needed for southbound travelers? Will the Boeing commuters pay for parking or is this another subsidy?

      “If downtown Everett is supposed to be a huge center of activity, it doesn’t need the parking lot.”

      The station is not in the middle of downtown Everett, it’s on the east fringe, a few blocks from where the denser part begins. It’s far enough away that the all-day 510 used to continue to downtown and the peak-only 510 still does.

  7. Anyone who thinks that an employment district without parking charges and other disincentives will get a significantly higher transit mode share is living in a fantasy world. Consider that if Downtown Seattle and Bellevue had free parking for all employees, their mode share numbers would plummet.

    1. Just goes to show that it might be time to charge people the true cost of driving. Car infrastructure and its impact is costly.

      1. The recent relocation choices by Weyerhauser, Amazon and Expedia indicate that the office park rage may be over — or at least weakening. I suspect that more and more companies are finding that the campus environments are expensive to maintain — from parking lots to private bus fleets to shared-ride commuting with another household member to food service to a worker’s need for breaks.

      2. Actually Expedia is going from office space in towers in Downtown Bellevue to an isolated corporate campus that just happens to be in Seattle.

      3. It is over. Those moves are just a regional representation of the same thing. Companies like Google and Microsoft don’t want to move their headquarters, but those that do end up moving to the city (count Attachmate amongst the big companies that have done that as well). I really can’t think the opposite, really (a company moving from downtown to the suburbs). Meanwhile, the big suburban companies I’m sure are regretting their decision, in part because it represented an outdated view of working. You can move to Redmond, but then you are stuck working for Microsoft (mostly). Work at Amazon, and you can switch to a lot more downtown jobs. Meanwhile, what does your spouse do? If he or she works somewhere else, the commute becomes a pain. Then there is the bigger trend of workers simply wanting to live in, or work in the city. Office parks are boring. This explains why so many companies that are stuck with the old suburban headquarters have created so many satellite offices in the city.

      4. >> Actually Expedia is going from office space in towers in Downtown Bellevue to an isolated corporate campus that just happens to be in Seattle.

        It isn’t that isolated. To be fair, it isn’t connected easily to the rest of the city — you can’t easily walk from there to interesting, urban streets nearby. But the trade-off is a million dollar view. But more to the point, you are less than a mile to lower Queen Anne, and only a bit further to Belltown, the most urban part of Seattle. With a bike or decent transit, it would take less than five minutes to get to either spot. It’s isolation is due simply to geography — the hillside is too steep to develop. But the area south of there will easily become a linear representation of South Lake Union (as they add more retail) — a bit soulless, but nevertheless urban, and connected to a more urban area to the south.

        There are really two reasons they moved. One is to make the commute easier for the folks they want to recruit (they feel like the future is in Seattle workers). This is actually a minor reason, since they will lose a lot of east side workers. The other reason is for out of town guests. Just recently, I talked to a guy who works for a company in Fremont, but lives in a different part of the company. They flew everyone in for a meeting. Being cheap, they housed everyone in Bellevue. The folks who worked in Seattle didn’t mind too much (one week of commuting to Bellevue) but the folks in other parts of the country hated it. Too be fair, they weren’t in downtown Bellevue, but you get the idea. These people wanted to see Seattle, and to see Seattle, they had to get to Seattle, which was a pain in the butt. Now imagine Expedia, after the move. If they want to have a meeting, especially with influential people, they fly them in and have them stay downtown. It is a short trip to the meeting, where they enjoy world class views and wander around a bit at lunch. In the evening they check out Pike Place and the rest of downtown. This is the main reason they located there. So their move might not be considered an urban upgrade, but it is certainly part of a larger trend (a move to the city).

        To be fair, there is a subtle trend going on. There really are four common types of office locations:

        1) Those downtown in the primary city
        2) Those inside a city, but not downtown
        3) Those in the downtown of the suburban city
        4) Those in office parks in the suburbs

        I think that is the order of growth in the country (as well as the Northwest). Expedia’s move represents the second, but just barely (it is almost part of the first). Meanwhile, if you consider South Lake Union as part of downtown (and I would) then Amazon, Alibaba, and other huge companies that have moved here are just part of the first trend, while companies that locate in Fremont, Ballard, UW and the like are just part of the second.

      5. RossB – your point on spouses/partners is spot on. Living in Seattle provides a lot of optionality in terms of career changes. Options have real value and with two people, the chance of a job change is doubled.

        The other big draw for suburbs is schools. The eastern suburban districts still have strong reputations (Mercer Island, Bellevue, Lake Washington, Northshore, Issaquah). One of my old managers relocated from the Midwest and despite the office being in Seattle, he and his family lived in Issaquah because he said “all the city schools are terrible.” I just had to mention that I spent my entire K-12 school career in Seattle public schools.

      6. Like a lot of outdated concepts, the idea that city schools are terrible is just wrong. Adjusted for income, Seattle does great. Seattle schools routinely kick the sh** out of suburban schools in academic competitions (chess, music, etc.). I know plenty of kids that went to Seattle schools (myself included) and did quite well, thank you very much. Some of these kids went to the most urban of schools (e. g. Chief Sealth) and easily got into fancy private schools. Parental involvement is the key. Meanwhile, Rainier Beach is improving like crazy, in part because of a mentoring program, that I’m sure supplements the parental involvement (if a single parent can’t take time off from work to help the kid with math, or just help the kid deal with the pressures of school, an older kid will).

      7. It will be interesting to see how Microsoft’s space strategy develops. They’ve got a large amount of space in Downtown Bellevue and will be one of the largest tenants in Wright Runstad’s Spring District development.

        They have a building in SLU but AFAIK that mostly gets used for meetings.

      8. Ironically, we moved to Bellevue downtown because my wife works on First Hill. The bus over I-90 makes one stop at Mercer Island. The bus from, say, Madison Park stops every block or so. Now that light rail is being built, Bellevue downtown is one of the closest neighborhoods to Seattle downtown.

    2. Consider that if Downtown Seattle and Bellevue had free parking for all employees, their mode share numbers would plummet.

      Some people bus (or train) into downtown because of traffic.

  8. As much as I love to see higher transit mode shares, I feel that the data that is the most important is the non-SOV mode share when it comes to measuring neighborhoods. If workers are walking or bicycling, it’s not a policy failure from a regional standpoint.

    1. Walk/Bike is really important. After all, it’s hard to have a transit-oriented neighborhood that doesn’t have a lot of people walking. Nobody wants to take transit for every little errand.

      The data on walk/bike (and for my transit chart) are here. Big walk/bike shares in the same Seattle neighborhoods that also have healthy transit shares. Not so much elsewhere.

      1. Thanks Dan. I do think mode share of transit is a great metric — but non-SOV percentage is better for land use performance.

  9. The WSTT connects Seattle Uptown, Seattle Downtown and Seattle SLU. Build the WSTT, Sound Transit!

    1. WSTT and a Denny subway, then we’d be talking. Greater downtown is too big for walking across, and given the density, we could move more people between capitol hill and Belltown than we’ll get all the way from Northgate to Everett.

  10. The irony is that the densest areas with high transit use (the more urban RGCs plus Ballard and Fremont) also have some of the highest housing costs. Those expensive apartments attract high income residents with enough disposable income to own a car. Many do. Once you own a car, driving outperforms transit on a lot of trips (speed, reliability, carrying capacity, etc.) and your transit mode share can actually decrease.

    Thus, high housing costs might actually lead to an increase in driving by forcing out the lower-income residents who couldn’t afford cars at all. Hence why Saturday traffic in some Seattle neighborhoods can resemble the weekday PM rush hour and why the emptiest times in my building’s garage are Saturday afternoons, not midday on weekdays.

    1. This couldn’t possibly be related to sending billions in transit investments where transit can’t possibly do good for anything but the slimmest range of 9-5 commutes, while allowing transit in genuinely transit-amenable environments to remain so crappy that the vast majority gives up on it, could it?

    2. Weekend and weekday traffic in North Seattle is getting really bad. Trying to drive from Sand Point to Ballard on any day of the week is usually pretty horrible. Fortunately it’s usually weekend kid soccer games and not work commutes that affect us.

  11. I think better local access and awareness would improve these dramatically. For example, Puyallup South Hill is 3% and Puyallup Downtown is 5%. But is anyone surprised at that, given the abysmal state of Pierce Transit services in Puyallup? With ST looking at Puyallup BRT between downtown and South Hill, we have Sound Transit taking on PT’s job in Puyallup. But that’s not enough. Puyallup needs good local routes. How many people who work in South Hill live on Shaw road along the former route 413, or on canyon road along the former 444 (if I recall that right, and it went to Parkland, not South Hill)? These people don’t have a bus to their homes, and the nearest park and ride is… South Hill, where they work. I think ST should direct their complaints to Pierce Transit for some of this.

    1. Agreed regarding lack of bus service in most of the Pierce County Regional Growth centers. Really only the mall and Downtown Tacoma have acceptable levels of bus service, at least between 6am and 9pm, after 9 no body does. It is also a land use problem though. South Hill is a sprawling mega burb that looks more like Houston and less like a growth center in a big city. I’m not sure it would ever have the density to support the kind of transit mode share we’d aspire to see with regional growth centers. So the question is, should it remain one?

      Good article.

  12. You know the regional plan is made up of local land use plans that reflect older downtowns (Renton, etc) and economic interests that want more growth in those locations (Kent valley warehouses etc).

    One useful technique the region should adopt is the Twin Cities fiscal disparity act — .

    Towns here want land uses that generate revenue, if they can get some revenue from regional growth centers they will be less likely to adopt sprawly land use plans. It would really put some teeth in our growth management implementations.

  13. Sam, I agree with you on this one, a caution or two. We transit advocates are living in the best kind of time for people like us. We’re actively touching off a major shift between ways of life. By all indicators, in our favor if we work.

    Eyes should be reading pertinent history while they roll. About transportation’s last giant machines that had to use what they couldn’t fight. Like hurricanes. Sailing ships still carrying grain ’til WW I. Dirigibles same length ’til mid 1930’s. Excellent analogy for this discussion.

    YouTube doubtless has some excellent footage of a clipper ship “coming about”- changing the angle of its forward direction so it can keep sailing into a powerful head-wind. Patience for sure. Sailing craft take time to “answer the helm”. Meaning start the turn they got steered into awhile before.

    But also intensive fore-knowledge of what’s going to happen when the ship finally does what it was told. When they’re our age, people now the average veteran’s age in 1950 will finally bring the ship about on the course we’re charting now.

    So if you and I live that long, we’d best be sure the boom- the huge wood bar at the bottom of the sail as it swings- doesn’t whack us farther overboard than anybody young can swim out to get us. If they feel like it.


  14. Yes, of course but let’s put the blame where it belongs.


    You and the other transit planners who should have by now created a complete regional rail system, but spent an entire generation dawdling with tunnels in Seattle.

    I have no problem with people driving to regional transit centers and parking. But there are none. Except for Kent Station, I can’t think of one major densely populated non-Seattle “regional” center that has any fast (and by fast I mean immune to traffic jams) transit at all.

    1. Tukwila and Sea-Tac light rail? Tacoma Dome Station with Sounder and buses? The whole South Sounder line?

      1. Or Lynnwood TC, where the 511/402 etc take less time to get to Downtown in the peak direction than it takes Route 3 to get from Madrona to Downtown.

    2. How about Federal Way TC? The 577/578 is not immune to traffic jams by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a direct, non-stop express bus route between the transit center and downtown Seattle. Plus, it’s twice as fast as the hour-long light rail ride of the future will take to go the same distance.

  15. On the main topic here, adjusting land use and transit to each other, best approach might be to concentrate on getting what we can already control in first rate condition.

    Seattle city limits should demonstrate the fastest and most efficient that transit can be. Not its opposite, like mid-day service is now. The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel was designed to prevent a single stop between stations. Thirty years ago.

    There should have been two-way all-day bus lanes the few miles between CPS and Northgate before the Tunnel opened- in 1990. Not “shoulda, coulda, woulda” here. Nothing that’s been wrong so long is about the past at all.

    Put a bottom line under some plus signs in front of above factors, and if present sprawl isn’t the complete sum, it’s a very high percentage.

    Ride LINK in from Tukwila on game day, and watch the reaction of suburban five-year olds to the view out the window of something elevated, comfortable, and fast. Thirteen years ’til they vote on the regional policies under discussion here and now.

    So while LINK is being built out, the more lane-reserved, signal pre-empted bus rides available to them might turn their votes, first and life-long, in the region-wide directions best for all of transit.

    Mark Dublin

  16. Personally, I don’t quite understand why some of these RGCs in the suburbs are designated as such. The two I’m familiar with (Totem Lake and Canyon Park) are both very commercial-oriented development. I lived about 2 miles from Totem Lake until recently, and I think the closest apartment complexes are a 15 minute walk from there. Canyon Park is the same from what I know (though I’m less familiar with it than Totem Lake). Anyone who lives in those areas is likely to drive in because you can’t just walk to the bus. Meanwhile, where I live now (near Brickyard) has both a lot of SFHs and at least three apartment complexes within a few minutes of the station. Not that I’d argue that that area is a growth center, but every time I take the bus home I almost always see at least one or two other people walking somewhere from the bus stop besides the park and ride.

    Meanwhile, areas like downtown Kirkland which are much more dense than Totem Lake are not growth centers. In fact, it’s much faster for me to get to Bellevue for work by living near Brickyard and walking to the ST buses than it would be to live in Kirkland and take the local buses from the TC there.

    1. Canyon Park has a little housing in the southwest corner right by the P&R. The street network is disconnected, so it’s a longer walk than necessary, both to the offices and to the P&R. That leads to this absurd situation to access the bus stop (I worked in Canyon Park a few years ago; there really isn’t another way around). There’s also housing all around the office area; again the street network is typically disconnected, with a few dirt path cut-throughs. There are a few more dirt paths that aren’t on Google Maps, but its picture of the access situation is not too far off; all those paths through the woods really are dirt with the exception of the North Creek Trail. I walked them often and rarely saw anyone else there.

  17. The suburban RGCs are car-centric, and once you’ve already had to drive a few miles to a P&R or TC, most figure you might as well just drive the rest of the way. Especially when the garages get filled up by 8 or 9 AM. There isn’t a single TOD in the south end near a TC (outside of the senior housing abutting FWTC) that I’m aware of. Nobody walks to the TCs because nobody can.

    Add to the fact that southside-Eastside transit is nonexistent, and you have limited options for transit, especially transit that is faster than driving, even with how bad the highways have gotten during commute times year over year.

    1. Add to the fact that southside-Eastside transit is nonexistent

      The extended-peak-hour 566/567?

      Maybe Sound Transit could extend that to Federal Way and solve two problems there?

      1. Do you know when the 564 was around? It seems to me that it’d be a very short extension that’d get at least some ridership.

      2. Ah, I found it after some searching of the Internet Archive. Thanks for the reference. I wonder if it was the 564 that failed or the entire concept of splitting the 564 and 565. Especially if Tacoma is advocating for a Tacoma-Bellevue express (they don’t care to ride Sounder and transfer?), it might be worth trying again. But I’m now less enamored than I was before.

    2. Kirkland park and ride and affordable and market rate TOD. Pierce Transit is trying to sell some land and do some at Tacoma Dome Station. I’d call development around Montlake Terrace TOD. It is happening, albeit yes way to slowly, but not non-existent.

      1. South Kirkland P&R TOD is in a terrible location. It is truly transit-oriented – there’s nothing there except for the P&R (and the freeway). It is indeed a major transit hub, but there’s nothing close to walk or bike to, so you’d need to take a bus for everything. I fail to see how that’s going to be appealing, especially on evenings or weekends when the bus service plummets. Anybody who can have a car will have one, there, and they will drive, and then people will say, “see, TOD doesn’t work anyhow.” It might be right along the Cross Kirkland Corridor and the 520 trail, but it would be a long ride for groceries. Better to build density in downtown Kirkland or Houghton or Bridle Trails – all of those places are relatively well-served with transit, but also have walking and biking destinations, making it much easier to get around without a car.

      2. I’m not debating any of that. I don’t even know a ton about that particular site. I’m just saying it is park and ride that has TOD on it now that is occupied and seems to be functioning, even if folks have to drive for non-bus trips and it is less than ideal in that sense.

      3. For TOD to truly work, to really be TOD, it needs to be park of a walkable neighborhood. One isolated “TOD” project next to a park-and-ride lot, it’s a misuse of the TOD term.

      4. The “TOD” at South Kirkland P&R is an reasonable option for people who work 9-5 in downtown Seattle (or the U-district), intend to driving for every trip except to work and back, and want to be within a short drive of places on the east side. At best, it might enable two people living together to share one car between them, if one of them works at downtown or the UW.

      5. The population is growing; people need places to live, including at the South Kirkland P&R. Nixing 100 units at the P&R does not automatically create 100 units in downtown Kirkland, nor does it make them cost as little as they do at the P&R. TOD next to a P&R with a sometimes-frequent bus is better than a garden apartment a mile from a bus stop that sees a bus once an hour until 7pm.

    1. The east coast, particularly the Northeast, is light years ahead of us. Which is why some of us are impatient about ST’s forever-and-a-day-plus-ten-years schedules. We’re already half a century behind, and that’s being generous.

      Boston, for its part, has seen whole new neighborhoods develop out of transit stations. People want to live by the T. It’s the same principle upon which the modern exurb has been built — business wants to be near the interstates, people want to be near the businesses (*and* the interstates) — local developers will tell you the biggest growth value areas outside of the urban centers, are the exurbs along the highways. Transit can do the same at the metro level. You just have to have a good idea as to what transit is, should be, and can be. But when we’re even considering the possibility of far-from-commerce alignments along interstates, it’s clear we really are doomed to bad planning based on a poor concept.

  18. Could you please put north Everett on the map. It has significant employment at the hospital and college campus and along the Broadway corridor. Thank you.

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