Our Improbable Growth Targets

Regional projections indicate a sharp slowing in Seattle and Bellevue, while Tacoma and Everett accelerate.
Regional projections indicate a sharp slowing of growth in Seattle and Bellevue, while Tacoma and Everett accelerate (year 2000 population=100%).

Recent Census data showed another year of strong growth in Seattle and Bellevue. Everett and Tacoma grew more slowly. This raised a familiar question: why are regional plans so out of step with recent experience? Seattle grew 2 1/2 times faster than either Everett or Tacoma in the last five years. Bellevue and other cities on the Central Eastside are also developing quickly. What would cause a reversal of these trends so that Tacoma and Everett can grow into their ambitious 2040 goals?

Regional growth plans are a mix of forecasting and policy-making. The State Office of Financial Management produces state and county forecasts. OFM population forecasts determine targets for housing growth, which are apportioned between cities by PSRC and county planning processes. In each county, the largest ‘Metropolitan’ cities (Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma and Everett) are allocated a portion of the anticipated growth. Other cities are allocated lesser shares of expected growth, as are unincorporated areas within the Urban Growth Area (UGA). Few unincorporated urban areas remain within King County, but many fast-growing suburbs in Pierce and Snohomish are unincorporated. Lower targets are set for rural areas outside the urban boundary.

The median housing target sets the floor for zoned capacity. Cities and Counties must zone for sufficient developable capacity. Some cities zone for greater capacity than required; others do the minimum to stay in compliance. Much planned development is within Regional Growth Centers.

Benchmarking recent data against the PSRC’s Land Use Vision puts the forecasts in context.

Pierce and Snohomish Counties have grown faster than King for decades. But King County recovered more quickly from the recession. Maybe it’s premature to conclude the ‘normal’ suburban growth norm won’t reassert itself. But other center cities in the US are also outpacing their suburbs. If the flight to the suburbs is really over, should we expect King to lag its neighbors in the future?

State forecasts are for Pierce and Snohomish County to outpace King, in a reversion to historical trends of faster growth in the suburbs
State forecasts are for Pierce and Snohomish County to outpace King, in a reversion to historical norms of faster growth in the suburbs.

King County, having recently outpaced forecasts with urban-focused growth, is expected to revert to the mean. Some of the reversion is just bureaucratic inertia as complex multi-jurisdictional planning processes play catch-up. The 2040 forecast implies a slowdown across King County with just 0.55% average growth over the next 25 years. That compares unfavorably to the 1.85% average countywide, and 2.4% in Seattle, observed over the last five years. This slow pace would restore the past balance between the counties.

Growth is to slow slightly in Pierce and Snohomish, but will outpace King County. Pierce and Snohomish planners are predicting dramatic changes in how their counties grow.

Continue reading “Our Improbable Growth Targets”

How to Improve Access to Capitol Hill Station


This article is cross-posted from Central Seattle Greenways.

On February 29, 2016, Central Seattle Greenways volunteers and Seattle Neighborhood Greenways staff met at Capitol Hill Station to conduct an accessibility audit of the station area. We focused on three priorities: safety of street crossings, obstructions in crosswalks and along sidewalks, and sidewalk capacity. The station is expected to serve 14,000 riders every day in 2030, making safety and accessibility of the entrances a significant priority.

The map below shows the audit area. Intersections that were assessed are circled, and station entrances are marked with stars. Specifically, the intersections were: Broadway E & E John St / E Olive Way, Broadway E & E Denny Way, Broadway Ave E & E Thomas St, Harvard Ave E & E Olive Way, and 10th Ave E & E John St.

Assessed intersections are circled in red, station entrances are marked with green stars.
Assessed intersections are circled in red, station entrances are marked with green stars.

We identified several common problems at the intersections and the sidewalks connecting them:

  • Obstructions (poles, hydrants) in or very near curb ramps
  • Obstructions (poles, signal cabinets, A-boards) blocking painted crosswalks
  • Ramps misaligned on opposite sides of a crosswalk
  • Ramps turned at an angle to the crosswalk
  • Drivers making dangerous turns through occupied crosswalks
  • Difficult crossings of John (at 10th) and Olive (at Harvard)
  • Sidewalks narrowed by obstructions (trash cans, newspaper boxes, A-boards, shelters)

Easy Wins – Quick, low cost solutions:

Continue reading “How to Improve Access to Capitol Hill Station”

Sound Transit Q1 2016 Ridership

Sounder Bruce (Flickr)
Sounder Bruce (Flickr)

Amid the breaking news last week of the Sound Transit 3 Draft Plan Update, Sound Transit’s Q1 Ridership Report got a bit buried. The Q2 report will be far more consequential, being the first one with a full quarter of ULink ridership, but even so there are interesting (and mostly positive) trends from the Q1 data.


Even with just 2 weeks of ULink service, Link ridership was up 27% from Q1 2015with 3 million boardings and an average weekday ridership of 38,371. Subtracting the two weeks of ULink service returns a 12.5% growth rate over Q1 2015. Q2 may be the first quarter in which Link ridership exceeds all ST Express routes combined, but we’ll have to wait and see.


Sounder set a new quarterly record, breaking the 1 million boardings mark with a weekday average of 16,292. The South Line was up 15%, and the North Line up 12%. But the South Line remains an order of magnitude larger, with nearly 11 times the ridership of the North Line.

ST Express

Total ST Express ridership grew just one percent, with 4.4 million boardings and a weekday average of 62,509. Most routes added a small number of riders, but a few lost riders, including Routes 522 and 574. Route 586 lost 19% of its riders, partially driven by UW students shifting to the 590s+Link in the final 2 weeks of March. New service on Route 541 only existed for one week of Q1, and it didn’t start quickly out of the gate, with just 2,215 riders, or 443 per weekday.

Tacoma Link

Tacoma Link lost 5% of its riders. Tacoma Link has lost ridership in 4 of the last 5 quarters, though total decline has been small.

South Sounder in ST3

Opening Ceremony

Sound Transit 3 materials have not said a lot about the agency’s successful South Sounder service. Most of the attention in that subregion has gone into extending the light rail “spine” into Tacoma. Sounder will actually have a quicker running time from Tacoma to Seattle, although Link may have its advantages for somewhat spontaneous Tacoma-Seattle trips, those outside commuter rail operating hours, and trips within the South King Link corridor. That said, there is a significant (if vague) commitment to Sounder in the package. And it’s vague for a good reason.

Currently ST runs 8 peak-direction round trips and 2 reverse-peak round trips. 6 of the 8 go to Lakewood. The peaks arrive in Seattle between 5:54 and 9:09am and leave from 3:12-6:20pm. The 2016 Service Implementation Plan says that existing funding will produce an off-peak round trip this September. In September 2017, ST will add a ninth peak round trip and a third reverse-peak round trip. And that’s it for South Sounder without further authorization.

The current ST3 proposal for South Sounder has four components:
  • Facilities and train cars necessary to support 10-car trains. This is a fairly bounded set of improvements, up from 7 cars today.
  • Station access improvements. This runs the usual spectrum from sidewalks to parking spaces, including speed and reliability improvements for approaching buses. As always, the exact form of these will depend on many rounds of exchange with Sounder communities, and ST will not commit to a framework for these now.
  • Trains to Tillicum and Dupont. Four of the six round trips to Lakewood would start in Dupont instead, with no need for additional trainsets. The 8-mile extension would cost about $300m for 1,000-1,500 riders per day.
  • “Elements to expand service levels.” More trains!
But how many trains? Sound Transit can’t say. “We’re purposefully oblique about what it is in the plan,”  ST Executive Ric Ilgenfritz told us, “because we’re in the midst of a negotiation with the railroad.”

BNSF and ST are discussing capital improvements — adding a third track in at least some places is probably the biggest chunk — and assessing the extent to which those improvements allow additional Sounder trips without severely impairing freight operations. The budget available, minimum and maximum achievable service packages, and open time windows for trips are all confidential.

I asked Mr. Ilgenfritz to step back from what the current ST3 constraints are, and describe his ultimate goals for South Sounder. He expressed the hope that it could run hourly all day and into the evening, with even more intensive peak service, and even a few weekend round trips if demand justified it. That vision will almost certainly not occur in ST3, but every part of the day is on the table.

It’s hard to say when the negotiations will conclude. With luck it would finish before late June’s formal approval of the package, but it could easily drag on to the election. But it appears riders in the Sounder corridor have a lot to look forward to.

Memorial Day Service Reductions

NW Folklife 2016

Monday, May 30 is Memorial Day, which is the traditional final day of Northwest Folklife Festival, at the Seattle Center, wherein you will likely find hired petitioners gathering signatures for lots of state ballot initiatives, including possibly one or two initiatives designed to kick the legs out from under transit funding. If someone has a stack of several initiatives they are asking you to sign, feel free to politely ask lots of questions, but please don’t sign and give them a signature they can copy onto the other initiatives. (They are paid by the signature.)

But back to the matter at hand: Transit agencies traditionally reduce service on Memorial Day, even while large crowds throng festivals like Folklife. Some rural transit agencies shut down for the day. So, plan ahead, and always have a designated driver if you are going to partake and don’t have transit to get you home. And then, drivers, hang up and drive.

The big improvement in Memorial Day service, year over year, is in Snohomish County, where Community Transit will be providing service the day before and the day of Memorial Day for the first time in several years. And, of course, you can now take various bus routes to UW Station, take Link to Westlake Station, and walk, bikeshare, ride the bus, or take the monorail (which still does not accept ORCA, otherwise, I would just be saying take the monorail) to the Seattle Center.

Any companies offering free or reduced-fare rides on Memorial Day weekend are encouraged to mention your service in the Comments.

The full list of Sunday and Memorial Day service levels for transit agencies around the region is below the fold. Continue reading “Memorial Day Service Reductions”

Sound Transit’s Updated ST3 Plan: Bigger, Faster, Stronger

AvGeek Joe (Flickr)

Responding to universal angst about the pace of the Sound Transit 3 (ST3) Draft Plan, this afternoon the Sound Transit (ST) Board introduced a series of amendments that propose a leaner, faster Sound Transit 3 measure. The Board will vote on each of these amendments at its Special Meeting on June 2, ahead of a final vote on June 23 to adopt the plan and send it to the ballot. Cumulatively, these amendments represent a dramatic improvement in nearly every aspect of the plan, and they indicate a clear responsiveness by Sound Transit on behalf of the public. Advocates won or at least saw movement on nearly every issue.

The amendments were preceded by presentations from CEO Peter Rogoff and CFO Brian McCartan on project delivery and the ST3 finance plan, respectively. Rogoff outlined his desired improvements in project delivery, including narrowing studied alternatives, bringing jurisdictions in earlier in the process, establishing schedules well ahead of final design, and looking at new procurement processes such as “Design/Build”. Rogoff seemed intent on sharing the burden for timely delivery with the host cities, and ensuring that cities and counties are more joint partner going forward rather than just permitting authorities.

But the real news came from CFO McCartan’s Finance Plan update. We’ll be getting more details in a meeting with ST finance staff next week, but staff told STB that Sound Transit underestimated its bonding capacity by up to 10%, with the recalculation centering on the tricky overlap period between the winding down of ST2 bonds and the ramping up of ST3 bonds. All other financial policies will likely remain intact, as will all other conservative planning assumptions (such as a 6-year EIS process per project). So the timeline improvements above reflect primarily financing considerations, and there would be considerable scope for further improvement via streamlined permitting and environmental review.

Chart by the Author
Chart by the Author

North King (Seattle)

  • The Ballard Line would be fully grade separated and be delivered 3 years sooner, in 2035 instead of 2038.
  • The West Seattle line gains 3 years, moving from 2033 to 2030
  • In a huge win for advocates, the 130th Street Station gets full funding, though it would open in 2031.
  • Graham Street Station gains 5 years, moving from 2036 to 2031.
  • Sound Transit will make a roughly 10% contribution to Madison BRT and pay for interim improvements on Rapid Ride C and D.

South King County

Continue reading “Sound Transit’s Updated ST3 Plan: Bigger, Faster, Stronger”

ST3 Liveblog

Today’s the big day. At today’s Sound Transit (ST) Board Meeting, the Board will offer amendments to the Draft Plan released in March. Today is the single most consequential day in shaping what will be the final plan adopted in June. Will timelines change? Will new projects be added or projects cut? We’ll be tweeting at @seatransitblog, and the feed will be embedded here. Follow along from 1:30pm-4:00pm!

News Roundup: Despite the Complaining

King County Metro 2015 New Flyer XT40 4380

This is an open thread.

Smarter Rules for Backyard Cottages

Oh DADUs, we just can't quit you
DADUs in the city

Backyard cottages are popular in theory, yet few homeowners end up building them.  Just 221 have been built in the nine years that they’ve been legal(far fewer than Vancouver), despite the fact that 75,000 lots in the city are eligible to have one. Councilmember Mike O’Brien, whose been on the cottage beat for several years now., is looking to increase production with a slate of reforms that would streamline the construction of backyard cottages or DADUs (that’s Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit).  You can read more from Stephen at the Urbanist here or Erica on her site.  Even Knute Berger’s on board.

Along with some simplifications to the code (like normalizing height limits and where front doors are allowed to be placed), there are two headline changes.  The first would remove the off-street parking requirement for DADUs inside urban villages. Requiring two off-street spaces for car storage drastically reduces the available space for a cottage.  Furthermore, under current law, one can currently build an apartment building or townhouse development inside an urban village without parking, but a DADU property in the same urban village must have 2 off-street spaces.  Fixing this imbalance is common sense. Lest anyone worry about an impending parking crisis, the report notes that, in Portland, 2/3 of cottage dwellers don’t park cars on the street, even though there’s no requirement to provide them with parking.

The second big change would lower the owner-occupancy requirement to 12 months.  After that, the owner  would be free to rent out both units.  This would remove some economic uncertainty around resale and possibly make banks more willing to finance DADU construction.

The original owner-occupancy requirement comes from homeowners fearing hordes of renters descending on their neighborhoods.  But this fear seems overblown, even if you set aside the ugly “renters are less-than” rhetoric that undergirds some of these conversations.  It may shock many of these folks to learn that it’s currently legal to rent a house in a single family neighborhood. Believe it or not, its a popular option for groups of young (and not-so-young) people. They have chore wheels and everything.

At any rate, managing detached home rentals turns out to be quite labor-intensive and generally unappealing to large institutional investors. It’s unlikely we’ll see a rush of big developers looking to flood the city with backyard cottages.

Nonetheless, this package of reforms makes a ton of sense, and even though it’s incredibly mild and a huge walk-down from the original HALA proposal, it will likely still generate lots of anger from a few loud homeowners.  It’s worth emailing city council and letting them know you support it.

The Center City Mobility Plan: Sensible Study or a Process Punt?

Westlake Cycle Track under construction. Don’t expect more of these for a few years. (SDOT Photo)

When Move Seattle passed last November 3, the mood was jubilant. An expected nailbiter became a comfortable 17-point victory, with the beers flowing at the election night party at the Belltown Pub hastily morphing from a hedge against disappointment to the fuel of celebration. The city had put the War on Cars before voters and won, marking a fundamental shift toward safe streets, a complete bike network, and transit priority in our city.

The following day, Tom Fucoloro at Seattle Bike Blog was still feeling the buzz:

Urban cycling’s long existential crisis in Seattle is over. Bike lanes and safe streets are a core piece of our city and our politics. Putting walking, biking and transit first is mainstream policy now, and we have serious funding to back it up.

Since the vote, there have been a series of disappointments. Within a week of Move Seattle passing, the concept design for Madison BRT announced the deletion of transit priority east of 18th Avenue, leading yours truly and others to worry more broadly about Move Seattle’s “Rapid Ride Plus” corridors.  On November 16, the city, Metro, Sound Transit, and the Downtown Seattle Association announced a new $1.5m “Center City Mobility Plan” (CCMP) that probably should have been made public before the vote. On account of the CCMP, bike advocates have been told that all Downtown bike lanes have been put on hold until 2019 or later, and to put it mildly, they’re not happy.* The CCMP will:

(Establish) a transportation vision for 2035…(and) create a near-term transit operations and transportation management plan by mid-2016 along with a public realm plan for enhancing the right of way to better serve residents, employees, shoppers and visitors.

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 4.38.29 PMImage: Seattle Bike Blog
Part of the impetus for the CCMP was revealed 4 days later on November 19, when Metro announced its bargain price sale of Convention Place to the Washington State Convention Center, leading to the closure of Convention Place Station once construction begins and the end of joint bus/rail tunnel operations as early as 2019. By definitively planning for the end of joint operations, the CCMP will do what (amazingly) no plan has done before, including the Downtown Access Strategy, Access Seattle, Downtown Seattle Transit Coordination, Downtown Transit Capacity White Paper, and the Center City Circulation section of Seattle’s Transit Master PlanThat’s just from the past 3 years. So you can understand the ruffled feathers when officials wait until after a yes vote to say “we need to delay projects pending further study.”

Then there are the seemingly crossed wires of communication. In late October, Mayor Murray stood at Graham Street and said, “I will guarantee it [will be built]. I’ve shown in my time in the legislature that we can deliver transportation projects as we say to the voters we will deliver them.” Yet on March 24, the Sound Transit Draft Plan proposed Graham Street coming on line in 2036, a decade after Move Seattle would expire, negating its nominal $10m contribution.

In March, Councilmember Mike O’Brien added a proviso to the Pronto buyout that mandated that select protected bike lanes be built prior to any Pronto expansion, just weeks before SDOT announced the 1-2 year delay of those same bike lanes.  The reasons for the delay are twofold: the putative need to complete the CCMP, and SDOT’s miscalculation of costs. According to a staff presentation to the Transportation Committee last week, SDOT had used a nice round number of $1m/mile in its calculation of lane-miles to be built with Move Seattle funds, but now says it has underestimated by 30% ($1.3m/mile).

The bait-and-switch many are feeling is legitimate, as the campaign for the vote was one of enthusiasm, commitment, and possibility, while the reality has been considerably more pedestrian.

On the other hand, though it stings when our favored projects are cut or restructured, it’s important to remember that this variability was baked into Move Seattle from the start. The Seattle Times used this “slush fund” criticism in its anti-levy editorial:

Because Move Seattle’s plan is so vague — the suggested projects are contained in a non-binding addendum to the ordinance — there’s a risk funds could be siphoned off to pay for mistakes and overruns on current projects.

But Martin also had a great piece on why “slush funds” are a feature not a bug, and I suggest re-reading the whole thing, as it’s now more relevant than ever:

To actually construct a measure that would neutralize this talking point, Seattle would have to write a package that literally could not adjust to changing conditions. If a federal grant were available but we had to provide matching funds — multiplying the return per dollar — or if growth skyrocketed along one particular corridor, SDOT could do nothing about it. It would be an idiotic way to run the city.

This is all part of a disturbing trend in local politics. Voters tightly constrict the expenditure of any block of revenue, limit the growth of the general fund, and then complain that worthwhile projects require special levies.

SDOT’s Norm Mah was refreshingly frank about this when he told Next City’s Josh Cohen:

“The 2015 plan reflects unstudied but [Bicycle Master Plan] prioritized corridors in CC from 2015 to 2019…Based on the evolving nature of the center city, SDOT did not make a commitment to having all the [Center City Bike Network] construction complete by 2020.”

But despite the cataloging of errors above, and the failures of communication from agencies to the public and between agencies themselves, process critiques should have less force than technical ones. As this is a transit blog, let’s try to answer the question of whether or not the main contention is legitimate. Do Downtown bike lanes need to wait or be deferred on bus capacity grounds?

Continue reading “The Center City Mobility Plan: Sensible Study or a Process Punt?”

Last Chance to Help us Hit our Fundraising Goal

For my last 2016 fundraising post, I thought I’d share a few words from some current donors, explaining why they support STB:

I read a lot of news, but it’s not always satisfying. I read Seattle Transit Blog a lot, and I think it’s the perfect niche for local news. There’s stuff I can easily look up, news that other sources are covering, and data I can get from public sources. The stuff that’s hard to find is ‘inside’ information/good reporting, long-term perspective, in-depth analysis, and stories that no one else covers. STB has all this! – Daniel

I am happy to give because transit is a proxy for the issues I care the most about, specifically climate change and density. Supporting STB hopefully allows more readers who also care about these and other transit-related issues an independent place to engage. – Zach

Does that sound like you? Then join Zach and Daniel and send a few bucks our way.  We’re doing more and more of that in-depth reporting and analysis thanks to your support. You can sign up for a recurring donation of just $1 a month. It’s painless and you probably won’t even know it’s missing.

When I told my wife, who has many years’ fundraising experience, that I was hoping for 100 new donors this year, she said it was pretty ambitious for any organization to add 100 new donors in a year.  I didn’t know any better at the time; it just seemed like a nice round number. And it looks like we might actually hit it!  So far 62 new donors have stepped up, joining most of last year’s donors, who have renewed for a second year. Thanks again, to all of you.

If you’re feeling generous, remember that a printed version of Oran’s beautiful Seattle Transit Map is available to those who give $150 or $12/month. If you’ve already given at that level, I’ll be contacting you shortly to get your mailing address.

Make a donation or click on the donate button above.  Seattle Transit Blog is a 501(c)4; donations are not tax-deductible.

Provisionals for All: ST3 Must Plan for the Future

Provisionals-v2_Full ArtboardBY SEATTLE SUBWAY

As regional stakeholders continue to work on the inevitable push and pull of budgeting for a massive transit expansion, we want to make sure that a huge improvement to the Sound Transit 3 (ST3) system plan isn’t overlooked: designation of “provisional projects.” Adding provisional projects will cost next to nothing to implement while adding the potential for ST3 to accomplish a lot more. A provisional project is a project that, if funding becomes available, can be built as part of the ST3 plan without an additional vote.  Without a provisional designation, a project cannot be built without further voter approval. 

The draft plan for ST3 provides voter authority for “provisional projects” if additional funding becomes available in the twenty-five year duration of ST3. Each of the five Sound Transit subareas should have one or more projects ready to go if additional funding becomes available

  • North King – Ballard to UW
  • South King – West Seattle to Burien
  • East King – Bellevue to Kirkland 
  • Snohomish County – Spine to Paine Field Connector
  • Pierce County – Tacoma Mall Extension

Sound Transit knows that each of these projects has merit now, but is waiting on a future ballot measure to pay for them. But there are many ways that funding could become available, before the next vote. These include:

  • An Increase in Federal Funding
    ST currently assumes the federal government will only contribute 11-13% of capital costs but changes in federal budget can happen quickly. When the San Francisco metro area began building BART in 1966, the federal government only funded 20% of the capital costs. Just 6 years later, the federal government generously offered to foot 75% of the bill for Seattle’s Forward Thrust–money that went to Atlanta’s MARTA instead due to insufficient voter appetites in the Puget Sound. In 1974, federal statute increased that matching level to 80%. As America urbanizes, we have an opportunity–with sufficient Congressional and Presidential leadership–to move past the 11-13% federal funding level and ensure our slowest projects are still delivered within 15-18 years. With the presidential candidates talking about increases in infrastructure spending, this is not an impossible dream.
  • An Increase in State Funding
    The Seattle Metro area (King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties comprise 52% of state residents, 62% of state tax revenue, and produce 71% of the state’s economic output. As we go, so goes the state.
  • Projects coming in under budget
    Who builds transit projects 10% under budget? We do, with more savings expected on Angle Lake, opening later this year.
  • Higher than expected tax revenues
    Provisional lines can be built if our economy fares better than the cautious growth projected by Sound Transit. Small differences in growth rates can make a big difference over 25 years.

This year alone, Sound Transit light rail projects will come in $240M (10%) under budget and receive $600M in unexpected federal grants. Our economy is booming, and twenty-five years of growth could add hundreds of millions of additional funding to ST budgets. Let’s authorize engineering and construction of “provisional projects” now, to maximize the benefits of any savings on other projects.

West Seattle Junction to Burien, Ballard to UW, Kirkland to Bellevue, Paine Field Connector, and Tacoma Mall must be designated as “provisional projects” when the Board votes in June. 

Another Year of Rapid Growth

Seattle and Bellevue continue to outpace regional growth targets
Seattle and Bellevue continue to outpace regional growth targets

Last week, the US Census Bureau released 2015 population estimates by city. To nobody’s surprise, Seattle continues to grow rapidly, having added 15,300 more residents in the year ending June 2015. Seattle has grown by 74,000 residents (12.1%) in just five years. Seattle, for the third year in a row, is among the five fastest growing cities in the nation. Seattle, with 684,000 residents last year, is now the 18th largest city, overtaking El Paso and Detroit.

Seattle’s growth was 44% of the 34,800 residents added in King County in 2015, or 41% of the 179,400 added in King County since 2010.

Among cities larger than 50 thousand population, only Bellevue (+2.4%) and Marysville (+2.5%) grew faster than Seattle (+2.3%) last year. None have grown faster than Seattle over five years. (A few smaller exurban communities have posted higher growth rates).

Bellevue added 3,200 residents in 2015, bolstering its role as a major employment center for the Eastside. Tacoma added 3,300. Everett added 1,200. Nine other cities added over 1,000 residents, including Issaquah which saw a 5.8% growth spurt and almost 2,000 new residents.

Renton, growing more slowly, nevertheless saw its population exceed 100,000, becoming the sixth city in the region to reach this milestone.

Continue reading “Another Year of Rapid Growth”

Who’s Going to Stand Up for First Hill?

Map by Oran

Last December I made the modest proposal that the 5th and Madison Station in Sound Transit 3 move three, or even six, blocks east. This would reduce overlap with the existing tunnel stations. More importantly, it would bring First Hill — one of the densest neighborhoods in the Northwest, with three hospitals and Seattle University — into the Link walkshed after circumstances screwed them out of their Sound Move station. Oran’s calculations showed that it was as little as 0.09 miles more distance to tunnel.

Although the idea made it into a letter from the First Hill Improvement Association, it didn’t catch fire. Seattle-based activists have been more excited about elevating Link to Ballard, or 130th St. Station. Those are worthy causes, and the same order of cost as a First Hill Station — and chances are good that both will win. At the same time, I think most neutral observers would agree that, on the merits, First Hill should be a higher priority than either, and it’s a shame that no one in a position of influence greater than mine has made a stink about it.

As a further headwind, Sound Transit staff found tunneling under I-5 for U-Link to be a troublesome experience, and does not like the idea of doing so twice more in a matter of blocks. Sound Transit paid a contractor $23m to prepare I-5’s foundations for a tunnel boring machine to pass through. To do so twice would therefore probably cost around $50m and introduce some risk. It’s hard, but we know it’s possible, because they’ve done it (pretty much flawlessly) before.

It’s late in the day. In about a month, Sound Transit will lock down the package for November, and we should know most of the substance of the final plan by later this week. If the Green Line goes to the ballot as-is, the kerfuffle over “22 years to Ballard” will create extreme pressure to discard edgy alternatives early in the process. If anyone with substantial influence on the process is going to make this happen, the time is now.

Latest ULink Figures Crack 80K

Sounder Bruce (Flickr)
Sounder Bruce (Flickr)

Yesterday, Sound Transit released its latest figures on ULink, including daily ridership for April. Weekday ridership is holding at roughly 60,000 per day, and two Fridays in April (8th and 29th) set new records at 82,000 weekday riders:

In April we reported early ridership trends on Link light rail were beating expectations after opening two new stations on Capitol Hill and the University of Washington. On this the two-month anniversary of opening the University Link extension, we think it’s a good time to check in on our early ridership estimates. It turns out our early ridership estimates for a record-breaking day was low and we set another ridership record in late April.

Sound Transit collects and verifies ridership data over the course of several weeks. The latest updates show Link set two new single-day ridership records on April 8 and April 29 with an estimated 82,000 riders – surpassing the previous single-day record of an estimated 71,500 on February 5, 2014 when Seattle celebrated the Seahawks Super Bowl victory downtown.

The update also confirmed that most ULink trips are taking less than the conservative 8 minutes the schedule quotes, and closer to their 6-minute promised time once buses leave the tunnel:

Trips between the University of Washington and downtown Seattle are averaging two minutes faster than initially expected – dropping from an already impressive eight minutes to six minutes between UW Station and Westlake. The initial eight-minute trip estimates were based on early train testing. Real-world experience shows those trips are taking six minutes. Our online schedules are now being updated to reflect the faster trip times.

Lastly, the update also contained proportional station level ridership for the first time. Each station is listed as its percentage of all Link boardings, and UW Station has vaulted into second place behind Westlake:

  1. Westlake (16.2%)
  2. University of Washington (15.5%)
  3. Sea-Tac Airport (10.6%)
  4. Capitol Hill (10.3%)
  5. International District (7.8%)
  6. University Street (7%)
  7. Tukwila Int’l Blvd (6.2%)
  8. Pioneer Square (4.7%)
  9. Beacon Hill (3.9%)
  10. Columbia City (3.8%)
  11. Othello (3.6%)
  12. Mount Baker (3.3%)
  13. Rainier Beach (2.5%)
  14. Sodo (2.4%)
  15. Stadium (2.1%)

Will Bellevue Kneecap Development to Preserve Its Employees’ Views?

Downtown Bellevue – SounderBruce (Flickr)
Downtown Bellevue – SounderBruce (Flickr)

One of the ironies of land use policy around here is, relative to Seattle, suburban jurisdictions have often been willing to upzone more aggressively in advance of light rail’s arrival. Kent and Des Moines, for instance, jointly up zoned the Midway area for up to 200′, while nothing at Capitol Hill Station will exceed 7 stories and we are having intense policy fights about adding backyard cottages.

Though the City of Bellevue is more properly called a “second city” than a suburb, it remains surprising that much of their light rail station planning has been more aggressively urban than Seattle’s, a fact for which Bellevue deserves praise. Its ongoing Downtown Livability Initiative, slated to be adopted later this year by council, sets aggressive targets for the redevelopment of the East Main Station area, currently occupied by large parcels with 1970s-era low-rise hotels such as the Sheraton and Red Lion. From a city memo:

The Downtown Livability CAC recommended further analysis of buildings up to 200 feet in height and 5.0 FAR in the Downtown OLB District between NE 4th Street and Main Street. The current height limits are 90 feet and 3.0 FAR for “residential” and 75 feet and 3.0 FAR for “nonresidential”.

In the East Main Station Area, the CAC is currently considering 200 to 300-foot tall buildings and up to 4.0-5.0 FAR on the Red Lion site and sites south to SE 6th Street. Current zoning provisions generally limit height and density to 75 feet and 0.5 FAR in this area.

But this planned upzone may not happen at all. In a new development, the upzone is at risk because city employees are seeking to preserve a partially obstructed view of Mt Rainier from a City Hall balcony.

Continue reading “Will Bellevue Kneecap Development to Preserve Its Employees’ Views?”