Mount Rainier over Columbia City light rail station

A front-page story in yesterday’s Times ($) describes a study that shows much higher property values around light rail stations. “Studies” that come from local firms trying to generate PR deserve some skepticism. Nevertheless, I think their headline writer is trying to spin this as a bad thing: “To live near light rail in Seattle, you’ll have to pay up, study shows.” Clearly, though, the obvious conclusion is that light rail is a huge improvement to neighborhoods, an improvement that people are willing to pay for.

Moreover, there is far more demand to live near light rail stations than than there are homes. A housing shortage is a product of both bad zoning and not nearly enough stations. A coherent response would both upzone and build more stations.

Somehow, the Times editorial board is opposed to the latter. Their headline is even refuted by the article’s own map, showing median homes for less than $275,000 near some stations in South King County. This is way below the King County median, the Snohomish County median, and is near the Pierce County median.

However, I have to credit the editorial staff for publishing a front page story that, to the mildly economic literate, suggests that light rail is a boon to neighborhoods. It does make you wonder about the thought process of Surrey Downs and “Save Our Trails” NIMBYs who have done everything in their power to keep away high property values and convenient transportation.

90 Replies to “We Have a Severe Shortage of Light Rail Stations”

  1. NIMBYs often want to keep property values down. They may fear higher taxes, more traffic, gentrification, or simple change. I see this a lot in the debate over fast ferries In Kitsap. If you value a sleepy neighborhood far from Seattle then making your property more valuable or your area more popular doesn’t hold appeal.

  2. It would be nice if the STimes did a compare and contrast.

    You know, what does living next to a LR station do to your property values as compared to living next to a freeway interchange?

    1. What would also be interesting is how do LRT stations compare to bus stations, Rapid Ride stations, and legit BRT stations (in other cities). I would imagine property values increase relative to how permanent the station is perceived (some top notch BRT stations can be functionally the same as LRT stations), how frequent the service at that station is, and where it connects to.

    2. This has been studies to death, mostly in other cities. For example, in SF, housing is worth about $8 more per foot that it is closer to the station.

      Bus stations and stops, on the other hand, have little to no affect on property values, and buses do not have the permanence of rail. Developers know that the bus could be gone in a month.

      1. I think it actually can also include buses on main urban commercial streets… we all know including developers that there will be frequent buses on Broadway, Pine, Queen Anne Ave, NW Market, Jackson St, Rainier, etc. As a result you see the same walkable TOD-style development along these corridors.

  3. In reference to the headline of your post, my only caution is against increasing the number of stations so much that it substantially reduces the speed advantage of light rail.

    1. I would prefer to add stations by keeping the station spacing roughly the same and instead adding coverage.

      In-fill stations should only be added if there is a solid technical reason for adding them. Increased home values for SFH owners is not a solid technical reason.

    2. True & I agree, but I think Martin was more arguing for adding more Lines, which in turns gets us more stations in Ballard, Uptown, West Seattle, etc.

    3. I think Martin was talking rhetorically, the logical conclusion of their argument, not literally saying we need two dozen more stations. In some areas an occasional infill station is worthwhile, but you have to look at the particular area, not just throw out handfuls of stations or space them by exact equal distance. We don’t need two more stations on Mercer Island. [1]

      [1] The precursors to the 550 stopped at West Mercer Way and East Mercer Way on the sides of the island as well as the current downtown stop.

  4. Strange as it may seem, there are people out there for whom a home is primarily a place to live and enjoy life. For them a home is more than a financial investment. I wouldn’t question their economic literacy; they merely have a broader value system.

    And I also note that Seattle already upzoned around its light rail stations. It’s the development community that chooses to ignore most of those opportunities around SE Seattle stations, preferring instead to build out neighborhoods such as Ballard and Fremont where there are no light rail stations.

    1. Right, but the price of the property is a signal of how people value the property. Higher prices mean more people value it more. I will pay more for a water view not because it’s an investment, but because water views are great! Having a light rail station nearby improves desirability of the location, which manifests with higher prices

      And Seattle up-zones around stations are still in process –

    2. Building housing, like building light rail, takes a long time in our political environment, and for a lot of the same reasons.

      We may disagree sharply on how much housing we want to see built around stations. I support builders taking the long view by holding out for larger upzones, and lower mandatory automobile parking minima. (BTW, why do we not have bike parking minima?) We will continue to have that argument long after ST3 is voted up or down.

      I don’t need to convince you of this, but the light-rail-as-housing-magnet phenomenon is a way to take pressure off of the vast majority of single-family housing in Seattle, by drawing growth to urban centers. I just hope we can be on the same side in allowing that growth (much more than the current zoning allows) to happen in the urban transit villages.

      1. I’m not sure I follow why you think building housing takes a long time. I guess you could say zoning for it in some cases does, but if it’s zoned, it definitely seems to be so streamlined that at least the city of Seattle can’t even keep track of all of the projects.

      2. If there are more projects, that would tend to mean they are taking longer. If building happened faster, there would be fewer construction projects in progress at the same time.

        But, yeah, my point is more about getting permission to start the projects this region desperately needs.

        Grade-separated high-capacity transit to Ballard and West Seattle has taken decades, and the Seattle Times seems to think it should either take longer or not be built, depending on whether they are concern trolling or being honest.

      3. Building housing in any private-market environment takes time. You can’t just upzone and expect all the buildings to go up immediately. Each one has to have a business plan, financing, and a lengthy permit process, sometimes with design review. In some cases including a few in Othello and Capitol Hill, a building got permitted but the financing fell through and they had to wait a few years and start again. Ex-redlined areas always take the longest.

      4. High land values are by far the bigger issue – parking minimums are relatively low in many neighborhoods, even zero in some.

        The bigger issue is that with high land values, high rents must be commanded to make new residential projects pay off financially. High rents require high-income renters, who disproportionately own cars because they can afford to even if they don’t drive to work. In effect, high land values are inducing parking demand.

        This is compounded by banks’ reluctance to lend to projects that don’t include parking. Developers may also wish to retain the option to convert to condos later and would need to compete with existing condos that tend to have parking.

      5. Housing timeframes isn’t just politics, and, in fact, mostly isn’t. First, expect a five-year planning/engineering/building cycle from decision to open doors. More importantly, developers need owners who are selling, and in most neighborhoods, most owners are staying.

    3. The problem with all the “Save Single-Family Zoning” folks in Seattle is they value two things:

      1) All the advantages that come with living in a thriving city (proximity to job opportunities and everything else the city has to offer)

      2) Excluding others from all the advantages of living in a thriving city (proximity to job opportunities and everything else the city has to offer)

      Wanting (1) is fair. Wanting (2) is not.

      What’s doubly frustrating is when they claim that introducing multi-family or mixed use buildings into a neighborhood will reduce “livability” or “quality of life”, as if those terms are synonyms for single-family residential zones. For other people, quality of life is being able to walk to a variety of stores, restaurants, and recreation, access to frequent transit with it’s own right of way, safe bicycling infrastructure, having people out and about on the streets, and having a lot going on around them, not copious free parking, wide spacing between homes, and absolute quiet and stillness.

      1. What’s frustrating is ignoring all the developable land already zoned for MF development. The City’s own Development Capacity Report (Sept. ’14) documented 224K housing units that could be built under existing zoning, and that number will go up substantially when the HALA upzones move ahead, and the expansion of urban village boundaries. There is just no reason to beat up on SF neighborhoods. They aren’t going away, and they don’t need to.

      2. Some of those are fictions that can’t practically be realized. If the zoning allows only one more floor beyond the existing building, it’s not cost-effective to demolish it and build to the zoning limit. Only when buildings get uninhabitably bad will it be replaced. This is why so many single-family houses have remained in lowrise zones for decades.

      3. Mike O., the City’s analysis in the Development Capacity Report is more sophisticated. They don’t count newer buildings or buildings whose demolition and replacement would net few new units. I think their methodology is explained in appendix 2, and it’s worth a look.

      4. The current “capacity” of existing zoning is a red herring. We’ll never get to 100% of the zoned capacity. The question we need to ask is whether the existing zoning code facilitates housing construction at a sufficient rate to keep up with demand. The huge price increases in the past few years indicate that it does not. Let’s increase the maximums a bit so that the capacity increases and more potential projects pencil out from a financial perspective.

      5. “There is just no reason to beat up on SF neighborhoods. They aren’t going away, and they don’t need to.”

        Even if most of the 220K units will be built and HALA doesn’t get watered down further, there’s a gap in housing types between apartments and single-family houses. People will be able to choose between large expensive boxy buildings and the dwindling number of small (<9 unit) apartment buildings on the one hand, vs a full-fledged SFH or McMansion on the other. Missing is the ability to choose a new small apartment building, a duplex, row house, or ADU. And homeowners (the ones allegedly being beaten up on) miss the choice of building an ADU or duplex. But they can build a McMansion, fine. With all the money coming into the region, that means more SFHs will be converted to McMansions and that will change the character of neighborhoods too.

        The plight of small apartment buildings is little understood or acknowledged. Small apartment buildings are the cheapest to construct, so mom and pop landowners can finance it themselves or get a small local loan. The low cost allows them to offer a lower rent while still making the same profit. But zoning and other regulations make it difficult to build new small apartment buildings, which is why all the new buildings are large and often block-sized boxes. Small apartment buildings can only be built in lowrise areas because they're not allowed in single-family areas, which again is 75% of the city.I lived in a small apartment building on 65th NW surrounded by single-family houses. I did not see any sign that it detracted from the neighborhood or offended the neighbors. And this particular building had an 8-space surface parking lot in back (one came with the unit, which I never used since I didn't have a car). When guests came they usually parked on the street because there were always spaces available.

    4. > And I also note that Seattle already upzoned around its light rail stations.

      Yes, but not nearly enough. I can’t find the document, but zoning around Link stations is 5-6 stories, when we should be building 20-30 story buildings around stations.

  5. Just to put the station inflation in perspective, living near light rail appears to add roughly 10% to the cost of a house.

    A more useful study would show whether the size of the house matters, and whether total cost of living is higher, once you account for the ability to spend money on fewer automobiles. My math says the savings clearly outweigh the premium.

    Yes, you will pay more to buy a house near light rail, but it still looks like the *cost of living* may actually be lower.

  6. Speaking of trying to spin higher property values near the line into a bad thing, Dori Monson said yesterday that he believes the ST Board received kickbacks for tipping-off property owners where the line was going to be sited, and that this is nothing more than a transfer of wealth from the middle class to developers.

    At the 3:50 mark

    Sam Transit News. Fair and Balanced.

    1. Is there any evidence for this belief?

      William Transit Commentary – All opinions created equal

    2. Sam, you’ve single-handedly identified transit’s best chance at self-defense in decades! Because now we can let Dori know that he’s finally got a formidable ally whose freedom of speech is now suppressed by armed men in black uniforms as he bravely confronts the ST Board at their every meeting over their ill-gotten billions.

      His first name’s Daniel, I think. His accent marks him as from my people’s old country, where they’ve got a fifty mile long trolleybus line and my grandfather carried a revolver whether the Czar liked it or not! It’s so sad that he’s got to carry a cardboard sign, just because the Health Department won’t let him bring in a comrade’s bloody red shirt on a pole. And he’s also for Donald Trump!

      So Dori will have a co-host that’ll save him for being paired with Luke Burbank, who killed Dave Ross. And I’ll finally get broadcasting on my side against the bankers (who really do!) control National Public Radio! Bet Dave Ross is back on the air before first commercial.


    3. Notifying neighboring property owners is an obligation ST has. All transportation projects and other utility work do.

    4. The way to fight developers making too much money is to up zone enough to increase the housing supply so prices fall a lot.

      1. Development and speculation are two different worlds, Bob.

        Even aggressive tight-fisted builders and landlords at least really can give the world something back for its money. Shaker Heights, the development and the car-line, were built by a developer in Cleveland.

        And many amusement parks built streetcar lines to bring them customers. Cemeteries also sometimes had spurs for their own railcars, stately and dignified, and with large windows.

        Buying for betting on next selling price not the same thing. Same as sole industry of gambling. Only worse symptom is a convention center for a last hope.Leave CPS alone! Puget Sound area already has a Bremerton.


  7. Every single major project in history has two reflex reactions; “It’ll turn my property into a slum.” Immediately becoming “My rent’s through the roof!” One more Seattle Times substitute for news.

    But much worse if this blog’s pages start letting the real estate page start to dictate passenger transportation decisions. Considering real problems with platform width and length at Westlake, very tempting to give MLK a single platform each direction between Mt. Baker and Rainier Beach.

    Land use is one thing. But considering what a whole economy based on the price of a house did to our country in 2008, as well as transit, wish you’d [OT] whole subject of land and housing prices. Over which this trade journal has no control, and therefore no use for.


    1. This gives a compelling argument agains those elitists that think that transit brings in bad people and lowers home values. That may not be an issue in our market, but I have heard home owners in other urban areas say this. It’s true for station locations and station entrances.

      Of course it Is a bias that can be hidden by ‘green’ things like plants and trails and neighborhood character. Now where does that happen around here? Hmm? … Mercer Island? Kirkland? Shoreline? I wonder …

      1. I think the people who believe it brings in bad people and lowers values are getting their perspective from past decades where the middle class was exiting to the suburbs and in turn that lowered values in the urban areas that had transit. So really it’s a completely independent force that just happened to correlate with transit because transit happens to be in the urban areas that lost their value and increased in crime in the previous decades.

        Now of days however, it seems that we can’t expect the same outcome if people are demanding to live in those same urban areas that before they wanted to leave.

      2. A badly-designed structure could lower the value in the way a freeway entrance does, where tiny bits of land become unusable and inaccessable and have just permanent grass on them, and that can blight adjacent buildings and screw up access to them. It won’t “lower” the value in a fast-rising housing market with a tight 30-day inventory because somebody will grateful to snap up the house anyway, but it would be relatively lower than its potential. The argument is that an underground station like Roosevelt or a surface station like Columbia City has the same destructive impact. Bullhucky. Or that it will bring gangs and addicts and people who are the wrong color, like the New York subways in 1970s movies.

        The most ironic thing is when people claim Kemper Freeman thinks light rail will bring “those people” to Bellevue Square. He certainly knows that the 550 has long traveled almost exactly the same route and has a stop at his property, so gangbangers would have used it by now if they were going to.

        The 1960s impact was several things happening simultaneously. Home construction had halted from 1930 to 1945 so there was a severe housing shortage after the war, similar to now perhaps. The government responded to it with loans and subsidies that favored suburban greenfield development, and redlined areas based on racist criteria. (If a HUD agent saw more than 25% minorities on a street, the area was “blighted” and ineligible for loans.) Buildings had decayed because of the depression and war and the halt in construction, and now the redlining prevented them from getting home-improvement loans. So people moved to the suburbs partly for desire and partly because of the federal incentives, and the high vacancy rate in the city lowered home values. Legacy transit continued as it previously did (or was converted from streetcars to buses and reduced, but existing subways continued to run), and served the new demographic that emerged there. That doesn’t mean the subways caused the crime around there, or that it took criminals to wealthy neighborhoods any more than bus transfers or cars would have if the subways didn’t exist. And in the 1960s industrial jobs disappeared, and that caused the greatest deterioration in neighborhood cohesion as people struggled to survive. And it just happened that those were the same areas that were redlined and that the subways went through.

      3. Al, and Jon: When the DSTT stations were under design, we really tried to give something to the worst people and their values in hopes they’d get off one station short of Westlake.

        That’s why University Street Station was initially conceived as “Financial District.” Sadly, even renaming the station at the last minute didn’t stop these people from heading straight for the Seattle Art Museum.

        Meaning that even though it took them fifteen years to demolish the Waterfront Streetcar, they were able to finance a structure across the BN tracks that can’t be blown up without cracking open the World.

        No question Columbia City is a nicer place than when I last drove the Route 7 through it. But I wish I could be sure some more of my young passengers (they’d be forty now) finally have paychecks and trades that can let them afford to live there.

        As they and their parents couldn’t ever have at today’s home prices. Which explained, though certainly didn’t excuse, a lot of miles with my phone to the Police out of sight in my left hand.

        But memory leaves the world’s best coffee with an unappetizing taste of privilege. Which whether or not it’s correct politically, is accurate historically, and has no skin color.


      4. Transit can bring in bad people, if security issues are poorly planned. Police departments need to plan for station openings and be proactive in heading off problems. That said, it’s not really a bad transit issue, but a bad policing issue.

      5. One great irony of unfounded security fears: Link has designated fare enforcement officers and security officers all over the system. It’s much better protected than Metro buses (each with a single driver responsible for driver safety, fare enforcement and a host of other things) are.

        It is so silly to think that someone is going to take rail transit to break into houses! Let’s see … how many burglars will run several blocks to a Link station with a 55-inch TV? Probably zero. Burglars today use motorized vehicles because they can haul more stuff, and will even put fake companies on the sides (like a plumbing name) to keep from arousing suspicion.

        The ‘fear’ of rail stations bringing in the ‘wrong people’ (implied burglars) is strictly a fading, hold-over racist or elitist attitude and has no basis in reality. At least the market is showing that have a nearby rail station increases one’s property values, rather than depresses them.

      6. Everybody has access to a car nowadays if they want to rob a house. Either one of the gang members will have one, or one of their families or friends will, or they can steal one. A car is much better for making a getaway undetected and outrunning the cops. The only problem is if they can’t find a parking place on the target street.

    2. What are you talking about?

      You can’t talk about transit without talking about land use, because land use policies shape the urban landscape in a way that dictates what patterns and modes of transit make sense. It’s half a conservation. They’re intimately connected.

      The notion that this blog should only cover content over which they have a reasonable chance of influencing policy is ludicrously over-narrow. And, of course, land use policies are a significant political issue right now. It’s not clear how much of HALA’s reforms will go. I see no reason this blog might not be influential on the margins on these issues in the same way they might be for transit issues.

      1. Of course STB should talk about land use. Because this definitely is a matter where we can point, organize, and vote for concrete measures toward the results we want.

        Buy if real estate prices have any rationale whatever, and I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I really don’t think a years-long concentration on public transit qualifies most of us to do anything about them at all except continuing to identify and campaign for goals we see as good for transit.

        Though also being alert to take advantage of any trend that can be of use to us. But also ready to bail if it blows up on us, whether financially or just turning in a direction we don’t like.

        Exactly like the weather. Forces beyond our control, we can still use to make headway in the face of them. But efforts at weather control….never much progress. Though human activity can make them get worse or better in predictable ways.


  8. “NIMBYs who have done everything in their power to keep away high property values and convenient transportation tawny people.” There, fixed.

      1. I’m sorry, what? Bellevue is more racially diverse than Seattle. This includes the areas near ST3.

  9. Wait a minute. If light rail stations cause neighborhoods to become unaffordable, won’t creating new stations and lines everywhere just multiply and spread the unaffordablity?

    Sam. The most interesting man in the comment section.

    “I don’t always take transit, but when I do, I prefer Sound Transit.”

    1. That’s because of too much demand and too little supply. Increasing the supply of stations means a bigger supply of homes near stations (especially with upzoning), thus reducing prices.

  10. The study seems pretty flawed. They measure the value of houses within a mile of the station, then compare it to the areas outside it. That can get you some really weird results. You simply move two completely different neighborhoods. All of the downtown stops are within a mile of the waterfront. This means you are basically comparing prime downtown real estate with property in the Central Area. For Capitol Hill it is also the same thing. Go out a mile in every direction and you include much of downtown as well as South Lake Union (areas for which the station is meaningless). With the Husky Stadium station you include the nicest part of Montlake (in my opinion) as well as the areas closest to campus. Since this study includes future stations, it is basically comparing the U-District with Bryant or Wedgewood. It just seems like a very flawed way to look at things.

    No matter how you do it, though, it will be very difficult to make a decent comparison. Take Rainier Beach, for example. You could compare living a couple blocks from the station versus living a couple blocks from Rainer Avenue. But if you live a couple blocks from Rainier Avenue, you live close to Rainier Beach High, which will effect property values. Go a bit farther east, and property values skyrocket, as you get views.

    If I had to pick a place worth studying, though, it would be Shoreline. 185th is nothing special — how do property values there compare to 175th. I would imagine that any place really close to the freeway is cheap (in both cases) but what happens when you go out a couple blocks. 175th is fairly convenient to the freeway, so does the Link station make up for that? Has there been an increase in home values in one versus the other?

    1. I was thinking of something more along the lines of Beacon Hill. There’s a lot of SFH around that station. Maybe check recent sales values on houses within the walkshed and much further away?

    2. The article also seems to focus on single-family houses, judging from the prices and descriptions. It may be true that the Times’ target readership cares only about buying a SFH, but that’s not a good way to measure light rail stations. We’re not building light rail for the ten SFH’s within walking distance of a station, but for the hundreds of multifamily units that are/will be/could be within walking distance of a single station. Seattle’s population is 670,000, not 100. If only a hundred SFH’s are within walking distance of a station, no wonder their prices are high. But that’s beside the point. The point is how to get the largest percentage of the population access to high-capacity transit. That means dense station areas. While some SFHs in station areas can be tolerated, they shouldn’t overwhelm the areas, nor should the Times focus on them as though they’re a possibility for most people.

      1. The article also seems to focus on single-family houses

        If there are single family homes next to a light rail station it should be a clue that station, likely the entire line, was put in a stupid place. The sole reason we have a “Severe Shortage of Light Rail Stations” is because of the penchant of the ST board to run rail lines through relatively low density while ignoring the few high density high transit use areas.

      2. I suspect the Times’s data also includes multifamily condos. Such statistics usually do.

      3. “If there are single family homes next to a light rail station it should be a clue that station, likely the entire line, was put in a stupid place.”

        Or the zoning is too restrictive. Rainier Valley was the epitome of a streetcar suburb and a pretty ideal place for a light rail line, but it has single-family houses near stations. Then there’s downtown Bellevue, again a must-serve area, but the only way to reach it is to go through single-family areas or along highways. (Although Bellevue Way would have been best, but dear me Kemper Freeman objected to that.)

      4. Or the zoning is too restrictive. Rainier Valley was the epitome of a streetcar suburb

        DOH! If the station is in a dense area the zoning is already in place. There are a litany of reasons the ST board ignores “putting it where they are”. TOD (taxpayer oriented development), social justice, and I guess we need to add nostalgia for streetcar suburbs. Free-attle, I have zero sympathy for your lack of high quality transit between Ballard-UW, First Hill, Seattle Center…

      5. It’s not nostalgia, it’s a transit-oriented neighborhood. In Columbia City people come via Link to the Ark Lodge cinema, the restaurants, the library, the jazz walk, the PCC, and the community center. There are apartments and low-income housing as well as SFH’s. The current zoning limits its potential by keeping it too SFH heavy. That doesn’t mean Link should just avoid the area because the zoning is too restrictive, as if all the existing transit-friendly factors don’t exist.

      6. So, if houses and condos near light-rail stations cost ca. 10% more than other houses and condos in the area, then a station with a preponderance of apartments ought to be more affordable to live at then a house in the SFH zones, even if the tenants still have cars.

      7. What Bernie says. Sound Transit puts stations in badly-zoned areas because rich developers like Kemper Freeman tell them to.

        Who is to blame here?

  11. The study also misses several nuances – in looking at Beacon Hill, for example, a large reason properties within a mile from the light rail station are worth more is simply because the light rail station was located in the nicest part of Beacon Hill, which was already closer to downtown (BH is narrow and long – you can technically still be in BH but almost to Tukwila) and many of the homes are larger and of craftsman style and in nicer condition. The area was already more walkable and closer to amenities such as the golf course, supermarket, and Jefferson Park. The furthest north part of Beacon Hill is a mixed bag of development but around the station has hardly been touched since the line came on. It is interesting that the development community has chosen to build wildly in West Seattle and Ballard (two areas with inferior transit options) when the area around the light rail station in Beacon Hill has remained relatively untouched.

    1. The station is located in the center of the Beacon Hill commercial district, now termed an urban village. It’s the richest part because it’s the center. It’s also the right place for the station because it’s the center. Development is slow because southeast Seattle was redlined (I assume the line included Beacon Hill which had a similar demographic as the valley), and ex-redlined areas always recover the slowest. Also it’s a smaller village: the neighborhood and city agreed it would not grow as much as Mt Baker or Ballard. And now certain property owners near the station are refusing to build or at least delaying development.

      1. Do you know which properties are held by those owners? I’m just curious as to why there are still so many one story, one purpose buildings with surface parking lots (hair salons, banks, dentists) within 2 blocks of the station.

      2. The owners of the remaining vacant land on the station block. They still refuse to develop, even after the upzone a few years ago to 65′.

      3. Are they waiting for 200′. Do they think the real estate market will get better later? Do they love vacant land? Or are they just pissed off that the station exists at all, or has no P&R?

      4. Mike, my understanding, from talking to neighbors, is that the owners of the vacant parcels come from a cultural background that places a higher value on owning property (developed or not) rather than than selling and taking a short term gain – money can be spent leaving you with nothing to leave to your children; property is permanent. They are also mostly elderly, and have no desire or possibly means to develop the sites themselves. It appears that we might be waiting until those lots pass to their heirs for something to be done with them.

      5. Pete pretty much has it covered. One more factor is the family already got their money out of the property — they received more in rent during the duration of station construction than they would’ve received in a fee simple sale. Yes, Sound Transit learned a big lesson on this deal.

    2. The study also misses several nuances

      I recall a previous study (Portland?) where it was shown fairly conclusively that “right next to” a rail station decreased the property value. It was raised nearby with the peak being about 1 block from the station; all the convenience and none of the hassle. But the salient point is that in a sea of SFH the only way you generate any sort of transit ridership is with a P&R. Assuming the parking is free, and it always is, that’s expensive ridership. It should be no surprise that suburbs fight the location of these stupid stations. After all, for the most part they voted against it but had the taxes crammed down their throat by a majority in Seattle that “wants their rail and they want it now”. The great irony is that Seattle gets stuck with stupid rail too.

      ST was handed the bus tunnel. They built a rail line to the airport which in an of it’s self is smart given the round the clock demand. So far the only other successful stations they’ve opened are at sports stadiums and Capital Hill. And the only reason one ended up there was because the original route that was voted for was abandon.

      1. > So far the only other successful stations they’ve opened are at sports stadiums and Capital Hill.

        If you determine successful-ness by ridership, the Capitol Hill station is successful, but the UW station is extremely successful, despite its terrible location.

        > After all, for the most part [the suburbs] voted against it but had the taxes crammed down their throat by a majority in Seattle that “wants their rail and they want it now”.

        Nonsense. Every county in the ST area voted for Prop 1 in 2008.

        And yes, Seattle does want rail. We want to be able to get from point A to point B without being stuck in traffic. And the suburbs want this too.

      2. Capitol Hill is how/where stations should be built. Husky Stadium is successful right now because it is the end of the line; just like Westlake dominated ridership in the bus tunnel. The station at Montlake will continue to have high ridership but it’s extremely disappointing how awful ST made transfers. And don’t blame it on UW and/or WSDOT, it’s ST’s project. If fact we have UW to thank for pushing the current alignment. And mere public input convinced WSDOT to restore the 520 flyer stop and improve transit operations at the interchange. ST, SDOT and Metro were strangely silent.

  12. As a long-time Surrey Downs resident, the debate was over routing rather than opposition to light rail. Had the route that followed I-90 and then I-405 been chosen, a station at the Red Lion site immediately east of the neighborhood would have been functionally equivalent to the East Main station without necessitating the closure of two neighborhood access points. At the end of the day, providing a direct light rail connection to the South Bellevue park and ride and its high ridership necessitated the selection of the Bellevue Way/112th route to downtown Bellevue.

    1. I-90/I-405 would be an even worse route than the one chosen. The better route was always down Bellevue Way, so a Main Street stop could have been in a more useful location and not forced the line into a bunch of unnecessary turns to put a stop near Bellevue TC.

    2. Agree with Al – all the studies said the I90 routing was the worst. The decision to run up 112th and not Bellevue Way was a political/feasibility decision, as a Bellevue Way routing would have had the best ridership numbers, highest walk-sheds, and least disruption to SFHs. A stations at Main and Bellevue Way would have been much more preferable to East Main.

      At least the Red Lion & Hilton parcels will be getting MAJOR redevelopment soon. The Old Bellevue area is really nice and dense, but still tops out as midrise construction, whereas East Main is going to get some legit high rise construction north and east.

      1. … and why is the “East Main” area going to get legit high-rise construction? Because the main thrust of almost all existing zoning is to force all development along freeways and next to interchanges. This is stuff that can’t be fixed with targeted upzones — with our current understanding of pollution impacts these plans should be torn up completely.

        Of course, it doesn’t take extreme height to build a great walkable city. Bellevue punches way below its height in terms of real density and transportation outcomes because of all the auto-centric infrastructure stuffed between those tall buildings. Areas with less auto-centric infrastructure naturally do better!

    3. Our politicians have no vision, no teeth, and no memories. Bellevue’s process is especially pathetic.

  13. Light rail isn’t valuable in itself. What’s valuable about it is the service it provides. In Seattle, LINK provides fast transportation across long distances, specifically because there are relatively few stations and they are widely spaced, and the bus network is being structured in the long-term as a network of frequent feeder lines.

    Many other cities have chosen instead to build too many stations, slowing down service and spreading around what is then inevitably a lower-value service that doesn’t do as good of a job promoting regional trips. Have you ever tried getting from the East to the West side of the Portland region on MAX?

    So, it’s no use advocating for more light rail stations. What you actually want is more light-rail *lines* with the high-quality service you’ve come to expect on what has been built so far. That will add new stations in different parts of town, opening up large new gains in mobilities. So, basically ST3, except it’d be great if there were more of that within the City of Seattle itself.

    1. Daniel, every good urban transit system generally develops different levels of speed, loading, and station placement. Starting with taxis- service now including Uber and Lyfft. And then up to local and express buses, and electric rail starting with streetcars in mixed traffic, progressing through various degrees of reserved lanes and pre-empted signals to BART- when it gets repaired.

      Anybody know LINK stands for? Because in Stockholm, which has both heavy-rail subways and streetcars, LINK’s closest approach is called “Tverbanna”, meaning “Link”, because its most important job is to connect subway stations, over single station distances like Mt. Baker to Rainier Beach. “Tverbanna” means link between stations for this:

      Tverbanna cars themselves same size as our LINK, two-car trains. Except slightly more street-running than we do. As well as freeway-speed lengths of full sized gravel-ballasted railroad. In a few decades. A few decades should make LINK into Tverbanna. Great Swedish-flag kickoff for Ballard station. With Norwegian flag still on top of the old fire truck:

      Trade-off meantime: I’ll go for a Graham Street station if ST will run a line straight south to Sea-Tac, after IDS stopping at King County Airport and Boeing Access- if activity center arises there. As any other city would do for service to an international airport.

      Last two pics could Save Rail On The Trail.


    2. Yes. Be careful what you wish for.

      Developers fighting over who gets to be close to a station is how we wound up with a MAX station every two blocks (for Link this would be a station every train length!).

    3. The answer is a lot of stations that have bypass tracks. You then have a thru train that’s fast and a local train that stops everywhere, using the same tracks.

      1. You know, Glenn, on the way in from Gresham, same exact thought about passing track crossed my mind. Maybe because some high school kids thought the same thing.


  14. Rail stations increasing property values is not a Seattle only phenomenon. It’s been found in San Diego and San Francisco. Rail stations certainly attract development in cities like Chicago and Washington–good development sites are going to be more valuable. There have been studies showing that property near good bus service is more valuable, but the issue has been studied a lot less. More light rail stations in reasonable locations would be a good thing, but they (hopefully) would generate more demand and maintain the price premium.

    What keeps transit lines running is not infrastructure, but demand. There are thousands of miles of streetcar/trolley lines that have been abandoned in the US–the presence of a track couldn’t save them. On the other hand, there are bus lines which have been running in more or less the same place since the 1920’s.

    1. People pay for convenience and mobility everywhere. In London and Moscow the most expensive housing is near subway stations. The difference is they don’t have detached single-family houses within three blocks of stations, partly because of policies that put the most people near transit, and partly because market forces lead to higher density. In fact, in Moscow, St Petersburg, Duesseldorf, and Ratingen (a suburb of Duesseldorf) I don’t recall seeing even one SFH in the city. There may have been a few in places I didn’t see or that I’ve forgotten, but the overall impression is practically zero. Moscow and St Pete do have large prewar houses similar to those on north Capitol Hill, but they were subdivided into flats long ago. (The natural response to city growth, but disallowed under single-family zoning.)

      So housing is more expensive near subway stations everywhere in the world. But these cities also have more subway lines and stations throughout the city, so there are a lot more stations and units to choose from, and the large number moderates price increases (because a few units can’t claim an extraordinary level of convenience and exclusivity). And if you can’t live within a 10-minute walk of a station, there are ultra-frequent buses and streetcars to extend the effective reach of the stations, so even those who can’t walk to stations are not that badly off.

    2. Chicago’s north side has a sprinkling of SFHs, so more than Duesseldorf and Moscow, but the average building is 3-10 stories. That would be a better model for Seattle’s urban villages, including the entire area between Ballard, the U-District, and Greenlake.

    3. Not all bus lines survive because of ridership. Some are just because of politics. Ridership does tend to give bus lines a political advantage, though.

      Not all high-ridership rail lines survive, either, when they get privatized and sold to companies in the business of selling private automobiles, or through other political machinations. High ridership can give a line a political advantage, but it is no guarantee, and there is no guarantee of competent stewardship, either, as we have seen in disenfranchised DC.

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