ULI's map of Seattle's suburbs
ULI’s map of Seattle’s suburbs

Seattle fancies itself a city of neighborhoods, but in many ways is a city of suburbs.  As has been well documented, the city’s first population boom coincided with the electric streetcar, leading to an urban form primarily composed of “streetcar suburbs” – planned communities such as Queen Anne and Capitol Hill where mass development of single-family homes (some might even say “cookie cutter”!) followed private streetcar lines.

A fascinating new report from the Urban Land Institute reveals just how suburban most of the city is.  The report seeks to subdivide suburbia, using census tracts, into five categories – Established high-end, stable middle-income, economically challenged, greenfield lifestyle, and greenfield value – to reflect the diversity of communities that are often lumped together as “the suburbs.”  The modern suburb, they argue, is a hodgepodge of very different housing and land-use types, a continuum that stretches from stately, tree-lined streetcar suburbs close to the center to the sprawling planned communities on the exurban fringe.

What’s interesting its that the report finds that there’s not much different between North Ballard and Bellevue: both are classified as “established, high-end” suburban communities.  Seattleites might chafe at the comparison, but there’s something to it.

The only parts of Seattle that are classified as urban are downtown and the neighborhoods immediately adjacent (roughly the Seven Hills + parts of the North end). These urban neighborhoods count for less than half a percent of all the land in the metro area, while housing 9% of the population (and, perusing the methodology, it may be that even these neighborhoods qualified as urban not solely because of their density, which isn’t very high, but simply because of their proximity to the city center).

The rest of the map’s classifications seem more-or-less on point from my experience, though defining nearly all of South King as “economically challenged” may be a bit of a stretch. We’d expect more blue in there somewhere.

As City Observatory notes, this report has been sold in the media under the banner of suburban triumphalism.  That seems simplistic, considering that housing prices in many urban neighborhoods are at record highs: clearly more people want to live in urban areas than can afford to.  But the report itself is worth reading, or at least clicking around the interactive map.

82 Replies to “Our Suburban City”

  1. There is so much wrong with this report it’s hard to know where to begin. I don’t think the people living in the southern part of Monroe would think they live in an economically challenging suburb. In fact Gold Bar which is not categorized in this map does fit that category, and it’s 15 miles east of Monroe. A 2 lane highway jammed with commuters is a deadly thing. Yes, cheap land leads to cheap housing, we already know this.

    1. Yeah one of the drawbacks of using housing prices as a proxy for prosperity is it penalizes a city for cheap housing prices even if that not a product of a poor economy. I think the difference between “Economically Challenged Suburb” south of US2 and “Greenfield Value Suburb” north of US 2 is the age of the housing stock, not the economic vitality of one vs the other.

      Basically, it looks like they assume if a city has low housings prices and low population growth, the local economy isn’t doing well. Generally this is a good proxy but can break down. With Monroe, the city is too far of a commute from the growing job centers in King County to get caught up in the housing price growth like most of west & south Snohomsh.

    2. The Urban Land Institute is focused on real estate development opportunities. To them, recent development and future development is good, and their readers want to know where, how much, and how expensive future development will occur over the next few decades, That’s a different perspective than residents, workers, shoppers, and would-be residents have. Residents want to know how good are the schools, the size/quality of the house, is the neighborhood safe, how close is the supermarket and shopping center, how congested are the roads, how far are the places they go to, how effective is the transit, etc. None of these are captured in these criteria.

      Houston has low housing prices because it allows development to the limit of demand. While private covenants hinder density, nothing hinders sprawl. Yet Houston is large, prosperous, and its residents can afford things better than in most prosperous cities. This also is not captured in the criteria so these differences are invisible in the report.

  2. A fascinating report to digest – especially the tables on pages 8 and 9, showing classifications of density and total population by areas.
    While Seattle’s MSA ranks near the bottom for Urban area percentage, and low on the total population scale compared to the other 50 MSA’s charted, it is pushing HCT well into those lower density/population areas. The report points out these are the areas that show 80% or more of the growth nationwide.
    The question then becomes is transit trying to respond to that trend or facilitate more growth along the spine corridors?
    It would be even more interesting to plot the report values against HCT ridership in those same 50 MSA’s.

    1. People throughout the metropolis need to get around the metropolis. Europe has trains to practically every district, suburb, and rural area, like the US had in the 1940s. The US and Pugetopolis have seriously underbuilt their transit infrastructure, and “HCT into these lower density/population areas” is a start in addressing it, however imperfect it is.

      However, the Spine is not trying to respond to any of these trends. The Spine does not grow or shrink according to new interpretations of the density or growth along it. The Spine is based on the claim that Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett were established as central cities and were the largest cities in Pugetopolis during some part of the past century, they are focal points for their surrounding communities, so HCT should connect them together. They form a trio that should be connected, and incidentally most trips are north-south between them. The growth of Bellevue/Redmond has forced them to be added, but Everett and Tacoma will not be displaced. They believe that future jobs and prosperity will tend to concentrate around the HCT network, and they don’t want to be left behind. So the Spine is not about density thresholds in those directions, and it doesn’t address parallel density areas (the Kent-Auburn axis is arguably more dense and well-rounded than the Des Moines-Federal Way axis). It just connects Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett, that’s it. They happen to be thirty miles apart, so the Spine is sixty miles. If you want a name for this phenomenon, you might call it “historic entitlement”.

      1. That’s a whole lot of hate for the spine. Aside from quibbling over things like 99 vs I5 alignment, I don’t know what you mean by “So the Spine is not about density thresholds in those directions, and it doesn’t address parallel density areas.” You throw out Aurburn-Kent, but Link through there would just duplicate Sounder, so not sure what you meant there.

        The spine connects all the major destinations in Pugetopolis – the three downtown, plus SeaTac and U District. It tries to serve additional destinations long the way (Lynnwood, Northgate, Federal with varying degrees of success), but only when they are on the way. That’s how you do good HCT design – you don’t wander about randomly connecting destiations, you build a line with the highest value destinations and connect secondary destinations not on that axis using feeder service.

        Same for East Link – all that matters is DT Seattle, Bellevue and Microsoft; everything else is just “on the way”

        http://humantransit.org/2010/02/the-power-and-pleasure-of-grids.html – if you look at ST3’s map of Sounder + Link + BRT, we are arguably building a radial grid

      2. Mic would disagree with that, and I was responding to Mic. The mic/RossB/d.p. ideal would be an intense subway core (say Rainier Beach to Lynnwood) and commuter rail or equivalent BRT beyond that, with the Bellevue/Redmond spur somewhere in between. I stand by my statement that the Spine’s size is fixed and is not based on where density drops off. That’s the philosophy behind the Spine, which is good to know and recognize, however good or bad it is. At the same time, ST’s mandate is to connect PSRC’s regional growth centers, which are both on the Spine and off it. ST has chosen to do this and Seattle’s urban neighborhoods with a single light metro system, which results in a compromise between the two kinds of needs.

        Sounder is not interchangeable with Link because it’s less frequent. Link runs every ten minutes minimum; Sounder runs a few times a day, with an official goal of hourly service and an unofficial wish for half-hourly service. Waiting for Sounder or adjusting one’s schedule around it is inefficient on people’s time, which should be a primary concern. (The purpose of transit is to optimize people’s mobility opportunities, not hinder them artificially.) So arguably Link should have been located in the Kent-Auburn corridor, or a higher priority should have been put on Sounder frequency as an alternative that almost compensates for it.

        The ST3+Metro+CT+PT grid issue goes far beyond this thread and is best addressed in a separate comment thread or it will bring in too much.

      3. Ah, I see. So you point was more about the historical context of why the spine is the spine, not a critique or defense per se.

        “The ST3+Metro+CT+PT grid issue goes far beyond this thread and is best addressed in a separate comment thread or it will bring in too much.” Totally. Maybe a good Page 2 for me to try.

      4. I can go either way on the Spine. I like RossB’s core/periphery distinction and could support a robust two-leven network based on it. But at the same time there is an advantage to a seamless frequent rail network throughout the metropolitan area. so I can’t be the one to say no to that if most of the cities and public want it. What I worry about in the mic/RossB/d.p. model is that it may cut off the suburbs too draconially: that the subway may end too close in, and that large numbers of people may be forced to time-consuming transfers or infrequency because of a misdiagnosis of how numerous they are or how much they “deserve it” (in the sense of serving the most people’s desired trips). I grew up in east Bellevue with an hourly milk-run bus to Seattle and no other bus (although a U-District bus was a mile away up a hill), and most of the Eastside didn’t even have those, and I know a lot of people who live and work in the suburbs. So I understand their concerns, and I’d rather err in the direction of too long subway rather than too short subway. Suburbanites are also 3/4 of the voters and won’t go for a RossB network. People do travel and will increasingly travel all across the metropolitan area, different people to different places, and they’ll increasingly live in or near urban centers because that’s where the housing growth is going. I don’t think people have fully grasped how different the region will be in 2040, like they didn’t comprehend today in 1990. In 1990 downtown Bellevue was still mostly two-story; the highrises were just beginning.

      5. Good assessment Mike. I can’t imagine the spine if Tacoma and Everett weren’t long standing, independent cities. To be fair to Tacoma, there is a bit of density there, but not as much as you might assume given their history (and the charm that exists there). From a density standpoint, even Tacoma is nothing special and you can see that in these maps, or a straight up density map (http://arcg.is/2gJfpBZ — zoom in to get a view of individual census blocks). So while Tacoma has a cluster of moderately dense neighborhoods, it really isn’t exceptional, compared to Kent, Auburn, Federal Way or other logical end points. In terms of density, it isn’t Baltimore (not even close).

        The problem with the spine approach is that it looks great on paper, but it never works. I think that it appeals to people because it is sounds good if you are a driver. When the freeways aren’t clogged, then getting to Tacoma or Everett is very easy. It isn’t that the freeway goes to every Tacoma or Everett neighborhood, but driving that last mile is not that hard. Unfortunately, that simply isn’t the way that subways operate. A subway may seem like an unclogged freeway, but subways make lots and lots of stops. This makes long distance travel very slow. Meanwhile, for both Tacoma and Everett, it only serves a handful of neighborhoods. Add service for the last mile — which almost all the riders will need — and it simply takes a very long time to get from one place to another.

        That is the trade-off, of course, between an express, commuter style train (or bus) versus a multiple stop subway. The latter makes sense if there is demand for shorter trips. For example, a trip from Queens into Manhattan on the subway takes a very long time. So long, that NYC runs express buses. But the subway to Queens makes sense because there are tens of thousands of people going to Brooklyn, or other parts of NYC. The problem with subways to suburban areas is that they lack the density and demand along the way. There won’t be tens of thousands of people traveling from Fife to Tukwila.

        Of course there are thousands of people who do take commuter trains or express buses into the city. These tend to be fast, if not frequent.. But keep in mind that even with the most successful, best designed commuter rail or express bus system, ridership from suburbs or other cities is way less than ridership within the city, even when the city has a very slow bus system.

        Thus an investment in suburban infrastructure should be weighed with this in mind. It doesn’t make sense to spend enormous sums on a subway to areas that won’t meet the needs of the people in those areas. Even an investment in a much more effective commuter rail system should be viewed with caution. It doesn’t make sense to spend an enormous amount of money on something relatively few people will use. Fortunately, this is rare, as most cities simply leverage the existing rail (as we have) instead of building brand new commuter rail. Fortunately, a moderate investment in express bus service and commuter rail can really pay off for the suburbs. It works in a lot of cities, whereas the long distance subway line has failed every time anyone has tried it.

      6. I forget to mention that one of the issues in this region is that the express buses are often caught in traffic. I noticed the head of Sound Transit just recently mentioned that, pointing out that we are unusual in having as much HOV 2 lanes (instead of HOV 3). Interesting timing (I wonder why he didn’t speak about this before the election) but still a solid message. But even if we continue to put up with HOV 2 madness, I know there are areas where a moderate investment in bus infrastructure would have yielded much better results than the ST3 spine extension. Just as commuter rail can leverage existing infrastructure for very little money, so too can express buses leverage the existing road system. For example, there are stretches of I-5 north of Lynnwood where building a bus lane would be very cheap (unused median space). There are other sections where it would be extremely expensive (next to bridges or areas where the median has already been used). It is very easy and cost effective, therefore, to simply build bus lanes where it is cheap to build. A bus from Everett to Lynnwood would not travel in a bus lane 100% of the way, but 90%. When you consider the number of people making that trip, getting that extra 10% is simply not worth it. You are better off building similar, cheap improvements in various other parts of Snohomish County (or removing really bad bottlenecks, or simply adding more service).

        There are only a handful of places where an investment in brand new, expensive subways is cost effective. Those places have high population density and are close to each other. So while Bellevue may be a lot more suburban in style than Tacoma (having grown up as a suburb) it has the density and proximity to make such an investment pay off, whereas Tacoma does not.

      7. And even within the freeway-subway comparison, you can see the flaws in the spine idea. Part of the problem with suburbia as it has long been designed in the United States is how it concentrates traffic on a handful of roads, leading to congestion. Having one true freeway through Seattle proper might make sense when you can drive the last mile. Once you admit that Seattle proper needs multiple north-south trains, even if you accept that you need urban rail all the way to Tacoma and Everett it makes sense not to shove all the destinations in-between on one line. It would have been easier to serve Shoreline and Snohomish County along 99, as it should have, if it were attached to a line going through Greenwood and Ballard, not Northgate.


      Matches up with ST building out HCT to the various secondary cities & PSRC growth areas, whether it’s existing ones like Ballard and Redmond or hoped-for ones like Lynnwood and Federal Way.

    3. “The report points out these are the areas that show 80% or more of the growth nationwide.” – I doubt that applies to Seattle, because most metro regions don’t have an Urban Growth Boundary. If King County didn’t have an UGB and have Houston type zoning rules, we’d see subdivisions all the way out to Carnation, and then we’d probably have lower housing prices and way worse road congestion.

      The growth in low-density area is driven by the fact that greenfield construction is almost always cheaper than infill or redevelopment.

      “The question then becomes is transit trying to respond to that trend or facilitate more growth along the spine corridors?” – I’d say ST’s system is clearly trying to facilitate infill growth. We can argue about whether or not stations like Federal Way will actually have infill growth, but the intent it to connect to growth areas within the UGB, not create new ones. The fact someone can drive from Carnation to SE Redmond P&R in incidental.

      1. “If King County didn’t have an UGB and have Houston type zoning rules, we’d see subdivisions all the way out to Carnation”

        Did you mean Ellensburg? And Mt Vernon, Buckley and Shelton.

      2. Haha maybe not all the way out to Ellensburg, developers would eventually run into National Forest land, but yeah.

      3. >> I’d say ST’s system is clearly trying to facilitate infill growth.

        I disagree. Part of the problem is the subarea equity rules as well as the fixation with a spine. It is really hard to see growth in Fife as being “infill”, while areas like Lake City and Bitter Lake lack light rail. Not to mention places like Magnolia, which, despite the new rail system connecting it to Ballard, Queen Anne and downtown, isn’t likely to have much growth in the coming years — a fact that Sound Transit must have been aware of. Meanwhile, the stations in the suburbs are often next to the freeway. This is the worst place for infill development.

        No, a system designed for infill would have been a more traditional, more effective system. Cost effective subways connecting the more urban neighborhoods in the city, along with good express bus service from the suburbs.

  3. Lots of south King is shown as value greenfield or greenfield lifestyle. Many of these areas are arguably stable middle income. The map is a failure because it classifies some areas by land use and others by income. A greenfield suburb can’t have a population of stable middle income families?

    1. My read of pg. 5 is “Greenfield” is new construction within past 15 years, split by into high cost Lifestyle and low cost Value. If the housing stock is older than 15 years, it’s split into High-end, Middle-Income, and Economically challenged.

      In short, yes it can.

      1. Then they totally got my area wrong then. Older homes (15 to 30 years old) classified as “Greenfield” and newer homes (0 to 20 years old) classified as “Economically challenged.”

        Somebody missed their morning coffee when they created that portion of the map.

  4. TIL I live in an economically challenged part of the eastside (where I just moved). I’ll make sure to tell that to my neighbors who have two Audi’s parked in the driveway of their almost 3000 sqft home. Even if I’m not in an “economically challenged” area what lets say it was blue for stable middle income, I paid almost a million for the house I live in. I don’t consider that stable middle income or economically challenged in terms of a neighborhood.

    Point being, I don’t like the way this data/map makes huge assumptions about the economics of the neighborhoods. The density aspect may be more accurate, but if this map can label people living in brand new million dollar homes (who are in another development but right next to the one I live in) as economically challenged, then there’s a serious flaw in how they come up with the economic scaling of this modeling.

    1. The report’s methodology is quirky, but it may have uncovered a new pattern. The Seattle MSA has the highest proportion nationwide of its population in “economically challenged” areas (46%). There is very little “middle-income” compared to other metros like LA. This sounds bad, like Seattle metro is a sea of poverty.

      But neighborhoods are divided into challenged/middle/established on one criteria: home value compared to the median home value in the MSA.

      Apparently the Seattle metro has few homes with values near the median. Seattle & the eastside are far above the median, and the south end is far below the median. Snohomish County varies between far below and far above the median, with very little at the median.

      Why would that be?

      1. Good question.

        Could be geographic. In most cities, as the city spreads out into the suburbs, home values gradually erode, and the median value homes sit in the middle of the continuum. In Metro Seattle, the high value home areas are frequently bounded on multiple sides by either water or “mountains” (i.e. Issaquah Alps) – that yields sharp transition zones with little space for median value neighborhoods.

        Might also be driven by school districts, with a high premium placed on the 3 big east King districts vs South King schools?

        Could also be methodology, with much of South King and East King’s “stable middle income” instead classified as greenfield. Without look at the data, I would call a neighborhood like Canyon Park or Issaquah Highlands as middle income housing for Seattle, but it’s instead marked as greenfield lifestyle because the housing stock is young.

  5. Struggling with the urban vs. suburb classification. Specifically if you look at Oakland (primarily dense apartment buildings) vs. San Jose (primarily single family homes) Oakland is shown as mostly suburb while San Jose has as much urban area as NYC. With the urban proximity methodology stated above shouldn’t this be the opposite?

    1. Agreed. Looking at East King, why is South Kirkland urban but downtown Kirkland is not? Must be the reported density of the census tracts.

      My read of pg 4-5, the methodology is:

      Density: Urban vs Suburban
      Housing Stock Age: “Greenfield” for 15 years of less
      Home values: High-end/Middle/Economically Challenged OR Lifestyle/Value

    2. But it doesn’t line up with density either.

      There methodology must be weird. West Oakland may not be the most urban part of Oakland, but it certainly is urban, and a lot more urban than West Seattle. Oakland: http://arcg.is/2gJGPI6, West Seattle: http://arcg.is/2gJDKaK

      There are other examples as well. Lake City is not considered urban, despite having more density than any place in West Seattle or Snohomish County. Speaking of which, there is a little “urban” spot up north that makes no sense to me. Looking at the density maps, or looking at the area by air, it is just a head scratcher.

      I have a theory, which is this: It is based on density, but takes into account relative density of nearby areas. That way, a city like Phoenix has areas considered urban, even though they would be considered suburban areas if in a city like New York. That makes sense. Otherwise you have a map that basically suggests that the only urban areas in the country can be found in a handful of cities (a reasonable argument to make, given census data, but not a fun map).

      That might explain West Seattle. Between West Seattle and downtown Seattle, there is a big swath of nothingness. So much so that the software considers West Seattle an entirely separate city, with its own urban area. Areas like Northgate and Lake City don’t have that. There isn’t enough of a drop off between it and places like UW to serve as an independent city, yet compared to areas like the UW, it isn’t urban, either.

      But that doesn’t explain that spot up in North Lynnwood. Nor does it explain why areas like Greenwood, which actually has higher density than the area between Ballard and Fremont, doesn’t show up as urban.

      1. Although the study probably goes by current density, it’s notable that West Seattle is zoned for much more density than current use. 6-8 story buildings are coming online now at a rapid pace, such as the Whittaker which is the largest apartment complex built in the city in 2016. 1,000 more units will come online in the next 6 months. Also, the vacancy rate of ~25% may be a factor.

        So another possibility is that the study looked at zoning and/or projections as a factor.

  6. The language (and intent?) of this is too reminiscent of the federal loan maps that redlined value out of black and brown neighborhoods forever.

  7. Broad swatches of the upper Lake City Way ain’t a high end suburb, the high end is a thin strip along Lake Washington. Plus its just weird that there is a sharp divide on 145th between middle end (south of 145th) and struggling (north of 145th). I think the high housing prices in Seattle are distorting the methodology of this study.

    1. One wonders how the lines are drawn. Are they based on zip codes? Legislative districts? Voting precincts?

      I get why the U District is considered urban. But Ravenna Park is hardly urban, nor are the various single-family cul de sacs surrounding it. And I doubt the many transients living around Northgate Mall and transit center would consider it high-end.

      I don’t know if this rises to the malice of redlining to prevent “bad” people from moving somewhere. It might just be that the designers are using a relatively large paintbrush to pain a relatively finely-contoured surface.

    2. It’s federal census tracts. The more obscure neighborhood names like Squire Park, Bryant, and Miller are based on them. When RossB says Lake City is denser than the rest of Seattle north of 65th, he’s referring to the same census tracts. The tracts are small-neighborhood sized but are still an average of all the lots within them. So one street may be different than the tract average, as some have noted in Lake City, Bellevue, and south King County. The ILU further makes its own interpretation and categorization of these tracts, which adds two more levels of inaccuracy. However, the ILU’s goal is not to be authoritative on micro conditions but to show a general national picture and how cities/regions compare. One can complain the criteria are flawed, or that “grading on a curve” is unfair (grading less-dense metropoli more leniently because their residents’ expectations are supposedly lower), but those are orthogonical to the national/local nature of the study.

      1. Yeah, but the point I made above (https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2016/12/08/our-suburban-city/#comment-764740) still stands. How does Northgate, Bitter Lake and Lake City — all which show up as being relatively dense — not show up as urban, while parts of West Seattle and one particular part of South Everett does not? There is some correlation with the census maps, but not a lot.

        Oh, and what I do say is that Lake City is more densely populated than any place north of it (until you get to Canada). You are correct, that is based on census data: http://arcg.is/2gK2QpT

    3. Census tracts is my guess. Either way, the sharp lines along major roads in a product of the dataset(s) they used to generate the chart

  8. Frank, what really is the point of this discussion? From contemporary prints, including everything from daguerreotypes to goose quills, every assemblage of residences goes from a few buildings made of mud and thatch, through various levels of development to whatever they are now

    Which include everything from vacant lots to gentrificopolis . With divsion of different historic types of gentry from Henry VII lookalikes throwing half eaten legs of mutton over their shoulders to CEO’s with shaved heads and hoodies with Google logos. No research on dogs who eat discarded protein tablets.

    I’m sure that “Streetcar Suburbs” counted simultaneously as liberation, no-place-left-to-hunt-squirrels, and whatever 16th century Flemish was for “sprawl” Whatever Seattle is now, studies of a 2516 will consider it something else.

    Hope somebody is doing engravings of South Lake Union. Just no fair substituting horse droppings between the streetcar tracks for overhead. Good reminder to bicyclists, though, that whether front wheel is 24 inches to five feet in diameter, there have been worse things to get your wheel stuck in than grooved rail.


    1. Mark Dublin, I have no idea what you are saying, but it is always entertaining to stumble through! :)

      1. This morning’s problem, really tried a remedy advertised to save a thousand words- okay to do that, right? So typed in topic. Showing, as I expected, various pictures from 1800’s showing very large open spaces, which were actually farms, inside the city limits.

        Anybody know a good way to turn a word file into a “giff?’ Can’t get flickr to take a PDF. I used to know that.

        First etching shows a couple walking along a rural-looking lane, whose true suburban-challenge status is plainly shown by two sets of grooved tracks in the, well, dirt. And no traction power overhead at all!

        So my surmise was that since average person of every social class was familiar with contemporary tailpipe emissions of transit’s usual power sources, there was no need to waste anymore woodblock or ink to stress the point.

        But to make up for all those snide suggestions about bike trips to Oslo and Gothenburg for grooved-rail familiarity courses, am now footnoting some ammunition that should get Dori Monson and his ilk off cyclist’s case.


        So lay off, all you KIRO hosts who aren’t Dave Ross! If the bicycle community hadn’t started demanding paved streets in late 19th century, you wouldn’t want to change a tire now. As you watched cyclists clip full-speed around those emission deposits.


    1. All this means is that homes average more than 15 years old, and the average home value is more than 1 standard deviation below the Seattle metro average.

  9. I chose to live in my “suburban neighborhood” because it’s 4 miles from downtown and my job and there is round the clock bus service. I live there in spite of it being primarily single family homes (I live in a condo). This study is irrelevant because the “demand” in this country is being significantly constrained by NIMBYs and others that are fearful of density. In general, you cannot make generalizations about consumer preferences when you do not take into account “lost demand”.

    1. The last three years plainly prove that when large numbers of people move in with enough money to buy the house or condominium they want meet with speculators who’ve already bought places where people with less money have lived for years and evict them, nobody else’s Back Yard has a high enough fence to let them keep on densifying the city.

      Blowing away 30 years of land use planning like so much lint as we formerly density-comfortable residents sprawl the whole region for a place to live. Rendering formerly good transit service unusable. And forcing us to drive our car on regular trips along a major “Spine” whose medical condition is rendering our region quadriplegic.

      Thankfully knowing enough map-reading to spend at least an extra hour and its fuel to take us through other people’s neighborhoods. Whose welcome their FRONT yards won’t tolerate forever. No Market is ever Free to the Creature Hanging on the Hook.

      So pulse or not, why put up with any “Person” who won’t pay for the services their incomes demand? Given visible (understatement!) differences between this region and likely competitors just north of the next Beautiful Wall south, it should be possible to find a responsible applicant.

      Who won’t have any trouble at all with a steeply graduated, “break”-free income tax for both people and corporations, whom the US Supreme Court just made people. But after 35 consecutive years here, one thing I still can’t understand:

      Why do the ordinary citizens of the State of Washington keep voting down the progressive income tax that most favors them, and keep on tolerating the sales and property taxes that hurt them worst? Definitely road fatigue. Couldn’t take an 18-wheeler past the scale northbound at Dupont with these commuting hours on my log-book.


      1. “Why do the ordinary citizens of the State of Washington keep voting down the progressive income tax that most favors them, and keep on tolerating the sales and property taxes that hurt them worst?” – because it would increase the total tax burden. They haven’t been given an option to add income tax while removing, say, sales tax.

      2. It’s more than that. They fear that even if sales tax is reduced now, it may eventually creep back to where it was. California has a sales tax close to ours and it also has an income tax, so they’re apparently paying twice as much as we are and we mustn’t allow that here. (Of coruse, California’s tax structure is distorted by Prop 13, under which favored people pay almost no property tax, so the other taxes are higher to compensate.) All my lift the argument against income tax was that it’s better to have two tax mechanisms rather than three because it acts as a brake on total taxes: it’s hard to raise the two as far as the third would collect because people are allergic to two-digit numbers (i.e., close to 10% on each tax mechanism).

        However, people’s living situation has changed since 2011. Before that people could afford to liva almost anywhere and had more security about the future, so they could vote either way without feeling it would endanger their middle-class life. Now people are worried they may not be able to live anywhere in the future, and that living in Everett and Tacoma will become as normal as living in Renton or Bellevue was fifty years ago: a three-times larger burden than their parents. That has made some people even less willing to support an income tax because it would strain their budgets further, while other people feel that the only way to cope with the new reality is to address the backlog in statewide infrastructure and services that means an income tax. Income tax is also more steady: it doesn’t have wild boom-and-bust spikes like sales tax does (which throws Metro’s budget into disarray), and it’s more progressive (sales tax makes the poor pay a greater portion of their income than the rich).

      3. @AJ — Yes they have. Every proposal has that. It is no different than the carbon tax that failed — increase one tax, but decrease another.

        But what they fear is that someday you will go back to increasing the other. Or that a small income tax (say 1% for people who make over 100,000 a year) will grow into a big one. None of that is logical reason to oppose an income tax (a new type of tax isn’t likely to increase overall spending) but voters are stupid.

  10. I like the chart of pg. 29. #1 characteristic is “Larger home” – that’s a proxy for price. First-time home buyers buy homes in the suburbs because you get much better price per square foot. People prefer urban living but there simply aren’t enough large units available as an affordable price.

  11. So what would a better study look like? To me what matters is walkability. Regardless of how tall the buildings are, can you walk from your front door to a significant percentage of everyday necessities and amenities? Is there frequent transit to the rest of them? And to where most people work? (I.e., the large and small workplaces that 80% of the workforce goes to.)

    In other words, how closely does the neighborhood or town resemble a pre-WWII streetcar suburb or European neighborhood?

    The modern name for streetcar suburbs is New Urbanism, but if we look at new urbanist developments like Snoqualmie Ridge and The Landing, while they may have the house spacing right and a Starbucks/Safeway/Target within walking distance, they’re not “complete” in the sense that most people can fulfill most of their needs within a 2-mile radius. While 2/3 of people will always commute to work in our modern age of job specialization and frequent job changes, an ideal neighborhood would be mostly self-contained except for that.

    AJ: “First-time home buyers buy homes in the suburbs because you get much better price per square foot. People prefer urban living but there simply aren’t enough large units available as an affordable price.”

    People are balancing two mutually-exclusive values, and let’s include renters. A larger house intrinsically means less density, and fewer things that all neighborhood residents can walk to. Urbanists highly value walkability, diversity of destinations, and are usually willing to live in a house/apartment 1000 square feet or less. Suburbanites value a large house and often a yard, and the best public schools, and care less about walkability, and nowadays demand a house 1500, 2000, or even 2500 square feet or larger. There is a third alternative, large New York apartments at 2000+ square feet. Those would appeal to a minority of people currently living in the suburbs.

    Christopher Leinberger and the City Observatory article note that the desire of walkability is larger than the current built environment provides. There’s a “shortage of cities”. Or more specifically, a shortage of neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, Wallingford, San Francisco’s Mission district, and Vancouver’s West End and New Westminster (which are all different densities). There should be a Capitol Hill in the Eastside, a Wallingford in Kent (as Mr Bailo wants), a New Westminster in Northgate, Shoreline, and Federal Way, a Mission District in Tacoma, Lynnwood, and Everett, etc. Then each group of 500,00 people could have more choices without leaving their “borough”, because they all can’t fir into Seattle. Even if Seattle doubled in population it still would not fit south King County’s 800 thousand much less the tri-county’s three million. Developers wouldn’t be building the Spring District and Capitol Hill apartments and Ballard condos if there were no demand for them. Large New York apartments should also be part of the mix, but they’ll have to be mostly outside inner Seattle or they’ll strain the inner housing crunch even further by displacing smaller, less expensive apartments that would have been built instead. Nevertheless we must recognize the needs of families for 2+ bedrooms, so they aren’t forced to suburban houses because nothing else is available.

    The more walkable, medium density neighborhoods we have, and satellite cities based on this (like Surrey BC’s downtown), with fast/frequent transit between them, the more people can choose the kind of neighborhood they want, and the more prices will equalize between all housing types. Closer to a common price per square foot, with smaller premiums for unique prestigious locations. The reason people are crowding into Capitol Hill and it has spread into the CD is that it’s not only hipsters being near the best clubs and rich people being near the symphony, but everybody who wants a lot of walkable choices and the most frequent transit. If there were more areas like that, they wouldn’t crowd into the few that exist and drive the rents up so far.

    1. Let’s not also forget the reason people are crowding into the Central Area is because, well, it is central. This means that not only is it not far at all from downtown, it isn’t very far to other neighborhoods. Even if the area has little in the way of fast transit, it has plenty of decent transit connecting it to much of the city. The 8 may be slow, but at least it exists, and is reasonably frequent.

      This is something that simply isn’t possible in most of the area. For example Lake City is quite “walkable” in the sense that you can get along just fine without a car. You can walk to restaurants, grocery stores, bars and shops. But if you want to go see a band, you have to visit another neighborhood; while public transportation is great to some areas (UW, downtown, north end of Lake Washington) it is a long slog to Ballard or Fremont. So until you get enough people in the area to justify clubs, it will be less appealing than those other places.

      The other reason folks are crowding into places like Ballard and the Central Area is because it is one of the few places they can crowd into. If the city simply went “full Tokyo” and allowed development everywhere, Capitol Hill would still be more popular than average, due to its location. But you would also see a lot more growth in areas like Queen Anne, Wallingford and Phinney Ridge, not to mention places like Laurelhurst.

      But your point about suburban growth is a good one. I live in a single family zoned area in Pinehurst (between Northgate and Lake City). Although it is within the city limits, and there are no cul-de-sacs, it is a suburb, just as most of West Seattle is a suburb. Given the demand for housing in the area, there is no reason it should continue to be a suburb. There are amenities within a reasonable walking distance — that isn’t the problem. The big problem is that the city simply won’t allow Wallingford level density, let alone Brooklyn style density. I get your point that some people want a big house and a big yard. But lots of people settle. But what people don’t often get is that they often settle for a bigger lot! This seems counter-intuitive, but what if you don’t want a big house on a big lot. What if you want a Brooklyn style row house, with a nice backyard that is easy to maintain? Generally speaking, you have to pay big bucks for that, because they offer those up in the really nice neighborhoods. So not only are you settling on a lesser neighborhood, but on a bigger lot.

      Brooklyn style row houses are extremely dense compared to Seattle. A typical neighborhood — one like this — https://goo.gl/maps/Q8iz3HWEQ7F2, https://goo.gl/maps/WhTxs4TBEGA2) is as densely populated as any place in Seattle (e. g. Belltown). I see no reason why Seattle, and the nearby areas can’t have that kind of density. That would more than cover whatever growth is likely to exist in the city, including folks that are now settling for life in far flung suburbs. There is obvious demand for it, but home builders aren’t allowed to meet that demand.

    2. asdf2, who lives near 55th & 25th NE, says that with U-Link open he’s going to Capitol Hill a lot more than he used to because it’s now feasible to; e.g. pop over there for dinner on the way to something else. If Lake City had grade-separated light rail, the same thing would apply from there, even if it requires a train-to-train transfer. What matters is the 15-minute, 30-minute, and 60-minute transit circles around any starting point. People will pop down to Wallingford all the time if it’s in the 15-minute circle, they’ll readily go to it if there’s a reason if it’s in the 30-minute circle, and they’ll sometimes go to it if it’s in the 60-minute circle. The problem has been that even supposedly short trips like downtown to the CD, downtown to the U-District, and downtown to Queen Anne take or took 30-45 minutes at some times of the day, and if you go further than that it just adds to it, llke Broadview to downtown taking an hour on the 5. And if you’re going to the Eastside then you’re already into a second hour. That’s horrible mobility. It should be possible to get from ant Seattle urban village to any other in half an hour, except possibly the furthest pairs (Lake City to Westwood Village). If it took twenty minutes to get from Lake City to Ballard — entirely reasonable given Link’s existing performance — then with a ten-minute last-mile overhead you could get comfortably to some place not next to a station in half an hour. Then people would be more willing to live in Lajke City, Ballard, and Broadview. There is an advantage to walking distance — people will go to places they can walk to maybe twice as often as places they have to take transit to (unless the transit trip is practically door-to-door and frequent), but the transit travel time is a secondary factor in choosing to make a trip and feeling you have the freedom of access to destinations.

      The left side of that Brooklyn picture reminds me of London, Earl’s Court. The buidings are white and differently styled, but they’re about the same size and similar door position. Can haz roh howssiz pleez? But that’s the city council’s job to fix the zoning, and if it won’t, then the transit network needs to work around it, not just abandon people with half-hourly slow service because they’re too low density.

  12. Question, AJ. Is there anything in the State Constitution that forbids trading in the sales tax for a progressive income tax?

    Recall hearing a non-Dave Ross KIRO host, John Carlson, maybe, say he preferred the sales tax because it gave him more control over what he spent than what he earned. And therefore more day to day control over his taxes.

    But I think he left unsaid that the lower your income- no concern for him- the less choice you have about percentage you need to spend to live. So to credit John with better manners than succeeding talk show hosts, he refrained from expressing distaste for number of working people who’d pay no tax at all.

    Also likely he knew that if he advocated the return of the strong labor unions that would force these people to pay more taxes by earning more money, he would’ve been replaced by Michael Savage (whose real last name was same as Hillary’s aide’s ex-husband Anthony’s). Fitting full name for Michael.

    I really think that a lot of people, including me, justifiably hate filling out extra forms. Which only merchants have to bother with re: sales taxes, and everybody knows that gas station attendants are under even less pressure than chance of getting robbed tax-free.

    So dangerously willing to risk my Liberty letting the IRS just e-mail it to Olympia. Any funny-business, though, and the NRA can always help me fight to get my present unfair tax system back.


    1. ” Is there anything in the State Constitution that forbids trading in the sales tax for a progressive income tax?” – No? But I was commenting on the options politicians have actually presented to the voters, not what politicians could propose but have not yet in an actionable way.

      1. Tim Eyman got some tax legislation passed that he wrote himself, didn’t he? Twice, really, including the law the legislators passed delivering everything he wanted after the State Supreme Court ruled his initiative unconstitutional.

        If they don’t want to write their own initiative-I don’t think initiatives are good fiscal policy because authors usually don’t know all the implications of what they ask for-people can nominate and elect legislators to write it for them. And also replace them if they get it wrong.

        But as our form of government intends, we the people are supposed to operate our government as our own machinery for working together to get ourselves things we can’t get separately.

        There was a time when people got together to build a house or barn for one citizen. Who would then participate in next effort for someone else. Pretty much like that. At least records don’t show much argument about affordability.


  13. AJ: “if you look at ST3’s map of Sounder + Link + BRT, we are arguably building a radial grid”

    What do people think of this?

    I’m impressed with Metro’s and CT’s long-term plans, as well as Bellevue’s and Seattle’s and Maryville’s long-term transit master plans. I’ve heard good things about PT’s although I haven’s seen it, and I assume some other cities have good TMP’s I don’t know about. (Then there are cities like Renton that seem to be going the wrong way and don’t seem to have a TMP.) ST3 + Metro’s LRP + CT’s LRP will lead to much better mobility both on and off the rail network compared to today. Even if maybe 10% of the details in Metro’s LRP are questionable, it’s a quantum leap better than anything the county has aspired to in the past forty years., and it gets us at least partway toward a European level of mobility and transit priority.

    At the same time I see the countywide grid as good, Seattle should be getting an even more intense grid and HCT than it is. That’s not solely Metro’s fault; it’s the fault of Metro and ST and the cities and the public for not demanding a Vancouver-like, Germany-like transit network and land uses.

      1. If those lines represented an actual subway network, I’d have not only voted for ST3, I’d have driven everyone I know crazy by campaigning to make sure they voted for it, too. Shame we’re going to be stuck continuing to put up with a bunch of goddamn buses for everyday travel around our city while we burn all available tax money running rail out through the middle of nowhere so the suburbanites can commute in here more easily.

      2. @Mars — You left out the word “handful”, as in “a handful of suburbanites can commute here more easily”. That is because plenty of suburbanites will probably have a worse commute, and there simply aren’t that many that will take advantage of what ST3 has to offer.

      3. Mars, fine, pass your own levy. Just don’t ask anybody south of SR 518, east of Lake Washington, or north of Shoreline to contribute towards it. I’m not interested in paying taxes to support the wealthy (i.e. Seattle). If you disagree with my assessment, compare median rent and home prices between Seattle and Tacoma, Everett, Lynnwood, or Federal Way.

  14. Two more City Observatory articles.

    The Myth of Revealed Preference for Suburbs
    This reinfoces Chrisopher Leinberger’s contention (“The Option of Urbanism”) that 33% of Americans want to live in walkable urbanism, 30% want drivable sub-urbanism (his phrase), and 33% are content either way. But the built housing is 80% driveable sub-urbanism, so 13% of people are living in lower density/walkabiliy than they want, and another 33% would be content with walkable urbanism. The article discusses another book, “Zoned Out” by Jason Levine. Levine surveys Boston and Atlanta, and finds people’s desires are within 4% of Leinberger’s stats. (More Bostonians perfer density.) Boston’s urban environment is 80% — the opposite of most of the country, while Atlanta’s urban environment is just 10% — twice as little as Leinberger’s average. He tallied people’s preferences and how well thy corresponded to their living situation, and found most Boston urbanitsts were happy with their neighborhood’s density, most Atlanta urbanists were not, and most auto-neighborhood supporters in both cities were satisfied. This suggests that for urbanists in Atlanta, “something might be preventing them from satisfying their preferences”.

    My Illegal Neighborhood.
    This showcases northwest Portland, an old mixed-use neighborhood that works well and is dxesirable and has a house-price premium, but is illegal to build under current zoning.

      1. Thanks for these links, Mike. May be a personal prejudice, but I think that most people who grew up in a neighborhood like the ones favored here remember them fondly.

        But they weren’t usually designed and built as part of any project, and maybe not designed at all, as the term is used now. Which will be most difficult part creating another place with same good qualities.

        As author notes, even well-intended zoning sometimes does more damage than it prevents. Original intent was to keep people from being forced- remember how many residents weren’t there by choice- to live next to a slaughterhouse.

        Another proof that, along with the rest of the machine world, especially Government, measures like zoning have to be kept under good political observation and control. Of neighborhood people whom public schools should train to understand city management.

        Between 1985 and 2013, the metal-works and ship repair brought Ballard to life for me. But after The War, condition of some of those establishments had convinced everybody who could get out to move to Kirkland, for quiet and fresh air.

        Technical changes in manufacturing can make better factories into better neighbors. But they need many fewer workers, and none age sixteen straight out of high school with present curriculum.

        But again, rapid-prototyping and 3D printing being one example, a hundred people can each be doing design work, including on different projects,rather than all imitating machinery much safer automated. With an on-the-job trade school education. Including the history and philosophy, that solid design requires.

        This morning’s horrible news from Los Angeles has a lot to say about desperately hands-on residential development. Many kindly-remembered neighborhoods where people with no money could live regulation-free killed a lot of tenants in their early days.

        But much worse news is how many other people in that LA neighborhood most fear that the negative coverage will turn them out of the similar quarters. Congratulations to forty years of unregulated free-market economics. They’ve brought us back the tenement fires of the last time they prevailed.

        Our history contains some other useful practices, though. “House- and barn-raisings” were a lot more real frontier tradition than gun fights were. Likely larger percentage of people had skills and tools to quickly build each other a safe home at short notice.

        Power tools should take a lot less time. And Student Learning Assessed in Washington can start including carpentry. Shame if far right wing State Senator Pam Roach is only one who’ll lead the effort. Because she’s right about need to learn handwriting.

        In other words, only way to get ourselves the neighborhoods we’ll love in our later lives, is to start building now them now, ourselves. Same political system that’s given us so much bad zoning always has openings at the bottom, where parties always start being taken over for the good.

        Mark Dublin

      2. What happened in LA? I suspended the Times while I’m recovering from surgery because it just stacks up if I don’t read it on the way to work, so I’m newsless. (This gets into why I value broad-based newspapers.)

        I grew up in 1970s tract housing and thought thought that’s all there was. (Which is why I accepted an hourly milk-run bus as normal.) In 9th grade I visited a friend who had moved to the top of Queen Anne and found another world. I loved walking to a corner store, the small-lot houses and apartments putting more friends within walking distance, walking to Seattle Center, 15-30 minute buses, and silent trolleybuses. In high school I lived in a series of apartments along Bellevue Way. That gave me half-houly buses and a range of walkable destinations: not as much as Seattle but halfway like it. When I graduated high school I moved to Seattle and never looked back. I wish I’d grown up in one of those old neighborhoods.

    1. Excellent stuff, Mike. I completely agree with everything that was said.

      One of the more interesting things about that study is that (I’m guessing) they didn’t give people a chance to specify what was meant by urban. As I said above, one example is Brooklyn. Brooklyn is very urban. Not just the giant apartment buildings, but the row houses. There are a lot of people who would prefer to live in places like that, but can’t. Those types of places aren’t that expensive to build, either, nor do they interfere with anyone’s view (they aren’t taller than a typical Seattle house). But they are much skinnier and have much smaller yards. Given the choice, I think a lot of people would like to live in a place like that (I know I would).

      What I find interesting about the second article is that so much of Seattle is like that. There are plenty of neighborhoods where existing structures would be illegal. The crazy part is that those neighborhoods tend to be very popular, because they have a lot more character than places where zoning has forced too much homogeneity.

  15. I often agree with the comments of d.p. and RossB. The spine would have been fine as regional express bus using the Sound Move center access facilities at Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, and South 317th Street. Link is too costly and slow as a spine given the long distances involved. We would have been better off improving transit to pedestrian centers rather than freeway envelopes. But with ST3, the spine will come, eventually. ST is attempting to build the Link spine and not attempting to maximize ridership or mobility. Of course, ST does not control flow on the limited access highways. The Legislature and Governor could and should shift to three plus HOV and even variable tolling. The PSRC 2040 plan includes both tolling and the Link spine.

    1. If it were easy to get HOV-3 throughout, we’d have it by now, and then Snohomish and Pierce might not have been so insistent on Link. [1] Everett Link’s travel time will be in the midrange of ST Express, so it will be no worse than the buses they’re already riding, and it will be much more reliable, and it will get relatively better over time as I-5 traffic worsens and slows down the buses.

      Tacoma Link will be 15 minutes slower if I remember, but that will deter only some people, not everybody. It will still be better than a traffic jam day, so you won’t have to worry about your 75-minute commute turning into a 90-minute or 120-minute commute on random days. It will get relatively better over time as traffic worsens. And its all-day frequency will be more convenient that half-hourly buses. It’s better to sit in a moving train than sit on an outdoor station bench. And if people’s destinations are closer to midtown or north SAeattle than King Street Station, Link will take them closer without tranferrng.

      [1] But remember that Snohomish and Pierce said that other factors were more important to them than the one-seat ride to downtown. Everett wanted a train to the Everett Industrial Center, Tacpma wanted a train to the airport, and both of them said Link was critical for attracting jobs to Everett and Tacoma.

      1. Link from Everett to Seattle will be faster than a bus from Everett to Seattle (sometimes) but will rarely be faster than an express bus from Everett to Lynnwood, followed by Link to Seattle. In other words, people in Everett will see a huge improvement in service once ST2 gets built, then most will see a major service degradation after that.

        The number of people who do ride transit from Everett to Seattle will never justify the capacity of a train, which means that building a busway would have been sufficient. Building a busway would have likely been a lot cheaper, since much of the busway would have been in the median. Of course a combination of relatively cheap improvements (like busways in the median) along with more expensive improvements (new interchanges to remove bottlenecks) as well as more bus service would have been a much better value.

        I’m not sure why you assume that traffic will necessarily get worse, while we do nothing about the HOV-3 lanes. It is pretty easy to imagine the opposite. Traffic will stabilize, while a more Democratic legislature finally decides to change HOV-2 to HOV-3 where it makes sense.

      2. Traffic will get worse because the population is increasing.

        “while a more Democratic legislature finally decides to change HOV-2 to HOV-3 where it makes sense.”

        So we should just depend on a long shot in the far future? That’s like depending on driverless cars to obviate the need for fleet replacement and expansion. It may happen but we mustn’t depend on it until it’s certain and proven on a mass scale.

  16. The primary interest for me from this map is how well the yellow urban areas are served. It both validates some of the ST3 corridors as well as raises questions about why we don’t have a strategy for rail transit to others. In particular, the Central District is a glaring area on the map where rail transit service could be justified.

    1. Not to mention Ballard to UW as well. See? See? :)

      Just kidding. I take these maps with a grain of salt. If you look at a census map and drill into the details, a few things pop out:

      1) There is very little density outside Seattle.
      2) Within Seattle there are very few pockets of high density (e. g. Belltown) but lots of big, broad, chunks of medium density.

      Thus extending a subway far into the suburbs (which is always questionable because of the proximity problem and history of failure) makes no sense. We aren’t Phoenix, let alone L. A.

      But what is also true is that we can’t easily string together all the relatively dense areas of the city. Either we spend a huge amount of money (way more than any city this size has spent on a subway) or a lot of neighborhoods where rail seems justified will simply do without. For example, northern Queen Anne has density as high as any place in West Seattle or Rainier Valley, and a college to boot. But it will never have a rail station, unless we spend a bundle on a system.

      This means that the only way to build an effective transit system in the area is to improve the bus system. One of the key ways you can do that is to build a rail system that is designed to work with the buses. Ballard to UW is exactly that type of system, and would transform that entire, relatively dense region north of the ship canal and east of I-5. It’s not that everyone would live close to a station (far from it) but that the combination of buses that don’t get stuck along with trains that go fast would enable everyone in that area to get to just about anywhere they want to go in the city. That is the Toronto model, which our neighbors up the road in Vancouver have also adopted (to great success).

      1. > For example, northern Queen Anne has density as high as any place in West Seattle

        I’m going to keep posting when I see a mistake like this. West Seattle is not what you remember from 10 years ago. A fairly big area is zoned for NC85 and has seen quite a bit of infill at that density. And there is still more unused. Nothing in Queen Anne comes close.

        Further, West Seattle transit is constrained by the Duwamish River.

        Ergo, its a good place for transit investment as compared to some.

      2. OK, where to begin. First of all, I visit West Seattle all the time. My brother lives there. My sister lives there. My mom lived there and recently died there. So please, don’t lecture me about West Seattle — OK, Guy.

        Second, just look at the census maps: http://arcg.is/2hqvqks. Go ahead, zoom in and click on the various census blocks.

        Third, West Seattle is not growing faster than the rest of the city. Yes, it is growing, but so too is Queen Anne, at a faster rate (which is likely to accelerate soon). But height alone doesn’t equal density, and unfortunately, West Seattle lacks the latter. In other words, it isn’t the big new buildings (or even old big buildings) that makes areas like Brooklyn so more densely populated than any place in Seattle, it is the small places on small lots. West Seattle is largely made up of houses on big lots. Those aren’t going away in West Seattle, except on a very tiny strip.

        Finally, you completely have it backwards with regards to the Duwamish. Generally speaking, you pay for a transit system by the mile. Building really big bridges is expensive. Building tunnels is expensive. So you want to put in as many stops per mile as you can. Furthermore, you want to have stops that can serve both as connecting points as well as destinations themselves. So, for example, U-Link is great not just because you can get from UW or Capitol Hill to downtown, but because you can get from the UW to Capitol Hill. Roosevelt station is nice because you will have a crossing bus route that connects you to the east and west. Finally, you want to build rail where fast alternatives don’t exist. This ensures that ridership will be high, as it will be the fast way to get there all day long.

        Guess what? West Seattle rail fails on all counts!

        There is an alternative (a freeway) which means that people who drive will continue to drive. It also means that a much smaller investment in bus infrastructure (the WSTT) would have provided better results. Better, because there is no core set of stops along there. You have essentially one fairly good stop, followed by a couple of stops designed to serve as a feeder stop for buses. Except those stops happen to be right next to the freeway. You have basically nothing in stop to stop travel — it is pretty easy to see why someone would go from, say, Roosevelt to Capitol Hill, but it is hard to imagine more than a handful of people taking a train within West Seattle. Oh, and you basically have nothing in terms of crossing routes. Everything is feeder based, meaning it would have been better served with bus improvements along a shared line (i. e. what they built in Brisbane)..

        If you are confused about that, consider the contrast between Ballard to UW and West Seattle to downtown. Take a stop (any stop). How about Aurora. OK, a stop like that would serve buses that go along Aurora, like the ‘E’, our most popular bus. But it isn’t that everyone would get off the bus and ride the train, it is that it would connect two relatively fast lines (the E and the subway). If you are headed downtown, then you stay (or maybe even transfer) to the E (depending on which part of downtown you are headed to). If you are headed to the UW, or Ballard, you ride the train. Strong intersecting lines in an area every bit as densely populated as any place in West Seattle.

        The only way rail to West Seattle would make any sense is if West Seattle starts looking like South Lake Union very soon — do you really think that is going to happen? Can we expect 20 story skyscrapers soon?

        No, of course not. West Seattle will never have the density to justify the capacity of rail. The number of people who will live close to the station (in NC-85 buildings) will be a small subset of the people in West Seattle, let alone the rest of the city. It really is a textbook trunk and branch system, and nothing more. If we had a smarter populace — or smarter leadership — we would have followed the Brisbane approach. But we won’t. This means that when I visit my brother or sister I will have to endure a tedious and time consuming transfer, while listening to the nearby freeway. Or I’ll drive.

      3. Sorry, but I’m not going to apologize. Your link to a 2012 census just shows how out of touch you are with the present-day reality in West Seattle. You are getting a lecture because you need it.

        West Seattle is a large land area, much bigger than Queen Anne. The “tiny strip” of density – current and planned – is as big as north Queen Anne is. I don’t know in which part of this area your brother lives but yes there are areas of West Seattle with less density. That is beside the point. The rail will serve the densest part of West Seattle and is justifiable on that merit alone, without needing to pull from your brother’s block.

        If you visit again sometime before 2020 please take a trip around Fauntleroy and Alaska and N/S on California Ave. You’ll agree that the small SFR lots in QA will never carry the sort of density that you’ll see.

      4. There are also small-lot houses down by White Center. You can almost feel the streetcar that must have been there.

      5. The 1915 Trolley Map looked like this:
        (with the interurban line to Tacoma as a dashed line).

        Ergo, its a good place for transit investment as compared to some.

        Is replacing a one seat ride bus to get to downtown with a light rail line to Sodo the correct investment though? It means giving everyone almost everyone a three seat ride from West Seattle to downtown, until the new downtown tunnel is built.

      6. Glenn – no, it isn’t, you are right about that. The stations would draw from their 10-minute walkshed. They will be joined by people who currently drive to park on a street near the C-Line (we call this “park and hide”). They’d drive to a train station instead if they can park.

        If there is no parking we will need to set up a door-to-station (driverless?) bus network on the peninsula or maintain bus to downtown service.

        Part of my point is to design the rail line for future density, not just current density. There was a lot of criticism over the high-span bridge when it was built, as it was much more capacity than needed at the time. Now it’s clogged each morning. Let’s think about the long term rather than cheap patches for today’s issues, even if that means inefficiencies in the short run.

    1. Yes, walk score is the best available measure. It’s not perfect because it just counts the amenities around a location, which isn’t exactly the same thing as where peoplewould want to go if they lived there. And it’s not as applicable to work locations, where people highly value lunch restaurants but may not value as much the residential amenities Walkscore counts. In other words, a place with a lower walk score may be fine for work if it has the right kind of amenities, but a plasce with a higher walk score may be undesirable for work in if it had the wrong kind of amenities.

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