SE Seattle Representative Sponsors Anti-Sound Transit Bill

Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (D-Rainier Valley)

Last year Zach reported on a Republican bill in the legislature that would replace the current, appointed Sound Transit Board with an elected one. Politicians don’t mess with an agency’s governance when it’s on the right track, so we can only assume HB 1029 is an attempt to fundamentally change ST’s trajectory from the one voters approved last November. Zach’s post makes several cogent arguments why electing the Sound Transit board is a terrible idea, and links to a couple of my essays on the same subject.

The newest wrinkle is a Democrat, Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, who has joined seven Republicans to sponsor this bill (along with 8 senators – all Republicans – on the Senate version). What’s more, Rep. Santos represents the 37th District (CD/Rainier Valley/Skyway), the heart of the light rail system. 68.7% of 37th District voters voted yes for Prop 1., third among all districts. Voters there are broadly happy with the agency’s path, so it seems odd for Rep. Santos to cross party lines to pursue the longtime Republican objective of  disrupting Sound Transit’s progress.

Rep. Santos’s office did not respond to my request for comment. If you live in the 37th, as I do, you should contact her and let you know what you think about her sponsorship of this bill.

What Happened at SeaTac Saturday Night?

(((Browngoetz))) (Twitter)

SeaTac Airport was busy Saturday with protest of President Trump’s executive orders restricting travel rights by country of origin. Early in the day dignitaries – including Governor Inslee, Mayor Murray, County Executive Constantine, Rep. Jayapal, and Rep. DelBene – held a joint press conference at SeaTac condemning the orders. As part of a wave of airport protest Saturday night, protesters began gathering at SeaTac in the early evening hours, with over 1,000 protesters inside the terminal at its peak. The protest was peaceful and uneventful until the early morning hours, when there were a few dozen arrests and Port police began using pepper spray.

Around 6:30pm, Link light rail operators were asked by the Port of Seattle Police Department to suspend service to SeaTac/Airport Station. Operators complied, and protesters and passengers were forced off at Tukwila Int’l Blvd station and forced either to catch crush loaded A-Line buses or walk the 1.5 miles to the terminal. The station is on Port property, and Port Police asked for the closure in order to buy time to get backup police to the airport, The Stranger reports.  Within minutes, Sound Transit began taking a beating on Twitter, as by all appearances it had been they who ordered the closure.

But Sound Transit executives later indicated they were surprised by the closure, as it had already been implemented by lower-level staff. Once CEO Rogoff was made aware of the closure, he immediately worked to get service restored, and trains resumed service to SeaTac shortly after 7:00. Dow published a series of tweets thanking CEO Rogoff for restoring service, while also saying that Metro (who operates Link) and Sound Transit would meet beginning Monday to establish closure procedures that ensure that such an action won’t be taken again without being elevated to senior staff.

So while the closure was unfortunate and obstructed the rights of legal public demonstration, I think it’s appropriate to react gracefully in light of the multi-agency response. Saturday was a rightfully tense day at a multi-jurisdictional facility (CBP, FAA, DHS, Port, ST, KCM) concerning tragic matters of life, death, family, and national identity.  The Port was supportive of the protest cause, and earlier in the day had released a statement condemning the executive orders. Port Commissioner Gregoire also repeatedly voiced support.

In light of the closure, riders deserve an answer to the question, “Who can order closures, and when?” But for its part Saturday, Sound Transit had successfully elevated the issue to the Executive level, taken reparative action, and issued a public statement, within 30 minutes. All things considered, that’s pretty damn good. It’s good to know that our agencies support the rights of protest, and understand the value of transit as a public utility that makes it possible.

King County Metro Moves Slowly on Eastside Bike Share

Papahazama / Flickr

As reported in 2015, Seattle’s Pronto Bike Share was on the move to the Eastside, thanks to a $5.5 million budget allocation from the Legislature to King County Metro. It was originally slated to move forward by this June, but now it seems to be stuck in the mud.

Pronto’s collapse seems to have slowed State Department of Transportation and King County Metro. The Legislature originally booked the money in the 2015 – 2017 budget cycle but last year amidst drama on Pronto, they deferred all but $500k to future years, according to Scott Gutierrez, a spokesman for King County Metro. And even that $500k isn’t moving fast. King County Metro is planning on spending less than half that much on a feasibility study, and the RFP will be posted sometime in the first quarter of this year.

So what now? How do we get a region-wide bike share back up and running pronto (but without Pronto)?

The first step has to be to go to the King County council and repeal the mandatory helmet law. While the helmet law wouldn’t make a new regional bike share fail, it certainly doesn’t help. This program is coming back at some point, and it would make sense to help it succeed by eliminating this significant barrier.  Bike helmet laws are well meaning, but there’s also evidence that they do more physical harm than good.

Next, it is time to get King County Metro and Seattle DOT together to do a debrief on what went wrong in Seattle. Was it too small? Are Seattle’s notorious hills a deterrent? They should produce a report on what happened and come up with next steps. Hint to that committee — look at previous coverage on what would make a bike share work well.

Next, King County Metro and Seattle should partner to launch a large regional Bike Share program which leverages the $5.5 million for the Eastside with whatever resources Seattle can come up with. And hopefully, lessons learned from Pronto will make the second iteration of Bike Share more successful.

The good news is the Eastside is working to make biking better in general, even if bike share is not happening soon. Bellevue is in the midst of a Pedestrian and Bicycle Implementation Initiative, which is slated to spend $7 million per year on projects to help get around without an engine. Issaquah has a Walk n’ Roll plan, and King County Metro is expanding bike lockers and applying for grants to get better non-motorized access to transit.

Correction 1/31/17:  Per the City of Bellevue, the Pedestrian and Bicycle Implementation Initiative is one of several items that will be funded by last fall’s Proposition 2, which also includes funding for projects to reduce neighborhood congestion, neighborhood safety projects, new sidewalks and trails, technology for safety and traffic management and enhanced maintenance.  Proposition 2 overall will generate around $7m per year over 20 years.  We regret the error.

News Roundup: Stress Test

Paul Kimo McGregor (Flickr)

This is an open thread. 

Sound Transit Approves Federal Way Link Alignment, Bel-Red Station Builder

New ST Board Chair
Dave Sommers
The Sound Transit Board met for its first meeting of 2017 Thursday, elected its new leadership, selected the alignment for Federal Way Link, and approved several construction contracts.

To start things off, Dave Somers (Snohomish County Executive) was elected the new board chair, while John Marchione (Mayor of Redmond) and Marilyn Strickland (Mayor of Tacoma) were elected vice chairs.

The Environmental Impact Statement phase of Federal Way Link planning, which started back in 2012, came to a close, as the board unanimously selected the alignment, profile, and station locations.

Federal Way Link will add three elevated stations to the south line, currently terminating at Angle Lake Station.

The first is along 30th Ave S in the Midway neighborhood at the boundaries of Kent and Des Moines, crossing over a new section of S 236th St, a couple blocks east of Highline Community College.

The second is just south of 272nd St and west of I-5, at the northeast corner of Federal Way, on the east edge of the Mark Twain Elementary School playfield.

The third is along 23rd Ave S, between S 317th St and S 320th St, just north of the Federal Way Commons. Tail track for that station is planned to cross over 320th, which is the major east-west arterial for the city.

In order to move forward with the elevated station over the west side of the Mark Twain Elementary School playfield, Sound Transit, Federal Way Public Schools, and King County Metro met frequently for the past month to arrive at a Memorandum of Agreement that the three entities will work together to find an alternative site on which to build a new, larger Mark Twain Elementary School. Continue reading “Sound Transit Approves Federal Way Link Alignment, Bel-Red Station Builder”

One Center City Proposes Aggressive Bus Restructures, More Transit Priority

Joe Wolf (Flickr)

At a media briefing this morning, Metro, SDOT, Sound Transit, and the Downtown Seattle Association revealed draft near term concepts for the One Center City Plan. Borne of perceived emergency due to expedited Convention Center construction and the removal of buses from the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT), the plan offers surprisingly aggressive options for transit restructures and street rechannelization, while strategically hedging on things like protected bike lanes and broader policy questions such as fare payment. Today’s release marks the kickoff of a public process that will involve an online open house (live tomorrow at, successive rounds of public feedback, and independent adoption by the respective governing boards/councils by early 2018. Changes would likely take place in September 2018.

Though the long-term future of Downtown’s surface streets is one of less intensive transit use – as Link bears a heavier burden and fewer buses go downtown – staff called out a “period of maximum constraint” of 40 months from mid-2018 through late 2021. This period represents the unfortunate pre-Northgate convergence of Convention Center construction, a rail-only transit tunnel, a shortage of Link vehicles, East Link construction, Alaskan Way Viaduct removal, Alaskan Way rebuild and rechannelization, Madison BRT construction, Center City Connector streetcar construction, and more.

Without mitigative action and simply surfacing routes 41, 74, 101, 102, 150, 255, and 550, the agencies estimate transit travel times would increase by 3.5 minutes per rider per day. Metro estimates that this would add between $6-7m in annual operating costs and require 15 new buses in order to maintain the same frequency. To put this in perspective, this is roughly the scale of resources that was needed to split Rapid C and D and extend them to Pioneer Square and South Lake Union. This is significant, but whether it’s a pending disaster is a debatable question. The DSTT is a shadow of its former self in terms of buses, carrying a much lighter load than the arterials to which they’d move. And 20 routes and 50,000 daily riders were surfaced from 2005-2007 to prepare for Link, and the sky emphatically didn’t fall.

Chart by the author. Current as of May 2016.

Though much of the draft concepts are too generic to be helpful – such as unspecified signal retiming and soft talk of improved partnerships – the nuts and bolts and transit and street operations could change radically. So what’s being proposed? Continue reading “One Center City Proposes Aggressive Bus Restructures, More Transit Priority”

County Council Adopts “Metro Connects” Long-Range Plan

Ballard 2015 and 2040 Isochrones
Mobility from Ballard today and under Metro’s 2040 vision.

About nine months ago, Metro released a draft of its first Long Range Plan in quite some time.  We were enthusiastic about the plan, which lays out a comprehensive vision for the Metro of the future, including network, Sound Transit integration, facilities, fleet, and capital improvements.  We nerded out over some of the network planning ideas, and spent hours poring over the network maps, which show real imagination and are a revealing distillation of planners’ ideas for improvement throughout the county.  More than anything else, we got excited about Metro’s isochrone maps, which show how far you would be able to get from a given point with ST3 and the LRP network in place.  They paint a picture of timely car-free mobility throughout the city and even to many suburban areas, one which probably seems like a faraway dream to anyone who spends their afternoons stuck along Denny on the 8 or Dexter on the 62.

The King County Council has been considering the plan ever since, and Councilmembers apparently liked what they saw as much as we did.  In its Monday meeting, the full Council adopted the plan unanimously, with only minor changes from the draft Metro released last April.  The final documents include some welcome additional information about the assumptions behind the plan, including detailed data on how many residents of each area will be near frequent service; minute-level estimates of travel times between areas; and a breakout of expected cost per service hour for each of the four service types included in the network (RapidRide, frequent, express, and local).  Network planning for integration with ST3 reflects some additional work by planners, with a significantly revised post-ST3 network in Magnolia and Ballard, and other smaller network changes throughout the area.  We expect to provide additional coverage of Metro’s newest Ballard network vision in another post, as it has some new and interesting concepts we haven’t seen before.

As always, shepherding a mostly abstract, years-away long-range plan through the Council is an easier task than implementing specific service improvements with immediate winners and losers.  Nevertheless, adoption of Metro Connects is a very welcome step, and the apparent lack of controversy is an encouraging sign for faster, easier transit service throughout the county that uses the considerable resources we are putting into ST3 as effectively as possible.

Womxn’s March Leads to Saturday Ridership Records

Judkins Park an hour before the march (photo by the author)

Saturday’s Womxns’ Marches were unprecedented in their breadth of participation, drawing 120,000 in Seattle and nearly 4 million across the country (and it’s worth nothing that President Trump’s 320 campaign rallies drew 1.8 million total). Beginning in a low-density neighborhood park and bisecting downtown on its way to Seattle Center, the march was fairly disruptive to transportation arterials, particularly for the 50 or so routes that use or cross Jackson St or 4th Avenue. Jackson and 4th were totally impassable for several hours, as the sheer volume of marchers occupied the entire route simultaneously.

Metro said in a release yesterday that its ridership was 40% higher than normal for a Saturday, with 250,000 boardings compared to the usual 180,000. And though Link has crested 100,000 before when sports and weekday commutes converged, the Womxn’s march set a Saturday record for Link ridership, cracking 80,000 for the first time and doubling up on its normal Saturday tally of around 40,000.

Metro and Sound Transit added unscheduled service to 17 routes and dispatched them as needed, though crushloads and delays were unavoidable. Had the march been held 6 years from now, 4-car trains could have arrived at Judkins Park Station up to every 4 minutes, significantly alleviating the burden. But Seattleites love their transit and chose it in large numbers Saturday. Well done, y’all.

Call to Action: HALA Online Feedback Needs Your Input

West Seattle from the Air (Jeremy Reding – Flickr)

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) initiative is advancing through the cycles of public comment and feedback. One of the major venues is an online tool hosted at, where each neighborhood’s proposing zoning changes are detailed and commented on individually.

Unfortunately, a quick trip last weekend through the current opinion “levels” in some of the HALA pages was disappointing — a whole lot of neutral or negative opinions in many of the places where ST train lines are already coming, and sooner (Roosevelt, Northgate) rather than later (Ballard).

One in particular deserves special mention for its markedly negative responses: the West Seattle Junction proposal, which roughly covers the two denser areas of the Triangle and Alaska Junction. The future of this area is unambiguous, thanks to the passage of ST3; there will be Link stations in the not-quite-so-distant future that can be predictably ballparked to center around the busy intersections of 35th/Avalon and Alaska/California — the two densest parts of the neighborhood. But looking at the zoning proposal’s response pages you’d never know it — a whole lot of SFH ranting and raving about how density will ruin  neighborhood “character” and destroy their property values (?!). West Seattle has a chance to be truly prepared for the arrival of the train lines given the ST3 time horizon, and a lot of people aren’t seeing it.

My point is simple: Seattle needs HALA, and now, HALA needs us, the urbanist, density-supporting community. Those opinion pages won’t be ignored; online comments (especially negative ones) tend to be taken pretty seriously by agencies around here. I want to call on the STB community to act, to take a few minutes and write comments in support of HALA’s proposals. The links below will take you directly to the response page for each neighborhood proposal.

West Seattle:–in-general-the-draft-zoning-changes-for-west-seattle-junction-accur




Link Real-Time Arrival Now on OneBusAway

Link at Othello – SounderBruce (Flickr)

In welcome news for riders, Sound Transit (ST) announced this morning that real-time arrival information for Link is now available on OneBusAway, Transit, Google, and other 3rd-party apps. As we reported last month, the update is limited to riders’ personal devices, as no new real-time signage will be available on station platforms for the foreseeable future. Originally planned for “early 2014“, the update finally responds in part to long-standing frustration at lack of rider information on what should be the region’s premier transit product. For SeaTac, Tukwila, Rainier Valley, Becaon Hill, and Downtown riders, this is the first type of real-time arrival they will have ever enjoyed.

So why has it taken so long? Beyond customary bureaucratic delay and budgetary prioritization, the central problem has been technological conflicts between ST’s internal-facing Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system and the very different demands of user-facing applications and 3rd-party accessible data.

Problems with merely reporting SCADA data are evident to anyone looking at the real-time signs in Capitol Hill and UW Stations. SCADA tracks Link trains in between-station segments rather than continuously along the line, leading to a “step function” type of predictive ability. If you’re standing southbound at Capitol Hill, for instance, the next train may disappear from the screen right before it enters service, leading to signs saying “10, 16, 22” minutes etc even though the next train is only 4 minutes away. Once the train leaves UW, the “4 minute” train abruptly returns, dropping quickly to 2 minutes right before arrival. And the visual display may often conflict with the audio announcements of “2 minutes”, because the audio message gets put into the queue at a lower priority than other announcements such as elevator/escalator outages.

ST says the data will be most accurate in the middle of the line, in the Rainier Valley, where operations are most consistent. Beyond the terminal problems described above – which will endure southbound at Capitol Hill and now northbound at SeaTac Airport – other operational quirks will occasionally produce data gaps. If you’re standing northbound at International District station just before the start of PM peak, for instance, the train you’re waiting for may be coming from the Sodo base instead of from Angle Lake, but it will show as “scheduled” until it’s actually active on the line.

There will still be small discrepancies between OneBusAway, the visual screens, and the audio announcements – they have different rounding rules, for instance – but they should all be within a minute of each other. Real-time data will be especially useful for showing train delays and bunching, something that has been blind to riders since Link launched in 2009.

A universal real-time arrival design and implementation will have to wait a few more years, likely until Sound Transit owns and operates a Link-only Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel beginning in or around 2019. But with wifi and/or cell service in all underground stations by the end of this year, underground riders will no longer face an information vacuum, and all riders with smartphones can know when their next train will arrive. This is a big, if belated, step in the right direction.

How to be an STB Staff Writer

Readers sometime ask us how to join our writing staff.  While we’re thrilled to have Zach working part time, it is our volunteer writers (including yours truly) who guide the overall direction of the site and allow us to cover far more than one person can manage.  Staff writers get more freedom to publish what they want on the front page, access to our informative and entertaining internal communications, and a few social opportunities. More importantly, the natural flow of things is that many volunteers eventually move on after a while.  Keeping STB vibrant and interesting requires new — and especially diverse — voices.

If you have something unique to share with our readers related to transit or land use or cities generally, writing a guest post is the easiest way to start. Many people have a couple of posts about transit in them (and we welcome guest posts from anyone), but successful staff volunteers have enough inspiration to write at least a post or two a month for an extended period of time.

To write a guest post, simply sign up for Page 2. Instead of hitting ‘publish’ immediately, you might save your piece as a draft and send us a note. An article that gets an editing pass or two has a much higher chance of making it to the front page. If you’re interested in writing, but the mechanics of online writing and publishing seem too intimidating, let us know and we’ll find other ways to collaborate.

After a few successful guest posts, if you still have more to say, we’ll invite you to join the handful of people that have helped lead the conversation on transit in Greater Seattle.  If that sounds interesting to you, sign up for a Page 2 account and let’s start working together.

Fatality Collision on MLK, Link Service Suspended Between Columbia City and Rainier Beach

[UPDATE 9:42am: normal service has been restored at all stations with residual delays.]

Tragedy struck early this morning at Othello Station in the Rainier Valley, as a person was struck and killed by a Link train. At this hour Seattle Police and Seattle Fire Department are working to extricate the person’s body from underneath the train. Photos of the scene are available at the Seattle Times story.

Link trains are not running between Columbia City and Rainier Beach. Trains are running from UW-Columbia City and Rainier Beach-Angle Lake, with the Route 97 Link shuttle to bridge them. Contrary to earlier advice issued by Sound Transit this morning, Route 38 no longer exists in the Rainier Valley and is not an alternative option. Routes 106 and the Route 97 Shuttle are the only options between Columbia City and Rainier Beach.

The circumstances of the collision are not yet clear, but we offer our condolences to the family and friends of the person involved.

This post will be updated as further information is available. 

Roosevelt TOD Kicks Off: Take the Survey

Atomic Taco (Flickr)

[Update: Sound Transit has now said the 3 workshops below, while technically public meetings, are not intended for large public crowds. The format is a more intimate stakeholder outreach event, and the meeting room is small. There will be other opportunities to engage later this winter.]

With the UDistrict and Mt Baker standing out as exceptions, Link-related rezones have been relatively meager and disappointing. Capitol Hill’s TOD will be beautiful but also underbuilt, and 3-story buildings are still going up on the blocks surrounding the busiest neighborhood station in the system. Beacon Hill and many Rainier Valley stations still see single-family zoning adjacent to them, and in many cases suburban jurisdictions such as Kent and Lynnwood have adopted more visionary zoning than Seattle.

To much controversy, the Roosevelt rezone adopted back in 2012 allows higher density on 20 acres immediately surrounding the station, with a mix of midrise (MR) and Neighborhood Commercial (NC 85, NC 65, NC 40), all within a new Station Overlay District. This is very similar to what was adopted at Capitol Hill, despite less existing density. This means Roosevelt’s TOD opportunities could be relatively more transformative.

At the station itself, Sound Transit will have 53,000 sq ft of surplus land available for redevelopment, most of it in a single contiguous group of parcels. After a recent open house on January 12, the Roosevelt TOD process kicks into high gear in February with 3 stakeholder workshops at Calvary Christian Church (6801 Roosevelt Way NE)

  • January 25, 2017 (5:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.)
  • February 8, 2017 (5:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.)
  • February 22, 2017 (5:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.)

Please make your voice heard in favor of abundant housing, diverse commercial uses, and optimized transit, walk, and bike connections. Attend the public workshops, or take the survey that will inform Sound Transit’s RFP early this year.

Just 10 minutes from Westlake and set in a comfortable neighborhood near one of Seattle’s best open spaces (Green Lake), Roosevelt has the opportunity to be one of the most livable and accessible places in Seattle. You can help it get there.

Sound Transit Breaks Ground on Northgate Station

Northgate Station under construction, Jan. 2017
Cranes are up and parking closed at Northgate, as seen on January 15

Sound Transit broke ground last Friday on Northgate Station, bringing the opening for Northgate Link one day closer (though still four years away). As we’ve reported before on the blog, the station will be elevated above NE 103rd Street on the east side of 1st Avenue NE, just west of the current transit center and southwest of the Northgate Mall.

A 455-stall parking garage, the subject of much controversy, will be built on the north side of NE 103rd Street to replace the existing park and ride. The County plans to build at least 200 affordable housing units on the former park and ride to the east of the station (along with a relocated bus station), as part of a mixed-use development funded in part by the City. SDOT will also build a pedestrian bridge over Interstate 5 (funded by Move Seattle) that will extend the station’s walkshed to North Seattle College and surrounding neighborhoods.

Continue reading “Sound Transit Breaks Ground on Northgate Station”

50,000 Expected for Saturday’s Womxn’s March

Sounder Bruce (Flickr)

The day after President-Elect Trump’s inauguration, one of the largest coordinated protest marches in history will take place, with hundreds of cities worldwide hosting the Women’s March on [Your City Here]. The Seattle Times reports that up to 50,000 are expected for Seattle’s 10am Womxn’s March, likely the 3rd largest behind Washington DC and Los Angeles. The march will begin at Judkins Park and make the 3.5 mile walk to Seattle Center via Little Saigon, Downtown, and Belltown.

Metro and Sound Transit have said they will operate normal Saturday service, though extra buses and trains will be on ready reserve and dispatched as needed. The Judkins Park area is well-served generally, but definitely unable to handle a 50,000 person crush at Saturday service levels. Accordingly, riders should expect delays and crowding. And of course, if you are able, walking and bicycling will be by far the most reliable means of getting around.

Saturday frequencies for routes serving Judkins Park are as follows (and have been much improved by Seattle’s Prop 1 funds):

  • Route 4: 30 minutes
    • Nearest Stop: 23rd/Dearborn
  • Route 7: 10 minutes
    • Nearest Stop: Rainier/Norman
  • Route 8: 15 minutes
    • Nearest Stop: MLK/Judkins
  • Route 14: 20 minutes
    • Nearest Stop: 20th/Jackson
  • Route 48: 10 minutes
    • Nearest Stop: 23rd/Dearborn
  • Route 106: 15 minutes
    • Nearest Stop: Rainier/I-90
  • Route 550: 15 minutes
    • Nearest Stop: Rainier/I-90
  • Route 554: 30 minutes
    • Nearest Stop: Rainier/I-90

Following the march, riders can disperse on Routes 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 13, 24, 26, 28, 32, 33, 62, D, or E, or on any major downtown route with a bit of backtracking.

If you are participating in the march, or will be near Center City, pack your patience in support of important civic freedoms. Try to grab a bite or spend some money along the route, especially in the International District, where mid-January is a critical time for sales ahead of Lunar New Year celebrations. And think ahead to 2023, when a Link station will be at the foot of Judkins Park, hopefully for happier occasions.

News Roundup: The Next Level

Trolleybuses on 3rd Avenue

This is an open thread.

We have traffic because we drive so far

Afternoon traffic on I-405 near Canyon Park. Photo by SounderBruce.

We are regularly reminded that traffic congestion is growing across the region. The median Seattle metro area worker commutes nine miles to work. What if we could live closer to our workplaces? Drivers would drive fewer miles, and spend less time in traffic. Everybody who lives closer to work would contribute less to the congestion experienced by everybody else. This would reduce traffic even if everybody drives. But there’s a multiplier as denser places have higher transit (and walk, and bike) shares. Reduce travel distances by 10%, and there’s a more than 10% reduction in vehicle miles traveled.

Who has the longest and shortest commutes? The U.S. Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics has a handy mapping interface to their Origin-Destination Employment Statistics. I’ve charted the length of commute journeys for major cities in the region, per the PSRC classification of Metropolitan, Core, and Larger. (Here’s a similar chart for smaller cities).

The shortest commutes are enjoyed by residents of Mercer Island, Seattle, Bellevue, Kirkland, and Redmond. 75% live within ten miles of their work (vs. 52% for the region). Of course, these are the nearest cities to the two largest employment centers in the region. Commuters from more distant cities to downtown Seattle and downtown Bellevue must travel further.

Among the cities on the chart, the longest commutes are from the exurban communities of Maple Valley, Monroe, Arlington, Lake Stevens and Marysville. 71% of workers who live in those cities are more than 10 miles from their work. 31% are more than 25 miles away. These aren’t the very worst commutes in the region, however. Residents of some of the tiny mountain ‘smaller cities’ drive extraordinarily long distances to work.

Incidentally, Covington and Bonney Lake, both seeking larger city designation so they can grow faster, would have longer commute distances than most of the larger city peer group.

It will surprise few that people who live near Seattle and Bellevue have shorter commutes. But it invites an obvious question. Why is the regional growth strategy constructed around five Metropolitan Cities and 29 Regional Growth Centers? Why not draw more residential development closer to the two dominant business centers?

Continue reading “We have traffic because we drive so far”