Ferries and water taxi in Seattle

This is an open thread.

65 Replies to “News Roundup: Hopeful”

  1. So if the market has 300 more parking spots, can we finally close pike place street to cars?

    Everyone knows it should have been a pedestrian shopping street years ago.

    1. No kidding. A ST article last month covered this—very poorly. Basic takeaway was we can’t close it because business owners need car access, and it didn’t even mention the possibility of time-restricted deliveries or card-activated bollards for deliveries. Lacking in imagination.

      1. This is the same “market” that closes at 5pm, the time when people get off work and actually get groceries. Like a good number of those 100,000+ people who work a few blocks away in Downtown Seattle. No wonder the Market is all tourists with vendors complaining about parking for the soccer moms that are the only people who go grocery shopping mid-day.

    2. It’s not a big deal for pedestrians since cars are forced to go at pedestrian speed. The fact that this is unique in Pugetopolis makes it a unique experience (like how all streets were when the Market was built) and gives drivers something to think about. The biggest inconvenience is to drivers who don’t know about the slow going on Pike Place or Western Ave until they get stuck in it, but again that’s part of the market experience.

      Maybe the street can be made pedestrian-only if suppliers and business owners can really fit into a time window, but it’s not worth forcing major hardships over. In some countries time restrictions exist in entire districts of a city and suppliers are used to it, but that would be harder to establish for one street of many small businesses in Seattle.

      (In St Petersburg all the bridges are up between 2 and 5 am so all shipping freight goes through then, and cars and buses can’t leave whichever penninsula they’re on. But that’s citywide always and long-established so everybody is used to it.)

      1. On the one hand I do understand the value of having a working woonerf on Pike Place. However every once in a while you get a driver who doesn’t seem to understand how things work and behaves in an erratic or unsafe manner. Somewhat more common at times when vehicle and pedestrian traffic is relatively light, but I’ve seen drivers road raging out when the market is packed too.

      2. I’m sure they’re road raging from frustration. Confused tourists following Google Maps, most likely. No local would ever attempt to drive through there especially when the market is open.

      3. A few years ago I visited Pike Place with a mix of people… some visitors to town, some that had lived in the region at least longer than me. For these particular locals, driving through Pike Place before walking through it was part of the ritual. They were totally chill about going slow. As we crawled through at sub-walking speed, packed one-too-many in the back seat of their coupe with the windows closed, one of the visitors, an older man, said, “Well, now I know what it feels like to be one of those third-world dictators…” I don’t think I’ll ever forget that.

        Now because we had the windows closed and the AC we were isolated from the crowd, but because we were really packed in tightly we were still crowded, and that was a particular experience. Maybe it connects to other social experiences of slow driving, other moments of grace and beauty, the stuff that forms memories, cars or no. My mom grew up in a small town, where people had cars but there was still a thriving public realm (these days in these towns you’re an eccentric if you walk half a mile, but that’s another story), and the teenagers would drive really slow around the main streets on Friday and Saturday nights to see and be seen. They weren’t drag-racing like kids used to do in Magnolia… though I’m sure they got into plenty of that out on the country roads. Anyway, she wouldn’t have remembered that if there wasn’t something going on. She seemed slightly embarrassed by the ritual, but I bet that had more to do with its teenage-ness than with some sort of urbanist critique. Of course they all had their windows down for that.

        Apparently Frank Lloyd Wright tried to design something like that into some public building, maybe a theater, that he designed for some major midwestern city. Maybe it was Pittsburgh. People would loop around an “auto-promenade” on their way into the parking garage. He wanted to make the auto and the public realm coexist, but it didn’t work there. Mid-century drawings of airport curbs and hotel carports show optimism for this (also some movie scenes), a bit of the human bustle of old train stations teeming with cabs, tempered by modernist reserve and the long horizontal lines of modern architecture that can look elegant, but only from just the right angle — but usually the drivers and passengers alike are frazzled and scowling, and hardly anyone is ever looking at the lines from the right angle (maybe looking at modern architecture requires an artist’s eye). Where it ever works it seems like the exception that proves the rule that it doesn’t.

      4. Agreed. Market woonerf works fine; cars are successfully restrained, if not dominated. In this case, I’m inclined to listen to the vendors who oppose this. Why fix what isn’t broken?

      5. “maybe looking at modern architecture requires an artist’s eye”

        It requires a robot eye.

    3. It is actually one of the best examples of a woonerf in the United States, its way better of a woonerf than the awful poorly designed Bell street.

  2. The story about the mass transit system in London (Ontario) is very reminiscent of Sound Transit’s initial passage. Basically the cost is much higher than what they originally planned. There are some significant differences, though. We already had the most important piece of any transit infrastructure — a downtown transit tunnel. Without that, we might have gone down the same road. We decided to go with a “starter line” to the airport, but without the existing downtown tunnel, I don’t see how we would have built it. Building two tunnels (one downtown and one under Beacon Hill) would have been way too expensive. This likely would have lead to the same sort of cutting, probably with a surface line through downtown (with rail or buses).

    Another big difference is that London, Ontario is pretty small and not very dense. There are single family homes on big lots only a few blocks from downtown (https://goo.gl/maps/w5YfZP1qUpT2). Spending a couple hundred million for a tunnel under downtown sounds like a bargain, but for a city that is small and largely suburban, it may be too much for them to swallow.

    1. RossB, the thing to remember is that the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel was conceived from the beginning as the first part of a plan always intended to include the Beacon Hill tunnel, the three regional LINK lines and all their structures, and the express buses both filling in during construction, and then permanently feeding the rail lines.

      Our use of buses- the DSTT could be one of the world’s few examples of a rail-caliber busway- was not either ideological, budgetary or permanent, but dictated by the need to give single-ride tunnel service to suburban voters whose first LINK station was thirty years in the future. Fact that no suburb has seceded proves real success.

      Given present light population and flat terrain, London’s wisest move is to build as aggressive a surface reserved lane and signal-pre-empt network as possible, designed to be rail-converted when population can support it. Factor our own discussion needs to stress more.

      As witness our historic Frederick Law Olmsted engravings of wood subway cars citywide and under Lake Washington, foresight creates elegant archives. But the real blasting agent is a confined space packed with taxpaying people and businesses whose freedom’s chief limitation is now their own numbers. And their horses or cars.

      Our deliberate progression of buses through joint operations to trains-only, pioneered a reliable means to carry rail-project passengers along intended routes until trains can be phased in. Whether time-frame is years or decades. Will be good if car-tab holders can ride ST-3 ASAP.


    2. The issue seems to be the CP mainline through town which blocks the road for long periods of time. This is problematic even for BRT. The BRT line really needs a grade separated crossing of the RR tracks.

      However you may be right that London, ON simply isn’t big enough to justify this kind of infrastructure investment.

      Unfortunately the progression we see here from light rail, to good BRT, to busses with a fancy paint job is all too common in transit planning in North America.

    3. The Seattle region has made a lot of bad transportation decisions but its first smart transportation decision was building the downtown bus tunnel when it wasn’t really needed for the present needs (1980s) but for in the future. Forward thinking that paid off almost a generation later when rail came. We all know how long and expensive these things take so you might as well start right as soon as possible.

  3. My own reaction to new Distracted Driving law? Every single driver in the State of Washington simultaneously glue a cell-phone to their ear and give word to the State Police to ticket all of them, or individuals will sue for selective prosecution.

    Texting while moving ought to be criminal code. Makes pedestrians T-bone trains on MLK. But chief driving distractors are not hand-help phones. Every cab driver and bus operator has been using these instruments since the horses went away. Am I wrong that these classes are exempt?

    Blame the touch-screens that have replaced buttons on every single make and model of car in recent years. A button engages the sense of touch, not sight. But it’s a long learning curve to find a virtual key without shifting eyes, and mind, from the road.

    Especially since every different model and make of car has different screens. I also think hands-free phones are more dangerous than hand-held ones, for slightly different reason. Intuition, maybe, but I think that hand-operated devices shift less ATTENTION. As dangerous as distracting vision.

    Suspect that companies that design and build these screens, and the car companies who install them, know that if they don’t use Citizens United, they’ll lose it.

    Underneath it all, main perpetrator for distracted driving itself is fact that drivers spend an exponentially increasing amount of time in cars that move suddenly from fifteen minutes stopped dead in lane to highway speed, and back. And hence the personal fury.

    What we’ve got here is one more thundering sanctimonious example of Government by Punishment, to draw attention from one more Government failure to deal with its own basic duties. In this case, absolute transportation paralysis as three years’ real estate speculation demolish thirty years’ land use planning.

    Same legislative M.O. that puts Washington State in top echelon for jailing children for skipping school. Or poor adults who don’t pay fines and court costs for contempt. “Well, the Legislature doesn’t give us any money to do otherwise!” Leaving prisons with no room for a whole State Legislature for defiance of an order to fund schools.

    Let those kids and misdemeanor cases out to open up jail space. Money soon available. So it’s heartless, irresponsible, unfair and dangerous of me, but sight of a liberal Democratic governor in one more photo-op like this…am keeping my airsick bag where I don’t have to shift eyes and mind from the road.

    Mark Dublin

    1. And police shouldn’t be exempt. They’re human too and can’t focus any better than anyone else with one eye on their laptop and the other on the road.

      All they should need is a radio and a map in their head. In a place like Seattle, finding an address is extremely simple just with the house number and street name. It’s simple. They should get tested on it if they can’t remember. It’s not rocket science.

  4. I’m pretty sure the California assault on NIMBYs is going to end up very watered down. I can’t believe that no serious challenge against Prop 13 has been mounted. I’m surprised it’s even constitutional to charge a different tax rate on identical property based on a persons age and thus wealth, which is essentially what in aggregate it amounts to.

    1. There are a hundred related bills so that suggests widespread support, at least some of them will pass, if they don’t there will be more of them next year. And even if this year’s is watered down there’s a chance they could go further in future years.

  5. From the Toronto Streetcar Aritcle

    Almost nobody outside the US intentionally builds streetcars in mixed traffic, but many cities have inherited them.

    Except for Seattle! We’re famous!

    1. How is Seattle exceptional. We are building mixed traffic streetcars. Did mayor Murray secede some time in the last week?

      1. Nothing necessarily wrong with in-traffic streetcars (seems fine in a place like Tucson), just design the alignment so the tracks are in the best lanes to be converted to transit lanes when needed. Toronto has their tracks in the center lanes which are easy to convert to an exclusive transitway.

      2. (seems fine in a place like Tucson),

        200 million for 4 miles, 2500 riders a day at 7-8 MPH? I suppose if the community really wants it, it’s not the worst thing in the world, but as a transit investment it’s pretty meh on ROI..

      3. @djw

        Don’t want to start a whole streetcar war, but it is important to note that Tucson is not Seattle: at a glance it looks like the streetcar is recording top-five ridership in a market with 30-some bus routes. Also probably noteworthy to some is that Sun Link is the first segment of a planned network: Whether the CCC succeeds or fails, in five years no one will be judging it by the 2017 performance of the SLUS.

        And less than half of that $200 million was in local dollars.

    2. And Portland.

      American streetcar proponents misunderstand how streetcars worked in the pre-WWII era. They had the right of way like all trains did, so they didn’t stop for traffic lights or cars or peds, and there wasn’t cars driving in front of them or parking spaces encroaching their land. They were in the middle of the street and everyone knew it was a “streetcar street” where trains went through at whatever their frequency was. (Which was always every few minutes, or one right after the other at rush hour.) If we truly built streetcar lines like that, then the argument that “surface trains are unacceptably slow” would go away.

      And all the new streetcar lines in the rest of the world are a modern variation of that. Tracks are heavily segregated either in the street, alongside it, or in some separate path. Their streetcars are like our Link on MLK. Level crossings are minimized but there may be extra pedestrian crossings. Occasionally the environment is so constrained that it has to share a lane with cars for a short distance or wait for a signal, but those are kept to an absolute minimum, only to deal with impossible situations, not just to save money.

      1. Rode the Toronto streetcars constantly on a visit back in December. Super useful and a pleasure to ride, but could certainly use some prioritization — especially on the corridors discussed in the article above. Hope they get something done.

        Just walking through traffic to board a center-running streetcar (midblock!) is certainly a different experience than anything you can do in the states.

      2. That happens out toward the end of SF Muni’s L train on Taraval. Of course, these stops are very far from ADA-compliant, and Muni has added several raised-platform stops, which are better for accessibility and traffic safety. They’ve also added buffers in some places. But in others you’re just jumping out into a lane of traffic.

      3. @Mike – Yeah, traffic stops, too. But if I remember there weren’t always signs — cars “have to” stop in the way all our intersections are crosswalks even if they aren’t marked. I’m sure it’s enforced, but for a visitor it felt super dicey at first. Grew to find it charming.

    3. I wonder how many places have small streetcars, and whether they are primarily in the U. S. as well. it seems like building a small streetcar and running it on the street has nothing to do with public transportation, but image. Folks think the streetcars — because they are charming — will revitalize neighborhoods. That seems like an American thing to do (older countries would not worry about charm, but focus on the root of the problem, like poverty in their struggling cities).

      Just as with the term “BRT”, there is no clear difference between streetcars and light rail lines. A really good “streetcar” system has big cars and lots of grade separation like a light rail line. But a streetcar without either (like our system) is no better than an average bus (and often worse).

    4. The old streetcars were really small. They had about eight seats and fit thirty people. That’s partly why there were so many of them (and driver expenses were cheaper). But the population was much smaller and the distances shorter so they maybe didn’t have as much of a need for high-capacity vehicles.

      1. Probably not that close, but the Paine Field station should be close enough for a quick airport shuttle transfer.

      2. @AJ: Well, they haven’t committed to an alignment yet, so I expect that the airport will be part of that discussion once it happens.

      3. Prediction: passenger service will have been abandoned–probably long abandoned–at Paine long before Link extends that far North.

    1. Any idea where the terminal will be built? I was opposed to development of PAE as an alternate to SEA but warming to the idea. I would actually rather a more ambitious (crazy?) new airport be built to cater for all future growth southeast of Renton. While the whole Des Moines – SeaTac – Tukwila stretch currently mostly vacant and undesirable because of the barrage of flights overhead would be freed up to house another hundred thousand residents within easy, sustainable, reach of downtown. But if Seattle is going to keep sprawling north I can see PAE making a lot of sense for domestic flights. It’ll just suck to split the networks between two airports.

      1. Probably it will have only flights to Portland and maybe one or two other places. It would be a huge investment to have flights to many places; the question is whether north of Seattle alone is a large enough market to sustain it. Most people would be flying to places it doesn’t go, or wouldn’t want to pay its higher ticket prices, or travel only once or twice a year. Is that enough market for more than just a shuttle to Portland?

      2. The plan as I’ve seen it is for the new terminal to go in the area east of the main runway and north of the small runway, essentially around where 100th St SW runs into the airport property.

        The new terminal is supposedly only 2 gates, which is only sufficient for ~20 flights a day at maximum capacity. Beyond that I assume flights would board from the ramp with stairs.

        For anyone living north of the Ship Canal in Seattle, PAE is competitive with SEA in terms of driving time. From Ballard I’d consider it as an option if I can’t take Link to the airport for whatever reason.

      3. Good overview for details, including a link specifically for our very own Joe Kunzler:

        I think the ideal outcome is similar to Chicago, where SeaTac (O’Hare) remains the primary airport for business & international travel, and Paine Field (Midway) carves out a niche as a minor hub for a budget airline (Southwest? Frontier?) but otherwise provides extra capacity with flights to major destinations.

        Alex is right, the physical separation of the airports should make the economics of Paine compelling for basically anyone north of I90.

        Moving the airport won’t happen – there is too much fixed investment. If any airport would close, it might be Boeing Field if Boeing ever shifts single-aisle manufacturing out of the region, but that decades away from happening. But even then, Boeing Field operates as a air cargo airport, which is an excellent complement for the Ports of Seattle & Tacoma for making the region a global logistics powerhouse.

        But yeah, when I’ve daydreamed about converting an airport to a more urban land use, I’ve generally thought about Boeing Field.

      4. Boeing Field isn’t going anywhere. It’s the second busiest airport in the state (463 operations per day in 2016.) Seatac, Renton, and Paine don’t have the capacity to absorb all of that.

      5. You could probably solve Seattle’s housing shortage turning Boeing Field into a huge multi-neighborhood mixed use urban development.

      6. You could also solve Seattle’s housing shortage by turning Columbia Tower into apartments for the homeless, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.

  6. Let’s see…. Atlanta Hartsfield gets 2,500 flights a day and their rail station ridership is 20K adding entries and exits… Oakland gets 150 flights a day and their rail station ridership is 3K adding entries and exits… And both of these are literally either in or just outside of their terminals so little walking is required. Add to that both of these airports have hefty parking rates. That appears to be about 10 to 20 trips (adding ins and outs) on transit for each plane landed as a reasonable rule of thumb. Granted both of these airports get lots of transfers, but if Paine Field ever got more than 30 flights a day, they would also need multiple gates and one airline would probably want to use if for transfers.

    Using this kind of performance measure, a Paine Field Link station would appear to attract between 90 to 180 daily Link trips at 9 flights a day. More than tripling that number to 30 flights a day would be 300 to 600 daily rail trips at this station. For comparison, the current lowest-demand Link Station (Stadium) generates about 2,200 average weekday trips (adding both those getting on and those getting off) — and everyone whines about how unproductive that stop is!

    Why so low? It probably has to do with the hours that employees work (often too early to ride Link in the morning or too late to get easily home at night), as well most passengers driving to remote parking, getting rides or renting cars.

    A third example: SeaTac Station gets 10,400 daily ins and outs at a place with 74 gates + plane parking spots. There are thousands of hotel rooms also within walking distance of this station. Using this for comparison, Paine Field would probably need a full fifth of the passenger activity of SeaTac to get to the daily ridership of today’s low-volume Stadium Station.

    Yes, rail-to-airport connections are great! Let’s just recognize that they aren’t so great at building light rail transit demand. Dense urban development is going to do much better at generating ridership.

    1. The primary reason for the Paine Field diversion is to service the industrial area. Both Snohomish County and ST were clear about that. Any ridership from future commercial air service is just gravy.

    1. Thanks for the news; hopefully it’ll be dismissed even faster than their last effort.

      (I’d support them if they were really trying to get an injunction against “light rain,” but unfortunately I think that’s outside the court’s jurisdiction.)

  7. I completely agree with Nakkita Oliver on homeless. I completely disagree with Nakkita Oliver on homes.

  8. Do we ever measure the effects of skipping a major stop on performance on deviation from on-time performance? i.e. can we quantify how much less late we get? Right now we’re getting a natural experiment from 3rd and Virginia being down, and previously, the horrible weeks of Bellevue and Pine being down.

    1. Bellevue & Pine was down? I live a block from there and take a bus westbound almost every day and I don’t recall anything horrible or closed.

  9. I had no idea there was gonna be 200 new businesses. They’re gonna fit 200 businesses into 10,000 square feet of retail space?

  10. Read the Seattle Times comments on the farebox recovery article. So much hand-wringing…and they even manage to bring bike lanes into their griping!

    Of course not one person mentioned that the farebox recovery of I-5 is effectively 0%. Guess they forgot.

    1. Don’t you know I-5 is already 100 percent funded by users via the gas tax?

      1. One of my favorite arguments:

        Moron: Bicyclists don’t pay for bike lanes!

        Me: What about the fact that bicycle lanes are part of a city owned and built network of streets, largely paid for by property taxes?

        Moron: Well, property taxes are only paid by property owners and I’m sure most bicyclists are renters and therefore don’t pay property taxes!

        Me: *Curses Dori Monson under breath*

      2. I honestly don’t understand why people insist renters don’t pay for property taxes. Where else do landlords get the money to cover their property taxes?

      3. I honestly don’t understand why people insist renters don’t pay for property taxes. Where else do landlords get the money to cover their property taxes?

        Some do, others don’t. Some renters have non-optimizing landlords that are charging a bit over their costs for rent. These renters will be hit with an increase due to property tax.

        Other renters are paying what the market will bear. Due to the housing shortage, this has almost no relationship to the actual costs of building and maintaining the property.

      4. I agree that in this market renters are price takers, not price makers, and a property tax increase in this market will, generally, impact landowners margins but not the rents they change.

        That said, fundamentally the cash for property taxes come from whomever is paying to use the land. For half the units in Seattle, those are renters, not landowners.

      5. So in order to be a more informed renter/voter, one should be able to make that judgement a whole lot easier if they knew the breakdown of where their rent money goes.

        Something on the order of:

        Maintenance costs,
        Mortgage for rental property.

        Sounds reasonable.
        I would be very interested to see what that breakdown was if I were a renter.

        It would end the discussion concerning renter’s ignorance of the consequences of their YES vote.

  11. Short run economics: supply is fixed, property owners can’t adjust. Since they’re already (typically) charging what the market will bear, 100% of any added property taxes come out of the owners’ margin.

    Longer run economics: property taxes reduce the after-tax income stream from improvements. So property owners make fewer improvements, i.e. build fewer apartments. The reduced supply translates to higher rents and, by that mechanism, some of the property tax is passed through to tenants.

    There was a Westneat story a while back about one landlord who was charging far-below-market rents, at least in his own telling. In that instance, increased taxes meant he had to raise rents because he couldn’t afford not to. Some were skeptical about the facts in that story. But even if true, it surely wasn’t typical.

    1. Long run, higher property taxes also incentivizes more productive uses of land. In the long run, higher property taxes means less vacant lots, but also means less naturally affordable housing as older/smaller housing stock is replaced with newer/larger building stock.

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