Transit Communities Credit:PSRC

As high-capacity transit expands across the region, new data shows transit communities are growing at double the rate of the region as a whole, according to the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC).

The PSRC defines “transit communities” as areas one-quarter to one-half mile away from current or future (by 2041) high-capacity transit such as light rail, bus rapid transit, or ferries. The data also shows residents who live in a transit community are twice as likely to commute to work using public transit as those who don’t.

“We know when transit is provided — especially the high-capacity transit, light rail, bus rapid transit — people are riding it,” said Michael Hubner, principal planner with the PSRC. “This region has led the country in annual gains in transit ridership among metro areas eight years in a row.”

In 2013, the PSRC, along with a coalition of agencies, developed a strategy to promote transit-oriented development that encourages compact, walkable communities linked by mass transit.

Hubner said the strategy set out three goals:

  • attract residential and job growth to transit communities
  • provide housing choices affordable to a full range of incomes near transit
  • increase access to opportunity

Hubner gave attendees of Building Transit, Building Opportunity, a day-long conference organized by the PSRC, a sneak peek at a forthcoming study by the agency that tracks job and residential growth around 96 identified transit communities. The event focused on techniques used around the region to build transit-oriented development.

The PSRC found that between 2010 and 2016, over 60,000 residents — accounting for 21 percent of regional population growth — moved into a designated transit community. Today, 12 percent of the region’s housing is located a half mile or less from existing or planned high-capacity transit.

Nearly 100,000 jobs have come to transit communities across the region between 2010 and 2015, and now close to one-third of the region’s jobs are located within these areas, according to the PSRC.

As transit communities densify, the rising cost of housing is pricing out low-income renters. PSRC found that rents in transit communities were 10 percent higher, roughly $150 more per month, than the region’s average rent.

“Only 25 percent of market-rate rental households in station areas (transit communities) are affordable below 80 percent of area median income,” Hubner said. “That is much lower than it was five or six years ago when we last took a snapshot of the region. And it is less than the region as a whole, where nearly half of units are affordable at that income level.”

The keynote speaker at the event, Marilyn Strickland, mayor of Tacoma and Sound Transit board member, told the crowd that lack of access to reliable transportation is one of the top barriers keeping people in poverty.

“Transit is so vitally important, it’s not just about relieving congestion and the environment,” Strickland said. “It’s a conversation about equity, opportunity and inclusion. We must invest in transit if we want to deal with the disparities that we are seeing in our region.”

44 Replies to “Transit Hubs Attracting Density”

  1. Really interesting to see how they classify the different implementation approaches. What does “enhance community” mean? The executive summary didn’t seem to explain the key.

    The Tacoma Link description of “stimulate demand” reinforces the view that Tacoma & ST planners view the streetcar as a key part of revitalizing urban Tacoma, and it shouldn’t be simply viewed as a means to move people around. I thought that was interesting in the context of the debate we had around the Tacoma article:

    1. So, if streetcars really work laptop simply by tomorrow existing, without actually moving people. How about a system of empty streetcars that move up and down the street with no stations, that don’t even bother opening their doors to the public? Or a streetcar that does a dinner cruise once a week, and drives empty the rest of the time.

      The FHSC, in terms of actual mobility, is not much better than that.

      1. LOL, the FHSC is slightly better than that. I was on it this past weekend, sans dinner reservation, and not alone. If they can fix the signal priority at Boren, James, and Yesler, that would help a lot. The new Yelser Terrace apartment complexes are starting to open up which should help ridership. And riding from the ferry docks (well, more like 2 blocks away…) to the medical centers and colleges, even to Pike/Pine, could be popular. I’d totally do that instead of walking up the hill to 3rd, then across two blocks, then dealing with getting out of CH station and still having to walk from CH station to Pike/Pine (though depending on how effective Madison [quasi, kind-of-sort-of]-BRT is that could be an option too). ID station for those going between the ferries and the airport or Amtrak, anyone? IMHO, we should be telling SDOT to maximize transit priority rather than telling them to rip up the tracks. Remember Link didn’t reach it’s potential ridership until it was expanded, either.

      2. The problem is, maximizing priority for the streetcar means increasing delays on all the bus routes which cross the streetcar path, and carry many more people than the streetcar does, while also introducing anti-pedestrian policies like protected right turns for cars, while pedestrians stand and wait. And there are many more people who walk in First Hill than ride the streetcar also.

        Basically, green time is a zero sum game, and I’d rather the streetcar get the short end of the stick than other bus routes + walking.

      3. What does “protected right turns for cars” mean? Right turn on red? That existed before the (modern) streetcars.

      4. It means pedestrians being asked to stand there for over a minute on a green light so that cars turning right can have an unobstructed path. Which has actually been proposed, in the name of right-turning cars in front of the streetcar, blocking the streetcar, which, because it’s a streetcar, not a bus, can’t go around.

        It’s a completely backwards approach that I can only hope goes nowhere fast. Pedestrians should always get priority over right-turning cars.

      5. Allowing cars to make a right turn while pedestrians are not walking is not anti-pedestrian. It’s designing the intersection and signal timing as if pedestrians are only an obstacle you must endure that is anti-pedestrian. What if we let car traffic flow freely in very short green lights and then gave pedestrians an all way walk? What if we could have two all-way walk phases during a cycle? Imagine the joy of not jostling with right turning cars while crossing.

      6. Imagining that under current SDOT management is pretty much impossible, ks. The red light cycles at 6th and University and 5th and Union are simply attempts to blame gridlock on pedestrians when the reality is the I-5 onramp and Fifth Avenue don’t fill with cars because of pedestrians crossing the avenues. Today there were midblock sidewalk closures on Sixth in front of One Union (it lasted only a few hours) and at Rainier Square (on University just north of Fourth) with no pedestrian warning or alternative.

        Imagine you’re running to a bus that comes only every half hour and you suddenly find yourself with a two or three minute unexpected detour? Somehow cars waiting an extra light cycle (or cars parking on the street) are considered more important than the pedestrian/transit rider missing her bus. You can’t get off work three minutes earlier to deal with that.

    2. A protected right turn is a green arrow, so the turning vehicle has the right of way and any conflicting traffic gets a red light (or hand)

  2. UW: “preserve and connect”… WTF, There’s acres of wasteland around that station (and possibly the worst bus-rail transfer). That should be the perfect location for increased density.

    1. There is some easily accessible residential land near that station, right across the Montlake bridge. Most of the lots on Shelby St and a good chunk of the lots on Hamlin are within the station’s 10 minute walkshed.

      But alas, it is all zoned SF5000.

    2. Not possibly – the worst bus transfers. It must take people with mobility problems ages to make a transfer at Husky Station. I’m able bodied and I find it a pain (and I’m a walker, so it’s not laziness).

      1. Yeah I was going to say the worst but I was afraid I was going provoke claims of worse transfer but Haha, rather claims that yes in fact it is the worst.

        Yes many transfers will occur in the future at U District 45th St station, but not all, it still needs to be much better. Thanks UW and your shortsighted here-today-gone-tomorrow clueless administrators who pushed this station out of the way.

    3. Brad, are you including the transfer to the Stevens Way buses? That’s a temporary stopgap, nobody ever thought it was an acceptable transfer long-term. Ultimately people will transfer at U-District station instead.

      1. sr520 bus transfer won’t move to brooklyn station.

        (seems unlikely that the bad station naming will ever be fixed either)

      2. That depends on what route you’re transferring to. Yes, people won’t transfer to a bus at UW Station to go to the Ave or Roosevelt. But for those catching the 75 or 372, the Brooklyn/43rd is quite a detour, and a lot of extra time busing to save a few minutes, at best, of walking. And I don’t think the escalator ride out of the station is going to be much quicker at U-district station, either.

  3. I have to question the conclusion of both the study and this article. They have found a correspondence, and then declared cause an effect, without bothering to rule out other factors. Here is a different hypothesis:

    Growth is occurring where they are allowing it to occur. Shocking, I know. There is growth in Ballard, and has been for years. There is growth in Wallingford and Fremont, close to the arterials. There is growth in Lake City and the Central Area. There is even growth in West Seattle and Magnolia, but only in those areas zoned multi-family. None of these areas has seen a huge improvement in high speed rail the way that Capitol Hill has. Only a handful will see that type of improvement, and most of the growth occurred well before they knew it was going to occur. Some of these areas that are growing won’t see much of any improvement.

    The definition of “transit communities” is so vague, that it basically just means “a community fairly well served by transit”. But they have it backwards. Areas well served by transit are those where there are already a fair number of people. In general, high density zones are those that already have a large number of people. It is like saying that growth is occurring where there are lots of restaurants, without considering that it is the restaurants feeding off of the apartments, not the other way around.

    It is pretty easy to think of counter examples to the transit driven growth hypothesis. Rainier Valley, for example, has not grown as fast as everyone expected, or hoped. Yet Rainier Valley has outstanding transit — the best system we have to offer. On the flip side, nothing much has happened over the years to improve transit on 24th Avenue in Ballard. Getting downtown is more difficult than ever. The 18 runs only 7 times a day, and the 40 is often stuck in traffic. Yet that part of Ballard is booming and has been booming long before anyone knew what was going into ST3, let alone expected it to pass.

    Transit may be a factor in the growth, but I see no evidence that it is a big factor. What drives growth is the perceived quality of the neighborhood, and most importantly, whether they allow those areas to grow.

    1. I will take your rainier valley example and run with it, because I spent 1000 hours in MS paint making these maps the other day.

      Seattle’s upzones near the rainier valley stations are all goofy shaped, usually with a tiny strip upzoned near the station, and a big blob somewhere far away (usually outside or on the very edge of the station’s walkshed).

      If you go and look, lot by lot, through the multifamily residential zones near the station, they are nearly 100% developed to the zoned capacity (typically townhouse 4 or 6 packs depending on if it’s LR2 or LR3 zoning). This holds true for just about every LRx zoned lot within a 10 minute walk of the station. But once you get past a 10 minute walk away, the development drops off dramatically, and you see many more detached single family houses sitting on lots zoned for 4/6 units.

      Identical zoning, identical “neighborhood character”, identical pre-existing structure styles, the lots near rapid transit got redeveloped, the lots far from it did not. That’s about as strong of a connection as I can make.

      Now, the upzoned lots with frontage directly on Rainier, designated for mixed-use, are another story. Those are seeing very little development at all. But there’s a lot more inertia to be overcome when the existing low-density structures house active businesses, and we shouldn’t expect rapid changes in the use of those lots, until the surrounding residential neighborhoods get matching upzones.

      1. I would point out that the map of the area adjacent to Rainier Beach Station may look goofy, but much of the area that isn’t zoned for multi-family housing sits directly under the BPA power transmission lines. I’m not sure how densely we want to build under those wires. That, however, raises the question of why we built the station in that location to begin with.

    2. Yes, the growth doesn’t happen without the zoning, but I think you also have to keep in mind that the zoning follows the transit, especially outside of Seattle. Cities like Bellevue, Shoreline, Lynnwood, Edmonds, and Kent wouldn’t never upzone their “transit communities” if there wasn’t HCT either in place or fully funded & on the way. Even in downtown Bellevue, several significant upzones are being pushed through the council explicitly in reaction to the East Main & Wilburton Link stations being built.

      To have growth, you have to have both the regulatory framework (zoned capacity) and market forces – HCT transit facilitates both of these elements. Can you build HCT and fail to upzone (ex. S Bellevue) or fail to drive development (ex. Everett station)? Sure. But this study is saying that we are doing a good job of driving our growth into neighborhoods well served by transit.

      Also, the study only points to category #5 as pointing to transit to actually cause growth. All the other nodes are either facilitating growth (2, 4, 5, 6) or improving quality of life (1, 3, 8)

      1. The other thing is with the upzone is actually the longer you wait to develop a station area typically the better and denser it gets. Many times the low hanging fruit locations get TOD years ago which if developed now or in the future could be built so much better as the area as had opportunities to mature around the transit service. I bet if Capitol Hill Station TOD started now that towers would have been considered.

      2. Everybody is getting more reasonable as time goes on, the housing crisis gets worse, traffic gets worse. If you look at what Seattle, ST, and the suburbs were doing in 1990, 2000, and 2010, there’s steadily increasing foresight in later decisions. The dilemma is doing something now vs doing something better later — but real people are being harmed in the meantime and the harm is steadily increasing. How much worse does it have to get before it’s absolutely unacceptable not to do something now?

        Upzoning Broadway from four to six stories was like pulling teeth. The QFC and Safeway lots sat for years undeveloped because the owners said four stories wasn’t enough of a return to make it worthwhile. But people complained it would ruin the character of Broadway or something… never mind that Bellevue Avenue already had six-story buildings and they weren’t hurting anybody. Then the upzone went through, and boop, up went the buildings. Except the one in the middle of the Y which had just been built at four stories: it will be missing two floors for decades. But the overall number of people living on Broadway and near a Link station is more than just those two floors’ worth.

        We don’t need twenty-story buildings… as long as we have enough seven-story buildings. The problem is we don’t have either one, and people are squeezing into the units that exist.

      3. “but I think you also have to keep in mind that the zoning follows the transit, especially outside of Seattle. Cities like Bellevue, Shoreline, Lynnwood, Edmonds, and Kent wouldn’t never upzone their “transit communities” if there wasn’t HCT either in place or fully funded & on the way.”

        AJ. Imho, you overstate your case. Transit is just one factor. Cities and counties have a whole host of other components to consider in their growth management comprehensive plans. I for one fall outside the PSRC’s defined “transit community” and yet my particular area has been significantly upzoned in the last two updates to Snohomish County’s GMA Comp Plan. (My property was zoned R-8400 when I purchased it less than 15 years ago and now it’s MR.) The only transit option for this area is a local CT bus route that essentially has remained unchanged.

    3. Yes, Ross. All those virtual apartment units around Columbia City really aren’t there, they’re up in Lake City which has only bus service. And the mirages around Othello are actually on Bellevue Way.

    4. I think it’s more of an effort to make PSRC trying to make themselves look relevant in a compelling TOD-popular housing market. The entire premise appears more of “isn’t our region great and we want to claim that we helped” as opposed to more introspective “how good were our forecasts?”.

      The elected officials probably came away happy. For a reward, cookies and tea were probably served in the lobby.

    5. Funny, I see a map of the freeway with density growing around it!

      I also think freeways and interchanges are the last places pedestrians want to be, and the least likely places to make walkable and livable – no matter how much one believes density and transit are all that’s needed. And now we have policies to make sure that’s where people will live, and if they do we’ll declare success! Congratulations.

  4. Some of the so-called transit hubs are just park and ride lots in the middle of nowhere with rush hour bus service to downtown Seattle. Outside of rush hour, many of them have only very skeletal service, or no service at all.

    1. That is the same thing as saying “people will take transit to work in the central job cores because they have to; there isn’t enough parking and it costs too much for their wages. Otherwise, they can’t be bothered.”

      Sadly, that is true of too many people. They vote for transit to get tempt that other guy to ride the bus.

      1. BRT implies 10-minute minimum all day, so it’s not at all like peak only or even hourly service. Current 405 service is mostly half-hourly during the week, but north of Bellevue TC it’s hourly Saturdays and evenings, and not at all Sundays. In August I was at Bellevue TC Sunday afternoon and a woman was at the 535 stop and asked if it was the right stop for Bothell. I said yes, but a feeling in the back of my head said it might not run weekends, so I checked the schedule and it’s not on Sunday. I said the only way I know to get to Bothell at this time is to take the 550 downtown and the 522 to Bothell, and made sure she knew where to transfer. So there is latent demand even if the buses aren’t there.

        And what matters most is not that 405 BRT has some freeway stops, but that it goes to the largest downtown and transfer point on the Eastside, which conveniently is not a freeway stop.

      2. Mike – not trying to be a smarty pants here, but is the official definition of BRT 10 minute headways now? I thought it had to be grade separated, etc., but if it’s headways then yes we have a fair amount of BRT now.

      3. ST said 10 minutes in its marketing materials. That’s also around my personal threshold for BRT, although I could maybe tolerate down to 15 minutes. The point is that it must be more convenient than a #7 bus down Rainier or a #5 bus in Greenwood, or it’s a joke. The less frequent it is, the more it needs something else to make it better than a regular bus.

        I’ve always considered Swift BRT because it comes pretty frequently, has full BAT lanes, and doesn’t have too many stops. However, it was better when it first launched. Since then with budget cuts it has dropped to 20 minutes, which is really pushing it. RapidRide has the opposite problem: it has a greater frequency and span than Swift but lacks a full right of way and stop diet. The E takes 45 minutes from end to end when a respectable BRT should be around 30 minutes for that corridor. The complaints about the D all revolve around the fact that it takes 30-45 minutes in bad traffic (for Pike Street – Market Street), and that’s not perceptably better than the 15, and worse than the 15X. I could see the E potentially becoming BRT with incremental improvements, but I can’t imagine the D becoming BRT without major changes like dropping the Uptown detour. (Denny Way is still close enough to Seattle Center and Uptown, y’know. It’s close enough for the Magnolia buses.)

        On the other hand, even the C, D, and E as-is have changed my attitude about getting to/from those neighborhoods. The “15 minutes until 10pm” makes a difference, and the countdown signs make even more, and the bits of transit priority and stop diets make more. It makes those areas more accessible. I go to West Seattle for recreation now more than I used to. That’s the most essential factor of BRT: that it makes areas more accessible, so you can go there any time, without it taking an inordinate amount of time. In that sense if squint it can look vaguely like BRT, the same way the 71/72/73X were vaguely BRT-like in that they came every 7-15 minutes until 2am and were express in the daytime. In contrast, the 40 now has the same frequency as the D, but it’s stubbornly slow and doesn’t have any enhancements, so even if it came every 5 minutes it wouldn’t look like BRT. (I left out off-board payment because when I ride the A-F, only a few people get on at a time so off-board payment doesn’t make a difference.) I used to live right on the 71/72/73X and later on the 15, so I’m speaking from experience. the 71/72/73X felt like something always there, although slow and unreliable, while the 15 was frustrating southbound because you had to time it every 20-30 minutes, or walk to the 18 in between and often end up missing both.

      4. 405 BRT and 522 BRT have the potential for being BRT-like in this sense, because 405 is faster than taking the 234,235, 240, or 255, and the 522 north of 125th is already like a limited-stop route. So they just need to be more frequent so you aren’t waiting 30-60 minutes for them. As I said, ST has hinted it’s targeting 10-minute frequency, and even if it drops to 15 or 30 minutes evenings that’s still a vast improvement over the status quo and understandable given the density around Newport Hills and Juanita. I don’t really like the term BRT for these routes when Swift doesn’t have it, because they’re really like Swift. But I’ll wait until the final schedule and branding come out before calling it mislabeled or inconsistently labeled.

      5. I’m talking about minimum frequency, not maximum frequency. I may have misinterpreted the BAT lanes but it looks to me like it never gets bogged down in traffic in the adjacent lanes.

      6. ST said I-405 BRT would run every 10 minutes *peak* in their marketing materials. They didn’t say anything about how often this bus would run in the middle of the day, or evenings/weekends, or even whether it would run during those times at all.

        When push comes to shove, I doubt this new bus would run less often than their predecessors, the 535 and 560, and they’ll probably find money to improve it slightly. My guess is the actual headway will be something like 10 minutes peak, 15 minutes midday Monday-Friday, and 30 minutes evenings/weekends, with the last trip of the night pushed back from 10 PM to closer to midnight. A schedule like this would still be a big improvement over what’s currently available, but not great, and certainly not frequent enough for trips that involve transferring to other routes, which will also not be super-frequent.

  5. I’d be curious to know what the PSRC considers “bus rapid transit” here in Puget Sound. Have we lowered the bar to Rapid Ride or are they talking about the Madison one?

    1. It’s good that they included Swift and the E, because my first concern was that they’d be missing density if they did. That’s more important than their fuzzy terminology about BRT. And if you include the RapidRide lines, that covers Ballard and West Seattle. The growth in Ballard started because they thought the monorail was coming, and when it was canceled the growth continued because Ballard is a desirable place anyway. RapidRide is not a poster child for BRT, but it does make getting into West Seattle. Ballard, and Aurora significantly more convenient, at least off peak.

  6. This strikes me as one of those reports that looks for a specific outcome, and arranges the data accordingly. Our transit services vary widely, and this defines all the centers as if they are comparable. Its a naive view of transit. It’s more like PSRC added as many centers as possible to prove their point and make every part of the area feel good.

    Perhaps more problematic is how PSRC is looking backwards in time rather than forward. It’s been often noted that many core areas have now grown beyond their PSRC forecasts, for example. Why is PSRC not grading their recent past forecasts with these data and giving themselves a grade? Let’s get PSRC to pay more attention to what’s coming ahead on the road rather than to look into the back windshield.

    Perhaps this is all an agency can do to feel good when they aren’t able to influence the steering wheel in the first place.

  7. The other thing is with the upzone is actually the longer you wait to develop a station area typically the better and denser it gets. Many times the low hanging fruit locations get TOD years ago which if developed now or in the future could be built so much better as the area as had opportunities to mature around the transit service. I bet if Capitol Hill Station TOD started now that towers would have been considered.

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