Streetcar Wires, Toronto

This is an open thread.

69 Replies to “News Roundup: Toronto Wins”

  1. Cincinnati Streetcar: stupidest project ever. I know the neighborhood. It is only 1.5 miles long and level, not 3.6 as the article states. 3.6 is the total length of the loop, but you can walk from one end to the other and it’s only 1.5 miles. If I was there, I’d just walk. And, no, it doesn’t connect any actual destinations. A weekend public market at one end, and the stadium at the other end, passing through downtown in the middle of the route. Probably great ridership the 50% of weekends from May to August when the Reds have a home game. Terrible ridership during the rest of the year.

    They should have stuck with the original 3-mile college campus-to-downtown routing.

    1. We have a 1.5 mile streetcar, so we have experience with that.

      “Streetcar systems, which were once common throughout North America, almost disappeared in the 1950s as cities chose to hand over road space to cars.”

      The old streetcars had a different legal status than the new streetcars. The old streetcars had the right of way over cars, pedesrians, and horses. The new streetcars are treated like just another car and get caught in traffic, which raises the question of why are we building rail if it can’t be faster than a bus? Two reasons the automobile lobby pushed for getting rid of streetcars was to abolish that superior right of way and put cars on top, and to allow conversion to one-way streets.

      1. I am unfamiliar with the notion that streetcars had a special right against other traffic except where they ran in private rights of way protected by railroad crossings.

        They generally ran in mixed traffic from the beginning, and suffered accordingly

      2. Good news that at least Seattle is linking its streetcars together, and there is are tangible destinations (Westlake, SLU/Amazon, Capital Hill, Pioneer Square, and Amtrak), and transit transfer points at three out of four endpoints. Also, First Hill traverses a hill that is difficult for some people to tackle on foot. Seattle’s has it’s problems, but it is nowhere near as bad as the thing they built in Cincinnati, and at least there appears to be a “long game” for Seattle in that it will be linked in a few years, and there is the political will and momentum to probably do extensions in the future.

      3. They ran in the middle of the street and everything else had to keep out of their way. In Toronto cars have to stop when the streetcar stops, although I think the lanes are shared, at least on Queen Street. In San Francisco cars have to stop when the cable car stops, and I think even when it’s moving.

      4. >> Good news that at least Seattle is linking its streetcars together …

        Bad news is that our streetcars are slower, and can’t carry more people than our buses.

      5. Today the First Hill streetcar was a crawl from 7th and Jackson up to Yesler St. station. Not traffic on Jackson but the darn lights. SDOT really could do better with signal preemption there. (Assuming they even do anything at all on that stretch.) Until they get this right, our streetcar will underperform.

      6. Where do we get the idea that any of our streetcar lines cannot get lanes reserved and signals pre-empted any time SDOT gets orders to do it? Doesn’t see to be anything mechanical that makes this impossible.


      7. “First Hill traverses a hill that is difficult for some people to tackle on foot.”

        Madison RapidRide is coming in a few years.

        “Where do we get the idea that any of our streetcar lines cannot get lanes reserved and signals pre-empted any time SDOT gets orders to do it?”

        I don’t see anyone arguing otherwise. The mode precedence can be changed with the stroke of a mayoral pen. Transit lanes can be created with another stroke. The problem is finding enough councilmembers and mayors willing to do that, and getting them elected.

        Also, the fact that it’s called a streetcar prejudices its fate. ST defines a streetcar as operating primarily in mixed traffic, and light rail as primarily in exclusive lanes or grade separated. Seattle Streetcar and Portland Streetcar followed suit. The last time I was in Portland and saw that “Go By Streetcar” sign I got really mad because it’s so misleading. If you want to tell people to go on something, you should give them something good to go on. When Seattle and Portland designate streetcar lines, What we have in MLK looks like the old streetcars; e.g., on 14th Ave NW and Beacon Ave S which are wide because they used to have (possibly dedicated) streetcar tracks. Some streetcars in Moscow look like that too. On the other hand, mixed-traffic streetcars are what Europeans won’t build at all now because it squanders rail’s advantages. Even their regular buses are more speedy and have wider stop spacing than our streetcars. So in other words, Seattle “light rail” is what Europeans would call a tram, and Seattle “streetcars” are so bad that only the US would build them. Or are you going to break my heart and tell me there’s a modern streetcar like SLU or First Hill in Sweden?

      8. Where do we get the idea that any of our streetcar lines cannot get lanes reserved and signals pre-empted any time SDOT gets orders to do it? Doesn’t see to be anything mechanical that makes this impossible.

        No, of course not. It is just that the fact that it is a streetcar makes it much more difficult and much more expensive.

        Let me give you an example. The streetcar makes a weird button hook between downtown and First Hill. Travel is very slow there. Signal priority is very difficult, because you have a series of turns. So let’s assume that the city studies the problem, and says

        “You know what, there just aren’t that many people who use that stop at 14th. We could shave off a couple minutes if we just skip that stop, and take a left on 12th.”

        The problem is, doing that is extremely expensive. It would be very cheap with a bus (move some wire at most) but with the streetcar, you have to dig up the street and lay rail.

        Better yet, imagine they looked at traffic flows and decided that while Jackson could be improved, it would be far cheaper — and actually increase ridership — if they ran the thing on Yesler. That would cost some money if it was a bus (some wire and maybe some stops). With a streetcar you have the added expense of moving rail, but you actually have a much worse problem:

        The streetcar can’t go up hills. There are only a handful of places where the streetcars can actually go, which greatly limit the potential for the route. In case anyone is new to town, we have lots and lots of hills here.

        We aren’t Toronto. We don’t have the density. We aren’t flat. We don’t have the major, legacy investment in surface rail (that even they have considered abandoning). Worst of all, our streetcars are tiny.

      9. Or are you going to break my heart and tell me there’s a modern streetcar like SLU or First Hill in Sweden?

        There have been modern streetcar lines built in Europe with a fair amount of street running. However, based on YouTube videos of, say, Manchester Metrolink, they only do so in places where they have to do so due to obstacles and/or the road is mostly empty of auto traffic.

        Say, if you were building an east-west line to replace the 8 you do this on Harrison, with several rail only bridges and a rail only route through Seattle Center so no through auto traffic is possible.

      10. “they only do so in places where they have to do so due to obstacles and/or the road is mostly empty of auto traffic”

        Right. only where it has to cross the city center or a narrow right of way with ancient buildigngs or walls on both sides of the street. These short sections probably do get traffic, but it’s not the entire line or several blocks in a row like Jackson Street and Broadway.

      11. Let’s try Berlin M1:
        Busy pedestrian streets but auto traffic is mostly elsewhere. There’s some, but not the huge lines of cars you see backed up on downtown Seattle streets interfering with streetcar operation.
        6:29 in they do switch to a busy road, but then have a dedicated lane.

        It’s a streetcar on Harrison vs a streetcar on Denny type situation. If you put it on Denny you need the dedicated lane.

      12. What are all those signals on the light at 5:34-6:24? There are at least four signals, one with two lights, and one with one light but a two-part symbol in it. There was a diagonal one and the streetcar remained stopped the first time it showed but went through the second time. And other lights had “A” and “Z”.

        The narrow streets at the beginning reminded me of some of St Peterburg’s old streetcar lines, which I don’t know if they’re still running because I never saw a train even though my street had one. The downtown-looking section in the middle and the lowrise area after it reminded me of San Francisco’s Market Street, especially with the stations a lane away from he curb. I notice there’s little traffic, and also the streetcar goes several blocks without stopping. What burns people up about the SLU streetcar is it not only has stations every other block, but it stops at every block at a stoplight in between. That’s a lot of stopping. It may have been improved with the Westlake transit lane: I haven’t ridden it enough since then to tell. But transit lanes don’t solve a problem of excessive stations and stoplights.

        The transfer distance was also interesting when the streetcar turned a corner and stopped kitty-corner and a half block away from a U-Bahn station. Should that be the maximum distance for Link-bus transfers?

      13. I’m assuming they are using the same signal meaning as they do on MAX lines,

        Diagonal line: the track switch is aligned for a secondary route. This may mean go slow or wait for dispatch to change the switch.

        Straight line: the track switch is aligned for straight, or if no switch then essentially a green light.

        Horizontal line: stop

        This is also the signal system used at pre-emotive signals on Eugene’s EmX bus route – except it doesn’t do track switch positions.

    2. Rode the King Street streetcar in Toronto this weekend. Hummed along at an impressive clip — such a drastic improvement. Should be a good preview of what the CCC will feel like.

    3. I knew that would be the case from the first plans, just look at the route… a one way loop that twists around like a pretzel to serve the front door of any possible destination in downtown. Streetcars need to be linear, two-way, in reserved lanes and down the center… small scale light rail if you prefer. Toronto is the example or some of the Muni rebuilt lines.

    4. My favorite quote from the Vancouver article on streetcars:

      But Mr. Bracewell, at the city engineering department, said neither of those is part of the current study. “We see the need for rapid transit to UBC. A streetcar is not rapid transit.”

      Got that? Streetcars are not rapid transit. This isn’t about moving people, it is about attracting tourists.

      1. “Got that? Streetcars are not rapid transit. This isn’t about moving people, it is about attracting tourists.”

        What an asinine comment. Of course it’s about moving people. King St. alone moved 65,000 people a day even before the new treatments caused overcrowding. Our lines are predicted to carry 20,000 a day after the CCC is completed. And of course streetcars can be rapid — it is merely a question of design, like all transit.

      2. RossB was talking about Vancouver, not Toronto. It all depends on whether the Vancouver ones get exclusive lanes or not (or at least transit-only lanes), and from the article I can’t tell what level of service they’re contemplating in Vancouver. The ” criticisms levelled at the service in Toronto” are probably from before the King Street renovation since it was just finished and the criticism goes back decades. The Queen Street streetcar was expected to be replaced by a subway; there’s an unused transfer stub on the Yonge line [1]. But the subway was delayed due to politics and budgets, and when it was finally built it was moved north to Bloor Street.

        “of course streetcars can be rapid — it is merely a question of design”

        That’s exactly the issue we’re debating: what design does it have. Light rail can also be slow when it runs on the surface and stops at traffic lights and has stations every two blocks like in downtown Portland, Dallas, and San Diego. Also, streetcars are the only mode that have a level-of-service distinction in the name. If a bus or trolleybus has exclusive lanes or is stuck in traffic we still call it a bus or trolleybus. But with trams we call it light rail if it has exclusive lanes and streetcar if it has shared lanes. That makes the phrase “streetcars are not rapid transit” or “streetcars are useless” meaningful: we’ve defined them as only the levels of service below usefulness. (By “usefulness” I mean for efficient trips, not tourist draws or development magnets bla bla bla.)

        “Rapid transit” has a family of meanings depending on the person, but I’d say at minimum it must run at least 30 mph without traffic obstacles or more than a few lights, with several stations along a corridor rather than 2+-mile nonstop segments, and running at least every 15 minutes all day and evening. That’s moderately rapid in speed, and facilitates rapid trips (i.e., there’s always a station nearby and a short wait). When a streetcar combines 15-minute service with traffic congestion, it’s not rapid in any meaningful sense. When a few frequent bus lines are dropped into a city that doesn’t have them, that’s rapid in some sense, so I give some credit to the C, D, and E, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that it’s less effective than Link or Skytrain. Swift and Madison RR have more of the characteristics of rapid transit. I consider Swift “poor man’s light rail”, and it’s certainly appropriate and effective in Snohomish County.

      3. “RossB was talking about Vancouver, not Toronto.”

        No, he took a quote about a particular corridor to make a generalized statement about all streetcars.

        “But with trams we call it light rail if it has exclusive lanes and streetcar if it has shared lanes.”

        This is not really true. It can obviously be a blurry line, but if anything separates streetcars from light rail it is vehicle type, not right-of-way treatment. The CCC will mostly run in exclusive lanes, for example, and there are examples of both light rail and streetcars that are sometimes in dedicated ROW, sometimes not. King Street in Toronto will still be called a streetcar if the pilot project is made permanent and extended along the length of the line. Pals in transportation consulting say they are seeing a revived interest in streetcars around the country, so long as they are granted the prioritization often associated with light rail. What *is* (thankfully) fading away is the rinky-dink “pedestrian accelerator” running in mixed-traffic for a only short distance.

        “We’ve defined them as only the levels of service below usefulness.”

        No one has done that.

        Will agree that the term “rapid” can be squishy. Certainly much American BRT is not actually rapid, but slightly improved local or pseudo-express bus service wrapped in a sexy package to secure otherwise unavailable federal dollars. I think in practical conversation, when we say “rapid” (for either bus or rail) we are talking about taking lanes, funding short headways, and granting some level of signal prioritization. Level boarding, off-board payment, etc., are helpful accoutrements.

      4. No, Mike is right. I quoted the Vancouver article. I even said as much (read the comment again). The point being that VANCOUVER is considering a streetcar system, but they don’t consider it mass transit, which I find hilarious. In their case it is true. In our case it is true. It is just refreshing, and funny to hear a public official basically admit that they want to build them to attract tourists (or because they look cool) instead of building it so they can move people more effectively.

        But that doesn’t mean that other cities (Paris, for example) aren’t building new streetcars that actually are mass transit. It may be hard to tell the difference, of course, but if an agency builds a brand new line (lays new rail) and the trains aren’t bigger than a bus, then it is just for show. Either that, or the agency really doesn’t know what they are doing (and can’t even figure the fundamental advantage of streetcars).

      5. No need to reread your comment. No official “basically admitted” they want to build a streetcar line to attract tourists. To the contrary, the city planner quoted in the article cited the capacity, noise, and environmental benefits of streetcars. He never even mentioned tourism.

        (Not that transit agencies should be ashamed about serving the mobility needs of tourists.)

        The quote you love so much is just the same planner rejecting some professor’s suggestion that the city — in addition to the potential central city circulator the article is actually about — also study streetcars for a long corridor connecting the end of a planned subway line with the University of British Columbia. The official is obviously just drawing a distinction between streetcars and subways to make clear that the city would prefer extend the subway to UBC. Not exactly a “gotchya” moment.

        “but if an agency builds a brand new line (lays new rail) and the trains aren’t bigger than a bus, then it is just for show.”

        Nonsense. Streetcars have benefits other than vehicle capacity, besides which there is nothing to stop agencies from eventually buying larger vehicles as demand increases.

  2. I see that, with regards to Mercer Mess, “better for people on foot” simply means you get a couple extra seconds of crossing time *after* pressing the beg button. It doesn’t do a thing about the need to hit the button (and wait up to 5 minutes if you’re a half second too late) in the first place.

  3. “A $40 peak period toll ($) to drive ten miles in a HOT lane sounds great, I want that for all of our regional freeways.”

    Really, that sounds great? And something you want? Well, if you want to keep catering to the rich, then keep wanting more benefits for the wealthy. Public roads shouldn’t need to be catering and giving a leg-up to those with wealth. Period.

    1. The I-66 toll lanes are a bit different than what we have here. I-66 used to be HOV-only (2+) during peak periods (with a few exceptions). Now they’ve just given SOV’s the option to use it by paying a fee.

      Personally, I see no reason not to uncap 405 tolls. Let the market decide the price based on demand.

      1. Personally, I see no reason not to uncap 405 tolls. Let the market decide the price based on demand.

        In some alternative universe where the tolling wasn’t so politically fraught and fragile, I’d agree. In our world, it’s probably not worth it.

      2. The cap should certainly go up. When they set it at $10 they thought it would hardly every reach it, but it turns out a lot more people are willing to pay the toll than expected. WSDOT has a requirement to maintain the HOV lanes at 45 mph minimum, both due to federal grants and the promises made to transit. If the toll hits $10 and just stays there, people flood into the lane and slow it down below that.

      3. If tolls are capped then WSDOT can and should close the express lanes to SOVs and HOV2s when the speeds drop below the goal.

      4. djw, I agree that it’s unlikely to happen. But it would be nice if it did.

        Oran, I’ve rarely seen them do that. Practically though, they’d have to do it almost every day to keep the area north of 522 moving.

        HOV2 is not a huge issue btw. It’s already HOV3+ during peak, and if it’s non-peak and there’s heavy traffic, it probably means there’s either an accident in the HOT lanes or there’s a really bad accident in the GP lanes and they’re diverting traffic to the HOT lanes (I’ve seen that happen a few times, but it would be bad to completely shut down the GP lanes and not open up the HOT lanes). In both cases the express lanes are in bad shape and switching from HOV2 to HOV3 won’t help.

  4. On Mercer, there is still a lot of time between when the pedestrian signal stops flashing red and the light cycle change. There’s exactly zero reason for SDOT to do this and most pedestrians ignore it, choosing to break the law, rather than wait for the extremely long Mercer light cycles.

    I get that ending the pedestrian cycles early theoretically allows for unhindered right-on-red turning movement, but during rush hour, Mercer is so jammed, no drivers can make the turn on red anyways, so pedestrians are needlessly punished. During non-rush hour times, pedestrian movement is light enough to not cause hindrance to right turns on red.

    1. Part of “adaptive signaling” means that the signal controller theoretically has the ability to change the light the moment a break in the traffic appears. Which it can’t do while the pedestrian countdown is still ticking.

      At least that’s what the traffic engineer will say. And when they’re design is judged only on vehicle throughput, not pedestrian throughput, they do the easiest solution, which is to keep the red hand solid at all times, except for the bare minimum necessary to allow someone to (eventually) cross the street.

    2. Does any transit have signal preemption for crossing Mercer? I know the streetcar doesnt and I dont think the buses do either.

  5. Any thoughts on how transferable the King Street improvements are to 3rd Ave here in Seattle?

    1. There are a couple things that would need to happen:

      1) Make all vehicles run in the middle of the street. Hard to see this happening. We are increasing our fleet of buses with doors on both sides, but on only a handful of routes. You also have to carve out space the stops. We are doing all that on 1st — hard to say if we will do that on 3rd as well.

      2) Ban left turns. This part seems easy. It could happen today, and should happen today. Left turns are really a bad idea, especially in an urban area. If you have them, there should be traffic signals for them.

      3) Apply the rules 24 hours a day (instead of just at rush hour).

      If we just get the last two items, it will go a long way towards fixing the problem. It will be much easier to apply the law (no one can use the “I didn’t know what time it was excuse”) or deal with people who make honest mistakes (maybe they really didn’t know). By banning left turns, it is easier for buses to pass buses. It still isn’t ideal, but we should be able to spread out many of the bus stops, have bigger stop spacing (for each route) which should make the buses run a lot faster.

  6. RE: Issaquah. Yes, it is perhaps too optimistic, but it is a vision document, they’re supposed to be optimistic! :)

    “Legislating good design” is the core premise behind the current moratorium. The current design standards – setbacks, parking requirements, allowed uses, min/max FAR etc. – were not yielding good design in recent projects. I’m confident the new standards that have come out of the work the city has done this past year will result in better design. They are pretty robust, particularly in the core of Central Issaquah, with zero surface parking allowed, required mixed use including retail on the ground floor, minimum FAR, and so forth. But will it be great design or only marginally better? Time will tell.

    1. Isn’t Issaquah’s challenge that rents aren’t quite high enough to support the development they want? Will the new design standards add cost (and delay development), or do you think they’re managing this well?

      I am encouraged that they are at least asking the right questions about costs.

      1. Good point, and I’d say it depends. For the VMU we want in the core, yes the rents don’t currently support “good” development (basically, 5 over 1 VMU buildings with structured parking).

        The new standards absolutely will delay new development – but that’s sorta the point. We are trying to prevent mediocre development. “Good” development has always been allowed, but it’s not currently being built. So the intent is to ban “bad” development and wait for the market to support good development.

        Currently, the valley floor is predominately single story strip malls with surface parking. It’s definitely going to be re-developed, but what is going to be built next will define the city for probably 50+ years. The city would rather indirectly delay development to ensure we get good design than accept bad design now and live with it for decades.

        It’s an interesting value decision. Given we have a housing shortage, do you want to quickly redevelop all that land and add thousands of housing units? Maybe so. But in the context of a 30 year plan, I’d rather slow development until we get good design, so the resulting urban space is a vibrant, healthy place to live for decades to come.

        It’s a common problem in most of the region, once you get out of central & north Seattle. If I’m Lynnwood, do I want to settle for a 4 story apartment with some surface parking next to my transit center? Or do I want to hold out a few years for a 20 story office tower? If I’m in Rainier Beach, do I want to replace that old house with some town homes, or wait a few years and put in a 6 story apartment building? And so forth.

        Keep in mind, Issaquah is on track to hit it’s 2030 housing targets in the next year or two, mostly on the back of the Highlands finally being built out. Development is still occurring at a rapid pace throughout the city. The debates around Central Issaquah aren’t, “how do we want to add the next 1,000 housing units over the next 5 years,” but “how do we want to add the next 5,000 housing units over the next 30 years.”

      2. Be pro-development as a policy but also hold developers to reasonable standards. You dont want to let them run roughshot with crap buildings that blight the area and harm walkability.

      3. “If I’m Lynnwood, do I want to settle for a 4 story apartment with some surface parking next to my transit center? Or do I want to hold out a few years for a 20 story office tower?”

        How good are the recent developments in Ash Way and on the Bothell-Everett Highway? They’re a dense 4-7 stories but pretty unwalkable and single-use. They’re just a step above sprawl, or they may be sprawl depending on your threshold. What’s important is not so much the number of stories but walkability. Most suburbs have come around to a 7-story limit rather than 4-story in their primary urban village. Going above that requires more expensive building techniques and thus more expensive units. We don’t need 20 or 40 stories if we have enough 7-story buildings: see Boston, Paris, Edinburgh, and Tokyo that fit a lot of people in four stories or less. We should have a few highrises around stations but let’s not pretend the non-rich can afford them. The bulk of the population should have a lot more lowrises available. That’s what Brooklyn, Queens, and Jersey City have, not a lot of highrises.

      4. The flip side of this is… that this is about as close as it gets to intentionally enforcing unaffordability in code. From The Ave to Alaska Junction to downtown Burien, it doesn’t take 5+1 VMU to make a walkable neighborhood. The most important use mixture is in what’s available within a walkshed, not within one building (this is something WalkScore, for all its flaws, basically gets right — there’s a VMU building up in the eastern part of the Issaquah Highlands, but it would be way more walkable in fact if there was a Safeway with a surface lot in the middle of it, as there is in the U District, and on Capitol Hill…). And in Issaquah a ban on surface parking might actually not be the best regulation for the pedestrian environment, because in Issaquah today a ban on surface parking is essentially a requirement for structured parking in every building! That means more driveway access directly on the main streets, as opposed to the older pattern where parking access mostly occurs through alleys and back ways.

        Structured parking is not always an improvement over surface lots, especially when access is directly to the main street. Garages tend to have poor sight lines, and multi-level garages can bring a lot of cars to a small area, creating congestion and stress for everyone. And they’re expensive. Here, incremental development of a pedestrian critical mass may be an advantage: by the time rents support grander building types, maybe the transportation mix won’t require expensive, streetscape-killing structured parking in every mixed-use building. If you really want a pedestrian critical mass to form you can’t wait until rents are high enough. Retail ain’t easy; the kind of practical retail people walk to every day is hardest of all; it’s a low-margin business. It’s hard for that to coexist with high rents.

    2. “Legislating good design” is the core premise behind the current moratorium. The current design standards – setbacks, parking requirements, allowed uses, min/max FAR etc. – were not yielding good design in recent projects.

      I guess I would call that “form” rather than “design.” You can mandate people build retail, have certain setbacks, bury/hide the parking etc., but you can’t mandate attractive architecture (what I think when people say “design”); that comes only at a certain price point and desirability, which downtown Issaquah is many years from commanding.

      1. Maybe. You’re totally right that “form” is a different thing that what I responded to Dan, but the city is also trying to address that. The city rolling out “Architectural & Urban Design Guidelines” i.e. standards on form.

        Check out the design standard draft document, linked there or here: – the standards themselves start about a dozen pages into the document.

      2. Like a pair of shoes, I’d judge anything designed for human use by how comfortable it is for the user. For amounts of both space an materials, different arrangements can be more, or less, comfortable to use.

        Main question for a designer: Am I creating this for the owner and operator, or for a magazine’s tribute to me?

        But another interesting point is how well some very old buildings, especially factories, lend themselves to multiple uses in the future. So another thought.

        Whatever has physically endured through both use and disuse may already have so much good design in it- structure, materials, resistance to wind and settling-that most of the design work for its future was already done when the ink dried on the drafting board.

        And so is at least worth checking out before passing it by, or destroying it.

        Mark Dublin

  7. Fremont, California set a minimum density for apartment buildings around the BART station (until recently it was the end of the line). They had to reject a number of proposals for lower density development and wait until the market caught up with their zoning. Eventually it did and Fremont got the levels of density it wanted. I understand that housing is badly needed, but I think from a planning standpoint there’s a real argument for waiting until you get what you actually want.

    1. Housing is needed but Issaquah is not necessarily the best place for it until Link opens or the ST/Metro routes get more frequent. Currently they’re every 30-60 minutes off-peak.

      1. Issaquah’s daytime population is greater than its nighttime population. In other words, more people commute into Issaquah for jobs than leave Issaquah to go to work elsewhere. So while Link will be wonderful when it comes, I don’t think we need to wait until then to add more housing.

      2. For people who plan to spend most of their time in Issaquah, the housing is fine. For people who are just looking for somewhere to live and would spend a lot of time going to other places, transit access is a bigger deal. Not just work trips, but all trips. Work trips are a minority of people’s trips.

  8. Regarding the condo shortage piece….

    “Primary culprit seems to be an unusually strict state law around condo construction defects.”

    It’s a factor for sure but not the primary reason developers are building apartments rather than condos. That trend is being driven by the economics and financial returns.

    1. It was almost all condos in the mid 2000s until the crash. Then mortgages became hard to get and developers switched to apartments. They haven’t switched back yet.

    2. There was a great piece about the condo vs apartment growth situations in Seattle and Vancouver, BC done by the Sightline institute back in August….

      “In 2015, about one-third of condos in the metropolitan Seattle area were rented out. But of the remainder, the owner-occupied ones, more than two-thirds were home to people aged 65 or older. In comparison, this age bracket owned one-quarter of all housing units in the area. Young people in Seattle rely on condos for ownership opportunities to a somewhat lesser extent. In 2015, 12 percent of householders in owner-occupied condos were under 35, compared to just 8 percent of householders in all owner-occupied homes in the area.”

      It’s well worth reading the entire piece, as it’s more comprehensive than the linked article here.

      1. That, “young people in Seattle rely on condos for ownership opportunities to a somewhat lesser extent,” probably has something to do with prices: in Vancover, “most condominiums were between one-fifth and one-third the price of typical single-family homes,” while in Seattle, “the average condominium value was equivalent to two-thirds the price of the typical single-family home.” And the difference in prices is, “likely due to the fact that Seattle has so few,” and that these, “skew toward one type—luxury units—while Vancouver condos have a broader variety of types and price points.”

        If there were lots of condos going for a quarter the price of SFHs in Seattle I’d be a “young” person relying on condos for ownership opportunities. As it is I’m getting to be too old for the annoyances of tenancy but my only options to buy are ludicrously expensive houses and luxo condos that are nearly as bad. It’s not just Vancouver that has better options on the ownership side — I know people that bought entry-level condos in Chicago for prices I’d jump on in a minute just to be done with renting.

      2. What is an entry-level condo like?

        When condos first appeared in the 1980s they were much less expensive than houses and were seen as a good first step to home hownership and an affordable alternative to renting. Since then condos have become as expensive as houses, or at least as houses were a few years ago, so that makes them much less affordable, and makes people wonder why they should go into debt for $300, 400, 600K for a small unit without a yard.

      3. Condos weren’t invented in the ’80s. A lot of older units are “entry-level”.

        For example, I know a couple in the Chicago area that paid around $100k for a one-bed/one-bath unit in a pre-war brick building without A/C, elevators, or structured parking (they either had a lot with alley access or street parking, don’t remember which). It was not particularly large or modern, and they did a bunch of work on it when they moved it to make it more comfortable.

        I know someone in Seattle that lives in a condo studio in a broadly similar building (it’s made of brick and looks old)… but it’s a lot less common here! I have no idea what they paid — surely much more per-square-foot than the couple in Chicago!

      4. The condo ownership model was invented at a particular time. I first saw condos in Seattle in the 80s. Old buildings are converted to condos but that doesn’t mean they were originally condos. My comment was about purpose-built condo buildings. When condos went from entry-level price to being as expensive as houses, then conversion of prewar buildings took off.

  9. Has anyone proposed burying and capping Mercer? Separate pedestrians and cars in a manner that’s effortless for both pedestrians and cars. Would seem to be at least as good an idea as capping I-5 through the U-District, and the area could always use some more park space.

    1. Sure, but people in cars still have to get down to the lower level, and they enter Mercer at every cross-street. Assuming you’re not going to build portals in the middle of all these cross-streets (yuck), or full grade-separated interchanges at them (double yuck), the result wouldn’t be extra park space, rather a multi-level, multi-lane roadway, with median portals between the two levels every few blocks, like Wacker Drive in Chicago.

      Wacker actually has a pretty similar function to Mercer. In general, it collects and distributes traffic between the Eisenhower Expressway and the north part of downtown, as Mercer collects and distributes I-5 traffic. While Wacker has a direct connection to Lake Shore Drive on the other end, Mercer will only ever have a somewhat indirect connection to 99. If we built a Lower Mercer, it would have an even less-direct connection to 99… and getting up to I-5 would take some work. I guess if you disconnect Upper Mercer from I-5 and connect only Lower Mercer, then you convert the lanes of Fairview that turn toward I-5 into ramps down to that level (probably make these the center lanes, both northbound and southbound)… so there’s still at least one stoplight underground, at Fairview, and sometimes that will be the bottleneck for entering I-5, as it sometimes is today. Coming from I-5, the turn lanes to each direction of Fairview would connect directly the upper level, but it would be impossible to enter I-5 from the surface, and the size of that particular intersection could be shrunk dramatically.

      FWIW, Lower Wacker is a lot less-bad than most urban grade-separated roads in terms of impacts on the pedestrian environment. We decided not to make a grade-separated Mercer intentionally back in the day, and that’s probably a good thing, because the proposed designs were awful. Wacker-style Mercer would be better than those designs… but I’m not sure how many of today’s problems it would fix. We’d still have lots of cars trying to turn onto Mercer from all the cross-streets; they’d back up from the ramps down to the lower level and block crosswalks, just as they back up from the regular lanes and block crosswalks today.

  10. I don’t think that scenic passenger service south of Tacoma is permanently gone. The pretty route looks years obsolete for freight. A few decades, at most, and freight will parallel the shore a good ways inland, no grade crossings and very high speed. At which time, the line can be refurbished for enjoyable railroading.


    1. The new main line was built along the shore because it is relatively flat and therefore cheap for long, heavy trains. The old main line along I-5 has the same steep issues now as it did in 1905, only one of the hills is slightly worse.

  11. As par for the course with Sound Transit reporting, the agency has finally released its third quarter (Jul, Aug, Sep) financials.

    One notable takeaway is that East Link is running about $100 million over its 2017 adopted budget figure due to an accelerated construction schedule. At the other end of the spectrum, Lynnwood Link continues to languish in 2017 as advancement to 90% design continues without the project yet being baselined.

  12. Kent clearly doesn’t like freight trains, since they are resisting BNSF’s 3rd mainline and now they’re throwing 3 million bucks at making things quieter. What a self centered, narrow minded waste of money..

    Here’s an amazing idea for Kent, Auburn, Sumner, Puyallup, Tacoma, and Sound Transit, address the inconvenient truth, pay to move all freight to the UP line, double track it, bless it with a unicorn, what ever it takes, just get it done. Are Seattle and its subcities a world leaders in tech or cities that suck?

    I love watching freight trains, I get a real kick out of them and they are one of the many silent workhorses of the economy, but they need to get out of our downtowns and open things up for high speed commuting and Amtrak. Whats in it for Tacoma? a very quick connection to Seattle. Whats in it for the rest? Get some cars off your roads and freeways, high density walkable downtowns are hot right now, boost up your downtown economies, fantastic rail helps that materialize, oh and everyone in Kent gets a good nights sleep :-) throw on a hub and spoke system of connector buses to P&Rs in good locations, and slap down dedicated bus lanes to em, now we have a world class transit system most COUNTRIES would be envious of, along with the rest of the US..

    I’d love to see a cost/benefit analysis of this, and really, what is the blocker to this happening? Like seriously what is it? What makes it impossible?

    It would be likely be very worth it in the end, I got talking to a long time resident of the area walking to the train station a few weeks ago, they were surprised to learn I used Sounder every day to Seattle, then remarked that originally ST said there would be no demand for such a service. Seriously, what is Sound Transit smoking over there? We wouldn’t be here with out it!

    Reality: I’ll put up with this crappy system, eventually move somewhere else to retire*cough*die and not care.

    1. ST said there was no demand for Sounder? That must have been long ago. Sounder was included in ST1 mainly because it was low-hanging fruit: it could be started quickly, and it seemed silly to squander the opportunity to use existing tracks that used to run the Interurban. And it gave service to south central and southeast King County which wouldn’t get Link. ST may have been uncertain about the ridership initially, but I believe it quickly became popular on the south line, and since then there has been demand for, “More! More! More!”

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