This post is the first in a series STB is launching to explore how suburban cities around the region are preparing for light rail.
In 2017, the East Link Extension began taking shape as Sound Transit contractors prepared Interstate 90 for light rail and installed the first girders for the elevated track in Bellevue. This year, ST is scheduled to start construction on the Lynnwood Link Extension to bring light rail north to Snohomish County.
To many Eastside commuters, the 2023 opening can’t come soon enough. But the structure of many of these suburban cities — particularly their sprawling, low-density construction — is not conducive to efficient transit systems. To leverage this massive infrastructure investment as it expands, cities must make sizable changes to their urban forms to integrate the transit system.
“If you can only access station areas by driving to them, then you are really limiting your market,” said Ben Bakkenta, a senior program manager with the Puget Sound Regional Council. “You are limiting the usefulness of that structure.”
The PSRC has long played a role in assisting cities as they manage and accommodate growth in the region. Often, that includes gathering data and convening experts to advise cities. The PSRC is also tasked with certifying the transportation elements of the Comprehensive Plan for cities in Kitsap, King, Snohomish and Pierce counties to qualify their jurisdictions for federal transportation funds.
Bakkenta said a primary role of the PSRC in the expansion of light rail “is simply to try to get people to realize these [station areas] are really important places where we need to leverage these investments.”
According to Bakkenta, light rail planning began as early as 1990 with the adoption of the Growth Management Act.
“Sound Transit has used these designated growth centers as the framework in which it is building this system,” Bakkenta said. “Their long-range planning is all about connecting these designated regional centers.”
For decades, some cities, such as Redmond and Bellevue, have been planning for light rail expansion. Other cities, like Shoreline, where two new stations are scheduled to open in 2024, began planning began more recently. Before a rezone in 2016, nearly all of the land in Shoreline adjacent to the planned light rail corridor and the future station areas was zoned for single-family homes. Despite that rezoning, which left single-family areas near future stations open to mixed-use residential projects as high as seven floors, development has been slow to come.
Reconfiguring suburban areas for transit takes more than just increasing density. It also requires mobility improvements so pedestrians and bikers can safely access stations, development of city centers, infrastructure additions to promote and encourage growth; and a change in the mindset of residents.
“What does it take to make these [station areas] attractive, vibrant, interesting places for people?” Bakkenta said. “It takes investment in street infrastructure, it takes making sure there is a mix of uses, it takes affordability, it takes community amenities to make these places where people want to be.”
71 Replies to “Reshaping Suburban Cities as Light Rail Expands”
It would be very nice if the PSRC would have a little chat with the Seattle City government as well. The caps on development at Capitol Hill, Roosevelt and (ahem), Beacon Hill Station are all three huge wasted opportunities.
It seems crazy to talk about caps at CHS and Roosevelt…there are big, active projects going on at and around those sites. The real finger pointing and shame should be directed 100% at the RV stations. It’s absolutely insane, that 9 years on, the view around the Rainier Beach Stations is virtually unchanged from what a rider would have seen on opening day. Many other stretches along the RV alignment aren’t any better…it’s a rail line through in-ctiy suburban strip malls and SFHs…STILL!
Not as big as they should be. There will be no more urban stations on North Link after Northgate opens. Both 130th and 145th will be bus intercepts mostly, not development nodes.
The City could and should have done better.
Actually, there’s a great article on The Urbanist about turning the city’s golf courses into affordable housing: https://www.theurbanist.org/2018/01/29/housing-emergency-really/
Such a project at Jackson Park Golf Course transforms the 145th station from a car sewer to vital infrastructure.
Richard, as construction techniques improve, I think that given their aesthetic appeal, in a decade or two there’ll be a lot of human friendly space over all our freeways. And doubtlessly surrounding every LINK station, with plenty of room and demand for bus service.
And Felsen, except for everybody aboard my Route 7’s including me being unable to afford live for, business and building-wise, Columbia City seems to be doing just fine. MLK, I don’t recall that business was ever as dense as on Rainier.
Reasons might not have anything to do with transit. I’d need to talk with some developers and even better, business people. Many of the immigrants who live in the Valley come from cultures that aggressively support small business.
I don’t think the area around Rainier Beach station has ever been that heavily built. Anybody in the restaurant business will tell you that have always been places and properties where nobody’s been able to “make a go of it.”
What’s the matter with turning it into a park?
Mark, I’d be great with lids over I-5 from Olympia to Marysville, but lids ain’t cheap and who wants to live over a freeway, even one buried under five feet of concrete and steel?
And so far as RBS, there’s already a park there, with what must be Seattle’s biggest “Pea Patch”. The problem is that damn high voltage lines. They run right across the station’s walkshed. You can never build anything under them.
Density has not gone *down* in Rainier Valley. When corner shops became single-family houses in Fremont, Rainier Avenue and MLK had just emerged from being two-lane highways in farmland. I’ll check the timeline but I’m sure Fremont and the surrounding parts of North Seattle developed before South Seattle, because the eastern part of the Valley and SODI were underwater before the lowering of Ksje Washington and the rerouting of the Duwamish.
“Despite that rezoning … development has been slow to come”
Relax! The re-zones passed in fall of 2016. It’ll take time for the current SF owners to sell and developers assemble parcels large enough for 7-story buildings to make sense, let alone the time for design & permitting before construction even starts. The Seattle Times had an article awhile back about how neighbors were coordinating to get better prices – that stuff takes time.
I’m very bullish on Shoreline’s growth & redevelopment around the two Link stations. But it’ll take time – I wouldn’t expect the area to transform until much closer to the stations opening.
If you want to be concerned about lack of development activity, look at the Rainier Valley where there are actual, existing Link stations in operation.
The Rainier Valley station areas redevelopment is hampered by a lack of large parcels, and a lack of an active “Main Street” plan by the City for the intersecting arterials at the stations. It’s tragic that all the new buildings happening on Alaska near Columbia City Station don’t have ground floor retail or restaurants facing the street, for example. Henderson Street in Rainier Beach could be a very active destination street if the City would plan better for streetfront use. Seattle gives tons of lip service to density but never plans new great streets near new Link stations.
I was objecting to the tone in Lizz’s article – I didn’t think it was reasonable to look at Shoreline in January of 2018 and wonder why it wasn’t redeveloping. Rainier valley has many reasons it’s not developing, some good & some bad, of which you highlighted a few key ones.
I was quick to judge. I’m just not optimistic that density will develop in many suburban stations unless cities make real investments, but Shoreline is not alone.
In a very broad way, I think the tone of Liz’s article does in fact suggest that we need better streets around Link stations. That’s what I’m saying too.
I would agree with you AJ that it’s too soon to be overly critical about station area development. Even an obvious development opportunity like the Capitol Hill Station block still has no building on it.
I think that the bigger problem is that Liz’s article is based on a PSRC interview. The spokesperson vaguely alludes to an almost childlike, visionary hope for new stations by PSRC with terms like “mobility improvements” — rather than take a realistic and critical look (aka a case study) at what is done right and what is done wrong in the Rainier Valley station areas (or maybe other station areas in other metro regions) so far to create great streets there. It’s akin to saying that we need to build a house that we can enjoy living in without any specifics or comparisons to existing houses.
It conceptually gets into the institutional problem of the PSRC in the first place. PSRC does not have the authority or defined programs to create great streets. Only the cities working with ST and other transit operators do. PSRC also is so politically weak that it doesn’t want to call out any city or transit operator for doing anything mediocrely when it comes to an integrated multi-agency light rail investment. They’re seemingly content to stay out of any controversy and be merely the region’s growth tracker.
In defense of the PSRC, it’s not that they are politically weak, it simply not their job. The PSRC’s mandate is to ensure increasing job & housing intensity in the growth centers. Whether that growth is good or bad is the job of the city or county that proposed the growth center.
I appreciate an agency that stays in its lane and doesn’t duplicate work of another level of government.
PSRC isn’t supposed to stay in their own lane; they are supposed to manage the broader travel flow. It’s in an MPO’s mandate to allocate Federal dollars and to promote intergovernmental coordination. PSRC doesn’t actively do this well, and seems to merely take a spectator role. In other words, they don’t do their mandated job well. (
Compare this to the Bay Area, where their MPO collects tolls, and their countywide-level planning agencies generally require intergovernmental coordination and approval to get capital funding which goes mainly to them so each city and operator isn’t out there doing it in an uncoordinated way.
Most of you seem to be concentrating on the lack of megastructures being developed in Rainier Valley and assuming that there’s nothing going on. The reality is that there is a tremendous amount of rehabilitation and fixing-up going on within the 15 minute walkshed of every station from Beacon Hill to Othello. On every block, houses that were derelict or decaying are being remodeled or replaced with modern developments. Very few of these developments are enormous, full-block superstructures, but they are nevertheless, contributing to both Link/Metro ridership as well as a family oriented neighborhood.
The problem with the Rainier Valley stations is MLK Blvd itself. It’s a car sewer forming a significant barrier to station access. It’s common for the light to go red for the cross street leading to the platform when a train approaches (the trains run “in synch” with the green light pulse for MLK), so people get stranded on the “far” sidewalk while the train rolls up. It’s a common problem with at-grade LRT in the median of an important arterial.
Yes, MLK acts like a wide river (or car sewer). This is exactly part of the legacy land use problem. It was historically a faster, north-south auto-oriented strip. Thus, the commercial activities are still up and down the street with little on the cross streets. Stations are often several blocks away and pedestrians on the sidewalk are experiencing a noisier, high speed street of cars followed by an uninhabited, barren track area (a functional wall) followed by another street! It’s terrible for pedestrians!
If station pedestrian traffic is to be made more important in the Rainier Valley, the development concepts should be to have activity on slower, narrower, quieter, more crossable east-west streets and not facing MLK.
One example: Harvard Street (Coolidge Corner) in Brookline is a great street near a median boulevard light rail line.
“Little is on the cross streets” because the Valley is so narrow: you can only go a few blocks west. Zoning off the arterial is also problematic. And because Rainier Valley developed in the 1920s-1940s rather than in the 1890s. Cars were already around and beginning to change people’s mindset, even if the era if one car per family was still in the future.
No worries, Lizz. And your general critique is definitely valid. I’m optimistic about Shorline based on some good coverage The Urbanist did last year on their re-zoning, so I didn’t want them to get a bad rap because they’ve done the right thing, so far. ( https://www.theurbanist.org/?s=shoreline )
And you are right – re-zoning the area is simply the first step.
Not sure if we need or want more 7 floor apartment complexes with $1800 “affordable” apartments with ground retail and garages. Give me a mix of small scale, organically developed 3-4 floor urban row houses and walkups any day.
We need both. The population increase is enough to fill both, and we should give people a wide variety of choices because nobody’s planning assumptions are perfect. And $1800 “affordable” apartments are necessary to fill the gap now until we can figure out how to provide $1200 and $800 apartments. The solution is a combination of a lot more market-rate housing, and expanded subsidized housing, because it’s probably unrealistic for market-rate housing to get back below $1800 in the short or medium term.
There are also alternatives that aren’t ongoing subsidies per se but still make housing affordable. The city and nonprofits can partner to buy land and development rights, so that the rent or condo price can match the cost of the building rather than land speculation. Also, property taxes can be structured differently. I don’t know the details but there have been suggestions that a land tax would be better than a property tax, because all the wild increases have been in land values rather than in the materials/labor for the building. So there are tax systems that give more incentives for stability rather than speculation and flipping.
Another proposal is to assess lots at their highest zoned capacity rather than their current building.That would give owners an incentive to convert surface parking lots now rather than waiting for housing prices to double, and for single-family houses in lowrise areas to be replaced. Another proposal is for the city to partner with nonprofits to buy real estate and put it into a land trust and sell “limited ownership” rights. The idea is that the homeowner would have exclusive right to the house and land, and could not be disposessed without good reason, and could take a mortgage on the house and I think sell it or replace it with another house, but it would have to be at a reasonable price. They couldn’t make a windfall because the trust owns the land and the development rights. A similar arrangement is that the homeowner would have the exclusive use of the house and land during his lifetime but then it would revert to the trust. That would allow the trust to sell it again at a reasonable price, and prevent multigenerational dynasties from amassing house wealth and becoming hereditary aaristocrats over the majority.
I’m not 100% sure about these proposals because I’m not a real-estate expert or a lawyer, but these ideas are worth pursuing and considering, and other ideas besides. We need to think at a quantum level higher than we are:
(1) Not just building 20,000 units, but building 100,000 or 200,000. That’s closer to the number of people who are cost-burdened in Seattle, or living in the suburbs even though they want to live in Seattle, are on the subsidized-housing waiting list, or gave up on the list because they wouldn’t get to the top for four years.
(2) We also need to not just stop rent increases but roll them back 30-50% to get them back in sync with incomes and inflation. That may not be possible because prices are sticky on the way down (nobody wants to take a loss), but that’s why it was extremely irresponsible to let it get this bad in the first place. That’s what the zoning restrictions and NIMBYs have done to us. Otherwise we could have accommodated the population growth with no or only small increases. (Probably small increases because the percentage of housing stock would shift toward newer buildings without the “long paid off” advantage. That in turn is why we should have increased the housing supply two and three decades earlier, so that it would be older and paid off, and we could have leveraged real-estate-bubble money better for our long-term needs.)
But we should keep rollback as a nominal goal even if we can only attain a little bit of it, because it’s important to focus on this: we want the same level of incomes to be able to live in Seattle long-term; we don’t want it to become an increasingly wealthy-only place. People haven’t fully realized the wholesale demographic change that has been happening in our neighborhoods. Working-class and middle-class homeowners have been selling to much wealthier people, because the outgoing owner’s current counterparts are priced out. Thers’s a big hullaboo right now about some eighty acres in Laurelhurst that just became developable. The media is saying it’s one of the last large parcels ever for large-scale single-family development in Seattle. Developers and construction companies are salivating at the profit, and the media is saying that this will give families a rare chance to buy a single-family house in Seattle. But the prices are estimated at $2 million. Huh? Who the hell can afford that? I have enough trouble thinking about a $350K condo and I’m very debt-averse. I can’t even think about a $750K house or $1 million house or $2 million house. That goes above even what $110K Amazon workers can afford. I’m not objecting to this development; I’m just saying it won’t make even a dent in our housing problem. The best it can do is allow some more CEOs to live in Seattle.
It isn’t just light rail where we have some work to do. Mukilteo, Edmonds, Tukwila, Kent, Auburn, Sumner, Puyallup and Tacoma are all moving at a snails pace around Sounder stations. They all just want more park and rides… We need to get faster at trails, bus hubs and density.
Let’s be honest, getting developers to be interested in building around commuter rail is a hard sell. Not a lot of land to persay develop around said stations that isn’t already owned and Commuter Rail is intended for low density areas, like the Kent and Puyallup Valley or alongside the sound in Snohomish. Kent, maybe Auburn seems to be most likely canidiates for development to be actually viable as they both have plenty of land that can be developed for like apartments, Kent is in the process of giving out permits to 5 or 6 apartment developments in the area. And Auburn is adding 5 apartment building that are near completion north of the station near the municipal airport and Lowe’s.
Which they are both doing
Development around Tacoma Dome will likely happen once light rail to Tacoma is completed or near completion.
Commuter rail, light rail, and heavy-rail metro all exist in equally dense areas around the world. The difference is that commuter rail tends to be less frequent, higher capacity, faster, and the stations tend to look like “train stations” rather than just a doorway into a mixed-use building (like Westlake station, Vancouver’s Granville station, London’s Leicester Square station).
light rail is in a terrible spot for Kent — not really near much (Kent-wise that is, the college is close)
I think the idea is to create a new town center from scratch. The zoning on the Kent side of 99 is pretty aggressive (200′). ST is occupying several large blocks around the station, so I’d imagine that area won’t really take off until those blocks turn into TOD post-construction.
Check out the first page here:
Kent is all for a large urban village around KDM Station and zoned a large area for it on its side of 99 and advocated or and advocated for Link to go down 99. Des Moines zoned the smallest token area that it could say it did something, and argued for Link on I-5 so it wouldn’t displace the strip malls and the low-budget immigrant businesses in them. ST sided with Des Moines and Federal Way and put Link on I-5 to avoid further angering the “no train on 99” folks who ended up voting against ST3 anyway (as the majority of South King did). (Federal Way also had another reason for wanting Link on I-5, because it believed it would give faster travel time to downtown Seattle.) There will be a station at 236th & 99, but we’ve long-term foreclosed the opportunity for infill stations at 216th and south of 240th. Way to go for a region that has a shortage of housing and walkable neighborhoods near high-capacity transit. But Kent did everything right this time.
To make Kent-Highline College Station work, a bus-only overpass on 240th should be built as a part of its construction. That would take buses out of the huge mess where Kent-Des Moines crosses PHS, I-5 and Military Road in about a quarter of a mile in three huge intersections.
Development in Auburn is tough. Besides cheap real estate, what, really, does it have to offer?
(Extrapolate this argument to Kent, Tukwila, Puyallup, etc.) Some serious master planning in sync with improvements to local transit service are needed to help spark the growth. Right now it is a run-down Safeway, a handful of mom and pop restaurants of low caliber and high failure rates, at the intersection of a half dozen slow milk run bus routes, next to a train station with a parking garage. All of the actual shopping is a mile away – too far to walk – at the Supermall. The YMCA is a mile away, next to a remote Boeing factory. These amenities belong downtown, not along an 8-lane car sewer. The one thing that it does have going for it is the hospital and a newly-opened nursing home.
Some actual thought needs to go into the long term development of Auburn, and it needs to draw jobs, retail, housing, dining, health care, groceries, and services into the downtown core. I would argue for a moratorium on new off-street surface lot parking, with all necessary interim parking on-street, within public right-of-way, with the ability for the City to ultimately withdraw that parking at some future date when a critical mass of residents within walking distance exists, for conversion to ultra-wide sidewalks or bikeways. The old milk-run bus routes need to be completely reworked. A moratorium on non-downtown commercial development over a specified square footage would certainly help as well. We have zoning laws for a reason. Stop allowing developers to build all of the jobs and services at remote difficult to reach locations.
No more long, circuitous routes that string back and forth through neighborhoods, or slowly trudge along from Burien to Auburn. Get people from the neighborhood centers that have already developed, in to downtown (Auburn, Lynnwood, Puyallup, etc). Regional express buses exist for a reason. We don’t need 20-mile long local buses.
This type of planning needs to be comprehensive, and the cities need to get developers on-board, with market studies to justify them, to spark further development. Anything less than a well-studied road map that an investor will buy in to will leave us with the hit-and-miss suburban development that we’ve all grown so accustomed to.
I stand corrected – the Supermall and the YMCA are approximately 2 miles from downtown. Even worse.
I haven’t been to Auburn, but Kent and Puyallup have good bones immediately around their stations. That goes a long way.
The Supermall never succeeded as an all-service mall. It has long been just cheap storefronts for large discount and startup businesses. I doubt many Auburn or Federal Way residents go to it regularly, or that it sucks potential business activity from downtown. Its main attraction is for businesses rather than their customers: specifically businesses that need low rent and large spaces. I visited a large gym/wrestling school there a few times when a friend got a membership. It obviously needs a large space for all the gym equipment and acres of mats. And as an independent startup the owner probably needed low rent.
As someone who has lived in Auburn for over a year and a half I can tell you that the city is looking to improve their downtown area as it has a lot of TOD potiental, the thing is that it’s just a slow process like it always is. But I’ve talked to neighbors and they’ve said that the current downtown is a major improvment in comparison to 10/15 years ago, the major thing that has helped is being that most of the bars in the area closed and it’s down to 4(technically 3 as one was shut down due to the building fire on main street a month ago). The other thing to remember is that a good chunck of land is railyard there as well south of Auburn.
Auburn might start to see things moving once light rail gets to Federal Way in my opinion
South King County’s biggest problem so far is lack of developer interest. It has also upzoned less than than Seattle or the Eastside, but developers haven’t filled even the few areas that have been upzoned. Seattle and Eastside grew some large percent the past decade, while South King County grew by just 1% I read. The reason is that the high-paying jobs are in Seattle and Bellevue-Redmond and those are the prestigious areas so that’s where demand goes to first, and they haven’t saturated enough for it to spread down to South King. An unfortunate corollary is that South King is suck with 1980s architecture which is even less walkable and transit-friendly than what’s being built now. So it’s an awful place to be without a car except in a very few areas. But regional growth shows no signs of stopping so it will eventually reach South King County.
Mike, I’m not going to call them “Streetcar Suburbs” anymore. Though the concept worked for decades before, like much else in America, they couldn’t compete with automobiles.
Now that the sheer number of cars is leaving people less “mobile” than when their suburbs were built around streetcars, I think previous development practice can revive too.
Same with the laws and regulations that made it possible to build development around rail. Exactly like we now do with arterials and highways. Given the number of awful residential choices which are only kind available to the waves of us refugees- many of whom WISH we had our former transit…
You might start to see more distant zoning commissions deciding they’ve got no choice to make the Wave be their Future. Important thing about my plan differs from current development pattern.
Instead of building steadily outward from our present ground, get ahead of the wave. So we’re ready for it to wash up on us. First choice of location, close to future LINK lines, or existing unused freight tracks from the past. And all future diamond lane plans, start designing ramps for ST Express.
But above all, design homes- and apartment buildings-and streets and avenues…so that if planned systems don’t arrive immediately, there’ll be nothing unsettlingly different than what average person is already used to.
Doubt anybody will get hostile about putting reinforced concrete pads with “blockouts” for rail under regular pavement. On a street-grid laid out so trains will go where they will be needed.
And short-term, design these lanes so you’ll have an ST-Express suburb from Day One. So rather than constantly having to adjust transit to fresh sprawl, get some already rail-ready homes in front of it.
Trains soon or late, we’ll have paying buyers and tenants from day we announce the plans. Whether we say “rail” or not. Though have a feeling though that a lot of us who could formally use express buses on I-5 now can’t, will find us a very preferable choice.
Thank you Lizz and STB for writing this. I think it is very important for articles like this to get us thinking about all of Puget Sound as part of our holistic housing and transportation problem. It is easy to blame cities like Renton and Kirkland as having short sighted leadership and saying it’s their own fault that they are getting left out of the rail network. But we need all these areas when it becomes too expensive for our service industry workers to live on Capitol hill or even Columbia City. While it is not nice to force low wage people to take a long train to get to work; it is definitely better than forcing them into homelessness.
Kent, Auburn, Shoreline, Puyallup can all support a lot of people if we can get those cities to get moving on the density, bus hubs, and bike/ped trails that will enable them to be bedroom communities. If we can get some late night and weekend Sounder runs, then those people can enjoy the city entertainment just like those that can still afford to live near downtown.
My son is graduating from college in June and is tired of sharing an insulation less attic in the U district with a roomate for $500 per month. He likes Seattle but can’t seem himself continuing to share a rundown house with 9 other guys when he starts his first grownup job. While he is going to be making money soon, he wants to start in a place a bit more livable and is looking for jobs in places like Anchorage and Spokane where he can afford his own place. We need to push all of our surrounding communties to figure out how to provide affordadble housing so everyone can stay here and contribute to our economy. I would miss him…
He’s in for a shock in Anchorage; the cost of living there is very high for the wages paid, except in the oil industry.
He’d better get to Spokane soon because prices are rising there too. The housing shortage is now statewide and nationwide. The demand is coming from pent-up demand from the recession, new children being born or graduating from college, and immigration. The supply is being suppressed by outdated zoning laws and NIMBY power that’s even worse than in Pugetopolis. The fastest-rising areas are the lower-priced ones adjacent to the last wave of increases, so South King County here. I don’t know about Snohomish and Pierce. The net result is that the price difference between South King County and Seattle/Bellevue is narrowing. It could end up being equal or remain somewhat lower depending on how exactly demand plays out.
The best urban city with reasonable housing costs is probably Chicago, because it allows development and density to match population fluctuations. And recently Chicago city has lost population slightly so there’s less competition for housing. When I was looking at it in the early 2000s to possibly move there, the cost of condos and apartments was comparable to Seattle. Now it’s a relative bargain. And Chicago has at least four times the amount of transit and walkable neighborhoods and cultural activities as Seattle. Although it has the cold winters, hot summers, and humidity that tipped the balance for me staying here. But if you can tolerate those things.
The best less-urban city with reasonable housing costs, well, Houston and Dallas are two of them.
Meanwhile, Detroit is the land of opportunity. A ready-to-move-in apartment with nearby transit and services is as expensive as anywhere else, bu there are still tons of run-down out-of-the-way houses to buy if you want to fix it up and homestead. Better bring a bike because transit is probably skeletal in those areas.
Maybe if the people in places like Mukilteo, Kent, Edmonds, etc, had dependable connector bus service, they wouldn’t be asking for more park and rides. This is not Seattle where people will ride their bike a few miles to get to a sounder or bus station.
But bus service of any kind, connector or express, depends for its reliability for specially-signaled lanes for itself only.
Unlike the current stations, I think East Link and Lynnwood will have several stations where the majority of riders will be transferring from buses.
A few examples:
145th – terminus of 522 BRT
185th – terminus of SWIFT I
MI / South Bellevue – terminus of most I90 routes
Bellevue downtown – terminus of 405 BRT and RR-B
The expansion of Link into the suburbs should make all day, frequent transit in the suburbs both cheaper (via truncation) and better (because of the ability to transfer to the Link network).
While this article focuses on the walkshed of suburban stations – which is certainly important – suburban buses will also be important. Several of these stations are designed for buses 1st and pedestrians 2nd, which will hinder the creation of TOD communities around these stations but might be the right decision from a ridership standpoint.
I think 145th is a great example of this. Shoreline has done some good stuff with zoning, but the presence of the I5 interchange plus Jackson park is always going to make that a difficult spot for “pedestrian oriented development.” The 145th station is optimized for buses, not pedestrians, which I think is the right design.
If 145th Station was optimized for buses, I agree it would be the right choice. However, it isn’t – the buses are forced to turn off the arterial into the traffic headed for the parking garage.
Metro and Community Transit already have plans to add frequent feeders with all the hours gained from truncating North Seattle, Shoreline, and Snohomish peak expresses.
The Eastside probably won’t have that advantage because it has fewer express buses, and many of them are Sound Transit so they’re already budgeted in ST3. But the Eastside is long overdue for a thorough reorganization, and the excellent Bellevue Transit Master Plan has already nudged the parties toward it.
South King County has not that many express buses that can be truncated, because it’s not time-effective to get from Auburn or Kent or Renton to go west to the Link stations and then north. So only the routes in the western side, in Des Moines and Federal Way can really be truncated. Metro plans to reorganize the 158/159 (Kent, KDM, Seattle) but will replace them with other Seattle-Kent, Seattle-Renton-Kent, and Seattle-Burien expresses going to SLU or West Seattle, so those hours won’t be available for feeders.
William C. is exactly right. That station (145th) is designed first for cars, then for terminating buses (i.e. the 522 only). Crosstown buses, which we need more of, and pedestrians are horribly served by the station’s location. It also defeats the possibility of altering the 522 to extend, say, into Shoreline and to Shoreline College (for example) should future growth and ridership demands warrant. I imagine there will be at least some demand for that trip on the 522’s route, and now there would be a minimum 5 minute penalty to pull into the station and back out onto 145th (likely more than that).
I’m much more hopeful that the design of the 130th St station will a) actually be at 130th, not two blocks one way or the other like 145th, and b) be located in such a way that you can access the station from either side of 130th without crossing the street. Hop off your bus going in either direction, and immediately enter the station.
It’s not only density but a mixed-use neighborhood that makes a one great. That means more than seven-story residential. It means hotels, government offices that serve the public, community centers, medical services and clinics, universities and schools, churches, supermarkets and restaurants, regional retail attractions, gyms — and even employers with workers that add vitality during the day including filling restaurants at lunch and filling trains with more commuters in a revserse commute. It’s important to not design a TOD like it’s being served by peak direction commuter rail (like Sounder) when the public has backed providing light rail (like Link).
Transit Oriented Development might be a little short-sighted; what we need to encourage are Transit Oriented Communities. The existing suburban model has a car for mom, a car for dad and a car for the teenagers to get to school and activities. That’s because there isn’t any viable transit service and the distances that need to be covered are too great for walking or even biking. Not every house in suburbia is going to have a frequent bus route within a 10 minute walk, but the burbs can do a better job of defining transit corridors and adjusting zoning to make frequent transit service viable.
Multistory, single occupancy domiciles might be appropriate in the dense urban core, but out in the suburbs they wouldn’t be as appropriate if there isn’t a good variety of businesses and community oriented activity zones close by. If downtown Auburn decides that it wants to be the bedroom for Seattle’s office workers, that doesn’t mean that downtown Auburn will become a walkable, vibrant and self-sustaining community. It means that there will be a huge rush to the train station at 630am and a huge rush away from the train station at 630pm. But between 630am and 630pm downtown Auburn will be dead, boring and lifeless. Auburn needs to create its own version of a Transit Oriented Community. But building tall buildings with dormitories for commuters might not be the best path forward.
Exactly why focusing on density *right beside* the (non downtown) stations may not be the best approach. A square mile neighborhood of 3-4 floor residences organically mixed with businesses and amenities in walking distance (“transit oriented community”) is more desirable than a “transit oriented development” mega apartment complex with some street level retail right beside the station but surrounded by “car sewers” and sprawl, where most residents will still feel they need to drive for most basic needs. Of course TODs tend to be premium developments which are more profitable for the big developers…. Pretty revealing that so many TODs come with large dedicated parking structures, no?
Anything that’s designed to be a convenient walk to transit and has its front door oriented toward the transit stop rather than on the other side makes it easier to use transit, and is thus transit-oriented development. The “square mile” community you describe could be TOD, or each building in it could be TOD, if it meets this criteria. It doesn’t have to be a highrise tower.
I have concerns about the “square mile” neighborhood though. If the station is on the edge of the neighborhood (since you seemed to rule out buildings right around the station), I don’t see how it can be as convenient as having the stations right around the station — especially for those living at the far end of the 1-mile area.
But I’m all for a 1×1 mile walkable district with a station i the center. That’s exactly what I’ve been advocating. Except that a 2×2 mile urban village is even better than a 1×1 mile urban village. That’s why I like Chicago’s North Side so much: it’s like multiple adjacent villages where you can live in any part of it and get the full experience in your individual walk circle, and because there are lots of activities in the several walk circles beyond it, you have easy access to those too, with a bike/bus/el ride.
Thank you, Liz, you’ve made my day. I’ve been bothering Martin for months about how we tackle the really key job for transit: readjusting and re organizing seventy years worth of sprawl.
Into a pattern that can be served by line-haul transit at all. Picture in my mind is sweeping (something valuable, not dirt) into discrete linear ridges, whose edges don’t have to be razor-sharp.
Or maybe plowing a field, or replanting a weed-lot into a series of crop-rows, or gardens, or strips of homes, parks, and the rest of human use. Leaving a lot of nature in between.
Someone familiar with land development, please help me here. Because to me, hard question is what to do with the thousands of acres’ full of houses. From experience over the years I’ve seen, especially from one generation to the next, people’s ideas change as to what they want to live in.
So perfectly possible is that if we build for more “density” – I want to be careful about that word, prefer “organized- that people can afford…2008 proves that not every house stays standing forever.
Also don’t like the word “affordable”, meaning well-deserved help. But also with unspoken assumption they’ll never again get wages that’ll let them afford a lot of things that present economy hasn’t provided in decades:
Starting with a choice about where they live, and about a lot of other things. So the more work-places and trade-training we can include along the rail lines. Which will make possible a choice of work places and training facilities that’ll also make it more likely they’ll choose to pay taxes for every public service.
To me, all this is real answer to present problem of ever more confined spaces that ever fewer places can afford to live in. Think of a region becoming a city with an increasing amount of room. Letting the forces of supply and demand work for everybody’s benefit.
Horrible thought that the ugly new buildings blocking the old ones I really miss…will someday be on the Historic Register, as part of Old Seattle. But sad truth is that Chief Seattle’s people felt about all those buildings forever eclipsed. And since I haven’t heard of them since maybe 1960, bet new jet plane design means that McChord and Langley can’t help re-beautify with a precision accidental sonic boom.
In case you haven’t seen them, Strong Towns is a big proponent of doing what you described: “readjusting and re organizing seventy years worth of sprawl.” While I don’t agree with 100% of their views (they can be weak on public transit and social justice), they do an excellent job of breaking down the economics of city infrastructure.
Preston, present weakness of just about everything public in our country owes to the fact that for thirty or forty years, since so much of our manufacturing jobs were robotized or outsourced, huge numbers of our people have had too little money to participate in our society.
My own working definition of poverty. We probably should have had the shooting revolution we could and maybe should have had in the early ’80’s when more of our factories got literally scraped off the face of the Earth.
Instead, we developed a suppressant that probably made the KGB bang its head against walls for being beaten by something so simple: Give everybody a credit card. In plain language, replacing wages with lifelong very high interest loans.
Which ever since have enabled people to have more TV sets and pickup trucks that the highest union wages ever made possible. Probably same term in any language: “Feeding a hooked fish.” Easier life than in the wild.
But hurts lie Hell if you make any decision of your own. Like escape or magically turn back into a human.
My own political remedy? Our country is literally, not metaphorically, falling apart. At the same time we have millions of people who have or swiftly get trained for the work. Shouldn’t take one tickle of “stimulus.” Just, whoever nobody’s private Business Plan needs…
We, the people, working through our Government- which we are supposed to own and control- just hire these people and start paying them. Franklin Roosevelt build infrastructure still with us today doing just that.
Less furious at Republicans. Even when they were mostly sane business people, they had problems with these projects. Present time, can’t swear the Democrats aren’t promising them now, on the five hundredth page of a thousand page platform.
But along with trading debt for wages, especially for students, this one has go to be top of the ticket. Very high-volume loud. Powerful rich opposition? Nothing new about that.
But have feeling a lot of business people now wish they didn’t have to compete with temps. Especially making kind of thing a transit system needs and can’t get.
And work that none of their suppliers can get right. So, Preston… if you have to, wait for next Open Thread.
I think of song towns as urbanism for places with limited economic growth. STB is operating in a region failing to cope with too much growth. So while the two sites align on cost saving urbanism like not mandating parking, they are on exact opposite sides on expensive transit investments.
It’s not “too much growth”. If we allowed Seattle to become more like Chicago, the problem could be solved. The suburbs could join in in a smaller way (to not get left behind in the economic growth).
Imagine a large urban village of mostly 3-10 story buildings, with scattered single-family houses, from Ballard to UW and the Ship Canal to 65th. That’s Chicago’s North Side, comparable to the Fullerton, Belmont, and Lawrence corridors. Very successful and highly desired, with enough housing for everybody. Seattle could easily accommodate a million people with reasonable zoning changes, and probably more than that.
Martin noted that Amazon’s growth was somewhat less than 45,000 people (the current size oh HQ1), and that gobbled up all the remaining housing capacity and cheap old housing and caused the biggest distortion in the housing markets and rent increases in Seattle’s history. If we’d had a plan like Chicago’s in pmlace or already built, we could have taken it in stride. Now Amazon wants to build HQ2 with 50,000 people? Why don’t we have a housing plan to accommodate a company that size, or even two if them for good measure. That’s the way to be “business friendly”. If we’d had that, maybe Amazon would have expanded here instead. Of course Amazon is also thinking about other things like where workers want to live and national immigration policy. But it also knew that another 50,000 expansion here would be far worse than the first one because all the slack in the housing market and cheap old buildings have been used up.
One of the things that frustrates me is this seemingly massive disconnect between medical facilities and our Link planning. We have current and planned Link stations with horrible connectivity to high-activity nearby medical facilities.
– We dropped the First Hill station, and created substitutes like FHSC and Madison BRT (certainly not a pleasant ride while standing on a sloped surface when one doesn’t feel well).
– After spending billions of dollars, we’re still not planning any high-speed, frequent, convenient regional connection to Harborview, our most important and largest hospital.
– We accepted the UW approach to University Medical Center being buffered from the UW light rail station and not put any action strategy in place to keep people from running across a wide street.
– We haven’t provided a safe way (pedestrian separation) to get across a wide 116th St NE in Bellevue to connect the Overlake medical centers with the Wilburton Station, or a safe way (pedestrian separation) to get across a wide NE 8th Street to get to the further Bellevue Transit Center Link Station.
– We’ve never prioritized how to better connect with the urban fortress known as Northwest Hospital from either Link or RapidRide.
– We even propose truncating routes that serve the Cherry Hill campus.
The craziest thing about these disconnects is that when more car-reliant people have medical visits — and have to have their eyes dilated or get minor surgery or treatment or are not feeling able to drive — we don’t offer good transit alternatives.
Is any agency willing to step up to the plate and spear-head a transit-to-medical report ith actions that can address this that doesn’t involve paratransit? Rather than a study focused on rail, a study focused on medical destinations even by PSRC would lend so muchh value to this disconnect.
“not put any action strategy in place to keep people from running across a wide street.”
Why should we? Do you want to post a cop there full-time to hand out citations? Make it even harder to cross and with longer waits like MLK? Force everyone to use the bridge which goes out of the way? In any case, I haven’t seen jaywakers on Montlake Boulevard. I hesitate to say zero but I can’t remember any at all. There are four lanes of high-speed cars so that deters most people. And it doesn’t have the low-income, east coast demographic like 90th & Aurora where people just walk across a six-lane highway. (I saw one guy that got hit by a car and went up in the air but somehow managed to come down on his feet and continue walking.)
People don’t jaywalk across Montlake, but many do run across to beat the walk signal and not have to wait the full light cycle. Especially people trying to get to work or an appointment *on time* or catch a bus connection.
Yeah, I wait at that intersection at least twice a day (Montlake and Pacific) and I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone jaywalk there. There’s rarely a gap in cars big enough to cross, and they’re going fast. People wait to cross or use the bridge, and it’s not an issue.
I’m sorry you’ve never had a chance to experience the much, much better subway stations in Vancouver or many parts of San Francisco.
Or Toronto. The Lawrence West subway station is also a bus terminus, and if you transfer from the subway to a bus they don’t even bother collecting a fare because you’re still inside the station and thus presumably a transferee.
The DC Metro’s Pentagon City station has a mall right at the station, with maybe a trivial one-block walk in between. I think there’s an office-building entrance from the mezzanine. Chicago’s Library and Merchandise Mart stations go right to the library and the multipurpose commercial building, like Benaroya Hall sharing an entrance with Link.
That wait for the crossing signal has made me miss my Link-to-bus transfer several times. That turns the “extremely minor time penalty” into at least 15 minutes, more if the 45 is inexplicably running 7 minutes late at 9 PM.
From my observations jaywalking is quite common at the Pacific Pl/Pacific St intersection slightly further north, near where the 45 ends its route and lays over. I’ve been guilty of this more than once, even though that’s actually a convenient place to use the ped overpass.
Is it more common in the early morning and late evening when there are large breaks in traffic?
good bones = tight street grid = town center developed before WWII. The Lynnwood Link and Federal Way stations will be in the I-5 envelope. That will limit redevelopment. Freeways are to pedestrians as dams are to fish.
recall the recent and good STB editorial about Lynnwood Link parking. ST has a fiscal crisis. The funds would be better spent on service; the land better used for housing next to Link.
So something I’m not sure I’ve seen mentioned here before that impacts development outside of Seattle, whether it be near Link, Sounder, or bus lines is that usually, if ever, developments are not 100% owner financed. They have to get loans to help build, which means the banks are expecting a certain amount of cash flow to be generated by the building to insure their investment is safe. So because the costs (labor, materials, land, etc.) are the same or very close throughout the region, but the rent you can charge in, say, Auburn or Tacoma, is going to be less than in Seattle, the bank won’t lend the money, hence little development. Rents have gone up in Tacoma, so now we have lots of new apartments going up here.
I don’t have a solution, just wanted to point that out. I think as we build higher quality transit that equation with the financing and rents will change. But you can’t really expect anyone to pay a premium price to live in a mixed use building near a future Link station location or current Sounder station if by doing so they are currently not served well. If you build it, they will come, right?
For what it’s worth, I recently spent a couple of days in the Vancouver, BC metro area. Frankly TransLink’s many bus routes feeding the numerous light rail stations – plus having most light rail stations without parking garages but rather stations that are either low impact (e.g. most of the Canada Line stations like Yaletown) or attract development like shopping malls, condos & hotels such as Metrotown Station.
I’d like to see for the Lynnwood and Paine Field stations a clear emphasis on short walks – preferably 100% covered – from the buses to the light rail. I’d also like to see a lot more effort to bring commercial enterprises like hotels and malls to light rail stations as ST2 & ST3 build out.
Vancouver is a model for the rest of North America.. Its highlights include Metrotown (a mall with a lot of TOD housing and businesses around it, and the center of the entire suburban area including north to Simon Fraser University), and downtown Surrey (a satellite city planted in the 1990s). And the small clusters of highrise towers around several Expo Line stations in east Vancouver and New Westminster.
I haven’t seen the Canada Line because it didn’t exist when I was last there in 2006, but I saw the towers in Yaletown, which had been recently been built. It was previously an industrial dock area like San Francisco SOMA and the London Docklands, whose industries had disappeared. My friend had a Yaletown studio condo and owned a small video store in another mixed-use building three blocks away. His employee lived in the second building, and when he moved away he sold the business to her. I went up there one weekend a month, and you could walk to evening activities and his partner’s workplace and C$1 pizza slices at 1am, and of course the video store. Bands played up the street and a Skytrain ride away on Commercial Drive/Victoria Drive. The West End west of it has had tons of condos for forty years. And lots of moderate-income people owned them. I couldn’t believe the seemingly high-end buildings people lived in right off Granville Street. But in the early 2000s you could get a 13th-floorcondo with a breathtaking view for US$75K. And the downtown/West End area is very self-contained because everything you need is there, including large supermarkets and natural food stores on Davie Street, right in the urban village. The ironic weakness turned out to be that so many people lived in central Vancouver that a lot of them reverse-commuted to the outskirts for work, so the reverse commute was larger than the forward commute. But Skytrain helps with that.
You should also see the Kitsilano area; e.g., Broadway west of Granville to Alma, further north on the parallel 4th Street, and the waterfront beach with a long bike trail. The Canada Line must stop there now. But it’s all mostly lowrise: duplexes and 4-story apartments. It proves that a lot of people can fit into lowrise, and it still has the character of a residential neighborhood like Wallingford. So we don’t have to be scared of it. And I hear that the Canda Line is so popular that Kevin Desmond, TransLink’s director and former Metro general manager, is concerned about its long-term capacity and the eventual need to lengthen underground stations (which are shorter than Link, more like 2-car or 1-car trains).
Thanks Mike. Much appreciate.
a) I recommend you take Bolt Bus & use AIRBNB for lodging to travel on a budget to Vancouver, BC. AIRBNB even has some condos available…
b) Yes, you’re right Canada Line is in need of expansion already. IT was built to budget & a hard schedule of being ready by the 2010 Olympics, not future need. Start here.
Metrotown is impressive. Most impressive! Northgate and Lynnwood, pay attention. Kitsilano area shows you don’t need to have high rises and you can have neighborhood charm together with walkability and urbanism.
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