I-5 southbound traffic approaching Mercer Street

This is an open thread.

60 Replies to “News Roundup: Not Transforming”

      1. The Lyft/Uber “Livable Cities” link also goes to the Urbanist article about NE 65th st.

        Sorry to keep pestering you.

  1. That Chuck Collins article blows my mind. Its central conclusion is that cities are dead, cities aren’t densifying, and jobs are increasingly spreading out. How can anyone look at post-recession Seattle and actually see that?!?

    1. The data shows that suburbs are growing faster than cities, particularly in the sun belt. What’s happening in Seattle – the city growing faster than the ‘burbs, growing transit ridership, etc. – is the opposite of national trends.

      1. Well, when you make it illegal to build more housing in the city (which is true in most cities in the country, especially in the sunbelt), people will move to the suburbs due to lack of choice.

        If the city’s ringed in by mountains or something so that the suburbs aren’t an option, then they’ll live in illegal sublets in the city, of course.

        Here in Ithaca, NY, the city population basically grows as fast as apartment buildings are built, which happens as fast as the zoning code is changed to allow them to be built. It can’t happen faster than that, because it’s illegal to build more housing than that in the city. In most of the surrounding rural areas it’s still legal to build housing. Despite this, people want to live in the city, and the pricing shows this very clearly.

      2. The Sunbelt has no urban growth boundaries, so there’s no limit on development, it’s just the horizontal kind instead of the vertical kind.

        And that’s the reason why in the 90s and early 00s land was being gobbled up by housing at four times the population growth.

    2. Yes, I can’t tell which article you’re talking about.

      The phenomenon is as AJ says. Pugetopolis, and perhaps most blue tech cities, are behaving the opposite of the national average.A large and ever-increasing percentage of the population live in the Sunbelt and southwest, and that weights the average.

      1. Along with everyplace else on earth except some mountain towns in Portugal- reason the Southwest has wider dispersal is there’s room to put it.


    3. People have to live someplace, and if zoning doesn’t allow for more housing in the core city then there aren’t any other options.

      1. True, Glenn, but there’s a right and a wrong way to do anything. Major proof of bad land-use is that after a year or two, everybody’s freedom to travel is sheer number of cars.

        Like children’s toys, housing, offices, machine shops, and schools work better when they’re not kicked all over the floor.


  2. I used to get the Uber pass. It was $2.49 for UberPool and $4.49 for regular Uber. This was for any ride within the city of Seattle as well as as far east as Downtown Bellevue, northeast to downtown Kirkland, north to Shoreline and south to Burien. There is no way it remotely made any money so I have no clue what it was accomplishing. I used it often to go to Ballard from Capitol Hill, it took 45 mins.

    1. Yeah, UberPass essentially is the Uber company subsiding your ride. Which is probably why they discontinued it.

      When you ride for full price, the company does make money (25% of the fare, to be exact).

  3. For first time, really regret leaving Metro before I could collect my pension. Nobody warned me I’d be giving up enough money to buy a helicopter.

    Mark (former Transit Operator 2495) Dublin

  4. The Ballard Blocks projects, both of them, are head scratchers.

    You have Ballard Blocks I, which is essentially a giant parking garage with a few tenants, pretty much all mediocre California chains, which might explain the giant parking garage. It’s also what greets people coming into Ballard: a large concrete, monolithic parking garage, with a giant “LA Fitness” neon sign. Not exactly the epitome of smart urban design, but that was 10 years ago, when Seattle was entering the recession and population growing pains was something you’d laugh about while walking by vacant storefront after vacant storefront to your $1200/month two bedroom apartment.

    Now you have the Ballard Blocks II, which consists of scattered, low rise retail, with surface parking (!!!) and a large amount of plaza space. Again, not exactly the epitome of smart urban design and more akin to something you might see in Southern California, Texas or Florida. Considering the proximity to extremely frequent transit, how does this project not include 6 stories of housing above the retail? How did this even get permitted like this?

      1. Seattle zoning is not a static entity. I understand that industrial zoning is protected and not easily changed, but I seriously don’t believe that the Ballard Blocks I & II meet the spirit of industrial zoning, although it does have West Marine as a tenant. It’s almost like the City attempting to slowly dilute the industrial areas until there’s no one left to fight to keep the zoning as protected.

      2. The Big Five a couple blocks away doesn’t win any awards either. That’s why I’m ambivalent about industrial zoning. We should protect viable manufacturing, trade, and logistics capacity that can’t compete with luxury developers and would have to move to the exurbs or close if they weren’t protected with industrial zoning. But on the other hand I don’t want non-viable industrial land to become a dumping ground for suburban-style big-box stores and chain stores with large surface parking lots: that’s not what we’re protecting it for. I was concerned about the move of car dealerships from downtown to SODO because I don’t want to protect it for that either, but on the other hand I’m impressed with the multistory dealerships that have managed to create density rather than sprawl. If we must have car dealerships, then multistory buildings in SODO may be the best way to do it.

      3. There is something to be said for car dealerships with good transit access. Many trips require picking up or dropping off a car, which leaves transit for the other half of the trip.

    1. Another question is where is the above ground rail alignment going to go? You have massive recently completed developments on both sides of 15th along with even more development going in like Blocks II.

      At what point is ROW acquisition and tear downs of recently built developments gong to surpass the incremental $200 million estimated for tunnel construction? What will the public acceptance be of tearing down a grocery store and childcare facility that are just being built.

      Back of the envelope math on those parcels and it seems like we are already there, not to mention the escalation in ROW acquisition cost over the next 10-15 years.

      1. If it were me I would put it above the BNSF yard. It’s long but not that wide and no one would really care about aesthetics under the structure that much.

      2. Good luck with BNSF. Nothing would add to project cost overruns like the cost of acquiring air rights from Buffet. Given STs record on negotiating with BNSF on Sounder this would be a lose-lose situation. Another reason the alignment will likely be adjacent to 15th which will put it in direct conflict with rapid Ballard development on both sides of 15th once it crosses the ship canal.

        Pursuing a bridge instead of a tunnel will go down as one of the worst financial decisions made by ST.

      3. Putting something above the main line is a bit different than adding traffic to it. There are already several bridges over the main line.

      4. One occasional bridge opening is nothing compared to MLK. On MLK Link is forced to slow down to car speed for five miles, it can’t run more than every six minutes, and it’s closed for hours whenever a truck or person wanders onto the tracks and gets hit by a train.

  5. Is the Sound Transit bit about the Northgate ‘floating’ rails a transcript of a video I’m not seeing? It’s horribly written, like someone was transcribing verbatim what a marketing person was rambling on with about the subject. The only details given were mentioned in passing.

  6. Man, it made my day to see somebody else as completely infuriated as I’ve been for about six months after being “warned’ I could get fined $124. No more wrong taps- I’m forgiven after a year.

    Offense? Decided to have dinner in Columbia City, and then continue my ride from International District to Angle Lake. Because I forgot to “Tap Off”, when I “Tapped On” it registered as a “Tap Off.” Which, in spite of the monthly pass I’ve carried for twenty years, made a Fare Evader out of me.

    Same charge, same fine, as if I’d been caught trying to deliberately cheat the system out of money. Incidentally, a fact I can’t find printed ONCE on any system posting or literature. Oh and one more little thing.

    Been told that if I hadn’t tried to be a good citizen and “Tap On” after failure to “Tap Off”, I would’ve been safe for another hour, because system gives you that much time to ride anywhere. Just so you DON’T “Tap Off”.

    Again, not mentioned anywhere a passenger can find it. And absolute bat-bazoony response I’ve gotten from ST: Well, read the RCW’s on all signs, and Page-Whatever in the schedule book. RCW’s?!! For transit passengers? Whoever issued that one, go back to Dr. Frankenstein and have him tell Igor to pour fertilizer down your neck ’til you grow a brain!

    Incidentally, RCW’s tell me that Sound Transit can write rules “but not limited to”….with no mention of this one.

    But…. if I buy a paper All-Day Pass for a few dollars- which I definitely do now before boarding any LINK train, and save my ORCA for buses…. all I have to do is show an inspector my little tag of cardboard, and I can get on and off anyplace I want any time, just so the train is actually stopped at a station before I try to get the doors open.

    Am told this whole pile of organic fertilizer has to do with apportioning money between ST’s member agencies. I’m charged with theft for an accounting error! Would any department store have DARED? Incidentally, I’ve also been told that Sound Transit doesn’t get a dime by way of compensation for my crime. The Court system gets it all. It’s purpose is to make an example of me.

    So Urbanist, thanks for “Taking the point” on this one. I think you’ve got my e-mail. Would like to meet you personally and help you do what’s needed. I’ve spent over 30 years building our transit system, and up ’til recently been very proud of it. We’re better than this.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Agree completely. Someone with a monthly pass in their pocket should never, ever be given a ticket for fare evasion. I don’t care if your failure to tap might mean Metro gets a dollar or two that Sound Transit might have gotten; surely a fair number of folks tap their cards wrong on buses and make money flow in the other direction. A transit agency’s internal accounting procedures should not be the rider’s problem.

    2. There was an article in CityLab about this in Cleveland. A Cleveland judge ruled that you have to intend to evade your fare before you can be fined for it.

      If you buy a monthly unlimited pass, that is the very definition of NOT EVADING your fare.

      1. Thanks, Baselle. Let me make some inquiries around Seattle to see what’ll be needed legally to make same thing happen here as in Cleveland.

        Starting with finding out why somebody hasn’t done same thing long before now. Have been thinking that so few people have actually been fined, most people can live with it. If this isn’t the case….

        Any experience of suggestions, badly needed. ‘Til I can get something posted- let’s take advantage of every open thread. For the sake of Sound Transit itself, best we take care of this before Steve O’ban does.


      2. “…what’ll be needed legally to make same thing happen here as in Cleveland.”

        I would imagine it would take someone actually, you know, going to court. Buying a day pass on top of a pass you already have won’t get that ruling. If it happens to you, I’ll contribute to your legal fees assuming nobody will take that case pro bono.

        I agree completely that it is simply wrong to even threaten someone who holds a valid pass with a fine, which is a major reason I’ve been a proponent of fare gates either in actuality or in effect (as at Sea-Tac) – nobody is going to forget to tap there. However, if no one fights it, no one fixes it. Clearly talking to the ST board – and I assume here that you (and others) have – isn’t working.

      3. ST says the minimum it can fine is $124 because the courts won’t enforce anything less, but then how can traffic tickets be a third that? Are they in a different court with a lower minimum?

      4. A Fare evasion citation is a class 1 civil infraction under WA statutes. The citation would be adjudicated in a district court in King, Snohomish or Pierce County. The maximum penalty by law for a class 1 infraction is $250 but Metro, CT and ST impose the minimum of $124 which covers court costs and a base penalty. Sound Transit receives no revenue from said citations as the court retains the fines paid.

        Traffic and parking citations issued by local law enforcement are adjudicated at municipal and district courts depending on whether the local jurisdiction has a municipal court and where the citation occurs. (One can really get into the weeds on this subject matter so I’ve provided a few resources at the end of this post.) The bottom line is that civil infractions adjudicated by the district courts are controlled by a set of rules established by the legislature and penalties that are set by the WA supreme court. Municipal courts that adjudicate local citations are not bound by these rules/penalties other than “keeping with the philosophy”. In practice, local codes keep fines lower for such things as parking infractions.

        (Note the mandatory add-ons called for in the statute.)

        (See section 6.2)


  7. Don’t pooh-pooh self driving vans too much. Sure, they won’t work for Seattle, but they could be great for outer suburbs. The existing but route serving Gig Harbor runs once an hour – switch to a self-driving van and you could run it every 15 minutes, probably for the same cost. This would be a vast improvement in service to areas like that, and would prompt more people to ride.

    1. Any reason your couldn’t give 15 minute service with a human driver- who might prevent a few more drownings and off-a-cliff drops than its competition. So just pay somebody and live with it. Sentence with more than one meaning. Hope you pick the one that doesn’t require a Coast Guard helicopter to save your life.


      1. My point exactly. There’s no way in hell any transit agency will be a bunch of drivers to go thru Gig Harbor every 15 minutes, especially one that only has a single route in a city of 200,000 with that kind of frequency.

    2. Self driving vans make sense in the city too. In general, the writer just made one big mistake: He forgot about transfers.

      Imagine a city like Seattle, with self driving vans on every major corridor, every five minutes or so. Places like 32nd Ave NW, which has only rush hour service would have vans every five minutes. Other corridors (like NW 65th Street) which are tough for buses to handle get vans every five minutes. Bigger corridors (like Greenwood Avenue) would have buses much of the day, but eventually transition to vans late at night. The buses and vans operate as a grid, which is very efficient. It means that lots of trips involve transfers, but with five minute headways, that really doesn’t matter.

      Now consider the alternatives. If the vans are full, then folks who are picked up first have to wait as it goes out of its way back and forth to serve people. If the vans only have one rider, then you’ve built a very inefficient system.

      Self driving vehicles make a lot of sense for building a very cost effective, high quality transit system in the future. But the basic geometric realities (build a grid and accept transfers) remain the same.

      The only place where point to point vehicles wouldn’t make sense are when the streets are pretty much deserted. Even then it would likely tie in to the network (take an automated taxi-cab to the bus/train stop).

    1. I agree. Lots of interesting stories on various topics, many of which I probably wouldn’t come across were it not for these weekly roundups.

  8. With regards to car sharing in Vancouver, if you take a look at the Car2Go home area map, it’s not nearly as impressive as it looks. Their home area is restricted to a small area near the Vancouver town center, which basically means that you can only take a Car2Go for a one-way trip if you’re confined to area with such excellent transit that you don’t need the car to take you there in the first. Worse, the home area in North Vancouver ends about a half mile shy of a major transit center, which makes using the bus to “extend” the range of a Car2Go unnecessarily difficult.

    That said, their rates are a fair bit cheaper there than in Seattle, considering that they’re priced in Canadian dollars, not U.S. dollars.

    1. The UBC Car2Go lot is huge, but it’s the only place in Vancouver I’ve seen a Car2Go.

      They may have a lot of ZipCar and similar day rentals because of the number of people that go without cars and the difficulty of getting to some of the tourist areas outside the city without a car. I don’t see Uber etc helping with that as ride hailing for that type of trip is pretty expensive.

  9. Whats the assumption for ST3 stations for West Seattle – Downtown – Ballard… under the street or acquire property like Roosevelt & Capitol Hill then redevelop? Certainly not a lot of available large parcels to be acquired that haven’t already been snatched up by developers.

    Could a station be built under 15th & Market or would traffic impacts during construction kill that? Or assuming Ballard Safeway as a station location?

    1. The problem with the Safeway lot is, somehow, the train tracks would have to cross 15th (since the available space in Interbay is west of 15th). There is no clear place to do this, and you certainly don’t want the trains crossing a major arterial at grade. The Wallgreens lot seems more likely.

      Ideal of course, would be an elevated or underground station, with entrances on all four corners of 15th and Market, so people from any direction would not need to wait for the stoplights to access the train.

      I’m not holding my breath for this to happen, though.

  10. 1) []

    2) Finally got a chance to ride the Proterra electric bus today. Not too wild about the smell of electronics an air freshener could fix or all the road noise, but the bus sure doesn’t put out the CO2/Carbon Dioxide or CO/Carbon Monoxide or other harmful gases and have the noise of a diesel engine. I’m really amazed how quickly the buses recharge. Pics going up this weekend…

  11. You win, Dondegroovily, I give up! Found proof of a well-tried vehicle technology that can not only handle Gig Harbor safely, but make our whole freeway system driverlessly free. And note especially the de-wirement-proof power collector.

    Major plus for Gig Harbor too. Giant cushions will keep the passengers going “wheee” all the way off the cliff into the water, and grabbing the hand-cranks to take a whirl around the harbor. Before crawling up a ramp like the “Ducks” in Seattle!

    Also, making these machines the size of vans will be excellent first step to create actual cushioned fish trucks that’ll bounce and roll over as if their name is Fido, and at worst have to be towed across Lake Washington or Elliott Bay, whichever one they go bouncing into. Almost like it was a bridge.


    Will passengers get free cotton candy, or, to save money, stale “Jack in the Box” left over from World War II? But greatest thing of all will be that since nobody will be able to use a lap-top while colliding with all those other vehicles, IT employees will finally be able to ride to work and back like Earthlings.

    Not those pathetic clones trapped aboard white slave-buses with black windows, owned by the High Treen of Zorkon. Which is their name for San Jose. Remulak is already trade-marked. I’ve checked.


    1. Is this the same Surrey Downs that held it up for a year? Why, yes it is, Thank you Surrey Downs for making other Bellevue residents wait a year to take Link. As for “changing the character of the neighborhood”. I would call rapid transit an improvement. And you could have gotten the station at SE 8th Street if you’d played your cards right. Oh, and why is it going along 112th in the first place? Because one of your anti-train allies, Kemper Freeman, objected to putting it on Bellevue Way in front of his mall. That was the best place for it with the most multifamily housing in south Bellevue, plus lots of mall shoppers, and then you wouldn’t have a train in Surrey Downs at all. (Or a station at Main Street.)

      1. Agreed. Bellevue Way was the way to go, but of course that ship sailed long ago for the reasons you cited.

        I don’t believe that the issue of eminent domain and restrictive covenants has become before the SCOTUS since the Kelo decision, but I may be mistaken on this. Nevertheless, the majority of cases around the country that have dealt with this issue, at the state supreme court and appellate levels, have basically said that such covenants are a property right and as such are compensable in a condemnation action.

        So it basically comes down to the compensation level. If a jury awards compensation that exceeds ST’s highest offer, which appears to be just $300, by 10% or more, then ST would be required to pay attorney fees and court costs on top of the jury award. My guess is that ST won’t take that gamble and will up their offer before the case goes to trial.

        Having gone through a condemnation action on my own property, I know very well the kind of hardball that gets played by the condemning authority.

    1. And just in case this is misunderstood, since that’s the way society is nowadays, here’s the context behind the phrase. I’m not implying anything about the columnist’s religion.

      In Roth’s novel “The Plot Against America,” noted anti-Semite Charles Lindbergh defeats FDR in the 1940 presidential election and then starts doing all kinds of insidious little things to American Jews. Anyway, in the run up to the election, one central character, a prominent collaborationist rabbi, endorses Lindbergh for president. Another character remarks that the rabbi is “koshering Lindbergh for the goyim,” that is, voters who ordinarily would have been uneasy voting for an anti-Semite now can rest easy about their decision because a prominent Jewish leader said it’s okay.

      That’s what this is. “Hey, look, not wanting any newcomers in Fremont can’t be so bad if a (clearly rather wealthy) newcomer agrees with us!”

      As a (markedly less wealthy) corporate transplant who moved to Seattle around the same time as the columnist, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

    2. “There is zero rock ’n’ roll in our lives, but despite this, we bought a house in Fremont because we loved the quirkiness of this one-time countercultural neighborhood with all its art, nightlife and naked bike riding — activities we don’t participate in but feel cooler for having nearby.”

      Great. we should allow as many other people as we can to have that opportunity too. It’s not your private amenity for a small minority.

      “Zoning laws aside, is it even reasonable to cram 26 efficiency units and three additional apartments on just two lots? … Yet at some point, we must put our collective foot down to insist on non-steerage accommodations for our fellow man.”

      What other solution do you have to build larger apartments that people who can’t afford a $700K house can afford, and ensure they are all in as great a neighborhood as Fremont?

    3. Until about half-way through that op-ed, I thought author was being satirical. Then I realized she was being totally serious. Given that she thinks people shouldn’t live on narrow streets, or hills, or—heaven forfend!—hilly narrow streets, I imagine she’s quite new to an environment like Seattle.

  12. I wonder how much money Metro could rake in if they took the exterior bus camera footage, correlated it with times when buses are known to be near stops where they get stuck by scofflaws failing to yield, and mailed a ticket to each car owner with a readable license plate. Doesn’t even have to be automated – I bet they could cover a person’s salary and then some.

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