This is an open thread.

28 Replies to “News Roundup: Fourplexes Citywide”

  1. I had a thought about carbon taxes. It seems like people think of CO2 taxes as somewhere between a sin tax and a little green goody basket. WA’s failed ballot initiative a year ago was a little sin tax. It was small, designed to slightly discourage CO2. By the fact that it was supposed to replace some sales tax, we can infer the writer expects us to release lots of CO2 for the foreseeable future. Jay Inslee’s more recent failed CO2 tax proposal was more of the goody sort. It had money for some CO2 lessening projects, and a little money for helping those impacted, and a little money for the schools. Again, there are ongoing costs being paid for by emissions we hope to eliminate. Basically these taxes are too small to have a major impact, both in CO2 emissions, or on CO2 reducing investments. But now we end up having a perverse incentive to maintain emissions because that is how we fund some government programs.

    If we actually want a CO2 tax, we should do it right.
    1rst, it should only fund capital projects. All those projects should be part of a plan transition off CO2 completely.
    2nd, we need to combine that tax with government decisions which don’t encourage emissions. For example, government is expanding the airport, despite the huge amount of emissions. Government is building a convention center, a business centered on people flying across the country. Government mostly allowed buildings to small to be well served by transit or tall enough to need steel, a carbon intensive material. Etc etc. A carbon tax can’t transition people of carbon if the other half of government keeps encouraging it.

    1. The purpose of an environmental tax (on carbon emissions, pollution, etc) is to make undesired activities more expensive, and to compensate the public for externalized harms. There are two forms: revenue-neutral and revenue-positive, In the revenue-neutral form the money is refunded to all residents. This has the net effect of transferring money from high-carbon users to low-carbon users, and can be seen as the public’s “dividend” for its ownership in the environment, and again as compensation for the envrironmental harms the polluters cause. (Although is it really possible to fully compensate somebody for poisoning them and shortening their life?) The revenue-positive alternative spends the money on something, which could be carbon-reducing projects or something unrelated.

      Another paradigm is cap-and-trade, where the government sets a carbon limit and auctions tradeable permits within it, and reduces the limit over time. I’m suspicious of this because it seems easier to game. Taxes are transparent, and entities either pay them or get sued. But it’s harder for the public to tell if some well-connected entity gamed the cap-and-trade system or wrote loopholes into the law because it’s not something familiar in everyday life. However, its propoents say that cap-and-trade addresses the issue directly: limiting carbon emissions, while a tax only affects it indirectly (people may decide paying the tax is worth it and emissions won’t go down).

      We had a revenue-neutral initiative and if failed epicly. The next thing will probably be a revenue-positive plan, spending the money on poor people and high-minority areas. People think it has a better chance because the leftists are more numerous and organized. (The reason for the revenue-neutral initiative was that it would attract borderline tax-adverse people, who didn’t want any money going to a government bureau or to social programs. But they voted against the initiative anyway, so the tactic didn’t work.) And the proponents argue that poor and minority neighborhoods are collectively the ones hurt the worst by carbon emissions, and have to drive dirty cars because they can’t afford anything else and transit is skeletal and doesn’t go everywhere they go.

      So the biggest issue is political acceptability. A bill that dedicates all revenue to carbon-reduction projects might not get the support of the leftists because the poor have needs now and can’t wait decades for these carbon-reduction projects to make a substantial difference. At least that’s my guess.

      Canceling airport and convention center projects would be a knee-jerk reaction. What we need is robust ground transit like other countries have, so that people don’t think flying is the only reasonable alternative. Medium-speed rail from Vancouver to Eugene and Seattle to Spokane should be able to eliminate at least half of short-distance flights if it’s done right.

      As for convention centers, it’s more complicated than that. Local people attend conventions too, and when you add more convention centers in a fixed area (the United States) it doesn’t necessarily mean more people will travel further, it could be that they travel less far, or that there are two national conferences (“West” and “East”). I’ve attended a conference almost annually since 2000; it started at 150 people and ended up at 500, 1000, 1500, 2500, 3500, and is now supplemented by large regional and local conferences with hundreds of people each. And the demographics of the national conference change depending on where its held: half the people won’t travel outside their region (northeast, southeast, California). Some people like me travel far to wherever it is, others won’t (or their companies won’t send them).

      Seattle, in case you haven’t noticed, has become a tech hub, and tekkies generated a lot of conferences, both in technical fields (computer stuff) and outside (Comicon, Maker Faire, etc). By having the ability to have more conferences here and larger ones, it means people here won’t have to travel to them, and companies may be more willing to sponsor conferences that the wider public is interested in.

      1. A major reason we should cancel freeway-expansion projects and even contract current freeways and highways is that it’s impossible to conceive of a future where we drive as much as we do and cut carbon emissions to a sustainable level, even with very optimistic assumptions about electric car uptake.

        A major reason we should cancel airport-expansion projects and even consider contracting existing airports is that it’s impossible to conceive of a future where we fly as much as we do and cut carbon emissions to a sustainable level, even with very optimistic assumptions about the carbon footprint of flying.

        If we’re not planning, designing, and building for a sustainable future we’re planning for failure.

      2. There are a lot of factors that go into what is the right amount of airport capacity and highway capacity for Pugetopolis, and it would take a team of experts to sift through that and figure out how much we need. We should start asking that question, but I don’t think amateur transit fans can come up with the number ourselves; that’s what I mean about a knee-jerk reaction like cancelling the airport-expansion plan or eliminating the airport entirely. Instead what needs to happen is planners and legislators need to change their values and criteria. Rather than building highway capacity based on what the SOV market will bear, design it for enough capacity for emergency vehicles, transit, people making deliveries and moving bulky things, the disabled who can’t walk to a bus stop, and then add a moderate amount for discretionary trips. The same principle applies to airports, although I don’t know the factors as well. Basically you want to allow a moderate number of overseas trips and cross-country trips without people feeling they can fly to Vegas cheap for the weekend at the drop of a hat.

        But this is kind of an impractical debate because the majority of the state does not agree with limiting consumers’ choices for sustainability reasons, so you’re not going to be able to cancel the airport expansion or contract highways in the near term. What we can do is try to get the public and legislators to adopt different values, or change the names in the legislature seats, then the rest will happen on its own.

      3. Continuing along with the idea of “pugetopolis” as a possible future is also planning for failure, where climate change is concerned. We should have killed that notion dead a long time ago, because there’s simply no way you can eliminate car-dependence across such an enormous area with such a low population density. But… humanity as a whole seems to have decided that failure is an acceptable outcome, where climate change is concerned, given the lateness of the hour and the ongoing absence of anything which resembles a concerted effort to deal with the issue; so perhaps a little more unsustainable suburban sprawl cluttering up the landscape around Seattle and Tacoma won’t actually make any difference in the long run.

      4. @Mike: You’re going about this totally backwards.

        “Discretionary” trips (i.e. trips some arbitrary person calls “discretionary”) aren’t the only ones with some elasticity. Patterns of production and freight movement, patterns of land-use and commuting, patterns of personal consumption and living standards… these things have continuously changed over time, constrained often by natural resource limits. When someone tells you so much road capacity, airport capacity, or convention-center capacity is needed for a city they do so by making particular assumptions about all these patterns based on our current way of life, not by reasoning about any inherent needs our civilization has. When a high-dollar expert planner from the road-building industry, from the air-travel industry, from the convention industry, tells you so much capacity is needed, they’re “laundering” those assumptions through the technical language of their fields.

        We’ve seen the road-building experts turn out to be famously wrong, even by their own standards, many times when supposedly necessary roads have been removed (sometimes intentionally and sometimes not) and the predicted disaster failed to ensue. The convention experts have been wrong many times, too, on the other side (convention centers built with major public funds sitting unused) but they haven’t received as much international scrutiny for it. But that’s not even getting at the heart of the matter. We have lived, and lived well, with less capacity to move people and freight, by commuting less, traveling less, and manufacturing more closer to home. We have lived well while consuming less and disposing of less. The story of those times is not a tale of endless and meaningless toil… or at least hardly more so than ours today!

        The one, big, inherent constraint right now, the “iron law” of our time, is climate change. Malthus’ “iron law” was broken by (broadly speaking) improvements to productivity and efficiency within our civilization. With carbon/methane/etc. we surely have seen efficiency gains, but nothing to echo humans’ ability to increase productivity as we’ve grown — we’re stuck with the same carbon budget forever. Carbon is the most serious threat to our future as a thriving civilization and its math is dead-simple. The most honest way to plan for the future is to write a carbon budget. Write that budget honestly, and then answer: where is the budget for air-travel expansion?

      5. That’s a much bigger and longer-term issue. Math can tell you what the emissions will be and what the environmental consequences are, but it’s a values decision whether it’s worth it. Values means political because somebody has to make the decision, whether a dictator, elected leaders, or voters. I’ve never heard of a carbon budget and have no idea what frameworks exist for writing one, who is competent to write it, or how they’d apportion it among the needs of a state or city. It would be a complete change from our system and require a long time to get a critical mass of people to accept it. Plus there would be issues of whether it violates constitutional rights such as property rights, or how you’d compensate people for “takings” (if you curtail somebody’s right to do something). And conservatives would immediately shout “eleven” or whatever that conspiracy theory is about a UN program trying to control people by taking away their cars and making them live in sardine cans; that’s like taking away their guns or abolishing private property or sending people to gulags. You’d have to start from the beginning and promote your vision and explain how it would be achieved, and then convince the governments and people to adopt it, rather than starting with “let’s cancel the airport expansion now”.

      6. It isn’t paranoid property rights-humpers promoting airport and freeway expansion (with public dollars!) in Seattle, it’s consensus-oriented planners that refuse to even engage with the most straightforward questions about climate change.

        Let’s cancel the airport expansion NOW.

  2. “He points to Kenmore’s advantageous position, almost equidistant from Redmond and Seattle, for two-commuter couples.”

    Um, how would you commute from Kenmore to Redmond on transit? It sounds like a long three-seat ride (Kenmore-Bothell, Bothell-Kirkland, Kirkland-Redmond, possibly Redmond-Overlake).

    1. 244 is great if that works. Otherwise 234 to Kirkland and 248 (I think) to downtown Redmond or 245 to Overlake (with improved service) should work midday/weekend. I don’t think a three seat ride is ever necessary. Additionally, a local route is planned for Kenmore to Redmond in the LRP for 2025.

  3. A lot of our Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel comes out of Pittsburgh, the concept of joint use, and some fine people. One of the benches at the rear bay northbound at Westlake has a quilt chiseled into the stone in memory of Ed Elliott, the chief architect.

    The five DSTT stations, especially the three underground owe a lot to Pittsburgh experience. Neither of our two street and building setups allowed standard-sizes. So both had to be set carefully into existing systems like precision dental work.

    Resulting in convoluted passages that really require station agents with big hats and walking sticks, and names like Gandalf. Budget for them when somebody gives back that pot of gold. Or was bag or ring, I forget.

    I spent a couple of winter vacations in the mid-1980’s on low-temperature transitways observing buses and streetcars, and then LRV’s running togehter. Thanks to a generous inheritance of railroad lines from the old industrial days.

    Worth going to see. Winters very cold and lot of snow, but that’s best weather for observing capabilities and requirements of serious joint-use outdoor busways, feeding into light rail tunnels. Notice the lady chief’s home town paper shares an editor with The Seattle Times.

    Mark Dublin

  4. “Steilacoom’s mayor, foe of Sound Transit’s $54B plan, now on agency’s board”

    …which was what an appointed board was supposed to prevent.

    1. So only people who don’t question what is being presented to the board and rubber stamp every proposal are suppose to be on the board. If that is the case it is one of the reasons why so many people have such a dislike about Sound Transit as they come across as one of the most arrogant government agencies.

      You need to have people on the board who will question what is being proposed by the Sound Transit staff and not necessarily agree with every proposal.

      1. Agreed. That’s why I supported reappointment of Everett City Councilmember Paul Roberts, but not Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers nor Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling, to represent us SnoCo constituents.

    2. Well, the article doesn’t say he wants to repeal ST3 or sabotage it now that it has passed, and I hope the Pierce County Executive wouldn’t have appointed them if he did. His interest in the far ends of the like are typical for a Pierce boardmember, and he may have a point that “something” should be done for east Pierce if that’s where most of the growth is happening. (But you have to look at absolute population size, not relative growth. If Mercer Island added 20,000 people it would double in size, whereas if Seattle added 20,000 people nobody would notice. I assume Tacoma is and will be larger than east Pierce in absolute size, but this needs to be looked at.)

      His most dangerous points are his musings about eliminating infill stations to get to Everett faster; we’ll have to watch that. It’s odd because it contradicts subarea equity, and it appears to privilege north Snohomish commuters over others for no articulated reason. (And it doesn’t help that they’re outside ST’s service area so they don’t pay ST taxes). 130th Station is important because it would bring an entire urban village and half village into Link so they don’t have to make extraordinary detours. Graham Station is important because of residential density but not as important as Lake City. BAR I don’t think is important, or that bus transfer there would be very good. The other three infill stations aren’t even promised in ST3, they’re just deferred, so you can’t talk about eliminating them because they’re not there to begin with. If he succeeds in eliminating the King County infill stations, he will have ironically made ST’s cost-effectiveness worse, because those stations can serve more people for less money per person than the Everett extension. If he wants to get to Everett faster and for less money, then he should rethink that Paine Field detour and look at the shuttle alternatives that have been suggested.

      1. Two follow-up points.

        1. To whom are you referring with this aside?

        “(And it doesn’t help that they’re outside ST’s service area so they don’t pay ST taxes).”

        2. With regard to the infill stations and cost efficiencies, I get your point but I think Mr. Lucas was simply talking about eliminating capital costs for building these stations.

      2. 1. To Mayor Lucas. His reason for prioritizing Everett is, ““Snohomish County north toward Marysville and Arlington is jammed, it’s terrible.” I was responding to that. Sorry if I didn’t make the connection clear.

        2. The infill stations save money by being infill (i.e., the track is already there), but my main point is that there are more potential passengers within a mile of the station than in outlying areas, so if you want to get the most bang for the buck you’d invest capital in them rather than taking it away.

    3. My biggest issue isn’t necessarily that he voted no on ST3 (though that is a factor). Ideally we would like someone who supported this long-term project they will oversee, but assuming he is committed, even belated support for a project can be as good as long-time support. Here I don’t have anything to go on except his no vote for ST3.

      What bothers me more is that he doesn’t seem to be very knowledgeable about ST. He thought that light rail cost “a billion dollars a mile” from Federal Way to Tacoma. He also doesn’t seem that enthusiastic about south Pierce County practical solutions, and seems more concerned about Marysville getting fast rides (which isn’t even in the ST district).

      It’s interesting that he didn’t propose cutting the BAR or Graham stations while wanting to eliminate 130th street. Both BAR and Graham are less important. BAR seems utterly useless to me, and I’m on the fence about Graham street. The same argument he is making about the critical 130th street station for Marysville apply even more to Pierce County, as those are twice as many stations, and south Link speed is also took a hit with the MLK alignment.

      I’d like to see some enthusiasm about his area. There probably isn’t anything he could do for Steilacoom except for more parking in Lakewood (though it would be interesting if he could lobby for ST Express to Steilacoom, especially as service hours are freed up by Link lines replacing buses). But while he said that all the growth will be in East Pierce, he hasn’t proposed anything to address that. A better connection to Tacoma Link would seem to be a good solution here, but instead he seems not really supportive of Tacoma Link specifically, and even seems to believe that it won’t be built. I don’t think there’s any chance he’ll fight to bring light rail to the county he’s supposed to represent.

      1. Do you know more about Lucas than the article? Because some of your points go beyond it. and he only thing I know about Lucas is the article. But you raise some good issues that make me revise my opinion of Lucas and not for the better. Still, we can’t tell from this short article whether Lucas is realy so unprepared or Lindblom didn’t ask the right questions or the editor spun it to appeal to the newspaper’s target audience. So let’s go back to the beginning and I think there are some questions STB could fruitfully interview him on.

        The starting point for a transit network is the optimal mobility of its passengers: what network moves the largest cross-section of the residents/workers/visitors where they want to go? Then, what are the unmet transit needs? How can you solve it? And how can you do so in an affordable, politically acceptable, and cost-effective manner?

        While we don’t want bardmembers being too parochial toward their subarea, they do represent the subarea, and if they don’t adocate the best for it, who will? So a boardmember has a responsibility to know the transit needs in his subarea and to have a vision for achieving them. And if he doesn’t have these, he needs to make a plan to acquire them. Otherwise, what is Sound Transit doing? Building things that don’t meet their subareas’ needs? So, what is Lucas’ assessment and vision for west Pierce (Tacoma), east Pierce, and south Pierce? We hear what he doesn’t want, but what does he want? What would meet the mobility needs of people in southwest Pierce and JBLM, and east Pierce?

        I don’t see that he specifies which infill stations to delete, or that he mentions Tacoma Link at all. The paragraph listing the infill stations is Lindblom’s I think, as background information. And even if Lucas did list them, he didn’t prioritize which ones would go first.

        My impression from the article is that Lucas hasn’t thought much about overall transit needs; he approaches it like an accountant (“$54 billion is too much”), but the cost isn’t in a vacuum: the issue is how good it is relative to the area’s transit needs . He mentions a few things ST could do, but they’re very few and minimal. They alone aren’t enough to transform the areas’ mobillity situation overall, so what should we do in addition?

        I like the fact that he looks beyond parking garages to see if there are other more mundane ways to solve the last-mile problem. Of course, some church lots already are P&Rs, and I don’t know if there are any more low-hanging fruit, and in any case they’d have to be near the stations. As for “Mill Creek deserves bus rapid transit”, lucky Swift Green and Orange will both serve it by 2023.

        Some things Lucas might want to think about. ST3 includes a RapidRide-like line on Pacific Ave in Tacoma (PT route 1 south). The other three one-digit routes should have something similar. And perhaps something on Tacoma-Puyallup. Puyallup has a one-digit route to Lakewood but not to downtown Tacoma, which seems like a transit hole. Also, the long-term plan for Tacoma Link is five or six lines. Where should they go? Should they be extended more into east Pierce (without underserving Tacoma)? That would address AlexKven’s suggestion of connecting east Pierce to Tacoma Link. Although as-is that wouldn’t help very much because the existing Tacoma Link service/projects don’t go very far, and it would be silly for a bus from Puallup to just terminate at Tacoma Dome rather than continuing to downtown Tacoma which is just a half-mile further, and then maybe it could continue west to support people’s complete trips. Here’s an idea. When Pacific RR takes over the 1S, the 1N will be orphaned. Why not connect it to Puyallup for a full east-west corridor across Pierce County?

      2. Problem I see for directly-elected board members is that it’s difficult to find exactly the kind of working agreement necessary for any project. For over thirty years, I’ve been at meetings where Dave Earling’s been on the board.

        Thing that made him valuable is that he’d go for the decision he thought was best for the project as a whole. Been awhile since I lived in Edmonds, but seem to recall that Everett and Edmonds , and Sohomish County are all in Snohomish County. And that every one of the three has at least half a dozen separate neighborhoods. And blocks. And corners.

        I’m seeing three contending sets of voters arguing with each other. On a project where two other sets, and all their localities, devote most of their time on something that is not the project. People who think that “cooperate” or “compromise” means surrender – Well, at least they’ll have plenty of people to blame for thirty years and still no transit system.

        Mark Dublin

      3. >> What bothers me more is that he doesn’t seem to be very knowledgeable about ST.

        Are you talking about the board, the organization as a whole, or the projects? My guess is he has met with board members before, and will pick that up in a hurry. As far the organization or the projects, he is in the same boat as everyone else. In most organizations, you hire from outside and within. In other words, you promote people who have been working with the organization, as well as bring in people from other, similar organizations.

        ST doesn’t work that way. No one the board was “Vice President in Charge of Planning” or “Chief Liaison to Municipalities” or anything like that. They are all elected officials that have other, more important jobs. None are transit experts, and with the exception of the head of WSDOT, none are even transportation experts. Lucas summed up the problem very well:

        He’s amazed to see the county executives, along with fellow members Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards, devote time to Sound Transit.

        “They’ve got a bazillion things to do, and looking into anything is not what happens,” he said. Staff reports fly through committees and win quick board approval, he said.

        “We usually only have five to seven board members there, because they have other jobs. I’m somewhat going toward the elected board, but I have difficulty with that. It will turn into a political football anyway, but possibly they will have more time to get involved.”

        I agree completely. Electing a board may lead to people who are demagogues, but at least they will have time to address the real issues. The public, meanwhile, would have time to judge their approach and knowledge of transit issues. We elect the board now, but only indirectly. No one on the board actually runs for their position based on their knowledge of transit, or their ability to be a good ST board member. They run as mayor, county executive, county or city board member (all of which require a lot more time and effort). The result is lack of discussion, lack of debate, and foolish assumptions when it comes to transit (like the idea that light rail from Tacoma to Everett is a good idea).

  5. Non emergency traffic blockage wrong time wrong place, and the whole region and its residents split a bill in the millions. But also give some idea of a bare idea as to how to get started toward your goals. Which are mine too.

    For first move off the drafting board (or “Enter” key on any of them…if either of us is project chier one of us is project chief on any of them…what do we do first?


  6. Think I somehow changed screens, or whole articles. “Doonesbury” had an uncle named “Duke”, patterned on novelist Hunter Thompson, who was always trying to imitate being on drugs that made you think the person you were talking to was a giant lizard.

    Do see a lot of foot prints with claws on the ceiling. Also more giant purple bats on my screen than usual.
    My point was that I agree with Al Dimond on all his goals. Reorganizing a sprawled region is a lot harder than digging through a compacted one.

    Worst of all: having to clear a region that kept on sprawling ’til it compacted its sprawled self with considerable energy and enthusiasm. Pierce County east of Tacoma excellent example. So clearing and reassembling means that many things and people first have to be moved. Or if they want to move, find someplace for them to move too.

    So I think future is with us. Increasingly we’ll be preaching to the compacted. Meaning fewer demands and commands, but more very-short-term plans. What, right now, do we move, where to put it- just for room to swing the first shovel.


  7. UW Station Friday 6:30pm: both down escalators and stairs are closed; only the up escalators are open. A line of 65 people waits to go down the elevators.

    I don’t know why they don’t turn one up escalator into a down escalator.

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