19 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Rush Hour Around the World”

      1. The bars and clubs and farmers’ market are still on Ballard Ave. It’s unlikely the new developments will have anything that draws as many people. Look at Roosevelt vs University Way.

      2. If you think new construction provides the same concentration of destinations/activities/businesses as historic areas. Old Ballard will always be by far the main destination for Ballard.

      3. A high-turnover supermarket is going to generate more activity than trendy bars, craft boutiques and restaurants. Maybe not your trips — but supermarkets need lots more customers all day to survive.

        Then there is the lack tall residential buildings in much of Old Ballard. It’s quaint and pretty and fun — but it’s not hugely productive for rail transit.

    1. The thing is that NOBODY wants Old Ballard to change, but all of us here on STB keep begging the City to upzone Link stations to the degree that Vancouver does Skytrain stations. Of all the areas within the City that are the have Link Stations, 14th NW is by far the easiest to host such a re-development effort.

      Yes, Link at 14th and Market won’t do much to serve Old Ballard. It’s too far for women in heels or most anybody in the rain to walk.

      I grant that Ross, Mike and Martin are skeptical that the City will ram through the mega-upzone that would make 14th the right location. But maybe we’re not asking the right question. Someone should go to the City Council with a blunt trade-off question: give us a Skytrain style station and we’ll support putting it at 14th and saving some money.

      As I’ve demonstrated in detail, the plan views of the 15th Station design will result in a dog’s breakfast of bus integration. Yes, the location is better for pedestrians headed to destinations along Market to the west, but the TOD there has already happened and it’s pretty weak tea. There is a tiny opportunity here to show what ought to be happening throughout the region at every new Link station.

      1. The Northgate experience has made me jaded, too. We had the opportunity for towers. The NIMBYs said NOOO to towers. But they also said No to parking garages. ST somehow had agreed to build parking garages that nobody but the mall owners seem to want. And now that we are building those garages, the mall owner is planning to tear down the mall (good riddance) and build… hockey rinks. Oof da.

        The garages, btw, exist partially because Northgate Station will be a terminal station for 3-4 years. After that, their primary purpose will be to undercut local bus routes. I hope part of those garages can be repurposed into a bus base, and more floors of non-parking uses can be built above the garages.

        Since the CT commuter fleet can’t lay over in a regular-height parking garage, use the available surface parking for the 3-4 years as space for CT’s mid-day layover space, with the garage providing the replacement parking. Throw in limiting the first floor to Metro bus layover space, a vanpool base, vanpool parking. Make lemonade out of the lemon.

        Based on the history of all the other stations, I just don’t see a major upzoning coming for 14th Ave NW, and I don’t see a good pedestrian connection happening between Real Ballard and its suburban east end. Yeah, some architect who hasn’t studied the futility of climb-cross-and-descend pedestrian bridges will propose a pedestrian bridge that nobody will use. (This was tried at Highline Station, and quickly abandoned once someone did their homework, thankfully.)

        Connecting Ballard to Ballard Link will then require serious pedestrian safety improvements at Ballard and Market (not grade separation, but simply prioritizing getting the more-numerous pedestrians instead of the less-numerous cars across the intersection, perhaps with an all-way walk signal, banning right on red, and allowing pedestrians to also cross one way or the other during car passage cycles). It will also mean timing the RapidRide 44 to the train schedule.

        For those wanting a Ballard-UW line, pointing the station east might be the only way to get there from here. After all, there will be no stub from U-District Station, and no place to base the trains unless at 14th Ave NW (removing lots of land from consideration for towers) or coming from SODO via Ballard Link. Crown Hill made clear they do not want a station, and got the City Council to keep their neighborhood free of more apartment renters. So, the next stop is Greenwood diagonally, or Fremont.

      2. Not upzoning four linear blocks of Ballard Avenue is not the same thing as not upzoning the blocks around it. I would support 20-story towers on Ballard Avenue except the developers have shown themselves to be completely incapable of building the kinds of facades and narrow deep storefronts that make people want to gather there that the prewar developers achieved. The only time they’ve succeeded is when they restored an old building, as in the Pike Motorworks and the Melrose Building. We don’t know how to upzone Ballard Avenue and University Way without destroying them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t upzone the blocks around them, as we in fact have done, just not tall enough. The location of the Link station is all about being at the center of where the concentration of people are going. One supermarket is important, but several square blocks of multistory density and a neighborhood center like Old Ballard is so much more important there’s no comparison. Ten years after a 14th Station opens, people will still be flocking to Old Ballard, and some will drive or take Uber because the station is so far away. That’s the tragedy of Ballard that’s coming: we’ll spend a billion dollars for Link to Ballard and it won’t reach its potential because of the station location.

    1. Thanks for the link. He’s right that there are several overlapping markets based on price point, location, and building quality. But that doesn’t change the fundamental issue. The reason only luxury housing is built is that so little multifamily housing is allowed. Developers chase the cream of the crop of renters and condo buyers, and ignore everybody else because they can. What we need is a quantum level increase in buildings at all price levels, and that requires a quantum increase in upzoning, streamlining regulations, incentives for nonprofit developers, and alternative paradigms for taxation and land ownership. Some suggestions:

      1. Upzone the entire 80% of residential land that’s locked in single-family zoning. Make it lowrise across the board, as much of it was in the 1950s. Or at least allow row houses everywhere, and “missing middle” small apartment buildings in many more places. It won’t all turn into apartments, but even partial implementation would make a big dent in our housing shortage.

      2. Make urban villages even taller and wider than the just-passed plan. Look to Vancouver and Chicago as models. Vancouver has a few highrises around even outer Skytrain station. Chicago has a 2×2 mile north side with mostly 3-10 story buildings, and there are still a few single-family houses and row houses scattered within it. Make Ballard to the U-District, the Ship Canal to Greenlake, like that.

      3. Allow “missing middle housing” in more areas. More ADUs, duplexes, 4-8 unit apartments, microapartments. Right now, lowrise apartments are allowed only in the 30% of the land that’s multifamily, so mom n pop developers are outbid by large Wall Street-financed developers. Allow lowrise in areas the large developers aren’t interested in, and then mom n pop can build smaller, cheaper buildings.

      4. Streamline regulations. Seattle’s permitting takes a long time and is expensive. Eliminate counterproductive parking minimums and setbacks, allow a wider range of building types.

      5. This is not so much a Seattle issue, but some cities default to single-family citwide, and any other building requires a zoning variance. This drives up the cost of all multifamily buildings, and design review and EISes allow neighbors to effectively veto it or string it out in a years-long permitting process with expensive documentation and court hearings. Instead, zone some areas for default multifamily, and predesign some sample forms that will be rubber-stamped if used.

      6. The previous issue also comes up with rail lines. Redmond wanted light rail so mugh it made it a blanket permitted use. Other cities require a zoning variance for any kind of rail line, so it falls into the same problem as $5. Especially when the city councils have endorsed like rail and the county has voted for it, the zoning should follow the city’s declared priorities rather than being an obstacle.

      7. Don’t forget workforce housing. The problem isn’t just low-income housing. The federal poverty rate is around $16,000 per year, which is ridiculously low. But most landlords require an income at least twice the rent, and higher-end landlords require three-times the rent. Seattle’s median rent is around $1900. So $1900 * 3 * 12 = $68,400. Or take a lower-end unit at $1400 or the rare $1000. $1400 requires $50,400. $1000 requires $36,000. School teachers make around $50K. Baristas and janitors make less. So everyone making less than say $60K needs some kind of help, and that’s at least a hundred thousand people in Seattle and several hundred thousand in the region. These 100 affordable units or 10,000 affordable units is just a drop in the bucket. We need to acknowledge the full extent of the problem, and work on solutions for all income levels between $12,000 and $60,000.

      8. Give incentives for nonprofits tp build below-market housing, and allow them to propose creative solutions. These could be monetary or non-monetary incentives. Start by having a citywide discussion on what creative models might work. One strategy that has been suggested for houses is to put the land ownership in trust and sell only the house, and allow reselling only at a comparable price, plus the value of any improvements like rebuilding or landscaping.

      9. Consider a land-use tax instead of a property tax. Most of the price increases since 2000 have been in the land, not the building. So tax that. And tax units that remain vacant for several months, and underused lots like placeholder parking lots and freestanding Wendy’-s like restaurants and one-story strip malls. Limit short-term rentals (Airbnb) and tax them at a high rate. Some of these require a change in state laws, and a constitutional amendment to allow taxing bad land uses higher, but this is all a large lift so the state involvement is just one part of it. Even if the state is unwilling to do it now, a future legislature with a higher percent of Pogetopolan/urban legislators and changing attitudes might be willing to, I’m not necessarily endorsing a land-value tax because I’m not an expert and there may be better models, but we should at least consider them, and get serious about guaranteeing affordable shelter to every resident and not letting people fall through the cracks.

      1. I’d embrace the reform of restrictive single-family zoning codes.

        To your point about not being just a Seattle problem, I would add that the region put more light rail stations outside Seattle than inside Seattle in both ST2 and ST3. I’m actually impressed how some of these other cities have embraced taller buildings covering larger areas than Seattle has done. There is still some improvement needed for some station areas though.

        It particularly bothers me how many of the same Seattle neighborhoods that argue that they now deserve a subway yet would not embrace a building over 85 feet. I believe in the general rule that a community must allow 200 foot buildings to earn getting funds diverted from elsewhere to earn a subway if topography doesn’t demand it.

      2. The suburbs are doing some things better than Seattle. As Martin first noted, they’re turning over largish areas of run-down industrial and commercial land for urban villages, and Seattle has no comparable large developments outside SLU. But what they aren’t doing is converting any single-family areas. The suburbs are even worse than Seattle in having a higher percent of single-family land and being even less willing to do the kind of upzoning Seattle is. None of the other cities are taking their share of new residents the way Seattle is, even with those redevelopments like the Spring District and Totem Lake.

        The unwillingness of neighborhoods to upzone is a difficult issue. On the other hand, maybe they don’t deserve stations. On the other hand, we all suffer if Beacon Hill and Roosevelt and Mt Baker and Rainier Beach and Capitol Hill don’t have stations.

      3. “But what they aren’t doing is converting any single-family areas.”

        This assertion is blatantly false for many areas of unincorporated SW Snohomish County, a collection of suburban neighborhoods surrounded my small municipalities like Lynnwood and Mill Creek. My own parcel sits in a neighborhood that has been upzoned twice during the last two county comp plan required 10-year updates. When I puchased my SF home up here some 15 years ago my property was zoned as R8400 SF, an urban low density land use. Today my parcel is zoned for multifamily residential (MR), an urban high density land use classification. There are many more neighborhoods that have been similarly upzoned because of the last two land use updates. In other words, no variances are needed for this sort of densification.

        I’m not sure where you got your information from, but I would discourage using such sweeping generalizations as the one cited above. Just take a look at the latest FLUM on the snoco.gov site for example and then compare it to what existed prior to the updates. Yes, SF parcels have indeed been upzoned in this area of the county.

    1. Thanks for sharing the link. And for providing the chance to reminisce a bit about “old” DT Bellevue, the John Danz Theater and the bowling alley. My spouse has a soft spot for the latter from his high school days.

    2. Yep, Bellevue is making a play to become the next Seattle, and doing a good job of it. Unfortunately, the region’s transportation system — both freeway and transit — has been built with downtown Seattle at the heart, so folks headed to work in Bellevue are going to be crying soon.

      1. Bellevue workers won’t be crying because of the opening of East Link, since the trip to downtown Bellevue will become faster, more comfortable, and more frequent. What they will be crying about is how Bellevue went out of its way to keep Link out of western downtown Bellevue’s walkshed, which has almost nothing to do with the fact the line goes to Seattle, unless fear of sandal-clad Seattleites was what motivated keeping the line away from western downtown Bellevue.

  1. 1994. Michael Douglas. Metro Bus tunnel. Pioneer Square station. Find the clip and watch it. Just for fun. No link.

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