King County Metro

This is an open thread.

28 Replies to “News Roundup: A Good Sign”

  1. 10 years after Link opened through the Rainier Valley, Sound Transit *still* has parcels next to the rail line which are nothing but pieces of grass, fenced off with “no trespassing” signs.

    A fenced off lawn is just about the worst possible use of any land, and is an eyesore that everybody around has to look at. Some of the parcels look large enough for a home or two (if built without parking). But, even those that aren’t could be easily converted to pocket parks or rain gardens, so as to provide an asset to the city, rather than a blight. And, if nothing else – what is a fence supposed to protect when there’s nothing behind the fence except grass, anyway?

    Is this land *ever* going to be put to better use, or will the residents of the Rainier Valley still be looking at fenced off lots of grass 100 years into the future?

    1. There are definitely sections of the line through the RV that are depressingly wasted opportunities. Basically, any place with long blocks of open lots and single family homes/gas stations/low flung suburban strip malls adjacent to high capacity rapid rail transit equates to EPIC FAILURE. While elsewhere along the line(s), construction cranes are already past the demo phase and into construction of high density urban villages/infill years BEFORE opening. I bet on day one of its opening, suburban Lynwood will be ahead of RBS in terms of efficient land use and smart “urban” planning.

      1. The weird thing is, even the Beacon Hill, Mt Baker, and Columbia City station areas are pretty desolate, and those places don’t have the stigma that Rainier Beach has. In Beacon Hill, I assume it’s Nimbyism (everything east of 17th Ave S, immediately east of the station, is zoned SF5000!) but the Mt Baker station area zoning is a lot more permissive, yet low-density auto-oriented business predominate.

      2. There seem to finally be plans in place for the parcels immediately around Beacon Hill Station. That only took 10 years…unfortunately the initial upzone in Beacon Hill was weak sauce so several new single family homes have been built pretty much across the street from the station. The neighborhood is slooooowly building up.

    2. The lack of development on private land is lamentable, but I want to redouble attention on the original point. Sound Transit directly owns a bunch of tiny slivers of land leftover from expanding MLK and these have been fenced off for a decade now.

      They are a blight inducing eyesore. I have no idea how ST’s lawyers figured level grass next to a sidewalk fencing while an at grade rail system sits 30 feet away with the occasional ‘do not cross’ sign, but that’s the way liability works I guess. I’ll also use the South End chip on my shoulder and guess that there aren’t going to be any 40 foot triangles of abandoned land fenced off and gathering litter in the Spring District when ST has finished construction.

      What needs to happen to convince ST to at a bare minimum pull down the fencing and leave them as open space? Better case would be to sell any developable lots, and transfer ownership back to SDOT right of way for anything else. Even if ST needs to ‘get market rate reimbursement’ I’m sure there are a million billable things SDOT will be doing for ST2/3 where these could be included in some sort of transfer for services.

    3. There are several reasons for the lack of development, well chronicled in this article: I think there may have been some changes since that was written (I’m not sure where we currently stand with zoning, or what happened with the project that was mentioned).

      One of the assumptions people make — especially on this blog — is that being close to light rail is automatically a huge benefit. It is easy to look at the booming Roosevelt neighborhood, for example, and chalk it up to the future Link station. But the big change in Roosevelt is that they changed the zoning. Roosevelt was always attractive. It is close to two great parks (Green Lake and Ravenna) and is only about a mile away from the UW. You could rezone an area east of Ravenna and see a similar boom, even though it would be nowhere near any future light rail. Ballard has been booming long before they knew they were getting a station. Parts of Fremont and Wallingford are booming, and they are getting very little from future rail plans.

      In contrast, consider how Columbia City has grown. I’m not talking about by the station (although that has happened recently) but by Rainier Avenue. Until recently, this is where people want to live. Not by the train station, but by the old buildings, the PCC, and all the other businesses to the east.

      I think it is also worth noting that while Link has been around a decade now, and is certainly valuable for a lot of people in the valley, they have had decent transit for a long time. Other than the airport and Beacon Hill, it didn’t do anything that special. The 7 is just about as frequent, and while slower, not enough to make that much difference. As traffic has built (everywhere) Link has slowly become a lot more attractive. But the big change is adding the stops at Capitol Hill and the UW. Now someone at, say, Othello, can get to the UW or Capitol Hill much faster. Many of the northern destinations will see a similar improvement as the system gets built out.

      1. Prior to Link, the neighborhood near Columbia City Station had the Rainier Vista low-income housing complex and no nearby commercial activity other than the businesses on Rainier Avenue. Othello Station had a Safeway, a few small businesses and the low-income housing at Holly Park. Rainier Beach hasn’t changed much since 2009 (or 1999, or 1989). Meanwhile, Broadway, the University District, Roosevelt and Northgate have all been established neighborhoods with jobs, abundant commercial activity and primarily market-priced housing stock. Surely the city could have done more to stimulate commercial development in Rainier Valley, but the neighborhoods in Rainier Valley required a different type of development compared to Capitol Hill or what will be required in Lynnwood.

        Prior to Link, Rainier Valley did not have decent transit service. The 7 ran at 10 minute headways but it wasn’t reliable. MLK was served by the 42 and 48, both running at 30 minute headways and usually timed to run headlights to tail lights. Adding Link has brought a lot of new people into the Valley, but it hasn’t yet brought a lot of change to the commercial scene along MLK.

    1. I attended the first session in the central district. They spend a lot of time understanding people’s values and priorities and are looking for general feedback on the implementation plan. Engagement is nice, but it all seems a little fluffy given the seeming lack of empowerment in SDOT by the mayor (see the shenanigans on 35th NE), who seems to micromanage any controversy rather than deferring to the professionals who have spent years studying and implementing this stuff. Nothing remotely controversial will be done. Parking will be preserved. Decisions at difficult intersections will either be delayed for the future or preserve status quo.

    1. The January and February reports are notable in that they cover the period when the AWV closed but before the tunnel opened.

    2. What the hell, ST? Just give us the same monthly/quarterly reports we are accustomed to and stop wasting time and resources on reinventing the wheel.

      Thanks for the heads up, Al. (You and I have discussed ridership numbers and these reports in the past I believe.) I hadn’t realized that ST was altering the format for these important documents. If they want to actually IMPROVE these reports, skip all the fluff and pretty graphics and just give us the report in the usual format and include a section on boardings per station.

  2. You know, I wish Sound Transit would make the “early win” ST3 project of I-405 BRT (still 5 years away from completion even though we’re 3 years out from the vote) actually “early” by in the meantime, providing a real express bus between Renton and Bellevue. Like after Renton TC, just get on the freeway at the *nearest* entrance and don’t get off until Bellevue TC. Even keep the slow 566 and slower 560 the way they are, just also have an ST express bus worthy of the name. It would have been pocket change to add to ST3.

  3. Throwing it out to the horde: If the West Seattle, and to a lesser extent Ballard, folks get their tunnel, but will need extra funds (i.e., other than ST3), is it time to bring for the SCC to bring back the Headtax? Amazon is moving jobs to the Eastside anyways, but will maintain a presence here.

    What steps is the horde willing to take if Big Tech pushes back?

    1. The news reports say Bellevue is a “business-friendly” city but they never say what that means. Just that it doesn’t want a head tax? How different are Seattle’s and Bellevue’s business policies really?

    2. Wouldn’t a funding source need to be confirmed prior to their “getting” the gold-plated option?

    3. How about taxing the people that benefit aka West Seattle residents?…

      “Prime examples of how public pressures escalated the cost of the system are the Berkeley subway and the Ashby Station. After originally approving a combination aerial and subway line through Berkeley, that city later came to oppose the plan in favor of a subway-only line, which was much more expensive. The new plan necessitated redesign of the Ashby Station from an aerial to a subway facility. Extensive controversy and hearings ensued for the next 2 1/2 years, finally to be resolved by Berkeley residents voting to tax themselves additionally to finance the changes they wanted. ”

  4. “The city [Vancouver] expects 12 percent of the carbon reductions to come from increased transit use.”

    Of course, getting more people onto transit, or bikes, or walking a newly-safe short path doesn’t actually reduce car vehicle trips, because induced demand.

    Replacing street parking and extra car lanes with bike and/or bus and/or HOV lanes is the part of the plan that has to happen if Vancouver and Seattle are to actually reduce our carbon footprint. At the moment, Seattle’s Climate Action Plan seems to be in the shredder, even while the State Legislature checks off a whole bunch of items on the climate action menu.

    Also, building more sidewalks and light rail stations means more cement. Manufacturing tradition cement has a high carbon footprint. The City and Sound Transit need to invest in carbon-negative cement manufacturing, and help make that process become more widespread.

    1. I’d suggest that single-use residential zoning is more of a contributing factor. Driving and parking is often an outcome of not being able to walk to places that someone wants to frequently go. Further, there are segments of the population that can’t use bicycles so it’s not a universal solution.

    2. Yes yes yes. When you look at the data, our vmt and carbon emissions have remained flat as population exploded. The amount of space for cars is fixed so the amount of cars is fixed. We will not reduce transportation emissions without rededicating space from cars, or congestion pricing. Electric vehicles will help, but not nearly fast enough. Changing zoning may reduce per capita, but not total emissions. Building trains will help people get around, but won’t reduce total emissions.

    1. That doesn’t do anything for carbon emission reductions (much less start to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere), if the absolute number of car trips and VMT stays flat. Electric cars will help on the margins, where there is a renewable source for recharging the batteries. Ultimately, though, we have to reduce SOV road space and/or reduce the carbon emissions of the fuels in the non-electric vehicles. The Washington Senate Transportation Committee killed that bill this year (HB 1110). It’s role in reducing the state’s carbon emissions is probably as important as all the other climate action bills the Legislature passed this year, combined. It’s at least at that order of magnitude of importance.

      And then, we’re still increasing CO2 in the atmosphere, just more slowly. We still need large-scale strategies to start pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere. And that’s where carbon-eating concrete comes in, among other options. Planting thousands of trees now just gives us mature tree farms decades after they were needed.

      Rep. Fitzgibbon has tried to get at a strategy that incentivizes businesses to find the cheapest ways to offset their carbon emissions from fuels. But polluting businesses are just not going for it. And the whole indulgence-trading scheme means we’re using savings in one place to allow emissions elsewhere. We really don’t have time for such too-cute-by-half slate-of-hand. We need to hit the brakes on carbon emissions. Now.

    2. 50% is a threshold where car trips are no longer the majority. It’s extremely difficult to do if you’re starting from a car-majority base, so the fact that Vancouver has done it is a major thing. Who knew we had a mini Amsterdam on the west coast?

      1. It should be noted that the city of Vancouver is less than a third the area of Seattle – 44 sq mi as opposed to 142. I’d imagine that if you re-drew the city of Seattle to only include everything south of 55th and north of Spokane Street the transit/biking/walking mode share would be quite a bit higher than it actually is.

        This isn’t to diminish what Vancouver is doing at all – their transit system is to be envied in many ways, as is their zoning – but that it’s not exactly a direct comparison. (Their topography is more conducive to walking/biking as well.)

  5. Follow-up on the Lynnwood Link open house held last night at the Lynnwood Convention Center….

    My spouse and I quit work early to attend this event, including the short presentation ST staff made at about 6:15pm. The presentation wasn’t much (a dozen or so slides and a few words said about each) and they made it clear from the beginning that there would not be any sort of Q&A during or after the presentation. This was pretty disappointing to us and some of the other attendees.

    Thus, community members and other guests who had questions or concerns about any element of the project needed to seek out one of the staff members manning one of the information tables stationed around the room (your typical open house format). There was a decent turnout for the event, imo, so it took some time to ask questions at certain tables/stations.

    Rod Kempkes, Executive Project Director and Fred Wilhelm, Deputy Director were both at the event and manning two of the various tables. I spoke with Mr. Kempkes about the impact of the line on the Edmonds School District Bus Storage and Maintenance property, as the line crosses over that parcel as it heads into the Lynnwood TC. All I got back on that was a generic “they’re working with the school district to accommodate their operations. I spoke to Mr. Wilhelm about the project’s scaled down tree mitigation program. He confirmed that the program was impacted by the overall budget problems and was one of the ways the agency sought to reduce project costs. There was some spin going on and I wasn’t able to nail him down on how exactly they were able to work around the state requirements for replantings on the WSDOT ROW. (I recall him using the term “wiggle room” in his response.) This is the portion of the tree mitigation program that had the most drastic reduction in the total number of replantings, being slashed from some 53,000 trees in the WSDOT ROW alone in the 2017 plan to around 20,000 trees in all jurisdictions in the current plan. The agency’s plan to use slightly larger, more mature trees for replantings and their intent to extend the monitoring period by an additional ten years was sufficient in some convoluted way to get around the state’s minimum requirements.

    Overall, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the level of information that was being disseminated. It was very, very basic for the most part, and so I didn’t really learn anything other than how they plan on phasing the construction at the Lynnwood station and transit center. It seems at these sorts of outreach events ST likes to focus their attention on the new, shiny objects, i.e., what the stations are going to look like. Two of the ST staff people I questioned told me that they were fairly new to the agency and couldn’t answer my questions, so they ended up directing me to other staff members at other tables/stations. While I appreciated their honesty, it was a bit frustrating. We ended up staying about 45 minutes and then headed home for dinner, wondering whether it was worth the time or effort to attend the open house.

  6. Gotta love buses advertising new roads. Might be better than the bus wrap ads for free parking downtown.

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