East Link over I-405, May 2019 (SounderBruce/wikimedia)
  • Sound Transit committee proposes a “preferred alternative” for Ballard West Seattle, punts difficult decisions at West Seattle Junction, Ballard, Chinatown. The full board is next. WSB has a great summary of some of the friction between those worried about “impacts” and those trying to get it done.
  • Tariffs make ORCA more expensive, agencies eating the increase.
  • ECB curbs your enthusiasm about Mayor Durkan’s scooter announcement.
  • Oversight committee officially requests funding for more of the Move Seattle bike plan.
  • Disability-rights group unhappy with some Portland scooter rules.
  • Link has an uncanny ability to have maintenance problems just as I-5 disintegrates.
  • Kiewit will build Link to Federal Way.
  • Woodinville looking at a “connector bus” to get people to BRT.
  • Olympia did something about housing supply this session – perhaps most notably, many upzones can no longer be challenged in the courts under “environmental” laws.
  • Judge tosses lawsuit ($) against accessory dwelling units and mother-in-law apartments, full speed ahead!
  • PSRC says transit boardings up about 1% last year, tops in the nation among big metro areas. It’s driven mostly by increasing train ridership, still a small fraction of all trips.

This is an open thread.

82 Replies to “News Roundup: Preferred Alternative”

  1. The best thing for Woodinville to do to get people to BRT is to partner with Sound Transit and provide the funding necessary to bring the Woodinville BRT trips to full frequency (up from the proposed half-frequency when compared to the rest of the line). With Sound Transit taking care of the infrastructure and half the trips, paying for the increased frequency is the best use of the money.

    It also depends on where the connector bus is going to go. It makes absolutely no sense to have the bus connect to BRT in between infrequent trips (Presumably, to make sense, the bus needs to arrive 5 minutes or so before a BRT trip leaves in Bothell, and that already waters down effective headways in Woodinville to 15, then 5, then 15, then 5 rather than every 10 minutes). If it’s to add coverage in Woodinville, that makes a little more sense, but it’s not like Woodinville has a large area. It would still make more sense to pay ST to make the BRT more “local,” and follow the path of the 238 or 931, but with BRT stop spacing. The short freeway hops on potentially crowded I-405 interchanges that the 522 (and proposed BRT) make doesn’t make much sense to me, especially when considering that there is a shorter (but lower speed limit) path through the city that provides a little more coverage, without dealing with stop-and-go traffic.

    1. I’m not sure a bus that goes only to Woodinville P&R (which is all the 522 currently does) is going to do much good for connecting to 522 BRT. A trip where to drive to a bus to another bus isn’t going to be very popular and, if you’re going to do that, why not just drive directly to the second bus?

      The 236/238 may be more useful, since they connect to some places where people actually live.

      Or, maybe what Woodinville needs is just more trips on the 311 (which could be paid for from the savings of truncating the 311 to UW Station…)

      1. Good point. It looks like the plan for the Woodinville extension is to follow the current route of the 522. That doesn’t cover a lot of Woodinville, but it does connect close to the town center. Some of the other buses do connect to more of Woodinville. I think it would make the most sense to have two tails. One that follows the current route, and one that goes east-west (on 171st or 175th). That way you get the same coverage as those other buses, but with direct service to Seattle (and Link). You would have half the frequency (20 minutes instead of 10) but that is the plan anyway (and it is appropriate, given the demand). The only issue with the tails is whether they could cause delays. You would probably have to add in some padding (which means it might be common for the bus to idle a bit somewhere in Bothell). But that is likely an issue even if there is only one tail for Woodinville.

    2. ST should spend the operating funds and extend all trips of the 522 BRT line to and from Woodinville. it is a real place with some street grid, employment, and demand. it is growing. The Woodinville P&R has more layover capacity than Bothell does. the turnback option is odd, as it would make headway adherence more difficult. It is a bit sad that Woodinville has to lobby ST to do good transit design. Frequency baby!

      1. I’m concerned that the effect of extending half the buses to Woodinville might lead to uneven headways and bus bunching along the rest of the route.

      2. One hundred riders a day. Ouch. That is significantly lower than today. The four Woodinville stops get about 250 riders a day. That still isn’t a lot, but it is weird to think that the number would actually go down. The 311 performs quite well, and poaches most of the potential riders, carrying 1,300 a day. People would much rather take an express to downtown, rather than round the horn.

        Maybe the numbers assume an all day 311, perhaps truncated at the U-District (as asdf2 suggested). That is reasonable, and likely to be a lot more popular. That being the case, ST should just abandon the Woodinville tail, and let Metro do the dirty work. Have the 311 (or something similar) swing by the last Bothell stop (which also serves the I-405 BRT) and then express to the U-District. That would be much faster for folks headed to downtown Seattle (or the UW) the two most popular destinations. But it would still allow people to quickly get to downtown Bellevue, or somewhere along the 522 corridor (like Bothell). That would likely be more expensive than the extension (since the bus would spend a lot of time on the freeway) but a lot more popular. Such an express would be popular as a way to bypass a lot of the other stops. A trip from the main UW campus to the Bothell campus would involve first the bus, then heading south, saving quite a bit of time over taking Link then the 522 all the way from Shoreline. Likewise, this would make the 405 BRT more popular. Someone could take a (Swift) but to Canyon Park, then ride the 405 bus to Bothell, then an express to the UW. That is three buses, but much faster than the alternative.

        I wonder if the powers that could be basically do the opposite of what Alex suggested. Truncate the 522 BRT at Bothell (at the 405 stop). Then put the money into a truncated 311. This bus might even be a ST bus, which would make sense given its regional nature. Since it would replace the 311, ST would only be paying for the all day aspect of the route. Since it would be truncated at the UW, the cost would not be that high, and could come in part from the money saved by not extending the 522 to Woodinville. Extra money from Woodinville could add frequency (at least to 20 minutes, if not 15).

  2. ORCA cards: okay, so manufacture them in the US. Plenty of government jobs have “Buy American” clauses in the contracts. It definitely drives cost up, but it also contributes to domestic jobs, and reduces shipping cost. I’m sure you all, at some point, rode a bike that was made in a factory where friends’ parents and a few of my own family members worked. You’ve all eaten food plowed in with equipment made at a factory that I could see from my house. Those factories are gone, the jobs in China. Many of the former workers are now angry old men and women interested in blowing up our current system, and showed it at the polls in 2016. And how much do those Chinese workers earn? What is their standard of living? What are the fossil fuel emissions required to ship ORCA cards across an ocean?

    I don’t like the short-sightedness or hatefulness of the Trump administration policies, but seeing ORCA card costs increase a nominal amount because we’re too stingy to pay domestic labor a fair wage just doesn’t even pass the laugh test for me.

    1. Pretty sure we could manufacture them at a low cost in the US too. The problem comes for corporations like Vix who cut costs through outsourcing and pocket the difference. When do prices ever go down after outsourcing? They don’t. Investors get increased dividends and CEOs get more bonuses.

      1. Barman, agree. Good or bad (bad, in the opinion of my simple little brain), that’s how the US economy works. Outsourcing at low labor cost to increase executive salary+bonus, and increase stock/shareholder profit is the de-facto operating procedure. It cuts costs… for the executives & shareholders.
        Time for a “Buy American” clause?

    2. “The cards now cost $2.40 per unit to buy compared to $1.92 last year, according to Sound Transit.”

      … while riders pay $5 for them, so the net effect is reducing the agencies’ “profit” from 61% to 52%.

      If the agencies insist on charging a $5 fee, how about including $3-5 e-purse on it, or an equivalent discount on a monthly passed purchased simultaneously with it. Or raising the price to $10 with $10 credit? (The latter would have impacts on low-income people who don’t qualify for LIFT such as those who don’t meet the residency requirements, so we’d have to see how many people that would be.)

      1. I doubt they are “profiting” of card sales. That’s just the cost of the card itself. It does not include the shipping, handling, storage, and distribution of the cards, or the costs of maintaining ticket machines, managing retailers, and staffing ticket counters.

      2. That’s why I put “profit” in quotes. But having an ORCA card is intrinsic to using transit in the same way that Link platforms and escalators are essential components. The agencies are imposing them on riders as the primary way to pay, so their cost needs to be viewed in the context of the line’s total costs and subsidy, not in the marginal cost of the cards themselves.

  3. Interesting the Ballard 20th Street tunnel proposal seems to have some strong wind to its back, gets another mention and a directive to have staff do a limited study of it (to see if its even worth considering as an EIS candidate). Though at the same time they are trying to push a movable bridge again, even after acknowledging previously the serious lack of support for that option. I suspect that is from a desire to cut costs and get the station back onto 15th.

    At the same time though they leave the actual choices for the preferred alternative “to be determined” which means they really haven’t made a decision at all.

    1. In general I am pleased with the recommendations. There are a lot of choices that are to be determined, but that is better than recommending something stupid. They are going to look at the 20th Avenue underground station, with (apparently) the default being the elevated station at 15th. This is a sensible approach, and probably by far the best one possible. If we find the money, then we can build a station somewhere better (20th). If not, the station goes in at 15th. This is much better than a station at 14th, or an underground station at 15th (two ideas that got way too much traction).

      It is not all good news, though. It looks like they are sticking with the Thorndyke station, a good four minute walk from Dravus. This means everyone from Queen Anne (across 15th) as well as Magnolia will have to walk farther (pushing many to just ignore Link, and drive). Buses will either detour back and forth (causing through-riders to be delayed) or those making the transfer will get to walk the extra distance as well. Shades of the awful station at Mount Baker.

      The downtown recommendation is much better than the alternative. The alternative is a complete failure, as it puts the Aurora station north of Mercer. This makes it impossible to serve via Aurora buses. Southbound buses have to exit on the left — they can’t possibly have a bus stop around Mercer. Thus someone making a transfer would have to walk quite a ways (https://goo.gl/maps/RKQbK1MNwe3TwGS1A). There are things I prefer with that plan (such as moving the Denny station east to Terry and the Seattle Center station northwest to Queen Anne Avenue and Mercer) but not if it means completely ruining the Aurora station.

      I’m not sure why they are suggestion the Delridge Station be off Delridge. This seems like one of the easiest choices (it should be on Delridge, as far south as possible). The preferred bridge crossing sounds sensible. They punted on the Avalon/Junction choice, even though the obvious choice is the default one (the representative project). That would have the best station location and be the least disruptive.

      Overall, it isn’t too bad. I really like the fact that 20th is going to be studied. It will be up to the board to figure out whether it is worth the money or not.

      1. I’ve walked through there a few times, and Thorndyke is just about the worst possible location for an interbay station. This is basically halfway between the BNSF crossings at Dravus and Emerson, maximizing the walking distance to either crossing. I also feel like if you’re going to put a station there, you may as well not even bother putting in a station at all, but I suppose the construction cost of a Thorndyke station is cheap enough that ST is saying “might as well”.

        At a minimum, if ST is going to put a station at Thorndyke, they should look into a pedestrian bridge over 15th, connecting it to Queen Anne. The bridge could utilize the right-of-way of Ruffner St. Thanks to the hill, walking across such a bridge wouldn’t even require a vertical detour – you have to go up to get to Queen Anne, anyway. Unfortunately, the BNSF tracks are very wide at this point, make a parallel ped bridge to Magnolia probably too expensive.

      2. Oh, I think a station there is essential, even if it is a few blocks from where it should be. Not just for walk-up passengers, but for bus riders from Magnolia. All the buses from Magnolia will go over Dravus, then head towards SPU (and Fremont). You might have a shadow bus for part of 15th/Elliot, but even that is likely to skip downtown. The point being, all the riders in Magnolia would use that bus stop to get downtown. A pedestrian bridge would help things, but it wouldn’t solve the problem for those bus riders (who would greatly outnumber walk-up riders, no matter where you put the station). Nor would it do anything for the Magnolia riders (unless they built a similar pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks, which seems highly unlikely). People have fantasies about the Emerson overpass being rebuilt to allow for backway access (for buses only) but the city is going to be too busy with projects like replacing the Magnolia Bridge. I don’t imagine the city is going to pay for something like that, any more than they are going to move the Mount Baker Station a couple blocks to the east (where it should have been built in the first place). No, if this is built in the wrong place, we will just muddle along, as we always have.

      3. I remain disappointed and surprised that deep tunnel stations at ID are still on the table. It’s awful for transferring riders, which will be many.

      4. RossB is correct again. The Thorndyke station would be much worse than Mt. Baker. Boxcars do not ride transit. Link stations should serve buses and pedestrians.

      5. If the Thorndyke station weren’t built, could the bus transfers happen at Smith
        Cove station instead? That has some advantages. One seat ride to Expedia, plus people in the south part of Magnolia don’t have to detour north to go south.

      6. @RossB The “Emersion overpass rebuilt” as you call it requires no such thing. All that would need to done is pave about 100-200 ft of asphalt and connect the end of Thorndyke with Emersion/Nickerson street underpass. No changes to the actual overpass structure, or any other existing structure is required. Currently the space in question is used as a parking lot for construction equipment or left entirely empty.

      7. @asdf2 — The Magnolia Bridge is going away. It will be gone before the train gets there. People from the south end of Magnolia will have to go north to leave Magnolia.

        @J. S. This is the type of fantasy I’m talking about. It isn’t that simple. I’m pretty sure I know what road you are talking about. Google Maps doesn’t seem to have a name for it. It connects the westbound part of Nickerson to the southbound part of 15th. It is shown on this map, between the railroad tracks and 15th, partially shaded by a tree: https://goo.gl/maps/eRaoVa2xsRuxBSyP6. The road could be split to connect to Thorndyke. That would work reasonably well for SPU to Interbay. But what about the reverse? There is no simple answer. Probably the easiest would be to tie into the overpass, but that, again, would cost big bucks.

        Meanwhile, you’ve skipped over several stops, starting with 15th and Dravus. That is five minutes away from the station, so most people headed to the station wouldn’t miss it. Except that it would mean an extra five minutes of walking for someone headed to SPU, Fremont or the U-District. They have to do this (https://goo.gl/maps/46SKGfCMzD3dijMbA) along with whatever walking it took to get there in the first place (e. g. this https://goo.gl/maps/p1U9w1gwjfV3ejoa8). Likewise, you also eliminate the stop at the beginning of Nickerson. At best (assuming Metro can find a spot for a stop that doesn’t exist now) people have to walk an extra three minutes (https://goo.gl/maps/VgYrnW2hjGh4ssSY8). Not horrible, by any means, but remember, this is *after* you have spent hundreds of millions somehow connecting Thorndyke to eastbound Nickerson. This backway adds no bus stops at all (in fact it eliminates a couple) despite being built solely for buses. That is not a good use of money, especially if there is an alternative. There is, of course, which is to simply build the station next to Dravus. It would likely cost a little bit more, but way cheaper and way better than other fantasy solutions.

      8. Oh, and asdf2, there are other disadvantages to going to Smith Cove (from Magnolia). It means going out and back to get to SPU, Fremont and the U-District. Going from Magnolia to any of those locations would be a lot more time consuming (at least an 8 minute detour).

      9. Could a connector path be built to the ship canal trail? That would help a lot connecting the station to the broader bike network, even if it wouldn’t do much for immediate walkshed.

      10. @RossB Route 32 uses the Nickerson/15th underpass I am talking about. Nothing needs to change on the reverse. The bus travels south to the Thorndyke station using the bypass then turns left onto Dravus and Right back onto 15th. The rest of the route remains exactly the same, even the stop on 15th and Dravus can remain. No stops would need to be removed. Alternatively the route could end there and instead of turning right onto 15th, it could turn left onto 15th and head back to SPU. You seem to be thinking the bus would need to double back the way it came to the interchange instead of just continue forward to Dravus and using its connection to 15th.

        Route 31 uses the Emerson Overpass and is not a viable route to go to the Thorndyke station and not one I (or anyone else far as I’ve seen) have suggested be changed to do so. The only way doing so would even make sense is if Metro does a complete overhaul of how the buses on Magnolia work (Magnolia to Downtown and every stop in between). To a feeder system of Magnolia to Thorndyke Station and back. In that case 31 would still use Emerson (as it is the only bus service there) but instead of going up Magnolia Hill it would turn left onto Gilman, left onto Dravus with a stop on or near Dravus & Thorndyke/17th and then continue up Dravus and hang a left to get back onto 15th for the return route to SPU.

      11. I agree that the station should be at Dravus rather than two blocks to the north. That fixes the bus transfer issue and reduces the walking distance from the east slope of Magnolia.

        The City is not going to allow ST to build a concrete version of the Chicago El down the middle of Elliott and Fifteenth West.

        Especially not when there is the possibility of a reserved but at-grade alignment two blocks away.

        That is the right position.

      12. @J. S. You are still ignoring the issue. We both agree that a bus could easily get from SPU to Thorndyke. The problem is getting from Thorndyke to SPU. From a network standpoint it is a terrible idea to have a loop. It makes way more sense to send Magnolia buses to SPU (and on to Fremont and the UW). Let me throw out a couple of obvious suggestions:

        1) A bus (call it the 33) starts around Discovery Park and goes along Government Way, then Gilman. It then goes over Dravus (obviously) to get close to the station. It then either drops riders four minutes away from the station, or waits to take a left to get closer. If it does the latter, it has to navigate back, and then take another left to keep going towards SPU.

        2) A second bus starts at Magnolia Village, goes down Condon, then takes a left over at Thorndyke. It then goes over Dravus (obviously) to be close to the station. The same issue exists. In both cases the bus goes the other direction, and if it does, skips 15th and Dravus. You could pick people up there, but not drop them off (which is always a lousy combination).

        Each bus could be extended further into Magnolia, or an additional bus (or two) could do the same sort of thing. The point is, every bus would cross Dravus after serving Magnolia. How close the bus comes to the station is dependent on where they put the station.

        @Tom — Yes, the problem would be solved if they build the station at Dravus. That is what I said all along. But it is ridiculous to suggest that the route can’t be elevated, when the plan all along was for it to be elevated. Oh, and it won’t look like Chicago, it will look more like Vancouver. Specifically this: https://goo.gl/maps/NCSnBAMpfr9W2c7f7. The streets are very similar (essentially car sewers). It wouldn’t even be the first time we built something like that in Seattle (https://goo.gl/maps/5UDrtsnJJ3s9XdFg7). Oh my God, what a monstrosity. It is like a giant overpass. You wouldn’t possibly want that on pristine Elliot Avenue (https://goo.gl/maps/13izAnfcZoXn9hT69) or 15th (https://goo.gl/maps/WVArwMDNKnBpcSpW6). Oh wait.

        Look, if they decide to go east, it is no big deal. But it is stupid to go north, when you can just put the station next to Dravus anyway. It really doesn’t matter where on Dravus, as long as the stop is on Dravus. But to pretend that Elliot or 15th are narrow streets in Paris instead of industrial expressways is ridiculous.

      13. Of course Ballard Link CAN “be elevated” along 15th West. But why spend the money AND ruin what little view lower West Queen Anne homes and apartments have?

        You KNOW the thing would be forty-five feet in the air including the catenary supports. The one good thing about the El is that it uses third-rail so the visual impact ends with the second story of adjacent buildings.

        And who says “The City” would have to build the eastbound bus bridge if the farther north site is chosen? That can certainly be a part of Ballard Link’s costs, especially if placing the station at Bertona is markedly less expensive than having it straddle Dravus in an underpass.

        That’s obviously the best location for pedestrian access and for bus intercept, but it WOULD BE more expensive because it makes a new overpass there longer to accommodate the platforms.

        It’s “west”, not “east”.

      14. “The City is not going to allow ST to build a concrete version of the Chicago El down the middle of Elliott and Fifteenth West.”

        Then why didn’t it notice that was the representative alignment?

      15. Many sections of the El have 4 tracks. ST is proposing only 2. Plus, track noise design has improved in the last 100 years.

      16. @Tom those lower west QA houses and apartments have a view that needs to be preserved of … an industrial highway with a wide span of train tracks alongside it? Even at 45 feet above grade (presumably over the level of the train tracks, which is quite a bit below the street level), those homes and apartments are set back far enough and far enough up the hill that they would still see the Magnolia hill above the catenary wires. Most of those windows would still be above the elevated tracks.

      17. Mike, the City obviously did notice it. That’s why the ELG has proposed four alternatives that run somewhere parallel.

      18. B, no, 45 feet above 15th West. The alignments next to the rail yard would be mostly or entirely at grade.

        I’d like to see a stop behind Whole Foods as well, if the line is to take the surface alignment. An MLK-style station might be $10 million.

      19. “Mike, the City obviously did notice it. That’s why the ELG has proposed four alternatives that run somewhere parallel.”

        Why didn’t it ask for one of those to be in the ballot measure? It had ST move the entire Belltown alignment to SLU.

    2. “Interesting the Ballard 20th Street tunnel proposal seems to have some strong wind to its back,”

      I was jumping for joy at that. Even if several bad ideas get advanced, at least one good one does. I was also happy that 14th appeared nowhere, until I realized that the “(To be determined)” placeholders leave a gap wide enough to drive a 14th Avenue station through. I’m curious whether ST is leaning toward putting 14th in the “Preferred Alternative” or “Potential Preferred Alternative” slot.

      1. My suspicion is they are planning on putting the most expensive version up against the cheap 14th station as an excuse the ram it down Ballards throat. They’ve been pushing 14th for so long I have a hard time believing they’ve just suddenly dropped it.

      2. The Stakeholders’ Advisory Group and the Elected Advisory Group have been pushing 14th. I’m not sure ST is or it’s simply reflecting the input by advancing the alternative.

  4. Can anyone post a link to the voter-approved subarea Financial Plan? It will have been updated with new projected revenues and expenses figures. The board will need that information before settling on the North King rail projects’ features and system capabilities. Debt capacity over the next two decades will be critical.

    1. There’s nothing new or surprising about that at all. Affordable housing advocates have been saying this for decades. There is zero incentive within the Free Market™ to build affordable housing.

      1. So upzoning harms the poor isn’t news to the comment section that always argues upzoning helps the poor? Ok, if you say so.

      2. Oh ok Sam I didn’t realize “the comment section” was all written by a single person with one homogenous viewpoint. That definitely makes arguing against The Comment Section™ a lot easier now.

      3. Assuming there aren’t any plans to re-legalize flophouses and SRO hotels, yeah, the poorest segment of the population is going to need some sort of subsidy or public housing. It’s a wage problem for them.

        But for everyone else, increasing the housing supply should make it possible for the median earner to rent something respectable at market rates. That not being the case usually indicates a housing shortage exacerbated by snob zoning, like here in Seattle.

      4. Not just the poorest segment. The poverty rate is around $15,000 a year. It requires at least $55,000 a year to rent an apartment, and probably $65,000 or more to have a realistic chance of getting one with so many people at that income level looking for something they can afford. It’s not just low-income housing we need subsidized, it’s also workforce housing.

      5. When you say “workforce housing” as a concept distinct from “low-income housing” do you mean housing targeted at a specific range of AMI, or housing meant for cops, teachers, bus drivers, and other types of “essential” service workers?

        The fact that there are subsidized apartments here that a household earning 120% AMI can qualify for should be a glaring sign that we should probably be building more housing. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that, at the very least, the housing market should be able to provide housing that’s affordable to the median household without subsidies. In Chicago, where housing is fairly abundant, I’m pretty sure people like cops and teachers can afford to rent without subsidies.

      6. In and of itself, upzoning is more for the middle class vs. having it be a playground for the wealthy (along with whatever dwindling leftovers who bought their houses 20-30 years ago when I was beginning elementary school!). Upzoning plus policy that specifically is aimed at the lower end of the market is what helps the urban poor/working class. You need both the housing space and the public policy. The most successful policy model I know of has got to be Singapore’s HBD flats — public built but sold and rented through a regulated open market. Our HALA is better than nothing, but it doesn’t seem to quite go far enough, fast enough.

    2. Developers not only aren’t incentivized generally, but also face restrictions like minimum floor space requirements. Yes, government subsidies make affordable housing more likely. The study argues against “free market urbanism” only slightly more usefully than Trump argues against “socialism”.

      So, yeah, let’s regulate, but in the right way, like the new Mandatory Housing Affordability requirements, and ditch the government requirements that exacerbate the unaffordability, like snob zoning, minimum open space requirements per house, minimum car parking space requirements, mandatory setbacks, minimum floor space requirements, fees to pay for more carbon-emission infrastructure, etc. Legalizing affordable housing might help incentivize it.

    3. The elephant in the room is that most American cities consider only two limited options: a very small upzone in a few areas or no upzone at all. A wholesale upzone of the entire city, say highrises in Northgate, Roosevelt, Capitol Hill, and Mt Baker, and “missing middle” housing in all single-family and lowrise areas, would have a different effect. We may not be able to articulate it entirely and it may need more research, but the argument is that there’s a finite amount of luxury demand. Developers are skimming the cream of the crop (the most affluent tenants/buyers) because they can: they can build the most profitable housing and ignore the vast majority of the market. But if you saturate that top level and still have plenty of capacity, then even if the Wall Street developers walk away to other cities with fat profit margins, other developers will step in to build smaller, cheaper units rather than leaving that opportunity off the table. Right now the small developers can’t build missing middle housing because it’s only allowed in a few places — the same places that large expensive buildings are allowed — and so they’re outbid by Wall Street-financed developers with deep pockets and demanding 100% return in the first 19 years. But if you saturate that top market with plenty of land and still have land left over, then smaller developers will bid for the more peripheral lots. That most likely means on the periphery of urban villages.

      The article shows that the housing market may be more complicated than either side says, but it doesn’t invalidate the basic concept of supply and demand. It just says that other factors can modify or mask its effects. Another article on the same study says, “The authors are not saying that we should not build more housing. They are simply saying that doing so won’t magically solve economic and spatial inequality, because both are deeply rooted in the very nature of the geographically clustered and concentrated knowledge economy.”

      So in addition to supply and demand we need to add (1) rising income inequality, (2) the loss in purchasing power of the bottom 80%, (3) the influx of higher-income people, and (4) money laundering and rich foreigners. Let’s look at each of these.

      Changes in tax policy since the 1970 have caused a redistribution of productivity gains to the 1%, the CEOs and capital investors and tech luckies of the country. So they have a lot more money and can afford luxury housing and multiple investment units. The developers naturally build them. The loss of purchasing power goes like this. In the 1950s a minimum-wage job was enough to support a family and rent an apartment/house. In 2019 Seattle even a one-bedroom apartment costs twice minimum wage (remembering that some landords require an income of 3X the rent.) The cost of transportation, healthcare, education, and other basic things has also risen much faster than income, meaning their purchasing power is less.

      The influx of affluent residents started in Seattle in 2011 and has distorted the housing market. They outbid others for the most desirable housing. Seattle is building less housing each year than the number of jobs, so we’re falling behind. The wealthiest get the most desirable units, the rest get the scraps, and those who can’t get the scraps because there are others ahead of them leave the city or immigrate directly to the suburbs.

      Finally, money laundering and rich foreigners. My Canadian friend has long suspected that much of the reason for Vancouver’s sky-high housing prices is BC Bud money and other drug money. Add to that tycoons buying trophy houses and leaving them empty. For rich foreigners, look at those ill-gotten gains and corrupt government loot wanting to launder their money, and honest people who want to park their money in a stable country where it won’t be arbitrarily expropriated or lost to hyperinflation. In Bellevue there are a significant number of rich Chinese families who buy a house/condo to get their kids into one of the best public school districts in the country.

      All these factors have different levels of impact on different city. Seattle has a large influx of affluent tech workers, and high income inequality due to those same tech-salary jobs. It probably doesn’t have as much empty trophy houses because Seattle isn’t as much of a trophy as New York, Vancouver, and London are. New York and London are “world-class cities”, while Vancouver is the most world-class in Canada and has the country’s best climate and is very immigration-friendly for skilled workers.

    4. Interesting paper. I like the fact that they place a lot of emphasis on regional disparity (along with general economic disparity) as a cause of housing inequity. I agree, and this is something that deserves a lot more attention. The general approach has been to simply throw up our hands, and let areas like the rust belt whither, as if there is nothing we can do (ignoring the fact that we have had a mixed economy for a very long time, and we could easily focus employment in those areas).

      I take issue with one of the author’s assumptions. They state that “less restrictive zoning is likely to gentrify inner metropolitan areas” without saying why a change of zoning would do that. It is reasonable to claim that “competition for inner metropolitan locations” is the cause of gentrification, but why would upzoning increase it? Wouldn’t an area gentrify if the zoning remains the same? Apartments in a brownstone in Greenwich Village cost a bundle, despite no zoning change there whatsoever. In short, they make a very contrarian view without any evidence to support it, instead obfuscating the issue by focusing on other factors.

      They really only spend a paragraph on the subject, and offer no strong argument to support their case. They simply state that because of all the other problems (high disparity of income, low opportunity for low wage work, etc.) upzones will make things worse. No housing will be built for those at lower income levels. There is no discussion of specific zoning changes, which is a huge omission. The changes in a city like Seattle are dramatically different than those in Minneapolis. The changes the author is talking about are exactly the type Seattle has implemented. They have drawn little circles around some of the most popular land, and have seen development occur in that area. Much of that land is already developed (what the author calls “mature”). Those areas, in general, have *not* seen any decrease in housing costs. No surprise there. Replacing cheap apartments with more (but more expensive) apartments isn’t going to lower the cost. It is possible they have had a wider effect on housing (more than likely reducing the increase that would otherwise occur) but that is difficult to prove. By their very nature, this type of housing is very expensive to build, and thus only likely to be built when housing prices are really high.

      In contrast, Minneapolis is changing the nature of the entire city. Anyone, anywhere, can build a small apartment. This type of housing is generally cheap to build. In a city like Seattle, there are large housing lots that get subdivided into smaller lots. Currently those lots are still very large (typically 7200 square feet) which means that the new development is usually a small number of very large, expensive houses. If the zoning rules changed, they would build small apartments, or row houses. Similarly, even on regular size lots there are old, poorly maintained houses that are likely to be torn down by the new owner. Except that right now, in almost all cases, the new owner has to build a new house. With a change of zoning, you would also see houses converted to apartments, or backyard cottages, both of which are very cheap. The author dismisses this type of development, likely focusing on larger cities, where it is unlikely to occur. You aren’t going to get a lot of backyard apartments in Paris; they just aren’t many stand alone houses.

      In short, their paper raises a lot of interesting issues, but their conclusions are a stretch. They are right to raise issues with the assumption that deregulation will automatically lower costs, but wrong in assuming the opposite.

    5. What other solution do the opponents have for housing affordability? They say don’t upzone because it will make the lot more desirable and it will gentrify, but what about all the people who currently don’t have a cheap 1960s apartment to live in forever? The city’s top priority should be ensuring that everybody has housing that costs no more than 33% of their income. Not “preserving neighborhood character” or sticking it to developers or ignoring the needs of the bottom 50% who don’t already have a cheap apartment/house. There are several ways to achieve this, some involving larger or smaller upzones or public housing or rent subsidizes or land-value taxes or tiny efficiency units or ADUs or whatever. The important thing is to GET THE RIGHT PRIORITY AND DO IT! The more years the cities and state wait to fix it, the more years people are suffering and cost-burdened unnecessarily and can’t safe for their old age.

      1. For the most part, they have no solution. Either that or it’s “There’s plenty of housing in Detroit.”

      2. @Ian Scott

        exactly… and the rich neighborhoods are generally the places that need the most upzoning

      3. “For the most part, they have no solution.”

        We need to push them on that and not let them get away with “We defeated that upzone, now the problem is solved, there’s no remaining problem.”

    6. Tax the wealthy back down into the upper-middle class. Pass a state income tax amendment, with proceeds to pay for affordable housing. Increase in the minimum wage. An estate tax with loopholes closed, proceeds towards affordable housing. Up-zone rich neighborhoods, and build subsidized affordable housing in them.

      1. Do you want Washington State to go permanent Republican, Engineer? Because that would be the result of your plan.

        For most people a home is the primary asset they can leave to their heirs. They’ll fight fang and claw to preserve its value.

        EVERYthing in your sketch above would reduce the value of SFH neighborhoods, and are therefore non-starters.

        ADU’s are a good first step, with widening the limits of urban villages to allow duplex and triplex rebuilds a few blocks farther away. But a lot of people still want a yard in which to garden. Go too far and risk all the other goals of the progressive reformation.

      2. What a load of nonsense. I’m sure you know that upzoning doesn’t instantly summon a fleet of bulldozers to raze every detached house, as much as I wish that were the case. Want to keep your yard? Don’t sell your house when developers come knocking.

        Calling such a proposal a non-starter just because it’ll enrage a wealthy, politically connected class is so defeatist. Guess we can’t have literally any good things because homeowners, who compose slightly less than half of Seattle’s population, would lose some of their unearned home equity. NIMBY shitheels like Marty Kaplan think even ADUs are a step too far, you know. Let’s just totally capitulate to rent-seekers and move to Marysville like they want us to.

        Don’t know why you’re making this out to be a statewide issue. The housing crisis is localized to Seattle and its immediate suburbs. The home equity of people in Yakima will be fine, upzone or no upzone, because there’s no demand out there. Fourplexes (those have yards, you know) should be permitted by-right anywhere in the Seattle, with 5-over-1 apartment buildings permitted by-right within 1/4 mile of frequent transit.

      3. Pat, I’m not even sure about “would lose some of their unearned home equity.” Land values go up when there is more upside future development potential, and land value *is* your equity at this price/size regime.

        PS, Marysville isn’t all that cheap any more! Median income still can’t afford $300K, which means more than half of people still can’t afford $300k.

  5. If ORCA cards cost $2.40 to make, why are they charging us $5 to buy them? Don’t they want more people to use them?

    I just got a Trimet HOP card for free.

    1. The reason they state is to avoid people treating them as disposable and getting a new one every time they refill their e-purse.

      1. That isn’t a good reason to charge more than the cost of the card. Charging more is something you would do if you wanted to discourage use.

        I’ll keep paying cash on my occasional visits to Seattle.

  6. OMG the scooter menace is already here!


    Check this story out – an innocent SUV was just driving through along a neighborhood street when an out of control scooterist rammed them so hard that “Katelyn suffered a broken femur, a broken shoulder and damage to her pelvis.” Worse, the scooterist then took off to avoid responsibility for their actions – typical scooterist behavior.

    Yikes! You guys were right, these scooters are just too dangerous for our streets.

    1. “She was on her scooter crossing the road and they plowed right into her”

      She was crossing the street, not riding along a GP lane or in the sidewalk. So this isn’t really a typical story of scooters’ impact on pedestrians and cars, but something akin to a pedestrian crossing the street. It’s worth looking at whether it was a legal crossing and the light was green, but overall it’s the same as any other car-ped or car-bike collision where the scooter/ped/bike is crossing.

  7. Orca cards being more expensive makes no sense. Surely the contract with Chinese businesses is for a flat rate, making the price immune to artificial inflation, tariffs, or market whims. Anyone sloppy enough to not contractually lock in rates is simply being negligent.

    Is our transit system so inept that they cannot defend themselves and us from basic market forces? Is the contract for Orca 2.0 similarly crippled?

    1. Most other American cities charge $2-3 or give the cards away for free. Some of them must be using the same suppliers. Likewise, Metro’s fares are among the highest in the country. The few cities with comparable or higher fares like New York give you two or three times as much service in the form of several subway lines, more frequent buses, and more night-owl service.

    2. Tariff’s are paid by the importer, not the exporter. So unless there’s a US middle man serving as the importer and guaranteeing the rate, contracts with the manufacturer would be irrelevent.

  8. The top half of the post picture, auto row in Bellevue, would be an excellent place to have an NBA arena.

    1. It could be, except we’re already building one. Are you saying we need two?

      1. One day we could have two, but we aren’t quite there yet population wise. It’s more wishful thinking on my part. I think it would be a great location. It’s in between two light rail stations. It’s right next to 405. Near a big transit center.

        Even after it gets light rail, Seattle Center is always going to be a difficult place to get to for many regional sports fans.

      2. It’s not a bad location. A stadium needs high-capacity transit because tens of thousands of people go to it all at once and it’s the most effective way to encourage them not to drive. The walkshed is already whacked because of the huge freeway and its exit ramps and the unbuildable bits of land around them. I hope the stadium would be part of a multistory structure with other full-time uses so it’s not empty building most of the time.

    2. That would be more productive than the one-story freestanding Chck-fil-A with a parking lot larger than the building on one quarter of the station’s walkshed.

  9. While exiting SeaTac near the Alaska Airlines gates yesterday, there were 2 people standing with Jehovah’s Witness sign & literature, so that you had to check & see if they were on official Seatac business (legitimate notification of something). Maybe they were there on a guerrilla basis, but still it offended me. Aren’t there laws against that?

    1. I have seen Jehovah’s Witnesses there for years. I don’t know the laws at SeaTac, but since they are there probably every day, if they were in an unauthorized area they would have been told to leave. In my experience they have never initiated any conversation or forced me to read their literature or signs, but will reply with a friendly hello if I give them a greeting. That is the same experience I have had whenever I have seen Jehovah’s Witnesses anywhere else in the city.

    2. I frequently see Jehovah’s Witnesses near the entrances to Westlake and international District Station. Like MLMike said, they’ve never initiated a conversation with me, so I don’t find them bothersome.

      I do regularly encounter Mormon missionaries trying to strike up a conversation with me and others while we’re waiting for the bus, and this is obnoxious- they’re trying to take advantage of having a captive audience- if we want to catch the bus, we have to be at the stop.

      1. I have had Jehovah’s Witnesses approach me at bus stops. Most times they just offer literature. Sometimes they engage in conversation with me. The result is they make an excuse to leave and when they see me later at a stop they do not even bother. They just leave.

  10. Ran the beginning of a recent STB article through an advanced text generator and got this (bold is the original prompt put into the article generator):

    [b]Mayor Durkan recently announced that Seattle will be looking into how to safely welcome scooter share.[/b]

    “I think the most important thing is that kids should be a part of this,” said Durkan. “If kids get excited, then there’s an easy way to put a bicycle on the street.”

    To that end, Durkan is developing a plan that allows parents to let their kids ride bicycles in the park to share their bikes. Durkan has already gotten some suggestions from parents.

    But while parents have suggested a bike drop-off point along University, the proposal is still in the early stages of study.

    In Durkan’s proposal, children would be allowed to bike into the woods, and bike into a “safe zone” or bike-share station. This zone would allow for the sharing of bikes by adults and children up to eight years old.

    Prompt taken from this article: https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2019…ttle-lessons-learned-from-portlands-roll-out/

    Article generator is located here: https://talktotransformer.com/

  11. I was surprised to find out that this blog did not cover the fact that the Lowe’s/Dicks site was removed from the possible sights for the Sound Transit Operations and Maintenance Facility. As well as the areas of unincorporated King County with people’s homes. One Midway Landfill option was taken off the table. This is a great win for the South End community. The people of the South End made this happen. Now we need to make sure that the other Landfill site is the one approved. I say no to stealing houses, churches and businesses by government when eminent domain to take then is not necessary.

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