Bikes and Transit
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This is an open thread.

38 Replies to “News roundup: bonfire of the Limebikes”

  1. I think it would be helpful to have a (crowdsourced?) Seattle urbanist calendar that shows all the upcoming official land use and transportation meetings for Seattle/Metro/Sound Transit, as well as events from private organizations and more casual meetups.

    Right now, I often only hear about these events on social media 24 hours or less before they happen, which makes it difficult to plan to be there. Having an urbanist calendar would make it easier for people to find these meetings, fit them into their schedule, and help get more people involved in these issues.

    1. Yeah, that is a great idea. The same goes for public comment periods on various transit changes. There is a lot going on, it is hard to keep track.

  2. Somebody should get in touch with Mark from Kenmore. A few months back he wrote he was hit by a car on his bike in Kirkland, and I haven’t heard from him since.

      1. Thanks. Just saw it. I was hoping he’d come back here and tell us what happened, and how bike lanes on Lake Washington Blvd can be improved.

  3. I listened to the clip of Bill Radke talking with Christof Spieler about Seattle’s transit, and while I agreed with most of what he said, there was one major thing that I disagreed with. Spieler says that Seattle is one of the few places in the US where light rail is built where there is density and ridership potential rather than an easy corridor. I thought that Sound Transit did the exact opposite. Especially for the plans to go from Seattle to Everett and Seattle to Tacoma, rather than sending an elevated line on SR-99 where there is insane TOD potential north of Fremont and south of SeaTac, they opted for the easy I-5 corridor where TODs are limited by the presence of the freeway.

    Even when Sound Transit did go for a boulevard rather than a freeway (Rainier Valley), they went with a cheaper surface right-of-way instead of an elevated one, and we see the consequences of that now with all of the accidents that involve light rail trains on MLK.

    1. I think Spieler was referring to existing and under construction Link from Sound Moves and ST2. The decision to route through the Rainier Valley was the right one even though the surface design is dangerous and slow. Going to UW and U-District via tunnel was also very strategic. Even the multi-use East Link corridor was probably the best density / activity corridor from which to build a mostly protected but surface line outside of the City.

      I don’t think he was talking about ST3 except for the region’s support of it. The ST3 projects were left over from ST2 unfunded corridors — and they were usually unfunded because the return on investment to the region was less than what got funded in ST2.

      I will say too that — even though we often don’t think it’s enough — the general willingness to systemically promote denser land uses completely around light rail stations is much more popular here than elsewhere. The Bay Area including inside San Francisco doesn’t do that, even in places like the Mission or Daly City. ( Even the much-touted Fruitvale BART density pales in comparison to the Spring District.) Neither do most areas around East Coast rail stations with pre-WWII systems.

      1. I agree with you on all of those points and they are indeed amazing, but I think at some point in the future, we need to move beyond comparisons to other cities in the US because they don’t really set a high bar when it comes to relatively recent systems and TODs.

    2. @Liam I tend to agree with your comment above; what you stated in your reply was my takeaway from that piece as well. I think Al S. forgets that Lynnwood Link IS an ST2 project and IS currently under construction. ST rejected the SR99 corridor for the “cheap” WSDOT ROW even though this extension project is now some $700+M over its ST2 estimated cost and requiring some 370 property acquisitions anyway.

    3. inside Seattle, ST did serve the Rainier Valley, Capitol Hill, the U District, and Roosevelt. they chose the Roosevelt couplet over 8th Avenue NE; they chose MLK Jr. Way South over East Marginal Way South. on the minus side, they did skip First Hill and did south-first rather than north-first. It is in Shoreline and the outer subareas where ST is placing Link in the freeway envelopes and where the Snohomish County spine will have scoliosis. the Forward Thrust alignments were superior, but did not win the needed 60 percent majority.

    4. “at some point in the future, we need to move beyond comparisons to other cities in the US”

      Yes, we do. But this is the first book comparing the US metros on a common scale, and that’s a significant step. With international comparisons you get (1) the US is so far behind it’s off the charts, and (2) transit doesn’t exist in a vacuum but in an environment of land use, political structure, shadow political structure (influential private entities), capital/operations costs, and prevailing public mood. All those are so different in the US that comparing transit alone isn’t a complete picture.

      But still I would welcome a comparison of how convenient transit mobility is for Londoners, Rhinelanders, Copenhageners , and Madridians is to American cities for people’s actual trips. It’s something you see if you spend time there: most people not driving or taking taxis because they don’t want to, and even for the rest, driving because they want to, not because there’s no reasonable transit to another neighborhood or city or outlying attraction.

  4. A reality show concept: follow a variety of Seattle drivers who give up their car for a year and learn how to get themselves and their families around the city by transit, bike, and walking.

    1. Phillip, we’d be happy to resurrect our event calendar if you or someone else would volunteer to maintain it.

      1. I’d be open to helping maintain a Seattle urbanist calendar. My issue is that I don’t know where info about these meetings/events are initially published- I usually end up hearing about them shortly before they happen- sometimes here, but often on Twitter or Facebook.

    2. I would add to that show idea no riding in any car. Uber, a friend’s, etc. Otherwise people will just substitute other people’s cars for their car.

      PS, I don’t think anyone on The Real World had a car.

      1. I disagree on that point. A large majority of people who do not own cars still ride in them or drive the occasionally. Otherwise, it would be nearly impossible to ever leave the city.

        In practice, the time of friends is limited enough to prevent abuse, and riding Uber for every trip out of the house, for most, would be prohibitively expensive.

      2. If we’re talking about a reality tv show where a Seattle family gives up their car for a year, why would anyone watch a show where family members were always catching rides with friends, or taking an occasional Uber? I hear what you’re saying, but you have to make this tv show interesting. I want the pilot picked up for a series.

      3. It’s easy to live without a car if everywhere you go is between N 65th Street and S Weller Street, and that’s where most of the hipster hangouts and tourist attractions are that people in The Real World go to. The Real World was also fake in that college-age kids could never afford to live on the waterfront (even in the 90s), Pier 70 is an isolated corner (a mile from anything, steep hills, little transit), and the film crew manipulated/goaded the cast into having confrontations they wouldn’t spontaneously have had.

      4. I lived on NE 56th for many years but I grew up in Bellevue, worked in Licton Springs, went to a church in Lynnwood, and my peers drove all over the metropolitican area for activities, so I enjoyed the frequency in the 65th-to-Weller area but I routinely went outside it.

        One of my roommates said something interesting when I complained about transit outside that area. He said, “There’s no place outside the UDistrict-Ballard-downtown triangle that I would want to go to.” He had grown up on the east coast and Ireland, which have more extensive transit/walkable areas, and he didn’t have the family/church ties outside the area I did, and he was a prep cook so he had many job choices within the area. Those are the kind of people that can live for years without a car without a thought, and there are a singificant number of them.

        I also lived in the UW dorms, and found that for students living in the U-District, everything they needed was there, so they’d leave the district only once a month or so. Except if they had a job elsewhere or visited their family on weekends, but those were their only regular trips outside the district. That’s what “real” Real World people would do.

  5. Today is October 12, 2019 and Sound Transit has yet to publish its 2018 Subarea Equity Report. There’s no acceptable excuse for this level of tardiness with a required annual report. The agency released its 2018 financial results in July and its full annual report in August.

    Perhaps an unsolicited notice to the SAO, who is currently conducting a long-overdue limited scope performance audit of the agency, will get the message sent to ST’s Treasurer-turned-CFO Tracy Butler that this lengthy delay in reporting is simply unacceptable.

  6. If a comment’s about fare policy and has my name on it, no mystery about my first sentence: Possession of a valid pre-paid ORCA pass should take law enforcement out of the picture.

    So now let’s talk banking. Collapse of this country’s mortgage lending industry owed to institutional, governmental individual dereliction of banking’s own every rule, in addition to a thousand laws. Now, how many issuers of “subprime loans” (think “subprime pig-meat left unrefrigerated”) ended up fined out of their ride to the jobs they didn’t lose either?

    So for passengers like the one described, let’s just go with the precedent. Person can’t afford fare? Just declare him or her bankrupt. Once a month, fully paid-up ORCA card. And just like we did with a lot less deserving bankers, set them up with a job that’ll keep them functioning members of society.

    Will leave it to other commenters to name things that’d massively increase transit efficiency if only there were people to fill them. Seem to remember that in Vancouver BC, cashless people made tips helping other passengers understand station signs and instructions. Our convoluted fare policy could employ dozens to explain, thereby saving fortunes in lost operating time and enforcement attention both.

    Banker or station attendant…..we’re not talking “Handout”. Term is “Bailout.”

    Mark Dublin

  7. If even the conservative Seattle Times oppose Eyman’s initiative, I take it as a good sign. This is the same editorial board that also opposed ST3, Move Seattle, and most other local voter approved projects that I-976 would defund.

    1. I-976 would also hurt funds for construction and maintenance of roads and highways. No surprises that the Times’ editorial board is against it.

    1. There’s a paywall. What does the article say? Japanese airports have these things that are like an enclosed bed shelf with a TV; is it something like that?

      Here’s an investigative assignment for you: find out what kind of market- rate housing you can get for $1000, $700, and $500 in Seattle, the inner burbs, and the outer burbs, and report on it by the next news roundup. And maybe don’t count the 1000-to-1 deal but what a typical person would find. LA’s rents are similar to Seattle so what you’d find here is roughly similar to what you’d find there. Are these pods in a very desirable, 100% walk share neighborhood, more convenient than 90% of LA’s neighborhoods? That might be your answer. Apodments here are around $800-1000, but I’ve heard of one for $1500. Why would anybody pay that for an apodment? Because it’s a few blocks from Amazon around Eastlake. I hope it has a stunning water view.

      1. I don’t pay for the LA Times. I suppose they give you a few free stories for free. You can usually get around a news site paywall if you’ve reached your quota by clicking on a googled headline link.

        The article is basically saying for many pod renters, it’s about the instant community the pod living arrangement gives them more than pods being more affordable. The article also touches on the higher financial barriers (deposits, credit scores, etc.), to apartments over pods.

      2. Here’s an unrestricted article (NPR). And a marketing site. The pictures look like a hostel-sized space but with designer sheets and built-in furniture.

        Here’s the secret: “$50 / Night, $280 / Week, $1000 / Month”. They’re not regular apartments that people lease for a year and might live in for decades; their target market is short-term stays. I can’t imagine living in a 6-10 person dorm room for more than a couple years, but when I got out of college I might have wanted it. You can also “hop around” between their locations in different cities. That would be good for somebody who travels a lot (there’s this show you know, or this wrestling tournament, or these conferences), travels for work, or does short-term jobs in different cities.

        ‘Without PodShare, Hewitt says she’d never be able to afford this area. “Oh my gosh,” she said, “I’ve looked at studio apartments in this area, in Hollywood, downtown. I mean, we’re looking at almost $2,000 a month.”‘ Location, location, location.

        Starcity, another co-housing company, its CEO said: ‘”We kind of have four different customer types. “We have a ‘starter,’ who’s just coming to a new city and wants to grab life by its horns. We have a ‘restarter,’ somebody who’s 30 to 40 who maybe had a divorce or had a really tough roommate situation and is tired of running a home. Then there are the “life shapers,” who Dishotsky describes as champions of co-living as a long-term lifestyle. And finally there’s the out-of-towners who need a local place to crash for a month or two because of, say, a job assignment.’

        A professor says, “co-living “fits very hand in glove with the sense that we are now moving into an experience economy rather than a possessions economy. This is tied to, for example, the tiny house movement.”

        The most significant thing here is that these are a new housing type. We live in a dearth of housing types. In the past there were SRO hotels for the poor and missing-middle housing for ordinary people. Nowadays the only things being built en masse are single-family houses, townhouses, and large apartment buildings. We need things in between and things at the low end. We need a greater diversity of housing types and rental/ownership models, especially in walkable areas with good transit. Well, this is a new housing type, a new model, and they’re in walkable areas. This is not the solution but it’s a step toward finding it.

      3. so, per the excerpt below, these are short-term deals. No one signs a year lease to live in one.

        Hand in hand with transit and the density needed to make it work is land. The value/cost to acquire land is a third rail no one wants to touch. Seattle is really a collection of suburbs around a late 19th/early 20th C core that never moved past that. The streetcar network was in place to tie in some of the older areas (why do so few houses of a certain vintage lack garages/require street parking?) but once those were pulled up and cars made the unincorporated Northern neighborhoods more accessible/desirable, we got what we have now. And the suburban home-owners have controlled the debate and gotten their way, voting down transit in the 60s, and clinging to their single family assets like grim death. 1 in 5 single family assets/homes in Seattle is a rental. That reduces inventory for sale and props up prices. Opposition to upzoning or any changes that would allow people who work here to buy in and invest in the city where they work is the default response.

        The only reason land prices are where they are is the collective investment of the people who live and work here. Land under the old viaduct has changed hands as speculators buy in and cash out. But who made that land valuable? Why are speculators making a thin dime on that? Why are so many homes turned into ATMs for landlords? Land/ground rents would get us out of this mess and you don’t have to take my anonymous word for it. Some of the offers for the Mercer megablock included land rents — ongoing income for the use of the land — instead of a cash sale. You know how lottery winners are offered a lump sum or an annuity? Guess which one our mayor chose and guess how much of that money will be available once she leaves office…vs a steady income stream. The 55 acre Northgate site is another example. When the mall goes, why not rent that land, in whole or in part, to developers? The value of that land in 2019 was created by all of us, through what we build around it. The light rail station, the freeway, and all the other investments we have made. Yet the mall owner is going to make bank on that, not us.

        Malls and big box stores and storage warehouses are partially about land, not whatever the sign over the door says. Buy and hold a cheap parcel of land (and at 1% property tax in a city like this, buying in the 90s or even early 00’s has been very lucrative) and sit back. Some of these big box retailers have a separate division that manages the real estate and rents it to the retail division: that should prove that land rents are a viable income stream. But it should be flowing to the investors who make it valuable, who runs the utilities and build the roads that connect the land to the local economy.

        And this all goes to how expensive land is to acquire for development. At a 1% holding fee, landlords/rentiers can wait for their price. There shouldn’t be any surface parking lots in Belltown or storage warehouses on the waterfront. That land is far too valuable for those uses. Without ground rents, that value will continue to flow out of the city just as apartment and housing rents — locally-earned wages — flow out on the first of the month, every month.

      4. Short-term rentals are more expensive than long-term rentals, so that’s part of the rent too. It’s more work to find twelve tenants a year than one, more empty days with no income, and every turnover you have to make it look presentable. At the same time people are willing to pay more for a shorter stay and fewer qualification restrictions. My six-person hostel room figured that out one summer. It was the mid 90s and we were each paying maybe $15-20 per night, I don’t remember exactly. That’s $2700-3600 per room. Two-bedroom apartments in the northern U-District were around $500 then. That’s quite a lot of windfall to cover empty nights and maid service.

        Yes, housing prices are most strongly correlated with the value of the land. The vacancy rate affects relative changes. Seattle has only limited ability to tax the private benefit of being located near public infrastructure, due to state laws and the state constitution. Seattle can charge a one-time impact fee on new buildings but not an ongoing fee. The property tax rate has to be the same for all parcels in the tax district, and it’s constitutionally limited to a percent of the property’s value. The cities balance the tax levies both to avoid hitting the Eyman restrictions and to avoid hitting the total constitutional limit, and to leave some reserve for emergencies. As for leasing the Northgate property, the government would have to buy it first. And what money would it buy it with? The city budget is already allocated to other needs, and other priorities are doing without and would have a higher priority for any additional city money.

  8. Liam, building regional transit is not so much a matter of categories and statistics, but what you can make fit, where, and when. Over periods like a half century or so.

    Our Downtown Seattle progression from dual-power buses to hybrid buses to joint use to rail only was far and away the most efficient way to start the regional system we needed. Because compared to just about everyplace on earth, we inherited hardly any suitable surface right of way outside of Downtown.

    Rainier Valley was right location- and given modern possibilities for both elevating and undercutting, shouldn’t be given up for mediocre. SR99 both north and south of Seattle, number of stops probably calls for BRT or lane-and signal-pre-empted surface rail. With real speed left to I-5.

    And as Central Puget Sound Region and the rest of Washington State grow, as parts of whatever the multistate agencies the future holds…. truly high-speed trains taken off of freight track.

    But I strongly recommend everybody look at Sam’s report on “pod” living. Whose critical importance is not the size of the pre-fab quarters, but the much-enlarged local, State, country, and world outlook of their new occupants. Who’ll be next generations of our passengers.

    And for future transit outlook and design, point of important piece of nomenclature for the future: “Light Rail.”

    Best way to “read” the term is not where the railcars tip the scales, but the degree to which their necessary right-of-way has to be guaranteed. These trains probably outweighed a lot of the Great Lakes naval war-craft whose crews they carried to work.

    But along with 80 mile an hour top speed, they’d also run streetcar track in Milwaukee. My own personal definition of the term light-rail. Controllable by octagonal stop signs as a temp measure.

    The people who spec’ed out these trains weren’t stupid, and very likely foresaw pretty accurately the trajectory of automobile attraction in a country as empty as the United States. Definitely “an age thing”, but being in my transit-formative days I saw no reason the world couldn’t include both street-capable bullet trains and my Dad’s 1954 Cadillac for a ten old family car.

    But generationally, maybe one or two of them could envision the day when the world would have someplace more democratic than China to turn for explosion-proof streetcars.

    Mark Dublin

  9. On the topic of the Durkan Administration, have any readers got any recent working experience with Sam Zimbabwe? He seems like a good man. But his and his wife’s choice of family name truly leaves me fascinated.

    It’s true that the African kingdom of Great Zimbabwe featured masonry that has yet to be duplicated. But some research of mine just revealed that according to a massive list of Jewish surnames from Galicia, now part of Poland but formerly, when it counted, part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire….

    His people used to be neighbors of mine. My father’s Dad doubtless pronounced the “u” as long. In the land where whatever the talents of our stone-cutters, we’ve long had the edge on electric tramways.

    Mark Dublin

    1. amen. ST and the small cities gave us lemons for ST2 and ST3; Shoreline is trying to find the lemonade recipe.

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