36 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Skytraining through the snow”

  1. Not sure if this is old news or not, but, in March, on selected trips, 60 foot buses will be used on the route 271. It’s about time.

      1. Every time you’re ridden the route 271, it was using a 60 foot articulated bus? I’ve had just the opposite experience. Every time I’ve ever ridden on, or seen, a route 271 bus, it was using a standard 40 foot bus.

      2. From what I understand, the base the 271 is currently out of, has no 60 foot buses. This March service change, they will still be run out of that same base, but … selected trips will also be run out of another eastside base that does have 60 foot buses, so that the longer buses can be used on certain 271 peak trips.

    1. Bellevue base is across the street from King County East Base. Bellevue is the only base with no 60ft busses. That might be why they assigned the route to a different base.

  2. Great video for a winter morning. Including the song. Geethali Norah Jones Shankar is Ravi’s daughter. Good time in my own life, being involved in Seattle’s approach to transit, making up with buses what we didn’t inherit in the way of right of way.

    Vancouver gets fine amount of credit. But I’ve always been thankful that of all the world’s transit efforts these last decades, I got to work hands-on in Seattle. Hoping I live to include transit rides in Vancouver and Portland on same Amtrak ticket. Thanks, Brent.

    Mark Dublin

  3. Documented: the region is short 156,000 units of affordable housing ($). A county task force estimates we need 244,000 by 2040. So, dear city leaders, stop making fanfares about 1,000 units here or 10,000 units there or one tiny-home village or 25% of new units. That’s a drop in the bucket! While you dither people are having to choose between necessities and getting priced out of Seattle or becoming homeless. Those 1,000 units are great for 1,000 lucky people, but what about the 100,000 people who aren’t so lucky? Did you forget them?

    You also need to decide what percent of the region’s housing burden to carry, and coordinate it with the other cities. Currently you’re just letting it evolve de facto, however many affordable units developers happen to build. You should focus on a target number, not on however many result from developers’ obligations. That’s how we ended up with 1/10th the affordable housing we need. I want to see plans for more public housing and/or nonprofit partnerships and/or better tax incentives like a land tax — whatever works.

    1. It should be up to the region to address this rather than merely the City of Seattle. Infill helps but it’s just not enough. Funding a few thousands of units to developers is also just not enough.

      After WWII, Europe addressed their housing crisis by creating entirely new towns. We should think a bit more aggressively — and sacrifice land in other public uses to make that happen.

      Are there large tracts of land suitable for a new neighborhood if at least 10K or 20K units? A golf course? An underutilized state or Federal piece of property? A small private airport? National Forest Service land?

      I’m not so convinced that a homeowner cares. They don’t want to lose property value. I would even observe that most of our leaders are homeowners who benefit from a housing shortage because it increases their personal net worth.

      Getting the public and leaders with any concept to put a large dent in the shortage by repurposing large tracts of land would take a miracle. Once those places are determined, then we would need to add high-frequency transit to reach it. It’s just one of many conundrums about housing that we face.

      1. Thank you for mentioning The Second World War, Al. Let me add organized labor to the context. Over the course of history, problems arise that require citizens to agree to cooperate in public arrangements outside the capabilities of the ordinary commercial economy.

        The less time wasted fighting about what to call the effort, the better. But considering the speed with which anybody’s position in life and society go plummeting into Hell when they lose their home, right to have one should be ahead of Freedom of Speech in the Bill.

        Mark Dublin

      2. “National Forest Service land” is by definition mega-sprawl. It’s east of North Bend, FFS. Please, leave the trees alone.

        It’s fine to go to the mat with the folks who will cut their OWN tree(s) down when it suits them but whine about “the urban canopy”. But leave the mountains to the Fishers and the Clark’s Nutcrackers.

    2. I’d like the city to consider a target-based approach to zoning and affordable housing. The city would have a set of hard targets for affordability- for example- the median rent for a studio apartment should be no more than 1/3 the monthly income of a full-time worker earning minimum wage. If the targets aren’t met at the end of the year, that automatically triggers (for example) doubling the number of parcels with multifamily zoning, and doubling the city’s funding of affordable housing.

      I think somebody (Frank?) had a post a few years ago with a proposal similar in spirit to this- comparing zoning to central banking/monetary policy, but I wasn’t able to find it.

    3. Housing shortages have also been historically addressed with pre-fab housing built in other places and shipped, and by building lots of almost identical structures in a new neighborhood. Building apartments and condos that require elevators and permitting adds cost and time unless they are of sufficient height to make it worthwhile. In many ways, 65 or 85 foot height limits as infill is the worst thing we do for short-term affordability — too tall to enable quick housing construction but too short to enable more affordable units.

      1. Eighty-five feet is fine for urban arterials. That’s seven usable stories, a parking floor and a utility/storefront at the street level. It’s worth it — and necessary — to include elevators.

        So far as the current SFH, allow three story “walk-ups” with three units per lot. Voila, Fillmore and the Lower Noe Valley.

      2. Allow three units per house, and much smaller lots. You could greatly increase the number of people in the city while most neighborhoods would not be any taller.

      3. I’m not saying that 85 feet is bad. I’m saying that it takes too long to address a continual housing crisis. It is probably two years to permit and then build that building. It also takes time to set up financial arrangements with a lender.

        Allowing for more units per lot helps a little, but efficiency in building lots of units at once is going to be cheaper than each lot getting individually bought, designed for several units before finally getting built.

        From a perspective of addressing a housing crisis in both affordability and supply, nothing would beat reusing a piece of large land with townhomes that can be made into new urban neighborhoods. It has valid negatives that vary with the land’s current use and location, but it is generically the most effective way to get more affordable housing more quickly!

    4. We can’t wait for the region or state to come to the rescue because it may never do. Seattle should decide what percent of the region’s housing needs to accommodate even without a regional agreement and it should be high, at least 2/3. Otherwise it might get split up evenly between Seattle. Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland, Renton, Kent, Auburn, etc. That would put more people in the southeast King County burbs that have the worst transit access and the most pedestrian-hostile layout. A congressman from Maltby (the next city after Bothell) complained that Seattle’s refusal to build its share of infill housing is causing development pressure in Maltby — and he’s right. Seattle should accept that it’s the biggest city and aim for Chicago’s density. I’ve suggested a large urban village like Chicago’s North Side from 24th Ave NW to 15th Ave NE and the Ship Canal to 55th (or 65th or Greenlake). The North Side is not monolithic midrise; it’s a variety of 3-10 story buildings and still has some single-family houses and row houses scattered within it. Because once the market for 10-story buildings is saturated, smaller developers who are crowded out now will build smaller less-expensive buildings.

      1. This is a great idea, Mike, but you have to plan to make it maximally desirable. That is, there have to be heights related to the grade up to 45th. You can have a fairly tall fringe of premium buildings between 34th and 36th but the next few blocks would “suffer” so that from 40th north height can step up with each block. Everyone wants some sun and a view of Mt. Rainier. With proper planning many people can have it.

        Also, maxing out the height along 45th makes sense because it’s a major transit corridor and will always be one.

      2. Height limits were created to limit growth, and every tapering down has been excessive, so I don’t think that’s the place to start. I do support limits on the first two streets north of the Ship Canal because that has significant benefits for the entire city (and the same was done in South Lake Union), but not around 45th. A few blocks around 45th can be as high as 45th — Seattle needs to stop being afraid of 2-dimensional density and become a real city.

      3. Mike, I guess I wasn’t clear enough. The heights would get GREATER the higher up the hill from 40th the buildings were, peaking at 45th because it’s flat from there north and the lots are smaller.

    5. Imagine if the government, or some benefactor decided to just solve the problem. Imagine they had the money to just build a couple hundred thousand units, and rent them out for below market rates. They would immediately come across a huge road block: The zoning won’t allow it.

      That is what is nuts. You just can’t built tiny “urban villages” and expect the city to grow large enough to handle that many people. Of course the market can’t do it all, but without changing the zoning — in a fundamental way — neither the private market nor the public sector will be able to solve the problem.

      1. If it’s up to the government, at least the one we have now, or some benefactor, though this is ‘way beyond the pants-pockets of any quadtrillionaire now in the news, no chance of its happening for a dozen Administrations.

        But once enough of us the voting public finally do decide it’s time for change on this order, zoning will be the least of our worries. Looking out across what used to be our politics, I’m seeing one demographic we desperately need to support and cultivate: the millions of career civil servants who don’t need a termination notice to separate themselves from the fragrance this Administration is giving them for office air conditioning. Pray the Almighty at least some of them will end up on school boards this Fall.

        Mark Dublin

    6. It should be up to the region to address this rather than merely the City of Seattle.

      One shudders to think how much worse our efforts to reduce homelessness will be if the region (and Seattle) treat the homelessness crisis like the world (and the US, Australia, Saudi Arabia, etc) treat the climate catastrophe.

      Seattle has a special responsibility to do much more than it is doing to confront homelessness because (1) The City is rich, rich, rich. (2) The City’s policies (zoning, design review as neighborhood filibuster opportunity with endless moving targets, etc) have had a huge role in creating the homelessness crisis. Various lobbies have dug trenches to keep these awful policies in place. (3) The City’s long-term efforts to artificially cap its population have caused surburban sprawl, and its attendant huge carbon footprint. Those who cry the loudest about “displacement” are actually causing the most displacement.

      Addressing the housing crisis by building up in the City and leaning hard on transportation modes that come with a lower carbon footprint (walking, scootering/biking, and electrified transit, in that order) simultaneously helps with the climate crisis.

      When Seattle politicians say it is the region’s responsibility to tackle the homelessness crisis, it sounds a lot like climate inaction apologists saying the US is foolish to confront climate change unless China does do first. So, we’ll just set up a process where every city agrees to unenforceable goals, and we have to have consensus from those not down with building a lot more housing (certain Seattle politicians).

      Enough shell games and passing the buck. Seattle needs to lead and start acting like it is a City that wants to not be the cause of surburban sprawl. Since the council is pushing to lead on the homelessness crisis, that shows who is standing in the way, politically.

      1. I agree, and would also add that it is much better if Seattle grows. Growth in Seattle is bound be better for the environment, and better for transit. It is pretty easy to imagine a future with a more densely populated Seattle, which in turn benefits everyone in the region. If, on the other hand, someplace like Fife gets a lot more people, it may be good for housing prices, but terrible for everyone else.

        At the same time, the inner suburbs should take the same approach. Shoreline, Burien and Renton should have more people. (Near) Eastside communities should have more as well. But the leader should be Seattle — there is no reason to see gigantic communities like Magnolia losing population because of outdated, classist regulations.

    1. But think of all the poor single-family homeowners who are hit by the shadow from these “eyesores” at least once a day.

      1. Since this is an old railroad right-of-way and is bordered by trees, there aren’t any houses to shadow. So, nice troll, but it’s not applicable to Seattle.

  4. In terms of politics, suburban sprawl has been a double edged sword. On the one hand, it spread the Democratic voters out between enough districts to actually flip the House, ultimately leading to Trump’s impeachment, rather than simply running up the margins in districts that were already electing Democrats. On the other hand, as we saw with I-976, in order for transit funding to pass at the ballot box, you really need a critical mass of voters at higher levels of density that only exists in a real city.

    1. I think the most likely answer is that the the numbers are compiled by different methods in each country and measure different things, so direct comparisons are likely to be misleading.

      1. Yep. It says it right there in the introduction to the wiki page:

        Different countries often use different definitions of homelessness, making direct comparisons of numbers complicated.

        It then references a report summarizing how each country measures homelessness. Let’s see, Sam was asking about Sweden. Sweden has a very liberal count of homelessness. Sweden counts people in jail or prison as homeless, while the U. S. does not. Sweden’s incarceration rate is 0.06%, while their homelessness rate (which includes it) is 0.36%. Our incarceration rate (0.7%) is higher than our listed homelessness rate (0.17%). But there is more (of course). Sweden includes those living in institutions, living in non-conventional dwellings due to housing, and living temporarily in conventional housing with family and friends. The U. S. does not. There are more details in the report.

        Unfortunately, there is no data as to how Mexico comes up with their numbers. Mexico just doesn’t provide it.

        Sam, asking provocative questions that can be answered by simply reading the documents he references.

      2. Mexico has a lot of shantytowns and illegal neighborhoods (some of which are eventually regularized), which are more like makeshift houses than tents. Those are probably not counted as homeless. The US doesn’t have anything like it.

    2. In Mexico families are responsible for all their members, and the people take that responsibility seriously. Remember, they have Mexican grandmothers to make the slackers do something useful.

      Sweden demonstrates the limits of paternalistic government. In Sweden there are more children with single parents — mostly their mothers — than those with both. It’s good for the women, overall; they don’t have to put up with useless chauvinists as most women through history have had to do. But it’s not good for a lot of the men who slacker their way to irrelevance.

    3. You’d have to ask a Swede. Since it sounds un-Sweden-like to not house their total population, here are some possibilities: the statistic is wrong, they could homelessness differently, they’re all illegal aliens ineligible for services and for some reason Sweden has a lot of illegal aliens, they’re indigenous people in the far north, or who knows what. A better question to ask is, what is their standard of living besides being homeless? I assume they still get healthcare. Are they in shelters or sleeping under a bridge? Do they get some kind of income and food? In short, they may be homeless but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re in as desperate circumstances as American homeless people.

      1. That’s certainly true. It gets very cold in Sweden in the winter, with abundant snow most places. Living outdoors through the winter is really not an option for more than a day or two. I think they have lots of shelters.

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