RapidRide J simulation (SDOT)

This is an open thread.

58 Replies to “News roundup: soggy”

  1. One thing I notice when construction happens, all of a sudden public right of way (sidewalks first, then lanes of road) effectively turn into property of the construction company for years. This is now the case for across the street from Bellevue TC of all places, blocking pedestrian access to the west sidewalk of 108th Ave NE south of Bellevue TC.

    The thing that is most frustrating about this is that most of the time they don’t even use the space. It’s just all taken just because they can, and they’d rather have more space to work with than less.

    Does anyone know what the cost is to take public ROW for construction? Do they have to pay the city more for busier streets and sidewalks? I hope there is momentum for legislation to severely restrict or increase the cost for *unnecessary* taking of public ROW. It should be so expensive for construction companies to take away sidewalks and lanes of road (especially near big transit choke points!!) that they will minimize that as much as possible.

    1. In the past, City of Tacoma has charged rent, effectively speaking. They don’t do this if it is a City project though. I can’t remember the term, but they have a fancy word for the rent you pay – right-of-way use fee or something similar.

    2. Large buildings need a space around them to build the building. If you prohibit that, then are you saying no dense buildings should be built? Having a temporary pedestrian lane in a GP lane is an SDOT issue the builder has no control over. It’s politically hard to take a GP lane except in the most critical cases. I notice that Pine Street between Melrose and 9th (two blocks for one building and the convention center expansion) is not considered critical enough to have a pedestrian lane, and it has been closed for months.

    1. Pretty sure they mean in the entire city at any given time. Not on the one particular street you are trying to park on in the moment. Which is a pretty useless stat as nobody cares if there is malls worth of parking on the opposite side of the city.

    2. I always find it remarkable how many empty spots there are in downtown garages. Not so much a parking shortage as it is people being cheap. And street parking being priced too low. In the city center, it is a convenience (eg avoids the hassle of the garage and elevators) that people should pay for!

    3. Downtown has a lot more garage space than it needs. Even during the Seahawks victory party there were lots of empty spaces. The city got convinced into building the Pacific Place garage to support the retail renovation (Westlake Park and Mall, Nordstrom’s making the Fredrick & Nelson building its flagship store), and now it has to subsidize it year after year.

      1. I can’t help but wonder how the economics would work out converting some downtown parking garages into Link stations. The Pacific Place garage, for example, could be the site of a future Westlake Station for the second downtown tunnel. In theory, with the excavating already done, the conversion should be cheaper digging a whole new underground station from scratch.

        Perhaps, in a dream world, the city could work out a deal with Sound Transit, where Sound Transit gets the Pacific Place garage, at zero cost, to build a downtown Link station, in return for the city getting a better-quality station in Ballard.

      2. Yes, presumably standalone garages will be redeveloped, and yes using city owned property as staging space more major projects would be good.

        Didn’t the city sell a city owned garage last year?

  2. Regarding the UGA, I am wondering if a program that equates to subarea equity is needed. Basically, funds should get divvied up for various infrastracture – sewer, water, roads, transit, etc – by how much is paid in on sales and property tax by some defined area (maybe voting precinct). End the practice of state legislators “bringing home the bacon” by arbitrarily selecting pet projects to fund.

    1. Would hinder Progressivism’s primary goal of redistribution of wealth and income. Seattle subsidizing the rest of the state is kinda the point, no?

    2. You are missing the point of progressivism. Ensuring people have access to health care, affordable housing, and a quality education. Making sure people get paid a fair wage. Spending money on wasteful projects isn’t a cornerstone of progressivism. Stop listening to the mainstream media spin that has been handed down to TV moderators by their corporate parent companies.

      Significantly raising the minimum wage throughout the Seattle metro area, building enough quality affordable housing to ease the burden for working-class young people, and creating a statewide single payer health system would go a really long way towards progressive goals. No mention of building roads to nowhere or subsidizing housing developers cutting down forests to build cookie-cutter cul-de-sac subdivisions at the edge of the UGA.

    3. This seems like an effective way to ensure that poorer areas get bad infrastructure and stay poor, reinforcing economic inequality.

    4. That’s the tradeoff. We could upgrade Rainier Valley’s and the CD’s infrastructure and it will become more desirable and prices will rise and displace people, or we could keep neglecting it and the residents’ living situation would get worse and worse. Some people think Seattle should stop adding jobs to halt growth and gentrification, but then there’d be increasing unemployment and at the extreme a depression.

      The only way to handle a trend of population growth and job growth is to build smartly and inclusively. This means allowing density to rise to match the population. And turning every neighborhood into a walkable mixed-use neighborhood with frequent transit, including in the suburbs, so that people who want that don’t have to crowd into 10% of the neighborhoods and bid up the real estate there. Before cars were common, every neighborhood was walkable and on a streetcar line. So we don’t have to leap in the unknown, we just have to implement our own former standards.

  3. An unintended consequence of the video above is showing the world how ridiculously wide Mercer Street for an actual city street with pedestrians in an urban neighborhood.

    1. Look at those cars in the red lane passing a left-turning queue in the next lane. Even in the simulation cars are violating the transit lane and potentially slowing RapidRide buses down.

  4. That vacancy-rate article doesn’t sound right. Rents go up when the vacancy rate is low and remain stable or decrease when it’s high. That’s what’s happened in Seattle since at least 1985 when I started paying attention to rents. It gets complicated because there’s not one housing market, there are several overlapping ones at different price points and desirabilities. A high vacancy in $3000 penthouses is irrelevant to me because I can’t afford them anyway. What matters is the number of prospective tenants competing for a place. When it takes a month or longer to rent a unit, rents remain flat or decline. When it takes a week or less, and especially if several people are lining up to make offers in the first hour, rents rise. Management companies use real-estate data to determine what the market will bear, and mom n pop owners go by their instincts. Some tenants don’t know what the vacancy rate is but many do, especially those who have lived here for years and seen it change over time. Knowing the “vacancy rate” and knowing there are several other units available are effectively the same thing, because if you know there are other easy-to-get units you’ll be more critical of whether this unit is worth it. The article may be right that the clearest trend is over a long period of time and little spikes may not fully ripple out to rent changes, but it’s a good indicator. And the author doesn’t suggest any better indicator. We can’t just say, “We can’t figure out what affects rents so we won’t try.”

    1. “Amazon will hire more than 15,000 people in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue.”

      Lul. But seriously, give the horse a break.

      1. I was just laughing at Bellevue, a city approaching 200k pop., being described as a suburb of Seattle.

      2. It’s historically a suburb, its downtown is a tenth the size of Seattle’s, the density outside its growth centers is suburban and car-dependent, it has only one frequent transit route and no night owls, etc. As long as it has those characteristics it will always be a suburb to some.

        However, downtown Bellevue’s growth has given it some city-like characteristics. I don’t know much about St Paul; is Seattle-Bellevue now comarable to Minneapolis-St Paul? Is St Paul bigger?

      3. Although I will say, when I was at Bellevue High School in the radio station and we read newswire stories on the air, and one of them said, “Medina, a suburb of Seattle”, that struck me as strange because to me Medina is a suburb of Bellevue.

  5. I didn’t understand that density article. It says lowrises were replaced with highrises and density decreased but it doesn’t prove it. It shows pictures of highrises and says they’re low density when they obviously have hundreds of units in a small area, and the open space around them isn’t that much, so how can they be low density? The article doesn’t say. It’s true that Paris and Edinburgh pack a lot of people in lowrise, but we can’t assume New York tenements or row houses were that dense.

    1. The “low density highrise” point was referring to tower-in-the-park type developments like Stuyvesant Town or most postwar NYCHA developments, which have lots of open space, vs the sort of “high density midrise” that you would find on the Upper East Side or Washington Heights. The picture of that Chelsea development isn’t really an example of either type.

      This CityLab article (https://www.citylab.com/perspective/2019/07/urban-density-map-city-population-data-geography/591760/) is a neat visualization of this phenomenon.

    2. Look up Aventura, FL. A city of predomently high rise “tower in the park” condos with massive parking structures, and a density of 14k/sq mile, while Capitol Hill in Seattle packs in 50k/sq mile.

    3. we can’t assume New York tenements or row houses were that dense.

      No, but we can look up the population numbers for Manhattan, and note that it peaked in 2010, at over 2.3 million (it is 1.6 million now). Then we can look at when most of the tenement housing was built. A quick search found this article (https://archleague.org/article/new-york-housing/):

      Most of the city’s tenements were built quickly and in vast numbers between 1860 and 1910 in Manhattan, …

      Thus it stands to reason that the tenements and row houses were indeed extremely densely populated. We can also find various row house communities in areas like Brooklyn, and note that even today, the population density is quite high.

      Density does not equal height. Height does not equal density.

    4. Quite high compared to what? If each apartment is smaller than each row house, and the apartments are stacked five or seven on top of each other, then a building occupying the same space as several row houses would be two or three times denser than those houses, even if the houses were built close together with little setback or yard.

      1. Quite high compared to big apartment buildings that you wrongly assume hold more people. Of course if you built an apartment like a townhouse, only taller, then you would have more people, but they don’t. There are setbacks, and massing restrictions, and various amenities that chip away at available space that would otherwise hold people.

        Here is a fun exercise. Find the highest density census block in Washington State (as of the last census). Hint: It is in Belltown: https://arcg.is/145bS1. Well no wonder, you might think, look at it: https://goo.gl/maps/YHZVCRejCsxFAHYh6. Some of these apartments are quite tall — about 12 stories. While there some gaps in between buildings, it isn’t too bad. This is density.

        Now move the map to Brooklyn. Sure enough, there are lots of areas with very similar density (over 100K per square mile). They must look the same, right? Very tall buildings (at least a dozen stories). Except they don’t. Here is a two block area in Brooklyn that actually has slightly more density: https://goo.gl/maps/HSogS8cfmNX39wnS9. To be clear, there are couple large buildings (around six stories) but the vast majority of the area is brownstone row houses. They have backyards, too. There is a church as well (taking up space). Yet with all of that, those couple blocks (kitty corner from the park) have slightly more density than the highest density area in Seattle (as of the last census).

        Now imagine if those apartments in Belltown weren’t so tall. Imagine if they were six stories, like most new apartment buildings. But at the same time, had just much extra space around it (and within it). Obviously, it would be well below what is a typical Brooklyn neighborhood.

        You really have to get very high to make up for all the extra space that typically goes into building a large building. Very rarely does that happen.

        Here is the most important point: when it does, it rarely leads to lower housing prices. The “build only here, but really high” approach is a failure. Of course it is better than allowing no growth, but allowing more widespread growth gives you just as much density, at a far more affordable price. Allow *several families* to live in the same row house (like they do in Brooklyn) and you get a lot more density at an affordable price. The current approach — whether you call it “urban villages” or “the grand bargain” (https://tinyurl.com/skrqdhb), isn’t good public policy.

      2. That second building has apparently six visible units per floor, and maybe six on the other side. It has eleven stories not counting the ground-floor retail, so 12×11=132. The third link at44th Street has 2-story buildings, so maybe a 4-plex average per lot. 132/4=33 lots. 33 lots is around six blocks, a larger space. Going back to the second building, where would you add more units to increase the density? The only place I see is the sidewalks.

  6. I think the urban growth boundary article is interesting in a number of ways:

    Is urbanization of Maltby better than urbanization of Marysville? It’s certainly closer to ST3-funded transit and jobs.

    Shouldn’t be called a suburban growth area? The term “urban” is certainly a stretch.

    I can’t imagine the trip making and lifestyles on either side of this line is markedly different. They’re both auto oriented. The line certainly does seem somewhat meaningless.

    1. Urbanization of Wallingford and West Seattle is better than either.

      The “urban” growth area means it’s not rural. I take the point that outside the boundary is suburban according to the article, but that’s a failure of the implementation, not a failuer of the concept.

      Why don’t counties severely restrict development outside incorporated cities? That would solve most of the sprawl problem. If the neighborhoods want to develop, they can join cities or incorporate.

      King County has been doing something related: it has been coercing urbanized areas to join cities or incorporate or they’ll lose urban-level services (reverting to rural services). The county never intended to provide urban services, just like the King County Library System was intended to be a rural system. It backed into it because the unincorporated areas grew and needed services. But the county was the land-use authority over those unincorporated areas, so it could have channeled growth differently and more strictly.

      In the 80s the county proposed three models for growth: “metro towns” (satellite cities), north-south trenches of density, or concentrating growth in central Seattle. It chose metro towns. In the visualizations the areas between the towns were green. But that’s where low-density sprawl is now.

      “Urban sprawl” and “suburban sprawl” mean the same thing, because its nature is low-density; i.e., suburbanesque. Thus it may not matter whether the name of the boundary is “urban growth boundary” or “suburban growth boundary”.

      1. Unfortunately, the terms and concepts of “urban growth” arose as a response to counter widespread loss of rural land to suburban development, and subsequent impacts to traffic and other services. That was another era, where the issue wasn’t what mode people were using, but instead what geographical shape the suburbs should be taking.

        With global warming from vehicle miles of travel, return on extensive high-capacity transit investments and other concerns being more important nowadays, the concept or developed vs undeveloped land is perhaps less important than the concept of high-density vs low-density land.

        Similarly, I think the PSRC growth center designation is political and not very practical land use policy. The criteria are about size thresholds and not really density thresholds.

        Don’t get me wrong. There is merit to having lands kept as undeveloped, and to identifying where growth occurs. I just feel that these are no longer as critical as it used to be. I view the critical need today should be promoting a minimum density combined with non-highway investments.

        So, how about we quit calling everything “urban” for starters? The entertainment industry is already accused of using the word as a coded way of being racist. (Is being outside of an urban growth boundary a subliminal way of promoting racial discrimination?) The development industry and governmental regulations use it ambiguously. I’d suggest changes like these:

        -Urban Growth Boundary becomes Development Growth Boundary
        -Urban Growth Center becomes Concentrated Growth Center

      2. “the terms and concepts of “urban growth” arose as a response to counter widespread loss of rural land to suburban development”

        But that’s exactly what we want now: no loss of rural land to suburban development. So how is it different? Infill development is the solution both then and now. And infill development is what the urban growth boundary was intended to achieve, in the land within the boundary.

        “the concept or developed vs undeveloped land is perhaps less important than the concept of high-density vs low-density land.”

        The good things are medium-to-high density land and rural land. The bad things are what’s in between. Increasing the developed-land footprint has significant environmental detrements, some that we didn’t understand in the 1970s, and some that we still don’t understand because there are so many factors and interrelationships and we haven’t fully studied other species.

        Separately, I am concerned about how rural areas are evolving. People used to work mostly at home on their farm or at a local company in the nearest town, and they did most of their shopping and socializing in that town. Now they drive thirty or sixty miles to Walmart or Costco, and they may do it twice a week rather than once every month or two, and they drive all over the place for many other things, and maybe commute to a city or suburb. If people move to rural areas I think they should have a bona fide rural lifestyle: work at home on the farm or as an artist or remote tech worker, or in a local business in the county’s main town. Not driving a half county or two counties every other day. But we can’t legislate that, and the rural areas are evolving to be like the exurbs or suburbs. Except maybe way out in Omak or Asotin. Certainly in the Olympic Penninsula, where half the families have somebody working in Tacoma or South King County or Seattle or Olympia.

    2. “Urban growth center” has its own problems. Logically the most urban areas are greater downtown, the U-District, Northgate, Ballard, Lake City, Bellevue, and Redmond. That’s where growth should be channeled. And if we want to plant one in South King County, it should be near S 154th Street (Burien/Tukwila/Renton).

      But the PSRC’s list of urban growth centers (based on King County’s lead) excludes Ballard and Lake City and adds Totem Lake, Issaquah, and Federal Way. (That’s because the criteria focuses on the raw number of zoned job capacity and ignores housing; while Ballard and Lake City have less job capacity but a better jobs-housing balance.)

      Everything outside the urban growth centers is not “suburban”, it’s just not a place targeted for infrastructure spending. The PSRC funnels federal grants and emphasizes the growth centers, and Sound Transit considers them must-serve by Link. So they distort planning and transit a lot. Especially when the high-priority centers are Totem Lake, Issaquah, and Federal Way, and not more established, closer-in neighborhoods. If you’re looking for an Eastside location, Crossroads and Factoria were skipped over.

      An underlying issue is tax bases. If Totem Lake and western Issaquah and Federal Way are upzoned and the companies and residents actually come, that’s a lot of tax money flowing into Issaquah’s, Kirkland’s, and Federal Way’s budget. If you build the same thing in Crossroads and Factoria, that does nothing for Issaquah’s, Kirkland, and Totem Lake’s revenue. And they are worried about being left behind economically if they don’t get some big employers and a Link station. If all the businesses and condos and Link stations are in Bellevue, over the long term affluent people will shun Issaquah and Federal Way and they will become more like slums.

      1. I’d say prioritize, not distort. There’s a regional consensus Seattle should be only getting half the growth, which is why we have growth centers scattered around. “Slum” is an exaggeration, but yes most large suburbs have no interest in being bedroom communities.

  7. It is a bad idea to drive high but that article is just dumb scare mongering.

    ““This study enabled us to review a full 10-years’ worth of data about the potential impact of marijuana on driving safety – and it raises significant concerns,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Results from the analysis suggest that legalization of recreational use of marijuana may increase the rate of THC-positive drivers involved in fatal crashes.”

    So in other words more people smoke marijuana now that it is legal.

    “The study does not just look at drivers who were legally over the limit. Just drivers who had detectable amounts. And although drivers were involved in fatal crashes where most died, the study notes that “drivers that tested positive were not necessarily impaired.” And that THC-positive drivers were not necessarily at fault in crashes, as the study “did not examine fault for crashes at all.””

    So in other words more people smoke marijuana now that it is legal.

    “AAA said there is no data that reliably shows what level of THC impairs driving.

    AAA calls the increase in drivers involved in fatal crashes testing positive for THC disturbing. The organization opposes the legalization of marijuana for recreational use because of traffic safety risks and the difficulties involved in writing legislation.”

    Why would that be disturbing? I bet the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes that adhere to a gluten-free diet has increased as well. Perhaps we should force gluten intake. Maybe we don’t need new legislation and we should enforce the laws we already have on the books.

    Impaired driving is a scourge but it is also a scapegoat used to obscure the much bigger issues of distracted and reckless driving inherent in our car-worshiping culture. You can mow down a sidewalk of pedestrians and it’s all just a horrible accident as long as you pass that breathalyzer.

    Marijuana doesn’t lend itself to an easy binary of > or < than 0.8% so how can we distinguish between the real bad guys (other drivers) who should be held accountable for their actions and the rest of us (me) that just got unlucky when that cyclist/pedestrian "came out of nowhere." Yes, I was driving my typical 5-10mph over the limit but it's not like I was drunk! And I've got the paperwork to prove it.

    We gotta bill of sale right here that says he belongs to us!
    We bought him fair and square last year and we own the little cuss!

    1. I agree. More people are driving under the influence of really good coffee than ever before. That doesn’t mean they are driving worse.

  8. Side effect of the Connect2020 work: pedestrian signal phases are no longer well synchronized with train arrivals at MLK stations like Columbia City. Before this work started, SDOT had finally improved the signal timing, so that when a train unloaded passengers and pulled away from the station, the delay before the “walk” signal came on to allow people to cross MLK was pretty short. This helped prevent bunching at the entrances to the station and reduced the number of people choosing to run across MLK against the light.

    Now that the train frequency is lower, this synchronization seems to be broken, which is doubly bad because there are now more passengers getting off at once. The result is a big bunch of people standing on the tracks, waiting for a signal to cross. At peak times, the signal can take 45-60 seconds to change, so as expected, lots of folks try to run across during breaks in the flow of cars.

    1. I heard from a station area resident that there is an epidemic of copper wire theft along MLK. When the wire connection is missing, it defaults to thinking that a car or pedestrian is continuously there. I think that may be the problem cause —- or at least part of it.

      1. Probably “classified” for security, but as a citizen interested in protecting transit, curious as to tools and techniques for this particular kind of theft. And possible ways the system could be fitted with alarms. Helicopters any use?

        Mark Dublin

  9. Is there a reason Metro tends to run diesel buses on trolleybus routes over the weekend? Do the trolleybuses cost more to operate?

      1. But, it’s been that way every single weekend for years, and throughout the city, rather than localized to particular routes.

        Maybe it’s a case of SDOT and Metro not talking to each other and Metro running diesel buses on trolley routes every weekend, just in case there’s construction going on. But, this smells much more like a bureaucracy problem than actual construction.

      2. It’s been like that for decades. There are periods of several months where trolleybuses are dieselized on weekends.

  10. Someone stopped regularly updating the Metro Transfer Ticket of the Day website. The last update was on January 25th. This site needs to be updated daily, so that people like me, who have collected all the transfer tickets, can know which one to take when we leave the house. Now I have to take all of them with me, and it’s kind of a hassle.

    https://www.facebook.com/WeeklySeattleBusTransferPage/

    1. How big an album do you have to carry? Or do you keep them in a box? Maybe you could design a jacket with lots of pockets or clips inside, one for each transfer. You could start a business selling these jackets.

  11. Favor: after a very long absence, may have to travel from Olympia to Downtown Seattle on the bus. Shatterproof old habit would put me on IT to Tacoma Dome, where I’d transfer to ST 574 for ride to my second transfer to Link at Sea-Tac Airport for my final ride Downtown.

    Reason I pick 574/Link instead of the 590 or 594 is that these buses generally spend a lot of their schedule stuck in traffic around I-5 and Spokane Street. But this weekend, bulletin tells me that Link itself will terminate at SODO re: Connect 2020. So is 590/594 my only choice? Any help, much appreciated.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Link is much worse than usual until mid March. But the weekend outages are probably better than what’s happening now. The first weekend I saw a shuttle bus every five minutes and they were lightly used, so you should have no problem getting from SODO to downtown. Plus there’s the 131/132 on 4th Ave S, and whatever routes remain on the busway (probably 101 and 150).

      What’s happening now with the single-tracking and Pioneer Square do-si-do is, the trains are coming every 12-18 minutes with absolutely no public schedule or next-train display or certainty, and sometimes the gap stretches to 30 minutes. Then at Pioneer Square you may have to wait on the train a few minutes until the continuing train comes. So it’s really junk riding a short distance like SODO-Pioneer Square-Westlake, which is part of what your 574+Link trip would be. The 594 may get stuck in I-5 traffic, but part of that time would be lost to Link’s construction overhead anyway.

      1. Many thanks, Mike. Destination is for Chinese lunar new year, so 574 Tacoma-to-Sea-Tac-to Link-to-SODO-to shuttle-to-China Town might work. Trains ok between Sea-Tac and SODO- right?

        Mark

    2. Things to look for this weekend: does Link return to normal 10-minute headways? Are the next-arrival signs on? If the trains are staying out of the single-track area then it should be possible; it’s like other downtown outages.

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