Monthly boardings on Sound Transit (data: Sound Transit)

Second quarter ridership data from Sound Transit shows, as expected, a collapse in ridership after COVID. There was a meaningful recovery in June as the lockdown eased, but ridership more recently seems to have stabilized at just under one-fourth of normal levels.

Pre-pandemic system ridership was about 4 million riders per month. At the bottom, in April, Link and ST Express ridership were at 18% of normal. There was some slight recovery in May, and more in June.

Ridership on ST Express and on Link has hovered around 22% of normal since June. (‘Normal’ here being the 2019 average). The commuter-heavy Sounder trains are carrying just 10% of their regular passenger loads. Tacoma Link is a relative bright spot, with 35% of normal ridership in August because it’s ridership is less commute-oriented. Overall system ridership remains just short of 900,000 monthly.

Cost per rider metrics in Q2 were naturally terrible, as service levels fell by much less than the number of riders and the pandemic necessitated some new costs. Costs per boarding were $26.63 on Link (vs $4.99 in 2019 Q2), and $35.20 on ST Express (vs $8.44). Sounder, with the greatest decrease in ridership, had $140 operating cost per boarding (vs $11.32).

Link ridership fell the most at UW and in downtown, with lesser but still large decreases in the Rainier Valley. It suggests the most robust market for Link is for intra-Rainier Valley trips. (update: as observed in comments below, the individual station numbers are suspiciously similar to each other, so perhaps the station boarding counts aren’t reliable).

The changing profile of transit trips showed in the weekday numbers too. Overall boardings on Link for the quarter were off 81.2%, but weekday boardings were down 88.6%, reflecting the relative strength of non-commute travel.

Link boardings by station (table: Sound Transit)

65 Replies to “Sound Transit’s boardings struggle to recover”

  1. This is not a surprise from my experience with ST’s refusal to enforce mask rules.

    The other day, I had three people in my one Sound Transit Link Light Rail car without masks – many were young, (apparently) healthy adults who were chatting with friends. I texted Sound Transit security to inform them there were multiple anti-maskers on the train. The response? “Thank you for contacting us. Unfortunately, while we strongly encourage riders to wear face masks while on Link Light Rail, it is not within the rights of our security officers to legally enforce the policy. We understand this is a serious health concern and strongly encourage distancing from such riders if possible.”

    I followed up with Sound Transit via e-mail. The response from customer service? “Thank you for reaching out to Sound Transit. We appreciate you providing your feedback regarding mask enforcement on the Link light rail. As a commuter who rides public transportation frequently, I understand your concern, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic.

    It is our hope that all Sound Transit passengers and operators will comply with the recent directives to the extent possible for them, wearing masks included. This, however, may be a challenge for individuals with disabilities, those with respiratory issues or the hearing impaired who use facial movement as part of communications. These individuals, along with children under the age of two, are exempt from this directive and for this reasons enforcing such a policy would be challenging and for that I apologize.

    We will however, continue to remind riders that they should limit travel to essential trips only and to wear protective facemasks [sic] while in transit. Complying with social distancing and other critical health guidelines helps to protect our community.

    Again, I apologize for the inconveniences experienced. Please let me know if I may be of further assistance. Thank you for riding Sound Transit.”

    How is it that restaurants, airlines (Delta), trains (Amtrak), and literally every other organization has figured this out? When things get challenging, per customer service, Sound Transit just gives up.

    I’ll be avoiding ST at all costs until COVID-19 is under control or until local governments require real mask enforcement.

    1. Weekday boardings of Link are down 90%, year over year. That is not because some riders don’t wear masks.

      1. The ST Express routes, combined, still have fewer riders than Link. Bus operators have more power to enforce the mask requirement.

        The enforcement of the mask requirement seems to be a small factor in ridership. You kinda have a point.

      2. Without polling, it is impossible to tell. Yes, express bus service is down more than Link. That is to be expected, given that the express routes are more peak oriented and suburban than Link. But it is also possible that Link ridership is further suppressed because people don’t feel safe — they aren’t confident that other people are wearing masks.

      3. That said, the significant downturn in ridership is very strongly a result of people not wearing masks, and spreading the virus. If masks had been readily available, the publicly properly informed, everyone coming into the country quarantined starting in early February, who knows. Maybe containment could have been successful.

        Worldwide, cases are surging again, and deaths are going up again. Enforcement of a mask-wearing requirement on transit and on transit property remains an appropriate response to the public health threat.

    2. I felt safe the few times I rode Link…but a 20 minute wait for a train probably has something to do with the reduced ridership…

    3. That’s rediculous. Perhaps the facemask has nothing to do with it. Quit masking the real reason for which ridership is down. Politics, one, technology to work at home, a far second.

  2. “Our seven-month worldwide, involuntary experience with remote working has proven so successful for the biggest employers of this region, and so popular among their workers, that both the viability of and need for light rail no longer exist.”


    Look, let’s be frank . . . light rail in the Seattle area was the right answer back in the 1980s when the policy vision was adopted to “stop California-type sprawl.” Microsoft went public, and the future seemed clear: tons of computer workers could be jammed into dense worksites near train stations, and they’d live in dense apartments near train stations. This would allow for a growing economy/population, less car use/carbon emissions, and prevent sprawl.

    Now the fundamental flaws with that outdated vision are clear. Tech and other white collar workers don’t need a daily commute. Broadband and the kinds of computing power and functionalities at all knowledge workers’ homes are things nobody saw coming as late as 2005. If the officials who envisioned light rail as a solution last century had any idea it would be useless in 2020 (and going forward) for its original purpose of facilitating daily commutes of hundreds of thousands of workers who would need to get to CBD offices they never would have greenlighted it. The rationale for the massive, intergenerational regressive tax costs for the ST3 capital expansion projects does not exist, and these projects should terminate now.

    1. Matt, who are the representatives you elected to run Sound Transit? This is, after all, what recall campaigns are for.

      And since I wasn’t aboard that car when you saw these people, can you tell me if I might have safely gotten in safe distance from these young people and politely suggested how these masks are life and death? Including their own.

      And Anon, obviously, exactly who is that quote from and why should I pay any attention to what they think about anything?
      Seems to me the last six months are kind of a short and sudden space of time for me to get active shutting down a transit sytem that I’m not the only one who’s spent years of my life working on.

      So “Backatcha:” Considering how slow traffic is moving and how many crashes there are getting to be on those so-called “Interstates”- and when did I ever get to vote on any of them?- my word to my reps is lay tracks in the lanes and hang catenary over all of them.

      Also, if somebody’s forcing you to ride on Link, kidnapping is also against the law. Even if the perpetrators are wearing masks and grabbing you from six feet away.

      Mark Dublin

    2. My guess is your comment will be tagged as off-topic. This means that for a brief period your comment (and mine) will exist, and then it will be gone. With that in mind, I might as well speak my mind.


      Now that your oversimplistic world is complete, one thing follows another. You can take taken your unproven, easily refuted premise and formed your conclusion. Since transit is only for getting to the office, and since no one will ever go to the office again, we don’t need transit! Brilliant.

      Sounds fun to be in your brain. Oh, let me try one. Since I can flap like a duck, I can fly like a duck. Look at me fly!

    3. You seem confused on the multiple purposes of Link Light Rail (on which I still depend for lots of off-peak trips) vs. the narrow purpose of peak-hour express buses.

      You also seem confused on what constitutes regressive taxation, and the differences between ST2’s revenue sources and ST3’s.

      While $30 car tabs are regressive, ST’s use of MVET based on vehicle value is not.

      Property tax is not regressive. Sadly, many of the wealthier politicians in Olympia share your confusion on this point, and keep on saying they have to get their property tax break before sales tax relief can be taken up.

      The MVET is, if you think about it, just another property tax, but on property not normally taxed through the land-based property tax.

      1. MVET is literally a property tax and is treated by the IRS as such. You cannot deduct the flat fees in your tabs, but you can deduct the MVET portion alongside other property taxes.

        Property taxes are most commonly applied to land and structures, but are also often applied to other capital investments (like vehicles) or inventory.

        Since property ownership is highly correlated with both income and wealth, a property tax is progressive.

      2. “MVET is literally a property tax and is treated by the IRS as such.”

        The second part is right but the first part is not. The WA DOR, based on our state codes, treats MVET as an excise tax. The courts have affirmed this repeatedly, like in Amalgamated Transit v. State (2000) and more recently in Black et al v. CPSRTA (2020) to name a couple of high court cases. The state has defended its position by making the distinction that the tax, while based on a vehicle’s value, is actually being assessed for the “privilege” of operating said vehicle on public roads. That’s the transactional nature (hence, an excise tax) of the annual assessment that a vehicle owner has attached to their registration (tabs) issuance or renewal. The WA DOL and the legislature recognized the problems with this approach two decades ago and subsequently moved away from this strategy, i.e., using MVET schedules for basing annual vehicle registration fees. The IRS takes a very different view and sees the MVET portion as an annual ad valorem type of tax and is thus deductible for federal tax reporting purposes.

        With that said, I agree with your larger point that the MVET “functions” just like a property tax. The IRS has it right; the MVET is an excise tax in name only. The state’s distinction is just a distinction without a difference.

    4. I know this is trolling, but on a serious note, I don’t know how you can draw that conclusion until COVID is over, all restrictions are lifted, and some time is given for commute patterns to stabilize to a new normal. Why would you draw any conclusions right now over what is clearly a temporary situation?

      1. Where is the fun in that? If you are going to make a false premise, you might as well follow it with a prediction. Then you can draw the conclusion you wanted from the beginning.

        Here, let me try: It only rains in November. It will rain next week. Therefore, November is next week! So simple. Now everyone can argue whether it will rain next week.

      2. AJ, a property tax is not progressive for the elderly who are often house rich but cash poor. More than anything property taxes are driving them out of the houses they have lived in for decades. MeCleary was a very large increase in property taxes, and exhausted property tax capacity for cities that now have little room to sell citizens levies with the state and county consuming all the property tax capacity

        Plus now with a $10,000 cap on SALT many taxes are not deductible based on the region’s property values which easily exceed the $10,000 limit alone.

        If you want a progressive tax, tax carbon, but make the tax revenue neutral by offsetting sales or property taxes.

      3. Sorry Martin, we are off topic….

        Asset rich/cash poor households are a very real problem that requires a just & thoughtful policy response. It is also unrelated to the progressiveness of property taxation. There are ways to ensure people are able to age in place while also acknowledging the wealthiest households are usually those which are retired and therefore generating very little in taxable income.

        If your your property tax bill exceeds $10,000, you are wealthy (or in a lot of debt). Frankly, if you are itemizing your tax bill to take advantage of the SALT you are by definition in the upper middle class or have an incredibly unique tax situation which isn’t relevant for regional policy discussions.

        For a tax on carbon, any tax on consumption is likely to be regressive.

        It’s still gonna rain next week.

      4. @Daniel. AJ never said that a property tax was progressive. He said it wasn’t regressive. It is neither — it is flat. It is a flat tax on property wealth. The same is true of the MVET. That is not the case with the fee (which is regressive). As to whether any of these are a burden or not is a very complicated question.

      5. “a property tax is not progressive for the elderly who are often house rich but cash poor.”

        They still have a house. Many people don’t. It’s fine to say we should help poor elderly homeowners or people who have just bought a starter house, but what about people who live in apartments? Shouldn’t we help them too? Especially since they have even less wealth and resources.

    5. Light rail or a grade-separated subway of some kind is important because Seattle is a city of 720K in a region of 4 million. There should be no question that a city that size has railcars and busloads of people going in the same direction throughout the day for thousands of reasons. and it needs something better than being stuck behind SOVs on freeways or arterials.

      The culture of urbanist tekkie hipsters was not foreseen in the 1980s. The closest equivalent was yuppies, young urban professionals in traditional white collar jobs and few in number. The high-paying tech jobs were in suburban office parks like the Microsoft campus. NE 20th Street, Eastgate (built up in the late 80s or early 90s), and of course Boeing. A few condos appeared then but were curiosities, an inexpensive starter house. Computers at the time were 90% IBM PCs used in traditional businesses, before email became common. The Macintosh came out in 1984 to high enthusiasm but was still a tiny niche. And the old mainframes and minicomputers were still running. The DSTT was planned in the 1980s and opened in 1990. It was to be part of a future rail network, unfunded and vaguely specified. The commuters it would bring would commute to traditional jobs. Bellevue’s highrise downtown was planned in the 1970s but was not visible yet. Still it was assumed there would be a lot of travel between Seattle and Bellevue, and because of Microsoft, Redmond.

      In the 1990s four-story mixed-use buildings in urban villages started becoming visible but they were still a small niche. Urbanists clung to the old urban remains like Capitol Hill and the U-District where it was still possible to walk to errands and find more frequent buses. The new mixed-use buildings were the new curiosity. Cities planned these urban villages to channel growth. A primitive world wide web and email spread from universities to businesses and the public. This led to the dotcom boom, which was pretty much traditional businesses with a “.com” pasted on their sign. Sound Transit was created in 1993 and took up that rail idea that had been dropped in the 80s and articulated a Seattle-Everett-Tacoma-Bellevue-Redmond spine. Amazon started the following year and was initially just a bookseller. Tech jobs and urban villages were growing, but the jobs were still in suburban office parks, and the Microsoft reverse commute from Seattle’s urban villages was just getting started, at least on a large scale.

      In the 2000s a number of technologies created new industries and changed how people behaved outside work: GMail, social networks, Amazon web services for other companies, smartphones, etc. This was when tekkie-urbanist enthusiasm spread from a few tech companies and enthusiasts to the wider society, and a flood of companies began moving into downtown and urban villages and workers filled urban villages and created a huge reverse commute from Seattle to Bellevue/Redmond to lots of companies, as big as the traditional commute.

      So only in the 2000s could you say, “tons of computer workers could be jammed into dense worksites near train stations, and they’d live in dense apartments near train stations. This would allow for a growing economy/population, less car use/carbon emissions, and prevent sprawl.” That’s a decade after Sound Transit was created, two decades after a downtown tunnel for future rail was planned, and three decades after Bellevue planned highrises.

      And before that, the plans for a rapid transit network in 1912 and 1970 that should have been built but weren’t. Seattle could have had a pre-WWII rapid transit network to start from like northeastern cities have, or at least one before its growth in the 1990s to prepare for it, but it didn’t. At least we finally did it sometime.

    6. Q, you might be correct, but you’re missing the whole point. There are five, count ’em, FIVE, pizza parlors within a two block walk of a Link Station. You need to be patrolling those buddy. You can take Link to make your rounds. Easy-peasey.

  3. I find the numbers very odd. To the point of being suspicious (I don’t think anyone did anything malicious, I just don’t think they got a good sampling).

    The two end stations have 290 and 291 riders. Every other station follows a very narrow range — from a low of 607 to a high of 627. That is ridiculously consistent. I’ve never seen anything like that, which makes me think that there is an error somewhere. You would expect at least one of the stations to be less than 600, and at least one to be above 700 — not all of them clustered together like that (except, of course for the end stations, which also happen to be almost exactly the same).

    1. More boardings at Angle Lake than at UW?? Yeah, that’s a hard one to explain. The times I’ve been at either, Angle Lake was consistently a ghost town (even pre-pandemic) and UW had plenty of riders (albeit much less than pre-pandemic).

      1. Angel Lake may have more essential workers, particularly those driving in from further out? Ridership at AL and TIBS skews early because of the first come first serve parking, so unless you are there before 7am then yeah I’m sure it looks like a ghost town.

        Even though more parking is available later in the day, the existing ridership probably has established commute times that haven’t shifted.

      2. Even if you assume a huge behavioral change, the numbers look goofy (as Dan put it). There used to be a very wide variance for the downtown Stations. Now every station has exactly the same number of riders. After years and years of lagging the other Rainier Valley stations, Rainier Beach has surpassed Beacon Hill, and is essentially tied with Mount Baker, Othello, Columbia City AND Tukwila and SeaTac.

        It just doesn’t look right. This doesn’t pass the sniff test — there is something wrong with the counting process.

    2. Could be a function of riders failing to tap on/tap off? Though then I’d expect higher endpoint ridership since that’s what the system defaults to if someone doesn’t tap off.

      It’s probably a sampling issue. Only ~1/3 of the vehicles have automatic passenger counters, and with both lower ridership and lower train frequency, a slight shift in APC mix can easily make the numbers look goofy.

    3. Yeah, the station numbers do look goofy, don’t they? Apologies for not picking up on that. There’s a note in the q2 ridership report about migration to a new technology for tracking performance statistics, and perhaps there’s some correlation there. No issue with the stats was referenced when the monthly numbers were shared with the REO Committee, so I don’t think whatever is going on with station numbers is affecting the overall counts. (though as AJ notes elsewhere, these are estimates rather than complete enumerations).

    4. The station chart in the Q2 report says this right under the table:

      “ Sound Transit is in the process of migrating to a new technology which it uses to track many of its Link performance statistics. The equipment being replaced has not been able to provide reliable performance statistics since the start of 2020. However, once the new technology is deployed, Sound Transit will be able to report monthly performance statistics going back to January 2020.”

      In other words, the station boardings table reflects faulty data. It should have never been published.

      1. Bingo! The station boarding figures are trash. I think this just goes to show how often board/committee members don’t question the agency’s presentations.

  4. Steady. Steady. Kind of early in the morning for any of us to go [ah] Unless we couldn’t hit the [OFF] button in time to avoid hearing “TLL”. For (Somebody’s) Latest Lie.

    For mask enforcement, I’d like to cite a precedent from ST’s own history that I’m already in conversation with my State Representative about. December 18, 2017, 7:33 am. Amtrak Cascades Passenger Train 501 kills three people and injure 65.

    Early responders include soldiers from nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord. So my own vision of a Link mask-enforcement team, both roving and on-call, is maybe three uniformed nurses who are also combat veterans. Legally empowered to “Explain Things” in terms the dense can understand.

    Sexist maybe, but I think women handle this “caliber” of authority the most effectively. My lady nurse’s word is law. But on a wider scale, I think a lot of the mask-compliance problem stems from the fact that History is taught so badly it renders your resume unusable.

    To me, the “Right” that sums up the whole “Bill” is in the Ninth Amendment. “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

    Like, for instance, the right not to get your collar-bone broken when a gun falls out of the pocket of a zero-trained amateur scared of movie-controversy. And also, the right not to be infected with a disease as communicable as it is incurable.

    “The Age of Reason” was called that for a Reason.

    Mark Dublin

  5. I think ridership is down due to Covid-19 rather than not wearing a mask. Businesses have shut down so commuters are not commuting, because the workplace is not seen as any safer (well, maybe a little safer), than a crowded or semi-crowded bus or train. Even though my household with two teenagers has been pretty active, I have friends and relatives who have not gone out since March, or won’t go to a restaurant or bar that is inside. Even if everyone on the train or bus wore masks I still think there would be steep declines in ridership because businesses are closed.

    When it comes to the express bus, once the 550 was kicked out of the tunnel — and if I am not mistaken the 550 had the highest ridership — ridership fell 1/3, and the 554 ridership fell 16% when its route was changed, so I would expect some decline anyway from 2019.

    I agree these numbers are a blip in time, and ridership will recover. I doubt every former commuter will work 100% of the time from home, but their desire to go to work will depend a lot on the experience of the city in which their workplace is, which does not bode well for Seattle. My guess is men will be much more interested in returning to the workplace than women, especially if they have K-12 kids. If women workers have to stand on a street they don’t think is safe, outside in the dark waiting for a bus, we already know from the 550 they won’t do that, and now you can’t make them.

    I do think the future model will be like Microsoft’s new policy that allows some workers to work 100% from home if they choose, and some to work up to 50% at home. I think these changes will be permanent because workers like them, the systems are up and running now, and workers will be working for home for at least a year and maybe two years before they can return to work, and working from home saves most employers money by not needing so much office space (Microsoft not having that problem). Seattle’s problem is no commuter on the eastside wants to go to Seattle anymore to work, shop, or happy hour after work, so why go at all, which is a much bigger problem for Seattle in the long run than working from home. Commuters from the eastside liked commuting to Seattle, or at least tolerated it, because of the shopping and after work scene.

    The other thing to remember is even if up 1/3 to 1/2 of former commuters work from home part time there still is not the road capacity to handle commuter traffic, so peak hour congestion will probably return. So look for commuter transit on the worst commutes to still be attractive, especially at long distances, especially as cities and the state try to tax parking more and more.

    The reality is transit was never going to change the world or how people lived, or create “equity”, or change the kind of housing they wanted, and Covid-19 is not going to end transit as we know it. Working from home will just reduce transit revenues, which means rethinking transit, like a $4.5 billion line from Issaquah to S. Bellevue when those commuters would rather have a direct express bus.

    The Sounder train from Tacoma makes great sense, and so do any routes along 405 and I-5 which are overwhelmed during peak hours. Plus transit will always be a public good for those who must take transit as their form of transportation.

    What is really missing from transit in this region is any kind of humility or concern about what is best for the rider, a lack of fiscal efficiency, and most importantly real first/last mile access because transit rarely goes to exactly where you want to go. When people post riders will walk from the S. Bellevue Park and Ride to downtown Bellevue I know they don’t live on the eastside, and don’t wear high heels.

    IMO the real long term changes from Covid-19 will be a shift in revenue and business activity from cities like Seattle that are not seen at attractive to visit by commuter-workers to large eastside cities like Bellevue or Redmond that will be attractive to workers, and the smaller cities or communities in which workers work from home. I think a good way to look at this is to ask yourself where do these workers go on weekends or when they are not working?

    We will probably start with a fairly long recession that will hit the service industry hardest, followed by a slow return to normal in 2022-23. But my guess is that new normal will be in cities that have worked to be attractive to shoppers and restaurant goers because in the future the worker will have the option whether to go into the office, which will depend on whether the location offers something after work, which will end up determining where businesses go. That all begins with a sense of safety. If there is one thing ST and Metro misunderstand more than the eastside it is women.

    People are not going to remain hermits when Covid-19 passes. Probably just the opposite after a reasonable time period after the vaccine. Look for cruise and airline vacations to boom. They are going to want to get out of the house, and have to grocery shop or do errands or drive the kids someplace anyway.

    If the office is in a pleasant city near shops or nice restaurants employees are probably going to want to go into the office a few times/week, and socialize afterwards. Otherwise they will do that near their home when working from home. Life as we know it won’t change much, although where we live it, and how we get there and back may change.

    1. Very well written and thought out. Seattle has some serious issues that will delay its recovery. Beginning last year, dozens of stores closed in and around downtown. Pacific place is on its last leg. Wouldn’t surprise me if the whole mall permanently closed. There are fewer and fewer reasons to go into Seattle for 2021. In person theatre and sporting events, will not return until late 2021 – at the earliest.

      1. Oh, No, not the mall. Not the precious mall! Oh, wait, there is a mall downtown. Huh, who knew?

        Sorry for making light of what must be terrible for those involved. But the same thing is happening everywhere. It is a pandemic, and the support of retailers from the government has been insufficient (to say the least). Retailers are struggling everywhere. They are struggling in Seattle, the East Side, New York, Chicago, and any other city you care to mention.

        But in general, Seattle is poised to recover *economically* faster than just about anywhere. The cranes are still operating ( That is a snippet, but if you don’t have a subscription, you get the idea. You can also search for “Rider Levett Bucknall crane count” with a Google News search and find the same sort of thing. For example, here is a more in depth (free) article: Let me just quote this:

        Toronto still holds the crown for most cranes in a North American city, with 124, towering above all other metropolitan areas recorded. Of the 14 measured cities, only Phoenix, Seattle, Toronto and Washington, D.C., saw an increase in the number of cranes.

        Oh, and I looked it up, because I wondered if they meant “Greater Seattle”. The short answer is yes, but not east of the lake:

        The city limits, as defined by the RLB Crane Index, are Lake Washington west to Elliott Bay, and from Northgate to Boeing Field. So Bellevue, with its own dozen or so cranes, doesn’t even factor into Seattle’s numbers.

        So, you get the idea. Even during a pandemic, downtown Seattle is still building lots of very big buildings. They wouldn’t be building brand new buildings if they didn’t think people wanted to work or live there.

    2. IMO the real long term changes from Covid-19 will be a shift in revenue and business activity from cities like Seattle that are not seen at attractive to visit by commuter-workers to large eastside cities like Bellevue or Redmond that will be attractive to workers, and the smaller cities or communities in which workers work from home. I think a good way to look at this is to ask yourself where do these workers go on weekends or when they are not working?

      The East Side didn’t get COVID? Wow, they are like a miniature NBA bubble. I should hang out there more often.

      I have a feeling — call it a hunch — that when the pandemic wanes on the East Side it will wane in Seattle. Businesses like Expedia will be open for business, whether they are in Bellevue, or are in Seattle.

    3. > Transit follows, it doesn’t lead, because it costs more than it produces in fares. It is a public subsidy.
      > The reality is transit was never going to change the world or how people lived, or create “equity”, or change the kind of housing they wanted, and Covid-19 is not going to end transit as we know it.

      These are land use issues. Transportation and land use are tightly entwined. Suburbs/exurbs, highways, and cars are one nice package that was sold to the public during the 20th century. Likewise, transit and denser land use patterns can work in tandem. Look at real estate listings for any global city with good transit: nearby transit options will be as much of a selling point as auto-centric selling points are for real estate listings in American cities.
      Don’t forget that driving is also a public subsidy, but it’s a lot harder to break that down with 100 years of infrastructure and maintenance baked in to the equation. There are also private subsidies enforced by minimum parking requirements: If you drive to a store and I walk, I am subsidizing your parking space.

      When you say “change the kind of housing they wanted”, you make it sound like we live in a rational free market. However, single family homes are the only kind of housing allowed in most of the country, so yeah that’s what people live in because there isn’t any other choice. And most people drive because transit doesn’t work with such low density, with segregated zones such that most Americans probably don’t live within walking distance of a restaurant or shop to buy some milk. We shouldn’t be surprised that people act this way given the system they have been born into, but we also shouldn’t act like it has to be this way.

      > Why would anyone voluntarily commute –by car or train/bus — to Interbay? To get new tires? Buy heroin? Does anyone go to Interbay just for fun? No. So if they don’t have to go to Interbay (which has no effective transit from the eastside) to work, they won’t go, which means they won’t shop in Seattle, or dine there (who dines in Interbay anyway), because they wouldn’t anyway, whether they worked there or not.

      Again, this is all land use related. Until recent decades, 15th Ave W in Interbay was zoned as commercial/industrial/manufacturing. Not until relatively recently did the city designate it as a residential corridor. People living densely belongs in an industrial zone, not a residential zone, it seems. If there wasn’t so much free parking (see below) in Interbay, maybe people would consider taking transit more frequently to Whole Foods and QFC. For what it’s worth, I’ve seen several people taking the bus to the Interbay Golf Course.

      The whole point of your criticism of Interbay, I imagine, is that Ballard Link will have a few stops in the area, on its way to the juggernaut of destinations in the region: 14th and Market in Ballard! I think if we plan TOD correctly, these intermediary stops will be fine. This is basically how the highways and railroads developed: build a line from end to end, and things along the way will develop appropriately. However, nothing more than tire shops will develop if zoning makes everything else illegal to build.

      > The other thing to remember is even if up 1/3 to 1/2 of former commuters work from home part time there still is not the road capacity to handle commuter traffic, so peak hour congestion will probably return. So look for commuter transit on the worst commutes to still be attractive, especially at long distances, especially as cities and the state try to tax parking more and more.

      This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. As someone who hate-reads Seattle Times/MyNW/etc comment sections, a common refrain pre-covid was “if only those selfish government employees would work from home or work 4am-1pm shifts, there wouldn’t be traffic during ‘normal’ commuting periods.” But even now with perhaps 40% of people working from home, there is apparently still traffic. The fact is that cars do not scale, and there will always be occasional traffic unless you have extremely low densities. Places without density (and thus traffic) are generally boring. Roads will always fill up with as many cars as they are able to carry. More roads and decreased traffic make people drive more, and traffic makes people question whether they should make that trip. If you want no traffic, we could charge dynamic market rates for road space so there is always free flowing movement of cars.

      Regarding “cities and the state try[ing] to tax parking more and more”, thanks for the laugh. The expected subsidy in the form of “free parking” is a big part of what makes low density postwar cities so boring. If we planned free parking for the busiest day of the year, we would live in a parking lot. There are plenty of sunbelt cities where this is the case, where an overabundance of parking leads to situations where you drive across the street instead of walking. If only we charged market rates (like we do for everything else in life [okay most things have subsidies, but you know what I mean]), people would think more carefully about their mode of transport. But right now the entire market is rigged in favor of driving, so unsurprisingly that’s what most people do.

      1. That is a very well written comment Ravenna Steve, and I lived on Ravenna for three years during law school in the late 1980’s in a duplex. I used to like to go to Ravenna Park, but understand that is a little dodgy these days, at least in the ravine. And the Korean grocery across the street with a large selection of porn magazines ten years old.

        Lots to digest. I think what you are saying is density in the long run determines zoning, which determines transportation. I don’t think zoning determines density, if density isn’t there to begin with. I am not really sure Seattle is all that dense. The eastside certainly is not. I am not sure a few stops on Interbay between Seattle and Ballard will turn Interbay into San Francisco, but who knows. Maybe in 40 years if millions move to Seattle (although even the PSRC estimates little growth through 2050 in Seattle, although growth in the outlying more rural counties).

        Even pre-Covid car congestion was not bad during non-peak hours. Like the electricity grid, we build our systems for peak loads. It will be interesting to see car traffic post-Covid during peak times.

        There is a lot of tension between commercial and housing in town centers. You need retail density for retail to survive. The new paradigm is mixed use development, but the housing is more profitable and so the commercial/retail gets neglected, and that is what makes a city core exciting. Not a condo. None of these new TOD’s or condo projects are affordable, by the way, unless mandated, and even then there are ways to fudge affordable housing. New construction is never affordable without a public subsidy.

        I am not sure I agree with the parking analysis as a public subsidy, certainly not like transit. It is a commercial reality, on private property. Kemper Freeman often moans he has $300 million tied up in surface parking behind Bellevue Square, but that is what his clients (women) want. They don’t even like free underground parking at Lincoln Square. I suppose you can have a store without parking, but then customers can’t carry much. Seattle toyed with no parking requirements in One Union Square, but now that property is hard to lease, even with parking at Two Union Square. Everywhere else parking is not free, and includes a 20% city/state tax.

        When it comes to park and rides on the eastside how else are we suppose to get to transit? There are no feeder buses, and it is a long walk to get to even the bus stop. Cities like Mercer Island tried the old don’t build parking and residents will give up their cars routine, but they didn’t. They just parked on the street. Try and lease a condo in Belltown with no parking.

        The market is rigged in favor of driving because that is what a majority of citizens prefer. Transit has been around as long as cars. People take transit because they have to, either due to congestion or cost. Cars are safe, fast, and go door to door. You can carry kids and groceries and dogs and skis and Christmas Trees, all the accoutrements of suburbia, and never get wet. But transit, especially trains, are better in congestion, especially long commutes.

        If there is one or two divides on this blog I think it is male/female, those with small children, and those who live in suburbia because they (or more likely their wives) want to. They like a yard, mature trees, large lots, a rural kind of feel. Now they work from their home. You just cannot live in a dense TOD and rely on transit with small kids, IMO. I suppose you could try, but it seems unfair to me for the kids. I am glad I didn’t grow up in a TOD.

        You may find it boring, but others do not. I had a house in Phoenix for a while, and it is a pretty exciting city, much more exciting than Seattle, although excitement is not my first desire in a city. Phoenix has some lovely outdoor malls with the parking surrounding the mall, and great restaurants.

        The main issue I have is I don’t begrudge a city for its zoning decisions. Zoning needs to be local. But I don’t like the PSRC or the state or King Co. or transit advocates trying to dictate what cities zone, especially to financially support a ST transit system that was financially questionable from day one. Make Seattle work first.

        A TOD is not inherently more moral or better than a single family house zone. In fact I think Seattle’s crown jewel is its historic single family neighborhoods, although lot sizes can be small, but those will be gone in 20 years with the new zoning. Some think that is good, some bad, and people can always move, especially with the sale price they will get for a single family home in Seattle that can now become a three unit multi-family development.

        Again thank you for your well written analysis.

      2. It is pretty simple Daniel. Some people like small houses. Some people like big houses. Others like apartments.

        In a free market, we would have all of them. People would choose the one we want.

        But we don’t have a free market. You can build a big house. You can build a small house. You can have the biggest lot you want. But you can’t have a small lot. Nor can you build an apartment. Nor are you allowed to have more than one family in a house (no turning your house into an apartment). Not, at least, in most of the city, in most cities (Portland Oregon is an exception).

        Thus we have lots and lots of big lots, with only one house on them, since that is all that can be built. Over time, these lots tend to have big houses (no sense in building a small house, since the lot is so big). If we allows more small lots, or more apartments, we would probably have a lot more small houses and apartments.

        The parking subsidy refers to the cost that society pays in providing a benefit to those who drive. It results in streets that are more difficult to navigate on foot, and more difficult to serve via transit.

        You asked:

        When it comes to park and rides on the eastside how else are we suppose to get to transit? There are no feeder buses, and it is a long walk to get to even the bus stop.

        The answer is, you reverse those decisions. Allow more density. Build better pedestrian pathways. Of course the latter isn’t easy (the damage has been done) but it isn’t impossible. You could start by allowing people to buy what they want to buy.

      3. They like a yard, mature trees, large lots, a rural kind of feel. Now they work from their home. You just cannot live in a dense TOD and rely on transit with small kids, IMO. I suppose you could try, but it seems unfair to me for the kids. I am glad I didn’t grow up in a TOD.

        TOD? You mean a dense neighborhood? You mean kids can’t possibly grow up happy in Brooklyn or Greenwich Village? Is that what you are saying, because if so, I think there are a lot of parents — and a lot of kids, who feel differently. Literally millions of them.

        What kids want is a home. They don’t care if it is a townhouse, an apartment, or a standalone house. They just want a home. They don’t want to be hungry. They want to spend time with their parents, and not spend so much time in the car. They don’t want their parents to spend so much time in the car doing the things they have to do (like work). They want to walk to the grocery store, or drug store, or other places where they have to go, instead of being forced to sit in the back, and wiggle around. Of course they want a park, and a swing, and all those things. But most are fine sharing those things with others (sharing is good for them).

        Most people in the world live in the suburbs not because they want to, but because they have to. That is why most suburbs are slums. It is where the poor people live. This country is different. We created racial ghettos right in the middle of the city. Those became slums. As those started to recover, we built huge freeways over the top, destroying those neighborhoods. Not only did that create more of a slum inside the city, but it made it easier to avoid the realities of the city. I’ve often thought how ironic suburbia is. Folks often are attracted to suburbia because you are closer to nature — the very thing suburbia destroys. Likewise, with people fleeing the cities to avoid racial conflict, the conflict was made worse by suburban development (e. g. Detroit Michigan).

        Anyway, then there is the zoning and the cul de sac. All of this would have worked itself out reasonably well with a decent street grid and zoning. The city would have grown as cities have grown for centuries. A bunch of new houses on farm land, some apartments replace old houses on big lots, a new grocery store, etc., all within walking distance. That didn’t happen. None of the old small houses on big lots ever get turned into apartments, let alone small shops, with an apartment on top. Transit doesn’t work well, because “you can’t get there from here” ( and population density is low. You can’t walk anywhere for the same reason. Everything requires a car.

        All of this has been a huge burden for the middle class (oh, and if you think you are in the middle class, you probably aren’t). Owning and maintaining a car is expensive. The urban areas are expensive (as to be expected) but so too are the suburban ones. That is because the lots are huge — the restrictions mean that you can’t buy “a little house in a nearby suburb” — your choice is a big house in a distant suburb, or a condo in the city. (Even the latter is tough to get, if the rules are highly restrictive, like Seattle).

        Is that good for families? Hardly. Many struggle to make ends meet. They pay way too much in rent, with little hope of saving to buy a condo, let alone a house.

        It doesn’t have to be that way, of course. We could change the zoning (in Seattle, and the suburbs). Prices for *homes* would drop, although prices for land would be about the same. The sale is much the same (someone is mostly buying the land) but instead of replacing the tiny old house with a McMansion, they replace it with a bunch of row houses, or a small apartment. People would own less land, but more people would own a home.

      4. Too much here to reply to so I will latch on to one specific point that is near and dear to my heart.

        RossB mentioned: “I’ve often thought how ironic suburbia is. Folks often are attracted to suburbia because you are closer to nature — the very thing suburbia destroys. ”

        One measure (not the only one) of “nature” in an urban context is tree canopy measurement. I found this bar chart in a Bellevue City report which I thought was enlightening – apologies for posting a Google link but I can’t find an easy way to extract the direct PDF link to it.

        The plot in question shows Bellevue having a 37% tree canopy cover, vs. Seattle at 28% (second lowest in the graph, though I am not sure what it shows… many but not all cities in King County, perhaps?) The highest, perhaps not surprisingly, are Issaquah, at 51%, followed by Mercer Island and Sammamish, tied at 48%.

        In any case, this is not to diss on Seattle or cast glowing adulation to the suburbs, but it is important to note that there are in fact benefits to people who live in suburbs, such as a more tree-rich environment. This is what I meant earlier when I said I would rather walk through Overlake than Pike Place.

        Now, can the entire world live in suburbia? No, clearly not at the current population level. But it is not a given that _everything_ about suburbia is worse than the equivalent in large cities. So it would behoove all of us, I think, to 1. accept that some people really do value some of the benefits of suburbia over city amenities (I think the study Mike Orr generally cites lists the percentage of such people at about a third), 2. accept that some of those benefits are in fact desirable even to those who prefer to live in cities, 3. strive to make cities more like suburbs in those specific ways, and 4. not minimize, in the dialog we are holding here, the values held by others who do not necessarily see things the way we ourselves do, especially when we strive to convince them of something. Let’s all build consensus :)

      5. Tree canopy is alive and well on 16th and 17th Ave E, among other places. 17th in particular between Galer and Thomas is qute notable.

  6. Ross, once again you miss the entire point trying to be humorous (I guess). Long term changes from Covid-19 assumes Covid-19 has passed. The ultimate question then is how many commuters will return to work, and where, because that will determine which jurisdiction, and which subarea, realizes the tax revenue, along with things like tourism and business activity.

    Someone may be employed by Expedia (an ego headquarters if there ever was one), but that does not mean they work out of the Seattle office. Or even visit. Expedia will have to offer the same work from home options other internet based companies do, or it will lose employees.

    Why would anyone voluntarily commute –by car or train/bus — to Interbay? To get new tires? Buy heroin? Does anyone go to Interbay just for fun? No. So if they don’t have to go to Interbay (which has no effective transit from the eastside) to work, they won’t go, which means they won’t shop in Seattle, or dine there (who dines in Interbay anyway), because they wouldn’t anyway, whether they worked there or not.

    Revenue determines transit, even though some refuse to accept that despite the recent cuts. Fares and general fund taxes. Less revenue (which usually means less fare revenue) means less frequency, routes, and mode of transit. Subarea equity means revenue raised in the subarea has to be spent there, whether it is sales tax or property tax or any other ST tax. Even without subarea equity transit spending needs to follow the riders.

    Yes, no matter what, when Covid-19 passes and the economy begins to recover there will be fewer commuters and less transit use, much less than the crazy future ridership estimates from ST. But just as importantly is where those fewer commuters will be going to, and how often, because the revenue follows them, and transit follows the revenue. I think some on this blog just don’t get that. Transit follows, it doesn’t lead, because it costs more than it produces in fares. It is a public subsidy.

    So, if you want to know where future transit will go figure out where the future revenue will go when things begin to reopen. Probably a pretty good place to start is in the reserves in the different ST subareas.

    1. Why would anyone voluntarily commute –by car or train/bus — to Interbay? To get new tires? Buy heroin? Does anyone go to Interbay just for fun? No.

      I could say the same thing about the East Side. I’ve actually worked over there, and I’m sure I could have scored some smack (that’s what it is called, right?). I know I could have got some tires.

      Have you actually been to the Expedia Headquarters? Have you? It is spectacular. Not only can you look at at Puget Sound and the Olympics from the offices, but it has easy access to Myrtle Edwards Park, which means that you can cavort with sea lions in your lunch hour — perfect for those in the travel business. Oh, and of course, it isn’t that far to walk downtown, to the revamped waterfront.

      Nothing in Bellevue even comes close to it in terms of charm. To be clear, the downtown park is nice. There are a few good restaurants. Is Marmot Mountain Works still there? That is a great store. No? Oh man, #BellevueIsDying. Oh well.

      You seem to have it all backwards. Companies are moving *away* from the suburbs and *to* the city to attract the workers. There may be other reasons to locate in New Jersey and not Manhattan, but attracting workers isn’t one of them. (Oh, and of course, businesses like to do business with businesses — so they locate close to them).

      1. There are a lot of (mostly tech) jobs moving into downtown Bellevue, and Spring District seems fairly well intended to cater to young workers who would otherwise live in Belltown, Eastlake, SLU, etc. Yes, night life in Bellevue is nothing like the night life in Seattle, but not everyone wants that anyway (even from among the younger crowd); so I don’t think companies will have trouble attracting young workers to move to Spring District any more than they had trouble getting them to move to Belltown and Eastlake. And Spring District has the advantage of being on an ST line, unlike Belltown until however many decades from now.

        One attraction that Bellevue/East Side have over Seattle – you’re closer to the trails. Not having to cross the lake (and get through downtown traffic) is a major convenience. You can get from Spring District to the Tiger Mountain trailhead in what, 15 minutes by car? Vs. probably closer to 35 coming from downtown. That’s a huge difference if you want to get in a quick hike in the morning before work or on Friday afternoons after work – and I know people who work and live in Bellevue and do both. Same thing for skiing in winter, you’re just that much closer to Snoqualmie. I have a couple of friends who do cross-country skiing and are considering moving to the East side since going in the mornings before work is more of a pain from where they live now (in Greenlake/Roosevelt area). Just anecdotes, but worth considering.

        In the long run, both Seattle and Bellevue will do just fine, and neither is dying, contrary to popular belief.

      2. I have been to the headquarters. I thought it was a strange and ego driven move, especially now. Expedia lost a large portion of its female staff who live on the eastside when it moved. It is still Interbay. Mostly now Expedia litigates travel refunds, but I hope it recovers.

        I assisted my brother-in-law and his neighborhood in Magnolia in trying to get the city to remove the broken down buses and RV’s that park along Interbay and have no plumbing so everyone uses the street to go the bathroom. The city never did anything. Property crime is very high.

        I work in the tower in the Smith Tower. My view is out over Puget Sound and up 2nd Ave. I have had this office since 1995. Beautiful views, and probably impossible to match in Seattle or on the eastside. But we are still leaving when our lease is up in two years, and the building is losing tenants quickly, in large part we can’t get staff to take the bus from the eastside or go out to lucch, and we don’t like the neighborhood anymore. Use to love it despite its warts, and Pioneer Square is the wart of downtown Seattle with its shelters, but it is more than that now.

        Time will tell. I certainly don’t have any animosity towards Seattle. I was born here and have worked here five days/week since 1988. I think working from home will be one of the best things to happen to society, especially women with children, and what could be better for reducing carbon emissions than no commute. I think it will reduce demand for transit, which is neither good nor bad, and will reallocate tax revenue, which is neither good nor bad. Just is.

        Commercial development is a lagging indicator. Loan rates on commercial buildings are usually tied to occupancy rates, which can mean make or break. Seattle was by most accounts becoming overbuilt, (especially after Bellevue added 14 stories to its height limit in the town center core) but once permitted and ground being broken projects usually proceed unless bankruptcy because the loans require it.

        But you have to fill those buildings. That is after all the point, and occupancy is a semi-leading indicator because most leases are at least 5 years long, although a lot of renegotiation is going on right now. Retail and restaurants are a leading indicator, because the business simply go bankrupt. Not to move to Bellevue, but because the space won’t be needed in the future with working from home. I would think working from home is something everyone would think is a good thing. I mean, what “good” is there from a commute, or WSDOT spending billions on creating capacity on 405 for peak rush hour commutes? Better to spend those 90 minutes/day with the family or on work from home.

      3. And Spring District has the advantage of being on an ST line, unlike Belltown until however many decades from now.

        OK, yeah, Belltown should have a train stop. But let’s not get carried away here. Most of the transit will occur on the bus, and the buses get close to (or run through) Belltown. If you happen to find yourself on a Link train from Northgate headed to Belltown, you think “I will get off at Westlake, and walk for about five minutes, or if I’m feeling tired, I can catch a bunch of frequent buses headed there”. On the other hand, if you are headed to the Spring District, you are thinking “OK, another half hour before I get there”. If you are coming from the south on Link, you of course also have a transfer. The point is, for most of the city, it is much easier to get to Belltown than to the East Side.

        One attraction that Bellevue/East Side have over Seattle – you’re closer to the trails. Not having to cross the lake (and get through downtown traffic) is a major convenience. You can get from Spring District to the Tiger Mountain trailhead in what, 15 minutes by car?

        Ha, yeah, I hear you. I used to do that. My buddy and I would blow off work in the afternoon and go explore the “Issaquah Alps”. Yeah, kind of fun. But I think with Link, it is pretty much the same, especially if I we didn’t have a car. So if I was in downtown Seattle or downtown Bellevue without a car, it is pretty much the same. Instead of taking a bus, you take the train and a bus. I think Spring or Manning used to talk about taking a bus out there (Wilderness on the 401, or something like that). Anyway, not that different really, from either downtown.

        If you are talking about a morning jog, then it is hard to beat Discovery Park. You can run around there (dodging the owls, sea lions and bald eagles) and then catch a bus to downtown in time for your 9:00 meeting (if you are into that sort of thing). That park is easily accessible from either Ballard or Magnolia.

        If you mean a “real hike”, something in the mountains (not the foothills) then the I-90 corridor is nice, but so are a lot of other areas. Highway 2, Mountain Loop, Mount Rainier, or North Cascades are also great. The thing is, the more you move up the road towards those areas, the farther away you are from some of the others. Maybe Kenmore or Lake Stevens is ideal — but then you are further away from Rainier. And further away from Puget Sound :)

      4. @Daniel — So let me get this straight. The area with the longer history, more economic diversity and more ongoing construction (much of which is residential) is doomed, even though it is the financial center of not only the state, but the region. But the area that is highly geared towards one industry and pretty much one company — a boom town of sorts, that has transformed from a sleepy suburb to a major metropolis seemingly overnight — will do great. Everyone will avoid working in the city, with its culture and history, but everyone will flock to working in the suburb, with its … office park?

        I don’t get it. If all of the tech people work from home, then Seattle gets hit hard. Bellevue and Redmond get hit a lot harder. Seattle is a lot more diverse — it not only has a lot more from a private perspective, but from a public one as well (and organizations that mix the two, like Harborview). I know Bellevue’s growth has been impressive, but Bellevue is still tiny compared to Seattle. Downtown Seattle employs over twice as many people as all of Bellevue. Redmond is even smaller. (

        Furthermore, I can’t think of any city that followed the pattern you are describing. San Fransisco was ignored by the tech companies as they decided to set up shop in the ‘burbs, but now many companies are locating right back in the center. Detroit fell apart when they located the factories in the suburbs, but that was a while ago (and there were lots of reasons why Detroit collapsed). People have been talking about how ugly, nasty and dangerous New York is for years and years, and yet that is where businesses want to locate (not New Jersey). Chicago — by some measures the most dangerous city in the country — yet most of the business in Illinois is done right downtown. Boston, Philly, … you just keep going, and you can’t find an example of what you are talking about. Oh, there are some nice suburbs in D. C., but mostly because D. C. is artificially constrained, and prices are so high. D. C. itself, meanwhile, is thriving — never been better.

        Oh, and I don’t know why you think crime is worse in Seattle now. It was much worse before —

        Your theories just don’t hold water. Seventy years ago, they sounded reasonable. All those white people were so scared of the black people, and so they wanted to live (and do business elsewhere). In the 80s, all those office parks opened in the middle of nowhere, and folks that was the answer. It wasn’t, as it made commuting *for most people* miserable.

        Now, supposedly commuting is dead, but thousands will want to fight traffic to get to an office park in the suburbs, but not the cultural and intellectual heart of the state? Call me dubious.

      5. I have been to the headquarters. I thought it was a strange and ego driven move, especially now.

        It happened before the pandemic. I don’t think they would have moved right before a major downturn in the travel industry. Come on.

        Expedia lost a large portion of its female staff who live on the eastside when it moved.

        Yeah, I would imagine the reverse would happen if a company moved from Seattle to Bellevue. It is still Bellevue.

        It is still Interbay.

        Are you saying it is farther away from downtown? Yeah, I get that. The same is true for a bunch of companies along there. But with the D and 24 and 33, it isn’t too bad. It is a bit awkward, but you can say the same for just about all of the East Side. Factoria, for example, still isn’t great (although it is a lot better than it used to be twenty years ago). In other words, I would much rather work at Expedia than T-Mobile (and I’m sure there are lots of people who feel that way).

        Any time a company moves, you lose people. But you also gain people. I’m sure there were lots of people who wouldn’t take a job that involved commuting to the East Side who gladly commute there. But in general my guess is the vast majority of potential employees (and certainly potential business partners) would prefer the new location. It may be a bit light in terms of restaurants though. In that respect it is similar to a lot of suburban office parks. It does seem like a very pretty suburban office park perched next to downtown and Lower Queen Anne, much like west Magnolia is a giant suburb (albeit with nice sidewalks and a nice street grid) that is actually close to downtown Seattle.

        Great property if you can afford it (most can’t).

      6. People have been talking about how ugly, nasty and dangerous New York is for years and years, and yet that is where businesses want to locate

        Fake news? Looking for something that isn’t right wing nut slanted I found this:

        Why Are America’s Three Biggest Metros Shrinking?

        The Atlantic isn’t one of Orange Man’s favorite magazines. In looking for a Democratic leaning article I also came across a list [from a liberal source] of America’s most liberal cities… NY, Seattle, SF, etc… missing was Portland. Have the anarchists devolved Portland from being considered a city or is it just moved from the “liberal” category to the “radical” category.

      7. @Bernie — Did you read the article? Big cities attract immigrants. Immigration has shrunk.

        Oh, the rent is too damn high (they haven’t built enough new places to live). L. A. had a 75 increase in housing prices since the end of the Great Depression — that isn’t a dying city. As the article put it, “higher-income residents bidding up the price of housing in both [New York City and L. A.] has accelerated the middle-class exodus”. There are only so many places to live, and if wealthy people buy them all up (and the city won’t let you build new places) then the middle class is pushed to the suburbs (or other, more affordable cities).

        We have the same sort of problem, but we are still growing. The main point is that the cities — those cities, this city — is still very popular. Otherwise housing prices wouldn’t be so damn high.

      8. Christopher Leinberger researched Americans’ preferred vs actual living conditions in “The Option of Urbanism”. He found 33% of Americans want to live in walkable urbanism (e.g., Ballard, First Hill, downtown Kirkland), 33% want to live in driveable sub-urbanism (e.g., Kent East Hill, Renton, parts of Kirkland), and 33% were equally satisfied either way. But the built environment was 80% driveable sub-urbanism. So 13% of people were living in LOWER density and walkability than they wanted to. This is a national average from 2002, so it may be a bit better here and now. But 70% of Seattle’s residential land is still single family only (with only minimal ADU/duplex concessions), and the suburbs are even worse. So there’s still a shortage of walkable urban neighborhoods for all who want it, especially at a price they can afford.

    2. Why would anyone voluntarily commute –by car or train/bus — to Interbay? To get new tires? Buy heroin?

      Yes, for your mama.

      Sorry, but as someone who used to live in Interbay, I don’t appreciate your snobbishness. Sorry, Daniel if I don’t join in your little anti-urban fantasy. Go watch re-runs of Leave it Beaver. Maybe Ward can teach you some class.

      Who knows, maybe Expedia moved to Seattle to avoid the type of provincial stereotyping you are currently exhibiting. That’s not fair — I’ve met plenty of worldly people in Bellevue. But they don’t have outdated fears of “The Big City”. Some of them lived in Paris and London (imagine that — scary!).

      That’s the part of this that just doesn’t make sense, Daniel. I understand your basic idea — why commute if you don’t have to. But I don’t get why someone would go to, say, this:, instead of this: To play ultimate? To go for a walk knowing that cars will outnumber people, and the few souls walking the streets also work at the same place as you?

      Sorry, that just doesn’t make any sense. I’ve worked at a bunch of different places. I’ve worked in downtown Bellevue (it wasn’t bad). I’ve worked in Factoria (meh). I very much enjoyed Fremont, but I also very much enjoyed downtown. Not only could I walk to the Market, and grab some (very fresh, affordable) fruit but I could walk up the street, to Capitol Hill (one of the nicest neighborhoods in the state). Eventually, folks can walk along a promenade — A Freakin’ Promenade Daniel! — down to a waterfront, and wander by sharks (for free) outside the aquarium, while looking at the Olympics, and breathing in the smell of Puget Sound.

      Oh, and the great thing about working in downtown Seattle is that it was extremely easy to get to. That will obviously be the case in the future, which is why downtown Seattle will do just fine, just like just about every other downtown in the world. The future is not suburban. No other country has the sort of suburban fear-based development that we have (because no other country had the kind of red-lining we had). But those days are gone. The city is fine. Or at least it will be, once this damn pandemic is gone (and until then, no place in the U. S. is fine, ask South Dakota, or for that matter, the White House staff).

      Bellevue or Redmond are not fundamentally more attractive as a place for business than Seattle. If you think they are, you are simply in the minority.

      1. A few points on your musings.

        I would much prefer walking in the area shown by your first map than walking in the area shown by your second map. It is more relaxing (to me), I enjoy the bigger trees, and yes, I enjoy the smaller crowds. YMMV.

        When I was working downtown many years ago (before Link), getting in and out was a pain, even on commuter buses. Certainly, with Link, if you have a reasonable way of getting to it (I do), commuting to downtown is much more convenient. The same will be true of Overlake area and downtown Bellevue once East Link opens. So right now, advantage Seattle, in 4 years, it’s a tie.

        Specifically for Interbay, it’s pretty hard to get to on transit, similar to Factoria (which you also noted). Advantage… probably Seattle because of frequency, but you can maybe use Eastgate as a connection point instead of downtown Bellevue and be closer to a tie. Once East Link opens and the Eastside bus route restructuring happens, again, probably closer to a tie. YMMV, again, but I would hate to commute to either by bus, and will likely do my best to avoid having to in the future. Both seem particularly bad also because the walk to a larger transit center is annoying in either case.

        I get that not everyone feels the same as me, and I am sure I am in a minority. But diversity of opinions is in fact a good thing, and diversity of _tastes_ is almost a given. If all we have is people who want to live in Seattle to the detriment of everywhere else, I would venture to claim that Seattle will be worse off for everyone, in the end. So let’s be happy that not everyone wants to live here, as well as that so many people do.

      2. One last time Ross: the revenue follows the worker. If tens of thousands of Seattle residents use to commute from Seattle to work in other cities, and in the future, post Covid-19, work from home, that revenue will shift from the cities they worked in outside of Seattle to Seattle and Seattle businesses, and the Seattle ST subarea. Good for Seattle.

        If tens of thousands of workers use to commute into Seattle from outside Seattle but decide to work from home, then that revenue will leave Seattle and go to their city. Not good for Seattle, but not necessarily good for Bellevue either, if the worker use to work in Bellevue.

        Either way transit is screwed from the loss of commuters. For some reason Metro is planning on cutting transit 1/3 through 2025. I imagine they have thought this through. I have to imagine ST’s changes in frequency have something to do with this, but who knows.

        If there are no changes to work or commuting post Covid then there will be no changes to revenue or transit, and Metro made a huge mistake. It will be as if Covid-19 never happened, except for the budget hole from Covid-19 in transit and municipal budgets that need to be filled, and the many closed retail businesses and restaurants.

        If workers are given the discretion whether to work from home, or go to the office, then whether they go to the office will probably have something to do with getting out of the house, and doing something after work. After all, why spend an hour or more commuting to work if you don’t have to. My assumption — although it may be wrong — is the location of their office will have an impact on whether a worker who doesn’t have to decides to go to the office one or two days/week.

        I think working from home is a wonderful opportunity for many workers, especially mothers, and those who had to commute by transit. I am glad Covid-19 forced businesses to make this an option. I will still go to the office, but my wife won’t, unless she plans to meet for drinks or dinner afterwards, or shop.

        Do you think the option to work from home is a bad thing for workers? Think of the savings in carbon emissions, and the huge part of our lives no longer wasted commuting to an office.

      3. Mike, Seattle’s new residential development code allows any single family zoned lot to now contain up to three legal dwellings, with up to 13 unrelated tenants. There is no onsite parking requirement. This is throughout Seattle’s neighborhoods, except in areas with restrictive covenants like where Mayor Durkan lives.

        Of course this has repriced residential lots in Seattle higher, because each lot is now valued as a three unit multi-family parcel. This is the same zoning concept that wiped out the historically Black Central District, and made it all dense and white with expensive and chic sushi restaurants.

        I don’t know why you think this will create affordable housing, at least without a public subsidy. The multi-family projects built so far are high end, and new construction is always the least affordable (although there are still many slum lords who jam tiny ADU’s onto small lots and load them up with renters until they sell to a developer). It is naïve to think just because you increase housing supply that new supply will be more affordable, especially if it is new construction. Is NY or San Francisco affordable with all the density? The non-publicly subsidized affordable housing in Seattle has always resided in older single family homes like in the central district, that often house multiple generations of families.

        The other big change is the owner of the property no longer has to live in one of the units on the property. The Queen Anne neighborhood fought this change for years. It had nothing to do with affordable housing, or density, or transit, it had to do with the Master Builders Assoc. and developers who want to buy up parcels, redevelop them into three high end rental units, and hold onto the properties as rentals. Same as the central district. This turns residential neighborhoods into absentee rental properties, or very high end condo owned projects. I think the saddest fact about Seattle is over 50% of residents rent, like serfs. I know a few of these developers, and guess where they live? Medina.

        Of course all this “density” comes at the expense of yards, where trees grow, and as noted in another post Seattle’s tree canopy is much less than eastside cities.

        Density and transit advocagtes have been at war against families and children, because so often their advocates don’t have children. The remedy for a Seattle family with children — 21% of whom send their kids to private school which can cost $20,000/year for Villa Eden, second highest in the nation — that does not want to live next to a three unit party lot with 13 unrelated tenants is to sell, reap the windfall from selling a lot now zoned as a three-unit multi-family lot, and move to the eastside.

        I mean why do you think someone who works in downtown Seattle is willing to pay more for a house in Issaquah than in Seattle. Because Seattle is becoming toxic to raise kids in, and if you have kids their needs come first. So you commute.

        But no matter how you slice it the new density will never be “affordable”, or what you mean by affordable, and it will never make up the future funding issues for transit which are in the billions, and the millions the PSRC estimated will come in the next 30 years (before Covid-19) are expected to go to Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap counties. Why? An affordable single family home.

      4. Thanks for the info about the zoning changes.

        I’ll try to illustrate. Say the total unmet demand in Seattle is 100 units. You relax the zoning to allow three unit instead of one in the 70% lowest-zoned lots. Some owners build, others don’t. The net result is 30 additional units, but the demand is for 100. More people compete for the same number of units compared to a reference year, say 2003 before prices stared escalating. That competition bids prices up, and owners can raise prices easier without having weeks of vacancy. The increase is less than it would have been without the upzone, but more than it would have been if another strategy were tried. That strategy is to saturate the market. Allow apartments throughout the entire city. Now the potential supply is 1,000, while demand remains 100. Again some owners will build and others won’t. Lots near transit arterials and urban villages will have an advantage, because living in the outer edge of Magnolia or Lake Washingtion is really isolated and inconvenient. Developers will build up to the demand but no further; so they’ll build 100 units out of a possible 1.000. But they slightly overshoot and build 110. Now everyone can find a unit easily and there’s little competition, so owners can’t raise prices or tenants/shoppers will go elsewhere. So prices remain stable. Maybe there’s a little uptick but not the acceleration we’ve been seeing. Chicago, Houston, and Dallas do this by allowing housing to expand to match population increases. (And that Chicago decrease is mainly in the extremely neglected south side.)

        Does this make new units affordable to those making under $70,000? Not on its own. But it keeps prices from accelerating; so it keeps the problem from becoming worse. The government should arrange another strategy for low-income and workforce housing under the $70K threshold.

        We should have nipped the problem in the bud in 2003 by saturating the market. Then rents now would be around $900K instead of $1,800K, and condos would be around $100K instead of $400K. As they are more or less in Dallas. Single-family houses can’t scale with an urban growth boundary, so they would still be high. But some people who prefer condos and urban villages would be in them, lowering the demand for single-family houses, so prices would be somewhat less than they are now.

        Saying that upzoning made the Central District unaffordable ignores the severe regionwide housing shortage that drove prices up. Even if the CD inevitably would have been highest because it’s close to downtown, the entire regionwide curve would have been lower, so more people could remain in the CD. And the remaining displaced people could move to Rainier Valley or Broadview or West Seattle instead of to Kent, Auburn, and Tacoma. Those who wanted to of course.

  7. The irony being I have worked in downtown Seattle five days/week for 32 straight years, but apparently don’t understand it.

    1. Downtown retail has been on decline everywhere ever since our little internet bookstore startup took over commerce with two-day shipping. Turns out that increasing rents don’t mix with decreasing sales as consumers prefer to buy-try-return than to wade through streets shared with bikes and buses. However, service (food and otherwise) was a bull market until sharing conditioned air with a stranger became surprisingly life-threatening. While the remote jury is still out on whether COVID will kill more industries than Millennials, it seems my experience has not been unique as companies apparently report declining productivity among those involuntarily working from home.

      In a few short years, we’ll be happy to have built new roads for steel wheels to bring in riders from two more of three available directions. Well, maybe not if you’re opening your car tab bill in your converted home office, but maybe so if you’re a coffee-sipping rider looking downward to cars parked on southbound I-5 before the train dives underground to escape the rain.

      Frankly, predicting the flight of the white collar from urbanity seems a fundamental misunderstanding of what kept (much of) it there even after (many of) its wearers tried to fly as far as possible a few generations ago. While the Eastside’s main attraction today may be its ability to send its undesired to the Courthouse across the Lake, the assumption of a Final Escape from Density for the landed gentry reflects a nostalgia for a time when urban problems were less visible and/or fewer people called Seattle home.

  8. Yesterday I tried to take Link from Westlake to SODO to go to Costco. I briefly glimpsed “6 min to Angle Lake” on the sign and, hoping I’d read it correctly, headed down. The northbound platform was blocked off, and the southbound platform said “To University of Washington” the same as the northbound platform. I thought maybe it was single-tracked and therefore a longer-than-usual wait. The last time I’d tried taking Link in September to north Seattle, it was closed north of Westlake for construction, and I took the shuttle. So I thought maybe this was happening again. At the top of the escalator I heard a train but couldn’t see it, so I couldn’t tell whether it was going southbound or northbound. I didn’t want to go down to the platform and find out I’d just missed it or it wouldn’t be coming for a long time due to single-tracking, so I turned around and took the 131 instead. Outside there was no station agent to explain things and no sign of the shuttle. I didn’t look closely for the shuttle, but the last time it had big signs you couldn’t miss — and staff explaining what was going on.

    It’s things like this that are driving away non-commute riders, on top of the 15-minute schedule, 30 minute evenings.

    I was also thinking about going to Uwajimaya in Chinatown and thinking about how to get there and back. There’s 15-minute Link, 5-minute bus 7/14/36, or the First Hill Streetcar at whatever its weekend schedule is (or maybe it’s suspended Sundays?). I didn’t end up going to Uwajimaya, but likely I would have thought, “I’ll probably take the bus because it’s more frequent. I may take Link if I see it’s coming in a few minutes and I’m sure there’s not a closure or something going on. I might take the streetcar back because it’s probably running every 15 minutes until 7pm Saturday and who knows Sunday. Link’s 15 minutes is no better or worse than the streetcar’s 15 minutes. But if I’m not in a mood to possibly wait a while or find or Link or the streetcar isn’t running, I’ll take a bus, which will probably come in a few minutes.”

    Another trip I want to take is to Bridle Trails. That requires taking both Link and the 255, or going around the long way with 550+250, which doesn’t seem any better and would have a longer walk uphill. That will require timing Link to take the right train before the 255 leaves. I keep putting the trip off because of this rigamarole.

    1. After a very long day’s drive, Mike, I just sat down and read this, and it’s very disturbing. Months before the onset of the virus, I experienced some of this same disconnect. The same evening as a transit event at El Centro at Beacon Hill.

      The feeling can be summed up in one sentence: “To take care of passengers, there’s nobody here, and nobody cares.” It’s not only rude but flat-out dangerous to leave passengers on transit property with no information.

      Has it really come to this, and if so, what’s to be done about it? If the problem is budget, is this anything volunteers can help with?

      Mark Dublin

    2. There is a 3rd way to get to Bridle Trails. You can take the 545 to 51st St. and walk the Bridlecrest “Trail to the trail”, no transfer required. You can even walk straight through to the other side and take the 255 back.

      Of course, the big tradeoff is that the 545 only runs every 30 minutes, and I did experience one moment this summer when the 545 was full – on a Sunday.

      Even with the Link transfer, the frequency bump of the 255 has been a welcome addition to the transit network, especially when you’re trying to get somewhere in Seattle north of the ship canal, rather than downtown. I already had one moment a couple weeks ago where a shoelace broke right as I was heading out the door, and the 255 service restructure made it only a 15-minute delay, rather than a 30-minute delay.

  9. Today’s outing where I extended a doctor’s visit in South Tacoma into a firsthand investigation of possible ST Express bus service through Port Clinton to the new high-speed Southworth-to-Seattle ferry is off-topic so I’ll save it.

    Except to register some shock at turning on my computer to such an intensively record-breaking word-count full of heated speculations of matters as utterly lacking in urgency as they are unknowable.

    Our transit ridership’s down because so many fewer people still have work, let alone schooling, that they can anymore access via transit. That’s all.

    And one way or another, including the fine work that STB and its contributors are donating their time for, we’re working on it. Suggestion to the editors, though:

    A new abbreviation could really lower the really demoralizing risk if [AH]. Let [CTS] stand for “Consider The Source” and nobody loses face.

    Mark Dublin

  10. We’re months away from a vaccine. Infections are on the rise again. Stay at home order be damned, we’re at least a year away from talking about whether ridership numbers are recovering or not. What is this?

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