Extraordinary engineering work went into floating slab track designed to minimize ground vibrations and electromagnetic noise from trains running under sensitive research labs on the University of Washington campus.

160 Replies to “Weekend open thread: floating slabs under UW”

  1. What do you think link light rail daily
    Ridership will be like within the next six months? Amazon is allowing more remote work, as are other companies. I’ve noticed a trend, where it feels trains are busier on weekends rather than weekdays. Some transit agencies, like the New York subway, are considering reducing weekday peak service and increasing weekend service to meet this new reality.

    1. I think the peak crushes of getting passed up at Westlake are probably not coming back for a long time.

      That being said, I think the death of the office is wildly overstated by people in media who probably have a fairly easy time working from home. The highways are already fairly congested, with Denny out of SLU being the same old crapshoot it’s always been. (That eastbound bus lane really should go all the way back to Westlake, if not further.)

      1. You didn’t happen to go to stony brook and live in tabler quad in a suite with people, N. T. and M. G. did you?

        If so, small world.

    2. Once the vax mandates kick in with Amazon, might their office workers finally feel safe to return? (Though, warehouse workers who get exemptions might get kicked to some sort of lower-rung remote office work.)

      In the case of South Lake Union, they have some good transit options for avoiding the 1 Line, namely Metro route 320 from Bothell and Northgate, and route 64 from northeast Seattle and Roosevelt, both with mere half-hour headway, and peak-direction only.

      But if the 1 Line is a spread limo in the morning, they may as well take it if the wait is long for the direct options, and hope the streetcar isn’t packed.

      1. The buildings are open, there is just no policy to actually make you come in or not. If you are an employee you can waltz in and sit at a desk with a mask on.

        I would imagine the bigger issue is that because of the dearth of workers, the food trucks and restaurant scene have dried up in that area (like the death of all Tom Douglas restaurants) so going in is a very unattractive proposition at the moment.

        I did see that there were some Reddit people complaining about deletion of some previous routes that provided direct one-seat rides like 26, saying they would switch to the car because it added 10-15 minutes to the commute. Which is why I don’t get why some commenters like to die on the hill “a tHrEe SeAt rIdE iS FiNe!”. A fairly big percentage of the transit riders in the region don’t *have* to take transit.

      2. Three-seat rides aren’t “fine”, it’s just that Metro has limited service hours and many transit needs, so it has to allocate them where they can serve the most people and the widest cross-section of society. And if people in Latona are complaining, they either live north of 45 which is arguably overserved with the new 20, or south of 45th where they now have only east-west routes. They can get to Fremont, the U-District, or downtown fine with a one- or two-seat ride. SLU is a less common destination. No, wait, they can actually get to SLU too with a one- or two-seat ride, by taking the 62. The number of people affected is low because both Latona and 40th are lower-density areas that resist upzoning or missing-middle housing discussed elsewhere. That’s why they’re a lower priority for limited service hours.

      3. And service hours are reduced because Seattle’s transit benefit district is reduced. Did they call their councilmembers to reduce it? Or did they vote for officials who would tend to reduce it?

    3. The Stanford Study predicts a 20% to 40% decline in commuting to work long term, which is one to two days on average. WFH hopefully will also give more commuters the ability to commute during non-peak hours.

      Traffic congestion today is disproportionate to those working in office. That is because more employers are offering subsidized parking, and commuters are afraid to take transit, and co-workers are wary of fellow workers taking transit. I think this fear was ameliorating until the Delta variant and reports of breakthrough cases.

      The fact is workers have gotten use to WFH at least part time, and right now it is an employees market with so many having left the work market but the economy strong.

      The reality post pandemic is the same as pre-pandemic. Not everyone can commute by car during peak hours. Reducing peak hour commuting 20% or 40% might help, and more non-peak commuting, but the reality is the K-12 school schedule in many ways drives the peak work commute.

      Some Link like Northgate should be a good way to commute, IF there is good first/last mile and feeder bus service, and IF you are going where Link goes. Commuters might be willing to transfer onto Link, but they are not going to transfer from Link to get to a destination like SLU. Face it: Link is a failure if you work in SLU or on First Hill. Like the 630 those two very dense job centers will need direct buses.

      The real issue is how a20% to 40% drop in work commuting will affect farebox recovery and the operations budgets for Link and Metro. Work commuters tend to pay their fare even without enforcement, and pay full fare. Running trains that are not full is great for riders, if the farebox recovery still covers operations. Otherwise you raise fares — which reduces ridership — or pass an operations levy.

      1. > The real issue is how 20% to 40% drop in work commuting will affect farebox recovery and the operations budgets for Link and Metro.

        Well, peak-only service is also the most expensive to run, because it requires paying for salary and benefits for drivers, and paying for buses, that spend most of their time sitting around. So if work commuting drops by 20pc but off-peak rises by 10pc that could be a budget net positive.

        Interestingly, I’ve heard that in Europe the operators running “clockface” schedules on the hour, half hour, or quarter run the same schedule more or less throughout the week, only changing the *length* of trains during peak.

      2. “… commuters are afraid to take transit, and co-workers are wary of fellow workers taking transit.“

        Wanting to project one’s own fear onto others is malicious. That worry is also easily countered by the fact that many states with the biggest Covid problems don’t have any light rail, and places that have light rail are not all having dire hospital bed shortages.

        And a certain percentage of commuters fear showing up for work late more — and light rail is more reliable than hopping on a long distance bus or making a long distance drive.

        So this argument is about as true as saying that there was widespread election fraud in 2020. It’s about maliciously creating fear when facts don’t support the premise.

      3. “Commuters might be willing to transfer onto Link, but they are not going to transfer from Link to get to a destination like SLU. Face it: Link is a failure if you work in SLU or on First Hill. ”

        That’s a sweeping generalization. Some will, some won’t. And if they won’t, maybe that’s not a top priority for transit hours.

      4. Al, are you really arguing that the decline in transit ridership — including during off-peak times— is not Covid related?

        If not Covid related does that mean the steep drop in transit ridership since March 2020 is due to non-Covid reasons, and that when Covid passes the decline in transit ridership over the last 18 months will be permanent.

        That sounds a lot worse for transit than if the decline in ridership is due to Covid, because Covid will pass. Under your scenario transit ridership will remain at 50% pre-pandemic levels forever. Now that is something to fear if you are a transit advocate.

      5. The parking is also a result of government mandates, such as mandatory parking minima, but also side agreements when giving final construction approvals.

        The Northgate neighbors did not want that sea of parking garages, but Sound Transit had signed papers with the federal government saying they would build it.

      6. Some of the P&R spaces were owned by the mall and were contractually obligated to the mall’s tenants. If ST hadn’t replaced those spaces after construction, the tenants would have sued the mall and the mall would have sued ST. ST declined to build a larger garage in Northgate, the opposite of its plans at other stations. That’s because when it studied who used the P&R, it was mostly people from east and west (Maple Leaf, Licton Springs). It asked the community whether it wanted a larger P&R or better bus/bike/ped access to the station, and 3/4 of the feedback was for the latter. Again, the opposite of suburban stations. So ST built just enough parking to replace the mall spaces and keep a moderate P&R.

      7. Mike, people still need to get to SLU and First Hill. We aren’t going to shut down our hospitals because Link doesn’t serve First Hill.

        The solution is buses like the 630 and probably more subsidized parking. For Eastside workers working in SLU their solution is to work in their employer’s Eastside office, plus WFH.

        Link’s route is fixed and serves a tiny portion of the region. Hence the need for feeder buses. SLU and First Hill are Link failures because they are huge job centers, and Link displaces many one seat buses that serves these areas. One thing I agree with Ross on it is you run Link, and transit, where the people and the jobs are. This idea the Link will create urban villages along I-5 is crazy. Otherwise those villages would already exist. Proximity to a freeway or rail line depreciates residential property.

      8. “ Al, are you really arguing that the decline in transit ridership — including during off-peak times— is not Covid related?”

        No Daniel. That is not my argument at all.

        First and foremost of all, I’m calling you out in fear-mongering language. You perpetrate a false belief that using transit leads to significantly higher Covid transmission. That’s statistically false. The spread of Covid delta is clearly related to a general dislike of face masks and vaccinations. If a coworker should be shamed it’s because of their attitudes towards face masks and vaccinations — and not riding transit.

        Second, I’m saying that peak demand is a shrinking percentage of all-day demand. That’s not an absolute shrinking but a relative one. The thing is this: your continued principle about saying that work from home will reduce peak loads and thus make ST2 Link a bad investment is inaccurate — because it’s not designed as a commute hour directional service. It’s not like many of the KCM and ST Express routes today. It’s more akin to a day-long frequent service like Route 7 or some of the RapidRide lines — which have not had the ridership suppression magnitude of Sounder or ST Express routes.

        So you seem to hold onto a wildly mistaken belief that Link’s primary utility is like Sounder or ST Express. Several of us have repeatedly explained that the Link operation serves other markets too — but you don’t want to admit that it’s significant.

        And to be clear, ST’s secretive or non-existence approach to reporting on rider research allows these misconceptions like yours to thrive. I’m looking forward to the day when ST figures out that everyone would benefit from disclosing more rider statistics like time of day, mode of access or trip purpose. Until then, several of us posters will simply call out your outrageous and offensive speculations about Link riders when you state them.

        Those of us that have ridden Link since Northgate opened two weeks ago have noticed a surge in ridership on Link. Some of that is a return to college campus activity too. At some point, ST will make this public and quantify it. So get your popcorn and wait for the data to get presented before you decide that Covid-suppressed peak-only ridership is our new reality on Link use.

      9. The solution [to the fact that Link doesn’t serve First Hill or South Lake Union] is buses like the 630 and probably more subsidized parking.

        No its not. The solution is a better bus network downtown, not one-off routes that replicate Link for most of its journey. For First Hill, that means sending buses on Broadway, along with RapidRide G. For South Lake Union, we are practically there. The tail of the C and the 40 cover Westlake all the way to the lake (something Link will never do). The 70 (eventually RapidRide J) covers Fairview. I would still add some buses, but they would be local buses (or like the C, the tail of buses that are going to downtown anyway). It is nuts to run buses like the 630.

      10. So Ross, are you arguing for three and four seat transit trips to SLU and First Hill?

        First walk to a bus stop or drive to a park and ride. Catch a bus to Link. Take Link to Capitol Hill or Westlake. Take a bus to First Hill or SLU? Repeat on the way home in the dark.

        That is my definition of transit failure, and I would imagine those riders — especially if work commuters — would find alternatives, which is what the 630 is. Mercer Island doesn’t want to spend the money for the 630, and budgets are tight, but Link to First Hill is a failure.

        Private shuttles by Amazon or other employers. Subsidized parking. If Mercer Island can afford to subsidize the 630 so can Issaquah or most Eastside cities. Or get a job where you can WFH, or a job on the Eastside. Medical workers are in high demand. At least Link serves Bellevue although 112th is a walk to Bellevue Way.

        In this market qualified workers are in high demand, and employers are scrambling to keep them. My guess is a three or four seat transit ride each way to SLU or Westlake will be their last choice.

        I don’t think it is good for Seattle, but Seattle isn’t these workers problem. They will find what works best for them. No qualified worker on First Hill or in SLU is a transit slave.
        . .

      11. Daniel, Link does not “displace[] many express buses to these destinations” [e.g. First Hill and SLU]. The routes which run there now have been realigned to stop at Northgate in some instances, but most have the same or more service.

      12. “Mercer Island doesn’t want to spend the money for the 630”

        Who ordered the 630 then, and who’s paying for it? It’s probably Mercer Island in both cases. If it doesn’t want it, it can tell Metro to cancel it.

      13. Mike, Mercer Island doesn’t want to spend the money for the 630 — it’s budget is tight — but apparently feels it needs to. Ideally the hospitals and clinics on First Hill would chip in. I don’t know if you understand how hard it is these days to hire a nurse.

        Metro felt similarly when it continued the one seat peak buses from Lake City. I am sure Metro didn’t want to spend that extra money — budgets are tight — but felt it needed to.

        I understand Ross’s argument that you don’t run buses that mimic link, but Link doesn’t run to First Hill or SLU. Despite induced demand aficionados the hospitals are not going to move. Transit serves society, not the other way around. It is why mode, coverage and frequency depend on where people live and where they work.

        I think many urbanists don’t understand people want different things for where they live vs. where they work, which is a big reason we have transit.

        Do I think Issaquah will have express buses to First Hill and SLU? If Mercer Island and Lake City do then yes, Issaquah will, if there are still riders and they demand it.

        I am not sure many understand how important these employees are to Seattle. Tech workers in SLU now have many options. So do medical workers on the Eastside. But they want to live on the Eastside.

        Does Seattle really want to lose these workers to the Eastside? These are the workers to make it as easy as possible to get to work in Seattle. Link makes it as difficult as possible.

        Losing these workers because Link does not serve SLU or First Hill is like Seattle cutting off its nose to spite its face.

      14. I understand Ross’s argument that you don’t run buses that mimic link, but Link doesn’t run to First Hill or SLU.

        The second half of your sentence suggests you don’t understand my argument. We are all aware of the fact that Link doesn’t run to First Hill or SLU. That’s not the issue. The issue is whether a bus like the 630 is the best way to solve the problem. It isn’t.

        It isn’t because it is expensive. It is expensive because it spends a huge amount of its time on the freeway. The same is true with similar buses introduced with the Northgate restructure. That is what I mean by “mimicking Link”. You are trying so solve the last mile problem by reproducing the first dozen miles, and then compounding the problem by deadheading back.

        Because these routes are expensive, they are limited. This means that it only works for a small subset or riders. It doesn’t run in the middle of the day, even though these are clearly all-day destinations (hospitals have multiple shifts; people have medical appointments throughout the day).

        It only covers a small area. In the case of the 630, it only makes sense if you live on Mercer Island, or take the bus to it. No one is going to take the train from Bellevue or Redmond (where most of the riders come from) and then transfer to this bus. They are going to go all the way downtown, and take the RapidRide G (or the 3/4 depending on where they are going). Or they will just walk (a lot of people do).

        For the 630 approach to work, you would have to run it frequently, all day long. You would also have to run similar buses from various places in Bellevue and Redmond. This is just too expensive.

        It makes far more sense to modify routes slightly downtown, to provide the frequency necessary to solve the last mile problem *for everyone*. For example, once the 120 becomes the RapidRide H, it will go to South Lake Union. That means three buses (the 40, C and H) all go from the Westlake Station to the heart of South Lake Union. That should provide frequency in the 4-5 minute range. If you wanted more, you could split the 21, and send it there.

        Meanwhile, to First Hill you have RapidRide G. That isn’t as good from a frequency standpoint, but 6 minutes is still pretty good — hell, that’s better than light rail. Again, that’s all day long. Likewise, I would send the 49 south (to Beacon Hill) and run it every 12 minutes, opposite the streetcar. Again, that means 6 minute (combined) frequency, which is way better than the 630. Those solutions are way cheaper than these one-off buses, and way more useful.

      15. I understand your argument Ross. I agree with Metro’s decision to continue express buses to areas Link does not serve, if riders demand it, and assume MI didn’t help fund the 630 without a reason.

        The 630 is peak only IIRC. It is designed for peak medical workers, workers Seattle needs. These are not transit slaves. They won’t try to find a way to Link on MI, catch Link, walk to a bus stop in Seattle, and wait for a bus, and do the same going home in the dark. . What kind of idiot would do that every day when they could easily get a job with an easier and safer commute on the Eastside?

        I don’t know if you have a RN degree, or how to take a MRI. I don’t know how. I know how impossible it is to get Eastside staff to work in Seattle after the 550 was removed from DSTT1, and not surprisingly ridership on the 550 declined 1/3 pre-pandemic. And that is a one seat express bus right to our office.

        This isn’t the Soviet Union. If transit sucks to somewhere folks will find alternatives, especially high demand work commuters.

        I guess my beef as a Mercer Island resident is why am I subsidizing the 630 to get medical workers to First Hill. Better to have them get a job on the Eastside with free parking. Or let the hospitals and medical/dental clinics subsidize the 630. While I appreciate your concerns about the costs of the 630 I am paying for it, and the rest of transit.

        I understand why the 630 is necessary, and my tab fee for four cars (the reality of having two kids who work summers when back from college, along with $7000/year in car insurance) is $80/year. So if any on this blog gets their healthcare on First Hill you can thank me.

      16. I don’t object to city-funded routes to First Hill like the 630. That’s an issue between the city and its residents. The people who are losing out are those who would have ridden the all-day local service that could have been funded instead. That’s a more acute issue in Seattle than in Mercer Island or Issaquah, because Seattle has more people who can’t afford cars or don’t want to drive, and live near villages whose size and density require full-time frequent transit. In Mercer Island almost everybody has a car and they don’t see a problem with having to drive it off-peak, so if they want to spend money on peak expresses to a few job centers like First Hill, that’s not as big a deal.

        When ST2 dropped First Hill station, the only people who objected loudly were transit fans. I didn’t hear any objections from Mercer Island or Bellevue or Lynnwood, even though they had people who would actually use that station. Instead it was all about the spine, and First Hill was non-essential. If the cities and King County had objected, that would have carried a lot of weight with ST, because ST defers first to them and sees its role as providing what they want.

      17. “once the 120 becomes the RapidRide H, it will go to South Lake Union.”

        I didn’t realize that, thanks. I thought the H’s route was the same as the 120.

        That’s interesting. So if SLU has enough peak-hour transit capacity, it could be possible to rejoin the C/D if the H is serving SLU. Not that I’d recommend it, because having the D go all the way through downtown to Pioneer Square is important (as it is with through routes like the 31/32/28). But if you wanted to rejoin them to save money, it would be easier with the H replicating the C’s service in SLU.

        BTW, yesterday I went to Lincoln Park, and afterward went to the Denny Whole Foods for certain dinner ingredients. I wasn’t looking forward to getting to Whole Foods because it’s a wait for the streetcar and transferring to a bus isn’t much better, and afterward I’d inevitably have a 20-minute walk home. Then I remembered the C goes to SLU so I could just stay on and it’s a one-seat ride.

        The only problem was it was dark when I got there and the stop announcement just said “9th Avenue”. I had to shout to the driver, “Is this the Denny Way stop?” because I wasn’t sure if this was the only 9th Avenue stop or I wanted the next one. He said, “This is Denny & Westlake. I don’t know why she calls it ‘9th Avenue’.” It seems to be that the stop announcements use GPS coordinates, and that gives misleading results when it calls the 3rd & Pine transfer point “4th Avenue” or the 12’s westbound Broadway stop “Broadway Court”. And then Metro is naming the G’s Broadway stop “Boyleston Ave”, as if there’s not a major transfer point a half-block further called Broadway.

      18. They won’t try to find a way to Link on MI, catch Link, walk to a bus stop in Seattle, and wait for a bus, and do the same going home in the dark. . What kind of idiot would do that every day when they could easily get a job with an easier and safer commute on the Eastside?

        You obviously don’t know about the medical profession. I have several nurses in my family, of all sorts (LPN, RN, NP). I’ve met a lot of nurses, doctors and technicians. It is very common for them to specialize in a field, and then commute a long distance because of the opportunity at that place.

        I also know people who commuted from one of the places where Metro is adding express service: Lake City. This guy was a technician. He only worked 9-5. I forget where exactly he worked, but know it was First Hill. He would go out on Lake City and take a bus. With luck, he would take the 309, because it would get him right there. If not, he would take the 522/312, that went to the heart of downtown. Then he would walk, or catch a bus up the hill.

        The idea that medical employees can’t possibly transfer is ludicrous. Of course they do. Oh, and that doesn’t explain why they did the same thing for South Lake Union. Somehow office workers can’t transfer either? Sorry, that is ludicrous. This is political inertia. They didn’t want to upset 9-5 workers.

        The problem is, these routes are clearly wasteful, and when you try and avoid transfers in this manner, you end with a system that is too infrequent to do anyone any good. You are way better off improving the corridors — making buses more frequent.

        Hey, have you ever noticed that the 10 and 11 don’t go through downtown. If you want to go to the other end of downtown, you have to transfer. These are buses that serve an area that is extremely close to the south end of downtown, and yet Metro forces them to transfer. Do people complain? Of course not. Because it is trivial to get to the other side of downtown. It is a transfer, yes, but a bus is along in seconds. I’m sure it would be convenient for a lot of these riders if the bus just kept going south, all the way to Jackson — but it would be a waste of money.

        We simply need to make getting to First Hill and South Lake Union similar to getting from one end of downtown to the other. It is close right now, and will get better just by implementing some of the existing plans. Broadway is the only significant hole. The streetcar is too infrequent (and crap for much of its route, making it hard to justify more frequency). It needs another bus (as I mentioned, the 49 can be sent along there). With a little work, the main corridors connecting to various parts of downtown (SLU, First Hill, Uptown) will have enough frequency that transfers are like those to a bus on Third. That is the type of thing that needs to be built for those areas. That way, way more people can more easily get to every corner of downtown — not just people from a handful of suburban areas.

      19. IMO something needs to split the difference between Third and Broadway. They’re very far apart (a 25 minute walk from Pike/3rd to Pike/Broadway), and not to mention Broadway is up a giant hill. The 60 splits the difference to some degree but not far enough up north.

        A bus down Boren like in Metro Connects would fit the bill, and given the tens of thousands of jobs and residents added all along it in the past two decades it would certainly be a busy bus in its own right. To some degree, if we complete the CCC it also makes sense as a “next step” to link down that corridor to Judkins Park, if not Mount Baker, to give East Link riders an earlier way to get to First Hill or SLU. Even with current plans, there’s not a whole lot of difference between transferring to the G at University St and changing to the streetcar in the ID, and the G would be more direct.

      20. A bus down Boren like in Metro Connects would fit the bill, and given the tens of thousands of jobs and residents added all along it in the past two decades it would certainly be a busy bus in its own right.

        Agreed. The only issue is finding the money.

        Even with current plans, there’s not a whole lot of difference between transferring to the G at University St and changing to the streetcar in the ID, and the G would be more direct.

        And more frequent. To be fair, we also need good frequency along Broadway. The problem with the streetcar route is not the section on Broadway — it is everything else. It doesn’t go far enough north, and attempts to extend it have run into local opposition. The buttonhook is a complete mess. It should continue to go south, to either Beacon Hill or Mount Baker. But now we are basically talking about a bus route.

        Connecting the 60 to the 49 makes a lot of sense. It is basically revenue neutral, but adds a lot. It could complement the streetcar, by overlapping the best part. It doesn’t make sense to run the streetcar any more than about every ten minutes. Connecting the 60 and 49 makes for a good all-day end-to-end route, but the best part is clearly the middle, where it overlaps the streetcar on Broadway. Run both of them every 12 minutes all day, and you have good frequency on that corridor without spending much money.

        A bus on Boren goes along with it. It allows the 60 to be straightened out, so that the two buses can overlap from Yesler to John. Even on 12th and Jackson you could take the streetcar if you missed the bus. It not only works for direct trips, but indirect ones as well. If you are headed to north Beacon Hill from Broadway, you want the bus. But if you miss it, you can catch the streetcar, and maybe catch the 36 without waiting too long. To provide good service on north Beacon Hill this new 60-49 should run opposite the 36. That means if you miss the new bus, then you take the streetcar and save yourself 6 minutes (enough time to be worth the hassle of the transfer and the delay of the streetcar). You’ve essentially got six minute headways from Broadway all the way to Beacon Hill.

        It does need money, but not oodles of money. Seattle basically just needs to pass another levy. Given recent history, that shouldn’t be that hard. The last measure to increase funding for the buses passed by 82%. During a pandemic.

    4. There has been a long term trend towards working from home. There has also been a trend amongst many U. S. transit agencies towards less rush-hour focus. Both of these got accelerated during Covid. I expect transit levels to increase across the board based on Covid. Once we are done with it, I expect Link levels to exceed previous numbers, because of the Northgate extension, even though I expect rush hour travel to diminish a bit (because of more working from home).

      Our light rail system has been heavily peak oriented. This is changing. Northgate Link will improve commutes, but it will improve the type of trips that typically make up the bulk of ridership (e. g. Capitol Hill to UW, Roosevelt, Northgate; U-District to Northgate, Roosevelt, Beacon Hill, etc.). There have also been changes in the frequency. In the past, there was a huge increase that occurred during rush hour (from 10 to 6 minutes). That was likely enough to discourage ridership outside of rush hour. Now the difference is smaller (10 to 8). When East Link gets here, a lot of trips will be 4 to 5 minutes, further blurring the difference between rush hour and the rest of the day. This should also increase ridership overall.

      So, to answer your question, if we are done with Covid, I expect numbers to rebound, and be a bit better than our previous high point. Once East Link kicks in, I expect a big jump, not only from the East Link riders, but also from the increase in frequency along our most urban section.

      1. I really don’t think work from home is that big a problem for transit in the Seattle region. It’s not that many workers that will be making the switch because so many transit users don’t have that type of employment, plus fares are only about 20% of the system budget.

        The big problem in Washington is probably going to be the switch to online shopping, because that’s going to have a significant impact on sales tax revenue.

        During the worst of 2020, TriMet ridership also dropped significantly. Fare revenue would have also dropped. The impact was a bunch of peak period service got cut. MAX was every 15 minutes, some coverage routes were cut to reduce frequency, etc, but virtually no entire route cancellations like Metro and Sound Transit had. Some of the trips may have been down to 2 passengers vs 20, but the buses were still there.

        The big difference there I think is payroll tax vs sales tax. The drop in retail and thus sales tax would have been devastating here.

      2. It’s rare anymore to not have an online retailer collect sales tax for the location an item is shipped to. With the tremendous amount of wealth in the Seattle metro area I don’t think sales tax revenue is going to be a problem. A big issue right now is lack of new car inventory for dealers. Car sales are a huge part of sales tax revenue. We were looking but there is no chance of ordering what we want. You have to pick from what limited inventory there is and the dealers I spoke with said best guess on things returning to something like normal is 1-2 years! OTOH, real estate excise tax is flowing in like crazy.

      3. Bernie is right. Amazon is not only in Washington State, but in Seattle. You live in the city, buy almost anything online, you pay both local and state sales tax.

        It think it hits agencies like Everett Transit harder. They are mall dependent. A lot fewer people are driving out to Everett Mall to do their shopping, which really hurts them. That isn’t the only reason they want to merge with the larger Community Transit, but it has to be one of the big ones. Malls have become part of the winner-take-all modern (American) economy. The top thrives, the middle suffers and the bottom goes belly-up. But even when the best thrive, they aren’t making as much money from sales. Like the new Northgate Station Mall, they are more about apartments, and restaurants, and other amenities that make life attractive there while being far less about the drive-and-shop. As a result, malls are not the regional destination for sales, and sales taxes.

        A city like Everett is also small, and lacks a diverse economy. From a sales tax perspective, I’m sure all the cars sold in Lake City Way are significant for Seattle. But the city could see all of those auto dealerships move outside the city, and recover just fine. If Lake City were its own city, on the other hand, it would be devastating. Everett is basically somewhere between Lake City and Seattle.

      4. The issue isn’t the amount of sales tax revenue. That has remained remarkably stable during the pandemic. The issue is the reallocation of sales tax revenue to where it originates.

        With WFH that becomes where workers live, not where they work. This really does not affect Metro because it is a county wide agency, but does affect N. King Co. and East King Co. because the commuters from the eastside are working from home and ordering from home. It has been great for Mercer Island: historically high retail sales tax revenue although construction sales tax was not even in the top five when historically it has been number one.

      5. the commuters from the eastside are working from home and ordering from home

        I’m sure they accounted for a teeny-tiny amount of sales tax revenue. I mean, what are we talking about, a few thousand lunches? Most of these will come back anyway. So you will see a reduction (20 to 40% by your estimate) in a small part of the sales tax revenue.

        This is not at all like malls. In many cases, these were a major source of sales tax revenue for one city, and the loss for another. That just isn’t the case for a city like Seattle. Yeah, it is unfortunate that fewer suburban commuters aren’t buying stuff in Seattle, but it is hardly noticeable. What is noticeable is the loss of revenue from “Leisure and Hospitality”, AKA hotels. Again, that will recover. With the revised estimates, sales tax revenue for Seattle is expected to reach $270 million. In 2018 it was $260 million. So revenue hasn’t grown as fast as expected (because, you know, we had a pandemic) but it is still expected to grow (from before the pandemic).

    5. I tend to agree that the trends of work from home and flexible working hours will dampen the percent of demand at the peak commute times (say the peak 45 or 60 minutes). It’s not the same as daily ridership though.

      See, Link is a frequent all-day service, not a peak-oriented service like Sounder or many express bus routes. If the objective of Link was just peak-hour commuters, the system could have been built much cheaper with single-track sections and a different power technology. Even the proposed higher frequency trains at peak times will be just 25 percent more frequent than at other times like noon or 9 pm. So peak loads may be less but not necessarily all-day ridership.

      Another fact that needs to be mentioned is that the time it takes to get to different areas on transit is significantly reduced where there is a light rail station. So, a train can theoretically make two round trips where a bus can make just one. Trains have several times (like 5x to 8x) the capacity of an articulated bus too. That makes a driver able to carry lots more riders per hour than a bus can — even without a single new rider.

      It also induces more transit travel as places that were a long bus ride become a shorter train ride away. Going to Northgate’s Target becomes easier for a student living in the U District so they will make that trip more often, for example. Downtown workers can even have lunch in the U District within a given lunch hour now.

      Finally, Seattle’s population will continue to grow. The last decade alone saw the city population grow by 21 percent. It may slow down a bit but Seattle is still growing pretty well. Growth alone could easily negate the travel demand lost by a segment of the job market increasingly working at home.

      Curiously, the reduction of peak hour directional demand proves one other thing about MI: The Express lanes are no longer as needed and the decision to convert them to day-long light rail was a good one.

    6. I think we need to look at ridership trends in 2023 after eastlink opens. By then the pandemic should be in the rear view mirror and people will return to a more traditional routine. 5 years after that in 2027 with the pandemic far behind us we’ll have a really great subway system (compared to what we had in 1997). It will be adaptable enough to deal with changed commutes and large enough to handle peak demand for sporting events or even rush hour.

      While you’re reading this, let me just say that farebox recovery to cover opex shouldn’t be that important. These trains aren’t meant to break even. It’s a service, like the post office. We fund it with our tax dollars because it makes life convenient and sustains a livable city. We can gnash our teeth and wring our hands all we want and it doesn’t change the reality that transit systems lose money. So what?

      1. The Postal Service receives no direct taxpayer funds. It relies on revenues from stamps and other service fees.

        Amazingly, Amazon gets more taxpayer funding than USPS does, and USPS is Constitutionally mandated. There is something wrong with this picture.

        Sound Transit is a creation of the state, and does get governmental funding, but pretty much none of it from the state. The farebox revenue is a small source, but more than the tolls people pay to drive on the “freeways” and other roads. A downturn in fare revenue has a very marginal impact on ST’s budget. But the collapse of sales tax revenue did play a huge roll in service rollbacks, even after the one-time federal emergency funds. Over-reliance on sales tax has burned the transit agencies a couple times now.

      2. The postal service is under external threats to sabotage it, both with Congress requiring it to pre-fund all future retiree benefits, which no other organization has to, and director DeJoy’s mission to make the mail slower and more expensive so that a government service will be unattractive, and so that it won’t compete as much with private carriers he has a conflict of interest with and is sympathetic to. The pre-funding requirement was a Congressional Republican strategy to damage the unionized federal postal service, and if Congress repeals the requirement, the postal service’s financial problems would vanish. There’s no counterpart to these for Link or Pugetopolis transit in general. But transit does require subsidizes because the private operators in the early 20th century couldn’t sustain it, and people can’t/won’t pay $20 for a local trip twice a day. People are also confused about how much they and everybody are subsidizing car trips and parking, so the transit subsidy looks larger because it’s more visible and in one place.

      3. A subway system doesn’t have to break even, but fares are typically a high proportion of its operating budget. That is the nature of them. With buses, you have a mix of very cost effective routes, and the opposite (coverage routes). A subway line by its very nature shouldn’t have anything in the way of coverage. It should carry lots of people, all day long, and have good farebox recovery. Otherwise, you are probably doing something wrong, and bad things can happen. Like a bus system, you can enter into a ridership-frequency vicious cycle (fewer riders, cutback service, repeat). It isn’t unheard of to do the train equivalent of cutting a poorly performing bus line — you truncate a line entirely. I believe that happened to Denver a couple years before the pandemic.

        I don’t think that will happen, at least not for a while. ST2 is solid. I agree, if we want to get a look at ridership, 2023 (after East Link) is a good benchmark. With the core trains running more frequently, and service to Bellevue, it will be close to peak. Even better, wait until 2024, so you can get Lynnwood Link and Federal Way Link. At that point, express buses downtown from the north and south get truncated. I’m not worried about rush-hour ridership, there should be more than enough the rest of the day to make up for those who are still working at home. I’m more worried that ST just won’t run the trains often enough, while it spends oodles of money building out (past where it should).

      4. Denver truncated a line they never really had all the money to finish. (That and BNSF tried extorting them for more money.)

        VTA in San Jose has the unfortunate distinction of the only US agency to actually cut service completely on a line that was built in the modern period (1991-2019.) Though why they built a three stop single track branch is beyond me.

    7. Anecdotally, from Northgate to University St on the 1-Line was probably half full, so there is already a fair amount of ridership from the bus truncations. I bet it will be full by mid-next year. I don’t think there’s a risk of the light rail not being used.

      Also, escalators out at Northgate, escalators and escalator out at University… some things never change. I feel for the mobility challenged that want to use Link.

      1. Did you mean to say that an elevator was out at University? Also, did you mean the new U-District station? If you could clarify your comment, that would be greatly appreciated.

  2. How did 522 come to exist under Sound Transit? There’s not a whole lot of detailed history on ST Express I can find, and to me 522 seems a lot more “local” than most other ST routes.

    I’m making my own ST Express bus map because I think https://www.soundtransit.org/ride-with-us/schedules-maps is kinda too bare-bones to be useful, and 522 stands out as a route with much closer stop spacing.

    1. Unlike I-5, I-90, I-405 & SR-520, SR-522 west of 405 isn’t a freeway. So it’s easy to put lots of P&R stops along the way. The SR-522 corridor has a long history. The road was originally built to connect remote army outposts. Prior to the Locks and the Lake being lowered ferries went all the way up to Bothell (hence, Bothell Landing). And of course the railroad built tracks along the Lake because it was a level route. It’s really the only way to get from the north eastside to north Seattle and has large and growing cities along the whole route.

      1. I guess my question is more, “why does ST operate the 522 and not KCM?”

        the entirety of 522’s route is in King County, after all, and KCM has some bus service on the corridor.

      2. Because Kenmore, Bothell, Woodinville and Mill Creek all pay into ST. KC Metro does operate it as they do all ST bus routes in King County. All the eastside ST buses that use 520 and I-90 are also entirely within King County.

      3. Bluntly put, it’s ultimately political. After all, there are other ST Express routes today that operate entirely within King County. ST Express routes were originally defined as using the freeway HOV system and using freeway express bus stops — but there are routes by KCM, CT and PT that also run on freeways. Other ST funds go to listed non-ST branded transit routes and capital projects.

      4. It is an interesting question. I think Al is right, but I also think there is a bit more than that. As I see it, ST Express routes by their very name imply that they are regional express routes. As an agency, they are tasked with tying together the region. This makes them different than a typical agency, which is focused on its own area, and tries to balance cost effective routes with coverage. Even though the 522 is entirely withing King County, and overlaps Metro routes quite a bit, it does seem right up their alley. The route extends through several different cities, and does so in an express manner. It is easy to argue that Northgate Link benefits them, even if they are connected to it via Metro buses, but a lot of people don’t see it that way, and want the agency to spend money on projects in their own district. A map like this: https://www.soundtransit.org/sites/default/files/documents/st-current-service.pdf gets very few complaints. People don’t say “Hey, come come my town isn’t served”. It may not serve very many from your town, but it serves it.

        The other thing ST tries to do with their express routes is build support for future light rail. This explains why they’ve run lines from Bellevue to downtown Seattle, or out to 65th and Roosevelt. Frankly, I think this is silly — I don’t see how that actually does anything. But whatever. The agencies cooperate — Metro/CT/Pierce Transit build their routes based on what ST does. So when ST took over downtown Seattle to downtown Bellevue, Metro just shifted their service elsewhere.

      5. Hm. Well I suppose it’s good that this service exists at all, in all the metro areas I’ve lived I can’t recall fast regional bus services being run at all, and if they were certainly not even throughout the day on weekdays let alone weekends.

      6. > So when ST took over downtown Seattle to downtown Bellevue, Metro just shifted their service elsewhere.

        My understanding is that ST has always had its own separate pot of money through the initiatives, so at least it’s not robbing Peter to pay Paul. Right?

      7. @Henry — Right. They are two different pots of money. The only problems that occur are theoretical. There are potential political problems (by grabbing a route like downtown Bellevue to downtown Seattle, ST may make it more difficult for Metro to get more money). There are also practical problems. ST may come up with a set of buses that are difficult for Metro to complement. In other words, the agencies may not work together well.

        Of course this happens across the board. It is great that Community Transit is sending Swift to Link at 185th. Extending service into King County is a nice favor for Metro. But the way they are doing it is not how Metro would do it, and Metro won’t be able to leverage it as well as they would otherwise. That is similar to ST skipping stops on Lake City Way with the 522. It means that Metro has to provide service there, and can’t just let ST handle the entire corridor. Cooperation between agencies is not always smooth. (Of course, sometimes cooperation within an agency isn’t always smooth, as anyone who has ever worked in a large organization will tell you.)

      8. I think that on the whole, Seattle is doing pretty well as far as coordination goes. There’s definitely a lot worse in the US.

        We could be the Bay with lots of little fiefdoms warring with each other (BART vs CalTrain, BART vs the Golden Gate Bridge, etc.) Or we could be New York with all the expenses of a massive agency with none of the cooperation benefits. (Which is why I think the Bay Area proposal to integrate agencies is a bit silly; a fresh HQ and some more managers is not going to solve a cultural problem.)

      9. “Or we could be New York with all the expenses of a massive agency with none of the cooperation benefits. (”

        But with a lot better transit service, where people living in a lot more areas have more frequent transit to a lot more destinations than we have, and where there are several both subway and regional rail lines that bypass streets and intersections.

      10. Mike, it’s a lot easier to do all those things when your metropolitan area has 20M people as opposed to just shy of 6M.

        Keep in mind that the regional rail is mind-bogglingly expensive. Seattle to Lakewood is $5.75 on Sounder, about 46 miles. Penn Station to Central Islip is around the same distance on the LIRR and costs $19.75 peak, $14.25 off-peak. Even to stay within New York City limits, an off-peak trip is $6.50 and a peak trip is $9.00.

        ST3 is $50B into the 2040s to bring rail to cover a huge swath of the metro area. NY needs to spend $50B in its Capital Plan for 2020-2024 to keep the lights on, and it only has $2B in funding. https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2021/08/19/report-mtas-barely-funded-capital-plan-badly-needs-congestion-pricing-cash/

      11. The freeways and airports were expensive too, but we built them. Cities smaller than 20 million have high-speed rail. I know Vancouveer-Portland HSR would be expensive and it’s not a high priority for me. I’d rather have medium-speed rail (90-110 mph) in that corridor and to Spokane. Medium-Speed Vancouver-Portland is in WSDOT’s long-range plan, it has just been on-again, off-again in funding incremental improvements. And the state could buy the BNSF track and make it passenger-priority for Cascades and Sounder.

        States have limited ability to fund HSR. What we really need is for the federal government to make it a priority and to stop shoving most of its transportation money into freeways.

    2. I went back to the original “Sound Move” map (https://www.soundtransit.org/sites/default/files/documents/199605-sound-move-ten-year-regional-transit-system-plan.pdf) and it does show a variation of the 522, so it was considered regionally significant enough for the reasons outlined below, and in the original plan would have connected to light rail at Northgate.

      My understanding (hearsay) is that it was originally expected the local agencies would have maintained more service on some of those corridors (so perhaps an all day local Metro route and an ST route with more limited stops), but I-695 in 1999 put funding pressure on the local agencies, so ST ended up playing a bigger role in some of those corridors.

      In terms of the predecessor, Metro route 307 was not fun if you were traveling outside the schedule or reach of the peak 306/312, as it ran local through the 522 route, continued local through Lake City to Northgate (via 125th and 5th) and finally expressed to downtown from Northgate.

  3. I heard on KIRO radio that “transit” is free with proof of a ticket to a sporting event or concert. It appear this was just for events at Seattle Center. Nothing I could find on the Arena or Kraken websites but Google has this:

    Transit Incentives and Monorail Partnership Announced Free transit to all Seattle Kraken games and an investment stake in the Monorail is announced as a key strategy to ensure transit access to and from the arena for all fans

    Unclear what transit agencies are included. NHL.com has some info on an app you need to load and there is a two hour window before/after events. I also heard the Monorail received some upgrades to handle the large crowds but haven’t seen any specifics.

    1. That’s what happens in Germany; large events have tickets that double as transit passes for the day.

  4. Came across this story on CNN about Alitalia Airlines shutting down due in part to a fast rail network that now connects the major population centers in Italy. Admittedly, it was a poorly run airline, but changing demographics, desire to cut emissions, passenger convenience, and really super fast trains contributed to its demise.


    If we could implement the Cascadia plan what happens to Alaska Airlines flights in the state and to/from Portland?


    1. Italy has lots more big city pairs better served by high speed rail (size and distance sweet spots for high speed rail) than we do. That includes rail to adjacent cities in other countries too.

      Although there are other places within in the high speed rail sweet spot, realistically only Vancouver and Portland are the only ones with enough population and activity to make it attractive to move people from planes to faster rail for the Seattle metro area .

      1. Al, do you think the laws of induced demand apply? In a modern economy where many transit riders can work a few days from home, wouldn’t there be demand for fast rail from EA Washington for those “two days” a week in the office? An ambitious plan could take some of the heat out of the housing market by spreading the demand around the state.

      2. Al, another follow-up for consideration. Let’s look at the Seattle->Ellensburg leg of the Cascadia plan. Distance is about 100m. If the local government was willing to change zoning rules there are plenty of large buildable lots for all types of housing, single and multifamily. Ellensburg isn’t a big population center today, but how much would it grow if a young family could afford to buy a home there and commute to Seattle in about 45 minutes? That makes it “closer” than Everett on Link in 2040.

        Even a reverse commute make sense to attend college, expand employment opportunities in agriculture and light manufacturing, and a ton of recreation like hiking and mountain biking (assuming HSR allows bikes).

      3. Jack, I see induced demand as hard to quantify.

        To induce demand, a place has to have enough size to make it worthwhile though. That’s the issue with central and eastern Washington. The entire population of the state east of the Cascades appears to be about 1.5 or 1.6 million people. A third of those live in Spokane County. The others are scattered from Wenatchee and Moses Lake to Yakima to the Tri Cities to Pullman.

        I think that a Cascades fast crossing would be a lifestyle game changer. It could induce demand. The thing is though that Kittitas County only has 45K population and Yakima County has 257K — not masses enough to induce demand.

        To paint a different picture, let’s imagine that a Las Vegas of the PNW evolves near Ellensburg with a million people (a huge retirement population and hopping nightlife). In that scenario,, a fast crossing makes lots of sense.

        So the question becomes what would trigger the market.

        I guess another trigger could be single versus double track. As long as trains could leave at least every 2 hours (maybe every hour) expensive stretches could be single tracked.

        Another topic is the “double duty” issue. If fast mainline tracks are available, they could be useful as regional services (like a Downtown Olympia spur from a mainline PDX-SEA route) or to haul some freight or packages. I’ve even wondered if the role of the ports (seaport and airport) could be expanded to make such a line viable..

      4. Al, another follow-up for consideration. Let’s look at the Seattle->Ellensburg leg of the Cascadia plan.

        LA to Sin City has a lot more demand than E’burg to Seattle ever will and it’s having a hard time. If you’re sincerely concerned about transportation and the environment then let’s keep it real. The most bang for the buck is to crown the Stampede Pass tunnel so double stack containers can use that route and open up capacity over Stevens Pass. It was something WSDOT had on the books before the real estate collapse that resulted in WSDOT’s rail department getting eliminated.

      5. Al thanks for your thoughts. I like the out of box thinking on freight.

        Ok so a double tracked line, mixed with some single track where it makes sense, that runs from South Bellevue Link Station to the old Amtrak Station (still standing) at the end of W 3rd St in Ellensburg. With the train comes big zoning changes in Ellensburg, lots are subdivided and heights are raised. Let’s pretend they accept 85′. In our HSR of the imagination trains run every 60 – 90 minutes, maybe the last train leaves at 10pm except weekends. Travel time about 45 minutes, no more than $20/trip.

        I can hear the architects, land owners, and builders jumping up and down with glee! Politicians will come for the property taxes, sales taxes, economic growth, and stay for a chance at housing equity within 60 minutes of downtown Seattle. Remote workers from Colorado, Nevada, No Cal, Idaho, and Montana will probably be the first in line, checks in hand.

        And I do appreciate the challenges of HSR from LA to LV but I think this trip is different … shorter, focused on building community, designed to move more than people to a party.

      6. Re: Las Vegas. I’m not sure I would look to Brightline as an example of much. The locomotives look neat, but they’re heavy. The cars they are using are heavy too. The freeway median is ok I guess, but the curves and grades aren’t going to be suitable for operating trains that heavy at higher speeds. When it all pencils out, it’ll probably look just like Amtrak service with a cooler looking locomotive shell.

        Absolutely an actual high speed rail line will induce demand and create new communities. Look at what has happened along any interstate.

        Why eastern Washington though? Chehalis, Centralia, Tenino, or even Aberdeen would be easier to add to the network.

      7. High speed rail is expensive, and only makes sense in a handful of places in the United States. Even the Vancouver/Seattle/Portland corridor, which is ideal from a distance standpoint, is borderline. None of the cities are that big. It is easy to forget that Europe, Japan and China (the countries where high speed rail is common) all have huge cities close to each other. Other, smaller cities simply piggy-back on them. You can get from Lyon to Lille quite quickly, but only because Paris is in between. Without Paris, there is no way that a high speed line connecting those cities would make sense.

        The same is true in the Northwest. If Seattle was the size of New York, then maybe Spokane-Seattle would pencil out, and Seattle-Ellensburg would go along for the ride. Seattle-Vancouver definitely would.

        What can work really well for Vancouver/Seattle/Portland is faster, more reliable rail. The distances are ideal for this. It’s main competition is driving. For that, it doesn’t have to be that fast (100 mph would do it). At that speed, it beats out flying as well (for most people). The goal is not to induce demand, or build a new sprawling city. The goal is to beat out the competition (driving and flying). Unlike bullet trains, we already have plans for this, they just need to be implemented — https://www.dropbox.com/sh/gvg4xjcx3hfjk3x/AACBXs6JwCZpLCm0MM8_lWHJa?dl=0&preview=Long+Range+Plan+for+Amtrak+Cascades.pdf.

        There is an infatuation with high speed rail. I get it. We visit other cities in other parts of the world, and think it would be wonderful. But relatively few people actually use it. The Shinkansen high speed network in Japan carries 350 million people in a year (a record at the time, now passed by China). The Tokyo subway lines carry over ten times as many people. The subway system in Nagoya, the fourth biggest city in Japan, carries 480 million. High speed rail is nice, but in the grand scheme of things, is way down the list of priorities.

        There are a few places in the United States where high speed rail could work, but only a few (Northeast, Midwest, California, Texas). The vast majority of America shouldn’t have it. What the vast majority of America should have, is decent transit, which for most areas means good bus service. We don’t even have that here. There are areas of the East Side with apartments, and no service. If the greater Seattle area — an area with way more invested in transit than a typical city its size — has obvious weaknesses in its network, then it isn’t hard to see what most of the country is like. Transit is greatly underfunded, and a much bigger priority than high speed rail.

    2. Those routes are probably loss leaders for AA. They just want to capture the folks that are traveling further with them or one of their partner airlines.

      1. Added: In Italy the competition for airline choice includes Easyjet, Rynair and ITA. You can get a flight Milan to Bari across the country for as low as $54 round-trip; Milan to Naples from $52 round-trip.

      2. Interestingly, the current business case for electric aircraft has the potential to make short-haul traffic a lot more profitable (and cheaper to serve) than currently.

        Electric aircraft don’t really make sense for long distances because of the sheer weight, but there is one planned to fly in 2023 that has a range of 440 nm, and if you can get it to fly that far electricity is *way* cheaper and less volatile than aviation fuel. As of right now, the cost of fossil-fueled jets is somewhere in $1200-2000 per hour, but Eviation Alice is expected to cost about $200.

      3. Electrical aircraft sound great. But it’s just another new technology we have to wait a decade for it to come to market when HSR is being built today in Europe and Asia. Why wait?

        Even electric airplanes come with a lot of overhead (travel out of town to the airport, security, checkin, bag fees, etc).

      4. Because you are never going to have HSR to the eastern half of the state, when the biggest metro is just over 500,000 people. The next city at our latitude with anything at or above that population number is Minneapolis.

    3. If the US had high-speed rail connecting many cities like Europe and Asia do, we’d have ridership like they do, and high-speed rail and regional rail are competitive for distances up to 500 miles. That’s longer than Vancouver-Portland, SoCal and NoCal and in between, the Great Lakes cities, the northeast, and northeast to southeast. People poo-poo high-speed rail because of long distances like New York to Los Angeles or Seattle to Chicago, but there are many submarkets in the US where it would work, and where our international counterparts have built it.

      1. > People poo-poo high-speed rail because of long distances like New York to Los Angeles or Seattle to Chicago, but there are many submarkets in the US where it would work, and where our international counterparts have built it.

        This is definitely true. It’s just silly (and I have seen this opinion expressed before) that some people think that Cascadia HSR is any sort of realistic alternative to the second airport study, given that most of the HSR’able trips are not anywhere near a majority of flights at SeaTac.

      2. there are many submarkets in the US where [high speed rail] would work

        Yes, but they are a relatively small part of the country. This is an extremely ambitious plan, but someone who is seemingly obsessed with rail: https://pedestrianobservations.files.wordpress.com/2021/03/hsrbutpretty.png. Yet it still leaves out huge swaths of the country. It also leaves out connections between many of our biggest cities. L. A. is our second biggest city, with Chicago third, and Houston fourth. You can’t connect them with high speed rail. Oh wait, Dallas-Fort Worth is the fourth, and Houston fifth. So which city to do we connect to, Dallas or Fort Worth? This brings up another big problem: A lot of our cities are sprawling. We simply lack the density that European cities have. I have no doubt that high speed rail connecting Dallas-Fort Worth to Houston, Austin and San Antonio would get plenty of riders. But it wouldn’t get nearly as many as a similar set of cities in Europe or Japan because they are way too sprawling. Even with good high speed rail, a lot of people will drive, just so they have their car at the other end.

        We should invest in high speed rail, in those pockets that are mentioned. But that should be way down in our list of priorities. The cities — the ones it makes sense to connect via high speed rail — have greatly underfunded transit system. Those transit systems carry way more people, and should be improved first.

    4. There’s also “flight shame” now (shame of flying when you don’t have to, for environmental reasons), and planes have gotten more crowded, you have to pay a surcharge to board or have a carry-on bag or one checked bag, flights are being delayed or cancelled more often, the cost of flying has risen, security lines are long, airports are in out-of-the-way locations, etc. All these dissuade some people from flying and taking trains instead.

    5. And other countries don’t have domestic supplies of oil like the US does, so it’s a matter of national security to reduce dependence on Russian or Mideast oil that can be used for blackmail. Trains can run on renewable electricity or biodiesel. Airplanes at this point can only run on oil-based jet fuel.

      1. Right now, the most promising alternative to traditional aviation fuel is called sustainable aviation fuel or “SAF.”

        I remember a story within the last few months of Boeing flying a plane on SAF. Oil is so cheap right now it doesn’t make sense. But as we’ve seen in the past it’s nothing for oil to jump quickly by 4X the price. All the Saudis have to do is limit exports. A carbon tax on jet fuel could help level the playing field. But I don’t want to see a repeat of the subsidizes that have us running 10% ethanol that does nothing but inflate food prices and is a handout to Big Ag and the refineries.

      2. Cant we just decide to stop burning fuel? Sure biofuels are fun (carbon neutral) but they don’t address the existing problem.

      3. Here’s a link to a a write-up from Boeing.

        Here’s a link to the use of sugar cane for biofuel including airplanes. Hawaii has to import all of it’s refined petroleum. It might make sense for the State to become a leader in ethanol and SAF. Use the sugar cane on island instead of shipping it all over the US. The midwest has tremendous potential for growing sugar beets which are a much better source than corn for ethanol production. I guess they lack the lobbyists Big Corn has. There’s also been a lot of research in Japan using algae as a feedstock. And of course there’s a lot of waste that’s “going to waste”.

      4. Can’t we just decide to stop burning fuel? Sure biofuels are fun (carbon neutral) but they don’t address the existing problem.
        Not unless you convince everyone to go back to pioneer days. It does address the existing problem in providing incremental improvements. It’s a pathway to reducing the carbon footprint even with a growing population and an expanding world economy.

        Electricity just isn’t going to cut it for many applications. And we’re tapped out on sources of renewable production. In fact some of the “green” hydro power is a major reason our salmon have declined to critical levels. More damns are going to come down as they “age out” because simply providing “fish ladders” doesn’t address the destruction of habitat. Wind has similar issues with birds/bats. Solar requires mining rare earth metals that mostly come from China where there is little to no environmental enforcement. And of all the renewables, hydro is the only technology that is able to store energy. The big gains are in just using less energy through efficiency. LED lights are a prime example. Another promising technology is geothermal heat pumps. They are almost universal in construction of new schools around here.

        There is of course “the nuclear option” that the progressives in Congress are always talking about :=

      5. @Bernie: Cape Air is actually introducing electric aircraft sometime in 2023-2024, so it’s not totally out of the question. https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/air-transport/2021-07-22/cape-air-prepares-operate-eviations-alice-electric-commuter

        Algae biofuels have been talked about as long as I can remember, but it’s never successfully made its way out of a demonstration pilot. I wouldn’t really hold my breath. And sugarcane is no longer grown in Hawaii due to labor costs. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/12/17/505861855/the-final-days-of-hawaiian-sugar

      6. @Henry,
        Interesting link but a 9 seat aircraft to Martha’s Vineyard sounds a lot like Capt Kirk going into space more than any actually useful solution. All of the electric vehicle ideas revolve around some miraculous discover in battery technology. This is just chemistry and you will never ever overcome the laws of thermodynamics. It’s like the whole hydrogen hokes.

        Very interesting link about the sugar cane. “ge says the state supports A&B’s plan to keep HC&S lands in agriculture. The company currently has about 140 acres of biofuel crops in the ground, as it transitions toward diversified agriculture. ”

        If not sugar cane what would they grow? That’s what has made it work in Brazil. That said, the burning of the sugar cane fields in Hawaii is obnoxious. If that biomass can economically be used to produce biofuel then that’s a win. Hawaii is a test lab since traditional fossil fuels are really expensive to import. C&H not being able to market “Pure Cane Sugar from Hawaii” as any different than Sucrose from any other source is a win.

      7. The high cost of agricultural labor means that a lot of the plantation land has simply gone fallow.

        USDA says macadamias, premium coffee, papayas, and avocados, which are all mostly expensive fruits that can probably cover the cost of US wages.

      8. The link wasn’t really very useful. For sure coffee and Macadamia Nuts is a good cash crop in Hawaii but Hawaii has extreme climate variations that make some crops excellent and others non-starters in very small zones. In has the US largest beef ranch, not Montana. It’s big cash crop is seed stock but again that’s limited to certain areas. The for sure is that it imports all of it’s refined petroleum products that support it’s agriculture and tourism. My point is the sugar cane production, especially since it’s no longer competitive for table sugar seems like a natural for a biofuel experiment.

      9. Unless you can convince Hawaiian agricultural workers to accept lower wages to harvest sugarcane for biofuels vs. sugarcane for food, the end result will be the same.

      10. Further mechanization of the planting and harvesting processes. While 90% of the harvesting process is mechanized in Sao Paulo state, it’s still not the case in other states of Brazil and other countries.

        I can see why Hawaii isn’t competitive exporting a commodity product like sugar to the rest of the world. But the economics are different producing a high value product that they otherwise have to import. I don’t know if it would pencil out and any investment that attempts to change the status quo usually requires a government subside. We’re still subsidizing 10% ethanol in gasoline for little to net negative benefit with today’s cars.

      11. These airplane biofuels and electric planes are all still just proposals or unproven research. When/if half the airline flights are running on then, then maybe we can say flying is benign. Now it’s like when people say electric cars or autonomous cars will save us, while the people saying this are still driving petrol cars.

  5. The other day I took a big walk from my home in Pinehurst to Greenwood, via the new Northgate bridge. After a couple beers and a burrito, I took transit back. I started with the 45, which arrived soon after I crossed the street. I then walked to the bus stop on 12th, hoping to catch the 73, since it would be my fastest way home. As I arrived, the 67 was there. This also works for me, but not as well. I decided to let that bus go by, in hopes the 73 would be there soon. After pulling out OneBusAway, I realize it wouldn’t — it was due in 14 minutes. I decided to try Link, especially since the Northgate station has bathrooms. I got to the platform quickly, and didn’t have to wait long for the train. After using the bathroom, I waited for a bus to take me home. I actually have three choices from there: the 347/348 gets me closest, followed by the new 75 and 20. The 75 showed up, so I just took that.

    A few observations:

    1) The pedestrian bridge is nice. It is noisy, as expected, but not horrible. They could have invested more into it, but it is hard to see how that would be justified. it is wide enough so that bikes and pedestrians can use it easily. I only saw one bike, and about a dozen pedestrians, but I have a feeling that ratio will change over time. It works OK as a pedestrian bridge, but it fantastic as a bike bridge. Speaking of which:

    2) We could really use a decent, low cost bike share system in this city. If we had something similar to Boston, or even Portland, it would change the nature of trips in the area. Get off the train, hop on a bike, pedal to the college (or other places in the area). I did see someone taking their bike on a train, but that obvious doesn’t scale. It works now, since hardly anyone is using the train, but eventually there just isn’t the room. Only a handful could do that, while dozens could use good bike share, if we had it.

    3) The waiting is the hardest part. Overall, I was happy with my transit trip, even though there were many flaws. The 45 took me south so that I could go north. I transferred twice, even though my trip was relatively short. But it was great because my wait was minimal. To a certain extent this was luck. The waits could easily have been longer. But if you build a system that tries to minimize transfers, you end up with more waiting, and this is worse than making a transfer.

    There is a fair amount of evidence supporting this idea, but it matches anecdotal experience. Not only for me, but the people I know. I have a friend who used to commute from Ravenna to downtown. In the morning he would stand on the corner of 65th and 25th. If the 76 came, he would take it, and save himself some time. But otherwise he would take the 372, and transfer to Link, even though it meant a lengthy walk for a transfer. He usually took the 372. On the way home, he never tried to time the 76 — he always took Link. Transfers suck. Waiting sucks more.

    4) Roosevelt has down escalators! So cool. I always walk on escalators (up or down) and essentially flew down to the platform. It might not be worth the money, but man, amenities like this are really nice.

    5) Likewise, I really appreciate the bathroom at Northgate. It is silly though. There is a men’s and women’s bathroom, but the men’s bathroom consists of a sink and one toilet (no urinal). It might as well be an asexual bathroom (like the vast majority of bathrooms in the world) since everyone who uses it has to lock the door. It makes sense to have separate bathrooms if you have rows of urinals or toilets, but not if you have only one. That is before you get to the other issue (girls will be boys and boys will be girls). If you are going to have a bathroom with one toilet, and nothing else, it should simply say “Bathroom”.

    6) Kiosks showing schedules are really handy in our system. Apparently the stop outside of the Roosevelt Station on 12th (where I could have taken the 67) will eventually have them. If it did, I would have taken the 67, and hoped to catch another bus (or just walk). We have a lot of overlapping routes, where one bus works, but not as well as the other (I encountered that twice on one trip). Having a sign showing when the other bus will arrive helps immensely — there is really no substitute for that.

    7) I thought the art inside Roosevelt Station was boring. I didn’t even notice it at Northgate. Northgate is a big, open station, that feeds into the area, which is still under construction. For that matter, so is the bridge — I saw people working on it. Everything feels like a “soft opening”, and given the frequency, maybe it is. In a couple years (when East Link doubles the headways through there) I expect it to be bustling.

    8) It was great to see the bikeway on Green Lake. I saw it before, walking by it, but on a bus it gives a great perspective. It is a huge improvement for that section.

    1. Two Northgate observations:

      The Halloween phones on the bridge were only there for the first day. They’ve been replaced by regular blue emergency phone posts.

      Saffron Grill on Meridian & Northgate Way is still there. Somebody was asking about it. I ate at it last week on their recommendation.

      The bridge’s width and shape are fine. It gives a nice impression of going up a river when you go southward on the eastern segment. I wish the design were more aesthetically pleasing and not like generic “freeway metal and concrete”, but it’s too late for that. What I would do is paint the sides some interesting color or put colored lights on it.

      Also, the view is remarkably different day and night. That’s common in other places too, like going up the hill in southeast Renton and looking west over the Southcenter valley. In the daytime it looks like godawful sprawl, but at night you see only the lights and it looks pleasant, like artwork. The view from the Northgate bridge is not that stark, but the nighttime view is different and worth seeing, and perhaps more beautiful than the daytime view.

      A week ago I walked up north Meridian to see what was there now, and later did an end-to-end ride on the 20. (I had to do that twice because the first one got dark south of Northgate so I couldn’t see what I wanted to see.)

      Man, the 20 meanders. It makes a two-block detour into the college. The part from 92nd to 45th is the probably the same as it has always been, but all these turns add up. And I don’t remember it going on 65th for a few blocks, so that it goes east-west on both 65th and 55th.

      1. All of those jogs were also in the 26X route. There’s other problems northbound, namely the unprotected left turns at 65th and 80th which can take 10+ minutes at peak, and the Green Lake U-turn so that the route doesn’t share a stop with the 62. It’s baffling why Metro came up with a new route just to preserve the worst parts of the predecessor route.

      2. I would argue that buses should never be making unprotected left turns as part of their service route in the first place, except in very low-traffic areas. If a bus route involves a left turn, the city should install the necessary traffic signals to make it a protected turn.

      3. The bridge over I-5 is great…except that I noticed today that is already marred by criminal (IMHO) graffiti. It wasn’t there last week. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I am still disappointed that we can’t keep anything nice in this city.

      4. Graffiti is an issue that speaks to a broad level of enforcement priorities. Rudy Giuliani made fighting “tagging” of subway trains in NY a priority and it worked. Overall, tolerance of illegal behavior leads to pushing the boundaries of more/worse behavior. For months now graffiti has covered one of the warning signs as you enter the tunnel to merge onto I-90 eastbound from Rainer. Seattle did one sweep of squatters on the I-90 ROW but they’re back. If the warning sign is ever needed then too bad since it’s still 75% covered.

      5. Giuliani often gets credited (incorrectly as was pointed out) for the program because of his strong support for the Broken Windows theory. He formed the Mayor’s Anti-Graffiti Task Force in 1995 which built on the subway program. He was United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York in 1989 when the program had it’s success and lost the Mayors race that year to Dinkins. Koch was Mayor while the plan was implement and probably deserves honorable mention. Here’s a non paywall link that explains the cooperation it took between MTA and NYPD..

      6. Looking back at the last four decades, the Giuliani era mythology is probably only exceeded by the Reagan era mythology.

      7. Overall, tolerance of illegal behavior leads to pushing the boundaries of more/worse behavior.

        Right. The broken windows theory. Sounds great, except there is no evidence to support it (https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/uclrev/vol73/iss1/14/). There are plenty of cases where it is counter productive (https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/the-problem-with-broken-windows-policing/).

        Looking back at the last four decades, the Giuliani era mythology is probably only exceeded by the Reagan era mythology.


        By the way, much of the graffiti on the bridge is on temporary plastic windows. There is some on the bridge though, marring the view of an otherwise beautiful slab of concrete. By they way, if you hate graffiti, you will hate Buenos Aires. Even the wealthy neighborhoods have graffiti. There is widespread acceptance. https://amateurtraveler.com/graffiti-buenos-aires-argentina/

      8. Without getting into politics, NY city was able to dramatically decrease its crime rate which not surprisingly dramatically increased tax revenue, especially from tourism. Remember Ford Tells NY Drop Dead? Why do you think NYC was broke?

        People forget that before he went insane with Trump Giuliani was revered in NY city. Crime, revenue, and 9-11. Plus breaking the mob. Reagan is revered by a majority of Americans. So is Obama by the same margin. Whether you like any of them that is how it is. Did any of these do this on their own? No but they were there when it happened.

        Crime tends to dominate elections and drown out other issues. It is why Durkan is not running, not because of transit.

        Same for mayor in NYC. Women almost always vote crime and public safety first.

        It is why a SFH is now worth $500,000 more on the Eastside than one in Seattle, along with schools. Great for me. Last year I went to bed and woke up $2000 richer, with no capital gains. And you think it is upzoning.

        Just follow campaign themes among winning candidates and you will know what is the hot issue. Transit on the Eastside is issue 155, and in Seattle around 10, as it should be after ST 3 and the phony realignment, CHOP, downtown, and tents in the parks and in streets.

      9. Right. Giuliani fixed the crime problem in New York. And Bush liberated Iraq and Afghanistan. And the U. S. liberated the Philippines.

        Look, sometimes people get history wrong. The Filipinos had the right to self governance. We were the oppressors. Bush got rid of some evil leaders, but there was a lot of death and destruction along the way, and a lot of evil people came back to power. History does not look kindly at our actions in the Philippines, and will not look kindly at our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

        Nor will it look kindly at Giuliani. Yes, crime went down in New York City, but it went down across the country. Read the study I referenced. It refutes the “broken windows” theory that Giuliani claims made New York City much better. That approach simply doesn’t work. Like the Laffer curve, it is has been disproven. Getting “tough on crime” is too expensive. You are far better off spending the money on improving the social safety net. Scandinavia has low rates of crime, and when a crime is committed, they are far more likely to be caught. This is not because these countries have gotten “tough on crime”. Quite the opposite. They have a much smaller police force, and way fewer people in jail or prison. They just spend a lot more money on social services. That’s it. We know that works. There are numerous articles like this: https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/7/10/e016379. This idea that a strong welfare state would reduce crime used to considered common knowledge. More recently, it was refuted, as part of racist political actions taken by men like Nixon, Reagan, as well as, you guessed it, Giuliani. Again, look it up, and you’ll find articles like this: https://www.cato.org/commentary/rudys-racist-rants-nypd-history-lesson#.

        Yes, it is sad to go back, and realize that in the past this country was oppressive and racist. They played on fear and racism to justify their actions. But you don’t have to go back very far, as men like Giuliani haven’t died and still have power. The only thing different about Trump is that he is more blatant about his racism. Do you really think that Giuliani reluctantly supported Trump? Please. They are two peas in a pod.

      10. “You are far better off spending the money on improving the social safety net.”

        Exactly. The reason crime is increasing is we’re forcing people to live in desperate conditions, and this causes stress, lack of sleep (very important), anger, frustration, hunger, and exacerbates mental health issues, violent tendencies, and antisocial tendencies. Maybe in Japan people don’t have as much violent/antisocial tendencies due to the shame-based culture and would put up with more, but here they do,. Fixing the social safety net won’t immediately reverse the problems because they have festered so long and caused psychological damage, but if we had housed everyone starting from when homelessness first became widespread in the 1980s, much of the crime and antisocial behavior probably wouldn’t have happened. So we need to start now to hopefully make the future better,.

        Another issue is high inequality. Racism is a subset of inequality, a desire to spread the resources of society unevenly, and to deprive unfavored groups. A moderate level if inequality is OK (as in Denmark) if those at the bottom have a decent minimum standard of living, and not have to beg for scraps like wolves, and only get insufficient scraps.

      11. “People forget that before he went insane with Trump Giuliani was revered in NY city.”

        Nope. Not even close. Check the record as to how most of NYers (my own family included) regarded the mayor prior to Sep 11, 2001. Beyond that, poll the non-white segment of the population and ask them what their opinions are. Revered? Yeah, perhaps on Staten Island. Sheesh.

        Your comments just illustrate my earlier point: the mythologies surrounding both political figures have been very persistent. But that doesn’t change the fact that their legacies are largely based on BS.

        I have little to add here (without going into an entire treatise on the subject matter, which I have the knowledge base and material to support, and also having lived through these eras myself) to RossB and Mike Orr’s excellent follow-up comments, so I’ll just make some suggestions for further reading. Enjoy!



        One final thought….
        Where are the Nelson Rockefellers in today’s version of the GOP? Rockefeller was my governor while growing up and I’m sure he would not recognize his own (race-based fear-mongering obstructionist) party today. For those not familiar with the former governor’s history prior to becoming Vice President, you can read more about the man’s bio at the link that follows.


      12. Recently a poll found Giuliani still more popular than De Blasio.


        This is what GQ recently wrote:

        “Ironically, Giuliani first rose to fame within the same outfit now investigating him—the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, which President Ronald Reagan appointed him to lead in 1983. He parlayed his reputation as a hard-charging, mob-busting prosecutor into eight years as mayor of New York City. On September 11, 2001, the attacks on the World Trade Center changed his political fortunes forever. Like a wartime president, Giuliani saw his approval rating skyrocket to an all-time high of 79 percent, even with only a few months remaining in his term. Oprah bestowed on him the title of “America’s Mayor,” and Time named him its Person of the Year.”


        Granted his reputation has recently dimmed.

        History is mostly myth, and mostly accident. An excellent book is Edward Hallet Carr’s, What is History? https://www.amazon.com/What-History-Edward-Hallet-Carr/dp/039470391X For example, the first human population explosion occurred by accident when iron was discovered for tools and weapons. Women began using it to cook, and suddenly in a hunter and gatherer society they had enough iron to have more than one child without developing anemia. Or the German’s rather unwise decision to place Lenin in a boarded up box car with 10,000 marks back to Russia to get Russia out of WW I.

        You can try and dispel the myths of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and God knows JFK, but as Hallet points out people like myths, because it makes history seem less random and less accidental. A president controls much less than many think, and in many way his reputation ends up based on demographics (the baby boom era), war which is mostly luck, scientific breakthroughs like vaccines, an oil embargo, and so on.

        Just look at Biden. His presidency is less than a year old and it is effectively over. Same with Trump. The coronavirus cost him reelection (and still he almost won), and talk about accidents of history.

      13. “Just look at Biden. His presidency is less than a year old and it is effectively over.”

        The midterms are a year away and the presidential three years away. Anything can happen to and probably will. Did you know in December 2019 that we would face the worst pandemic in US history and many people would refuse vaccines. Did you know in December 2020 that a coup attempt on the Capitol would occur, and that members of Congress would be running for their lives and then five months later defending the perpetrators?

        “Same with Trump.”

        Same, except dissatisfaction with Trump is based on a long-term record (4 years president, 3/4 year post-president, 10+ years public figure), and it seems to always be “more of the same”. So I doubt he will change in the next 1-3 years or his favorability will change much.

        So if in 2024 it’s Biden vs Trump, I would expect a similar result as the lapreserve democracy.st election, and it would be a matter of whether voter suppression blocks more or fewer votes than people voting for Biden to keep democracy alive.

      14. Regarding that “recent” (Jan 10-13, 2021) Siena College poll, you neglected to mention their other results:

        “•Slightly more New Yorkers, 56%, showed distaste for Giuliani than for Mayor de Blasio, about whom 53% said they disapproved.
        •In contrast to the current and former mayors’ low approval ratings, Siena’s poll showed that 57% of New Yorkers view Gov. Andrew Cuomo favorably, while 56% if New Yorkers regard Vice President Kamala Harris favorably.
        •The politician who rated the highest, receiving a 62% approval rating was President-elect Joe Biden, who will be inaugurated tomorrow.
        •Vice President Mike Pence had a 42% approval rating, and 30% of respondents approved favorably to President Donald Trump, whose last day in office is today.”

        So, yeah, there’s that. Frankly, these polling results aren’t terribly relevant to this discussion. Also, the polling isn’t recent. Conducting the poll again in Oct 2021 would most certainly produce quite different results, particularly with regard to unfavorability for Giuliani, Cuomo and Biden.

        “Granted his reputation has recently dimmed.”
        Um, I would call that quite the understatement.

        “History is mostly myth, and mostly accident.”

        No and no. Sure, humankind’s history contains plenty of examples of myth-making exploits as well as “accidental” results, but to make the assertion above (or even writing an entire tome on the subject matter) is rather silly. The Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800s….myth or accident? Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939….myth or accident? The Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969….myth or accident? I think you get the point.

        “The coronavirus cost him reelection (and still he almost won),…”

        There has been a lot written about this over the last year, including some scholastic pieces*. The conclusions are all over the place but the one thing that everyone is agreement on is that the Trump administration (and subsequent re-election) never happens were it not for the incredibly undemocratic institution known as the electoral college. Both the 2016 and 2020 Presidential contests were incredibly close within that context and both races could’ve had the opposite outcome. Obviously, we do not use the popular vote to determine the victor (sadly) or Trump would have lost both times “bigly”.

        One final note….
        We need more of this than more GOP perpetuated mythology:

        *A recommended read, when you have the time:

      15. It would be interesting to see the poll results for Cuomo, Harris, and Biden today to compare to the beginning of the year. Not sure if Giuliani has (or could) dropped further. Personally considering his association with Trump I was surprised 44% of New Yorkers viewed Giuliani favorably, especially for such a Democrat demographic. Maybe nostalgia. He was Time Magazine’s person of the year. Of course, so was Hitler in 1938.

        Remember Orwell’s famous line, history is written by the winners. History is a fact, but none of us were there. What we know is what we have been told. By the winners.

        “He always says that those who control the present can rewrite the past.”
        ― Anne Fortier, The Lost Sisterhood

        “History is a set of lies agreed upon.”
        ― Napoleon Bonaparte

        “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
        ― George Orwell

        Look at how your own perception of history is colored by your political beliefs. It is the same for all of us. Yes, things happened in the past, and we are still arguing about why they happened.

      16. @Daniel T
        I appreciate the reply as well as the discussion overall. We may not agree on too many matters but I enjoy the thoughtful and civil discourse nevertheless. I hope you do as well of course. Please do keep posting as this blog needs a wider variety of perspectives. (I’m pretty sure that you will.) I personally have followed STB since the previous Sound Transit realignment but didn’t start commenting until around 2015 or so. It can be a very informative place for one interested in local transit and land use issues. I certainly have learned a lot by following the blog.

        Btw, I love the quotes!

      17. Not sure if Giuliani has (or could) dropped further.
        Sometimes perception is more important than reality. Giuliani had a “Nixon moment” with the hair dye interview. All the double speak trying to support Trump after he’d lost… that’s what lawyers do for their “client”. It’s not what someone who has aspirations of a political future does. Nikki Haley rode the wave and cut ties at the perfect time.

        “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
        ― George Orwell

        If you told me “George” said that I’d have guessed George F. Will.

        The future ain’t what it used to be.
        ― Yogi Berra

    2. @RossB,
      Can you give a first hand account of what’s happening in Licton Springs? My understanding is a lot of effort and money was put into making this an upscale neighborhood. A quick internet search reveals it has it’s own Community Council; don’t know what if any power it has. Much has been made in the local media about how greenbelt areas have become undesirable enclaves.

      1. The park or the neighborhood? I went through the park both times. It has a great playground — a few months ago we took the grandkids there. There is a building that burned — I think it was the bathroom, which explains some porta-potties. (Then again, not all of the parks have bathrooms, so maybe they just added those). The little trails that go through the park are nice, and in good shape (from what I can tell). There was one homeless tent, but it was fairly clean, and off to the side. I think there were two tents when my grandkids played there.

        The neighborhood seems to be doing quite well. There is some construction, and the houses, townhouses and condos are going for typical (high) Seattle prices. I think the only sketchy/dirty area is Aurora proper. Nothing new there. Aurora itself always comes and goes (at least for most of it). But around the crosswalks (where the people are, generally) it looks good.

        Greenbelt areas come and go as well. The one I go through most is on the north side of Maple Leaf. I take a trail that crosses over Thornton Creek, then take a sharp right at 100th (to get over to the pedestrian bridge). That greenbelt has had homeless before, but those numbers seem to have gone down. There is a lot of shifting around — they cleared out the really big one in Lake City, but I haven’t been down there to see where they all went.

      2. I think it was a greenbelt I was thinking about. This link goes way back to 2019; looks like they put an end to that and some of it moved into the greenbelt. Thinking about it some more I was getting Licton Springs mixed up with Thornton Creek.

  6. Good segment today on Fareed Zakaria about how the pandemic will be the biggest fundamental shift in the labor force since WWII when woman entered the work force.

    Employees are burned out. They don’t think employers value them as a person. But more than anything they want much more flexibility in the work market.

    How this will affect goods and services, and society in general, remains to be seen. Higher long term inflation is one probability, which is tough if you are on a fixed income and fixed income assets have almost zero return.

    There has been a huge increase in folks starting their own business, which is much easier with Zoom and WFH. Of course the end of the eviction moratoria and federal stimulus programs may cause many to return to work, but the five day/week 10 hour/day grind including commute is likely over.

    Also unknown is how this will change the urban/suburban/rural population mix. Many urban and suburban folks don’t understand rural folks don’t like us, and don’t want us to move to rural America and ruin it in their opinion.

    This is more than generous unemployment benefits. This is general unhappiness at American society and work overall.

    I think if there is anything we do know about the pandemic it is we don’t know the long term consequences it will have on U.S. society, especially the longer it goes.

    1. Why should inflation be high long-term? The supply bottlenecks will presumably be smoothed out. If you think the stimulus and unemployment checks were to blame, they’re over now and any effect will diminish. The end of eviction moratoriums means (A) more people will be homeless, and (B) even those who don’t don’t have money to spend, so they won’t be buying things and that might reduce inflation.

      The factors that could keep long-term inflation high are if China can’t keep up its industrial output, if the shortage of computer chips can’t be alleviated, if workers refuse to ever go back to industrial or service jobs, etc. There are ways to counteract these, like with setting up more manufacturing in the US, treating low-level workers as if they mattered and should be paid decently, etc. But it takes years to set up manufacturing plants, especially chip fabs, so that will take some time. Consumers may have to shift to different consumption patterns to get around persistent shortages and spot price increases, and they may resist, and possibly blame the government for not making things like it was before. All these could lead to long-term inflation, but they’re all uncertain, so it’s not right to way they will happen. We might get struck by lightning too, but we don’t say it will definitely happen. And if inflation does remain high, the Fed would probably raise interest rates to stop it, the way Volker effectively did.

      There’s also a minority view among economists that maybe 4% is a better inflation target than 2%, because it increases economic activity that helps more jobs and economic benefits trickle down to the lower-income who are left out when the economy is tighter. If so, we have 4-5% inflation now, so this is the level they wanted, and we’ll see what its effect is if it lasts.

      1. The Fed has a tremendous influence by setting interest rates. High interest rates are used to fight inflation. Low (or negative) interest rates have the opposite effect. You don’t have to look any farther than whats happened with home prices to see what the effect of record low interest rates have done. Also, low interest rates tend to push people out of low risk low yield investments like CDs, bonds, etc and into the stock market. Gains taken, the feeling of wealth and companies generating huge sums of capital from issuing stock tend to fuel inflation. One fear is the Fed won’t let interest rates rise because of what it would mean in terms of higher payments on the national debt. One way to “reduce” the debt is to inflate your way out of it. You essentially repay the original amount with money that is worth less.

      2. Debt payments are not a major issue unless the debt were to get much higher. Congress just needs to authorize the payments it has obligated. The reason the Fed has been keeping interest rates down is the post-2008 economic recovery has been uneven, with the bottom 50% seeing no benefit at all and still struggling to make ends meet. It’s a way to trickle down the economic benefits. It has to do something because Congress has been a stalemate the whole time and won’t do anything to ease the bottom half’s plight and get the economy into balance.

        A side effect of low interest rates is it increases the investable money rich people and corporations have, that has no place to go except into stocks and real estate. But that’s a side issue, and it would self-correct if the economy ever gets into balance. You said low interest rates are the reason house prices have ballooned, but that’s only part of the story, and a smallish and less significant part. The main reason prices are going up is the housing shortage: we’re not building enough, and not many people are selling. An influx of wealthy tech workers is another factor, but again it’s secondary. It’s possible to manage both an influx of high-income workers and low interest rates by building enough housing to saturate that demand, then they wouldn’t be able to bid the prices up. Or at least not more than a little bit. Dallas and Houston manage to keep prices within middle-class stability by having lenient zoning that allows the housing supply to keep up with increasing demand. That’s what we need.

      3. Bernie is correct: interest rates have a big impact on housing prices. For example, we were just able to refinance at the same monthly payment but with a 10 year shorter pay off date, which saves us hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest. Just because interest rates dropped. With $28 trillion in debt don’t look for the Federal Reserve to hike rates soon, although it probably will have to scale back its bond buying. High inflation like today is a cancer for an economy long term, but breaking high inflation is very painful.

        But there other reasons real property, especially SFH, is rising in price so quickly:

        1. People think it will never go down. Memories of 2009-2016 are short. With the current rate of inflation alone who wouldn’t borrow as much as they can at 2 and 7/8% when inflation alone is 5.4%. This is how currency traders get rich.

        2. Investors. Real property is a very hot market for huge firms now. First, interest rates are very low. Second, interest is deductible as are property taxes and any costs. Third are very low returns in fixed income investments. And fourth the income on your investment is much larger and less risky (supposedly) than stocks. For example: I buy Apple stock. It might go up or down. Its dividend is around 3%/year, which would take a very long to repay the investment. I am really betting Apple will go up. If I buy a SFH at a very low interest rate and rent it out the “dividend” from the rent almost covers the cost of the investment. The “dividend” is very high.

        3. Taxes. Real property’s gains are not realized until sold, unlike dividends. It also has very favorable capital gains tax consequences (including under the State’s new capital gains law).

        4. You can exchange properties with no capital gains owed. https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/the-treasury-department-and-irs-issue-final-regulations-regarding-like-kind-exchanges-of-real-property#:~:text=An%20exchange%20of%20real%20property%20held%20primarily%20for,real%20property%20under%20applicable%20State%20or%20local%20law. Congress is looking at repealing this loophole, because it is how a lot of investors avoid capital gains.

        5. People have to live somewhere, and want somewhere their own, and the vast majority want a single family home, especially with kids. It is a huge emotional trigger, which is why lending and tax laws favor it.

        6. This region has a large percentage of workers who can work from home, and ironically their businesses increased during a pandemic and lockdown, but they discovered they need a larger place.

        7. You can depreciate the property each year for tax purposes. There are reasons wealthy property tycoons pay so little tax.

        Obviously if over 50% of Seattleites are renting over 50% of the properties are investment properties. This will increase dramatically in Seattle due to the recent amendment by Seattle to allow property owners in the residential zones to have three separate dwellings but not live onsite. This is like catnip to out-of-state investors. This converts each SFH lot into absentee landlord multi-family units, and makes each SFH lot more valuable to an investor. At historically low interest rates. Ironically Seattle limited property owners to two Airbnb properties maximum, but then incentivized the investment for SFH.

        There is one certain way to decrease housing prices and that is a deep recession. 2008 shows that once housing price bubbles are popped prices drop precipitously. Investors want out NOW at their REIT’s plunge in price and margins are called, people begin to default, there is a glut of houses on the market, mortgage backed securities can’t be sold, and banks get nervous about any delinquency on loans. If you wanted a SFH 2012 was the year if you were planning on holding onto it until today, but you had to TRUST in 2012. Everyone wants to buy in a hot market.

        The difference with the pandemic is most owners kept their jobs, and the federal government learned its lesson from 2009 and flooded the market with liquidity. Plus the desire — for many reasons — for a SFH increased. People didn’t travel or spend much since they were locked down, so buying a house and fixing it up is where the money is going.

        With the changes Seattle made to its residential code SFH prices are not coming down, and rental prices are going up, especially in a market with historically low interest rates and a 50+% captive rental rate. Look for the rental rate to increase, a very bad sign for a city.

        This is what happens when ideologues try to understand or manipulate the housing market. Seattle thought it would create more affordable housing by allowing three legal dwellings per residential lot, and the state thought it would create more affordable condo housing ownership by relaxing the warranty on new condo construction. Both backfired.

        At the same time, even in Seattle, those who own SFH’s are realizing huge gains, and those gains help afford college tuition, fixing up the property, medical expenses, and when they sell to retire assisted care. The real issue is not the increase in housing prices, but that so few own to share in the wealth.

      4. So what is the solution? Everybody should have access to housing. Working-class and lower middle-class workers should be able to live in the city they work in. People who want to live in a large city like Seattle, or in someplace anywhere that’s walkable and has frequent transit, should be able to do so. Just saying that rising prices are fine and good for homeowners doesn’t help with any of these, and continuing with it just leads to increasing inequality and poverty, which causes social problems and political instability for everyone.

      5. “So what is the solution? Everybody should have access to housing. Working-class and lower middle-class workers should be able to live in the city they work in. People who want to live in a large city like Seattle, or in someplace anywhere that’s walkable and has frequent transit, should be able to do so.”

        Not really sure. Tom Terrific got a lot of blowback when he suggested living in one of the most expensive cities in the country if you don’t make a lot of money might not be a good idea. America doesn’t guarantee you a right to live in the city or neighborhood of your choice just because you want to based on someone else subsidizing it. That should be clear by now.

        There are also surrounding areas. With Link you can now live in Angle Lake and work in Seattle. South Seattle is much more affordable if you don’t mind sharing a room or living among Black people. This whole idea that everyone deserves to live alone with their own bathroom and kitchen is fairly new. I grew up in this area, and lived abroad for several years, and I lived with other folks in a rental SFH until I was 33 and got married.

        After all, a lot of the homeowners in Seattle today moved here from CA years ago because the CA real estate market was too expensive. Spokane, Boise, Salt Lake City, those are where the folks are going today.

        For the working poor probably some kind of voucher works best, although you won’t be moving to Laurelhurst. Whenever the government builds housing it is astronomically priced. It would have been nice if just 7% — $10 billion — from the $131 billion ST will cost (based on recent figures) was used for vouchers and affordable housing, but then you would have people from all over the country coming for their voucher. That is basically the whole point of the Martin v. Boise case. This region chose transit over housing.

        For the homeless that is a whole different issue. Housing zero AMI folks with a lot of health, mental health, and addiction issues, is very tough, mainly because no one else wants to live among them, ESPECIALLY the 30% AMI folks.

        Begin with a very simple truth: builders and developers are doing it for the money. They want to buy as low as possible, and sell as high as possible. That means buying older more affordable housing and building new less affordable housing. It is called gentrification, and new construction makes the whole neighborhood more expensive, which is good in one way, and bad in other ways. You can upzone, but that will never create affordable housing, because it will be NEW housing. If your goal is to build $800,000 row houses ok, upzoning might work.

        The second truth is the government doesn’t build anything. They compete for the same talent to build affordable housing, and those folks in a hot market don’t want to build affordable housing with a bunch of red tape even if subsidized. It is nearly impossible to get a contractor today to do a $250,000 kitchen remodel on the eastside, so getting a qualified contractor to build cheap affordable housing is not worth it even with the subsidy. Every single sub is working on a skyscraper in Bellevue. So probably the 10% affordable housing set aside is best in this market, except those tend to be 80% AMI.

        But don’t forget in Seattle the AMI is $102,000. As Bernie and I have pointed out, that equals $2500/month if you allocate 30% of your income toward rent, or 15% if you have a spouse, roommate or partner. You can get a very nice place for $2500/month.

        So part of my advice would be to live with someone. Share a kitchen and bathroom ( I do) and save 50% on your rent, or get twice the rental.

      6. The $102k figure is for median Household income. The average household in Seattle is 2.11 people. From census data (2015-2019) median household income was $92k but per capita income was only $60k. A large percentage (over half it would appear) are two or more wage earners. Anyway, household income is what matters for housing affordability. And if you look across cities with vastly different median incomes it is almost always within a few % that the median cost of ownership is 1/3 of household income. From the census data it was 34% in Seattle.

      7. And yet Canada, Germany, Austria, and Finland manage to do it better than we do, so it is possible.

      8. Canada, Germany, Austria, and Finland manage to do it better
        One thing Harrell brought up in the debate was how single family neighborhoods were important to establishing generational wealth. In Finland home ownership is over 70%. Canada is 68.5% and the US as a whole is 65.3%. Bellevue is at 54% and Tacoma at 52%. Germany at only 51% is surprising. Seattle lags at 45.7%. He gets that eliminating SF housing will continue the trend of locking historically disadvantage populations from ever achieving this goal. Reliance on City owned housing perpetuates it.

      9. If you don’t allow apartments to be built, which is what you are actually advocating, all that does is force these that can’t afford housing into longer commutes from those places where housing is affordable. What housing is available increases significantly in price due to demand.

      10. Not eliminating all SF zoning doesn’t mean no new apartments. As Harrell pointed out in the debate high density areas should be targeted. That means some SF areas may get rezoned. Some commercial may get rezoned. Large parcels are more inviting to developers. A lot of apartments can still be built in areas where they are currently allowed but perhaps it’s time to increase height limits in exchange for a certain percentage of lower rent units. Targeted development takes into account the current transportation infrastructure along with things like the aging water, sewer and electrical grids.

      11. Eliminating SF housing will continue the trend of locking historically disadvantage populations from ever achieving this goal.

        That is completely backwards. In a city like Seattle, single family homes are outside the reach of a middle-income person, let alone someone who is low income. The fact that there are so few houses is a huge part of the problem. There should be a lot more townhouses, but those are illegal in most of the city. There should be a lot more condos, but those are illegal in most of the city. Putting limits on places to live makes it harder for people to gain wealth, not easier.

        This is why a recent analysis found that the current strategy has perpetuated inequity (https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/seattles-longstanding-urban-village-strategy-for-growth-needs-reworking-new-report-says/). The report recommends changes to the zoning as a result.

        I mean, come on, think about it. You are saving up for a condo. How in the world is it better that rent it high? You want to buy a place — isn’t it better if there are lots of townhouses and condos, instead of a few? This is simple economics, that people somehow get twisted. It is like they don’t really get what happened in the past, and how current policy — in a handful of high demand cities like Seattle — perpetuates it.

    2. Many urban and suburban folks don’t understand rural folks don’t like us, and don’t want us to move to rural America and ruin it in their opinion.

      That has been going on for a long time. Projects like Suncadia can get people upset. It is interesting though. A few years back, I was talking to someone who lived in Cle Elum, and he said the folks at Suncadia handled the situation well. They engaged the community, and addressed the concerns, and while I’m sure a lot of long term residents of the area are quick to stereotype a Suncadia person, there isn’t a huge amount of animosity.

      Any time there is a big change people will get upset. I remember being on the Olympic Peninsula, and seeing a sign that said “Fuck Twilight”. My first thought was “How can you be angry at a time of day” until I quickly realized they were talking about the book/movie. Too many tourists to Forks. At the same time, I’m sure there were lots of people (in retail) that loved it.

      The same is true for a lot of rural areas. Very few people want to live in rural areas, unless they have spectacular views nearby. A lot of rural areas are slowly dying, while places like Bend tend to boom and bust. Property in Roslyn was gentrified a long time before the pandemic (leading to projects like Suncadia). Montana has a mix of very wealthy “ranch” owners from the East Coast (who don’t do any ranching) and long term residents. The culture clash continues.

      If there is a move to less popular small towns and rural areas, I think a lot of people would welcome it. In the past I thought it would be great if the government had an incentive program for immigrants to come to this country, and settle in areas that are losing people. There are a lot of people with farming skills (in countries like Zimbabwe) who would welcome the opportunity. Done right, it could help revitalize the rural area. Of course we had a president who was more comfortable building walls (both figuratively and literally) and blaming immigrants than actually seeing them as part of the solution. As long as you have politicians trying to divide people, coming up with policy solutions becomes difficult.

  7. Was anyone at Northgate before the Huskies game yesterday? Not surprisingly parking was nearly full about an hour and a half before kickoff. I stuck around for a few train departures just to observe the crowd. The platform filled up quite nicely and rather quickly in between departure intervals. The TVM’s had crowded queues that looked to be about a 5-7 wait for a ticket. I took the train to Roosevelt. Although it was quieter there versus Northgate, I’ve never seen so many transit users buzzing around in that neighborhood.

    It was quite nice to see all of the buzz around Link yesterday afternoon!

    1. When University Link opened in 2016, ST was proactively talking about ridership tallies within just a few days of opening.

      Sadly, ST has not offered info about this since Northgate Link opened.

      I don’t think ST realizes how not providing this info hurts their perception. Hopefully we won’t have to wait until mid-2022 to find out what the tallies are for October 2021 (or 4th Quarter 2021).

      1. I think they’ll release some numbers soon. What would also be interesting to see if ridership on the 5XX and 8XX routes has significantly changed.

      2. I think it will be tough to compare numbers, just because of where we are with the pandemic. When U-Link was built, it was pretty easy. We could just compare the numbers of various buses, to see if the UW truncations were a success or not (they were). It is way too early for that.

        Just looking at the number of people walking around the station, it looks pretty good, but only because we are still experiencing the pandemic. It is way below what I expected it to look like three years ago.

      3. I’m not comparing numbers, Ross. ST won’t announce any numbers to compare.

        I’m merely comparing the timeline of public disclosure of transit use. ST appears to be greatly pulling back on releasing use data compared to 2016.

      4. I’m saying that even if ST did have numbers, it would be hard to assess them. Ridership is always dependent on a number of factors, but Covid is a huge one.

        This makes it a lot different than looking at the numbers after U-Link. We could tell right away that the UW truncations (that were quite controversial) worked out really well. In contrast, some of the changes on Capitol Hill failed. Trying to make that sort of analysis right now would be fruitless.

        If there is ever a time for Metro and ST to get lazy with the numbers, now is it.

    2. I was there on Sunday. I did a similar walk to the one I did earlier in the week (crossing over the bridge in the morning, and taking Link from Roosevelt to Northgate in the afternoon). There were quite a few people walking over the bridge — more than the last week. The train from Roosevelt had some empty seats, but not a lot. As the train arrived at Northgate, there seemed to be quite a few people lined up to take it the other direction. Overall I would say it is doing well. It is similar to what the transit center looked like before the pandemic, which is great. Things are getting back to normal.

      Roosevelt has construction that makes things messy. For example, the sidewalk is closed on 12th. The apartment they are building will eventually be done, which should make accessing the station (from some directions) easier. Likewise, I expect Northgate to boom once they add the apartments within walking distance (at the old mall).

      Speaking of parking, I talked to someone who parked there on the weekend a while back, and had no problem. I think that will soon go away. I expect parking to be very difficult very soon — with the lots filling up early in the morning, even on weekends. There is no way you will be able to park and ride for a Husky game, unless you want to be at the UW really early.

  8. The other day a friend of mine, who knows that I follow transit and land use issues as two of my interests, sent me a link to the following article. I found it rather interesting so I thought I’d share it with the gang here. It discusses the evolution of lot and home sizes in the nation’s 20th largest cities over the last century, compiling the data from multiple sources. (Full disclosure: I haven’t had an opportunity to verify any of the data presented so please keep that in mind.) Still, taking the report just on its face value, I found the presentation pretty interesting.


    1. Interesting. Some of it is expected, some unexpected, and some I’d call inaccurate or comparing apples to oranges. The average house size in the 1950s was 800-1000 sq ft, and then it started ballooning in the 1960s to 1500, 2000, and eventually 2500+. This seems to be just wanting more luxury rather then the previous houses being too small. Even beyond this increase in buying larger houses, there’s a parallel increase in increasing house size cutting into yard size. Many older houses have a garage converted to another use, a family room/subroom addition, etc. And some recent tract houses are remarkably close together, like in central Issaquah.

      The “decrease” in Seattle lot sizes must be due to the increase in townhouses in the city and close-together detached houses in the suburbs. (Hiatt in the article says “single-family condensed housing”, which sounds like the same thing as close-together houses.) These kinds of houses stretch the boundary of single-family houses toward multifamily, so I’m not sure it’s accurate to lump them together in the same category as a traditional house covering <= 50% of a 5000+ sq ft lot. The problem with low-density houses is the number of households or businesses you can walk to in 5 or 10 minutes, and if these condensing techniques increase that number, that's a good thing.

      Historic lot sizes and whether a city continues a tradition of small lots, is city-specific. Small lots were the norm when the 1600s-1800s northeastern cities were established, and Seattle was included in that. Cities that grew largish before 1945 tend to me more accepting of sticking to small lots, attached houses, and keeping legacy subways/streetcars/frequent buses and seeing them as essential. Conversely, smaller, more remote Western towns started with or quickly adopted large lots because there was so much land and so few people, and many people worked at home on family farms so transit was less critical.

      Seattle was too small in 1945 to continue with small lots and frequent transit. The impression was it was still a small, remote town, so why not increase lot sizes and spread out and drive to them like people in rural areas do, we can keep that density and everything will be fine.

      Everett is a counterexample with large lots from the beginning. Colby Avenue is remarkable for the deep lots with 1905-era houses, with front yards so deep you could have an entire house in the front yard the same size as the first house. And most of those front yards are plain grass lawns that nobody uses.

      1. Thanks for your thoughts regarding the linked article.

        “Small lots were the norm when the 1600s-1800s northeastern cities were established,…”

        Out of curiosity, what would you personally consider a small lot for a SFH and/or rowhouse? Are you familiar with the 100′ x 25′ standard common in my old hometown when lower Manhattan was platted? If not, you might enjoy reading this piece that sets the historical record straight.


      2. Seattle was too small in 1945 to continue with small lots and frequent transit.

        My story, and I’m sticking to it, is that post WWII the automobile became more affordable, people had more disposable income and people chose to “live the good life”. That was the start of Seattle Transit’s “death spiral”. Driving/parking was cheap and convenient and Seattle annexed all the land around it. Nobody really cared about transit and why would you want density when you can have sprawl. It wasn’t until the 60’s that sprawl started to spread to the eastside because Seattle had reached it’s sprawl potential.

      3. @Bernie — That’s a good summary. I would also add zoning as a major reason for that difference. A lot of the small lots in Seattle are grandfathered in (they are smaller than legally allowed). Single family lots in almost all of the old city borders are 5,000 square feet. In more recently annexed areas it is 7,200, with a few places zoned 9,600. My neighborhood — Pinehurst — is typical for an area outside of the old city limits. It used to be farm land, and there are still lots that are clearly designed for that purpose. Pinehurst Pocket Park has a cute little sculpture of a steam tractor, which kids used to ride in the 60s (not that long ago, obviously). These lots have been subdivided over the years (and are still being subdivided). There would have been a lot of smaller lots — a much bigger mix, like most of the city — if it wasn’t for the zoning.

        But that begs the question — why did they approve zoning like that? It was many of those same forces. If you read much about the history of zoning, you can’t separate it from the automobile. It started as a way to prevent factories from being built next to houses (which predates automobiles) but it really took off, and got a lot more complicated with cars. For example, in most single-family zoned neighborhoods, grocery stores are banned. On the one hand, this seems nuts. Being able to walk to a grocery store sounds great — who wouldn’t want that? On the other hand, that means more traffic as well as noisy cars and trucks. Plus, if you can drive, you might as well drive a bit farther.

        Likewise, the push for big lot sizes goes along with the car. We are a social species, which is why people tend to live relatively close to each other historically — you want to be within walking distance of a lot of people and amenities. The car changed all that. You can drive to your friends, several blocks away. You also don’t want too many cars in your neighborhood (for the same reason you don’t want the busy store in your neighborhood). Zoning played a big part in sprawl, and the car played a big part in zoning.

    2. I skimmed though a lot of it but at first glance I was surprised to see Seattle and Denver at the top of cities with the biggest decrease in lot size. But then you think about the development of these “new” cities and it’s no mystery. As was talked about in a previous blog post most of what was annexed in north Seattle had been small farms. So of course when you carve up farms into city lots there’s a huge drop in lot size.

      Another factor in Seattle’s history would be what happened during WWII when Boeing built or facilitated the building of lots of small bungalows to house the workforce increase driven by the war effort. I don’t know the detailed history of San Diego but it is a military town. I’m sure that’s had a lot to do with land development there much as it’s a huge driving force in the Pierce County economy. That also likely created the “bones” for what are the compact cities on SF Bay north of the Golden Gate because of the shipyards. It’s certainly why Bremerton has “lots of small lots” in outlying areas like Gorst.

      Lots in Philly were largely determined before Seattle existed. When homes didn’t have “appliances”, you heated with coal and had little to no leisure time only the extremely wealthy that could afford servants wanted or could afford large houses and if you weren’t raising food why would you want to pay taxes on extra land. The areas near the docks in NYC were originally hell hole people warehouses.

      Bottom line, annexation really skews any historical comparisons. Interesting article; there’s a lot to consider besides just “lots”.

    3. The average house size in the 1950s was 800-1000 sq ft, and then it started ballooning in the 1960s to 1500, 2000, and eventually 2500+. This seems to be just wanting more luxury rather then the previous houses being too small.

      Yeah, definitely. But there are other factors. First is the cost of construction. Yesterday I was talking with a carpenter friend of mine, and he explained how they often build new houses. Carpenters come in, and nail together the frame; roofers come in, and put on a roof; people do the finishing, the plumbing, etc. It is essentially an assembly line. This dramatically drops the cost difference between a small and big house.

      Then there is the zoning, which insists on a big lot. Given the choice of a big house on a big lot, or a small house on a big lot, most people would choose the big house, especially if it doesn’t cost much more. But people aren’t offered the option of a smaller house on a smaller lot, which would be considerably cheaper. Those type of houses are often illegal (they would be illegal in my neighborhood).

      So they find workarounds. For example, check out this house: https://goo.gl/maps/Cd8ion2gjR7nDL3g8. It is a cute little house, built back in 1947. A bigger house would have cost a lot more. It sits on a lot that is right at the legal limit, 7200 square feet. Just recently, they put up a (much bigger) house next to it. It is big enough that it also has a basement apartment, with a separate entrance. Now it is 1910A, 1910B, and 1910C. But it all part of the same property. Technically this isn’t a duplex, and there is only one “house” on that lot (the other is a DADU). This is really an ideal application of the new rules, but the owner got lucky in many ways (the existing house was small, a new house could fit within the borders, etc.). But even with all of that, this is all one lot. You can’t just *buy* one of those houses. You can rent, you might even be able to buy it like you buy a condo, but you can’t buy just one house and the land underneath it.

      There is obviously demand for smaller places — otherwise the owner wouldn’t have kept the small house. They would have bulldozed it, and put up a McMansion (like many in the neighborhood). But the rules make it more difficult to give the people what they want — small houses on small lots (as well as row houses, multi-plexes, etc.).

      Yes, demand leads to bigger houses, but zoning plays a huge part as well.

  9. Very interesting article Tisgwm. However, until you get past Seattle (with a 32.1% gross floor area to lot area ratio, or GFAR) you don’t get past what even eastside cities require. For example, Mercer Island allows 40% GFAR for all structures including garage, which is I think 5% less than Bellevue. (Not sure how Philadelphia can have a 110.2% house to lot size ratio).

    Actually GFAR is a regulatory limit many cities don’t use. Instead they use height, yard setbacks, and impervious surface limits to determine footprint and house GFA. Some cities use GFAR as a kind of litmus test to see if the other regulatory limits are working, or are being manipulated.

    Not surprisingly GFAR ratio declines as minimum lot size declines. At some point you don’t need any more house GFA. Although on Mercer Island over half the Island is 15,000 sf lot minimums, but we still limited total house size to 5000 sf to avoid lots being joined, or mega houses.

    The reality is a SFH is primarily focused on a family, and so there is a minimum size, around 2000 sf, with or without garage for a new house today, even though average house GFA is lower than that in the article. So as minimum lot size gets smaller either house GFA (size) gets lower, or more likely GFAR is increased, which is why you don’t see a huge change in price by lowering minimum lot size.

    This is the red herring we have had to fight on Mercer Island several times. Builder groups will argue for smaller lots to create affordable housing or for those looking to downsize, but when you press them on whether GFAR and the regulatory limits for conforming lots would stay the same for smaller lots so you actually have smaller houses they admit no, a house needs a certain size, so GFAR would have to increase. They mean smaller lots, not smaller houses, which is just density and less lot vegetation, which is not popular in the SFH zone on Mercer Island.

  10. I was actually embarrassed for Metro a couple of weeks ago, if that’s even possible! I was so happy to see Ballard’s express buses back on the schedule (albeit reduced from their pre-pandemic roster of buses). On October 6 I found myself downtown around the evening rush and managed to snatch the last 18 Express. One other passenger beside me was on board. That passenger alighted at the Bon Marché. (I now it’s not that any longer, but it’s not the successor store either–I’m not sure what it is or will become). At the Bon, another passenger boarded and that was it until I got off in Loyal Heights. Two passengers. One morning last week I took the 18 toward downtown. At least this time there were more than two. There were six. I sure hope ridership on the Express buses will increase, otherwise they might be suspended again. And it will be a long time before rail comes to Ballard. No biggie to take the 40 to Northgate or the 45 to Roosevelt, but the Ballard Expresses (15, 17, 18) are sure convenient and fast.

    1. It is definitely a mix. The other day I was sitting outside Chuck’s, drinking a beer in the middle of a weekday. I saw a 28 go by, and it was almost empty. Another one went by — same story. It was clear things aren’t back to normal. But then later I saw a 45, and it had some people. I ended up catching a different 45, and the numbers were respectable. A bit below would it would have been before the pandemic (I think) but not much.

      I think the express buses like the 18 are bound to take the longest to recover. A bus like the 40 serves South Lake Union, but goes to a lot of other places. The 18 is mainly an express to downtown. I’m sure you get some neighborhood riders (within Ballard) but those folks are fine with the 40, and tend to be more all-day.

      I do hope that Metro can keep that route going, as it is a huge time savings for people. Hell, if they had the money, it would be great to see it running all day (like the old days). I might dogleg to North Beach (west on 65th, north on 24th) to provide Sunset Hill with all day service. But that’s if they had more money.

  11. Seeing all these bus trips canceled and also seeing that they are overwhelming in Seattle. Nice to see that South King County is not taking the blunt of all this.

    1. Are you talking about the deletions and continuing suspensions in the October service change? They’re because Seattle was paying for them in 2016-2020 in the Seattle Transportation Benefit District, and the rate was reduced in the 2020 election, and some of the resources went to supplementing West Seattle service while the high bridge is closed, and non-operational purposes (e.g., school passes).

      South King County didn’t participate in these funding changes so it was unaffected. Additionally, both Metro, ST, and the county council have a new equity emphasis as of 2020, and are keeping resources in South King County, prioritizing South King County projects like RapidRide I (Renton-Auburn) , creating a Renton-Auburn precursor route (which happened last year), and sometimes shifting service hours to South King County and other equity-emphasis areas. The county noted that South King County ridership didn’t fall during the lockdown because so many riders are essential workers or can’t afford cars, and their ridership curve is more midday, evenings, and night than 9-5. So Metro has been keeping up off-peak service in South King County and trying to improve it.

      The peak expresses are mostly back, so that’s noticeable in South King County. That was a decision this summer to bring them back in anticipation of office reopenings. Now that reopenings have been postponed again, those restorations may only last a year if peak crowding doesn’t return by next September. I don’t expect it to go away in March, as that would only be six months, and it would have to make the decision this year to be ready for it, and people are still expecting the reopenings might finally occur early next year.

  12. Sorry to see the Union Gospel Mission in Seattle is shutting down. Here is the email I received as a member of the Pioneer Square business community with a link to the petition at the end:


    “Dear Babylon Bee Reader,

    “I wanted to make you aware of a Christian homeless ministry in Seattle being sued for declining to hire an applicant who disagrees with—and sought to change—the ministry’s religious beliefs.

    “Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission has been given an ultimatum by the Washington Supreme Court: give up your biblical beliefs or change how you serve your homeless neighbors. This isn’t just a threat to the Mission. It’s a threat to all Americans’ religious freedom.

    “The Alliance Defending Freedom Team has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

    “ADF is the world’s largest legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, marriage and family, parental rights, and the sanctity of life. We defend your most cherished liberties in Congress, state legislatures, and courtrooms across the country—all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

    “We need your help. Will you take a moment to add your name to this petition asking the government to stop forcing religious ministries to hire people who disagree with their mission? You will help send a message against government overreach.”




    The loss of the Union Gospel Mission is going to have a very negative impact on Pioneer Square, when already things are terrible here. I think some have a hard time understanding that many folks devote their lives to helping the less fortunate because their religion compels them to, while the secular do little.

    1. This is the case at the center of all of this:


      And for those who are unfamiliar with the ADF’s work, here’s a little primer courtesy of the SPL:


      Here’s a link to the relevant SCOTUS docket. As I have only been following this case casually since the WA high court decision, the petition for cert. is still pending as far as I know:


      One can also follow the case on the outstanding site scotusblog:


  13. Where can I find data on how much it costs to increase/decrease service on a route? Basically if Route X has 20 minutes headways on weekday mornings and I want to know what it would cost to bump to 15? Or vice versa?

    1. I don’t think they publish it, because it depends on the length and location of the route relative to the local bus base, and the availability of actual buses. There are bus operators here who can give pretty good estimates, though, based on the average cost for KCM to run a bus and how many additional bus-hours it would be to increase frequency on a route.

    2. Back of the napkin calculation use $150/hr for the cost of running a bus. You can get way of into the weeds on platform hours and depreciation, ridership/fare generation; but $150 will get you a figure that’s believable. Your proposal was a 1/3 increase. So you can look at it that way instead of $$$.

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