City goals: have a simple zoning/land use code that can be casually explained in under 15 minutes and is more permissive of mixed uses.

54 Replies to “Weekend open thread: Zoning in Japan”

  1. I’ve ridden link on both weekends and weekdays, and weekend ridership definitely feels higher. Why not run link every 10 minutes in weekdays, no 8 minute service. On Saturdays and Sundays, run link every 8 minutes between 11am and 7pm, ten to 12 minutes after 7pm.

    1. Ironically, such a shift would actually save Sound Transit some money. There are fewer weekend days than weekdays each week, plus the extra trains only need to enter and exit service once per day.

  2. I enjoyed the video! I tend to agree with the approach more focused on FAR and lot coverage than on counting front doors and kitchens (single-dwelling zoning in the US).

    I’ll be curious not only about the loosening of single-dwelling restrictions but also how the cultural growth of work-from-home is handled (as opposed to a home occupation). Why can I set up a “home office” legally but can’t put a small sign on the door that it’s a home office? It’s one of those other gray areas in US zoning law that I expect to change to favor more businesses (from online mail-order web sites to hair stylists to financial advisors) housed inside homes.

    1. The purpose of single-family zoning is to exclude businesses and apartments so that people can pretend they’re aristocrats who don’t need to work or who work elsewhere. Business signs would ruin the character. Also, a business implies clients and associates driving up, thus increasing traffic and street-parking demand. Another things the neighbors don’t want. Eventually work-from-home and home businesses may collide with that, but so fare the nimbys have been able to keep encroachment away except at the very edges.

      1. Certainly I can see neighbors not wanting high-volume retail in their local residential street! However, the nature of shopping and services is increasingly dependent on deliveries. This changes public perception over time.

        The ultimate regulatory issue I see for Seattle is the B&O tax. If I report to an office in Kirkland but live in Seattle where I work full-time from home, who gets my B&O tax revenue? It may be that it’s in Seattle’s best interest to make it easier to legitimize home businesses or offices to obtain more tax revenue.

      2. It is worth considering the history of zoning. I read a book about it, and while I found a lot of it interesting, I kinda dozed off here and there. But I think the gist of it is that zoning started with factories. This is still a big part of zoning everywhere — you don’t want a big factory spewing smoke next to your house.

        But that doesn’t explain why shops in residential areas are banned. We’ve had those for thousands of years. They are convenient for all involved. Why then, did things change?

        The car. Mobility improved with the automobile. At the same time, cars are annoying — you don’t want them in your neighborhood. You also have to find a place to park, and you don’t want all those people from outside the neighborhood using up your spots. Thus you don’t really need a grocery store in your neighborhood (if you always drive to the store) and you don’t want it your neighborhood. Or at least, you want it close, but not too close. That is the reasoning behind a lot of zoning.

        Of course things got a lot more complicated. There are different uses. Some are OK and universally respected (a bookstore). Some are not (an adult bookstore). It is common for zoning laws to go into great detail as to what is allowed where.

        Then, of course, you have racism. Redlining was a huge part of zoning. After 1968 (when the feds put an end to that) this shifted towards classism. There was much the same reasoning (“there goes the neighborhood”). It was believed that allowing an apartment (with all of the tired, poor, huddled masses) would reduce property values.

        Now, of course, the most common criticism of new apartments is either the structure itself, or again, parking. The structure limits are reasonable, but don’t explain why there are limits on the number of units, and not just the size and dimensions of the house. You can build a gigantic house (it happens all the time) but you can’t build a small apartment building.

        Parking limits also sound reasonable. The irony is, they make things worse. The structure is uglier, because the developer is forced to make room for cars. This also pushes up the cost of new apartments. As costs rise, you have fewer apartments, and it becomes more difficult to provide decent transit. Parking may be easier, but traffic is worse. By encouraging driving — and discouraging transit — you have made it more likely that people will drive.

        Some of the zoning goals are reasonable. Some are horrible. But most of the zoning rules are outdated, and should be replaced by the sort of system they have in Japan.

      3. The precursor to zoning started in the 1880s with private covenants. These were developer-built neighborhood on the outskirts of cities. The title deeds had covenants that prohibited apartments, non-white people, businesses, and agricultural animals. Only useless animals were allowed (dogs and cats), but not chickens or goats. The streets were curved to make the houses harder to get to, so that only people with their own carriages would be able to get to them, they couldn’t just walk from a streetcar stop. It was all to make the neighborhood aristocratic and keep the riff-raff out.

        In the 1920s cities started extending this model citywide, by creating zoning with the force of law behind it. They said it was to keep factories and pig farms away from houses, but that was a sham. They could have limited factories to certain areas under public-health laws without zoning the rest of the city. The real reason zoned the whole city was to keep minorities and working-class people out of the better neighborhoods, because the business leaders were demanding such neighborhoods, and cities competed to have the most desirable exclusive neighborhoods.

        At first the courts struck down zoning ordinances as an infringement on landowners’ property rights to build anything they wanted. But eventually a few courts accepted it, as long as it was ostensibly balanced, a zone for every use. (That’s why Seattle couldn’t prohibit adult cinemas and dancing girls citywide in the 1970s; it had to allow them someplace, so it chose part of downtown and Belltown, and Aurora and Lake City.) Some say zoning hasn’t been fully tested in the courts ever since; the proponents try to keep it out in case the courts strike it down wholesale.

        Euclidian zoning is another factor. The original zoning was basically three-way: single-family houses, heavy industry, and everything else (including single-family houses). But in the 1940s it became popular to separate that “everything else” into single-use categories, with a separate zone each for shopping centers, offices, government buildings, and theaters. This may have been inspired by Le Corbusier’s ordered cities but seems to be distinct. It caught on nationwide and was the predominant model when the post-WWII suburbs were established.

        Euclidian zoing required people to drive everywhere, because the supermarket was in one neighborhood, office jobs in another, high-end retail in another, apartments probably with the supermarkets, government institutions in another, and theaters in another, so everybody had to crosscross these all day to get between then. And with more people living in single-family houses with little transit and nothing they could walk to, everybody had to drive for all these trips. They didn’t foresee how much traffic this would create, that jobs and high-end shopping would disperse from the central city’s downtown, or that transit would be further reduced. All that just happened as unintended consequences, and created the cities and suburbs we have now.

      4. Ross, I don’t think it was the car that primarily created the single-family-zoning obsession. That’s a secondary factor.

        Setting: In the early 1900’s, it was common in older US cities for big Victorian houses to be split into two or three or four units, for example. Rooms were often put up for rent. Renting was common, and a majority of households rented before WWII.

        I think the primary culprit was prejudice in its many forms. It came along with the shift from widespread urban rentals to home ownership following WWII enabled by FHA and VA loans. (Side note: FHA had a systemic racial and suburban bias during that time.) New home owners became more obsessed with “protecting their new investment” which led to lots of “protectionist” policies intended to keep the “undesirables” out. Any demographic that might lower a nearby home value — race, country of origin, sexual orientation, some religions, even poor mountain folk (the Beverly Hillbillies was based on this) — incited hysterical fear and would be openly scorned by these new homeowners.

        Topics like white flight, rowdy renter perceptions, lowered property value fears if renters were nearby and similar fear mongering were quite common before 1980. We cringe today at it all — but it was a real and horrible thing back then.

        We’ve made societal progress since then. We see evidence of this mentality of financial fear justifying prejudice in right-wing media today but back then it was pretty mainstream. American history is unfortunately full of socially acceptable meanness overtaking the notion of equality.

      5. Note for those that don’t know: Euclidean zoning is called that because the Supreme Court case that legalized zoning was the ordinance adopted in Euclid, Ohio (Town of Euclid v Ambler Realty Co).

      6. From a broad perspective, zoning goes back thousands of years. But modern zoning — the type we think of when we talk about zoning — is relatively new.

        It is complicated, with several factors. The industrial revolution, the rise of skyscrapers, and racism were the big three forces driving it early on. But even with all of that, before Euclid vs. Ambler Realty, “zoning was a relatively new concept, and indeed there had been rumblings that it was an unreasonable intrusion into private property rights for a government to restrict how an owner might use property” (to quote Wikipedia).

        That was in 1926, at a time when automobile use was taking off. It wasn’t like every city heard about the case, and immediately started zoning. But gradually it spread, just like the use of the automobile. Land-use regulations became more geared to an automobile-only environment. To quote this excellent review of a zoning book I haven’t read:

        Small neighborhood shops, including grocery stores, were among the first casualties of mixed-use restrictions. “A significant problem was that the relationship between where people lived and the things that they needed to go about their daily lives was being undermined by city rules that were oblivious to those required patterns,” she writes. In Phoenix, typical of US metro areas built after zoning, it is assumed that everyone has the means to assemble what they need for day-to-day life from far-flung destinations.

        This would not have occurred without the automobile. It was (and is) seen as both a liberator and a nuisance, which is why it permeates the pages of any zoning book (implicitly or explicitly). Even today, the most common complaint about liberalizing the zoning rules is that traffic will get worse, and it will be hard to park. The automobile had a huge impact on zoning, and remains the biggest influence.

      7. Thanks, I tried to research why it was called Euclidean and came up with nothing. I thought it meant Euclidean geometry, but that said nothing about single-use categories or zoning, so I was at a loss. It was named after a small town? Sheesh.

  3. I guess those Japanese people don’t really live there since everybody except a few die-hard urbanists wants a single-family house and parking space, and these units are too small for a family to live in. So it must be fake news that people live there and want to live there.

    1. Whenever I tell my friends in Tokyo that Americans freak out at 3~5 story buildings being too tall they always laugh.

      1. The irony in Seattle is that our houses are that tall. Although Japan has plenty of tall buildings, the biggest difference between cities in Japan and the United States are the short buildings. There are houses in Tokyo, the biggest city on earth. But they are skinny. Just like there are short apartments, all over the place. We simply don’t have that. We have entire neighborhoods where there is nothing but houses on really big lots. As a result, those houses are extremely expensive, while in Tokyo they aren’t. There are other factors, but with similar zoning as Seattle, Tokyo houses would be extremely expensive, given that it is a much bigger city. Instead of new skinny houses costing 3 or 4 hundred grand, you would have ramblers costing 3 or 4 million.

        It is not about the big buildings, it is about the small ones. If we allow density with our short buildings throughout most of the city, the prices will approach those in Japan.

      2. @RossB
        With single family units, the yards are the biggest difference, but there are not very many single story houses in Tokyo…. and those are usually very old.

        The Single family homes being buillt in Tokyo these days are usually three story skinny homes similar to Seattle townhomes but built pretty far from train stations for Tokyo (20+ minute walk). Frequently built on old, abandoned retail or industrial space.

        Another big difference is single family homes are a bad investment in Japan. The value goes down over time because the buildings generally do not last that long. Folks seem to buy condos as an investment instead.

        Should also say though that Seattle limits tall buildings to a much, much narrower strip of the city than Tokyo does. 10+ story buildings are all over the place here. Not only near stations but also up to 30+ minute walks away from major stations. Its not just no yards but the mixing of building heights that take stress off of the upward push on housing cost despite the growing population.

        By the way… there is a pretty good reason land is so cheap in Shinkoiwa vis a vi other areas in Tokyo. Edogawa-ku is all below sea level and 100% reliant on large sea walls to keep the ocean out. There is a very significant risk of the whole district being flooded in the next mega quake or if there is a storm surge that surpases the current seawall capacity.

      3. The Single family homes being built in Tokyo these days are usually three story skinny homes similar to Seattle townhomes

        Exactly. The type of homes that are illegal just about everywhere in Seattle. Even in neighborhoods remarkably close to the center of town, lots that small are illegal (as are apartments of any type). It isn’t about preservation, either. You can tear down an old house and put up a new one — as long as it is a house. But you can’t convert that old house to an apartment.

        Of course in Tokyo houses are being built in the outskirts. Tokyo is a mega city, that dwarfs Seattle in every respect. You would expect housing prices everywhere in the city to be much higher than ours, just like New York City is way more expensive than Seattle. That isn’t the case, and the big reason is zoning.

        A better comparison would be Seattle and say, Fukuoka. The cities are relatively similar. Both are growing, in part because of tech related businesses. Both have strong existing manufacturing (in the area). Both are major trade centers and popular for tourism. Yet rent is much, much cheaper there (https://resources.realestate.co.jp/rent/what-is-the-average-rent-in-fukuoka/). Rent in the most expensive ward (the one in central Fukuoka) is a bargain compared to Seattle and zoning is the main reason.

  4. Throwback 1969 photo of NE 8th in Bellevue just west of Bellevue Way. The Texaco at the bottom of the photo is now the northeast corner of Bellevue Square. A Crate&Barrel is there now. On the right side of the pic is an Albertsons. Today, two condo towers called Avenue are going up at that location. At the top of the pic, where QFC and Bartell are today, a 7-tower mixes use development is planned. The Fotomat is where Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse is/was. It’s permanently closed.

    https://digitalcollections.lib.washington.edu/digital/collection/imlseastside/id/702/rec/503

  5. I think most people on this blog think there should have been a First Hill link station or at least that the streetcar was a bad compromise. But it’s built and the infrastructure is already there, so how would you improve what exists now? Extend down Broadway further? Longer cars? More frequent? Central city connector?

    I wish it was more frequent and was extended down Broadway to maybe Roy St. or even close to Volunteer Park.

    1. The CCC and switching Jackson to exclusive lane running are the easiest changes. At least that would improve the SLU line a lot.

      Longer streetcars could also be helpful if they need a new vendor anyway.

      Its hard to do a lot for the Broadway portion without rebuilding that street again.

      Maybe extensions to Belltown or other nearby areas if CCC is successful?

    2. Honestly, I think the best solution is to throw away the streetcar entirely and replace it with a numbered bus route. At a minimum, you’d want a route that runs more often, extends further up Broadway, and doesn’t have that obnoxious detour to 14th Ave. Of course, this will never happen, because it would require admitting that all the money already spent on building the streetcar line has been a waste.

      To be clear, I do believe that transit in the Broadway corridor is important, and whatever bus route replaces the streetcar should be an improvement over the streetcar. At a minimum, it should run more often, go further up Broadway, and run a straighter route, without the 14th Ave. detour.

      1. I would at least keep the streetcar in operations until the CCC opens. If the CCC segment is successful but Broadway continues to struggle, the FHSC fleet and OMF remain useful.

        I agree that the long term outcome is Broadway is switched back to a bus route, particularly as KCM builds out of fleet of 3 door buses and could use the streetcar stops as-is.

        Politically, a palatable move might be to spin the elimination of the FSHC as a way to focus a limited streetcar fleet on higher frequency in the CCC segment, and then backfill the Broadway corridor with a 3-door bus that presumably would serve more than just the FSHC stations.

    3. No one would want to ride the current alignment with the CCC between First Hill or Capitol Hill and SLU. It will take way to long to make this trip.

      The first change I would make is to make riding the cars an entertainment experience. The best way to pursuade people not to get impatient is to entertain them. So hire entertaining operators who can tell stories or maybe sing. Remove windows in the summer to make it open air. Consider background music. Install TVs that can be used to show local videos like music performances. Try different things to see what works best.

      (Assuming streetcar expansion is desired) In the long term, I would study a Pike-Pine one-way pair streetcar instead of the planned 1st Ave segment. There could ultimately be two routes: 1)Seattle Center – Belltown – Pike/Pine – Capitol Hill Station — 15th/ John. 2) SLU – Pike/Pine – First Hill – Jackson St. This would directly connect First Hill and Capitol Hill with the Convention Center and SLU and Belltown and Seattle Center. I’m confident it would be well-used, tie in many hotels and attractions, and be an alternative to some Route 8 riders.

      (Assuming no expansion) I would use the allocated funds for more entrances, elevators and stairs to the DSTT. For example, a mezzanine level pedestrian tunnel under Pine St to Pike Place Market or to Westlake and Olive. Trains will be arriving every 4-5 minutes in each direction and that level of convenience will be amazing! Then, I would explore partnering with downtown buildings to create an escalator and elevator corridor up the hill from First to Sixth and possibly further.

      1. Can you point to an example outside of a theme park where a transit agency uses “entertainment” to drive ridership? This approach basically gives up on the streetcar as a useful piece of transit infrastructure and views it as a toy.

      2. 1) Seattle Center – Belltown – Pike/Pine – Capitol Hill Station — 15th/ John.

        Like if the 10 were to take a right, and head towards the Seattle Center. Wouldn’t it make more sense then, to just have the 10 take a right, and head towards the Seattle Center? It is much cheaper, from a service and capital standpoint. Oh, and you don’t have to worry about whether the streetcar can make it up Pike.

        2) SLU – Pike/Pine – First Hill – Jackson St.

        Like if the 60 were to leave Broadway, and head down the hill, then join up with the existing streetcar route. Again, it would be cheaper to just extend the 60.

        In both cases it sounds like an huge waste of service, before you even get to the extra capital costs (which are enormous). Before we think about any streetcar route, we should ask ourselves “Does this make sense as a bus route?”. That was the flaw from the beginning with the streetcars. The First Hill route is terrible, and would have been replaced long ago if it was a bus route. The South Lake Union route is not as bad, but it is now largely a subset of more useful routes. It too would be replaced if it was a bus.

        There is value in tourist lines, but it simply isn’t worth the money. Streetcars in San Fransisco and New Orleans are popular because they are historic — ours aren’t. The only line that could possibly be worth the money is the one Glenn mentioned. It tied together the major tourist areas (waterfront, Pioneer Square, and with an elevator, Pike Place). It did so by leveraging existing rail, keeping costs down. It avoided the major issue with transit service along the waterfront. A bus either has to wait an eternity crossing Broad at the railroad tracks, or find someway to turn around at a port. The old streetcar didn’t have that problem.

        It is ironic that Seattle abandoned a streetcar in the one spot where it made sense, but has built them in areas where they don’t. It just shows that we don’t really understand where a mode is most appropriate (which is a bigger problem than the streetcars).

      3. Ross: Certainly a little bus route rethinking could serve the core travel needs more quickly and more efficiently.

        To illustrate the silliness of the CCC, one could ask if it made sense as a bus route. It doesn’t, right? I’m mainly pointing out how using First Ave is less useful than using Pike-Pine would be with my example.

      4. I grew up with one example of entertainment-oriented transportation in Houston. It was a train that ran a 1-mile loop through a city park, with the focus on being entertaining for kids, including a brief stint through a tunnel with light displays. At the time, the line had just one station, so the only place you could get off was right where you got on. This station was, of course, next to a huge parking lot, and nearly everybody drove there. At the time, the Houston light rail did not yet exist, so this toy train was literally the only train people could ride, other than the three-times-per-week Amtrak to San Antonio.

        Since then, the toy train expanded a bit and they even opened multiple stations at different ends of the park. Parking at both ends remains technically free, but in short supply and, on a sunny weekend, nearly always full. Nevertheless, this train is still nearly useless for transportation, as waiting in line to board the train and buy tickets takes nearly as long as just walking to the other end, and when the train finally comes, it doesn’t move faster than a person jogging, anyway. If you want serious transit, you walk down the street and hop on the light rail.

        All that said, I don’t view the service as a waste of money. The trains are consistently full, and the kids love it. It works perfectly with the mission of the parks department, which is to create a destination for families to have a good time. The fact that it would utterly fail as transit is irrelevant, as it is fares and the parks department that is paying for this train, not the transit agency.

        Similarly in Seattle, entertainment-oriented transportation has a place – Ride the Duck is a great example of this. But this is a service that should be operated by the private sector and funded with fares, not funded by taking money out of the transit budget that actually moves people. If not enough people are willing to pay enough money in fares to fund it, it simply shouldn’t exist. We pay taxes to subsidize transportation, not entertainment.

      5. Asdf2, I said an “entertainment experience” rather than a train that has entertainment as its primary purpose. There is a difference.

        San Francisco’s cable cars are a more appropriate example. Locals use it. It can be ridden with a Muni pass. It’s the one-time riders that pay a premium fare.

        I’m kind of amazed that the monorail hasn’t been discussed in this way.

        Sure the public shouldn’t subsidize a purely entertainment train. However, the intent would not be to serve a new kind of rider, but to make things more enjoyable for riders (to counter the slow speed) and inspire others to board the train..

      6. I’m kind of amazed that the monorail hasn’t been discussed in this way.

        I think it has, repeatedly. Some see it as simply entertainment. But increasingly, more and more people realize it is both entertaining and an important part of transit system.

        For example, this is a recent article about the monorail: https://crosscut.com/culture/2021/10/artsea-seattle-monorail-ride-was-all-blur. It discusses both its practical aspect (the ability to get lots of people to hockey games really fast) and its entertainment value. Or rather, the loss of entertainment value, as they clouded up the windows. (This is a big pet peeve of mine as well. It happens all the time on buses, and I hate it. But it is even worse on a monorail, since it rides so high.) Anyway, the point is the same. The monorail is both an important part of our transit system, and an entertaining ride.

        I think a Seattle streetcar fails on both counts. It has some entertainment value, but relatively little. Unlike the monorail, from a transportation standpoint, it is no better than a bus. Either streetcar could be replaced by a bus, and probably get very similar riders. Oh, some people might miss the little trains, but most wouldn’t. They would then have to justify its existence as a bus route, which means it would be altered (or discontinued) almost immediately. I just don’t think that Seattle can replicate what San Fransisco, or even New Orleans has with their *historic* streetcars. We might as well run party buses — buses decked out in fanciful colors, offering free rides, and hitting all the big tourist areas. Don’t we already have something like that?

        Anyway, I still go back to the George Benson streetcars. Those provided both a practical public transportation function (one not easily provided by buses) and were entertaining. These were vintage streetcars, and covered the most historical parts of the city (Pioneer Square and the waterfront). A bit corny perhaps, but still useful, just like the San Fransisco cable cars. The old waterfront streetcar had potential in that regard; I just don’t see any of the current streetcar plans being anything close.

      7. Can you point to an example outside of a theme park where a transit agency uses “entertainment” to drive ridership?
        The W Seattle foot ferry gets a nice bump summer months from tourists. So do WSF. In fact WSF advertises the entertainment value of taking the ferry.

        In Japan they run a number of theme oriented trains. Some to resort destinations but often just as a way to preserve enough ridership on routes serving rural areas that have seen a huge drop in population over the last several decades.

    4. Infrastructure already being there didn’t save the waterfront streetcar, which made a lot more sense and could have been a much more useful addition to the transportation infrastructure.

    5. I would do one of two things:

      1) Just live with it, and supplement it. Run another bus on Broadway opposite it. Both would run every ten minutes or so, for five minute combined frequency. As Charles mentioned, improve Jackson, so that both buses and the streetcar have center running. This was originally a Move Seattle project*.

      2) Pave over the tracks, sell the cars and the two depots. You would get pretty good money for both (especially the one in the heart of South Lake Union). Take the money and put it into improvement projects, like those proposed with Move Seattle.

      * See Corridor 3 in Frank’s excellent write-up (https://seattletransitblog.com/2015/12/21/rapidride-the-corridors/). The original SDOT proposal has been moved, but you can find it on the Wayback Machine: https://web.archive.org/web/20170217132131/http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/docs/TMP/SEATTLETMPSupplmtALL1116PMFINAL.pdf.

      1. Oh, and either way I would abandon the CCC project. Service on First is questionable, given the much better frequency nearby. But the big flaw is with the rest of the route. The route loops around, which means that it is essentially a tiny route on First, but without the consistency. The streetcar will be delayed coming from First Hill, which means effective frequency along First will be poor. Yet even though it will suffer from delays like a big route, several trip combinations are unrealistic. For example, no one will take it from Jefferson and Broadway to Jefferson and First; they will take the 3/4 and walk a couple blocks. In much the same way, I don’t see anyone taking it from anywhere on Broadway, to anywhere on First. Even a trip from Third and Jackson up to First Hill becomes second rate once RapidRide G gets here. To quote Jarrett Walker, long, straight routes perform better than short, squiggly and looping ones. If we are to run a bus on First, it should have realistic trip combinations along the entire route (it should be long and straight). For example, the 14 could run along First instead of Third. I’m not saying that is the best choice, but it would get way more riders, as every trip combination is plausible.

        In general I wouldn’t spend a lot of money on the streetcar, as the return on investment is horrible. There is no point in making the streetcars bigger — it is never full and it never had great frequency. Getting better frequency would require buying more special streetcars, and it is clear the route is flawed and there is no easy way to fix it. Unlike a flawed bus route (of which we have plenty) it costs a fortune to send it somewhere else. Even a minor change (like sending it a few blocks up Broadway) is extremely costly, and is met with local opposition. If Metro wanted to extend the 60 up to Roy, it would just do it. Even moving wire isn’t that expensive.

        We need to stop pretending the streetcar is special. It isn’t. It is just a regular bus, that happens to run on rail. If it was a regular bus — even one running under wire — it would be moved by now, and have much better ridership. So in that sense it is special, but not in a good way.

        At the same time, extra service on Broadway is nice. You could achieve that by running buses, but it is pretty easy to just live with the streetcar, as flawed as it is.

  6. Speaking of First Hill, I live there and I’ve been wondering why there isn’t a more regular all-day bus route down Boren into downtown and toward SLU. Seems a missed opportunity not to make use of that corridor for transit. Anyone know the reasons or history here?

    1. I wish it was there too. But, people didn’t want to transfer to go downtown, and (at least pre-COVID) Boren regularly backed up at rush hour.

    2. The most obvious reason is that, until very recently, South Lake Union was mostly a rundown dump, filled with abandoned warehouses and parking lots, and serving it with more than the 8 and 70 was considered unimportant. Of course, South Lake Union today has way bigger buildings, much more housing and employment, and far less surface parking. But, bus routes have a lot of inertia, so it is still the run-down South Lake Union of 2000 that largely determines the bus route of 2021.

      On top of this, Metro always had the attitude that buses were first and foremost about getting people from as many places as possible to and from the downtown core, and any bus route that failed to do this was viewed as a distraction. So, a route from First Hill to SLU was never seen as a priority because it doesn’t get people into or out of the downtown core.

      Personally, I think a SLU->First Hill bus route is way overdue, and swapping the northern tail of the 60 would be a logical way to do it.

      1. I agree. I think the big reason they never did it was because there was very little in the South Lake Union area. Traffic is also an issue, and until recently, our system was very much oriented towards peak service. The growth of both South Lake Union and First Hill make the argument for a route there stronger than ever.

        The big question is how to pay for it. You could send the 60 there, but to a certain extent that is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Beacon Hill loses its connection with Capitol Hill. Yeah, I know, there is Link, but that only serves a small part of Beacon Hill. You also lose frequency on Broadway, connecting First Hill with Capitol Hill. I would rather straighten out the 60 (have it stay on Broadway) and combine it with the 49, saving a significant amount of money and increasing frequency along Broadway. (If that is too long, then the southern end of the 60 gets split at Beacon Hill Station.)

        I would instead send the 106 up Boren. That would cost some money, but not a fortune. Riders of the 106 would lose their one seat ride to downtown, but they have a lot of other options for that (two Link lines, the 7, 14 and a streetcar).

        The time to do all that is with RapidRide G. I’ve been playing around with some maps, and doing some math, and I think all of it would be possible. I think you could have good frequency on the major routes in the area, if we return to pre-Covid service funding levels. That includes paying for RapidRide G service. The G is expensive because it is so frequent, but since it is short and fast, not too expensive. It also enables a host of money saving changes. It replaces the 12, the 43 becomes unnecessary, the 60 and 49 get combined, and the 8 gets combined with the 11 (while a less frequent coverage route serves MLK in the C. D.). All of those savings more than pay for the new G, and can cover the cost of sending the 106 to First Hill.

    3. I think the missing perspective is coming to terms with how SLU has changed greatly in the past 20 years — and better connectivity is needed by 2025 (rather than wait for a Link line that seems like it’s at least 20 years away from now). We keep doing studies of corridors, but sometimes we need to focus on radically changed districts instead. We need a focused SLU 2025 and maybe 2030 transit service plan.

      I can’t say what each route should do. I can say that the huge amount of development combined with a new street network now crossing Aurora is worthy of rethinking the way that SLU is served.

      1. I agree, and Metro’s Long Range Plan map had a route on Boren, then going across South Lake Union on Harrison, then up Mercer and ending where the 8 ends. Unfortunately, Metro removed the map.

        In any event, it is an idea that more than one person thinks has merit. Whether it actually happens or not depends on funding, and how aggressive Metro is with the next big restructure in Seattle, which will happen with RapidRide 8. If they try and preserve a lot of the existing one-seat rides to Seattle, it is unlikely they can get a Boren line — or a Boren line with good frequency. There is no point in running a bus on Boren if it only runs every half hour. People will take a two-seat ride instead. This makes it different than a coverage route. The 24 could run every half hour while the 33 runs every ten minutes, and the 24 would still get plenty of riders. For a lot of people, it is just too far to walk to the 33.

  7. Up escalator broken this morning at Northgate… a different one than two weeks ago.

    I was in London for three weeks about five years ago… took the Tube everywhere and not one time do I remember any of the escalators being down, even with those really deep stations with the really long escalators coming up out of the tube.

    I realize Seattle is some special, unique flower that prevents ST from installing escalators that can function for more than a month of use, but it’d sure be nice if we could match the rest of the transit world.

    1. Watching ST handle the escalators is like watching the Keystone Cops. It’s lots of highly-publicized talk but never getting to a reasonable solution. The 2017-18 escalator crisis is quite emblematic of the management debacle when it comes to escalators.

      No one in authority is willing to face the structural problems and change design guidance — like having too few escalators or considering better weather protection. Heck, many of the next stations opening in 2024 had escalators removed in the name of cost cutting. I’m dreading what the future of ST escalators will be.

  8. I have a question for folks. I’ve been playing around with maps, and at some point I’m going to write a Page 2 post, similar to ones I’ve written before (e. g. https://seattletransitblog.com/2020/09/15/phase-3-northgate-link-bus-network-proposal/). Sometimes these maps are interactive — you can see different variations by clicking on the options. For example, here is one I’ve been playing around with: https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=1NFVlRjj9utjKtXWamyXYccsDhY8XLfcg&usp=sharing. In this case, you are supposed to choose a variation (one and only one). This means there are four different options.

    Do people find this confusing — would you rather just have me link to four different maps? I like being able to select/deselect the options, but it also means I have to spend extra time explaining it. Thoughts?

    1. Perhaps link to just one map, but in the Post have each of the 4 maps as standalone images as you talk through each option?

      I don’t think it’s too focusing; if someone wants to look at them side-by-side, they can just open the same link 4 times, right?

    2. I like having four variations in one map, so I can look at them in any order and compare any two of them. You can call them alternatives to emphasize they’re mutually exclusive, and that would also get it closer to Metro/ST’s terminology that’s widely used on STB and should be clear.

      The confusing part of the map is not this, but that the route legends don’t tell you which color line is which route. And if you click on a route for details, all the other routes in the variation remain, so you have to guess which line it’s referring to based on prior knowledge. For instance, i had to guess which line was the 2, 8, and 47 based on existing service and Metro’s now-offline long-range plan, and I figured out the 39 because it’s a dead number so it must be the new corridor east of 15th.

      I’m skeptical of the suggestions on 15th to replace the 10, and moving the 10 to 19th. I can’t see the route on 15th turning east instead of west as being useful for anyone, and a hinderance to getting anywhere.It seems like the same problem as having the 8S terminate at MLK & Madison where there’s little there and no stronger village on the route, or the meandering 249 in Bellevue. One of the advantages of the current 10 is it stops directly at Capitol Hill Station for those living on 15th. The north-south variation is somewhat better. I’m not sure how useful it would be going from 15th south, but it’s better than going from 15th east.

      1. I am struggling with it. It is not very intuitive. I think it may simply be google and not you though. I unselect 3 variations, and i lose them all. Im not sure how I’m supposed to do it. Have you tried AGO? Their layer selection is more clear.

        I’m sure with a bit of explanation you could make this work. I’ve made maps in google but its been a few years, and i am not clear how this is supposed to function.

      2. The confusing part of the map is not this, but that the route legends don’t tell you which color line is which route. And if you click on a route for details, all the other routes in the variation remain, so you have to guess which line it’s referring to based on prior knowledge.

        That’s not true, although the effect is subtle. If you select a line (from the legend) it is highlighted. It is may be hard to see, but there is a bit of white outline around the line, and it is brought to the front. For example, click on the 7. The olive green line (the 7) is brought to the front, and just a little bit brighter. Similarly, if you click on a line (e. g. the yellow line along Jackson) the legend to the left changes, and you can see the description for the 14.

        I’ve tried this with Firefox, Chrome and Edge (on a Windows machine) and it all behaves the same way. I don’t know about phones or Apple machines.

        The map is a work in progress. I haven’t added descriptions for all of the routes yet. Likewise, I’ll probably tweak the routes a bit before I finish. I’ll take up your other comments on a new thread (I want this one focused on the presentation).

  9. @Cam — That is exactly the feedback I wanted, and it leads me to believe that the best option is just to come up with four maps (assuming I use Google Maps). Yes, the UI for Google maps is limited. Ideally they would have radio buttons, as well as check boxes. But they don’t offer that kind of sophistication.

    So, the way you are supposed to use it is like so: Leave the top two layers (“Unchanged Routes”, “New and Modified Routes”) checked at all times. One, and only one of the variations should be checked. So the idea is to first check “Variation 1”, leaving all the other variations unchecked. This is the baseline level of service. Now check “Variation 2”, and uncheck “Variation 1”. This is if we have a bit more money. And so on.

    In an ideal world, this would simply be radio buttons. Yes, I would explain it in the comments, but the fact that I have to explain it suggests it isn’t the way to go. It is kind of fun to go back and forth, but as AJ said, you can always open them up in different tabs.

    To answer your question, I haven’t used AGO, or anything other than Google Maps. I don’t have cartographer skills, I’m just drawing lines on a map. Google has a few tricks that are handy, if you know how to use them. For example, I can get it to draw me instructions for a trip (on a bus or car). I can then modify that to become a line. This is handy for curvy streets, where manually drawing the line is tedious.

    I’m sure there are more sophisticated options out there, even if you are just drawing lines. Is AGO free? I don’t feel like spending money on this. I wouldn’t mind playing around with something free, as long as it is pretty easy to use. I know how to code (in a few languages) but I’m afraid I don’t have much patience when it comes to using software.

    I could also see myself making four maps, and then wrapping them somehow (maybe an iFrame?). I might play around with that. Then again, four maps sounds like it would be a lot simpler.

    1. “Leave the top two layers (“Unchanged Routes”, “New and Modified Routes”) checked at all times.”

      I didn’t know that. I thought “New and Modified Routes” overlapped with the variations. I mostly looked at one checkbox at a time, without any of the others. That was fine for my purpose, because I wanted to study each part.

  10. I’m skeptical of the suggestions on 15th to replace the 10, and moving the 10 to 19th. I can’t see the route on 15th turning east instead of west as being useful for anyone, and a hindrance to getting anywhere.

    The map is a work in progress. We are jumping the gun here, but I don’t mind — it just means I have to explain things.

    A little background. Each variation is supposed to build on the previous one. So Variation 1 is with a minimal amount of service. Variation 2 is if we get back to pre-Covid levels, etc.

    Almost all the routes on the map are meant to have good frequency (about ten minutes in the middle of the day). One exception is the 39. It is a coverage route. The expectation is that most riders will walk a bit farther, and catch a more frequent bus. But for those that can time their ride, or just don’t want to walk that far, having a half-hour bus covering an area that has been covered for a long time is useful.

    Service on 15th and 19th is problematic. It is difficult to provide good frequency on both, without watering down everything. Thus I chose one to have good frequency, and the other to have coverage. The extension of the 39 is a relatively cheap way to cover 19th for riders who are used to having service along the corridor. It is very similar to the rest of the 39. Most riders will walk to a more frequent route, but some will wait, or manage to time it just right. While it is obviously not an ideal route, it would provide a connection with the RapidRide G and the 48, which means a very fast and frequent connection to downtown, and a good connection to the U-District and Montlake. Of course it also provides a one-seat ride to the Central Area. In some ways running on 15th actually provides more functionality. There may not be a lot of people going from 15th to MLK, but unlike those along MLK, there is no alternative a short walk away. But the main reason for the extension is that it is cheap — a lot cheaper than running a bus from 19th to downtown.

    At first glance it seems crazy to run the frequent bus on 19th instead of 15th. But most people on either street are close to Thomas. That means that if you are on 15th and Republican, you just walk a few blocks south. If the coverage route was on 19th, then riders from 19th and Republican would have to walk west, or walk all the way down to Madison for a direct bus to downtown. As you get farther north, riders have to walk east or west. At this point, it is a wash. In both cases the number of apartments and shops dwindle. 15th has more apartments, but 19th has more shops and schools. I think the edge goes to 19th, but just barely.

    That is the reasoning behind that route. As service increases with Variation 3, the coverage route is replaced by the frequent north-south 12. This should run at least every 15 minutes (otherwise there is no point). This would provide those riders with a fast connection to RapidRide G, and fix a big north-south gap in the area. It is a real grid, for the entire area. Variation 4 would provide riders with the ability to catch a one-seat ride downtown by going north or south (while also extending the grid). I doubt that we will get to the service levels required to pull that off, but it is more realistic than a typical Seattle Subway map.

    For the low service options (Variations 1 and 2) there are alternatives. One is to have the 10 run as it does now, and simply have the 12 turn on Thomas and follow it. The drawback is that this is a lot more expensive than the 39 extension, even if it is running infrequently. If you can afford to run it frequently, then I think it is better to go with the north-south 12.

    Another option would be to have the 10 go up 15th, then turn on Aloha, and go up 19th. You gain a little (frequent) coverage, but unfortunately, there is very little on that part of Aloha.

    In both these cases, you lose the frequent ride to downtown on Thomas between 15th and 19th. This may be OK, as riders may choose to walk south to Madison. They would still have the 8, connecting them to Link and other bus routes. I may go with that option, just because it seems less disruptive. No matter what, though, without extra money there is no easy to way to have frequent buses, or a bus on Boren without making some compromises on areas like 15th and 19th.

    1. That’s fine with me, opening date is so far away that it’s irrelevant to medium-term travel and living choices, so if the EIS takes another year or two it won’t make much of a difference. And maybe later they’ll choose better alignments.

  11. Fascinating… and it was like that when I visited there over 40 years ago my first time, a few years later my second. The first time, I remember observing that they had 5x the population of the state of California, but that they were only using 1/4 of their land area to do so… now I know why. The solar panels dotted the homes my first time there, and four years later, my guesstimate was that 1/3 of the homes had solar panels. Meanwhile, public transit had ringers that only went off the first time someone pulled the cord. King County Metro didn’t get that obvious improvement until the late 1980s. The Japanese also had buses with change machines and panels with fares that changed with distance: yes, distance-based fares.

    The U.S. in particular advances slowly due to our “public process” that gets exhausting, and it includes a significant amount of people-pleasing and NIMBYism.

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