SEATTLE--303 at Westlake

This is an open thread.

92 Replies to “News roundup: safety”

  1. I’m wondering how the board is going to respond to comments asking for value-engineering-based changes in the proposed alignment.

    I know I’m going to be suggesting that if a bridge over the ship canal costs the same as a tunnel in Ballard, then send the tunnel to 20th via 14th.

    If a tunnel to West Seattle can be made (more) affordable by skipping Avalon, then do that. I haven’t dug into the relative costs of the West Seattle alignments so I’m looking forward to that Deep Dive post.

    Since the assumed requirement for third-party funding comes from an increased cost relative to the Representative Alignment, one potential conspiracy theory could be that ST leadership pushed to boost cost estimates for the Representative Alignment in order to justify prolonged taxation to pay for the “upgraded” alignments. However, I’d be surprised if we don’t see the ST revenue sources prolonged indefinitely by the time ST3 finishes in 2040 in order to pay for operations, maintenance, and alignment replacements (e.g. rainier valley grade separation).

    1. 2046

      And the tax revenue streams are designed to continue beyond that anyway to cover O&M in perpetuity and debt servicing costs per the anticipated schedules. From my understanding, the original .3% MVET is supposed to be rolled back when the initial segment bonds are retired.

      1. *2046, thanks. I have the 2040 date stuck in my head from all the WSBLE chatter.

        I was trying to remember which revenue streams were supposed to be rolled back, but I guess my point is that I’d be surprised if any taxes are allowed to expire. It seems to me that tax/levy sunsets are initially promised to appease fiscal conservatives, but by the time the sunset comes around, all the tax streams (including temporary ones) are normalized and usually found necessary to keep services funded. However, maybe the sunset in 2046 (or later) will motivate design of a more progressive funding source.

      2. I agree with Nathan that the Board would look to extending ST taxes as long as it took to complete ST 3, although I am not sure how long the other subareas will go along with that.

        The problems I see with this approach are:

        1. I don’t think extending the taxes, especially if projects are extended so ROW and construction costs increase during the extension years, will ever realize the necessary revenue to complete ST 3 in N. King Co., and so the other subareas will want N. King Co. to cover the shortfall for that subarea. If N. King Co. will never have the revenue — even with extending the taxes forever — to complete WSBLE and its 1/2 of DSTT2 with the design desired by Seattle neighborhoods and the downtown what is the point of extending the taxes forever without a vote in the four other subareas?

        2. From what I can see, other than E. King Co., the three other subareas that are supposed to contribute 1/2 to DSTT2 don’t have their 1/2 of the estimated $2.2 billion estimated in ST 3 to build DSTT2 ($275 million each), and some subareas still have no Link despite paying taxes for decades. Some claim DSTT2 is a “shared regional facility”, but the reality is ST’s dishonest project cost and general fund revenue estimates — especially for DSTT2 — is what is truly shared among subareas. The general tax projections for all subareas to complete DSTT2 were based on a $2.2 billion cost estimate (and were also inflated), and right now SnoCo, Pierce Co. and S. King Co. don’t have their share of the $2.2 billion because…drum roll…ST underestimated the cost of their projects too, let alone their share of $4.4 billion, the likely current cost based on the design in the DEIS. And N. King Co. certainly does not have one half of $4.4 billion. Those are huge numbers.

        3. Tisgwm links to an article about maintaining WA’s roads rather than expanding them, an issue I have raised for some time when it comes to ST. Now Rogoff is raising the issue. The farebox recovery rate (riders X riders who pay a fare) is about 1/2 the estimated 40% recovery rate used in the levies, and I think that is likely permanent, and will only get worse with the opening of Federal Way Link and East Link.

        I think many transit advocates can be optimistic, and naive, when it comes to cost, especially operations. A few months ago this blog was all about “value engineering” because it was obvious DSTT2 and WSBLE were clearly not affordable, but once a DEIS Christmas list is released everyone loses their skepticism.

        Suddenly tunnels underwater cost the same as a bridge, and tunnels in W. Seattle and Ballard with deep underground stations are affordable for N. King Co., and forget about Rogoff’s warnings about operation shortfalls. Since transit will save the world just build it and they will come.

        Well, the pandemic has proven they won’t come, especially those who actually pay to use transit. The one metric we don’t see being used is dollar per rider mile. At this point Link’s cost per rider mile is obscene.

      3. The tax rate will be reduced to operation/maintenance/debt level when ST3 construction is finished, unless an ST4 renews the full tax capacity for something more. If ST3 hadn’t happened, the ST1 taxes would have already been reduced and the ST2 taxes would be reduced in a few years, but ST3 superceded that. Operations and maintenance are around a third of the ST1/2/3 cost according to a board meeting in the run-up to ST3.

      4. Sorry, Mike, but that just isn’t correct in regard to Sound Move and ST2 tax revenues.

        From ST’s own site:

        “State law obligates the Sound Transit Board to roll back taxes to the level required for permanent operations and maintenance of the system following completion of transit capital projects unless a future ballot measure directs otherwise. Within seven years of the scheduled 2041 completion of the system authorized by voters in 2016, Sound Transit and an independent advisor, Piper Jaffray & Co., have calculated that the entire taxes authorized in 2016 could be eliminated, along with approximately 11 percent of the sales taxes authorized in 1996 and 2008. This or an alternate mix of tax reductions could cut total agency tax collections in half.

        “The 0.3 percent car tab tax approved by voters in 1996 will expire in 2028, reducing car tab taxes from 1.1 percent to the 0.8 percent level approved by voters in 2016.”

        Obviously the agency has not updated this information to reflect pushing the ST3 capital program out for an additional five years to 2046, i.e., the ST3 “realignment”.,future%20ballot%20measure%20directs%20otherwise.

      5. Isn’t that the same thing? The ST1 tax stream was maxed out during ST1 construction, but then part of it remained for ST1 operations/maintenance and the rest was redirected to ST2 and ST3, and likewise for ST2 and ST3. Otherwise ST would not have had to go to the legislature for two tax increases; it could simply have reused the ST1 tax stream for ST2 and ST3 with no tax increase. But that wasn’t enough money for the ST2 and 3 size and delivery schedule ST wanted, so it had to add additional taxes on top of the ST1 and ST2 revenue streams. By revenue streams I don’t mean that they’re literally ST1 and ST2, but from the taxpayer’s perspective it’s the same money they were paying redirected to a different use, and then the new ST3 taxes are on top of that and increase the total tax they pay.

        The ST1 MVET tax is a special situation so I’m not including that. It got swept up in an Eyman initiative that revoked authorization for transit/variable/non-state MVETs, but courts ruled it had to remain until its bonds were paid off and then expire, and couldn’t be reused for anything else. So I treat that as not part of the ST2/ST3 revenue but a legacy tax.

    2. I’m going to be suggesting that if a bridge over the ship canal costs the same as a tunnel in Ballard, then send the tunnel to 20th via 14th.

      I fell like this should be a post on this blog. I would write it, but I would prefer one of the regulars do it. I’m convinced that this is the best chance at improving the alignment to Ballard. As much as I would like to see an elevated-on-14th to surface-on-Market line, I just don’t see that happening. There are too many issues (official and organized opposition to surface lines, traffic on Market, etc.).

      In contrast, an underground line to 20th has a lot going for it, based in part on information we just recently gathered, such as:

      1) A tunnel isn’t much more than an elevated line.
      2) It is cheapest to go under 14th, and once you do so, turning to serve 20th and Market should be cheap (that idea was never studied).
      3) An underground station oriented east-west (or northwest-southeast) could eventually be shared by a future line that is part of the long range plan (Ballard to UW).

      This would put a station in the heart of Ballard, where Sound Transit’s own study shows ridership would be higher. It would set the stage for further improvement, dramatically reducing the cost of a Ballard to UW line. If Seattle ends up chipping in just to avoid having the station on 14th, we should aim for the best option, which would be a station at 20th and Market.

      1. And if both Ballard and WS are going to have tunnels, then we might as well switch to a different mode. The primary value of running Link, rather than a different mode, was to facilitate a presumably cheap extension further north along 15th. Now that’s entirely out the window, and the next project will be Ballard-UW, there’s no reason to build WSBLE using 4-car Link trains.

      2. “An underground station oriented east-west (or northwest-southeast) could eventually be shared by a future line that is part of the long range plan (Ballard to UW).”

        Rather than ‘share,’ couldn’t it just be the same line? Ross, you’ve argue that while Ballard-UW will get excellent ridership, the number of people catching the train in North Fremont or Wallingford and then riding the long way through Ballard to Downtown will be negligible. Therefore, the train could turn turn west to serve the station at Market, and then simply reverse and head due to east towards UW; there would need to be an at-grade switch, but even at 3-minute headways this should be a pretty straightforward operating pattern, no more complicated than Chicago’s Loop.

      3. @AJ,

        Ballard-UW will never be built, at least not in any of our lifetimes. And probably not in any of our children’s lifetimes either. There just isn’t any real transportation need for it.

        Transit demand in the corridor has always been (pre-pandemic) towards downtown, and building an East-West line with forced transfers at each end to serve transit demand that is mainly North-South is just dumb and would produce weak ridership.

        Additionally, the cost (both capital and operational) would be high. And yes, you could cheap out by putting it on the surface through Fremont and then along Northlake, but that would generate even weaker ridership.

        And what would you do with the line when it got to UW? What is the extension plan? Extend it to Children’s and up Sand Point Way? Nope. Pure silliness.

        Nope. The line would be an orphan, serving low ridership demand and with no prospects for extension.

        Na, the obvious extension plan for Ballard-DT is the obvious one – continue up 15th to Crown Hill, then Holman and then head East towards a transfer at Northgate and on to Lake City,

        Such a line would generate much higher ridership, be operationally simpler and operationally cheaper, and would unlock much more potential in TOD and housing. And it would actually make transportation sense.

        Which of course means people on this blog will probably continue to talk about Ballard-UW. But talk all you want, it ain’t going to happen, and ST would be foolish to future-proof for it.

      4. “Na, the obvious extension plan for Ballard-DT is the obvious one – continue up 15th to Crown Hill, then Holman and then head East towards a transfer at Northgate and on to Lake City,”

        Either way, an east-west orientation of a station at 20th and market wouldn’t preclude the line curving back to 15th-Crown Hill-Holman and so on.

      5. Lazarus, did you read the thread? I was riffing off of Ross’s observation that 1) surface running on 15th is politically off the table, and 2) going under the Ship Canal appears to have the same cost as the high bridge options. IF that is true, then running north of 15th is decidedly not the obvious solution. Also, my specific suggestion was to NOT have a forced transfer on the west end of Ballard-UW.

        Personally, I’d prefer to just surface run on 15th in Interbay in reserved ROW, have a drawbridge over the ship canal (with the car bridge moved over to 14th), have an elevated station in the middle of 15th directly over Market, and then transition to surface running up 15th, probably as far as 85th, perhaps then following the curve and then elevating to intersect with Northgate station. Ignore political constraints, such as local transit advocates objecting to surface running, and that is indeed the obvious, low cost, high productivity solution.

        But that’s not the conversation we are having. If surface running is off the table, and the elevated options don’t generate cost savings over a tunnel under the ship canal (I’m confused why, if that’s driven by Port constraints, ROW of costs, or something else, but that’s the current data), then ST should do three things in response

        1. Change the operating pattern; operate WSBLE as a single line, which then unlocks #2
        2. Change the rolling stock assumptions. At minimum, shift to shorter trains and assume driverless operations. Explore moving to a different technology, though Link may still be the best option due to the ability to share OMFs. These changes will unlock massive cost savings by requiring significantly smaller station footprint, in particular smaller station vaults for underground station
        3. Plan for Ballard-UW. Unlike Ballard to Crown Hill, this is explicitly funded in ST3.

        Perhaps I’m just younger than you, but I think if WBSLE can be built by 2040, I think it’s super plausible for Ballard-UW to be done by 2060. As the U-District emerges as the 3rd CBD in the region (behind Seattle & Bellevue downtowns), Ballard-UW clearly has the highest ridership potential of any further extension. The line would likely end with a surface station at U Village; I see no reason to extend it further unless there’s a massive change in land use somewhere.

      6. Interesting if the line ends up being underground. A potential extension could be towards Greenwood and then along the interurban alignment to Lynnwood. If it operated along the interurban alignment, the station names are already there – although they may want to change the names of Pershing and Foy. :)

      7. And if both Ballard and WS are going to have tunnels, then we might as well switch to a different mode.

        Yeah, sure, but the line is going to built. I’ve long argued that a bus tunnel and open BRT system makes more sense, but that just isn’t going to happen.

        The primary value of running Link, rather than a different mode, was to facilitate a presumably cheap extension further north along 15th.

        That went out the window when we abandoned the prospect of a surface line on 15th. Any extension will be expensive, just as any Ballard Line will be expensive. For that matter, it is easy to argue that the primary value of running Link on the west of Queen Anne is that it would be cheap — again, that isn’t the case. Given what we know now there are a bunch of decisions that would be made differently, but radical change simply won’t happen.

        Rather than ‘share,’ couldn’t it just be the same line?

        Sure, it could do that. That is essentially an implementation detail. It is like discussing trains turning back at Northgate or Lynnwood. They could certainly do that, or all of the trains could continue (there is the flexibility). There would be similar flexibility at Ballard. The current plan is to run trains from Tacoma to Ballard — I’m not sure if they want them to continue to the UW.

        Having them be separate lines allow more flexibility. For example, I could see the UW to Ballard line being automated, with smaller trains running more frequently. It would have to be synchronized with the other line of course, but that wouldn’t be difficult. The main thing though, from a long term perspective, is that you save a lot of money by sharing the station.

      8. If it’s the 4-car trains coming from Tacoma, I agree Ballard-UW would be a separate line, operationally. I was thinking in the context of WS-Ballard as an independent 2-car line, in which case I would extend the line to UW rather than run a separate line.

      9. Would a north-south station orientation at 20th and Market really preclude extensions both north along 15th and east toward UW?

        A Market St. station on 15th and a station on 20th would both need to surface to run elevated along 15th. Tunnels can curve, so it would just need to curve over to 15th at an adequate spot for a tunnel portal. A station at 15th and 65th would probably be similar to what ST is proposing for Avalon, depending on the grades of the tunnel.

        It’s also not unreasonable for a north south station to have a tracks curving east toward UW. The big issue would be getting ST to design the station to accommodate both extensions.

      10. Transit demand in the corridor has always been (pre-pandemic) towards downtown,

        Bullshit. Transit demand — like all transportation demand — is everywhere to everywhere. I realize you only come on this blog to spout ignorant assumptions, but please, I urge you to do a little research before writing anything more. Read transit information from other sources. Jarrett Walker for example. He has been focused recently on the idea of “Access”:, and the role it can play in sophisticated transit modeling. Arguably the best transit planner in the United States believes this is “the single most important thing we should be measuring about our transport systems”. A Ballard to UW line would make for a dramatic improvement in that regard, for the reasons I mentioned (which I can clarify again if you forgot).

        But even if you ignore all that, and focus only on traditional models, UW to Ballard performs quite well, according to Sound Transit’s initial modeling. They expected roughly the same number of riders for this line as for the Ballard line. That was before the recent boom at the UW.

        Additionally, the cost (both capital and operational) would be high.

        Again, bullshit — although you are half right. Of course the capital costs would be high. Hell, just a simple line consisting of a couple stations to West Seattle is very expensive. Any extension anywhere is expensive. The days of going cheap (e. g. running down Rainier Valley) are gone. But relative to other projects, this would be cheap. This would need only two additional stations to dramatically improve the transit network. You can’t say that about any other extension.

        But the operational costs would be low. Operational costs are related to distance. The longer the line, the more rail you have to maintain; the more trains you have to run if you want decent frequency; the more you have to pay drivers (if you have them). This is all basic stuff that you should know by now.

        And what would you do with the line when it got to UW? What is the extension plan?

        It wouldn’t be extended at all. Holy cow, what a ridiculous argument. We can’t afford a new line because it can’t be extended. Look, dude, get out of your bubble. Read about other subway systems. They don’t just keep going forever. They end. Many of the most successful, highest ridership lines are actually relatively short. Hell, there are entire subway systems that are short but successful. The Budapest Metro has four lines, consisting of a 25 miles of track (total), and yet it carries 1.2 million riders a day. The shortest line is 4.4 Km (shorter than this would be).

        15th to Crown Hill, then Holman and then head East towards a transfer at Northgate and on to Lake City — such a line would generate much higher ridership, be operationally simpler and operationally cheaper, and would unlock much more potential in TOD and housing.

        Again, that is simply false. A second line to Northgate would be longer which means it would cost more to operate. We can argue about the merits of each line, but this is a simple fact. It would never make sense as an independent line, which means you lose operational flexibility (it couldn’t be split). You would be running trains from the Tacoma Dome to Lake City — the sort of thing that ST wants to avoid.

        The value of the new line would be limited. You would give a handful of people a moderately faster trip to downtown, but that’s about it. A transfer at Northgate would involve a station deep underground and another very high in the air. From Lake City it would be easier to just take a bus to 130th if you want to access the main line. You would get riders from the north transferring perhaps, but there won’t be that many to the north, and the main destination that this would improve travel to is Ballard (something the other line would do). Riders along Aurora who take the E would be in the same boat — they would largely ignore this unless they are headed to Ballard. The same is true for riders of the 5. The huge area between the ship canal and this line (which has far more density than areas to the north) would get nothing from this — except maybe faster trips to Northgate and Lake City. If they are headed to downtown they just take the bus. If they are headed to the UW, they have to endure the slog that is the 44 or 45.

        This is in contrast to the UW to Ballard line, which would make travel from just about everywhere north of the ship to the UW much faster. It gives way more people faster access to the UW. To say this is a better value than a Ballard to UW line ignores the value of the UW as a destination, despite ridership numbers (often on extremely slow buses) that prove that it is. You are basically ignoring every facet of every successful transit system in the world.

        Look, if our goal was simply to connect riders to downtown, then we wouldn’t have built a subway system. Riders in Northgate for example, have a slower ride to downtown with the Link transfer. But what they do have is a much faster trip to the UW, as well as places like Roosevelt and Capitol Hill. If you just read the ridership reports, you can see that (despite its downtown centric focus) people aren’t using the existing system just for trips downtown. They are using it the way everyone uses a subway system — for trips throughout the city.

      11. Would a north-south station orientation at 20th and Market really preclude extensions both north along 15th and east toward UW?

        It’s also not unreasonable for a north south station to have a tracks curving east toward UW. The big issue would be getting ST to design the station to accommodate both extensions.

        Agreed. An underground station could really be pointed just about anywhere and allow extensions both directions. There is a fair amount of flexibility really. The train would be coming from the southeast. The station could be built so that the front of the train points due west or due north (or somewhere in between, like northwest). Any angle like that would work for both lines. It would probably make sense to simply build whatever is cheaper, as long as you punch holes in the tunnel to enable a future line to the UW.

      12. If it’s the 4-car trains coming from Tacoma, I agree Ballard-UW would be a separate line, operationally. I was thinking in the context of WS-Ballard as an independent 2-car line, in which case I would extend the line to UW rather than run a separate line.

        Right, and I agree, it would be really nice if ST considered a 2-car automated train option for West Seattle to Ballard. I just think it won’t happen. They are pretty set on the current setup. In contrast, all we are talking here is to move the underground station over to 20th, with a crossing at 14th (something that never got to the level of planning it deserved).

        In any event, we are getting way ahead of ourselves. Whether the Ballard to UW line is merely an extension, or a completely separate line at this point really doesn’t matter. The main thing I want it to build a station in Ballard that best serves Ballard, while reducing the cost of a future Ballard to UW line.

      13. I agree with AJ. I feel that the driverless technology advantages (shorter and more frequent trains; shorter platforms; lower operating cost; maybe screen doors for safety) should at least be studied. It actually offers some vertical grade advantages (more steepness is possible) as well. It also makes it easier to someday branch at the ends (like northern branch towards Golden Gardens and UW and western branch towards West Seattle and White Center).

        However, the fundamental issue with WSBLE is the Downtown and SLU station depths! They are very impractical for shorter trips! When it takes 4-5 minutes to go deep and another 4-5 minutes to return to the surface, traveling 4-5 minutes to go between stations in the train doesn’t seem advantageous. That’s especially true if someone must ride at least two elevators or very long escalators to transfer between rail lines as proposed.

        This 3D challenge was not highlighted in the ST3 ballot development. Consider that the corridor in the measure was guided by Kubly who came from a flat Chicago and had more opinions than rail design knowledge. It’s only now that the issue is being discussed.

        While I think it’s good to expand Ballard station options, the bigger need is to revisit the central corridor in a 3D context. A straight line on a map is simply not as efficient given these station depths. Analyzing the variations in Ballard and West Seattle will change depending on the way the central segment is designed for quicker rider access.

      14. Councilmember Strauss asked about such a 20th Avenue NW tunnel when the Seattle Transportation Committee was briefed on WSBLE. Note that it is not in the EIS list of alignments.

      15. Yeah, they looked briefly at a tunnel around 20th, but there were practical problems, and they never went further. They never looked at a tunnel to the east, which would then curve around. According to the document, the cheapest tunneling option is at 14th. That is either because the tunnel itself is cheaper there, or a station is cheaper there (likely because 14th is less disruptive). Either way this suggests a tunnel to the east (14th or 15th)
        along with a curve to a station at 20th would be the best option, and roughly the same cost as either two tunnel stations they have studied.

  2. Nice to see the new Amtrak locomotives improve efficiency and have a top speed of 125 mph (which iirc improves on previous top speeds of ~100-110 mph) That’ll be nice for whenever they start getting serious about improving track speeds for the long haul routes.

    1. Running locomotives geared for 125 on The Highline across the Rockies dodging 60 mph stack trains is crazy. These locomotives should be running between Chicago and St. Louis or Chicago and Detroit/Port Huron where there is 110 mph track to use. Or on Amtrak California with its 90 mph track down The Valley and especially when the San Joaquins switch to the HSR tracks in a couple of years.

      But the 200 hundred miles between Sandpoint and East Glacier is no p.ace for that gearing. When the full order has finally arrived, re-gear a dozen for The Builder.

      Sorry to be grumpy, but this is performative “Green” theater.

  3. The West Seattle Blog article and comments are worth reading. They open the lid about the West Seattle extension issues like close station proximity, new bus transfer requirements forced upon lower income residents not near the stations, taking lower income homes to serve wealthier ones, and lack of clear messaging about the future year forecast assumptions.

  4. Regarding safety: I always appreciate Mike Lindblom’s reporting, but I would liked to have seen more discussion of the contents and conclusions of the Safety, Security, and Fare Enforcement (SaFE) Reform Initiative report ( For instance this finding (page 11) regarding results of a survey of policy changes in support of the SaFE vision:

    The most supported concepts of change for the Code of Conduct seem at odds: there need to be ways to address situations where a rider isn’t following the Code of Conduct without the Code of Conduct providing too much control over rider behavior. [emphasis original]

    For those interested, SaFE’s list of Proposed Initial Concepts for achieving the “SaFE Vision” are on page 13.

    However, I appreciate Mike ending his article with Councilmembers Zahilay and Balducci’s statements that they are aware that the safety concerns on Metro are the Council’s responsibility to solve at large, and not only internal to Metro. I just wish they were making more visible progress on that front.

    1. As ridership floors out, the portion of the ridership behaving badly grows, along with the portion of the ridership experiencing homelessness and sleeplessness. Shocking, I know. (Whether the absolute number of people behaving badly and people experiencing sleeplessness on transit is growing, I can’t say, as I’ve been avoiding transit as much as possible until the new case counts from this historically huge omicron surge come down. I’m pretty sure many other are doing likewise. Does it really need to be said that omicron, not bad behavior on transit, is probably responsible for the near-evaporation of ridership for the past month or so?)

      What a perfect time to have groups that target the homeless to point reporters to report on one of the last refuges of those they are trying to chase out of the city! This is not a new thing, or course. We’ve been chasing the residents we don’t like out of the city for over 150 years. Back then, those in power burned down or otherwise disposed of the shelters of the unwanted as soon as they got a chance, too, and barred them from re-entry. The County apologized eventually, but I don’t recall that the City ever did.

      I stand guilty as charged for occasionally nodding off on the bus or train. If ST/Metro/etc want to make rules requiring riders to stay awake, good luck enforcing that. I look forward to joining TRU’s Freedom-to-Fall-Asleep-on-the-Bus convoy. Last I checked though, it is not an actual rule violation.

      Not wearing a mask is an actual rule violation. And, unlike falling asleep, it is a behavior that actually endangers the safety of other riders. A maskless rider can manspread other riders out of a larger section of a bus/train than someone who merely lays down on a row of five seats (that nobody was sitting in).

      I will attest that people smoking on the train has long been a problem, and one operators tend to use The Voice to stop if it is anywhere near the operator.

      The solutions to all this seem pretty clear:

      (1) Keep wearing masks on transit. If you haven’t gotten all the vaccine shots to which you are entitled, please talk with your doctor, and then do so if they say so. If you want to pretend God told you not to get vaccinated, re-read that commandment about loving thy neighbor. Same thing for any children for whom the decision belongs to you (and the unvaccinated among them outnumber the unvaccinated adults in King County). Learn to live with the virus like the rest of us have been doing for the past two years by getting fully vaccinated and wearing a mask around strangers. It takes a village to put down the Army of the Undead.

      (2) When the surge is over, start riding transit again. There is safety in numbers, when it comes to dissuading bad behavior on transit. For those worried about riders experiencing sleeplessness taking up five seats, some of those seats will be occupied again, so it won’t be happening. Those are some of the last seats to be filled right now because riders don’t want to be breathing at strangers’ faces and have those strangers breathing back at them.

      1. to add to Brent
        (3) Implement near systemwide proof of payment fare collection with humane fare enforcement; this would move transit faster; this would make transit more secure. As traffic grows, bus transit will slow; we need a counter action.
        (4) Spend more ST funds on service today for short headway and waits on both Link and bus.

      2. @eddiew,

        I’ve seen more 3-car trains lately. Maybe ST is thinking as you suggested?

        Though, I can’t see Metro wanting to staff the 1 Line for higher-than-usual frequency when they can’t staff all their scheduled bus routes as it is. I suspect they are just running a few short trains for any number of reasons that would be fun to guess, but I’d probably be wrong.

      3. I agree with eddie. We need to switch to a proof-of-payment system, but without the heavy-handed fare enforcement. If they don’t have proof of payment, just remove the person from the premises. If they are riding a bus, they get kicked off. In the case of Link, this would mean escorting them off the train and then outside of the nearest station. Of course they will simply get back on (without paying) but this takes time. There will be people who still don’t pay, but only a small minority, and chances are those people never paid. (Fare evasion happened with the buses, and it happened with the trains, even with heavy-handed enforcement.) But most wouldn’t want the embarrassment and hassle of being kicked off at a random stop. Some will choose the alternative, which is to provide I. D. and get a ticket.

        Otherwise, the security guards would act like normal security guards (and respond with force appropriate to the crime, in cooperation with the real police).

      4. The concern raised by maintenance staff ($) was lingering residue of drugs, not that the majority of buses have somebody smoking at any time. It says 381 reports in 2021. Metro has more than 381 buses out every day, so if all of these occurred on the same day, the other 364 days of the year would be report-free on every route. There are unreported cases, but even if they’re four times the number of reported cases, most bus runs are drug-free.

        I’ve also ridden Metro extensively for a long time. I haven’t seen any signs of drug use recently. I’ve seen people smoking pot in back, but the last time I can remember is many years ago. The situation at Bellevue TC a few weeks ago was about a six-pack and open can, not airborne drugs.

        What I do see on a minority of trips is nondestinational riders: one or two people riding to a terminus, sometimes talking incoherently or carrying their house in a bag, or sitting at a bus stop even as the only route goes by. In other words, more of the same.

        It varies widely between routes. It most seems to happen in working-class areas: E, 7, 131, 132, 150. On other routes it’s virtually absent. I’m not sure about the 512: my friend who rides it regularly complains about loud passengers, but I’m not sure if they’re vagabonds like this.

        One thing that surprised me last week was a number of homeless people lingering at Burien Transit Center. My roommate’s brother transferred there at 4am (161+120) and mentioned it. A few days later I saw it in the daytime going the other way (120+161). It was like part of downtown Seattle had been transplanted.

        On, and that crowd of a hundred underground marketeers that the police swept from 12th & Jackson. The Times article today doesn’t know where they went. They went to 3rd & Pine; I saw them there last weekend. They’re probably moving around. If the police would, like, arrest them for selling stolen goods rather than just shooing them around, maybe they would go away.

  5. I posted on a recent open thread about the new $30 million ask for the troubled Tacoma Link Hilltop extension project, so I’m glad to see that Martin picked up the tale in this news roundup as well. The story has pretty much been flying under the radar thus far.

    This project had a cost estimate in the neighborhood of $166 million when it went into the FTA pipeline initially.

    The other part of the story is that the project is way behind schedule and will not go online until 2023. In another illustration of the dishonesty that (I feel) exists within the senior management culture at ST, the agency just published and mailed to district households its 2022 Progress Report, “Growing Transit. Building Connections.” I’m sure many of the readers on this blog have seen it and perhaps read thru the PR piece. Right there on page 3 is the section highlighting the opening of the Hilltop extension in 2022. Yup, 2022. Not 2023.

    Give me a break.

      1. January 2022

        It doesn’t really matter though as I am certain that ST senior management knew the ask was coming long before this PR piece went to press. Read the history of the staff reports that preceded this recent board resolution and you’ll come to the same conclusion.

    1. I think the lack of reporting on the budget and delay is somewhat driven by a general perception that the project is not useful. Plus I think people have grown to expect overruns. Even the delay is probably no big deal considering the massive delays in transit projects everywhere recently. (Dulles, Crenshaw and Central SF Subway are still not open!)

      So thanks for mentioning the situation about both budget and schedule!

  6. The WEBLE DEIS has brought to light many issues with West Seattle light rail that have been noted on this blog and in the comments for years now. People are looking at the proposed station locations, heights, etc. and recognizing that many of the layouts are unfriendly to bus transfers. Riders of the C-line and 120/H-line have noticed that it will be easier to stay on the bus than transfer to light rail and transfer again in SODO.

    Fortunately, there are options available to mitigate most of the bad possibilities:

    (1) We do not want a repeat of the Mt. Baker station in Delridge. The station alignment that is directly over Delridge is most convenient to bus transfers. The Dakota and Andover options need to be rejected. This also means that the alignment must follow Genesee and not take the Yancy/Andover route that has gained popularity of late due to “lesser impacts”.

    (2) We do not want a 120-140 ft guideway over Longfellow Creek. The solution is the longer tunnel options that currently require 3rd party funding.

    (3) If cost is the main reason for rejecting the longer tunnel options, then we would prefer a two-station configuration to a three-station configuration in order to get the longer tunnel.

    (4) The ideal two-station configuration would place the Avalon/Junction station near the corner of Fauntleroy and Alaska. In that scenario, the northbound 21 bus could turn left from 35th onto Alaska St and drop passengers off at an underground station. The 41st Ave tunnel station is also acceptable.

    (5) There needs to be a recognition that the Avalon Triangle is a freeway onramp and is a hostile area for pedestrians. While some safety improvements can be made, having a station at that location is going to create conflicts between cars trying to reach the West Seattle Bridge and transit riders using the station. Traffic volumes are not going to decrease.

    1. Good points, as usual, Joe Z., but I think we need to be very thoughtful about how best to integrate bus transfers from the rest of the peninsula. The Fauntleroy/Alaska location is great for funneling bus traffic from the southwest of the peninsula (C Line, 22), OK for the southeast (21, 128), but definitely *not great* for most points west and northward. There will need to be a *substantial* alteration in street priority to allow buses to get from Admiral via California, and, critically, from California to Alaska/Fauntleroy.

      Alaska from Fauntleroy to 35th will need to be converted to full-time bus only priority, no cars. By the time the rail is running, 35th *had better* be one lane each way, with a dedicated, physically-separated busway. Fauntleroy should also be narrowed, too.

      As for the hostility towards human beings near the Avalon Triangle, that is true, but the solution is not complicated: lane reductions and potentially narrowing the West Seattle Bridge until it becomes a viaduct. The repurposed land could be used as a nice park space.

      1. Jort, I would love to see Fauntleroy + the West Seattle Bridge onramp converted to safe street with sidewalks, bike lanes, and reconnected street crossings between Avalon and Belvidere. There is a ton of vacant land along that onramp that could also be used for housing if it wasn’t currently a highway.

    2. So basically two new stations for the entire West Seattle project, one of which is just a feeder station. How much does this cost again?

      I suppose that the area around the Fauntleroy Station could see some TOD, but it is limited by the steep hillsides and parks in the area. Even including the other station, we are looking at only a handful who would walk to the station for the entire line. The vast majority would be forced to transfer from a bus just as it was about to run very quickly to downtown. Riders of the 37, 56 and 57 would have a sizeable detour. As Jort mentioned, at the one time of day in which the train will run relatively frequently (every six minutes) riders will encounter plenty of congestion as well, unless unprecedented changes are made in West Seattle (good luck with that).

      I would not be surprised if transit ridership actually decreases in West Seattle as a result. A small number will have a faster trip, but for almost all the riders it will take longer, and they will be asked to make a transfer. Holy cow, what a fiasco.

      Neither station will be outstanding. At best the Delridge Station is like the Mercer Island station — a feeder station and not much else. The Junction is similar to the station at Beacon Hill — a somewhat densely populated neighborhood, with a bit of charm. Both are the type of stations you add along the way, figuring that the big payoff is with stops on both sides. The fact that the project is extremely expensive, and only adds those two stations just shows how ridiculous it is.

      Making matters worth, it will likely mess up possible improvements to the Ballard line. While that line has its issues, a station at 20th and Market would dwarf the walk-up ridership of both West Seattle stations. There is a strong case for running the train there (underground) given that weaker stations (above or below) cost roughly just as much. But if Ballard gets an underground station, you can bet your ass that West Seattle will want one as well. There will be no consideration of the relative merits of each project (i. e. the cost per time saved per rider). It will be justified merely based on the fact that if one part of town gets something, they should get it too.

  7. I ride the bus a few days a week. Safety is a MAJOR issue. There are people who appear to be high on drugs and/or out of their minds all over the place. When I’m riding the bus down 3rd Ave, I’m afraid of who will get on the bus next, especially at 3rd and Pine. I haven’t personally witnessed drug consumption on the bus, but I’ve overheard loud conversations about buying drugs on the bus, and obviously witnessed drug deals and consumption on the street. Plus generally unpleasant behavior, like playing loud rap music off a bluetooth speaker on the bus. It won’t be much longer that I can put up with this kind of BS, and I’m a transit enthusiast. I can’t imagine what “normal” people think of the situation. FWIW, I’m a young woman. Curious what others have observed or make of the current situation.

    1. I offered my long-winded comment above.

      The bad behavior issues are real and long-standing, but are being amplified/astroturfed by the business community pointing out that those behaving badly are a larger portion of the omicron ridership, which is likely true, but pretends that the return of higher ridership won’t naturally reduce the bad behavior.

      Harassment on the bus is something Metro got around to taking seriously a few years ago with its Report-it-to-stop-it campaign. Some looked to the ensuing increase in incidents reported as a sign that the incidents increased, rather than crediting the campaign for convincing more riders to report incidents. Continuing to have the posters seems a necessary component to let predators know Metro has a system to catch them.

      At any rate, smoking, drinking, and loud music are all a lot more noticeable than some of the other creepier behavior. Contact Metro immediately if it is during customer service hours. If Customer service is not available, maybe Metro should offer a 24-7 option for how to contact them (including by discrete text) and get a quick response to an evolving situation.

      But being loud enough yourself for those afflicting your ride to overhear you will often have the affect of convincing the afflicters to get off the bus at the next stop, before the real or imagined threat of transit police arriving has time to happen.

      1. I don’t quite share your optimism. Yes, riders will come back as offices reopen. But will the presence of more people on the bus discourage addicts from smoking drugs on the bus? Many street addicts make zero attempt to hide their public drug consumption, and I’m not sure larger crowds would change their calculation. As for speaking up when someone is behaving unpleasantly on the bus – no way. Too much risk of that person lashing out violently.

      2. the more likely outcome of ongoing safety issues is that suburban riders ride the bus twice and never return. my subjective impression is that most of Metro’s pre-pandemic ridership was suburban commuters. they already have enough excuses to drive or stay home. if they do not feel safe then they have one more.

      3. I rode a bus a couple times and the train three times yesterday.

        Ridership seems to be coming back on both, enough that there was no space for lying down to sleep, so less of a haven for people experiencing homelessness and sleeplessness. There were a handful of passengers wearing Sounders and Kraken replica jerseys, but the vast majority were plain-clothed.

        I can’t recall ever seeing “addicts” smoking or shooting up on the bus or train, unless it was someone hooked on marijuana or nicotine. Marijuana pipes seem to be the most common tool of rulebreaking though, which is certainly an improvement over young people growing up addicted to cancer sticks. But I did see a couple clearly sober and decently well-to-do young women pull out their pipes and smoke, on the train. They weren’t in the operator’s car, so no concern to the operator. They had their masks down, of course. The passengers close to them moved away from them. They at least chose the end of the car to engage in their willful youthful rebellion, limiting their manspreading to the nearest ten seats. They got off at the next station. Perhaps all the moving away from them and angry glares helped. But they seemed to know exactly what they were doing, and that trouble could be coming in the door if they did not get out quick.

        I’ve seen addicts on transit, smoking on transit, lots of drinking on transit, lots of masklessness on transit, and obvious homelessness on transit. Only three of these categories are rules violations. Only one of them is a life-threating violation (that is, to other passengers). The lack of focus on the life-threatening behavior, and focus on the two kinds of riders who are not rules violations was my first hint that there is an astroturf campaign going on. The second was that it was all directed through lamestream media, and too simultaneous to not be an astroturf coordination.

        As far as my long frequent transit rider experience goes, homeless drug addicts shooting up on transit is only a thing inside the imaginations of marketing groups targeting public transit and/or the unkempt visibly homeless. Data might convince me otherwise. A coordinated campaign of people suddenly complaining about it does not.

        Harassment of riders by predators (most of whom are not homeless nor addicts) is documented to be longstanding and pervasive. I hope Metro’s focus on that kind of crime has helped make it less pervasive.

  8. Promo that just ran on CNBC. I’ll quote it. “Public Transit. The new drug den. Fentanyl smoked openly, leaving drivers and passengers to fend for themselves. What drivers say should happen to keep you safe. KIRO7 Investigates. Thursday at 5:30.”

    1. Corporate media strikes again!

      Fixed: “Public Transit: The Cross-Section of Society. Untreated Opioid Addiction ruining lives and your commute. What drivers and health professionals say we should do to solve the crisis. KIRO7 Investigates. Thursday at 5:30.”

    2. “As far as my long frequent transit rider experience goes, homeless drug addicts shooting up on transit is only a thing inside the imaginations of marketing groups targeting public transit and/or the unkempt visibly homeless.”

      You are willfully denying the experience of many likes myself who ride the 7, the 8, the 21, the C and D etc. etc. And as another female rider like the other commenter, it’s simply not safe to do anything but suffer in silence when the mental patient decides to masturbate nearby, or the junkie preps his fix. These are not one-off experiences; they are part and parcel of Seattle’s “transit experience.”

      Perhaps you should all take a page out of your own How to White Privilege and acknowledge that being professional men on public transit is a very different experience than being a female.

  9. The link for the State Supreme Court hearing arguments article directs to the Community Transit Swift Orange story!

  10. Has anyone noticed the station announcements for Link, especially in the tunnel, have been exceptionally loud lately? So loud I can sometimes hear them over my earphones..

    1. I noticed the next-arrival times were on and accurate when I took Link a week ago, but off when I took it yesterday. I heard one “Trains are running every 8 minutes” that was maybe more noticeable than usual, but not louder announcements in general.

      One good thing: the escalators at the University Street Seneca entrance are open both directions. After years of partial or full closures (including one when both the escalators and the elevator were closed and only the stairs were left), this is a welcome improvement. As I approached the station I debated whether to go to the Seneca entrance or the University entrance based on which escalator was more likely to be open. I’ve had better luck with Seneca because it closed for short stretches while University seemed to be always closed if I remember, so I went with Seneca again, and was rewarded with two open escalators both up and down.

  11. A while back someone linked to a detailed Sound Transit ridership report. It didn’t just have numbers per station, but where people were actually going, and what type of trip they were taking. Anyone have a link to that?

    1. RossB, I believe this is the link you mean.

      However, the DEIS presentations show that the boardings are different! Avalon (called Fauntleroy in the link) went from 4800 to 1200 as an example. Given that, I’d recommend looking at the station boardings in the various videos of the meetings on each segment for ST updated forecasts. To me, the changed forecasts are in some cases so different that I have to wonder if the whole earlier 2018-2021 WSBLE screening process needs to be revisited.

      1. I’m afraid not. What I’m looking for is a report that included a lot more explanation of where people were going. It wasn’t just data (like this one). It explained, for example, how many people were taking trips for school, or work, and where they worked. It was quite detailed.


    This bill is a good example of the dishonesty in the affordable housing argument. According to The Urbanist:

    “One of those is HB 1660, a bill that would legalize accessory dwelling units, like mother-in-law units and backyard cottages, statewide. The legislation would also prevent owner-occupancy requirements and the other imposition of unnecessary restrictions. The bill just barely squeaked by in a 50-48 house victory, which makes its future far from certain. Still the fact that it will move on to the Senate and might make it across the finish line provides some silver lining at a disappointing moment.”

    “The Democrats who voted against the accessory dwelling unit bill were Reps. Tana Senn (Mercer Island, 41st Legislative District), Larry Springer (Kirkland, 45th Legislative District), Lisa Callan (Issaquah, 5th Legislative District), Steve Kirby (Tacoma, 29th Legislative District), Bill Ramos (Issaquah, 5th Legislative District), Amy Walen (Kirkland, 48th Legislative District), and Alicia Rule (Blaine, 42nd Legislative District). It’s likely this same group offered resistance to HB 1782, since backyard cottages are an even gentler and lower scale form of the missing middle housing offered in 1782. Obviously a few more Representatives joined them to block the bill. In committee, Rep. Senn sponsored an amendment reducing allowed housing types from sixplexes to fourplexes, confirming her reticence.”

    The Urbanist is not the best bellwether of the eastside, and the opposition to the upzoning bills was fierce, in large part because everyone on the eastside is so terrified of becoming Seattle. So let’s take a look at these “unnecessary restrictions” according to The Urbanist in this bill.

    The issue with DADU’s and ADU’s is complicated and determined by the city’s codes. For example, Bellevue allows ADU’s up to 800 sf but not DADU’s whereas Mercer Island allows both, although Bellevue has a higher gross floor area to lot area ratio maximum for the main house and ADU. For the last 20 years Mercer Island’s DADU/ADU ordinance was considered a model ordinance, until the Democrats got into bed with the Master Builders Assoc.

    This bill is not about affordable housing because builders don’t want affordable housing. It is about converting owner-occupied single-family zones into absentee landlord rental units that are then purchased and owned by real estate trusts in return for campaign donations. The Urbanist mentions Tana Senn (who lives on MI) but fails to note the PDC shows 70% of her campaign donations are from builders, realtors and developers, and that public pressure forced her to change her vote (when did Builders, developers and realtors become the backbone of the Democrat Party in this state). These trusts have no intent of offering below market rate rents, and of course covet most the expensive eastside residential SFH zones to upzone. One of the tragedies of Seattle is that over 50% now rent, and someday that will be 75%.

    So what are the key factors the builders and developers want:

    1. They don’t want to live in one of their rental units or in the converted rental neighborhood. So whereas Mercer Island requires the property owner to live in one of the units if renting out the other this bill makes eliminating this requirement mandatory, because this is all about large rental investment trusts. Once the owner no longer lives onsite the property upkeep declines as does the screening of the tenant (and in Seattle a landlord can barely screen a tenant) and the character of the SFH zone is lost, especially if you have kids, which is the real hope for those who write for The Urbanist.

    2. The ultimate goal is to subdivide the property sub rosa. So minimum SF limits for a DADU are part of the bill, and requiring DADU’s as opposed to just ADU’s. On Mercer Island a DADU/ADU is limited to 220 sf to 900 sf to keep them affordable. But that is not the intent of this bill, so much greater square footage of the DADU is not only allowed but required. Does anyone here have any idea what a brand new 1325 sf DADU (house) would cost on Mercer Island to buy or rent. $2 to $3 million to buy ($1 million alone to build in this market), $3000/month to rent.

    3. Mercer Island has a code provision that allows a developer to apply for a lower minimum lot size in a residential subdivision (minimum lots sizes are 8400 sf to 15,000 sf). However the gross floor area to lot area ratio (GFAR) for the house on the smaller lot still remains the same and the developer must create a green spacer open to the general public, when what the builders really want is smaller lots but the same sized house as a large lot, which is just a way to circumvent the GFAR limit and subdivide the lot.

    So far no developer has opted for this approach because the SFH is more profitable. In another post someone claimed eastside SFH zones are built out. That is ridiculous. On MI the old Boys and Girls Club will be developed into 14 SFH’s, and Nextdoor is abuzz with the clear cutting in Lake Heights for “Cambridge Manor”.

    Many think an empty and wooded lot is somehow zoned for that, when it is zoned for some kind of development that simply has not yet occurred. So these “affordable housing bills” increase total lot GFAR for DADU’s and ADU’s so larger and less affordable housing can be built on these lots, basically two houses, and undeveloped property on the eastside is not suddenly rezoned to remain so in perpetuity because of the upzone.

    4. They don’t want to anger wealthy eastside affordable housing “advocates” who publicly support “affordable housing” and have huge money but don’t want these bills to apply to their neighborhoods. So the bills have population thresholds that exempt Medina, Beaux Arts, Clyde Hill, Yarrow Point, Hunts Point, and any HOA, many of which prohibit any ADU or DADU.

    5. They come with no state funding to help cities deal with the huge cost of increasing populations, especially from multi-family rental housing, that includes larger schools, police and fire, more park land to keep the park acre to 1000 citizen ratio the same, roads, water and sewer lines, social services, and so on. These bills are phony ways for state representatives to claim they care about affordable housing while providing no state funding, and exempting the wealthiest neighborhoods while creating no affordable housing in exchange for the campaign donations.

    The builders want to increase the supply of unaffordable housing that can be owned by large investment trusts, and the poor writers for The Urbanist are so consumed with envy and anger because they cannot afford a SFH (or any home) they want to destroy what they see as privileged, even though it will never create affordable housing. Ironically some on this blog like to reference Boston for their missing middle housing. Boston just passed San Fran as the second most expensive housing market in the U.S. after New York, both of which are extremely dense. Density does not create affordable housing.

    Personally if the bill to upzone a 1/2 mile zone within a light rail station would have passed I would have made millions. My main house is within that zone on the north end of Mercer Island, and I am part owner of a 22,500 sf SFH lot on the water on the north end that is just 2500 sf short of a subdivision, but MI strictly prohibits any kind of variance for a subdivision for waterfront properties (and in general). Suddenly I could have built a total of 12 units on this property, all new, all very expensive, but then I probably would not want to live in this neighborhood I have lived in since 1970. The money just isn’t worth it to me like it is to the Democrats. I guess I would take my millions and move to Clyde Hill, Medina, Beaux Arts, a HOA, Yarrow Point, Hunts Point, anywhere but Seattle.

    1. Yawn. Another anti-housing screed. In 1,300 words, you’ve only managed to repeat (ad nauseum) your conviction that new housing doesn’t create affordable housing. Have you noticed how the reduction of availability of new cars has made the cost of used cars skyrocket? When car makers are able to increase production again, what do you think is going to happen the cost of used cars?

      Boston just passed San Fran as the second most expensive housing market in the U.S. after New York, both of which are extremely dense.

      Check those facts:

      The median price of a home in New York City (not just NYC’s highly popular core, Manhattan) is half that of Bellevue:

      Your low-density bastion of Mercer Island costs almost 3x as much as a NYC home:

      Essential reading:

      Suddenly I could have built a total of 12 units on this property, all new, all very expensive, but then I probably would not want to live in this neighborhood I have lived in since 1970.

      A selfish fear of change preventing you from offering housing to twelve or more households who want to live there. A selfish fear of change preventing your neighbor from doing so, either, on their own land in the so-call “Land of the Free”. A fear of more neighbors bringing different interests and opinions. Instead, your neighborhood is so stagnant that it hasn’t changed significantly in over 50 years, and you now have one extremely expensive house instead of 12 somewhat expensive homes. When your house changes hands next, there will be 11 other families stuck bidding on houses elsewhere that could have settled down on your property. How do you think that impacts the market?

    2. “Once the owner no longer lives onsite the property upkeep declines as does the screening of the tenant (and in Seattle a landlord can barely screen a tenant) and the character of the SFH zone is lost, especially if you have kids, which is the real hope for those who write for The Urbanist.”

      I’m pretty sure I have asked you this question before, but I’ll ask again: what exactly do you mean when you write “the character of the SFH is lost”?

      I guess I just don’t understand why you seem to fear upzoning SFH areas so much. When I bought my home here in Edmonds almost 20 years ago it was on a property in a low density residential use neighborhood and zoned as R-8400 (though the parcel is more than double that). Since then, the county has changed the use and zoning impacting my property twice during their required periodic comp plan updates. My neighborhood is now designated as high density residential use and zoned as MR, or what you know as multi-family residential. The end result is that there has been some densification due to townhome and other infill projects. As a matter of fact, one of our newer couple friends live just a few blocks away in one such townhome project built in the last couple of years. A road project the county did almost a decade ago gave us sidewalks and bike lanes. So here we are in 2022, and while I contemplate what to do with my own property as far as further development and densification, my spouse and I continue to enjoy living in our SFH in this same neighborhood. The sky has not fallen.

      Oh, one more thing. It’s been my experience in my six decades plus of living that multi-family residential housing buildings/complexes owned by REITs are typically maintained pretty well. Sure, one can find exceptions to that but I don’t think one can point exclusively to this type of ownership structure as a determining factor with regard to maintenance performance. Additionally, my spouse works for a residential developer and builder. While they primarily build higher end SFHs, they also have several multi-family and multi-use buildings in their rental portfolio. Their maintenance on these buildings is second to none.

      I truly worry more about seniors and others living on modest fixed incomes who remain in their (owned) homes being able to afford to keep up with maintenance issues. I see that all the time in our region as well as in NY where I own a rental property. I also have a rental property in southern CA, so I guess I’m one of these absentee landlords that you worry about (needlessly imho).

      1. what exactly do you mean when you write “the character of the SFH is lost”?

        A big craftsman era house down the street from me was divided decades ago. The only change to the exterior was four mailboxes and four electric meters instead of one of each.

        Obviously, this is a huge problem on the character of the neighborhood, and can’t possibly be allowed. The guy with the five dead 1940s era pickups in the front yard is obviously in keeping with what is needed to keep single family home neighborhoods exactly as everyone wants them to look.

    3. Just because it would have made you, or filthy developers rich, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a good law.

      We have a housing crisis, with it’s root being too few homes. We need a multi-pronged approach, and just because you’d be getting one the golden tines up your nethers, I’d be okay with that. Because. More housing. With more housing comes lower prices and rents, or at least smaller increases over time.

      It sounds like it would be a win-win. Developers win. Rich lawyers on MI win. Homeowners win. renters win.

      Don’t let hate blind you.

      1. “More housing. With more housing comes lower prices and rents, or at least smaller increases over time. It sounds like it would be a win-win. Developers win. Rich lawyers on MI win. Homeowners win. renters win. Don’t let hate blind you.”

        Thanks for making me laugh Cam. Loved the part about “renters win”. Priceless.

      2. It’s not that prices automatically lower, but that their rate of increase in the future will be less.

        Prices ultimately follow supply and demand. Supply is extremely tight: there have been dozens of newspaper articles about this since 2008. There are very few sellers right now. More supply would give them more competition. And on the rental side, vacancy rates are low. Both of these are a sign of insufficient supply and bottlenecks that drive prices up and allow those that have to make a monopoly killing over those who don’t.

      3. Cam, housing is not all the same or uniform. What are you really trying to increase the supply of? Affordable, or more affordable housing. No need to worry about housing for the AMI at $106,000/year or above.

        If you build new construction, it will not be affordable, even if very small. Bernie had some good posts on this. Just the cost of permitting and construction today, plus the construction loan and profit margin, make any new construction well beyond affordable housing. If you want to create more unaffordable housing then by all means upzone these residential properties to encourage their redevelopment.

        But don’t forget: it isn’t a zero-sum game. Most land in urban areas like Seatle are developed. So new development has to replace old development, and developers like older properties because they are less expensive.

        If you go really tall, like replacing a SFH with a 10 or 20 story multi-family building then I can see the increase in housing although it will still be new. That is called a UGA and they have had mixed results. But if you redevelop an existing multi-family building into a similar new multi-family building you have only replaced older more affordable housing with new less affordable housing. It is called gentrification.

        If you turn a SFH in a residential zone with a set GFAR despite “use” (SFH vs. duplex or tri-plex since all uses get the same regulatory limits) then you convert an older more affordable existing SFH with four bedrooms and one kitchen into two or three new units each with their own kitchen with the same number of total bedrooms. Plus the land costs more because it can now be more units, so the new units are more expensive.

        The demand is for more affordable housing, but that is not what you are “supplying” with upzoning and new construction, and in fact you consume the older more affordable housing to create the new unaffordable housing.

        Supply and demand is a valid economic theory, if what you are supplying meets the demand. If the demand (or need) is for more new and expensive housing than upzones work well (unless you are Black and poor in the Central District).

      4. No, Daniel. The demand is for all housing. Every type. Up and down the price range.

        If you build your 12 units and sell or rent them to high earners, than that takes the pressure off of the developers to demolish and build on what is now older, affordable housing. It’s like dominoes.

        I agree, almost all new housing will not be affordable to lower income folks. But the more you build, the less pressure you put on that housing stock that is affordable, or would be if their demand didn’t vastly outstrip supply, as it currently does.

        I’m sorry. I really don’t have time to jump through bizarre linguistic gymnastics to avoid obvious, and commonly accepted laws. It’s like having to re-prove the laws of addition.

      5. Yes, very common argument: build new expensive housing — because it is new — which will replace existing more affordable housing and people will buy up, and their old unit will become available so there will be more units so the price will go down for those with less wealth, all the way down the chain. Worked great in the Central District. Let me know when rents and housing prices start going down in Seattle after the upzones. Or Tacoma. I just get tired of folks on this blog and The Urbanist constantly complaining about the cost of their rent or housing, and then using a simplistic econ 101 principle taught to 18 year olds, and claiming “renters win” when renters never win.

      6. I just get tired of folks on this blog and The Urbanist constantly complaining about the cost of their rent or housing, and then using a simplistic econ 101 principle taught to 18 year olds

        I think you mean 8 year olds (roughly the age in which you would open up a lemonade stand). It is taught at a young age, just like evolution. Of course you can study the concept as you get older in high school, or college. There are economists whose research is based on it. It is a basic concept with highly complex ramifications.

        Yet not a single economist would agree with you. Your example of the Central Area simply lacks reason. You forgot a very important concept: omnibus paribus (all other things being equal). All other things being equal, housing in the Central Area would be *more* expensive absent the upzoning, not less. You want a sophisticated study to prove (once again) this very important (but basic) concept still operates in the case of housing? Fine: Just read the “Key Takeaways”:

        Researchers have long known that building new market-rate housing helps stabilize housing prices at the metro area level …

        Five [papers] find that market-rate housing makes nearby housing more affordable across the income distribution of rental units, and one finds mixed results.

        … Housing production should still be prioritized in higher-resource communities where the risk of displacement and other potential harms is lower, and complementary policies such as tenant protections and direct public investments remain essential. Nonetheless, the neighborhood-level benefits of market-rate development are promising and indicate an important role for both market and non-market solutions to the housing crisis.

        Got it? Upzoning benefits at the metro level, and has been known for years. At the neighborhood level, efforts to upzone should be prioritized in higher-resource communities.

      7. Laws of supply and demand are up for debate now
        Buy land, they’re not making it anymore. -Mark Twain

      8. Komo radio had a piece yesterday noting that nationally “average” apartment rents rose 15% last year, but 31% in the Seattle area. Why is that?

        Is it population gain last year? No, that was around 1%. Did AMI go up significantly during the pandemic? No. How about inflation: that was around 7.5% (which does not include gas but includes housing, but when you remove the inflation in SFH prices inflation is not a big factor). In fact, when you add all three you are probably at 7 — 10%, while rents rose 31%.

        In fact, last year was a record for apartment construction in Seattle, and the last decade has been a record period.,This%20totals%206%2C415%20new%20residential%20units%20for%202021.

        “Over the past decade, developers
        delivered a staggering amount of
        hotel, office and residential space in
        downtown Seattle. More than 28,000
        new apartment units, 4,200 hotel
        rooms and 17.5 million square feet of
        office space transformed the Seattle
        skyline, raising our profile around
        the world. Construction of many
        projects was paused in 2020, and
        that year saw the smallest number
        of building completions in 10 years.
        By contrast, 2021 is shaping up to be
        one of the busiest years for building
        completions downtown.”

        So why the 31% increase in “average” rental rates in 2021 if the last decade and 2021 were record periods for apartment construction?

        Because all the “new” apartments are expensive because the cost of land and construction, and because developers make a bigger profit on more expensive apartments. Meanwhile, anyone who has ever lived in an older apartment building (as I did) who receives a notice they must move because the building is being demolished and redeveloped knows the new units are going to be much more expensive than the existing apartments. That is how developers get so rich.

        Supply and demand, even the 8th grade version, is valid. But the point is new development — called gentrification — increases the supply of less affordable rental property and decreases the amount of more affordable rental property because of three reasons:

        1. Just the cost of new construction, and the developer’s motivation to buy low and sell high;

        2. The new apartment construction usually replaces an existing building, which often houses older and more affordable housing because it is too expensive to tear down a newish expensive building. A corollary to supply and demand is buy low sell high.

        3. The other misconception is that when these new apartments come on the market the surrounding existing apartments go down in rent. They go up, because they follow the price of the new units. Again, gentrification (which is not all bad for a city). Yes, some wealthier folks will move from an expensive apartment to a new and more expensive apartment, but their old apartment will increase in rent too due to the prices of the new construction, turnover, and so on down the chain.

        If you can show me the increase in supply of affordable apartments from new construction that are not publicly subsidized I would agree that will help low-income residents and help moderate rent increases for that group. But if the argument is brand new private construction of apartments that usually displaces existing apartments will result in more affordable rental properties or mitigate rent increases I will disagree, and I think the evidence supports my position. Otherwise, cities like NY and San Francisco would not need rent control, and cities would not require affordable unit set asides in new construction (usually 80% AMI or as developers prefer a fee in lieu of) if just the increase in the supply of all rental properties created any kind of affordable rental property.

        The other argument is whether mildly upzoning expensive residential SFH zones that have little to no transit service will help moderate rent increases in the region. I don’t think it will for many of the reasons I listed before:

        1. Although the total number of legal dwelling units may increase per lot, if the GFAR for a SFH and duplex or tri-plex is the same you don’t increase the number of bedrooms, and actually decrease them, because now each unit needs its own kitchen, bathroom and living area (kind of the same argument when it comes to DADU’s), especially if there are parking limits since there is no transit;

        2. You increase the underlying price of the land a developer must pay; just like apartments you replace the oldest and least expensive SFH in the zone with brand new construction. The property I noted in my earlier post in which I am a co-owner would increase in value by 3X if upzoned to six units from a single family home.

        You will increase the number of dwelling units which I guess is ok for those who live alone, but not the total living area (bedrooms), and you increase the cost of each residential lot because now it has been upzoned (mildly so far).

        The real question is how to increase the supply of rental housing for lower income folks, because as well all know that is what is disappearing. Difficult and expensive question, but the one thing I can tell you is the answer to that goal is not new construction, although builders and developers want you to believe that, and so do politicians who don’t want to spend the money to build more affordable housing because they want to spend the money on bling.

      9. In the last decade:

        28,000 apartments.

        Over 100,000 new jobs, mostly in tech.

        Enough housing?
        {Furiously doing the maths….}


        Result: housing affordability crisis.

        Fix: Build. Build everywhere. Build high. Build low. Build cheap. Build expensive. Just f’in build.

        This is not rocket science.

      10. The Seattle region actually added around 50,000 digital service jobs in the last decade.

        When you write:

        “Fix: Build. Build everywhere. Build high. Build low. Build cheap. Build expensive. Just f’in build.”

        “This is not rocket science.”

        you fail to comprehend the fundamental point I am trying to make (unless you are a developer): no one builds “cheap” without public subsidies. You just can’t with permitting, land costs, and construction costs, especially in this market (hence ST’s ROW woes). And that new construction you covet: it displaces older more affordable housing.

        Until you understand this basic concept you will never understand why rents keep going up at very high rates despite the new construction I noted. Yes, developers are building like crazy, and yes they are building for those with high incomes, and yes they are choosing the oldest and least expensive buildings to demolish for this new construction, and no they are not building “cheap” because otherwise we wouldn’t need affordable housing set asides in new construction which are still 80% AMI, or a fee in lieu of that in theory the city uses to build publicly subsidized “cheap” housing. If you understood construction, development, or building you would know you can’t build cheap, and those are the folks who need help, not Amazon tech workers the developers covet.

      11. “average” apartment rents rose 15% last year, but 31% in the Seattle area. Why is that?

        Extremely high demand. Moderate increase in supply.

        Seriously dude, even when we show you studies showing that “market-rate housing makes nearby housing more affordable across the income distribution of rental units” and that “Researchers have long known that building new market-rate housing helps stabilize housing prices at the metro area level”, you still still don’t get it.

        You are grasping at straws, and making incorrect assumptions based on associations. You are like the rooster who thinks he makes the sun rise. The sun will rise even if the rooster doesn’t crow. Housing prices would go up, even if they didn’t build any new apartments. In fact, they would increase more. It is simply a matter of supply and demand.


        Tell it to Marie Kidhe Ross, not me.

        “So when philanthropists or funders ask what they can do to address the problems in this community or the black communities of Greater Seattle, first and foremost … listen before assuming you know what our community needs. Provide financial support to the organizations whose missions are to cultivate and create in these arenas. Advocate and fund affordable housing and develop homes that incorporate first-time buyers and minority ownership programs. Invest in small businesses, specifically for people of color. Most importantly, be a vanguard in partnership and collective enterprising while encouraging other funders or philanthropists to follow suit.”

        You are building housing for the rich Ross, and then wonder why the poor have no place to live, or why those most opposed to upzoning are Black groups in South Seattle. But you don’t listen to them. You have your online journals and links. Send those to Marie, and let her know soon some residential duplexes in Blue Ridge and Mercer Island and Clyde Hill and even Pinehurst will be coming on the market, along with lots of new construction in South Seattle, along with some apartments in downtown Seattle with stunning views and a doorman and concierge service.

      13. Dan, tell it to everyone commuting to Seattle from Puyallup, Issaquah, and Mill Creek.

        No one is disagreeing that displacement is bad. Everyone agrees that gentrification is bad. That’s why many advocates want broad upzones across all urban areas, not just modest upzones in already-dense areas that have high concentrations of legacy housing affordable to low-income earners.

        Upzoning Mercer Island is not gentrification. Upzoning Queen Anne, or Magnolia, or Ravenna, or Madison Park is not gentrification. Giving landlords reason to increase rent on suburban homes and pricing out low-income families IS gentrification, and it IS what is happening across the Eastside and Seattle. Old housing can’t compete with new housing, so when 10 old apartments are allowed to be replaced with 100 new ones, that’s 90 old apartments that aren’t pressured to price out their tenants.

        I get that you’re a lawyer, and I’m not a lawyer so I’m not sure how much math you use on a daily basis. But it seems like simple enough math to me.

      14. Nathan, you can’t build cheap. Let’s start with that. The underlying costs just don’t support it even if a builder wanted to build cheap.

        Gentrification is when a city upzones an area like The Central District so it incentivizes new development that prices out poor and mostly minority renters.

        Absolutely you can gentrify parts of Mercer Island and it is going on right now. When the legislature amended the long tail on warranties for condo construction (hoping to allow more moderate-income folks to buy condos rather than rent) the first thing that happened in the Mercer Island multi-family zones was the conversion of older more affordable multi-family buildings into new, high end expensive condos even though there was no upzone. Buy low sell high. This is going on throughout the eastside because the area has become desirable — more desirable than the existing housing in many areas — in large part due to folks leaving Seattle.

        Residential SFH zones have different issues: 1. if the regulatory limits for height, GFAR, impervious surface, parking and yard setbacks stay the same for a SFH compared to a duplex/tri-plex you don’t create any additional housing or GFA; 2. the new construction will be very expensive especially if the area is already expensive; 3. there is no transit.

        Look, I don’t want to get into a name calling contest. I think everyone on this blog worries about housing that is affordable for the 30% and 50% AMI folks (0% AMI folks need supportive housing) but if you begin with the fundamental premise you can’t build new cheap, and builders don’t want to build cheap, then either you believe like Ross does that new expensive construction will trickle down and make existing housing more affordable rather than act to gentrify the entire area, or you believe new construction gentrifies an area and the new rental rates tend to increase all rental rates.

        The issue is not creating housing for the wealthy; it is preserving affordable housing for the poor and lower middle class when there is so much pressure to convert that older affordable housing into new unaffordable housing because that is how developers make a killing. Downtown Bellevue could hardly be more dense, especially compared to what is being replaced, but none is affordable, because you can’t build those units cheap, and the builders don’t want to build cheap units. The housing in downtown Bellevue is not going to make surrounding housing less expensive; just the opposite.

        So far in Seattle the city is going seriously backwards when it comes to non-subsidized affordable housing despite all the new units geared toward high incomes. The upzones you and others support will move Black residents now living in South Seattle completely out of Seattle, and they know that. They don’t need to read Ross’s links to housing treatises.

        If a bill to upzone on the basis it will create more affordable housing ends up making me millions because I live in that zone there is something wrong with that. IMO.

      15. And that new construction you covet: it displaces older more affordable housing.

        Older, more affordable “houses” are being lost. They are being lost anyway. The difference is that they are being replaced by very few (very expensive) houses, not lots of apartments or townhouses. How does it help things that an old house on a huge lot can be replaced by three big houses (each going for over a million dollars each) instead of a set 30 condos (which would go for around 400K each)?

        From a policy standpoint, your claim is meaningless. It is unfortunate if cheap apartments are being replaced by expensive apartments — but that is perfectly legal now, and has always been legal. The policies encourage it. Preventing cheap houses (that are on huge lots) from being replaced by apartments makes things worse.

        Nor is there reason to believe that what you are claiming is true. Once again I repeat the fact that there is no study to support your theory, and that economists across all stripes agree that at the metro level, if not a neighborhood level you are completely wrong.

        Developers look to build apartments (or townhouses) by looking at the value of the lot and the value of the existing structures. Per person, apartments are by far the cheapest housing option. But per structure, they aren’t. Consider a small apartment building with 20 units sitting on a moderate size lot. Now consider a house sitting on a similar lot. The house would have to be worth 20 times the value of the average unit to make developing the apartment the better choice. If each unit was worth about 200K, the house would have to worth 4 million. That is certainly not normal.

        The only reason that cheap apartments are being replaced by more expensive ones is because developers aren’t allowed to replace cheap houses (or in many cases, empty lots) with apartments (on most of the city). That needs to change if we are ever going to make the city more affordable.

      16. Tell it to Marie Kidhe Ross, not me.

        I don’t need to tell it to Marie Kidh, because Marie isn’t an ignorant guy from Mercer Island with white savior fantasies. Not a single word from that quote runs contrary to the basic ideas we are laying out here. Nor does this href=””>report, which actually emphasizes the role that zoning played in the gentrification of the Central Area. To quote the Seattle Times summary of that report:

        As covenants and redlining were outlawed, “local governments expanded the use of exclusionary residential zoning,” designating large swaths of land for single-family houses “that are typically unaffordable to low-income people of color,” the analysis says.

        Holy cow, man, your ideas are just ridiculous. You don’t reduce gentrification by reducing the number of people who can live there. That is ridiculous, and Marie Kidhe would agree. The way you deal with gentrification is complicated (I encourage you to read that report, as well as the studies I mentioned earlier, if you haven’t already) but they call for *more* housing, not less.

        Seriously though, dude, what do you think would have happened if they locked down growth in the Central Area after they ended redlining? It is pretty obvious: There would be mansions everywhere. Modest houses would be replaced by new McMansions. Prices for houses (new and old) would have gone up, while prices for apartments would have skyrocketed. Why the hell would apartments be cheaper if there were fewer of them? That is just absurd.

        Your basic argument is based on arrogance and ignorance. Somehow all of these experts are wrong. The economists, the local leaders who run studies — they are all wrong. Basic economic theory — both macro and micro economics — is also wrong. But you are right, for reasons that are nonsensical, complete with circular definitions now.

      17. The issue is not creating housing for the wealthy; it is preserving affordable housing for the poor and lower middle class when there is so much pressure to convert that older affordable housing into new unaffordable housing because that is how developers make a killing.

        Socratic method time. Where do you think that pressure comes from?

        Think about it…

        Answer: the wealthy! The poor and lower middle class aren’t the making a killing for developers, If you build more for the wealthy, there’s less pressure on the poor who get evicted by their landlords, or who can’t afford their property taxes and then can’t afford to move anywhere else in their neighborhood.

        If you’re going to keep pulling out the Central District as your example (you know there are other neighborhoods experiencing gentrification, right?), then why not advocate for upzones of already wealthy neighborhoods? I’m saying make Ballard taller, make Queen Anne taller, make Wallingford taller, because I think the folks with million-dollar lots that last sold for $100k in 1990 ought to be able to make a killing selling their land someone who will put up enough housing that it’s cheaper for someone like me to buy something new than to buy a formerly-affordable home and renovate myself.

        Read a book, man. The Color of Law is a great place to start.

        San Francisco refuses to upzoned due to mindsets like yours. How has that fared for it?

      18. It’s hard to have a rational discussion about housing on this blog because there is so much class warfare and anger, and we know who wins that war, and it ain’t renters. Rising rents hit home, while discussions about tunnels to Ballard are other people’s money.

        Yes, San Francisco has fought upzoning, and so will this region including Ballard and Queen Anne. Personally, I don’t see how the mild upzones we are talking about for these neighborhoods will encourage builders to convert expensive SFH properties to multi-family without increases in the regulatory limits, and no one is talking about increasing regulatory limits I know.

        We are talking about theoretical upzoning that would take decades to implement, although I would cash out immediately since I would be in an upzoned zone because I live within 1/2 mile of a light rail station no one will use in the future and no one is using now (including the future owners of my property), and the land prices will escalate immediately so not all bad (unless a SFH was more profitable). Probably 2/3 or 3/4 of the region own, so upzones and rising property values and rents benefit a majority of citizens. And the best thing about these bills is the landlords don’t have to live on the rental property or in the rental neighborhood, the number one demand by these groups pushing the upzone.

        There may be good news on the horizon. Rising mortgage rates have increased local mortgage payments 35%.

        “Seattle homeowners are not immune. The report said that monthly mortgage payments in the city have risen 35% since January of last year. That increase has resulted in homeowners paying an average of $675 more per month, bringing the average monthly mortgage payment in Seattle to a whopping $2,615.”

        What isn’t discussed is those with an adjustable-rate mortgage or 5-year ARM. These rising rates are leading indicators for rising fed rates and tapering of the purchase of mortgage-backed securities so mortgage rates should go higher.

        Combined with skyrocketing property tax increases this could lead property prices to decline, but I doubt it.

        Whether this helps rental rates I am not sure. I think it will increase rents. As noted in this article about the issues with rising rents in Kenmore, landlords don’t plan on eating increasing costs and property taxes.

        Ironically $2,615 is about 30% of the AMI for Seattle ($106,000) and not that much higher than the average one-bedroom apartment, so if you have the down payment and qualify (certainly under the old rates) buying is not a bad deal, although the golden time has passed. My guess is this is all mortgate payments, including older and much smaller loans. I doubt anyone could get a SFH in Seattle today for $2,615/month. Probably at least double that, triple in a nice neighborhood.

        I have a feeling we will be having this discussion next year: 2022 will be a record year for apartment construction (at least on the eastside) and rents will have gone up another 20% to 30%. I know many developers who live near me and when I bring up rising rents they tend to shrug, like they should go up. How are rising rents bad? They only affect those who rent. No one really cares about your housing situation. Like TT said, maybe Seattle is not the city for you (or The Central District the neighborhood) if you can’t afford it. If you were indispensable to the city you could afford the rent.

        Seattle is going into year four of its upzone, and Tacoma just upzoned the entire city, so let’s revisit this issue next year. Hopefully apartment rents don’t rise another 31%. That we can agree on.

      19. Gentrification is when a city upzones an area like The Central District so it incentivizes new development that prices out poor and mostly minority renters.

        You are entitled to your opinion, but not your own definition. “Gentrification” is defined according to the Oxford Dictionary as “the process whereby the character of a poor urban area is changed by wealthier people moving in, improving housing, and attracting new businesses, typically displacing current inhabitants in the process.”

        What attracts wealthy people could be any number of things (new amenities, increasing jobs, lower crime rate, changing racial attitudes, etc.). Even without development this leads to gentrification, as landlords simply raise the rent on existing (aging) apartments. But this does make development of any kind more likely. If you rent an old house for $1,000 dollars a month, the prospect of tearing it down and selling a new one for a million looks attractive.

        You are basically making the same argument that was the introduction to the study I cited earlier:

        An opposing view, however, is that new housing only attracts more wealthy households, brings new amenities to the neighborhood (including the housing itself), and sends a signal to existing landlords that they should raise their rents. This “amenity effect” or “demand effect” thus makes housing less affordable.

        Again, read the studies. It was pretty clear that your theory simply doesn’t hold true at a city-wide level, and at most should suggest subtle changes to policies at the neighborhood level (in response to the single study that was at odds with the other five). Nobody from that study is recommending we shut down all development in hopes that it leads to cheaper prices, just as nobody thinks that simply changing the zoning will fix the affordability problem.

        Nathan, you can’t build cheap. Let’s start with that.

        Bullshit. Of course we can build cheap. I remember when my son was looking at a condo close to Rainier Beach. We both thought the property seemed like a good value but he pointed out the cheap construction, so he passed. He ended up buying a place for way more money later.

        More to the point, you can build *cheaper*. While constructions costs are high right now, it isn’t what is driving the cost of housing — land cost is. Making matters worse, the lots that are available for apartment development (including land with apartments on it already) is worth more than lots that only allow the construction of a single house. That is because it is rare. That is why a city-wide, or even region-wide approach is more likely to succeed. The more land becomes available for apartments, the cheaper it becomes.

        But that isn’t the only issue. Simply put, you can put way more units on the same amount of land if you are allowed to build condos. No, a new unit is not “cheap”, but it is a hell of a lot cheaper than a new house, just as an old condo is a hell of a lot cheaper than an old house. The main reason condos aren’t a lot cheaper is because there simply aren’t enough of them. The main reason they don’t have more of them is because they can only build them in a small handful of places. So developers simply build new houses.

        Look at this chart: It is from Vancouver, but the idea is the same. The price of a house went up way faster than the price of a condo, despite the restrictions put on new condos. That is because each and every house comes with a bunch of land. As was quoted earlier, they’re not making it anymore. The cost of land will continue to be high. The cost of one house on a big lot will continue to be high. But the cost of a condo will be cheaper, because you can can build more of them.

        Here, I’ll find you an example. Look at this house: It sold for $700K when it was essentially an empty lot. It got subdivided, and the three houses (and lots) sold for roughly $5 million. Nice profit, obviously.

        Now imagine they build 30 condos. It would cost more to build them, so add a 1 million *extra* for the construction costs. Sell them each for 200K, and you’ve made just as much money as those houses. Sell them for 250K and you’ve made a lot more. Initially these would sell for more of course, but eventually everyone else would join in the development. Instead of focusing on building extremely expensive houses that only a handful can afford, developers would build tens of thousands of condos in the city. This reduces the price of old condos, even if they are higher. This condo ( is going for $325K — of course it would be cheaper if there was a brand new condo right down the street going for the same amount.

      20. Ross, you are talking apples and oranges: you are talking about changing the zone and the regulatory limits. Of course if you place a 20-unit condo building on a SFH lot it will create more housing. That is called a UGA, and I support those. The upzones before the legislature (and in Tacoma) are/were milder for residential zones: duplexes, tri-plexes, DADU’s. None of the bills included increasing the regulatory limits let alone allowing multiple condos or increasing height limits.

        I would also agree with you that the marginal cost per unit for multi-family housing goes down — if the developer wants it to go down depending on the neighborhood or city — which is why I support UGA’s. But that is not what I was talking about, and neither is the bill that was linked to in the article that started this thread.

        I would tend to agree with you land is the number one factor in the cost of new construction, because the value of the land determines the level of construction, but Bernie had some good posts with stats that pointed out the minimum base cost of NEW construction today — permitting, construction loan, labor, materials — sets a base floor. This base is not relevant to a tower in downtown Bellevue or a house in Medina but it is in any kind of more “affordable” new construction. You just can’t build cheap today, especially with the new international building code standards Inslee signed into law in Feb. 2021, and with the price of land building cheap is stupid.

        Your distinction is The Central District would have gentrified and displaced the poorer Black citizens anyway without an upzone. Maybe over time, and some argue there is little that can be done about displacement in S. Seattle, so why are we even having this argument.

        But when you upzone you accelerate that displacement and gentrification. Like I said I know many developers and they all think gentrification and higher rents are good things, so what is all the whining about. (I imagine they would like your idea about allowing 20 stories or 20 condos in the residential neighborhoods, except their own of course).

        Finally you miss one point: builders and developers in a region that has a high AMI DON’T WANT TO BUILD NEW CHEAP CONSTRUCTION even if they could. Why? The profit is in the high end expensive new construction, ideally replacing an older building. You are probably correct that many times the new building has many more units, but does that mean units in new Downtown Bellevue muti-family buildings (I think can go to 660′) will be affordable? No. There is a sweet spot for affordable housing (Mike would say middle housing) except it is in older existing middle multi-family housing, built when Seattle was much poorer.

        Let’s watch Tacoma. Tacoma has adopted the upzones you desire for all residential zones. Seattle allows three legal dwellings per lot although I think the regulatory limits are the same as for a SFH. Let’s see if rents decline in Tacoma, or at least moderate, and how many new units are built under the new zoning.

        But if your argument is to basically eliminate all SFH zones and rezone them multi-family with the same regulatory limits as a UGA that is a different issue, and different political fight. My original post on EHB 1660 is it would not create any affordable housing, and neither was the bill that died before it. Both bills were heavily sponsored by builders who don’t want to build cheap or affordable housing, even if the codes made it so they could.

        The Central District could prove that over time, one way or the other, with or without upzones, poorer folks simply can’t afford housing in Seattle. That is a very common reality in many expensive cities, and why many northern wealthy cities are so white. Which is why you build transit, and light rail I suppose, so folks can live in Angle Lake and work in Seattle.

      21. “poorer folks simply can’t afford housing in Seattle”

        First they couldn’t afford it in Seattle. Then they couldn’t afford it in King County. Now they increasingly can’t afford it in the United States. It’s not normal for rents to rise 5-15% per year every year. We don’t tolerate that in any other part of the economy. Eggs and gas and lumber went up 6% in one year and people are treating it like a crisis and you said it’s Biden’s #1 issue. But if housing prices rise 5-15% every year since 2003 except recessions (2008-2010, 2020) while income rises 2%, shrug, who cares if people are spending 50% or 75% of their income on housing or have to live thirty miles from their job or can only afford a tent?

    4. The big profit to a developer comes when their high rise is the only multifamily development allowed in an entire neighborhood. That is why they are always including phrases such as “supply constrained” in their pitches to investors.

      Without zoning constraints, real estate development typically goes in cycles. When there’s scarcity, high rent projections justify more building, so people build. Then, increased competition drives down rents until projects don’t pencil out anymore. Then, increased demand drives up rents until they do, and the cycle repeats.

      No, even the low end of the cycles do not have low enough rents to support people in poverty, so this is not a magic bullet to end all homelessness. But rents for middle class people are still lower on average than they would be where zoning restrictions produce a market always dominated by scarcity.

      Again, the way a developer really makes a big windfall is by lobbying the city to upzone their land, but nobody else’s. Then, they get to both build big and have minimal competition since nobody else can build big. Broader upzonings make for a much fairer system than this.

    5. “It is about converting owner-occupied single-family zones into absentee landlord rental units”

      Guess what. Those owner-occupied single-family homes have been turning into absentee landlord rental units since 2008 under current zoning, as investment companies are increasingly buying up these properties and outbidding homebuyers who can’t pay cash or overbid the asking price. Another thing that’s happening under current zoning is small houses are being replaced by McMansions.

      “This bill is not about affordable housing because builders don’t want affordable housing”

      Government is not builders. Government’s responsibility is making sure everybody has access to housing and that the policies are reasonable for homeowners, renters, developers, and the rest of the community. That’s what this legislation is trying to do.

      And don’t conflate zoning with subsidized housing. Zoning covers the maximum number of units and their size/shape in an area. Subsidized housing is providing below-market units. You need both.

      Increasing the maximum number of units (zoning) is to ensure the number of units rises with the population and address the backlog that has accumulated since 2003. It’s this lack of supply that’s driving up prices. So if you increase the zoned capacity substantially, that relieves the pressure so that aggregate prices won’t rise as much or as fast than they would if you don’t increase it. Or looking backward, if we had loosened the zoning in 2003 like Dallas and Chicago have, prices wouldn’t have risen so much. They might have risen half as much or not at all. That’s a substantial difference, and it would have allowed more people to get market-rate housing so they wouldn’t need subsidized housing. Now we’re looking at the hole after we’ve dug ourselves into it, and prices are astronomical.

      Subsidized housing is a different issue. Because market prices are so high, more and more people need subsidized housing. This is across the entire income spectrum, from zero-income to poverty to working-class to lower middle class, often called “workforce” housing (nurses, teachers. janitors, lower-level industrial workers, etc).

      We need both increased zoning capacity across a larger area (i.e., into single-family areas) AND lots of subsidized housing. These are not the same thing. But the zoning is a prerequisite so that all these subsidized units have a place to go.

      1. Mike, I don’t disagree with your points. I have long argued property investors should not receive the tax benefits that are designed to allow a person or couple to own their own home (including the state’s new capital gains tax), an American ideal. I believe Blackrock is now the largest homeowner in the country, followed by Buffet. The Democrats in Congress said they would address this but have not.

        Your complaint about McMansions (which are not defined by a certain sized house but house GFA to lot area ratio that is out of whack) is simple: amend the city’s residential code. That is what I fought for on MI: we have the lowest GFAR in the region, and no house even if the lot is 45,000 sf can be larger than 6000 sf.

        The average median income in Seattle is $106,000 so I am not concerned about “middle income” rental rates, because the AMI resident would have around $2600/month to put towards rent (30% of income) if living alone, and twice that if living with a partner, spouse or roommate.

        Property owners of all stripes rent out their property for what the market will bear (and that has little to do with density but with the neighborhood). If someone cannot afford market rates they need public housing or public subsidies. Since government–built affordable housing is around 30% higher than privately built housing I think a voucher system is best because it leverages older more affordable housing (until that housing is developed).

        Bernie had a post pointing out the basic cost to build a house (not including land and permitting). You can’t build affordable new construction of any size in this region. If it is new it is unaffordable. How unaffordable depends on size and location.

        If you want more affordable housing you have to build it. Affordable and market rate housing are two different things. Market rate will take care of itself in a region with AMI around $96,000 (King Co.) to $127,000 (Bellevue), and as any affordable housing agency like ARCH will tell you affordable housing begins with affordable land because you can more units with the same amount of money.

        There is no magic bullet for affordable housing if the region is economically doing well. Either government subsidizes it which it does not want to do, so they claim upzoning residential neighborhoods (with no transit) will do it for free, when they are just doing it for the campaign contributions.

        We can have this debate forever but you guys are not creating any affordable housing with your upzones (although I do agree with UGA’s except if new housing it isn’t very “affordable”) while now more than 50% rent, rents are rising dramatically (way more than population), and the folks in the developing and building business are making a killing.

        I suppose if you really want to control rent then adopt rent control, but the D’s won’t do that, even in Seattle, because the property developers and builders don’t want that.

      2. “It is about converting owner-occupied single-family zones into absentee landlord rental units”

        And, why is it so terrible that single family houses be available for rent in the first place. Not everyone who wants to live in a single family house as the money saved up for a down payment, or expects to live in the same place long enough to make home ownership worthwhile.

  13. Nathan, here is your argument: if used cars are replaced with new cars the price of cars will go down.

    Upzoning requires new construction to implement it. The most affordable housing is older multi-family housing and older SFH housing. Since builders want to make as high a profit as possible they buy low and sell high. It would be like taking the Junker cars and converting them to new high-end cars and wondering why the price of cars did not go down.

    You really are not increasing the amount of housing in these mild residential upzone bills either, which is measured by number of bedrooms. You take a four-bedroom house and convert it to a duplex or tri-plex with the same gross floor area to lot area ratio with each unit needing its own kitchen, bathroom and entrance and you have not increased the number of bedrooms even if you have increased the number of dwelling units. It is just that urbanists tend to live alone, and so think everyone lives alone.

    Look, I own. If my neighborhood is upzoned I suppose I can retire to Hawaii or Paris. I don’t fear that, although I don’t want it, despite the money. I like living here (on the eastside). These bills are designed to benefit folks like me. They will never create affordable housing for you, and they will never lower rents, or even slow their growth. The proponents just assume people like you will take the Econ 101 and privilege bait and not understand why their rent keeps going up.

    In fact my city has not remained stagnant. MI is one of the few cities actually ahead of its GMPC housing growth targets. There has been infill SFH development including many subdivisions (which of course eliminate many heavily vegetated and unbuilt lots) and tremendous multi-family housing in the multi-family zones and town center (MI has one of the few town centers that allows housing throughout the commercial zone). MI has already reached its “maximum built out population” set by the PSRC 10 years ago of 26,000, a population figure we were not supposed to reach until post 2050 and it is putting strains on our infrastructure and budgets.

    Unfortunately, all that new multi-family housing development replaced older more affordable multi-family housing (buy low sell high), which will only increase with the change in warranties on new condo construction Tana Senn fought for, legitimately believing it would create more affordable owned housing. She like you simply did not understand the housing market and motivation of developers and builders.

    The price of property on Mercer Island does not have to do with scarcity since it has the same density as many Seattle SFH neighborhoods, including South Seattle or Kent or Burien. It has to do with schools, proximity to Seattle (and now Bellevue and the eastside), public safety, parks, and nice owner-occupied neighborhoods. Builders and developers don’t want to upzone Mercer Island because they think increased density will lower values. Like I said, it would make me millions.

    You believe what you want to about upzoning and these upzoning bills (as opposed to UGA’s and publicly subsidized housing which should be done by voucher). It isn’t designed to benefit you because it is all about the money, as is most politics. If you rent don’t hold your breath for your rent to go down no matter how much new construction is built, or for MI to suddenly become affordable.

    1. if used cars are replaced with new cars the price of cars will go down.

      You haven’t explained why the costs of used cars has gone up when the supply of new cars declined. You understand that cars need to be replaced after awhile, right? Since new cars are unavailable, people looking to replace their cars are going on the used car market, outbidding folks who couldn’t afford a new car off the lot if they wanted. The same shit has been happening with housing for decades.

      The argument by metaphor is that housing needs to be replaced after a while as well, so its natural to replace old housing with new housing. You’ve identified the problem that old housing tends to be so dilapidated that only the poor are willing to live there because they can’t afford anywhere else. And your solution is to… make poor people continue to live in housing that’s well past its expiration date?

      Why not just allow people to build as much housing for other folks as they’d like on their property? That’s freedom, not waiting for some bloc of comfortable shmucks to decide that they’re willing to elect someone who will use tax dollars to pay a developer to build housing they’ve been forbidden from building for decades.

    2. Housing is such a complex topic that it can’t be whittled down into sound bytes. There are many forces at work of both a governmental and free market nature.

      What I find particularly ambiguous is a definition of “upzoning”. I see it used to talk about ADUs and DADUs to 65 foot apartment buildings to even allowing for live-work. I see it used interchangeably as if these are the same thing and they are not! Is adding a bedroom for grandma not considered upzoning but adding a kitchenette to that considered upzoning? This arbitrariness in zoning demonstrates that people take zoning way too seriously! A true libertarian would bristle at this kind of regulatory imposition!

      20th century urbanization is full of regulatory efforts to stem housing what’s an increasingly less white American with a shrinking middle class. Those facts are well documented. Housing regulation is but a contributor to these other forces at work.

      It’s really hard for some people to get this. They think about their childhood and what was right or sometimes wrong about it. Life is simple when one a child.

      These things have changed since the 1970’s:

      – White flight is no longer a factor in real estate economics.
      – Most neighborhoods have few children.
      – Household sizes have shrunk but seem relatively stable now.
      – Single family housing built between 1945 and 1945 had small sq ft and built on. Offer lots (with less lot coverage).
      – The housing stock has a proportion of residential buildings built between 1945 and 1985 that are now on lots cobsuredet too big by todays standards and with smaller sq ft.
      – Walkability is more of an asset than it was 50 years ago.
      – Any city over 150 years old looks different unless it got frozen somehow — thanks to disasters as well as changing housing needs. There was even a time in the past that toilets and kitchens were preferred as separate buildings! There was a time when firehouses were every few blocks because fires from coal fuel were burning homes at a much higher frequency than today.

      Housing crises exist today in most major metro areas over 4 million people anywhere in the world when water takes up a large share of land near a city center. It’s a systemic problem that can be found from the most fascist to communist metro areas. Sure there are exceptions, but they are usually places where the local economy is not rapidly expanding.

      Finally, I think it’s important to realize that transportation investments affect housing. Freeways expanded where people want to live. Light rail stations affect where people want to live. As the most expensive public infrastructure, these new investments should be matched by land use regulatory changes to maximize the value of the public investment.

  14. I found Burien TC is another way to get to Kent. I’d never thought of it. When my roommate’s brother finished his warehouse shift in the early morning, it turned out the 150 is asymmetrical: it goes southbound until 2:15am (then a 3-hour gap), but the last northbound run is at 12:22am and then there isn’t any until 4:45am (4.5 hour gap). The 161 westbound runs hourly all night; eastbound has a 5-hour gap 12-5am. I was going to suggest he take the 161 to SeaTac and transfer to the 124, which is extended to SeaTac when Link isn’t running. But the schedule doesn’t say exactly where it stops, it just says “trip starts at SeaTac airport 7-10 minutes earlier”. Does that mean the Link station or the bus stop at the other end of the airport. I didn’t want to send him on a wild goose chase or a three-seat ride (161+A+124), so I suggested he wait for the first 150 (which is also a 20+ walk away). Instead he took the 161 to Burien and took the 120. I’d never thought of that. I’ve taken the F and transferred at Southcenter to the 150 or at TIB to Link, but I’d never thought of transferring to the 120 at Burien, so it never occurred to me for the 161 either.

    For getting from Renton to Seattle when the 101 isn’t coming right away, especially if you’re starting from The Landing, I find the fastest way is to take the F to Southcenter and transfer to the 150. At least when the 150 is running every 15 minutes.

    1. Route 161 replaced the north part of Route 180. In 2005, Route 180 was aimed at airport workers and was provided a long span of service.

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