75 Replies to “Weekend open thread: the Japanese shopping street”

  1. The key to retail is retail density. When people go out to shop or dine they like to stroll and they often don’t know what they want to buy or where they want to eat. That is part of the pleasure. These street pedestrian “malls” or Shotengai however have no bathrooms and few places to eat which seems like a problem to me.

    Retail density usually comes down to zoning: concentrate retail in a defined area and don’t let it sprawl. If it is going to be outside or on the street it has to be perceived as safe, which is rarely an issue in Japan.

    U Village, Old Front Street in Issaquah, Old Main St. in Bellevue, downtown Edmonds have areas like this.

    Restricting cars while providing access is key. As noted in the video these Shotengai are usually near train stations and areas with heavy car traffic. Folks like Brooks argue for obvious and public parking, which can be on the street or in a central public parking garage, unless the surrounding housing is so dense like NY it supplies the shoppers. But in that situation the retail is much different and more upscale because so is the housing.

    In some ways the modern malls like Bellevue Square are similar, but the open air malls in warm areas like Phoenix and S. CA are most similar, although usually more upscale with food and bathrooms. Maybe University Ave. if you want less upscale, or Broadway.

    One key at least in the US to create retail density in the past has been to limit height to two stories and prohibit housing in the retail zone. More recently the “mixed use” concept has appeared because adding several stories of housing increases the value of the property , but as we have seen on Mercer Island the housing tends to eliminate much of the retail density per sf. which destroys retail because without the retail density walking is not enjoyable. When platted 60 years ago the MI council should have created a retail only zone.

    Personally shopping in a Shotengai — other than as a tourist — doesn’t appeal to me. Stores are small, there is no food or places to sit, no bathrooms, and the shops themselves look run down. But that is a matter of taste: I prefer U Village to U Avenue. Honolulu has — or had — these kinds of outdoor pedestrian malls that mostly sold T-shirts and cheap jewelry and sunglasses, but we’re fun to stroll through.

    I am not sure what Shotengai have to do with transit, or even housing, but enjoyed the video. My wife’s mother’s family is from Japan and my daughter studied there two summers ago and loved it. It was spotless.

    All the day’s goods for the individual stores are left on the street by the locked entrance at 4am because that is the only time the delivery trucks can navigate the roads and nothing is stolen. She saw one homeless person in Tokyo, and he was sweeping the street around his cardboard box. She loved the fruit, but a single orange could be $6 and a pineapple $70 in the higher end stores.

    Japan is definitely on my bucket list because the citizens are so different than the US as is the culture. I think many cities in the US would consider a Shotengai run down and a sort of retail slum, and would require bathrooms and probably seating and restaurants in exchange for the retail zoning. I am not sure how Shotengai in Japan avoid gentrification unless the area is not valuable.

    1. “I am not sure what Shotengai have to do with transit, or even housing, but enjoyed the video.”

      “Seattle Transit Blog is an independent, award-winning publication covering transit and land use issues in Seattle and the Puget Sound area since 2007.”

    2. That is an interesting perspective.

      As for parking, these shopping arcades are intended for people who don’t usually use cars to get around. Most of them are intended for local residents who walk there, and the ones that aren’t are close to (usually right next to) train stations. For car people, Japan has exurban malls with huge parking lots just like any other country.

      Now, I haven’t been to Mercer Island in quite a while, but if you’re having the problem that you’re building a lot of apartments in an area, but the retail is relatively dead, I would assume you are building a parking space for every resident. If everyone in the apartments has a car, they won’t have much reason to shop nearby. The first step would be to remove any minimum parking requirements you have for apartments.

      Even that is probably not enough. The population there is rather small, and you have Bellevue right next door, which is hard to compete with. So you’d really need to increase the population of Mercer Island quite substantially before you saw much retail there. I don’t know if it’s possible or even desirable to do that.

      1. As noted in the video cars are allowed on the streets of the Shotengai except at certain hours, and surrounding car traffic is heavy. I didn’t see in the video any mention that the surrounding housing alone created enough shoppers. People still have to get to any retail area.

        Mercer Island made the mistake you suggest. Parking minimums were reduced to an average of one stall per unit in the multi-family/mixed-use zone (and recently a parking stall sold for $54,000 in Belltown). But folks on MI don’t live alone. So everyone in the mixed use developments has two cars, or more if someone visits or they have a kid. They don’t take transit, certainly to Seattle for safety, or east because how do you get around on the Eastside when you get off the bus?

        This created two effects:

        1. The second car was parked on the street because it is free and the city does not have the resources to enforce street parking limits. This supplanted the street parking for the smaller independent retailers that rely on street parking, like in Seattle. (Today some of that overflow residential parking uses the empty park and ride ST no longer monitors).

        2. Building owners who were required to have a certain amount of retail and retail parking in exchange for the additional height for (very expensive) housing repurposed that retail parking to residential parking it then leased out at $250/mo. which hurt the ability of the retail to survive, which the building owners didn’t want in the first place.

        When it comes to population levels MI is one of the few cities ahead of its housing growth targets in the PSRC’s 2035 Vision, which is why MI got a zero increase in its housing growth targets in the 2050 plan. MI has already reached its maximum build out population the PSRC said we were not suppose to reach until post 2050, and this has placed strains on parks, schools, roads, budgets, police and fire, and water and sewer infrastructure.

        A mistake some make on this blog make is thinking transit or urbanism are even in the top 10 of the factors communities believe create their character. That is why they can’t understand why West Seattle, the CID, or Ballard don’t want surface rail, or to upzone their community to meet ST’s dishonest ridership estimates.

        Islanders don’t give a shit about transit, especially today, and effectively we have none. We would like a few more dining options in the town center, but have excellent grocery stores and pharmacies with large surface lots.

        For Islanders it is all about the SFH zone and schools, which is why the average median home price is $2.4 million today, much higher when you remove condos.

        If the fundamental problem is folks renting or owning condos don’t and won’t ride transit it doesn’t make sense to argue transit is the solution. These folks, especially the women, would rather jump out the window than get on a bus — east or west — and there really isn’t a way to make them ride transit although urbanists and transit advocates have been looking for a way for decades, especially when transit is so bad today, Seattle is perceived as too dangerous, and the Eastside has free parking and is so undense unless you go to the mall.

        The problem is overflow street parking, but the solution I am afraid to say is not transit, and changing the zoning is off the table even if did result in another pizza joint.

      2. “A mistake some make on this blog make is thinking transit or urbanism are even in the top 10 of the factors communities believe create their character.”

        There was a whole feature article today on these NIMBYs.

        “That is why they can’t understand why West Seattle, the CID, or Ballard don’t want surface rail,”

        Slow down, West Seattle, Ballard, and the CID haven’t been asked about surface light rail and so have not made specific objections to it. The objection to the Ballard streetcar was by urbanist who were concerned about long travel time. That’s an almost completely distinct group from those who don’t want surface trains in their backyard.

        The most promising surface route is on Fauntleroy Way. But ST hasn’t been willing to consider it.

    3. The point is that it’s not an isolated mall, it’s well integrated into the city so people can walk or take transit to it, there are several others like it, there are other alleys with similar density that have the food this one lacks (maybe just two blocks away), there are also large department stores and supermarkets right at station entrances, and this inclusive zoning everywhere allows people to find houses and apartments in the Tokyo metro for $200K rather than $400K, $700K, or $1M, and they don’t need a car to get to the rest of the city.

      1. My guess is the Shotengai is the opposite of “inclusive zoning”, a zone that allows retail and some housing but no requirements for bathrooms, that bans cars and delivery trucks during certain parts of the day and turns a blind out to the building and fire codes. My guess is each lot has one housing unit above the store, hardly a model of housing density.

        If the zoning allowed more height or more housing, and the area was even moderately decent, the area would gentrify bit by bit.

        All zoning by definition is exclusionary. Otherwise you don’t need zoning. Zoning excludes uses and restricts scale. That is it’s purpose.

        You don’t measure zoning by what it includes but by what it excludes, and a “zone” by definition excludes something, either uses or scale.

        What zoning excludes is a value judgment. Although a beginning principle is all private property should realize its highest and most valuable use (and taxes) zoning is the understanding that some things are more valuable than a property’s ultimate value and profit, and all properties within that zone should have the same restrictions to create consistency, and in some cases to create neighborhood or community character.

      2. Every level in Japan’s zoning allows all the levels below it, so housing is allowed everywhere, even in the top-level industrial zone. That’s what I meant by inclusive. Zoning is nationwide, so wealthy suburbs and neighborhoods can’t exclude apartments unilaterally. You can buy a small odd-shaped lot and build a narrow three-story house on it in a way you can’t in the US.

        The bathroom issue is about shoppers, not residents. This “low-density” arcade doesn’t exist in a vacuum; there’s probably multistory apartments on the next block. And even if this is the maximum density in the neighborhood or city (which it surely isn’t), it’s higher density than American suburbs where houses are further apart and housing is separated from retail. Even in West Seattle you don’t get this density except on the arterials. And you can WALK to everything.

      3. https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2016/08/the-japanese-zoning-system.html

        The use of Japanese National zoning is discussed in this article. Asdf (without the “2”) has an excellent reply to many of the claims about housing costs in Japan, and Tokyo in particular.

        The fact is there are many different zones in any city (except beautiful Houston) and many different areas in every state. Find one you like and live there. Don’t try to make everyone believe what you think is best for them. They resent that.

      4. “Find one you like and live there.”

        That’s the problem! A lot of people can’t because the majority of American cities are zoned too low, all the types they like are full of more affluent people, and there’s so much competition for each unit that they can’t get in.

        You mean this asdf? “The last time SF built enough housing to keep up with demand was 1941!”

        What’s wrong with Japanese zoning? Why wouldn’t it be better than what we have?

      5. Pugetopolis doesn’t even have the worst zoning. The worst zoning is when the entire city allows only single-family houses by default, so everything denser than that requires a special zoning variance.

      6. “beautiful Houston”

        Tell me you’ve never been to Houston without telling me.

      7. Mike is right, of course. Japanese zoning has allowed the cities to grow much faster than they have in the United States, which is why they have dramatically cheaper housing. They also have a much better public transportation system. These go together, of course. For example, housing in Bitter Lake would be much cheaper, while getting around town would be much easier if we followed the Japanese model.

        There is less income stratification in Japan, and zoning is one of the big reasons. Much of the generational wealth in the United States comes from housing. Zoning has a racist past in this country, making it more difficult for black families to acquire wealth (https://www.kqed.org/news/11840548/the-racist-history-of-single-family-home-zoning). While that is no longer the intent, it creates the same problem now. To buy a house in Seattle, for example, you need an enormous income, or wealth. A poor person who pulls themselves up by their bootstraps has very little chance at success because of this. Do really well in school, work hard, and you are still stuck either spending a huge amount of your income on housing, or spending a huge amount of your time commuting. Both options are extremely stressful, and make it difficult to get ahead, and compete with those that inherit wealth. This is one of the reasons why studies have shown that you are better off being a “B” student born into wealth, than an “A” student born into poverty.

        There are plenty of other American policies that cause the stratification. But assuming that the U. S. has it right when we have fallen behind other countries in various ways is the height of provincial arrogance. Whether it is health care, policing, public school financing, low union membership or zoning, this country doesn’t do things very well. The only area of excellence in this country is the universities. Unfortunately, many of the best students just go home (to other countries) when they graduate. Worse yet, the studies that confirm the weakness of our approach get ignored or we make excuses for why the approaches taken in other countries just won’t work here.

    4. Yes, retail density is good. But, you lost me with the argument that a retail store with apartments above it somehow has less retail density than a retail store without apartments above it. It’s the same stores and the same retail density, regardless.

      What the homes above do provide is a set of people who will shop there frequently because it’s right outside their home and very convenient.

      1. Asdf2, in my experience mixing housing and retail in a mixed use building in a city like Mercer Island that has much higher housing value per sf than retail has not created retail density. In fact the newer mixed use buildings have eliminated 30,000 sf of retail. Plus the property owners were not required to install restaurant grade venting. Most of our town center retail is in the remaining one story strip malls.

        In downtown Bellevue they have a different issue: the office space is cheaper to build and more lucrative than housing (which is more lucrative than retail).

        The places on the Eastside with the best retail density are the one and two story malls or retail/restaurant only zones like Old Front Street. Lincoln Square has massive housing above its retail, which really piggybacks off the mall.

        There are lessons we have learned Bellevue does a better job at. Such as a higher parking ratio than one stall/unit for anything more than a studio, although Bellevue does that with very high height limits. To hope these folks ride transit is delusional.

        Plat a retail only area like Redmond. Require any retail parking that was part of obtaining additional height for housing to be reserved for walk off parking if not used. Require the developer to install HVAC systems for restaurants when building. Require 100% retail facade density. Limit things like real estate offices or gyms.

        Many of the mixed use buildings have sold for more than $100 million but the citizens actually lost retail and retail space. It was a bad deal for the city. Now we have to spend the money to implement and enforce a parking management plan in the town center when budgets are tight.

        Creating a rich and vibrant retail dense area is probably the hardest thing to. Downtown Seattle proves that. But we gave away our town center property when none of the housing that was created is affordable. MI has 26,000 fairly affluent citizens, beautiful residential neighborhoods, but we should have a prettier, more walkable more vibrant town center, especially if cities like Edmonds and Bainbridge can do it.

      2. I never said that adding apartments on top of retail increases retail density. It simply said it doesn’t decrease it. If it doesn’t decrease it, there’s no harm in having it, and it does provide benefits, such as a walkup clientele to increase sales.

        Your previous comment was somehow suggesting that merely allowing apartments to be built on top of retail prevents a vibrant retail center, and that’s simply not true. Downtown Redmond has some nice retail with apartments on top. So does many secondary business districts in Seattle.

        I suppose one could argue that the mere presence of living units on top of the retail means residents storing their cars in parking spaces meant for retail customers, but that problem is solvable through time limits, parking meters, etc. Forbidding people from living next to the retail altogether is simply not necessary.

      3. It depends. What we are talking about is redeveloping a parcel in the town center. The ultimate question is whether you end up with more retail space after redevelopment than before, or less.

        If the property is limited to one of two stories retail is the most profitable use, almost the only profitable, use. So those property owners have a financial interest is having vibrant retail.

        That changes as heights go up.

        Housing on MI is much more valuable than retail. Without retail requirements developers wouldn’t build any retail or the parking for retail.

        In downtown Bellevue there is a different incentive: office space is more valuable than housing which is more profitable than retail, so without zoning requirements developers will build tall office towers with no housing or retail, which creates a very sterile “urban” character. Not unlike downtown Seattle today. No one wants that.

        So cities require retail (or housing) depending on what the city wants but is not the most profitable use for the developer.

        On MI the mixed use developments replaced one story retail strips. These strips had 100% facade retail density because that was the most profitable (and only) use for the property owner.

        MI’s code limits the base height of town center buildings to two stories unless the developer provides “significant public amenities” for each additional story. Retail and 80% AMI affordable housing are two acceptable “significant public amenities”. Developers don’t want to include either but want the additional height because housing increases in value the higher it goes.

        If the developer wants to limit building heights to two stories they can build whatever they want without affordable housing or retail.

        Because of lax codes and clever developers and foolish ideology like the tenants would take transit the property owners got the maximum height allowance (4 or 5 stories) but the amount of retail space after development was less than before development, plus the onsite parking was inadequate because few of these tenants or condo owners live alone or take transit although their units only have one onsite stall.

        So as you begin to lose actual retail space ( and retail space with HVAC systems already installed) you begin to lose retail and your town center begins to hollow out. Plus any retail in the new development is much more expensive so you lose independent retailers and the vibe they bring. Upzone s Shotengai for housing and it will gentrify in a nano second.

        Certainly mixed use development can work, but the city must be realistic about minimum onsite parking requirements and 100% retail density because the developer does not want either, just like they hate affordable housing setasides, although they make tens of millions of dollars from the housing or commercial space because of a city they did nothing to create.

        Some on MI want to zone a retail only zone, some want to return to one and two story height limits, because our city gets played by developers every time, and these two zoning remedies will stop the loss of retail space.

        We don’t need additional housing, around 95% of retail sales come from those living in the residential neighborhoods, we know the tenants won’t take transit because transit sucks (for different reasons west and east) so how do we at least preserve the existing retail during redevelopment?

      4. This is not downtown; it’s a secondary shopping center like you might have in Wallingford, Greenwood, Kent East Hill, Crossroads, Renton neighborhoods, etc. Real cities have shopping clusters like this all over the city. Not usually covered or in this particular style or so long, but human-scaled so you can walk among the shops and the rest of the neighborhood and transit stops.

      5. “Some on MI want to zone a retail only zone, some want to return to one and two story height limits, because our city gets played by developers every time”

        The issue is not what individual municipalities want, or what’s good or bad for developers, but what ensures sufficient housing for everybody in the metropolitan area, and an environment were people don’t need a car to meet their everyday needs.

      6. Mike, it IS what individual municipalities want. Under the GMA cities have broad discretion to plan and zone.

        As far as housing targets go those are set by the GMPC. How many times have I noted Mercer Island is one of the few regional cities ahead of its housing growth targets in the 2035 Vision Statement, which is why it received a net zero growth target in the 2050 Vision Statement.

        Our problem is creating affordable housing because of the cost of the land, even multi-family housing. For 30% to 80% AMI we work through the interlocal housing agency ARCH. ARCH builds its affordable housing where land is cheaper and there is good transit. MI has terrible intra-Island transit. There is virtually no way for us to create 30% to 80% AMI housing.

        For 80% AMI housing we require affordable housing set asides in new mixed- use development, which tends to get gamed. Still 80% AMI for one is over $80,000/year. We have a model ADU/DADU program although we require the property owner to live in one of the units, but ADU/DADU’s tend to be quite expensive to rent.

        The most affordable housing is just renting a room in a house, but that older SFH housing is being replaced with new very expensive housing. This is happening in Seattle at an even quicker pace because SFH landlords are selling due to Seattle’s tenant vetting/eviction restrictions. This creates more SFH for sale but fewer for rent, and new owners tend to eliminate the ADU.

        The other problem we have is older more affordable rental multi-family housing being replaced or converted to very expensive new multi-family housing. We are an Island and can’t create more land, and our topography makes many areas unbuildable. Do you have a solution for that? Do you own any real estate you rent out at below market rates?

        I just think affordable housing, especially rental housing, is much more complex than you think.

        When it comes to transportation/transit we made a terrible mistake thinking limiting onsite parking would force folks to ride transit. You can’t force people to ride transit. First there is virtually no intra-Island transit, and second transit in this region sucks. It is too dangerous going west, and the Eastside is too spread out and parking is free.

        Let me repeat this: you can’t make people ride transit if they don’t want to, and with the demise of the peak commuter to Seattle eastsiders don’t have to ride transit. So they don’t.

        My point is create a development code based on what people actually do, not what you wish they did, or how you may live on 9th and Pine. If they don’t/won’t ride transit, and everyone wants their own car and very few live alone, figure out where those cars will never parked. Otherwise the town center streets will look like Seattle.

        All we are trying to do is preserve our retail spaces in new development. You extoll the virtues of Shotengai or walkable areas but then demand housing policies that create urban retail deserts. That is not my idea of “urbanism”.

        The reality is building new construction won’t create affordable housing, certainly not on MI. Rising interest rates, maybe a recession, should help lower purchase prices, but a number of factors will likely keep rents in this region very high, in particular the demand that everyone live alone with their own kitchen, bathroom, and living areas.

        Housing in this area would be cheaper — and there would be much more of it — it urbanists got married, or at least found a partner or friend to live with.

        My housing policy would be to prohibit anyone from living alone. Many studies show living alone contributes to isolation and depression. I am 63 and have never lived alone. This summer I am back to living with four and two cats. If everyone in Seattle living alone got a spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend/roommate we could create all the housing you think we need overnight.

      7. “My housing policy would be to prohibit anyone from living alone. Many studies show living alone contributes to isolation and depression. I am 63 and have never lived alone.”
        This is a really bad take in my opinion and honestly ignores how all people are different and there is no one size fits all solution to living and cohabitation. I can say that I honestly perfer living alone (unless living with a partner) and am looking to live alone when moving back to Denver this summer . I have been burned by bad roommates in the past for various reasons and for me living alone allows me to be more productive and happier as a result. I would also argue that living in a walkable pedestrian friendly neighborhood is just as good or better than living with others because the neighborhood actually becomes your living room and makes it easier to socialize and build relationships with neighbors. The loniless problem comes from in my opinion badly designed suburbs (which is about 80% of American suburbs) that are hostile to interactions with neighbors, oversized houses for what someone actually needs, and lack of or limited amenities within walking distance (retail, recreation, transit, etc). You make a well designed neighborhood, the better someone does at home, even if living by themselves.

      8. Mike, it IS what individual municipalities want.

        Right. Just like they want local tax money to only fund local schools.

        What you are describing is the wealthy trying to limit the options for the poor. They may not see it that way (of course) but that is the result. Local funding of schools means that wealthy areas have much nicer schools. Of course the wealthy school districts favor it — that doesn’t mean it is right.

        Similarly, restrictive zoning limits the ability of the poor to have the same advantages as the wealthy. There is a racist history to single family zoning, but current zoning has the same result (https://www.kqed.org/news/11840548/the-racist-history-of-single-family-home-zoning). But the same problem exists for many low-wealth white families. Someone who lacks wealth but has a decent income is just out of luck. They may be doing everything right, trying to live the proverbial American dream. First in the family to graduate college, working hard to overcome the existing “old-boy” networks that favor the wealthy, and yet they still can’t afford to live where they want to live. That’s because the wealthy people who live there have no interest in providing them with the same opportunities their ancestors had.

        To embrace single-family zoning is to embrace wealth stratification.

      9. “To embrace single-family zoning is to embrace wealth stratification.”

        If you want to address wealth stratification you will need to do that through the tax code, ideally at the federal level as so much wealth is fleeing high tax states for lower tax states these days. Zoning won’t do it. Redlining was outlawed federally in 1968, and it has been gentrification that has been the cause for displacement of black families from historically black communities.

        CA and OR have symbolically eliminated SFH only zones but don’t hold your breath for wealth de-stratification in those states, but the reality in this region is most suburban cities allow DADU’s and ADU’s on any residential lot. (Bellevue does not allow DADU’s). Unless you plan to significantly increase the regulatory limits on these fairly small residential lots (compared to multi-family lot minimums) you won’t create more housing, just more legal dwellings with their own kitchen, bathroom, and common areas for people to live alone.

        If some are proposing national zoning codes (and Obama toyed with that but knew it was too politically risky) I would maybe wait until after the Nov. 2022 elections, and probably the 2024 national elections to open up zoning codes at the national level. I for one am one who believes the constitution is correct in that the best way to protect citizens is to devolve power to the local level. That is why I disagreed with state governors passing laws disallowing local school districts to enact mask mandates in schools. Inflation right now is resulting in a 10% to 15% pay cut each year for workers, which isn’t helping with wealth stratification, and most experts believe Republicans will control the three federal branches for at least the next 8 years beginning in Nov. 2022 (or until they too overreach), along with more than 2/3 of the states.

        Comparing the U.S. and Japan is difficult because they are such different cultures. Japan allows very little immigration and as a result has a very homogeneous population. Its population growth over decades has been negligible. https://www.bing.com/ck/a?!&&p=8483c68e04ed3e7173f9ebca19a3cfc467da1ef5304a0f704b35464722af581fJmltdHM9MTY1NTE0Njc1MSZpZ3VpZD1jMDZhM2Y1Mi0xZWZjLTRjNmYtYmU4Ni05MzFkMzM2MDBlMzUmaW5zaWQ9NTQ1Mg&ptn=3&fclid=e8cf0253-eb4a-11ec-a2eb-f5da7e3f61a5&u=a1aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubWFjcm90cmVuZHMubmV0L2NvdW50cmllcy9KUE4vamFwYW4vcG9wdWxhdGlvbi1ncm93dGgtcmF0ZSM6fjp0ZXh0PUphcGFuJTIwLSUyMEhpc3RvcmljYWwlMjBQb3B1bGF0aW9uJTIwR3Jvd3RoJTIwUmF0ZSUyMERhdGElMjAsJTIwJTIwLTAuMjclMjUlMjAlMjA2OSUyMG1vcmUlMjByb3dzJTIw&ntb=1 Meanwhile the country is aging fast as very few births are occurring, something Elon Musk has warned about.

        At the same time Japan has a much smaller segment of the population who don’t work at all and expect everything in life to be free.

        This demographic in Japan has resulted in a long period of economic stagnation including the lost decade, that is more properly three decades long. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_Decades These lost decades are a big reason for Japan’s depressed housing market. https://www.investopedia.com/articles/economics/08/japan-1990s-credit-crunch-liquidity-trap.asp which has never recovered. GDP growth in Japan has trailed other industrial nations for over 30 years.

        The idea that Tokyo is some kind of dense urban utopia surrounded by preserved green spaces is not quite correct. https://www.uniquejapantours.com/how-big-is-tokyo/ The sprawl is enormous and actually includes several different cities. Many workers ride trains for an hour or more just to get to work.

        Traditionally Japanese did not live alone although that is changing, mostly due to marrying later. https://www.rethinktokyo.com/Hitorigurashi-living-alone-japan#:~:text=Hitorigurashi%20%E2%80%94%20the%20Japanese%20word%20for%20living%20alone,they%20married%20and%20started%20one%20of%20their%20own.

        There is some hope for housing prices in the future for the U.S., although it is a double-edged sword.

        The best time to have purchased a house was from 2010 to 2015-16 during the great recession (I bought in 2009 and had lost $300,000 in value by 2015). The recent decline of the stock market has wiped out trillions in retirement accounts and stock accounts often used to fund down payments, and most experts believe we are entering a recession that will soon result in a steep rise in unemployment (and the dirty secret in current unemployment rates is the huge number of workers who left the economy during the pandemic and never returned).

        Granted during a recession down payment requirements tend to go up while assets tend to go down, and underwriting becomes much stricter, but my guess is we will see a pretty steep decline in housing prices over the next several years due to a recession (which in large part is why R’s will control government). Great if you plan to buy with cash.

        For renters the relief will likely be later. Investors and REIT’s might start selling rental properties (SFH) if prices begin to drop, but most rental multi-family has a very consolidated ownership and so can wait longer during a downturn. But when unemployment begins to rise (and most states’ unemployment trust funds are exhausted after the pandemic and many still owe the federal government for loans they took out) more folks will have to move home or not live alone, and that should increase the supply of apartments and hopefully lower prices if supply and demand is the issue. That is if you have a job.

        The reality is the cost of housing mirrors economics, especially locally. If people have more money they will pay more for housing. Increasing the monetary supply $13 trillion during the pandemic will cause inflation, especially in housing, but removing that excess money will cause a recession in order to break inflation, which historically reduces inflation, the cost of goods including housing, but is terribly traumatic for many Americans who lose jobs and houses (which is why they become cheap to buy), and pretty much dooms the political party that is held responsible.

        I think cheaper housing is coming, although for reasons that are not all good.

      10. “If some are proposing national zoning codes”

        Nobody is proposing national zoning in the US. The US is so large and geographically diverse that a federal policy would probably be too ineffective and flawed, and it has no chance of getting through a 50/50 congress that can’t even phase out fossil fuels or guarantee vaccine supplies. But Washington State or Pugetopolis’ counties and cities could set up a similar zoning system in their jurisdictions.

        “CA and OR have symbolically eliminated SFH only zones but don’t hold your breath for wealth de-stratification in those states, but the reality in this region is most suburban cities allow DADU’s and ADU’s on any residential lot.”

        We need apartments too. (D)ADUs can only solve a tiny fraction of the problem, and only a fraction of homeowners would build them or have a large enough lot or live reasonably close to transit and shopping. The biggest problem with single-family zoning is excluding small apartment buildings. I don’t know what exactly California and Oregon currently allow.

        “Japan allows very little immigration and as a result has a very homogeneous population.”

        That has nothing to do with the amount of housing per capita or whether it’s sufficient.

        “Its population growth over decades has been negligible…. Meanwhile the country is aging fast as very few births are occurring.”

        That makes it easier but it doesn’t change the fundamental issue: everybody needs adequate housing, at a third of their income or so, that is reasonably close to transit and walking opportunities for their typical needs.

        “At the same time Japan has a much smaller segment of the population who don’t work at all and expect everything in life to be free.”

        That sounds like fact-free right-wing nonsense. You might as well add welfare queens and limousine liberals while you’re at it.

        “the cost of housing mirrors economics”

        It mirrors supply and demand: competition for each unit. When competition is high, prices rise, When competition is low, prices fall or remain stable. Japan’s stable and falling population may indeed be the primary reason housing is inexpensive. But we’re not in that situation. We have a rising population that’s putting pressure on housing prices, and we’ve let it go far out of hand into emergency territory, so we must do something major.

        “The idea that Tokyo is some kind of dense urban utopia surrounded by preserved green spaces is not quite correct. The sprawl is enormous and actually includes several different cities. Many workers ride trains for an hour or more just to get to work.”

        You answered your own question: they ride TRAINS to get to work. They live in attached houses or multifamily buildings. They shop in shotengai or in department stores adjacent to subway stations. They don’t live in low-density sprawl like Mercer Island, Phantom Lake, Renton, or Maple Valley. It’s like Manhattan for fifty miles, including the nominal “suburbs”. (And you know Manhattan is mostly 5-10 story, not 50-100 story.) From the article: “it is really hard to fathom how concentrated and densely populated the city really is.” So it’s not sprawl but the only way to fit 38 million. Maybe Japan should be more decentralized to smaller cities like Germany, but that’s not our concern here. So low-density, car-dependent sprawl, if it exists in Japan, is not in these airplane images; compared to Pugetopolis where it’s 70% of the buildable metro area.

      11. Daniel, Edmonds and Winslow (“Bainbridge”) put their downtowns at the water’s edge. “Downtown” Mercer Island is on the top of a hill and the waterfront is owned 100% by Richie Rich’s (and Veronica who finally decided that life with Richie had more “possibilities”).

        There’s no “there” there in Downtown MI.

      12. Tom, that was a very conscious decision by the council under Aubrey Davis (who led the fight against the original design of I-90 and obtained the Lid Park) and the citizens to prohibit commercial activity — and most multi-family zoning — along the waterfront or in parks.

        Mercer Island did not want to become downtown Kirkland (and Seattle has also decided to convert much of its waterfront to a park too). The concern was that the triangle formed by the Lid Park and Lake Washington would become Kirkland like multi-family housing and bars and restaurants. That just is not a vibe Islanders want, or wanted. So the zoning north of the town center was increases to 12,500 and 15,000 sf lots, and zoned SFH only.

        Over the years there have been proposals to put in a private marina at Luther Burbank Park, housing, and all sorts of plans to develop our waterfront parks, but we like them natural and non-commercial.

        The current town center has a lot of promise still, and should be much better if past councils had not been so naive, or believed a lot of crap about people taking transit if you restrict parking. It’s benefit is it is right off I-90, and in the future will be an easy walk from East Link. A couple of new restaurants have opened, and a wine bar that is quite good, and a prime location should fill with a new restaurant soon. Game Stop just bought the Farmers building and plans to move 400 employees there in 2024. The two grocery stores are some of the best and there are two excellent pharmacies, and of course pizza and teriyaki joints since so much food is take out because of the kids.

        There have also been some new independent cafes and restaurants that have opened in some of the one story retail street malls in the MI town center. I find it interesting folks on this blog extoll the virtues of Shotengai but when Mercer Island points out the same zoning — one and two stories with retail on the street level — creates more retail they devolve into their housing for housing sakes argument when the housing is not even remotely “affordable”.

        Sure developers would love to place stores, bars, restaurants, hotels, you name it along the waterfront and in the waterfront parks on MI, but that is not the character of our residential neighborhoods, and we don’t need that cheap revenue. You don’t need to develop your waterfront to have a vibrant commercial area. Just look at Bellevue.

    5. As someone currently living in Japan, over the top of a Shotengai, I wanted to respond to a few of these:

      “These street pedestrian “malls” or shotengai however have no bathrooms and few places to eat which seems like a problem to me.”

      I have spent a lot of time in and around shotengai. While they tend to not have restrooms in the shotengai themselves, there are almost always parks or train stations nearby that do. Japan does not have the obsession that the US does with no public restrooms. Also, most shotengai actually do have food: cafes and small sit down restaurants are very common. These almost always have restrooms inside as well. Its not uncommon for food counters to have a bench nearby to eat on but the lack of outdoor seating in general is an issue with Japan at large and not that much about shotengai or malls (malls can also not have much seating in Japan).

      “… and the shops themselves look run down. ”
      Depends a lot on the particular store. Unlike malls, most of the properties are independently owned and the level of newness of each shop depends on that owner. Even then, most shops that are open and functioning look a lot better compared to a similarly struggling US mall which might have several stores that are walled up or disguised as advertisement or lounge space.

    6. “These street pedestrian “malls” or Shotengai however have no bathrooms and few places to eat which seems like a problem to me.”

      I see the lack of places serving food as a feature, not a bug, right now. I’ve pretty much given up on the idea that people can dine out safely, at least since the indoor mask requirement went away. If the staff isn’t even masked up (which seems to be the gross new normal), run away faster!

      If you are ordering take-out or delivery, ask the call-taker whether the staff wears masks. If the answer is anything other than the staff is required to wear masks, order somewhere else. COVID is still worth not catching.

  2. I rode the 1 Line yesterday, to see the state of masking and investigate whether tap-off got eliminated with the rollout of NG ORCA.

    Regarding the latter, tapping at light rail stations gets a nice “Thank you” message. Tapping when getting off produces the same nice “thank you” message. Tapping another time at the same station gets a message that I have already paid. Hmmm.

    I hope to find out (1) whether the tap at the second station counts as the beginning of another trip (with full transfer credit based on the distance between the stations); and (2) whether I was charged more on the final “ride” based on the assumption I would be traveling to Angle Lake or Northgate Station, whichever is farther away.

    If I am correct about both, then ST may be backing itself into having to move to a flat fare on light rail, sooner rather than later, to avoid intervention by the State Attorney General Consumer Division.

    . . . . . . . . .

    As to masking, it seemed about 50/50 Saturday afternoon, but it was partially a sportsball crowd, which tends to be less masked. I was able to find a comfortable spot, starting from Beacon Hill (getting in the rear car, still the best tactic for getting in the least-crowded car), but found myself surrounded by maskless riders at Westlake, where my reptilian brain kicked in and I got off the train quickly. If that is the new normal on the 1 Line, I will be avoiding riding north of University Street Station, for the time being.

    Also, all the mask dispensers I saw were empty.

    A few days ago, I came across an op-ed by a couple suburban politicians that was part subtle Seattle-bashing and part repeating talking points about homeless riders on the bus and the fentanyl-smoke trope. You won’t find one without the other when the talking point comes out. I’ve seen plenty of the former for years, without incident, and none of the latter. Anyway, one of the authors was a member of the ST Board, who, AFAIK, has done little to protect riders from the virus. A little “Masks strongly encouraged” would help here, to deal with a very real problem besetting riders.

    1. “Tapping another time at the same station gets a message that I have already paid.”

      You got that? I just get the “Thank You” message again.

      I confirmed at a TVM that it hasn’t overcharged my e-purse since the new readers went into operation, but I miss the reader telling me how much it’s charging, what my balance is, and whether it thinks I’m tapping in or out. This will inevitably cause more mistaps and more disputes with fare inspectors. The bus readers also don’t tell you this anymore, they just say “Permit to travel”, which is what the Link readers used to say on tapin.

      Masks on trains and buses are usually around 50-75% on my Seattle and Bellevue routes. Some drivers have masks, some don’t. When I got on the B yesterday evening, putting on my mask as the bus pulled up, the driver asked if I knew it wasn’t required anymore. I said yes, and didn’t mention that I was wearing it because the covid numbers are heading for another spike like last year, and I want to get it low. (Not like the giant spike last fall but the ones before it.)

      Link is getting crowded again in the sense of people sitting next to strangers in the afternoon and peak hours. I don’t pay as much attention to how many others have masks as I used to, but if there’s a maskless person in an adjacent seat I double-mask. If the nearest person is several rows away I sometimes wear just a surgical mask or none. And I sometimes put it on after I sit down. It’s hard to do everything when the bus approaches: put my book in my backpack, zip it up, put on my glasses, put on my mask, and enter the bus without making people wait. I can do all that without the mask but it can become too much, especially making sure I don’t lose my glasses.

      1. Also, regarding COVID numbers, I saw somewhere that only 10-15% of positive cases are being reported. The current spike could be on the same order of magnitude as the January omicron (BA1) megaspike, but we don’t know. Thankfully, the back-end treatments are doing a much better job at saving lives, but Long COVID may provide permanent inconveniences to those who found wearing a mask around strangers indoors to be an unacceptable inconvenience.

        I don’t blame them for being misinformed and acting on the insufficient misinformation, especially the garbage advice coming out of the CDC that some people may wish to keep wearing masks. The CDC should be telling us that masks are effective at stopping the spread, not just a psychological comfort, and warn us that the vaccines have almost no impact at stopping the spread of omicron variants. And that, oh yeah, a huge chunk of those who get infected, even asymptomatically, can look forward to some permanent long COVID disabilities.

    2. I’m disappointed on the new Irca readers.

      The statement of “Thank You” is wholly vague. It should say “Exiting registered. $??.?? Remaining.”

      And tapping off should have two beeps.

      It’s just stunning to me that they rolled it all out and test it, take input and then make user-friendly adjustments. You know, like almost every other new interactive software used by the public?,

      Is it arrogance, incompetence or both?

      1. I meant Orca of course — although Irca may be an appropriate term in this circumstance.

      2. There was a blog posta few weeks ago addressing the inadequate feedback that the readers have in the new system. Apparently they will provide more information later in the summer, but it’s unclear why they insisted on rolling it out now rather than just waiting until everything was ready.

        In the meantime, though, I fully-support calling these new readers Irca (or maybe Irka?) to reflect what I think we’re all feeling.

    3. The agencies claim ORCA 2 is more flexible to custom program and that more features will be rolled out over the coming months. They said they tried not to pack too much into this phase so they could focus on ensuring existing cards would still work and there wouldn’t be disruptions to ridership or filling cards beyond transitioning web-based/automatic refills to the new website. It’s unclear whether the upcoming reader features will include restoring the old features. It’s worth pressuring the agencies to clarify this.

    4. “ST may be backing itself into having to move to a flat fare on light rail, sooner rather than later,”

      A flat fare is not very compatible with forty-mile long lines. It would be like charging Sounder-level fares on Link. That would devastate it for short and medium-length trips that are a large part of its ridership and what a subway was supposed to bring to the region.

      1. That’s if the flat fare is high. If the flat fare is more like Metro’s, I see it as being an invitation to higher ridership (and yeah, fewer false accusations by fare enforcement officers). There needs to be more purpose to distance-based fares than soaking the suburbs, especially when the City is richer.

      2. Yes, I’m assuming the fare is midway between minimum and maximum. Ideally it would be no higher than Metro ($2.75). That would give an extraordinary subsidy to Westlake-TacomaDome or Lynnwood-SeaTac trips. Is that acceptable for regional peace and a simple fare structure? Would it be enough to keep farebox recovery at a reasonable level? The first is a values question for the board and public. The second is a financial question for the accountants.

      3. I agree Mike. It makes sense to charge more for a longer distance trip. An Amtrak trip from Seattle to Portland costs more than an Amtrak trip from Seattle to New York. There are a number of reasons for this. First, it costs the agency more. Second, alternatives cost more. Third, riders get greater value from the extra distance. Fourth — ridership is higher for shorter distance trips (in the case of Amtrak, New York to Philly has way more riders than New York to Miami). Fifth — and this is essentially a result of all of these — it is more cost effective to charge more. When you charge more, you lose riders. But you are less likely to lose riders when you charge more for a longer distance trip. Furthermore, if you do, that longer distance trip costs more to operate anyway.

        The main advantage of a flat fare is practicality. It is why Metro got rid of the two-zone fare. The result is that riders on a lot of urban buses subsidize riders on suburban ones. That is a small price to pay (literally) for keeping things simple.

        The same is true with Sound Transit express buses. The 511 has a subsidy per rider of $1.48. In contrast, the 592 has a subsidy of $14.92 per rider. Yet they both cost the same. Thus the 511 rider is subsidizing the 592 rider. It isn’t necessarily fair, but it is simple.

        A flat fare can lead to several poor options for riders. One is to see less in the way of long distance service. Tacoma is a great example. With a flat fare, it is hard to justify the express from Tacoma (and Dupont) to Seattle, once Federal Way Link is implemented. With a higher fare, this is a reasonable (and much appreciated) service. You couldn’t eliminate the gap, of course, but you could at least shrink it.

        Another option is to subsidize the longer distance trips, and just live with the results. This inevitably leads to poor service throughout the system.

        This leads us to Link. Urban ridership is far more cost effective than suburban ridership. If you charge a flat fare, than fare recovery goes down. Either you charge more (pushing out the urban riders who make up the bulk of ridership) or you charge less (which means less money is raised). With less money for service, frequency is decreased. This then leads to the common frequency/ridership/fare-recovery cycle.

        Another option is to simply run the trains to the suburbs less often. With a flat fare, I could easily see the trains turning around at Rainier Beach, and then again at SeaTac. In the middle of the day, that could mean 7.5 minute frequency to Rainier Beach, 15 minutes to SeaTac, and 30 minutes to Federal Way (and eventually Tacoma). But that assumes that we have turn-backs in Rainier Beach (and I don’t think we do). It also assumes that service is focused on maximum fare recovery (with a flat fare). This seems laudable, but unlikely. Thus we are more likely to live with 10 minute frequency down Rainier Valley, despite the fact that cost per rider would suggest 7.5 minute all-day headways, if not 6 minutes.

        We have a hybrid metro/commuter-rail system. As a result, even with the distance based fare system, frequency within the core is not not as good as it should be. To pretend that this is a regular urban metro when we have very few stops within the city, and it extends to places like Federal Way (or even further) is to call a mule a horse. Ironically, if we adopt a fare system more befitting a traditional metro, then we will end up with a system more like commuter rail. Either service to the suburbs is infrequent, or service overall is less frequent than it should be. As with most transit issues, this is a trade-off. But in my opinion, while there is value in simplicity, this doesn’t seem worth it.

      4. Ross, are ST operations cost subarea specific? For example, does the eastside subarea pay for all operations involving East Link including continuing the trains to Northgate? If a rider on Link passes from one subarea to the next is the far apportioned between the subareas or are operations just one big pot?

      5. There are multiple definitions of suburb. Tacoma was originally a separate city, and as late as the early 90s it was still a mostly separate job market: you didn’t hear much about people commuting between Pierce County and Seattle. But to the extent that has become significant, it’s a suburb. Sounder is predicated on it. And Tacoma has suburban-like density. I’ve heard people say Tacoma has good urban bones, but I cry when I see how one-story and car-dependent it is now, even in neighborhoods adjacent to downtown. Somebody once spoke of streetcar suburbs that turned seamlessly into automobile suburbs without a wimper, and Tacoma seems to be one of them. As if all the good the walkable streetcar suburbs did was for naught.

  3. The Trans Europa Express music video, in black and white film noir, traveling through a futuristic art deco city, with Chicago gangster-looking suits and hats that might do well in Murder on the Orient Express. Includes a train-level view of going through a three-track switch. Why is their hair like The Man from U.N.C.L.E? Because it’s 1977.

    And the English version, although the English wording sounds lame and doesn’t fit the music as well. Although it may make it easier to find the two music star cameos.

    I first heard this song in a much better remix in 1995, when I found the German CD at the airport on my first trip to Russia. In 2000 all my CDs were stolen, and I haven’t been able to find this version since, although I’ve found the English one.

    There’s also a fan version with another generation of TEE train.

    1. And I thought it was the train they were riding in, since I’d never heard of the zeppelin train. To me it looked like a swooshy European train. But they’re German, so the zeppelin train may be important to them because it’s their technology. And look, it can be called the flying hamburger. I could see a McDonald’s ad with that. And I’d never been to Paris so I didn’t know if that white skyline was it or if there’s an elevated monorail-looking track there. It looked more New York than Paris, but how would I know? And that white train tube at the end looks futuristic, but it also looks like the Curitiba BRT stations.

      In the last video with a real TEE train, I was disappointed with how plain it looked and how slow it seemed. There was nothing around to compare the speed to, but it seemed slower than the InterCity Express I took from Duesseldorf to Luxemourg and in 1998. Maybe high-speed rail hadn’t started yet in 1977.

      1. That real TEE train featured in that video (VT 11.5 and later called Class 601) was among the first generation. They were gone from actual TEE service by 1972 and ended their days working unnamed lesser intercity trains into the 1990s, except I think there might be a couple museum examples preserved. In 1970s West Germany they were replaced on TEE trains by electric class 103, which seem to have been well liked, reliable, 120 mph workhorses.

        The Europe of the 1957 Trans Europe Express was still recovering from World War II, so that first generation train was operating beside steam locomotives over pretty battered track. They were good for their era and helped re-start the whole concept of cross border train services. Modern Europe wouldn’t be what it is without the united Europe vision they and their equivalents owned by France, Italy, etc. inspired.

        However, you could not expect a huge miracle from the Europe of 1957.

      2. Interesting, my dad was in the army stationed in Munich in the 1950s. I wonder if he saw those trains.

  4. I thought the RMTransit Youtube second opinion overview of Trolleys was very interesting. The first one did not make them look very good.

    1. What did he mean by trolley? It can mean anything from an electric bus to a slow streetcar to the San Diego Trolley (surface light rail) to Link.

      1. He has 2 videos devoted to Electric Trolleybusses. In the second video posted recently on YouTube, RMTransit goes in to detail about how the original video about Trolleybuses in North America may not have been given a fair assessment. He briefly describes his biases, then describes situations where ETB’s are used in North American cities in a successful way. These are HIS words. I think you enjoy both videos if you watch them.

  5. I emailed CM Alex Pedersen and the Sound Transit board last week about the severe frequency cutbacks coming up over the next six months, and actually got a response from Pedersen’s office. I’ve copy&pasted it below in case it’s useful for others. My questions were quoted in the response so I’ll just include things verbatim, questions in bold. I’m not totally satisfied with the response but it does seem like Sound Transit and Metro are just limited in their staffing resources right now so can’t make things as seamless as in past years.

    Hi Skylar-

    Thank you for reaching out to Councilmember Pedersen about your concerns regarding Sound Transit’s upcoming “Future Ready” work. Councilmember Pedersen relayed your questions to me and I’ve been able to gather the following information to your questions. Please let me know if you have any follow-up questions.

    Why is the entire system negatively-impacted for work at one station, and work that doesn’t even involve the trackway itself? Could this work all be fit into the 3-hour nightly shutdowns? Could the work be accomplished with a single system-wide shutdown of a few days, with an accompanying bus bridge, rather than drawn-out degradation for weeks?

    The entire system is impacted due to the location of the repair work and the associated risks to train schedules. When trains run in the reverse direction along the at-grade MLK Jr. Way Corridor, schedule risks arise due to rider, vehicular, and signal system anomalies. There were also no opportunities to speed up the work with a full station shutdown at Columbia City, and the current operating plan reflects multiple constraints with weather, ridership events, scheduling, contracting, material and labor procurement, and future maintenance projects. Sound Transit did assess if repairs could be accomplished with a single systemwide shutdown of a few days, but King County Metro bus resources were too limited to support such a disruption. Additionally, we also assessed if repairs could be completed through nightly three-hour shutdowns. This was also rejected due to concrete and mortar cure times far exceeding the time afforded by the previously-mentioned maintenance windows.

    Can any of this work be done at the same time (i.e., Columbia City and DSTT catenary work) to limit the length of the degradation?

    Several departments from Sound Transit, in regular and repeated coordination with operating partners at King County Metro, reviewed all known opportunities both to overlap maintenance projects and to limit project duration. Due to constraints via the location of our stations, traction power substations, and track crossover switches, Sound Transit was unable to coordinate concurrent projects without significantly increasing headways.

    Why does the system not have enough flexibility to limit the scope of the degradation? Line 1 has turnback tracks between SODO and Stadium stations, and at Northgate, so why can these not be used to preserve frequency on the busiest part of the system (Northgate-Downtown)?

    Each set of turnback tracks come with their own set of costs and benefits when assessing opportunities for service recovery. Sound Transit and its partners continues to weigh all options preserving high-frequency service to the greatest extent possible, and will make improvements to its service delivery model should opportunities arise.

    Why is this problem only coming to light now, rather than during the pandemic-driven frequency cuts of a couple years ago? Are there any other problems coming up that will require further degradation?

    On the surface, pandemic-driven frequency cuts of the last couple years afforded Sound Transit valuable opportunities to perform necessary maintenance, and alleviate the subsequent service degradation, with the least impact possible to our riders. Conversely, in the time since station tile remediation was identified as a necessary response to a worsening rider hazard, teams at Sound Transit have worked tirelessly to assess every project and scheduling advantage, while balancing the needs of current riders with those of future riders.

    For this project specifically, Sound Transit teams from Passenger Experience, Operations, and Design selected minimally-disruptive maintenance windows to the greatest extent possible, while also weighing a litany of constraints, including weather, material, project, schedule, operations and staffing challenges, all while endeavoring to avoid major ridership events.

    As Sound Transit transitions from to a full-grown regional system, additional maintenance needs will arise that result in service disruptions. While these instances are unavoidable, Sound Transit will navigate each with guidance from its values of Passenger Focus, Safety, Collaboration, and Quality. We appreciate your thoughtfulness, curiosity, and support and encourage you to continue to seek accountability from your local agencies.

    1. Thank you Skylar. I thought the answers were well thought out. One question I have based on the final answer is as the system grows along with the number of stations will each time a specific station needs to be shut down for repairs cause disruption to the entire line. As these stations “age” they will need more repairs, but if closing one station impacts frequency throughout the system and Metro is stretched thin does that mean the upcoming reductions will be a regular part of Link?

      If there is one part of Link and the concept of truncation that worries me is the lack of transit redundancy in the system. I thought Link and truncating buses would create a financial windfall for Metro that no longer had to afford such long bus routes. Apparently not.

      1. I definitely agree that Sound Transit needs to develop a plan for future resiliency. Once the other lines open, it will be easier preserving core frequency if there’s a problem at the periphery, but it could be a serious problem if one of the central stations needs work done, especially if the second tunnel isn’t built.

      2. Skylar, I have to think that many of the decisions we are seeing from ST’s repair schedule to Metro’s lack of additional capacity are due to stressed operations budgets.

        A transit agency can’t go through a pandemic and come out the other end with significantly reduced ridership, and a high percentage of non-fare paying riders, and not take a big hit to farebox recovery and operations budgets.

        According to the article on the D.C. system many transit agencies are scraping by with federal stimulus funds, but those will run out in 2023.

        Some propose free transit fares, or eliminating enforcement. There is no free lunch. I think what we are seeing with ST and Metro is a taste of transit with inadequate operations funding from farebox recovery (and even in 2019 ST’s farebox recovery was 30%, 10% below its assumptions, when the next three lines will likely have lower ridership and farebox recovery than Northgate to CID (Federal Way, Lynnwood and East Link).

        My guess is the future of transit will be the opposite of a 90 mile light rail spine simply due to the costs to operate that spine compared to farebox recovery.

      3. The canceled Metro and ST Express runs are due to a driver shortage, not budget limitations.

    2. Good answers, but this still doesn’t address the fact that “concrete and mortar cure times” shouldn’t be an issue. They could do the work overnight, and close the station and let the new tiles cure during the day.

    3. I read these responses and get disgusted. This is not the first light rail system in the Us and other systems don’t have these impactful shutdowns for system maintenance.

      To me this is ST arrogantly wanting to do things the only way they can come up with, and not hiring people from other systems who can approach these tasks differently.

      1. It does sounds like “not being able to hire people,” such as enough bus drivers at KCM, it definitely part of the problem.

    4. As Sound Transit transitions from to a full-grown regional system, additional maintenance needs will arise that result in service disruptions.

      Translation: When you focus on quantity over quality, these sorts of problems occur. If we had built a shorter system but with more stations and higher ridership, then we would have fewer outages (and better frequency). We built this instead.

      With all due respect, Al, this is *exactly* the type of thing that occurs in other transit systems. All transit systems have problems like this, and they are largely in relation to how big the system is and how often the trains run. There are other issues, of course (weather, how it was built in the first place, etc.) but those are the big ones. It is exciting to look at a huge system and think this doesn’t have a long-term cost in terms of additional maintenance, but it does.

      This is why ridership per mile is such an important metric. If you get lots of riders per mile, then the cost is spread out over the population. If not, then you don’t. Either way, a big system is going to need repairs now and then, but at least one with lots of riders gets better fare recovery, and thus the net cost is a lot less.

      There may be different ways to approach fixing this, but my guess is cost was a major issue, and with ridership down, they took the cheapest approach (which is very disruptive).

      1. Certainly longer systems have higher track maintenance issues.

        However, The problem here is not related to that. It’s a function of ST staff not avoiding rider impacts on what appears to be periodic maintenance. They could have just closed the track on a Sunday, or a Saturday and Sunday, or after 9 PM. That would still leave 20 minute service during those times.

        I’m actually more concerned that ST can’t figure out how to run a turnback operation. It seems like basic operations contingency planning. If they can’t turn back a train running every 10 minutes, they have no business running a light rail system. It just seems as basic as having batteries on ETBs. It should be embedded in the basic system design.

        Like I’ve said before, ST has staff that are too pea brained to have more than a full system disruption Every time something minor arises. They are way too insular from the normal industry practice.

      2. I think the issue is money. It costs more money to fix problems without disrupting riders. An agency with relatively little money and few riders is more likely to make fixes the way they are going to make them.

  6. Had a fun experience yesterday leaving Roosevelt station after UW graduation. An up escalator from platform to mezzanine was stopped. But it wasn’t blocked off so several people including me walked up it. Then we got to the top and found a barrier that we had to climb over.

    What kind of ST operations geniuses would only put a barrier at the top of an up escalator?

    Despite that, taking the train to and from the graduation was quite easy.

    1. I took Link from Northgate to Roosevelt on Saturday evening to meet a friend for dinner. The up escalator at Northgate from the mezzanine to the platform was out of service. Then things got fun…

      At Roosevelt, of the four escalators at the station, three were out of service. A whopping 75% failure rate at a station that’s essentially a year old.

      ST can’t blame Metro for escalator failures at the new stations. I wonder what the excuse is now?

      1. Blame can be deflected to the state, which sets the laws regarding keeping escalators out of service and provides the backlogged inspectors who eventually allow them back into service. At least now, escalators failing in a rich neighborhood should get some attention from the legislature regarding how the state handles escalator breakdowns.

        At least there is escalator and elevator redundancy, including in the downtown tunnel, and unlike Mt Baker, TIBS, and SeaTac Airport Station. The lack of elevator and escalator redundancy and lack of stairwell alternatives at some stations most certainly can’t be blamed on Metro or the state. Hopefully redundancy is required at all new stations, and the older ones eventually get retrofitted.

        The standard that each vertical conveyance has to be operable 90% of the time makes some sense. But there also ought to be a standard that at least one up escalator is available between each platform and each mezzanine, etc, 99.9% of the time. (The same goes for elevators, but in both directions.)

        The quickest way to reach that standard is to make *all* the escalators at stations that have complete-path stairwells be up escalators. Then, people entering the station would then have a choice of ample stairwells and elevators to get down to the platform. Indeed, having all the escalators pointed upward would increase the throughput capacity of the station. People arrive in trains in throngs that bottleneck at the escalators. People walk into the station in a more random, spread-out manner, and don’t need as much vertical conveyance capacity. The stairwells are amply wide to accommodate those ambulatory riders going down.

      2. Maybe the number of escalators out of service in Link stations is a new form of “equity” since pretty much only the wealthier neighborhoods north of CID got underground stations and tunnels.

  7. Some cities in Brazil have something like these, called calçadão (calçada = sidewalk, ão suffix = extremely huge). In one city I visited, on Sundays it’s a downtown-long street farmers market, without having to go through the effort of closing off the street first because it’s already closed to everything except pedestrian traffic and service vehicles.

    Basically, imagine Pikes Place without all the through auto traffic and stretched out for 10 blocks or so.

    Here is an example:

    1. Mercer Island closes 77th and 32nd on Sundays during the summers for a farmers market. I think many local cities do the same. I am pretty sure Issaquah closes Old Front Street on Saturday nights or on Sundays. Bellevue converted one or two lanes of Old Main St. to outdoor dining. You still have to get there so need parking nearby. But the pedestrian only experience is always nice once you get there. If parking is going to be a zoo at Old Main Street we will Uber which avoids the hassle of parking although there is a good multi-level garage there that is free if you eat in certain restaurants. Old Front Street usually has street parking available. Those are two of my favorite areas. We very rarely go to Seattle anymore.

  8. Exactly.

    If you only close the street a few hours a week for a market, it really doesn’t do much. If you close the street permanently, as seen in the street view I provided, it provides a full time, enjoyable retail location that is easily expanded into a much larger market.

    Street parking gives you what? 10 parking places per block, at best? Closing the street permanently (except for service vehicles) really doesn’t do much in terms of access. Take a look at the street. It works fine.

    But if you really insist upon having street parking, there are hundreds of other streets throughout the city that aren’t pedestrian malls. They aren’t as enjoyable and have less interesting stuff, and therefore have fewer people, but if you want to locate your business there nothing is keeping you from doing so. In fact, the lack of pedestrian traffic usually makes them cheaper.

    1. If you close the street on which a few semi-major bus routes run, and do it regularly, it will antagonize the riders so detoured, and whose bus stops get skipped.

      Some business districts love to force buses to crawl through them, but each business district that does that makes the route as a whole less tolerable and more expensive to operate.

      So, please keep the buses on the main street, with lane priority, and the farmers markets on the side street.

      1. Again, exactly!

        If you keep opening and closing streets for these types of things, then it isn’t part of the regular pattern of how the city works.

        If you have a permanently closed street, nobody notices because everything is set up for that street to not be there. In the city where I provided links to the sidewalk view, it’s been there since the 1970s or so. Nobody thinks of it as being any different.

  9. I love to travel and Japan has long sat at the bottom of my travel list. But the more I see videos like these, the more Japan creeps higher on my “must-see” places. Blogs like these and vlogs on YT make me appreciate good urban planning and walkable living.

  10. The Urbanist has an update on changes to the 40: https://www.theurbanist.org/2022/06/10/upgrades-to-route-40-see-tweaks-but-no-major-changes-despite-pushback/. One of the more interesting changes is southbound at Westlake and 9th. The bus will make a left turn from the right lane (in a bus-only lane). Left turns are only allowed with a left-turn arrow, which means there is no safety issue. The bus in the far right lane also gets the left-turn arrow a bit before the other lane.

    I really like this, and see how it could substantially reduce wait time. I think it could be implemented in other places as well. One example is westbound Northgate Way to southbound 5th (https://goo.gl/maps/9Rzw7FyFjDkgWumq6). The 347/348 and 20 make that turn. Right now they have two lanes turning left, and have increased the space allocated for cars and buses that turn. I could see them taking the same approach. You would have the far right lane be a bus-lane, and the bus would turn left (with the arrow). There would be only one lane for cars turning left here. There would be two lanes for going straight, and one of those lanes would allow turning right (basically the same situation as now). But a right turn on red would not be allowed. Thus when the bus is waiting for a left turn, cars would turn in front of it. When the left-turn arrow is green, the bus goes in front of all of the cars. The bus wouldn’t have to force its way into the left lane to turn, avoiding some of the congestion there.

    It could potentially work in other places, as long as you are OK with unusual right turns. For example, the 347/348 buses turn left from eastbound Northgate Way to northbound Roosevelt. I’ve sat through a couple light cycles there. You could turn the right lane into a BAT lane. If the bus is there, it might just sit there (waiting for the left-turn arrow) and drivers would be forced to wait. Another alternative would be to once again establish a bus lane on the far right (eastbound on Northgate Way, just before Roosevelt). You would channel the general purpose traffic headed straight or right onto one lane, where (like down the street) the cars would cut in front of the buses. This lane would have both a green and a right arrow to minimize confusion.

    There are definitely issues, and it wouldn’t work in all cases, but it is an interesting approach, that I think could be used more.

Comments are closed.