Harrell names new SDOT head

From the mayor’s office:

Seattle (July 27, 2022) – Today, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced that he will appoint Greg Spotts to be the next Director of the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), pending confirmation by the Seattle City Council.

Spotts currently serves as the Executive Officer and Chief Sustainability Officer at the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services, which oversees 1,500 staff positions, an annual budget of $230 million, and a capital program of more than $350 million. He has led the delivery of over $600 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act projects as well as efforts to make Los Angeles more walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly and sustainable. 

Coverage: Seattle Times, The Urbanist

No, we’re not entering a period of “untransit”

ST3 concept map / soundtransit3.org

Danny Westneat’s latest column in The Seattle Times asks a bold question:

Why are we continuing with the same transit planning — such as for Sound Transit’s future light-rail segments — without factoring that a third or more of the workforce may not be commuting to a downtown core, or commuting at all?

Westneat is knee-jerk reacting to Amazon’s recent announcement that it plans to pause work on its Bellevue office expansion: a total of six towers encompassing some 3 million square feet. The implication is that if a corporate behemoth like Amazon can’t be bothered to continue building office towers, then transit – as we know it – might as well be dead:

This sea change, if it continues, may cause cities over time to “untransit” — to unwind their transit-oriented, spoke-and-hub development patterns, Stern predicts. Cities will stop concentrating on building dense housing near transit lines, she wrote, and shift to infrastructure to support remote work (such as municipal broadband, or small “remote work” centers away from the old business core). Cities may adopt more mixed-use zoning everywhere to bring a taste of the old commercial downtown out to residential neighborhoods (where so many are now “going” to work).

I’ll first acknowledge what is true in this assessment. There is already broad consensus in the transit and urbanist community that the new normal for remote work will undoubtedly impact future land use: central business districts will no longer have a regular weekday “swell” of workers. Super-tall office-only skyscrapers are likely a thing of the past. And mixed-use upzoning is undoubtedly on the planning menu for non-CBD neighborhoods.

What I find much more questionable is this notion that “cities will stop concentrating on building dense housing near transit.” I’m not sure there is a planner out there who actually believes this. Regardless how commute patterns change, expanding buildable TOD maximizes the return on transit investment. Housing and transit can never be divorced, whatever remote work world we live in. If anything, it’s the massive suburban park-and-rides at outlying stations that should be converted into developable uses rather than sit empty.

Westneat furthers this line of argument by suggesting that remote work blunts the merits of continued Link expansion. I find this thinking to be bizarre – Link was not and never has been planned to be a commuter-centric system. If you look at a map of ST2 and ST3 extensions, it’s clear that the long-term plan is to connect all the PSRC regional growth centers by either rail or BRT. There’s nothing about the plan that screams commuter-heavy downtown-centricity.

I’ve also previously mentioned that the new remote work normal also means less emphasis on expensive commuter peak-only services and more investment in all-day cross-town routes. Paired with a frequent regional rail network, a system like that would actually be well served by “mixed-use zoning everywhere.”

News Roundup: flocking safety

The Seattle Times rightly asks why Seattle has been so eager to get a station at 130th but so reluctant to add zoning capacity

Vancouver’s 16km SkyLink extension to Surrey to open in 2028, cost $4B

Related: Translink’s ridership is at a remarkable 72% of pre-Covid levels

SDOT rolls out a safety campaign to try and slow down drivers. 🤔

Seattle City Council selects a preferred alignment for WSBLE, punts on many of the thorniest questions

CityLab looks at Luxembourg’s free transit program. The pandemic makes it hard to say for sure, but it doesn’t seem to have done much to get people out of their cars.

Yes, this is an open thread.

Weekend Roundup: it’s a plan

Call to action: don’t let the Sound Transit board make expansion beyond ST3 impossible

Feasibility of construction and financial feasibility of future expansions beyond ST3 requires that Sound Transit consider how we’re going to implement and connect those expansions now.

Seattle Subway has 5 fundamental pillars of rider experience: speed, reliability, accessibility, expandability, and safety. 

Ensuring expandability, and the financial and operational feasibility of future expansion, is fundamental to making sure ST3 is a good transit investment, and Sound Transit seems to have forgotten that. We need your help to remind the Sound Transit Board at their meetings on July 7th, July 14th, and July 28th. Sign up to testify or send an email today with links below.

ST3 can be a fantastic expansion of our regional system, but it will not be the end of light rail expansion for our region. As the Seattle Transit Blog Editorial Board wrote in 2018, ST3 must be built for the future. Light rail lines must be designed so that future expansion can happen without high cost reconstruction of the lines we’re planning today, or future service disruptions during construction. When ST3 is complete, 13 of 30 Seattle’s “urban villages” and “urban centers” will be connected, but completing our vision map would connect 27 of 30 urban villages and centers in Seattle. There are four areas where Sound Transit needs to explicitly future-proof the system as part of ST3 so future expansion remains financially and operationally feasible, saving money and reducing operational impacts long term:

Continue reading “Call to action: don’t let the Sound Transit board make expansion beyond ST3 impossible”

Call to action: tell the Sound Transit board to reopen study of an ST3 Link light rail station in the heart of Ballard

The Sound Transit Board failed to advance 20th Avenue NW in Ballard to Draft Environmental Impact Statement Study. Sound Transit must study a Ballard station in the heart of Ballard.

Seattle Subway has 5 fundamental pillars of rider experience: speed, reliability, accessibility, expandability, and safety. 

For many reasons that Seattle Subway has laid out previously, Sound Transit must reopen study of a Ballard station that serves the heart of Ballard. Both Sound Transit’s proposed 15th and 14th Avenue NW station options fail to serve the heart of Ballard and Sound Transit’s prior study of a station at 20th Avenue NW confirmed that it would serve more people and have better transfers. Providing accessibility for the most visitors, workers and residents is fundamental to a good transit investment, and Sound Transit seems to have forgotten. We need your help to remind the Sound Transit Board of this at their upcoming meetings on July 7th, 14th, and 28th. 

Continue reading “Call to action: tell the Sound Transit board to reopen study of an ST3 Link light rail station in the heart of Ballard”

Seattle’s position on WSBLE

Too little internet content is about unironic appreciation for people doing the right thing. So good for Dan Strauss, trying to put the light rail station where the people are in his district:

“Placing the station to the east undermines our city’s work to create a densely connected community,” Strauss said. “This is infrastructure that will last 100 years, and we can’t afford to get it wrong.”

Moreover, Seattle’s preferred alternative presentation contains a lot of good advice for Sound Transit, particularly in the all-important tunnel north of Chinatown. Seattle Subway has written previously about the best choices for future riders. Though I don’t agree with 100% of either document, I invite you to compare results.

Elsewhere in old friend Lizz Giordano’s report for Publicola, there’s less exciting news. Lisa Herbold is extensively quoted about “impacts” without much apparent regard for future riders. Maybe Sound Transit should just build the Gray Line and no one would be impacted at all. Most notably in her district, Seattle requests a Delridge station by the steel plant to keep it away from neighborhoods, and thus from potential riders.

I don’t like this framework for thinking about the project, but at least there’s a recommended decision that can move us forward! That’s more that can be said about the City’s Chinatown advice:

Continue reading “Seattle’s position on WSBLE”