- Seattle Transportation Plan is seeking input; “one plan to rule them all,” instead of the modal plans of years past
- So is the Seattle Comprehensive Plan (land use & zoning)
- The Urbanist: speeding up Route 36
- SDOT: Bus lanes going in (finally!) on Rainier Ave.
- Seattle Times: Amtrak service to B.C. is coming back sooner than expected
- Speaking of our neighbors to the north, Vancouver’s TransLink is making a big investment in Bus Rapid Transit
214 Replies to “Weekend Roundup: it’s a plan”
Thanks for highlighting my reporting on the Route 36.
Here’s my reporting showing that SDOT is refusing to even plan for additional bus lanes on Rainier in the places where Metro says they’ll be the most effective. https://www.theurbanist.org/2022/06/28/rainier-avenue-bus-lane-proposal-leaves-out-metros-highest-priority-segments/
“BAT lanes, phasing improvements, queue jumps: Beacon Ave S / S Columbian Way”.
How do BAT lanes on Columbian Way help the 36? They help the 50. The 36 would be on Columbian Way only if it makes a time-consuming detour.
I thought the 60 was also on Columbian Way, but looking on the route map it isn’t. Maybe it was earlier?
The BAT lanes and queue jumps will be “both directions” not “all four directions” implying that they will be on Beacon at Columbian Way.
It’s an awful intersection. SDOT keeps doing fixes to it. I think there have been three major fixes in the last 10 years, with the last one for Columbia Way protected bike lanes.
However, there seems to be this odd belief that the median can’t be touched — even though the median is actually a paved parking lot for a block in each direction with shrubs hiding the spaces from the street.
It’s also an intersection that can’t be bypassed easily. The surrounding street grid in all four quadrants just isn’t set up for it.
I don’t think this change will have much of an impact. It may help Route 36 buses get through a red light wait at times, but that’s about it.
I think the ultimate solution is to simply put actual Michigan lefts on Beacon Ave north and south of the intersection. (Drivers today do this by cutting through the median parking lots.) Then, all left turns could be banned at the intersection, and Beacon Ave could have both directions go at once (on the same green light) . Plus, Columbian Way traffic could use them to restore left turn movements. To make that happen, SDOT would need to add new signage to explain how to turn left, like saying “For eastbound Columbian Way, make a U-Turn in 200 feet” with a little diagram showing the movement on the sign.
“It’s an awful intersection. …”
Yeah. At least three SDOT changes over the last decade by my count. My MIL lives just off Beacon so my spouse and I go thru this intersection every time we visit, using the Columbian Way exit when driving down from the northend. The nearby median parking spaces are heavily used (and abused as a thoroughfare as you’ve mentioned) so I don’t see them going away anytime soon. I have always thought that they should be made one-sided entries/exits, perhaps in an alternating pattern, to prevent the aforementioned “cutting through” practice. Then again, this may make it very difficult to reenter the street particularly at the median spaces nearest to the intersection.
I suspect some of the recent SDOT changes have slowed Route 36; the coaches are stuck in long queues of traffic behind the signals; lanes were taken for PBL. Al S is correct; the median and the ample parking supply should be touched to move the buses through the intersection. Route 36 has several strong transit demand centers: Othello and Beacon Hill Link stations, VAMC, CID, IDS, and Little Saigon; with the passenger load turning over, it is a formula for high rides per hour. But it is defeated by sitting in queues. Route 36 serves a linear urban village developed along a streetcar line. South Jackson Street was regraded.
Hey Ryan, thanks for all the great articles at The Urbanist lately. That goes for your other writers as well. Of course I would thank you on the site itself, but you don’t have comments :)
No links to The Crimes and its paywall, please.
Oh and to pre-answer Daniel’s likely insult that I’m too poor to afford a sub to The Crimes, I have digital subscriptions to WaPo, the NY Crimes, The Economist, The Atlantic and several specialist publications.
I just do not want to give money to the reactionaries that own The Crimes. They’ve hated their the people of Seattle for far too long.
It is of course unfortunate that Mike Lindblom writes there, and of course links to his articles are fine. They can be read within the five per month max. I overlooked the source link before I used one of my five.
Where I can find a list of all the busiest bus routes in the Seattle metropolitan area, regardless of which agency operates them? Is there any combined list like that?
The 250 between Redmond and Kirkland today was busier than I’ve ever seen it. Contrary to what some may think, there do exist people on the eastside who are open to riding a bus. And, there also exist people who ride buses outside 9-5 commuting hours, as this was a Saturday afternoon.
I choose between the B, 226, and 250 at Bellevue TC on weekends. The B’s ridership goes up and down; it’s usually half or a third of the C, but sometimes it’s surprisingly busy. The 226 I expected to be the only person on the bus, but it usually gets at least 3 and sometimes 8 people in the five minutes I’m on it. But the 250 is persistently lower. Sometimes it leaves empty or I’m the only person on it, or there’s at most one or two others. That’s surprising for the route that connects the three largest cities. (Renton is larger than two of them, but it’s twenty miles away in another direction.) My impression is Kirklandites are less willing to take transit than Bellevueites or Redmondites are. And asdf2 in Kirkland has often said he’s the only person on the bus (I’m not sure which routes). Maybe Kirkland-Redmond has higher ridership than Bellevue-Kirkland. I’ve never seen that segment so I wouldn’t know.
I’ve ridden both sections. I think Kirkland-Redmond does have higher ridership than Kirkland-Bellevue. Anecdotally, I think Kirkland-Redmond may actually have more weekend ridership per trip than Kirkland-Seattle.
The 255 has slowly gained ridership from its low point, but it’s still averaging around 5 riders per trip (my 250 trip today was much higher than that, with nearly every seat full). If traveling at an odd hour, it is possible to have the bus to yourself, especially the section between Kirkland Transit Center and Totem Lake.
The 245 is usually near empty around Kirkland, although it has about 3 people on it today. I think it gets most of its ridership in the Crossroads/Lake Hills area.
Another thing about the 255 is, I have run into drivers who don’t give a **** and leave the first stop at Campus Parkway early if it’s the last run of their shift, so they can get home earlier. I’m ok with a bus being early in the middle of a route, where you can follow it on OneBusAway and hurry up if need be, but leaving the very first stop of a route early should not be tolerated. At the first stop, you have nothing to go on as to when the bus will leave except for its schedule.
Frank C, was this meant to be an open thread? Thanks.
It must be because news roundups always are. And we need one because the last one has 349 comments, which is past the point that it’s hard to write or read in. I decided if I had anything to say I’d wait until the next open thread rather than putting it in that one. I don’t have anything to say now. :)
Except, oh well, Saturday downtown report. I walked down to Pike Place Market, and a bunch of people were walking the other way, as if they were all going to something or at a convention. The interior Pike Place hallway was packed with people like pre-covid. (Few wearing masks.) The guy at Frank’s produce thought a cruise ship had come in. Pine Street around Westlake had a moderate number of middle-class pedestrians: more than the rest of the city but less than the thick crowds in 2019. There was a small abortion rights demonstration speaking at Westlake, and perhaps the same group at Pike Place now with nude bicyclists in front. And two Christian megaphones and Fulan Gong. After that I went to Trader Joe’s and Central Co-Op. I missed the 10 so I took the 49, then forgot to get off at Broadway so I got off at Capitol Hill Station and took the 10 the rest of the way. On the way back I saw people were repainting the Black Lives Matter mural on Pine Street and the street was closed for a block. So I assume the 11 is rerouted around it. It’s hard to take the 11 though when it’s half-hourly weekends. :(
I used to live near where Trader Joe’s is back in 1988. 16th and Howell. 9-unit brick apt building. $295/month.
1990, duplex two blocks from Trader Joe’s on 19th. My friends lived in it; I lived in a similar duplex two lots down. I was only there a few months so I don’t remember the rent, maybe $450. But the other house went on the market for $90K, for both halves of the duplex. I should have bought it. But it was my first year out of college and I was making near minimum wage, and $90K seemed far out of reach, and I never expected prices to rise like they did later. Now I could pay cash for it if it were still that price, but it’s not.
And the 49 now says “Capitol Hill” and “U-District Station”. It used to say “Broadway” and “U-District”. When I see “Capitol Hill” I think it’s the 10 or 43, so I wish it still said “Broadway”. But I guess “Capitol Hill” is more widely known and coincides with the name of the station, and it doesn’t serve all of Broadway which may lead to its own confusion.
Overlake Sears is about 20% knocked down. At the rate they’re going, it should be completely down in a couple of weeks.
For those that don’t know the area, the Sears area is the geographical center of Overlake. Overlake Village Station, at over 2000 feet away, is at the edge of the Overlake neighborhood. Sort of like in Ballard 14th is 2000 feet away from 20th. And, ever since ST selected the Overlake Village station location, that area on the edge of the neighborhood has seen an explosion in development. How will people get from the from the center of Overlake to Overlake Village station? They’ll walk or take a bus.
I used to take the 226 to the Overlake Village P&R terminus as a teenager. I think it was a block east of Safeway, northeast of Sears, with Group Health hospital and some apartments I didn’t know much about there. I assumed the Link station was in the same place the bus stop had been. But when I went this year to look, it looks like the station is in the far northwest corner next to the freeway, a longish walk from Safeway or whatever replaces Sears. I felt like it was a lost opportunity, and the station wasn’t within easy walking distance of the village as I’d assumed it would be. However, I don’t know what will go into the space between Safeway and the station. It was a practically empty lot or construction area. Hopefully not just Microsoft offices, but something the wider community would go to or live in.
Earlier in the 70s when I was in elementary school, Sears was there but Safeway was on 164th, a smaller store where Trader Joe’s is now. When the new Safeway opened I thought it was quite big. Fred Meyer came in sometime during those years, replacing earlier department stores. It also was smaller than it is now.
Good comp to Ballard 14th & 15th, though Overlake isn’t a major bus transfer location like Ballard. Would it have been better if Overlake Village station was pulled a block or 2 away from 520? Yes. Would it have been worth the higher cost? Probably, but not necessarily. Does the neighborhood grow and respond in response to the actual station location, wherever it ends up? Yes, certainly.
The Overlake Village station location will be just fine if 1. that Honeywell superblock gets a major redevelopment and 2. Bellevue upzones the housing on the west side of 148th to allow for midrise apartments. Surely Ballard would be end up the same.
Ballard is a high-pedestrian neighborhood, where thousands of people expect to walk from the station to bars, shops, jobs, the farmers’ market, the Swedish clinics, their apartments, and tourist attractions.
Overlake Village is… well, the city and businesses say it’s heavily trafficked by students. But I as a carless pedestrian there felt unusual, and walking across the huge parking lots to get to the one-story buildings didn’t inspire me. I still feel like that now. It takes determination and effort to be a carless pedestrian in that environment. So the station location isn’t as important because it’s an uninviting area to walk in anyway. That could change with the right development, but we’ll see what happens. You need not only multistory development close to the sidewalks, but also a variety of businesses and destinations that attract a large cross-section of people. Then you get maximum transit ridership and you can actually see other people walking too all day, like Ballard or other Seattle neighborhoods.
Check out Esterra Park; now assume that is repeated across another dozen blocks. Redmond Overlake, Redmond downtown, and Redmond Maymoor will all be high-pedestrian neighborhoods once they are built out.
This past week brought a trip to Port Orchard to visit friends then to the San Juans for a few days.
• it’s somewhat surprising Kitsap Transit operates the foot ferry between Port Orchard and Bremerton on Sunday, but not on July 4th, despite a huge number of people being in town for the holiday weekend at the navy yard.
• The Point Defiance Bypass line sure is ugly.
• Kitsap Live Steamers miniature railroad looks like a nice operation, but they have few members actually operating miniature steam locomotives now. They’re a lot of work. You can get to the park this railroad is in from Port Orchard by carefully choosing a walking route on minor streets.
• The driver shortage continues to be a problem in the San Juan Islands, with both bus companies only operating a single hop-on hood-off type service and everything else consumed by charters.
• One of the people at Friday Harbor Jolly Trolley made it known to someone involved in local city government that they plan to sell their operation, but plan to do what they can to put San Juan Transit and Tours (the other bus company) out of business first, increasing the potential sale price of their operation as there would then be no competition.
(This is the type of thing you can expect when the only transportation operators are private, so those of you who push for privatization realize there’s a bunch of hijinks that goes along with having private operators.)
• The mid-day Skagit Transit connection from the Anacortes ferry to Mt Vernon station is screwed up. All other 410 to 40X connections are tightly timed to allow timed interchange between 40X, 410, 411 (Island Transit to Oak Harbor) and several other routes. The 12:35 departure from the ferry is the only one requiring 40 minutes in the middle of nowhere at the March’s Point Park and Ride. It does give a lot of time for exploring the Tommy Thompson trail in Anacortes though.
• As noted previously, I was unable to get over to Orcas on this trip to try this year’s version of Orcas Shuttle.
• Southbound traffic on I-5 still sucks from about Lynnwood to downtown Seattle, based on the Amtrak thruway bus experience. At 2 hours, the Amtrak bus is still somewhat faster stuck in traffic than 90X to 512 to Link.
• The new wacko S curve walkway from Coleman Dock to downtown Seattle is an interesting touch. It’d be nice if something could be done to get a better Link to Coleman Dock connection. It’s about a 10 minute walk up a bunch of steep hills now.
• I wound up with about a 2 hour layover in Seattle between Cascades and ferry to Bremerton, and despite wandering around a bit never encountered any homeless there as scary as the ones in downtown Everett during my 512 to 90X layover there. So anyone claiming that somehow suburbs are a glorious example of police brutality induced safety has probably never actually taken transit to any suburbs.
• Southbound Amtrak 507 ran over some idiot, apparently riding an ATV or motorcycle on the tracks south of Tacoma, delaying the train about 3 hours.
• There was one wheelchair boarding. With the high floor cars this required a 4 person crew 10 minutes with a hand cranked lift. But we can’t have more Talgos because it’s too time consuming to make longe or shorter trains during the once or twice per year that needs to happen. Whatever.
• Both trains I was on were 2-3 seats away from being sold out. Which means the tickets were going for a really high price. If we must have these particular cars in Cascades service, can’t we at least use the fact they can be easily coupled and uncoupled to make some longer train sets?
The “Bypass” IS ugly. Of course it wouldn’t make sense to have two stations for Tacoma, BUT, the cruise train should still take the waterfront. It was one of the highlights of the trip.
Alon Levy wrote a good piece where the gist is that trains shouldn’t be priced like airplanes where prices go up in response to demand. However, this may only be relevant when the margin cost of adding trains is very low, which is not true for Cascades because it doesn’t own the ROW, but yes I would think Cascades should be able to just add a car here or there in response to high demand, rather than try to squeeze out of a few extra dollars of fare revenue.
Especially considering g the entire reason they decided to stop using Talgo equipment, according to the WashDOT2017 rolling stock plan, was specifically so they could couple and uncouple cars. If they don’t actually plan to do that, then they might as well use fixed consists.
I thought that FRA revoked its special use allowance because of the severity of the damage to the cars which fell from the bridge.
There are no exemptions for the current trains.
As far as I know, nothing was revoked even for the Talgo 6 equipment as there was no evidence the cars, even though not meeting current crush standards, performed any worse than the current standard would have.
Also, keep in mind the current standard cars used on the Cascades don’t meet the modern crush standards either.
The Talgos are articulated train sets, and generally articulated trains perform better in collisions than standard cars as they don’t separate and fall over as easily. Witness how severely the equipment got scattered all over in the Metro-North Spuyten Duyvil derailment, which was fairly similar.
The 2017 rolling stock plan says the primary reason for the switch is to allow easier coupling and uncoupling of cars. This only makes sense if they actually plan to change train length more often.
“Southbound traffic on I-5 still sucks from about Lynnwood to downtown Seattle,”
I know that Northgate to downtown at has been thick again in the afternoons for the past year. But there’s also lanes closed in SODO for several weekends this summer to replace the expansion joints. And this weekend also has a 520 closure. And construction on Rainier Avenue, Sand Point Way, and Dexter Avenue. And part of Pine Street is closed to repaint the Black Lives Matter mural.
So I’d expect thick I-5 traffic in Seattle. but not necessarily all the way to Lynnwood. Still, in an earlier I-5 reduction last month, 405 and Bellevue Way were thick, as people apparently switched to avoid I-5 congestion.
This was Friday afternoon, so probably weekend escapees?
I didn’t notice where northbound traffic eased up, but it was bad from Mt Vernon to somewhere south of Everett. Northbound I-5 was, as usual, really good north of the ship canal.
“I wound up with about a 2 hour layover in Seattle between Cascades and ferry to Bremerton, and despite wandering around a bit never encountered any homeless there as scary as the ones in downtown Everett during my 512 to 90X layover there”
There’s also a hangout at the Burien P&R.
Daniel reported there were fewer homeless and loiterers in Pioneer Square on his recent bus trip than there had been for the previous two years. So Harrell may be making headway in cleaning up the streets. I heard he announced a new homeless strategy a week ago but I don’t know what it is.
I haven’t been to Everett Station for five years so so I can’t compare it to Seattle. But it reminds me of “Adventures in Babysitting”, where the runaway girl at the Chicago Greyhound station is calling her suburban friend from the phone booth, and a man keeps banging on the door saying, “Get out of my house!”
The effort to “clean up” downtown Seattle is just Very Aggressive Sweeps. There’s very little space left in the shelter system, so they’re just going through and telling everyone to take their stuff and go somewhere else. Anything that isn’t moved is disposed.
It’s brutal, but since the intended effect isn’t to help these folks out of homelessness, but instead just to present clean(er) streets for tourists and downtown businesses with empty offices, it’s somewhat effective.
Oh, one other thing:
I didn’t notice any signs at the Northgate station saying the transit center was at the south end of the station. I wound up exiting the station into the dead zone at the north end.
The use of a dual mezzanine station design, incorporating all the disadvantages of having a mezzanine with all the disadvantages of not having one, is quite unique in my experience.
A Sound Transit motto: “You know where you want to go, so we see no need to guide you.” Besides, the escalator or elevator is often out of service anyway so signage may be irrelevant.
Yeah, it is weird and I’ve made the same mistake before. It wouldn’t require much in the way of signs. In one direction, it would be “Buses”, in the other “Mall”. You could add the cross streets as well (“Buses — 100th” and “Mall — 103rd”). Technically you have to walk a ways to get to 100th, but that is the direction you are headed.
The first time I rode Light Rail to Northgate I did the same and went down to street level at the north end and found myself having to cross NE 103rd to get to the transit center where my car was parked. That will the only time I will make that mistake as now I walk down the platform to the south end and go down the escalators there.
And before anyone questions about driving to the Northgate Transit Center. From where I live I would need to take 2 buses to get there and no thanks.
This particular station design also means that if you use the pedestrian bridge over the freeway and want to get to the buses, you have to go down to street level and cross 103rd there.
Amtrak expansion in Biden’s vision depends on a ruling by a mediation board ($) on whether private railroads must continue to give first priority to Amtrak. This affects congested freight corridors where the railroad is not voluntarily willing to accommodate Amtrak; i.e., most American railroads. BNSF is an exception because it has been willing to host Cascades and Sounder if it can get a high price. But a negative ruling could hinder Cascades expansion, northwest high-speed rail, a Seattle-Spokane line through Stampede Pass, and other proposed expansions throughout the country. While the south and midwest are often seen as bastions of “Cars first, and no socialist trains”, some proponents in those cities see proposed lines as catalyzing tourism and non-car/non-plane travel in their regions. And an article on the impacts in Washington State ($).
Tom, the Seattle Times is full of high-quality news articles by others besides just Lindblom. The editorials are just one small aspect of the paper, and don’t affect the news articles due to the firewall between the owners and news. Your subscription pays for those reporters, the research they do, and producing the paper.
If the Times folds there’s nothing even close to it to fill the gap. Other American cities have lost their last print newspaper, and while some reporters can keep a few high-quality articles and investigation going in digital-only publications, they can’t cover even a fraction of the depth or breadth of what the Seattle Times does. Those areas often fall into a local-news vacuum, where they’re more influenced by extremists and by national issues, since they don’t know what’s going on locally and get disconnected from their community. The Stranger, Weekly, Crosscut, The C Is For Crank, the sad remains of the P-I, neighborhood blogs, and special-purpose blogs like STB aren’t enough to fill the gap, not by a long shot.
(P.S. I subscribe to the Seattle Times, New York Times (my favorite in the US), and am considering subscribing to The Atlantic again.
Mike, thank you for the good review of the Times. I will give it some thought.
I thought there were six interesting stories this weekend:
1. Employers added 372,000 jobs last month. However missing from most articles was the fact hours worked per week declined 0.1%. This may look small but represents a loss of 450,000 full time jobs.
2. The Times has a front page article noting average annual pay in King Co. is now $115,436 compared to $82,508 for the rest of the state. King Co. had the second highest growth rate in the U.S. last year. However the disparity in income is very high and most workers are going backwards when cost of living increases are factored in. The actual number of people employed in King Co. declined while increasing in Eastern WA, likely due to cost of living.
3. The article in the Times Mike discusses. Amtrak wants to resume passenger rail in the SE it abandoned after Katrina. Even if private rail companies are required to provide priority to Amtrak the cost is obviously going up to match revenue from freight service, and Amtrak will have a hard time reserving consistent and ideal hours.
4. Marko Lilas, chair of the state senate transportation committee, admitted he was unfamiliar with the case over Amtrak’s priority because he feel’s WA and OR have “built relationships” with BNSF, although he admits competing with freight leaves passenger rail with disruptions and undesirable schedules. Meanwhile Rep. Wirt from Yakima believes decent east/west passenger rail service (Seattle — Spokane) should have priority over Uber expensive HSR from Vancouver to Portland because as a highly subsidized agency Amtrak has an obligation to first provide rail service to communities without adequate service before gold plated service for areas already served by decent passenger service.
5. The Seattle Times reprinted an article from WaPo asking five major employers their vision for future work and WFH. The themes were Coffee Shop, Nature Connection, Corporate Housing On Campus, Living Room Collaboration. Basically each envisions much less work commuting.
6. The Times reprinted a Bloomberg article listing the 50 most expensive cities in the world for a foreigner (expat) to work and live. Switzerland had four in the top ten. Tokyo was 9th. NY was 7th, LA 17th, San Francisco 19th and Honolulu 20th. Seattle was 45th.
I couldn’t agree more with Representative Wirt, though I don’t think he’ll be able to get BNSF to agree to anything east of Pasco. When BNSF was created in 1970, it used the low-grade SP&S line for eastbounds between Spokane and Pasco and the old NP main for westbounds for about fifteen years. But the cost of maintaining the SP&S through the “potholes” region proved to be too great, and coal traffic started to trail off. So they abandoned the SP&S and doubled the NP over Ritzville Grade. So far it has been adequate, but they’re not going to want passenger trains messing up their stately 50 mph freight parade.
Newspaper news is much more in-depth than TV and radio, both because they have longer time to prepare stories, more reporters, and more space to present it. TV and radio shows (at least the truth-based kind) get most of their information from newspapers around the country.
I don’t see much hope in trying to do any sort of Seattle-Spokane service. To get the best ridership, you need to go directly west of Seattle and hit a few populated areas before getting to Spokane. The Milwaukee Road line that did that is gone. There’s no equivalent to Kelso, Centralia, Olympia and Tacoma. You have a choice of either Ellensburg or Wenatchee. If you go to Pasco you skip the fastest route.
Glenn, yep. Exactly. To get quick transit they’d have to replace the MILW ROW from the Columbia to Ritzville AND tunnel through the hill east of Ellensburg. The BASALT hill east of Ellensburg.
Not gonna happen.
On the topic. Stamped is lightly used; if Washington State wants to add a couple of trains per day between Tri-Cities and Puget Sound it wouldn’t have much effect on the freight movements. I expect that BNSF would demand that the State invest in the signaling system, and that’s a reasonable request. Right now I’m pretty sure it’s mostly “automatic block”, with track warrant control. Perhaps east of Yakima, where it hosts UP trains, the line is TCS/CTC.
I expect that BNSF, if it can get a new signaling system and some wheelage out of the deal, would be happy to host a couple of round trips per day. They wouldn’t agree to advance them to Spokane, though. THAT trackage is busy, busy, busy with Portland and Columbia River ports traffic.
Forgot the last “e” on “Stampede”.
As much as I’d think there would be some value to Stampede Pass passenger rail service, the 2:56 hour trip from Auburn to Cle Elum at 26 mph is too punishing!
Unless a proposal to significantly increase the travel speeds, such service would fall into the excursion train category. What would it take to get it to 45 or 55 mph? Would a combined freight/ passenger shared track speed enhancement project be worth it?
Meanwhile, I think a much better value added for intercity travel is to up the train frequencies and speeds on the corridors already with service. Then, i think that the best place for new intercity service would be to have a passenger line into Olympia, even if it’s just a publicly-owned single track along I-5 with 90 minute service that shuttles to JBLM and Tacoma once TDLE opens.
Honestly, I think what the Seattle/Ellensburg/Spokane corridor needs is simply more bus service. A bus down I-90 that ran every couple hours, rather than once a day, would do wonders. This would cost a fraction of what it would take to set up a 30 mph train, while being vastly more useful.
asdf2, yes. If you can’t fill buses between Seattle-Ellensburg and Spkkane, you sure as hell can’t fill trains via Pasco.
What about Yakima?
Jim, a line from Seattle to the Tri-Cities might work, but dog-legging back up to Spokane could never compete with buses and planes.
It would be years before such a service came about and a new tunnel at Stampede would probably be required to be competitive on that leg.
“What about Yakima?”
You have to go south of Ellensburg to get to Yakima. You could go there, but doing so would make Seattle-Spokane service really slow. Unless you go to Pasco, you also have to build a new line east of Yakima.
“What about Yakima”
The simplest solution is to just run two bus routes. One that goes Seattle->Ellensburg->Spokane, another that goes Seattle->Ellensburg->Yakima->Tri Cities. Run both of them every 2-3 hours.
Okay you guys, I was basing assumptions on what the East West Rail study showed (Al S.’s link), hence why I said “What about Yakima”. Your bus comments excluded what was in the study. The study followed existing active railroad ROW.
Of course, we could always re-activate the Milwaukee Road!, and it was an electrified overhead catenary system to boot!
What’s not necessarily obvious is the desire people have for a daytime train between Spokane and the Puget Sound. The Stampede Pass route improvements could leverage more access for passenger service on the Empire Builder route. But the study doesn’t explore that.
Bike Trails !! That’s it. More Bike Trails.
The need for more daytime travel options between Seattle and Spokane is obvious. But, the study’s baseline assumptions that it only “counts” I’d it runs of rails is flawed.
Given the topography and single track nature of the stampede pass route, common sense says that the route cannot be improved to compete with 70 mph buses for any reasonable price, BNSF issues notwithstanding. You don’t need multimillion dollar studies to confirm that. Nor does decommissioning a popular bike path to put in a 40 mph (single track) train make sense either. The solution that does improve mobility across the cascades is obvious. Run. More. Buses.
Bikes and Buses
NO RAIL Before Its Time
After all, we’re not the east coast, where they built the compact cities first, and then added the rail system second.
A lot of the issue is simply topography. Building rail through mountains is simply extraordinary expensive compared to building rail through desert or farmland. When you have mountains to cross, there is an extraordinary efficiency benefit to having all traffic – truck, car, transit passenger – using the same right of way, especially a right of way that has already had so many billions put into it like I-90.
In order to justify new rail to Spokane, you need not only speeds exceeding the 70 mph you get on the freeway, but also very high ridership standards to justify the very high construction cost. In flat terrain, like Houston-Dallas, you can get away with much lower ridership standards because construction costs are much lower. That is simply the reality.
Of course, one could imagine an alternative universe where I-90 is a constant traffic jam from Cle Elem to North Bend at all hours of the day and buses running every half hour between Seattle and Spokane are jam packed. In this world, you quite possibly could justify the $100 billion for a new Seattle,
->Spokane rail route. But, that world is not reality. In the real world, I-90 is rarely congested outside of Seattle and Mercer Island, and we don’t even have a Greyhound bus that runs more than once a day. And the solution favored by the real world is, again, buses.
“$100 billion for a new Seattle-Spokane rail route”
Are you talking about High Speed Rail?
HSR is the new gadgetbahn to kill any low cost usable upgrades to the current rail systems.
The East West Rail study only looked at the current situation.
Yakima’s population makes it bigger than Redmond or Auburn, and it’s pretty close to Federal Way, and to Bellingham in size.
That’s where the study shows the potential, not just as a high speed route between Seattle and Spokane.
I agree, using that route makes it painfully long compared to a straight-shot non-stop bus route using I-90.
It’s one of the reasons why I (slightly tongue-in-cheek) suggested taking back the John Wayne Pioneer trail between the Cle Elum/Ellensburg area to the east.
But to say that I-90 needs to be packed with cars and buses before anything happens is why the Puget Sound is merely Wet LA.
We piss away perfectly good ROW’s to make them bike trails, (where the numbers show better potential) without thinking that the original ROW is what seeded most towns and cities in the first place.
This is why I feel pretty certain politics is why Lynnwood Link is following the inferior route originally proposed as “Freeway Monorail”, as opposed to using the Interurban Trail. I’m suspicious because ST’s cost benefit analysis only went out 20 years.
Someone was pulling some strings.
anything … not the rest.
Okay, maybe the last sentence would have been good, too.
But to say that I-90 needs to be packed with cars and buses before anything happens is why the Puget Sound is merely Wet LA.
I don’t think that is the suggestion. First of all, it has nothing to do with cars. It has to do with buses versus trains. Train service is leapfrogging bus service, in the same way that high speed rail is leapfrogging decent train service. It should really go buses, trains, high speed trains.
That is because trains aren’t necessarily cheap. They scale up really well, but they don’t scale down well. A train from point A to point B may be just as expensive as a bus. Often times it is more expensive (for example, if you don’t own the track, which is the case here). Thus buses running every hour to Spokane or Yakima is likely cheaper than trains running every hour. It is just that you can get by with fewer trains.
Typically this involves a trade-off. Yes, buses running every 5 minutes to Portland would be great, but it is very expensive. We are better off running trains every hour. Doing so is not necessarily better for the rider, but it isn’t bad at all, and much cheaper.
But in this case, we aren’t talking about running dozens of buses. My guess is, we would have just as many buses as we would trains. Right now there is one bus a day from Seattle to Yakima (on Greyhound). It would be nice to have four. My guess is, four buses a day would be a lot cheaper than four trains.
Of course there are other trade-offs. All other things being equal, a train is a lot more enjoyable, especially for a longer trip. But in this case, it is possible a bus would be significantly faster. It could also be more convenient (it could easily stop on the east side somewhere before heading east). But as of right now, the biggest problem is that the public options for getting from Yakima to Seattle are so infrequent. One bus a day — that’s it. Let’s ramp that up before we talk about ramping up the trains.
I’ll add that it is very common for folks to come back from Europe and laud their train service. Rightfully so. But the buses are great as well. There are plenty of towns that are not served by rail, but have bus service. There are connections that are done with both buses and trains. Maybe a train once or twice a day, but buses more often. Our intercity train service could definitely get better, but the same thing is said for our intercity bus service.
We can do a direct comparison between buses and trains since both Greyhound and Amtrak run from the same stations in Seattle and Spokane:
Greyhound is currently ~$33-38 SEA->SPK (via I-90/Snoqualmie Pass) and takes 5 hours: https://www.greyhound.com/en-us/bus-from-seattle-to-spokane
There is also a $~64 SEA->SPK (via SR-2/Stevens Pass) that takes 7.25 hours.
Amtrak (Empire Builder) is currently $~76 SEA->SPK via Stevens Pass and takes 7.75 hours (but is frequently delayed by hours mid-route); Amtrak also runs a connecting bus for ~$30 that is about 5 mins faster.
Let’s look at flights, since it’s that 300-mile sweet spot.
On a random friday in August, there are (by my count) 20 non-stop flights from SEA->GEG, costs ranging from $80-200 via a mix of narrow-body turboprop planes and 737s. Each flight takes just over 1 hour, but with security, boarding, and deplaning, I add at least 2 hours, if not 3, to any air travel count.
So it’s 3-4 hours of air travel, vs 5 hours of bus, vs 7+ hours of train to cross the Cascades and get from Seattle to Spokane.
Renting a compact/efficient (~40mpg) car at $60/day, plus gas (~$5/gal = or $0.125/mile), means the ~300 mile drive is about $100, and takes 4.25 hours at the speed limit, and you have a “free” car on each end.
Frankly, until there’s real political pressure to get an electrified rail trip to <4 hours from Seattle to Spokane (meaning an average speed of ~75 mph) or even from Vancouver/Portland to Spokane (an average speed of ~100 mph), ground travel can only ever compete on cost; and being only ~$40 cheaper than flying but costing an extra ~2 hours is only barely worth it if you're valuing your time at minimum wage.
I wonder if these commuters were the ones answering the survey in the East West Rail report.
“I don’t think that is the suggestion. First of all, it has nothing to do with cars.”
Hey, I’m not the one who said it, asdf2 was:
“Of course, one could imagine an alternative universe where I-90 is a constant traffic jam from Cle Elem to North Bend at all hours of the day and buses running every half hour between Seattle and Spokane are jam packed.”
Well, technically he didn’t use the word cars.
What asdf2 did is create a straw-man argument, because he ignored what the report discussed, (the current active rail route,) and compared it to direct Seattle to Spokane express service.
” Train service is leapfrogging bus service, in the same way that high speed rail is leapfrogging decent train service. It should really go buses, trains, high speed trains.”
and I differ in the transition criteria.
Roads are made for SOV’s
Stroads are made for a LOT of SOV’s
BRT just makes for an even wider Stroad.
Transitioning to rail at that point is moot, because the environment is already pedestrian-hostile.
Prior to the automobile, trains and interurbans had already done the leapfrogging, hence a pedestrian scale environment.
Keep the number of lanes on any arterial to 4, the same for Interstates (unless adding one climbing lane,) and that’s it. After which, begin a modest rail service.
The issue Nathan touches on is how do you get around once you get to Spokane or Yakima. I have relatives in both I often visit. Each city can be either very cold or very hot, and have very little “urban” density. Parking is universally free and available everywhere including downtown. I don’t know how much intra-city transit coverage and frequency there is since I have never taken transit in either although bus service from the airport to downtown Spokane is ok I am told, and Uber can be expensive ($50) from the airport, and not easy to get later at night.
The other dirty secret is if you own a car it isn’t hard to add a little work to the trip so you get the business mileage deduction, which is now 62.5 cents/mile. One way that is 300 miles X .62 = $186.
Spokane at 300 miles is about 60 miles too far for me when driving although I drive fairly slow compared to my eastern WA siblings (they laugh at a four hour trip time). I especially don’t like the drive in winter. If you pre-check and get a ride to the airport and carry on your luggage you can do the trip in 2 to 2.5 hours by plane, but need someone to pick you up in Spokane.
My brother has taken the train before. One point he makes is it is a very bumpy ride with lots of swaying and sometimes it seems like you are going at walking speed the train is going so slowly. The trip times are odd too.
Seattle to Portland at 180 miles is the sweet spot in which taking a plane vs. driving or a train is a tough call. Parking can be expensive downtown (although most I know who go for pleasure now avoid downtown Portland) or the train, but then you have to get around Portland. Something like San Francisco is flying all the way, unless you have to take a car and school supplies with your kid to school, but then fly back.
Low cost improvements to existing rail routes make sense. The Point Defiance bypass is relatively good value for the money. The problem is, for Seattle/Spokane, unlike Seattle/Portland, you can’t make the train time competitive with a bus for anything remotely low cost.
Nor is closing off popular bike trails, just in case we might need a train route there someday, a good idea. The highway is better suited for passenger traffic anyway, and the bike trail is getting good use as a bike trail now. Sections of the bike trail are also used by hikers to access many hiking destinations, such as Mt. Washington. There is also a climbing wall there as well.
“Nor is closing off popular bike trails, just in case we might need a train route there someday, a good idea. The highway is better suited for passenger traffic anyway,”
By your logic – if a rail route is railbanked, once you get the tracks torn out, it’s now ‘owned’ by the bicylists, and you should use the highway.
Ah, partners-in-crime, the Road-Gangers and the Spandex-Mafia.
Hey, I’d be happy if they all paid a fare to use the facilities.
“One point he makes is it is a very bumpy ride with lots of swaying and sometimes it seems like you are going at walking speed the train is going so slowly. “
That’s because he’s not driving, and doesn’t have the ‘through the windshield’ view. No speedometer to look at, no turnouts to anticipate, so every movement seems to be a surprise. How does he cope with airplane turbulence?
“The trip times are odd too.”
That’s because the only east-west rail option is the Empire Builder, whose schedule contains turning and servicing the train and sending it back east (Seattle and Portland sections). It has to be nighttime somewhere for that train, and Spokane (and Sandpoint, and Libby) get to be the ones.
It’s why a daytime train has some appeal.
“Parking can be expensive downtown (although most I know who go for pleasure now avoid downtown Portland) or the train, but then you have to get around Portland.”
Maybe your destination is in downtown Portland or the frequent-transit area. My last six trips were to downtown (the convention center), Gateway Station (a friend’s apartment, and a cheap motel for another convention), and east Stark Street (another friend, a long walk from MAX), and the Hawthorne District (a bus, or a long walk from MAX). All those were within the frequent transit area. And MAX and the streetcars go to a lot of other places I might stay at someday.
“I don’t know how much intra-city transit coverage and frequency there is since I have never taken transit in either although bus service from the airport to downtown Spokane is ok I am told”
Spokane transit is like Tacoma I’d say. it runs through the evening, and most routes are probably half-hourly. They’re putting in a RapidRide-like line from Browne’s Addition west of downtown to the WSU campus and Spokane Community College in the east side of the city. It wasn’t finished when I was there, but there’s a nice riverfront walk from downtown to WSU in the meantime. I tried to walk the rest of the route east, but I accidentally turned west instead and ended up going through frat houses. (Not fancy mansions like at UW, but ordinary small houses with Greek letters on them.)
I don’t know about transit to Spokane Airport; I always take Greyhound or a stopover on Amtrak, and the station is right in the center of the city. A few blocks north on the riverfront is a pleasant gentrified area next to Riverfront Park.
I know nothing about Yakima transit. The one time I was in Yakima in the early 80s, the residential street my friend lived on outside the city limits was a dirt road.
I have a question for folks. Let’s say you have a route where half the buses end at a particular spot (e. g. Northgate Transit Center) but the other half keep going. It isn’t really a branch, but it operates like it. From a numbering standpoint, there are three ways to handle this:
1) Keep the same number, just change the name. For example, sometimes the 3 ends at 21st and James; sometimes it ends in Madrona, but it is always the 3.
2) Have the number change as it through-routes. This happens a bit to the 124 at night. Half the time it continues as the 24; the other half it just ends downtown. https://kingcounty.gov/depts/transportation/metro/schedules-maps/hastop/124.aspx#sunday.
3) Two different routes, with one simply a subset of the other. I don’t have an example of that, but it seems intuitive.
Any preference? I think I like the last one the best.
I think they have to be different numbers, so #1 doesn’t work, unless it’s a very minor tail.
#2 may work if the ‘keep going’ branch is an express run – for example, the 41 truncates at Northgate TC but there’s a 41X that hops on the freeway and runs through SLU (or wherever).
Otherwise yeah, #3 seems best.
I think it really depends on the route and available numbers. I generally line to starting a new route number — but only if the number can be similar to the root route number. Example, Rainier could have a new Route 6 since it’s close to 7 as well as Route 106.
If a route short turns for some runs I think it’s better to keep the same number as a longer route. Route 3 does this. If a rider hops on and finds that they haven’t gotten to their destination bus stop, it may still be close enough to walk or just wait at the end for the next bus. Maybe routes could have a * to indicate that it’s not going all the way. I would not however encourage letters with numbers as that gets very confiding very fast in a system with dozens or hundreds of routes.
4) Have a letter suffix. Route 3 runs to Madrona; Route 3B ends at 21st. An example is Route 5K from Durham, NC (though admittedly, they use letter suffixes for other things too.)
#1 has the problem of passenger confusion; #2 has the problem of obscuring the relationship between the routes (“hey, why does Route 39 end in the middle of nowhere at 21st and James and we need to transfer to Route 3 to get downtown?”); #3 has the problem of making people remember more things (“To get to 21st and James, I need to take Route 3 or… what’s that other route?”). Letter suffixes, IMO, offer the best of all worlds.
I think #3 is preferable but if so then it should appear in the timetable with the primary route.
Eg, it would help me a lot if TriMet 291 appeared in the 33 schedule, even though north of Milwaukie they are two separate routes.
The combined schedules King County Metro has/had for certain routes was really helpful in cases like this.
I don’t like adding letter suffixes to numbers because it can be difficult to interpret if part of the display segments go bad. Eg, R, 8 and B can all be difficult to differentiate if a piece goes bad. We’ve enough numbers available on earth we don’t need numbers + letters.
I prefer #1, but I’ve heard others prefer different endpoints to have different numbers. The 3 has always had short-turn runs, at least since I was a teenager. Some say “to downtown only” when they go northbound to Belltown, some say “First Hill” when they go eastbound to 21st. I may have seen a 2 with “to downtown only” too.
If there are different numbers they should be related. 24 and 124 is good, or 131 and 132.
#2 is not really what you’re talking about. The 24 andf 124 are two different routes that happen to be through-routed, not one route with short runs. Sometimes at service changes, through-routes are reconnected to different routes, and it would confuse people totally to have the route on their street change numbers every time that happened.
The 24 and 124 are two different routes that happen to be through-routed, not one route with short runs.
That is a distinction without a difference. It is fundamentally the same thing in every case. The only difference between these various buses is the numbering scheme. You are calling them two different routes only because they have two different numbers. Theoretically, Metro could have a different name for the little stub of the 3 from 21st to Madrona.
For that matter, they could redo the numbering of the 3 and 4. From Nickerson (in north Queen Anne) to 2st (in the CD) could be the 34. Then the bus transitions to the 3, transitions to the 4, or just ends. That would be essentially what the 124 does, except the transition point is downtown.
The point is, there is no consistent standard within our system. From Queen Anne, the 2, 3 and 4 go through downtown, come out the other end, and never change their number. From Queen Anne, the 1 runs through downtown, and changes into the 14. If you look at the schedule, they are very similar. In both cases the buses almost always go through downtown and keep going to serve the other part of town. But in both cases, there are exceptions (where they end downtown).
But that is what I’m getting at. Is it easier to have buses change numbers, or stay the same? Is it easier to have the stubs with the same name, or not? I don’t think there is one right answer — it is clearly a matter of opinion. Letter would help, to be sure. As with any branching scheme (or through-routing scheme) common numbering helps.
I should add that any system can lead to confusion. If buses change numbers, it is confusing. If you have to keep track of several buses that follow the same route (at least initially) you can lose track. If buses just end, seemingly arbitrarily, it is confusing.
I do like the idea of letters. Now that the 3 is the same in Queen Anne, I would just call that route the 3, but with different letters for each variation. This could be arbitrary (3A, 3B, 3C) or somehow be an abbreviation. From a system wide perspective, we could use ‘S’ for every stub or short version of a route. That leaves each branch. In this case, I would go with “3M” for the branch that goes to Madrona, and “3J” for the branch that goes to Judkins Park.
While it would take getting used to, I think it would be an improvement. A lot of riders (I’m guessing the vast majority) could ignore the letter in this case. They don’t care what version of the 3 to take.
This would be more of a challenge with a bus like the 33, which sometimes through-routes with the 27, and sometimes through-routes with the 124. You could easily create a case where someone has to remember number-letter combinations, instead of just numbers. “I can take the 124D, but not the 124M. Or I can take the 27, as long as it isn’t a 27S.”
By the way, I’m not proposing a big name change for buses. I’m just saying it isn’t easy.
Of course I brought this up while playing around with some ideas for a Lynnwood Link based bus restructure. To a certain extent, there is no simple answer, or rather, the simple answer is “it depends”.
“That is a distinction without a difference. It is fundamentally the same thing in every case. The only difference between these various buses is the numbering scheme.”
And some are more logical as one route than others.
“The point is, there is no consistent standard within our system. From Queen Anne, the 2, 3 and 4 go through downtown, come out the other end, and never change their number. From Queen Anne, the 1 runs through downtown, and changes into the 14.”
The 2, 3, and 4 are the last holdouts of a Metro pattern that was common in the 70s: trolley routes with downtown in the middle.
The 271 has three different eastern terminals. The bus signage, or the paper schedule, or bus post schedule, or the bus driver, or onboard automated audio and visual announcements, or rider information, or OBA, or KC Trip Planner, will tell them which terminal their particular 271 is going to. With all those options, if they still can’t figure out where the bus is going, the problem doesn’t lie with how buses are numbered or signed.
@Sam — You’ve clearly never chased after a bus with a particular number, only to board it and realize it isn’t heading to your destination. Or struggled at a crowded bus stop, wondering whether the sign on the bus says “Cowen Park” or “Jackson Park” knowing that the former will actually take you out of your way. It isn’t fun.
There is a reason why buses have numbers and not just descriptions. It is so people can recognize the bus very quickly.
Ross, I’ve made riding mistakes, but in every case, I blame it on my inattention. Like, the time I mistakenly jumped on the express version of a route instead of the local, and it took me a mile away from where I wanted to go. Or, the time I let a B Line pass me by. It was signed up B Line, but it wasn’t the red bus, it was a substitute green one, so I assumed it wasn’t mine. Or, the time I was trying to take a bus in within downtown, didn’t hear the “last stop downtown” announcement, the bus jumped on the viaduct, and I got dumped on Harbor Island, when my destination was Pioneer Square.
You may say, well, what if the 271 were actually three different route numbers going eastbound, to differentiate the three different terminals. That might eliminate some mistakes, but not others. There’d still be the inattentive rider who gets on at Eastgate, thinks he’s going to UW, but winds up at Issaquah.
Sam, Route 271 has four termini: Eastgate, SE 37th Street, Issaquah TC, and Newport and Sunset. The second one is used by some a.m. peak period trips; they serve the Advanta offices; the fourth one is used when routes 200 and 208 have gone to bed.
My preference would be for 1 or 3, since using the second option means that people can’t take advantage of the through-route unless they ask the driver on boarding, or just gamble every time.
That said, Metro is particularly awful about the first option when it comes to signage. For instance, the 44 has a couple short runs in the morning going eastbound that end at U-District Station, and a few runs that continue as the 43. In both cases, these are signed UW STADIUM on the bus, since I think the short-runs started as 43 runs that were then cut, but it’s silly having the same signage for what are clearly different routes, especially since 45th & Brooklyn is nowhere near the stadium. If you’re a Pantograph user, you can distinguish the short-runs since they show up as UNIVERSITY DISTRICT but I doubt many people beyond the STB community are Pantograph users.
It’s not an issue right now since they’re temporarily canceled but I imagine they’ll come back at some point, especially since the 44 badly needs its old frequency back.
This afternoon I took the Light Rail from Northgate around 1230 pm and the train in all 4 cars it was standing room only with fans heading to the Mariners game. This was not the first time I have seen this as a couple of weeks it was the same thing for a Sounders game. So people are using the Light Rail to get to the stadiums and for the most part parking at the Northgate. I can imagine that it will be the same for Seahawks games this fall.
I was not going to the game this afternoon but when I went home at around 3 pm it was also standing room only and this was before the game was over. So it is not just during the week but also on the weekends when people are riding
On the day of the Pride parade I mentioned that trains were running northbound every two minutes. At 6pm I was waiting for a southbound train from UW to Capitol Hill, and four northbound trains in a row came. The current train still had its doors open when the two-minute announcement for the next train came. The first two were packed. The third was less so, and the fourth still less. The fourth train said it was going out of service and kicked everybody off, then sat on the track and took a siesta. A couple minutes later a voice said it was going southbound. It was hard to hear but I thought I heard that. I had to tell others it was southbound, and show them how to press the button to open the doors if they wanted to get in or out. Then it went south on the northbound track, at first saying “Sound Transit”, then in the tunnel “Angle Lake”. I got off at Capitol Hill and it was on the southbound track, so it must have switched south of U-District. There was a Northgate train on the other platform, and before I got on the elevator there was an announcement of another northbound train. Somebody said there was a ballgame that day as well as Pride.
Jeff, those people on the train were not “riders”. They were demonstrably not headed to work and therefore were obviously deadbeats not paying since nobody except employers pay for transit and those folks’ employers weren’t paying for them to go to baseball games. Not to mention that it’s Sunday.
This is clearly “anecdata” and not worth giving a smidgen of a care to.
“Jeff, those people on the train were not “riders”. They were demonstrably not headed to work and therefore were obviously deadbeats not paying since nobody except employers pay for transit and those folks’ employers weren’t paying for them to go to baseball games. Not to mention that it’s Sunday.
“This is clearly “anecdata” and not worth giving a smidgen of a care to.”
Tom, I don’t know what the fare paying percentage of riders on Link going to and from sports games are, or that was the demographic we are spending $142 billion for.
But, farebox recovery is a very important issue.
When ST — or any agency — formulates levies for Link or transit it must: 1. accurately and honestly estimate the future operations and maintenance (O&M) costs, although almost universally these costs are underestimated; 2. determine farebox recovery (riders X fares paid and amount of fares); and 3. determine the remaining unpaid percentage of O&M costs and recover those from general fund taxes. The simple rule is O&M funding from all sources must meet O&M costs.
Since the agency obviously wants to pass the levy and the general taxes are the most apparent to voters the incentive is to lower those by: 1. overestimating farebox recovery, either riders or fares paid, because that is like free money; 2. underestimating future O&M costs; or 3.
overestimating general tax revenues for O&M which often depend on economic circumstances, and things like a pandemic and inflation, and population gain estimates and whether those new residents will ride transit in greater percentages than historically for this area.
40% was an unreasonable farebox recovery assumption for ST (and no doubt included riders going to sporting events). Metro’s assumption is 20%. Before the pandemic on the most popular Link line — UW to downtown — farebox recovery was 30%. Even without a pandemic we now understand that ST over-estimated ridership and assumed a very high fare paying percentage due to the work commuter and the fact employers were paying many of those fares (hence no structural fare paying system like turnstiles). Post pandemic lines like East Link and Federal Way Link could see 50% of estimated ridership, much of that pandemic related, but much due to overly “optimistic” estimates.
Construction quality on Link looks mediocre so far. Line 1 is aging. Some things like the I-90 bridge could be problematic from an O&M standpoint based on post tensioning and stray currents. There is refurbishing DSTT1.
All this means is ST will experience a shortfall in O&M revenue. How much I don’t know, but it was always likely with the 40% recovery assumption and inflated ridership estimates. The pandemic simply accelerated this issue, although federal pandemic stimulus funds helped.
“Extending” the ST taxes another five years does not do anything to bridge O&M budgets because those are “now”, not 25 years in the future (and don’t do anything for capital budgets either if project completion is extended five years concurrently with taxes in a high inflation market. Issaquah to S. Kirkland did not get cheaper by moving the start and completion dates five years into the future). It makes little sense to argue the levies included O&M costs. We know that. But like project cost estimates in the same levies the issue is the estimates were “optimistic”, and then a pandemic came along.
Yesterday The Seattle Times reprinted an article from WaPo asking major employers to predict the future of work. The common theme among the five different concepts was much less commuting to and from work, which overall is a very good thing for the workers and the planet (and a central tenant of urbanism in which a worker lives closer to work, but now not in an urban center so much). But it does skew the ridership assumptions ST is based upon when those were inflated to begin with.
The other almost universal truth is public agencies when faced with a shortfall in O&M — which they are universally faced with — tend to focus any O&M revenue on immediate operations and maintenance. This is why the NY and DC systems need tens of billions of dollars in upgrades despite such huge ridership, and around $100 billion of the infrastructure funding for transit will simply go towards upgrading existing systems that have fallen into disrepair due to badly estimated O&M budgets because public staff are never held accountable for bad estimates and are often gone to Florida with their pensions when the shortfalls become apparent with old and dilapidated trains.
My humble suggestions to ST would be:
1. Implement an objective fare paying system at stations like turnstiles.
2. Stop building remote lines that ST knows had very optimistic ridership estimates pre-pandemic, at least until we see actual ridership on the more remote lines that will be completed (East, Federal Way, and Lynnwood Link).
3. Be honest about the future O&M costs and general fund tax revenue allocated to O&M.
4. Figure out ways to bridge the gap, which usually are: 1. higher fares; 2. lower costs (frequency or automation, or lower CBA costs although that is hard in a high inflation market); 3. more riders; 4. higher fare paying percentages; 5. federal funding; 6. more general tax revenue, probably an O&M levy.
This really has little to do with whether the riders are white-collar work commuters, blue collar workers, or those going to games. It has to do with the NUMBER of riders, and how many pay a fare, and also the accuracy of future O&M costs I am certain were underestimated. The reality is even with a 100% fare paying percentage on Link today and tomorrow there isn’t the number of riders to come close to the 40% farebox recovery rate, so figure out how to bridge that gap.
Daniel literally cannot imagine riders using Link for anything other than work commuting, or why they would be bothered to pay for it, hence his inability to recognize the obvious sarcasm in Tom’s comment.
The sarcasm was not hard to see, Nathan. Subtlety is not a strong suit for most on this blog.
My point, which you seem to miss, is that this is not a class issue, as much as you would like it to be. I think many on this blog just don’t see this issue, just like many didn’t see it when I questioned the cost estimate of DSTT2 and ST’s claimed need for capacity.
Of course the loss of a very large demographic like peak commuters is going to affect O&M assumptions. So is the fare paying percentage of those still riding Link, which is a point Rogoff tried to warn the Board about as he was heading out the door. Those peak riders were not captains of industry or hedge fund managers, or “the man”. They didn’t stop riding transit to work because of class warfare. They just did not like spending two hours of their lives every day getting to transit to get to work to then get back home. So their employers stopped subsidizing transit for them. Win/win for everyone.
My advice for ST is to start now figuring out how to bridge the gap between O&M revenue and O&M costs on Link because the route is fixed which leaves only frequency as a cost variable, due to ST’s inflated ridership, declines in ridership due to the pandemic, lower fare paying percentages, and likely underestimated O&M future costs.
Don’t stick your head in the sand and then moan about some class warfare BS because Link needs to raise fares or lower frequency, or the trains and stations start to look like crap. My other advice would be to not look at suburbia for the votes to pass an O&M levy, certainly not at this point, including S. King Co., Pierce and Snohomish which will have a lower percentage of yes votes than East King Co.
Of course you could see Tom’s sarcasm, which is why you wrote another several hundred words about O&M since you believe there aren’t enough people paying to ride. Sure.
Since you refuse to do any research whatsoever to provide evidence to support any of your arguments, I did some digging myself. According to ST:
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.
Based on the 2022 Financial Plan and Adopted Budget (December 2021 – I’ll let you find a link to it yourself), the vast majority of funding comes from sales taxes, and they have it noted that the sales tax rate is subject to rollback after completion of all voter-approved capital projects.
So there you have it – although the dates haven’t been updated with the Realignment, it’s clear that ST has access to plenty of funding. The real “problem” is seeing if they can return to their farebox recovery goal. Only fools will pretend to know with any certainty what ridership and farebox recovery will look like any time soon.
Daniel, if you will recall, I’m for turnstiles. Don’t tsunami me with yet another three thousand words on the importance of fare collection.
Fares and Farebox Recovery are complex topics and there’s honestly no completely right or wrong answer as to how it should be handled. Farebox Recovery Rate is a term that I see thrown around by NIMBYS often as a means to deter building of projects or finding transit even though
1. Farebox Recovery is an overall aggregate of fares paid into the system. Some lines have low cost per rider or mile and more or less break even or pay for themselves whereas others are heavily subsidized (like the commuter express routes to the exurbs for instance with KCM)
2. No system is going to have 100% farebox recovery,, taxes and other funding resources are needed to get that good service to where it is no matter what. Other countries with good transit actually pay for their transit costs through much higher gas taxes than us. They pay about $2-3 per gallon in taxes when refueling in many instances. We pay about 20 to 50 cents per gallon. It makes a world of difference in how much we’re able to afford and make things more equitable for us as a society.
I’d also point out that proof of payment is generally a fairly common method in many parts of the world (Germany, Austria, Denmark, Canada, etc.
I know you are Tom.
“Don’t stick your head in the sand and then moan about some class warfare”
Public transit debate in the US is rooted in classism no matter where you go and will likely stay that way for a long time. It has been for decades outside of a few select areas (like the NE) where it is seen as the ride for the poor, BIPOC, disabled, and elderly. This in turn creates a dichotomy where some view car ownership as true freedom and disregard the needs of people who don’t own a car (whether by choice or not) and transit riders are left to suffer through badly designed or inefficient transit to please NIMBYS.
Kemper Freeman fought the building of the Eastside Link line that was in process being designed at time with potential Bellevue Way stations on Main and next to the Bellevue Square area. His arguments were rooted in a lot of classism even if he wasn’t always upfront and outward in saying “I don’t want poor people here”, which isn’t too surprising based on the history of Kemper Freeman or his late father in the building of the current Downtown Bellevue. Kemper Freeman made it abundantly clear while the extension was in the planning and design stage that he didn’t want “those” people coming to Bellevue Square even though he’d greatly benefit from the new foot traffic he’d get from a Link station because he viewed it as diluting the clientele he was wanting to attract to his mall. Which is on some level amusing in context now because the Bravern is now closer to a Link light rail station than Bellevue Square and that Bellevue Square isn’t even that posh as he says it is.
At the end of the day, you cannot truly separate classism from the public transit debate, now matter how much we’d like to say it’s a non issue in the grander scheme of things. Because good public transit is designed to serve everyone and helps in mitigating and uplifting people by making it easier to get places without the need for a car, by choice or not.
Does Kemper Freeman also own the LQA businesses near Republican street who say they don’t want a Link station near them?
Kemper said his “those people” quote was taken out of context. He wasn’t saying that working-class people and minorities shouldn’t come to the Square, but that people dress up to go to the Square in a way that they don’t for Southcenter. So people will wear hear curlers and flip-flops to Southcenter but the same people will dress up to go to Bellevue Square.
“Fare revenue fell from $96.9 million in 2019 to $30.6 million in 2021. That’s a 68% decline, mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the agency’s most recent fare revenue report.
“Fare revenue fell again in 2021 to $28 million, according to a recent report to the Sound Transit board. Total expenses for Sound Transit were $2.6 billion in 2020, according to the Department of Transportation.”
“Fare evasion on Link was 3% in 2018-2019. That jumped to 10% to 30% in 2020-2021, according to a board report. The non-fare boarding rate was 14% in 2018-2019. That increased to 31% to 60% in 2020-2021.”
“The fare evasion rate is the observed non-payment rate during fare checks while the non-fare boarding rate is sampled based on automatic passenger counters compared to taps and paper tickets sold. The latter includes legitimate non-fare boardings, such as children younger than 6, and fare evasion.”
“The board, made up of elected and appointed officials from throughout the system’s service area, is expected to consider raising rates or lowering its fare revenue targets “as part of its comprehensive fares strategy within the next 18 months,” Cunningham said in an email to The Center Square.”
“After successful voter-approved funding referendums in 1996 and 2008, the board set a policy in 2010 that required light rail fares to cover 40% of operating costs on 1 Line. Since 2010, that target was met once, in 2017. Every other year, fare revenues have failed to meet the board’s farebox recovery ratio, according to Krieg’s presentation.”
“In 2019, Link brought in $43,241,285 in fares compared with operating expenses of $127,727,513 for a farebox recovery ratio of 34%. That ratio dropped to 8% in 2020, according to Sound Transit’s 2020 Fare Revenue Report.”
“Trends since 2019 are reducing finance plan fare revenue projections by $2-3 billion,” Krieg wrote. “Without addressing these trends, there will be continued impacts to our ability to meet service and potential project commitments.”
“When the farebox recovery rates fall below the target set by the board, the board may consider a fare change proposal that includes an analysis of Sound Transit’s fare revenues, operating costs and fare structures, according to board policy.
“The agency’s Fall 2021 Finance Plan update included a $3 billion increase in projected operating costs through 2046, according to Krieg’s presentation.
“The last time Sound Transit adjusted fares was in July 2020 when it moved ST Express bus fare to a flat fee of $3.25 for adult passengers. That change resulted in some adult users paying 50 cents more per trip and others paying 50 cents less per trip.
“Krieg outlined the steps the transit board would need to consider in the coming four to 18 months. Those steps include authorizing daily paid parking and potentially increasing Link fares or changing the fare structure. The board could also consider changing farebox recovery targets.”
[See linked article for a chart of farebox recovery rates from 2010 through 2021, along with Link non-fare boardings 2019 — 2022 (monthly data).
There is also an interesting 2017 STB article discussing farebox recovery efficiency, with several commentors discussing how both the numerator and denominator can be manipulated. https://seattletransitblog.com/2017/04/04/farebox-recovery-efficiency/
I think the steep decline in ST Express ridership post pandemic mirrors lines that will become Link (East, Federal Way and Lynnwood) and reflect high peak commuter ridership. My guess is part of the increase in fare evasion percentages is the loss of the peak commuter with a very high fare paying percentage so the current higher fare evasion percentage is possibly the same number of riders not paying a fare but a lower number of riders who do pay a fare.
At least this article suggests to me ST is aware of the issue, and of course on June 1 I believe Rogoff made it a central theme in his report to the Board. Over the next 18 months the Board “is expected to consider raising rates or lowering its fare revenue targets “as part of its comprehensive fares strategy within the next 18 months,” Cunningham said in an email to The Center Square.” I don’t quite see how lowering fare revenue targets bridges the actual gap between operations revenue and operations costs however.
Tom, I don’t know what the fare paying percentage of riders on Link going to and from sports games are, or that was the demographic we are spending $142 billion for.
Wait, what??? Are you saying there is a particular demographic that is well suited for transit, and it doesn’t include people going to games? That is ridiculous.
A good metro/subway (like Link) should be designed for everyone. I can’t emphasize that enough. It isn’t just for commuters, or students, or for people going out to the clubs, or to the ball game, or the symphony, or anything else. It is for all those people, and more.
You seem to think that a decrease in commuting somehow changes anything. It doesn’t. ST3 is crap with or without commuters. The existing Link system is good despite the hit to rush-hour commuting. The vast majority of systems work that way.
Commuter rail is not that way. By its very nature it is likely to be hit hard by more people working at home. Sure enough, it did. So what? In our case it might prove to be *more* cost effective. Maybe we don’t need bigger trains, or negotiate with BNSF for better headways. Generally speaking, transit scales, but there are exceptions, and this is likely one of them. Commuter rail never gets huge ridership. It is merely a cheap way to provide a small subset of transit riders with a fairly high quality ride. In the grand scheme of things, commuter rail ridership isn’t that important.
Which brings us back to Link. As of right now, Link is more or less a standard metro/subway. The stop spacing is bad, and there were some big blunders (e. g. missing First Hill) but overall it operates just like you would expect a mass transit system to. Lots of trips are taken to everywhere. All the studies confirm this.
Unfortunately, the system will transition to being a commuter rail/subway hybrid. As trains leave the city, and travel with multiple stops next to the freeway, ridership per mile will actually go down. This is a big deal. Ridership per mile is hugely important, and normally goes up as you expand. It expanded like crazy when trains got to the UW. It went up as we got to Northgate. In all cases we served cost-effective sections, but more importantly, improved the network. The network effect is huge with an effective urban subway — it is largely non-existent with a commuter rail or express bus system.
Consider Northgate for example. As an express to downtown, the 41 got good ridership, especially during rush hour. Now, those riders actually have a significant worse commute than they did ten years ago. They used to take the bus and it would get them right into the heart of downtown. Now, they have to transfer. Thus from a rush-hour commuter standpoint, things got worse. These numbers are even worse with more people working from home. It is OK, because of the network effect. There are people going from Northgate to Roosevelt, the UW, Capitol Hill, Rainier Valley, the airport and yes, even the stadiums. The same thing is true for the other stations. I’m too lazy to do the math, but the combinations increased significantly, to significant destinations. Lots of people head *to* Northgate, because of the college and the clinics there. It is clearly part of an all-day transit network. So much so that rush-hour commuters (that you obsess over) are relatively unimportant. So unimportant that we told them we would make their commute a little bit worse so that we could make all the other trips a lot better.
Unfortunately, you get less and less of a network effect as you go farther out. There just aren’t a lot of people trying to get from Ash Way to Fife. That’s why ridership per mile will actually go down. The fact that it will be even worse than that (because or people working from home) is largely irrelevant. The parts of ST3 Link that are bad are still bad. The parts that are good are still good.
Ross, I have never stated WSBLE or ST 3 would be a good transit investment if the commuter returned. In fact, ST’s inflated ridership estimates on these ST lines still include the return of the commuter, and they are still a bad transit investment.
Neither did I ever indicate Link is only intended for the peak commuter, although its routing indicates that was its primary mission. What I stated is that the cost and capacity of Link in this fairly undense region does not make economic sense — especially when it comes to farebox recovery assumptions and operations costs — without the peak commuter and their revenue.
“You seem to think that a decrease in commuting somehow changes anything. It doesn’t. ST3 is crap with or without commuters. The existing Link system is good despite the hit to rush-hour commuting. The vast majority of systems work that way.”
The change to commuting has one significant effect: it reduces the number of transit riders which reduces the amount of fare revenue. The “existing Link system” if you mean Northgate to maybe CID is still a good system without the peak commuter, mostly because of UW, but not East Link, Lynnwood Link or Federal Way Link which has always been my point. Another more intangible effect from the loss of the peak commuter is the lower odds any kind of ST wide levy can pass.
I didn’t design Link. I have never thought the spine was a good idea, and have always questioned the population growth, density, and ridership estimates used to sell the spine that many transit advocates and urbanists used to shout down any criticism.
All I am saying is the loss of the peak commuter and their fare revenue, especially as the spine moves to more and more suburban commuter routes that will intrinsically have lower farebox recovery rates (even with the return of the peak commuter), will cause an operations shortfall. Some wait like Godot for that peak rider to return to avoid this issue, but as I posted earlier ST has increased its operations budget estimate through 2046 by $3 billion and somehow plans to cut $3 billion in operations costs. My guess is the shortfall is greater than $6 billion.
As I noted yesterday, like most project cost estimates, ST was wildly optimistic on operations costs and farebox recovery, and the loss of the peak commuter and lack of massive regional population growth is going to squeeze ST operations budgets from both ends.
Even if Northgate to CID is still a worthy light rail system you still have to fund its operations. There really isn’t a point in debating with me over the efficacy of any of the Link routes since I don’t ride Link, and my subarea won’t have it now for another two years (and my city has practically zero first/last mile access other than a park and ride).
I am just saying the loss of the commuter and their fare along with optimistic estimates by ST is going to put a funding squeeze on Link operations. It is exactly why you don’t build extremely expensive light rail in rural areas, or in suburban areas like East King Co., Federal Way or Lynnwood.
Ross: “ Unfortunately, the system will transition to being a commuter rail/subway hybrid.”
Reading the tea leaves, ST will just end up short-turning half of the trains on Link unless they can become driverless. ST makes these grand promises that Tacoma and Everett will have a train every 6 minutes at peak and every 10 minutes until after 10 pm. There will be long stretches where there will be only a few riders on each car. Like any transit agency, ST at some point will have to “right size” their frequency to match demand and short-turn half of trains to save operations costs.
The further a city is from Seattle, the more likely the service reduction will be. These cities better be focusing on their station areas now, and encourage things that create riders all day, like medical facilities, colleges and other destinations that are popular.
“ There just aren’t a lot of people trying to get from Ash Way to Fife”
I think one of the biggest unknowns is how EQ casinos will interact with Link at Fife and East Tacoma. They are huge all-day trip generators! Casino gambling (and drinking) may even emerge as the second biggest reason riders would choose Link to go to Pierce County after commuting. I’ll even note that casino demographics seems to steer a bit more towards people born in other countries where transit is less demonized and more popular.
Is operations revenue (farebox and general tax revenue) and operations costs subarea specific? If so that could be interesting. What if Tacoma has the operations revenue to run trains to Tacoma but S. King Co. does not have the money to operate the trains, stations and lines between N. King Co. and Pierce Co. I imagine each subarea would be pretty territorial about having its operations revenue reallocated to another subarea even if the ridership was higher there (Snohomish to N. King Co. for example). I would think at some point ST would have to come up with some kind of operations revenue allocation formula per rider if operations revenue gets tight.
“There will be long stretches where there will be only a few riders on each car.”
Probably more than you think. Evenings I’d expect 1-3 people per station per trip at the low stations, and that adds up to 10-30 people per ten stations. That’s for 15 minutes of operating time, or 40-120 passengers per operating hour. All the existing stations have that; it’s rare to see absolutely zero people getting on/off. The most likely place I’d expect zero on the south line is at Redondo, because the P&R is isolated and pedestrians might take the A to another station instead.
“I think one of the biggest unknowns is how EQ casinos will interact with Link at Fife and East Tacoma”
I would go to MMA matches at the Tacoma/Fife casinos except the last bus back leaves before the events end, and it’s a long walk from the Tacoma casino to Tacoma Dome Station. If it were something really important I’d go anyway, but otherwise the hassle of getting there and back isn’t worth it. If Link runs until after midnight from Tacoma Dome I’d be more likely to.
“I’ll even note that casino demographics seems to steer a bit more towards people born in other countries”
Casino workers too.
“What if Tacoma has the operations revenue to run trains to Tacoma but S. King Co. does not have the money to operate the trains, stations and lines between N. King Co. and Pierce Co.”
That’s unlikely. South King is the poorest subarea, but its projects are relatively inexpensive and will be finished in 2024, so its expenses will go way down after that. Sounder enhancements are a wildcard, but they can be scaled down to fit the revenue without affecting all-day mobility (Link and Stride). If it can get Federal Way finished, it’s downhill from there. South Federal Way is just one more station, and then Pierce pays the rest. Pierce may be paying for South Federal Way already, or in a pinch Pierce might step in to fund it, because it’s clearly between its subarea boundary and the nearest urban center at the next station, so it would be in Pierce’s benefit to complete it, and it wouldn’t cost that much because it’s short and in a public right of way.
“Is operations revenue (farebox and general tax revenue) and operations costs subarea specific?”
General tax revenue is not an operational revenue to begin with. Fare revenue, parking garage revenue and advertising (I think) make up the revenue pie you’re talking about. The drivers in the agency’s financial plan delineate how the allocations are supposed to work.
Tisgwm, I was referring to ST general tax revenue from sales tax, property tax, car tabs, and rental car sales as opposed to dedicated operations revenue like farebox recovery.
Even under ST’s assumptions the operations revenue that you list only covers 40% of operations costs, which I assume is made up by the other taxes. Under subarea equity the sales tax, property tax, car tabs, and I presume rental car sales are specific to the subarea.
What I don’t know is if farebox recovery is subarea specific, and whether operations costs are subarea specific to be paid for out of the subarea’s specific ST general taxes listed above. For example, right now East Link has no operations costs and no farebox recovery, but it is collecting ST 2 and 3 taxes I presume are in part dedicated to future operations costs. Are those to be held in trust until East Link opens and presumably needs 60% of its operations covered by non-farebox recovery revenue?
“There just aren’t a lot of people trying to get from Ash Way to Fife. That’s why ridership per mile will actually go down.”
But there are people going from Ash Way to North Seattle and Central Seattle. The train happens to go both north and south from downtown, but most trips will start or end in the middle third and be 5-20 miles long. Forty-mile trips from a northern P&R to a southern casino will be rare. But there will be more trips than that both north and south of the center. The network reflects this, as you’ll have to transfer to continue north of downtown or south of West Seattle.
Daniel, “Right Now” East King is spending WAY more than it collects in general revenue taxes building the thing. That’s why they’re selling bonds. So there is no revenue to “sequester” or “save” or “salt away”, depending on your choice of vocabulary.
“What I don’t know is if farebox recovery is subarea specific, and whether operations costs are subarea specific to be paid for out of the subarea’s specific ST general taxes listed above.”
As far as I know, ST does not break down farebox recovery ratios by subarea on its annual fare revenue report.
Tom is correct. The East King Co subarea has been running a deficit in its overall sources and uses for at least the last five years, per the agency’s annual subarea reports. The end result is that the subarea’s opening position has gone from ~$447M in 2017 to ~($714M) at the end of 2021. The subarea has been able to do this due to the agency’s policy regarding subarea “borrowing”. In other words, the East King Co should be saying “thank you” to the other subareas for the time being.
In regard to the second half of your question, the answer is yes. For instance, this is how things broke down in 2021 per the subarea report:
Fares and Other Operating Revenues (000’s):
Sno Co $1,991
N King Co $14,282
S King Co $5,799
E King Co $5,291
Pierce Co $4,793
Total Oper Rev: $36,565*
O&M Expenses (000’s):
Sno Co $26,980
N King Co $112,090
S King Co $85,883
E King Co $62,643
Pierce Co $71,873
Total O&M Exp: $417,296*
And in case you’re wondering, here’s how this played out on the agency’s annual financials for 2021 and 2019 (for comparison):
Operating Revenues (millions):
Total Oper Rev: $35.6
Operating Expenses (millions):
Agency Admin $15.6
Regional Planning $17.3
Total Oper Exp (before Depreciation and Amortization):
Oper Loss (before Depreciation and Amortization, millions): $355.4
Adding in D&A, the Oper Loss came to $559.5M.
Operating Revenues (millions):
Total Oper Rev: $105.4
Operating Expenses (millions):
Agency Admin $16.0
Regional Planning $8.7
Total Oper Exp (before Depreciation and Amortization):
Oper Loss (before Depreciation and Amortization, millions): $254.9
Adding in D&A, the Oper Loss came to $441.2M.
*(These figures are reconciled to the financial statements on Appendix A.)
Finally, your larger point about the growth rate of the agency’s operating expenses is a valid one and is indeed concerning.
“The reduction in bonds payable in 2020 and 2019 is due to regular scheduled principal payments. No additional bonds were issued during 2020 or 2019. Under state law, issuance of bonds payable from any
type of taxes is subject to statutory debt limitations. Sound Transit is currently authorized to incur debt in an amount equal to 1.5% of the value of taxable property within the service area, without securing
additional voter approval. With the approval of 60.0% of the region’s voters, Sound Transit may incur aggregate indebtedness of up to 5.0% of the value of taxable property within the service area. Based on the 2019 assessed valuations for collection of 2020 taxes, Sound Transit’s current approved remaining debt capacity is $6.6 billion and its additional remaining debt capacity subject to voter approval is $34.8billion.”
[P. 16, Auditor’s Report].
Tom, are you stating ST has bonded 100% of anticipated ST revenue including for operations for East Link? What happens if a subarea like East King Co. realizes more tax revenue than anticipated or bonded? Usually bonds have a specific repayment schedule despite the amount of tax revenue actually realized. Are you stating ST is funding O&M for central Link out of bonded funds?
My other question was whether operations costs and revenue are subarea specific. Apparently no one knows. Operations are supposed to be funded 40% from farebox recovery, advertisement etc., and 60% from ST general tax revenue (sales, property, rental car sales, vehicle tabs). My guess is the ST general fund taxes for operations and maintenance would be subarea specific but I don’t know, and don’t know how ST would segregate O&M costs by subarea — and fare revenue — except I guess by the location of the stations and track. That then led to my question what happens if one subarea has adequate revenue (operations and general fund) for O&M but another subarea does not because of low ridership or lower than expected ST general taxes for that subarea?
Sound Transit doesn’t calculate farebox recovery by subarea because it’s not very useful, but it’s also not hard to approximate, if you simply divide the income from fares by the cost of O&M:
From the “Schedule of Sources and Uses of Funds by Subarea” (2021)
Subarea; Fare Revenue; O&M; Fares/O&M (%)
Snohomish $1,991 $26,980 7.4%
North King $14,282 $112,090 12.7%
South King $5,799 $85,883 6.8%
East King $5,291 $62,643 8.4%
Pierce $4,793 $71,873 6.7%
System-Wide* $4,409 $57,827 7.6%
Total $36,565 $417,296 8.8%
*”System-wide activities consists of costs incurred to support fare administration programs, general and administrative, and other expenses essential for the planning and maintenance of a regional transit system. ”
2019 numbers for reference:
Snohomish $8,573 $30,435 28.2%
North King $35,390 $98,698 35.9%
South King $20,335 $75,372 27.0%
East King $21,829 $70,974 30.8%
Pierce $16,802 $69,113 24.3%
System-Wide* $2,370 $33,443 7.1%
Total $105,299 $378,035 27.9%
It shall be interesting to see if the numbers change much for Snohomish and East King once East Link and Lynnwood link open in 2024, although we won’t have that report until mid 2026.
I really wish there were more options for table formatting in wordpress comments.
Subarea bean counting has some systemic problems.
1. ST Express is cheaper to operate unless Link has way higher ridership. That affects subarea allocation. This issue actually needs to be flushed out better with the ST3 projects as it looks like the trains to Everett and West Seattle will be pretty empty if those extensions get built. The same is true for the empty Kirkland-Issaquah line. The operating cost per daily rider for these outer subarea projects is staggeringly worse than a Ballard/ SLU line segment.
2. Subarea revenue is derived mostly from the “home end” or residency. While that mainly that’s a capital cost bias is affects operating costs too.
3. Over time, ST will have to reallocate costs for overhead. Link went from being about 40-45 percent of boardings to well over 60-65 in the past 2.5 years. Those overhead calculations will move performance by mode a bit. Unless ST only allocates these costs by time spent operating a vehicle inside a subarea, a subarea will eventually get additional expenses added to their ledger due to their own success.
One basic purpose of ST is to transport people between subareas. If we only wanted to build transit to serve within one subarea only, we would have built systems through local operator agencies and not created a regional agency like ST in the first place.
Well, unless ST has a bank account in which only “saved” non-bond revenues are stored, every dollar spent in a fiscal year in excess of the taxes and other revenues received during that fiscal year are by definition, spent from bond funds. There’s no other source.
Now you could make some sort of ideological insistence that fare revenues be sequestered for future or used currently 100% for operating costs and then there would be a few million that is not “bonded”. But functionally speaking, as long as major construction continues within it, most of any given sub-area’s spending is going to be met using bond funds.
Sorry Tom T, but that’s just not correct. The agency does hold cash and cash equivalents that come from a variety of sources other than bond proceeds. You’re also forgetting about grant revenues. I would suggest taking a few minutes to review the 2021 financial statements, particularly the notes to the balance sheet.
“Sound Transit doesn’t calculate farebox recovery by subarea because it’s not very useful,…”
Agreed. Fwiw, your calculations are off a bit since you included all operating revenues and not just fare revenues.
“I really wish there were more options for table formatting in wordpress comments.”
Me too! So many times I wish there was a way to present relevant data for a discussion by simply embedding an Excel table.
You’re welcome. (I think our comments kind of crossed there.)
Fwiw, the drivers that define how things are allocated on the annual subarea report are included in Appendix B. I think some of your questions can be answered by reviewing that portion of the document.
Regarding the systemic issues with the subarea reporting, I will just add the observation that it’s just too easy to manipulate the data, despite the auditor’s best intentions. For example, in 2018 the East King Co subarea began the year with an opening position of $207.8M while their sources that year were listed as $207.8M also, bringing their closing position to $0. That’s a pretty good trick, eh? And this isn’t the first time ST has pulled it off either. Lol.
Correction: “…while their sources that year were listed as $207.8M…”
That should read “…while their excess uses that year were listed as $207.8M…”.
I had assumed that the “other revenues” were relatively minor fractions of fares, but maybe that’s incorrect. Could advertising and rentals (the “miscellaneous income”) be what constitutes the “system-wide” income?
It’s an interesting, if wonky, question. ST doesn’t seem to publish those specifics.
Check out Appendix B for drivers of subarea accounting.
As for allocation of ‘overhead,’ most cost that are not system specific are assigned to the system-wide budget and/or are allocated independent of ridership.
This is in contrast to King County budget accounting, which does fund the County central office out of an ‘overhead’ budget that is solely based on % of expense … so as Link spending goes up, so does the % of Dow’s salary that is paid for by Sound Transit. One of the key reasons ST wants to get out contracting with King County (Link and STX) is it doesn’t want to be funding a third of the County’s overhead in a few years.
*most cost that are not *mode* specific
“There just aren’t a lot of people trying to get from Ash Way to Fife. That’s why ridership per mile will actually go down.”
But there are people going from Ash Way to North Seattle and Central Seattle. The train happens to go both north and south from downtown, but most trips will start or end in the middle third and be 5-20 miles long.
Length is definitely a part of the problem. Proximity matters. The other part is the lack of destinations for the suburban sections. All of this adds to a very poor network effect. That is the point.
Here is one way to think of it. Imagine a table, with each station on a row and another on a column (similar to this (http://stb-wp.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/10143005/Screen-Shot-2015-08-09-at-9.07.39-PM.png, only extended to the ST3 range). Now instead of the time it takes to get from station to station, consider how many will use that combination. In the middle of the table, the numbers vary, but each combination is pretty good. Stations right next to each other are sometimes a bit weak (since people take the bus instead) but overall, most combinations are fairly popular. For example, the row for Roosevelt has good numbers for Northgate, UW, Capitol Hill, the downtown stations, Rainier Valley and the airport. But only a handful of people head to Tukwila, Angle Lake or Ash Way. The same sort of thing happens for other stations in the city.
Now look at some of the suburban stations. Mountlake Terrace for example. It might get decent ridership for the UW and downtown, but that is about it. Very few people will ride from Mountlake Terrace to Mariner, Ash Way, Lynnwood, 185th, 145th and 130th, even though Mountlake Terrace sits in the middle of that section. It isn’t about the distance — it is neither too close nor too far — it is about the fact that relatively few people travel between those areas. The same is true for all of the stations as you get outside the core of the city. This is to be expected, based on all similar systems in North America, but it can be confirmed by looking at stop data for buses that connect these destinations. Look at the 512. Only 27 people board the 512 headed north (towards Lynnwood, Ash Way, South Everett or Everett). Without these sorts of combinations, you don’t have a real network effect.
The proximity problem just makes it worse. Destinations that are definitely big parts of the network are simply too far away to get many riders. Very few people ride from Tukwila or Angle Lake to Capitol Hill, Roosevelt or Northgate. Yet from 130th and 145th, there will be plenty of riders (there just won’t be many between 130th and 145th). This has everything to do with proximity. It just takes too long to get from the southern suburbs to most of the city, despite the express nature of Link.
Speaking of which, consider the 586. This is definitely “Cadillac Transit”. This is a special route that provides exceptional service for its riders. It travels a very long distance without making any stops, and is thus extremely fast. It connects Tacoma with the second biggest destination in the region — the UW. And yet, despite all this going for it, it only has about 30 boardings per bus ride. This express bus does poorly; Link will do worse (for that trip combination). If Tacoma does poorly for a destination as big as the UW, then places like Fife will do ever worse. Tacoma to Roosevelt will be terrible, as will Fife to Rainier Valley. This all adds up to very little in the way of a network effect, even though the number of stations — and miles of track — will go up considerably.
As a result, ridership per mile will go down. This means the maintenance cost per rider goes up. You have more stations, more escalators, more miles of track to maintain, and not many new riders. In other words, you have fewer riders per station, escalator, mile of track, train, etc. This is not good. It means a less reliable system, with less frequency.
Tlsgwm, of course you’re right about grants. But from ST’s perspective, they are “income” not from operations. Yes, I should have named them specifically, but from a cash flow point of view, they are indistinguishable from general revenue taxes. They will certainly end at some time as will the bulk of the taxes.
The maintenance of accounting entities “holding” revenues from operations is of course essential to managing the agency, and ST probably has an algorithm by which operating revenues can be accounted by sub-area and likewise operational expenses.
These are management accounting 101. Tou can’t manage what you don’t understand.
That said, every sub-area has run a deficit between the revenues from operatons and the costs of providing service within it during every year and will do so as long as the agency persists. That is a sad reality of publicly-provided urban transit, at least in North America.
Since Daniel’s blinkered point of view is increasingly the norm in suburbia and is leading to a reactionary backlash that will harm the State’s rational governance, ST3 should be abandoned except for the stub to Redmond and whatever funding it has provided for finishing the Lynnwood and Federal Way extensions. The taxes for ST3 would be sunsetted in each sub-area when they have netted the costs incurred in that sub-area as of the cessation of construction.
The other sub-areas will owe Pierce various amounts for previous taxes collected for TDL and never expended for STEX, South Sounder or the Tacoma Streetcar.
When it opens in Redmond, Federal Way and Lynnwood in the next few years, Link will have reached its defensible extent. Actually, it will have exceeded it to the south, but what’s done is done.
After that time Seattle can build something to serve South Lake Union using its own funds.
Tom, the definition of “blinkered” is subarea equity. My legitimate question was whether operations — funding and costs — are subarea specific. It sounds like even if they are ST does not report for each subarea individually.
As you note, at some point I think some subareas will have inadequate operations revenue, or general fund revenue, to meet operations costs in their district. So what then?
I am not sure you understand the irony of your derision toward “suburbia” when it comes to ST: probably 80% of the ST taxing district from Everett to Tacoma to Redmond is some form of suburbia.
Of course operations revenue does not equal operations costs for public transit in the U.S. The point I was making is public transit agencies tend to lowball future O&M costs while exaggerating ridership, farebox recovery, and other operations revenue, although maybe not to the extent ST does.
My other question based on Tisgwm’s post is does ST publish which subareas owe which subareas how much based on subarea borrowing.
Daniel, first, apologies for not properly closing the italics.
I think the enabling legislation proofs ST against running out of operating money. The base sales tax should provide more than enough funds given the enormous wealth of the three-county region. I’m not confident that it would provide enough surplus to fund a capital replacement program, especially if ST3 is completed; that certainly requires vigilance.
But the trains will run forever — or at least until they all break down — on the sales tax bonanza alone. They really don’t cost that much to run. Way more than your car, for sure, and double what a bus does, but your car doesn’t hold 100 people per vehicle, and nor does a bus.
I’d like to point out that the logical conclusion of all your criticisms about Sound Transit and Link ought to lead you to the same conclusion I have reached: Lynnwood, Federal Way (beyond Midway only because it’s already under construction), and Redmond and that’s it. At least, nothing further should be built until the spaces within that flat ellipse have filled in completely. But you have never had the simple honesty to say it outright.
What’s up? Are you afraid to be “pinned down” to a specific position? I understand that has a strong gravitational attraction for members of the legal profession. You never know who might have come through the door tomorrow with a million dollar case except that you offended him or her first.
But other than that, nobody is going to do anything if you say what you really mean.
Tom, I have repeatedly posted about the Link design I think makes sense.
Using pre-pandemic assumptions (that ST manipulated but were more realistic pre-pandemic) I would:
ST 2: 2008.
At this time rail from downtown Seattle to downtown Bellevue using mostly public right of ways made sense, at least to Bellevue (then, not now). East Link should have tunneled under Bellevue Way from Main St. to NE 8th or 10th. It never made sense to continue to Microsoft and probably makes less sense today. The 1500 stall park and ride at S. Bellevue Way made good sense.
Re: Seattle I would have continued Link to one stop past Northgate (130th or 145th) that would serve as the major intercept with a huge park and ride. Same south of the airport (Angle Lake). I don’t know how but Link needs to access First Hill and SLU.
That’s it for Link.
Even post pandemic an argument can be made for this route although ridership will be around 1/2 to 2/3 of ST’s estimates.
Daniel, have you read the 2021 Subarea Equity Report?
You may find nearly all of your questions answered. If questions regarding Subarea Equity are not answered in the report as you read it, then it’s unlikely that ST publishes the information relevant to whatever hyper-specific concern you may have.
I’m not sure what your specific concern is regarding paying for operations and maintenance. As TT explains, ST currently has plenty of voter-approved taxing authority to pay for O&M as well as capital investments. State law requires ST to reduce its tax collection to cover O&M once all capital projects are complete, but otherwise the ST3 ballot measure includes a number of taxes that can be levied in perpetuity. The most significant of these is the 0.9% sales tax which (as of the Fall 2021 Financial Plan) is predicted to produce nearly $4B in revenue ST-wide in 2046. Fare revenue is expected to slightly exceed $500M in 2046. O&M is estimated to reach ~$2B/year in 2046 ($444M is budgeted for O&M this year). That’s assuming ST3 is built out and operated in its entirety.
In reviewing the long-range financial plan, I noticed that ST breaks out planned total projected Fare Revenue and O&M (among other things) per Subarea from 2017 to 2046 ($Millions). Math time!
Subarea: Fare Revenue; O&M; Fare/O&M(%)
Snohomish: $578; $3,482; 17%
North King: $4,979; $11,204; 44%
South King: $976; $5,626; 17%
East King: $1,114; $6,647; 17%
Pierce: $669; $4,815; 14%
System-Wide: $0; $3,767; 0%
Total: $8,326; $35,541; 23%
If you don’t believe these projections, then I suggest you take it up with the sources and assumptions listed at the start of the document.
Daniel, Thank you. That is very clear and I agree with most of it. However, Angle Lake is terrible as a bus intercept because it depends on 188th for access to I-5, so Link really should continue on to Midway or at a minimum special bus intercept station where the tracks reach I-5. Since Midway is a “place” with all-day trips (and the grading is all complete), I’d choose it.
Neither 130th nor 147th is enough of a “place” to make it a worthwhile end of track, and neither has enough room for a genuine bus intercept station.
Lynnwood is already the economic heart of Snohomish County and is just going to continue growing. So either I’d make a special bus-only interchange at Northgate with a bus-intercept elevated above the freeway (really, that’s “preferred”) or if that’s off the table, go all the way to Lynnwood. Again, the grading is finished; all that’s left is the bridge- and station work. That’s not nothing by any means, but the money is spent. Might as well use the trackway.
You can’t have that tunnel under Bellevue Way, so you’ll have to learn to lover East Main. But I guess you’d truncate East Link at Wilburton? It has to go that far for the MF so you might as well take passengers along.
But of course, there’s a bunch of completed construction — including track already laid — east of there. We’ll see how The Spring District and Overlake develop. NE 12th might just turn into the Century Boulevard of the Northwest and folks will be glad Link was built when there was some land available to do it.
But overall, you certainly do hit the high density areas.
However, I don’t want any of your foul East King dollars warping where true urban transit in Capitol Hill and South Lake Union should go. It’s “Spine” thinking that created WSBLE. So, Seattle should go it alone. Sure, they can contract with ST to build and run it, but the city should pay for and own it.
My relative said there are no longer any taxis on the Eastside? Is this true? She was at the hospital and called five taxi companies to get home but they all said they no longer have cabs in the Eastside. One said they could send one from Seattle but it would take an hour. Have Uber & Co really driven taxis out of parts of the metro area? She doesn’t have a smartphone or internet to use Uber with. She’ll need taxis soon for medical appointments, so what is available?
When I was in San Diego, a guy in our group knew somebody who drove a “for hire” car, and he gave us his card so we could call him whenever we needed a ride. Is there something like that here? What do “for hire” cars here do anyway; how are they different from taxis?
“For Hire” cars are different from taxis in that they need to be booked over the phone or online rather than flagged down on the street. Though in the Eastside, there’s pretty much no difference there.
Last time I used one (several years ago), it was Eastside For Hire.
The Rainier Ave S bus-only lanes between Columbia City and Walden wrapped up construction (painting) over the weekend. The red paint looks good, and SDOT took the time to freshen up lots of the crosswalks while they were down there. Having driven and walked now down the stretch with the new lane, it seems traffic is flowing smoothly and closer to the speed limit. It’s nice having some extra separation from the cars when on foot.
I’ll be keeping an eye out for bunching 7s this week. Hopefully that line can run more consistently. It’s nice having to option to connector Mt Baker Station or just take one seat all the way to Chinatown/Downtown.
Great to hear it. I’ll be interested to hear whether riding seems significantly faster. Sometimes little changes can have a big impact, in ways that are subtle. Traffic is extremely fluid, especially in this day and age, when people use Google Maps (or other sources) to find the fastest way from point A to point B. If people avoid a section because it is slow, then they might avoid the street altogether (in this case, that could mean using the freeway). That might improve things on other parts of the route.
“I’ll be interested to hear whether riding seems significantly faster.”
Yes, me too. I commented about this a couple of times on previous posts that had discussions of various SDOT spot improvements. It would be nice to read somewhere about how effective said improvements have actually been, and not just anecdotally.
When I was out yesterday morning to catch the C , the bus I was on had ORCA readers installed at all doors, and they were all fucntioning.
The May 2022 ridership report is now posted.
1. Link topped 72K average weekday riders and 2.0m monthly riders. This cooroboratesvthe growing number of crowdedvtrain loads that people have been observing. Note that this is still below most of the 2019 months with three light rail stations added. This puts link close to the 75-90k daily riders in 2019.
2. Sounder is struggling. It finally crossed the 100k monthly riders with the weekday average crossing the 5k line. That’s a long way from the pre-Covid 18k.
3. ST Express, formerly in the 1.3m monthly trip range now at 570k. Daily it’s at 22k compared to 59k in February 2020.
What does this mean? Did WFH cause the sluggish return of Sounder and ST Express riders? Is Link the standard that people prefer because of it’s day-long service? Should we table parking expansion on Sounder? Or are service cutbacks to blame?
The Seattle Times has an article today noting that after 70 years the neighborhood of Othello may get a new, larger Safeway although residents are skeptical.
Meanwhile, the Wall St. Journal has an article noting St. Paul’s legislation mandating a maximum 3% COLA on all rental properties has backfired. Permit applications and construction for multi-family housing have plummeted. Development on the 3800 unit Highland Bridge project that would have set aside 20% of units for affordable housing, including 10% for those earning 30% AMI or less, has halted.
Since construction costs in St. Paul are rising 18.2%/year while rent increases are limited to 3%/year any multi-family housing construction is going toward high-end luxury development in which developers can recoup their investment. Ironically this has benefitted Minneapolis, which first raised and adopted a rent control statute, except Minneapolis’s legislation allows the city council to target development and rent control project by project, and the city council has not taken any steps yet so developers in St. Paul are now moving to Minneapolis.
What posters, other than maybe Mao, on STB have advocated for “rent control”?
Should we table parking expansion on Sounder?
I would table all Sounder related expansion. To be fair, I was never a fan of any of the proposals. The parking expansion plans were way too expensive. Adding more train cars should be cheap, but the plans were not. That is because they wanted each and every platform to be able to handle a bigger train. That is overkill. The vast majority of people get on at some suburban location, and get off downtown (or vice-versa going the other way). Simply have the trains serve one spot or another during the trip. For example, from Lakewood to Puyallup, the train cars from 1 to 8 are open. From Sumner to Tukwila, train cars 3 to 10 are open. The other trains cars at those stations don’t open their doors. You would have to have good signage, but that isn’t that difficult. Riders can walk between train cars (I assume), which means they will eventually figure out how to spread out. Most won’t need to. Inbound riders will figure out that the train cars closest to the end are the least crowded. Outbound riders from downtown will follow the signs and do the same thing. It is only riders going to some place in the middle (e. g. Tacoma to Kent) who need a car in the middle. With the existing 8 train cars, that is more than enough.
Now there is even more of a reason to delay things. It is quite possible that this is a “new normal”. Many predicted more and more working at home, it is just that the pandemic sped it up. I think it is quite likely the dip in ridership is exaggerated. Even so, the rebound may not be that strong. It is possible that we never quite get back to the number riding commuter rail in the past, let alone the projected increase.
I’m not sure what to make of the ST Express numbers. I would have to look at each route. Likewise with Metro. Have either agency produced route-based numbers recently? The same applies to Link and station numbers.
The parking expansions are already scheduled last in the realignment. That suggests that if something must be cut, they’ll be the ones to go.
And before anyone says “No P&R, no riders”, only a small fraction of riders come from P&R cars. There aren’t spaces for any more. And give that the typical car is parked there from 8am to 5pm, that yields one passenger per day from that parking space. The rest of the passengers come from buses, walking, biking, or being dropped off.
You can cancel the eastside park and rides in ST 3 but the revenue still stays in the eastside subarea so I am not sure the point of cancellation.
They were extended to meet the debt ceiling. It isn’t as if the subarea can’t afford the park and rides, and apparently big dogs like Bellevue and Issaquah thought the park and rides were necessary, and they call the shots on the eastside. It is N. King Co. that has the revenue shortfall.
Or are you imagining reallocating the eastside ST revenue for the park and rides to another subarea, and if so which and for which project? Or another Issaquah to S. Kirkland line like Issaquah to North Bend? WSBLE will live or die based on the SB5528 levy, not park and ride funding for the eastside subarea.
So you need to find a different way to spend that eastside revenue. On the eastside, under subarea equity. Which means first/last mile access, which means park and rides, feeder buses, or micro transit, which cost more than park and rides with the subsidized transfer from buses.
Right now the park and rides don’t look like they will be needed (S. Bellevue with 1500 stalls is almost empty), which is why any ST plan to charge for park and rides won’t make sense unless the park and rides are full again, which will mean the eastside subarea cities will demand the park and rides in ST 3.
I am not saying, “And before anyone says “No P&R, no riders”… I am saying no East Link riders on the eastside, period. Or very few. Today they are driving right past the park and rides which are empty. ST Express is dead.
As you yourself noted, the likely outcome of many fewer riders on these outer lines is much less farebox revenue which means either terminating the lines before they reach the final stop (Redmond, S. Kirkland, Issaquah) or very long frequencies (although East King Co. should have the revenue to run trains with no one on them).
So you won’t need park and rides at stations Link won’t be travelling to, so maybe the park and rides in ST 3 will be cancelled completely, but I don’t where else to spend that revenue on the eastside. Ideally it could be spent on issues like affordable housing or other non-transit uses that are much more critical and necessary on the eastside than East Link, Issaquah to S. Kirkland, or more park and rides.
Transit advocates and urbanists are the only people I know who get excited about cancelling first/last mile access to Link but then seem surprised when operations revenue and any kind of enthusiasm for a ST 4 levy decline rapidly. Most private transportation companies, whether airlines, rental car companies, Uber/Lyft and so on fight for riders and customers. I guess it is different when it is the government.
Cancel the park and rides but let the eastside allocate that revenue to a non-transit need.
I turned on channel 9 for the Jan 6 hearing, and before it was a children’s cartoon with 4-5 kids sitting on a Brooklyn brownstone stoop, excited about how they’d travel to the Statue of Liberty. They’d start with a subway (they move a model train on the map), stop in Brooklyn somewhere, and continue to Manhattan to the tip, and transfer to a ferry (a model ferry appears and moves across the water), to the Statue of Liberty. What would happen there they didn’t say: they were focused on the trip and in generally “seeing the statue”.
Sesame Street started with an emphasis on inner-city minority neighborhoods, represented by a New York brownstone stoop and grocery store. The goal was to bring education to underserved areas. Later in the 90s or 00s I heard it had switched to portraying affluent middle-class kids. If that’s true, it seems to leave a gap, and I thought that old niche had been lost. But this cartoon has it in a new form, so that’s interesting. And it also has a family sitting on a living room sofa with their pet dinosaur — but it’s not Dino or the Flintstones, and the dinosaur is standing up and is tall and thin,
I think children’s show creators gravitate to urban environments so that they can actually have scripts! Most children would be bored to tears watching a TV series about a kid living alone or maybe with one sibling playing video games for hours, as well as be sequestered from meeting a diverse assortment of other kids and adults.
The more suburban and protected the environment, the more boring and sedentary the child’s life is. Children need to be able to safely explore what the world is like for themselves. Perhaps TV series is the only way to do that.
I reflect on my own childhood. When I was 5, my parents moved in their small middle American city from a walkable neighborhood with a small grocery and park (and a local bus) to the edge of town where there were only houses, empty lots and churches within a mile walk (and no nearby bus service). I was jealous that my older brother and sister had a community to explore nearby while I was left to only ask if a neighbor kid could come out and play.
I think there is value in envisioning a city as if someone is 10 years old. Too often we make decisions because we see the world our way, and have the power as boomers or gen x. It would be very interesting to ask fourth graders to envision the neighborhood that would interest them. We might really change many things about our environment — from returning to residences with front porches or balconies for socializing to allowing retail development in all residential areas and investing in small urban parks within walking distance.
Al, I grew up on Capitol Hill, but our family had a summer house on Whidbey Island where my mom would spend the summers with us, which at that time was quite rural. I much preferred Whidbey Island to Seattle. What kids have that is magical is imagination.
We would play on the beach, build fires at night and roast hotdogs and marshmallows, ride bikes, pick blackberries, play softball, shoot BB guns, take canoes out onto the sound, eat blackberry cobbler, skip stones on the water, fish from the shore, dig clams and gooey ducks, hike through the hills, swing on rope swings in the woods, drink black cherry soda from the little store, and about a million other things kids do growing up. The only rule my mom had during the summer is the kids had to leave the house after breakfast and generally come back for lunch and then back out until dinner.
In the city we were allowed to play in the yard, and do some things that parents would never allow today. I can’t imagine any parent in Brooklyn allowing their young kids to sit out on the stoop alone. The reason so many kids play inside today in urban areas is because parents are so afraid to allow them out alone in urban areas. Fortunately my wife and I built a summer house on Whidbey before our kids were born and they spent summers doing all the fun things I did as a kid.
The inner city is not a fun place for kids because kids need to be outside.
“ I can’t imagine any parent in Brooklyn allowing their young kids to sit out on the stoop alone.”
It’s much safer for a kid to be able to recreate on a stoop or nearby sidewalk than it is wandering though an empty woods. There are “eyes on the street”. In contrast, empty woods allow for things like child molestations, which happened to both me and my mom in our childhoods in an empty woods.
The inner city is not a fun place for kids because kids need to be outside.
What nonsense. Inner city kids go outside just as much as suburban kids, if not more. You are just projecting your fears onto others, while ignoring how typical suburban kids are raised. Basically, you have it backwards:
Geoducks, but gooey ducks is kind of funny too.
“I can’t imagine any parent in Brooklyn allowing their young kids to sit out on the stoop alone.”
Geesh. And somehow myself and my nine siblings somehow survived growing up there in the 50s, 60s and 70s. And, hold on to your seat, we used transit too! For the record, I’ve been jumped one time in my life and that was in upstate NY when I worked in Albany after law school.
Love the video, Ross!
It’s time again for the Sesame Street subway song.
My experience in Italy while studying abroad confirms what Not Just Bikes says about how suburban sprawl is actually terrible for child development compared to walkable neighborhoods. Near my apartment in Central Florence was Piazza Santa Croce where I would see children out regularly during the late afternoon or early evening as I was finishing up university for the day out playing with soccer balls in the Piazza with their friends either by themselves as a group or with a parent nearby to watch. I also saw some younger kids out running errands for their parents to like the local supermarket or bakery.
While some would say that’s just the case of the city of Florence being old and makes for a more walkable experience. I’d argue that as Not Just Bikes has pointed out in other videos, that the Netherlands was just as car dependent as the US was and actually was debating putting a US style highway in Amsterdam during the 1960s and the locals fought hard against it along with pushed for better less car centric city and better bike infrastructure as well due to children being hurt while sharing the road with cars on their bikes. Which is to say that nothing is certain forever and that mistakes can be fixed to better a society at large if there is a will and way to do so.
This is why I’d say that Americans often have a pinging for what the Europeans have when they come back from visiting there because you start to see how a human scale city is pretty achievable and benefits everyone.
As someone on this blog with kids who lives in “suburbia” I find it ironic that just about everyone we know on the eastside with kids moved to suburbia for the kids. Mostly that has to do with schools, safety, and open green spaces, which is why the housing prices are through the roof and private school in Seattle starts at $20,000/year. If I did not have kids I could see living a more urban life with lots of travel to urban places, which is what I did before getting married and having kids, (although I doubt my wife would go for that; women tend to like suburbia once they try it). After all, why do you think suburbia exists? Because of kids.
“… just about everyone we know on the eastside with kids moved to suburbia for the kids. Mostly that has to do with schools, safety, and open green spaces,…”
This proves nothing. It’s like saying that people who stormed the Capitol illegally on 1/6/2021 believed that Biden stole the election without any proof — so it must be true.
If you go to even a biased site as Niche, you will see that 3 of the top 20 best public high schools in the state are Seattle Public Schools. And that’s not even considering the other issues you mentioned.
So such opinions seem to have other negative urban biases at work. How many of these kids begged to move to the Eastside?
“why do you think suburbia exists? Because of kids.”
It’s because the automobile lobby, white segregationists, and Le Corbusierian modernists subsidized the suburbs, neglected and demonized the inner cities, and changed the laws to make walkable neighborhoods illegal to build. All that is what funded the freeway and housing expansion in the suburbs. And it started with a propaganda campaign in the 1930s to make suburbia look like utopia and hide its negative externalities, so that many people living in the suburbs don’t understand them. They don’t understand why life is so less convenient here than in The Netherlands and blame it on other things. Or they imagine their kids are safer and happier here when they’re imprisoned in their house and yards, because they’ve internalized the propaganda.
I find it ironic that Daniel doesn’t understand his extreme biases in observations.
“Everyone [you] know” does not include everyone in the region, Daniel. It only includes anyone who could afford a house in the suburbs.
Based on this, it must be absolute confounding to Daniel how people managed to raise any children at all before the Interstate Highway Act and the GI Bill made it widely possible for midcentury American homebuyers to afford new housing on cheap land at the periphery of urban economic engines.
“Everyone [you] know” does not include everyone in the region, Daniel. It only includes anyone who could afford a house in the suburbs.”
Subtract those who live in the suburbs because they can’t afford a more expensive house or apartment in Seattle. And those who are in the suburbs only because their job is there. And those under 16 who can’t drive and have little/no transit and feel isolated. Their parents may want to live in the suburbs but that doesn’t necessarily mean they do. And those over 65 who can’t drive any more and have a hard time living in a car-dependent area but can’t afford to move elsewhere. And those who would like to take transit some or all of the time if it were better. When you add all those up, only a subset of suburban residents really prefer living in that environment.
Most people I know generally would perfer living in more urban(ish) areas than the suburbs. For some it’s the walkability, others it’s being close to work or lively areas with parks, restaurants, and shopping , and I know a few others who would like being close to the gay village since that’s where they feel most comfortable and safe to be themselves. But it comes down to affordability and most people I know can’t afford the price tag of house in Seattle or specific neighborhoods they’d like to live in.
Those old Sesame Street episodes were great. I especially like the mini-documentaries. For example, where milk comes from: https://youtu.be/Uq1-wV8wsvk. This is such a change of pace from much of Sesame Street, which was trying to compete with commercials. Not commercial television — commercials themselves. The idea was to use the same approach that Madison Avenue had used to sell crap to kids for years, but instead to teach them letters and numbers. Thus much of it is very fast paced, which made for a nice contrast with segments like that.
The history is quite interesting, and there are a few good documentaries about it. I can’t seem to find it, but there is one where Kermit is basically making the case for the show. He says groovy a lot. I tried to get my grandkids to say groovy but it didn’t take. :)
Cultural diversity was a big part of the show. So was displaying urban scenes as being places for joy, instead of the stereotypical hellscapes often portrayed by Nixon and his ilk. You can see in the original opening (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfQSp92L88I). A lot of typical urban scenes from the day (look at that Daniel — kids playing outside … in the city! Shocking, I know — but pretty groovy too, right?). But they also showed rural places as well (plenty of farmers) as well as plenty of in between. This clip is very grainy, but the kids play around in the woods, then someones clothesline, then a construction site: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hdf-y82-dc0. I think most kids can relate to all or some of that.
For the same reason, a lot of kids could relate to the characters and surroundings of Sesame Street itself, even if they didn’t live in a place like that. It was, in its essence, anti-Nixonian, even if that was never the goal.
[I reference Nixon, but this is not a reflection of many of the policies that passed under Nixon, which would be considered left of center right now. I’m referring to the divide-and-conquer tactics that Nixon used to increase the racial, cultural and generational tension that existed then (and now). Trump is basically a dumbed down version of Nixon.]
My first transit experience was watching a Sesame Street piece about children riding a public bus. My second was reading children’s books from the 1920s and 1950s, where they walked to the library and town center and took streetcars or buses. In my neighborhood east of Crossroads, some neighbor kids took school buses but I never did. I walked to elementary school. For junior high I chose a small 100-person school across town with no school buses. At first my parents drove me, then I started voluntarily taking Metro. The school was located at Bellevue High School, and students came from all around, as far as Kirkland, Newport Hills, and my area. A lot of the ones from further away took Metro. Then for high school I just continued at Bellevue and kept taking Metro, and in 11th grade my dad moved to a townhouse off Bellevue Way so I could walk to school.
How did others first hear about transit and start taking it? Did you want to take it before it was available in your area? Did the first inspiration come from visiting another city or hearing about transit in a city you didn’t live in? Did you move or choose a job to be close to transit?
We lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan for a time. My dad and I would sometimes go to Chicago. We rode the L. I was maybe 5?
I grew up in a transit desert of southern california, but always enjoyed using transit during travel to larger cities in the US and Europe. When I went to college, I would take Amtrak Pacific Surfliner, and in grad school in LA, I became educated in paleoclimatology and climate change. This led me to climate justice (which led me to social justice), and much of the work we need to do to achieve climate justice is a vast change in transportation and land use. When I worked in LA, I would take a three-seat-ride across town to my job because while it was slower than driving in the morning, it was a few minutes faster in the evenings and far less stressful. And I could read a book or just stare out the window and witness the world.
Since then, I’ve almost exclusively chosen housing to be either bus-able or bike-able to my workplace.
I was born in Madison, WI and my parents would take me on the bus when they didn’t feel like hauling me around in the bike trailer. I remember being fascinated by the coin sorter in the fare box – the buses in Madison had clear plastic so you could see the coins going down.
We moved to northern WI when I was 3 and didn’t take transit much until middle school when I took it to school, since we lived just outside the boundary for school bus service. In high school I didn’t take it much, since I was in the school bus boundary at that point, and the school didn’t even get city bus service until a few years ago as it was outside the city limits in the middle of some corn fields. I’d take it occasionally to the library but only when the weather was too crummy to bike.
After college, I was thrilled to get a job out in Seattle, since even in the mid-2000s Seattle had far better transit than anywhere else I lived, which was a big point in Seattle’s favor as a non-driver.
My grandfather was a driver for Seattle Transit (by the time I was old enough to recall, he was an assistant superintendent at Metro). Mom rode the old Blue Streak from Northgate downtown for work. As kids taking the bus was no big deal. Grandparents lived 3 miles in either direction; we normally just walked but if we wanted to visit them on our own we would often ride the old 25.
Our neighborhood, though “suburban” in feel, had decent bus service (for then) either via the 25 or by walking up the hill to the 8/41. I went by bus to UW football games and even Mariner games – Mom would pick us up after the night games – from a fairly young age. My sister would go to Northgate with friends. My cousins who lived in the real suburbs above Totem Lake had nothing; it was so boring to visit them because there was no place to go and nothing to do outside the cul-de-sac. One time we even tried to walk to the mall, which involved bushwhacking through blackberries and down an exceedingly steep hill. We only did that once. Walking through suburbia would have taken forever and there was no bus service at all. We on the other hand could walk to Lake City for a movie or take the bus to Northgate or U Village.
When I was 15 I spent most of a summer with relatives in Manhattan and basically was given the run of the city – there were always tokens in a dish at the door and I quickly learned the M79 bus and the 6 Lex local train – and all the amazing places you could go starting with those. That and a previous trip to Europe made me wonder why we didn’t have those. My parents told me about their disappointment in the outcome of the Forward Thrust vote and I got involved locally then. Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to have travelled extremely widely and I nearly always use public transit – from matatas in Zambia to last week’s journeys on Istanbul’s excellent train system – wherever I end up. We have a lot to learn from many of those systems and it’s always a point of frustration when it seems that much of the planning going on here exists in a vacuum where nothing else has ever been experienced.
I live (and work) in the heart of the city now and will likely do so until I retire. Although I have a car, it gets pretty dusty as 95% of my trips are easier on transit. I do love the country – to the point of looking at places on the east slopes and in Portugal as second homes – but so long as I’m in this area I’ll always have a place in the city, convenient to transit. As most of you point out, great transit isn’t a function of getting to and from work – it’s the freedom to decide last minute that you want to go out to a different part of the city, to a ball game, to a concert, shopping – and to have the ability to do that. I revel in that freedom.
“We have a lot to learn from many of those systems and it’s always a point of frustration when it seems that much of the planning going on here exists in a vacuum where nothing else has ever been experienced.”
The failure of ST to even present and study cross platform alternatives as transfer stations is a shining example of this naive ignorance to me. In particular, the SODO station should be redesigned offer them for trains going in the same direction in the WSBLE planning. Yet, I see very little interest about doing this — even among our local transit advocacy groups (who also seem to live in this vacuum) . Many get all up in arms about many of the 13k forecasted Ballard riders walking an extra 700 feet to 14th but the likely 50k forecasted transferring riders get almost no discussion at all even though the effort to change levels at least 2-3 times (rather than simply walk 20 feet across a platform) is just as time consuming.
Dozens of major cities with metros have cross-platform transfers. It’s pretty basic to the whole concept of urban rail across the world — but not here!
“Many get all up in arms about many of the 13k forecasted Ballard riders walking an extra 700 feet to 14th but the likely 50k forecasted transferring riders get almost no discussion at all even though the effort to change levels at least 2-3 times (rather than simply walk 20 feet across a platform) is just as time consuming.”
It gets a lot of discussion. I’ve argued for center platforms at Intl Dist ever since ST3 planning started. I’ve included it multiple times in my feedback to ST. The similar problem at UW Station when it was the interim terminus and the bus transfers were far away, got continuous complaints throughout the five-year period. Route 75 and 372 riders were particularly affected because their nearest bus stops were on Stevens Way, a 7-minute walk away. And that’s not 7 minutes to your destination or house, but 7 minutes to a forced transfer because of how the transit network is organized.
Yesterday, the Seattle Times reprinted an yesterday from the San Diego Union-Tribune: “Cause of homelessness? It’s not drugs or mental illness, researchers say”
The article discusses the book Homelessness is a Housing Problem (https://homelessnesshousingproblem.com/), published March 2022 by two UW researchers.
Seattle Times also published an interview with the authors in March: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/homeless/is-homelessness-a-housing-problem-two-seattle-experts-make-their-case-in-new-book/
I’ve read the book and it’s quite good, and the the Union-Tribune article goes into good depth explaining some of the central discussion points in the book.
Here’s a direct link to the SDU-T if anyone wants it: https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/homelessness/story/2022-07-11/new-book-links-homelessness-city-prosperity
I’ve known clergy that have worked with homeless runaway youth. What they have told me is that while drugs did not make them homeless, the drugs usually do enter their life and keep them homeless. Even my recovery friends tell me that their drugs or alcohol problem was masking other issues.
Also, mental “illness” is not a yes/no toggle switch. Everyone has some mental health challenges to face just like everyone has some physical health challenges.
I don’t have a Times subscription so I can’t weigh in on the specific article. However, I’m skeptical of any article that tries to apply yes/ no messaging to either homelessness or drug problems.
I’m always suspect when people consider the homeless as some sort of homogeneous subgroup. It’s a condition and not a demographic.
Reading the Times-Union article closer, I see that they are trying to attribute regional housing supply and costs to increasing homelessness. That may have some validity — but the article ignores other huge factors.
For example, the homeless number in Detroit is lower — but there can be many reasons for that. Detroit is a hard place to be homeless. It’s particularly brutal in the winter. Similarly, Dallas and Phoenix are brutal places to live homeless in the summer. People who find themselves in longer-term homelessness will look to relocating somehow to a metro with a temperate climate. Blaming it in housing cost alone does not explain how much of a factor migration is. I suspect many or even most of our homeless did not grow up in King County.
Looking at the homeless data a few days ago, 12% are from out of state in Pierce. I suspect King is similar. That is far lower than the general population, where only a third grew up local.
It is really hard to move to a new city and lose yoir social neteork, even if you have the means. And homeless dont have the means.
Our homeless are ours.
For those without Times subscriptions, it’s accessible through a Seattle Public Library account.
No offense Al, but the researchers have looked at all of those ideas. It still comes back to the cost of housing. Seattle saw a huge increase in homelessness as housing prices rose. Other cities did not. All of the various problems (drug dependency, poverty, abuse, migration, poor safety net) are problems all across America. Homelessness is a national problem. But the problem is worse when housing is more expensive.
It is easy to see why, when you think of the big picture. When people think of homelessness, they think of people who have drug problems or are mentally ill. They are a mess, and live on the streets. But the vast majority of those that are homeless are not like that. They are simply too poor to afford a place to live. So they live in their car, or live with friends for a while, and bounce from house to house. One of my good friends was like that (he passed away a few years ago). My guess is you know someone like this as well. Hell, ten percent of America is food insecure. About 14 percent are behind on their rent. Clearly there are a lot of people who could be homeless very soon.
Now assume these folks go to the authorities for help. They get on the waiting list. Eventually they do get help, and live in a shelter. Great. But now consider that person living on the street. The spot they could use is now gone. They are stuck waiting. They may need additional support (in the form of counseling) but mostly they need a place to stay. That is why cities have increasingly moved towards a “housing first” strategy.
The researchers are just confirming what other researchers have been saying for years. It is the same thing that people on the ground have been saying. Of course there are other factors to homelessness, but the biggest factor for a particular city is the cost of housing.
And the number of homeless goes up and down as the cost of housing ebbs and flows. The pandemic added unique factors that increased the number of homeless, but generally it’s based on the size of price increases and the number of lower-cost units. Some people and families can afford up to $1000, and when they can’t find that, then they become homeless. Or even if the can afford the monthly rent, they can’t afford the move-in fees. Or they suddenly get a large medical expense. Or they have a previous arrest and few people will rent to them.
The people who say it’s mostly a mental-health and addiction problem, and if we solve those most of the homeless will be gone, are delusional. To paraphrase a politician, It’s the cost of housing, stupid.
I look at the Homelessness crisis as the culmination of multiple policy decisions federally and locally over the decades that led to this like housing, zoning, labor rights,, deterioration and underfunding of social welfare, etc. We’re also the only country that doesn’t really have a government Healthcare system which adds additional pain to the system as big medical debt can lead to Homelessness and people are afraid to get care when they really need it because of the high cost. Basically it’s a bunch of little cracks in the foundation that have come together to form a big crack in it and now you’re left having to fix the entire foundation as the only real solution to the problem.
I agree Zach. It is national problem caused by the Reagan revolution (and to a lesser extent, the Nixon “law and order” approach to solving problems). But from a local standpoint, problems are made much worse because of the high cost of housing. This is counter-intuitive. While it is clear that local wages and local employment definitely has an effect, the cost of housing is a bigger issue.
Here’s an article recently written by the LA Times which profiles several homeless people.
This reminds us crime is a reality for those stuck in a homeless encampment.
Yesterday there was a viscous beating of a disabled man at the Bellevue Transit Center that not surprisingly is getting plenty of attention on Eastside Nextdoors.
The Times today has a front page article noting many Seattle City workers are threatening to quit if forced to return to the office. Right now state and city workers are in short supply.
Two days ago my partner’s daughter went to Nordstrom’s in downtown Seattle to register for the bridal registry. When younger she worked at Nordstrom. While there a smash and grab robbery occurred. There had been another the day before. In speaking with management she got the feeling Nordstrom could be leaving downtown Seattle.
Finally warnings to mask on transit and requests for mandatory masks on transit are being renewed with the new Covid variant.
I still believe that for the 99% who are not male transit enthusiasts safety is number 1, 2 and 3 for discretionary transit riders, and today transit is not perceived as safe in this area.
Perception of safety is a communications issue.
Actual safety is an engineering and enforcement issue.
I think transit may suffer from a perception that it is unsafe, while generally being quite safe.
Travel by car is actually far, far less safe. But it’s not perceived to be, by the general public.
Where should we spend our resources? Actually saving lives or pandering to people’s misplaced fears?
“The new projects would reverse a trend over the past decade that showed San Diego losing thousands of units of low-income housing, including 9,290 single-room occupancy hotels and 1,500 low-income rental units that were converted to condominiums, according to a 2016 article in The San Diego Union-Tribune.”
This is a quote from the article Nathan links to. This is basically gentrification that is endemic to high income areas. The “remedy” as in King Co. is for government to buy distressed hotel rooms, although in King Co. those run around $65,000/year per unit, less than a year round cruise.
I have previously posted about this effect in WA, and especially in high end markets like Mercer Island. Currently most of the “affordable” rental housing on MI is in older, mixed use multi-family buildings. The change in law reducing the long tail for warranties on new condo construction — intended to allow lower income folks to buy and build equity by encouraging more smaller builders to build wood framed condo buildings up to 7 stories — along with King Co. eliminating the exemption from updated fire codes for these older buildings which makes upgrading them very expensive has created an incentive for developers to either tear down or remodel these buildings into much more expensive units.
The same force that was directing most multi-family housing into rental apartments — the warranty on new condo construction which made insurance difficult — now allows a builder to build condos instead of apartments when a condo development allows a builder to not hold the property as in a rental, allowing the capital to be used for the next project. So yes, reducing the warranty tail on new condo construction did bring more smaller builders into the condo market, but they don’t want to build low end units, and when redeveloping want to buy the older and more affordable buildings to gentrify.
Some other factors are WA State adopting the International Building Code which is more expensive, and inflation and house material costs that have decimated new home construction in the U.S. despite a housing shortage. Plus the pandemic and a change in housing trends has left developers questioning the risk of multi-family construction when rising interest rates are making fixed income investments competitive with no risk.
The fundamental problem with “housing justice” is the folks actually building the housing have the opposite financial incentive.
This is true, so what is the answer? The thing that would be “fairest” would be to provide free to nearly-free housing in large quantities in less-expensive regions of the country. Build smallish clusters on transit lines and allow otherwise homeless people to live in them as long as they keep them clean.
No, the climate isn’t as nice as here, but it becomes less of a threat to life when actual housing is provided. Our system rewards greater contribution to the economy with higher incomes. Those with higher incomes bid up the cost of housing in desirable locations. Thus the poor are pushed away from those desirable locations. This is far from an equitable, accurate or even particularly consistent reward system, but it is the one we have chosen. So any solution to homelessness has to work within it and, we can hope, leverage its advantages, such as they are.
Building cheap housing where inexpensive land is available seems like the optimum solution.
Not really optimal, because about half of homeless are working poor, and we need them locally to do jobs. Most homeless are not chronically homeless. About 80% transition in and out of homelessness, struggling to pay rent or find a couch to crash on.
So we need to build housing everywhere. Mercer Island. South Park. Rich areas. poor areas. Everywhere.
The reason for this is not only because of the current homeless population, but because of the next wave of working poor that will become homeless if housing scarcity and the resulting sky-rocketing rents continue unabated.
Wipe the zoning manuals clean, and start with a couple simple zones – Don’t build houses next to the refinery. Don’t build schools next to the highway. If we need more, we can add more later. But less is almost certainly more, when it comes to zoning.
But I am pretty confident that will solve our housing crisis as quickly as we can build.
Builders are not building right now due to uncertainty. Builder sentiment has been tanking since January 2022. The cost of land, materials, labor, their financing, the buyer’s increasing cost of financing, all make a profit tenuous.
The number of home buyers backing out of deals right now is escalating. Most predict mortgage rates to continue to rise, the economy to slow, and housing prices to fall (although the total cost to the buyer when including mortgage interest is the same or more). Trillions have been wiped off the stock market, money first time buyers usually use for a down payment. This risk is amplified for multi-family rental housing because the developer must carry the cost of development over decades, and current trends are shifting towards SFH, and rising interest rates make fixed income investments that have little risk commensurate. So money is flowing from REIT’s into bonds.
Meanwhile landlords are raising rents due to skyrocketing property taxes, insurance, labor costs, maintenance, and their financing costs, and in Seattle rising incomes. Some landlords in Seattle are selling their SFH rental with ADU due to tenant vetting restrictions and rising costs and prices due to the desire for a SFH right now, with many buyers eliminating the ADU. No private person or entity is doing this for free.
So zoning has very little to do with it, and no matter what the zone a builder needs to build as expensive a house/building as possible to ensure any kind of profit in this market and interest rate environment. The amount of land and housing capacity still unrealized under the zoning in Seattle’s UGA’s is enormous, with lots large enough to support multi-family developments, and even then the current development like around U Village is quite high end if new, with some rents over $6000/mo.
Even pre-pandemic when interest rates were at historic lows for over a decade builders remembered 2008 when they were wiped out, which is why fewer homes than necessary were built since then (and over 25% of rental SFH are held by large REIT’s). . Rising mortgage rates will probably be with us for many years (and still are not at historic norms) which reduces the price of the house the buyer can afford and reduces the price the builder can get. All that money is now going to the bank. Meanwhile the costs to build are going up, in some cases 18%/month.
There is plenty of land under the region’s zoning, but the risk of building is very high, and the risk of building affordable housing without public subsidies is enormous and not worth it.
Even if zoning reform resulted in more construction, and in this environment that is very doubtful and will be for the next many years, none of the private construction will be “affordable” and is simply gentrification like in San Diego, although that new construction will more than likely replace older and more affordable housing which is why this area’s average median housing price is rising so fast: new less affordable construction replaces older more affordable construction, so the average median price is lifted by less affordable housing being destroyed and more expensive new housing being created.
The trick is not the zoning. The trick is how to incentivize builders to build “affordable housing” on their nickel and risk when it is the lowest profit, or no profit at all which means a bank won’t touch it even at an 8% construction loan. Some governments incentivize greater height or tax relief with a mandatory affordable housing set-aside (which NY just allowed to lapse) like the MFTE which many think is a scam.
The reality is in this market environment you could upzone the entire region and see a big yawn, or at best some new high-end construction like around U Village although my guess is multi-family housing development will cool significantly over the next few years. Instead look for pressure in counties other than King for more SFH subdivisions because those have the least risk right now.
By and large, you dont build affordable housing, you simply dont knock it down for high housing.
If we increased percentage of lots available to build large mutifamily from 5% of lots to 100% of lots, what do you think woild happen to the cost of that land?
“Large multi-family” needs large lots. It also needs lower regulatory limits for setbacks, height, lot coverage and so on. If height is above 7 stories you are dealing with steel structure and elevators so cost per sf goes up and fewer contractors can do that.
Right now my guess is any upzone will result in little development due to interest rates and the declining economy. Non-performing loans and delinquent mortgages are increasing which requires banks to increase reserves which dampens lending.
In the future if favorable economic conditions return upzoning SFH zones will have little impact because lots are generally small and regulatory limits high. Many neighborhoods are just too expensive to tear down an expensive house a relatively small lot. Most cities will still require adequate onsite parking limits because these areas are not served by transit.
Like all development builders will gravitate to the less expensive houses to redevelop. probably in lower income areas like South Seattle that will gentrify the area and decrease the supply of affordable housing.
If we increased percentage of lots available to build large mutifamily from 5% of lots to 100% of lots, what do you think woild happen to the cost of that land?
Theoretically the value of the property would increase because you have increased the use and potential profit from developing the property.
For example I would imagine the value of a parcel large enough for large multi-family increased if rezoned UGA.
Not unlike taking a rural 5 or 10 acre lot and upzoning it to a residential subdivision with 8400 sf. lots. The value of the 5 or 10 acre parcel increasss in value because the potential profit increases.
But few lots are large enough for “large multi-family” development. Going “from 5% to 100% of lots large enough for large multi-family housing is still pretty small, and like downtown Bellevue run into the issue commercial development is more profitable than multi-family. Many of those are in UGA’s but are still not developed to the zone’s maximum. If the profit is not worth the risk then builders won’t build.
Building multi-family on a smallish lot in a SFH is a much riskier development IMO, especially compared to a SFH on the same lot in an expensive neighborhood and if the regulatory limits stay the same.
Cam, your claim that half of the homeless are employed doesn’t pass the “smell test”. Literally. Homeless people can’t hold a job except possibly day labor; their infrastructure doesn’t support it.
If you are including people living in motels semi-permanently, maybe so, but they’re not really “homeless”. They are inefficiently and expensively housed and present a genuine social services need.
But they are not the sort of “homeless” that are a problem in the streets.
If you want to change the definition of homelessness to suit your preconceived biases and only include the 20-30% of chronically homeless and unsheltered, many of whom suffer from mental illness, that’s up to you.
I’ll stick to the broadly used and understood definition, which includes those accessing shelters and temporary housing. however.
Two-thirds of this larger group reports having one or more income streams. The data isn’t great however, and likely some of those income streams are things like social security, veterans benefits and retirement.
In any case, building a 50 thousand person village in the hinterlands doesn’t seem like an “optimal” choice. Perhaps some people might find it a convenient “solution”, but I doubt the families you relocate out of their city would be thrilled. Seems like you might run afoul of constitution protections as well.
I find it odd that people are arguing against the research. Yeah, I get it. It isn’t obvious. Neither is evolution. We evolved from fish, and then apes? That’s crazy. But guess what — Darwin was right. There is an increasing amount of evidence that he was right. You want to argue against the science, be my guest. But unless you have other, plausible evidence, you will lose me, and other rational human beings.
The same is true here. People are coming up with theories that go against the evidence. There are many reasons why a person could become homeless. Maybe their spouse is abusive. Maybe they developed a substance abuse problem. Maybe they lost their job. Maybe rent got more expensive. Maybe it is some combination of these various factors, and more. It isn’t obvious what is the most important factor, so that is why people study it. And the research is clear: housing is the most important factor.
If you think otherwise, please cite your contrary study. Until then, you will lose me, and other rational human beings. I believe in science, and see no reason to doubt these studies (especially since there is nothing radical in their conclusion — people on the ground have been saying this for years).
It you upzone all single-family areas to lowrise, the capacity would far exceed demand. There would be fewer developers than parcels, so the price premium on each parcel would be low, because many other sellers could undercut the price to get sale. That’s the opposite of the situation we have now. Multifamily is allowed in only 30% of the land, so developers compete for the few parcels available. Single-family lots aren’t adding units for the most part, so the price for scarce houses just keeps going up.
Daniel says there’s plenty of unrealized capacity under existing zoning. Even if that’s theoretically true, the gap between current and potential floors/units is not enough to make redevelopment feasible. If you can add one floor compared to the existing house or 1-2 story building, that may not be enough to justify replacing it. That’s theoretical zoning capacity that won’t be realized, so the capacity in practical terms doesn’t exist. You need to allow a couple more additional stories to catalyze these.
And “large” multifamily is not the best way. We need missing middle housing, 4-10 unit buildings. Not all 100+ unit buildings. The reason most recent buildings are large and wide is the scarcity of lots and restrictions like minimum parking. The large developers outbid the small developers for the few lots available. The parking minimums drive up the developer’s expenses, and that favors larger buildings so that it’s a smaller percent of the total costs.
Right. You can zone for higher density, but allow anything in-between. Often the best solution will be a 4-plex or 6 plex, even if it’s zoned much higher. Let the market decide.
Or as I advocate, just unzone entirely.
I generally favor a 4-7 story limit, and allow all building types except polluting industrial. We want a mixture of housing, retail, community spaces, and small manufacturing. And urban agriculture and solar roofs. That’s how to make a self-contained community and a resilient city.
It may be necessary to discourage large “bread box” types of buildings, to give the other types more room to get established. I’m not sure how to do that. But I am sure that once we allow capacity far beyond demand, we’ll see a wider variety of housing types that are suppressed under the current system. That includes a wider variety of owners/developers; i.e., more smaller groups with a lower-budget vision and smaller buildings, like there were in the mid 20th century.
Cam, like I said, our system rewards people at least somewhat according to the economic contributions they make. If a given person’s EVA is less than the amount required to live in a desirable coastal city, one of two things will happen. Either some governmental entity will provide subsidies to that person to purchase living space either periodically or permanently or they will fall first into week-to-week or nightly housing or the person will fall completely out of housing into tents and shelters.
The problem with the first option is that within a limited stock of housing, the subsidies just drive up the cost of the otherwise lower-cost units that the subsidies cover since more people are competing for them.
It would be far better for all the economically challenged people if the national government would embark on a large building program in small cities the temperate parts of the country — not fancy versions of internment camps — on transit lines with proximity to food and urban services for folks with limited skills and provide access for essentially free.
Obviously you don’t want to duplicate Cabrini-Green. The housing would have to be small and sprinkled around to avoid creating economic ghettos. And of course they wouldn’t all be in the Midwest. You could do it in Centralia and Chehalis, but only for a relatively small portion of the need.
And wherever such housing is built there must be social services provided for its residents, also provided directly by the national government, because the states cannot be relied on to do so.
By enticing people to move away from the overcrowded cities which have social services, the oversupply of low-skilled workers which depresses wages for low-skill jobs will disappear, so that the remaining g low-skilled workers can demand a higher wage and get it, allowing them to pay for housing themselves.
This would mean that the rest of us would have to pay a bit more for goods and services. Think of it as a tax on a great environment in which to live, without homeless tent camps.
Along with the carrot of free or almost free housing elsewhere should come a stick that people cannot camp on “public” lands other than designated forest other and recreation lands.
Hey Tom – You have some assumptions I don’t think are true.
1) our cities are overcrowded. They certainly need more housing, but they don’t seem overcrowded to me.
2) It’s cheaper to recreate all the social services that already exist in Seattle or other big cities in places like Chehalis, rather than just create the needed housing in larger cities where those services already exist. And that the Chehalites will welcome Seattle’s homeless with open arms. Both propositions are beyond dubious.
3) There is an over-supply of low-skilled labor. My experience is exactly the opposite. I am struggling to find anybody to do anything to help us out with work we have to do around the house and the yard, even for $25/hr. Our cutting off the spigot of immigrant labor has created a substantial labor shortage. Just look around at all the help wanted signs.
Before forcing lower-income people to move to Chehalis or Wenatchee or Boise to find housing they can afford, I’d want a guarantee that those cities’ walkability and transit are upgraded enough to be usable. We shouldn’t force lower-income people into car-dependent areas: they weren’t designed for them. Even Renton and Kent were designed for middle-class people who could easily afford to drive everywhere. And non-driving options are even worse in 90% of American cities.
I imagine it will be an article soon on STB, but the Seattle Times has an article today noting the Seattle City Council voted 8 to 0 to approve the city’s preferred route for WSBLE, although the council deferred on CID and Delridge.
Some stuff from Wenatchee:
+ Wenatchee Valley’s Link Transit adopts a permanent zero-fare policy so add one more to the transit agencies in the state that have decided charging a fare isn’t worthwhile.
+ Link Transit expands route to Saddle Rock trailhead July 11 so add to the list of transit agencies that are providing links to outdoor recreation.
This probably deserves an entirely new thread, so:
How in hell would you distribute operating revenue based on subareas? Monitor each passenger and allocate the money based on where that passenger got on and where that passenger got off? Does someone who rides from Tacoma to Lynnwood pay a greater proportion into Pierce and Snohomish than to North King and South King because they used the station there, despite having used the line itself?
This article mentions a woman that, should 130th Station be built, would prefer to drive to the South Bellevue Park and Ride and take Link to her hair stylist at 130th. Should more of her taxes go to East King, where the park and ride lot is located, or to North King, where her stylist is located?
I’m waiting for the time when the hundreds of millions being spent on the various I-5 improvements between Kelso and Olympia must be paid for only by those living within a few miles of the interchanges.
The housing shortage is nationwide ($). Of course, it has been nationwide since the 2012 recovery as housing prices rise faster than local income and put more cities into crisis. Both large and small cities and rural areas are affected.
“Freddie Mac has estimated that the nation is short 3.8 million housing units to keep up with household formation.”
“One consequence has been clear during the pandemic: Home prices and rents have soared nationwide, including in places where housing affordability had long been taken for granted.”
“Athens, Ga., and Pensacola, Fla., had more than enough housing a decade ago, according to the analysis. By 2019 those cushions had vanished…. Los Angeles entered the pandemic needing nearly 400,000 additional homes; Miami, almost 200,000; and Washington about 150,000. Even Phoenix, known as a far easier place to build than coastal metros, had developed a deficit by 2019 of about 100,000 units.”
“How much housing would you need to build in a given community to maintain a healthy market, one in which renters don’t line up to view available units, and homes for sale don’t spark bidding wars?”
“If Los Angeles had built an extra 400,000 homes over the past decade, it would be more affordable today.”
“What’s causing the shortage itself is complex. The home-building industry lost about 1.5 million workers in the Great Recession of 2007-9 and has been in a labor shortage since. Land has grown more expensive. Lending tightened for builders, just as it did for home buyers after the bubble. The cost of lumber and other materials has risen. And the sheer difficulty of building a home in many communities makes it all worse. Local residents often oppose new housing. Local governments require development fees, studies and public meetings that drag out construction and drive up its cost. Through zoning rules, governments also force developers to build on larger lots than some buyers might want, and create more parking than buyers might use. And these rules frequently make it impossible to build townhouses, duplexes and apartment buildings.”
““Before Covid-19, you would talk to people in Utah, in Tennessee, and they’d be like, ‘Oh yeah, this is a blue-state problem, Democrats don’t know how to run their state, we don’t have that problem here,’” said Nolan Gray, a former Mercatus affiliate and now the research director at California YIMBY, a group that advocates more housing. “And then of course starting in 2020, I’m getting frantic calls from people in states like Utah or Montana, or Florida increasingly.”
“In a new book critiquing zoning, Mr. Gray describes how the federal government encouraged local communities to adopt zoning policies starting in the 1920s. It’s only fair today, he argues, that the federal government help undo zoning rules that have made housing more expensive. Members of Congress of both parties have increasingly called for such an idea, in which the federal government would give priority for grants to local communities that ease zoning restrictions or build denser housing.”
The news on CNBC tonight had a story about rents in Manhattan. Average rent is now $5700/mo. This sudden increase is due to potential buyers switching to renting, and only 40% of workers have returned to the office and so home office.
The housing creation since 2012 is builders just being wary about overbuilding after 2008, which is mostly SFH and for sale not rent.
That reluctance to build despite the zoning is accelerating and will only get worse over the next several years as mortgage delinquencies rise, building costs soar, labor is tight, and buyers don’t have the down payment to buy with stock market losses.
These potential buyers are putting additional pressure on the rental market. Look for rents to rise 10%+ per year for several years and housing creation — new SFH or multi-family — to decline. No one builds to lose money no matter what the zoning is.
Eventually there is usually a housing bust, but that will only force more owners into the rental market.
Alon’s latest piece here, of interest to crowd that has been arguing about electrification:
Me? I continue to insist that Sounder should be turned into a branch of Link, but with trains that can take advantage of that corridors speed.
Without searching for it, can anyone here think of what Metro’s latest big ad campaign is? I don’t mean their slogan. Is it still “Well get you there.” And I don’t mean an ad for ORCA. I also don’t mean an ad about Metro supporting some cause or group of people. What is their latest ad campaign encouraging people to ride Metro?
I ride the D fairly regularly, but usually wear headphones. About a month or two ago I was riding with a friend who was visiting and noticed they were running an ad over the speakers – the tagline (iirc) was “It’s always a good day to ride Metro”.
Thank’s for answering. I was thinking it would be good if Metro had an ad campaign targeting people who have stopped taking transit since covid, when I realized I can’t think of any current ad campaign Metro is running.
and like most trivia games, now that I’ve submitted my answer, I’ve looked up the truth:
“It’s a Great Day to Ride Metro” – launched August 2021.
I’m not a marketing genius, but I’m pretty sure the only marketing that would actually work would to tell people that *their* bus is back to full frequency, and has an empty seat waiting for them.
Sounder and Amtrak Cascades should just be electrified, funded by charging BNSF a discouraging amount of money to dispense diesel in Seattle (or statewide) until they put catenary cables above their rails and pantographs on their locomotives.
Unfortunately, until we nationalize freight (ha! unless…), we’re going to stuck using freight railways for heavy trains, and therefore any reasonably-priced electrification will have to be completed by the freight railways.
With a quick google to see if I’m totally off-base, I found this article which actually proposes using catenary on trunk lines and battery locomotives otherwise: ttps://www.freightwaves.com/news/is-electrifying-the-freight-rail-network-cost-prohibitive
oops, this was supposed to be a reply to FDW’s comment.
Yeah, that article is the kind of stuff that Alon is against. I say, turn “Sounder into Link” because that a more concise-to-plebian way of modernizing Sounder, with the adage that we’re planning 2 core subways with only 3 branches to the South.
I’ll be dropping something more substanial soon. I had a major ephiany about how to do the Link21 project (SF’s planned 2nd Transbay line) in a way that could offer a good compromise between a bunch of different interest groups.
FDW: Getting the Sounder South corridor in public ownership and mostly exclusive use for passengers would be quite beneficial. It would seem much cheaper than building from scratch.
I actually think Sounder South will fade slowly once Federal Way is opened. Sounder North will probably fade faster when Lynnwood Link opens. We will more fully know in just 3 years after the new stations have been opened several months.
I would not however encourage use of constructing to Link design standards. The service needs to be able to go faster and operate at up to at least 80 mph. It also needs to be able to carry people with higher speed trains to Oregon. Rather than say turn Sounder into Link, maybe say turn Sounder into a more frequent all-day rail line like Link?
The tricky thing is actually figuring out how to do it financially. For example, if a referendum raises money for a purchase, the railroad will bargain for more as it will already know the dollars on hand an agency will have based on the referendum literature.
Then the tricky thing is figuring out how to serve industrial customers on all the sidings.
Sounder is 20 minutes to Kent and 27 minutes to Auburn. Link from Intl Dist has not reached TIB yet. So Sounder will still be significantly faster. Link would have an advantage for those not going downtown but to somewhere else Link gets closer to.
I’m all for the state buying out the BNSF track for passenger priority, and setting up half-hourly Sounder and hourly Cascades. But the state hasn’t been inclined to do it, just like it still hasn’t finished its long-term plan of 90 and 110 mph Cascades from two decades ago. Sometimes the legislature has good rail ideas, but it never funds them enough or prioritizes them to get them realized in a generation.
You will never “get the Sounder South corridor in public ownership”, nor should it be. The nation’s second largest west coast Port complex is tied together by that “corridor”.
There is room for public investment in the parallel UP line, but even full two main track on that alternative is insufficient for freight service through the Green and Puyallup River valleys. There are a LOT of industries served by BNSF along that trackage, especially between Kent and black River Junction.
BNSF would demand at least $25 billion dollars to sell it, and the region doesn’t need it that much. It’s too valuable as a freight corridor.
I mean providing 15 to 30 minute all day Sounder service would be beneficial to the region at large and on some level should be more of a priority than keeping it a freight corridor that just happens to have some if infrequent passanger service.
Freight is important too. But we should have something like Caltrain if we’re not going to build a Link line in the central South King County corridor.
197 comments. Will we get three more by midnight?
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