Danny Westneat’s latest column in The Seattle Times asks a bold question:
Why are we continuing with the same transit planning — such as for Sound Transit’s future light-rail segments — without factoring that a third or more of the workforce may not be commuting to a downtown core, or commuting at all?
Westneat is knee-jerk reacting to Amazon’s recent announcement that it plans to pause work on its Bellevue office expansion: a total of six towers encompassing some 3 million square feet. The implication is that if a corporate behemoth like Amazon can’t be bothered to continue building office towers, then transit – as we know it – might as well be dead:
This sea change, if it continues, may cause cities over time to “untransit” — to unwind their transit-oriented, spoke-and-hub development patterns, Stern predicts. Cities will stop concentrating on building dense housing near transit lines, she wrote, and shift to infrastructure to support remote work (such as municipal broadband, or small “remote work” centers away from the old business core). Cities may adopt more mixed-use zoning everywhere to bring a taste of the old commercial downtown out to residential neighborhoods (where so many are now “going” to work).
I’ll first acknowledge what is true in this assessment. There is already broad consensus in the transit and urbanist community that the new normal for remote work will undoubtedly impact future land use: central business districts will no longer have a regular weekday “swell” of workers. Super-tall office-only skyscrapers are likely a thing of the past. And mixed-use upzoning is undoubtedly on the planning menu for non-CBD neighborhoods.
What I find much more questionable is this notion that “cities will stop concentrating on building dense housing near transit.” I’m not sure there is a planner out there who actually believes this. Regardless how commute patterns change, expanding buildable TOD maximizes the return on transit investment. Housing and transit can never be divorced, whatever remote work world we live in. If anything, it’s the massive suburban park-and-rides at outlying stations that should be converted into developable uses rather than sit empty.
Westneat furthers this line of argument by suggesting that remote work blunts the merits of continued Link expansion. I find this thinking to be bizarre – Link was not and never has been planned to be a commuter-centric system. If you look at a map of ST2 and ST3 extensions, it’s clear that the long-term plan is to connect all the PSRC regional growth centers by either rail or BRT. There’s nothing about the plan that screams commuter-heavy downtown-centricity.
I’ve also previously mentioned that the new remote work normal also means less emphasis on expensive commuter peak-only services and more investment in all-day cross-town routes. Paired with a frequent regional rail network, a system like that would actually be well served by “mixed-use zoning everywhere.”
238 Replies to “No, we’re not entering a period of “untransit””
What I have noticed is more poor people using transit in Seattle. Those , who must rely on transit are seen in greater numbers. There are fewer choice riders. Honestly, now that I work from home , have my groceries delivered, I only leave my condo once or twice a week, I enjoy the outdoors on my rooftop area. I see little reason to walk downtown. Given inflation costs, and my desire for better health, I only eat once a day – and have given up all alcohol. There is no need for me to go into restaurants and or bars, hence little reason to use transit or walk through downtown.
That’s definitely… unique, to say the least.
During my extended fasting states, I become one with the universal consciousness that permeates our universe. You can experience different levels of thought and euphoria by fasting for more than 72 hrs. You should try it.
So ummm if you never leave your house, how are you seeing all these “poor people on the bus”
When he is not communicating with the universal consciousness in a fasted state, he leaves his home once or twice a week.
This is either quality dead-pan satire, or a new troll, and I don’t know which…
Aren’t you special! 🤗 No need to anywhere, meet anyone. Meet Mr. Silo!
Since the first Covid lockdown the people using the Everett Station Park and Ride lots has not even returned to one third the capacity that it had been. I’m just making an observation of one commuter that has noticed this statistic.
I never used Everett Station before Covid, but I did a few times last fall-winter (wife was working at the Tulalip outlets). Those park and ride lots indeed seemed very empty. I stopped using it and just drove to Ash Way due to no busses going all the way from Northgate to Everett in the evening peak (gotta transfer from 511/513 to 510), and I suspect many people have been doing the same.
Light Rail cost out ways the real need. To costly to taxpayers with no rewards in the Long game!
We could point out that highway expansion is too costly to taxpayers and doesn’t really serve people as it says it should in the long term. And I’d argue that public transit has more of a net benefit than highway expansion which gets evaporated quickly by induced demand.
We need this infrastructure. The light rail is essential to eventually getting away from the highways that clog up all the place where there could be affordable housing. Also the end of the combustion engine is coming whether we want to admit it or not.
Outside of the boundaries of ST2 (Lynnwood, Redmond, Federal Way) there aren’t that many people that travel the highways and freeways. The problem is, they are almost all in a car by themselves. Even then, traffic is largely during peak hours, peak direction. If riders switch to using buses, the buses can definitely handle the load.
It begs the question — what will get them out of their cars? An express bus running in an HOV3 or HOT lane? A robust transit network with lots of buses going to various destinations? The end of the combustion engine? A train serving a handful of stops, most of which are not actual destinations until you get into the city? It seems like all of these could have an impact, but the last one is by far the worst bet.
Oh, and concentrating housing next to the freeway sounds like a planning disaster. Do you know anyone who wants to live next to one? That seems like a great idea if your goal is to build a future slum (just give it fifty years).
I have a proposal for the Seattle city plan ca 1910. It has a subway length of 1.5 miles getting people fro East Seattle to the hub which is near the west side of Denny Park.
Is that far sighted enough?
Yes, and 80% of the people who are paying for light rail will never be able to use it.
I pay taxes for public schools as someone who doesn’t have any children and don’t see any issue paying for that even if i don’t benefit from it directly. I’d also point out that paying taxes on public transit has a net benefit for taxpayers who don’t always ride the system in that there is lower congestion levels both on highways and on streets. Drivers benefit even if said benefit is somewhat invisible to the naked eye.
“Link was not and never has been planned to be a commuter-centric system”
Not to mention that the ST service that is the most commuter centered (South Sounder), is in the progress of being converted to two-way all day service, and therefore less commuter centered
Really? Is there someplace I can track that progress for South Sounder and future plans?
I have somehow missed this.
Yeah, I missed this too. When will South Sounder have all day service?
OK, I found a date. ST is expecting to have extra trips added by 2046 (!!). Nothing about all day service.
Westneat’s central citation and reference to “untransit” is this paper by Professor Stephanie Stern at the Chicago-Kent College of Law: https://www-cdn.law.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Online-Edition-Stern.pdf
It’s a curious paper, in that much of its tone implies that normalizing and supporting remote work via municipal action could have been achieved without a global health crisis.
The paper also advocates for land use planning including “remote work centers” which just sounds like some sort of publicly subsidized version of WeWork. I guess it’s time to start putting hotel-desk cubicles in libraries?
I wonder if this sort of remote work advocacy could be used to convinced sheltered, white-collar suburbanites to allow the legalization of denser mixed-use neighborhoods in their backyards.
A somewhat off-topic but problematic aspect of the paper is that it consistently references the “recent coronavirus pandemic” in the past tense. As someone who just now was infected with COVID-19 after 28 months of dodging it, I think it’s safe to say the pandemic isn’t over.
Thanks for the link, Nathan. (I’ll read the paper when I get a chance today.) I think we are of like minds in that I prefer to go to the source and read the referenced material myself rather than relying upon the citing author’s interpretation.
“I wonder if this sort of remote work advocacy could be used to convinced sheltered, white-collar suburbanites to allow the legalization of denser mixed-use neighborhoods in their backyards.”
I find your phrasing here, i.e., “allow the legalization”, a bit curious. Are you referring to a municipality or county’s intended upzones in selected residential areas and subsequent challenges to said changes? I say this because the jurisdiction involved doesn’t actually need to get the neighborhood’s “approval” per se to move forward. Could there be legal challenges down the road? Of course.
P.S. Thanks for sharing your personal Covid experience. May you make a speedy recovery. You are absolutely right; this pandemic is far from over, sadly.
I suppose “allow legalization” is probably an improper use of the term, but yes, I meant in regards to garnering community support for upzones, or at least reducing anti-upzone sentiments.
Thanks for the sympathies – I’m hoping to not spread it to anyone else, and I’m fortunate to have a job that allows me to isolate.
I am not sure how WFH would encourage SFH zones, especially suburban SFH zones, to “upzone”. They certainly would not see increased residential density as a response to WFH because WFH has increased the demand for both a SFH and more space for a work office (and I thought Westneat’s comment that DADU’s and ADU’s were being converted to home offices was interesting). Increased residential density is usually seen as the antithesis of the SFH zone, and not surprisingly the most desirable and expensive SFH zones have the largest lot minimums.
I also don’t see SFH zones allowing commercial development in the SFH residential zone in response to WFH. Why? The commercial development would have the same regulatory limits as a SFH. Why would I walk or drive to a small satellite office in my SFH zone to work when I have the space in my own home, it is free, I don’t have to get dressed or leave the kids, AND I get the home office deduction? If I am going to work in the office 2 or 3 days/week I want to work in the main office, which hopefully is located in a vibrant retail area. How I get there probably depends on parking and congestion, and my status in the company (free parking).
Whether WFH results in more satellite offices or working from existing commercial suburban zones like on MI, or from a Starbucks or WeWorks, I don’t know, but I do know I am not going to give up my home office deduction.
One thing as a lawyer I have learned is you can find articles on the internet, or hire experts, to opine on either side of an issue. Articles like Professor Stern’s are taken with a grain of salt, and of course begin with a catchy phrase like “Untransit”, or statements like “Zoom is the equivalent of the cable car when it comes to future land use”, which admittedly are clever, but if they don’t reflect what I see already happening in the market, and the financial incentives involved, then I tend to discount the article. The great thing about tenure is you can be wrong all the time and still get paid the same.
WFH is going to increase, not decrease, because it saves several hours/day in unproductive commuting for the employee (and the Seattle Times had an article on a study that found productivity soared during the pandemic when employees were working from home), puts cash in the employee’s pocket with the home office deduction, and saves the employer money on rent. Even though I still go into an office every day the amount of regional travel I do now for legal work, depositions, meetings, filings, etc. has plummeted. One of the reasons we are leaving Seattle is although Harrell is doing a pretty good job cleaning it up so far I never leave the office, and it is dead retail and restaurant wise during the day, which is the ENTIRE point of an urban center.
The point is not whether Link is a commuter system or “all day system”, the point is the loss of the commuter removes around 1/3 to 1/2 of riders, and probably more than that in farebox recovery because commuters usually pay 100% full fare. Since ST’s assumptions — pre-pandemic — were that more and more folks would commute to work on Link, and more would move here and thus need to live in TOD (in part due to the SFH zones being maxed out), that means there is a large hole in operations funding which ST has acknowledged, although having to acknowledge the capital maintenance costs were estimated $3 billion too low — surprise, surprise — won’t help, and I am sure is just the beginning of budget forecasts for future operations costs and farebox recovery.
“commuters usually pay 100% full fare”
If they’re using an employer-provided transit pass, they are not paying anywhere near 100% full fare. A transit pass costs far less when purchased by an employer than when purchased directly by the individual.
Also, many employees will continue to request free transit passes, whether they use them or not, and I don’t see that changing. As long as it’s free, no reason not to get it.
Mike, where do I find info on subsidized Orca passes for employers? I looked on the website but did not see it.
An employer can subsidize a monthly pass that is not tax deductible for the employer but is not income to the employee until I think $276/mo., but I didn’t see a discount program for employer subsidized passes.
We provide subsidies for transit and would be interested in the subsidized program for employers. However I doubt we could provide subsidized transit to employees who work 100% from home, and am not sure tax wise what we can subsidize for an employee who comes into the office once or maybe twice per week. It would be cheaper to just pay the daily fare, or as we have done recently pay for daily parking.
“Mike, where do I find info on subsidized Orca passes for employers?”
I have no experience with that so I don’t know. I’ve never been lucky enough to work for an employer that offered them, except when I was at Harborview in the 90s before the current system.
My understanding is that employers give them to all employees whether they take transit or not. The bulk rate depends on how much the employees used them in the past few years, or if that is unknown, what similar employers had. So if hardly anybody uses them, the price would be the lowest.
In any case, it’s usually lower than the full pass price. The amount recovered from each commute is a share of the monthly pass total. So a Metro trip or 10-mile Link trip is $2.75, or a $99/month pass. That yields 18 round trips at full price. A full-time worker makes 22 round-trip commutes. A 3-day hybrid worker makes 13. So if the full-time worker has a full-price pass, they’re already getting more than the nominal value out of it, which means the operator is getting less than full fare for each trip. The hybrid worker needs just 5 non-work trips to break even. That’s equivalent to shopping once a week and one other trip. I make far more trips than these, so my effective fare is $1.75, or pre-covid $1.30. Much less than the nominal fare. And for those who get employer passes at a 50% discount (whether paid by the employer or employee or both), the fare revenue of each trip is even less.
So no, work commutes on passes are not keeping Metro or Link afloat. The sheer number of peak travelers necessitates additional frequency and capacity. That increases costs disproportionately, because they have to pay for part-time and split shifts (which few people want), the last 100 drivers are harder to hire than the first 100 during a labor shortage, congestion eats up service hours, etc. So if the peak bulge flattens, the agencies can reduce the extra peak relief service, and that’s more cost-effective. Metro and ST have already done that given current ridership levels. If Metro has remaining peak excess after ramping up last October for the office reopening that wasn’t, that will be reduced in the next year or two as Metro has said.
Historically the agencies catered to peak-hour trips and neglected midday, evening, and weekend service. Since covid started they’ve reversed this, boosting midday and shoulder service to ensure essential workers can get around and to serve more non-work trips. That’s the future of transit if 9-5 office shifts remain low.
The PM peak will still be there, because it’s the sum of 9-5 workers going home, people returning from midday activities, and people going to evening activities — all simultaneously. But if 9-5 workers participate in it less, it will flatten substantially (and/or has flattened substantially).
I wonder how many other folks are committing tax fraud by claiming their spare bedroom as a primary workspace while also commuting to an office every day.
I assume it means “allow” in the sense of electing leaders who will do it.
Don’t most libraries already have ‘hotel desk cubicles’, usually of the ‘open floor plan’ flavor? If I’m traveling and need to print something, my first option is to go find a local library branch, where I can often use a computer for free and print for free or a small fee.
“remote work centers” is just futurism gobbledygook – coworking space has been around for decades, WeWork simply prettied it up, and “remote work centers” sure sounds like a generic description of WeWork and its competitors.
I would expect it’d be frowned upon to take a conference call in a library.
Besides the catchy phrase “untransit,” Stern’s paper is a work of evangelism that doesn’t propose how to change or slash transit, nor even highways like 520 and 99 that are seeing less use while other roads clog. It’s more of a manifesto that explains why (people hate sitting in gridlock) and how WFH should be promoted through public policies like municipal broadband. WFH is definitely carving into transit ridership but it’s also possible that better transit would create new clientele.
IMO Prof. Stern’s article was just derivative of the Standford Study that predicted that the intrinsic benefits to employee and employer of WFH — or work from office without the travel work like I do today — would result in a permanent WFH average of around 2 to 3 days/week.
Stern is not a transportation expert. Basically, she was simply adding some clever terms and analogies to what the sublease market already knows and has incorporated into their models once the leases roll off. The announcement by Microsoft was more important than Amazon. I am sure she thought the term “Untransit” would ruffle the feathers of transit advocates, and she was right.
The Stanford article really wasn’t focused on transit. It was focused on commercial real estate and downtown cores long term. Wherever people move to or work from transit will need to move there too. Transit follows life, not the other way around, although ST/PSRC don’t quite understand that.
People live in suburbia for the lack of density, but don’t want to work there for the same reason. Hence commuting. It is important to understand though the decision where to live is many times more important to them than where to work.
I think a very interesting question Ross has raised is whether WFH will condense in-office work in the Class A urban office spaces rather than satellite suburban office spaces. I think he might be right: people will WFH in their home office (with home office deduction) and work part time in-office in the urban core, especially if it is in a vibrant retail area. I think Stern misses this badly: no one is going to take the time and effort to go to a small office in a residential or even suburban office because that defeats the entire purpose of WFH, and in office work. Worst of both worlds. The idea cities need to provide broadband is ridiculous. I can get great broadband from Comcast that comes to my home, I can now write off.
Ross has an excellent post discussing why Link (pre-pandemic) is too suburban oriented. I agree with essentially every point he makes. But then he follows up that post with this post:
“I agree. The idea that transit is only for commuting just shows how out of touch Danny Westneat (and much of the Seattle region) is. They assume that driving is the default, and that the only reason to take transit is to commute. It is an absurd, provincial notion. Anyone who has spent any time in a big city would laugh at that idea.”
But the suburbs are “provincial” which is defined as “of or concerning the regions outside the capital city of a country, especially when regarded as unsophisticated or narrow-minded”. Take out the pejorative and all you have identified is an area outside the “capital” where density naturally falls off. This basically is Everett to Northgate, south of SODO, and probably all of East Link but certainly east of Bellevue. There is only a tiny sliver of “big city” in this huge geographic region.
Of course driving is the default in the suburbs, which as noted above is about 90% of the route of Link. Driving a car was what allowed the suburbs to form. Suburbs have real benefits to live there, and especially raise kids, but we still want to get out to both work and retail vibrancy. What the Stanford Study was getting at is how do urban cores maintain that retail/restaurant vitality we all want without the huge rush of commuters each day? That I don’t know, but we will see (although Seattle is unique because it has other issues that have decimated its retail vibrancy that will be much harder to fix than removing the homeless or reducing crime because perceptions last a long, long time).
WFH has two major impacts to transit:
1. The routing probably changes, and that is a problem with fixed route rail that was designed pre-pandemic and pre-WFH. The reality is we have no idea how travel patterns will change long term right now, but I doubt they will include light rail long distances to areas like Lynnwood or Federal Way when traffic congestion is pretty light. Two things light rail needs are: 1. traffic congestion; and 2. lots of folks needing to go to the same place at the same time, whether that is for work or not. Sure New York has subway riders all day long: it also has 7 million residents and zillions of tourists. It is a “big city”. Very little or Link’s route is even a “city”.
2. Operations funding. Transit costs money to run, and the greater the coverage and frequency the more it costs. Operations funding begins with assumptions, and for ST those were inflated pre-pandemic and naturally the future costs underestimated so you have a double whammy. So transit choices will have to be made — coverage and frequency — post pandemic, and some kind of additional operations funding source because of ST’s terrible cost estimating, followed by the pandemic and loss of ridership on Link. Mike’s idea of a “great transit grid” from Issaquah to Everett to Tacoma to West Seattle to Ballard to Redmond to create some kind of European density and allow someone to live without a car but access all these undense areas is unrealistic because there isn’t the ridership, money, transit workers, or need.
Stern is not a transportation expert or transit expert, but those who are need to adapt to post pandemic life and travel patterns, and Link is a huge albatross for much of that (unless money is no concern which of course it is). You can criticize Stern for offering little transit advice but too much of what I read on this blog is living in the past.
The future is allocating transit resources. Unfortunately ST and Link and the PSRC thought they could determine where folks would live, and where they would travel, probably the two most important decisions citizens make, with transit for most being about number 11 on the list of factors that determine those decisions, which transit then has to backfill.
This article is the point of the Stanford Study IMO, and probably what Prof. Stern missed. WFH really isn’t about transit; transit is just collateral damage depending on how well transit can adapt, both route and funding.
The key is San Francisco office vacancy rates are rising despite the waning of Covid, and that is affecting all the feeder businesses. Vacancy rates are measured by vacant office space, which increases as leases expire and are not renewed or replaced. San Francisco is probably unique because so much is tech related, and tech is getting killed in the markets today (which affects venture capital) but it is also one of the most attractive cities to visit with great wealth.
As usual San Francisco serves as a bellwether for Seattle so San Francisco’s future is usually Seattle’s future. The key is how San Francisco reinvents itself, because if any city can reinvent itself it is San Francisco.
The Pandemic is definitely over. You getting COVID has nothing to do with the definition of a Pandemic. A pandemic is defined by public health facilities being overwhelmed, a point that has long since passed. COVID is now just another virus that originated in China that we have to deal with.
Pres. Biden getting Covid is certainly confusing the message, according to doctors on CNN this morning. He is 79 with several comorbidities. He has been a champion of masking and social distancing as well as total shutdowns in the past, and directed his CDC to bring suit to be able to enforce mask mandates on transit post vaccine. He also supported contact tracing.
However Biden is also battling his own party’s attacks on his physical and mental stamina and ability to run in 2024 which makes him a lame duck President, and like any leader wants to look strong. So he and his staff are downplaying the fact he has Covid, showing photo ops of him on the phone or standing outside in a suit noting his symptoms are very mild, no big deal, and eschewing any contact tracing. In fact his wife who was in close contact with him continued with her speaking tour, and senior staff who were in direct contact are making it clear they are continuing to work in person in close contact with their colleagues.
So how can any government agency convince citizens to take Covid or masking or any precautions seriously when the 79-year-old Pres. who clearly has physical and mental comorbidities comes out and even more than Trump claims Covid is no big deal, even for the elderly and compromised?
Biden’s actions are certainly the end of the “pandemic” in the U.S., whether Covid is a danger or not.
There’s scientific criteria for going from pandemic to endemic, and the experts are disagreeing on how that applies to covid. Covid case and death rates are still several times higher than normal endemic diseases like the flu. It’s getting new waves every 2-6 months. A new variant could easily overwhelm hospitals again later this year or next year. Some are saying it’s a pandemic until case numbers and death rates get far lower. Others say we might as well call it endemic now because it may continue at this high rate forever.
Biden is a typical 82-year old American who finally got covid after eluding it for two years. The covid vaccines mainly reduce severe illness and death; they’re not as good at eliminating infections. And the new variants have new features that the vaccines aren’t as effective against. Masking and social distancing reduce spread but they don’t eliminate it entirely. If you take off your mask for a few minutes it’s not likely a large amount of virus will find you in that time, but it does happen sometimes. So it’s not surprising that Biden got covid after all his precautions. That doesn’t mean the precautions are bad or useless; they’re the best we have. But two years is a long time to elude a virus, and every year it continues the more likely you’ll eventually get hit.
Even if getting regular covid is acceptable, we’re still learning about long covid, and it potentially debilitates people for life, even if their initial case wasn’t that severe. So it’s not just that you get sick for a couple weeks or maybe go to the hospital for a couple weeks. You could potentially get a wide variety of ongoing symptoms that hinder work or play for the long term.
I try to strike a balance between taking precautions but not to an extreme point. Life always has risks, and even people who take all the precautions sometimes get covid. But you’re not likely to get it in low-transmission situations, like outdoors when you’re not in a thick crowd. And I sometimes put my mask on after I get on a bus/train rather than trying to put it on quickly when I see it, which is sometimes difficult. The several minutes you’re riding the bus is more important than the one minute you’re getting on. Some people think I should mask more or less, but that’s the balance for me right now.
Transit as we know it is obsolete and will soon be unnecesary. Driverless pods will get you where you need to go without the hassles of smelly busses and skytrains.
Who’s going to clean the pods?
“ Link was not and never has been planned to be a commuter-centric system.”
It isn’t operated as a commuter-centric system since has frequent, all day service — but the system is expanding into more of a commuter-centric system. That includes wide stop spacing, extending outward further, large parking garages and stations that can take upwards to 5 minutes between entrance and platform in the future. Those are just not conducive to making shorter trips, and most non-work trips are shorter. So I must really take serious issue with this statement as it expands.
I think ST3 pushes it to be much more of a commuter-system as opposed to what we have today.
Link was most certainly designed as a regional commuter system. That was its primarily focus back in 1995. The campaign was titled ‘Regional Express’. The agency was called the RTA, the Regional Transit Authority. After the vote, it was sort of recreated into a more Seattle neighborhood line when the southern route was moved to a surface route down MLK.
Express service and commuter are different concepts. Commuter has to do with span of service, aka the times of day the vehicle is in service. Express generally has to do with stop spacing, but not always: https://humantransit.org/2009/06/slippery-word-watch-express.html
Commuter service is often express, but it certainly does not need to be. For example, a last mile shuttle that only runs during peak hours is a commute service but not an express. If an Express service runs all day and has good frequency on nights and weekends, then it is not commuter service.
Sounder has always been a commuter mode, but Link has never been commuter oriented; STX is mixed depending on the route.
To me there are a couple of themes that are emerging:
1. The need for transit is as great as ever. Traffic and congestion have not decreased. Climate change is getting worse. The housing crisis is getting worse. Car ownership is getting more costly.
2. The reduction in peak demand is probably permanent and is an opportunity to reallocate towards frequent, all-day service, weekend, and night service.
3. Transit expansion does not need to prioritize downtown areas. In Seattle this relates to DSTT2 in particular. It’s been said in these comments plenty, but we probably should rethink the investment in that costly tunnel, especially given the design limitations that will limit its usefulness.
Re #3, DSTT2 is only half about downtown destinations. Downtown is also the center of the transit network, where the most transfers are, intermodal transfers, and it has additional urban areas surrounding it. People going from North Seattle or Snohomish County to the airport go through downtown.
It’s true, downtown is where most of the transfers are — and every one of those transfers would be more efficient without DSTT2, if you could catch the next train on the same platform.
The way to do that is to add the new lines to the existing DSTT. This surely requires a bit of messy construction and disruption, but surely less than the entire DSTT2.
A single downtown transit tunnel is superior for riders in basically every way. Unlike DSTT2, it also happens to be affordable and environmentally responsible.
I agree with Jonathan. The second tunnel seems like a true waste and completely unnecessary. It delays the expansion of the system by decades and results in a very poor customer experience downtown due to the transfers and extremely deep stations.
I’ve been reading these anti-DSTT2 comments for a while and I’m wondering if people have taken Link recently. It’s been packed. Add the link to Bellevue and trains every 3 minutes and we’re at capacity. Add 50 years and a second tunnel is absolutely required for a city of 4m. What about redundancy? This is common sense.
Yes there are fancy solutions like better signaling and automation but the extra capacity will be needed.
Please read the proposals and see how deep the DSTT2 stations will be.
DSTT2 isn’t going to solve any crowding problems. In fact, it will likely make things worse, because people will transfer to trains operating in the existing tunnel to be 5 minutes or so closer to where they want to go.
Unlike, say, Chicago, there really won’t be any redundancy because the only junction between lines will be near SODO, so with the existing proposal you won’t get something like Chicago’s ability to switch red line trains to the loop instead of the tunnel, etc.
The concept looked OK on paper, but with the details of how time consuming it will be to get to the platforms, it really doesn’t add much.
As far as “need” goes, please define this need? Line one is limited to 10 trains per hour, with SoundTransit seeing no need for anything more than 8 trains per hour. Line 2 is limited to 8 trains per hour due t to bridge issues, apparently. 18 trains per hour per direction is well within capacity of these types of tunnels. West Seattle to Everett really doesn’t have that many estimated riders. Ridership falls off substantially north of Lynnwood, so that line could probably work fine with 4 trains per hour. A total of 24 or so trains per hour isn’t that rare in this type of tunnel.
I think any sort of DSTT2 only makes sense with a long-term vision of having a fourth line passing through downtown. The only “reasonable”version of this dream would be a line that runs down Aurora, joins DSTT2 at its SLU station, and then splits off at the Midtown station to go up Madison towards SR520. But that’s a project for the 2050’s, at this rate – and one that would likely be a total non-starter if there isn’t a second downtown tunnel.
There’s a difference between a PSRC regional growth center and a dense regional growth center oriented to transit (TOD). Plus, the criteria for a regional growth center is mainly employment. So it’s important to recognize that the two classifications are not interchangeable.
Both PSRC and ST assume every growth center aspires to be transit oriented; its a central assumption to the past several regional growth plans. That’s Sherwin’s point that ST3 map has never been a commuter-centric system or even downtown-centric (the latter is much to the chagrin of most STB commentators)
Some centers will do better than others at transit-orientation, depending on both policy design and market outcomes, but that’s the same with the “growth” part of growth centers … some are growing and some are not.
So how are Silverdale, South Hill and Lakewood going to become TODs? They are PSRC Regional Growth Centers.
I’d expect that ST and PSRC are expecting the “fringe” growth centers to figure that out for themselves.
“Both PSRC and ST assume every growth center aspires to be transit oriented;”
Who is the growth center? The counties created the growth centers, so the same people who zone and design the centers are the ones who decide their transportation plan. The existing inhabitants of the centers are decaying industrial businesses and worn-out shopping centers, because those are the areas the counties choose. They carefully avoid single-family areas to head off nimby opposition on the homeowners’ lots. In other words, they’re too gutless to confront nimbys and tell them no, so they work around single-family areas. It’s basically a bargain: the cities will give existing single-family lots an increasingly extraordinary privilege in exchange for being able to densify commercial/industrial areas. So those are what become the growth centers. It’s not so much in Seattle because Seattle is more mixed-use already and more willing to expand urban villages, but it happens more in the suburbs where only tired commercial/industrial areas become growth centers. And those growth centers need transit to function well, so they give them better transit, or what they think is better transit.
“So how are Silverdale, South Hill and Lakewood going to become TODs? They are PSRC Regional Growth Centers.”
TODs are individual buildings or complexes, not entire districts. A building is TOD if it’s near a transit stop, oriented toward the stop, and with the shortest walking path from the front door to the stop. TODs are also medium to high density, but the most important factor is the walking path and pedestrian entrance. The front door should be close to the sidewalk, not buried behind a sea of surface parking, and not requiring pedestrians to walk around three sides of a large building to get to the entrance.
It’s also relative. Lakewood and Silverdale TOD will have to be relative to the transit in Lakewood and Silverdale, which won’t be as extensive as Seattle, downtown Bellevue, or downtown Tacoma. So the TOD will also be more mediocre. Because we can’t do the right thing and have good transit and land use everywhere, like Switzerland or The Netherlands. (Switzerland is referring to another Not Just Bikes video I’ll post at another time.)
Silverdale, South Hill, and Lakewood are all intended to be served by ‘BRT.’ PT’s Stream should be as good as Swift, while KT’s frequent bus service will probably more resemble Rapid Ride. Transit needs to be frequent and reliable, not necessarily High Capacity, to support TOD.
South Hill & Lakewood: https://www.theurbanist.org/2022/07/15/a-vision-for-better-bus-rapid-transit-planning-in-tacoma/ & https://www.piercetransit.org/brt-expansion-study/
Check out page 5 here: https://psrc.org/sites/default/files/draft-vision2050-mpp-transportation.pdf
PT Stream is full-stop like RapidRide. There’s no local overlay.
The main reason so much housing is being built is to accommodate the population and job growth. This housing has to go somewhere, and there’s no more room in Bellevue or Renton for additional detached single-family houses because they’ve all been built up. You’d have to channel it to Black Diamond and Arlington, and that’s far beyond what we should expect everybody to do. So housing units will have to be denser than they were before, or the housing shortage will get worse and turn into an even bigger crisis.
Three-quarters of trips are non-work, and the point of these all-day Link extensions, Swift lines, and RapidRide lines is to make it easier to do these on transit. If people aren’t working downtown, they’ll be spending more time in all the neighborhoods, and they’ll need transit there. Expecting everyone to drive is not a solution, especially in a county of two million and growing. I-5 between Northgate and downtown is regularly clogged between 12:30pm and 7:30pm, far beyond the rush-hour PM commute from downtown. I assume 405 is similar.
The phrase “Untransit” seems to be an overgeneralization and not all about transit. If mixed use expands into more neighborhoods and people go to remote offices in the districts, you’ll need more transit there, not less. Especially you’ll need more RapidRide-like transit, because it can best serve those smaller areas, like between Juanita and Avondale.
Link is the backbone of such an all-day network, so it will still be worthwhile even if downtown office use shrinks dramatically. It’s better to have a faster Link core that the buses can complement, than trying to do it with only buses and not succeeding as well. No bus could get from downtown to the U-District, downtown to Bellevue, Bellevue to Redmond, as fast as Link. Express buses are/were trying and failing. And that downtown to Bellevue segment isn’t just for people working downtown; it’s for all trips between Seattle and Bellevue that don’t have a better 520 option. 520 is faster if you’re close the U-District, but probably not if you’re in Fremont, Roosevelt, or Greenwood, because there’s the overhead of getting to the future 271 on slow streets. I go to Bellevue on the weekends, as do other people. Busfuls of people go from Bellevue to Seattle Sunday evenings. I don’t even know why, but it’s probably not to get to their Monday morning shift early.
Link’s role as a backbone has diminishing returns north of Lynnwood, south of Federal Way, and in Issaquah, but “diminished” is still more than zero. It’s easier to get around cities and metro areas that have a 10-minute rapid transit backbone than those that don’t. So Link is worthwhile just for that, even if the far ends have diminishing returns. And the far ends and Issaquah are what those subareas wanted and made their top priority. It wasn’t North King pushing it on them; it was them pulling it to themselves.
I’ve been (mostly) working from home since long before the pandemic, but I still take transit frequently. Personally I look forward to a transition away from purely commuter-oriented transportation planning.
That transition started in the 2000s, increased in 2016 with ST3/Move Seattle/Transit Now, and increased again in 2020 with a recognition of essential workers with off-peak shifts. It also increased with Seattle’s 2014 master transit plan and Metro’s 2016-2020 long-range plans. Metro’s current long-range plan is not directly visible as a route network, but it doubtless keeps the same principles.
It was never meant to be just for commuting.
People do, and will always have, other places they need to go.
(Since WFH is, and most likely will continue to be even more commonplace, why the continuous construction of new downtown office towers? Go figure.
Because it takes several years to plan, finance, and construct a new office tower or residential tower, and it’s not cost-effective to halt it in mid-construction. The buildings under construction now are based on decisions in 2019 or 2020 or earlier. In 2019 it was full steam ahead. In 2020 it was a bargain time due to of low costs, low competition, and getting ahead of the next boom. The buildings that can be postponed now are those due to start construction later this year, or moreso in 2023 or 2024. Amazon did something unusual by deciding not to finish several floors at this time, but that’s different than canceling or mothballing the building.
The thing about entering new eras is they are difficult to see coming, and they can happen relatively quickly. NYC. Two photos. Same street in the year 1900 vs 1913. Nobody in the first photo could have ever imagined the second photo, even though everyone was aware of a thing called the automobile.
A couple of decades from now, maybe the era the metaverse will be a bigger disrupter of transit than the era of wfa or untransit. In 2035, instead of hopping on a bus or train to walk around Greenlake, or visit the Pike Place Market, or even to shop at the grocery store, will we putting on a headset?
Functionally there’s no difference between the 1900 and 1913 photos – the horses and their excrement have just been replaced by internal combustion engines and their lead-laden exhaust. Similar to the office computing switch in the 90’s.
The real innovation of the past 20 years is widely available high-speed internet, which is fundamentally just privatized information teleportation. So, sure, jobs that rely solely on manipulating information are now easily completed at the worker’s home. All other truly productive jobs (the vast majority) still require a person to be in a place to sell a thing, provide a service, or use a tool, and most of these jobs aren’t in places where people can live or want to live. Efficiencies of scale and agglomeration economics will always inevitably decide where commerce actually happens, and so does it drive where people chose to live (for the most part).
When energy becomes expensive again (sooner than we think), anyone who can’t afford the energy required to move a 3-ton EV + themselves to and from a workplace every day are going to struggle to get to work. At that point, cities with efficient mass transit and otherwise walkable neighborhoods are going to see continued growth, while car-oriented “zoom towns” like those mentioned in the articles will choke as they (already) struggle to employ the service providers who can’t afford to make the commute.
In my opinion, the legacy of 20th-century “land use planning” is a legacy of overly-restrictive rules for what property owners can do with their land and buildings as an attempt to prevent any unexpected change in a neighborhood, and to divert pressures of growth either to greenfield suburbia or to disenfranchised neighborhoods that didn’t receive such protections. No one in their right mind disagrees with separating industrial pollution from residences, but prohibiting the mixing of retail, office, service, and housing has been critical mistake, which is evident now more than ever. I’m lucky to live in a neighborhood where I can walk to most services I need. The vast majority of people can’t say the same.
I believe the main takeaway of Professor Stern’s article is that she believes land use law academics should advocate for increased mixed use zoning in currently SFH-only areas, and for municipalities to pursue the conversion of internet service into a public utility. Other dogwhistles regarding the death of urbanism should be disregarded as classism and myopia.
In regards to the Metaverse: as long as people enjoy eating cooked food and hugging each other, mass adoption of a “metaverse” as a replacement for travel or socialization is not going to happen. It’s no better than a nature or travel documentary at that point.
I think 21 century Westerners greatly underappreciate how big of an improvement lead-laden exhaust was over horse excrement (and horse food, and horse kicks).
Otherwise, agree with your points.
I didn’t mean to imply that automotive exhaust was worse than horses – if anything, the ability of exhaust to simply waft away (unlike the actively-produced exhaust from animal feces) was the real selling point of early “horseless carriages”.
Some things it won’t’ replace, others it might. Nobody knows. That was one of the points of the linked story. Disruption is difficult to predict.
One technical detail, Nathan. Tetra-Ethyl Lead was not added to gasoline until 192. So, no “lead-laden exhaust”. “Exhaust”, yes.
The rest is pretty right-on. Thanks for the Montgolfier-popping.
Thanks, Tom – I was remembering how anti-knock gasoline (with the tetra-ethyl lead) made feasible the popular adoption of the internal combustion engine, but forgotten about the early period of steam-powered automobiles. Funny to think how those cars in the 1913 photo were all running on external combustion.
They weren’t steam powered by then at all. Too many explosions. The early engines were not as high compression and didn’t “knock” until they were became more advanced.
Oh, there was lead alright — in the batteries of the electric cars.
All three types had their advantages, and all were being made by the turn of the century. Electric cars required electricity, which made them less popular in the countryside. They also took a long time to recharge and had limited range. Even today those are issues. The steam engine had several advantages over an internal combustion engine, including top speed. Another was that it didn’t require a hand crank to start, although it often took a while to get started. As time went on, the internal combustion engine improved and the electric starter (added in the early teens) gave internal combustion engines a clear advantage. But the biggest breakthrough was mass production; Ford’s Model T came out in 1908, and soon dominated the market.
Hard to say what types of cars were on the road in 1913. The number of cars produced each year increased dramatically the first couple decades of the century. In 1900 total automobile production was 4,192 cars. By 1910, the output was 181,000 cars; in 1915, 895,930; and in 1920, 1,905,560. I have no doubt that by 1913, internal combustion engines (lead by the Model T) were greatly outselling all other types of cars. It also stands to reason that most cars were new (since each year there were so many more cars being produced). At the same time, people didn’t just throw away their old cars, so there were bound to be a few steamers and electric cars by 1913. It isn’t so much that there were a lot fewer of those, it is just that there were a lot more internal combustion engine cars.
Westneat is often great, but has an incorrect target in Link. ST2 Link is pretty strong; it has flaws, but will be great. ST needs to run it more often.
The last Sherwin paragraph has the correct target: the costly one-way peak-only routes. In the current East Link project, that would be routes 256 and 630.
Medical staff aren’t working from home, so 630 is the wrong target.
Route 630 is a correct target, if we want a good network serving medical staff and clients. Should every city have a one-way peak-only route connecting with First Hill? Are we that transfer adverse? Of course not. Route 630 would be no faster than using Link and the network. Route 630 has a limited span and a long headway and waits; it runs in the I-90 next to Link. Link will connect with several routes serving First Hill: the First Hill Street, the G Line, and routes 2, 3, 4, 9, 12 (today), and 60. The network could be further improved. Why did ST2 fund the streetcar? ST dropped its First Hill station in the aughts.
If Link plus a transfer is faster, safer and more convenient than the 630 then riders will opt for Link + transfer over the 630. There is no need to tell these medical workers which is the better choice for them; they can figure that out for themselves. Personally I don’t see how anyone can be surprised by the 630 when Link doesn’t go to First Hill. Why tell riders to take Link if it doesn’t go to where they need to go? Because we built Link?
If MI decided the 630 was necessary then of course so will Issaquah, and my guess is Issaquah will want one seat rides to SLU just like Seattle Microsoft workers want a one seat private shuttles to Redmond. (For Issaquah workers working in downtown Seattle my guess is they will drive to the 1500 stall park and ride at S Bellevue to catch Link). The real question is whether Microsoft continues to run private shuttles from Seattle after East Link opens.
These are discretionary riders. They will either drive or take Link + transfer(s), or demand one seat buses or private shuttles or WFH, depending on which option is faster and more convenient.
They only care about their individual trip. They feel absolutely zero obligation to transit or a transit “grid” unless it is faster, safer, and more convenient. Right now it is the transfer in downtown Seattle that is the key sticking point because perceptions of safety are non negotiable.
“There is no need to tell these medical workers which is the better choice for them”
They aren’t the ones paying for it. Mercer Island is apparently funding it, so it’s up to Mercer Island whether the route is worth paying for, and whether First Hill is the most important and only destination that needs a custom route. If Kirkland and Issaquah wanted direct routes to First Hill, they could have gotten them long ago if they’re willing to pay for it. East Link doesn’t change that. Metro has to decide what are the most important overall trip pairs to serve. It has a few express routes to First Hill; e.g., the “Bothell/Lake City Way route” (322) serving several parts of the northeast. It’s not clear why a few areas have peak expresses to First Hill while most areas don’t. It’s not a general expectation that Eastside cities all have a peak-express route to First Hill; most don’t. The 630 is a 600-series route, indicating it’s funded specially and not part of Metro’s regular service hours.
If Issaquah decides to fund (or demand, Issaquah has a lot more clout than MI) a direct route to First Hill like the 630 I could see MI and Issaquah collaborating on it, especially if there is plenty of park and ride space on MI so the 630 wouldn’t have to travel around MI. Basically park and ride in Issaquah to park and ride on MI (and maybe Eastgate) to a few stops on First Hill.
I would suggest however ST fund it considering the Eastside subarea will likely have over $600 million in ST tax revenue next year with East Link nearing completion of construction and moving to testing. ST should use some of that revenue to take the burden off of Metro.
Probably same with a direct one seat bus to SLU. Like the 554 if Link doesn’t serve a destination it is stupid to require folks to take Link plus a transfer. Don’t blame the riders for the holes in Link’s route.
Of course, when you make an individual trip, you choose the vehicle based on what is best for your particular trip. If I happened to have a work commute that fit the 630, I would ride it too.
But, riding a particular route and demanding that your local transit agency keep funding it, at the expense of other routes, is not the same.
More generally, everybody wants a bus route that picks them up at their house and drops them off at their job, with no transfers and minimal or no stops. And, when possible, those who wish to ride transit would, of course, choose such a route, when it exists. The problem is that, from a funding standpoint, routes like this do not scale. There are just too many places people are coming from and going to, so unless passengers want to pay $30/ride to fund their commutes out of the farebox, somebody has to make choices on what to fund or not fund with limited taxpayer dollars.
The problem with the route 630 mindset is that it distributes all of the available operating subsidy to a very small group of people, with a vary particular commute pattern, and service allocation ends up getting decided by who argues the loudest that they deserve a premium commute more than somebody else, or an employer arguing that their workers deserve the premium commute more than somebody else’s workers. Of worse, allocate the magic carpet to whichever interest group has the most credible threat to drive if they don’t get what the want, a solution that typically involves favoring the wealthy.
This is not the way to run a transit system. Sure, it’s the easiest way, starting from nothing, to get from 0% mode share to 0.01% mode share (arbitrarily choose a group of people with a similar commute and ignore everybody else). But, the moment you try to create enough of these routes to serve a nontrivial percentage of the population, you very quickly run out of money.
The other way to do it is to spread the operating subsidies more evenly, so that a large portion of the population gets some way of getting where they need to go, but nobody gets a ride that is as fast as the direct option. People may grumble that if the agency chose to spend all of its money on *them*, they would save X hours per year, but that wish is unreasonable.
Another way to put it, given any commute, you can draw a graph where the level of subsidy the agency allocates to your route goes on the X axis and your travel time goes on the Y axis. This graph is downward sloping – when the subsidy increases, your commute time decreases. But, when everybody else has similar graphs, decreasing your commute time means increasing operating subsidies for your route, which means decreasing it for somebody else’s route, and increasing their commute time to benefit you. So, by arguing for more routes like the 630, you are essentially making a very selfish argument that your time is more important than the time of everybody else.
Of course, as I said, an unselfish person can absolutely still ride the 630 if it is convenient, and I have no objection to that. After all, the bus costs the same to run whether you get on it or not. Just don’t flood meetings and scream if the agency decides someday to redeploy its operating subsidy money elsewhere, for the sake of the greater good.
Riders on the 630 to First Hill would clearly prefer to drive if parking was subsidized. Like the doctors and senior administrators. It wasn’t long ago we were praising the sacrifices these essential workers were making. Now the 630 is too much for them.
If the only objection to the 630 is cost then my comments are:
1. I am probably the only one on this blog who will subsidize the 630 because progressive Seattle policies have made it too dangerous for these riders to transfer in downtown Seattle. Personally I would like to see the businesses subsidize this route more but hospitals today are financially stressed. I appreciate the efforts Harrell is making, but the reality is I am subsidizing the 630 because of bad Seattle policies. If downtown Seattle was like Paris — or even Issaquah — I doubt there would be such a resistance to transferring downtown, although it probably wastes 45 to 60 additional minutes per day for each worker.
2. The Eastside subarea will have over $600 million in ST revenue next year, mainly so other subareas can finance their projects, most notably the gold plated and obscene WSBLE. At $20 billion for WSBLE am I really suppose to get worked up over the cost of the 630 when marginal neighborhoods like Roosevelt got tunnels. Use Eastside ST tax revenue for the 630. The Eastside has paid for 100% of ST express buses between Seattle and the Eastside that will cost over $1 billion by the time East Link opens. Where were the Seattle transit advocates railing against that unfair deal?
3. Post pandemic and current downtown Seattle makes Link bad transit for many. Don’t blame the riders who may save your life someday.
My guess is Issaquah will partner with the the 630. I think direct buses like this will be common. If even Lake City gets direct buses so do MI and Issaquah. I think with $600 million/year in ST tax revenue alone, let alone the taxes the Eastside pays for Metro, we can offer these critical essential workers better transit than the shitty street car from Pioneer Square to First Hill. These workers’ time is worth something.
While many of these workers can’t WFH they can certainly work on the Eastside. Maybe that is the real solution. But transit advocates post pandemic need to stop offering crummy transit and telling riders to accept it and shut up. Unless you want every Eastside worker to work on the Eastside. Harrell is trying hard to clean up Seattle, but the reality is he can never make up for the lost Eastside commuter, so maybe it is a good idea for Seattle to not encourage even more Eastside workers to abandon Seattle.
I am paying for the 630 so Seattleites can get the life saving healthcare they need. If these Eastside workers want a safe, faster, more convenient direct bus I think they deserve that and will gladly pay because the reality is Link is bad transit outside the true Seattle core, except most Eastsiders think the Seattle core is too dangerous to take transit.
A transfer downtown does not add 45-60 minutes when the buses/trains at both ends are running every 6 minutes. Especially if the transfer overhead replaces some amount of stoplights and traffic. Also, if we had a better gridlike network in Seattle, a transfer downtown wouldn’t even be necessary – with a bus down Broadway that runs in a straight line, you’d be able to make the transfer at Judkins Park station, instead. Unfortunately, that ship has sailed with the First Hill Streetcar routing.
In any case, you still haven’t answered the question of why people who work in First Hill are more deserving of a special bus that saves them maybe 5-10 minutes at most (not 45), which people who work in SLU, Fremont, or UW don’t get. Because, Mercer Island probably does not have the money to quadruple it’s transit budget and run special expresses to all four of these destinations simultaneously, at least, not without new taxes. In an alternative universe where the 630 just happened to go to SLU while First Hill had to make due with the transfer downtown, I’m sure you’d be defending the SLU route vociferously, while ignoring First Hill.
Again, the right way to run a transit system is not through emotional decisions, like running a 630 to show support for hospital workers, the vast majority of which cannot even use the 630 because Mercer Island is so expensive and/or they work a shift that requires commuting outside of peak hours. But, you divide the resources equitably for the greater good.
Similarly, WSDOT does not “show it’s support for First Hill Hospital workers” by building a special exit ramp straight from I-5 into First Hill parking garages – the hospital workers instead, have to use the same streets and ramps as everybody else, and if WSDOT wants to make it better, they will do it in a way that improves traffic flow for everyone, not just a narrow group of people. Building a transit system off of routes like the 630 is like a highway system that picks favored groups and builds special ramps into their parking garages to save those favored groups a few stoplights. Nobody builds a highway system like that.
Also, by the way, the 630 runs, I think, four round trips per day. If they each carry 10 people, that’s 40 people total. Even if (hypothetically) all 40 of them switched to hospitals on the Eastside if the 630 didn’t run, it would have negligible impact on the Seattle economy because it’s still, at the end of the day, just 40 people. And, considering the demographics of Mercer Island, I would be willing to bet that the average daily ridership of the route, post pandemic, to actually be quite a bit less than 40.
The 630 only runs once per peak weekday period: once in the morning and once at night. It’s rather difficult to get exited about something that apparently is scheduled around the needs of what apparently is less than 10 people, and transports them to one of the largest concentrations of employment in the state – meaning every single person using it could go to work somewhere else, and the impact would probably not be particularly apocalyptic.
It’s not money well spent. There are perhaps a dozen different possibilities that would serve the same riders better. None of those involve transfers in downtown Seattle because that sends people in the wrong direction, and therefore it would be more time consuming and not likely to be that cost effective a solution.
However, we all know that the loudest voices are the ones that get heard, no matter if what they are saying is coherent or not. As it’s only wasting a few bus operator hours per day, it’s doubtful anything meaningful would come from cancelling it anyway, other than perhaps one bus somewhere on the system that doesn’t get cancelled due to a lack of an operator.
The problem with the 630 is not the service to First Hill, it is the rest of the line. It serves a small number of people in Mercer Island by duplicating the largest gap of East Link. If we had a robust transit system with frequent lines everywhere then it could be justified. Unfortunately, we don’t. There are far better ways to serve First Hill. For the same amount of money we can serve way more riders and/or save them a lot more time (as well as a transfer).
The 630 is nothing more than elite projection: https://humantransit.org/2017/07/the-dangers-of-elite-projection.html. Sure, we can all imagine ourselves — even the richest amongst us — using this bus. That doesn’t mean it is a good route.
STOP IT! You have been told time after time why there is a tunnel at Roosevelt and at-grade trackage through the Rainier Valley. It isn’t because the RV is African-American.
Just stop with the phony race-baiting.
So far as East King paying for all of the cost to operate the Eastside express buses, if people live in the Eastside and want to travel to Seattle, Eastside taxpayers [those riders] are benefiting. If Seattle residents travel to the Eastside, some business or organization is the destination in the vast majority of cases. Eastside taxpayers benefit.
Then there are the Seattle residents who ride to the Eastside for a purely recreational trip. East King can’t be said to have benefited from their visit, unless perhaps the riders bought some ice cream at the end of the visit.
Similarly, there were a (very) few riders between downtown and the Rainier Avenue “Flyer Stop”, now closed. Those riders certainly did not benefit the Eastside.
So what’s the ratio of benefiting rides to non-benefiting rides? I can’t imagine it’s less than nine to one. Cannot East King in all its beneficence fint some spare change it the (bus) cushions to help these poor souls out?
The comment section once said sending a van out to Golden Gardens to replace the barely ridden route 46 makes sense. But, the route 630, which makes only eight trips per day, and has a higher ridership than the old 46, doesn’t make sense?
Tom, although personally I think race and wealth were factors in the Link design differences for north and south Seattle I did not raise that issue when it comes to the 630. The point I was trying to make is if a subarea like N. King Co. that is underwater when WSBLE is considered can dig subways in Roosevelt, Ballard and West Seattle East King Co. can afford the 630. Think of it as MI’s SB5528, but around 100 times less expensive.
And although my guess is east/west ST express buses benefit Seattle riders equally or more than eastside riders today I didn’t raise that issue to point out N. King Co. should contribute more. My point was when East Link opens the cross-bridge buses (most) will end, and last year the eastside subarea spent $62 million on ST express buses.
If you have a subarea that will likely realize over $600 million in ST tax revenue in 2022, and even more per year for the next 22 years, East Link construction winds down next year and so do many express buses, and for many Link is poor transportation, then spending some ST revenue on the 630 makes sense. Yes I think the medical businesses on First Hill should help subsidize the 630, Link should have gone to First Hill, and Seattle should contribute to the 630 since it is getting all the benefit of these critical workers, but I won’t hold my breath.
The reality is of course Issaquah will demand the same. Issaquah just makes up its mind at the last second, like the route of the 554. Bellevue will realize a stop at the Eastgate Park and Ride for its First Hill medical workers on the way to MI and First Hill makes sense too, because just like MI these workers don’t want to transfer in downtown Seattle, or take the worst form of transit of all: the streetcar up Jackson after a long walk-through Pioneer Square, or have any stops in Seattle except at their work site. These workers have a lot of clout on the eastside if they get involved.
The smart thing at that point is to fund the 630 out of ST revenue so Metro can reallocate the revenue someplace else on the eastside. I guess at that point the 630 will need to renumbered.
Sam is correct the views on this blog are warped by perceptions of privilege or wealth because the 630 originates (right now) on Mercer Island, and to an extent a reluctance to admit Link has some huge holes for discretionary riders, including transfers. Transit advocates got use to transit slaves, but those days are ending for many. But these critical essential riders are not privileged or wealthy workers or they would be driving to work. Show me a doctor, lawyer or senior hospital administrator who takes transit to work. Taking transit — let alone bad transit with transfers — is the opposite definition of privileged.
My guess is MI agreed to subsidize the 630 to make sure it got a seat when Issaquah and Bellevue decide they need a 630 too, and ST will pay for it out of the eastside subarea’s money, which they tend to think (correctly) is their money, and they are correct. Just like the defeat of the recent upzoning legislation from the legislature MI now has a very smart mayor and city manager who have learned to get Issaquah and Bellevue onboard early on, because when they say jump ST or the state reps ask how high.
“My guess is MI agreed to subsidize the 630 to make sure it got a seat when Issaquah and Bellevue decide they need a 630 too, and ST will pay for it out of the eastside subarea’s money”
It has little to do with East Link or Sound Transit. The 630 started several years ago in the 550/554 era. We don’t know whether Metro is funding part of it, but the 600 number suggests it isn’t. Assuming that’s correct, it’s outside Metro’s regular service hours or sales-tax revenue, and it may not even be credited separately for its fare revenue and pass usage. So it’s like Seattle’s TBD: supplemental hours paid and directed by the city. Seattle saved the night owls from extinction, and there’s talk that if the 47 is resurrected, Seattle would fund it because Metro won’t. So that seems to be the situation with the 630, or with any First Hill expresses Issaquah or Bellevue may want in the future. Sound Transit doesn’t have a responsibility to have peak expresses from everywhere to First Hill, and it has never done so to my knowledge. That doesn’t change with East Link. ST’s responsibility is to have expresses/Link to places like downtown Seattle, downtown Bellevue, the U-District, strategic transfer points, and between adjacent regional centers.
If Issaquah and Bellevue have expresses to First Hill, that’s their decision and their money. And Metro would probably operate them, not ST. But you have to ask, if they’ll want this in the future, why didn’t they want it in the past? What has changed? There has never been a one-seat ride from Issaquah or Bellevue to First Hill to my knowledge. Issaquah will go from a two-seat ride to a three-seat ride. Is that enough reason to add a peak express to First Hill? That’s for Issaquah to decide whether it wants to spend its own money on it. Metro Connects is not going that direction.
If you want to ask whether Sound Transit should add an Issaquah-First Hill express, then that’s a question not for Issaquah but for the entire East King subarea. If East King has extra money like you keep saying, does it think Issaquah-First Hill is the most urgent transit need in the subarea? Is it important enough for Kirkland and Renton taxpayers to pay for it, when they don’t have expresses to First Hill? I assume it’s not, and that there are better ways to spend Eastside subarea ST money, which I outlined in another comment.
“The comment section once said sending a van out to Golden Gardens to replace the barely ridden route 46 makes sense. But, the route 630, which makes only eight trips per day, and has a higher ridership than the old 46, doesn’t make sense?”
They’re different things. The 46 in its later incarnations was a peak express from Golden Gardens to the U-District, a midday express from Ballard to the U-District, and a reverse-peak last-mile shuttle from Ballard to Golden Gardens. The van concept would provide only a shuttle from Ballard. That’s comparable to all-day local service on Mercer Island to get to Link, which we want to expand. The 630 is a different beast, a long-distance express that duplicates six miles of 550/554/Link. The 46 served N 40th Street along the way, years before any other route did.
In a perfect world Golden Gardens would have all-day service, as would NW 65th Street, etc. But we’re not there yet. We don’t have enough service hours, we have more important needs for any additional, and the public isn’t ready to pay enough taxes for comprehensive service. So we have to make tradeoffs, and Golden Gardens is lower priority than many other things.
The 630 is an extraordinary subsidy to a niche commute pattern, and duplicates six miles of expresses as I said. So it seems even less justified. But that’s a decision for whoever’s paying for it. If it’s not Metro’s base service hours, then it’s not taking away from regular Metro service that would be even more useful or serve a wider cross-section of the public.
Sam: 8 trips a day?
What I see on the schedule is 2 trips per direction per day, with two others on long term cancellation.
“Super-tall office-only skyscrapers are likely a thing of the past.” I find this take perplexing. Ignore people who 100% WFH – they will mostly migrate to either lower cost locations, except for yuppies who will continue pay a premium for the same lifestyle neighborhoods. For all other white collar work, hybrid WFH vs full time in person work will place an even greater premium on centralized vs distributed office space. In a theoretical word where people primarily gather in an office space solely for connections, the rent premium for CBD location over a non-CBD will only grow. The users (in type & frequency) of office skyscrapers will evolve, but the rent premium of those buildings likely only grows.
That said, the office skyscraper is now competing for land with other uses that may command a higher rent. More interesting to me are the several tower projects in Seattle that have pivoted to midrise (5~12 story) biotech development, presumably under the theory biotech/lab work will continue to be in-person work.
Super-tall office skyscrapers should be a thing of the past. There’s no need for buildings over 40 stories: there’s enough land for two 40-story buildings instead of one 80-story building. The tallest buildings are just vanity for the owner and prestige for the offices on the upper floors. There are many reasonable models of city centers at 40 stories, 20 stories, or 10 stories. We just need to choose one of the models and implement it well, like Paris, Manhattan, Boston, Chicago, Copenhagen, etc. Most of Manhattan js 10 stories or less, and it’s enough. What we need to get away from is space-wasting 1-2 story buildings, surface parking lots, horizontally-oriented buildings, and excessive dead space. Not productive nature pockets and places people really sit and gather, but blank lawns and windswept plazas that nobody wants to be in anyway because they’re inhumanly scaled.
This seems like it remains relevant: https://humantransit.org/2020/05/the-collapse-of-rush-hour-a-deep-dive.html
I think the word “ameliorates” is used incorrectly in this article.
You’re right. Bad English day. Fixed.
As a regular visitor to relatives in King County who tries to avoid driving, I always used to find the transit emphasis on commuting somewhat frustrating. Sometimes that meant travelling before 9 am or waiting until after 3 pm to get to and from destinations easily; and don’t mention Saturdays and Sundays. I must report that over the last 5 years things got a little better even though peak only services have been decimated. I also have relatives in New York and Birmingham, UK and the excellent transit systems in those cities don’t shut down routes or severely reduce frequencies at weekends and (apart from the costly NYC Express Bus system) I haven’t come across peak only weekday routes. Transit should help to discourage visitors from renting cars or bringing their own vehicles to drive around. Perhaps post Covid, King (and adjoining county) transit agencies will switch to a modus operandi that will encourage visitors to use transit.
Rush hour traffic is now back to the better part of 6 – 10 AM, 3 – 7 PM, with pretty much the same hot spots as pre-Covid. The non-carpool section of the Northgate parking garage had only a few spots when I got there at 7:30 this morning, train left Northgate standing room only. A big part of WFH killing transit was supposed to be that there would be much less traffic congestion so those people who could not WFH would just drive. Something tells me that the impact of WFH on peak hour commuting has been “somewhat overstated,” although ridership is definitely impacted on those specific bus routes that heavily depended on tech workers and downtown offices pre-Covid. Fortunately, assuming that the shift to WFH/hybrid schedules in tech and offices will be permanent (remains to be seen!), one feature of busses is that those bus routes can be easily modified to fill in some under-served parts of Town. As far as ST3 Link, a lot of those extensions were not the best priorities pre-Covid, and will likely remain not the best priorities post-Covid. However, the completion of the ST2 stuff combined with the reality of traffic should result in the opposite of “untransit.” (Caveat: a severe recession and collapse of sales tax revenue would of course be very detrimental to transit!)
Agree with your observations especially about rush hour traffic. I know many people who are looking forward to the completion of Lynnwood Link, it will be like the (masked) crowds at Northgate Link on opening week, but perhaps with even more excitement as the new stations in 2024 are in cities that have never had Link before.
I find the term “untransit” to be similar to “boondoggle” another term I see some people throw around when trying to talk about transit projects they disagree with or critical of. Both terms mean a whole lot of nothing when you try to parse what they actually mean in my opinion, which often ends up being just NIMBYIism in a different package or framing. Is there reason to be critical of transit projects in the longer term as things change and evolve in society or region, sure. But at the same time I see some people declaring the death of transit a bit too early because it isn’t going to be so commuter focused which in my opinion it shouldn’t be overly so in the first place. Public transit at the end of the day is here to service everyone from the poor to the wealthy as a public service for everyone to use.
I agree. The idea that transit is only for commuting just shows how out of touch Danny Westneat (and much of the Seattle region) is. They assume that driving is the default, and that the only reason to take transit is to commute. It is an absurd, provincial notion. Anyone who has spent any time in a big city would laugh at that idea.
The last few times I’ve used Link it’s been midday on weekdays, and it’s been quite crowded. Quite a number of people are certainly using it outside peak commute times.
Even Skagit Transit buses are used by a fair number of people just going about their daily lives.
I’d say it’s more a matter of someone never having used transit for anything other than commuting, they can’t picture how any lifestyle other than someone wealthy enough to drive everywhere.
There’s nothing about the plan that screams commuter-heavy downtown-centricity.
I disagree. How else do explain the lack of stations in the city?
To quote a former commenter on this blog, Sound Transit has long had a “peculiar obsession with long-distance ‘regional’ connectivity, their low expectations for urban coverage and service quality, and especially their focus on fashioning a 65-miles spine from Tacoma to Everett.”
The only possible explanation for the poorly thought out system is that tens of thousands will be commuting to downtown from distant suburbs and cities. Otherwise, it is just silly. An urban subway serves urban uses. These uses take place throughout the day, and are often spontaneous. People get on and off at each stop throughout the day. Ridership goes up during peak hours and more people use the downtown stops, but those trips still make up a minority of the trips. If you’ve ever ridden a subway in a big city (or even a small one, like Vancouver BC) you notice this. Every day, at every station, all day long, people are getting on and off the train.
But that just doesn’t happen as you reach the suburbs. Anywhere. You can look at data from BART, for example. Or just look at where the overly optimistic estimates for ridership are for Link. They expect Everett to grow 2 ½ times faster than Seattle through 2040, and yet still make up a relatively tiny portion of the ridership. Speaking of which, if the expectation is that Everett will become the next Seattle, why aren’t there more stations in Everett?
Sorry, but the ridiculous notion of a spine was based on travel patterns that simply don’t exist in the real world. Most transit trips are within the urban core, and the trips to the suburbs are largely based around commuting. You can look at other systems around the world. It always follows the same pattern. It is why even extremely slow transit systems (like Muni) get huge numbers of riders, and extremely fast systems (like BART) get only a relative handful outside the city.
You can also see that with our express buses. Prior to the pandemic (and Northgate Link) the 512 ran all day between downtown Tacoma and Seattle. It had relatively good frequency — 15 minute headways, better than most buses in Snohomish County. A northbound bus made 5 stops between the UW and downtown Everett. Less than 200 riders a day used those stops. Very few were headed to downtown Everett and my guess is, even fewer were headed to places like Ash Way or South Everett. The problem isn’t that these places aren’t built up (Ash Way is) it is just that it is simply too suburban. It is too far from Seattle to attract riders for anything but commuting and the occasional ballgame. The other stops along the way aren’t big destinations, even as they add more people. A mere 66 people traveled between Lynnwood and places north — my guess is that number is much smaller now.
Danny Westneat is wrong. The “new normal” (which doesn’t exist yet) hasn’t changed anything. ST3 was crap to begin with, and it is crap now.
“How else do explain the lack of stations in the city?”
How do you explain Roosevelt, U-District, Capitol Hill, Beacon Hill, Mt Baker, Columbia City, Othello, or Rainier Beach Station? All of them are in the city, not downtown, in or at least within a few blocks of walkable neighborhood centers, and every day allow people to travel within the city or use them for part of their trip. You’re focusing on the glass half empty and not looking at the glass half full. At least we were able to get transit to a better position than it was in 2008. That’s pretty good for the US if you don’t have an intact pre-WWII network and aren’t the nation’s capital We’re fighting against a large societal tidal wave that’s much bigger than transit. ST2 will add a lot more usefulness to the network, even though most of it is outside Seattle. Because people’s trips may start in Seattle but they don’t always end in Seattle, not when the suburbs have 3/4 of the population and a lot of the jobs, and retail not available in Seattle. And the extreme suburban ends of ST3 were chosen by those counties/subareas themselves, and they have the power to do it. If you look at where Seattle and Pugetoplis was in the 1970s and 80s, transit and density is doing much better than it would have done if we’d followed the examples of Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta, or Silicon Valley.
Of course it could be worse. But Link does not follow standard stop spacing. It does not operate like an urban subway. That’s because it isn’t one. Keep in mind, this is our only subway line. It is not like we already have a solid subway line and are trying to add a little something to it with inexpensive regional rail or a dubious extension. This is an extremely expensive system with only a minimum of urban stops. The fact that every system you named is in the U. S. only shows that a lot of American systems are terrible. They don’t have to be. Either spend the money to do it right, or just run buses. Unfortunately, we did neither. Unlike a lot of the systems you mentioned, ours is extremely expensive (even after leveraging a bus tunnel that can no longer be used by buses). We spent an enormous amount of money, and yet somehow managed to skip First Hill. We have only two stops in the U-District. Even in Rainier Valley, where surface stops are cheap, there are only four stops (and they skipped the existing urban destinations, which are on Rainier). It is clearly designed for distance over coverage, and the main reason they did that was to enable faster running times from distant suburbs to downtown Seattle.
We’re fighting against a large societal tidal wave that’s much bigger than transit.
Ha! If anything, the large societal move is towards the city, not away from it. Seattle has grown much faster than the surrounding suburbs, despite being largely ignored by Link. Neighborhoods all over Seattle have grown very quickly, despite having nothing special from a transit perspective. An urban-oriented subway would have simply added fuel to this raging fire.
people’s trips may start in Seattle but they don’t always end in Seattle,
Of course not. But the numbers outside the urban core (which includes much of our inner-suburban employment centers like Bellevue, Kirkland and even Redmond) are so tiny that they don’t need rail or expensive infrastructure. All they need is an occasional bus, and maybe some BAT lanes (if that). People aren’t dying to go to Fife or Ash Way.
the suburbs have 3/4 of the population and a lot of the jobs, and retail not available in Seattle.
Right, and Kansas has more people than Vancouver. That doesn’t mean we should run SkyTrain through Kansas. The problem isn’t overall population, it is density. The distant suburbs will never take full advantage of a rail system, and what’s worse, they will never have decent bus service, in part because of their huge investment in rail.
Seattle is building an inferior rail system — not nearly as nice as our nearest neighbor (Vancouver) — because we were too focused on a long distance regional system. The more distant suburbs and cities will have stations, but will have a poor overall transit system because they wasted too much money on Link. Transit trips taken between the urban core and the areas outside it won’t be that good. Trips from the suburbs to the city will struggle because so little of the city is covered by rail, and so little of the rail system is designed to complement the buses. Trips to the suburban destinations you mention will struggle for the same reason. For many, it won’t be that easy to connect to Link, and the connection to suburban centers won’t necessarily be great. For example, even after they build Lynnwood Link (a project many times more reasonable than Everett Link) getting to downtown Edmonds from Seattle will be very difficult.
And yes, the fixation on downtown oriented commuting had a lot to do with this. When you draw a ST3 Link map to scale, it resembles commuter rail. Sure, there are some stops inside the city, but there are huge gaps between stations, and the end to end distance is enormous. If told that this is not commuter rail — not an inch of it runs on existing rail lines — you would guess that we are a huge, sprawling city similar to others in the west. Either we have major centers many miles from each other (L. A.) or we sprawl with a very weak center (Phoenix). But we’re not! Seattle has a real urban core, it is just that we skipped right over it. It is nuts that we have only one station between the UW and downtown, given how many people live between those areas.
And the extreme suburban ends of ST3 were chosen by those counties/subareas themselves, and they have the power to do it.
That is merely an explanation, not a rebuttal. The Sacramento Kings made bad draft choices. They had the power to do that. But they still suck!
OK, we’re not the Kings. We aren’t nearly that bad. We aren’t the worst system in America (although that says more about American planning than it does our plans). There is definitely some good pieces with what we have built, and are in the process of building. It definitely could be worse.
But it could also be a lot better. This system is extremely expensive, and yet is filled with mistakes. The worst part is, there is no attempt to fix the obvious flaws with the massing investment that is ST3. It is doubling down on the worse mistakes made previously. Often it is precisely because of “commuter-heavy downtown-centricity”. West Seattle Link is a great example. This will cost a huge amount of money, yet who will it benefit? Outside of rush-hour, it is much faster to just stay on the bus and catch the freeway to downtown. There is a second tunnel added, and it doesn’t bother to cover First Hill, because Dow Constantine clearly didn’t want West Seattle riders to have to transfer if they are headed downtown. (Yes, he had the power to do that — that doesn’t make it better.) It is essentially commuter rail, but at subway costs. The vast majority of riders will either be delayed by the transfer, or be no different than someone in Naperville trying to take the 8:15 into the city.
Even Ballard rail lacks any great improvement in the network. This is the only major rail project within ST3 that we should consider building, and yet it won’t change the urban dynamic. It is a combination of unfortunate geography, and poor decision making, again making it largely useless outside of rush-hour trips. Once again we see long distances with no stations. Between the end of the line and the Seattle Center Station — a distance of over 3 miles — there are only two stations. One of those stations is Smith Cove, an area with little in the way of walkshed. Worse yet, it has no network potential. The train runs north-south, but there will be no east-west connecting bus, because on one side you have Puget Sound, and on the other a green belt. Meanwhile, the one station in Ballard is so far from the center of Ballard that outside of rush-hour, the train will largely be ignored. To the east, you can’t even connect to it well (again because of unfortunate geography). This is by far the best ST3 rail project, and it has serious network limitations.
It doesn’t have to be that way. We could build a good rail network that integrates well with our buses to form a great transit network. But we’re not. The fact that Ballard to UW rail would have completely transformed transit in the north end of Seattle, gotten more riders, and cost less than West Seattle Link (if not Ballard Link) is telling. It doesn’t go downtown.
Metro Vancouver is 2.6MM and Kansas is 2.9MM people. Kansas better hurry up or they will lose their justification for Skytrain!!
“Seattle is building an inferior rail system — not nearly as nice as our nearest neighbor (Vancouver) — because we were too focused on a long distance regional system.” I agree, and as Tom points out below that’s a feature not a bug. Given Seattle’s city council couldn’t stomach an extra 0.5% TBD tax last year and can’t handle BAT lanes on 44 in Wallingford, I don’t really care that the wealthiest, most dynamic city in the PNW is unable to rope in poorer suburbs to fund better transit within Seattle since the DSTT opened. Stop whining about not enough Other People’s Money.
“An urban-oriented subway would have simply added fuel to this raging fire.” Lolz, maybe the raging fire of rents increases? Seattle’s rents are already high enough to support midrise housing pretty much everywhere; the only thing holding back faster growth in Seattle is zoning and capacity constraints in the construction sector (time for permits, labor shortage, etc.). If Seattle had better transit and the exact same zoning, it would have higher rents and land prices and the same population. It’s outside of Seattle that population growth is induced by Link expansion, as Link induces rents to be sufficiently high to support midrise development or lowrise redevelopment. (also, see Shoreline’s 147 & 185 station area zoning vs Seattle’s 147th & 130th station area zoning)
the only thing holding back faster growth in Seattle is zoning and capacity constraints in the construction sector (time for permits, labor shortage, etc.).
Exactly! That is what I’m saying. The idea that we needed the suburbs because it is where the people are (or where the jobs are) is ridiculous. It is clearly outdated. Seattle is where the people are. It is where the growth is, *despite* the restrictive zoning.
I don’t really care that the wealthiest, most dynamic city in the PNW is unable to rope in poorer suburbs to fund better transit within Seattle since the DSTT opened. Stop whining about not enough Other People’s Money.
I’m not sure what you mean by that. Are you suggesting that Seattle wouldn’t fund its own subway system? Seriously? We voted several times for a freakin’ monorail, even though many people (including the former head of Seattle Subway) thought it was a poorly designed, stupid plan concocted by amateurs. Of course we would approve of a subway line. We vote overwhelmingly for transit every time it comes up for a vote.
Seattle is being dragged down by the suburbs, not helped by it. There is definitely value in having a regional transit system (for regional buses and commuter rail) but for a city like Seattle (where almost all the density is in the city itself) there is little need to go outside it, and definitely no need to go outside the county. You might think that at least the suburbs benefit from it, but as it turns out, they are hurt by it as well. Because the folks pushing this know nothing about transit, and treat a subway line like a freeway, we get the worst of all worlds. If they take the train into the city, it only works for a handful of trips, because travel *within* the city is slow. If they want to take a bus to the train, or just a bus within their own suburb, it is very infrequent (hourly buses are common in Snohomish and Pierce County). It is clearly the wrong tool for the job, but someone thought it would “tie together the region” or some such nonsense, and that is what they wanted to build.
Yes, I’m whining, because when the dust settles, and we build this incredibly expensive project, we will not have a very good transit system. This sucks. I use transit and care about this region a lot. I find that a lot of issues are very difficult to solve (e. g. policing) but others are not. I’m not saying that it is easy to “fix transit”, but clearly we just blew it with ST3.
It is like buying a vintage Fiat Spider as a carpool vehicle. It is extremely expensive, costly to maintain, not very reliable, and not very good at serving its primary purpose. It does look good though.
“but for a city like Seattle (where almost all the density is in the city itself) there is little need to go outside it, and definitely no need to go outside the county.”
I should have written “little need to build rail outside it”. By the way, just for the record, this is not a slam on East Link. I think it is a worthy project. I’m just saying that building East Link before we cover the rest of Seattle is not a good idea. There are more cost effective projects within Seattle itself. Overall though, I really don’t have much problem with ST2 projects — it isn’t ideal, but it is fine. It is like SkyTrain extending to Langley before it gets to UBC. As long as you at least build the line on Broadway (which provides much of the value of a UBC line) it is OK, and it is also clear that extending to UBC is merely a matter of time. With ST3, of course, this could very well be it. No more rail, as spent all of our money on bad projects.
Oh, and just a quick summary of the major rail projects:
Everett Link: Sucks
Tacoma Dome Link: Sucks
Issaquah to South Kirkland Park and Ride: Sucks
West Seattle Link: Sucks
New Downtown Link Tunnel: Sucks
Ballard Link: Could be an OK project if done right (it won’t be).
Ross, ST has “an obsession with long-distance ‘regional’ connectivity” because that’s what it was created to do. Do you criticize a football team’s batting average?
We all know this, and yet we habitually slag on the agency’s “vision”. Most of the criticisms are quite accurate from a professional transit theory point of view, but this should be aimed at the Legislature for ring-fencing the agency so severely. That’s no excuse for the freeway alignments, the poor siting of the palations [sicut, and I hope it “catches on”], and the ridiculous budget estimates that agency has made on its own. But going to Tacoma, Redmond and Everett is a feature, not a bug. I’m surprised nobody has sued to kill WSBLE which is emphatically “not regional.” SLU is.
FWIW, I don’t think suing WSBLE as ‘not regional’ would work because the WS & Ballard corridors were in the 2014 LRP and WSBLE representative project was in the 2018 vote. IMO, legally “Regional” is whatever the ST Board says it is, as long as it’s sufficiently documented in a voter approved representative project.
Lol. I like it.
2016 vote. But, yeah, on the legal challenge issue I have to agree with AJ. A challenge against ST3 based on the WSBLE component not being a “regional” affair would not be successful.
How would a party “sue WSBLE”? You sue an agency or agency head, not a plan, unless you are talking about a suit filed under SEPA. The issue then is who has “standing” which courts evaluate very carefully. Someone or some neighborhood has to show harm to sue. My guess is no court would find an individual has standing, and so a neighborhood or city would have to file suit under SEPA to have standing.
Of course WSBLE is not “regional” which is why N. King Co. is paying for it. ST claimed — based on phony ridership estimates and capacity concerns — DSTT2 is a “shared regional facility” which the four other subareas now know it is not, but ST 3 obligates them to at least $275 million each for DSTT2, but obligates N. King Co. for at least half of whatever it costs, perhaps a much higher percentage if the four other subareas refuse to pay more than 1/2 of the original cost estimate of $2.2 billion. But the party with standing in that case is another subarea, and their remedy is to withdraw from ST and ask for their tax revenue back, or find two other subareas to join them form a majority to change the contribution, especially if like Pierce you have a big surplus you could allocate someplace else.
But what are the issues? The only real issue for WSBLE is whether ST has the funding for the alternative it has or will select. It is a stupid line from a transit point of view, but that really is not the issue. From the beginning I predicted ST would avoid the political fight over surface lines or stations, and now it looks like ST will punt on the CID’s complaint about a tunnel at 5th.
If Link is deep underground from West Seattle to Ballard, and ST has the funding for that alignment, the only complaints or bases for litigation under SEPA I could see would be station alignment, and whether the disruption from cut and cover would lead to litigation. But so far ST is avoiding all those issues with very deep tunnels and underground stations.
Sure, it is probably not a good transit experience in DSTT2 but like I said transit riders would not have standing under SEPA. The only real issue is cost. If ST has the funding for the preferred alternative that resolves the bases for a SEPA lawsuit what is the objection? If it doesn’t have the money then it goes to the residents of Seattle for a SB5528 levy. Let the citizens decide how much to pay for the alternative without any objection to design (except perhaps from transit riders, but they don’t have standing).
My advice for ST however is to make sure the Board has written guarantees from the four other subareas on the amount they can and will contribute to whatever DSTT2 costs, and make sure this SB5528 levy is accurate with a 30% cost contingency, because everyone is a lot more sophisticated and sensitized to ST’s habit of dishonesty when it comes to project cost estimates and ST tax revenue.
It would be bad if ST had to return to Seattle voters with a second SB5528 levy to complete the big hole in the ground that is WSBLE when just the first SB5528 levy, if it passed, would exhaust any tax capacity in Seattle for decades, when there will be $3.5 billion in bridge repairs and replacement coming up, and the West Seattle Bridge makes it pretty clear which Seattle citizens prioritize: transit or car bridges.
Hey Daniel, your Caulfieldian use of “phoney” in regards to ridership estimation is getting tired.
Do you have any evidence that the ridership model ST uses is intentionally misleading? It’s the foundation of so many of your arguments.
“How would a party “sue WSBLE”? ”
The individual making this comment obviously meant a legal challenge against the agency. Come on.
As far as the standing issue goes, have you already forgotten about Sane Transit v. Sound Transit? Standing was not an issue there and wouldn’t be an issue in a hypothetical future challenge based on ST3 revisions as long as the party(ies) are district taxpayers. More recently we had the Black et al litigation. In both cases, though the challengers were unsuccessful, standing was not an issue. Additionally, these were not SEPA-related litigations so I’m baffled as to why you feel that’s the only avenue.
I understand taxpayer standing when it comes to taxation. But I don’t quite understand how you frame changes to WSBLE as “taxation”. ST 3 passed. What I understood to be the issue was changes to the design or elimination from the project list.
TT posted, “I’m surprised nobody has sued to kill WSBLE which is emphatically “not regional.” SLU is.”
AJ responded, “FWIW, I don’t think suing WSBLE as ‘not regional’ would work because the WS & Ballard corridors were in the 2014 LRP and WSBLE representative project was in the 2018 vote. IMO, legally “Regional” is whatever the ST Board says it is, as long as it’s sufficiently documented in a voter approved representative project.”
I guess I don’t see how taxpayer standing is involved with whether
WSBLE is “regional”, or that is even an issue. So I don’t see an individual having standing in suing to “kill” WSBLE because it is not “regional” based on taxpayer standing. I am sure any good lawyer would plead taxpayer standing, especially to a court looking for a quick and easy way to resolve the suit.
Believe me, we have tried to use taxpayer standing in SEPA challenges and challenges under LUPA or to the GMHB due to its wide scope, but have made sure to be very specific about standing under other bases because courts are very, very keen on using standing to avoid a lawsuit — especially by an individual — to dismiss a suit or appeal against a government or government agency.
I agree with Tisgwn and AJ such a suit would not be successful, but believe it would be dismissed based on standing if brought by an individual before it ever reached the merits. I can guarantee the agency would file a motion to dismiss on standing.
But who knows, maybe Nathan D.’s dream will come true and Tim Eyman will collect enough signatures to place repeal of ST 3 on a ballot and fiscal conservatives will save the day and vote to repeal ST 3 and WSBLE. Although Eyman’s initiatives and referenda ultimately did not turn out well unless like the 1% levy cap the legislature adopted it after the state supreme court threw it out.
If I wanted changes to the design of WSBLE as TT is suggesting by its repeal I would use SEPA, but would need a community or city to survive standing IMO that can show “harm”.
I think it would behoove you to read the WA Supreme Court’s decision in the Sane Transit case. That case is the relevant precedent in a subsequent wholesale challenge to the proposition that gave us the ST3 plan. (I’not sure why you keep coming back to the SEPA challenge argument.)
Additionally, I don’t recall a motion to challenge standing from Sound Transit in the superior court in the Sane case. But perhaps you could look that up. Here are the relevant links:
WA Supreme Court decision:
WA Supreme Court docket, case #734135:
King County Superior Court docket, case #02-2-15207-4
(If the links don’t work because of site verifications, I’m sure you know how to find the noted dockets.)
Whoooooooeeee! That was some “sentence”, Counselor. Clocking in at 67 words [+/- 3 for eyeball counting] it bids fair to being its own paragraph. I see that you took note.
But to the content. I expect that you are correct that a local levy can’t bridge the gap between budget and reality for WSBLE, and the line should be junked. A budget bus tunnel from Elliott to Third and Cedar would significantly improve the running time and reliability of bus access to Ballard. For quite a bit more money it could extend to Westlake and Blanchard with a Westlake Transit mall in order to improve access to South Lake Union.
West Seattle can be fixed with a second lane for buses only in the ramp between the West Seattle Freeway and SR 99 and several buckets of Red Paint on West Seattle streets.
You’re exactly right Ross. The original ‘Sound Move’ plan was all about commuters. That’s why Sounder only has a few trains during commuting hours. To understand why, however, you have to examine the design of the Board of Directors. It’s a tricounty agency and some of the board members are from small suburban towns. And on top of that the agency is split into 5 subareas for purposes of cost accounting. This made the construction of initial link almost impossible. But every large decision has to be approved by this huge board most of whom represent suburban regions.
There’s actually a pretty good way of showing how “commuter” versus all-day behavior in the ST forecasts.
Here is the source:
Each link has both PM peak forecasts and daily forecasts by direction. I think the PM peak is 3-6 but I could be wrong. If you develop a ratio of PM peak to daily, you get a pretty good idea of how “commuter” each segment is. It’s not exact, as some commuters travel at other times and people other than commuters will board during the peak time — but it’s a pretty good quantitative illustration of this commuter prominence. It’s best to look at the peak direction only, although there are commuters in the off-peak direction shown so you could add the two directions together.
Sounder is 90-100 percent commuter. Among the Link lines, only two are above 50 percent commuter as far as I can tell — North of U District (all the way to Everett) and east of Redmond Tech. Stride and Tacoma Link don’t reach this 50 percent.
Of course, it’s the daily forecasts that matter for utility. The peak times is only used to analyze overcrowding. However, looking at these ratios demonstrates how much of ST is for commuters.
I think that’s smart analysis and a peak period ridership good proxy for ‘commutes.’
I’m surprised east of Redmond Tech is >50% peak … SE Redmond will be very peak-y (big P&R, transfer point for suburban feeder routes) but I would have thought Redmond downtown would generate all-day ridership with lots of live & play activity.
I’d be curious how these figures would compare to various KCM routes/corridors.
Technically, ST estimated the segment between Redmond DT and SE Redmond to be <50% peak. It’s just that their estimate of ridership at the SE Redmond park-n-ride swamps the segment between there and Redmond Tech.
Although, I’m pretty sure the ridership numbers for Ballard have been revised upwards from the 10k that’s shown on these maps, so I’m not sure how worthwhile they are today.
This sounds very much like Federal Way to Lynnwood and Redmond Downtown will be the end of Link. Seattle may or may not dig a stub through SLU, but making Westlake transit only south of Denny and running block-long real Trams on the CCC might be sufficient.
All that’s needed from the Legislature is the right for North King to use its accumulated ST3 revenues (net of paying Pierce back the North King portion of its ST 1 and 2 surpluses) to find what ever it wants to do. It piled up a bundle in 2018 and 19 probably enough to build the CCC and new longer stations.
Is there a need for state action for an ST3.5 vote?
Aside from Sounder South ST3 investments, none of this suggests the subareas are interested in pivoting away from their ST3 goals. If anything, the death of commutes removes one of the big critique of the Tacoma-Everett Spine (“it’s too long to get to Seattle CBD, no one will ride it!”). If the goal is to create a frequent regional network that connects geographically diverse activity centers, prioritizing reliable, all-day travel between nearby centers and deprioritizing end-to-end speed between subareas, then it continues to make sense to replace I5 express buses with Link.
My guess is any major change would need a vote. The legislature would might need to allow that to happen. Or maybe the people take a non-binding vote, but the legislature actually makes it happen. I see two possibilities with a public vote:
1) People just repeal ST3. There are issues because some of the projects have started, but that is the basic idea.
2) Shift the money to other transit projects.
The first would involve the same fight as before, with pro-transit people on one end, and anti-transit/anti-tax people at the other. The handful of people (like me) who are pro-transit but think the plans are stupid would be largely ignored, since that is the era we live in (nuance is boring; you’re either with us or against us; pick a tribe, dude).
The second would require leadership. Someone would have to come up with different plans. The simplest would be to simply call for better bus infrastructure. This means no “Metro 8” or “Ballard to UW subway”. I could live with that, if we have a much improved bus system. There is a lot to be said for an iterative approach.
I’ve been reading the “Strong Towns” book recently, and also saw the authors presentation at a Google conference (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Em7nqDqQ8oM). While his focus is on planning, he is a major proponent of an iterative approach. I have come to the conclusion that he is absolutely right. it is very easy to “think big” and then find that it really doesn’t work. From a transit perspective, it is easy to see how an iterative approach would work:
1) Run the buses more often.
2) Fix the biggest slowdowns.
3) Repeat steps 1 and 2.
4) If the bus is running a lot (every five minutes) and still crowded, run express buses that bypass many of the stops.
5) If the buses are still crowded, run rail (steps 6 or 7).
6) If you have a corridor that is pretty fast, then run trams to deal with the crowding.
7) If you have fundamental issues that prevent the train from running fast, run it underground (or above ground).
The problem we have with so much of Link is that we are bypassing most of these steps. In contrast, the few segments that we all agree were worth building — our most cost effective sections by a wide margin — already had fulfilled steps 1 through 5. The next step for transit within Seattle should be making the buses faster and running them more often. Outside Seattle, that should be the only step.
If the goal is to create a frequent regional network that connects geographically diverse activity centers, prioritizing reliable, all-day travel between nearby centers and deprioritizing end-to-end speed between subareas, then it continues to make sense to replace I5 express buses with Link.
Nonsense. Rail is fundamentally about capacity. It is not faster, it is not cheaper. A big train (with one driver) can carry way more people than a bus. That’s it.
If we ignore the long-distance trips (that are also better done with buses or commuter rail) then we don’t need the capacity. There simply aren’t that many people going from Ash Way to Everett or from Fife to downtown Tacoma (let alone the Tacoma Dome).
If you don’t need the capacity, then for the same amount of money, buses can do a much better job of connecting geographically diverse activity centers and prioritizing reliable, all-day travel between nearby centers. That’s because they can leverage the existing infrastructure (roads). Even after spending an enormous amount of money with ST3 rail, we will have only a handful of stations. In contrast, you could easily serve a lot more places with a large scale bus network.
For example, look at the current plans for Community Transit buses after Lynnwood Link: https://transit2024.participate.online/. There is a lot to like. But there are also plenty of big weaknesses (like travel from anywhere in Seattle to downtown Edmonds). Extending Link will do little to fix those weaknesses. If the goal is to serve those various areas, they simply need to run the buses a lot more often (and more directly). The same is true with every region they are planning on extending rail to. West Seattle Link doesn’t make it easier to get to Alki, High Point or South Seattle College. Running the buses more often would.
Since Sound Transit seems to consider the projects of ST3 to be mandated by the voting public, it seems that the only thing that can stop ST3 is the same thing that killed the monorail: extreme increases in project cost estimation and/or a significant recession that kills tax receipts, resulting in a need for long-term bonding & associated taxation (into the 2050’s or 60’s)) which becomes a hot enough topic that the Board is forced to do something about it.
As our local suburbanite crank has hawked on ad nauseum: safety of property is the #1, 2, and 3 issues for affluent voters today (which includes perceived issues with homelessness). If a predictions of a major late-pandemic recession come true later this year or next year, then people may be more interested in caring about in inter-county agency spending (and in reducing it).
However, other than it becoming politically dangerous for the ST Board, I’m not sure there’s a reasonable way to ask the voters to repeal ST3. It’s not like ST is going to opt to put it on the ballot – they’d much rather go for more funding than less. In my understanding, that leaves the statewide initiative system. We know “Defund Sound Transit” is a popular rallying cry statewide, but do we think the WA Supreme Court would consider “I-###: Stop ST3” a single-issue initiative? Who is looking to be the next Tim Eyman?
I think you’ve summed up the situation pretty well. I do suspect that the estimated cost projection gaps for ST3 Link projects will indeed worsen as those projects proceed thru their development “gates”. The only thing I will add to your commentary is the importance of federal grant money in the current financial plan and any subsequent changes to the CIG program, e.g., the Cons’ dream of killing it*, could also be a catalyst for the board having to make a more drastic move than another “realignment”.
*To date this hasn’t happened. As the ENO Center has documented, even when Cons’ controlled Congress during the Obama administration, CIG funding and FAST Act appropriations continued as planned and the full authorization was met. Secretary Chao was also unsuccessful to kill or reduce CIG funding with a split Congress under the last administration.
Nathan D. calls me the “local suburbanite crank” for raising issues with WSBLE, from design to cost to ridership to disruption to DSTT2 subarea contribution. Then he concludes his post with a plea for Tim Eyman to collect the signatures necessary to place repealing ST 3 on a ballot with the hope fiscal conservatives would vote yes and save transit advocates from themselves.
Beam me up, Scotty.
I’m pretty sure he doesn’t refer to you or anyone else as a “local suburbanite crank” for raising issues with WSBLE.
Daniel, I suspect you object to being called a “crank” – although I had figured you’d revel in receiving ire from an “urbanist”.
If you think I don’t think there are issues with WSBLE, you’re simply demonstrating your stereotypically selective reading comprehension.
Where we primarily disagree is on the virtue of cancelling the entire project (and/or the rest of ST3) – but also in no way am I begging for another Tim Eyman (who was a repugnant con artist) to come along to “save us”.
You still haven’t demonstrated the “phoniness” of ST’s ridership models.
Nathan, I am confused. What parts of WSBLE do you want to keep and what parts do you want to scrap? Same with ST 3. The extension to downtown Redmond, which is surface in mostly public ROW’s, probably makes sense once Link reached Microsoft, but the subarea could have afforded that with ST 2 revenue. My position is that the number of estimated riders vs. costs, and number of riders who will switch from cars to buses and not just buses, is a poor investment for WSBLE. Some agree with my opinion, some do not. But I am not foolish enough to think I can change ST 3.
My point from the beginning with WSBLE is the stakeholders would insist on an underground design to eliminate design objections that would cost more than the subarea’s revenue so a SB5528 levy (originally HB1304) would be necessary, and subarea contribution to DSTT2 needs to realize three other subareas don’t have the money beyond $275 million each, if that.
If Seattle is willing to tax itself to complete the preferred underground alternative, and DSTT2 does not bankrupt the other subareas, I have no objection or standing, although it reinforces for a lot of us that transit — especially Link — is very wasteful, and basically designed based on other people’s money. Really, don’t you think N. King Co. should be able to design and build a WSLBE that costs the same or less than all of East Link, including across a floating bridge? One cost $5.5 billion all in, the other is estimated at $14 billion today but closer to $20 billion through some pretty marginal neighborhoods based on eastside values, probably closer to $20 billion in reality. Think of the housing justice $20 billion could afford.
What I don’t think is productive (although I understand the motivation) is for some on this blog to discuss design alternatives that are less expensive but the stakeholders will object to, and those are the folks with standing to sue under SEPA, not transit riders.
N. King Co. is going to have to find the money to build WSBLE underground, from point A to B, because the stakeholders and communities want gold plated Link. So go out and get it. The DEIS is a joke IMO when it won’t plainly state how much the SB5528 levy will have to be, how much DSTT2 will actually cost with 30% cost contingency, and how much each subarea will have to contribute. Agencies hide that info. because they know it will be explosive.
As someone in another subarea my only suggestion over and over and over is to not trust ST’s assumptions in any SB5528 levy (including ridership estimates or farebox recovery which is how my subarea got hooked into contributing to DSTT2), or like ST 3 you will be doing SB5528 over and over and over.
You can call me a crank. My kids call me a crank when I won’t give them money for everything they want but have not earned. When you get older you get crankier. The best way to shut up an old suburbanite crank (and on the eastside I am considered the Nathan D. of progressives) is to show him the money.
Show me the money for WSBLE, because I already know the design, and I knew the preferred design before the DEIS, and told everyone on this blog what the preferred design would be because I knew from West Seattle to Ballard those residents and stakeholders don’t think transit — let alone Link — is very important to the character and profitability of their community (and the CID thinks it is detrimental, until as Al notes they find out East Link and WSBLE will go through DSTT1 while South Seattle residents get the stub).
If you can afford to build WSBLE underground, out of sight and mind, no stakeholder will object, although it will be very expensive. Otherwise if any part of WSBLE is on the surface look for a lot of litigation under SEPA, and a lot of cries of “racism”.
In theory I support WSBLE. It makes more sense to me than Issaquah to S. Kirkland, or to Tacoma Mall, or to Everett, or to Lynnwood, or maybe to downtown Redmond. It is just very, very expensive based on what the stakeholders are demanding, and will decimate levy capacity in Seattle for a very long time if an accurate SB5528 levy passes, which I don’t think it will.
“…but the subarea could have afforded that with ST 2 revenue.”
Not in the timeframe given. Mostly thanks to all the money spent on East Link. You repeatedly have failed to recognize that the East King subarea is presently being supported by subarea borrowing. Check out the last couple of subarea reports if you don’t believe me.
So, you’re welcome.
I think I’ve made my objections to the current design of WSBLE pretty clear in previous posts. I think it’s bloated to extreme expense; >$1B per mile is ridiculous, even by urban USA rail standards. Most of this cost is in the stations, which are largely designed to be either far too tall, or far too deep. I think the concept of WSBLE is good, but the design & location of almost all of its stations should be reconsidered.
“Otherwise if any part of WSBLE is on the surface look for a lot of litigation under SEPA, and a lot of cries of “racism”.”
I was going to engage with this further, but this is simply moronic. I was on the CAG for the northern portion of WSBLE, one of the two portions that were intended to be aerial. There were no cries of racism. If anything, the most racist dogwhistles were against putting stations underground, for “security concerns”.
Also, maybe no one’s pointed this out to you before, but the cost estimates that ST puts out include a nearly 50% contingency. So do you want another 50% on that? A 125% contingency?
Page 14; Table 4.1
This is the subarea report through Dec. 2021. East Link had $570.225 million in tax revenue, behind N. King Co. with $598 million in revenue. Opening net position was ($639 million), closing net position was ($713.599 million). Putting aside the $500 million + the subarea is paying for design modifications and repairs to the bridge span that were never part of the project cost estimate, $62 million in east/west express buses, and the multi-year delay, and the closing net position is around 1.5 years’ worth of tax revenue with East Link coming to completion (hopefully). Meanwhile ST 3 park and rides and Issaquah to S. Kirkland have been extended five years. It isn’t clear to what extent ST 3 revenue is part of the total revenue.
Wherever the eastside subarea “borrowed” the funds from the fact is revenues easily match expenses over the next five years with East Link nearing completion. The eastside subarea if alone could have easily bonded its ST 2 revenue to complete the Redmond extension. I don’t see how hard it would have been for East Link to complete the Redmond extension with ST 2 revenue (if one assumes that extension is critical) without an inordinately long delay, without extending ST taxes five years in the realignment.
What is surprising to me is the low closing net position for Snohomish Co. — $493 million — when it hasn’t even begun Link. Or S. King Co. at $112 million.
I am not an accountant but the key figure for me is ST tax revenue, because depending on project cost estimates that is the key and is recurring and not subject to politics or grants. For example, N. King Co. has tax revenue similar to the eastside, but a $20 billion WSBLE and stations at Graham St. and 130th to begin.
Unless I am missing something East King Co. is net in a few years, and really net until the end, especially if Issaquah to S. Kirkland really does only cost $4.5 billion.
I guess East King Co. could say thank you to Snohomish Co. for the next few years, although the eastside subarea could have borrowed the funding from anywhere based on its tax revenue that will only grow, but my concern is Snohomish Co.’s anemic tax revenue and closing net balance without having begun Link. Where is Snohomish Co. going to get the money to complete its Link?
Subareas don’t bond or take on debt; Sound Transit as a whole does.
Snohomish County hasn’t begun Link?
When did SnoCo begin its construction on Lynnwood Link? I was thinking of the Everett extension apologies.
Yes Mike, but my point was a subarea with likely over $600 million is ST tax revenue in 2022 can bond anywhere. There isn’t a reason to thank your bank for a mortgage loan and not much of a reason for a subarea to thank another subarea for a loan.
The Eastside will have paid $1 billion for ST express buses from Seattle to the Eastside with no contribution, 100% of Link across the bridge, our ST taxes were extended five years, and East Link trains will continue to Northgate although Judkins Park has turn back capabilities.
My guess is this year the Eastside subarea’s ST tax revenue will exceed the revenue for N. King Co. Where in the world are we suppose to spend that kind of money when East Link is finished?
You’re the only one saying East King has a lot of excess money. If it does, it could double Stride’s frequency. It could make Stride 2 (North) multi-line, with a branch to downtown Kirkland, and maybe another to Woodinville. It could contribute to RapidRide K (Totem Lake – Kirkland – Bellevue – Eastgate) like it’s doing for the G, C, and D. That’s an alternative for the express concept that serves downtown Kirkland. It could extend the future 554’s frequent span. It could do something for Renton.
“ It could do something for Renton.”
Renton has 1/6 of the ST East King population and isn’t getting much. It’s easy to have a surplus when your subarea’s ST projects are only grandiose for higher income areas and limited for those that aren’t. And the South Renton garage won’t even have HOV direct freeway access as well as make most Renton residents drive a bit to even get to it.
You’re the only one saying East King has a lot of excess money. If it does, it could double Stride’s frequency. It could make Stride 2 (North) multi-line, with a branch to downtown Kirkland, and maybe another to Woodinville…
Isn’t East King going to build the train line from Issaquah to South Kirkland? If it does have a lot of excess money, it will build that first, and much earlier than scheduled. I’m not saying that is what they should do, but what they will do.
If it was up to me, I would work with Metro to enable much better service on the East Side. I sometimes get a little spoiled in Seattle. I see flaws and it frustrates me, because I feel like with just a little bit of work, Seattle could have a really good system. Then I look at the East Side, and realize how much better we have it. Half hour buses are common, as are buses that take a very indirect route to the major destination (e. g. Totem Lake to the UW). There are also big transit holes (e. g. Saint Edwards, which has apartments nearby). ST could help in a number of ways. First is to subsidize some of the bigger routes, as you suggested (the equivalent of funding the C and D). Another is to build better regional bus service, which is really their thing (e. g. I think we should have an all-day bus from Woodinville to the UW via 405 and 520). Ideally these free up Metro to spend more money on their routes. Several of the ST’s routes to the East Side are ones that Metro would add if it wasn’t for ST (e. g. the 550). Thus if ST were take over the Bellevue to UW express (the 271, eventually the 270) that would (at least in theory) allow Metro to run the other routes on the East Side more often.
But again, none of that is likely to happen. They will focus on building the train line from Issaquah to South Kirkland instead.
“Isn’t East King going to build the train line from Issaquah to South Kirkland?”
Daniel seems to think East King will have a lot of extra money even with the Issaquah-South Kirkland line. The timing of Issaquah-South Kirkland is constrained by the gradual way revenue comes in, ST hitting its debt ceiling from the late 2020s to early 2030s, and prioritizing Issaquah-Kirkland after the three Stride lines, Redmond Downtown, Everett, Tacoma, and WSBLE. All those cut into ST’s monthly cash flow while they’re under construction, even if East King will have plenty of money for Issaquah-South Kirkland and other things afterward. And I don’t believe East King will have a large surplus. The projects were selected to match the ST3 revenue in each subarea. And I think ST has said a couple times that East King doesn’t have extra money.
Oh, ST must fund all voter-approved projects before spending extra money on non-voter approved projects, unless there’s another vote to change the authorizations. So all those other Eastside additions would have to be after Issaquah-South Kirkland is definite in the schedule.
But there may be room for subarea-specific additions. I.e., maybe East King wouldn’t have to wait for WSBLE and Everett before adding something.
Mike, when ST formulated the tax rates for ST 2 in 2008 they needed to raise the tax revenue based on the estimated value of what would be taxed to complete ST 2. When ST formulated the tax rates for ST 3 in 2016 those were to complete projects in other subareas and so left East King Co. looking for projects to spend that money (Issaquah to S. Kirkland). It isn’t so much that light rail from Issaquah to S. Kirkland is stupid transit-wise, it is that at the time it seemed like the least stupid when the ST tax revenue had to be spent and mode was all ST cared about.
Next year I think ST tax revenue in East King Co. will surpass tax revenue in N. King Co. (and East Link was expected to be completed by now). No one ever expected that, and the projects in E. King Co. don’t reflect that kind of revenue (say WSBLE). Although the realignment doesn’t really benefit WSBLE because extending project completion concurrently with ST taxes when the issue for WSBLE is increasing ROW and construction costs it swells the revenue for the Eastside which doesn’t have those same issues since light rail tends to follow public ROW’s and is on the surface. Plus there is no more light rail until Issaquah to S. Kirkland which along with the park and rides (a minor cost) have been extended five years.
I don’t know the procedure for how the Board decides to spend that extra revenue. From the report I linked to it sounded like 3/4 of the Board can vote to amend projects or taxes but I don’t know for sure. Ross has some ideas that make sense (better bus service) in this huge and undense subarea but my guess is transit use will be down for at least a decade here.
ST has tried to spread that wealth around. The Eastside pays for 100% of the east/west express buses that cost $62 million last year, 100% of East Link across the bridge span, and will run East Link trains to Northgate to double frequency in the Seattle core.
One final thing struck me from the 2021 subarea report: Snohomish and S. King Co. subareas do not have the net reserves or ST tax revenue for their $275 million contribution to DSST2, let alone double that based on the likely cost of the current design. We will have to wait for Pierce Co. to start spending on its light rail to see how far its net reserves go based on ST tax revenue and likely underestimated project cost estimates. You can’t get blood out of a turnip.
This sounds very much like Federal Way to Lynnwood and Redmond Downtown will be the end of Link.
I wish. I think the region would be much better off if we did that, and focused instead on the buses at this point. We need better frequency and better bus infrastructure. Seattle has way more projects than it has money to build them. Move Seattle fell way short of funds. If money for bus infrastructure could come from another source, it would allow the next transportation levy to focus on other projects that lack money (sidewalks, bus-lanes, safety improvements). There are a ton of worthy projects that are just waiting to be done. Likewise, Seattle needs to run the buses more often. The last time we did that, we saw a boom in ridership.
Seattle may or may not dig a stub through SLU, but making Westlake transit only south of Denny and running block-long real Trams on the CCC might be sufficient.
Sufficient for what? Capacity? We don’t need it through downtown. We have more than enough capacity with the buses running through downtown. It is the nature of our system. We don’t need circulators. The buses run through downtown because riders want to get to the other end of downtown. As a result, trips within downtown are better met with the extremely frequent set of buses that are going that way anyway. If we bump up the frequency of buses running to downtown, we increase the capacity through downtown.
I suppose the buses could run more efficiently through downtown. There are occasional conflicts with other vehicles, and the transit mall on Third should be extended. But again, that is just one of many bus-infrastructure projects that should be funded, instead of wasting money on another downtown tunnel or West Seattle Link.
Sufficient to serve SLU. Maybe just making Westlake transit-only south of Denny would be good enough, but you really need a circulator which is not at the effect of conhpgestion outside the SLU neighborhood. We all know you hate the streetcar, but given bigger vehicles and stations and reservation in a Westlake with stop signs for crossing streets, it could be an attractive service, rather like the F in San Francisco which is quite busy even though there are fast buses on Fremont parallel to it.
How is SLU any different than Belltown or First Hill? You are talking about the outskirts of downtown. In the case of Belltown or First Hill, there are no plans to serve it with rail. In the case of SLU, the plans are to serve it, but with a poorly placed station. I fail to see why it needs special treatment, nor am I impressed with the treatment that is proposed.
you really need a circulator which is not at the effect of congestion outside the SLU neighborhood
No, you don’t. Nor do you need a circulator for First Hill or Belltown. What you need is just more frequency with more buses. Ride the bus from one end of downtown to the other on Third Avenue and you don’t care about congestion outside of it. You might see a bus that is ten minutes late, then a minute later have a bus that is right on time. It doesn’t matter, because to you, these are just buses a minute away from each other. There are so many buses on Third that delays outside of it don’t matter.
The same could easily be the case to South Lake Union. You could easily send more buses along Westlake and Fairview.
If the area is dependent on a handful of buses, than make those buses more consistent. That is actually in the works. If they implement the plan for the 40, it will be a lot more consistent. A lot of the changes they made for West Seattle buses have made those buses a lot more consistent. More can be done, especially when they fix the high bridge, and congestion comes back. Meanwhile, there are plans to turn the 70 into RapidRide, which of course means they want to make that more reliable and faster.
All of this means that with a decent investment in bus service, riders in the SLU area come out ahead. It is a trade-off, of course. Some riders would be better off with Link. But when you consider the walk to the station, the walk to the very deep platform and the expected frequency of Link (10 minutes in the middle of the day) many would prefer the buses for a lot of the trips. If you are headed to the other end of downtown, buses are probably better. If you are headed to the UW, the bus is probably better. If you are heading to say, Bellevue, the first leg of your journey might be better with a bus, rather than a train. Remember, the transfer from train to train is not going to be great. The speed savings from the train is lost to the time it takes to actually walk to the station (and wait for the first train).
“This sounds very much like Federal Way to Lynnwood and Redmond Downtown will be the end of Link.”
In the Everett meeting this week the staff revived two lower-cost alternatives to get to downtown Everett more on time via 99 or I-5, and the Snohomish boardmembers shot it down blisteringly saying, “We already rejected those alternatives early on. That’s not what the voters voted for. The industrial center area is where the jobs and population are, and it’s essential for Link to go to Paine Field and then Everett Station.” That doesn’t sound like a board that’s ready to consider truncating at Lynnwood or Mariner or having cheaper alternatives. The other subareas are probably similar. The board had ample opportunity during the realignment to do those then and the didn’t. The most they did was to split Everett into two phases at Mariner, and Ballard into two phases at Smith Cove, and to put the P&Rs last. So it looks like ST will continue pursuing as much as it can, until someday maybe when it flat-out can’t afford something or federal grants evaporate.
It’s easy to stand back and criticize any decades long effort. This is a good time for individuals to review their own 10 year old goals and plans. Government moves slowly, that’s why we’re here with transit. Seattle will become a dining, living and entertainment Mecca if it doesn’t become a workplace Mecca. The seeds are sowed. Seattle’s revival is the next fork in the road. Think Detroit, times 10. Opportunity abound.
It’s difficult for me to believe that Link is not designed primarily as a peak commute system, when it hugs I5 and 520 for so much of its route.
You could argue that it has to, because the major employment centers are right next to the highways. I would counter that, OK, you obviously have to hit Downtown Seattle, Capitol Hill, and UW in Seattle, but following I5 for most of the rest of the route is poison if you want to make it an all-day system.
All of the places near the highway are going to naturally want to have lots of parking, to take advantage of their location near the highway. And then if you try to turn them into walkable places anyway, you end up concentrating a whole bunch of housing right next to all the highway pollution.
As to the larger point about “untransit”, that is absolutely correct. Most jobs cannot be done at home, trasportation built only for peak commuting is horrifically inefficient, and if we can build walkable retail and residential areas connected by transit, people will use the transit.
Reducing the proportion of space devoted to offices in favor of other uses is no big deal in the long run. I think a lot of Americans are under the mistaken impression that the high-rise offices we have in our downtowns are the only reason cities exist. Nope, that’s not how it works.
A good test of whether ST 2 or 3 were commuter oriented is to look at the promotional materials for both, and then to ask whether subareas like East King Co. that primarily use transit for commuting would have voted differently.
I think East King Co. would have voted differently today on ST 2 and 3 because there are so few eastsiders using transit (or a car) to commute to work, and East King Co. is generally the swing voter in ST ballots.
IMO voters on the eastside thought they were voting to spend billions to make their commute to work — primarily downtown Seattle — easier and faster (never understanding a transfer would be necessary), not to take transit during non-peak times for ordinary errands they use a car for. Many others have pointed out you don’t spend tens of billions of dollars to run light rail along interstates to Everett, Tacoma and Redmond for non-peak trips when congestion is light and light rail slow.
ST now is trying to justify Link — which is now those suburban routes — by pivoting from the commuter aspect because the peak commuter is going away. If ST places a ST 4 on the ballot, and it passes, I will believe the voters thought ST was non-peak oriented, but won’t hold my breath.
Of course it’s commuter oriented. Even Seattle Subway wants it more commuter oriented by putting the Georgetown bypass on their route so that commuters from the south don’t need to suffer through the local stops along MLK.
But the line along MLK shouldn’t be there. It should be over on Rainier where more people are for all day use, but that would have slowed down the commute times even further.
And I’ll echo Ross on the stop spacing. Metro built the bus tunnel with okay stop spacing, but everything ST has built has had ridiculously long stop spacing to the detriment of people who might want to use Link for more local trips. Longer stop spacing facilitates commuter trips much better.
I suppose in a perfect world not limited by money they could have picked better alignments, and put stations closer together, combined with some sort of reversible third track south and north of downtown to use as an express track during rush hour.
I agree Christopher. Well put.
This is a good debate, I learned a lot, thanks for having it!
I believe the author’s point with “untransit” (and my point in referencing her work) wasn’t that all transit is “dead,” or that transit sucks or whatever. It was that the land use correlation between fixed guideway transit (or highways for that matter) is being cracked apart a bit by work from home. If commuters aren’t going en masse to the same downtown destinations as much as before, and they aren’t, then it alters the calculus for both way we design transit and the ways we do land use. It means we may need more focus on distributed, neighborhood transit (electric buses), and maybe we don’t need another rail tunnel through downtown as some commenters have suggested. I don’t know — I’ve been a huge advocate of light rail going back to the original votes in the 1990s, so I just think the new paradigm is worth talking about. Also, to whoever said I was clueless for saying only commuters take light rail, I didn’t say that. What I said is that if WFH rates continue at a third or more, it alters what we’ve been arguing for the past three decades in this city about congestion and how to relieve it. It maybe changes the cost-benefit analyses for some ST3 projects? Finally to the author of the original post who said I was having a “kneejerk” reaction to a couple buildings closing — the supposition is that Amazon and Microsoft’s recent moves are just the beginning of a sea change in the work-commute patterns. But I guess we will have to wait to see about that. In any case, if this is the kind of in-depth debate we get from kneejerk, then I’m good with kneejerk. Keep it up, I’m a big fan of STB — even when you do have gadfly Lindblom commenting here.
No Danny Westneat, you were correct. Commercial leases are generally five or ten years. We are two years into WFH. Office vacancy rates today don’t reflect today’s actual loss of urban peak commuters (which your column noted in Seattle is around 67%) because the leases are not “vacant” until the lease expires and is not filled. That is why the sublease market is awash with space for lease, but is not considered “vacant”.
The article in this thread discussing your article was based on a post I posted on STB in another prior thread pointing out both your article and Microsoft’s decision to not renew 585,000 sf in office space along the eastside I-90 corridor when it expires next year. The article however also noted Microsoft has over 2 million sf of eastside office space not on its campus that will expire through 2025. I think this story is bigger than Amazon’s decision to reconfigure its Bellevue office space (in part because I think Amazon will need all that space for Seattle workers moving to the eastside office now that Amazon offers a choice of which office to work in).
The question is whether downtown Seattle’s current 20.2% office vacancy rate will rise to the 67% rate for workers who now WFH, or the other way around. I think the office vacancy rate will be the rate to move, although some on this blog think an “end” to Covid will bring the workers back.
Maybe the one thing I might quibble with your article over is your assumption 1/3 of peak commuters will no longer commute to urban offices. I think 50% is more likely. If you go by the Stanford Study, and this region’s tech industry, three days/week WFH on average is probably likely long term.
On some Link routes this won’t make a huge difference because of the urban density and UW. I don’t know if you live on the eastside, but one thing I have a hard time explaining on this blog is folks on the eastside drive if they don’t absolutely have to take transit, and if you don’t have to commute to downtown Seattle you pretty much don’t have to take transit. The farther you move north of Northgate or south of the airport the more it is the same.
I liked your article, although the info is not new, not on this blog. If there is one thing your article was not was a knee jerk reaction. We have over two years of data on vacancy and WFH rates. We are just waiting for one of the rates to move closer to the other rate.
“I don’t know if you live on the eastside, but one thing I have a hard time explaining on this blog is folks on the eastside drive if they don’t absolutely have to take transit, and if you don’t have to commute to downtown Seattle you pretty much don’t have to take transit.”
What people are saying on here is that the Eastside has plenty of transit and pretty well used for the frequency which can be 15 or better and coverage that covers the dense parts of the area that it has to offer and that Link will improve that it acts as a funnel for the greater regional system and the bus system on the Eastside in paticular connecting the new urban growth centers like Wilburton, Spring District, and Overlake Village. The Eastside is also not just Bellevue, Redmond, and Mercer Island, it’s also Bothell, Kenmore, Renton, Kirkland, Issaquah, Totem Lake, etc along with the farther exurb parts. I also know plenty of people who have lived on the Eastside without a car or have one and only use it when they really need to and prefer to use transit when they can. And the Eastside will likely change once Link opens, the Eastside was originally built for the car but it will likely end up with more urban or semi urban design as time goes on and things change and evolve.
People in Amsterdam back in the 50s and 60s probably thought that the city was going to stay car dependent forever, it changed and evolved into a pedestrian and bike friendly place to live over the coming decades to now. Will Bellevue end up like Amsterdam, probably not but this is to stay that nothing is certain forever and things can change and evolve as the city and people do it together.
Thanks for dropping by!
One thing I have trouble understanding, and I do not think I’m alone, is the sheer amount of jobs that can be done from home. My Mrs. works for a huge healthcare company and she’s been doing healthcare paperwork and customer service her whole life, both on the provider side and insurance side. Over half of the all the workers in US healthcare could work 100% from home. Add in tele-doc and the like and number of semi-remote workers is even higher.
Since the pandemic, the HR department at insurance company where she works has been overrun with questions from workers wanting to keep working remotely and want to move away from Seattle, mostly out of State. $27 a hour goes a lot further in South Dakota than Seattle. Reality is folks making under 100K in Greater Seattle just have a rough time getting by. And these folks are often big time transit riders. Things just aren’t going to stay the same. Here’s a great read about Seattle City call center workers who can’t afford to live in Seattle. https://publicola.com/2022/07/21/for-call-center-workers-who-cant-afford-to-live-in-seattle-harrells-return-to-office-policy-creates-new-burdens/
Mike Lindblom is great and loveable.
If the purpose of transit were solely about getting people into and out of downtown, going downtown would be like going to Disneyland. You drive to some parking lot within a mile of the destination, then transfer to a very frequent bus (or train) to shuttle you the last mile. A short shuttle distances allows a fixed budget to run it very frequently, albeit by shunting the real costs of travel onto individual drivers via mileage on their private cars.
The actual Puget Sound transit system looks nothing like that. Even the park and ride services don’t really resemble the Disneyland approach because our park and rides are scattered throughout the region, with the expectation that drivers travel more miles on the bus/train than in their cars. The Disneyland approach would have everybody visiting downtown Seattle from Kent or Bellevue drive to some giant parking garage in SODO and board Link from there.
Of course, the Disneyland approach utterly fails to accomplish some major goals of a transit system. It serves one destination, and one destination only. It does nothing to alleviate congestion on freeways, or reduce car dependency. It is utterly useless for the mobility of anyone without a car. But, it does get people into and out of downtown for presumably much less taxpayer dollars than what our actual transit system costs. The fact that our transit system is not designed at all like Disneyland parking shuttles shows that there indeed is a real and definite purpose to transit, other than getting car drivers into and out of downtown, regardless of how the original ST marketing materials presented it.
The Disneyland model is only about parking. If they built a gigantic parking structure instead, it would basically be the same thing. It is similar to how airports work. It is huge parking lots connected to the main terminals with people movers or shuttle buses. No one is suggesting that Link is designed to alleviate parking hassles in downtown.
What we are suggesting is that Link actually does “scream commuter-heavy downtown-centricity”. To be fair, it is a hybrid system, like BART. There is an urban segment, some of which is essential. In the case of BART, it is the cross bay service (between San Fransisco and Oakland/Berkeley). In our case, it is downtown to the UW. In both cases there are only a handful of stops that actually function like a standard urban metro, despite the enormous size and cost of the system.
It is easy to simply call it one of the most expensive and least useful regional rail systems ever built. But even then, it is clearly designed to get commuters to downtown Seattle. That explains why there are so few stations in the city, even in places that are “on the way” (like First Hill). It explains why it was so difficult to add a station at 130th, despite the obvious advantages from a transit network perspective. The south Shoreline station — and connecting BRT — was designed as a dead-end, to serve only as a way to get riders from the north lake suburbs to downtown (instead of connecting riders to Shoreline Community College as well). It also explains why there are so many stations with big parking lots.
Outside of Seattle and a handful of stops on the East Side, almost every station has parking. This is not the way that normal metros work. It is common to have a few, but not to the degree that we are building, where most of the line has stations with parking. A regional rail system should connect the biggest destinations in the region. But if that isn’t your goal — if you are simply trying to make it easier to get to the main downtown center — then you ignore all that, and just build big parking lots anywhere it is convenient (e. g. close to the freeway). That is essentially what we have done. Perhaps the best example is in Tacoma.
Downtown Tacoma is clearly the biggest destination outside of King County. It is the major urban center for the second biggest city in Western Washington. It is a lively downtown, with historic buildings, museums and plenty of places to eat, drink or be otherwise entertained. It is an employment center, and also the home of a large satellite public university. Yet with all of that, the train won’t serve it. Instead, the train will end about a mile away at — you guessed it — a giant parking lot. The focus is on making sure that people can get to downtown Seattle, not that they can get to the regional destinations.
To be fair, there aren’t many regional destinations in Puget Sound. It is a very young city, and much of it has grown up with the automobile. As a result, it doesn’t have the concentration of growth around towns that you see on the East Coast, let alone Europe. But there are significant destinations in various places, and they aren’t served very well with Link. Most of the colleges are skipped (Bellevue, Shoreline, Edmonds, etc.). To be fair, connecting them in some cases would have been difficult. But Edmonds Community College lies on SR 99, where there are other significant regional destinations, like Swedish Edmonds hospital. If part of the goal of mass transit is to spur development, then focusing on existing hospitals and schools seems very reasonable, and yet the train doesn’t.
Again, this isn’t to say that it completely misses the mark. It does pick up Highline Community College, and many of the destinations inside the city or on the East Side are at least covered (if not as well as they should be). It is a hybrid system. But Link — and especially ST3 — is clearly designed for downtown-centric commuter travel than it is anything else. It is commuter rail masquerading as a metro.
From a regional transit-mobility perspective, things will peak in a few years (as Link extends to Lynnwood, Federal Way and Redmond). At that point, buses can do an excellent job of connecting riders to the major destinations in the region. For various destinations, traffic isn’t an issue, as there is little in the way of a reverse commute once you get to the outskirts of our system (a bus can get you from Federal Way to downtown Tacoma faster than a train will). But instead, there will be a focus on building more extremely expensive stations with large parking garages.
“But Edmonds Community College lies on SR 99,…”
Actually it’s on 68th Ave W, which is a couple of blocks to the west. But your point is well taken nonetheless.
Is there anything we can to fix this after the fact?
How about if we focus on connecting the existing stations to all major destinations close by via high-frequency transit like bus shuttles or even APM or gondola?!? Singapore has used APMs with some of its metro stations.
Colleges would be a great place to start with. As young people finish high school they wouldn’t have to consider the purchase of a car to get to classes for example at South Seattle College as those are difficult to reach by bus. https://www.westseattleskylink.org/comparison already proposes a gondola extension to SSCollege. Bellevue College/Eastgate (and Factoria) could be connected to South Bellevue station.
I bet that investment would increase ridership more than building DSTT2 and get young folks to enjoy a transit focused lifestyle and hopefully stick with it longer. Seems much easier than to convert people to ride transit who already own a car.
Yeah, I should have written “right off SR 99”, not on it. Swedish Edmonds is similar. From a transit mobility standpoint, the distance from SR 99 to the college is no big deal. A bigger issue is that you can’t walk from 76th to the campus, which means that a bus on 76th can be very close to the college as the crow flies, but require a long walk (https://goo.gl/maps/eyfUcA8xsV6eAVJ37).
The Community Transit Orange Line BRT will be running between the Lynnwood Link Station and Edmonds Community College starting 2024.
Busses will run every 10 – 12 minutes during normal working hours. Every 15 – 20 minutes the rest of the time.
Seattle also has been diversifying into the biomedical industry, especially in South Lake Union. Industries that are more physical and less WFH.
I really don’t understand why the Seattle proper part of ST3 can’t be done piecemeal with first a spur from Westlake Station to Denny, South Lake Union and Seattle Center. Or why even a second tunnel is necessary for this spur. This will greatly advance transport in the city core at minimal cost. It’s currently challenging to get to SLU via public transit anywhere in the city.
ST could decide to phase it but not likely in the underground areas. The realignment schedule has a potential phase to Smith Cove, with the rest to Ballard in another phase. Having a phase terminate underground is expensive, because you’d have to extract the tunnel-boring machine, which is larger than a city block, and later sink another, and each machine is custom-made and very expensive. ST did it for U-Link/Northgate Link because they were in two different ST# routes with separate funding a decade apart. But it wouldn’t do that for SLU or Queen Anne. Both because they’re in the same ST# and the distance is so short. It would be silly to hire and sink a second TBM for just a mile or two. The Smith Cove phase would be where it surfaces in Interbay, so the tunnel would still be one phase. That is, if ST sticks to the representative alignment with a Ballard bridge rather than a tunnel. If it tunnels further to Ballard, then that may be an argument against a Smith Cove phase.
I’ll just add that any tunnel takes 9-12 years to go from ground breaking to operation. Agencies can post slick promises to do it faster — but those are almost always unrealistic.
In fact, the SF Central Subway opening just got pushed back again probably to 2023, and the groundbreaking was 2009.
Plus, there simply isn’t enough money to build WSBLE as envisioned in the DEIS. They only solutions currently being considered are to push the opening date further or levy a special tax on Seattlites.
That’s why many who post to this blog support major cost-saving alternatives that could also improve train frequencies or make stations easier to use. Many good ideas have emerged that deserve consideration. Unfortunately, it’s mere chatter on the STB.
It’s heart wrenching that we are approaching the six year anniversary of ST3 — and the designs for Link in SLU get less attainable the further we get from the vote.
The Vancouver Broadway Subway started construction in May 2021 and is scheduled for opening in 2025. The method chosen for construction is not fast but chosen to minimize disruption. There is nothing unrealistic about this, and all previous projects have come basically on time except for the Evergreen Extension which was delayed for a year because of tunnelling problems, but even that only took five years.
TriMet started the west hills tunnel in 1993, and the line opened in 1998. This was after running into difficult technical issues because nobody in North America had ever run a tunneling machine through rock like this before. A tunnel engineering company from Italy was who developed the solution.
I know I’ve complained here about how hiring inappropriate consultants for certain things seems to add to the cost of projects in this country. Getting someone that knows what they are doing for certain things? Worth every penny of $962 million.
Yeah Glenn I shouldn’t have made the comment so general.
I will say that Portland’s was not threading a tunnel and stations through an area of high-rise buildings with footings, and busy streets with utilities underneath. Seattle’s circumstances are more similar to Downtown SF and LA than the Portland Westside tunnel.
Plus, if an agency like ST practices needing several days to replace platform tiles like what happened in the past two weeks, expediency is not apparently important to them.
SLUer, you are right that a stub to Lower Queen Anne and Smith Cove certainly does not require DSTT2 south of Westlake. Eventually extending it to Ballard would not require the southern section of the tunnel either.
But a section of rail line can’txist in a vacuum; the cars need regular servicing and cleaning. There must be a place to park cars which are “in service” but not at the current moment running. These requirements mean that a “Maintenance Facility” must be attached to every such section of rail line or the section itself must be physically connected to a larger system which has the MF. There are currently two small MF’s for the Seattle Streetcar, one in SLU and one at the south edge of the Inypternatiinal District.
So an “SLU Stub” would either have to have its own Facility or be connected to DSTT1. There is an opportunity to place a smallish Maintenance Facility for an isolated Westlake-Smith Covd line at the west end of the Magnolia Bridge in a big lot used to park Intermodal Transfer chassis. If as Al suggests, a smaller technology than Siemens Link were chosen for the line the cars would fit there well.
SkyTrain technology from Bombardier would be a great solution because it’s automated and can therefore provide short but frequent trains, which is ideal for a branch which depends on transfers. Citidis Trams or the equivalent would also be great if extension to Ballard, where possibilities for extension at-grade are attractive in the future.
Either of these could probably be accommodated at Smith Cove.
So far as connecting to DSTT1, there are two “levels” of such connectivity. By far the easiest to achieve is a “non-revenue” connection only used to move cars between the stub and Maintenance. There are several ideas that have been mooted how to do this reasonably cheaply and with relatively little disruption to the existing service, though not none.
The Holy Grail though is “Interlining” a new SLU service through the existing tunnel, something that everyone here agrees is within its capacity. However, because the existing tunnel is severely constricted by buildings added since it was dug, “How To Do This” has engendered hot arguments for years.
I think it’s fair to say that the “Pro-Interlining” group are very confident that “It can be done!”. However, so far as I can see, thus far no poster has presented a clear solution connecting the northbound track in DSTT1 to its counterpart on The Stub that recognizes the changes to northern Third Avenue. Had King County foreseen the need to connect to the bus tunnel in the 1980’s and made provision, the problem would be moot. But our predecessors did not, so here we are.
Southbound offers several possible merge points. On that we all agree.
I think it’s fair to say that the “Pro-Interlining” group are very confident that “It can be done!”
Yes, but more to the point, the “Pro-Interlining” group believes that “It should be studied”.
Just out of curiosity, Tom, have you ever heard of a case where the engineers basically said “itcan’t be done”? This sort of thing has been done throughout the world, in far more complicated situations (e. g. London). They managed to get it done, and yet I’ve never heard any situation, anywhere, where they said that because they hadn’t thought of it first, you just can’t do it. There are plenty of cases where it is far more expensive than it would have been otherwise (because of lack of foresight) but none where it is actually impossible.
The only real question is how much it would cost, and how disruptive it would be. My guess is — again, based on talking with experts and my own (albeit limited) experience at looking at things — is that it wouldn’t be very disruptive, and wouldn’t cost nearly as much as the second tunnel. But again, that is why they need to study it.
“… more to the point, the “Pro-Interlining” group believes that “It should be studied”.“
Yes, Ross! This! DSTT2 was never part of an early comprehensive study. I popped out of the oven half-baked to go onto the ST3 ballot. That’s a basic reason why it’s such a costly mess right now.
When ST3 passed, the WSBLE work should have examined alternatives in 2017 and 2018 before the winnowing and EIS work began.
In addition to interlining, a level transfers should at Westlake or University Street should also be studied.
I bet there must have been at least a dozen alternative variations discussed here that could be studied.
DSTT2 has also, after a bit of study, turned out to have exceptionally deep stations, which means service isn’t going to be great.
So, naturally, one question should be “what does $2 billion invested into the tunnel already there buy?” because it’s going to be easier for people to get to.
Actually, in London they have resorted to the DSTT2 model. The Cross-Link tunnel and stations are 150 to 200 feet deep throughout. They haven’t made any connections to existing tubes within The City for decades.
London is building upward at a rate vastly faster than Seattle, has very frequent service on most lines, and actually has trains that are crowded.
CrossRail in London is really more of a regional service. It only stops twice in the City of London proper. It would only be comparable to DSTT2 if it stopped two or three times between Smith Cove and SODO or if Sounder was two-way all day with combined North and Soith lines.
And not to put too fine a point on it, any interlining that connects on Third cannot use the “off-street” model for limiting surface disruption that ST and presumably the City seem to favor. Because the existing tunnel runs equilaterally down Third Avenue, any connection there will require a sizable shaft taking half the street AND some building on the east side of the street. South of USSS the tubes are splayed out so that they are under the sidewalks. I don’t know why they did that. Perhaps it was to widen the span over the diagonal BNSF tunnel only a dozen feet below. In any case, they did it.
North of the station they are closer together, but the distance to drop down a level is pretty short. You’ve suggested curving east as the current tracks do, instead of underrunning. I expect that the northbound track’s curve is as sharp as the standards for LRV’s allow, so an “inside track” would curve too sharply. Maybe not, but that’s a likely show-stopper. And, the resulting tunnel would run smack into the northbound platform of Westlake Center unless it was pretty far into the blocks to the south.
Maybe a combination of dropping quickly and curving mid-block between Pike and Pine and then curving back north once sufficient depth had been achieved would work. That would be ideal. There are no really tall buildings in the block between Pike and Pine, Third and Fourth so a relatively shallow TBM tube might fly.
However, if you think that nobody in the consulting groups thought of interlining when the package was being assembled, you are too disdainful of the engineers that they employed. Having thought of it, they would have used a similar process of elimination as they worked through the list of possible northbound connection points. That they did not offer it as an alternative, but instead proposed the parallel tunnel, does not bode well for The Real Engineers being able to pull the Magic Connection out of their lovely silk hat.
Glenn, and that has what to do with the depth of the Cross-Rail tunnel? What you said aligns with the spend two billion on the existing tunnel argument, but it doesn’t solve the northbound connection problem in a way that both ST and Seattle are willing to accept.
Al, regardless of the purpose of Cross-Rail (The Elizabeth Line), I mentioned it as THE example of subway construction in the center of London over the past few decades. Ross keeps waving London’s ability to branch tube lines in the neighborhoods as some sort of Get Out of Jail card as regards Third Avenue and Pine Street, which are “different”, to understate the obvious.
Tom: Seattle doesn’t have anywhere near the amount of density of activity that London has, nor the density of train traffic, to economically support a second tunnel, let alone “need” one. To get that level of density London is building, you’d have to have the Rainier Valley look like Belltown.
Also, it should be noted the Crossrail project isn’t really about local transportation as it already has The Underground for that. It connects two of the busy main line stations. Most riders will be transferring to the Underground to get where they are going, so station depth won’t matter as much.
If Bellevue had its own King Street Station with Amtrak and Sounder trains arriving and departing every few minutes, and Lake Washington and Mercer Island looked like Belltown, and you’d already filled all the East Link trains that were running 8 car trains every 3 minutes, you too might have the need for a new main line between the two with a deep level station at Mercer Island and Judkins Park. You might also have the tax base to spend to build it.
Ross, how rude. There are plenty of people here (not just “me” [i.e. you]) who are pro-transit but think the current plans are off-kilter. You should have said “we” or “the folks on the blog”
And, Glenn, I’m NOT advocating for the second tunnel! Why are you lecturing me about London’s greater financial ability? This is a bit Orwellian. You should be lecturing Ross, who uses it as a comparison regularly
I think you are missing the point, Tom. I mentioned London because they do much tougher stuff. I could have mentioned Tokyo as well. This isn’t fundamentally difficult. It is what much smaller cities do all the time. Here is a quote from Reece Martin about the subject:
I definitely think a flyunder is possible and preferable in this case, and by no means do I think this needs a long term station closure, a lot of similar and frankly much more complex works happen in Tokyo when they create new tunnels – the method is usually to tunnel right up to the critical merge point, and then complete the very last part in a fast blitz, sometimes in as little as a single night. This type of thing is absolutely possible…
For some perspective while building London’s Crossrail (I have some videos if you aren’t familiar), large new mainline tunnels were excavated between existing subway tunnels and escalator shafts with only inches of clearance – so as with most engineering problems, it’s really a case of where there’s a will there’s a way.
I started the conversation by asking if he ever knew of a case where riders could take a train from point A to point B, but not from point B to point A (they had to go to point C first). As unusual as that is, he knew of a case, in Singapore. Obviously that guy knows a shitload about transit systems throughout the world, and he sees no reason why interlining should be especially difficult.
As for scale, of course Tokyo and London will spend a lot more money on their system than we will. They also have a lot more people (which explains why they don’t do as much interlining). But in this case, that misses the point. It is quite likely that interlining will actually be considerably cheaper, as you don’t need to add three new underground stations (Westlake 2, Midtown, CID 2). But again, that is why we need to study it. I appreciate your guess as to what these engineers will find. You are free to predict that the Seahawks will win the Super Bowl next year. I’ll take either bet (against you) and give you very good odds. I will be very surprised if the ST planners look at interlining and find that it would be more expensive than the current plans or especially disruptive (but stranger things have happened).
Ross, I advocated for years for a “flyunder” at Third and Pine. So here is what I have gathered from the effort.
Let’s assume that the junction for a flyunder is sited immediately north of the platforms at University-Seneca Street Station. Maybe the turnout is right at the end of the platform and a part of the north wall of the station box can be shored up and demised. This gives the greatest “run” before track level in the flyunder must be at least 30 feet below that of the existing tubes as they make their turn into Westlake Center.
The old “Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel” map shows that the north wall of USSS is a wee bit south of Union Street, perhaps ten to fifteen yards. However, there is an entrance to the station within that parking garage, so there must be an “elephant ear” across University to allow folks to walk to the Mezzanine. The map shows the width of the tunnel’s footprint to go about 1/3 of the way into the blocks adjacent to Third in the segments between the stations, but it is the same both north and south of USSS, which is patently not correct. The tubes to the south splay out as they leave the station while those to the north stay close together.
So the map can’t be considered geographically correct, but it does give some idea of the distances between the stations and the extents of their boxes.
Seattle blocks are 240 feet, so if we assume that the flyunder tube must underrun the existing tubes at the Pine Street curve by eight feet — that means that the track height must be somewhere on the order of thirty-two to thirty-five feet lower at the crossing. Fortunately, we’re going downhill and from a dead stop at the top, so we can use a pretty steep grade.
To get thirty-five feet in 480 we require an angle of just 4 degrees, so that part is eminently “doable”. In the block between University and Union we find on the east side of the street that more than half the block from Union south is a three or four story postal service building with a garage in it, and the southern third of the block is a six or so story parking garage.
Woo-hoo! We can certainly demise those buildings. Interlining, here we come! They’ve been there for decades and are a “suboptimal” use of valuable downtown Seattle real estate. Between Union and Pike it’s pretty much the same story. There’s a pretty tall building on the northeast corner of Third and Union, but it’s from the era when there was no in-building parking, so it’s foundation may not go the fifty feet deep that the tubes are. Since there’s a block to get a bit deeper if necessary, this is probably not a major problem. The rest of the block is “meh, tear it down if you need to”.
But there IS a problem at the northeast corner of Third and Pike. The building there has a parking garage in it. See here: https://email@example.com,-122.3377941,3a,31y,27.28h,90.46t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sQLklAl6cbOReGQSt19Gkaw!2e0!7i16384!8i8192 So its basement almost certainly reaches below the nearby tubes; you wouldn’t put just three floors of parking, and you have to have some basement utilities in any building, so it’s probably sixty to seventy feet deep.
So maybe the tunnel dives more rapidly than strictly needed to clear the tubes at Pine, in order to clear this building at Pike. As alluded above, given that the train will be entering the grade a few feet after having stopped, it can be pretty steep and still be safe.
OK, ask your guru is given these sorts of existing constraints, he still thinks that it can all be connected up in one night. And where does he envision putting the extraction hole? I guess in the footprint of the to-be-demised parking garage at Third and University? But there is that elephant ear to remember.
Tom, the what ifs need to be studied by professionals. Let’s get the Board to ask the $4-5B question: how much would it cost to connect differently. Even if it’s $1-2B it is worth it.
That said, I see two full track branch options — northeast of Westlake or close University Street Station and drop a northbound branch there — with the southbound branch junction on the southbound curve from Westlake. If University Street is closed and that option is used, a replacement station platform would go near Third and Pine extending northward. That would then force the transfers down to Pioneer Square. It may even be possible to double stack tracks under Third since the northbound tracks would need to be lower anyway.
Anyway, there remains no commitment to reconsider the big DSTT2 project and cost. It will take a political miracle led by Chinatown-Internstional District people to revisit DSTT2 south of Westlake.
Anyone else feel that the Eastside is overbuilding office buildings? Many living on the Eastside are WFH anyway. The people who probably need to be returning to office are generally recent hires, people still building connections and making a name for themselves, which tend to be the younger employees. If I were single and in my 20s, I sure as heck wouldn’t be living on the Eastside especially with current Uber prices.
I was just in South Lake Union last evening and it looked surprisingly vibrant with lots of beer gardens full of people. I then met up with a few friends in downtown Bellevue and it was pretty dead. The contrast was not flattering for the Eastside.
If it is, it’s a general phenomenon, not just the Eastside. Nobody knows what the worker:office ratio will be in five or ten years. There’s risks both ways, in having too much office space or too little. The population is growing and jobs are growing, so those additions will gradually fill any empty space. The developers should probably be pro-active and make the buildings more flexible, so they can adapt to a wider range of future uses if necessary. Amazon’s leaving some floors unfinished is a forerunner of that.
Actually, Amazon could have apartments in the unused floors. There are probably some workers who’d like to live in the same tower as their office, and they could WFH in the same building. The apartments could be large and luxurous to match Amazon’s profit margins and six-figure workers’ expectations.
That’s why the growth in downtown Bellevue isn’t all that risky. From a WFH standpoint, having a kick ass condo Bellevue, just a short drive from the Emerald City, with secure parking and less homelessness/crime is ideal. Untransit indeed!
Growth is pretty much like a gold rush. It goes gang busters until the area is “played out” and then it’s off to next boom. There’s no Jump Start tax in Bellevue and the beer gardens and night life? They can spring up almost overnight.
The thing that most the Seattle Subway crowd doesn’t understand is how hard it is to retro-fit a transit system into a place after growth as already boomed. And when you do, the construction often wrecks what you loved about it. (Bye bye Chinatown… hello 10 years of construction digging a tunnel).
For what Sound Transit has spent, a top end commuter rail system could have been built between Yakima and Richland with stops at new purpose built communities they whole way. Could have been a great new place to live with lots of potential for future growth. Seattle was a city planned around street cars in the beginning, and all of the original stuff is way better than the crap that’s been shoehorned it after the original layout. Just look at Zillow home listings if you don’t believe me. Old School Seattle homes are worth over a million.
I agree downtown Bellevue is building too much office space, especially in Class B (The Spring District) and Class C (Wilburton) areas. ) I think there are five factors behind this:
1. Bellevue significantly increased maximum building heights to help fund underground parking and other requirements. Naturally developers wanted to build to maximize height and square footage.
2. Chinese money and a red hot stock market that ballooned investments in REIT’s that had to be invested in commercial development.
3. Record low interest rates.
4. Inflated job and population growth estimates by the PSRC based on pre-pandemic data without accounting for WFH because the 2050 Vision Statement was an ideological exercise so the PSRC believed or claimed Covid and WFH would be transitory.
5. A belief large businesses would want to move to the Eastside, or at least open secondary offices there for Eastside workers, due to issues in Seattle.
The reality is we are building commercial offices and a Link system based on a much more populated three county area with people commuting to urban offices.
On a side note I would not recommend moving to the Eastside if you are single and in your 20’s or 30’s for the nightlife. There is quite a bit of “night life” ( or evening life) on the Eastside for the demographic, especially compared to the past. I guess at the same time I probably wouldn’t recommend urban Seattle for the gardening which is what I will be doing today before dinner in Fremont (which I haven’t been to in a decade) because my son is working at a restaurant there. No, he does not party on Mercer Island and hates gardening. But then he is 21 and a student and single.
There was an article saying the Spring District is overemphasizing office space beyond the expected office/housing ratio for suburban growth centers. That’s probably to cash in on tax revenue from companies, but it threatens to exacerbate the imbalance that workers can’t live in the same district they work in even if they want to. That’s the opposite of what urban villages are supposed to be. The whole point of mixing commercial and housing is to reduce the average distance of trips, not keep it at the single-use-zoning level. Some 70% of Snohomish County residents work in King County. Snohomish County is trying to add jobs so that more people can work in the same county they live in, but if Spring District workers have to live in Snohomish County because there’s not enough housing in Bellevue, that just adds to the problem. Well, at least it’s more riders for Stride 2.
Some 70% of Snohomish County residents work in King County.
I’m pretty sure that is no longer the case. If you look at https://onthemap.ces.census.gov/, it shows about 46% commute within the county, and 45% commute to King County. My guess is the growth in Marysville, Lake Stevens, etc. has changed the dynamic. As far as cities go, around 18% of the people in Snohomish County commute to Seattle, followed by Everett with 16%, Bellevue (6%) and Lynnwood and Redmond (4%). After that there are a bunch of small cities. It is all these small cities that make up the bulk of the destinations (Bothell, Kirkland, Edmonds, Monroe, Marysville, etc.).
If you look at where they are headed in more detail, you can see the expected hot spots. Boeing has the highest concentration, while downtown Seattle and downtown Everett are about the same, a notch below. Interestingly enough, the Edmonds/Lynnwood area by SR 99 is at about the same level as downtown Bellevue and Microsoft. That could be the combination hospital/clinic and the college. There are also relatively high concentrations in places like Marysville, Monroe and Lake Stevens. Overall though, employment is fairly spread out.
This seems to be the case for most of the places in Snohomish County. For example, I picked Mill Creek, as a classic bedroom community. It is relatively close to the county border (unlike Marysville). Here you see that most of the people commute to King County (53%), not Snohomish (39%). But when you look at the cities, they aren’t all heading to Seattle. About 20% of the people commute to Seattle, followed by Everett at 15% and Bellevue at 8%. Then things get interesting, as 6% go to Bothell, followed by Redmond, Kirkland and Lynnwood.
Lynnwood has a stronger Seattle preference (30%) but that is followed by Lynnwood itself (10%). Edmonds is even more pronounced, at 35% and 8%. Everett is the opposite, with 27% of the people staying within Everett, and 15% headed to Seattle (and 4% or smaller for everyone else).
This all makes sense. People don’t like commuting long distances and avoid it whenever possible. Snohomish County may have plenty of bedroom communities, but it really isn’t a bedroom community to Seattle. It is more self contained, with jobs spread out over the region. To meet the transit needs of these commuters — let alone travelers in general — you need lots of buses and probably a lot of van pools.
“I’m pretty sure that is no longer the case.”
Yeah I agree. I love the Census Bureau tool by the way. (I’ve tinkered around with it a few times myself.) I think that’s what the PSRC used when they published this piece a few years ago that discussed this very topic.
The data you can pull out using the tool is extensive so it can be hard to know what to make of the results. You’ve mentioned a bunch of the intercounty as well as intracounty commute patterns involving Snohomish and King County locations, so I’ll just summarize the larger picture from Snohomish County’s perspective.
In-Area Labor Force Efficiency:
318,704 Living in SnoCo
140,546 Living and employed in SnoCo (44%)
178,158 Living in SnoCo but employed outside SnoCo (56%)
In-Area Employment Efficiency:
237,611 Total Employed in SnoCo
140,546 Residents, employed and live in SnoCo (59%)
97,065 Non-residents, employed in SnoCo but live outside SnoCo (41%)
178,158 Outflow jobs, external jobs filled by SnoCo residents
97,065 Inflow jobs, internal jobs filled by non SnoCo residents
140,546 Interior flow jobs, internal jobs filled by SnoCo residents
Net Job Inflow/Outflow:
237,611 Employed in SnoCo
318,704 Employees living in SnoCo
-81,093 Net (outflow)
Hopefully I didn’t screw any of this up. Lol.
RapidRide H (Delridge) is now scheduled to open March 2023.
Thanks for passing on the info and the link. The 6-month delay is unfortunate but I guess we have come to expect this. I used to take the 120* daily when I worked in the Youngstown office park located right next to the Nucor plant. That was my second seat heading south from my place in Wallingford (26X to downtown). Happy to see the Delridge corridor get this service improvement.
*Was this route formerly the 20? I can’t quite remember now.
The inner part was the 20, the outer part was the 135 (with the 135’s inner part on what is now the 131/132). They were merged in 2004 IIRC.
yes, Route 120 replaced Route 20 and others in fall 2004. the concept was in the first six-year plan of about 1996. Routes 11 and 20 were paired; until fall 2012, routes 11 and 125 were paired.
The 20 was only Downtown-White Center. Something else served Ambaum Blvd. The two routes turned kitty-corner to each other at 16th & Roxbury if I recall.
yes, routes 11, 20, 125, 130, 132, 135, 136, 137, and 138 were changed or deleted in the fall 2004 restructure. (maybe more).
Sound Transit published last years ridership info and financial forecast for the next 5 years: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/22114491-sound-transit-tdp-2022-2027-and-2021-annual-report-draft-report-20220721
An important statistic for this discussion: 37% of American jobs can be done entirely from home.
If we assume a hybrid WFH becomes the norm, and averages 40% in-office (2 days a week), that’s a 22% reduction in the commuting workforce.
And if we assume that about half the transit trips are commutes, that is an 11% reduction in transit trips.
And if you assume that 0% of those who will work from home currently use transit instead of driving to get to their current employment, you get 0% reduction in transit use.
That’s a great point Glenn. The number of times someone works from home is likely to be influenced by whether they drive or not. Here is my thinking:
1) Driving is more expensive than taking transit.
2) The people most likely to work from home are those that hate their commute.
3) The worse the commute, the more likely you are to drive. There are exceptions of course. But awkward transit commutes often lead to driving. For example, I live in Pinehurst (close to Northgate) and used to commute to Factoria. This took me forever on a bus. So I drove. This was not as time consuming, but very stressful. In contrast, when I worked downtown, I loved the commute. It didn’t take much time at all to ride the bus downtown, and I could read while on the bus.
There are certainly people who commute long distances via transit. But these are a small minority of riders. The farther out you go, the fewer riders you get. Thus it is quite reasonable to assume that the people who commute to work by car are more likely to gravitate towards working from home.
I think the percentage of those who WFH won’t follow the cost of commuting, but the inconvenience (which depends on the cost).
Most commuters already own a car so the only additional cost of driving to work is parking, and that basically is downtown Seattle and Bellevue. If they can’t afford parking they take transit, which is often free if employer subsidized (and those are the workers most likely to be able to WFH).
Those who drive often write off the parking. Their complaint is traffic congestion, and to some extent the cost of parking if they are paying for it (for example our firm). They often have the wealth to live closer to an urban work area.
WFH saves the transit commuter two hours/day. A recent study noted productivity from WFH during the pandemic was excellent (although during some of that time there was little to do but stay in the house). Commuting to work by transit by definition is inconvenient, which is why executives don’t do it. You have to get there, wait, get on a packed train or bus with a bunch of strangers, maybe make a transfer, make a bunch of stops along the way, then walk to your ultimate destination. Plus it is more dangerous (or at least perceived to be and there is no distinction when it comes to riding transit at least for work commuters) depending on the part of town your stop is.
For the employer the benefit is saving money on office space, and to some extent a happier worker, or just the ability to compete for workers. WFH greatly expands the worker pool to hire from. We won’t really see those savings until the leases roll off over the next 3-5 years. At that time employers will have to accurately assess their office space needs, and will probably avoid the practice in the past of leasing more space than they need and subleasing it until they do need it. At that point many job openings will require some or all WFH, although my guess is available office space will be everywhere.
Even if parking is free like in many office parks workers still prefer to WFH, at least 2-3 days/week. I know many lawyers who do that now, which is why Kitsap Co. and Bainbridge are becoming more popular for housing. The ferry twice/day five days/week is a chore. Two times/week is pleasant if you can live in a semi-rural area with good schools for a better price for a SFH. Younger workers will be more interested in WFH than older workers.
I think it is a mistake to think of WFH as pro or anti transit, just like no one thinks of WFH as pro or anti driving. WFH is a good thing for just about everyone. To Zachary’s point, yes road capacity was built for peak demand and is more than necessary today except for the highways like 405 (that is being widened because of the huge growth south of 405 when many of those workers can’t take transit) and I-5 which is just badly designed and could easily have 30% more capacity with the same footprint with better lanes and fewer bottlenecks. But overall traffic congestion is way down, especially east/west on I-90 and 520 (which has very little congestion due to the toll, and not surprisingly eastside workers have a high percentage who can WFH).
The two issues WFH will affect, especially as leases roll off and employers have to plan for WFH, are:
1. The loss of retail vibrancy in the urban core. Urbanism is the real victim from WFH because it turns out many of those commuters don’t live in the core for a reason but subsidize the urban retail vibrancy they also enjoy (not at work). But without that commuter we also see in downtown Seattle a loss of retail and restaurant vibrancy during the workday, which will affect retail vibrancy at night as well. It also skews tax revenue allocation in the county although the urban core (Seattle) will continue to bear the brunt of social costs. People will still shop and dine, but more at places like U Village or Capitol Hill.
2. Transit coverage and frequency will need to match operations revenue and ridership. We’re stuck with the spine, probably all the way to Everett and Tacoma, so IMO that will need some kind of operations levy. When it comes to buses the goal of a “grid” from one end of King Co. to the other to move folks from cars when there will be little congestion or create some kind of “urbanism” in areas outside downtown Seattle and Bellevue, is over. There just isn’t the money, and the trend to today is deurbanization (not Untransit).
When it comes to WSBLE I think the best thing the Board could do is wait, especially on the DEIS. Wait for the downtown leases to roll off, the bridge to reopen, and residents of Ballard and West Seattle to see a different future when it comes to travel patterns, whether by car or transit because WFH will affect each equally.
Here is a good article explaining both the transit maintenance backlog on older lines despite huge ridership in the past and how future funding and spending must follow ridership. MTA has decided to replace the “FDR era” signals on less busy lines rather than the “Nixon era” signals on busier commuter lines.
“Modern signals that allow trains to move faster and closer together have been planned since 2019 for the Lexington Ave. line, which carries the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 trains in Manhattan. It’s the busiest piece of subway in the nation. Similar upgrades were planned for the Astoria Blvd. line, which carries the N and W trains in Queens.
“But an amendment to the agency’s 2020-2024 capital plan to be voted on by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board Wednesday aims to push those upgrades back by at least two years — and reallocate the work to the Sixth Ave. line, which carries the B, D, F and M lines in Manhattan.
“The change of plans also means the MTA seeks to reconstruct the Jay St. interlocking in Brooklyn, which directs A, C and F trains and relies on clunky mechanical technology that dates back to the 1930s. Those three lines are the least reliable in the city, agency metrics show.
“This is taking care of the Roosevelt-era signals instead of the signaling equipment on Lexington Ave. and Astoria, which are really from the Nixon and Reagan eras,” said Tim Mulligan, the MTA’s deputy chief development officer.
“MTA officials said the changes reflect new commuting patterns as subway ridership remains down about 40% from before the pandemic. The new signals for the Lexington Ave. and Astoria Blvd. lines aimed to bring additional service to those trains, which packed riders in like sardines during rush-hour commutes before COVID hit the city.”
The problem for ST is it continues to BUILD the kind of commuter lines MTA is deprioritizing based on ridership.
The N/W and 4/5/6 lines are not “commuter” lines in any traditional sense of that term – they’re just high peak ridership lines and the peak hasn’t come back. They are definitely less decrepit mechanically than a lot of the IND system which are ‘newer’ than the IRT/BMT lines but haven’t really been modernized since they were built – glad to hear they’re investing in replacing more of the 1930s equipment.
You’re comparing apples and oranges with ST and MTA, for one the MTA subway is a century old system that has been plagued by lack of and very slow modernization. Due in part from being at the mercy of NY state government and City of NYC dictating a lot of the funding and management, as the Governor and Mayor holds a lot of power over the MTA. My friends from NYC and NY state can tell you of the problems that Governors and NYC Mayor over the year have done a lot to screw over the MTA in funding modernization on pushing their own pet projects or cutting funding altogether.
Then Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Governor George Pataki cutting funding for the MTA and then moving a lot of the funding into bonds which the MTA had to pay back.
Or the spat between Andrew Cuomo and Andy Byford/MTA over prioritizing systemwide projects with Byford & MTA wanting to prioritize customer and infrastructure upgrades and Cuomo wanting to push a bunch of capital projects that would just burden the system with more people when it’s already plagued with delays, outdated & inaccessible stations, outdated infrastructure for operations, subway cars, etc.
NYT does a good dive into it as to why there has been problems with the MTA for years now.
The subway lines you note are not really commuter lines, that’s Metro North and Long Island Railroad which is completely different from the MTA subway division of the MTA and has different issues that are being worked on.
I feel a better comparison would be the ongoing upgrades Trimet is doing or BART.
One point in Microsoft’s automatically-scraped article from NY Daily News that stuck out to me:
“MTA officials said the change was sparked in part by ongoing delays by train car manufacturers. There are only two companies that build cars for New York’s subways, and one of them — Kawasaki — is running at least 17 months late on the agency’s latest order.
The MTA needs new trains to run modern signals on the Lexington Ave. line, but can use existing trains and ones to be delivered by Kawasaki to run the upgraded tech on the Sixth Ave. line, officials said.”
So, they’re delaying upgrades to the Sixth Ave tunnel for about 2 years because Kawasaki is 1.5 years behind on making the trains MTA needs in order to use the upgrades. Meanwhile, MTA has a massive backlog of upgrade work they need to do anyways, so they’re pivoting to a project they can deliver and utilize in the meantime.
Ridership has nothing to do with it.
Let’s just imagine that every gas vehicle is replaced by ev’s, well guess what you still have the same damn congestion issues. My daughter needs to get from Kent to Digipen in Redmond and back every day. That ain’t happening on light rail or any other mass transit, ever, so forget it. WASHDOT engineers have always known how to fix our freeway congestion but the ruling political class in this state won’t allow it. So I either move to Redmond thus proving Westneats point or out of this state entirely.
“WASHDOT engineers have always known how to fix our freeway congestion”
implement variable tolling of all lanes.
Your first sentence is correct, but if you don’t think mass transit is “ever” going to support your daughter’s specific commute, that’s not entirely accurate: there’s Souder from Kent to King Street ($4, ~30 min. travel time), then East Link opening in 2024 connecting King Street to Downtown Redmond (likely ~$4, ~45 min. travel time). Then there’s the route 930, which connects Redmond to the Kingsgate Park & Ride, and has stops right outside the Digipen campus along Willows Rd. So, for about $8 and 2 hours of travel, during most of which she can do coursework or stare at her phone or simply zone out, she can get where she needs to go.
Or, she can drive and contribute to traffic which makes the ~25-mile drive take ~45 to 75 minutes. At $0.56/mile, that’s $14 each way.
I am curious, though: what’s this magical fix for freeway congestion that you think WSDOT engineers would employ? My first guess is “Widening the Freeway”, to which I would respond with two points:
1) Adding another lane has been proven to only induce more traffic to the point of negating the effect of the increased capacity. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induced_demand#Effect_in_transportation_systems
2) Despite this, the “ruling political class” (whom I would label as Establishment Democrats, aka political Moderates) loves to give WSDOT money to widen freeways – for an example that may be close to home for you, check out the project list for WSDOT’s I-405/SR 167 Corridor Program: https://wsdot.wa.gov/construction-planning/major-projects/i-405sr-167-corridor-program
Since 2003, WSDOT has spent “nearly $1.5 billion [on] corridor investments” including four major widening projects, and is apparently preparing for another $2 billion of projects along the corridor.
Yes, WSDOT engineers do know how to fix congestion.
Add enough lanes to relieve congestion for the selected time period.
(as the region grows, the lanes will fill up, so it’s only a temporary fix)
The problem has always been how to pay for it.
How should it be paid for?
Please provide the appropriate details.
Translation: Highway engineers always want to widen highways; the legislature is more limited about spending money or raising gas taxes.
Kent-Redmond commutes have occurred all along, so I don’t see what’s new there. If you’re talking about losing the one-seat ride on the 566, there’s no extraordinary right to an express between Redmond and Kent. Bellevue or Renton are the natural distribution points for service from Redmond to south King County. If Kent should have an express to Redmond, should West Seattle and Greenwood have expresses to Redmond too?
Moving to Redmond is a good idea in any case. I don’t see what that has to do with Westneat. My friend who works at Renton Boeing tells a similar story in reverse: people who drive SUVs from Redmond to Renton Boeing.
If you move out of state, won’t your daughter’s commute to Redmond take even longer?
The problem with widening the freeway is that it never works. Big cities often have really big freeways. Cities like L. A. and Honolulu (which isn’t even that big) have massive freeways. Yet they still have congestion. There are several reasons why, and they are all connected.
The first is induced demand, as mentioned earlier. The other reason is that adding lanes doesn’t scale. If you go from one lane to two, you have doubled the amount of space, but at best you’ve doubled the throughput. Often you don’t, because cars change lanes, and changing lanes causes congestion (and accidents). As you go from two to three it gets worse. Freeways typically have a relatively small amount of land to deal with — as they grow larger, building each extra lane becomes increasingly expensive, while providing increasingly less congestion relief.
But there is another, bigger problem. Traffic is a zero-sum game. Every day, people line up, waiting for a traffic light to allow them on the freeway. A generation ago, this would have seemed absurd. The whole point of building a freeway is so that cars can go fast, and yet you are purposely slowing down those very cars. You’ve already admitted defeat, and are merely picking winners and losers (or should I say losers and really bad losers).
The same idea applies to particular improvements. For example, there is often congestion going across 520. Imagine if they got rid of the tolls, and added two lanes each direction. That congestion is gone. But you still have congestion as you approach I-5, as it turns into one lane each direction. So you add two lanes each direction. Great, except now imagine you are headed north on I-5, having just left downtown. Suddenly you have way more traffic trying to merge. So you expand the lanes over the ship canal. That is great except they still converge later, and that means (you guessed it) more congestion. It is better crossing 520, but worse on I-5. You’ve basically just removed the traffic lights on the ramps to the freeway.
That is the way traffic works — it is a zero-sum game. Yes, you can fix your daughter’s car commute, but I can guarantee you that it will make someone else’s commute much worse, unless we invest an enormous amount of money in the entire system, and that includes the surface streets. People have gone down that road before, and it simply doesn’t work. It costs way too much money, and sacrifices what is most valuable in any city: land. It is, some argue (quite persuasively) why Detroit collapsed (https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2019/11/4/we-are-all-detroit-2019). If you replace prime real estate with parking lots and freeway interchanges while simultaneously extending outward to support brand new houses on huge lots accessed only by freeways and cul-de-sacs, you are bound to pay the piper sometime. Eventually you stop growing, and you can’t afford to maintain all that. Because, again, it doesn’t scale. You have spent more, and gotten less.
In contrast, transit does scale. The more you run buses, the more people ride it. The more people ride it, the more cost effective it is to run more buses. This is a virtuous cycle. Eventually you run express buses, saving those riders even more time. Your system expands, and becomes more of a grid. This means more transfers, but it also means that people can go to a lot more places in a short amount of time. Grids are also more cost effective. When you’ve maximized a bus corridor, you switch to rail. Every flaw with added road infrastructure is the strength of transit. Good transit induces demand, but that is a good thing, because more frequent buses means less waiting. Transit scales. Transit is not a zero-sum game; it is win-win. If you want your daughter to have a better commute, push for better transit. And use it.
Lots of folks will never be able to work from home. Manufacturing, healthcare, construction, retail, education, and dining, for instance. (Unless y’all want to do virtual school permanently.) Westneat thinks that paper-pushers in offices make the world function. Hopefully, some day he can find himself a virtual nursing home to virtually give him medicine and prepare virtual food. In the meantime, he can watch a TV show about going out to eat, order clothing from Amazon without a fitting room, buy a DIY kit to build his own his online from Amazon and/or Ikea, get his medical needs addressed exclusively online without any lab tests or in-person examinations, and home-school his kids.
WFH will thrive when it benefits the employer, employee and customer.
For example most doctors now do Zoom consultations. I have found that very convenient. If I need lab tests I just have to pop in for a blood draw. Most billing and customer service can now be done at home.
To understand Amazon you need to understand my 19 year old daughter. They return a lot and Amazon makes that easy. Retailers don’t mind because she often returns an item in store when she goes shopping, and of course keeps a lot.
I never thought I could work from home as a lawyer but I can. I still like the office, but much prefer to do depositions or meetings or even hearings by Zoom. Much more efficient for the client and me. Just like email and electronic filing have made work easier and more efficient.
Of course not everything can be done at home. No one ever suggested that. And we learned school is as much about socialization (and daycare) as learning. But a sick child can now participate. We still need to socialize, but don’t need to spend two hours uncompensated commuting to work all at the same time five days/week.
WFH is just a tool. If it benefits people they will use it. Before the pandemic we didn’t have the infrastructure and employer inertia prevented it except among pure tech folks. Now even my grandmother can use Zoom and can stay in touch with her grandchildren.
Who knows, with 3D printing maybe even manufacturing will be done at home.
The great thing about wfh is you can get a second wfh job and double your income. This works best if you have an under the radar type of job. Nobody quite knows what you do.
Also, I read about a guy down in Cali who wfh, but died, and was found at home a week later. His family was angry at his employer for not checking on him the day he didn’t log into work, but the employer said, even after a week of him being absent, said they never noticed he wasn’t there.
“Lots of folks will never be able to work from home.”
63% of workers: https://bfi.uchicago.edu/wp-content/uploads/BFI_White-Paper_Dingel_Neiman_3.2020.pdf
That is a June 2020 article. As Westneat noted around 32% of downtown Seattle workers have returned. That might skew toward office workers but the loss of those commuters has significantly reduced retail and restaurant activity and workers downtown during the day. Remember, at one point except for essential workers everyone worked from home, right around the time this article was written.
If we are talking about peak commuters I think for this region look for a 60% decline on average that will likely stay at the level or increase as leases roll off.
It is important to realize WFH is good for everyone: employers, employees, customers and clients, the planet, road and transit spending. It also benefits those who cannot WFH by reducing road and transit congestion.
Driving will decline and so will transit ridership as we deurbanize for probably the next decade. Transit will figure it out. Link ridership was never going to meet (pre-pandemic) estimates and now ST has an excuse. When it comes to buses allocate them to where people want to ride buses, and when.
This article highlights two things: urban cities like Seattle have a much higher percentage of workers who can work from home as opposed to more rural areas; and 2. the loss of urban workers to WFH corresponds to a loss of retail/restaurant/maintenance jobs associated with the urban commuter.
” the loss of urban workers to WFH corresponds to a loss of retail/restaurant/maintenance jobs associated with the urban commuter.” That’s the same logic that says people going to sporting events within their own city “create” jobs. As long as those WFH high wage earners are still living in the city, their spending remains in the city. The loss of commuters is certainly a problem for 9-5 CBDs (like midtown Manhattan) , but not for other urban areas (like downtown Manhattan) that are work/live/play.
“That is a June 2020 article.”
Good job, you can read the publication date. Did you bother to check where your March 2022 reference got its data regarding which jobs can be completed from home? The Answer May Surprise You!
I don’t think anyone is refuting that WFH-able jobs are (or were) more highly concentrated in cities – and while this analysis is a neat citation for a statistical reference for that observation, it’s not presenting anything we haven’t already discussed. I also don’t think anyone who cares about workers is arguing that WFH is bad.
By the way, have you ever wondered how much retail density was lost when cities enacted parking minimums for businesses and housing, engendering the demolition of huge portions of urban centers?
Is that why Bellevue Square, Lincoln Square North and South, Issaquah and U. Village have such little retail density? Parking minimums. I believe it was the Simon rep. for Northgate who said transit is how shoplifters get to his malls. When it comes to downtown Bellevue development it was often the lenders who required more parking than the city in order to get the financing. Usually the money knows best.
I don’t understand why you are so terrified of WFH. I thought urbanists wanted less driving and fewer diesel buses on the road, and fewer suburbanites parking in their urban city. Didn’t you get what you wanted with WFH? You should be happy. Why are you always so angry and unhappy?
Why do you think anyone’s “terrified” of WFH?
Why don’t you answer the question – how much retail density and housing was lost when downtown buildings were torn down to become parking lots?
“I believe it was the Simon rep. for Northgate who said transit is how shoplifters get to his malls” Shoplifters has no clear demographic trend in my opinion, I’ve seen people in my experience of different ages, ethnic groups, socioeconomic classes, transportation means etc. for shoplifting. If a mall rep actually said this, I’d find that reasoning to be very questionable, somewhat baseless, and difficult to quantify as a statistical correlation. It honestly sounds like more of knee-jerk assumption than anything by the property management than anything.
The belief that transit brings shoplifters is just classism. Funny how Daniel T sees fit to use classist concepts in his own writing, but decries its use when used against him. Hypocrisy.
My greatest hope is that if corporations, a complete concoction with no substance other than a “birth certificate”, need and have been granted a facsimile of personhood, that non-human biological life may be granted one too.
This would make Daniel’s pot fantasy of SFH from Snoqualmie Summit to Blyn and Arlington to Yelm much harder to instantiate. The Big Leaf Maples would join the suit of the Salamanders to block his Sprawl City of Xanadu.
the Simon rep. for Northgate who said transit is how shoplifters get to his malls
That explains why Walmart has such a problem with shop lifting. Pfftt.
Yes, only a quarter of the workforce can work from home. It’s just that they’re the “people like us” whom politicians and marketers court; the politicians and marketers are working from home themselves; and they may not know anybody who isn’t., so they think the majority of society is like them.
Since WFH largely overlaps with 9-5 jobs, the net result is a flattening of the ridership curve, away from peak hours and toward midday and evenings. And just because people work from home doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t use transit during the day. But if they can shift their trips away from peak hours they’ll do so to avoid congestion.
Metro is free for the next few days during the heat wave. The ORCA readers are covered in newspaper. This must be a way to provide more “cooling center” spaces and closer to where everybody lives. None of the passengers I saw today knew about it, so it’ll take time for the word to get around.
I’m moving back to Denver next month and the local transit agency, RTD is doing the same thing for the month of August to promote less car usage since Denver gets really bad in the summer in terms of pollution. Reminds me of Paris and Brussels antipollution day passes they put out during periods of high pollution to promote public transit travel.
If nothing else, the bus itself is a mobile cooling center, and probably more convenient to access than an actual cooling center.
Free fares does help with this, but it does beg the question: during a heat wave, do we really want people without A/C riding the bus around in circles all day vs. using it for actual transportation.
If the bus isn’t full, and has running AC that most folks don’t have, then it’s a worthy service to provide. The bus is running anyways, so might as well let folks get the temporary relief the AC if they can.
Fares are back today. On the first bus I must have tapped without thinking but on the second bus I noticed the reader on. I told the driver I thought it was going to be free for the next few days. He said they’d told drivers that yesterday at 7am, but today they didn’t say anything about it so he went back to the usual practice. I said, “I already told people Metro is free for the next few days because that’s what drivers told me yesterday.” And presumably others told people too. He said it’s confusing.
However, I also understand drivers don’t turn away somebody who asks for a free ride, so it’s not that big an issue. Still, if buses are free cooling centers, the county should solidly support it, publicize it, and suddenly cancel it on the hottest day.
Sam, my reward hasn’t arrived in the mail yet.
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