From the mayor’s office:
Seattle (July 27, 2022) – Today, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced that he will appoint Greg Spotts to be the next Director of the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), pending confirmation by the Seattle City Council.
Spotts currently serves as the Executive Officer and Chief Sustainability Officer at the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services, which oversees 1,500 staff positions, an annual budget of $230 million, and a capital program of more than $350 million. He has led the delivery of over $600 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act projects as well as efforts to make Los Angeles more walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly and sustainable.
Coverage: Seattle Times, The Urbanist
138 Replies to “Harrell names new SDOT head”
This is legitimately very exciting. His activity on twitter makes terminally online advocates like me happy, since we were largely spoiled by Dongho Chang’s frequent posts for SDOT’s Spot Improvements program.
I guess they’ll be Spotts Improvements!
He’s got a blog called “Post-Carbon City”: https://postcarboncity.wordpress.com/
And here’s his twitter page: https://twitter.com/spottnik
Here’s hoping he can effectively steer the Seattle Transportation Plan team towards providing good services for all transportation options, not just cars!
Harrell still hasn’t explained why he was dissatisfied with Zimbabwe, or why Zimbabwe wouldn’t have done these sustainability things. I hope Spotts does make the city more sustainable and less car-oriented in his own way, but I also don’t like to see good officials dismissed or not reelected for no sufficient reason.
My understanding is that Zimbabwe (or maybe his wife) contributed to the campaign of Harrell’s opponent. Something of that nature.
Mike, this has been explained to you before. New mayors often pick new department heads. “Yeah, but Sam, I still don’t understand. If Zimbabwe was doing a good job, why was he replaced?” Again, new mayors often pick new department heads. They want their own, hand-picked team. Nothing needs to be explained. It’s very common.
Sam, Harrell said Zimbabwe didn’t align with his vision of city transit. He singled him out for the highest-profile dismissal, as if Zimbabwe was bad or going in the wrong direction. That may be true for Kubly but not for Zimbabwe. If it was really just a routine replacement, or payback for supporting his rival, he could have said that and not slandered Zimbabwe’s reputation. If he really just wanted to replace all the directors across the board, why didn’t he replace them equally and in a neutral tone, rather than singling out Zimbabwe for supposedly being the worst? That’s like petty-tyrant fragile-ego behavior.
P.S. I see your tavern has a spot on Capitol Hill now, on Pike around Harvard. Maybe I’ll go there someday and see if you’ll make me a burger. Do you still have those Farrell’s ice-cream sundae recipes? I’ll want one of those too, in a 1920s glass, with a sundae spoon.
All the restaurants I used to work at no longer exist. Farrell’s Southcenter. “Oh yes, ladies and gentlemen, stop what you’re doing and swallow what you’re chewing, because Mike is celebrating his 16th birthday!” The Brenner Brothers Bakery deli on Bel-Red Road near 120th. And, the Butcher restaurant, which was in the Benaroya Business Park, where Bellevue’s Home Depot is now located.
BTW, if Zimbabwe did such a great job, why does SDOT have only a 2 out of 5 star Google review rating?
Google has SDOT director reviews? You’d have to ask the people who rated him. Then you’d have to figure out what percent of Seattle residents knew about the reviews and chose a rating, to see how representative those stars are. You’d also have to see if any were by non-Seattle residents and exclude those. And investigate whether misinformation (like Harrell’s) influenced their choices.
Misinformation wasn’t the right word. Harrell was just puffing up his own reputation, not executing a strategy to get Googlers to give Zimbabwe a low rating.
No, the agency he was in charge of rated poorly. If he did such a great job, SDOT would rate more highly. 2 out of 5 stars is 40%, which is an F grade.
I never understood why Zimbabwe got such a public firing so early in Harrell’s term so assume it was something personal. Zimbabwe was not a lightning rod during the election (and had hardly been with the city), and transit was a non-issue, as was most transportation except maybe the West Seattle Bridge (considering we were in the middle of a pandemic), but that was really the city council that ignored replacement and repair (although it took a state audit to reveal the extent of the unfunded need). I am no expert but if you asked me to explain the differences in Spotts’ and Zimbabwe’s transportation policies I couldn’t name one. Spotts really did not do anything big in LA, unless you are talking about trees.
Still I don’t see what great power Spotts will have. He can’t control zoning, and the reality is it is very hard to control where people want to live. Spotts job is to simply serve that decision. His first priority is maintenance and repair of the roads and bridges, and there just is not enough money for that right now. He really does not control Metro’s funding although I suppose SDOT can address transit bottlenecks and the city can determine where its funding is spent but today that will be determined almost entirely by “equity”.
Interestingly Harrell and the council decided to submit the city’s preferred route for WSBLE before Spotts was hired which tells me Spotts is not a game changer (personally if I were going to fire Zimbabwe and the WSBLE DEIS looked like a mess that could consume the city’s tax capacity I might have hired a light rail expert to advise the city on the best route and mode). Maybe a better street parking plan for retail downtown but retail downtown has so many other headwinds I don’t know if street parking is all that important.
Citizens will likely have more input into the direction of the city when it comes to the renewal of the Move Seattle levy in 2024. Will citizens want to pay again for the 50% of projects that did not get done as promised so they pay double for what was originally promised. Sidewalks are great but they are very expensive.
The other big input Seattle residents will have is whether to pass a SB5528 levy for WSBLE, and how much they are willing to spend. My guess is both renewal of the Move Seattle levy and a SB5528 levy will once again have lowballed project cost estimates, but some fish bite every time no matter how many times they have been hooked in the past.
Car traffic in and through the downtown core is way down and likely will stay way down forever, which is Harrell’s real concern. That was always a goal of transit advocates and urbanists, but it took a pandemic, but there are side effects, like the loss of the work commuter.
Whatever Spotts decides to do will depend on what Harrell wants to do, and Harrell has so many things on his plate right now I doubt he will want to add some huge transportation reset in Seattle when transportation has changed so much already from the pandemic. My guess is Harrell’s direction to Spotts will be to focus on the nuts and bolts of transportation with a lot of talk about equity, and understand who elected Harrell. So far Harrell has focused on removing the homeless from residential parks because his voters made that their number one issue, then downtown because the businesses and Chamber made that their number one issue, next will be crime areas downtown, but how to get the work commuter to return I don’t know, and that is critical for future revenue and just for any major city.
“ … (personally if I were going to fire Zimbabwe and the WSBLE DEIS looked like a mess that could consume the city’s tax capacity I might have hired a light rail expert to advise the city on the best route and mode)…”
I agree with this particular sentiment. ST has been unable and unwilling to look objectively at a wider range of needs and solutions for WSBLE. The failure of City Council and Harrell to face the issue as a public investment and not a populist political football shows that the “liberal emperors” have no clothes.
And the billions that ST wants to spend in Seattle on DSTT2 because they won’t take a good look at the overbuilt project requirements could go instead into so many last mile projects that could benefit every corner of the city.
We need more cars and less buses. Shorten sidewalks, eliminate bike and bus lanes, add car lanea. Turn third avenue into a surface freeway for speeds up to 225 mph. Close all sidewalks and entrances on thied to allow faster auto speeds.
This is low-quality, Republican snark. Read some Jonathan Swift and try again.
I think I’m going to email him. He’s going to need to know, from a Seattle neighborhoods expert, where he should live. I’ll tell him he should buy a house in Magnolia. The good part of Magnolia. West of Viewmont Way. My runner-ups are Broadmoor, Windermere or Laurelhurst.
That realtor license really pays for itself if you can score a few percent commission on a multi-million dollar house.
West Queen Anne is nicer than Magnolia IMO. Lots are smaller but it’s way more walkable (and more people out walking), more tree canopy and the views are nice too although not quite as nice as Magnolia. Short walk to LQA and Seattle Center too.
“Long” walk back though…..
Years ago I lived at Sixth West and Galer, in the apartment building there, and worked downtown on a small salary. I walked both directions and developed a great affection for the Third West staircase.
“West of Viewmont Way” is damn few houses, Sam. Unless you count the houses ON the west side of Viewmont.
I do agree; them’s the best in Seattle. But my brother-in-law just took me down Pleasant Point Road in Indianola. Words fail.
Someone once described Magnolia to me like this. There’s the bad side of the bad hill. The good side of the bad hill. The bad side of the good hill. And, the good side of the good hill. I was jk with my where he should live list. Where his chooses to live depends on his priorities and budget.
As someone who was unfortunate enough to once be able to afford view property in Seattle, I can tell you that if you are the good side of the good hill, don’t get on the bad side of the bad neighbors. I assume Perkins Lane to be similarly fraught.
Let’s start with sidewalks. If Mr. Spotts can make the city 100% walkable I’ll declare mission accomplished.
Related to sidewalks and safety, is there any thought on eliminating right turns on red in the Seattle city limits, like Manhattan and Montreal do?
That would d be fantastic, but I’m sure the Seattle-haters in the Leg would pre-empt it.
Why would the legislature be involved? SDOT would just have to put up no turn on red signs at every intersection.
The problem with banning right on red at the city level is that drivers won’t obey it because they’re not used to it. A “no turn on red” rule that gets widely ignored seems worse than not having such a rule to begin with.
I think a better approach is targeted “no turn on red” signs at specific intersections where it poses a problem; that would have more chance of being obeyed than a blanket rule, backed by no signage, which spans the entire city, and is different from all of the surrounding cities.
I believe that traffic laws are under the pervue of the Legislature so that drivers can be expected to act in a consistent way wherever they find themselves in the State. No Right on Red has to be signed because it is in the Driving Code that a driver is allowed to turn right on red after a full stop if no crossing traffic is present.
I do not know that WSDOT has to approve them at this time. But you can be Double Darn Betcha certain that the representatives of suburban drivers who want to come to a baseball game would raise a big stink if every intersection in the City sprouted signs. Quickly thereafter they would very likely order Seattle to take down the signs, followed by a new entry in the RCW mandating a review of any such future signage and severely restricting its use.
The nerve of those darn city people slowing down my constituent so they can cross a street. They should stay on their own block!
“Taming the Cities” — bringing them to heel. It’s a thing popular among suburban and rural legislators of both parties.
When a driver “turns right on a red” it means the no walk sign is in effect for the pedestrian because the light is green in that direction. Turning right on a red allows a driver to turn right if traffic allows when pedestrians should not be in the intersection, and ideally doesn’t back up all the drivers behind that car wishing to go straight.
You see this on 4th Ave. in Seattle. Drivers want to turn right to get to I-5. When downtown had pedestrians this was tough and drivers would get anxious and try to “beat” the pedestrians through the intersection when their light turned green, but so did the walk sign across the intersection.
So I don’t quite understand the safety purpose of prohibiting right turns on red lights since the pedestrian would have the no walk sign, and cars wishing to turn right will be anxious waiting for their light to turn green so they turn before the pedestrians enter the intersection, hopefully.
Is there any data indicating there is a high number of pedestrians hit in a crosswalk by a car turning right even the pedestrian would have had the no walk sign and been in the fault.
I have a hard time believing Harrell will tell his new head of SDOT this is a top priority.
Left hand turns are different. There the pedestrian crossing the street in which the car wishes to turn onto has the walk sign but the turning car is concentrating on oncoming traffic. NE 50th between The Ave. and I -5 is a good example. Very frustrating if you are behind a car waiting to turn left.
In that case you need a dedicated left hand turn lane to avoid backing up traffic which leads to anxiety and rash decisions and a dedicated left hand turn signal although that sometimes confuses pedestrians.
Right turns on a green light can be problematic because the driver has a green light (going straight) and the pedestrian has a walk sign across the street the driver wants to turn right onto. In the past when downtown had more drivers and pedestrians this is where I saw the most conflict. Turning right on a red is actually much safer for the pedestrian if they obey the don’t walk sign.
You are right, Daniel. Banning Right on Red would not help some pedestrians. That is, it would not help pedestrians wanting to cross the street onto which the car would be turning.
However, it might – and some sort of research would be in order — help those crossing the street which is stopped. Cars pull into the cross-walk in order to aqueeze into the cross-traffic quickly ALL THE TIME. If they couldn’t pre-position themselves for the dash, they might be less likely to come to the City in the first place. THAT would help the pedestrians
I don’t quite understand the safety purpose of prohibiting right turns on red
Fair enough, I’ll try and explain it. When you make a “free right” (a right turn on red) you still have to yield to oncoming traffic (from your left). Sometimes there is a long stream of cars coming from that direction. That may mean that you are looking over your left shoulder for quite some time. You keep waiting and waiting, hoping for a break in traffic, so you can go. In that time, a pedestrian may be crossing the street in front of you, from your right to your left. So just when it seems there is a break in traffic and you can take that “free right”, you punch it and … splat, you’ve killed someone.
In contrast, if the light is green and you take a right turn, you know that no car is going to (legally) interfere with your turn. You merely have to deal with the pedestrians which are on your right.
So either way you have to deal with pedestrians, it is just that in one case (where they allow a “free right”) you also have to deal with cars.
I hope that explanation made sense.
As a pedestrian, I’m more concerned about unprotected left turns that right turns on red. A big truck going the other way can obstruct a driver’s view of pedestrians in the crosswalk, and if they decide to stomp on the gas the instant the big truck passes, the result could be deadly.
As stated, the only real problematic issue with right on red is drivers blocking the crosswalk in order to inch forward and see better if somebody is coming. You can deal with this simply by crossing behind the car that is blocking the crosswalk.
From a standpoint of policy, the default traffic rules, when there is no sign that says otherwise, does need to be consistent across municipalities so that everyone is aware of what the law is. A rule that 90% of drivers ignore and subjects a few of them to “gotcha” tickets accomplishes little to nothing in terms of actual safety. So, “no turn on red” signs at a few particular intersections where right turn on red is particularly dangerous, makes sense. Making right turn on red illegal across the board in Seattle, while it’s legal in Bellevue, Shoreline, and Renton, not so much.
Here is a study: https://www.iihs.org/topics/bibliography/ref/714
Has anything changed since then? Not really. If anything cars are more dangerous to pedestrians, due to their shape (https://www.iihs.org/news/detail/new-study-suggests-todays-suvs-are-more-lethal-to-pedestrians-than-cars).
By the way, the IIHS magazine is a good read. Kind of dark (of course) but still worth reading.
As a pedestrian who doesn’t drive, I’m not bothered much by right turns on red. And on the occasions when I’m in a car and think about establishing no right on red, it seems like an unnecessary delay.
During right on red, the pedestrian signal is usually Walk I think, or there’s no pedestrian signal but just a traffic light, or the pedestrian ignores Don’t Walk because the adjacent car lane is green or it’s unclear whether the pedestrian signal is working right and will ever say Walk. Still, I expect cars to watch for pedestrians crossing, as I watch for cars turning right.
By the way, thank you for relating your observations about No Right on Red so clearly and without slamming Seattle. It’s clear that you have thought about the topic and have a valuable and unique way of looking at it.
The same issue with right-on-red also exists at every two-way stop sign, as right is legally equivalent to treating the traffic light like a stop sign.
Fortunately, there is some action you can take as a pedestrian to reduce the risk. Never approach a car from the right to cross in front of it, when the driver has their head glued to the left. Either make eye contact with the driver and don’t go until their face indicates that they see you, or avoid the whole issue simply cross behind the car instead.
All that said, I think it is perfectly reasonable to put up “no turn on red” signs at intersections with heavy pedestrian traffic, as you don’t want turning drivers blocking the crosswalk. But, doing that everywhere, blanketly, seems going a bit too far. Putting up a sign at a few intersections is cheap, doing so at every traffic signal in the entire city seems expensive enough that you have to start looking at opportunity costs. Whatever money is spent putting up “no turn on red” signs could also be spent adding crosswalks or sidewalks to streets that lack them.
“As a pedestrian, I’m more concerned about unprotected left turns that right turns on red.”
The thing with the current obsession with eliminating unprotected turns is, it causes traffic lights to multiply, which uses more electricity. I’m seeing intersections now with probably 10-15 lights, or or some 40 bulbs. In contrast, Vancouver seems to be more frugal with traffic lights. Some on the King George Highwy have only one light each direction for multiple lanes, and they seem to work fine. But the US has been moving toward one light per lane.
Roundabouts! Doesn’t work in a denser urban neighborhood, but in residential Seattle converting arterials intersections to roundabouts would be a big improvement in pedestrian safety. The double roundabouts that are to be installed at 145th street will be a solid improvement over the existing signaled intersections for the on/off ramps. Also work great with roads diagonal to the main street and the tricky 5-way intersections that result.
To be clear, I’m talking about modern roundabouts, often with a mid-street ped refuge so the pedestrian only needs to look 1 direction at a time, not the goofy “unmarked 4 way stop with a random object in the middle of the street” that are everywhere in Seattle (and are fine on local streets where the narrow streets & parked cars provide calming)
“The thing with the current obsession with eliminating unprotected turns is, it causes traffic lights to multiply, which uses more electricity.”
LEDs are much more efficient than their incandescent predecessors. The cost of electricity for traffic lights seems negligible in the grand scheme of things. Safety, traffic flow, construction cost, and pedestrian wait times all rank way above the cost of electricity.
The discussion about right-on-red feels like pedestrian victim blaming. There are plenty of times when I as a pedestrian have a crosswalk signal and despite this have nearly been hit by a driver making a right on red. Here are 2 of them.
1 – perpendicular traffic. Say I’m crossing from the NE corner to the SE corner with a crosswalk signal. That means north/south traffic has a green light. A driver turning right from WB to NB has a red light and could potentially turn right on red. They should be looking in ALL directions, but are likely only looking to their left (towards the south).
2 – leading pedestrian intervals. Seattle has recently implemented this at many intersections. Overall it’s a very good thing for pedestrian safety! But it does mean that the crosswalk signal comes on several seconds before the green light. For that interval, drivers turning right on red need to yield.
The same issue with right-on-red also exists at every two-way stop sign, as right is legally equivalent to treating the traffic light like a stop sign.
“As a pedestrian, I’m more concerned about unprotected left turns that right turns on red.”
Yes, I agree on both points. There is a similarity in all of these cases. Drivers are looking at cars while there is a chance of encountering pedestrians.
There is a tendency to focus on the individuals in these cases. There is something to be said for that. One “solution” would be to make getting a driver’s license a lot more difficult. It is very hard to be a lawyer. In contrast, the bar is set much lower to drive a vehicle that could easily kill someone. If we made driving that difficult, we would have fewer accidents. As mentioned, there are things that pedestrians can do to protect themselves, but not every pedestrian is thinking like that. We can’t possibly expect every pedestrian to master the situation (we don’t have “pedestrian licenses” and if we did, would that mean that 14 year olds wouldn’t be able to walk around town?).
The other solution is to make the streets safer. Treat this like the systemic problem that it is. It is very difficult to become a doctor, just as it is a lawyer. But doctors make mistakes. The system is designed to prevent that, which is why nurses and assistants routinely prevent doctors from making fatal mistakes. The key here is to make the streets safer. So safe that idiot drivers and idiot pedestrians (“the people that we meet each day” as the song goes) don’t kill each other.
Which brings me to AJ’s point:
Roundabouts! To be clear, I’m talking about modern roundabouts,
Agreed. It is very important that they are designed well, otherwise they are very dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists. Here is a discussion and some examples of well designed and poorly designed roundabouts: http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2011/09/every-roundabout-in-assen.html.
Roundabouts are just one tool in the toolbox, but an important one. The fact that they are a relatively recent things in the U. S. just shows how second rate we are when it comes to traffic engineering. This seems so counter-intuitive, given how car-centric we are. But the same thing can be said about other aspects of this country. We have the best doctors and nurses, but a very poor health care system.
I’ve been watching a series of videos put out by “Not Just Bikes”. If you don’t have the time to watch them, I suggest reading the transcripts (although I think the video is useful, unlike talking-head videos). A bunch of them point out how much better the transportation system is in the Netherlands. Many are counter-intuitive, such as this one, about how driving in Holland is better than driving in the U. S. and Canada: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8RRE2rDw4k. Here is one about waiting less at traffic lights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knbVWXzL4-4 (at the 4:15 mark he actually mentions how they don’t have “right on red” there). This is exactly the type of thing that could work in Seattle. A sophisticated set of traffic lights that increase safety, while reducing wait times for pedestrians, bikes, buses and cars.
There isn’t a simple solution for every intersection. It makes sense to copy the Dutch, but not blindly (http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2013/04/the-netherlands-sets-best-example-but.html). The best thing to do is adopt the same priorities. Prioritize pedestrian, bike and transit first. Then, over time, there is less driving, and safer streets. Don’t ignore traffic — adopt strategies that allow cars to move and not get stuck. But don’t put automobile throughput above safety. In the long run, you accomplish neither.
Fortunately, Spotts seems to have those same priorities. Whether he is able to move us in the right direction depends on a lot of other factors, but this is good news.
Allowing right turn on red eliminates idling engines. This improves fuel economy and lowers aggregate tail pipe emissions. We can discuss the trade off vs pedestrian safety but those are the reasons behind the spread of RTOR rules in the 1970 oil embargo days.
The idling engines argument has been repeatedly used over the years to justify prioritizing car throughput over pedestrian and bike safety as good for the environment. For instance, traffic engineers will argue that you can’t add crosswalks because of the extra carbon emissions from cars stopping to let people cross.
Such arguments typically ignore induced demand, or the fact that people with cars deserve a basic right to get around the city without excessive delay.
Hopefully, increasing electrification of vehicle fleets will finally put this argument to bed. An idling electric car emits no noise, no pollution, and consumers only a couple miles of range worth of battery in 30 minutes, even with the A/C running. The act of stopping also emits no brake dust, and actually charges the battery, unlike the gas car counterparts.
But, even without electrification, asking pedestrians to detour several minutes to cross a street to save 10 cars 15 seconds of idling, is just wrong.
“, or the fact that people with cars deserve a basic right to get around the city without excessive delay.”
Typo. Should be without, not with.
“Allowing right turn on red eliminates idling engines. This improves fuel economy and lowers aggregate tail pipe emissions. We can discuss the trade off vs pedestrian safety but those are the reasons behind the spread of RTOR rules in the 1970 oil embargo days.”
I was always told it was about saving time and reducing congestion, but if it’s really about “fuel economy,” great excuse to eliminate right turn on red, it’s not the 70s anymore! Until people stop driving Tonka trucks and 4-5 ton SUVs around, even with record high gas prices, I don’t want to hear a peep about the fuel economy of right turn on red.
This article has some interesting info, especially the percentage of pedestrian fatalities that occurred on 99 and the percentage of deaths in which alcohol was involved by the driver or pedestrian. Deaths have declined sharply since 1975 but spiked in 2021. Anecdotally I have noticed drivers are more aggressive since the pandemic.
When I think of pedestrians killed by turning public transit buses in Seattle, the first two that come to mind were both left turns on green, and the pedestrians were in the crosswalk and had the walk signal. (Fremont and Northgate). So, ban right turns on red, and left turns on green?
Blanked traffic law changes without site specific professional assessments is broadly irresponsible. It’s better to pay closer attention to details at intersections — tree and sign and shrub and pole and signal cabinet blockages for sight distance, signage in bad places, lack of advanced lane indications so people turn without advance notice, etc.
For example, many cities sign every signalized intersection with a hanging name sign over the street so drivers know earlier. Or pavement markings are kept in good order and lane drops (including bicycle lanes and sidewalks/ crosswalks) don’t happen suddenly.
Some cities have aggressive sidewalk monitoring, and require property owners to fix crumbling sidewalks especially when tree roots are involved. Plus, they trim and ticket property owners when invasive species grow and block sidewalks (like blackberry stalks) so people can actually use them without stepping into traffic.
I realize that basic street scape maintenance and better signage and sight distance are not a popular concerns in Seattle. However, it’s rather basic to pedestrian safety generally.
Where Spotts will live in Seattle involves the same issues for any resident:
1. First is cost. Spotts has been in government for at least the last 15 years so I don’t know how much equity he has in a house in LA. But now is not the time to sell or buy (unless you are paying cash). Prices are down because mortgage rates are up, which means if you sell a house with a 2 and 7/8% interest rate for a 6% interest rate for a new home you get much less house for the same monthly payment.
2. It is unlikely Seattle will be Spotts last stop. Zimbabwe’s experience suggests he leaves his bags packed. I remember when some on this blog talked about Zimbabwe like he was the second coming.
These two factors indicate Spotts will rent.
3. If Spotts has kids and a spouse then safety and schools come into play, and I doubt his salary will afford private schools in Seattle.
4. Finally Spotts talks about a “15-minute city”, which today is the antithesis of Seattle. Seattle basically has no downtown core despite the fact Link runs through the downtown core. The one place a “15-minute city” could exist is downtown Seattle, but without the work commuter I don’t see how that is possible, and today’s article in the Seattle Times raises that issue. I am not sure how he addresses the fact Link does not serve First Hill or SLU.
5. Spotts like most transportation heads will find out past councils have ignored major infrastructure costs and he has to sell a new transportation levy or levies. Seattle had around a $276 million budget deficit in 2021 so money will be tight. If there is a recession (and technically there is one now) tax revenue will be even tighter. If R’s take one or both houses this fall Spott’s urbanist vision will lose funding support from the feds. Spotts plays to the progressive press but most of his complaints will come from the silent majority and will be about crummy road conditions. I am sure Harrell remembers the demise of Greg Nickels, and Harrell’s voters are car and roads kinds of folks.
Move Seattle expires in 2024 having funded about half the promised projects. But ST will likely need a SB5528 levy to complete WSBLE around the same time which will be massive. There is $3.5 billion in unfunded bridge repair and replacement no one likes to talk about as though buses and bikes fly.
Then you have Seattle’s destructive politics. Seattle Subway will demand underwater tunnels, activists will demand “equity”, ST will demand a SB5528 levy, and commuters will stay home (or like Lake City demand one seat buses to downtown).
Spotts is a very typical urban planner/urban transportation progressive taking joining a city in a huge financial crunch when unfunded capital projects are included, Bellevue is rising, and society is deurbanizing, at least right now. His list of “accomplishments” in LA is pretty minor when it comes to moving folks out of cars onto transit or walking.
His first “win” will be reopening the West Seattle Bridge, but after that I don’t see many wins. Ideally he lives near Westlake Center or around 3rd and Pine so he understands what Harrell understands: before getting to a “15-minute city” there is a ton of work to do. Ideally he is unmarried or does not have kids because those are the folks a 15-minute city is designed for, but without the work commuter I don’t know if there is revenue for Seattle downtown to regain any kind of retail vibrancy.
Was that rant 7.4.152 or 8.3.117. I get them confused.
Let’s see. Ah yes, 8.3.117, because bullet “1” begins “First is cost.” In 7.4.152 you said “Cost is foremost!”
Wow, that was easier than I thought it would be.
Tom, you constantly seem surprised and dismayed at why decisions are made but have almost no understanding of why. Someone would have to be a moron to have not predicted the 630 (especially after Lake City got one seat buses), and would have to be a moron to think Bellevue and Issaquah won’t get the same pressure from their residents who work on First Hill for the same.
It is ok to disagree with a decision, but if you can’t understand why politically the decision was made, and who controls those politics, you will always be surprised and dismayed. You probably have the least political influence of anyone in King Co. so it is important you understand how those with influence think, or you will never understand.
Well, Counselor, that may be — heck, I’ll throw caution to the winds and go with a simple, “is” — the most completely non sequitur reply you’ve yet made here. I don’t give a rodent’s fundament whether you or anybody else ever rides the 630 bus to Seattle. Ever.
If the Mercer Island City Council is so exercised about the fate of a score or two of Pill Hill health care workers — ones who, let it be noted, must work very reliable shifts in order to use the thing — and the rest of the Good Burgers [sic] of Mercer Island want to keep electing them, well, that’s Democracy, folks.
But it might behoove otherwise disinterested observers not to plan Armageddon for Sound Transit based on it.
Indeed, what was happening was that I was snarking on the toweringly boring predictability of your “emanations”, “bloviations” or just plain old “essays”.
However you name them . They’re Top 40’s Hits from the Guy Lombardo Orchestra, spinning around and around and around and a…… zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Lake City is one of the most densely populated places in the state. It has a one seat ride to a parking lot at Northgate. I’m not sure why that compares to the 630? I know parking lots are apparently viewed as a major attraction by some, but I would imagine the 630 isn’t delivering Mercer Island residents to First Hill due to the beautiful parking lots there.
Glenn: the Thompson point about Lake City is that Metro implemented routes 320 and 322 in fall 2021, duplicating Link; they provide one-seat rides between Lake City and SLU and First Hill, respectively. The two-way all-day routes 20 and 75 do connect Lake City and Link (and the parking that has not been converted to housing yet).
“The one place a “15-minute city” could exist is downtown Seattle,”
Not true. Capitol Hill, U district, Queen Anne, Wallingford, Fremont, etc. There are lots of parts of the city where you can meet your daily needs within a 15 minute walk, outside of downtown.
In fact, I don’t think downtown is even the best part of the city for “15 minute” amenities. Unless you count Target or Pike Place Market, there is no grocery store. If you have kids, there is no school. Most of the downtown restaurants are open for weekday lunch only. And then, there’s the whole after-dark safety thing. Sure, downtown has the best *bus* options of anywhere in the city, but a car free person would generally do much better in a neighborhood near downtown than downtown, itself. Because, it’s the walking, not the bus, that represents your everyday trips.
Well, if you are talking about many different “15-minute cities” outside the downtown core that is different than what I understood a 15-minute city (in the singular) to be, and somewhat the opposite.
With that definition, “downtown” Mercer Island would qualify since you can walk the town center in any direction in 15 minutes and meet all your daily needs, there are sidewalks and bike lanes, there is lots of multi-family housing, two large, excellent grocery stores, doctors and dentists, pharmacies, access to transit off the Island, restaurants and bars, and school buses to good schools. In fact just about every eastside commercial district from Issaquah to Kirkland would qualify as a 15-minute “city”.
“In fact, I don’t think downtown is even the best part of the city for “15 minute” amenities.”
That is the problem IMO. I don’t think Queen Anne or Mercer Island should be the “15-minute city” Spotts was referring to, although he does come from LA and the commercial sprawl in LA has essentially created hundreds of “15-minute cities” without any real core like a European city (or San Francisco) which try to consolidate the commercial and retail in one area to create true retail density.
IMO downtown Seattle should have more vibrancy — and be more of a 15 minute city — than downtown Mercer Island, and by dispersing all the retail and restaurant businesses throughout the city we have essentially created a minnie LA. that requires someone to drive to get from one “15-minute city” to another in a different residential neighborhood rather than one consolidated commercial and retail core downtown. That is just my preference, and I understand many on this blog prefer the satellite 15-minute cities spread throughout the city more.
I know on this blog it is a common debate: a single European style commercial/retail core or many different satellite “15-minute cities”. Personally I would like the main regional city — downtown Seattle — to be one main commercial/retail core that has true retail density than to have it dispersed throughout the city like a dozen Mercer Island’s.
Yes, my understanding of “15-minute city” is about having a full day’s worth of trips contained within a 15 minute radius, which most people would consider a single neighborhood. A 15-minute city would be a city where the vast majority of residents live within neighborhoods that are “15 minutes”
So yes, I would consider MI’s town center a 15-minute neighborhood, for the small number of people who happen to live and work on the island, as it has a grocery store, post office, library, etc.
To refine the point, the idea of a “15-minute city” is that the majority of everyone’s needs are within 15 minutes of them, without driving or taking transit. Basically, allowing for the sort of natural urban development that happened before the advent of Modernism and centralized planning.
Like you say, Seattle’s neighborhoods are its charm – and almost all of the charming neighborhoods are ones that developed before restrictive central planning, and thus have little commercial cores that contain most of a neighborhood’s needs.
It’s funny that you think that it’s inefficient to have everyone commuting in and out of a central business district every day, but you think it would be most efficient to have everyone travelling to the same commercial core everyday for goods and services.
I get what you are saying Nathan, and to some extent you have to differentiate Seattle’s residential neighborhoods which I do think are the crown jewel of Seattle.
There is only so much retail an area’s population can support. I can see the point of UGA’s, and neighborhoods like Capitol Hill becoming 15-minute cities, but for most of Seattle’s neighborhoods I don’t think there is enough retail for them to become 15 minute cities, especially as you get farther from the core.
The point of an urban core like downtown San Francisco is the incredible retail density. I like that. A lot of European cities are like that. It’s all in one place. But I also can see how some like the LA model in which there really isn’t a main core, but hundreds of 15-minute cities or communities spread throughout a huge area.
Mercer Island I guess is a 15-minute city, and I could get all my daily needs there (and I can walk from my SFH zone to the town center) but that really isn’t my idea of a “city” core, and I really wouldn’t want to spend my life getting all my daily needs there. I want greater retail and restaurant density and variety. I want a true city to visit, if not to live full time. I don’t think many neighborhoods could support a Nordstrom or Macy’s, although I guess U Village is pretty retail dense.
I think though the satellite 15-minute cities or neighborhoods are the future with the loss of the work commuter to urban cores, in part because I don’t think enough citizens will choose to live in that urban core if they don’t work there, unless it is New York or San Francisco. So Seattle’s UGA’s are probably the future, although I find much of the UGA’s to be pretty lame when it comes to retail and restaurant density, at least compared to a true city center.
What Tom was missing in my zoning desire is that zones often exclude uses in order to condense them someplace else, like retail and restaurants. It is tempting to want a zone to have a wonderful mix of everything — SFH, multi-family home, commercial, retail and restaurants — but the reality is that is very hard to pull off, and so you often end up with a mish mash of things, not unlike Mercer Island’s town center, which IMO is a 15-minute “city” in name only.
King Co. Council’s subcommittee on affordable housing is working on draft policies to require more affordable housing in cities based on last year’s law passed by the legislature. You can also watch the video of the most recent meeting of the subcommittee.
The GMPC set housing targets through 2044 last year. This subcommittee is basically trying to figure out how to break those housing targets down into affordable housing targets based on AMI, and whether to increase housing targets. If you type in your city, you will see options 1, 2 and 3 and how each would result in different affordable housing targets based on AMI. The subcommittee has not decided on which option, and option 3 is still in work
So far the cities in King Co. don’t seem too thrilled. Many see these targets as unfunded mandates. For example, Mercer Island would need to subsidize 554 0% to 30% units, which is basically impossible due to the cost of the land and the city’s lack of finances. My ballpark figure would put the cost at $300 million.
The problem with this exercise is the state and county don’t want to help fund any of the housing, and the cities don’t have the money because the state and county hog all the tax revenue. Plus the subcommittee is hopelessly ideological without a lick of building or development sense, and don’t understand builders don’t build “affordable” housing (which in some eastside cities can be 500% AMI) without public subsidies, and even then they don’t like to build cheap publicly subsidized housing because their goal is profit.
In September the cities will weigh in after option 3 is fleshed out. This exercise is typical of state and county politicians who want to look like they are doing something about affordable housing, but have someone else pay for it which means it won’t work (unless of course voters in cities throughout the county vote for huge levies to build 0% to 30% affordable housing in their city), or vote to develop their parks.
“Affordable” housing means SUBSIDIZED housing, and the very first rule of affordable housing is you begin with the least expensive property because then you can build more units with the same amount of money. I don’t think this subcommittee quite understands that, or who will pay.
I should have added that if you click on the second tab on the top, “options comparison bar charts” you can then select your city to see how options 1, 2 and 3 work, and compare different cities.
Dude, who lives in San Francisco’s urban core? The burn-outs in the Tenderloin do, and a few thousand folks still actually sleeping in Chinatown. A couple of hundred thousand crowd into SoMa south of I-80 these days and there are a LOT of folks on Nob Hill, but those are not the core. It is widely understood to be bounded by Powell/Fifth, Broadway, Embarcadero and I-80 (really Harrison).
San Francisco is a city of hundreds of ten-minute neighborhoods, though it’s true you’ll have to go to Daly City for your Home Improvement supplies.
“I can see the point of UGA’s, and neighborhoods like Capitol Hill becoming 15-minute cities”
Capitol Hill has been a 15-minute city for a hundred years; it didn’t have to become one recently.
Downtown Bellevue and Northgate have accumulated enough amenities to be somewhat self-contained. Downtown Mercer Island, maybe, but I’d reserve the term for larger and more pedestrian-oriented areas. It’s also odd to say Mercer Island has a 15-minute city when probably 90% of the residents can’t walk to it, only a small number of people can really benefit from it, and 99% of the residents probably drive anyway most of the time.
Areas I’ve noticed that have become more self-contained in the past twenty years include downtown Kirkland, Ballard, and the West Seattle Junction area.
It’s not “spreading out the businesses to all the neighborhoods”, it’s adding more businesses. Some things are unique and people will come from other neighborhoods for them. Some of these it makes sense to concentrate downtown because that’s what downtowns is for. The main department stores used to be in downtowns. Other things, every neighborhood should have one of. Every neighborhood should have a supermarket, library, park, gym, medical clinic, etc. You shouldn’t have to go downtown or to another neighborhood for those things. Residential-only areas are the worst because you have to go to another neighborhood for all of them, and there’s often not frequent transit to get there on.
“Seattle had around a $276 million budget deficit in 2021 so money will be tight.”
Huh? Where are you pulling that figure from? The last I checked, the city increased its net position by some $900+ million in 2021, with slightly more than half of that coming from the governmental activities side of the ledger.
Tisgwm, are you counting in the $232 million in federal Covid stimulus for 2021 and 2022? I believe it was 2020 the city faced an approx. $274 million deficit, passed the payroll tax, and then used Covid funds.
I’m not sure what “15-minute city” means, but I take it to mean lots of destinations within walking distance, and lots of transit routes at 5-15 minute frequency. By the walking definition, the U-District is a 15-minute city. Capitol Hill/First Hill is, especially if you extend it to downtown. Ballard has become more of one than it was when I left it in 2003. We need to have more of those and expand them. Ideally, the entire city would be like that. My friend who lived in Granada, Spain, said it was like that. Barcelona has a similar concept with pedestrianized “superblocks” with a variety of amenities between arterials.
Transit frequency is another important thing. A walkshed has so many destinations, but a transitshed has many more. A good transitshed has more than a bad transitshed. We need to get Seattle’s bus service back to 2019 levels and beyond. Restore the 10-minute corridors like the 44, 45, 48, 65, and 67. All non-coverage routes should run at least every 15 minutes until 10pm like RapidRide. That’s now to make transit the most usable and make the most destinations accessible without a car.
“Ideally he is unmarried or does not have kids because those are the folks a 15-minute city is designed for”
Have you forgotten The Netherlands and the Not Just Bikes video? Practically everyone walks, bikes, or takes transit to most of their destinations. Not just people without kids. Some people move to The Netherlands so they can have that experience with kids. We could do that here. Much of The Netherland’s work on it has only been since the 1970s when they turned away from prioritizing cars.
I’m not sure what “15-minute city” means
You can find answers to these and many more questions by reading Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/15-minute_city
I shouldn’t have to go to a third party for a definition of something discussed on STB, and I can’t be sure that others are understanding it the same way as a third-party reference. There’s a Wikipedia article on BRT and various BRT levels, but that’s no guarantee that others using the term have read that article or are using it the same way.
Thanks for the link Ross. It was a very interesting read. It sounds like the 15-minute city is a fairly new concept.
I think the mistake Mike and I make is conflating a 15 or 20 minute “city” with “urbanism”, which makes it hard to reconcile the fact downtown Mercer Island and Paris can both be 15-minute cities.
The key is the 15-minute city is not talking about residential density but commercial and retail density, and the 15 or 20 minute radius includes bikes and transit. If MI had any kind of intra-Island transit most citizens could access the downtown within 15 minutes. Same with bikes although most residents don’t use bikes for their daily need trips since you can’t carry much on a bike.
I wonder how online purchasing affects the 15-minute city. For example, the south end of Mercer Island has a small shopping center. It has a great QFC, Rite Aid, gas station, bank, two restaurants, dry cleaner, and a few offices. You couldn’t get all your daily needs there, but with online purchasing you could. Really when it comes down to it the only things you can’t get delivered is society and maybe in person health care.
There are always stories about Parisiens who never leave their arrondissement their entire life. I suppose in the future we will hear about folks who never leave their house or apartment their whole lives.
I shouldn’t have to go to a third party for a definition of something discussed on STB
You should if you don’t know what it means. The fact that there is a Wikipedia entry for it shows that it is a common concept. A lot of people know what it means, and don’t need an explanation.
I can’t be sure that others are understanding it the same way as a third-party reference.
No, of course not. But you could say the same thing in any discussion (“It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is”). I’m just saying that if you aren’t sure what it means, look it up. I do that with words all the time and of course get multiple definitions. If I think there is some reason that a word or phrase is misunderstood, I emphasize one particularly meaning. But in this case, I don’t think there is any ambiguity.
The Wikipedia definition is not just a random source of information any more than the Oxford dictionary is just assigning random meanings of words. In this case the concept is quite clear and well-researched (as you would expect from the greatest encyclopedia ever created). After removing the footnotes and history behind the term it is the following:
A 15-minute city is a residential urban concept in which most daily necessities can be accomplished by either walking or cycling from residents’ homes. 15-minute cities are built from a series of 5-minute neighborhoods, also known as complete communities or walkable neighborhoods. The concept has been described as a “return to a local way of life”.
I see no ambiguity there — it is quite clear.
“The key is the 15-minute city is not talking about residential density but commercial and retail density,” aye, but you need the residential density to support the commercial and retail density in a walkable form, so ultimately you need all 3. An exception could perhaps be a tourist destination with a large amount of day-visitors, or a business district that has a large amount of workers extending into weekends & evenings but sparse housing.
It depends AJ on what you consider residential density. As I noted most of MI is SFH only, but does have multi-family housing in the commercial center (which is unusual) and surrounding multi-family housing. But a majority of Islanders could get to the town center within fifteen minutes if it had transit, or they decided to bike (especially now with E-bikes since the Island can be hilly)).
Residential density doesn’t affect whether the commercial area is dense and “walkable”. Zoning does that by concentrating retail. If retail were allowed anywhere on MI there would be no retail density and MI would not be a 15-minute city.
The key is whether the commercial area is walkable. To be a fifteen-minute city just means someone can get there by bike, foot or transit within fifteen minutes and then meet their daily needs on foot or bike. Even though MI is probably around 80% SFH only zone geographically its 26,000 residents support a 15-minute walkable commercial/retail area where a resident can walk and get all their daily needs (unless of course you have to carry stuff like groceries, dog food, stuff from the hardware store like soil, and so on).
“Mercer Island is the most populated island in a lake in the US”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercer_Island,_Washington It is only around 6 miles long and 16.5 miles in circumference.
You can have lots of residential density but not have a 15-minute walkable city, especially in poor areas. The key is enough retail density so someone walking or biking can meet all their daily needs within 15 minutes in a commercial/retail core end to end. That is achieved by zoning, and in part by the wealth of the surrounding residents. The link Ross provided shows you don’t need the residential density of a Paris to be a 15-minute city. That was the mistake Mike and I were making in trying to conflate a 15-minute walkable city with urbanism which is what you are talking about.
“You should if you don’t know what it means.”
It’s the responsibility of the writer to clarify terms that aren’t widely used in STB. I try to do that, and if somebody doesn’t understand one of my terms, I’d explain it. I didn’t think “15-minute city” was common enough or precise enough to have a Wikipedia entry. I’ve only heard it a couple times several months ago, so little that I couldn’t remember quite what it meant. It seemed to be similar to Jarrett Walker’s “access to places”, meaning the number and variety of destinations/jobs within a walkshed or transitshed.
If Spotts has kids and a spouse then safety and schools come into play, and I doubt his salary will afford private schools in Seattle.
Why would he send his kids to private school, given the very high quality of Seattle public schools? That makes no sense. I could see that in some school districts (where they lack funding) but that isn’t Seattle, and hasn’t been for a long time. I really think you have no clue as to what is actually going on in Seattle, since you haven’t lived there for a long time. Things have changed. I literally can’t remember the last time we failed to pass a school levy, even though it was common back in the day.
Seattle basically has no downtown core despite the fact Link runs through the downtown core.
See my last paragraph. Yes, it is true that back in the day, very few people lived downtown. At 7:00 PM, downtown was essentially vacant. Now things have changed. Instead of just being just a commercial hub, it has a lot more housing. The big growth started at Belltown, then spread to South Lake Union, then to other parts of downtown. It is actually a reversal towards more of what existed back in the day, but with taller housing. You can see a lot of that housing going up all the time. To be clear, it is still a major commercial hub — bigger than ever — but there is a lot more housing as well.
Ross, yes! Well said.
So far as the school levies reliably passing, all the Republicans moved to MI, Bellevue or Daniel’s favorite exemplar, Issaquah. Ipso facto, levies now pass.
Tom, school levies do not fail on the eastside. In fact Mercer Island just passed a very large school levy last February. The entire point of McCleary was the wealthy districts pass local levies for general education and the poor districts do not. McCleary originated in my wife’s school dist. in Chimacum, and the reason levies failed there was because the retirees who retired to Port Ludlow always voted no on school levies despite being fairly wealthy.
One thing some don’t understand is local school levies cannot be used for general education after McCleary. So these levies are either O&M or for special education. All general education funding now comes from the state and depends on student enrollment.
Another little twist is although nearly every public school system has lost students since the pandemic, especially Seattle, the legislature allowed school districts to use 2019 enrollment levels to set the rate for new levies which inflated most — like MI’s, by around 15%. Like MI my guess is the legislature assumed school districts would “borrow” against the special levy for general education to avoid steep cuts until long term enrollment patterns are sorted out, which is what MI will likely do.
That may have been part of it. Seattle has become increasingly left leaning. Much of that is simply because we have urbanized (in general, urban areas lean to the left, as they become more sophisticated). For example, gay rights — a clear positive evolution in society — did not arise from the countryside, it came from the city.
But a lot of it is that Seattle just got a lot wealthier. School district funding is unfair across the country because of local funding. Poor cities have to choose between poor schools or paying a much higher proportion of their wealth/income on schools. Seattle schools are well funded for the same reason that Mercer Island schools are well funded — they can afford it.
Has Seattle gotten more left-leaning? If so, is the influx of tech workers and high-income professionals a significant reason for it? I’d say it’s more that politics itself got more polarized and extreme after 1990, and that affected Seattle as well as the rest of the region and country.
When I was a teenager in the late 70s, there were still remnants of the 1960s counterculture that had been strong in Seattle. But the overall city was moderate, liberal in some ways, conservative in others. There wasn’t a large difference between Republicans and Democrats. My family was Republican because my dad’s landowner/country-club heritage prevailed over my mom’s union-worker heritage, simply because woman were “Mrs [Husband’s Name]” then. But we voted for individuals, not a party ticket. That’s part of Washington’s moderateness too.
White flight brought the segregationists to the suburbs, and those wanting a larger individual lot over a sense of community, or who thought community could be maintained in a car-dependent environment. They were both Republicans and Democrats, because there wasn’t a large difference between the two.
Now the suburbs are the swing areas, and the strong Republican areas are the exurbs and rural areas. “Exurb” wasn’t even a term before the 1990s, when Issaquah, Woodinville, and Spanaway were small towns or transitioning from rural. I think Bellevue is majority Democratic now.
You can see for yourself how Bellevue voted in Biden vs. Trump (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/upshot/2020-election-map.html). Bellevue is very blue, as is the entire eastside. Even exurbs, such as Maple Valley, Snoqualmie Ridge, and Duvall are all blue. (The fact that the “blue area” around the city center extends so far out, in areas without a large black population, is very atypical in this country, but it’s enough to swing statewide elections into the “safely blue” column).
For Seattle itself, I think the real question about “has the city moved left” is not Democrats vs. Republicans, but progressive Democrats vs. moderate Democrats. In that regard, I think the city has definitely moved left over the last 10 years, but they may have moved too far left, causing the 2021 election to produce something of a backlash.
We’ll have to see what happens going forward.
Guys in General, for clarification I was talking about the 1970’s when “turn out the lights” was a non-funny joke and busing was rampant and the 1980’s when Seattle began morphing from an industrial/aerospace city of very middle class people to what it is now. I think that’s a reasonable interpretation of Ross’s “back in the day” remark.
The people who moved away, resulting in a change of the electorate, were largely NOT Democrats.
Yes, the Eastside is deeply Blue now, mostly because of the tech influx and that most people in Puget Sound don’t want to be lumped together with the lumpen proletariat of the modern GOP.
Trump has ruined everything by giving his followers permission to act out in the basest ways their collective Id can envision. Nobody working at a tech firm wants to be — or, indeed, can afford to be — associated with those Yahoos.
This will be interesting.
1. Finally, Harrell has hired someone with field supervisory experience! Even though he was just a sustainability officer, he did get projects underway and completed to some extent. That’s important. SDOT has had lots of “dreamers” who underbudgeted projects because they didn’t know better. We still pay for these mistakes now from the stalled CCC to the snail’s pace FHSC. Here’s hoping this one is not quite as clueless about assuming silly cost estimates, construction difficulties and staff recommendations.
2. Some maintenance involvement is also good. It will take a year, but as Harrell approaches re-election, Street maintenance will be more important. That includes cleaning, striping upkeep and signage.
3. LA is a different regulatory environment. As such, I see the two big differences are inter-agency cooperation and development of many alternatives before choosing one. It’s very different than Seattle’s — where SDOT pushed Madison hard until Metro had other ideas, or how ST3 dropped in a multi-billion DSTT2 without first studying alternatives that may work better — like shorter automated trains and stations, serving First Hill or transfer stations that could be at another station besides Westlake. Here’s hoping he doesn’t rubber stamp project ideas too flippantly.
I always begin these tenures hoping for the best. However, I wonder how he will work in Seattle’s “my backroom way only” approach to project development. Will he be able to question some of the many recent fiascos in development by expanding alternatives and getting “real” about construction chats and challenges, or will he then end up in private disputes with elected officials who think that limiting choices to a few — and sometimes only one — alternative? Time will tell.
“.. or will he then end up in private disputes with elected officials who think that limiting choices to a few — and sometimes only one — alternative IS NORMAL AND PREFERRED?”
I think he’ll do fine in Seattle’s political process – LA is no paragon of transparency, and if anything, has a stronger car-brain than Seattle does. I think Harrell picked him because Spotts’ resume is very car oriented, with his most impactful project deliveries being the CoolStreets and increased tree canopy projects. However, I’m hoping that Spotts’ apparent true interest in sustainability will motivate him to push SDOT to diverge from the status quo in a significant way. The Seattle Transportation Plan will end up being his legacy, whether he likes it or not.
Nathan, my comment is nothing to do about being pro-car or anti-car. It’s about the process and not the ideology.
Do you really think the Seattle Process would matter if he wanted to get any car-oriented project done? They sure figured out how to fix the West Seattle Bridge quickly even though transit and trucks seemed to do fine crossing the low bridge.
Ideology always matters.
Here is an example, Nathan: The LAX People Mover.
The alternatives involve different alignments with transfers at different stations. They blended light rail and APM changes. The post was when they went from 6 to 4 alternatives. They began with 17 I believe.
Transit line studies for the Sepulveda Line, Crenshaw North and the Santa Ana Branch downtown connections all have had wide variations in alternatives — technologies and transfer and end points.
These are all rail transit projects in LA. There is no car alternative with any of these. Once LA decides something is a good project and has funding, they still look at abroad array of solutions.
But not Seattle. Seattle locked in DSTT2 without even a detailed study. Seattle locked in a Midtown Station and Westlake as the transfer from the outset.
Al, I’m talking about a guy who worked for StreetsLA, not LA Metro; we’re talking about a guy who will be working for SDOT, not Sound Transit or the Port of Seattle.
The People Mover is being built by LAX. LA Metro is super-juiced by Measure M. LA Metro also builds LA’s freeways.
LA just installed their first bus lane a couple years ago – look up MyFigueroa for an example of a project that would have been a shoe-in for any other city than LA.
Repairing the West Seattle bridge doesn’t have any NIMBY objections because it’s not consuming any land that wasn’t already freeway to begin with. Plus, the “neighbors” are all industrial land.
By contrast, widening 520 absolutely *did* go through a ton of Seattle Process, so, yes, it does affect car projects also. In a few cases, the Seattle Process managed to halt freeway development altogether. Original Robert Moses plans called for the entire Seattle arboretum to be paved over, for example (Google “R. H. Thompson Expressway for more details).
There was a puff piece on Spotts and “15 minute neighborhoods” on KIRO radio yesterday. I am not sure Spotts understands his new job.
According to Spotts there are 99 neighborhoods in LA. He believes each should have a major grocery store, park and school system to be self contained and. a 15 minute neighborhood. How to get from one 15 minute neighborhood to another, or to just get to a 15 minute commercial zone, were not issues.
What does that have to do with SDOT? How do you force a grocery chain to put a major grocery store in a neighborhood that doesn’t have one? How do you retrofit a park into an “urban” neighborhood? Or a school system or health care facility? Who wants to limit themselves to one neighborhood. That sounds like small town America to me.
15 minute city was coined in 2016. It strikes me as another urban planning buzzword from the faculty lounge that is untethered to reality, and not something you can just create. Who doesn’t want vibrant retail density near where they live? How to get that is another question (and those who do know retail think it begins with cars and parking).
If Spotts wants to understand his job then study past SDOT budgets for priorities. Roads and bridges, then some transit, some overpriced Move Seattle projects, unused bike lanes.
Nathan is correct. It is called the Seattle Transportation Dept. Not trees or parks or urban planning. If 90% of trips including freight are by cars and trucks, and buses run on roads and bridges and carry way more riders than Link guess what Spotts’ job will entail? Imagine when ST asks Spotts to sell a $7 billion SB5528 levy for WSBLE that will exhaust levy capacity in Seattle for decades and Spotts will think is a very stupid transir project and he fallen down the rabbit hole. Wouldn’t it be interesting if Spotts was the one to note WSBLE has no clothes.
Harrell’s decision to publicly fire Zimbabwe and hire someone (white/male) from LA says it all. Spotts is not the urbanism messiah, and Harrell is not interested in an urbanism messiah going rogue as head of SDT. That is why he fired Zimbabwe.
Here is the new reality post pandemic and post $232 million in pandemic stimulus money: if Seattle citizens want something more than better roads and bridges and buses they will have to pay separately for it, whether WSBLE or Move Seattle 2.0, or should I say the second half of Move Seattle 1.0. Harrell is not anti car or road or bridge. West Seattle taught him that. Just the opposite because that is how his voters feel. Unless The Urbanist endorsed Harrell and I missed it.
Anecdote about 15-minute city: An elderly Jewish woman says, “Why would I want to go to Man-HA-ttan? I’ve got everything I need in Brooklyn Heights.”
The idea of a 15-minute city is that a large percent of residents, living in many different neighborhoods, have a good minimum set of things within walking distance of their residence. So it should be a goal for LA and for every city. It’s not in a vacuum: LA has transit between neighborhoods, and it has improved significantly since the 1990s. The issue is simply that it’s better to have these things within walking distance of everyone than to not have them. That implies some minimum amount of density and mixing residential and non-residential, but it’s not necessarily high-density. As Jeff Speck says, focus on the pedestrian and everything else falls into place. If you make a place good for pedestrians, you make it good for everyone.
Obviously, it’s very difficult to put this into an area of only large-lot houses, where a 10-minute walk gets you past only ten houses, but we can start with the easier middle areas, and get to the hardest areas last. If we upgrade only the middle areas and higher, that’s still a substantial percentage of residents that have access to those things in their neighborhood, so it’s a good thing. Areas in Seattle that would be good for that are northeast Seattle, Mt Baker, neighborhoods with only one convenience store among houses, etc.
Delridge is a partial success story. In the past it had hardly any businesses for several miles between Avalon Way and White Center. It was a food desert. In the past few years some businesses are starting to fill in. It’s not near a 15-minute city yet, but it’s better than it was.
There’s no conflict between being a transportation director and having a vision of pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods. It takes a whole city to make pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods, but each department should be committed to a good wholistic vision like that and do its part. In Delridge’s case, the biggest transportation component is RapidRide H.
Nathan, do you understand the structural local government differences between Seattle and Los Angeles when it comes to project development? Do you understand that in Los Angeles the City has about 30% of the representation on the MTA Board (4 of 13 voting members), which wears the sales tax allocation and both rail and bus transit construction and operations hats?
It’s not like Seattle where each agency often does what it wants mostly unilaterally.
While it is true that he worked for LA Streets, the intertwining of the agency with MTA is much more involved than what Seattle has. LA is like going more to a shared platter restaurant rather than Seattle where everyone orders their own entree. LA Streets projects often must get funding and approval from LA MTA.
SDOT cannot force a grocery store to locate in a particular location, but they can do things to make walking to an existing grocery store quicker and easier. For example, they can add crosswalks along arterial streets or build more staircases to decrease the walking distance. They can also choose to think about pedestrians in controlling their traffic signals, so don’t get dinged with a 5 minute wait because you were 100 milliseconds too late in lunging forward to push a beg button.
Stuff like this is why an SDOT director who cares about the concept of a 15-minute city matters.
And, no, a 15 minute city does not mean never, ever leaving your neighborhood. It simply means not being forced to leave your neighborhood for basic necessities.
“And, no, a 15 minute city does not mean never, ever leaving your neighborhood. It simply means not being forced to leave your neighborhood for basic necessities.”
There’s also a subway from Brooklyn Heights to Manhattan and it’s busy. The U-District has Link to Capitol Hill, downtown, and Roosevelt, and buses every 15 minutes (hopefully 10 again someday) in all directions. Some people can meet most of their needs in the neighborhood, and some even work in the neighborhood too, but there are still a lot of people leaving the neighborhood for one reason or another because that’s what happens in a city: there are a lot of aggregated trips both within and outside the neighborhood. Even if that woman never goes to Manhattan (and she probably does occasionally), others in her family or around her go to Manhattan often. The point is that they don’t have to leave the neighborhood for everything.
15 minute city was coined in 2016. It strikes me as another urban planning buzzword from the faculty lounge that is untethered to reality, and not something you can just create. Who doesn’t want vibrant retail density near where they live? How to get that is another question (and those who do know retail think it begins with cars and parking).
Wow. It’s like you really don’t understand the concept at all. Again, here is the Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/15-minute_city. Retail in Paris does not begin with cars and parking.
You really have it backwards. Moreno drew inspiration from Jacobs. The idea of a 15-minute city is really nothing new, and similar to the way cities functioned for thousands of years. It is only with the advent of the automobile that cities thought they could try something radical — something untethered to reality, something you can just create. That is isolation of uses based on the automobile, not walking distance.
Oh, I get it. I’m sure Jacobs felt the same sort of scorn you describe. Against urban renewal and slum clearance? Opposed to new freeways? Get real, lady. Of course history proved she was right, and Robert Moses was wrong.
Seattle would benefit from having Aldi or Lidl like grocery stores in neighborhoods than a large Safeway. Or even having smaller format stores like Carrefour or Tesco Express . Most Aldi’s are around 10,000 sq ft in terms of sales floor space which is small but very functional for a medium to high density neighborhood to use.
The problem with small grocery stores is small store implies a limited selection. Which means if you don’t eat the most popular foods, you’re out of luck. A full-sized Safeway or QFC offers many more choices, so if you like some dish that only 3% of the population also likes, there’s some chance that it might be there.
Nor are small stores necessary for them to be numerous enough to be able to walk to one of them. If you look at the map, just about every urban village in Seattle (and even on the Eastside) has some supermarket within walking distance. In 11 years of living without a car, I walked to stores like Whole Foods and QFC. I didn’t bother to visit the corner store that was slightly closer because it had a limited selection and didn’t have many of the things I needed.
Of course, if is possible to go too extreme the other direction (cough, Costco), but most regular grocery stores aren’t that big.
So I think the notion that small grocery stores have a limited selection is kind of a bit of a misnomer and perception that I think we do need to break.
In my experience, the smaller format stores when I was in Europe are fairly well stocked with everything you need in terms of food staples and catering to local tastes with specific local items. When living in Florence, I had a Conad City down the street from my apartment. Which is basically a city market which took up about 3800 sq ft of retail space and small backroom. It had produce, dairy, meat & fish counters, bakery, ready made meals, cheese & cured meats counter, freezer section, health and beauty, cleaning and house supplies, snacks, alcohol, etc. How they accomplish this despite having a small space is having a one way route in and out of the store. Each section is small, seasonal in the case of produce and fish. I think it could work in the states with some tweaking in terms of ADA but it would otherwise would be feasible thing to do. I also think it could limit food waste as it would change shopping habits to be one of where you’re shopping for a day or two at a time instead of for a week or month. That’s not to say that monthly shopping isn’t a thing in Europe but I’d argue it’s more of a thing when living farther out in the suburbs from what I’ve seen as they usually have the larger shops or concepts similar to Freddy’s from my experience father outside the city center.
Another thing did pop in my head and that was the area around the grocery store was an urban village in a way. Besides the supermarket there a specialty grocer for Asian ingredients, a small convenience shop, and a 99 euro cent store. Communal trash and recycle center for locals to dispose of their trash instead of leaving it out on the street for trash pickup. Post office with bank atm. Local café, ice cream shop, food trucks, local bank, furniture store, bookshop, luggage shop, fashion and clothing boutiques, communal center for weekly and monthly farmers market/antiques. Home and Beauty shop and Pharmacy with after hours vending machine for personal care products. Farther down the road was a hardware and home goods store that was next to local open air market for the Eastern side of Florence similar in set up to Pike’s Place Market.
“about pedestrians in controlling their traffic signals, so don’t get dinged with a 5 minute wait because you were 100 milliseconds too late in lunging forward to push a beg button.”
One reason pedestrians sometimes ignore Don’t Walk signs, because the adjacent car lane is green but the the ped signal will only turn green if you’ve pressed it before the car lane turns green so you’d have to wait a whole other cycle. Which raises the question of why have ped signals in those situations in the first place.
Getting back on topic…
I think it’s helpful to review what all the SDOT Director is responsible for in this very large department. There are ten divisions with their own functions and missions, headed up by the various division directors and chiefs who report to the SDOT Director. So, yeah, it’s a big job and it got even bigger recently when parking enforcement was moved to the department. Reviewing the city’s 2022 adopted budget, one sees the impact of this change from a headcount and budget perspective:
2021 – 961 (959 FTEs)
2022 – 1,118 (1,116.5 FTEs)
Citywide Positions in Total
2021 – 12,788 (12,473.7 FTEs)
2022 – 13,030 (12,719.3 FTEs)
P.S. The org chart is pretty interesting. For example, I never knew the SDOT Director had a Chief-of-Staff and Deputy CoS employed within the department.
I wonder if he’ll be arriving to a mostly empty SDOT headquarters due to work from home.
Is parking enforcement using drones now? I guess they could if Amazon is making a go at deliveries using their Scouts and now drones.
Hi guys from my summer home in a 15 minute village, on an island in BC., Alert Bay.
Please give the new guy a break when he takes over.
The head of BC Ferries just got fired due to too many cancellations and crew shortages. It’s getting almost impossible to get on and off of Vancouver Island, thank goodness Blackball Ferry still lives.
I know this forum is an echo chamber but anyone who claims “Zimbabwe has done a good job”, “SDOT having 2 stars out of 5 is due to fake news” are delusional.
Look at the state of Seattle’s transportation and projects… Move Seattle achieved <50% of goals, stupid 25 mph speed limit that no one obeys, the most terrible and unmaintained road and sidewalks in the whole region.
SDOT is the worst city department in an already-badly run city. The only competitor is the Parks department whose hands were tied on the homeless issue.
With the growing number of people putting up tents that block entire wide sidewalks these days (forcing pedestrians out into the street), the SPD attitude of ignoring the problem (I watched an SPD car drive right by one without stopping this past week) kind of puts them on the failure list too.
Move Seattle was orchestrated by his predecessor. It was Kubly who either didn’t realize or completely ignored the fact that the proposals couldn’t be done based on the proposed levy. Likewise, it was Kubly who ignored the state of the bridges and our infrastructure. Zimbabwe slowly fixed these problems, and we are seeing progress on all fronts.
As for the parks department, the increase in homelessness in the parks is simply due to the increase in homelessness overall. This was caused by a rapid increase in the cost of housing. The rapid increase in housing cost was caused by a huge increase in employment, and no corresponding increase in housing. To be clear, housing increased, but not at the level of employment. In other words, supply increased, but it didn’t match the increase in demand. One of the big reasons that supply did not increase is because of the outdated zoning regulations (which act as a cartel, limiting the number of places that can add more units). There have always been homeless people in parks, but with better zoning we would have fewer in the parks, and fewer in the city.
Your tiring, often-repeated talking points on homeless are untrue and have been debunked many times by people outside the echo chamber. A lot of cities have housing price and supply issues in the country… If you look at it globally, US housing price is actually lower.
None of them have such a severe homelessness issues except Seattle, LA and San Francisco. Again to make that painful and cliche assertion, even cities across the Lake Washington could manage it much better and maintain their cities better.
And also parks, roads, sidewalks, general infrastructure are unmaintained, unkempt in Seattle compared to all other Puget Sound cities, despite Seattle having a very large budget, it’s not hard to see why for people like us outside the echo chamber. I will leave it at that.
What’s your explanation for the high rate of visible homelessness in Seattle, LA, and SF?
Your tiring, often-repeated talking points on homeless are untrue and have been debunked many times by people outside the echo chamber.
Meanwhile, here are a couple sources supporting my point: https://www.washington.edu/news/2022/03/15/uw-professors-new-book-presents-opportunity-to-rethink-housing/, https://dupagehomeless.org/research-demonstrates-connection-between-housing-affordability-homelessness/.
Look, if you are going to support a radical idea — the idea that the professors at the UW as well as previous studies are simply wrong — you better have something to support it besides just “you are wrong”. You don’t.
Kevin is Karen’s little brother.
You forgot Portland, where there is a solid block of tents inside a chain link enclosure.
Basically, what is happening is that people who are homeless are attracted to the relatively moderate climate of the West Coast. It’s not humid here in the summer, so they can survive the hot spells better than in the Southeast. And of course, the governments of the coastal states are more humane than most.
Basically, what is happening is that people who are homeless are attracted to the relatively moderate climate of the West Coast.
That explains why there are so many homeless in New York City.
Sorry, I know that was rude, but it really has little to do with climate and everything to do with housing prices. There really is no controversy. It is like vaccines, climate change and evolution. The science is clear.
Which gets me to another point. The reason I keep repeating this, Kevin, is because a lot of people don’t understand it. It literally took decades before people paid attention to climate change science. Report after report kept confirming it, and yet people either ignored it or denied it. It is only recently, when we have started feeling the effects (albeit in a very minor way) that people have accepted it is as real.
I also realize that I’m oversimplifying science. New studies conflict old studies. Often new reports shed light on old ones. It is quite possible that climate has an effect on homelessness, as does local policies. But the biggest factor, by far, is cost of housing.
Ross, of course housing prices are important. But people who go homeless in Bozeman — where there is a housing shortage also — are likely to head out here when it gets cold, because they are in peril of freezing on a lot fewer nights per year.
If the solution to homelessness and affordable housing is more housing then I am afraid we are SOL, although the amount of AFFORDABLE housing is certainly a factor. The problem with citing scholarly articles is folks in the faculty lounge don’t build housing. Neither do progressives.
After the 2008 housing melt down builders were wiped out. Those who survived became very wary of overextending. Despite an almost perfect environment for housing creation — historically low inflation rates, labor, building costs, mortgage rates, favorable zoning, and a hot stock market for down payments, builders built way too few new housing units.
Since the start of 2022 housing starts have fallen by 50%, prices are beginning to decline which scares builders, and interest rates, labor, inflation, mortgage rates and building supplies are all rising and probably will stay high for several years.
The idea that upzoning SFH zones to allow multi-family housing to create more affordable housing or solve homelessness is naive.
First, folks in the 0% to 30% AMI probably have zero residual earning capacity and will need supportive housing, and probably 100% subsidized housing, for the rest of their lives. Residential development in SFH zones will not help them.
For those in the 30% to 50% AMI bracket residential development in SFH zones would be too expensive.
The problem with “affordable” housing is by definition it is rental. That means the builder must tie up their capital in a rental project for decades to recoup their investment and not have that capital for future projects when what they do is build, not manage properties. That is why large REIT’s build most rental properties, and they have been crushed in the stock market declines and so have much less to invest. Plus the pandemic has everyone wondering whether multi-family housing, especially in urban areas, will be desirable in the future. Still these REIT’s don’t want to build affordable housing unless forced to in exchange for greater height. Look at the starting rental rates for the 2300 new units near U Village. None of the private units is remotely affordable, and that is in a UGA zone with large lots and favorable regulatory limits for multi-family housing.
Builders know the American dream is a SFH. They also know property values can swing dramatically, like now. So they prefer to build a SFH in SFH zones because there will be a buyer, and they will: 1. Get their investment back; and 2. Make a hard earned profit, without the risk of the prices declining. In tough times like today they prefer to build but not own the land or be the investor. Reduce risk is what they learned in 2008.
The idea that there is a well of pent up demand by builders to build any kind of rental affordable multi-family housing in the SFH zone is also naive. What builders want is to lower minimum lot sizes so they can build more new, high end SFH in the zone b
First the regulatory limits that basically determine the size of the structure to lot area ratio is too low. The SFH home with the same regulatory limits is more profitable. Plus parking minimums based on number of units since these neighborhoods typically have poor transit. The construction costs are much higher because each unit must have its own kitchen, laundry, bathrooms, entry, living room etc., and now comply with the international housing code. If it is a rental building once again the builder’s capital is tied up for decades and they will have to manage the building or pay someone 40% to manage it. And the builder knows that the American dream is a SFH, if you can afford it.
Of course being new construction it will be the most expensive per SF with inflation at 9%, with rising mortgage rates forcing price declines for the same house. Since the name of the game for builders who don’t have tenure is a hard earned profit they naturally want to buy and develop the least expensive — and most affordable — properties, and sell for the highest price, which in this region is the second reason average median prices for housing keep rising so fast: older affordable housing is being replaced with newer more expensive property. It is called gentrification, a word progressive housing advocates like to ignore.
You can find “scholarly” articles on the internet for every side of an issue. The new fetish among urban planners — the definition of a soft science — is upzoning SFH zones, either due to privilege, affordable housing, equity although redlining was prohibited in 1968 and gentrification wipes out Black neighborhoods which Blacks have finally discovered.
Harrell was elected to get the tents out of the parks and off the streets, and the needle littered RV’s off the street. That means forcing the homeless on the streets into shelters or hotel rooms, and massive public funding for housing which instead this region decided to invest in light rail to Everett to Tacoma to Redmond the cities along the way want to make sure is too expensive for the homeless to use to come to their area.
It is too bad this area has given the self-interested homeless industrial complex so much money with so little oversight because the problem has only gotten worse — no doubt in part due to gentrification of older affordable housing — so we still have no idea what might work or not, although the voters who elected Harrell didn’t care about that.
The reality is the gap between housing unit creation and need (in part because many today don’t live with anyone compared to the past) is only going to get worse. You don’t need a Ph.D to know there are too few housing units, although most Americans think that means a SFH, and you shouldn’t need a Ph.D to know why builders are not building more, why that is only going to get worse in the future, or that when it comes to the homeless the lack of an income is as important as the cost of housing because so many have no income and so the cost of private housing is essentially irrelevant unless it is zero.
“The problem with citing scholarly articles is folks in the faculty lounge don’t build housing. Neither do progressives.”
People who have studied the housing crisis and their proposals to address this crisis haven’t pulled these studies out of thin air and aren’t just sitting in the faculty lounge discussing the issue. They are out in the field speaking both with people like city and state leaders, residents, urban planners, other researchers, etc. Are the exact plans to addressing the issue always right, no and honestly is the more nuanced part of the issue to address as each region and city is unique and different and different approaches are needed to address the problem. But I’d point out that Finland spent a lot of money building housing for homeless people and has basically freed up a lot money in the longer term for other things in giving homeless people a stable place to live, sleep, and eat which is often how homelessness stays a issue when a homeless person lacks stability. The city of Helsinki only now needs one homeless shelter to house less than a 100 people.
This is a good video on the subject at large and what should be done to address the issue.
Zach, you are confusing private housing which is based on risk and profit and public housing. I agree more public housing is necessary because as I explained in my prior post private builders don’t plan on building enough housing — let alone affordable housing — and many if not most of the homeless on the streets have zero residual earning capacity so the cost of housing for them is irrelevant except it is very expensive for governments and will be needed for the rest of their lives.
Instead this region chose to spend $142 billion on commuter light rail, and publicly built housing in the U.S. tends to run around 1/3 to 1/2 more than private construction.
It makes very little sense to try and build that public housing in the SFH zones because the lots are too small, the regulatory limits too restrictive, the land too expensive, there is little transit and no supportive services. Which was the point I was really trying to make.
The only things left to do are find the money and location to build the supportive/affordable subsidized housing and where. I will tell you ARCH believes affordable housing begins with affordable land.
Some northeastern states have a right to shelter, so the government all along has maintained enough housing for all its homeless. When d.p, was here, he said Massachusetts had it in its constitution.
The homeless rate here goes up and down with housing prices. A low vacancy rate means more people compete for the same units, which drives prices up. Vacancies are especially low below the median, so if somebody loses their current housing they can’t find another and then they become homeless. The shortage of homes for sale since 2008 and the current interest-rate rise has made people who want to buy stay in rentals, which means they’re not available for the next rung down, and that trickles down to the bottom of the scale. The pandemic brought a spike of homeless — that’s what caused the tents to expand and people living in RVs in SODO. It’s not clear when that will ease, because it’s not clear when they’ll have a place to go. There are people with jobs who are homeless. Families with children. People who shower at the gym or at work because they don’t have a home to shower in. We can’t just throw up our hands and say, oh well, it’s not profitable for developers, and most above-median people want single-family houses so we can’t do anything with 70% of the land. If we do nothing, the number of homeless will continue to expand, and it will become more visible in the suburbs as well as Seattle.
“Instead this region chose to spend $142 billion on commuter light rail”
It’s not either/or. That’s year of expenditure. I could say that a building that costs $1 million to build now will cost $4 million in thirty years in future dollars, but that’s misleading. That $4 million then is equivalent to $1 million now, so we should talk about current dollars that we can compare to other choices.
The reason for the full spine is the region is committed to serving the largest cities in all counties. That’s part of the suburban mindset, that we must bring economic development to all cities rather than concentrating the population in/near Seattle. It has little to do with homelessness. What part it does have is a belief that housing in Lynnwood and Everett et al is less expensive than in Seattle and the central Eastside, so that’s their solution for below-median-income residents. As such, they need transit to get to/from those areas. And if below-median-income people can find housing in the outer areas, with adequate transit to get around the region without extraordinary hardship, then they won’t become homeless, and that keeps the homeless numbers lower.
Daniel, from what the studies I’ve seen, it’s a combination of building both private and public housing needing to be built to maintain the affordability of housing to offset growth of metro areas.
As for building the rail and price tag of it, I think some folks need to stop getting so twisted and tied up by the price tags of infrastructure that is definitely needed. Nobody would be hemming and hawing if this was a highway project, like the Alaskan Way Tunnel we built after tearing down the viaduct. It’s only because to some people the tangible benefit isn’t there right out in the open. Which is honestly a terrible way to look at the bigger picture. I’d say that all the great European cities that Americans like to talk about as being wonderful and a joy to explore would be worse if they were car centric as American cities were. We also have great examples elsewhere as to why lack of public transit investment in the past is detrimental to a city, like Manila in the Philippines for example where it can take upwards of 2-3 hours a day to get to work an by shared vans and motorbikes. Manila is finally getting its act together on this and investing heavily into Metro system projects across the city over the coming decade to get completed along with finally upgrading its aging airport to a new international airport elsewhere in the city.
I would perfer investing n all day commuter service on Sounder but we are stuck between a rock and a hard place on buying up that rail for our own use. Maybe some day we can do that as a means to replace current Express service between Seattle and Tacoma but we aren’t there yet and maybe won’t ever be.
5 reasons why there isn’t a housing shortage. I like her point #2 at 4:48. Take a look at the map that shows average number of individuals per household around the world. America has one of the lowest rates in the world. And the next chart shows the number has only been going down since 1960. This is something that is rarely mentioned in the housing debate. Yes, the American family has been shrinking, so individuals per household is going to be smaller, but maybe more should be done to encourage homeowners to rent space in their homes, and perhaps that, in turn, would help with the housing problem.
Single-family houses are designed for a couple and their children. They’re often awkward with one or more lodger. The shrinking-family phenomenon is a case where families changed but housing didn’t, because of restrictive zoning and regulations. Single-family neighborhoods are as much about preserving the appearance of a 2+1 or 2+2 social environment as they are about excluding people with lower income and other supposdly undesirable traits, as well as those who don’t love driving everywhere.
Some northeastern states have a right to shelter, so the government all along has maintained enough housing for all its homeless.
SCOTUS decided a couple years ago that as long as there were no shelter space available, cities had no right to disturb homeless camps. Thus, this right to shelter is now universal.
It’s why such bastions of liberalism as Shoreline have purchased hotels to use as shelters and been pretty successful, but “liberal” places like Seattle and Portland, which have followed the demands of right-wing business leaders in their communities and relied on resource limited volunteer groups, have not been as successful.
Mike, why does your neighborhoods fight against 30 story residential towers that First Hill, allows? Is not wanting to change the zoning to allow taller residential building about preserving the appearance of your neighborhood?
Glenn, I recently read this article about your city and its homeless problem.
Right to shelter means right to long-term housing, so you don’t have to live in a tent or in an RV in a public parking space. You say the right to tents and RV spaces is universal, but at the same time you say that’s what drove you out of Pioneer Square; i.e. being around a homeless cluster.
Mike, I notice there was another mass shooting in your Capitol Hill neighborhood a couple of weeks ago, with over 50 shots fired. In February, there was 40-shot gun battle in your neighborhood. Why would a single family neighborhood that doesn’t have gun battles want to emulate a neighborhood that does?
Prosecuting shoplifters and graffiti artists would do far more to have grocery stores open in the neighborhood than anything SDOT could do. The Walgreens on Denny Way in Belltown has been repeatedly targeted with shoplifting, graffiti and window smashing. It’s almost like these criminals are just idiot pawns for gentrification and property developers.
Can you connect the dots for me on how shoplifters and vandals are “idiot pawns for gentrification” if they’re discouraging (I assume large corporate chain) grocery stores?
Another job of SDOT is to paint in bus lanes, and push back against people who object to them because it means they will have to park slightly further away or wait an extra 30 seconds to get through an intersection in their car.
Just today, I was riding a crowded #40 bus through Fremont, which could have really used a bus lane, and this was only a Sunday. SDOT even has plans (supposedly) to add a bus lane on the approach to the Fremont bridge, and it’s going to be Spotts’s job to implement it.
Of course, maintaining streets is important – everybody agrees on that – it’s stuff like bus lanes vs. traffic lanes, where the contraversy is, and I hope we have an SDOT director that will see through plans already in motion and out in those bus lanes.
Seattle Deputy Mayor Kendee Yamaguchi suddenly resigned, and Harrell replaced her with Greg Wong who is the city’s interim director of the Dept. of Neighborhoods, a roll he has held since February. Acting interim dir. Sarah Morningstar will serve as acting dir. until a permanent dir. is appointed to replace Wong.
The reason given by Yamaguchi was she wished to “pursue other opportunities” which generally is a euphuism unless she has another deputy mayor job of a major city lined up. She was previously executive director of Snohomish Co. and was appointed deputy mayor of external relations by Harrell before he took office. Harrell issued a public statement wishing her “all the best in her future endeavors”.
I don’t know enough about Yamaguchi or Wong to comment on what the moves mean. I do think Harrell sees his base in the residential neighborhoods, along with working with the Chamber to revitalize downtown Seattle.
KOMO had an interesting piece yesterday about the city’s program to subsidize businesses to lease vacant spaces in the city to help revitalize the streets. An activist for Belltown was interviewed outside the Bergman Luggage space on 3rd and Stewart about the program — which he supported — but noted that unless that street is cleaned up first (showing the scene behind him, and it was hard to miss all the buses) subsidizing other retail businesses to take the space is putting the cart before the horse.
Part of the problem with the program so far is the businesses who have accepted subsidized leases are art galleries and social agencies that don’t add retail vibrancy to a street (while Starbucks is closing stores throughout the city due to crime). I thought it was somewhat ironic that residents (and activists) were so worked up over Starbucks closing its store on 23rd and Jackson. When it opened many years ago everyone was thrilled because it meant gentrification of a Black neighborhood. Now activists are happy it is closing so it can be replaced with an “African American” coffee shop more in keeping with the history of The Central District, although the CD is now only 17% Black.
Although it is hard to compare Mercer Island and Seattle, one thing I have learned over the last decade or so being involved in Mercer Island politics is if the citizens are happy with their residential neighborhoods and parks (which means crime, homelessness and zoning) they are pretty sanguine when it comes to the downtown core, which holds little emotion for them (and that was before WFH). These are the silent majority and why Harrell is mayor.
I think that is Harrell’s approach, except downtown Seattle is such a cash cow for such an expensive and progressive city to run he has to figure out a way to revitalize downtown even if the commuter never returns.
In 2015 the advice I gave to the very progressive MI city manager and city council — who were all subsequently replaced — was to do nothing when it comes to parks and residential neighborhoods unless you absolutely had to. Unfortunately, they waited too long for to take that advice and Prop. 1 got killed in 2018, and now we have renewal and a large increase of the parks levy that expires in 2023 (that actually goes into the general fund) on the Nov. 2022 ballot with a much better chance of passage because the current city manager and council took my advice (their advice to the planning dept. for the 8 year cycle rewrite of our comp. plan was to do nothing, no changes even though it is a schizophrenic Plan after the prior progressive council because progressives think they can change a city through the Plan because no one else pays attention, until of course the implementing development regulations are drafted).
Yes our town center retail needs lots of work, but few residents get emotional about that (especially with two great grocery stores), and a new Chinese restaurant recently opened that is quite good, but that won’t do it for downtown Seattle. My advice to Harrell is he has enough on his plate to not change the neighborhood zoning after he has done a good job of removing the tents from the parks and needs to find a way to revitalize the downtown. The activists and progressives will come out of the woodwork as they always do when a Comp. Plan is rewritten, but they didn’t vote for Harrell and he needs to remember that, which I think he is pretty good at.
Here is an article on the Seattle program I mentioned.
“She was previously executive director of Snohomish Co….”
Regarding Ms. Yamaguchi’s position with SnoCo, just to clarify this point, at the time of her employment here she was one of three executive directors within the county executive’s department.
This in an interesting article on car-sharing: where to park the cars.
Good editorial in The Seattle Times today on the issues facing Spotts.
As the editorial noted transportation really was not an issue in last November’s election so there is no clear mandate. Not surprisingly Spotts main issue is bridge repair and replacement, and renewal of the Move Seattle levy that expires in 2024.
Last year the City Council authorized bonding the $20 car tab fee over ten years to raise $100 million for bridges. Harrell vetoed that wanting a more comprehensive approach. At the time I agreed with Harrell because $100 million over ten years is a drop in the bucket for the $3.5 billion unfunded repair/replacement need, and simply repeats the council’s negligence on this issue. However since then interest rates have risen which will result in a lower bond amount even if bonded.
SDOT owns and operates 124 bridges. The Second Ave Extension bridge in Pioneer Square (1928), Magnolia Bridge (1929), and University Bridge (1930) are rated poor.
Bridge seismic retrofits were promised as part of the $930 million Move Seattle levy passed in 2015, which included the Ballard Bridge and Freemont Bridge, but SDOT cancelled the retrofits due to cost, and to prioritize other projects in the levy.
Other issues include the CCC which has ballooned in price to $286 million. In 2023 ST will terminate its $5 million annual contribution to the First Hill Streetcar (so look for more 630’s from the eastside for good reason).
The reality is the next Move Seattle levy needs to be 100% bridge repair and maintenance, but of course Seattle voters will never agree to that. At the same time the $232 million Seattle has received in federal Covid funds will run out next year. Like the West Seattle bridge, my guess is the council and SDOT will lurch to from one bridge failing to the next unless the state or feds mandate some kind of bridge program on the council. Ballard and Freemont may be next for a two- or three-year closure for repairs and replacement, which like West Seattle tends to focus the neighborhoods’ priorities.
“Bridge seismic retrofits were promised as part of the $930 million Move Seattle levy passed in 2015, which included the Ballard Bridge and Freemont Bridge, but SDOT cancelled the retrofits due to cost, and to prioritize other projects in the levy.”
This has been by far the biggest failure of the levy program. While SDOT and the relevant levy oversight committee have been quick to tout the number of bridge spot repairs made each year on the department’s levy dashboard as well as the quarterly and annual reports (in all the glitzy graphics they like to include), the pronouncements regarding the problems with the bridge seismic program have been understated and overshadowed. Once again, SDOT has overpromised what it can deliver in this particular area in its intent to leverage the planned levy proceeds. This all came out back in Nov 2020 when the Interim Director for Roadway Structures, a guy named Matt Donahue, spelled it all out in a memo* to the Levy to Move Seattle Oversight Committee.
In said memo, the named director gave a new cost estimate for the 16 Seattle-area bridges that were included in the program’s budget. The 2016 figure of $67M had been reassessed and was now assumed to be in the range of $730M. As a result, the director recommended shrinking the retrofit program down to just 9 bridges:
1. SW Andover Pedestrian Bridge
4. Admiral Way North Bridge
5. Admiral Way South Bridge
6. Delridge Pedestrian Bridge
7. 15th Ave NW/Leary Way Bridge
8. 15th Ave NE over 105th Ave NE
9. McGraw St Bridge
13. N 41st St Pedestrian Bridge
16. 8th Ave /133rd Ave Bridge
The original program list (even after the 2018 Levy to Move Seattle Assessment report and the subsequent 2018 Levy to Move Seattle Workplan report) included these bridges:
[Project] = deleted
2016 vs 2020 cost estimates
1. SW Andover Pedestrian Bridge4 $1,023,626 $2,776,201
[2. Ballard Bridge (Bascule) $7,140,065 $32,449,070]
[3. Fremont Bridge (Bascule) $7,116,560 $29,110,232]
4. Admiral Way North Bridge $7,401,221 $15,465,788
5. Admiral Way South Bridge $3,700,606 (incl with #4)
6. Delridge Pedestrian Bridge $1,500,000 $3,338,544
7. 15th Ave NW/Leary Way Bridge $1,153,000 $4,637,350
8. 15th Ave NE over 105th Ave NE $3,421,423 $5,990,000
9. McGraw St Bridge $6,320,460 $8,248,594
[10. 1st Ave over Argo RR Bridge $3,947,795 $253,711,840]
[11. 4th Ave over Argo RR Bridge $3,947,795 $249,176,280]
[12. 4th Ave S Bridge (Main St – Seattle Blvd) $8,667,980 $109,496,422]
13. N 41st St Pedestrian Bridge $611,901 $2,956,078
[14. Cowen Park Bridge4 $6,842,845 $6,584,934]
[15. W. Howe St Bridge $1,073,627 $4,193,933]
16. 8th Ave /133rd Ave Bridge $3,163,298 $2,691,045
*You can find a link to the memo embedded on page 31 of the Levy to Move Seattle Annual Report.
Excellent post Tisgwm.
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