Sound Transit 2010 MCI D4500 9734P
The promised frequent service to Federal Way never materialized, and is unlikely to in 2023 (photo: Zack Heistand on Flickr)

Sound Transit is planning for service changes in 2023, and has just released its 2023 Service Plan for public comment. This plan outlines the changes to Sound Transit service that is anticipated for 2023. And the outlook is… bleak.

For some background, you may recall that there were significant improvements in transit service planned in Sound Transit’s 2022 Service Plan. As it turns out, none of the changes outlined in the 2022 plan ended up happening except the restoration of S Line service. This is almost singularly due to the labor shortage (with other contributing factors also to blame for the slip of the Hilltop extension of the T-Line into 2023), which has showed no signs of letting up. In its more detailed draft Transit Development Plan, Sound Transit reports that in October 2021, labor shortages have caused a reduction of 5% of ST service operated by King County Metro, 10% of ST service operated by Community Transit, and 20% of service operated by Pierce Transit. Mitigations included a sudden reduction of ST Express service, and the transfer of route 566 from Pierce Transit to King County Metro. With the labor shortage being persistent through today, there has been no perceptible improvement so far, completely blocking the proposed ST Express improvements.

The service plan

The 2023 Service Plan anticipates more of the same, detailing the mitigation efforts made in 2021 and 2022. The plan tempers expectations of any service increases in 2023, noting that the agency will continue to implement two service changes a year. Service increases are not off the table (seeming to refer to the planned 2022 increases), but this won’t happen until staffing levels are sufficient to deliver on current transit service reliably and without cancellations.

The plan goes into detail about routes with current service reduction, in comparison to the service they would have had with sufficient service levels. This includes routes 577/578/590/594. which have the steepest reductions (running every 30 minutes midday and weekends instead of 15). Routes 566 and 592 are also seeing frequency reductions during peak hours (which is the only time they operate), and the 580 is getting unspecified reductions in favor of route 400 (which parallels route 580 in Puyallup). Also, the portion of route 580 from Lakewood to Puyallup (currently “temporarily” suspended) will be eliminated, leaving SR 512 for the exclusive use of cars once again.

No mention of East Link

One notable omission in the service plan is literally anything about East Link. While we already knew that East Link is likely to slip into 2024, the fact that Sound Transit isn’t even tentatively including it in the service plan says a lot about when the agency is anticipating opening the line. To this, I will say that I hope Sound Transit will break the news as soon as it is certain (starting with the official project page), rather than waiting until just a few months before people think it will open. Delaying the announcement will only frustrate riders and voters more, and is less honest to future riders who may be beginning to plan around the start of East Link service.

The service plan is open for public comment until August 9. So if you have feedback, be sure to fill out the survey before then.

199 Replies to “Sound Transit’s 2023 service plan shows no signs of labor shortage relief”

  1. Ouch. Travel from Federal Way and Tacoma to Seattle got hammered. Instead of running buses every 15 minutes they are running them every half hour. One way to improve things for Federal Way would be to have the 590/594 stop there on the way to Seattle. This would have been overkill with the previous plans, but would double the headways from Federal Way to Seattle at little cost. If it was timed with the 574 (which runs every half hour) you would double the frequency between Tacoma and Federal Way as well.

    1. Tacoma-Seattle has always been 30 minutes midday as far as I know. So this isn’t a reduction, just a lack of increase. The same thing happened with the 550, which was supposed to get 15-minute Sundays last year but it got postponed. The 522 post Northgate Link is also less than intended I think. I don’t remember about the 512.

      1. The 594 used to run every 20 minutes until noon. This year, they started running it every half hour starting around 9:30 AM. They had a big press release about running buses every 15 minutes midday and … it never happened.

        So yeah, in one sense it is a delay in what they hoped to achieve, but it is also a delay in returning to how things were even a couple years ago.

      2. @Mike…the 512 was reduced this year to 15 min service and various times of the day. There’s even 20 min service for about an hour and a half. Its frequency is all over the board but there’s still plenty of service.

        But don’t take it in the afternoon peak, though…. So many cancellations.

      3. @Jordan

        Tell me about it. The 512 is the middle leg of my three-seat commute, and the cancelations are extremely inconvenient. Especially during heat waves like last week since at Ash Way they planted all the shade trees in the parking lot for cars instead of next to the bus shelters for people.

    2. Meh… Seattle.

      I’d really like to see direct service in the Auburn-Federal Way-Tacoma and/or Auburn-Puyallup-Tacoma corridors to get SE King County to the jobs that are closest to them, not far-flung in Seattle. 2 peak hour trips per day on the Sounder is really inadequate. Going via Puyallup, there isn’t a bus route, and via Federal Way, there’s a nasty transfer penalty. Because of the siting of the station in Tacoma located near exactly nothing, by definition, you’ll need to transfer at Tacoma Dome also.

      I’m almost looking forward to the light rail making it to FW. We could drive in our car to FW, park… hrmmmmm… nope, we could beg a neighbor for a ride or pay a fortune for an Uber, and then take the bus up to the airport when we travel.

      1. @Egineer.. This is a good idea. The 566/567 used to travel between Auburn and Renton via SR167 but it was axed due to low ridership. I can see it being productive if it went to Tacoma instead.

      2. One interesting opportunity is the building of the 167 extension to I-5 and on further into Tacoma. That includes a new interchange on the Fife curve. I could see this as an opportunity to run Puyallup service connecting to FW Link and transit center. I could also see the Fife Link station eventually emerging as a PT hub to serve east Pierce once TDLE opens.

        I have often felt that the RapidRide lines in South King should be revised to have one or two ends terminate at a Link station. I could see the advantage of a 167-Link-Tacoma direct service, but I think the best service design strategy is to concentrate services at Federal Way TC. If riders can all get to the same transfer center, the through connections can go in many directions. I’ve even been surprised that KCMetro hasn’t rolled out a RapidRide strategy operating out of this hub.

        An alternative to the hub strategy is to run to the nearest Link station (rib and spine service pattern). However, it requires enough frequency on these routes because so many trips would then require double transfers. I would cringe if each Link station got a few less frequent routes and riders had to go just one or two stations to transfer to another bus. Sure it would increase Link ridership — but riders would have a longer trip.

      3. “I have often felt that the RapidRide lines in South King should be revised to have one or two ends terminate at a Link station.”

        South King County’s geography makes that difficult. The population concentration is in the Renton-Kent-Auburn corridor and needs north-south transit. Renton is too far east to be served by Link at TIB with the Rainier/SODO surface segments and the long swing west to TIB. Renton somehow became the second-largest city in East King when nobody was looking, and Kent is also above 100K. From Kent, even RapidRide or express from Kent Station to SeaTac or KDM (planned) is slower than the 150 to Seattle. In the end, Renton and Kent will need express buses to Seattle because they’re too far east for Link to serve indirectly. Metro Connects is already planning that, continuing the 101 and adding a Seattle-Kent-Auburn express, in its last 2020 incarnation. Of course that’s subject to labor shortages and limited service hours whenever it might be ready.

      4. I’ve always liked the idea of RapidRide I connecting to Link with an extension — either to Federal Way to the south and/or to Rainier Beach or Downtown Bellevue to the north. By going to a future connection point with Stride in South Renton, the north connection is not quite as needed.

        And I can’t tell you how much I think KCM should have skipped using “I”. It looks like a “1” — which are route numbers used by both ST and KCM.

      5. That’s right, I forgot I wanted it to continue to Rainier Beach. Metro has been so uninterested in that I gave up thinking about it.

        An extension to Federal Way at the other end would overlap with RapidRide 181, which was in Metro’s long-range plan in its last 2020 incarnation. And it may not be as necessary as it seems because the situation is like Aurora. The right answer most of the time is to take an east-west bus to Link. Kent will eventually get the KDM-Kent-132nd-GRCC RapidRide. Auburn already has the 181. North of Kent Station is too far away to go to Link via Auburn and Federal Way. So that just leaves people between Kent Station and Auburn Station. There’s not that many south of KK Road, where part of it is an agricultural protected area and the rest is industrial.

    3. RossB: that change was suggested to ST when the South 317th Street center access ramp and the TC opened in the aughts. Other possible streamlinings: why do routes 594 and 574 duplicate one another so much in Tacoma? Why does Route 574 serve the intermediate P&R at Star Lake and Kent Des Moines?

    4. Running 90\94s through FWAY is too much unless you cut out DT Tac. After reading this blog over the years it becomes apparent that there are not many bus drivers on it. These changes that are theorized\ conjured up take a beating to those who operate the coaches. Why add stress to a system that’s already suffering from over working of it’s employees because of staffing shortages? Ideas are great and all but at the same time when you number crunch and figure the time it adds to each run.

  2. It’s rather difficult to work backwards from service hour needs to service expansions. It isn’t clear when increases are due to offering better frequency or new stations.

    The change in hours by service really does highlight how we will enter a bigger Link-oriented world by 2025. It appears as though ST plans on the extensions going by 2025 as 3025 and 2026 have the same service hours.

    That said, the service hour increases in the various annual budgets appear to not contain many surprises as far as I can tell. What I find the most curious is Link in 2027 gets 13 percent more service as no new extensions are opening in that year. Sounder also appears to add a train in 2027.

    Also of note are the ST Express service reductions. Between Link openings and 405 converting to Stride. Clearly there will be larger than a 50 percent reduction in ST Express as extensions open and references to this are also described in the document. What I do find curious though is how ST Express service hours is identical in 2026 and 2027, while Stride grows in both 2026 and 2027. Since these are outer years, the hours will likely adjust in next year’s budget to better sync the eventual opening dates of the three Stride lines.

    I did observe an almost certain typo in the 2027 Link projections. The details on passenger trips for Link are shown to plummet from 73,756,000 in 2026 to 28,015,001 in 2027. I would guess that 2027 should instead by 78,015,001.

    1. The change in hours by service really does highlight how we will enter a bigger Link-oriented world by 2025.

      I think we will still be dependent on drivers in the future if we want a good system. It is easy to assume that truncation enables a wonderful new world, but it doesn’t always work that way. There are always trade-offs. When Metro truncated all the north-end buses at the UW, it worked because the UW is a major destination. Riders lost their one-seat ride to downtown (which was often much faster than transferring to Link) but gained much better frequency to the UW.

      In contrast, Federal Way is not a significant destination. With Link it largely becomes a connection. Even as a connection it is relatively weak. There are some stops along the way, but they are either a long ways away (e. g. Rainier Valley) or mostly parking lots (Tukwila, Angle Lake). You’ve basically just got Highline Community College and SeaTac as destinations for those in the South Sound. Neither is really that big. If SeaTac was really a major destination, ST would have been running (or planning on running) buses every 15 minutes there, instead of every half hour.

      Link definitely adds value, but it doesn’t make it easier to go to the main destination — downtown Seattle. For that you need express buses. The buses from Federal Way can run every 15 minutes (with the simple change mentioned above) while the train can run every 10 minutes (assuming we can afford it and don’t have a shortage of train drivers). That is an improvement, but given that the train takes ten minutes longer to get downtown, most riders would be better off with an express bus. For Tacoma riders it is even worse, as there is a transfer.

      Ideally you run expresses from Tacoma to Seattle, with a stop at Federal Way, so that those riders can transfer to other destinations via Link. But that requires more drivers, which means the situation hasn’t really changed.

      1. I understand your passionate defense of ST Express,Ross. Still, this is a labor shortage issue and not a mere service allocation issue.

        As I said above, I expect that lots more drivers will be needed in 2025. I just don’t see the ST board reducing Link service to 15 to 20 minutes to save a parallel ST bus route because they are short on drivers. With the new Link extension stations mostly outside of the City of Seattle, lots more Board members are going to want the service opened as promised.

      2. https://usa.streetsblog.org/2022/07/20/four-factors-driving-the-bus-operator-shortage-and-what-to-do-about-them/

        https://www.planetizen.com/news/2022/07/117912-why-are-transit-agencies-so-understaffed

        “Wilson outlines the four reasons Transit Center gives for the operator shortage. These include low starting pay and high retirement rates, workplace assault, “punishing” schedules, and an overall lack of respect and dignity—and restrooms. “A stunning 80 percent of transit workers say that not enough time is built into their schedules for them to simply use the bathroom — if they can even find one, given the dearth of public restrooms in most US cities, particularly during the pandemic — and 67 percent report that they’ve experienced health problems as a consequence.”

        If people don’t want to be bus drivers due to the reasons above why is it so hard for some to understand why people don’t want to ride a bus.

        Obviously based on the average age of current drivers the shortage will only get worse. Plus there are many other jobs with the same pay for unskilled work that don’t have the same issues. I also think just the overall decline in large cities in the U.S. infects the transit systems, along with the loss of the “normal” peak rider. Someone assaulting a bus driver today in Seattle won’t get prosecuted so what is the risk. If you want to smoke fentanyl or pee on a bus no problem. Police staffing is way down, and the police simply don’t have any incentive today to deal with these crimes, because they know the politicians and prosecutors won’t prosecute.

        I have tried to point out many times that the health of a transit system is directly related to how safe the streets and buses/trains are, although ironically the biggest transit advocates tend to be the softest on crime. If they are too unsafe for drivers they are too unsafe and unsanitary for riders.

      3. I understand your passionate defense of ST Express, Ross. Still, this is a labor shortage issue and not a mere service allocation issue.

        The two are related; that’s my point. A labor shortage may push us into a system that saves money, but makes it really bad for riders. There are savings to be had with truncations. Often these work out well for riders (e. g. UW). But often they don’t. Just as you can get into a negative ridership-revenue-cost cycle by cutting frequency, the same could happen as you cut (very popular) express service. If nothing else, you run the risk of really upsetting riders from Tacoma. Not only is the 15-minute express service late, but now it will disappear, replaced by a transfer to a train that will take longer to get to Seattle.

        I just don’t see the ST board reducing Link service to 15 to 20 minutes to save a parallel ST bus route because they are short on drivers.

        No, I would expect them to get rid of express service first. But it does seem quite possible they will do both (bus as I noted elsewhere, they would likely cut back service to Lynnwood first).

      4. This is something I have no proof of, but I suspect may be another reason for operator shortages is there are now a much higher than normal incidence of sick leaves. Perhaps technically they have enough operators employed to run service without cancelling trips … maybe it was sufficient manpower pre-covid … but for a variety of reasons, in the covid era, more drivers are taking more time-off, and therefore, they have a labor shortage.

      5. The driver shortage is nationwide. It’s part of the nationwide labor shortage. Peter Zeihan the geopoliticist says the primary cause is the majority of boomers crossed into retirement age right when covid hit, and there’s nobody to replace them. That was compounded by early retirements, early-retirement incentives, covid disrptions and deaths, and people switching to higher-paying more-fulfilling jobs.

        There’s a specific transit component to this, as a couple people on STB have said some drivers are switching to private bus companies or truck driving because they can get the same pay without the tiresome hassles of impatient passengers or fear of assaults. I haven’t heard from people who would know how much this is actually happening, but it may be contributing to it to some extent.

        Another issue is the bottleneck of new-hire training. The schools can only process a limited number of drivers and maintenance workers through courses that are a few weeks long.

      6. Zeihan says the labor shortage will last a couple decades until the millenials’ children enter the labor market en masse. There’s also the cutoff of immigration in 2020, which has apparently only partly been restored, and there was the lost year or two anyway.

      7. Note that page 36 of the draft TDP included discontinuing ST Express between Fed Way and Seattle in 2024. While service planning has not yet started, I would not be surprised that ST would only fund light rail service for the stretch of I-5 between Federal Way and Seattle.

      8. I don’t understand why Tacoma riders would get express one seat service to save 10 minutes when we have asked many riders from the North and East to take rides that are 10 minutes longer and truncated their buses outside of downtown. Frankly during the hours that Sounder runs, there should not be any express service all the way to downtown. And outside Sounder hours why not run the ST Express bus to Seatac with a transfer to Link there. It could be a high frequency route. And as to an argument that the fare difference to Sounder is unfair, I agree it is and the Sounder fare should just be set the same as the ST Express fare so that we don’t have the run redundant buses at times when the travel time on the freeways is completely unpredictable making the operating costs extremely high since many of the buses only make a single trip during a peak.

      9. First off, it’s substantially slower – you’ve got both the Rainier Valley detour and the overhead of the transfer. Plus, the path between I-5 and the SeaTac Link Station is not exactly quick.

        Then, you’ve got the problem of the airport itself. The 574 bus stop at the south end of the airport is in a very bad location, forcing the bus to wait in a long and unpredictable line of cars picking up and dropping off, in order to reach the stop. The time it takes to wait it line can also very dramatically depending on a particular bus driver’s aggressiveness with lane changes, so two buses scheduled to show up at a stop 15 minutes apart could easily end up arriving 30 minutes apart.

        You can, of course, avoid the airport detour, but unless you change the existing route 574 to do so, you don’t really get 15 minute combined service from the Link station, but rather two 30-minute routes, at least one of which, shows up at a random, unpredictable time. Alternative, if you do modify route 174 to abandon the airport drive stop, then you violate the Hippocratic Oath of Transit by making airport travels walk further with their luggage to reach the bus stop. Either way, you piss people off.

        Overall, I think a 594 truncated to SeaTac is a bad idea, and even just running it downtown with 30-minute frequency is better. If you’re looking for service hours to save to boost the 594’s frequency, I think a better place to look is Lakewood. I don’t know how many people ride the bus on there, but my guess is “not many”, and I doubt Lakewood needs both the 574 and 594 to stop there. So, maybe, truncate the 594 (except for rush hour) to run from Seattle->downtown Tacoma->Tacoma Dome station only, and have only the 574 continue onward to Lakewood. This will also make the 594 more reliable in Tacoma, as the Lakewood->Tacoma section of I-5 often has bad traffic, plus sections of it have no HOV lane.

      10. I’ve been experimenting with various transfers from Tacoma at the airport. It ain’t great.

        Even if I discount the bike ride to the Tacoma dome as excercise, and don’t count the 15 minutes it takes, the 574 is barely express. The FW transit center is a massive detour, winding through a out-of-the-way transit center. It would be fine if FW was a destination, and this was a place people had reason to go, but it really is not, judging by the amount of off-boardings I see.

        Then.. the airport transfer. Northbound to Link is an elevator and a bridge. Northbound to other buses isn’t terrible, but just an unpleasant experience standing next to Pac Hwy.

        Southbound suffers from having to weave through the actual airport, which can sometimes have a delay of 30-45 minutes.

        Link is a seriously slow boat through Ranier Valley, being at-grade.

        So, right now it takes me 39 minutes on the 594 from Tacoma Dome to Stadium. If that goes away, it will easily be double that.

        Which means I will drive.

      11. Flixbus goes from Tacoma Dome to downtown Seattle in 50 minutes, with a stop at SeaTac, in the middle of the day.

        Greyhound has a 7:45 am departure from Tacoma that gets to the Amtrak station at 8:50, so an hour and 5 minutes for that one.

        So, I’m not sure how much better than 39 minutes one could get.

      12. Intercity bus schedules between Tacoma and Seattle, you should take with a grain of salt. They all use the same freeway, but different bus companies make different decisions regarding how much traffic padding to add to their schedules.

        In an extreme cases of this, you can look at Amtrak, where the schedule shows Tukwila->Seattle taking far longer than Seattle->Tukwila. In reality, the train takes the same amount of time both directions, the difference is that the northbound trip has lots of extra padding to account for fact that the train willing likely be late, coming all the way from Portland, while the southbound trip has this extra padding in Vancouver->Portland, rather than Seattle->Tukwila. So, what appears on paper like a train that moves at half the speed northbound as southbound turns out to be pure fiction.

        If you really want to know how long a nonstop bus trip between Tacoma and Seattle takes, the place to look is Google Maps driving directions, which clocks in at about 35 minutes, plus traffic.

      13. Glenn in Portland,
        That is Northwestern Trailways operating that bus. Not Greyhound.

      14. You’ve basically just got Highline Community College and SeaTac as destinations for those in the South Sound.

        Which is why Midway is just as good or better for a bus intercept than Federal Way. Unless, of course, FW is successful in its desire to become South Lynnwood. Then there will be some “there” there to attract riders.

      15. I don’t understand why Tacoma riders would get express one seat service to save 10 minutes when we have asked many riders from the North and East to take rides that are 10 minutes longer and truncated their buses outside of downtown.

        Some buses up north have been truncated — most have not. All of the Community Transit buses that went downtown are still going downtown. The 510 still goes downtown. So basically it is only the buses that run during the middle of the day that are truncated. This is different than Tacoma, but I see some good reasons for this:

        1) There is no good connection point. Angle Lake is not a good destination. There is basically nothing there. You could terminate the buses at SeaTac, but that isn’t that easy to get to. It also takes a while to get from SeaTac to downtown — you are still a long ways from the city (and thus most of the destinations). In contrast, Northgate is literally in Seattle. From Tacoma you connect to Rainier Beach, but again it isn’t right by the freeway, and this brings up another issue:

        2) There are bigger destinations on the way to downtown Seattle from the north. The UW is a much bigger destination than SeaTac. Northgate and Capitol Hill are much bigger than Angle Lake, Tukwila, and even Rainier Valley.

      16. Which is why Midway is just as good or better for a bus intercept than Federal Way.

        The advantage of Federal Way is that it is easy to get to via the freeway. That isn’t the case with the Midway (Kent/Des Moines) Station. In that sense it is like the future Lynnwood Station. What makes Lynnwood Station such a good intercept is not the station itself, but the ease with which buses can serve it.

      17. “So, I’m not sure how much better than 39 minutes one could get.”

        I think you misunderstand me, Glenn.

        I am certainly not looking for better. 39 minutes is fine. Great, even, except it should be all HOV 3 for reliability.

        I’m saying I don’t want it to double to well over an hour, which it will if the current plan is implemented after the FWLE is complete and the truncation/transfer disaster begins.

  3. This is depressing. There have now been several rounds of restructures that were supposed to increase frequency, but labor shortages or recessions swallowed the improvements. So the net result was little or no improvement, and sometimes an additional transfer. Other things that ST knew were underservice and intended to correct, like 30 minute Sundays between the two largest cities on the 550, got swallowed too. I’m afraid this might lead to fewer votes for transit improvements, because the improvements never materialize.

    The 554 is also supposed to go up to 15 minutes in the last East Link proposal. Will that be swallowed too?

    And it looks like that person with the Kent-Redmond commute is also out of luck, if the 586 is reduced now, and in the East Link restructure possibly eliminated (if it’s not truncated at Bellevue or Renton).

  4. I imagine East Link is not mentioned because ST does not really know when it might open due to the issues on the bridge span.

    In earlier delays ST stated the standard nine-month testing period could be shortened for East Link (although all of East Link had to open at the same time), although I would be cautious about a shortened testing period over the bridge span since there are a lot of novel engineering designs on the span, from the deck/span joint, post tensioning, and redo of the plinths, and damaging the bridge would be catastrophic while East Link, if necessary, can operate without crossing the bridge, at least for a while.

    Once we begin to see trains running across the bridge span during testing we can measure when East Link might open, which should be 6 to 9 months after that. Right now my best guess is July 2024 although the bridge span does not look like it is close to testing, but there is still two years to complete construction and testing.

    I agree with those who stated that ST probably is not interested in increased frequency and cost for express buses with Lynnwood, Federal Way and East Link set to open within a few years. Plus at least for eastside ST express buses there just isn’t the ridership to warrant increased frequency. ST spent $62 million on express buses on the eastside last year, and will probably spend the same in 2022 and 2023/2024 (until East Link opens) and those were operations costs ST assumed would have gone away some time ago with East Link opening, plus a lot less costs for East Link until the bridge issues came up.

    I know some on this blog think frequency should be determined without consideration of how full the express buses are but I don’t think ST’s budget allows for that. My belief is unless funding is not an issue frequency should match how full the buses are, especially for ST express buses that are more oriented toward longer, planned trips so a rider can build their schedule around them easier. I guess this raises the issue of how frequently ST runs Link in some of the outer areas if ridership on express buses only needs to be 30 to 60 minutes today. A train can hold 596 riders with SRO so there would be capacity even with low frequency.

    I think ST’s operations budgets are tighter than some think or ST lets on, and it is trying to preserve operations funding. ST recently announced it would have to increase future operations and maintenance budget estimates by $3 billion, although based on history it will be revised upwards again in the future, and with ridership down along with some ST general taxes operations budgets have to be tight, an issue I have noted before I think will be a recurring theme. At the same time I don’t see a big outcry — at least on the eastside — for more frequency on ST express buses, at least by ordinary citizens.

    I think how frequently to run Link, especially Lynnwood, Federal Way and East Link, based on ridership will be a bigger issue than how often to run ST express buses on those same routes today based on current ridership. Ridership needs to go up on Link from current express ridership for frequent Link to make sense. ST can’t run empty trains with its budgets.

    1. ST can’t run empty trains with its budgets.

      Hear, Hear! This is one of those quiet problems that may rear its head fairly soon. Ridership per mile is expected to go down with ST3. This is one of those “only in America” things (and not in a good way). It means that you are spending billions so that you can *increase* the cost to operate your system (per rider). Unless, of course, you run it less often. But that reduces ridership further. This was expected *before* the pandemic, and the loss due to people working at home. I think the loss is often exaggerated, but it would be oversimplifying things to assume it is nothing. It is also likely to be felt more the further away you are from the center of the city, making things even worse.

      All that being said, I think it will be OK to Federal Way, Lynnwood and certainly Redmond. When it comes to running mass transit, these areas may be a stretch, but not big ones. Everett and Tacoma definitely are though.

      In the meantime, there is the question of the express buses. It is expensive to keep running them. If you truncate them, you save money, but it is quite possible you lose riders. Not only because of the inconvenience of the transfer, but because it often takes longer to the primary destination (downtown Seattle). I don’t see this as a major problem to the east, as the train acts as an express. Link follows the same basic path as the 550, but does so faster, and with an extension to the east. Riders of the 554 will be asked to transfer, but there aren’t that many riders compared to those on the 550, let alone the full East Link ridership. If all the buses are truncated in Lynnwood after Lynnwood Link, then it is mostly just a transfer from Community Transit rides to CT/ST trips. The 510 carries a lot less than the 512, and even less than the 511 (before the pandemic). Meanwhile, Everett to UW riders come out significantly ahead (likely making up for any loss due to the 510 no longer going to downtown). I would expect a full truncation to the north, while ST actually comes out ahead.

      I would be most worried about the South Sound. The destinations along the way are nowhere close to the UW. In the middle of the day, it takes significantly longer to take the train. If you continue to run the express buses, it is great for riders (they have the best of both worlds) but you cannibalize Link ridership, to the point that very few people ride it. If you truncate the buses, you run the risk of hammering overall ridership. A fifteen minute express from Tacoma to Seattle (with a stop at the Lynnwood Freeway Station) is outstanding. A bus to a much slower train is not.

      ST can’t afford to run empty trains, so they may truncate. The trains wouldn’t be empty, but they wouldn’t be especially full, either (south of SeaTac). A lot of riders — probably most of them — come out worse off. Shades of the future of West Seattle. (OK, to be fair, Metro may just continue running the 120, and while this would hurt ST ridership, the cost of running West Seattle Link is tiny compared to running trains to Federal Way).

      1. Why did Sound Transit ever think building rail (of any kind) in Tacoma was a good idea? Tacoma should have zero rail, 75 miles of BRT and plenty of express buses.

        I know a lot of folks on this board get their undies in a bunch when I write, “Trains are White and Buses are Black” but looking at Sound Transit’s projects in Pierce Country and it’s impossible to ignore race and class in the years of bad choices.

      2. We’d have to research history to determine who originated the idea of metro rail to Tacoma Dome and how it became entrenched. I assume it coalesced in Pierce County before Sound Transit started, because electric rail to Tacoma and Everett seems to have been the primary goal from the beginning.

        Sounder was an afterthought. It was seen as low-hanging fruit that couldn’t be ignored, because it could be started quickly and “inexpensively” long before electric rail would reach them.

        Light rail was the electric rail mode eventually chosen because it could run on streets as well as elevated and underground. ST liked that because it could use one mode throughout, and it envisioned a lot more surface track than was built, following previous American light rails that were 95+% surface to keep capital costs low. That didn’t happen because there were a lot of objections to surface after Rainier/SODO were decided and U-Link was moved from the I-5 express lanes to serve Broadway and University Way.

      3. “Tacoma should have zero rail, 75 miles of BRT and plenty of express buses.” I’d disagree as someone who lives in the city and longtime resident. The city would be perfect for a good tram system to serve the city instead of a BRT, which I’d point out is basically light rail but don’t want to commit to the lrt vehicles even though the cost is marigal and would be a better long term investment than a BRT bus.

        If you want to complain to someone, go complain to BSNF about their outrageous pricing and lackluster Sounder Schedule not being all day service.

        I’m fine with the Tacoma Dome link extension, but I know a lot of people who’d like to get to other locations in the South end like the Airport, Highline College, and Federal Way.

      4. “I know a lot of people who’d like to get to other locations in the South end like the Airport, Highline College, and Federal Way.”

        That’s what we need to hear about. Do people in Pierce County attend Highline College? Do they go to Federal Way, and if so what for? How many Piercians work in the Kent industrial district and might want to take Link+bus there? How many people go from South King County to Tacoma?

        In the north end, Snohomish County to North Seattle is a sleeper hit, because there’s a lot of activities and jobs in North Seattle that Snohomish people go to, and heretofore express buses stopped only at 45th so they were hard to get to. But Link is closer to the center of the population in the north end, while in the south end it’s more at one side, and only a small corner of Pierce County. And destinations are more scattered and not near Link, and since the area is lower-income than the north end there are fewer unique businesses to go to.

        So we could really use input from people who live in Pierce County and can say what the potential travel patterns are and how well ST3 matches them.

        And if not, what to do about it? A 167 BRT line seems to make sense, but the 578 and 566 have always had lackluster ridership. The 578 originally continued from Puyallup to Tacoma, but that was truncated due to low ridership.

        I’m also concerned about the vast exurban area Pierce County included in the ST district, which is growing heavy sprawl with little transit.

      5. I actually commuted to Highline College for part of my time while there from Tacoma. If I was doing it by myself with no car from where I’m at in Tacoma, it’d be three buses to get there.
        Like an example would be for me from where I live in South Tacoma area
        PT 41 – Leaves at 8:19 AM gets to Tacoma Dome at 8:44 AM
        ST 574 – Leaves at 8:55 AM gets to either Federal Way at 9:15 AM
        KCM A line leaves at 9:20 AM arriving at around 9:36 AM
        So that would be about an 86 minute journey end to end as it stands currently.
        If there was the Link extension was there it would remove an additional transfer and would be a two seat ride instead with probably 75 minute ride instead. Which while would only be a small savings currently I would have also benefited from a more frequent schedule of Link where it’d be 8-10 minute frequency. Which is a lot better than the current 30 minute frequency of the ST Express.

      6. tacomee, nobody here gets upset when you keep repeating your white, black, bus, train theory. I guess you think you are shocking people. Or think if you repeat it enough, it becomes fact. Whatever the case, whenever you say it, I just think you sound nutty and uninformed. And the more you repeat it, the nuttier you sound.

      7. tacomee, it isn’t that rail services to Tacoma are a bad idea—they are not—but rather we need targeted investment in the BNSF corridor that allows for clockwork passengers services first, and then faster service after that. Capacity improvements were made to the corridor years ago to allow for additional Sounder service, most notably segments of new third main, but no new trackage has been constructed since. Triple-tracking the remainder of the corridor would allow for all-day passenger services and weekend service, in addition to general freight service. BNSF operations out of Chicago today provide the blueprint for this arrangement.

        Separately, the SPIRE Regional Rail megaproject remains the best opportunity for delivering emissions-free, high-speed rail service into Seattle from Tacoma, but our state is incapable of administering complex infrastructure projects. While we again legislate for fanciful high-speed rail studies, we direct our actual 80-mph trains into antique 30-mph curves.

        To Zach, as I am sure you know, BNSF is a privately held company and can charge as it desires for its tracks. However, as municipalities across the US know, they do play ball and operate rather effective commuter rail services. You just have to pay for the capacity, either in the form of new trackage and physical investments, or timeslots on existing trackage. No doubt these are pricey, but I do not believe people appreciate how devastating Sounder is to the operation of freight trains across the South Line. Between the frequency of passenger trains, their station stops, their speed differential with freight trains, and the unpredictability of freight trains as they are scheduled in the U.S., it is of no surprise that BNSF would charge a certain premium for use of the line. With that noted, I still believe that a major public investment into the corridor is worthwhile, especially as part of conventional rail infrastructure improvements to Portland (especially via SPIRE).

        Otherwise, express buses for the win. Don’t even get me started on the absurd Link Extension to the park-n-ride at the Tacoma Dome…..

      8. I’m fine with the Tacoma Dome link extension, but I know a lot of people who’d like to get to other locations in the South end like the Airport, Highline College, and Federal Way.

        But buses can do that. By the very nature of that sentence, you imply that they aren’t doing a great job of it. Fair enough. But that is the opposite of how we should approach this. The fact that these areas could easily be well served with express buses — but aren’t — suggests they aren’t great destinations for rail.

        It reminds me of when I was talking about Link with my (adult) son. I mentioned that the next step was UW to downtown. “That’s nuts”, he said, “There is already great bus service between there”.

        I went on to explain that it would include Capitol Hill, and that because it has so many riders (for all the combination of trips) is exactly why it should be converted to rail. You are replacing very good bus service with great rail service. That is how you do it.

        That simply isn’t the case here. Take the airport, for example. This is the most common reason given for Tacoma Dome Link. Taking Link from Tacoma to downtown Seattle will be much slower than taking Sounder or the bus, but it will be easier for those in Tacoma to get to the airport. Fair enough. But why then does Sound Transit only run buses every half hour? This has nothing to do with a driver shortage — there are no plans on running them more often. It has everything to do with a tiny amount of demand. The buses aren’t nowhere near full (before the pandemic) and in fact, the most popular trip is very early in the morning (when Link doesn’t run). You can run buses every five minutes; you can run a train; you can run a magical high-speed gondola — you still aren’t going to get that many riders from the Tacoma Dome to the airport. Not enough to justify the capacity of a train.

        Which brings me to trams. Sorry, but no. The fundamental advantage of mass transit trains is capacity*. Heavy rail, light rail, trams — it is all about capacity. There is simply no place in Tacoma where you need the capacity. The busiest bus in the entire Pierce County system is the 1. It carries more per service hour than any other bus, and roughly double the total number of riders of the second most popular bus (the 2). Yet it only carries around 5,000 a day. This, for a bus line that is quite long, and is really made up of two pieces (the part on SR 7, and the part on 6th that goes out to Tacoma Community College). Converting this to a tram would be silly. You would save nothing in terms of operational costs because the buses won’t be full if you run them at even a marginally acceptable level of frequency (10 minutes). In fact, that is the plan for the BRT — at peak. Running ten minute trams instead of running ten minute buses gets you nothing.

        * High speed trains are a different matter. It is also true that a subway (roughly defined as having grade separation) can make trips faster, which in turn, increases ridership. Theoretically you can do the same thing with buses (we did, in fact). But with that extra ridership, you often reach the point where trains make more sense. We could have run buses through a tunnel from 45th to downtown (with the same stops as the rail tunnel) but those buses would eventually be running every couple minutes, and you are better off running trains.

      9. I am offended by tacomee’s racist diatribes. They have no place in honest discourse of any kind, much less local transit discussions. They also violate STB’S ToS, and as such should be removed from the site with prejudice.

      10. The ugly truth about TDLE is that Link will take 20 minutes and the current ST Express 586 takes 18-20 minutes most of the runs.

        So it’s $4B for no travel time savings for the most part.

        Of course more local buses will go to Tacoma Dome when Link opens — but is it worth it?

        Then there is the financial drain of running empty trains especially south of Federal Way. Why every 6 minutes? 12 will be more than enough.

      11. Have you visited tacoma or used the buses here, because I can tell you that tacoma would work with a tram network and has in the past with streetcar service in the early 1900s. It’s kind of amusing hearing folks say that Tacoma and Everett don’t need rail even though they historically had it in the past with both the city streetcars and the old interurban service which says to me that it can handle such a thing.
        Like I get it, everything is about connecting Seattle. But other cities need much better transit too and it’s not just throwing more buses everywhere which just seems to be a lot of people’s solutions in the states even though other countries invest in proper rail service even for city populations like Tacoma’s size (Ghent and Florence come to mind) and honestly would probably be a better use of BRT funds than BRT.
        As for the 574, it’s really slow and has very inefficient route from my experience that just gets bogged down by detours and slow routing once it becomes a local sort of express bus in South King and SeaTac

      12. Zach, Tacoma today is fundamentally a different civilization than the one that constructed and actively used the streetcar system of the past. Even by 1930, that system was too large for a changing Tacoma that proved unwilling or unable to commit to its preservation, which resulted in the dismantling. This was a choice.

        And as we construct new streetcar lines without lane dedication, and which provide no real transit improvement over enhanced bus or BRT service—all at the extraordinary cost of $120-million per mile—investments in streetcar rail have proven to be an unethical and irresponsible use of public funds.

        Tacoma is not Ghent, nor is it capable of delivering infrastructure projects like the Belgians. Tacoma needs basic transit improvements. It needs practical bus enhancements. It does not need streetcars.

      13. Have you visited tacoma or used the buses here, because I can tell you that tacoma would work with a tram network and has in the past with streetcar service in the early 1900s. It’s kind of amusing hearing folks say that Tacoma and Everett don’t need rail even though they historically had it in the past with both the city streetcars and the old interurban service which says to me that it can handle such a thing.

        Of course I’ve been to Tacoma. Of course Tacoma could “handle” rail. The problem is, it wouldn’t be better, but cost a lot more money. There are really only two advantages to running a streetcar (or tram):

        1) Capacity.
        2) Existing track.

        That’s it. Since we aren’t discussing existing track, we need only discuss capacity. Put simply, Tacoma doesn’t need it. There is not a single route where it would save money. Ask yourself, on what route in Tacoma do they run too many buses? The answer is none. Not a single one. It is really the opposite — they don’t run enough buses — frequency isn’t good enough.

        Consider the BRT plans. They plan on running the buses every ten minutes, at peak. Assume for a second that they built a tram instead. This would cost a lot more, and be slower. But the streetcars would be bigger, which means they could carry more people. You save money in operations by running them less often. If the tram is twice as big as the bus, it means that you can run the tram every 20 minutes. How in the world is that better? The simple answer is, it isn’t. It is much worse.

        Building trams would mean spending a lot more money up front, and being left with a terrible choice. Either make transit much worse for riders, or ignore the main advantage of the tram.

        https://humantransit.org/2009/07/streetcars-an-inconvenient-truth.html

      14. It would almost certainly induce ridership, however. I’m not saying that is what we should do, but Trams are a more pleasant mode, and more people would very likely ride that mode, even if they wouldn’t ride buses. You can’t look at cost as the be-all end-all metric.

      15. You can certainly look at cost as a be-all, end-all metric, especially when the disparity of cost between modes is extreme.

        Tacoma is a modestly sized city of low population density. Even with theoretical induced ridership, a BRT system is far more effective transit than a couple of miles of streetcar.

      16. Troy beat me to it: cost is the be all — end all metric. It begins and ends with ridership, both to support the capital costs of whatever is installed — mode and frequency (and Ross points out trams requiring new rails are just buses needing the cost of rail), and then to support the operations and maintenance costs. If transit in this region has made one colossal error it is believing cost is not the be all — end all metric, or transit has some intrinsic good other than taking people from A to B against some stiff competition.

        If there is one truth post pandemic it is transit has to realize it does not have enough money, for capital projects or O&M (let alone bridges). Even if it is “other people’s money” there is not enough. Transit simply has to prioritize, based on those who will and can ride transit, and stop chasing phantom riders, or “induced demand”. Transit cannot afford induced demand, which means the demand is not there now. It is a dream, and a very expensive one, and too often in the past based on bad population, density and ridership assumptions.

        Cost boils down to one metric: rider mile per dollar, because that basically equals farebox recovery rates and determines mode.

        I have no idea who will pay to build these trams. We are talking Tacoma. PT is broke. The Pierce Co. subarea based on the 2021 subarea report I posted doesn’t look flush with cash based on the Tacoma extension, and without a new levy won’t reach past the Tacoma Dome. My guess is PT can’t even afford increased bus service in downtown Tacoma let alone trams.

        Seattle is no better. Its streetcar “system” (two lines) is awful transit, and worse transportation. CCC is now estimated to cost $284 million, and some act like that is a reasonable amount to spend in downtown Seattle post pandemic (or pre-pandemic).

        Every corporation in America right now is hunkering down, and reevaluating all their capital expenditures and all their operations costs. My advice is transit do the same because ST 4 is unlikely, although a separate Pierce Co. levy for trams is even more unlikely.

      17. “Tacoma today is fundamentally a different civilization than the one that constructed and actively used the streetcar system of the past.”
        Not really, and in my opinion there’s not much of a gulf as we think there is. The streetcar died from lobbying by car companies so that wouldn’t exist anymore. And now we’re told that it’s an “outdated” thing, which is just amusing when we live in car dependency now.
        “And as we construct new streetcar lines without lane dedication, and which provide no real transit improvement over enhanced bus or BRT service—all at the extraordinary cost of $120-million per mile—investments in streetcar rail have proven to be an unethical and irresponsible use of public funds”
        I mean BRT doesn’t bother to do the thing it was supposed to do when we build it, so we shouldn’t be holding up BRT as some bastian of good or moral choice because it’s “cheaper” and then doesn’t really improve anything when you look at it brass tax. Like I get that BRT is appealing because it’s “cheaper” which seems to be the only metric “concerned citizens” the US seems to absolutely care about and not so much ride or transit quality. When you parse out the cost and how BRT creep easily enters the picture that the supposed benefits you’d get from it renders it slightly better than the current bus. All to just make it look prettier and put new branding on some articulated buses. Like I get it American politicians and overly concerned taxpayers love the cheapness of BRT but in my opinion it’s not the holy grail that they laud it as. As for the Ghent and Tacoma comparison, I’d say it’s fairly valid from my experience. It has the potential there and the density is actually fairly comparable. Tacoma I’d argue is a fairly dense city for its size and is designed in a manner where trams would work great on a lot of routes.

      18. When you parse out the cost and how BRT creep easily enters the picture that the supposed benefits you’d get from it renders it slightly better than the current bus. All to just make it look prettier and put new branding on some articulated buses.

        But you can say the exact same thing about trams! That is the point. Think of any BRT project that disappointed you, and you can bet your ass that the same cutbacks — the same “creep” — would happen with a tram. I keep going back to this, and you keep ignoring it, but there are only two significant advantages to trams:

        1) They have bigger capacity.
        2) They can run on existing rail lines.

        That’s it. Otherwise, they are exactly the same as buses, if not worse. The 7 could be replaced by a tram, and it would encounter just as much traffic. Either streetcar could be replaced by a bus and it would perform much the same. You can’t say the same thing about Link because Link actually uses the extra capacity to run *less* often. If we replaced Link with buses (running on the same pathway) we would have to run a lot more buses, which would cost a lot more money.

        As for “BRT”, it is the same thing. Call it “Tram Rapid Transit” if you want. BRT is exactly the same as TRT. There is no magic point at which a regular bus become BRT, anymore than a tram becomes TRT. It is a sliding scale, and there are a number of ways in which you can improve things:

        * BAT lanes — These allow cars, but only if they are accessing the lane to turn right (into a driveway or at the next intersection).
        * Transit lanes — These can only be used by transit vehicles.
        * Signal priority — Minimizes the time a vehicle spends at a traffic light.
        * Grade separation — Build a tunnel, or run the vehicles above ground.
        * Off board payment — Speeds boarding.

        All of these can be applied to buses or trams. Often they are applied in a piecemeal fashion. But here is an important difference: It is a lot easier to apply them to buses. That is because bus service is inherently more flexible. It is much cheaper to make changes to make the bus faster, simply because you don’t have to move the rail. Ultimately, it really is a money game. The reason BRT is often watered down is the same reason trams are often watered down: Money. If you spend money on something that doesn’t provide that much benefit, you end up not having enough to spend on things that do.

        As for Tacoma’s old trams, it is a shame that they got rid of them. But they did. There is no going back. But you are delusional if you think that they would have better ridership than the buses, just because they were trams.

        As for Ghent being like Tacoma, that is silly. Ghent has way more density. Ghent is more densely populated than most of Seattle, let alone Tacoma. Here is a typical tram station in a typical neighborhood in Ghent: https://goo.gl/maps/ZekiZiXzEZwMNcwH8. Again, this is typical. Move the map around if you doubt me. Just about every neighborhood is like that. It has more density than a handful of places in Seattle, and every place in Tacoma. That is basically Brooklyn, or greater Tokyo. You just can’t find that in Tacoma, except *maybe* downtown, and downtown (like Seattle’s downtown) should have a “spine” (https://humantransit.org/2018/09/dublin-what-is-a-spine.html).

        There are places where trams make sense. Tacoma isn’t one of them.

    2. “ST probably is not interested in increased frequency and cost for express buses with Lynnwood, Federal Way and East Link set to open within a few years.”

      It was planning to though. It realized several routes have underservice that should have been increased years ago, and it was finally going to do it in the last couple years before ST2 Link and Stride, but the driver shortage made it impossible. It was going to increase the 550 to 15 minutes Sundays, and add Sunday service to the 535, among others. This is to prebuild ridership for Link and Stride, as well as addressing underservice, and fulfilling its ST2 goals.

    3. You know what’s really cheap? No transit at all.

      Except when you take into account that it forcing a person to own a car essentially steals 6.8 million in accumulated wealth, over someone’s lifetime.

      No wonder half the people in the US have essentially no savings.

      And for many politicians and owners of the means of production, that’s a feature not a bug.

      1. Arlington, TX is the largest US city without a public transit system at all from what I remember. Nearly 400,000 people and no public transit at al is kind of absurd thing to hear and see. They have a Via system but that seems kind of ridiculous thing to have for that many people. They also house one of the major universities in Texas as well with UoT Arlington.

      2. At the same time what is really stupid Cam is to build something like WSBLE when for the same price (as currently estimated) we could provide every rider/ride six $60,000 cars over the next sixty years. One thing post pandemic is cars scale, and they don’t require removing hundreds or thousands of existing homes.

        No one on this blog is arguing for no transit. Just transit that is based on dollar per rider mile, because the gilded age of transit is over, and whether it is the seismic retrofitting cost estimates in Move Seattle or ST 3 the cost estimates were all lies so there isn’t enough money. So we have to choose which transit is the best investment.

        I will agree on one thing: the next Move Seattle levy will have no transit because all of it will have to go to bridges, because when bridges fail they are closed and cost a fortune to fix in a hurry, and citizens tend to dislike politicians and mayors who close their bridges.

        The biggest concern is a bridge fails with someone on it. At that point the state or feds will force Seattle to fix all the bridges NOW because they will all be closed. That will be the mother of all levies, after the SB5528 levy for WSBLE.

      3. When a bridge fails, you can get emergency money from the state or the feds to fix it. You don’t need a giant local levy.

      4. I don’t know if waiting for a bridge to fail in order to secure federal money is a wise strategy. Why not seek the federal money before the bridge fails?

        The closure of the West Seattle Bridge and the loss of economic activity in West Seattle and costs of an accelerated repair no doubt cost tens of millions of dollars (and probably calcified West Seattle’s bias for cars over transit). It is the closure that is so frustating and why transit agencies don’t wait for bridges to fail.

        I think SDOT agrees waiting for failure is unwise. That is why Move Seattle at least allocated money to seismic retrofit major bridges. Plus the council wanted to bond the $20 tab fee although $100 million over ten years is irresponsibly low and just political window dressing.

        But since Seattle is one of the most irresponsible cities in the US the cost estimates as noted by Tisgwm were so low they were clearly dishonest, and SDOT instead decided to pursue silly projects to appease Seattle’s extra loud political class.

        Fine, let the Ballard and Fremont and University bridges fail and close for years so even more businesses move to the Eastside.

        Let’s just hope ST doesn’t compromise I-90.

      5. “I don’t know if waiting for a bridge to fail in order to secure federal money is a wise strategy. Why not seek the federal money before the bridge fails?”

        Because you don’t get to the top of the fed’s priority list with their limited funds until it actually does fail. Yes, waiting costs more in the long run, but to get the higher orders of government to kick in vs. having to fund the whole thing locally, it’s often the only option.

      6. and they don’t require removing hundreds or thousands of existing homes.

        And nor does a reasonable version of WSBLE with surface tails. You seem to think that ST’s Edifice Complex has something to do with “transit”, when it’s really just a sop to the concrete and steel industries.

        The only place that a tunnel is needed is between Elliott and Republican and Third and Cedar. Two car Citidis Trams can run on Third Avenue just beautifully. Yes, that means that the RapidRide buses or the trolleys would have to leave Third for Second and Fourth or Fourth and Fifth, but that’s not the end of the world. Since you are so certain that Downtown Seattle is dead, dead, dead you should be advocating for such an inexpensive solution. It would also provide an ST-paid path for a CCC connection.

        Run elevated from the dip south of Yesler to Seattle Boulevard.

        The cross-streets between Seneca and Cherry could just use stop signs for the east-west traffic so the buses and trains would not have to stop except at stations. Portland makes the “weaving skip-stop” work just fine for sharing.

        You get the capacity and reliability of rail for the runs between the two semi-suburban neighborhoods but have really rather insignificant construction costs.

      7. When was the gilded age of transit again? I must a have blinked and missed it.

        As a society, we should be spending vastly more money on transit than we ever have. The goal should not be saving and penny-pinching, though sure, we should be choosing the best mode for a situation.

        The goal should be giving each and every one of our residents an alternative to getting in the world-killing automobile in a way that is safe and competitive. Just the simple possibility.

        95% of our population doesn’t have that alternative. It’s killing personal finances quicker than it’s killing the planet.

      8. I both live on the best transit line in the entire county, I love transit, and go into work 3 or 4 days a week.

        And the premier, best line in the entire county is so useless as to be unusable, due to frequency speed and reliability.

        I lived in Fremont for 10 years, an area close in, inside the biggest metro area in the state. I went one of two places nearly every day – UW and downtown. To the UW, was transit competitive with bike, car or foot? Maybe foot. But only maybe. The the other two modes would lap the slow-boat through Wallingford, that was unreliable and often stuck in traffic.

        Downtown was somewhat better, if you were willing to climb up and stand on a highway.

        If transit didn’t, as far as I know still doesn’t, offer a competitive alternative for someone living in Fremont, then transit has failed.

      9. I would put the gilded age of transit at four stages:

        1. Millennials moving to urban centers because they marry later, really picking up steam in 2010.

        2. In this region the passage of Move Seattle.

        3. 2016 passage of ST 3 with votes from the Eastside.

        4. The D’s sweeping the 2020 elections and passing the infrastructure bill.

        By “gilded” I mean funding, not whether that funding is well used.

        The pandemic, aging of Millennials , de urbanization, WFH, and probability R’s will win in 2022 and 2024 suggest to me transit funding will decline, workers will be short, ridership will decline due to WFH and lack of congestion, and operations costs will exceed operations revenue while many unfinished capital projects were underestimated for cost hoping for additional revenue when the opposite is likely.

        I think today the region would question ST 3 or the spine, and the next Move Seattle will have to focus almost entirely on bridges plus federal money.

        I don’t think the Millennial will be the savior because they will be crushed by so many Baby Boomers retiring without adequate private retirement savings and huge medical costs.

      10. I’m not disputing that transit will continue to be vastly underfunded, as demonstrated by outcomes.

        I am disputing it was ever adequately funded, much less over-funded, as the “gilded-age” snark implied.

  5. How is ST going to find enough drivers to run the trains when East Link and the line to Federal Way open up?

    It seems to me there will still be a demand for more bus drivers on the routes that connect to the stations, and then there will be the additional demand for train drivers.

    I’m sure they have plans in place, and it may not end up being a problem, but it seems like this could be something that gives some push to the idea of automating the trains.

    1. Good question! Express + Stride revenue service decreased by 134k between 2023 and 2026 while Link increases by 576k.

      My take is that they will try to shift drivers from bus to rail. Then, I think they will push a big effort to hire in 2023-24. Then, I expect the peak East Link service to end up at 10 minutes (rather than 7.5 minutes) until there are enough drivers — and maybe trains.

    2. Depending on the route, if you are willing to sacrifice one-seat rides, you can save a lot by switching from buses to rail. Even now, with the current service restricted because of the shortage, buses are running midday every 15 minutes from Federal Way to downtown (it is just that one set of buses aren’t stopping there). Thus the trade-off is 15 minutes of train service (from Federal Way to SeaTac) 6 times an hour, versus 40 minutes of bus service (from Federal Way to downtown) 4 times an hour. Thus you come out ahead in the middle of the day (and it is even better during rush hour). It is actually even better than that, as the train is already running to Angle Lake (which is a bit closer to Federal Way).

      Thus there are significant savings that can be made by switching to rail, and asking people to transfer. There are drawbacks though. A lot of riders are worse off in this scenario (they will miss their midday express to downtown Seattle). Trains are more expensive to operate (even though they usually cost less per rider). A transfer of service in this manner also means you have less opportunity to provide additional improvements. For example, I really think a 15 minute all-day bus from Woodinville to the UW (via 405 and 520, making all of the freeway stops) would be a very good addition to the transit network. It would make sense to add that after Link gets to Lynnwood (and the BRT projects are complete). But if there is a rider shortage, it would be hard to do.

      I agree with Al, the biggest potential problem is with peak service as the two lines converge. It is one thing to run a train to Federal Way every ten minutes — it is another to run a train every three minutes to Lynnwood (the original plan). It is quite likely we will have to turn back some of those trains (at Northgate) and/or just run every ten minutes, even at peak. As it is, it sucks that places like Rainier Valley only get ten minute frequency most of the day, it would suck even more if they have to put up with all-day ten minute headways.

      It is also quite possible that by the time Link expands, there will be no driver shortage. I hope so.

      1. I sense that the standard will be 10 minute Link per line even through peak times. It will take overcrowding to add trains during peak times as long as there aren’t enough drivers, and then I only see things going to 7.5 minutes per line for the shortest time possible like 7-9 and 4-6.

        It’s always possible to train more train drivers. Since this is an issue at least 2 years away, I would hope that ST has a plan.

        Turnback trains are a logical alternative but are operationally and politically complicated to pull off. ST3 promised the 6/3 minutes frequency. Of course, the board can defer that. It would be interesting to push the additional trains to turnback early, but the outer stations would then end up with 15 minute service (using 7.5 minutes and every other train) or 12 minute service (using the 6 minute service promise in ST3).

        I do think a Northgate turnback would be a good strategy to save drivers if it came to that, like Ross suggests. The initial service plan from ST2 I believe was to do that. The stations north of Northgate don’t have nearly the drawing power of Downtown Bellevue or SeaTac — so trains every 3-5 minutes may not be needed. It’s 12 minutes each way (24 total) to go between Northgate and Lynnwood. That’s a savings of 3 train sets assuming 10 minute service or 4 assuming 7.5 or 6 minute service. It seems especially true at non peak times because the Lynnwood Link stations areas aren’t known for intense daylong attractions. I could see all of Line 1 turning back at Northgate during non-peak times and maybe going to Lynnwood as the peak added service..

        Of course, this is ST we are talking about. You know — the agency that just had trains not clearing the newly built Downtown Bellevue tunnel until the sides got shave back. Meanwhile, ST continues on presenting themselves as Seattle’s smartest public agency like a king with no clothes.

        Of course, the ST3 low performing extensions will be an ongoing embarrassing and costly problem for ST after 2032. Everyone is obsessed about where stations go — but no one is talking about their awful demand forecasts.

    3. Link drivers pull from the same KCM union labor pool of drivers; Link is a preferred assignment for most drivers (lack of customer interaction is likely a key perk), so I don’t think ST would ever have a problem with a shortage of Link drivers, as I believe the training from bus to Link work is pretty quick … the issue instead would be that for each driver ST pulls into Link, that’s one less driver for KCM to provide STX or KCM bus service.

      T-Link drivers are directly employed by ST, so there could be a streetcar driver shortage independent of issues

  6. We get ST CEO’s and SDOT Directors from out of state, so why don’t they recruit transit operators from out of state? “Because, Sam, those examples you mentioned are executive positions! That’s why they do a national search!” But, don’t local police departments recruit and advertise out of state for officers? Maybe ST and Metro should try that, and offer bonuses and moving expenses to new hires.

    1. Unfortunately, transit agencies nationally are having exactly the same problems. I don’t think searching nationally will help.

    2. Did you check whether ST advertises driver positions out of state? In any case, it’s competing with 49 other states for the limited number of drivers available.

  7. Why don’t northbound ST Express buses dump riders off at TIBS? It’s a 5 minute detour. Then the buses could run more frequently.

    1. With Link well under construction into Federal Way (with a completion in 2024/2025), I wouldn’t be surprised if the 578 and other routes originating in Tacoma get truncated at the Federal Way TC/Link Station much like they were when Northgate Link opened up.

      1. That was the apparent plan in ST2 in January 2016: all scenarios had all ST Express routes truncated at Federal Way and Lynnwood. Since then the only thing we’ve heard is the size of the ST Express budget in ST3, which is on the lower side. And some hints from the East Link Restructure proposals, which are similar. I suppose we’ll get the first Federal Way and Lynnwood proposals next year. Then we’ll see whether ST goes through with it, and how much pressure there is to preserve some express routes to downtown.

        The problem with truncating at TIB is Link is slower than ST Express, about 12 minutes slower through Rainier Valley and SODO. That affects all suggested truncations at TIB, KDM, Federal Way, or intermediate ones like Angle Lake or SeaTac. ST probably wants to wait until it has substantial Link service throughout South King County (i.e., Federal Way) before truncating buses.

  8. As someone who now uses the 578 regularly (as well as the S-Line Sounder) during the off-peak, I can see why these cuts are being made. This afternoon, I took the 1507 Sounder from King Street to Sumner, and the train was essentially empty. I recall taking the train prior to my move to Shoreline back in 2011 and it was full; even standing room only for the last segment between Tukwila and King Street.

    But, back to the buses. The 578 is a slog of a route, and I suspect that many simply use the Tacoma buses (590/592/594) for an albeit quicker trip to Seattle. If taking the bus from Sumner (or Puyallup as I’ve done a few times as well), the route lumbers up SR 167. Once the HOV lane opens, it should offer some improvement, but the bus still needs to navigate the GP lanes when entering and exiting the HOV lanes in Sumner and Auburn.

    The circuitous routes to the Auburn and Sumner stations add to the delay of the route. After 90 minutes or so (from the time you board in either Sumner or Puyallup), you finally arrive in Seattle.

    Ridership from Puyallup, Sumner and Auburn tends to be meager. Many of the riders I’ve observed use the 578 as a bypass of KCM Route 181 between Auburn TC and Federal Way TC. A majority of the riders using the 578 seem to board at the Federal Way transit station.

    1. The entire south sound area seems nearly impossible to serve with transit efficiently, beyond slow local routes that stop everywhere and take forever to go a long distance.

      Kent to Tacoma, for example, take 1.5-2 hours when Sounder isn’t running, and there’s no easy way to fix it without creating a dedicated freeway express bus for that purpose, running back and forth, probably carrying 3-5 people per trip at a subsidy of around $30/person.

      Part of the problem is that the destinations just don’t line up neatly along a straight line, requirement multiple routes, and even when they do sort of line up, every time you exit the freeway, it’s 5 minutes of stoplights just to reach a bus stop and get back on the freeway again, and that time adds up fast.

      If more people could afford homes in Seattle, avoiding the need to serve places like Kent and Auburn in the first place, things would be much simpler.

      1. I’m not sure it is all that bad. For Kent to Tacoma, the first thing to decide is where in Kent and where in Tacoma the bus will go. Tacoma is easy — the far end of downtown. This gives riders a one-seat ride to the biggest destination, good transfers, and increases the number of trips on the downtown Tacoma “spine”. With Kent it is a little trickier. Kent has a weak downtown, but at least the station is in it. I’m not sure what areas to cover (justice center probably).

        Then there is the issue of how to get between them. The fastest way is 167, 18, I-5. The drawback is there is nothing “on the way”. Everything requires a detour. You can follow the freeway and then cut over to serve Auburn. This adds about 5 minutes. You could even run on Auburn Way, but that adds a lot more time. Another alternative is to go via 516 and I-5. This adds a few minutes, but isn’t much slower, and gives you the Federal Way freeway station.

        I think it comes down to two alternative paths:

        1) SR 167, detour to Auburn, SR 18, I-5
        2) SR 516, I-5, freeway station, I-5

        Both add value beyond just the trip from place to place, without costing riders a huge amount of time. I can’t really pick one, because it would depend on the rest of the network.

        As far as traffic goes, Sounder provides the main alternative to it. Thus you don’t need to run this during rush hour. If you do, you still have HOV/HOT lanes on I-5 and 167. Adding ramps or surface bus/BAT lanes would be good, and help other trips as well. These can be chipped away at (starting with surface improvements, since they are the cheapest).

        It is true that you won’t get that many riders, but it might add up. The 512 gets less than ten riders per bus from Everett. But each stop adds a few, and by the time it reaches Northgate, it performs reasonably well (for a regional bus). Regional buses will always be heavily subsidized, but it is nowhere near the subsidy of a brand-new, poorly designed regional subway line.

      2. If more people could afford homes in Seattle, avoiding the need to serve places like Kent and Auburn in the first place, things would be much simpler.

        I don’t think that has much to do with it. Kent and Auburn grew back when Seattle homes were cheap (in various neighborhoods). The biggest problem is that they grew in a poor way. Most of these cities have very weak centers. Not only are they built around the concept that to get to the big city you take the freeway, but they assume that to get get into town you drive. Auburn actually looks like a small town of a few hundred people: https://goo.gl/maps/xeV9HE8je5DQf5WR6. It doesn’t look that much different than, say, Darrington: https://goo.gl/maps/9JR5UcGgk5zCUsCMA.

        Except Darrington is a small town — Auburn isn’t. Darrington has around 1,200 people. Auburn is a city of over 80,000 people, and yet the neighborhood I showed is one of its most urban. Auburn sprawls. It has grown around the automobile, and this has made serving it with transit very difficult. It has made buying a house very difficult. Rather than subdividing into smaller lots and building apartments as the city grew, it simply grew outward. Many of the new subdivisions have very big lots, built on two really bad assumptions. The first is that no one would ever walk to a restaurant, grocery store, or any other place people routinely visit.

        The second is that the neighborhood will never change. It did not evolve in an organic way, the way cities throughout the world did for centuries. It grew in an organized, planned, and ultimately very poor manner. I don’t blame the planners in particular — they would have to geniuses to replicate the vitality and resilience of a neighborhood in a typical city. At the risk of sounding blasphemous, they would have to be godlike. Spend a little time watching nature shows and it doesn’t take long to realize there are thousands of interrelated species in the same area. It is all very complicated. It ain’t no zoo. To replicate this — to make the equivalent of say, the Hoh Rain Forest — wouldn’t be possible, even if you were a genius. Only a god could do that. If you believe that happened, fine. I believe it simply evolved, over millions of years, to the wonderful, very complicated mess that exists now.

        The same is true for most cities throughout the world. Rome wasn’t built in a day. It evolved, over a very long time. Not so with Auburn. A lot of developments were built in a very short time, with no expectation that they will ever change. In fact, the law makes it very difficult for them to change. The neighborhood I showed is akin to Capitol Hill in that it isn’t far from downtown. If anything, it is better off, as there isn’t a big hill separating it. Around the time that Seattle had about 80,000 people, Capitol Hill went on a big apartment building boom. Books have been written about it: https://www.elliottbaybook.com/book/9780786465965. Despite really high housing costs through the region, Auburn is not building in that manner, and probably never will. It will continue to sprawl, though.

        Unfortunately, this makes transit much harder. It is why regional transit (by bus or rail) is so much more popular in the rest of the world (especially Europe). They still have cars, but transit just works better when you have strong centers, and little sprawl. If you think of Auburn as another Darrington, it seems silly to worry about high transit ridership. If you think of it as a European suburb or satellite city, you wonder why transit would get so little ridership. Why is it so hard? A big reason is that it sprawls too much.

      3. I think to understand Auburn’s development you need to look at two factors:

        1. It is an unplanned community. It was mostly built without an external if artificial development plan. So the market dictated development.

        2. The work demographic.

        Many if not most workers in Auburn can’t take transit to work, let alone want to. Either they need to drive to many locations, or carry tools, or go to remote areas. So transit was never a consideration in the planning. Transit or TOD rather than being an artificial construct of zoning were just market factors that were not very popular.

        At the same time those moving to Auburn wanted a SFH. TOD or an apartment in an urban area was not their dream. Land was pretty cheap for subdivisions, and although some on this blog can’t understand it families (and especially moms) love cul-de-sacs and subdivisions because they are safe for kids, and you get to know your neighbors. The bigger and more rural the neighborhood the better.

        Someone working in Seattle or Tacoma who could take transit to work and wanted some kind of urban experience would never choose Auburn to live in. It would be like taking Mike Orr and putting him in a SFH in a cul-de-sac in Auburn.

        Auburn like cities like Oak Harbor suffer when the zoning is absent when designing the commercial center. Forget about the SFH zones because folks there want that kind of housing and are happy about it because TOD and transit are not needs in their lives, and if you allow just about any use in a zone like some on this blog advocate you undercut any kind of commercial retail core.

        It is hard to understand but the retail core comes before the multi-family housing core because otherwise no one wants to live there. Today who would want to live in “downtown” Auburn? Based on development to date it will be nearly impossible to recreate a commercial and retail core. My guess is the residents have no issue with the SFH zones and subdivisions and cul-de-sacs but wish there had been better zoning in the commercial core, same issue with Oak Harbor.

      4. Kent and Auburn owe their roots to the construction of the PSE interurban and parallel railroads. Then they grew to be worker suburbs. As Downtown Seattle employment grew, so did their numbers commuting to Seattle. They also shifted to become more ethnically diverse. Part of that shift was the availability of smaller homes.

        The popularity of Sounder South has spurred interest in some mid-rise apartments getting built in both places. The overall density is similar to many areas of King County (not lower) as shown here:

        https://psrc.org/sites/default/files/sngrant2019-21-density-king.pdf

        Because of similar population densities as well as the demographics of ethnicity and income that skew more to transit use or dependency , to say that transit should serve this area less is pretty unfair. Not only is there not a direct freeway running into Downtown Seattle unless one gets to I-5 a few miles west, but Metro routes aren’t performing any worse than other suburban areas, as shown here:

        https://kingcounty.gov/~/media/depts/metro/accountability/pdf/2019/system-evaluation.pdf

        It’s such a broad area that it’s tough to generalize — but when I read a poster imply that this area doesn’t deserve transit, I really wonder if it’s simply because that poster has little interest in visiting that part of King County as well as surrounds themselves with a less diverse set of social contacts.

      5. Al, I am not sure anyone on this blog said Kent or Auburn don’t “deserve” transit. They said Auburn is exceedingly difficult to serve well with transit.

        I have always fundamentally disagreed with the plan to build TOD and then provide the transit later. Either there is the transit ridership for a certain level or mode of transit or there is not. I think Ross’s point — which I agree with — is look at the transit ridership today and then determine the level of transit needed. I think Auburn and Kent are poster cities for my view.

        Auburn and Kent have developed based on housing desires and work patterns, not TOD or transit, so not surprisingly they are very difficult to serve with transit, and need first/last mile access to undense areas (not unlike East King Co.). Then most of the workers are not going to “urban centers” for their destination (and recently one poster noted it takes hours for his daughter to go to and from Kent to Redmond). They don’t have a commercial/retail core so TOD seems unlikely, including along I-5 to match the route of Link.

        It has very little to do with ethnicity or class warfare. These cities have always been working class. These are the very same transit issues with east King Co., and those workers have more wealth than Seattle and a very high percentage of jobs that can be served by transit, which ironically makes those jobs ideal for WFH.

        If you have a good plan to better serve Kent and Auburn with transit (including first/last mile access which in these areas is park and rides) let’s hear it. From what I can see it would have to be buses, and as Ross and others have pointed out truncating those buses at Link is a slog, and most don’t have destinations where Link is going. There is a very good reason 18 and 167 are so heavily congested with cars and trucks, even during the pandemic and post-pandemic. Are we going to increase transit on 167 and 18 for folks who need tools or to go to many work destinations or just destinations not well served by transit?

      6. Some of it is chicken and the egg. If, as in Pierce County, the transit is non-existent or barely usable for those who have some mode-choice, looking at current transit ridership is deeply unfair and misleading.

        PSRC does this, looking at current ridership to assess future funding. So Pierce get’s shafted every time.

        It’s the “Look! noone crosses that river, so we shouldn’t build a bridge!” problem.

        Ridership would be higher if it would be usable. We should fund based on need; build a basic, usable network with reasonable (15 mins or less) frequency. If you aren’t getting ridership then, okay. But judging potential ridership based on current ridership of a disfunctional network of slow, unreliable, infrequent buses to nowhere is the wrong way to go.

      7. https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=auburn+washington&id=EB818BFA0A196D91368728763737808282B4C1B8&form=IARRTH&first=1&disoverlay=1

        [Photos of Auburn].

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auburn,_Washington

        “Transportation:

        “Auburn has many large roads nearby and within city limits, including State Route 167 (commonly referred as the “Valley Freeway”) and State Route 18. Auburn also has its own transit center, Auburn station in downtown, that serves as a major hub for southern King County. Sound Transit buses connect the Auburn Transit Center directly to Federal Way, Sumner, and Kent, while King County Metro buses connect it to Green River Community College, the Super Mall, and Auburn Way.

        “Sounder commuter trains travel from Auburn to Downtown Seattle in approximately 30 minutes, and to Lakewood station in less than 35 minutes.

        “Until 1987, Auburn was home to a steam locomotive roundhouse and diesel engine house of the Northern Pacific Railway, the BNSF Railway of today. BNSF maintains a rail yard and small car repair facility, along with maintenance-of-way facilities at the former NP yard.[35] The Auburn Municipal Airport serves the general aviation community.”

        Auburn has one ST park and ride with 244 stalls for a city of 87,000+. https://www.soundtransit.org/ride-with-us/parking/south-king-county/auburn-park-ride Metro has 7 park and rides with around 825 stalls not including the ST lot. [Compare park and ride capacity in Bellevue in the same link].

        So the question is what additional transit would someone add for Auburn.

      8. I can’t declare myself an authority on South King. With that said, here are some observations:

        1. The 167 corridor per ST subareas is split between East King (Renton) and South King (Kent, Auburn). If ST develops a project — like a Stride 4 line from South King to 405 to Bellevue, both subareas should chip in. It appears that IKEA and the major car dealers near there are in the East King subarea, by the way. (It still blows me away how the Issaquah – South Kirkland Link line is in ST3 when there is very little congestion on the path so that buses could easily work, while both 405 and 167 get daylong congestion but remained off the ST3 rail planning outside of Sounder upgrades which are very peak direction focused. When the question of why emerges the “blame” ends up at the city council levels rather than a more systemic performance evaluation that should have been done prior to the ballot measure development.)

        It would be nice to have frequent day-long bidirectional rail in the corridor but I agree that the density isn’t there. I wouldn’t say the residential density isn’t there as much as there is a lack of concentrated activity districts that have parking restrictions and costs. The addition of Sounder garages just makes parking charges even harder to introduce, frankly.

        2. Another ST issue is the Covington and Maple Valley and Black Diamond exclusions from the ST district. Those residents get the benefit of Sounder without kicking in dough outside of boarding fares. A South King solution should include a sincere consideration of adding these places in. However, adding them in would make an ST4 even harder to pull off district-wide and I think that’s unlikely in concept for the foreseeable future.

        3. The big underutilized resources are the Sounder tracks. As long as the tracks are privately held, trail transit expansion in South King will be limited. I draw a parallel to CalTrain, which became owner of those tracks. That was a game changer for them — from an enhanced limited stop schedule with bypass tracks to now electrification enabling faster starts and stops to high speed rail overlays. Getting ownership conversion is the best way to transform into better rail transit service in the corridor. There are work-arounds but they are both inefficient to operate and costly to build. To get there, some game changing public action would be needed.

        4. In the meantime, I’m all for a RapidRide network in South King that has better Link connectivity. Extend RapidRide I to Rainier Beach? Reconfigure RapidRide F to turn south at South Renton to be RapidRide I, and connect Renton Landing to Kent and KDM/ Highline College with a new RapidRide line (Oakesdale, 84th Ave S, SR 516/KDM Station, ending in Downtown Des Moines)? Extend RapidRide A from FWTC to the Outlet Mall area and Downtown Auburn and maybe even Muckleshoot? I’m a fan of L shaped RapidRide routes in South King because requiring multiple bus transfers is awful in lower density areas with a classic grid network.

      9. It is an unplanned community. It was mostly built without an external if artificial development plan. So the market dictated development.

        Sorry, no. Initially the market guided development. This is “old Auburn”, if you will. But then it ran into the same restrictions that exist throughout most of North America. They put artificial limits on density and encouraged sprawl. That is why Auburn doesn’t look like Capitol Hill. A lot of the development was clearly done as part of a large-scale plan (https://goo.gl/maps/3Jap2Zzb7TQSgZ198). This part of town didn’t grow organically. It wasn’t like the city built the streets, and houses came, one by one. It was one big developer, with a massive development and full cooperation of the city (and/or county). Nor has “old Auburn” changed much over the years, with smaller lots replacing big ones, and apartments replacing houses.

        Meanwhile, the freeway was definitely built by an external force: the state and federal government. SR 18 was developed into a freeway in 1995, when Auburn had less than 40,000 people. There is no way that a city that size would pony up for a major expansion of that type — they couldn’t possibly afford it.

        I don’t want to pick on Auburn because this is all very normal in the United States and Canada. It was encouraged by the government, and became a trend nationwide (and spread to Canada). The problem is, it sucks. To be clear, the problem isn’t the automobile. There are plenty of cars in Europe. The problem is designing a city where not only is everyone expected to drive everywhere, you aren’t allowed to change that. If I want to open up a small shop, I can’t. If I want to convert my house to an apartment, I can’t. But if I want to knock down a forest or a farm and replace it with more big homes on big lots, that is just fine (as long as I grease the right palms).

        This is not “the market” deciding, anymore than urban renewal was. They were both terrible ideas — ideas that European cities largely avoided, to their benefit.

        Al, I am not sure anyone on this blog said Kent or Auburn don’t “deserve” transit. They said Auburn is exceedingly difficult to serve well with transit.

        Exactly. From a transit perspective, these are very difficult places to serve. From every governmental perspective, they are difficult to serve. Water, sewers, roads, you name it. The problem is basically the same. Too many people too spread out over too much land. The best example is fire hydrants per person. Think how many there are in Ballard. Now think how many there are in Lakeland Hills, Auburn. The latter means that everyone will eventually have to pay a lot more for the same basic governmental function. That’s not good.

      10. Not to put too fine a point on it, but when Link is completed to Redmond, taking transit between the two points will be by far the fastest and most reliable mode between the two points, at least for the peak work trip. Sounder to East Link would not be “cheap” but it will fly!

      11. Well Ross, I don’t think Auburn wants to look like Capitol Hill. I certainly would not want to live on Capitol Hill. Developers build what the housing demands which in Auburn is: SFH.

        I am not sure what your complaints about Hwy 18 are. It was upgraded because it was a death trap. 18 is how Auburn workers get to their Eastside jobs (mostly construction) and eastbound on I-90 without dealing with 167 and 405. Leaving it narrow and dangerous would not lower the population in Auburn or change the zoning/density or encourage folks to take transit.

        I also don’t understand how changing the zoning in the SFH zone in Auburn creates retail/commercial density. Allowing retail in the SFH zone would do the opposite. I doubt there is a single location in the SFH zone you could place retail and not have to drive to it, and with no retail density it would fail.

        The way you condense retail is to limit where it can go to create retail density. There are plenty of places to open retail in Auburn or build multi-family housing although I am not sure the market is there for it. I might visit Capitol Hill for the retail density but have zero interest in living in multi-family housing on Capitol Hill, or I would.

        I think people who live in Auburn would tell you they like Auburn and don’t want to be like Capitol Hill. Really Auburn is not unlike zoning on the essstside, just more remote and not as wealthy. I doubt anyone on the Eastside wants their city or neighborhood to be anything like Capitol Hill. More like the opposite.

        Focusing on the SFH zone misses the issue. Where density is required — whether Auburn or Seattle — is in the retail/commercial zone, which by definition must be limited to condense it. Focus on the retail zone because those in the SFH zone love their neighborhoods and don’t want change or to be Capitol Hill, and don’t mind driving to a retail dense zone if one exists, and if one does not exist you have no hope of creating multi-family housing.

      12. Dan, do developers build what housing is demanded, or what housing is zoned?

        If developers build what housing is demanded, and that housing is SFH-only, why oppose broad upzones?

      13. Nathan, it depends.

        If you are talking about use zoning — allowing retail in the SFH zone I think that is a bad idea because: 1. You want to condense retail to create retail density. That is the point of a 15 minute city. That once you get there you can meet your daily needs within 15 minutes of walking or biking, although I think the concept is an urban planner gimmick if you have a family, need to carry stuff like gallons of milk or dog food, or need to go to Costco. If downtown MI and Paris are both 15 minute cities I guess I don’t get it. And 2. no I don’t want someone running a retail business out of their house next to my house because of traffic, noise, strangers, etc. If you don’t have kids some can’t understand a SFH zone. Just like I can’t understand anyone over 30 wanting to live on Capitol Hill.

        If you are talking about changing regulatory limits like minimum lot size or house to lot area ratios or parking minimums I would be opposed, and without those upzones I don’t see how multi-family housing makes sense in these SFH zones. I mean, would you want to live in an apartment in an outer SFH zone in Auburn without a car? Where is the profit for a developer with the SFH regulatory limits.

        The reality is zoning has little to do with builders building, and almost nothing to do with affordability. Construction starts have plummeted in 2022 despite demand, and prices are dropping (for sales, not rents which is a different issue) despite a shortage of housing.

        Zoning does determine however retail density and whether you have a downtown. I live SFH zone cities and so do the residents on MI. We just want more retail density in the town center, not the residential neighborhoods. That sounds stupid to us.

        If a neighborhood in Auburn decided it wanted to upzone ok, it’s their neighborhood. You and I don’t live there. If the residents of Capitol Hill decided to upzone to 50 stories and allow commercial and gentrify the neighborhood ok, I don’t live there. But people who live on Capitol Hill have the same qualification to determine the zoning in Auburn as those folks in Auburn have in rezoning Capitol Hill.

        Different people want different zoning. Find what suits you and live there.

      14. So, here’s the problem with the “retail density” argument for limiting retail to retail zones. Let’s say you have a “retail zone” with room for 5 stores, and you want to build a 6th store. With fixed zoning, you can’t. You have to either replacing an existing store or set up shop in a completely new neighborhood. The SFH zoning is actually limiting retail density, not increasing it. Without SFH zoning, you can buy up whatever house is adjacent to the existing retail area and convert it to a store, allowing the retail area to organically expand, thereby increasing the number of shops within walking distance of all of the other homes around it.

        And, as to “Different people want different zoning. Find what suits you and live there”, that only works when there are enough options of all types to meet demand. But, as it stands the number of homes available in walkable neighborhoods is insufficient to meet demand, so those homes must be bid up until people are priced out and choose a less walkable neighborhood when they actually want a more walkable neighborhood. To this you reply “but most people don’t care about walkability; the zoning is just what people want”. And my reply to that is that, even if that’s true, it doesn’t matter. Even if just 20% of the population wants to live in a walkable neighborhood, but only 10% of the homes are in a walkable neighborhood, you still have a shortage of homes in a walkable neighborhood, and because of zoning, there is nothing the free market can do to alleviate that shortage, so the homes in walkable neighborhoods that exist get bid up to higher and higher prices. I don’t think myself or RossB is arguing than 100% of homes need to be designed to satisfy the wants of 20% of the population for the sake of some urbanist ideology. We are simply saying that if 20% of people want X, zoning should permit the free market to supply X to that 20% of the people who want it. It’s not really that complicated.

      15. Dan, here’s something to chew on. Not one person here at the blog gives a rat’s ass whether you are “opposed” to changing “house to lot area ratios” or whatever.

        Cogitate on that and consider whether you might not be wasting your precious time on Earth “slopping the hogs” or “shouting at the tides”, your Highness.

      16. Tom, my goal was to make sure folks on this blog understood the different types of zoning, and the intended and unintended consequences. Personally I have learned many things on this blog I did not know. If you don’t understand regulatory limits you can’t understand use zoning.

        Zoning is simply a political issue, and one that is mostly local. I don’t care about your zone but care about mine. That means I lobby my city council and state reps.

        It is important to understand what is politically possible, and what the market will produce. Progressives like you don’t build much. If there isn’t a profit in the new zone the change in zoning is pointless unless it gets you thrown out of office.

        Transit is not very contentious politically because so few use it. Zoning is maybe the most contentious of all local political issues and people feel very passionate about their biggest purchase. Not surprisingly being a political issue money is a key factor, and you are correct that money is not on this blog.

        My humble advice (other than not posting at 4 am): this is an existential time for transit. TOD is not going to save Link or transit. So pick fights you can win which today is hopefully more transit funding not less. Don’t pick a fight over SFH zones because even if you win you win nothing with the same regulatory limits and all lots.

      17. Dan, the fact that you don’t understand what “broad upzones” is intended to mean in these discussions just proves you do not discuss land use in good faith.

        “ The reality is zoning has little to do with builders building, and almost nothing to do with affordability. ”

        If you don’t think the urban village upzones of the last couple decades has nothing to do with what builders are building in these zones, then you’re simply ignorant.

        You’re arguing out of both sides of your mouth. You’re saying that builders only build what’s desired, and then will argue that upzones will lead to out of place developments because the developers will build to the regulatory limit (do you want me to hold your hand and list what I’m implicitly referring to?) to make a profit.

        Which is it? Do builders build what’s in demand, or what they’re legally allowed to build?

        If a developer does a market analysis and thinks they can lease an apartment building with no onsite parking in suburban Auburn, maybe they’re observing a strong demand for car-light apartment living that isn’t being satiated by the current market! If there is demand for car-light apartment living in Auburn (I’ll hold your hand here: I’m referring to Auburn as a placeholder for low-density cities and neighborhoods in general), then maybe that demand should be allowed to be met with market-rate construction! The gentrification happens with or without new construction – that’s a fact.

      18. Oops, forgot to fix a confusing double-negative in there. I hope the point is discernible in context.

      19. Nathan, since I had to go to Ravensdale yesterday (no I didn’t take transit) I drove through Auburn. I thought is was nice. I would rather live there than downtown Seattle or Capitol Hill if proximity were not an issue. Some really nice rural feeling SFH neighborhoods with modest homes.

        You don’t know anything about Auburn. I am sure you have never been to a SFH zone in Auburn because you don’t drive. The people who live there intensely dislike extreme progressives like you. These are working folks with trucks, kids, hunting dogs, actual tools.

        If you want to change the zoning in Auburn move there, buy some property so you have some skin in the game, live there and learn something about Auburn, get appointed to the planning commission and serve for four years, run for council, win, and get a majority of your fellow council members to change the zoning.

        I support the UGA concept in Seattle although I don’t think the development in the “UGA’s” has been what was hoped, or where in the UGA some thought it would go., or it would be so unaffordable. It will be interesting to see the level of future development in today’s interest environment when so many REIT’s has lost billions. There is a world of difference between steel and wood framed construction, and between having to own the rental building for years and selling fee simple property.

        Should downtown Auburn be upzoned to a UGA? I don’t know. In part it would depend on lot size and demand. I would be careful about eliminating parking minimums in Auburn — even if a developer proposed such a bad idea — because transit service is so poor and likely to get worse.

        You think residents of Auburn think like you do when they are well to the right of me because they understand what being the working class means.

        You want to tell everyone else how to live when you don’t live there or understand the residents and are on the extreme left. My approach is to let the people who live there decide their zoning, and then you can select which you like and buy and live there. Auburn is pretty affordable although the SFH neighborhoods are increasing in value pretty quickly. Rent a car and check them out.

      20. Now that’s some impressive trolling, Daniel.

        I’m sure they appreciate that you speak for the good ol’ boys in Ravensdale. You’ve got your finger on the pulse of the common man.

        However, there is one way to find out what the common man wants as far as transportation goes.

        VOTE ON IT.

        The boys in Ravensdale would be driving on dirt roads for miles and miles if the rest of us weren’t paying for their pavement.

      21. Jim, if you are proposing we go to 100% use taxes that would certainly benefit me. Probably not the poor.

        Rural roads are subsidized. It is one way rural legislators can get their cut of the pie. The roads on Whidbey Island are amazing and put Seattle’s roads to shame.

        I guess we could require folks in south King Co. to drive on dirt roads (since many if not most drive trucks and SUV’s) but since these folks build most of the stuff like roads, buildings and light rail you and I are going to have to get our work tools out and actually get some callouses. IIRC buses run on roads (just not to more rural areas).

        People do vote on expenditures through their elected representatives. I pay quite a bit in federal, state, county and city taxes and disagree with a lot of the expenditures but that is representative democracy. I will say though that the closer to me the spending is (city vs. county/state/federal) the less I disagree with it.

        My guess is if everyone voted on the expenditures the amount of total expenditures would plummet along with taxes. Who wants to pay for someone else? Good for the wealthy who always want to move away from income based taxes to use taxes (especially social security and Medicare).

        Still I don’t quite understand why subsidizing roads in rural WA (or rural education which I assume you also oppose) eliminates their right to zone their cities and neighborhoods. Do you think you have a better understanding of their desires and needs?

      22. “Still I don’t quite understand why subsidizing roads in rural WA (or rural education which I assume you also oppose) eliminates their right to zone their cities and neighborhoods. Do you think you have a better understanding of their desires and needs?”

        Everyone would have a better understanding if they were told what it really costs to provide the services they desire.

        They would make different living choices.

        Hey, I’m for eliminating all zoning restrictions.
        It’s my property, I’ll do whatever I want with it.
        Or does my neighbor get to force their desires on me?

      23. Well Ross, I don’t think Auburn wants to look like Capitol Hill. I certainly would not want to live on Capitol Hill. Developers build what the housing demands which in Auburn is: SFH.

        Then why is multi-family housing outlawed? Come on man, think about it. In what world do we outlaw things that no one wants to do. It just doesn’t make sense.

        Put it another way. Assume that Auburn allowed the kind of growth that is common in the rest of the world. To pick a recent example, assume that they allowed the kind of development found in Ghent. Existing residents would object, because they fear it would actually happen. You can just imagine the public meeting:

        “I don’t want them to put in a big apartment building”, says a concerned resident.

        “Oh no, no, no. No one wants to build an apartment building.”, says Daniel.

        Developers build single family homes because it is what is allowed. That’s it.

        OK, not just that. There are also subsidies that make it easier to build that sort of thing. The automobile infrastructure, as well as every aspect of our infrastructure system encourages sprawling development. We don’t pay the full cost of building in that manner. If we did, things would look a lot different (more like … Europe). Its not that Europe doesn’t have driving — they have a lot of it, and a lot of cars. It is that unlike the U. S. and Canada they didn’t subsidize it to the degree they did here. We poured money into automobile-based infrastructure (and still do). Most European countries did the opposite.

      24. Dan, you’re supposing things about me (that I don’t drive, or have been to suburban SFH neighborhoods like Auburn’s) that are simply untrue. You apparently can’t even conceive that someone (like me) can have the opinions I have and also understand what SFH neighborhoods are like and what their politics are like.

        You’re using false ad hominem to attempt to delegitimize my argument, and now you’ve dodged this question and its corollary twice now: Do developers build what is desired (ie profitable on the free market), or do they automatically build to the maximum allowed by land use regulations regardless of market interest? If, as you’ve stated in this thread, developers only build what’s desired, then why oppose broad loosening of land use regulations to allow developers to build whatever kind of housing or commercial use to why think is desired in most communities?

        If there is enough market-driven interest in denser housing types and more retail spaces in a neighborhood, shouldn’t a landowner be allowed to build that sort of housing and street-facing retail spaces at their discretion?

    2. That’s funny Ross: comparing Auburn to Ghent.

      Zoning is ALL about excluding uses. That is why a very conservative Supreme Court allowed zoning in the 1930’s, and why large liberal cities wanted zoning. Do you think Ghent would exist without zoning? Cam is at least ideologically honest in wanting to abolish all zoning, except that results in awful living conditions and why liberal, large cities wanted zoning control.

      Obviously money influences zoning. But unlike Cam most understand the absence of zoning is bad. Zoning is planning. You want to focus uses. Since it is 2022 and lot sizes are platted we are pretty much constrained on use, because even if you relax regulatory limits the lots are small in the SFH zone, which means you have to go up which is VERY expensive with the ADA. Plus just the cost of land and construction.

      The fundamental reality is you can’t build new affordable housing that is not subsidized. That is the whole point of the multi-family construction around U Village. Progressives claimed UGA’s would create affordable housing — and admittedly without public subsidies this is as affordable as new construction gets — but rents are $2300 to $6300/month.

      Here is an example.

      Under Ron Sims King Co. was a cesspool of special interest zoning. As a result almost all of the Eastside incorporated or was annexed, although it cost the cities like Issaquah a fortune because Sims was as greedy as the worst developer.

      My friend lived in unincorporated Rose Hill (which is especially important when it comes to schools which basically determines property values).

      He had a neighbor who kept many rusted cars in his front yard. Suddenly this part of Rose Hill was Kirkland. Property taxes went up, but services and property values sky rocketed. Because Sims was an idiot.

      One day a property inspector from Kirkland showed up at the house of the person with all the rusted out cars. Like Cam the property owner adamantly stated Issaquah couldn’t make him get rid of his rusty cars because in America he could do whatever he wanted with his property.

      The inspector from Issaquah said he had even better news. Not only would the rusty cars not have to go, they would have a brand new home in a three car garage.

      The property owner sold ;at an inflated price due to annexation)!, the cars were taken to the dump, a lovely new house was built (with three car garage) and every property owner made a fortune at having “Issaquah” as part of their address.

      1. Euclidean zoning or single-use zoning is a fairly modern concept. It grew from a combination of increased racial tension and the automobile in America. The former is not that important in this context, but the latter is. For centuries it was standard practice to work in the same neighborhood as you lived — often the same place. This is the way that cities evolved. Ghent — being an old city — evolved that way. There was no central planning, no attempt to concentrate uses, it just happened willy-nilly — “organically”, if you will. Ghent is not alone. Older cities — or even just older parts of newer cities — evolved the same way.

        Most of America took a different path. Modern cities as well as parts of cities were built through a combination of automobile-based zoning and large-scale automobile-based infrastructure development. This was not based on individual choice. In the 1900s, I could have sold goods out of my house in a typical neighborhood in Auburn. If things were successful, I could replace that house with a big brick building. I could subdivide the lots, so that other businesses could surround mine. That went away with zoning. Ironically, one of the big aspects of zoning is to minimize the harm of automobiles. It is one thing to not want a factory in your neighborhood — the reasons for this are obvious. But people have been living next to markets for centuries and loving it. The only reason markets were pushed out of neighborhoods was because of the traffic. Thus both the benefit and disadvantage of cars lead to neighborhoods being segregated by use in an extreme manner. This is why you get neighborhoods like this: https://goo.gl/maps/5axFXKGxYm4Vm6xk9.

        The idea that this is what individuals want is absurd. Individuals have no choice. I can’t buy a house on a small lot in my neighborhood in Seattle, let alone Auburn. Nor can I subdivide my house, or convert it to a shop, or small apartment. When subdivisions occur, they lead to houses on giant lots, even though the market clearly wants higher density housing. I can do the math for you if you want — I’ve done it many times before. A 25,000 square foot lots gets subdivided. They could build apartments or row houses — whatever it is the market clearly wants. But instead, they build three houses on three big lots — the only thing the city allows allows them to build. Thus you have a key principle: zoning pushes up the cost of development, by limiting what can be built. This leads me to something you wrote:

        The fundamental reality is you can’t build new affordable housing that is not subsidized.

        It all depends on what you mean by affordable. Affordable to someone who is unemployed and living in their car? Probably not. But affordable to someone making minimum wage: certainly. This happens all the time in various parts of America and the rest of the world. It doesn’t happen here simply because we don’t allow it. To quote this paper:

        the preponderance of evidence suggests that easing barriers to new construction will moderate price increases and therefore make housing more affordable to low and moderate income families. Moreover, supply restrictions inhibit the ability of workers to move to areas with growing job opportunities. Allowing more new housing thus is critical both to ease affordability pressures and to reduce other negative results of constricted supply…

        That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t build subsidized housing. But it does mean that building it will be cheaper, while the need for it would be reduced. Thus it is essential that we address the artificially low supply of market-rate housing — otherwise, subsidized housing will fail to meet the demand.

      2. “Most of America took a different path. Modern cities as well as parts of cities were built through a combination of automobile-based zoning and large-scale automobile-based infrastructure development. This was not based on individual choice.”

        I agree Ross the automobile spawned the suburbs, but disagree that is/was not based on individual choice, both to drive and where to live. As soon as the car was invented and available folks started leaving the urban cities.
        There are many multi-family zones and urban zones in this area.

        For example, in my city of Mercer Island we have both. With our real-estate prices a SFH owner could afford to live in any multi-family zone/urban zone, whether Seattle or Bellevue (or Mercer Island), but they don’t want to. The huge preference is for the SFH zone, which is reflected in the prices. It is based on individual choice. Maybe not yours, but theirs. This is where they choose to live, and whether Seattle or on the eastside that is reflected in housing prices.

        “Ironically, one of the big aspects of zoning is to minimize the harm of automobiles.”

        I don’t think that is true Ross. You may dislike cars but the folks in my city and on the eastside love cars. Regionwide over 90% of all trips are by car, and that was before WFH. Seattle alone has 460,000 cars. People in West Seattle seem pretty anxious for their car bridge to reopen.

        You are correct the mode of transportation a person prefers in many ways shapes the housing they want (or actually the other way around). If you prefer to drive there is no downside to a SFH zone, only upside. I am not living in a SFH zone on Mercer Island because I am being forced to, and like many I find a car to be safer, faster and more convenient than public transit. I can get home to my SFH faster than I could taking public transit from work in Pioneer Square to multi-family housing on Capitol Hill.

        ” I could have sold goods out of my house in a typical neighborhood in Auburn.”

        Other than a libertarian approach to zoning (for example no restrictions for height or use on Capitol Hill) I don’t understand this. No one in an Auburn SFH zone could walk to the store so they would drive. These are not walkable areas.

        Since they prefer to drive why not drive to a QFC or Costco. Where I live I can walk to a lovely QFC or very high-end Met Market, but guess what? I can’t carry anything home. A gallon of milk, three or four bottles of wine, dog food, canned goods, a half rack of beer or pop, you need a car to transport these so why not drive to a large grocery store with great prices and a huge selection? That is the entire point of use zoning (and a 15-minute city): to consolidate these stores next to each other. That is why these grocery stores and Costco’s have huge parking lots. To carry all the stuff home.

        The reality is zoning and housing in America did grow organically because it always does and the American dream is a SFH, and once the car was available it allowed those who wanted a less urban housing experience to opt for that. The reality is nearly all the people love to drive. It is not unpleasant to them, especially with low congestion.

        The real point of zoning is to segregate uses and to consolidate uses, and to regulate building to lot area ratios. It is why we don’t put retail stores in parks or pot shops in SFH zones. Zoning doesn’t have anything to do with cars except cars allow folks to opt for a different zone and housing experience. Stores tend to provide free parking because they want the car shopper, and want them to buy and carry home lots of stuff. No one is putting a gun to Home Depot to provide acres of parking.

        The reality is most Americans dream of a SFH in a SFH zone, which is why their politicians have zoned that way, not because they are forced to live in a SFH zone. Most prefer to drive than take public transit. These things are not going to change, so you zone for them and live with them.

        When it comes to affordability that is such a complicated issue that waving a wand to change use zoning in a SFH zone won’t really do much, even if regulatory limits are changed (for all uses including the SFH since the regulatory limits apply the same to any use) because the lots sizes are too small. Tacoma “abolishing” SFH zoning is not going to make any difference.

        Even in your 25,000 SF lot example, which is very rare, actual experience is different due to profit, and because the builder wants to sell the units fee simple (and many builders can only build wood framed buildings up to 7 stories). For example, the Old Boys and Girls Club on Mercer Island is being developed. The lot is around 120,000 sf. The developer had an option to plat a subdivision with smaller lots and houses but instead opted for a standard 14 SFH project on the minimum 8400 sf lots. Why? Money. The houses would be easier to build, permit and sell, and the builder would make more money and have the least risk.

        The reality is people drive because they prefer to drive for the safety, time of trip, and convenience (kids, carrying stuff, weather), and people live in a SFH zone because they like living in a SFH only zone. So that is what their elected representatives do, even in Seattle.

        My view is let cities and neighborhoods decide for themselves what zoning they want. If they are unhappy with their zoning, as you infer, I am sure they will demand changes from their council, although so far I see demands to preserve their SFH zone which is something they are very passionate about, although they couldn’t care less about transit, good or bad because it does not serve their lives.

    3. Hey, I’m not the one who’s advocating for the end of SFH zoning. If you weren’t a newbie, you would have read my paeans to putting lining the crests of the north-south ridges with medium rises, creating tens of thousands of new, hot view properties and allowing the SFH neighborhoods on the hillsides and flats between to remain securely ensconced in amber. Forever.

      All the ridges except the one on which South Seattle College sits have an arterial along the ridge which would have frequent service.

      Alas, nobody agrees so I shut up.

      I am offended that you lectured me without a trace of evidence.

  9. Buses are a dead end in a high-wage city like Seattle. We spent a long time with a slack national labor market and an average local market that let us avoid this, but thanks to Jay Powell and Jeff Bezos, those days are over. The labor cost of bus service is only going to go up.

    In the short term, we need to accept that we’re going to have less bus service with higher taxes and higher fares than we thought we could have. But also: more bus lanes, more bus signal priority, more stop consolidation, and more prepaid fares. The faster the buses go, the more service we can provide with the same labor cost.

    In the intermediate term, we should be thinking about how to provide a much higher proportion of our transit service with trains, rather than buses. This would require higher density near the existing lines, and many more lines, built more cheaply.

    In the long term, we need to think about how to implement driverless trains.

    1. “more bus lanes, more bus signal priority, more stop consolidation, and more prepaid fares. The faster the buses go, the more service we can provide with the same labor cost.”

      I’ve long promoted faster bus and Link service because it adds frequency with little cost and the driver can be more productive. I hadn’t thought of it as a solution to the labor shortage, but that’s a good point. There’s a shortage of construction workers too, but we need them only one-time for this rather than continually forever.

      ST, Metro, and SDOT are going this direction in fits and starts. Stride 2 (Lynnwood-Bellevue) will save some 15-20 minutes over the 535. Link Seattle-Bellevue and Seattle-Redmond will be some 10 minutes faster than the 550 and 10-15 over the 545. RapidRide G (Madison) will be significantly faster than the 12 or the 2, 3, or 4. RapidRide H (Delridge), 40, and 44 improvements at least promise to speed them up. The problem is that most of these keep getting watered down so they don’t reach their potential. If buses had absolute priority over cars, there would be more transit lanes everywhere, more in-line bus stops, etc. Then we’d have transit more like Europe, Latin America, Asia, or Canada.

    2. Buses are the cornerstone of Seattle’s public transportation system. When/if ST3 is built out, feeder buses will be the key to driving Link ridership. It’s already the case in NE Seattle and it will be in NW Seattle (Ballard Station) and West Seattle in the future.

      That is the future of buses — Link feeders and Rapid Ride.

      The Link feeders are basically free with a transfer to light rail. Payment is essentially optional on Rapid Ride until they start checking fares again.

    3. In the intermediate term, we should be thinking about how to provide a much higher proportion of our transit service with trains, rather than buses. This would require higher density near the existing lines, and many more lines, built more cheaply.

      That is a lot easier said than done. Consider the future Madison BRT. Imagine it if was a tram instead. First, you’ve got the hills. Rail can go up hills, but not without spending even more money. Then, to take advantage of the trams, you have to have significantly bigger stops. All so that you can run the trams less often (than every six minutes) if you want to save any money on operational costs. Thus you are spending a lot more money on something that isn’t as good. Unless, of course, you think that buses every six minutes just can’t handle the load. I guess that is possible, but that seems unlikely. Of course none of this makes it possible to run the train without operators.

      It just doesn’t pan out. That is true in most cases in Seattle. Yes, operator costs have gone up. So too have building costs. It is the same phenomenon. There is a major national labor shortage, caused by poor immigration policy and the pandemic. These are likely short term problems. In the future, if drivers are paid more here than in other cities, you can bet your ass that construction workers will be too. The ratio remains the same.

  10. ST3 is so far out that Seattle could be a totally different city by then. All the tech companies will have moved to the Eastside, leaving SLU a shell of itself much like the southern half of downtown. No one will care about Ballard by then and everyone will be trying to get Link to go to Kirkland. The loss of commercial tax revenue will lead to crushing property taxes on the city proper leading to an even larger exodus to the Eastside. This will drive Eastside housing prices to even higher levels than the Bay Area given supply constraints and making the entire region uncompetitive and just a generally dystopic place to live.

    I really hope that doesn’t become reality but with the way things are going and tech still refusing to return to office, I’m afraid Seattle is done for.

    1. Seattle was doing fine in 2003 before the tech boom.

      SLU has a second role as a biotech/medical research hub, so that could expand to fill any vacancies by consumer tech firms.

      Ballard will still have the Locks, Nordic Museum, Scandinavian heritage in general, the highest bar density, clubs with bands that people come to, industrial jobs, one of the three largest farmers’ markets in Seattle, and a medical center. And it has grown large enough that it has a relatively complete range of services so you don’t have to leave the neighborhood as much as I did in when I lived there in the early 2000s, and that will be attractive to some people.

    2. I don’t see tech companies abandoning Seattle. Too many employees live there, and don’t want to commute to Bellevue. The new Bellevue offices they are opening is for people that live in Bellevue that don’t want to commute to Seattle.

    3. Seattle continues to be far and away the regional (and national) leader in adding housing. So Seattle’s size and influence will continue to grow relative to the rest of the region.

      Commercial development is about to grind to a halt, so the office space will essentially be where it is right now plus whatever is currently under construction. Every developer is going to pivot towards building housing and most of that growth will continue to be in Seattle.

      Seattle’s stations in ST3 will all be heavily used. The question is whether an ST4 (or Seattle-only transit measure) should also be heavily within Seattle or if it should be regional again. Current trends suggest that building even more light rail in Seattle will be the way to go.

      Besides, 520 already has pretty good BRT infrastructure that will only get better when that infrastructure is connected to I-5 and Mercer St over the next decade.

      1. “ST3 is so far out that Seattle could be a totally different city by then. All the tech companies will have moved to the Eastside, leaving SLU a shell of itself much like the southern half of downtown. No one will care about Ballard by then and everyone will be trying to get Link to go to Kirkland. The loss of commercial tax revenue will lead to crushing property taxes on the city proper leading to an even larger exodus to the Eastside. This will drive Eastside housing prices to even higher levels than the Bay Area given supply constraints and making the entire region uncompetitive and just a generally dystopic place to live.”

        The five rules of predicting the future 75 years into the future are:

        1. It will be much different than we can imagine.

        2. People will still want to do what they enjoy doing today but expect they won’t have to do what they don’t like doing today.

        3. It will be better (no cancer, fusion energy, genetics, faster travel, etc.).

        4. We tend to predict the future based on what we want now for the present.

        5. To paraphrase John Maynard Keynes in long run we are all dead, although ironically the young rarely spend time predicting the future.

        Usually demographics are the great river in which everything else is a little eddy. In 75 years, population declines — especially in first world countries — will be the big issue just like the baby boom drove the last 75 years, and the disproportionate percentage of elderly to young people as people regularly live past 100 years without the ability to earn an income or add to the economy. My guess is euthanasia will much more common as our bodies break down, but we don’t die. Even today we are beginning to see the effects of a labor shortage. Some think a disproportionate number of males born to females could be a huge issue as because historically that leads to a war like country (China).

        The issues SLUer raises are actually a lot closer than 75 years, but not as dramatic, although they will be continuous. The reality is a decline in downtown population and in office work in Seattle are here today, but our planning assumptions through 2050 are much different. The region is so wedded to its progressive ideology it refuses to revisit the assumptions in the PSRC’s 2050 Vision Statement that were obsolete when adopted in 2021 based on 2018 data. Progressives truly believe they can make people do what they don’t want to do.

        There will be less in office work because WFH benefits the employer, employee and client, and no, office workers will not be returning. This will definitely affect the property tax base in Seattle as will the decline in commercial development, unless expenditures are cut pretty dramatically. It will also require cities to reinvent themselves, but smaller, and if entertainment is the main draw safety will be critical as will retail density, which will be tough with online retail, and unless the downtown core shrinks dramatically to condense retail. Still SLUer south downtown Seattle was built based on the past, and will likely decline without much retail. SLU will likely do better.

        There will be more migration to the eastside but again that is based mostly on demographics as Millennials age and people work at home or closer to where they live. Eastside SFH housing prices are already higher than most areas of the Bay area. There will be less travel overall, and more will be personal (car, Uber which posted huge gains in number of trips this last quarter).

        When it comes to transportation my guess is driverless technology will result in large companies (think an Uber/Ford mix or Lyft/Tesla) owning huge fleets of cars. People will lease the cars and use them as necessary for any local trips. Most will keep one personal car for remote areas and longer trips, and it will likely be electric with a very long-range battery.

        When it comes to transit, public transit may fade because …. well, it is public. And there is no door-to-door service. Those are transit’s two Achilles Heels. But in some ways fleets of driverless cars are transit, just much more convenient and probably overall the same cost with subsidies for poor people.

        The irony is ST 3 is not competitive today, let alone when it opens. Light rail from Tacoma to Seattle is sloooooooow, and trip time is critical. There just are not enough riders originating from Tacoma or Everett — or along the way –, and to call either regional growth centers is a bit misleading. ST was based on huge population gains and foolish dreams of urbanization in a three-county area larger than many states when TOD is unnecessary today, and who wants to live in a shoebox with no parking next to a freeway?

        ST 2 and any urban transit will be hurt by Uber/Lyft no matter how hard progressive politicians try to disadvantage it, and with much less traffic congestion driving will be quicker, safer and more convenient for longer trips. The loss of these discretionary riders will seriously hurt transit’s operations budgets. But on the other hand I doubt in 75 years very many local trips will be taken in someone’s personal car.

        Transit advocates have a hard time accepting that most people who take transit take it because they have to. Or had to. Those riders see not having to take transit as a good thing, because they either don’t waste two hours of their time each day commuting to work, or now there is mild congestion that allows driving their personal car which is faster, more convenient, safer, and not all that more expensive when parking is free especially if there is more than one. Since they are not “urbanists” they don’t see transit as a good in itself, although this pool of lost riders was a huge funding source.

        The future is always better. If public transit in the future is faster, safer, and more convenient than the other forms of transportation in the future then it will thrive. Otherwise it deserves to fade away because transit’s only job is to move folks from A to B.

      2. “ Seattle’s stations in ST3 will all be heavily used. The question ”

        Not true.

        https://seattletransitblog.com/2020/01/27/sound-transits-station-ridership-in-2040/

        130th is only projected to have 1,800 weekday boardings here.

        Subsequent new forecasts for WSBLE put weekday boardings for Avalon at 1,800.

        https://oohwsblink.blob.core.windows.net/media/Default/images/West_Seattle_Duwamish_Community_Advisory_Group_Presentation_20220111-compressed_1.pdf

        While most of the non-Seattle ST3 stations have low ridership (say under 3,000) these stations also have this low ridership problem.

      3. 130th is only projected to have 1,800 weekday boardings here.

        Are you confident in that number? If so, why?

        Put it another way, which will get more riders, 148th or 130th? I don’t think it is that hard — the obvious answer is 130th, for the following reasons:

        1) It will be closer to the center of the city.
        2) It will be closer to dense areas.
        3) It will be served by a frequent bus that connects to both sides, instead of just one.

        Proximity matters, because total time matters. It is why people are freaking out about losing Tacoma express buses, but not freaking out about losing Lynnwood express buses. You reach a certain point (e. g. a half hour) and people just won’t make spontaneous trips. A bit beyond that, and people won’t make the trip at all. This will happen a lot in Kenmore. It won’t happen as much in Bitter Lake or Lake City.

        The network also matters. If you live in Lake City, you can get pretty much anywhere by bus. My favorite bartender (Burc, at the Beer Authority) once remarked that it is one of the best things about Lake City. Thus it is common for people to live without a car. The one weak area is east-west travel. This will be fixed when the station gets to 130th*.

        Is that true in Kenmore? Less so. Part of the reason is that their transit to other places isn’t as good. If you live in Kenmore, the closest decent size park is Saint Edwards. This is an outstanding park. But there is no bus there. You can walk, but it takes a long time. Biking involves a steep hill. Sure, you can get an electric bike, but a car starts looking really good. The same is true for almost every other trip. If you want to go north, you’ve got nothing. You can go southeast, but you have just a half-hour bus. To get to Juanita (another popular area, not too far away) requires first taking that infrequent bus, then making an out of the way transfer. You can go northeast (to Mountlake Terrace) but again, just a half-hour bus. It is really only along the highway that you have decent bus service. That won’t change (it will simply get a little bit better). In contrast, bus service in Lake City will likely get a lot better. Not only will the trip to Link be significantly faster, but Metro will plug the worst hole in the north end of Seattle by finally adding good east-west service. In so doing, they will enable riders from Lake City to get pretty much everywhere via transit in a decent amount of time.

        * Interesting story: At that same bar (Beer Authority) I once chatted with a woman who was a bartender on Licton Springs. I mentioned that it sounded like a decent commute. This was a bad assumption on my part, as she didn’t own a car. Trips like that are really bad right now, but will be much better in the future.

    4. I’m afraid Seattle is done for.

      If Seattle is done for, so too is the East Side. No city has every lost its center without dragging the rest of it down with it. Look at Detroit. Jobs moved to the suburbs. The central city collapsed. The suburbs collapsed as well.

      In contrast, look at the Bay Area. Jobs move to Silicon Valley. It thrived. So did San Fransisco.

      If anything, various suburbs will collapse, but not Seattle. I’m not talking about Kirkland or downtown Bellevue, but say, Lake Sammamish. This is an area that sprawled like crazy in large part because of the tech boom. If this boom collapses, then what it does it have? Acres and acres of houses that are very difficult to maintain and a long ways from the city (or even the lake). A neighborhood like Wallingford — while far from perfect — is a lot more sustainable. Way more people live there per acre, which means the per person cost to maintain the neighborhood is much lower. To maintain neighborhoods like Lake Sammamish requires a constant economic boom (otherwise, eventually it just falls apart). That isn’t the case with Wallingford (or any neighborhood in Seattle).

      Sure, Lake Sammamish could endure simply because of exists. People got to live somewhere. But it means that residents pay a premium to live in a place that, well, is not that special. It isn’t like Mercer Island, which really is nice. Might as well move to Sequim.

      Not that I’m saying any of that will happen. It is quite possible that Seattle will continue to grow, as most cities on the West Coast have grown. I’m just saying I would be a lot more worried about the long term future of suburban Seattle than Seattle itself. Seattle has become more resilient in the last twenty years. Most of the suburbs have not.

      1. Not sure why you think the Detroit suburbs collapsed. SE Michigan remains a prosperous and vibrant economy, and the high wage white collar jobs around the automotive industry have remained and grown. For the “Seattle fails, suburbs prosper” paradigm, greater Detroit is a good preview. Yes, Detroit’s suburbs would be more prosperous if the city had remained prosperous, and same for Seattle and it’s suburbs, but the suburbs can do fine if the key economic clusters remain.

        And there are dozens of small cities across the Midwest where the central city is hollowed out but the general metro has done fine; South Bend’s economic & population collapse is famous because of Mayor Pete, but greater South Bend-Mishawaka metro has had a pretty stable population; the tax base simply relocated out of South Bend’s city limits
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Bend,_Indiana#Demographics
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Bend%E2%80%93Mishawaka_metropolitan_area#Demographics

        And, uh, San Francisco kinda did collapse in the 60s & 70s, alongside Detroit and NYC and most other big metros, while Silicon Valley began to rev up. If anything, the wealth engine of Silicon Valley rebounded back to SF in the 1990s, leveraging SF’s great urban form into a prosperity bomb in the 21st century.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Francisco#Demographics

      2. Wayne County (which includes Detroit) peaked in 1970. Since then it has lost around 850,000 people. That is not thriving. This is not just a shift to the suburbs. This is an overall contraction for the region.

        As far as San Fransisco goes, it has had its ups and downs, just like Seattle. But there was no shift to Silicon Valley. By the time Silicon Valley took off, it was thriving as well. It has never been bigger, in terms of population or GDP. You can’t say the same thing about greater Detroit.

      3. When Silicon Valley grew in the 1980s and 1990s, San Francisco was primarily a financial and tourist capital. In the 2000s tech came to the city in a big way. That was on top of a highly successful city, the second (and in some ways first) on the West Coast.

      4. San Francisco has pretty much equal shares that commute into and out of Silicon Valley for jobs. It is just as popular as a residential location as much as a job location. There are tens of thousands of San Francisco residents who commute to Silicon Valley yet live in SF for the car free village and nightclub life.

      5. San Francisco is my definition of retail density. Seattle is just a big town in comparison. For years Seattleites have tried to compare Seattle to San Francisco when the better comparisons are San Francisco/Paris and Seattle/Portland.

        As a tourist what has changed San Francisco is Uber because for $12 you can go anywhere, from China Town to the north shore, and each part is retail dense. That is the point of San Francisco: true retail density and diversity.

        Before Uber San Francisco restricted cab licenses so you couldn’t get one. Now an Uber shows up in minutes, the car and driver are spotless, the fare is half, and you don’t have to deal with parking and can drink as much alcohol as you like so you can enjoy the incredible eclectic retail vibrancy.

        IMO San Francisco is the best urban experience in the U.S. although I haven’t been to every city.

      6. I agree that Detroit suburbs have underperformed because of the status of Detroit. They didn’t decline as severely as Detroit, but they certainly have languished as well. The Eastside suburbs though are increasing their urbanity in a way the Detroit suburbs failed to do. By establishing a secondary center, I think they will be more successful despite Seattle declining. In some ways this may force the local Seattle governance to moderate itself as they have direct competition.

      7. The Eastside suburbs though are increasing their urbanity in a way the Detroit suburbs failed to do.

        And Seattle is increasing their urbanity in a way that Detroit never did. If anything, the difference is much bigger. Little bits and pieces of the East Side are becoming more urban. Large swaths of Seattle are becoming more urban. Detroit became way too dependent on an automobile-centered approach. Seattle did too, but never to the same degree. There are neighborhoods in Seattle (e. g. Wallingford) that haven’t changed much in years, but are more resilient and attractive than most of Detroit. To put it the way that one commenter did — Detroit doesn’t have good bones. (By the way, Tacoma *does* have good bones.). Here is a good assessment: https://www.urbanophile.com/2012/02/21/the-reasons-behind-detroits-decline-by-pete-saunders/.

        If you look at the reasons given for Detroit’s collapse, not a single one applies to Seattle. Many are exactly the opposite. To put it another way: Seattle has good bones. Very, very good bones. It is why it handled the Boeing Bust — quite similar to the automobile crash that hit Detroit — just fine. Yeah, it was a big hit, but it recovered fairly quickly.

        Detroit has taken its time because it has basically had to completely reinvent itself. It has to try and undo the mess it made years ago — and now, with very little money. It needs to try and resurrect a downtown that it physically destroyed (with big parking lots and major freeway interchanges). It needs to “unsprawl” a sprawling city. No one knows how to do that, because no one really had that problem (but many will in the future).

        In contrast, downtown Seattle is undergoing a complete (very positive) makeover. Gone is the waterfront freeway, and in its place will be attractions that draw tourists and locals alike (they will literally have a giant shark tank visible to those walking by the waterfront — how cool is that). Amazon could leave tomorrow and financially it would be nowhere near the hit of Boeing. More importantly, even if it was, much of the city would just shrug, knowing we are fundamentally stronger than we’ve ever been.

        Anyway, that misses my point. No city, anywhere, has done what folks here are suggesting is highly unlikely — that Seattle collapses, but the East Side thrives. It just doesn’t happen. Plenty of cities have shrunk. Several make strong recoveries, building on their core strength (which is usually education and literally the core of the city). Many cities develop satellite cities (typically former bedroom suburbs) that thrive alongside the main city. These sometimes become *more* expensive than the core city. But they don’t replace it — not to the same degree that existed. That simply doesn’t happen.

      8. Seattle does have good bones. That is why some like me are so frustrated. Harrell has his work cut out but at least seems to understand the problems.

        Seattle has a major port that serves Asia. It has a major university in the middle of the city. I was a big supporter of removing 99 and reconnecting the waterfront (although it taught me the risks and costs of tunneling). Seattle has a very educated citizenry. It has lovely parks Harrell is cleaning up.

        Without a doubt Seattle’s residential neighborhoods are its crown jewel, but that only highlights the disappointing downtown.

        Last weekend we drove to Freemont for dinner at a restaurant my son works at (what a slog). To be honest the atmosphere was nice but food mediocre compared to say Castinetta in Bellevue. We drove down through Wallingford to get there.

        I hadn’t been in Wallingford in decades. The SFH were gorgeous. Every one was tastefully and sympathetically fixed up. There wasn’t much onsite parking and that made the streets clogged with cars, and the house to lot area ratios are high so the yard setbacks are tight.

        I don’t understand why some on this blog are so intent to change this beautiful neighborhood with out of scale drab multi-family housing. Can’t one pretty thing in Seattle be preserved from the progressive onslaught?

        Seattle is its own Detroit and suburbs with the downtown core suffering like Detroit’s core did but the neighborhoods serving as its suburbs. Transit has very little to do with the character of the neighborhoods. They remain charming despite Seattle politics, but for how long I don’t know. There is just such wealth envy in Seattle, and the prices of the SFH probably fuel that envy.

      9. If you leave North Seattle as exclusive areas of 1-2 million dollar homes, where do cooks at the Fremont Restaurant live? The hosts? The busboys?

        No one here is saying we immediately raze well-kept craftsmen homes in Wallingford. But should the owner of a run-down house that costs too much to gut, replum, rewire and reroof, who wants to put up a nice 6-plex, have that option?

        Why are you so intent on big-government forcing that owner to only have the 1 choice of throwing half a million into a renovation that will only house a couple people when it could house a couple dozen? So that the busboy can walk to work instead of driving from Federal Way and making your trip across 45 that much more of a slog?

      10. They live in the UGA’s Cam. Or like my son housing in the Greek Row area that has older multi family housing. Jesus, have you seen the rent prices for the 2300 new rental units near U Village?

        I am not sure the last time you were in Wallingford. How would a developer build a six-plex? Even with eliminating any yard setbacks and any parking minimums and all vegetation how do you build a six-plex on a smallish Wallingford lot? Are you talking elevators because that is an entirely different development issue. Do you really think these new units would be priced for dishwashers. Just the land and house would be several million dollars to tear down, plus new construction.

        From the look of the neighborhood I am guessing the residents have some political juice. Do they want a line cook like my son living there? No. But then I don’t plan on my son being a line cook forever.

        I use to get a kick out of Doug Trumm at the Urbanist whining that the Wallingford neighborhood association wouldn’t allow him to be on the board when he lived in a studio on Stoneway. Then he ended any comments because even urbanists found him to be a twit.

        My guess is Wallingford will be designated an historical neighborhood. I hope so because what I saw is what is great about Seattle neighborhoods.

      11. “They live in the UGA’s Cam.”

        What do you mean by UGA? If you’re referring to regional growth centers like the Spring District, there’s not that many of them. Maybe a half dozen in South King County, mostly at existing downtowns. (So I don’t know why you don’t just say suburban downtown as they always were.) The urban growth boundary is a ring around all of suburban/urban Pugetopolis. So again, not that relevant to discussions about existing non-downtown apartment buildings or potentially converting single-family blocks to lowrise, well within the urban growth boundary but outside urban growth centers.

      12. Dunno. The Macy’s cashier I talked to last week did. More expensive than it used to be, but can still find some 1 bedrooms for $1000/mo.

        I assume you want me to guess at your point.

      13. I just spent all yesterday in the downtown core (Pike Place, Seattle Center for the KEXP show, and then to Belltown for dinner and drinks) and taking only public transit or walking. It was actually quite lovely and WAY MORE vibrant and full of energy than Downtown Park in Bellevue last weekend.

        I take back my prediction of Seattle declining. There is hope still. Pike Place, Seattle Center and UW are the key institutions of this city holdings things together.

      14. There are some fundamentals about Detroit Metro that we don’t have in Seattle:

        1. Detroit developed mostly as an auto assembly hub. It never had much diversification. Even Ann Arbor is only a minor tech hub. That is true for the entire metro area, as many plants were never even inside the Detroit city limits. If Seattle was Boeing only, we would be in a similar situation. Plus, our climate is well suited to airplane building (less cost for temperature control in assembly buildings) where car assembly is much less affected by local climate.

        2. Detroit has had a pronounced history of racial tension in the 20th Century. The strife from that made it so many locals perceived segregation as paramount. It led to many leaders not embracing the whole community. When a community is socially divided, it dampens entrepreneurship. By having a multi-cultural population that is not as segregation obsessed, the Seattle area spirit is not dampened by this stress.

      15. Seattle is booming. The idea that it is in decline is just absurd.

        I get it though. You walk around and see so many homeless and freak out. You see sketchy parts of Seattle and assume it is caused by economic decline. It must be something new, some signal that Seattle is dying. It isn’t. As this article points out, downtown has been sketchy for over a century — it just moves around. The only way to really solve the problem is to create a bigger social safety net, and that would likely require a national commitment. Basically we would have to be more like Sweden (and that includes a much smaller, much more effective police force).

        As for homelessness, that is a symptom of our success. Too little housing for the demand and thus people can’t afford a place to live. This is sad (and we should definitely address the root of the problem, which is zoning) but it is driven by a very successful, thriving city. Demand for housing is very high, and because of our limited supply, housing costs are way too high.

        But again, that doesn’t mean the city is dying — quite the opposite. Nor does it mean we are especially fragile. We have never been more resilient. There were four major sporting events in the city yesterday, and I went to the one with the fewest people. I watched the Reign lose on a very warm afternoon. I walked around Pioneer Square before the game with my grandkids, just as I did when I was a kid (back when the original Sounders played in the Kingdome). It is still as charming as ever. It is in better shape than ever. Oh, you can critique some of the new architecture, but it is way better than what existed before. The only sore spot is this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinking_Ship. The famous “sinking ship” parking garage is more than an eye-sore. It is a horrible use of prime real estate. It reduces the value of the surrounding buildings and the neighborhood in general. Fortunately, it is *not* typical for Seattle. It is, however, typical for Detroit (https://goo.gl/maps/NiQUke9dAj8Yh2BY8). That is a parking garage next to a big surface level parking lot. You can see that all over Detroit, and it is how Detroit “reinvented itself” during the Great Depression. It worked … for a while. Then it failed, miserably. Detroit spread itself too thin. The mistake is assuming that “we are not Detroit”. Except for a few cases, we are.

        Fortunately, over the last decade, we have become *less* like Detroit than ever. We actually have become exceptional. This is because we are growing internally, and not relying on suburban sprawl to fuel the economic engine. To be fair, that is happening too, but we aren’t dependent on it. We are moving in the right direction, and have for quite some time. If you look at the 9 reasons for Detroit’s collapse, many apply to a lot of cities, as well as Seattle, but at least Seattle is moving in the right direction:

        1. Poor neighborhood identification. Not a problem in Seattle, and not a problem in a lot of cities.

        2. Poor housing stock. This is a common problem across the United States, but it was worse in Detroit (“it may have one of the greatest concentrations of post-World War II tract housing of any major U.S. city”). Neighborhoods like Wallingford aren’t like that. Look around and you will see plenty of apartments mixed in with the houses — and the houses are generally higher quality, and built right to the edge of the lot. It is why a lot of those neighborhoods won’t change much if they change the zoning on a city-wide basis. The neighborhoods that will are like mine. There are lots of cheap houses on really big lots — the type of thing that played a part in Detroit’s downfall. Fortunately, in much of the city, the housing stock has improved. It just needs to improve to a much greater level (for the good of those looking to live here, and for the economic vitality of the city).

        3. A poor public realm. “Detroit’s streetscape is unbearable in many places.” Well, the same is true in Seattle, but it has gotten better. Slowly, bit by bit, we are putting the automobile where it belongs — at the bottom of the pecking order. Streets are slower and more oriented towards bikes and pedestrians. The most frustrating part of the process is not that the plans are flawed, but they can’t do them all fast enough. For example, this is a project that will transform my neighborhood: https://www.seattle.gov/transportation/projects-and-programs/programs/pedestrian-program/pinehurst-way-ne-and-ne-117th-st-intersection-and-sidewalk-project. It will make walking to school and biking in the neighborhood much better. It will make driving a little slower. This is good, and while there are plenty of places in America where similar things are happening, there are plenty where they simply don’t care.

        4. A downtown that was allowed to become weak. Seattle’s downtown is not weak. It struggles right now with a lack of office workers actually working in the office, but that is true everywhere. While there has been an increase in suburban office growth (that started in the 80s and spread throughout the U. S.) the vast majority of development in the area is in downtown Seattle.

        5. Freeway expansion. This is a mixed bag locally. SR 509-167 is a horrible project. The tunnel was not. While not what I would have done, burying a freeway is good, as it opens up prime real estate to be used by more people. The freeway is also smaller (only two lanes, no ramps for Western). The waterfront is poised to be a major attraction for locals and tourists alike.

        6. Lack of/loss of a transit network. Despite all of our flaws, we are better than most cities in the U. S. in that regard.

        7. Local government organization. I believe that is a particular problem with Detroit that simply made all the other problems worse. Just like the last two:

        8. An industrial landscape that constrained the city’s core.

        9. Ill-timed and unfulfilled annexation policy.

        Notice that race isn’t one of the items listed. That is because Detroit had racial problems, but they were no worse than lots of other cities. But Detroit was especially bad at so many of the things listed here. Seattle hasn’t been — and more importantly, Seattle has addressed many of its weak points while we experience this latest boom. My main source of frustration is that we could do a lot better.

  11. This heading was atop the second Route 566 column; is it a typo? “Approved and target service levels for 577 and 578 between Federal Way and Seattle”

  12. The operator shortage seems severe; what are ST and its partners doing to address it? Is it national or local or both? Are wages and benefits being increased? Is security being increased? Could proof of payment fare collection with inspection improve security and operator retention? Has ST figured out humane fare enforcement?

    If operators are scarce, does ST operate too many routes? What consolidation and streamlining would improve the network? Consider each corridor. South: could Route 594 serve the Federal Way TC via the South 317th Street ramp and use the faster pathway of Route 578; could revised Route 594.78 be frequent at 15-minute headway? Could routes 574 and 594 duplicate one another less in Tacoma? Both might serve the TDS for transfers; Route 594 might serve Lakewood and skip downtown; Route 574 might skip Lakewood and serve downtown. Could Route 574 be faster if it skipped the intermediate P&R (e.g., Star Lake and Kent Des Moines)? It is weaving on I-5 for few riders. Route 578 as shuttle only with Route 594.78 meets? East: suppose East Link is delayed; should the SIP be ready? Delete Route 545; improve Route 542 and extend it to Bear Creek; reduce off-peak Route 550 headway and waits; it has always been Link-lite.

    1. It’s national as I said above. Wages would have to rise substantially to change its competitive position, and where would the money come from? Metro and ST Express have several routes with cancelled trips weekdays, and other routes with only partly-restored frequency, and the Northgate Link restructure was pared down, all due to the driver shortage.

      Reducing routes in many cases would turn half-hourly service into hourly, in areas miles away from a reasonable alternative. Some of your suggestions may be worthwhile. We’ve long tried to get the 594 to stop at Federal Way to maybe increase frequency to Tacoma. Originally Lynnwood/Everett were like Federal Way/Tacoma: the 511 terminated at Ash Way half-hourly all day, the 510 ran nonstop to Everett half-hourly (or maybe served Mariner and Evergreen too), and there was no 512 or it was only Sundays. We asked ST to consolidate the routes to give 15-minute service but it said, “Only if we can’t maintain the 30-minute frequency on the 510 and 511.” Then it changed its mind, and consolidated the 510/511 off-peak into the 512 and increased the frequency. If these shortages continue to worsen, we should maybe increase pressure on ST to make the 594 stop in Federal Way.

      Removing the 594’s downtown Tacoma loop would eliminate express service between downtown Tacoma and Lakewood. ST is probably reluctant to do that.

      If we eliminate other routes like the 554, the only alternative from Issaquah is the 271. It takes over an hour just to get to downtown Bellevue and the 550, is hourly Sundays and evenings, has some 35-50 minute gaps weekdays, and on weekdays goes only to the Issaquah TC in the middle of nowhere.

  13. Cutbacks in service because of a driver shortage?

    I’m pretty sure few posters really understand the problem. Nobody wants to drive the f***ing bus in greater Puget Sound. Why can’t Metro/Sound Transit/Community Transit/Pierce Transit hire enough bus drivers?

    It’s real easy folks. High housing costs.

    I have a friend who got out of the Army in ’88 and got hired to drive bus for Pierce Transit. Bought a a little house next to Wapato Lake a year later. Got married, had 2 kids. This sort of life isn’t possible on a bus driver’s salary now. So why would anybody drive a split shift for less than $25 a hour? It’s a shitty job nobody wants and what’s Sound Transit’s plan to fix that? Cut back service. How about paying drivers a living wage and canceling some projects? And fix the damn escalators while they’re at it? Because without operators, why the Hell do you need more bus or rail lines???

      1. AJ, the blog you reference highlights the issue associated with some of the costliest cities to live in. Who can afford to live anywhere near San Francisco on $29.61? Who can afford to live near NYC on $25.49? While it’s a nationwide issue, it’s specifically an issue in the large cities where housing is relatively unaffordable for those making less than $100k. Why commute hours to make a meager wage, especially if fuel prices are still around $4.50/$5.00 per gallon?

      2. Yes, housing costs are a national problem, but they’re a whole lot worse in the Puget Sound, the N.E. and California than the rest of the country.

        It’s also a sorry excuse for Sound Transit cutting service. Hire the more drivers, pay whatever it takes, expand express bus service. Sheesh, posters on this board go on and on and on about light rail 20 years down the road and give ST a free pass on shitty bus service.

        Does anybody really believe that an outfit that can’t figure out buses is going to be magically better at running rail?

      3. You’ll need the federal government to fund operations instead of just capital projects. Which probably won’t happen till Millennials take the majority in federal government and climate change makes it worse. Along with the state government to stop having a disdain for helping Seattle with any transit related stuff.

      4. Charlotte that’s a fair point, but I think if you look at transit in smaller cities, they have the same issues, just adjusted down to different price points, where workers struggle to afford housing at, say, $50k/year in Indianapolis rather than at $100K in Seattle.

        Zach, funding operations with OMP is a terrible idea.
        https://pedestrianobservations.com/2019/10/10/the-hazards-of-federal-subsidies-for-operations/

        “Does anybody really believe that an outfit that can’t figure out buses is going to be magically better at running rail?” Given that ST isn’t responsible for hiring bus drivers (that’s the 3 counties), and the labor shortage facing local and state government is a sudden, post-covid issue that crosses all regions and all sectors (education, healthcare, public safety), no I’m not really concerned.

      5. Do we have a scuentific study to say that funding operations with federal dollars would be a bad idea either domestically or abroad. Because from what I’ve seen, this is often the biggest issue for transit operators and something that should be seen as a priority to fix public transit in the US because a lot of operators would like to run more frequent buses but can’t because local funds are limited.

      6. Zach, the federal infrastructure bill has $108 billion dedicated to public transit. Approximately $100 billion of that will go toward deferred maintenance. The federal stimulus bills awarded billions to public transit operations to make up for the loss of ridership and in some cases free fares. The state passed a $16 billion transportation bill including transit. Seattle passed Move Seattle for $930 million.

        Unfortunately some of this resulted in inflation which is not the friend of transit.

        The future of transit post Covid is unclear. In large part operations (frequency + coverage) depends on ridership. The “induced demand” concept was “optimistic” to quote Earl, especially when a pandemic comes around.

        Personally I think we allocate too many transit resources to where the riders ain’t. Some think such coverage will induce demand and lower the cost per rider mile. I think the future of transit is allocating operations funding to where the riders are NOW so rather than having “shitty” transit everywhere we have good transit for those areas where people ride transit, for whatever reason.

        ST inflated future ridership. Covid and WFH reduced transit ridership. Either those riders return — plus the new riders ST estimated — or they don’t. If they don’t then ST has built a light rail system it cannot afford to operate based on the operations funding assumptions in the levies. Unfortunately ST 3 — and ST 2 in some cases — run expensive light rail to where the riders ain’t, although the trains are.

        For some time I — and Rogoff — have pointed out this is the ticking time bomb: an overly optimistic operations funding formula that was decimated by Covid.

        So either find the missing riders, cut coverage and/or frequency, raise fares and fare payment percentages, or pass an operations levy. Unless I am missing another option.

      7. If the federal government funds operations, that means how often your bus comes becomes at the mercy of national politics. And if the wrong side wins an election, the loss of funding could hit very suddenly, before the city has a chance to pass a local levy to make up for it.

        If our politics were more stable, I would call it a good idea. Unfortunately, it’s not.

      8. The federal government should definitely fund operations — https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/18/opinion/buses-infrastructure.html. Of course this means that funding can go up and down, but that is true of everything. We should increase the federal funding of education, even though it means it could be cutback in a couple years. In this case, this is definitely the time when we could use some help, since the driver shortage is a major, ongoing problem: https://humantransit.org/2021/12/the-bus-driver-shortage-is-an-emergency.html.

        As for Alon’s editorial, they are completely wrong. There are several flaws, including:

        1) Ignoring how transit works in most of the country. The idea that “service changes have little effect on operating costs” is true for only a handful of cities. Most cities have very low fare-recovery. Double the number of buses, and you increase your costs 99%. OK, maybe not that much, but it is still a major expense, with very little financial return (through increased fare revenue). Even in Seattle, fare recovery is relatively tiny. In most cities it is much smaller.

        2) We have clearly failed when it comes to measuring the success of infrastructure projects. America is terrible at building what needs to be built. We build crap, and then later wonder why no one is riding the crappy system (that we spent so much money on).

        3) Local funding of infrastructure projects puts more pressure on those developing the new system. Look how often people defend the CCC by saying “but the federal government will pay for it” as if that suddenly make it a worthy project.

        4) Funding operations is known to be successful. We have a very good idea of what will happen if we double the frequency of the buses (or trains). An agency might still have a terrible network, but at least the buses run more often. Speaking of which, that leads me to another point:

        5) It is much easier to restructure routes when you have a boom in funding. Most restructures involve additional transfers or more walking. They typically get an increase in frequency at the same time. If there is a huge increase, then the change is a lot more popular.

        6) Increases in service can and should be applied everywhere. There are only a handful of places that should have a major infrastructure improvement. Most just need to run the buses more often.

        7) Failing to pay for operations has not lead to local communities paying for it. It has been exactly the opposite. Instead of fixing the problems with the existing New York subway system, there has been an expansion. I’m not saying the expansion isn’t justified (see 6) but New York City should make sure the subway runs better first. What is true in New York is true in DC.

        It is as if Alon is saying “Watch out, paying for operations can be dangerous” while completely ignoring the huge problems with paying for new construction, or the state of American mass transit in general.

        As for the politics, it is actually much easier to fund operations (see 6). For example, there is not a single city in West Virginia that needs a major mass transit infrastructure investment. Yet just about every city and town needs to run the buses more often. Once they get used to it, it is hard to just end it. In contrast, if by chance, Charleston does get an expensive infrastructure improvement (like a new streetcar or BRT) it will likely fail to deliver on the original promise, leading to anti-transit folks convincing others that spending on transit is bad in general.

  14. I was curious what other cities pay their public transit drivers, and it looks like Metro does pay their drivers more than most other cities, but the thing that really jumped out at me is that other cities are offering large hiring bonuses. TriMet – $7500. Community Transit – $5000. San Diego – $5000. As far as I can tell, KCMetro doesn’t offer a hiring bonus. And, right or wrong, here are a few other things that may discourage potential applicants … A very strict no drug policy. Can only work part-time at first. Must have access to a car. The unvaccinated need not apply.

  15. Buses, trams, light rail, heavy rail, all interesting discussions, but I think Sound Transit should not only look at expanding rail, but also the increase in labor and construction cost.
    I watched some conference talk from HEY Hamburg, a mobility conference, they reported that Munich is evaluating how to extend their U-Bahn metro lines into the suburbs who demand similar headways but don’t need the same capacity. Extending rail (even at grade!) and operating rail is expensive if you continue the same long trains. They found using shorter automated technology from TSB would be much cheaper. Trains could be synchronized with the metro, they are even considering running them on-demand during low demand hours.
    TSB developed their maglev technology for the Transrapid which was ultimately used in Shanghai. Now they focus on urban/suburban lines. Their guideway is prefabricated, in fact they built a demonstration line in China and shipped the whole guideway via train from Germany, can you imagine doing that with LRT? They claim construction cost is about the same as for a tram, but if you elevate the line, you get dedicated ROW and the towers are more like a monorail which often fit in the median or parking strip. As the train doesn’t touch the guideway, it is totally quiet, so you don’t need to add any noise insulation around the guideway (nor overhead wiring) making the guideways much smaller than Link.
    I think very similar considerations apply to the Ballard line, Everett, and Tacoma extensions as Al had proposed a couple of weeks ago. I would rather use the savings to extend the Everett line to Everett College etc.
    It’s much cheaper to operate automated systems with short headways, I’m concerned Tacoma, Everett and West Seattle will get worse headways than their current bus service.
    Details on Munich: https://www.tz.de/muenchen/stadt/hallo-muenchen/muenchen-magnetschwebebahn-mvv-transport-system-boegl-tbs-korridore-oepnv-muenchner-sueden-osten-norden-dachau-90460810.html

    1. Thanks for seeing that there is more rail technology out there, Martin.

      I never see any of the more established transit advocates here talk much about it. Everything is instead presented as rail versus bus, or liberal versus conservative . Even Seattle Subway’s “vision assumes continuing the very costly Link version of 55-mph light rail for everything, making it unaffordable, relatively slow and requires lots of drivers. Add to that unreasonable service assumptions like a train with a driver every six minutes to Tacoma and Everett during 6 peak hours and ten minutes for a added 10 hours (16 total).

      I think a few of us get that we could have a better rail transit system keeping most of the ST3 promises without needing to go back for more money and longer timelines — but the advocates and elected officials don’t see it. They are as narrow minded about balancing technology choices to both operating and capital costs (as well as demand) as hard-core conservatives who hate transit are. They don’t think of themselves as narrow minded — but they are.

      1. Seattle Subway adds to the regional consensus (ST1/2/3) rather than trying to replace all or parts of it. Thus its extensions have to be Link. If you want to replace parts of ST3, you have to somehow convince a larger number of city, county, and state officials and voters than those who came together for the existing plan. That seems very unlikely. Martin’s trains may be superior, but how do you convince a critical mass of politicians and the public to support it and change direction? Seattle Subway at least has an organization of volunteers collaborating to fulfill its vision. You’d probably have to have something at least as extensive as that to get your vision fulfilled.

      2. That’s just it, Mike. They don’t have to be extensions! They can be. cross-platform transfers. There is no way that the North Seattle Subway’s vision can be affordable. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty convinced that an automated Ballard-West Seattle line (a long proven technology — just ask Vancouver) can be built much cheaper than Ruth Link technolog. It could then open sooner as we wouldn’t have to wait for the bonding capacity.

        The typical Seattle approach is vision before analysis. The two should be in tandem like the rest of the world. It’s how we got stuck with DSTT2. It’s have we got stuck with the FHSC moving much slower than a bus.

        To say that we should stay the technology course is about as logical as having all gasoline engines because that’s what cars always were. Continuing pushing the past technology into the future is not visionary at all, to be frank.

        As for the politics, advocates should be requesting objective studies before spending billions of taxpayer money. Stop the “we must do my project that a few powerful people drew over dinner” and really look at reasonable technologies before we go any further on these extensions.

      3. Al, you can’t have dangling stubs of an alternative technology hanging from the spine like icicles on a Christmas tree. Every one would need its own Maintenance Facility. There goes madness.

      4. Tom, the Central OMF will end up serving West Seattle and Ballard no matter what. North OMF will also serve north to Everett and South OMF will serve south to Tacoma. So ST could build another Central OMF for West Seattle and Ballard in SODO and forgo North OMF, or convert Central OMF for automated trains (almost certainly using the same track gauge) and build North OMF. The cost is much less than building giant Link stations everywhere.

        But the larger cost of not changing technologies is with operations. Drivers are well over half of the costs of operating light rail. If there is a long-term labor shortage, why preserve driver job positions that can’t be filled? After all, driver shortages are a key issue about this post in the first place, right? To not discuss automated trains seems illogical in the context of this post.

      5. How are you going to move automated trains from their little stubs to the central MF’s?

      6. P.S. My point is: don’t build it at all. Stop at Federal Way and Lynnwood and never lay another track.

        If there is to be in-city rail, let it be Citidis Trams and let the City build it all at-grade (except possibly a bit of tunnel through Lower Queen Anne) and run it itself. ST cannot do a decent job of it.

      7. Here’s a elegant solution to the “OMF” problem.
        1. Extend Link to South Federal Way and build OMF-S as-proposed. OMF-S can serve both Link and eLink fleets. Build the rest of TDLE for eLink operations.
        2. Build OMF-N as-proposed and extend Link to Ash Way or 99/Highway (there are alternatives at both locations, currently). Build the rest of Everett Link for eLink operations.

        Here I use “eLink” as a catch-all term for a shorter, faster, automated vehicle, as a nod to eBart’s ‘extension with a new mode.’ I’m assuming eLink trains will have identical gauge as Link, so even it it requires a totally different electric & signaling system, at worse they can be towed to/from the OMF along a short bit of Link guideway when brought in/out of service, though I’d imagine a short bit of joint operations should be feasible.

        In both cases, shorter trains align with lower forecasted peak demand, allowing for eLink to mirror Link frequency at each transfer point (6~10 minutes in SFW, 3~8 minutes in Snohomish). This is important, because as Martin points out, with low-ish demand, it can be hard to justify <15 minute frequency with 4-car Link trains, creating the chicken & egg problem of low ridership on low frequency operations. Both alignments need good all-day frequency to midwife the TOD needed for the projects to be successful long term.

        More speculatively, with shorter trains, eLink may even be able to simply replace T-Link in downtown Tacoma in the future (will require electric re-work), for those who advocate Link should turn toward downtown Tacoma rather than to Tacoma Mall. It could also allow for clean subarea accounting – Pierce pays for 100% of its eLink operations and none of Link operations – which could help for any consternation from Pierce politicians that they will (again) get stuck with a lesser Link.

        For WSBLE, a new mode should probably be 3rd rail powered to optimize for underground construction, so I don't think there is the same opportunity to share OMF-C with a new technology – I'd rather just find land for a new OMF in SoDo and build something with super high frequency.

      8. Why 100% when half of it would be in King County? And it would be used substantially, likely by the majority, by people coming from South King, with it’s lack of amenities and jobs, to Tacoma?

        Look, Tacoma (I won’t even bother pretending by saying Pierce, because the rest of Pierce is going to be 99.4% car-dependent/obsessed for the next 50 years at least) needs local transit. It needs it frequent. It needs it reliable. And it needs at least a limited grid to be separated from car traffic and therefore competitive with driving.

        Until we have those things, Tacoma shouldn’t spend a dime on Link/eLink/Link-light, or whatever you want to call it.

      9. I was proposing the mode change/transfer point at South Federal Way station, so I would consider that functionally all within Peirce. Not sure where you get 50% in King?

      10. All these things are good ideas, guys, IF you assume that Tacoma and Everett should be served by rail. I no longer do.

        So far as Ballard and West Seattle, if you go to autonomous vehicles you have to be elevated where you aren’t in a tunnel. Both Elliott West and the trip through SoDo are not something anybody is going to want to see as a vista. Because neither IS a “vista”.

        Put the damn train on the ground if you have a train. You can hire a LOT of operators for a very long time for four billion dollars.

      11. Tom, as long as there is dedicated ROW, you can use automate trains even if you’re on ground level. With maglev there is no 3rd rail you have to worry about either. I had hoped Sound Transit had learned from all the accidents in RV to avoid crossing tracks, but there are still a few places on East Link where they didn’t. I don’t understand why they can’t build shallow underpasses with a ramp on each side (to avoid escalators) like they do in Europe.
        With prefabricated guideways and higher climbing capability, you can lay the guideway on the ground and go up a bit for a station or other overpasses

      12. You’d waste all that electricity to keep something that weighs 40 tons aloft to avoid the rather insignificant rolling resistance of a steel wheel on a steel rail? Stick with gondolas.

      13. Tom, the German transportation department actually studied TSB’s maglev trains to compare them with the top rail solutions (trams, U- and S-Bahn) from Stadler, Siemens, Alstom etc and it landed on the lower end of the spectrum of energy consumption. While comparable on energy efficiency, not only is construction cost less, but both noise level and maintenance is a lot lower. Steel wheels and tracks need constant maintenance, while maglev avoids any wear. Therefore operations cost for automated maglev trains is far lower than current LRT.

    2. Not sure what South Federal Way Station is, but the Federal Way transit center (S 320th St) is about 5 miles from the county line, and Tacoma Dome is about 6 miles from the county line. Is 320th where you were proposing the transfer?

      Functionally, that’s 50/50, and I suspect it would perform a useful function for far more King County residents that Pierce County residents. I’ve taken transit to Federal Way exactly once from Tacoma, to visit a friend within biking distance of the Transit Center.

      There is nothing in Federal Way that couldn’t be had, much better in Tacoma. No reason to go.

      And if you are thinking that people are going to take an infrequent bus to the TD, then wait 20 minutes for an e-train to then transfer to Link in FW, and sit on that for an hour+ (3 transfers which probably push close to 2 hours) to get to Seattle, you seem to fundamentally misunderstand humans.

      1. I see what you are saying. You are suggesting they build just 1 station for TDLE, to 356th. Then after that e-Link?

      2. Yes, primarily because that will be the location of the OMF-S, and combined with the county border it makes for a clean opportunity to change modes … though I suppose the entirety of TDLE could be built using the new mode, if regular Link still had access to OMF-S.

        Al’s point has been that a max higher speed on eLink would be far more relevant on the few segments with long stop spacing, and SFW (342nd) to Fife would be a prime example (hence why TDLE mileage is ~50% in KC but 3/4 stations are in Pierce). Additionally, smaller, autonomous trains will be much cheaper to operate, mitigating the risk that ST will choose to reduce frequency on the ST3 segments by turnaround trains at FW or Lynnwood. Particularly north of Mariner, eLink should result in better quality of service that the current ST3 operating plan, even accounting for the transfer penalty … and with an ‘eBart’ approach of a timed transfer, good design should allow for a minimal transfer penalty, very different than a typical bus-rail transfer experience. For Pierce, the higher speed and better midday frequency might fully eliminate the transfer penalty, and for Snohomish it’s a clear upgrade in frequency – at midday it will be several minutes faster for the average trip, even after allowing for 1~2 minutes to transfer.

        Maps:
        https://www.soundtransit.org/system-expansion/operations-maintenance-facility-south
        https://www.soundtransit.org/system-expansion/tacoma-dome-link-extension

  16. I just spent all yesterday in the downtown core (Pike Place, Seattle Center for the KEXP show, and then to Belltown for dinner and drinks) and taking only public transit or walking. It was actually quite lovely and WAY MORE vibrant and full of energy than Downtown Park in Bellevue last weekend.

    I take back my prediction of Seattle declining. There is hope still.

  17. Is there a transit labor shortage, or an over-allocation of transit service?

    “Comment section Sam is America’s leading transit thinker.” – The New York Times

  18. Both Sam. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-07-20/america-s-bus-driver-shortage-has-left-transit-systems-in-crisis

    A long-term lack of drivers (due to an aging workforce, and pay and working conditions in urban cities along with the cost of living in those cities that turn off younger workers) will force transit systems to prioritize transit service.

    The looming operations funding shortfall from fewer riders, lower fare paying percentages, and increased costs will also require focusing transit service (and reduce the number of drivers transit systems can hire even if available, and the amount they pay the drivers). The loss of the work commuter will make it difficult to pass operations levies if the taxing jurisdiction includes those missing suburban commuters who no longer use transit. Rising crime in urban areas will incentivize de-urbanization and non-transit service. There is a reason the number of Uber rides exploded last quarter.

    The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act has an important shift: from TOD and transit to subsidizing EV’s, although EV’s sales are already through the roof except for supply shortages. Inslee’s climate bills have this same shift. Along with the reduced congestion and lots of free parking in most areas it will be very difficult for transit to compete for the discretionary rider because it is very hard to make citizens do what they don’t want to do, at least for very long.

    IMO transit needs to “re-urbanize” because urban density is the one place transit can compete with cars because of the natural congestion and short travel distances, and higher number of poor riders. Instead we are building a 90-mile spine ST will not be able to afford to operate at reasonable frequencies, at least outside the urban core.

    This is the new post-pandemic reality except I am not sure transit systems like ST are willing yet to accept this new reality (hence fictions like the “realignment”). Instead they hold out hope workers will return en masse to in office work via transit, or parking limits will force riders onto transit, road diets, or people will suddenly decide they don’t like SFH and want to live in TOD (and give up their kids) when there is plenty of TOD today if they want it, or free fares will somehow return the riders but not decimate operations funding.

    The lack of drivers appears to be the driving force for transit operations today, but in the end it will be transit operations funding, which in the end like just about most businesses comes down to cost per rider mile, both capital and operations. Lots of riders means lots of frequency, and in rare cases expensive modes like light rail. Few riders mean low frequency, to the point coverage should not extend there.

    In the end coverage and frequency will match driver availability and operations funding which naturally comes down to the number of actual customers who pay. The problem with “induced demand” is all the induced demand post pandemic favors cars, or just staying home.

    1. Nice link! Worth reading after all the posts in this thread.

      The problem with Greater Seattle, (and every other Liberal city in America) is a deep seated disrespect for blue collar workers. Problems with affordable housing, transit, the homeless and the overall shabbiness of the City are all unsolvable at this point because there just aren’t enough blue collar workers actually fix things. Here’s a quick list of worker shortages that derail “the Liberal agenda” in Greater Seattle.

      1. Transit service levels are 100% controlled by operator shortages.
      2. The residential constriction industry in Seattle has a maximum output of under 13,000 units a year. (why change zoning when it doesn’t change anything ?)
      3. There are well over 300 openings at non-profits working with the homeless population.

      Seattle is City full of self proclaimed visionaries without enough actual workers to get anything done.

      1. I think this has much more to do with the demographic shifts, aging of the population and squeezing to a trickle immigration at the borders.

        While I am all for giving more respect to the trades (not to mention more cold hard cash) I’m not sure how more respect would fix the problem.

      1. I represent blue collar workers. By and large they are very conservative. Some are VERY conservative.

      2. I am one.
        I’m a union member.
        Republicans don’t give a shit about union members.

        I’ve been a white-collar worker, too.
        I’ve been on both sides.

        Sometimes, ‘those people’ are their own worst enemies.

      3. I agree Jim on the union issue. The Bush/Cheney wing of the Republican Party was all about destroying labor by destroying unions and immigration to lower labor costs. Ironically the shortage of workers due in part to fewer undocumented and so lower paid immigrants has been an uptick in unionization.

        But the workers I represent tend to be social conservatives, and they think the progressives (as opposed to what they thought were once Democrats) have gone over the edge. Seattle to them is the end of times. They also oppose the desire of progressives to use government to control every aspect of their lives, in their view. It is amazing how many retire, make a fortune off the sale of their SFH home they bought long ago, and move to Texas or Arizona or Idaho et al. Ironically, I have had a few who have retired to rural Texas and been pretty shocked at a conservatism that is rooted in Christianity in a small town.

    2. “IMO transit needs to “re-urbanize” because urban density is the one place transit can compete with cars because of the natural congestion and short travel distances, and higher number of poor riders. Instead we are building a 90-mile spine ST will not be able to afford to operate at reasonable frequencies, at least outside the urban core.”
      I think Dan makes a good point here that if a key goal of transit is the avoid the pollution of SOVs, with widespread adoption of EVs the importance of transit in low density suburbs goes down, and the de-urbanization of jobs via full or part time remote work is a threat to the urban jobs density that sustains good transit ridership… but I would disagree in that I think there is still plenty of opportunity of growth to support good transit along most of the Spine, and plenty of jobs & other trip generators that will remain transit oriented, even if thousands of tech jobs migrate to Snoqualmie or Chelan or Bend or whatever.

      “In the end coverage and frequency will match driver availability and operations funding which naturally comes down to the number of actual customers who pay. ” Well, maybe – it comes down to the actual voters willing to pay, the region has consistently demonstrated a willingness to pay.

      1. I don’t think the purpose of transit was ever really about climate or carbon emissions (transit does reduce local pollution in a city’s downtown area, but that’s not nearly enough to move the needle on global climate change). It’s purpose is to provide people an affordable way to get around the city.

      2. Not just affordable, but effective, since walkability is diametrically opposed to driveability and people can’t walk everywhere.

      3. “Not just affordable, but effective, since walkability is diametrically opposed to driveability and people can’t walk everywhere.”

        I think this is a mistake many transit advocates make: that cars, walkability and transit are incompatible, despite the fact transit runs on roads. It is why we have sidewalks and crosswalks, for buses and cars. I have lived in London, and spent time in Paris and New York, and there are lots and lots of cars everywhere, plus Uber.

        The 15-minute city is based on being able to walk around the “city” and meet one’s daily needs within 15 minutes, not that everyone live in that core, or take transit to that core. To the extent that 15-minute core is pedestrian only (including buses) that makes sense, not unlike U Village. But folks still have to get there, and merchants will tell you they need the car customer to survive.

        The other reality is the 15-minute city is just warmed-over urbanism but with a catchy name, not unlike Untransit. One cannot meet their daily needs by walking around a city because they can’t carry their daily needs, especially if they have a spouse and/or kids because you can’t carry much if you are walking (unless like the homeless you bring along a shopping cart). The flaw in urbanism is it is based on single people, mostly males. Unfortunately, about 95% of everything purchased in the U.S. is purchased by females.

        What has happened is urbanism has reversed the original goal of zoning, which was a segregation of uses, in large part to consolidate those uses and to make sure you have density of uses because different uses often have different profits for builders and developers. The great flaw in “mixed use” development is thinking the different uses naturally co-exist.

        So you consolidate industrial uses, commercial uses because people in tall office buildings and white-collar jobs often need (or needed before Zoom) to interact with one another (although that created the abusive peak hour commute), but that prices out housing and retail, you consolidate retail which is the most fragile use and most difficult to create in order to create density (which is another word for walkability) and to protect it from more lucrative uses although ironically retail density does much better with very low building heights (often one story), and then you consolidate housing.

        Urbanists think you can “mix” these zones and people will want to live there.

        Downtown Bellevue and downtown Mercer Island show how zoning is necessary in a “mixed use” zone to create and preserve uses because they have different profit levels (depending on height) for the developer.

        So for downtown Bellevue it is cheaper and more profitable to build commercial space (or was pre-pandemic), so the zoning requires retail and housing, although usually the housing follows already existing successful retail, along with adequate parking. The reason Class A office space is on Bellevue Way is because that is where the vibrant retail is, and was before the new offices and condos.

        On Mercer Island there is little commercial demand, but housing is so much more profitable in the town center it replaced retail in the taller mixed-use developments when the city went to a mixed-use code. So the citizens got the opposite of walkability, which requires …. drum roll …. retail. The worst thing Mercer Island could do is further spread out that retail into the residential zone, which of course require you to drive to each store all over the Island.

        A good place to watch is the CID. Right now I believe height limits are 14 stories, which would mostly be high end housing in the mixed zone, which would probably displace the retail and restaurant vibrancy and density that exists there today, because …. drum roll …. housing density does not create retail density, sometimes the opposite, and we will see that in The Spring District and see it in Belltown.

        However buildings over 7 stories have to be steel framed, and until around 22 stories it isn’t profitable to build a steel framed building, especially with underground parking (which is why Bellevue added 14 stories to its downtown height limit). So developers are waiting for the city to raise maximum building heights to 22 stories or more before building, which ironically will then kill the fragile retail ecosystem in that zone, and make it much less “walkable”, because after all why is someone walking around a neighborhood or anywhere in a city? Retail density.

        It is the same for Capitol Hill. If the entire “mixed use” zone were just zoned laissez faire you would see much taller commercial office buildings, and much more gentrification with much taller residential towers. The fragile ecosystem of funky retail and funky residents would disappear, not unlike Belltown.

        Of course downtown Seattle is the poster child because the retail is so dead, especially during the day, and that began well before Covid. Yesterday I took my son to my office and we went out for lunch. I was shocked to see 2/3’s of the restaurants and shops boarded up. Retail density is just a very fragile use, and often grows where you don’t expect, like the difference between the U Village and Ave. and the new development around the U Village. All those new units priced from $2300 to $6300/month are “walkable” because of the U Village, which of course has large amounts of free parking and attracted the new development.

        It is fools gold to think people will give up cars, and Inslee’s and Biden’s climate plans understand that and have shifted to subsidized EV’s. It is also fools gold to want to upzone the SFH zone, not just politically, but why?

        Why would you want to disperse retail into an undense zone that would require someone to drive from shop to shop, and certainly doom that retail? If the goal is affordable housing, again why pick the most expensive land with the smallest lots with the most restrictive regulatory limits and ask builders to build rental housing they will have to hold for decades to recoup their capital?

        Will mixed use zoning work. In some areas yes, but in most no. The irony is many land use experts think post-pandemic WFH and deurbanization will make the suburbs more “mixed-use”, but that just shows those experts (as usual) misunderstand the “suburbs”. We have retail and commercial office space, although not so much we don’t have to condense it with zoning, because otherwise there would be no walkable areas in suburbia, at least when it comes to retail. We have walkable town centers, because we zoned for that by segregating uses, and of course much of that is based on the car because everyone drives which is not going to change.

      4. So many words to say nothing new.

        Daniel, have you ever really interrogated why you hate the idea of living in a walkable neighborhood, but love being an interloper in them?

        Have you ever wondered how so many of the places you enjoy visiting (the cute mixed-commercial/residential neighborhoods of Seattle, for example) only exist because people actually, you know, live there?

        You blame your straw-stuff Urbanist for wanting to force Everyone to live in an Urbanist Dream (patently untrue), then immediately turn around and assume that Everyone wants to live in your Suburbanist landscape. Explain your hypocrisy.

      5. “Have you ever wondered how so many of the places you enjoy visiting (the cute mixed-commercial/residential neighborhoods of Seattle, for example) only exist because people actually, you know, live there?”

        Nathan, I enjoy visiting retail density. It doesn’t have to be mixed use. Old Main St. in Bellevue, Old Front Street in Issaquah, Bellevue Mall, U Village are not mixed use but have vibrant retail density. I work in Pioneer Square and despite the residential density the retail is dead so I don’t enjoy walking around it. My point you missed is housing density does not create or guarantee retail density, which is a very fragile use. Do I want to walk around a dense housing area without retail. No. Do I enjoy walking around the downtown commercial core today? No. Because there is no retail density.

        The “cute mixed-commercial/residential neighborhoods of Seattle” exist BECAUSE of zoning. Capitol Hill has zoning. So does Ballard. You want to CONDENSE uses, especially retail, which often requires excluding competing uses.

        I don’t expect everyone to want to live in suburbia, especially young or single people. But at the same time, I don’t want my zone changed any more than you want your “cute mixed-use zones” changed, because they will change if you eliminate or change the zoning.

        I also like walking around downtown Mercer Island, which ironically is more vibrant than Pioneer Square. But there is population density surrounding it: 26,000 residents. I don’t get worked up about the fact most drive to the town center because they need to bring home a ton of stuff from shopping.

        If that retail were not condensed, and if the housing not segregated, there would be no retail density, and the mixed-use concept in the town center has already resulted in 30,000 sf of retail space being eliminated in the new developments, something the council is working on right now under a development moratorium.

        My point is housing often destroys retail if the mixed-use zone is not very carefully zoned. We learned that the hard way on Mercer Island, and Seattle learned it the hard way in Belltown, and hopefully does not make that mistake again in the CID.

  19. Cam Solomon.

    I haven’t seen Seattle Subway, Seattle Transit Blog or any pro-transit outfit call for better operator wages. Endless bullshit about future subway tunnels, zero support for making the transit was currently use work better.

    1. I’m pretty sure advocacy regarding driver wages is the purview of ATU Local 587.

      Per King County Ordinance 19145 (https://kingcounty.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=4586735&GUID=228DF052-A195-43BE-81F9-3F17FDAED23A), the current union agreement effective from November 1, 2019, to October 31, 2022. It’s my understanding that there have been a couple interim agreements in response to the Pandemic, but I’d assume that the Union and Metro are engaged right now in close-door negotiations for increasing operator compensation and improving retention to be effective this November. Remember that Sound Transit contracts drivers and operations to King County Metro.

      As far as I’m aware, most Unions prefer to advocate for themselves and tend to refrain from asking for help until after negotiations fail.

      In regards to street-level improvements to existing transit, I think you’ll find that there is plenty of vocal support for bus priority among all aforementioned organizations.

      1. Look, if you really believe in transit, you understand that bus drivers are under paid and support higher wages to attract more drivers and expand bus service in 90 days. Or you don’t. Nobody at ATU Local 587 is going to get bent out of shape because transit advocates emailed Metro and told them to pay drivers better. Unions do not turn away public support.

        Don’t believe the hype about “future rail”. It’s all bullshit. Sound Transit can’t seem to figure out how to run express buses or fix escalators…. yeah, the tunnel escalators are getting fixed, but only after a huge public outcry. I’m not about to support a organization that needs public outcry to do something as simple as fixing escalators.

      2. My guess is if you got an honest response from Metro about raising driver wages Metro would tell you the labor shortage is nationwide and affects every industry, so raising wages would not attract more bus drivers, but would raise the costs for existing drivers that with a fixed budget will result in less service to cover the increased wages.

        You will need to identify the funding source for the increased wages first otherwise it is a zero-sum game, so be absolutely sure the increased wages will attract more riders and there is still the money for increased service. From what I have read there are many reasons why younger workers don’t want to be bus drivers, and increased wages (that will likely at best match other industries) won’t attract many new drivers.

        At some point post pandemic transit systems including ST will have to get serious about where to allocate service based on cost per rider mile (which includes fare paying percentages). I don’t see more transit funding (probably less as Covid stimulus runs out) and I don’t see how matching wages in other industries that also have worker shortages will overcome the other inherent problems in attracting new bus drivers.

        I have said it many times: safety is a deal breaker for most discretionary transit riders. Same for drivers, and in today’s economy and worker shortages they are discretionary workers too. Then there is the stigma of being a bus driver, and the schedules, then you get to compensation.

    1. Jim, I was just repeating the quote from the link in my earlier post:

      “Wilson outlines the four reasons Transit Center gives for the operator shortage. These include low starting pay and high retirement rates, workplace assault, “punishing” schedules, and an overall lack of respect and dignity—and restrooms. “A stunning 80 percent of transit workers say that not enough time is built into their schedules for them to simply use the bathroom — if they can even find one, given the dearth of public restrooms in most US cities, particularly during the pandemic — and 67 percent report that they’ve experienced health problems as a consequence.”

      https://www.planetizen.com/news/2022/07/117912-why-are-transit-agencies-so-understaffed

      Unlike Wilson I am not a bus driver expert so you would have to ask him what he means by “lack of respect and dignity”.

      1. That’s a nationwide survey. In king county, it is a union requirement that every bus route layover at a restroom. Even when there’s not a public restroom, there’s a special one, just for bus drivers.

    2. The article never uses the word “stigma”.

      STIGMA is defined as:
      a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.
      “the stigma of having gone to prison will always be with me”

      (Similar: shame, disgrace, dishonor, stain, taint, blot, blemish, brand, mark, slur, smirch)

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